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!

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Seedling experiments

In past growing seasons, I’ve raised my seedlings under a grow light. An advantage of this method is faster seedling growth. Looking back at a previous post, I was amazed at how big my seedlings got in just three weeks being raised indoors under a grow light.

But because the seedlings got so comfortable indoors, they had to be carefully hardened off to withstand the outdoors. And that’s something I don’t have time to do these days. It’d be convenient if I could just leave my plants outside the whole day starting from day one. Also, grow lights use extra electricity.

So this year, I’m trying something different. Instead of raising my seedling indoors under lights, I’m bringing them outside as soon as they sprout. That’s where my raised bed greenhouse comes in, as well as these humidity domes:

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I’m counting on these protection methods (and the moderate San Diego climate) to keep my seedlings surviving outside. While my seedlings are growing MUCH slower than they did under a grow light (due to cold night time temperatures and winter sunlight hours), I no longer need to bring them back indoors every day. They’re growing less leggy and I’m saving electricity, too.

Another experiment that I’m trying is insulating my germination tray with a solar blanket. I have a heat mat, but it doesn’t seem to get warm enough to germinate pepper seeds (in my experience, at least). So I reasoned that wrapping the heat mat and germination tray in a solar blanket would warm the setup more, hopefully for peppers to germinate. Time will tell.

I started my second batch of seeds to get a head start on the summer growing season:

  • Borage
  • Marigold
  • Thai basil
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Orange bell peppers
  • Thai chili peppers
  • America spinach (germinating via the paper towel method)
  • Isis Candy Cherry tomatoes (these are a peaceful crop, I assure you)

Raised bed greenhouse

Garlic and carrots have sprouted. Bok choy, cilantro, lettuce, onions, shallots and flower seedlings have been transplanted. Nighttime temperatures are in the low 50s, so it’s time for a greenhouse.

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I placed 6 rebar stakes (2 ft long, 1/2 in diameter) into the raised bed and slipped 10 ft long, 1/2 in diameter PVC pipes over them, creating arches to make the frame for the greenhouse. Pictured above are two of the three arches with the last two rebar stakes in the front. The PVC pipes were painted copper so they wouldn’t look so much like…well, PVC pipes.

Greenhouse plastic (purchased as a 10 ft x 100 ft roll from Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply) cut into a 10 ft x 13 ft rectangle was placed over the arches and secured with row cover snap clamps. The open sides were closed with velcro stickers.

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Raised bed greenhouse!

Patio gardening for the weary

The dog days of summer have arrived in the Tri-Cities. We just survived a week with temperatures lingering past 100 F. While the garden has indeed exploded with lush greens and harvests, the intense heat has made it difficult to work outside. Additionally, my garden plot has become conquered by weeds despite my (and the stirrup hoe’s) best efforts to keep them at bay. So to continue enjoying a garden, I succumbed and purchased some planters, dug up several plants, and started a mini garden on my patio. Funny that the planters were more costly than an entire 15′ x 15′ plot at the community garden. Yet, I do find having the plants right outside my doorstep immensely more enjoyable. This also gives me a chance to grow the plants that got attacked by rabbits and voles.

South-facing patio garden: 2 chili pepper plants flanked by 2 brown planters containing Casper eggplants (front), Bountiful Beans in the rectangular planter, Dragon carrots (back).
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Chili pepper (my seed starts didn’t fare well, so I inherited these)
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Casper eggplant, transplanted from the garden plot
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Bountiful green beans (direct seeded in the planter)
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Dragon carrots (direct seeded in the planter with sowing markers)
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North-facing patio garden: fall seed starts and herbs (front), cilantro, lettuce, trellised peas (middle), worm compost bin (back)
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Fall seed starts (plus a late second attempt at watermelons)
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Thai basil (left), Sage (middle), Lemongrass (right), Thyme (not visible), transplanted from the garden plot
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Cilantro (front left), Speckled lettuce (front right), Golden Sweet peas (back), all direct seeded
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Absence makes the plants grow greener

I had to take a hiatus from gardening due to travel and, I must admit, sheer heartache from seeing some of my plants undergo transplant shock. Turns out this break did us all some good (it also helped that the community garden has automatic sprinklers, which allowed me to leave the garden unattended). The leafy green plants that appeared to be suffering without protection had bounced back.

Bok choy and Speckled Lettuce
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Another view of the bok choy
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Russian Red Kale
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Other crops that appeared unresponsive to any previous TLC have flourished.

Early Snowball Cauliflower
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Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage
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Some root crops look ready for harvest.

Radishes
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I should thin out the greens of these Detroit Dark Red Beets soon.
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And finally, my peppers, eggplants, and large tomatoes have sprouted. This required coaxing via the combined warmth and humidity from both the heating mat and grow lights. I sowed the rest of the summer seeds: beans, corn, cucumbers, melons, and squash. I heard from some fellow gardeners that peas can still be started at this time, so I figured I’d give these another go.

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!