Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mulch those leaves, don't throw them away

Many people bag leaves up on their property every year and put them out to the curb.  This is such a waste of organic matter.  One of the places this organic matter comes from is the soil.  Trees and bushes mine nutrients from the soil along with water to grow leaves.  Therefore, to replace the loss of nutrients, a person has to buy fertilizer or compost.

Instead of hauling off leaves here is what we did on our property this year.  We raked the leaves into multiple small piles.  I took out the lawn mower and put the bag on it.  I slowly worked the lawn mower over the pile of leaves, tilting it up and then slowly lowering it.  The bag filled up within a minute or so.  I then took the bag of chopped up leaves to the what I am calling my berry area.  Here I have blueberries and strawberries growing with beneficials like clover.  Around the blueberry bushes I put some of the compost that I was collecting in the kitchen and from work.  The compost included things like banana peels, coffee grounds, coffee filters, apple cores, etc... Then over this compost I put down two to three inches of my ground up leaves from the mower.

Leaves are a natural mulch and will protect the plants roots from the cold, just like wood chips.  They hold in moisture.  But, the best part of a leaf mulch versus a wood mulch is that it degrades much quicker.  By next spring the compost and chopped up leaves will become great top soil for the plants and bushes.

My next project is to mulch my garden with the remaining leaves.  Although, I am running out of leaves so, I will make some trips this weekend to other neighborhoods and look for people throwing out leaves.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Building the Terrace

Behind the house were a bunch of blackberries and other bushes.  While I enjoy picking blackberries out the back door, I wanted to do more with the space next spring.  Therefore, my step son and wife helped me clear the bushes out.

After chopping down the bushes, the lawnmower was run over the area to cut the stems close to the ground.  The cut branches and leaves were left where they were to add organic material.

My first thought was to add cardboard to kill of the existing plants and replant the area in the spring.  Unfortunately, after cutting the bushes I noticed there was quite a slope to this area.  Since this area has a drop off and is not level, I decided to fill it in with dirt from a hill in the yard.  This took quite a few wheel barrow loads; in some spots I needed 8 inches of soil.

When completed I had a slightly sloped terrace.  On the back side of the terrace I added some thin trees and branches that I chopped down.  This hopefully will stop the soil from eroding before I plant in it.  As a side bonus, they should provide extra organic material.

On top of the soil, I layed some cardboard down to kill the weeds.  I know there is a thought that cardboard contains chemicals, but a lot of people use this method so I'm going to as well.  On top of the cardboard I added about 3 inches of hay.  I was able to get the hay from a country and western party my work threw.  They were looking to throw in trash and I figured this would be a better use.  Hopefully next spring there aren't too much grass seedlings popping up.

It took a few weekends to get this project done for it was a decent size project.  Now, the leaves from the trees are adding an additional layer of mulch.  My hope is that by next spring I will be planting quite a few plants in the area.  All the organic matter will break down and make for very nice soil.

Monday, October 31, 2011

First Salad From the Garden for the Fall

Finally, after planting over two months ago, I was able to get my first full salad from it last night.  The salad contained spinach, radishes, cilantro, and two different types of leaf lettuce.

The difference in flavor from the typical store vegetables is amazing, though I over powered it a bit with the cilantro.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Urine not Sterile

A few weeks ago I wrote a post on using urine as a fertilizer. In the post I mentioned that urine is sterile. My main conclusion was from reading articles on urine and not thinking critically. A co-woker pointed out to me that urine is not sterile at work the other day.

I did some more research on the subject and urine is sterile until it hits the urethra in the body. Here the urine picks up bacteria. This does not necessarily make the urine toxic. Urine only becomes toxic if the body is suffering from an illness such as an Ecoli infection.  Though some waste products in the urine can cause irritation to the skin.

There are many examples of people drinking urine.  Urine Therapy is where urine is drunk to increase the body's immune system.  There have also been many survival cases where a person has drunk their own urine to fight off dehydration.

To the plant world, a study in Finland shows the positive effect of urine on plants.  Therefore, I still like using urine as a fertilizer, but I also do not pour the urine on fruit, leaves or root plants.

Web MD
Complete Guide Urine Therapy

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Trellises for the Garden

Trellises are helpful for vining plants in a garden. For my tomatoes I used the cheap circle wire frame ones that stick in the ground. My tomatoes got so big, they are pulling them over. This is after I reinforced them with a 6 foot wooden stake.

Following Mel's guideline in Square Foot Gardening, I built 4 trellises for the raised beds. The beans and peas that are in the fall garden that will take advantage of the trellises. Trellises are placed on the North side of the raised bed, so they will not shade out the bed itself.

To build the trellises I bought 6 10ft 1/2 inch metal conduit pipe, 8 1/2 inch 3ft rebar, and 4 3/4 inch conduit 90 degree angles from Lowes. Amazon had 5ft by 30ft trellis netting for $10. To build the 4 trellises I spent about $70.

Garden Trellis

Building the trellises is very easy. On the North side of the raised beds I pounded the rebar halfway into the ground with a 3 lb sledge. To save oneself some pain, make sure that one end of the rebar is straight. Rebar tends to have burrs on it or is bent on the ends. The straight edge needs to be up in the air.

After the rebar was in the ground, 4 of the conduit were cut in half with a hacksaw, so that they were 5 foot in length. I then cut the other two pieces into 4 45 inch lengths. These pieces will be the vertical cross bars.

Assembly was fairly easy. The 5 foot conduit sections slid over the rebar. Two of the pieces of conduit were pounded on because two of the rebar had a burr on the end. The rebar adds extra support so the trellises don't fall. Next, the angle conduit brackets were slid on top of conduit sticking up in the air. Then 45 inch conduit is pushed into the angle brackets at the top. This completed the framing.

Garden Trellis

Probably the longest step is attaching the netting. I had some cable zip ties that I purchased a long time ago. The net was strung over the conduit, pulled tight, and secured with the zip ties. Finally, the netting had little strings at the edges. I tied these off and this was the longest part of the process. I figured the extra support couldn't hurt.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Split Tomatoes

I have only been on this property for one season now. In the past when I have grown tomatoes in other geographical regions, rarely had one split. After neglecting the garden for a few days, I noticed that 6 ripening tomatoes were lost because they split.

Split Tomatoes

Splitting tomatoes exposes the one problem I did not think about with hugelkultur. The reason the tomatoes split was because of a heavy rain a few days ago. Tomatoes split when the watering pattern increases suddenly. A tomato's skin becomes hardened when it is not expecting more growth due to lack of water. Therefore, the sudden increase in water causes the interior to grow. This growth splits the skin. Because I was using hugelkultur and wanted flavorful tomatoes, I was hardly watering them. I watered once a week during the hot weather. The flavor was amazing for the tomatoes that I have gotten so far.

In the past when growing gardens, I watered every other day on a consistent cycle. When it rained, I would skip a day watering. Therefore, I had a consistent watering pattern.

In the future if it rains heavy, I am going to have to pick the tomatoes during the rain and ripen them inside.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fried Chicken Strips

I don't fry much, but my step son loves chicken strips. He has been doing really well this week, so I decided to reward him with a special meal. I have never made fried chicken, but figured it would be pretty easy. His dad always gets him the fast food version. I'm not into eating that junk though.

For my recipe I:
I beat an egg
Added in 1 1/2 cups milk
A tablespoon of lemon juice
2 chicken breasts cut in 3/4 strips lightly salted

I let the mixture soak in the fridge for about 45 minutes.

Fried Chicken Strips

While the chicken was sitting I warmed up my deep fryer. When the fryer was ready, I took the chicken out of the fridge and rolled the strips in some flour. Next, I threw the chicken strips into the fryer and fried them for about 5 minutes until golden brown. Most of the strips came out nice and juicy, but a couple of thin ones were a bit overdone. Lesson learned, try to keep similar sizes together.

The flavor of the chicken was really good. Next time, I will have to play with some spices in the breading to give it that something special. It didn't matter to my step son, he loved them.

Now, I have to dodge the wife when she comes home because she hates the smell the fryer leaves in the kitchen after use.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New Kiwis Planted to Replace Damaged Ones

Mafia, our dog, likes to challenge the neighbors' dogs that run into our yard. Unfortunately, to do this he jumps unto the fence. This is the fence that my Kiwis are vining on. Therefore, these new Kiwis I am putting on the outside of the fence. I really don't want to put another inner fence to keep him back, so I am hoping this works.

I bought the Kiwis for half off at the Urban Farm Store because it was late season. The roots weren't all bunched up in the pot and the plants looked like they were in good shape. My thought is now to check out the local nurseries and see what they are clearing out in the bushes, trees and other perennials.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Worm Bed on a Small Scale

A friend of mine gave me a couple of plastic tubs from some Red Vines that he shares at work. One of them I am using as a compost container for the kitchen. I was wondering what to do with the others though.

Then I thought of a worm bed experiment my wife did with the kids a month ago. She cut the top off a 2 liter coke bottle. Then flipped it upside down. Four inches of compost material was added next. Then a few inches of soil was placed on top of the compost material. She dug some worms out of the garden with the kids and threw them in. Finally, the top was filled with a layer of rocks from the driveway. Now, that the bottle was full. Then she turned the bottle and stuck it in a plastic tub that had a few inches of rocks in it. A month later there was beautiful soil in it.

I figured that worked great for the kids and the Red Vine containers are a bit bigger with a real lid. Therefore, there was no cutting involved. I want to start a worm bed anyways for a chicken feed supply when I get them in spring. Thus, it makes sense to turn one of these into a starter worm bin.

I varied her idea for this worm bed. I want to use cardboard as the bottom liner. Then pour some worms in. Then finish it with another layer of cardboard over the worms and let them work. Once they get established, I will add in some of the compost scraps from the kitchen.

First, some holes were drilled in the bottom of the containers so moisture and the worm tea can drip out. This replaces the rocks used in my wife's experiment. Then more holes were drilled lid for air.

For cardboard, I used a pizza box we had from a few nights ago and soaked it in the sink. There wasn't much grease on it. Here is a trick for everyone, soaking cardboard for a few minutes makes it tear apart very easy. This allowed me to easy shred it into one inch pieces within a couple of minutes.

Soaking Cardboard in Sink so it can be torn

After stacking everything in the worm bed was placed in a small bucket. The worm bed was placed on a 3 small pieces of 2x4 inside the bucket. I had these left from another project. This will keep the bottom of the worm bed from sitting in the worm tea.

Worm Bed Small Scale

I am pretty sure this is a good idea for starting a worm bed. The negative thoughts I have are that the worms will multiply and quickly out grow the small worm bed. Another issue that could arise is the worms won't do well because the worm bed is clear plastic. The bed is in the bucket in the garage; therefore, not much light should get in and the risk should be minimized.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fall Garden Planting

It is time to get the fall garden into the ground. Since my summer garden, I have added 5 new raised beds. Four of the beds are 4x4 foot and the other is a 2x12 foot bed.

For the fall garden I am planting:
  • Potatoes that grew in my pantry (might as well try them out)
  • Radishes
  • Lettuce
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet Peas
  • Peas
  • Cabbage

Because I used 4x4 raised beds in my garden, I can easily cover them when the frost hits. The idea for the garden beds is to use clear plastic to make mini-greenhouses. This will extend my fall garden season, at least that is the goal.

Fall Garden Raised Beds

My planting style, right or wrong, is to put two to three seeds in every divot. This way if one of those seeds doesn't take I still get a plant. To me it is better to trim back plants than not have them grow. So far I have a few sprouts coming up in the garden.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Scavenging the Blackberries

For most of the year blackberries can be an annoyance. There is a reason I keep them around though. In the late summer they are delicious. Here are a few that I picked out of the back yard. I only took one thorn in the hand too which is a bonus.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pee the Natural Fertilizer

I am trying a new type of fertilizer that is abundant and free. It is high in nitrogen and freaks my wife out. This is my own pee, a great natural fertilizer.

For the record, pee is sterile. It makes a great addition to compost piles, shrubs, trees and vegetable gardens. People that have an issue with pee used in a garden as fertilizer must not have an issue with eating plants dowsed with herbicides, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. As a fertilizer, my pee is not crop dusted over the fruit or leaves. The mix is 10 parts water and 1 part pee. Then it is poured around the base of the plant.

More information about pee can be found at Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia, pee is 95% water. The rest is urea 9.3 g/L, chloride 1.87 g/L, sodium 1.17 g/L, potassium 0.750 g/L, creatinine 0.670 g/L and other dissolved ions, inorganic and organic compounds. Urea contains the nitrogen boost. In fact, pee as a fertilizer is a little hot; therefore, it should not be directly applied to plants without diluting with water.

As a personal testimonial, on two separate occasions I had Kiwis that were withering with yellowing leaves. I put a mixture of my natural pee fertilizer around their base for a couple of days in a row. The leaves turned green and the plant started to aggressively vine again. I also used my natural pee fertilizer when I saw my cucumber leaves turning yellow. The leaves turned back to green again.

Finally, using pee saves water because it is not flushed down the toilet.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Compost Bins

Originally, I had a compost pile laying in the yard. I noticed that I wasn't producing enough from the kitchen to get it piled very high. It was also soaked with rain during our long rainy season. Therefore, I decided to make some compost bins to put near the house.

The first bin was a 45 gallon trash can that was cheap. This was a mistake for the top is very sharp. When working with the compost and using a shovel to mix it, I have scraped my fingers and hands on the lip. It is also kind of a flimsy bin.

To get air into the bin a 3 inch PVC pipe was used. Half inch holes were drilled in into the drain pipe. You can buy drain pipe with the holes, but I had some pipe laying around from another project. The pipe was placed vertical in the bin. Finally, a hole was drilled through the lid. This allows for air to flow deep into the bin and remove the need to turn the bin, in theory.

A couple of problems occurred, the first was that new stuff is always added on top. To finish faster I needed to mix it in; else, I would have to wait a few months after. The second problem was when removing the lid, I sometimes pulled the pipe up, if I didn't pull the lid straight up. The last problem was when it rained water got inside the bin. This seemed like a good idea because compost needs to be damp, but there was too much water that leaked in.

After a few months with the first bin, I realized that I needed a second bin. This way one bin could finish instead of having new stuff dumped into it. To make the second bin I bought a less expensive but better 32 gallon trash can. The lip is a smooth one and the can feels sturdier. I went with a 32 gallon can because it takes forever to fill a 45 gallon can. Remember, the compost is shrinking as the materials decay.

With the second bin some of the issues were corrected. A three inch PVC pipe with holes was still used, but this time it was cut short of the lid. At the top of the pipe and at the top side of the trash can, I drilled a one inch hole. A piece of one inch PVC pipe was then fed through the hole into the pipe inside. To hold the one inch pipe in place I put a three inch deck screw though it so it cannot fit though the holes. Not elegant, but it works and can be undone. Now, I don't have to worry about water getting in or moving the pipe when I remove the lid.

In retrospect, I would probably run that one inch pipe though the can and both sides of the three inch pipe. This way a T is made holding all the pipes in place. The one inch pipe would then have to have a hole drilled out for adding air inside the three inch pipe.

Both cans have holes at the bottom to allow excess water to drain out.

As I need new bins I will keep playing with my design. Though, the bin idea is probably short lived. I am working on setting up compost bins at work to get even more material. When I do, I want to start a pile again. The chicken coup will go next to the pile. This way the flies laying eggs in the compost provides a nice little diet for the chickens.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Berry Area

As mentioned a bit in my last post I setup an area to grow blueberries and strawberries. I picked up the 5 blueberry plants from the Raintree Nursery. I ordered a Misty, Bluecrop, Bluegold, Jersey, and Toro. Each plant produces fruit at a different time of the summer. This will allow me to have fruit for a longer period each year. For the strawberries, I picked up a Mt Hood (which is awesome), Alpine and some others that I do not recall.

As part of the guild clover was added to area fix nitrogen in the soil. A guild is a grouping of plants that work together to benefit each other. Clover helps provide nitrogen to the berry plants. The clover has simply taken over and now I have to cut it back.

The blueberries were planted near a couple of fur trees because the soil is more acidic there. Blueberries love acidic soil, well they love the nutrients in it. From what I read, the jury is out on whether or not the soil needs to be truly acidic for good production. Opinion was higher that this was true; therefore, wintergreen was added the area to hopefully acidify the soil. As a plus wintergreen provides a nice herb for light pain remedies and is good in tea.

I did cheat and added some aluminum sulfate for a quick acidic effect while I mixed the soil. While this was a grit my teeth moment, because its a chemical, I wanted the quick fix to the soil.

Pine bark was then laid down after planting, which sucked. The type of pine bark is very fine and the bark seems to prevent the water from soaking in. After watering, the water stays on the surface and if the bark is moved everything is dry underneath. Lesson learned, so pulled back some bark around the bushes and used wood bark I had left over from another project. I will only buy bigger chipped bark now.

For even more of an acidic effect, I will continue to add things like coffee grounds and pine needles as I add new compost in.

The hugelkultur technique, burying wood under the berry field, was not used. I wanted to, but laziness made the plants arrive before I was ready. I did turn up the grass and buried it six inches deep. Then I mixed compost in with the existing soil.

A swale was cut behind the berry field because it is at the end of a hill. A swale is a level ditch whose purpose is to detain water and allow it to soak into the ground. Washington receives a ton of rain in the winter, so instead of letting it run off the hill, it will soak into the ground for the plants. Swales are perfect in dry climates as well because the ground gets the most out of every rainfall or snow melt.

So far the plants have produced a few berries, but the real growth will come in year two.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Prevent rabbits in a garden

The main way to prevent rabbits from chewing up a garden is give them stuff they want to eat. I planted clover in my blueberry and strawberry patch to give the rabbits something they crave more than my garden items. As a side benefit, clover like peas and beans will fix nitrogen in the soil. This adds fertilizer to the garden naturally.

A more active approach to preventing rabbits in a garden is to get a dog that loves to catch and eat them. Enter into the fray our Mastiff, Mafia.

Here he is after he caught a rabbit. Not sure how he caught up to it, but he got it and is enjoying. That is one rabbit that won't be in our garden. Note, we made sure his wormer was up to date after this meal.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Beginning the garden

We finally bought our homestead out in the country. I wanted a main garden before I start tinkering with other areas of the land. I started with one basic 4 ft by 4 ft raised bed. I used some 2x6's that were left over from a decking project for framing the bed.

Before, I filled the bed with soil, I dug a hole 2 1/2 feet under the raised bed. This enabled me to put branches and other rotting wood in the hole. This is a permaculture method known as hugelkultur. The rotting wood absorbs moisture and decays over time. The plants root down to this rotting wood and have nutrients and moisture. This cuts down on the water needed. In fact, I water my garden only one to two times a week.

Next, I threw the grass I had cut out to dig the hole on top of the wood. As the grass decays it will provide more nitrogen, carbon and other nutrients to the plants. Then I piled back in the soil I took out.

Now, that I had my soil setup I put the 4x4 frame on top of the area. Inside the frame I added in compost, peat moss and some vermiculite. On top of this mix, I added some bark mulch to hold in moisture. The end result is a very prosperous garden with cucumber, tomatoes, beans, broccoli, and a green pepper plant that got shaded out. I am having to cut back the tomatoes every day so they don't crowd out the garden.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Building the fence

Since, one of our first goals was to get a dog, we needed to build a fence. Most of the neighbors let their dogs roam, but we bought a rather large dog, a Mastiff. We want to keep him out of fights with the neighborhood dogs and coyotes. His role will be to ward off coyotes, rabbits and big brown rats otherwise known as deer.

I chose to go with field fencing because we are fencing in 3000 sq feet with the first section and want to save some money over wood or chain link. I went with 2x4 no climb field fencing instead of regular field fencing. The thought behind this is the dog won't get caught in the fence and the kids won't try to climb on it. I first bought some cheap 14GA fencing at Lowes. It was sharp and cut me quite a bit. It also felt like it would not hold up. I took it back and switched it out with a 12.5 GA Redbrand fencing that was twice as much. The reason for buying at Lowes was they had fencing a lot cheaper than the local places, plus I had a 10% off movers discount.

This was my first time putting in a fence, so a new adventure on my part. The biggest pain was cutting back the black berries. I don't want to kill them (like that is easy), because they are good to eat. Still, I want to put fence through where they are.

Treated wood 4x4s were cemented 2 feet into the ground at the corners of the fence. I used 6 foot metal stakes every 8 to 10 feet to keep tension on the fence. The field fencing is 4 foot high, so I have another 2 feet on the corner posts. I'm looking to add 2 feet of nylon deer netting or a couple of wires on the top at a later date. Then again if I don't see much of a deer problem, which the dog should be helping with, I will just cut the posts down to 4 feet.

The only other pain I had was stretching out the fence. I bought some rope and a 1 ton wench to help. Using a 4 foot long 2x4, I screwed in five 3/8 inch ring hooks on one side. On the other side I bolted in 1/2 inch thick eye bolts. Then a rope was run down the other side through the eye bolts. The rope is hooked to the wench. Now, I have a fence stretcher, where the open hooks grab the wire fence in five spots.

Another rope was tied to a tree or car and fed through the other end of the wench. This method seemed to work pretty good. The metal wire of the fence bent with the ring hooks when stretched, but that was to be expected. The one frustration is after nailing in the fence with staples is there seemed to be a bit of slack that came back in. I don't mind too much because the dog doesn't really test the fence, but something I would love to learn how to fix with my next fence project.

I've added two Kiwis to vine through the fence. I want to see how well they take before adding more next year. So, far they seem to be struggling. In an attempt to decide if their struggle was too much sun or lack of nutrient, I used fertilizer on them for the last week. They seem to be greening up, so I will need to figure out what the soil is lacking.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Homestead

A few months ago my wife and I purchased our home in the country on 7.5 acres in Washington. Life has finally slowed down since moving in; therefore, I want to take some time to blog about the things we are doing, so I can reflect as time goes by.

There are a lot of little goals to accomplish, but the high level goals are fairly simple. We want to provide for ourselves and remove our dependency on the massively flawed systems that most Americans are dependent on today. We don't necessarily want remove ourselves from these systems, but to choose whether to participate in them. We also want to educate our children on nature, teach them independence and give them a large environment to play in.

What systems are we talking about? These systems are the massive industrial systems that deliver most individuals water, power and food. Food quality in this country is declining while prices are going up. Energy prices in this country are also skyrocketing and show no signs of decreasing. All these systems are very fragile and can fail at any time with a minor or major event.

Our homestead is not in the middle of nowhere. We have high speed Internet and power.