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Pictures from around the garden

April 29, 2012

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10 Tips for better transplanting

April 27, 2012

This post might be a bit late to be useful this time around, but maybe not, I’ve just been so busy gardening…  Hopefully you’ve been doing the same!

I’m just going to put it out there like it is, no sugar coating. Are you ready?? I’ve made some pretty bad gardening decisions in the past, especially when transplanting. Sometimes it was a lack of time, other times were a result of just not knowing any better. Over the past couple of years I have learned some things that made this last round of transplanting just about perfect. Well, the transplanting part anyway, growing good transplants is another story all together, but I digress. Here are my tips:

1. Transplant late in the afternoon, after the sun is decreasing in strength and it has started to cool down a bit. This will give the plants the maximum amount of time to recover before having to face the sun.

2. Avoid transplanting on windy days if possible. The wind dries out the soil faster as well as it causes an increase in transpiration (moisture release) from the leaves. This is because on calm days the air around the leaves becomes more saturated and slows the release of water vapor. Since the plants may already be struggling with a change in environment, this additional loss of water can make things much worse.

3. Give your transplants a good soak before sticking them in the ground and then water them as soon as they are in the ground. Some people wait till they are all in the ground and then water everything at once. Not a good idea. The drier soil around the roots will wick the water away from the moist root ball. I like to soak mine in a weak seaweed solution right before I stick them in the ground. The trace minerals, vitamins, and natural growth stimulators get them off to a great start!

4. When choosing transplants, look at the bottom of the container. Do not buy transplants with the roots sticking out the drainage holes as they are more than likely root bound.

5. Fertilize with a good, organic, LIQUID fertilizer. The plants will be able to use the nutrients almost immediately and they will recover from transplant shock faster. The goal is to minimize, if not eliminate transplant shock.

6. Expose the roots to air as little as possible. Don’t pull the plant out of the pot until it is ready to go into the ground. The small root fibers are very sensitive and may die back if allowed to dry.

7. Properly harden off transplants before transplanting. Just like us, plants need to be acclimated to the new weather. This applies all year, not just in the extreme heat and cold.

8. Shade plants for a few days after transplanting, especially in the heat. I made little cages as described in Square Foot Gardening and I use clothespins to attach regular window screen that I have cut. One layer of screen provides about 12% shade so in the summer I double layer them. This also works really good for seed starting outside in the summer and late fall.

9. Transplant tomatoes as deep as you can without burying the top most set of leaves. Remove any lower leaves before planting. Tomatoes will sprout more roots all along the stem. More roots means a healthier, faster growing plant. 

10. Consider buying a soil blocker instead of using plastic or peat pots. Not only will you save money and not create plastic waste to add to the landfill, or hopefully the recycling center, but you will pretty much eliminate root bound plants and transplant shock.

There you have it! 10 tips to get your plants off to a better start. Better plants mean less pests and more food for your table.

Happy Gardening!

March weather recap

April 6, 2012

Looks like the warmer and wetter than average trend continued in March! The good news is we got almost double the amount of rain we typically do and it also looks like the actual average high and the typical average high are closer than what they have been the past few months. Maybe this summer won’t be as brutal? Oh no! Better find some wood to knock on and fast!

March 2012

Average March

High: 88 Record High: 98
Average Daily High: 76 Average Daily High: 72
Low: 42 Record Low: -18
Average Low: 56 Average low: 51
Precipitation: 5.50″ Precipitation: 2.76″

I have Worms!! Yes, you read that right.

March 26, 2012

Don’t worry, it’s the good kind of worms. Red wigglers to be exact. They eat pretty much everything that I would compost the traditional way. Onion pieces, radish greens, carrot tops, pea shells, bread, etc. You get the idea. Pretty much everything that isn’t meat. A red worm can eat half its weight a day, so if you have 5 lbs of worms, they can take down about 2 1/2 lbs of compostables a day. I have found this number fluctuates with temperature, what they have been fed, and moisture. When I started my system, I had one pound of worms and we were making more food than they could eat so I had to start some compost buckets for the extra stuff. Now that the system has been going for a little over a year, I rarely have more than they can eat. I have no idea how many I have now, but the maker of my system says it can easily hold 5 lbs of worms so I am guessing it’s somewhere around there.
What to use
I am using a system called the worm inn. It’s basically a bag where you put food and bedding in the top and get worm castings out of the bottom. The worms naturally move up as they eat the lower food and new food is added. Open the drawstrings at the bottom of the system and PRESTO! Worm castings!

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I like this system much better than plastic or wood bins because it breathes and doesn’t get overly soggy. The problem I have with plastic systems is that unless they have a lot of drainage holes, you are creating a worm swamp and if it’s too wet, you’ll have just a swamp with no worms. Same thing can apply to wood. I’ve also read that it can be a bit messy harvesting worm castings so that seems like a drawback to me.
Why compost with worms?
I already convinced you to compost, right? Good! That was easy. But why in the world would anyone want to keep worms? They are all wriggly and slimy looking! Space considerations aside, worms are good bacteria machines! I read a study done by The Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada in which they compared vermicompost to traditional compost. They found that the levels of beneficial microorganisms were up to 1000 times greater in vermicompost! Since we are trying to bring our soil to life, this is a big help! They also found that the nutrients were more accessible to plants. This resulted in bigger, healthier plants and a better yield. Other researchers found that vermicompost also stimulates further plant growth even when they are already receiving optimal nutrition! If you are a plant nerd like me, that’s more exciting than a new Star Trek movie! My apologies to all the Star Trek nerds out there, I needed an analogy.
What does it all mean?
For me, it means it’s a no brainer. I get better compost, in a shorter time, and in a less space. Compost any way you can, but I suggest giving worms a shot. They aren’t as goss as you think and i have definitely grown to appreciate them more than I did before, which also makes me think more about the overall health of my soil since I have some new friends to look out for.

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So I’ve convinced you, right? Good! What’s that you say? Worms are your new best friends? Awesome! Just don’t carry them around in your pocket. Besides being a bit creepy, I don’t think they’ll live long.
Happy gardening!

Plot 14 update – March

March 25, 2012

March has been a pretty good month so far! We’ve received about 5 inches of rain and the plants are loving it! It is getting a bit hot though, already we are getting days in the 80’s. The tomatoes and peppers are still small, but I expect they will take off soon!

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The chives and alyssum are blooming

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First strawberry of the year!

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The potatoes have been mounded and I am considering doing it again. They are huge!!

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I've never seen sage bloom before

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Oregano is nice and thick! It will make great pasta!

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Beans are poking their heads out

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What’s the difference between 700 and 30,000?

March 19, 2012

What’s the difference between 700 and 30,000? 29,300 of course! You already knew that though. Perhaps what you didn’t know is that 30,000 square feet is the estimated area needed to grow enough fruits and vegetables for a single person for a year in the current and industrialized agricultural model. You also might not have known that using bio-intensive growing methods (such as square food gardening or other systems) it is estimated that you can grow all the fruits and veggies for a family of three in 700 square feet. Yes, you read that right, THREE! Throw in another 700 square feet and you can grow much of what you need for compost to keep that original 700 square feet thriving. (source: Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 acre by Brett L. Markham)

So maybe my question should have been “what’s the difference between 233.33333333 and 30,000”, but I just don’t think it has the same ring to it. Either way, the numbers are staggering. Imagine what we could do with all that extra room!

A 35′ x 20′ garden is all it would take for you to grow most of your food. Most of us at the Well’s Branch Community Garden only have a 10′ x 20′ plot, some have two of them. That means that if we really worked at it and designed our gardens well, we could provide almost 1/3 of our produce needs for the year! If you spend as much as we do on groceries, that will really add up! I think that most people who garden don’t get the chance to realize any savings from their garden. I think the reality is that most of us pay extra money for the pleasure of growing our food. That’s fine, I’ll happily pay that price, but wouldn’t it be so much better if we could basically get paid for doing what we love?? I hope that’s a rhetorical question…

The best part about it for me? That’s easy. I know what I am eating. I know everything that went into my soil. I know that I didn’t spray my plants with toxic chemicals. I know that I can feel good about letting my son pick and eat anything in our plot. I know that I didn’t force anyone to work in terrible conditions or force them to work for low pay, or worse, to feed me.

 

Why everyone should compost

March 13, 2012

“To compost or not to compost. That is the question. Whether it is”… Wait, that’s not actually how that goes. It also is not really a question at all, everyone should compost.

Why? Consider that approximately 60% of the average household’s waste is organic matter. We are talking about produce scraps, coffee grounds, tea, hair from hair cuts (or that time you were trying to beat the world record for longest beard, but realized after 9 months that smell was actually coming from your face), lawn clippings, etc. That’s all stuff that is going to the landfill and since it will likely be covered in plastic, or other things, will never break down. Besides causing environmental harm, it’s also costing you money to have it removed. The more waste we send to the landfill, the more it will cost us.

Or how about my personal favorite and the reason that you are reading this blog, gardening. Simply put, in my opinion, compost is the single best thing you can add to the garden to give it life and help things grow. Hopefully this isn’t a surprise, but if it is, welcome to the party and the chips are over there on the table, next to the lamp and the picture of us on the beach. I digress. Compost is full of nutrition and life. Feed your soil and it will feed your plants. Many studies have shown that plants grown in soil amended with compost are healthier, more vigorous, higher yielding, and more resistant to diseases. Compost also adds humus to the soil which helps it stay loose and holds moisture. If your garden plot has as much clay in it as mine does, you need it! If we have another summer like we did last year, water retention is going to be a life saver!

So you’re convinced, right? Great! Where do you start? Good question. Any way you can. The best starting point will really be determined by the space you have. I live in an apartment. As much as i’d like to, making a big compost pile in the yard just isn’t going to happen right now so I chose worms. Composting with worms is called vermiposting. More on that system in another post. I have also tried composting in 5 gallon buckets. I am still waiting to see if the end product is good, but so far it seems to be working, just slower than I would like.

Piles, tumblers, and bins

If you are less area challenged than I am, consider a compost pile,  tumbler, or a compost bin. Compost tumblers are widely available these days and not horribly expensive. They are capable of breaking down a properly mixed collection of items in a few weeks. The drawback as that you shouldn’t continually add things as the compost needs time to break down. This means that you’ll probably need a secondary compost pile to add to while the compost in your tumbler is breaking down.

If you don’t want to spend the money on a compost tumbler, you can also make a bin. 2 bins are better, but a 3 bin system is best so you can have one bin finishing, one you are adding to, and an empty bin to rotate into as you stir your compost pile. It’s much easier than trying to turn a pile in it’s place. Simply empty the bin that is finishing into the empty bin and consider it turned. Bins can be as simple or elaborate as you like. They can be made from cinder blocks, wooden pallets, wire cages, etc. Whatever suits your fancy and your budget.

Even cheaper than bins are piles. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a big pile. The benefit is it’s free, the drawback is it’s not as pretty as a bin. Similar to the bins, you’ll want 2 piles.

Anyone wanting to know more about composting should check out the Rodale Guide to Composting.