Flora, Fauna and Fences

Apparently, despite my best intentions, I’m on the once per month posting schedule. Ooops. Fortunately, I have a steady stream of phone photos I can use to catch us up.

Since the last time I checked in, the new vegetable garden has grown by leaps and bounds.

Thanks to several cool (cold?) misty days, the Fall roots and greens are actually looking pretty lush right now. For the first time ever,  I’ve had success getting rutabaga and Daikon radish established mid-summer for Fall harvest.

I’ve already been pulling the Daikon thinnings as super peppery salad radishes. I guess that’s the trade-off for tomatoes that don’t ripen until mid-August. Speaking of tomatoes, I’ve harvested one Glacier tomato so far, with another one ready today. That’s it, but it looks like within the next week, several more varieties should start to ripen.

I finally have all the vegetable beds prepped. The ones that won’t be planted until the Spring get a cover of compost, paper and grass clippings, but the beds that are planted now, I dig in the compost. I have found that I don’t have a deep enough layer of compost on top for the no-dig method to work here when I want to plant immediately. Anyway, the last bed I prepped received the asparagus transplants I started from seed this Spring. They’ve been hanging around in nursery pots, and I wanted to get them into their permanent home in time to get established before the tops are frost killed. They look so fragile, but I’ve found they are surprisingly resilient.

I managed to get 11 plants into the ground which seems to be the right number for us, but I’ll probably start a few more from seed this winter in case I lose some plants over the winter.

Since I’m finally caught up on the most pressing vegetable garden tasks, I’ve been able to tackle the garden infrastructure. Living in a less densely developed area, with water nearby, means there’s a wide variety of critters that visit the garden. Many of them, like this gorgeous toad that passed through the other day,

or the awesome mantis,

 

are always welcome. However, other creatures are welcome on a more provisional basis.

For instance, this super-cute scampering friend, nicknamed Bunz,

 

was starting to make a habit out of helping me weed the vegetable garden every morning. This was the incentive I needed to finally find the time to install the rabbit fencing. Fortunately I had help, so I was able to get all the lodgepole pine posts set and the welded wire rabbit fence installed, in about 2 days worth of work. I trenched along the perimeter so we were able to set the bottom of the fence about three inches below grade. That won’t stop determined digging, but should deter casual attempts at tunneling under.

I sealed all the posts prior to setting them. Also, we used an auxiliary metal post, ratchet strap and two 2×4 scraps bolted together to tension the fencing before attaching it to the posts. That worked pretty well and I’m quite pleased with the results.
I still need to secure the chain link perimeter and build a couple of gates, but for now, Bunz and all the other rabbit friends, have been staying out of the vegetable garden.

With the fencing installed, I began to pay attention to the inner voice nagging me about how quickly Autumn is approaching. Given that the first Fall frost is probably not too far off, I’ve started installing low tunnel hoops.

I was never very fond of the pvc hoops I used in Albuquerque, so this time around, I’m using 1/2″ EMT. I ordered a 4′ pipe bender, as well as some plastic clips, greenhouse plastic and two weights of fabric row cover to get started. Right now, I have hoops and some old shade cloth over the greens that will be under plastic this winter. I will put fabric row cover over the hardier fall greens and roots, and I will also cover the tomatoes and peppers in a few weeks to provide a bit of season extension. I’ve noticed on my walks around the neighborhood, some folks grow the warm weather crops under cover all summer. Even though we have plenty of searing hot summer days, I think the cool nights slow everything down. I might give that a try next year. Also, next year I will also get a lightweight row cover up over all the Brassicas before they get nibbled to a nub by cabbage moth larva. That’s the other benefit to segregating crop families in the new garden. I will be able to cover the leaf crops without worrying about hindering the pollination of fruiting crops. There are so many new experiments to try – I’m already looking forward to next Spring.

 

It’s the Beginning of Summer

Summer has officially arrived here – it’s now getting hot enough (90+F) in the afternoon that I try to get all my outdoor chores done before lunch. The shade cloth is up on most of the beds:

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Which helps to keep the greens from getting quite so limp:

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The tomatoes are now big enough that I was forced to finally assemble this year’s version of the trellises:

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I think it’s going to be a good tomato year here. All of the 12 plants that went into the ground are still standing, and most of them already have tiny green tomatoes. I’m predicting the first rip cherry tomato by the 1st of July, but of course it’s not all about the tomato. I’m still working on getting more squash and cucumbers started, and I’m sowing beans in all the empty spots.

Oh, and meanwhile, I continue to manage the garden with these guys in mind:

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Garden Upgrades

I have finally tackled one of the garden upgrades I have had on my “to do” list for, ummmm, I don’t know, at least a year and a half. My plan is to install hoops over most of the back yard vegetable beds to match the side yardPKS_7136

Well, one section down, three more to go:

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The new back yard hoops are bedecked with shade cloth – I’m hoping this will reduce the wear and tear on the plants. On hot sunny days, it is almost impossible to keep the plants adequately hydrated. Everything gets a case of the droops. Also, you’ll note that there are a bunch of blank spaces in the beds:PKS_7129

At one point all those spaces were filled with tomatoes, chiles or cucumbers. Then they were gnawed to the ground. Rather than dwell on the loss, however, I’m trying to see it as an opportunity. Since I have plenty of empty real estate, I’ve been starting seeds for the fall garden like mad – the shade cloth should come in handy for that, too, but more  on that later.

Secret Garden

I love my hoops.

Every time I pull up the fleece, it’s like I’m entering the Secret Garden (yes, I read that book a million times as a kid). Not only are these beds the only ones that have been saved the indignity of constant chicken scratching, but under cover I seem to have had much better germination and seedling survival than is typical for my winter sowing. And although the covers routinely blow off during the windy spells, the young plants seem more succulent and happy than those I’ve started in previous years without protection.

I still need to come up with a better anchoring system – in the first photo you can see the short sections of black tubing I’m using as clips. They work fine in zero to 15mph wind, but anything more than that and they go flying. I’ve seen some interesting bungee and rope tie down systems on the interwebs that I might try once I catch up on other gardening and construction tasks – I’m in week 5 of no-kitchen with at least two or three more weekends of renovation work until we’re done (hopefully). I can’t wait to fire up the pressure cooker with a batch of stock on the new rangetop, while I roll out acres of dough for pasta and chop mounds of freshly harvested spring herbs for a light sauce. . . at least in the interim I’m able to keep cooking up all the spectacular eggs we’re getting on the electric griddle. Lately I’ve been subsisting on fried egg sandwiches with salad greens from the cold frames, but, really, who can complain? Pretty good eats for March.

What’s Happening Outside

The winter garden doesn’t look like much right now, does it?  My low-hoop row covers have been absolutely ravaged by wind storms and chicken beaks, but under them, there’s actually a good bit going on: favas and garlic are up, and I’ve already transplanted the short day onions. Unfortunately, however, several of these beds will getting dug up as part of the back yard renovation, so I’ve been working on (experimentally) relocating some of the garlic to the side yard beds. I have no idea how much the garlic will be set back by the move, but I figured it is worth a shot.

The side yard beds have brand-new pvc hoops (spray painted orange). I’m not a huge fan of pvc, but I’ll admit it is handy for this type of project – no need for a conduit bender or jig to form the arcs. I’m hoping these hoops, with the help of the spray paint, will be durable enough to stay up all year long. As you can see, I’m in dire need of chicken (as well as sparrow and robin) barriers, so I’ve already purchased some bird netting to use on the hoops in the spring when the row cover becomes too warm. The downside to such large hoops (formed with 10′ lengths of pipe) is that it takes a whole lot of fleece to cover them, but the upside is they will be able to contain 4′ high plants – handy in the Fall when I might want to eek out a few extra weeks of cucumbers or snap beans. Theoretically, the back yard beds will get pvc hoops as well, but the next few months will be pretty hectic (along with digging up the back yard, a long-awaited kitchen renovation will begin), so I’m not sure whether I’ll get them in this year, or not. But clearly, since I’m rather indulgent when it comes to free-ranging, I need some sort of chicken barrier, which may end up being  just a low fence of poultry mesh, if I want to have any spring greens available for human consumption:

 

Undercover

 

After being a total slacker for a few weeks, I’ve finally been taking advantage of the lovely fall weather to catch up on some gardening chores. It has been a mild autumn here, with only a handful of nights below freezing – but enough cold weather to kill off the beans, and everything in the Solanaceae family. But, no worries, there’s still lots to eat: kale, collards, chard, tons of arugula, and even a few parsnips. I know, can you believe it? Finally, I’ve had some success (limited, of course) with parsnips. It’s crazy-awesome how this year, suddenly, I’m able to grow root vegetables. I think I’ve finally reached the turning point with the soil texture in the garden. Really, there’s no holding me back now, right?

Anyway, bed by bed, I’ve started winterizing the garden – this year I’m experimenting with low hoops, fabricated from 9 gauge galvanized wire (cutting and shaping the wire is a total PIA, by the way). Right now, I have the hoops covered with a very lightweight fleece, but I need to order a roll of the all-purpose Agribon (I tried purchasing some locally, but the nurseries I checked did not have the size I need) which will be more appropriate for the colder weather right around the corner. I’m not growing anything new or different this winter – the beds under the covers have the same ol’ stuff: carrots, beets, spinach, garlic, favas and vetch. While all these things generally overwinter just fine (let’s not count last year with the 100 year record setting cold), I feel like I’ll have more winter growth and earlier harvests if I can protect the plants from some of the cold weather wear and tear. I’ll let you know what I find out. I’m still planning on setting up the usual two coldframes (I already have lettuce, onions, parsley, turnips, broccoli raab, arugula and mustard greens growing in those locations), but I’ve been dithering because I still need to rebuild the lids, and can’t decide what materials I want to use. I need to make a decision soon though, before next weekend, if I want to get everything set up in time to do any good.

And lastly, in case you were wondering, my two 23 week old pullets are still freeloading, but they’re starting to look more ready to lay. There’s been some noticeable comb and wattle growth and reddening over the past two weeks. And yes, they’re still terribly spoiled – with less access to garden greenery right now, I’ve got a couple of planters of greens growing just for them . . . yup, totally spoiled.