Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Garden, and..."What the heck!"

When I moved into my house last year I fell in love with the garden space it has, and the two big cottonwoods that give partial shade to some of the garden. (Though have been hating the pollen from those cottonwoods for the past two weeks)

There are five beds in my garden. Three of them have wonderful soil, one is okay clay/sand, and the final bed is pretty much clay concrete. Of the five beds, two are currently in use, one mid-way through tilling and already sprouting up taters, and one growing field peas (and weeds) to try and fix the poor clay soil that is there. The last bed is fallow at the moment and will become a summer/fall garden plot once I get the chance to plan it out. All of them are watered using drip hoses (ye olde basic black sponge hoses). The beds are just the right length to run a hose all around the edge of the bed and then up the middle.

Now, on to each bed in turn.
The first has:
  • wintered garlic (a little over a foot tall now), 
  • spinach (Bloomsdale Longstanding--just planted, and three plants overwintered) 
  • sunflowers (Mongolian Giant)
  • bush beans (I think they are Blue Lake, but I don't really remember)
  • A few carrots (Nantes hold-overs from winter)
  • Cucumbers (Lemon)
Adding to that list will be tomatoes (Cherokee Purple and Siberian), Peppers (California Wonder Bell and Big Jim), and some corn (saved from last year) to provide a little more shade. The transplants are only about three inches tall right now and are really fragile--I repotted them into bigger containers, but I want them more wind resistant (not to mention less likely to freeze) before I plant them outside. (Note that the hose is not in my standard configuration due to fail on my part)
The second bed as it stands right now has:
  • Corn (Posole)
  • Pole Beans (Rattlesnake Snap)
  • Bush Beans (Blue lake I think)
  • Sunflowers (Mongolian Giant)
  • Beets (Bull's Blood--planted late, but we will see if they grow)
  • Cucumber (Pickling)
I am not sure what I will plant in the small section between the beets and the peas, but I think there will be room for some melons or squash and still have room for the plants to sprawl. (On the note of watering, this bed you can see the end of the buried watering hose--that keeps the water from evaporating)

Bed number three: Po Ta Toes.
Last year I pretty much had to pick-axe my way through the dirt in the potato bed. After many hours of tilling, lots of adding straw, and more tilling, I planted basic Yukon Gold potatoes and kept them covered with straw as they grew. After a good crop last year, I decided that I would give the soil a year to rest--but nature has other ideas.

This morning I went out to till the ground out there and found quite a few potatoes that were sprouting and ready to start more taters. Not only that but the soil was no longer just hard-packed clay. Instead of the concrete-like substance from last year, I now have pretty darn good soil. Not great, but definitely more happy than I ever though that it would be. The potatoes, along with the straw, water, and worms seem to have done their jobs!  Anyway, I remembered a bag of organic potatoes that was trying to sprout in my pantry. Those little taters are now all cut up and drying out a bit before I plant them out with their kin in the tater plot sometime later today or tomorrow.

Here is a short rant on potatoes--seed potatoes are best, but organic works well too. Some people refuse to plant anything except seed potatoes due to risks of transferring diseases to new soils. I am a little hesitant to pay $15/lb plus shipping just to get $3 of potatoes at home. Instead, I go to either my local farmer's market and buy from the nice people there, or I pick up a big bag of organic taters from the supermarket. Neither of these are sprayed with any kind of anti-rooting hormones, and they have not had to be sprayed to within an inch of their lives to keep root rot out of them. Both grow incredibly well, with relatively low risk. If you positively want to be safe, go with the seed potatoes, otherwise organic works quite well.

Alrighty, rant finished. Back to the beds.

Bed four--that bastard clay square
 This bed has issues. It is square (not a problem), small (meh), being invaded by Trumpet Vine (I HATE that plant), and has about 100% hard-packed clay. Last year I planted viny things in it and the plants flourished. The soil did not. I even made sure to add in some compost and organic matter. No love. There just was not enough plant matter and deep roots to aerate the soil. While the plants grew very well, they also took out more nutrients from an already depleted soil. Dang.

Now I need to find a way to fix all the problems--and that involves good old rotting plant matter. I picked up some seed for Field Peas to try to get some Nitrogen back into the soil as well as to break of the clay.  Once the peas (or the weeds that are growing with them) are mature but not seeding, I will till all of the greenery into the soil and let it sit. Every few days I can spray it with water, and VOILA! there should be much better soil next year. Should. I hope. I doubt that I will plant anything there judging by the state of the soil right now, but I may end up with some melons there, since the plants really love that area.
Finally, bed five--all fallow

I am leaving this bed fallow for the first part of the season and plan on planting it later on with summer/fall goodies and letting one other bed have a break. Last year this bed had lots of beets and garlic, so it is not too taxed, but I still don't need quite that many plants to tend right now. 

Now for a quick information session named "What is THAT?!"

So, what is this little cocoon of goodness that attached itself to my vines?

The answer: A Praying Mantis Cocoon
I absolutely was amazed at how many of these little cocoons were all over my front porch area. I love praying mantises because they eat almost every bad bug in my garden that I can think of, and leave the good bugs (like ladybugs) alone.  If you see any of these hard little brown things hanging from your siding, overhang, plants, etc, make sure to leave them alone. Eventually these will turn into pest-eating machines! (Until then they sorta look like turds...)

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