Category Archives: sustainability

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/

The final stretch

Today is the last day of “Week-1”, as of tomorrow the chance of frost on Long Island should be minimal. Although I could start planting all my seedlings out in the garden today, I rather adhere to the popular wisdom and wait until mother’s day weekend to do so. No need to jinx it at this point, besides the weather has been kind of unpredictable lately. Below is my garden update for the week.

This week I built myself a garden work bench. I have always wanted to have a work surface outdoors where I can keep some tools, re-pot plants, mix soil or clean produce near the garden beds. I saw an opportunity to do so for very little money by using the lumber from the old trellis fence I removed from the edge of the garden earlier this year. Repurposing the fence was a great idea, after all the lumber was in pretty good condition, the screws and nails showed more sign of distress than the wood itself, and getting it ready to be thrown away was going to be just as much work.

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This is the original trellis fence.
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A section of the fence repurposed as garden work bench
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Finally a place to work comfortably

The bench came out pretty good, it is very sturdy and functional, it I also gives me space in the bottom to hold some of my supplies, and my worm bin.

This week we had a few strong rains in the area. It rained pretty hard, and some water found its way to my composting bin. The next day when I went to turn the bin I noticed liquid draining through the aeration holes. I collected the dark liquid pouring out (instant compost tea). When diluted with water, compost tea can be sprayed directly on plants as it is a very good foliar fertilizer.

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Compost tea oozing from vent holes
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Freshly brewed compost tea

IMG_3262I have already sprayed my plants twice with the compost tea mix, it is hard to say how good it is yet, but all the plants do look nice and perky. This morning I also collected some tea from the worm bin which I am saving to use after planting my seedlings, kind of like a mother’s day tea party.

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Cabbage
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Potatoes grown in bags
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Lettuce
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Garlic and cabbage
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Onion in forefront
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Lettuce
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Cauliflower

In my last post I mentioned I had a major problem with squirrels digging into my beds looking for new seeds or stored acorns. I had covered areas of the beds with chicken wire to keep the critters away, only to find them digging under. After much investigating I bought a motion sensing ultrasound emitter.

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I have had it only for three days out in the garden, and already see the results. My beds have been undisturbed even after sowing new seed. What is best is that the birds do not seem to be bothered by the gadget and keep on coming to bathe in our pond.

Thank you for visiting, please leave a comment.

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The Heat is On!

Garden update- “Week -2”, most of the seedlings I planted a few weeks ago can now rightfully be called plants, they have endured several bitter cold nights, and are growing steadily and stronger, the only casualty so far was the Swiss chard (with a name like that I thought it would be more cold hardy… go figure). The rest of the seedlings still in pots are patiently waiting their turn to be released into the open , but for now are content with being upgraded to drinking cups, and being taken out to harden and enjoy the sun every day in the mini greenhouse.

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Our garlic is huge and looks very healthy. Some of the seed sown directly in the beds have started to germinate and I have an army of tiny plants peeking through the soil. Ladies and gents, Spring is finally here!!

I’ve been waiting a few months to be able to go outside and play. The past couple of days it’s been so nice here on Long Island  that I have been able to get out of bed just as the sun peeks through, and gotten quite a bit of work done outside before having to get ready to go to the office. I have finished all the beds, fitted them with drip irrigation, and provided them with nets for my tomatoes and other climbers to grow on.

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I have also sewn some planters out of garden cloth to grow potatoes, zucchinis and strawberries. I have left an area still semi wild where I will grow some corn and sweet potatoes.

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I am happy with the results and with the way our garden looks.

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As I am getting ready for “Week 0”, however,  I have had to deal with a major nuisance, there are a few squirrels in my yard that like to dig inside the garden beds looking for buried acorns. They have dug out several onions,  garlic, and have disturbed some of the areas where I have planted seed and tiny seedlings. Today I went ahead to cover some of those areas with chicken wire until the plants grow a bit and hopefully the squirrels stop digging.

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I don’t want to hurt them or drive them or the birds away from our yard as we do enjoy seeing them, all I want is to keep them out of our garden beds. Does anyone have any idea how to deal with these critters?

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.

FROST, what is it good for?

Everything in nature has a reason to exist, I know that. However, there are some things I do not have any use or a liking for, and I guess I would not miss them if they did not exist, ticks for example (most Long Islanders would probably agree with me on this), and poisonous snakes is another category I could do without. I am now going to include frost to this black list. Frost, and the possibility of it happening, is probably one of the biggest hurdles to gardeners and farmers in temperate regions.

Our gardening season has been going fantastic here on Long Island, great sunny days, and mild nights. We had a frost a couple of weeks ago, but had been free of it since then. Last night, it came back with a vengeance. The rain and wind that poured and blew all over the island all day turned to snow over night, and this morning everything was covered in a thick crusty ice shell that lingered well past noon. Although I only have frost-resistant plants out in the garden so far, the thought of seeing dime size lettuce and even other much larger plants under snow or covered in ice sends chills down my spine.

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Everything seems to have fared well so far, but tonight we are expecting another temperature drop, this time down to the mid 20º F. I do not know if this will help or not, but I got a roll of a white thin fabric that is supposed to help prevent frost damage to plants and all of them are now covered and tucked in for the night.

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D Acres Farm, waking up to homesteading

It seems we get drawn more and more to New Hampshire whenever we have a little time off or we need to decompress… This time it was Beth who suggested we head up for  few days during Columbus Day weekend. Our initial intention was to hike with our son and his girlfriend while enjoying the Fall change of colors.

Since we came up with the idea at the last minute, we had a hard time finding accommodations in traditional and not so traditional places, I even looked into staying in a yurt, without much luck. Beth then remembered a website our son had recommended www.airbnb.com where you can find less known places to stay. She called me midday three days before our planned departure to ask me, “How would you like staying at an educational farm?”. I guess she already knew the answer, because immediately after I responded, she said “We are already booked”.

The name of the place is D Acres, and it is located in Dorchester, New Hampshire. It is a homestead developed and run on the basic principles of permaculture. The farm occupies a small section of a 200 acre property. It is surrounded by wilderness and has a fantastic view of the foothills of the White Mountains from several vantage points.

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There are several buildings on the farm, the most prominent is the main house, that serves as a combination B&B-hostel and general meeting place for all guests.

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This building also houses a great kitchen and dining hall, a library well stocked with books pertaining to farming, gardening, permaculture, sustainability and other related themes, a fully functional wood workshop, and of course a root cellar and produce storage facility. The farm is not off the grid, but it boasts solar photovoltaic panels, solar heat collectors, and other sensible technology to help it run efficiently leaving less of a footprint on the environment.

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The other buildings on the property, although fully functional for their intended uses (greenhouses, chicken coop, temporary staff residence, outhouses, etc), are less conventional in looks and are happily decorated with hand painted signs and or sculptures.

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The structures and equipment at D Acres are mostly built with locally sourced materials. True to the focus of the farm, they find use for  commonly discarded items which they keep out of sight in a somewhat neat “Resource Pile” until needed.

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In the farm they currently have 2 oxen that help with weed control in the developed area and with muscle power whenever needed.

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They also have several pigs which are entrusted with plowing and preparing newly developed growing fields as they turn up the soil in their constant search for food.

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During our visit, we had a chance to feed the pigs with several cases of vegetables that would no longer be sellable at the local supermarket, and with buckets of kitchen scraps collected in local restaurants. They were all out of chickens at present, as they will be starting a new  flock soon, but they did have ducks in some of their ponds.

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Their farming fields were certainly impressive, they are oriented to make best use of the vital resources, soil, water and sun. Tree stumps are left in the field to decay and in turn return nutrients to the ground, their presence is not inconvenient as the ground is only worked by hand with pitchforks.

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Farming fields are heavily mulched with straw during the growing season to prevent weeds, control water and improve the soils. In the off season, the fields are planted with cover crops to further promote soil enrichment through natural processes of nitrogen fixation and composting.

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Crops are rotated to maximize production, all crops are grown organically. The farm produces all of its vegetables (except for grains and oils), and all of their meat. Surplus are offered for sale locally.

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The areas that are not dedicated to farming have been left in their natural state, with only a few well marked trails that loop around the forest and comeback to Base Camp, where visitors can elect to pitch a tent or hang a hammock.

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The most amazing aspect of the farm is how at ease one feels immediately upon arrival. Josh and Regina really make sure everyone feels at home. The food is fantastic, and is served family style in a very cordial atmosphere. The kitchen is also shared with guests that chose to prepare their own meals.

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There are just two house rules, no smoking, and no shoes upstairs. It is perhaps because of that that all guests feel compelled to maintain the harmony of the farm as if we were all invested in this great project. In future trips to NH we are most likely to stay again at D Acres, perhaps next time we can catch one of their educational programs, or get a chance to learn more about homesteading working side by side with them.

To learn more about D Acres Farm, visit their site at www.DAcres.org .

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