Straw Bale garden experiment

I’m trying something new this year.


My parents were actually the inspiration, as they are trying this out this year as well. I got the straw bales for free, and figured I’d try growing some plants in straw bales! I started by conditioning them.

You spend 10 days watering fertilizer into the bales.


Then add some soil and plants. I planted eggplant and pepper plants, as well as zucchini, cucumbers, kale, and chard from seed. We’ll see how it goes! 🙂

Snow and Hot cap results

We had quite the cold snap this last week. Yikes! I was very glad that I plant under hot caps until at least Memorial Day. I had seen the forecast and knew to expect the cold, so I had gone out and made sure all my milk jug hot caps were slightly buried around the edges, and put lids on them so they were sealed up. The first night we got snow and barely freezing temps.


The second night it was forecasted to get colder, so I added tarps on the top of the hot caps for an extra layer of protection. The results? I only lost two plants! The ones that died weren’t looking great when I planted them in the first place, and may have died regardless. So, I’m very pleased that our garden lives! Such a blessing!

Now I’m waiting anxiously to see if the seeds I had planted survived. They hadn’t sprouted yet, so I didn’t cover them. Here’s hoping they come up this week!

Yesterday I put in the rest of the peppers I had planned, some of the basil, and the rest of the squash and gourds. I think I’ll start squash, cucumbers, etc. inside next year instead of sowing seeds in the ground. It would be nice to know the seeds were good ahead of time, just in case. 🙂

Happy Gardening!

Planting and Projects

Pretty much every Saturday from spring to fall is project day at our house. Today was no different.

We started the morning with the handsome gentleman tilling the garden extension while I did a bit of troubleshooting on a sprinkler head that wasn’t spraying fully, and replaced a part that was partly broken, fixing the problem.

Story time: When we were installing our sprinkler system, I planned out the system and researched all the parts and pieces. My Husband gave me his opinion on a few things I asked him about, but the majority of the planning came from me. I had the time, so I did the research. We hired someone to do the trenching for us, and when he finished I was paying him and he said he could come back after the system was in to power rake so it would be ready for grass. He was explaining to just leave the heads off if we were to do that. I asked for a bit of clarification as to what he meant, and he responded by asking if my husband was home. 😡 I wish I had been quicker with a response, but I just had my husband talk to him. Needless to say, we didn’t hire him again. Anyway, it was wonderful today to do a sprinkler repair all on my own with my kids running around, and part of the project with a baby in my arms. That’s right-women are every bit as capable (and in some ways more so) than men.

All fixed and put back together!


After lunch we headed back outside to keep working, and planted more of the garden! There are a few things remaining to be planted, but the majority of it is now in the ground! Hooray!

We planted:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Bush beans
  • Pole beans
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Acorn squash
  • Hubbard squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Eggplant
  • Cinderella pumpkins

Still to be planted:

  • Luffa gourds
  • Gourds
  • More squash and pumpkins 
  • More peppers
  • Basil
  • More kale

We’re giving straw bale gardening a try this year! So far so good!


It ended up being a very productive Saturday! Hooray for the garden!

The Quest for peas: part two

So, I’ve been hesitant to share this, because I just know that once I do they’ll all die. Lol:

The peas are looking beautiful!


In years past I think I’ve tried to plant too early, and I haven’t had the best seeds. For me, I need to wait until the end of March, and buy seeds from my local nursery. I find that locally owned nurseries have the best products, advice and info, because they know your local climate better than anyone else. Hooray for small businesses!

Hoping these continue to do well! We’re one step further than we normally get. They actually sprouted and are growing! Haha!

Tomatoes 101, and hot cap hack 

Is there anything better than a BLT with a fresh-still-warm-from-the-garden, vine-ripened tomato on it? Not much that I can think of!

Here’s my tomato planting method. This is the method I used last year, and I had the best tomato crop I’ve ever had. So, here’s the process:

Start by digging a pretty deep hole for each plant. I like to do several at a time so I don’t have to keep grabbing the shovel, and so I can space them evenly:


Next, add a handful of egg shells, and if you have it, some transplanting fertilizer:

Now it’s time to prep your plant. Gently trim or pinch off all but the top set of leaves.

Like this:

Put the plant in the hole so there is an inch or two of stem between the top of the hole and the first remaining leaves. You might have to put the plant sideways if it’s too tall:


Now, bury that sucker! Just not all the way. 😉 give it a drink of water, and you’re all done!


Because I live in a cold climate, and I like to push the season, I cover my plants with hot caps once they’re in the ground. I save gallon jugs and cut the bottom off like this:


Set it over the plant like this, then cover the flap with soil.



All done! Note to self: start saving milk jugs in February. I have almost enough for tomatoes, but not for peppers! Ack! Time to ask the neighbors for any extras. Lol

I grabbed this list of skills from The Ecofeminist and thought it was a fun exercise. So, here are my responses!

Skills for the Urban Homesteader

My responses will be: 

Done it before: ☑️

Never done it, but I think that I could (especially if I had help from a recipe or tutorial): 👍

Planning to try this in the near(ish) future!:😄

 1. Bake bread from scratch ☑️

 2. Cook a whole chicken in a cast iron skillet 👍

 3. Cook beans from scratch ☑️

 4. Make a Quilt ☑️

 5. Crochet a blanket☑️

 6. Crochet a beanie/hat☑️

 7. Darn a sock👍

 8. Mend a rip in a shirt👍

 9. Build a beehive & keep bees 

 10. Catch a swarm 

 11. De-bone a chicken ☑️

 12. Dehydrate Foods ☑️

 13. Dehydrate Herbs ☑️

 14. Use scrap wood to build a structure 👍

 15. Harvest Honey 

 16. Knit a scarf 👍

 17. Make a beeswax candle 👍

 18. Build & use a compost Bin 👍

 19. Compost meat with black soldier flies 

 20. Make broth in a crockpot ☑️

 21. Make Marmalade / Jam / Jelly / Preserves ☑️

 22. Cure & store garlic ☑️

 23. Roast a pumpkin for freezing ☑️

 24. Make English muffins ☑️

 25. Make soap in a crockpot 👍

 26. Make sourdough bread and maintain a starter ☑️

 27. Make your own laundry soap-☑️I’ve done this before, but it didn’t clean beautifully. I’ve read the soap can be hard on washing machines.

 28. Use a sun oven

 29. Raise & milk a goat 

 30. Render lard or tallow 👍

 31. Make buttermilk ☑️

 32. Preserve using a pressure cooker ☑️

 33. Learn to make the perfect pie crust ☑️

 34. Use cloth diapers on our baby ☑️ Unfortunately it didn’t last after we moved and our water was too hard to get them reliably clean.

 35. Learn basic First-Aid and CPR ☑️

 36. Learn home canning ☑️

 37. Set up a pantry ☑️

 38. Learn basic metalworking skills 

 39. Learn basic plumbing maintenance skills ☑️

 40. Learn how to use a sewing machine ☑️

 41. Build an Earthquake Preparedness Kit ☑️-not specifically for earthquakes, but we do have a 72 hour kit.

 42. Make homemade cough remedies 

 43. Barter and trade ☑️

 44. Brood day-old chicks 

 45. Build a greenhouse or cold frame 😄 coming this year hopefully!

 46. Build a small fence 👍

 47. Host a yard sale 👍

 48. Roast a whole pig 

 49. Butcher a chicken

 50. Change a tire 👍

 51. Cook over an open fire ☑️

 52. Dye yarn or clothes from plants 👍

 53. Forage locally for wild edibles 

 54. Give an injection

 55. Grind wheat into flour for baking ☑️

 56. Split and stack firewood 👍

 57. Pay off credit cards and student loans ☑️

 58. Embrace Radical Homemaking and pay off our mortgage

 59. Make butter ☑️

 60. Make cheese ☑️Though, doing it at home last time didn’t work. I should try again.

 61. Make herbal extracts, infusions, poultices, and tinctures 

 62. Make your own rolls☑️

 63. Make homemade toys for kids ☑️

 64. Make Kefir and keep a grain available ☑️

 65. Make beeswax & herb salves

 66. Make lotions 👍

 67. Make sausage ☑️

 68. Make my own deodorant 👍

 69. Make bacon and other cured meats ☑️

 70. Make vinegar 👍

 71. Plan and grow a vegetable garden ☑️

 72. Plan and grow a kitchen herb garden ☑️

 73. Properly handle and shoot a gun 

 74. Prune and graft a fruit tree

 75. Save seeds ☑️

 76. Know crop planting times, season length, and when to harvest ☑️

 77. Season a cast iron skillet ☑️

 78. Sharpen a knife ☑️

 79. Sharpen a saw, mower blade, & other tools

 80. Build and use an outdoor clothesline for laundry  👍

 81. Propagate plants from cuttings ☑️

 82. Build a coop and run 

 83. Keep chickens or ducks for eggs 

 84. Set up & use rain barrels 

 85. Set up a grey water management system 

 86. Store root vegetables (successfully) through an entire winter☑️

 87. Make pickles 😄

 88. Grow mushrooms 😄

 89. Install solar panels on the house to get off the grid☑️

 90. Build a smoker (DIY)👍

 91. Use lacto-fermentation to preserve foods 

 92. Weave a basket👍

 93. Make organic pesticide 

 94. Catch, prepare and cook a fish we caught

 95. Get or Build a Dehydrator ☑️

To Box or not to box

When we put in our garden, we knew we wanted to do raised beds. I’d seen them done by other people and loved how easy they made things. But, for those that aren’t convinced, here’s a pro/con list:

PROS:

  • Less weeding. Weeds are less likely to encroach in a box as they are an in ground garden (though, obviously it’s not perfect)
  • Easier plant access. The walking paths are established with boxes. Making it easier to harvest. Also-plants are higher which makes for a bit less bending.
  • Easier control of soil. If your native soil is rocky or not very nutritive, you can skip picking rocks by building raised beds and filling them with fresh top soil.
  • Compaction isn’t really an issue. The soil stays soft and workable because you don’t have to walk in it.

CONS:

  • Cost. It can get expensive to build raised beds. We went the cheapest route and used unfinished whitewood studs for ours. I’ve been very pleased with how well they’ve held up. The first time we put in our beds we ordered 14 yards of top soil. Since then we’ve added more boxes, and have been able to just add bulk compost to them all, and take excess soil for the new boxes.
  • Tilling can be more difficult. If you have a heavy duty tiller especially. Ours is small, so this wasn’t a problem.

That’s all I can think of for now, but if I think of more, I’ll add them in!

Here is our South garden:


And the north garden:


To build our boxes we used White wood 2×6 studs. I didn’t want the possibility of chemicals leaching from treated lumber, and discovered we could build the same boxes out of white wood 5 times for the cost of building them once with cedar. The choice was clear. We used decking screws to hold everything together. We live in a high desert, and haven’t had any rotting issues after 2 1/2 years. Hopefully that trend continues!


Our local landfill makes and sells landscape products from people’s green waste. We top up our beds with compost they produce, and have put evergreen mulch around the boxes to help with weed prevention and aesthetics.

Raised beds work for us! What have you found works for you? Any pros or cons that I missed?

Sun!

First, a funny: This morning while walking around the yard Goombah 1 asked me about our ice plant. She asked what we use it for, and I said, “It’s just pretty.” She replied, “it’s a decoration? That’s silly! We don’t need decorations outside!”

It struck me as neat and funny that at 5 years old she thinks decorative plantings are silly. Makes sense too-because we only have a handful of decorative perennials. The vast majority of our landscape is food production. I’m sure we’ll add more pretty perennials over time, but for now our focus has been food. I mean, why not? Our local food pantry accepts produce. May as well produce as much food as we can and donate any excess!

Anyway, the main focus of this post is sharing this exciting news:


We now have solar panels on our roof! Hoping the city gets our meter changed quickly so we can start producing our own power. Fun stuff! Hopefully this will help offset our drain on the environment a bit. ❤️

Spring planting 

When we first put in our garden we put raised beds on the south side of our house, which happens to be the side yard. We found that we wanted more planting space, and the best place to do that turned out to be the north side of the house. With a bit of research I found that it would work for certain crops-maybe not everything though.  So, we added three additional raised beds to the North side last year. I’ve found that most cool weather crops don’t need quite as much light, making them great for this spot! That includes: cabbage, carrots, lettuce, spinach, kale, beets, etc. Green beans are a warmer weather crop, but they still do pretty well in this spot as well.

When determining light for an area I take photos every 2 hours for a day in the middle of the growing season-then I can really tell how many hours of light each area will get. Ideally-do this the year before you plan to put in a garden so you can plan locations well.

Anyway, one of our many projects today was to plant the cool weather crops. We put in: Kale (it’s actually on the South side, but is still a cool weather crop!), lettuce, carrots, beets, and cabbage. I usually try to get these crops in a bit sooner than I did this year, but life happened. 😝 I think they’ll still be just fine.

I even found seed tape which was pretty exciting! It made planting the carrots and beets so much faster and easier!

Fruits overflowing 

So, we were at the grocery store yesterday and I remembered that I needed a few more seeds. I was super excited that they even had seed tape for beets and carrots like I wanted! Major bonus-they were on sale! Well, when we were checking out, the goombahs were going crazy, so the handsome gentleman took the older two to walk around while I paid for the groceries. He noticed a grafted cherry tree for sale! We like cherries, but they typically need a cross pollinator-and we don’t love cherries enough to have two trees! But this was the perfect tree! Not needing a cross pollinator, and from what we can tell, it has three varieties of cherries in one tree! Perfect! So, we got it, and today it went in the ground. We also put garlic deer repellant on all the trees. Hoping and praying it keeps them away!