Tuesday, March 31, 2009


For lack of a better idea, I titled this 'progress' really because I wanna see some. Spring is here but the my garden has yet to explode in growth like it will.

The romaine lettuce isn't large yet but it is adapting to its habitat. Hopefully something will sprout on the surface above within a week.

This bay laurel is in it's 2nd year. I will try not to neglect it as much as I did last year and maybe it will grow 6 inches like my plant guides tell me it will. Those red pebbly things are hydroton, expanded clay that I've experimented with in making selfwatering containers last year. I topped this bay laurel with it to possibly discourage fungus gnats from getting to it.

Finally, my mint is showing some life!

A friend told me of some hops growing where he works. I asked if he'd share a rhizome with me and he brought me a pot full of these! These are hops seedlings! I decided to save a few and try to figure out their genders later on. Allegedly, these have some sort of Belgian beginnings. All I know is that there were 2 varieties of hops where these came from that have been there for about 10 years. If I am lucky, I might end up with something unique and good.

My red mustard seedling after many months, are growing true leaves. Again, I'll have to thin these when they finally start to grow.

This is cascade hops I transplanted from a pot I grew them in last year. Last year they weren't very productive, this year I believe will be very different.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bokashi and Plumbing

I gave a bottle of bokashi juice to someone with a slow draining tub and after 2-3 weeks of treatment, it drains like normal. It looks like one aspect of bokashi has worked for me. This was a bottle with an off odor that I decided NOT to fertilize my houseplants with.

Starting from Scratch

If you wanna start a garden where there was none, there's more than one way to do it. A lot of people think that you need a rototiller and to double dig before you plant anything. That is not my approach. I had an art teacher in high school who said, think of any art that you make as being complete as you are creating it. This definitely applies to a garden. Indeed, a good garden is good art. Art is often beyond your control. A garden is definitely that. A garden is really a partnership with nature.

You 1st need to ask yourself some questions. The 1st one should be how am I going to do this and have FUN with it? One thing that makes a garden fun is not doing too much work. You might have an overall goal but it's best to do it in manageable steps. When you take a step by step approach you also get to reassess your garden. Maybe that spot that you thought would be great for lettuce because it looks to be shady gets more sun than you thought. Watching a garden go through a year will help you make better decisions later on.

You've decided what area you want to use. What should you do to make things grow better? I start by clearing it of weeds. Ideally, one should get in there and not only pull them from the top, but dig down to the roots. Maybe your yard is a god awful mess. A large part of my garden was awful. Rather than weed the whole thing, I concentrated on the front. In back I covered my weedy mess with cardboard. On top of that was some landscaping cloth and on top of that I put compost. I made raised beds about 6 inches deep. you can't grow everything in that, but you can grow a lot. Square foot gardening is all about this.

The 1st picture shows an intensely improved bed. I dug in compost over most of it to a depth of 8-12 inches deep, some largely due to the fact that I had to dig up a weed tree then topped it all with 3 inches of compost. This bed was very productive but if I had committed myself to doing the same for ALL of my garden I would have become really tired. Personally I tend not to be so single minded. It's so much more fun to fill a silly swan planter with flowers! This year I will shape up more beds.

One bed all I really did is top it with compost. I'd dig some dirt in as I planted things, but I didn't go crazy with it. In some ways this is less disruptive to all the beings that lived in the soil before I arrived. My veggies did all right with that.

Another thing I did because a lot of my space was challenged is to grow things in containers. I like containers anyway because you can get very creative with them. Rose Marie Nichols Magee, and Maggie Stuckey's Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers is a great book even if your plans are not all about containers. These ladies really make it fun with very specific instructions to make your plants grow.

Another thing I believe is important are flowers. Flowers are not only pretty and smell nice, they attract many beneficial insects like bees and good predators. Whenever there has been a lapse of flowers, the bad insects have dominated.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Salad Bowl

Remember my found homemade planter? I said I'd turn it into a salad bowl. So here it is all barren.

I've been trying to sprout my own lettuce but it's been slow going so I couldn't resist these romaine babies that are ready to go. I just cut slits in the felt and stuffed the seedlings in. I'd prefer more variety but it's early yet. These grow fast enough that I can eat them and replace them with something else later, plus I should be able to plant a lot more in here.

On top I thought I'd pop in some onion sets. This mixing spoon makes a fine dibble.

In goes the onion.

To make it more tidy I dibbled the rest before planting.

And that's it for now. Lettuce is very satisfying because it grows fast. I can't wait! Onions take longer I guess but I could just eat the greens. This is fun because you get to change it up whenever.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

White House Vegetable Garden I exclaim!

Wow! They are doing it! It's about the scale I'd hope for really. All right, off the top of my head I do not have much to add to this news except that I hope it will encourage more people to grow their own. With that excuse I will talk about my own garden.

This is the only fennel that seems to have wintered. There were 4 left last fall that seemed to die off one by one with each deep freeze. I hope this produces some nice fennel bulbs.

Here's some red mustard seedlings that are self seeded. I'l have to thin them.

This is something I found in a neighbor's trash. It was just the metal frame. I wove in this brown cord to serve as a skeleton and lined it with felt. I wanna grow salad greens in it and maybe try out a little mushrooms. Now that's a whole new can of worms but in contemplating the synergy of bokashi, I have contemplated how useful fungus can be to a garden's fertility.

Artichokes don't generally survive the cold of Pittsburgh so I wintered this in my coldroom in my basement. This one did not bloom last year. It should this time. In the background are some tulips shooting up. I just couldn't resist getting some deeply discounted bulbs late last season.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Enriching your garden

Since it's spring It is time for gardeners to help out their garden beds, if they didn't get to it last fall or whatever. I will attempt to talk about what I have done to help others and my own garden without looking for somebody out there that says it better.

In this neck of the woods it's a good idea to top your beds with about 1 inch of organic material a year. This approximates the amount of organic material that will break down into nutrients for your plants. If you are starting out with poor soil, you might consider going considerably thicker than that. Then you can mix it into your beds as deeply as you either have the personal energy or cash to pay someone else(like me) to mix it in for you.

I get my compost from a local supplier, usually Agrecycle who is the same place I go to drop off my yard waste. In theory we all should keep our yard waste on our own property and compost it ourselves but... maybe you just moved in somewhere where the soil is really poor. You really are better off bringing in some organic stuff that has already been composted. Composting takes time! Maybe you don't have room. Personally, I don't exactly have a compost heap. I still have a few areas that I dump some yard waste, that is areas that are sorta weedy still that I haven't fixed up yet. This yard waste helps(I HOPE) keep down the weeds. Anyway, last year I imported a LOT of compost to my yard. This compost by the way is made of the yard waste that is brought to them and composted for 8 months or so. It's good stuff and is almost always full of happy earthworms.

Last fall I had a customer that had me top her bed with as much compost as would fit. Her beds were in decent shape but now she doesn't have to really do anything with them for a few years if she chooses. It's sorta traditional to do compost in the spring, because things are growing and compost's nutrients are pretty available and to top with mulch in the fall. Mulch is not as broken down and it helps insulate many plants that may be a little tender. Really in a year most mulch resembles compost anyway, depending on how thick it is spread and what kind it is. The mulch I prefer is 'double shredded bark'. It smells nice, sorta like sandalwood to me and is dark. It just makes me think of rich people's houses.

Some people do raised beds which depending on how raised they are and perhaps whether the soil is toxic should be filled with soil and then topped with some compost.

If you liked that lovely picture of my truck click on the composting label below.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Terrace

This is the aftermath of dealing with the hedge, a muddy little bare slope. My sensibilities are pretty simple and primitive but this was ugly. Plus I always liked terraces.

The hedge ended where the railroad tie wall begins which left a weird gap between the wall and the slope. The shrub I removed there was so large and overgrown, it was like ripping out a tree. I thought about putting in a more standard sort of wall but considering my neighborhood, and the general look of my yard to begin with, I went with found material.
I have decided to plant some nice perennials in each terrace. The bottom one has siberian iris which should grow pretty tall and cover a lot ot the railroad ties. The 2nd terraces has bee balm, also called monarda, something I had kept in a pot last year because I had not broken enough ground for it. Beebalm is beenip to bees. I really think they get stoned when they re around it. Hummingbirds love it too.

One thing I thought might be nice is to plant my spent thalia bulbs. I planted them below the bee balm. Thalia is apparently the oldest (1610) known hybrid narcissus. I don't know if they'll do well considering that I forced them in water rather than soil and that I did not let them stay green for the 6 weeks post-bloom recommended, but it was plant them or throw them away. In planting them I have cultivated the soil to a deeper depth than I would have otherwise.

They were lovely in my house. I forced them in various vases and these gigantic sherry glasses in clear glass marbles, hydroton, and white glass disks.

Here's the finished (for now) wall. It is sturdy enough to hold a cat. I hope humans will not try to stand on top of it. Anyway it isn't so much of an eyesore and will be less so as the plants grow in.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

There's a Hedge

That straddles a border between my yard and an apartment building. I am working on taming it. It's just a mess! It was a combination of rose of sharon, spirea, and boxwood, with a ton of ivy choking it up and some wild morning glory and clematis (old man's beard) growing wildly. I am eradicating everything but the spirea and thinking about keeping some clematis but keeping it in check. I know also that I can't really kill the ivy but I am greatly reducing its quantity.

I am not taking pictures because it just isn't pretty. Instead I am posting some from last summer. Just looking at them cheers me up, even though I think I sorta look like my grandmother. Maybe that's why I chose that cotton dress. My grandmother had a vegetable garden and walked around barefoot all the time, squashing spiders with her feet sometimes, but that was in South Dakota.
So here's some summery pictures that cheer me up. It's hard to remember how beautiful my garden was. I am happy to see that my chamomile has self-seeded and that there are numerous chamomile plants growing, many where there aren't supposed to but I might just leave them be. Whether it's tea or bloom, chamomile is soothing.
My latest bit of bokashi juice smells like soy sauce. I guess that's decent.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Why is Bokashi a better Composting method?

On facebook a friend asked me "Never having heard the term bokashi, much less contemplated it, how is that different from putting our food scraps and lawn clippings in the compost bin the city gave us?" I must continue to preface what I say by admitting that I am new to this and am not an expert but bokashi... here's me trying to paraphrase what's said on numerous sources which I believe to be true...
  • Bokashi is speedier and safer than tiger worms and cold composting.
I got rid of my worm bin last fall because it was high maintenance. I had a problem the 1st year with it becoming infested with fungus gnats which in turn did damage to plants in my house including seedlings I was attempting to start for my vegetable garden outside. I believe those gnats killed half of them at least. Then last summer it got infested with some other weird fly, not a housefly but something large resembling a mayfly. To keep my wormbin going I had to bring it inside and some worms also would escape. It was just kinda messy.
  • Acidity kills human and plant pathogens
I hope this is true. I have avoided putting pepper scraps in because they eventually sprout, or at least that's what they did in my wormbin. Other seeds did too and it was kinda annoying. Considering that I am putting bones and cheese in here, I am increasing the likelihood of more weird bacteria. I don't fear it.
  • 2-3 weeks turn-around
This is actually true but that's sorta a cheat. When you empty your bucket, it is not broken down compost that you may dress your plants with. What you have is pickled compost. You need to bury it somewhere and let that go for a few weeks. In theory this breaks down very rapidly, at least you may plant something in that area when the acidity dissipates.
  • All your food waste, including meat may be composted
This is true and I love, love love that. That means you truly get to keep your actual trash can odorless. No more freezing Chicken bones and other mysterious meaty things!
  • Bad smells are eliminated
I have found this to be true so far. It certainly has made my trash can less stinky. The stuff under the sink has not offended my nose yet, not the stuff sitting in the basement. The stuff in the backyard that is buried is not stinky either.
  • Less pests around to annoy
My wormbin as stated above had some very unwelcome guests. No only that but the bin I kept under the sink kept attracting fruitflies. The bokashi bucket under my sink just doesn't provide a home for them so they are gone. Houseflies that could get into the regular trash if I had to throw old meaty waste have no where to go either so they are GONE. I LOVE this.
  • Less work and less THOUGHT required
Expired plain yogurt helps my bacterial balanceA motto I have is "Don't make me think!" I don't have to think "Can I put this in my bin?" If it's foodwaste, it's OK. I don't have to think about when the trash goes out. I don't have to think about the seeds sprouting from stuff I throw in. It all goes into the bucket!

Anyhow, I hope that this will be my last post on this for a while. What is pictured over there is some yogurt being added to the bucket. This adds Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, from some old yogurt in the fridge. I hope that this will help with the mix of micro-organisms.

Here's hoping for some real spring stuff happening soon. I might actually plant a few seedlings to get a slight head start on greens. I think it's time. I'll update for that as it occurs. I think I've address a lot of bokashi concerns here, but again I urge anyone interested to google it and help me correct any mistakes I make here.