Sunday, June 29, 2008

New Plants in the Garden

I have had to find homes for some of my herbs outside of the raised bed. Since I first thought I had waited too late to buy vegetable plants, I bought herbs to fill my bed. Then, later finding some good plants at Home Depot, I bought vegetables too so my driveway flower bed has become home to basil, parsley, salad burnet, and rosemary.

The bed had been overrun with weeds and I had a losing battle getting rid of them. Brian and I basically shoveled of the top of the bed weeds and all and then backfilled with MiracleGro Organic Choice Garden Soil. Then I covered the soil with weed barrier cloth followed by an organic mulch.

To plant the herbs, I brushed back the mulch then, using scissors, I cut an "X" in the cloth, scooped back the soil and placed the plant. Next I pushed back the soil and then folded back the weed barrier around the base of the plant. The final step was to tuck the mulch in around the plant.

Most of the herb seedlings will need to be trimmed up to give the roots a chance to develop. The great thing about trimming the herbs back is that you get to eat the trimmings! I added basil, parsley and salad burnet to our dinner salad Friday night. The flavor was incredible. I am looking forward to more herbs as they grow. With all the basil plants that need trimming I will by some pine nuts next time I go to the grocery so that I can make some pesto sauce. Yum!

The raised bed was a pleasure to plant. The growing medium mix was easy to push back by hand. The best part is knowing I will never have to till this bed! Pictured below is the left side of garden. Left to right: Two tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, dill, zucchini, two more peppers.

Zucchini tucked into a 2' x 2' corner of the bed.

Right side of bed. Left to right starting at the top: two tomatoes, dill, rosemary, white eggplant,
three varieties of oregano, basil, purple eggplant.

Tomatoes in circular wire cages. Tomato on the left is an heirloom variety purchased at Home Depot. All the plants I purchased at Home Depot came in organic, biodegradable peat pots. No need to take the plants out of the pots which is healthier for the roots.

Two eggplants in the corner of the bed. The smaller one is a purple eggplant and the larger is a white eggplant. The herb on the left is a small-leaved basil and on the right is a rosemary.

I will add the varieties of each plant later to this post. The plants were rather stressed and root bound. I will research the best way to give them a boost organically and let you know what I find. They have definitely perked up now that they are sitting in rich garden soil. Next on the agenda is to get a soaker hose for the front herb bed and a timer. The timer is working very nicely in the raised bed. It is nice to know the bed is being watered at regular times no matter where I may be.

I also have to get creative again since I purchased seeds to plant and I need to find a place to plant them. I have three varieties of bush beans, okra, and cilantro.

I called Uncle Jim's Worm Farm yesterday since my red wrigglers had yet to arrive. Turns out they only ship on Mondays, so my worms ship tomorrow. I turned my compost bins yesterday and incorporated recent grass clippings and the dirt and weeds we raked off the driveway garden bed. The recent addition of manure last time I turned the compost really made a difference. I will be adding red wrigglers to the compost once they arrive. From what I read on Uncle Jim's site, I am hoping for even better composted results with the help of the worms. I will also be putting worms right into the raised bed where they can start creating nutrient rich castings to help feed my plants.

Leon Russell is the Bomb!Another weekend has passed and the work week awaits. We had a great weekend in the garden. We also went to Knuckleheads Saturday night to see Leon Russell in concert. It was so nice to see Leon again! He puts on a fantastic show and his band is excellent. I can't remember a concert that just made me smile like Leon Russell's. Pure fun. Seeing Leon Russell in this small venue was a dream.
Four Fried Chickens and a Coke Rock!
The opening band was a local group: Four Fried Chickens and a Coke. First time for us to see FFCC. We will plan to see them again. Good local band show.

If you are in KC and get the chance to go, Knuckleheads is a blast. It's an adventure just getting there. It is tucked back into the "east-bottoms" on the rail road tracks and sometimes the road in is blocked by a parked train. GPS comes in handy. You really wonder what the place will be like as you drive by the industrial area and trains, but once in the place you discover it is a little music paradise of a dive bar. They have received several awards and most recently the "Keepin' the Blues Alive 2008" award. I first experienced it when my daughter invited me to go with her and her girlfriends to see Cowboy Mouth. I was sure I had lost half my hearing the next day, but it was so much fun.

Today we spent more time at Oceans of Fun. It was like a mini-vacation this weekend. Gardening, blogging, concerts, swimming - weekends are my happy time.

Buzz it up

Monday, June 23, 2008

Shopping for Plants

No Luck with Veggies at the Local Garden Center

12:45 PM - Busy schedules and gardening creates conflicts! I just went shopping today. I knew I was starting really late when I began this project but should have bought plants last weekend. This weekend was "Double-Dip Beethoven" with the KC Chamber Orchestra and a full 13-hour day at Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun. We had a great time with friends from Brian's work - even though Brian managed to wipe-out on Aruba Tuba and we collided heads on Hurricane Falls and despite all of Brian's P.R. I am still a hold-out on the Mamba. In 10 years I have never experienced the thrill of the Mamba. The summer is still young, I may yet take the 200 foot plunge.

However: You play, you pay. Now my veggie garden may be limited to herbs...I love herbs, but was really counting on some tomatoes and peppers too!

The local garden center, The Family Tree Nursery has no more vegetable plants, so I bought herbs and also seeds for 3 varieties of beans, okra, collard greens, and cilantro. We will be going to Home Depot this evening and I think there is a chance to pick up some tomato plants there still.

Our local Hen House has started a Consumer Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, so I am thinking that may be our best bet for fresh, local veggies this summer along with a few trips to one of 18 farmers markets we have in the area.

Home Depot still has veggies!

9:30 PM - Home Depot saved the day with several vegetables to choose from. I purchased 4 tomato plants, 2 eggplants, 1 zucchini, 1 cucumber, 3 pepper plants and a globe basil from the Depot.

Since I had already purchased herbs earlier in the day, my new problem is too many plants for the raised bed! At Family Tree Nursery I bought 6 basil plants, 2 rosemary, 2 parsley, 3 oregano, and two Salad Burnet.

We also decided to join the CSA program at Hen House. By joining the CSA we help support local farmers. The membership included a nice cookbook which is an exclusive for the CSA, a t-shirt, and two cloth shopping bags. Looks like a fail-proof plan to have local veggies this summer.

Here is the first picture of the planted raised bed.

It's too bad we don't have a video camera because I am pretty sure my wrestling match with my new garden soaker hose would have been a winner on Funniest Home Videos. I did prevail and managed to install 50' of soaker hose in my 4' x 8' garden. It was when I finally got it in place that Brian informed me the that the garden nozzle had been stuck to the end of our regular hose since last summer and he had never been able to get it off. The rubber hose is to be connected to the soaker hose. We both tried and failed this evening to remove the nozzle, so I add to my list of garden purchases a 100' garden hose -- tomorrow. (I found that I could buy a brass connector to fix the hose, cost $2.50. It was an easy repair. I simply cut off the end of the hose with nozzle attached, and added the new connector. This saved me about $46.)

We bought a water timer that I will attach to the faucet that allows you to set up an automatic watering program. It was $24 but I feel after the investment I have in vegetable and herb plants it is worth the investment and may save the day for my plants while we are at our family reunion this summer. I set the timer to start the water every 12 hours, so at 6 AM and 6 PM the garden soaker will run for 60 minutes.

Now it is time to shower off all the dirt and "hit the hay." Good night all!

One last thing...I just ordered 2,000 red wrigglers from Uncle Jim!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Raised bed frame arrived today!

The cedar raised bed frame arrived today! We assembled and added growing mix. Hooray!

The materials are laid out and waiting: 2 bags peat, 10 bags cotton burr compost, 1 bag of vermiculite, garden weed shield cloth, and raised bed frame in boxes.

First I cut two pieces of weed shield cloth, 10' long. The width of the cloth is about 3'. I overlapped the cloth several inches in the middle and laid two boards on either end to keep the cloth from blowing up in the breeze while we plotted out the assembly of the frame.

Next, we stacked the boards around the cloth in the places where they would be added to the frame. Remember, I bought the economy boards so we sorted them and arranged them for best appearance, placing blemishes toward the inside of the bed.

My faithful garden helpers, Max and Michelle were right there with us!

My husband Brian was a great help! He brings brains and brawn to the work effort!

Note the steel rods inserted in holes at each of the four corners and middle which are used to secure the frame. These will be hammered down with a rubber mallet once we have all the boards in place. The great thing about a Natural Yards frame is that you the only tool you need is something to hammer the rods down and many people simply use a big rock to do that.

The frame is constructed four 5-1/2' layers high. There are two aluminum support beams placed on top of layer one and the other on top of layer three. These keep the middle of the frame from shifting.

We layered the growing medium ingredients in the frame. I started with five bags of cotton burr compost then one bag of peat and mixed those two ingredients together. Next I added 1/2 of the vermiculite. Sort of like mixing the dry ingredients for a cake, I stirred this with a hoe until well mixed and then repeated with the rest of the ingredients.

After all the "stuff" was added, you can see that the soil-less mix is about two boards shy of the top of the frame. I do need to leave some space for the displacement that will be caused by the plants and also room to add mulch, however, it seems a bit short.

The height of the frame will definitely keep the dogs out, and will be more cost effective and space efficient than putting a fence around the garden, but may be overkill. I am considering removing the top layer and creating a 4' x 4' bed. I have enough boards to build it two layers high so I would probably order a single-layer 4' x 4' bed and request steel rods long enough for a 16" high bed.

Since all the boards for my current bed are 4' long, next year I may re-assemble the bed into two 4' x4' beds. Then I would have 3 beds of that size which would be a nice configuration.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Growing mix is ready and waiting!

Compost Bins

On Saturday evening I lifted the bins from the compost and turned it out. The compost in one of the two bins wasn't nearly broken down enough. The second bin was better and close to becoming good compost, but still not quite ready. I went back to ACE and picked up two bags of composted cow manure ($3.21) to mix in with my home compost. We gathered up clippings my husband had been dumping under the lilac bushes then we layered the dryer compost, then forked in some manure and then a layer of the greener clippings and the more composted material. We continued the layers until both bins were full again, then I hooked up the hose and watered both bins well and recapped them.

When I went out late in the morning today and checked, the compost had really heated up. The bins were hot to the touch without being in direct sunlight. The spot I have them is on the west side of our garden shed so they don't get direct sun until after one or two in the afternoon. So, the yard waste that had been in the bins for two years making really, really slow progress is now on the way to becoming rich compost probably in a matter of three to four weeks.

My garden plot, just waiting for action!

I decided to call Suburban Lawn and Garden, a local nursery across town to see if they had vermiculite. Ace didn't carry it and the garden center a mile from home, Family Tree Nursery didn't have it either. When I called Suburban, I asked for someone who could give me advice on soil amendments which put me in contact with a fellow who was willing to listen and give me some really helpful advice.

He felt that 1/3 vermiculite was a bit too much so we did some mental math for the size of my garden and came up with the following combination: ten 2 cubic feet bags of Back to Earth Cotton Burr Compost ($49.90), two 3.8 cubic feet bags of Canadian Sphagnum Peat ($27.98) and one 4 cubic feet bag of vermiculite ($16.99). I also bought a 3' x 50' garden weed barrier cloth ($19.99). It's a lot more cloth than I need for my single bed, but the next smaller size, 3' x 20' was $12.99 so it was a better value and I will use it on other flower beds around the yard with plenty to spare for the addition of another 4' x 8' bed I will most likely add next year or maybe even this fall.

The current accounting

My total for growing mix and the two bags of manure I layered in with my compost, the garden frame from Natural Yards, (I bought the economy boards which may come with some less than perfect but still durable boards, and it saved me 15%), is $577.13. About $80 more than I had estimated for the bed with growing mix.

To recap, the garden frame is untreated cedar and is 4' width x 8' length x 22" high and will have 32 cubic of soil mix. This is less than the actual volume that the frame could hold,but looking at the stack of bags waiting out by the garden, it looks like it ought to do the job. I have another 24 cubic feet of homemade compost cooking in the bins which will be added later and once I have the plants in place I will be top dressing with mulch.

The garden frames come in heights of 5.5" increments. The main reason I went with a four-layer frame was to gain enough height to discourage my two faithful Basset hounds from jumping into the bed and digging around. Max, the "big dog" of the two, has already enjoyed helping me dig up the weeds to prepare the bed. He had a great time!

Michelle is the female half of the Basset duo. She is not as interested in digging at this point.

Max is 6 years old and Michelle is his 2 year old child bride. They are quite a pair.

What still needs to be purchased

I still have the soaker hose and of course, the veggies to purchase. I also need mulch and a can of worms. That's right! Good ol' night crawlers. The associate that helped me at Suburban told me they had no worms, but I could buy composted worm castings. I told him I want my own live wormy pets in the garden! You have to add worms because the weed shield cloth that will be placed under the frame and growing medium will keep worms out as well as weeds. A quart bucket of worms introduced into the garden will provide perpetual worm casting which is great fertilizer for the garden. The worms will multiply and make their happy home and nourish the garden bed as well. The fellow at Suburban Lawn and Gardens told me to try a fish bait shop.

I am paying for this from my paycheck, but my husband was curious as to whether I had compared the cost of prospective produce from the garden to what we may spend at the market. Honestly, this year, I will be lucky to break even but there are all the other intrinsic values to count such as the known therapeutic benefits (I have a high-paced, stressful job...I need this! At $100 per counseling session this is a bargain, right!) and the better ability to deal with our yard and kitchen waste. Plus the experience I will have learning about gardening and then sharing all of that with you, my readers. Next year I won't have the same start up costs, unless I add a second bed. If the dogs are good and stay out of the garden, I may be able to simply break my current bed into two 11" high beds. I checked with Natural Yards and they will be able to sell me a second set of steel pins which are used to hold the bed frames together.

I knew this would not be the cheapest way to garden, but with my work schedule of 48 plus hours per week, I need a gardening method that promotes simplicity. Although preparing the bed was a bit of work, I didn't have to rent a tiller. The raised beds are supposed to make caring for the garden much easier. Hunting down the growing mix components took some doing and luckily I have a big strong husband to help lug all the heavy bags.

If you are doing this on your own, you could most likely have the bags of growing mix components delivered and you could consider hiring a teen from your neighborhood to help lug the bags, set up the frame and add the mix. Once all that is in place, the going should be a breeze. But stay tuned!

One more tip. Check with your local library to see if they have some good gardening books. I found that our library, Johnson County Library has Mel Bartholomew's latest book on Square Foot Gardening. JOCO Library has a great website and I am able to reserve books online. I am number 3 on the wait list. I will try to be patient. I may end up at Borders. After all my gardening costs...I need to save the $24.95! Patience!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Still Waiting for Garden Frame!

I was expecting to come home from work on Friday and find boxes of cedar from Natural Yards, only to find they had arrived at the FedEx hub but would not be delivered until Monday. I called the FedEx 800 number to see if they had a customer pick up option but was told by customer service that my boxes were in a container and that they would not dig through the container just to find my four boxes. I had to wait until Monday. The customer service rep was a bit snippy so I was a bit ornery and I asked nicely, "So you don't have a customer pickup service like UPS does?" "NO! We don't!" (Darn!)

So back to planning stage. I have weeded my bed area. I calculated the cubic feet of dirt that I need. My bed is 22" x 4' x 8' so divide 22 by 12 to get the feet in decimals for height (1.833), multiply 1.833 * 4 * 8 = 58.56 cubic feet of growing medium.

I am considering get 20 cup hooks or eye screws to attach to the inside top of the frame on one foot intervals so that I can string twine over the soil through the hooks to create a grid of 1 foot squares (Square Foot Gardening). I will need garden cloth to lay down on the ground first. Then the bed frame is constructed. Then fill with the growing medium. I will most likely cover the growing medium with more garden cloth to keep out weeds, then add a soaker hose and mulch.

Shopping for Soil

Just got back from shopping for soil mix for the garden frame. It seems that the best price I can get for a soil mix is $5 a cubic foot which would be about $290 total. That was a Miracle Grow soil mix for flower and vegetable beds. More that I want to spend. So I am back to the computer searching to see if there are any nurseries that will sell a soil mix by the cubic yard and deliver it to my house. We shopped first at Ace, then we stopped by the neighborhood nursery that is great but pricey. Their soil mix was a couple dollars more per cubic foot than ACE and they didn't know of anyone that would sell a soil mix by the cubic yard.

The ACE experience

My first stop was at ACE where a young man working the lawn and garden department first told me the broken bags of soil would be half off. So I got my hubby out there and we dug through the pile of broken bags to see what they had and count it out by size of bags since they were mixed. I added up a total of about 14.5 cubic feet of soil and took an average price of $2.5 per cubic foot to come up with a total of $36.25 that I would be willing to pay to take the broken bags. This would be about half price.

I hunted down the manager who first of all told me that the broken bags were only 20% off not 50% because the bags hadn't lost any soil, people had simply put their hands through the bags. I told him that I had sorted through the broken bags and had the ones that I wanted. And that there was soil on the ground around the bags, by the way. In the game of "Deal, No Deal" he was all NO DEAL and he had NO patience. So I said, OK, let's figure out how much the odd assortment of bags will cost at 20% off. They didn't have all the prices for every size at the register which didn't help the manager's mood one bit but a clerk was able to work with me and we figured out the total for the one 2-cubic foot bag, five 1-cubic foot bags and five 16 quart bags. They wanted $65.35 at the discounted price. Wow! Too much! The manager had made himself scarce at this point so I said, "Thank you! Now I know how to compare prices."

I always think you should try negotiating a good price when you are talking about buying damaged merchandise. Not only had the bags lost some soil, we had a heavy rain two nights and the bags were somewhat water logged. Very often store managers will work with you. This guy must have been having a hard day. I guess if I was stuck working hardware on a hot muggy Saturday I might be grumpy. Still think you should always be polite to your customers! You never know, they might just have a blog! "Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man." Just not a helpful lawn and garden man. :-)

Back to Mel's Place

After the ACE experience, I went back to Mel's site, Square Foot Gardening, and I very pleased to see that I don't really even need soil! What I really need is peat, vermiculite, and compost. I knew I needed vermiculite and peat, but couldn't remember if the third component was soil or compost. My brain is either my computer or a piece of paper...and I hadn't written this down. Ace didn't have vermiculite, but they did have a good price on peat, 3.8 cubic feet at $5.99.

I picked up a local gardening paper at Ace where I found information about the Master Garden program in the area. They have "hot-line" numbers for gardeners and you can email. Cool! Maybe I can get some help on the best place to get the vermiculite and compost. I also found an ad for Suburban Lawn and Garden, a local garden center that appears to offer soil and soil amendments in bulk so I am getting closer to the goal!

I feel that I have to get the bed up and planted this week. We take a week-long vacation in July and I want my plants to be well established before we leave town.

I do have a couple of full compost bins, but since I haven't gardened in a couple of year, they bins have been full but not turned enough to really cook the compost and break it down. I am considering turning it out on my garden area and turning it in with the soil to be the base for my raised bed, then put the 3-part mix that Mel suggests on top. I am going to try that this that the sun is lower in the sky and we have some shade out back. If it works, then I will only need half as much mix.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Planting a Victory Garden

Even though it's a bit late in the gardening season, today I purchased a cedar frame from Natural Yards so that I can create a backyard Victory Garden. I will plant some hot weather plants and then followup with a fall planting. I will journal about gardening and keep you informed of my progress. The blog site will also provide links to resources that I find helpful.

I have not gardened for some time, although I enjoy it, because life with husband, kids, career had gotten so busy. This year I am focusing on educating myself on sustainable living. After much thought, I decided to revive my love of gardening and grow some of our food in our own backyard. I am using a raised bed because it allows a reduction in work effort which I need for my garden to be sustainable to my life style.

I will add a rich gardening mix of 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite or perlite. I will introduce some night crawlers into my garden to take advantage of the castings which are a great natural fertizer. I also plan to embed a soaker hose to make watering easier and more efficient. I am considering using Mel Bartholomew's strategy of Square Foot Gardening. I am looking forward to an enriching experience. Please stay tuned for continuing updates.


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