All posts tagged garden

Determining Planting Methods

Published December 28, 2012 by blmercier91

We’ve already talked about the fact that you can’t just throw seeds into a hole and expect them to grow. Did you know that different seeds grow better depending on how you plant them? I’ve given definitions of some terms that I’m going to use here to get you started.

Hill: A pile of soil anywhere between 6″-1′ tall.
Mound: A pile of soil greater than 1′ tall.
Furrow: A long shallow trench with a flat bottom.

I think this is a good place to note that even when planting in hills or mounds, it is still best to keep neat, orderly rows and/or columns in place that way the soil is dispersed evenly over each hill or mound, and so that you know what is a vegetable and what is a weed.

Things that grow best in hills are sprawling things with seeds that are easily handled one at a time, like beans, peas, and sunflowers. The tops of each hill should be 1′ apart, that way the roots have enough room to spread out as well as down, and you will get a robust crop. If you have tested the viability of your seeds, and you know that it is good, it’s ok to plant just 3 seeds in a hill or mound and let them grow. (Some sources believe it is best to thin to the two strongest plants per hill or mound, but I have grown 3 plants per mound and had a bountiful harvest anyway.) If you have not tested the viability of your seeds, I recommend planting 10 seeds per hill or mound, and thinning to the strongest plants once the seedlings are 6″ tall. Also consider putting a miniature moat around the bottom of your hill or mound to retain water for you plants when things get dry.

Mounds should be at least 1′ tall, and have a bottom 18″ wide. Mounds are best for things that are big and sprawling, such as cucumbers, zucchini, squash, pumpkins, and melons. While the closest mounds can be to each other is 18″, keep in mind that the bigger what you’re planting is, the further apart you will want them to be. For small pumpkins and melons, I recommend putting the tops of the mounds at least 3′ apart. If you’re growing those giant pumpkins that can weigh up to 200 pounds, you might be putting them more like 10-15 feet apart. The space between mounds is where your plant will be growing, so there should be enough room when you make the mound and plant your seed for the entire mature plant to sit between two mounds.

If you’re not sure whether to plant something in a hill or mound, a general rule to follow is if the plant needs to be “well-drained”, start with a hill and see how it does. If things go well, feel free to plant it in a hill again. If you think things could have gone better, try planting it in a mound next year, or find another way that you like better.

Things that need more depth, and not necessarily space, to grow are best planted in a furrow. When I say things that need more depth, I’m talking about root plants such as potatoes and onions, carrots, rhubarb, asparagus, turnips and the like. When you make your furrow, pile the soil up on the sides so that you can easily cover either your seeds, or the roots of your seedlings.

Growing something in a “patch” means that it likes to be with a lot of it’s own kind, think of this as a heard of horses, or a school of fish- it’s the same concept. While some things will do well if not grown in a patch (melons, pumpkins), they still prefer a lot of their own kind. Other things- namely corn- will not do well with just a handful of plants, and must be grown with a lot of their own kind. A good number to follow for patch fruits and vegetables is 15. Make sure you have enough room for 15 corn plants, 15 melons, or 15 pumpkins. (Although, again, with melons and pumpkins, they will do OK with less of their own kind- experiment!) Grass also grows in patches.

“Broadcasting”, when truly done, means that you just take a handful of seeds and toss them over an area without bothering to space them out, or cover them. This method is used mostly just for grass seed, although if you know of anything else this is used with, I’d love to hear about it. You can also kind of use broadcasting for carrots (I know, I mentioned carrots for furrows too; there’s more than one way to grow something). To do this, spread a handful of carrot seeds over a 3′ by 3′ area, and cover them with 1/8″ of top soil.

These are just a few different common planting methods, there’s too many to talk about every single way to grow something. Like I’ve said, one plant can be grown more than one way, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what works best for you.


Pets and Your Garden Part 2: Cats

Published December 21, 2012 by blmercier91

While cats are not usually as destructive to your garden as dogs, they can still be pesky. Cats can defecate in your garden, attempt to pounce on a bird that’s on top of a tomato plant and tear the whole thing down, and while their digging isn’t as bad as a dogs, it still does harm. If there is a cat digging in your garden, try adding sharp, pokey things into the ground, such as pine needles. The scarecrow sprinkler, which I talked about yesterday in the dog article, will also repel cats. Catnip and cat grass are also a way to give your cat an alternative to being in your garden.

Pets and Your Garden Part 1: Dogs

Published December 20, 2012 by blmercier91

It’s something that many people, including myself, have a hard time dealing with: Pets- particularly dogs- getting into their garden and crushing seedlings or digging up plants. The damage can be even worse if you planted carefully saved heirloom seeds. There are so few left, that the damage can be irreparable. So let’s talk about some ways to solve this problem, or at least reduce the damage.

If you have a young puppy, it is possible to train them to avoid the garden area. Whenever you take them out into the yard, have a leash on them, and let them go wherever they want, except into the garden area. This works because over time, they will learn that they are allowed to go anywhere they want except for over there. You can gradually take them off the leash when you think they start to get it, and should they wander into the forbidden area scold them verbally, put the leash back on (this means you have to carry it out with you), and take them to another area of the yard. This does take up time, and it means that you can’t just let your puppy into the area with your gardening space unattended. If your pet should wander into your gardening space and not get scolded, you have to start all over. Cost: None

If you don’t have the time, or don’t want to put in the effort into teaching your dog to avoid the area, a fence is a practical and easy solution. Fences come in a variety of heights and looks, so they are also somewhat customizable. If you have a teeny tiny dog, like a tea cup poodle, your fence doesn’t need to be very tall, maybe 6″ max. (Another alternative for small dogs is to used raised gardening beds instead of ground-level beds) If you have an Aussie who can jump a 6′ fence from a sitting position right in front of it like I do, you may want to rethink. Cost: dependent. If you buy just a roll of chicken wire and use that as a fence, the cost is just pennies per foot; if you go with something more aesthetically pleasing, expect to pay at least $4 per foot.

The Scarecrow Sprinkler is a rather effective and popular solution. It has a motion detector, and whenever it detects the movement of an animal, it lets out a short, quick burst of water. It keeps letting the bursts of water out until the animal is out of range. This can be a good solution if you have the money to spare- 1 sprinkler with the mounting bracket (which is sold separately), runs up to $104. Scarecrow
20121220-094010.jpg sprinkler is ideal if you move your garden frequently, as the set up and take down is much faster than that of a traditional fence. The sprinkler will also detect a variety of animals: dogs, cats, squirrels, birds, and even deer, but I don’t see what’s stopping it from spraying you as well when you try to enter the garden. I can see it working best in an area such as the mountains, where there is a large variety of wildlife and it’s not always legal to build a fence. Cost: $3.47-$10.40 per foot.

Keeping dogs out of gardens doesn’t have to be about barriers. Barriers, even ones that are really sprinklers, can diminish the look of your garden. Open gardens are more inviting and pleasing to look at, so sometimes instead of trying to keep your dog out, you can offer them an alternative. Pet grass is a healthy, yummy treat that many dogs like, and it can deter them from ruining your vegetables. Give your pet their own gardening space to play! Many dogs also enjoy eating the green tops of carrots, berries, and a few other things. You need to make sure that what your dog is eating won’t harm him though, the most common toxic vegetables are garlic and onions, so monitor these closely.

Something that isn’t always feasible for everyone, is also to move the garden. If your dog has free access to the back yard, and is ruining everything, can you move the garden to the front yard? You can also switch to gardening in containers, or-if you have the money- build a greenhouse.

We love our pets, and we love our gardens, get the two to be harmonious.

Garden Planning

Published December 19, 2012 by blmercier91

Planning a garden is no easy task. That is why I recommend starting it now. Between finding out what’s compatible with what, but not with that and remembering that cucumbers like beans and peas and carrots, but the beans don’t like onions even though cucumbers do, you can see how it can become overwhelming. While some might think that it’s easier with a larger space, I respectfully disagree. My back yard- the primary gardening area- is over 2800 square feet, and it takes me several weeks to finish my plan. I’ve included two pictures of my work in progress, one showing just the primary vegetable area, and the other showing the whole yard.

This is the picture of the primary vegetable area.


This is the whole yard, the trees at the bottom are mature plum trees, they’re fantastic! The other tree is dead, we have plans to cut it down and turn it into a table, using half wooden barrels for seats. There is a set of horse shoe pits (not pictured), and some old bush stumps along the upper left side that need to be removed.


This is a work in progress, I’ll post an update when I’m much further along. What do you guys think?

Watering Accessories Part 2

Published December 16, 2012 by blmercier91

Yesterday was part 1 of watering accessories, where we discussed watering timers and hose splitter, how to use them individually as well as together, and pros & cons of each. Today I’d like to discuss rain chains and water barrels.

Rain chains

Rain chains are a fabulous way to keep your garden aesthetically please while allowing you a level of control over where your water goes. They start at about $35 and the cost goes up from there. Basic rain chains are simply a chain of basic links that channel the water down to wherever you put it, but these can be somewhat inefficient, with more water getting splashed onto whatever is around the chain than down to the bottom of the chain. Other chains are shaped like flowers or cups and have a defined funnel, which means almost all of the water goes where you want it, and doesn’t splash off. Standard chains come at a length of 8 1/2 feet, but custom lengths can be purchased from most places for an up charge.

20121216-125746.jpg If you’re really creative and have the materials, you can make your own for significantly less than you would pay at a retailer. You can find installation instructions here. Another advantage of rain chains is the pleasant sound of the tinkling water. You may think that rain chains are a new idea, but that is false, rain chains have been used for thousands of years in China, and even in South America (chain is easier to come by than machined downspouts there).


Water Barrels

Water barrels are a way to store rain water and use it when you need to. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes- some look like stone vases, some are made of PVC, and others are just large 55 gallon plastic barrels. You can place a barrel at the bottom of your down spout or rain chain, and when it rains you’ll know that you’ve got plenty of water to use. Most water barrels have a spout at the bottom to attach your hose to. I do not recommend attaching a drip system to your rain barrel due to the serious decrease in pressure. Water comes out of a rain barrel at approximately 8 PSI, whereas the spigot that is attached to your house has a PSI of about 40 PSI. However, it is ok to attach a soaker hose to a water barrel. For more answer to common questions about rain barrels, check out this website.


Watering Accessories Part 1

Published December 15, 2012 by blmercier91

So yesterday I talked about a few options for ways to water your garden, and how to get a rough idea of which one is best for you. Today I’d like to talk about accessories for your watering needs, including things to help save water, reduce your bills, and to keep everything aesthetically pleasing.

Hose Splitters
20121215-113117.jpg Hose splitters allow you to attach two to four hoses to the same spigot. They are typically made from either plastic or brass, and can cost anywhere from $2-$16.
20121215-113217.jpg They are great if you want to have a drip system, but still need to have access to an open hose for other things. I use one in my back yard and have one attached to my drip system, and the other hose is for the sprinkler for the grass (or for my niece to play in). If you want only one hose going, but not the other, all you do is flip the control switch to “off” for whichever hose you don’t need. They can also be used with timers, but we’ll get to that later.

Timers are essential if you want really minimal maintenance. They start at around $20 and go up from there. The most basic timer only allows waterings once a day*, and has a knob with how long you want your plants to be watered for, and an option for daily watering, every other day watering, or every watering every three days. The cheapest models do not have any internal clocks, or rain delay sensors- meaning that the first time you turn it on, you have to turn it on at the time you want the watering to take place (you can forget about it after that, it takes care of itself), and you have to remember to turn it off when it rains.
Other basic timers have two dials to allow for waterings twice a day.

20121215-114202.jpg Now, on to the big kabobs. Really nice, expensive timers have digital readouts, internal clocks, rain sensors so that they don’t water while it’s raining, they allow you to set how long your plans are watered and how often (the example below is set to water for 9 minutes every 4 hours), and even tells you if the batteries need to be replaced or not!

I think all timers are great if you’re going for minimal maintenance, but I don’t necessarily think that one is “better” than another. They all work great, it just depends on your budget and needs. I have a super cheap one like in the first picture, and the fact that the dial has a rain cover really appeals to me.
If you want both a hose splitter and a timer, and want the timer to work for BOTH hoses (like if one hose is set up to water the garden, and the other has a sprinkler for the grass), attach the timer to your spigot, then the hose splitter, then the hoses. Conversely, if you only need one hose attached to the timer, attach the splitter, and then the timer to whichever side you don’t want to have to think about.
A note with ALL timers- you have to leave your spigot on and fully open for them to work. I know it’s weird leaving the water on all the time, but you’re not actually using the water except for when the timer allows. If you have your hose splitter attached to the spigot before the timer, make sure that the valve for whichever side does not have the timer attached is set to “off”.

*There is a way to get around this; if you have a timer that only allows for a maximum of one watering daily, but you want to water twice a day, go turn on the timer in the morning for how long you want it to water, and then in the evening go out and set the dial to “off”, and then turn it back on again for however long you want it to water.