Sunday, April 27, 2014

Making a Salad from Plant Thinnings

Hello Fellow Gardeners!

My garden is in full swing!

The leafy greens pallet is sprouting right along. I planted more seed in the bare spots.

The square foot garden has some new additions.

The root veggies are gradually running into each other.

Peas are starting to grab the fence.

No sign of strawberries yet!

Brassicas lane is moving right along.

Both the bagged and the tired potatoes are sprouting up!

The greenhouse and potted plants are flourishing.
Thyme and Basil seedlings

New additions: Kohlrabi, Okra, Zucchini.

Tomatoes and Peppers

Newly sown Kandy Corn seeds.

My sweet little Tiny Tim mini tomato plant with his clover companions.

No sign of this strawberry sprout either!

Radishes starting to burst out of their trough.

Here's a closer look. So pretty!

Red Leaf and Romaine lettuce as well as the onion scraps I planted over the winter.

And let's not forget my pineapple plant sunning in the corner.

With all this growth, it's time to thin out some plants to make room. I don't do this everyday, but I keep an eye on them. Then, when I feel I have enough to make a salad, I go through and thin them all at once.

Beets are starting to get crowded.

That's better!

Little Buddy loves helping out.

Add some young dandelion greens.

An average gathering. Upper left: Radishes and their greens. Top middle: Arugula leaves. Top right: dandelion greens. Bottom left: Red leaf and Romaine lettuce. Middle: Beet greens. Bottom right: Red leaf lettuce.

Soak them all in water with a bit of vinegar,

give them a good rinse,

and, whala, you have a salad!

I added store bought cucumbers and tomatoes for a garnish. Yummy! The blend of flavors is amazing! The spicy radishes and arugula mixed with the cool, tame flavor of red leaf lettuce, the earthy taste of beet greens, and the wild taste of dandelion greens makes this salad an experience! I have found that heavy salad dressings mask the natural flavors too much for my liking. Though I like to have a bit of something liquidy on my salad, so I am going to try some lightly flavored vinaigrettes and oils.

If you normally eat iceberg or romaine lettuce salads, the strong taste of this salad will take some getting used to. You may want to try just one or two different greens at a time to help your taste buds adjust. Either way, I highly recommend eating your garden thinnings. It will get you eating fresh produce from the garden much faster than waiting for everything to mature. I purposely over plant certain things for this reason. 

Be sure to do your research before eating the leaves of something, though. Some plants, like rhubarb, have poisonous leaves that are dangerous to ingest. Other leaves, like turnip greens, are better off being cooked first since they can have little spines on them that are not fun to chew. (Yes, I found this one out the hard way last year!) This year, I realized that the larger radish greens do too.

This is a great way to get little ones to eat their greens too! Little Buddy won't eat a salad, but he'll eat a dandelion leaf right out of the yard. It's the novelty of it. But use caution here too! Be certain your child doesn't start eating random plants out of the yard...yikes! Little Buddy understands this well so I feel he's safe there.

With that, I wish your taste buds many salivatory adventures!
Happy Gardening!

Jen Hen

This post shared on: New Life on a Homestead

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Raised Beds

Hello Happy Gardeners!

Let's talk about raised beds!
Photo Credit and tutorial HERE.

These can be easier than planting directly into the ground for several reasons.
*Make the garden bed as tall as you want for easier access.
*You can fill the bed with whatever kind of soil you want.
*Less likely for the soil to get compacted.
*Great for areas with poor soil and/or poorly drained soil.
*You can get creative with the design.
*The soil warms up faster.
*Helps to deter some pests.
*No digging/tilling needed.
*More produce per square foot.
*Less weeding needed.
*Easier to cover.

Sounds great, but they have a downside too.
*The initial cost of a raised bed can be expensive.
*They need to be watered more often.

So, it would seem that the biggest downside of a raised bed would be the cost: the initial set up and the extra water. This is a cost that is reasonable for me on my little homestead since I get more produce out of a raised bed and I have found ways to make this cost much lower.

To build a raised bed, all you need are some materials strong enough to hold soil. That can be some solid, high priced lumber. But that can also be some logs you may have laying around from a felled tree.

Perhaps some cinder blocks or scrap lumber you pieced together.

Landscaping blocks or that rock pile you couldn't quite part with because you knew it would come in handy one day.
Photo Credit HERE.

Some bricks you scavanged off a demolition site (with permission of course!)
Photo Credit HERE.

The sky is the limit! I've seen old tires used, soda bottles filled with dirt or concrete, even raised beds without sides! Though that last one will be tough to keep the soil from eroding away. There are even raised bed kits you can buy that include all the materials to build one.

Great! Now that you have your raised bed materials, how do you build it? Well, with my log raised bed, I just braced the outside similiar to how you'd chock car tires to keep them from rolling. Cinder blocks, bricks, and rocks can be stacked up like a wall. You can use mortar to make them extra sturdy. Lumber, new or scrap, can be built in many different ways. There are so many plans on the web for this. Just find the one that works best for you!

The most common dimensions of a raised bed are 8' long and 4' wide. At a 4' width, the average adult should be able to reach the middle from either side. It is very important that you are able to reach all the plants in your raised bed so that you aren't compacting the soil by stepping in it. If you have to step in it, it's too wide. Narrow that puppy down! I made this mistake last year by making my log bed 6' x 6'. That bare spot in the middle is where I couldn't reach. I made the bed longer and more narrow this year.

It's recommended for children's gardens that the beds be no wider than 3' for this reason. If you can only reach your raised bed from one side, make it 2' wide or less. You can make the bed as long as you want as long as you can reach everything from the sides. Just keep in mind that you will still need to walk around it. So a 30' long bed may get tiresome to walk around pretty quickly whereas 6' to 8' long may be more manageable.
Photo Credit HERE.

Once you have your raised bed built, you need to fill it. You can buy all sorts of soil to fill it with, similar to the pallet gardens. Personally, I like to make my own. For both my raised beds, I have used the lasagna compost method which I will cover later. You may want to put a weed barrier down first. You can buy this at most gardening centers or come up with your own. I have used newspaper, cardboard, tree bark, black plastic, paper bags, packing paper, and large sheets of craft paper. I prefer something that will break down over time, so plastic and landscaping material aren't my favorites, but use what works best for you.

Once your raised bed is full, it's ready to plant. The soil will warm up a bit faster so you can plant a bit earlier. Also you can create a temporary greenhouse over your raised bed to be able to plant even sooner or possibly year-round depending on your climate.
Photo Credit HERE.

It may also be helpful to create a vermin barrier for animals such as rabbits and squirrels or even deer.
Photo Credit HERE.
Though to add my 2 cents in, we like to trap rabbits and squirrels to get rid of them. Of course, I hate to let good meat go to waste...
Photo Credit HERE.

I hope your head is buzzing with ideas! Feel free to post pics of your own raised beds in the comments. I love to see what others have come up with!

Happy Gardening!

Jen Hen

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Putting a Dent in Housework on Rainy Days

Hello fellow gardeners!

It is raining! So on these days I tackle some of my much neglected housework. "But Jen," you say, "don't you have it all together? How do you do it all?" And I say "I know, right?!" Or more like, "YEAH RIGHT!" Not so much. Notice I said I will tackle SOME of my housework, not get caught up. I'm not the best housekeeper anyway, let alone when it's gardening season. Add the extra dirt that gets tracked in and the extra dirty clothes and you have a recipe for a homemaking disaster!

Just to prove it to you, let me take you through a quick tour of, quite literally, my dirty laundry.

The garden dirt that gets tracked in. Actually, this really isn't that bad.

The laundry, oh, the laundry! There's about 6 loads here, one load in the washer, a load of shoes, and a load of sheets all needing washed.

Then there are clean loads to be folded. Two loads of diapers here.

Technically there were 4 loads here, but we have been wearing some of it. Now don't tell me I am the only one who does that!

Then I had 2 loads of little boy clothes that somehow got washed folded and put away. That's pretty amazing!

So then there are dishes...

I hate to confess, this really hasn't been neglected as bad as usual.

And, that is only the stuff I'll show you! I tell my guests, I hope you are here to see me and not my house or you will be greatly disappointed!

So, there you have it. Jen is far from doing it all! Now, back to work!

Happy Cleaning!

Jen Hen

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pallet Gardens

Hello fellow gardeners!

Let us talk about pallet gardens. You may have heard about these and wonder, "What's the big deal? Why not just plant in the ground? Pallets are expensive and clunky to transport..." I hear ya!

So, why go through the trouble of finding and planting a pallet?
*It's great for small areas as it can also be turned up into a vertical garden.
*You can fill it with any kind of dirt, compost, manure you want with no tilling!
*Like pretty rows but can't seem to get them straight? Not a problem with wooden dividers guiding your way.
*Normally an innocent passerby or guest won't accidentally step in a pallet.
*They are great for places with a bit of standing water to raise your plants up a bit so they don't drown.
*They can be found for free.
*Slats covering the soil help prevent moisture loss.
*It's just plain fun!

So great! You are ready to run out and get a dozen pallets to get started! But wait! Let's talk about the disadvantages of pallet gardening.
*They can be expensive if you can't find a free source.
*Cumbersome to transport unless you have a truck.
*If you need to buy soil, that can get costly too.
*You might need to watch if the lumber has been chemically treated.
*The condition of the pallet may not be ideal for planting. (Rusty nails, splintering, painted, etc.)
*Pallets are easily tripped over.
*Watering may get cumbersome when the plants get bigger as it's harder to set up an irrigation system and the slats can deflect rainfall.
*Having to figure out what to do with the pallets after gardening season is over.
*You are limited to what kind of plants you can grow.
*May not be as pretty as you wanted your garden to be.

Wow, so that's a lot of negatives. Well, let's dig a bit further.

I have not bought pallets. Most of them I got when we had our roof replaced a couple years ago and the rest were from a free trade site. When the roofing suppliers were done unloading the shingles and such, I just asked the guy if they reuse those or throw them out. He said they just throw them out, so I asked if I could keep them. He gave his coworker the this-crazy-lady-wants-our-trash-pallets-but-whatever look and said "sure." They left them on my drive and I've enjoyed them ever since. You can check Craig's List and Facebook, or anywhere online really. Please just use caution and read up on internet safety before going that route.

Now, what is the condition of the pallet and is it chemically treated? Some sites will tell you that your pallet shouldn't have any cracks or rusty nails, but I have to tell you, many of mine do and they work just fine for me. The rust can get into the soil and that will help some plants, but hurt others. I am by no means an expert, but my plants have not been adversely affected by rust from what I can tell.

Lots o' cracks

broken board

 Rusty nails!

As far as the chemically treated part, I honestly don't know if mine have been treated or not. Perhaps I have unknowingly contributed to my family's early demise! Most of my pallets don't have markings at all and have sat out in the weather for quite awhile before I acquired them. The ones that do have markings have HT which means they have been heat treated. Be sure to watch out for MB which means it's been treated with methyl bromide. This is about the extent of my knowledge on this. It's best to consult an expert if you want to know more. If you want to be sure about your pallets, buy them from a local gardening center.

What do you fill your pallet with? It depends on how much time you have on your hands and how much you want to spend. You can buy bags of premixed, fertilized soil or make your own. To make your own, there are many different ways, but the easiest is to take some topsoil and mix it with compost and/or manure. You can make compost yourself, buy bags of it, or check with your local dump to see if they have a compost pile you can get some from. For manure, if you don't have livestock yourself, ask around. Maybe stop at a cattle ranch and see if you can go cow-patty hunting. Warning: Don't ever go into a field of livestock without checking with the owners first...if a bull doesn't get you, a shotgun might! Also check with your local zoo. Many of them have what they call "zoo poo" for sale. Just be sure it's always from mostly herbaceous animals. I'll have more detail on making your own soil later, but this will get you started.

Here are several different kinds, some need mixed, some don't. That's for another day. (I am not advertising one brand over another, this just happened to be what I had around for pictures.)

Or forgo the bag and use your own home-decomposed compost!

Also, you may want to block the ends to help decrease erosion.

I have a few bricks in one. 

One end butted up to the patio.

One end blocked with...well...blocks!

Which plants like to make their home in a pallet? Choose any shallow-rooted plant such as: strawberries, most leafy greens, celery, legumes, and most herbs. Deep rooted or wide plants like tomatoes, root veggies, berry bushes, potatoes, squash, and melons don't have enough space either above or below ground to thrive in a pallet garden
Strawberries yet to be seen.

Lots o' leafy greens...

As I mentioned above, pallets can also be made into a vertical garden. You'll need to find a solid-backed pallet for this, or attach something to the underside of the pallet to keep the soil in. Seal up one end of the pallet, then turn the whole thing up on end, or what ever angle you would like it to be, and brace it. If you didn't pack the soil in tight, you'll know it now! Also, you could plant it first before standing it up. You will really need to watch the moisture of your soil with this method as it will dry out quickly. You may need to water everyday depending on the climate.

Not this...

I hope this helps to get you started. I'll post more about the plants and soil later on. Let me know if you try your own pallet garden and how it goes!
Happy Gardening!

Jen Hen