Sunday, June 12, 2011

Adventures in Backyard Farming- Part Two

::: If you're just joining us,
you can catch up with Part One here :::

So after day one I had three 4'x8' beds that were all set to be filled... I just
needed some dirt.  After several attempts of not finding what I wanted I finally called
one of my favorite small garden stores and asked them where they got their organic
loose soil.  They were incredibly helpful and gave me the phone number and 
website address of their supplier and wouldn't you know,  it's local!
  A four minute phone call later and my dirt would be there the 
next morning around 8am.  Finally!!

I was like a kid on Christmas Eve trying to sleep.  Forcing myself to go to bed early
because I knew the amount of work I was in for.
And sure enough, around 8am I heard the truck pull in the driveway.

Because of the size of the truck, there was no way to get all that dirt close to my garden.
So I put down 2 huge tarps and he dumped 6 cubic yards of dirt onto them.
That's a LOT of dirt.
Then I took 2 large contractor garbage bags and cut them open. I layed one across
the sides and one across the back to front to cover up all the little holes in my 
garden cart. (which I love, ever so much!)
And then the real work began.

Heading from the dirt pile in the front yard to the garden in the back
you have to go down a rather steep hill.  Ordinarily this is no problem.
But with a wagon filled with a lot of dirt, it can be quite tricky.  I knew at least
not to put it behind me, and that the steering would be pretty touchy.
After about 5 trips I got pretty good at it.

After 1,423 trips up and down all three beds were filled with a completely
organic 50/50 mix of top soil and compost.  And this dirt is pretty.
I know that sounds crazy, but it's beautiful.

I spent a good amount of time planning out on paper where I wanted to plant 
everything.  I read a good deal on companion planting which is very integral
to most farming but especially organic farming.  There are certain veggies that 
flourish when planted next to a handful of plants, but do horribly if planted next
to others.  There are also ways to inhibit insects and pest with companion planting.
For example, planting basil next to tomatoes is one of the greatest ways to help
your tomatoes.  Not only does the basil make them taste better, but the smell 
confuses certain tomato pests and wards them off.  And because tomato plants gets
big and bushy it leaves plenty of room down low to get your basil in.  And in 
gardening I'm always looking for more space.  

I started a good amount of veggies and herbs from seeds this year.  Cucumbers, lettuce, 
3 kinds of tomatoes, basil, peppers, carrots, corn, sunflowers, chamomile.

But because we had such a cold, rainy spring and because it took me forever 
to find the right dirt, I bought a couple crates of organic, non GMO starters.  
Arugula, dill, parsley, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers,
strawberries, and nasturtium.  This way I can plant my crops in succession
and not be harvesting everything at the same time.  The starters I bought are one
to three months ahead of my seedlings.  When planning out where I was going to 
be putting everything I had to figure this in as well.  Especially on which side to put 
the younger ones.  You don't want to put them on the wrong side of your older plants 
and  have them be in the shade for half of the day.  I also took this into consideration 
when thinking about what direction to face my beds.   You can buy these little things 
that you stick in the ground and they tell you how much sun exposure an area gets, 
but I litterally watched the behavior of the shade and shadows for a while to get to know 
my garden area better before planting.

 These three little plants are the most helpful thing you can do for your garden.
Nasturtium, Dill and Marigolds.  
These plants organically keep away unwanted pests from your
garden.  They grow well with just about every other plant that there is.

 I started with the tomato and pepper bed first.  I put everything where I thought 
I wanted it and moved them around until I was convinced that they all had enough
room to grow their biggest.  In raised beds, because the soil is so loose and 
nutrient rich, you can plant your veggies closer together, but don't get carried 
away.  It's so easy to plant ten tomato plants and five cucumber plants, but
that's going to bring you so much fruit all at once, that you better be prepared 
for that!  I decided this year that I would be giving away 1/3 of my crop.
To friends, to shelters, the street kids in front of the coffee shop. 
Pay it forward.

Once I was happy with my layout I started planting.  Boy is it easy in this dirt.
I didn't use gloves either.  I love the way it feels in my hand.
Cool and crumbly.
Full of life.
Like Black Gold.

I also decided to grow some things in containers because of the space they take up.
Squash, zucchini and eggplant all spread out while they grow, but their root systems
don't take up as much space.  So I decided to put each one in a container pot and 
spread them out over the free yard space in the garden.  And just to see what would happen
I dug two big holes, filled them with good dirt, and planted two squash plants.

I found these big ice buckets on sale at a home store and thought they would be 
great to use for the squash, eggplant and zucchini.  Then it occurred to me that if
I used the red one for strawberries, I could employ an old wives trick for 
keeping the birds at bay. 

 I drilled several drainage holes in the bottom of each one, filled them with 
dirt, and each got it's own starter.

 I remember reading a trick to keep the birds away from your strawberries.
Now, I have a crap ton of birds around here and it doesn't help that I have
feeders all over the front yard for them.  
I read that before your strawberries start to even take shape and way before
they resemble a red fruit, that if you paint some small rocks red and place them
around the top of the container and in the grass around your strawberry plants, 
the birds will think they are berries and after weeks of trying to eat rocks, they
will give up.  Just in time for your real berries to start to ripen.
I don't know if this will out smart my birds, but I'm willing to give it a try.
Other wise an bird net works just fine, but I like them to have direct sun.

Next I planted the salad bed. 

 These lettuce crops will turn over pretty quickly and just in time to plant potatoes.
I think that if i plant them around the 4th of July, they'll be just fine. 
I'll also put in onions and shallots which grow really well with carrots and lettuce.

Next I planted the middle bed.  This is where the corn will grow big and tall
in the back keeping an eye over all of the garden.  I put it on the northern side 
so it's height is not a shade problem for the cucumbers in front of it.
I also put a couple sunflowers in the two back corners.

Cucumbers love to climb.  In fact, they do much better if you give them
something to twist around and climb on.  I came up with a very cheap and 
easy solution.

 I had some spare wood that I cut into 3' sections.  I think it's probably an inch
by a half inch thick.  I stuck them down in the dirt and took some standard
twine and secured it on one of the beds corner post.  Then I wrapped it around the
first stake and then the next, and continued my way around, utilizing the bed supports
as well.   When I reached my starting point I just moved it up about 6".
 I continued in that fashion until I reached the tops of the stakes.  It doesn't have to
be measured out or any sort of pattern.  Just make sure that you put them where 
the cucumber can reach it at all stages of growth.

You could also use tomato cages, trellises, or other plants like corn spaced in between
them.  There are plenty of clever ways to help your cucumbers.

Now that all three beds had their plants in them there is one last time saving 
step that I was not going skip.  When planning out your beds, you want to make
sure that you leave yourself enough room, not only to walk between them easily,
but to mow between them.  In my case, I have plenty of space, thankfully! 
But some folks have small back yards and need to maximize all of their space.
Traditionally you want to leave at least two feet.  I think three is more comfortable, 
but as long as you can mow in between, you're good.  Now that mower doesn't
reach the edges of the wood very well, so normally you would use a weed whacker.
That means double the work.  Or you could do what I did.

 I only used one bag of mulch per bed, and they each cost around $4-$5. 
In the long run that's totally worth it.  This not only makes it so that I can
skip the weed whacker, but it helps to seal in the holes from where we leveled
it while it was being built.  It's a two-fer.

Then it was time to finish the arbor.  I spent a long time thinking about what sort
of beauty I wanted creeping along the arbor and spending it's summer and fall 
filling in all the free space between the wooden walls.  
I had no idea about this plant but as soon as i saw it I swooned.
It's beautiful and it's perfect. 
It's called Purple Hyacinth Bean and even though it's an annual, it will 
grow into the late fall and up until the first frost.

Can you be in love with a plant?  Because I think I'm in love with this one.

Next step is to put in the deer and rabbit fence.  Shouldn't be too hard after
all of that.  And a long bubble bath.

I can't wait to spend time watching everything grow.
And walking back the house with big baskets of lunch.

I think I will put in some chairs and maybe some flowers too.
I know I will be spending plenty of my summer days there.


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