This year's gardening started, as I've stated in a previous post, with a very late frost that killed the first planting of warm weather plants. After scouring the home improvement stores and local nurseries I did come up with enough plants to replace the frozen ones. I counted heavily on the left over seed starts as well. Then came the severe weather that dumped seven inches of rain with baseball-sized hail and 100-plus mph winds during the first part of June. Once again the seed starts came to the rescue and maybe the late starting of the tomato seeds were in fact a blessing. And now another issue cropped up.
I took a trip to Oklahoma City to drop off my grandson with his dad for a summer visit. When I returned, the plants at the Urban Ranch backyard were dying with yellowed curled-up leaves. This photo shows them on the way to recovery but I didn't think they were going to make it. The month of June has been a windy month in Nebraska. I know there are those who are laughing at that statement in other states because the wind always blows there. Anyway, the two houses right behind me have yard services. I suspect that my plants got a whiff of weed spray from the yard service folks when they were spraying the neighbor's yards. I'm not sure just how much harvest I'll get off these plants. Most years the tomatoes are up and over the cages by this time of the year.
With the amount of rain we have received in June, it's been difficult to keep up with the weeds and lawn. The potato experiment has met with some success, but I'll not be making the four layers I had hope to do. It was not because of the concept model or the weather but totally because of my bad planning. Two things that I have learned from this year has been to buy how much seed? Yeah, enough to plant four beds even though there's only one. I didn't really have enough seed for the four layers and stores only have potato seed until they sell it all. The next thing I failed to do was care for the seed in waiting to be planted. I put the seed in a covered bucket but some how rain made its way into the bucket and the 90-degree days turned most of them to mush. I salvaged enough to plant a second layer but that will be the last layer to be planted for this year. As you can see the potatoes are growing gang busters this year. Even my neighbor's potatoes at Terra Nova Gardens survived the rain, wind, hail and flash floods. Potatoes are the star plant of the garden this year.
As I've mentioned, the first planting of sweet corn was devastated by the heavy rain and hail. The first planting, planted in troughs, cut through the heavy mulch but the troughs seemed to always fill in with mulch due to the windy days. The second planting I decided to try something different. The tools used were a bean can with both ends cut out, a block of wood, and a Thor hammer. My idea was to make beds of corn between the failed troughs. To punch through the heavy mulch, which is anywhere from four to six inches, the can was used to cut through it to the soil below. The cavity from the plug removed was filled with my special growing soil mix and two corn seeds were planted in each spot. About 75 corn plants were planted in this manner and the last visit to Terra Nova Gardens found little sprouts up and growing. Two green bean beds of similar size were planted with the same procedure as well. I'm hoping that these little sprouts will survive the severe weather that's coming toward us once again.
Update on the prostate. I decided to not just sit by and actively watch but to go with seeded radiation. I'm talking with the radiologist tomorrow to set that up. It's basically an out-patient procedure with a couple days of discomfort after the procedure and very few side effects. I'm hoping to be back in the garden building, growing, planting soon after the procedure. The radiated seeds are planted in the prostate and remain there forever. The radiation degrades over the next six years until they are totally drained of radiation. What will happen is an active watch on the PSA level to make sure it remains low for the rest of my life, which in all prospects will be well into my 80s as happens with the rest of my family. Cancer runs in my family but those who catch it early and take care of it live to be a ripe old age. I plan on living to a ripe old active age. My ultimate goal would be to stroke out on the end of hoe in the garden and fall into a cabbage or green bean patch. Great way to go for an old farmer/gardener.
I'm hoping that all of you are having a better gardening year than I am. I hope to hear all about your garden successes. Have a great day in the garden.
This has been a garden weather year for the history books. The cold freezing temperatures continued into April and May with relentless force. Two times I replanted the cabbages and onions and still the cold temperatures came with killing frost. The last killing frost came with a warning of frost in low lying areas two days after the frost free date for my area. My tomato and bell peppers were planted in five-gallon buckets 18 inches above the ground. They were barely to the top of the bucket and my backyard was on top of the hill so I thought I was good for not freezing.
Oh, contraire. As you can see this tomato plant, along with the rest, is toast. They might have made it, but I decided to replant and move on. I scoured the land far and wide, and it seemed that all the plant centers at home improvements stores, grocery stores, hardware stores had not heeded the warnings either and froze their delicate plants as well. As a last resort, I moseyed over to the the local nursery that had cover over all their plants, but alas the selection was a bit ragged to say the least. The season was coming to an end, and it was quite obvious why the plants there were left behind. I selected the best that could be found and replaced the sickly looking plants. In the compost heap they went.
The potatoes, cabbages, onions, lettuce, and radishes made it through the last frost OK. Life was good for about three weeks and plants grew with vigor.
This little cherry tomato plant was so grateful to be given a home that just a couple weeks after planting, it started blooming and now has small little green tomatoes. It's climbed up to the second rung of the cage and is reaching toward the top with leaps and bounds as cherry tomatoes do. The other replanted tomatoes are just on the verge of flowering.
I've noticed something over the years of gardening. When years like this happen, nature has a way of speeding up the plant growth so the harvest really isn't that much later in the season. I'm seeing that happen this year as well. Who would have thought that just a couple weeks after putting the transplants in the ground that blooms and small tomatoes would be present on the vines? I was one bell pepper short from the nursery so one of the plants from the seed starts was planted in the last bucket. It was a fourth of the size of the other nursery plants. Now after just three weeks, it's ready to rise above the all the other bell pepper plants. Quite an amazing thing to watch. It looks much healthier than all the other bell pepper plants.
I'm really seeing the benefit to having gardens several miles apart. We had an extreme storm come though three days ago with winds in excess of 100 mph and hail the size of softballs in some areas of the city. My backyard gardens were untouched by this storm, but Terra Nova Gardens nine miles away was a total loss. What I had planted, sweet corn and tomatoes, were stripped clean of every leaf with nothing but sticks poking up in the air.
Even the weeds around the perimeter of the garden were stripped of most of their leaves. My Rugosa Rose bushes that I planted last year were pounded pretty good but I think they will survive. They are supposed to be tough – Maine seacoast rugged. So let's see how they survive in Nebraska weather. Right now I'm thinking they wish they were back in Maine.
It's a good thing I over-killed on seed starts this year. Who knew that I would have to replant three times. The question now is will this be the last time. All my plants will be planted by next week. The season will be a bust if another extreme storm comes through. I'm glad I held back on the cucumbers and eggplants. But now it's get busy and get everything planted as there's only about 130 days left in the growing season. The way this year is going we will probably have an early frost.
I sprung a leak in one of the water storage barrels and had to empty the barrel with a bucket and dump it into the big tank. A fitting known as a bulkhead fitting was found at Home Depot, which is made just for such things as fitting a spigot on a barrel. So the spigot was taken off and the opening was enlarged to fit the bulkhead fitting.
Well, when arms are too short other methods have to be used to repair a leaky spigot. Everything worked out wonderfully well just in time for the last storm to fill it up. I could have filled up several more with the five inches of rain, but this is quite enough for now. So now I have three 55-gallon barrels filled as well as the big 400-gallon tank. With the bottom watering rain gutter system, this might be enough water for the whole summer. It really doesn't require much to keep all the buckets moist.
The potato experiment is struggling. Out of the eight hills planted, only five grew and one froze in the last frost of the year. The other four are doing great and the time is right to plant the second layer. I'm really going to have to plant the next layer this weekend. Boy, there's a lot of work now that the weather is definitely into the summer mode.
Memorial day found Grandpa and grandson out on the water at one of the local lakes.
In this picture we are exploring the head waters of the lake where the stream comes in to keep the lake filled with water. This is the best time of the year to explore this area as later in the year it becomes clogged with moss, algae and tall reeds. It was a perfect day for kayaking. Just a very slight breeze with nice sunshine kept us a little warm but not extremely hot. After about two hours of paddling around, Bradley was done. It's hard for a 9-year-old energy-filled boy to sit still in one place for that long. Fishing the next day was much better with being able to run up and down the bank, rock bombing the fish. We actually caught four fish even with the rock tossing going on.
I have to get a little serious on my parting comment, but I feel I must let everyone know about my situation. Some of you may already know this if you read my personal blog.
If you have been reading my blog for a time, then you know I had an appendectomy in January and recovered without issue. Every couple years I just have an annual checkup to have the fluids checked and make sure the blood pressure pills are still working. One of the tests that is run on the vials of blood taken is called a PSA test, which is an indicator of how well the prostate is. Four years ago the PSA level was 2.9, which is totally normal. Two years ago, it was 4.2, which is borderline for concern. This year it was 7.3. Because of the jumps, my regular doctor referred me to an urologist. He decided that we should really do a biopsy to see what was going on with the prostate. My prostate was short and fat. I know, too much information, but it turned out to be a good thing. Because of being short it only required 12 core samples instead of 24 and being fat the core samples were very good quality. The test results came back with just a tiny bit of cancer in one core samples. A doctor's visit has been scheduled on June 19 to talk about the options. I don't see this as a real issue because it's been diagnosed in the very beginning stage. It was so small that it could have easily been missed. So I suspect it's very curable. I'm not worried but any time the word cancer is mentioned people freak out. So don't do that, OK? I'll be fine.
More next time. Keep your paddles in the water and you will reach your destination soon enough.
Here is the next part of the rain gutter growing system, but first an update with the great potato experiment. Five out of the eight planted potatoes are up, and three are growing strong. Maybe in another couple weeks, I can plant the next level. I'm not quite sure at this time if I'll have enough growing season to actually plant the four levels that I originally wanted to do. We'll have to see how that works out.
The first thing that must be found is food-grade buckets. I found a practically unlimited supply of buckets for a buck each at the local Fareway bakery department.
I'm not sure what this would be used for and the ingredients don't sound too much like food, but apparently it is considered a food-grade bucket.
The next step is to cut a 2 7/8-inch hole in the bottom of the bucket. This will be where the net cup sets and protrudes out the bottom of the bucket.
Here's a photo of the net cup extended out the bottom of the bucket. The net cup is filled with a mixture of growing medium that's not just dirt, but a mixture of two 5-gallon buckets of compost, one bucket of peat, a coffee can full of Perlite, a cup of garden lime, and a couple handfuls of Epsom salts, and two buckets of soil. I mix it up in a compost tumbler and pack it tight in the net cup and a little looser but firm in the rest of the bucket. The bottom of the bucket bowed upward to the inside of the bucket so with a little heat from a plumber's torch the bow can be reversed to get maximum use from the wicking action of the net cup. The cup will then set down into the rain gutter at a full depth. The net cup sets down into the water and wicks water up into the bucket growing medium to keep it moist. I've had it up and working for about three weeks. It all seems to be working so far.
Here you can see the buckets setting on the water-filled rain gutters. The buckets are planted with tomatoes and bell peppers. The multilevel growing of cabbages in the actual raised bed under the rain gutters is working so far. I figure once the tomatoes grow up, they will shade the cabbages during the hot part of the summer.
Along one side of the raised bed, under the gutters, radishes and lettuce are growing. The radishes are almost ready as well as the lettuce. Once they are eaten, other warm weather root crops such as carrots will be planted.
Onions are planted in the raised beds on the opposite side. These were all started from seed. Some are doing quite well and others not so much. I may just replant those that are not doing well with plants from a local nursery. This set-up, with the automatic watering from the last post, is working extremely well so far. We will see if this set-up works as well or better than the traditional method. I'm not sure if I'll have enough time to set up another bed for cucumbers, but I'm hoping so.
We just went through a night of severe weather. We didn't get any tornadoes, but the winds of 80 mph and rainstorms were toying with the idea. All together we got about 1 3/4 inches of rain. It filled my water storage tank you see in the background of a couple of the post's photos. The blue barrels are additional storage for water. This last rain filled the large tank and two of the blue barrels. The third barrel has a leak and needs to be sealed before it can be used for water storage. All together, I have an estimated 500 gallons of water stored from the spring rains. I'm hoping to be able to water the garden most of the summer with collected water.
I hope all your garden plans are starting to come together for the year. Until the next time, keep your hands in the dirt and mind thinking toward harvest.
I've promised this post for quite some time and it's time to make good on that promise. The weather here has been warming with night time temperatures in the 50s and day-time temperatures in the 70s. Finally I think the Winter grip has loosened and allowed Spring to settle in. The Daffodils and tulips are in full bloom and life is good on the Urban Ranch. One little update before we get started with the promised post. My potato bed had nary a sprout showing so I dug one up to see what was happening way down under. The potato was just starting to sprout with a little nub of a sprout starting to grow. I suspect the 45-degree soil temperature was a bit too cold for potato growth. With advancing warmer weather I am hoping for some potato vines to show up soon. Four out of the five replanted cabbages made it through the last frosty weather. Half of the onions made it but I have a reserve to replant them.
Some time ago I mentioned a new growing system that I wanted to try that was invented by a fella up in Minnesota that used rain gutters to automatically water the plants. I now have one working system and hope to have another working by warm weather planting time of May 15.
First thing that needed to be done to build the system was to use roofing screws to attach the gutter to two 10-foot 2X4s. A 3/4-inch hole was cut into the end caps for water transfer. Since these two gutters have the same water source, they must be perfectly level with each other. In order to do that great pains were taken and a leveling system was devised to get both perfectly level from end to end and side to side. The first layer of leveling was accomplished with landscaping timbers. Lag screws were used for the next leveling.
This picture is a little blurry but it's the best I could do with my low budget Kodak easy share camera. You can get the idea of what I've done with the screws. Each 2X4 got a lag screw on each end, which was a total of four on each trough. Now the screws can be tweaked with a wrench up or down to obtain perfect leveling even after water is in the trough if need be. Water in the trough will seek its own level and be the final leveling test.
Now the two troughs must be connected and the leveling process gets a little more complicated.
Here you can see the two rain gutters tied together so whatever the level of water is in one of the troughs will be the same in the other trough. We'll come back to the buckets later, but for now we have to move on as to how the water gets into the gutters. Rain water is collected in the big tank that is seen in the background so that water has to be automatically transferred from that tank to the gutters. So let's see how that's done.
Here you can see how the water will enter the gutters and supply both gutters. The parts for this system are all glued together with PVC adhesive and so far has not leaked. The hoses for this system are cut to length and fitted with two female ends. Cheap hoses can be used as there is very little pressure on this system, which is entirely gravity fed.
I wanted originally to attach this float valve to the gutter, which would monitor the level of the water and allow water to be added when needed. The ones that I ordered were from Amazon and came with no float adjustment hence the bucket system was used. The yellow hose is the other end of the hose in the previous picture attached to the gutter. This float valve will keep the water level in the bucket at a constant level. By raising or lowering the bucket the water level in the gutters can be adjusted. With a little tweaking with different width boards the water level was matched perfectly.
This is the final hose connection. Since the float valve has pipe threads and the hose has, of course, hose threads, an adapter had to be fabricated to match the two together. Now the water valve from the big tank is turned on and the water flows into the bucket. This water level is maintained by the float valve, which in turn maintains the water level in the gutters. It is all done mechanically without the use of timers as in the last system I built.
Your head is spinning by now so I think I'll leave the buckets for the next post. Really, I won't take so long to post again.
Until the next time, keep your hands in the soil. You never know what you can get to grow until you try.
Today started with a temperature of 59 degrees, bright sunshine, but just a little windy. Since my backyard is surrounded by trees and houses, the wind was not much of a factor for working in the garden. I totally went against Farmer's Almanac, which plainly stated that today was for killing weeds and brush but not planting. We will see how it all turns out. The soil in bed two had been removed leaving a depth of six inches of city composted yard waste called Omagro. It is the best stuff for garden and flower beds. Yes, there might be some yard chemicals in it, but I never claimed to be a hard core organic grower.
As the temperature climbed toward the high of 75 degrees, work on the great potato experiment began with turning the soil with a flat spade. Since years before the clay soil had been replaced with 100% Omagro, the soil was easy to turn and rake smooth.
Once that was done, Pontiac Reds were placed with care. I found that if the potatoes are cut and let cure as all potato planting articles say to do, a wet spring will still make them rot. The prediction for this spring is cold and wet. Last year I planted whole potatoes by just pushing them down in the mud and covering them up. They turned out great. I am sold on planting the whole potato and not trying to skimp on the cost by cutting and curing. So here are the potatoes laying on top of the six inches of replaced soil ready to be covered.
Eight inches of more Omagro on top of the spuds and a good watering gets this layer of the great potato experiment almost completed. Each of the last four years the potato harvest has been better than the year before. The first year five years ago was a total failure with less harvested potatoes than what was planted. It's a good thing I didn't have to depend on the potato harvest to survive.
A shallow covering of partially composted yard waste from last fall to keep the bed from drying out in the some day coming days filled with warm sunshine, and this layer of the great potato experiment is done. I have hopes of a good harvest from this bed.
The great potato growing experiment that I've been talking about is an attempt to grow potatoes by planting several layers in a bin. I suspect all of us have read the articles about growing potatoes in garbage cans with an entire can full of potatoes at harvest time or the potato bin that has three feet of bountiful potatoes top to bottom. I won't say that those claims aren't true but the underlying theme is they aren't entirely true. From my research the potato vines do indeed continue to grow taller and taller up out of the additional soil spread around the vines, but over and over again I've read that the only place where potatoes are found is at the original planting depth. I found one person on a blog who had successfully grown potatoes in the bin method. She planted in eight-inch-deep layers.
In this photo, you can see the preparation for the next layer of potatoes. When the potatoes grow up to have 12 inches of foliage above the ground, another layer of potatoes will be laid on top of the shallow mulch and covered with eight inches of more soil. When the foliage reaches 12 inches above the ground again, another layer of potatoes will be planted and one more layer after that. A total of four layers will make the potato bed a total of 32 inches deep. When all the vines die back in late summer or autumn, the potatoes can be harvested a layer at a time by taking the sides off the bed and scooping out the spuds. Well, that's the plan anyway. Like I said, it's all an experiment.
My next post will be about another experimental growing system called the rain gutter growing system that's coming together quite nicely in bed one where the tomatoes and green peppers will be planted. So yeah, spring is mostly here and planting has started.
Leave a comment and tell me what you think about my crazy potato growing experiment?
Spring is truly trying to come to my part of the world. Sixty degree days are pure torture when the temperature says come out side the weather is nice but the garden soil says get outa here I'm still frozen and sleepin' (In a grouchy irritated voice) What's an over anxious cooped up all winter gardener supposed to do? Well, here's what I did to over come all the pent up garden energy. I could only play with seedlings under the grow lights in the basement for just so long. I couldn't take it any more and had to break out.
Yes, that's right. I broke out the mattock pick axe and chopped out the frozen ground. I was going to rejuvenate my backyard raised beds anyway. The frozen chunks were heaved over on an adjacent bed and the thawed soil was taken to the compost tumbler. Ten gallons of raised bed soil along with five gallons of peat moss, a coffee can of vermiculite, a cup full of lime, and a couple hand fulls of Epsom salts to complete the mix.
Oh, yeah, getting a work-out today. It came out of the tumbler light and fluffy. It should really make the veggies grow good. It snowed again last night with temperatures down to 26 but another soil temperature check showed that the six-inch depth was 50 degrees. That's five degrees warmer than yesterday. Tomorrow it will be back in the 60s with temps in the 50s and 60s all week. I'm hoping to get my onions and cabbages hardened off and in the ground by the end of the week.
There's the first batch of rejuvenated soil in the bed. The whole bed took a total of six batches to complete the bed. Next comes the rain gutter growing system. I'll have another whole post on how that's put together but here's a little preview of what it will look like.
These rain gutters have to perfectly level end to end and with each other. My big rain water tank will feed these gutters through a mini float valve to keep them full of water. Buckets filled with special growing medium will set on top of the gutters with a wick system to keep the soil in the buckets watered from the gutters. Yeah, I know, I had too much time on my hands this winter and the Internet is full of way out there stuff. This looks like it could actually work and would interface with my watering system really well.
My twist to this whole thing is to add multilevel growing. The bed under the gutters will have cabbages down the center strip and onions, lettuce, and radishes along the side strips. Of course that will have to be hand watered. It's just a totally radical experiment to see if it can work.
Potatoes will be another experiment this year but that's for another post. Spring is off to a running start with awesome ideas floating around in my head.
Oh, one more thing. I'm thinking about buying another property. This is just to hold and keep for a couple years until I decide what to do with it.
It's a corner lot that measures 44 by 60 feet. The going price is $100. It's fairly level and would have great potential for a garden. This would be a landscape and more of corner beautification kind of garden. However, among the flowers, bushes and landscaping, there just might be a few onions, lettuce or radishes. Like I said this would a couple years down the road. In the mean time, I'd have the EPA do its thing before I got started. The houses on both sides are for sale. Not interested in houses.
Ideas abound for 2014. It's going to be a great year. I'm hoping the weather co-operates with your gardening in your part of the country. Until the next time.
We finally have snagged a bit of snow from this last storm moving across the country. I'd say the final measurement was about four inches, which will be welcome moisture for gardeners and farmers. It was great to get out and shovel some snow. Exercise has been a little sparse this month. The cold vortex bipolar weather has kept me inside more than I would have liked. Bradley and I did hit the slopes today. Well, he hit the slope and I watched from the warmth of my truck. He's finally old enough to actually go up and down the hill on his own. As much fun as it is to sled down the hill, old grandpa just ain't as young as he used to be and getting back up that hill is a little more taxing then I remembered it to be in the past.
The great basement purge has begun. "American Pickers" have nothing over my basement. Years of storage and long forgotten memories are stored there. One of the first things I found was this box that housed the WebTV unit that was my first entry into the Internet. The actual unit has been long gone but finding the box was a memory jogger for sure. Some of the readers probably have no idea why this was such a great thing. WebTV was a cheap way to actually be online without spending a lot of money. Computers were a bit out of my financial ability when they first came out. WebTV hooked up to an average TV and allowed dialup service through the phone line. It had a qwerty cordless keyboard and introduced me to e-mail. It was a brave new world of cyber space. Download speed at that time was a blazing 2.75 K. Yes, that's right, kilobytes and not giga or even mega. E-mail was entirely text and websites were even less then basic. Message boards were the rage, which are similar to modern day forums but without HTML.
This was an exciting find for sure. Back in the early 1970s my interests were organic gardening magazine Mother Earth News, and the Foxfire books. A high-school teacher decided to keep his class interested in learning, and he would start a class project. The result was this set of Foxfire books. Anyone who is interested in homesteading would benefit by having a set of these books. When I bought these three, it was all that had been published at that time. Who knew that over the next decade the series would grow to 12 books about every thing imaginable. These books are the most in depth and minutely detailed books that I know about homesteading. They were written from interviews taken from 70- and 80-year-old folks in the 1970s. First-hand knowledge, from a generation of people who actually lived the life of pioneers, was written into these books in every detail and many times word for word. Pictures abound to explain the details of all the procedures. These are still available through Amazon and are priced some what reasonable. I'm planning on building out my set and have ordered book 4 and 5.
Boxes of so-last-century electronics will go to Best Buy to be recycled. Yeah, when was the last time you actually saw a 1.2 megabyte 5 1/2-inch floppy drive? Ah, yeah, I'm not talking about the 3 1/2-inch but the first floppies, which were bigger and not in a hard case. It's like opening up a sealed museum. I've just barely scratched the surface. I'll be pressing onward in the center of the room this next week. Who knows what treasures lie beneath the piles of stuff.
I have decided to try to grow some onions this year from seed. Last year I planted some onion seed directly into the garden soil. I quickly learned that onion seed is a delicate plant in the beginning stages and can't compete with the fast-growing grasses and and other garden weeds. The tender young seedlings were smothered by the weed growth. This year I have started the seeds inside under the grow lights.
The onion seeds are up and growing. About a week under the plastic wrap with a heat mat and they popped up out of the soil. Now the grow lights are on 12 hours a day and twice to three times a day misting will nurture them along until about 5 inches high. A little bit of a haircut at 5 inches and transplanted into fiber pots to encourage their growth even more. In a couple months the little fellas might have a better chance to compete with the weed growth.
I just received some Walla Walla onion seeds from Baker Creek last week so they will be planted and go on the heat mat next week. I really want to try to save some onions in storage next winter. I have two places to store them. Either my basement storage room or the front part of my garage. Both have low temperatures but don't freeze.
That's about all the news from the Urban Ranch. And advice from the old farmer (not me) would be to keep skunks and bankers at a distance. See ya next time.