Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Incredible Edible Undead Tomato Plant

Last Saturday, when I was sorting through my tomato plants to find the ones I started for my mother and father, and untangling the inevitable jungle of leaves, I heard a *snap*. EEEeeekkk! It was the nicer of the two Ananas Noir. My favorite! The plant had snapped half way through.

Since an experienced gardener knows there is an appreciable difference between "nearly dead", and "really most sincerely dead", I braced it up, watered it and stuck it aside making a mental note that if I had time it probably should be transplanted deeper. Monday I noticed it was giving up and beginning to wilt. I decided to go ahead and transplant it again in a deeper pot. Unfortunately, in the process, it snapped all the way through. So here I had 18 inches of completely wilted Ananas Noir with *gasp* no roots. But, there were 3 or 4 root nodes begun just above the break.

So I filled a 2 gallon pot with the Moisture Control soil, buried it up to it's neck, filled the pot with water, and put it in the shade. It looked rather improbable as is drooped lifelessly against the rim of the pot, the leaves the consistency of boiled spinach. But I had nothing to lose. Yesterday I noted that it had not wilted any further, and perhaps had improved just a bit, especially in the lowest branch. This morning it was standing up on it's own, cheerily waving it's leaves around in a morning greeting. I probably should have taken a photo of it in it's most wilted state, but I thought it might not be something I would want to remember. And here it is this evening...

Viva La Ananas Noir!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Raised Beds

Half of the raised beds are in! All in one afternoon/evening.

Step #1. Level the ground. Of course, we are working on a slope, so we are going to step the level of the beds down as we go. We used a string line to keep the two sides in line with each other. A line level ensured the string was level, and we measured down from that to show us if we have any major dips that could be filled in beforehand.

Step #2. Roll out the landscape fabric, cut out for the posts, and pin to the ground with galvanised nails in the corners.

Step #3. Lay out the landscape ties, measure and level obsessively, use gravel to shim up the low corners, as well as to fill in any voids between the tie and the ground. Measure and level obsessively (again). Remind husband this is not finished cabinetry. We centered each bed with the fence panels. This gives me plenty of room between beds, even when things begin to fill out and grow over the edge. Centering on the panels reduced the necessary math calculations to simple ones, and looks good from outside.

Step #4. Drill through the corner lap. (Tim, I was so glad you just eyeballed this instead of measuring the center of each lap.) We also pinned the middle of each long side.

Step #5. Drive rebar through the corner, and into the ground 10 inches. Check again for level (since pounding tends to change this) and re-shim with gravel.

Step #6. Cut the landscape fabric out of the center and till up the very hard packed ground. We are using these cutouts down the center walkway, so there is no waste.

Step #7. Repeat steps 1-6 twelve times.... the first two beds took twice as long as the others. I don't know if we got better as we went along, or just realised this is not finished cabinetry... nor will we be hanging drywall, wall papering, or expecting these beds to remain perfect year after year. But despite the roughness and sometimes poor quality of the ties, every diagonal measured right on. One thing I can say... they ain't goin' nowhere.

Step #8. Add pea stone to the walkways, and bring in topsoil and compost. We did this as we went along, since once you move on to the next bed, there is no way to use the tractor. And the tractors sure made things easier. We used the big tractor to haul materials in, and the little tractor to throw clay clumps and sod into. The compost is like a luxurious carpet. It came from the horse barn, has been turned and aged for a year, and added to with kitchen waste. I did have a few "What'sit" moments but it's amazing how quickly and thoroughly things break down into beautiful black soil.

Step #9. Make yourself a drink, and sit back and enjoy the view.

Step #10. Start again tomorrow. 6 more beds to put in, then the center walkway with the large pavers, and finally the fourth side of the fence will be completed. We will still be able to get the smaller tractor through the gates and up the middle to add compost each year. Tim will be on his own for the rest of the week. Today was an eight hour day for the two of us, and neighbor Mike came and helped for several hours which was good because Tim has been working like this since the beginning of March, and I would have been happy to be done after about 6 hours. But, all went well. I knocked some skin off one knuckle, and Mike got a splinter, but no one's toes were sledge hammered, and my back still goes up and down. Not a bad way to spend a beautiful sunny day. I really would take this over office work as long as the weather is like this.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hog Pen

Tim has been hard at work on the fence, with the help of neighbor Mike, racing against the Memorial Day Deadline. My husband claims that I do not fully appreciate his talents, but I do. Just look at this guy build fence! And it's not just any old fence. It's straight as an arrow, with the added difficulty of having to step down the grade (yet remain level). And it is perfectly square. I mean rectangular. Well, not perfectly, but it's within an inch so I'd say it's perfect.

In fact, I chose him, in part, for his constructing capabilities. Anyone knows, that when a farm girl is looking for a mate, and she asks to see his equipment, she's not talking about the family jewels. She's talking about his implements. Because it's pretty likely she's going to want him to build something. What we want to see is, at the bare minimum, a front end loader, a back blade, and a brush hog. Bonus points for backhoe attachments, box scrapers and 5 foot tillers. And we perfectly understand of he finds it necessary to have one tractor for each implement. Stopping to change implements will only slow the project. Besides, we don't like helping with the three point hitch. And as a reminder, because I know you're reading this Dear... if you stand between the tractor and the implement, it is not your wife's fault if your foot gets run over. It says so in the safety manuals. And yes, I read them. All of them.

On Saturday, I would pause in my house work and look out the window to find Tim and Mike bent over their work, with string lines and levels, putting in each post to exact specifications.

What we remembered as fertile topsoil, has mysteriously morphed into hard packed clay with a tough shale ledge at about 3 feet.

More than once I went out there to find a freshly dug post hole mysteriously smoking. Not actual smoke, but clouds of stone dust would come rolling out after the assault by the auger.

Then he spent two days chipping away at this miserable clay to put in the skirt boards, and staple the panels to them to keep critters from scooting under. Yes, I see that this fence, as it is, is not rabbit proof, chuck proof, or even deer proof. But don't you worry... we have plans. There will be electric run down low to discourage the bunnies and chucks... a wire above the top panel to discourage the deer... and the whole fence will be grounded in case a coon tries to climb it, because sooner or later, they will cross an electric wire, while hanging on the panel and have a very illuminating experience. We did this previously with the chicken yard, and the results were quite satisfactory... in a sadistic sort of way. But the coons stayed out. In fact, it was years before we saw them again.

And if I ever give up gardening, we can always raise hogs, open a small zoo... or a concentration camp.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


It had to happen sooner or later. Some of my tomatoes were so tall that the grow lights had run out of UP, and were in serious danger of tipping. So, tonight I hauled them out to the garden shed, cleared a space on the bench which has become construction central, and transplanted the worst of the batch into gallon pots... until I ran out of gallon pots. And flats.

So, I now have to add 10 minutes to my morning schedule to move them from the garden shed outside to a sheltered spot each day, because there is no way they are fitting back into the dining room. This is as good a week as any since we are having overcast days and they are at least risk for sunburn as any time. I still have plants inside, put they are smaller, and I was able to adjust juggle things around and lower both grow lights.

The fence is proceeding at a steady pace despite the fact that it rains half of each day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Don't Fence Me In (or out)

Just in case you think we haven't been doing anything. Tim finished piping the overflow out to the ditch, put in the beginnings of a driveway on the far side, and, as a sideline, spent two days working with the road crew to put culvert pipe and fill in our front ditch. In the mean time, the weather has not been condusive to working outside. The winds have been high, and the temperatures low. Still, last Friday, he and the neighbor layed out the four corners of the garden fence and did some preliminary excavation. They also cut the cattle panels for the long sides in half, and welded a new rod into the end of each so we didn't have to lose a whole square. This is necessary, because the long sides are on a slight slope, and we are stepping each 8 foot panel down an inch and a half to flollow the slope. Then, when I came home from work today, I had the beginnings of a fence.

I wasn't expecting Tim to auger the holes, and set a corner post himself. Usually running the auger is easier with a helper on the ground. And setting 6x6 posts by yourself is sort of a pain. But I think he was just itching to see some fencing. I know I was. There will be a 2x4 running along the top of each panel, and a 2x6 skirt board along the bottom. The posts will be cut down. Then he is going to drill for a electric fence rod in the top of each post, and run a hot wire 2 feet above the panels to discourage the deer from jumping over (which we've learned they will if we don't run a wire).

In addition, as a bonus for working with the road crew for two days, Tim networked and found a section of 24" culvert pipe. This stuff runs $18 a foot, and you would have to buy a whole length of it. So, getting a 4 foot scrap for free was a real treat. This will go over the man hole on the water tank, and be back filled. Tim will fashion an accessible lid so we can get to the tank clean out. I'll find a sun dial, bird bath or planter or something to disguise the lid. Right now it sort of looks like the beginnings of a creative playground in our back yard.

ON the planting front, my tomato and eggplants have just about outgrown their grow lights. I am putting off transplanting them into gallon containers because even though they are pretty well hardened off, the night time temps have been low enough that I would have to move over 2 dozen pots into the garage every night, and I am delaying that hassle for as long as I can. I think I might transplant the tallest tomatoes tomorrow. Then I will only have to wrangle half a dozen pots each morning and night. I am lookiong forward to having a cold frame to eliminate some of this hassle next year.