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Gardening Uncategorized

Blackberrys Planted – Apache and Araphao

Today I planted my Apache and Arapaho Erect blackberry cells from Stark Bros (3 of each).

There are both thornless varieties, and with any luck I will get an extended harvest from having two different breeds. I have planted them in a row of 6, with about 2 feet between each seedling, in the front garden by the approach to my door. This is not the sunniest place I have available, but I am hoping it gets enough sunlight to keep these guys healthy.

The Apache, in the foreground in this image, are looking very healthy, lots of nice green looking leaves, at the time of planting.
Apache in the Foreground, Arapaho in the Background, May 06, 07
In this image, with the Arapaho in the foreground, you can see they are a lot smaller.  All three of them had some yellow leaves that were nearly dead which I removed (hopefully that was a good idea!)
Arapaho in the Foreground, Apache in the Background, May 06, 07

When I was digging the holes for this I was pleased to come across Earthworms in most of them.  I haven’t done anything to this soil myself , but the landscape firm my subdivision uses does mulch it every year.  While it was some rather heavy clay under the mulch, at least it is fertile enough supporting the basic soil critters.

My long term hope is here is that blackberries will fill in to make somewhat of a hedge, roughly 10 feet long.  I’m not entirely sure that the landscapers won’t interfere with this (assuming I can keep them alive!), but I have my fingers crossed.

You will notice the mysterious grass the landscapers have planted, scattered around my planting area. I am going to leave them there for now, but if the look to be taking over I will remove them.

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Blueberry Bushes Planted

Last night I finally got around to planting the two Blueberry bushes I have had parked in a box in the house for a few days.

Both plants are ‘Rabbiteye’ varieties…one is of type Tifblue and one of type Climax.  The theory is that having more than one variety of Blueberry improves the yield, I shall see how that pans out.

As you can see, there is not much to them right now, they arrived as sticks with a root.  Hopefully I will see some signs of vegetation soon.
My Blueberries safely in their pots
Say a prayer for the Japanese Boxwood lying on the grass in the background…he gave his life so that the Blueberry could have a home:)

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Why I Started Building An Organic Garden

While I have heard many times that the pesticides that we find on our fruits and vegetables that we buy from the local grocery are bad for you, I really never took it seriously. That was until I saw exactly what residue came off some fruit that I rinsed under our water ionizer. This lead me to start my own veggie garden a few years ago. Not only did I end up saving money by growing my own veggies, but I also had the piece of mind of knowing that my family was eating pesticide free food. Here are some steps on growing an organic garden that I used to get started.

Started A Compost Pile

I had never had a compost bin before, so I bought one from our local Costco that reduced my kitchen scraps and lawn clippings into nutrient-rich compost in a matter of weeks. I know that many people opt to make their own compost bin, but I wanted to make sure that my compost was ready for me to use at the beginning of the gardening season so I bought one to speed up the process.

Figured Out My Growing Zone

Unfortunately I don’t live in Texas…I live in a zone 3 area. This means that I do not get to grow watermelons or more delicate fruit that needs a longer growing season. Up North, the ground starts to thaw toward the end of April and we sometimes can get snow fall or frost in September so we only grow hardier types of veggies. I did try out some different types of peppers as well as a watermelon (that is how I know it won’t grow up here) with no success so I just stick to the basics that I know grow in our climate.

Started A Rainwater Collection

I had already started conserving rainwater in a barrel that I bought from the local town office so that I could water my indoor plants and my outside flower planters. The year that I started my veggie garden, I beefed it up and actually added three more barrels so that each drain spout coming off each corner of the house added to my water collection. I was able to water my garden all summer with my water collection which saved me a bit of money as well as being more environmentally friendly.

Used Soilless Mixture In My Veggie Patch

As my soil in the backyard is not that great, I decided to use the Square Foot gardening method. This meant that I used Mel’s Mixture which is a combination of compost, peat moss and vermiculite. Because it doesn’t have any dirt, I ended up with a weed free garden which meant that I had more spare time to do other things other than weeding which is not my favourite part of gardening.

Bought Some Good Bugs To Keep Down Plant Eating Bugs

I knew lady bugs and praying mantis bugs were good for my garden however I didn’t even realize that I could buy them online. As I didn’t want to use pesticides on my garden, I choose to get rid of my bugs with these good for the garden bugs. I ordered my bugs online and spaced out when they were shipped so that I had a healthy supply to keep the pesky bug population down in my garden.

I have found that growing my own produce in my organic garden is very rewarding. I am able to provide healthy, nutritious veggies that I knew are pesticide free while also saving me money on my grocery bill. If you are looking for a way to cut costs or you just want to be healthy, I highly suggest starting your own veggie garden.

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Lasagna Gardening

Anyone who has tried lasagna gardening will be sure to tell you how much easier it is than traditional methods of preparing soil.  It is a procedure for building up soil, usually in a raised bed for a flower or vegetable garden, that basically involves layering different organic materials on top of each other – perhaps separated by cardboard or newspaper – in a manner similar to making a Lasagna.

Making a lasagna garden is a great way to build quality soil for your vegetable garden on the cheap.  Rather than buying expensive soil mixes from Home Depot or Lowes, you can just deposit the basic ingredients of a soil mix into your garden bed and let the processes of nature take care of mixing them together over time.  Earthworms and bacteria work for free after all!

If you have ready access to free materials such as compost, lawn clippings, manure and dead leaves, your soil will be practically free.  Even if you don’t you will find that purchase compost to supplement what you do have is a lot cheaper than filling an entire bed with expensive Miracle Gro.

A great thing about a no dig gardening method like this is you can just do it on top of an existing lawn area.  Simply start with a layer of cardboard to slow down the lawns growth – this should keep it under control until it gives up on trying to grow back and dies due to the lack of sunlight.

A great benefit of lasagna gardening to create a raised bed is that all your gardening will be done a foot or two above the ground.  This eliminates a lot of the crouching involved in most gardening, and makes life a lot easier on your back.  When I used to do row vegetable gardening I would dread getting outside and pulling weeds, as my back would always complain about it the next day!

Lasagna GardeningLayering with cardboard is great for the aisles between raised beds too.  Weeds will grow anywhere given half a chance, but placing a sheet of cardboard between seeds and sunlight will prevent many of them ever seeing the light of day.

Whether you are a new vegetable gardener getting involved in square foot gardening, or just looking for an easy way to expand your beds, lasagna gardening is well worth looking into!  I recommend this book if you want more information.

 

 

 

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Square Foot Gardening

One gardening method I have found really useful when space is limited is the technique of square foot gardening.  Pioneered by Mel Bartholomew in the 1980s, there are a series of books available explaining the tips and tricks to making Square Foot Gardening work for you, I recommend this one, the All New Square Foot Gardening book.

Basically, the system consists of using small footprint raised beds for your veggie gardening.  By training your vegetables to grow vertically you can really squeeze a large crop into a relatively small area.  The value of this is obvious if you are one of those people who has a very small yard! Some people recommend the use of Lasagna Gardening techniques when building small raised beds, but this is optional.

As well as being a great way to overcome space constraints, this ‘technology’ has many other benefits.  Firstly, it is a lot easier to work a raised bed garden than it is to work the more traditional rows.  Since they are raised you will find you do not have to bend so far to pull weeds, eliminate bugs, etc…  Also, since they are relatively small, you can easily weed a significant fraction of your gardening space in a very short period of time.

Square foot gardening is great for companion planting too.  Since everything is growing quite close together – the plantings are done in a square formation rather than a row – you can easily gain the benefits of companion plantings.  For example, sewing a crop of carrots in your tomato bed will yield you a nice harvest of carrots before the tomato plants grow large enough to crowd them out.

Water savings are another plus.  You quite simply need less water to water a small garden.  Also, it is a lot cheaper to setup an irrigation system for a square foot garden than it is for row upon row of traditional gardens – the amount of hose and sprinklers needed is greatly reduced.  If you go the irrigation route you can setup an automated watering solution, which can be very handy if you are as bad at remembering to water your vegetable garden as I am!

Mels Square Foot Gardening books are listed here.  I personally recommend the  system as a great way to enhance your gardening enjoyment.  More detailed information on this type of gardening here.

 

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Texas Pure Soil Blend – Get the Dirt!

I plan to talk about the construction of my raised beds in a future post, but today I will address the soil mix I utilized. 

The City of Plano, under a contract for the North Texas Municipal Water District, puts out a line of garden mixes under the brand name ‘Texas Pure’.  These products are largely created from recyclable materials that have been diverted from local landfills (a good thing!), and are produced locally.

The soil mix I have utilized in my raised beds is the ‘Texas Pure Soil Blend’, a great ‘pre-mixed’ 50/50 combination of quality (locally produced) compost, and a local soil mix.  At $4.50 for a cubic foot bag, the pricing is reasonable, if not cheap.  However, if you have a means of picking it up in bulk – which unfortunately I did not – then it is truly a great value at just $30.00 for a cubic yard.  The City also provides an option of delivery if you order 3 cubic yards or more (perhaps you can share it with a neighbor?)

I learned later, once I was finished with my initial round of landscaping, that the product is available at some of our local stores (such as Walmart and Elliotts Hardware).  I actually drove to the Composting facility and filled the trunk of my car several times before realizing this.  If you are in the North Texas area, and considering this product, do check your local Walmart before driving half way across the Metroplex to purchase it!

The product itself has a great look and feel to it.  I did try a couple of alternative soil mixes from Home Depot, and my gut feeling is that the Texas pure blend was superior.  I cannot claim to be a soil expert, but if I was a plant, this is the soil blend I would choose to sink my roots into:) 

If you would prefer a more scientific opinion on their compost, please view this US Composting Council report.

In summary, I would recommend this product for anyone in the North Texas region looking to build them a planting area from scratch.  It’s fairly priced, good quality, and locally made.  Not a bad combination.

The Texas Pure label also offers several other products (Mulch, Top Dressing, pure Compost…) for people with slightly different needs.  If you have tried these out please let me know what you thought of them!

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Texas A&M – Home Gardening Resource

In the process of planning my plantings for the year I have done a lot of research on the Internet –  I tend to suffer from Analysis Paralysis!  I would have to say that one of the most useful resources I have come across in my reading is the information provide by Texas A&M.

There is a vast range of agricultural information available under various  ‘**.tamu.edu’ websites.  A lot of it relates to large scale agriculture, but there is also plenty of use for the small scale backyard gardener.

The information is of most use for those of us located in Texas (or in places with similar growing conditions), but some of it is relatively general in nature.  Texas, after all, is a big place.  The USDA hardiness zone ranges from 6 up in the Panhandle, all the way to 11 in the far South; combine that with the differing soils and rainfall patterns across the state, and Texas covers a very wide range of growing conditions!

One problem with searching for information on a particular gardening issue, is that a lot of the search results will be commercial in nature. ie: They will be trying to sell you the plant, not telling you if it is a good choice for you.  By utilizing the resouces of A&M you are obtaining independent advice, from people who should know (hopefully!) something about the topic.  For those of you don’t know, A&M(or ‘The Aggies’) have a long history of involvement in Agriculture, dating back to 1876.

The method I utilize is to search my area of interest utilizing the Site: restrictor provide by Google.  In this example, I search for information on Blueberries, but only that found on **.tamu.edu type domains.

I encourage you to try this out for yourself. I have found it to be a great source of high quality gardening information.

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Corn and Shallots are in the ground

Today I planted most of Raised Bed #4.

I have dedicated half of this bed to Sweet corn. Whilst I had hoped I would have room for 4 rows, I only managed to squeeze in 3 rows of 10. I spaced the individual seeds roughty four to six inches apart, with ten inches between each row. My reading suggests that 3 rows is a rather marginal number for successful pollination of the corn kernels. I will therefore have to keep a close eye of that when the time comes, I may need to provide some kind of manual assistance with the fertilization.

The other half of Bed #4 now contains my Shallots (a set of 10 ‘sets’, to make a poor pun). There are lined up in one row against the edge of the bed, so I still have a large empty space behind them I can utilize in future (spinach perhaps?)

I am starting to run out of planting space, but thankfully I’m seeing signs some of my earlier plantings are finally germinating.

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