May 30, 2011

Peas and Potatoes: Alu Mutter Garden

The sprouts on my potatoes were pretty big to begin with, but I'm still surprised by how quickly they started poking out of the ground.

Hopefully my straw mulch tactic will keep the potato bed neat and tidy.

My drunken peas can't walk a straight line, but they'll taste just the same.

Seriously! What was I on when I planted these?

May 27, 2011

A 'Great Gardens' Reading List

My local library's blog posted today about Great Gardens: Non-Fiction. Check it out for inspiration for your library reading list. I think I've read 50 to 75% of these books!

Salad Garden Taking Shape

I'm starting to actually see some defined rows in my bed of salad greens. Germination looks like it was a little patchy, but I think the survivors will fill out nicely.

Top to bottom (not that you can distinguish the rows from this far away): Green Heart daikon radish, radish mix, mizuna, arugula, lettuce, weeds, lettuce, more lettuce.

Arugula always grows great for me. It germinates fast and is of harvestable size in no time. 

I'm not sure why all the lettuce in this row decided to germinate in one spot.

May 26, 2011

Sittin' Pretty

Lately, the chickens seem to prefer these natural perches to the mini wishing well.

May 25, 2011

Four Cubic Yards of Compost!

I recently purchases four cubic yards of compost from a local landscape company. Two years ago (when I first moved into my house) I purchased 7 cubic yards of topsoil/compost mix from them...and they delivered it to the wrong house! Can you imagine 7 cubic yards (i.e. a small mountain) randomly being dumped in your driveway? 

This time I made it very very clear what my address is, what color the house is, what side of the street I live on, and I also put a huge bright blue tarp on the driveway where I wanted them to dump the stuff (kind of like X marks the spot). They got the delivery correct this time and I was surprised by how huge the pile was. It didn't quite fit on the tarp as you can see from the photo. 

I'm hoping this load of compost will go a long way to enriching all the new beds I added this year as well as filling in my raised beds (which have settled to almost half-volume over the course of two years).

May 24, 2011

Make Your Own Sturdy Tomato Cages

It's about time to bust out my lovely homemade tomato cages! I've been growing tomatoes for over a decade and these things are the best supportive structures I've come across yet.

While these tomato cages are a little more obtrusive than a wooden stake, they do a great job supporting and keep the plants from flopping everywhere. Plus, they don't rot or rust, so they should last you a lifetime!

Here's how to make them:

Purchase one or more 50' rolls of welded wire fencing. They run between $30 and $60 depending on the size. You should be able to find this at most major hardware stores. The welded wire comes in different heights between 4' and 7'. I have always used the 6' height because many of my indeterminate heirloom varieties can grow to be 7' or more by the end of the season! The fencing comes with 2" by 4" holes. This size hole can be difficult to work through if you have large hands, but I think the utility of these tomato cages will make up for the inconvenience.  

*Please wear long pants, closed shoes, and gloves when working with the fencing. The cut edges of the wires can be very sharp. 

Lets assume we are using a 6' tall by 50' roll. Unroll the fencing as best you can. Follow the instructions in the diagram below (sorry, I went right to left, instead of left to right). Make sure you include the exposed end wires in your measurement.

Once you have all your panels, form them into cylinders and bend the exposed horizontal wires into a loop and secure around the opposite end of the panel (see below).  
Your finished tomato cages should be approximately 2' in diameter, which I find perfect for two tomato plants. When you install the cages in the garden, weave a stick or a stake into the bottom part of the cage and pound into the ground to secure.

P.S. the welded wire goes on sale all the time at Menards (assuming you have one of those).

How do you support your tomatoes?

May 23, 2011

Slow, But Steady Seedlings

I'm mildly concerned that my veggie seedlings aren't doing so great this year. Due to all the cold weather, I've had to confine most of the warm-weather crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc) to the basement for most of the spring. My basement maintains at around 60 degrees and my fluorescent lights aren't super bright. While these conditions are fine for a time, my seedlings really need some bright natural sunlight and warm weather to bulk up before planting time.

These tomato seedlings are enormous, but that's because I got them from a greenhouse at work. I feel like this is cheating, but who can pass up free heirloom tomatoes?

My homegrown tomato seedlings, on the other hand, are much much smaller (most only have one or two sets of true leaves at this point. Some of my other tomato seedlings (I'm too embarrassed to show them) are even smaller due to an unfortunate watering mishap that happened during my conference in Iowa (in short, some of my tomatoes got a tad bit dry, which was exacerbated by the heating mat, and I lost probably 30-50% of my tomato seedlings. Oops! That said, I think I'm almost back on track now. The youngest set of seedlings (the ones I can't show you) have two more weeks to shape up before planting time.

My first foray into favas seems to be going well. All but one seed germinated, which had some weird maggot disease upon investigation.

The basil I started a week or so ago is looking good too, although I don't know if it will be ready by farmer's market time.

This year's jarrahdale pumpkins are doing well too.

In fact, all of my squashy crops seem to be doing well...with the exception of some of the gourds, which refuse to germinate. I've been growing ornamental gourds for several years now and the germination rates are always very variable (I'm talking over a month apart for the same cultivar, from the same seed packet, grown under the same conditions).

May 22, 2011

Halfway House

Here's what my deck looks like this time of year, every year.

Lots of seedlings hardening off, free plants from work, stuff for the farmer's market, empty pots, and the all-purpose kitty litter buckets that I seem to accumulate even though I don't have a cat.

And this isn't even all of it! I have more on my picnic table and more in the basement.

I'm only slightly addicted to gardening...

May 21, 2011

Planting Potatoes

I'm trying 'Red Norland' potatoes this year and I'm actually using certified seed potatoes rather than grocery store potatoes. While the grocery store potato technique worked just fine two years ago, last year my 'All Blues' were really scabby and inedible (even when grown in a brand new bed that had never seed a potato before). Hopefully this year will be better. I know I"m still spacing they way to close together, but that's just how I tend to do everything.

Double row of potatoes
'Red Norland' seed potato

Are you growing potatoes this year? What kind?

Cat Grass

I thought I'd try growing some cat grass for the farmer's market (which starts two weeks from tomorrow). The seeds cost about $1.50 for a packet, which was enough for four pots. I'll probably sell each pot for $1 to $1.50, so it's a good deal on my end.

I discovered that this stuff grows crazy fast! Germination occurred in a couple days and the plants are of sellable size after only a week and a half. Hopefully there are some folks with hairball infested cats at the farmer's market.

I was recently at a pet food store and they were selling kits for growing cat crass (which cost something ridiculous like $8). The brand was claiming that "cat grass is better than oats!"...except that cat grass is oats dummies.

May 20, 2011

Board Meeting

I've been trying to figure out what to do with the mini wishing well that came with my house for over two years now. I don't understand the appeal of this kind of lawn ornamentation. It has absolutely no purpose and it's heavy as heck to move around the yard. I've tried selling it, giving it away, hiding it behind bushes, and now I think it has finally found its true calling...chicken perch and crap collector.

My chickens love perching around the edge of the well. Often, I'll find all of them sitting around the edge (facing inward) as if they are having a secret board meeting. The wishing well not only provides perching sites, but it also provides some shade and protection from rain.

I wonder how long it will take before the ring of chicken poo completely burns the grass around the wishing well.

My chickens are now 3 months old...only 2 more months before I start getting eggs!

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May 19, 2011

Squashy Crops Going Strong

The mishmash of cucumber, melons, watermelons, zucchinis, pattypans, ornamental gourds, and pumpkins that I started a few days ago a week ago (thanks blogger for making my original post disappear) are already going strong...lots of roots poking out of the peat pellets and healthy cotyledons. Come to think of it, I should probably space the peat pellets out a bit before they start growing into one another.

Peat pellets are great for air circulation, but the roots can easily invade neighboring pellets if allowed.
Gourd and watermelon seedlings

May 18, 2011

Alternative Nesting Boxes

I found some great nesting boxes for my chicken coop the other day (and from Target, of all places). These 14 inch cubic storage bins are the perfect size for heavy breed chickens. All I need to do is add some sort of barrier to the bottom edge of each nesting box so the eggs don't roll out. Of course, it will be a couple months (hopefully late July or early August) before these actually get any action...

These storage bins will make excellent nesting boxes.

Have you found any great alternatives to traditional nesting boxes?

May 17, 2011

Blackberry Plants

Here are a few more additions to my fruit garden adventure. I'm not sure on any of the cultivars, but I think I ended up with 3 different varieties of thornless blackberry. I hear that the thornless varieties aren't as tasty as the prickly ones, so hopefully these will be tasty.  I have gotten really scratched up climbing through wild blackberry brambles in the past, so maybe these will be a nice change.

May 16, 2011

Drip Irrigation

Soaker hose in action

I have these wild dreams about having a beautiful, lush flower garden despite the fact that I generally ignore my flower beds once vegetable season gets going. This year I thought I'd try to pamper the flowers a little bit by installing a crude drip irrigation system. I snaked 150 feet of soaker hose throughout my front flower bed. In theory, all I'll have to do is mulch the area and give the bed a nice soak ever once in a while to keep it from petering out mid-summer. Here's hoping...

May 15, 2011

On Loan From The Library

This weekend has been cold, wet, and miserable outdoors. At least I have a stack of good books to browse through. Here's what I have on loan from the library at the moment:

tTart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen tBackyard Harvest: A year-round guide to growing fruit and vegetables The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year Growing at the Speed of Life: A Year in the Life of My First Kitchen Garden In Bad Taste: The Adventures and Science Behind Food Delicacies In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food A Chicken in Every Yard: The Urban Farm Store's Guide to Chicken KeepingThe One-Block Feast: An Adventure in Food from Yard to Table The Edible Front Yard: The Mow-Less, Grow-More Plan for a Beautiful, Bountiful Garden 
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