Thursday, March 28, 2013

Raised Beds with Pallets

You say that you are not so good with tools.  You say that you don't have money for wood and screws.  Well, you can still have a nice raised bed garden - and you'll even have a little help with weeds growing between your rows!

This concept is so simple, it merely requires a trip to your local warehouse row.  Pallets accumulate behind most any business that gets goods via truckload, and they often stack them out back for any takers to take.

Just staple some garden cloth on the underside to hold the soil in place (plastic with holes for drainage would work as well), fill with soil, and you are good to go.

Thanks to Josh Sczepanski for posting this on Facebook today and getting my mind stirred!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Gardening Word of the Day: Cotyledons

Tomato Seedlings after 1 week
After only one week, we have Tomato sprouts that are nearly to the top of the Jiffy Seed Starting Kit clear plastic cover.  Each has a pair of leaves that are nothing like the rest of the leaves it will produce.  They are called Cotyledons or "seed leaves", and they are the solar power panels to allow the roots to start to dig deeper, and to help generate the first real pair of leaves.

From Wikipedia:

"A cotyledon (pron.: /kɒtɨˈldən/; "seed leaf" from Greek: κοτυληδών kotylēdōn, gen.: κοτυληδόνος kotylēdonos, from κοτύλη kotýlē "cup, bowl") is a significant part of the embryo within the seed of a plant. Upongermination, the cotyledon may become the embryonic first leaves of a seedling. The number of cotyledons present is one characteristic used by botanists to classify the flowering plants (angiosperms). Species with one cotyledon are called monocotyledonous ("monocots"). Plants with two embryonic leaves are termed dicotyledonous ("dicots") and placed in the class Magnoliopsida.
In the case of dicot seedlings whose cotyledons are photosynthetic, the cotyledons are functionally similar to leaves. However, true leaves and cotyledons are developmentally distinct. Cotyledons are formed during embryogenesis, along with the root and shoot meristems, and are therefore present in the seed prior to germination. True leaves, however, are formed post-embryonically (i.e. after germination) from the shoot apical meristem, which is responsible for generating subsequent aerial portions of the plant."

In the next few days, we will be removing the cover, and allowing these sprouts to start spreading their leaf pairs.  We will keep them under the gentle LED light for at least another 2 weeks, before starting to put them under stronger Metal Halide lights.  This is an indoor version of hardening off the plants.

Once they have several leaf pairs, and maybe even some true branches, we will then transplant them into 2"x2" plastic starter pots, which fit neatly into trays.  They will remain in these until we transfer them to #1 pots (aka 1-gallon pots, although they aren't really 1-gallon) which is where they will remain until they are strong enough to be hardened off outside, then eventually planted under Wallowaters outdoors.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunset Magazine's Perfect Raised Bed Garden

Sunset's design is 8 feet long and 4 feet wide with
the middle is easily reachable from either side.
Sunset Magazine has posted a great article to make a simple raised-bed garden box.  I like the design overall, and they give excellent instructions on the materials as well as how to put them together.  I think it is a perfect design for those who look to get started quickly, cheaply, and with an emphasis on function.

The only thing I would say is a challenge with this design vs. the one we have used The OctoGarden is the positioning of the posts.  In this design, the posts are on the interior of the box, and the outer boards are screwed into it.  This makes for a very easy project to put it together vs. the metal angles we have used.

My concern is that I've seen the boards (particularly when purchased from Home Depot/Lowe's warp considerably in the first two years.  You can either hope the inevitable does not happen, or plan for it.  In this design by Sunset, I predict that some of the corners will start pulling apart after 2 seasons, and as a result the boards will no line up to create a crisp corner.

The OctoGarden's design (which is now in it's 5th season) allows for the warpage, but it occurs between the corner posts.  And, the galvanized metal angles on the interior flex to accomodate the warpage.  As a result, the boxes themselves retain their right-angle corners, and the wood between actually looks like we may have bent it for aesthetic appeal.   In reality, we've not tried to change the nature of what cheap wood does outdoors, but instead allowed and accounted for it in our design.

Whether you choose to go with Sunset's or our design, the most important part is the plants that go inside.  And, in that regard, you really can't go wrong either way.  The wood will hold the dirt, and your plants will thrive in raised-bed gardens.

See Sunset's design here:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tomatoes & Peppers from Seed vs. Store-Bought

Huge Soldaki's from 2012
Every year, we go through the same thing: Should we plant seeds for our Tomatoes and Peppers, or just wait around for the plants to start showing up at the Nurseries & Big Box Stores?

The decision, most often, depends upon our schedules, the weather, and whether we've done a good job at saving and/or sourcing seeds.  I've written in detail about that last year, but I wanted to point out that saving seeds is really easy once you've found varieties that you like.

In 2012, we had been given a Polish heirloom, Soldaki, from a friend, and we planted just one of them in a new area of the garden that had not previously been planted with tomatoes.  Well, that plant produced some of the largest tomatoes we've ever grown, and in abundance all the way until the first frost - and we picked dozens of green ones that were at all stages of development that lasted a full month after that frost!

Our schedule this year has been hectic, to say the least.  So earlier in the winter, we had decided that 2013 might just be a year we leaned on the Nurseries for our supply of tomatoes.  But, as we got to thinking about the Soldaki's in particular, we just couldn't bear the thought of missing out an all that salsa, marinara, and pico that we enjoyed all last summer - and even the frozen stuff we have in the freezer to enjoy today!

So, the process of saving seeds is easy.  While there's lots on the Internet showing you the "proper" ways, we've simply taken the gooey insides of the tomato that include the seeds, and put them onto a wax paper or a paper towel sitting on a paper plate.  After a few weeks, we bundle that up in a plastic bag, and put them in a cool dark place till spring.  They come off the wax paper more easily, but even with a little paper towel residue, they should germinate just fine.

This is, by the way, how to obtain heirloom seeds that you can't seem to find anywhere local or online.  We've all been to Farmer's Markets and Nurseries that have varieties that seem unobtainable elsewhere.  Well, just buy one plant, and save some seeds from the fruits - and voila, you've got those heirlooms in abundance to plant, harvest, and even share with others.

For seed starting, we recommend using Jiffy Self-Watering Heated Greenhouse.  It sounds fancy, but it's just 70 pellets in a plastic tray, with a clear-plastic top that keeps the moisture inside to cycle back and keep the peat moist for germination.  A heater pad goes underneath to keep the temperature optimal, and sprout those seeds quicker than they would on a drafty window sill.

We also use an indoor gardening light to keep the light on the seedlings regulated.  We use an LED light from Sunshine Systems (called a UFO) that gives the seedlings a mix of red and blue light, while only using 90 watts to output about the equivalent of 400 watts of light from other types of indoor growing lights.  Once they have several pairs of leaves, we start to harden them off with a stronger Metal Halide indoor light.

Generally, you can start seeds indoors about 5-8 weeks before you want to plant outdoors.  The stronger they are when they see the real sun and wind, the more likely they are to survive.  I can't emphasize enough that you need to put them out for small amounts of time each day (maybe 30 minutes the first day, graduating up to a few hours) until they seem strong enough to withstand spring breezes.

Also, Wallowaters are extremely helpful when planting outdoors, as they give tomatoes much warmer temperatures to vegetate.  You want a big healthy plant with lots of vine branches before it starts flowering to maximize your harvest.

Well, hoping that everyone puts on their gardening hats and gets their seedlings started, or starts looking for their seeds for a bountiful 2013!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Preparing the Asparagus Bed

We are now in our 3rd season since planting Asparagus.  And, since we planted starts that were already through a complete season, it's technically season number 4 for these plants.

Last year, we got enough sprouts for one meal.  Yes, it was quite tasty, but clearly just a tease for what is to come.  We look forward to the years in the future when this Asparagus bed will feed us multiple meals each spring.

While we debated how many of the sprouts to harvest last year, it's my opinion that we were a bit too conservative.  In order to get the bed to mature, it's important to let some go to fern - but I think we may have taken that a bit far.  It was an Asparagus jungle!

On 3/10/13, I finally decided to look up a bit more information about when and how to trim back the ferns from the prior year.  It can be a bit confusing, as much of this information is derived from various message boards, where any yahoo can voice their opinion.  After a bit of research, I concluded that a majority of gardeners recommend clipping the ferns down at the end of the season - after the plants have turned brown and dried.

But, what do you do in Colorado, when we were still harvesting Lettuce and Spinach until December 7 last year?

Arguably, the Asparagus seccumbed to the frosts in November, but we really didn't have a good hard freeze until well into December.  And, by that time, we were busy with many other things unrelated to the garden.  It wasn't until March that I thought about it again!

So, I clipped the stalks down to about 6" above the soil line, and called it good.  Looking at the stalks, there wasn't any green in them.  They were completely dried out, and rather stiff.  I used clippers usually reserved for trimming small bush and tree branches to get through it, as bypass clippers were not doing the job well.

At this point, we are just watering the bed once a week to help these Asparagus sprouts find their way to the surface as soon as possible.  We just can't wait for some tasty Asparagus this spring!