Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My spring garden 2017

I haven't posted anything in over two years thanks to the arrival of this sweet boy.  I could either spend my newly limited time and energy actually gardening, or writing about gardening, and I chose to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible.  After he learned to walk, spending time outside is his favorite activity.  He loves the chickens, and they, well, tolerate him I guess.

He is fascinated by their eyes and wants to poke at their eyes in the same way he enjoys poking at the eyes of people.
 He does sample the dirt when he goes outside.  He will eventually decide that dirt is inedible, and will gain many immune-system-strengthening microbes in the process.  At least that's what I tell myself, because it's impossible to keep him from eating the dirt.  As long as we keep him out of the fire ants, the electric fence, and don't let him eat chicken poo, I consider our outside time a success.
I've also had to have several serious conversations with my older girls, when I tell them to supervise him, about Why We Can't Leave the Baby Outside Alone Even Though He Doesn't Mind Being Left Alone.  I think they understand!
 Here is an overview of the entire garden.  We haven't had a frost here in about three weeks, and spring is fully committed to remaining.

 Below is one of my asparagus patches, with crimson clover blooming red and blackberries blooming white along the fence.

 Baby bean plants that have survived trampling by the toddler have four sets of leaves.
 Several rows of garlic are happy in their mulch.  I was self-sufficient in garlic for many years, but last year my garlic rotted and I had to purchase new seed garlic.  To the right, above the clover, are leeks.

I'm doing an experiment with cover crops this year.  This is the site of my tomato patch for the summer.  My plan is for the crimson clover and rye grass to die in the heat of summer and to provide a mulch for the tomatoes.  In past years I have spread hay as mulch, which is a time-consuming process, especially in the scale on which I grow tomatoes.  I let the chickens into the clover last week and they have helped trample it.

 To the right are English peas, and to the left rear are Fava beans.  Cilantro flowers in front.
 More beautiful asparagus below the peas.
 Below is a closeup of the Fava beans.  I planted the seeds last fall.
 These are thornless blackberry plants.  I was afraid the buds were killed by the frost, but they are blooming and even forming baby blackberries.  Perhaps the harvest will be as abundant as it was the summer I was pregnant with Luke and I canned 30 pints, or maybe even more, of blackberry jam.
Here is another experiment.  I planted Austrian winter peas in this bed.  Between the rows of peas, I cleared a furrow and sowed Crowder pea and lima bean seeds.  I plan for the beans and peas to grow and for the Austrian winter peas to die back as mulch in the heat of summer.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Start Your Own Transplants with Grow Lights

 Even though it's cold outside, I've been gardening indoors for a couple of weeks.  My husband I made these lights many winters ago, and I use them every winter to grow seedlings.  I don't have a greenhouse, but these lights allow me to start my seedlings inside the house.
Seedlings grow inside my house
I sowed seed in these pots last Thursday.
To make grow lights, you will need lumber (figure out how much you will need based on your measurements), nails, and hooks from which you will hang the lights.  We got three fluorescent shop lights to provide adequate illumination across the width of the seedling flats.  I have never used the lights designed for plants, but my seedlings are growing too tall and leggy, so I have ordered some lights that have all the correct light waves needed by plants.
Kale seedlings strain to reach the lights

To replicate my frame, make a frame wide enough to hold a nursery flat, or with an interior width of about 22 ½ inches.  Make the frame long enough to accommodate the lights and four nursery flats; mine is about 4 feet, 3 inches long.  Add two posts on each end and a beam down the middle of the frame, and make two arms across the beam to hold the lights.  The arms are about 22 inches off the floor.  Screw the hooks in at the appropriate place on the arms, and hang the lights from the chains.  I use an old shower curtain under the grow lights to protect the floor from water, and I place the lights on a timer for 12 hours of light a day.

growlights 001

When I first plant the seeds, I hang the lights as low as possible; as the seedlings grow, I raise them so the lights are just above the foliage.  Fluorescent lights give off very little heat so they will not scorch the foliage as long as they are not actually touching it.    I use a heat mat, which is a waterproof pad that provides the seedlings with bottom heat to help them germinate quickly, under the seed trays if the weather outside is very cold.  It helped my heat loving plants grow well, but it made my cold-tolerant plants, like broccoli, grow too quickly.

Grow lights make the process of starting seeds easier because I don’t have to move my seedlings around the house as the sun moves to make sure they have adequate exposure to light, and because I don’t have to take them outside for sun until the weather is consistently warm.  Seedlings, like all baby creatures, appreciate consistent warmth, moisture, and food, and keeping the seedlings under grow lights helps them thrive.  If you don’t want to build your own grow light, look online for premade versions.

If you want premade grow lights, light bulbs, or other seed starting supplies, consider purchasing these products:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tomorrow Night We're Getting Some Real February Weather

...and I hope my garden survives.  It's supposed to get down into single digits tomorrow night.  Yesterday there was freezing rain and we had no electricity for 7 hours, and today the wind blew hard enough to slam car doors.  However, all my row covers remained in place thanks to clothespins, wire on top of the covers, and boards weighting down the sides.  I have baby broccoli plants under two layers of row cover.  I also have 14 pounds of potatoes planted a couple of inches deep.  I hope the plants survive this weather!

For my chickens, who live in a chicken tractor, I laid a combination of blankets and siding against the screened sides of the chicken tractor and weighed them down with sticks and stones.  Adult chickens cope with the cold well (at least any cold we have here in South Carolina), as long as they have shelter from the wind and the rain.  The wild birds survive, and chickens who live outside all the time can survive too.  People who live in cold climates have coats and blankets filled with down, and chickens have their own layer of down growing next to their bodies.  It's safer to allow them to cope with the cold than to put a heat lamp inside your chicken house--many people have lost both chickens and chicken house from fires begun by heat lamps.  It's hard to keep heat lamps safe from birds that can fly.