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Gardening Uncategorized

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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Gardening Uncategorized

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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Coup d'état Uncategorized

How To Get Rid Of Termites

Termites are the biggest threat to homes; they destroy homes from the inside out. Termites hide so they are hard to find and when you do find them it’s too late. Paying an exterminator can cost you hundreds of dollars, however with the right upkeep you can prevent them! Here are some tips to detect and rid your home of termite infestations.

Check the Baseboards

Check around your home for termites. From the inside of your home you can notice a termite problem by detecting some “dust” or “powder” looking substance on the carpet around the baseboards in your home. It is common to see this in the basement areas of homes where daily living is less likely to occur.

Check the Exterior

Always look outside your home for termites. When you are mowing the lawn, look around for signs of rotting wood or rotting near the foundation or decking of your home. Power washing your deck is a good idea to help keep the pest under control. MTD parts have some great outdoor tools that you can use for this purpose. Plan on spraying your woof deck with the proper wood protecting formula and repellant to prevent termite problems

Prevention Time

The best way to stop termites is to prevent them. Make sure the home is dry: leaks, standing water, gutters and moist areas inside and outside the home must be handled accordingly. Keep wood off the property. Cut down limbs from tree and remove those and other piles of wood from the property. Look for signs of sagging floors, hollow foundations parts and holes in wood work. Tap the affected wood to check for hollowness. Push the screwdriver to see if wood gives easily and falls apart; it shouldn’t if you don’t have termites. Caulk and seal windows, cracks and doorways. Cover up gaps around pipes and electrical wiring. Add screens to doors, porches and windows to prevent termite infestation.

Laying the Bait

The signs that a termite is damaging the home are within the first five years. If termites are found there is a solution to handle it before it tears the foundation apart. Examine the area further for brown or tan substance–termite droppings. A better confirmation is to see the termites, but it’s not necessary. Use termite control products at your local home improvement store. Lay the bait near affected areas. Also spray termiticide on the same areas. If that fails try orange oil to kill off the termite infestation. Give it time for the oil to work before moving on to the last suggestion. When nothing else works the final solution is to hire an exterminator. Finding an exterminator is about finding one who is licensed, insured, qualified and worth the money spent.

Protecting your home from termite infestations can save you thousands of dollars! When it comes to pests like termites, your home can easily be vulnerable since they go for the wood, which makes up a large majority of the main structure of your home. Contact a certified exterminator to inspect your home and to prevent any termite infestations from occurring.

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Coup d'état Uncategorized

Sizing Your Vegetable Plot

When we dream of vegetable gardens most of us envision row upon row of all varieties of vegetable plants with a few flowers and herbs thrown in for aesthetics. A mistake made by many gardeners, both inexperienced and old timers is to plant too much. When the garden is bigger than us the upkeep becomes overwhelming, weeds run wild, and the harvest it too successful to keep up with. If you want your plot to be rewarding and fun, keep it’s size in check with the realities of your time, energy and resources.

Unless you are out to feed the entire neighborhood, I strongly suggest you start your vegetable garden off small and keep it that way. You need to answer the questions, “why am I growing a veggie garden” and for “how many people”? For most of us we want to grow our own veggies for the fun and health benefits and a small plot will produce more harvest than you probably realize. If you plan to can, dry or freeze your crops and use winter storage you can plant a little more, but for garden to table eating a small space is all you need.

A veggie plot for the average household should require about 1 hour of upkeep each week. The beginning of the season, planting time and harvest time will be a bit busier. Make sure to choose a sunny accessible spot in your garden as vegetables for the most part are sun and heat lovers. If your soil is poor take the time at the beginning to enrich it with organic matter. Dig in compost or manure to a depth of 1 foot, and turn your soil over to bring air into it and also lighten it’s structure. Vegetables are heavy feeders and there is no point going through all the work of growing vegetables if you’re not aiming for success. Give your veggies adequate sunshine, nutrients and water and they will do the rest.

Depending on your climate, not all vegetables will be suited to grow in your garden. Best to research which ones agree with your area and plant them first. Once you’ve had success with those branch out to other more difficult crops. A simple row of each variety you choose to grow will be enough, you do not have to use up the whole package of seeds at one time. Use the method called succession planting. This simply means planting one or more repetitions of the same crop. So as not to have more of one crop that you can use at a time, try planting only half a row. A few weeks later plant the rest of the row. This method works very well for many vegetables, spacing their time of harvest to allow you to enjoy them throughout a longer season. Many vegetables can be planted in mid to late summer and still have time to mature for a fall harvest.

By only creating a garden the size you can properly handle, you are guaranteed greater success and enjoyment for your efforts. Once again, less is more!

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Coup d'état Uncategorized

Using Vegetable Boxes For Canning

Vegetable boxes may be used to transport vegetables from the farmer to the store and then to home. The boxes also work great for holding the vegetables after they are canned or preserved. The canning process preserves and flavors vegetables, fruits and other foods. The vegetables can be canned in half-pint, full pint and quart jars. The jars are usually sold in boxes of a dozen or more. The boxes are separated by several cardboard dividers that protect the jars from breakage. The jars would shake around and bump into each other if the dividers were not in place.

The canning jars do not come with lids or seals. These need to be purchased separately. The lids may either be wide or normal. The wide mouth jars are best for pickling large vegetables. The vegetable boxes should be picked up at a local nursery during their growing season. The vegetable boxes are cheaper and in stock during their growing season. As a result, the canning process needs to be repeated during the same week each year. The jars are usually sealed with a screw type lid. However, the older wired shut lids are still popular with some people.

The jars need to be inspected before canning the vegetable boxes. The jars’ rims should not have any imperfections or they will not seal correctly. The canning method is determined by the type of vegetables to be canned. The best canning recipe for beginners is salsa. Salsa offers a lot of room for trial and error. Most canned salsas turn out good, but most still have room for improvement. People who can their own salsa tend to rework their recipe every year. Once a favorite recipe is found, the canning hobbyist may move onto chipotle or other flavored salsas. When making salsa, it is important to pick the ripest, juiciest tomatoes. One onion and jalapeno box should be purchased for every three tomato boxes. The vegetables should be inspected to insure they are ripe and delicious. The jalapenos may vary in heat, so several should be tested before beginning.

The tomatoes should be added to a hot water bash after they are rinsed clean. The hot water needs to be boiled before adding to the hot water bath. The scalding hot water will lift the skin off the tomato making it peel.

After the tomatoes have sat in the hot water bath for fifteen minutes, they may be ready to fully peel. If the hot water goes cold before the skin is peeling off the tomatoes, more should be boiled and added to the hot water bath. After the tomatoes are ready, the rest of the skin can be removed with glove covered hands. The tomatoes should be rinsed one last time before being placed to the side. After all the tomatoes are peeled, it is time to work with the onions and peppers. The onions should be peeled and diced into slightly larger pieces than what is desired in the salsa. The onions will cook down slightly during the canning process. The jalapenos only need to be rinsed and diced finely. Salsas with different heat can be prepared while canning. The jalapenos can be progressively added to the salsa as the canning process continues. As a result, each jar of salsa will be hotter than the last. The tomatoes should be diced last and added to a large cooking pot with the rest of the ingredients. Several different spices are added to give the salsa a zesty kick before the mixture is poured into the jars. The jars are cooked in a hot water bath on the stove for a certain amount of time before they are finished.

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Gardening Uncategorized

New House, new Garden!

Having recently moved to a new house, I have an entire new garden to work with.

My former residence, a townhouse, had a postage stamp sized yard.  The new place (in Keller, TX) has a good sized yard.  I do have to work around a pool, but even so I have a lot more real estate to work with.

There are two good sized areas of lawn in the back yard which show a lot of promise for conversion to some productive (and fun!) use.  I have already began the process of converting one of these using a modified form of the ‘Lasagna Gardening‘ method.

I hope to have some more updates on my progress posted soon!

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Cooking Gardening Uncategorized

Delicious Healthy Salad recipe

I threw together this unusually delicious salad last night.   I am certainly no gourmet chef, but I thought it worth sharing:)

1/2 head of red leaf lettuce, chopped

1 tomato, wedged

1/2 mango, diced

1 appled, chopped

1/4 stick of celery, chopped fine

1 clementine, pulled into wedges

It tastes great without any dressing.  The Mango and Clementine juices seemed to fulfil that role!

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Gardening Uncategorized

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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Gardening Uncategorized

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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Gardening Uncategorized

Growth Update

Today I am performing some record keeping, logging some information on the growth in some of my beds so far.  It will be interesting to look back at this over the year and monitor my progress.

First of all the tomatoes.  Today I finally put some twine up to help guide the growth of these plants, they have grown a lot, and were getting to the point they might of started shading my green crops (Chives, Cilantro, Lettuce) I have planteed in front of them.
Tomato Plants on May 10th, 2007

With luck they will grab hold of the twine, I may have to revisit again if not. Note I also took the opportunity to trim a lot of the low to the ground branches from the Tomatos. I read somewhere this was a good idea, although I forget the reasoning!  On the far left you can see the Chives and Cilantro showing some decent growth, the Lettuce varieties (largely out of frame) are not doing quite so well.

The next bed, with the Pea and Carrot plantings, is making slow progress. I am seeing the Peas grow, but they aren’t exactly shooting up.
I still have some unused ground in the back right corner of this bed. I will keep it open for a couple more weeks, and then use it for a second crop of Peas (or perhaps Corn?)
Peas and Carrots on May 10th, 2007

Over in the third bed, the Corn is thriving.  It isn’t obvious in this picture, but a few of the plants have a tinge of yellow on some of the leaves.  I’m not sure if this indicates some kind of deficiency.  I gave this crop a little of the Asparagus fertilizer a few days ago, just in case.
Corn on May 10th, 2007

The final entry in today updates is my Shallots.  These have been rather problematic.  A few of the Sets washed completely out of the ground in one of the big storms (and I discovered they were upside down too boot).  It would not at all surprise me if some of the missing Sets are actually growing downwards right now, the ones that are actually visibly growing are doing so rather vigorously.
Shallots on May 10th, 2007