Monday, June 30, 2014

Homemade Water-Friendly Planters

Another way I'm trying to conserve water here on the Farmlette is through the use of self-watering containers.  I have several that are small and perfect for flowers or herbs, but to plant's hard to find a self-watering container that is large enough to sustain, say, tomatoes or melons or squash.  It's pretty easy to build, and cheap, too!

Here's the plan:

See?  Simple to build, you may have a lot of the stuff on hand as scraps from other projects, and they are lightweight.  This last bit is important if you want to move the container around, or place it on a deck or balcony.  I have the one above (which is growing Golden Delicious squash) in an aluminum frame previously used to move recycling bins to the curb on trash day (scored free at a garage sale).  I think it's going to be great at conserving water, and I think the squash is going to be lovely and grow enormously.

NOTE:  One thing I forgot on the original plan was to indicate that you do need to make a series of perforations around the container, above the water tank section.  Because this is a closed system, if you have a lot of rain, it will become a very muddy pool of drowned horribleness (ask me how I discovered this).  So, make a bunch of holes to allow it to drain in case of storms that dump a monsoon quantity of rain in one go.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Planning Ahead

Last year, this was the potato bed.  It grew a fair crop of German Butterball potatoes, but it grew an even better crop of weeds.  So this year, instead of digging it over and worrying about weeds going nuts, I plonked some compost on it and covered it with black plastic.  This summer, it will bake away and by next year, the weeds should be (if not entirely gone) cooked into submission.

It's a theory, anyway.  Next spring will reveal if I was successful or not.  I just love gardening experiments, even low tech ones like this.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Big Dig

Last summer, my perennial garden (never lovely at the best of times, really) went to pot.  By that I mean: the weeds consumed it, choked out many plants, and became a crazy hot mess.
Yeah.  That's pretty bad.

This year, it's going to be different.  Starting on Wednesday, my wonderful friend Karen came over for the price of a field hand lunch (roasted chicken with potatoes and carrots) and yanked weeds out.  Then, we dug out all the remaining plants, separating out those to keep and replant, and lots to rehome.

After just that step, it already looked so much better.  But, things just progressively got better and better.  The next day, I dug several miles of roots and sheet mulched the sunny corner (which was a solid mat of horribleness).  Finally, it started looking like a garden.
Of course, every garden needs some plants.  So I headed off to my friend Trudy's place on the lake, which is resplendent with a prolific garden, always in need of thinning and tweaking.  I came home with two tubs full of ferns, hostas, and lily of the valley.  I spent the third day of this garden project moving plants around, determining where to position them, and digging, digging, digging some more.  At the end of the morning, this was the end result:
I ran out of dark pine bark mulch, and it needs a few more plants, but my vision of a woodland garden where one might find fairies is coming to be.  Once everything gets established and fills out, it's going to be lush and beautiful.  I do love creating a garden out of nothing.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Water Butt

In the back garden, in an effort to conserve water, I've decided to try using a water butt.

Get your minds out of the gutter, people.

A water butt is, in essence, a container to store water that you won't use for drinking but that will be helpful for watering the garden.  You could consider a rain barrel a water butt, but this one is filled periodically by the hose.  To make it, I rounded up a 40 gallon garbage can with a lid in the lightest colors I could find.  The lid will help keep the mosquitoes from falling in and breeding, and the light color will help the water from getting too hot during the summer days.  Forty gallons of water is pretty impressive, and lasts a long time before needing to be refilled.

I also store the watering can in it, which is great because I can't lose it that way:

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Blueberry Hill

I am so happy that my blueberries and bush cherry trees didn't die over the winter!  Nothing flowered this year, but hey, it's alive so I am thrilled.  This year, they will hopefully grow, put on more branches and leaves, and next year, produce a gillion gallons of sweet berries.

They really seem to love this otherwise horrible, excessively steep hillside in front of the house. I built some simple terraces out of wood held in place by short stakes in front and a pile of compost in back, and plonked the plants in.  For mulch, I use the copious amount of pine needles that get shed every year by the large white pines in the yard.  This soil is fairly acidic (the pines are directly behind them, with spruces just to the right), so nothing much else will grow there.  Luckily, both of these small berry types like a more acidic soil and are right at home.  I can hardly wait until they start producing a crop!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Around to the Front

Finally, we're around to the front--the very colorful front garden.  Amongst the colorful flowers and assorted fun items, there are lots and lots of delicious things growing.
Two kinds of onions and red cabbage

A little catnip for the kitties!

Blue Jade sweet corn

Fennel in the back, with turnips, beets, and rat tail radishes sown.

Five Color Silverbeet and calendula

Teeny little cucamelon plants and sunflowers

Costata Romanesco zucchini and sunflowers (I love sunflowers!)

Pots of herbs with a pepper tucked in there somewhere...
Up by the front door, I have yet more little pots of plants (which are pretty darn cute, if I say so myself):
The prehistoric looking things on the ends are cardoons!

Pretty flowers by the door are so cheerful.
There are even flowers by the mailbox.  See, we think of everything here on the Farmlette.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Garden on the Side

To the south side of the house, it gets warm and sunny.  It is absolutely perfect for growing small fruits.  I have a hedge of currants started, in front of my neatly trained black raspberries. Everything is loaded with fruit!
Look at all those raspberries!  If I can beat the birds, I'll have a heck of a harvest.

Currants!  I love them so.

I also have some strawberries that I just replanted.  They are a little sad right now:

Don't let the shade fool you: They have sun for a large portion of the day.  I figure they will take off eventually.

The side garden is also home to a series of small raised beds (which double as cold frames), a McIntosh apple tree, and a Whitney crabapple tree. 
Bok choy and lettuce, nearly ready to harvest.

These two are serving as nursery beds--and doing great!
There's a large L-shaped raised bed that was my herb garden.  It's been devoured by rogue mint, that I dug out a couple years ago but apparently, missed a couple roots, and is minty.  I am either going to dig it all out, or throw in the towel and pull random grass and just let it be mint.  The bees love it when it blooms, and it looks/smells nice, so I figure what the heck.  I think I can save my echinacea, french tarragon and chive plants, and then I will leave it to the mint.  Or not.  I haven't decided yet.

Tomorrow, our next stop is the front garden.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Back Garden, Part Deux

And here is the south bed, which marks the edge of the back garden.  This year, it's home to my pole beans, Kentucky Wonder, which will hopefully grow up the scaffolding of bamboo poles.
It's also big enough to hold five sweet potato slips...

and two Cool Old Squash plants.

On the other end of the back garden, lives the hoophouse.  The incredibly difficult to photograph hoophouse.
Sigh--well, anyway, the tomatoes and basil are doing great in their raised beds, as are the teeny weeds that multiply as you watch.  And finally, tucked into an awkward corner, is my perennial veg bed:
Garlic, horseradish, Egyptian walking onions, lovage, and Jerusalem artichokes, and around the corner...
the asparagus forest.  It's amazing how tall the fronds can get in just a short time.  With any luck, next year, I'll be able to harvest more than three spears.

Tomorrow, on to the side garden.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Midsummer in the Garden

What better way to celebrate the arrival of the summer solstice than to see where the garden is at, at this moment, before the heat and long sunny days cause it to grow, Grow, GROW like mad.  We'll start our tour in the back garden, which has been receiving the bulk of my attention.  It needed a rehab in the worst way, and I think it is looking pretty good at the moment.
Tah dah!  Not bad, right?  I built six 4x4 raised beds, and in the middle, I found the perfect place for my antique dry sink-turned-planter and leaky galvanized water trough.  Here's what's in each bed:
Sheepnose pimento peppers and Couve Tronchuda kale

Painted Mountain (flour) corn

Orange Bell peppers, with dwarf french beans and spinach...obviously, just planted.

Yellow onions, Champion of England peas, Nevada and Buttercrunch lettuces.

Green cabbage and lots of beets, which were just resown.

Leeks and shallots.
As for my two vintage tubs, they are filled with:
San Juan tomatillos--viva salsa verde!

Buttercrunch lettuce with edible flowers, viola and nasturtium.
The tour continues in tomorrow's post, so stay tuned!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

And I'm Off!


Well, sort of.

My "work" year has ended until Mid-August, which means now my "real" year can resume.  Instead of cramming in all my gardening, animals, community projects, and general lounging-reading-drinking-umbrella-drinkies-on-the-deck time into a short weekend, I can now spread things out over the week.

A whole week.  Just imagine it.  Oh, lovely!

With any luck, it won't rain the entire time.  I'm starting off with finishing planting the veg garden, and possibly starting the front flower garden dig out.  I'm not really excited about that digging, but I do have a vision for the fairy garden that will take place of the weedy, disorganized mess that lives there now.  And, if I don't finish by Sunday, it's ok--I can keep right on working on it, because I don't have to run off to work on Monday morning.


For everyone who does not get the "summer off", I feel your pain.  Trust me, though--the insane demands of my "work" year make the small perk of having six or seven weeks off consecutively a very welcome one. (I should note: I am never entirely off duty.  I'm the only one who does what I do, so if a problem arises, I invariably get a phone call or two that need dealing with, and occasionally, I find myself having to work a random day.  But hey, for the most part, it's no work and all real living for me!  Yippee!!)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Seedy Sunday

If you are hunkered by the computer working away and wanted something interesting to listen to, check out this edition of Gardener's Question Time (one of my favorite podcasts).  The expert panel are visiting Seedy Sunday, an annual seed swapping event in the UK.  It's on my bucket list of places & events to go visit!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Oh, Monty...

I admit it.

I adore Monty Don.

There, I said it.

Anyway, here is Monty, in gardens, in Italy.  Watch it and swoon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Torn Roof, Busted.

Well, the high winds on Monday night didn't do too much damage to the Farmlette.  Unfortunately, they did cause another large branch to crash down on the tent roof of the Roundtop shelter I call the Car Hut.  And that branch caused the aged tent covering to split wide open at the center...leaving me with a massive "skylight". 

In a week where plenty of rain and additional storms are predicted, this really is not the greatest thing to have happen.  Plenty of stuff was shoved higgledy piggledy into the depths, and it all got a good soaking.  So yesterday after work was finished, I came home and commenced a clean out.  Not a purge, but close.  Anything soaked beyond repair got tossed.  A couple things had gotten broken, either by the storm or by something heavier blowing over and smashing it--they got tossed, too.  Everything that can't stand getting wet got parked into the former brooder area (which may become a hay/straw storage area this summer) or next to it.  A couple of tarps got tied over that so they hopefully won't flap off during the next storm, and will keep the water off of things.  I'm going to have to go out there after any rain and slide the tarps a bit to have the water run off, I suppose, but for now, it'll do.

I have plans to order a replacement cover, but they are fairly expense (around $400) and need to be special ordered, which I can't afford to do until the end-of-the-month pay day in a couple of weeks.  The structure is really solid, and this cover lasted at least 7 years after I bought it used from a neighbor, so I feel okay about investing in another cover.  It's just a pain to put it on, as it is heavy and really large and challenging to haul over the 12 foot high center ridge.

I have a plan though:  once the cover is in, I'm going to organize a Work Day and call in my friends.  With luck, at least a handful of folks will show up, we can get the cover on and tied in place, and then...good beer and bratwursts on the grill.  Not just any brats--I'm planning on getting brats from Louie's Finer Meats.  Oh my they have some great bratwursts!  I figure, if I'm going to have people dangling like monkeys moving a giant heavy piece of plasticized canvas over metal scaffolding, hopefully not when the wind is blowing and threatening to make them into human kites, they deserve some quality eats when they are all done.  Wouldn't you show up for a Work Day like that? I know I would!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Making Plans

I have plans to dig out the front perennial garden and completely redo it.  Of course, it is a challenging site: rather dry, primarily shady throughout the day, and on an annoying little hill.  So far, I've seen glimpses of flowers that are surviving in the unruly grass and nettles that grew up last summer, so I know things are living in there.  My initial plan is to dig everything out, decide which perennials I want to keep, toss the rest (by that I mean, pawn them off on other people OR literally, toss them), and give all the beds a complete dig over to remove the majority of the grass.  Then, it's a matter of re-planning bed shapes and paths, and planning for new plantings.

I already know what theme I'm leaning toward: a fairy garden.  So I need to round up some interesting stumps, ferns, hostas, and "fairy" plantings like little nodding bells and airy grasses.  I'll be keeping my leaning climbing rose, William Baffin, giving it a good tie onto the trellis to keep it on track with climbing up the house.  It's a challenge deciding what will grow in this little garden space, so I did a google and found a great resource from the University of Minnesota Extension Service, detailing all kinds of things you can plant to grow in difficult locations.  Already I'm in love with the idea of planting snowdrops and cranesbill geraniums and purple fountain grass...

Now, if only I could plant it without having to do all that digging.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday, Sunday

Max the Wonderdoodle says "hello".

Actually, he says "woof" but you know what he means.

Today, I am hoping to get outside and perhaps do a teeny bit of weeding--the large raised bed in the back yard is calling to me, as is the remaining 4x4 bed in the front garden.  I'd love to yank out the weeds and add some compost and then, perhaps, plant a couple seedlings or sow some seeds...but I have a feeling that it is planning on being wet.

Very, very wet.

Oh, the agony.  It just stinks when on the last day of your weekend, the weather doesn't want you to be outside doing what you want to do.  Yes, I could garden in the rain.  I dislike trying to do so, though, mostly because my glasses get all wet and I can't see and then I'm dripping and it is just extremely un-fun. 

Hence, when it is raining, I stay indoors, where it is dry but you can't garden.

Of course, if one must be indoors hiding from blinding raindrops, it's good to have something to look forward to.  Lucky me, I do!  My knitting group is gathering at my little cottage this afternoon, so there will be tea and cake and conversations to be had.  It will be wonderful.

I still rather wish I could at least spend some of my morning outside though...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Happy Discovery

Oh, happy day!  Amongst my weekend  chores (including lawn mowing, weed whippering, and clipping off weedy bits from the box elder trees), I made the happy discovery that my blueberry bushes, all four of them, survived the long winter.  Huzzah! looks like four of the little bush cherry trees did as well!  I had figured I lost two of them early on in the summer--they were mere sticks and snapped under the weight of a certain outdoor kitty who I think was trying to use them to pogo across the ditch--so I am happy that the four that survived the kitty attack came back.

No fruit yet, of course, but hey: the plants aren't dead, so there's hope there may yet be some berries!

(Always live in hope when it comes to berries.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Farmlette Updates

Hello!  Did you miss me?

This week on the Farmlette, no much is happening aside from the usual end-of-school-year madness.  I've been driving well over 150 miles each day, which leaves little to no time to garden.  Oh, I broke out the hoe in the front garden and I potted up some more petunias, but aside from that, nothing much.  I'm hoping to move some more compost tonight, and perhaps plant my Painted Mountain corn seedlings (which desperately want into the ground, now).  A good friend is coming by to fetch some spare compost as well, so it's shaping up to be a companionable evening in any case.  Yay for friends!

The chickens and rabbits are doing well outdoors.  The beans have started growing up their canes on the west side of the Bunny Barn, so before too long, the boys should have some afternoon shade.  If I ever manage to get out there and clean the joint, I plan to hang an old bamboo shade on that side as well, on the inside, to offer a bit more shade while still allowing good air flow.  It's the air flow that makes all the difference on a hot, hot day, really.  Poor rabbits, they hate summer.  If only they could take their fur coats off...

The Ladies are laying eggs like mad.  I'm usually getting 10 per day, sometimes 12 or 13.  I have one broody in the Little Coop, and the Young Pullets in the Pen are growing up quickly.  Since their noisy brothers "moved out" to the Freezer, the girls have really been coming into their own.  They certainly eat a little less than when there were 17 in there (now, there are eight)!

For all my inattention this week, the garden is coming along.  We seem to be getting rain at just the right intervals, which is wonderful, but I will be really happy when the handyman fixes the hose pipe this morning.  Hauling buckets of water around the joint is getting really, really old.  It is just so much easier this time of year when the hose is working, for both garden and animal chores.  Plus, I get to rig up my timers which is so fun.  I love having things on timers--they get watered in the middle of the night for short intervals, and I don't have to worry that any "zone" is going dry.  And when your life gets a tad too busy, its nice to have one less thing to worry about!