2013 summer growing season is well..sucking.

I think I’m a little bummed about this first year garden here at Blueberry Acres. We did a lot of things wrong this year that frankly, we knew better than to do. We started late..partially because of the ridiculous May snowfall but also because we were just overwhelmed with animal activity. We also didn’t set up our garage greenhouse to start our seedlings. We started some in our kitchen (epic mistake), some in the living room and some went right into the ground as seed. Sheldon didn’t believe planting the seeds directly in the ground would work in our soil, but God proved him wrong and these little boogers grew like mad.

Then (and if you could imagine the song “Flight of the Bumblebee” here for effect) came the invading hoardes. Squash bugs, grasshoppers of all shapes/sizes, slugs, lions, tigers, bears…oh my. It was enough to make an organic gardener want to find some agent orange and blast those *%@(&$ to oblivion. Alas…we did not. We continued to manage our pestilence through DE, Neem Oil, beer (for me and the slugs), chicken buffets (Lana, our head chicken is very good about catching grasshoppers) and good old fashion squooshing.  However, I can’t be naive..we’ve been decimated.  Sheldon said that we were hit this hard once in Texas, but I don’t remember it.  I have been researching/studying/praying for ways to better manage the pests so they don’t turn into plagues for next season, but I think it’s going to take a major overhaul.

For one, I’m going to eliminate all of my raised beds save for one.  While I don’t think this contributed to my pests exactly, I can say that we had a hard time keeping up with the grass/weeds around the beds and I think that contributed to more bugs.  I think also having to spend time on the weeds around the beds meant less time for the beds themselves…ergo, more bugs.  Beyond eliminating the beds, I’m planning on razing the existing garden to the ground outside of the strawberry plants.  Every time I say this, Sheldon laughs as if this is just the insane ramblings of his crazy wife.  Butttt, no.  I plan on burning this thing down to nuthin if I can help it.  Why allow the little buggies somewhere warm and rich to live over the winter?  I plan on burning what I can, and destroying what I can’t.  When I’m done, I hope to be able to expand the width/length of our garden fence to include a garden that is about double in size of what this year’s garden is.  We haven’t had any trouble with bunnies eating our crops, but it’s fair to say that our area is absolutely loaded with bunnies, so we have taken no chances with a bunny and deer detering fence.  From there, I will plan on putting in proper rows covered in weed fabric and hopefully prelaid with soaker hoses prior to the next planting.  We have rain barrels that are cut and almost ready to go for some hose manifolds to help feed the watering needs.  I figure it’s going to take me the better part of the fall/winter to revamp the garden, but I’m convinced it will be worth it.

Well, the turkeys, chickens and dogs are in tucked in.  The cats are on patrol for some wild rabbit (sorry bunny lovers!) and I have a little more paid work to do before I call it a day.  Hope you all have a fantastic evening!

Advertisements

Arbor Day Foundation: More than just cheesy commercials

Those of us of a certain age all remember the Trees are Terrific commercials that Arbor Day put out a couple of decades ago.  While the commercials were over the top patronizing, the message was still solid…get out there and plant some trees people.  Enter in Arbor Day Foundation 2013.  They are still alive and kicking without the cheesy animated cardinal.  Their website http://www.arborday.org has a wealth of information about planting in your zone, educational programs for kids as well as opportunities to help your city/town replenish your tree population through programs like Tree City USA.

pic courtesy of arborday.org

pic courtesy of arborday.org

They also have what looks like a beautiful lodge for the ULTIMATE tree hugger vacation, Lied Lodge.  While we have not been there, I think it would be a very easy sell for me to get Sheldon to visit their lodge/tree farm while I get some rubs in the spa:

Barn at the lodge: pic courtesy of Lied Lodge

Barn at the lodge: pic courtesy of Lied Lodge

But, I’m not here to talk about scamming my way into a spa day (sigh, heavenly!)…I’m here to talk about scoring some bargain trees.  You can do this a few different ways like through getting a membership for ten itty bitty dollars, you get ten free trees that you get to select from a listing of either ten of the same, or just ten pretty flowering trees that are well suited for your zone like the Golden Raintree:

pic courtesy of forestry.about.com

pic courtesy of forestry.about.com

Or, if you are feeling more generous, you can either opt for no trees at all…or you can select that your ten free trees go into a Nat’l Forest.  In addition to the gift with membership purchase, you can also just purchase trees outright from their nursery, which we did (and I will blog on when I’m not so sore from the planting.) The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the idea of ordering fruit trees through them without being able to verify from whence they came….ie…GMO?  It looks like some of their fruit trees are heirloom varieties but I can’t seem to find information on the others.  However, I personally believe there is much that you can do to “rehabilitate” certain plants/trees if you take a long view approach.  That is-more than likely, these trees will take at least a few years to reach fruit bearing stage.  As a result, if perhaps they grew up initially in a “broken-home” full of chemicals from parents with questionable heritage, they can still be loved, nurtured and eventually grown as organic as possible.   And while you can’t love the GMO out of a plant, I do think that you can get pretty close to what God intended with some TLC.  Bottom line is that while I can’t verify if these trees are all heirloom, non-GMO, organic, etc etc…I still believe it is a really good thing for the environment planting more trees that are good for your zone.

Sigh, ok…gotta go get dressed for a morning of boring errands in the city.  Been up waaaay too long today.  Curse you time change!  Happy planting!

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!  http://newlifeonahomestead.com

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!
http://newlifeonahomestead.com

 

 

Composting for beginners

I’m so looking forward to spring although it’s with a little trepidation. We are a bit behind in getting the garden ready compared to previous years. However, the one thing that we have been great about is beginning our compost pile. We’re lucky in that we don’t have to worry about “smell free” compost options since our compost pile is a good distance away from the house. But, you know, one of the things that I have really noticed is just how smell free our compost pile is. And while I know a certain bit of earthiness is to be expected, I think that I’ve learned that sometimes stink doesn’t always mean good compost. And we have some beautiful compost. Just ask our little rescue cat, Soleil. She is obsessed with the compost pile but thankfully doesn’t add her own “signature” to it:

 

Soleil “helping” me with the pig pen by holding the dirt down with her body…

So how to get started on your own little pile of compost? Well, we started composting a bit in our suburban house-mostly in the winter. We would allow our garden beds to go dormant and add in rich materials to increase the nutrients in the soil for spring planting. Even in our little suburban jungle, we always had a pretty good harvest of fruit/veg that were ideal for our zone. But, what to do if you want to be more thoughtful than we were (hello-standing on the back porch having zucchini throwing contests to see who can hit the garden-not thoughtful composting)…then you first need to think about a few things:

1) Do I have the patience to keep up with it?  Composting is not just about throwing stuff in a pile.  That’s called being a redneck…composting is about the thoughtful throwing of stuff in a pile and then maintaining that pile so your leftovers turn into nutrition for future fruit, veg and trees.

2) Do I have a place to do this?  While you need very little space to compost, this probably isn’t a good fit for you if you live in a one bedroom loft with no garage, patio or outside space.  Even the best compost units take up some space, so decide if this is something you can live with and if so, where will it go?

3) Do local laws/restrictions need to be considered?  While I can’t say that I have heard of any cities/counties restricting composting, you just never know.  I still think about the guy from the Pacific Northwest who was cited for using rain barrels on his property because the city felt like he was taking water away from other residents.  Sometimes gov’t can be crazy…but I think crazier than government is a Homeowners Association, so check with yours to make sure that you aren’t breaking the neighborhood law.  And if you are-well, then get them to change it and compost anyway!!

Beyond what I think are the basic considerations above, there are plenty of simple articles that can help you get started like the EPA’s site (actually aimed at business, but good info all the same) and another good site from the state of California.  Many will walk you through adjusting the content of your compost pile so that it’s not too acidic or nitrogen rich, etc.  For us, we’re just not that high-tech yet…but I would imagine that we will be someday.  For now, here is a list of things that we typically compost in our “casual compost” pile:

Vegetable/Fruit trimmings (no tomatoes or citrus)

Rotten vegetables (we all have those hairy little carrots that get forgotten at the back of a crisper)

Used coffee grounds/filters (not talking your K cups people)

Lawn trimmings

Egg shells (I only use our egg shells-not any we buy from the grocery and I rinse them before putting them in.  Probably lose nutrients rinsing them, but that helps me with the “oogie” factor)

I have heard of some folks who compost meat waste from processing without any negative effects but we’re not remotely there yet.  It’s an interesting idea.

Used chicken bedding (while we use chicken poop, we do not compost dog/cat poop at this time.  We’ve read that the risks outweigh the benefits)

Beyond tossing in these things, we go out to stir it to make sure that it’s getting all of that great decomposition throughout the pile.  We don’t have any trouble with smell, vermin or flies…and that to me is the sign of a great pile.  Well, that and how much our plants will love it!

So-what do you like to compost and how do you manage it?  Would love to hear from some other folks!  Until then, happy composting!

 

 

Trying to work on a little garden planning….

I promise this is not an advertisement for Burpee...

I promise this is not an advertisement for Burpee…

 

We’re doing some garden planning here on Blueberry Acres Farm.  We have used Seed Savers many times in the past for our seed needs (and they have some great varieties) but for some reason, we haven’t yet ordered any from them this year.  I think it’s been the craziness of the last couple of months-we’re just a bit behind with our garden planning.  So, we’re just rolling for now with these organic seeds hoping that at least we will get our soil started.  We have been composting in preparation for getting our garden beds ready.  We’re trying to keep it as organic as possible.  To that end, I had read recently about a farmer/gardener that was using a small tunnel and wrapping it in tulle (that was fun trying to explain tulle to Sheldon) to keep pests out.  Seems like a pain, but after losing many crops to the dreaded squash bug, I’m open to anything that doesn’t involve me buying deet by the truckload-yuck!  Anyone ever experiment with this method?

We have decided to do 4-6 large/raised garden beds (mostly because we’re finding rock is a major component of the soil here) with a variety of plants.  While I don’t have all of the beds planned out, I would like to take advantage of companion planting as much as possible.  I would like to have a Three Sisters garden bed and I’m considering focusing on lasagna style gardening.

I’m also enjoying the geeky appeal of Mother Earth News’ Garden Planner.  It has handy tips, planting schedules as well as companion planting information.  However, if I really want to show my garden geekiness, I would show you my multi-tabbed Excel spreadsheet with it’s myriad of garden plans, but we don’t know each other that well yet!

Happy planting!