Friday, April 11, 2014

Planting asparagus

The weather is fantastic, but I keep thinking that it's all a trick.  I'm sure that any day the temperature will plummet and 8 inches of snow will fall.  I know that winter is over but can't quite convince myself.  Sure the hostas are sending up shoots, birds are everywhere, the grass is green, and still it seems like winter is going to come back for a last hurrah.  It was a bad bad winter.

Today I finished the new bed by planting asparagus and strawberries.  Two days ago I removed the top six inches of soil from this bed and piled it in a nearby empty bed.  Then I made a V-shaped trench in this bed.  This morning I dumped two bags of compost into the trench and spaded it over, mixing it in well. 

Then I got to work on the pile of soil that will be used to cover the asparagus crowns.  I shoveled about half of it into the garden cart and mixed in a bag of compost.  Thank goodness for garden tractors and carts, because I'm getting too old to wheelbarrow all this soil around.

Back to the asparagus bed.  I added about 2/3's of a pound of bone meal into the trench then mixed it in with a hoe.  I checked the depth of the trench.  Most of the advice I've read recommends planting the all male Jersey asparagus about 6 inches deep.  The deepest part of the trench was about 8 to 9 inches deep in this photo.

Then I hoed in dirt from the side of the trench to fill in the V and make a flat area about 6 inches deep.  I planted the crowns 16 inches apart and spread the roots out, then pulled in a little dirt from the side of the trench to hold them in place.  No I don't have any pictures of the crowns in the soil but trust me they are in there.  Then I filled over the crowns with the soil/compost mix in the cart. This filled the bed to within about an inch or two of the top.  I'll wait for the shoots to appear then put the remaining soil back into this bed.

Then it was time for the strawberries.  I dumped a bag of compost over the area to be planted in berries.  That little rock on the bed border marks the point where the asparagus planting ends.  The compost was turned over and mixed into the soil.  I don't know if strawberries will do well here, it's a clayey soil and somewhat alkaline, but being a raised bed it is well-drained. 

These are everbearing strawberries (Tribute) and are supposed to be planted about a foot apart.  I set up a diagonal planting pattern to maximize the space. This allowed for 12 plants.  If I had planted them in a block pattern there would have been room for only 8 plants.

The strawberry plants were set in.  The bed was finished. 

I wasn't finished yet.  I seeded parsnip in a 4'x4' space, and transplanted a set of brassicas.  At this point two beds are completely planted, one with asparagus/strawberries/herbs and another with onions/parsnip.  The greens bed is about half-filled with lettuce and spinach.
And the brassicas are starting to fill out.  It's coming along, and I don't think winter will be back for a while.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Hot Pile

The late departure of winter means I have to find ways to move things along.  I think the soil temperatures are about three weeks behind what they should be in an average Spring, and I've delayed indoor seed starting schedules a week or more.  The big issue right now is a bin full of unfinished compost.  I really want finished compost for the beds that will grow warm weather crops. The pile has about three weeks to get there.

The good news is - the compost pile is getting hot, which means it's decomposing.  The winter fish kill provided a good supply of dead fish to jump start the compost pile.  I filled a 5 gallon bucket with dead catfish and bluegill and mixed them in with the shredded leaves as the pile was turned over.  Now it's getting hot.  A really hot pile will go over 140 F, but this one is not there yet.  It's at 110 F.   The outside temperature when I checked this was 45 F. 

Amazingly I can't find any of the fish when I turn the pile.  It's like they just vanish.  I'm hoping to get some partly finished compost for the potato bed, which I'll plant in about ten days.  I think by the end of the month the compost should be ready for the remaining beds.  I'd like to see the compost get really hot, hot enough to kill any weed seeds and insect eggs.

The other project for now is to get the new bed ready for asparagus.  I think the soil is still a bit too cold, but I had to get this started.  I dug out about 6 inches of soil and loaded it onto a wheel barrow, then dumped it on a nearby bed for temporary storage.  This bed will get squash and sweet potatoes, so I have plenty of time to move the pile of soil back to the asparagus bed.

With the top layer of soil removed I turned over the deeper soil with a shovel to loosen it.  With the deeper soil exposed it should warm quickly in this sunny weather.  I'll have to purchase some bags of compost to mix in to increase the organic matter in the soil.  Right now it has too much clay and tends to clump.  I'll add some bone meal, make a final trenching and the bed should be ready for asparagus crowns in a few days.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Doing the Mulch/Compost Shuffle

I'm trying to work with the processes of decomposition to get the beds ready for planting by the end of the month if only the compost will finish.  Two beds are up and running.  The greenhouse bed, which no longer has a plastic tent over it, has a good stand of overwintered spinach and lettuce seedlings.  Another bed has onion seedlings and garlic in it, and another bed has the first set of cole crops growing in it.  Both beds got what little compost that was available from the bin.  That leaves five beds that have to be made ready in the next few weeks.

Then there's the new or very recent beds.  The bed I like the best has a stone perimeter.  None of that transient wood border here, it's built to last.  Originally I planned to put raspberries in this bed, but like most of my plans they were changed.  So this bed, built last fall, will get asparagus at one end, perennial herbs at the other, and strawberries in the middle.  But first the cover of shredded leaves had to be removed.  But where to put them?  They will go into that bed at the top of the picture, which will be the new raspberry bed.

Yes the bed is kind of out there in the middle of nowhere, but it's unused space and raspberries aren't that demanding.   I checked Indiana Berry and they don't ship the plants until April 24.  April 24?  Seems kind of late but we have had a late spring.  The bed is on a slope and the stakes hold two long 2x4's that hold back the soil.

So I moved the shredded leaves from the brick-lined bed to this bed and put some landscape fabric over them so they don't blow away.  When the raspberry plants arrive I'll take off the fabric and just move the leaves aside to put in the plants.

The soil is too wet and cold to plant asparagus.  That will probably happen in about a week.  I did get some herbs in the one end - sage, thyme, chives, Mexican oregano and winter savory, and some parsley in another bed.

The mobile coldframe is performing well.  I think it's insulating properties will allow me to move peppers and tomatoes into it in a few weeks, sort of a way stop on the way to the beds.  On nights that have a mild frost the coldframe is able to maintain temperatures around 40 F, well above freezing.  For now there are some extra red onion seedlings, red tropea onions, some extra brassicas and the strawberries biding their time.

The lettuce in the Earthbox is looking good.  Maybe in a week it will be ready.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Big Workdays

I haven’t posted in ten days because there’s been nothing to write about.  How can that be you might ask, when life should be aburstin’ anew from winters deep sleep?  Because it’s not burstin’ that’s why, and winter has worn out what paltry welcome it was grudgingly given.  Recently I was looking at the Purdue extension page which noted that February was something like 9 F below average and March was projected to be about 6 F below average.  Good news though, we can expect April to be only 2 F below average.  Time to break out the shorts and flip flops. 

What does that mean for the poor sot trying to raise some food in the backyard?  It means growing plants is at least two weeks behind a typical spring schedule.  It means that beds that should have been composted, fertilized and prepared for the first seeds or seedlings are not ready, just sitting there, mocking me.  Meanwhile the next set of cole crops was getting leafy and more than ready for transplanting outdoors. 

I’m cautiously optimistic that the foul weather is now done.  After a dismal Saturday, rainy and cold, Sunday and Monday have been like, well, spring, with a 10-day forecast of more nice weather.  Sunday I  got to work.   Two beds needed immediate attention, a 4x8 foot bed for cole crops and a 4x12 bed for onions, parsnips, and a few rows of carrot. Garlic popped up at one end of this bed about a week ago.   I couldn’t remember where it was planted last fall and was almost convinced that it was planted in another bed.  So much for my record keeping.
There was enough finished compost available for these two beds.  Ten days ago the compost pile was turned over into a new pile until finished compost was reached in the bottom module.  Sunday this compost was spread over the two beds, about two wheelbarrow loads.  I broadcast some Chicky-Do-Do fertilizer and turned over the soil with a shovel.  Looks like a healthy population of worms in there.  The bin on the right contains finished compost.   

Today the beds that were prepared on Sunday were cultivated with one of those little 2-stroke tillers, enough to break up the clods.  I like to wait a day after turning over the soil to give the earthworms time to get back to deeper soil before tilling.  With the beds ready it was time to plant.  A set of cole crops, storage onions and lettuce were past due for transplanting outdoors.  These are the onions which have been in the mobile coldframe for several weeks now.  

The first set of cole crops had been planted in the bed with the plastic greenhouse over it, but a very cold night about a week ago (14 F) had damaged them beyond repair, so I replaced the broccoli and cabbage with new seedlings.  The tatsoi plant doesn’t seem to be bothered by a hard freeze.  Some lettuce seedlings also went into this bed.  At one end is overwintered spinach which should be ready to pick very soon.  Then I decided to just remove the greenhouse and put a cage over the bed to protect the leafy greens from rabbits.     

The onions went in this bed.  Planting onion seedlings is very tedious, as is the task of seeding them in flats. (Onions = tedium).  I planted about half as much onion as last year, when I harvested about 25 pounds.  You might be able to see the garlic at one end of the bed.  

The remaining cole crops went into another bed.  They look a little wilty as they were transplanted in full sun.  I think the plants get a little shocked because they are not adjusted to the intensity of sunlight.  Their root systems were intact and well developed and I’ve found that after the first day outdoors the seedlings recover well if the roots haven’t been disturbed.  There’s broccoli (Major and Belfast), cauliflower (Snow Crown), cabbage (Gonzalez), and kohlrabi (Grand Duke).  I seed cole crops every 12 days so there’s never a lot of them to set out at one time. 
It's a start.