grdnguru's blog

Where the gardens are today (Part 1)
Posted on Jun 11, 2017 12:05 PM

I have been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to assist two other gardeners in my area with setting up new garden areas for them. I say fortunate because it is a compliment of sorts to have people ask you for advice let alone trust you to plan and implement their gardens. It has been quite busy time maintaining my garden while working with these folks on their gardens all the while holding down a job too. But it is very rewarding too.
My gardens' activity has been pretty hectic to date. I expanded the garden area and made several decisions to make the garden more productive with food we enjoy eating and also to allow for foods that can be put up in the fall.
Last year I planted 4 paste tomatoes thinking I'd get enough from them to put up a few jars worth in the fall. Just to try it out. It was, to say the least, a huge disappointment. I have spoken to several gardeners who all related that their tomatoes were off last year. So this year, I bought 20 paste plants thinking an area of 81 sq. ft would be enough. Not quite as it turned out. Given last years crop issues, I did some research and found out that I have actually been crowding my tomatoes. Seems the ideal spacing is 2 ft. between plants in a row and 3ft. between each row of caged plants. So, I spaced mine so that I could get 15 plants in the isolated area where they wouldn't be impacted by any other plants issues. Here's a picture of the plot so far.
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The large boards on either end of the rows are set up so that I can tie them up in what is called the Florida weave method. I have never used it before but decided it lookd easier (in the long run that is) than staking and/or caging the plants. I do not like the cages that are sold everywhere as they are much too low height wise to handle plants that can grow to 6-8 ft. tall. I never really understood why they were always manufactured to such small heights. May have to do with the thin wire they use to construct them.
The Florida weave method entails running a string alternately around the plants at 10 - 12 inches from the soil line and then every 10-12 inches upwards to give them the support they need. Here is a picture of my first attempt at it.

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You start at one end and weave the string on opposite sides of the plants as you go down the row and then loop back and weave the string to the other side of each plant. This kind of cradles the plant as can be seen in the picture. When they get to 2 ft height, I will then do the weave at that height. This will continue until they reach full height. I am by no means an expert so this will be an experiment. We have had some windy weather and the plants seem to have had no issues yet.
On another tomato note, I have 10 plants of various hybrid and heirloom plants in the ground that all seem to be doing very well too. After researching why I had so few tomatoes last year, I learned that either the hybrid tomatoes or heirlooms seem to do well each year but one always outperforms the other type. As I had predominately heirlooms last year, that may have been the source of my issue. So, this year, I have it almost split down the middle.
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The two plants in the bowls are for my father in law for Father's day. He used to have a garden but has given it up for various reasons. I will put a cage around them for additional support. I used a mix of the cages I have and poles for support once they overgrow the cages. All he has to do is water them at this point.
Speaking of experiments. Last fall I grew out lettuce and carrots in a covered mini greenhouse. The carrots are still growing and I have replanted the lettuce to see if I could continue to grow using the structure. Here is where it is at as of now.
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I have two rows of leaf lettuce that are growing quite well. I continue to water the plants and need to pull some of the carrots to see if progress is being made or we are at a standstill. But, to have leaf lettuce this far into the season is a bonus.
I planted a row of Buttercrunch lettuce about a month ago and covered it under woven vegetable fabric. As can be seen below, it also is doing very well given the lateness of the season.
Thumb of 2017-06-11/grdnguru/ada0e3
There are 7 heads of the lettuce in the row and they seem to all be growing very strong. We're going to be having some nice salads soon enough.
I also have a bed of 16 Bell Pepper plants that are doing ok given our decidely cooler weather we have been experiencing. They are all healthy as can be seen in the picture below. I love peppers but I really do think I over grew yet again this year. I will probably end up giving some (alot actually) if they come in like last year. We shall see how that turns out.
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I've also planted 6 cucumber plants. I have them trellised on my DIY structures. A local garden center closed about 2 years ago and I bought their onion set displays. Here is how they ended up looking in place after I painted them and added screening.

Thumb of 2017-06-11/grdnguru/914b03

They are really sturdy, wind resistant and somewhat compact. When I bought them, my wife was skeptical as was I. But, the cucumbers are starting to grow to a point where they are climbiming unto the screening. I will see how they fare as they climb.
In the backround of the same picture are three interconnected wire "ladders" that I have converted to yet more cucumber trellises. These were repurposed from being protective coverings for plate glass windows that were being delivered to the company where I work. I wired them together and then attached them to rebar I pounded into the ground. They held up 5 cucumber plants - cucumbers and all through some windy storms last year. These were being thrown out so I asked for them and was told if I can get them in my car - they were mine. And they were.
With the weather turning much warmer in the next week, the various plants should begin to become more robust. I will have to naturally watch them as the higher temps can cause issues. You may leave in the morning and come home to plants wilting right before your eyes. Don't stress! This is natural as the plants wilt to preserve moisture to survive. Just give them a good drink of water and watch them rebound. It doesn't appear to cause any long term damage. But if this happens repeatedly, that's mother nature telling you that you need to step up your watering game.
So, there you have the latest, greatest from my backyard. In part 2, I will recap what has been happening in one of the gardens that I am assisting the people into becoming full on gardeners. I will give all the details in the next week or earlier. Until next time, Happy Gardening everyone!!!!

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Oh, what a beautiful day!
Posted on Mar 27, 2017 5:39 PM

As the day began:
We had one of the most delightful days in a very long time Saturday. The forecasters were dead on this time. I planned on getting a very early start to the day given the forecast and what I really needed to get accomplished.
I actually look forward to beating the sun up because it is a very special time of the day to me. The world is quiet for a while and you can just take in all of God's beauty. It affords me time to breathe and just exist. Even the birds aren't quite up yet. And in the area where we live, that is saying alot as we have a very big population of loud birds. Sometimes I can imagine me as a farmer and being out in the fields and just taking in the day before getting on to the business of farming. You know, looking down from a hill over the rolling fields below just as morning is approaching. It has to be one of the best offices with a view in the world.
So, I was up at 5:15 and raring to go. I put on my headlamp as it was dark outside and began the day. I had a pile of limbs that needed to be cut up and bagged along with other yardwaste. I sometimes have to wonder what my neighbors think when they see me up that early. Then again, they may not even be up. So here was my view at 5:30AM:
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I said it was dark didn't I? I began clearing the pile and cutting up the pile when it occurred to me that most of the limbs were rather substantial. Then it hit me - why not?

Permaculture anyone?

I decided to practice a little permaculture gardening. Never heard of it? Well, it is quite complex but one of the parts of it is to use what your land produces. In this case, I decided to attempt to employ the various branches of the tree in my yard as plant supports in my garden. I tried it last year with my Peppers and it worked very well for me. So, I trimmed the various large branches down and bagged the waste products and the little limbs for disposal this week. When I started, I thought I might get maybe 10 or so limbs for Pepper supports. Here are the culled limbs.
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After about an hour or so, I had all my limbs trimmed and ready for use in the garden. And the bounty from nature was far more than I anticipated. Here are the Pepper supports. All 15 of them!
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And here are the Tomato supports.
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There are 11 of them.
Now, my experience is that these will last for about 2 or 3 years. But then again, who cares? I looked at tomato cages and supports and they can cost anywhere from $4 to $9 each. Even at $3 a piece, that is a savings of $78.00 all totaled not counting taxes. That seems significant to me. I have been and continue to be frugal if nothing else when it comes to my garden. Maybe I am a throwback given my experiences but it all adds up. And readily free materials are available if you look for them and use your imagination. I will go into this further in a subsequent post.

Sprucing up!

I've decided this year to tighten up the look of my gardens. I noticed that the fence posts that I use were pretty well worn from the many years of service so I bought some spray paint to bring them back to life. I think the results speak for themselves. Before:
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and after:
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A small but I think significant improvement. I'm going to paint the rest of them next chance I get.

Winter garden progress

During the day, I checked in on the progress of the winter garden I kept going all through the winter. I wasn't expecting the lettuce to be doing okay as the temps were high and this garden was covered with three layers of protection. So, I uncovered them in the 80 degree heat we had Saturday and this is what I found.
Thumb of 2017-03-27/grdnguru/031ddc

Quite an early salad garden! Not at all what I expected but I will take it. I removed the extra layer of the thick greenhouse plastic to insure that it wouldn't get too hot in the greenhouse this week. Of course, I will have to keep an eye on the weather to make sure it doesn't get too cold. At this point, it looks like it will be normal without any drastic low temps.

Shared garden?

I have a friend who with his wife wants a garden this year. They are really busy so I volunteered to help them this year with the garden. When he told me he'd have 400 square feet of garden I kind of thought he was over shooting it. He contacted me to come over to look at the space Saturday. Here are the spaces.

This is one plot.
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Here's the other.
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And here's the rest of the above space.
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He wasn't kidding. This is probably a little bigger than 400 sq ft. It's what I call - big fun. The nice thing about this is that it runs east to west and there are no trees to shade the sun. The bulk of the space will be in full sun. Should work for most plants but it defintely won't work too well for lettuce and such.


Lots for sure. Just seems that you run out of time regardless of how early you get up. I have yet to ramp up with the community garden I have been helping out with and I am behind in growing my plants. I also was offered a space of about 4,000 sq. feet to share with a old time gentleman gardener who is acknowledging his age. We agreed that he would allow me to work the space and he would help out as much as possible as long as he could pick what he wanted. We would share the harvest. So, I am going from my 200 sq. feet to 3 total sites of about 4,800 sq. feet. It's a little daunting when you think about it but I do love to garden and stay busy. I will be retiring in a few years so I will have the time then to explore more options. Having a full time job and doing serious gardening is sometimes overwhelming. I mean, I put in 10 hours in on my garden and yard Saturday and it feels like I did not get enough done. Where did all this work come from? But, you know what, I got to spend 10 hours on things I needed to and in my garden. Not a bad day actually.
And you?

Hopefully you are ramping up your garden activities just about now. There is certainly alot to do this time of the year regardless of where and what zone you live in. I hope you are getting your hands dirty and the soil tilled. And, until next time, happy gardening everyone!

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Spring has sprung?
Posted on Jan 11, 2017 6:55 PM

This week we have had quite the little swing to spring. After a cold Sunday, we woke up to frigid temps and some wind on Monday. It was about 15 degrees when I started my car. It begrudgingly did start after a little hesitation. It was frigid for the day as temps did not get much above 26 around this area. Yesterday was a little better as we broke into the mid 30's. And today, it was in the mid 40's.. The high for tomorrow should top out at about 60 which will seem downright balmy compared to Monday. But, tomorrow will be the end of the unseasonable warm weather. By Saturday, if the weather forecasts are to be believed, we should be back in the 30's with a possibility of snow. Such is life in the mid-atlantic region. Swings of this sort are common place during winter. I took advantage of the temps today to check on my winter garden. I didn't know exactly what to expect given the unevenness of our weather. But, much to my surprise, it looked pretty good all in all.
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While the lettuce looks worse for the wear from the temperatures, the spinach, onions and carrots look pretty hardy at this point. According to what I have read, this seems to be the result that I should be seeing at this time. I have hope that this will continue and it just might if the weather stays on the warmer side of normal for this region. Only time will tell but again, I am pleased with the progress at this point. I watered the plants and covered them back up having taken the opportunity to water before the cold temps set in for the weekend.
It hardly seems time to begin starting plants for the garden but I will be finishing the set up for starting plants in my basement this weekend. I plan on starting broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower(maybe). I also have to find some good seed starting mix so I will have to do some research and see what most people believe is the best. I tried an organic mix last year and I wasn't exactly happy with the way it ponded water on the surface. That, and the fact that the soil seemed to stay way too moist seemed to hinder the seedlings growth. Once I transplanted them and got them into the garden, they took off. But, by that time, they were delayed and just seemed to be unable to catch up. I learned a lesson that weak seedlings beget weak production. It's all part of the experience of gardening. Well, that's about it here in Baltimore. Just taking one day at a time and waiting for the gardening season to commence. Hope you and your families are all doing well and that you are enjoyed reading this post. Until next time, happy gardening everyone!

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Blossom End Rot - Scourge of the tomato
Posted on Aug 14, 2016 5:25 AM

"Failure of one thing is repaired by the success of another." Thomas Jefferson, Garden Book,1809

I don't think that there is anything more disheartening than putting in the planning, exerting the labor and tending to your tomatoes only to have them end with Blossom End Rot. Although this malady of the soil can occur on other plants such as squash, peppers and even watermelons, it is most associated with the tomato plant. That may be because the tomato is likely the most planted vegetable across all gardens.

Unlike Mr. Jefferson's outlook, to have it all end with a black, soft spot on the end of your tomatoes is an almost epic failure in most gardeners opinions. But, is there really anything a gardener can do to decrease the chances their tomatoes won't be beset by BER? Thankfully, the answer is that there are certain steps that can be implemented that will reduce the occurrence drastically.

In order to defeat this scourge, one has to understand the origin of it and the complex nature of the issue. Blossom End Rot is often mistaken as a fungus or pest issue by gardeners. If they see it, they will spray their plants with pesticides or fungicides to combat it. When in fact, BER is really an environmental soil issue. Once detected by sight on the fruit, it is almost impossible to correct the situation in time to save the rest of the crop.

Rot occurs under certain identifiable soil and weather conditions. Calcium deficiencies and long periods of wet weather are the main culprits that bring on rot. While one cannot control the weather, you can control the structure and mineral content of your gardening soil to manage it. As with any issue of the soil, it is best to start with a soil test. Preference here would be to submit your soil samples to the local extension service instead of using the do it yourself kits that are available. The extension services often will give you concrete steps to take which is based on their many years of experience.

If the soil test showed a calcium deficit, you will likely will be advised to add limestone to your soil. If there was too much, you will told to add gypsum. The test may even show you have the necessary calcium and nutrients for your plants. The rot may have occurred because your plants cannot access either due to other practices.

Whichever your results are, the next step is to build up your soil structure. As alluded to earlier, BER can be the result of your plants inability to take up the calcium and nutrients present in the soil that they need. They are blocked by other less noticeable issues. This condition is generally brought about by poorly draining soil, the use of high nitrogen fertilizers or salts and/or irregular watering practices.

Poorly draining soil can be best addressed by adding organic matter to your beds in the spring before planting begins. It can take the form of almost any amendment offered. Compost is perhaps the most used one. Either buy a OMRI rated compost or use your own if you practice composting. Others would be composted cow manure, mushroom compost or leaves. One caveat here. When buying commercially produced amendments, look for the OMRI certification to insure you have a clean product for your garden. No sense in introducing harmful pathogens into your garden.

Adding organic matter addresses a multitude of issues that can occur in your soil. It both allows your soil to hold the necessary moisture, and it also structurally allows it to drain the excess off. It adds nutrients to your soil that are slowly released to the plants too.

With tomatoes, an even watering pattern will go a long way to lessening the chances of Blossom End Rot. Uneven watering does not allow the roots to supply the fruit with the balanced nutrients required for successful maturity. A balance must be maintained between your watering and the rains you get.

Another step that can be taken is to mulch around your tomatoes. This results in the maintenance of a constant soil moisture and temperature. Mulch has the side benefit of also depressing the occurrence of disease transfer from the ground to the plant leaves when it rains or you water in the garden.

Another practice to stem BER is to rotate your crops each year so the plants are not being grown in the same plot year after year. Different plants deplete different nutrients throughout the growing season. Rotating also reduces the opportunity for diseases and pests to become prevalent in the garden.

One last trick that can be used is to spread dolomitic lime into the hole you are transplanting your tomato seedlings into. Then cover the lime with native soil and transplant the tomato. This will allow for a ready supply of calcium right at the root zone. You can also spread a little of the lime on the top of the soil for an added boost later.

These are the most effective known methods and practices any gardener can take to insure the best possible outcome for your tomatoes. Using any combination of these will significantly decrease the occurrence of Blossom End Rot in the garden. I hope this has been helpful and that it will ensure you great tomato crops in the future. Happy Gardening everyone.

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Sunday in the garden
Posted on Aug 7, 2016 6:12 PM

Like any gardener, I spent a fair portion of my morning in the garden. Yesterday was absolutely hot and humid. I tried to endure the heat but when I checked the weather on my phone and it was 90 degrees with a feel like 98. Now, I like to garden, but it just seemed pretty illogical to continue to fight the elements. So I stopped even trying to get stuff done in the garden. And for me, that's a very hard task to do. I don't like missing a day in the garden, especially a weekend day. So, I just resolved to get up early today and knock some things out.
First priority was to pick some veggies. And, as shown in my earlier post today, it was a very productive day. One thing I notice is that no matter how much I pick, I never really seem to have enough . A lot of what I picked today has either been eaten at dinner tonight or allocated out. The main reason for that is family. Seems everyone wants my produce and I really don't mind sharing if it brings them satisfaction. Its a nice indirect compliment that people like my tomatoes and such.
My wife made me a cucumber/tomato mixed salad for dinner tonight. I can say this, there is absolutely nothing as great tasting than fresh garden tomatoes and cucumbers with my favorite dressing. No store bought - even local sourced tomatoes and cucumbers - can even come close.
On another note, as I mentioned in my last post, I have decided to renovate my garden to give it more structure and better production. Well, that process has now begun. As seen below, I have removed the first set of bricks at the back of my one bed. I measured the area to make sure I wasn't reducing my beds and when all was measured, turns out the area will be a bit larger. Seems I will have an extra 4 square feet per bed. All good news.
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So, there you have a day in the life of my garden. Hope you enjoyed your day as much as I did. Until next time, Happy Gardening everyone.

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