Sunday, April 19, 2015

The new and improved cuke ladder

Last things first
Last year's cuke ladder was a mixed success.  The cukes were up off the ground, but I wasn't really happy with production.  Most of that is my fault and not the cukes', as I should have paid them more attention.  But the fact that the holes in the fence were too small and I started the plants beneath the ladder* resulted in lots of broken stems when I tried to train them. Since I'm doing green beans where the cukes were last year, it was time for a better cuke ladder. I hope the one you see above will be it.

It's actually nothing but a cattle panel supported by three fence posts atop a specially-prepared bed. It will eventually be a raised bed, but I'm out of cinder blocks atm and didn't want to use telephone poles in the back yard. While I'm still looking at options to get the mound further separated from the lawn, it should be fine for now.  I'll be putting 8 cukes in, so they'll be almost 18" apart. Because this faces east/west it'll get full summer sun, so I expect 8 plants will produce plenty, especially if I take care of them this year as I ought.

The process was simple:

1.  Dig a trench 12' long (the length of my panel + 1'), 2' wide, and 18" deep.
2. Separate the grass from the dirt and throw the grass beside the compost pile, roots up.
3. Mix the dirt with a wheel barrow load of compost and a 2-cu-ft bag of potting mix I got on sale at Wal Mart**.
4. Add a wheelbarrow load of straight compost into the bottom of the hole.  I did this for two reasons. Since I took a full wheel barrow load of grass and roots out, I was concerned that I would not have enough leftover dirt to get a mound when I put it back in.  The second is that I'm out of awesome compost and I'm afraid this load will be 'hot' (too much chicken manure), so I went deep with it.  If I have a failure to set cukes, this will be the reason.
5.  Shovel the dirt/potting/compost mixture into the wheelbarrow and then pour it into the pit. I could have shoveled it straight from the swimming pool*** back into the pit, but going to the barrow first mixed it better.
6. Attach the cattle panel to the stakes and then drive them in.

The hopefuls
I did note that I had about 5 earthworms to every grub I found, so that's a real change from when I started gardening here.  I also found a cow rib half-buried exactly in the middle of the pit, so Digging Dog has now taken to burying things anywhere she thinks I might garden.  She's been busy.

* Meaning they had to go thru it first to get climbing, which most never did.
** They had Miracle Gro at 1 cubic foot for $9.78 and 2 cubic foot for $10.  I bought every second cubic foot.
*** This was the inflatable pool in which only bass swam for the last half of the summer. No foolies.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bunch of little rotters

This is the end, beautiful friends...
While last year the tomato patch produced respectable results - I still have half a case of salsa - one of the problems I encountered was called Blossom End Rot.  It happened first a few years ago and has grown steadily worse over time, though since I rotate tomatoes through the beds, its progress has been slow and unsteady enough that I suspected insects were to blame.  In fact, it is caused by a mineral deficiency in the soil. In this case, one of calcium.

America's favorite garden vegetable is hard on the soil. So we have to come up with a strategy to put back all the stuff it's taking out.  Just composting is not enough*; we are going to need calcium - squared, cubed, and loaded with gee juice.

I watched one video for creating a concoction that's supposed to address it.  The guy took a dozen egg shells, dried them in the oven on a low temp, then ground them up in a little hand-held coffee grinder.  To that he added 4 banana peels, likewise dried and ground. The resulting 2 heaping tablespoons of powder was guaranteed to banish Blossom End Rot from the garden patch forever.** My first thought was, even though guaranteed to make calcium immediately available to the plants, what a colossal waste of energy - both gas and electric - that was.

I asked DiggingDog about it, since she's buried enough cattle bones in my gardens to make the whole place swim in calcium.  She says the problem there is that the big bones in which she specializes take years, maybe decades, to release their accumulated calcium. The solution, she suggested, lies in between these two extremes.

So I talked to the chickens about it, not letting on that part about egg shells, obviously***.  They suggested that ground oyster shell might provide a slow, even release of calcium over the entire growing season, and pointed out that I had a 50# bag right there in the barn, since I mix it in with their food to help with... get this... healthy egg shell production.

So I dug a bunch into each bed with a double portion in the bed where the tomatoes will go this year and added a pint or so to the compost pile.  Maybe that will end the Blossom End Rot, maybe not.  If it doesn't, we'll take the Krugman route and double down on the failed policy next year. If something doesn't work, it's obvious that you're just not doing enough of it.

* The proof being Blossom End Rot.
** or at least until next season.
*** I don't re-use or even compost my egg shells, because I don't want my hens to get a taste of them.