Over the past week we have been moving our seeds started indoors, to the garden outside. Up until late April/early May, we were still getting frost overnight so we are hoping these fragile plants do ok.
The soil we initially put in the boxes had settled well and turned a nice, rich black color.
Greg uses small strips of wood to make a temporary layout. This ensures that each plant will have enough room to grow without taking over the one next to it.
The process takes a while because each plant is still so young and delicate. Since they are still so tiny, using a shovel can damage the adjacent plants. In the picture above, Greg uses an alternative by digging the small holes with a teaspoon.
You can buy compost bins from your local home improvement store. They range in cost from $50-$300. Or you can build them and they’re completely free…woohoo! This is the first of many things Greg made from used palettes. Most commercial businesses will have a pile of these every week after receiving deliveries. They may keep a few, but the majority get thrown away. All we do is ask and most times they are happy that we are helping them get rid of their garbage.
To make this bin he took three standard palettes and assembled them in a “U” shape using standard screws. The slots that are already built in to the palettes are perfect for holding the rake you’ll need to turn your compost.
The pic above shows two bins side by side. We started with one and now we have four across. Greg will keep one bin empty to make it easier to rotate the compost from one bin to another. If you don’t have the space for that many bins, you can simply use one and rotate the soil within the bin.
We initially set these up in the far corner of the yard thinking that when the temperature rose we would smell anything that may be “composting”. It turns out the slots in the palette provide good enough air flow to allow the compost to properly decompose.
Last year, we spent DAYS weeding the garden. Literal weekends were consumed with pulling weeds. Although we knew it would be a big task, we decided that when the weather became tolerably cold, we would start the whole garden from scratch. The picture below shows the garden last year.
We started by removing all of the existing raised boxes and extended the garden area by about 50%. Next, we laid out long rolls of weed barrier. Someone at Greg’s job was throwing it out and it was a big money saver.
We put all the old boxes back in but decided to try to keep a square shape to the garden compared to the mish mosh we had last year. Greg built a few new boxes (the lighter colored ones) out of scrap wood.
As the weeks went on, Greg found more great wood pieces that were being thrown away by one company or another and brought them home. He added the too large boxes below after he drove by a company that had just had an enormous window delivered. They were throwing away the packing crate it came in; so he scooped it up. He added trellis to the back of the crates because he knew he would be planting cucumbers and tomatoes in there. The bamboo was added to beds that would house the beans and other sprawling plants. Once everything was finished, we added a combo of organic soil and compost to the boxes and organic black mulch to the walkways. Voila! A new garden.
It’s finally time to start our indoor seeds!! This winter is dragging on much longer than usual so we had to hold off a little longer than we normally would. This year we used a combination of seed packets from http://www.seedsnow.com, Lowe’s and our local Organic Farm. It is SO MUCH CHEAPER to start your plants from seed if you can find a little space indoors. For example, a package of organic green pepper seeds are $3.49. Each pack includes 25 seeds. Each seed will produce a plant that will grow multiple peppers. One organic pepper in the supermarket is $2.50. Even if each of your plants only yield two peppers…that is a $125.00 value!! It’s a no brainer.
First, we set up a folding table in our spare room to hold the seed trays. Normally we use the Jiffy brand, plastic seed starting containers that we purchase from Lowe’s (you can re-use them every year). This year, Greg rigged up a light holder made from scrap wood pieces. It was a very simple structure with two braces on the sides and a bar in the middle to mount the light chains. We place all of our trays on this table directly underneath our grow light. You can rotate them daily if you feel certain trays aren’t getting enough direct light. (Seedlings will grow towards the light so try to center them as best as you can).
We’ve had the best results with the Organic Burpee brand starting mix in the past, so we chose it again this year. One small bag is plenty for a few trays. Once you fill the trays, use a pencil eraser to push a little indention into each seed container, then drop a seed or two in each one. Make sure and keep a list or diagram handy to write down what seeds you have placed where. Cover the seed holes back with soil and water well.
Normally we switch on the light when we get home from work and leave it on overnight, trying to mimic the sun they would receive outside on a typical day. Since these plants are normally very small and fragile when they sprout, you can use a spray bottle to water them (at least once a day). You’ll have to give it a few days to germinate before you see growth, so be patient. Most varieties will sprout within a week. Now we wait….
Last season our tomato plants produced a total of 156 edible tomatoes. I’d say we had another 30-ish that were ruined by insects. This was our most successful year yet. After two years of trying different locations in our yard we finally found the perfect space for the proper sun and shade.
I think the most influential thing on our garden this year, was the nutrient rich compost that Greg makes. We maintain our supply year-round by constantly rotating the compost (in our homemade compost bins) with the house scraps we save, and adding from our stockpile of leaves and grass clippings.
We also learned a valuable tomato lesson from a good friend. Pick the tomatoes when they are GREEN. Put them in a brown paper bag and store them in a cool, dark place. Check the tomatoes every few days and in a about a week they will be a beautiful red. The last two years we would wait and wait and then all of sudden they would turn and it was too late. Once they turned red and got sweet, we would have a problem with the bugs eating them.
This was one of the last tomato pulls we had of the season (October). All of these tomatoes were pulled green and turned using the brown bag method.
In the beginning the flow was pretty steady and we would easily eat everything we picked on a weekly basis. As soon as the weather turned from warm to cool (Sept-Oct), I pulled 62 tomatoes in two weeks. I had to learn how to can…and fast.
I found a few canning recipes online since this was my first time and experimented with two. (I had also watched a canning demo at the tomato festival this summer) One recipe was for crushed tomatoes and one was for a sauce. The crushed recipe was a lot quicker but now that we’ve been eating them I prefer the sauce recipe more. I think I needed to “wring” out the tomatoes a lot more before crushing them because those cans came out very watery. Below is a pic of the tomatoes cooking down to make the sauce recipe.
The 62 tomatoes produced enough for 27 jars, half crushed, half sauce. I only have 6 left. It better warm up soon.