Posts Tagged ‘Cold Frame’

Early Spring Garden Update

Well, it’s been awhile! My handy dandy Witch’s Datebook marks today as a good planting day. (That’s actually the whole reason I get these datebooks! They tell me the best days for harvest and planting, all throughout the month, so that I don’t need to keep track of the Moon and other influences.) Yesterday, I scrounged around huge volumes of seed packs in order to create a polyculture blend for an early spring crop in the cold frame, along with fava beans to fix nitrogen in the Bed Bed before I try growing Faery Tale Pumpkins there this summer. I soaked the seeds overnight for planting today:

Fava beans on the right, and on the left, Alaskan peas, Lucullus chard, spinach, golden and chiogga beets, two types of turnips, two types of carrots (including a short growing Japanese variety), Ching Chang Bok Choy, tat soi, a less fun to say kind of bok choi, two kinds of radishes, lettuce mix, and some Red Russian kale ... all interplanted for early greens to thin and eat while the others grow to size.

Fava beans on the right, and on the left, Alaskan peas, Lucullus chard, spinach, golden and chiogga beets, parsnips, two types of turnips, two types of carrots (including a short growing Japanese variety), Ching Chang Bok Choy, tat soi, a less fun to say kind of bok choi, two kinds of radishes, lettuce mix, and some Red Russian kale … all interplanted for early greens to thin and eat while the others grow to size.

Our cold frame’s looking pretty ragamuffin these days, but I’ve opened it the past few days to get some rain. The soil is nice and fluffy, dark and rich. Although many of my plants died in the weeks of minus 15, the dried leaves have begun to rot down and enrich the soil:

If you look carefully, you can see garlic, thyme (currently purple but with some green at the base), spinach, parsnips, beets, and some carrots.

If you look carefully, you can see garlic, thyme (currently purple but with some green at the base), spinach, parsnips, beets, and some carrots.

This Red Russian kale looked dead, but it has come back to life with the warmer rains. I left some of the other plants in there, just in case. You can see parsnips growing behind the kale.

This Red Russian kale looked dead, but it has come back to life with the warmer rains. I left some of the other plants in there, just in case. You can see parsnips growing behind the kale.

We've also got sprouts of corn mache (miner's lettuce) and, I think, spinach, that I planted early last week.

We’ve also got sprouts of corn mache (miner’s lettuce) and, I think, spinach, that I planted early last week.

I put an orgone puck near the peas, because I realized after planting them that they are probably too close for comfort to the garlic. Hopefully the orgone will strengthen them. :)

I put an orgone puck near the peas, because I realized after planting them that they are probably too close for comfort to the garlic. Hopefully the orgone will strengthen them. πŸ™‚

I also tried an experiment called "over-wintering," just letting Nature (almost) take its course on normally self-seeding herbs. I haven't seen any signs of life yet, but it's still pretty cold. One container (of corn flower seeds) always looks dry, even though the rest show damp soil. Mysterious!

I also tried an experiment called “over-wintering,” just letting Nature (almost) take its course on normally self-seeding herbs. I haven’t seen any signs of life yet, but it’s still pretty cold. One container (of corn flower seeds) always looks dry, even though the rest show damp soil. Mysterious!

I spent much of last fall mulching out a huge swath of weedy front yard. The last few days of winter included hauling over concrete slabs from the apartment complex next door. These will eventually look orderly, as they line the edges of raised beds and demarcate paths:

Almost finished the edging. It's a circle with three entrances wide enough for my wheelbarrow and for meandering once we have edible ornamentals to admire. You can see the last part of Mount Mulchmore towards the upper left.

Almost finished the edging. It’s a circle with three entrances wide enough for my wheelbarrow and for meandering once we have edible ornamentals to admire. You can see the last part of Mount Mulchmore towards the upper left.

The Bed Bed (a reclaimed Sleep Number Bed Frame) filled with compost and leaf mulch and planted with fava beans. The wire at the top went over the bean seeds to discourage squirrels, who may have unearthed all the tulips I planted last fall. :(

The Bed Bed (a reclaimed Sleep Number Bed Frame) filled with compost and leaf mulch and planted with fava beans. The wire at the top went over the bean seeds to discourage squirrels, who may have unearthed all the tulips I planted last fall. 😦

Indoors, we’ve got a newly arrived and as yet unassembled Garden Tower on our porch. David will be helping me assemble some indoor growing systems this weekend, so that I can get seeds started for warmer outdoor transplants. This Garden Tower holds 50 plants in 4 square feet of space! How cool is that? I bought it to demo for Goshen, but I am now glad for the extra space, since I realized I need to take care of the bindweed problem in a newly mulched out area where I intended to grow pumpkins. Instead, I’ll be growing Mexican Marigolds, which supposedly excrete a chemical that’s toxic to bindweed. No more bindweed nightmares to wake me up in the morning like last summer! I’ll be killing it with flowers.

The Garden Tower Project

The Garden Tower Project

We’ve also got a new faery addition for our window, a lovely gift from two sweet friends:

Faery Toadstool

She’ll be happy near the still blooming Christmas Cactus and a pink geranium — at least until it goes outside for the summer. Until the morning glories start climbing their decorative trellises, I always appreciate prettier views. When growing, our yard sticks out as an oasis of color, food, and riotous flowers and herbs, all the more surprising for the industrial and run down nature of some of the nearby buildings. A local gardener whom I very much admire recently announced that ours was “the most improved yard in all of Goshen!” That warmed my heart. It’s a lot of work, but I’m happy to spread beauty anywhere, especially where most needed.

The most encouraging part of today’s rag tag gardening adventure? I accidentally dislodged a little carrot while moving around mulch to plant my seeds. I didn’t know how this little guy would taste, being so immature, but I decided to give it try:

Very early carrot, accidentally harvested from the cold frame

Very early carrot, accidentally harvested from the cold frame

The verdict? Sweeeeeeet!

Bringing the Garden Indoors

Several people have inquired if I’m growing any food indoors this year. Initially, my answer was, “No! I burned out on deadheading last winter’s basil. Every. Single. Day.” In the past few weeks, though, I’ve reconsidered, taking cuttings of some favorite non-cold-hardy plants like pineapple sage:

pineapple sage

I also brought in the terra cotta pots of pink geranium and lemon balm, as well as starting another lemon balm in a small pot:


In the above photo, you can also see our Christmas cactus (from my friend Sherri’s grandmother) getting ready to bloom, and thriving jade and aloe plants that I got through To the right, you can see just the tiniest bit of a very happy spider plant started by David’s sister.

Because my red geraniums helped so well with garden bug control, I decided to rescue a few of them from the brutal cold:

red geraniums

We’ve got dried mint for smoothies and teas (plus a whole bunch of other dried herbs not pictured):

mint for tea

It is so cold outside right now (hasn’t gotten above freezing in many days!) that I’ve not ventured out to check on the cold frame. In retrospect, I wish I had located that bed just a bit further back so that it would get morning sunshine. My uncovered plants on the East side of the house actually look happier than even the covered ones out back, because they get sunshine at the coldest part of the day — early morning. Oh, well! I trust at least some of my cold hardier plants will survive this week’s deep freeze. In the meantime, we’ve enjoyed meals featuring dried and then rehydrated tree collards from this Fall:

tree collards and dried tomatoes

A quart (half this jar) has provided us with ample greens for 5 different meals featuring tree collards, which taste like an intriguing cross between collards and kale with just a hint of purple cabbage. They’re great in stir fries, “beanie greenies,” soups and even in scrambled eggs. Above, you can also see some of the many tomatoes I dehydrated, beginning in late July when our supply went through the roof! We even still have some German Yellow Tomatoes ripening inside:

yellow tomatoes

At last week’s cold frame workshop, someone reminded me that cilantro and arugula grow well indoors, so I will plant a few seeds of each in small pots once it gets a bit warmer in our garage. The thought of 9 degree planting efforts just doesn’t feel very enticing right now. [Update: oh, my goodness! Make that 3 degrees.] Planting in single digits is about as enticing as redistributing the rest of the mulch in our driveway, which I had reallllly hoped to have finished by the holidays. Excuse me, Mama Nature, I’d like to order a string of high forties days with a side of sunshine. Hold the wind, please and thank you!

Winter Gardening, Cold Frames and a Greenhouse

We’ve had a few days of warmer weather in Goshen, so I pulled back the plastic from our cold frame to give the babies some sunshine and rain.

cold frame greens

The above photo was taken after harvesting this whole messa greens:

messa greens

It’s so great to have fresh, homegrown greens (and a turnip) in December! I’ve found that homegrown greens don’t refrigerate the same as store bought ones, so I’ve experimented and found a method that preserves them really well. I tear up the greens and de-stem them, then fill bowls and top with plates. This method works far better than any produce bags, drawers, paper towels or other experiments I’ve tried. The greens will store unwilted for many days this way:

greens storage

The cold frame has definitely made a difference compared to the open air plants of the same variety. Most of my uncovered chard — both rhubarb red and Lucullus — has turned to mush outside the cold frame. Inside, the rhubarb red still struggles a bit, but the Lucullus looks great. The Lucullus growing under an old shower curtain in one of the InstaBeds continues to grow, but very, very slowly, alongside some soon to be harvested leeks:

shower curtain instabed

Unlike chard, kale loves the cold. You can see four different varieties growing here:

various kales

So far, Winterbor seems the hardiest, even compared to Siberian and Red Russian varieties:


This winter gardening bug is really beginning to catch on in Elkhart County. This afternooon, four of us carpooled from Goshen to Elkhart to attend a cold frame workshop hosted by Elkhart Local Food Alliance (ELFA). I was the last stop for the pickup so that everyone could see what we have going on here first. Then we got to see our friends’ homemade greenhouse in progress, made from a repurposed garage frame, discarded windows and aluminum siding. The only thing they’ve had to purchase is the plastic for the roof:


Note all the wood mulch in the background. I never thought I’d say this, but someone actually has more wood mulch happening than we do here! It did my heart good since I am still slogging my way through Mount Mulchmore. As I told my gardening buddy Kimber: emphasis on the MORE! Sheesh, that’s a lot of wood and leaves. The ELFA folks visited some of the gardens/farms in Detroit this August, where they grow right on top of concrete. All it takes is massive amounts of organic material layered on top, hence all the leaves, compost and mulch everywhere.

We looked at a homemade lean-to style cold frame on the south side of the house, and then built a simple, untreated wooden cold frame topped by an old window:

cold frame workshop

This one rests on wooden blocks attached at the corners, so it’s a fairly low cold frame that would be supported on bricks to discourage quick rotting of the wood. Taller crops couldn’t grown here, but spinach would do well:

finished cold frame with vent

It was wonderful to see nearly two dozen people interested in growing their own winter greens and extending the growing seasons on either side of summer. On the way home, I realized that I could use my crates filled with soil as cold frame walls around my rosemary and then cover it with the small window I took home from the workshop. Moving those crates will be tomorrow’s project before our balmy weather turns bitterly cold:


Row covers will also go inside the hoop cold frame to add further protection from temperatures below 20 degrees. David cut some of my 6 foot long bamboo pole into 2 foot sections, which will support the row covers so that they don’t weigh down the greens.

I also had a welcome epiphany on the way home! I have been wracking my brain for how to fit a lean-to cold frame on the side of our house between the summer’s morning glory trellises and the outside wall. It’s a pretty skinny space, and I just couldn’t figure out how to make it work. On the way home I realized that our landlord’s garage/workshop behind our house also has an unbroken southern exposure, but with open access. He already gave me free reign to plant whatever I want there, and I had wanted to grow hops on huge sunflowers. Well! If I mulch it out now with leaves covered with the rest of the wood mulch, I can let that rot down all winter. In the spring, I can lean several windows against the garage and put a couple straw bales on either end to seal it off.

That will make a toasty little cold frame to give sunflowers and hops or scarlet runner beans an earlier start, and then in the fall, once those have died back, I can plant some additional winter greens. My black raised beds don’t lend themselves too well to cold frames, and this summer, everything was already growing and lush with no room to plant winter crops. This new space might just work.

Adventures in Mad Scientist Gardening … the experiments continue. I’ve been talking with the folks at The Garden Tower Project in Bloomington, too. Looks like I may buy one of those complete units so that I have a living sample to show people in Goshen who don’t believe they can garden on very little land. One way or another, I’m determined to reach anyone with the teeniest interest in fresh, local food — through an edible front yard, vertical gardening, raised beds, kooky cold frames, and yes, a complete vermicomposting, 50-plant growing tower that would fit on a small patio. Yep, exciting times in the Land of Goshen … at least for me …


Mount Mulchmore and the Cold Frame “Skirt”

I had finally whittled down our fifth huge pile of wood chips to perhaps one or two afternoons’ work. After a long day of sessions and calls to volunteers for our local food security week events (which have turned into two weeks of events!), I walked outside to get the mail. Dale, the man building our next door neighbors’ two new porches, cracked up as he watched my jaw drop and heard a loud cry escape my throat. This is the scene that greeted me:

Mount Mulchmore: wood ships on the left, shredded leaves on the right

Mount Mulchmore: wood ships on the left, shredded leaves on the right

I really did almost break into tears right then and there, because I had completely forgotten about asking the man who maintains the apartments on the other side of us to dump a huge pile of leaves “anytime this Fall.” Ohhhhh, man! Have I mentioned I’m actually looking forward to Winter? πŸ˜‰ Anyway, in sighing about this huge pile of extra work to David’s mom, she explained to me that the leaves came from their yard and to “take good care of them.” We joked about her helping me move them, but through the joking I learned that in all seriousness, the guy who maintains the apartments’ yard also maintains David’s parents’ yard, and he specially mulched them for better gardening use. Sure enough, when I returned home and mustered enough courage to inspect the leaves, they were well chopped and already clumped. Since I had just the day prior to delivery said to David, “I really need some leaves for the raised beds!” I can’t complain. “Ask and you shall receive” is seriously evident in my life these days. Almost immediately so.

Yesterday, the “Bed Bed” (a repurposed Sleep Number bed frame) got a couple inches of compost and several inches of leaves:

mulched bed bed

Once I realized that I could use whatever leaves I want now and then bag them up for another round in Spring, I relaxed about the work. It’s windy! Not the best time for figuring out where to put all these leaves. Plus, I have a wood mulch clearance deadline of early next week, so this will work out just fine. Rotted leaves made excellent mulch this Spring, keeping our beds moist and dandelion-free. The plants really love all the nutrients from the leaves as they begin to break down. While cleaning up the Bed Bed, I harvested this giant green onion I had replanted from the store this Summer:

Giant Green Onion and Messa Greens

We had the white part of the onion last night in a homemade spaghetti sauce David made from some Farmers Market peppers, homegrown tomatoes (fresh, dehydrated, frozen puree with oregano), and co-op mushrooms, served over peeled zucchini “fettucini.” Um, wow! David makes the best sauce and soups! (I’m sure all the fresh, local, organic produce doesn’t hurt, either.)


Meanwhile, back in the yard, David was also the master engineer for errant, flying cold frames. Ours is now expertly anchored on all four corners, plus it has a 4-tarp “skirt” to block those nasty drafts that can damage plants even more than snow or frost. Did you know that snow is actually an effective winter mulch for cold hardy plants? “Four-Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman will tell you all about that and more. Anyway, it’s not the prettiest thing we’ve ever seen, but it has stayed in place despite our crazy Northern Indiana gusts:

Cold frame skirt

In the back, you can see a repurposed sheer shower curtain protecting my tree collards until I figure out what to do with them. They were some of our favorite eating this year, but they’re not hardy in Zone 5b unless you can get them buried and majorly mulched. Ours haven’t re-rooted yet, so I’m a bit nervous to smother them. Mr. Gnome kindly oversees the whole shower curtain operation, carrying fire wood just in case those plants need a bit of extra warmth:

Mr. Gnome

Our rosemary also got “fleeced” last night, and it will continue to do so until Yours Truly gets motivated enough to dig it up and pot it inside for the Winter. Poor, non-cold-hardy rosemary. If only you weren’t so pretty and delicious smelling, you wouldn’t need to look so silly:

Rosemary fleece

In the background — above — you can see another raised bed happily leaf mulched. Look at those calendula go!

Calendula flowers, ruby chard, French sorrel, parsley, oregano and kale ... one diverse, happy family

Calendula flowers, ruby chard, French sorrel, parsley, oregano and kale … one diverse, happy family

Inside, I’ve got tarragon and chocolate mint drying alongside a Lone Alaskan Pea Pod! (I planted those too late in the season, in a spot too shaded by my crazy huge lemongrass plant, and I’m sorry to say, I’ve completely neglected watering them for weeks. That we have any peas is a miracle. We have more growing, but I doubt they’ll handle this week’s cold temps.)

Chocolate Mint, Tarragon and the Lone Alaskan Pea

According Eliot Coleman, fresh peas from the garden are enough reason in and of themselves to justify an entire season of gardening. I guess we’ll see about that tonight! Acorn squash, the Lone Alaskan Pea Pod, and a whole messa greens. Mmmmmmm, can’t wait. I do love fresh food and pretty flowers. LOL, can you tell?

Horizontal Kale and Other Gardening Fun

That title is not an exaggeration! Check out my Winterbor Kale:

horizontal kale

Although my other two Winterbor’s continue upright, this one decided to tip all the way over on his side and shimmy himself clear of the second and bottom InstaBed tiers. Quite the creative wind support! You can see he’s made friends with the French Sorrel, which made a surprising recovery once the giant cherry tomato plant stopped hogging all the light.

In addition to this horizontal action, we’ve got some new long rows ready to rot down in preparation for additional trellis action next Summer. I’ve added two more of these rows, and I have three more trellises to use. If I get everything else done, I might even figure out the next location for the final of our six “combo panel” trellises:

vertical gardening prep

The rosemary and asparagus have settled into Fall’s chill, with the rosemary reminding me daily that I need to dig her up and repot for the Winter:

rosemary and asparagus

We’ve still got the cold frame “Guarden Bed,” which David’s going to help me windproof a bit more, along with a protective tarp “skirt” around the edges. You can see I also added concrete blocks to the back as a northerly windbreak. Those blocks will eventually stand beneath our rain barrels, but I like the alternate seasonal uses for them:

Guarden Cold frame

Despite some wind issues, the Guarden continues to produce amazing goodies. I pulled a nice, big turnip today, along with “a whole messa greens.” Outside, you can’t even tell I removed anything from the lush bed. Our bellies will know, though. Dinner in twenty!

turnip and messa greens

Fall Garden Update: First Frost

Well, it finally happened last night: the first frost of the season! David and I spent this weekend preparing, and I harvested a few final things yesterday afternoon. Here’s a photo journey:

Guarden install

We began installing the cold frame portion of “The Guarden.” Above, you can see the PVC pipes bent into the brackets, in preparation for holding up the plastic tunnel. As when we first put together the raised bed, it would have helped to have read all the directions right away. It turns out that David not only needed to undo and redo his over-eager, non-linear girlfriend’s attempt to build the raised bed herself, but we would have been better off installing at least the PVC pipe before adding soil, despite the heat. We wouldn’t have needed to put on the plastic, but the soil now blocks easy access to add some extra bracketing that would create a tighter seal. Oh, well, live and learn. Plus, soil sinks, so perhaps we’ll have an opportunity next Spring. For now, we’ll have a cold frame that’s not quite as tightly sealed as the original design.

cold frame assembly with David's shadow

Above, you can see it with the plastic covering, and below, a peak through the zippered side vents. It’s very important to vent your cold frame on sunny days! Inside temperatures can scorch cold hardy crops, especially under glass. Think of how hot a sunny porch or sun room can get in winter, and then intensify that by the smaller space and soil activity.

looking through the vents

You can also lift the sides for Fall and Winter harvesting:

cold frame lifting

I just checked on the babies outside, and I noticed an unexpected thing. The plants in the uncovered beds all looked great, whereas the ones under the cold frame were covered in frost. I will need to experiment to see how much of that happened due to added moisture within the cold frame and how much due to the fact that the uncovered beds have already had at least an extra hour of full sun exposure, while the little cold frame that could(?) sits in only partial sun right now due to the lowered sun angle. It might also have something to do with the heat retained by the black beds, as opposed to the white bed that keeps the soil cooler. David’s dad offered to paint the white one to match the others, but we thought that would require too much maintenance. I may reconsider if it makes a huge difference in productivity, though. Live, observe and learn.

I did not seal up the vents all the way, either, so I will try that this time. I needed to leave before dark yesterday for the Inner Transitions book group and thus left the vents not too open and not too closed. It may have resulted in a frost-friendly moisture situation. Since all the plants in there are cold hardy, I think they’ll be fine. Kale actually tastes better after a frost! Still, it was only 30 degrees last night, so I hope I can count on a little better performance in the dead of winter. I might have to break out my row covers sooner than expected! [UPDATE 2: With the vents closed last night, I had zero frost on my cold frame covered plants this morning.]

After David and I finished installing the cold frame, what to my wandering eyes should appear? A hidden (even from the squirrels and rabbits!) Moon & Stars Watermelon, ripe for the picking. It was tiny, grown in a crate, and totally delicious. It tasted like watermelon bubble gum — very sweet and unlike other watermelons I’ve tried. It was the first and only watermelon we got this season before any critters drained them of their juice. Definitely worth the wait! Who harvests watermelon in late October?! In Northern Indiana???


The harvest continued, with (non-cold hardy and hopefully, please, please, please perennial if mulched) tree collards and unripe tomatoes:

tree collards and tomatoes

I gathered even more yesterday:

More Tomatoes

We’ve got mint drying for tea and smoothies…


… and lots of lemongrass!


I made another weekend bouquet…

this weekend's bouquet

… and a zinnia and pineapple sage bouquet along with edible nasturtiums and calendula flowers:

yesterday's harvest

I expected to find frozen nasturtiums, zinnias and a dead sage today, but everything’s still bright and joyful. What a bizarre, wonderful world out there! Good thing the flowers inspire me, because I’ve got a boatload of bulbs to hide from squirrels plant.


Mad Scientist Gardening Results

Well, it’s the end of the Summer and early Fall growing seasons as we move ever closer to our usual first frost date of October 10. I’m procrastinating the removal of an enormously prolific cherry tomato plant that has now invaded my asparagus and two other garden beds. These sweet little tomatoes delighted a lot of people this Summer, and I suspect they have at least one more round of salsa canning in them. Nonetheless, it’s time to clean up the inaccessible beds, as the plant has blight, and I now have dozens of calendula plants sprouting up through the wood mulch. Time to neaten things up before it gets too cold to work outside! As I finish a raw cacao-maca-ho shou woo smoothie, what better way to procrastinate ripping out a renegade tomato plant than sharing the results of this year’s Mad Scientist Gardening?

I’m just going to list each experiment with a few comments and observations for anyone interested in trying this at home. If you’ve experimented, too, please feel free to share your results in the comments below.

Wood Mulch in Culinary Herb Beds

A+: Awesome for water retention! I only watered my front herb bed twice all summer, and those herbs thrived. Well, all except the chamomile, which eventually died back. I think that was more due to other herbs encroaching on it than dehydration, though. We had a rich period of rain in early July, but otherwise, it was a fairly dry season. The wood mulch kept my herbs carefree.

herbs and asters

B+ for weed control. I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of weeds, since our landlord had mulched the front bed for four evergreens he planted before we arrived. We knew he left some “weeds,” because he didn’t know if they were edible and thus of interest to us. They turned out to be some kind of vinca and a rather aggressive mint-like plant. In addition, some other vining blue flowered plant took over any shady spots along the house and is currently attempting to take over our yard. The weed control might actually be an A for how aggressive this plant it, but I did spend one morning per week yanking dandelion flowers and pulling back various vines. For the most part, the front herb bed was trouble free. I intend to use the wood mulch on my medicinal herb bed when I plant it next Spring.

Squash in Crates

F for fail! They looked gorgeous for the first few weeks of their lives, and then the squash in all four crates died a quick and wilted death. Squash bugs and wilting virus played a role, but I suspect the crates lined with landscape cloth and filled with a mixture of potting soil and topsoil did not drain properly. Signs of powdery mildew and root rot weakened the plants and likely made them more susceptible to whatever insects wanted to attack. Not recommended at all. If you must use this method, then I would suggest using Mel’s Mix from Square Foot Gardening — equal parts peat moss, compost (five different kinds) and vermiculite, mixed thoroughly. Whenever I added compost, my crates retained too much water, and my plants looked extremely unhappy. The vermiculite may help with drainage, and make sure to poke holes in the bottom of the landscape cloth.

Melons in Crates

C: this was a mixed bag. We got about 1-2 cucumbers per week, and they tasted great! The plants themselves embarrassed me. The leaves kept getting brown spots, and I could never find the right balance between too wet or too dry. That said, these produced until last week when the weather turned colder at night. I did need to fertilize (organic material) several times throughout the season.

UPDATE: As I was pulling out the cucumber vines today, I found that we had another two cucumbers growing — one ready for harvest. Those guys are soooo sneaky! And they continue to grow despite my utter neglect. πŸ™‚

The Pride of Wisconsin Cantaloupe in crates fared almost as well as the cucumbers. We got four unbelievably delicious cantaloupe from two plants, which I tried to trellis up the combo hog/cattle wire fencing we installed. Lots of powdery mildew issues, likely from the drainage problems, as well as the rainy spell in early July. They never quite recovered from that. Still, from what I understand, cantaloupe can be a bit tricky to grow, and, while certainly not prolific, we did get fruit.

Watermelon in crates was a bust. We got four very small fruits on the Jubilee, and one small fruit on the Moon & Stars. Squirrels or rabbits fanged and drained each of our Jubilee’s right as they ripened. Unfortunately, the thieves recognized the ripeness before I did, because the fruits were so small that I didn’t think they could possibly be done. The Moon & Stars just plateau’d and hasn’t grown for about 5 weeks. It’s still alive, but it’s not going anywhere. I suspect the crates just don’t provide enough soil to feed typically massive and thirsty watermelon plants. Ours remained petite all season compared to my friend, Kimber’s, in the ground. She actually got delicious watermelon, which she kindly shared, so our watermelon season did have one bright spot. πŸ™‚ Next year, I will plant in the ground, use a very short season (Russian) variety, and attempt to trellis these smaller fruits to keep slugs and bunnies away from them. I’m not sure what to do about the squirrels, who also just dug up all my carefully planted garlic. Grrrrrrr!

Leaf Mulch for Vegetables

A: This worked well for the second year in a row, especially in the raised beds. Even though raised beds dry out faster than soil on the ground, I needed to water the raised beds less than the unmulched sunflower and bee-friendly patch up front, which turned out to be the highest maintenance of any garden spot this year. I definitely prefer leaf mulch to straw, since the straw I got for our fourth raised bed has required me weeding out grass pretty much every day. It wasn’t weed free straw as implied when we bought the straw bale. Oh, well, live and learn. The leaf mulch lasted most of the season and kept things moist. We did get some of that gross looking (but harmless) “dog vomit fungus” earlier in the season, since decaying, wet matter and rain can produce some rather funky colors! Dog vomit fungus also loves wood mulch, but I still think the leaf mulch is better for veggies in a raised bed. I might experiment next year with wood mulch around plants in the ground, a la Back to Eden.

Tomatoes in Raised Beds

B+ The tomatoes tasted great, and we got a lot of tomatoes, so in that sense, this experiment was a success. On the other hand, our raised bed setup with landscape cloth underneath prevented strong and deep enough anchors for trellis attempts. I spent most of my garden maintenance trying to deal with overgrown, toppling or otherwise unruly tomato plants. We lost a lot of our crop to slugs and squirrels when I finally gave up and let the plants block my access to the back of the beds. When I finally removed four of the plants, I couldn’t believe how many tomatoes I had let rot on the ground. Can you say “volunteer tomatoes” next year?! Ohhhhh, dear. Anyway, I can’t complain about the harvest, as we had way more tomatoes than I could keep up with, but they required a lot of water, which they otherwise drained away from my less greedy plants. They also took a lot of annoying time to fiddle with. Deadheading flowers is kind of enjoyable; constantly cutting tomato branches or jerry-rigging yet another trellis? Less so.

Next year, they’re going in the ground, because my ground planted tomatoes — even neglected ones in poor soil — have been largely carefree. The main advantage of the raised beds is that mine are black, so the soil warmed up much faster. I had tomatoes weeks before other people in town, even people growing Early Girl, Early Boy or Early Chalk varieties. Speaking of which — I do prefer Early Chalk to Early Girl. Again, live and learn. Our beefsteaks were tender and flavorful, and as I’ve already said, the cherry tomatoes were amazingly productive and tasty. Our Amish paste and Yellow Germans in the ground are just ripening now, but I planted those about 5 weeks after the others when we got a bunch of plant rejects from David’s (then) job at Whole Foods.

[UPDATE: a note on the photos of various raised beds … I used photos that actually show the beds, rather than more recent ones in which you can barely see the beds. The 18″ chard and kale are not pictured, since at this time, zinnias, overgrown tomatoes and other plants completely obscure the frames.]

Insta-Bed’s (Cubic Foot Gardening Beds)

Our black cherry tomato plant has taken up residence  away from the rest of the InstaBed, kindly giving sunshine to the calendula and marigolds it was formerly shading. I love when plants play nice!

Our black cherry tomato plant has taken up residence away from the rest of the InstaBed, kindly giving sunshine to the calendula and marigolds it was formerly shading. I love when plants play nice!

I was beta testing these this year, although the feedback mechanism and community sharing feature on the website disappeared mid-Summer. I would give these an A for productivity and I’m not sure how to rate them for aesthetics and holding form. I messed up, because I misunderstood the assembly instructions and failed to realized that backfilling them with organic material would result in significant sinking.

Pro’s: cheap, recycled, highly productive due to the round design and triple tiers. The black color warms the soil and extends gardening season by perhaps a month on either side of the season.

Con’s: kind of ugly until you have larger plants growing, at which time, the black plastic fades into the background. If I assembled them again, or if I can figure out how to reassemble them without making an enormous mess, I would definitely do so in concentric circles instead of the cascade. The back side of my beds is about four inches lower than the front, despite numerous attempts to refill the sinking soil. This is partly my fault for adding so much compost back there, but partly a possible design issue, in that the tiers with very thin supports may just sink. I’m not sure if several years from now, even the concentric circles will have sunk into just one larger circle. Time will tell.

In the meantime, the triple tier has saved my back a lot of grief, and I have the most productive small space veggie garden of any I’ve seen on my walks around town — walks that typically involve alley walking to avoid traffic, but mostly to peak at others’ backyard gardens. Hey, I like plants! πŸ˜‰

Reclaimed Sleep Number Bed Frame

A- Although this is my favorite of the beds in that I finally feel like I got something useful out of that disappointing and expensive gimmick known as the Sleep Number Bed, our “Bed Bed” did require more frequent watering than the InstaBeds, mostly because it had significantly less soil. Six inches quickly sank down to about four inches, and I needed to refill this bed with compost at least as often as trying to backfill the InstaBeds. In the early part of the season, the water starved plants at lower level also suffered significantly more insect damage than the happier ones on the InstaBeds. Adding compost and the favorite fertilizer of my plants (a diluted mix of water and, yes, my own pee), those babies recovered and then some. I now have 18″ chard leaves, giant zinnias, gorgeous nasturtiums, marigolds, prolific sea kale, “dwarf” Siberian kale (haha — it’s almost two feet tall!), lavender and other plants. The parsley is insane!

Other side of the "Bed Bed" with another lush InstaBed

Other side of the “Bed Bed” with another lush InstaBed

IMHO, this is the best use for a Sleep Number Bed. It just took awhile to get the right mix of predator insect attracting flowers, extra compost, and water, water, water.

The Guarden

A (I think!) It may be too soon to tell on this one, since I only installed the Guarden in late July/early August. We have also yet to assemble the cold frame that comes with it.


Pro’s: Easy assembly, although I still managed to mess it up! David managed to salvage my goof. Hint: do read the instructions. “Easy to assemble” does not necessarily mean “so obvious that you can just toss aside the directions without even glancing at them.” Made from recycled milk containers: I like this because I always enjoy repurposing discarded materials. This also means it’s food grade plastic.

Con’s: It’s white instead of black, so it doesn’t go with my other raised beds or rain barrels, and it won’t trap heat in the soil like the others. That said, the frame is way thicker than any of my other raised beds, so it may insulate just as well or even better. Again, time will tell. For some reason, the animals seem bolder with this bed than the others, even the lower “BedBed.” You can see in the photo above where squirrels have left holes from digging up my garlic, planted among the very small sprouting carrots and parsnips. It may be the season, too, but earlier, the chipmunks were quite bold with my cilantro, as well! No one messed with my cilantro in the InstaBeds. Fortunately, I can put the cold frame on and try replanting if it stays warm for just a little while longer.

All in all, I’m excited about this raised bed. The greens and radishes are already growing well now that I realized this bed holds a lot of soil — 600 pounds! — that takes awhile to wet thoroughly. Once it rained, things took off.

Fertilizers and Compost

As mentioned above, (my) plants prefer (my) pee. I use mushroom compost, composted cow manure, rotting leaf mulch, “Chickety Doo Doo” (pee-ew!), have our own compost pile rotting away, and used some leftover worm castings from our garden in Madison. I saw the greatest results from a) introducing worms into the soil to make their own worm castings underneath and around my plants and b) diluting my own urine anywhere between 5:1 and 20:1 with water as the higher number. We tried this with David’s pee, and the plants didn’t like it as much.

It sounds gross, but various gardeners have told me about this for years, and I read an article last year in Mother Earth News, comparing different organic fertilizers. Diluted urine came out on top as the best overall tonic for plants. I also find my plants like the idea of me giving back to them. Because of the gross factor, I tend to resist doing this, trying any and all other compost or organic fertilizer options I can imagine. Time and again, my pee makes the difference even if nothing else will. I saved my dwarf Siberian kale that way — it shot up six inches in two days both times after nearly dying twice, once from insect damage and once from a toppled tomato plant.

Other useful things: coffee grounds provide nitrogen and a slightly acidic mulch. Supposedly, they deter slugs, too, although my slugs are the hard working, hard playing kind. They enjoy coffee, and they drink beer without drowning in it. Party hardy! Next year, I’m getting some toad houses. I even saw one yesterday at Ten Thousand Villages. Toads eat slugs and all the right kinds of bugs, but I digress …

Breaking down leaf mulch is slightly acidic, but does feed the soil. Unfinished compost forms a layer in my front yard lasagna gardening efforts, and I used it to back fill the InstaBeds; therefore, I know it breaks down! LOL, but seriously … unfinished compost is free and easy to acquire.

Milk for tomatoes. I had a blossom end rot problem the first year I grew tomatoes. It was so frustrating that I vowed never to have such a thing again. Blossom end rot happens in calcium deficient soil, which you can remedy with crushed egg shells and milk. I’ve never heard of anyone else who does this, but when we lived in Madison, I got a couple batches of nasty smelling raw milk that I just couldn’t stomach. It was fine stuff; the farmer had just changed the feed and it smelled like cheese to me. Blech. I was a very happy vegan, except for my teeth, and the raw dairy helped a lot. I didn’t want to waste it, so I added it to my soil. No blossom end rot issues! When I saw signs of blossom end rot on the first couple tomatoes this year, I bought a half gallon of organic milk and watered the tomato plants with a half and half water and milk mixture. No issues for the rest of the season, and I had the sweetest tomatoes anyone had ever tasted! Calcium in soil makes things sweet. Now I know to add lime at soil prep time, but the milk did the trick last year and this year.

Companion Planting

A+ Yes! Not only will those flowers make your garden gorgeous, attracting faeries, bees and butterflies, but they will also bring in predator insects who eat these things that eat your plants. Highly, highly recommended. Herbs work well in a garden bed, too.

Pest Repellants

Clover for rabbits: the garden guy at Lowe’s told me about this, and it worked! Let clover grow (or plant some) near your garden. The bunnies will go for that instead of your greens. Plus, clover fixes nitrogen in your soil. Win, win!

Companion planting to attract good bugs: lots and lots of flowers! Fragrant ones, stinky ones like marigolds, different colored ones … the more variety, the stronger and more balanced your ecosystem.

Moringa sprayed on leaves: not the best. 😦 I ordered moringa as a vegan calcium source for my teeth, and every time I drink even a tiny amount, I get major stomach cramps for 48 hours. Not the best. Soooo, I thought maybe this super nutrient rich plant would be a good foliar spray. I looked it up online, and sure enough, people have had good results. I did not. All I have now are a bunch of ants on my chard, as well as ants in the garden bed. I hear ants eat — and farm — aphids, so I’m not sure how this will work out. Will they increase or decrease my aphid issue? Will their marching aerate my soil? Do I need to research good ant predators for next year and plant attractive plants for them? Probably. In the meantime, I won’t be using that moringa in the garden.

Diatomaceous earth: this is a mixed bag. It works on soft bodied insects and is non-toxic to humans. Unfortunately, it can also kill your predator bugs and paralyze your bees. A little drifted from a kale plant onto some oregano flowers and I cannot tell you how horrible I felt when I saw a bee moving in very slow motion on that oregano. I sent him Reiki and apologized, but I’ve not used diatomaceous earth anywhere near flowers since. I also found that it kept away predator bugs from the Guarden bed, so I pulled some extra marigolds and geraniums from the other beds and interplanted them for a short season in the new bed. Things have balanced out much better since then. I prefer companion planting to sprays.

Row covers: I just purchased these to insulate crops in the winter when it gets really, really cold even under the cold frame. They let in water and light, but keep out bugs and frost. I will likely employ these during leaf hopper season next year, although I’m hoping a special, secret organic farm treatment I’ve manifested this Fall helps to balance the soil and ecosystem here next Spring. Maybe we won’t have such a leafhopper mania next year.

Beer or coffee for slugs: again, I’ve heard this works, but not for mine. An occasional “underage” slug will drown, but all the big, burly guys just drink up and party on, then enjoy their coffee before morning light. Grrrrrr …. toads! I’m telling you. Next year this garden will have toads. πŸ™‚

Alright I’ve been typing for over an hour. The smoothie is long finished, and those tomatoes want harvesting before lunchtime. I hope my experiments encourage and/or save people some time, money and effort. Got to get myself back to the garden on my day off from sessions …