Archive for ‘Veggie Garden’

July 21, 2013

Dismembered

As I was doing my daily walk through in the garden today, checking for ripe or ripening fruits and veggies, signs of insects, and the need for water, I noticed some wilted squash vines.

My stomach fell. I kept looking, scanning all of the squash vines trying to figure out how many got hit. I was certain it was squash vine borer. Upon closer inspection of the longest wilting vine, I lifted part of it to start looking for the point of entry and found that the vine was completely disconnected from the rest of the plant. Somehow it had gotten broken off. I thought it was odd, but then remembered that we got rain this morning, maybe the storm was stronger than I thought. As I walked around I continued to find more wilted vines. I switched my thought process. It looked like they were cut. All of them were on the street side so I started thinking it was a person who did it. A garden hater. A squash hater. Maybe they don’t like the vines trailing into the yard. Stupid garden haters.

It took my husband pointing out that it seemed a little odd that someone would just cut watermelon. He suggested that it seemed a little too specific. Watermelon haters! Okay, really? Even I couldn’t believe that. I continued scanning the dismembered vines and realized that whoever did this was definitely after the watermelon. They went under, over and in between other squash vines to get to them, cut them off and leave them for dead. At this point I was wishing it had been squash vine borer damage. At least I would have been able to do a little surgery to the vine and get it on its way to recovery. But not this. Cut and done. I found only a couple of vines untouched: those riding along the top of the straw bales. Based on the way they were cut, I’m thinking rabbits did the damage.

That and the fact that they left this.

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When I found this teeny weenie watermelon with bites out of it, I was ticked. A deer would have eaten the whole thing, even if it were not sweet.

A friend asked tonight if I swear at the rabbits. My response?
“You mean calling them little effers and telling them to stay the hell away from my plants if they know what’s good for them and they better watch their backs because I’m totally sending the dogs out to kill them? Nope. I don’t”

So I guess my time was coming, being so bold as to plant in my front yard, but after I finished up cleaning up the dismembered vines and balling in them up in a fury that my arms are still paying for, I sprinkled a little more deer and rabbit deterrent around the perimeter and said a little prayer that it keeps them at bay.

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That and I plan on swiping my son’s night vision binoculars and parking myself in a chair with a sling shot.

Until next time,
Kate

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June 18, 2013

Urban Farm Update

Back in April I introduced you to my bare front yard and the beginning of my urban farm.

Quite a bit of time has passed since then and there’s been a lot going on, so let’s see how far we’ve come, shall we?

As I was waiting for spring to come and mulling over the possibilities of the design and method of starting my farm, I attended Joel Karsten’s seminar on Straw Bale Gardens and bought his book.  That led to a few phone calls, which lead to this.

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Eighty five straw bales getting delivered to my home.  No, I didn’t plant all 85.  I ordered extra for some of my friends and family that are “doing the bales” as well.  I’m only using 40.

But before ordering the straw bales, I had to make a final decision on which design I was going to go with.  After toying with a few ideas I decided that I really liked one of the keyhole garden designs from the book Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, which looks like this.

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I modified it a little to work with straw bales, add a couple of openings for access both for logistical and community purposes and ended up with this.

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It’s a little geometric with the bales, but part of my long-term plan is to turn at least some of the straw bales into traditional keyhole beds. At that point the overall design will begin to look more like the design from Gaia’s Garden, which is a modified mandala garden.  Another thing I’m trying to achieve with this garden is to make it partially a perennial, edible food forest garden and partially an annual food garden.  In addition to planting the straw bales, I am adding fruiting shrubs as well as annual and perennial food and flowers for both pollination and for attracting beneficial insects in the areas between four of the horseshoe-shaped beds.

You would think that would be enough to keep me busy this summer, but having a little bug for trying new things, I also decided to add a four-foot raised bed from Organic Bob.  You see, part of my plan for this space is to make it a learning space and I wanted to include a learning space specifically for children.  Turns out this raised bed was the perfect solution for that.  And not to go on about the bed itself, but one of the things that makes this bed unique is that you can plant in the sides as well as the top, and orientated the right way, you can take advantage of the sun and shade, planting heat-loving plants on the South side and those preferring it a little cooler on the North side.  Nothing like playing with your food before it even hits your plate!

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In the above picture, you will find two clay circles sticking out of the soil. Those are Ollas. Ollas are unglazed clay vessels that you “plant” into the soil when you are planting the rest of your garden.  The vessel gets filled with water which gradually seeps out into the surrounding soil both benefiting the plants by encouraging deep roots, making them less susceptible to drought and minimizing surface watering, thus cutting down on nutrient loss as well.  From what I understand, the only drawback in our climate is that they need to be dug up in the fall because if they are left in the ground over the winter they will crack.  I’m pretty excited about them because they can be used in every climate, probably even more effective or beneficial in hotter climates, which is where, if I’m not mistaken, they were originally developed.

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This is what my Ollas look like, but they come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  I got mine here, but they can be found in other areas and there are DIY methods of making them from clay pots as well.

Well, I think that covers the highlights of what’s going on with my little farm in the city.

Until next time, enjoy the sunshine and envision an abundant season!

Kate

April 24, 2013

Timing: Seed Starting, Planting and Beyond

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Timing.  It can mean making it big or missing it all.  It can mean coming in with the choir or sticking out like a sore thumb.

Timing, in so many areas of our lives can “make it or break it”.  Timing in the garden isn’t quite as cut and dry as other situations in life, mostly because we’re dealing with Mother Nature and that means what we do and when we do it depends upon the weather, which can make timing a bit of a guessing game.  Even though historically speaking weather has been a certain way in April or May, Mother Nature is going to do what she wants to do. (Take our never-ending winter for example.)  So when you garden, you need to be willing to be flexible regarding timing.

Timing: Seed Starting

That said, there are some basic timing guidelines that will help us at least aim in the general vicinity of when things “should” happen in order to have a fruitful season.  Take seed starting for example: When you look at a packet of seeds, it is loaded with information.

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Let’s use my packet of Wapsipinicon Peach Tomatoes. For the sake of this post, we’ll only focus on the information pertaining to timing.

Start Indoors: 6 weeks before last frost

Germination: 7-14 days

Green Thumb Tip: … Tomatoes are sensitive to freezing temperatures, so wait to transplant outdoors until the soil is warm. …

Okay, so what does that mean?  To begin with, “Start Indoors: 6 weeks before last frost” means you need to determine when the last frost is going to happen in your area.  When I first started gardening my thought was, “How the heck do I know when the last frost is going to be?!?”  Turns out, we aren’t expected to look into a fortune teller’s crystal ball.  No, instead, we are to look at the history of the weather in our area over the past 10 years to determine when the average last frost occurred.  Luckily for us, there are people out there who track this information so we don’t have to figure it out!  If we search on the web for “average last frost date” along with the city we live in, we should see either a map of our state which shows the average last frost dates across the state or a list of major cities in our state and the average last frost date for each city.  In Minneapolis, our average last frost date is May 21st (recently adjusted from May 15th).

Okay, so now we know that we (in Minneapolis) should plant our tomato seeds indoors 6 weeks prior to May 21st.   If we count 6 weeks backwards from May 21st that puts us at April 9th. Oh, April 9th has already passed.  Hopefully we already planted our seeds around that time frame. But let’s say we didn’t. Now what?  Well, now, we look to the next piece of information, “Germination: 7 – 14 days”.  This piece of information is actually more beneficial to knowing whether our seed was viable or not.  (If we haven’t seen any signs of life by 14 days, we are probably not going to.)  However, it’s also good to know that we need 1 – 2 weeks just for the seed to start growing.  Hmmm… we’re about 2 weeks behind schedule and it’s going to take 1 – 2 weeks just for it to germinate?  That puts us at May 1st – May 8th before there are any signs of life.  That’s going to be a pretty young plant to put in the ground by May 21st.

But here’s the good news, “Tomatoes are sensitive to freezing temperatures, so wait to transplant outdoors until the soil is warm.”  That sounds pretty vague, doesn’t it?  It is, but a little research will show you that tomatoes typically need soil temperatures higher than 60 F for the seed to germinate and they won’t grow unless the air temperature is at least 55 F.  In fact, it is recommended not to put them outside until the nighttime lows are at 55 F or higher.  In Minneapolis, that nighttime average temperature doesn’t come until the end of May or beginning of June.

Ha, ha!  Did you catch that?! We just bought ourselves a little time!  The end of May or beginning of June is another week and a half (past May 21st), which just so happens to be roughly the same amount of time that we are “behind” schedule if we didn’t already plant our tomato seeds.  So can we still plant our tomato seeds today?  Yes! (But we need to hurry up and do it!)

When thinking about how to time planting seeds, the other thing to consider is when you plan on planting your garden.  Personally, I don’t like to plant my warm season crops (those that prefer warm weather and really dislike or won’t grow under colder conditions) until around Memorial weekend.  At that point we can (typically) safely assume there won’t be any further chances of frost, the daytime and nighttime temperatures are rising and the soil is starting to warm up.

In summary, to figure out timing as to when to plant your seeds, you need to know:

  • The average last frost date in your area
  • When to start seeds indoors (number of weeks in advance)
  • When you plan on planting your garden

With those pieces of information, you can simply count backwards (in weeks) from your average last frost date and mark on your calendar or organize your seeds by weeks so you know what to plant when.

It’s also important to note that some seeds are to be “direct sown“, in other words, they do not need to be and typically shouldn’t be started indoors, but instead planted directly into the garden (such as peas, carrots and radishes).  This too, should be noted on the seed packet.

How To Get From A Pile of Seeds To A Planting Schedule

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I lay out all of my seeds by type (tomatoes, cucumbers/squash, peas, beans) because typically, plants in the same family are going to require the same timing (give or take a week).

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Then, using my calendar, I figure out when each seed packet needs to be planted and group them together by week.  I put them all in a box with the seed packets behind their proper week.  This makes it quick and easy to look and see what needs to get planted each week and I can simply grab the packets, plant the seeds and move onto the next group the following week.

Timing: Planting in The Garden

As far as timing the planting of your garden, it’s important to remember that different plants prefer different conditions, so you should plan to plant your garden in phases.

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and beans are all warm season crops, so I wait to put them into the ground until things warm up.  Cool season crops, on the other hand, (cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, etc.) prefer colder temperatures, as do peas and spinach, so as soon as the snow melts and the soil starts to dry out, it’s time to get those plants in the ground.

Don’t try to get your whole garden planted in one day. Give yourself a week to plant, whether it’s planting seeds indoors or planting in the ground.  Shoot for “the week of…” rather than a specific day.  That way if the weather or life gets in the way of the exact day you targeted, you’ll have a little wiggle room.

If you live in Minnesota you may be wondering whether we are still on track for spring planting given the late winter weather and seemingly endless amounts of snow…  The bad news, is, yes, the cool/cold season crops are a week or two behind, but the good news is that forecast is for the 50s F, 60s F and even 70s F in the coming days in Minneapolis and with a few days of sun and dry weather the soil will begin drying out and warming up pretty quickly.

That said, I realize many of us are anxious to get out into our gardens, but again, we need to be flexible and need to keep the plant’s and soil’s best interests in mind.  In other words we need to make sure the soil is “ready to be worked” prior to diving into the garden or we can do both our soil and our plants harm which can set us back years instead of just a couple of weeks.  So how do you know if your soil is “ready to be worked”?  Test for moisture content and temperature.

To test soil moisture content, simply grab a handful of soil and squeeze it.  If it stays together in a clump it is still too wet to be worked.  We want the soil to break apart in our hand when it is squeezed.  Working soil when it’s too wet will cause compaction, which is detrimental to the soil and can take years to repair, we can prevent soil compaction by waiting to work the soil until it had properly dried out. Planting seeds when the soil is too wet can also cause the seeds and/or seedlings to rot and invites disease problems into the garden if the plant were to survive.

To test soil temperature, simply use a soil thermometer.  Soil thermometers will help you observe whether your garden is ready for your plants.  They are relatively inexpensive to buy and are available at most garden centers or nurseries and some hardware stores even carry them.

Keep in mind, when it comes to moving seedlings outdoors, if the air and soil aren’t warm enough, it is actually better for the plants to keep them inside under lights and in consistent temperatures than it is to put them into unfavorable conditions.  In the long run, your plants will be stronger and do better if you keep them inside just a little bit longer.

Beyond Timing:

I highly recommend having a calendar just for gardening.  You can mark the average last frost date, average first frost date (in the fall), when to start seeds and even when to harvest (by using the harvest information on the seed packet).  You can also include when to do succession plantings and jot notes as to what you planted when (vs. your target planting dates).  This is a great reference tool later and an excellent companion to a gardening journal!

Remember, gardening is supposed to be enjoyable.  The timing is important, but not critical.  Observe and be flexible!

Kate

April 2, 2013

Blackstrap Molasses Fertilizer

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Blackstrap Molasses. Strong, dark, sticky. Rich, pungent, earthy. When I think of molasses I usually think Gingersnap Cookies. Oh, how I love gingersnap cookies. Just the thought of them makes my mouth water. Until about a month ago I never really gave it much thought as to what molasses was made of, it was just molasses.

Blame it on the long Minnesota winters, but come late January, early February, after the holidays have passed, I get bored, antsy. I need to do something. And by “do” I mean grow something. You see, by this point the ground outside has been a frozen arctic tundra for 4 or 5 months, spring doesn’t come for another 3 or 4 and it’s too early to start seeds for the garden. So usually about this time of year I set my sights on my “house plants” of which I have about a hundred. And by house plants, I mean plants that I am currently growing in the house, not necessarily house plants as you may normally find.

I love plants. Every kind of plant. I have no prejudices against them unless they are mean to me (burn or poison me), taste bad or don’t mind their manners (invasive), otherwise I can usually find something cool about pretty much every one of them. To give you an idea, my sunroom currently contains: hops, jasmine, bay, spearmint, asparagus, sedum, a lemon tree, a dead lemon tree, a pomegranate, a dead palm, a juvenile avocado tree, 3 or 4 orchids, a really cool pink flowered thing, mother of thousands, begonia, asparagus fern, passion-flower, a couple of pathos, a half-dozen or so Christmas cacti, and a bunch more I don’t recall at the moment.

With all of these plants you would think I would cruise through fertilizer, but you see, that’s the thing I don’t particularly care for chemical fertilizer, so I usually don’t feed them, or I haven’t anyway, until last month. Then when my sights got set on my house plants, I had this nagging in the back of my mind that I need to do something to feed them. That’s when I remembered a conversation with my friend Organic Bob, a soil guru, mentioning that in his organic lawn care business they use compost tea on lawns then “feed” them with molasses. So I wondered, could I use the same stuff for houseplants? I did a little research and found that in addition using it on lawns and organic veggie gardens, sure enough, you can use molasses on houseplants as well. Although it’s best when used in conjunction with another fertilizer, such as compost tea, alfalfa tea or fish emulsion, it can be used alone too.

Molasses is the byproduct from the sugar-making process and is very high in nutrients. Just to give you an idea of how nutrient rich it really is… It contains iron, magnesium phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, cooper, manganese, selenium, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid and choline. And, no, I cannot pronounce all of them and I can’t remember them off the top of my head, but the key thing to remember is that molasses is very nutrient rich.

But it gets better: there are different densities of nutrients due to how molasses is made. To get that info, we need to delve into the sugar-making process a little. The sugar-making process is a three-step process using cane juice from sugar canes or beet juice from sugar beets. Basically, they take the cane juice or beet juice and cook it down until sugar crystals form. The sugar crystals are removed, leaving behind all of the nutrients from the sugar cane or sugar beet in the byproduct syrup called molasses. This syrup is boiled a second time, again removing the sugar crystals and leaving behind the nutrients in the syrup. After the third boil what is left is very dark syrup dense with nutrients, known as Blackstrap Molasses.

Unsulphered Blackstrap Molasses is the best choice for use as a fertilizer, partly because it has the most nutrients of the various molasses and partly because it is unsulphered. Unsulphered means it was not processed with sulfur dioxide to keep the sugar cane or sugar beet “fresh” until processed into sugar. But to keep it fresh means it kills microbes and we want to keep microbes because we want to feed the soil. So what we are looking for is microbe and nutrient rich molasses or Unsulphered Blackstrap Molasses.

So I suppose you are wondering if it works. Well, I don’t believe in reading books or info on the internet and just regurgitating information without actually trying things myself to see how it works, so I did just that. At first I experimented with just a few plants. Within days of giving them an initial feeding they put on new growth, started putting out new buds and started perking up. I’ve now fed nearly all of my plants with molasses and while I realize the longer days and stronger sun are helping things along, every one of them has put on new growth, many have blossoms (my jasmine plant is in full bloom) and their overall health has improved, so I would have to say yes, it works.

I realize it’s not fair to talk about it without sharing the info, so here’s the recipe I used:

Blackstrap Molasses Fertilizer

2 teaspoons unsulphered blackstrap molasses

1 liter water

Mix well and feed plants once a month. That’s it!

If you are interested in recipes combining molasses with some other fertilizers these are good sources to check out:

Fertilizing Houseplants with Blackstrap Molasses

Molasses and Alfalfa Tea Mixture

So there you have it. I guess molasses isn’t just for gingersnap cookies anymore! I can’t wait to try it on my seedlings and in my garden this summer.

Kate