Friday, March 27, 2015

Let's Get Dirty!

Finally! All the planning is fun, but, after a while the itch to get out and put it to work becomes almost more than I can stand. The part of my garden that is already established is easy to get back into shape for this year. I use a mix of ideas, containers, lasagna, verticle, mulching and raised beds. All of the ideas and uses are based on what I have access to for free or super cheap. Thrilled this year to say, that so far at least, the only thing I have had to put any money/value into is the straw and 20 min with the weed eater. And that I traded for! Seeds are all saved from last year or shared from other people. Newspaper is our local and comes free. Leaves are from our and my daughters yards. Cardboard is from local stores that let me take theirs when they get done stocking. And my compost.

This will be a third year garden. We moved 3 1/2 years ago in July. No garden that year but I did pack my compost, yes really, and got things set up. I use tires with the sidewalls cut out. I prefer to cut both so that you don't have the water standing in the bottom side. Some people don't approve of tires as veggie garden containers. If your one of these please read for a bit more because the info will work in any raised bed, container or even flat on the ground.
 Since I had a summer, winter and spring before I could plant again I laid cardboard out and the tires on top. Cardboard takes longer to decompose. Weeds and grass can't get through it but neither can worms, my itty bitty work horses. I stuffed the tires full of straw, grass clippings, leaves and topped with a couple of scoops of compost. (we had rabbits, chickens, horses, geese, llama....) By fall they had settled to about half full so I topped with more straw which I get mostly from a local (small) pig farmer.

So, to jump ahead to now! By the fall I'm all garden and canned out so I don't do a lot of fall prep. Grass grows between my row and I like it that way because no matter how rainy it is I can still get into my garden and work without compacting the soil I'm planting in or wading the mud. During the spring and summer a few minutes with the weed eater cleans it up nice. 
One benefit to planting this way is that the spring rains don't slow down my gardening but only make it easier. When most are waiting for the ground to dry enough to till I can still layer my beds and the rains soak into the mulch. Humus, Leaf Mold  and Compost carry the ingredients to make a garden healthy and happy. Gardening in soil that has all this natural organic matter creates plants that are more disease and pest resistant. Adding a few amendments for specific plantings, such as calcium for tomatoes to ward off blossom end rot is easy and can be done cheaper because you can just add it to the specific spots where it is needed. Another really wonderful benefit is moisture retention. Between 3x and 500x it's weight, depending on your mix. If you add this to only watering in the specific area (like inside a tire) and keep the surface covered with straw (I consider this my mulching) you can reduce watering drastically. If you are re-purposing water by containing it in water catchment systems (aka rain barrels, burms and swales or a million other ideas), finding free or very cheap matter for your layers and learning to save seeds, your next garden could be free or nearly free to plant. That makes everything that you gather from it as cost effective as it is nutritious. With less watering, less weeding, no equipment costs, fewer pests and therefor less time spent babying it, your garden ends up doing the work for you.

 Looks rough but I feel that the grass holds moisture and nutrition that will go into the new garden year.  
                          After a quick round with the weed eater and a rake the tires are ready for their attention. I turned the soil over here so you could see how dark and soft it is. For the rest of the tires a layer of newspaper with the grass and all mushed underneath. Just a couple of sheets to deter weeds and grass but allow the worms to do their magic.
A couple of scoops of compost will help everything get on it's way, drawing the worms, breaking down the grass and newspaper and creating a place for the roots of the new plantings. I compost directly on the ground which allows the excess water drain away and the worms to come to me. You may be able to see the couple I found in this scoop.  Then simply a layer of straw or a mix with leaves.
I'm expanding my garden this year to almost double so my compost really does have the feeling of black gold. Some of my tires that I will plant later season (tomatoes and such) I only used the newspaper and straw. They'll get compost as I get it ready, but as you can see the worms are willing to help as much as they can.

Another benefit of planting this way is that if you have very wet spring, which we often do, your plants do not set in a puddle of water. The moisture is absorbed and available to the plants but whatever extra that can't be held runs away out the bottom. This works out whether you use some kind of containment or simply layer on the ground. Regardless of being contained it is raised.
Between the fence on the left and on the right is the area that I'm going to be adding this year. My grandmother lived here before us. One great benefit is this is 30ish year old virgin ground. No chemicals, only a pretty mowed lawn. She wasn't into the garden thing. My grandfather on the other hand is the one who gave me my first experience with gardens. He had a huge garden and I would slip out into it and gather things like bell peppers and cherry tomatoes in the front of my shirt, sitting in the middle under the pole beans eating my pilfering. This is also where I learned about hybridizing. DO NOT plant your bell peppers to close to your jalapenos, they can cross and make for some really hot bells. :)

As part of my expansion I spread some boxes out and set up bales that will be my potato bed. These bales have been sitting out for about 2 months and with any luck I hope to grow cherry tomatoes in the top of them. I've done it before but with older bales and am not sure these have had enough time to age. A layer of leaves and straw in the bottom and then when I'm ready to put out the potatoes I'll just spread them evenly around the bottom. There are several schools of thought on how to plant potaoes. Eyes and slips and cuttings, depending on your space and how you plan to plant them I'm sure some work better than others. I don't do any cutting. I space them out and cover with straw and leaves by a few inchest. As they sprout and the greens start to show I add more layers. I've done this in rows where I laid out the cardboard and piled all on top. If you try that I would suggest more leaves and compost because the straw seems to dry out quickly and is difficult to keep damp.
The general rule of thumb 'round here is to plant peas on ST. Patricks' Day, but I didn't, so went out this morning to get the last of these pics together and them planted.

I soak my peas 24 hours before planting. These actually got 2 days because it rained yesterday. They'll grow up the trellis and then when the heat comes on I'll plant my cucumbers in the same spot.

For these I stirred up the compost and planted the peas directly into it and covered back with a light layer of straw. Finally getting some action in the garden is such a relief. To see a little about my planning you might like these posts, and I hope you'll come back to see more as the garden fills out.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Celebrating Spring!

Did you do anything to celebrate spring?
 Any excuse is a good one and a warm sunny Saturday that happens to be the first full day of spring could not be ignored. For Christmas I got this great camp cook grill but had not gotten the chance to try it out. 
I've cooked over fires a million times but have never rotisseried anything outside so this was especially fun. My Big Guy got this tire rim for me last fall as a fire pit and it works perfectly. Tall enough to block the wind and funnel the heat upward.

To go with the 3 chickens (marinated in italian dressing, salt and peppered when I put them on the spit). I chunked up eggplant, yellow squash, red onion and garlic, salt and pepper and olive oil. The heat was cooking the two on the left end faster so I put the skillet under them to catch the drippings, allowing the other continue to cook at higher heat.

I was so pleased when we carved the chickens and the skin was crispy,not burnt but more smoked, the meat smoky and moist. About 2 1/2 hours. Perfect amount of time to sit and visit without any rush. We have a young pig that we are planning to butcher soon and he will be perfect on here! I din't take a picture but for the kids sake I also hung a pan and made mac and cheese. :)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Starting on front flower garden. Plan B

Sent my boys after a truckload of mulch. We are lucky enough to have a pallet company close and they mulch up their broken or old ones. A whole truckload is $20.

My intention was to have the boys help me spread it in my garden, but about 4ft into the yard we were stuck. My yard is still too mushy from the melted snow and rain. Then I got the look. The fear that I would ask them to move it all by wheel borrow. But, lucky for them I had a Plan B. Off the side of our front drive I'm starting a flower garden.

With a quick pull to get unstuck they were more than happy to unload it up front. I have 2 Azaleas, 2 Roses and a couple gnomes standing guard so far.
Can't wait to get the mulch spread and start adding more stuff.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Garden Planning.

With a serious case of cabin fever set in and one million and one plans and ideas for the garden I figured I would sit down and get them all together. Since I'm doing that I thought I would share them with you too. We moved 3 years July. So no garden that year. Last year I got it mostly on the right track but since I was starting from a virgin yard I only got so far. This year I am very excited to expand and incorporate some of the ideas I have picked up over the the winter.
Mulching Asparagus bed.

I'm a no till kinda girl. I've found that layering, mulching, raised beds and containers (of a sort), work the best for me. I've already blogged about planning the annual and perennial parts of the garden and how to make those fill your pantry, so I'll skip that (PLEASE feel free to read earlier blogs).

Once you have seeds in hand your ready to go. Or if you don't have, then you want to order what you need to plant to fill in your plan. My seed catalog go to is I've always been happy with what they have to offer and I'm a creature of habit so I get most of my seeds from them. Jo Rellime has a great article talking about planning and researching to find the best things to plant for your area. 

I mix my own seed starting mix but there are great mixes that you can buy at your your local garden depot. If your interested in mixing you own Ken Peavey has a great post with the details of how to get started and and how to reuse what you already may have.   He also describes repotting and planting.



So, now we've planned, ordered, started and were ready to plant outside.

Like I said I'm no till. But there are things that I really like to plant in the ground. Asperagus, horseradish and corn are a few. For these things, and the list could all the way through your garden, I use a sheet mulching method. Several layers of newspaper or a layer of cardboard covered with wood mulch, leaves, compost, straw, manure anything compostable. This will block out the grass and weeds from growing and as it decomposes it will attract earthworms and add nutrition to the soil.
We love the heat from Horseradish mixed in sandwich spreads.

But it does take a while. So, what do you do in the meantime?

Last year I got my garden rollin'. But this year I plan to expand. So on the new parts I intend to sheet mulch. On top of the sheet mulch I want to go ahead and be able to plant and am going to use several methods that later I will be able to break apart and spread for next year.

For potatoes this year I intend to do a raised beds from straw bales.  I have had good luck with this in the past. Around the top of the straw bales I plan to plant cherry tomatoes. If you plan to plant directly into the straw bales finding some that have set out in the weather is easiest. It takes a little more than you would think to get them saturated This will more than double duty the space that I am using. For this season the plants can grow and in the fall I can spread the bales around my garden for next year.
Another idea is using bags of potting mix to start plants directly in.  I can't find a picture that will share well, (have it pinned on Pinterest under gardening) but  I will lay the bag of potting mix on top of the sheet mulch. Cutting a rectangle out of the top I will seed with things like lettuce, kale and other greens.

Another idea is packing a pallet full of soil and laying that on the fresh sheet mulch.
 Sheri Fox has this and some other great garden ideas.I think this would work great with cabbage. 

Most of my original garden is planted in tires that I cut the sidewalls out of.
Doesn't look like much in this picture. I was adding and resetting some of it. Once it gets going it becomes a total jungle. I like laying out my garden and leaving the grass for the walkways. Here in SE Illinois we can have very wet spring weather. The grass allows me to continue to work in my garden regardless. Borage and Dill grow volunteer all around. I use cattle panels as trellis to grow the tomatoes and cucumbers, peas, spaghetti squash and gourds.
The tires in the front that you can see were then layered with newspaper, straw, compost and leaves. I planted Zucchini in them.
As soon as the weather cooperates I will be able to start posting my actual progress with all these ideas. Hope you'll follow along!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Homesteading vs. Internet

I've been laughing about this for a while. Actually 3 1/2 months. Since I got my first tablet, and then my laptop for Christmas. The whole idea seemed funny to me. If I'm homesteading or off grid then how does being on the computer fit in to that life. I don't laugh anymore about it. I hadn't used a computer in about 10 years and aside from the tech shock of how much things have changed I love it.
I've seen the conversation come up with several different groups and all have valid points. There has to be a balance in how much time you put into the internet and what get's accomplished around home. I know I'm guilty of looking at the clock and thinking "wow".
I do think the benefits are worth working out the bugs.

I have a lot of respect for the people who live totally off grid. It's not easy and takes a lot of planning a lot of hard work to make it a sustainable life. I also have a lot of respect for anyone who is trying to learn to do more for themselves and be less dependent on others to supply what you need. To me it's not a matter of how much or how little, each step is a conscious decision to take control of your life and not quietly follow the "Jonses'" off the bridge. Whether you call it homesteading, or homemaking or self-sufficient or sustainable it all falls under the umbrella of do for yourself and your family what you can to make theirs and your lives better.

I suppose it's a circle of life kind of thing. Some had the benefit of growing up in families that kept "the old ways" going and passed them on, some are working really hard to rekindle that way in themselves and in their families. With a vast expanse of new technology, amazing breakthroughs in medicine, basically one touch communication with entire world and all of it's information, there still needs to be a balance. Predator and prey, supply and demand and new and old.
I do believe that great-great-grandma would have been thrilled to have access to a pressure canner. She was trying to feed her family and if she could put up quarts of green beans in 2 hours instead of 6 it would be unthinkable not to. On the other hand she may have easily hurumphed off the idea of electric lights. Far more expended energy (having to continuously pay for it) to have it than she would have gained from it. A phone so she could reach her family (or the doc. We had some large families in my history) would probably be a yes, but one that told her when Betsy changed her 'status' maybe not so much. LOL. I do truly wish there was a way to share this new tech with her and ask her what she thought. I can imagine a lot of laughing. Some things that are simply a part of peoples day to day now would seem silly. I'm sure she would be fascinated by some of the techniques that we use now to do things that she did daily. And of course plenty of "those looks", the ones you get when someone is trying really hard not to pat you on the head and say "bless your heart" (southerners get this).
 Just added this pic of gr.gpa cause I like it.

Since that's not likely to happen I have found myself amazed by the kindness and inspiration of the people that I have been able to connect with through the internet. The majority seem at least interested in the subject, at worst not terribly friendly, and then the best, someone else's experience that they are willing to share with strangers. And can't forget the wonderful people that are just starting out and I get to be a tiny part of their experience.