a start to garden reorganization

Since last winter I’ve been preparing to permanently reorganize my garden beds into uniform 3′ widths. Until now there was no real system, other than trying to make sure not to plant the same vegetables in the same area in back to back years.

The 3′ beds will hopefully bring a host of benefits. My three stackable compost bins are 3′ wide, so they can be freely moved to the next new spot in the garden, giving me 9 fresh feet of super-fertile bed space each year.

My new favorite toy, the chicken tractor, is also 3′ wide, so it can ride along the beds fertilizing, cultivating and removing bugs while keeping life interesting and healthy for the girls.

The uniformly sized beds will also help with quickly planning crop rotations and make it easier to judge what crops need to be increased or reduced to meet our needs. Any cold frames or covers that work on one bed will work on any bed. And I won’t be walking on next year’s beds.

So a few weeks ago I drove in 12″ lengths of PVC pipe to mark each of the four corners of the new beds. They should be sturdy enough to last forever, and deep enough to survive a misdirected tiller.

That’s the plan anyway.  My plans always work out.

(are they laughing?…)

With that said, yesterday it was finally time to start putting the plan into action, plant a few of the beds with winter cover crops, move the compost bins and spread the joy.

This years compost bins stacked to heaven

This years compost bins stacked to heaven.  Next year I won’t be squandering the special spot on a zucchini plant.

Cooked and ready to serve

Cooked and ready to serve

In their new home

In their new home

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compost piles and stuff

Has it really been that long since I’ve posted something?  I guess so.  Time flies when you have nothing to say.

As the garden winds down, done with most of the heavy breathing, the compost piles are getting ready to jump into the act.

I have three modular, movable bins.  They can each be adjusted in height to accommodate what’s going on in the smelly world of waste.  The Spring pile (leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and who knows what else) has long since become nice black compost, full of worms, and home to what my granddaughter calls a ‘guard snake’. IMG_5214 The summer pile, composed mostly of pine shavings, chicken manure, grass clippings and kitchen waste that the chickens didn’t get, is also well on its way.  I’ll be using piles 1 and 2 directly on the garden beds this fall after the crops come out.

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The third pile is a work in progress; corn husks, seaweed, dead tadpoles, and who knows.  This will be the base for my winter compost pile of dead leaves, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps and chicken litter.  Come Spring planting time, it should be ready to rumble.

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And I’ve started next year’s seed collection with Amish Paste and Black Oil Sunflowers..

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tomato plants, compost and polliwogs

This year I’ve been a little more obsessive than usual about the tomatoes. I need to determine for myself what’s possible. Will disease set in even if I take every precaution that I’m aware of? We’ll see.

So far (and I hate to jinx things, but we have blogs to run) the plants might be the best I’ve ever grown. But it hasn’t been just plopping in the seedlings and watching them grow. Here are some of the precautions I’ve taken in my quest:

Religiously trimming the bottom branches to avoid soil contact.
Weekly foliage spray of aerated worm tea.
Foliar spraying of fish emulsion every couple of weeks.
Foliar spraying of Epsom salt every couple of weeks.
Foliar spraying of aspirin every couple of weeks.
Never wetting the plants in the evening on purpose.
And daily trimming of every branch that shows spots of any kind.

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A little unhinged, isn’t it? But it keeps me happy and it’s interesting, so I won’t make excuses for the obsession.

Also this year I’m going to try topping the plants that have reached the tops of the cages before they bend over and break on their own.

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I have a feeling that weather has generally been a boon here. If the drenching that we got in June was happening now, all bets are off. It’s been warm and dry for more than a month, and that’s a big deal. When weather’s not on your side, guess who loses? Ask my cucumber plants if you’re confused.

Being that it was near 90° again, we went swimming in the pond. Well, I didn’t go swimming. I collected compost materials. Seaweed, algae and for some odd reason, a lot of dead tadpoles. A neighbor brought over buckets of them that she found swimming in her pool cover a month or so ago. She didn’t want to kill them so I said she could dump them in the pond.

Not sure why so many died, but I was excited to nab the plump little nitrogen sources. My daughter wasn’t too thrilled, and took this picture…

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I was really pleased to give the compost piles a boost.

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just cos

I’ve been noticing that I generally do a lot more work and obsessing about the garden in the frozen months than I do in the hot ones.  Once the garden’s in and mulched, granted there are chores; weeding, watering, weekly doses of worm tea.  But those things are matters of minutes.  In the winter I can spend hours and days just thinking about one small aspect of the garden.  In the summer, it’s more look and enjoy.

My lettuce eyes are always bigger than my lettuce stomach.  I usually plant way more than we could possibly eat.  Today I harvested one of the Cos heads and some oak leaf.  Luckily we’re going visiting tonight, so this will be be the door gift instead of a bottle of wine.
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And it always makes me happy to find my little friend sunning himself, keeping watch over the future browns in my center compost bin…

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back in the saddle

Again I’m reminded how scarily dependent we are on things that are basically smoke and mirrors. The death of a hard drive can do that. But the ingenuity of mankind also allows us to make provisions for such things, and the smoke and mirrors of Internet life can be revived without a lot of pain.

Yeah, my hard drive bit it. A few days later, thanks to backups and a new drive, no worse for wear. Just a little more cautious.

On to the real world, the garden. Isn’t it strange how, immediately after months of crazy-hard work and sweat, it all suddenly stops when the plants are in and the mulch is down? There are little chores, to be sure, but the weeds are meek, the soil’s amended and the plans are reality.

One plan that I think is a keeper is rotating my three compost bins through the garden. It’s a great concept. It makes so much sense to me that next year I plan to reorganize the garden with uniform 3′ beds, matching the width of the bins.

You can’t tell from the pictures, but these lettuce seedlings were identical when planted. Now the ones planted in last year’s compost area are three times the size of those planted elsewhere in the garden…

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compost area heads

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smaller heads

It looks like the tomato seedlings that I put out extra early aren’t going to stick it to me for torturing them with many cold nights. They’ve started to blossom…

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And a big moment today. I switched from a normal chicken waterer to the heated nipple waterer that I made. There were some worries. No offense chickies, but sometimes you’re not the sharpest knives in the drawer. I stalked the girls (wow, probably could use a better phrase) through the window and saw them drinking.  Not so dumb after all!  Then they went outside and looked accusingly at me.

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bt phone home

Short and sweet today.

Leaves, grass clippings, chicken coop litter shavings, coffee grounds, and chicken scraps make for a powerful pile…

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Newly planted kohlrabi, with the spring lettuce, peas and spinach in the background.  It was too hot last night at 7:00 to mulch (84° F), so that has to wait till morning…

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And one more thing just to make the post longer. Since I’ve started blogging I’ve come across a lot of folks who have mentioned cabbage loopers, the little green worms that make Swiss cheese out of your cole crop leaves. Believe me, I have too.

There are a couple of ways to save your broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kohlrabi from holey leaves and floating green things in the cooking water. One of them is to cover your plants. I cover too many things already, and there’s another way to fix the problem; it’s called Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt for short (much less intimidating).

It’s OMRI listed (Organic Materials Review Institute). Bt is a bacteria that only works on the guts of leaf chewing insects, and safe for people and other wildlife. You mix it with water and spray it on the leaves, and when the little green wigglies eat your stuff, they get a life sentence of indigestion. Maybe that seems harsh. If it rips your conscience to hurt little green creatures, then by all means cover.

I’m not that complex. If you steal my food, you have to deal with my form of justice.

Bt really works. You have my word. Unless you get sloppy and don’t apply it again after rains or after watering.

lull

A little at a time things get planted, and all of a sudden you realize the garden’s filling up. Spinach, lettuce, peas, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes…now it’s time for the final lull. Just waiting till it seems safe to put in the warm weather crops. Probably at least another week here.

But we need to keep busy hands, because you know what they say about idle ones. I’m in no mood for more screw ups this year, so I sprouted some English cucumber seed that I’m trying for the first time; Telegraph, an open pollinated variety that I may or may not save seed from.

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Unfortunately I’ll be growing two varieties of cucumber, and if you’re saving seeds, individual blossoms have to be isolated to prevent cross-pollination. That can be done with small fabric bags on marked flowers, or whole plants can be covered. I’ll probably give it a shot just because.

Luckily idle hands aren’t that much of an issue in Spring. There are always chores like mowing to be done. I could collect more grass clippings than I could possibly use if I were a masochist. But a few seems like a good compromise. Some for the chickies, some for mulch and some for the compost.

Together with my first clean out of the coop shavings, I’m loving what the pile looks like.  Leaves, coffee grounds, manured wood shaving, grass clippings and kitchen scraps.  Yum.

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