2015 Garden Report – Part 2

In this posting we would like to share with you our experiences with attaining our 2015 garden goals. Some of the ideas on the internet are intriguing and look like a neat thing to do, but after our experiences this past growing season we will be more questioning of the gimmicks flooding the internet gardening sites and sticking to more conventional, proven methods.  We started 2015 with five goals for our gardens.
1. Start an asparagus bedAsparagus Bed
2. Plant sweet potatoes
3. Begin a straw bale garden
4. Grow vertical potatoes
5. Create a growing bed using sawdust and compost
1. The asparagus bed is done. We had planned to do this for three years and finally did it this past spring. We planted live root stock of Jersey Giant and Purple Passion. The bed is heavily mulched and we await for this springs results. Hopefully we will be able to take a small harvest this year and be patient enough to wait for year three.
2. The sweet potato experiment was short lived. Unrooted vines were planted in our carefully prepared bed. The vines excelled over the next two weeks and then disaster. Our neighbourhood skunk had dug up all the vines and had damaged most beyond rehabilitation. Planted more russet potatoes and moved on.
3. Straw bale garden experiment took on two different approaches. The first was to build a frame from old pallets to contain three bales. Four Zucchini plants were planted into the three bales. Holes were made for each plant and each hole filled with a mixture of our own compost and leaf mold. We had excellent results with an abundance of zucchini. Most is shredded and frozen for zucchini bread and we still had plenty for fresh eating and to give away.
The second SBG experiment was to set up three rows of five bales each and follow the “conditioning” regime. Blood meal was used to condition the bales and the bales were watered every day. It was a long and somewhat expensive process and other than the bush beans, not that productive. The cabbage was a reasonable harvest, broccoli was just “so-so” and cauliflower a disaster.017
Would we do it again? No! We obtained much better results with our “non-conditioned” framed bales with little effort. If we were to try it again, we would use only tight baled straw or frame the bales. Loose bales broke down quickly and plants were pulling out of the bales. We also have developed good soil and have lots of garden space, so really do not need the SBG method. The composted bales are now rearranged into four three foot by twelve foot raised beds.
4. Growing vertical potatoes – A wire cylinder made from concrete construction mesh was filled with a layer of straw, then a layer of compost and leaf mold, then three seed potatoes planted. This was repeated until the four foot potato tower was fully planted. Plant growth was exceptional and plants found their way to the sunshine through the straw to the sides of the tower. The disappointment came with the harvest. Only two to three medium sized potatoes per plant. Production is far superior with the traditional “hilled up” rows. Chalk this one up to a neat idea and totally unnecessary if you have the garden space to grow your potatoes using the “hilled up” row method.
5. The sawdust bed. This idea came from a garden we visited in south-west Nova Scotia. Huge vegetables were growing in sawdust. The key to this is old sawdust. There is an old mill with mounds of sawdust that is over forty years old near our homestead. Unfortunately it was very late in the season before we were able to find ownership in order to seek permission to remove some of the old sawdust. Maybe this coming season we will attempt to get a few loads and try the sawdust bed. If you are thinking about doing this, we recommend a mixture of sawdust and compost for your planting bed.
One more thing. Gardens Jul 2 005We added grids like used in Square Foot Gardening to all of our raised beds in the upper garden. We found them to be very useful for planning and planting. Planning of succession planting and companion planting seemed easier using the organization of the grids.  Using the SFG grids also made proper spacing easier.
If you have had experience with any of the above, please share in the comments. Until next posting, enjoy planning the 2016 garden and Happy New Year!

Tom and Di

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Preparing for Spring

Spring may seem and feel like it is a long way away, but we start our preparation for the gardens in the late fall.  After the last crop is harvested we immediately start preparing our growing beds and rows for spring planting.  We address two concerns with our preparation,  augmenting the soil and protecting the soil.

We start by removing all plant waste from the beds and rows.  Some gardeners like to leave plant material where it is in the garden over winter and have it rot into the soil.  In our area it tends not to rot completely over the winter and it would be necessary to till the plant remains into the soil or remove it entirely.  We prefer not to till excessively so remove the plant material to composting bins in the fall and clean up the growing areas.  Removed plant material will one day return, but as rich compost.

The soil in New Brunswick tends to be acidic.  Pelitized lime was added to selected areas based on middle and late summer soil analysis and crop observations over the summer.  We use the lime sparingly so the pH can be gradually raised over the next few years.  IMG_9182All other augmentation used our own compost and shredded leaves.  All raised beds and raised rows got  a generous one inch layer of our home-made compost plus a layer or two-year old leaf mold.  Each fall we gather and shred leaves from the property and add around forty to fifty bags of leaves collected from nearby towns.  A ride-on mower is used to clean up and shred the leaves on the property and a 5 HP shredder tackles the bags providing enough leaves to replenish the leaf mold bins and provide protective mulch for the soil.

All growing beds and rows are either planted with annual rye and or covered with a six-inch layer of shredded leaves to protect against winter erosion.  The IMG_9181annual rye is cut and incorporated into the top layer of the soil in the spring.  By planting time next spring, the leaves will have started to decompose and all we do is pull them back “scratch till” and plant.  Wait for seedlings to develop or set out your hardened off plants then push the shredded leaves back as mulch for the start of the growing season.  All non growing areas of the garden are protected with a generous layer of old hay or straw, whatever is available.  By using old hay we have avoided problems with weed seed germination.  This layer protects against erosion and builds a mulch layer to stifle early weed growth.

Our fall preparation for spring is done and the gardens put to bed awaiting the first blanket of snow.  Seed catalogs are arriving and the gardening planning for next year begins.

Raised Rows, Straw Bales, and Plum Blossoms

Well it has been a cold, wet spring here in New Brunswick.  Yesterday was very cold with wet 031snow in the afternoon!  Despite all the bad weather, the orchard is sweet with the aroma of plum blossoms.

Today hit 24C and at last the lower garden (old section) is dry enough to start some planting.  Later than previous years, but beets, carrots, turnip and onions are all in the ground.  We also added twelve new strawberry plants to the strawberry patch.

The new section of the lower garden now has new raised rows, two planting mounds for our squash, pumpkin, and zucchini.   The straw bale experiment is well under way and ready for planting this week if the weather forecast holds.

Blog Garden 022The planting mounds are constructed as “compost heaps” right in the garden.  Brown material, (leaves, dry grass clippings, old straw) plus finished compost were piled up and will be covered with straw mulch before transplanting the winter squash, pumpkin, and zucchini.

The “new section” of the lower garden is wet ground.  Last year the area was completely covered with straw and black plastic.  This spring the black plastic was removed and the raised rows were constructed with alternating layers of straw, compost, shredded leaves, garden soil and top dressed with more compost.  After planting the rows will be mulched with straw.    The method was successful last year despite the wetter soil under the raised rows.  The straw and leaves may have acted as a “wick” to draw the moisture as well as the plant roots seeking the moisture.  Either way it was not necessary to water any of the rows last year.  A major plus to a low maintenance garden!005c

The straw bale experiment is set up in the new section as seen in the picture.  The ten-day “conditioning” routine was completed using blood meal as the nitrogen source.  The use of a weeping hose made the process less painful.  In the future, we think we would prepare the bales in the fall for use the following spring.  We will keep you updated through the summer on our SBG experiment.

In the upper garden, a new asparagus bed, new cucumber trellis, and finally grids for Square Foot Gardening.Blog Garden 002

We have been posting relevant gardening information on the Creative Garden Facebook Page.  Mainly the re-posts are articles that we have found useful or interesting and want to share with you.  If you are not following on Facebook, please check the page out and follow for more gardening information.

Looking forward to planting this week. Time to get your hands dirty everyone.

Tom and Di

What is the Best Way to Grow Your Potatoes?

A Simple Way to Get High Yields of Potatoes

Thursday, May 07, 2015 by Barbara Pleasant – Categories: mulch, potatoes, containers
Potatoes in straw mulch

It’s no secret that I love growing veggies – potatoes in particular – so it upsets me that so many people are getting sad results when they try growing potatoes in novel ways. I just spent an evening watching videos of people who planted potatoes in various enclosures, grew beautiful plants, and then harvested two handfuls of small, knobby potatoes.

It was not their fault, because this is what usually happens when potatoes are given growing conditions that are much warmer and drier than would occur under normal circumstances, normal being the consistent cool, moist conditions six inches (15cm) underground. I learned this twenty years ago, when growing potatoes in towers made from old tires became a passing fad. The soil-filled black tires heated up so much that the plants lost interest in making potatoes (I harvested five), which never happens in my garden.

The Problem With Growing Potatoes in Containers

Indeed, researchers in tropical climates have found that when soil temperatures rise above 75°F (25°C), potato plants signal their

Potatoes in bags

roots to stop making tubers. Instead, the plants may rev up other reproductive strategies, like developing more fertile flowers, or popping out little green potato-like organs on the main stem. Daytime heating of roots is one reason why potatoes grown in above-ground containers may fail in warm summer climates. Potatoes can take warm air temperatures, but when the roots warm up too, productivity plummets.

A second problem with growing potatoes in towers, pots or bags is the dwarfing effect caused by the containers. The plants sense that they are growing close together, which makes them produce numerous small tubers rather than a few large ones. Large containers or broad bins relieve this crowding a little, but consider: When the Master Gardeners of San Francisco, CA (a potato-friendly climate) compared the productivity of ‘Carola’ potatoes grown in beds, bins, bags and pots, these are the numbers from the final weigh-in:

Growing Method Average Yield Per Plant
Mulched raised bed 2.38 lb (about 1 kg)
Wire bin 0.70 lb (0.32 kg)
Plastic pot 0.62 lb (0.28 kg)
Potato bag 0.58 lb (0.26 kg)
Burlap bag 0.25 lb (0.11 kg)

You can follow this link to see the thoughtful work done by Canadian garden blogger Isis Loran, but spoiler alert she has not found a potato growing method to rival the hill-and-mulch method, which involves simply growing potatoes in the ground, and mounding loose soil and mulch around them each time you weed. “I loved that I could just rake up or hill up more soil & straw as the plants got bigger. It was much easier in my opinion than trying to add soil to the pallet container or rolling up the burlap bags,” Loran writes.

“Potatoes

Loran gardens in a cool maritime climate like that of the British Isles, where potatoes tend to prosper no matter how they are grown. Research by the Royal Horticultural Society has found that variety does make a difference when growing potatoes in containers. When 21 different varieties were grown in 40-litre (16-inch diameter) green plastic potato bags, these varieties were the strongest producers: ‘Casablanca’, ‘Golden Nugget’, ‘Sharpe’s Express’, ‘Maris Bard’ and ‘Lady Christi’.

The story is the same in the US. In Wisconsin, potato lovers involved in the Kenosha Potato Project have found that ‘Calrose’ and ‘Charlotte’ tend to produce larger potatoes than other varieties when growth in soft-sided pots or bags.

How to Mulch Potatoes

Any biodegradable mulch is a good mulch for potatoes, though once-popular straw can be a problem because of price and pesticide contamination. I use both grass clippings and weathered leaves since that is what I have, and I especially like the way leaf mulch keeps the potatoes’ root zones cool, moist and free of weeds. A recent research project from Rutgers University showed that plants produced prettier, more uniform tubers with leaf mulch, and it’s fine to combine materials when mulching potatoes, for example by layering leaves with grass clippings. The important thing is to keep a light-blocking blanket of organic material between the shallowest tubers and the sun.

“Potatoes

The best time to start mulching potatoes is when the plants are ankle high and in need of their second weeding. Use a sharp hoe to nip out weeds, and then mound loose soil around the plants so the crown of the plant becomes snugged in with an additional two inches of soil. Then start layering on the mulch, and keep adding more until the plants begin to fail.

At this point you can feel around beneath the mulch for some tender new potatoes, and start harvesting all of the potatoes from your most advanced plants. As I pull individual plants, I often move the mulch to the centers of neighboring plants that are still growing and in need of as much mulch as I can muster.

When it comes to growing potatoes, the simplest method is the best.

Barbara Pleasant

The Raised Bed Decision – Pros and Cons