Category: In The Garden

July 2018 Wrap-Up

July 2018

July has been a whirlwind! So many things to share and I hardly know where to start. So I think I’ll shoot for a mix between chronological and focus events.

Cataracts

The month began with my second cataract surgery. I did not feel outwardly as apprehensive as with the first surgery. But my vital signs contradicted this feeling. My blood pressure was quite high for me. So I think I was given a little more relaxant. I don’t remember nearly as much this time. No visions of pretty colors. Just my husband waving from the viewing room after the surgery.

However, the recovery has been much easier. I experienced some of the same irritations as the first time. But knew those were signs of healing and did not panic. I even managed to give myself the regimen of eye drops during some of the post-surgery days.

Wheat Harvest

Immediately following the surgery, we visited with relatives during the Fourth of July celebration. This is a favorite holiday of mine. I live on the edge of wheat country and our visit was in the heartland. Many years harvest coincides with the nation’s birthday.

Wheat harvest is a bustle of activity for the farm communities. This year was no exception. Custom harvesters work alongside the resident farmers. Many custom cutters follow the harvest from South to North. These travelling harvesters fill the hotels and restaurants adding economically to the small towns. Of course there is outflow money too. Payments vary from flat rates to percentages.

This year I watched from inside the vehicle. As is typical for that part of the country, the wind was blowing. I did not want any wheat chaff to blow into my eyes. So no combine ride for me. Maybe next year I can visit and capture the view. For now I can only share a photo of the grain transfer.

Grain cart dumping wheat into truck.
Grain falling into truck.

Des Moines

Immediately following the July 4th visit to the wheat fields, I journeyed to Des Moines. This beautiful city deserved a post all its own. If you missed it click on Destination Des Moines. I consider this state capitol a hidden jewel. Maybe you can visit sometime.

Econogal’s Garden

Returning from Des Moines, I could devote time to my garden. The production continues to amaze me. I easily doubled the amount of produce from June. By the end of July, most of my salad greens bolted. I am letting a few plants go to seed. Each year I try to learn more about saving seed.

However, the Swiss chard is coming into its own and we are using this green along with beet leaves in our smoothies and salads. Other fruits and vegetables harvested in July include tomatoes, peppers, acorn squash, zucchini, yellow squash, peas, green beans, peaches, green grapes, eggplant, beets, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and tomatillo. We also continue to enjoy our many herbs. Because of a week-long visit to Orlando, I do not have an exact amount on the harvest weight.

Orlando

My trips to Central Florida are frequent. I have family there. My Mom is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. She receives good care at a nursing home. But best of all for her, she has my Dad visit every day for hours at a time. So sometimes he needs a respite. That is where I come in. I am her other security blanket.

Many of you know someone who is affected by some form of dementia. Brain disease is at the forefront of scientific study because of the growing numbers impacted. I write often about brain health. If you use the search bar at the top of this blog for brain, numerous posts will pop up. Now you know why I have such a personal interest. I intend to keep my brain as healthy as possible for as long as possible. One way is by Maintaining Physical Health. So I jumped at the chance to sponsor a triathlon.

Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon 2018

Saturday August 4th is the date for this year’s triathlon in Rocky Ford. Proceeds from the event are used to support the town’s swimming pool. I love fundraising linked to improved infrastructure as much as I do those events that raise money for research. So Econogal is proud to be a sponsor for this event.

A triathlon is a competition involving three sporting events; swimming, biking and running. The Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon is designed for both individuals and teams. For example, if you are a runner who hates to swim, you can partner with a swimmer who can’t stand running.

The distances are doable. The swim is 250 meters, the bike ride is 10 miles and the run is a 5 K. So if you are in driving distance of Rocky Ford, Colorado consider entering the triathlon this weekend. Click here for a link to the registration. If you can’t compete this year please share this post so the word can spread and consider entering next year!

Learning New Skills

Green beans piled in front of a pressure cannerMy New Year’s resolutions for this year included learning six new skills. At my age, learning anything new can be tough. Both the body and the mind tend to prefer the status quo. But the benefits are great. New skills stimulate the brain cells in a positive way.

The raised row garden has provided one outlet for learning. Just establishing the garden took research. This compilation of new knowledge definitely made the brain waves dance. Constructing the rows took a lot of labor too.

Furthermore, maintaining the garden has generated a few new skills as well. I learned how to make organic bug killer when battling the flea beetles. For the first time I used an inoculant on my peas. Now I am about to add pressure canning to my list of skills.

I have been canning and preserving for years. But I have only used the water bath method or frozen the produce. To be truthful, I find the idea of pressure canning downright scary.

Water Bath Canning

Jams, jellies, salsas and pickles tend to be quite acidic and thus lend themselves to processing through the water bath method. Some of the items have natural acidity. Others are put up using an acidic ingredient which helps make the recipe safe. Some of my lower acid fruits have lemon added and the pickles and salsas recipes tend to have vinegar added.

My favorite canning book Small-Batch Preserving focuses on water bath method recipes. This type of canning utilizing highly acidic ingredients reminds me of my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. I seldom worry about spoiled food put up in this fashion.

New Skills- Canning Low Acidic Foods

However, low acid foods and recipes intimidate me. I worry about food poisoning, specifically botulism. So I am about to learn a new skill. I bought a pressure canner. Plus I have researched several websites such as the Wells Can and the Ball and Kerr sites. I also consulted Better Homes and Gardens Complete Canning Guide. Since visiting their test garden I wrote about in Destination Des Moines, I feel very motivated and slightly less nervous.

My raised row garden is yielding multitudes of green beans. So that will be the first vegetable I put up. Check back on the blog when I post the July 2018 Wrap-Up to see and hear about the results!

June 2018 Wrap-Up

Purple and green basil.
Oven Dried Basil
Cherries pitted and in baking dish.
June cherries for a crisp.
First harvest of Beets

This year continues to fly by! Now that June has run its course we are officially half-way through the year. Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are now experiencing days shortening. However, summer still has many hours of sunlight ahead.

June Garden Update

My part of the United States has already experienced multiple days of triple digit heat. So many in fact that I have lost count. However, the garden continues to produce. During the month of June almost 50 pounds of produce was harvested. The edibles included various greens, root vegetables, squash, peas and the first of the cucumbers and tomatoes. Also included in the harvest;cherries and gooseberries. I did lose the broccoli crop to the flea beetles and the pesky pests shortened the harvest of the kale.

Planting seeds continues as spots come open. I even plopped some old seed into the ground and will report on whether or not the seed is still good at a later date. My potato bag experiment may be headed for a second year of failure. One plant did not withstand the 1.1 inches of rain we had one night. Roots did not drain well.

Cataract Surgery

The first of the eye surgeries is behind me. The clarity now that the cataract is removed is unbelievable. I am still anxious about the next surgery but hope the outcome is just as good. My reading remains a bit behind my usual pace. Since my regular glasses no longer work on one eye, I limit reading time to an hour at a time. (Computer time follows the same limit.) This helps eliminate headaches from eye strain.

Travel included trips to two Garden Cities. Please visit the post on Summer Street Fairs from Garden City, New York. The other Garden City served as the location for my cataract surgery. Both cities are thriving.

Reading Materials

Due to the eye surgery, I have focused on reading newspaper articles and blog posts. The Wall Street Journal continues to serve as my go to newspaper source. There was a very interesting article on the equality of the bottom three quintiles. The article posited this emerging equality as the reason President Trump won the 2016 election. Very interesting.
Blogs are some of my favorite reading sources. I especially enjoy those that discuss books or gardening (or both.) One blog I like for the honest reviews is Life of Chaz. Another post which I loved paired wine and summer books, you can click here for that post. I do miss reading my mysteries and all the new books at my library. Thus, I am looking forward to getting my eyes back to normal.

June 2018 has come and gone. My month was super productive. What about yours?

Crop Rotation, Succession Planting, and Companion Planting

Planting a home food garden takes more work than plopping in seeds and watering. Planning the garden is a critical component. However, some of the most important planting techniques can conflict. Primarily, I am talking about crop rotation, succession planting and companion planting. While the first two seem to go hand in hand, the last of the three can make planning and implementing a garden tricky. If, that is, you want to keep the soil healthy.

Crop Rotation

The best way to keep soils happy and pests at a minimum is to practice crop rotation. I have seen charts for various cycles of planting. Some involve rotating through a cycle of three years and others for four years. Also, some rotation plans include a fallow season. Currently the big garden is designed for a four-year cycle. I best remember the cycle with the chant Root, Fruit, Leaf, Legumes. The rotation follows the line. Thus, a fruit crop follows the space a root crop was in, the leaf crop goes behind the fruit, the legumes behind the leaf and the roots follow the legumes. Sounds easy enough, but that does not allow for succession planting in some of the row. Nor does the sequencing allow for companion planting.

 

Dill and summer squash side by side
Growing dill and summer squash together in effort to deter squash bugs

Succession Planting

Succession planting has multiple definitions. One involves growing a late season crop after an early crop. For example, both radishes and spinach are usually finished by early June. This gives plenty of time to plant a second crop. Following the rotation chart, the next crop should be from the fruit or legume family as the case may be. But now your row is no longer consistent from within.

Another type of succession planting is placing plants with different harvest dates side by side. An example would be putting beets and butternut squash side by side. The winter squash takes much longer to grow and develops above ground in contrast to the root vegetable which will be harvested at a much earlier date.

Companion Planting

I use the technique of companion planting throughout my yard. I have garlic planted at the base of my fruit trees. In theory, this wards off borers. Also, my tomatoes are grown side by side with both onion and basil. One can see quite easily what this latter grouping does to crop rotation. But I still plan to rotate the rows in the big garden.

In addition to preserving soil nutrients, crop rotation helps battle pests. The flea beetles were aggressive this year. Even though the rutabagas and broccoli were planted in different rows, the little bugs attacked both. I certainly don’t want to plant the rutabaga in the same place next year.

So far, no signs of squash bugs, but I know they are lurking somewhere. If all my squash were next to each other, they would just chomp down the row. Thus companion planting is essential to my gardening.

Garden Compromise

My intentions are to loosely follow a crop rotation through the rows. So, next year the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will reside where the beets are now. I will still inter-plant the basil and the onion alongside the tomatoes. The plants are too happy not to. I do plan to take very close notes and lots of pictures. Sometimes I lose my sketched garden plans from one year to the next, so it helps to have photos.

Succession planting will still occur. Our late spring, early summer heat triggers bolting by June for some of the early crops. I do not want to have a lot of the rows idle. However, I will try to follow a mini crop rotation with the succession planting. Perhaps I will follow the radishes with tomatillos next year.

We eat from our garden all summer long. The health benefits are only outweighed by just how great fresh fruits and vegetables taste. To insure the garden keeps producing, we will combine the various techniques of crop rotation, succession planting and companion planting to keep both plants and soil thriving.

 

Organic Gardening

By definition, Organic Gardening is growing plants without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizer. I try to grow edibles using this method as much as possible. This natural gardening method can take some extra time. Unfortunately, sometimes infestations get so bad, one either needs to use pesticides or replace the plant or tree. Compost and growing plants native to the area can reduce or eliminate the need for commercial fertilizers.

I have battled various pests over the years. My biggest enemy is the peach borer followed closely by the squash bug and grasshopper. I also deal with crickets and this year flea beetles have made an appearance. They are attacking the rutabaga.

The flea beetle is on the war path. I am aiming for natural deterrents. First, I have planted radishes nearby to act as a catch crop. I have done this in the past. The radishes are sacrificed for plants that have more value to me. The rutabaga is growing well and will be harvested soon. Second, I also plan to spray with a homemade solution of liquid soap and olive oil. I will let you know if this works. In the meantime I am carefully checking the undersides of leaves for egg deposits. Research will be done to find a succession planting that will not encourage the flea beetle. Additionally, more nasturtiums, sunflowers and herbs will be planted nearby. All these approaches are organic in nature.

Peach Borer

Last year we had a late freeze which wiped out the peach crop. Therefore, I took advantage of the situation and treated the trees for borers. I admit I used chemicals. But I believe there will be no residual in this year’s crop. So far only a few fruit have signs of trouble. Nature’s sign is even better. For once the wasps have not built a nest in the trees. Wasps are beneficial insects and they feast on peach borers. I am taking their home building elsewhere in the yard as a sign the borer crop has been dealt a severe blow.

In addition to the wasps, tiny green metallic flies are making a home in the vegetable garden. I believe the ones in my garden belong to the Family Dolichopodidae. I am unsure of the genus or species. But the information I have gathered is that they are very beneficial and voracious eaters. Beneficial insects are naturally organic.

Go Organic

Each summer we enjoy organic produce straight from our garden. The vegetables and fruits just taste better when they go from garden to table on the same day. In fact much of the time we eat the food within the hour. Vegetables I used to turn my nose up at take on a fresh flavor from my garden. I encourage everyone to plant and grow an organic crop this summer.

Instead of commercial fertilizer use compost and grow native plants. Encourage beneficial insects. Remove fruit or leaves that look infected. Spend a few minutes each day in your garden focusing on trouble signs.

The following slide show gives you a peek at my garden. The peach trees are thinned of peaches to reduce the stress on the limbs. Some show signs of damage from a brief hail storm. You can see the flea beetles and the damage to the leaves but no sign of eggs of any type underneath. Additionally, there are some close up of the tiny flies. If you think I have misidentified them please let me know in the comments. Happy Gardening!

Groundbreaking Food Gardens Book Review

Groundbreaking Food Gardens Book cover of Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Niki Jabbour is the author of Groundbreaking Food Gardens. This great garden planning book contains 73 garden plans to inspire you. Jabbour gives a brief introduction to her 72 contributors. Then each designer provides a layout and tips for their garden. Groundbreaking Food Gardens comprises a wide range of gardens. There is truly something for everyone.

The table of contents allows the reader to pinpoint the type of garden they are thinking about without reading from cover to cover. But reading straight through benefits the serious gardener. Each of the contributors explains the how and whys of their design. Additionally, the garden experts provide lots of information. Tips on succession planting, soil amendment and water rates add to the book.

Eclectic best describes the multitude of garden designs. The sections include potted gardens, roof top gardens as well as large-scale operations. Some of the gardens are strictly focused on edible plants. Others combine food and flower. Still others are designed with backyard living in mind. Quite a few plans are geared toward kids. Both the Chicago Hot Dog Garden and the OTTO Pizza Garden incorporate familiar shapes into the garden. This visual approach is fun for kids (and adults.)

Groundbreaking Design InstructionsDescription of garden reducing grocery bill

One of the best elements of Groundbreaking Food Gardens is the instructions for implementing the designs. Details for achieving the same or similar look are provided in an easy to understand manner. For example, a step-by-step guide for planting a knot garden explains the spacing and layout of the plants along with the materials needed. Diagrams are provided for individual plant layout. Other structures such as containers and pallet gardens also include instructions.

There are sidebars sprinkled throughout the pages. Some, like the one on Lasagna Gardening are page long and appear in the table of contents. Others like the snippet on square foot garden give the reader just a taste. Many of the contributors share their personal knowledge gained through years of gardening.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens covers so many possible ways to grow nutritious food. I knew some of the techniques such as the Lasagna Bed and the Square Foot Gardening. But many others contained new information. While several of the garden designs require some experience, quite a few were geared toward beginning gardeners. This book has something for everyone.

Book pages describing kid friendly gardens

 

 

May 2018 Wrap Up

The month of May is one of the prettiest and after October is my favorite month. Those lucky enough to get April showers are rewarded by nature with an abundance of blooms in May. This year the roses have been stunning. But the edible plants are also taking off.

The raised bed garden is in full swing. Harvest has already begun. The early spring crops of various greens, radishes and peas have made it to the table. Not only are sprouts popping through the soil, but blooms are here and there throughout the beds. It won’t be long before the first zucchini is picked.

The lasagna beds also contain plants. A potato came up volunteer in one bed. I think it is a white potato but not sure. So I’ll have to wait awhile to find out. Sweet potato slips arrived. Unfortunately, they were very dry at the roots. So, I placed them in a jar by the sink and let them revive for three days before planting. I split them up between a raised bed and the second lasagna garden. We will see if they make the transplantation.

May 2018 Travel

Travel was limited to a quick trip to Kentucky. The Bluegrass State is a favorite destination even when the weather is less than desirable. Spring seemed to be a few weeks behind in Central Kentucky. We enjoyed a tour of Kentucky Artisan Distillery. This bourbon specialized in small batches. The tour allows visitors a close up view of the process. Our tight timetable did not lets us participate in the tasting but I give this place high marks for the information shared. If you are in the Louisville area consider visiting the great people at Kentucky Artisan Distillery.

Other trips afield were to neighboring counties. Most were work related but one trip up the valley was in celebration of a high school graduate. It is so rewarding to see the next generation setting out. Their future will impact us in so many positive ways. Congratulations to all 2018 graduates!

Cataracts

My reading has slowed quite a bit this month. My right eye is compromised by a cataract. Surgery is scheduled for mid-June. Let me know if you have any advice in the comment section. I am very apprehensive about the surgery.
Headaches are a byproduct of the condition. But I am reading in small bites of time. The Friday reviews may reflect that with some old favorites. Stay tuned.

Slide Show

The slide show focuses on my yard. The roses are spectacular this year and I don’t think my photography skills do them justice. The same holds true for the vegetable gardens. I have also included a few slides showing some features of our outdoor home improvement. The final slide is a beautiful flower arrangement I received for Mother’s Day.

April 2018 Wrap Up

Garden bed with raised sides made from recApril 2018

It is hard to believe but April 2018 is over. We are a third of the way through the year. April was busy for me as I wrapped up an extended stay in Florida celebrating the 80th birthday of someone near and dear to me.

In The Garden

Other events included planting quite a few varieties of vegetables in the raised row garden and a few plants close to the house. The deer proof fence is working. No signs of deer (droppings) in the new garden. So I consider the effort a success.  However, 70 M.P.H. winds damaged some of the poles. Therefore, replacement poles are now anchoring the garden.

An existing 4 x 8 foot raised box was elevated even more. Originally the height was 9 inches. Now the bed reaches just over two feet. This is easier to reach. Hopefully, the added depth will allow me to plant longer root vegetables.

Reading

Quite a few book were read this month. Thanks again for the suggestions both private and public. Several exciting books will be reviewed in the coming weeks. I am beginning to get used to the format that blends current events with fiction. No longer do I find these stories off-putting. I am sure novelists with a penchant for telling spy stories can’t resist utilizing the current world affairs as a backdrop.

Gardening references occupied a large amount of my time. There is a host of information in book and magazine form as well as online sites. Make sure you read the review of Gardening Shortcuts. I also recommend Edible Gardening, a magazine put out by American Farmer’s Almanac. I consulted the website put out by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds numerous times. The site has an easy to use planting guide that you can access by clicking here.

Spring

Our springs on the High Plains are short and varied. This year we have had cooler temperatures, a bit of moisture and lots of wind. The danger comes from the wind in the form of fire. So those of you living in a drought situation (which includes various states from coast to coast) be careful using any open flame outdoors. Fires in both Florida and on the plains made appearances near me in April 2018.

As always, feel free to share any great reads. Just use a first name or even initials. The month of May will be action packed. Stay tuned!

Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden Book Review

Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden

As regular readers of Econogal know, deer like to take refuge in my yard. Others can read about one often seen three-legged deer by clicking here. At this time I am working on deer proofing my new raised row garden. So, I checked a book on deer proofing a garden out of the library.

Rhonda Massingham Hart has written an excellent guide, Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden. The book discusses the problem of deer overpopulation. Also, the chapter “Getting to Know Deer” gives a background on the dominant species and where they roam in the United States. Hart includes a discussion on damages done by deer ranging across the yard. I learned much from this particular chapter.

The second half of Deerpoofing Your Yard & Garden focuses on deterring deer. “Deer-o-scaping” “Deer Deterrents” and “The Deerproof Garden” are three chapters chock full of useful information. These are the chapters I utilized the most.

Deer-o-Scaping

The almost forty pages of “Deer-o-Scaping” focused on ways to deter deer by what and how you plant. The chapter includes multiple lists of plants which either lure or repel deer. For those in the United States, the lists of deer resistant plants divide into regions of the country. Hart warns that the lists, while working in a general manner, can be challenged by a deer with independent tastes. Thus, just like humans, some deer are exceptions to the rule.

This chapter goes beyond what is planted. How things are planted also comes into play. The overall landscape design is also key. Hart suggests using hardscapes at entrance points to discourage deer. Currently, new walls are being constructed in our yard to disrupt the migratory paths of deer.

Deer Deterrents

The chapter “Deer Deterrents” while not confined to repellents, provides an excellent guide to both commercial and homemade mixtures. One trick I plan to try is the use of fabric softener sheets hanging in the garden. I like the idea of recycling these sheets in this manner.

Of course the best way to deer proof a yard is with fencing. But the fence should be designed with deer in mind. Since deer can jump quite high, extra measures need to be taken. Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden gives a good overview of fencing options. These include double fencing and electric fencing.

I believe Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden is an excellent reference book. Anyone having problems with deer should consult Hart’s book. I used several ideas including the tip to erect the fence before planting. If you have deer problems, find this book and read it!

Aging Doesn’t Equal Lifestyle Slow Down

Recently I picked up a Time Magazine at a check-out counter. The cover was a maze. The extra content covered longevity. Many of the articles are interesting and a couple seem to be directed toward me. I am aging and my lifestyle has changed but I don’t seem to be slowing down.

This past weekend is a good example. On Friday afternoon, I used spray paint to mark the rows as discussed in the book review of Raised Row Gardening. On Saturday, I oversaw the unfortunate need of rototilling. Only the eighteen inch beds were tilled. I am not one for machinery hence the overseeing.

True Test

Sunday came the true test for my aging body. I engaged in very physical labor from just before nine a.m. until five p.m. with a thirty minute break for lunch. First I made three trips to a Tractor Supply because the local farmer I contacted was out of straw. Three trips with four bales at a time in the back of the Subaru Outback. Each trip ended with hauling the bales to the plot of land lined out for the garden.

Then the real labor began. My location on the High Plains is in the midst of a major drought. To be honest, we have been living with different levels of water restrictions for at least ten years. Thus the ground is not easy to turn even after two passes with a rototiller.

I did not rototill the walkway areas. No need in my mind since no growth is desired there. Because of another ongoing project, I have excess topsoil to work with.

Each of the four growing rows measures eighteen inches by forty feet. Yes, forty feet. I may be aging but I still love working in my garden. I am counting on the folks at Old World Garden Farms and this raised row method to make the work easier with each passing year. But this first year is labor intensive.

I raked the loose dirt up the sides of each row. Then I shoveled the center in order to make a nice even ten inch base within the eighteen inch area. Next, I layered a six inch thickness of straw in the ten inch area. I raked the side dirt back in and then shoveled more topsoil over to form a nice mound. Often, wheelbarrows of dirt were added from one of two nearby piles.

The final step was to put a four inch layer of straw on the walkway areas. Since the wind kicked up in the late afternoon and was predicted to get stronger, I elected to water down the garden instead of lining the final two walkways. Dusk accompanied me into the house.

Stretching

Then, I did something good for my aging body. I stretched. I use Stretching by Bob Anderson as a reference guide. After the long day of work, I followed the stretches recommended for Indoor and Outdoor Work as well as those for Lower Back Tension.

The stretching I think is a key for the aging body. On Monday morning I did a few stretches and went about a normal day. Light housework with lots of laundry and vacuuming. I also wore a brace on the one ankle which has been giving me trouble. But no major pain.

In addition to the stretching, I think the absence of pain is psychological. I really want to expand my garden and I want to lay the groundwork properly. Therefore, the work is worthwhile. Some slight stiffness is expected. Slight is the significant adjective. No painkillers needed.

The articles in Time magazine reflect my weekend experience. The small snippets described individuals actively engaged in living. One anecdote was of a woman who ran her first marathon at the age of 69.  The reporting also discussed the need for community and social relationships.

Each of the five Blue Zones discussed by the Time article stress healthy living. Dan Buettner is the author of The Blue Zones. Ingredients for a healthy life include exercise, healthy food sources (such as straight from the garden), social circles, spirituality, and a good amount of sleep. Individuals in these areas of longevity not only live longer, but as the Time article states, they live better.

Online Communities

Even though the article did not discuss the online community, I believe that blogs and in my case blogging will also contribute to aging well. I follow several blogs and comment from time to time. I enjoy the comments (as well as the likes) on Econogal. I love going to lunch with a friend, but I also enjoy trading successful canning techniques online with individuals I may never meet. The same holds true with the book reviews.

We live in a changing world. People are living longer. Now the challenge is to make those extra years meaningful. Aging is one thing, aging well is yet another.

Aging Doesn’t Equal Lifestyle Slow Down

  • Empty lot
    Plot for future raised bed garden

Raised Row Gardening Book Review

Book cover of Raised Row Gardening
Book cover of Raised Row Gardening by Jim and Mary Competti

In the blog post January 2018 Wrap Up I recommended the website Old World Garden Farms. This is one of my favorite garden know how web sites. I am pleased to now share with you a review of their first book, Raised Row Gardening. I plan to implement such a garden this year.

Jim and Mary Competti are the authors of the book and the founders of Old World Garden Farms. They started using the raised row method as a way to fit gardening into their busy life. Both have full-time jobs and they are parents to four children.

Book Contents

Raised Row Gardening is separated into ten chapters. The first gives an overall background of gardening and the different techniques. Chapter Two starts in on the how-to of creating a raised row garden. The authors use both photos and illustrations in the instructions. Chapters Three through Six discuss the planning and planting of the raised row garden. Again, there are visual aids galore. Chapter Seven gives wonderful insight into composting. I have composted for years but I still learned from the information. The final three chapters discuss the raised row concepts in the fall, winter and years two and beyond.

Key Concepts

There are a few key concepts in the book. First, rototilling is not necessary except in very few cases. This saves on a lot of labor and time. Furthermore as the authors explain, rototilling can be harmful. Second, use of a heavy mulch is imperative in order for this concept to work. The authors give the needed information on what materials are appropriate for using as a mulch. Finally, Chapter four contains a planting guide for the raised row. The tips are great. They include concepts such as companion planting. Also, the guide pages discuss plants grown from seed versus transplants.

I highly recommend this book. If you are not an experienced gardener, this book will give you the confidence to start. If you have many years of experience, the ideas in Raised Row Gardening will make your life easier. Gardening is fun. The Competti’s present a method to make gardening less work with an increased production. I plan to implement the raised row method in the area shown. The white tubing and scraps indicate the edges of the area. I will post again as I create my own Raised Row Garden.

Empty lot
Plot for future raised bed garden
Empty lot
Second View of proposed garden area.

Square Foot Gardening

Square Foot Gardening Book Review

Spring is just around the corner for some locales. A good book to consult while you are planning the 2018 garden is Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. This method presents “A New Way to Garden in Less Space with Less Work.”
Square Foot Gardening is a comprehensive look at intensive gardening. Square units form the garden. Then a grid pattern is implemented. The blocks within the grid are 12 inches by 12 inches hence the name Square Foot Gardening.

The Method

Individual seed is sown across each square foot. The key is placing the seed at the distance needed for growth. For instance, beets need three-inch spacing between plants. So you would place twelve seeds inside your square foot. Plant varieties that need four inches of spacing would yield nine specimens for each block. Something large like a tomato would only have one plant per square foot.

Bartholomew posits that this method of planting reduces time, money, and energy spent in the garden. Seeds are not planted just to thin out. Thus costs are cut. The grid pattern also helps with the weeding. Less time is spent pulling weeds from the grid due to the layout of the seeds. Furthermore, the intensive nature of the beds has reduced the space within the garden and so the gardener has a smaller area to weed.

The author does not stop at describing his square foot gardening theory. The book is a complete guide to gardening. Chapters include advice on garden layout, companion and succession planting, improving the soil, extending the growing season and vertical gardening just to name a few.

Last year I began implementing square foot gardening. I had more success with this method than I did with my potato experiment which you can read about here.  Only a few squares did not achieve 100% germination. Root crops like beets are ideal for this method. But leaf crops benefit as well.

I used a yardstick to measure my squares. However Mel Bartholomew has a website that sells not only books but pre-made grids and other accessories. You can connect with the Square Foot Gardening site by clicking here.

If you can only buy one gardening book, this is the book I recommend. Mel Bartholomew describes an intensive gardening approach in Square Foot Garden but doesn’t stop there. The strategies and techniques described in the book will benefit the gardener all year-long.

Last 2017 Harvest

Last 2017 Harvest

Technically December 20th is considered fall. Today’s 60 degree temperature reflects that. But winter is literally just around the corner both on the calendar and the forecast. Since tomorrow’s daytime high will be in the 30’s followed by single digits and colder days, I decided today would be the last 2017 harvest.

As you can see in the photos, not much is left for the last 2017 harvest. In fact, the big crop of the day is the just over one pound of carrots. I should be able to make several dishes with that particular harvest.

On the other hand, the beet greens probably outweigh the roots. Fortunately we like eating the greens as well as the beet. The same small yield can be seen in the spinach and the few remaining green onions. Those will make a great egg white frittata for tonight’s supper.

Another part of the last 2017 harvest is more a matter of convenience. Since the weather is going to abruptly turn nasty, I collected some rosemary and sage to use in my Christmas dinner. Both are in protected areas of the garden, so the herb harvest could have waited. However, I prefer working in sixty degree weather versus twenty degrees and a strong north wind.

Zone 5

I live in Zone 5 and twenty years ago the last harvest would not take place in December. Part of the extension of the growing season arises from learning which plants can survive at below freezing temperatures. More research is needed on my part in order to have a year round harvest in this zone. Additionally, I will probably need to invest in cold frames or even a small greenhouse.

Until then, I am very happy to have the last 2017 harvest fall in late December. Since I usually have the earliest of crops ready by late March, fresh produce from my garden occurs almost ten months a year. Not bad for Zone 5.

 

Putting the Fall Garden to Bed

 Putting Away the Fall Garden

We had our first freeze last week so there were quite a few chores in putting away the fall garden. Herbs and vine crops needed harvesting. Some of the root crops were dug up. Vines were added to the lasagna and compost piles. Borders were created for beds.

Harvesting Herbs

The first thing I did was choose which of the herbs I was going to pick and dry. The basil was a given. It is a tender herb which means it is not frost tolerant. I picked one of two bushes which did not show signs of bolting. In my experience, basil acts somewhat like spinach at the end of the season. The leaves begin to narrow and become pointy. This in addition to the flowering indicate the annual plant has run its course.

I turned the basil upside down and placed it inside a paper bag. Using a string, I have the bag hanging to dry. I am also drying some thyme and oregano with this method. Both these herbs are perennials and so they can be harvested most of the winter. But I use both frequently in my cooking. Thus, I won’t have to go without if snow covers the plants.

Fall Garden Harvest

Second I harvested all tomatoes of a decent size. The green tomatoes will  turn red inside the house or they can be pickled. We extend our fresh tomato season by a few weeks by letting them ripen on the counter.

Fall Bounty
Final tomatoes

Sweet potatoes, beets and the remainder of the potatoes were dug. Unfortunately most of my root crops were small in physical size this year. The yield was not large either. Perhaps the hail damage to the foliage had a greater impact on these crops than I realized.

I was gifted some lumber scraps and I made a raised bed area for a new blackberry bush. I also edged the asparagus bed with the lumber so there will be no accidental mowing of the young crop next spring.
Finally, I pulled the vines and plants from the ground. Most looked very healthy still and those were added to either the compost bin or to the new “lasagna” bed I am working on. A few had evidence of either bugs and eggs or disease. Those plants found their way to the trash can.

I still have a few more chores to complete. Carrots remain in the ground. Hoses will need to be put away for the winter. A reorganization of garden tools is a must. I will plant the last of the garlic this week since temperatures will return to the eighties. But my time in the garden is beginning to wind down which means more time will be available for the quilt room.

Lasagna Garden Experiment

I like trying new techniques. One of the garden ideas I researched this year is the lasagna garden. Many people assume this means planting the ingredients for lasagna. However, this is nowhere close to the true meaning of a lasagna garden.


As you can see in the photo to the right, I have an area in the lot that needs improvement. I had several options. I could extend my raised bed areas, I could roto till, or I could enrich the area through a lasagna garden and have a great location for spring planting.

Building the Lasagna Garden

I chose the latter. The first step in creating a lasagna garden is laying out either newspaper or cardboard. Since some cardboard was in need of recycling I started my base layer with the more durable material. This serves two purposes. The cardboard makes a thicker barrier against the existing planting and is less likely to blow away with the high winds we experience on the Great Plains.

Base layer
Cardboard base

After the cardboard was placed whttps://www.econogal.com/wp-admin/options-general.phphere I wanted it, I hosed it down with water. Next I added a two to three-inch layer of lawn clippings. A few days later, I soaked the bed again. Then over the next few weeks I have added compost material from the kitchen as well as material from the garden. If you have prolonged dry spells you will need to soak the lasagna garden manually.

Brown vs. Green

While grass clippings are green and fall into the green category and the cardboard falls into the brown category, it is not the color that determines whether an item is brown or green. The basis for brown or green category is the chemical content. Nitrogen rich products are green compost and carbon rich products are brown. It is important to have a mixture in your compost.

Some of the kitchen scraps included banana and tomato peels as well as other fruit peelings. Eggshells are a great addition but it helps to crush them before adding to the compost. I also like coffee grounds, but with only one coffee drinker in the house, I do not have an abundant source.  I do not place meats or fats into my compost.

Garden materials are items such as leaves and pine needles. The pine needles are very acidic and can alter the PH balance of your soil. At the end of the season plants can be added. But be sure to check for disease or eggs from various pests which are often on the underside of leaves.

I may need to cut through the card board in the spring in order to plant. A lot depends on the winter moisture. However, I think the bed will be enriched from the start.

Lasagna Bed
Compost layers added

Purple Potato Grow Bag Experiment

Two soilsLast year I planted purple potatoes for the first time. I love them and they are very nutritious. They thrived in the sandy soil. This year I decided to experiment with growing potatoes in a bag.

I bought two bags and planted one in mid-March with purple potato saved from last year’s crop. The seed potatoes were kept cool all winter. I use a mini fridge in the basement to store seeds.

I harvested the bag last week. The yield was disappointing. Only one pound of potatoes tumbled out when I emptied the bag.

However, the soil in the bag is completely different from what I started with. I used sandy unenriched soil from the lot. When the first leaves appeared I placed some leaves from last fall on top. As leaves kept emerging, I added other layers. Sometimes it was grass clippings. Occasionally another scoop of sand.

As you can see from the pictures the soil from the bag turned into a rich compost material. The crop was a failure, but all was not lost. My question is what created the change in the soil? The experiment did not succeed as intended. But I have already used the enriched material to mulch the garden. Sometimes you have to adjust.

The second bag is not ready to harvest. The white potato seeds used were bought this spring so we have too many variables for a true experiment. However, I am anxious to see if the yield is better.

The seeds were planted later. The rule of thumb in my part of the country is to plant potatoes on or before St. Patrick’s Day. However, the white potatoes started in April. I will harvest the second bag in a few weeks.

I have mixed feelings about using the grow bags. They eliminated the need to weed which is a plus. But the yield was not worth the effort. If the white potatoes do not produce, I will not repeat the experiment.

 

Grow Bags

Potato Bags
Bags used in experiment

Purple Potatoes and Medium

Purple grow bag
Potatoes from Bag

Growing Medium

close up
Close up of Medium
pound
Harvested potatoes

The Seed Garden

Cover
The Seed Garden

The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving

I realize we still have over three months until Christmas. But, if you have a serious gardener in the family I have the perfect gift. The Seed Garden is the perfect book for anyone devoted to growing their own edible garden. The text is edited by Lee Buttala and Shanyn Siegel and published by Seed Savers Exchange.

This comprehensive book is divided into two sections. Seven chapters make up the first section. Each chapter has beautiful illustrations. The photos emphasize the points made in the writing and aid the reader in grasping the information.

The largest portion of the book falls in the second section. Here the reader finds profiles of over one hundred edible plants. However, they are listed alphabetically by their Latin name. Fortunately, the editors provide a directory listing both the common and scientific names. Beautiful photos accompany this section as well.

In the first section, the reader may revisit knowledge studied in either a biology or agriculture class. Since I took both a long time ago, a review was helpful. Even though the book does not cover everything you would learn in a semester long class, your knowledge of seeds will expand. Saving seed is truly an art.

Basic biology covering the reproductive system of plants is an early focus of The Seed Garden. The book discusses the taxonomy of the plants. Apparently the genetic differences dictate how the seeds are pollinated.

Prior to buying The Seed Garden, my experiments in saving  seed met with mixed results. My yellow squash seeds produced fruit that were half green. They still tasted like squash even though the second generation altered in looks. The book explains why this happens and how to correct for the problem.

Another thing I learned from The Seed Garden is the need to ferment tomato seeds. The process, which is necessary to rid the seeds of natural germination inhibitors is wonderfully documented with step by step instructions. Once again, the editors use beautiful photos to enhance the writing.

I plan to try this process on a volunteer tomato plant. One of the local nurseries decided not to reopen this spring and I was unable to find a long-time favorite heirloom variety anywhere else. Luckily this year ma volunteer appeared. Next year’s planting won’t be left to chance.

Tomatoes
Illustrated Instructions

The Seed Garden is a welcome addition to my garden library. The writing is in-depth, so I would recommend it for those truly interested in gardening. This is not a beginning how-to book, but instead is written at a master level. In addition to being an excellent gift idea, this book should appear in the reference section of public and school libraries.

August Hail Storm

August Hail Storm

High Plains Hail Storms

Today’s post will have lots of photos of damage to both my garden and that of a nearby relative. While we do not suffer the threats of tsunamis or hurricanes, we have our share of bad weather. On the high plains natural disasters appear in the form of blizzards, flash flooding, strong straight line winds and hail.

I have lived in my present home for 22 years and this is the third time a major hail has hit. Most of the hail we get is pea sized or slushy and doesn’t create widespread damage. But with a storm like this, contractors will be busy for months. We may have been fortunate, depending on the assessment of our roof. Many of our neighbors have broken windows, both car and home, damage to siding and roofs. Businesses suffered as well.

The recent storm carried golf ball sized stones. We are still waiting the claims personnel to see if we will need a new roof. Our current one is just 4 years old and 3 times thicker than the average. Other damage to property is limited to screens and fascia.  However, the garden suffered a direct hit.

Fortunately, I am a fanatic about keeping apprised of the weather. A cold front bringing severe weather was forecasted, so I was aware of the possibility of damage. Once the radio indicated the front was about 30 minutes away bringing large hail I quickly harvested what I could. Any tomato with the slightest bit of red was picked along with other veggies that were near ripened state. The root vegetables were left in place with the hope that the foliage would not be totally shredded.

As you can see in the photos, the hail tore the leaves apart. I estimate the locust trees lost about half, even though the leaves are small. The oak, red buds and peaches all took a hit. The photos of my beds show stripped pepper and tomato plants and damaged artichokes. Both the potato and sweet potato plants now have holey leaves but the crops should be far enough along underground not to be stunted.

The hail beat up the veggies as seen in the photos of the tomato and peppers. All the peppers had been knocked to the ground. The hail stones even knocked holes in large fruits such as melon and pumpkins as can be seen in the photo of my relative’s 20 x 20 garden plot.

The damage was not limited to neighborhood gardens. Farmers took a hit as well as can be seen in these photos of a nearby cornfield. Each year, farmers on the high plains face this threat to crops. Because of this, yields can’t be predicted for any long term planning.

IN THE GARDEN-1st Garlic

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IN THE GARDEN-First Garlic Harvest of 2017

In all honesty, this morning’s harvest was triggered by finding the headless, tailless, remains of a snake in the garden last night. The markings were similar to a bull or rattlesnake but because of the condition I am not sure which. It is quite possible the lawn mower did the creature in. Although Sophie the Hunter Cat could have been involved.

Nonetheless, the finding spurred the need to clear out a patch of weeds in an area where I had plopped some garlic last fall. There was also a volunteer purple potato plant in the mix. This area of the yard really isn’t in the garden. Instead it is in sort of a no man’s land between the yard around the house and the lot.

This distinction plays a role. The lawn is kept mowed by my spouse. The lot is my territory. Buffalo grass prevails in the non-irrigated lot, so it is green for about six weeks in the spring and brown the rest of the year. The Bluegrass/other mix watered by the sprinkler system needs constant mowing. No man’s land sometimes receives water from the sprinkler system on windy days.This particular spot has very sandy soil and a history of much failure. No fewer than four trees have met their demise there. A small Blue Spruce was planted last spring as a memorial and hasn’t croaked yet so maybe things are on the upswing.

Last year I had quite a few purple seed potatoes and I popped some in the area about a yard away from the Blue Spruce thinking having both there would spur a reminder to water. Last fall when I harvested the potatoes I was surprised to find that area had the largest. So, having little success with garlic bulbs getting any bigger than the clove I planted, I thought I would give the patch a try hoping for an outcome similar to the potato.

This spring a volunteer potato plant emerged alongside the garlic. Unlike some gardeners, I relish plants that come up on their own. I live in an area classified as semi-arid. The average rainfall is in the low teens. Unfortunately this decade has had multiple years of under 10 inches and two years below 7 which makes it a dryer time than the Dust Bowl Years. Thus, if a plant can make it up on its own I believe it has an extra hardiness factor and deserves to live.

The past month the garden needed to be hardy due to an absentee gardener. No man’s land was thick with weeds about 18 inches tall. Perfect territory in my mind for a snake. So this morning, I turned on the hose full blast in case another slithery critter was taking refuge. Two rabbits bounded out but no snakes.

Along with pulling weeds, I harvested the garlic and the potato, although the latter probably could have stayed a little longer. I am happy to report that the garlic actually looked like garlic. The potatoes were a bit on the small side. More the size of new potatoes.

The nicest surprise was a baby oak tree. One of the critters that inhabit my yard must have dropped an acorn off the oak I planted 20 years ago. The oak is one of handful in this area, since oaks just don’t grow here. Applying the aforementioned hardiness theory, I plan to let the oak grow and transplant in a few years if both trees are still surviving and one needs to move.

In the picture, the garlic apart from the others was also harvested this morning but out of a proper garden spot. It is a different variety as you can tell from the coloration. Altogether the yield was just over 9 ounces. The purple potatoes weighed in just under 2 pounds. Not bad for an early harvest off a volunteer plant.