April is here with blooming trees, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. I love April. The temperatures are starting to consistently get up to the 50s and freezing temperatures at night are less frequent. It's time to start planting. Cabbage, onions, radishes, lettuce, and potatoes can now be planted in my area. It's a wonderful time of the year.
In this post I'd like to talk about what I have done to defeat the infestation of serious weed problems and progress on the Sweet Corn Fortress to defeat the raccoons.
Last year was a year of trying to recover from the year before. The 2014 year was a year of medical issues so not much was done in the garden which as you can see resulted in bind weed infestation. Cleaning out this nest of vines might seem daunting but actually it rolled up in a big ball rather easily. That was about the extent of what I got accomplished last year.
This March the weather broke and garden construction could begin. A layer of old carpet was laid down over the complete area where the fortress would be. The carpet was acquired over the winter by dumpster diving around apartment buildings. A neighbor renovated his rock wall with new retaining wall blocks. The three corn beds were lined with the rocks. The carpet was cut from the center of the beds and the pathways were mulched with hard wood mulch.
By the end of March the inner fence was completed with used chain link fence and spare chicken wire fencing I had laying around. The next step in building the sweet corn fortress is to string three electric wire strands around the outside of the inner fence. Once will be at six inches, another will be at twelve inches, and another at twenty four inches. The fence will be powered by a battery powered electric fencer. The final defense will be live traps baited with marshmallows. I've heard that raccoons are attracted to marshmallows. So that's it. The sweet corn fortress is coming together. Perhaps I'll be munching on tasty sweet corn by August.
How do you deal with raccoons? Have a great day in the April garden.
Goodness, where did February go? The weather here has been unusually mild and all the snow is gone. The ground is totally thawed out and ... (big sigh) weeds are starting to grow in the garden. Terra Nova Gardens is a ferocious seed bed for weeds. After being wild so long, I'm guessing there's enough seeds that have been planted for a life time of gardening. If left unchecked, they will grow into monster weeds that revel the height of a small tree. Those tough old wild grape vines keep trying to make an appearance. Nature is certainly wild and can't be tamed. Some day in the future when I'm gone, the land will once again return back to the wild. Old Nebraska Gardener Dave is just a blip on the grand scheme of time. Nature is patient and always wins. But in the mean time I can enjoy attempting to make the garden look better than the wild.
I got to spend some time at Terra Nova Gardens and worked on leveling up the supports for the natural spring platform. Every time I go to Terra Nova Gardens to work I find evidence that other two legged life forms have been there. This time some one left me a Nebraska hat to cover the stand pipe in the spring. I'm planning on putting a couple extra joists to help support the platform. All these railroad ties and bridge supports were free on Craig's List. Each year things come together a little more. Since this is under the shade of a big tall cottonwood tree, it just might become a place to sit while resting from gardening and sip a nice cool refreshing drink. What do you think?
The basement salad growing experiments was a huge success. I have a tendency to loose interest when I have determined that the experiment is a success so the reason these plants look a little ragged is I just watered them after almost a week of neglect. Lettuce and radishes were indeed successfully grown in the basement during the cold winter months. It's definitely some thing I will do again next year. All these plants were planted about six weeks ago in the middle of January.
My Google calendar told me that the onions should be sprouted. This is two weeks after I planted them. I had to quickly get them under some grow lights. I'm always amazed at how fast slow sprouting seeds come up in my seed starting area. These are Wala Wala onions. I'll be setting out onions sets again this year. I haven't really grown enough onions to store yet but maybe this will be the year to do that. My storage area is about 55 degrees during the Winter months so I'll have to find an area to store them in the garage which never freezes but stays in the upper 30s and 40s during the coldest part of the Winter. I have thought about putting in an access to outside air to keep the storage room cooler but just haven't done it.
Yup, spindly looking cabbage. It's time to transplant them into their own spaces. Like tomatoes, they can be planted up to just below the leaves and get a good root started. Mmmmm, I see some good sauerkraut in my future. It's another thing that I just haven't quite done yet. I have the gallon glass jars saved for just such a project. I've always wanted to pickle vegetables. Maybe this year will be the first for many things.
This is definitely my gardening quote. Have a great day in the garden my GRIT friends.
Yes, I would like to think that Spring is here. I've seen Spring flowering bulbs sprouting. If you want to read more about sprouting bulbs then click here. It's always a mystery of nature to me that those bulbs know just when to start growing in the Spring time. I've seen flocks of robins hanging out in trees. I guess they are waiting for the ground to thaw out so they can start the harvesting of worms. There's not much worm food with the ground mostly still frozen and patches of snow lingering in shaded areas. We here are hopeful that the worst of Winter is over and the next three 60 degree days will help Spring to pop. There's always that chance that Winter will return but at this time of the year we know it won't last long.
Well, yeah, I can't actually do any gardening just yet but working around the garden with other projects can be done. This is a natural spring at Terra Nova Gardens. I've wanted to develop it into a irrigation system but just never had the time to pursue it. I'm really going to make an effort to get stage one finished this year. This is a basic support structure for the platform that will be over the spring. There are two bridge supports and two railroad ties. This just a rough lay out of the design. All these supports will be leveled up and two additional 2 X 12s set in joist hangers will be spaced evenly between the bridge supports. The ground is still pretty frozen but I suspect after a couple of predicted 60 degree days the ground will be soft enough to start leveling up the supports.
This is rough idea of what it will look like when the platform is on the supports. The pipe you see is a 6-inch pipe that a neighborhood friend helped me bury about 6 feet below the spring water table. It fills up with about 35 gallons of water that can be pumped out before a time of recovery is needed. The Spring platform will be in two sections. This is the first section. A hole will be cut through this section for the stand pipe to fit through. As you can see the platform is made from remodeled heavy duty oak pallets. Another section this same size will be placed behind this section making the total size of the platform about 6 feet wide and approximately 8 feet deep. When the platform is in place a structure will be built around the buried pipe to support a hand pump to bring the water up out of the pipe. I'm hoping to be able to get this all done some time this year. As I said this is only stage one of Spring development. Stage 2 and 3 are way more complicated and will require way more time. I'm hoping to get all the garden structure building done before I'm too old to do it. Then in my old age I can just enjoy gardening. Yeah, right.
Have a great Spring day and I'll be giving more updates as they come.
Well, here we are already into February of the new year. My mind is roaring with garden thoughts and ideas for this garden year. Some are a continuation of projects from last year and others are new ideas. Regardless, there are always more ideas, desires, and wishes than time to make them happen. Many things will be put into practice this year from what I learned last year.
The first couple weeks of January were actually relatively mild with temperatures above freezing almost every day. Alas, it was not be for very long. Storm Jonas came along and brought about eight inches of snow but it was slow enough not to cause too much slow down of the city where I live. Two weeks later, however, along came Kayla. That snow was heavy, wet, and crippled the city even though it was only five inches. School was cancelled for two days. I never had that luxury when I was in school. Yeah, we aren't going there. Of course the grandson living with me hooted, hollered, and did a funky dance when he heard the good news especially on the second day. Life is now back to normal. The groundhog didn't see his shadow so Winter is supposed to be over but old Phil's record has not been the best for predicting the end of Winter so I guess we will just wait and see. Well enough of that. Let's get on with gardening.
I planted these buckets about a month ago just to see if I could grow some greens during the Winter months. On the left are radishes and on the right are lettuce plants. I did a dumb thing and planted an entire package of seeds in each bucket. I think each seed germinated twice. I've thinned out the plants several times and still they are continuing to fill up the buckets. A long time blogger friend just promoted a book on growing Winter greens. I was doing just that and didn't even know it. It's not about growing plants to maturity but just sprouting greens in soil instead of in a jar. These that you see here are ready for harvest. Nice. I'll be starting the onions and cabbage seeds next week.
I have big plans for Terra Nova Gardens this year. With multiple protection layers around the sweet corn area, I just might be sinking my teeth into a juicy ear of sweet by August. The last four years the deer and raccoons have devastated the corn patch down to the last kernel. I just have a few holes to plug in the finished fence and it should be relatively secure. If nothing else gets completed this year the sweet corn fortress will. I've worked on the big fence for three years and finally finished it this last year. I talked about the sweet corn fortress in the last post. If you missed it click here to see it.
I have been scanning the apartment dumpsters this Winter to acquire more tear out carpet for weed control. I've found enough to cover another 32 X 32 foot area which will become the vine plants this year. The carpet will be laid out with two foot planting strips uncovered every 10 feet. I suspect there will be about three of those that are 28 feet long. As the vines grow, the carpet will be rolled up exposing more soil surface. Vines need soil to root their nodules along the vine length. Hopefully, I can keep the vine borers at bay and perhaps get some pumpkins, watermelons, and squash for harvest.
The fourth section of the garden will just be covered by carpet to keep the weeds down this year. Future plans for three more raised beds, an 8 X 8 foot storage shed, and a cold frame are for this area but that will have to be for another year.
For all you folks that have sweethearts, I wish the best Valentines Day for you. There's no sweethearts in Nebraska Dave's life. The celebration for me is to consume the bargain bin Reese's peanut-butter-filled chocolate hearts that my daughter brings home after Valentine's Day from where she works. Yes, I am a Reese's addict. I fully admit I have no control if anything Reese's is in the house and don't intend to change. Nebraska Phil, the distant cousin to Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania, was nowhere to be seen. In fact, I haven't seen him in a couple years but I know he's still around. Occasionally, I cover up his den entrance and find that the next day it's uncovered so he's been in the stealth mode the last couple years. Anyway, he would have predicted an early spring because he wouldn't have seen his shadow because it was snowing all day.
The weather here has been up and down all Winter. Sometimes it's bitter cold, sometimes it's fairly warm. We've had snow, rain, sleet, ice balls, and all other sorts of weather conditions. Yeah, it's been pretty much a normal Winter for Nebraska. I suppose we have received close to 20 inches of total snowfall this Winter with perhaps about five inches still on the ground. Temperatures in the 40s will melt that rather quickly over the next couple days. I like seeing snow. It's the best thing for the garden this time of the year. When it melts the nitrogen rich moisture soaks slowly into the soil to water and fertilize the soil.
For those that start seeds, happy seed starting and for those that don't, happy garden planning.
Anyone who thinks gardening begins in the Spring and ends in the Fall is missing the best part of the whole year; for gardening begins in January in a dream. —Josephine Nuese
All gardeners whether intentional or not will evaluate the garden year and determine if it was a success or failure. Most times it's a bit of both. For me there's no logic behind what does well one year and not the next. Nature has a way of determining what's going to happen in a garden. Yes, the gardener can help things along but ultimately weather, critters, disease, bugs, and what ever else is dead set on destroying a garden will decide a good year from a bad one. Most of the articles and books that I've read say to plan on food storage for at least two years because what is a bumper crop one year may be a total failure the next. I really don't store up a lot of food. I grow it to savor when it's in season and to give away to those that have lost the memory of what real food should taste like. Most of what I grow is for family, friends, and neighbors. Unfortunately, they have been so programmed that produce must be perfect in every way, it's sometimes difficult to give it away. It's sad to think that consumers have come to put looks and long lasting storage above taste and nutrition. So let's get to it.
Sadly I said goodbye to the Poor Man's Living Patio for this year. It was a spectacular year for all the plants on the patio. After this picture was taken, all the plants were removed and sent out in the yard waste bags. It's always a sad day when the end of the plant season comes. The Spring is always a better season for me. Also after this picture was taken a new addition to the patio was donated to me from my cousin. I've always wanted cast iron patio furniture. My cousin was getting rid of a small round table and two chairs made from heavy cast iron and wooden features. It was just what I've been wanting. Nice!!
Well how about the great potato experiment with multiple layers. How well did they do?
I'd say that I harvested about 25 pounds of potatoes from a four by eight foot bed. It looked to me like two layers is about all that's worth trying to plant. The third layer just didn't have enough time to produce but still small new potatoes are tasty too. The different layers could definitely be identified by the size of the potatoes.
The experimental tomatoes in five gallon buckets did ok but I learned some things.
The tomatoes in the buckets with self watering did ok but next year there will be some improvements. The soil needs to be even closer to potting mix with more Perlite than what I used to help with the wicking action. The shorter buckets would be better than the taller ones so the water has less distance to travel to reach the plant. Since the plants have limited space, fertilizing weekly would probably give a better production. Bucket growing is a whole different science than in the ground growing.
What about the cucumbers. They are always a good give away vegetable.
The cucumbers were awesome this year. The weather was cooler than normal with lots of rain. It must have been perfect for growing cucumbers. My issue with them is they were at Terra Nova Gardens and not in my back yard. Terra Nova Gardens is about 20 minutes away from where I live. This year my neighbor and family responsibilities increased and only allowed me to get to Terra Nova Gardens every two or three days. Cucumbers being what they are will grow from as small as my little finger to the size of a squash in that time. As a result, yes, the cucumbers were a great success but I didn't get many to eat. I expect the compost pile will be growing a lot of cucumber plants next year.
The sweet corn is truly a test of wills between the gardener and the rascals of the neighborhood. The raccoons seem to know just when the corn is ready.
Yeah, you can't really see it too well but the corn is toast. Every single ear has been stripped off the stalk. The kernels weren't even sweet corn mature yet. It was a total loss in just one night. Next year I'm building a sweet corn fortress.
This is the beginning of the sweet corn fortress. You can see that there is a six foot wooden fence around the garden. There will be three rock lined raised beds with four feet wide and twenty eight feet long growing space. Total width of the bed is five feet. The area is totally covered with old carpet face down. The rocks are then spaced properly to make the beds. The growing area is removed with a carpet knife after the rocks are in position. The bed on the right is filled with fall grass/leaf mixture to compost down over the Winter. Some would say, isn't that old carpet leaching chemicals into the soil? All I know is that I've had some carpet in this garden suppressing the weeds for four years and it still shows no sign of deterioration. So if it is it's very minimal. Carpet has been around for years and I've not heard anything about the chemicals in carpet being bad for people. The pathways around the beds will be covered with loads of hardwood mulch. I don't ever say that I'm growing veggies organically. I just don't apply and chemicals to kill weeds, bugs, or diseases but I'm hardly organic. The fortress will have the beds surrounded by four feet of chicken wire with no gates. Surrounding the chicken wire will be four electrical wires powered by a portable battery powered electric fence. Outside of the fence will be two live traps baited with marshmallows. The question becomes what if I do trap a raccoon, then what? My first thought is just shoot them and bury them in the woods but then I remember that I did invade their territory. Maybe I'll just tag them and turn them loose and give them a couple chances to rethink invading my corn fortress. I'm taking this invasion to the next level.
Garden as though you will live forever. William Kent
This year I planted potatoes in layers. The first layer was planted on Good Friday, the day that is always said to be the day to plant potatoes for my area. Then three weeks later when the sprouts poked through the soil, potatoes were laid on top of the first layer and eight inches of soil covered up the first layer sprouts and the planted potatoes. Three weeks later another layer was planted and covered. I was hoping that this method would give a bigger yield in a smaller space. By July every thing was going well and the first of the potatoes started blooming.
Of course the blooming was in three different times due to the layers planted at different times. Then a funny thing happened that I never saw happen on potatoes before. The blooms turned into little pods.
I have heard that potatoes can be planted from seed. I should have opened one of these up to see what was inside but I didn't think of it at the time. It was a very unusual thing. Things continued as planned and the vines dried up in three different times as expected. I left the potatoes in the ground hoping to get the biggest yield possible and didn't pay much attention for at least four weeks. The weather here has been unseasonably warm which may have something to do with what happened next.
This is the regrowth of the potato vines. I dug up a back corner just to see what in the world was happening under the ground. The potatoes from the dried up vines were great. I pulled up a regrowth potato plant and found a surprise under it.
As you can see there is no seed potato that produced this vine with many small potatoes on it. I don't really know for sure what has happened here but I have a theory. The little pods that were produced from the blooms earlier in the year were perhaps seed pods that dropped on top of the soil when the vines dried up and because of the warm wet weather we have had they have taken root and grown into potato producing plants. What does everyone in the GRIT nation think? If anyone knows what in the world is happening in my backyard, let me know. I think I will wait until an actual killing frost kills the vines to give them the longest time to grow potatoes bigger. The weather is not going to get cold for the next week and maybe longer. So let's see what happens.
This is the last of the tomatoes, onions, and the start of the potato harvest. These potatoes were from one plant area which would have been a couple of layers. As you can see they are decent potatoes. The warm weather caused the onions to sprout again so I'm not sure that they will be any good to eat and certainly not good to store. The only thing really left to harvest is the green beans that I let mature for dry bean storage for winter soups.
I grow plants for many reasons: to please my eye or to please my soul, to challenge the elements or to challenge my patience, for novelty or for nostalgia, but mostly for the joy in seeing them grow.
— David Hobson
So I'm sitting at the picnic table at Terra Nova Gardens one day just soaking in the quiet and resting from building fence. Along comes a well-dressed man with a camera walking down the road taking photographs of my property as well as those that are to the north and south of mine. Curious about what was going on, I sauntered out and inquired if I could help him with something. He informed me he was contracted by the local power company to access the value of easement rights for the power company. It seems that they are replacing the poles and upgrading the power lines that run along the road in front of my garden property. The power company wants an easement right to use when they need it for equipment and tree trimming if needed.
When I inquired about how much would they want, he indicated it would be 34 feet from the road. I thought, oh no, that's half my garden area. I was comforted when later that day I received a phone call from someone who worked for the power company who said my garden was safe because the power lines spanned the garden and no work needed to be done there. The pole that they will be replacing on my property just happens to be where my parking area is and so 34 feet for equipment use is not a problem.
My garden fence is 6 feet high and as you can see it's dwarfed by the power pole. Last night I received a call from another guy who wanted to come and talk about how much the power company's offer for the easement rights would be. I really didn't know what to expect. When he arrived, we chatted about what the power company had in mind to do. The current pole is a 60-foot pole. They plan on digging a hole right next to that pole and erecting a 90-foot pole for not just the power lines that are already there but for more lines up higher. That's massive. The big shock was the offer. Those of you who have followed this blog over the years know that I bought this property from the city because it was in foreclosure. They offered me a sum of money that was more than 10 times what I paid for the property. Duh, that was a no brainer. I couldn't sign fast enough. Some of that will be invested back into the property for improvements.
Bindweed is the curse of Terra Nova Gardens. Now that the tall nettles have been cut down and the wild grape vines have been chopped out of the ground, life is good, right? Wrong again. I noticed this year that first some kind of tough strong-growing weed come up. After they were destroyed, the tough prairie grass came twice. The bindweed set in for the rest of the summer. It's a constant battle with different weeds at different times of the year. Bindweed and grass just never come to an end until the killing frost. In the photograph below you can see a cute little fella that's just a little sprout. It really kind of looks non-threatening and docile, don't you think? After all it's the wild cousin of the Morning Glory. Well, some think Morning Glory is a pretty flower, but I've pulled enough of that weed vine out of the cultivator shovels when cultivating corn that it's become a noxious weed in my book. Same as the bindweed.
Or if you want to wait a month then you can deal with this for bindweed. Yes, the whole mess was just from a hand full of bindweed roots. The whole left side of the photo was carpet under the bindweed. It all came from three or four roots along the fence line. So what have we learned here? Pull out the cute little fella above or carry away two big wheelbarrow wads of foliage. It doesn't take long to go from one to the other. Good intentions don't seem to slow down the bindweed growth one bit.
Two hours of blood sweat and tears later. It looks a lot better but still needs a little bit more tidying up. It's just never ending this year with weeds. The rains of April through the middle of June gave them prolific growth. The effort of weeding will be overgrown in just a couple weeks if regular maintenance isn't given to the area after the weed eradication.
The next section to tackle was the sweet corn section. As you can see the corn is long gone and weeds have taken over. After the raccoon came visiting and stripped the corn before it was even mature enough to eat, it just wasn't in me to care for that part of the garden any more. This is a wild vacant lot that is bent on taking back the land. This is probably four weeks of neglect. So, now it's time to tame the area again.
A couple hours of hard work in high humidity is about all I can muster any more. So this section will need about two more hours to finish up and cover with carpet. I'm using carpet extensively for weed control. When it's time to plant next spring, the carpet will be rolled up and these areas will be mulched and planted. It's the best way for a part-time urban farmer to tame a wild and crazy vacant lot.
This is where the corn fortress will go next year. What, you might ask is a corn fortress? The wooden fence that I've been working on for three years is finally complete. The deer will not be able to get inside the fence so now the challenge becomes raccoons. They are a bit more challenging than deer. Raccoons will climb, dig, jump, or do just about anything to get to what they want and it seems that sweet corn drives them crazy.
So my plan for next year is to put up a 4-foot chicken wire fence around the 28-by-28-foot corn patch. Three wires of electric fence will be at 6 inches, 8 inches, and 24 inches and attached to the outside of the chicken wire fence. I'm hoping to have regular power on the property by then, but, if not, battery-powered electric fences are available that work on a different principle. The plug-in electric fence will shock as long as there is a ground connection. The battery-powered electric fence works like static electricity. It will give the critter a static jolt, but then needs a recovery time to charge up the wires again. I don't know what that recovery time is, but I'm hoping not very long.
Then the last thing to foil the critters will be a couple of live traps set close to the corn patch baited with marshmallows. Well, then the question becomes what if I catch some critters in the live trap? It's illegal to relocate them in Nebraska. My first thought was send them to the death chamber. The death chamber is to put the trap inside a plastic trash bag and shoot it full of ether. But then my conscience says, "You know you are the one who invaded their space." (Big sigh.) I suppose I'll just ether them enough to put them asleep and tag their ear to see if they return and cut them loose. I hope they would stay away after a few zaps. If that doesn't work, then I might have to put them in happy raccoon heaven.
Here's the nearly finished fence. The last three panels had to be pallet fence. The nice used cedar fence panels were not available from the fencing company any more so free pallets had to be used. This section is now finished and the garden is closed to deer. It's been a long struggle, but I'm glad it's complete and phase two for the raccoons can begin.
There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments. - Janet Kilburn Phillips
For more about Terra Nova Gardens, go to Old Dave's Garden.