Monday, May 20, 2013

Insanity in the garden, or "How to expand your garden size!"

Pots ready for planting peppers
I apologize to all my faithful readers for going a full ten days without writing anything! I ask for forgiveness due to busy paying work AND busy garden work. You'll see from today's post just how much has been going on around our lovely little freehold. Everything's growing, including the size of our available garden space, and so I invite you on the journey around our "micro farm".

There was a frost, you see...
Last weekend we started getting frost warnings. We went from nights in the 40s and 50s (acceptable for all but my peppers), to low 30s and mid 20s! Suddenly, not only did I have to make sure everything came in from outside, I also had to get in all the plants from the outside greenhouse (it is too small to hold any real heat, unfortunately). The indoor greenhouse is still full of seedlings too delicate for outdoors yet, so the bigger plants sort of got clustered on the floor and chairs all around the greenhouse, so they could at least get some light. Walking through the house was a bit... well, foresty, to be honest. However, nothing died, and even the couple of surviving tomatoes from my earlier planting did alright under some plastic boxes.

Basil and other herbs
My herbs have been doing incredibly well, growing to rather large sizes despite being stuffed into small plastic cups. They're going to need to get outside very soon, and now that the frosts are over, they'll be going into their new homes (more on that later). It's been nice to have their fragrant green leaves scattered around every flat surface, though, I admit. Every time you brush past a basil plant, the scent that wafts up makes you want to pull out the food processor and make pesto. I have two kinds of basil (Genovese and Sweet), sage, chives, green onions, and cilantro going right now, and I plan on picking up parsley and rosemary starts once we have the new herb bed set up and ready for them. My dill is still pretty tiny, but I wanted to get at least some of it started indoors. The rest will be direct seeded into the herb garden.

Peppers galore
My peppers have been doing incredibly. Well, the hot ones. The green ones didn't do well at all, and I'm not sure what I did wrong. Time to check my notes and see what mistakes I made! Likely it's just that I used old seed. In any case, there are a good bunch of peppers coming up now, and most of them are getting big. They're almost ready to start going out into the outside greenhouse. Once we're solidly in the 50s at night, they'll be coaxed into hardening off. I learned a lot about peppers this year from Pinterest (thank you, O My Addiction!), and so instead of planting the peppers directly into the ground, we're going to put them three or four to a container instead.

Pepper containers!
These big planters are for our peppers (well, some of them). They'll continue to sit in front of the big tire garden there, though we'll probably balance the colors out with "white green white green white" just because we can. Peppers, it seems, need to "rub shoulders" with one another in order to produce a good crop. They are also sulfur lovers, and so some suggest placing a match and a bit of fertilizer at the roots of each plant as you put them in. For nicer fruit, make a mix of one tablespoon of Epsom salts to a gallon of water. Spray over the plant and it helps it to produce larger fruit.

Peas on the right
Our peas, planted a few weeks ago, are doing great. They will need a fence in there by the weekend, and maybe earlier. From past experience, I know these will vine very tall, and so the pea fencing will have to be double high. The left hand row (in this picture) is snap peas, and the right hand row is Lincoln shell peas. Other than radishes, I am guessing they'll be our first crop! In the rest of this raised bed we'll be planting tomatoes. Though you can't tell in this picture, there are two small tomato plants that made it through the frosts. The rest will be planted out as soon as we're guaranteed no more frost.  Along the very left hand edge of the bed, I planted several clumps of romaine lettuce. They'll grow happily under the shade of the tomatoes and peas, and hopefully will provide us with another earlyish crop.

The broken bed
My broken bed is about to get less broken. Last year, this bed housed my peas, green beans and tomatoes. This year it'll be home to more tomatoes and some squash, and probably whatever peppers don't fit in the pots we have. This was the very first bed I built, way back when! Under this bed, there are punky logs, old branches, and a ton of leaves. The edges were made of old wood as well, and it simply isn't good enough for this year's crops. We want the bed a bit deeper, and so we're replacing bits of it, and upgrading other sections. The two end logs are being replaced with huge chunks of wooden post that we picked up for free at the dump. They just happened to be the right size, and they won't roll off. They're also a good two inches higher than the logs that were previously there (and are now quite rotted down).  It'll be good to get this bed into production again!

Radishes and carrots
The first of the tire beds is full of root crops again. I've planted it with twice as many carrots as last year, because although we got lovely ones, they were waaaaay too few. I mixed the carrot seeds with radishes, because it helps to space out the carrots and also lets you mark the rows. The radishes are growing quickly, and desperately need to be thinned. The carrots are there, though, tiny fronds hiding in amongst the radish leaves.  Beside these, in the other half of the tire, are the beets. I planted more beets this year than last year, because the few small ones we got were so sweet and incredibly tasty that we decided there must be MORE this year!

The new greens bed
The newly built raised bed on the shady side of the lawn is doing extremely well with the broccoli, kale, and various types of greens. I was worried the late frost would harm them, but it doesn't seem to have done them a bit of harm. Quite the opposite, in fact! The kale is such a beautiful dark green, and the broccoli is starting to thicken up its stalks. Some of the lettuce and collards are even beginning to look like real lettuce leaves instead of being indistinguishable from the weeds.

The old herb bed
The other large tire bed was used for herbs last year, and to good effect. We pulled in a lot of dill, cilantro, sage, thyme, chives, and basil. The compost was very rich, and made for incredibly delicious and flavorful herbs. This year, we'll be switching this bed over to more beets and possibly some bush beans. Nasturtiums might also find their way into this bed, as they are both beautiful AND edible. If I pick up parsnips for the fall, they might also go in here. The tire beds are quite deep, and so are good for hearty root crops, especially ones that can over-winter.

The new herb bed(s)
This year, we're switching our herbs over to a new system. It is comprised of more tires, with room for planting both inside the tires and in between them in the diamond shaped spaces. We'll be moving over the chives, German thyme, and oregano, packing them each into their own separate growing area. We have several mints ready to be planted as well, and of course those must be kept firmly in hand or they'll take over the yard. In the center spots will go tall herbs like my mammoth dill and some of the larger basil, and perhaps a sunflower or two. We have lots of sprouted herbs to go in, seed to plant, and hopefully I'll get some cuttings from neighbors and friends as well.

Potatoes are growing!
Those tiny potato plants I showed in my post from a week or so ago have become these large, vigorous things! They're quickly filling up the tires that we put them into. This means we'll be picking up more tires and stacking them on top, adding more dirt, and encouraging more potatoes to grow. I am hoping that there will be enough of these potatoes that we don't have to purchase any at all this year. That would make me very, very happy. There's a deep sense of contentment when you can look at something and think, "It might just be enough." Sometimes self-sufficiency can seem overwhelming, and then you see something like this and it comes into focus. We just need to work on one or two bits at a time, until it all comes together.

The potato tires in all their glory
I'll have better counts later in the week, but I am guessing we have close to 40 tomato plants. I doubt that'll be enough for our family, both in fresh eatables from the garden and for our canning and dehydrating purposes. Tomatoes really are a hit-or-miss sort of thing, and so it's best to plant too many than too few. We'll be supplementing our tomato supply with extras from a local organic farm, where we can purchase delicious and meaty romas for less than the price of grocery store ones. Honestly, though, there's never such a thing as "too many tomatoes" because they can be put to so many uses! Eat the fresh, toss them in a salad, can them whole or crushed or stewed, make salsa, make tomato juice, make ketchup, make tomato puree, make tomato soup (and never eat Campbells again!), dehydrate them and make powder for use in sauces and breads, and broil them for a tiny and crispy taste of summer to enjoy all year.

Untouched "raw" compost
We get all of our garden dirt from our local dump. They have a huge compost pile that's chock full of manure, grass and straw clippings, chipped wood, and who knows what else. However, even after composting there for a couple of years, that black gold has a lot of rocks, grubs, and some garbage in it. While we have just tossed it into beds and sort of picked the worst of it out, this year we're going to a new level. We're sifting it! The dirt comes home from the dump, full of all sorts of twigs and half-rotted logs and stones, and we shovel it into the sifter and work it through.

Sifted composted soil
The result is this incredibly dark, rich, fluffy soil that makes you want to roll around in it. This soil will be perfect for anything we want to grow, although our first two plants going into the sifted soil are the new rhubarbs and our horseradish.  Both plants appreciate well drained, rich soil that is relatively free of rocks and other obstacles, allowing for a wide spread of roots and tubers. While it does take quite a bit of work, it's completely worth it to be able to put our food into this sexy soil.

The sifter
Grey created this sifter for us to make things a bit easier. It's a length of hardware cloth stapled onto a square wooden frame he built from a 1x2. We just put in four or five shovels full of the compost, and pick through to get the worst of the non-organic material out (there's a lot of bits of broken glass, and old garden cloth, and other such things). Then you shake the sifter over the wheelbarrow or the raised bed, and the good dirt goes through the holes into the container, and the rocks and other debris stay in the sifter itself. This is then separated into organic and inorganic items. Inorganic things go into the garbage, and organic ones are tossed into a pile where they can continue to compost.  The only issue with this type of soil is that, like sifted flour, it's very fluffy. This means that the bed I filled yesterday to brimming with freshly sifted dirt, is now compacted about half way and I have a lot more work to do to get it filled properly. Still, it's worth it!

Beautifying the front yard
We haven't just added vegetables to our yard, though. Sis went out and bought pretty flowers for the flower boxes we picked up. They're along the front of our porch area, where nothing really grows. They cover up the ugly rock beneath, without causing a problem by growing against the house. On the front porch there's a new plant holder, where we're currently displaying the pretties we got for Mother's Day from the kids. The front flower garden is coming into bloom again, and my hydrangeas are really greening up. We've got a few petunias for there, as well, and some other flowers, too!

What sort of things are you growing in your garden? Do you have a large yard like us, or are you gardening on your balcony or windowsill? What's your favorite thing to grow?

Shared at Wicked Good Wednesday (May 22)!

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