Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Preparing your Soil

Preparing your garden beds:

Put you money into your soil.  That is the best garden investment you can make.  It will result in greater yields and fewer problems with pests and disease. Organic gardening is based on plant and soil biology. That’s why it works.

If you are starting a new garden bed, rototil the soil and remove rocks and weeds. Build your bed frame and place over the soil.  I do not recommend putting and screens on your raised beds.  Add 4-6 inches of compost and 2” of peat moss.  Broadcast evenly a dry organic fertilizer and incorporate into the soil.

To prepare an existing bed, add 2 inches of compost and a dry organic fertilizer.  If you have been doing this each year you probably do not need to incorporate it in.  If you are new to organic gardening, then you will have to work the compost into the soil. 

My favorite compost is Nutri-mulch (turkey manure). Any compost will do.  Avoid those with time released chemical fertilizers.  That will only ensure you continually kill beneficial microbes in your soil.

In organic gardening, you feed the microbes and the microbes provide the nutrients for the plants.  Plants expend a lot of energy attracting specific bacteria and fungi to their root zones.  They enter into a beneficial relationship, each providing the other with what it needs.  The presence of beneficial microbes prevents the buildup of pathogenic microbes.  Using chemical fertilizers, destroys this relationship, kills microbes, and does not build your soil structure.

Adding compost provides organic matter for microbes, retains moisture, hold nutrients in the soil, and makes plants healthy and happy.  So invest in dung!  It gets the job done.

My favorite compost and mulch.

Dry Organic Fertilizer:

You can purchase a balanced organic fertilizer.  You do not need a different one for each plant variety. Just look for one that is for vegetables.  I have a picture below of one I am trying out that we are carrying in our lawn and garden store in Overton, Nevada.

I usually mix my own.  You can use any seed meal or blood meal for nitrogen and bone meal for phosphorus.  I put greensand for potassium and trace mineral.  Kelp meal is also good for trace minerals.

My recipe: 1 part blood meal, 2 parts bone meal, 1/2 to 1 cups of greensand (optional)

I put this in a 5 gallon bucket and use it on the garden, berries, landscape and fruit trees. Everything also gets a layer or homemade or store bought compost.  I also add dry organic fertilizer to planting holes along with extra compost. Remember this feeds microbes not plants. The microbes then provide nutrients for the plants.

Liquid fertilizers are also important especially in early spring when microbe activity is slow.  Fish emulsion and liquid kelp are great options.  I feed seedlings when they have 4-6 leaves, again when flowers set and buds form and if plant is stressed.

Complete organic fertilizer.

Look what you can grow organically, healthy beautiful grand kids!
This picture is of my grandson "helping" his dad prepare a raspberry bed.  Having a chemical free yardsmeans they can safely help, eat, and play in your yard and garden.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What's Up in the Garden


Look at the delicious red stalks.


Cauliflower: Amazing, Green Harmony & Cheddar.

Row Covers

The forks are to keep my cats out.  They think I build these hot houses for them to enjoy.

I consider row covers a garden necessity. Be sure to have them on hand before spring.  Using row covers gives you a head start in the garden.  Row covers are your best strategy for extending your garden season.

What is a Row Cover?

Row covers are a spun polypropylene fabric used for a variety of purposes.  There are many brands to choose from.  They transmit light and air and come in different weights. Most are meant to lay or float directly on the plants.  Wire or PVC hoops can be used as supports and the row cover attached to the hoops.  Secure the cover with landscape staples or lay boards or PVC pipe down the side of garden beds.  You can build a simple low tunnel with rebar stakes or build a frame to suspend the cover off of plants. The lighter weight fabrics can float directly on top of plants. 

Row covers come in 4 different weights for different purposes.  They come precut to certain dimensions or can be purchased on roll of varying lengths and width.  They are available online at most garden sites and are at most garden centers. I have been using Harris Seeds to purchase mine.

Multiple layers of row covers can be used.  A floating row cover directly on the plants and a heavier weight row cover on the frame.

Types of Row Covers

Insect Barrier or Floating Covers 
  • Almost transparent
  • Lets 95% of light through 
  • Used as insect barrier 
  • Protects newly seeded beds from birds, squirrels, rabbits,etc
  •  Boosts germination by locking in heat and moisture

Light Weight Row Covers
  • Great for protecting newly seeded beds.  Lay directly on top of garden bed.
  • Boosts seed germination because it warms the soil
  • Protects new seedlings from birds, squirrels, rabbits etc.
  • Protects new seedlings from intense sunlight while they get established
  • Can be used as a second layer under a cold frame or row cover
  • 4 degrees of frost protection
  • 85% light penetration   

Medium Weight Row Covers
  •  Used for light frost protection 
  • Used as a winter cover over low tunnels underneath a layer of greenhouse plastic
  • Best choice for a low tunnel in early spring
  • Up to 6 degrees of frost protection  
  • Allows 70% light penetration 
  • Holds in more heat
Early spring greens grown with row covers and low tunnels.

 Caring for Row Covers
  • Holes can be repaired with clear packing tape
  • Dirty covers can be washed in lukewarm water
  • Fold or roll around a tube to store

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Early Spring Use of Low Tunnels

Constructing a low tunnel. An inexpensive option to extend your season.
Low tunnels can be from 1 1/2' to 3' high

Why the forks?  My feline friends assumed this cozy shelter was for their benefit.

Finished tunnel!

Right now there are seedlings of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, pac choi, and cauliflower in the low tunnels.

It protects them from wind, birds, squirrels, cold, and excessive sun while the seedlings are getting established. Last night was 21 degrees and the plants were content and happy.

In May, I will move these low tunnels to cover tomatoes and peppers.  It will allow me to plant transplants of warm season crop earlier.

An additional layer of protection can be added by putting a floating row cover directly on top of seedlings.

One side is secured and the other I can roll up for access to water.  All these seedlings were started indoors and transplanted to the low tunnels this month.

Another use for row covers is to protect early spring direct seeded crops like peas, carrots, beets, and spinach.

I lay the covers directly on the soil after seeding a bed.  It retains moisture, heat, and protects newly emerging seedlings from birds and squirrels.


How to Construct a Low Tunnel
Use  2 foot lengths of re-bar in sides of bed
Slip ½ PVC pipe over hoops
Attach a center support for extra strength, screw it into PVC (optional)
Cover with light or medium weight row cover for early springs use
Use clamps or clothes pins to hold in place
Make clamps from ¾ PVC cut to 3” then remove portion of pipe to make a clamp or they can be purchased.  In temporary situations clothes pins work fine.
Secure bottom of row covers with pole, landscape staples, or whatever you have on hand.
Ready to plant!

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Early Spring Buzz

Here in Utah we are have had a very warm February.  My overly anxious apricot tree is foolishly beginning to bloom. The rest of the orchard seems to understand that if you wait five minutes the weather in Utah could change These next couple of weeks will be spent in the orchard spraying, pruning and in the garden planting cool season crops. 

Orchard To Do List:
  • Prune bearing trees.  On young trees spread limbs and correct problems
  • Apples bear on spurs on 2-3 year old  wood (short lateral shoots) some are tip bearers.  Peaches and apricots bear on first year wood
  • Remove all mummified fruit
  • On apple trees look for shoots that have dead leaves attached.  Remove these they may have been infected with fire blight.
  • Be sure to sanitized your pruners when moving from tree to tree. I carry a small spray bottle with a 10% Clorox solution
Spray with dormant spray:
  • Horticultural sprays or dormant oil sprays are a very important spray.  I use a plant based spray not a petroleum based spray.  You can also use a double strength Neem oil.  The spray I use is a cottonseed oil spray.  These oils are effective on aphids, peach twig borers, blister mites, and scale.  If you had a problem last year with aphids use a dormant oil mixed with Neem.
  • If you spray too soon they are ineffective.  The perfect time to spray is when sap begins to flow and the buds swell.  The insects become active and are susceptible around the same time your trees decide to break dormancy. So carefully watch your trees and spray when buds swell.
  • I spray all woody shrubs, trees and berries in my yard with dormant spray
I'm a bit like my apricot tree- anxious for spring.  I'm already craving some fresh produce.

Garden To Do List:

When soil temperatures are between 55-75 it's time to plant your cool season crops.  

Just stick a normal thermometer a couples inches into the soil to check.  I also check the weather for the next two weeks and if things look good I plant.

 The first seeds in the garden are peas and spinach.  Plant an open-pollinated variety of peas so you can save seeds for next year.   Designate which plants you are saving seeds from with a colored plastic tape or yarn.  Plant some peas to use the young shoots or peas tendrils in salads.  They are so tasty.

I started cabbage, pac choi, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chard and lettuce indoors and will probably transplant them in the garden this next two weeks.  I always have floating row covers on hand to protect my plants from any severe weather.

Start tomatoes and peppers 8 weeks before your last frost date.  For my New Harmony neighbors that is within this next two weeks.

Barnyard News:

Meet the newest nubian to join the herd!

Handsome little buck!

What should we name him?