Sunday, March 15, 2015

What's Happening In the Dow Dominion Garden for the 2015 Season

March in the mountains of North Carolina is the beginning of the gardening season, and I have a lot to accomplish this month.  In today's post, I will give you the rundown of the typical tasks I complete to get the garden ready for planting, as well as some of the new things I am trying out this year.

Winter Sowing Containers Spring to Life

It's been a few weeks since I covered the subject of winter sowing, and how it might benefit people looking for an easy way to germinate seeds without lights or indoor space.  When I made the video showing exactly how to winter sow seeds, I also took the opportunity to make a bunch of containers for myself.  Most of them were flowers or herbs, but I made a few containers full of various varieties of spinach seed as well.  These containers have been peacefully sitting in my garden through most of the winter, albeit without much activity.

With Spring just a few weeks away, some of those winter sowing containers are beginning to show signs of life.  My winter sown spinach, pictured in it's container above, has already sprouted, so I will get to enjoy my first spinach leaves of this batch much earlier than the batch I directly sowed in the ground earlier this week.  My first set of bachelor button seedlings have appeared as well, which was one of the favorite flowers enjoyed by pollinators in my yard last year.

Observing the little seedlings growing in my containers got me motivated to start prepping the main vegetable beds.  I decided to expand my garden this year, using the space that was last year's compost pile as a new planting bed.  I spread the compost out over the various other beds that needed it, and used some of it to fertilize existing plants that are just now starting to show signs of life (more on that in a bit).  After all the compost was used, I was left with a nice flat, fertile piece of ground that's ready to be used to grow winter-sown seedlings and other various plants.

Despite the fact that I am using the winter sowing method to grow certain veggies this year, I decided to also start some seeds indoors this year as a backup in case certain winter sown seeds for some reason don't work.  Most of the seeds I'm starting indoors are specialty tomato seeds, with another flat with two varieties of peppers.  I don't have a lot of room to work with inside, so that was all I could fit under my light setup.  I'm still waiting on my peppers to germinate, but all of the tomatoes have sprouted and developed into fine looking seedlings.  All except one variety, that is... and I chalk that up to bad seed.  In any case, I will probably have more than enough tomato plants to use in my yard this year.

This was my garden a mere two weeks ago.  Note my winter sowing containers in the middle.

Compost, the Universal Fertilizer

It's pretty obvious that I really like compost.  I've written a whole article on the stuff, and I routinely mention it when referencing plants and the nutrients they need.  Once again, I decided to use compost as my only source of nutrients for plants this year, in order to keep my overall gardening costs down.  And I expect the compost to, once again, deliver outstanding results.

After years of adding compost, my soil is changing colors from red to brown
However, there is one issue with using home made compost as the only fertilizer in the garden.  There's only so much of it to go around before it's gone!  I even tried using it sparingly, but there are just so many plants to feed, it's hard to keep a supply handy for mid-season crops.  I used quite a bit for the first round of peas, as well as the main garden bed that will be used to grow spinach, carrots, beets, lettuce and onions.  Then I spread some over the other back yard garden beds, which will have a combination of vegetables and flowers for pollinators.  I also spread compost over the multitude of raspberry vines we have growing, and I gave the blueberry beds in the front yard a good dose of the stuff, too.  Finally, I gave each of my pear trees a couple of shovel's full of the good stuff.  At this point, I only had about a single scoop left to use for my tomato bed which will be located in the front yard.

As bad as that sounds, I am not too worried about my plants being nutrient deficient.  They certainly won't break any records for size, but I've learned that organic mulching can greatly improve the fertility of the soil while also serving other important functions like conserving moisture and reducing weeds.  Last year, I didn't apply compost to my rows of peas and beans at all, but I did use organic mulches, like grass clippings, weeds and shredded leaves, around the base of the plants.  After recently tilling in some additional compost to those rows this year, I noticed that the soil where the mulch was laid last season is incredibly fluffy and dark.  At first I was somewhat perplexed, but after thinking about it, all those layers of mulch being digested and broken down month after month last year must have really improved the overall tilth and texture of the soil, despite never adding any additional materials to it until just this month.  I plan on using the same system on the tomato bed this year.  With any luck, I'll have great results to show for it again.

Mulch may be vastly more important than it seems...

New Stuff For 2015

As I mentioned earlier, I'm also trying out some new plants and methods this year that I've never done before.

My specialty tomatoes will be a first for 2015.  I have several varieties I'm looking forward to eating, including KBX (an orange beefsteak tomato with supposedly outstanding flavor), Delicious (a prize-winning heirloom tomato), and Brandy Boy (a pink beefsteak hybrid known for its high yield).  In fact, I'm even competing in an amateur tomato growing contest over on the GardenWeb forums, to see who can grow the largest Brandy Boy tomatoes!  It will be a great time for all participants to exchange knowledge and perhaps even a bit of friendly trash-talking.  Check it out by clicking here.

KBX tomato (image credit: eloquinn of GardenWeb)

I'm also trying out a new variety of pepper this year that I received in a trade on the GardenWeb forums.  It's known as "Yummy Snacking Pepper" and the person I traded with claimed that the peppers that he grew of this variety were so sweet, it was a pleasure just to simply pick them off the plant and eat them raw.  I can hardly wait to test that out for myself!  Another pepper that I enjoyed last year, "Hungarian Wax," will have a spot once again in my garden this season.  It's basically a high productive banana pepper with a kick.  I didn't even realize how good they were last year until the very end of the season, when it finally had enough light to produce a few peppers for me to harvest.  This year will be different, and I hope to have several of these pepper plants going to provide me with a glut of peppers for stir fry dishes.

This year, I am also planning on trying to create new blueberry bushes out of cuttings from the ones I already have established.  Blueberry plants are quite expensive, especially mature plants.  If I can grow more plants by getting the cuttings to root, it will substantially reduce or eliminate the cost of buying more from professional growers while still increasing my blueberry yield.  It might not work, but it's worth a shot.

Final Thoughts

I've got too much to do, and not much time to do it!  March always seems so hectic as it is a race to get seeds and plants growing before the heat kicks in and a new round of seeds and plants take their place.  Fortunately, once the plants are established, I can kick back and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of my labor, with just a little bit of general maintenance throughout the rest of the season.  Expect lot of new articles and posts in the coming months as I share my knowledge and experience via this blog and YouTube videos.  Stay tuned for more.  Happy gardening.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

How To Make A Winter Sowing Container

Winter Sowing
Here's a brief summary on how winter sowing may improve your self-reliance.

  • Winter sowing allows you to start a large amount of plants from seed with reduced costs and work compared to growing seedlings indoors.
  • Reduces trash that ends up in landfill by using common, recycled materials.
  • Eliminates risk of plant death to overexposure (transplants are already hardened from sun/wind burn and some cold snaps), and reduces risk of pest problems.
  • A passive approach makes winter sowing easy and generally problem-free.

Last month, I began recording my progress towards self-reliance with an article about high-efficiency artificial lighting for decreased home energy consumption.  Today,  I am going to change gears a bit and talk about an important part of creating a sustainable and reliable food supply.

In order to be released from the choke hold of the modern grocery store, one must somehow provide themselves the bulk of their caloric needs from their own land.  And to do that, one must grow a LOT of food.  Furthermore, one must have a continuous supply of this food through the growing season.

Now I don't want to go off-topic by getting into the exact numbers of plants a family needs to grow in order to supply the majority of their food from their own land.  However, we can assume that in order to have a self-reliant food supply from one's own property, one would need to start by growing a lot of plants from seed.

Today's article is going to be explaining how to do just that: Starting plants from seed easily, frugally and efficiently by using a method know as "Winter Sowing."

Flowering plants are easy to winter sow, but will it work for vegetables as well?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Is the Egg Industry Fooling You Into Thinking Eggs Are Healthy? A Review of a Study On Eggs and Cholesterol Levels and Weight

Some scientific studies have shown eggs aren't harmful for your heart.  But is that the truth, or are these studies fundamentally flawed?  Here's a brief look at today's research review.

  • The study under review today claims that eating eggs does not affect cholesterol levels in the body, but the researchers tested cholesterol levels after a 10-hour fast.
  • Participants who ate eggs in the study for just three months showed modest rises in fasted cholesterol levels, though not enough of a change to be considered statistically significant.
  • The researchers had almost no control over the subjects' diets, making it practically impossible to draw conclusions from the data collected.
  • This study uses other poorly designed scientific experiments as citations for its hypothesis, building further upon already flawed research.  
  • Unsurprisingly, this study was funded by the American Egg Board.

For a long time, I thought eggs were a nutritious food.  They have lots of choline, a decent amount of protein, and a moderate amount of calories.  Eggs are generally cheap, filling and tasty to boot, which made them a main stay in my breakfast meal for most of my life.

But are they really that nutritious?  I've changed my mind about eggs being healthy, due to a large variety of research I've been reading over the past few weeks.

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Journey Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting

Formerly "Moving Towards Self-Reliance, Part I: High Efficiency Lighting"

I've been slowly working towards my goal of being self-reliant in food, water, energy and finances.  Today, I want to discuss how to become more energy-efficient as part of the larger goal of becoming self-reliant.  More specifically, I want to talk about high efficiency lighting.

Do Light Bulbs Really Use That Much Energy?


According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, artificial lighting accounts for at least 10% of the typical American's total energy usage in their homes.  Various other sources claim even larger figures, with some experts citing that lighting can make up as high 30% of the annual electricity usage.

It's hard to imagine that a simple light bulb would use that much of total energy a house expends throughout the year.  Indeed, even the most inefficient light bulbs don't use that much power compared to other appliances, like refrigerators or clothes dryers.

Hardly anyone uses just one light bulb in most rooms in a typical house, however.  The combined sum of wattage used by light bulbs can quickly surpass that of larger, power-hungry appliances, especially when left on for long periods of time.

Obviously, turning off lights when not in use will save energy and money.  However, most of us like having artificial lighting, especially at night when we would accomplish nothing without said lighting.

Artificial lighting may be necessary, but we can choose specific types of light bulbs to significantly reduce our energy usage.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Garden Progress, Early September 2014 - Helpful Tips and Tricks from the Dow Dominion Garden

It took me longer than expected to post an update of my frugal veggie garden since my last article, but fear not!  Today, I've posted a new video going over some of the routine tasks I do in the garden, as well as some other tips and tricks I've picked up along the way this season.  I also do a tour around my garden (what's left of it, anyway) to show my readers what I am growing right now and what plants are still producing from the last sowing.  Here's a few highlights of the video:

  • What material I compost 
  • How often to turn the compost pile
  • How many tomato plants I expect to need to feed my family during the next growing season
  • Lots of mulching advice and recommendations
  • Fall gardening experiments
  • Beans, beans and more beans!
  • A primer on winter sowing
  • And more...

I hope you guys enjoy the video.  Let me know if there are any specific questions you would like answered, or any particular topics you would like to have me cover.  Stay tuned for further videos and articles!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Learning From 2014's Successes and Failures So Far

The weather has been strange lately.  Very strange.  The last week of July produced temperatures cold enough to need a comforter on my bed during the nights.  We normally expect to turn the AC on around this time of year, but it felt more like a nice, cool week in the fall, not smack-dab in the middle of summer.  So we decided to open the windows instead, to save money on electricity and to get some fresh air in the house.  It seemed very unusual, but we were welcoming of lower temperatures none-the-less.

My garden has gone through a number of changes over the past few weeks.  Most of my cool season vegetables have produced what they could and died off.  A majority of the summer crops are now producing ripe, delicious food.  Beautiful flowers that attract pollinators and predators have started to bloom, and I've started to sow more veggie seeds for the fall.  It's been a pretty bountiful gardening season, but despite that, I'm already starting to plan and design how next year's garden will be set up.

Today's post is going to be a review of what worked (and what didn't work) in my garden this season.  It's important for me to keep a record of these things, because I can further improve upon my successes, and either fix or avoid the failures that I had this year.  I think I have mentioned before that I would like to eventually have 80-90% of my family's food grown from our garden, and accurate record-keeping is necessary to move towards that goal.

So let's take a look at my successes and failures over the spring and summer this year, and how that will influence my garden's design for the next season.

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.