Monday, February 27, 2017

Dead Coolers

Way back on Nov 26, 2015 I posted a blog entry about a person here that lives on lava land, but still successfully gardens. She's been using half barrels and plenty of old, dead coolers salvaged from the dump. She just sent me some new photos of her efforts and I want to share them. 

She makes her own  "soil" Old Hawaiian style, by taking the old "soil", layering in organic material (weeds basically), then planting a new crop. By mulching the top, she keeps the plant roots moist and cool. Ya know, it works! 

She's solved another problem by using salvaged metal grates...........cats using the soft soil for a catbox. The crops will grow up through the grate with no problem, and the cats are aghast to find themselves thwarted, actually cheated, out of a good place to poo. I plan to help her out by watching for grates at the dump. Or perhaps some other kind of firm mesh, be it plastic or metal. I like her solution a lot. Cool! 

Friday, February 17, 2017

More Lambs !

Went out this morning to hand out the morning goodies and to check on Stacy's two new lambs and was surprised to see a trio. Tidy (Ewe-L Tide) has brought her new little ram lamb out of the back woods to join the flock. Quite the handsome boy. I just wish that he was a little ewe. I'm getting far too many rams lately. Anyway....looks like for now I now have three lambs sired by Mystery Ram. 

When I called for the flock, in the distance I saw Blacky (Ewe-Soblack) half hopping, half walking up. She'd stop every 100 feet or so, let out a good baaaaaa, then come some more. What the heck? By the time she reached the first feeding trough, she popped out a coal black lamb. My, my. Blacky sure is one sheep that doesn't plan to miss a free handout! 

Eventually the lamb stood up on wobbly legs, tucked under mom who took turns licking her lamb and eating more haycubes. 

I took a peek and saw that it's a ewe lamb. Good, a girl! She's coal black and sired by E-Ram. This is most likely E-Ram's last lamb, though possibly Tan (Ewe-ka-tan) is carrying a lamb he sired. We shall see in a few weeks if Tan's baby is E-Ram's or Mystery Ram's. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stacy's New Lambs

Stacy's my favorite ewe. She's smart, for a sheep. She's the flock leader. Three days ago she left the flock and hid in the back woods. Lambing time! Goody! 

Today Stacy brought her new lambs up to the feeding station. They are healthy looking and full of curiosity.  And soooooo pretty. 

They are very similarly colored and marked, almost twins. But the little ram is a darker chocolate while the little ewe is a lighter milk chocolate. And the boy has more color on his face. 

I plan to keep the girl, for sure. I'm not sure if I'll keep the boy. But we'll see what happens as time goes by. 

Now it's time to come up with names. 

Stacy's lambs is the second lamb birth this year. Goldie birthed a stillborn little white female lamb two weeks ago. Although it looked full term, it was quite small. Goldie didn't even go off into seclusion for the birth. It's as though it happened quickly and by surprise because she dropped the dead lamb right at the feeding station. Sad, but these things happen. I put Goldie on antibiotics for a while in case she had some sort of uterine infection, plus I dewormed her again, ahead of schedule. She's doing fine. It's just that she lost her lamb. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Transplanting Seedling Starts

Now that I have several mini greenhouses, I'm able to grow plenty of veggie seedlings for transplanting out into the gardens. I'm finding that I'm far more successful using seedlings than I am directly sowing seeds into the garden soil. Too many things cause the direct seedlings to fail. 

I've recently discovered that planting technique has a big, big bearing on the success of the seedlings to survive. This is the method I've come up with so far that's giving me the best results, whether it be in the community garden bed or my own scattered growing spots around the property. 

First , I prepare the soil by either digging or tilling in soil amendments. These may include the old mulch, compost, chicken pen litter, coral sand, lava sand, wood ash (if the pH test indicates it's low), biochar (if the soil is hydrophobic), crushed heat treated bone, ocean water (just a light sprinkle). It all depends upon what the amendment schedule is or what is needed. 

With the soil ready, I'll scoop out a hole about 3" deep. 

Then I'll fill it with water and let it soak in. 

Next, the seedling gets planted and the hole back filled with soil so that the seedling root ball is completely covered over. Now I'll give it a second watering to wet the soil at least 6" around the seedling. 

A plastic protective collar is set into place. 

Once all the seedlings are planted, I'll apply a light mulch to cover the entire soil surface to protect it from the sun and wind. Below, is a mulch made from chipped up tree and brush trimmings. 

This mulch is grass clippings. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Toy Choy Bok Choy

For the first time I'm growing a variety of Chinese green called Toy Choy. It's one of those dwarf bok choys. I've never seen one of the dwarf types before, but I've heard that they are suitable for quick growing and hydroponics. The quick growing trait caught my eye. 

I opted to start the seed in pots. Once germinated, I gently transplant them into individual growing cells. Then once they are big enough to handle easily, generally 4 leaf stage, they go out into the garden. I'm using the plastic bottle hotcaps for the first week or so, followed by a plastic collar. So far I've had very good success with almost no seedling loss. 

This variety lives up to its reputation of quickly growing. Within 3 weeks out in the garden, I was sampling baby choys. Two weeks later the plants were big, lush, and mature. 

(Not bolting yet....that is, no flower being produced.) 

What hadn't been harvested at this stage were in the brink of bolting. One week later a few plants were bolting though others were still holding ok and getting bigger yet. 

(Starting to bolt. The beginnings of flowering. Still edible though borderline marketable.) 

(Bolting. Flowering, plus the plant stem is growing longer, making the plant get taller. I ate this plant and it was fine tasting even at this stage.) 

This variety is a definite keeper in my gardens. I grew it out in the full sun. I now plan to try some in semi shade and see what happens. I have a lot more semi shade than sun gardens, so I'm always looking for veggies that will produce in my less than ideal veggie locations. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Plastic Bottle Protectors - The Next Step

George has left some comments that got me thinking again. Thus I'm still tinkering with the plastic bottle idea. Using bottle hotcaps has its pitfalls (too much heat). So do the collars (not enough wind protection).  So I think.......could something half way in between work better? Thus my latest twist is the bottomless/topless bottle. These end up being a tall collar, twice as long as the original collars I made. 

I'm thinking......
By removing the bottle top, the seedling won't overheat and bake to death. 
By having tall sides, the seedling is protected from the drying wind, plus the air around it will be warmer and have more humidity than if it were unprotected. It will be somewhat of a greenhouse effect. 

So in theory, these tall collar-like protectors should give better results than either the hotcap design or the short collar design. Now for the test. 

I'm thinking that with some veggies, these tall collars can be left in place even as the plant keeps growing, such as with broccoli, chard, kale, tomatoes, and other tall growing plants. With shorter or spreading veggies, the tall collars would need to be replaced with a short collar before the seedling grew too large, such as with dwarf bok choy, cabbage, parsley, and such. If perchance these plastic collars keep most of the slugs off, then I'll use them on as many crops as possible. We'll see. 

Now for some photos of results to date.......
We've been having sunny, windy days which have been brutal on the young seedlings.  The ones protected by the bottle hotcaps have been doing fine. Those with no protectors are totally wilted, even though the soil is damp under the surface. 

But even a short collar gave protection. Only the parts of the leaves above the collar rim have wilted. The rest of the seedling is fine. So it's the wind that's the main culprit. 

This bed should have had all the bottle hotcaps put into place and then munched, but I was still searching for more bottles. Plus I was short on mulch. Dang. But it's nice to know that the bottle method has potential to be very beneficial. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Plastic Bottle Plant Collars

This idea came off of the plastic bottle idea. The plastic bottles have worked out great and are now a routine method used in my gardens. The bottles effectively block cutworms, but once removed from the seedlings, the cutworms still damage some of the baby plants. Often they (the cutworms) can't cut through the stems but manage to girdle them, thus ruining the seedling after all.  

Ok...the bottles need to come off early so that the seedling can grow. But protection from cutworms is still needed. What to do that would be easy, cheap, and reusable? Why not plastic bottle plant collars. 

I tried cutting down several different types of bottles. I found that the Gatorade type bottles worked best. Made into collars, they were still strong enough to hold their shape while being pushed down into the soil around a seedling. I made the collars about 3 1/2" to 4" in height. 

Funny thing......the Gatorade type bottles aren't smooth walled. Thus they were difficult to use as bottle hotcaps. The soil tended to stick to the inside of these bottles, making it a challenge to remove them. So while they're not desirable for bottle hotcaps, they make far better collars than the smooth walled plastic bottles. The smooth walled ones aren't strong enough as collars, as they tend to bend or collapse while trying to push them down into the soil. 

Other benefits from the plastic plant collars....
1- the collar holds the young leaves up off the ground
2- the collar helps stabilize floppy seedlings until they can harden up
3- it makes watering the seedling very easy, getting the water right to the seedling root zone
4- slugs seem to be somewhat deterred by the collars too
5- most type plants continue to grow into maturity with the collars in place. No need to remove them. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Update : Plastic Bottles

So far I've seen both great successes using the plastic bottles, and a few downsides to the idea. 

Success stories....
...The seedlings are protected from cutworms, mice, rats, and other pests. 
...The seedlings thrive and grow rapidly.
...It's easy the water the seedlings, getting the water to stay with the seedlings rather than running off. 

...On brilliant sunny days, certain veggies fry. Most of the celery seedlings succumbed. 
...On days of full sun, the seedlings dry out, thus require daily watering. 
...Regardless of lots of sun or mostly cloudy, seedlings need watering at least every other day. Some needed watering every day. 
...Some seedlings grew so rapidly that they were weak stemmed, flopping over when the bottles were removed. 

I suspect that the trick will be in the timing. Just how long do I keep the bottles on a particular veggie? 3-5 days? A week? 10 days? I'm going to need to watch and get a feel for it. 

One thing I saw was that once the bottles were removed, some plants got killed or damaged by cutworms. Funny thing though, the rodents ignored the older, larger seedlings. That's a plus. So I have a plan to stymy the cutworms. That's my next blog post. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Lettuce in Cans

The lettuce is growing better than I expected. So far, the cardboard box idea is panning out ok. I'm real curious to see how things look a month from now. But right now.....really nice and promising.

I'm also trying individual plants in a large pot and/or can. I have a limited number of recycled pots, but I can get plenty of the large cans from down at the dump. Thus I have the opportunity to plant quite a bit of lettuce this way. The goal is to get a larger "head" of lettuce than I anticipate getting from the cardboard box method. One plant per pot and they should end up looking like a convention head of lettuce. We'll see how well it works in the mini greenhouse set-up. 

If both methods work ok, then the cardboard box method will be for growing baby leaf lettuces using the cut-and-come-again method. The pots will be for individual heads. 

I like using the large cans in place of pots. I punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage.....

And the lettuce seedlings also seem to like them too.....

Since these metal cans are not in direct sun, I don't expect them to heat up the roots too much. But we shall see what happens over the next couple weeks. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Using Weeds

"K" emailed and asked what do I do with the weeds I get from my gardens. Well, it depends upon where they are needed the most. When I weed, I call it "harvesting" because they are a usable asset. They surely don't go out in the trash! 

1- Harvested weeds often go into my pallet grow boxes. When I have time, I'll chop them up first with a lawnmower before dumping them into a box. But when I'm short on time, they will get chucked in whole. Yes....seeds and all. I don't bother taking the time to handpick out the seeds. Most seeds will die when the pile heats up, so it's not a problem. 

2- Another good use is to use them as fill for one of the hugelpits. Again, I'll chop them up before adding if I have the time. Otherwise they go in whole. 

3- Today I had a good pile of weeds, mostly Bermuda grass that the community gardeners removed from an unused garden bed that's being put back into use. 

And also a pile of assorted weeds that have been drying out for a week. Time to grind them up, lawnmower style. 

I used the ground up weeds to apply extra mulch to some young potato plants. These chopped weeds will dry out over the next couple days and thus won't root and be a problem. Occasionally a few of the Bermuda grass stolens survive in the loose mulch, but they are easy to pull out if they start showing any signs of regrowth. 

Most of my gardens are mulched regularly, so weeds are not a serious problem anymore. They only get out of hand in beds that don't get mulched in a timely fashion. Yes, if I don't pay attention to a particular garden bed, the weeds & grass take over, though I'm getting better at keeping ahead of things. 

My main "weed" source now is my pasture areas that I'm upgrading. Plenty of ferns and rough brushy stuff to harvest. But the gardening areas have gradually become less and less weedy. 

The one thing that I no longer use weeds for is making my compost. It's just easier and quicker to use grass clippings. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Simple Greenhouses

I'm on a roll! With the completion of 22 table top mini greenhouses (I still have two more to make as soon as I find a couple more pallets in good shape), I decided that I also want larger greenhouses in order to grow protected veggies. Things like slicing tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini squash. The plan calls for screening to keep fruit flies and pickleworm moths out. Here's what I have so far....

I've actually made two of them now, with two more in the plans. The one pictured above is located in 100% shade, thus it will be used for storage and a work table. The ends will be left open. 

I put an overhead ridge pole in for stability, and used some scrap pieces of pipe for bracing the side walls. 

I used long screws to secure the pieces to each other, and used the old garden hose pieces to attach the poly sheeting to the frame. Putting on the plastic sheeting was by far the most difficult part of the job. 

The plastic hoops were attached to the inside of the ground framing. This means that they push against the wood so that they won't pull away, like they might if attached to the outside of the framing wood. 

I purposely laid the 2x4s down flat because when they are upright, I discovered that I tend to trip over them. 

Though I forget to take a picture, I secured each of the four corners with a t-post pounded into the ground, with the pipe hoops and 2x4 framing wired to each t-post. Hopefully this will be strong enough to keep the wind from lifting the greenhouse, causing it to blow away. Today we got some gusty Kona winds, giving the greenhouses a test. So far things look ok. 

The second greenhouse is in a sunny location. This one will be used for slicing tomatoes. I plan to screen both of the ends of the greenhouse to keep fruit flies out. I'm not sure exactly how I'll do that, so I'll have to let you know when that happens. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Growing Lettuce

I'm eager to try out my new mini greenhouse tables. First crops to try? Lettuce and spinach, both greens that I like eating raw, and both that suffer from slug attacks. 

Ok I've got these nifty tables, what next? I need a container of some sort to hold soil. I could go buy pots or tubs, or I could experiment with repurposing something. I'm choosing the second option, because my focus is on low input/low impact farming. Besides, I priced garden tubs at Costco and they are $20 a piece for half barrel size. Occasionally I find plastic tubs and wooden dresser drawers at the dump, but not nearly enough to use on this project. So my mind kept looking for alternatives. (Not "alternative facts" but alternative pots!) 

How about sturdy cardboard boxes? I have a seemingly endless source of these. Line them with a recycled black plastic trash bag, and so far I have a zero cost growing container. I could fill it with garden soil, but prior experiments show that I aught to spring for promix growing medium if I hope to get good success growing food. So I've decided that I will. For now I will buy it new, but in the future I will look for sources of discarded promix from the local marijuana  growers. 

So l selected some low-sided fruit shipping boxes, lined them with trash bags, cut off the excess plastic, filled them with moistened potting mix. So far, so good. 

I could sow seeds, but to date I've had far better success starting seeds and carefully planting the baby seedlings into individual pots for future transplanting. In anticipation of this experiment, I sowed some seeds. The timing has been good because the seedlings are ready to divide and replant. So into my first box they go.....

Rather than aiming to harvest individual large lettuce heads, I'm opting to first try the cut n come again method. Thus I've planted the seedlings in three rows per box with the intent to harvest leaves by snipping them with a scissors as I cut down a row. Well, that's the plan. We shall see. 

That little red tag you see is a piece of survey tape on which I wrote the name of the variety and date it was started. Just one of my labeling methods. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mini Greenhouse Tables

The blog has been quiet lately while I've been working on a project to grow fresh greens (lettuce, spinach, arugula, etc). The problems I'm trying to overcome are slugs and turkeys. Slugs not only eat holes in the leaves, but contaminate them with slime. We have rat-lung disease in this island, and slug slime can pass the parasite. And of course, turkeys can eat the entire crop in less than a hour. 

For the slugs, I've tried hand picking, using ducks, using traps, and spreading around slug bait. While all these help keep the numbers down, I still get slugs. But when it comes to safely eating fresh greens, I need to have zero slugs. So far the only zero slug environment has been achieved via protected hydroponics. I don't have a hydroponic system at the moment, but I might go back to a small one in the future, or maybe an aquaponic system. Right now I don't have the time to devote to it. Aaaaah, a future project! 

I figure I need to create something the slugs have a hard time accessing, or is easy to exclude them in some way. Plus a way to also confound the turkeys at the same time. What I'm building for my fresh greens could also be used for other crops. But I'm going to start out with lettuce, spinach, arugula, and other fresh greens. You know....the stuff that gets eaten raw. 

Ok......take wood pallets, some repurposed 2x4s, salvaged 1/2" plastic pipe, a worn out garden hose, and a donated roll of poly plastic sheeting. I have old paint (every color mixed together... it comes out a funky rosy grey) on hand for projects like this. I sprung for a new box of nails and a box of screws. Yes, you could use new stuff, but I'm opting to re-use when I can...low input/low impact farming. But in the end I wound up buying a few more pipes and a roll of plastic sheeting to finish off the last of the tables. 

I used 24" long pieces of 2x4s to put legs onto the wood pallets. Much of the time the tables were stable enough, but for the shaky ones I added bracing. 

Next I painted them. Just because it will look better in the end if they are all the same color. 

Took the pipe and cut it into 10' lengths. I could have used longer or shorter lengths, but the pieces I had lent themselves well to 10'. Drilled holes in the ends for the nails as they got nailed to the pallets. They're fairly shaky, so I attached a top rail (with screws) to connect the two hoops together. Then bracing was added (guava saplings cut to length) and screwed into place. Now the hoops were pretty stable. 

Attaching the poly plastic sheeting was a challenge. It was just difficult to work with with the lovely dang tropical breezes. It took a lot of patience and a bit of cussing. Short pieces of the old garden hose holds the plastic to the hoop. Just slice the hose so that it opened up and wrapped snugly to the pipe hoop. All that's needed is one screw to hold it in place. 

A short piece of scrap wood nailed over the plastic holds it to the pallet. 

That's basically it. I leveled up the table by propping a rock or piece of wood scrap under the legs. 

What's under the tables? Depending upon the spot, either worn out tarps or/and well used drop cloths. I have access to old linens which are handed out to people who need them, but some are too worn or stained for people to want. These get added to my drop cloth collection. 

So far I have 16 of these built. Perhaps I'll add a few more. We'll see. 

Next I'll show you what I'm growing in these mini greenhouses and how I'm doing it. 


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Caught in the Act

Coming down my hillside stairs, I spied a pile of bark chips at the base of one of the ohia poles. 

Hhuummmm. I moved on, heading down to feed the fish in the pond at the base of the stairs. Turning back, guess what I saw........Molly! Caught in the act! 

"Gee Mom, I saw that you forgot to debark the poles. I'll do the job for you. Me & my friend, Spot." .....

LOL.     Looks like the cats approve of the additions. Hubby says that he sees the cats playing on the poles and rails all the time. So besides being functional and pretty, the rails are also making a good feline playground. Hey, that makes them multifunctional! 

Well, debarking isn't such a bad idea. I can live with it.