Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bringing Practical Back

I seem to have been been too busy or unmotivated to come up with anything good to write about in the past week. Maybe it's time we got back to the basics of this here garden blog.

Saturday I dropped some nutrition on a few plants. Everybody is looking mighty tired in this every-day 100-degree heat, so I thought maybe they could use some encouragement. I pulled out my trusty fertilizer bucket and gave a handful each of cottonseed, bone, and kelp meal to the cantaloupes and the new Tromboncino and Butternut squashes. 

I also gave a little bone and kelp to the peppers which have, as usual, been disappointing me with their refusal to hold onto blossoms long enough to make peppers. Yes, Cayenne, that's right, you've been very good about making peppers, although I wouldn't get too cocky since you can't seem to turn any of them red.

And then I yanked three tomatoes -- the ones that were growing around the compost bin, Japanese tomato-ring style. That's a shady area and it doesn't get much water, so they were all pretty sad looking. The upside of that is that I can now get to the compost to turn it, which reminds me that I've been meaning to write up my compost situation, which I'm sure you will all be hotly anticipating over the next week.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Brandywine, all the guys would say she's mighty fine.

Last year, I was just about convinced that I wouldn't grow Brandywines again. They're kind of the Platonic ideal of an heirloom tomato -- good size, sweet tomato flavor, meaty and tender -- but last summer they didn't bother to put on any fruit until about July, by which time I was only able to get about 2 or 3 of them. I figured they were just too big and thirsty for Texas, despite it being the year of the monsoon.

So fast forward to this year and my one Brandywine (I let it back into the garden on probation this time) has just given up a flush of nearly-perfect hefty pink fruits with 3 or 4 more coming soon and a couple of late setters on the vine.

It's good to see they can do so well. Probably all the rain last year caused a lot of the blossom drop, and possibly my new zeal for kelp and bonemeal helped with the fruit set, but it's safe to say that Brandywine will be getting renewed for the 2009 season.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008


Cantaloupe, Ambrosia, June 22, 2008 (seedlings planted March 26th) 89 days, >5 lbs.

Actually the second cantaloupe, the first one having been picked by John and Becky while they were garden-sitting. I've been waiting for the official tell-tale signs -- cantaloupe smell, softness around the stem, easy separation from the vine -- but it still wasn't showing any. It was, however, cracked on the blossom end and ants were starting to explore, so it had to be done, but it's plenty ready. It's not the sweetest one I've ever had, but it's mighty good.

As I was bringing it inside, I was reminded of what was probably a seminal experience for my organic gardening hobby. It was our family vacation to the mid-Atlantic when I was in the 4th grade (generally I date all childhood memories to the 4th grade, but I think it really was in this case) and we were doing some touring of Pennsylvania Dutch country.

Driving past Amish farms, the air was heavy with the smell of cow manure. At a restaurant or farm stand, we had a cantaloupe that we generally agreed was the best any of us had tasted and we attributed it to the Amish farmers' use of manure fertilizer. In hindsight, I think it was a basic realization for me that cow shit could grow tastier fruit than the granulated stuff in our shed at home.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Feeding tomatoes

Dang this site needs more pictures, y'all.

The tomatoes are getting visibly bigger every day and most of them have tiny blossoms. I'm taking that as a sign to stop the weekly dousings with fish emulsion to let them burn through all that nitrogen so it doesn't distract them from blossoming and fruit setting.

Today I paid some mind to the neglected East-side bed. That's the one that's in-ground, and along the fence, so it doesn't get morning sun. That hasn't kept it from producing a healthy crop of tomatoes the past 2 years though. However, I didn't do anything at all to the soil this year, just stuck 6 plants in among the onions and leeks. So, after work today I scratched in two handfuls of cottonseed/kelp/bone meal around each plant, laid down the soaker hose, which takes 3 loops to fit in the bed, and covered it all with a wheelbarrow full of grass clippings and leaf mold from the pile in the West-side bed.

Everything but the well-mulched raised beds was looking a bit dry, so I put a little water down on the cantaloupe, squash, artichokes and the corner-bed tomatoes. I also soaked the cream peas I planted on Saturday. Then I plugged in the soaker hose and let it run for 20 minutes on the East bed.

Basil's smelling good -- I can just taste the tomatoes ...

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Home Despot

I feel a twinge of guilt every time I buy garden supplies at Home Depot, but until I stop being so lazy or someone opens a nursery at all convenient to East Austin, I'll keep going there, especially once they open the new "green" location within biking distance.

I've noticed this year they're carrying an organic fertilizer that, the more I think about it, I might have to buy. $19 for a 40 pound mix of Corn Gluten Meal, Soybean Meal, Sunflower Meal, Yeast Culture, Dried Molasses, Dried Kelp, Alfalfa Meal, Fish Meal, Langbeinite, Limestone, Phosphate Rock and Sulfur is a lot better than I could do on my own. I actually don't think I've seen Corn Gluten Meal by itself that cheap.

They're really upselling the stuff too. Check out the prominent display in the far back corner of the garden section.

(That's it on the other side of the forklift.)


Monday, March 31, 2008

Fertilizer mix

The maddening thing about organic fertilizer is that it's kind of hard to get a handle on whether it really works. You aren't dumping a fast acting chemical that shows up in a day or two in the plants. You're adding material that the soil will digest and make available to the plants when it gets around to it.

It may just be yet another example of the slow pace of gardening. After only 3 years, I just haven't had enough opportunity to learn to notice the effects of different ingredients and proportions.

On the bright side, there's not much worry about overdoing it with organic fertilizers. As a result, I generally am pretty random with adding whatever I have around in whatever quantities seem right. But, I have been a little more consistent so far this year with my fertilizer mix, even though I've had to make up 2 or 3 separate batches. They've looked something like this:

4 parts cottonseed meal
1/2 part bone meal
1/2 part kelp meal
1/2 part Rabbit Hill Farm Minerals Plus

When refreshing the beds, I mixed in a handful per 3-4 square feet. Then I added another handful in each planting hole.

Here's what I know about these ingredients:

Cottonseed meal -- It's cheap and is supposed to provide a reasonably high proportion of nitrogen. It's also what they use for general purpose fertilizer at The Natural Gardener, which is a decent endorsement. Some organic gardeners avoid cottonseed meal because of the pesticides and defoliants used in cotton growing, but I'm not too concerned and have never seen any solid answer about it. It might also not be approved for certified organic use.

Bone meal -- It's a phosphorous, and I guess calcium, source. It also takes a while to break down, so getting it into the soil early gives you time before the tomatoes start blooming, which is when phosphorous supposedly comes into play. Hardcore organic folks balk at using ground up animal bones in the garden, but they just don't appreciate the irony of vegetables eating animals.

Kelp meal -- A Potassium and trace minerals source. It supposedly also has some sort of hormone and enzyme content that promotes microbe action.

Minerals Plus -- I bought a bag of this a few years ago out of my concern for the lack of mineral content in my soilless mix and have been adding it generously in previous years. My thinking is that it serves the same purpose as lime would -- added calcium and other trace minerals.

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