Thursday, May 6, 2010

It is already May WOW



Hello again. It is already May here. We have had a very cold wet spring so far. So besides the weather and health issues I have neglected this a little and I apologize. I will try to get back into the swing here.

An up date on me and my garden.

I had surgery at the first of April so I was late getting my garden area (40X70) roto-tilled but had a group from a local church come over and helped me prepare the ground getting my compost worked in and picking out the bigger rocks that are still coming up. Last Monday, I finally started planting my root crops even though we had mixed rain/snow Tuesday. But since they are underground root crops can stand up to the colder weather. That is one thing you will want to keep an eye on at your location. The garlic I planted last fall, most have come up nicely, and my strawberries came through the winter great. But I did have someone come in sometime over the late fall or early spring and trim the tops of my blackberries and saskatoon blueberries off, but they are already growing up from the ground again. So I should get something this year.

Crops

Speaking of weather and temperature. Usually, crops that grow underground (potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, ect...) as well as crops like blackberries and blueberries vines can be planted/transplanted while it is still cool out. But if snow or heavy frost is expected at night make sure the plants get covered. Lettuce and spinach also like the cooler weather. But not too cool.

Warmer weather is needed for many of the squashes, tomatoes, peppers, ect…. When planting tomatoes and peppers, I recommend putting the cages around them at the same time. That way, if the weather forecast is for a freeze the cage can be wrapped with a black garbage bag, canvas sheeting, cheep blue tarp, or even an old blanket to help protect the plant while not risking damage to the branches of the plants.

Equipment

Since I mentioned cages. There are many types of cages one can use. At most hardware stores, garden centers and some grocery stores they carry the typical cone cages. There are also on the market wood framed cages. Either wood or metal cages will work.

But for the frugal gardener and for those on a tight budget, one can pick up at local lumberyards, construction companies or at some manufactures scrap lumber like pallets or strips cut from other lumber, to build cages. If one has a circular saw it is easy to cut a pallet into strips to make a cage. If one looks around scrap wire fence material can also be found. If one uses wire fencing make sure that the holes that the wires make are large enough to reach in and remove a tomato comfortably.

While looking for cages or cage material, keep an eye out for whiskey barrels or food grade plastic barrels for use as rain barrels. Once the barrel is home I suggest that a garden spout (for hoses) be put towards the bottom of the barrel. Locate the barrel where it can catch the maximum amount of rain off the roof of one’s home, garage or other out building. Place it on a platform that raises it off the ground by 4” to 6”. That way once a hose is hooked up to the spout then gravity can feed the water through the hose to a watering can or garden directly.

Well that is all for now. Let me leave you with this thought.

Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved. ~ George Washington


God Bless
Cowboy


Sunday, January 10, 2010


Hello and Happy New Year everyone. Well here it is about mid January. I know there is snow and cold weather throughout most of the Nation, even clear down to Florida and Texas. But now is the time to start finalizing your decisions. Decisions on where you will be putting your garden and what you wish to plant this spring.

Now, I know many will want to go out and start getting tons of seed catalogs. These have many different varieties of fruit, vegetable and nuts. These are ok for those who have grown a garden previously, but for those who this is your first year and can get confusing with all the varieties, let me beg of you to start simple. Go to your local seed and pet stores, co-ops and even chain retail/grocery stores to get your seeds. These are often times less expensive than the catalogs and often they have someone to talk with for advice for your local area for growing.


Please, let me also to advise to purchase what is called heritage seeds. Unlike hybrid and genetically modified seeds, with heritage seeds when the produce is harvested the seed can be saved to replant the next year. Many hybrid and genetically modified seeds, the seed from the produce is sterile and cannot reproduce the next year.
So, what are you planning to grow this year? And where are you going to plant? Good luck and hoping you have a bountiful harvest no matter what comes this new year.

God Bless

Cowboy

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What is next?


You have now picked out your location and have it prepared. You have chosen your crops and have them planted. And you have got your mulch to help you be a lazy gardener. Now what do you do? Well here is where you start preparing for food storage.

While your garden is starting, talk with your neighbors, family and friends to start gathering canning jars, freezer containers and any other food storage you believe you might need.

There are many, many different items that would be great to have like vacuum sealers, storage buckets, pressure canners, food processors, food dehydrators, smokers, ect... But let me warn you. You do not want to go into deep debt gathering everything all at once. Pick it up slowly. Only a few items at a time.

One can pick up a lot of the needed items for canning and food storage fairly inexpensive or even free. Canning jars can be picked up at yard sales, moving sales, estate sales. If you let people in your church or community group know you are looking and you might even receive them for free.

Storage buckets can be picked up at your local bakery. They are food grade and have gaskets to seal them from insects and mice. And in some cases from moisture and dust. But the least of all these buckets can help in harvesting. As you pick, dig or pull each of the different crops you can place it into a bucket to make it easier to carry them into your home for cleaning and preparation for use at dinner or storage.

Now be sure you keep up on the weeding where you was not able to put mulch. And don't forget to water the seedlings, making sure you do not over water.

Until next time. Remember a stranger is only a stranger until you introduce yourself.

God Bless
Cowboy

Monday, August 17, 2009

Work smart not hard. Be a lazy gardener.


Welcome back. Now that you have your plot prepared and the plants in what do you do next? Water and spray for weeds, right? Well, half right. Watering is always great but the one side effect of watering is that if there are any roots left of the weeds or grass that was in your garden plot then they will start growing again and can compete for the nutrients, water or even choke out your careful planting.

So what can you do about that? You need to put a weed barrier or mulch on your garden. There are several ways you can deal with weeds. Some will be more expensive than others will. Look around compare prices and see what is best for your budget. So here we go.

What are the three main types of weed control? Plastic, Organic and Living.


Plastic
can consist of plastic sheeting or plastic mulch (on the market there are bags of ground up plastic bottles and the like).

Benefit
: This makes a great weed barrier and good use of recycled materials (less for landfills). Warms the soil for those plants that prefer warmer soil.


Side effect
: Water penetration is not that good, it can restrict how much water actually gets to the roots. If used around plants that does not like warm soil it can retard growth or vegetable production. Also, at the end of the season you will have to remove this from your garden before preparing the soil for winter so adds labor.


Organic
can consist of any dead plant material like leaves, bark, hay, straw, grass clippings or pine needles. Or any processed natural product like plain newspaper or cardboard. Any of this must be put on in a thick layer.

Benefit
: Most will allow good water penetration and if there is a sudden summer rain fall the grass, hay, straw will absorb excess water that the ground is not able to. This will also help keep the direct sunlight from the soil so it will not evaporate as fast thus conserving water usage. Also grass clipping especially will add nitrogen back into the soil. Any of these also can be used in combination with each other. Like placing a layer of cardboard or newspaper down and then putting your grass clippings from your yard on top or hay straw, bark or pine needles. This has the effect of helping to warm the soil as well. At the end of the season you can work the organic mulch back into the soil.


Side effect
: Pine needles will lower the pH of the soil so only use this where you desire this. Cardboard, newspaper and leaves will not absorb water as fast in a downpour, so could cause run off that might erode the soil.


Living
mulch is just what it sounds like. Putting the plants so close together that they will not allow anything else will grow. For instance planting lettuce or radishes between and under tomatoes. Planting lettuce around carrots, beets, corn, cabbage and onions. Again at the end of the season just work the roots and all back into the soil adding nitrogen, bio-matter and other nutrients back into the soil.

There are very little side effects; the main is making sure that the plants are good companions.


What are the benefits of mulching your garden? Moisture conservation, Soil temperature control, Nutrition and pH balance. But, for me, the most important reason to mulch your garden is to reduce the weeds so you save your knees and back from having to hoe or pull the weeds. Since I started mulching a friend of mine calls me a “lazy” gardener because I do not have to put as much time in the garden taking care of the weeds.


Another benefit is you do not have to put chemicals on your garden for weed control and this helps you to maintain an organic garden.


Well until next time. Be safe and extend a hand of friendship to someone this week.


God Bless
Cowboy

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What do you want to plant?


I want to ask your forgiveness. The first thing I should have asked was what do you want to plant? What crops? Tomatoes? Lettuce? Radishes? Zucchini?

That is the question that you will want to ask yourself. Because that will actually decide what size you will want to make your garden area or what size of pots you will want to grow the plants in.

If this is your first year of growing your own produce, I would recommend and encourage that you start out slow and small. A single cherry tomato plant, romaine lettuce and maybe cucumber. These are all companion plants and they will make you a good salad during the summer. As the tomato plant grows it will provide shade for the lettuce during the hot days of the summer, romaine lettuce is more hardy during the hotter part of the summer and will not wilt as fast in the heat. Then the cucumber will provide a good ground cover that can slow weed growth.

As you get more comfortable with gardening, you can expand to a larger garden and have more ingenuity and verity in your garden. Like setting up a trellis for your cucumbers to grow on. Or growing more prolific crops like zucchini. Or even growing crops that you need to plant in the fall to harvest next fall like garlic.

Especially if you want to have an organic garden you will want to carefully watch and plant companion plants together while avoiding putting non-companion plants next to each other.

Now, I can hear some of you already what are companion and non-companion plants? And how do I find out which is which?

Well, companion plants are the herbs and flowers that extend protection or improve the growth of certain vegetables. Non-companion plants are other vegetables, herbs and flowers that can cause ill effects when planted near certain vegetables, like retarding growth by competing for the same nutrients, both suffer from the same fungus or same enemy pests attacks or can attract pests that will eat the other plant.

I can post which plants are companions and which are non-companion plants, but that will take a big section. So I can recommend a few ways of finding out.

One, you could purchase a gardening book, many have a list of companion plant. But if you are on a budget then:

Second way, you can go to the North Dakota State University Extension Service (Cass County, North Dakota) website at http://www.ext.nodak.edu/county/cass/horticulture/vegetables/companion.htm, and print the page off. This is a great list to start with.

Third, contact your local agriculture extension service. They should have a list that many will be more than happy to send you a copy of for free. Or give you a copy if you go into their office.

Let me encourage you though. For your first garden, grow only what you will eat and make sure it is not more than you can handle. Again as you get more use to gardening then you can expand. And do not plant something that would be less expensive to purchase in the store. For instance potatoes, if you are only going to grow 4 or 5 hills, then the cost of water and labor will be more that purchasing the same amount from the store. But if you are like me, I planted 64 hills (3 different verities) this year, and that was a lot less expensive than buying them.

That is all for tonight. Let me leave you with one more thing. Give someone a compliment this weekend. It will not only make their day, but it will make you feel better too.

God Bless
Cowboy

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What if you live in your own home?

The first thing you need to do is find a good location. One that has not too much shade. As well as a location that has good drainage, standing water is not good for the produce.

Now let me say that I live on 2/3 acres, so I had a better choice of locations, than some may. Above is a picture taken at 8 am in early Spring. So plenty of light all day long. You can pick a place in your back yard, side yard or even the front yard if that is where you get the best sunlight and have the best drainage.

There is nothing written that says you cannot plant tomatoes and lettuce plants on one side of your front door and squash, zucchini, corn ect... on the other side of your front door. But, you might want to make sure that it is planted so the tallest is in the back with the shortest in the front.


Stake out your garden plot, You can use anything for stakes from big rocks, to old tree branches, to tent spikes, whatever you have on hand, there is no need to buy anything there. After the area is laid out, take a string trimmer and take the grass and everything down to the dirt. Then place some black plastic over the area for at least a week preferably two. This will help reduce the weeds and warm the soil prior to your planting.

If this is the first time you have ever planted a garden in this area you will need to add some bio-matter to the soil. You should have the soil tested and you can get a soil test kit fairly inexpensive at your local nursery or some hardware stores. Or contact your local agriculture extension office or community college some will test your soil for free or for a small fee. And make a recommendation on what you may need to add to the soil (if the ph balance is too high or too low).

For most location you will want to add some good aged manure,
fresh may be too "hot" for your garden and prevent the seeds from growing. At a local horse stable or ranch you can get a load of horse or cow manure fairly inexpensive. Here I can get a pick-up load of aged horse manure for $8. As well as some peat moss for a bio-matter

This is the first point where the "rubber meets the road". Time to break up your soil. First thing is you will want to water the area, there is nothing harder than trying to work dry soil. Next, you can either rent a rototiller, which in the long run would be the quickest method and gets the best mix of manure and peat moss. Or you can get a shovel and garden fork and do it all by hand, great cardiovascular exercise, lol.

The next point is totally up to you. After the soil is mixed with the bio-matter and manure, you can take a bow rake and take out all the grass root balls or you can leave them. Personally, when I rototill my garden area I work the soil to the point that all the grass root balls are totally broken up and it looks almost like those farm fields out in the country.

And now you are ready to plant your produce.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Where to begin when looking to grow a home garden?


That is the question that I get the most. And my answer depends on where the person lives.

Let start with someone who lives in town in an apartment. This is the most difficult to answer.

First do you live in an apartment that has a room with a southern exposure? Do you have a balcony? Will your landlord allow you to use the roof of the building?

I would recommend Strawberry pots for use in an apartment or even on a balcony. With these pots, one can put a tomato plant in the top and lettuce or spinach in the side holes. Or use it to grow herbs for your kitchen. For a plant that vines (peas, beans, cucumbers, ect...) one can use a flat rectangular pot with a small metal or wood teepee trellis for the vines to grow on.

If one has a room with a southern exposure, then you can use that room for direct sunlight for growing. But if not, you may want a grow light. Before you go out and buy a brand new one go on your local Freecycle.org group and see if anyone has one to give away.

If your landlord will allow you to use the roof of the building, then you will need to make some raised planting beds, with a drainage route to a downspout from the roof. You will not want to let the excess water to run onto the roof where it could sit and cause damage if it gets in the wrong place, lol. If that happens then you would be hit with a huge bill for repairs.

But, if your landlord will allow you to use the roof, to help defray some of the cost of building the raised beds, seriously consider talking with your neighbors to see if they would like to go in and not only help with the cost and construction of the beds, but help grow and maintain the produce as well. If you approach your landlord right, you might even be able to get the apartment complex to pay for the raised beds. That way, if you should move out then they can continue using the beds with other tenants.

There are several kits that one can buy for these raised beds and they come in different configurations, but my recommendation would be to build them so that from one side you can comfortably reach 3/4 of the way across. For produce like lettuce, carrots, radishes I would also recommend a bed that is approximately waist high, so you are not straining your back and knees taking care of it. You will want to have the boxes at least 1' deep, preferable 2', to give the roots plenty of room. Nothing will stunt the growth of your produce faster than crowded roots.

Then your final stage is to make sure that you get good potting/planting soil. Be careful and look at how the soil was treated. There is some places that radiate the soil and that can affect the growth of the produce. There are some that adds weed control chemicals and that too can affect the produce or even prevent the seed from germinating. If you want to grow the produce organically, the irradiation and those chemicals is most definitely not the way to go.

I know there will be some who disagree, but please remember this is just my opinion from years of growing my own produce.

Next time I will talk about a garden for those who live in their own homes. Until then take care of yourself and give someone (a family member, a friend, a neighbor or a total stranger) the gift that only you can give, a smile from you and a compliment.

Gob Bless
Cowboy