Archive for April, 2010

Of Apples and Crabapples

We’ve had this poor little crabapple tree on the side of our house since we moved in ten years ago. It’s a little thing that looks like it was designed by Dr. Seuss, and we had often talked of getting rid of it. But it’s pretty in the spring when it blooms, and now it has another purpose: cross pollination.

You see, apple trees are social creatures, and they need another apple tree–of another variety–to cross pollinate with in order to set the most fruit. Crabapples fill that bill nicely, as long as their blooming cycle is in a congruent time with the other variety.

Several weeks ago we planted a Sweet Sixteen apple tree on a L’il Dwarf rootstock. Because of its size and appearance, we have affectionately dubbed it our “apple stick.” But notice the following picture:

Our little seedling is starting to send out leaves from the top and several buds on the side. Don’t come looking around here for apples this year (or even next), but I think the tree might take, unless I come too close with the weed trimmer.


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State of the Garden

The garden improvements are coming along. I continued making a “channel” or footpath on the east side, both for ease of access and to eventually get to the attachment points for the greenhouse ribs. I consolidated the lettuce into one more densely-packed bed, and put out some more spinach and broccoli transplants. Finally, I direct-sowed some carrots, too…a bit later than I should have, but better late than never.

Let me allow pictures to describe the garden better than I can do with words. First, the general overview:

Then, the spinach. Some new transplants, some older seedlings.

My lettuce, with Red Sails and Green Sails in the foreground, with some Royal Oak Leaf and Buttercrunch more in the background:

A view through the garlic…

The onion sets were put in not long ago, so they’re still a bit away from harvesting…

Here’s the new northern bed that I narrowed and straightened. The 2″x8″ on the left edge is a salvage from my alley that I just got today. I’m making this my main carrot bed, since it gets the most sun. Just planted four short rows today on the north end, and will add more in succession in the weeks to follow.

The broccoli bed that I mentioned building in the last post. The black tubes are drip irrigation lines to water the seedlings. That system will be fairly radically changed as the new greenhouse takes shape.

So there you have it: the state of the Bareford garden on April 20th, 2010!

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Rethinking the Garden

I’m a firm believer in garden plans. I’ve even taught a workshop on how to make a garden plan, and preached the mantra “Make a plan and stick to it. Your premeditated ideas and decisions will almost always be better than your emotional, in-the-moment ones.” Hopefully, if you were in that workshop, you weren’t listening to that line of bull. Apparently, even I wasn’t.

You see, my garden plan is out the window.

The problem began with one innocent tray of lettuce seedlings. This past winter, I was slowly accumulating some equipment necessary to eventually set up an indoor aquaponics ecosystem, and I was testing the grow lights that I had put together, using some leaf lettuce seeds as guinea pigs. They sprouted, but quickly yellowed and just weren’t thriving. Because growing plants are a vital link the aquaponics chain, I tinkered around for better results: I changed the grow lights, and made my own potting soil. As a test bed, I scattered a bunch of mixed lettuce seeds in two inches of soil inside an aluminum roasting pan and waited to see what would happen.

Well, they sprouted. All of them. I was happy because my growing setup was working. And then the seedlings were 2-3 inches tall and crowding each other badly. I should have tossed them out; it was only an experiment, right? Of course, I couldn’t do that. Instead, I transplanted 18 of them into individual peat pots. And then gave a half-dozen away to one friend, another dozen to a second friend. And then I transplanted another dozen for myself, and still I had more. Did I mention I scattered a bunch of seeds?

So, in March after I built my cold frame, I moved my growing little collection of seedlings outside. Then, once the beds were ready–and the drip irrigation installed–it was just too tempting to wait. I planted my lettuce seedlings where I’d planned to, but also right across the beds that I’d planned for spinach and carrots.

The non-plan problem deepened when my strawberries didn’t come up the way I’d hoped, and I moved them to the new rain gutter planters and put broccoli in their place (therefore not putting the broccoli in the bed space I’d planned it to go). Then, after reading Four Season Harvest, Melissa and I have decided to put up a convertible greenhouse over our main garden, which requires space around the edges.

So today, I fully converted the tiered strawberry bed into a fully-enclosed raised bed for the broccoli, and I made a footpath on the west side of spinach, lettuce, and onion beds, even transplanting some plants to do it. It looks great, and it will improve both the look and the usability of the garden.

But now my garden looks almost nothing like the design I crafted last winter, and my plan bears little resemblance to the growing reality behind our house.

Oh well, even architects have their initial blueprints (the way they imagine it) and their as-built drawings (the way the building was actually built). Maybe next year my plan will be better…

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Student Melanie Christion, 17, tends to the fish farm at Chicago High School of Agricultural Science, which is raising 1,000 tilapia. The school’s farm operates at commercial grade, but not on a commercial scale. (Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago TribuneApril 11, 2010)

Urban fish farming: Will it catch on in Chicago? – chicagotribune.com

Next week, I’m planning on taking a journey to Milwaukee with a friend to tour Growing Power, an urban aquaponics operation that is becoming more and more well known. But, there are things happening right here in our little Chicago, as well! I may have to add the Chicago High School of Agricultural Science to my tour itinerary, to see how they’re doing things. I wonder if Alderman Bernie Stone will be as receptive to such endeavors.

The Bareford aquaponics project has no official start date yet, but it will happen. Oh yes, it will happen.

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http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=horto-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1890132276&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrFor my birthday this week, my family gave me a couple of books, including Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman. The basic premise of the book is that Coleman, a gardener who lives in Maine, grows a kitchen garden and harvests food throughout the year, even during the winter months–and he does it without an expensive, artificially-heated greenhouse! His success is due to a simple formula: plant cold-resistant vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, kale, and mache, and protect them by using simple technologies like a plastic-sheeted hoophouse and the time-honored cold frame. Coleman points out that he is not trying to grow plants during the winter, only to have them available to harvest. Think of it like a large-scale crisper drawer from your refrigerator!

The book has starting Melissa and I seriously thinking about covering our main garden plot with a “convertible” greenhouse. During the warm months, it would be covered with deer netting to keep out squirrels, dogs, rabbits, etc., and as fall and winter approach would be clad with clear plastic sheeting and stocked with cold frames inside to preserve the fall-planted crops for harvesting throughout the year. The price is far less than you might think (the PVC materials to make the ribs of the structure will cost less than $40 total!), and it seems simple to put together.

Stay tuned for more greenhouse information to follow, and hopefully more four-season harvesting, too!

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First Harvest

Shown above is our first harvest of the year–a salad of baby greens and spinach that was wonderful when tossed with mozzarella cheese and oil and spices. Of special note is that this harvest is at least six weeks earlier than our first crop last year. This is partly due to the unseasonable warm Spring we’ve been having, but also to starting seeds earlier and having a better indoor growing setup coupled with an outdoor cold frame to extend the growing season back several weeks.

My goal this year: a four-season harvest! Stay tuned for how we will do it…

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Those humble-looking additions to the souther wall of my house are my new strawberry beds. Like I mentioned in my last post, my old bed wasn’t being fully utilized by the plants, so I installed these. There are nothing more than a 10′ length of vinyl rain gutter cut into two 5′ pieces and secured to the wall. There are drainage holes drilled at intervals along the bottom, which completely wrecks them as actual rain gutters but makes them much better planters.

Now, 17 strawberry plants call these gutters home. We also hope they’ll be easier to protect from squirrels and birds, once we overlay them with deer netting. I think slugs or other creepy-crawlies might have a harder time scaling the wall to get at them, too! The best part is, now my strawberry take up absolutely zero “floor space” in my garden and are located in one of the sunniest places in my yard. Hopefully, I’ll take pictures of them in coming months, brimming with berries.

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