Friday, May 31, 2013

Two Sisters Planting

There is a gardening technique called "three sisters" planting, which supposedly refers back to a technique the Pilgrims learned from the Native Americans in their first years in America.  Supposedly, you plant corn, squash, and beans in the same hole, and let them grow. The squash controls the weeds at the base of the corn, the beans use the corn stalk as a pole, and you get three crops in the same area you would use for one, not a small consideration when you are working your soil by hand (either as a Pilgrim or as a glutton-for-punishment microfarmer).

It's a great idea, and I'm sure someone can get it to work, but I never have.  If I plant all three crops at the same time, the squash shades the corn when it is young, the beans grow faster than the corn (knee high by the Fourth of July, and all that), and I wind up with a tangled mess.

Of course, one should always be wary of trying techniques that have been passed down in that sort of lore.  After all, the same type of story of the first Europeans in America also has the Native Americans giving the absolutely ridiculous advice to put not one but three whole fish in each corn-planting hole.  Now, I will readily believe that the Pilgrims were told to enrich their soil with fish heads, tails, and guts, as fish is one of the best soil amendments around, but if anyone ever said to put perfectly-edible fish in their corn rows, I hope they followed that suggestion with the words "April Fool!"

Anyway, since "three sisters" doesn't work for me, I thought I'd try "two sisters" this year.  I planted my rows of corn, using a new hybrid that is meant for small spaces and gardens, and then I planted butternut squash between the rows, not in the same holes.  So far, the two crops are getting along famously.  (This picture was taken about a week ago, so I'm further along than it looks.)  I might very well do a late planting of beans in July, once the corn passes that "knee high" point, but right now I'm hopeful that I will be able to get at least two crops in the space intended for one.

What traditional planting methods have you tried?  Have you had to alter them at all?
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Cautionary Tale

Over the years, I have avoided telling this story on my blog because it is pretty embarrassing.  But today I finally decided I should tell you all, in the interest of letting you learn from my mistakes.

About five years ago, I was out in our compost bins flipping and sifting compost on a fine May afternoon.  Our bins are open and free-standing, cordoned off into bays by garden fencing attached to garden fence posts and open on one of the four sides.  We have three such bays, so that we can always have one for very tough matter (like vines and fibrous things) that will take a while to break down, one that is actively working, and one that we can dig into for finished compost.

Anyway, I was reaching the bottom of the finished compost bay, scooping out the last of the good-smelling humus to sift and put on the garden, when I caught my shovel under a tree root I didn't know was there.  In my attempt to lift up, I unbalanced myself, and I threw myself sideways and was unable to get my footing back.

I landed right on the top of one of the fence posts, right on the edge of my ribs where my undergarments have an underwire.  If I had landed an inch forward, I could conceivably have impaled myself in a very tender spot.

Well, the U-shaped top of the metal fence post left a U-shaped cut surrounded by an angry purple U-shaped bruise that took a couple of weeks to heal.  I couldn't even look at it for a few days without freaking out a little, because of how close that cut and bruise were to such a sensitive area.

Did I mention that I did this less than a week before Mr. FC&G and I competed in our first ballroom dance competition?

Anyway, after the comp we came home and found a tube of old, dead tennis balls, slit them open, and used them to cover the ends of the garden posts so that any future falls would meet with a little bit of protection and padding.  Nothing has happened since, but I promise I will never again have a garden post shorter than I am that doesn't have a tennis ball protector on top, even if I have to go buy new tennis balls or other padding to do it.

Consider yourself warned.
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Friday, May 24, 2013

The Time Warp Garden Bed

See those beautiful, meaty leeks?  I planted them by throwing some seeds into my cold framed raised bed in February.

LAST February.

Welcome to the raised bed that time forgot.  Without fail, this particular raised bed, which is the only one over which we erect a cold frame, takes two years to produce a crop of anything.  I generally use it to grow carrots and leeks (and radishes, which, thankfully, mature at normal time frames), and it typically takes many extra months for the produce to mature.

This really isn't much of a problem.  As soon as I harvest all of one crop (I generally divide the bed in two and plant two different crops on two different schedules), I reseed the bed, regardless of the time of year.  In this case, I harvested the last of the last crop of leeks in February 2012 and just threw some leek seeds in there and quickly covered them up (it was February; I was cold!) and closed up the cold frame.  We had small leeks to eat all last summer and winter, but we still have plenty on that side that are growing fat and happy.  I'll certainly enjoy eating them all summer, although I'll be darned if I know quite how they overwintered (twice) and why they are now getting their serious girth to become the big boys like you see in the stores.

I don't know.  Every time I think I understand gardening, something strange happens.  I guess that's why I love my hobby.
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You're a Good Gardener!

I recently read a Facebook post, clearly a quote that I have not been able to track down, that attempts to reassure women that in spite different techniques and approaches to different issues, they are good moms.  Somehow, this hit home with me, joining up with the comment by another of my Facebook friends that I'm a good "plant mama."  The result is below, an homage to the original that I hope inspires you to get your hands dirty this spring, however you choose to do it.

You're a Good Gardener!

To the gardener who saves seeds and starts them in the dead of winter:  Isn't it amazing the way we can take a little piece of summer and save it for the time of year we need it the most, nurturing it til planting time again?  You're a good gardener!

To the gardener who picks up multi-packs of plants at the hardware or grocery store:  Good for you!  It's pretty cool that you can pick up something growing right where you shop and enjoy it for an entire season.  You're a good gardener!

To the gardener who composts all year round:  Something valuable from something wasteful.  You are ensuring that your garden is fertilized by something you've created yourself, over which you have complete control.  You're reducing waste and turning it into something beautiful.  You're a good gardener!

To the gardener who buys bags of manure at the store:  Who knew you could buy poop?  You've taken the time to go out and get a natural fertilizer for your garden, and you are willing to invest in your plants.  You're a good gardener!

To the gardener who grows only vegetables:  You're taking your time and your hard work and using it to directly nourish yourself and your family.  Better nutrition while saving on the grocery bill.  You're a good gardener!

To the gardener who grows only flowers:  The prettiest things in God's creation!  Isn't it wonderful that you care enough about beauty to nurture it and share it with others?  You're a good gardener!

To the gardener who uses a broadfork or spade and tills the ground by hand:  How mighty!  You are getting some serious exercise while cutting back on pollution and fossil fuel use.  You're a good gardener!

To the gardener who fires up the rototiller:  Way to get the job done!  You can deal with a larger area more quickly, and you are more likely to keep up your gardening hobby with a few power tools to help you along. You're a good gardener!

To the front yard rebel, who displays edibles for all to see:  Make a stand!  Let your neighbors see how beautiful and functional a front yard can be, and maybe they'll join you.  Imagine what a neighborhood full of front yard veggie gardens could grow!  You're a good gardener!

To the gardener who obeys all the HOA rules in a "gardening mullet:" business in the front and party in the back:  You keep going!  No reason to start a fight in the neighborhood or incur an unnecessary fine.  There's plenty of room for flowers in the front yard and veggies in the back, and you can have the best of both.  You're a good gardener!

To the gardener whose garden is measured in acres
To the gardener whose garden is measured in square feet
To the gardener whose garden is in raised beds
To the gardener whose garden is in containers
To the gardener whose garden is on the windowsill

You are all contributing to growing something for your health, your pleasure, your taste buds, your eyes, or your sanity.  You have connected yourself to something bigger than you, all through nurturing a plant.  You're a good gardener!
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Friday, May 17, 2013

Companion Planting: Carrots Love Radishes

Companion planting is more of an art than a science.  Take my garden, for instance.  Contrary to what a very popular book would tell us, my carrots don't love tomatoes.  (Presumably, other people's carrots do -- that's why the book is popular.)  My carrots, on the other hand, love radishes.

Carrots can be a pain to grow, especially in the clay-y soil that we have in Ohio.  They take so long to sprout, and if that ground gets rained on and solidifies, it is hard for the fragile little carrot seedlings to break through.  Plus, carrot seedlings look like grass, and they take a long time to get those characteristic frond-like tops, so it is very hard to weed the carrot bed until it is almost too late.

Enter the radish.  Everything carrots lack in speed, the radish has.  They sprout quickly and finish quickly, often up and out within a month.  Along the way, they provide some shelter to the fragile carrot seeds and loosen the soil while displacing weeds.  Plus, you will yank and eat the radishes just when the carrots are needing the room to form their roots.  Finally, planting carrots with your radishes lets you start two crops simultaneously in the same space, so less use of your precious garden space and less effort spading or tilling or broadforking up the land.

What companion planting works in your garden?
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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I Think We Have Apples

As part of the micro-orchard, we have two dwarf apple trees.  I selected these trees because they were recommended as able to pollinate each other, and they are in their second or third year in our care.

Last year, they blossomed at wildly different times, which we attributed to the fact that they wintered in different parts of the sunroom.  This year, we were careful to keep them close together, and we trotted them outside to enjoy the attentions of the bees as soon as it was warm enough, bringing them back inside to avoid any frost.

And lo and behold:  I think we have baby apples.  Certainly, I don't see anything else that could account for these cute little swellings that formed at the base of the blossoms.  Some never got much bigger and eventually fell off, but some have continued to grow to grape size.  Fingers crossed that they hold on, continue to grow, and ultimately give us some apples.

But what do I know?  I'm nervous because last year was a bad fruit tree year in our area, with several tree and orchard owners reporting that their trees never set fruit or never finished gestating a crop.  I'm as anxious for these little darlings as I am for every fruit and vegetable from my garden, and I hope everything works out.

Is it wrong that I pray for my garden right alongside my prayers for friends, family, and country?
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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Broadforking Update

Three years ago, we bought a broadfork with the intention of discontinuing the annual rental of a rototiller -- we hoped we could leave the soil structure a little more intact while avoiding any petroleum residue in the garden and foregoing the cost of the rental.  Three years later, I'm happy to say that it is a real success.

The first couple of years we broadforked instead of tilling, it was not hard, but it was some work to get the soil into a nice consistency.  As you can see at right, this year the soil really forked up nicely.  I did a significant patch of the garden last night, broadforking in two directions (at right angles), then working the soil over with a warren hoe.  The soil looks and feels like we tilled it, but we just used the power of muscle and fuel of body fat instead of relying on a machine.

The Analysis
Fast:  Broadforking is not faster than tilling, but as Mr. FC&G always says, it is slower, quieter, more pleasant work.

Cheap:  No investment in a tiller either through purchase or rental.  At the end of three years, I'd say the broadfork has nearly paid for itself in foregone rental fees.

Good:  A little (well, a lot, really) of exercise means the garden is already paying off in better health this year.  And I have the peace of mind of knowing I'm not dripping petroleum on my soil.
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Thursday, May 2, 2013

How Much Does a Garden Grow: April 2013

Oh my gosh, y'all, I am so excited!  The garden is making money!

With $200.44 in initial seed and plant expenses, we probably have a bit more to come in the negative column.  I need to get basil plants, a rosemary plant to replace the one I accidentally killed this winter, and no doubt a few other things that I just have to try.  But I think the expenditure part of the year is nearly over.

In the positive column, you can see that in April we brought in 2 oz. of potatoes, 3 oz. of leeks, and 5.5 oz. of greens, for a total of 10.5 ounces and a store value of $4.05.  Wheee!!!  Now we're starting to make some money.

The reality is, I do consider this my summer job.  Even though we are currently sitting $196.39 in the hole, I am looking forward to a day very soon that we are in the positive column.  I believe that took until mid-Summer last year, but I have my fingers crossed it will be much sooner this year.  Early positive indications include a fairly wet spring, so there is a lot of moisture in the ground, and a wonderful compost year, so I am able to put fresh finished humus on all of my garden beds.

What are you harvesting right now?
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