Tag Archives: farmer russell

The Best Nation is Pollination

16 Jun

*NOTE: I am writing this post during Mad Men commercial breaks. Trying to multitask.

Last week I noticed that my lovely baby cucumbers were beginning to shrivel. Some research revealed that they might not be properly pollinated, and I learned about male flowers and female flowers on cucumbers. However, their close proximity to the very successful string beans would indicate that I have enough pollinators flying around. More on that later.

One thing Farmer Russell insisted I do to help the cucumber plants is thin them even more than I had earlier. I found three of the IMG_8126smaller plants and pulled them out. I had had them several inches apart, but more space would be better. Two of them had a few roots left, so I threw them into an empty pot I had. At first they shriveled, but then the raaaaains came. Lo and behold, they’ve rooted and I now have two more plants. Didn’t really expect that, very happy about it.

Next to the new cucumber plants is Ali’s former pepper plant. She had it inside for several weeks after she bought it and realized that it really wasn’t going to grow in her apartment. I adopted it and brought it upstairs. Yesterday I noticed that it had sprouted several new sets of leaves and is starting to bulk up. My two pepper plants (bell pepper and jalepeño) are also starting to grow new leaves and get….stocky…., but they’re both still a bit short. They area also both making peppers right now so I gave them some plant food, as I had read it’d be good to do once they start producing.

Speaking of rain, we got several days of heavy rains last week, thanks to the end of that hurricane and some storms that came to us from the midwest. I had collected five big buckets of water and several smallerIMG_8058 containers that were just sitting there, full, waiting to be used, but I wound up dumping them out because I didn’t need them and they were starting to get funky. I’ve only needed to water the terra cotta pots, not the square buckets or larger tanks. They’ve all been very nicely saturated for the last two weeks or so. I figured I’ll collect water later this week when we get more rain, which looks like it’ll be Monday through Wednesday, just in case. Here is the rosemary in the new large pot I got last week, and you can see the deck is wet. After three years, it was totally root bound in the smaller pot. I gave the plant a good trim and made rosemary simple syrup. It now has several new soft green leaves, just a few days later.

So about those pollinators….

The cucumbers have been looking much better in the last three days or so. I hope that bee has been telling his friends to come over.

Finally, how could I not talk about my marvelous compost? The threat of high winds made me bungee cord all of the roof chairs to the fence and fold the tables down to protect them. I knew there was little I could do about the plants, though. Thankfully, the storm here wound up being a whole lot of nothing (but about 40 miles away at the distillery we had horizontal rains for a few minutes.) Anyway, after untying the chairs, I switched the compost bucket top with holes to the one without, bungeed it on, and rolled it around the roof for a bit to mix it better than I had been doing with just my prongy cultivator tool. Perfectly mixed! Looks like I’ll just need a few more weeks before I will be able to start to use it.

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Uninvited Visitors & Unstinky Compost

23 May

Last Friday afternoon was pretty busy. Had to deal with some guests and some stench.

So, these guys showed up at the same time and pretty much set me off for the day.

What kind of bee is that? Yellowjacket? Or just some scary jerk? I can hear the chewing into the white oak whisky barrel table. Not pleased about that.

The spider was furry…and had orange and blue spots? I have named him Oliver. He may not be with us any longer, as he walked through the white powder. More on that later.

Those aphids were all over the radishes. I did not see them in the morning when I had picked a few, but by the afternoon of this IMG_7679photo…ALL of the radish leaves were covered in them. Not the beans or cucumbers in the same bin, though. Interesting. Must be tastier. Anywhooo…I pulled up all of the radishes at that point. They were ready to be picked, and I had been eating them for a few weeks. Separated the radish from the leaves and tossed the leaves into the horrible smelling watery compost. Would really be disgustingly impossible for anything to survive in there, so as an immediate pesticide solution, I think I did a good job. Then I pickled the radishes.

Farmer Russell recommended I use diatomaceous earth for the aphids, which would essentially dry them out by slicing up their bodies. It’s crushed silica. ShMerin had used it in the past for uninvited guests in her home and seconded the recommendation. No additional pesticides added. She suggested I wear gloves and a dust mask (already had a bunch at home) and use a soft brush to paint the powder on the underside of the leaves. I think I looked pretty snazzy.

NOW, LET’S UNSTINK!

I’d finally given up on the anaerobic composting in the bucket. Why? Smelled like a broken sewage treatment plant, that’s why. Had to convert to “normal” traditional aerobic composting.

There are tons of instructionals here on the interwebs. Basically, I picked up an 18 gallon Sterilite bin from Target (on sale last week, too) for about $6. Drilled holes all over it. Top, bottom, all sides.

Next I had to clean up the compost mixture. I needed a lot more “brown” material, stuff like, oh, hay and rabbit litter. How convenient! I just happen to have a nearly endless supply. Threw in a layer of several full litter boxes of hay and recycled paper litter before dumping in the stinky bucket of wet yuck. Most of the water drained out through the holes so I was able to collect it in one of the larger white buckets. Then I put the whole thing on bricks so it would get some air flow on the bottom, too. Tossed it around a bit, and all done. (I had an extra bucket top on the bottom of the bin to collect extra tea that might seep out so I could add it back to the plants, but after a few days it was collecting too much and was smelling on its own. I’ve removed the “bottom” top and today it’s sitting right on the bricks.)

Some compost pics from the past week. This stays covered all the time. I just toss my food scraps in there. ONLY plant material, no fats or oils at all.

Verdict? Stink is greatly reduced, and as soon as all of the old water is absorbed back into the mix I imagine it will be even better. I already see it starting to break down after about a week in there.

Then I went downstairs and took a shower. I smelled like…well, I needed to take a shower.

Everyone’s awake!

3 May

Happy plants are growing nicely. We had several days of blah weather, constant light rain, which they clearly loved. I’m hoping the tanks are full of water, but I don’t know how to check on that.

My two tomato plants are doing very well. I planted them pretty deep in the soil, as both Farmer Russell and Dave the tomato man said. They both said I could go up to the highest sets of leaves. I planted them just to the halfway point and then piled up more potting mix on top of them because I figured the soil around the hole I dug would settle. Now, a week later, they both look fabulous.

photo 2 (1)

photo 3 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can see some wee tiny carrots coming up behind both of them. Now, the carrots went in about two and a half weeks ago. They are supposed to come up at 7-10 days. Even with a few extra days for the cold and to break out of the seed tape I made, I think some of them are not going to happen. I’ll give them another few days, and then I will declare them goners. I’ll reseed next week. Problem is, I don’t know which carrot is which!

Also, one bean didn’t come up. I decided to start one inside in my kitchen. photo 4 (1) This is two days of being wrapped up in wet paper towels. I plan to plant this guy tomorrow morning in the missing bean spot.

Now, let’s talk about compost.

I’m attempting to make compost tea, which is easy to feed to plants in a regular watering. Right now what I have is a big bucket of fart smell, or anaerobic composting. Methane gas emanating from my roof!  You can read all about it here. Basically I’m tossing my fruit and vegetable scraps, along with some plant material and a litter box of rabbit litter w/hay, into one of the 5 gallon buckets and letting it decompose in water. I’m going to start to take off some of the water and mix it in the watering can for the plants. Compost tea! The plants will love it. It’ll only stink for a bit longer.

photo 1 (1)Here are some scraps that I added earlier this week. Banana peels, some spinach that I forgot about in the back of the fridge so it started to stink, a few fuzzy strawberries. Then I gave it a good stir. Also in there are some of the dead plants from earlier years. They will take longer to decompose, but they are kind of acting as a mesh to separate the food from the water a bit. I don’t know if that’s doing any good or not, but at this point I can’t really change it without getting stink all over. They will eventually break down also.

photo 5 (1)

This morning I added a box of litter…paper partially saturated with ammonia-rich rabbit urine, rabbit pellets (which are mostly hay), and rejected timothy hay. Clearly not as tasty. This will make up more of the  “brown” material that’s needed in the composting process. Gave it a stir, then drained the water off and dumped it back on top of the mix. Just thought I’d give it a bit of a toss to help it along. Have I mentioned that it smells to high heaven?

 

Big planting on a frost-free weekend

15 Apr

Seeds and plants and replants…BLAMO!

I put my seed tape to work this weekend. Using Farmer Russell’s earlier guides, I made little furrows to plant the seed tape, probably about 3/4″ deep. I kind of mixed the tapes up a bit, so I will have a few of each kind of carrot scattered all over. Covered those puppies up, and voila! Also planted basil in the middle “V” shapes in the carrots. Purple string beans in the other tank.

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On Sunday my friend and I went to a garden center to get some plants. To protect her anonymity, I will call her “ShmErin” here. (Her actual name may or may not sound similar…I’ve always wondered if articles that say names have been changed actually do use real names, and say that just to throw you off.)

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We each purchased a $20 for $40 Groupon deal from  Garden World of Virginia and  found some nice stuff. Also the staff was very helpful. Remember…SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL ECONOMY! I was fascinated by the water fountain things, but so were a pair of adorable twin two year old boys.

Aside from several bags of organic potting soil, I picked up a packet of cucumber seeds and live plants.

  • Oregano (to replace my dead plant)
  • Parsley (to replace the other dead plant)
  • Cilantro (for my rabbit, not me. I think cilantro tastes like soap. Ew.)
  • Red bell pepper
  • Jalepeno pepper
  • Two orange marigold plants that I don’t know what to do with yet.

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We went home and got to work!

First, I put the peppers in one of the old tomato boxes with the parsley and cilantro. Easy. Looks good. Then, I took a chunk of chives for ShmErin’s growing herb garden. I originally planted these chives from seed in 2011, so I was very happy that they were still alive and doing well and that I could share them. Then I moved the chives and onions to the second former tomato box so they are alone. Farmer Russell just posted a few words about companion planting on his Tumblr…gotta be careful with alliums. Some plants don’t mind being near them, others will die. I decided to just keep them in a separate container. I’ll probably plant a few more rows of green onions this week, too.  The ones in there now were also planted in 2011 and have come back each year. Also, he cautioned not to plant the marigolds near the beans. The will act as a natural herbicide and then…no more beans. They’re great near tomatoes, though! I will probably put them near the tomatoes. Next, several of my potted herbs needed a bit of a, shall we say…pick me up? I removed the thyme and chocolate mint from their containers, loosened up the roots, which were absolutely packed, added some new potting soil to the bottom of the pots, replaced the plants and filled in around them with more soil.

Finally, a row of cucumber in the back of the second tank. They will be trained up some bamboo sticks I have, and then eventually they can hang over the fencing. At least that’s the plan now.

Then, ShmErin watered! A lot. We carried up a ton of water. Either a ton or about 40 pounds in total. Then we celebrated with cocktails on the roof. Then I came up later in the evening and watered everyone one more time. Then it rained early this morning. That was awesome.

I felt like Mother Nature had approved of my planting. Win.

OCD gardener plants seeds!

10 Apr

Time for planting!

Organized planing!

All in a row!

Here are Farmer Russell’s plans for each of my tanks. They have a decorative element to the design, too.

First tank is tomato, carrot, basil.

first tank design

Second tank is cucubrits beans, nasturtium.

second tank design

For the carrots, I made seed tape. Last year I just dropped seeds into a little trough I made with my finger. It worked well, but I had to thin them on a regular basis. Tape is great for little tiny seeds that are hard to see once they go into the soil, and they’re spaced well enough that you have to thin much less and therefore waste fewer seeds. I had used seed tape in the past, but I hadn’t thought of using it for the roof. Seed tape is also expensive, and you’re limited to the varieties available. Russell suggested I make my own tape. I used this as a quick how-to. The whole thing was very simple.

You’ll need:

  • Seeds
  • Toilet paper
  • Wax paper
  • School glue, or just thin regular white glue with some water.

Take an 18″ piece of toilet paper, fold it in half, then in half again so it’s about 4.5″ long, then in thirds lengthwise. Open the paper and separate the layers making 6 strips.

Lay out a piece of wax paper. Put drops of glue about 1″ apart on the paper, then drop one or two seeds on each drop (I did only one.)

Carefully fold the paper over on the seeds and gently press, encasing the seeds.

Let the strips dry and then carefully peel off of the wax paper. You can roll them up and store them in a baggie or container.

To use, just make a little trench at the depth specified on the seed packet and lay the strip in it. Cover and water. The glue and toilet paper will dissolve.

New year, new garden. Just add water!

8 Apr

Welcome to 2013! This will be a bit of a long post, but it’s somewhat instructional.

I began construction on the new, improved roof garden yesterday. With the help of Richmond, VA based Farmer Russell, a sustainable agriculture consultant and recently reformed farmer (who is new to Tumblr,) I have made some significant upgrades to my growing spaces. A bit about the expert brain I’m going to be picking this season (so you know my info below is legit, finally.) My friend Farmer Russell has been sustainably growing gourmet produce for the more the a dozen years. He has run CSAs in the Richmond area and has spent the last two years providing James Beard nominated chefs with the the finest in farm to table produce. He is now sharing his years of hard won wisdom with everyone from backyard gardeners (like me!) to farmers looking to grow more sustainably on thousand acre spreads and organizations looking to learn more about how local food and conscientious consumption can impact their community throughout the mid Atlantic.

He also makes some really good home brew and talks about it on Twitter.  Mmmm…beer.

Anywhoo, here is the finished garden after we cleaned up. So far, so good!IMG_7279

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that my two biggest issues were space and water. My plants really weren’t in containers that were deep enough for their root systems to properly expand. It caused the plants stress and basically stunted their proper growth. Also, water. >sigh< These new containers should really take care of both problems. We calculated these weigh approximately 160 lbs each, so that’s like a person size, but spread out over a much larger area. With the right amount of water, each should weigh about 220-240 lbs, which, again, is spread out over a large area. (1 gallon of water = appx 8 lbs.)

I started off with two 2’x2’x4′ 100 gallon galvanized stock tanks from Southern States. They are about $90 a piece, which is actually cheap when you consider that the two buckets I’ve had my tomatoes in for the last two years were around $60 each.  Also from Southern States I picked up a big thing of ProMix growing medium for about $37. Everything had to picked up at the store. Total was about $227

Then, a visit to Home Depot…IMG_7238

  • Two bags of lava rocks at $3.87 each
  • Six bags of top soil (this wasn’t the brand, but the price is the same, $1.37)
  • Two bags of humus & manure for $2.97 each.
  • Two tomato stakes because I had two already but really thought four would be better, considering how big the plants got last year.
  • 12″ terracotta pot and saucer to temporarily replant my chives. The most expensive part of this trip, at around $8
  • Bunch of bricks I’m not going to use. I thought I would elevate the tanks, but that would have just created some pressure points in the tank and on the deck. Farmer Russell told me not to get them, in his defense. I still thought it was a good idea. I was not correct. But, now I have some bricks.

Home Depot total with tax: $48.84.

Total, before plants: $325, including VA sales tax. Yours may vary slightly, especially if you don’t get those stupid bricks. Argh.

Then we got to work!

We removed the metal plug from the drainage hole in the tank. Really, that’s a great feature. I’ve seen a few posts where people drill additional drainage holes into the bottom and sides of the tanks, but all you’re doing is damaging the coating which can lead to rust and leaching of whatever might be in the metal. Keep the coating in tact! Farmer Russell says just remove the plug and follow the steps below to properly layer and you’ll have no problem.

In order, then some pictures.

  • Lava rocks piled on top of the drain hole. For drainage and improved water flow on the bottom of the tank.
  • Styrofoam. Also for drainage and reduces weight. We went about 1/3 up the tank with this styrofoam, which I just happened to have saved in big sheets from some furniture I bought a few years ago. (HA! AND YOU CALLED ME A HOARDER! WHO’S LAUGHING NOW?) You can also buy a big bag of peanuts from an office supply or shipping supply store, but why not reuse what comes in the mail and packaging materials?
  • Remainder of potting mixture from the old buckets. Reusing what I can!

We also found some grubs in one of the tomato pots. They made their way down there some time over the winter. I insisted that we toss them. Then I threw up a bit in my mouth.

Next, add the following layers, making sure each one is free of clumps and even.

  • Layer top soil
  • Layer promix
  • Layer top soil
  • Layer humus/manure

Then…

  • Layer of promix
  • Layer of oyster shell – don’t need a lot and it will slowly add calcium and other good stuff over time.
  • Layer of top soil

Don’t mix the layers now. The mixture will settle and compact on its own, and the plants will be able to break it up.

Finally, Farmer Russell sketched out where plants should go. Tomatoes, carrots and basil in one tank, possibly beans, radishes, cucumber, melon in another. He is creating a more detailed layout for me now. I will post that when it is ready. We did plant a row of radishes while we were up there. They’ll be ready in a few weeks.

Winston and his lazy cousin are keeping watch, as usual.

Herbs will remain in separate pots, and the onions and chives will probably get broken up and replanted into one of the former tomato buckets with new planting mix. I’m going to do some research and see what companion plants will work well with them in the bucket.

Whew!

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