Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drip Irrigation Fail!

I mentioned at the end of my last post that I added drip irrigation to my revised raised bed.Well, it did not work out. I figured it was no big deal to add 10 small drip emitters to this water line, but it turns out that it was just too much. The pressure dropped substantially and my regular lawn sprinklers wouldn't even pop up completely. The water literally dripped out of the emitters instead of pouring out as they were supposed to.

That wasn't going to work. So, I took a look at the water lines I have. Turns out I have three separate sprinkler lines that run to my back yard from the manifold in the front. These three lines are meant to water my lawn and flower bed. Unfortunately, the people that installed the back yard 15 years before I bought it had all of the flower bed and one third of all the lawn sprinklers on one line. The second line had only 3 lawn sprinklers and the third line only two sprinklers. Not well balanced.

My fix was easy. First, I re-routed a couple of "heavy use line" sprinklers to the other two lines.Fast and easy and cheap (I used scrap PVC I had laying around). Then, I ran shrub bubbler sprinklers (allow you to control how much water bubbles out) to both large raised beds from two separate lines. For some reason, the shrub bubbler sprinklers take away less pressure from the lines than the drip emitters. Go figure!

Anyway, everyone is now getting the water they need. Ultimately, I will have all of the garden on one line and the lawn on the other two. However, that is a bit down the road. I don't feel like doing all that digging this year.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Raised Bed Revision.

 I built a 4ft by 10ft  raised bed a couple of years ago against my back fence. A great resource, but there was a problem. The bed was too big for me to reach across comfortably, so plants that were along the back near the fence were somewhat neglected (trimming, pest control, etc.) I few weeks ago, I decided to fix it.  Below is the original bed.

It was an easy fix. I just cut out a 2ft section of the bed and added a three sided 2ft by 2ft by 2f cut out. I added a little pond stone to the bottom so it doesn't get too muddy. Now I can comfortably reach all areas of the bed. Below is the after shot.

I also added drip irrigation while I was at it.Cost? About 20 bucks because I was all out of lumber and emitters.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

If You Haven't Been Getting Your Hands Dirty......

DO IT NOW! Even if it is still snowing in your area, start your indoor seeds now. Don't wait much longer or your yields may suffer for it.

     I finally got my seeds going last weekend. I also started conditioning my soil with compost and rebuilding my raised beds. Got a lot more planned for this weekend, too. Take advantage of any warm weather you get and start working the ground.

Tomatoes wait for no man (or woman).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Soil Solarization = Fail

     The title says it all. I kept the plastic down for several weeks, but the temperatures just didn’t climb in the soil. So I pulled the plastic up and added new compost to clear out my compost bin. I’ll wait until the temperatures reach 80F during the day and stay above 50F over night. Should be fine by March 1st, I think.

     I need to test of the soil to see if the Fungus Gnat larvae are mobile. I know temperatures in the soil are around 70F, so they may be awake. If they are, I’ll add some Gnatrol to the soil and see if I can kill them off before the season starts. It is labeled for organic use, so it should be fine.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Soil Solarization

           I have an ongoing pest issue in my garden and maybe you do, too. Maybe you’ve seen the little black fliers moving to and from along you soil line. These are most likely fungus gnats. Never heard of them? Well, if you have moist, black, nutrient-rich soil, you probably have fungus gnats. I have them in all of my raised beds and even in my beloved composter at times. Of course, they aren’t too much of a nuisance right now during the coldness of winter, but I can already imagine what is going on below the soil line where it is nice and warm and moist.

            It is not the flying adult fungus gnats that are the problem; rather it is the soil-bound larval stage. They eat fungus in the soil (hence, the name) and since that same soil fungus, called mycorrhiza, is attached to the tiny plant root hairs, it damages the plant, too. In seedlings it is deadly. In more mature plants, you get stunting, poor production and death in hot temperatures. In root plants, you get really ugly produce.

            The best and easiest treatment is through the use of beneficial bacteria. Prepare a soil drench with one of the commercial preparations available and use as directed. This will usually work, but I am afraid I need to go stronger.

            Soil solarization is a way to nuke every living thing in your soil without using harmful chemicals. It is very simple to do as long as there are no plants growing in the area you plan to solarize. All you have to do is wait for sunny days to come, stretch some clear plastic over the area like a mini-greenhouse, then allow the soil to be baked inside by the sun. High temperatures will kill all the living things in the top 6-inches or so of the soil. The longer you leave it, the better it is. An added benefit is you can kill a lot of weed seeds, too. You can find much more detailed instructions here.

            There are some drawbacks, though. You are actually killing everything that is alive including the beneficial fungus the gnats are eating. So once you are done, you will need to add compost to your soil to build up the soil profile so it is healthy. Also, in colder climates you may lose that area for the season because your temperatures aren’t warm enough. However, even if you solarize for a short time and kill most of the bad guys it will benefit you. Follow that up with the beneficial bacteria soil drench and the garden should produce treasures untold.

            How do I keep the little buggers out? Well, the best way is to buy seeds instead of seedlings. There are no gardens anywhere near mine and I suspect that my original infection came from my store-bought tomato seedlings or at least the soil surrounding them in the pot. If you do use store-bought seedlings, you can look closely at the soil first for obvious signs of gnats. Also, you can wash the roots carefully but thoroughly before you plant them. An additional step would be to continue to drench your soil at least once a season and even add some beneficial fliers to your garden.

Good luck and good hunting!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Growing Mushrooms

In your garden, mushrooms are generally a good thing. They tend to pop up when the soil is wet and in shaded areas (underneath the foliage, for instance). Mushrooms are not a reason to flip out. The vast majority are safe for consumption or composting. The mushrooms and its underlying fungus are normal in soil and absolutely expected in composted wood scraps.

If you are interested in eating them or just curious, you can use a book or website to help you identify them. I would be very careful, though. I am well-versed in mushroom identification and love their flavor, but I wouldn’t eat them unless I bought them. Being decomposers, they do make great compost. 

If your soil is healthy, there is fungus growing under the surface. These beneficial microbes help your plants to reach water and nutrients faster and more efficiently. They are a good thing, so don’t run out and buy a mycocide to kill them. You may be simply watering your garden a bit much for the current weather conditions. Reduce your water and the mushrooms will likely go away.

Some people love to grow their own mushrooms. There are kits available that are far safer. Fox News recently did an article on a small company that sells kits for your backyard or patio.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


            Yep, I’ve been absent. Really, though, I like to think of it as really, really tardy. I will be updating the blog soon, I promise. Lots of lessons learned this season. Can’t wait to share them.