Thursday, March 29, 2012

End of March Status

Well it is the end of March and it doesn't seem like much is done, yet at the same time much has been accomplished mainly due to the warmer weather, although it has been cooler again lately but still not too bad for this time of year being in the 50s(F) during the day.  At this point we have finished the new raised beds and filled them all with dirt and compost.  I have started putting the fencing up around the beds.  I have opted for a semi-permanent fence on the ends by stapling a 4 foot section at each end.  Then the side panels will be next, I need to figure out a way to securely attach them that will allow for a quick and easy attachment and removal.

We have planted peas and spinach already in the new beds.  The greenhouse is filled with colder tolerant new seedlings and our light rack has been teaming with the warmer crops.  We will be starting a couple of flats with peppers soon for our local community garden this year.  This garden is run by volunteers and is a wonderful blessing to many in need by providing fresh produce for them.

I was able to test out the new oasis pump (mentioned previously) this week and have a mixed review.  Some things I noticed so far was that it lost its "prime" within a few seconds of not pumping, much quicker than the picture pump I used last year.  This is most likely due to air leaking where the pipes connect rather than a failure in the pump itself.  On the plus side it does seem to be able to pull up the water after several strokes without requiring to be primed.  My drop pipe is too low I think for the pumping to be comfortable.  It seemed to be a little harder to pump than the old picture pump and didn't really appear to fill a bucket faster than the old pump.  The pump handle is a little short and probably the weakest point of the new pump is that the stroke is very short and does not have a very full range of motion.  Less than 90 degrees.  I would think if they increased the stoke length and doubled the range of motion it would make the pumping be much more efficient.  The second time I used it during the day it seemed to pump a little better.  I will give it some time and see how it holds up.  I still haven't tried hooking up a hose to the discharge end yet.  I will need to get some fittings for this but I think it would be worth trying.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Planning Ahead

It has been a while since our last post, mainly because as the weather has been very nice we are outside as much as we can.  I have also been spending many late hours working on a major update to the Garden Time app mentioned previously.  I am quite happy with the new look but still have a long way to go.  I am not sure the best way to do certain things and still maintain the most user friendliness as well as flexibility for users. 

It has been in the 80’s (F) the last few weeks and we have been setting records for our unseasonably warm temperatures.  Since we both like it warm we are happy but what ramifications will this have on our gardening this year?
We are not the only ones enjoying the warmer weather. :)

Last year we had 7 raised beds, I just completed the fabrication of 3 more for a total of 10.  I think that’s a good number to stay at for a while.  Our yard has been changing over the last couple years.  We cut down some pines along the back of our fence to make more room for the additional 3 raised beds and to get more direct sunlight.  That was a big project.
Pines in the Process of Removal. By Hand of Course!
The trees were planted probably 25 or so years ago in a nice neat row.  I am sure as babies they looked good with plenty of room to grow.  25 years later they were crowding each other out, and pushing into and through the neighbor’s chain-link fence.  Therein lies another lesson.  It is easy to be short sighted and do things that look good and seem right now, but do we anticipate and think about how it will affect things down the road?  As an example, do we eat for the quick pleasure and boost found in sugary snacks, or think about the long term consequences of unhealthy eating?  We may not know what is best but if you think about it there is always something you know you can do better.  That is a big part of why we are going through all the effort to grow our own vegetables, to be able to have healthy food to eat and share.  It certainly is not to save money at this point! J

Our raised beds themselves have gone through some changes.  Changes to grow better / safer vegetables.  We started out with a single 6” cedar decking boards and some top soil we scraped from various places in our yard.  We have been adding more nutrients to improve the soil such as horse manure, compost, and leaf mold.  This helped but it still didn’t produce much and bugs and animals were getting into them.  We added a 12” chicken wire fence around the beds last year but this wasn’t enough.  
First Edition Raised Bed with Short Fence
We had rabbits, dogs (our dogs ate our veggies) and dear!  We are not going through all this work and expense to feed the local wildlife.  This is war!  At the end of last and the start of this year we have raised the walls, put in watch towers (posts that the birds like to perch on) and have a plan to add steal barriers to strengthen our defenses!  Seriously I am not sure if the 4’ posts look cool or silly.  
"Posted Double" Raised beds

After reading in yet another gardening book on how important it is to have good deep soil for the crop roots we have decided to add a second layer to our beds and ordered 8 yards of organic topsoil to be delivered by Bosch's Landscaping.  
What Does 8 Yards of Topsoil Look Like?  Thanks Vanna. :)
Adding a second layer was actually quite easy because the posts were already in place at this point.  The purpose of the posts is to be able to easy put on and take off a 4x4 section of fence (I have to figure out the best way to do this yet).  But why not just fence in the whole bed area instead of around each individual bed? Yes I thought of this but I am hoping that it will allow for different types of protection on different beds.  A finer mesh on some will help keep out moths, and a shade cloth on others will allow for extending the cooler crops growing season.  This is yet another experiment and I am sure that there will be more changes needed in order to improve.  Isn’t that just like our own lives?  We can sit back and coast by but if we don’t keep making an effort to improve ourselves we will likely not succeed, especially as we run into pitfalls and circumstances that demand we bend and change and adapt.  It is actually our heavenly Father molding us into a finer vessel if we allow Him.
Filling the Beds with New Soil

Saturday, March 3, 2012


We now have 2 grow lights going on our light rack over 4 flats of parsley, goji, broccoli, cabbage, and peppers.  Now we won't be using all of those plants, nor have room for them, some are spares and many are for giving away.  We will be starting more seeds in a few days for cauliflower, chive, onions, and thyme.
4 Flats on Light Rack 

Some of the seedlings are quite obvious and easy to differentiate between, for example the red cabbage has a nice purple leaf. But others are quite similar, for example the parsley and goji.  It is important to label and separate the seedlings to help identify them.  It is easy now inside, in our controlled environment (unless we mess up) but a little more difficult outside with weeds in the mix.  It is just like the wheat and the tares parable in the Bible.  They look the same growing up and you can't tell them apart until they produce fruit.  It is the same with people.  Some are obvious who they serve, some are a little more difficult to tell apart.  That is why scripture tells us that we can know them by their fruit..
Red Cabbage and Broccoli

Parsley and Goji, Which is Which?

Our Greenhouse (aka tent)

Today we will be talking about our greenhouse that we got on clearance from Menards last fall.  Well it says greenhouse on the box, but it is more like a tent.  The dimensions are 6 x 8 x 6.5 tall.  We are actually quite happy with the structure as the tubing is heavy gauge and it is still standing after several very windy days.  The shell of the greenhouse is a heavy plastic with a zipper door and zipper windows for ventilation.  There are side flaps along the bottom we can open for extra ventilation as well.

Since our greenhouse is unheated we are growing crops that can handle cooler temperatures.  According to research a greenhouse will create a micro climate approximately one and a half zones farther south than your actual zone.  The addition of row covers inside the greenhouse adds an additional one and a half zones.  So theoretically inside our greenhouse it is zone 7b and with a row cover we will have have greater protection.  So far it has worked quite well, our very mild winter this year has helped I am sure.  We put an extra row cover on for added protection only once.  

Timothy built a U - shaped raised bed inside and Shannon transplanted some of the Swiss Chard and Kale from our raised beds into it so we could continue to harvest fresh green leaves for our morning smoothie throughout the winter.  We will probably do some experimenting with warm loving crops this spring like peppers and tomatoes and see if it will give them an extra boost.

Greenhouse Sun Side View

Open Zipper Door

Inside View of U-Bed