Summer 2017 garden update

The plants have been getting a good dose of home-brewed worm compost tea every couple weeks. Weeding has been easy, since only a few pop up every now then, making them easy to nip in the bud.

IMG_20170716_132220Watermelons are butternut squash are climbing up the PVC arch trellis and the corn plants are thriving. However, it seems the squirrels were still able to nibble on the squash leaves closest to the perimeter….grrr!!! I guess the fencing and netting aren’t completely squirrel proof. In the far future, the plan is to build a garden enclosure to house all the future raised beds.

One of the cucumber plants that got attacked by squirrels is starting to come back and put up a little fight. The seedlings in this bed (sweet peppers and eggplants) are slow to grow. My tomato plants are still small…they’re growing well, but I haven’t transplanted them yet for fear of losing them to seedling-eating bugs and what not. I think I really pushed the limit in starting peppers, eggplants and tomatoes late this year. Live and learn.

I’ve also had to cage my container-grown plants. On the left is borage + marigolds. On the right is the herb garden (cages were taken off for the photo). I split my mint plant into two larger pots (the brown pots in the background and foreground) to increase my mint yield. We use a considerable amount of mint in our dishes.

Lastly, I doubled the size of my outdoor compost bin. I opened the side that served as the door to make it one of the new walls, closed up the rectangle with two more 3 ft x 3 ft welded wire panels and zip-tied the corners to U-post stakes.

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The left side contains the remaining old compost that needs to be harvested. The uncomposted/unsifted pieces were transferred to the right side and I’ve been layering new yard waste on top, making a compost parfait. I covered the top with burlap cloth so that less moisture will escape. I weighed the new compost side with a large planter to help it compact.

“Squirrel!”

Just when I thought I could sit back and let the garden do its thing, I found some unwelcome surprises.

The garden beds had several small holes in different spots and seedlings that I had just transplanted were munched down to their stems. After shaking my fists in the air shouting, “Whyyyyyyyyy?!?!” I decided to get to the bottom of this/these mysterious critters.

I gathered the following clues over the last three to four weeks: these critters only came out during the day; they left shallow holes dug from above ground, not tunnels or burrows from below; they only ate certain seedlings; and they could somewhat be kept out with fencing that mice could fit through.

Based on these clues and my location, it seemed reasonable that my garden was being attacked by squirrels. I was never able to catch them in the act myself. But this past weekend, my parents did me a favor by monitoring my yard and confirmed that, yes, my mystery invaders were indeed SQUIRRELS…lots of them, coming out in the afternoon through the rotting wood fence between my yard and the neighbor’s.

I couldn’t let the squirrels win this fight. I originally was going to just wrap hardware cloth around the perimeter of each raised bed, but my husband came up with a more aesthetically pleasing idea to build some legit pest fences.

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The fences were constructed as four separate frames that could be individually removed from the border. The fence frames were built out of 2×2’s cut to fit right on top of the raised bed frames. Hardware cloth (1/4 in mesh) was cut and stapled to the frames. Near the ends of each frame, we installed 1/2 in 2 hole straps — these slip right over 3/8 in rebar stakes that hold the frames upright and in place.

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The finishing touch was covering the top with bird netting (secured with clothespins) to block squirrels from climbing over the fence. The cost of homegrown produce sure keeps adding up!

Outdoor compost harvest

It’s been a year and a half since I started my outdoor compost bin and I wanted to see what I could collect.

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So I made a compost sifter out of materials I had on hand: a Rubbermaid lid and 1/4 in hardware cloth.

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I cut out a rectangular opening in the Rubbermaid lid, drilled a hole in each corner and secured hardware cloth (cut to size) with zip ties. Fasten this onto a Rubbermaid bin, shovel some compost and sift.

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Happy to have this new supply of homemade compost!

Raised bed #2 (plus late seed starting)

I’ve had the second raised bed installed for a few months already, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I finally made the time to prepare it for planting. After mixing in compost with native yard soil, keeping the bed watered and putting up trellises, here’s the result:

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The arch trellis was made using painted 10-foot-long PVC pipes, with the ends of the pipes placed over rebar stakes for stability. Welded wire was zip-tied to the pipes. My plan is to have watermelon and butternut squash grow up this arch. To the left is a standard vertical trellis made from two 6-foot-long stakes woven through welded wire. This one’s going to be for cucumbers. Plans for the rest of the bed include corn, nasturtium, tansy, sweet peppers, carrots and green onions.

Meanwhile, lettuce, carrots and green onions have been harvested from the first raised bed. Green onions are still growing, and I expect that the garlic won’t be ready for harvest until the summer. The rest of the bed is saved for tomatoes, Thai basil, chili peppers, marigold and nasturtium.

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The group of planter pots in the background are saved for okra, borage, tansy and eggplant. A group of smaller planter pots is set up at the side of the house which gets afternoon shade. These pots are saved for herbs and more flowers (in particular, Save the Bees wildflower mix). Right now I have mint, parsley and Genovese basil growing:

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Lastly, I’m experimenting to see how late I can push it with the San Diego growing season. All the plants I mentioned above (which I’ve reserved space in the pots and beds for) were just started from seed this weekend…yup…pretty late in the game. I started a batch of seeds in the winter, but life got in the way and those seedlings never got the chance to grow their first set of true leaves. So here’s the new batch to make up for the original seed starts. Let’s see if they’ll grow and yield anything before the warm season ends!

First harvest of 2017

Picked some lettuce and cilantro. The flavors, aromas and textures of homegrown produce sure can’t be beat. Fresh cilantro is so powerfully fragrant — an entire supply at the grocery store can’t even come close to the aroma coming from just a few stalks from the garden. And the taste! A little bit truly goes a long way. With just a few leaves, I could actually taste the herb contributing to the flavor of my soup.

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Even lettuce did not disappoint. The main quality I noticed was the texture and crispness of the fresh leaves. They were tender and had…I don’t know how to describe it…the substance of an actual leafy vegetable. It was lettuce that didn’t leave me feeling empty after eating it, unlike the kinds I’m used to in a typical salad or fast food burger. These sure made some good lettuce wraps.

Winter garden update

With rain coming almost every week, I haven’t had to do much in the garden except weed. Here’s a look at the winter veggie patch:

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  • Back: Cilantro and Samarkand garlic
  • Middle: Green onions and Dragon carrots
  • Front: Georgian Fire garlic and Speckled lettuce

The bare patches used to contain shallot, bok choy, pansy and calendula seedlings. Something ate their tiny leaves and left behind their stems. I’ve restarted bok choy seeds and have extra calendula seedlings that I didn’t plant out yet. I’ll transplant these after they’ve grown several sets of true leaves and hopefully they’ll be big enough to not get fully eaten by whatever took out their siblings.

Ironically, a week after my previous post (in which I declared I’d experiment raising starts without grow lights), the first of several rough storms passed through and I ended up using my indoor grow light setup. And I keep forgetting how cold some of the winter nights can get here in San Diego.  We don’t have frost dates, but it can get cold enough to harm summer seedlings.

And because of the storms and frequent rains, I haven’t had to water my garden or tap into my rain water supply since starting my water saver challenge almost three months ago.