Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tying Up Loose Ends

One of the main reasons I'm blogging about my vegetable gardening adventures, is that it is probably the only record i'll have of what I've done year after year....kind of a new-fangled garden journal for an un-organized person like myself.  As a beginner, it is especially nice to be able to go back to what I did in previous years to see what worked, what didn't, and figure out what to do differently.

The other day, I had a look at my 2009 entries and I noticed one glaring omission.  I seemed to have failed to follow up on some of the more "experimental" things I tried last year.  I suppose you could say that my 2009 square foot garden was one big experiment in itself. After all, it was my very first attempt at backyard vegetable gardening.  On the whole, the 2009 season was a very good first start.  I probably had stars in my eyes when I began, imagining a bumper crop, but I did grow some vegetables in the end.  I definitely learned a lot.

Before starting any new ‘experiments’ in 2010 (and I already have a few up my sleeve), I thought I should document the results from 2009.

While I may not be an expert on gardening, I am pretty good at doing Internet research. In fact, if there was a job out there that paid money to look stuff up on the net all day, I’d be perfect for it! When I started this venture, I really knew nothing about gardening, so turned to my trusty laptop and google. It was clear from the start that there are literally hundreds of different ways to grow vegetables. Everybody has their own tricks and tips on what works and what doesn’t. I decided to be a little daring, and try out some of the more interesting methods to see if they actually worked.

The Salad Table

The idea for the salad table came after watching an episode of Martha Stewart one day.  She had a guest from the University of Maryland's "Grow it Eat It" program ( ).  The concept sounded great- the height of the table allowed for easy ‘gardening’…no bending involved. Also it is quite portable so you can move it around to get it out of the way, or in my case, follow the path of the sun. After a failed first attempt at growing salad greens in the box (which I attributed to a bad soil mix), I was able to grow a nice crop of Mesulin Mix. We built the box according to the dimensions provided in the instructions. The only change we made was to use wood as the base, with a lot of drainage holes drilled into it, rather than the mesh window screening. The wood bottom did make it a little heavier, but didn’t seem to have any adverse affects. Basically it was a square foot garden on legs. Would I do it again? Sort of.  While the salad box is a great way to grow greens, I found the box itself kind of large and bulky for my backyard. It took up a lot of space, and since my yard is quite sloped, it was hard to get it level. I would definitely say this system works, but it just wasn’t right for me. It would be great on a balcony or deck, and you could probably reduce the size to fit your space. It was very easy to construct for people with limited carpentry skills and tools. It would also be really great for people with mobility issues.  This year, I'm going to take the big salad box and break it down into smaller 'flats' and see how that goes.  The flats I should be able to tuck in here and there, and won't be as cumbersome.

Self Watering Container SWC/Sub Irrigated Planter

I first came across the idea for the Sub-Irrigated Planter or Self Watering Container because a lot of the Square Foot Garden bloggers out there were using this method in addition to their raised beds. This system would be good if you have a small space, where your soil is contaminated, or to use in areas where you have no space (ie rooftop/balcony) I thought it would be interesting to try it out with an eye on future expansion to my flat rooftop (where the sun always shines).   I had some troubles at the last minute actually finding a ‘food grade’ bucket, so ended up spending way too much money on two buckets from my local make your own wine shop. I pretty much followed the instructions for a one bucket planter but I made a few modifications.  I was unable to find an ‘organic’ slow release fertilizer, so instead applied liquid fertilizer applied every so often. Would I do it again? Maybe. I think this method would have worked really well had I followed the directions exactly, so could be something i'll try again, just not this year.  It would definitely be a great option for someone without any land, or rooftop growing.  I'm focusing on expanding the garden space this year with an additional raised bed and cedar half barrels...the half barrels are really inexpensive ($20 at Kent), and I won't have to worry about the plastic "issue".  On the other hand, since I already have 2 buckets, i'm re-using them to grow peas this year, just not as a self watering container.  A good reference site for Sub-Irrigated planters:

Growing Tomatoes on Strings

As part of my attempt to 'grow up' to maximize space in my small garden, I decided to try out the "string" method to support indeterminate tomatoes- supporting the tomatoes by pruning them to one vine and training them up a string.  Would I do this again?  Yes!  I would say this method was very successful.  The strings were strong and even held up in the post hurricane/tropical storm we had last year.  It was very affordable and easy to do.

Anti-Cat Barrier

My attempts at keeping the 'urban' predator out of my garden, involved stapling on a black plastic netting to the raised beds.   Would I do it again?  Definitely.  I would say round one of cats vs gardener goes to me!  I did not notice any tell tale signs that the cats have been in the boxes, so this method was a success.  I like that the netting is black, so unless you are close, you can't tell it's there.  This year, I'm going to expand the use of netting and rigg up a system to keep the deer from eating my tomatoes and beans.  I had no idea last year that deer were lurking around my urban area.  I don't know where they go in the day, but they definitely come out at night!

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