Time’s up – Plant!

snow peas growing out doors by Ruth Hartnup
“Plant it or cover it: grow it or smother it.”

The days are warm enough for those who were complaining about the long winter and the frigid temperatures to start complaining about the heat.  That’s good – let them complain! Smile and walk on, but realize that’s how the weeds are feeling in your garden too! You can walk to your garden and complain about them and they’l just smile and keep growing.  If you’ve turned your beds, you’ve probably planted a number of weeds.  If you’ve just let them be, the wind-blown weeds are starting to root.  It’s time to take command of your garden.  In the spring you need to plant it or cover it: grow it or smother it.

Covering the garden will stop most of the spring time blow in seeds from getting into your soil, and anything you’re not growing will get smothered by what you cover it with.  Black plastic is ugl, messy and extremely effective at warming the soil and killing anything thaneeds the sun to grow.  After about thirtty days most weeds give up.  I say most because my experience has found some pretty tenacious weeds that will crawl to the edge of the plastic just to get a few leaves out and will then proceed to surround the garden, waiting patiently for me to remove the barrier.

Five sheets of wet newspaper covered by a layer of spent hay works just about as well, is easy to cut through to plant transplants and rots back into the soil within the season, it just doesn’t warm the soil as quickly.

The third way to minimize marauding weeds is to plant fast growing cool weather crops to shade them out.  This is the most productive way to use your garden, though it does mean you have to weed.  When the crops are ready for harvest (in as little as 14-30 days) you can pull them and cover the ground with the green tops or turn them under (such as radish), keep them working (cut-and-come lettuce and other greens), or let them go to seed, when the warm weather hits and replace them with transplants.  Bush beans and snow peas can work very well for shading out many of the weeds too.  Cultivate lettuce on the north side of the row (figuring the row is going east to west), and lean a cage or fence at a 45 degree angle from south to north to let the snow peas grow on.  The snow peas will be about as tall as the fence when the warm weather hits and your lettuce may get a couple of more weeks of growth before bolting. You can do this with pole beans too.  If the soil is warm enough and not too wet, you can also start your summer squash on the south side with cool crops on the north side providing the same effect.

Photo Credit:Ruth Hartnup


Posted in FYI, Soil

Taming the Canes

leaves forming on a raspberry cane
leaves forming on a raspberry cane

Photo Credit: majorbonnet on flickr.com

“If they’re green, I make sure they don’t lean; If they’re brown, I cut them down.”

We’ve been blessed with neighbors that cultivate wonderful thornless raspberries and wild birds that steal the same.  The birds are smart, too – they don’t eat them until they come to our yard… or, perhaps they DO eat them there and then come to our house for – other reasons…

Blackberries, blueberries and alpine strawberries also grace our yard, probably for the same reason.

Left to the elements and an inoperative lawnboy, I would be doing battle with canes both sharp and de-clawed to get to my garden like Prince Valiant trying to get to Sleeping Beauty (did she sleep in a garden bed?).

Several years ago I attempted to give the thornless variety a plot of their own, and they did poorly.  Last year I plowed them under with the lawn mower, then found myself busy – too busy to keep mowing them down), and they gave like Jersey cows.  This year, I’ve followed our neighbor’s lead by cutting them down to 2 ft tall, and the blackberry canes to 3 ft tall.  At this height the canes aren’t leaning over. Any of them that I do find leaning get cut down to nothing.  We have plenty, and they’ll probably start again.

Raspberries in containers in a garden

Raspberries in Containers

I’ve seen that people also grow these in containers (24 in. diameter minimum). I may try the thornless variety this way if I run across a lot of pots at the recycling center (as I often do every year) or I can find the ones that haven’t been recycled by my wife (we are sometimes competitive packrats: we’ll hold up a handful of this or an armful of that with a look – and then the other will admit to their err with a glance at the ground or a toe digging into the dirt, signalling surrender of what was once an impulsive treasure).

Instead of treating the canes with a standard 10-10-10 fertilizer, a similar natural based supplement or neglect, a spring feeding of 5-4-3 fertilizer is recommended by BackyardBerryPlants.com right around now, and another feeding right before they bloom.  The site also gives advice for mulching, etc., which I may do for the thornless, but the volunteers that paratrooped in (poopertrooped in?) may just get a feeding.

After the harvest, I’m supposed to cut the canes to the ground. Easy enough for the raspberries as long as my mower blade is sharp.  As for the blackberries which grow around the fringes of the yard I’ll probably continue with my spring cleaning method:

If they’re green, I make sure they don’t lean; If they’re brown, I cut them down.

Posted in 30 Min., Tangents

Gardening 2015: Digging in the Snow…

Shovel and Pickaxe crossed on the ground. Tools for gardening in April in New England.

April Tools!

Dug out my first garden bed yesterday. Today – the end of April mind you – I was greeted to a pristine white coating of snow completely covering the back porch. I am beginning to appreciate the Japanese culture’s view that white does not so much signify purity, but death.  Until I shake my head and say under my breath “That’s why I don’t take my snow tires off until July.” and go make myself a cup of coffee.

Last year most of the beds lay fallow, covered with their allotment of manure and the weeds kept in check by the grass clippings and other lawn detritus lovingly smothering most of them and giving the worms some great eats.

o/` o/`Two garden beds and the  Dalek ate the pear tree (along with the squab). o/` o/`

o/` o/`Two garden beds and the Dalek ate the pear tree (along with the squab). o/` o/`

Between this and compost material along with several harvests from my comfrey plants, the digging was fairly good – until I dug into an experiment from three years ago and had to pull up a plastic barrier I’d set down during a dry spell below the bed.  It had decayed some, but mostly it held together slowing my progress. The next bed which I dug today went much quicker, the roots of the invasive grasses not reaching too deep, making it easy to invert.  With its roots in the sub-freezing air it shouldn’t live much longer and will add to the biomass that will feed the garden.

Warming my toes and digging through the internet as I do I wondered what I could find on two questions: how much should I grow per person, and how much space is this going to take?  I ran across a nice article by Brenda on “The Well Fed Homestead” who has compiled a nice list.  Easy to read and nicely layed out on her site it’s a great jumping off point.

If you like or plan to preserve your garden harvest, “Granny Miller” has a great chart that’s based on pounds, not plants: http://www.granny-miller.com/a-garden-planner-for-home-food-preservation/

Finally, the University of Kentucky has a chart for a family of four and how much to plant.  Realize that Kentucky encompasses zones 6a through 7a (see http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/ for your state).

Finding the plant’s growth requirements is fairly simple, just a little time-consuming as I look up each plant.

The way I like to make sense of the fact that everyone uses a different measurement is this:

  1. What does my family eat?
    1. tomatoes
    2. broccoli
    3. beans
    4.  lettuce
    5. onions
    6. garlic
    7. cucumbers
    8. carrots
    9. radish
    10. cilantro
    11. summer squash
    12. winter squash
    13. asparagus
    14. fruits
    15. berries
    16. etc.
  2. How many plants/person?
  3. How much room does each plant take up?
  4. Can I companion plant (lettuce with summer squash to shade them, carrots/tomatoes, asparagus/dwarf tomato bushes, etc)?
  5. Check Last Year’s garden map, rotate crops (not so much of a problem this year as last year was 80% fallow).
  6. What can I plant NOW?
    1. Indoors
    2. Outdoors – Sorry, no snow loving veggies, and the soil is still 42 degrees.

From here, I list them out in a spreadsheet:

  • Column A=Plant Name,
  • Column B=Minimum # of plants,
  • Column C=Ideal # of plants,
  • Column D=square feet needed per plant
  • Column E=Total Square Feet [=sum(D*C)] per plant.

I add a few extra columns beyond that just because I like a place for notes, and so I can eyeball the maturity date.

After that I’ll start mapping out the plants, figuring out what will be the best companions for what, and if I need to amend the soil as I will this year by adding more sand to the beds the carrots are going to be planted in.  This will all begin to unfold over the coming days and weeks, though.  Right now, with the snow nowhere in site (it must have been quite embarrassed for arriving so late and made a quick departure) and the soil too cold to plant in,  I can only turn the soil when it’s not raining, cover it with spent hay and newspaper to smother early weeds, and plant hubbards and other long season crops inside under the lights.

Posted in 30 Min.

Potatoes in the Ground vs Container

Had a very small garden this year, mostly in containers. The tomatoes and cucumbers did okay in the “Earth Box” made from a Rubbermaid Roughneck 18 gallon container, and the potatoes were an interesting experiment.

I had taken a 50 gallon plastic water drum and cut it into thirds, the intention being to fill each third as the plants grew with compost and grass clippings, doing the same with the potatoes on the ground.  The potatoes in the ground died back in early September, while the potatoes in the barrel continued until the frost.

With a warm early November weekend and a few moments to spare, I was able to go and harvest the potatoes. From each “plot” of five plants, here are the findings:

  • The ones in the ground took about twenty minutes to harvest an yielded 2.71 lbs. with many immature potatoes.
  • Many roots from the invading blackberry plants made difficult digging.
  • Easy to damage the potatoes with the pitchfork
  • The barrel potato planter took five minutes to harvest and yielded 3.56 lbs.  with mostly full size potatoes.
  • No invading roots
  • easy to harvest
  • most potatoes full size

The barrel was at a little over 1/3 filled with compost/grass clippings which makes me think adding more compost and less grass clippings I may be able to create three potato “rings” by laying down several layers of newspaper for the bottom layer, putting the potato seeds on the newspaper then covering with good garden soil, adding materials as they grow to the top, then topping off with grass clippings.

Sadly this is all I was able to do this year, but a couple of more warm days may allow me to set up the beds for next year with some well rotted manure and a good layer of grass/leaf clippings from the last mowing of the year.

Potato "plot" on the ground.  Many roots from neighboring blackberries made for difficult harvest.

Potato “plot” on the ground. Many roots from neighboring blackberries and “creeping charlie”.

plastic barrel cut in thirds, only 2/3 used.

Potato barrel with second “ring”.

Second third of the potato barrel removed - only three inches of material above the bottom.

Potato barrel second third removed – only three inches above the top. Could have done without it.

Potato barrel dumped on the ground with the potatoes visible.

Potato barrel dumped onto the ground with spuds exposed.

Posted in Container

Indoor Salad Garden – Cukes Climb to the Rafters

Cucumber growing indoors under grow ightCucumbers climbing onto the grow lightsWe’ve ignored the cucumber in the cellar for the last several weeks with the exception of watering them once.  The L.E.D. lights are on for ten hours per day, and total 25 watts of power, or 1KW every four days, or about $0.30 of electricity per week.  They are starting to set fruit, have climbed over their tube and are heading for the rafters.  I’ve rerouted them up a stiff wire and a chain, and readjusted the lights and the reflective material to offer them more room, as shown in the pictures below.  They should be ready to pick in about two weeks!

Lights adjusted and cucumbers growing up a chain connected to the rafters with reflective material behind it.

Posted in Container, Light, Uncategorized, urban, Wicking Bed

Steamer Salad Update

Spinach in the steamer - only 1" of soil.

Spinach in the steamer – only 1″ of soil.


The lettuce has been doing well, but seems to have “lost it’s steam” – so to speak.  Each “steamer salad makes about one garden salad with the addition of some tomatoes and some chives, making it a viable option if you like “baby salad greens”.

They have grown up to about two and one-half inches, but seem to have stalled.  We’re starting a new experiment to see if – despite the popular belief – that lettuce is a shallow-rooted plant.  Indeed it may be, but how shallow? The spinach seems to be trying to bolt as well – at least some of them.  I’m letting them continue to grow, and have transplanted some of them into a six inch pot as well to see if it helps.

Transplanted spinach now in a six inch pot.

Transplanted spinach now in a six inch pot.

We have planted five “salanova” lettuce plants into a steamer tray, and five into a six inch pot to see which type it likes better.  The pictures would be of bare soil, so I have spared you the download time by not including the pics.  Stay tuned.


Posted in Container

Spinach Steamer Indoor Garden

baby spinach growing in a "Healthy Choice" steamer tray

Popeye would be proud. These are after about two weeks, and the main leaves are starting in. In the background are the lettuce plants I over planted figuring I’d eat the thinnings, which I have – though I find thinning a bit annoying. Next set of lettuce I plant I’ll plop myself down at the kitchen table and carefully plant the lettuce so there’ll be less fussing with them.

baby spinach growing in a "Healthy Choice" steamer tray

Most spinach leaves you get from the store seem to go after a week or less if they’re not handled delicately. A couple of bruised leaves and they start to smell and go bad shortly afterward. It will be interesting to see how much of a yield we get. One of the downsides of the shallow planting is the frequent watering. Think we’ll go with a three inch depth on the potting mix next time so the watering can be less frequent.

Posted in Container, urban

Indoor Salad Garden – Steamer Salad

Lettuce in the steamer sitting on the snow


Steamer portion filled with potting mix - gardenhacker.comHealthy Choice Cafe Steamer Container

Don’t recycle those fancy microwave steamers just yet – they make a great starter container for just about everything you can transplant as well as for salads from start to finish. Healthy Choice (available at your favorite supermarket in the frozen food section) makes an inexpensive meal and gives you a great seed starting container too!   Read more ›

Posted in Container, urban

It’s Time to Start Planning


One of the best ways to have a successful garden is to look over the fence:  what have your neighbors successfully grown?  If your passion is figs and you’re in the USA Zone 5, you will have a hard time creating a fig grove (there is a man who is growing fig trees, but he is packing the trees with hay to insulate them over the winter – high maintenance!).  What are your neighbors growing?  You don’t have to trump through their garden, you can use google!  Check out the video below, and check out this link to an interesting online garden planner.

Check out the GroVeg Garden Planner here.

Posted in FYI

Lettuce in the Silos 3/16/2013 – Cut and Come, Mow and Grow, Plow and Chow

A nice garden salad from the cellar weighed in at 0.75 oz on a Dymo digital scale.
Lettuce Growth as of 2013-03-16 before picking.

Lettuce Growth as of 2013-03-16 before picking.

The lettuce continues to grow, and the one on the right is doing so well, I decided to pick a salad now.  Picked 0.75 oz or a small garden salad’s worth from the one on the right, and it’s still got plenty of leaves.  On the left, the lettuce has gotten larger without getting leggy.  This is good to see, but it’s time to start growing a salad garden in earnest – so another grow box is in the works for a true indoor salad garden.  A grow box is just a pot and saucer on steroids.  Using a thermally insulated box like the one pictured here or a storage container, you make a reservoir, a “wicking” area or “wicking agent” – basically a small area where the soil can reach the bottom of the reservoir without filling the reservoir with soil, a drain hole on the side so your plants have no chance of standing in water and rotting, and a soil area where your plants will grow.  Water will wick up to one foot in most potting mixes, and sometimes more, depending on the mix.  We will be creating a quick and easy grow box in a coming post.


Lettuce after picking - still a lot of leaves!

Lettuce after picking – still a lot of leaves!



Posted in Container, urban