Friday, June 29, 2018

6 Months of Compost

This large piece of corrugated drain pipe was left over from an earlier project where we filled in the open ditch that ran along our road frontage.  We drilled air holes in it and we use it to cook our kitchen compost before we turn it into the larger compost pile.

This is what six months of compost looks like.  There is a layer of autumn leaves about midway.  If you were to screen the lower half it would be ready to use.  What we do is dump it out and cover it with finished compost so the partially composted material ends up in the center of the pile to continue to break down.

The finished compost pile can be seen in the background.

But this time we are moving the whole pile off of the poop deck and into the edge of the woods so we can do some poop deck maintenance.

These large rectangular concrete pavers were salvaged from an old patio.  They were sitting in a pile down in the yard of a local landscaper and we have used them in several places around the property.

Tree roots have encroached from the woods and caused several of the pavers to heave.  

We removed them pulled out the larger roots and used sand to re-level the area

After replacing the pavers we brushed play-sand into the seams and the deck is as good as new.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

I wasn't always like this - I used to be crazy

2008 Wall o'Wet Weeds
I wasn't always this tidy and well organized.  I used to be a bit of a wild mess.  Today is a rainy Saturday.  Not much can be done in the garden.  No serious work anyway.  I could do small chores dodging raindrops.  I could even go out there in good shoes.  But it wasn't always like that.  People visit our garden and look at us like we're nuts for investing this much time, effort and material into fencing and walkways.  But I think it was crazier to try to garden in a traditional tilled garden.  The garden today takes so much less time and effort. 

The same view 2008 and today

This morning when I looked out the window at the soggy garden I was inspired to go back to the days before the raised beds and look at photos of my earlier gardens.  There were a lot of weeds.  And mud.  It was a jungle out there.  There was a lot of foliage and not all of it was welcome.  To make it look pretty you had to spend a lot of time tilling and hoeing and pulling weeds.  And you couldn't do that in wet soil.  You would come out of there with five pounds of mud on each boot.  

Welcome to the jungle - 2008
I remember the last two years of the tilled garden well.  2007 was an almost perfect year.  It rained gently several nights a week.  The days were warm and sunny.  My garden was dry and orderly.  The walkways were softly tilled.  I kept up with the weeds.

 I was beginning to switch from rows to intensive planted squares. 
A row is not as easy to weed as a square is.  

2007 went so well that I jumped into 2008 enthusiastically and expanded.  And it was wet.  The garden never looked tidy.  It was a jungle.

A Wide Wet Jungle
I panted squash and beans outside of the fence.  I battled mildew.  You can see the neighbor's squash in the background immersed in weeds.  The perfect set up for powdery mildew.  

I don't know where you would even start to weed this mess.
 It had gotten ahead of me for sure.


Bush pickling cucumbers last weekend and today.
But I don't have to figure out how to keep up with that anymore.  The weeds are licked.  The walkways are clean and neat.  If I need to work in the rain, it isn't all that bad.

I need to get these apples bagged to protect from insects.  
I'd like to do that on a dry day.
That will not be today.

The buckwheat is elbow high and in full bloom.

But there are few pollinators.  I expected to see dozens of bumble bees and at least some honey bees but all there are is a few little sweat bees.

The radicchio is enjoying the mild weather.

I have a lot of tomatoes set on all varieties.

It's so nice to go out there between rainstorms and poke around.  I even filled a few pots and planned some work for tomorrow.  I set out watering cans with fertilizer ready to feed the annuals, but that will have to wait a day or two.  I'm just glad I don't have a million weeds to pull.  That mess was crazy!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Check out these carrots

This year I tried carrots in large landscape pots full of potting mix to give them deep, light soil and let them reach their full potential. It worked. I did some thinning tonight as a test run. 

It worked. I did some thinning tonight as a test run. 

My raised beds are open on the bottom but the tilled soil is 10-12 inches deep and in the past I've had carrots reach that depth and stub off. Plus potting soil made them super easy to pull.  Side note: after I had carefully sprinkled my carrots seeds onto my soil, and covered them with a light layer, a raccoon got into the garden one night and felt up all my pots and made mountain ranges out of my smooth soil.  I just smoothed it over and they ended up pretty well distributed.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Collective Unconscious

This year I have joined several gardening groups on Facebook.  All day long I can look at photos of people's beautiful gardens and discuss the finer points of gardening.  On the other hand my Facebook feed is bombarded with an international array of pests and problems, to the point where I dream at night that I have tomato horn worms!

"Joe Gardener" has a Facebook page which attracts a lot of master gardeners 
with great set ups and a wealth of knowledge.
His was one of the gardens I used as inspiration as we planned our garden
I've also come to realize that there are a lot of people who jump feet first into gardening with absolutely no idea what they're doing.  They grab a used bucket or maybe an array of recycled containers, fill it with dirt and start putting in tomato plants.  Then they start asking about ideas to keep the rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, deer and raccoons from destroying everything and for help identifying diseases.  Now that's not necessarily a problem, we all learn by doing but maybe buy a comprehensive garden reference book and flip through it once or twice?

The Big Book of Kitchen Gardens is a good start
Throughout the day I send instant messages to my co-worker with some of the really funny ones.  We both grew up out in the country and obviously take for granted a lot of farmer common sense that does not get distributed in the city.  For example, cow manure is good, don't water the garden EVERY day until it wilts from exhaustion and more importantly how to tell the difference between Indian strawberries and poison ivy!

Just so we're clear:  This is wild strawberry
and this is poison ivy
But besides seeing enough poor soil, blossom end rot and powdery mildew on a daily basis to give any gardener an extreme case of paranoia, I also pick up a lot of random useful information to stash away for future use.  Interesting facts like although tomato horn worms blend in with your tomato stems, they also glow under black light making them easy to hunt in the dark

Tomato Horn Worms under black light
Reading about everyone else's challenges day by day, and seeing all of the bad things that can happen, makes me very grateful for my well constructed, nearly pest free garden. I stop to reflect on what has made me successful as a gardener.  Certainly there is some inherited aptitude and collective gardening unconscious (in Jungian psychology the part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual's unconscious)
There is upbringing since I learned to transplant seedlings about the same time I learned to write my name.  There is my tendency to be curious and read extensively about whatever subject interest me at the time.  There is the fact that I live out in the wide open rural countryside where pests have to travel a bit between gardens.  And I think a lot of it has to do with the structure and management of the garden itself.

Look at my garden and tell me what you don't see.  You don't see native grasses, "weeds", trees or shrubs up against the fence.  You don't see an untended field full of insects and critters.  You don't see other houses or gardens nearby.  What you do see is wide open gravel paths which discourage creepy crawlies and allow good airflow and sunlight to rule the garden, and you see a very sturdy fence.  I think a lot of critters walk by, glance in and think "parking lot".  That's one luxury of living on acreage in the country.  Lack of space is not a problem.

Of course the Facebook world is not solely populated by beginners.  There are a lot of accomplished gardeners there to help the newbies and to debate the minutia of gardening knowledge.  One such fellow posted on a couple of groups asking if he should mulch his vegetable garden and if so what material should he use?  After about an hour he announced that he had learned two different approaches to it.  "Absolutely NOT" and "Absolutely YES".

10 Proven Uses for Epsom Salt in the Garden
For every dozen people who swear that Epsom Salts are the key to green plants, there will be someone who can scientifically debunk the myth.  Companion planting - new age liberal hocus pocus.  Planting by the moon - archaic mumbo jumbo.  Compost tea - hogwash.  Pruning tomato suckers - why bother.  Eggshells, Coffee Grounds, Banana Peels - ineffectual

So what is the answer?  Just listen and learn and practice some good old fashioned trial and error.  And don't lose sleep over someone else's horn worms.

Monday, June 18, 2018

First Peas

Today I harvested the first of the Maestro Peas.  Day 63 for 61
day peas.  I was nibbling two days ago.  But this was the first harvest day.

 The Penelope Pea should have been ready June 12th but still has at least a week to go by the looks of it.  My Jap tomatoes are about the size of chicken eggs and more setting every day.  The other varieties are now blooming.

 Thanks to yesterday's 90 degrees and today's 92 degrees, the cucumbers are noticeably bigger each day.  The dill are coming in thick.  I don't know if the dill will flower at the right time.  I have a few volunteer dill I've let live elsewhere which are a couple of weeks ahead as a back-up.  The slicing cucumbers have buds but no blooms yet.

The cutting bed is beginning to flower a bit and I'm looking forward to these

State Fair Zinnia

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Heat Wave

When you are a gardener, you have to keep an eye on the weather.  You have to measure rain fall and keep an eye out for storms.  You have to know what temperatures are coming.  And in June, when the lettuce is at it's peak you have to watch for heat waves.  Because in a day or two all of that sweet tender lettuce could bolt and turn dry and bitter and end up in the compost pile.

So when I see a 10 degree jump in temperatures coming I get nervous and start picking lettuce.  Not all of it would go bad at once, but it can be tiresome sitting out in the garden tasting a leaf from each plant deciding which one comes into the house and which one gets thrown on the compost pile.

So here is how I extend the lettuce season.  I have a 50% shade cloth covering the west side of the main lettuce bed to block the afternoon sun.

I am thinning the rows cutting the smaller plants not the larger ones.  The larger, more likely to be bitter plants get to stay and shade the others and look pretty.

I still had some "seedling" size plants in pots that are behind in development from the first second and third plantings.  I put those in the space where I pulled over-mature plants this week.

I have these pots in almost full shade.  They are actually larger than the garden row plants but still sweet.

And then there is the weekly large harvest.  I go out at dawn on a cool morning, preferably after a rain, and pick as much lettuce as I think we can use in a week or two.  I put this all in the sink full of cold water and rinse three times.  Once the sink is full, I pull the lettuce out into a large bowl and drain the sink. 

 Three sink loads and you will see all the garden grit is gone and you have sorted out all of the maple seeds and damaged leaves and sleepy ladybugs.  Then I run it through the lettuce spinner and pack it into a 2.5 gallon zip bag for the fridge.  The strawberries are in full swing now and the peas will be ready to pick in about a week, so I am making a lot of salads topped with fresh strawberries and last year's peas to get the freezer emptied out and ready to go.

I think it will be another good year for apples.  The second tree has set only three apples.  Which is two more than usual.  I swear if I don't get at least one apple from it this year I am pulling it out and replacing it with another tree.

My pots of carrots are looking beautiful.  I tried them in pots so they would have deep soft soil to grow long and straight in.  I can always tell when they grow down and hit the hardpan under my beds because they blunt off.

The slicing cucumbers are finally on the move and the Pickle Bed is also growing.  It's exciting after so many weeks to go out in the morning and see that things are bigger than yesterday.  My tomato babies seem to double in size each day.  They will probably begin to ripen mid-July.

The Pickle Bed with pickling cucumbers and dill

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Feed Your Soil Not Your Plants

We hear this over and over again.  Don't worry about what you are feeding your plants... feed your soil instead.  And we all do our best but how often do we get a report card to see how we did?  This year, the ninth year of this garden, I've taken back the half previously managed by the neighbors.  So now I get to see how well they have been feeding the soil.  Out of twelve beds, I am resting four.  Two of theirs, and two of mine.  I planted buckwheat as a cover crop.  I prepared all four beds the same, and planted the seeds on the same day.

The photo above shows the difference in the beds today.  The one on the left was theirs.  The one on the right is one of mine.  The buckwheat in my beds is thicker and taller.  So what did I do differently than they did?
  • I did not till the soil (disturbing worms and upending the micro-organism layer)
  • I did not use synthetic fertilizers (Miracle-Gro is salt based which leaches natural nutrients out of the soil)
  • I added a balanced organic fertilizer each spring (but not this spring since they are resting)
  • I added compost as a mulch layer after planting and in preparation for winter

I think it worked.

But - no body's perfect.  Whenever you plant a consistent crop over an entire bed, you will see areas which needs some attention.  I've seen this before.  The buckwheat on the end of this bed is not as vigorous.  The soil needs some attention.

Now that the main gardening work is past, we can turn our attention to tweaking past projects.  For instance the dry creek bed.  The line between the lawn and the rocks was too complicated making a corner that made the mower stop and turn sharp ripping up the sod in the same place over and over.

Original mowing line from last year
Friday I cut a new smooth line, stripped the sod out and we put in a load of #2 stone and a few boulders.  I have two day lilies that were sitting around, and an ornamental grass that need to be dug into the rocks.
New mowing line
I'm happy with my idea to bury fiber pots into the rock.  The perennial plants did well and came back strong.  I've examined the pots that held annuals that had to be replaced, and there are areas in the pot wall that have broken through so the pot will eventually disintegrate into the ground.

There are always pots sitting around that need to be dug in!  Below in the heavily shaded wooded area, four helleborus in fiber pots shielded from clumsy deer hooves by a canopy of wire that need to be placed.

Back in the garden, I have tomatoes set.  The plants with wires jabbed into their stems have shown no ill effects from their surgical procedure.

Cucurbits are terribly sluggish.  The cantaloupes below were seed in the cold from the first of may and transplanted into the bed two weeks ago.  I always plant two seeds together in case one decides not to live, and they are still deciding.  The second seeds are just now germinating.  The cucumbers aren't any larger or more vigorous.  But one of these days I'm sure they will take off.  If we get some consistent sun.

The buckwheat is just about to bloom.