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Monday, April 23, 2012

Egg Shells for your Garden: Use the Coffee Grinder!

Tired of finding huge chunks of egg shell in your compost or garden beds, long after putting them in?  If you're like me, you do your best to crush up the egg shells before throwing them in the composter, but they hold together pretty well, even after cooking in the compost tumbler for a few months!

Someone, somewhere, gave me the idea of using the coffee grinder to make "egg shell dust" and I've found this method to work very well.  A food processor would probably also work fairly well, but I'm afraid the egg shells might be hard on the blades.  We don't use the coffee grinder anymore since my wife started using the Keurig, so the coffee grinder is perfect!

I mixed the resulting finely ground egg shells directly into the garden as I planted my tomatoes this spring, to help combat blossem end rot.  I also had tilled some bone meal into the bed during its initial preparation a few months ago.

Building up the Asparagus Bed

I planted asparagus crowns in an old unused raised bed a few weeks ago.  This bed gets partial shade in the summer - sunlight really from mid day through evening, and doesn't get a lot of sun in the winter.  while I love asparagus, I don't like plants that take up a lot of year round growing space without a lot of production, as I'm limited in space.  I'm hoping that the asparagus does well here, but if it doesn't - oh well!

The bed is a little over 2 feet wide and 8 feet long.  It's also 8" deep.  Underneath the 8" of soil is clay and pine tree roots.  Not the friendliest of environments probably.    I didn't amend the soil really when I did my planting, though it's loose and filled with organic matter - a mixture of bark and dead roots from previous plantings.  Not sure how rich the soil is.

I planted the crows about 6" down (I didn't want them sitting right on top of the clay base).  Several of the crowns have started growing and have popped well above the soil.  I need the bed to be deeper, so I spent a few dollars at Home Depot for a 12' 2x8 and an 8' 2x8, so I could make an 8" tall addition to the bed.  I'd only planted asparagus in about 6' of the bed so I'm leaving the other 2' at its normal depth.

After completing the additional frame, I laid it on the bed, and carefully added more garden soil.  In a few weeks, I'll probably top this off one more time with some good rich compost, in hopes that the nutrients will soak down through the layers of the bed.

Here are some pictures!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Cattle Panel - Multipurpose gardening helper!

Before I few weeks ago, I'd never heard of Cattle Panel.  Now, I know it as an immensely cool thing to use in my garden!

To start, cattle panel is approximately 4 feet wide and 16 feet long.  It is made of galvanized, heavy gauge wire - much sturdier than your average garden fencing.  It's galvanized so it won't rust like concrete reinforcing wire.

It's not typically sold at Home Depot, but here in the Raleigh area, it's sold at both Tractor Supply and Agri-supply for between $20 and $25.

As for the uses, well, obviously, it's suitable for use as a arched trellis - I've already done this in my yard:

Cattle Panel Arch Trellis in my garden.

Of course, it would make an excellent vertical trellis for just about any vegetable, but especially so if you're growing heavier fruits vertically, like canteloupe and those sugar baby watermelons.  If my wife would let me, I'd put in a 2'x16' bed and use this as a cucumber trellis.

Cucumber Trellises made from Cattle Panel

But what I hadn't considered were its uses as building material.  For example, check out Eric's Projects: Greenhouse made from 2x4s and Cattle Panel:

Greenhouse made from Cattle Panel

This makes me wish I had a bigger yard, I want a cheap, low cost greenhouse too!  Eric also built a chicken coop out of Cattle Panel.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Weekend Out in the Garden

Following a brief trip to the state farmer's market Saturday morning, and a few hours volunteering at the community garden, I spent most of the rest of my weekend out in the yard, planting stuff!  Rather than write all about it, I'll just post some captioned pictures...

Zucchini, dill, and lime basil on the left.  Cucumber seeds planted below the trellis on the right, along with some empty space.  Celebrity tomato in the pot.

Bunching green onions, yellow onions, romaine lettuce, one cabbage plant (Early jersey), and two newly purchased "Better Bush" tomatoes.

Peas with lots of blooms!  Hope they finish up soon as I need this space!

On the left, small fruited ornamental gourds, parsley, some "Big Smile" sunflowers, and a Champion pumpkin.  On the right, straight 8 cucumber seedlings, zucchini seedlings, and a catnip plant.

Added more wall here and filled it in with good compost blend garden soil.  Along the front edge, I planted creeping thyme and onion chives, with a row of Zinnie's behind that.  Along the right, 2 rows of Big Smile dwarf sunflowers.  Might put some kind of trellis in empty space there and plant a climbing rose.

I also built four more pickle bucket planters, two of which now contain pumpkin vines.  I will probably have pumpkins in August, as I've planted them too early :)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

It's planting time for (some) Summer Crops!

With patchy frost last night, and forecast low of 35 degrees tonight, this is "winter's last gasp" I believe.  While there was frost on my car this morning, there was none on the ground.  Some of the more delicate plants may have suffered damage if I hadn't covered them up though.  Frost is less likely tonight, and so I will probably only cover the items that are most susceptible, like the fig tree with its leaves far from the warmth of the ground, and the potted tomatoes.

But then, the weather really turns to late spring and even gets a bit summer like!  Take a look at the 10 day forecast for Apex.  77 on Saturday, then 84, 87, 85, 78, 75, 78, and 77!  Yes, I want my plants in the ground for that kind of warmth!

Most of my seedlings have already spent some time outdoors in the sun, so I think they are "hardened off".  So I will plant all of the following items this weekend:
  • tomatoes (6 varieties)
  • cucumbers
  • ornamental gourds
  • pumpkin
  • zucchini (2 varieties)
  • Purchased herb starts: Parsley, Onion Chives, Sage, and Catnip
I will NOT be planting my peppers yet, as they like warmer soil.  Plus my pepper seedlings are still kind of weak following their transplant from the peat pellets to the 3.5" peat pots.  They need a couple of weeks to recover!  Quite honestly, I'm concerned for their health.  They just don't look as good as they did last year.

Yesterday, I added three 50 pound bags of Black Kow (composted cow manure) to my tomato beds.  I'm also going to pick up a truckload of compost on my way home today and mix it into the tomato bed and the place where my cukes and zukes will be planted, and various other locations (such as next to the arch trellis I built last weekend.

I may also make a new 2'x16' raised bed along the back of my yard for climbing vegetables, and get another piece of cattle panel to use as the trellis.  Have to get Adrienne's permission for that!

And finally, it's another Saturday work day at the Simple Gifts Community Garden in Apex.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Volunteering at the Simple Gifts Community Garden in Apex

Saturday morning I went up to the Simple Gifts Community Garden in Apex to volunteer.  I arrived right at the same time as Sandra, who was the scheduled "attendant" for the day.  Sandra kindly gave me a tour of the garden.  It was a very nice, large layout consisting of numerous raised rows, all protected by nice tall deer fencing.  The garden itself was probably bigger than my entire yard!  They were plumbed into the pond on the property for drip irrigation, and the crops in place were looking pretty good.

I want to say about 10-12 people showed up to do various items from the list.  I helped put up a couple of pea trellises, weeded a row of peas that needed weeding, and helped amend, turn, and widen an empty row to make it ready for an upcoming planting.

I met some nice people and enjoyed getting a little dirty and spending some time out in the garden.  My own garden isn't quite big enough to really require significant amounts of work, so I can get my fix this way!

It was an enjoyable experience, and I'll be heading back on a regular basis!

Here are a few pictures:

Nice looking garlic!

Two rows, ready for something!  Newly widened and amended with compost.

The row of strawberries really looks fantastic!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Community Gardens Share Nature's Bounty

The "Southwest Wake News" shows up on our doorstep twice a week, whether we we want it or not.  We're not newspaper subscribers, though I do tend to at least glance at the front page of this one as it usually has articles pertaining to Apex, Cary, Holly Springs, and Fuquay-Varina.

In this case, the big front page story was an article about a new community garden at the Kraft Family YMCA, and how community gardens share fresh produce - year round - with local food pantries.

Here is an excerpt (or read the full article)
When food charities call for help, donors head to the supermarket for boxes of pasta, jars of peanut butter and cans of soup and vegetables. Yet admirable and essential as these efforts are, few would choose to live solely on this nonperishable bounty.
The freshest, tastiest and most nutritious produce is often the hardest for local pantries to provide because of expense and inconvenience. For example, the Holly Springs Food Cupboard has few consistent sources of fresh produce.
That’s where community gardens step in, where even a not-so-green thumb can lend a helping hand. Shared plots have proliferated across the Triangle in the last decade, and almost all send crops to local charities.
For example, the recently laid community plot at the Kraft Family YMCA will soon send seasonal bounty to the Holly Springs pantry, and downtown Cary’s Pocket Community Garden donates hundreds of pounds of produce each year to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. 
Read the full article at ... 
There is a food pantry in Apex - the Western Wake Crisis Ministry - perhaps I'll look at donating some of my surplus to them.

Of course, if you're going to donate produce to a food pantry, you should make sure you're growing food that people want.  Hot Peppers don't have the greatest appeal, but tomatoes, squash, greens, beans, squash and other such veggies would be popular choices.

I'd love to start a community garden in Apex.  I wonder....

UPDATE:  There is a community garden in Apex, the Simple Gifts Community Garden, operated by the Apex United Methodist Church.  We are former members of this church (we transfered some years ago to Fuquay-Varina United Methodist Church).  I will check them out on some upcoming work day!

Cauliflower Buckets - Amazing!

So some of you know that I have made these self-watering planters out of green Chic-Fil-A pickle buckets (howto).  This spring, I decided to use them for some cauliflower plants that I purchased as seedlings from the farmer's market.  I planted three of them in the buckets and one in the garden.  I didn't take a picture of the one in the garden, but trust me, the ones in the buckets are at least 3 times the size of the one in the garden.  There are a variety of reasons for this.  Although my garden soil is fairly rich - amended with fresh compost a few months ago, the buckets are filled with Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix.  Also, the buckets are in a location in the front of the house that gets probably 20% more sun than the garden does.

Anyway, I took some pictures of the buckets on March 20th and posted them to my Spring Garden Photo Update block entry on that day.  I took another picture yesterday, April 5th - so we're talking about 16 days.  Here are those pictures:

Cauliflower Buckets - March 20, 2012

Cauliflower Buckets - April 5, 2012

I think we can all agree that these plants are doing extremely well!!.

I am having my friends at the local Chic-Fil-A save me some more buckets!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Seed Starting Notes for Next Season

So, I started a LOT of seeds this year, with some success and some failures.  I might as well start with the failures.

Attempting to start foxgloves and creeping thyme from seed was extraordinarily unsatisfying.  They grew very very slowly, and I think I had some trouble with moisure levels and the seedlings suffered for it.  I ended up composting all of them.  I bought some thyme starts at the farmers market.  I had very similar problems with most of the small, slow growing herbs that I started, and like the others, these also all ended up getting composted.  I simply don't have the patience for things that don't pop up fairly sturdy from the beginning.  I'll stick to buying herbs at the farmers market when I need them.

Onto the success stories.   As always, I found the tomatoes and peppers and basil fairly easy to start and not too troublesome.  I started the peppers in jiffy peat pellets and recently transplanted them to 4" pots.  Germination rates varied from 40% to 100%.  Two varieties were the poorest germinators - the Asian Sweet Peppers that I got from one of Adrienne's co-workers (specific variety unknown!) and the NuMex Vaquero - a jalapeno variety from the New Mexico Chili Pepper Institute.

I did have a little problem with some of the peppers where they are yellowing a bit.  I think this might be due to a lack of some nutrient either from over watering or not transplanting into actual soil soon enough.  I might use regular seed starting mix next year instead of peat pellets.

The tomatoes are growing fabulously.  I purchased one of the large Jiffy "tomato starting kits" which has larger peat pellets suitable for the fast growing tomatoes.  I also started the basil in these, even though they are slower growing.  The only variety that didn't germinate as well was the Amish Paste.  I ended up planting a couple more seeds in the pellets that didn't germinate and they finally came up.

For the final seeds that I started a few weeks ago, I decided to use the more standard cell packs with seed starting mix instead of the peat pellets.  This has worked out incredibly well, though the seeds I started are typically fast growers - zucchini, cucumber, sunflowers, morning glories, cardinal climbers, ornamental gourds, and pumpkins.  The pumpkins are actually in 4" pots rather than the cell packs because they do start out pretty fast and pretty big.  They would outgrow the 72 cell packs far too fast!

the cell pack method worked really well and might actually be a better choice for me in the future than the peat pellets.  I will probably do all my seeds next year in the cell packs.

All that being said, here are some pictures!

Transplanted Pepper Seedlings

Yellowing of leaves on pepper seedlings.

Sunflowers, Ornamental Gourds, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Cardinal Climbers, and Morning Glories

Champion Pumpkins (planted only 7 days ago!)

Tomatoes and Basil