Posts Tagged ‘organic gardening’

Turnip Plantin’ Time in Tennessee

August 26th, 2009
There are good reasons to plant turnips even if they arent on your list of vavorite vegies.

There are good reasons to plant turnips even if they aren't on your list of vavorite vegies.

Turnips will almost never be the answer to the question of  “What is your favorite vegetable?” so maybe the title of this article should be “Cover Crop Plantin’ Time in the Mid South”  but it just doesn’t have the same alliteration thing going on.  BTW, it’s the last week of August, and a few harbingers of fall are already apparent – goldenrod in bloom for example.

Anyway, your summer garden is looking disgraceful (you know it is) and it’s high time to put all of those disease and weed ridden plants out of their misery before you get a visit from the homeowners association.  Hopefully you are planning to grow a fall garden, but even so  some amount of ground  is probably going to be vacant once you tidy up – which is where cover crops come in.  Any good cover crop will suppress weeds, prevent erosion, improve the fertility / organic content of your soil, and in some cases even put food on your table.  One of the main things that cover crops do is to absorb soil nutrients into their tissues as they grow so that they don’t leach away during the rainy winter.  But (to me) the main reason to plant cover crops is that they save work, because all of those advantages are gained with no more effort than it takes to sprinkle a few seeds on the newly bared ground.

The most popular fall / winter cover crops in my area are: Turnips, Crimson Clover, and Annual Rye.  They are area favs for good reasons, and they all have their unique advantages.  Rye probably does the best job of suppressing weeds, and adds lots of organic matter to the soil when you work it in early next spring.  Crimson clover adds nitrogen in addition to organic matter.  Turnips main claim to fame is the fact that they also yield food – all winter long in some cases.  Ask around (at a farmers co-op for example) to find out what works best in your area.

Whichever cover crop you choose to sow buy your seed by the pound (at a farmers co-op or or Real Garden Center) unless your garden is awfully small a little paper packet isn’t going to be enough seed.  Anyway, a pound of turnip seed should only cost 3 dollars or so, will last just about forever in the freezer, and contains enough seed to plant the entire state of Rhode Island – it’s one of those things that you should just keep on hand.  If you keep them in an empty shaker bottle such as spices comes in it will be very convenient to just sprinkle about – a good tip for all kinds of salad green seeds.

The other thing you should do with any of these crops is to completely ignore the planting dirrections.  One of those little packets will tell you that you need to plant turnips 1/2″ deep in loose fertile  soil which has been enriched with lots of organic mater – which is true if you are hoping to win a ribbon at the fair, but for the purpose of a cover crop just sow your seed thickly (thin later with a hoe if you want to harvest roots)  on top of the ground after you have pulled the old plants and weeds.  You do need to use a rake or cultivating fork to break up any crust that you might have, and you will probably want to rake it out just to be neat – but that’s all.  The main thing is to throw those seeds down and everything else will take care of itself.  If you water one time after sowing the seeds you will probably see sprouts in 3-4 days.

But, you say “I’m planning on mulching/tilling/fertilizing/planting something else long before those cover crops will be done.”  Don’t worry about it – when the weather cools off and  you get ready to do any of those things just do it  – until then your cover crop will be improving your garden for you, and if you don’t get around to those things until next year it will look like you planned it that way.

This is one of the best times of the year to work in your garden – get out there!

Square Foot Garden in About an Hour

April 6th, 2009
A 24 square ft garden like this can grow a remarkable amount of food and is easy to build and take care of.

A 24 square ft garden like this can grow a remarkable amount of food and is easy to build and take care of.

Once you have all of the materials gathered up you really can set up a square ft garden like this in about an hour.  As you probably already know “Square Foot Gardening” is a method promoted by Mel Bartholomew.  Basically you grow in a permanent raised bed full of highly enriched soil which is divided into blocks which are 1 foot square – each block is intensively managed and cultivated.  It is an especially effective method for small areas and people who are new to gardening – there is no need whatsoever for roto-tillers or any other expensive equipment.

The bed in this article does not yet have a square foot grid so according to Mr. Bartholomew it isn’t quite a square ft garden.  I guess that will be up to the owner (My Daughter Sharon) who has been reading the book.  Anyway here are the simple steps to building a Square Foot Garden.

The frame for this bed is made out of regular SPF grade construction studs – not pressure treated – and should last 3-5 years before it rots and has to be replaced.  In my opinion treated lumber should not be used to construct garden beds, because of the chance that it will leach nastiness into the soil which could either harm your plants or end up in your food.

For this project we used:

  • 6 – 2 x 4 x 92 5/8″ studs
  • 4 wooden stakes about 14″ long (made out of scraps of 1 x2)
  • 16 – 3 1/2″  screws
  • 10 – 1 1/2″ screws
  • Some newspapers
  • 2.8 cubic foot bale of peat moss
  • 2.8 cubic foot bag of vermiculite
  • 40 gallons of screened yard compost
  • about 5 pounds of rabbit poo

Start out by cutting two of your studs up into 36″ pieces, and then screw them together – Put the 36″ end pieces between the long side boards so that the inside width of the bed is 36″ .  You could go all OCD here and carefully measure, mark, pre-drill, and counter-sink each hole if you like, but consider 2 things first:

  1. You ain’t buildin’ a piano.
  2. It will rot it a few short years.

So, do whatever makes you happy.

Screw the fram together with 2 long screw in each corner.

Screw the frame together with 2 long screws in each corner.

Once you’ve put all of the boards together so that you have two rectangular frames, stack them on top of each other and screw them together.  You can make this easier and neater by first drilling a 3/8″ (more or less – it isn’t critical) hole about 1/4″ deep at all of the locations where you want to angle screw the two frames together.

You can improvise pocket screws by drilling a small hole straight in...

You can improvise pocket screws by drilling a small hole straight in...

Then drive screws downward at an angle through the side of the holes you drilled in the previous step.  This is an improvised pocket screw – it’s just as fast and strong as a “real” pocket screw, but without the expensive pocket jig.  It also looks almost as good if you’re careful.  I used about 10 of these to hold the 2 frames together.

Like this...

Angle the screws in like this...

Fasten the frames together with screw driven at an angle - I call this an improvised pocket screw.

I call this an improvised pocket screw.

Once you have the frame completely assembled place it where you want the finished garden to be – pick a place that is in full sun, near the kitchen, and also near a water supply if at all possible.  A level spot with good soil would be awesome but not really essential.

The spot for this bed had lots of grass growing on it so I used a weedeater to cut it as short as possible – I suppose you could skip this step if you wanted.  Now drive a wooden stake in each corner.  Since our spot isn’t level I leveled the bed by raising the frame and screwing it to the stakes.  If your site is level you can skip this step.

Level the square foot garden by screwing the frame to stakes driven in the corners.

Level the square foot garden by screwing the frame to stakes driven in the corners.

I filled the worst of the gaps between the frame and the ground by screwing scraps of chip board to the inside of the frame.  The gap can be dammed up from the outside with soil, grass clippings, or mulch once the bed is finished.

Once the frame is leveled and secured to your satisfaction cover the bottom with several layers (at least 3-4) of newspaper or cardboard,  Then wet it down so that it mats down good.  Lap the newspaper up the sides a bit.  The newspaper will help to kill the grass and keep it from growing up through the bed, but will very quickly decompose.

Cover the bottom with wet newpapers to help kill the grass.

Cover the bottom with wet newpapers to help kill the grass.

Now start adding the soil mix.  If you choose to mix it in the bed like we did don’t just dump all of the materials  in a lump – spread them out in layers and it will make it much easier to mix.  By the way, I can’t think of a single reason not to mix in the actual bed and several reasons why you should.  Anyway, we started with a layer of compost…

The compost inspector is my Grandson - hes been a raised bed gardener since he was a little kid.

The compost inspector is my Grandson - he's been a raised bed gardener since he was a little kid.

Spread that out, then add half of the peat moss…

Half of the vermiculite…

and so forth until you use up all of the soil ingredients.

Add the soil ingredients in layers.

Add the soil ingredients in layers.

Now simply use a hoe or tilling fork to mix it all thoroughly together – with just a little care it isn’t hard to avoid tearing up the newspaper.

Thoroughly mix the soil ingredients right inside of the raised bed.

Thoroughly mix the soil ingredients right inside of the raised bed.

When you’re finished give it all a good watering and wait a day or two before setting out any plants to allow all of the ingredients to absorb the water.  If you have seeds you want to sow there is no reason not to go ahead and do that immediately.

Needless to say you could use different materials and build the bed a different size.  I like 3 foot wide beds because you can reach all the way across without running laps around the bed – the length of the bed is as much a product of the previously used materials that were available as anything.  If I had 10 or 12 foot materials I would probably build beds that size unless there is some compelling reason not to.  Of course you could also build a bed that is only 2′ x 2′ if you want, but at some point you might just want to get a big flower pot.

Even so, the 3′ x 8′ size that we did use is pretty handy because one bag each of vermiculite and peat moss worked out well to fill it – along with our home made compost.  It would also be easy to construct a cold frame or poly tunnel to cover a bed this size.

Of course you could use any number of materials to formulate your soil mix – which is essentially home made potting soil.

So, you’re just a simple afternoon project away from being a square foot gardener.  If you haven’t already tried it, you should .

Happy gardening.

While I was Gardening…

March 28th, 2009

Actually I was turning compost…

When this harmless lizzard grows up he will lose that beautiful blue color, and be a rather plain looking 5 lined Skink.

When this harmless lizard grows up he will lose that beautiful blue color, and be a rather plain looking 5 lined Skink.

I imagine it was a shock to be uncovered like that in the middle of March, but I put him back in a safe spot after taking his picture.

Lizards like this Juvenile Five Lined Skink (sounds like something from “Harry Potter” doesn’t it) are extremely beneficial and other than the single rare exception of the Gila Monster (found only in the desert South West of North America) are completely harmless to humans.  That also goes for the vast majority of snakes.  Please don’t kill them just because you were taught to be afraid of things with scales.

During warm weather reptile metabolisms soar and lizards and small snakes eat vast numbers of insects while doing exactly zero dammage to you or your garden.  Larger snakes also eat rodents.  Our most common large snakes here in central Tennessee – the king snakes – also eat other snakes including poisonous species.

Five Lined Skinks grow to about 5 or 6 inches in length and live 5 years more or less if they aren’t eaten by a hawk, other bird, or domestic cat.  The females lay a clutch of eggs late in the spring in decaying organic matter (such as compost) and guard the nest until the eggs hatch.  Newborns look just like the one in the picture above, but are only around 2 inches long.  When they grow up they lose the blue coloration, and males turn red around the jaw and throat. In older adults the stripes will also fade away leaving a rather bland brown lizard with the glory of youth only a fond memory.

If they aren’t cold lizards in general are very hard to catch – being wary and fast.  If caught, skinks can shed their tale which wiggles about distractingly while the rest of the lizard makes a break for it.  If they escape with their life they will grow a new tail – although it’s usually kind of stumpy looking.

Lizards are interesting, beneficial, harmless, and usually too small to make a helping – so please leave them in peace when you find one.

Simple Plastic Tunnel Cold Frame or Row Cover

March 3rd, 2009
This plastic tunnel is being used inside of the greenhouse to protect tender plants against a late hard freeze - very effectively I might add.

This plastic tunnel is being used inside of the greenhouse to protect tender plants against a late hard freeze - very effectively I might add.

A simple plastic tunnel like this can serve as a cold frame to grow salad greens  all winter long, to grow out tomatoes and other tender plants, to extend the season for an early Spring start or a late Fall harvest, or even as a screen house to keep birds off of your strawberries or vine borer moths off of your squashes.  You can also use one of these to dry out water logged beds and warm up the soil so that you can begin planting  in early Spring. These devices are so useful, cheap, easy, and quick to build that everyone should have at least one – it’s almost as good as having your own polytunnel greenhouse. » Read more: Simple Plastic Tunnel Cold Frame or Row Cover

Prevent Garden Pests by Rotating Crops

February 23rd, 2009

raised-beds2

Before farmers had the option of battling pests and diseases by applying petroleum based poisons to crops or tampering with genetic designs they worked out sustainable systems to manage  insects and pathogens by rotating crops. » Read more: Prevent Garden Pests by Rotating Crops

Home Made Bottom Heat for Seed Starting (or pet bed)

February 17th, 2009
These tomatoe plants were grown under shop lights in only 4 weeks from planting the seeds!

I always had problems starting seeds in our plant room, but these tomato plants were grown under shop lights in only 4 weeks from planting the seeds!

These seedlings were planted only one week ago.  I used to wait weeks for germination that was spotty at best in my cool plant grow room.

These seedlings were planted only one week ago. I used to wait weeks for germination that was spotty at best in my cool plant grow room.

The answer was simple…
Recycling rope lights turn out to be a great way to make bottom heat for seed starting under lights.

Recycled rope lights turn out to be a great way to make bottom heat for seed starting under lights.

I built our “plant room” about 2 years ago – just a small well insulated room with a lot of windows and shop lights – and since then I’ve tried starting my own seeds with varying degrees of success.  The problem that I’ve had is that over night temperatures in the room routinely fall into the 50s which is fine for maintaining tender plants over the Winter, but makes seed germination spotty at best.  I knew that what I needed was bottom heat.

The thing is that retail bottom heat is expensive – I saw one “kit” at a local garden center that was big enough for 2 flats and was $79 – wow!  You can buy a lot of tomato plants for eighty bucks!  A low cost alternative had to be possible for a dedicated scrounger like myself.

Whatever I decided upon had to be:

  1. Safe – neither an electrical shock nor a fire hazard!
  2. Cheap
  3. Simple
  4. Big  enough to start all of our early Spring seeds.

Before proceeding – You the reader must agree that you will not hold the author or anyone associated with doorgarden.com responsible for your use of this information.  What you see being done in this article may not be safe (and probably isn’t), and could cause injury, death, destruction, mayhem, fire, dammage to your home, and prolong the economic downturn by preventing you from spending money and thereby stimulating the economy.  It might not even work.  In any event thou shalt not hold me responsible.  If you don’t agree with any of that then turn back now – don’t even look at the pictures. » Read more: Home Made Bottom Heat for Seed Starting (or pet bed)

Plant Spacing for Intensive Gardening Methods

January 26th, 2009
That sweet corn is way too close together - the yield was very small, and much of it fell over after a big rain because of the shallow restricted roots.
That sweet corn inter-planted with pole beans (an experiment) is way too close together – the yield was very small, and much of it fell over after a big rain because of the shallow restricted roots.

Recommended Spacing for Intensive Planting  Methods

Plant Inches Plant Inches
Asparagus 15 – 18 Lettuce, head 10 – 12
Beans, lima 4 – 6 Lettuce, leaf 4 – 6
Beans, pole 6 – 12 Melons 18 – 24
Beans, bush 4 – 6 Mustard 6 – 9
Beets 2 – 4 Okra 12 – 18
Broccoli 12 – 18 Onion 2 – 4
Brussels sprouts 15 – 18 Peas 2 – 4
Cabbage 15 – 18 Peppers 12 – 15
Cabbage, Chinese 10 – 12 Potatoes 10 – 12
Carrots 2 – 3 Pumpkins 24 – 36
Cauliflower 15 – 18 Radishes 2 – 3
Cucumber 12 – 18 Rutabaga 4 – 6
Chard, Swiss 6 – 9 Southern pea 3 – 4
Collards 12 – 15 Spinach 4 – 6
Endive 15 – 18 Squash, summer 18 – 24
Eggplant 18 – 24 Squash, winter 24 – 36
Kale 15 – 18 Sweet corn 15 – 18
Kohlrabi 6 – 9 Tomatoes 18 – 24
Leeks 3 – 6 Turnip 4 – 6

Arizona State University Master Gardener Manual: Intensive Gardening Methods. » Read more: Plant Spacing for Intensive Gardening Methods

Easy Potting Soil Sterilization

January 20th, 2009

I usually don’t worry about sterilizing compost or home made potting soil. However, this year I’m starting most of my plants under lights in a rather cool grow room – a fairly substantial investment of effort and time – and I just don’t want to take any chances.

If I had planned ahead I would have done solar pasturization by putting saran wrap on the top of a picnic cooler full of compost.  Since I didn’t plan ahead I did this instead:

Grilled dirt anyone?  The oven bag makes it look kinda like a dirt haggis.

Grilled dirt anyone? The oven bag makes it look kinda like a dirt haggis.

An oven bag full of  my best screened compost cooked well done on the gas grill.  I added about a quart of water so that it would all steam evenly, and punched a small hole in the top to keep it from building pressure – took about 2 1/2 hours to reach 170 degrees Fahrenheit.  The probe thermometer lets you be more efficient by not opening the lid.  Needless to say plan on just letting it sit there for several hours to cool.

If you only cook the compost you should be able to make 2-3 times this volume of sterile homemade organic potting soil by the time you add the other ingredients.

The oven bag looks no worse for wear and tear, and I don’t see why you couldn’t reuse it again – for dirt of course.  Next time though maybe I’ll do better and use sunshine instead of fossil fuel, but in the middle of January this worked pretty well without cooking dirt in the kitchen.

Potting Soil From Compost

December 31st, 2008

Every year lately I make a big batch or two of potting soil – it saves quite a lot of money and it’s more convenient than working with a bunch of awkward leaky plastic bags.  Plus I know what goes into it.

This is the rig that I use to screen compost – it works very well and is built out of scrap lumber and a piece of 1/2″ by 1″ galvanized wire mesh left over from building some rabbit cages.

The last time I painted the garage roof I gave my retired commercial wheel barrow a nice thick coating with the last bit of roof paint to keep from having leftovers.  It’s ugly, but it keeps it from rusting.

A simple efficient compost screener

A simple efficient compost screener

Just work your compost around with a hoe and pull the big pieces off the back.  Toss them back  on to the compost pile when you finish. » Read more: Potting Soil From Compost

How to build My 50 Dollar Greenhouse

October 27th, 2008
  • First off – you really can build this thing very cheaply, but to do so you have to recycle, freecycle, and scrounge.  If you just go out and buy new everything it will probably cost over $200 – still not bad all in all.
  • This Article is featured in Jan 2010 issue of Birds and Blooms Magazine!
  • Want to find out if this thing works before you read all this?  Read 6 months in the Greenhouse first.
  • Want to see what happens when a few inches of wet snow accumulates on this?  Collapse!
  • Building the Greenhouse Doors is addressed in a separate article – isn’t this enough for one weekend?
My $50 Greenhouse

My $50 Greenhouse

Welcome Stumbleupon Gardeners! How about a Thumb up if you like this article?

Materials list

Construction Steps

Hind Sight – What I would do differently

The planning is over and construction on my hoop house greenhouse has begun.  I’ve rounded up all of the materials and it looks like I’m going to end up with about $50 in a 165 square ft. green house. Granted I already had most of the materials because I’m an incorrigible pack rat, but even if I had bought everything new just for this polytunnel It would still only come to about $120 $150 – less than a dollar per square ft.  Due to the fact that we are in the midst of a global economic meltdown, and the future is a bit uncertain keeping the cost of this project as low as possible is an important consideration. » Read more: How to build My 50 Dollar Greenhouse