Category: Gardening

CowPots

I purchased CowPots to start seeds — a giant box of 330 tall #4 pots was 60$ in 2017, and I have enough for next year still. Four years of seed starting comes to around 15$ a year (it looks like the giant box is now 80$, so more like 20$ a year). I love the things because they’re made of compost – no peat, no paper. And they claim that roots grow through th pot walls and the entire thing breaks down incredibly quickly once in soil.

I can attest that roots grow easily through the pots — I’ve started seeds and seen the roots break through (yeah, I should have gotten those things out to the garden sooner!). But I’ve always been curious how quickly the pots decompose in soil. Hard to tell, since it’s in soil. I’ve had some pots sit outside for over a year, so I suspected the “quick” decomposition wasn’t so speedy. The pots that had been sitting outside in the weather for over a year? I turned them into my compost pile. They’ve been there for about a week now. Which substantiates my suspicion that they don’t fully decompose in a few short weeks. Doesn’t really matter, since the plant roots are readily growing right through the pots … but we’ll see how long these things remain visible in the middle of a hot compost pile.

Update: Garden Expansion

We had a few extra large blocks left over, so we expanded the first bed — now there are a few extra feet of growing space.

We used the smaller blocks to build a second bed to the south of the first one.

And filled both the new bed and the extra space in the first bed with dirt.

Today, we finished assembling the third bed. We’ll get the fourth bed together and fill them both with dirt.

More Progress: Raised Beds

We’ve got one raised bed completed — the soil raked out, blocks pretty much straightened (and all of the other blocks from the old garden beds have been transported to the new garden location, so we’re ready to get more raised beds started)

That means it’s time to get some plants in the ground — we brought the ten tomato plants and ten pepper plants that have been growing indoors since April 15th. I placed the tomato cages in the garden and set a pot inside each cage. Anya and I built the pepper cages (and then rebuilt the pepper cages because a few bent stakes + half a dozen in use to mark out the other bed locations mean I didn’t quite have enough to build squares … but we got ten triangles). Then it was time to dig. Anya was excited to use the gardening tools I got her a few years ago (and even let me keep my trowel in her bag).

85-90 degree days probably aren’t the best time to plant starter plants, but we had a couple five gallon buckets of water from the well and ensured the soil was nice and wet before planting. Lots of digging …

And still more digging … we have twenty plants outdoors.

Since it’s been so hot, I wanted to add some sort of mulch to keep the soil from drying out. About an inch down, it’s moist and cool … but the top inch is getting very dry. I told Anya about the first garden Scott and I had in Ohio — a friend of his ran a greenhouse, and the friend’s dad rented out plots of land for gardening. The guy’s dad told us to plant our tomatoes really deep because the stems would actually root out and make a stronger plant. Figure the stems would root out better if they weren’t in hot, dry soil!

We have grass clippings that I’ve been mixing with leaves from last year as I haul the leaves from the old garden beds (I threw a couple inch layer of leaves on top of the bed at the end of the season to act as a mulch until I was ready to plant again). But I’ve only got about half of our grass clippings incorporated, and the old garden is about 75% cleared of leaves. I’ve certainly got extra grass available. Now fresh grass can pull some nitrogen as it first decomposes — it’ll return that nitrogen eventually — and it getsĀ hot as it decomposes. I’ve intentionally sprinkled a thin layer of grass mulch instead of heaping an inch or three of mulch around the plants. Now we’re ready to grow!

 

Progress: New Raised Beds

We had a day-long break in the rain yesterday, so I put some work into rebuilding the raised beds. I transported all of the small blocks to the new garden area. There’s a pile of not-yet-composted material (and some clay soil) that will need to get hauled over to our new compost area … but that’s the last step.

I also got a tightly packed leaf layer along the bottom of the bed. Reading about building raised beds on existing lawn, people put down a layer of cardboard or newspaper to prevent the existing plants from invading the garden. It’ll rain all day today, and we’ll stomp it down again tomorrow. Then there’s a bunch of dirt to haul before I can get some plants out into the new garden space.

Blueberries In The Ground

We planted all 20 of the blueberry plants today. There are two rows running North to South.

We alternated the two varieties going down the rows (so you can walk along and get some of each). The Western row starts with Blueray, and the Eastern row starts with Hardy Blue on the North end. We’ve got a lot more rain coming, so there’s no need to water our new hops or blueberries.

Blueberry Mud Pies

The down side to ordering plants online is that you don’t have much control over when they arrive. I probably wouldn’t purchase a lot of shrubs a few days before a week of rain (I might because it saves watering new plantings … but that’d be some light rain, not a few days where we’ll be getting an inch or so per day). But we found ourselves with the blueberry bushes on Friday and twelve of the next thirteen days in the forecast calling for rain. With Sunday and Monday looking rather torrential.

Anya and I staked out where we were going to put plants. We locked a tape measure along the line we wanted for the row and she popped in a stake every 6 feet. And then again every 5.5 feet. The tape measure line let us get straight rows without a bunch of fiddling around.

Sometimes Anya was a blueberry plant … so I could see how they’d look once they grew?

The first challenge was figuring out some way to dig twenty holes in the ground — we had planned on renting a tiller from Home Depot (well, we wanted to buy one of those big 70’s beasts, but didn’t find a good price anywhere locally and figured the best prices on tillers are probably later in the year); but, without a truck, that also meant either losing the one sunny day until someone with a truck could help out or renting the truck too. I wondered if an earth auger could be used — seemed like basically the same function, but in a format that fits in the boot of our car. So we hired a one-person gas-powered auger from Home Depot.

I don’t have any experience in tool design, but industrial design projects in which I’ve participated have all involved both people sitting around and thinking about how the thing should work and prototyping to allow the intended users to test how it works “in the real world”. This auger seems to have skipped one of these steps. The throttle spins anticlockwise to “go”. Unfortunately, the direction of the machine’s spin when the auger bit gets stuck (i.e. the motor cannot turn the bit so the motor component starts spinning instead) means you increase the throttle as the machine rips at your arms. Obviously the idea is to release the thing, and I could see where “let’s increase the throttle when it’s stuck to help it power through that obstacle” might seem like a decent idea in a design meeting. But the real world result, for someone without the upper body strength to just hold the thing in place, is that your arms get whipped around along with the machine, your forearms smash into each other, and the whole thing just hurts. I operated the thing braced against my left hip to prevent its spin and still managed to get banged up.

My approach avoided the other design flaw — the exhaust blew directly into Scott’s face when he held it as it was intended to be held. That’s not a great experience when digging holes for a few hours. Design flaws aside, we were able to mangle up the ground for a third hop bed and mix in a bunch of compost pretty well. The auger bit had trouble when the tip is clogged with grass, but Scott was able to lean into it. Once it got into clay, it ripped right through it. Then we started on the blueberry field. We had initially planned on drilling nine holes in a grid for each plant. It took hours. On a overcast-but-still-sunny, 80 degree, humid day. Scott brought a bucket of water and a towel — we took turns boring holes so each of us got some rest/re-hydrate/cool off time, but it was going to take days to do 9 x 20 holes.

The biggest time suck was getting sod off of the auger bit so you could drill quickly. I wondered if we could dig the center hole and then angle the tool over to widen the hole. That worked wonderfully. We ended up with deeper holes than originally planned — the hole got deeper as the tool ran to widen out the hole — but loosening up more soil isn’t a bad thing. And we could drill around eight holes in the amount of time it took to do a set of nine for one plant. And, bonus, rotating the tool around in the clay cleared off the sod from the initial bore. We finished up just as the rain started and returned the tool. Took a break for a bit, got some dinner, and then hauled some compost over to mix with the clay from the hole. That was a terrible job. The clay was wet and difficult to mix in. We got two holes finished up before dark. And then it rained. And rained. And rained some more. There are standing pools of water in the yard, and each hole turned into a little pond. This, we thought, was going to be a challenge. We’ve got plants that need to get in the ground, so we cannot just wait for the rain to stop, wait another day, and give it a go.

It was actually easier than the just-wet-clay mixing we did on Sunday. Yesterday, we spent hours (6p-10p … so four hours) making the biggest mud pies ever. Used a shovel to clear out the mud that slid into the hole, then took a cart full of compost and threw a few scoops into the pond. Mixed it around, shoved in some clay from around the hole, mixed some more. It was soupy. Added a few shoves of compost and more clay, mixed … repeated a few times, the muddy clay/compost mixture started to thicken up. Water got pushed out of the hole and drained across the yard and over the ridge. And it was an Anya task — she helped me fill the cart with compost and worked on a mud pie of her own.

Once all of the clay was mixed with compost, we had nice mounds. The grass was easily scraped clean with a shovel (and rain will certainly get any little bits remaining). Then we topped the mound with a sprinkle of compost. I found a down side to working in water-proof Muck boots — rain that falls into the boot? Doesn’t go anywhere. I spent hours slogging around with a few cups of water inside my shoes! Also found that there are removable insoles, so our insoles are laying out and the boots are upside down in the garage to dry out.

Scott wanted to plant the bushes last night, but I wanted to give it all some time to dry out. By Tuesday morning, the mounds have drained out a little bit and we’ve got nineteen holes ready for blueberries! (we encountered and old root in one hole, so we’ve still got to chop that thing out.