Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Late summer update

Temperatures have moderated a little with dips into the 50's at night, but daytime temperatures still reach into the 80's. I harvested four more red peppers, seven small cabbage heads and a couple of peas from the plants that were started in July. I could have also harvested lettuce and choi from the July planting but didn't have time. There is still a lot of kale and chard from the beginning of the season and quite a few cherry tomatoes ripening if the squirrels will let me have some.

I am looking forward to creating the first new planter that will be proof against tree root invasion.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Argh, tree roots and squirrels and goodbye to "square foot gardening"

I did the major harvest and planting that I spoke about in the last post a week later than planned (just this past weekend).  I harvested about 10 thin stemmed  bunches of celery, 4 bunches of parsley, a cabbage (~4" diameter) and a couple of pounds of carrots. Many cabbage worms were fed to my koi that day.

After digging in the soil to plant the kale, choi and lettuce that have been growing under lights in the basement  (way too long, btw) , I am convinced that the major factor contributing to poor growth of some plants this year is the infiltration of roots from the nearby silver maple into the growing beds. I am finding a dense network of very strong roots throughout many of the raised garden beds, some approaching a half-inch in diameter. This explains why the beds have been so thirsty this year.

After doing some research to see how others have dealt with the problem, I have decided on a new design for my raised beds. I am going to raise the beds up on an extra course of 2'x8' filled in with stone (preferably granite). In order to prevent tree roots from finding their way up into these planters (in case the gravel barrier is not enough), I will place a sheet of galvanized metal between the ground and the planter. It looks like the cost will be $31 in #2 gravel per 96"x 30" bed and $38 for four 2" x 8" x 12' fir to build the boxes. The galvanized metal is $16 per 20" x 10' roll. I will be able to use soil from the existing frames, so no extra cost there.

Altogether, the cost will be about $100 per bed and I will need to build six beds to slightly exceed the current area of my seven 4' square beds. It sounds like a large investment, but the ROI will be maybe two years and I plan to continue gardening for many more years than that, not to mention the enjoyment that I receive from working in the garden and the superior quality of vegetables obtained.

As indicated above, I am also planning to adopt the 30" wide bed recommendation of Eliot Coleman versus the 4' square gardens that I have been building for more than thirty years. The narrower beds will be easier to plant and maintain.

Apart from the idea of starting from the beginning with a perfect soil mix, this change will be a major break from "square-foot gardening" as a practice. I had already abandoned the idea of planting only within squares a couple of years ago realizing that I can locate plants more efficiently and creatively without that constraint.

Interestingly, I have not had a problem with blossom end rot for a while. The first four green peppers and the first several beefsteak tomatoes had it, but now all of the fruit appears healthy. Perhaps it just took a while for the eggshells that I added to the soil this spring to become available. The only problem now is that the squirrels seem to be getting to the tomatoes before I can. I have never had a problem with squirrels eating my tomatoes before. A friend tells me that it is a problem this year because of the severe drought that we have experienced. The squirrels and other urban denizens are accessing sources of food that they would normally leave alone. They have also been attacking my acorn squash plants, both fruit and stem have been gnawed.

I have saved over $400 in veggie purchases by having the garden this year, but I know I will do even better next year once the tree roots are banished from the garden beds. I will be trying some new irrigation emitter designs as well as building the first raised planter in the coming weeks.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Greens harvest

I harvested about 4 gallons of lettuce, a bunch of kale and a few leaves of chard this morning. All of the remaining lettuce is reaching for the sky at this point. There will be a major harvest and replanting on Saturday (kale, parsley, lettuce, and celery).

Remember those green peppers that I commented about looking marvelous? Well, I found that several of them also have that blossom end rot. I picked the three affected fruits and managed to salvage most of them by cutting off the affected portion..

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mid-August Update

I was away from the garden for a couple of weeks. There were a few things that made me sad when I reviewed the garden, but after applying a little TLC, I began to feel that order was being restored in the kingdom.

I managed to get a basic irrigation system in place before I left, but it still needs tweaking in order to really cover the entire garden. I think that I need more loops and timers in order to have enough pressure to run the emitters, or I need to try some different emitters.

When I opened the fabric cover on the cabbage, about a dozen cabbage moths flew out, but most of the cabbage still have healthy looking heads developing. I will try to be vigilant about finding and removing cabbage worms that will be developing.

I was also disappointed to find that the beefsteak tomatoes are showing signs of blossom end rot even though I added copious quantities of broken eggshells to the soil this spring (calcium). The cherry tomatoes in the same container do not have the same problem. I will check the soil pH and may apply a foliar calcium spray.

I found one misshapen and discolored cucumber girdled by chicken wire. I noticed the striped variety of cucumber beetle crawling on the fruit and saw several more on my squash flowers. Not sure how to deal with this new invader. Life was much simpler when I concentrated on growing salad greens...

In other areas of the garden, the cucumber, beets, and squash are not growing vigorously. I have ruled out inadequate watering as the problem and the addition of rich soil amendment (Bumper Crop) has also had little effect. I am thinking that infiltration of roots from the nearby silver maple may be an issue and have a plan for next year to raise my gardens with cinder blocks beyond its reach.

One variety that is growing great at this point is the green pepper. It is making lots of fruit and looks absolutely marvelous. It is growing in a separate container. The basil is ready for another harvesting and I will probably pick all of the remaining parsley, celery and lettuce this weekend. The lettuce and kale plants under lights in the basement will be planted out.

We got a good soaking last night and today, the first since July 25 when we got an inch or more of rain.