Archive for Incessant Rambling

Another rambling post, or how to write a blog about gardening that doesn’t talk about gardening much

It just occurred to me that many people might not understand the subtle significance of my blog titles.  Most people might just not care, who knows?  I think I started out doing it unconsciously, wanting two titles in my blog posts, but I think there was some aspect of naming them that just seemed right.  I wouldn’t want to age myself too much, but I’m doubting how many people younger than me would get the back-story of the “[Title], or [another title here]” reference.  Then again, I doubt many people younger than me might be interested in backyard gardening, do-it-yourself’ing, or even living outside of a city anyways.  Now, granted that is a huge, sweeping generalization, so only take what I said as humorous sarcasm.  Especially if you’re a young’un that is interested in gardening and self-sufficiency, good for you!
Back to the titles.  Many of you may remember the movie “Dr. Stranglove”, some of you may not.  The full title of the movie is called “Dr. Strangelove, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb”, now of course, that’s very hard to put on a movie theater billboard, so it was obviously shortened.  Then, some years later, when the Rocky and Bullwinkle show came out, they played off that title, and most of their episodes were comically named in the same manner.  So of course, whenever I started to think about titles for my blog, two ideas generally popped into my head, a serious one and a not-so-serious one.  “Why play favorites, self?” I asked myself, so naturally I used them both.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I’m sure Dr. Strangelove was guiding my hand, not much unlike the one he couldn’t stop from constantly saluting his fuhrer, or maybe Bullwinkle was saying “Gee Rocky, maybe he should use both titles, since he has a hard enough time picking a table or booth at a restaurant, and paper or plastic at a grocery store”.  Either way, I feel as though I have sufficiently explained myself and my titling style, as well as feeling confidence and satisfaction that I have posted to my blog twice in one week.  A major accomplishment indeed, if one is going with the buffet-method of performance tracking.  No, I don’t mean Warren Buffet, but literally an all-you-can-eat buffet, where quantity triumphs over quality and you leave feeling 10 times worse than when you came in, but happy that you got your money’s worth.  On that note, I hope everyone leaves my blog feeling like they got what they paid for it, because that’s how I feel when I’m done writing.  I don’t get paid, if anyone is even slightly confused.  Just kidding, I do very much enjoy writing down my experiences with gardening and my general thoughts, if only I had more time to do so.  Then again, I should stick to the topic, which is suburban farming, self-sufficiency, a smattering of DIY projects, and hopefully someday chickens.  Yes, I am still determined to get chickens.  But probably not next year either, since a one and a half year old will still be a little too much work to try building a coop and raising more mouths to feed in this family.  I think when my daughter is a little older, maybe 3 or 4, she’ll have more fun watching the chicks grow and will even be able to help out.  Which is exactly why we have children, right?  To help tend to the farm and feed the livestock as we gracefully age and become less able to do anything other than answer questions quicker than the contestants on Jeopardy and waiting around for reruns of Matlock to come on.  I’ll just be happy when I don’t have to load up the dishwasher and clean the house anymore because my kids will do that.
Yeah, I know, I’ll keep dreaming.

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August update, or “Lessons Learned: Part One”

Part one of many, I figure, so I better get started now before my lessons are lost in the part of my brain that has to dump new knowledge to make room for “Futurama” quotes and Jeopardy trivia. I’ll have to deviate at some point to talk about my useless Jeopardy knowledge, but for now, a much belated update from the Suburban farm.

Things have been growing, despite my best unintentional plans to ignore the entire plot for days (WEEKS?!?) at a time. I have a few tomatoes that have survived some sort of mold/fungus/rot. A spaghetti squash and pumpkin that defied all odds to come out looking, well, looking pretty darn good. Also, it’s good to know that not many things will eat cayenne peppers. They do very well against drought too. The only downside is that there is a very finite amount of culinary creations you can do with a bushel of cayenne peppers.

“Ultra spicy omelets today? Eat up, I have a cayenne-carrot cake for a treat later!”

Sunflower and Peppers

I’ll most likely dry most of them out and make crushed red pepper flakes or grind them up in a spice grinder to make ground cayenne pepper.

The sunflower head was the second one that I’ve harvested. Those turned out really well also. However, I found out that stinkbugs like sunflower seeds. If you live where there are stinkbugs, cover your sunflower heads when they start to droop, because what happens to the seeds is the bugs eat a little of it, but it ruins the whole seed. When a stinkbug eats, it basically spits into the seed/fruit/veggie, and the spit dissolves some of what it’s trying to eat. The bug will have a little, but then wander off, leaving you with a pocked and possibly rotting harvest. In the case of the sunflowers, the stinkbugs turned the seeds inside brown. So I guess they’ll have to go to the birds this year.

Additionally, the cherry tomatoes are still growing better than crabgrass out front, so that’s great. The corn and beans on the other hand…there’s always next year.

Which leads me to my first lesson learned: Don’t start a garden if you have a newborn. Maybe you can do better, but from my experience, a baby is not only a very poor helper, they are an active ANTI-helper. While a toddler can’t help you weed or plant seedlings, they are more or less independent and can follow you around the yard. A baby on the other hand requires someone watching/holding/feeding/tending them constantly, so they prevent you from otherwise being outside doing something to stop the onslaught of weeds and rabbits from overtaking your best laid plans of self-sufficiency. Even now, as I attempt to translate coherent thoughts into interesting reading, I have a baby that is trying to unplug the laptop, pull all the hair off our dog, UNfold all of the laundry, and for the rest of the time maintain a high degree of satisfaction at achieving “the loudest one in the house” award. Believe me, it was a hard award to win. I come from a long line of loud-talkers, and there is never a quiet moment in this house between me and a dog that likes to bark everything: a car going by, a phone ringing, the TV, the wind, the lack of wind, someone outside, someone’s talking, it’s too quiet in the house, etc. So, when to start a garden? I’m not sure, I’ll let you know in year two, or three, or four…..

Lesson two: If you start seedlings indoors or in a greenhouse, give some away or make a plan on where to plant them. I got carried away because I decided to plant 12 of each variety of tomato seed that I bought (four varieties, 48 total tomato seedlings). When they all germinated and started growing wonderfully, I thought “Gee, I better till up enough room for them”, so my initial 10×20′ garden plot morphed into the 20×60′ plot that I had now (it could be even larger, I still have yet to measure it, partially out of fear). If you’re like me and love starting the seeds, then keep a few, but give the rest away. I hate the thought of wasting them, so throwing them away was out of the question. If they look really good, you could even try selling them. As expensive as they are at nurseries, if you sold them for a couple of dollars, you could at least get your neighbors to take them off your hands and earn some money to buy more garden toys.

Lesson three: Organic farming is an ideal to strive for. But in reality, insecticide powder is pretty awesome. It saved my eggplants from flea beetles, it kept Japanese beetles off my grape vines, and rescued a spaghetti squash from an army of hungry unidentified beetles. I tended to use the insecticide on hard-rind plants, or for leaves on plants (like the eggplant and grape vines). The beetles didn’t eat the actual eggplants, so I only needed to apply it to the inedible leaves. I will keep on trying to grow organic vegetables, and I hope raised beds and better soil will help, but in the end I will defend my garden and will use all weapons at my disposal to protect my harvest. I have read that a good defense is high-quality soil, since the plants will be stronger from having a huge amount of nutrients to pull from and recover from insect attacks. My compost pile will hopefully yield some good-quality soil for next year. Plus, with raised beds, installing floating row covers is a little easier, and if the bugs can’t get to the plants, they can’t hurt them.

I’ll come back to the lessons a little later as I remember more of them. I’m also going to update the garden layout picture, since the final layout differed quite a bit from my original plan. That will probably be in the next post. For the rest of this post, I’m going to post some of the harvest that I’ve managed to pull off, which surprised even me.

…and believe me, I set the bar pretty low once I realized what I had gotten myself into.

Front Stoop Cherry Tomato Plant2

Okay, first up are the cherry tomato plants. The one in the front right is some kind of mutant plant, because it’s just growing out of control. For every cherry tomato that I pluck off of it, it seems like another bunch of four to eight blossoms appear in its place. Of course this is embarrassing, as my wife pointed out, that these plants happen to be in our front yard right as you walk up to our house. She says that she would like to help me out and pick some of the tomatoes too, but she’s worried that a snake might be hiding out in the plants and attack her. I sensed a little sarcasm in her voice, but I think she was probably laying it on pretty thick.

Roma Tomatoes

Here are a few Roma tomatoes that made it out of the garden alive. I didn’t get a picture of the big boy tomatoes (they were eaten before I could even come back with a camera), but I harvested a few of those as well. I started some basil late in the season, but with the hot days we’ve been getting lately, along with me actually remembering to water them and planting them in containers with miracle-grow soil, they are already full-grown. So whenever I came in with some tomatoes and basil in my hands, they were promptly turned into caprese salads. My wife says that the tomatoes are delicious, so I’m glad that they turned out so well. I would have had a much bigger harvest if I had kept the weeds down and fertilized the garden, but a half-dozen or so tomatoes isn’t bad, considering the amount of effort I put in. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been completely lazy, I spent probably 4 or 5 weekends out there for about 3-4 hours each time. However, it wasn’t enough to keep the garden looking as it should, and given the size of it, it would have needed another one or two people helping even with an additional few hours each day of work.

Corn1

This is, unfortunately, one of my better ears of corn. Now, keep in mind this was on unfertilized bare soil, with no irrigation, and maybe 25% of the seeds actually germinating. I certainly wouldn’t try to eat this myself, but I know a few birds or deer that would be happy with this, so I’ll leave it out for them when it starts getting cooler out. Better luck next year, right? I’m going to plant the corn more densely packed when I get the raised beds built. If I don’t have to worry about walking between the rows, I can plant them as close as recommended. I’ve seen some fields planted with corn that the stalks are practically on top of each other. Another use for these ears of corn this fall, is to hang them up around the outside of the house as decoration. Considering that when I showed my wife the ear of corn, she jumped back and was totally grossed out, I would say it could make a pretty good Halloween prop.

Corn2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, now for the squash and pumpkin that I was actually impressed with when I found them.

PumpkinSpaghetti Squash

They had actually been hidden from view by the huge leaves that grow on the vine, so I didn’t even notice them until a few days ago when the leaves started dying back. The squash is a spaghetti squash, and I grew it since my wife doesn’t eat gluten. She isn’t celiac, but eating gluten causes her to feel bloaty and nauseous. I try to help when I can, and growing the squash is my attempt at giving her a good supply of alternatives to gluten. Spaghetti squash can be used as a substitute in any pasta dish that calls for spaghetti or angel hair pasta. It probably could be used for any pasta dish, but the noodle dishes match up the best. The pumpkin is the pie variety, so I’m going to try to run it through my food mill and make some pumpkin puree for either pumpkin lattes or some homemade pumpkin pie.

 

 

Lastly, I made some cuttings from my blueberry bush. This had been on my to-do list since June, but I hadn’t had time to get to it. June or July would have been ideal for making the cuttings, since the leaves are already starting to turn, and you’ll see in the pictures that they’ve been eaten by bugs a little. It hopefully isn’t fatal, but it weakens the new plants from the start. After buying two more blueberry bushes this spring at $7 each, I realized that my idea of a blueberry grove would get VERY expensive. I did some research and found out that blueberries do very well taken from cuttings.

Rooting CompoundSo I bought some rooting compound, and found a good branch that was a second-year growth. Now, I know it’s not technically called a branch, but I’m a little distracted at the moment to look up what they’re called on blueberry bushes, I’ll trust that you can Google it and sound smarter than me when you’re talking about it to your friends. (Update: I remembered this morning that they’re called “canes”)

cutting stock

From that second-year branch (to right: the main branch is the second-year growth), I cut off the side shoots, which are this years growth. I snipped off the bottom few leaves, dipped that in water and then dipped the cutting into the rooting compound. After that I put the cuttings into a pot (or solo cup in this case) of peat moss and vermiculite. I’ll let the roots set up for the rest of the summer and fall, and then keep them inside for the winter to guard them from frost. If I didn’t wait too long, they should set up some good starter roots, and will be ready to transplant into the ground next spring. I’ll probably keep them under grow lights as long as the leaves are still green and on the cuttings. Hopefully ever bit of light helps.

 

 

 

blueberry cuttings1

Here are the pictures of the cuttings, sitting happily at the moment in the potting soil that I made for them. I’ll let you all know how they turn out over time, since this is almost a completely free way of making more blueberry bushes from the ones you already have. I made six cuttings in total, so I’m figuring that if they survive until next spring, I just saved myself $42.Blueberry cuttings2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, that’s all for tonight. I had planned on doing the first installment of my gardening product reviews, but it’s getting late and I’ll need time to regroup my thoughts. I received a few items from Gardeners.com from my mom, and since I had a free-shipping coupon, I ordered a few other things. While I like some of the things I have, there are others that could definitely be improved upon (or just not purchased). More on that in the next post though.

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Water, Water, Everywhere; but not a drop when you need it

For anyone that lives in the DC Metro area, if you find yourself wondering where the sun has gone, and if it seems like it has rained every day for the past month; you are definitely not alone. There is a certain cruel irony for gardeners here in Maryland, which is that it rains nearly daily in February through April, and then the summer can be very dry. Now, that’s not always the case, as I remember a June and July about 2 or 3 years ago that felt as wet as it does right now. However, for the past 2 years, I’ve found myself supplementing my deck garden crops with “bought water” during the hot and dry summer months. Which brings me to my topic for today.

Free water.

Yes, water should always be free, and no that does not make me a communist. Now, I don’t believe that water should be given away when it is pumped, desalinated, or processed; there are costs that are associated with that and we can’t allow people to frivolously waste a finite resource by giving it to them for nothing. I do believe that when water falls from the sky, anyone fortunate enough to hold out a cup should be allowed to drink freely from said cup.

You have a 55 gallon rain barrel? More power to you! That’s a lot of cups to drink from.

Now, while it was technically feasible for me to install a rain barrel at my old house, I wanted to keep my rather smallish deck clear of too much clutter. I was sure my wife would put her foot down regarding a large barrel next to our deck door. Now, however, there is a yard that I can take advantage of, not to mention a larger roof in which to collect the water.

You too can join the rain collection club; it’s easy and can be cheap too! There are just a few things to consider before starting:

 

Here is the link to the list. After I started writing it, it turned into a major rambling rant, so I decided to preserve space by making the list a separate page.

 

Once I start construction of the rain barrels, I will post some pictures of the various stages of construction for everyone to see and hopefully learn from all my (many) mistakes that I’m sure to make.

So, now that you have decided to make the plunge and set up a rain collection system, now what?

-First gather your supplies after determining how much water you want to be able to store. Here is a link for a simple rain barrel.

-Second, determine if you will be using a first flush diverter, and if you will be just be buying one, or making one.

-Third, find a place to put the rain water collection system

-Fourth, build it

-Fifth, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You now are the proud owner of a completed rain barrel.

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