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The State Of The Garden.

Posted by on Feb 5, 2014 in Gardening | 2 comments

state_of_garden

I took a trip down to our garden on Monday after most of Sunday night’s snow melted to see what kind of mess I have on my hands when I start prepping in a couple weeks. I’d like to get in there and do all of the clean-up that didn’t get done in the fall so that when it comes time to plant, that’s all I have to worry about.

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Something I’d noticed earlier in the winter is just how bad the drainage is in the aisles of the new beds we created at the end of last summer. We knew it was bad, due to the nonsense we had to deal with where the potatoes were concerned, but we figured by raising beds and having aisles, it would help. The issue still stands though that water just isn’t draining quickly enough and will end up saturating the raised beds anyways.

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This will have to be rectified as the cleaning is taking place. What I’m going to do for the time being is angle the aisles toward the outside of the garden and make sure that there is a clear path for the water to all run out. It’ll be a little time-consuming and back-breaking, but better that than root rot, you know? In the future we’ll probably install actual drainage systems (corrugated tubing and the like) if we need to.

I’ll also have to salvage what pieces of our deer fence didn’t get destroyed and see if I can Frankenstein another fence. It’ll be less than half the size of last years garden, so I wont need nearly as much fencing, but I’m not sure what kind of state it’s in since the deer got hungry and plowed through it this winter.

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Also on the to-do list is trim back the grape vines and rake underneath really well. One of the leading causes of black rot is when previously infected portions of the vine (dead leaves and fruit) hang around, just waiting for some hot and humid weather so their spores can transfer and start the cycle all over again.

We’re also going to have to head out and pick up a couple loads of compost and maybe some manure to add to each bed as well. Since we’re starting to do no-till gardening, it’ll be important to start adding the layers that are going to feed our crops and leave the existing soil fairly undisturbed so as to not give all of the dormant weeds the perfect recipe to take over.

My hope is that a lot of the number of larvae of common pests that were looking forward to their emergence in the spring has been drastically reduced to make gardening a little easier this year. I understand that sometimes, life is just going to hand you all sorts of obstacles at once and you just have to figure out how to get past them all, but I’d prefer garden pests to be very low on the list at a time when we’ve got a baby on the way and eating healthy is of utmost importance for our family.

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Currently, some of our beds still have fall crops decomposing in them and others have the cover crops we planted doing the same. The decomposing crops will have to be tossed in the compost, but the cover crops will stay and we’ll just layer the compost and manure right on top of them. They should not only act as fertilizer, but as a kind of weed barrier a well, so we’ll see how well they do the trick!

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In the fall of 2012, we removed the spent asparagus fern a little too early and din’t give the berries a chance to fall and repopulate and didn’t capitalize on the maximum amount of photosynthesizing the plant could accomplish. This year, well, they’re still there, which will be another part of the clean-up process. What we didn’t get around to doing is layering compost and straw on top of the bed to feed it through the winter, so we’ll have to get some on there as soon as everything thaws to give it a little spring feeding.

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As far as the greenhouse is concerned, I made the mistake of using regular ol’ drop cloth plastic (no UV protection) and it definitely shows. It’s all about learning from your mistakes, I suppose! If we get into fall/winter crops at the end of the year, we’ll probably go in a bit of a different direction with a raised bed and a solid top with a glass or plexi-glass cutout. The nice thing about getting snow on something like that is that the snow will actually insulate it and keep the temperatures up.

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Speaking of the greenhouse, there are actually still some crops that are alive in there, so come spring when it starts warming up, we might have a wonderful crop of spinach and lettuce to greet us!

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Once all of the clean-up is done, it’ll probably be a good time to get some spring crops in the ground (peas, carrots, lettuce, spinach, etc.) to join the garlic that’s currently there and then it wont be too much longer til we’re ready for the whole shebang!

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Next up in the garden planning will be the clean-up itself and then a solid garden plan and seed starting later in the month, so stay tuned for all of that, and happy gardening!

What kind of changes will you be making to your garden this year?

 

Posted by on Feb 5, 2014 in Gardening | 2 comments

Garden Planning 2014.

Posted by on Jan 15, 2014 in Gardening | 8 comments

plow_garden_plan

As mentioned in an earlier post, our garden is going to be a much smaller scale this year. That being said, it’s still going to have about 500 sq. ft. of growing area.

We’ll essentially be filling it with the foods we consume the most and that we know will grow well enough to justify the time we’ll need to devote to it. Anything more and we’ll just be throwing money down the drain because we wont have the spare time to tend to, harvest and preserve the kinds of crops we had last year.

raised beds garden

What we’ve decided is that we’re going to use a little over a quarter of the space we used last year and we’re going to do that in the front left quarter where the wooden frame raised beds are. We’ve already got two beds full of strawberries, garlic, and the asparagus bed, all in this quarter, so that’s the decision behind the choice of space.

garden

We’re going to make use of one of the non-wooden framed raised beds we created last year for potatoes and everything else will fall within the space that the wooden frames allow. The rest of the raised beds we created will most likely be planted with cover crops so we don’t completely lose them to weeds and have to start from scratch again the next year. Plus, there’ll be all kinds of good nutrients built up for the following year!

cover crops

The crops we’re looking at will be broken down into spring and summer for the time being. We’ll worry about fall crops if we feel we can handle them, since by that time, our new addition to the family will be taking up most of our time!

peas garden

In late winter/early spring we’ll get cold crops such as carrots, lettuces, spinach, radishes and peas in the ground, plus we’ll have to get our onion sets and potatoes in. Around the same time or even a little earlier, we’ll be starting tomatoes, peppers and eggplants inside. Luckily, those will be the only things we start inside, so it’ll be much easier to keep the small fuzzy one out of the starts this year.

Once we’re past the last frost, we’re going to directly sow cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, and squash and get the tomato, eggplant and pepper plants into the ground. Sometime in between the initial planting and the frost free planting, we may get some beets in the ground and see if we have any better luck with them this year.

To accompany all of these, we’ll be planting all kinds of companion plants like borage, nasturtium, alyssum, marigolds, basil, etc. to try to keep pests at bay as much as possible, both deterring them and attracting beneficial predators.

We’ve chosen to forego most brassicas, which are your cabbage like plants, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, so there’ll be a serious decrease in the amount of time and stress where insect control is concerned as these caused us the most issue in 2013.

One pest we did have a big issue with that we may again are the squash bugs. Fortunately we know what to look for with them and we know what kind of precautions to take in order to minimize the damage they’ll do. The hope is that we catch them early enough to destroy them before they multiply.

To give you an idea of the layout we’re looking at, here’s a rough draft of the set-up:

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The two top beds are roughly 24′ x 3.5′, the row of four raised beds below are all 4′ x 8′ and the two rows of three beds below that are all 5′ x 8′.

We’ve made sure to keep crop rotation practices in mind when drawing this up, but those don’t matter where the strawberries and asparagus are concerned because they’re at least semi-permanent. Ideally, you want to rotate strawberry beds out every four years, but being this is only the second year, we’re in good shape. As far as the asparagus goes, it’ll last a good 10 years, at least.

The bed labeled cucumbers will actually have peas and lettuce in it to begin with, but I figured that since the summer crops have the longest growing period, I’d worry most about getting a plan drawn out for those. The lines along the center and top of that bed are showing that there will be trellises in there for both the peas and the cucumbers. The lines in the eggplant/peppers bed and the squash bed are just digital dividers to show quantities of plants in the bed.

There will also be the other aforementioned spring veggies in other beds (spinach, more lettuce, radishes), but like I said, such a short period I didn’t think a second drawing was necessary. We’ll probably actually just print this one out and make notes on it. When we do, I’ll be sure to scan or photograph it to show it off.

We haven’t quite decided on the extent of the companion plants and where they’re going yet, so stay tuned for that, which will probably fall right around the time we order any new seeds we may need! We’ve kept last years seeds in the fridge, so we’re fairly confident that they’ll produce for us again this year.

We’ll see!

Have you started any garden planning yet? What are your crops of choice?

Posted by on Jan 15, 2014 in Gardening | 8 comments

Raising Beds.

Posted by on Aug 9, 2013 in Gardening | 6 comments

cass feet grass

I think, overall, us gardeners are pretty rotten at living in the now. It’s a coping mechanism, really. I mean, some crop doesn’t do well or some bug kills your entire harvest, and instead of getting all depressed, you can instead figure out how to fix it next year. There’s always next year.

I want to tell you that I live in the present and haven’t even started thinking about our 2014 garden, but that’s a load of bull. I started thinking about our 2014 garden before our 2013 garden was in the ground. I swear, when planting stuff this spring I probably said, “Next year, we should….” at least 20 times.

Anywho, we’ve learned a TON this year. And we’re both really excited to get started next year on fixing the mistakes we made. One of the big changes we’ve decided to make for next year is to building wide, raised unsupported rows—basically big long raised beds. We struggled a lot with soil compaction and drainage issues this year, and after doing a lot of research from quite a few sources, we decided to try out the wide rows.

The great thing about raised rows is that you get all the benefits of raised beds (no soil compaction, easy to tend, fitting in more crops) without any of the expense of building actual beds out of lumber or other materials.

We’re not naive enough to say, “This is the way it’ll stay forever!” but we’d really like to land on a permanent solution soon so we can focus on building the soil each year in the same spot.  And we’d love to eventually get to the point where we aren’t tilling. The more we read about no-till operations, the more we would love to be one. It’d be amazing to avoid the loud, gas-guzzling rototiller and from our research (and experience this year), tilling might cause more problems than it’s worth.

Anywho, we actually started raising the rows yesterday! We’re slowly, but surely, pulling out our summer crops as they peter out, leaving some open ground to get started. Last week, I tilled where our potatoes were and raked everything even to get it prepped for raising bed (note how dry it is compared to the last time you saw this spot).

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We decided to go ahead and work on this section, because it’s where we wanted to plant our Fall crops, and we figured we might as well get this area to be how we want it now instead of waiting.

The process was insanely simple. We talked over how wide we wanted the rows to be and landed on 3-1/2 feet wide. Admittedly, Craig wanted them a little wider, and I wanted them a little narrower, so it’s a compromise, but I’m really happy with the final width. It’s wide enough to fit lots of plants, but narrow enough to not feel like you are straining to get to the center from the aisle. Anywho, we staked out 42″ rows, with 24″ aisles between each in this section. We ended up fitting four.

craig hammer stakes

And then we ran strings to make sure our row edges were somewhat straight.

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And then, we started digging!

craig dig bed garden

It was really as simple as scooping up the loose topsoil from the aisles and dropping it into the raised bed between the two strings. I had tweaked my back the day before, so Craig took over 99% of the digging, and he made really quick work of it. Because we’d tilled so deeply before, it was a breeze for him. Okay, not a breeze, but it wasn’t as time-consuming as either of us expected it to be.

We both remarked a few times about how much sense this method makes. Why would you want to waste your perfectly good, healthy topsoil in the aisles when you could add it to your growing area? Duh.

craig beds garden dig

It took him about 30 minutes to dig around each bed, and then I went at it with a rake and leveled it all out. Overall, between digging out the aisles and raising up the beds, we ended up with beds that are about 8″ high. And all of that is soft, airy topsoil.

As Craig was digging, I started amending the soil on the first row. This was the one we were planning on planting our fall crops in, so we wanted to do a little bit more work on it. On top went about an inch worth of compost.

compost bed

And then that was raked over and lightly mixed in. Our plan is to do a lasagna gardening/no-till method with these beds. Each growing season, we’ll just add more and more compost and organic material. In the winter, we’ll cover each bed with either a cover crop or a big thick layer of mulch to protect them from soil compaction and erosion. Each spring, all we have to do is pull back the mulch or cut down the cover crop and we’ll have soil that is ready to be planted as soon as it warms, no tilling needing.

bed garden

Weed-control was one of the biggest issues we had with our row crops this year. Oh my gosh, the weeds. We tried mulching. We tried hand-pulling. We tried vinegar. It was just a totally losing battle. We’ve gone back and forth about how we want to control weeds in the garden (landscaping cloth, plastic mulch, etc.) but eventually landed on the method I remember from my time as a kid in the garden—wet newspaper. We really like the newspaper because it’s compostable, it lets water through, and it’s free. I like free.

newspaper garden bed

We’ve been collecting newspapers for a while now. And by “collecting” I mean “pillaging from the recycling bin at the dump”. Our plan is to lay a few layers of newspaper down in both the aisles and around the plants, and then cover that up with some sort of organic, compostable mulch that will break down with the newspaper.

In the aisles, we landed on using grass clippings—something that is never in short supply in the summer around here. Next spring, we’ll probably use hardwood mulch in the aisles. The grass clippings can get a little goopy and slippery when wet/decomposing, but we were looking for something that breaks down relatively quickly for the shortened fall season and grass clippings fit the bill and the budget. But the hardwood mulch will hopefully hold up to a whole season of walking next year.

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Our hopes are that one or two seasons of the newspaper/mulch combo will help really lower a lot of the weed infestations we have, and we might be able to get away with just thick mulch and not the double-ply job we’re doing here. We’re not expecting a totally weed-free environment (especially with organic gardening) but we’re just looking for an amount of weeds that is actually manageable.

Once I had the aisle done, I started planting. Planting was SO easy in this bed. Since the soil was so soft, I could just stick my hand it, pull out a handful and put in one of our starts (we planted cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower in this bed). No trowel needed.

plants bed

And then, around the plants, we put more layers of newspaper.

plants newspaper garden

And topped that off with a layer of straw. Which we rushed to put on because a pop-up storm…well…popped up and the wind was swirling. Even soaked newspaper wants to blow away when you have thunderstorm winds.

craig straw beds garden

We got all the straw down in a rush and stepped back for a second to admire our handiwork—we were really, incredibly happy with what we saw. Obviously, we can’t tell from just looking how it’s going to help with production, but we’re hopeful. Craig said something about it looking “cozy”. And he’s totally right. Our plants look so cozy and comfortable in their new home. Hopefully they’ll take off like rockstars!

raised bed garden

The remaining three beds are going to be planted with a cover crop that has yet to be determined—we’re still debating our options. And then come spring, we’ll kill the cover crop, cover that with compost/soil and doing the same plant/newspaper/mulch treatment we did with the cabbage and friends.

It’s a good thing this side went so smoothly, because we have 14 more of these suckers to dig out on the other half of the garden. But if these raised rows work out the way we think they will (and the way other folks have told us they will from their experience), it will be well worth the time and effort now to save some time and effort later and increase yields.

Have a great weekend!

Posted by on Aug 9, 2013 in Gardening | 6 comments

Operation Emergency Potato Evacuation.

Posted by on Jul 5, 2013 in Gardening | 7 comments

potatoes

There are a lot of aspects of our climate here in Southern Indiana that make the growing season awesome. First of all, it’s not just one season. Our winters are usually pretty short, which leaves lots of calendar room for spring, summer and fall to all be nice and long. It’s entirely possible here to grow three different crops on the same spot of land in one year (we’re doing it with garlic, bush beans and then kale in one particular raised bed). Another great part of our climate—we have the best of both worlds. Our summers get hot and sunny enough that we can grow hot weather crops like tomatoes, zucchini, and okra but we also get cool enough weather that we can eat on kale and kohlrabi for the majority of the year.

Unfortunately, there is one area that we really struggle with (or, especially have been struggling with over the past few years)—rainfall. A “normal” level of rainfall during the growing season is a total myth. I don’t think there is such a thing as normal ’round here. One year, we’re deep in a drought. The next (this year, actually) we get so much rain that there is a half-foot of standing water between our rows.

cass feet rain garden water boots

It’s not something you can really plan for. Sure, with a drought, you can supplement with irrigation up to a point, but what do you do when there is too much rain? You hope your soil drains well, hope for a few hot, sunny days and hope nothing rots. There is a lot of hoping going on. That is, until you look at the 10 day forecast and see that every day has a 50% chance of rain. Then, you take some action.

pitchfork mud garden

Our entire garden is water-logged. Even the nice grassy aisles between our raised beds squish and splash when you walk on them, but there is one particularly bad part of the garden. File this under Things We’ve Learned During the 2013 Growing Season #9393—the left-back side of the garden is just a hair below the level of the rest of the garden and floods pretty badly when it rains. Not a terrible thing if it rains a few times a week and the soil has time to drain. And not a bad thing if you planted some water-loving above-ground crop there. But it’s really bad if it’s rained probably 90% of the days in the past month AND you made the boneheaded move of planting an underground crop in that area. Oh, say, like potatoes. What does that get you? That gets you hundreds of pounds of potatoes sitting in standing water for weeks at a time.

We’ve been monitoring the potato situation for a while now. We couldn’t decide if we should pull early or leave them planted in hopes of some warmer, dried future weather. It was a difficult decision, because in our minds, our potatoes were destined to be our winter fuel. We planted rows and rows of potato varieties that store well in hopes to harvest hundreds of pounds of big, heavy potatoes to stash in a yet-to-be-made root cellar for the cold months. You can pretty much pull up potatoes to eat on at any time (smaller, baby potatoes are what they call new potatoes in the grocery store), but for optimum production value, we wanted those plants to put everything they could into making the biggest potatoes possible. But, if we left them in the ground, chances are, we weren’t going to get any potatoes because they were going to start rotting.

So we made the decision to pull up about 1/3 of our potatoes—where the water was really standing—and let the remaining 2/3 keep on keepin’ on. Like I said, the whole garden is water-logged, but it was only about a 15′ x 15′ area in the potato patch that was particularly lake-like.

cass potatoes garden mud

It was pretty much the messiest job I’ve done on the Plow yet, but I’m so glad I got in there, because we had already lost quite a few potatoes (anyone else hear taps softly playing somewhere?). We managed to harvest about 10 pounds of potatoes, but I’d say another 10 or so were already rotten through. I’d venture a guess that we probably lost triple that number just by pulling the plants early. It’s a bummer losing all those potential (potatotenial?) mashed potatoes, fries, and baked potatoes, but considering how many were already rotten, I’m glad we got in there and dug them. Side note: least favorite garden chore to date—fishing rotten potatoes out of mud mixed with manure. Not so fun times.

muddy potatoes

We’re going to let the remaining potatoes live out their days in the wet, but not totally soupy, rows that are left. And next year? Well, we sure as heck aren’t planting any root crops over on that side of the garden. In fact, we’ve pretty much decided to nix the row crops in that area all together and fill it up with raised beds. Take that extraneous rain!

Of course, next year, come this time, we’ll be deep in the middle of a drought and kicking ourselves for putting more raised beds in that we have to water all the time.

We’re also thinking of moving the potatoes outside of the “official” garden area (AKA: outside the fence) and putting them on the gentle slope just to the right of the garden. This would maybe allow any heavy rains we do get to drain off the potatoes instead of collecting in the level areas in the garden. Before we make that decision though, we have to do some investigating to see if potatoes will fare well outside the protection of our eight foot tall garden fence. Do deer eat potato plants? How about rabbits? Who knows, we’ll have to research.

potatoes

Even though we’re a little bummed that we had to pull some of our potatoes early, we are loving the resulting harvest. Man, they are delicious! And hey, even though we probably wont get a winter’s-worth of storing potatoes, at least we learned an important lesson about our garden space. And that knowledge is worth at least a bag or two of potatoes in my book.

Posted by on Jul 5, 2013 in Gardening | 7 comments

The Garlic Harvest.

Posted by on Jun 28, 2013 in Gardening | 5 comments

cass garlic

This is our first year ever growing garlic, and let me tell you, we’re garlic growers for life. It’s not a quick crop—in took a little over seven months from planting to harvest—but it is insanely easy to grow. It requires pretty much no maintenance and, magically, it goes from small little cloves to giant, beautiful, flavorful full heads.

garlic

We planted our seed garlic back in November, admittedly a little bit late, but it took off like a champ under it’s cozy bed of straw. Come early spring, we saw little green garlic peeking out and as the weather warmed up, the leaves shot toward the sky. About a month ago, the garlic shot up curly little seed pods called scapes. We chopped the scapes off so the plant could focus on pushing as much energy as possible into creating big, full bulbs. Plus, the scapes are delicious!

scapes

Figuring out when to harvest garlic can be a bit tricky because, well, garlic grows underground! Harvesting too early and you’ll get underdeveloped heads. Too late and the heads will split and separate, making them too delicate to store long. And we really want to stash a lot of garlic for the winter, so we erred a bit on the early side. When the lower leaves of the garlic plant start to die off, you’re ready to harvest. We harvested when we had 3-4 dead leaves on the bottom plus 5-6 green leaves on top (with maybe some browning/yellowing).

garlic

It’s tempting to just grab a hold of the garlic and yank, but unless you have really loose soil, you’ll do quite a bit of damage to the head of garlic (and damaged or bruised garlic doesn’t store well). So we just loosened the soil around each clove, and then gently wiggled it free.

garlic

It was quick work to pull up all of our garlic. After about half an hour, we were in the garlic business! We planted around 60 cloves last fall, and ended up harvesting just over 50 heads of garlic. That’s a pretty awesome success rate! We go through probably three heads of garlic a month, which leaves us with about 15 extra heads to use as seed garlic for next year. Another awesome aspect of garlic: easiest seed-saving ever.

garlic

Before we stash these bulbs in the basement for the winter, they’re going to need to cure for a few weeks. We have the bulbs resting on a wire rack on our carport where there is lots of air circulation and not a lot of moisture. Hopefully, if there isn’t a ton of rain or humidity, we’ll be ready to trim, clean and store these guys in the next 4-6 weeks.

garlic

Now that we’ve pulled up all of our garlic, we have a nice empty bed just asking to be filling with some other crop.

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We dressed the bed with a thick layer of compost to help replenish it a bit, and then topped it with some black plastic for the meantime to keep out weed seeds (and hopefully bake any that maybe already found their way in there). Come mid-Augustish we’re planning on filling this bed with some cold weather plants—like kale, parsnips, collards, carrots, kohlrabi. Yum! Hopefully we can keep on harvesting a lot of those long into the winter.

Have you ever grown garlic before?

Posted by on Jun 28, 2013 in Gardening | 5 comments