Archive for Seeding / Planting

Crabgrass is coming, but it’s not too late to stop it!

For any readers in the MD/DC/VA area, if you haven’t had time to put down pre-emergent, it’s not too late.  There are several different methods for determining when to apply crabgrass preventer.   There are certain plants that bloom just prior to crabgrass, and I always forget which ones they are.  There’s also the technique of looking for young crabgrass sprouts on the edges of your driveway or house, since the thinking goes that crabgrass needs warmer temperatures to germinate, and those locations warm up faster.

However, it you’re like me and you forget to look around your driveway or against your house before you leave for work every morning, there’s a handy little website that tracks historical data and will let you know when you’re getting close to crabgrass germination time.  Now, it’s not live data as far as I know, so unusually warm or cold springs will be off on the forecast pictures, but for your average working stiff, close is good enough when you have other things to worry about than total crabgrass annihilation.  The important thing is not to apply too early, since the pre-emergent only lasts a few weeks in the soil; and not to apply too late, because there’s nothing the pre-emergent will do if the crabgrass is already germinated.

Before I post the pictures, I’m also going to give you the link, since it’ll be easier to go directly to that website to get daily updates, and also so I don’t violate any copyright laws by posting someone else’s property.  Technically, I’m pretty sure merely posting the heat-map pictures will get me in trouble, but to Syngenta’s lawyers: “I don’t profit from this blog at all, I think I have about 4 people that read these blogs.  Not only do I not profit, I don’t get any money period.  It’s a hobby, like growing vegetables that die or get eaten by deer, and trying to build things but giving up and buying it at a home improvement store.”

So here’s the link to the crabgrass outlook map: http://www.greencastonline.com/tools/PestOutlooks.aspx?po_id=6

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Today’s crabgrass cast means that there’s still time for people north of Virginia to get that pre-emergent down.

 

 

 

 

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But by Friday, it’s looking like this weekend will be your last stand.  After that, it’ll be up to you with a crabgrass spray can spot-treating all summer until you give up and wait for it all to die after the first frost.  All those brown patches are a pain, so do yourself a favor and catch it early.

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Guess who’s out of hibernation?!

*Yawn*  What have I missed?  A lot of potential opportunities to post here, for one.  Now, I’m a cold weather person, I tolerate hot and humid days because my tomatoes love them; but let me join millions of people across the country in saying “Go home winter, you’re not welcome here anymore”.  Partly the reason I haven’t posted lately (months??) is that there isn’t much to talk about in the winter, the other reason being it’s hard to write when you’re depressed and cold.  However, the days are getting longer, and I’ve started my tomato and pepper seedlings so there’s something to talk about.  Indoor greenhouse

I’ve rebuilt my “greenhouse” in my basement, and that’s good enough until I can get a real one outside.  I was able to reuse the solo cups from last year, so hooray for frugality.  To start the seeds, as I’ve done in the past, is to put them on the little Jiffy peat tabs in the covered greenhouse tray.  I put the heating mat under that, and while some heat escapes through the bottom, it’s warm enough to germinate the seeds (one rather spry tomato popped up in two days).  If you wanted to, you could cut a thick piece of packing Styrofoam and put it under the heating mat to hold the heat better.  Once the seedlings get bigger, usually when they hit the top of the cover or the roots start poking out of the peat pot, I transfer them to the solo cup to continue growing under the grow lamp.

Let’s see, what else?  I suppose in another post I can talk about my food storage plans and progress.  I’m working on cleaning up a mess of a pantry in the basement.  I can’t seem to get out of Sam’s Club without spending at least $400 and coming home with a 50 lb bag of something….Last time it was sugar, the time before that, flour.  I’m not sure if I’ve shared in the past my organizational goals, so I’ll post them again.  Eventually I’d like to have a good long term storage and short-term rotational plan.  I’m not a crazy end-of-the-world prepper or extreme hoarder, I just believe in the old boy scout motto “Always prepared”.  After losing power for a week after hurricane Irene came up the east coast, I’ve learned that it’s good to have some non-perishable food on hand; candles/oil lamps in the closet; and even a generator if you can afford one.  Non-perishable food isn’t totally necesary if you lose power, since your first priority would be eating yourself through your frig/freezer anyways.  Having a gas range is good, since I’ve never had the gas go out on us.  Things would have to be pretty bad to lose that supply.  Anyways, there are plenty of examples in the recent past where events have shown us the only one you can really rely on is yourself.  I trust the Government to go to war often, fix the roads eventually, and at the very least fund itself and keep the lights on….mostly.  But my blog isn’t about the Government or politics, it’s about growing food and finding peace in your own backyard.  So, here’s my pantry plan, I’ll get there some day, the best way to build up an emergency food supply is gradually, it takes the pressure off the wallet, so to speak.

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I’ve already started gathering the jugs, not exactly like the picture though.  I really liked the idea of the handles to make it easy to grab, but after searching for weeks/months I couldn’t find ones I liked.  I found half gallon and gallon sized jugs, but I didn’t like that the plastic was PP (polypropylene or number 5 on the bottom of the jug), PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride or number 3), or HDPE (High Density Polyethylene or number 2).  HDPE has BPA and phthalate , and can leach endocrine disruptors (which is basically a fancy way of saying it can mess with your hormones in high enough quantities).  PVC also leaches phthalates , which studies have shown can be bad.  PP is one of the safer plastics to use in long-term storage, but it’s not clear, so it doesn’t look as nice on the shelves.  I know, silly excuse not to use it, but hey, if you don’t mind translucent jugs, go for it.  Eventually I went with PET (or PETE, plastic number 1), it is the type of plastic used in water bottles and soda bottles.  It too can leach chemicals (plastic is basically a bunch of chemicals anyways, somethings bound to breakdown in it eventually), but I’m only using it for dry food, so I figure it’s the best of the 7 plastics.  The safest material of all to use?  Glass, naturally.  Glass doesn’t survive falls or clanking together though, so while I could have used half-gallon or gallon mason jars, I opted for plastic in the end.  Hell, glass is heavy too, I’m a guy, so it wouldn’t be too bad for me, but a gallon of salt in a mason jar would be a heck of a workout bringing upstairs.

Finding PET jugs with the handles proved fruitless, GallonJugI tried 4 different plastic companies and couldn’t find any.  So eventually as I was walking the aisle in Walmart I came across these jugs, and they won by default.  They’re gallon sized, PET plastic, and they have an easy-grip side, so it’s dang close enough.  You can’t buy them online, so you’ll have to troll the aisles over the course of several weeks to get a large supply of them.  At my Walmart they’re $2.97 each, so not too expensive, but considering these things probably cost 30 cents to make (if even that), that’s a pretty hefty profit margin for the Waltons.  I’d love to find their supplier, but since I’m not about to buy a pallet of them (as most plastic suppliers require as I’ve found) and pay the freight for said pallet, I believe I’m getting a deal at Walmart.  Below is what it looks like all happy and full of egg noodles.  I printed out some 2×4″ labels and they fit nicely.  My only complaint is that the way I put the labels on.  As you can see, the label wouldn’t fit on the grippy side, so to look pretty on the shelves, you can’t easily grab the jugs.  But I’ve found it’s not that hard to turn around the jugs to get to the grippy side.  They have little ridges on them too, so it really is easy to pick up.

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Okay, I tend to get carried away when I finally get around to blogging, so I’ll wrap it up for now.  I’ll be back again soon to post my raised-bed garden expansion plans and more pictures of the seedlings.  I’ll leave you with my recent purchase from Burpee.  I’m going to try growing some lemongrass, lemon balm and spearmint.  I drink a ton of tea in the winter, so I’ll let them grow nice and big this summer to give my tea a nice herbal minty/lemon taste.  New seeds 2015

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The Raised Bed Project

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Just kidding, not that kind of raised bed.  Rather, a raised garden bed to avoid some of the pitfalls and nuisances that I experienced last year (weed creep, bad soil, insects, deer, myself, etc.).  I decided on a simple 4’x8′ raised bed for 3 reasons.

1) 4′ seems to be the internet-agreed-upon width that allows you to easily reach into the center from either side.

2) Most 2×6 or 2×8 boards come in 8 or 12 foot lengths, making less waste in the end.  (Note:  I did get stuck with 10′ boards for one of the beds because that’s all they had, so I had some 2′ sections left over, still looking for something to do with them.  I did eventually find 8′ boards at the other home improvement store.)

3) They looked good in my “raised bed master plan”, meaning, inline with my usual “Go big or go home” mentality.  More to come on that later.

I decided on Douglas fir as my wood because it was cheap and readily available in 2″x8″x12′ sections.  The 2″x12″ boards were very much more expensive, relative to the 2×6 and 2×8’s, but I wanted my beds a little deeper than 12″.  Two 2×8’s stacked would get me about 16 inches, which I thought would be good enough.  I wanted to go with cedar or redwood, since I heard they were rot and pest resistant, but the cost in the end helped me decide.  They weren’t available in the local home improvement chains, and the lumber yards wanted one of my arms along with my credit card.  I figure I could replace the beds every 3 years (if I even needed to that early), and it would still be cheaper than cedar or redwood in the long term.

Eco Wood TreatmentI did splurge on some wood treatment, and I came across this stuff, which is pretty highly rated.  It’s called Eco wood treatment, and it’s supposed to protect against mildew, rot, and pests.  From what I researched online, it contains iron oxide and “other proprietary” ingredients, all of which is supposed to be environmentally and human friendly.  That was the main reason why I avoided pressure treated wood.  Even though they stopped using arsenic in the chemical treating process, they still use copper, and I’d rather not have those chemicals leaching into the soil of plants that I will be eating.  I’ve read that pressure treated wood is generally safe, but I’d rather go with something that says it’s definitely non-toxic.  It is expensive, but it’s supposed to protect the wood for years, it’s made in the USA, and it stained the cheapy-looking Douglas fir boards to a nice aged look.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures all through the process, but I did take the pictures of the final beds.  I decided towards the end that I wanted a little ledge on the beds to rest tools or whatnot, so I nailed some 2×4’s on the sides.  I used pressure treated wood for that, since they don’t directly touch the soil. I also added 1/4″ hardware cloth under the beds to keep groundhogs from burrowing up under my bed. They’re a problem where I live, so I figured the extra measure of protection was warranted.

IMAG0957Here’s the picture of the stained wood after the Eco treatment.  It looks rather dull and splotchy, but the color evened out and looks really good.  Much better than the bleached framing boards that I started with.IMAG1001

I started off with two beds for this growing season, but never fear, I have big plans for my suburban farm.  The white PVC pipes you see on the inside of the bed is for adding floating row covers.  If I need to add a frost cover or insect barrier, I just insert a long length of 1/2″ PVC pipe into the 1″ sections to form a loop over the bed. I can then attach the covers to those loops. I didn’t use it this year, but I figured I might as well install them now in case I need them.

IMAG1038IMAG1043 …and here is the first bed with my sad looking plants. That’s a story for my next post, but I didn’t really do a good job in raising those little seedlings on account of not setting up my indoor greenhouse in time this year. They didn’t get enough sun and were stunted for at least a month (hence why I just started getting tomatoes in late July) I planted 5 tomatoes, 5 bell peppers, and there are two eggplants in the middle of the bed. Once everything started growing, I also tossed in a packet of basil, since all of the plants in this bed are complementary. It worked out great, since the tomato and basil are great with some mozzarella cheese.  For my lessons learned post, you’ll learn why square foot gardening might be a better idea to follow.  I might have packed the plants in a little too tight.  You can’t tell from these pictures, but it became more evident as the summer went on.

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For anyone that’s curious on what I have planned for my suburban raised-bed farm. Here is the master plan. I hope to add 2-4 beds per year, that way I can stagger the replacement of them when the time comes, which will spread out the time and cost associated with that.

Garden layout designs
Why the weird design? Well, I’m glad you asked. Because I now have the opportunity to think about that. I’m not sure. I didn’t want just a bunch of raised beds in a row. I wanted something to be visually pleasing to look at. …and I wanted a dwarf fir in the middle that I can decorate with lights every Christmas, hence why I labeled it a “Christmas tree”. Maybe I’ll get bored this winter and build more than two. It’s a long winter, and I prefer the cold anyways.

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Planting update: Three sisters garden and cherry tomatoes are in

So I’ve been a little busy this weekend. My new John Deere riding mower was delivered, so now I can *finally* mow the lawn. I should have posted pictures of the jungle in the back, the grass was already waist high. I got a D140 from Lowes, and so far it’s pretty nice. It has a 48″ cutting deck, which should make quick work of my half an acre.

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Also, I have planted my “three sisters garden”. The three sisters are corn, beans, and squash, and it’s based on a native American planting method that takes advantage of each of the plant’s characteristics. The corn provides a strong pole for the beans to climb up, the beans provide nitrogen for the squash and corn, and the squash’s prickly leaves deter rabbits and raccoons while also blocking weeds from growing. You mound up dirt into piles and then alternate between corn+bean and squash for each mound. I’ll re-post the graphic from my earlier post so you don’t have to go searching to find it.

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The cherry tomatoes I plant in containers since they do really well in them. I always put one tomato plant and one pepper plant in each container. Pepper and tomatoes are companion plants, so they do really well together. I know from experience that beans and peppers do NOT go together, and will stunt the growth of the pepper plants. I put the containers out front, since we don’t have a deck yet. This way when we get home each day, we can check for tomatoes and pluck them for nightly salads and stuff.

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Cherry tomatoes in planters

Cherry tomatoes in planters

..and finally, here is something you can do with a plastic 55-gallon rain barrel. I cut the top off of one, and then put about 6 inches of dirt in the bottom. I drilled some drain holes in the side near the bottom so that water doesn’t pool up in the barrel, then I put a sprouting potato into it. Now, normally when you plant potatoes, you have to dig a hole and plant the potato in really loose soil. Then since the plant can start growing new potatoes near the surface, where they can get spoiled by getting sunlight, you have to keep mounding up the dirt around the plant. Then, when it’s harvest time, you have to dig it all up, missing some potatoes and not getting the full harvest. It’s this reason and the fact that they’re pretty cheap at the store that most people say not to grow potatoes. I say “Go ahead and try, ambitious farmers!” This is where the barrel comes in. As the potato plant grows, you just dump some more dirt in the barrel. Eventually the plant keeps growing higher in the barrel and you fill it up with dirt to the top. When harvest time comes around, you just kick over the barrel and out comes all the potatoes!! No digging or missing spuds, everything is right there in the barrel. Just make sure to rotate the dirt out and put that in your garden, since it could contain potato molds or diseases that could affect your plants the follow year. Use fresh dirt each year in the barrels.

A new 55-gallon barrel

A new 55-gallon barrel

Here is the barrel with the lid cut off

Here is the barrel with the lid cut off

and here is the little potato plant at the bottom of the barrel, starting it's journey upwards

and here is the little potato plant at the bottom of the barrel, starting it’s journey upwards

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The grape vines have arrived!!

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My grape vines arrived in the mail today, so I wanted to post a little about that.  A little back story to this is last year I bought 6 vines to plant in my tiny little garden space beside my townhouse. Unfortunately, 3 of them didn’t ever grow.  I called the vineyard that I bought them from, and they set me up with 3 new ones that would arrive a year later, since the season to get new ones was already past.  Well, fast forward a year and I’m now sitting in a new house, with a lot more land, so I might be increasing that order tenfold at some point in the future.  For now, my 3 happy little dormant vines are getting a little bath to let their roots soak up some water before I put them into the ground.  I have just the place for them,and will post a picture of them in the ground tomorrow.

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The two varieties I got are Malbec and Chardonel, the latter being a cold hardy version of the Chardonnay grape.  I think a Chardonnay can grow okay in zone 6, but I wanted to make sure that I got something with a little more cold tolerance, since it can get pretty cold in the winter. 

It’s kinda late, so I’ll have to add more to my post over the weekend or in segments over the next few days.  More to come.

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April update

Nothing new to report as of right now, just some pictures of the sprouts.  It’s still a little too cold to plant anything outside, and the ground is too wet from the rain to plow it.  I still need to de-winterize the Craftsman tiller that I got from my grandfather, and since it’s been at least 2 years since it has been started, hopefully it still works. 

 

Here are some pictures of the tomato plants that I started indoors.  They’re starting to get bigger.  Next year I’m going to build a proper greenhouse outside, or if I’m still house-poor, at least get another light or two to help them grow.

From left to right: eggplant, cayenne peppers, “Mortgage Lifter” tomatoes, lavender in the foreground (not sprouted, I just started them on Sunday.  I didn’t realize I needed to start those early as well), Roma tomatoes.Image

 

Left to right: Cucumbers, Beefsteak tomatoes, Big Boy tomatoes.

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You don’t have to dig deep to find dirt around here

…or in some cases rocks. Even a length of chain.

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Yes, it has been a busy weekend for me. I got my makeshift “greenhouse” up and running, did some work in the yard and even some home security and storage improvements mixed in. Where to start? Well, I guess with the dirt.

I decided to look around in my front yard, though “yard” is not really the case yet, since there’s no grass. We bought a new construction home, and since it was completed in the winter, there isn’t any grass growing in the front yet. The builder we went with doesn’t lay down sod, and from what I hear, many builders don’t anymore since it’s too expensive. Poor sod farmers, I bet they’re hurting without builders buying from them. But I’d have to assume they’re doing ok selling less but for more. Supply and demand economics for you.

Anyways, I was walking around and noticed several large rocks lying about, just on or above the surface of the dirt. So I grabbed my handy gardening fork and started digging them up.

…and more of them up

…and more

…and you get the picture.

Well, now you do. Those are just some of the many holes all over my yard now.

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Mixed in with 3 5-gallon buckets of rocks? A hunk of wood and a length of chain. Yep, I wonder how that got there?

The big thing about those rocks is that everyone with a yard knows that grass doesn’t grow on rocks. It grows barely on dirt, and then mostly the weeds prefer that. Really nice grass grows best in sweat and money. That’s at least been my experience growing up helping my parents in the yard. Countless hours of labor, bags of fertilizer, and oh yeah…blood. Grass loves it when you hurt yourself trying in vain to make it grow. It loves the carbon dioxide produced from foul curse words that you shout as you cut, stub, gash, mash, and crush various digits and limbs with outdoor tools that were probably invented by a torturer in the middle ages rather than a gardener.

But that task is done. For now. I’m sure there will be plenty more rocks and maybe even a car part or two that I’ll be digging up in the future.

The other task I did this weekend was get my tomato plants started. March is the time to get your tomatoes started indoors, and since I lack a greenhouse, I decided to improvise. A plastic shelf from Walmart and some mini greenhouses should hopefully work nicely. I never have had luck growing plants from seeds, but then again I never had any land to do anything with the plants once they grew, so there wasn’t much point in trying too hard prior to now. I also have a heat mat to keep the little seedlings nice and warm. The varieties I have started are Roma, Big Boy, Beefsteak and cherry. I have some pictures of my fancy-shmacy greenhouse rig down below.

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Up next was the home security improvements The security of my family is always the first and foremost concern of mine. That’s why I buy safe cars, install safety devices where ever I can, have an alarm system, and enjoy the 2nd amendment. As such, I also take precautions even though the risk can be small. I always think about what the risk level or chance of something happening is compared with the damage that it could cause. I have an alarm system, but that’s more of a deterrent than a fortification. Since 90% of all breakins happen through the front door, I figured that should be the place I start when thinking about home security. Since all my sliding doors already have bars on them, I didn’t have to worry about that. Most burglars and such don’t like breaking windows, it makes too much noise that is instantly recognizable. However, kicking in a door just sounds like a large “THUD”, and may even go unnoticed altogether. Except if you’re in that house. Most people think that a deadbolt is a security measure to keep your home safe. Not really, it’s there so your doorknob latch won’t be picked by the very simplest of burglars. Plenty of people know that just a half inch screw is the only thing holding that deadbolt plate to the door frame. So I installed a reinforced door frame plate. It literally took about a half hour for the door frame plate, and another half hour for the door reinforcer. If you want to install the frame reinforcer, don’t forget that if your door breaks, there’s no point in strengthening your frame. So there’s really two parts to bracing your front door. The frame and the door itself, always do both. The whole job went pretty smoothly except for the part where I didn’t quite set the frame plate back far enough, so now the door doesn’t seal as well as it did before. I’ll have to fix that soon, since a lot of bought air is now sneaking out the gap in the weatherstripping and the door. At least that’s the only thing that will be sneaking in or out that door. Here are some of the pictures of the completed job. Take note of the picture of the screws. The one on the left is your standard door frame screw, and the one on the right is the reinforced screw that came with the plate. I plan on cleaning up the door frame plate, but since that requires cutting and painting, I think it will have to be on another weekend. I think I need a cold beer and a long movie 🙂

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