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.