Friday, March 25, 2011

Bed Making 101

It's time for another raised bed in my yard.  Currently I have 9 raised beds but I've been looking for a spot in my tiny yard for bed number 10.  One of the few spots left to put a raised bed is an area on the south side of our property.  It has a bit more shade than the rest of my yard, but I'm hoping to use that to my advantage when the summer heat is turned up and I still want leafy greens.
My goal with this project is to produce a raised bed, ready for planting, without purchasing anything new, and using as many recyclable/compostable materials as possible.  This is not an easy task.  It takes a lot to fill even the smallest raised bed.  Thats ok.  I'm up for the challenge.  Especially since I plan on doing a "Lasagna Garden".  What's that you ask?   Well, for starters, it's a great book of the same name by Patricia Lanza.   Ms. Lanza is a wonderful writer and her book containes a wealth of information on how to "Lasagna Garden" as well as a number of usful gardening tips written in a fun and informative fashion.  Basically, Lasagna gardening is a method of raised bed gardening that layers brown and green organic materials into "lasagna" type layers that can be directly planted.  All of my 9 beds have been started this way and the results have been so successful that now I wouldn't dream of doing my garden beds any other way.  The borders of my raised bed will be some great concrete blocks that I received from my dad.  The blocks look like something from the 70's and have some interesting "cut outs" that I might be able to use for growing herbs or other small plants.
I placed the blocks on the grass in the general area where I plan to put the bed.  It's a good idea to live with something for a few days to see how it works out. 

In the meantime, I start gatheingr materials for the bed, aka, browns and greens.  First off I hit the street to pick up some pine needles at the curb.
                                                         I can't pass up a freebie!
I wonder what the passing motorists thought. 
I will be gathering "free" materials for the next few days. I have my work cut out for me.  It's not like compostable materials walk up, ring the door bell and exclain "I home".  I have to go looking for them.  Kitchen scraps from the restaurant where I work,  old cardboard boxes, shredded paper, paratially finished compost,  magnolia pods, etc.  Wow.  I need a lot!  It's going to be tough but I'm up for it.  I will be topping the raised bed with a few items I have on hand: 1 1/2 bags of potting soil, a bit of vermiculite, some organic fertilizer and a bit of  "Marilyn's Own" soil amendment, but thats it for the purchased stuff, and I could get away without some of that if I didn't already have it on hand.  See you in a few days when I get my freebies together and build another bed. 
It ended up taking 3 days of hunting and gathering but I have a lot of great "stuff".  It took a little work but it didn't cost anything, which is always right by me. 
I piled everything up for a photo opp (and to have it all within easy reach).
Wow.  I gathered more than I thought.  No problem, the more the merrier I say.  Anything left over goes in the compost bin. 
I layed the cardboard out on the grass.  I don't bother to remove the lawn.  If it's long, I'll mow it, but otherwise just put the cardboard on top and start bulding.
Heres my new bed, ready to be filled.  I started with the magnolia pods and alternated the browns and greens until I reached the top of the blocks.

I topped the bed with some partially composted materials from one of my compost bins, and finished it off with fertilizer and potting soil.
For only a few hours of work, and $12.00 in soil and soil amendments, I now have an additional 10 1/2 square feet of growing space which is just about all the room I need to plant a quick growing spring crop of radishes and leafy greens.  The cut out's will have to wait to be planted due to a lack of potting soil, but thats ok.  It's a project for another day.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thinking outside the Strawberry Cage

It just wouldn't seem like summer to me if I didn't plant melons and squash in my garden.  I love picking a juicy melon from the vine and eating it with prosciutto for lunch, or with vanilla ice cream for dessert.  And who doesn't love growing squash.  Grow one plant and you'll have enough for the neighborhood.  One thing I have noticed about plants in the cucurbit family (which includes cucumbers, squash and melons) is that they don't like having their roots disturbed when being transplanted.  I like to start my seedlings inside under grow lights before transplanting them into the garden so I needed to find a pot that could be buried at planting time.  The green plastic cages that hold strawberries work well for these seedling pots. 
Now, I don't buy strawberries in the store, but I did have a a few cages that I was using to corral seed packages in a drawer.  I had to search a bit for a replacement for the strawberry cages, but eventually found and recycled some plastic boxes that worked just fine.  I also needed some "trays" that were deep enough to hold the strawberry cages.  More searching.  Good thing I save everything!  Some window boxes that weren't being used were the perfect size.  The only other supplies that I needed were:
a bowl with water
potting soil
clear plastic (I reused the plastic from the drycleaners)
string for tying down the plastic
Tear or cut your newspaper into strips and wet them in a bowl of water.  Using a criss cross motion, place strips of news paper down through the cages with pieces of paper overlapping on the edges.  The whole process kind of reminds me of making a something out of paper mache.

When the strawberry cage is covered with damp newspaper fill with your favorite potting mix and plant your seeds.

After covering the seeds with more potting soil I placed the cages in window boxes and covered each tray with a large piece out of a dry cleaning bag.  I used a piece of string to hold the plastic in place and set the seeds under grow lights.  I placed 2 of the 3 trays (window boxes) on heating mats.
Just 13 days later 9 of the 13 cages have sprouted.  The worst germination rate was the tray that wasn't on a heating mat.  I've since given the remaining seeds heat, and hope to have seedlings in that tray soon.

With summer just around the corner it's not too early to get your seedlings started indoors.  By starting your own seeds you not only save money but you get a jump on the growing season, which can be especially helpful if you garden in a climate with cooler summers.  As an added bonus, you'll find a much greater variety of choices if you shop in the seed section rather than in the plant section. 
Spring is officially here so grab some reused containers, seeds and soil and get growing!  It's never to early, or late to grow your own,
Happy Spring!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Second hand Seed Pots

I seem to be coming down with a case of Spring fever.  This happens to me around this time every year. The coldest days of winter are over, the ground is warming, and I can't wait to start planting seeds.  The weather is still too unpredictable for me to sow my summer seeds outside, so I get a jump on the season and start them indoors under flourscent lights.  Starting seeds in seedtrays is fine, and I use them quite frequently, but I don't always have enough of them on hand when I get the urge to sow.  Since I don't believe in going out and buying something new if I don't have to, I've learned how to reuse some common household items as seed starting pots.  Today I am using yogurt cups and foam carry out containers. 

I started off by making drainage holes in the containers.  I had a large nail and a candle and an idea that a hot nail would go through the plastic easier.  Well, I was wrong.  It wouldn't go through the plastic without a lot of work.  The hot nail did go through the foam pretty easily, but hey, it was foam, right?

After searching for the easiest way to make drainage holes in the yogurt cups, I stacked them up and drove a nail through the pile.  I found it you stuck to the area around the outer edges of the cup the nail went right in.

My search for trays that were tall enough for the containers ended with 2 drawers from an old refrigerator.  I'm so glad I save everything!  I filled the pots with potting soil, placed the pots in the trays and got down to sowing my seeds. 

After sowing the seeds I make sure all the pots are labeled.  I covered the tray with plastic wrap secured with twine to seal in moisture.  The 2 trays fit perfectly on one shelf of my growing stand. 

In the last few days I've started 3 trays of seeds, using items that would normally be recycled or thrown away and I'm just getting started.  Join me as I continue to use ordinary household items in unusual and different ways.
Happy Gardening

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Seed Starting Pots from Toilet Paper Rolls

I have a confession to make.   I’m a saver, a scavenger and to some extent, a hoarder.  I don’t mean to imply that if you opened my garage door you would find trash up to the rafters.  It’s more like I can’t seem to stop trying to find second uses for trash.   Not just my trash, but everyone’s trash.   It doesn’t really matter to me what it is as long as I’ve saved it from the landfill.  Nowhere is the saver in me more evident than in my home life.  I hate throwing anything out.  I know that the minute I send it to a recycling plant or (gasp) a landfill I will find a useful purpose for it.  With this type of thinking not much gets thrown out around here.   Today’s project will use all the empty toilet paper rolls I've been collecting to make seed starting pots.  I did a bit of research and practiced a few different methods before deciding I liked this method the best.  This instructions I followed for this project were from the website
Start by pressing on the roll to flatten it.  Push the creases together and press on the roll again to flatten it.  You will end up with 4 creases in your roll. 
 Your roll will now look slightly more square than round.  Make 4 small slits at the bottom of the roll about ½ inch long. 

 Bend each of the slits in towards the center of the roll and make a crease.  Fold these edges together like you were closing a box. 
 Place the rolls in a pan or other container.  A tub that was brought home after a hospital stay turned out to be the perfect height for the seedling pots.  Fill your seedling pots with soil and plant with your favorite seeds. 
Remember to tamp down the soil and add some water.  To keep the soil moist and warm I covered the tub with a piece of glass from an old frame, but plastic wrap would also work fine.
When the seedlings emerge, remove the cover to keep the plants from burning.  When you seedlings are ready to be planted dig a hole as deep as the seed starting pot.  Opening up the bottom of the pot will let the roots have room to grow. Your cardboard tube will eventually decompose and will become part of your soil.   
This project was quick, fun and a great reuse of toilet paper rolls.  It took just minutes to make about 20 seedling pots.  Paper towels or gift wrap rolls would also work well for this project, just cut them to the desired size. 
Thanks again to the author at and check out her site if you get a chance. 

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

Every year my husband and I pick out a fresh Christmas tree to decorate for the holidays.  I know a case can be made about cutting down trees, transporting them to a lot, etc., but I can’t imagine Christmas without a tree, and I don’t want to buy a fake one.  Each year our tree starts out in our home, carefully decorated with dated ornaments for each of our children.  After Christmas our tree is carried outside, still in it's stand and placed in a corner of our yard where it morphs into a bird feeder, decorated with pinecone ornaments dipped in peanut butter and bird seed (see 02/11 post).   Now that our tree is dried and crumbly it’s ready for project #2. 

Today I’m using some of the pine needles and branches as mulch around my blueberry plants.  Since blueberries prefer soil that is on the acidic side, pine needle mulch fits the bill for this.  The pine needles also act as a bit of barrier to keep the slugs and snails away from the plants.   Small pieces of tree branches work best for mulching as they are easier to pile around your plants.  Using a pair of strong clippers, I prune small pieces from different places in the tree, leaving some branches intact for my next project. 

Watering the blueberries well before topping with mulch helps the soil stay moist.  Pile the pine clippings around the plants approximately 2 to 3 inches high and extending at least a foot around the plant. Be careful not to place clippings up against the plant as this can cause rotting and fungal diseases.

I like to give the plants another cool drink at this point.  The plants are watered, mulched and waiting to give you a bumper crop of berries.  Enjoy!
Join me next week as my Christmas tree transforms into a trellis.
Be well and happy gardening!
Follow up 05/13/2011
I thinned out the side branches and needles on the tree, shredding everything and using it as a mulch around the newly planted blueberries.

The Christmas tree will now be used as a trellis for the beans that are popping up in the front garden bed, and the blueberries are mulched, watered and ready to grow.