Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Winter Rye seedings.

A true sign that summer is gone is when I begin actually seeding my beds with Winter Rye.  I have been doing this for about 4 years now since I read an article about it on the Rodale Institutes' web site.  October is about the furthest you can push the summer growing season in my area.  In fact, it seems like this year that summer is going to close out early.  Temperatures are leveling off and we have started to see nighttime lows that are beginning to get into the upper 50's.  I don't doubt that we will have a period of Indian summer still to come but, in the final analysis, most of my plants have given their last production at this time. 
I have cleared out all my lettuces, beans and cucumber plants recently.  This week, weather and work permitting, I am going to thin out my non-producing tomatoes and pepper plants.  By the end of next week, all the plants will be removed and thrown in the composters along with my last bag of last years leaves.  Yes, I still had some left.  These will continue to compost through the winter albeit at a slower rate than during the peak summer season.  Once they are all removed, I will seed all the areas with the rye I bought this past weekend from Meyers' Seeds here in Baltimore.
The Rye should continue to grow up until the first hard frost we get.  My experience is that even with a hard frost, they will continue to grow but at a much slower rate.  And, when the weather turns in the spring, they come back to life and begin to grow at their earlier rates.  This gives you excellent green manure when you cut the grass down in the early spring.  You just cut it like grass and let it rot in place.  I will get into more detail on this next year when the time comes.
The goal right now is to get as thick and lush of a seeding in of the rye as possible.  It may take a couple of seedings but if your seed is new, it may take only one time.  I have the other two gardens I help with to seed in for the winter also.  So, it's going to get a bit busy in the next couple weeks but it's all good.    
After these beds are seeded in, I will start to concentrate on growing plants inside my two structures that I have.  I will write about those at length in my next post.  So, for now, that's all there is to report.  Until then, Happy organic gardening everyone!      

Monday, September 18, 2017

Regenerative organic certifications?

Just read about this method for farmers to take organic to a new level.  While 90% of this involves farms, there is a section on soil (aka Dirt!!) health which is of interest to me.  And it should be to you too.  Seems the fine folks at The Rodale Institute in Kutztown, PA have taken sustainable and organic certification to a new level.  I know that this certainly doesn't apply to my backyard gardens, but I always try to keep a finger on the pulse of what this group is researching.  R. I. Rodale was a pioneer back in the 40's for organic practices.  Talk about cutting edge and being way before your time. Check out their site - it is chock full of information that even a small gardener like myself can use.  I intend on watching what happens with this new certification and how their soil section can benefit my growing practices. 
Until next time, happy organic gardening everyone!

Friday, September 15, 2017

To begin again.

To begin again is part and parcel of the life of a gardener or farmer.  Many people think that the cycle of gardening starts in the Spring when all is fresh and the world is becoming new again.  I believed that for a long time too.  But as you become more experienced, you begin to realize that it may actually be in the fall that the garden begins again.
For me, fall is the time when you take inventory of what worked in your garden and more importantly what didn't.  You need to assess all aspects of the pervious season to see where your crops failed and why.  Why is a very hard question for any gardener to ask.  It goes to the very core of what went awry. 
For the last week or so, I have begun to clear out my various plants very deliberately.  There was one huge failure in the garden this year and that was cucumbers.  Usually a very easy plant to grow, I had 8 plants from which I picked zero cucumbers.  Talk about frustrated.  I logged about 6 cucumbers that the pesky squirrels in my neighborhood stole.  I know this because I found them strewn about mine and my neighbors yard.  But still, in a routine year, I should have had far more than just 6 cukes.  So, there is something else that occurred.
I do believe that I may have had them too close to several other plants which may have resulted in lower production.  Too much intensive planting may have wiped out the nutrients and water to a point the cukes just didn't get enough of either.  I will have to research this a little more in relation to the beans and lettuce I planted near them.  I may have been a little over ambitious. 
One issue I was keenly aware of this year is the lack of bees in the garden area.  There just didn't seem to be much activity.  I am going to take a couple of steps to try to fix the problem.  First, I am going to fit in an area of pollinator plants that will draw and support bee populations.  Hopefully that will at least get them to visit my yard.  Secondly, I am going to investigate starting a Mason bee colony around my garden.  I tried that a couple of years ago with no success but this time, I am going to double the effort.  Mason bees are very docile and rarely sting people.  They are usually just interested in pollinating. 
There was another issue that I alluded to earlier.  I was doing the intensive plantings because I was overly ambitious with the numbers of tomatoes and peppers I grew.  That, along with adding sauce tomatoes to the mix, made for tight quarters in the garden.  Plants generally do not like to be compacted.  The soil can be depleted to a point that the plants deplete the nutrients they need and there is less air circulation.  All of which contribute to poor plant quality.  So, next year, the number of peppers and tomatoes will be reduced measurably in order to give myself room to space things out appropriately.  I should see better quality and quantities in all respects.
So, if you're not already working your garden this fall, you still have plenty of time.  I am currently adding heaps of Leafgro brand soil conditioner.  It's a US Compost council organic certified blend of leaves and other ingredients.  I am giving all my beds about an inch for the winter and then I add winter rye for a green cover crop.  The rye traps nutrients into their roots and holds it there until the spring. 
Well, that's about all I have at this time.  Hopefully you found a few nuggets to help you in your endeavors in the garden.  Until next time, Happy Productive Gardening everyone!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Where the garden's are today (Part 2)

As I have commented before, I have two gardens other than my own where I am assisting the homeowners with their endeavors.  The one I am going to speak about today is a garden that a coworker and his wife have.  There have been a few attempts to garden by them but, like most of us, they lead very busy lives.
So, my coworker built fences to keep his five dogs out of the beds.  Once that was done, we tilled the area where they had previous gardens and another area where no gardening was ever attempted.  I kept their expectations low on the new area givne the state of the ground.  I told them we would appoach that area as a developmental area this year.  Here is a picture of the area where they had a garden for a couple of years.

And here is the new gardening area.


In the exsisting area, we planted tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.  I used the fence (which I cannot take any credit for) as supports for the cukes as seen below.  They will find the fence and then begin to climb it.  That should make for a nice green wall for the garden.
.Here are two pictures of the garden bed as it looked on this past Thursday.

I'll take more pictures when I go over this week to put down fish emulsion fertilizer on all the plants. The plants are beginning to react to the hot weather we have been having and seem to be growing at a pretty good pace.  
What we ran into with the new area is a lot of rocks and general debris that was buried.  Seems there was a garage in this area and the owners grandfather would either leave some stuff on the ground or buried it in place.  Rocks abound but that is part of the territory when opening up new plots.  Still not really sure what is under the surface but the overall soil health is poor at best.  I was planting a watermelon plant and ran into a string of red bricks.  So far, we have found about 10 but I know there are many more in this area given it lines up with the area of the garage.  I'll eventuall pull more of them as they are in great shape and very old.  Can't find this quality of brick anymore.
I've planted 4 paste tomatoes and a set of beans all of which are growing.  I also planted watermelon and a squash plant.  But, it seems, a rabbit had them for a quick snack.  Along with these, I planted canteloupes along the fence to again use the fence as supports as seen below.  This is a little older picture than the others.  I'll be updating these in the next week or so.

It's been quite interesting to take a yard that has never been gardened and see the work involved all over again.  After a few years, the garden can kind of fall into a yearly routine.  Part of the issue is that I am also maintaining my garden, this one and another garden along with working a full time job. I can see the potential of doing this type of stuff full time but realize it will have to wait until I retire. In the meantime, I have enough to keep me busy.
What is rewarding to me is to speak to these people and realize that they are interested in growing their own vegetables the organic way like I do.  It's extemely rewarding to pick a quart bag of buttercrunch lettuce, a fresh cucumber and a skad of beans like I did this morning and know exactly what was used to grow them besides the tremendous freshness component.  And they are looking to me and my expertise to guide them to this type of experience.  I just don't understand how one would not have a garden but then again, that's just me. The other gardener I am working with is a long time gardener who had begun to give up on gardening this year given his age.  I have spoken with him and helped him get his garden started this year. Now we are discussing what we we are going to do at the end of the season to make the soil better and the no-till approach that I have recently adopted.  He didn't want to give up the gardening, he just wanted to give up the work involved.  Organic, after all, is actually less work than the old style row gardening practices of the past.
Well, that's all for now.  I need to kick back and relax the rest of this day.  It's a beautiful, hot afternoon to just breathe.  Until next time, Happy Gardening everyone!      

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Where the gardens are today(Part1)

I have been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to assist two other gardeners in my area with setting up new garden areas for them.  I say fortunate because it is a compliment of sorts to have people ask you for advice let alone trust you to plan and implement their gardens.  It has been quite busy time maintaining my garden while working with these folks on their gardens all the while holding down a job too.  But it is very rewarding too.
My gardens' activity has been pretty hectic to date.  I expanded the garden area and made several decisions to make the garden more productive with food we enjoy eating and also to allow for foods that can be put up in the fall.
Last year I planted 4 paste tomatoes thinking I'd get enough from them to put up a few jars worth in the fall.  Just to try it out.  It was, to say the least, a huge disappointment.  I have spoken to several gardeners who all related that their tomatoes were off last year.  So this year, I bought 20 paste plants thinking an area of 81 sq. ft would be enough.  Not quite as it turned out.  Given last years crop issues, I did some research and found out that I have actually been crowding my tomatoes.  Seems the ideal spacing is 2 ft. between plants in a row and 3ft. between each row of caged plants.  So, I spaced mine so that I could get 15 plants in the isolated area where they wouldn't be impacted by any other plants issues.  Here's a picture of the plot so far.

The large boards on either end of the rows are set up so that I can tie them up in what is called the Florida weave method.  I have never used it before but decided it lookd easier (in the long run that is) than staking and/or caging the plants.  I do not like the cages that are sold everywhere as they are much too low height wise to handle plants that can grow to 6-8 ft. tall.  I never really understood why they were always manufactured to such small heights.  May have to do with the thin wire they use to construct them.  
The Florida weave method entails running a string alternately around the plants at 10 - 12 inches from the soil line and then every 10-12 inches upwards to give them the support they need.  Here is a picture of my first attempt at it.
You start at one end and weave the string on opposite sides of the plants as you go down the row and then loop back and weave the string to the other side of each plant.  This kind of cradles the plant as can be seen in the picture. When they get to 2 ft height, I will then do the weave at that height.  This will continue until they reach full height.  I am by no means an expert so this will be an experiment. We have had some windy weather and the plants seem to have had no issues yet.  
On another tomato note, I have 10 plants of various hybrid and heirloom plants in the ground that all seem to be doing very well too.  After researching why I had so few tomatoes last year, I learned thateither the hybrid tomatoes or heirlooms seem to do well each year but one always outperforms the other type.  As I had predominately heirlooms last year, that may have been the source of my issue. So, this year, I have it almost split down the middle.        

The two plants in the bowls are for my father in law for Father's day.  He used to have a garden but has given it up for various reasons.  I will put a cage around them for additional support.  I will use a mix of the cages I have and poles for support once they overgrow the cages.   All he has to do is water them at this point.
Speaking of experiments.  Last fall I grew out lettuce and carrots in a covered mini greenhouse.  The carrots are still growing and I have replanted the lettuce to see if I could continue to grow using the structure.  Here is where it is at as of now. 
I have two rows of leaf lettuce that are growing quite well.  I continue to water the plants and need to pull some of the carrots to see if progress is being made or we are at a standstill.  But, to have leaf lettuce this far into the season is a bonus.  
I planted a row of Buttercrunch lettuce about a month ago and covered it under woven vegetable fabric.  As can be seen below, it also is doing very well given the lateness of the season.
There are 7 heads of the lettuce in the row and they seem to all be growing very strong.  We're going to be having some nice salads soon enough.  
I also have a bed of 16 Bell Pepper plants that are doing ok given our decidely cooler weather we have been experiencing.  They are all healthy as can be seen in the picture below.  I love peppers but I really do think I over grew yet again this year.  I will probably end up giving some (alot actually) if they come in like last year.  We shall see how that turns out.  

I've also planted 6 cucumber plants.  I have them trellised on my DIY structures.  A local garden center closed about 2 years ago and I bought their onion set displays.  Here is how they ended up looking in place after I painted them and added screening.

They are really sturdy, wind resistant and somewhat compact.  When I bought them, my wife was skeptical as was I.  But, the cucumbers are starting to grow to a point where they are climbiming unto the screening.  I will see how they fare as they climb.
In the backround of the same picture are three interconnected wire "ladders" that I have converted to yet more cucumber trellises.  These were repurposed from being protective coverings for plate glass windows that were being delivered to the company where I work.  I wired them together and then attached them to rebar I pounded into the ground. they held up 5 cucumber plants - cucumbers and all through some windy storms.  These were being thrown out so I asked for them and was told if I can get them in my car - they were mine.  And they were.
With the weather turning much warmer in the next week, the various plants should begin to become more robust.  I will have to naturally watch them as the higher temps can cause issues.  You may leave in the morning and come home to plants wilting right before your eyes.  Don't stress!  This is natural as the plants wilt to preserve moisture to survive.  Just give them a good drink of water and watch them rebound.  It doesn't appear to cause any long term damage.  But if this happens repeatedly, that's mother nature telling you that you need to step up your watering game.
So, there you have the latest, greatest from my backyard.  In part 2, I will recap what has been happening in one of the gardens that I am assisting the people into becoming full on gardeners.  I will give all the details in the next week or earlier.  Until next time, Happy Gardening everyone!!!!   

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

It's getting there

Sunday was a fairly nice day all-in-all.  The weather was improved over Saturdays' chilly day that had a consistent wind which was not all that inviting.  So, I decided to take advantage of the sunnier and warmer afternoon Sunday and begin to get things moving.  First order of business was to cut the winter rye down that I had planted in the late fall.
The rye really took off over the last month so that proved to be a great bonus.  As can be seen, it was quite high thanks to the weather.

So, I proceeded to cut the various beds down in order to stunt their growth.  The idea here is to begin the process of getting the decomposition process started and not to cut the rye down all in one time. But rather, to do it in stages so as not to relase all the nutrients at one time.

 I stopped the process here in order to take a picture to show what I mean by cutting the rye down.  I purposely left about an inch or a little more uncut.  One point here also is that I cut the grass using hand held scissor trimmers.  This results in less of the grass being thrown everywhere and getting more of the rye to stay in the beds.  And, I get my share of exercise in the early Spring sun.  A string trimmer just launches the grass all over and a good portion usually lands outside the beds.
Once it is cut, it should look like the following:
 Once the cutting is completed, you should water the grass to speed up the breakdown of the material.  I will follow up with a mid week watering.  You don't have to soak the beds but rather, you should be watering just enough to moisten the cut grasses only.
Once that was completed for all three beds, I took a little rest and then decided to check the winter salad garden I have had.  I knew I needed to water it given the warmer temps we have been having. So, here is what I uncovered.

Everything looked better than anticipated.  My plans are to cut the lettuces and the spinach plants in the first two rows and then pull them out.  I need to make room for Broccoli and Cabbage at this point which will need covering for the next month or so.
After watering them and covering them back up, I decided to look in my shed to locate the plastic along with the tube supports to build temporary shelters for early start lettuce and spinach plants.  I usually plant these crops in my hydroponic systems but I have another use for that system this year.  And, given the other two gardens I have at my disposal - a total of about 5 K square feet - I have ample room to grow whatever I want in those.  I also have a small plot in the community garden I assist with in which I can plant about 32 more sq. feet of plants.  This year will be very challenging for me to fill all this space.  A nice issue to have but it can be overwhelming.  One thing is for sure, I will be very busy this year.
I pulled out various items and found my 5 plastic mini greenhouses that will allow me to cover up seedlings or plant seeds directly in the ground while not being concerned about freezes that can occur. That will be more than enough for my purposes.  The mini greenhouses are shown below.


They have vents and are high enough to allow for substantial growth of the plants in them.  I will probably use them to begin early season plants from seed.
I also have supports and the plastic to cover them that I can use to cover about 32 square feet of space.  I will have to set them up and then decide, given all the new found space I have, what plants I will grow.  My main goal this year is to have a balanced crop of which we can put up some for over the winter.
The season is upon us and there is much to do.  Hopefully, I can get it all done,  Until next time, Happy Gardening everyone!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Oh beautiful day!

As the day began
We had one of the most delightful days in a very long time today.  The forecasters were dead on this time.  I planned on getting a very early start to the day given the forecast and what I really needed to get accomplished.
I actually look forward to beating the sun up because it is a very special time of the day to me.  The world is quiet for a while and you can just take in all of God's beauty.  It affords me time to breathe and just exist.  Even the birds aren't quite up yet.  And in the area where we live, that is saying alot as we have a very big population of loud birds.  Sometimes I can imagine me as a farmer and being out in the fields and just taking in the day before getting on to the business of farming.  You know, looking down from a hill over the rolling fields below just as morning is approaching.  It has to be one of the best offices with a view in the world.
So,  I was up at 5:15 and raring to go.  I put on my headlamp as it was dark outside and began the day.  I had a pile of limbs that needed to be cut up and bagged along with other yardwaste.  I sometimes have to wonder what my neighbors think when they see me up that early.  Then again, they may not even be up.  So here was my view at 5:30AM

I said it was dark didn't I?  I began clearing the pile and cutting up the pile when it occurred to me that most of the limbs were rather substantial.  Then it hit me - why not?

Permaculture anyone?
I decided to practice a little permaculture gardening.  Never heard of it?  Well, it is quite complex but one of the parts of it is to use what your land produces.  In this case, I decided to attempt to employ the various branches of the tree in my yard as plant supports in my garden.  I tried it last year with my Peppers and it worked very well for me.  So, I trimmed the various large branches down and bagged the waste products and the little limbs for disposal this week.  When I started, I thought I might get maybe 10 or so limbs for Pepper supports.  Here are the culled limbs.

After about an hour or so, I had all my limbs trimmed and ready for use in the garden.  And the bounty from nature was far more than I anticipated.  Here are the Pepper supports.  All 15 of them!

And here are the Tomato supports.

There are 11 of them.

Now, my experience is that these will last for about 2 or 3 years.  But then again, who cares?  I looked at tomato cages and supports and they can cost anywhere from $4 to $9 each.  Even at $3 a piece, that is a savings of $78.00 all totaled not counting taxes.  That seems significant to me.  I have been and continue to be frugal if nothing else when it comes to my garden.  Maybe I am a throwback given my experiences but it all adds up.  And readily free materials are available if you look for them and use your imagination.  I will go into this further in a subsequent post.

Sprucing up!

I've decided this year to tighten up the look of my gardens.  I noticed that the fence posts that I use were pretty well worn from the many years of service so I bought some spray paint to bring them back to life.  I think the results speak for themselves.  Before:

and after:

A small but I think significant improvement.  I'm going to paint the rest of them next chance I get.  \

Winter garden progress  

During the day, I checked in on the progress of the winter garden I kept going all through the winter. I wasn't expecting the lettuce to be doing okay as the temps were high and this garden was covered with three layers of protection.  So, I uncovered them in the 80 degree heat we had today and this is what I found.

Quite an early salad garden!  Not at all what I expected but I will take it.  I removed the extra layer of the thick greenhouse plastic to insure that it wouldn't get too hot in the greenhouse this week.  Of course, I will have to keep an eye on the weather to make sure it doesn't get too cold.  At this point, it looks like it will be normal without any drastic low temps.

Shared garden?

I have a freind who with his wife wants a garden this year.  They are really busy so I volunteered to help them this year with the garden.  When he told me he'd have 400 square feet of garden I kind of thought he was over shooting it.  He contacted me to come over to look at the space today.   Here are the spaces.

This is one plot.  Here's the other.

And here's the rest of the above space.

He wasn't kidding.  This is probably a little bigger than 400 sq ft.  It's what I call - big fun.  The nice thing about this is that it runs east to west and there are no trees to shade the sun.  The bulk of the space will be in full sun.  Should work for most plants but it defintely won't work too well for lettuce and such.  


Lots for sure.  Just seems that you run out of time regardless of how early you get up.  I have yet to ramp up with the community garden I have been helping out with and I am behind in growing my plants.  Having a full time job and doing serious gardening is sometimes overwhelming.  I mean, I put in 10 hours in on my garden and yard today and it feels like I did not get enough done.  Where did all this work come from?  But, you know what, I got to spend 10 hours on things I needed to and in my garden.  Not a bad day actually. 
And you?

Hopefully you are ramping up your garden activities just about now.  There is certainly alot to do this time of the year regardless of where and what zone you live in.  I hope you are getting your hands dirty and the soil tilled.  And, until next time, happy gardening everyone!