Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ask Not Whom The Garden Calls....

How sits the garden today, 4-19-09?

We are having our first "safe" spring rain as I type, meaning one that can fall on the outdoor plants, with no worries that it will freeze overnight and hurt their tender leaves.

Yesterday was spent mowing (after fixing the riding mower and finding out we lost the charger for the push mower), doing a little trimming of branches, and putting slightly taller legs on the water barrel platforms (more on that in another post).

But today it was all-important to set out the broccoli seedlings, covering each one with a milk jug.

YES - a plastic milk jug. Cut the bottom out, take the cap off the top, set it over the plant, making sure you work it into the soil a little to keep it from blowing away. Look down inside and you can see the little broccoli plant.

For those of you who try to go plastic-less, good luck with that - I can't do it. But my rule is to reuse as much as possible. Meaning that we get our milk in plastic jugs, then save them to fill with water and stack in the greenhouse over the winter. They form a wall that collects heat and helps to keep the plants warm over the winter (solar greenhouse - no other source of heat).

As the winter wears on, I use one jug of water at a time for watering, and by the time spring comes along, the jugs are all empty.
At that point -reached this afternoon -I can use as many jugs as I need for protecting set-out seedlings. This is called "hardening" the seedlings - they need the fresh air, but they also need protection from wind while they build up their stem strength. The plastic jug serves as a little hot house until they grow up just a litte.

As plastic goes, milk jugs generally just under one year - meaning one winter in the greenhouse, and one cycle of serving as miniature greenhouses. After that they go brittle and disintegrate.

Cat litter plastic jugs can last several winters in the greenhouse (useless as plant covers), as can the new Lipton Green Tea and Arizona Tea gallon containers.

One winter I used the large Sheetz Slushie glasses (with the domed lids) - they make wonderful individual greenhouses and can hold up at least 2 seasons.

Speaking of using plastic, one day my DH came home with stacks of bread racks that were being thrown away at work. We've used them for various things, including shelving in a root celler my parents built (perfect holding apples and potatos that need circulating air), and today I used them in place of finding free wooden pallets.

This particular project is the gourd bed. First the grass was mowed very short yesterday. Today we added multi-layers of newspaper (2-3 sections deep), wet it thoroughly, then set the bread racks on top, upside down, and with a 6" gap between racks. Around May 1st, I'll fill in the gaps with the least expensive top soil, then plant gourd seeds there.

Gourds love poor soil but need airy spaces to protect the gourds from dampness. In previous years I've just let the vines run willy-nilly, and set scrap boards under each gourd. That works okay, but last year I tried wooden pallets, and that worked much better.

Unfortunately, the pallets were already weathered badly, and this year they just need to be burnt (but it's okay, the ash will go on the garden too). However they can be replaced with the plastic bread racks this year, which are indestructible.

There are several reasons I plant gourds: 1) I have visions of becoming a great creative gourd craftsperson (this will never happen, mostly because I suck at crafts); 2) I LOVE the smell and feel of gourd vines - they are soft and fuzzy, and give off the aroma of baking bread; and 3) growing gourds this way breaks down the soil underneath, and allows me to enlarge the garden the easy way. The earthworms come up under the newspaper, and literally break up the soil for me, then in the fall I add a few layers of mulch, and by next spring, there's a new planting bed ready to go.

Today was also "fence rotation" day - the tomato bed is moving where the old potato bed was (and the potato bed has moved to where the old cucumber bed was). The fences had to be moved as well, so they are ready for tomato planting in a couple weeks.

I've tried every sort of tomato support, including the idea of "no-support", which turned out badly, with poor fruit taste -it was musty and something short of "rotted" tasting. I've used the cone-shaped wire cages, made round wire cages, garden stakes with string lines between them, plain wooden poles, and one year I ever designed a PVC support that could be put together to fit each individual plant. None of them worked as I wanted them to.

One year I was visiting an Amish farm up in the mountains and saw their very simple idea. They used large (6" square) grid fence wire, and just strung it up between garden stakes. The tomatoes are planted on alternating side of the fence. I've been doing that ever since. The large grid means you can reach through and pick tomatoes if necessary.

There were surprises waiting in the greenhouse today too - this approx 5" across cauliflower, and buckets of bright green lettuce.

Some of these beautiful plants were transplanted outside, some into other large buckets, and some came in for dinner - fresh romaine salad with bacon quiche!

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