Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When good compost goes bad: how to fix up the pile

If you have not had any luck in composting, here is the best way I can describe building a hot pile from what is available.  Many serious composters may grow green manures and buy straw specifically to compost. Others have secret ingredients to add to the pile such as; fertilizers, dog food, molasses, soured milk or buttermilk.  You may want to try these if you have trouble with the reheat.

The best time here is spring and summer....spring more than summer, and I will tell you why.  On the first and second really nice weekend in Spring, those odd nice days followed by sleet, rain, hail and snow....we call that March in the Ozarks (and sometimes April, to be honest). That is the time to look for people cleaning up last Fall's leaves.  Usually in the heavily wooded neighborhoods like mine, where even if you clean up in the Fall, the wind leaves you even more by spring and you end up doing it all over again. Most people are happy to part with them, because it saves them from hauling them.  I stay close to my neighborhood, so that saves me from hauling far as well.
I like to save my leaves in a larger compost bin along side my regular compost. Generally speaking, I like to have at least two piles, if not three going at varying stages of decomposition. My set up is pretty big, but can easily be scaled back down to normal.  It is nice using pallets for bins because I like my leaves chopped, but that is not usually how they come, so I run my mower into the leaf bin, and use my mower's bag to dump it slowly into the pile I am building.  This works especially well for building a hot pile, you can either begin mowing the lawn and dumping it slowly into the pile of chopped leaves, and mix in some dirt and a bit of unfinished compost and stir in some water all in basically the same place.  essentially I mow until the bag is nearly full then mow my way back to the compost bin.  I try to keep the carbon ratio higher than the nitrogen, and keep it moist as I build...not soggy, but moist.  My kitchen scraps end up in one of any of the piles, whichever is least finished, and moved into another pile when it gets moved, usually.  When I build it this way it always heats up fast.  Other things that we have done to get a hot pile is adding fish tank water from my sister's (full of N in various forms) and I have also used old wood chips that had been seasoned for at least a year or two and were already basically half dirt.  That pile was super hot!!!  (And I have heard not to do that, but it wasn't half bad compost.) By the following season there was no trace of wood chip and no nutrient lock ups that were visible....(keyword).
And that is basically all I do...
So, here are some of the more common problems with composting that you may have run into and how to solve them. As you know from my stinky story, some of this has come from experience.  Currently I garden on the borderline of if you are organic...well, I guess I am not really...but I do believe in it whole heartedly, but some times I use regular fertilizers that are given to me.  Other times I just can't find the appropriate this list isn't as green as it at first sounds...being that it is compost.
First, my new favorite:
 Lack of Air:
1. too much water--------> Add carbons...brown material...leaves, and especially straw will absorb some of the excess moisture.  stir it up.  Fluff with a pitchfork, use sticks to poke holes in the pile and lift up.  The organisms that eat up everything need some air in that steam pit every once in a while, and if you think about building a compost pile like fire...This helps restart the heat as well. Compost can and will suffocate if too compacted...which is #....
2. Compaction------> aerate... that is pretty much it.  your pile will always settle if it is heating and that is good, but if there are layers beneath matted and wet it will cause problems....fluff the pile and use thin layers adding greens and browns #
3.Smells like Ammonia------> that is too much nitrogen.  Add carbon and stir well.
4. Not enough nitrogen-----> that is another smell, add some grass clippings, dog food, blood meal or some other nitrogen rich amendment like fresh manure.  stir well (yes, there is a trend here)
5. Soppy wet------> add more carbon and stir well.  They say when build the pile it should be like a wrung out sponge.  For me that is a little too much for the imagination, with what goes in a compost pile. So I just make it very damp when I build it and it is usually dry around the edges when I turn it.  Sometimes when I water the garden I will spray through the cracks in the side of the bin and a little on top when it is looking too dry..but don't drown it when you build have to wait until at least after the first "baking" before making compost tea!

1. Not enough water, it may be too dry.  Try as above, but also aerate at the same time so some of the water makes it inside.  If you use a pole down the center as I do, you can water that as well.
2. It has finished it's initial "baking" and it is time to turn.  Either stir it well with a pitch fork, moving all the dry outer stuff in, and vice versa.  Or do as I do, and move the entire pile, into the next bin.  I add a bit of water to the dry stuff and the damp stuff I leave alone.  If I chose to use fertilizers or amendments in my pile, it is usually for the reheat, so I don't have to add any more materials.  If your previously hot pile is ice cold, it needs to turn.
3.  It's done----> scoop it out and use it!
a small pile will not get as hot, nor break down much at all.  If your pile is damp and only slightly warm and only in the center, you must rebuild a larger pile.

1 It may still need nitrogen and moisture and more air.  You should never let it get too dry, nor too wet, nor too compacted.  Watering or withholding water, and fluffing the pile can help to rekindle the heat.
2. Some items may have been too large to begin with and will need to break down longer.  I usually sift them out and throw them in the center of my next pile. Try to only soft rotten wood or very fresh prunings and add them to the center where the heat can burn them up. You can still use the compost if there is not a lot that still needs breaking down.  Or you can use it to rebuild a new pile, adding lots of fresh nitrogen materials and little if any dirt or compost, since that is what you've got already.  It should break down after another good heat.  You can also use compost at this stage in the fall, as it will have plenty of time to decompose.  I prefer to layer if there is no cover cropping in place...Unfinished compost and chopped leaves with a layer or old straw from the season's mulch.  I usually remove the straw in spring and there is not much left below that but nice dark soil!

Hope it helps...most of the information I read from the Veg Bible's trouble shooting guide, the organic gardening encyclopedia and of course grow more veggies. Links to these books and why I like them are on a previous post. I have only composted a few years, but I have only had a problem one time so far.  As always there is a lot more great information to be had on the WWW.
Good luck, and I hope you get lots of hot compost this season! ;)

Compost woes

I have a confession:
I have really stinky compost!
It all started last year, right about the end of the season, my father in law started to bring in "decomposables" from the restaurant he works at, The Farmer's Gastro Pub (in downtown Springfield, by the Moxie).
They wanted to minimize their addition to the waste stream as part of the theme of the place, it seemed the right thing to do.  They use local  foods from local farms.  The premise of the venture is great.

 So for a little while I had some extra kitchen wastes coming in. Nothing abnormal about that at all, except for the fact that he was so quiet about bringing it in, and I really wasn't visiting the garden as much as earlier in the when I did, it was UH_OH!
He has never built a hot compost pile and I never said anything about it.  He asked if it was OK, I said sure.  And one day I went to the back yard and realized he'd been there, a lot! And I didn't have any bagged leaves out there, as I usually I had to get to work....and fast!  I layered it all up and got in heated and thought all was well.  I left it sitting all winter, expecting great compost.  Boy was I wrong!  Moral of the story, I have matted food waste in the compost that is refusing to break down, and well, it smells too.  By no fault of his own, he has created "the poopy"!!! And this my friends, is how compost became "artificial manure"....because if you mess up, that is exactly what it smells like.
 I guess I have been spoiled so far, that my compost was never stinky and always heated up initially and killed off any odor by turning time.  But now I have spoiled compost! So you ask.....

What would have prevented the smell and clumping?  If I had paid attention at all, (at the time,) would have been carbon.  All that kitchen waste is counted as "green" material as far as compost.  So with the amount that was there, all that was needed was to mix in thoroughly, some sort of "brown" materials at the same time.  The best thing, probably would be straw or chopped leaves, and mixed well as soon as it is brought in.  Check the moisture level as you go and all that scrap just disappears! Dump it in by the bucket full and leave uncovered, and well, you have my compost pile!
Currently the restaurant returns their compost to the farmers that bring in their goods for them, which is great! The farmers even pick it up I think and take care of the dirty work. It has finally come full circle.

So I have learned a lesson about compost to share with  everyone.....a little goes a long way!
The Saga continues...I have mixed and remixed this compost, re aerating and re layering and re moistening and re heating...and that little booger is still stinkin' it up!!!  So today I have turned it, and hopefully it will heat through in the next several days.  My lawn mower is on the fritz and that will have to be remedied to start a new pile....hopefully I can get through this one soon, and get back to my own compost again.....good luck to all ....and I will add a post about common "mess-ups" in the compost and what to do about it!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Tee Pee Trio

Audrey, Chas and I built up some tee pees for our pole beans and a trellis for some cucumbers.  I have seen pictures in other peoples gardens and thought they were too cute.  In fact, in the Veg. Bible, under Pole Beans there is a prettier example...but we do what we can!
I started by cutting out branches and saplings that were relatively long, sturdy and straight.  We trimmed all the side shoots off them and put them up.  We tied the joining knots with jute twine, and later switched to a shade of blue, when the first roll of natural ran out.  Anyways, it's not much, but as usual, we are pretty proud of it, and it will do the trick, meanwhile getting rid of some of the scrub brush growing around here!
 (sorry they are kinda hard to see on a brownish background, but you can click to enlarge)
A friend of mine from out of town was talking about putting in something for a trellis for her peas...maybe something like this could work?  Anyways, I am glad I tried it! and hopefully I get better at making them in the future...But it beats the farm fence in this bed last year! LOL...this is why my neighbors hate me!! Their back yards are in full view of the compost, but what do you do?  It is like eeny meeny miney mo, pick a neighbor by his nose...just kidding...I promise I will back the bin up next year, but no promise I won't have multiples, and one won't be in view! I wanted to put a large set up behind bed 1 if I can clear the brush...I will just have to learn to master the bent wood trellis I saw in a magazine 7 or 8 years ago.....use up all this junk growing all over! (love it!)  I also saw a really neat chair made of bent wood trellis.  It may look weird now, but as it ages it looks more natural, and I guess I always end up going with more of a cottage garden feel, no matter my original aim.
It will be pretty sweet once there is stuff growing on it.  I cannot wait for the last frost! I am so excited!
We put out our Broccoli and Brussels sprouts, spinach, lettuce and onions into the prop box.  All that is indoors right now is the tomato and a few dicentra root cuttings.

{the water bottles and milk jugs are for night heat}

 I am having really low germination for some reason and can't figure if it is moisture or temperature related.  I finally found some roma my dehydrated tomatoes!  I froze some last year and was using them in a pizza, and thought....why not give it a go?  They were ripe, and were dried in their membranes, then frozen.  I doubt that more than 75-80% of the moisture would have been lost, so they can still ferment to break the seed coat.  I will be disappointed if nothing other than the romas sprout, even though their taste is so great, I planned on using them as an early crop and the others as main crop...OH well, I will just have to make due, as usual.  Nature has a way of pushing us around and we are better off to just try to go with the flow!

So I guess that is it for today....more planning and nifty ideas to come. My bottle stoppers for my hummingbird feeders got here, I just haven't had another rainy day to mess with it, and I don't think it is time yet....I should look that up......  ;)

Monday, March 29, 2010

New *Improved* Berry Bed

It is so nice out today I decided to do some clean up and mess around in the garden.  the soil is still too cold for most things, but worse still, it is too wet to even touch!

I cleared out bed #2, to let the soil warm up a little and dry out.  I left the straw for later use in compost or mulch if it isn't too soggy.

I planted some mint in the "cabbage patch" so to speak, where the broccoli and Brussels Sprouts will be soon.  It is supposed to help deter the cabbage moth, which was a real pain picking caterpillars last year.  hopefully it helps.  I brought out the seedlings, and put them in the prop box.  I have been keeping an eye on them, and will have to watch the nighttime temperature and cover them if it gets too cool.  They are a hardy group of crops though, so I am hoping this sturdies them up and gets them ready to transplant.  I know that their growth will improve drastically once they can stretch out their roots.  I also took the lettuce that I seeded and put in the prop box as well, in hopes that it will improve germination.  I am trying ot use up all the old seeds I have and get use of them, while at the same time, not holding on to valueless goods!

So...I have also been coming up with clever ways to recycle trash from the yard, and just general ideas to make the yard look nice.
  • I decided to use Mickey's old holey work boots as a flower pot. {why not? they'll just go to a landfill anyways, why not let them be fully rotten by the time they get there?}
  • I took an old broken chair of the kids and sunk a flower pot into it, and added a gimpy trellis.  I plan to find something to plant in it, just as soon as I decide where I want it.
  • I decided that I am definitely interested in vining hops up to the treehouse.  It is the perfect height and would give some much needed shade for the gardeners and skate boarders below.  I may do grapes up one side and hops on the other and put some garden furniture under the decking. Sounds pretty.
  • I would love to make a hammock.  Or two, or four.
  • I would love to make garden furniture from saplings, and stumps, etc. Then plant with vines!
  • I want to put a Tee Pee up in my garden (not just the ones for my pole beans).  My mom gave me one made with treated 1x2 and muslin cloth.  It just needs to be set up.  I was thinking that by the end of the week, it should be less soggy out and we can do that!
  • When I plant my corn, I want to make a maze. {Maize?  Anyone? tee hee}                               Granted, it will be a rather small maze, but who cares? Not my kids!  So, instead of just planting blocks of rows, I will have to make up a design, and incorporate that into my succession sowing plan.  It may complicate it a bit, but that seems to be the way I like things!
  • Help Chas plant a real garden.  Since I stole his blocks.....well, I feel like he needs a small domain to master.  We will figure out what stuff he would like and get him growing, too.  Audrey gets the area around the swingset, until we decide to move it, and I am also going to occupy much of the space below his treehouse. (but hey, he gets a sweet treehouse, so fair is fair!) So he gets to decide.  Either that or he can take over the soon to be herb garden, that seems to be his favorite thing, MINT TEA!!!!
  • Planting of Elderberries and Jerusalem Artichokes.....hmmm...this one is trickier for me.  First, I just read in the Wiki that elderberry plants contain cyanide.  Although the flowers and berries are safe to eat, the leaves, twigs and roots can build up to be toxic.  {I DID NOT KNOW THAT!!!}.  And honestly, from the talk of the Perennial sunflowers being 'like' potatoes, I thought the tubers were larger and/or perhaps the  plant would be larger.  HMMMM.....I just don't know which would be better in the garden area, if either.  I thought I preferred the elderberry because of it's ability to spread and fill quickly, it has a nice perfume to the flowers, the berries are adored by many native birds, as well as native people, and has been consumed, as such for centuries.  Not to mention making wines an jams....but I did not, however, know that the rest of the plant was a natural (aren't they all?) source of cyanide.  *I think I will have to think about it*
Yep, I thought all that up, today! And, I also got something done from my summer list!

I took away the old compost bin from between the Asparagus, and the Blueberries! YAY! =)
It worked out pretty well, with the "core samples" I "borrowed/stole" from Chas' garden of last year.  
The concrete tubes fit about right as the back of the bed, and they are officially "full sun" now....not that they were in dense shade before, but they are no longer sheltered at all.  I really like it and it is a real improvement aesthetically.  
I am sure that my round-up spraying neighbors, who have the most direct view of my lovely garden, will appreciate any changes in that department.  I am pretty sure that they do not value my pallet compost bins nearly as much as I (and my veggies) do! =)  But hey, all in good time. All in good time!

It is improving.  And I am designating directives left and right. this will be this, and that will be that.  Later this is that and that is's a fun daydream for me, to decide what is best for a given situation....and trial and error, as always! Like my Ajuga....a failure in the Box elder Bed out front...but success in the side yard to the east.  Same for tulips and other bulbs...they need to head east as is all just a try and see how it goes adventure.  Sometimes it is all gravy....and sometimes it's a rock-hard biscuit! But it is just how you learn why things work and why they don't or how to trick them into growing anyways! Fun stuff.....and today is no different!

Oh, and speaking of today.....PEA SPROUTERS!!!  Audrey was so excited to hear that they sprouted! and from what I could tell, they have grown since this morning! Seriously! When I first saw them up, I brushed the straw away and they had just broken the surface and they are at least 1/2 " now, and probably taller later.  It is just amazing! If you actually had the patience to ( and I do) you could literally watch them grow.  And I have heard of Hops being even faster growing, and can, on a good day, gain a foot in one day! Awesome!

No carrot sprouts, as of yet.  I plan to plant out another patch in succession and pray that the first still sprouts.  If not, I will get back around to their turn again.  I put in a few more spinach in a little cellpack, as well....just keep sowing, sowing, sowing.....OH! I am so excited Spring is finally here! =)

Bird Watching and Counting

Since putting up our feeders last week I have been watching to see who comes for dinner.
Our first diner was a chickadee.  At first I thought it was a Black capped Chickadee, from my bird field guide.
But when I had trouble finding my bird book, I looked in my Nat. Geo. North American Birds
I found that it could quite possibly be a Carolina chickadee...And there is not much difference.....they are very hard to differentiate the two species, and I am right at the convergence point for both fact, I believe there was an article depicting the differences between these two, and it says in many instances they are best left's a chickadee, that is for certain!
        {Click on the Photo above to enlarge, it is actually pretty neat. Female Northern Cardinal.}
Shortly after the chickadees located our feeder, the doves and cardinals found it, too.  And a few squirrels will hover under the feeders for spilled seed.  But the simplicity of the design of a water bottle feeder, prevents all but the most acrobatic and determined squirrels from feeding directly from them.

To my surprise this weekend I found a new visitor...the tufted titmouse. Fortunately, there are no common mis-identifications for these. They are really cute, and I think that I just love crested birds! Their little pointy heads are so adorable, and reminds me of music my mom used to make me listen to as a kid. 

Not that it is at all relevant, but she used to play the same stuff for my Uncle when he was little and my sister and brother as well.   Really nostalgic stuff for me, if not nearly forgotten by my siblings!

Maybe not your typical kids album, but I assure you I had Chipmunk Punk 
 and Sesame Street Fever as well! LOL!

{I digress}

So, speaking of Big Birds, I have been seeing a lot of red tailed Hawks courting, and boy are they vocal this time of year!  It is Mating Season!!! Look Out!!!
I will be trying to keep as accurate of a bird count as I can, to see what types of birds we can lure with seed, feed and natives.  Before I move, I hope to have an expanse of garden that is certifiable for a wildlife habitat. I may not have it certified, but if there is plenty to eat, and places to nest, that is enough for me and my feathered friends.  It is a joy to watch anything wild in its natural habitat, especially when you are trapped in a concrete jungle!
I plan to add more types of food and build some cat proof shelters in addition to the multitude of natives I have been and will continue to plant.  After the ice storm, we lost many good trees, and damaged many more.  each year I have planted half a dozen new trees and hope to continue to do that until we no longer own our property.  The wildlife in the back yard has had to adjust to the new surroundings, which became more sparse.  At one time the squirrels could run the perimeter of our yard, from limb to limb, without ever touching the ground.  They went from elm to maple to walnut, sampling succulent leaf buds, seeds and nuts, and never a worry of needing more food.  I would like to improve the setting to include natural foods for all the wildlife...even the occasional fox, and raccoon we have met with ......

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Just a list

Here is a list of little stuff that I would like to try this season, and hopefully I will be able to, if not, maybe next year! =)

  1. finish prop box and use to harden off indoor seedlings, start warm season seedlings, root cuttings in summer and start fall winter crops.
  2. install at least one hoop frame, for winter use and as an early spring row cover
  3. build at least one coldframe for winter greens and carrots. (trial run)
  4. build a prettier system for potatoes, maybe something that can be built and rebuilt each year.
  5. build a tomato trellis system that can be built and rebuilt each year.
  6. plant Jerusalem Artichoke on the site where the hops used to grow....if they don't kill it too! ;)
  7. Help get the family involved in Morel Mushroom hunting, spring Turkey hunting and wild food gathering.
  8. Plan a few fishing trips
  9. Finish tree house
  10. Landscaping (URG! :( )  Berm and swale project
  11. plant more fruit trees, vines and natives.
I think that is a long enough list for now.  There are plenty more things I would like to try this year....mushroom farming, grain farming, canning, bee keeping, beer brewing.....the list is endless....
And I may get to try some of these things if I play my cards right!  And I really can't wait.  Everyday is an opportunity to learn something new, and better still, to teach someone else what you know....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's for the Birds

I know that I tend to take my trash to treasure endeavors a bit too far, sometimes.  But some ideas are too cute to pass up and I just enjoy trying my hand at doing things my own way.  It is fun to see what you can do with nothing!

I have been wanting a bird feeder for some time.  I love the early spring mating rituals, and the cardinals swooping over my house chasing each other and singing "birdie, birdie, birdie" and "pikachu" (ok, I am sure that is not what they say, but my kids love pokemon and that is what is sounds like to me! )

So I bought a large bad of black oil sunflower seeds, and promised that I would plant as many sunflowers as I can this year, for their dining pleasure! I also bought a recycled bird feeder, that was about $6.  As soon as I set out food, we got a cold snap and freeze, and it seemed like the whole world was covered with a sheet of ice. See Previous Post

But the birds soon found the feeder, and happily began munching away. I have seen cardinals, and black capped chickadees feeding from it, and doves on the ground below it, happy for a free meal in this time of little natural food supplies.
I wasn't satisfied that my backyard friends had enough to eat so I began to construct more feeders from my recycling, to ensure they had a hearty meal anywhere in the yard.  I made 2 water bottle feeders, and one from a Welch's frozen grape juice can (which the lid does not fit securely back on!), and some unsharpened pencils for perches.  I hung these from dacron kite sting (50# test strength), in the garden, play area, and in a mess of tangled wild rose climbing up an old maple tree.  I tried to chose places they tend to frequently perch so that the food would be easily found, and hopefully they will have good natural cover to hide from predators, as well.

I read about bird feeding a long time ago, and I think I had it in my head that it was more important to provide natural food sources throughout the hardest parts of the year, and that feeding would just make the birds lazy, in finding natural food, and that they may become territorial or even aggressive about the feeders during nesting and mating.  There were all sorts of reasons why I didn't want to feed, most of them were the expense of seed and feeders and the lack of knowledge of their habits.  But I have changed my mind, that natural foods are the only way, because I believe that it is not always possible to provide enough of their needs very quickly.  It takes many years to establish any permanent planting, and in the meanwhile, the birds do suffer some.  I plan to incorporate both ideas, and feed in the times they need it most, and selfishly, I do it for the pleasure of seeing them interact in their natural habitat, not only for their well-being! =)
 I will post a few pictures of the water bottle feeders, and why I have decided that there isn't much point in buying a feeder, so long as the birds know it is full of food, they will eat from a toilet bowl, or shoe!  It makes no difference to them, the beauty of the container that holds their nourishment.

My newest birdie project will be wine bottle hummingbird feeders, and I am awaiting the shipment of the nozzles to build them.  I plan to have lots of fun decorating them and hanging them from my windows so I can watch them as the gracefully hover weightlessly for the nectar.  I will try to post pictures of that project as well.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Harvest Hope, Harvest Health, Harvest a Hero

The other day I was visiting the Friends Of The Garden Forum and I began a discussion on local CSA's, Co-ops and ways to help needy families with acquiring fresh produce at little or no cost.  I was directed by a member of the forum to another website called The Well Fed Neighbor Alliance, which sounded like exactly what I was thinking.  But I was unable to find a program that was exactly what I was thinking about.

Back in high school I attended a field trip here in Springfield to Ozarks Food Harvest, which used to be located at Chestnut and Glenstone.  I called this morning to inquire about the program that I saw on that visit that allowed the people to have their own square foot garden for fresh produce. The families worked the plots and planted veggies and harvested all they needed from the plot in exchange for their time and effort and willingness to do the work.  Unfortunately they no longer are able to provide this program because of space and lot limitations.  I was informed that their new space is nearly all parking lot, which was so sad to hear.  I really was interested in volunteering for that program and helping to teach those in need how to grow their own health produce, and sustain their viability, and plant a future generation of gardeners.  It is hard enough to accept donations and these folks have to swallow their pride for the sake of their families just to get a decent meal, I think it is so reassuring to allow them to help themselves, and feel that they are making a difference in their situations.
So the alternative to the program is in association with "plant a row for the hungry". They call it; "ozarks harvesting hope" And you can donate your surplus fresh food this season and help families in need.  I urge you, if you are able to find ways to help those around us in our community.  At some time or other in our lives, we find that we needed some assistance, and I feel it is a great thanks to return the good deeds by helping others when you can.  We are in hard economic times and many are hit harder than ourselves, no matter how rough it is for you, someone else is needing help more, and you can give it to them, if you make a point to find ways to.
If I am unable to produce enough veggies to share with the Food Pantry, I would at least, like to donate some time and effort to their cause.  I am not rich, and have no monetary contributions to make, but I have time, and knowledge that I am more than willing to share, in return for a feeling that I helped, and nothing more.
I will continue to look for other local programs in this topic, and add them as I can.  If you have any suggestions, links or resources to help, please feel free to comment or contact me.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

First Day of Spring??? Are you Serious?

This is from a few days ago, on the first day of spring in Missouri.
You gotta love the Midwest!!!

It melted away pretty quickly...
"ha ha" Says mother nature! =)

Early season lessons

I started my seeds several weeks ago, and many have already come up.

The broccoli and Brussels sprouts were the first to show. And that begins lesson 1.
Although I thought I had planned quite well, honestly, I was a bit late.  Not to say that they wont
grow, they will be fine, but, I easily could be plating them next week, if I had planned better, and that could make the harvest even earlier!
The onions or leeks (maybe both) just began to sprout, and back to lesson 1; they should have been started MUCH MUCH earlier, but again, they will have plenty of time to mature, although I could have gotten a jump on the harvest. Reading last night, I think I may put a row of direct seeded onions in as well as my bunching onions.

Veggie Planting Calendar for Missouri

The spinach also began to sprout around the same time as the onions...with a lot of weeds! I actually used a flat of old peat pots, already filled with peat potting mix, that didn't make it last year.  It was either reuse it, or throw it in the compost! So those "weeds" are likely flowers or something that I tried to start last season and didn't mark.  I am thinking it was ground cherry and garden huckleberry, but who knows? I will be pulling them soon, so I guess it is of no consequence what they were!

Well, lesson 2 may as well be lesson 2,3,4,5,6.
Of all the books I read each year, and the few I have focused my attention on in the last weeks, there is little said of seed starting.  And what goes on in those first critical weeks.  And that has been a priority, with all those flats in my kitchen floor!
But the lesson on watering and environment, is what I would like to learn about most.  I had let my 3 year old daughter "help" water, and I guess she was watering even while I was not looking, and the poor pots have been soaked! It has only been the last several days that they have started to dry a bit and actually need water again. The house temperature is another issue.  We rarely have our house above 68F year round.  Perfect for cool season crops, but the tomato, not so much!  I need to pull them to the side and get them warmer if they are ever going to germinate. But at least that is one crop I still have a little time for! Plus I hope to buy a few when they start selling them in the next month or so. But as for remedies....I have had to withhold water, and I have lowered CFL lights over them, so they are not reaching for the grow light 8 ft above them. And I have also turned a fan on them for a while every day.  The purpose being twofold.  First, to help dry all that extra water Ms. Audrey gave them, and Secondly, to help them become stockier more sturdy plants.  I have read that it is beneficial to brush tomato seedling to make them stronger, and to have some "wind" on them, is going to help considerably in hardening them off.  I would like to begin to transition the cool season crops into the mini greenhouse, and make room for more seeds to germinate inside.

Back on that note, I haven't seen any lettuce sprouts...those and the tomato haven't done a thing yet.  In reading the Calendar, I notice head lettuce can be direct sown??? that is weird....maybe I should try that as well.
I would love to get some tilling done this week, for the new corn and tomato beds, and call the YWRC for compost ETA as well.
More soon....enjoy the nice weather, in case it doesn't last!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Defining my goals; Developing a farm plan

I have spent the last several days studying online. That is nothing unusual for me, I love research and learning, the internet is my best friend.....and I wandered upon more information that I have really enjoyed consuming. I like to follow my train of thought backwards sometimes, just to see if I can remember how I came up with a concept...much like Google chrome tracks my web browsing history.....This is where the trek started:

Giant Audrey ready to Bloom article from the Newleader and Friends of the Garden

information from a post on that site lead me to Practical Farmers of Iowa.

And they have been doing Farminars that I have missed...BUT...they are Archived! =)

The Farminars I was most interested in were in Vegetable Production and Marketing, etc. they are about 1 1/2 hours long, so I have been sitting and listening for a while. I have found the information is so valuable and I have really enjoyed the presentations.
One of the first that I watched was a presentation from Gary Guthrie of Harmony Farm, and a member and contributor of PFI. He gave a lovely presentation that, to me, was so reminiscent of John Jeavons'; Grow more vegetables book.
And other organic "sustainable" farming practices that I have read Elliot Coleman and Ed Smith. Then, it really hit home: that this is ENTIRELY possible. I really could try this....and BE A FARMER.
I have to try before I will know! I have been listening and reading information that supports all the beliefs I have developed over the years of reading. All the information I have gleaned from these books that I insisted I buy on Amazon. All the little tidbits of wisdom from friends and relatives on how they have planted this or that, or how their grandparents did it....all those volumes of Gardening encyclopedias that are currently bowing the shelves in the front room.....all this knowledge on the is adding up and culminating into a monstrous desire to try this. I don't think I can make it many more years sane, without beginning to make my living from plants and their synergy with people.
I am not sure what type of farmer I would like to be. I don't know where I will farm, or how I will get the money to start. All I know is that I want to do it, and it seems no less extraordinary than going back to college or suddenly changing professions from boredom....that happens every day...the only difference is that I don't have to change anything, but the scale in which I am growing. If I live on a farm, I am still at home, and therefore a stay at home mom....but also a stay at farm mom! Which is just as glamorous a title. =)

My gardening has been slow in developing up until the last several years, but now I am realizing that I am not alone in that....Everyone has to start somewhere! I didn't have the opportunity to do more with what I had, until I had something. And now that our house is finished and the kids are older and going to school in the fall, I have to focus on something. I am either going out into the working world, which is failing at this point. Or I am going out into a world that I make for myself. What is the difference? If I decide to work at Movie Gallery or be a farmer, there are financial risks involved, and social status' to be classified into....I want the choice to be mine, and not one of circumstance.
Since listening to a few of the Farminars on PFI's site, I have gained a new respect for certain obligations of the farmer and their families and friends. I see all the administrative aspects of farming as tedious but necessary. It has been really good for me to be exposed to this information early on, listening to the trials and errors, triumphs and pitfalls of each of these small farm endeavors is beneficial to know of before setting out.
Hearing the different types of operations, the new ideas that fizzled and the ones that helped to improve or gain more success from these ventures has taught me more that my narrow minded frame of thought. I always assumed that I would be different if I chose not to grow 4 acres of soy and 4 acres of corn on a 8.5 acre parcel. But it's just not true anymore. The new generations of farmers and the new generation of produce consumers have much much different ideas of what is kosher than 30 or 40 years ago. (for example, I just received a gift set of circa 1964 garden encyclopedias the other day. In the section on cold framing they suggested painting the inside with white lead paint....eww. It is hard for me to imagine not knowing that lead is bad for you). People have higher standards, and hopefully values as well, and we are evolving as people more consciously to repairing the misdeeds of previous generations, agriculture included. I want to be a part of that.
I don't need to make a lot of money. My husbands work is enough to get by, although by most people's standards it is not much. I am quite comfortable with his salary, and if I could duplicate it in the country and he no longer had to go to town to work, that is my dream. From what i have been hearing of yearly figures, a lot of small farms gross more than our annual income. Which to me, means more investing in the future of our family and farm.
A main concern of ours, is moving. Currently we are buying our home that we spent many years building, and we have a hard time thinking about moving and especially of selling. But harder so, is finding a way to do it, despite our financial hesitation. Renting our home and moving away will be easier once a plan is in place and an appropriate opportunity presents itself. This is why I have focused on learning and experimenting as much as I can on a smaller scale. My 1/2 acre+ of city land is ever increasingly becoming more and more productive. And I am learning new things all the time. I try to improve my methods with each year and find the best way to grow each plant, from the plant's perspective, so to speak.
My current plan is to continue adding vegetables, and reach maximum production from my plot. I want to evaluate expense vs. harvest, size of plot and seeding vs. our need for each crop. If at all possible I would love to begin marketing a VERY SMALL amount of this years harvest as an experimental CSA, or subscription service....and explore these avenues as an eventual permanent market.
I am focusing on season extension and succession sowing as a means to increase harvest vs. space limitations and to really get a feel for eventual harvest. If I over produce I will be very happy and share the wealth....under production would be considered my only failure this year. My goal is definitely to become sustainable for my family, and get a better picture for others families.
My goal is to be able to feed my family in case my farm does not provide enough profit, that we will be able to get by on very little indeed. I don't see that as scary. Planning is the scary part. My foggy ideas cannot equate to action. I am the type of person that plans and lists and pro/cons an idea before eventually going ahead....I have to be sure of my intent before trying. I have to be sure that I have what it will take. And the only thing I lack as of now is DIRECTION. I have the motivation and will to get the job done. But what job will it be?


I have too many goals to list in one sitting.
This is a serious drawback. I need to decide, for certain, what my farm enterprise will begin with. Veggies? Fruit? Nuts? Mushrooms? poultry and livestock? Transplants and seedlings? honey? firewood? consulting?
All the operations are inevitable...I want to do them all. But what is the MAIN GOAL of our farm? (sustainability) What is the farm's purpose and eventual goal?
That is what I am going to try to figure out this year. Experiment until I know....ask until I get the answer I need.

Friday, March 12, 2010

PH and my blueberries

Ok....the other day i took a soil sample from he blueberry bed. To make it as accurate as possible I took the samples in between plants, and not directly next to them where more fertilizers and amendments are added. Last year, I built the bed with oak leaf mold and my Ozarks soil (which is very alkaline). I added 3 cu. ft. of peat. A full bag of soil acidifier, and fertilized with Hollytone.
I have read that it can take the better part of a year for the PH to drop even one point. I am assuming that the soil was 7.0 (neutral) to begin with, although the probe type tester does not seem that accurate to me....
So, I took this soil sample, then went ahead and dusted around each bush with sulfur and hollytone, because I knew that the soil would still be too high, and I really want them to be in the best possible condition when they leaf out.
The PH to me looks like its between 7.0-6.0, but it's not a good sign either way, although it's progress in the right direction.

(This is why it is SO important to plan ahead , even two years for blueberries if you have alkaline soil. This is also why a raised bed will help reduce leaching the alkalinity from the native soil, although, there are no guarantees!) I believe that I will have to continue to do foliar iron sprays all season, to ensure their viability, until the soil is in proper range....and I need to get another bag of soil acidifier on the soil ASAP. And a healthy mulch of pine would also be beneficial.

Foliar Sprays <---------(taken from this PDF)
Foliar sprays of iron sulfate or iron chelates may provide quick response, often in a matter
of days. However, the treatment is often spotty and only temporary. Multiple applications
per season may be needed. Effects will not carry over into subsequent years.
Foliar applications are generally not recommended due to application limitations.
Complete coverage of all leaves is essential. Individual leaves not treated may remain
chlorotic. Coverage on large trees is impractical to impossible.
There is a small margin between an iron concentration that will green up the leaves and a
concentration that will cause leaf burn. Leaf tissues are rather prone to turn black from an
iron burn. Following an iron sulfate foliar treatment, it is common to see leaves that
remain chlorotic, leaves that green up, and leaves with black burn spots on the same plant.
Spray hitting the sidewalk, house, and other objects may leave a permanent rusty
discoloration. Chelated iron sprays are inactivated by sunlight.
Foliar applications may be made with some iron chelates or with iron sulfate products.
Both types of products are equally effective, but iron chelates are more expensive. See
product label for specific application rates and instructions. With foliar applications, spray
in the evening or on cloudy days when drying time is slower. A few drops of liquid
dishwashing soap or commercial wetting agent will enhance sticking properties.

I do believe that this PDF has been my most helpful reference for information on Blueberries and PH....also, the problem of super high PH in Colorado soils, and free-lime content. Very, very interesting stuff. And really helps me understand the "Why" of the problem, instead of "What is the problem?".....that helps the info stick! =) In fact, because of the PH issue...looking up this blueberry information, and reading the Colorado State Master Gardener information...I became (yet again) so thankful for the internet, and PDF's! Most states have a master gardener program, and I really want to join in my state...but haven't yet.
Reading these PDF's gave me that epiphany, in my amateur gardener's mentality..."the OHHHHH! I get it!!!!"....If you want to grow acid loving plants, definitely read these.

This is the potassium test. It was kinda hard to figure out which one it looked most like.

I don't know about you, but I don't feel that comfortable with anaylizing this results!
I see medium to high on nutrient values and "way too high for blueberries" on the PH.

Reading more I came across this tidbit again:
The preferred way of applying nitrogen is injected through the irrigation system. Soluble N
forms may also be applied on the surface near the plant row and irrigated in with sprinklers or
rainfall. Use ammonium forms of N (e.g. ammonium sulfate, urea,). Blueberries prefer the ammonium form of N and ammonium is the predominate N form in the soil at low pH.

Forgot about that.
(most of these links are from last year, but I am brushing up on the info and these little excerpts are vital to me.)

The tables at Michigan State are helpful for large acreage amounts but I will have to decide how much acidifier I need for my plot. I am seriously considering sending in samples to the University Extension for this and maybe finding out about a leaf sample test. It could really help pin point exactly what needs to happen, because there is a good possibility of over fertilization when nutrients are present but locked up because of PH. In other words, I could easily shock these guys by having too much of a good thing, by trying to overcompensate for issues created by planting the berries in soil with a higher PH value, or while the PH lowering compounds are still at work lowering the PH, and I continue to add them, the total amount may eventually become much too I need to be very careful while playing with the soil, so to speak.

I am stuck inside since the weather has turned cold and this is just "Food for thought today"....... MMMMM....blueberries!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Propagation Box

Yesterday I had the most clever gardening/recycling idea I have had in a long time. I call it an invention when I come up with a clever way to do something I haven't thought of before. And this one is pretty nifty, if I do say so myself.

My brother and I were poking around in the garden, not really doing much of anything, we cleaned up the raspberry patch and filled the bird baths but that was pretty much it. As I stood there looking at my yard (which is quite a mess), and my garden, I looked at the frame of our old skate ramp in a completely different way. I had looked at this thing several times and wondered what it could be used for in the garden. I thought about using it for a raised bed or potato bin, but the framework is treated wood, and I couldn't bring myself to let it be in contact with the same soil that my food is growing in. (this is OLD treated wood, BTW, not the new less harmful stuff).
So I had an epiphany....It was going to be my new green house.
You really can't call it a cold frame, because it is at least 4' tall if not a little taller. But it is very much the same principal. It is like a really sunny window, outside...I guess. I call it a propagation box, mini-greenhouse, or maybe even a "germination station" which is actually something else (I think a heated, lidded flat for seed starting, I dunno). The front is two stationary windows, and the rear is the same but the windows are hinged.

Inside are a few 2x4 shelves for flats. On top is another window, also on a hinge and some framing, to close it in.

This thing is COMPLETELY recycled. The only "new" parts are the hinges (2 for $1 at Sutherlands) and the door pulls (also 2 for $1 at Sutherlands). Total investment...maybe $5, but could have been free, because I have hinges around the house and maybe even a door pull, so if I could have found the items, it would have been completely free!
Even some of the screws were reused! It came together quite easily, by reusing all the lumber that came off of the original ramp, there was very little cutting involved, mostly just trimming and shimming.

I apologize for not having "before and after" photos, It really came together too fast to think about that!

The plan now is:
  1. Caulk up all the seams and air leaks. Also, clean and caulk individual window panes.
  2. paint exterior with durable, weather-proofing paint.
  3. paint interior white, to reflect light.
  4. ? line inside with shiny foil????
And then it will need to air out for a few weeks.
This is the most exciting project I have done in a while. And it is literally built from trash! I had been saving these windows since we built our house, for cold frames, or something like that. But with the ease that we were able to put this together, I know that this was supposed to be the fate of my junk! LOL! And I am pretty proud of my little ghetto greenhouse!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March: picture update 2 of 2

This is the other side of the potato bin (you could see from views of the Asparagus Bed, in Update 1 of 2). This is seriously ghetto, I know, but it should hold the taters in and allow me to pile some serious amounts of soil on the plants as they grow, which should produce a lot more taters. When I read about it last year, there were experiments being done on the best varieties for this method of planting...and I thought it was the small ones, and not the russets...but I can't remember! I couldn't find the link, but if I do, I will post it. There is another row of potato bins in the works soon....but this is the earlies and my first attempt at building them.
This is just one of the longer sprouts poking out of the soil. They are planted in a tilled bed, rather shallowly, because I will be dumping soil on them as they grow, and they will hopefully produce spuds at this level and above. This is actually the most important part of the potato plant, because this sprout is forming the main stem, that the potatoes grow from (directly above the cut pieces that are planted.) From this level and above, is where the spuds form, so it is important to continue to pile the dirt on and keep the "eyes" reaching for light. I believe, the theory that makes the potato bins work, is by keeping this covered, and reaching for light, you lengthen greatly, the amount of plant that is under the soil, and keep it striving to produce green leaves for food....but as long as it can survive on the nutrients of the planted tuber, it should have the energy to get much larger for me, and produce greater theory.....that is the way I understand it. For this reason, I will be throwing my bagged humus on them, until I can get a truck load of compost. I am going to try to keep them from getting real leaves by burying them and withholding fertilizer until the last possible moment (when it starts to produce real leaves). And even then, a lower dose of Nitrogen, might be a good idea until later in the season, when it really needs the full canopy and switches it's focus to maturing the tubers it already has produced. It will be very interesting to see how the theory works and what helps it work.... =)

here are some spud links:

March: Picture update 1 of 2

This is Bed 1, from the east side looking west. this is where we have a row of bush beans and peas, and under the plywood, is the carrot seeds. I read in my Veggie Bible book to do that to keep them moist during their long germination period.

Later this season the back of the bed will be Brussels Sprouts and Broccoli, and maybe a cabbage or two. The front of the bed will be carrots, succession planted, but the beans and peas will be squash and leafy greens, there will be more beans and peas in Bed 2.

This is the Asparagus that I was throwing compost and leaves on. They will be coming up next month and will need to be fertilized soon. this picture is taken from inside my compost bin, LOL, but I emptied it first!
This is a picture from the west facing east. So the first bed is Asparagus, and the next is Bed 1. I call it Bed one because it was the first one I put in, and the Asparagus is perennial (always there) so it doesn't get a number.....
To the left of the asparagus is my old compost bin, which is coming out, and to the left of it, the blueberries.
I am short a few blocks to finish that bed, but I would still like to move the pallets elsewhere, so I may use rocks to finish the bed for now.

(3/29/10 Update done and done!)

Getting Ready to Roll!

This weekend was BEAUTIFUL!!! But I knew it was too good to last! And this week they are calling for chilly and damp weather, but hey! I needed to come back in and get some stuff done anyways!
But I feel like I have accomplished quite a lot over the weekend, including purchasing bagged compost and potting soil to start seeds in, buying a boat-load of veggie seeds, getting a much needed PH and nutrient test kit, and of course....getting my certified seed potatoes...since I used sprouted grocery store potatoes last year, I promised myself I would buy real ones this time....which technically, I don't know if the Lowe's purchased ones even count! LOL. BUt for $4 for 10, and I cut several in half that had multiple eyes.....I think it was fair enough, without having to pay shipping and plan ahead!
I bought 2 pkg. Red Norland, 2 pkg. Yukon Gold, and one pkg. Freedom Russet. I figured russets are relatively cheap year round, and I want to grow varieties that aren't in the stores as often, I just haven't experimented enough to know what varieties I I want to try them all! =)
I took back the two "elliot" blueberries that failed last year, as well. And I moved my strawberries (from the hops murder crime scene) to the blueberry bed. I am hoping for runners so I can expand the bed next season. I amended with sulfur and hollytone plant as to get a jump on the PH.
We added a nice layer of compost to the Asparagus bed this morning, which is so important, because it is perennial, and should not be left out just because of it's undying loyalty!
I also forked through bed Number 1, and Audrey and planted out some bush beans and peas (the beans really shouldn't be out yet, but I have plenty of seed, and I figured I might try to hot cap them!) and a short row of carrots. I also put in some marigolds at the ends of the rows.
We built the back and two sides of the potato bin, and have tilled and planted our red earlies (the norlands) and will be putting out the others between St. Patrick's Day and April Fool's day..{I like to remember planting times by holidays and when other plants bloom, etc. helps me to remember and it makes me feel like an Old time gardener! =) } I have no clue how I am going to close up the front of the bed but I better figure it out quick! And I would like to concoct a better scheme for the 2nd potato bin, since what I thought up and what was built ended up different and more ghetto than I originally intended....but every year is room for improvement, and as long as the theory holds out, the potatoes should grow well, regardless of how it looks.
So today, we are going to bring some pots of soil indoors and begin planting all the seeds that I should have had in a LONG TIME AGO....and pray that they are quite large enough for transplanting in April/May.......(fingers crossed)

I hope to post up pictures soon.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Frugal, cheapskates, whatever you call it I wanna be one!

Today I got on google to answer what I thought was a simple question, which ended up in almost an entire day of reading blogs....but you know, I have learned a lot and have a great jumping off point to some great ideas. the question was about a cleaner way to bake chicken, because it really make a mess in my oven! So far I have decided to someday buy myself a Stainless Steel Roaster with rack so it is in a deeper pan that will drain off all that funky fat! I will have to try it before I know how well that goes......BUT, in looking for that answer (which I never came across! LOL), I found a few blogs about frugality and simple living....a few of my favorite things! I guess I am just jittery for gardening season to begin, itchy to get going. Mouth watering while looking through seed catalogs and garden plot this is a great distraction....
The wild and wondrous world of couponing!
Now this is not my first rodeo, I always knew what coupon cutting can do, BUT...I didn't know to what extent....

So after a lot of blogroll, and a lot of google reader adds, I have decided to give it a the very least I have to sign up to register my Dillon's card and get their coupons, since i shop there so often....but lets go a bit further...I have to think ahead and plan these trips to the store, and the meals they make...and that is just what I want to try and do.

1. make a better coupon organizer
2. sign up for coupons and rewards programs that are free
3. get ink in my printer and start printing coupons for what I already use
4. get that control journal going, to plan and keep track of it all!
5. share what I have learned with everyone

Here is a few blogs that I have added to my reader that are really into saving on the grocery budget:
this is a good site I plan on backtracking and reading archives! :)
this is a more general blog with lots of topics
this one has info on my local stores, it will be a daily read!

these girls really know their stuff and the blogs were a great time-suck, LOL, I have sat and read too long today! :)

one more and if you watch her video, you will see why I want to give it a try...not to mention that her video was about the store I shop at and WOW, what a deal! $115 in groceries for $1.67 WOW.....

Ok so that is it...the blogs I list will link you to all the other stuff I am reading, from the coupon clipping forums to the services that clip them for you, to just places to print. FAQ's on how to match your coupons to sales and what coupons can be "stacked"...I have learned a lot today...and I think that I could really save on some of our "big ticket" items that we splurge on, which would make it less of a splurge! And saving money in the little day to day purchases, adds up in the long that is what I will be looking at....

So ....just to get the blog rolling again, I thought I would share that with you. Soon I will be putting out seed trays and will begin veggie updates soon, I can't wait! :)