Saturday, April 27, 2013

It's Been a Fruitful Season

You can't beat the taste - and the health benefits rank #1 ...

Organic, garden fresh broccoli, green beans, strawberries, lettuce, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes.  Plus the occasional fried squash (not a huge fan of squash, but it's tolerable fried).  

I had minimal success germinating cucumbers and the plants I bought from the nursery were mislabeled - hence, the squash plants.  Oops!  They'll make it right, but my Mom and Mother-in-Law want me to share the bounty, so I keep the plants going for their benefit.

Summer veggies have sprouted (corn, watermelon, cantaloupe, green beans).  I haven't gotten around to planting the okra or radishes; the broccoli are still tasty, so I haven't pulled them up yet.  

The basil plants took much longer than expected to establish, but I've harvested a few leaves twice for drying.  I'll work on a short how-to article for drying herbs and attempt to publish it next week.  Today, I noticed they've really started taking off.  Spring was late this year (temperature wise), but summer is fast approaching.  A decent stretch of hot weather will cause the basil to go to seed, limiting it's life span, but it's super easy to grow and will re-seed itself anyway.

Waiting for the steak tomatoes to ripen - still probably 2-3 weeks out on those, yet.  They've been at the top of my list to try this season!  An important tip on growing steak tomatoes:  regular watering prevents them from cracking.  Tomato plants require one gallon of water per day per plant.  If you are forgetful, grow them in an Earth Box.

Speaking of Earth Boxes, the only strawberry plants that are thriving are the two I planted in mine.  My husband unclogged the watering tube, and they are producing about six to ten berries a week again.  Because of their shallow root system, without drip irrigation or an Earth Box, plan to water them several times a day!  Really - if you want them to produce more than a single fruit per plant a week, that is.  I found that they also do better in afternoon shade.

Another passion of mine lies in growing herbs.  If anyone would like to purchase a chocolate mint plant, 6" potted plants are available for $2.50 each.  I also have a dozen spider plants available now for the same price.

A few pictures of the Garden

My Favorite Lettuces

From My Garden

Bistro Blend

Leaf Lettuce
Ruby Red Curly

Monday, April 15, 2013

2013 Spring Vegetable Garden

This Year's Spring Garden Plan

I came across an excellent garden planner.  It's called the Vegetable Garden Planner from Mother Earth News:  It comes with a 30 day free trial and no billing information is required to sign up.  It's easily the best $25 I've spent this year.  It's very easy to use, and keeps track of what you've planted from year to year.  Keeping track of what you've planted where is important.  Crops need to be rotated to prevent soil born diseases.  The red coloring around the squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumbers in the diagram above indicates that these plants are all members of the Cucurbitaceae Family.  In the fall, I will plant these vegetables where the tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and okra are now.  This will minimize the risk of pests and diseases.  Hundreds of common vegetable varieties are available to choose from within the garden planner as well as herbs, fruit trees, and some flowers (marigolds, nasturtiums, etc.).  I rarely endorse products unless I have personally tried them with great results.  This planner falls into that category.
In the diagram above, the broccoli and cauliflower will have stopped producing, and plants will be pulled from the garden before the okra, corn, and melons are big enough to compete with them.  The lettuces from the main garden have already finished producing and are no longer on the plan, but the program will remember where they were when I design this year's Fall Garden. 
I always space tomato plants farther apart than recommended.  Due to our high humidity, tomatoes are very prone to powdery mildew.  Allowing for better air circulation helps prevent fungal diseases.  The program enables users to choose between square foot or traditional gardening, or a combination of both like mine.  You can also add succession plantings.  For example, the okra and melons will replace the broccoli and cauliflower when they have finished producing.  You can choose to receive email reminders for sow/planting dates based on your zone.  Plus shopping lists can be created based on your designs.
I planted the bottom half of my garden today, and will sow the radishes and okra tomorrow.  If you have any questions, just ask.  Happy Gardening!
~Article and Garden Plans Designed by Jill A. Tobin - 04/15/2013

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hay Bale Gardening How-To

Easy Steps for Creating a Hay Bale Garden

Hay Bale Gardening eliminates the need for site preparation, and greatly reduces stress on the back the same way that Raised Bed Gardening would.  They can be used to cover up old tree stumps or line the edges of a driveway, sidewalk, or fence.

There are a few important principles for making the most of your garden.

Bale Type. 
Straw bales are preferred because there are very few seeds.  However, hay bales are sufficient although you might have to pull a few more weeds.  I advise using dry bales as opposed to green bales because they do not need to be seasoned as long before planting.  See planting preparation below.

Just as with any garden, you want to choose your site based on plants' light requirements, within easy access to a watering source.  Hay bales are too heavy to move once placed without destroying the bale.

Using a single bale is normally not recommended.  Having several back to back, or end to end provides support.  If you really don't have the space for more than one though, tie extra twine around the bale for support.  Hay bale gardens typically last for two seasons (a single bale just one).  Having said that, be creative.  The size and layout is not constrained like a traditional or raised bed garden because there is minimal labor involved.  You could do a traditional square, rectangle, or rows.  Other ideas for your layout include mazes, horseshoes, and encircling a tree or other focal point.    Leave enough space to mow your lawn or use mulch in between bales.  Place plastic underneath bales because any hay or twine at the ground level will rot and deteriorate the whole bale. 

Planting Preparation.
Soak dry hay bales in water for at least one week (four for green bales).  This is very important because it gives the hay time to break down, and become cool enough for seeds or plants.  Called seasoning, the hay bales go through an initial composting process with internal temperatures exceeding 100°F.  Do not allow bales to dry out.

Sowing Seeds and/or Adding Plants.
Top bales with a three inch layer of soil and compost.  Apply and water in a nitrogen rich fertilizer.  Fish emulsion and blood meal are great organic options for supplying nitrogen.  Bone meal and potash provide phosphorous and potassium. 

Sow seeds in the three inch layer of soil and compost. 

For seedlings or plants, make cracks or holes in the hay a little larger than needed leaving room to add some extra compost (or soil) around the base of the plants.  Place plants their first set of leaves are just above the top of the bale.

Caring for Your Garden.
Water new plants daily for the first week keeping bales moist.  If the weather is especially dry, water again a few hours later.  Hay does not retain water especially well; check moisture levels regularly.  A drip irrigation system, or soaker hose saves time and reduces waste.  Overwatering will wash away the fertilizer.  The hay bales will gradually hold more water as they continue to break down.  Fertilize and care for plants the same as you would for traditional gardening.

The Hay Bale Gardening method can be used for plants, flowers, herbs or vegetables.  Perennials are not a good choice unless you don't mind transplanting them later, or plan to keep the bales in place for use as a traditional garden.  (By the end of the second growing season, bales will begin to fall apart).

Root crops root crops like onions, potatoes, carrots, and radishes also do well.  The roots sink through the bale. 

*Potatoes - In normal soil gardens it is important to hill up the soil around the plant as it grows.  The reason being that potatoes form on the stem, not on the roots. If planted too deep in the soil, the stem has a hard time emerging, because it cannot push up more than a few inches of soil.  With a Hay Bale Garden, place seeds two inches from the bottom.  The hay is loose enough for stems to emerge and adding soil or hay will not be necessary.  At harvest time simply cut the twine and spread the hay out.  Other crops can be planted at the surface and harvested early before the potato vine has stretched its way above and around the bale. 

After the second growing season, the hay can be added to the compost pile, repurposed as mulch, or left in place to form a nutrient rich traditional garden.

Number of Plants Per Bale.
Two tomato plants
Four pepper or cucumber plants
Six lettuce plants
Three squash, broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower plants

 Article Written by Jill A. Tobin - 04/10/2013




Monday, April 1, 2013

Hay Bale Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening Revisited...

Being the skeptic I am, I really tried, but can't come up with a single disadvantage to Hay Bed Gardening.  All I saw were benefits, and so I am inspired to share.

No building required.  My father could have been a master carpenter and I grew up watching him build amazing things from raw wood.  I learned much, and could probably create a few simple things, if not kitchen cabinets.  However, I do not have the tools, or the space to store them, and I'd probably lose my hand trying to use a saw.  The idea of raised bed gardening is highly appealing to me, but a daunting option.  Plus, the cost of wood has greatly increased.

No digging or tilling necessary.  I won't lie.  Preparing a garden is WORK!  Back-breaking work like you've never know unless you've personally created a garden.  To begin with the sod or weeds need to be dug up and removed.  Then the soil has to be tilled.  Remember when I said I had limited space?  Well, I don't have a place to store a tiller anymore than I have space to store a table saw.  For most urban gardeners, this means sharpening that shovel behind piles of junk in the back of the shed that has long been forgotten.  Turning soil is not an easy task.

No composting required.  Let's face it.  Here in Florida, our soil is awful.  Your lawn either looks terrible, or is a struggle to maintain because few plants other than palm trees grow in sand.  I love the idea of making my own compost.  What I don't love is the idea of having to turn that smelly pile.  Plus we're back to that limited space subject.  You could buy a composter that is sealed so you don't have to hold your nose while it's breaking down into useable soil, but that's just one more expense that I highly doubt is at the top of anyone's budget.

No bending or kneeling.  It's a good thing that solarizing the soil is beneficial to kill the grubs that have been feeding on the roots of your lawn and other pests and nematodes just waiting to feast on your new plants.  Those few months allow my back injuries time to heal from all the work I did turning fallow land into fertile soil.  When the bugs are dead I sigh while removing the soil cover to do a quick final till, digging holes and planting seedlings.

No need for mulch.  So, I've done all that work and it would be a shame to have the weeds take back over.  At that point I've got two choices.  I can hoe and pull weeds to keep them at bay, or I can add a ridiculous amount of mulch.  I've learned from experience that the work of adding mulch is nothing compared to endlessly pulling weeds. 

Easy crop rotation.  I have one vegetable bed, and two garden beds that I tuck vegetables into during the growing season, and no desire or space left to go digging up any more of my tiny backyard.  I'd love to someday have ten acres with outbuildings for storing tractors, tillers and tablesaws.  However, I do not and the benefits of growing my own produce outweigh the disadvantages of waiting for my dreams to come true.  Crop rotation is necessary to keep soil-borne diseases and pests under control.  This is a difficult to overcome challenge with such limited space.  While I've got plenty of fairly simple organic recipes to control such problems, I'd rather not have to deal with it in the first place.  Don't misunderstand; I'm not saying Hay Bale Gardening is going to eliminate the problems altogether, but it sure makes crop rotation much more feasible.

Time savings.  I've got three children.  Even as a housewife, I don't have any more time on my hands than those of you who go to work every day.  In fact, I think I had more time when I had a regular job.  You don't have to believe this to be true; the point is, time is valuable and there are only so many hours in a day. 

Time to create a garden: 20 hours
4 hours to mark out an area for a garden and dig up the grass and weeds
6 hours to till it
2 hours to mix in soil amendments and cover it
2 hours to remove the cover and loosen the soil a final time
6 hours for planting, putting trellises in place, and adding mulch

For a raised bed: 14 hours
4 hours to put the frame together
2 hours to fill it with soil
2 hours to add soil amendments
6 hours for planting, adding trellises, and mulching

Time to make a Hay Bale Garden: 9
2 hours to lay out the bales
1 hour total for adding and watering in fertilizer
6 hours for planting
0 no mulching required

Cost savings.  The amount of money saved for Hay Bale Gardening will vary depending on several factors.  You'll have to do the math based on your desired garden size, soil depth, fertilizer and soil amendments, mulch type, trellises needed, and/or number of straw bales used.  However, a bail of hay costs $11.50 at Park Feed Store and Pet Supply, Pinellas Park, FL, and will last for about two years. 

I'm working on the How-To Article and will publish it soon!