Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gardening for Dummies Part 2

Ok, so we've talked about soil, and what kinds of seeds to get...and now you are probably wondering...what's next? Well, there are two things that you need to do, start your seeds indoors if you can and you need to plan your garden.

I was recently told that there's no real need to plan your garden, and "wasn't most gardening trial and error?", to this I respond that with a good plan, there will be a lot less error with your garden. Feel free to disagree, but when you plant plants that work well together you will have good results instead of having one choke out the other. With how much heart goes into my garden, it honestly makes me sad when a crop fails, so I try to plan my garden so that there will be as little loss as possible.

You are probably wondering...what plants do you start indoors and which ones can be put right in the ground? I can tell you! (Well, maybe not a complete list, but if you don't see what you want to grow, ask and I will find out for you if I don't know it off the top of my head!

Direct Sow (plants that do best when seeds are planted straight out into the garden and not started indoors.)

Beans (push and pole)

Sugar Snap Peas
Watermelon (any melons really.)

Start these indoors (they tend to be weaker at first and more susceptible to the elements, etc.)

Peppers (Hot and sweet)

That said, there are some things that it is worth letting the experts get started for you in their greenhouses. It might not be as cheap, but can certainly be less stressful in the long run! For me, those include Kale, mint and peppers.

Given the time of year, all of the direct sow plants that I mentioned are all still fine to plant, it might be a touch late to start any of the indoor plants and would probably be easier to get from the farmers market or a reliable nursery unless you have a designated greenhouse. I got my broccoli and Kale starts from the Farmer's Market and they came with 6 less mature plants for $2-3 or $3-5 for more mature single plants. This weekend I plant to pick up my pepper starts, those I spend the extra money to get the more mature versions.

If you want to start your plants indoors yourself still you absolutely can, they just tend to mature a little later (but they still have plenty of time to mature and produce fruit, it will just be a little later in the season than if you were to buy starts.) On that do you start plants? It's really quite simple. You can start in egg cartons (granted I don't like that method because the egg carton can get moldy...) or if you have small containers left over, or you can buy a start try from any local store. All you have to do is fill it with the same good soil that you will use in your garden and plant according to the directions on the seed packet. (example: tomatoes you plant 1/4" into the soil, so not very far where cucumbers you place 1/2" in the soil.) Once the seeds are in there, I usually use 3 per start so that I have guaranteed germination, then I cover loosely with soil and water evenly. If you don't have a greenhouse (which lets face it, you probably don't unless you inherited one on your propery...even I don't have one yet!) then place the starts in a sunny window. Keep the soil moist but don't soak it and within 7-10 days you will see the start of germination making its appearance.

These are the cucumbers as they were making their appearance.

No, that is not a maggot...those little white spots are some tomato plants that are making their way to the surface.

This was the very next day for these little Tomatoes!

More tomatoes....

Pardon the messy kitchen, but this is where my starts are, in my kitchen window!

Once those little guys make their appearance, it doesn't take long to bring about massive change! The next pictures were taken over the course of about a week....and they continue to grow and change more every day!
This is that same cucumber plant, look at it go!

The tomatoes sure had started growing fast at this point!

You'll notice that the center is sprouting new leaves, this is where tomatoes will really start to look more like tomato plants as they grow.

The same is happening with the cucumber plants, new leaves are coming out to show it's true self.

This is the fun part of starting seeds yourself, you get to watch the progression from a tiny little seed all the way to a massive plant that will produce food to feed your families.

The plan...we need a plan! Ok, well, lets talk about the plan! I have 3 raised beds that are 3'x6' and then I have another that is 4'x4'. I also have several large planters (which are all currently full and I will need to buy more....anyways). My first planter that is closest to my house gets the most shade of the entire area, so it wouldn't be very wise to plant my corn in that bed, so what do I plant? I plant my herbs on one side, carrots next to the herbs (closest to the chives because they grow well together) and then I have a little bit of space (and by little I mean under 6") before I start my spinach and lettuce rows. I also have my Kale in that planter in the far corner opposite the herbs. Now if I grew beets I could easily plant them next to the lettuce since they grow well together, we are not big beet people though, so that's why I don't grow them.

In my second box I have it mostly designated for tomatoes, however this year I am considering doing a row of Onions in between each tomato plant. In that planter I can fit 4 plants if I don't use onions, however so that it isn't too crowded I will plant just 3 plants.  The other tomato plants that I have started will go into barrel planters and around those if I chose I could plant garlic, or onions, or carrots as those all work well with tomatoes and are beneficial to one another. Tomatoes like to grow in the same spot year after year, so keep that in mind when planning your garden.

In my third box, the one closest to the street I have the most sun, I also have my trellis in this  planter so this is where I plant my climbing plants. Specifically, this is where my sugar snap peas go, and this year I am planing cucumbers next to the sugar snap peas as they grow well together and I can tie the cucumbers up to allow for straight cucumbers! I also plant 2 zucchini plants opposite the peas and cucumber. To plant those I built up 2 mounds and plant at least 3 seeds in each mound. This all takes place in the 4 feet on the right hand side of the bed, the remaining 2 feet are used for corn and this year, pumpkins! Corn likes pumpkins because it vines through their base and protects it from rodents such as racoons.

In my 4x4 box I have my broccoli and cauliflower. It takes up the entire box because those plants get pretty big, so I have 1'x1' designated for each plant.

I will be planting peppers in their own planters (with the exception of sweet peppers, those I can fit 4 plants in 1 of the 25" barrel planters that I love so much.) This year I will also be trying my hand at watermelons in one of those barrel planters, I will let you know how that goes! I also plant my bush beans (green beans) in a planter because they only really grow well with cucumbers, celery and strawberries. If you have a lot of space they can be beneficial to corn, but they have to be in alternating rows and takes up too much space for smaller gardens.

Hopefully this helps some of you, and as always if you have any questions, please ask! This is something that I love and I am always willing to look up reliable sources/answers for you! Happy gardening! Get out there and enjoy this warm weather this week!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Yes...I am a gardening nerd...

Ok...I admit it...I am a gardening nerd. My friend teased me that I was having a nerdgasm when I noticed a new crop had sprouted and actually started growing in my garden. I have never had this in my to say I am/was excited is an understatement. 

If you have seen the movie The Ugly Truth with Katherine Heigl then you will have an idea of the goofy dance and squeel that I did! 

I had an MMA fan girl moment today as well where my favorite fighter responded to a comment of mine and liked my hubby said he is surprised I didn't swoon...what can I say, we all have our hobbies and likes, right? ;) 
Anyways, I wanted to share my excitement with the world. This year I got 2 year old asparagus crowns as part of a bulk buy....yes...I even buy my plants in bulk... I got them for $0.25/crown! So anyways,  I took my big barrels (the ones formerly used for tomato plants and one that I had used for peppers in the past) and planted all of my crowns in them. All told I have 3 huge barrels full of asparagus coming my way every year for the next 15-20 years! So exciting! Here's the best can fit 6 crowns in 1 square foot of space! They just need a minimum of 12" depth and they are happy as clams. You add in that each crown can produce up to half a pound of asparagus and I am going to save a ton by not having to buy it at the farmers market!

I will say this...don't try this from a seed if you have the option to get crowns as they do not produce for 3 years...that is a long time for a maybe in a home garden...fork out the extra for the crowns. It is completely worth it! Also, they absolutely love the soil mix that I have recommended in my Gardening for Dummies post so if you haven't seen it, go check that post out!

Beautiful little asparagus spear in my makes me happy!
This is in a second planter, I found more in the 3rd planter but didn't take pictures.
This is another spear peaking it's head out of the earth. I actually had to water today because it has been so dry and beautiful!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Oh ye of little space!

If you are anything like me, you don't have a lot of room to grow in. My parents have an awesome spot that is large and gets a ton of sun for most of the day that they use for their garden. Me...I don't have that luxury. I have a decent sized backyard...which has two giant oak trees in it so it is full of shade all summer long. Wonderful for relaxing in the backyard, not so wonderful for growing veggies in. My side yard is tiny, but it will be used for growing grapes starting this year! I'm so excited! My friend graciously shared one of her shoots and gave it to me, the plant was from a 30 year old strain, I LOVE getting stuff like that! Anyways, back on where do I grow? In my tiny front yard that my landlord originally wanted to pave over and make into more parking. Over the last few years what I have learned in that you don't need a ton of space to grow enough food for your family. No, really, you don't need a ton of space!

I have 3 planter boxes that I use, they are 3'x6' and I have 1 planter that is 4'x4' which came with the house. I got the 3'x6' planters on sale at Bi-mart, they are 100% cedar wood and I got them in the $30-50 range for each one. I LOVE my planters, but I didn't start out with planters. Truth be told, I barely had the money to buy the seeds, let alone dirt to fill all of the planters and the planter boxes as well!

I looked on craigslist and got a bunch of different planters for free or close to it, went to the Dollar Tree and did makeshift planters. One of the makeshift ones that worked really well was an old aquarium that had a cracked bottom, the crack allowed for the water to drain and thus worked perfectly! I managed to come up with the money for some organic soil and filled my pots and planters and I was on my way. Back then I had NO clue what companion planting was, and I just started planting what sounded good. Needless to say, that was a learning curve year! I had way more flops than I had successes that year! Since then I have upgraded my planter pots to ones that are a bit bigger...yeah, I love LOT. This planter here has become my favorite style of planter, however I get the 25" ones directly from Costco in the store, not online. They will run you around $18 each, which for planters, that isn't bad at all. They call them whiskey barrel planters and are made of a resin material so they are weather resistant so all you have to do is drill out the holes at the bottom of the barrels for draining and fill with dirt.

You are probably wondering why on earth I love these so much...well, let me tell you! I use my barrels to grow anything and everything! I grow blueberries, raspberries, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers and beans in them. I also use them for asparagus, and this year I am trying my hand at Elderberries, although the starts might not have survived the transplant, but we shall see over the next few weeks. In my smaller planters, I use them for salad. I call them my salad bowl planters, because I grow lettuce and spinach in them, and since I like baby lettuce and spinach, I harvest before they get too large.

These are my salad bowls. In the center I plant spinach and then surrounding it I plant different types of lettuce.
As you can see I have several different planters. Two are designated for blueberries as once they are planted, you don't ever have to move them...gotta love that!  The others I trade off with using it for tomatoes or peppers usually as needed.

This barrel in front is used for my raspberries. Now they are contained and don't take over an entire section of my garden! As you can see there are other planters used for tomatoes as well. I plan on growing my selection of planters and building a grow platform, just not this year!

Now that I am a little further along in my gardening experience, I have learned a lot more about what grows better together, and what really doesn't. I have also learned how to condense into a small space. I am able to feed my family of 5 with much of what I grow from my garden (and that is with neighbors coming a taking some of the literal fruits of my labors...I figure if they really need the food that badly, then they should go ahead and take what they need!)

This planter I got at the Dollar Tree. I even got the plant hanger from Dollar Tree!

This is the makeshift planter made from the old aquarium/terrarium. It would have worked much better if I had picked different plants for it, like I said, that was the year of not knowing what the heck I was doing!
This year I plan to make even more use of my planters by companion planting in the containers, and not just in my boxes. I will be planting onions, garlic and carrots around single tomato plants for my larger barrels as those are all beneficial to each other. That's the cool part about companion planting, both plants benefit from being planted next to each other, be it for the nutrients in the soil, the shade provided by others, or how the soil is broken apart to make easier root paths, there is always something to gain when you plan your garden well.

The moral of the story is, even if you don't have space for planter boxes, almost anyone has room for a few planters on their porch or in their yard. Using the right techniques, you can plant a lot in a small space! As always, if you have questions, ask away! Until next time...Happy Gardening!

This is just an example of a strawberry planter, I love it, but the birds tend to get to many of my strawberries before I do, so for next year when it is time to replant (strawberries only produce fruit for a few years in a row) I think I am going to try some other methods in addition to replanting this beauty. :)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bugs...can't live with them..can't live without them!

So during the constant rain that fell last week the slugs took advantage of their time were I couldn't combat them easily. Well...the sun is out and those little buggers are going DOWN! Slugs are a pain, but are very easy to manage during the drier times.

Salt is not a good gardening option as that changes the ph of the soil and makes it harder for plants to grow.
This leaves two real options that are easy.

1. You can add diatomaciois earth to your soil and it essentially rips them to shreds as they slide across it. This method works really well for root maggots as well as long as everything is mixed together really well.

2. Beer. Yes, you read right.  I bury a small jam jar into the soil of my raised beds and I buy the cheapest beer there is. (Right now a 40oz bottle of Old English is working its magic. ) Fill the jar with beer and the slugs come to the beer and drown. You need to empty it out every few days...and stinks...but it is an all natural way to keep out the slugs to minimize the damage they can cause to a garden. If for any reason you are opposed to buying beer for slug bait, then you can also mix yeast and water and that will also draw the slugs in.

I will post more soon, but thought I'd share with you that little tip for the colder weather plants if you have any planted!  (They decided my kale and broccoli looked delicious and attacked....)

This is what Kale looks like after slugs have had their way for a week. My poor plant. Good thing Kale is very hearty and will grow back just fine in a couple of weeks!