Saturday, October 9, 2010

Back in the Saddle

So, one of the tough things about running a company, tending to a garden, traveling for business and pleasure, and then trying to blog about the garden is that the writing tends to give way when time runs out.

My intent was to tell sequential stories about how our garden went each season, and this one has proven to be too busy for me to keep up.   But, around August, I decided that going forward, I would use the "off season" to go back and tell the story of the season.

One of my intents is to encourage others to start their own gardens.  While we definitely have had those who enjoy following our garden during the summer, the key to gardening is to prepare for an upcoming season, and to start that garden early.  But, I often feel from feedback that many people are mildly envious, knowing that it is already too late in the season to jump on the gardening bandwagon.  That's not really effective in getting people to start their own.

Therefore, I think my winter-blogging about gardening serves both my personal time-management purpose, while also encouraging others to think about gardening at the right time - before the next season starts.  Hopefully, it won't be too odd for me to talk about ripening tomatoes in December, but we will see how it goes.

In the meantime, whether you are still processing your own harvest, or just thinking about whether you will  have your own garden next year, I hope you enjoy the story of ours!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Transforming Hours

While I enjoy gardening on the weekends, one of my favorite things to do with the late afternoon until sunset hours is work on our garden.  It's the time when I can play some music and get some small projects done that give me more free time on the weekend - even if I spend all that gardening too!

I love this time of the year because the temperatures are cool enough to still wear pants, and the bugs still haven't multiplied to the point where being out at that time is physically dangerous.  And, on an evening like tonight, the combination of the low clouds and sunset lead to a sky full of ever-changing colors.  Add a half-moon, and it's sublime.

This evening, I had a project to complete over by the fire pit.  We decided to use a Lowe's gift card to pick up some Clematis plants, and we decided to put them in front of metal trellis's that have been standing bare for 2 years.  In order to do this, I had to find the nearby irrigation pipe, and run 2gph drips out to them.  Still a bit concerned about how much is enough with these plants. 

While working, I was listening to Widespread Panic - a show from earlier this spring in Washington DC.  Wilson and Sunshine were hanging out with me, but so was this gray cat on the nearby 6-foot fence.  He was just chillin and hanging on top of the fence.  I swear he was listening to the music.

I think part of the magic for me is just having a few hours to think about dirt, and the sky, and water, and cats - just about anything other than what fills my work day.  It's my time to give my brain a chance to rejuvenate and get back to normal.  I can feel the difference between days when I just work into the evening - it completely changes my mood.

I think my focus for the summer is to try to do this as often as possible.

Farmer's Market on Harmony 5/16/10: A Jammin' Good Time

After finding out that our friend Sue was no longer doing the Farmer's Market, and that she wasn't growing seedlings this year, we headed there without expectations.  It was a beautiful Sunday morning so far with temperatures in the 60s, and we got there just after noon.  If we found something good, great.  If not, we were heading to Harmony Gardens and Ft. Collins Nursery anyways.  We weren't going home empty handed that day.

It had a different feel than the one on Drake did the week before because the vendors were arranged in a circle vs. a long row over on Drake.  In the center there were two booths that were intriguing - one had two guys jamming on guitar, and the other had baby goats, with the requisite little girls oohing and ahhing over them.

As we entered the arena, the guys were playing "Trouble", which is one of our favorite songs played by Widespread Panic.   But, as we moved along, a few songs later they broke into "Cortez the Killer" by Neil Young (also covered by Panic).  These guys sure knew how to make going to the Farmer's Market feel like it was the coolest spot in town.

We picked up tomatoes and peppers from 3 different vendors, and then we found a Pineapple Sage that Deb has been trying to find for several years.  We had one back in our old garden on Doubletree, and she has this recipe she has been wanting to make for a while now.

We made a short video of our adventure - this isn't exactly something we do often.  OK, ever.  But, it was fun to have a video camera to capture the moment of finding our plant's for this year's garden.

Overall, we thought it was a good farmer's market.  Lots of vendors who had food, and many of the farmer's who were selling seedlings were saying they planned to be back with veggies once they come in.  I am sure we will be back a few times this year.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Weak Farmer's Market and Wet Heavy Snow

It's been an exciting 10 days since my last update.  Plenty of things to talk about, but a few lows to go with the highs.

We attended the Farmer's Market on Drake on May 8, and we ended up leaving with nothing because our friend Sue wasn't there, and we didn't see a whole lot of good plants.  Plus, we were on our way to Denver to meet some friends to go to the zoo and were a little concerned about leaving them in the Element.  It turned out for the better anyways, as we ended up finding much better plants the next weekend.

The main story for the past week and a half has been the weather.  On May 12, we got a snowstorm that dumped 6-12" of heavy snow all over our area in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado.  Many trees suffered broken branches, and there were power outages too.  But, we did very well with our plants protected in the wallowaters.
Even with deep heavy snow on May 12, our garden was protected by 36 Wallowaters
At this time of the year, things like the rock path hold more heat, so the snow melts more quickly.
The Chives already had their Wallowaters removed, but they handle snow like this pretty well.
Here, however, we had a problem.  Our beautiful early beans are buried in this box.  

The tomatoes did well in this first storm.  The Roma's, which were planted as early as March 29 (see the planting log) had just barely started coming out of the tops of them.  While the snow piled up on top, it actually created a roof over the plants, protecting them from the colder temperatures above.  The heat radiating from the water kept the plants inside toasty.

The peppers did well, but because they took up less of the interior space, they did look a little chilled - no problems, just a bit more towards the crisp end of the spectrum.  And, of course, all the herbs (Thyme - three kinds - , Rosemary, and Tarragon) were still thriving in their wallowaters.

The snows all melted by Friday the 14th of May.  The moisture was definitely beneficial to the garden and surrounding landscaping.  But, as the sun came out over the weekend, we discovered that the beans had taken a bad hit.  All of the new leaves had dried and shriveled, and you could see some sprouts that were stopped in mid-sprout.  It was sad and ugly.  That's what we get for pushing the edge on our planting early.
We do have some ideas on how to protect them once there is the new Straight/Velcro version of the Wallowater next season.  We are still waiting for prototypes, but we think they will be very useful when you need to plant in rows, versus small circular areas.

I made a short video tour of the garden the morning after the snow, giving you my first impression and inspection of the garden. 

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Farmer's Market: Our source for organically grown seedlings

We are heading to the Fort Collins Farmer's Market today to pick up seedings for our garden.  It's the best place in our town to find growers who have organic tomatoes, peppers, and many other plants.  Sue Oberle of Oberle Botanical is our favorite, and she always has the best variety of hard-to-find heirloom varieties.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Planted "Smart Pickle" Cucumbers

We got out into the garden after working today, and planted some Smart Pickle Cucumbers from Seeds of Change.  We have two trellis areas for Cucumbers, and we didn't hold back at all.

We made a video of the planting, and our technique for getting them to sprout.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Fixing Leaks in Older Wall O' Waters

Wall O' Waters can last 7-10 seasons when they are used and stored properly. But, over time, as they spend more time in the sun they become brittle, and sometimes one or more of the tubes in the Wallwater can spring a leak.

Fortunately, there is a Repair Kits for the Wallowater. They come in 6-packs (trust me, when you are digging up your old wallowaters, 6 isn't necessarily going to be enough. We currently have 36 wallowaters standing in our garden, and about half are older. Of those, at least 10 needed Repair Kits in order to remain standing - and I think I just went through like 24 individual Repair Kits to get this year's garden going.

We haven't been doing this long enough if we can outlast the 7-10 year timeframe, but I can tell you that it was no problem to revive even our oldest wallowater that needed 4 Repair Kits.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Our trick for getting Beans to sprout early

We got off to a good start this year, with our first plants actually making it into the ground in March.  Here in Colorado, while there are plenty of days for shorts and t-shirts we can still get a good snowstorm or a deep freeze in April.  This makes it difficult to plant things by seed because the soil temperature can vary quite a bit from year to year.

We were proud of getting some pole beans in the ground on April 4 of this year, and were looking forward to seeing vines in May.   The soil temperature was 58 degrees, which is a bit below the low end threshold of 60 degrees, but we thought "close enough".  It had been beautiful out for more than a week, and the forecast for the upcoming week was warm too - with lows in the 50s.  

Before planting, we soaked the beans (seeds that is) in water, and then rolled the beans in Inoculant.  This is a naturally occurring bacteria that aid growth of plants and add to the soil fertility.  Here's one on Amazon for beans.  I don't know much on the subject, but it certainly worked last year when we had 100% germination in both our purple and green pole beans.  We put some carrots in the foreground of the beans, and thought to ourselves that those should sprout no problem because they are a cold-weather plant for sure.

After a week, however, there were no signs of sprouts in either the carrots or the beans.  We thought that maybe it just wasn't quite there in temperature, but the upcoming week would produce.  At the end of that week, however, we started to wonder whether we were going to have to replant.  It's always a tough call to tell when you have waited too long.  Still, we are way earlier this season than in many of our other seasons.

But, I had this idea to help things along, just in case.  I speculated that by putting clear plastic down over the soil, we would send the water evaporating back down in the soil, and the plastic layer would also trap heat to warm the soil for germination.    It was pretty simple to lay out, and we used some old plant markers to pin it down.

Sure enough, within 7 days, most of the beans have sprouted.  We had to take the plastic off tonight before they all sprouted because we didn't want the weight of the plastic on the seedlings that have now come up, and were concerned about burning the first leaves with the heat trapped under the plastic.
 You can see the condensation under the plastic.

 The first beans poking out, with plastic lifted

I looked before posting to see if this was a common practice that I just stumbled into, or if this was a genuine discovery.  I didn't find any pages in my brief search, but you can post them in the comments section if you find them.  I did find lots of pages about starting seeds in plastic bags, so if you think about it, this isn't much different.  It certainly solved our dilemma.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Planting Early with Wall 'o Waters

It's the second season for The Octo Garden, and we are proud to have 16 Tomatoes in the ground by April 25th - one of our best starts in 10 years of gardening.  We already have dozen Peppers in the ground too, but the rains this afternoon kept us from increasing those numbers.

We planted our first 3 tomatoes on March 28th, and another 5 a week later.  They have all seen snow (deep snow), yet are thriving right now because they have been protected by a product called a Wall 'o Water or more easily - Wallowater.

The first tomatoes planted 3/28/10

The next 5 got their Wallowaters on 4/4/10

The wallowater was a product we found in 2002, and have been using ever since.  They are a series of tubes (no, not famous Ted Stevens Tubes that make up the internet), that hold water in a cylinder around a plant or group plants.  They allow us to make annual plants perennial, plant tomatoes and other veggies up to 2 months before last frost, and can extend the season 2 months after the last frost too.

They are very simple to use, in that you just fill up the tubes with water.   It only takes about 2-3 minutes to fill one up with a garden hose.  You have to be careful as you get close to filling each tube, however, because a high-pressure hose can end up squirting water back up - into your face.

Setting the wallowater up over the plant can be done by one person, but it's best done with two.  one person holds the weight of the filled wallowater , and the other pulls the sides apart to fit over the plant.  Then, once on the ground, you pull the base farther out to "teepee" the wallowater .  This effectively makes the wallowater a mini-greenhouse.

During the day, the water takes on UV heat which then keeps the inside of the wallowater from freezing at night.  This works even if the water freezes, as the heat from the earth below rises up into the enclosed area.  This is how you can put Tomatoes in the ground at higher elevation, northern latitudes, or anywhere that has an annual freeze up to 2 months before that last freeze.

An evening shot of the Wallowater-protected Octo Garden

The ones that are in the center planter above have been on the "perennial" plants.  We covered the Thyme, Rosemary, Oregano, Chives, Tarragon, Lavender, and Sage.  All of them survived one of the longest and coldest winters that many people in CO can remember except for the Sage.

The Tarragon did so well, we actually harvested 5 large sprigs for a Chicken/Wine dish that Deb has mastered, and this week, all of that plant material has regrown.  These things are just amazing.

The harvest for dinner

There was this much MORE left after Harvest #1

Although Thyme can survive a Colorado winter, it is probably best considered an annual.  We have had some survive several years in our first garden, but generally they had to be covered with leaves to really do well.  But, in a Wallowater, they thrive and are more like small bushes.

Silver and Lemon Thyme
English Thyme

The Rosemary did well, but is still working on getting up to thrive-mode.   There is still some brown stuff that will be covered up soon, and the plant is not as large as the others.

Two Rosemary are joined by a Dill and a few weeds.

The Chives had their wallowater removed in mid-April as they were filling the entire interior space, and they have natural resiliance to even snow.  They were partially buried in one April storm, but already look full and deep green before May.

The peppers have been snug in their wallowaters for 3 weeks, and while not as large as the tomatoes, they are full, green, and starting to show signs of flowers at their nodes.  These will be more than 2 months in the ground ahead of our earliest pepper last year - and we expect to have peppers that much sooner too!

Early Peppers

Pair of Peppers in Wallowater

It's amazing how many people still don't know about this great product, and don't take advantage of this inexpensive solution to having veggies earlier in the season, growing larger veggies, and for keeping herbs alive in early spring after a long winter.