Monday, February 27, 2012

February 27, 2012

Spring hyacinths
Spring is really coming - there have been hints, and they are more convincing each week, if you couldn't tell from seedlings in greenhouses and "false" Spring weather.  Though it hasn't snowed here all winter, March is known for some nasty surprises; this gardener wouldn't mind an early Spring, another chance to win the race to grow the first sun-ripened tomato!

Broccoli seeds sown indoors on Friday evening germinated in just 36 hours; they are now growing under fluorescent lights with bell pepper seedlings; outdoors, spinach seed is sprouting.

Compost is dull business, really.  The compost bin has been in operation now for a little over a year, and we are seeing some nicely-finished product using the slow method; our compost bin is really just a trash receptacle for all garden waste, weeds excepted.  It is too unwieldy to turn.  So it sits, sun and rain, with new organic matter added to the top.  The compost we are harvesting is enough just for a few individual plants in their planting holes, though in time we hope it will be able to amend garden soil on a large scale.

A handful of rich compost.
Autumn leaves and cardboard are mass-composting over the site where our future vegetable garden will be; wet cardboard is very attractive to earth worms:  we call it worm compost.  We don't till it under until it is fully composted.  It takes about a year, and while it lasts on top it does a great job keeping weeds down.

We're mulching all our trees and herb borders this week with contractor's mulch before gardening season gets really busy.  Every tree has been fertilized and will be ready to pop into growth when Spring arrives for real.
Our compost bin

Monday, February 20, 2012

February 20, 2012

Five rows 25-ft. long each sowed with 'Bloomsdale Long Standing' spinach seed
It's that time of year again - spinach!  Cold-weather seeds can be planted as soon as ground can be worked. Grab a handful of soil and squeeze it together: if it crumbles apart when you let go, it's ready to cultivate.  Here's a hint:  garden loam which has plenty of organic humus will be ready to work sooner than unconditioned soil.  This is our second season growing in this bed - last year we grew red clover and sweet corn here; we acidified it with iron sulfate and spread a load of composted manure over before tilling.  The tiller cut through it like butter - wow, what a difference from last year!  800 seeds have been sown down five, 25-foot rows and watered, so we're hoping to see a great harvest in April.

Seedling heat mat warming a cell pack sown with peppers.
Sterilized seed-starting mix greatly improves the viability of seeds started indoors.  Most seed-starting mix is not sterile, but it can be sterilized in a big roasting pot placed in the oven and baked at 300 degrees F for about an hour.  We did this before starting our sweet bell peppers indoors; we use heat mats underneath to create an ideal germinating temperature, and we cover with plastic to keep humidity high until they sprout.  Seeds germinate in half the expected time using this method.

It wouldn't be too early to plant carrot seed and onion sets outdoors.  This garlic has obviously enjoyed a mild winter and is a little more than half-way through its growing cycle.
White hardneck garlic plants.

Monday, February 13, 2012

February 13, 2012

We start every vegetable we grow from seed, and our catalog order has arrived.  We decide on any new and unusual types or heirloom varieties early in January when we plan what to grow.  New to the vegetable garden this year will be an Opalka paste tomato (replacing Roma), Amish paste tomato, Granddaddy beefsteak tomato, and Knucklehead warted pumpkin; we also replenish some hybrid varieties that we can’t buy locally.  We saved seeds from many of our favorite standard varieties last summer, and the rest of our seeds come from Burpee stands locally. 

Excavating an 8-ft. circle of sod.
We decided to add strawberries this year to our collection of blueberries, cherries, apples, peaches, red-black-and-purple raspberries.  We grew strawberries at the old house but made the mistake of planting them in a newly-tilled section of lawn; although we added weed barrier and mulch, by the third year it was filled with invasive bermuda grass (it’s called wire grass for a reason).  We also grew June-bearing strawberries, which don’t fruit the first year, and since it’s best horticultural practice to replace June-bearers after the second year, they ended up way too labor intensive to enjoy.  Fixing those mistakes, we will be growing everbearing ‘Ozark Beauty’ strawberries in a raised bed with imported organic soil.  Many garden catalogs offer this 6-foot diameter pyramid garden complete with a sprinkler; optional add-ons are a net system to keep the birds out, and a tent cover to act as a mini greenhouse.  We have garden netting and will see if we can rig a do-it-yourself cover to keep birds out.
Cardboard is our default weed barrier.
Don’t be mislead by the easy looks of the finished product, however.  The raised bed borders come in bright aluminum and need to be painted unless your garden has a tin man d├ęcor.  We also decided to excavate an 8-foot diameter circle of sod leaving a 1-ft. mowing path that will be protected with black plastic and topped with mulch.  We imported one cubic yard of fine garden top soil and mushroom compost to fill the bed.  Good soil will allow this system to grow productively for many years.  Everbearing strawberries are allowed to fruit the first year, starting in July; this bed holds 50 plants, enough to enjoy fresh on summer mornings (just wait until the kids find out), and we can depend on local u-pick growers for large quantities when we make jam.

Black plastic helps keep weeds out.
Bags of organic dirt
Filling it up and measuring from center
Almost done...
Ready for strawberries!

Monday, February 6, 2012

February 6, 2012

Warm weather is encouraging honey bees out already.
We acquired nursery-grown potted trees in May 2010.  Now two seasons later they are nicely branched and are set to fruit.  Tree pruning sounds like a complicated process, but it is easy with a few directions.  The goal of all tree pruning is to design a strong branch system that admits plenty of light.

Apple tree trained to central leader shape.
Trees fall into either a central leader system (one main trunk), or an open center system (bowl shaped).  A tree with a central leader has a whorl of 3 to 4 side branches every 18 inches or so up the trunk; side branches bear the fruit; in order to sustain the weight without cracking, these branches must maintain a wide angle from the main trunk; we have trained our apple trees to this system. 

The open center shape is ideal for peaches; we cut out the centers of our peach trees after their first season of growth to encourage side branches to spread outward, forming a bowl shape. 

Peach tree trained to the open center system (bowl shaped)
Shaping a tree during its summer growing cycle is the better way to mold a tree, pinching off sprouts where they are not needed, and directing sprouts into good growing positions.  Small weights such as clothes pins hung on the end of desirable branches will help pull them down when young; later, tree spacers may be needed to hold branches in position.  A tree spacer can be made from a 1x1: pound a small nail into both ends, snip off the nail head, and insert the spacer in between a branch and the main trunk.  Later, fruit will help to pull these branches down naturally, but they should never be allowed to hang lower than horizontal or fruiting will cease.  Summer pruning can also remove water sprouts (weak branches that grow straight up near the main trunk) before they steal a lot of tree energy.
Tree spacers

Winter pruning is the time to fix any tree problems; last July, as you can read, we were so busy with vegetable preservation that our trees were all but forgotten, and late-season rains encouraged some water sprouts.  There were also a few branches crowding out light, so we removed them.  Fruiting branches were headed off, by removing 1/3 of their total length, to strengthen them and to encourage new branching at the tip.  The result is nicely shaped trees, strong fruiting branches, with an open system admitting light.

About Me

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Dedicated to the responsible production and preservation of healthy home-grown food to the glory of God. Isaiah 55:10 The rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. Organic, or not? We try to raise vegetables organically, using compost and manure. The addition of chickens to our hobby farm means plenty of organic nitrogen to compost! This site gives credible reference to planting information contained in the Farmer's Almanac (