Weather Worries

Living in Michigan we often have our weather ups and downs. Our weather is so bipolar that you can leave out in the morning wearing a sweater and long pants and by noon you could have changed into a tank and shorts. Even though summer is ending faster than a speeding bullet, I have not quite got my feel of gardening for the year. As I mentioned in my previous posts “The Beginner Gardener” and Fall Gardening”, I have started a new garden from seeds in the middle of summer.

Ten days ago, when I direct sowed my seeds, it was a blazing 90 degrees. Today ( Which is 8/26/2015) our high will only reach 64 degrees and our low somewhere around 57 degrees. With this crazy and mixed up weather, my gardeners anxiety has started to kick in. I began to worry rather or not this fall gardening thing was such a great idea? The maximum amount of time needed for my longest maturing vegetable is 60 days. So if the estimated dates on the packages are accurate, then I should be able to harvest around the 14th of October and even earlier for some items.

That should be plenty of time under normal late summer and fall weather, but then again, this is Michigan. What will happen if we get an early snow fall? I know that our average frost date is 10/09 and the items I planted are supposed to be pretty hardy but what if, what if, what if???

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Bush beans ten days after planting seeds.

Another great concern of mine was, what if the birds eat the seeds before they even started to sprout? Every morning, after I planted I would get up and go check my garden. To protect my seeds, my only option was a good old-fashioned scarecrow. I read that I could use hay to cover them, but I wondered if that would slow down the growth and then when I tried to find hay, none of my local stores even had it in yet. I guess there isn’t quite a demand in the city for hay in the summer.

I decided in order to decrease the likelihood of the birds eating the seeds, I would water only at night (since birds aren’t nocturnal for the most part) and that way, I wouldn’t have to worry about the worms coming out, and the birds noticing that a smorgasbord was waiting for them slightly under the ground.

So far this approach seems to be working. I now have little sprouts at every planting site. I guess all of the worries and paranoia may be in vain. I have always been one for a challenge so I will continue to challenge myself with new veggies, techniques and all around gardening. Be sure to follow me as I keep you updated on the status of my first fall garden.

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Fall raised garden ten days after planting seeds.
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Fall Gardening

Now that the summer is vastly coming to an end, I feel it is time to take my skills to the next level. After the city made my neighbors cut down the grapevine that gave us plenty of privacy. I found myself wondering just what to do with the bare corner in the back of my yard.

Bare corner
Shady spot before vines was cut down.

I had been reading a lot over the summer about things I could grow in the fall and figure why not give it a try. The newly exposed corner of my yard had a good amount of sun and shade. I was a little concerned that the dirt in that area was pretty dry, as the grass was mostly brown, but I figured this had been a pretty hot summer so that could have been the reason why. I wondered if the nearby pear tree roots would be damaged if I dug in that area. I also wondered if the roots from the grapevine, that had just been removed, would be hard to get rid of as well.

I knew the falling leaves too soon come in the fall were going to be a pain since I would need to remove them daily to help keep the garden disease and pest free.I decided to use the resources available to me and not invest a lot of money into this project as I am not sure of the outcome. My fiancee Pawel found some old untreated wood and made some neat fasteners.

To build my 8 x 6 box he needed eight 3×3’s and eight 4×4’s. I figured a height of 8″ would be enough for now. We also used about forty fasteners to secure the wood together. He began the building of the box which would be the second hardest part of this project and require a maximum amount of sweat equity. By the way, it was 90 fricken degrees when we did this.

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When the box was done our next step was digging about 8-9 inches deep into the groundbreaking up the hard dirt, and removing any roots or rocks I came across. Using only a shovel and hoe, I dug and turned the dirt until I was sweating bullets. Pawel was not one to till the soil so this was my job alone.

After that was done, he brought barrels of the hard crusty leftover project dirt from the driveway. He asked me many times was I sure that I wanted to use this dirt. After spending over $500 on our main raised garden, ( you can find pics in my other posting entitled “Inexperienced Gardener”) I was determined not to waste money on store bought soil ever again, so I  repeated the process of breaking up the dirt.

The added driveway dirt and compost from my bin.
The added driveway dirt and compost from my bin.

Once all the super dry dirt was finally broken up to my satisfaction, we added a bag of peat moss and manure and two bags of top soil. I also added three barrels of my own compost. The leftover grass that had dried out in the recycled dirt would add extra nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Any green grass I found with roots would be removed. After all the tilling, digging and mixing, the soil looked marvelous and with close to 16 hours of labor intensive work, the box was finally done and I began the task of planting.

A nice mixter of compost, top soil, peat moss and manure. You can also see this area is about 50/50 split on sun and shade.
A nice mixture of compost, top soil, peat moss, and manure. You can also see this area is about 50/50 split on sun and shade.

Since this is an experimental garden, and it’s nearly impossible to find good looking plants this late in the season. I decided to use all seeds. Yes, I am beginning from seeds in the middle of August. I carefully had been collecting seeds as they went on sale at various stores in my area. English Gardens was my main source since they offered premium seeds at a low price. They also had the largest variety of “Botanical Interest” a brand which had clear instructions and also when to sow dates right on the package.

For a newbie like me, knowing how late I can direct sow and, how long it will take till harvest, is vital to my decision on rather or not I want to invest in the seeds. They also read no GMO’s and rather or not they were Organic right on the packaging. To mark my seed locations I used skewer sticks because they are pretty long and much cheaper than the seed marking sticks you get at the garden store.

I decided not to use all the seeds at one time since the plan is planting in succession.
In addition, instead of taking the packaging and putting it on a stick (which always seem to disappear in my case), I just wrote down everything I planted and then made a simple little graph.

Raised Garden 2 Graph

After the seeds had been planted, I added a Jobes 10-8-4 mix fertilizer to each roll carefully making sure it was about 3 inches from the seeds. I purchased a 3 ft poultry fence at my nearby True Value Hardware for only $10.00 for 25ft (it was three times this amount at the garden store) and secured with some wooden poles. I closed it with a screen we had in the garage and was done. All together we probably spent about $40.00 including the cost of seeds, soil amendments, and supplies. Not too bad for a garden that should last for years to come. Stay tuned for more of my posts as I share my accomplishments and failures as I try to master the art of Fall Gardening.

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Garden ten days after planting seeds.

The Inexperienced Gardener

Over the last few years, I have acquired a strong interest in gardening. It started off as a love for flowers but then evolved into a full-blown desire to grow things almost anything. Last year I planted my very first vegetable garden. I started out with an expensive two level pine raised garden, but then when I ran out of space, I moved to a shady space under a fence in my yard.

Raised and Second at old home

The funny thing was that my second garden, in the shady area, consisted of nothing more than the native soil in my yard, but the vegetables grew much better than in the expensive raised garden which consisted of fancy store bought soil. The area was under a fence with bushes on the other side which provided just enough shade for vegetables such as cabbage, zucchini, and cucumbers.

This area also had enough sun for corn which grew lovely! The soil was very rich and had tons and tons of worms which were the first indication of fertility. What I gained from this experience is the notion that sometimes what is readily available to you can be your very best option.

Although I had learned a lot about my soil and gardening in my first year as a vegetable gardener and knew the next year would be even better, I ended up moving to a new home where uncharted gardening and home improvement awaited me.

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As of now, I have been at my new home for 8 months and have tackled many projects in this short time. After trying to figure out where I would put my new garden, my fiancee made the suggestion that we convert the pond (which I was not a huge fan of) into a raised garden! The area had large flowering bushes around it, and also a separate area for flowers. In theory, this area would be suitable for both sun and shade plants.

With this new space, a lot of new challenges came with it. We first had the task of removing over 4 ft of water, filling the pond with about 2.5 feet of fill dirt, plus 2 feet of top soil manure and other amendments.

Pond 1

Ribbet collage
I researched what items grew best in full sun or part shade. I carefully created a draft showing where everything was to be planted. I even made a calendar that kept track of the dates I planted my plants (I did not start from seeds) and a fertilizing and feeding schedule. I had it all figured out… So I thought.

Raised Garden 1 Graph

At the beginning of this spring season I had planted two types of tomatoes, (Roma and big boy) zucchini, cucumbers, bush beans, basil, two types of red swiss chard, okra, broccoli, collards, kale and hot peppers.

By late summer which is as I am writing this, I no longer had okra because they took too long to take off and I felt the space was overcrowded so I gave the plants away, and I learned that collards were the hardest to keep the insects off naturally so eventually I pulled them up. I did get at least three harvesting’s from them which was more than enough for me.

The red cabbage formed heads, but they did not get very big. This was the same problem I had with them last year, so I’m not sure I will try again with the red ones. The green ones tend to do well anywhere I put them. The bush beans did not produce very much so I pulled them up too.

The previous year I did a vine variety of beans which produced a lot, but they were not flavorful so I think I will try vine again next year but a different variety.

My zucchini suffered from powdery mildew all season but still produced some decent sized zucchini but nowhere near the large ones from the previous year. I think they were not getting enough air which caused the mildew and slower growth.

But still, all in all, I consider my new garden to be a huge success and it looks beautiful in my yard! People come by and marvel over its greatness! I am very pleased indeed! 🙂

Begining garden

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Even though it is in full bloom, it is still a lot of work. Over the season, I have had to cut down and prune my tomato plants because they were entirely too tall, and most of the nutrients were going into the height of the plant and not the fruit. Once I learned the art of pruning (kinda) they started to produce more fruit, and much faster. I continuously have had to add support to my tomatoes so I think next year I will use cages.

I also had a very slight case of rot bottom on just a few plants. I also moved one of my cucumber plants from the garden to a pot because it was competing with the zucchini. I originally thought zucchini could be grown on a trellis but was wrong.

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Now we are approaching the end of summer here in Michigan so I have decided to start a whole new vegetable garden! Yes, I am venturing into fall gardening this year. Stay tuned for my next posting which will take you step by step with me, as I challenge myself to dig deeper and become a Top Shelf Gardener!