Saturday, July 5, 2014

Garden Progress, Late June/Early July 2014 - Applying Permaculture Principles to the Garden, As Well As Other Experiments

It's been a good while since the start of summer, and my garden looks considerably different now than how it did in my last video.  In this month's update, I take a walk through the garden and explain what has changed over the course of the month.  I also talk about different projects I've been working on around the garden, in my pursuit of self-sufficiency.  Take a look:

I tried to fit as much updated information as I could into the video, but I know I missed a few things.  I promise to give these plants and/or ideas some time in the next video.  Additionally, I wanted to go into further detail about the different methodologies that I have been applying, so here are some notes on those techniques that I've taken from my own experience.

"Dry Gardening"

With the arrival of summer and the heat that comes along with it, I've been watering quite a bit more than I was earlier this year when rain was abundant.  Watering by hand gets pretty tedious after a while, so as an experiment, I decided to make one of my tomato plants a guinea pig to test the effects of not watering it.  I also did a quick Google search of "no water gardening" and found a very helpful book called Gardening Without Irrigation by Steven Solomon.

I won't recap all the info here, but the main idea of the book is growing vegetables without any human-produced irrigation by widening the spacing of vegetable plants and ruthlessly weeding any other plants that sprout around the veggies.  Doing this accomplishes two things: It allows the roots of the vegetable plant to expand quickly and obtain nutrients and water much more easily, as well as creating a "dust mulch," which effectively traps moisture in the subsoil.  But reading something doesn't necessarily make it true, so I wanted to try it out to see how it worked for me.

As you can tell in the video, this method works quite well, at least for the variety of tomato I'm growing.  Except for when I first transplanted it into the ground, I haven't watered my "Rio Grande" tomato plant this entire season.  I will admit that my location has a good bit of rainfall, even in our summers, so it has had a fair amount of water from storms.  But I am very impressed by the fact that it is not just surviving, but flourishing and bursting with tomatoes all up and down the plant.

Getting Started With Permaculture

I've also been trying a completely different gardening method after reading a lot of articles posted on /r/permaculture subreddit.  Permaculture has a lot of different meanings depending on who you ask, but I think everyone agrees that, at the most basic level, it is a way of designing things (like gardens, houses, and resources) to work with nature, rather than against it.  That means actually observing nature and taking cues based on what works naturally in the environment.

Permaculture encompasses a lot of different ideas on what can sustain and rebuild the earth, dealing with anything from edible landscapes to energy-efficient building architecture, and everything in-between.  I decided to start small and work on a simple philosophy in permaculture that basically states that the ground should never be completely bare.  There should always either be plants growing or mulch laying on top of the bare ground.  Another simple tenant of permaculture is to keep the resource loop closed.  Don't import resources from other places, and don't waste the resources you have available.

Blueberries ripening in the front yard

Using these two basic principles of permaculture, I have slowly been covering the majority of my garden with mulch that I've "made" by pulling weeds in my yard.  I already knew mulch is great; it slowly decomposes, adding nutrients to the soil, all while retaining moisture and keeping weeds from sprouting.  However, I was inefficiently putting all my unwanted weeds into my compost pile.  While there's nothing "wrong" with doing this, I decided to take a cue from nature and just drop the weeds around the base of my plants.  After all, when leaves fall off of plants in nature, usually they fall directly underneath the plant itself, providing an effective barrier against the scorching sun and pervasive weeds.  I'm also making use of what is available in the local environment, although I've always tried to do that, if possible.

I will continue this simple method and judge its effectiveness over the next few hot months.  I'm going to continue trying to use what's available in my yard as much as I can, but I want to be sure the mulch is not going to cause an increase in slug damage to my plants.  Mulch provides a cool, moist, dark area that, while also beneficial to the plants, is a haven for slugs.

Final Thoughts

One last thing I have been researching is the use of edible perennial plants in the garden and landscape.  While annual plants are usually the staple crops of the average diet here in the USA, perennial crops have very distinct advantages that are very appealing.  For one, they generally only need to be planted once, and that's it.  Once established, perennials will keep producing for you years and sometimes even decades.  They also need very little fertilizer compared to annuals, which need lots of nutrients to grow quickly and spread seeds before dying off.  Perennial plants can also bridge the winter food gap, when supplies from last winter's garden are low or gone.  They are usually the first patches of green to sprout up during the later winter and early spring season.  I've already unknowingly been putting quite a few common perennials in my garden, like table grapes, raspberries, blueberries and pear trees.  Aside from the pears trees, all the others have produced an abundance for the size of the plants, and with very little compost added by me.  That's enough to convince me to start planting more perennials.  I've already sowed some sage and sorrel seeds, hoping to get them established before the first frost of the year.  I'm looking into planting asparagus and sea kale next year, as well as a variety of other edible perennials.  If you're interested in even more perennials, take a look at this article by Eric Toensmeier for additional plants to grow.

Beans are easy to grow, but they need nutrients just like any other plant

Well, that's about all for this month's update.  Keep checking back for more updates on my frugal veggie garden.  I'm preparing to start a new article series about my progress towards food self-reliance with vegetable gardening, so stick around!

Monday, June 16, 2014

3 Tips to Keep Your Frugal Veggie Garden Healthy and Productive

It's the middle of June and it's getting hot outside!  My frugal veggie garden is growing fast, and I've already harvested quite a bit of my spring veggies.  Although I've not been weighing out my harvests like I intended to do (perhaps next year), my wife and I harvest and eat something from our garden nearly every day.

The peas vines are making good use of my cotton twine "trellis" (i.e. fence)

Snow peas and Sugar Snap peas both ready to eat

My frugal veggie-growing guide includes instructions and details on how to get your garden up and running for minimal money investment, but even a frugal veggie garden needs continual attention and maintenance to keep the plants productive.  Until now, I haven't really discussed the tasks that I am continually doing around the garden now that it is well established.  So today, I am going to share a few tips that I've learned over my few of gardening experience that make the biggest difference in terms of a healthy, happy vegetable garden.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Garden Progress, Late May 2014 - Video Update!

I've been really busy with life in general, and I haven't been able to devote a lot of attention to writing for my blog.  I still wanted to give all my readers an update on how my garden has been doing, though, so I decided to make this post a video update!  I will walk you through various parts of my garden and show you how all of my plants are doing, as well as what I have been harvesting.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Garden Progress, Late April 2014 -- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

It's the last day of April [Edit: Well, it was when I started writing this :P ], and my garden has already had a good share of ups and downs.  Slugs have taken a toll on quite a few of my plants.  Even daily slug slaughter-fests and beer traps, they manage to nibble some of my veggies out of existence.  Despite the slugs, most of my garden is doing very well and progressing as it should for this time of the year.  Let's have a look at what's growing.

Slugs: Always a problem

The Good

The spinach I planted is all doing great.  I've eaten a few baby leaves in some scrambled eggs already, but it has just now reached the point where I can harvest a good amount of leaves on a daily basis without hurting each plant.  I expect to be eating a lot of spinach salad very soon.  The slugs attack my spinach plants as well, but they must not like them nearly as much as my brassica family of plants.

Beets are also doing quite well.  They don't grow quite as fast as spinach, but nothing seems to bother them at all.  I've seen a few nibbles on the edges of the leaves but most of the square foot sections of beets are growing just fine.  Although I tolerate beets grated raw onto salads and cooked in soups, my wife absolutely loves them--for the taste and the colorful leaf display they add to the garden.  I'm happy to grow them since she is such a fan.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Garden Progress, Early April 2014 -- Germination & Dealing With Slugs

My Garden's Progress

Spring has sprung around my neck of the woods.  I've planted quite a variety of veggies, including spinach, carrots, beets, swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, peas and lettuce.  I've also got tomatoes and peppers in pots, ready to be transplanted to the garden once the weather warms up sufficiently.  Today, I am posting an update on how my frugal veggie garden is doing.

Spinach growing well
The spinach is coming along very well, with almost 100% germination in all the spots I've planted it.  It won't be long before we're harvesting it to use for breakfast dishes or salads.

Beets have almost all germinated and seem to be growing well.

Broccoli and kale have all germinated and were growing well, but have recently come under attack from slugs.  I am taking a few different approaches to dealing with them.  We shall see if my efforts pay off.  More info on that in the next section.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money By Growing Your Own Food, Part VI: Planting Your Seeds and Transplants

I have to apologize for the lack of updates to the blog lately.  My son, now nine months old, has finally learned how to crawl.  As such, it's hard to sit down for any length of time to write, as he gets into everything not nailed down!  Little rascal.  Today's article will be worth the wait, though.

After months of planning, preparing and composting, we are finally ready to sow some seeds in our garden outdoors.  If you missed one of the sections of this guide, you can get to Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V by clicking the on each of the links.  They contain important information leading up to this part of the series, so review them if you need to before reading this article.

Today's focus will be on how to plant your seeds and transplants out in the garden, spacing considerations, and general tips on how to best utilize your garden.

This is going to be a mammoth of an article, as there is a lot of information to cover.  So grab a cup of coffee or tea and set aside a bit of time to read and review all the material.  It's planting time!

Make Sure the Soil Is Ready

If you recall Part IV of the guide, we made a nice flat bed with compost and leaves, mixed it all together with the underlying soil, and let it sit for a few weeks to further decompose.  It might have looked a little something like this:

The goal is to further prepare the soil for planting by removing large pieces of debris and leaves, as well as smoothing the ground out.  You can remove obvious chunks by hand, and then use a rake to collect any remaining leaves.  The rake will also allow you to level the bed to a nice, even height.  Once you accomplish this, it should look more like the following picture.

You may notice that there are strings laying over the bed in a grid fashion.  It has to do with a particular method of gardening known as "Square Foot Gardening".  This method will allow us to grow as many plants together in one area as possible.  That leads us to the next section.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The DD's Comprehensive Guide to Saving Money by Growing Your Own Food, Part V: Starting Your Own Transplants

In the previous part of this guide, I wrote that I was going to have the next part of the series dealing with planting your seeds out in the garden, spacing and outdoor germination tips.  Although it's definitely within the realm of possibility for some people to go ahead and plant seeds outdoors, I wanted to talk about starting transplants first, for people who are more adventurous and want a greater variety of plants in their garden.  If you would rather not deal with the obstacles of indoor plant growing, feel free to skip this section for now.  Come back when--not if--you are feeling confident enough to start growing your own transplants.  Trust me, you'll eventually want to.

Why should you start your own transplants in pots?  Well, it depends on what you expect to grow and where you are located.  For some people, growing transplants may not be the best option.  For example, if you live in a tropical or sub-tropical climate area, you may be able to sow seeds outdoors pretty much year round.  Starting transplants may be more of a hassle than it's worth for you.  On the other hand, if you live farther north, where the ground doesn't even thaw out until May, starting transplants may be your only option to ensure a harvest in such a short growing season.  And to further complicate matters, some plants don't like to be transplanted in any growing conditions.  You must take all these factors into account before starting transplants, especially if you are thinking about purchasing indoor lighting to grow them.

Starting Your Own Transplants, the Frugal Way

To start your own transplants from seed, you will require a few things.  The first (and probably easiest) requirement is a source of water.  Secondly, you will need a container to hold the medium and the plant once it starts growing.  You will also need the soil, or medium, used to germinate the seeds.  Finally, and arguably most important, you will need a source of light.  Let's go through each requirement one by one.