Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer garden party: breakfast and tours of four urban gardens

Summary: this garden party starts with a pot luck breakfast, followed by tours of four vegetable gardens on Madison's east side, including mine!
Saturday, August 16
10am – 2pm 

  • A relaxing and fun morning to connect with other gardeners.
  • Leave the day feeling inspired to go create magic in your own garden.
  • Fun giveaways from The Creative Vegetable Gardener online store at each garden stop!

Schedule for the day:
10-11:30am ~ Potluck in the first front yard garden on the east side of Madison (near Habitat Re-Store). Address will be provide upon registration. Coffee and other breakfast drinks provided, you bring a dish to share, followed by a tour of the first yard.

11:30am – 2pm ~ Drive 10 minutes to another east side neighborhood and tour three gardens within walking distance of each other, INCLUDING MY FRONT AND BACK YARDS.

The gardens feature chickens, a front yard food forest, hugelkultur beds, fences created with old bike wheels, fig trees and other surprises!

I would love to see you join this very cool (it might be hot!) garden tour party!

This event is limited to 25 people. RSVP on the event page here to be put on the guest list.

Chicken phrase of the day: Don't put all your eggs in one basket: Proverb cautioning against committing too many assets until they are in hand.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bad planning. Big mistake. The conclusion.

Chicken word of the day, Don't count your chickens until they are hatched: proverb cautioning against spending assets until they are in hand.
 
Earlier, I described the events leading up to a meltdown in the shade of an enormous red maple tree.

We had completed two of four 16' x 5' raised beds. They were beautiful—fourteen inches high, full of sandy loamy soil, begging to be planted and covered with compost. They were also in a lot of deep shade for much of the day.

There were two more beds in the works; they had been tilled, paths dug and the first course of the reinforced sides installed. But Jay and I had the wind knocked out of us when we saw our neighbor's red maple shade our beds at three in the afternoon.

Since that maple wasn't going to go anywhere any time soon, we had to look to the east. On the corner of our property, just over the fence, a large three-trunked hackberry tree shaded our garden in the morning through noon. One of the three trunks we have rights to cut down because it leans right over our property line. But the other two trees that we can't touch cast just as much shadow onto our back yard.

We looked up the owner on the city assessor's site, found their name in the white pages, and I called. The property is a three-unit rental and the owners live in a neighboring city. One of the owners answered the phone and I introduced myself as the backyard neighbor of their property on East Washington.

I explained my desire to garden in the back yard, and that I planned to remove the one trunk. But I offered to remove the other two, at my expense, if they would let me. The woman wanted to talk with her husband first. A few days later they returned my call. They had spoken with the tenants who did not want the tree cut down "to maintain privacy."

Tomatoes and peppers are leggy, but have some flowers and fruit.
Even more depressed, weeks went by with two unfinished beds. However, despite the shade, I planted the two completed beds with tomatoes and peppers. It was a dreamy task despite the shade. The beds are tall, the soil loose, and it was fun to dig those plants in. I figure I'll get a few fruit from each plant, but nothing like the productive plants in my community garden where the plants literally get sun from sun up to sun down

The closer bed is now planted in beets, the further will be planted with lettuce.
I finally decided to do something with the other two beds, either rip them out or finish them and plant something in them. I looked up shade-tolerant annual vegetables and found a decent list - lots of lettuce and peas. We also had this huge pile of gravel in our driveway that was supposed to be for the bed paths, and I had no idea what to do with it.

So while on vacation in early July, I hired someone to help me and we finished the paths and moved all that gravel. The beds look great, and I decided to plant some 60-day beets and see what happens. In the shadiest bed, I'll plant lettuce as the summer cools off.

So thanks to folks who commented on my last post. This is an experiment and we'll see what happens.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Compost bin experiment solves a small problem

Chicken word of the day: Cock-and-bull: a fantastic story that is unbelievable.

Months ago, my friend Angie gave me kraft paper bags of leaves and sticks she collected from her yard this spring. Jay and I also drove by a house in our neighborhood that had leaves in these paper bags and we threw them in the back of my car.

I finally got around to emptying and moving my compost pile last week. I tore open the collection of bagged leaves, and chopped them up with the lawnmower. One of the big advantages of chopping up leaves is they compost much faster than had I left them whole. This pile could be done by the end of autumn. However, the small leaf pieces also fall through the large openings in the sides of the compost bin.

Compost is made up of "green" materials which supply nitrogen, and "brown" materials which provide carbon. Paper is a brown material. So I'm looking at these paper bags and think to myself, "Well, this is brown, why not put it in the compost pile?" Then I got a better idea.


I lined the compost bins with the kraft paper bags. My thought is they will keep the small leaf bits in, and may help keep the pile from drying out. On the other hand, I'm hoping the paper will allow the pile to breathe.


The leaf bits didn't fall out of the bin. Shown here is a layer of coffee grounds that I layered between thick layers of leaf matter. In a couple of weeks I'll turn the pile. I also need to add a few scoops of dirt to inoculate the pile with some good bacteria.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Finished hugelkultur bed

Chicken word of the day: chickens coming home to roost: to experience the consequences of one's behavior.

Last week I finished the hugelkulture bed. It's going to be our permanent asparagus patch. As described earlier, I used logs and branches from trees cut from our back yard fenceline, and buried them with dirt dug from garden paths and around the chicken coop. Unlike the other garden beds Jay and I built, these have a very rustic quality that I rather like.

This is a total experiment, I'm hoping the asparagus doesn't mind that the bed will settle as the wood at the bottom begins to rot.

It's also nice to finally have some of my gardening projects completed. For this project, we'll have to wait three years to harvest our first asparagus.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hay bales and direct seeds

Poultry word of the day: chicken, chicken out, chicken-hearted, chicken-livered: to be cowardly.

When planting seeds directly in the ground, I'm always careful to lightly cover seeds with a sprinkle of hay and row cover, and then later mulch with hay between rows. It's a real pain to tear slabs of hay apart and tuck them between rows without damaging fragile seedlings.

Until now.

On reading the back of the beet seeds I planted last weekend, rows are to be 18-20 inches apart. I planted the rows, and then decided to try to mulch between them now. When I laid down the first slab of hay, to my delight (and let me reiterate this was a total accident) I discovered that a slab of hay is either 14 or 18 inches wide. (Hay bale slabs are rectangular.) I found that I had accidentally planted my beet rows with enough space between to allow me to lay down a slab of hay in the 14-inch orientation, allowing space for the plants to push up between the mulch.

I am never, ever going to plant seeds any width other than a slab of hay. I share this with you so it doesn't take you 33 years of gardening to figure out this simple mulching trick.

I planted three 16-foot rows of three types of beets, Detroit Golden, cylindra and Boro hybrid. Jay and I want enough for fresh eating and lots of canning. And after sampling borscht last year, I'm looking forward to making our own.

Hay slabs are conveniently as wide as the suggested spacing for the beets.

As I've said before, I'm a big believer in row cover, even over the hay.

Monday, July 7, 2014

First fruit

Red Lake currants
Our Red Lake currants are red, beautiful, juicy, sweet and sour and are the first fruit to yeild from our front yard orchard (second if you count rhubarb as the first). The gooseberries are big and just starting to turn purple.

We won't have enough to do anything but eat them by the small handful, but I'm looking forward to future years of currant goodness.

Last weekend my niece Catherine and I went to Old World Wisconsin, where we sampled some black currants. Now there's an acquired taste. They would take a lot of sugar to make them palatable to me.

Chicken word of the day: cocotte: prostitute.
Gooseberries starting to ripen with just a tinge of purple.

Everbearing rhubarb.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I'm a believer in row cover

My friend and educator Megan Cain will tell you at every chance she can about the wonders of "remay" or row cover. I've been using it for years too, but saw visible proof this spring.

When I put row cover over my beets and radish seeds this spring I ran short on one bed. "Oh well," I thought to myself, "I'll see the difference between using it and not using it."

Row cover helps maintain moisture, protect seeds, soil and fragile seedlings from the rain, protects seeds from foraging birds and keeps insects off. You really can't go wrong. Only one problem is you have to remove it to weed underneath!

Row cover on right, covering beet and radish seeds

 Row cover removed, look at the size difference and the higher germination on the left!