Friday, April 24, 2009

Surly's Big Garden Adventure....
That's kinda what it is. An adventure.
When I start new things I get all fired up and motivated to go whole hog. Usually driving everyone around me to distraction.

Hey, it's just the way I am. At least you're not here under the same roof so be happy.

We we're working on, Surly's Garden yesterday and figured out a couple of things.

One thing to remember about this. You can do it in whatever way you like. Odds are it will turn out well and you will be pleased and have some way better than store bought food.

And way cheaper too.

There are a lot of other reasons to do this too. But food is a good motivator on it's own.

Chris Left a comment on the last post about using Straw or Hay Bales for a bed. This is an excellent idea that I'd forgotten about. I've never done it so I forget about things like that.

There is an added bonus, too. Those bales are gonna break down and form compost eventually. And as I have had all my kids trained to say - "Compost is your friend.

We'll get to that in a second. There are a couple of ways to use bales. Hay or Straw, doesn't matter.
You can use them as the outside perimeter, which I think is how Chris meant it. This is a low budget starter till you find something to make a permenant bed.

I remember an old article in, Mother Earth News, before they became a huge, "Oh my God! We're all gonna die!!", Global Warming, propaganda rag. Back when they we're much more useful for real, everyday ideas.

Anyway, this guy took bales of straw and made a solid block of them.
Took what good soil he had, added some compost to it and made a growing surface in 5 gallon bucket sized piles right on top.. He then planted his Tomatoes in the dirt and let 'er rip. Took 2-3 years and the bales rotted down, improving the crappy soil underneath.

Doesn't sound like it's too feasible for Surly, but I toss that out for others who may read this.

And if you have ideas? Please sound off. What I'm saying here is only how I do things. Definitely NOT, the Gospel according to Unk.
Keep that in mind. There are a zillion ways to garden. Most of the time, they all work.
Sometimes, nothing works well.
Weather, Bugs or Critters can play hell on things. Just the way it goes.

Like I told, Surly, those years where everything goes right? Rare. And you remember them.
It's great when it happens, but not what you can count on all the time.

Since Surly isn't Homesteading on the plains 100 years ago, if he doesn't have a great year his kids don't starve in March.

Major bonus points for that.

So let's go back to his Crappy Soil problem.
What to do? You can import some. Which, if you're building raised beds and have a small area, you'll almost have to do. There are exceptions, but not if your soil just sucks.

Options? You can import as small amount as you can get by with and start there. This is assuming raised beds. You can till a flat area and add a little fertilizer and go from there too. No Soil cost.
A little 10-10-10 fertilizer is cheap and you can get started for very little.. Scale is the only thing that will change that.

And for a lot of folks, this is ok. I've done it several times in several places.

But when taking the long view?

Say it Kids - "Compost is your friend!"

If you take the time and put in the work, you can make almost any soil better.
Time is the big thing.
If you add enough Humus to any soil it will get better. And better and better.
Your plants will be healthier.
They'll grow better.
They'll resist pests and disease better.
You"ll like it.

Remember this. Most of us can't come up with enough compost right off the bat to make a big difference.

Even if you have Horses, Cows, or like me, chickens, all that crap needs to break down and be usable first.

And that takes time.

Google up "Making Compost" and I'm sure you'll get a zillion methods and descriptions to follow.
I'm pretty sure that most of them should work. You can get real motivated and make compost a bit faster. Maybe those ads for 2 week compost from the Tumbler work. I quit trying a long time ago.

Go ahead and do that Google search. Pay attention to what to use and what not to use in your pile.

Surly doesn't have the option I do.
I give the Chickens and Guinea Hens just about everything most folks will put in the compost pile. They turn it into compost for me. It still takes awhile though.

Get used to that idea.

I was fanatical about making the "Perfect" compost pile for awhile.
Then I realized, it all broke down eventually anyway.
So I started just throwing things in the pile and not worrying about it.

Then I just started tossing it right on the garden and letting it rot there.
Worked just as good as far as I could tell.

Again, I believe in, No, I damn near demand that you make and use compost in one form or another if you're going to garden.
I'm not gonna spend all day telling you how to build that perfect pile. I don't think it matters. As long as it gets on the garden, composted or not, it's gonna help.

The Chinese have been using Nightshade as compost for centuries.
Nightshade is composted human poop, BTW.

It must work. There's a BILLION plus of them.

So much for that old saying - "Eat shit and die".

Yeah, Apparently it doesn't work that way.

Matters not. The bottom line is you can take crappy dirt and turn it into good soil if you work at it.

Have a friend with horses -AND- a front loader on his tractor?
Do what you have to do to get hooked up with that source.
Six pack, twelve pack, Oh hell, whatever. You can always brush your teeth later.

OK. Whatever works for you. (Send your wife if you have to).

Part II - Any organic matter you throw on your beds is first - MULCH.
It'll become compost later, but it has a very valuable job till then.

Just like compost - "Mulch is your friend."
Especially with raised beds.
One of the good things about raised beds is the improved drainage. It really helps - Until the weather gets hot and it doesn't rain for three weeks.

Then your beds get as dry as a popcorn fart and your plants wither up and look like some kid Sally Strothers is pitching for on the National Geographic Channel.
"Unless you help....Blah, Blah, Blah"
Same effect, but not so bad as long as those kids aren't in your neighborhood.
I'm sure Mulch ain't too high on the old priority list if that's the case. Be glad you're not wherever Sally's at.

Mulch has many virtues that are important.
It keeps the soil from drying out and water available to your plants.
It keeps the roots cool in really hot weather.
It becomes compost as it does all this.

And most important?
It keeps the weeds down!

I don't know about you, but I hate weeding. Mulch, piled on thick will smother the bulk of the weeds. This makes the whole gardening thing so much more enjoyable. That it is so good for things only makes it better.

Straw and hay are both great mulches. Except you generally have to buy them.
Grass clippings work wonderful. Be careful not to put then right up close to your Tomatoes at first. They get pretty hot the first week or so and can harm plants. They break down quick and give a Nitrogen boost to your plants too.

So if you bag your grass and set it on the curb to be hauled off? DIE HERETIC!!!

OK, that may be a bit harsh.
One of the best and most overlooked sources of milch is Leaves.
Most of us have trees around. Trees drop leaves every Fall.
We rake 'em up and either Bag them or burn them right?


You run the mower over them and save them.
That's like money in the bank for the garden.

Save them. Period.
Bag 'em. Rake them into a big pile and put a tarp over them so you don't lose them. Cruise the streets after dark and steal the ones that other Dumb asses put on the curb.
This works with grass clippings too. (Make friends with people who bag there grass. As long as they don't spray a bunch of shit on them. We'll get into that Monday or Tuesday.)

Whatever it takes.
You want to save leaves. You're crazy if you don't. Did you kick back the leaves in a heavy forest and look? I'm not even gonna tell ya. Just go look.

OK. Let's review.
Site Selection. Lots of Sun is Good!

If you're going to make raised beds, find something to make them out of or get containers of some kind.

If your soil sucks, you may have to spring for a little soil or compost. Maybe both.

Compost is your Friend! Make it somehow but remember it takes awhile.

Mulch is your friend! You almost can't get too much mulch. I really doubt that it's possible. Unless you're using concrete mix.

That's enough for tonight.
If you guys knew how slow I type you'd know what a labor this is.
Mom always told me to take typing in High School.

Gratuitous Picture for a Friday Night -
I'm pretty sure this isn't how the Trojans did it.


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