Home brewing

April has arrived! From what I recall last year, it was one (out of two) of the months in which the Tri-Cities experiences excellent weather: temperatures between the 70s-80s, calm, and sunny. I love this time of year not only because it reminds me of the weather in San Diego, but also because plant growth starts to take off under the increased warmth and sunshine.

To give the plants an increased boost, I fed them some home brewed compost tea. This stuff provides a natural high for plants, because it’s teeming with beneficial microorganisms and nutrients, especially when worm compost is used to make the tea. Numerous articles exist detailing the science and benefits behind compost tea, and here’s a good introduction by Fine Gardening to the subject. I started brewing and using compost tea in my gardens a couple years ago and have never been disappointed with the results. However, this stuff is so good that the weeds will also get a piece of the action.

I harvested the rest of the finished worm compost (~ 24 lbs total, 6 months in the making) and used around 2 lbs of it to make the tea.

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My home brew setup was modeled from this one with the following modifications:

  • used 2 lbs of vermicompost (instead of 1 gal regular compost)
  • used a 5 gal paint sifter as a “tea bag”, which eliminated the straining step
  • secured the ends of the hoses with a rubber band to an empty jar (i.e. a small glass pill bottle), and immersed the jar in water to weigh the ends of the hoses down to the bottom of the bucket
  • brewed the tea for 1 day instead of 3 (vermicompost tea only requires 1 day)

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Spring transplants and summer seed starts (part 1)

It’s easy to fall behind when tending to a big garden. Several spring starts already grew rootbound and were overdue for potting up.

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Note to self: check the bottoms of the seed trays more frequently. I was able to re-pot the rootbound plants without tearing too much of the overgrown roots in the process. Within a week the plants grew reestablished in their new containers with the help of vermicompost.

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After the spring starts were re-potted and hardened off, they were finally transplanted into the garden. The cloches have been working well for the first set of spring transplants thus far (see previous post), so I acquired bags full of two-liter soda bottles through the local Freecycle group and used these (with the bottoms cut out) to shelter the new transplants.

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I wouldn’t recommend this recycling center look for a front lawn. This setup would probably provide more visual appeal with row covers or hoop tunnels, but I’ll save that purchase for a future growing season. Anyway, I digress. Hopefully the next batch of peas will survive this time around:

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Now that I’ve cleared space in the seed trays, I sowed the first set of summer seeds (herbs, flowers, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes) to raise indoors. The fun continues!

Practice safe planting. Use protection

Sunny days are here, but the nighttime temperatures are still below the 40s. Without some protection from the elements, transplants won’t make it to the next week. Take my peas, for example:

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The trellis has withstood the winds, but these little guys didn’t. At least I learned my lesson to not leave transplants out in the open just yet. Thanks for taking one for the team, guys. May you rest in peas. On the contrary, the plants sheltered by the gatorade bottle cloches are surviving.

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These were made simply by cutting out the bottoms of 1 L gatorade bottles that I scavenged from the recycling bins. They also serve as humidity domes and as protection from slugs and such. I pressed them into the ground a bit so they wouldn’t just blow away or get knocked over by the slightest breeze. The onions transplanted fine and it seems like they’ll make it through (fingers crossed).

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Seeds of other roots crops, such as carrots, radishes, and beets, were sown outdoors under these cloches. Their sprouts have provided hope for more life in the garden at this time.

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A carrot sprout

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A radish sprout

(Note: it’s best to direct seed these plants…I once transplanted carrot sprouts after starting them inside, and the majority of them grew forked, looking like fingers on a hand. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just makes peeling them less convenient.)

To end on a higher note, here’s an update on the garlic that I showed last week:

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Such a sight equals happiness!

Pre-spring cleaning

The succession of temperate days here is a blessing I haven’t taken for granted. The weekend was both warm and sunny, cool and cloudy. This was a ripe time for some pre-spring cleaning to prepare my garden for planting. But first, a nice surprise welcomed me after being estranged from the garden all winter:

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The garlic that I planted last November made it through the winter and has sprouted! Holler! After admiring the garlic shoots, I proceeded with the necessary business:

1. Uproot the remaining dead weeds from the winter

I’ve incorporated no-till gardening practices into my routine to alleviate the cleaning duties. At the end of last year’s growing season (5 months ago), I collected cardboard from work and used it as an organic weed mat on my garden plot. For something that was free, it did an excellent job. Most of last year’s weeds and plants had decomposed underneath the cardboard sheets, so all I had to do was pull out roots here and there. This method also gave the added bonus of providing compost for the soil.

2. Amend the soil with compost, chicken manure, blood meal, and bone meal

This is the organic fertilizer formula that a friend taught me to use years ago in San Diego. It has continued to serve my gardens well since then.

3. Mulch with grass clippings

In my humble opinion, grass clippings are the preferred vegetable garden mulch. It stays put despite strong winds (unlike leaves), it provides nitrogen to the soil, and in my current situation, it’s available in large mounds for free next to the community garden. Before I discovered this boon, I made the mistake last year of applying bark mulch. I was afterwards informed to avoid using bark mulch in the vegetable garden because it would leach acid into the soil. Thankfully, I was able to rake the bark mulch off before I planted anything. This page on vegetable garden maintenance provides a good breakdown of the different types of garden mulch.

4. Build trellis for peas

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The stakes were reinforced with 3 ft U-posts, which will hopefully withstand the occasional 20-30 mph winds here. Welded wire was secured to the stakes/posts with velcro tape.

5. Put pest controls into place

I don’t believe in pesticides. I also don’t care for traps, which would force me to deal with pest carcasses. Mice, rabbits, and gophers do roam freely within the community garden, unfortunately. The prevention methods I’m trying this season are gopher baskets for root crops and boxes for leafy vegetables.

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I purchased 10 of these 5 gallon gopher baskets from Peaceful Valley ($4 each). These require some shaping and it’s tedious work to have to dig them into the ground, but I’ll do almost anything to protect my precious plants.

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I constructed a few boxes (2′ x 4′ x 1′) from 1/4″ mesh hardware cloth to guard against mice and rabbits. The boxes are held in place at each corner with 2 ft rebar stakes.

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And now the garden is ready, bring it on!

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