Thursday, April 24, 2014

Garden Walk- Week 17

The garden has really started to come alive with these warmer days and spring rains. Spring crops are coming along in spite of a hard freeze a few weeks ago that did some damage. Last Friday and Saturday we spent much of the holiday weekend planting seeds and transplanting summer crops that I started indoors many weeks ago. It's always a little difficult to put the little seedlings that I've nurtured and cared for out in the potentially wild weather! I've been watching them carefully since transplanting and am happy to report they survived the process beautifully. I'm keeping a close eye on the weather this weekend, though, because it looks like we could see some hail which is so damaging to fragile seedlings. I will cover as many of them as I can with jars and milk jug greenhouses to prevent damage to my summer crops. Oh the joys of spring! Here's a peek at the garden:

Bell peppers survived transplanting beautifully. Time to mulch!

Sweet peas are looking sweet.

So many happy strawberry blooms!

The garlic bed is getting big.

Garlic again.

Egyptian Walking onions are putting up scapes.

New growth on the grape vines. Do you see the tiny grape clusters? (click to see the photo larger)

The grape trellis is filling in

How is your garden growing?

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Cattle Panel Trellis

There are some pretty trellises out there. Some of them are quite expensive and most aren't big enough or sturdy enough to grow a considerable amount of winter squash or gourds. That's why I love the cattle panel trellis. Each panel costs around $20 at a farm supply store and rebar or t-posts are around $10 for 4. You would be hard pressed to find another sturdy structure for around $30.

I first tried out this process last summer using one cattle panel and t-posts secured with wire.  It's so pretty covered in vines! In my garden, I don't want the structures to be noticed, I want the plants to be the focal point

This year, I'm growing Armenian cucumbers on one of my cattle panel trellises. This variety is harvested at 18" long, and is actually a melon that tastes and is used like fresh cucumber. A great variety for refrigerator pickles.

Because I like this structure so well, I decided to  expand and add another trellis in 2013. I grew gourds on it the first year, and this season I will pole beans and cucumbers here.

 Have you built any structures for your vining crops?

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

How to Make Tomato Cages that will Last Forever

Have you bought the typical metal tomato cage at a garden center? They are everywhere at this time of year. They maybe quick and easy to buy and install, but in a southern garden when indeterminate tomatoes reach 7' tall or more, a little 54" tomato cage just doesn't work. After a season or two the welds come undone and you're stuck with a useless piece of metal. At $5 or more a piece, it can add up to a lot of wasted money.

This year I bit the bullet and made my own tomato cages. I thought it was going to be really difficult, but as it turned out I was able to make 19 cages in 2 hours all by myself. Not bad for something I will never have to do or buy again!

The kicker here is the price for materials. I used concrete remesh. Since I needed 18 cages, I had to buy a large roll of 150', which costs $107 at Lowes. It's a lot up front, but I was able to get 20 tomato cages out of one roll, which makes each cage $7.50 to make. That's less than one of the fancy, plastic tomato cages.  If you only need a few cages, you can buy remesh in smaller sheets for about the same price.

This roll is heavy. I had to have someone load it in the truck for me, and my husband and I had a heck of a time getting it out. Once on the ground, though, I just rolled it to where I needed it to be. I started out this process on one end of my yard. Keep in mind, I'm a smallish woman and I managed to make 20 of these in a few hours so once it's on the ground, it's not too labor intensive.

1. Roll out the mesh to your desired length. My cages are 2 1/2' in diameter, you could make them up to 3'  but of course you would get fewer out of the roll.

2. I weighed the loose end with a large block, measured my cut (7 1/2') and used bolt cutters. When cutting, I cut right behind the squares so that I had a long piece of metal to hook around and latch. This way I didn't have to purchase additional fasteners.

 3. Once my 7 1/2' piece was cut, I made a tube by securing the wire around the other end.

4. There are a couple of options to secure the cages to the ground. You can use stakes or rebar to secure them, or simply cut off the bottom bar, similar to how we cut the sides to leave wire to wrap around. If you cut just the bottom bar off, you have 6" prongs to push into the ground.

I now have indestructible, non-tippable, long-lasting tomato cages ready for even the largest indeterminate varieties. I have seen these in action in other people's gardens and they are amazingly strong.

If you already have a bunch of those flimsy cages, don't worry, they have other uses. They make great structures for growing cucumbers and beans.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

How to Make Newspaper Pots...the Easy Way

I've seen a lot of videos and blog posts about making newspaper pots. Here's my review of the collection I've seen: They're fussy. Look, if there's folding and taping involved, and what seems like a necessary third hand somewhere, it's too fussy. Here's my way. You only need two hands, a can and some soil.
Soda cans will work for this project but not as well. The beer cans are made of thicker aluminum and do not bend or warp as easily. They are also taller which makes them easier to pull out of the wrapped newspaper. Just use whatever you can get your hands on.
Step 1: Cut the newspaper into 3" wide strips.

Step 2: Wrap one strip around the base of the can leaving about 1" to hang over the end.

Step 3: Starting with the seam, fold the extra newspaper under the base of the can. 

Step 4: Press the base of the can into the palm of your hand. 

Step 5: Pull the newspaper pot off the can.

Step 6: While it's still cupped in your hand, fill it with soil. The bottom of the pot MUST be cupped in your hand or the soil will go right through. 

Step 7: Set the filled pot carefully in a water tight container (storage containers, glass cookware and plastic take out containers are all good for this project.)

Step 8: Insert your seed. 

Step 9: Add water to the holding container NOT directly over the seed pots. If you water directly your seeds may get dislodged and tiny seedlings can be damaged. The newspaper will wick the water to the top of the soil gently. Start by filling your container one inch at a time to make sure you don't over water. It may take a few waterings to get the top of the soil damp. 

Step 10: Place your containers of newspaper pots in full sun, a greenhouse or under grow lights. Pour water in the container when the soil starts to get dry. Once seedlings have gotten their first true leaves, water only when they begin to droop.  This will start the hardening off process and prevent root rot.

There you go! It's a simple process and goes very quickly once you get the hang of it. This is probably the least expensive way to start seedlings and I like it much better than peat pellets, tiny seedling mats or anything else I've tried. When it is time to plant, I'll put the whole pot in the ground to keep from disturbing the root systems. Newspaper decomposes very quickly in the soil. Here's an example of what they look like after a few weeks. 

What is your favorite seed starting container?

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Garden Walk- Week 15

Each week more and more of my perennials and trees break out of dormancy. The longer, warmer days and frequent rains have really brought life back in the garden. It's tiny life, but life nonetheless!

New leaves on the Liberty Apple

Sweet peas growing up the trellis

bulb onions

Transplanted cabbage recovering after a rough start.

Radish bed

Letting the clover grow to choke out weeds on the perimeter of the garden.

How is your garden growing?

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Monday, April 7, 2014

What to Plant in April

fall-planted lettuce that survived the winter is ready to harvest
It has been a rather nice start to April. We've had a few 70 degree days followed by tornado watches, but the warm and rain is really making the garden grow. Every day I go out, I see growth. This is my very favorite part of gardening! I can practically taste those sweet peas now.

In Northwest Arkansas, April marks the transition from spring to summer planting. Our spring season is quite short, which is primarily why I grow fast maturing crops (60 days or less) in my spring garden. Sometimes it gets hot fast and suddenly everything bolts. In fact, I was surprised to discover my winter kale bolting already. I will let it bloom and save the seed.

Since we are starting our summer garden, most of our list consists of summer crops. As noted, you will need to check your soil temperature. I use a digital kitchen thermometer, stuck into the soil between 2 and 4 inches deep, to check my soil temp. Once that number reaches at least 60° for several consecutive days, it's time to plant summer crops! I checked my soil temperature last week and it was around 54°, so it's obviously not time to plant yet. Also, keep in mind that April 15 is our last expected frost date, but that's not a guarantee. Last year we had snow in May. Keep a sharp eye on the weather forecast and have a plant of frost protection in place through the beginning of May.

Here's what we can plant in NW Arkansas, SW Missouri and SE Oklahoma in April:

  • Asparagus
  • Lettuce
  • Radishes

Mid-late Month (when the soil temp has reached at least 60 degrees):
  •  Sweet Corn
  • Summer Squash
  • Peppers (transplant)
  • Eggplant (transplant)
  • Tomatoes (transplant)
  • Cucumbers
  • Snap beans
  • Dry beans
  • Lima beans
It's not quite time for the heat-lovers like okra and sweet potatoes yet, but our monthly list of veggies is growing!

What have you planted so far this year?

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Garden Plan

A new month requires a new garden plan. As you can see, the garden is really going to start filling up in April!

There is still time to plant some fast-maturing spring crops like radishes and lettuce before the heat hits, but it's probably too late to start cabbage from seed. You might be able to get by with planting cabbage plants right now. 

As for summer planting, we play the waiting game. Most of the summer crops we can plant this month will require soil temperature of at least 60, preferably higher. Next week, I'll publish the list of crops to plant in April. In the meantime, get that soil worked!

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