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A mother of a day

I am writing this post on Mother’s Day eve, my shirt is filthy dirty, my fingernails are full of dirt, and my knees have the impressions of the wood chips I have been kneeling on as I plant our garden. In other words, I am happy!! IMG_8789

Just about every square foot of garden space has been planted or assigned for planting in the next week, for the first time I am ahead of the game.IMG_8784 IMG_8783 IMG_8668 IMG_8623 IMG_8652

This past week and a half the weather has been rather mild on Long Island, and since there was no imminent threat of frost I took the gamble and started putting some of the more tender plants in the ground last weekend. My tomatoes looked somewhat purplish at the beginning, a condition that can be caused by either lack of Phosphorus or by being exposed to too much cold and water.IMG_8616

I am not quite sure what did it, but after a few days with the mercury hitting in the upper 60’s (ºF) and having better soil to grow on than what was in their seedling cups,  they now look stronger and a healthier shade of green. Today I even started training them on to a string so they grow upright and without crowding each other.IMG_8776

As I had mentioned before, this year I am committed to growing more varieties in my homemade grow sacs. I really want to find out if these containers are a viable alternative for those with planting space limitations. I spent a few evenings making them, so our fleet of grow sacs has more than doubled this year. As of today we have 27 sacs in various sizes spread out in different areas of the garden. IMG_8764IMG_8691

All our peas, zucchinis and potatoes are being grown in this manner, but I also dedicated some sacs to grow a good portion of our cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, scallions and peppers.  If anyone is interested in learning how to make their own, leave me a comment.IMG_8759 IMG_8762 IMG_8787 IMG_8666

I wish all moms out there a wonderful day tomorrow and always.

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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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Back on the horse.

Agriculture above the 40º of latitude takes some degree of trust, specially for anyone like me who grew up in the tropics. Planning  a garden when the ground is covered by a two foot layer of ice and snow always feels much like taking the proverbial leap of faith. Nonetheless, a few weeks ago I waded in knee deep snow to gather all my equipment and left over supplies from last year, and officially declared open the 2015 gardening season by planting our first batch of seeds.IMG_7838 IMG_7843IMG_8225IMG_8223

I have since continued planting seed, one flat at a time,  and as of this morning I counted over 300 tiny pots most showing seedlings at different stages of growth and development. I have already started hardening some of the sturdier plants out in the sun, and by weeks end will probably have even the tomatoes and peppers out for a sun tan.IMG_8149 IMG_8140 IMG_8230 IMG_8386 IMG_8405 IMG_8406 IMG_8294IMG_8293

The only constant in our garden is that there is always change. This year I have a new challenge to overcome, our new pup, Panda, is the new master of our backyard. She is extremely curious, and has shown a a great affinity for vegetation. The only solution has been fencing the garden area off from the rest of the yard, something I was always against doing, but it is the only way keep everyone happy. Needless to say I had to fence not only the garden area, but also had to construct a fence to keep the dog in the backyard. All that has taken some focus away from my plantings, but I am sure I will catch up by Mothers’ Day.IMG_8241 IMG_8281

Our production goal for 2015 is 250 lbs of produce. This year I am staying away from fancy varieties and focusing more on the veggies we do like and consume. I will try to dedicate more growing area to grow bags, as these proved very effective last year. Let me know if you would like information on how to make your own.

Wish us luck, I will try to share my our experiences with all. Now go and play in the dirt.

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Paper? or plastic?

During the winter I became interested in a planting technique used to stimulate plants to grow  extensive root systems. The benefits of this technique translate into stronger plants that are better able to utilize the nutrients in the soil they live in.  The technique is known as root air pruning.

Root air pruning occurs in containers made out of materials that allow the roots to enter in contact with air once they reach the container walls.    At such point of contact  the tip of the root dehydrates and dies. However, the plant compensates by growing secondary roots in other directions inside the container. As these secondary roots further develop, and in turn come in contact with the container wall at a different spot, the process is repeated. The end result is a very well developed, very dense root system inside the container, as opposed to the single root that circles around and around and becomes pot bound inside a traditional container . There are many commercially available root air pruning containers, and perhaps just as many DIY suggestions available on line, (I particularly enjoy watching Larry Hall’s videos ).

Since this year I was using raised beds which limited the space we have available to grow vegetables, I decided to experiment growing zucchini in root air pruning containers, to gain the precious gardening real estate in the raised beds that would otherwise be occupied by the giant summer squash plants. I initially made four large containers (17 gal each) to house my zucchini seedlings. I made the containers by sewing heavy duty landscape fabric into a 16″X16″X16″ square-bottomed bags, which I then filled about 1/2 of the way up with the same soil (Mel’s Mix) I used in my raised beds. IMG_3377

Early enough it could be noted that the bags were doing a good job, the seedlings were growing strong and healthy with the extra heat they were getting in the dark containers. At that point I decided to try growing potatoes, so I made three more bags for that purpose, and I also made a long sausage like container which I planted with watercress seed, lettuce and celery.IMG_3502

Soon after  I though to make a few smaller bags out of the material trimmed off when making the original larger bags.IMG_3484 IMG_3485

I made a dozen 4gal bags, where I planted our squash, melon and water melon seed. The bags were great for starting seed because they could be closed at the top and provide a dark, warm and humid environment for germination  while at the same time preventing squirrels and other critters from getting too curious and messing everything up.IMG_3488 IMG_3487 IMG_3492IMG_3744IMG_3743

To date, the 4 zucchini plants have produced almost 8lbs of food so far. We had some degree of success growing potatoes, and after emptying the bags we have already re purposed them to grow pumpkin, sweet potatoes and carrot. IMG_4418 IMG_4541

Our sausage shaped container is going strong and we still take cuttings of watercress and celery as needed. Our melons, squash and cantaloupe look awesome and we already have some fruit forming.IMG_3676 IMG_4326 IMG_3569 IMG_4416 IMG_4317IMG_4594IMG_4592

These containers are so versatile, that I have also made 1/2 gal bags to root perennial herbs to share with friends, I am sure this size will also work great to start seedlings next spring. The bags are great for gardeners with limited land, for apartment dwellers with just a balcony, or even to use in areas that cannot be easily converted into gardens (patios, decks, lawns,etc). Next year I plan on expanding our bag farm to grow  plants in a sunnier location of our yard, and to re-locate lettuce to a shadier area once the mercury starts climbing… the possibilities are endless.

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Something Different – Roasted Cauliflower

Town & Country Gardening

roasted cauliflower
Source PureWow Recipe roast the whole damn cauliflower
Fresh from UK’s The Telegraph news media is Roasted Cauliflower. I’m not a big cauliflower fan, but this looks and sound like a real winner.
It has a rather long list of ingredients that may not be found in many American kitchens.

Roasted cauliflower? Been there, done that. But roasting a whole head of cauliflower? This recipe has you slathering cauliflower in a spicy yogurt marinade and roasting it at a high temperature. The result is an amazingly delicious dish that’s as dramatic in presentation as it is easy in preparation. Serve it with a big green salad (we suggest lime juice and olive oil for the dressing) for an easy weeknight supper or your next “the vegetarians are coming to dinner” party.

Spicy Whole Roasted Cauliflower
Makes 6 servings — Start to Finish: 1 hour

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 head…

View original post 202 more words

Why is my salad so awful?

It is officially mid-summer around here on Long Island NY.  The days are very hot, sticky and humid. Awesome weather if you are a plant I guess.  It is the kind of weather that makes you crave a cool refreshing salad with produce picked right off the garden. IMG_4272

Since our tomatoes have so far refused to turn any shade of red, we have been hitting our lettuces and the like pretty heavily. So much that some have now grown very tall and look like some sort of palm tree.IMG_4390

A few evenings ago I went out to collect an assortment of greens for a fresh dinner salad. I picked about a pound of leaves altogether. I had red ones, green ones, mottled ones, smooth ones and ruffled ones too, a good looking mixed bunch. IMG_4066

I washed it, spin dried it, chopped it, and then mixed it with cucumber I picked early that day, some red onion and store bought tomato.  For dressing I used a quick balsamic vinaigrette, nothing fancy but a favorite at our house.

I don’t think I exaggerate when I say our salad tasted as if I had made it with freshly picked oak leaves. Crunchy and fresh but awfully bitter.  After washing the taste with plenty of water, my mind rushed to the garden, what were we going to do with all that lettuce still out there? There was still plenty of lettuce, radicchio and Swiss chard to feed our family for a few days.  The thought of having to trash it all was not a happy one, I hate to waste food.IMG_4251

An online search on bitter lettuce will lead you to bolting lettuce, and will give you suggestions on how to prevent or minimize the bitterness in leafy greens. Below are some I have tried and somewhat seem to work for us.

Heat not only makes lettuce go to seed (bolting), but somewhat stresses the lettuce and that makes it taste bitter, so avoid picking leaves during or at the end of the day. I find it best to harvest the lettuce very early in the morning before the sun has had a chance to warm up too much. IMG_4388

Collect all the leaves in a container with cold water. I actually use water with ice cubes, as at this time of year the water coming out of the faucet never gets cold enough.IMG_4289 IMG_4362

Wash, select and hydrate the lettuce by placing the leaves right side up in a bowl with cold water for at least 6 hours.  We make mixed heads of lettuce by placing the smaller leaves in the center and surround them with larger leaves.IMG_4368 IMG_4305

Once the leaves are well hydrated, drain them and store them in the fridge inside zip lock bags.IMG_4392 IMG_4394

Of course, taking care of late season lettuce as detailed above does not make it as sweet as it was in the spring when it was young and tender, but certainly makes it a lot less bitter and definitely edible. Also, once you mix it with other vegetables and a nice salad dressing, any hint of leftover bitterness cannot be tasted. Nonetheless, avoid using the older tougher leaves, or stems of those greens that have turned fuzzy, those are definitely best in your compost.

Hope this works for you too, even if it gets you a couple more decent salads it is well worth it. In a few weeks you can start all over again with a new planting for fall and early winter harvest.

For more information on keeping lettuce check one of my older posts

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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30 days from seed to salad plate

Today we had our first harvest of the season. Not bad considering that about a month ago I was still wearing a down sweater while planting some of our seedlings. We picked a handful of radishes, and their tops, and some lettuce leaves, enough for a nice salad that we put together with tomatoes, cucumber, and a honey Dijon vinaigrette.

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It never ceases to amaze me how quickly radishes grow, I can’t think of any other crop that can be enjoyed in as little as 30 days from planting the seeds.

IMG_1669The perfect plant for those short on patience, and great to introduce children to gardening, as aside from being fast growing, they give a fantastic display as the roots seem to crawl out of the ground as they grow. Moreover, almost nothing really goes to waste, as the tops and the roots are all edible.

 

 

 

 

No more Mr. Nice Guy

I have been very suspicious for a while now…. but you know how it is, no evidence, so you kind of put it in the back of your mind and hope you are wrong, right? Last week, I even saw the tell tales, a fluttering white butterfly, a few holes on a couple of eggplant leaves.IMG_3562 I lightly sprayed all the plants with a fine mist of neem oil solution hoping that would be the end of it… was I ever wrong.

Today I woke up to a green cabbage worm fest. Several plants had a few holes on some leaves, the worst hit was a square of kohlrabi.IMG_3598 IMG_3597 IMG_3596 I found  only one big fat worm calmly and fearlessly gorging on  young kohlrabi taking advantage of the fact that it is pretty much invisible against a leaf background. Sorry, no pictures of that one, somehow it got squashed before I thought of taking its picture…

I did check most of the plants before getting ready for work, there were a few chew holes on some cauliflower leaves here and there, nothing really disastrous. Although I did not find any more worms, I prepared a fresh batch of neem oil solution (2Tbs super clean neem oil+2Tbs Dr Bronner’s Sal Suds shaken in a cup of warm water and later added to a gallon of water in a sprayer) and used it to purposefully and copiously douse all brassicas in their center, and on top and bottom of their leaves.

This afternoon, I only found one much smaller and not too happy green cabbage worm curled up in the fold of a cauliflower leaf. The same cauliflower that two days ago started producing a cauliflower.IMG_3571 This cabbage worm, however, did not seem interested in eating, or moving, or living, the neem oil treatment seems to have done the job this time. IMG_3608 In the future I will have to be more careful and treat more thoroughly and decisively  in order to prevent larger or more widespread problems.  I have never used BT, or even diatom powder, but I think I should stock up on those too, just in case.

Do you have a “cure almost everything” secret recipe? What organic products do you use to treat your vegetable garden?

Interesting stuff

http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/neemgen.html

http://organicgardening.about.com/od/pestcontrol/p/cabbageworms.htm

http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/degen.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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.

GO! GO! GO!

I am one of those people that loves winter. In October I can hardly wait for the first serious snowfall… the deeper the accumulation, the better. DSCF4724

Nonetheless, come mid March, I am ready for fair weather. This year it seems winter had a stronghold over Long Island. Even last week we were dumped with about 4” of snow by freak storm that passed by. IMG_3009 Luckily all the snow melted away that same afternoon, and the weather has been somewhat decent since. This is “Week -4” in my gardening calendar (4 weeks away from last expected frost on Long Island). The temperature has been in the mid 40-50º F during the day and dropping to the mid-upper 30º’s at night.

Our garden this year got a major facelift with the addition of the 5 raised beds I built last fall. This past weekend I was able to finish filling the last bed with the help of my sons, so I am ready to go. All my beds have been filled with “Mel’s mix” grow medium (1:1:1 compost, sphagnum moss, vermiculite), which I enrich liberally with glacial rock dust.

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I have so far finished the bulk of my spring pre-gardening projects. Three weeks ago I built a large hoop house over a couple of my beds. It was big enough for us to walk in without having to duck, it did not come out as beautiful as I had imagined it, but since it was just going to be used temporarily, I figured it would be fine. And “temporary” it was, I found it all mangled up a few feet away in the garden on the first windy day. No big deal, that giant thing was really an eye sore… Besides, the next day I found a light plastic portable greenhouse on special at a Odd Lots, a local overstock warehouse, which is what I am now using to harden my seedlings.

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I finished my compost tumbler, and started two other which I am giving away to our friends at Hobbs Farm. I have also just finished making changes to the containers I will be using to produce worm castings, and I should be getting my live worms in the mail next week. The only big item left on my “to do list” is the installation of a drip irrigation system to the beds, which I will probably start this weekend.

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As for my plants, last week I planted all the broccoli, and cabbage seedlings I started back in February. This week I also planted the beds with onion sets, cauliflower, and a nice assortment of lettuces and garden greens.IMG_3017 IMG_3016 IMG_3029 IMG_3075

I can also report that the garlic that B, my young assistant, helped me plant last fall is growing very strong and healthy, and the shoots stand now over 3″ tall.IMG_3049

I am still keeping a few batches of tomato, basil, pepper, more garden greens, celery, eggplant in the house under grow lights. I am quite happy with the overall germination rates, the only disappointment so far was my first batch of bell peppers, I only got a couple seedlings out of a full pack of seeds, the second batch seems to be doing much better, as they say never put all your eggs in one basket…

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Starting next week, I can start most cool temperature tolerant seeds outdoors, either sown directly in the ground or in the greenhouse. This will afford me the space I need indoors to continue nurturing the more delicate seedlings for a bit longer.

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Have you started your garden yet?

What have you planted or plant to grow this year?

Any advice? I can surely use it.

 

Get Set!! Spring is around the corner

The mile high glacier that has covered our backyard since December seems to be receding. However most of our garden is still covered in thick stubborn ice, and my new raised beds are only evident by the rectangular mounds of snow symmetrically lined up like graves. Spring will officially make its entrance in a couple of weeks, and although the days are considerably longer, they are not yet one bit warmer.

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Although it is not possible to work outside, gardening season is in full swing at our place. During the fall and winter I made up a schedule of what I had to get accomplished every week, starting 12 weeks before the last possible frost date, and I am proud to say I am still on track.

Because of the weather, most of my tasks now take place indoors, either at home or in our shed. My first project was building shelves to accommodate the seedling trays. I made them out of pine for under $20 worth of lumber. Not only were they cheaper than the plastic sets they sell at Home Depot and Lowes, but I think they look much sharper too.

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This week I started working on a 45 gal compost tumbler which I am making out of a plastic barrel also at a considerable savings. I am almost done with the tumbler, just need to secure the door on it and transport it to a sunny spot in the yard out of the way.

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In my planting schedule we are at “week -9” (9 weeks away from the date when last frost could be expected here on Long Island, which I call “week 0”). At this time I already have robust broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower seedlings growing under lights. I had started those as per my schedule 4 and 2 weeks ago.

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Four weeks ago I also put several sweet potatoes in water to get them to grow slips that could be planted outside in the spring. It took over two whole weeks for the sweet potatoes to start showing any sign of life, I was even concerned I had gotten duds instead of spuds. This week we finally started seeing signs of slips in some of them, and one in particular has sprung a couple that are now about 3/4 inch. I am not sure this whole process is supposed to take this long, but it is what it is…

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In my planting schedule this coming week I was supposed to start our marigolds and dahlias, but I have decided to buy those as seedlings, and concentrate on growing vegetables instead of companion/beneficial flowers. My seed starting schedule is pretty lax for another week, when I will have to start our peppers (sweet and fiery),  eggplants, and a first batch of lettuce and Swiss chard. From then on every week I will have to start seeds of something new to grow. Our goal for this year is to grow a very large variety of the vegetables that we eat regularly. Aside from the ones I already mentioned above, we will also be growing the following: Tomato (2-3 varieties), garlic (planted since the fall), onion,  celery, spinach, melon, cantaloupe, zucchini, cucumber, beans, peas, basil (of course), carrot, strawberry, radish, beet, winter squash, and cilantro.

I have decided this will be the year to try a few different things to improve production and conserve resources in our garden. My plans include installing a drip irrigation system to all my beds and start a work farm to handle our plant waste and produce vermicompost (also known to gardeners as “black gold”). I will report hopefully on weekly basis once we are on full swing.

Check out these posts

http://headinthegarden.com/2014/02/24/sweet-potatoes-vs-yams/

http://headinthegarden.com/2014/02/10/my-garden-update-21014/

My 2013 Garden is pretty much come to a rest. In the past few weeks I have spent most of the time clearing and preparing beds for the winter than harvesting anything. IMG_1931

We were lucky this year to have considerably extended our growing season, the decision to plant again mid summer turned out very fruitful t:-] … We still have a few spinach, arugula and lettuce left on the ground (even enjoyed a tasty salad this eve), but everything else is gone until 2014.

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I have shared many of my garden fun stories and photographs in previous posts, but there were just as many times in which I scratched my head and questioned myself “…what was I thinking???…”  Today I look back at my 2013 season and can identify a couple major mistakes (character flaws??), I want to share them because otherwise I may forget them and end up repeating them next year.

I pride myself on being a great planner. I truly enjoy planning what to plant weeks before it is warm enough to work outside. I carefully figure out how many and what types of plants I want to grow, and where they will be placed. However, I am also very impulsive, at the garden center my eyes always prove to be bigger, much bigger than my yard and brains. This year, as in the past I got excited looking at new plants I had never grown and ended up buying multiple trays of unplanned seedlings which of course I ended up squeezing all in the garden. In order to fit them all in the area I had prepared I not only grew the plants much closer to each other than recommended, but also had to re-form the rows tighter together to gain space. IMG_0945

At the beginning I saw no problem, in fact it did not bother me until the plants were half grown. At that time walking between rows  to prune, weed or simply collect fruit was almost impossible, it got even harder as they grew bigger.IMG_0199

I recall having to crawl under a tunnel made up by tomato plants to reach some of the zucchinis that grew in between. IMG_0205IMG_1154

There was such little room that I could not use my wheelbarrow to carry stuff across my garden.

I guess all impulsive people also lack a very important virtue, patience. Check!! I always want all my plants in the ground by Mother’s Day (official start of garden season on Long Island). I itch with anticipation the days leading to the 2nd Sunday in May.  Nothing more rewarding than looking at perfectly straight rows of miniature plants all planted and watered at the end of the day.IMG_1035 IMG_1034

However, since all go in the same day, all reach peak production at the same time. This can be overwhelming, even though I shared my production with friends and neighbors, a couple of times I felt they were not eating their share fast enough… YES, you can have way too many cherry tomatoes when they come all at once.IMG_0240IMG_1304

In order to control any desire to over plant and to control production to a more manageable and steady level in 2014 I have started making raised beds to utilize the space more effectively, and to make it easy for me to work around my plants.IMG_1588IMG_1929IMG_1930IMG_1917

I even created extra  100 square ft of garden space to make up for the wider access aisles I have left between beds. The use of raised beds will also make it easier for me to space out the planting over a few weeks to stagger production over a longer period of time. I am even thinking that at least one raised bed could be planted much earlier by fitting it with a greenhouse canopy, that will calm my impatience.