The Modern Victory Garden

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Onions and Greens

Posted on March 19, 2011 at 10:18 PM

After weeks of heavy rains, high winds, and cooler than normal temperatures – Mother Nature finally took mercy on our area and gave us a beautiful sunshine filled day.   I had to run a few errands this morning but I got to them early in order to keep most of the day available for some garden time.   One of those errands was to pick up a bag each of layer crumbles and scratch grains for the hens from the local feed store.   The first of the baby chicks are in and I had to hang out for a few minutes just admiring the cuteness of the little fuzz butts!   While I was wandering around looking at the new chick arrivals, I noticed they also had a new shipment of some really nice looking organically grown Walla Walla onion plants.   I have plenty of onion plant starts going at home but could not pass up such nice looking plants and bought two bundles at $2 each.   Now the dilemma is where to put all the onions since I just doubled up on them with that purchase.           

             

 I got back home around 11 am and immediately put the plants that are in the process of being hardened off outside to enjoy some much needed sunshine.                          

   

    

    

     

 

Yes, those are onions (and leeks) in that last picture and there are quite a few of them.   I am pleased with the Walla Walla onions I purchased, but I really am in an oversupply of onion plants as a result.   In the bed that is designated for the allium crops this year, I planted up the Walla Walla onions and the leeks.   They completely filled the bed, so I am going to have to find another place for the other home grown onion starts.             

    

     

 

The rest of the afternoon was used to first replace the netting on the back section vertical grow structures.   I then placed some finished compost on the vertical grow bed and dusted on some organic fertilizer.   The broadfork was then used to quickly aerate the entire length of the bed, after which I then hoed and raked it smooth.           

      

     

 

Once the bed was prepped and ready for planting, I direct seeded half of it (front portion only as the back area is reserved for vertical crops) in spinach, and then planted up some of the pac choi, chinese cabbages, and lettuce starts. 

       

    

  

   

       

These plants were definitely ready to go into the ground, however, they were not as well hardened off as I would have liked so I placed a wire fence hoop over the bed and covered them with clear plastic to give them some additional protection at night.   During the day, I will pull the plastic back and let them continue to harden off.   After a few days I can pull the plastic off altogether and just let them grow on.               

  

    

 

Tomorrow I am going to plant up the broccoli and the oldest of the kale starts.   I want to plant the pea patch tomorrow as well.   If I have enough time, I will try and find a suitable home for the remaining onions too.          

   

Did you spend time in the garden today too?                     

 

Laura

kitsapfreedomgardener

Rain, Rain, and More Rain

Posted on December 10, 2010 at 9:14 AM

Winter will not be boring this year.   The weather has already dished out some serious snow, a frigid cold spell, and prolonged soaking rain events that keep me looking out the window to make sure an ark with pairs of animals is not floating by!   All this and it is only the first week of December.   Forecasts for Sunday and Monday are calling for more serious amounts of rain – potentially measuring in multiples of inches within a period of 24 hours.                                        

        

Our 2010/2011 winter as shaping up is a function of the La Nina affect, which for the Pacific Northwest is the wetter, colder weather phenomenon that is the flip side of the more common and warmer El Nino pattern.   La Nina occurs when the surface waters near the equator are cooler than normal in the eastern Pacific Ocean and El Nino occurs when those same equatorial surface waters are warmer than normal.   The last La Nina winter we had was the winter of 2007/2008 which resulted in some serious flooding events in our region including the flooding of I-5 around the Chehalis area the first week of December 2007.   The Pacific Northwest had a large storm hit that week.   Just to give you some perspective on it, areas of the Oregon coast experienced wind speeds close to 130 miles per hour (that is hurricane strength folks!) and the City of Bremerton (which is where my work is located and a short drive from our home and garden) received nearly 10 inches of rain in a 24 hour period of time.   Hopefully this La Nina year will be kinder to all of us, but it has all the characteristics of being just as “interesting”.       

                   

The heavy rains have  made the garden beds and walkways waterlogged.   I am glad I have the grow tunnels up protecting the main bed of over wintering spinach, carrots, and green onions, because these relentless cold rains are just as devastating to plants ultimately as hard freezes and snow can be.   However, the irony of it is that the beds do dry out after a period of time and require watering.   I think my spinach bed is close to that point.    I have the opportunity this weekend to pull back the plastic cover for a few hours and let the rain irrigate the bed for me before covering it back up.   However, messing around with a large expanse of plastic sheeting in heavy rain is not a fun task and chances are I will just wait and do a manual sprinkling on it with a hose and wand attachment on a nicer weather day in the future.            

    

         

Between errands and appointments on Saturday and heavy rains on Sunday, the garden is not likely to see much of me over this coming weekend.   You can be sure though as I work inside the house on various projects, that I will be checking out the window often to make sure that big boat with pairs of animals does not go floating by unnoticed!                   

 

Laura

kitsapfreedomgardener

Harvest Monday - November 1, 2010

Posted on October 31, 2010 at 9:10 PM

Each Monday, Daphne’s Dandelions hosts “Harvest Monday” where everyone submits links to their blog posts summarizing their harvest for the week.   It’s fun to see what everyone else is harvesting from gardens in so many different regions.   Check it out and join in!               

      

The harvest this week included the last three pumpkins from the pumpkin patch.   There was actually one more pumpkin that was removed but it did not get sufficiently mature to store properly and so was not included in the harvest tally.   Instead it was added to the compost heap along with the vines and other debris cleaned out from the vacated bed.   Earlier in the week I harvested some broccoli and Sunday I harvested some kale and carrots to go into a hearty soup for dinner. 

           

     

     

     

  

Harvest totals for the week of October 25th through October 31st (rounded to the nearest ¼ pound).

  • Broccoli 0.50 lbs
  • Carrots 0.50 lbs
  • Kale 0.25 lbs
  • Pumpkins 13.00 lbs

Total For Week 14.25 lbs

Total Year To Date 438.50 lbs          

 

Eggs harvested this week - 40                 

      

We have had a series of rather heavy rainstorms lately but we caught a break on Sunday.   I took advantage of the drier weather and did a thorough cleaning of the chicken coop and yard.   The whole time I was doing the cleaning process, I had one of the hens underfoot.   She was vastly interested in what I was doing and was actually in my way quite a bit.   No sooner had I finished up then she popped into the coop and proceeded to lay an egg!    You can see her in the far nest box in the following picture.      

  

     

  

Apparently she was just trying to get me to hurry up and finish so she could lay that egg!    Poor dear was probably pretty uncomfortable.           

           

The garden is very quiet at this time of year.   Most of the fall clean up and bed preparation for winter is completed and the fresh harvests are less frequent, much smaller in volume, and not as varied.   There are however a few tasks to regularly complete including keeping the greenhouse container plantings and seedlings in the shop (growing under lights) watered; pulling the occasional weed that I may spot growing in a garden bed; and adding items and turning the compost piles to keep them working.   There was one last winter prep item that I took care of on Saturday in that I covered two of the beds with a grow tunnel to protect certain crops.   Here is the larger of the two beds that I covered.                        

 

    

  

The overwintered spinach patch, some green onions, and some carrots are under this tunnel cover.   In the smaller covered bed are more spinach, carrots, and some celery and kale as well.

 

      

  

Everything is thoroughly soaked from the heavy rains we have been getting (more on the way late tonight).   It was nice to get a brief respite from the wet on Sunday.   The chickens enjoyed the improved weather…        

   

    

    

…and the pumpkins had a chance to dry off  on the front porch steps before being put away.                        

 

   

 

Laura

kitsapfreedomgardener

Endings and Beginnings

Posted on October 21, 2010 at 1:12 AM

In the northern hemisphere, the growing season is coming to a close.   I pulled the last of the zucchini and cucumber plants Sunday and one of the Japanese Maples in front of our house is putting on it’s brilliant late fall display.   Soon the other two will be glowing just as vibrantly and ultimately all of them will drop their leaves, which I will then rake up, and compost.              

  

        

  

The fall equinox marks the mid-point between the summer solstice and the winter solstice.   This year the fall equinox occurred on September 22nd.   What this means is that we have completed the first major descent into the winter season and are on the last big roller coaster drop down to the final darkest point of the year – winter solstice (December 21st).   While the day length and sun strength have been on the decrease ever since June 22nd, we have reached the tipping point now where plant growth essentially starts grinding to a halt.   The fall/winter harvest crops generally need to be not only in place, but mature enough for harvest, because for the next several months growth will be minimal to non-existent for even the hardiest of items.   This is especially true for those of us that have trees or buildings near enough to the garden area such that when the sun arcs lower on the horizon during winter – it effectively restricts what sunshine there is available.   Personally, I have found on my property that I hit a real growing lull for a period of approximately four months – November through February.   In order to rely on the garden for all our vegetable needs, we have to go into this period with a good reserve of preserved items (canned, frozen, dried, cool storage), have mature crops of cold hardy items in the garden that are protected if needed and are ready for harvest, and that a few young cold hardy crops are started and well enough along - such that they are waiting to leap immediately to life as we round the corner and start making the ascent back out of the darkest days of winter.   My favorite crop for over wintering this way is spinach.   If you can get it germinated and well started before November, protect it during the coldest periods of the winter under a grow tunnel, and water and weed it as needed - it will absolutely spring to life in the very earliest days of spring when all the preserved items are running low, the fall/winter harvest crops are depleted, and the first spring plantings are just starting to be seeded and are still months away from being ready to harvest.   An overwintered crop of spinach really fills a gap in the lean season months of February, March, and April.   Regrettably, I lost my overwintered crop last year by not getting it covered timely before a severe cold snap hit.   I am determined not to let that happen again.         

        

It is now October 20th, and my 4’ by 8’ patch of young spinach to be overwintered is germinated and starting to set their first true leaves.   They are a little hard to see in the following photo but hopefully you get an idea of how far along they are.   

          

        

 

We are forecasted to have a series of rainstorms roll through over the next four or five days and I plan to let this patch benefit from the soaking rains before I put a clear plastic sheet over it for winter protection.                      

   

I recently posted about a gift I received of tree kale/collard starts. They have been sitting like sticks in the mud (literally) for two weeks now in the protection of the unheated greenhouse.   This evening when I did my evening garden “walkabout” I noticed some new beginnings happening there also.   The following picture is not the clearest image – but I drew some circles on the photo of a couple of the new leaf sprouts and I hope you can see them despite the fuzzy picture quality.           

         

      

  

Each of the cuttings looks like they are coming to life with leaf nodules emerging.   I did not have any rooting hormone on hand when I potted these starts up and so I am quite happy to see them apparently getting a fast start despite that.           

            

Fall brings with it many endings, but in a four-season harvest garden, there is always something just beginning too.            

              

Laura

kitsapfreedomgardener

Transplanting & Prepping For Cold

Posted on March 7, 2010 at 5:47 PM

We have been enjoying a rather balmy spring so far, but the weather forecast for the next several days is for a sudden shift to much colder weather.   This is a typical early spring condition - with abrupt changes in weather that can catch the inattentive gardener by surprise.   To extend the spring season successfully, you have to watch the forecasts and take action as needed to protect young plants from dramatic dips in temperature.        

   

All of the plants in the greenhouse are cold hardy and protected adequately by the greenhouse envelope with the exception of the super early tomatoes (Siletz) that I have recently moved out to the greenhouse.   I have been transporting them indoors at night and taking them back out to the greenhouse in the early morning, so they will be fine with the forecasted weather change.   The super early tomatoes are really growing well and seem to be happy with the extra attention and handling they are getting.   They are on the right in the first picture below.   Next to them is the sugar snap peas (Cascadia) and lettuces (Super Gourmet Blend) that I seeded yesterday – covered with a humidity dome.   The tray to the far left has the broccoli, swiss chard, and celery starts.   These tomatoes were started January 22nd and are being given extra care and protection so that they will (hopefully) produce a very early crop of tomatoes for me.   They will ultimately be planted in my 4 large black containers and will reside in the greenhouse until the weather really warms up and then move outside to continue growing.

  

       

   

 

 

 

For comparison, the majority of my tomato plants were started three weeks later on February 13th and they look like this right now.                   

         

         

 

Today I transplanted kale (Siberian Improved), pac choi (Ching Chiang), and cabbages (Savoy Ace and Tronchuda) into the garden.   They took up one 4 foot by 4 foot section in the garden bed.   They don’t look like much right now, but they will not take long to get established.                                 

             

     

 

Because we have some cold weather forecasted, it was important to get a grow tunnel cover erected over this newly planted bed.   I actually covered another 8 feet of bed in addition because I intend to plant the broccoli there in about two weeks and want the soil warmed up ahead of time for that.   

     

    

  

The last thing I needed to do today in preparation for the coming cold, was to cover the onion starts I planted out yesterday.   They are in a bed that does not work well for the grow tunnel covers, so I improvised using some of my tall tomato ladders, a panel of stiff wire grid (part of my compost bin sides), a few spring clamps, and plastic sheeting.                                         

 

     

 

 

 

  

 

I will leave these in place until the weather warms back up and is forecasted to stay that way for the foreseeable future.   Those of you who follow my blog regularly are used to seeing me use these tomato towers frequently for many purposes beyond their intended role as a support for tomatoes.   I find them quite useful to have around!

 

I think everything is buttoned up for the cold front that is moving in and hopefully the warm weather will return shortly thereafter.

Really Getting Underway

Posted on February 18, 2010 at 12:11 AM

I was previously going to wait until the plants emerged from the seeding process before sharing with you my inaugural use of the new planting jig.   However, that may take quite a while given it is early spring and the soil is cool (which will slow the germination process down considerably) so rather than wait, I have decided that I will just give you an update later on how things progress with the seedlings and give you the initial report now.               

                                      

Last Saturday, I gave up on my attempted salvage operation on the bed of overwintered spinach.   I had failed to get it covered with a grow tunnel prior to our deep freeze in December and then (to add insult to significant injury!) the marauding rabbit ate most of what remained of the feeble plants.   My salvage attempt included covering it with a grow tunnel and giving it a drink of fish emulsion tea.   Last weekend, I came to the conclusion that the few plants that had revived were not worth the effort to keep nursing along.   I pulled all of the plants out and composted them.   The grow tunnel cover had definitely warmed up the soil in that particular section of garden though, and it seemed like a great opportunity to just get a very early jump on the sowing of the spring spinach crop.   On Saturday, I did the bed prep necessary to get this 4-foot by 12-foot section of bed ready for direct seeding.   I pulled the grow tunnel cover off long enough to do the re-mineralization (greensand and rock phosphate) and to broadcast the bed area with organic all purpose fertilizer. I used a hoe to cultivate it all into the top six inches of soil - removing any remaining plants and weeds as I went.   Before putting the grow tunnel cover back on, I raked and watered the bed.   Since it has been covered for over a month now, it was getting dried out.   The next day I came back and checked the soil temperature in the bed and it was almost 50 degrees at about 10 am.   I needed it to be at least 45 degrees before I would consider planting it up with spinach.   

        

So Sunday morning, I did a final smoothing and raking process and used one of my new planting jigs (the four inch spaced one) to plant the spring spinach patch.   It is always important when planting seeds directly in the garden to get the seedbed as smooth and clod free as possible.                                

     

    

 

Before getting underway with the seeding, I brought out the planting jig and my regular 2-foot by 2-foot plywood board that I use for firming in seeds when doing a block planting process.                                            

      

   

 

I used the planting jig to then press out 2-foot by 2-foot sections of 4 inch spaced planting holes down the bed on both sides – 9 spaces per square foot.   Each jig impression provided 36 seeding holes and there were 12 of them to cover the entire surface of the 4-foot by 12-foot section of bed, which calculates out to 432 individual planting holes!                                      

 

    

  

    

 

I then just placed a seed (sometimes two) in each hole.   Once the seeds were in the jig holes, I smoothed the surface slightly with my gloved hand to fill in the top of the holes and then used the 2-foot by 2-foot piece of plywood to firm down and ensure good seed contact with the soil.                            

                    

    

  

The last step was to water the bed well using warm water and then putting the grow tunnel cover back on.                                                  

   

  

 

It took me just a half hour to plant up this entire bed and the jig worked beautifully.   My only concern is that with smaller seeds (like these spinach seeds) I may be ending up with the seed too deep.   I will have to be particularly light handed with the really small seeds like carrots when making the impressions in the soil.   All in all though, I am very happy with this design. 

 

So there you have it!   The next candidate planting for the new jigs will be the big pea patch for 2010.   The soil temp is good enough to plant right now, and the forecast is for a really beautiful weekend coming up so I probably get this underway soon too - using the 2 inch spaced planter for that one.   Things are really getting underway now!

Productive Sunday Puttering

Posted on January 10, 2010 at 6:33 PM

Spent a few hours puttering in the garden, shop, and greenhouse today.   The weather is overcast but generally fairly warm (54 degrees as of 1:30 this afternoon) so it is an ideal day to do some garden chores.   Took care of some routine items such as mixing and turning the compost piles and watering the seedlings in the shop (as well as the crops in the greenhouse) with a fish emulsion tea.   The day length will be creeping up in the days and weeks to come and the various greens will benefit from a shot of light nutrition to help them kick up the growth.             

  

Another task I got to was a salvage operation for the bed of overwintered spinach.   I planted them last fall in a portion of one of the beds in the newer section of garden – next to a green manure crop of crimson clover.   It’s in the mid-section of the lowest main bed in the following picture.               

            

    

 

I have two problems going on with that planting.   First, the germination was spotty and so there are some fairly large bare patches in the planting area.   Second, the wild rabbit that has been raiding the carrots and the cover crop of crimson clover, has also been mowing down the young spinach plants as well.   Despite all that, there is a good scattering of very young spinach plants in the bed and I want to salvage as much of them as I can for an early spring crop.    The first order of business was to take a few minutes and do some weeding to get rid of large weeds that had gotten a foothold established.   Once the largest of the weeds had been disposed of, I then mixed up some fish emulsion tea and gave the entire bed of tiny spinach starts a quick drench.   The final step was to get them under a grow tunnel cover to protect them from any further rabbit damage and to give them a warmer, more protected environment to encourage new growth.   If you look closely at the next picture, you can actually see the small spinach seedlings in the area that has the PVC hoops set up over it.                          

        

  

 

Over the hoops, some plastic sheeting was then put in place.   I reuse the plastic sheeting over and over again, so it is not always very clean looking.   When it is not in current use, I fold them up like blankets and store them in the shop on a shelf.   The plastic is anchored to the PVC hoops using “A” type clamps that I keep on hand for that purpose.   They are inexpensive and last for years and years.   Occasionally using a little 3 in 1 oil on the springs is a good idea, as they get rusty over time and with exposure to the elements.   These clamps are about due for a little oil treatment.               

     

  

 

    

 

    

 

Now the bed is under cover and should hopefully be able to rejuvenate and grow on more successfully.                              

                         

    

 

In the older section of the garden, I have another grow tunnel cover in place – this one protects the main bed of over wintered parsnips and carrots.        

 

 

   

  

I opened it up this afternoon long enough to dig up some carrots and parsnips for tonight’s dinner menu.                              

                                 

    

 

    

 

I trimmed the tops and root tips off while still in the garden so I could just toss them directly into the compost pile.   A rinse under the spigot and they were ready to go inside - where they will be peeled and/or scrubbed and then roasted with nothing more than just a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.   

        

    

 

The January King cabbages looked pretty ragged right after our period of deep freezes in December but now they have really bounced back.   The cabbage heads are starting to get some good size on them.                       

   

  

  

Did not get to my shop project this weekend at all.   Decided instead to wait until next weekend to get going with it - since it is a three-day weekend for me and I will have a little more time to devote to it.   Next weekend I will also be getting the first of the 2010 seed starting efforts underway.           

          

Did a general walk through of the entire garden making a mental note about items that will need some attention in the next several months.

  • I have several beds that will need to have compost added to them this spring but unfortunately, I am not going to have enough finished compost to cover all of it.   We expanded the garden fairly significantly last year and I need to increase my compost production to provide for the extra amount of growing beds.
  • Around the end of January, I need to turn over the green manure crops of crimson clover to let them have sufficient time to decompose before the beds are needed for planting.
  • I have decided to construct some grow beds in the greenhouse – using up leftover timbers from last year’s garden expansion project.   I just barely have enough materials on hand  to do this, and only if I continue using the 3 half whiskey barrels I already have in the greenhouse.  However, going this route will help me avoid the expense of buying 4 more half whiskey barrel planters.

By steadily working on these items over the coming weeks and months, the garden will be ready for the big rush of spring planting without undue wear and tear on me.    I much prefer to pace myself through the various garden chores that need doing each season.     Do you have some "pre season" chores lined up to do this year?

Blog Series - Season Extension

Posted on December 17, 2009 at 1:12 AM

There are many of us who have limited space availability for food production gardening and yet still manage to produce a tremendous amount of our own food supply.   This post is part of a blog series devoted to exploring the many techniques available to optimize food production gardening. There are quite a few topics that relate to this pursuit - including (among others):

  • Crop Selection
  • Intensive Planting Practices
  • Season Extension
  • Soil Management & Fertility

Focusing on Crop Selection kicked off the blog series, which was then followed by a four-part exploration of Intensive Planting Practices - including the topics of Raised BedsClosely Spaced Planting, Intercropping & Succession Planting, and Vertical Growing.   This week let’s talk about Season Extension.

                     

Season extending is essentially the practice of using various tools and techniques to allow for a much earlier start and a much later ending to the growing season.   There are three primary reasons to go to the trouble and effort of extending the garden season:

  1. It allows you to grow crops that require more growing days than your area would naturally provide;
  2. It provides enough additional growing days that you can plant crops in succession that otherwise would not have sufficient time for the second crop to mature; and
  3. It lets you harvest fresh greens and vegetables for much longer than the traditional growing season would allow – throughout the entire year for really cold hardy crops.

My own experience with season extending is that it is most efficient and effective if I work with nature rather than against her.   In addition, I think that you have to be able to accept that there will be losses periodically.   A wise gentleman once told me that if you are not occasionally losing some crops in the early spring and late fall – you are probably not living close enough to the edge on your season extending practices to be getting full value from it.      

   

   

 

Season extension generally uses various forms of protective covers or structures to increase soil and air temperature, protect plants from wind and frost, and reduce moisture loss.   Of these benefits, I believe the greatest value comes from the warming of the soil.   The Rodale Research Center has conducted experiments that show temperatures at the plant’s root zone is more important to growth than air temperature surrounding the leaves.   The ability to provide a warmer environment and soil comes from passive solar heating that is then (in some part) captured by a heat sink (dark soil surface or dark plastic mulch) that absorbs the solar heat more than a light or reflective surface would.   Some folks move beyond passive solar options and actually use a hot bed or greenhouse that has an energy consuming heat source.   While this certainly will yield good results, it is also fuel intensive and can be quite expensive.   For the purposes of getting optimal production and value out of our home vegetable and fruit gardens, I think it is impractical to consider regularly using anything but passive solar options.                                     

                                       

The real trick to using unheated season extension is to capture and hold as much solar heat as possible and to grow crops that are by nature already very tolerant of cold conditions.   Cold hardy crops like spinach, kale, corn salad (mache), root crops (beets, parsnips, carrots), brussel sprouts, green onions, leeks, certain cold hardy cabbages, and a variety of less common greens are all really good candidates to be grown late in the season or overwintered with protection.   Similarly in very early spring, you can use protective covers to thaw and warm up garden soil long before the last average frost for your area - so that you can get an extremely early start for hardy vegetables such as peas, onions, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, spinach and kale.   These vegetables will germinate and grow in relatively cool soil temperatures (at least 40 degrees or greater) and often have planting instructions to “sow as soon as you can work the soil”.   I mentioned in another recent blog post that I think there are two simple tools most gardeners should have in their garden shed – one is a PH meter, and the other was a good soil thermometer.  

                           

   

     

During the early spring if you are going to push the start of the growing season you really need to be able to monitor the soil temperature to know when it is ready for planting up.   As noted before, the soil temperature is much more important to pay attention to than the ambient air temperature.   Soil temperature should be measured 1 to 3 inches below the surface of the soil and the best time to take the measurement is between noon and 3 pm.   Remember to shake the thermometer back down before you use it again.   If you place a season extending cover over a growing area it will take a while for the soil to warm (days), and it is important to measure the progress with your thermometer periodically so you know when you it is ready for planting up.    

 

There are many season extending protective covers that can be used ranging from a cloche, cold frame, grow tunnels (also known as portable hoop houses), full size hoop houses, or greenhouses.   Each of these examples of season extending protections provides the benefits previously described - with varying degrees of success.   In general (assuming an equivalent sunlight exposure), the larger the volume of air in the protected area and the more dark surface area available and/or insulating materials used – the greater the warmth will be for the growing area protected.         

      

I generally use three types of season protecting covers. The first is a simple plastic sheeting cover raised just enough off of the surface of the soil to provide solar heating of the soil for the purposes of warming up a seedbed for a very early planting.   The cover can be left in place after the germination has occurred until the plants get tall enough to push up close to it. Usually by that point the weather has continued to improve enough that they are safe anyway and ready to grow on without the protection of the cover.               

  

  

   

You may recognize my tomato ladders in the preceding picture being used as the support structure for the plastic cover - just laid on their side over the bed edging boards.                       

                   

The second type of protective covers I regularly use are grow tunnels.   I use 10 foot sticks of electrician’s PVC conduit (connector end cut off) inserted into brackets placed on the edge my beds or directly pushed into the soil (inside of the bed edging) to create support hoops.   Over the support hoops I place clear plastic (4 or 6 mil) that you can purchase at any hardware store (usually in the painting supplies area).   I use inexpensive “A” or spring clamps to hold the plastic securely to the hoops.   They last an incredibly long time and make quick removal and access to the growing beds possible.   These same hoop tunnels can also be used during the summer growing season to hold protective bird netting over the grow beds.  This is useful to keep birds and other creatures out of the garden (like bunnies, cats, and dogs).   I use netting regularly to protect my beds from my dog who seems to walk through every newly seeded bed that exists unless protected in this manner!     

                          

   

 

I generally use grow tunnels to either protect an overwintered crop (such as a large bed of spinach), protect newly planted seedlings during the early months of the growing season when weather is unstable and the plants are very young and tender, and to warm up large areas of growing bed for early crop starting.                

  

The third protective cover I regularly use is my unheated green house. During the late fall and winter months, I use it to grow cold hardy crops in large containers.   I generally grow mostly greens in the greenhouse because the larger air volume and greater surface area captures solar energy better and increases the odds of semi-hardy crops like swiss chard, Chinese cabbages, and lettuces of surviving.           

                                    

   

    

In the spring, I use the unheated greenhouse to grow on the semi-hardy crops that I started under the grow lights very early in the year.   This allows me to move them out of the seed starting area - making room for the next big round of seed starting (usually the summer crops of tomatoes and peppers etc) but protects them from the erratic and unpredictable very early spring weather conditions.             

         

Using season extension techniques can increase your garden’s production but as much as 25% just by adding 1 to 2 months of growing time at each end of the growing season.   Do you use season extending tools in your garden and if so, what kinds?

Weather Alert - Freezing Temps Early Saturday Morning

Posted on April 3, 2009 at 6:12 AM

Noticed a weather alert for low temps on Saturday morning to dip below freezing.   This is the result of the high pressure system that is building and clearing out the clouds.   This is a good thing because it will bring much warmer day time temps and some much needed sunshine for the next several days, but it will cause the temps to dip down to historical lows for this time of year early on Saturday.   The only crops I have that are in any danger are the bed of cole crops that I just took the plastic sheeting cover off of (earlier this week).   Before leaving for work today, I am going to drape the plastic sheeting back over the bed and leave it on until it warms up on Saturday morning.   Everything else is either a seed bed or an ultra hardy item (onions).  

Mid-Week Musings

Posted on April 1, 2009 at 11:45 PM

Been crazy busy with work this week so time for the garden has been early morning/late evening only.   Weather has not been all that great so it's not like I have been missing out on any real opportunities to get much accomplished anyway.    

 

The pace of late has been pretty wild and unfortunately my body gave me a little reminder yesterday that I need to pay better attention to it.    

 

I regularly donate blood. Do it about every 3 months and have done it for years never experiencing any problems.  Yesterday I had an appointment at 11:45 am to give blood.  The donation site is located several blocks away from my office.   I planned to walk there from work, spend approximately 45 minutes getting the blood draw done, and then treat myself to a deli sandwich before walking back to work.   With some significant deadlines to meet this week, I have been pulling some long / intense hours - so the walk to the building and the "lie down" for the draw felt pretty good! Was just wrapping up with the blood draw when suddenly I felt extremely clammy and lightheaded.  Uh oh. Waved over the nice attendant and he immediately got me "unplugged", put my knees and feet up and applied cold compresses. After about 10 minutes that seemed to do the trick and I was allowed to rest another 5 minutes and then slowly got up and made my way (carefully) to the food/beverage table.  Managed to get about half way through a glass of grape juice before starting the same drill all over again.  This time I got to lay on the floor because there was no way I was going to make it back to the cots in the center of the room! Had another 15 - 20 minute lie down with blood pressure taking, cold compresses, and an increasingly worried staffer. Finally got to where I could sit back up and have some Gatorade and saltines (yuck) and eventually made it back into the chair and got some water and V8 juice down as well.  Finally, they required that I stand for 4 minutes with a decent blood pressure check at the end of the time period before they would let me go.   Well, I made it 2 minutes before I was back down again! Wow... this was NOT fun and I was getting increasingly worried about my walk back to work. Visions of myself lying in the street danced through my head.   It ended up that I had to sit there for quite a length of time before I could finally stand and stay up for 4 minutes with a decent BP check. While technically cleared to leave, I felt as wobbly as a newborn colt so I just headed over to the deli in the building and got a half sandwich.   I was so full from drinking juice, water, Gatorade, and eating saltines that I could hardly choke it down.  Luckily I was blessed to find a friend and co-worker there having a late lunch so I had some one to talk to and sit with. Eventually I was able to make my way back to work safely and managed to get quite a bit done - but definitely was not 100% for the rest of the day.   As best I can figure, I was dehydrated and/or low on electrolytes because all vitals were good before the draw and actually were once again afterwards.     Lesson learned - drink more fluids on blood draw day, calm the schedule down just a bit, and probably need to eat more mid-morning before trundling off to give blood!

 

Okay enough about that, let's talk about the status of the garden and my seedlings!   

 

You may recall that I wrote in my blog (a while ago) that I thought I might have done in my swiss chard seedlings by rushing them to the unheated greenhouse too fast to make room for more seed starting.   Well, I am happy to report that I was mistaken about that!   They have subsequently bounced back and have been happily growing on ever since and are now just about ready to be planted out in the garden.   Yesterday I began the hardening off process for them by putting them outside prior to leaving for work and putting them back into the greenhouse when I get home at night.  I will keep doing this through the end of this week so that they will be sufficiently hardened for planting out in the garden beds this weekend.    

 

The repotted tomatoes are for the most part doing very well.   Here;s a few pictures of them. 

 

 

 

 I did lose several shortly after the transplanting.  They just did not bounce back from the transplanting process and were too weak to cope with the chilly and damp conditions prevalent for much of the time after the repotting was completed.     Luckily I always plant 1 ½ times more seedlings than I actually need  - for just this very reason.   It is not uncommon to lose seedlings to disease, cold conditions, and unfortunate accidents  - like the time I dropped a full tray of seedlings (upside down no less) while carrying them out to the greenhouse!   The ones that did not expire were never impacted at all - in that they immediately took off and thrived.     Not sure why some were affected so badly while the remaining ones did so well - just one of those mysteries of nature I guess.   I did not repot all of the tomatoes and there are still quite a few that are still in their original cell packs and are under the grow lights.   Here's a picture of them and the second crop of broccoli starts.

 

 

 As you can see these are doing quite well too and the broccoli is about ready to be moved out to the greenhouse this weekend to begin the hardening off process.    

 

The peppers and celery starts are not as far along (both are slower growing) but are also doing very well. 

 

The last thing I will mention is that I removed the plastic grow tunnel cover from the bed of cole crops (broccoli, kohlrabi, and cabbages) that were recently transplanted and replaced it with bird netting to protect the bed from my dog walking through it.    I did that this morning before heading off to work.   They are doing well and with the milder night time temperatures forecasted for the next few days it is a good time to let them finish hardening off.   Here is a picture I took of them this evening.  It was getting dark, but I think you can see that they are coming along nicely.

 

 

That's about it for now.   Hoping to get a lot done in the garden this coming weekend.