Social Icons

August 31, 2012

How to build a garden - Part 1

I was in need of more garden space, so instead of my usual endeavor of double-digging the beds, I decided to build a raised bed garden for a change. There were a few reasons for that decision.

First, the area that I was working with was kind of low laying, so the dug beds would have suffered from too much standing water.
Second, I wanted to build  a good size gardening space in a hurry; it needed to be ready for planting before the fall season.
And third, I wanted to experiment with the raised bed design where there is no grass in between the beds. I wanted to see what it would cost to build such an area, what kind of work would be involved, and how feasible the whole thing was going to be.

This is the area I started with:

The building wall is East facing. So, this area gets morning sun up until 2PM or so, and then gradually starts to shade. At around 5PM the whole area is shaded from the hot afternoon sun. This is actually perfect for our damaging Florida sun, as the plants will get their needed sunlight, but would not be burned by the heat of the afternoon rays.

To make it efficient and cost saving, I decided to make the garden area in multiples of 4, which is a half of a regular landscape timber. So, my garden area is going to be 12 foot wide and 23 feet long (1 foot subtracted for the entry), making it two beds, one bed 10 feet long, and the other 12 feet long.

Now, the measuring started:

After the measuring was complete, I started to take off the top layer of sod so I could prevent the weeds from creeping in to the garden beds. I decided to keep about 6 inches of a barrier around the beds, of bare ground that would be maintained bare by raking.

Certainly, it is difficult to take a precise measurement of sod on such a large area, so I gave myself some play room by taking about a foot of sod off around my measured perimeter.

While at it, I dug out a little apple tree that was growing in the area and brought it up eight inches so that its roots do not stay soggy when we have our summer rains. I have good hopes for this apple tree.

So, here it is, first step of how to build a garden. The whole process took me about ten hours of work.

How to build a garden - Part 2

August 16, 2012

Mulch Types

Normally, when people think of mulch types they recall the stuff that is sold in bags in box stores. After all that's what's called mulch. But behold, there are many more possibilities for mulching the garden.

Yesterday I was cleaning my garden beds in preparation for the fall planting season and instead of piling the weeds into the compost bin I put them aside, in a wheelbarrow. Why? Because weeds make excellent mulch. Note right here though, if the weeds have seeds on them, do not use them as mulch, but compost instead. I lucked out and picked the whole wheelbarrow of non-seeded weeds, such as grasses and small brush, as well as spent vegetable stems, including my beloved cowpea. To top off the pickings I cut the branches of some vegetation that was intruding through the chain link fence. So, here is what I ended up with:

Certainly, you cannot just pile that stuff into the garden beds and call it work well done. As I was talking to my mother on the phone (wearing the passive headset : Amazon link), I managed to chop all this stuff with my trusted Felco friend into small pieces within two hours. Now I have two bucket fulls of nice mulch:

So, now I have something to work with. I spread this mulch into the bed I was working on, about four inches thick. This amount was enough to cover about twelve square feet densely:

Unusual mulch type you say? Hang on just a second.

This mulch consists of mainly two types of material: Green (weed grasses and leaves) and Brown (dried spent vegetable stems such as cowpea, amaranth, and okra, as well as brush stems). This is a perfect composting combination. This mulch will serve a dual purpose up until I am ready to plant in September. It will keep the ground covered to protect it from drying out, it will decompose some on the bottom to provide nutrients, and it will encourage insect life which is needed for the garden ecosystem.

Whatever you do, mulching with any types of mulch is better than keeping the ground bare. Weeds are opportunists, they will propagate whenever they find a spot that is not covered. You might want to look around your yard to see if there anything that can be chopped up and used to improve your beds.

August 11, 2012

Mulching Lawn Mowers

Mulch, mulch, mulch -- you cannot get too much mulch in the garden.

What's good about mulching?

  • Mulch suppresses the weeds. Who wants to pull nasty weeds all the time? It is much better to take preventative measures and disallow weeds from sprouting in the first place.
  • Mulch keeps moisture inside the ground by slowing evaporation
  • Mulch keeps plant roots cool by reflecting the sun and providing a barrier between the damaging sun rays and the depth of the ground
  • Decomposed, mulch adds to the fertility of the soil

Today I added this thick layer of mulch to one of my 4x4 foot beds where eggplant is growing. I used mulching lawn mower (my new toy, yay!), it's electric! lol. But, in any event, this bed was suffering badly because the ants made a pile in that bed and I was skirmish to de-weed the bed at the fear of ant bites. But finally I got over myself, put the gloves on and took the weeds out and gave ants a good two-day bath. They found a new home, I suppose. But the bed was sitting there naked. So I mowed the lawn with my mulching lawn mower, bagged the mulch of course, and put it around the plants. I can see how the plants love it already.

Now, some people have concerns about adding grass clippings as mulch because it might compact. I have not found this to be a problem. And even if grass compacts a little, all it takes a little raking to loose it again. It is far better to have grass clippings as mulch than not mulch at all.

I always struggle to find enough mulch in my garden, and believe me, I use every shred of weeds and garden waste to mulch. But only since I've gotten this new shiny toy of mine that I have plenty of mulch.

Two things to keep in mind: first, if you are an organic gardener, then you cannot fertilize and pesticide your lawn. I don't use any chemicals on my lawn, that's why my grass mulch is safe for my garden. Second, don't let the grass go to seed - if it does it will sprout in the garden beds. If the grass went to seed, it is better to not mulch it, but just leave it on the ground to fertilize the lawn and have it replenish itself.

And finally, if you are curious how I make grass mulch out of my lawn with my electric mulching lawn mower, watch this YouTube video I have:

In any event, we have about two months until we go heavy into the fall planting. If you have a lawn and a mulching lawn mower, start piling these grass clippings into your beds. Six or even twelve inches of clippings is not too much for the beds. They will decompose to almost nothing before you start planting your fall plants, but will provide a lot of nitrogen and other nutrients for the garden.

August 1, 2012

When to Start Tomato Seeds in Florida

Just a gentle remainder, we are starting tomato, eggplant, and pepper seeds in Florida in late July to early August. So, if you have not gotten around starting your tomato seeds, make some time to do that very shortly. Gardeners in South Florida have some slack time till the end of August, but Central and Northern Florida should get their seed packets and nursery containers out ASAP. When in doubt, check the USDA zones post here.

There is a valid reason for such tight schedule of seeding warm season vegetables, namely, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. These vegetables will start producing at 90 days after seeding at the earliest, but 120 days on average. If we seed these vegetables now, it will bring us to Thanksgiving harvest, after which we can expect first frosts, in early December.

We are lucky in Florida to have two warm seasons, Spring and Fall, but these seasons are tight on planning. Spring season starts right after the last frost, but the weather gets hot pretty quickly after that. This year, for example, the heat firmly set in March, which is very unusual. So, gardeners who waited longer than they should had problems with fruit not setting on tomatoes, and generally plants suffering from heat and lack of rain.

In the Fall, on the other hand, we cannot plant too early because the Summer is too brutal for the new seedlings, but we cannot wait too long either because of the danger of the early frost.

Bottom line, the best time for all Florida zones to plant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant from seed is now. I am planning on making time this weekend to do all my seeding.

How many plants do you need? Granted, this depends on the garden space you have available, and your family size, as well as your eating habits, but I can share how much I plant (I usually over plant though! :)

I plant a hundred tomato plants in a combination of grape tomatoes for the salads and making crushed tomato cannings, some Romas, maybe twenty plants for the tomato paste canning, and maybe ten plants of some exotics, like Cherokee, better boy, Rosa, and such, for fun and variety. So, most of my tomatoes are grape because they are easy to grow and are very versatile. A hundred tomato plants, if you sort of observe square foot gardening principle, takes roughly 120 square feet of garden space, or one to two 4x20 garden beds. I do not plant all tomato plants in the same bed, but rather spread them out in the garden intermixed with cosmos flowers, Marigold, and herbs. The square footage is just for the estimation. One tomato plant should produce about five pounds of tomatoes. So, based on that you can decide how many plants to seed.

Peppers - I usually plant about forty plants which gives plenty of peppers for eating and freezing. And eggplant, I plant maybe ten plants, they are very productive, and we do not eat a lot of eggplant.

Florida Gardening

Florida Gardening Blog

Visitors from all over the world

Grow Your Own Food

Grow your own food, be independent, healthy and happy.