Category Archives: urban farm

Shocking slugs!

I am sure I’ve mentioned my disdain for slugs.  In all my gardens prior to having raised beds, I’ve been plagued by them.  They can be so destructive, and no matter how diligently I picked them off young plants (or set up beer traps to drown them, or sprinkle slug pellets, or whatever cure du jour I’d most recently discovered online) they always managed to be one of the peskiest pests.

Last year I read about putting up barriers (of varying kinds) to keep them out of my raised beds.  The most ingenious one I read about was copper tape.  It supposedly works by giving the slugs a mild electrical shock when they touch it, so they won’t cross it.

And I must say, it has been very effective as I’ve yet to find one on even the tiniest of my seedlings.  My peppers, tomatoes and lettuce seedlings have been growing along untouched by these spineless, shell-less destructors.

This is what the copper tape looks like when unrolled.  It’s got adhesive on the back so you can just stick it directly onto the wood of your raised bed.

Notice that I got smart this year and wore gloves while putting the tape on the beds.  Last year I must have been in a hurry (or lazy) and I didn’t wear gloves, and I got some of the most wicked, tiny cuts from it.  It’s a fairly thin strip of copper so it was kind of like a paper cut, but with thin metal — ow!

This is what it looked like right after I put the copper strips around my two new raised beds.  Those beds are now planted with my tomato and pepper starts, which are safe and sound thanks to the copper.

The copper strips I put around the 4 raised beds last spring are still holding on tight.  They have a slight green patina to them, but they haven’t peeled off a bit, despite a harsh winter and torrential spring rains.

One thing I did read about in a gardening forum is that you must keep weeds and other plants from growing up over the copper strips, because the slugs will use it as a “bridge”  to avoid getting shocked and get to your plants.  Which reminds me, I need to go out and weed right now…..


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






Hooray for 60 degrees in February!

I know, I know, we’re still in for more freezes and snows between now and Mother’s Day (unofficial last frost date in this part of the southern Appalachians), but DANG, it feels great outside!

Great helper - digging for stray carrots

I finally tackled our barely-decomposing compost piles today.  It was an archeological dig of sorts.  I found a perfectly-preserved apple in there from last October, a few smushy but still vibrantly red peppers, and I also found a resurrected kale plant that I thought was killed by the cold….it had even grown a few new shoots.  I fished it out and planted it in one of the beds.   Hmm, my compost piles need some serious adjustment.


We started these two piles last year, and they’re not breaking down as fast as I’d like.  I think the one thing I’m missing is some kind of animal manure to get it hot.

I also think stuff was too big…too many leaves and plant stalks (another one of my finds was an intact lavender branch that still smelled great and looked pretty cool too…but that’s not what I’m needing to amend my garden soil…)

So, my lawnmower became my mulcher.  I dug out both sides of the piles, and ran over the contents over and over and over and over ( = sore lower back in the morning).   This being a “yard farm” and all, the garden/compost piles are in close proximity to my neighbors, so I did go check with them and make sure they wouldn’t mind the mid-morning racket (they have a 3-month old and I surely didn’t want to disturb a nap with a lawnmower chewing up stalks and leaves).


After the lawnmower treatment

I was really proud of my idea to mulch with the lawnmower, but that was tempered by my husband pointing out that running over that many stalks will probably mean a trip to get the blade sharpened.  Oh well….it worked, right?



Compost tumbler

This is our other compost “system” in the yard.  I bought this tumbling composter a few years ago.  It looked so cool, simple and easy….it definitely heats up fast and turns all kinds of stuff into beautiful crumbly black compost, but it’s not easy to turn. And if you leave it turned lid-side-up, it fills up with rain and then you’ve got a big ol mess to deal with (like I had to fool with today).

But even compost slurry getting in my boots couldn’t put a damper on my delight at the hint of spring around the corner — yeeeehaaa!


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!)


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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