Monday, April 29, 2019

The Scramble that is Spring

Has anyone else been scrambling??


I do so love spring, but man oh man have we been going like crazy around here.  It seems that no matter what we do, there is always a list of ten other things that need to get done while the weather is still nice.... and were in the middle of a bathroom remodel on top of all of it and I spent all day Saturday re-plumbing the house.  But at least it was windy and nasty for at least part of the day.  

Spring Update 


So, lets see.  So much has been going on this spring, I think its a good idea to spend a post just sort of rambling about it all.  I was in the middle of the soil building series and will get some great ideas updated here soon, but there has been just too much going on.  Too many problems came up that needed attention and just plain too much fun going on in the yard and in life.  I don't really know where to start. 

Worm Bins.  I am going to get a post about this soon...but I have been watching my worm bin in the shed and watching videos online and my worm bin didn't look like what I was seeing.  So I figured out a new approach to their bedding that I am excited to share here soon.  I just divided my worm bin into two worm bins, and I think this new approach is going to be even better. 

Rolling Compost.  I have been using one of those fancy black rolling compost tumblers for the first time and was a bit concerned about how it was all going to pan out.  I was surprised however today, after a number rather warm sunny days, to find what looked liked semi decent compost inside.  I decided that a good use for this was as part of my new worm bedding mixture, so I added some of it to that after sifting it.  

Pluot and Pluerry problems have hit my garden this year.  If you have plum trees, or their relatives, then you probably know all about plum aphids and how they curl your leaves at the growing tips of the plants.  I unfortunately didn't know anything about them until now so I have been doing my best to get ahead of them.  They have found at least two of the four plum family trees on our property, so well see if I can keep them going.  Right now I have resorted to a safe spray that can be used up to the day of harvest and spending some time blasting the leaves with water to try and knock them off.  I think we may be making some head way so we will keep after them. 

The other fruit trees have been doing amazing.  Apples are blooming here now, and the apricot, cherry, and nectarines have all done their things and were frost free through it all.  Now we wait and see how many of the plants set fruit and if they are strong enough this year to hold onto it. The cherry tree has been a solid producer so if I can keep the birds out, then I should have a great crop of cherries.  What do you do to keep the birds away from your fruit trees?


Deep Mulch Food Forest Garden.  This space is doing amazing.  The deep mulch has been keeping most of the weeds in check and we have begun working in the semi raised beds in this space.  There are over 50 lettuce plants growing now, as well as some kale, and we have tons more in the greenhouse that needs to get planted out here soon or else fed to the chickens.  I really want to get the mustard greens and other kale we started from seed in the ground asap too.


The volunteer  plants in this space are nuts.  We had a few flowers survive the mild winter, and the fall raspberries are absolutely taking over the front corner of the garden.  The Honey berries are coming into their own and spring has been so mild this year, that I think we might luck our way into some actual fruit finally this season. After cleaning out the strawberry bed the plants are going nuts and there are flowers all over them now.  Fingers crossed for a great harvest there.  So much fruit its so exciting to see it all start the season off right. 

If that wasn't enough, there is dill popping up all over the place, as well a host of herbs, including our container grown mint, which I just love. There are more holly hocks than I think I can let survive, so maybe I can transplant some of them around the yard.  Radishes are up, as well as some swiss chard. There is so much more I want to get planted, but its still so fun to be in this space and see all the life that is going on down there.  I think this year is going to be another great growing season!  


Critter Care.  The chickens are laying like crazy now and we have been pumping them full of grass clippings and pulled weeds on top of their regular ration to get those glorious spring eggs that everyone loves.  Yokes are so orange this time of year!

The rabbits are out of the greenhouse pens now and out on their weed patch, helping keep things mowed down for us.  I still need to build a better pen for one of our bunnies, but well see how long it takes me to get that done.

Here very soon I will get the chickens out of the greenhouse space as well.  They have access to an outdoor run, and it hasn't gotten too hot in there since we keep the door open, but its time for them to get into their summer space.  Once I get a cage around the trees and finish cleaning out their coop to add to the compost piles, well get them moved over.  I planted two fruit trees in their run this spring, so hopefully within a few years they have some decent shade in the run and can help me clean up the fallen fruit .  The fall pumpkins we threw in there are having a hay day so its time to get the girls in there soon so they can knock everything back before its too late. 

Soil Building.  Compost piles are still rocking.  I need to turn the hot pile again as I am sure it has cooled down here lately.  We are getting closed to being able to sift out the good stuff with that one I think, then we can start our next hot pile with all the stuff we have been gathering from the yard this spring.  Loads of good stuff to get going there. 

We also have a couple lasagna beds going, both of which are a direct response to weeds in places I didn't want them.  I will get a post done here soon on those, but basically your just layering organic matter right where you want to have great soil.  Given enough time, mother nature turns it into some of the best dirt you have ever seen. 

And finally, we have a bit of an experiment going.  We rolled out a large sheet of black plastic to keep the weeds down in the future garden area.  I have seen many people online using this technique and I as anxious to see if it even works. I will have a post coming on that at a later date but it looks interesting.  

I am sure there are a pile of other things that I have been doing on top of all this, but for now, this is enough to make me feel like I have been doing some good work around here and helping things get going in the right direction.

If you are into this sort of thing, there is more information over at our web site which you can view here and a continual stream of information throughout this blog. There is loads of information about gardening, composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  Come check it out.  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well.






Sunday, April 21, 2019

Better Soil 1.0

Compost is Key

I cannot stress the importance of good quality compost enough in the soil building journey.  I have been studying and practicing gardening for a number of years now, and I have to say the single biggest game changer as far as success in my gardens, has to have been compost.  Two things I want to focus on in this post is where to find it (good quality at good prices) and how to make it. 

One of the best sources of compost, especially early on when you are setting up your gardens, is what is commonly called municipal compost. Across the country, waste management facilities are collecting your yard debris, grass clippings, fall leaves, etc. and turning them into a beautiful compost.  Around here I can get a whole yard of this compost for $15 or so, dropped in the back of my truck or small trailer. Way, way cheaper than buying by the bag at a big box store. If you are just starting out or have a need for a big addition of compost, this is a great option. My grandparents actually grow an amazing garden in raised beds and this is all they fill their boxes with.  

I took the pictures below on a visit to the Idaho Botanical Gardens in Boise Idaho. In that city you can pull up and get this amazing compost for free! There are limits on how much you can have, and you can only use hand tools to gather it....but its FREE!!! If I would have had a bucket I would have grabbed five gallons for myself.



One word of caution. These composts are sometimes "hot" and while some plants won't mind, others will show some initial strain. If you have the space, you could let this compost sit in a pile, covered with a tarp maybe, to "age" in order to get the whole thing fully broken down. You could also use it heavily in the fall, so it has the whole winter to mellow before planting the following spring. I have personally never experienced an issue with this compost in the garden, but I am often using it as part of a mixture of things or a lasagna bed, so it isn't the sole growing media for my plants, and maybe that has been part of my success.


If you garden is small enough, you can also buy some version of compost by the bag at big box stores like Home Depot or your local hardware store. These products are often labeled as garden soil. We usually pick up a few bags of this type of stuff in the spring when they put it on sale crazy cheap. Its useful for small projects and stores easily. I like to use it when I decide to fill some large pots in the garden to grow mint in or something else that I think will do good in a pot. If you're patio gardening this may be a good way to go. We also get a bit of potting soil each year, which is slightly different as it has some added ingredients, most notably perlite, which is added to help with drainage.

Make your own Compost


Making your own compost at home is a skill that I think every gardener should learn early on. Its really not all that difficult and its such a great way to return resources back to your soil.

Imagine a forest for a second if you will. Tree's grow, leaves fall, snow comes maybe and it starts all over again the next year right? Where did those fallen leaves go? Back into the soil. In nature nothing is wasted. Everything that grows, returns to the soil eventually, and is recycled in a continual loop. It's amazingly perfect.

But what do we do? We grow our gardens, take away all the stuff that is good to eat, and then tear everything out in the fall to "clean up" the garden. There are good reasons for this in some cases. Elimination of overwintering pest comes to mind, or diseased plants.... but we are removing a boat load of nutrients and organic material. And what do we do with it? Most people do one of two things generally. They either burn it if they can, or throw it in the trash to be hauled away. Then next year they are forced to import fertilizers, mulches, and other resources to revive the soil. Seems a bit crazy when you think about it right?

Composting breaks this depletion cycle and returns us to a system of regeneration. Things grown in our gardens don't ever leave, even the weed get to stay, and return their fertility to the soil. Not only that, but we start importing other material, like coffee grounds, fruit peels, shredded paper and cardboard, etc. that ADD to the organic matter we are returning to our soil. Instead of sending it off to the dump, we turn our junk mail into tomatoes and melons. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

Lets take a look at how to make this amazing process start happening for you. There is really nothing to it. I am going to preface all this with a disclaimer that you should by all means look for more information on this topic. There is tons of it available online. I find that I enjoy comparing the message from different folks, and then come to my own conclusions about what works best for me. You will be amazed by what you find people doing with compost once you start looking. It can even heat your greenhouse or give you a hot shower if you are so inclined.

You only need two things really to get started and the rest will happen on its own, and that is a carbon source (often called "Browns") and a nitrogen source (often called "Greens"). Once you get the right mixture of these two things, (about three parts brown to one part green is a good general starting point) in a large enough volume, compost just happens.


Carbon Sources (Brown Material)


Carbon is a critically important part of both healthy soil, and a healthy compost pile. Without it, your pile will turn into a stinky, smelly mess. As I mentioned before three parts carbon to one part nitrogen is what I seem to recall being the recommendation, but honestly, I don't worry about it. I just know that I need to have it in the piles, and that I need a good deal of it, so I collect it whenever I can and add it to my piles in often.

Good sources of carbon are things like news paper, junk mail, dry fall leaves, straw, sawdust, and cardboard. These are all "dead" plant material and they are composed mostly of carbon. You want to make sure you have access to them throughout the year. I keep bags of shredded paper around all the time, and even have a paper shredded in the shed if I find myself running short. We learned recently that a really good wood chipper will destroy cardboard and even lumber scraps for additional carbon resources. Animal bedding would be another great source and it comes loaded with some great great green material in the form of whatever droppings were left by the animal living in it. Also, please note that native soil is considered brown, and I always make sure that I put some soil into the pile periodically just for good measure. Usually this is attached to the root balls of sod or other plants removed from the yard.

Green Materials

Green materials seem a bit easier to come by for most people starting out with composting. Weeds grow every year and if you get them before they go to seed, this fresh growing, live material is considered green. It, like all other green material is high in nitrogen. Other examples include grass clippings, animal manure (Herbivores only), fruit and veggie peels, and coffee grounds.

I find that through out most of the year, greens are in plentiful supply. Its only in the winter that it gets a bit harder to find this material, but I am generally not composting as heavily during this time anyway.

One trick I have seen, but have yet to try, is freezing the scraps bound for your piles. Nobody wants to smell a bucket of compost stuff on the counter or under the sink. And if you pile it up out the back door or something, its just going to attract flies if you area is anything like ours. But if you put it in the freezer, there is no smell, no bugs, and you can just keep adding to the same large container until its full and make one trip to the compost pile. I really want to try this to be honest with you.

Another added benefit of this method is the rupturing of the cell walls in all that plant matter. Water expands when it freezes. This action literally explodes the cells from inside out in some plants, and then when they defrost, the resulting product is slightly broken down physically. For some plants this is a great way to start the composting process off even before those scraps hit the pile.

Pile it Up

They call them compost piles for a reason.  You need a decent volume of material in order for this process to really take off.  I like to use pallets to create a bin that gives me an idea of the size I am looking for.  I just keep adding more and more stuff to the bin as it becomes available.  If I have a big deposit of green material, I will be sure to add some soil and shredded paper, maybe cardboard or old, dry leaves, along with some water to keep everything moist. 

When the piles starts to get large enough, you will begin to see some heating within you pile.  That is a good sign that things are beginning to break down.  You may notice steam coming from your pile early in the cool of the morning.  If it is actively composting it can be very, very hot inside..... like over 100 degrees hot.  You can measure this using a compost thermometer like the one shown in the picture here.  They are very long so you can check the temperature at or near the center of a large pile to get a sense of whats going on in there. 

You can help the process along by turning the pile periodically.  This introduces some important oxygen into the pile, and allows for the mixing of material.  Many folks recommend moving the material from the outside of the pile to the inside so they can experience the intensity of the interior of a good pile and begin breaking down. Also good to add a little water when you turn as well to maintain good moisture.  

That is really all there is to it.  After two or three turns, depending upon the size of your original materials, you will either have some really great compost, or some really great chunky compost.  The larger bits do take longer to break down.  What I generally do is shift the compost through something like a milk crate to removed the really large pieces and add them back to the next compost pile.  You can add some hardware cloth to the inside of the crate the vary the size of material that you shift out.  

Once you are done, you will be left with one of the most amazing soil amendments.  There are tons of ways you can use this, which I will get into in another post.  Generally I just layer this stuff on top of my growing beds and let the worms do all the hard work of mixing it down into the soil for me. 

Take it from me.  This is a resource you won't be sorry you have.  You plants and garden in general will love this stuff, and you will be on your way towards one of the most important jobs gardeners have, and that's growing healthy living soil.  

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Build Better Soil


Grow Plants or Build Soil???


Over the years I have had a major shift in my thinking when it comes to gardening.  Growing plants has always been something I enjoyed doing.  But there has been some change in the way I approach gardening, and it comes down to the foundation of it all, the soil. 

It dawned on me the other day as I have been working on this blog that I have been gardening for all of my "adult" life.  Ever since I moved back to Eastern Oregon after finishing college, I have had a garden.  I started gardening at my rental down on the snake river.  When we moved into town I set up a small garden in the back corner.  Our next country house had a garden out back, as well as a school garden at the grade school I was teaching at.  And finally, here at our current location with the emerging food forest and plans for expanded gardens.  

The problem with many of my early gardens is that I was working way, way to hard.  I was following the methods I had grown up with, tilling the land, mulching with grass clippings and plastic, chemical solutions to every problem that came up.  Your basic, standard approach to gardening, based heavily on the influence of industrial agricultural practices. Love them or hate them, you cannot deny the fact that these methods are good at what they do, and that is grow plants. You will bring in a harvest following these methods.  But there are such easier ways, that happen to be better for the environment as an added bonus. 

Don't Grow Plants, Build Soil. 


The health of your soil is the single most important factor in your gardening success in my opinion.  I think I settled on this notion after first being introduced to the work of Joel Salatin at Polyface farms.  Joel is famous for saying he is a grass farmer.  Most of us would assume that this means he sells grass hay, or maybe sod for lawns....but if you know his work, you know he sells pigerater pork, salad bar beef, pasture raised chicken, turkeys, eggs, and meat rabbits, just to name a few items.  Funny.... I didn't mention grass in that list of things he sells, yet he is a self proclaimed grass farmer. 

This was the beginning of a huge shift in my approach to gardening.... you don't start with a focus on the things that you want to produce (pork, beef, chickens, etc.)  You instead focus on the thing that those things need to thrive (grass.)  And you base your system on optimizing the health and success of that thing, and the rest of what your doing, just falls into place. So, based on this model, if you want to grow amazing tomatoes, the best watermelon you ever tasted, or that special turnip you cannot find in a store, then you need to focus your efforts on building soil. You need to build systems that optimize the health of the soil ecosystem, and then you will have a much easier time growing happy, healthy plants.....just like Joel's happy, healthy cows and pigs.

Once your brain makes this shift, you begin looking at things a bit differently.  What was once waste now becomes resources to help in your soil building journey.  Things that were a burden, now become a benefit.  You find new allies in your mission, new methods and techniques, all of which make you want to learn more.  

In my next few posts, I am going to walk you through some of the things that I have discovered in this quest toward nurturing and building soil health.  These are tested methods that I have researched myself and implemented here as part of our plan. I am constantly learning more, but feel that I have developed some interesting systems that I cannot wait to share with all of you.  




Thursday, April 18, 2019

Protecting Transplants


Do you have to protect you transplants?  


A few years ago we moved out into the country and I was so excited by the chance to have things like chickens for the first time.  It was also eye opening to try and garden for the first time in the country.  Its open country generally, there is more pressure from birds and other animals at times, and then there is the wind. 

Here in Eastern Oregon, wind in the spring can be a bit of an issue for plants.  When you head down to the local hardware store or big box store and bring home some transplants, they may be in for a bit of a shock.  These plants have generally been greenhouse raised, transported in trucks, and staged in a garden center somewhere that is semi protected.  They get a gentle rain every day from the end of a hose and go about their merry way.  But then you drop them in your garden, and a gusty spring storm blows through and it can be enough to really stress your plants out and slow them down in their attempt to get established.  Driving rain and potential hail storms make things even worse, not to mention potential critter and insect pressure.   

When we settled in the country all around us the gardeners were using a trick that I didn't understand, and so finally, I had to ask.  



Dotted throughout their gardens were large #10 tin cans, tops and bottoms removed, with a small transplant nestled inside.  While I observed this, I struggled with what was happening.  They weren't covered with clear plastic or anything, so it wasn't like a hot cap or mini greenhouse type deal.  The tin would likely get pretty cold in the evening, so heat retention wasn't the deal.  Finally I had to ask and the casual, country response was, the wind.

You see, those cans were doing nothing more than protecting the plants from the brutal, drying effect of the wind in the open country air.  With no houses or buildings, no high wood or vinyl fences, no protection really what so ever, the wind can really dry out plants who haven't had a chance to get their roots deep enough into the ground to keep enough water in their leaves.  Furthermore, they haven't had time to strengthen their stems and stalks to deal with the harsh realities of their new homes.  They need a shield, which is exactly what the can offers.




Over the years I have used cans for this purpose I have discovered a few other added benefits.  Perhaps the real secret behind their success is that they address more than just the wind.  Here are a couple other benefits I think they offer.
  • Concentrate watering efforts.  The can does a good job of shading the soil around the plant, and keeping spring watering efforts close to the root zone of the transplants.  Between the wind protection and the shade, the water you apply last longer, right where the growing roots need it most.  I have often observed the soil in the can is still damp, while the soil around it has dried from those spring winds. 
  • Supporting growing plants is another benefit.  Some transplants, like larger lettuce for example, has very floppy leaves.  The trials of spring can often leave these large leaves laid over on the ground after hard rains or windy days. (See the photos above)  The walls of the can act as a sort of support, keeping the leaves up off the soil and allowing the plant to grow upright.  
  • Insect and animal protection are potential added benefits as well.  I have a hard time believing that rabbits and deer are going to stick their nose into an old tin can as readily as they might take a bite out of something freestanding.  Its just a theory, but I think it sounds good. 
  • Focused fertilization is our final thought.  If you are inclined to give your plants a light feeding or two as they start out, then the can, much like the water efforts describe above, concentrates the fertilizer around the root zone where the plant can actually get to it.  Adding a bit of compost tea, or maybe some dilute fish emulsion could give your plants the kick start they might need to get off to a great start. 

These are just a few of the reason why I have come to love the wind shields in my garden.  I have a number of cans and use them over and over throughout the season.  They give the new plants the protection they need to get off to a great start.  If you think it might help your garden, give it a try this season.  You just might find like me, that the benefits go far beyond just shielding your plants from bitter spring breezes.

If you are into this sort of thing, there is more information throughout the posts on this blog. We also have some info over at our website which you can view here. There is loads of information about gardening, a whole section on animals and composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  Come check it out.  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Spring Fertilizing


Its Spring and Your Plants Are Hungry!  


Every year around this time, things around here start to explode.  The forsythias bursts into bloom and not too long after that our huge apricot tree in the front yard pops and is full of bees while casting the most beautiful aroma throughout the yard.  It hits me off and on throughout the day and is just amazing.  I love spring!  

These two events are a good reminder that spring has sprung and that your plants are breaking dormancy and will soon begin the rush of activity that is life as a plant.  As their cells wake up and they begin producing leaves and photosynthesizing, its good to remember that plants have nutritional needs and need to be fed.  So just like the fertilizers many of us put down on the lawn, our plants can really benefit from an addition of fertilizers as well. 

For a while now, I have tried to follow a more natural approach to fertilizers, especially in the garden.  So I am always on the lookout for organic fertilizers and products made out of them.  You can do all sorts of research and learn about blood meal and bone meal, various animal manures, green-sand, worm castings, the list goes on and on.  But, there is an easier way that I have discovered. 

The folks at Espoma make an amazing product line that is 100% organic.  They are available commercially at all the big box stores, though your may have to go to a garden center or nursery to find some of the specific mixes I am going to reference here. For today we will call them collectively, "the tones" as their product line is a variety of "tones."  Garden-tone, plant-tone, berry-tone, etc. They appear to have a formula for just about anything you might be growing. 

What I like about them most is the ingredients list.  I have and continue to do the previously mentioned research on organic fertilizers.  Some of the products listed can be hard to find at times and are expensive when bought individually.  But when I read the ingredients list on any of the "tones," I see all sorts of stuff that I am familiar with.  Blood meal, poultry manure, green-sand, etc. Its important to know whats in your fertilizer and I approve of everything I see being used in these products.  

There is one drawback though, depending upon your applications.  Since these products are made with organic ingredients, there is a bit of a smell factor to contend with after you first apply them.  But other than that they are amazing and my plants have responded well to them.  They don't disrupt the soil biology I have been working so hard to build, in fact they support it.  Organic sources of fertilizer like these take time to slowly break down in the soil, extending their feeding capacity for weeks during the first growth of spring.  In short, these are fertilizers that build soil. 

There is more to life than NPK


While it is important to understand it, there is much more to life in our soil and healthy plants than Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus. Trace minerals like cooper, magnesium, sulfur, boron, and a host of others all play a role in the development of plant structures and fruit.  In addition to the organic fertilizer mixes, which have a wide range of nutrients and elements in them,  there are three other main things that I add to our gardens and growing beds.  

Homemade Compost 


My homemade compost is loaded with all sorts of kitchen waste, paper products, chicken and rabbit manure, grass clippings, and the like.  This wide range of ingredients contribute greatly to the nutrient profile of our compost and I know that it is loaded with all sorts of good stuff for our plants.  In the spring like this, I like to throw some compost around the base of our establish plants as much as possible as an extra shot of spring nutrition for the soil

Azomite Rockdust


Rock dust is an important fertilizer and I love the fact that its mandatory NPK label is basically blank (0-0-0.2).  One might think that there is basically nothing in there....which is far from true.  Azomite rock dust is a concentrated collection of trace minerals that feed your soil and plants all season long.  It is an amazing addition to your growing spaces, especially those growing food.  Plants grown in soils fed periodically with azomite yield a higher mineral content since there are actually minerals in the soil available for them to use.  It doesn't take much, just a light dusting on your growing beds and then a quick shot of water to get it into the soil.  Its an amazing resource. 

Fish Emulsion 


The final thing that we use around here fairly regularly is fish emulsion, or fish fertilizer.  I have gotten to the point now where I buy the larger bottle because I know we are going to use it.  Fish Emulsion is made from the remains of fish.  They are fermented into this thick, goopy, smelly concoction that you mix with water and add to your soil.  The microbes and other biology in your soil will love it, as will your plants.  Like the other items listed, it does offer a small amount of NPK benefit, but its really the trace minerals where this fertilizer benefits our soil.  

Time to "Tone" your Garden


There are a wide variety of tone products, but I think they are pretty self explanatory.  I don't know that using one or the other would necessarily hurt your plants, but they are specifically formulated to meet the needs of a group of plants.  Here are the ones that I put down this spring and will continue to use off and on throughout the season.


  • Holly-Tone:  This one is listed for evergreens basically, so here I use it around the few evergreens we have planted.  
  • Plant-Tone:  This is the general purpose mix, good for just about anything that grows.  I use this extensively in our boarders and put it around all the bushes we planted last spring.  Peonies, dogwoods, day lilies, and everything else planted in our boarders got a shot of this stuff. 
  • Rose-Tone:  Like I said, self explanatory right.  I put this one around rose plants that I take care of. It also offers benefits for just about anything that flowers in your ornamental beds. 
  • Berry-Tone:  I found this one at the nursery and decided to give it a shot.  This was added to the strawberry and raspberry beds, and was also thrown around the base of our Honey berries. 
  • Garden-Tone:  This one is the grand champion for the veggie garden.  I add this to all my raised beds and growing areas in the spring and throughout the season.  I also use this as an ingredient in my potting mixes for starting garden seeds in the greenhouses.  It will stink up an indoor space if used in this way.... you have been warned. 

Application couldn't be easier.  I just take a small pot around the yard and sprinkle some fertilizers around the base of the plants.  I don't worry too much about how much I am putting down, I just try to not over do it.  I function on the something is better than nothing approach to fertilizing my plants and hope that the building of the soil ends up being the most important thing that we do for the health of our plants.  

I may hit them all again with another round toward the end of May to help them hold strong through the summer, but if I don't get to it, I won't stress.  These fertilizers will help build the soil community and feed the plants slowly throughout the season so if we don't get another round down, it won't be the end of the world.  Periodic shots of fish fertilizer and maybe compost tea will keep them going strong if I don't get to it. 

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you leave today understanding the benefits of focusing on building your soil.  Organic sources of fertilizer and amendments such as these do an amazing job helping with these efforts. Even if you don't use the products I do, find something organic to feed your plants and soil.  Mother Nature knows what she is doing, and with some guided help from us, we can get amazing results.

For those of you who are interested, there is more information throughout the posts on this blog. We also have some info over at our website which you can view here. There is loads of information about gardening, a whole section on animals and composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Who Loves Herbs??


As a General Rule, Herbs Keep Giving!!  


Seriously.... I you have never planted herbs in your garden, let me share a little secret with you that you may not have known.  Many of them, come back year after year and just keep on giving.  

Herbs come in all shapes and sizes and many of us have our favorites, but let me share with you some of the ones that we have growing in the garden right now, early April in zone 5 here in Eastern Oregon. 

Parsley


Lets start off with the that has surprised me the most.  Last spring I started a few plants in my small greenhouse and was pleased to see the parsley do so well.  I end up with a decent number of plants that survived and into the garden they went.  We were checking in on a client, building some cages over the planter boxes we had built for her to keep the birds out of her strawberries and I was blown away by the size of the parsley growing in one of her boxes.  She shared with me that it was from last summer and it had come back early this spring.  I had no idea idea Parsley did that, so I had new hope for my plants and sure enough, a year later, they are coming back as strong as ever.  As it turns out Parsley is Biennial, which means it grows its first year, and then in its second season, it flowers and develops seeds.  I will let you know if the second year stems and leaves taste as good as first years, but I imagine they will as long as I get at them early before they have a chance to flower. 

Mint


Mint is a very tricky plant to grow.  My first experience with it was a bit of a night mare, as I unknowingly planted it into a garden bed next to my shed.  Within a season or two I had mint growing on all sides of the shed, coming up in brick paths.... it was a mess.  Mint reproduces by sending out runners from its roots, and given room to roam, those roots can reach... well on all side of a 16 x 12 foot shed in just a couple seasons.  In our area, they are very hardy and do well. 

After that experience I have learned that the best way to keep mint for me is in pots.  I keep three or four large pots down in the garden to plant different mints in.  By the second season the roots have spread to fill the entire pot usually and whatever variety I have will be in great supply throughout the growing season.  This season I have Moracan Mint, Apple Mint, and Grapefruit Mint all coming back and am anxious for my first round of fresh mint tea here soon.  They just about have enough growth I can start harvesting some here and there.  I also love adding fresh mint to salad as it adds an interesting and unexpected pop to the flavor profile.


Sage


I have a sage plant tucked into the garden and its tough as nails.  I wasn't sure it would make it when I transplanted it from its original spot, but it has and grew all last season which was its second or third year.  I just cut it back this spring as it was getting a bit rough around the edges, so we will watch and see how it reacts to that treatment.  Its such a unique plant with its silvery leaf color, I love what it adds to the garden.  We don't use it much for cooking honestly, but hopefully that will change some this season as I attempt to do a bit more cooking with our produce.  How do you use fresh sage?  

Dill


The thing you have to understand about fresh dill, is that if you let it go to seed, you will have more dill than you know what to do with for years to come after that.  It is after all called dill weed, no doubt due to its incredible reproductive capacity.  I happen to love making fresh, salt brine pickles each year and having fresh dill on had is a nice addition to the mix.  Its also great added fresh to veggie dips, or used to cook fish.  

Lemon Balm


Lemon Balm is related to the mint family, but like cat mint, doesn't have the roots that run wild throughout the garden.  They might spread a bit, maybe two feet or so in diameter, but in general they behave.  Our typical plan for them is to enjoy them in the spring, maybe have a couple rounds of fresh tea, or just grab some leaves in the garden and rub them together for a good smell.  Then, as they start to get a bit leggy, we cut them way back to the ground to force a second round of fresh, new growth.  You do have to be careful about flowering as I think the seeds can carry a bit and I did find a new lemon balm plant in the bed adjacent to where the main plant is growing.  Never hard to tell if a plant is lemon balm....just crush a leaf and take a sniff.... so amazing!  

Those are the main herbs we currently have growing.  I have tons of basil started in the greenhouse right now, and would love to get my hands on some cilantro seeds to try as well.   There are tons of other great herbs out there, chives, garlic, thyme, and even exotic ones like shiso (a Japanese herb) and lemon grass. 

If you have room in your garden, consider dropping in a few herbs.  If you have never grown them, you might be surprised by how fun they are to grow, and how much flavor they have in their fresh form to make your next meal, something special.

If you are into this sort of thing, there is more information throughout the posts on this blog. We also have some info over at our website which you can view here. There is loads of information about gardening, a whole section on animals and composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  Come check it out.  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Hot Compost Update #2


First Turn Completed



Today I checked the compost pile and found that the temperature had dropped from the 140 degrees it was at for a few days, down to 110.  I may have been a bit hasty, but this was enough for me to decide to go ahead and turn the pile for the first time.  


When you are hot composting like I am trying to do to get a flush of fresh compost here to start the growing season, the more you turn the pile the faster you end up with finished compost.  It is a great way to deal with the flush of spring weeds, and gets you a great soil amendment for your gardens and flower beds. Turning the pile adds an all important ingredient to the equation, and that is oxygen.  The types of bacteria that we want breaking down our piles do best in oxygen rich environments.  These prevents the pile from going anaerobic, which is can only happen when there is a lack of oxygen and usually results in a stinky, smelly mess. 


From here on out the process is pretty simple.  When its time to turn, move the entire pile from one bay into the other, which is why this end of the composting area is open like it is with two bays facing each other.  When you turn the pile you want to try and move the material from the outside of the pile into the middle as much as possible, as this is where the majority of the composting action is taking place. 

Moisture is another essential element in the process, and all that heat can dry out the interior of your pile, so adding some water along the way helps keep things going.  I simply move a bit of material over to the new location, hit it quickly with the hose, and then pile on more.  You don't want to over saturate it, but there needs to be moisture for the process to work.  I noticed that a fair amount of the chicken bedding I added in the beginning was still fairly dry.  The additional water and general mixing of everything should help take care of this.  


Two great signs that I observed today were the heat in the middle of the pile.... at times the stuff I was turning over was actually steaming it was so hot, and what I will call white mold.  I am sure there is some technical name for it, but when I turn a pile and I find this white substance on stuff on the inside, I know we have a good thing going.  Whatever it is, it seems to really like the carbon rich material as that is what I seem to notice it on the most.  I knew from the heating observed by the thermometer that we were already doing great, but it is still nice to see the good stuff happening on the inside. 



Now that the pile is turned, in just a day or two we should see some raising temperatures.  I won't be at all surprised to find that this turning really gets this pile heating up.  Lots of mixing of the layers happened today, which will get things going like crazy in my experience.  I will continue to post updates along the way and do my best to get these posts all linked together.  



If you are into this sort of thing, there is more information throughout the posts on this blog. We also have some info over at our website which you can view here. There is loads of information about gardening, a whole section on animals and composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  Come check it out.  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Never Plant a Seed Again

I Might Never Plant a Seed in My Garden Again


I have been gardening for a number of years know and have made my fair share of mistakes along the way.  But I love making mistakes, because its a great chance to learn.  I tried straw bale gardening.... but it wasn't right for me.  I've figured out how to make pretty sweet compost.  And I have 100% bought in to never tilling my garden beds again.  These are all things I have had to learn in time.  You just have to get out there and get growing. 



But one thing has always seemed a bit interesting to me.... and that is the whole direct sowing process.  Generally the standard protocol seems to be something along the lines of sow lots of seeds and then thin your plants after they sprout.  Does anyone else think that is a flawed plan?  Ummmm let't take time to prep the seed bed, plant all these seeds, only to pull out 50% or more of them after they come up.  What it sounds like to me is a great plan for selling seeds, not growing plants.  

So when I stumbled across an amazing gardening in the UK, his interesting method really stuck with me, and this season, it really has me thinking.  

Charles Dowding, who is a market gardener, has been starting his plants in the most interesting of ways.  He starts a significant number of his plants in module trays, and then plants them out into the garden after they have sprouted, and he uses this method with some plants that most common literature will tell you that you must sow direct.  Most notable being root crops like beet roots and onions. I will link to his website at the bottom of this article if you would like to check out what he has to share. I feel he is an amazing resource and I learn more and more from him every time I check out this site or YouTube channel. 

Here are some of my thoughts on why this method is so interesting to me.  First of all, when you pair it with the soil blocking method we started using this season, you can be transplanting very small seedlings if you wanted to.  But you would have 100% control over spacing.  Additionally, if you have something like a mixed variety of lettuce seeds, sowing this way would allow you to choose a balance of the various varieties and grow them in whatever arrangement suits your fancy.  All of which leads to less thinning, and more growing the plants you want, where you want them. 

Additionally, sowing plants this way allows you to potentially sneak a particularly appealing variety into an out of the way space so you can grow more.  Maybe that speckled lettuce would look good mixed in with some flowers.  Perhaps you could drop a few small mustard green plants under that cherry tree.  Is there room on the edge of that path that you have deep mulched?  Once you are planting plants, and not planting seeds, the options for their use increases.  

So be on the look out for my use of plants in the garden, and more information on how the seed starting in the various greenhouses we have running is going.  I am sure at some point I will plant some seeds somewhere again... but for right now, I am excited to try this new approach.  


If you are into this sort of thing, there is more information throughout the posts on this blog. We also have some info over at our website which you can view here. There is loads of information about gardening, a whole section on animals and composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  Come check it out.  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Favorite Uses for Grass Clippings

Don't Waste Your Grass Clippings 

If you are like most home owners, you have a yard with some grass growing.  Grass has gotten a bit of a bad rap here lately it seems, and there is a bit of an emerging trend for people to take out their lawns and replace them with front yard gardens, or other concepts that use less water than lawns.  Front yard gardens are great in my mind, but I think maybe people have been looking at grass all wrong. 

Every bit of grass grown on this property is still here. 

Wrap your head around that idea for a second.  While lots of people load up their grass clippings into dumpsters bound for landfills, or pile it over the fence out of site to become a rotting stinky mess, my grass is all still here.  Seriously.  I have never once hauled grass clippings off this property, in fact, I sometimes import them from other yards.  

What do I do with all this grass?  I am glad you asked.  Here are my top three favorite uses for grass clippings.  

Feed it to Animals 

Around here we keep a few little critters who love to eat grass.  Chickens will go nuts over a pile of fresh cut grass and within an hour or so you won't even know you threw it in their coop or run.  They will scratch through it, picking out the pieces they find most interesting and end up leaving next to nothing behind... and there are no eggs in the world like those from chickens getting a steady dose of fresh cut green grass.  Delicious!! 

We also feed our grass to some of our other animals as well.  Rabbits are fond of fresh cut grass and even the worms in the worms bits take a little now and then.  I can't see how me feeding lawn grass to animals is much different than feeding hay to larger animals... its essentially the same thing. So if you have animals around that will make use of it, try feeding it as a great option for using grass clippings. 


Compost It

I am sure that at some point I am going to start sounding like a broken record, but I cannot stress enough the importance of building soil if you are going to grow plants.  Healthy soil makes such a difference in the performance of plants, especially plants we use for food, so if you do nothing else, mix your grass clippings into a compost pile and use them to build epic soil.  The way I look at it, I put fertilizers and other things on the lawn to help it grow.  These nutrients are then recycled into my compost mixes and feed other plants around our property. The soil health is improved and if I ever end up with enough compost, I will start throwing it back on the lawn and end up feeding the grass back to the grass.  Maybe someday we will get that far..... but for now, my planting beds love the compost that this grass helps generate. 



Sheet Mulching


I have long been interested in the soil building method known as sheet mulching and from time to time I just start a new bed somewhere in the yard and begin sheet mulching it.  Depending on what we have going on, I am often not in a huge hurry with these piles and just keep adding material to them as it comes available.  This make shift bed under this apple tree is a good example. For the past few years it has received grass clippings, card board, shredded branches and fall leaves, shredded paper, Chicken bedding and rabbit manure all at random and periodic intervals.  I think there is even an old piece of sheet rock in there too.... that stuff is made mostly out of gypsum you know.  Layer after lay it keeps getting added, like the small addition of grass clippings that was added today.  In time, all these layers will break down into some amazing soil....in fact they are already starting too to a large extent.  

Those are probably my top three ways of dealing with grass clippings.  I am certain their are other ideas out there that are just as good and would keep this wonderful resource from ending up in the bottom of a land fill somewhere not being used. 

How do you use your glass clippings??

If you are into this sort of thing, there is more information over at our website which you can view here. There is loads of information about gardening, a whole section on animals and composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  Come check it out.  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well.