Creating a Life of Plenty

December 7, 2017
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Gardening at Verdigris: A Greenhouse within a Greenhouse!

Winter gardening is a tricky business, but at our market garden, Verdigris, we are experimenting with ways of growing, or at least harvesting vegetables all year round.  I tested our soil this morning to see where we were with the single layer of protection, the soil temperature was a consistent 50 degrees F.  This will allow things to grow and mature, but direct sown seeds may struggle to germinate and mature properly.

The author Elliot Coleman states that winter crops will thrive inside an old-fashioned cold frame – a bottomless box with a glass or plastic top that you can build (old windows work well) or purchase readymade. “Basically, you’ve changed the climate,” Mr. Coleman explains. “You’ve moved your garden 500 miles [800 kilometres] or one and a half growing zones, south by using greenhouses or polytunnels.  Our garden is in zone 6a; with our polytunnel greenhouse, we’ve essentially moved our garden to zone 7a or 7b which extends the season, but to go to zone 8, which allows year round gardening (click here to go to the USDA hardiness zone map), we would need an extra layer of protection. Mr. Coleman says. “That second layer moves you an additional 500 miles south.

We will be building some additional low tunnels for one side of our greenhouse, but I thought we could try to use something we already had.  We purchased the Groundworks garden tunnel at the end of the season clearance sale at Tractor Supply.  We thought we could use it outside to extend the growing season on one of our beds, but the dimensions don’t make it convenient, so I decided to set it up in our polytunnel.

It sets up quite easily, but one has to be careful to ensure that the aluminum poles are firmly and completely inserted into the connectors or the top plastic cover won’t fit properly.

Once the frame was assembled, I unfolded and applied the plastic cover, which has vents on either end and access/ventilation windows along one side to plant, harvest and vent the greenhouse if needed.  I can’t wait to see how it works!

 

Happy Gardening!

December 7, 2017
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Comments Off on Gardening at Verdigris: Seed Starting and Winter Gardening Experiment

Gardening at Verdigris: Seed Starting and Winter Gardening Experiment

Starting a market garden is a daunting task, but having produce available all year (or really, really close) is important for our potential customers and for our bottom line.  I have been using season extenders at our home garden for many years (this year we are allowing our garden to stay fallow (except for garlic) this winter (we’ve been heaping spent chicken coop bedding on the beds since fall to help revitalize the garden). However, we have never really grown vegetables in the winter so we are doing an experiment.

We assembled and modified a polytunnel style greenhouse with inground beds.  The other day we stretched the covering and secured it to the wooden frame with some scrap furring strips to help the heat stay in the greenhouse over the winter; we aren’t expecting the tropics, but enough trapped heat to help grow to harvest some cold hardy crops.  This will give us a head start on the market season and to provide vegetables for early CSA members.

 

I started the first of the winter garden seeds yesterday as well as one of our perennial crops; the early crops will be an experiment to see the tolerance of these vegetables to grow under a polytunnel.  I will start seeds in January that will be market crops, but I wanted to see what the performance will be prior to marketing them.

The crops I sowed are Cipollini onions, Red Acre Cabbage, Calabrese Green Sprouting Broccoli, Cour Di Bue Green Cabbage and Bright Lights Swiss Chard.  I also started an unusual Asparagus called “Precoce D’Argenteuil” which will allegedly have a pink cast to it…and is supposed to be delicious.  This will add to our current asparagus crops of Mary Washington and Jersey Giant, providing a variety to our customers in the coming years.

Seed sowing is very easy if you have the right equipment.  We have accumulated small nursery greenhouses as they go on clearance as well as grow lights and heat mats for seedlings.  I filled four nursery trays with seed starting soil (which is low in nutrients).  Some people wet the soil before filling and planting; I don’t.  I think it is easier to handle and sow in a dry state.  I created labels for each of the crops and started the asparagus seeds soaking (they need to soak for a few hours before sowing to jump start germination).  I then sowed the seeds (most of these are tiny seeds so they don’t need to be sown deep).  I then covered the cells with “chick grit” from our local Tractor Supply Store.  The grit helps with seed to soil contact, eliminates pooling water on top of the seedlings, prevents soil crusting and damping off of seedlings.

I then use a misting sprayer to water the seedlings before putting them in their germination greenhouse on my sun porch; The cabbages and chard are sitting on a heat mat to maximize germination.

 

I will mist the seedlings daily until they are potted on to larger pots with enriched potting soil.  These seedlings will stay in the propagation greenhouse for a couple of weeks when we transfer them to our commercial greenhouse at the plot to finish growing until they go in the ground in the polytunnel.  I will also be sowing some direct sow seeds once I take the temperature of the soil to see if we can grow some salad lettuce, radishes and small carrots.

Here’s hoping our experiment is successful!

Happy Gardening!

November 19, 2017
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Comments Off on Gardening at Verdigris: Poly Tunnel Style Greenhouse

Gardening at Verdigris: Poly Tunnel Style Greenhouse

The first year of building our market garden “Verdigris” has been dedicated to infrastructure.  We built a propagation and seedling greenhouse, but we wanted another greenhouse built over garden beds to help us garden year-round and to use in the summer for heat loving crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers.

There are a lot of poly tunnel kits on the market, but most of them are, at this time, out of our price range.  We selected a less expensive greenhouse kit and chose to bulk it up with framing and other supports.  The greenhouse, the Outsunny 20′ x 10′ x 7′ Portable Walk-In Steeple Garden Greenhouse from  Aosom Direct was the best choice for us.  The durable PE woven covering should stand up to harsh weather and with our enhancements, it should be wind and rain resistant and keep our plants cozy during inclement weather.

We opened the box, inventoried the contents, and got to work.  The assembly is relatively easy and straightforward and very quickly we had the frame assembled; then we began our enhancements.  First we decided to position the greenhouse east to west, like our existing greenhouse and to maximize sun exposure.  To increase the stability of the greenhouse and to create depth for garden beds, we build a foundation of 4×4 lumber and bolted them to the ground with 12 inch screw bolts.  We then secured the greenhouse frame to the foundation with 3/4inch “C” clamps

Next we created the raised garden beds.  We used double layer paper as a weed barrier in the beds and cardboard for the pathway.  Home Depot sells masonry bricks at low prices, so we used those to create the front barrier of the garden beds.  Once these were in place, we filled the beds with soil and the pathway with mulch.

We will be using this greenhouse in the early spring to grow brassicas and when those are harvested, we will be building structures inside the greenhouse to grow tomatoes and cucumbers vertically…we can’t wait!

 

Happy Gardening!

May 23, 2017
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Comments Off on Gardening at Verdigris: Perennial Vegetables

Gardening at Verdigris: Perennial Vegetables

Managing a quarter acre farm may seem like a manageable task, but growing exclusively annual crops would create a significant amount of work that one to two people would have a hard time doing.  Choosing some perennial crops such as the fruit we have planted as well as some perennial vegetables gives us a saleable crop that doesn’t require a significant amount of manual intervention.  We plan on several perennial crops such as radicchio, rhubarb, sorrel and asparagus.

We started on this project the other day by building two long and relatively narrow beds that will house our asparagus.  We bought twenty 6’ cedar fence panels at a local home improvement store along with treated 2X4’s that happened to be in a 70% off cart (SCORE!!!!!).  With those and some decking screws, we created two beds that measure 3’WX12’LX1’H.  Construction was easy; we simply aligned the boards to the support boards and drilled them in place for the side panels, then put the panels upright to secure the ends.  These are strong beds, except where the two 6 foot segments are joined.  We chose to pound a support pole into the ground at this spot where the beds were sighted to keep the beds from bowing under the pressure of the fill dirt.

Next we placed cardboard in the bed to kill the turf and suppress any regrowth.  The cardboard acts as a weed barrier and as it decomposes, adds brown matter to the bed.

We then filled the bed with a mixture of topsoil, peat moss and two grit varieties of sand.  Rough and fine sand provide superior drainage in the soil as asparagus likes a rich, moisture retentive yet good draining soil (it is a delicate flower!).  About 30 trips to the soil mound later and one of the beds was filled and ready to plant.

We selected two (for now) traditional varieties of asparagus as a regular crop.  Jersey Giant variety is an all male hybrid that is highly productive and very vigorous. It is best for high yield, fine flavor and the largest succulent spears.  We also selected Mary Washington asparagus (Asparagus officinalis “Mary Washington”) is one of the older and most common asparagus varieties. This perennial vegetable is harvested in spring, producing a high yield of tender spears from a rhizome crown. Tender asparagus spears are snapped or cut close to the ground to harvest. The spears are actually undeveloped ferns which transfer energy to the crown in preparation for winter when allowed to develop in summer and fall

 

Plant asparagus crowns with the top about 3-4 inches from the top of the soil, spread the roots out so they get a good start establishing themselves in the bed.  Cover back over, water well and then mulch.

Asparagus does well with an annual top dressing of well composted manure mixed with sharp sand.  Keep the bed well watered until the plants get well established.  You cannot harvest spears the first year.  It is also not recommended to take too many in the second year.  But in the third year you can harvest more, increasing the number of spears harvested over the next two years.  Once established and well cared for, Asparagus can produce crops from between 20 and 30 years without much work.

Tender, delicious asparagus is an in demand vegetable in the early spring market and should prove to be a great, reliable organic crop that we can provide to our market customers.

May 9, 2017
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Comments Off on Front Garden Massacre!

Front Garden Massacre!

So my husband just sent a picture of our front garden after the concrete contractor did the demolition on what will be our new front walk, side walk and porch…and it is literally a massacre…Will did his best to save and or give away as many plants as possible, but I was not prepared for this mess.

guess every new thing presents an opportunity to grow and change.  We will replant the front garden with saved and new plants after this project is over.  Hopefully the new, not crumbling or draining into our basement work will be glorious and the garden will be returned to its splendor soon enough, but for now…I weep for my front garden!

 

Not happy gardening today!

May 3, 2017
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The Home Kitchen Garden

With all the work that we are putting in at Verdigris, it is easy to get distracted and not plan for our own kitchen garden season.  Luckily I started many plants before work began this spring.  Most of the garden plants that could be started and then transplanted were started in late February.  Long germinating herb plants like Thyme and Chamomile, and vegetables such as bell, sweet and hot peppers were started then.  In early March, I started tomatoes, radicchio, Chinese, green and red cabbage as well as edible flowers (nasturtiums).  Recently I started our cucumbers, summer squash and corn seedlings and they are germinating in our tiny greenhouse.

This week I potted out the cabbages and radicchio and I will pot out the tomatoes next week.  I think I will wait another week to pot out the peppers so they can enjoy some heat.

For the most part, everything else growing in the garden is either a perennial (asparagus, sorrel, etc.) or had been sown directly into the soil (lettuce, carrots, beets, parsnips, radishes, salsify).

Get out and get your hands dirty in your own kitchen garden!  The high season is upon us!

Happy Gardening!

May 2, 2017
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Gardening at Verdigris: Berries and Brambles

Last week I took a “staycation” from work to do infrastructure work at our new garden.  We are trying to get infrastructure and as much fruit planted in the first year to let it develop to be ready for harvest shortly after we start offering our vegetables.  Knowing it take 2-5 years for fruit trees and bushes to mature, it was critical that we get as much planted in the first spring as possible.

Based on our plan, we were to build three beds that were 16’L X 4’ W for our raspberry and blackberry beds and two 8’L X 4’W blueberry beds.  This size will allow us enough bushes for critical mass and to produce a large enough crops to sell.  Each bed should hold 12 to 14 bushes when fully planted.  We prepared the area using two methods…one manual and one reliant on machinery.

In my mind, I thought the right decision was to dig the beds out by hand, using organic methods and just good plain hard work.  So Monday, I spent 12 hours digging out one of the three bramble beds…that was really back breaking work given the condition of the sod and the soil underneath, but I managed to do it.  Then Will and I constructed the bed frame using 8X6X8 dimensional lumber.  We connected two pieces of lumber on each side of the bed and then cut one piece of lumber to serve as the ends.  We leveled the lumber and connected them using galvanized brackets at the top and outer seams.  I then filled the bed using some of the soil we bought from Jones Topsoil (see previous blog post).

The next day, we decided to use some machinery to speed the process.  We rented a sod cutter from the local Home Depot and brought it on site.  In the same time it took us to build the first bed, we had removed the sod and built the other two bramble beds as well as cutting the sod out for the blueberry beds.  I filled those beds and then planted them the next day.

 

For our red raspberries, we chose a varietal mix of “Heritage”, Raspberry Shortcake, “Crimson Night” and “Caroline Red”.  These will have staggered ripening times so we can offer product for a longer period.

For the Yellow Raspberries, we selected two varieties “Fall Gold” and “Anne”. Fall Gold, is an extremely hardy variety. The fruit color may vary from very light yellow to a dark orange at maturity. This varietal is an ever-bearing cane, meaning it will produce two crops per year. Anne, a late season bearer, it is less vigorous than fall gold, but it will extend our season a bit longer.

For the blackberries, we chose a regular and a thornless variety.  The standard “Ebony King is a perennial favorite and the “Black Satin” thornless hopefully will provide abundant fruit with less bloodshed from prickly thorns.

We then finished the week by building, filling and planting the blueberry beds.  We are only planting one bed this year as I ran out of plant budget for the time being.  We will plant the other bed next spring when conditions, inventory and funds are available.  Blueberries are greedy plants so I am top dressing the beds with composted cow manure and then placing a nice layer of mulch for water retention.

We will add support and structure to these beds later in the season or in early next spring when they really start to grow.

We are waiting on delivery of a couple more fruit trees this week and then our fruit planting will be over.  Over the summer we will be building our raised vegetable and high tunnel beds and I will report on the progress as we go!

 

Happy Gardening!

April 27, 2017
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Gardening at Verdigris: Soil Delivery

While we were very fortunate to find a piece of property that had never had a structure on it for our market garden, it didn’t mean that the land doesn’t have its problems.  Much of the construction debris for building the neighborhood (hard graft gravel, concrete, etc.) found its way to these lots and over the years became part of the soil beneath the sod.  We are digging out some of the soil for fruit trees, but much of the garden will consist of slightly elevated and raised beds.

To fill those beds, we will rely on bought in soil and compost until we produce enough of our own.  We called on Jones Topsoil here in Columbus to deliver soil to begin to fill the beds.  Our first order was 11 cubic yards of their Top Soil Plus.  The interesting thing about Jones Top Soil is that they can deliver soil and products over a fence with their “Slinger” truck.  Operated by remote control, this truck literally slings soil over the fence and into a pile.  Our delivery driver Shannan was very adept at working this truck and delivered right in the spot we wanted.  See the video below!

Happy Gardening!

April 18, 2017
by admin
Comments Off on The Evolution of a Market Garden: Rain Catchment, Phase 1 at Verdigris

The Evolution of a Market Garden: Rain Catchment, Phase 1 at Verdigris

Given our organic principals, we naturally chose to collect rainwater at the new market garden.  This will help us ecologically as well as economically during the first year of the garden and beyond.  When we bought the property we understood that there were no public utilities on the property (electric, gas or water).  We hope to avoid putting electrical and water on the property for at least one year until we are selling produce from the garden that needs to be washed with potable water and chilled or stored with electric refrigeration.  The installation of rain catchment is crucial for irrigating the fruit trees, bushes, and other items during the first year and to reduce the usage of municipal water go forward.

Phase one was to install rain barrels, gutters, and downspouts on our new shed.  The wide roof expanse of the shed will hopefully provide enough water to keep the trees irrigated as well as numerous berry bushes being installed this spring.

We looked for the easiest to install system that would require the least amount of cutting and specialty skill to install.  We came upon the K-Snap Vinyl gutter system.  This modular, easy to install system had simple, easy to follow instructions.  My husband started the installation before I left work and had much of it installed before I got to the garden.  I assisted with the balance of the installation.

Essentially, there are brackets that need to be installed on the overhang of the shed in a manner that directs the flow of water to the downspout.  The gutters are then installed.  The modular nature of the system necessitated that we cut a portion of the gutter to fit.

We then used the adhesive we purchased to fuse together the two pieces of gutter on a joiner piece.

Next up was to install the down spout.  These are modular and are affixed directly to the structure.  We then used elbow joints and downspout pieces to direct the flow of water over the catchment barrels.

There is rain in the forecast for tomorrow, so I am so thankful that we could get these set up before the rains!

We will be creating a free-standing rain catchment surface later this spring after we purchase two new rain barrels (hopefully with a discount from our county soil and water conservation division).  But this is a good start on conserving rainwater for irrigation at our new market garden!

 

Happy Gardening!