Tag Archives: garden

Twine Has Many Uses

Cold weather has arrived. Killing frost has eliminated much of the browse favored by the goats. Hay goes into the hay troughs and twine accumulates in the barn.

My old barn accommodates square bales. I prefer them as they are small enough for me to handle. The flakes are easy to count out for the goats.

Each bale is tied with two lengths of twine. Each piece is about five feet long. It’s good twine, too good to throw away.

So the piles accumulate. A long nail is covered. Another nail is covered. they are piled so high new pieces slide off.

twine gate hinge

Over the summer the end of the shade house is open for easy access. When the shade house becomes a greenhouse, a plastic covered piece of cattle panel goes up. Twine makes great temporary gate hinges.

One pile is almost gone now. It moved to the garden.

I started with two cattle panels bent to form a long trellis so the inside could have some shade. That end of the garden got far too hot for most plants during the summer.

Then I thought about covering this shade house with plastic to form a cold greenhouse over the winter. This worked well. In fact, on sunny days the inside was a balmy summer day.

Then the wind began. We’ve always had some wind. A few days here and there weren’t a problem. Breezes weren’t a problem.

Now the wind blows most days hard enough to blow the plastic off the winter greenhouse. Plastic is hard to hold down when its laying over wire panels.

twine over greenhouse

This temporary greenhouse is great for cole crops like turnips, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Wind is a problem as it lifts and destroys the plastic. The twine pieces should keep the plastic from lifting.

Watching the plastic made me think. The wind pulls the plastic up. It also gets inside and billows the plastic up.

I tried tossing some flexible wire pieces over the plastic. These helped, but would slide off.

Twine offered a possible solution. So the pile moved out to the garden.

Three pieces tied together would go over the panels. Each cattle panel had three of these lengths tied to on end.

twine ropes

Regular twine works well in the garden. Plastic twine is great for braiding ropes and lead ropes. These two 30 foot ropes are braided out of six strands of plastic baling twine and are used to tie down hay on my truck. I like a loop in the beginning end of the rope and tie off the other end.

Plastic went on the panels. Twine went over the plastic.

This did present a new problem as the twine kept the plastic from reaching the ground. The side garden beds are now buried under manure and mulch. This blocks the spaces.

The cabbage and Brussels sprouts plants weren’t happy about killing frost. Now they have their greenhouse to thwart the next round of frosts.

An old post has instructions for braiding a lead rope from baling twine. Find it here.

Exhuberent Butternut Squash

Usually the squash bugs win in my garden long before fall. The plants try hard before that so I end up with one or two butternut squash.

This year spring was wet and cold, definitely not squash weather. Once it warmed up I was busy with other things. Finally the squash got planted the end of June.

Squash bugs suck juices from more kinds of plants than squash. Those plants grow out in the pastures so there is a resident population waiting for my garden sign to go up: Squash Is Here!

yellow squash plant

Even a light frost singing its top leaves hasn’t slowed the summer yellow squash down. The butternut squash vines are mostly dried up and brown unless a squash remains on the vine.

The summer yellow squash exploded into huge plants. Thinning the plants was one of the chores not attended to but there was plenty of room and manure.

The plants bloomed – male blossoms. Finally a female blossom showed up. Now the refrigerator is full of over-sized yellow squash with more waiting to be picked.

One thing about summer squash is that they stay put. They have short vines, maybe a foot long. Winter squash is a different matter entirely.

pick yellow squash young, butternut shelled

Straightneck yellow summer squash can be prolific until the squash bugs move in. The bugs didn’t this year so the plants are still producing squash best eaten young before a tough rind appears.

Butternut is a winter squash. It is a different species than summer squash and can be planted in the same garden area without crossing.

My seeds sprouted. The vines took off across their allotted area. I curled them back to fill the area in. Side vines shot out.

Soon the vines were over their area, across the garden path, over the cherry tomato cage, out through the garden fence behind their area and threatening to climb the apple tree.

I considered trimming the vines but blossoms were everywhere turning into baby squash.

butternut squash

Hiding under the cherry tomato leaves a butternut squash grew big and is ready to move into the pantry.

Butternut squash is a treat over the winter. Winter squash puts on a hard shell and stores well for months.

The first squash bug showed up. I squashed it plus some eggs and young ones. This is a delaying tactic used to give some time for the few squash on the vines time to ripen even though small.

The invasion stopped. The vines put out more leaves. More squash started growing and getting big.

It is fall. Killing frost is overdue. The vines have withered. The butternut squash has shelled.

My pantry now has squash for one a week for the next five months plus three or four more yet to come in. Butternut is a good squash but this may wear out its welcome.

Spring Garden Tour

Spring in the Ozarks this year is a yoyo of temperatures. But frost date is fast approaching and my garden can begin in earnest. First comes a garden tour to see where the garden is and plan for the future.

My garden is waiting. I got knocked over by the goats and hurt the back. Now I’m ready for my garden tour.

garden gate

I took a chance last year and used PVC pipes to frame my new garden gates. They are light weight, swing easily on their hinges and fasten with bungee cords.

Last year the new gates went up. The PVC is strong and light weight. The gates are a delight to open and close. They show no signs of wear.

Before putting in the garlic last fall I manured the bed. This spring the garlic looks wonderful.

garlic patch

The garlic looks the best in years. Goat manure does work wonders. I plant the cloves in fall and mulch heavily.

The beds marked out and mulched are still almost weed free. Potatoes are in three of them but not up yet. Frosty nights have slowed things down.

planting beds

The garden is mostly organized into definite beds now. They are not raised beds. Planting the potatoes went easily with the potato beds already marked out and mulched. They do make good places to distribute wood ashes from the wood stoves. Potash is good for the garden. Hot coals can be a problem in the mulch.

Gardening season didn’t really end last fall. Spinach came through the winter in the raised bed and is now producing a nice crop. Some lettuce, radishes and carrots are growing well. All can take the light frosts. The stone wall makes a warm place to sit and relax for a time to think during my garden tour.

raised garden bed

The stone raised garden bed does have drawbacks. But the pluses are spinach all winter with a bounty in spring as well as other greens. Some of the covering problems are getting solved.

Strong gusty winds took their toll on the plastic over the shade house. This was my first garden task. It is now repaired and protected. The inside gets toasty warm on sunny days.

shade house/greenhouse in garden

Covering the shade house with plastic was an experiment over the winter. Wind is a definite problem especially this spring. The arrangement does work well as a greenhouse but stabilizing the plastic will take some work.

Pepper seeds need warm temperatures to germinate well. The warm shade house should do nicely with blankets over the seed trays at night.

garden greens

Fresh greens really dress up a meal as salad, potherbs or stir fry. The shade house/greenhouse gave my chard and beets a head start.

In the meantime various greens are doing well. They include chard, beets and turnips.

Lovely daffodils graced the flower corner. Iris are on their way up along with the lilies.

daffodil flower

My daffodils once graced the town planters but were destined for the trash when other plants replaced them. I enjoyed their bigger than wild blooms this spring.

A field of garlic chives is rising. A few weeds managed to grow in amongst them so I won’t escape tedious weeding.

garlic chive patch

I like garlic hives. Bees, butterflies and other insects love garlic chive flowers. They do seed freely.

There are weeds in various places. The dead nettle is a bee attractant, one of the first nectar plants for them. The chickweed is a headache but edible and tasty when young and succulent.

dead nettle

Dead nettle may resemble stinging nettle but is a mint loved by bees and bumblebees. It seeds freely and become a nuisance.

Not all the work of rearranging the garden got done before the ground froze. It will continue slowly over the spring and summer. The bamboo needs attention and corralling. The last of the paths need weeding and mulching.

My spring garden tour is over. Now I can complete my garden plans. Most of the garden is ready and waiting. Gardening season is beginning. Both of us are ready.

Is Rural Life Worth It?

The goats have cabin fever. Three of them bashed the door as I opened it for milking and knocked me flat. After the pain, anger and yelling subsided, I wondered: Is it worth it?

Spring is starting and it will be time for chicks soon. The chick house roof is leaking. A window pane was broken by a black walnut. The prices have gone up again. Is the trouble of raising chicks worth it?

Food in the grocery store is cheap. It requires little labor. It needs no buckets of water, weeding, mulching or insect control. Is the garden worth it?

spinach bed

Spinach is only $3 a bag in the store. My early spring spinach took building a raised bed, filling it, planting seeds, covering it all winter, watering when needed. But the spinach is fresh when I want it with no chemicals on it. Bugs wash away.

When the weather is bad, the barn is a foot deep in bedding to remove, the black snakes get into the chicks or any of the other myriad problems arise, the no column seems to predominate.

When I consider buying eggs at the store, the yes column gets a big boost.

I’ve read that brown and white eggs are the same nutritionally. The so-called experts even try to say my flock eggs are nutritionally the same as the insipid things from the store.

dozen assorted fresh eggs is worth more than ole store eggs

The egg size varies. The eggs need cleaning and boxing. Some of the hens lay in out of the way places. Black snakes come by and eat the day’s supply. How can you compare fresh, rich eggs with those from the store?

I will accept that color isn’t that important. But there must be a nutritional difference between an egg with a runny white and yellow-tinted yolk and my stand up whites with orange yolks. At the very least, my eggs taste like eggs.

When I consider buying chicken at the grocery store, the yes column gets another boost. I’ve worked for Tyson. I like meat from chickens that has taste, isn’t watery and comes from chickens not fed who-knows-which chemicals but good feed, grass and bugs.

The no column does benefit a little when it comes time to dress out those chicks now mostly grown. That’s the city girl in me coming back to haunt me. I like chickens, usually. (Roosters invading the milk room are not appreciated.)

Golden Wyandotte hen

Chickens are a disaster in the garden. They get into everything. Feed is expensive. Roosters are noisy. Fresh pasture raised chicken meat has flavor and is humanely raised without so many chemicals. Hens come in so many breeds and are interesting to watch. They eat things like tomato hornworms, cutworms and ticks. And they lay eggs.

Monetarily a garden doesn’t save money. The cost of seeds, transplants, time and labor make garden produce more expensive than produce from the grocery store. That might make a garden add to the no column.

What tips the balance is the stress relief from destroying weeds. There is the sense of accomplishment when that fresh salad arrives on the dinner table. The produce variety is my favorite, not the most common. It is picked when ripe and goes a few hundred feet to the house not a thousand miles in cold storage.

Money stiffens the no column. Feed and hay for the goats takes almost three quarters of my income each year. They do repay two thirds of that in sales.

Nubian herd coming in from pasture

I have to be home an hour before dark to open the pasture gate for the goats. Goats take time, money, work, planning. Dairy goats like mine must be milked twice a day regardless. The kids are cute. The milk and cheese are fresh. Even when the goats are ornery, I like them.

The rest comes back in milk and cheese. Cow’s milk is off my diet as it makes me sick. That leaves buying this stuff called goat milk at some fourteen dollars a gallon. It isn’t drinkable.

There is one other big contributor to the no column. Dairy goats need me here twice a day, every day. The chickens need me here twice a day to let them out in the morning and lock them up at night every day. The garden needs watering and attention much of the week.

Are these things worth this amount of time? Are they worth not being able to go places or do things? Sometimes I really wonder.

Then I contemplate a dozen so-called eggs from the grocery store and know all the problems and time constraints are worth it.

When Do You Start a Garden?

Some people start their garden when the transplants and seeds show up in the store. Some people start their garden when the seed catalogues arrive in the mail. My garden has no real starting date.

The best transplants or seeds will fail if planted in dirt with the grass newly dug out. Pictures in seed catalogues look lovely, enticing, and disappoint when they don’t have a garden to grow in. My garden beds are prepared in the fall into, supposedly, early winter [think January in my garden].

Fall is Preparation Time

After killing frost levels the garden and the debris is carted away, the garden is easy to see. You know what worked and what didn’t the last summer season. Fall is time to prepare for the next year.

cat in mulched garden bed

My new garden beds are simply outlines now. The manure and leaves will build up over time. In the meantime my cats like Tyke enjoy lazing on warm mulch.

Leaves, manure, compost, other additives go into the garden in the fall. They can be top dressed with a layer of mulch over the top or dug in with a layer of mulch over the top.

By doing this preparation work in the fall, it has a chance to become part of your garden soil. The microbes, worms and other garden soil organisms have a chance to populate and begin to break down everything so it is available for the plants in the spring.

Winter is Planning Time

Most gardeners grow some of the same crops every year. My annual crops are garlic, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. I usually grow okra and pumpkins too.

garden plan

My new garden beds make planning easier. I’ve put in some markings for the crops I normally grow and have room left to try new vegetables. Now is the time to open the seed catalogs.

These staples are rotated from area to area of my garden each year. There is still lots of space for other crops as well as succession crops.

Winter is seed catalogue season. Once you order seeds from one company, many other companies start sending their catalogues to you too. The pictures and descriptions are wonderful reading fare during cold, dreary days.

I don’t start seeds until April for summer crops so I have at least until February to read and reread the catalogues sighing over these fascinating vegetables. January is time to start getting serious about what I will plant the next growing season.

Kale comes in many varieties. I love to look but know I won’t eat kale. It doesn’t go on my list.

This is the bottom line. If you grow it, will you eat it? If you won’t eat it, don’t order it. If you might and have room for it, give it a try.

pumpkin vine jungle

Even pie pumpkin vines tend to spread out over the garden making it difficult to get around. I’m hoping the new beds will make it easier for me to keep shifting and pruning the vines next year.

Room is an important consideration. Giant pumpkins are a very interesting crop. They also take up a minimum of a forty foot square space.

Crowding vegetables in doesn’t work. The plants need room to grow their best. You need room to get around in the garden. Twister is a fun party game but not a fun gardening game.

Spring is Planting Time

Warm days, soft rains [not in the Ozarks, think big rains and floods], spring fever and gardening time begin here about March. If I do my fall preparation and winter planning, I am ready to begin gardening.

Spring and summer are great gardening months. Fresh vegetables on my table are the pay off for the work.

When does my garden start? I think fall as without preparation my garden never reaches its potential.

Falling Treasure

Fall colors peaked here on my Ozark hills last week. Wind ruined much of the color but has resulted in fallen treasure for my garden.

Driving to town this time of year I see so many people raking their leafy treasure into the roadside ditch and burning it. The smoke is annoying sometimes even blinding. It is a discouraged practice but tradition dies hard in the Ozarks.

red maple leaves

Sugar or hard maple leaves turn brilliant shades of red turning the tree into a blaze of glory.

I might have joined this opinion that fallen leaves have no value except for reading a gardening book when I first contemplated growing a few tomato plants on my own.

My father was an avid gardener all his life. He did the gardening. Helpers were relegated to pulling weeds. That teaches how to weed but not how to garden.

Weeding did give me an appreciation of sitting out in the garden enjoying the weather, the quiet and the activity. That is why I found myself reading about gardening.

brown leaves

Soon the red leaves turn to dry brown as all moisture evaporates from them.

My rented house sat on fill dirt that was not fit to grow even grass let alone tomatoes.I dug this huge trench where the garden would go.My neighbors thought I had gone mad. They were glad to let me rake up and remove their maple leaves.

Bag after bag of maple leaves landed in that trench until this foot deep hole was full to overflowing. Then the dirt went back in on top for the winter.

fallen leaves

The leaves may fall one at a time but they add up quickly into a carpet of brown with occasional bits of color all rustling in the wind.

The next spring I bought small tomato plants and set them out. The neighbors all watched knowing these plants would wither and probably die in that terrible red clay and gravel fill dirt.

The little plants grew bravely until they hit that buried treasure. My garden became a jungle of tomato plants semi-staked as I was learning how to do that as well.

leaf pile

Pretty Boy is watching his stash of fallen leaves disappear into a pile.

I love fresh tomatoes from the garden. Fresh tomatoes from my own garden were even better. But there is a limit.

Tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner is too much. The neighbors received sacks of tomatoes to supplement the few from their own well tended rich soil gardens. I even learned how to can that year.

Strangely, when I went calling to gather leaves that fall, there weren’t many available. It seems the neighbors had learned about this fallen treasure too.

sacked leaves

My fallen treasure of maple leaves is sacked and ready for transporting to my garden

Since then I’ve read and experimented with this fallen treasure. Oak leaves will work but are better composted first as they are thick and slow to break down. Black walnut leaves are not good in the garden as these trees produce juglan, a form of chemical warfare that prevents some plants from growing at all.

The best treasure are maple and other thin leaves including elm, sweet gum and hickory without the twigs. These can be buried or spread out over the garden area. Running over them with a lawnmower to cut them into smaller pieces is good but not necessary.

Leaves do dry out and blow so they need to be covered with mulch straw. In the spring these leaves have broken down into leaf mold, a wonderful organic loam relished by plants. For the gardener this is true buried treasure.

Catching Woodchucks

Woodchucks are interesting to watch. Since they are vegetarians, they are not a threat to the goats or chickens. They like giant ragweed.

These pluses gained a family of woodchucks a home over the summer. The mother and two little ones enjoyed all the grass and weeds around the tractor shed.

If the woodchucks had stayed eating the grass and weeds, they would keep their welcome. Unfortunately wild animals seldom follow such rules.

Food is a primary objective for a wild animal. Once a food source is found, it is eaten until it is gone.

woodchuck in trap

Actually catching the woodchuck was a welcome surprise. The choice of bait is important.

The woodchucks discovered my garden. Evidently vegetables taste better than other greens although they did stick mostly to the chicory and giant ragweed which was appreciated.

Woodchucks hibernate. Before holing up for the winter, they eat all they can to put on a thick layer of fat. Grass and weeds weren’t enough.

By this time the three woodchucks had separated. The mother moved across the road to the house. She grazes on the lawn and weeds around the lawn. Unless she moves onto the potting benches to graze on the potted plants, she remains an interesting resident.

One young woodchuck stayed under the tractor shed. It ate all the fruit on the apple tree. It devastated the Brussels sprouts. It began mowing down the carrots. It started eating the tomatoes.

moving the woodchuck

Woodchucks may be vegetarians but they have big sharp teeth and long sharp claws so a wheelbarrow is a good way to move the trap to the truck.

Blocking off the gates had no deterrent effect. The woodchuck evidently climbed over the fence.

Since I rarely saw more than a tail as it disappeared, shooting it was not a likely event. That left the live trap.

Raccoons and opossums love peanut butter. They eat about anything edible.

Woodchucks are vegetarians. Peanut butter was not a good option.

Since the woodchuck was eating the pepper plants and loved fruit, I decided to try a small pepper plant and a ripe pawpaw as bait.

It worked The woodchuck now lives a mile away.

The other young woodchuck moved up under the barn. Half of this hundred old structure has a wood floor with a foot of space under it.

woodchuck

The woodchuck is considering it’s choices before taking off toward the creek and pasture down from the bridge.

Numerous animals move there for a time and move on including black snakes, copperheads, lots of mice who seem to stay until they become a meal, skunks, opossums. None are usually much of a problem as only the mice seem permanent.

The woodchuck is different. It discovered chicken feed. Suddenly the chicken feed started disappearing twice as fast.

I took counter measures. The woodchuck started raiding the milk room feed barrels. This is not acceptable.

At least the bait choice is easy. Chicken feed should work nicely.

Fixing Garden Gates

No, the PVC garden gates are not broken already. They work very well. The fixing is due to another problem: the gap under the gates.

A gate must be hung clear of the ground or it will not swing open and closed. My garden ground is not level and the gates were hung to clear the highest point of ground under them.

gap under gate

That gap under my garden gate looks so very small yet the worn area in the dirt shows it is in use as do the clipped hollyhocks and bitten green tomatoes.

Gaps under gates are open invitations to my local garden raiders.

Skunks wander around digging small holes looking for grubs and other skunk delicacies. A four inch gap is plenty of room for them to slip through.

barrier set up

Although the barrier must block the gap, the wheelbarrow must still get into and out of the garden. The bricks form a ramp over the barrier from both inside and outside the garden.

Raccoons can ravage a garden in a single night especially almost ripe tomatoes and corn. They grab one fruit, bite it, toss it aside and grab the next one. They need a big gap under the gates and will gladly use it when available.

Armadillos need bigger gaps and can dig their way under. They leave big holes behind in their search for grubs and other delicacies.

closed garden gate

The final test is closing the gate. The barrier must fill the gap but be behind the gate .

Woodchucks need only two or three inches open under the gates. They can flatten themselves until they are like a moving carpet flowing over the ground. If their head fits, they do. They will also dig a bigger gap if they need to.

My gates all have two to 5ive inch gaps under them. The ground is hard but not that hard to dig up. The gaps have to go and dirt will not work.

gate gap barrier

The gap was larger under this gate so taller stones were needed. The ramp works for the wheelbarrow even though it is narrow as it must go straight into and out of this garden gate.

Another consideration is how I use the gates. I can open them and walk in and out even if there is a stone wall across the opening. Wheelbarrows don’t go in and out over a short stone wall.

The solution was to place taller stones on each side with a ramp in the middle. The wall fills the gap. Since it is stone, woodchucks can’t dig it up. The ramp lets the wheelbarrow go in and out.

closed gate

Mice and snakes can still squeeze under the gate but the woodchuck and the skunk aren’t that small.

My gates are now hung and the gaps are filled with stone. No skunk, raccoon, armadillo or woodchuck will get under my gates as long as I remember to fasten the latches.

Now the problem will be stopping those garden raiders who climb: raccoons, squirrels and woodchucks.

Fall Garden

Fall has arrived even if the weather is teasing us with eighty degree days. Nights are cool giving warning of the cold to come.

This year I’m planning on a fall into winter garden. The gardening books I’ve read this year say it’s possible with a little planning.

So many garden pictures show these planned gardens trimmed neatly, looking lush. My garden is scattered. Row arrangements change every year. Each pathway shifts a bit each year.

path outline

After deciding and marking where the door into the garden shade house greenhouse would be, the pathway went straight in. Some old bricks made a great border.

I have lately put some permanent things in the garden: the raised bed; the shade house; the new raised garlic bed; a row of asparagus plants. Perhaps it is time for my casual garden to become a bit more organized.

The raised garden bed was a big success this last spring with early spinach. More is planted for this fall. Turnips were a disaster not because they didn’t grow but because they got so big and smothered the rest of the bed.

Where can I plant some turnip relatives, rutabaga? Last year the Brussels sprouts were impossible to keep protected. Where can I plant them?

starting the pathway

Fitting oddly shaped flat stones of varying thickness into the pathway is challenging. i start by setting the three big ones.

There at the end of the garden festooned with the last of the bean vines is the shade house. Why can’t it become an unheated greenhouse for the fall into the winter?

The shade house grew magnificent patty pan squash. Nothing else fit as the summer bush squash grew waist high and spread itself out across the space.

Now the squash is gone and I can see inside the shade house again. The problem I came up against before is how to plant but still have access to weed and water the plants. I needed a pathway.

Usually I put a pathway wherever it is convenient at the time. The shade house is permanent so perhaps the pathway inside should be too.

The worst weather comes out of the west so the door will be on the east protected by the nearby fence and tractor shed beyond. The sage bush will need trimming out of the way.

complete pathway

The other stones are fit around the three big stones until the new garden pathway is complete. The stones will gradually have dirt sift in around them.

Various materials are available. Bricks made a pathway border. Flat stones are fitted in for walking on.

Brussels sprouts are already growing across the end of the shade house. Two short rows of rutabaga are up and will need thinning soon.

More Brussels sprouts are now in on one side of the new pathway. That pathway still wobbly but solid made transplanting so easy. The planting area was well marked and easy to reach into.

Once killing frost goes by, a plastic cover can go over the cattle panels and the ends. The summer shade house will transform into a winter solar greenhouse.

Hanging the New Garden Gate

My PVC gates came out really nice if not perfect. However I did forget some basic planning. How to hang them.

The PVC pipes are round and covered with wire. The gate posts are round. Two of them are metal. Most gate hinges are flat.

Chain link gate hinges are round. I went looking. These hinges must be put on before the gate is completed. My gates are completed.

Regular hinges are probably not strong enough to hold up this gate. A bit of physics shows the length of the gate increases the force on the hinges.

You can see this effect by filling a gallon or half gallon bottle with water. Lift it with your arm bent so it is close to your body. Then lift it with your arm out straight.

strap hinge

One nice thing about using a strap hinge is that the gate can open either way. Well, the hinge can work either way. I have a back post for the gate to attach to. That’s the next challenge: How to hook the gate firmly closed.

So I checked out gate hinges. These have a strap side with a ring at one end. The other piece is a bolt or screw with a peg the ring fits on. These are strong.

My PVC gates are 2 inch pipes. One gate is 1 1/2 inch pipe. Most of these strap hinges are a foot long. The set weighed more than the gate!

Finally I found some small versions. It took a month or so but I finally had the hinges.

I forgot the bolts. Another week went by and I finally had the bolts.

The strap parts went on the top and bottom rungs of the gate. This required drilling holes.

marking hinge placement

A strap hinge works best if it is put on straight. A pencil marks on PVC pipe well so the holes go in properly.

PVC pipe is round and smooth. The drill bit skittered off. The solution was to use a hand drill to make some small holes the big drill could use as a starting point.

holes in gate

PVC pipe seems hard and solid but is easy to drill a hole in if the drill bit stays in place. Doing a starting hole lets the bit have a place to start.

Next the lag bolts had to go in the gate post. This was metal, round and smooth. No hand drill was going to work.

hinge on pipe

The bolts must go all the way through the PVC pipe. The hole should be barely big enough. A hammer is useful to tap the bolt into place.

First the gate was held in position and the bottom hinge was marked on the post. The gate is set aside until the lag bolt is in place.

There is something called a tap. It looks like a long round tapered hunk of metal. The small end is put against the metal post. A hammer is used to tap it putting a small dent in the metal gate post.

Impatience would dictate using the large drill bit next. Mistake. The next step is a small drill bit making holes all the way through the post. Then the big bit is used to enlarge the holes.

Finally the bolt is in place. The gate is set on it so the placement of the top hinge can be marked. Marking both hinge placements at first leads to the top one being wrong later.

The top lag bolt holes are drilled. The bolt is put into the post. The gate is set on the hinges.

garden gate

The gate has big wire areas so the garden is easy to see something the chickens find frustrating as there must be a way inside. There better not be.

My first garden gate is now in place and in use. It is so strange to have it there.

The gate looks nice. The chickens wonder why they can see into the garden but can’t get in. I can swing the gate open easily.

One gate is up. The other two will be soon. Then I can enjoy going in and out of them. It will seem strange to get in and out of the garden so easily.

Morning Glories

My father complained about growing morning glories one year then pulling them up as weeds for the next ten. Everyone laughed.

Morning glories are lovely flowers. Since they are vines, they can grow on garden fences dressing them up with color all summer. Garden catalogs have lots of colors to choose from.

purple morning glory

In the shade a purple morning glory has more of a blue cast but the deep pink of the center remains.

I don’t know where my morning glories came from. I didn’t buy any seeds or plant any I know of. One year two morning glories appeared in my garden.

One is a deep purple with pink throat. The other is smaller and powder blue with a white throat.

blue morning glory

Although small, a powder blue morning glory is lovely to look at with its pure white center.

The purple morning glory is much more aggressive. One year the blue one seemed to disappear, overwhelmed by the other one.

Now the two seem to have definite areas. The purple one grows on a short trellis near the bamboo and on the back fence competing with the wild grape. The blue one is on the south side fence.

blue morning glory

Dew still makes fine water beads on this blue morning glory.

Both are covered with flowers in the early morning. Hot sun withers the flowers by noon.

Several insects love visiting the morning glories. Honeybees and bumble bees are among these. Other garden crops such as beans and okra are not as attractive to the pollinating visitors so the morning glories earn their space.

My father was right. Morning glories are persistent.

Most of my garden is heavily mulched to discourage weeds. Morning glories are not deterred popping up through four to six layers of straw.

We have reached a compromise on my part at least. Morning glories are allowed within six inches of the trellis or fences. Vines are welcome on those areas but not on gates. Any other morning glory seedlings or plants are pulled up as weeds.

purple morning glories

The sun makes these purple morning glories glow but will finally make them wilt.

The morning glories come up everywhere hoping I won’t notice them. A few escape notice for a time.

Like the chicory, evening primrose and lamb’s quarters, morning glories will grace my garden every year in spite of the constant battle over how many are acceptable.

Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles arrived in the Ozarks years ago. They are here to stay. The question now is how to coexist and still have a garden.

Japanese beetle pair

A mating pair of Japanese Beetles hang below an evening primrose leaf, another beetle favorite.

Over the winter Japanese beetles exist as grubs in the ground. Digging in my garden I turn up several sizes of grubs. The bigger ones are native June bugs both brown and green. The smaller ones are Japanese beetles.

The brown June bugs and the large metallic green ones are more a sonic annoyance than a problem. They zoom noisily across the yard as every chicken goes on the alert. Delicacy time.

leaf eaten by beetles

Japanese beetles eat a leaf out leaving the veins behind as a lacy network.

Japanese beetles tend to stay on a plant and try to eat it to the ground. Chickens love these beetles too but like eating too many other things as well as digging holes to allow inside the garden fence.

Many years ago a wild grape vine sprouted near my back garden fence. It was outside the fence so went unnoticed until well established. It was smaller than the hordes of morning glories bending the fence into waves.

Last year the grape vine became a nuisance. It spread across the entire thirty feet of fence and reached over onto the tractor shed roof and into the apple tree. I cut it back ruthlessly.

wild grapevine

No wonder wild grapevines can bury a tree! This vine was cut back to stems with a few buds only a few feet long and now cover a thirty foot fence plus side blankets extending several feet on both sides.

Why not dig it out?

Japanese beetles like okra and roses and lots of other garden vegetables. They like wild grapevine even more. They get so busy eating grapevine, they leave my garden alone.

Japanese beetle

Japanese beetles are colorful with their metallic green thoraxes, metallic copper wing covers and white dots on black edgings.

The grapevine is again spread the length of the back fence, draped over the tractor shed roof and apple tree as well as trying to snake across the garden beds. The vines growing over the gate went to the goats. More will go to the goats this fall shortly before the leaves color when I again ruthlessly chop it off.

Between now and then the grapevine is distracting Japanese beetles.

 

Garden Wars

My father didn’t have green thumbs. He had green hands. Our yard steadily disappeared into gardens foot by foot as we grew older. Nothing bothered his suburban gardens but insects and weeds. Occasionally the chickens would escape their pen and invade.

Chickens are the least of the problems facing rural gardeners where wars with wildlife are commonplace.

Fences are the first line of defense. Mine is two x four welded wire sitting on the ground standing four feet high. Turtles usually can’t fit through the spaces. Turtles love tomatoes.

Unless the gardener is a high jumper the fence must have gates. I have three however my present gates are gates in name only.

I built the gates out of wood and wire and the wood is rotten so they are falling apart. Humidity and wood don’t seem to work well together so new ones are needed every couple of years.

My planned new gates have a PVC framework. All the pieces are cut. All the joints plus glue are in a sack. The directions say 70 degrees and dry. I’m waiting.

Wildlife seems to know when my garden defenses are down. My garden has been invaded.

woodchuck under board

Living under a stack of lumber in the tractor shed three woodchucks are only a few feet away from my vegetable garden filled with delicious favorite foods.

Most people only know about woodchucks or groundhogs as prognosticators of early or late springs. In woodchuck country they are master burrowers and voracious vegetarians.

Gardens are full of vegetables.

A family of woodchucks, mother and two little ones, have moved into the tractor shed two feet from my garden fence. Their pasture home is filled with seeding grass and they can’t see enemies coming.

The area around my garden is mowed so visibility is good. All around the tractor shed is grass and clover (a woodchuck favorite) plus lots of other plants. And my garden.

I have blockaded one hole under the fence. So far this seems to be the only one. The other alternative is to try out some woodchuck recipes.

Woodchucks are awake during the day. Night brings other garden invaders. One rototills the mulch.

Much of my garden is mulched heavily as a weed defense. An added benefit is cool, moist roots over hot, dry Ozark summers.

skunk

Skunks are normally nocturnal. This one visited the pasture during the late afternoon a few years ago.

Mulch attracts lots of earthworms and grubs. My night invader is searching for these in competition with the moles.

Skunks are easy to discourage. I put up cement blocks in front of the main garden gate. It explored the chicken yard instead.

The moles are a different matter. So far I accept them as a garden nuisance. There seems little I can do to get rid of them as new ones move in faster than I could get rid of the present residents.

deer

Deer love vegetables and can easily jump a four foot fence. Even a six foot one may be too short.

The other invader nips the peas and chicory. I haven’t found any tracks yet but suspect a deer is visiting. A radio playing all night often works for deer.

This year one block of the garden is planted with sweet corn. Raccoons love corn. Electric fence may help deter them. I hope I don’t have to fuss with that.

Crows haven’t been hanging around this year. They don’t know about the corn yet.

Gardening is good exercise for the muscles. It can be a way to destress. My garden exercises the brain too outwitting the wildlife.

The Pumpkin Project

OSP1Pt2 Let’s Grow a Pumpkin

Project 1

Part 2

Let’s Grow a Pumpkin!

You know where your pumpkin plants will grow. You know what kind of pumpkin you will grow. You have purchased your seeds. Now let’s plant your pumpkin seeds.

When Do I Plant My Pumpkin Seeds?

Pumpkin plants will die if frost gets on them. So you must wait until after the last frost date for where you live. You can look this up.

If you can protect the plants from frost, you can plant earlier. There are lots of ways to help with a mild frost. Make a plastic tent over the plants. When the plants are very small, you can scatter some straw over them for the night.

Pumpkin plants like the weather warm but not really hot. They will not make pumpkins above 90°. So you must plant them early enough to start making pumpkins before your summer gets too hot. It takes sugar pie and Halloween sized pumpkins about six weeks to start making pumpkins.

Giant pumpkins take a lot longer so many people who grow giant pumpkins start their plants indoors. If you want to do this, think back to your Investigations to know the best way to start your seeds. Use 16oz cups or bigger. Don’t start your seeds more than four weeks before you can transplant them outside. Usually they are transplanted when the first or second true leaves appear. They must be transplanted before the fourth true leaves or the vines won’t grow as well. If you have enough room, you can test this.

You can start the other pumpkins indoors too but you don’t need to.

How Do I Plant My Pumpkin Seeds?

How you plant your pumpkin seeds depends on the kind and where you will plant them. Let’s begin with starting giant pumpkins indoors.

Giant pumpkins do take extra care. A good place to get instructions is at www.bigpumpkins.com or in the books by Doug Langston.

Starting Your Pumpkin Seeds Indoors

Step 1: It’s important to give pumpkin roots lots of room so use big Styrofoam cups 16oz or bigger. Only one seed will go in each cup so have enough cups for the number of plants you want plus a couple.

Step 2: It’s important to not make the dirt too wet in the cup so you need to make a hole in the bottom for extra water to drip out of. These cups have a little button on the bottom. You can cut this button out and have a good hole.

Step 3: Put a small rock over the hole inside the cup so the dirt won’t fall out. Then fill the cup with potting soil. Firm it down and add water so it is moist but not soggy.

Step 4: Make a hole 2.5cm deep in the soil and put in a seed. Cover the seed up. Set the cup aside in a warm place until it germinates. You can put plastic wrap over the top to keep the soil moist or check it every day and add water when needed.

Step 5: Light is very important for a sprout. If you use a grow light, it must be only 2.5cm over the sprout. If the days are warm, you can set the cup and sprout outside for the day. It can be in light shade outside. Even the shade is brighter than a grow light. The sun may be too bright for an indoor sprout. Be sure to bring it in at night.

Step 6: Transplant your sprout into your garden spot when it has two true leaves. Be sure you transplant it before it has four true leaves as it will have run out of room in the cup by then. If the sprout gets crowded in the cup, the plant will never grow as fast or as big as it should in your garden.

How To Transplant Your Pumpkin Sprout

Step 1: Prepare your planting hills the same way as in the directions for Planting Outside.

Step 2: Water your cup so the dirt is very wet. This makes it easier to get the sprout out of the cup.

Step 3: Make a hole in the top of the hill big enough for the cup to fit in. The sprout should not be planted deeper than it is in the cup.

Step 4: Slide the sprout and dirt out of the cup. Put it into the hole. Fill the hole with dirt and firm it against your sprout.

Step 5: Sprinkle water on the hill so the dirt settles around your sprout.

Growing Your Pumpkin In a Pot

Perhaps you don’t have a garden or other place outside. You can still grow a pumpkin. It must be a miniature pumpkin but there are several to choose from.

Step 1: Choose your pot. Even a miniature pumpkin plant needs room so the pot must be 16 inches or more across the top. Be sure it has a pan under it. You can use a big bag of garden soil in a box. Be sure you line the box with plastic then put the bag of soil in it.

Step 2: Decide where you will put your pot. Your pumpkin plant needs plenty of light so a south facing window or outside is the best. Once all the dirt and your pumpkin plant are in the pot, you won’t want to move it.

Step 3: Position your pot. Place rocks over the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Put three or four inches of gravel on these rocks. This helps water get into and out of your pot.

Step 4: Fill your pot with potting or garden soil. Add water to settle the dirt but don’t make it soggy.

Step 5: Make a small mound in the middle of the pot. Plant three or four seeds in the mound. Water them.

Starting Your Pumpkin Seeds Outdoors

Only giant pumpkin seeds really need to be started indoors. Even they can be planted outdoors. All other kinds of pumpkins can be started outside when spring arrives with warm weather.

Planting Your Pumpkins Outside

Step 1: Dig a hole one shovel length deep (only the metal part, not the handle), two shovel widths wide, and one meter long where you want your pumpkin vines to grow. Put a shovel full or two or three of compost in the hole. Put the dirt back on top of the compost to form a hill. Use the shovel to tamp the dirt down firmly. You need one hill to grow two miniature or sugar pie pumpkins, two hills two meters apart to grow two Halloween pumpkins and two hills three meters apart to grow two giant pumpkins.

Step 2: Make a moat or trench at least ten cm deep around the base of the hill to hold water.

Step 3: If you did not spread manure in the fall, spread composted manure over the garden area. I like it three or four inches deep. Use the tiller or a shovel to mix the manure into the dirt.

Step 4: Push 4 to 6 pumpkin seeds into each hill. Cover the seeds. Water the hill gently so you don’t wash the seeds out but get the dirt wet so the seeds are wet.

Step 5: Watch for your seeds to sprout.

Keeping Records

Write down when you plant your seeds. Write down when your sprouts appear. Every day write down what is happening to your pumpkin plants. How do your plants change as they grow? When do their first true leaves appear? When do your vines appear?

Questions

How do the cotyledons change as the pumpkin vines begin to grow? Compare this to what you saw in your Investigations. If this is different, why do you think it is?

 

The sun is very far away. Compare how sprouts grow in the sun to how they grew in Investigation 7. Is the sun brighter than a grow light?

 

What happens when the pumpkin roots find the manure? How can you tell? Why do you think this happens?

 

Welcome Rain

Waking to the sound of rain makes a delightful morning. The rain pattered on the roof. It ran from the house gutters. Oops, water ran out over the sides necessitating a climb onto the roof to pull leaves out. Still, the rain barrels are full.

Walking outside the air is moist with that earthy wet smell to it. It caresses the skin and invites me to go walking. The pond in the ravine behind the house again has water in it to the delight of the frogs.

dripping redbud flowers

Insects are hiding from raindrops as big or bigger than they are. Nectar is watered down. Rain is dripping off the redbud flowers.

California’s drought is in the news and has made it to our local market. The store advertised California strawberries on sale for the week. Then their supplier told the store there were few strawberries as the fields had no water. The shelf was empty.

News articles report on the latest arguments over who gets what water and how much. Others complain about having enough water for green lawns and swimming pools. The rest of us wait to find out what will happen to food prices if the Central Valley can’t raise enough produce to supply our stores.

Water problems go back decades in California. Most of Southern California is a desert or near desert. As the population increased, water was brought:

  • from Owens Valley leaving its lake totally dry although some water is again filling it,
  • down an aqueduct bringing water from the north but only spawning thirsty towns down its length siphoning much of it away,
  • the Colorado River which must be shared with neighboring states and Mexico but making Imperial Valley an agricultural wonder,
  • wells into an aquifer now being emptied letting the ground settle destroying it for the future and possibly bringing salt water into the groundwater.

Drought isn’t confined to California. Drought here in southern Missouri doesn’t make the news, isn’t as bad but just as real. It means making choices here for me, my animals and my garden.

The raised garden bed is always thirsty. My newly planted carrot and radish seeds are watered in thanks to the rain. The peas are reaching for the trellis sides of the shade house. The remaining weeds are lush. At least some are edible.

Most of my garden is buried under straw mulch. Although I started using mulch to squelch the weeds, I find it is an excellent way to keep moisture in the garden. Water buckets are heavy (I have no hose.) and the fewer of them I have to carry the better for me, for the rain level in the rain barrels and the creek we pump from when the barrels go dry.

wet dandelion seeds

Dandelion seed heads are fluffy balls on sunny days. Rain has collapsed the parachutes into white blobs on drooping stems.

The pastures are emerald green. The trees are blushed with green as their buds open releasing leaves. Wildflowers which looked dry yesterday drip with water this morning.

Without rain there is no hay crop. Winter will come again. My goats eat about ten square bales each over that cold season.

Spring rains are important as plants are growing, blooming and seeding. This takes water and lots of it. Here in the Ozarks, spring is the wettest part of the year. This morning is a welcome down payment.

Garden Planning

Occasional nights flirt with freezing but winter seems on the run. Garden fever is in full swing.

One new rite of spring garden planning is starting my pepper seeds. I have bought transplants for years as seed starting is normally a disaster for me.

Starting seeds requires fairly steady warmth, not always possible in a wood heated house. Even more importantly it requires light. This is not easy for me to supply.

seed starting supplies

Seed starting supplies for me are Styrofoam cups with holes in the bottom, plastic trays, potting soil and seeds.

I love growing colored bell peppers, especially the chocolate ones. These transplants have been unavailable for years. In desperation I bought seeds last year and started my own.

Living in a frost pocket, my main summer garden doesn’t go out until the end of May. I get tired of the blanket over seedling routine that I go through religiously then miss that one crucial night.

Six weeks before end of May is mid April. Days are warm. The front porch is a great place for seedlings. Sheltered. Warm. Lots of light.

seeds in cups

The seeds are in the potting soil in the cups ready to be covered up and watered. These were two Red Warty Thing pumpkins on left and four Weeks Giant Pumpkins.

After last year’s success, I decided to get bold this year. There are lots of cups of pepper seeds on the front porch now: chocolate, lilac, white, gold and orange. There are even Italian sweet and prize winning banana peppers. However cooler weather moved in so the trays moved into the house for now.

In deference to completing pictures for “The Pumpkin Project,” there are giant pumpkins and red warty thing pumpkins too.

Since bell peppers inhabit my garden, the Italian sweet and banana need to grow elsewhere. I have only one garden. Last year they ended up in pots and did very well.

trays of cups

After watering, the prospective pepper and pumpkin plants are lined up on the front porch. The blanket over them had some straw bits on it.

Container gardening? It’s just sticking plants in pots, right? Not according to “The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible” by Edward C. Smith.

Just like straw bale gardening, I have no intention of converting my garden over to containers. I like my garden. However containers do have some interesting uses and the book has many interesting ideas in it and I’m not done with it yet.

Houseplant repotting season is opening this weekend here. Armed with some new ideas my poor neglected houseplants may get better living quarters. They hope so.

And those Italian sweet and banana peppers will do much better in larger, better equipped pots this year. Then there is that Jack-Be-Little mini pumpkin for “The Pumpkin Project.”

Garden Season?

A layer of snow covered the garden. It has gone but the ground is still frozen. Yet gardening season is starting.

snow in garden

A little snow fell on the garden. We are having a dry winter here in the Ozarks.

First the seed catalogs arrived. Several places in town will have seed racks. These places will have transplants for sale too. A good garden can be planted using these.

But I like growing special things too. That’s where the seed catalogs come in. I can select those special kinds and varieties to make my garden special.

Frozen ground or not, something is growing in my garden already. Yes, the weeds have sprouted. Left to grow until planting time, these weeds will be knee high and lush.

The idea is to stop the weeds before planting season.

My father was a great advocate of pulling weeds. He had plenty of help.

Weeding is not a good option for me especially now. It’s too cold to sit out in the garden pulling weeds. The ground is frozen making it impossible to pull the roots out. Later the weeds will far outnumber me, a sure recipe for defeat.

Defeat is not an option.

Ruth Stout, wife of Rex Stout who wrote the Nero Wolfe mysteries, had a solution. A friend in town says her father used this method for years. It’s called mulch.

My goats supply me with several empty feed sacks every week. I put the paper ones minus strings down over a patch of weeds. In addition to the sacks I get cardboard pieces from the feed store or even large boxes.

feed sacks on weeds

The opening salvo in this weed battle is a layer of feed sacks over the worst of the weeds.

Usually old hay is put over the top of the sacks. This year the old hay has too many grass seeds in it so I am using straw. This mulch doesn’t have to be real deep over the sacks.

Weeds deprived of light whither and die. The sacks and hay or straw add organic matter to the soil. The garden and I win. The weeds lose.

mulch on sacks

Bring on the mulch! The sacks do stop the weeds but the wind will blow them away. The wind is a weed ally. Mulch keeps the sacks in place.

Nosing around on Pinterest the other day I found a picture about getting a raised garden bed ready for planting. Linda from www.agirlagarden.wordpress.com posted the picture. As a professional gardener, Linda has more information on mulch there.

section mulched

Maybe a battle won. Mulch covers the ground and weeds over this part of the garden.

My raised bed is great although I am still learning how to take full advantage of it. But the problem Linda mentioned is one I’ve had too: weeds grow up around the bed.

The solution is mulch, again. I am now tucking that mulch in around the raised bed.

mulch along raised garden bed

Attacking the weeds along the edge of the raised bed will free up time for garden enjoyment later this year.

Ultimately the weeds will win the war. They will be here long after I am no longer gardening. My garden will become a garden of weeds.

But while I continue to garden, the weed war continues. My garden is at stake. Mulch is a mighty weapon in this war.

The ground may be frozen. The air may be cold. Spring is coming. Spinach goes in the raised bed on Valentine’s Day. My garden beckons and I am trying to get ready.