Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Potatoes in a Garbage Can?

I really enjoy trying new things in the garden. It makes my friends and neighbors consider my vegetable garden as "weird". For me though, the weirder the better. People think its odd that I grow white and black tomatoes, that I use strange methods for supporting those tomatoes, that I don't garden in rows and that I grow many things up tall trellises.

My new "weird" thing in the garden is growing potatoes in a garbage can!

This is not my original idea, but it is a great one. You drill a bunch of holes in the bottom of the can, fill it with a foot of good compost and soil and then plant the seed potatoes. You probably should only put four potatoes or cured potato pieces in the can but I over did it a bit.

Then you cover the potatoes, water well and watch 'em grow. When the tops get about a foot tall you add about six more inches of good soil to the can, burying the lower portions of the stems. Keep that up all summer and eventually the can will be filled to the top with soil and compost and the plants will be growing out of the top of the can.

More tubers will form all along the stems that you buried so at harvest time you will have a whole can full of potatoes! This is my first year trying this, but I know it will work. I have seen other gardeners do it successfully and I have applied this principle on a smaller scale before. For the past few years I have grown potatoes in a small raised bed and added extra wood sides and more compost as they grow. My 10-year old daughter even did this last year in her garden. If you don't want to have an ugly trash can in your garden and you, unlike me, don't want to be called "weird", you could at least try my daughter's wood box around the potatoes idea. You could probably even add it to some of your existing potato plants.

As for me, these aren't the only potatoes I'm growing but I am looking forward to playing with my ugly blue potato can at the end of the garden. I planted them a few days ago and now they have sprouted!

Weird gardening is fun.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Defending the Strawberries!

When it comes to the garden plants, my cat isn't the only animal that I need to be worried about. Outside there are raccoons, groundhogs, skunks, opossums, foxes, deer, and many birds that are watching my garden to see what is ripe and ready for the taking! Last year, the critters ate a lot of my garden! The first major front that needs defending this year are the strawberries. It looks like it is going to be a great crop!

We planted these strawberries last year using the hill method. The hill method for strawberries is not mounding up the dirt, or planting on top of small hills. We planted one long row of strawberry plants and then meticulously cut the runners back as the plants sent them out. We didn't let any daughter plants form like you would in a matted row system. So much energy stays in the main plant that the plant grows twice as big as they would with the matted row method. The plants grow to be two feet tall! Since there is only a single row of plants, the plant "looks like" a hill, which is why it is called the hill method.

So now that last year's work is paying off and I have many green strawberries ready to ripen, there is no way I'm going to let the animals have them! Tonight, as it was getting dark I gathered up some scrap wood, a hammer and nails, the roll of flexible fence that I recently bought, and the garden shears (for clipping back the runners) and got to work.

I built a little wood trellis down the center of the strawberry bed.

I then stapled the flexible fence to the landscape timbers on one side and stretched the fencing up over the wood trellis. On the other side I stapled the fence to removable scrap boards. This formed a little temporary A-frame fence.

I attached the fence in three foot sections, overlapping the sections as I went along. The removable boards can be lifted up a section at a time to reach in for harvesting.

I'm pretty sure this will keep the animals out. The only thing left to be concerned with are slugs. I haven't seen any on the strawberries yet but I have found some on the lettuce. I plan to put out saucers of beer to attract the slugs when the berries ripen.

It is crazy how defensive you have to be with food gardening. I am looking into what it would take to put an electric fence around the entire perimeter of the garden. That would take care of everything but the deer. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself with this though. Tonight, I can sleep a little easier knowing that my strawberries can now ripen in peace. I can hardly wait.

I'm off to bed to dream about....Strawberry Shortcake!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Heirloom Pepper Plants Attacked!

Today I managed to plant out many tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, more potatoes, and peppers. Before I could get the peppers outside to harden off and then to be planted, they were attacked. I got them at the Baker Creek Festival. They were only inside under my lights for a few days when I noticed holes in some of the leaves and other leaves were outright missing.

There was a lot of damage but I couldn't tell what caused it. These were heirloom sweet bell peppers. I once wrote about pests being more attracted to heirloom tomatoes than hybrids. I guess its also true for heirloom peppers.

I just had to figure out what caused this devastation so I set up my new Cannon PowerShot G9 camera on a tripod with high speed motion detectors set to take a picture of the perpetrator overnight.

When I checked the camera the next day, I found this!

That's right, Macy - our pet cat was eating my precious pepper plants! There have been hundreds of plants in the basement under lights since Valentine's Day and she has never bothered anything before. These must be pretty sweet sweet pepper plants.

On the bright side, only one plant is damaged badly - the Chocolate Beauty Pepper. The others should still be okay even with holes in their leaves. I went ahead and planted them all out in the garden and we will just hope for the best.

As for Macy, after I scolded her a bit we made up and she apologized.

Of course I quickly forgave her since she is such a sweet kitty.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My daughters are gardeners too!

I still have much to write about our visit to Baker Creek, but for the last two evenings my time was occupied with spring planting. The best part about it was that my daughters helped.

Tonight my 14 year old helped plant the third and final wave of the early tomatoes. We planted "Siletz" and "World's Earliest". It was a big help having someone help me remove the plants from the recycled CD spindle containers that they were planted in.

We put crushed egg shells in the planting holes to give the tomatoes added calcium.

My 11 year old daughter is great with a rake. Last night she worked up the soil in several of the existing raised beds.

I have different sized beds but I think my daughters like the 4'x4' beds the best. Just like Mel Bartholomew of Square Foot Gardening says, it is easy to reach any part of the bed from all sides. Here my daughters are planting green beans in one 4 foot by 4 foot bed:

Another great thing about raised beds is that you can sit or kneel in the grass and reach in to work the bed. Below my daughter is planting red onions next to the first early tomato batch. Onions are great companion plants for tomatoes.

Gardening with my daughters is great fun. I love when they want to help, but I never make them. When I was a kid, hoeing the garden was part of my chores and I hated it. It took me many years after that to actually like gardening. That is probably also why I don't like hoes (sorry Carol).

I want my daughters to enjoy gardening, and I think they do. They have grown up playing in the garden and helping as much or as little as they want. Now that they are getting older, when they do help, it helps a lot! Why this is great is not because more work gets done. This is great because it gives us some wonderful quality time to talk and be together in nature. I'll gladly take as much of that as possible, even if nothing we planted together grows at all.

Gardening with your children is a priceless gift indeed.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Baker Creek Spring Planting & Heritage Festival

It has been a whole week already since we were at the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Spring Festival. We went both days and had a great time. It was fantastic! We took several extra days and made a family vacation out of it. We also visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Museum, The home of the "Throwed Rolls", Lambert's restaurant, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

As for the Baker Creek Spring Festival, it is pretty hard to explain so I will show it to you instead. Following are many pictures taken at the festival.

There were lots of great farms selling plants and other vendors:

There were at least three areas with fantastic live music and entertainment going on constantly. This was my daughters' favorite part of the festival.

There were also great speakers in the speakers barn. I was too busy listening to them to take pictures but my favorite was Len Pense. The day after the festival, we went to his farm to visit his revolutionary garden. I will be writing an entire post about him soon.

In addition to the speakers, the music and the vendors at the festival, it was fun seeing all of the buildings that make up "Bakersville".

Of course the most important building at Bakersville is the Baker Creek Seed Store where you can get seeds of hundreds (maybe thousands) of common or highly unusual top quality heirloom varieties!

I only bought a dozen or so seed packets because I had already ordered from Baker Creek by mail. Next year maybe I'll go back to the festival and buy all of my seeds there instead of by mail. I strongly recommend any serious gardener to do the same. If you don't want to wait a whole year to visit Baker Creek, they have another big festival in August and smaller ones every month.

I loved our trip to Baker Creek. In my next post I will let you know about some of the cool things I bought at the festival and about some of the people I met. And then I have to give a big update on my gardens here in Kentucky. We are now in the busy gardening season. Isn't it great?

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