I am feeling hot hot hot

It’s been 80+ for the last few days and my new wick-watering experiment is a total success. I planted a couple of Marygolds in a pot and this time I put a much wider wick connected to a bigger water container -a plastic milk gallon jug. Not only has the wick stayed wet during the very hot, very sunny days, but the soil is moist throughout. Now, there is one itsy, bitsy issue with this method of watering and that is it’s sheer ugliness. So, I don’t imagine that it is going to take with the population at large but for growing vegetables such as squash, or maybe a cucumber plant, this method should work great.

My Amateur’s Dream tomato plant continues to outperform all the others with the Urbikany coming a close second. The Amateur’s Dream is loaded with tomatoes. The fruit is a medium sized, red tomato. I can’t wait to taste it!

The first pepper plant to produce this year is my Mini-Bell. These are supposed to be miniature bell peppers. All my pepper plants decided to start growing this week. They were small for the longest time. Here’s the first pepper of the season:

I love my volunteer plants this year. This is the first year I’ve had any volunteer vegetables.
First I saw what appears to be a cucurbitas of some kind. I grew Sugar Baby watermelon here last year so this could be a watermelon. I also grew cucumbers here so it could be a cucumber as well.

Then, all of a sudden, this tomato plant just appeared! I swear I did not see it 2 days ago. I grew Galina cherry tomatoes and Black Russian tomatoes here last year so it could be either of those.

I ate my first lettuce of the season. It was a Thumb Tom and it was delicious. A squirrel dug up all my second batch of radishes. I have a third batch doing well in a container so I am ok.
I planted my sweet corn in a spot that doesn’t get full sun all day and they are leaning a bit. I will leave them be to see what happens.
My puppy chewed on my new rain barrel and spilled all my rain water. So now I have two barrels I have to fix. We are supposed to get rain tomorrow so hopefully I will refill them.

Over and out.

Again with the watering

If it wasn’t such a darn-tooting important part of the whole process I would not be so obsessed with it. Plus, last year, it took me an HOUR to water the plants, not to mention the large amounts of water I used. I vowed then that I would become a smarter waterer.

My watering strategies this year are:

  • Using rainwater as much as possible. Rain water is free and rain water is free of stuff such as chlorine and residual pharmaceuticals. Where I live is not heavily industrialized so acid rain is not a big problem. By the way, “pure” rain is somewhat acidic, with a pH of about 6 because of the effects of carbon dioxide; or so it says in Wikepedia. There are discussions on the web about getting your rainwater off the roof of your house. The concerns have to do with the materials the roof shingles are made of and what kind of dust settles on the roof that then gets washed into the rain water. For example, the dust around here is dust from the farms around Wichita. The dust contains pesticides, herbicides and who knows what other “cides”. I am considering rigging some kind of temporary water-capturing jig using a tarp and rolling it out whenever rain is in the forecast and rolling it up when it is not.
  • Using sub-irrigated planters. I was calling these self-watering containers but the term sub-irrigated seems more applicable. Last year I tested one and I only had to put water in the container once a week, even in the middle of Summer.
  • Using watering spikes. Last year I bought plastic watering spikes. This year I complemented those with terracotta watering spikes. The plastic watering spikes released the water too quickly which was my fault because I drilled three holes on each. Now I know that I should have started with one hole. I have not tested the terracotta spikes yet so I don’t know how they do in this regard.

While we are on the subject of watering spikes, which you use in conjunction with a 2 littler plastic bottle, I learned this last year: cover the plastic bottle’s open end with some kind of fabric otherwise you will be cleaning debris and bugs out of them every day:

Also, because the spikes are relatively expensive, some people use the plastic bottle itself as a watering spike. When I read about this, I immediately thought about taking a needle or pin and making a bunch of tiny holes in the bottle to let the water seep slowly. I read somewhere that the tiny holes often become clogged with tiny particles of soil and the water does not come out.
So, we are advised to make one larger hole. I have not tried this so I cannot vouch for either hole-making technique but the advice seems sound.
When using watering spikes, the idea is to deliver the water directly to the root of the plant and thus eliminate putting water near the surface of the soil where it evaporates and does no one any good.
In a container, the setup would look something like this:

Whether you grow your plants in a container or on the ground, I would recommend that you “plant” your bottle at the same time you plant your plant. Keep in mind where the root of the plant is at now and where it will be in the future and bury the bottle accordingly:

Now I need to collect as much rainwater as possible. I’ve seen numerous home-made rain barrel designs on the web but I am unsure about making my own. There is a guy in Wichita (www.wichitarainbarrels.com) who makes very sturdy rain barrels. I am considering getting one more 50 gallon barrel but we’ll see.

Gardening despite the weather

Now we are in the 80’s. We went from highs in the mid 60’s to highs in the mid 80’s overnight. My strawberries are shell shocked.

Also, I am amused by my discoveries of things that are obvious to everybody else. I primarily grow stuff I can eat. Blame it on my childhood. This year however, I decided that I needed to grow flowers. As it turns out, flowers are needed to attract pollinators.
So here I was bemoaning that once I am done implementing my irrigation schemes, my garden will look like a production farm rather than a garden. Then it hit me. Why not plant flowers in containers and put them around the watering pipes and buckets?

We’ll see how it all looks later in the season.

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.

Progress in the garden, such as it is

In my ongoing quest to water the plants efficiently and easily, I found these terracotta spikes. They are no Ollas but the principle is similar. These spikes come with a plastic adapter where you screw a two litter plastic bottle. We’ll see how they do.

I finally built a simple sieve to get the river pebbles out of the flower bed upfront. It is nothing fancy but it will do the job.

Also, I planted 10 Irish Eyes sunflowers in a spot on the front that was bare. When I dug in to amend the soil, I found that the original owner of the house had put bricks down to form a small terrace. I can imagine she put potted flowers on there.

So far, the only blooming flowers in my yard are the wild flowers. This one blankets the lawns with magenta and has been blooming now for about three weeks. I wish I knew the name of it. I also have tiny blue flowers with four petals and tiny yellow flowers from small clumps of clover.

Here’s a picture of the upside-down tomato. There are a lot of posts out in the blogosphere about the home-made upside-down planters made with two litter bottles. I personally think that those don’t hold enough dirt for a tomato plant. In fact, the store-bought upside-down planters are just take-offs on the old upside-down planters people made with 5 gallon buckets. If I decide to make my own upside-down planters, I will use 5 gallon buckets.

I sowed my cucumbers in a self-watering container and I sowed the Hollyhock seeds I got from one of my Facebook friends on a nice sunny spot in my yard.
Also, I made a 3×3 bed for my strawberries and put the strawberries on the ground. This time I covered it with chicken wire to stymie the birds.
I am about half-way done with the first phase of my garden.

Ollas again

After watering my plants by hand last year, I was left with a deep desire not to water that way again. Ever.
And so I began looking for better ways to water my plants. I saw many an irrigation scheme on the Internet and I really liked the following:

1) Self-watering containers.
2) Ollas
3) Watering spikes

I want to talk about Ollas today.

Ollas are clay jars that you bury next to your plants, fill them with water and let the plant draw water from them as needed.

The following pictures of Ollas in action came from this web page, which is possibly the coolest post about using Ollas.
I highly recommend you visit their main website (www.pathtofreedom.com) as it has Cool of the highest quality.
I really wanted to try them last year but I could find no Ollas anywhere in Kansas. On the Internet, I found a link to a non-for-profit place in New Mexico that only sold the Ollas locally.
This year, I found a couple of companies on the Internet that sell Ollas (for $20 and up) and a post on the Dave’s Gardens web site on how to make your own using terracotta pots.
I will keep the terracotta pot idea on the back of my head for now.

While reading the Ollas post on the Path to Freedom website, I came across a post by Diana, a gardener and potter who said she may make her own ollas. I went to her blog:
and left her a message about wanting to know more about her Olla making.
Here’s her response for your reading enjoyment:

“David –
we had such a wet, wet summer (and I was so very, very pregnant) that I never did make ollas. I still think they’d be easy to make, though. I was thinking I’d roll slabs (you can roll clay like pie dough), wrap them around a wine bottle (covered with newspaper, so I could slide the clay off later) to get a tube form, and then slap a bottom on them. The top could be pinched in later to give it a smaller circumference. They wouldn’t be the traditional shape and wouldn’t hold nearly as much water, but they would still work as long as they were only low-fired, not high-fired. They’d just need to be replenished more often.

I’m sure there’s good clay in Kansas, you’d just have to find it (look near a river). The problem with plain old dirt is that it has much larger particles than clay, so it doesn’t stick together the same way – it just turns into mud. Clay’s particles are evenly sized, as fine as silt, and oval-shaped so they slide over each other. If I were you I’d just buy some clay: it’s not expensive. Look at Bailey’s (www.baileypottery.com) low-fire or earthenware clays. Those are clays that mature at low temperatures (1500 degrees), which is what you’re talking about if you want to fire in the old-fashioned way.

The way Native Americans did it is called a “pit firing”, which you can learn lots about just by googling that term. They basically stacked pots in among piles of dried dung and sawdusty stuff, covered and filled them with that stuff, covered the pile with wood, lit it on fire, and came back the next day to sift through the ashes. It can give you some beautiful results, but a) none of it is waterproof unless later treated with fat or wax, and b) there is a tremendous percentage of loss in a firing like this due to the unpredictability of the fire, weight, etc.

I’d encourage you to look up a local community center and see if they have an intro to ceramics program, or perhaps just a place where you can fire your stuff. Everything I know about Kansas I learned from Dorothy, but if you ever have dry summers there then I’d encourage you to experiment.”

So now I have an Olla roadmap of sorts.
1) See if there is a pottery class offered at my County Extension Office.
2) Investigate where I can buy clay locally.
3) Find out who has a kiln that I can use.