Friday, April 30, 2010

No chickens today.

But I have a good reason: I was busy all day with work, helping someone move, and then an anniversary date. Yes, that's right, today is our 12th anniversary. Okay, by today, I mean April 30th. Because May 1st is not our anniversary-- that's my birthday.

So because I was busy all day, I still haven't taken the pictures I feel like I should use for my piece on the chickens. Thus, I will instead share some thoughts on basic organic weed control. This will apply to weed control in the garden

Weeds, contrary to many novice gardeners' belief, are not the bane of organic gardeners' existence. In truth, it's the bugs that really cause problems. But just as in the case with garden pests, there are some nice organic solutions to the weed problem which can help your garden flourish. These solutions can be broken down into two categories: prevention and elimination.


The old adage of "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" applies to weeds particularly well. Here are some of the more choice organic approaches to preventing weeds from growing in your beloved garden patch.

*Black plastic weed-blocker. This material is easy to come by at most nurseries and home improvement outlets. It is very simple. When you have your garden patch ready, with all of the manure or other organic materials tilled in and the soil well prepared, cover the patch completely with the black plastic weed-blocker. That's right, cover the whole patch.

When you're ready to put your seeds or seedlings into the ground, you can simply cut holes into the weed-blocker cloth for your plants to grow through. What's nice is that most of this cloth is porous enough to allow water to get through and keep the plants you want to grow fed. However, this writer has found that laying out soaker hose and then covering the patch with the cloth works best.

*Mulching. This approach is simple, but is not quite as reliable as the weed-blocker cloth. The intent is the same: to not allow the weeds to grow. However, arranging mulch around your plants and seeded areas simply doesn't work as well to block weeds. This is because the weed seeds that come from the trees or plants nearby can still work their way through the piles of mulch and establish themselves.
The benefit of using mulch, on the other hand, is that mulch is a nice organic material that fertilizes even while it is blocking weeds from growing.

*Soil cultivation. As you work the soil of your garden plot, you will naturally be helping it become healthier. You will also be eliminating any old established roots of weeds and grass that were already there. I know a woman who has been nurturing her garden plot for over twenty years. She has no problems whatsoever with weeds.


*Organic herbicides. There are several effective organic herbicides on the market today. These include AllDown, Xpress and Matran 2. These have been shown to be more effective on emerging weeds than on established weeds, but they can still help with established weeds.

But that's not all! Some organic gardeners have found that vinegar can be an effective herbicide as well. To try this out, use a sponge to apply your household vinegar onto the leaves of the weeds you want to kill. You can also try this with soap, but most soaps will not kill weeds.

*Manual destruction. In the desert, some folks use a portable propane torch to burn weeds out of their garden areas. This is effective and is also a permanent solution. If done carefully, this approach will do no damage to the garden plants you are nurturing.

Another manual approach to weeds is to simply pull them. In order to increase your ability to pull weeds easily and completely, water well the day before you are going to weed. This will soften the ground, making it easier to pull weeds. You can also use a hoe to cut down weeds en masse, although this will leave the roots in most cases. But as a quick fix to large amounts of young weeds, the hoe can't be beaten.

Ultimately, using organic approaches to killing weeds is a choice that each gardener has to make individually. What it comes down to is whether you are willing to do a little extra work to keep the soil of your garden properly balanced.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I know I said I'd discuss chickens

but I think it would be a better thing to talk about compost today. I will try to get to chickens tomorrow. I also hope to have a guest blogger in the next couple of days. Exciting!

So on to composting.

Garbage dumps smell. So do landfills. This is probably the case because these places are full of the rotting waste and detritus of thousands of people. If you’re looking for motivation to compost, you might try taking a walk around one of these blights on the landscape. Then it might also help to know that when most families start composting, the volume of garbage that they produce is reduced by about 30%.

So if you’re just hoping to reduce your impact on the environment, composting is a great way to go. But if you’re also looking for a cost-effective, relatively easy, and ultimately educational way to get great fertilizer and dirt, composting tops the list of things you can do.

Whether you live in a condo with no yard, a townhome with less than 100 square feet of lawn space, a house with a nice-sized back yard, or anything in between, you can compost. In other words, no matter what your living situation, you can compost. To learn about composting, you could Google ‘compost’ and quickly become overwhelmed by the myriad resources available. In doing this, you could also learn about thermophilic microorganisms, and mycorrhizae. But why would you complicate things when composting is actually an incredibly simple process?

See, the thing is that when plants grow, they take in carbon dioxide from the air and nutrients and water from the earth. Then when they die, they naturally decompose and return those elements and materials back to the earth. So the truth is that when we compost, we are simply taking part in a natural process that has been going on for millions of years. Thus, in order for us to be able to compost and take advantage of the multitudinous benefits of doing so, we just need to imitate nature.

There are plenty of methods and approaches to composting, but they can basically be summed up into two categories: closed container and piles.

Closed Container
Modern closed containers look essentially like barrels propped on their sides on a stand. These barrels have an opening through which organic materials, such as vegetable and garden leavings, are placed into the container. With that opening sealed closed, the barrel is rotated on its axis, combining old materials with the newer materials. These containers also have air vents.

Closed containers work well because they obey the three principles of good composting: stirring, air and shade. When you rotate the barrel, you stir the materials, thus eliminating noxious fumes that might build up under layers of inert plant material. Air is necessary because it helps the plant material break down. Shade keeps things from drying out, which is necessary because moisture also enables the process of decomposition.

Barrel composters come in a variety of sizes. The urban composter who specializes in indoor or container gardening can actually get a composter that they can put on their kitchen counter. Usually coming in an attractive shade of green, these small composters, if used correctly, will keep even the most sensitive of noses happy.

You can also find container composters that vary in size from four feet to six feet tall. Some of these composters are designed to create a wonderful organic tea that is full of nutrients. This type of composter works in much the same way as other container composters, but they have a way for the fluids that are produced through the process of decomposition to seep out and get caught in a tray. Some of these composters can hold up to four gallons of nutrient-filled liquid.

Make a pile
If you’ve got some space in your yard, making a compost pile can be the easiest and most straightforward way to get your compost going. To make a compost pile, you need to find a relatively shady area in your yard. If you can find a shady spot that also gets hit by your regular lawn watering, you will be in business.

With your compost spot chosen, all you need to do now is collect your grass and leaves, as well as your organic kitchen waste and then deposit all of this on your spot. You can even add egg shells and bread leavings to this pile. Then keep it moist. Wait two weeks before doing anything, making sure you are consistent with adding organic materials to the pile.

After two weeks, use a pitchfork to turn the pile over. Your objective here is two-fold: get air into the pile and move the top layers to the middle of the pile. You should, after these first two weeks, have some nicely decomposing organic material that is black and moist-looking. If you have kept your compost pile wet, you should also see quite a few healthy worms in your pile as you turn it over. Worms are your friends; they help break down the organic material into delicious dirt for your garden.

Your compost pile doesn’t need to cover much ground, and this can be helped if you put a containing frame around it. This can be done using 1”x6” boards as retaining walls. Of course, if you really want to make a fancy compost, and you have plenty of space, you can use the increasingly popular three-tiered system. 

Here's a helpful image: 

This system utilizes three different sections, numbered 1, 2 and 3. Number 1 is the farthest to the right, where you place your fresh organic waste. If you keep it all wet, in two to three weeks you can turn the material in number 1 over into number 2. Then a few weeks later you can move the fully decomposed material into number 3 by sifting it through a wire mesh. The compost waits in number 3 for you to put it to use. 

Notice in the first picture that there is a shelf-looking thing across the top of #3, but in the next image it is across #2. It is hinged. When you sift material through it into #3, big chunks are often left behind. Simply swing the mesh shelf over to #2 to dump the chunks back. 

You might be intrigued by the three-tiered system, and this is fine. But all you really need to remember if you want to start composting is that anyone can do it. Whether you use a low-cost container composter in your home, a large barrel in your backyard or a compost pile, you will be able to reap the myriad benefits of making your own compost.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Planting a fruit tree or bush

Alright friends, so maybe you've decided to put in a fruit tree. What a great idea!

Before you go off and buy the first fruit tree that you see, make sure you think about what fruit trees other people in your area have and are successful with. For example, here under the Wasatch Mountains, I'm not going to have any success with a mango tree or an avocado tree.

I don't like avocados anyway.

But peach, pear, apricot, cherry, plum, apple-- these will all do well in these parts.

So step one is to find a good tree. First off, if you are a cost cutter like my family is, you will likely buy a bare-root tree. You could get a tree with roots, dirt pack and all covered with a canvas bag, but that's just not necessary. I'm going to assume you are going to go with a bare-root tree.

Now, a tree is good if it has healthy roots and some new growth. Healthy roots are not brittle, are moist, and will have small, hairy bits growing off of the bigger roots. If you are going to have the seller deliver, be sure that they are going to keep the roots nice and moist during delivery of the tree. If you are going to take the tree, bring along a black trash bag with wet dirt in it. You will stick the trees roots in the bag to protect them somewhat. 

However, understand that you need to get that tree in the ground fast. Without regular dirt and its nutrients and moisture, those roots are going to be exposed to all of the elements and they will start dying fast. So, while you are digging and preparing the hole, be sure to keep the roots moist and in the shade or in the bag. 

The hole comes next. This is where your artistic nature comes into play and memories of building sandcastles will flood your mind. So think about depth first. The hole should be deep to the point that when the tree is placed in it, the crown, which is where the roots all branch down from the trunk, is a couple inches above ground. Why? Because the tree is going to settle naturally and you don't want the trunk flare to go too deeply underground. What is the trunk flare? The spot right above the crown.

Next you need to help those roots start out right. So since you are planting a bare-root tree, you need to give those roots support. Which means you need to build a mound of dirt in the center of the hole. When you place your tree in the hole, the roots need to be gently spread all around this mound. Thus, the mound you build will be inside the root system. The mound should be nice and packed so that the tree will be held firmly, but it does not need to be rock hard. Some settling is allowable.

Now that you have finished the hole and the supportive mound, get that tree in there! As you replace the soil, you can add some nice fertilizer to help the roots find their way into a firm home. A good fertilizer is Mycorrhizal Fungi, which you can find at Then, with the dirt all replaced, tamp it down tight and water. The next day, pack it down again to make sure your tree is not going to fall down. 

Feel free to water again, but then leave the tree for a few days. This will wake roots up and get them working to find water. Also, make sure that water is not going to pool too long in the area around the base of the tree, as that will sometimes cause the tree to weaken and fall.

Finally, keep an eye on the tree and be confident that nature will take its course and your tree will flourish. 

These same principles apply to planting bushes. Remember: 
  • A nice deep hole.
  • A mound to spread the roots out on.
  • Fertilizer to get things started. 
  • Strategic watering. 
  • Trust in nature. 
And that's it for today. Remember to share this site with your gardening friends. I would also love to have you comment with questions, links to other helpful gardening sites, and any other thoughts you might have. 

See you tomorrow, when I will discuss the chickens a little more in depth. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nature's providence

Thought I'd get a job I'd been interviewing for. Found out today that this is just another job, in a series of jobs, that is strangely beyond my grasp.

But on to nature's providence.

First, I'm listening to Promontory off the soundtrack to Last of the Mohicans. 

I hope there are moments where you can stop and breathe quietly, taking in the world and its magnificence. If you find yourself wondering what I mean, try this:

*Step outside. Yes, you can do this now.
*No matter where you are standing, you should be able to look up and see the sky.
*What is between you and that vast swath of multi-layered gases up there? Can you feel any wind? Do you know how that wind is made? Do you understand the complexity of the air you are breathing, the interplay between the sun's heat, gravity and the atmosphere and our planet's gravity?
*If you can feel wind, think about skin. The sensations you can feel: smooth, cold, soft, rough, dry, wet, and so on.
*What do you hear? Cars? Birds? Wind murmuring through leaves?
*Atmosphere, wind, skin, gravity, heat. Waves of light, sound, and sensation. The marvelous complexity of a single moment.
*Not such a simple moment anymore.

This is creation: the organization of potential into the knowledge of a moment and a place.

Your garden, lawn and other areas of your stewardship provide opportunities for creation.

Today, I wanted to write a bit about chickens and another area where our labors provide for us.

Here are some chickens:

We have seven chickens. Annemarie, my wife, could tell you what type they are; she provides the majority of their care. I'll spend more time another day discussing what has gone into the getting and raising of these hens, but today I'll just say that they have a good life and we get from three to six eggs a day from them. We have learned a lot from them and they will probably pay for themselves in another six months.

There is something that feels more complete inside when you watch your kids interacting with chickens as the chickens eat pests and weeds. There is something miraculous about a little girl who has a terrible phobia of animals who, when her family raises four chickens from chick to hen, completely and naturally overcomes that phobia. In my heart, these chickens have paid for themselves because my daughter plays with them, cats, dogs and recently had a pet earthworm.

I had an assistant this morning with the chickens. He put on his rubber boots before heading out to the messy coop:

At the coop, he went right to the laying boxes and poked through all of them:

He found one:

I love my assistant.

Nature provides so much, if we open our lives to it. There is work, much of it repetitive and mundane, but in the very banality of that work are the moments of connection. Connection to creation, to firmament and to life.

Last year we planted two very young fruit trees.

Here is the peach tree:

The cage around it is a tomato cage surrounded by chicken wire. I put this on because in fall of last year, we had deer essentially stripping it down past its bark. I wanted my tree to live, so this has been its protection. It's looking good. The cage will come off soon.

Here's the pear tree:
It's smaller, but it's doing well so far.

We also have a raspberry bush, still quite young but doing well:

All three fruitful trees/bushes set us back less than fifty bucks total. The fruit, work and connections they will provide are worth far more than that half-benjamin.

It's a great time to put in a fruit tree or bush. I'll discuss how that can be done tomorrow. There is a particular art to it.

My friends, I hope your day is filled with moments of peace and happiness. I also hope you will pass this site along to your friends, family and enemies. If you're enjoying it, so will they.

Until tomorrow.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Progress report on the lawn

Okay. Part of having a provident garden is being aware of the earth, soil, elements and everything else that might be a part of the ecosystem we are working in. This planet is providing us with the food and other necessities that we have and it is sheer selfish ignorance to not think to the future as we work today.

This is about stewardship, not global warming, so back off Mr. Gore.

I mention this because you might be tempted to call a lawn care company to come in and kill all of the weeds in your garden. Or you might be tempted to get a few packages of chemicals with which to kill weeds and fertilize your lawn.

I believe that we are better stewards when we use the principles of nature to make our lawns look lovely. A lovely lawn is also healthy for us-- it produces loads of oxygen. In fact, a lawn that is 50 feet by 50 feet produces enough oxygen for a family of four. Grass is a very efficient producer of oxygen due to the fact that a plant produces oxygen based on how much of the plant is green. So for a tree, it is the green leaves that do the delicious deed while the trunk does not. For grass, it is the entire blade that makes oxygen.

All of this while reducing carbon dioxide and other bad gases.

I'm not saying grass is better than a tree or two, but healthy, thick, lush grass is very good for your family--better than patchy, struggling grass. And adding chemicals to make a lawn healthier is essentially an oxymoron-- add toxic stuff to reduce toxic stuff.


So all this is said to encourage organic and chemical-free lawn care as you make your yard yummy.


and behold again:

If you compare this to two weeks previous, before I de-thatched, mowed, reseeded and watered regularly: can see that there is some improvement. Yes, the light is different, but the grass is already a little thicker and has a more vibrant color.

Look at the detail. Here is the before detail shot:

and here is the one from two weeks later:

See how the brown patches are disappearing and how the grass is thickening?

No chemicals.

Remember that I first raked this-- which was plenty of work, don't get me wrong.

But remember that I had this assistant:

... so it was made better by how charming little Mr. B. can be.

After raking, I mowed to pick up more debris and get the soil more ready. Then I reseeded with straight seed-- no additives. Since then, I have kept the soil moist by watering a little in the morning and a little in the evening. We also had some rain-which helped.

I won't mow for at least one more week. That will give the seed time to sprout and establish itself better.

I feel great when I see my improving lawn. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction that I have wrought this lovely work of art in partnership with nature-- not opposing it with chemicals and the like. I feel more connected to the earth and the world around me when I water my lawn, standing in the presence of the Wasatch Mountains.

I even get to say hi to the multitude of joggers that pass by while I'm out front.

Provo is replete with joggers. One morning, during my ride to work- which is about a 2 mile, fifteen minute bike ride up a lame hill- I counted over twenty joggers.

Tomorrow, we will talk sustenance. Real sustenance from this land. Specifically: chickens and fruit trees.

Remember to share with your friends, family and enemies!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Moving right along

Today let's just take a little look at the tomato and other plant starts. I'll write a little about maintenance of these starts and what we can expect from them in the next couple of days.

But for starters, here's what needs to be happening, provident garden-wise, in order to maximize your garden's yield.

Garden soil really ought to be turned over about now.

    • If you are starting from scratch, you will either be turning over lapsed garden soil or grass. 
      • Lapsed garden soil
        • If where you live has an existing garden patch that has not been used recently, I call this lapsed. You could call it dormant, like a volcano, but that sounds rather magma-like, so I'll stick with 'lapsed,' thanks!
        • Best thing to do with lapsed soil is to spread a thin blanket of mulch, manure, grass, leaves or any other nice organic materials over your garden. You could spread any combination of the above as well.
        • Next, either hand-till (with a spade (okay, a shovel)) the patch or use a good tiller. Roto-tillers can be rented easily. In my area, I call Ace Rents. 
        • Spread the soil evenly. Don't get too OCD about this. 
        • Water the soil every three to five days. This will get worms in your soil-- and they are magicians. You want them. 
      • Grass
        • If you will be working in a space that has grass or other plant-life, you want to remove it first, of course. 
        • To remove grass, first use your shovel (spade!) to outline the patch. Just dig straight down about six inches all around the patch's edge.
        • Next, use a spade/shovel to get down about two or three inches under the grass. Slide the shovel under there, cutting sheets of sod off. If you are careful, you can get good at this and end up with some nice pieces of sod. Use them to patch your yard in places! 
        • Once the sod is gone, add a layer of mulch, manure or whatever, then till it in as explained above. 
      • Other
        • You could also do some lasagna gardening!
        • Choose your sunny space.
        • Lay down a layer of cardboard to fill the space.
        • Add a layer of leaves, grass or other organic material. Sticks and other tough materials won't really do it. 
        • Add a layer of newspaper. 
        • Add a layer of dirt. 
        • Add another layer of organic material. 
        • Add a layer of mulch. 
        • Plant right in there. No roto- or hand-tilling required. 
    • With your garden soil turned over, be sure to water every few days. Keep any neighborhood cats out-- you don't want cat crap in there. 
    • If you are thinking you want a border around your garden, now is the time to get one in. I have no recommendations on this, as everything I've tried has been cheap and has not worked. I will probably go with arsenic-free railroad ties the next time I try. 
    • Make sure you have all the seeds you need. 
    • It would be good to have an idea of how you will use your space. Be like me and draw up a complicated schematic! Or don't.
Okay, so that's what we want to be doing right now. 

Here are my starts so far!

Here are some of the tomato plants. They are nearly 1 inch tall and have two leaves so far. This is significant. I'll talk about that more in a later post. 

They are looking good, no? 

Here are pumpkins: 

Alright, so maintenance of starts is easy. I water them every two-to-three days. The idea is to keep the dirt moist while they germinate, but then let the dirt dry out some after they've sprouted. This helps to establish roots.

As I've mentioned before, this is a great window for starts. Did you see how some of them were sort of bending in a certain direction? You will notice that they start bending toward the sunlight so that their leaves maximize their exposure. I don't want curvy plants, so I turn them every few days.

Those pumpkins are getting big already. I will be transplanting them by next Saturday so that there is one plant per 4-inch pot.

FYI, only one type of my eggplant has sprouted so far. This is fine; eggplant sometimes takes a while.

I realized that I didn't mention anything about how many seeds to plant when you are doing starts. This is up to you: how many plants you want and how much of a cushion you want to allow for dud seeds or dying plants. I plant two or three per cup to make sure I get everything I want and I usually keep everything that grows. This gives me extras. I sell them later in the season, when they are ready to go in the ground.

So that's it for today. May your garden be provident. Tomorrow I will write about my lawn and I'll post pictures. It's looking great.

Remember to share!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Heirloom seeds

I said I would post every day. I have not. Plenty of reasons and I don't like any of them as excuses. So I'll just apologize and repent.

I will post every day now.

So today, I wanted to talk about heirloom seeds.

Heirloom seeds, contrary to what you might think based on their name, are not highly valuable items of great importance to your family, which are handed down from generation to generation. This is not to say that you cannot call a pumpkin seed that your grandmother dipped in shellac and glued to a lovely box an heirloom.

You can call whatever you want an 'heirloom.'

But heirloom seeds are a very specific thing. You've probably heard of organic seeds. These are seeds taken from organic-raised, probably non-hybrid or genetically engineered, plants. These organic seeds are then prepared and packaged in a process much like that for any other seed. Heirloom seeds are not just organic seeds.

Heirloom seeds are a special type of seed that more and more people are getting into. This type of seed produces a plant that  can essentially self-propagate. In other words, you can take an heirloom Black Cherry tomato fruit off the bush, remove a couple of seeds, allow them to dry, store them for the season, and then plant them the following season.

Have you tried to do this with regular seeds you buy from the box or grocery stores? Sometimes, this will work; you plant a pumpkin seed from last year's plant or a seed from your jack o' lantern. But usually, this won't work out. Your fruits will not grow well or they will not look the same or be the same.

This happens because most seeds are hybrid seeds that have been genetically engineered to produce a certain type of fruit. They are not engineered to self-propagate. So getting those seeds to grow and propagate the same, healthy strain is really more miss than hit. And what is more, the system that is in place for producing and buying these seeds is one of consumption that is ongoing. In other words, you will always have to buy new seeds next year.

Heirloom seeds hark back to more traditional, classic approaches to farming. They are more provident seeds, because you won't have to go back and buy more seeds next year as long as you remember to harvest and process the seeds at the end of the growing season.

Now, an important caveat here is that most people who use heirloom seeds are really into their gardening. They like to experiment with new types of plants, veggies and fruit. Thus, they keep the heirloom seed market going. On the other hand, it is entirely possible for a gardener to choose a given set of plants that she wants to grow for the rest of her life. She can plant those one year, then harvest her seeds and plant them again the following year. And so on. She will never have to buy seeds again.

This won't happen with regular store-bought seeds as well as many organic seeds.

The value of heirloom seeds becomes pretty apparent, doesn't it?

A final note to keep in mind is that heirloom seeds can be considered more natural and traditional. They have traits that have been around for ages. Given this, you will often find that heirloom seeds produce tastier fruit. The fruit is also just as lovely as you would expect from any other seeds.

If you want to check out some heirloom seeds and try them out in your garden, do a Google search and you will find plenty of options for outlets from which you can buy them.

And that's today's post. See you tomorrow.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday, April 19th--Tomatoes etc

I didn't post Sunday because I am lame. It's also because I'm still trying to figure out what I feel would be an appropriate post for the Sabbath.

Yes, I'm a very Christian dude. LDS, in fact.

But on to today's post! I thought it would be good to write about getting tomatoes and other things started inside, since now is the time to be doing that. I ought to point out that I live in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. Thus, what I do is what works (or what I hope works) here.

By the way, on Pandora right now: Cover Me by Springsteen.

Okay. So, if you want to do your own tomato starts, now is the time to have them in their little planter pods. We actually got ours in late-- about nine days ago. We will still make it, and I'll talk about why in a minute, but here's where we do our starts:

This is, as you can see, a large window sill/shelf. It is in a room on the south end of our house, and it conveniently faces east. So when the sun peeks over the mountains we live under, it immediately starts shining on this spot. On good days, we probably get about six hours of blindingly bright sun there.

Notice the philodendron. See how the leaves go up to the left? Yeah, so that vine stretches about twenty feet from there, lining the top of the treatment lining the top of these windows and their colleagues on the south side of the room. Then there is a jar of spider plant babies getting roots. Then there is a potted spider plant. It is one of seven in the house.

Now playing on Pandora: In the Name of Love by U2

Now here's a closer shot of the starts:

The thing to remember is that you need to find a spot with plenty of sun and that is out of reach of kiddies. If you have a cat, you need to train that cat to stay away. Our cat, Tally, is still being trained. My lovely wife rescued the Black Cherry starts today.


Now playing on Pandora: Busted Stuff by Dave Matthews Band

The other thing you want to do is start gathering these little planters. I would guess there's a technical or trade term for them, but I don't know it. You see those yellow styrofoam-y things under them? Those are to catch water-- which you will need. We saved and sterilized the styrofoam trays that our sausages and meats came in for a while. They are small, lightweight, and you probably see that the planters fit perfectly. Add to that the fact that they store easily and they're pretty much awesome.

Alright, so now let's see where we are with our starts:

These are the Black Cherry plants. You can see that, though, can't you? That's because those popsicle sticks are absolutely perfect for keeping track of the seeds you plant. Son #2 is a devoted crafter, and he had a box that started with 300 of these. He had a few to spare and I used black sharpie on them. Very utilitarian and easy to use.

Can you make out the small plants there? They are just over 1/2 inch tall so far. Pale green stems and two long, narrow leaves coming out the top.

Here are some more:

These are called 'Marianna's Peace.' We have never planted these before; they were a gift from a local friend named Shirley. She's a tomato master and always tries a few new tomatoes each year.

Now playing on Pandora: Domino by Van Morrison.

Some more:

Nice big sprout in the Pink Ponderosa, another which we have not tried before.

Earlier I mentioned that we planted these later than we really wanted to. I was swamped with school and Annemarie was swamped with nutzo cool kids and work. But we will make it and still get a solid crop. This is because we can get these in the ground in the first week of June and still be fine. I usually put them in the ground in the second or third week of May, but that probably won't happen this year.

But I am accelerating their growth, so you never know.

Now playing on Pandora: Hard Candy by Counting Crows.

How am I accelerating their growth? Now that we have sprouts, I am turning on this lamp every evening:

This should keep things actively growing for a little longer each day. We will see if it works.

Today's assistant, because she is extremely cute:

This is Lily on Sunday. She is wearing her Easter dress and loves to pick dandelions. Notice that my yard has none, but she does this kind service for our neighbors. I say they can pick dandelions and keep them outside, but they have to pick them before they go to seed.

Anyway, that's it for today. I hope the info about starts helps. It's really not hard to start your own tomatoes. You just need a good, safe sunny spot; the little planter pots; a water catcher to go under the little pots; and then some bigger pots to transplant the starts to when they're bigger. We save our yogurt containers; I'll show you those another time.

Put seeds in dirt, water them, and make sure they have sun. Guess what? They'll grow.

Tomorrow I'll talk a little bit about heirloom seeds.

I hope your garden is provident this year. Feel free to share this site with friends!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The opening post: Lawn and Garden and Root-bound

Today was a Saturday, so it was a big day in the whole gardening/landscaping area.

I spent the first major part of my day working on my front yard. Yes, I know, this isn't exactly part of a garden that provides sustenance, but there's great satisfaction in creating a lush, verdant swath of fescue and ryegrass and bluegrass-- all without chemicals.

So here's what I saw this morning when I stepped outside to get started. My grass has been greening up and is beginning to show some real life.

You might have noticed the curvaceous flower bed bordering my yard-- you know, the thing with the rocks lining about two-thirds of it. That has a growing strawberry patch, a large bunch of daisies, several spots of salvia, phlox and a lot of stonecrop in it.

Yes, I tore out the yard to make the flower bed. No, you don't want me to get into that very much-- way more work than I expected!

So I thought I'd take a more close-up picture of my yard. As you can see, that green swath was really the forest, but not the trees. Lots of thatch on that yard. I like some thatch; it keeps weeds under control and is a nice, natural mulch fertilizer, but it was clear something had to be done.

I was not looking forward to it, but I needed to rake the entire yard. Now, if you are one of the lucky ones, you either own a scarifier, or you can rent one easily. Not so much with me.

What's a scarifier? This is a machine that is essentially a power rake. You run it over your lawn and it shreds thatch-- pulling it up and doing a pretty fine job of it.

Let me break in here with a link or two to articles on dethatching your lawn and your lawn's first mowing:

Alright, back to business.

So you can use a scarifier, or use a rake.

I used a fan rake. Yes, I got double blisters on my hands. Yes, I hurt even now. No, I don't regret it. Here are some shots of how things looked as I went.

This is one third done. I started on the side to the right of this photo and raked toward the left, or east, side of the lawn.

No, there is no particular reason for this choice. It just appealed to me. Maybe I wanted to rebel against the sun's trajectory.

Anyway, that semi-haphazard pile that is sort of across the yard is the grass and leaves and other debris I had scraped up with my fan rake.

Here's another pic. I'm about half done here.

I was wondering if I had bitten off more than I could chew at this point.

But hey, take a look at all of that dead grass and other debris! Good times, eh?

You're asking, "Who's that charming little figure over there by the spigot?" And you're saying, "He's obviously being very helpful by turning the water on and off. And every time it turns on, he is being extra great because he caterwauls at the water that comes fizzing out of the loose connection and sprays him on the face."

That's my assistant for the day.

He's nearly two and he's awesome. He's number five and his name is Benjamin.

He's wearing a Boston Red Sox onesie. He inherits his teams in the same manner that his father did.

Anyway, back to the gardening. So I got the dethatching done. It took me about two hours to get it all raked.

After dethatching, I wanted to be sure I prepared my yard well so I could reseed. If you don't know what this means, let me gently caress you with some knowledge. Reseeding is when you build your turf by laying seed in your existing yard.

So I knew that by dethatching so vigorously, I had loosened the top inch or so of soil in my yard. My next step is to mow quickly, with the grass bag attached, to gather the loose thatch that had escaped my piles. I do this also to get my grass a little shorter, expose the soil a bit more, and in order to not have to mow for a couple of weeks while the new seeds sprout and take hold.

FYI: I lower the mower so it's leaving about 2 1/2 inches of grass.

With the mowing done, I decided to soften things up a little more by watering the entire yard briefly.

Note the sprinkler.

Now I have left out an important part of my organic lawn care. Many folks have to deal with lame weeds in their yard-- me included. We deal with crabgrass, creeping charlie, and dandelions mostly. Here's what I do: I carry around a dandelion slayer with me when I work outside. Every time I see a weed, I slay it with this handy dandy tool. Here:

Alright, the tool is not technically called a dandelion slayer, but it is made to remove dandelions permanently. And that leafy plant isn't a dandelion. It might be a phlox-like weed, but it doesn't really matter, because it had  to leave my yard.

I used that tool there to remove it and about thirty dandelion plants. Considering the fact that it takes me about thirty seconds or less to remove a dandelion, this is time well spent.

Anyway, once the yard had been watered briefly, I reseeded. I used a package of regular, straight seeds. It was a mixture of ryegrass, kentucky bluegrass (also good music!), and fescue. This is good stuff for high-traffic in my mountain conditions. I sprinkled it lightly all over the yard, then watered again to get the seeds weighed down and on their way to germination.

The final product for today:

Compare this shot with the first one above. Things are even-looking and the grass looks like a nicely brushed head of hair. But no greener yet. That will take time.

As for the provident garden, I did a bit of work there too. The thatch and clippings I gathered went into my compost. Then I watered my compost to get the decomposition process going. I also did some clearing of the garden patches in preparation for the soil to be fully tilled next week.

We will be tilling by hand again this year. We need to be able to handle the work. Yes, we have over 300 square feet of veggie garden space.

We can take it.

My final project was to deal with an extraordinarily root-bound spider plant. This plant is called Phoenix. I will tell you why later. I found a nice-sized planter pot, tossed some rocks in the bottom for drainage, added two inches of compost dirt (tasty!), and then pulled the poor Phoenix out of her old pot. This is what she looked like after fifteen minutes of me loosening roots:


I ended up spraying the root pack with a water bottle quite liberally. That helped a lot. Then I got her planted in some nice fresh soil in a far bigger pot. She went from a 6" pot to a 12" pot.

I felt like I could hear her say, "Ahhhh" as I patted soil around her.

She's back in place, hanging from a tough ceiling hook in the kids' room.

I also did laundry today, but that's just bragging!

This is a long post. I hope it's helpful.

If you feel like the Provident Garden is helpful, I invite you to pass along word. More people doing good things with the earth and self-reliance will do more good for our society than we can imagine.

See you tomorrow.