Thursday, December 18, 2008

Today is one of my favorite days in the garden season!

I would have to say that my favorite day in the garden is the first ripe tomato of the season. My second favorite day just might be today - the day the new Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Catalog arrives!

As I stated last year, Baker Creek is my favorite seed company AND my favorite catalog. This year's catalog is even bigger than last year! It is full of rare and unique heirloom seeds. There are detailed descriptions and loads of beautiful color pictures!

You definitely know what you are getting when you order from them. I never get the feeling that they are hiding anything or are trying to make their varieties sound better than they really are. Everything that I have grown from them has done well and has grown just as they describe. Their 2 foot long Chinese Red Noodle Beans were amazing. Baker Creek helped me grow many colors of heirloom tomatoes - red, yellow, orange, green, black and white. This was fun to do in the full size tomatoes as well as with the cherry tomatoes.

If you are not yet familiar with Baker Creek, you really should visit their website. They are located in Missouri but have collected heirloom seeds from around the world. The owners of the company are Gere and Emily Gettle and they are great people. Here they are pictured in the front of the catalog with their daughter Sasha:

I was lucky enough to meet them because another cool thing about them is that they host many garden festivals at their site. They have built a whole little town called Bakersville to host these occasions. My family and I drove about 12 hours just to attend the Spring Planting Festival earlier this year and we had a wonderful time. I posted about our trip when we returned home. In that post, I put on a record 30 pictures of the Baker Creek Festival! You can see that post here.

I would love to go again this year - maybe to their end of summer harvest festival!

Well, I better end this post so I can start looking at this new Baker Creek Catalog! How will I decide what to buy? I think the size of the garden will have to be doubled again this year!

I can already tell that I'm going to like this year's edition even better than the previous years because their are several pictures of little Sasha with the veggies.

How cute - and have you ever seen such big cabbage heads?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Garden Fresh Thanksgiving Produce!

I finally reached a goal that I have been striving for - fresh organic vegetables from the garden for Thanksgiving. The stoop houses worked and I picked loads of broccoli and four heads of cabbage a couple days ago. I know those aren't traditional Thanksgiving veggies but fresh coleslaw and broccoli casserole will go nicely with potatoes from the garden, turkey and all the other trimmings.

We have had an unusually cold November this year. It sure was strange picking from the garden the other day when it was only 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside!

Look at the ice buildup on our newly constructed greenhouse:

The greenhouse is not any warmer inside than outside because I never finished building the vents. Right now the bottom 2 feet along the sides are still exposed and there are several opened windows. I need to fix that soon so I can use the greenhouse this winter and early spring.

Luckily the temperature under the small hoop houses is higher than in the greenhouse and the outside. It has stayed warm enough to keep the broccoli and cabbage from freezing.

See the water droplets on top of the broccoli? Those are actually little beads of ice.

The only casualty under the stoop houses was the lettuce. It still looked good, but after picking it and bringing it inside, I could tell that it had been frozen. For lettuce harvesting now, we will have to turn to our indoor lettuce growing under lights.

It is a little extra work keeping the garden going in the Fall and in the cold, but its worth it! I've got cabbage and broccoli ready to be prepared tomorrow along with the other Thanksgiving goodies!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Building Stoop Houses to help with Frost Protection

In last week's post I showed you my broccoli plants and this week the heads have continued getting larger. We have been lucky enough to have no frost this week, so the leaves have not been damaged any further.

The Cabbage and lettuce beds are also looking great.

Frost is coming back tonight however, and we are in for a very cold week or longer. If I keep only using the row covers over the broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and lettuce, the season will finally be over.

I don't want harvest season to end, so today I put up more hoops and plastic sheeting to make mini greenhouses. In The 12-Month Gardener, Jeff Ashton calls this type of frost protection a "Stoop House".

That name is appropriate because to tend to the vegetables, you lift up the side of the plastic and "stoop" down.

How to Make a Simple Stoop House:

My raised beds are framed with untreated 4x6 lumber and are four feet wide. Ten foot PVC pipes bend over the four foot span to make nice hoops. The key to doing this is providing a way to attach the pipe. I used 3/4" diameter pipe and attached pipe brackets to the outside of the raised beds.

I found it to work best if I put two brackets per pipe on each side. The top bracket was the 3/4" size and the bottom one was the 1" size. This kept the arch at the correct angle.

After getting the brackets attached, I slip one side of the pipe in.

Then I bend it down and slip it in the brackets on the other side. A pipe should be place every three to four feet. One of my stoop houses is covering a 4 foot by 12 foot bed and the other covers two beds that are four by four.

After the hoops were up, I put the row covers back on to add a second layer of protection.

Then I put the 6 mil plastic sheeting on. Greenhouse plastic is best, but I just used normal plastic sheeting from the hardware store. I have greenhouse plastic I could use because I bought extra when we built our greenhouse last month. I'm saving that plastic to expand the actual greenhouse next season. Besides, these stoop houses are temporary and will work just as well with regular plastic.

I staple the plastic directly to the wood frame on one side.

I only staple to one side, not the other or the ends. That way I can easily vent one side or take the plastic completely off during sunny days. You don't want to keep the plants completely covered on sunny days because the hoop house can quickly heat up and damage or kill the plants. Remember, these stoop houses contain cold-tolerant vegetables. The main purpose of these mini greenhouse poly tunnels is to keep frost off of the plants. At least until it gets really cold, I will probably pull back the plastic each morning, and batten down the hatches every evening. This is what the stoophouses will look like every night:

I sure hope they work. I want to be able to still be eating fresh salads and broccoli in December.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I'm back!

If you tried to come to this site in the past day and a half, you noticed that it was down. Sorry about that. There was a major problem with my DNS control ip address registered with the domain name. It wasn't able to talk to blogger and redirect my blogspot pages to gardendesk.

Hopefully it is back now.

It has made me look into some other things though, and I think I will be migrating this site to typepad along with Veggie Garden Info. I haven't been able to add to for some time now due to a problem that I can't seem to solve with wordpress. If I move it to typepad as well, I can resume adding content and links to all the great garden blogs out there. I understand typepad fairly well now thanks to my 14 year old daughter who has a site about American Girl dolls hosted there.

See, when us old people can't figure out computer issues, it always works to turn to a teenager who has had the Internet all of her life. My daughter will help me get everything squared away!

Anyway, enough with the rambling. It was awful having gardendesk down. I'm glad its back. Sorry for the inconvenience. The next post will be about gardening again :)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fall Gardening Continues

This week the weather is going to be nice, but last week's low temperatures got down in the 20s. I have been keeping everything covered with row covers.

The hoops are there to put plastic over when it gets really cold. I still need to cut a piece of greenhouse plastic to go on them.

This is one of the beds that broccoli is growing in.

I did cover the hoops with a small piece of plastic and sheets on the coldest nights, but we have had frost several other nights with just the row cover as protection. The broccoli florettes still look good, but some of the leaves were damaged by the frost.

A few of the broccoli heads are large enough to pick now, but there are others that still need a week or so. Next weekend we will undoubtedly be eating fresh broccoli and broccoli casserole. Hopefully, there will still be plenty left at the end of the month as well for Thanksgiving. Yum!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Picking Carrots, Planting Potato Onions

Today was a beautiful Fall day here in Kentucky. I cut the grass for the last time this season and cleaned up sticks and leaves. I also was able to work on the greenhouse a bit more.

My younger daughter came outside about when I was finishing up and asked if there was any gardening that she could do. Of course there is always something to do in a four-season vegetable garden, so she got to work picking lettuce and carrots.

Then, together we got a growing bed ready by adding compost and turning the soil over. Here, she planted some more garlic and potato onions.

Not many people are familiar with potato onions. If you like onions and have never grown potato onions, I strogly suggest that you look for some to try. They are a bunching onion similar to shallots, but they actually produce round bulbs. Here is what they look like while they are growing.

Last year was the first time we grew them and they were great. We ate them just as we eat regular onions. They are even easier to grow than regular bulb onions. They are planted in the Fall, and sprout in the Spring about the same time that daffadils do. They aren't harvested until mid to late Summer. It is a long time from planting the bulbs to harvest, but other than watering, he gardener has nothing to do for them. The potato onions that we grew are an heirloom variety so any bulbs not eaten can be planted again in October for the following season. That is what we did today and I can hardly wait to harvest them next summer.

It is really great to see garlic and potato onions growing tall and green in early Spring. For our vegetable garden, that has become the official beginning of the new growing season. It'll be here before you know it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

First Fall Frosts; Gardening Continues!

Our first Fall frost hit pretty much on schedule, and now three out of the last four nights we have seen heavy frost.

For my friends and neighbors who have a vegetable garden, this marks the absolute end of the season as they peer out at their now dead tomato plants.

For me however, vegetable gardening continues. Frost simply marks the beginning of an exciting Fall garden. This weekend my family transplanted the last of our broccoli and cauliflower plants, planted garlic and potato onions and harvested lettuce and other greens. My daughter enjoyed planting the garlic.

We have lots of cabbage and broccoli coming on, but full heads won't be ready for another week or so.

Our best Fall garden success so far has been with salad crops. In just a couple 4x4 square foot beds we have been picking all the salad we can eat for the past month, and hope to continue for at least another month.

Lettuce, greens and Brassicas all grow well when it is cool. Many gardeners raise them in the Spring but don't think of growing them in the Fall. Now that it is freezing at night though, the trick is to keep the plants from freezing. This week it is only getting down into the thirties, so covering them with row covers is enough protection.

Soon I will cover the beds with hoops and plastic or cold frames for added protection. The last of the lettuce transplants will be planted inside the insulated greenhouse beds to hopefully extend salad season into December.

Growing vegetables in the Fall and Winter is a little extra work, but I think it is worth it. It was pretty neat being out in the garden in the cool air this weekend as the Canadian Geese sang above me on their journey south.

The geese show that nature is getting ready for Winter, so I must ready my garden for it as well.

How about you? Those of you who are also headed into the cold season, do you continue growing or harvesting in the Fall and Winter? All tips and pointers are welcome.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Garbage Can Potato Harvest!

I like to try new things in the garden. Every year I find new things to grow and new methods to try. One of the "experiments" this year was trying to maximize yield by growing potatoes in a garbage can. I have been receiving many questions about the status of these potatoes. Well, we finally knocked over the can to see if it worked.

The idea is that you plant the seed potatoes down in the bottom of the can. As the plants grow, you fill more soil around them. Eventually, the can is filled to the top with soil and the plants are growing out of the top like this:

With proper nutrients and moisture, the potato plants send out new tuber growth all along the buried stems. The hope is that at harvest time, the garbage can would be filled with potatoes. You can see my first two posts about this idea here and here.

So it is finally time to harvest these garbage can potatoes. Here we go:

Wow, looks great doesn't it?

I could stop with the above pictures and say that everyone should switch to this method, but I won't. I always say that the purpose of this blog is to document happenings in my organic garden - to report what works and what doesn't.

Writing about what works is more fun, but this potato can actually didn't work very well. Here is a picture of the complete harvest:

That's not any more than I would have gotten if I had just planted these potato plants in the ground. So what happened?

First of all, I had four or five plants growing out of the can in the first picture of this post. All but one plant died in July. This is what the can looked like before I knocked it over:

All of these puny little potatoes might have come from this one plant. The bigger problem I think I had was that the plants didn't get enough water. When I try it again next year (and I will), I think I should change my soil mix. This mix was mostly compost, peat and regular garden soil. Next year I will add sand and have much bigger drainage holes at the bottom of the can. I want to be able to water more often and more thoroughly without the worry of being too wet.

What about you? Do you have any ideas about how to make this concept work? I know it can work. We have done it before on a smaller scale. My daughter had success with this last year with potatoes in her garden bed by enclosing two plants with wood and raising the soil around them. I know other gardeners who have raised potatoes like this in tires and even in garbage cans. What is the secret? If you have had success with this, please let us know. I know I've read about this on other good blogs but I don't remember where. If you have posted about this, please share the link for us. And if you haven't written about it, but have had some success with potato growing like this, please give us some tips.

I'm sorry to say that I am not an expert on this yet (obviously), but together I think we can perfect this method. It does work - but how?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Simple Green Frugal Co-op

I am excited to announce a new co-operative blog being put together by Rhonda at Down to Earth called simple | green | frugal co-op

Simple Green Frugal is by a group of writers from around the world who focus on simple, green and frugal issues from a variety of experiences and viewpoints.

I am honored to be one of the writers. Come check it out!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why we built our poly tunnel hoop house

I have wanted to have some kind of a greenhouse for the past 15 years but to buy a pre-built greenhouse that is big enough to turn around in costs many thousands of dollars. We have found that with many home improvement projects, it is much cheaper if you can do it yourself. So for the past year or so, I have been researching how to build your own greenhouse. I read many books and magazines and these are my favorite books about building a greenhouse, hoop house or poly tunnel and how to use them after they are built:

Some books speak only of how to use a greenhouse structure but the best are those that teach all of that AND a way to actually construct a hoop house. Through my long search, I have whittled the books down from dozens to my favorite four. They are Four-Season Harvestby Eliot Coleman, Solar Gardening, Growing Vegetables Year Roundby the Poisson's, Gardening Under Plastic by Bernard Salt, and my new favorite where I got our greenhouse plans from - The 12-Month Gardenerby Jeff Ashton. These four books convinced me that I MUST have a greenhouse.

Using row covers, cloches and cold frames for a few years showed me that I could extend the growing season in the Spring and Fall. A Poly Tunnel is one step further in that direction. Consider what Eliot Coleman's wife Barbara Damrosch wrote in the Forward of his book. Damrosch is an expert in her own right and I love the way she writes. After explaining the harsh conditions that each season hits the gardener with, she says how we can overcome those things with cold frames and a hoop house. She writes "Imagine, instead, a scenario in which spring work begins more gradually, summer spares time for other outdoor pleasures, fall is a gearing-up rather than a giving-up, and winter, best of all, is a time to reap a fresh harvest with almost no work." Yes, Barbara, that is what I want! And with the tough economic times we are in, my family needs to grow much more of our own food.

Speaking of economics, what did our greenhouse cost? We put much more wood in the end walls than you have too, which raised our cost. Even still, I got all the materials for a 14 foot by 24 foot greenhouse including an exhaust fan and professional greenhouse plastic for around a thousand dollars. It probably could have been done for much cheaper but we wanted a permanent structure. (The dimensions of our greenhouse in the previous post are 14x12, not 14x24. We will build the 2nd half next year after the retaining wall is constructed.)

The design we used from Jeff Ashton's book originally came from an organic farmer named Steve Painter. Painter built his greenhouse in 1970 and other than changing the plastic and a little maintenance, the structure is still the same to this day! How's that for permanent?

Okay, so exactly what can you achieve with a poly tunnel? Bernard Salt lists many advantages in Gardening Under Plastic.He says spring is 6 weeks early and winter is 4 weeks later, bedding plants are grown very cheaply, half hardy perennials survive the winter, flowers are not damaged by wind storms, animals can not get to the crops, tender crops are more easily grown, and rain doesn't stop the gardener from gardening.

Eliot Coleman states that putting a layer of protection over a crop is like moving that spot a growing zone and a half warmer. For me that means our tunnel takes us from zone 6 to zone 7.5 (if there were such a thing). What's beautiful about this is that I plan to have a smaller plastic covered hoop over the inside growing bed, which will take that bed to zone 9. We're talking Florida temperatures here in Northern Kentucky! That's why I'm hopeful that we can keep things growing in the winter.

Since we just built our greenhouse and haven't been able to see any of these benefits yet, here are my two favorite things about it so far; My daughters really like it...

and it looks really good next to the garden.

Here we are digging potatoes with the hoop house in the background.

By the way, we finally tipped over our potato garbage can so I will be writing about it soon. The girls had fun with that too. It is so great to garden together as a family!

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