Saturday, April 25, 2009

Busy day

I started this morning by pulling weeds off the melon raised bed. To this bed I added yard dirt plus compost so I had quite a few baby weeds to pull. Some watermelon seedlings were coming up already (Sugar Baby Yellow, and Sugar Baby).
I was surprised to find dozens of volunteer tomato plants in the bed. Last year, I grew one cherry tomato plant there that grew and grew and became this monstrosity. I dug up a couple of the volunteer tomato plants and transplanted them to a separate "bed" that I made from the remains of an 18 gallon tote. I intend to manage them better this year. Their parent plant was a heavy producer of tasty cherry tomatoes.

Then I prepared a spot and planted the black beans (Midnight Black).

Better late than never doesn't apply in the garden but still I planted my peas (Mr. Big). I could not tell by the packet if they are vines. I thought all peas were vines. I'll have to look it up later.

I added soil to the potatoes which are growing strong.

I checked on the Hollyhocks. They are coming up. I need to protect them from my dogs; they keep digging in the bed.

I put the rest of the peppers on the ground. This year however, I put garden fabric down to discourage weeds and grass and thus make it easy on me later.

Last, when I was at Lowe's the other day, I found seeds of the yellow pear tomatoes that I liked so much 2 years ago and put a few seeds in a pot. I know I probably won't get any of those tomatoes until late summer or early fall but what the heck.

The terracotta spikes don't work; at least not as they come. After you screw the 2 litter bottle to the plastic attachment and insert both into the terracotta spike and fill the bottle with water, the water spills out instead of staying in the bottle to be delivered via the spike. Maybe I can figure out how to seal it.

There a few things left for me to do, like planting herbs and squash and mulching the fruit trees but I am close to being done with the planting phase of my operation.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Again with the watering

If it wasn't such a darn-tooting important part of the whole process I would not be so obsessed with it. Plus, last year, it took me an HOUR to water the plants, not to mention the large amounts of water I used. I vowed then that I would become a smarter waterer.

My watering strategies this year are:

  • Using rainwater as much as possible. Rain water is free and rain water is free of stuff such as chlorine and residual pharmaceuticals. Where I live is not heavily industrialized so acid rain is not a big problem. By the way, "pure" rain is somewhat acidic, with a pH of about 6 because of the effects of carbon dioxide; or so it says in Wikepedia. There are discussions on the web about getting your rainwater off the roof of your house. The concerns have to do with the materials the roof shingles are made of and what kind of dust settles on the roof that then gets washed into the rain water. For example, the dust around here is dust from the farms around Wichita. The dust contains pesticides, herbicides and who knows what other "cides". I am considering rigging some kind of temporary water-capturing jig using a tarp and rolling it out whenever rain is in the forecast and rolling it up when it is not.
  • Using sub-irrigated planters. I was calling these self-watering containers but the term sub-irrigated seems more applicable. Last year I tested one and I only had to put water in the container once a week, even in the middle of Summer.
  • Using watering spikes. Last year I bought plastic watering spikes. This year I complemented those with terracotta watering spikes. The plastic watering spikes released the water too quickly which was my fault because I drilled three holes on each. Now I know that I should have started with one hole. I have not tested the terracotta spikes yet so I don't know how they do in this regard.

While we are on the subject of watering spikes, which you use in conjunction with a 2 littler plastic bottle, I learned this last year: cover the plastic bottle's open end with some kind of fabric otherwise you will be cleaning debris and bugs out of them every day:

Also, because the spikes are relatively expensive, some people use the plastic bottle itself as a watering spike. When I read about this, I immediately thought about taking a needle or pin and making a bunch of tiny holes in the bottle to let the water seep slowly. I read somewhere that the tiny holes often become clogged with tiny particles of soil and the water does not come out.
So, we are advised to make one larger hole. I have not tried this so I cannot vouch for either hole-making technique but the advice seems sound.
When using watering spikes, the idea is to deliver the water directly to the root of the plant and thus eliminate putting water near the surface of the soil where it evaporates and does no one any good.
In a container, the setup would look something like this:

Whether you grow your plants in a container or on the ground, I would recommend that you "plant" your bottle at the same time you plant your plant. Keep in mind where the root of the plant is at now and where it will be in the future and bury the bottle accordingly:

Now I need to collect as much rainwater as possible. I've seen numerous home-made rain barrel designs on the web but I am unsure about making my own. There is a guy in Wichita ( who makes very sturdy rain barrels. I am considering getting one more 50 gallon barrel but we'll see.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Giddy with anticipation

At the recommendation of fellow blogger Diana, I signed up for pottery classes.

I went to Clay Art Studio and paid for a 10-class session which includes the clay and the tools.

I am so excited I can't hardly sit still! The tools all looked mysterious and esoteric to me, all except for the garroting tool that looked just like the ones the mobsters used in The Sopranos.

I spoke to Kaye (the owner and teacher) and told her about Ollas. She had never heard of the concept but she was happy to tell me that they have a low temperature kiln where I can fire my terracotta masterpieces. She also suggested that I may enjoy making my own flower pots...oh the joy! Plus, I get to learn how to do other cool and exciting things like glazing.

The class is every Tuesday at 6pm. The studio is practically next to my job. I can already hear The Righteous Brothers singing Unchained Melody as I sensually GET TO PLAY WITH MUD!!! (movie reference: Ghost)

Oh, and I can just envision the endless hours of fun me and my boys are going to have once I know enough to start showing them!!!

I don't know if I will be able to produce Ollas for this gardening season but I will sure have some for next year!

Gardening despite the weather

Now we are in the 80's. We went from highs in the mid 60's to highs in the mid 80's overnight. My strawberries are shell shocked.

Also, I am amused by my discoveries of things that are obvious to everybody else. I primarily grow stuff I can eat. Blame it on my childhood. This year however, I decided that I needed to grow flowers. As it turns out, flowers are needed to attract pollinators.
So here I was bemoaning that once I am done implementing my irrigation schemes, my garden will look like a production farm rather than a garden. Then it hit me. Why not plant flowers in containers and put them around the watering pipes and buckets?

We'll see how it all looks later in the season.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More on watering

Last year I bought a rain barrel but I did not get to use it much. This year, the 40 gallon barrel will be the center piece of my watering plans. The problem is that 40 gallons do not last very long, especially if I waste water, so I have to be very conscientious when watering this year. To help, I am growing most of my vegetables in self-watering containers. Some of my vegetables are growing in 5 gallon buckets with watering spikes in them, and a few, will be growing on the ground.
For the plants in the ground (mostly peas and beans) I have designed this simple drip watering scheme:

To achieve the drip, I think I can stuff some left over garden cloth in the holes of the pvc pipe.

For the plants that have watering spikes (I have both plastic and terracotta spikes) I am thinking of something like this:

The idea here is to use as little city water as possible. I also have a well but I am still working on how to integrate it into my watering plan. The well is connected to the sprinkler system that broke last year. To use it, I will have to uncap it and install some type of pump.

One issue that has been discussed at length in gardening forums is the use of PVC pipe when watering eatable plants. It's been said that PVC pipe, when heated and exposed to conditions common in a garden, leaches harmful chemicals into the water that the plants absorb, thus passing the bad stuff on to you when you eat the fruit of your labors. In particular, the use of PVC pipes in home-made self-watering containers is not recommended.
Me, thinking myself clever beyond reproach, decided to use aluminum tubing instead of PVC, only to find out that Aluminum ions are poisonous to plants. I did some research into the use of Aluminum piping and found out that generally speaking, aluminum is not reactive until the pH (potential Hydrogen) of the water/soil, reaches acidic levels (somewhere around pH 5) which could conceivably happen in a container plant.
The perfect material would be bamboo but I have not located a source of cheap bamboo for this purpose, so I am now using pieces of an old watering hose.
In the diagrams above, one could use watering hose instead of pipe. One could also use a watering hose INSIDE pvc pipes to gain rigidity.
A soaker hose would not work because I believe I could not get enough water pressure from the rain barrel, and if I did get enough pressure, it would soon diminish when the water level in the barrel dropped.
I will see if I have enough time to build one of these this season.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Progress in the garden, such as it is

In my ongoing quest to water the plants efficiently and easily, I found these terracotta spikes. They are no Ollas but the principle is similar. These spikes come with a plastic adapter where you screw a two litter plastic bottle. We'll see how they do.

I finally built a simple sieve to get the river pebbles out of the flower bed upfront. It is nothing fancy but it will do the job.

Also, I planted 10 Irish Eyes sunflowers in a spot on the front that was bare. When I dug in to amend the soil, I found that the original owner of the house had put bricks down to form a small terrace. I can imagine she put potted flowers on there.

So far, the only blooming flowers in my yard are the wild flowers. This one blankets the lawns with magenta and has been blooming now for about three weeks. I wish I knew the name of it. I also have tiny blue flowers with four petals and tiny yellow flowers from small clumps of clover.

Here's a picture of the upside-down tomato. There are a lot of posts out in the blogosphere about the home-made upside-down planters made with two litter bottles. I personally think that those don't hold enough dirt for a tomato plant. In fact, the store-bought upside-down planters are just take-offs on the old upside-down planters people made with 5 gallon buckets. If I decide to make my own upside-down planters, I will use 5 gallon buckets.

I sowed my cucumbers in a self-watering container and I sowed the Hollyhock seeds I got from one of my Facebook friends on a nice sunny spot in my yard.
Also, I made a 3x3 bed for my strawberries and put the strawberries on the ground. This time I covered it with chicken wire to stymie the birds.
I am about half-way done with the first phase of my garden.