February

In February, when our water pipes were frozen solid, it seemed impossibly far away; warm, sunny days, chickens clucking over fresh scraps, the buzz of mosquitoes…

The older you get, the faster it goes. Almost the entire garden is planted. Onions, garlic, spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, snow peas, cucumbers, beans, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, watermelon and corn.

The only large unplanted area is what’s left for succession crops of sweet corn. No more 40° nights in the ten day forecast, and although it’s possible later, that would just be a freak of nature arranged to annoy me.

And back to that frozen February. This year I started a single red pepper plant on February 8th for the specific purpose of finding out whether pruning peppers leads to better plants and harvests.

This is the one.  King of the North…

IMG_4708

I pruned it twice while indoors, and again right after it was planted. I also pruned half of the other eight peppers that I planted out yesterday. From what many others have said, pruning peppers works and works well, so I don’t have (too many) reservations about jumping in.

But I’m reminding myself that big risks can work two ways.

there will (not) be blood (meal)

Yesterday I posted a list of experiments that I want to try in the 2015 vegetable garden. There was one listing that I finished writing, then deleted.

It wasn’t an experiment per se; just something new for me. Blood meal.

I decided against trying a test of blood meal as I wrote down the idea. I’d like to start steering away from the ‘just throw on an amendment’ mindset that’s so tempting to contemplate on slow winter nights.

Last year after getting results from a soil test, I determined that blood meal might be a good choice. The Extension Agency recommended adding nitrogen, and blood meal or cottonseed meal seemed like a precise, easy organic solution.

soil-test

But as I made the list last night, it hit me that on a small scale, this was probably the same thought process that led to the synthetic fertilizer boom in the mid-20th century.

Wow, this is getting a little deep. Hold on and I’ll try to ‘splain, Lucy.

Quick, precise, easy amendments. Farmers and gardeners wanted something that worked fast, could be precisely measured, and was easily transported. I don’t think I want that, even if it’s organic. Nature spanks quick people. It makes a mockery of precise. And it generally favors diversity.

What occurred to me is that the money I intended to spend on an organic nitrogen supplement might better be used on another soil test. Since the last test, I’ve added tons of compost, some coffee grounds and a green manure crop to the soil. There’s a real possibility that those nitrogen requirements have already been met in a bulky, imprecise kind of way.

If not, I’ll rethink. There’s more compost in the bins that should be ready to go at planting time, and I just like the slowness and bulk and goodness of that.

Although I really hope this year’s test shows a potassium deficiency. All that free banana meal, you know?

getting ready to stop not doing anything

I have a nagging feeling that writing a garden blog lessens the amount of time I spend obsessing about my garden. Weird, eh?

There’s simply less time and desire to piddle away in my usual easily-distracted way…look, a squirrel!..surfing Internet waves of information and getting sidetracked by other waves.

No matter. I learn from you and I enjoy writing.

I just need a little more discipline. I’ve strayed some from last year’s goal of learning as much as I possibly can about vegetable gardening and the soil that supports it. Thankfully, a lot of that learning stems from doing rather than reading. And Doing-Time is approaching.

So I’ll sort of do something. Make a list.

One of my favorite ways to learn is experimenting. I’m lousy at it. But every once in a while I do it right and learn something.

I’m starting a list of experiments for the coming year’s garden.

Tomato fertilizer. Last year I went a little nuts with this one and learned very little. I tried whole fish, coffee grounds, pet fur, aspirin, eggshells, banana peels…yes and more.

IMG_3139

Too many variables with no comparison plants. The encouraging thing was that they all did well. The discouraging thing was that I wasn’t sure why. It could have been a fluke; nice weather, for all I know, or the worm tea that was sprayed on every plant. This year I’m scaling back; one little experimental homemade fertilizer on one or two plants.

Worm tea. As much as it pains me, I want to confirm what I saw last year using aerated vermicompost tea…that it’s amazing. So I’ll restrain my sprayer hand and leave some control plants to fend for themselves.

Coffee grounds. Broken record, eh? Yeah, I love coffee grounds for the compost pile. But I don’t have a real handle on whether it’s equally effective to turn them directly into the soil a couple of months before planting. I might section off part of the corn crop and see if it does better than its neighbors with an early shot of Java.

Chicken manure. It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve had access to to hot poop, and I wasn’t composting then. With any luck, I’ll have some fun figuring out how it reacts in the compost pile, what proportions to use, how fast things heat up. I have a bad feeling that even with all the fall leaves I collected, I’ll still be running short of brown material for the compost pile.

Seeds. Maybe this doesn’t qualify as an experiment. Oh well. Extra credit essay then. I’ve saved a few seeds in the past, but this year will be a little more concerted effort; tomatoes, peppers, beans, cukes, sunflowers, maybe onions.

There. I did something. Now I just have to remember where I put my list.

experimenting in the garden

This Post Rated Pee-G 13
Contains mild references to gardening with urine.

A while back I decided that, in my gardening life, I’d been figuratively whacking the same moles and missing. Time for better record-keeping. And time for experimenting with things that either A) sounded promising or B) sounded interesting.

There are some problems with experimenting in the garden though. You need control plants, plants that you don’t help out, and that’s really hard for me. And to get decent results, you need to plant multiples of the same varieties. With tomatoes, that means less fun choosing new seed varieties in the boring winter months, also hard for me.

Last season things started out well; lots of tomato experiment ideas with lots of different home remedy type substances. Pet fur, dead fish, Epsom salts, coffee grounds, banana peels, eggshells, peat moss, and blah blah blah. In the end, almost everything turned out great.

I mean, that’s nice and all, but did it prove anything? I don’t think so. Nothing sucked. You need something to suck if you’re experimenting, just like you need black to understand white.

The one experiment with a glimmer of hope was done on two Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

Cherokee Purples
The plant on the left was allowed to do its thing, sacrificed for the good of the many. The plant on the right was fertilized with about 2 Tablespoons of wood ash mixed into a 20:1 dilution of water and (uh-oh, here it comes) urine, once every two weeks.

Talking about using urine in a vegetable garden is similar to talking about politics at the Thanksgiving table. I’ve tried it on gardening forums, and I could feel the icy stares of some of of the responders through the cable to my modem. So I won’t really go into it. The tomatoes were good and no one in the family kicked the bucket. Promising.

Still, it might have been that the plant on the left was stunted or malnourished from the start. One result is hardly scientific rigor. I’ll be ‘self-watering’ another set of plants this year. If things turn out similarly, I might say hmmm.

And I’ll ask my wife to post an obit for you if something goes horribly wrong. Course it might be her that does the deed if she finds out how I’ve been growing some of those tomatoes.

[Human Pee With Ash Is a Natural Fertilizer, Study Says]

contraption construction

When I was finished making the thing sitting in my garden, I wondered if it would bother me. 13 feet long. Made of white PVC. It looked big and not especially aesthetic.

SCAB

It cost $23.55 in pipe and fittings and took less than an hour to make. I was hoping that it would be a project to fill some winter days. But it was done and there it was.

It’s hard to picture the thing full of corn seedlings, covered in bird netting. Maybe I’m vain, wondering if my garden’s turning into a hardware jungle, with tomato cages, t-posts and 6×6 lumber, instead of green retreat.

But I think that’s because this hardware’s just a framework in a void. By August, there’ll be so much green that I’ll have trouble getting down the paths. The framework will still be there doing its job, hopefully unnoticed in the mass of living green. The deer or woodchucks or rabbits that chew the tops off my little corn seedlings might not be as smug, and I’m good with that. I plant this garden to feed us, not them.

The thing, if it works, will protect four staggered block plantings of sweet corn for the rest of my life. ‘Thing’ isn’t a very good name.

Self Contained Animal Barrier.

SCAB.

banana peel dryer experiment part 3

This probably should have all been in one post, but I’m impatient.

I’m guessing 6 or 7 dried banana peels yielded 6 ounces (3/4 cup) of pulverized powder.

pulverized banana peels

There’s a good overview of what banana peels do for your garden here.

Dried banana peels are 42 percent potassium, more than most other organic substances, such as manure at 0.5 percent, wood ash at 10 percent and cantaloupe rinds at 12 percent. Potassium promotes the movement of water and nutrients between cells. It also strengthens stems and protects plants from disease. Because the plant is healthier, it might flower more. After the plant blooms, potassium can improve the quality and size of any fruit or nuts.

Since my soil test recommended adding 1 pound of potassium/100 square feet, I’m a happy camper.  By spring I’ll have that and some left for my wife’s flowers if she wants it. I know I’ll use some in my tomato planting holes.

I like being able to quantify the amount of amendments that I’m using, and I like using the warm forced air from the furnace for a secondary purpose.  Makes that gas bill a little more tolerable!

banana peel dryer experiment part 2

There really wasn’t much doubt that drying banana peels over a forced air register would work.  It did, completely.  In fact I set up a second tray on another register.  It took less than a day to make all the peels crispy and ready to turn into potassium concentrate powder with the coffee mill.

dried banana peels

Even though they might not all look it, the banana peels are all crispy, even the yellowish ones.

I’ll probably need to clean up my act when guests arrive on Christmas Eve, but the banana trays will be right back out there after that.

banana peel dryer experiment

Lately I’ve been trying to separate some of my organic refuse, simply because I want to store it for later use in a particular manner, rather than just chuck it all onto the compost pile.  I dry eggshells, pulverize them and put them into used plastic containers.  Same with my personal coffee grounds.  These both eventually get used either in the worm bin or directly in the garden.

I thought I’d try an experiment with banana peels.   I know they can be dried in the oven.  But we supplement our wood heat with a forced-air furnace, and I thought wow, that’s a lot of warm, dry air being pushed around doing nothing else than heating the house.

So I grabbed a latticed grow tray, placed banana peels on it and put it over the register.  I’m sure it’ll work.  Just not sure how banana-y it’ll make the house smell!

banana peel dryer

mother of necessity

I’ve been considering low hoop houses for next year’s beds. PVC pipes arched over rebar posts driven into the ground, and covered with garden fabric. But these things seem like they would be unnecessarily unwieldy and cumbersome for some of my needs; namely keeping the deer, groundhogs, birds and rabbits out of the young corn and beans, and the birds out of the strawberry bed.

For a few years I’ve just been draping bird netting over them all. And that actually works, completely. But bird netting is like an evil trap, ready to bind you up in its pawing fingers. It’s just messy to handle.

I’m told one of my grandfathers was an inventor. He had a patent on this. I don’t know what it is, but I like it. I inherited zero of his aptitude, but a little of his desire.

invention

Why not find a way to tame bird netting, something portable and easily torn down?

The base ingredient would be bird netting, a proven performer. Add some PVC, the basis of those hoop houses.  The idea would be to make PVC ‘boxes’ covered with bird netting held down with PVC clips, something like this:

deer box
I always plant the same amount of corn, beans and strawberries, so the sizes would be tailored to each crop. I plant four successions of corn, and the corn ‘box’ could be easily moved once the plants get over a foot tall, to the next planting of young seedlings. The bean and strawberry ‘boxes’ could likewise be easily moved out of the way for harvesting. Then when they’ve served their purpose, the netting could be taken off and rolled up, the PVC disassembled, and everything could be stored in a tomato cage.

And if I get too eager and plant things a little earlier than I should, a tarp or blanket could be plopped over the ‘box’ for a little quick frost protection. Or maybe even some clear plastic for a little greenhouse thingy.

And it’s something to DO in the winter.

As always, I’d be happy to hear any thoughts about why this might or might not work for my purposes.

garden experiments my way

That ‘barely a clue’ thing in my tagline? Not just a catchy phrase.

When I embark on a new scientific test, it’s always with good intentions. The problem comes when I have to chose a control plant, the one that stays as is, the normal one.

The reasoning usually goes like, “Ok, I won’t do anything to this plant so I can compare the results of adding extra [insert weird test here] to the other ones. But I don’t have that many plants. What if my theory works and this idea is fantastic. Then this control plant won’t be as good as the other ones.”

So nine out of ten times, there aren’t any conclusions to draw from my science.

I started out last season with a battery of experients for my tomatoes; pet fur in one hole, dead fish in a couple of others. But then I wanted to try banana peels and tums and diluted pee and epsom salts…

Winter-killed bass from our pond

Winter-killed bass from our pond for a tomato hole

Yeah, it got out of control.

And so I didn’t have enough tomato plants to experiment with. Might as well use the control plant. It was the only choice.

Long story short, all of the tomato plants did fantastically. But the experiments were basically null and void. And I did learn something; if you put junk in tomato holes, it’s possible that they’ll do well.