Garden Progress

IMG_3968 (1)I spent half a day getting the area I will grow crops like cucumbers and peas that need trellis support, ready to plant. When I first moved in I had purchased a 4′ x 16′ cattle panel that was cut into 4 pieces and used it as my compost pile. It was a good idea but I decided to move the compost pile next to the chicken run and used pallets instead. I also found the large openings allowed the wind to blow out some of what I was trying to compost and often I had to retrieve the runaways out of mine and the neighbors yard. Not wanting the additional work I decided to do something different. After I moved the compost pile I used one of the panel partitions as a gate for Spencer’s dog run and so I had three left to do something else with.

My long commute to and from work every day allows me to mull over some of the things I want to do. I knew I wanted one gutter devoted to growing things that will need a trellis support and so the question became how to do a cheap yet strong trellis. Since I had the cattle panel I knew I wanted to use that in some way. The large openings that were not so great in a compost pile would allow veggies to hang down and be easily harvested. I wanted the vines to grow up and over something but also wanted to have the harvest easy to access and pick. So one day on that long drive I decided the cattle panels needed to go over the top and I just needed a way to support them.

IMG_4458I decided to get four 2″ x 4″ x 10′ pieces of lumber.  I cut them at 6′ so I had four 6′ uprights. In each of the 6′ lengths I cut a 3/4″  hole centered and near the top. The remaining 4′ pieces I cut into 12″ lengths and used them to create a base. I attached one 12″ piece to each of the four sides of the 2 x 4 creating a cross that  allowed the uprights to stand.

Then I threaded a 1/2″ x 10′ piece of metal conduit pipe into the holes of two of the uprights. These pieces of pipe are great for a lot of things. I used them for inexpensive curtain rods as they are only about $2.00 each and I needed several 10′ rods. The rods are pretty sturdy across the entire 10′ length and the reason I decided to use them to support the cattle panels.

IMG_4459I had initially intended to use zip ties to attach the panels to the metal rod but could not for the life of me find them. So I took some wire cutters and snipped lengths of wire that would be used for an electric fence. I bent the wire in half, put over the metal conduit and lifted up the cattle panel and put it up next to the metal rod then twisted the wire so  it attached the panel to the conduit. A pair of square nose fence pliers made short work of cutting and twisting the wires. I worked my way down one panel and then did a second one so I had two panels hanging off the conduit.

IMG_4460 (1)After we got the back done I ran another piece of conduit through the remaining two uprights and set that pair next to the gutter I wanted to grow my vining veggies in. Then I attached the front of the cattle panels to it the same way creating an arbor of sorts. Now I needed a way to get the young vines up to that cattle panel.

I had purchased a third piece of conduit that I needed to run through the uprights next to the gutter garden. I wanted it close enough to the top of the containers that I could guide young plants up to it to start their journey up to the top. So once I determined where I wanted it I drilled two more 3/4″ holes and threaded the remaining pipe through the holes. Next I needed a way to get the young vines to the top. I considered more panels, wire mesh and finally decided to use what I had on hand.. the metal electric wire that I had inherited a spool of and used to attach the panels to the conduit.

IMG_4462 (1)Since weaving a large spool of wire up and around was difficult, I ended up cutting wire long enough to go from the top panel, down around the bottom piece of pipe and back up to the top cattle panel where I secured it. I repeated this along the entire length so there were “V” shapes all along the front. When the cucumbers and peas start growing they will be guided and trained to go up one of the wires to the top. Anything that produces along that wire or across the top should be easily be harvested from the backside of the arbor I have created.

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After I got the trellis done I decided to work with some of the bagged leaves I had scored from Craigslist. I ended up with 18 large bags of leaves and have an agreement to take them anytime they have more. Since living alone I do not produce a lot of stuff to put into a compost pile this was a real blessing. I threw one bag in the chicken run over the wood chips already there to be scratched around in. I want that chicken run in time to be a good source of compost as well.. so the wood chips and leaves are my base and starting point.

I recently inherited a Toro blower that was also a leaf shredder. I was very excited about getting this. It is electric so I am a bit limited by the length of my extension cord, but it was free so it was perfect. I ended up dumping two bags of leaves on the ground and sucked them up and into the shredder. It has a bag on the back side and I sucked up, ground leaves and emptied the shredded leaves into a spare trash an I had. It made short work of shredding the leaves into smaller pieces. {{happy dance}}

IMG_4480 (1)I now add these shredded leaves to any soil I add to the containers in the gutter garden. When wet they will hold moisture and their decomposition will improve the soil. I also now add the shredded leaves to the top of the soil in the containers as a mulch. I was going to add wood chips but don’t have any as I am waiting for them to work in the area to drop more. I hope they get back this way soon as I have a lot of projects to do with those chips. In the mean time the leaves will be a better addition. I will not have to remove them as  I would wood chips to rework the soil at the end of the season. Instead I can dump leaves and soil into a container, mix in fresh compost and we will be ready to go again the next season.

IMG_4469Ideally now I would be putting chips down to get the area I want to grow corn in ready to plant next month. Since I am waiting for the chips I used what I had. Right now what I have is a lot of bagged leaves. So I put down a layer of leaves about an inch thick. I watered the leaves well to get them and the soil below nice an wet. I then covered the entire area with a thick layer of cardboard. Since corn is a heavy feeder I am hoping the wet leaves attract earthworms to get the decomposition of the leaves going. Worm casting will make a good fertilizer as well as the decomposing leaves. I am hoping to add some of my compost at planting time as well as some alfalfa. I will also add the compost and alfalfa as a top dressing through the season to increase the soil fertility. The plan is to try and grow the corn with no added chemicals.

IMG_4468 (1)Since I am trying to kill the grass under the cardboard as well as improve the soil, I added my bagged leaves to the top of the cardboard. The weight of the leaves should speed the killing of vegetation under the cardboard as well as keep the cardboard in place even with the breeze that always seems to blow out here. The greens of the dying vegetation will also aid in the decomposing of the leaves. When the wood chips arrive I will remove the bags and put the chips on the top several inches thick. When I get ready to plant I will make my rows by pulling the wood chips back all the way to the cardboard. If the cardboard is well rotted I will put the corn seeds on top of the cardboard, add a few inches of compost over the top and wait until the corn is up to pull the wood chips back up and around the growing corn stalks. The growing corn should be able to send its young roots down through the rotted cardboard.

If the cardboard is not rotted and I think there may be an issue with the corn root growing down through the cardboard, I will poke a hole through it and place the corn seed on top of the soil then add the compost over the top.

IMG_4494The Ozark Beauty Strawberries I got from Lowe’s are off to a good start. In the containers where we wanted to grow the strawberries we grew some rye grass and turned it under and let it sit and decompose before adding more soil and planting the berries. I planted the root stock and mulched over the top of the soil with some wood chips. It has been about a month and I am now seeing some nice growth. From what I have read strawberries are shallow rooted and do not like to dry out. I think the gutter garden with constant water and wicking should produce some happy plants. Can’t wait to harvest.

IMG_4491Being in the deep south I did some research on the best varieties of strawberries for our heat and wanted to also order Chandler strawberries. I had a catalog from Gurneys that had more southern varieties but they were sold out of the Chandlers when I placed my order. So instead I decided to try Whopper. It is supposed to do well in this zone and produces huge berries. In the container I placed this variety I also grew the rye and turned it under. I also added in some alfalfa and dried leaves. After planting the Whopper root stocks I mulched with a thick layer of whole leaves and watered well. I made sure the young berry shoots were not covered by the leaves and fingers crossed they get growing soon.

IMG_4508 (1)With my order of Whopper strawberries I also ordered from Gurney the Blueberry Emerald. I had purchased two  blueberries from Tractor Supply a few weeks ago and already had them in the ground. They are growing well and although do not need a cross pollinator, it is recommended to have another variety to increase yield. Since I am trying out different varieties I purchased the variety Emerald and added it on the end of the row with the other two. Because I am out of the wood chips I covered the ground around the newly planted blueberry with multiple layers of wet newspaper. Then I pulled over some of the wood chips from the other blueberries and pulled it up around the new plant. I set the bag of leaves over bare paper to weigh it down and keep in moisture until I get more chips.

With my order I also got the thornless blackberry Apache. I am still trying to decide if I want my blackberry patch along the fence in the side of the yard or along the back of the property. I was sent a stick with roots wrapped in damp sawdust so it is not big enough to defend itself against my neighbor that mows my  yard. Kicking around the idea of growing in a pot on the gutter system for a bit then transferring it to the soil when larger. Other option is planting in the ground and setting up a wire cage around it until established.  Looks like we also need to learn how to propagate so I have a nice hedge in a few  years instead of just a solitary bush.

IMG_4464 (1)Every thing I have planted in the 55 gallon half barrels has really taken off. The Kale has gotten quite large and lush. I have already started to pick off leaves and eat them myself as well as  give to the chickens. The taste is still a bit bitter to me to just snack on, but cut up in a salad I think would be nice and add a punch of flavor to the salad.

IMG_4513 (1)I started lettuce in my onion barrels. After I transplanted the onion sets I sprinkled some lettuce seeds, lightly pressed them into the soil the covered with leaves. They have started to come up and I hope to have several varieties of lettuce to harvest from very soon. Always looking to get more with less, I am hoping I can get a harvest of lettuce as the onions are growing and then when the lettuce is done the onions can finish up and be harvested. We will have too much sun and heat to grow the lettuce in this area going forward. I am looking for some heat tolerant lettuce varieties to grow under the cucumber and pea arbor where they will have morning shade and filtered afternoon sun. I will grow them close to the ground and cross my fingers I can continue to grow and harvest lettuce even through our Texas summers. I have really come to enjoy my home grown salads.

IMG_4482The garlic is also doing very well after its transplant. I have a lot of new grown and the plants appear very healthy. The soil in this container got the addition of shredded leaves as well as alfalfa. I put a top dressing of alfalfa and covered with a layer of leaves. As easy as this method of gardening is in time I want to grow more garlic than these three half barrels will allow. I am hoping this gets me by for a few years as I use the Back to Eden method to improve my soil where I eventually want to grow my  garlic.

IMG_4484 (1)Though it is February I have tomato plants out. My local grocery store had some Heirlooms I wanted to order seeds for. I figured for $1.50/plant.. if I could produce fruit I would have seeds. I got a Brandywine that I am not sure will do well down here in the heat. If it grows well enough to get some seeds from, may try it next season late so it matures and produces in the cooler weather of the fall.

I also got a striped variety and two black tomatoes. I have been drooling over these tomatoes in the catalogs and this will give me an opportunity to try them out and save seeds if I like them. I got Black Krim and Black Prince I think is the other variety. I removed all the leaves except for the top few and planted in the ground right up to the lowest set of leaves. In about two days they took off and put on some great new growth.

IMG_4483 (1)The tomatoes I started from seed are still under lights in a back bedroom. I need to pot them up and get them ready to go out in the next few weeks. Peppers are also coming along in the house and I hope to have them outside in a month. I did manage to over winter two super hot peppers.. a Reaper and a Scorpion. Because the weather has been so good both have been outside potted up in 5 gallon buckets for growing this season. They were hit pretty hard by a white fly infestation but there is a lot of new growth. I am seeing some puckering in the leaves and need to see what may be causing that. As to the white flies.. a close look at both plants and you will see Ladybugs. It did not take long for them to find the free buffet and are taking those pest down.

IMG_4505 (1)The comfrey is also getting established nicely. When I went to plant it I pulled back the wood chips to the cardboard that was wet and rotted. I dug enough of a hole to put the root system and some of the soil the comfrey was in into the hole. Then I pulled the dirt I took out of the hole and scattered it around the plant on top of the cardboard and pulled the mulch back up next to the plant. I ended up with 15 of these plants and have plans to feed them to the chickens as well as use the leaves to make a tea for the plants. There are many uses for this plant and I am excited to get this established. Since digging and leaving roots behind just give you more plants I chose locations for these where I can let them grow undisturbed. Depending on growth this season I plan on only a modest harvest this year. The next year I should have plenty to harvest from established plants.

I was pretty impressed with the condition of the ground under the mulch. This is the only area where I put the mulch down weeks in advance to prepare the ground for planting. Other areas I planted then added the mulch around. In this area there were earth worms at the top of the soil just  under the cardboard and the ground was damp and easy to work. It will be exciting to continue to use the Back to Eden ideas in other areas around the house.

IMG_4486 (1)I am still building two different grow systems. I need a lot more wood chips for the Back to Eden method and I also need to add more gutters for the Rain Gutter Grow System to grow all I want to grow this year. Over the years I hope to grow fresh food for me and the chickens and also enough to dehydrate and store. Although there is a bit of a learning curve with both systems.. and I am having to be creative to keep costs down.. both are starting to pay off. With just me here and money always tight I am paying a lot more in labor and sore muscles than with the checkbook. But I none the less am having fun.

Over all I am pretty excited for this season. It will probably take some trial and error to learn what will grow well this far south so at this point I am trying many different varieties looking for the successes. With two different ways to grow things we are just going to have to invest some time to get it all figured out. We will take lots of notes and either try a new variety next year or try to grow it at a different time. Though we may have things not work as planned.. in the garden I am not sure you can ever say you failed.

 

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3 responses to “Garden Progress

  1. WOW – you have done a ton of work! I have saved your latest blog in my “helpful Farming Ideas” folder – but I have a question…The Hog Panel arbor for your cucs – -Why did you put the cucs up on a bench in buckets instead of on the ground? I have a PVC idea I want to try this year and he originally did the same thing? We have major issues with wind out here on the easter CO plains so I am looking at putting buckets-in-buckets to grow some stuff this year (never tried it before). Our soil is excellent, but pests and wind are issues (we also do not use any chemicals – all natural, companion planting, hand picking etc.). Cant wait to read your progress! Excellent article!

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    • I am growing in buckets on gutters for the Rain Gutter Garden System. The buckets have a net cup in the bottom with soil that sits in the gutter. A float valve and another bucket that has the water keeps the water level constant in the gutter. The soil wicks up water as needed for the plants to grow. There is no tilling or weeding and the plants do well if they have good soil to grow in. With the hours I work I need low to no maintenance. Plus the soil here is very hard clay. Any tilling will just encourage more weed growth. And, since I have a separate bucket of water for each gutter.. I can add things specific for what is growing on that gutter. I plan on adding some of the oyster shell I feed to the chickens to the buckets to add a little calcium to the tomatoes and peppers. I can also add compost tea to the water containers to provide a stead supply of nutrients while they are growing. That is the theory any way.. lol

      As I get wood chips I will gradually turn the side yard into a vegetable garden using the Back to Eden approach. Then I will grow some things in the ground and others in the RGGS system. In time we may try both in a season to see where the best production for that veggie is. The height of the buckets makes it easier to work with as well. If I need more climbing room I can turn the cinder blocks on their sides and drop everything down next year as I did this season for the tomatoes. Then will just need another metal pipe and more wire and we are good to go.

      I get a pretty good breeze here but the gutter garden is at the end of the house and a bit sheltered. But.. the wind does change directions and I have come home to things dumped. I have an idea for the tomato supports that are independent of their containers and I hope will stabilize them some. I Am trying to avoid chemicals here as well. Using compost, cover crops, shredded leaves and alfalfa to improve the soil I put in the containers.

      I had a nasty white fly issue when I brought the peppers in. I have looked on the plants on the gutter garden and see a pretty good population of lady bugs. The good bugs come if you give them time and just do damage control till their numbers get to where they can take out the bad ones. Anything that I can grab.. with GLOVES.. [don’t like bugs].. go to the chickens.

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  2. We have been chemical free farming for over 20 years now. Every year brings new challenges. this year we realized that age is taking its toll, so we are transitioning to the “weedless gardening method” by Lee Reich. He built this upon historical data, and we thought if it saves on our bodies – the more the better. The biggest challenge to this method is getting the appropriate base for the section. We only used 4 layers of newspaper in some areas vs cardboard in others. Being in Colorado, we can relate to your heat and we also have strange storms. This year has been exceptionally wet (odd for us). So far it looks like the cardboard wins. our bind weed is tough! managed to pop through the smallest hole in the newspaper, but not a peep through the cardboard. Since the whole plan is created to work the soil into the perfect gardening spots, we are keeping our fingers crossed that this works!?! I also have some secrets to share in regard to hail. too big for here – maybe I will do my next post on it? Happy gardening!

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