Compost, Band Saw, and Seed Starting

Compost spread over most of the garden.

Compost spread over most of the garden.

It has been a busy week so far and this has been the first opportunity I have had to write about my progress.  Last Saturday, I was able to spread all the compost I had over the top of the garden.  The endeavour took nearly the entire day to do and left me with several bruises where I kept running the five gallon buckets into my legs and arms.  The bruises are just now starting to fade.  This was the entire reason I had started making compost: to amend the soil so it is more fertile, hold moisture better and plant easier.  This may also act as a mulch to help suppress weeds.  (When I think of mulch, wood chips spread over a flower bed come to mind, and not compost)

Starting pepper and tomato seeds.

Starting pepper and tomato seeds.

Also on Saturday, I started the first seeds of the year in the greenhouse.  I started the same variety of tomatoes that I grew last year.  These are not seeds I saved from last years crops, but rather left over seeds that I purchased last year.  I plan on starting some of the seed I saved later on once I know I will have as many plants as I want.

I also started some pepper seeds that I bought this year from Terroir Seeds.  There was only 23 seeds in the packet and I am trying to start them all, two per pot, so I’m hoping that I get at least a couple of plants that I can save seed from.  Otherwise, I will probably end up trying a different pepper variety next year.  Last year I tried to grow green bell peppers, but I never got anything to sprout.

The band saw with new, bright safety orange tires.

The band saw with new, bright safety orange tires.

On Monday, the tires I ordered for the band saw came in, several days earlier than I was expecting them.  Actually getting the tires on the wheels was rather difficult, because they were about an inch shorter than the wheel’s circumference.  Thankfully, the tires stretched and were able to fit, but if I ever need to remove them, I will be doing it with a knife because I doubt I could get them off whole.

I was able to start making some frames for a super and I got six sides finished and started on six top bars before I it got too cold in the unheated shed for me to work.  I should be able to fabricate every part of the frame except the bottom bar with the band saw.  For the bottom, I need to make a groove along the entire length of the bar, which will probably require a table saw or a router as I cannot think of a way to make that cut with a band saw.

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Daffodils in Bloom

Daffodils in bloom

Daffodils in bloom

The daffodils are finally in full bloom.  They took about a week or so longer than last year.  About a week or two later is about how this spring has been going so far.  I’m just starting to get things set up for starting seeds, where this time last year, they would have already been germinating.  But unlike last year, we had a rather late cold snap that is probably responsible for pushing out spring.

About three feet of pinto beans direct seeded in the garden, just above the swale-alike.

About three feet of pinto beans direct seeded in the garden, just above the swale-alike.

The one thing that is taking place earlier than last year, is direct seeding of beans in the garden.  If we have another sudden cold snap, these will likely end up dead.  I only planted such a small amount because I am not certain that they won’t end up dead or that they will even germinate.  If this line does, I will be putting in more beans next week and hoping they don’t die by frost.

My spring ToDo list is starting to grow rapidly.  I have compost to move onto the garden plot, seeds to start in the greenhouse and in the garden, preparing some new ground near the fence line for corn and buckwheat.  And before long, the bees will need an inspection.  And I still need to finish the fence work in the front yard, pulling weeds for the compost pile has started, and a bunch of other small tasks.  Also I’ve ordered new tires for the band saw that should arrive late next week, which will allow me to start producing bee frames on a much more regular basis.  Until the rush to get all the plants in the ground subsides, I’m going to be keeping very busy.

Burying a Bunch of Rotten Wood

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A trench filled with partially rotten wood.

I spent almost all of yesterday digging a long trench through the middle of my garden, filling it with rotten wood, and then covering it up.  I am hoping that this will help with reducing the amount of water required to irrigate the garden this and coming years.

I heard about this idea from Jack Spirko of The Survival Podcast under the name Hugelculture or Woody Bed.  It is a class of land improvements that buries wood under soil to promote the growth of fungus and bacteria that holds water and moves nutrients around.  I’ve heard these woody beds several times on the show, and since I had a bunch of rotting wood on the edge of my property, I decided to give it a try. The only real trouble I had was that after about four inches down, I hit Oklahoma Red Clay Soil, which is very difficult to dig through. I basically had to scrap layers of the clay off and use the shovel handle as a lever.  I ended up breaking off the handle of my garden hoe trying to loosen it up so I could remove the clay from the trench.

A swale-like structure over the woody bed.

A swale-like structure over the woody bed.

The other thing burying this wood allowed me to do is to build a swale-like structure over the bed.  A swale is a mound next to a trench along the land’s contour.  The idea here is to slow water flowing across the land and give it more time to absorb into the soil.  I didn’t survey out the contour of the land, instead just guessing roughly where level would be and slightly curving the ends uphill.  I intend to adjust the structure in the future as I find where water is flowing too quickly and pulling soil away.  About the only remaining garden bed preparation I am planning on doing before spring planting is spreading a layer of compost out and working it into the top inch or so of soil.  Before I do that though, I need to fix the garden hoe.

First Signs of Activity

Henbit is starting to emerge in my yard.

Henbit is starting to emerge in my yard.

The first plants of spring are starting to emerge now.  The first hint I had that this was starting to happen was the weeds in the rock beds surrounding the office I work at.  I suspect the soil directly around the building was warmer due to the heat leaking out of the building and it allowed the weeds to emerge a few days before they would have otherwise done.  Of these weeds, there was henbit and a few types of broad leaf weeds that somewhat resemble lettuce that never forms heads.  This got me on the lookout around my house for similar weeds.  Today I found that there was henbit emerging in my yard not a few steps away from where I had been raking leaves the entire week.  I intend to eventually rip this out of the ground once it has been flowering for a while.  The resources I have found on the internet label henbit as a nectar source for bees and I would like my hives to have it for an early nectar source because no other sources seem to be growing right now.  Once I rip it out, it will go into the compost pile to become fertilizer and soil amendment for next year.

One of several clumps of daffodils.

One of several clumps of daffodils.

While outside today, I also found that the daffodils in one of the flower beds in the front yard have begun to emerge.  Going by last year, by the end of this month, I’ll have lovely yellow flowers in my yard, which will be a good change from the barren winter landscape.

I have only recently started raking the leaves that fell last fall and adding them to the compost pile.  I probably have a several weeks of raking ahead of me as it took about a week to get a short stretch of leaves next to a fence raked.  I intend on getting most of the leaves into the compost pile so they are a source of nutrients and not a waste product that has to be disposed of.

The Start of Spring Cleanup

Today was warmer than it has been in the past few weeks and I was able to take advantage of that so start my spring garden cleanup.  I still have some grass invading my garden plot that is going to take a large amount of work to get out.  I managed to get a bit out today, but I really need to get ahold of a good garden rake to separate the plant matter from the dirt.  Otherwise, as soon as it gets warm again, the grass will come out of dormancy and just pick up invading my garden, which I don’t want.

Nice, rich compost.

Nice, rich compost.

I also have started turning over the large compost pile I started on my property last year just after I moved in.  I started at the back of the pile so that I can start putting the leaves on my property in that place to start the next year’s compost and have this years available in a month or two.  With the exception of the top weeds and some pockets of leaves, the compost was like a dark, rich soil.  I still have a bit of learning to do to get the small clumps of leaves decomposed with the rest, but I can’t complain.  Overall, it turned out much better than I was expecting.

The forecast for tomorrow is looking a bit warmer than it was today and as it is a weekend, it will be available for me to do work outside.  Also, David, my brother-in-law is planning on coming down to help out with things, but most likely to take a peek at the hives.

This is also the time of year to start looking at seed catalogs in preparation for the next planting.  I’ve had my nose in online catalogs for a couple of weeks now trying to figure out what I want to try growing this year.  I am planning on trying to grow some variety of corn this year and I have my eye on either the Painted Mountain or the Bloody Bucher variety of corn.  Both are different shades of red and look to be good for making corn flour in addition to being eye-catching.  I’m planning on planting buckwheat for as a nectar source, as a grain source and to evaluate it as a smother crop for killing more parts of my lawn to turn into garden.

Plants in the Ground

Peas, tomatoes, and strawberry plants

Today was a big milestone for me: I finally put plants I raised from seed into the ground.  The peas have gotten so tall that they have been needing support for a while now.  Putting them in the ground allows me to have a support system to prop up the plants.

Also, I took this opportunity to plant all of the first round of plant starts.  I know it is still before the last average frost date here, but I think it is close enough to the date that I can probably get away with it.  It also helps that it has been unseasonably warm this year.  All told, I got Alaskan peas, zucchini, tomatoes, strawberries and cabbage in the ground today.

Close up of the tomatoes

Close up of strawberries

We got rain today, which has made working in the garden a very muddy affair.  One big upside to that, however, is that it made dealing with the heavy clay soil much easier.  I had been tilling the soil to help with the weeds that have been coming up in the garden plot for a few weeks now, but the soil has been drying out horribly in the process.  The rain has made it workable again.  I hope to have a few days where it remains that way.  I will probably end up spending a great deal of time and effort over the nxt few years amending the soil with compost to make it easier to work with and more fertile.

Peach fruit set

All of the flowers on the peach tree have finished their bloom and the fruit is setting very nicely.  I don’t know how long it will be before I need to thin the fruits so that I get nice sized peaches at harvest time.  Also, the apple and cherry trees and the grape vines have all started to set fruit as well.

In the greenhouse, I have another set of cabbage and tomato seedlings in reserve in case the ones I’ve planted don’t make it.  Also, I have started some pinto beans I got from a local whole foods store.  Supposedly, I have some mint and thyme started as well, but they are taking their sweet time to germinate.

Pinto beans sprang up over the past two days.

One thing I have realized is that the larger the seed, the bigger the seedling.  I suppose that makes sense, as larger seeds would have a bigger energy supply to pull from when germinating, but it caught me off guard.

I still have a few more plants that I haven’t started yet.  I have some lavender and chamomile seeds I need to start fairly soon and I will be able to now that I have several plastic pots to use from the seedlings I just transplanted into the garden.  I have a bit of mostly dry soil stashed away in the greenhouse that I can use to fill the pots, but I will probably end up waiting a while for the ground to dry out a bit so that I can get more soil from the garden plot.

May I Have a Volunteer

A very small, volunteer cabbage.

I was finishing up moving my compost pile off my garden plot today when I discovered what appeared to be a weed growing in the middle of my garden.  As I went to pull it, I realized it looked suspiciously like the cabbage that was growing there when I moved in three months ago.  I am not sure yet if I will be leaving it to grow where it currently is or if I will transplant it to another location to allow for crop rotation.

I have completely finished moving my compost pile next to the Full Metal Shed.  Now that the grass and weeds are growing, I have started adding clippings to the pile.  This has resulted in a very noticeable increase in the pile’s temperature.  In spots, it is so warm that it feels hot to the tough even thru gloves.  I don’t have a compost thermometer, but I suspect it is well over 100°F.

The green hive is doing well

My hives are still doing wonderful.  I’ve been keeping feeders on both hives and they are going thru feed like crazy.  The jar in the picture was full two days ago, which puts it about 7 oz of feed a day.

In the greenhouse, more peas are starting to emerge from the soil, but it looks pretty much like it did a couple of days ago.  I am planning on starting another batch zucchini seeds sometime this week, as there are still only two plants sprouted.  Those two plants have gotten so large, I’ve had to remove the covers as they are touching.