Edibles 2008-9


Pomegranates and Beautyberries on the Mound

Haven’t done anything much in this department for a few years, though many perennial plants were still supplying us with food, no work required.  Things like Bananas, Chaya, Elderberry, Myer Lemon, Cranberry Hibiscus and Sweet Potatoes produced as if nothing had happened, and the new fruit trees we planted survived, though only the Pomegranate and Grumichama came into production.  I haven’t pushed anything with fertilizer, which is what everyone recommends, but goes against my grain ecologically.  I have been using worm castings and poultry-manure-based amendments this year, though, and that will probably make a difference.  Someone gave me a ripe Guanabana, which we ate and shared the seeds from.  We got a baby tree out of that, which could give us fruit as soon as four years from now.  The parent was seed-grown, and took that long to begin producing.  (Note that tropical fruit seeds should be planted very fresh, and never refrigerated because that will kill them.) Also planted a Mulberry tree this summer. We topped the Jackfruit to keep it from getting too tall, and will do the same with the Mulberry and the fruit trees we plant in the future.  Every time we eat a papaya, I toss the seeds into the back garden, and every year we have a few trees come up.  Most years we get mainly females, but last year there was only a large male.  I am happy to report he is still going strong and now has a harem of six female beauties, some of them beginning to fruit as I write.  We are planning a trip to ECHO soon for tropical edibles, and one to Excalibur Nursery for more fruit trees, likely in June or July, when the weather has warmed up and these things will start growing.  In October, we went to the Homestead Fruit & Spice Park and were given some seeds and cuttings by the caretaker of the vegetable garden there.  The same day, we went to Richard Lyons Nursery, maybe fifteen minutes away, and came home with a ‘Mysore’ Black Raspberry bush, a Cherry of the Rio Grande, and a Barbados Cherry. 

The Succulent beds have been mostly turned into berry patches, with Blackberries on the South side and, if they do well, Raspberries on the North side, but there are still succulents on the two ends, and Periwinkles and Four-o’clocks filling in the spaces.

This year I decided I’d have a vegetable garden if it killed me, so I ordered all new seed, started giving the old away, and got planting.  This time, I planned better so there wouldn’t be too much to care for, with no idea where to put it all.  So far, this approach has worked beautifully.  I made a plan for the Potager and figured out just how much space was available in the TVA and what to put in it. Started planting seeds in the third week of September and haven’t looked back. 

Another exciting thing this year has been the addition of several self-watering containers, which have been so successful that there will be many more by season’s end.  These should last several years, and can be replaced easily and cheaply when they finally fall apart.  There are some pages on the Internet about how to construct these, though one of the best was taken down because the author used Earthbox in the name.  This is a brand of high-quality, and very high-priced self-watering containers, and the manufacturers were not happy about that person using their name.  He hasn’t gotten around to changing the document and re-posting it to the web, but you can probably find it archived on Google – I did (look for “homemade earthbox, then choose the Cached link”, or try “self-watering container” but you’ll mostly get links for a lot of expensive ready-made ones).  I also read an excellent book, “Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers” by Edward C. Smith, which covers everything about using, but nothing about constructing them.  There is a blurb about modifying a conventional container with a self-watering insert, but these don’t hold much water and I can’t seem to find them anymore.  Someday when I have some time, maybe I’ll post my version of how to construct these, one that doesn’t involve cutting 4” PVC pipe, a feat too hard for me to do with a hacksaw.  I can tell you now – there are easier ways.  Email me if you’d like more info, but a quick tip if your container will not be moved is to use a concrete block instead – works perfectly and nothing needs to be done to it – no drilling or anything, since it is very porous, and it will hold up the false bottom in a very stable way.  We had some lying around and didn’t know where to put them until this thought struck.  You could also use bricks for support and pond baskets or ordinary old nursery pots with holes drilled or cut into them for the soil wick.  Using Ed’s book, we determined the best things to grow in self-watering containers and what capacity each of these plants needs.  Right now, we have one of salad greens, two of small melons, and one with a tomato, with several more tomato and pepper and eggplant ones to be constructed this month, and three or four more for salad greens, since we will plant one of these per month for a good rotation of cut-and-come-again greens.  The salad green ones we use two storage bins for, and no support is needed between them.  For the others, we used the bin’s lid as the false bottom, saving around $6 on the cost of each container.  For cucumbers, we will make some by nesting the containers we already have inside food-grade 5-gallon buckets, using old cloth to make several wicks for each, and drilling more holes in the bottoms of the top containers for better air circulation.  A watering tube of old hose and an overflow hole drilled in the bucket will complete the design.  A funnel is useful for filling these, as the hose is fairly small.  The others we made have 1-1/2” PVC pipe watering tubes, which are easy to put the end of the watering hose into.  All our containers are wicking very well, keeping the soil evenly moist all the time.

Self-watering containers with salad greens and small melons

Click here for the Potager Plan for 2008-9, and here for the Crop Chart.  The chart lists all the herbs, edible flowers and vegetables we are growing this year, whether starting with seeds or plants, the sources we got them from, where they are planted, and dates of planting/sowing, sprouting, transplanting, and harvesting.  We haven’t planted all the types of seeds yet (only most of them :)), but will as the season progresses.  There are around two hundred varieties in our back garden this year.  Within six weeks, we were able to harvest cabbage family greens, and everything else is beginning to come ready now, after about two months.  Letuces and radishes are faster, but we couldn’t plant them until mid-October, when the hot weather broke.  More varieties of herbs will be added, as we will soon be ordering from Seminole Springs Antique Rose and Herb Farm, Logee’s, and Richter’s Herbs.

Back garden on 11/16/08 – the grass has been killed in preparation for new sod going in next week.

A note about garden products:  Because white trellis netting was so obvious, I tried repurposing our black bird netting and found it to be very nice for cucumbers and small gourds and melons.  This would not work for larger melons, however, or for other heavy climbers.  The thin bird netting is not as strong, and more importantly, it would likely cut into the flesh of the plants once a lot of weight is put on it.  So we are going to dye our trellis netting black and use it from now on.  We will dye some of our twine as well.  For tomato support, the hand-down best product I have found is the Ultimato, which used to be at Home Depot, but now I can only find it on the Internet.  Try Amazon.com – it’s worth the price, since they will last several years.  This year, I found some tomato cages on steroids at Target – they are made from thicker wire and are painted black and will probably work well, but I haven’t tried them yet.  I will post my results here.  Also, we tried Miracle Gro Organic Potting Mix and were very disappointed with it.  Lousy texture and I swear there is sand in it, even though it says not.  Finally got rid of it by mixing small amounts of it in containers and beds.  Will never get this product again!  (Looked it up on the Internet and discovered pretty much the same universal response from gardeners across the country – sad for the cause of organics, but then again, what was I expecting from a major carrier of chemical fertilizers?) Ditto the Miracle Gro Organic Seed Starting Mix – awful!  Had to improvise something else because the nice seed starting mixes we used to buy are no longer available at Home Depot.  Fortunately, they do still carry Lambert’s Potting Mix, which is excellent.  I highly recommend it – perfect texture.  You can rub some across a screen to make the small bits needed for starting and covering tiny seeds.  Has a lot of peat moss in it – coconut fiber would be a nice addition – but it’s still superior to anything else there.  Note that coconut fiber is a bad choice for self-watering containers because it holds too much water, which would cause your plants to rot.  But it’s great in conventional containers and raised beds, so get some if you find it.  Peat moss is not the best environmental choice, but currently there are not many other options for a soiless mix.  Just make sure it doesn’t dry out, as it’s nearly impossible to re-wet after that.  (For the same reason, tear off and compost the top part of any peat pot you plant in the ground and cover the edges well with soil.  Otherwise, the pot will wick the moisture right out of the soil inside it – not what you’re looking for!) Home Depot has a few organic fertilizers, but most of them contain blood meal, which often has additives in it that would not be considered organic by most people.  However, they also have some Terracyle products, which are based on worm castings.  The ones I found at mine are high-priced and already mixed with water, but Target has gallon-size jugs of the dry version for about $9, which is actually a good deal considering how much feeding you get out of it.  And the company reuses old milk jugs for the packaging, which makes me happy.  One day, I’d love to make a worm bin for our kitchen waste – it could happen this season.  If so, I’ll post details on a dedicated page here.  Couldn’t find any fish emulsion or seaweed products at eaither store, but these can be ordered over the Internet in powdered form.  Fish emulsion smells terrible, but plants absolutely thrive on it.  I mix it with powdered seaweed in an old hose-end sprayer which happens to have originally been from a package of Miracle Gro.:)

See the Garden Diary for more details.  I hope this account will be helpful to you in your own garden!  Feel free to email me if you’d like to correspond about gardening here.  If I was unable to answer you in the past, as happened with some of you, please accept my apology.  Migraines blindsided me, and it took a long time to get to the point of being able to join real life again.  Please give me another try! 


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