Friday, March 20, 2009

Blocking

I made a few more blocks today--very fun. We haven't built more grow lights yet, and the ones we have are pretty full, so I was wondering what to do with these newly planted seeds until we make the new grow lights. They don't really need light until they germinate, but I need to keep them away from the cats. Aha! I put them on TOP of the current grow lights. They should benefit from the warmth of the lights, too. The trays of soil blocks look like brownies at first glance! Soon there will be little plants coming out of the top--basil brownies perhaps?

At night we've been covering the seedling area with the blankets tacked on top, to keep the cats out overnight, and that's been working. The next shelf for our grow bench here will be underneath the current one, so we'll have to create some way to keep the cats out....some sort of screen or something.

It seems like the costs keep adding up: we need this, we need that... So this first year will definitely be our "investment" year. After the initial costs, each year in the future we'll be able to count our savings by growing our own food.

I ordered the 4" blocker today. I got a call later to tell me it's backordered until May 1. Dang! So I ordered it from another company and hopefully their's aren't backordered. I haven't heard yet.

It sure is tempting to over-plant the seeds. I'm getting smarter and not planting so many all at once like I did with the first batch of tomatoes. I'm sure I'll be giving away some of those seedlings, if they live. I'm a little concerned--they are looking sickly since I transplanted them. Hopefully they'll perk up.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My First Soil Blocks!


I made my first soil blocks today! Here's photos of my first row, and then 4 trays almost done. There are a few recipes around for the soil to use to make the blocks; I used one from my Burpee book that seemed easy. I was glad that I'd seen another one that suggested to screen the compost & peat to 1/4", because I did that, and I think it helped. I got quite a few of the larger chunks out that way. I had done some reading and found that it will be good to water them from the bottom, but that it's important not to let them get to soggy by draining off the excess. I was planning ahead and wondering how to do that, and thought I'd need a smaller size tray that I could lift when full of dirt. I got to thinking I could use the aluminum trays they make for cakes & lasagnas. While I was searching at the store for just the right size, I saw some with holes on the bottom that were designed to grill vegetables on an outdoor grill. I got to thinking that with the holes, I
could easily lift out the pan to drain them after they've soaked a bit. These pans were more expensive, and I couldn't find another one just the right size to lay them in while soaking. Then I noticed that there were cake pans with plastic lids, and a set of two pans with two lids were cheaper than the set of two of the pans with no lids. So, I thought I'd drill the holes myself, as you can see. I'll set the pan inside the lid to water, then lift it out of the plastic lid before it
gets too soggy. The pans easily hold 20 cubes, maybe 24 if I squeeze really tight, but I haven't tried that yet.

It was fun to make the blocks! The recipes suggested adding enough water to make them mud pie consistency. It wasn't quite my idea of mud pies, but they seem to be holding together. I jammed the block maker into the stuff 2-3 times "charging the blocker", then packed it in as tight as I could with my hands until there was some water seeping out before ejecting the blocks. I started 4 pans of 20 cubes today, and plan to do more tomorrow and next week. I'm at about 7 weeks to our last average frost date, and many of the seeds suggest 6-8 weeks before (those I planted today) or 6 weeks before the last frost. My challenge will be where to put them all until they go outside, so I'm being more conservative as to how many of each thing I start. For some plants I'll start a few indoors, and save more seeds to be seeded directly outside to stagger the harvest. We plan to create another grow light bench this weekend, but it will still be tight!

I like the soil blocker idea! Now I'm sorry I started so many seedlings without it, but it was backordered from England, and I just received it. Next year I'll be able to do them all with the blockers, if I still like this program through the entire process. Already I'm thinking that the 4" blocker with the 2" indentation would be a good idea for these seedlings when they need more space.

Tim got parts for the tractor, fixed it, and is at it again digging. Now he's creating a drainage & walking path in the low spot, the center of our yard. The water will go out to pasture from there, if we get a big rain storm. We're leaving some sloped areas for things that would appreciate the drainage, like strawberries, squash & melons. Tim has one more terraced area to shore up, then we'll do some more lasagna beds to prepare for planting even though it's getting a bit late in the season. We'll just have to amend them if they aren't "cooked" in time.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Potting On"


Today I did my first "potting on", or transferring the little seedlings into larger pots.  I made some larger pots out of newspaper, and put the little guys into the bigger pots.  It was easy enough, but I'm thinking that next year I may consider the potting blocker method all the way--from start to finish.  The larger size newspaper pots aren't holding together as well as I'd hoped, and I'll have to be careful with them.  I don't want to use plastic pots--I think that transplanting will go much more smoothly in the newspaper pots as I can put them in the ground with the newspaper still intact.  

I received my  4 x 2" size soil blocker this weekend, and plan to start some new seedlings in the next couple of days.  This will make small blocks (without sides) to start the seedlings in.  If, in the future, I should buy the 4" size potting block maker, I will be able to easily put the 2" size directly into the larger one in a 2" hole that it will make.  It sounds a lot easier than what I did today, but it would be an investment to buy the block maker.  I'll see how it goes.

I'm realizing that I started way too many seeds all at once.  Too many tomatoes and too many peppers for sure.  I should have started with just a few and then started more a month or so later. I'm sure we'll have way too many tomatoes & peppers all at once, but we'll live and learn!  Maybe I'll be able to give some of the seedlings away to someone else to plant in their garden.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Rabbits

Our plan has been to have a path around the entire perimeter of our garden for Lucky (the dog) to run, so she can continue to bark at the bunnies to keep them away!  

We were concerned that she would mess up our sheet mulching process, so we had Lucky confined to the front yard until we could fence it off.  The next day we looked out and saw that the bunnies have discovered that Lucky was gone, and already about 10 of them were having a party in the backyard, trying to find new goodies.  There is nothing there for them yet, but it was really something to see them converge in that area!  We let Lucky out back, and as soon as they smelled her, they scattered!  It was pretty funny. 

We're glad we have planned to keep Lucky's pathway!  She will definitely help to keep the bunnies away.  Hopefully the additional electric fence we plan to put up will keep them out when she is in the house at night!  

In the meantime, Tim put up a temporary fence around our sheet mulching project to keep Lucky out of that.  Now she's happily back in her backyard, and the bunnies are on the other side of the fence being barked at. (The current fence is unfortunately not "bunny proof".)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Seedling Progress

I've started some broccoli, kale and yellow bell peppers this week.  I'm wondering whether I started some of the others too soon, but we'll make do with what we've got.  I potted these in newspaper pots, and no longer plan to use the peat pots I used earlier.  I prefer the individual pots (I got the peat pots that are 8-packs).  They're also cuter, they reuse old newspapers, and are free.  The 8-packs are also less convenient for tossing the ones that didn't germinate or aren't doing well.  I'll have to cut them up to keep the best seedlings, and they look like they might fall apart if I'm not careful.

The tomatoes (all varieties) are coming along nicely, most of the peppers have sprouted, and the artichokes are coming along.  I'm bummed that not all of the "California Wonder" peppers have sprouted--I only have 3-4 good ones.  These were supposed to be nice sweet red peppers--my favorite! After reading the seed packet, I think I may have over watered them, so I'm being careful to cut back, keeping them moist but not wet.  I've also been reading about "dampening off" which may kill all the seedlings if I overwater.  This is definitely a learning process.  

Soon I guess I will need to be adding fertilizer of some kind, and I suppose I should have already been doing so.  I think I will make some "manure tea" as long as we have so much manure around (TGFH-Thank God For Horses).  I may also purchase some things suggested in books.

I'm noticing that the seedlings near the edges aren't growing as fast as the ones in the center, directly under the lights.  I swapped a couple from the edge to the inside, and noticed that the bigger, inside seedlings already have roots coming out the bottom!  Maybe it's time to repot them, or "pot on".  By the way, these little roots were coming right through the bottom of the newspaper pots, so now I know for sure that they have the ability to do so.  Amazing how these things grow!!!

So, the little newspaper pots I made work well, but from now on I'm making them just a little bigger than the first batch, which may have been too small--I have to pot-on sooner with the smaller ones.  I'm using vitimin bottles to form them, and happen to have a variety of sizes on hand.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Garden Plans

This morning there is about an inch of snow on the ground, so I'm working on plans for the garden and having way too much fun on the computer:

Most of these growing areas are still tentative, and open to changes.  This is fun!


Monday, March 9, 2009

Sheet Mulching - Day 2

Done with Terraces #1 & 2. #3 is covered with plastic.

When we were throwing the hay down, Strider was looking over the fence wondering, "Hey, that's HAY!  Why are you putting it on THAT side of the fence, and where's MINE?"  By the time I got the camera, he'd turned his head, so I didn't bother with a photo.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sheet Mulching - Day 1

We've begun sheet mulching Terrace #3. Here is a good article explaining the sheet mulching  

First, we put down one layer of manure (TGFH-Thank God for Horses).  Then, a layer of cardboard to keep weeds from reaching the surface.  Then we took some time to map out where we want walkways to access our vegetables, and covered these with dirt.  Next Tim watered down the cardboard so the dampness will help it break down with the manure.

Next, we put another layer of manure over the cardboard, on the parts that will be planted. This will aid with the compost process to give us nice, rich soil for planting.  After manure came some old hay that we've had which was too
rotten to feed the horses, but good to create compost.  The concept is "green" materials layered with "brown" compost materials.  So the manure is our green, the cardboard is brown.  We might have too much green, because hay is apparently green also...hmmm.  After it has cooked a few weeks, we may add some peat to the top before planting, and/or amend as needed.  We put some wood chips on the walkways, in between the planting areas. 

After the hay layer, Tim is sprinkling the top of it (more moisture) and will cover the whole thing with black plastic.  We'll leave it this way to cook for about 8 weeks, just in time for our "last average frost date", May 10, when we can begin planting.  

Meanwhile, I'll be planting a few more seeds indoors this week, and I'm still reading lots of garden books for more ideas of what to plant and how to plant it.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Jackpot!

This morning Tim was driving by a lot where a couple of men were putting branches through a chipper. He stopped and asked what they would do with the chips.  They had no plans, so Tim offered to take them off their hands and they thought that was great.  We went back later with the trailer to fill it up with wood chips for our sheet mulching.  We backed the trailer up to where they were chipping and left it there for a while, and they turned the chipper to blow the chips right into the trailer.  Later we went back and shoveled more in until it was pretty full.  Tomorrow after we empty the trailer and put out the chips in the yard, we may go back to get another load.  Wahooo!

Power

Another thing we have been doing to reduce-reuse-recycle is to cut back on our consumption of resources (reduce).  We turned off the hot tub, cancelled the satellite (and limit our tv to an occasional movie from Netflix), and are turning off things when not in use.  We just got our most recent electric bill, and last month we used about half the power we used a previous month, and about $70 less!! Woohooooo!  

Our water usage is less, too, but doesn't cost us any less.  There is a minimum charge, so we still get charged for water we aren't using.  It isn't a win-win.

Outdoors



Tim has completed tiers 1,2,3 & 4, and some sloping below #4.  It looks great. The tractor could use some maintenance, but has held up pretty well. (THANKS for all your hard work, honey!)  

The next step will be to start our sheet mulching (or composting) to prepare the soil.  First we will put down cardboard to stop the weeds from coming up and to give the worms a nice, damp spot underneath where they can go and do their thing.  (Eventually the cardboard will break down and allow roots from our vegetables to go down deeper as necessary.)  

On top of the cardboard we will put about 12" of layers of brown and green composting materials and top it off with black plastic sheeting.  We'll leave it that way 6-8 weeks to "cook" the compost. After the compost is cooked, it should be about 6" higher than the current dirt level.  This is the method outlined in "Lasagna Gardening" and we've heard it works great.  We have plenty of horse manure to add to the layers, old hay we aren't feeding the horses, and some compost of kitchen garbage we began collecting about a month ago.  We also bought a chipper/shredder (seen at the top of the photo at the right) so we can chip up all the yard matter we can gather.  We got the used shredder from a craigslist ad, about $400 less than the new models.  It was barely used!

Around the entire plot we will leave a path for Lucky, the dog, so she can continue to run around and bark at the bunnies & horses, which she loves to do.  Between her path and the garden, we plan to put up electric fencing, some wires low to the ground to discourage the bunnies, and some higher to keep Lucky out.  We're thinking of getting an outdoor cat, to keep the mice & bunnies away, but we'll have to figure out a way to let the cat in to the garden without being zapped by the fence.


I'm beginning to map out what will go where, based on sun & soil needs and companion planting suggestions.  The plan is beginning to come together, so we can go crazy planting after (and in some cases before) the last frost date. The four tiered sections are flat, and then there's a bit of a slope going toward the back fence and to the right in the last photo.  There, I'll put some things that could benefit from the drainage provided by the slope.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Indoors


The seedlings are coming along nicely.  
Tomatoes:  3 varieties (Brandywine, Roma & Sugar Sweeties)  are nearing 1.5" and looking good.  I bought a "Topsy Turvy Upside Down Tomato Planter" which will hang from the porch and grow upside down.  We'll give that a try just for kicks.  It was only $10 at Target.  

Peppers: Pepperoncini and Jalapeno are just beginning to make an appearance.  California Wonder and Yolo Wonder are barely beginning to show.  Most were planted 2/20-22, others 2/27.  

Artichokes:  The first batch, planted 2/20, are up.  Some I did what was suggested in my Burpee book, and refrigerated seeds in moist sand for two weeks before planting.  I planted those today.  It said that this process will promote early flowering.  We'll see.

Celery:  One batch was planted 2/22 according to the Ferry-Morse package directions, at 1" deep.  I thought this was fishy, after reading a couple of other sources that said they should be planted at barely under the surface.  So on 2/27 I planted some more according to these other instructions.  The 2/27 batch has just begun to emerge, and there is no sign of germination from the 2/22 batch.  Some sources say celery is hard to grow, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

Endive:  Just for fun I started some Curly Endive, and these seeds were the first to appear.  Only a few germinated, so I went ahead and planted some more in the empty plugs, and they have just begun to emerge.

Leeks & Scallions are on their way, and thyme, oregano, basil, & bee balm.

I just bought some broccoli, kale, yellow peppers (canary bells), and sweet pea perennials, which I will probably start tomorrow after I make some more newspaper pots.

I saw a nifty deal to make newspaper pots online for $20, but instead of purchasing it, I've been making pots out of vitimin bottles that work quite well.  Now that I know they work, I'll stop buying the peat pots and use only the newspaper one.  Besides saving money, I'll save the peat resources by not buying those pots.  (A small dent, I know, but every little bit helps.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Terraces are Coming!

We got some more railroad ties, and Tim is busily putting them in.  It's hard to see, but there is one terrace behind the one in front, slightly higher.  Tim is carefully flattening out each level, and when he's done next week we will begin "sheet mulching", a form of layered composting.  

We should be able to plant tall things in the back, to allow the sun to hit the shorter items in front.  We are collecting information about what vegetables like to be planted together or away from each other, and will combine that with the size and preferred soil type and sun requirement of each vegetable or fruit, then will decide where to plant everything.