Saturday, June 21, 2014

Straw Bale Gardening Update - Week 10. Progress and plant list.

The garden on the Summer Solstice.  The broccoli and potatoes seem to be growing the fastest these days.
Happy Solstice!  It's a comfortably warm high overcast day here in the Santa Cruz Mountains of Northern California, and I'm trying to focus more on the warm growing days to come rather than the downhill trend of the light.  We had a lovely little Solstice Eve dinner party last night and it was heaven to be able to be outdoors lingering over our appetizers and cocktails, enjoying the light and warmth.  Coincident with the World Cup we chose a South American theme for our food and drink, and yes, it's true that Pisco Sours pair wonderfully with Peruvian ceviche.  Yummm!  And while the last course is seldom something I attempt, this dessert was absolutely killer and easy to make.

Much has passed in the garden since I last posted.  Shortly after putting up the fence we're pretty sure one of the 4x4 posts had a deer encounter.  Or vice versa.  One morning on my typical bathrobe garden patrol I discovered the deer netting in one corner was sagging, and the 4x4 post was wobbly and had a chunk missing from one edge.  WTH?  The fencing was not breached, just loose.  I had marked the enclosure all around with white flags as instructed, but it sure looked like a deer had knocked into it, and my discovery of a half eaten stalk of green grass on the wood chip covered ground next to the post confirmed that hypothesis.  My husband dug up the 2.5' long metal fence post stake we used to install the 4x4s and found that two of the four welds was broken.  Fortunately it was fairly easy to pry it up and he installed a new one and we're back to business.  As a precaution I bought some solar powered spot lights to illuminate the posts at night, and they're working great. 
This is the long stake that holds the 4x4 posts for the deer fence.  These are the two welds that broke from the deer encounter.  I bet he had a headache for a spell.
True to my nature I've been impatient with the rate of growth of the vegetables, and insanely check everything at least twice a day to see how they're doing.  When I look at photos from a few weeks ago I guess I can see the progress.  I've been feeding everything with organic fruit and vegetable food from the nursery, as well as aerated worm compost tea.  I take a handful or two of castings from my worm bin (where we recycle our kitchen scraps) and run water over them in a sieve over a 5 gallon bucket until it's about 3/4 full, returning the dazed and confused invertebrate helpers back to their bin.  I add a tablespoon or two of molasses and seaweed extract, and about a cup of fish emulsion.  Then I use either an aquarium air pump or my oxygen concentrator (with a bubble stone on the tubing) to aerate it for a day or two until a scum forms on top.  This is a food and beneficial bacteria treatment in one that I can water with or spray on the leaves.  It's a bit labor intensive and I have yet to do this for an entire season, but I hope to continue it and report good results in the fall. 

Sunny Delight squash may be the next eaten since the sugar snap peas have finished.
Heirloom tomato German Orange Strawberry is laden with fruit.
This Midwestern girl loves her potatoes.
Looking down the tomato row.  I've interplanted some kale here and there for lack of space.
What started as tiny little onion sprouts are now starting to hold their own.
Here's a list of the 28 different food crops we're growing in this 23' x 18' space in our Sunset Zone 15 garden, in the 12 bales and a few extra containers:

Heirloom tomatoes:  German Orange Strawberry, Isis Candy, Black Krim.
Other tomatoes:  Roma, San Marzano, Sungold
Swiss chard, dinosaur kale
Cucumbers:  Green Finger, Diva
Beans:  Kentucky Wonder pole, Spanish Musica pole
Potatoes:  Red Norland, Yukon Gold
Evergreen hardy white onion
Squash:  Sunny delight, Cocozella heirloom squash
Peppers:  Red Beauty bell, Golden Treasure heirloom pepper
American Flag leek
Marathon broccoli
Albion strawberry
Italian basil
Mexican lime

In containers on the deck I've got radishes, more basil, Improved Meyer lemon, Black Mission fig, and sugar snap peas.  Among the vegetables I've also got lobelia, marigold, Alba nasturtium.  My husband is also looking after some salad greens, corn, and additional chard and kale in a shadier area. 

Maybe next time I'll share a little about my worm composting setup and how I make the aerated tea.  How is your garden doing this year?

Monday, June 2, 2014

Straw Bale Garden Update: Week 7

I think I was recalling the bucolic vineyards in New Zealand that have roses planted at the ends of the rows.  Why not marigolds to attract beneficial insects?
 Things are really shaping up nicely now in the new straw bale veggie garden.  The bales would have been fine to plant in a month ago, but between work and life, I'm approaching this slowly.  It's not too out of whack for our coastal mountain gardening zone though, where we lag at least 30 days behind what's growing down in San Jose.  As of mid-May we're past any danger for tomatoes, but the true warm summer weather is (technically) at least a month away.

So what have we accomplished since the last time?  Everything!  Well, not quite.  I still need to put in the irrigation.  But I've installed the vertical structure for the tall things in two of the four rows of 3 bales where support will be needed.  There's a ginormous structure for the tomatoes made from salvaged aluminum conduit and wire fencing.  I did the prescribed straw bale garden fence using metal fence posts, a salvaged 2 x 4 top beam, and fencing wire for the beans and cukes.  I can tell you with certainty that the my new fence post driver is elbowing the leaf blower out of the top spot as my favorite tool.  That danged thing got a fence post in our hard clay ground faster than a speeding bullet - so much so that it's actually shorter than I'd like right now.  Get one - much safer than swinging a sledge hammer too.

Fence Post Driver.  Hole on the bottom, solid and weighted at the top.  Fits right over fence post and you'll never miss it when you swing.
Holy Tomato Tower Batman!!
Beans and cukes.
I ordered, assembled, and installed the metal deer fence gate, and got the final wall of deer netting up (with help).  My wonderful husband helped dig the post holes for the frame, and did the concrete.  The McGregor Fence Company makes a wide range of gates for their deer fencing products, and while I didn't get the deer mesh from them the gate is the bomb.  They have online videos of the assembly process and their customer service is great, and shipping is free.   I still want to install a permanent threshold under the gate as there is a gap big enough for a rabbit to squeeze through, and the same for the vertical gap where the gate meets the frame.

Planting in the bales was a learning experience.  Don't expect to gently part the fibers with your hands and nestle a plant in the straw.  These are very tightly bound bales.  The thing that worked best for me was my husband's dykes - pliers with long handles that have a fairly good biting surface.  I used the pliers to extract clumps of straw to create each planting pocket.  In doing this I found that the density of the bales varied widely.  But for each of them I needed the pliers to pull the straw out.  I discovered that just below the outer surface of the dry looking bales there was loads of moisture, which was reassuring.  I had been watering them with the soaker hose every day for about 15 minutes, and it was keeping them plenty moist.  Anyway, once I pulled enough out to fit a 4" potted veggie plant I put a handful of soil in the hole, inserted the plant, and used the removed straw to make a little collar around the plant.

The potatoes were planted about 2-3 weeks ago (late for around here, but I'm hopeful) and some very healthy looking leaves are already poking out of the tops of the bales.  At the same time I planted some onion seedlings, and for those I added a little more soil to help keep the very tiny sprouts moist until they got larger.

Potatoes - YES!
 And then my reward was to make it pretty, so I put some marigolds on the ends of the rows (on the side of the bale - apparently this works fine), and a few nasturtiums here and there to wander.  For me the sight of neat rows of edible plants is beautiful enough, but the flowers will make my early morning bathrobe-clad trips out there even more special.  Also on my list is to find four ornamental fence post toppers for the 4 4x4's holding up the corners of the deer fence.  Something fun.  Maybe glass obelisks?  Know anyone who blows glass? 

As soon as my muscles recover and I get some time I'm going to hook up the irrigation - I'm going to run 1/2" poly tubing supply lines to each of the rows where it will connect to the soaker hose segments. 

OK, that's the garden update for today.  Even though the hard part is nearly done I'll be posting updates as things grow.  I'm planning to make another batch of worm compost tea (the aerated kind) very soon, as liquid fertilizer is best for this gig and I'm keen to do it again.


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