Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Easy gardening

Is it unforgivable to have a gardening blog and not post for the entire month of April, or is it the other way around?

Given other commitments , I expected that I might not have much time for the garden this year. But truth be told, aside from some mowing left undone and some hoped-for projects unstarted, I'm about as set as I've ever been gardening-wise.

Mainly, I'm just not worrying about too much this year.

Once again I failed at tomato seed-starting , but rather than having a mid-March panic, I picked up some nursery seedlings and got the show rolling. I added a few more by the beginning of April, tucked them in here and there among the still-producing lettuce and they're looking great. I also haven't pinched a single sucker so far and don't plan to -- just to see how it goes.

That lettuce, along with the spinach and chard that the squirrels were going to town on in the fall, came back to life and provided plenty of salads. The chard is actually still going strong and keeping the un-thinned leeks company.

And while my struggles with the Squashbane are well documented, I'm trying a new approach this year -- the all-you-can-eat squash-vine borer buffet.

In the new in-ground bed I cut in the fall, I've got zucchini, tromboncino, crook-neck, cucumbers and canteloupe -- all cucurbits, plus a volunteer tomato and some garbanzos I planted as cover late in the winter.

Come get it!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Winter time is here again

Nine PM, and I'm in a rain jacket and gloves with a headlamp under my hood wrangling wet plastic over the garden, because the weatherpeople were right for once and it's sleeting. I'm not actually worried about the temperature so much, but I'm now on my second set of beet and lettuce seedlings, and the third set of spinach, and I figure they can use all the help they can get.

As you may recall from my last post, lo those many weeks ago, something mysterious had decided to chew on every new plant in the garden. I suspected insects and disbelieved my rodent-phobic wife's accusations against the squirrels. But that was before I caught one of the furry bastards in the act of jumping into the Swiss Chard box.

I released the Kraken on him ...

But he was too fast. (The Kraken, by the way, has honed her hunting skills since the departure of her mentor, and has already upped her career body count by one.)

The squirrels still don't seem to get the message though, which is why I had to institute some food security measures.

The chard has been netted.

The beets are on lockdown.

Lettuce dreams of freedom.

And the spinach is awaiting due process.

I think operation "garden-tanamo" has been a success, as everything is putting on new growth and not getting eaten to the ground. However, I worry that all the setbacks may not bode well for my fourth-season gardening. With the sleet currently falling outside and first freeze looming, these leafy greens have missed out on some prime cool sunny fall days.

And, hard as it is to believe, we're about a month away from tomato seed-starting time! I might be pursuing a different approach on that front this year though.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Still growing ...

It's so nice this time of year to remember that we don't actually live on the surface of Mercury.

The artichokes have taken advantage of the cool weather to put on some growth. I may have helped a bit by completely excavating their roots and packing in fresh compost and fertilizer.

The serranos have also finally decided to get busy.

Green beans are in.

Swiss chard has made its debut in the crazy billionaire garden ...

joining the broccoli raab, Chinese kale, shallots and garlic.

But all the news is not so pleasant. After promising starts, every beet, lettuce and spinach seedling got devoured over the course of about 3 days. I still haven't identified the culprit. Squirrel? Grasshopper? Caterpillar? Beetle? Pill bug?

I put in some fresh beet seeds over the weekend, and am waiting for the green beans to finish before reseeding lettuce and spinach. Hopefully whatever it was has reached its low temperature limit. otherwise, I'll just have to keep replanting. I do have plenty of seeds.

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Monday, October 6, 2008

The plantening continues

New seeds planted this past weekend:

Spinach, Bloomsdale Long-Standing and Catalina baby leaf

Chinese Kale (I think this is the same as Chinese broccoli)

Broccoli Raab




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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back in the dirt.

Despite my carrot-loving friend's absence, I got out and did a bit of Fall planting today. Carrot and beet seeds are in the ground.

Yesterday was full of enjoyably back-breaking compost turning and bed preparation, with a little lettuce planting  and artichoke side-dressing for dessert.

As I had hoped, the cooler weather seems to be good motivation for gardening. We'll see if it helps with the garden blogging.


Oak Leaf leaf lettuce, Tom Thumb and Winter Density head lettuce from seed, 9/27/2008

Early Wonder beet, Scarlet Nantes and Danvers Half Long carrots from seed, 9/28/2008

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Saturday, September 13, 2008


Still not a lot to report around these parts. I've been lamenting the effects of this summer's crushing heat, particularly earlier in the week when the two surviving growing tips of my tromboncino squash got roasted to a crisp in the afternoon sun. Oh, and did I mention that control squash is all et up with the squash bugs, and I've still got no eggplants? It's a bit demoralizing.

Note to self -- just take next August off. I'm sure there are plenty of gardeners elsewhere who would say that a 10-month growing season is plenty.

Today was nice though. Hurricane Ike (or as it turned out here in Austin, "Hurricane Psych") gave us a day of cloud cover if no rain. I got out and turned up one of the empty beds. It's good to get into the dirt again.

I put in some green bean seeds when I was done, and have been giving some thought to the fall garden plan. At the moment, lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, broccoli-kale, onions, garlic and leeks are on deck.

In other news, we got a new patio door. My friend John helped me install it last week and I've been fiddling with the trim some today. Addie hates it since she can't see the yard when the blinds are up.

It's for the best though. She would have died if she had seen this display of nerve out there earlier.

Planted: Green beans, Burpee Stringless Green Pod from seed, 9/13/2008

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

What is the deal with my eggplant?

Since my accidental all-night watering about a month ago, the eggplant have really turned on the blossoms. I took the hint and have been trying to keep that bed plenty moist, and have gotten a bit of help from some recent rain.

However, every one of those blossoms so far have ended up on the ground, leaving behind tiny stubs that are absolutely no good in a pork stir fry or breaded and smothered in tomato sauce and melted mozzarella.

So tell me gardeners of the blogosphere, what am I doing wrong? Still too little water? Too much water? Too hot? And whatever it is, is it the same story for my peppers?

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Return to the garden

It's amazing what actual rain will do for the garden and for my willingness to go walk around outside taking pictures of it.

This little patch popped up today near the acorn squash. It never ceases to amaze me how suddenly fungi fruit. And seeing this one reminded me of last year's freakish monsoon summer during which I identified probably a dozen different fungi in and around the garden.

The control acorn has seen fit to make its presence known to the local pollinator's union. In the upper left there, you can just see a little female blossom, which I hope gets a chance to get it on before you-know-who starts laying eggs.

The recent rains and perhaps the harvesting of the last two melons on the vine have inspired a fit of blossoming in the cantaloupe patch, with quite a few females like this one. We might just get a few more fruits before it's all done. Seven so far, for those of you keeping score.

And this guy and a few friends decided to poke their heads up this week. They're about the most colorful things growing in the lawn for sure.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Wrap it up

It's too hot out there to grow anything, so maybe it's time for some reflecting (Thanks for the inspiration, Katie and Lewru.)

This has been my third summer of gardening. It seems like I've read that an organic garden needs three years to really hit its stride. That's three years of regular amending with compost, feeding the soil with organic matter and, of course, not using chemical pesticides or fertilizers. During that time, ostensibly, you're creating a hospitable environment in your soil and garden for the diverse population of microbes, worms and other critters that turn organic matter into plant food.

The summer crops did grow better than ever this year, although I don't think there was any third-year magic involved. This was my first dry summer using the new soaker-hose irrigation system and the first season since I turned up all that native clay into the peat/compost soilless mix.

Yet, I still don't think my garden grows very well. I sure don't think so when I read about random folks' gardens on GardenWeb or when I go see how the pros are growing at the Natural Gardener. I thought that having a garden meant desperately looking for friends and coworkers to take produce off your hands in the summer, but I haven't found that to be the case.

I doubt there's a single magic trick that will turn my garden into the Fertile Crescent (pre-modern times, that is). But maybe there are some clues here:

What worked this year.

  • More clay was a good thing. The raised beds still dry out and water soaks almost straight down from the soaker hoses, but their water-holding capacity is obviously improved.
  • I feel good about my decisive executions of squash and tomatoes. Rather than staring at sad dying plants for weeks, I opted to yank them out as soon as the end was evident.
  • Varieties that will be asked back: Ambrosia cantaloupes have been awesome. And if the squash experiment goes well, I may have to plant them everywhere. Brandywine -- these produced well and were delicious.
  • Leeks are awesome.
What didn't work.
  • Forget the tomato ring. I'm always desperate to find homes for tomato seedlings and have been planting a few in the shady corner around the compost pile. I do get a couple of tomatoes off them, but all in all, I don't think it's worth the effort.
  • Again I didn't give the cream peas much of a chance. I need to plant them earlier, in larger quantity in a real bed.
  • Varieties to pitch: Costoluto Genovese -- not very flavorful and the convoluted shape means it's mostly skin. Principe Borghese -- disappointingly tiny. I think for sauce/drying next time I'm going to go with some hybrid romas. Persimmon -- not its fault, but I wasn't too fond of the tart/salty flavor. Not a big producer either. 
  • The earthtainer tomato actually worked pretty well, but I don't think it's worth the effort of having a separate container that needs hand watering. Perhaps I'll plant it up and pass it along to a garden-less friend.
Things to do differently.
  • Water the hell out of everything. I thought I was watering pretty well, then I went and left the soakers going for 12 hours straight on accident a few weeks ago. Since then, the eggplants have gone crazy with blossoms. I made a similar mistake with the peppers, and now I'm seeing the first blossoms of the year on a couple of them.
  • It's always hard to tell, but I think my feeding regime worked well. I think I might try increasing the amount of initial feeding and remember to do a mid-season side-dressing.
  • Feed the artichokes. The artichokes have always been small and loose and I think maybe they need more food. I may dig them up completely and add a couple of bags of manure and plenty of food to the holes.
  • Be more conscientious with the leek planting. I kind of half-assed these at seeding, and was regretting it when harvesting those delicious leeks. Also, plant more of them.
  • Try sweet potatoes, if I can find space.
  • Plant garlic, lots of it.
  • Plant more onions.
  • GASP! Try a couple of hybrid tomatoes. I'm a big fan of heirlooms, but I also like science. it would be interesting to see how yields compare.
I'm sure there's more, but you people probably have work to do.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Round 2

I'm about to kick it with the Scientific Method, 7th-grade style. So get ready.

1. Question: Is there something about cantaloupe plants that cause them to repel Squash Vine Borer moths? If so, could that trait be used to protect other plants from SVB infestation?

2. Research: Cantaloupe is theoretically one of the preferred victims of the Squash Vine Borer. However, cantaloupe in the garden have remained completely untouched by SVBs this year, even as squash have been completely decimated. It has been observed that while the cantaloupe vines look almost identical to squash vines, they tend to exude a strong sweet odor that squash plants lack.

3. Hypothesis: Cantaloupe vines could be used as either a cover or camouflage to prevent SVB moths from laying eggs on susceptible squash plants.

4. Design experiment: Plant a squash plant between two hills and among the spreading vines of cantaloupe plants. Plant a control squash nearby, but away from the cantaloupe. Watch for signs of SVB egg-laying and larvae infestation in both plants.

5. Conduct experiment: Two identical acorn squash plants were purchased on July  25th at the Natural Gardener. While in the store, investigator's wife embarrassed him by trying to take sneaky photo of investigator and John Dromgoole, causing investigator to retreat to the windchime department.

One squash was planted  midway between two established Ambrosia cantaloupe plants in a hole amended with cottonseed meal and kelp meal.

Where's Waldo?

The other squash plant was planted in a similarly-amended hole 5 feet away in a bed that currently has one basil plant in it.

6. Record data:

7. Draw conclusions:

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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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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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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Drying tomatoes

Pick a bunch of tomatoes. Generally, varieties designated as paste, roma, or plum are best since they're drier to begin with and are kind of mealy when eaten fresh. These are also the ones you'd want to use for making sauce. Certainly you can dry any kind, but you'd hate to wake up one morning in September and realize you could have had one more tomato sandwich or Caprese salad, but squandered it on tomato jerky instead.

Slice them up. Smaller tomatoes like these, you can just cut in half. I found that these Principe Borgheses had a flattened shape, and that if you cut them parallel to the flattened sides, the seeds where much easier to remove -- other tomatoes may vary.

Poke your fingers into the halves and squish out most of the seeds and gel, then lay them out on a rack on a baking sheet.

You can sprinkle them with a little bit of kosher salt to help get the juices out and add a little flavor. Actually, you could add all sorts of fanciness at this point, like fresh herbs, or balsamic, but keeping it simple will give you more options when you're ready to use them.

Put them in the oven somewhere between 150 and 225 and let them go for a few hours. The time will depend on your temperature and how dry you want them to be, but you can probably count on 3-4 hours. If you start too late at night and want to go to bed, just turn off the oven and turn it on again in the morning. This is some definite low-impact cooking.

When they're done, you can eat them like candy, add them to sauces for extra sweetness, use them whole or chopped in pasta or pizzas, or grind them up in pesto. We put them in plastic and freeze them, which is an especially awesome idea when you remember them in December. You can also cover them in olive oil and store them in the refrigerator for a while, which preserves them and gives you tomato-infused oil.

And that is all I know about oven-dried tomatoes.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

One down

While I may have suspended my squirrel eradication campaign, I neglected to notify junior gardener number two of the change in policy.

Isn't she a sweetheart?

Addie achieved her second career kill this morning when a very stupid squirrel decided to re-enter the yard after having been chased out. On re-entry, he made it to the safety of the oak tree. But rather than waiting for me to get sick of the dogs barking and bring them inside, like the smart squirrels do, he bolted for the fence and never made it.

Retrieving a squirrel from a terrier is not an easy task, but here are some tips. If you can get the other terrier indoors, the first one will bring the squirrel right up to you to show it to you and receive full credit. She will not let you hold it, however, until you pick her up by her hind legs and hang her upside down.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008


Back from vacation. It was a relaxing week of sleeping, reading, swimming and visiting a most-curious village.

I ate my first tomato sandwich of the year -- Oatnut bread, Hellman's mayo, and a Black Krim, which I can recommend highly. My first BLT was quite acceptable, what with the home-cured bacon. I used a Mortgage Lifter for that, which was good, but I can't say it lived up to the hype.

The garden weathered a nine-day period of 98+ high temps and no rain pretty well, thanks to my gardensitters, one of whom won the raffle prize of the first cantaloupe of the year -- I can't wait to hear how it was. When I got back this afternoon, I picked 7 pounds of tomatoes. Most of those were Principe Borghese, which will get dried in the oven in the next couple of days.

I also picked a Brandywine, a Persimmon (I think) and about 10 of our mystery black tomatoes. Oh, also three skinny white Asian eggplants and a late-breaking artichoke from the second plant that got a late start in the Fall.

And I just finished a dinner of penne with the aforementioned eggplant, a Costoluto Genovese, spinach, and homemade pancetta.

And this concludes my entry for the most-riveting-blog-post-of-the-year award.

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Monday, June 9, 2008


Eggplant, Black Beauty -- first picked 6/2/2008

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Sunday, June 8, 2008


I know this is an awful-bloggery thing to do, but I'm noting that I'm on vacation this week so the thousands of you who spend your work days hitting the refresh button in hopes of finding new photos of produce won't be too disappointed. In an extra-bloggery move, I'm going to try to queue up a few quick posts over the week just to keep things fresh.

In fact, this very post was written in advance and queued. At this moment, I'm likely sitting on the beach drinking a cold beer and eating a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich. I'm not sure where the tomato came from, but I hope it ripened in my garden before we left town.

From last year's crop.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008


By popular demand, here's a post about cantaloupes.

My previous experience with melon growing includes a small hill of watermelon I planted in our backyard when I was about 12. As I recall, it produced two melons, the first of which was proudly harvested at about softball size by the bratty kid from next door. The second was still maturing on the vine when my brother got too close to it while mowing the yard and sucked the whole vine up into the lawnmower.

Attempt number two was last year with a couple of Moon and Stars watermelons that seemed to grow fine, until they succumbed to some sort of fungus or mold, I think, probably brought on by last year's damp monsoon weather.

This year, things seem to be going much better. After I built the new raised bed in February, I never got around to expending the money or labor needed to fill it with growing mix and instead opted to dig into the native soil beneath it and turn in a bit of leftover bagged compost and fertilizer mix. Most of the compost went in two hills inside the bed, where, in each, I planted one Ambrosia cantaloupe seedling from the Natural Gardener and covered the whole mess with a few inches of dead grass. That was March 26th.

They're growing pretty well.

All that foliage keeps the whole bed very well shaded, which I think is helping the water situation quite a bit. Melons are thirsty, I hear. It also makes it a little hard to find the melons. It seems that cantaloupes tend to produce nothing by male blossoms for quite a while at first. I was starting to get worried toward the end of April, when I finally noticed a few tiny melons here and there. A couple of weeks later, I noticed my most promising candidate, about the size of a pecan, had shriveled up and fallen off.

Then I dug around a bit and found three of these.

At this point, they're about 6-inches long and starting to develop those brown ridges and bumps on their skins. They're about 70 days from transplant, so I'm guessing the first could be ready within a couple of weeks, assuming squirrels or terriers don't find them first.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Here come the toms!

So these are the for-real first tomatoes of the summer.* The little ones are Principe Borghese, which are much smaller than I expected -- could be I need to water more. And the crazy-wrinkly ones are the Costoluto Genovese. 

Chump that I am, I took this photo on the patio, then stepped over to the garden to take some other photos. When I looked back over, she was at it again and had devoured both PBs and the multi-colored CG. I blame myself.

Principe Borghese -- first picked 5/29/2008

Costoluto Genovese -- first picked 5/31/2008

Both seedlings were planted out March 15, so that makes 75 and 77 days. Interestingly, these are rated at 75 and 78 days, respectively, but I think time to maturity is supposed to measure from seed under optimal conditions. I plant out relatively early, and these seedlings had some other circumstances to overcome.

*Here I have to admit to having picked a prematurely-ripened-by-BER Black Krim on 5/31 and, after slicing off the damaged portion, eaten it with a little salt. It was good. 

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SVB Update

The Squash Vine Borers, as expected, have done their damage.

The squash have been going downhill for about a week now, wilting easily during the day and not putting on as many blossoms. Saturday morning I pulled up the Peter Pan squash and tossed it in the compost pile after slitting it open and decapitating the inch-long larva inside (sorry, no photos).

Of the remaining three plants, one is still pretty strong, and the other two are looking decent, but small. Their stems all look something like this.

I've sliced into them lengthwise with a razor blade to see if I could catch the culprit, but there's no telling. I did find these in a spot by the fence where we grew tromboncino last year.

Those are the discarded cocoons (I probably saw a dozen of them) of the next brood, so I'm guessing they're not going to be done anytime soon.

Meanwhile, I've started seedlings for zucchini, butternut, and tromboncino. They grow extraordinarily fast, so I'm going to try to just keep a succession of squash going all summer. Screw those guys!

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Friday, May 16, 2008


You would have thought that running out of ground after planting 19 tomatoes would have been a sign that I should stop planting. Alas, the Internet made an appeal to my garden-nerd sensibilities and offered me a spot for one more tomato.

That spot is an on-the-cheap homemade version of a popular self-watering container that retails for 40 to 50 bucks. It's a planter that extends partially into a water reservoir so that water is constantly being wicked up to where the plant's roots can reach it.

There are plenty of fine tutorials online for this project, so I'll lay out the rudiments here and let you delve deeper elsewhere. Josh Mandel is the apparent originator of this thing -- and holy crap, I just found out, also the designer of Space Quest, a classic of computer adventure games. Also, if you wade into the Gardenweb tomatoes forum you'll find two guys who post under the names "rnewste" and "bingster" who are like a couple of tomato-planter mad scientists and have contributed some great innovations.

(update (6/16/2008) "rnewste" is Ray Newstead and he's teamed up with the TomatoFest folks to make his plans widely available as a public service. They've got a great guide online that will tell you everything you need to know and then some.)


Start with a pair of big plastic containers. The main problem with the commercial version is that it's not really large enough for a big robust indeterminate tomato growing anywhere south of Canada. I bought Rubbermaid 18-gallon bins for $6 each.

You also need a rigid basket-like container of some sort. I used a plant basket, which is meant for planting aquatic plants in a pond, although I've seen people use coffee cans punched full of holes. It has to retain soil, but let water in. And you need a piece of pipe, at least an inch-and-a-half wide and taller than your bin.

That's it for required materials. Everything else is optional.

Start by hacking off the bottom of one of the containers at a height equal to the height of your basket. Flip the bottom piece over and cut out a hole slightly smaller than the mouth of your basket, then attach the mouth of the basket to the hole so that the basket is inside the bin piece. I drilled holes and used zip ties.

Drill a bunch of little holes all over the top of the bin piece and one big hole at one end wide enough to fit your pipe.

In that photo, you can see that I lined my basket with a paint strainer for added soil retention, but it's probably not necessary.

Drop that whole assembly into the bottom of your other bin and you're mostly done. I cut some row cover cloth to seal the crack between the pieces to keep soil from dropping down into the bottom compartment, some people have used styrofoam peanuts for that, but again, it probably isn't necessary. Drill a couple of holes in the side of the outside bin slightly below the height of the other piece -- this is to drain excess water.

Now, put your pipe into the hole and fill the container with soil mix, starting with the basket, and wetting it down as you go. Your soil mix is kind of important. Since all of your watering will be done from the bottom, the mix has to have enough wicking capacity to pull the water up to near the top of the planter. The gold standard for this is apparently Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix. But if you're going organic, you'll need to be sure to have plenty of absorbent content like peat, vermiculite, or perlite. Sadly, I didn't really write down what I used, but I think it was something like this:

2 parts peat
2 parts commercial compost
1 part peat humus,
1/2 part each vermiculite and perlite
a few handfuls of my cottonseed/kelp/bone meal mix

Fill it up to overflowing, then dig a shallow trench near one side and fill it with a strip of your preferred fertilizer. The idea is that the wet soil will gradually dissolve the fertilizer and keep the plant fed over time. I'm not sure if I buy it, particularly using organic fertilizer, but that's what They say to do.

Cover the whole thing with a layer of plastic (I finally found a use for that red plastic tomato mulch I've had laying around) then put on one of the bin lids, after cutting out holes for your fill pipe and your plant in the lid and the plastic. The covering serves to retain moisture, but also to keep rain from getting in -- you mainly want the plant's water coming from below so that the fertilizer doesn't get washed out.

And there it is. Just keep the reservoir full (I've got a stick stuck to a wine cork to test my water level) and play the waiting game.

So is it worth it? Dunno. The tomato I planted in mine, Mortgage Lifter is doing quite well, so I think my soil mix is getting the water to the plant. It is nice to not have to worry about whether it needs watering or not, and I've only had to fill it once so far, although we haven't had real heat yet. I am also desperately needing to set up some supports for the plant, which has blown over in storms twice now.

I'll let you know how it goes.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Costoluto Genovese

I hate to commit the sin of pride, but I think the tomatoes are doing really well this year.

Blossoms have been generally prolific all around, and fruit is setting left and right. But none seem to be doing as well as the Costoluto Genovese. This variety doesn't get very good reviews as a slicing tomato, but there's always drying and saucing.

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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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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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Saturday, March 29, 2008

For future reference

The whole thing with gardening is that if you screw something up badly, you pretty much just have to live with it until next year. That's also what makes it rewarding and the reason old people are good at it. You have to wait until next season or year to apply any lesson you learned this season.

This is why people keep garden journals and the reason why every year I've wished I had kept one. Motivated by the near disaster with the tomato seedlings, I think this might be the year I start.

So ... entry one -- bed prep.

Raised Beds
First week of March this year, I double dug (OK, maybe not a textbook case of double-digging but I turned over every bit of soil in them and then some) our three existing raised beds and the soil beneath the new raised bed.

I haven't made a habit of doing this, in part because no-till gardening sounds like it kind of makes sense, and also because I'm lazy and it's hard work. However, I had a couple of thoughts that motivated me.

First, I've had it in my mind for a while that our beds, filled as they are with a soilless peat/compost/perlite mix ( a la Square Foot Gardening) are lacking in water-holding ability. Our native black clay soil knows all about water holding, and probably has a lot of good mineral content to boot. So, by digging down to the bottom of the beds and a couple of inches into the ground, I probably introduced a good 10 percent native soil to my growing mix. It's still very light and crumbly, but I can definitely feel the clay in the mix now.

Secondly, in my exploratory probing of these beds, I noticed a lot of roots that I suspect are from the neighbor's pecan trees. A friend of mine had a raised bed completely overtaken by pecan roots, so I figured it might not hurt to knock them back every few years.

Besides the digging, I did my usual routine of mixing in some fertilizer mix and sifting a wheelbarrow of compost out of the pile and topping off each bed with a layer of it, scratching it into the surface just a bit. I also pulled out my soaker hoses and reset them on top of the soil, nestled in a bit until they were level. (I'll have to devote a whole post sometime to my irrigation system)

Oh, and that new fourth bed -- I haven't really filled it, but I tilled it up pretty good at ground level, added some leftover bought compost, leaf mold, dry leaves and fertilizer mix and mixed it in.

So that's quite a bit for now. More later.