Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Weekly Farm Update

First Salad of the Season
I cannot believe it has already been a week from my last farm update. I am happy to report that the eggplants is coming back and may produce again this year. I've heard the term "over-wintering" for plants but didn't think I could do it. The gist of the term is that the plants are somehow protected from freezing by bringing them indoors. Heat may be needed but just by being indoors should be good. Although living in Southern California, I didn't bring it in and just left the plants outside. It is not only the eggplant but also a cherry tomato plant. There are new buds on both plants and will hopefully set fruit.

Getting back to the reason of the post, everything in the garden is looking good. There were more radishes harvested today but also clipped some lettuce leaves. We had the first salad of the season with diced radishes.

New Buds on Eggplant
 I pulled all of the radishes from the first batch and left the area open. Some radishes were good sized but about half were on the smaller side. I decided to take them all out because there was way too much moisture and there are rains expected this weekend. I didn't think it would make much difference if I left them in.


My Garden Guardian

There has also been up-potting of smaller plants into yogurt cups and 2 liter bottles. I am also happy to report that most of the raised beds have been filed with tomato, pepper plants and some root veggies. I've included onions, beets and a few others. I still have plants in my greenhouse that will be waiting for warmer weather.

The moment you have been waiting for! The photos for this week have been uploaded HERE.



Thank you for stopping by and reading my blog.

Luis

2nd Bounty from the 99 Cent Store!

If you did not read my first round at the 99 cent store, you can find that HERE. I needed more of the U-Hoops and few other things. Well, I did not find the hoops but I found something even better and the "garden area" of the store has gotten much bigger. There were cheap tools, mini containers and a few other things.

Here is what I bought this time around:

Tee-Pee for Cucumbers
1. To replace the U-Hoops, there was a 5 pack of bamboo sticks also at 3 feet each. I am making mini teepees to hold up the plants. I'm not sure how well this will work with some plants but there is only one way to find out!

Wire Fan Trellis
2. The next find was the wire fan trellis also at 3 feet. I will try to grow some honeydew melons on this one and I know I will need to be adding more support for it but I may just wrap it around the bbq pit.








Peat Pots
3. The next new item I found were the 24 packs of of peat pots. These are great to start seeds and makes it easier to transfer into the garden or bigger containers. There was a sticker with a price of $3.49 and I am sure glad I didn't pay that much for them.





Those are the new items I found but there are many more. Like I said before, you gotta stop in and check out your local 99 cent stores.

Cheap Gardening Series: Soil and Amendments

As you move your plants up in container size, or when they are planted into the ground, you are going to need to add amendments to the soil. The basics for amendments the garden include, but not limited to, quality top soil and compost. For those container gardeners, this is where potting mix comes in handy. These mixes usually includes a slow release plant food that will last usually about 3  months, but it is recommended to add compost.

The most common way to buy these products is to find them bagged but they can get pretty expensive. There are many different schools of thought as to what is necessary but most have the same basic idea. Some people mix their own and work with different formulas but I just buy the bagged stuff for my containers. I know many people out there do not like Miracle-Gro but it has worked for me so far. I have a 75 gallon tumbling compost bin and most of the compost goes into my raised beds or the garden itself. We compost and recycle as much as possible and this results in much less trash. Not everybody is able to compost at home and this is where we need to find alternatives.

I am lucky enough to have a local cafe that offers free compost to local gardeners. This is a huge help for those people that simply cannot compost themselves but not everybody has this free option. It may seem like a strange inquiry to some but if you check with your local eateries, they may do the same thing. Of course, free is always best but there are still cheap options out there.

If you need to buy your compost and/or soil, there may be an option to buy from your city or county. Many cities and counties across the country offer these materials by the yard. This option is much cheaper than the bagged option. A quick call to your city or county office is a start.

I know these options may not be available to everybody but there are many people out there that can do it and have not done it. So this is a call to action to get out there and at least research your options. Who knows? You may find out something that you did not know before and all you had to do was ask.

Are you asking?

Luis

Friday, February 18, 2011

Weekly Farm Update!

We start off this week with a shot I love of a tiny snail sitting on a gorgeous lily. I don't know what kind of lily it is but somebody out there may know. Help us out on this one.

Anyway,  I was noticing that I really don't have a "system" in place for when I do these "updates"  but I'm thinking one a week is good enough for now. There is nothing but rain in the forecast for at least a week but that may change, it is California after all.

We are getting punished for the amazing warm temperatures we've had lately. The rain is making much easier for me on watering the lawn and garden. Although, if it was up to me, I would take out the entire lawn and put in a low water or waterless landscape put in. We are thinking about but just don't have the funds for it now.

Anyways, you can for the photos and I'm not going to disappoint. As usual, they have been uploaded into a Flickr set and put into the "Farm" collection but I figured I should toss in some freebies here.

We start off with a shot of a squash or cucumber plant I have moved into the front planter of the house. I'm horrible at labeling and I'm not sure what this one is but I know those blooms will be bringing in the wildlife.

I will end up putting in some U-Hoops or some kind of small cage to help hold this plant up and give me more room to possibly put in more. For now, it sits by itself with some chicken wire that are held in place by bricks. I don't want to run the risk of some bigger critters digging this one out, like they did my first ones.

The lettuce is also coming in nicely and we should have enough for a salad shortly. The weather isn't supposed to get too hot so it should be fine. I tried to grow lettuce last year in the middle of the summer in direct sun. It goes without saying, it almost caught fire the second I walked away from it. There is a small area right next to the house where the sun really only hits it earlier in the morning and once the weather warms up a bit more, I will be tossing in some more greens. I'm growing swiss chard also in this same area and I am very excited to see how that goes. Up until just recently, I had never eaten it and it wasn't bad. I will also like to try spinach and experiment with other greens. Then again, experimenting is the only way to learn. You can always read so much online and get an idea of what to expect but never positive as to what will actually happen.

I am excited to say that I have already had my first mini harvest, three small radishes to be exact. I know I probably should have let them grow bigger but with all the rain coming, I didn't think it would make much of a difference. I've got many more radishes planted anyways, and I am planning on planting small batches throughout the season. My wife loves radishes and will surely enjoy all the ones I've got planned.

Well, I hope these get you excited about the other photos for this week. I  will try to stick to doing these weekly updates on Thursdays and include any info. about the harvest, if there is any, there as well.

Luis

Here is the link for this week's photos: Farm Update: 2/17

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My 99 Cent Store Garden Bounty!

3 inch pot
The main reason for even going to the 99 cent store was to pick up some Valentine's decorations to use for the booth at the Downtown Long Beach Artwalk but it sure didn't end up that way. I knew there were a few gardening items but I was in for a shock. I only expected to find some pots, flower seeds and really cheap clippers but I was completely thrown aback.


There were many great gardening items that I would never expect to find. I found a pack of 3 U-Hoops, a small plastic tomato cage, a 10 pack of small pots, onion sets, flower seeds and a few other things. I went pretty much nuts and picked up about $10 worth of stuff but remembering that my bounty would cost much more somewhere else.


Now that I've got you all excited, let's go down the list with what I found and what comparable items are going for.


U-Hoop
1. 3 pack of U-Hoops that are perfect for plants. The picture shows using them for flowers in pots but I am using 2 per plant.
Found on Amazon.com: Bamboo U-Hoops, 3' Natural for $3.79


2. 10 pack of 3 inch pots that are perfect for transplanting from the trays then into the garden.
Found on Amazon.com:  3" Round Green Plastic Pots (Qty 20) for $8.50


3. Foldable plastic tomato cage that looks like it is pretty sturdy. It is just over a foot in height and will not be tall enough for my tomatoes but can probably do well with some peppers.


4. A planter with 3 spots for smaller pots. It has a funny shape but with holes drilled, I just planted directly into it.


5. Onion sets - I got red and yellow onions. These are just small onions that when planted, will grow to a full size yellow and red onion.


As you can see, I didn't find anything like some of the other items but I'm not complaining at the price. There are more things that the store carries but this was all I really "needed". Don't be afraid to stop in your local 99 cent stores because you may be surprised as to what you may find.


Luis


Tri-Planter
   
Tomato Cage

Cheap Gardening Series: Transplanting

Eggplant on left, Tomatoes on right.
So now your trays or those containers that seeds were started in, are too small for your plant and they need a bigger pot. This is where your creativity comes in to find bigger containers. The options are pretty much endless and can be mainly free.

I recently transplanted peppers into planters made from 2 liter bottles of soda. Plastic drinking cups, yogurt cups, most juice jugs, and milk jugs are all great options. My wife loves to eat yogurt and eats at least one a day. She is now getting used to the fact that her little yogurt cups save us money and are great for young plants.

Each container that will be used needs to be washed out and it  needs drainage holes in the bottom. I've used scissors and drill bits to make the holes. The amount of holes each container needs depends on the size. For a yogurt cup I normally make 2-3 but nothing that is too big as I don't want any soil or too much water to drain from it. Then depending on the size of the root ball, I add in a small layer of soil, then goes in the plant. Try centering it inside the container and gently add soil around it. I find that a teaspoon works wonders and if you don't get it right the first time, you can take the plant out and start over. Once the plant is fairly centered, just water the plant.

Once the plant gets too big for that container, you may need to transplant to a bigger pot or just put into the garden. If you are doing container gardening, just move to a bigger container and remember that it doesn't have to be a fancy planter. For me, the pot doesn't have to be all that pretty and it doesn't matter to me but you may want to decorate it and give it some character.

Transplanting should be done as little as possible for any one specific plant. The shock may stunt the plant and slow down the growth process but it should be fine. I really only transplant twice and I haven't seen any huge issues. I start off transplanting from the seed trays to a bigger container, a cup of sorts, and then usually into the garden or a bigger pot where it will grow for the rest of the season. Something to remember  is that you don't necessarily want to move a small plant from a tray directly to a 5 gallon container or bigger. It makes the plant look small for one thing but it will take much longer for the plant to anchor itself in its new home. Most plants will not bear fruit until they "feel" secure and moving them up in container size makes it more of a gradual change.

That is pretty much the basics on transplanting on the cheap or free. Remember to save those gallon water bottles, juice bottles, 2 litter bottles, yogurt cups and anything that can be used as a container. A note on the yogurt cups though, don't use the Yoplait cups that are thin on top and fatter on the bottom. They start off thin on top then they fatten at the bottom and it makes it nearly impossible to take out without damaging them.

I will be adding some links at the bottom with a few online tutorials that show how to make planters of those containers most of us toss out.

This does it for this post but I will be back with more soon.

Luis

Helpful Links:

1. Upside Down Tomato Planter by The Cheap Vegetable Gardener - I've made 2 of these so far but will make more.

2. Planters from 2 liter bottles - I have about 4 and I've planted peppers in all of them.

3. Making a Self Watering Planter From a Milkjug - I haven't done it but looks easy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cheap Gardening Series: Seed Starting

Welcome to the second post of the "Cheap Gardening Series".  This post is hoping to cover the cheap/free options for those seeds that need to be started indoors before the season kicks off.  There are many different options out there but we are going to focus on the low-cost option way of doing it. Of course, you if you buy the small plants, then this shouldn't be an issue. It is cheaper to buy the seeds, even if they take a little more work.

Not all seeds need to be started indoors before the season and most seeds can are meant to be planted directly into the ground after your "last frost date". There is no need to panic if you don't now what that date is, a simple online search can help you out. While you are at it, do a search for your Hardiness Zone to see what plants are able to grow in  your area. The more basic veggies and fruits can grow in most regions and this should not be an issue.

Once you figure out your last frost date, you just need to count back how far those seeds need to be started indoors. Times range from 4 to 8 weeks back and may require a few other materials. The seed packets themselves have a lot of information and should be read thoroughly. Living in Southern California and not really having a frost date is of course a huge help but I still start my seeds indoors. By starting my seeds early it helps guarantee that I have enough plants for my garden and I have something to fall back on if need be.

I start my seeds in the conventional trays that are found in most big box stores but I am learning new things all the time. Peat pots, disposable foil roasting pans and egg cartons are just the beginning and you are only limited by your imagination. Pretty much anything that resembles a tray of sorts can be used but it must be food safe. This simply means that is has either held food or is meant to hold food and is the safest way to go. We don't want to start with something that can harm us and common sense should be used when choosing a container.

Next comes our growing medium. There are many different schools of thought on the subject but I simply use a seed starting mix. It is a soil-less mix and it helps the plant create a more complex root system. There should be at least a couple of different options at each store for these mixes. They usually come in a small bag and the are usually less than $5. (depending on your area). I have only seen them in small packages and assume they come this way since you really don't need that much.

Of course, there are those companies that want to make it easier for us but sometimes not necessarily the cheapest. The more common option is to just buy the trays that come with the little pellets. These come in an large array of options. They start off at basic options and end up somewhere near self-watering, mini greenhouses but also with a heavier price tag. These options may be nice for somebody that may forget to water the seedlings but not necessary for everybody.

Now we need a place to put all of these started seeds and this is where we may get pricey. Grow lights, racks and greenhouses are just the beginning but I am lucky enough to have a shelf above my kitchen sink. This shelf gets sunlight from 2 different directions and this usually is more than enough for me. The cheaper version of course is to just put the trays near a window that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight.
If you are not able to find that magical spot near a window. You may need to add some grow lights in order to help them along. There are many options and vary in price but an LED Growbox can be built pretty economically. An online search will bring up many different options for racks and everything that goes along with it but you can start over at my now favorite website, Gardenweb. There is a whole forum dedicated to seed starting and provides a plethora of information.

Caring for the seedlings is can be simple or as hard as you want to make it. Once my seedlings are too big for their cells in the tray, they get potted up and moved outside to my home-made greenhouse. I am able to leave them out there without the fear of them dying off or having issues but they must be hardened off slowly. Hardening off is a complex way of saying that seedlings need to be accustomed to the outdoor conditions. Start off by leaving the seedlings outdoors for only a few hours a day and keep adding time until they have been outside all day. After about a week, they should be strong enough to be left out at all times. I really don't do it because the small "greenhouse" has protection from the wind and the temperatures are not a big issue for me. I can only do this because of my location.  For most of the country, this may not be possible halfway through January. Most people don't even start seeds indoors until at least March or later. It all depends on your region.

Now that the seedlings are accustomed to the outdoors, we will be able to move them to bigger containers and into the garden but we will leave that until the next post in the series.

Luis

Disclaimer: I do not claim to be the absolute and final word on any information about gardening. I highly recommend doing more research on your own and come to your own conclusions.

Helpful Links:

1. Frost Date by Zip Code - Find your approximate frost dates via Dave's Garden.

2. Hardiness Zone by Zip Code - Find what zone you are in.

3. Gardenweb.com - A great resource for all things gardening and it includes many forums to find answers to almost all questions.

4. Garden Guides - Like the name states, guides for almost all gardening questions.

5. My Home-Made Greenhouse - A quick guide on how I made my greenhouse.

6. Egg Carton Gardening - A quick guide on how to start seeds in egg cartons.

7. The Cheap Vegetable Gardener - A wonderful blog that has money saving ideas.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cheap Gardening Series: The Beginning: Seeds & Seedlings

Welcome to my first post of the series and I hope you stick it out with me.

Seeds and seedlings are one of the most important things in a garden because without them, you wouldn't have a garden. These are usually not hard to find and usually not too expensive.

Where to get seeds and/or seedlings:
Seed packets can be found at most big box stores like: Home Depot, Lowe's, Target and Kmart are a great source. If the store has a full garden center, they may have seedlings as well. If you are like me and like to support the local businesses and save some money, the local nurseries are a great choice. There are plant sales at most stores but the local nurseries and college extension programs usually have better prices. Now that the you know where to get them, and the best time to buy them. 

When to buy seeds and / or seedlings?
Depending on the what you are planting, certain seeds like tomatoes or eggplants, need to be started indoors 4-8 weeks before the last frost. Seed catalogs started coming arriving in January for this year. I would follow their lead and start buying up those seeds but not necessarily from these companies. There are many more options if buying via mail but it may not be the cheapest. Besides, a beginner should start off with the basic vegetables.

When buying seedlings / plants, these can be bought in the Spring at the many sales. I have a local nursery that normally sells the seedlings at a fair price, even when not on sale. There will be sales from arboretums, botanical gardens, nurseries and the big box stores.

Cheap / Free Alternatives:
The plant sales are a great place to pick up seedlings and plant start but of course there are other options. I have started seeds from store bought vegetables, and saved seeds from last. Since this series is meant for new gardeners, saved seeds from previous season may not be an option.

You may already have the seeds you need at home inside those uncooked vegetables. It may seem like a daunting task to save seeds from fresh produce but it is usually pretty simple. I know that there are those veggies  out there that do not have seeds that can be harvested, but with a little research, most should be possible. A quick read of my Saving Seeds post should help and an online search will help you get started. If you are reading this, then you should have no issue doing a search on how to save seeds from anything you want.

Another source for seeds or plants may be fellow gardeners. There are things like seed swaps and gardening groups that may be in your local area. A great way to connect with your neighbors is to simply ask if they garden and if they do, they may not only be a great source for advice but also may give away seeds or plants to a new gardener. Most gardeners start up way too many seeds and end up with more than what they need. I know I have seedlings that may need to find another home other than my own. Who knows,  maybe next year you will have leftover seeds and/or plants that you can give or trade with your own neighbors. So get out and meet your neighbors and create a bigger sense of community.

We have come to the end of the first post in our "Cheap Gardening Series" and I you hope learned something new. If there is something that should be added, just drop a comment below and let me know. There is no sense in a single person knowing it all but not sharing it.

Luis


Monday, February 14, 2011

From Victory to Recession Gardens

During WWI and WWII, the federal government made a huge push to get households to start their own home gardens. These gardens were encouraged to help reduce pressure on the public food supply brought on by the wars.

Food was grown on vacant lots, public parks and any available space. These efforts helped the war campaign and gave people the sense of patriotism because they felt like they helped in their own small way.

After the wars, home and public gardening came to almost an abrupt halt. The pressure was off and most people decided that gardening should cease. There is now a huge push for home gardens again but this time there are different reasons.

Growing our own food is becoming the "cool thing" to do but also provides healthier food, connects us with the earth and makes us appreciate it more. There are many reasons that people start and continue to grow their own food but most have the same reasons. One reason that keeps coming up is that it saves money on groceries.

The way the economy is going is a huge reason for people to bring back those home gardens, myself included. Yes, it requires some work to get the garden going and maintaining it but it pays off. Fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs are not cheap but by growing them at home will help relieve some of this pressure. However, initial costs for gardening can be costly but can also be done on the cheap.

 There are many ways to garden without spending too much. There are cheaper / free alternatives to most of the materials and things needed to start a garden. Everything from seed starting and planters are just the beginning. This posts starts off my "Cheap Gardening Series" and will include everything I have learned in order to keep gardening as cheap as possible.

I hope you stick around for my new series and hopefully chime in with your ideas and thoughts. I will also be experimenting with new things and hope to learn as much as possible.


Luis

Helpful Links:

1. Why Gardening?
2. Are You Gardening? Why Not?

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Home-made Upside-Down Tomato Planter

The Final Result
Upside-down planters have been around for a while and I'm sure most people have seen them in the stores. The success of the original planter for tomatoes went so well that it sparked off more products for the line. These planters have gotten mixed reviews but there is something about growing plants upside down. Prices range on the different planters and some are pretty cheap. Why not just make one at home?

I found a great blog, The Cheap Vegetable Gardener, that had basic instructions on how to make one from a 2 liter bottle, some string and a chopstick. I had all that stuff lying around taking up space and I was looking for more ways to pot-up some of my many seedlings and this looked like a great way to go.


Close-Up
There are a few different versions of the planter on the site and those can be found HERE. I made the version with the duct tape and it looks pretty decent.  I know it may not look pretty but we will see how well it does the job. 


I hung it on a stand that my mother in law bought me to hang a hummingbird feeder. The feeder helps balance out the weight on the stand but these can be pretty much hung up anywhere that can carry the weight. 


This is just the beginning for this planter but I may make a few more. I will be keep updates on how well this is doing. Those will probably just be added to my general "farm updates". 


As always, I am open to questions and/or comments.


Luis


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Another Farm Update!

It may not really feel like it but we are already in February and closer to warmer temperatures here in Southern California. I compared the photos from the last update to the current ones and didn't realize how much everything had grown.

If you remember from the last update, I put down chicken wire to keep the cats from digging up the plants. I've since had to clip parts of the wire in order for the plants to grow through. I was afraid of the outdoor critters getting to them but they have been fine for now.

I picked up a bag of potting mix and had to get more creative as to containers for transplanting the seedlings. I have containers from last year but they are still to large for my current need. I have been cutting 1 gallon water bottles and apple juice bottles to use as pots. The plants don't seem to care but I just need to make sure I rinse out the container completely. I actually made an upside-down tomato planter today and will be posting about that soon. There are more bottles around here somewhere and those will be transformed into some kind of planter as well.

As stated before, I wanted to grow everything from last year and add a few more things. Well, I think I went a little crazy. There are many seedlings and trying to find room in the garden will not be an easy task. Container gardening will be used as well as vertical gardening. Trellises, bamboo stakes, tomato cages and anything else that can keep the plants off the ground will be useful.

I think that covers everything but you can be sure I will be posting if there are any major changes. Like always, I have taken pictures and uploaded them to Flickr for you to see it all and you can find those HERE. I tossed in a few pictures of the gorgeous Calla Lilies that have come back.

Luis