Sunday, May 31, 2009

Note to Self: Next year do NOT plant until June

We experienced beautiful weather over the weekend with temp in the 70s. Now this:
The national weather service in Gray has issued a frost advisory...which is in effect from midnight tonight to 7AM EDT Monday.

Temperatures tonight are expected to be in the lower 30s. Exposed locations...such as ridge tops...may see winds remain strong enough overnight for temperatures to remain slightly warmer.
However...low lying and sheltered areas where the wind will diminish will see temperatures rapidly fall into the lower 30s. Temperatures should recover back into the 40s quickly tomorrow morning under sunny skies.

A frost advisory means that frost is possible. Sensitive outdoor plants may be killed if left uncovered.

Pruning Tomatoes

I have two varieties of Tomatoes in my garden this year. The Window Box Roma variety is a determinate (bush type) tomato specifically bred to grow in pots. It will grow to about 20 inches and all it's fruit usually ripens around the same time.

The second variety I am trying this year is called Super Sarno Hybrid which is an indeterminate (vining type) tomato. The vines will continue growing in length throughout the growing season and continue to set and ripen fruit until killed off by frost.

The Super Sarnos will grow along a trellis in the SFG, but they will need to be pruned in order to grow in this small space. Pruning reduces extra leaves and side sucker branches that will rob the main plant of energy needed to grow fruit. This is especially important in the short growing season here in Maine.

Here are a couple links on tomato pruning:
Growing Tomatoes: A Guide to Pruning Tomato Plants
The Fine Garden: Pruning Tomatoes

And this video from The Growing Wisdom site:

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Looks like we will see some sun today.

As I am typing this, the sun is breaking through the clouds little by little. Some of the young transplants were looking really sad yesterday. If I had known that the weather was going to be so cold, I would have waited. Even though I may have missed a week of planting time, the transplants would have easily caught up. Right now, I am not sure how they will do. So we will have to wait and see. I hope some gentle sunshine and warmer temperatures helps.

The only plants that seem unfazed by the cooler temperatures are of course the lettuce. They seemed to have doubled in size in just a short time:


I plan on planting some seeds this weekend: various varieties of beans, zucchini, cucumbers, and summer squash.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

It has been raining since Tuesday and the temperatures have been very cool

It has been raining since Tuesday and the temperatures have been very cool 40s-50s°F with a frost early Tuesday morning. The average high/low for this time of year is 71°F/50°F.

My newly transplanted garden seems to be holding its own right now but a little warmth and sunshine would be greatly appreciated.

I had planned on assembling the second self-watering container (SWC) during this week for two Window Box Roma Tomatoes. However, I have not been able to find the time. The tomatoes were looking pretty sad in their tiny cells, and even showed signs stress on their lower leaves. So I potted them up tonight and they will spend some time inside getting some warmth and tender love and care for a while.


I did run out and take some pictures. Sorry for the poor quality, it was raining and I actually took these. Usually K does the photography and his pics are so much better. But I wanted to document what they look like right now because I believe they have actually grown a little even in these chilly and rainy conditions. Maybe they just like being able to stretch their roots out.

I will start with this Yellow Doll Watermelon plant. In the flat of transplants, this little guy was hanging out of his cell by only a few small roots. He also lost part of his first true leaf. Even on Sunday when I transplanted him out, he was looking a little limp. Take a look at him now. He is looking much better already:


Here is another one of the Yellow Doll Watermelons:


I grew Yellow Doll Watermelons last year for the first time and really liked them. I chose them because of their quick maturity of only 78-80 days. They are a small watermelon, only about 3-5 pounds. Their flesh is yellow instead of pink, but they have a lot of flavor. Compared to a regular watermelon that we buy in the supermarket, Yellow Doll seemed to have much more flavor and was a bit sweeter.

Here is a Fastbreak Melon:


I also grew Fastbreak Melons for the first time last year too. They are a variety of cantaloupe melon that matures in about 70-days. They are about 5-inches in diameter and weigh approximately 4-pounds.

I am hoping to have more yields this year on both of these melons. Last year, my garden was so overwhelmed by crabgrass and weeds that reduced the yield of all of my plants. This year, I am hoping the black mulch will both suppress these weeds and help keep the soil warmer, which melons love.

Here are my Prince Onion transplants in my SFG. I think I will be enjoying these as young onions during the summer as I am not sure how long they take to fully mature. I suspect it is longer than our growing season and I only planted them this past weekend. I tried onions last year, but they disappeared among the crabgrass and weeds never to be seen again.


Take a look at how the garlic transplants have bounced back:


I blogged about "discovering" my lost garlic from last year here

The transplanted garlic seem to be recovering quite well in the SFG. I transplanted a few of the discovered clumps into the SFG, but left the remainder in the traditional garden. Here is a pic of the garlic that still remains in the traditional garden:


Here are three rows where I will be planting three different kinds of bush beans this weekend, Tendergold, Blue Lake, and Royal Burgundy:



Here is where I will be planting two rows of pole beans. I will be adding nylon trellis to these supports as soon as it arrives:


In the picture above, you may be able to see three rings of sections of cheap tomato supports in the solar mulch, right in front of the branch holding down the solar mulch, and in front of the pole been trellis. Here I will be planting two hills of zucchini and one hill of summer squash.

I will also be adding an archway trellis across the gardens right in front of the zucchini and summer squash and plant cucumbers at the base of each end of the arch so the cucumber vines can grow upward along the trellis.

Back to the SFG...Here is a pic of one of the two Ichiban Eggplant:


Spinach has sprouted:


The Super Marzano Tomatoes are reaching for the sky already. They were very leggy, so I trenched them when planting in the SFG:



Here is a King Author Pepper, with New Ace Peppers in the background:


Here is a pic of the Greek Oragano that doubles in size each year:


Here are the chives that are already flowering. I will trim these down and they will grow up again:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend was busy, busy, busy and all garden related too

We Replaced the Supports on the SFG. I was really unsure that the PVC trellis would hold over the growing season supporting Super Marzano Tomatoes. Rather than worry about it all summer, K decided to just replace the PVC with 2x3 supports. As an added precaution, he fastened rebar supports on the front and back of each 4x4 SFG to secure it from flipping over if we happened to experience any high winds when the trellis was full of tomato vines.


I could not find nylon trellis material at any of the garden centers we shopped at, so I ended up placing an order at the Square Foot Gardening website for 50-feet of 4 foot nylon trellis for only $12.50 plus $4.00 shipping: Trellis.

Planting the Square Food Gardens (SFG) was a breeze. I simply dug my holes according to my plan, loosened the roots of my transplants, placed them in the hole, watered in, covered with soil, and watered again. The Super Marzano Tomatoes were leggy so I dug a trench the length of the square foot they were to occupy and laid them sideways along the trench, watered in, and covered with soil. The tomatoes should grow upright towards the sun and roots will grow along the stem under the soil and provide a more stable root system for these tomatoes.



The traditional garden was a challenge, as I had to contend with the solar mulch that I am using to help prevent weeds and crab grass from taking over during the growing season. Simply poking holes and planting was not so easy as I worried about the wind catching the solar mulch and pulling my plants out.

I realized that cheap tomato cages could not only provide plant supports, but also function to pin the solar mulch down around individual plants. I used these for the Window Box Roma Tomatoes that should only grow 20-inches high, and the peppers:



I then cut down the three sections of the cheap tomato cages to hold the solar mulch around the melons and squash plants:




Watering will be easy too as I can either use the Water Spikes I blogged about last week or use the soaker hose.

I removed the solar mulch in the areas the bush and pole beans will be planted for now, since weed growth is usually not a problem for me with these crops because they tend to shade out the weeds by their quick growth.

I finally got most of my transplants in the garden, mulched and watered by late afternoon Monday. I was exhausted and all my muscles ached. I took a long shower and got into some comfy clothes and planned on putting my feet up and taking it easy for the rest of the evening.

But all that changed when we turned on the local weather… I couldn’t believe what I was hearing: FROST ADVISORY OVERNIGHT. Are you kidding me!? It was 80 and 90 degrees just last week?!

So I gathered all the old sheets and pillowcases I could find and K and I worked on covering the newly planted transplants. Luckily the plants were so small I could place large pots over most of them to create a shelf for the sheet to rest on. The pillowcases fit snugly right over the tomato cages. We covered up all we could and hoped for the best.

There was only one casualty. One Basil plant seemed to be affected by the frost. I didn’t cover the area where I planted three basil plants and only one was damaged by frost:


The rest faired well, but these cold conditions are not going to do much for these poor guys. Here are some pictures from today:


Monday, May 25, 2009

Constructing 18 Gal Self Watering Containers (SWC)

*Update 05.24.2010* I have learned from my 1st season experience and will be modifying for future SWCs. I highly suggest you visit Our Engineered Garden for a much better designed 18 Gal SWC. Also, a ton of knowledge can be learned from www.earthbox.com.

I built one of the two Self Watering Containers (SWC) over the weekend. There are a plethora of tutorials online for assembling this DIY project. I am not sure which is the originator, but here are several links:

Homemade Self-Contained Gardening Systems
The EarthTainer™
Self Watering Container Instructions

Most of my understanding of how a SWC works developed from various Garden Web discussions that involved Ray Newstead (aka rnewste/Raybo): The Earthtainer.

For simplicity, I mostly followed the instructions from the pdf I downloaded by Garden Web member, Joe (aka jmalt31) here: Joe's Self Watering Container Instructions

I wanted to make two SWC, so I started with two 18-gallon totes. Some instructions say to use the bottom one of the totes for the shelf between the soil and the water chamber. I thought it was a waste of a tote, so I followed Josh Mandel’s instructions for “The Single Tub Design.”

Here are the materials I used for each SWC:

18-gallon Storage Totes with Lid
5 or 6-inch aquatic plant basket for ponds
10x12 inch basket for supports
24-inches 1½ or 2-inch pipe for fill tube
Landscape fabric
Plastic Solar Mulch or Black Plastic Garbage Bag
Zip Ties
Bag of Miracle Grow Potting Mix (not garden soil)
If Growing Tomatoes: Granulated Fertilizer and Epsom Salt

PVC pipes, zip ties, and solar mulch we had on hand. We found the Rubbermaid tubs at the dollar store for $5. The 5-inch pond basket was a problem. All we could find were the 10-inch square baskets at the big box stores. Some people use these, however while doing my research on SWC, I read on the Garden Web forum that Raybo’s early experimentation with the larger basket resulted in too much moisture in the potting mixture.

Raybo now recommends using the smaller 5 or 6-inch pond basket. We looked for this in several places and couldn’t find it. We didn’t want to drive back to the big box stores where we found the larger square baskets, so we ended up using a square Rubbermaid Take-a-Long container that we will be drilling small holes in it so it will retain soil, but let water in. The pond basket, or Rubbermaid take-along container in our situation will be the wicking chamber. It will be filled with potting mix and dip into the water reservoir section. This will wick water up into the soil.

Here are the materials that were used for this project:


The first step is removing the middle out of the lid to be used as the aeration shelf between the soil and the water chamber. Be careful not to cut through the edge of the lid, as this will be used to hold the plastic mulch to the top of the container later.

Cutting out the middle of the cover was a struggle, as I didn’t seem to have the right tools to cut easily through the tough plastic. Most instructions suggest using a sheet rock knife or scissors, but neither worked well for me. So I ended up drilling a starter hole through the plastic and using this small saw to get through:


I then trimmed the edges of the aeration shelf smaller so it would fit snugly into the tub. I traced the Rubbermaid Take-a-long container that will be used as our wicking chamber onto the aeration shelf and cut out an opening slightly smaller.



I put all the pieces of the SWC together to try to figure out the best way to support the aeration shelf. I really didn’t like the flimsiness of the aeration shelf nor the rough way it fit into the tub and fully understood why they two tote method would probably be an easier method to assemble. Yes, it’s another $5 tote, but the alternative plan is to cut four 4-inch high PVC supports for the four corners of the aeration shelf. This seemed like a lot of work. So I decided to use this $1.75 black basket in the bottom to help support the aeration screen instead.





I used the Rubbermaid container that I am using as a wicking basket as a guide and cut out a matching square in the black basket:



Drilled small holes to accommodate the zip ties in four corners of the wicking basket:


Drilled small holes in the wicking chamber:



Drilled larger holes in the aeration shelf about 1-inch apart for air exchange:




Before assembling all the pieces, I used the black support basket to measure the aeration shelf location on one of the short sides outside the tub. I then drilled a 1⁄4-inch overfill hole in the tub about 1⁄2-inch below the mark. When filling the SWC with water I will know when it is full when water comes out of this overfill hole. This will also ensure that there will be at least 1⁄2-inch of air circulation between the aeration shelf and the water reservoir:






Zip tied the wicking chamber to the black support basket:



Assembled all the pieces to be sure that everything was ok:




Zip tied the black support basket to the aeration shelf and reassembled the pieces:




Placed the watering tube in it's location, traced an outline, and cut out the hole for the tube:





Cut some landscape fabric to help keep the soil from dropping down into the water reservoir:



Cut holes for the water tube and the wicking basket:



Now it is time to add the potting mix and plant. I used Miracle Grow Potting Mix for my SWC as this was the highest recommended mix for SWC in the research I did. However, if you plan on building a number of SWCs, the cost of the Miracle Grow Potting Mix can get quite high. If you want to mix your own, the suggested ratios are 45% peat moss, 45% compost, 10% perlight, plus 2 cups of hydrated lime or dolomite. For tomatoes it is recommended that additional fertilizer and Epsom salt be added to the SFC. If you are planting other vegetables, you won’t have to add the supplemental fertilizer and Epsom Salt as the Miracle Grow potting mix will be sufficient.
It took about a bag and a half to fill one 18 gallon tub:


Mixed some Miracle Grow potting mix with water and added it to the wicking chamber:





At this point I would recommend that you place your SWC at the place it will permanently reside, as it will be too heavy to move after adding the potting mix.

Added the rest of the Miracle Grow potting mix to the SWC 3-inches at a time saturating each layer with water until SWC is full. This is important as dry potting mix will not wick water and moisten the plant’s roots.





For tomatoes it is recommended that additional fertilizer and Epsom salt be added to the SFC. If you are planting other vegetables, you won’t have to add the supplemental fertilizer and Epsom Salt as the Miracle Grow potting mix will be sufficient.

I dug a trench in the soil across the middle of the SWC, and sprinkled a handful of dry fertilizer and a handful of Epsom Salt along the trench. Then I covered this lightly with the potting mix and watered in. Do not mix the fertilizer into the potting mix or spread it around. Also, do not use fertilizer that requires mixing with water, such as Miracle Grow or other generic "blue water" brands as these will not work for the SWC.






Once the SWC is full of moistened potting mix, lay the plastic solar mulch or black garbage bag over the top. The mulch will hold in moisture in the SWC. Snap on the cover:




Cut an X for the PVC water pipe:



Cut Xs for the plants. I am planting two tomato plants in each SWC, so I will mark the placement of the plants by cutting an X into the solar mulch where the tomatoes will be planted in opposite corners of the SWC:




Planting the tomato plants. Be careful not to disturb the fertilizer strip:



Adding the growing supports:


Trimming the plastic mulch:


Adding cedar mulch:


Watering through the fill hole until water comes out the overfill hole:



One SWC completed, another to go. I hope my tomato plants grow really well as this seemed like a lot of work. Maybe a project best completed during the winter when working in the garden is months away.