We built a new framed bed on Sunday. It was a man’s day in the garden. J and I started out the morning by loading up the oversize pallets used to transport stone counter tops onto the trailer to haul out to the “country house”. Once there we made sure to ice up the Coronas and place them in the shade and opened up a couple of cold, less than top of the line cans of brew. On days like this this cold and cheap beats warm no matter the quality.
We tossed the pallets onto the ground, and I grabbed the wrecking bar to pull the 2×4 pieces apart. Since they were built to carry counter tops, they each consisted of something like seven 12′ 2x4s, eight or ten 31″ 2x4s and the cheap planks secured to the top of the upper 12′ 2x4s. The planks are not salvageable and will become fuel for the fire pit that we have only thought about. The 2x4s became a single framed bed, 48″ wide, 12′ long and 14″ deep. Assembling the frames took only a short amount of time. Tearing the pallets down, drinking beer, and eating pizza took most of our day. Of course with the sun beating down on us we were required to consume large amounts of water as well.
Once the frame was built up, we carried a bale of straw over and dumped it into the frame. I used the garden fork to break off “flakes” of straw about an inch or so thick each which we used to line the bottom of the frame to smother the weeds that the frame was placed over. A couple of days ago we got 25 gallons of sheep manure to add a layer over the top of the straw. I’m thinking that we will want another 25 – 50 gallons of sheep manure, then we’ll layer loose straw. We’ll start another one or two of these frames over the next month or so and that might be enough for now. This will give us three raised/mounded rows and three frames – all about the same size. The frames are much more uniform than the double dug beds we prepared in the spring. And we might just be able to build a hoop house over the top of two of these new frames – we’re still a little slow on deciding to do that or not.
In the meantime, we have bid on a pickup truck and pickup bed water tanks for use on “the farm”. It’s a sealed bid that closes in about a week. If we don’t get the truck or the water tanks we still can borrow the truck we’ve been borrowing and there are other water tanks for sale around. It would be nice to have our own for use whenever we want instead of having to schedule it, but beggars can’t be choosers.
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It’s been a little over a month since the square foot garden was started. I realized that I hadn’t properly checked the amount of sun the boxes get – it’s heavy afternoon shade. Since the tomatoes and peppers are full day sun it means I probably won’t get as much out of them as I should.
The plants haven’t grown too much and only a few seeds that I direct seeded are coming up. I did start with some really old seed but I was expecting a better turnout. Yesterday, to see if I could get any better results I seeded mung beans, celery and more mustard. Again all fairly old seed so I will see if I get anything from these.
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I’ve lived in my apartment for around eleven years. Just a few weeks ago, due to the work and preliminary success of our “communal garden” I decided to set up a garden box outside. It’s really a bunch of plywood pieces held together with screws and 2×4 pieces from old pallets. It’s small, just 24″ front to back and slightly over 10′ long. I then acquired some used banana boxes to act as “pots”. A trip to Home Depot yesterday for several bags of soil, a bag of composted steer manure a couple of tomato cages and plants was just what we needed to get started. My wife also grabbed one of those upside down tomato planters. I don’t know how well they work yet since we only just planted it yesterday, but considering that she has another on the way from Amazon.com I’m really hoping they work.
I filled the bottom of my boxes with top soil, added a few inches of steer manure and a small amount of worm castings that I gathered in the woods (mine aren’t producing much castings yet). Into the mix went tomatoes and bell peppers. This morning I direct seeded onions, mustard, lettuce, carrots, spinach and dill. I still have a couple more boxes to fill and plant, but for now I get to sit back for a few minutes before trying to get a few more pickle buckets and collecting some mulch from the free pile at the public works yard to top off the planters.
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The garden seems to be coming along. The first potatoes have really started to fill in. I recently planted the rest of the potato row, but those new potatoes haven’t started coming in yet. This last weekend we started planting most of the rest of the started plants and we direct seeded several different kinds of beans and squash.
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I was telling my mom about the worm bucket system that I set up and she decided that’s what she wanted for mother’s day – a worm farm. And mom was serious. So I had to look into gathering more empty buckets. I had one and my “design” calls for four. So I stopped in Burger King last Friday, bought an obligatory coffee and asked about buckets. The kid behind the counter brought me one. I asked him about the ones I had seen by the dumpster and he told me that I could take those too. I scored five.
On Saturday I started making mom’s worm farm. After thinking about it for a while I decided to make the farm five buckets instead of four. My thinking was to make two into the spacers. That would mean that the stack would be: solid bucket on the bottom, empty main bucket, main bucket, spacers. Two of the rim sections of these buckets adds about six inches of height. Once the empty main is rotated to the top there is nearly a full bucket worth of castings in the main bucket. I liked this idea so much that I added another spacer to mine. I added 3″ of newspaper bedding and scooped out a couple of handfuls of worms to drop into the new system. It’s not much to start with, but they are supposed to be prolific breeders.
We went to mom’s on Sunday for late brunch. My aunt, cousin and my cousin’s daughter were visiting with my mom. I haven’t seen my cousin in something like 15 years so it was good to see her again. Mom was waiting for her worms. I showed her the setup, told her how to feed them and when to rotate the main buckets. Her main compost bin is too narrow, doesn’t heat up enough and dries out too fast (I see a new compost bin construction project coming) and she is probably going to end up using the worm buckets as her primary kitchen waste processor. And she couldn’t have been happier with a store bought gift.
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The worms are slowly getting established – they are not quite at the eat their own weight per day stage. At least it doesn’t look like that yet. We are still collecting the kitchen scraps to go into the compost pile at the garden. Little is going into the worm buckets as of yet. I looked and it’s only been a couple of weeks so maybe I’m just impatient, but I’m ready to start harvesting the castings. I mentioned the worm buckets to my mom who seems to think they are a good idea and wants her own setup. It sounds like I’m back to work.
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Yesterday I managed to get another bucket out of Burger King. I recently found out that I’m competing with the manager of the store for the buckets. She’s using them, according to her, to make 5 gallon planters. That’s not a bad idea especially if you have to move plants inside.
When I got home, bucket in hand, my wife looked at me and said, “no more buckets!” as I placed the newly acquired bucket onto the counter. It wasn’t until I had to go back outside that I noticed we had even more buckets than I remembered from yesterday morning; the worms had arrived. It’s been around two weeks since the buckets were taken to the office to get “set up”. Now they are here and we can start to use them for composting part of our kitchen food waste.
This morning, I went to work modifying the two bucket set up. First, I transfered the worms to my four bucket system. The two bucket system uses one “solid” bucket as the base and an upper bucket with holes drilled in it and a lid with ventilation holes as well. My bucket system uses larger holes in the bottom – 1/2″ versus 1/8″ – over which I lay newspaper that is dampened. Both systems use newspaper as bedding material so there is not much change there. Then over the top I placed one inch strips of newspaper. All of this is moistened by spraying it with a water bottle – everything I’ve read tells me that it has to be the consistency of a damp sponge so it’s pretty wet. I then started scooping the lettuce and other greens that were placed on the top as food into a plastic bin that I set to the side with a hand cultivator. Once the majority of the foodstuff was placed to the side I tipped the starting bucket and gently pulled the remaining compost and the wriggling worms over the top of the bedding in my new system. I then added the food back to the buckets.
As I sat looking at the bucket system I was trying to figure out how to save a little space with it. Then it hit me, stack the “unused” segments below the used bucket. So I have the solid bucket on the bottom, next is a bucket with all the vent holes, then a “spacer” which is the top 6″ or so of another bucket with the bottom cut out and finally the bucket with the worms and a lid. When the castings get to be “too much” for the top bucket, the spacer is placed on top, then the next main bucket with bedding is placed into the top of that. Assuming that the top bucket sits just on the top of the castings and bedding. Start feeding in the new top bucket and worms should naturally make their way to the top. Leave it that way for three weeks and all the cocoons should hatch with the next generations of worms leaving nothing but worm castings on the bottom – which becomes plant food. Then we use the worm castings for fertilizer and start all over.
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When we first started discussing the idea of growing a large number of our own vegetables there were three couples present. My wife and I, J&A and T&L. I originally thought I was the resident expert but soon found out that everyone has an opinion and advice.
When I was a kid I read the newspaper front to back – except the sports section – and Ann Landers once wrote that advice should be offered when asked. Otherwise, she said, keep your big mouth shut. Apparently not everyone read that column in the late 80s. Before we even dug our first shovel full of dirt I was told that sheep manure was better than horse manure by T with L backing up his opinion stating, “he knows what he’s talking about.” Well, T&L get to make their own garden if they feel like, but they’ve only tossed a couple of shovels full of dirt in our garden mostly out of novelty it seems. Now, I’ve heard the manure declaration a few times. Sheep manure is better than horse manure, and even that we should find llama manure because that’s even better. And when I called to find out if we could haul manure the guy on the phone told me that I wanted cow manure and that I should wait until late spring to early summer to get it from them. Here’s the thing. We’re ready to start now, not in the spring. I know where the horse manure is, I don’t know where the other types are – they are mostly privately owned. And the boarding center is about 1/4 mile away and will gladly give us the nearly trailer full that we can haul any day that we want it. Convenience, availability, and the fact that it can be used as a fertilizer are all important factors. Sure, if we can get any of the other manure types we would probably jump at using them. But I’m not sure that we could get sheep or llama manure in anywhere near the same quantities. For now, we’ve dug three deep rows that we’ve managed to fill with the 6″ layer of fresh manure – three trailers full of the stuff.
We have the potential problem of prairie dogs and the very real problem of rabbits. We bought rabbit fencing that we dug in 6″ down and 6″ folded over into an L-shaped barrier. It then sticks above the garden about a foot. Good ol’ T stopped by and said our fences were too low. What did Landers write again? For now, we are leaving the fencing alone, but we may find that the larger holes in the top half of the fence are too large and make some changes later. My wife and A both said something about fencing the whole garden in. J and I looked at each other and decided “no”. The thing is we would want to trench in the bottom edge of any fence and it’s really a beast to dig around that much ground. I’m thinking that T needs to keep his mouth shut.
The economy is hurting and many people are feeling the pinch. I work for the school district and my wife works in an industry heavily dependent upon public funding. My own job seems to be fairly secure (I do have a “job review” upcoming) as does my wife’s. But due to the dependency upon public funding she is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Her employer already took the step to completely eliminate overtime. They went in on a Monday and cut every extra shift that people were working and gave it to a salaried employee.
It hasn’t been discussed that I know of, but the school district could do like they do elsewhere around the state and outsource the busing department – or tell kids they have to find their own way to school. I just keep doing my job and believe that I do it well enough to keep it.
With all of this turmoil we decided to go in with another couple and start a sort of community garden. We’ve spent the last month trying to get a jump start on the garden rows. If we had started last fall we would have done these steps a little differently but now that it’s almost spring we’ve really had to get the jump on making the beds. I’m unofficially the garden expert of the group. I have a copy of an organic gardening book and some time to read and research.
I ran down the location of free mulch here in town and a willing horse lodging place for all the free manure that we can possibly haul. J has access to a trailer and a work truck so the first weekend our mission was to grab a load of mulch, dig a big hole and then haul a trailer full of manure. We are using fresh manure so it has to be dug in really deep to prevent burning. We drove out the the public works yard where the mulch is free for the taking 24/7 as long as there is a pile there. I made S go with us to dig and shovel the mulch. It was packed down and took a bit of time to get a trailer full of it. Then we drove back to the house to unload it. Mulch really is what we wanted last, so we just piled it off to the side out of the way. We then started digging the first row. I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be, we were digging down between 12″ and 18″. The layer of fresh manure is supposed to be the poor-man’s heated row. It adds a little bottom heat and warms the soil higher than just sun light. The row ended up being 4′ x 18′ and we dug down around 18″. The soil was actually fairly deep which surprised me due to the volcanic cinders covering the entire town and where it didn’t blow out of the stacks of our dormant volcanic beasts it was laid down by builders to level the ground.
This row ended up being a little short because the far end ended up being rocky. Rocks from two inches to a foot across really slowed down the end of the row. We also ended up putting some wire caging down to protect what appeared to be a cable tv line that ran too close to the surface. Once we had the trench dug down we filled it from the trailer with 6″ of fresh manure and then put the pile of dirt back into the hole and finished by leveling it out. It took all of this first Sunday from around 10:00am until dark to accomplish this first row.
Next up: Everyone has advice.
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