Monday, May 12, 2008

Casualties of War

So the invasion begins.

Bluebirds have started attacking my corn plant seedlings. The strange thing is, these particular plants haven't even broken the surface yet and now I have little cornstalk bodies laying broken next to freshly dug holes. And the worst part is they aren't even eating them, they just spit them out.

Last year they didn't even give them a second glance, even when there was actually corn growing on them. Another odd thing is that we have strawberries, I mean actual berries, growing less then 10 feet away in the dresser and they don't even look in their direction. I guess I should be grateful for that but I'm not. They killed my babies.

So now the war is on. If it were legal, I'd consider getting a pellet gun and having a little target practice. Then I could do a little research and post a review for bluebird pie or something. As it is I have to be content with a high powered hose and the satisfaction of a well aimed shot.

Of course that isn't all I have to do because I can't be sitting here watching the plants all day. That would go against most peoples concept of common sense as well as my own form of lazy square foot gardening so as fun as it sounds, that idea is out the window.

So instead I have to relocate the frames I used to hold the peas last year, which of course I had planned to do anyway, I was just trying to see how long I could put that particular task off. See what a lifetime of procrastination has gotten me? Well, enough of my complaining, I've got work to do.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dresser Planter update

Well, there it is in all its glory. Turned out pretty good if I do say so myself, and I do.

We planted strawberries in the bottom 2 drawers and basil, rosemary and sweet fennel in the top. They have been in for a few days now and seem to be going strong so I am hopeful we will have some for use this summer.

The plants are supposedly organic so that helps considering our goal is to have chemical free veggies from this.

All we did was get some cheap potting soil as well as 3 kinds of compost to mix together. The compost was chicken manure, mushroom compost and a mixed blend of 5 organic items as well. I also put in a little of the organic Miracle Grow so now all I have to do is sit back and wait.

Photos taken with Canon Powershot A570is

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dresser planter

We inherited a dresser turned counter a while back when some family members decided they no longer wanted it. To be honest, the thing was too ugly for us to use so it sat in the garage until today when I decided to turn it into a planter.

As you can see, I cut out most of the top and plan to fill the top drawers with soil and compost. Once set up, we will have herbs in the top and strawberries growing out of the bottom two drawers. Just as with the SFG boxes, I have drilled drainage holes in the bottoms of the drawers to help prevent rain drowning the plants.

To keep from filling the bottom drawers with soil, I will nail some wood, probably from what I took off the top, as new backs to them. It will look pretty cool, and it will at least serve a purpose now rather then to take up space in the garage. I had considered putting it on freecycle but I think this is probably a better use considering the condition it was in anyway.

When it is set up I will post new pics so everyone can admire my handiwork.

By the way, I have written a bit more of a description on making the planter here.

Photos taken with Canon Powershot A570is

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Planting the boxes

Well I finally planted the first stage of my two boxes today. I was putting it off so I could set up a self watering system but was unable to get the things I needed to make it work soon enough. I will keep collecting what I need and set it up for next year. We have also been having some odd days of hail rain and snow that had me worried about it being too cold.

So far I have planted corn, carrots and tomatoes as you can see mapped in the pictures. In about two weeks I will plant peas in with the corn as well as some zucchini or possibly even pumpkins. That is a lot of stuff, but I am confident they will grow. I will just have to be sure to put in some more compost and miracle grow which, according to the label is organic too.

I am direct sowing everything which as far as I can tell is sure to doom the entire garden anyway. The way I figure it, farmers don't plant thousands of corn plants and start them above their fridge, so why should I? This is my lazy square foot garden and I am supposed to let nature do the work with minimal input from me, not the other way around. That's what I keep telling myself anyway, and if Mr. Fukuoka can just toss his seeds out every year, why can't I?

So keep your fingers crossed with me and let's hope for the best.

Photos taken with Canon Powershot A570is

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pruning our trees (first time for everything)

So we finally pruned the trees in our yard. We have been putting it off because we are renters and figured that since we have no experience at this sort of thing, the landlords would rather have a professional take care of it.

No such luck so far so I decided to put some of my reading to use. Last year I read up a bit and figure I learned just enough to know that I probably killed three trees today. Fortunately for these trees it is still too early for them to realize what I have done. My sincere hope is that they have forgotten it was me by the time they start to notice it is too late. All I need is for three relatively large trees to have it in for me when I'm out in the yard later this summer.

For the most part I think I did it right. Or at least close enough to right anyway. The problem is my timing. There are already blooms on all three trees and although I would have liked to remove only dead branches, the severe overgrowth of the trees meant I had to remove a lot of perfectly healthy branches. This at a time when the tree is sending all of its energy to support new growth.

On the plus side, if they do die, I can plant something that will actually produce a fruit.

If they make it, then I will go in again this fall and finish them of...err up. They still have some dead wood, branches growing downward and some overgrowth higher up in the tree.

I used all of the professional tools at my disposal which meant a small discount store hand saw, dresser (my make shift ladder) and an actual pair of pruning shears with handles about 2 feet long. At least I think that's what they are. We found them in the woods last year and they actually worked great. This means everything I removed was at a height up to about 8 feet or so.

Oh well, live or die, the people using the sidewalk already appreciate my efforts and the pruning in the backyard frees up some space to allow for some clothes line drying of laundry this summer. Keeping my fingers crossed I don't live in one of those anti clothes line communities.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Some thoughts on watering

I know, I know, how difficult can watering a garden be?

The thing is I currently have three criteria I am trying to meet while setting this up. First, because this is my lazy square foot garden I want a system that requires very little work on my part once it is set up. Second, I want to be as conservative in my water usage as I can. Third, it needs to be cheap.

One of the most conservative methods I have run across uses pottery vases called Ollas which are buried, filled with water and slowly feed the plants as water seeps through the pores of the vase. Combine that with rainwater harvesting and you have a good lazy way to water while conserving water at the same time.

Unfortunately, the Ollas are too large to work in a square foot garden. That and I am not set up for rainwater harvesting. The expense of setting up for both is beyond my budget at this time.

Another method that somewhat meets the lazy criteria is similar to hydroponics. As long as you keep the water reservoir full the roots of the plant suck up as much as they need. As the water level lowers the roots grow keeping in contact with the water.

Here is a video showing how you can build a self watering system for individual plants. Similar to hydroponics except instead of the roots growing to meet the water they use twine to suck the water up to the plant from below. This is also a great way to recycle old water and soda bottles.

I am working out the details to combine these methods to allow me to provide just enough water for the plants to thrive but to do so even if I'm out of town on a camping trip this summer.

I will post the details when we return from our trip in mid April. I still need to look at supplies and what I have laying around to see exactly how I will set this up. As I put it together I will take pictures to document my progress.

Until then check out the video and the link to the Ollas.

Photography by Patrick B├╝rgler

Friday, March 28, 2008

Getting ready for this years planting

I have been considering starting planting already this year to see what would happen. In fact the other day we topped off our two boxes with fresh compost and soil to begin getting prepared. Which reminds me, the first time you fill your boxes make sure to over fill them by an inch or two because when the soil settles it will be about an inch below the top of the boxes if you don't.

Anyway, when I got up yesterday the boxes were covered in frost and today we had snow mixed in with the rain. So now I will wait another week and hopefully I can start planting some things before we leave on our trip. My plan is to start the corn before we go and the sweet peas when we return. It may still be too early so I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best.

The picture above is of the garlic that is growing right now from the leavings of last year's garden.

The second one is the other box after topping it off. You can see the grid as well as a criss cross of string that is attached to upright poles that last years peas grew up.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Building the boxes

Once I decided on square foot gardening it was time to build the boxes. As I said before, I did not want to take up my yard space so what I did was to build four boxes on stilts hanging over my deck. Since I did this last year and do not have pictures I will briefly explain the process and show some pictures of the final product.

So far I have only used two of my four boxes so below is a picture of one of my finished empty boxes.

As you can see it is just a basic shallow wood box. If you are building them on the ground all you would need is the two by eights screwed together in a frame, laying on the ground. Once you've filled it with your soil mix, you would mark up the grid and plant accordingly.

To make two of the boxes shown above, you would need four two by eight's assuming they are 8 feet long, one sheet of plywood cut in half so both halves are 4 foot by 4 foot and plenty of wood screws.

Just cut the two by eight's in half and screw them together like a picture frame. Then lay the plywood on top and screw it into the frame. For the stilts I used four by fours, measured the various lengths, cut out squares in the corner of each box, slid them into the holes and secured with screws. Below you can see this from the top.

Once the boxes were in place, I measured out the grid and placed screws accordingly at the top of the frame to wrap the string around. In the middle of each square I drilled a drainage hole. Once I filled it with my soil and compost mix, I wrapped string around the screws marking the grid. You can just see the screws and grid in the picture below.

The boxes are pretty basic and straightforward. In all I spent around $150. That included enough wood and screws for four boxes, a jig saw and a rechargeable drill.

Just a couple of tips. If you need to buy a drill get a corded one. It will take you for ever to screw in the screws and drill the holes along with all the charging. Also, if you would like to save money, try watching Freecycle for wood and tools people may be giving away.

Good luck, and if you have any questions just ask.

Photos taken with Canon Powershot A570is

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Getting started

About a year and 1/2 ago I started getting the gardening bug. I had been doing a lot of reading on alternative energy, alternative housing styles, healthier living and many other related topics. During this time of course I read many articles on gardening and the benefits of eating fresher foods. Once I got the bug, I began reading and researching as much as I could on gardening.

The trouble is I'm lazy. This meant I had to find something easy that would also produce food or I might never garden again. Enter Masanobu Fukuoka. His idea was to let mother nature do all the work, after all she has millions of years of experience. He would literally throw seeds into the fields, let them grow, throw down new seeds and harvest the previous crop while the new crop was growing under it. No plowing no weeding nothing. The plants took care of themselves much like they had since long before man had invented the plow.

How does that method fit into my small backyard? It doesn't, exactly. So I had to find something that would fit and still allow me to be the lazy guy I am. Then I ran into Mel Bartholomew's square foot gardening and found something that fit all my needs. Mel's system of garden boxes allows me to garden without taking up valuable yard space while limiting access to critters and weeds that would like to make the garden their own.

I slightly blended and modified the methods above to suit my needs. In future posts I will talk about the boxes and mixes I used and post pictures showing the results. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures showing the step by step process of building the boxes. That's OK, because between the pictures and Mel's site you should have no problem building boxes that can work for you. Feel free to ask questions and I will help where I can.

Photos taken with Canon Powershot A570is

My Lazy Square Foot Garden

My lazy square foot garden is where I will keep track of my experiences both good and bad as I set about proving even an average guy like me can grow edible food with little or no experience and even less space. This is one of many steps I am taking along my journey of going green.

My first experience with gardening was last summer where I grew a small variety of vegetables and showed my children that produce really doesn't come from the supermarket shelf.

Along with chronicling my crazy adventure, I hope to show there are more benefits than simply growing my own vegetables. For example, my children get to enjoy picking the produce eaten with our meals as well as watch the critters that are lured into our yard. In addition, I hope to lower our summertime air conditioning bill by shading our living room windows as well as our back deck preventing heat from radiating into our living room.

Because we have a small backyard I chose to use the square foot gardening method. As you will see I did not use Mel's Mix. Instead, I used a variety of soil and compost mixes that were bought in discount stores at low prices because the bags were torn. The garden boxes are on legs on my back deck so they do not take up yard space leaving that for my children and the rest of the deck for us.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos on the site are taken by me or my family. We're not professionals and calling us amateurs is giving us a bit more credit than we deserve. Chances are, if the picture turned out well it is because of the camera. If you like them, the camera that took them can be found here.

Photos taken with Canon Powershot A570is

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