Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ending May on a Green Note

As May comes to a close, I'd like to give some updates:

1. This past weekend we weeded (and weeded) and mulched some more. The weeds are prolific, to say the least. The upside is that once the vegetable plants get bigger they should block sun from getting to the weeds and they should get under control. Then again, the mulch was supposed to do that too.

2. What's eating at you? No, really. Something's eating at my eggplant plants. I didn't see any visible pests so I sprayed my organic "pesticide" (basically soapy water) from last year on all of the plants, not just the ravaged eggplants, just in case. Something was eating the eggplant leaves early last year too, but it subsided - whether it was the result of the organic "pesticide" or something else, I'll never know. I'd hate to lose all 6 plants.

3. The tomatoes are dying to be staked! Some are just fine. Others are getting tall (perhaps the grape tomatoes?). I plan on staking this next week (or weekend). I'm going to try something another blogger described as "The Florida Weave." Details to follow! I also pruned them - which is to pluck off some smaller branches so the plant can focus on the larger ones and the flowering and fruit production. I may have said this before, but it might be worth repeating - 15 tomato plants is a lot of tomato plants!! Gulp.

4. Zucchini looks good. At least 3/4 looked good. One is a little smaller. Maybe it's struggling or maybe I planted it later. Who can remember these kinds of things?

5. Heirloom Sweet Peppers are starting to flower! This seems early to me, but I guess it takes a while to produce fruit and then ripen each fruit. The banana peppers are...still small. But hopefully this week's warm temperatures will give them a little oomph. Also, I have set up a small experiment. I transplanted one zucchini because it was too close to another zucchini. I moved it too close to a banana pepper plant. My thinking was twofold-1) I love zucchini! Be damned banana peppers! And 2) I have 4 other banana pepper plants. But basically I figured, "Let me put these two little plants next to each other and see which one wins out!"

6. Green beans are...growing. Maybe I should plant more? I think I have about 8 plants. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? It sure doesn't look like much in the garden.

7. I should probably fertilize again soon. Maybe in a few weeks. I don't want to overdo it on them. Clearly (from the weed and plant growth), it's properly fertilized right now.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rain, Rain...It's Good for the Garden!

It's been raining all week here. It stopped for a few hours here and there, but for the most part we're getting a lot of rain this week and this month in general. I stopped by the garden once this week just to check in and, sure enough....there were more weeds! They were growing through the mulch! And birds were having a field day in the straw and hay. I'll admit that it looked sweet at first. But birds can't be good for the garden. For starters, they eat worms and worms are good for the garden. Worms loosen the soil when they move and they (ahem) "excrete nutrients" into the soil.

So this weekend, if the rain ever let's up, we'll be mulching more. Apparently what's good for the tomatoes/peppers/eggplant/etc is also good for the weeds. I may have said this before, but I think tilling the soil must've stirred up a lot of weed seeds. Apparently, even a little bit of light will allow them to germinate.

Next year, I will use black plastic after tilling to prevent (I'd hate to say "kill") any weeds that might be trying to germinate.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


What is mulch? Or maybe that's easier to answer after answering why mulch? Mulch is used as a ground cover to suppress weeds, provide nutrients to the soil, prevent erosion, and help retain moisture in the soil.  So to answer "what is mulch?" - mulch can be anything! Some materials that can be used to mulch are grass clippings, leaves, hay, straw, landscaping fabric, shredded newspaper, manure, or sawdust. I prefer to use organic materials. Last year, I bought a bag of compressed straw and hay, in which I barely made a dent. So this was my natural choice for this year.  On Friday I think I said I would try to wait a week so Morgan could help me mulch....

Well....I couldn't help myself!! I went to the garden yesterday to give it a drink of water (it hadn't rained in 2 days and it's not expected to rain for another 2 days). When I arrived I was horrified to see so many weeds. It looked like I was growing grass with some tomato plants growing in between.  In fact, the weeds were growing better than actual seeds I had planted, like the Bok Choy. So I picked a lot of weeds by hand, bid farewell to the Bok Choy, and mulched away.

I had an interesting thing happen too.  I was busy in my garden hand-pulling each weed when another gardener came up behind me. The same gardener that watched me break my back tilling the garden by hand before offering me the use of his roto-tiller. I was not in the mood for "helpful" suggestions. These gardeners are such know-it-alls.  Last year, I reluctantly fished for suggestions, but this year I recognize that gardening is a lot of trial and error.  No one gardener has a fail proof plan.  Anyway, I was expecting some sort of suggestion.  I knew that just digging up weeds and turning them back into the soil wasn't the best idea (you should ideally remove the weed or it will grow again).  To my surprise, he told me it looked good! Even with all the weeds? He might have been being sarcastic. Then as he saw me start to mulch he asked where I got it! He liked it. Or he was being super unnecessarily obnoxious, but I think he liked it! 

All the plants looked good too - except the Bok Choy - we're not growing Bok Choy anymore.  The zucchini plants were significantly larger, the tomato plants looked good, and the pepper plants looked....not any worse!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bad News Bok Choy

I planted Bok Choy a few weeks ago-that's not the bad news. I sort of remember where I planted it-that's not the bad news either. It looks no different than any other part of the garden-THAT'S the bad news!! And it has tiny weeds coming up-MORE bad news!! I think this year's garden is going to be over run by weeds-bad news AGAIN!!

I might have to move mulching up to this weekend. Oh, but then Morgan would miss out on all the mulching fun because he's out of town this weekend. I should wait for him!

Tomorrow I'll visit the garden to water it and hand pull a few weeds. I'm also going to (try to) figure out what's going on with my Bok Choy.

PS-On 5/16 I started heat tolerant lettuce (2 varieties) in the pot I mentioned on Monday. So far....nothing. But as always I have high hopes for it!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2012 Garden Philosophy

When I set out to create this year's garden I had a few goals.

In no particular order:

1. Organic - natural fertilizers/insect control, no pesticides. I could do better with this one by making my own compost and using cover crops. I do use natural means of pest control (removal, soapy water, etc), but I didn't use natural fertilizers (after the compost fail of 2012). I did use organic fertilizer, but cover crops and crop rotation would be ideal. As for cover crops and composting, this is a little difficult because I live in an apartment complex and use a community garden (I didn't know which plot would be mine). Same problem with crop rotation. Not impossible though. In the future, I will be better about this. For now, I bought organic soil builders and organic fertilizers and worked them both into the soil.

2. Sustainable - typically this means "requiring no outside input." For me, this meant cutting down my reliance on outside influences, such as fertilizers, pots, grow lights, electricity. I tried to do all of this by using the soil blocker to start seeds (no waste) and using my car as a greenhouse (no electricity). Both worked perfectly! For next year (ahem Morgan; ahem Christmas), I want the micro blocker so smaller seedlings take up less room! I used some electricity for the heating mat and the grow light, but I kept it to the shortest possible amount of time, which was the first 2 weeks when the sun wasn't being very reliable. When it was sunny, everything went in the carden. I also just reserved a rain barrel from the town to collect rain water to use in the garden. This will hopefully help in future gardens.

3. Abundant - my goal was simply to grow too much! I think next year I'll try to grow a greater variety too. I certainly planted a lot of plants this year, but I'm not sure how much is too much yet. Time will tell. Also, for someone who doesn't love tomatoes that much, I may be growing too many. Again, time will tell.

4. Entirely from seed - this is really so that I can make sure my garden is entirely organic and sustainable, but also because it is a lot more rewarding, albeit also a lot more challenging. Only time will tell if I've done a good job, which makes me a little nervous. Starting your own seeds is also a lot more affordable. Individual plants aren't too expensive, but it adds up. The most expensive part of this year for me was buying soil builder (about $60 total...maybe), but if I did a better job of using natural fertilizers and I grew my own seedlings, the operation would cost almost nothing year after year.

5. Keep it neat and simple - I tried to keep the seed starting/growing/planting process neat and simple. Basically, I didn't want the whole system to break down because it was too complex or time-consuming. Also, for me simplicity equals sustainability meaning that I'd be more likely to continue gardening rather than throw my hands up out of frustration. So far so good! I also kept the garden to one flat of plants and to one table, as promised to Morgan instead of taking up the entire kitchen counter. That was a bad idea last year. I admit it! I didn't like it either!

This is my 2012 gardening philosophy. For next year? I hope to grow more greens (lettuces, chard, kale, bok choy, spinach) and more variety of plants. Also, I hope to use/have my own backyard so that I can start cool weather plants early and so that by mid-May we could start eating!

Monday, May 14, 2012

When a Pot is More than Just a Pot!

To pretty much every person imaginable, a pot is just a pot. To me, this pot is possibilities! Having maxed out my 100 square feet of gardening space, I'd still like to be able to grow some leafy greens or carrots. I can put it at the edge of my plot and grow something more suitable to a container. At first I was thinking of growing carrots, but I'm not sure this pot is big enough. I think I'll try Swiss Chard since we both like eating it, it doesn't require deep roots and it is more tolerant to heat than a lot of lettuces (or so I've read). Although I am tempted to grow some Bibb lettuce, I think it might be a lite too late. I suspect warm summer temperatures are right around the corner (or so i hope), but I would like to try growing something new, especially greens because I haven't had much luck in the past. In fact, I've had almost no luck. One head of lettuce worked in 2012 and this year, none! I'm not sure if that was because I started them with the heat-loving seeds on the warm seed-starting mat or what, but none looked strong-maybe lettuce just comes up more delicately than tomatoes and eggplant-I'm not sure. That'll be an experiment for next winter/early spring.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Grass Really is Always Greener

Yup...I'm on the shady side of the garden again this year. I'm not as worried though. I know that we'll get enough sun. It would have been nice to take advantage of the milder morning sun, but the advantage is that a little bit of shade should help the plot maintain its moisture, as in it won't dry out as fast.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

When do we eat?

This is the next logical question! And the answer is, I really don't know.  For starters, some seed packets give a "days to maturity," while other seed packets give you "days to maturity from setting out transplant." This wouldn't be a problem except that the tomato seed packets say 60 days, but I imagine it means 60 days from setting out because tomatoes normally take longer than 60 days to mature.  Also, I suspect that putting out my transplants earlier will affect the maturity of the plants - too much cold will probably stunt the plants - plus putting out the plants without 6-8 weeks indoors will probably have an effect too.

Here are my best estimates:

Eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers - planted on 3/17/12 - these vegetables take the longest amount of time (up to 18 weeks from seed; and 60-80 days from transplanting).  I expect to be eating tomatoes and eggplant as early as June 30, 2012, but more realistically around the middle of July to early August.  The good thing is that once they start producing, they can produce until the days get shorter and the weather cools.  The banana peppers got started a week later, and were still quite small when I transplanted them - like really small.  This has me a little worried, especially because peppers are typically heat-loving plants and it has not been very warm at all. I expect to be eating banana peppers much later, if at all.  Target maturity date: 7/14/12 

Zucchini and green beans - planted 4/22/12 - these vegetables are quicker to mature (8-10 weeks in the right conditions).  I expect to be eating zucchini and green beans by mid- to end of June, assuming they are not stunted by the cold weather this month.  Target maturity date: 6/16/12

Bok Choy - planted 5/6/12 - takes up to 7 weeks to mature, but can be eaten beforehand as baby bok choy.  I expect to be eating bok choy by the middle to end of June.  Bok choy is a cold-loving plant, so I'm less concerned with the current colder temperatures and more concerned with the warmer June temperatures.  Target maturity date: 6/23/12

Eventually, and with more access to outdoor space, I will get the timing down better! In a perfect world, I would start cold-loving leafy greens (including bok choy) much earlier and outside.  This year I promised Morgan that I would contain my growing to one grow light and one tray of seedlings, so I could only start the plants that were absolutely necessary to start early.  Typically, these include tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  Leafy greens are usually directly seeded in the colder weather, but because my community garden didn't open until the middle of April, this was not a possibility.

Innovation in Gardening!

Many people think they can't garden because they lack a backyard or sunlight! Innovation makes gardening possible in any number of situations.

Just like I am able to use my car as a greenhouse, a woman in Quebec turns her swimming pool into a vegetable garden.


I'm not quite sure how the article transitions from having no water to having a vegetable garden, but it's a very creative way to protect your vegetables and probably also creates a micro climate which helps any vegetables that like warmer temperatures!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

As of May 6, 2012...

 The plot on the left is what my plot looked liked before I cleared it (I forgot to take a before picture; I was too excited to get to work on it). The picture on the right is how I left it after clearing out the landscaping fabric and weeds.  I kept the rosemary plant because it didn't make sense to remove it.  I will work my plot plan around it.

After I mixed in soil builder and fertilizer, I laid out where I wanted each plant to go.  I made my plot plan online using growveg.com and then laid out each plant to make sure I had spaced them properly.  It's not an exact science, and it didn't come out perfectly, but almost everything fit!  Morgan helped weed the walkways and plant about half of the seedlings.

I ended up giving away 2 banana pepper seedlings to another gardener, but I planted one more zucchini than I had planned for.  The banana peppers are a bit of a wild card and I still have 5 planted. I also managed to squeeze in some lettuce and maybe some bok choy (if they come up).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A little bit of spring...

I planted some lettuce and green beans last weekend. I also set up the tomato and eggplant cages just to get an idea of where everything will go - and to make sure no one else tries to claim my land! It's going to be a great garden this year. Oh I also planted a few zucchini to see if they'll come up!