Category Archives: composting

End of April, garden update

It’s been a while since I last updated everyone on the state of my garden. It seems I have spent more time than I originally thought necessary dog proofing not only my garden, but also building a 6′ fence to keep our pup in the yard, and then reinforcing it with wire at the bottom to prevent her from digging her way out.IMG_8491

However, little by little I am catching up on what I have to get accomplished in the garden before the start of the planting season the second week in May. As in previous years, I have changed a few things around to simplify the care of the plants and planting area, and the garden is starting to look pretty snazzy.IMG_8516 IMG_8517

Last year I had a bit of trouble keeping the green cabbage looper caterpillars at bay, in spite of the frequent use of neem oil spray they seemed to find their way into some of my cabbage and cauliflower and ended up destroying some of it. This spring I planted most of the brassicas in one of the narrow beds where I had sown lettuce seed last fall. I covered the bed with tulle fabric to prevent the white butterfly from laying her eggs on their favorite food plants.IMG_8478 IMG_8505IMG_8558

The construction of the tulle tunnel was very simple, I drove six 1/2″x3′ pieces of rebar into the ground, just outside the bed, leaving 3/4′ still out of the ground. I inserted the exposed rebar into pvc pipe forming 3 loops over the garden bed, over which now hangs the tulle.  I am holding the tulle in place with plastic shop clamps. The best thing about this arrangement is that I can raise the sides of the netting and keep it up out of my way as needed, and when the weather changes I can easily transform the tunnel into a mini greenhouse by simply replacing the tulle with plastic.IMG_8553 IMG_8557 IMG_8555

I have decided to grow some of the most aggressive climbers, tomatoes, peas, beans, cukes, out of the garden beds. I have already planted some seed in my homemade grow bags,  and have moved the net trellises away from the beds so they are free standing on the west side of the garden where I had some bamboo contraptions last year.IMG_8564

I am trying again to grow potatoes in bags, the experiment last year worked quite well, and even though we are not much of a potato consumer family, it makes for a great show if you have kids come and visit for a harvest celebration.IMG_8570 IMG_8568

The plastic that covered the greenhouse I used last year did not hold for another growing season. I picked up the frame and brought it up to the new fenced-in garden area, and re-covered it with thick plastic, it should hold for a while.IMG_8549IMG_8522

The compost pile I left cooking all winter has started to produce some black gold, but mining it had become an issue. The screen I had made a few years ago was a bit heavy duty,  it was also rather large and just plain heavy.  I always ended up with lower back ache after using it IMG_8563 IMG_8552

At the end of last season I made a new one out of a 10 gal Rubbermaid plastic tote. I simply cut a rectangular section off the bottom of the tote, inserted a piece of 1/2X1/2″ wire from the old screen, and fastened it with zip ties (best invention ever).  This new gadget is very light weight, it has nice handles, and can be easily lifted and shaken to separate the fine stuff. With the rest of the wire I made seedling protectors to keep squirrels and birds from digging where I have just planted.IMG_8559 IMG_8561IMG_8537 IMG_8538IMG_8562

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100 Kg of food…not too shabby

I figure at this point in time, we may just have another month or month and a half left of growing season here on Long Island. This year we have stretched our production considerably longer than in the past, and as of this last weekend we had harvested over 221 lbs of food (just over 100 Kg). Whatever we squeeze out of our yard from now on is just gravy, but I do hope to scratch the 250 lb mark before it is all over for this year.

Fall is a pretty boring season when you think of it in terms of gardening, not much to really do apart from cleaning up and start getting things somewhat ready for 6-7 months from now…I have spent the past couple of weeks removing and chopping plants that seemed to beg for a quick yanking out of the ground, and feeding them to our ever growing 2015 compost pile.

I am  now tending to a garden that is barely growing at about 20% capacity. As I remove spent plants I am discovering those that hid and had so far eluded our salad bowl. I am getting a better sense of what is worth growing again, and what is not worth saving the space for next year.

Our main attraction at present is the cut-and-come-again lettuce. We have been eating it regularly out of a 4 sqft section that I planted about a month ago. IMG_5400 IMG_5401

This weekend I decided to add 4 more sqft so we do not run out once they start growing at a slower pace. The spinach in my garden grows very slowly for some strange reason, but thankfully we have plenty of radicchio and chard to cook with in its place.IMG_5381 IMG_5398 IMG_5382

This year I experimented with a few different brassicas, most of them already did their thing a couple of months ago. The only plants of this family that we still have in the ground are Brussel sprouts, which seem to slowly be forming their tiny buds, and the fabulous kohlrabi which we have really enjoyed throughout the whole season.IMG_5383 IMG_5450

At present, we still have carrots and celery growing nicely.  Last week I pulled all the bell peppers out, and left some cubanelles and a mild hot pepper with a nice flavor to finish their show for the year. IMG_5402IMG_5377IMG_5376

Just about two weeks ago my friends Dawn and Mike gave me a small plant that produces about inch long slender but extremely hot peppers (no kidding). I hope to use these in some of my “picante” hot sauce  to see if I can harness and tame their incredible fire power to an edible level. IMG_5395

My plan for the next 7-8 weeks includes topping off my garden beds with the compost I have been cooking all season, plant the 2015 garlic, and perhaps build one last raised bed. I am not sure what is the best way to maintain the raised beds during the winter, should I cover them up or leave them exposed? If I cover them up, should I use plastic, cardboard,  hay or wood chips? Or  should I perhaps  put a thin layer of horse manure on top and cover it with leaves? Any ideas will be appreciated.

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But we got ugly tomatoes

Summer is ending, as I clean up my garden beds and mulch the rest of plants that reached their term I am giving extra room to those that did not get a share of the spotlight just yet. We finally have a steady production of peppers and eggplants which seem to have waited until now to start presenting us with their gifts.IMG_5200 IMG_5199 IMG_5198 IMG_5158 IMG_5159 IMG_5154 IMG_5144 IMG_5146

Our pole bean are about to reach their term. They are now rewarding us with a massive production of pods which we pick daily as they  turn from green to creamy. The pods are heavy with beautiful white seed which we are collecting and drying out to prepare soup this fall. IMG_5149IMG_5150IMG_5164

It is amazing to see how much we have already harvested from just 6 sq feet we planted, we first picked the green beans until we could not eat them anymore, and so far have over 4lbs of beans saved for the fall.   IMG_5151IMG_5168

Our tomato plants seem to be begging to be yanked out of the ground. They do not look beautiful and happy, instead, they appear as if tired of bearing the fruit still on their branches.IMG_5213 IMG_5214

The tomatoes themselves do not ripen as beautiful as they used to, some end up with cracks, or yellow tones on their shoulders. They are still good to eat, and we have been enjoying them nonetheless, but find us making more salsas, sauces and stews with them than before.IMG_5216IMG_5156 IMG_5166

To date, we have harvested a total of 169 lbs (76.8 Kg) of food from our garden, and we are still getting a nice production. The most surprising plants this season have been the cucumbers, which have given us 45.8 lbs (20.8 Kg) of large plump and tasty fruit from only 6 sq ft of garden space, and they keep on going strong. IMG_5182

I have already started our fall garden, and once all is done I estimate our production will likely surpass 100 Kg for the year. It takes work, no doubt, but for us it is nice to have such a nice extension of our pantry or vegetable drawer, where we just go for as much as we need to cook just before using it.IMG_5175

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Sailing through the doldrums

A fellow blogger and gardener now living in Austria said it very well in her recent garden post  “Practically Nothing Left To Do”.  After all the rushing to get things ready for summer growing season, we now enter a phase in which there is little to do but wait. The day to day progress is so difficult to perceive that it seems nothing is happening out there in the garden. IMG_4063 IMG_4062 IMG_4058 IMG_3911

Needless to say this is not my favorite time of year in gardening, I like it much better when I am running around getting things done, not just waiting for nature to do its thing.

This week was definitely quiet around here, I had enough time to build a second compost pen. It is now easy to turn the compost and the whole process seems to be going much faster. On the other hand, I have not been able to dial it in right with the compost tumbler. The temperature does not seem to get high enough in there, and the results have been marginal. I may re start a new batch in it with grass clippings and chopped up brown leaves. IMG_3850

We are still harvesting a nice variety of greens on somewhat regular basis. If last week was salad week, this can be called pea week. I only planted 6 square feet with peas, just as a novelty since I had never been successful with them in the past. IMG_4001 IMG_3934

In eight days we have collected 436 gr of super crunchy and sweet snap peas. The first few batches never made to the table, as we munched them while making breakfast. Now that we have satisfied that craving we will likely have enough to use when we make a stir fry one of these nights.IMG_4045

The tomatoes are growing nicely, all plants have fruit and flowers on them. A couple pepper plants have started showing interest in putting out flowers, this is the earliest I have seen peppers do that in my garden. I hope for a good crop of the extra hot ones I planted this year. The eggplants have been somewhat lagging in development and do not look too happy. I have attributed the slow growth of some plants to the mild, or rather chilly spring we just had, but others like the kohl rabi have been shining all season, let’s just see what the future brings, after all this is the first week of summer. IMG_4059 IMG_4056IMG_3908

Yesterday one of our summer squash gave us its first baby, a happy and bouncing 290 gr baby zucchini. IMG_3990

Like with all of my zucchinis, it was the result of manually assisted pollination, as I still don’t trust the bugs around here to do the job right. That zucchini will also find its way into some delicious stir fry. IMG_4030

This week I also freed some squares after removing the gigantic cauliflower plants that were occupying the space and shading every other plant in the bed. I must admit that the cauliflower and broccoli were somewhat a disappointment. The size of all the flowers was rather small for such huge plants. Next year I may not devote so much space to growing these even if I figure out where I went wrong.IMG_3920 IMG_3727

My new seedlings, spaghetti and winter squash, water melon and cantaloupe are growing nicely in their grow bags. IMG_3905IMG_4061IMG_4060This week I will thin them out further so as to keep a max of two plants per bag. I like the way plants grow in these root air pruning containers, and how easy and inexpensive it is to make them.  Next season I will use them to grow many other crops.

Much less impressive, but equally rewarding has been the production of castings from my one tote worm farm. Last week I collected a heaping 5 quarts of castings and about a  cup of concentrated compost tea, both of which I quickly put to use around the garden.IMG_3941 IMG_3940

My fun project at this time is trying to grow lettuce and water cress in our pond. We no longer keep fish in it, as the herons made away with a few hundred dollars worth of koi over a two year period. Nonetheless, given the growth of all the marginal and submerged plants in the pond, I am confident there is abundant nutrients in the water to support a few lettuces floating on rafts. I will update their development in subsequent posts, if you have experience with this, please share in a comment.IMG_3895 IMG_3892IMG_4076 IMG_4075

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Garden update week+1

What a fantastic and incredibly rewarding week I just had. After all the rushing and running around the past few weeks trying to finish all the projects I had set myself to accomplish before the beginning of this garden season, last week seemed like a piece of cake as all the pieces are falling in place. After the Mother’s day planting marathon I ended up with just 7 empty squares in our garden. Yesterday I finished planting those squares with left over seedlings and seeds. As of today all our raised beds are fully planted, and look like beautiful garden quilts, each square has a different pattern, texture or color. IMG_3533 IMG_3532 IMG_3530 IMG_3535

The plants are growing nicely, some of the lettuce have reached a size where one could start harvesting on a “cut and come again basis”, but I figure that if I wait another week, we will definitely get a much larger and sustainable harvest over time. IMG_3539 IMG_3538 IMG_3537 IMG_3543 IMG_3544IMG_3551

The seedlings I planted last week seem to have acclimated well, especially the tomatoes which seem to have grown considerably in only about a week in the ground. Their stems are now as thick as a finger and their canopy spreads proudly almost touching the support netting we made for them. IMG_3541

In the squares where I have sown seed, the progress is less apparent, some squares have nice size plants while others have just the tiniest evidence of seedlings poking through the soil, that is the beauty of planting at different times, something is ready to eat while the replacement is already underway. IMG_3424 IMG_3521 IMG_3522

We have had a couple of cool nights which have not made some of my cucumbers very happy. The forecast for the weekend calls for temperatures in the 70ºF, this should be enough for them to get over their chill and will start climbing on the netting. IMG_3550

This weekend we unrolled and filled the tater totes once again, leaving just a few inches of the plants showing above the soil. The bags, which are now filled up to about a foot in height had been started with about 4” of soil when I fist placed the seed potatoes in them. As I have mentioned, the potato plants grow very fast in these bags, in fact today I looked at them and in only 5 days they look like they need to be re-filled with soil. IMG_3467 IMG_3468 IMG_3470

We also have very healthy zucchini growing in similar home made bags in order to save space in the raised beds. The whole idea of growing veggies in these air pruning bags is so interesting that I made a dozen more of them over the weekend to house our melons, cantaloupes, and squashes. IMG_3547 IMG_3502IMG_3497

The added bonus is that I am using the bags as dark and moist germination chambers until the seedlings sprout. Closing the bags at the top with small clamps/clips also protect the seeds from being scavenged by squirrels (yes they are still digging around when they get a chance even though I have the ultrasonic repelling gadget). IMG_3503

Last week I noticed two of the eggplant seedlings that had been transplanted later in the week had a few tiny holes in the leaves. IMG_3562

Even though I could not see any other plants being affected, but having seen a few white moths flying around for a couple of days, I decided to spray all my plants with a neem oil solution(2Tbs Super Clean Neem + 2 Tbs Dr Bronner’s Sal Suds in one gal of water) following advise found in one of my favorite Youtube channels at http://youtu.be/33Q0uP4odh4. The neem oil does not smell that great, but the plants do seem to tolerate it well, and apparently it kind of a wide spectrum treatment.

On a happier note, yesterday I harvested my worm farm for the first time. I only worked with half of the stuff in the box and got about a gallon and a half of worm castings. The process is definitely involved and kind of messy, it is worm crap after all…The resulting stuff is completely odorless and very friable and fluffy. I distributed it among a good looking tomatoes, some fancy lettuces, and also among the sickly looking cukes and the eggplants with the bug bites on them, hoping that the worm castings work like chicken soup for these plants. IMG_3525 IMG_3555 IMG_3556 IMG_3559

After collecting the castings in half of the bin, I  made it ready again with the addition of chopped up leaves, shredded paper, horse manure, coffee grinds and blended mix of kitchen vegetable and fruit scraps…yum!IMG_3527

 

Take a look at this interesting video and post from fellow gardeners

http://youtu.be/uA5K5r_VXLs     Coffee Grounds: How And Why We Use Them In Our Garden

http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/how-to-maintain-a-healthy-vegetable-garden/    How to maintain a healthy vegetable garden

Making The Cut

On the second Sunday in May, we celebrated Mother’s day, and the beginning of outdoor gardening season on Long Island. This is the long awaited “Week 0”, no more frost…finally. The days prior to the weekend were awesome, we had a nice share of sunny days with temperatures between 65-75ºF that warmed up the soil nicely, and a couple of warm rainy days to give all plants a nice moist bed to start.

This weekend, the garden centers were full of people loading up with trays of flowers, mulch, rolls of sod, wheelbarrows and packs of seeds to beautify their yards. We somewhat followed the same trend. After a quick stop at the Home Depot to buy a mower to replace the one I mangled up in the fall by going over a large sprinkler head and some rocks while mulching leaves, Beth took care of the lawn while I finished my drip irrigation control system and worked on our garden beds. Our yard is starting to look nice once again.

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This year, with the exception of a couple cell packs of marigolds, we grew everything from seed. We are very proud of our seedlings, they all look strong and healthy. I grew extras of every plant in case some did not make it to this point, making the final selection of plants to put in our beds was not easy, as even the bench warmers look great.

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Tomato pageant

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Every seedling received the same treatment as they were put in the ground. I enhanced the soil in the planting hole with a handful of rock dust, agricultural lime and some Epson salt to provide good source of calcium, magnesium, sulfur and other required nutrients and trace elements.

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I further treated my tomatoes to crushed egg shells which I sprinkled around their stem as an extra slow release calcium source, hoping to prevent future fruit end rot.

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The day after planting, I diluted a mixture of worm and compost tea and used it to spray all my plants.

As an update, I must say that so far all my plants looks quite happy. The cabbages have started to curl around themselves, the radishes, never disappointing, are showing some red at their base, and my garlic plants are already over a foot tall.

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The most interesting, however, are the potatoes that I am growing in “tater totes”, my home made air pruning bags. I never grew potatoes before, as we are not real fans, so my excitement could be just caused by lack of experience. Nonetheless, these plants are growing at an alarming rate, and look extremely healthy.

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Thank you for visiting my post, feel free to leave a comment. If you live in  central Suffolk County NY and want to give it a try at growing some veggies this summer, let me know if you’d like any of my seedlings.

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These are the bench warmers

Take a look at these cool posts on gardening:

http://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/think-small-young-and-tender/

http://greenbumb.com/2014/05/12/red-solo-cup-tomatoes/

http://headinthegarden.com/2014/05/12/my-garden-update-5-12-14/

http://pardonmygarden.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/no-till-vegetable-gardening/

Turning junk to gold

They came in the mail yesterday, I had them delivered to my office to make sure they would not be left out in the sun all day. Our receptionist brought them straight into my office once she picked up the slightly damp priority mail box and saw the bright yellow LIVE PRODUCTS warning label on top. “If this is alive I do not want it near me” she said as she handed me the box. Now that they are finally here, they better eat all the junk I have been saving for them.

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2000 live red wigglers will turn most of our kitchen waste into prized worm casting compost. Worm castings, also known as black gold, is one of nature’s richest fertilizers, it provides important nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphates, and potash in a form readily available to plants.

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I have been planning on starting a worm farm since last summer and made it one of my priorities for this season. After watching many videos on worm composting over the winter, and after analyzing the systems available commercially, and countless diy designs on the web, I opted for making my own set. I wanted to use sturdy but fairly inexpensive nesting containers, neither overly huge, nor too small, something that could be picked up and transported easily.After checking many boxes, tubs, and totes, I chose to use a 45 gal flip tote (under $10 each at Home Depot) as the basic container on which to build my worm farm.

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I bought two of the flip totes to start with, one to house the worms and compost at the top, and the other to collect below the liquid (worm tea) that drains as the compost is produced . I modified the upper box by removing a section of its floor, and replaced it with a piece of fiberglass window screening which I glued in place with waterproof silicone.

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I removed the flaps that make up the cover of the lower box by pulling the hinge pins. I also drilled a hole and attached a drain fitting on one of the end walls of the bottom box to make it easy to collect the tea without having to dismantle the whole ensemble.

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Preparing the farm to house the worms started about a week ago. I mixed liberal amounts of sawdust and wood chips, used coffee grinds (I get plenty from a dear friend that works at Starbucks), shredded paper and cardboard, sphagnum moss, old garden compost, vegetable kitchen waste, ground egg shells and rock dust. Hopefully the resulting mix ratio is about 1/3 green:2/3 brown for optimum composting.

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As I said the worms arrived yesterday from www.unclejimswormfarm.com. They came in as expected, well packed and with lots of instructions on how to acclimate, rehydrate and release them into their new home. The price was decent for the lot, and they guarantee live delivery and offer live customer service if needed.

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So far everything looks good. I will report any developments in my regular garden updates.