New Composter

I went to Sam’s and bought a composter for less than $40 American dollars. I want to find out if I can fulfill all my compost needs on my own without resorting to store-bought compost. If I can, I will be one step closer to my goal of affordable produce. Yes, I am of the mind that the vegetables I grow are more expensive, albeit freer of nasty stuff, than the vegetables I get from the supermarket. But I am intent on changing that. In fact, I want to grow vegetables and produce them at the same price as the big agribusiness farms. Call me crazy but I have a tiny itty bitty sense deep inside of me that this can be done even if I lack agribusiness’ economies of scale.
Another new thing in my vegetable garden is The Cage. Below is a picture of the almost completed cage that will contain some of my Sub-Irrigated Planters (SIPs). I took this idea from the Inside Urban Green blog. I don’t know why they use these cages in their roof gardens but I know why I will use mine:
  1. My 1 yr old puppy Lexie.
  2. The murderously hot slab of cement that covers the sunniest part of my yard.

There will be wooden slats across the bottom of the cage that will keep the buckets from touching the hot cement and overheating from below and I will surround the cage with chicken wire to keep my dog from snacking on the plastic five gallon buckets. I needed to build additional holding places for my buckets because this year I have too many and they won’t all fit inside the protected garden area.

I planted the Kennebec potatoes today. As planned, I used the empty potting soil bag as a grow bag. I was also going to use a five gallon bucket to grow potatoes this year but I changed my mind at the last minute because I want to use all my buckets for tomatoes. Instead of a bucket, I reused the tops of the 18 gallon totes I made SIPs out of two years ago. Last year I used these tops as mini-raised beds that held cherry tomato plants. They worked great for that. This year, however, I decided to try them as potato containers. This is how they will stack by the end of the season:
Right now however, I only need the bottom part:
Last, I put together the 8×4 bed that I bought at Sam’s and filled it with compost-amended soil. I planted Apache salad onions, Arugula, red cabbage, spinach, broccoli, and mesclun.
Next, tackle the fruit trees.

Potatoes and Ollas revisited

So last year I tried growing potatoes in trash bags with marginal success. My mistakes were:

  • The bags I used were too big.
  • The bags lacked structure which made it difficult to add more soil as the plants grew.
  • I did not provide adequate drainage.

Still, the poor potato plants tried their best and at the end I did get a few potatoes. I did much better with the tubs. The only problem I had with the tubs was that when I tipped them to harvest the potatoes, the tubs broke.
So, this year I gave in to marketing and purchased two factory-made potato bags. These bags are 18 inches (45.72 cm) high and 14 inches (35.56 cm) in diameter. I planted two varieties of potato today –Yukon Gold and Purple Majesty.

I have been told that the first week of March is too early to plant potatoes but I have planted potatoes this early before and it has worked well for me.
As a test, I will also plant potatoes in:

  • The empty garden soil bag. I’ll cut it to match the dimensions of the store-bought bags.
  • A 5 gallon (18.925 liter) bucket.

I really want to try the Olla (clay bottle) method of watering my plants but Ollas are rare to non-existent around here. So I took a pottery class last year in an effort to make my own but it turns out that making clay bottles is an advanced skill so I never made any. I am now considering going to one of the many pottery shops around here and paying someone to make them for me.
Olla watering is a very old method of watering allegedly brought to the Americas by the Spaniards. You bury a clay bottle near your plants with the mouth of the bottle exposed (for refilling the water) and the roots will obtain the moisture they need from the water that seeps through the porous clay. We’ll see.

Stay tuned…

May 2nd

My Siberian tomatoes are coming along. I am very impressed with the Amateur’s Dream plant. If the tomatoes from this plant are any good, it will surely become one of my standards. This plant is at least twice as big as the biggest of the rest:

It has blooms already. All I need now is for some pollinators to do their thing.

The potatoes in the bags are doing ok. If you grow potatoes in a bag, make sure you give the bag some structure, like chicken wire, otherwise, the bag is hard to work with. Also, wherever you put the bag at first, that’s where it stays because if you try to move it once the potatoes have rooted, you risk disturbing the plants. The potato plants in the bag that I did move, are smaller than the others. Here is my best bag of the three:

I am also growing potatoes in tubs. Here’s what one of the tubs looks like now:

My pepper plants are not growing much but they are not dying either. In this tub, California Wonder, Red Bell Pepper, Pasilla, and Padron:

My purple onions from sets and my garlic are doing great. I bought both at a hardware store (Sutherland’s). The bags they came in did not say what variety they were:

Tin Tin lettuce. I failed to thin when they were young and now it has been a mess trying to get them to a single head. I will be planting a new set tomorrow morning and this time I will do a better job. I may make a home-made seed strip using flour and water as a binder and newspaper strips. I think my local newspaper is printed with soy ink, at least the black and white sections.

I planted corn, squash, giant kale, and more peas (Mr. Big).

I got some coffee grounds from Starbucks on Thursday and so I am ready to plant the new blueberry bush but I did not have time today due to my wife’s friend coming to town and the subsequent visiting and merry-making. I hope I get to put the bush in the ground tomorrow.

Potatoes in the bag

I finally got to the Potatoes-in-a-bag project. I took two run of the mill, 27 gallon, yard bags and put one inside the other. Then I cut three drainage holes with a pair of scissors. Here is where I ran into my first challenge for once I cut the holes the two bags got out of alignment and the holes in the inside bag did not match with the holes in the outside bag. So now, I am not 100% sure about how well this set will drain.
For the second set, I waited until I put the soil in before I punched the draining holes.
I used garden soil instead of potting mix because it was cheaper.
I put 1 cubic quart of soil in the bag and watered it in preparation for the seed potatoes.

Finally I put the potatoes in and hope that the black bags warm the soil and encourage the plants to grow. As I add dirt to the bag, I will unroll it until I am satisfied I will not need to add any more soil.

I repeated the process and made a second set. I did not add any compost or fertilizer to the bag as the soil already had nutrients added.
The final step had to do with protecting the bags from Lexie, my rambunctious puppy. Here is the very temporary solution until I figure out something better:
I also got to sow my Irish Eyes sunflowers in peat pots, and I put my Galena tomatoes in peat pots as well.
I bought the lumber needed to protect my beds from Lexie but I did not get to work on that today. My friend Tim suggested that I enclose the area of the beds instead of enclosing each bed individually.
Tomorrow I will see about tackling more items from my to-do list.

To Do List

1. Plant potatoes in bags. I am using regular yard bags, with holes at the bottom for drainage. I may have to wrap them in chicken wire to keep my new destructive puppy from mauling them down.

2. Put 2×4 studs around my beds. And wrap chicken wire around them to keep my new destructive puppy from digging everything out. I was inspired to do this by my destructive puppy -Lexie and by a post on Karl’s Garden Blog.

3. Prepare the garden plot in backyard. Clean weeds, add compost, add fence to keep my new destructive puppy from digging everything out.

4. Add dirt and water and plants to all self-watering containers. And, , figure out how to keep my new destructive puppy from thinking that these are her new chew-toys.

5. Sow my Irish Eyes sunflowers that will go in front yard. I did not want to start them too soon.

6. Prepare flower bed in front yard. I got most of it done last Fall but it still needs compost.

7. Plant white onion, Apache salad onion, and carrot seedlings in beds. Sow radish.

I am also very excited that my friend Tim has agreed to help me build my greenhouse made from second hand windows. It is just an idea so far but with Tim’s help I may actually get it built.