Saturday, August 27, 2011

Terra Cotta Pot Irrigation Trick

Here's a handy video I found on using unglazed terra cotta pots to help water your garden. I love the idea. You can spend money buying the rounded olla pots that are made especially for this function (and I have in the past), but if the regular pots will do the trick, why go to extra expense?

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Drought Woes & Hard Lessons

Today my garden scouting daughter harvested two little Roma tomatoes and one baby sized crookneck squash from our vegetable beds today.  Sigh.  The lack of rain here in Texas is wreaking havoc on many gardens and crops.  I shouldn't complain, as most of the people that I know have lost ALL of their harvest, and I'm still squeaking by.  Nonetheless, it's quite disappointing to see plants that have decent leaf growth, but are too hot to yield anything.  It sure feels like a lot of hard work for no payoff.
The only good that has come out of all this has been the hard lessons that I've learned this season.  Since I'm not yet fully reliant upon my land to feed my family (working on that), I'm happy to learn them now.  What have I learned?  Well, read on.  I'll give you the big ones.

Now this is actually not a lesson that I needed, but I know quite a few people that didn't get out there and water aggressively, sometimes twice a day just to keep their plants alive.  These unlucky souls lost their full harvest.  Drought conditions are not the time to get lax about watering your beds. 
Texoma towns don't usually have water restrictions, but if you do, and can only water a few days a week, then I can only recommend that you prioritize your garden, watering the essentials and leaving the rest to whatever is left of your ration.  Have a mind for the type of soil you've planted in as well.  I've noticed that anything that I planted in purchased topsoil mixed with the black gumbo that's all over my land needs less water than the raised beds that have little to none of this clay mixed in.  Sandy soil types usually need more water, as they don't retain well.  It can help you make decisions about how much water you give to your beds. 
You can also explore some other ways of obtaining water.  Most kinds of gray water would be just fine in your garden.  I tend to skip over any water that's saturated with soap, but a little isn't going to hurt anything.  Also, water that you use to cook with, such as to boil pasta or eggs in, is also great.  Just remember to let it cool down first!  I dump cooking water into my garden whether or not I'm in a drought situation.  I also dump whatever's left in the pet water bowls before rinsing and replacing with fresh.  Like a bit of soap, a little dog slime is not going to kill anything, certainly not as surely as lack of water will.
This drought has made me so aware of how necessary good sources of water are that my husband I are now exploring other ways that we can create water sources for our land, such as digging a well, pond or setting up a rainwater collection system.

Now this was a tough lesson for me.  If you want a successful garden, then you must, must, must have a compost pile going to enrich your soil on a regular basis.  Compost not only fixes problems with all soil types, but it beats store bought fertilizers hands down every time for producing strong, healthy plants.  Chemical fertilizers both conventional and organic, usually are covering just the basics:  nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  To my mind these products are a little like a No Plant Left Behind system, where you're catering to the lowest common denomination of what plants need to survive and expecting all plants to thrive in all growing conditions.  Not likely to happen.  To grow plants strong enough to keep producing even in non-ideal conditions, they need more than just the basics sprinkled or sprayed onto depleted soil year after year.  They need the plethora of nutrients and soil transformation that rich compost provides.  Compost offers its nutrients in an extremely bio-available form, and often lacks the extra ingredients that manufactured fertilizers contain, such as polymers and salts.  
I've kept a pile going on the property, but for a long time it was just too far away from the house.  The result was a dried out pile that didn't compost down, forcing me to buy a brand name fertilizer that has not adequately seen my vegetables through these hot, dry days we're having.  Thanks to my handy husband, I now have a cedar wood two bin system placed at the far end of the immediate back yard, right where my raised beds are located.  That makes it easy to turn the pile and keep it suitably damp. 
I didn't wise up to this problem fast enough, and I believe that it's the reason why my plants have good foliage, but very little production.  You may have read that plants shut down fruit and vegetable production once temperatures reach a certain level, and that's correct.  However, I've seen better gardeners than myself stretch this threshold with regular composting. 

Plant on Time
From beginners to expert gardeners that I know, we have ALL lost any plants this season that we didn't get into the ground on time.  Anything that was planted late wasn't able to establish good, deep roots before the crippling heat struck, and just keeled over.  The first inch or so of soil routinely dried out, taking delicate roots with it.  Very disappointing.  I won't be making this mistake again.  I usually have seedlings started by early March.  It's getting them into the ground that's the fall down for me, so I'll be vigilant with myself about this next season.  Mulching wherever possible can also help combat dry-out with late plantings.

One thing that I've known from the start is that gardening is not a precise art, and you can NEVER learn everything that there is to know in one or two seasons.  This season has been disappointing for me, but also very instructive.  I'm looking forward to trying again.  If you're feeling discouraged too, chalk it up to lessons learned, and don't give up!

Happy gardening.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Roaches in the Compost

You've set up your tumbler or compost pile, began filling it up with all the things that people dump into their compost.  You've even watered and turned it over on a regular basis like a well-behaved composter.  And then you spot one:  a furtive, scurrying brown bug that is undeniably a... ROACH! What's worse, there's not just one.  There are several.  It looks like the darn things have burrowed their way into your pile and are now living happily in it.  Eeek!  You have a roach problem! 

Here's the thing. As the song goes (sort of), if you're lookin at Texoma, you're looking at country. Most of our citizens live in small towns and rural areas, and do not have problems with indoor roach infestations. The kind that you're seeing in your compost may be gross-out, but they are probably not the city roaches that we all know and don't love. These are wood or tree roaches.

Wood roaches live and breed outside. They are attracted to light (as opposed to their city counterparts who cut and run when you turn a light on). They can get into the house, especially early in the summer, but never seem to go after your food or set up housekeeping under your fridge. It seems more an accident than intentional when it happens, and it is.  Your compost on the other hand is full of just the sort of food that they're looking for.  So besides the panicked stomping and whacking (and screaming if you're me), what should you do about this huge, huge problem?

In a word:  nothing.  Keep watering, turning and taking care of your compost pile.  Stomp the roaches if you just can't handle them being there, but do the best you can to see them as a cog in the machine known as the composting cycle.  Wood roaches have a bad rep due to their disease-carrying, house dwelling counterparts; however, like all the other bugs that are attracted to your compost, they WILL help your pile compost down.  Compost is absolutely vital to a healthy garden.  It's worth putting up with a few wood roaches to have it.  If it's any consolation, as the "green" in your pile decays down into soil, it will attract less bugs in general.

Happy gardening.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Discover Urban Homesteading and Win Free Copy of Deep Nutrition

Dr Cate Shanahan, co-author of Deep Nutrition, blogs about starting an urban garden. These are backyard or rooftop gardens that make the most out of small spaces. You'd be surprised how much can be accomplished with a small area. It's just proof that just about everyone can pull off a garden just about anywhere. Click to read on.
Discover Urban Homesteading and Win Free Copy of Deep Nutrition