Saturday, January 28, 2012

Seed greenhouse

Got the seed greenhouse finished today; the frame is an old adjustable shelving unit.  I took the warped particle board shelves out and replaced them with three pieces of 1" x 3" for support, then wrapped 1/4" screen fabric around the shelf supports so that the seed trays can drain without worrying about the shelf getting wet; it also allows the excess water to go into the trays below and for sunlight to reach each level.  The frame was then wrapped with two vinyl shower liners attached with zip ties; the left front corner uses binder clips so it can be opened for easy access.  The excess liner was attached at the back with more zip ties and attached to the frame with binder clips so it can be opened if needed.  Total cost for this project, not including the shelving was under $30.

I also planted five varieties of tomato seeds today: Black Krim, Mortgage Lifter, Supersweet 100, Roma and Aunt Ruby's German Green.  There's plenty of room left for the other veggies I'll be planting, including tepary beans, tomatillo, Japanese Shishito Sweet Peppers, Purple Ball and Petch Siam eggplants, pickling cucmbers and yardlong beans.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Innocent until proven guilty

The other day I noticed a hole had been dug in the nectarine tree well, and I assumed it was the dog, as she has been known to dig from time to time.  Of course, it was too late to punish her, since she'd have no idea what she was being yelled at for.  This morning, I decided to see if the daffodils were starting to come up, as I'd seen several posts from others concerning bulbs blooming early and some of my other bulbs were already coming up.  I'd raked all the fallen leaves into the tree well to serve as mulch and hoped they compost, so I had to scrape them out of the way to check on the daffodils.  Much to my surprise, I found trenches underneath the leaves where some critter, probably a mouse, had burrowed through the soil, with some of the trenches leading to holes where a daffodil bulb had been eaten.  In 16 years, I've never had any indication that we might have mice in the yard, yet here was the evidence staring me in the face. And seeing those trenches, I knew that the dog was innocent after all.  Not only that, but the cats, who up until now were just more mouths to feed, suddenly had a purpose and an elevated status as protectors of the gardens.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Starting seeds

It's once again time to get seeds started so they'll be ready to transplant by the end of February or early March, depending on the weather.  I had an old shelving unit laying around and am replacing the pressboard shelves with 1/4" wire fabric so that water can drain from the top to the bottom and also to allow more sun to reach the bottom shelves.  I plan on enclosing it with a clear shower curtain liner to create an inexpensive greenhouse.

I found some 50 cell plastic trays at a local hydroponics store for 50 cents each and cut them into two pieces, one 5 x 7 cells and one 3 x 5 cells so that they fit on the shelves better.  I loosely filled each cell with composted potting soil, then tamped the soil down using the end of a 2" x 2", which fits perfectly into the cells.  After adding the seeds and the row label, I added more soil, then tamped it down as well.  When the seedlings are ready for transplant, I should be able to pop them out of the tray and plant directly into the raised beds.  I planted the following peppers: Sweet Banana, Green Bell (California Wonder), Cubanelle, Uba Tuba, Cajamarca, Aji Limon, Datil, Costeno Amarillo, Takanotsume, Piment de Espelette, Pasilla, Mulato, Chiltepin and mixed Sweet Bells (red, green, chocolate).

The cucurbites are represented by Patty Pan, Yellow Crookneck, Zucchini, Acorn, Butternut, Blue Pumpkin and cucumbers.

I also planted pole beans, red corn, white Italian garlic, red salvia, petunias, Iceland poppy, rain lillies and vinca.  I already had some garlic growing, as well as some tomatoes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Planting the Ein Shemer apple

Well, I finally found the time over the last two days to get the Ein Shemer planted; it took around five hours, start to finish.
I screen the soil to remove any roots and rocks using a homemade screen consisting of a 2" x 4" frame with braces on the corners and 1/4" wire fabric attached to the frame using chicken wire staples.  The wire fabric has to be replaced from time to time as it tears from the abuse I put it through.  As you can see, the frame is sized to fit onto my garden wagon which has a tilt bed for easy emptying.
As I dig the bed, the soil gets placed in the screen and then the clumps are broken apart, rocks and roots removed and the remaining soil is pushed through the screen, creating a loose, light soil that is easy to mix compost into.
The screened soil is dumped onto a tarp until the tree well is ready to be refilled.
Once the tree well is the proper depth, about a shovel blade deep, the tree is situated in the middle and a secondary hole is dug to get the tree to the proper depth.  Then weed block fabric is laid loosely in the bottom of the well.
Tree well is partially filled to anchor the weed block in place, then plastic border is pegged in place.
The well is filled with more soil, then ten gallons of compost is added and mixed into the soil.
The soil mixture was leveled, irises were planted and the soil was thoroughly soaked to remove air pockets. The excess weed block fabric was trimmed to just at or below ground level; the outside edges of the well will be filled in with some of the excess soil to remove the gaps.  Once the soil has settled for a few days, additional soil will be added if needed.
Here's the Ein Shemer in its' new home.  I planted about 20 irises (the ones I got free from Craigslist) and there's enough room in the bed so that I shouldn't have to thin them for several years.  I can't wait for spring to see what color(s) they are.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Black gold

I struck black gold in the backyard today!  No, not oil, but compost, rich and dark.  I turned the compost pile today and screened out 20 gallons of wonderfully rich, friable compost which will go into the new beds for the Ein Shemer apple and the bulbs.  Since my garden is organic and my soil has lots of clay, I use homemade compost to enrich it, and as a bonus it reduces the amount of trash going to the landfill.  I keep a bowl on the kitchen island for all of the compostible scraps; banana peels, apple cores, veggie peels and even eggshells and coffee grounds.  If you go to Starbucks at the right time, especially just after the morning or lunch rushes or at closing, you can get used coffee grounds free for the taking.  I also add all the lawn clippings and plant trimmings, so nothing goes to waste.  There are numerous commercial composters on the market or you can make your own; plans are plentiful on the Internet.  I started with one made of plastic garden fencing like the type used for trellising plants, but the dogs kept digging at the bottom, so I had to find an alternative.  I was on the City's website when I found out they offered composters for $5.  They're made from damaged black plastic trash cans with the bottom cut off and several 2"-3" holes drilled in the sides for air circulation.  Better yet, they could drop one off and add the $5 to my next month's bill.  The composter holds about 35-40 gallons of raw materials and since they're lidded, they're fairly animal proof.  I say fairly, since I found a gecko inside mine today when I was screening out the compost, but they do keep the bigger critters out.

The process of making compost is fairly simple, first you add organic material and then some soil or compost starter to add the beneficial bacteria and fungi that do all the work of turning trash into compost and continue layering until the composter is full without pushing down on the contents.  Water the compost pile often enough to keep it moist to keep the bacteria and fungi happy.  Too dry and it'll take forever to make compost and too wet and you'll end up with a slimy, foul smelling mess.  The compost pile needs to be turned occasionally, depending on how often you add material, but a good rule of thumb is at least once or twice a month.  Turning mixes up the materials, allowing air to circulate and speeds up the process.  Composting generates quite a bit of heat within the pile, which kills off most seeds and pathogens in the raw material so that you don't have to worry about weeds springing from your compost.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Weeding, the chore that never ends

The 3 surviving rose cuttings from November in a thrift store pot
Spent an hour after work fighting another skirmish in the never ending war against the evil menace known as weeds and managed to clear out another big section of the front yard, but for how long I'm not sure.  Every time I think I've got the upper hand, a new crop pops up.  If flowers and vegetables were this easy to grow, my yard would be a lush Garden of Eden.

Speaking of growing flowers and vegetables, here are some pictures I took today of plants that are coming along nicely; some are recent acquisitions and some have been around a while.

Spanish spinach

Mesclun mix lettuce
Sweet 100 tomatoes
Snow peas
1st strawberry of the season
Alliums coming in
Cyclamen in new hanging pot
Picotee petunia
Red Lion Amaryllis & Paperwhites in grapevine basket I made
Garlic & tomatoes of unknown variety, as they were volunteers next to the composter

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The making of a gardener

I set up a Mr B's Garden Facebook page yesterday and a friend and fellow blogger suggested I should include some information on where I garden and how long I've been doing it and it got me thinking about the origins of my gardening bug.  I guess to really examine it in detail, I have to start some 50 years ago or so. Until the age of nearly nine, I lived in a small town, the last house in town, to be honest, across the street from my grandfather's farm.  Opa grew tomatoes and asparagus and during the summers, we "worked" on the farm, weeding for a quarter a day.  We also spent a lot of time playing in the soybean field behind the house and in the ditches on either side of the gravel road next to the house.

In 1968, we moved from Canada to Tucson, AZ and though we no longer had fields to tend to, the yard still needed to be maintained and all of us were required to help if we wanted our allowance.  By the time I was in 6th grade, my older brother Ralph and I had a thriving yard care business going, taking care of several yards for 75 cents an hour.  I learned about the difference between Bermuda grass and diacondra, how to thin irises, use various hand tools including grass and hedge clippers (I still use hand clippers around delicate plants), when to fertilize and lots of other gardening wisdom that was imparted by our elderly clients.  After awhile, one of the ladies we worked for ran out of places to plant more irises and she suggested we should take them home to our stepmother; thus began the ever proliferating iris beds at our house and my undying love of irises.

 My mother wasn't really into gardens, so we only had the lawn and hedge to take care of, but after she passed away, my father remarried and my stepmother decided we should have a vegetable garden to defray the costs of feeding eight mouths, so we started with a modest plot in the back yard of maybe 200 square feet, all dug and fertilized by hand.  It didn't take long before the garden was doubled and was producing tomatoes, cucumbers, dill, okra (a neighbor mistook it for marijuana and reported us to the cops), greens, sweet corn and others I can't remember.  In winter we had broccoli, brussell sprouts, spinach, squash and Swiss chard (which we found out nobody liked).  By the third year, we decided one or two rows of corn wasn't going to be enough, so we turned half the front yard into a mini corn field, though most people didn't know as it was screened by a large hedge.  It's hard to beat corn put into a boiling pot within minutes of being picked.  In 1976, the family moved to Oklahoma and I stayed behind to finish high school and didn't do any gardening until I got married in 1980.

Our apartment had a small backyard and I got permission to dig up the grass and put in a vegetable garden, where I grow tomatoes, squash and cucumbers for the two years we lived there.  After that it was a succession of apartments without anywhere to garden, until 1984, when we moved to Mesa and my in-laws bought a townhouse for us to live in. I dabbled with various veggies in our small patio, but not with any serious intent, as I had a full-time job, was going to school and raising two kids.  In 1996, we moved into our present home and landscape-wise, it was pretty barren.  For many reasons at different times, there just wasn't any time to do much with the yard, but eventually I began to get out and planted an apple tree, some grapes and started a salsa garden.  Then a change in jobs meant lots of out-of-state travel and not enough time to maintain a garden and everything but the apple succumbed to neglect.  I have a new job now and only travel occasionally, so I've been slowly expanding the gardens to include flowers, more fruit trees and veggies. As noted in a previous post, the vegetable gardens will be expanding a lot this year, as nothing beats fresh picked, organically grown veggies.

Looking back, I owe my passion for gardening to my grandfather, my stepmother and several generous elderly ladies who encouraged me and gave me a gift that time has not diminished and to which I always return, no matter how long the absence.  If you have young ones in your life, whether they be children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or just the kids next door, try to spend some time with them in the garden so that you can hand down the gift of gardening to the next generation, for being good stewards of the land begins with a small plot, not a giant field.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Winter Sports Larry

Now that Dr. Larry has seen the Baby New Year off to a good start, it's time to hit the slopes of Aspen for a much deserved vacation.  Larry and Chuck are all geared up for some night skiing, or maybe a few Triple Axels at the local rink.  Larry's seriously considering entering into U.S. Figure Skating Solo Dance Series competition, so he could certainly use the extra ice time.  While Larry and Chuck are off to the glamour and glitter that is Aspen in Winter, I'll be here taking care of such mundane chores as weeding and trimming, plus preparing beds for the Spring bulbs and the new apple tree.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Good bye to Christmas

Today's date and forecast high of 78 both lead me to the inevitable conclusion that it was time to say "goodbye" to Christmas, so much to my grandson Kaleb's dismay, Steph and  I spent the day taking down and boxing up the decorations, inside and out.  Tomorrow after work I'll be faced with the task of getting everything back up in the attic.  Already the house looks empty and the yard is too dark, but I'm trying to look at it as an opportunity to rearrange furniture and lower the level of light pollution.

Harvested some Hungarian Yellow, Big Jim, Orange Habanero and Takanotsume peppers today and I believe a trip to the store for tomatoes and other salsa makings is in order; it'll give me an excuse to use my new Fiesta chip & dip set.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 - My plans for the year ahead

I have some big plans in the garden for the year 2012 and I'm going to share them with you, then we can both see how many of them become reality throughout the year.  I'll start with the front yard, then move on to the east side yard and finish with the back yard.

Front yard:

I'll be planting an Ein Shemer apple in the spot formerly occupied by Larry in the back corner of the yard, which will require the removal of the basil and the transplanting of the sage, which will go in the back yard.  I'm also relocating the gardenias to the back yard, up against the house where they'll get more shade, as they got pretty sunburned last summer.  The space between the two solar lamp posts where the gardenias were will become a flower bed with approximately 300 bulbs and will be overseeded with vincas for color once the bulbs are done.  I'll be making planting boxes for the wrought iron sections of the fence and will install a drip irrigation system to them.  The stuccoed sections of the front and side walls will be painted, probably white.  I'm waiting for the plans for extending the front porch and hope to get it built in August or September, at which time the entire roof will be reshingled.  The third solar lamp base needs to be framed and poured this month, and the faux slate tiles installed on the bases of each lamp.

East side yard:

This month needs to be spent cleaning and leveling it; then I need to make the raised beds and decide on a substrate for the paths between them.  I haven't decided on cedar fence boards, shredded tires or bark mulch.  The plan call for 9 beds 5.5'L x 18"W x 15"H and they'll be planted with 10 varieties of hot peppers, 6 types of tomatoes, cilantro, scallions and 2 varieties of tomatillos to comprise my salsa garden.  I'm also building a new side gate that will incorporate 4 planter boxes for Climbing Don Juan roses.  The entire gate will be built without any screws or nails except the screws for the gate hardware.  Lastly, I'll be planting four more grapevines, at least one of which will be a variety new to my gardens.

Back yard:

Besides transplanting the basil and the gardenias, I'll be removing the Climbing Golden Showers, as I'm not happy with the short life of the blooms, and I'll be replacing it with some of the cuttings from my father-in-law's roses that have successfully rooted.  I'm also planning on building a three section composting station to replace and/or supplement the current composter.  The steel storage shed is going to be sold or donated and I'm putting in raised beds for the greatly expanded vegetable garden, which will include red corn that I hope to dry and grind into meal for red corn tortillas.  I also plan on cucumbers, squash, oriental sweet peppers. eggplant, fingerling potatoes, garlic, a couple of different oriental choys and some oriental yardlong beans.  Blackberries or raspberries (or both) are also in the plans.  Since I'll have so much more planting space available this year, I also plan on a winter garden with hard squash varieties such as spaghetti, acorn and butternut, plus broccoli, red cabbage and brussel sprouts.

There's a lot of work planned for this year, so the big question is, can it all get done with the time and budgetary constraints I have to work within?  Only time will tell, but at least they're ambitious plans that give me something to strive for.