The Modern Victory Garden


Runaway Butternuts

Posted on September 1, 2012 at 12:25 AM

Last week I reported to you on the general state of the squash patch, with an emphasis on the fact that the Red Kuri winter squash was proving to be a very vigorous grower, so aggressive in fact that it appeared my two Butternut plants were simply overwhelmed by them and not producing.    Immediately after I posted that blog update on Friday the 24th, I took a short walk through the garden (looking at what needed to be done that weekend), and in the course of that stroll I believe I discovered where the Butternuts had actually gone to!


I was standing behind the back corner of the garden fence looking at the raspberry patch and deciding if I needed to pick that day, when I turned around and looked at the Red Kuri and the Sugar Pie pumpkins that have been busy growing through and up the chain link fence.   This corner in particular had several vines of pumpkins growing through with several pumpkins set that were going to require a sling support as they continued to size up.    Particularly interesting was a vine that not only grew up and out of the fence in the corner, but had stretched itself over and grabbed on to the nearby rhododendron trees and was happily growing up the tree!



Imagine my surprise as I stood there looking at that vine and it’s pumpkin fruits formed, and realized that this particular vine was setting consistently different shaped squash – different from the adjacent pumpkins in that they were a bit elongated and had a bulbous form at the blossom end.    You probably have guessed it by now, it appears I was not looking at pumpkins but was instead looking at some of the missing Butternuts.    Apparently they had had quite enough of the overwhelming growth habits of the Red Kuri and had sent vines out a great distance (this was more than 30 feet away from the mother plant), escaping out the fence and up into the nearby trees!   There were indeed some pumpkins nearby too but this particular vine happily growing into the trees appears to be a Butternut.   I was so delighted to discover that I had some after all, that I immediately set to work putting some supportive slings (made from old pantyhose) in place on the pollinated fruits.




As they grow larger the vines will be strained to hold the large winter squash since they are growing up off the ground and are hanging in the air.   A simple sling of stretchy material (pantyhose works wonderfully but old stretchy tee shirts work well too) provides that extra support needed for a vertically grown winter squash or large melon.   I am constantly amazed at how fast squash family fruits grow.   Here is that last squash pictured above, just five short days later on August 29th.



This weekend, I intend to give all the squash plants a drink of a kelp/fish emulsion tea to give them a shot of some extra nutrition as they go into this last big period of filling out and maturing fruits before the days get too cold and too short for any further growing efforts.


Besides finding the missing Butternut squash, I also did some pressure canning last weekend, putting up some carrots and beans.



This coming long weekend (Labor Day holiday on Monday), I am hoping to do some more pressure canning of green beans and possibly other items.   I also need to replant some lettuces and Asian greens that did not germinate well the first try.   The rest of the fall planted items are growing on nicely though.   The transplanted out broccoli, kale, and cabbages are rapidly sizing up and I will need to start harvesting the kale very soon.




The rest were direct seeded and are also doing well, but are obviously much smaller yet.   Now I just need to replant the items that did not take off the first try to fill in the missing gaps of items needed this coming fall and early winter.   In the course of doing that planting up, I might just find another run away vine of Butternuts!





A Garden Update

Posted on May 19, 2010 at 10:28 PM

Thankfully I spent a lot of time in the garden on Sunday getting a lot accomplished and soaking up the beautiful sunshine.   It was fortunate because the weather subsequently has been decidedly wetter, and because I have managed to catch a doozy of a cold this week, which has left me coughing, sneezing, with a sore throat, and generally best described as a walking virus factory!   In fact, I worked from home today in order to spare my coworkers and employees exposure to this stuff.   Large doses of Dayquil during the day and Nyquil at night, Kleenex, and medicated lip balm are keeping me going.   I so rarely get sick that when I eventually do, it seems like I really go down for the count.  This time is no exception.    However, at least for the moment, I am armed with a cup of sweetened hot tea; fresh Kleenex; and a recent dose of cold meds - so let me give you an update on what I did on Sunday before the meds and Kleenex run out on me again.                                    


The main thing I was working to accomplish on Sunday was to finish up the spring/summer direct seeding of crops.   I had planted some of the beans (Pinto beans, Blue Lake pole beans, and a small section of Royal Burgundy bush beans) over the prior two weekends.   On Sunday, I wrapped up planting the Dark Red Kidney beans, more Royal Burgundy bush beans, and some Sunset runner beans.   I planted a large 4’x16’ section of bed in kidney beans.   Some of the seed I used was my own saved seed from 2007 and the rest was purchased seed.   To prep the bed, I broadcasted a little balanced organic fertilizer and then cultivated it in with a sharp hoe.                              




The bed was then raked smooth and I used my 4” planting jig to plant up the beans.                          




I finished it up by using up some used potting soil to cover the seedbed.   I had set aside this potting soil for this very purpose when I recently freshened up the soil in some of the greenhouse containers.   I like to recycle old potting soil into the garden beds this way.                           




In addition to the kidney beans, I also planted up a 4’x8’ section of Royal Burgundy bush beans, and an 8’ row of Sunset runner beans under a grow support structure.   The other items I planted were a 2’x4’ section of Vulgare dill, and a 2’x4’ section of Mokum carrots.   The last items I planted was a 2’x8’ section of garden bed in lettuces (Super Gourmet Blend and Mesclun).   The lettuces went in under the cucumber trellis structure.   They will get plenty of sun for the coming weeks, but will be afforded some shade by the cucumbers later in the summer when the weather starts warming up too much for lettuce.   The trellis structure I am using for the cucumbers is new this year.   I actually purchased it back in 2007 and it has been sitting (unused) in the shop because it is not a super efficient use of a garden bed compared to my other vertical grow structures and (up until last year’s garden expansion was done) I did not have any extra bed space to spare.   However, with the garden expansion completed I could give consideration to pulling this item out of mothballs and giving it a try.   So for this year’s cucumber crop, I am using something new and it gives me a place to grow some later summer lettuces (hopefully) with the shade it will provide.           




The green pepper ladders you see laying on the ground in front of the support are there to protect the small cucumber seedlings.   Up until last  weekend, I had a sheet of plastic draped over the whole thing to add some heat for these tender plants.   Next to this cucumber bed is the spring spinach patch.   I gave it some fish emulsion tea fertilizer on Saturday.      




I can tell you that with the heavy rain we have gotten today combined with the shot of fertilizer I gave it last weekend, this patch tonight is about twice as thick with harvestable leaves from that shown in  this photo taken on Sunday!   I can see some signs that it would like to bolt though, so I need to do a hard harvest this weekend and freeze some.   In the meantime, I cut a nice bunch of it tonight to make a fresh spinach salad for dinner.   In the last photo the front section of bed that would appear empty is actually a planting of carrots I did two weeks ago (May 2nd).   The bed has all germinated and emerged and is really looking good – they are just too small yet to show up in photos.                                


The Pinto beans I also planted on May 2nd (with the corn and pumpkins) have almost all emerged now too and I noticed this evening that the bush beans and pole beans planted on May 9th are also just beginning to break ground.          


The big spinach patch, green onions, and container planting of Merlot lettuces have been feeding us really well for the past week or so.   I have also been harvesting a lot of kale and Tronchuda cabbage but not recording it in my harvest weight tally because I have been harvesting regular but small amounts to feed my young chickens!   It adds up, but each day’s picking is so small I have not been bothering with weighing it.   I quit harvesting asparagus about two weeks ago and am now letting it go to frond for the season.                                        


The real star of the garden at the moment is the pea patch. Check it out!     






The peas have latched on to the top most horizontal support  and are now reaching for the sky.   It’s looking like we will have another good pea harvest this year.                                                             


Also coming along is the broccoli patch.                                     




I have yet to see center heads begin to form, but I don’t think I will have to wait very long based on the overall size and health of the plants.   I side dressed the kale, cabbages, lettuces, and broccoli with some alfalfa pellets last weekend.             


Time to wrap this update up.   My meds are running out and I am starting to sneeze violently again and my nose is raw from blowing it.   I hope I am better soon because I got a call today letting me know that our chicken coop kit is going to be delivered tomorrow!   My husband and I are both anxious to get to this project and it would be a lot more fun if I were not sick.   I sincerely hope for all of your sakes that you avoid this crud altogether.





Blog Series - Intensive Planting (Part 4 Vertical Growing)

Posted on December 8, 2009 at 11:21 PM

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.   Now we are exploring Intensive Planting Practices.    Intensive planting techniques generally include a combination of planting in raised beds (either double dug or otherwise greatly amended and improved), closely spaced planting, intercropping and succession planting, and the use of vertical growing techniques – all for the purpose of producing the same amount of food in approximately 20% of the space used by traditional row gardening practices.   To date, we have discussed the topics of Raised Beds, Closely Spaced Planting, and Intercropping & Succession Planting.   This week we will wrap up the four-part segment on intensive planting techniques by discussing the practice of vertical growing.         


Vertical Growing –                            

Growing a traditional row garden is quite linear.   When you make the move to raised beds using within-row spacing in all directions (closely spaced planting techniques) you introduce a second dimension to your food production garden.   To really kick up the production level you can add a third dimension – vertical growing.       


Consider this … if you install a vertical support structure that is 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide on one edge of a 4-foot by 4-foot section of garden bed you just increased the growing area of that section of bed by 150 percent!   The vertical plane provides 24 square feet of growing area and the horizontal garden bed provides 16 square feet.   Combined you now have 40 square feet of growing area.    All of this increase in growing room is in the same footprint of space you had already committed to the growing bed.   By growing crops that will climb on a vertical support structure, you can save space in the traditional garden bed area for plants that cannot be grown vertically.                                    


Growing crops vertically not only saves space but it can make harvesting crops much simpler because they are easier to see and require less stooping and squatting to reach.   Getting crops off the ground can also help reduce pest infestations too.                        


There are many different kinds of vertical support structures available to choose from.   The simplest are poles or branches pushed into the dirt with plants surrounding them or a teepee-like structure made out of poles.   More elaborate systems include A-frames, board frames that are screwed together, electrical conduit (metal or PVC), a fence if one is near a garden bed, traditional trellis lattices, and many of these types of supports also use string or netting attached to the framework.   Vertical supports also include ladders, towers, and stacked cages commonly used for crops like tomatoes to hold the plants vertically - keeping them from sprawling on the ground.                                                                  




All of these are perfectly good alternatives so long as it is mechanically strong enough to hold up fully loaded with mature plants if a wind kicks up and are reasonably tall enough to handle the types of plants you intend to grow.        




Beyond those basic issues, what you choose is purely a matter of personal aesthetics, availability of materials, and your interest and skill level in constructing garden structures.   I generally use metal conduit pipe to create my trellis supports.   My husband is an electrician (although he has not worked in that field for many years) and as a consequence is quite comfortable using a conduit bender to bend metal conduit which is then connected in the center with a connector fitting to create a metal frame that I then attach nylon netting to (using tie wraps!).   They are pushed firmly into the ground so that they are well anchored and level.   The result are grow supports that are approximately 4 feet wide by 6 feet tall.    Here is a series of these supports that were installed on a 2-foot wide bed specially designed just for vertical growing.                    




The climbing plants are usually seeded or transplanted directly below the support structure so that they may grow up and easily grab on to (or be woven into) the support system.                           




While you can install these trellis support structures on a wider bed, I have found that it is very difficult to pick crops reaching across 4 feet of bed area to get at the front section.   I personally prefer to construct 2-foot wide beds that have the grow support structures running along the length.   It is much easier to pick both sides of the vertical grow supports when the grow bed is narrower.   I use approximately 1-foot of the growing area to plant the climbing crops and then use the remaining 1-foot width to plant other items.   Here is a picture of a bed that has carrots growing in the front half of the narrow grow bed and vertical crops in the back half.      




To avoid problems with crops on vertical support structures shading out other parts of the garden, it is best to construct taller vertical supports on the north side of raised beds if at all possible.                               


I like to use trellis supports for peas, cucumbers, pole beans, runner beans, and I use other types of vertical supports for tomatoes and peppers (tomato ladders and stacked cages).   I could use trellis supports for other melon and squash plantings too but have personally found it easier to just find an area of garden they can run in and not fuss with slings or other methods to ensure heavier fruits (such as melons) do not slip from their vine and fall to a bad end from some height.                       


Do you use vertical growing in your garden and if so, what kinds of structures do you like to use?

Peas, Beans, and Tomatoes

Posted on May 30, 2009 at 7:15 PM

I like to periodically take overview pictures of the garden throughout the year. It provides a great reference on where plants were growing and how far along they were as of the point in time the picture was taken. Now that the garden has been expanded my overview shots need to be come in two sweeps - side and back area. The side area is the older section of garden.   


The new garden area is behind the house.                                   


Another view of it from the end of our back deck. Notice the rhodies blooming in the back area.



Today I did some damage control on the new vertical bed pole bean plantings ("Blue Lake").  I had pretty spectacularly bad germination on the pole beans and several of those that did come up - expired soon thereafter. However, there were several plants that did make it and were thriving. Unfortunately, they were scattered here and there across a very long bed with huge gaps of empty area in between. My remedy was to carefully transplant some of the beans to combine them into one section - so that there was one grow support structure full of plants that were thriving. I did not have any "Blue Lake" pole bean seeds left, so I planted two section lengths with "Sunset" runner beans (using up the last of these seeds) and the last section length with "Telegraph Improved" cucumbers. The carrots that are growing the entire length of this bed in the front portion are getting some good top growth now and are starting to look like a real carrot patch.        


While the pole beans have been a challenge to get started this spring, the bush beans have been astoundingly healthy and fast starting. Here's the bed when it was planted up on May 9th.                      


And here it is today on May 30th.                                              


The tomatoes are doing well too. Let's look at the tomato bed as it has progressed so far this year. Here it is when it was planted up on April 19th.


And here it is on May 9th.                                                       


 The tomato patch today - May 30th.                                                   





It's interesting to see how the growth occurs and how long it takes the plants to move through the various growth stages. Just for grins, here is another before and after comparison. This is the pea patch as it looked on May 6th.


And again, here it is today - May 30th. They have certainly grown in 3 weeks! Setting blossoms now too - so the pea harvest is not too far into the future. 



In addition to fixing the pole bean bed problem, I also watered the potato beds thoroughly. There are a few small emerging plants yet, but most of them are all up and have had all their soil pulled back into the trench.  


Time to wrap this update post up and go harvest some lettuce for tonight's dinner table. I hope you were able to spend time in your garden today too.

Shop Projects

Posted on March 4, 2009 at 6:19 AM

I took the opportunity while watering the seedlings earlier this week to thin the tomatoes and swiss chard plants down to a single sturdy plant per planting cell.   I do this by using a small pair of sharp scissors to snip the plants to be removed right at the soil level.   If care is taken, the remaining plant is entirely undisturbed and is left to carry on with no trauma.   The small plants removed are then added to the compost pile.  I will need to do the same with the latest batch of lettuces because I was a bit too heavy handed with the seed and they are crowded.  I need to wait until those plants are just a bit bigger though to tackle that chore.  The tomatoes are doing really well and seem to have appreciated the thinning.    



The second batch of broccoli has all emerged as of this morning.   The basil (“Large Italian”;) that I planted on a bit of a whim is also all up and going strong.  I do not have any spare room in the garden beds for the basil so I will likely be planting this in some of my containers.   They will reside on the deck for the summer and hopefully provide some good pesto for freezing.  


I spent some time in the shop last night doing some prep work for the upcoming pea patch planting.    It is my intent to set up a horizontal trellis support for the bed of peas to provide necessary support but still get the benefit of a wide-bed planting of peas (as opposed to rows).   I have seen others use panels of hog wire laid across the boxed edges of a bed as a horizontal trellising system for low growing peas.  My intent is to duplicate that concept but to use my usual trellis netting in place of the wire panels.   I want to create something that is reusable, economical, and works with my existing bed design.  After thinking about this some, I came up with a simple design that uses bamboo poles I already have on hand and the same netting I use on my vertical grow support structures.  The only purchases I needed to complete the design was a couple sticks of ¾” square doweling and 16 screw eye-hooks that are large enough to hold the bamboo canes in the “eye”.   The wood pieces were cut into equal lengths and then the eye-hooks were screwed in at appropriate spacing.  The result is a support that will fit into the metal bracket holders on my beds (the ones that hold the PVC hoops) and will have eye-hooks to support a bamboo pole.   The pole will be threaded through each  end of the trellis netting and then placed on the eye-hook supports with the netting then stretched across the bed between them.   It will make more sense when I get it put up and can take some pictures for you to demonstrate.   In the meantime, here are the supports all prepped and ready to be installed. 



Happy gardening everyone! 

First of the New Beds Constructed!

Posted on February 16, 2009 at 9:24 PM

Sunday my teenage daughter volunteered to help me move all of the wood that was stacked in the driveway and help place it in the garden expansion area.  We laid them out in a rough configuration of how the beds were to be constructed.  The extra timbers were stacked carefully behind the shop where they will reside until such time as they are needed.  Moving all of this wood and marking out the bed layout was more than enough for one day’s work – particularly after I had done a double dig the prior day.  I have to say though, that my daughter did the vast majority of the wood moving and she was definitely sore and tired today as a result.  I was very thankful for her assistance and proud of her for volunteering and then sticking with it until the job was finished.


Today, I got going on the new bed construction process.  I had the day off since it was Presidents Day and wanted to make good use of the three-day weekend to make a big dent on the garden expansion project.   I was moving pretty darn slow because I am very stiff and sore from the two back-to-back days of heavy lifting work.   Got underway around 11 am and wrapped  up at about 3:30 pm.   Took about an hour break mid-way to eat some lunch and finish baking the weekly loaf of no knead bread.   I am happy to report  I managed to get one full bed constructed in that time frame.  The new bed measures 4'x24' and is on the top end of the sloping garden area.


The garden expansion project area has a definite slope to it, so the new beds will be terraced. This requires digging and leveling the high side to bring the timbers down to a grade that makes it level with the low side timbers.   There is quite a bit of trenching and grading that must be done to get a bed that is square and level.  I started with one corner and than worked my way down the bed.   My husband helped out by doing all the drilling and fastening work.  He seems to move faster with the drill than I do and he is more precise.   Here are some pictures of the new bed as completed:





The bed has not been double dug yet. There is no way I could do that in the same day as the construction itself! I intend to continue with the bed construction process until they are all completed before coming back and beginning the double dig process in the beds.   You can see in the photos the other timbers laid out in the rough shape of the other beds.  There are two more 4’x24’ beds to create plus a 2’x16’ vertical grow bed.   As a reminder, this is what this site area looked like after we had cut down the large trees but prior to the stump and fern removal.




Quite a difference already and I know it is going to be a great looking and very productive garden area once completed.   For now I am very happy with how this first bed turned out and I am extremely worn out.   It will be good to head back to work tomorrow to give my body some physical rest!


Hope you got to spend some time in the garden this weekend too.