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Only a gardener would be looking forward to what grows out of a compost pile. . . OK well maybe a hungry possum would but I can tell you that I'm curious to see. what comes out of one of our compost piles down at the garden this spring.  Several of our caring citizens have been bringing down compost weekly to the garden since October. Some of it I've been able to recognize as cantaloupe and squash but other things are unfamiliar to me but I can see they have seeds.  All this pondering reminded me of Ruth Stout, the mulch queen.  So, I decided to make a sign for this compost pile as a tribute to her. 

The main rules for safe composting are 1.  NO MEAT.   2. Preferably only raw vegetable scraps and fruit, not cooked--a little cardboard is OK.


 

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Tomato plant growing from a tower on a deck growing in only four square feet.

Think vertical!

You can grow a lot of plants if you grow them up and, in a container, instead of spreading them out in a traditional garden plot. For example, last year from May to the end of October, I grew over $800 worth of okra in 8 five-gallon buckets.  One key is to grow vegetables that your family loves to eat.  Another key is to grow vegetables that are easy to preserve.  For example, Okra is very easy to freeze:  wash, chop and put in freezer bags.  Yet another tip is to choose vegetables that you like that are expensive to buy in the store.  For example, the yellow buttery Yukon potatoes are more expensive (and tasty) than the Idaho potatoes.

You don't need an expensive tower.  You can build your own grow towers our of straw, chicken wire and soil.  Potatoes are a crop that grows well and prolifically vertically. I already have a post showing how to grow lots of potatoes in a pot on this blog in my January posts.  These instructions you can also find down at the Garland Community Garden.  You can take a snap shot of them with your phone if you like.

 

Speaking of Vertical . . .

Loving Garland Green was recently gifted a plant tower by Jane and Bob Stroud.  I'm very excited about  putting it to use.

Garden Tower 2™, 50-Plant Composting Vertical Garden PlanterThe “World's Most Advanced Vertical Garden Planter”

The composting 50 plant accessible vertical Garden Tower® for organic balcony and vertical gardening by Garden Tower® Project. 

100% UV stable food-grade high-purity HDPE plastic, and backed by a 5-year manufacturer warranty.
Recently named the “Worlds Most Advanced Vertical Garden Planter”, the Garden Tower® 2 features food-grade USA-made HDPE (non-toxic, BPA & PVC free plastic) components, FDA-approved dye, and UV-protection antioxidant package for health, durability, and recyclability.  

Here is the description of the tower:

  • The rotating Garden Tower® 2 is a composter that grows 50 plants in 4 square feet nearly anywhere.
  • Turns waste kitchen scraps into organic fertilizer to grow organic produce.
  • The Garden Tower® vertical garden planter and composting system replicates a natural ecosystem allowing plants to access nutrients recycled through organic composting processes.
  • Easily grow nearly any vegetables, herbs or flowers organically.
  • An organic and resilient 6 cubic foot vertical soil-based alternative to expensive and difficult hydroponic systems.
  • Proudly 100% Made in the USA using 100% UV stable food-grade high-purity HDPE plastic, and backed by a 5-year manufacturer warranty.
  • 43? tall & 24.5? wide. 36 lbs. (~220 lbs. with moist soil)

Yes, I am just the kind of rude person who looks a gift horse in the mouth.  I asked my friends why they are getting rid of the tower.  They had it for several years.  It is basically the result to two bad years back to back.  Two years ago fire ants got in it.  Then last year it was too hot and too much bother to water every day.  [I plan to 1. put a bed of diatomaceous earth beneath it and to coat the bottom and sides of it at as well as its feet to discourage fire ants.  As for watering, I'll put a little bit of moss in the bottom of each cup.]

 

Think Intensive Planting!

Plants do need space, but not nearly as much as some may believe.  For example, if you plant a tomato plant in the center of an 18-inch square and stake it well, it can be surrounded on the perimeter by other compatible plants.  One big garden rule:  Do not plant peppers near tomatoes.  Square foot gardening is one method of urban gardening that takes advantage of the intensive planting format.  Four by four foot raised beds are divided into 16 one-inch squares.  The Keyhole Garden which also takes up a lot less space than the traditional row garden also takes advantage of intensive planting.

 

Related Hi-Tech Space-Saving Gardening Methods

Every year it seems there is some new contraption or method on the market that guarantees miracles.

 

 

AEROPONICS AQUAPONICS AND HYDROPONICS

Aeroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. Instead, roots are suspended in the air and irrigated with a nutrient-dense mist. This differs from hydroponics, where plant roots are submerged in a solution of water and nutrients. Aquaponics is a food production system that couples aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish, snails or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics.  The aquatic animals waste provides the fertilizer for the plants.

I   tried aquaponics and failed.  Basically, for me, it was too much work:  You must feed the fish monitor the temperature of their water, check the pipes to make sure they are not clogged, and there are the plants to watch over. . .   I don’t like the taste of plants grown in water and chemicals.  To me they are watery and taste like chemicals.

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I FINISHED ANOTHER BAD WEATHER PROJECT

I was going to make a snow cat for our cat, Chakota but alas, the snow around my house is not the fluffy type conducive to snow people or animal building so I decided to take on one of the many community garden projects on my list.
 
For those who may not know, I am one of the founders of the Garland Community Garden.  April 24 marks the beginning of our 10th year in existence. We've had our ups and downs and in celebration of our survival, we are really going all out to make the garden special for 2023. So far Charlie and I have hauled and unloaded six cubic yards of rich garden soil from Plano and still have four more cubic yards to go.  The mission of our nonprofit organization, Loving Garland Green, is to encourage Garland residents to grow some of the food they eat, thus this year we are putting many how-to signs throughout the garden.
 
A local girl scout troop back in December helped to beautify our children's garden area by adding painted rocks with wise messages. I have made signs for places all over the garden. One of the most recent ones I finished just last night. This one is for our two pollinator beds. These are laminated pieces that are super glued onto a wooden board. We'll see how it stands up to the weather.
 
Several of the signs I have up already provide "How-to" information for gardeners: 1) Two signs telling visitors how to make an eight 5-gallon bucket holder for their urban garden. 2) Two signs that tell visitors all about potatoes and how to make a potato tower. 3) One sign that provides tips for taking care of potatoes 4) One sign that provides tips for organic pest control.There are more to come. For example, when I get Gene's keyhole garden made, I'll post a sign telling visitors how to make one of their own.

The mission of our nonprofit organization, Loving Garland Green, is to encourage Garland residents to grow some of the food they eat. We hope the signs as well as the living examples will encourage the citizens of Garland to grow some of the food they eat. The more food grown by local residents in any community helps to stabilize their economy. Yes, resilient, local food systems help to make communities more stable. One of the qualities of a sustainable community is a reliable food supply that optimizes local production.
 
The signs are fun to make. 1. Create them first on your computer. I use legal size paper and no smaller type than 14 pt for easy reading. 2. Once you have created them, take a usb to a printing place and have one copy in color made. Tell the worker that you want it laminated in the heaviest gauge of lamination they have. (It should be quite stiff. 3. You can then use Gorilla tape to attach to a one x 2 inch; 6 foot stake or a PVC pole.
 
When attaching, you want to be careful not to poke a hole, even with a stapler through the lamination that has any part of your poster because one hard rain will get water onto the paper of your poster and it will eventually mold. If you must staple through the poster, you might try. putting a dab of clear coat fingernail polish over the staple. This might seal it. For the pollinators I cut out for my pollinator poster I put clear coat fingernail polish around all the edges of each cut out. We'll see if that works.
 
 
 
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THIS is great weather for dreaming up projects.

BUILDING A KEYHOLE GARDEN

When the weather clears this weekend, I’ll be putting in another keyhole garden down at the Garland Community Garden.   Keyhole gardens are great for those who have difficulty bending down to ground level. They are three-feet tall.  You can make the sides from about anything--from corrugated tin, to bricks, to concrete blocks, to wire fencing.  (If you use wire fencing, you’ll have to put a liner around the inside of the fencing to prevent the soil from falling through.)  Weed prevention cloth makes a good liner.

Here are the materials I’ll be using:

  • 27 feet of 14-gauge wire fencing
  • Four 12-foot rebar (cut into 6-foot length) making 8 rebar poles
  • Eight ¾ inch metal conduit pipes (5 feet long and 2 are 7 feet long)
  • 27 feet long of 36-inch-tall plastic feed bags sown together
  • 27 feet of clear environmental greenhouse plastic 4 feet wide
  • 110 feet of 18-gauge galvanized steel wire
  • Six feet of chicken wire 36 inches wide
  • Wood chips and other organic matter--enough to fill 3/4s of the enclosure for the garden.
  • About half a cubic yard of  garden soil
  • About 8 gallons of compost to top off the upper layer of soil for the garden
  • Water

    TOOLS:  wire cutter and hammer for driving poles.
  1. Determine the location for your Key Hole Garden (flat with plenty of sun)

  2. Bend the 27 feet of wire fencing into a circle.


  3. Join the ends together with the 18-gauge wire.  Make sure the ends of the wire are on the inside of the circle to you don’t  have sharp edges sticking out of the fencing

  4. Make the keyhole, the indentation in the circle:  At a point directly across from where you wired the two ends together, make a crease from the top of the wire fencing down to the ground.  This will be the center of the “V”.  (See photo of Keyhole Garden for clarification.)

  5. Measure out 3 feet on either side of the crease and make a crease.  You should now have 3 creases in your circle.  (See photo of keyhole garden for clarification.)

  6. Drive the six-foot rebars in the inside of the fencing at the points shown in the photo where you see the vertical poles.  Drive them into the ground a little more than a foot. They will be sticking above the top edge of the fencing about 2 feet. Slide the 4-foot conduit pipes over the rebar.  [Note I’m using materials I have on hand which are 12-foot 3/8 rebar that I’ll cut in half and various lengths of ¾ inch metal pipes.  You could use half inch rebar and skip the pipes.]

  7. Using twine tie each rebar at about midway to the top of the fencing.  You will eventually use wire to connect the poles to the fencing.  The twine is temporary to stabilize the fencing as you install your side liner.

  8. Starting at the back seam where you joined the two ends of the fencing to make the circle.  Place the liner along the side of the fencing.   Make sure to allow about a foot of the liner to rest on the ground.

  9. Begin by untying the twine that secures the rebar to the fencing.  Slide the conduit pipe over the rebar.  Using the wire, secure the pole to the fencing at least at the places

  10. Unroll the liner until you come to the next rebar.  Undo the twine and follow step 9 for each pole on the inside of your Keyhole Garden.

  11. When you get back to the seam, your starting point, be sure to overlap the liner about 18 inches.


MAKE THE COMPOST BASKET

Now your liner is attached and you are ready to make your compost basket. 

The compost basket can be made of chicken wire fencing.  You’ll need a length of 6 feet by 3 feet wide to make a basket that is 2 feet in diameter.  Make a circle and attach the ends as you did for your keyhole garden.  This basket goes at the center of the “V” or keyhole.  See photo of Key Hole Garden for reference.  Once the compost basket is ready, place it at the point of the “V”.  Now or later this basket will be filled with compost (leaves, and raw vegetable and fruit   cutting from the kitchen, spoiled lettuce from cleaning out your veggie bin, etc.  no meat!). When you water your garden most of the water should got to this basket as it feeds the rest of the plants in your garden.

 

FILL UP YOUR GARDEN WITH GROWING MEDIUM

About ¾’s of your garden will be filled with wood chips, logs, mulch, grass clippings straw--anything organic except weeds.  We have a lot of wood chips down at the Garland Community Garden so we will be using them to fill up our keyhole garden. Water the organic matter well.  Add about a foot of garden soil to the top and the top off with about four inches of compose.

 The wood chips will hold water and reduce the need for watering.  You will get the same benefits from the compost basket which should be feed at least every two weeks. You cannot put too much water on a keyhole garden during initial construction. Use lots and lots of water. After that, it will be very water-wise. You may only need to water two or three times during the summer.  Here in drought-prone Texas, that translates to once a week.

When planting in a Keyhole Garden, forget all the rules about proper spacing.  Crowd everything in.  Intensive garden spacing is a great way to increase your return in the garden. This concept uses all the space in the beds eliminating the need for rows and paths. Intensive spacing not only increases the return but also helps control weeds and save on water.  One keyhole garden will grow over 70 tomato plants. You plant intensively in a keyhole garden. Some plants will grow tall and others will hang over the sides.

 

NOTE:  MY LINER WILL HAVE TWO LAYERS

The layer against the inside of the fencing will be a an environmental greenhouse clear plastic lining.  Then against that will be colorful  plastic seed sacks that I've sewn together.


Feed bags sewn together

 

Closeup of one of the feed bags.

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PLANTING BUTTER BEANS

In general most all varieties of beans should be planted two weeks after the last frost.  Certainly true for butter beans (a.k.a. lima beans).

Gene has got me going on butter beans now. 

Only instead of bush butter beans, I’ve already ordered some pole butter beans.  I will plant them in the top row of my five-gallon bucket that that Charlie is building.  I will stick three six-foot poles in each of the buckets on the top row

Plant the butter beans after the last frost of the season and after the soil temperature has gotten above 55 degrees F. (13 C.). Butter beans are very sensitive to cold soil. If you plant them before the soil is warm enough, they won't germinate.  The ideal time is two weeks after the last frost.

Companion plants for Butter Beans (and information regarding pests)

  • Catnip. Catnip deters flea beetles, which feast on not only beans but many other vegetables and garden plants as well.
  • Aphids:  Smear outside of yellow solo cup with Vaseline and thumb tack over one ft wood stake
  • Marigold:  Many insects go out of their way to avoid this pungent fower
  • Kale -As a nitrogen-hungry leafy green, kale will profit from being grown with nitrogen-fixing legumes like beans.
  • Dill When intercropped with beans, dill’s essential oils are increased, making the plants more fragrant. ‘Bouquet’ is an early-blooming dill variety, meaning it can provide a source of spring forage for garden visitors that arrive on six legs and two pairs of wings. And once your dill crop has gone to seed, you can use the seed heads to flavor pickles made from home grown cucumbers– or save the seeds to sow next year.
  • Fenugreek - This herb is Most often used culinarily for its fragrant seeds, which are ground or used whole as a spice, in the garden fenugreek can provide pest control services for your beans.  Fenugreek is an herb long used in alternative medicine. It’s a common ingredient in Indian dishes and often taken as a supplement. This herb may have numerous health benefits.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a plant that stands around 2–3 feet (60–90 centimeters) tall. It has green leaves, small white flowers and pods that contain small, golden-brown seeds. For thousands of years, fenugreek has been used in alternative and Chinese medicine to treat skin conditions and many other diseases. It is also a common household spice  and thickening agent and can be found in many products, such as soap and shampoo.  Fenugreek seeds and powder are also used in many India dishes for their nutritional profile and slightly sweet, nutty taste.

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I'm having lots of fun getting the garden ready for spring planting.  In addition to making trips to Plano to get soil (so far Charlie and I have made two trips and will make two more for a total of 8 cubic yards of rich garden soil) I'm making new signs for the garden.  So far there are  two signs about potatoes and how/when to plant them.  Also you'll learn now to make potato towers.  Just take a snapshot of the sign for instructions.  There is a sign already up to let you know what will be coming soon in the multicultural garden.  Nancy Seaberg has some interesting exotic plant surprises in store for the public.  There are two signs also already up in my container plot that provide instructions for building an 8 homer bucket holder to create an urban garden.

So far we have seven new signs and more to come down at the garden.

Today, I just finished one for Gene Rogers' plot.

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Well I've just found an excellent project for Charlie:  Build a five gallon bucket holder for my Pots only bed at the Garland Community Garden.

Great instructions for building a bucket container of 8 five gallon buckets. Perfect for an urban garden. AS it takes up a small space and you can grow just about any vegetable in a five gallon pot. It's footprint is 55 inches long and 25 inches deep. https://www.eighty-fixed.com/container-garden-stand

The foot print for this build is 55 inches by 25 inches deep--perfect for urban gardeners who don't have much space.  Also as I have demonstrated on this blog, if you drill enough holes in the bottom of the buckets you can grow just about any kind of edible in a five-gallon bucket.

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Later this week, after Tuesday's rain,  I'll be posting several signs around the Garland community Garden.  It is still about two month before visitors will see many plants growing but many people still visit the garden.  It is such a peaceful and comfortable space.

Here is a preview of a few:

 

____________________________________________________________________

 

MULTICULTURAL PLOT AT THE GARLAND COMMUNITY GARDEN

Currently we only have one perennial growing in our Multicultural Plot--a showy Cardoon but that will change.  Although at the moment it appears as a stick, it will soon be sprouting leaves.

Cardoon [Cynara cardunculus] is a bold and versatile plant as a stand-alone accent or as a part of your edible landscape. Whether you eat it or not, it adds visual interest and attracts bees. It is native to the Mediterranean and was popular in ancient Greek, Roman, and Persian cuisine. It was brought by Spanish settlers to California in the mid-1800s, also by French settlers to the Louisiana Territory. Cardoons and artichokes are members of the Asteraceae family, and share the same ancient DNA. Unlike its cousin, the artichoke, you eat the stalks of the cardoon. Cardoon’s flavor is reminiscent of celery and artichoke heart with a hint of bitterness.

In addition to the spectacular cardoon, Nancy has some special and interesting plants that will be appearing in this plot later this spring. Since these plants are primarily from tropical and subtropical areas of Asia, most will not be planted until well after our last scheduled frost here in North Texas. Among these plants will be Winged beans. The winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus), also known as cigarillos, goa bean, four-angled bean, four-cornered bean, manila bean, princess bean, asparagus pea, and dragon bean, is a tropical herbaceous legume plant.

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Oregano growing in a jelly jar with water.  Ideal gift for a cook 

 

What do gardeners do in January?  Many of us start seeds indoors toward the end of January.  I’ve never had much luck doing this.  My plants always end up become etiolated and/or wilting away.  I guess I just don’t have the patience but here is an idea I recently came across that   I’ll try

 

SOME OF US GROW HERBS AND OTHER PLANTS IN WATER AS GIFTS

YOU’LL NEED

Several fruit jars--pint or quart size

Mature plants to snip cuttings from.  Here are a few plants that only need water and sunlight to grow.  [If you don’t have these growing already, you can get them at the grocery store and create several gifts from one plant.]

Peppermint, Oregano, Sage, Basil, Stevia, Thyme, Rosemary, Lemon Balm, Cilantro, Lavender, and Marjoram are a few good herbs that grow well in water.

You can add value to the plant by creating small tags with information about the plant and attaching it to the jar with a colorful ribbon.  These are also great additions to a seed sale for your garden club or a fund raiser for any type of club.

 

 

 

MANY OF US DREAM OF HOW WE WILL GET RID OF PESTS WITHOUT USING PESTICIDES

BAKING SODA REMEDIES

 

Kill Cabbage Worms

Mix equals parts flour and baking soda and dust plants (cabbage, broccoli, kale) being eaten by cabbage worms. They usually die in a day or two.

Spray to Treat and Prevent Powdery Mildew

On cucumbers, squash and zinnias too!

Here’s the spray recipe: 1 tbsp of baking soda, 1 gallon of water, 1 tbsp of vegetable oil, and 1 tbsp of dish-washing liquid. Mix all ingredients together and spray on your plants every week. 

 

I'll definitely remember this one for aphids if they return like they were in 2022! 

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Potato Tower at Garland Community Garden 

What do Gardeners do in January - Part One

In addition to mooning over seed catalogs and ordering seeds many of us are busy cleaning out our beds and making new ones.  Now is also the time to purchase seed potatoes and onions.

According to Texas AgriLife, crops in North Texas to be directly seeded in the garden in January and into February include beets, carrots, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, mustard, radish and turnips.  I think it’s ok to plant your onions now as well. 

I have my potato towers all ready to plant during the last two weeks of February.  So far I have installed three in the Garland Community Garden and plan to install one more.

Note:  You will need one potato eye for each plant. A four-foot tower will need 20 potatoes with eyes. The body of the potato should be cut to about the size of golf ball but no smaller.  About 24 hours before planting, if you have larger potatoes with several eyes cut chunks no smaller than a golf ball and let the cut end dry out.  This helps to prevent diseases.

  1. Cut wire mesh in 6-foot lengths to yield cages about 2 feet in diameter.

  2. Drive a five-foot rebar in ground

  3. Bend wire in circle and secure each end to rebar with wire or zip ties

  4. Lay down a four inch deep lay of straw in the bottom of the bin, creating a bird nest shape inside it. Curving the straw up against the sides.

  5. Shovel in some soil mixed with compost. Each nested layer will be about one foot in depth.

  6. Place potatoes about every six inches along the outer sides of the nest about half an inch in from the straw side. The eye of the potato should be pointing toward the wire of the cage.  Each potato will grow laterally outside a hole in your wire cage.

  7. Follow steps 4, 5, 6 for the next two layers.

  8. For the top layer, place potatoes with eyes facing up and about three inches in from the wire sides.  These potatoes will grow from the top and not out the sides.

  9. Cover top layer with about an inch of soil and two inches of straw.  After 12 to 16 days sprouts should begin to appear.

HOW MUCH WATER?
Generally, potatoes need between 1-2 inches of water per week;
this could be provided by rain events and/or you to make up the difference.  Each potato tower will require about five gallons of water a week.  Again, the need will vary with rain and /or extreme heat.

WHEN TO HARVEST?
Most varieties are ready to harvest after 90 days. When the leaves start to die, stop watering (Usually about two weeks before harvest). Soil should be dry at harvest.

BEST TO NOT USE POTATOES FROM THE GROCERY
Many potatoes in the grocery store have been treated with various chemicals to prevent their eyes from developing--not a desirable event for potatoes you want to eat.  Get seed potatoes now from your local garden store.  You can purchase sweet potato slips usually the last two weeks  in April.

 

APARTMENT DWELLERS WHO HAVE A PATIO CAN PLANT POTATOES TOO.

Since the towers are only 2 feet in diameter, you can grow them on your patio.  To construct for a patio, fist fold a heavy contractor bag into about 1/4 its size and place the cage on top of that before beginning to layer the straw and soil.   Watering is simple:  just fill a five gallon homer bucket with water and water from the top down with the entire bucket once a week.  If you don't have a homer bucket, just save an old gallon milk jug five times and water from the top down.  pour water on four spots on each side and one gallon in the middle to ensure you have thoroughly watered all the plants once a week.

 


 

White potatoes come in shades of brown, yellow, and red, with white or yellow flesh, while sweet potatoes are typically orange in color, however, are also found in yellow, purple, and red varieties. Although, in some countries, sweet potatoes are referred to as yams, they are also a different species of plant.  Yes, a yam is a sweet potato--just a different species.  They are a deeper orange.

Sweet potatoes, and white potatoes are botanically unrelated; sweet potatoes are from the Convolvulaceae plant family, while white potatoes come from the Solanaceae plant family.  White potatoes are from the nightshade family and sweet potatoes are not.  Therefore, you can eat the leaves of the sweet potato--stir-fried or fresh in salads.  However, you cannot eat the leaves of the white potato as they are poisonous. 

Sweet potatoes are planted from slips (slender vines that have sprouted from the potato).  White potatoes are planted from the eyes of a potato.  

In North Texas, sweet potatoes are planted in late April after all danger of frost is past.  White potatoes are planted the last week of February and up to middle of March.  Their harvest time coincides with that of the planting time for sweet potatoes. It can be argued that the sweet potato provides more food than the white potato because you can eat the leaves of the sweet potato throughout its long growing season from May until the end of October.