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.

2nd Aspirin spray plus updates

Today I did the second Aspirin spray on all vegetable plants plus the fruit trees and the berry bushes. It wasn’t quite 3 weeks yet but I figured since we had so much rain I better spray in hopes of forestalling any fungus episodes. For more info on this experiment, see here.

The watering through a wick experiment —see here, seems to be a success. The wick has not dried and the soil is moist even after a number of hot, sunny days. the surface of the pot has dried but the subsurface is moist. Now I need a plant growing in there to stress the system. So far, none of the herbs I planted in that container has sprouted.

And speaking of watering, something has come to my attention that I had not been aware of. Apparently, a sub-irrigated container, aka a self-watering container (swc), may prove too much for a young seedling. Small tomato plants especially may fail to thrive if they are in a sub-irrigated container that is moist all the time. I have noticed this myself with the smallest seedlings; they just won’t grow in these containers. The larger seedlings had no problem whatsoever and turned into full plants and are now producing fruit (yeah!). I know of at least one post in a blog whose link I unfortunately lost, where this problem was reported. That case involved a self-watering container made with 2 liter bottles. I personally think the swc was constructed incorrectly but I can’t prove it.

This next tip was reported a couple of years ago by someone else in a forum and I ignored it (typical!) at my own peril. It was advised to place a piece of garden fabric at the bottom of the sub-irrigated container to keep the roots of the tomato plant from reaching into the water reservoir (you place the fabric at the bottom of the bucket containing the soil).
The largest of my Brandywine tomato plants has already shot roots into the reservoir. When the plant does this, there is a danger of root rot and other things.
I have learned my lesson.

Last, I have an idea to fix my plastic watering spikes. The problem I am experiencing stems from the fact that last year I punched three wholes in them that were too large. The result of this is that the water seeps out too fast and the 2 liter bottle empties too quickly. I had hoped for a slow release of water that would allow me to water less often.
My proposed solution is to stuff garden fabric or an old cotton rag into the cone to slow down the flow of water. I will implement this later this afternoon and report on the results.

Over and out.


2 liter bottle. Check.

Cloth scrap. Check.

3 dollar container from Dollar General (from last season). Check.

Add soil. Wet soil. Add wet cloth.

Cover with soil to the top of container. Wet soil. Insert other end of cloth into 2 liter bottle. Fill 2 liter bottle with water.

As I was finishing this project, it occurred to me that it would improve my chances of success if I made the wick (cloth) wider thus increasing the surface area to deliver water to the soil.

Also, to avoid growing algae in the water bottle, it would help to shield it from light somehow (duct tape perhaps)

I planted Dill, Oregano, and Spinach. I’ll report on my progress.

Also, I was preparing a couple of sub-irrigated containers and I thought it would be useful to show what they look like before the dirt goes in.

This is my fill tube. I hope you can see the notch I made in one end. (I used my cell phone to take these pictures)

Finally, this is what it looks like before I add the dirt.


I have been thinking about the best way to re-use 2 liter bottles to water my plants. Here’s an idea:

Step 1: Take a standard 2 liter bottle.
Pepsi for me, thanks!
Step 2: Take an empty 5 gallon bucket donated kindly by a local restaurant. Drill or punch drainage holes on the bottom.
Prior BBQ sauce vesselStep 3: Take an old cotton t-shirt and cut a 1 – 2 inch wide x 1.5 foot swath from it. These measurements are totally arbitrary. Do what works for you.
Groovy!Step 4: Fill 1/3 of the 5 gallon bucket with potting mix.

Step 5: Get the t-shirt scrap wet. Really wet.

Step 6: Lay one end of the t-shirt scrap inside the 5 gallon bucket on top of the potting mix. Add enough water to moisten the soil.

Step 7: Fill the rest of the bucket with potting soil and add water to wet the newly added soil. Put your plant in.

Step 8: Insert the other end of t-shirt scrap into 2 liter bottle and fill bottle with water.
Put capillary action to work for you!
I just thought of this when I awoke this morning. I haven’t tried it but I think it will work.

The magic here is provided by capillary action. The water travels up the cotton fibers as water from the soil vanishes.

Our nemesis here is evaporation. We don’t want the t-shirt scrap to dry. I think I could wrap the exposed fabric with a plastic grocery bag to keep it wet during the hot days of Summer.

Unknowns are: Will it work at all? Will the water wick fast enough for a big plant like a tomato?


  • Although the sub-irrigated container using two buckets works well, it uses two buckets and requires more drilling, cutting, and assembly. A new method that requires a minimum amount of cutting, drilling, and materials is nice.
  • Burying a bottle or olla in a container takes up precious space needed by the plant.
  • I apparently do not have enough to do.

I will implement this design and report on my progress.

More on watering

Last year I bought a rain barrel but I did not get to use it much. This year, the 40 gallon barrel will be the center piece of my watering plans. The problem is that 40 gallons do not last very long, especially if I waste water, so I have to be very conscientious when watering this year. To help, I am growing most of my vegetables in self-watering containers. Some of my vegetables are growing in 5 gallon buckets with watering spikes in them, and a few, will be growing on the ground.
For the plants in the ground (mostly peas and beans) I have designed this simple drip watering scheme:

To achieve the drip, I think I can stuff some left over garden cloth in the holes of the pvc pipe.

For the plants that have watering spikes (I have both plastic and terracotta spikes) I am thinking of something like this:

The idea here is to use as little city water as possible. I also have a well but I am still working on how to integrate it into my watering plan. The well is connected to the sprinkler system that broke last year. To use it, I will have to uncap it and install some type of pump.

One issue that has been discussed at length in gardening forums is the use of PVC pipe when watering eatable plants. It’s been said that PVC pipe, when heated and exposed to conditions common in a garden, leaches harmful chemicals into the water that the plants absorb, thus passing the bad stuff on to you when you eat the fruit of your labors. In particular, the use of PVC pipes in home-made self-watering containers is not recommended.
Me, thinking myself clever beyond reproach, decided to use aluminum tubing instead of PVC, only to find out that Aluminum ions are poisonous to plants. I did some research into the use of Aluminum piping and found out that generally speaking, aluminum is not reactive until the pH (potential Hydrogen) of the water/soil, reaches acidic levels (somewhere around pH 5) which could conceivably happen in a container plant.
The perfect material would be bamboo but I have not located a source of cheap bamboo for this purpose, so I am now using pieces of an old watering hose.
In the diagrams above, one could use watering hose instead of pipe. One could also use a watering hose INSIDE pvc pipes to gain rigidity.
A soaker hose would not work because I believe I could not get enough water pressure from the rain barrel, and if I did get enough pressure, it would soon diminish when the water level in the barrel dropped.
I will see if I have enough time to build one of these this season.

When I grow up…

…I want to be a Gardener.

How do you define a garden?

The answer to this question is important to me because depending on what it is, then it defines me, or at least part of me.

These days I hesitate to tell people that one of my favorite things to do is gardening. I am afraid that people get this idea that I tend beautifully designed English gardens with flowers and bushes placed in strategic locations to maximize the colors and scents.
Nothing could farther from the truth.
My garden is definitely blue collar and the most important issue to me these days is sunlight, specifically where it falls the longest in my yard.
So I tell people I grow plants instead. I figure that is the most accurate description of my activities.
It could be that I am just insecure. I do the same thing with my drawings. I don’t tell people I am an artist either. I draw, with pencil and ink. That’s all.
I am not a writer. I blog.
Or I suppose I could say that I am a gardener, just not a good one; but then that opens a whole new discussion on what “good” means. When I eat my first delicious salad made from stuff I grew myself, I may come to a different definition of “good” than when I am talking about how pretty my garden looks.
And really, Landscaping and Gardening can be mutually exclusive. I mean, a landscaper doesn’t have to grow a thing. He can simply get the plants from someone who grew them.
Does it really matter?
Why do I worry about stuff like this I will never know.
Maybe it is because we have a cold front running through the area and all my plant growing is at a standstill and all I can do is talk about growing plants instead of actually tending to my plants.

All my Irish Eyes sunflowers have real leaves now and I have radishes and lettuce in my square foot gardening beds now. It hit 31 degrees around 5 am this morning and when I left the house the thermometer was reporting 33 degrees. I’ll see this afternoon what effect the weather last night had on my seedlings.
I brought in my 5 tomato plants that are in containers. So far, my tomato plan is working as expected.

Tigers and Lions and Hail, Oh My!

The forecast called for isolated thunderstorms. Around 8 pm we heard thunder and saw lightening but the water was falling softly and the wind was gentle enough that I did not worry about my 5 tomato plants that are outside in self-watering containers. I went to sleep.
At 1:30am, HAIL! I berated myself for not assuming that a thunderstorm in March would produce hail. I began running through the mental inventory of all the tomatoes I still had inside. Plenty.
Still, I felt dumb for not preventing the assured destruction of the tomatoes that had already been hardened.
This morning I walked outside and took inventory of the damage.
Actually, one tiny basil plant bit. One out of 20.
I consider myself lucky and I hope I learned something. Assume hail in Spring thunderstorms.

I got teeny tiny lettuce coming up in my square foot gardening bed. It is head lettuce of some type. The package did not specify. It is seed number 445 from Thompson and Morgan.

I looked at the spot in the front yard where I will plant flowers and noticed that the lonely Tiger Lily that grows every year is not lonely anymore. There are now 3 more Tiger Lilys. I Googled Tiger Lilys and learned that what I thought were seeds, are actually mini bulbs that grow on the stem of the lily. Oh, I am going to have a Tiger Lily farm next year! I read that they usually take 2 years to flower but I can wait. The Tiger Lily won’t bloom until Summer so I won’t have pictures until then.
One last thing. I also saw this for the first time on the flower-bed-to-be:

Parts of the bed are covered with these little craters. My friend told me they were Ant Lion traps.
We dug one up and we found a tiny caterpillar. Too small to get a good picture with my old camera. The idea is that ants will fall into this sand pit and the Ant Lion, which waits at the bottom much like the monster in the Star Wars movie, will grab them.
My friend assures me that the tiny worm will grow into this:


Robust tomato plants

So far, this Market Miracle tomato plant has lived despite my neglect. I decided to put the plant outside because I believed we were in for a week’s worth of above-freezing temperatures but I was wrong. This plant, along with a Brandywine tomato plant, has lived through at least 3 nights of sub-freezing and windy conditions. I expected them to be dead when I came home from work today but they were still alive so I brought them into the house for a well deserved break.

Recharging the beds

It finally was nice enough on a weekend to do some gardening outside. My boys and I had breakfast at McDonalds and then went around town looking for 5 different types of compost. When we got home I had:

Humus and Cow Manure
Earthworm castings
Mushroom compost
Cotton Bur compost

I tried mixing compost like this after reading about it in the New Square Foot Gardening book. The theory behind it is that by mixing five different types of compost you get a better mix of nutrients for your plants. It worked really well for me last year.

Here is my compost all mixed and ready to go into the beds.

In the picture, you see my new gardening nemesis. A curious puppy who is only too happy to dig out anything I put in the ground.

I have three raised beds, two of which are truly square foot gardening beds –Mel says that it is not square foot gardening until you have a grid. The grids for the two 4×4 beds are made out of aluminum and I will put them on once I recharge the beds with the compost mix.

The third bed is a plastic one that I bought out of a catalog a couple of years ago. It is 3 feet by 3 feet and 12 inches deep. It has worked great for tomatoes, peppers, and even cantaloupes but this year, it will be my carrot box. Oh, I may put a pepper of two in there.

This year I decided to move the boxes and also I decided to put river rock around them to keep weeds away and to make it easier comes harvest time.

The problem with the river rock is that it is expensive and I did not buy enough to complete the job. I am secretly considering going to the Arkansas river nearby and get my own river rock.

The weather was great though a bit windy. The tomatoes in the self-watering containers (SWC) are still alive after three days of being outside. They look a little beat up but there is new growth on them.

Market Miracle

I wasn’t the only one who thought it was time to work on the garden. My help came ready to work hard but unfortunately I found their attention span wanting.

fickle work force
I noticed that my fruit trees are budding and that my pear tree actually has leaves. I feel bad for my fruit trees because I know that we will probably have at least one more hard freeze before Spring is firmly here and many of the buds and leaves will fall off.

pear tree leaves

Ugly for sure

I put my tomatoes out the other day for the first time when the temperature got to 50 degrees and the sun was full out. Although I only left them out for an hour, a couple of them did not do very well. So this time out, I devised a quick “cloche” and put one of the Brandywine tomatoes out for half a day. Ugly yes, but it appears to have worked. The Brandywine did not look bad at all when I brought it in for the night.

Also, most of my seedlings are ready to be transplanted into pots. This year I have committed myself to using peat pots so that’s where most of these little guys are going. From there they are going into their final containers.

I have one more set of seeds to sow and that will be the last of them. The next step: fighting weather, bugs, curious children and curious dogs.

Peppers and Tomatoes