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Category Archives: organic vegetables

Raised bed covers=mini greenhouses

I googled “raised bed covers” and “hoop houses”  at the first hint of cold last fall.  There were lots of great ideas online, but my biggest help was my McGyver-esque neighbor (who’s also an engineer/carpenter).

“McGyver” took one look at my raised beds and replicated them perfectly – from scratch.  I, on the other hand, had ordered mine online…having two kids under 3 plus cavewoman-like carpentry skills and a dear husband who’s about as talented in that department as I am…well, you get the picture.  Then McG built a PVC frame and covered it with chicken wire to keep critters out of their plants.  (We have two Jack Russell terriers who are very effective at keeping those kinds of pests out, so I really just wanted a frame for a cold-weather cover.)

 

Clamp (next to some kind of plumbing thing that broke, wrong kind)

So, materials and technique as I learned from dear neighbor:  1/2 inch PVC pipe;  plumbing pipe clamps (both the plastic and the copper kinds…they didn’t have enough plastic in stock at Lowe’s so I got the copper too).  The clamps screwed right into the interior wall of the beds.  I used a random hand saw to cut the pipe down to 6 ft. (the beds are 4ft. wide).

I really didn’t measure the distance between each pvc-length (now “hoop”)….I just kind of eyeballed it and used the good-ol measuring-by-footstep technique (the one I use when I don’t want to go back inside the house and scrounge for the tape measure for fear of waking up sleeping tots).

It took me a few afternoons to cut, bend, and attach the PVC pipes, turning them into the skeleton of my mini-greenhouses.  After I’d finished, I stood back and looked at my work, and I was reminded of a big whale skeleton, or dinosaur bones.  All that white pipe, couldn’t stand it.  (OK OK I’m particular).

I remembered that can of green fence paint in the basement from a birdhouse-pole project of my husband’s (don’t ask).  Anyway, I spent the next afternoon or two painting all the pipes, all 15 of them.  Total pain, but now my garden doesn’t look like an outdoor paleontology exhibit.

With the structure in place, I was determined to find the clearest plastic I could find.  I really wanted something clear so I could see my plants (yes, I wanted it to look good too).  I went to all the big home improvement stores, hardware stores, garden centers and even a paint store to find this elusive clear plastic.  None to be found.  More googling and I found VINYL.  Sweet.  

You can’t buy vinyl at any of the above venues, but I found some at our local Foam & Fabric store.  I bought a whole roll of the mid-weight (8 mil maybe?) and it was just enough to cover my 4ftx4ft bed, and two of the 12ftx4ft beds.  I used zip ties to attach it to the frames, and they have held up surprisingly well throughout the winter and its temps and winds.

In order to make the beds accessible, I divided the lengths of vinyl in half and nailed the bottom part (with old roofing nails) to scrap pieces of wood:  that makes it easier to lift up the vinyl in one piece, especially when it’s really cold.

 

Vinyl is tough to deal with when it’s colder than 45f or so.  It becomes less pliable the colder the temp, and therefore it’s more of a pain to open and close the “windows” on the frames.  But hey, beauty has its price.

 

And vinyl sheeting met the criteria:  functional + not ugly, and most importantly, we’ve been loving all kinds of greens all winter!

My best helper covering the small bed for the night

 

Checking out the cabbages

 

 

 

 

 

February, and I’m dreaming of tomatoes

Amish paste tomatoes make us all happy

This is my Amish paste tomato right here

My guys love to pick tomatoes.  They love to pick them so much that they will even pick them when they’re green, so we’ve had to do some re-training on *when* to pick.  Great lesson in learning colors.  Red=good to go, green=wait.

On the stove

Here’s three different kinds of tomatoes from my garden last July.  I decided to freeze them by variety, so that’s cherry tomatoes on the back left burner, my *FAVORITE* Amish paste front left, and Japanese black on the front right.

Frozen stewed tomatoes

 

Disease-resistant tomatoes: do they really exist??

After a couple summers of watching my dear heirloom tomato varieties die slow deaths from blight after a month or so of big yields, I was becoming disheartened.   I started looking at the “disease-resistant” hybrids at the local garden center, and wondered if they’d indeed be able to ward off the various blights that got my plants every year.

Wilting.... (image: Wikimedia)

Among various other attempts to keep my heirloom plants healthy, I’d tried organic fungicides, watering only at the base of the plants (and only in the mornings), and one weird planting technique: putting a couple tablespoons powdered milk, epsom salts, and compost in the hole in the ground before putting the tomato plant in. However, nothing really seemed to work.

So, I started buying hybrids in addition to heirlooms to see if they fared better. Nope. They all started getting the yellowing leaves with brown spots starting at the bottom limbs, which eventually climbed up the plants, at which point they stopped flowering.

Then I got all into pruning off the diseased limbs.   Tomato bonsai!   I think that was the best tactic.  It seemed not only to prolong the life of the plants, but they also didn’t look so sick.

 

 

Nematode junkies


 

 

Squash vine borers in action

Just when you think you’ve got a great, strong set of vines going, you look out on your garden one July afternoon, and see this.  Your first thought is, “wait a minute, I thought I watered this morning…”   Then you remember that you actually DID.  But you go water them again anyway because you figure it is just so ridiculously hot, how could any veggie plant withstand it?

While you’re watering away, there’s a grub gnawing away at the inside of the squash vine (and I imagine he’s laughing too…can you tell I anthropomorphize garden pests?  Helps me cope…).    My dad anthropomorphizes too, but in this case he speaks of the squash plant “writing and twisting” as if it were in pain from the attack. It all starts with the squash vine borer moth.  Looks cool, but isn’t.

(photo:  wikimedia)

You’ll see this wasp-looking thing casually flying around your garden acting like it’s just checking it out, but it’s really laying eggs at the base of the vines.  They hatch, then bore away and leave frass (a mealy waste residue) on the outside of the vine, right near the base…ick…

 

Borer larva in action (photo: Wikimedia)

In the past, I’d tried cutting open vines and smushing the borers.  But by the time they make themselves known the plants are so far gone that they’ll only produce a few more squash.  However, I read about injecting beneficial nematodes into the vines…and this is what I ordered from a gardening catalog:

Inside each syringe was a little sponge, full of nematodes.  I have no idea what a

Nematode syringes

nematode looks like or how big it is, but I do know that after injecting the squash vines with the solution, the vines continued to grow and produce lots (and lots and lots) of pattypan squash. This coming season I’m stocking up on the nematodes.

 

Ratatouille time!

Late July harvest

Things really got going in my garden late July.  This photo was one of the first big picks of the season.

I’d never had success with eggplant in previous years’ gardens.  Tiny, shiny black beetles would turn the leaves to lace in hours.

Ever tried to squoosh one of those critters?  They are so fast!   I didn’t see as many this year, but I had sprayed the plants with some sort of a neem-oil based pesticide.  I think it worked.

Also in the basket:  several varieties of tomatoes, peppers, the first generation of pattypan squash, lone carrot, stray cucumber, bush beans.

Note:  not all my plants were in the raised beds:  I planted the tomatoes and bush beans directly in the ground, and the squash in the hay bales.

What I wouldn't give for one of those fat tomatoes right now

 

Hay bale gardening. My grade: C minus.

Beginnings of hay bale experiment

Here you can see the two hay bales I decided to try along with my raised beds last June.

I’d heard they were a great space-saver in a garden and provided a great growing medium, so I bought two at the hardware store.  I followed directions I’d found googling:  place on side, water thoroughly, wait a couple weeks till they start rotting, then plant.

So I did.  Waited about 10 days till the hay looked like it was composting down, then I planted 6 squash starts in one (crookneck and zucchini)  In the other I planted pattypan seeds (I put some compost on top from our compost pile so the seeds weren’t sowed directly into the bale).

Three days later, the starts were yellowing, then dead after a week or so.  I think maybe 10 days wasn’t enough.  I also didn’t like how quickly the bales dried out (read:  constant watering, ugh.)  I started over again with more starts but that bale never really did so well.  The pattypan seeds, on the other hand, went crazy.  We had so many pattypan squash out of that bale and they lasted, and lasted and lasted….(even continued to grow despite the yearly attack of the squash vine borers, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog entry!)

 

Sow. Water. Wait….Wait, no weeding?

Oh what a joy to spend time looking at the plants growing in the beds instead of fretting over the wiregrass that used to inhabit this spot in the yard!  Raised bed gardening is so much easier than any kind of gardening I’ve done before.  It’s an especially good match for parents of toddlers as time for most things is pretty limited.

Dinosaur kale, arugula, lettuce (romaine, black-seeded simpson, red leaf)


 

I fought the slugs…and *I* won!

Every other garden I’ve had has been trashed by slugs in early spring.  Baby lettuce? Nuked.  Fragile tomato and pepper seedlings?  No match for the slimy destroyers.  They are so gross and frustrating.  HOWEVER, in Spring 2010 the slugs had no chance.  I think the combination of raised beds and this magic copper tape (well, it’s magic to me) kept them at bay.

Copper tape

I put the copper tape all the way around the bottom of my raised beds, about an inch or so up from the ground.   Slugs won’t crawl across it because it supposedly gives them a mild electrical shock when they touch it (mwah-haa-haa, take that!).   You can see it in the background of this picture:

Copper tape on beds in background

It was not an easy installation as the copper was kind of thin (and sharp — think paper cut but with metal.  Ow.)  But it was definitely worth it, and it survived last summer’s rain and heat, and is still intact after our record-setting cold days this winter!

 
 
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