Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Raising the Beds

Like most people, every year I feel the need to improve my gardens; to grow more and have better results that I did the previous year.  Last year I extended the backyard garden right to the edge of the yard and  finally ran out of room to expand any further in any direction. But as the space expanded so did all the surrounding trees so I still had issues with not enough sun, and being so close to the alley and not fenced in, I've had a lot of problems with dogs and the occasional human wreaking havoc in my veggies. Building a ladder  up to the flat roof gave me better options for my sun loving favourites so a good portion of the veggie production now happens up high. There's still critters to contend with up there, raccoons and squirrels for the most part but there's less plant damage and lots more sun.

April 17 2:20pm
I wasn't prepared to totally abandon the earthbound garden tho, so when an opportunity for a lot of free lumber came along, I jumped at the chance to build some raised beds. The wood is from a old building that is being renovated near by and it was destined for landfill, so I feel doubly happy at being able to create something useful and repurpose some lovely old boards that have survived close to 100 years!

The Russian helped me build two overlapping boxes and we have enough left for a cold frame. To fill them I'm using a combination of hugelkulture and lasagne bed techniques. The bottom layer is composed of sticks and chunks of rotting wood, followed by a layer of partially composted materials. Then a layer of mixed soil and coir, and a top layer of mulch, likely straw.

For now I'm only filling the larger bed in this manner- the smaller box currently contains the garlic I planted last fall so I don't want to bury them completely. That bed will get filled in slowly over the summer with compost.

 The soaking hose is laid out on top of the bottom layer and will be hooked to the rain barrel as usual. If it works as planned, the water will seep out right at the plant roots where they need it and the rotting wood will retain the excess, making it available as it decomposes. None of the water will be lost to evaporation and this should help the plants stay evenly watered, no matter what the weather.

 The larger bed will be for beans of all kinds- it gets better sun than the small bed so I may even include a tomato or two. I've also earmarked a corner for an asparagus crown. The smaller bed has garlic already up as mentioned and last week I planted 4 rows of onion sets in between the garlic rows. Before the trees begin to fill in with leaves , this bed gets a decent amount of sun but it will be mostly shade during the summer months so I'm not sure how the onions will fare. I plan to tuck some root veggies (turnips, beets, carrots) in between the rows of both beds and see what works. Gardening is always one big experiment!

Having raised beds won't change the lack of available sunlight but I'm hoping they'll allow me to take advantage of the early spring and fall growing when I do have more light. By using plastic sheeting to warm the soil earlier in spring and potentially, hoop houses to extend growing in the fall, I may be able to make this garden a bit more productive than I have previously. To aid in this plan I have taking photos and noting where the sun is at different times of day which I can use to plan better for next year!

April 22 8:45 am Full Sun

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Garlic Sprouts in the Snow

See those little spiky things sticking out of the snow? Those are my poor little garlics shivering in the ground. Lured out by warmer weather and tons of rain we've been having, I sure hope they can withstand cold and ice. It's absolutely miserable out today, temperatures hovering around zero, freezing rain and snow. It's enough to make me want to crawl back into bed and never get out.

Thankfully there are a few bright spots keeping me from succumbing to permanent hibernation. One is this lovely package of heirloom beans that arrived in the mail earlier this week. A gift from KB over at My New Old House, there are a dozen different varieties, including some rare ones! Nothing I like better on a lousy day than a little seed research...

Speaking of seeds, gazing on these other little beauties also makes things a little less dismal. I held myself to eleven varieties of tomatoes this year and gambled on a single pot of 2 seeds for each. Considering the poor germination I've had in the last few years it was a pretty big gamble but so far it seems to be paying off.  At the moment I've got at least one healthy seedling per pot; only the Jaune Flammes have yet to emerge and may have to be reseeded. Nothing from the peppers yet but I sowed extra of those and they always take a little longer. I started everything much later than usual but considering the spring we're having I think I'm right on target to have things ready to go when the gardens and weather are ready.

The garden themselves are in the middle of an overhaul. As you can see from the top photo I've finally decided to build raised beds out back. An opportunity came up for us to obtain some free wood from a reno project a few houses away. It's old and weathered but still solid lengths of true 2 x 10's,  which would cost a fortune to buy so I am happy to save it from landfill and save my wallet. When it stops raining we'll hopefully be able to finish 3 boxes so I can fill the beds for planting. I have plans to do a modified hugelkulture, creating a bottom layer of chunks of wood, sticks, twigs and other plant matter before filling it with compost and top dressing with a coir and organic soil mix. More on that as it happens!

I promised Farmgal I would post the directions for making homemade mayo in a mason jar. It's been all over the internet recently but if you haven't seen it, it is quite possibly the easiest thing you can make in a jar! The Russian puts mayo on everything so it's been a real time and money saver at our place. This version requires a hand blender but I might try to see if it's possible to replicate using my eggbeaters, if they'll fit in a jar. Here's the link to Northwest Edible's post where this video is from, with recipe and full directions.

Looks like we have a few more days of nasty weather to look forward to so I'm grateful to be warm and dry with things to do inside, even if I'm eager to be outside. There's a pot of turkey stock simmering on the stove, a stack of library books to be read and garden designs to be finalized. April, do your worst!