Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Early Spring?

In what one can only describe as an early spring here, we had unseasonably warm and wet weather here over this past weekend.  It was in the mid to upper 40's here on Saturday.  It began to rain mid day Saturday and really didn't stop from there on.  Sunday was even warmer as the temps went up the the low 60's.
Given this rain was predicted, I went out to my rain barrels and composters on Sunday morning in between downpours to set them up.  I took the lids off of three of my composters to allow the rains to soak the leaves and compost to get them active again.  I then hooked up two rain barrels to give me water to clean them out.  I did this so I wouldn't have to drag hoses out given they are put away for the winter.  Every drop counts as they say!
Not much has been going on with the actual garden as it is still very much winter here.  When I went out to my garden on Sunday morning, my shoes were sinking into the muddy ground.  I wont be venturing out there over the next couple of days to allow the ground to dry out some.  But one certainly can't tell it is winter by the weather we are having.  The long term forecast is for our temps to be about 10-15 degrees warmer than normal for the next 15 days.  This is the same pattern we had last year, and just like last year, I am chomping at the bits to plant some early season crops.  I am on the fence this year as I remember my remorse for not planting aggressively last year.  I still have a little time to ponder that - but not much.
And, speaking of time, I will be starting the construction of my new greenhouse soon enough.  It won't be this weekend as the weather forecast is for rain to start on Friday and probably not end until the following Monday.  Looks like it will be another indoors weekend.
I will most likely begin planting root crops in my hydroponic system sometime this week.  It is located inside a poly greenhouse that I have in my backyard.  It's next to my shed so it is not affected by winds and actually keeps the low temps about 6-10 degrees higher than the actual lows.  The nightime projected temps here are supposed to be in the mid to upper 30's according to the National Weather Service so I should be fine. 
I hope you are beginning to get excited about gardening for another season.  It certainly is time here in the mid-atlantic for it.  Until next time, Happy Gardening everyone!         

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Beginning of another year

Here's hoping that you had a wonderful New Years and this year is your most productive one yet.  As we inch into the new gardening season, one has to take stock of where you are in order to guide your efforts to an even more glorious harvest.  For me, this year, that means many things.
First off, I have decided to forego my ususal routine of growing most of my own vegetables from seed.  I have decided to purchase most of my plants from two or three growers in my immediate area.  My reasoning for growing my own plants was that the growers were not offering the plant selections I liked to grow.  There was a paucity of heirloom plants available and an overabundance of the usual hybrid varieties.  For me, there is nothing like the taste of the heirlooms.
After visiting the various plant sellers throughout last year, I noticed that between three of the them, I could find almost all of the varieties I wanted.  And, to make it all the better, they were at very affordable prices.  It appears that the growers have finally caught up to me and other gardeners in regards to the superiority of taste of the heirlooms.
I still do need to take stock of my seed inventory which I will complete this week.  An indirect result of the aforementioned decision to curtailing my growing efforts will be a much smaller seed stock and, of course, less purchasing.  I just need to be sure I have the seeds for the various plants that can be started directly in the garden.
All of this will allow me the luxury, if you will, to concentrate more efforts in building my soils to peak richness.  Last fall I planted winter rye in all three of my beds to overwinter them.  I have written several times last year about the benefits of this which I firmly believe in.  The beds are in great shape given the weather we have had recenlty.  Two weeks ago we had wind chills in the negative 10 degree range and have just entered another colder than normal period this week.  It's supposed to right itself by this coming Friday.
Here are the beds as of last week.  I think they look great and the rye is actually holding up much better than I would have anticipated.

I will be waiting until probably late February to cut the rye down to the soil level.  Then I will wait for the cuttings to rot for about a week or two.  Once rotted, I will work them into the soil with either a fork or a light roto-tilling.  The object is not to distrub the roots or the sub soils.  This serves many purposes.  The cuttings will act as an immediate green manure, the roots as nutrients for the plants over the growing season as they break down and the light rototilling will not introduce imbedded weed seeds to the sun and warmth required for them to grow.
After I do this, I will need to add a mix of composted horse manure and compost in order to build the necessary fertility and structure in the soil.  One has to be careful to be sure that the manure does not have wood chips or shavings in it as those are detrimental to vegetable growth.  People sometimes use cow manure but that is courting disaster with pathogens if it is not composted correctly.  My choice is to use the safer horse manure.  I will be researching various local suppliers of this as I like to stay as local as possible.
I also have a new 8X6 greenhouse to place in my gardens.  Not quite sure where but my guess is at the end of my beds at the southernmost end.  This will, by proxy, be a reason to reset my beds.  I am thinking of getting rid of my blocks and do a more intensive planting scheme.  I am still playing with various alternatives so I havent really come to any hard choice although I will need to do so in a short time.
Well, that's all the news in the gardens at this time.  Just begining to piece it all together one step at a time.  So, until next time, Happy Gardening to everyone!       

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!!!!