Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mar-Duke Farms Allotment: Day 1

About a week ago, the community garden opened up for planting!  I immediately drove to check it out and got very excited.  The amount of space I have rented is a nice size and the soil looks nice with minimal weeds.  This past weekend I spent about ten hours on getting it ready.  Looking at it above it sure doesn't look like it!

The first issue was the fencing.  I used green snow fence type netting attached to purchased plastic coated metal plant stakes.  It lasted all of about 45 minutes before our winds started, caught the fabric and bend the poles down to the ground.  Sigh.  Plan B it is.

After removing the above mangled poles I went and purchased some coated steel ones.  Then on the two sides of the garden where I was less concerned about human invasion I lowered the netting down a foot in a half in height.  Big winds again last night and it is still holding.  It took hours to do but will be worth it.  This community garden has a lot of geese traffic and I don't want them in their pooping and ripping out plants. I am also trying to minimize human theft as there is a public parking lot behind the bushes on the right.  I really do like my space though.  The grassy area off to the side gets shade and is a nice place to rest.  Most of the other plots have zero shade anywhere near them.  I do have to walk a bit to haul water but, its exercise!

Once I got the fencing up, I started getting  some plants in the ground.  It took a long time.  Mostly because my muscles and body were not ready for all that digging.  I completed 2 beds that were roughly 4x4 and 1 bed that is 4x6.  I did not til.  Rather I added some organic fertilizer and gypsum to the surface plus some compost.  Then dug up around the sides to mound it up and then wiggled the amendments in a bit.  I am seeing some worm traffic which was encouraging but virtually no organic material which was not.  So I am working to fix that.

In Bed one I planted Peppermint celery seedlings I started in February,  Chinese Kale, Beet seeds and two kinds of spinach (Monteux and one other I forgot the name of)  In bed 2 I planted red cabbage, purple peacock broccoli and I forgot what else.  In the big bed I planted fennel off by itself because all the plants hate fennel, watermelon radishes and two kinds of cuke (lemon and Poinsett). 

The day I planted was really warm 80's.  I was shocked how few people were actually out getting things ready.  I suspect many in this area follow the last anticipated frost date to the letter which in my opinion is silly.  There is plenty that does fine with chilly temps.  Of course the day after planting temps dropped to the 40's and it started raining.  Everything will be fine.  The cukes are in their wall of waters and everything else does not mind the chilly.  I have a lot of plants I need to get in the ground now from sprouted seedlings.  I'm happy for the 2" of rain we have gotten but fingers crossed it starts warming up.  I have strawberry popcorn to plant!  Goal tomorrow is get the pond filtration running so I can focus on my new allotment plantings all weekend.  Here is a close-up of the planted beds so far with their leaf mulch blanket.

Friday, April 1, 2016

This week's garden related tasks

This is the time of year that there is not much to do.  Its too wet to do much outside and I'm running out of room to plant any more inside.  I've summed up the week's activities below.

Monday:  move seedlings outside am
                move seedlings inside pm
Tuesday:  move seedlings outside am
                move seedlings inside pm
Wednesday:  move seedlings outside am
               Replant more seeds for things that did not sprout yet (peppers and eggplants)
              move plants inside pm
Thursday:  move plants outside
             bottom fertilize with Organic Neptunes Gold Fish and Seaweed (stinky!)
            Move stinky plants inside pm
            burn candle to try to cover stinky fish scent
           open windows
           give up and go to bed
Friday:  4pm  move plants outside-forgot to do it earlier
            4:30 pm move plants inside to save them from the hail.

Tomorrow if the weather is decent its time for spring pond clean-up. (blech)  Plan B is continue wiht the really good book I'm reading.   Fingers crossed for rain! 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ice Rink and the Giant Balls of Plastic

This yard's backyard rink was a gamble due to el Nino.  A gamble that we should not have taken.  We only got a single day of skating in.  It really was no one thing that destroyed the season, but the weather sure did not help.  The first issue was injuries and time.  My son took a crosscheck to the back in early fall that tore up his shoulder.  It took awhile to heal so the rink went up late.  Since he has grown we went really big this year.  80 feed by 40 feet.  That was one large (and expensive) piece of 6mm plastic!  We got it put up no problem and got it filled but the cold weather did not come.  Then hockey season started in full force and he was on a league that traveled to Michigan (we live in Illinois) virtually every weekend.  So time was limited; not that the ice was really that skatable.  Too soft and thin because it was too warm.  Things started looking up in mid-January the day after he finally got a skate in, we lost all the water under the ice.  MOLES.  The ground never really froze very hard and they chewed through the liner in multiple places to get at the water.  I hope the little shits drowned in the resulting tsunami. In one day they completely destroyed a $300 liner.  In the end, it didn't matter that much though because that weekend he took another illegal hit and broke his fingers so skating with stick was off the table again.  Plus it never really got cold enough after that to give us good ice.  We had more than one wading in waders session, cleaning leaves out of the pond. 

So yesterday was clean up the carnage day.  I would have liked to use the liner again for at least another year but it was a total loss, too many mole holes.  People think that leaving plastic on the yard over winter kills the grass.  It does not.  The grass under the liner actually greens up faster than the rest of the lawn.  If you leave the boards on the lawn too long you will get some grass kill but not enough to be able to see it a few weeks later.  This year we did have some actually damage though.  Mole tunnels.  The paved them under the boards and they were very busy.  Ice rink put away is the only think I really don't like about backyard rinks.  The boards are no big deal but man handling that ginormous piece of plastic that gets kind of slimy over the winter is not so much fun.  So this year I decided the kiddo was big enough to do it solo!  And he did.  He is 80% done.  Observe and admire.  On other blogs you get lovely tulips and daffodils.  At Mutiny in the Garden you get a yard full of giant plastic balls!
Oh well, at least the grass is getting green.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

Tomato Seedlings Day 19

Drat!  I left town for two days and the babies did not got enough light while I was gone.  They have gone and stretched beyond where I like them to be for their first transplant.  This is not really a big deal with tomato seedlings.  If you have the time, mine seem to do better with a transplant to a bigger container before their final move into the garden.

When I transplant tomato seedlings I try to transplant them as deep as I can get them, preferably right up to the bottom of their lowest leaves.  This allows them to develop lots of new roots along the buried stem and makes for a stronger plant.  Some of these seedlings were unfortunately so tall that even with bending the stem a little, they were still much higher than I like.  Oh well I'll get them deep when they go into the garden.

The first transplant is also when I do the first and only thinning.  I go down to one plant of each variety except for Chocolate stripes.  I need to save seed from that one this year so I am keeping two to be on the safe side.  Throwing out tomato seedlings makes me a little sad, but they grow so much faster without roommates in their pots, its worth it.

I've lost one seedling this spring.  Striped Roman only had one seed sprout and it croaked.  That variety is notoriously wimpy when small and my seedling.  I'm not going to replant.  I have enough tomatoes.  I did replant a few other things where germination has been poor.  Some peppers and leeks today.

The last chore of the day was the first fertilization of the new transplants.  I use Organic Neptunes Gold Fish and Seaweed fertilizer to get the trace nutrients.  It STINKS but just for a little bit.  Its a very gentle fertilizer (2-3-1) but the plants seem to do well with it at this stage.  Here is a picture of some of the kids all potted up.  The plants on the right are as deep as I like to go.  The ones on the left are showing too much stem!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Potatoes from Seed

    This year I am chitting (encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting) only a 
handful of seed potatoes.  Six Rose Fin Apple potatoes and six organic Purple Majesty    are all happily spouting on my counter.  I hate having potatoes sprouting on the counter, and that is what first made me take a look at growing potatoes from seed a number of years ago.
    My research led me to a number of video's by Tom Wagner who specializes in breeding unique potato and tomato varieties.  His technique seemed straight forward and I gave it a wing and it worked.  I grew them in some homemade bags I made out of landscaping fabric and got a pile of potatoes from tiny little seeds.  It almost seemed like magic, to be getting that amount of food out of such a tiny thing.  That is why this year I am again growing potatoes from seed.
     On March 6th I planted six cells of Purple Valley and six cells of All Blue.  I wasn't sure what was going to happen.  This is older seed and no longer available on Tom's website.  That fact wants me to grow these even more and save the seed and keep them going!
Purple Valley is doing well.  Virtually 100% germination.  Second leaves look like they will be coming this week. 

All Blue is not doing as well.  Only one seedling in one cell so far.  I will give it a bit more time as the seeds are years old.  It will be fun to see yields of the seeds versus the seed potatoes.  I will be growing them in different plots though.  One of the benefits of the seeds is that there is significantly less chance of them bringing disease into the garden due to the way they are processed.  The other big advantage is significantly more options in your selections.  I suspect that the seed potatoes will move faster but there is something magical about getting anything at all from a seed the size of a period.  So I won't be giving up my potato seeds anytime soon, regardless of which produces better.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Planning without Information

I'm in a bit of a pickle right now.  I have hundreds of seeds sprouting and I want to start more.  Before I start more seeds I would like to have some assurance that I will have room for it all.  The extra space I've rented via the allotment this summer seems like I should have a lot of room but I have zero information about those spaces.  I really should have paid more attention when it was time to rent them.  Taken a picture of the plot map or something.  Right now I don't know anything, thus the pickle.

I've never done this allotment thing before. It seems very common in the UK but there they seem to have more permanent attachments to their spaces.  Here in the US this allotment is only mine for a few months and then back to the Park District it goes.

I've tried searching the web for information about where I am renting and alas there is nothing out there.  I don't know if my plot runs east to west or north to south.  Where does the sun hit?  Where do the taller plants need to be sited?  How far from the water am I.  I don't want to carry tons and hoses are not allowed.  Temporary fences are allowed but do I need them?  Gah.  If anyone happens upon this post in a similar search can you clue a fellow Mar-Duker in?

I found a single photo of the site.  It was not helpful. 
I tried driving to the site to scope it out and access is chained off until it opens for the season.  I guess I will do the only thing I really can do right now.  Plant more seeds and keep my fingers crossed...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Spring 2016 Seed Selection: Tomatoes

2016 Tomatoes Selected

 photo tomatoes_zpshw9jy2ur.jpgI prefer to grow my tomatoes from seeds for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost I love the variety available to me via on-line seed sources.  Sites such a Adaptive Seeds, Heritage Seeds, Tatiana's and the Seed Savers exchange are great sources for both heirlooms and the unique.  I've found that a pack of well sourced seeds can last for years.  This year I am growing some varieties that were first purchased back in 2008.  My selections this year tend to follow my usual requirements.  They must have excellent taste, be productive in my zone and be generally reported to be reasonably disease resistant on forums such as Tomatoville.  In my zone I lean towards mid-season varieties as the long season varieties tend to leave me with too many greenies on the vine in fall.

I planted these babies on 3/6/2016.  Eight days later all but a few are up.  I expect the older seed to take a little longer.  Here are the varieties I chose for this year and why they made the cut.  The last three on my list I added a couple of days ago.  Because I had room!
  1. Forest Fire:  Early, 60 Days with very good flavor and productivity.                                        
  2. Chocolate Stripes: My seed. Gorgeous, unique neon stripes.  Productive with very good flavor
  3. Striped Roman: Long, meaty productive sauce, pretty colorization.  Productive.  Good flavor
  4. Amazon Chocolate: Mid-season black with very good flavor.  Good Producer. 
  5. Indian Stripe: midseason compact. Purple beefsteak  Excellent producer.  Taste is exquisite.
  6. Porkchop: mid-season yellow with green stripes.  Great flavor. 
  7. African Queen: Late season. Pink Beef steaks 1#.  Very good producer.  Excellent taste
  8. Marizol Bratka: midseason 1# potato leaf, dark pink with outstanding flavor
  9. Sibirskiy Velikan Rozovyi: midseason hearts/beefsteaks, excellent flavor, heavy producer
  10. Eva Purple Ball x Big Beef: Productive disease resistant with good taste.  F3 so not yet stable
  11. Neves x Brandywine: F3.  Disease resistant cross.  Very productive.  Taste Good.  Salad size
  12. Galinas: Sweet fruity highly productive cherry.  Vines get huge.  Early producer.
  13. Darby Red and Yellow:  Early 60 days, red with yellow stripes.  Flavor excellent.
  14. Earls Faux: mid-season 1-1.5# pink beefsteak.  Award winning flavor.  Good production.
  15. Anna Russian: Early oxheart.  Gorgeous.  rich complex flavor.  Very reliable.
  16. Aunt Ginnys Purple: Mid-season vigorous.  Exceptionally flavored pink beefsteaks
  17. Siletz:  Early red slicers.  Productive.  Taste is good for an early
  18. Crnkovic Yugoslavian:  mid-season.  reliable.  large pink sweet beefsteaks, excellent flavor
  19. Black Seaman: Mid-season.  Productive.  Stunning pieces of art when cut.  Delicious.
  20. Hillbilly Potato Leaf: Mid-Season.  Beautiful Bi-color 1# beefsteaks.  Sweet.  Heavy Producer
  21. Black Cherry:  Very tasty cherry when you get good seed.  Many bad seed sources out there.
  22. Seattle's Woolly Blue Mammoth:  Very fuzzy.  Very blue.  Cool looking plant.  productive
  23. Orange Russian 117: Bicolor 8 oz oxhearts. Meaty and very delicious.  Mid-season. 
  24. Black Krim: Very disease resistant in IL.  wonderfully flavored black.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Mar-Duke Farms: The Next Adventure

Wow, how time flies.  My last post was in 2012 and occurred approximately three days before a giant wind storm collapsed my beautiful pond cover into the pond. This was immediately followed by a  cold snap that froze the mangled mess of plastic partially under the ice for the entire winter.   It was discouraging at first.  Then I realized I didn't have a prayer to fix it until the spring thaw so I could ignore it the entire winter.   I didn't have much hope for the fish but they lived!  Proof yet again that understocking a pond leaves a lot of room for user error.

 photo inice.jpg

Pond cover collapse was not the reason for my long absence.  I have nothing more interesting to offer than I got busy and this blog dropped below the list of achievable items in my daily list of to dos.  I've missed it occasionally, toyed with the idea of picking it up occasionally but have not wanted to do that until I was sure I was back in for another decent run.  Finally, today, I think I am.

I've been inspired to take on a new adventure.  It began yesterday morning when on an impulse I googled the park district's community garden allotment site to see if they still had plots for spring/summer rental.  Actually it probably began three days prior when I raised the notion of a few raised beds in the one area of my yard with decent all day sun and was told by my spousal unit that that would "look stupid".  My yard is full of trees and the lack of enough full sun positions has been an ongoing source of frustration for me.   Yesterday morning I decide that rather than start a raised bed battle, I would check into community gardening plot rental.

I googled Mar-Duke farms (the community garden plot) at 8:57am on 3/5/2016.  The message that came up was that plot rental was occurring on 3/5/2016 from 9-10am.  Gah! My panicked brain decided that that message meant that I had 1 hour to make it happen this year (probably less because I was envisioning arriving tail end to a hopeless giant line of people). It was a sign to get moving!  I got ready in record time, making it to the Park District by 9:30am.  I broke the speed limit and raced through the parking lot for no reason.  There were 4 people in the room.  My adrenaline was still going though so I eyed the people in the room (clearly my competition) and gah! One of the people, definitely had his eye on the plot I immediately decided I wanted most (after checking out the plot map for a whole 3 minutes).  Please note that my crazy was completely unwarranted since there are 450 plots and only about 1/3 were gone when I got there. Yes, I am embarrassed.   I rushed to complete the paperwork.  Alas, tall guy still got the one I wanted most.  The one right next to the spigot.

I appeased myself by grabbing the one next door and its neighbor!  Yes that's right.  I went for one plot and left with two plots.  Two plots that are 20x30' EACH.  About two minutes after paying the $68 per plot I realized that , whoa.  That is way more space than I am used to gardening.  WAY more space.  I then did the only logical thing I could do.  I went home, examined my enormous box-o-seeds.  Acknowledged that I had enough seeds to plant 5 times the area of my two new plots.  Ignored that fact and went out an bought more seeds.

This should be an interesting season.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter Cover: Attempt number 2

I've decided to try a pond cover this year.  There are two reasons for this.  First, it is an attempt to make winter less stressful for my fishy friends.  Second, to keep all of the winter blown leaves, seeds, sticks etc and you never image you be a factor in the winter, until you get a pond.

My first attempt at a pond cover was a big Ole fail.  I criss crossed multiple 2x6 beams across the pond in sort of a spider web pattern and then caulked different sections of plastic to each area.  I can't remember why I didn't cover it with just a single giant sheet.  That might have held up a little longer but in the end would have failed for the same reason this did.  Water is really heavy.  Rain drops water on plastic, which stretches it forming deeper and heavier pools until the caulk gives and the cover fails.

Attempt number two was full of adventure.  I decided to make a sort of tunnel over the pond, out of bent PVC.  I didn't build it over the pond though.  I build it on the driveway.  Picture a sort of skeleton of PVC that is 26 feet long and 20 feet wide.  Now picture a lone person moving said structure down the driveway, through the yard, between trees that are 15 feet apart and over a fence.  It was, er interesting.  Almost as interesting as getting each side of it on opposite sides of the pond.  (Eventually completed by just dumping one end in the water and fishing it out.

Raising the structure was easy, as was getting the plastic over the top.  It looked most excellent until the first big windstorm (40mph gusts) when it tried to blow away.  I eventually made it heavier with an additional top of 6mm plastic and disassembled half of the circle garden blocks to weight it down.  It has held up to recent winds OK.  Snow will likely destroy it but at least it is buying me a bit of time.  The inside of the tunnels is like a rain forest.  Condensation coats the sides.  I moved my wheel planter in there and planted some beets and lettuce to see if I can get a winter harvest out of the project.  That's if winter ever gets here.  Today was 64 degrees.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Finished Pond Pictures

We got the last few boulders in two days ago and the plantings and fish are maturing nicely.  Here are some shots of the area at the peak of the heat wave.  Building this was so much work but not that it is done, work to maintain is nothing more than emptying the leaf bucket, topping off the water and once a week hosing down the skimmer pad.  The fish are tame, and come up to be fed.  Red Head Fred continues his trickery, now his head is mostly white with a few orange speckles.  The amount of enjoyment we are getting from the area is immense.  Even with the heat, we are hanging out here multiple times a day.  All an all, this project was well worth all the bandaids, and sweat and dollars.