Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Gardening (mis) adventures 2013

I am home sick today, stomach bug. That is one of the gotcha's I have experienced from Crohn's. every stomach bug is an exquisite delight. the way I understand it. Crohn's  inflammation leaves the inside of your gut with something akin to road rash. And having a gut bug is like scrubbing said road rash with a coarse bristle brush.

Anyway, thought I'd jut down a fw of my (mis) adventures from this years garden effort.

One of my main objectives with my gardening projects is sustainability. I want to at least break even on cost, And I want to use techniques which are viable over long term. I also have a goal to have a "chem-free" garden. I don't mean "organic", I mean I want my fertilizer to come from home-grown compost (or fish. I am very intrigued by aquaponics. would really like to give it a try some day). I don't want to use pesticides or herbicides or any other store bought spray, powder, etc...

Okay, I make an exception for the fruit trees. I don't see any way to keep the trees healthy without using fungicides, and occasionally pesticides. I have lost a couple trees to fire blight. This year our sweet cherry was overrun by aphids. I tried lady bugs, but they took too long. We lost all the cherries, and the tree was very nearly defoliated by the little monsters.
As a result, I have concluded I am very unlikely to get a return on my investment in those trees. I will be very lucky to break even in the next couple decades.

The garden almost made it chem free, but for the tomato plants. I started 2 dozen seeds inside this spring. I killed them all. So I stated a couple dozen more a month later. I managed to kill half of those, and I killed another fourth during transplanting.

Then they were growing so miserably slow, I finally broke down and bought some Miracle-gro. Now they are where they should be.

I tried cucumbers this year as well. It turns out the seeds I have are a pickler variety. My first attempt at pickles was awful. Way too salty, and garlicky. Attempt two will be ready for sampling in a week. Fingers crossed.

I decided to try a greenhouse last year as well. Again, keeping in mind that sustainabilty thing, I decided to build my own on the cheap. I spent about $50 for 120 square feet. I used PVC and re-bar. I put on my hacker hat, rather then my engineer hat for this project.

I didn't glue it, so it would be portable. There is a 1 foot piece of rebar passing through each cross/tee, to reinforce the connection between the cross/tee and the pipe. Without that, the pipes tend to pop out. The bottom of each pip is slid onto an 18 inch re-bar, which I drove about 14" into the ground. Then I covered the whole thing with a 20' x 25' sheet of plastic. Only a 20' x25' sheet of plastic is not sufficiently large to cover this structure The  ends -after pulling the plastic together as much as possible, were left with an open triangle, roughly two feet high. Oops. Oh well, a little ventilation is a good thing, right?

I filled those blue barrels with water and set them inside the structure to act as a heat sink. That much water can absorb heat during the day, and release it at night. In spite of the... ventilation... The barrels never accumulate more than an inch of ice.

Then there was the wind. We had an unusual amount of wind this year. The cross bars kept separating as a result. I solved that effectively with a couple dollars of bungee cords The wind also beat the plastic to death. Within just 4 months, the plastic was very milky (i.e. not transparent), and was breaking and tearing all over. I could have probably fixed that by dong a better job with fastening the plastic. I just threw rocks and dirt on the sides, and used a couple spring clamps to hold the gather plastic on the ends. It would have been better to use boards on the sides. I could use a board on each side, the length of the greenhouse, and attach the plastic to the board, the wrap the plastic so that it was tight over the frame. That would probably earn me a couple more months. Of course would also add cost. And I would still have to come up with something for the ends.

And if I had it properly sealed for wind strength, ventilation would have been a problem. Winter would be fine, but spring. While we might still be seeing frost at night, inside that greenhouse during the day... It would cook the plants.  So then it becomes an engineering project - design it so that it is sturdy enough, but vent -ble, and since I am at work during the day, it really need to be automatic, adjusting to temperature changes unassisted. That is starting to sound expensive.

Maybe I will try a simple cold frame first...

 On the upside the green beans are doing amazing. Again. This year they were free! I collected seeds from last years crop and planted them this year (they were a non hybrid, open pollinator, heirloom variety). Well, okay, not entirely free. My PVC structure from last year didn't survive, so I had to purchase a new support system. My father-in-law talked me into compromising my "lowest cost possible" mantra for something a little sturdier. Chain link fencing. It cost about $80 for three posts, three crossbar sections and concrete. It isn't as bad as it sounds though. I estimate we are getting about $50 of green beans from those plants, so it really only takes two years to return the investment.

So let that be a lesson to you. Listen to your father-in-law (at least, if he is as smart as my Father in law).

Oh yeah, we also added chickens to our garden project this year. Six hens.

My new favorite sport is grasshopper hunting. I tramp through the weeds to flush the grasshoppers out, and the chickens follow me. It is really fun to watch them at work. We are getting close to 4 dozen eggs a week now.
(Here is little man with the very first egg.

We get a mix of white and brown.

One day Big sis grabbed a couple to have for breakfast, both were double yolks. She was feeling pretty special).

Much better than store bought, according to this study. Economically speaking, I don't know that we are breaking even. What with chicken food, a chicken house... This winter there will be extra power costs to keep the hens from freezing.

But there are other benefits. The kids are getting some good experience for instance. And the chicken are helping with pest control, weed control and lawn fertilization.

I built a portable a-frame house for the chickens (courtesy of Anna White. Love her!).

We move it around the yard. Every place it has been, the grass is greener, taller, and (albiet briefly) weed free. I need to add some wheels, so it will be easier to move (and will thus get moved more frequently.) They do a good job eating the weeds from the grass when they are in the coop. When we let them out (which is often) they much prefer to go hang out in the garden. Yeah, they pick at the beans, and the squash, and they dig holes deep enough to expose plant roots. but so far, they are catastrophically impacting the garden, and they do munch a few bugs while they are at it, so...

Well, I better call it quits before this gets to be so intimidatingly long that nobody will read it. (To late).

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