Category Archives: Overgiew of Garden

Trying To Determine Soil pH On The Cheap

I need to find out what my soil pH is.  I have questions because of the poor results that I have experienced the past few years.  I have a pH detector, the kind with a meter on top and one metal shaft to stick in the soil.  It doesn’t work – I get the same neutral result regardless of whether I stick it in soil, tap water or even dipping it in white vinegar!  Obviously it is unreliable.

I have pH test strips, so I decided to try to use them.  I dug up a tiny bit of dirt from several spots of each of my six beds.  I mixed this with water, hoping that maybe the pH would transfer from soil to the water slurry mix.  I don’t know if this really works.

ph test of garden soil

This is my soil slurry.  I am now rather unconvinced that the acidity or alkalinity would transfer to the water.  The strip is dipped into the water and the soil residue has to be removed to read the stick.
home made soil ph test

This shows the soil to be about pH 6.  That is not optimal – a good general garden soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5. This quickie test shows that my soil barely made it. I still wonder what my real soil pH is.

ph test for soil acidity

If anyone knows if this quickie test has any validity, I would like to hear from you.

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Late Season Bean Planting

After trying to get over the failure of my spring garden, probably due to Dow Agriscience’s poison aminopyralid, I have decided to replant some quick growers for the second half of our growing season here in Texas.  This bed is scheduled to have broccoli, cabbage and greens this fall.  However, since these crops won’t be planted for at least 6 to 8 weeks, I am going to try to get a quick crop of beans.

So far, the beans look OK.  I think that maybe most of the poison aminopyralid may have degraded in this bed.

This half of the bed is planted with yellow wax beans. I intend to pick them for fresh yellow beans and have no intention of saving seeds. This means that this crop should be done in 60 days.  There is basil planted all thru this bed – I planted it after my squash mysteriously started to dye – probably thanks to Dow’s poison aminopyralid that is now loose and ruining compost piles all over the western world.  One okra plant survived – barely holding on for the past few months, but now seems to have taken off – it is in the lower left side, circled in red. In the front right corner is a lone surviving pepper plant.  The peppers seem to be doing better – again I suspect that maybe Dow’s poison aminopyralid may be degrading.  The tomato next to the okra never recovered and really needs to be pulled.

yellow wax beans

This end of the garden – below – was initially planted with left over Seed Savers Painted Pony beans from a 2009 batch. The seeds were refrigerated, but I guess they were just too old – only 2 seeds sprouted. So, a week later I replanted the area with a few Bolita Bush bean seeds that I had left from Baker Creek, dated 2010. They sprouted and now they look like they are actually pole beans! As such, I had to put some tomato cages among them so that they have something to climb onto.  I had intended to only grow bush beans for 2 reasons: to improve the nitrogen in the bed and for something quick – bush beans mature quicker than pole beans. Well, this is a surprise an I hope that they will be done and producing by the time I have to yank them out to plant my broccoli seedlings in. I didn’t have enough seeds to cover this whole half of the bed, so I’ll just leave that bare spot unplanted for now.  I had planed to save some of these Bolita seeds – if the plants can mature quickly enough.

late summer bean crop

I still don’t have my greenhouse moved over to our new property and have had a very difficult time trying to get seeds to sprout.  These are my cabbages and broccoli seedlings.  The chinese cabbage seedlings were rained on and over half of them were lost.  I have reseeded these trays. I need several hundred chinese cabbage seedlings and at least 6 dozen cabbage transplants and at least that many broccoli seedlings.  I plan to grow the broccoli under my winter hooped garden beds and stick the cabbages all over – under the hoops and outside.  It can take the freeze.

broccoli cabbage seedlings

I have trouble knowing when to start the cabbages and broccoli because it is so hot here for so long and quickly gets cool.  It is almost too hot to get the seedlings started and then gets too cool to get them growing good in the garden.  I can’t even start the spinach until the soil cools to 75 degrees and at the same time I plant my lettuce.  I plan to direct seed the carrots, chard, beets and kale pretty soon.  The turnips are the last thing to get planted.  The winters seem to be getting colder and get here sooner.  I’m having trouble timing plantings.

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Overview Time

Time for an overview.  This garden, except for the peppers, has exploded in the past 3 or so weeks.

This view is from the center row, looking up at 4 raised beds – 2 on each side.  In the far set of beds, you can see the summer squash over flowing into the row between the beds.  Since I don’t have very much bed space, I planned to grow squash on each side of the raised cattle panels in the middle and allow the squash to grow over the side into the middle beds.

In the front bed on the right, you can see the cucumbers and the waltham butternut squash growing on the ground around the bed.  The left bed has chard and some poor quality tomatoes.

overview of garden

This picture is from standing at the opposite end of the garden, looking at those squash plants growing into the aisle.
overview of garden

It was very humid today and the camera lens fogged up on this picture.  This picture was standing just a bit over from the last picture.  The grass is in serious need of mowing, but it has been so wet this past week.
foggy lens  garden overview

A closeup of the zucchini and squash.  These are hybrid plants from Twilley Seed.  They grow larger than heirloom plants.  Some winter squash – butternuts – are growing up on the center cattle panel.  That is a pot of basil in the front corner.
overview of garden

The squash is doing great.  The peppers are a failure due to excessive spring rain.  The beans aren’t doing the greatest.  The chard has to be harvested soon because it doesn’t like the heat.

I mulch between the raised beds with wood chips and bark.

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Overview Time

Time for another overview of my garden:

This shot shows all 6 long beds – 3 are straight in front.  To the left is my new garden shed.  The area around the shed in in the process of being developed.  I plan to plant about 4 more blueberry plants and many wild black berry bushes in the area this side of the white shed.

This front bed has hot peppers on the left side of the raised cattle panel and summer squash on the right side.  Directly under the panel, winter squash is growing.  This bed has Waltham Butternut.  You can see onions hanging over the edges.  Earlier this year I planted onions around the edges of most of the beds.  I have bark and shredded wood chips as ground cover between my raised beds to discourage weeds.

overview of garden

I plant marigolds all over the place – in the edges of the raised beds and in small pots placed all over.  If I didn’t have so many seedlings drying out and dying this spring, I would have many more pots of marigolds all over.  This bed has summer squash (yellow and zucchini) on both sides of the cattle panel.  Early Winter Butternut squash is growing under the panel and will grow up the panel.  I grow my winter squash vines up the cattle panels.  I planted a couple of peppers at the ends of these beds.  This bed has Dwarf Kale going to seed.  I didn’t particularly like this smaller leafed kale, but I so enjoy Brassicaceae plants going to seed.  I am using bamboo poles to hold the kale plants out of the way so that the squash planted around them have plenty of sun and space to grow.
overview of garden

The bed at the top left has summer squash this year.  Last year it was my pepper bed.  I try my best – with my limited space – to rotate crops each year.  The bed at the top right – the one with my winter tent hoops still up, has a batch of Autum King carrots at the front corner.  I need to pick most of them soon.  A few of them are already going to seed.  I am also letting a couple of these Slo Bolt leaf lettuce plants go to seed.  I have the time because this is going to be my Basil bed this year (love that pesto) – but my basil seedlings are not all ready.  Some are already in, as are some peppers.  The swiss chard at the back of this bed will all be harvested and dried when my latest batch of basil seedlings are ready to go into this bed.  At the top left are some large pots with tomatoes, mentioned in another post.  Between the beds are bark and wood mulch, in the beds is leaf mulch.  I mulch all bare dirt.
overview time

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Swiss Chard

Last October, I planted Luculus Swiss Chard. (The seeds were from 2009 – still germinated very well).   It didn’t grow particularly well thru the very cold winter.  This spring it took off and for the past month or so I have been drying a load or 2 each day.  Swiss chard is a cooler weather plant and I can see some of the plants starting to bolt.  I can see different styles of leaves and have chosen the plants that I want to let go to seed – plants that have very large, wrinkled leaves, shorter stems are preferred.

wide shot swiss chard

These are dried swiss chard leaves.  It only takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours at 110 to 115 degrees to dry a load.  After doing a few loads, I realized that I can lay leaves right up next to each other, touching along leaf edges.  This means that I can pack about a third more in the dryer that I first thought.
dried swiss chard leaves

These dried leaves are what is left after laying them out before drying – leaves touching – across the sheet.  You can see that 2 leaves actually dried together.  Not a problem – they are totally dried.  These are leaf halves – I rinse them off, lay them flat and slice along each side of the main vein – it doesn’t dry quickly – and dry the leaf material, not the main stem.
dried swiss chard leaves in food dryer

These are just a few of the leaf shapes from the same batch of Luculus Swiss Chard seed packet.  Some leaves grow to almost 24″ long.  I like to let them grow large to dry.  Smaller is better for eating raw.  At this point in the season, I am just working on letting the best leaves grow as large as possible before cutting and drying.
assorted swiss chard leaves

I am carefully culling the leaves.  I cut and dry the largest and most wrinkled leaves – a personal preference.  I have picked the plants that I want to allow to go to seed. For those chosen few, I am leaving the small leaves and some larger leaves – cutting off only the largest leaves.   Some of those chosen plants are starting to bolt, as is expected as the days warm.  I will be removing and drying the ‘other’ plants as they start to bolt, eventually leaving only the bolting chard as it goes to seed.  I have never before let swiss chard go to seed so I really don’t know what to expect.
carefully harvesting swiss chard

I have already planted squash, tomatoes and peppers around the chard.  They are growing, waiting their turn to expand into the space now occupied by the swiss chard.  This picture shows some of the chosen plants – they have strong, large, wrinkled leaves – just the way I like them.
carefull harvesting swiss chard

The little plants in front of the chard are pepper seedlings.  You can’t see from these pics, but all of the chard plants have lots of cut off stems at their base.  Standard instructions usually say to cut all of the chard leaves off a few inches from the ground and let it grow back. I don’t do that – I cut the largest leaves to dry and allow the baby leaves to grow. The chard will be gone when they need that space.  I don’t have all of the room that I would like so I am working on figuring out how to work the planting as I go from spring/summer to fall/winter gardening, and back again.

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A Load of Horse Manure

My raised beds are filled with poor, sandy soil so I had to do something to get a serious amount of organic material into the beds.  My solution? A ton or 2 of composting horse manure from a local stable.  The trailer was fully loaded and piled high when I pulled it in.  It took me about 4 days of serious shoveling to get the other poop out of the trailer and into the beds.  I shoveled more out than is pictured.  Have to find a good place to store the rest until next spring planting.  I lined the trailer with an old tarp so as to not mess it up too much.
trailer load of horse manure

I put about 6 inches of horse manure into this bed and turned it in.  This picture shows that I still had a few more inches to add to this bed.    Since I had more horse manure than expected, I filled each bed to the top edge.

manure turned into garden

Another bed with the poop turned in to the soil and filled to the top edge of the bed.  Notice the prolific blooming of the morning glories in the back bed.

horse poop turned into garden soil

Put a few wheel barrows of nastier horse poop ( had beg clumps of hay in it and some that didn’t smell quite so composted) into the compost pile.

Horse manure is high in nitrogen, so hopefully the leafy greens that I grow in the winter – kale, lettuce, spinach and swiss chard will use up the excess nitrogen.  I don’t want an overload of nitrogen in the soil for the spring planting.  Too much nitrogen will produce lots of green plants and little fruit – so I am hoping that it will work out well for the winter leafy greens.  Will keep you posted.

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My Hoop Garden Is Taking Shape

I have prepared two of my raised beds for hoop gardens. I plan to do this for my 3rd bed that doesn’t have a raised cattle panel running down the middle of it.

The beds are made out of 16′ lengths of 1×6 treated lumber.  The boxes are 5′ wide.  I purchased four 20′ sections of 3/8″ rebar and had one of my sons cut them into 2′ sections.  I decided to put 7 hoops on each 16′ bed.  I pounded the 2′ sections of rebar 1′ into the ground, leaving 1′ above ground – the height of the bed side.   I used 10′ sections of gray electrical conduit to bend over the bed for the arch.  Each end of the conduit covers the raised 1′ section.  Hopefully this will be satisfactory to anchor the pressured ends of the conduit.  I plan to tie a piece of the gray conduit along the top of the arch to keep the pipes properly spaced.  I will then cover the arches with clear plastic.  I need to find a thick 50′ roll of plastic.  Twenty-five feet will cover each bed with enough to gather at the ends.  I need a roll that is at least 12′ wide so that it will cover the 10′ arch and leave at least a foot to lay on the ground and be weighed down by old garden timbers or lengths of wood.

I still need to work the ground around these beds – putting mulch around the beds.
hoop garden

Another view:
hoop garden

The winters here have been getting colder each year for a while now, so I am hoping these covered hoop beds will allow me to grow winter crops better.  On the list for my winter crops are:  cabbage, broccoli, spinach, lettuce – both leaf and cos, turnips, carrots, fava beans, peas and whatever else I can’t think of at the moment.  Garlic doesn’t need to be protected from the freezes.

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Overview – From July 10

This is the middle walkway between the 2 long rows of raised beds.  The beds are 5 feet wide and 16 feet long – to accommodate the 16′ cattle panels.  I planned to plant climbing plants – mostly beans, squash and cucumbers – under the cattle panels on both sides of the bed and plant other things along the outer 2 feet of each long side.  I planted these squash so that they could grow down into the 4′ aisle between the beds.  In the very front, left you can see a long vine growing along the outside of the raised bed.  This is one of 4 Crenshaw winter squash that I grew.  These seem overly sensitive to powdery mildew and I don’t believe they will live long enough to produce a single fruit.   The winter squash growing on the cattle panel on the front left are several varieties including Seminole pumpkin.  These did very well last year.  On the bottom right side is the cattle panel where my cucumbers are growing.

At the top middle left of the pic is the raised cattle panel on which my Long Red Chinese Beans are growing.  They have really taken off  but have yet to start producing the 12″ red ‘green’ beans.  At the old place, I grew them up twine in a narrow bed in front of the carport.  That gave them at least 10′ – which still wasn’t enough room.  These cattle panels are no where high enough for the beans.  They are growing wildly, but when I try to tuck the growing ends in and out of the cattle panels, they easily snap.  Next year I will have to find some place better for them to grow.
overview july 10

I need to get the garden in on time next spring.

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Overview of Garden, July 10, 2013

This is an overview pic of the garden. I had to build raised beds because the soil is hard red clay. I knew that the raised beds would be an issue in this heat – the soil is literally cooked with the heat that passes thru the 1×6″ side walls that are 12″ high.  The day time temps have been in the upper 90s to low 100s.

overview july 10

I mulch the soil surface with inches of dried leaves in an attempt to hold in the soil moisture, but I still have to water every 3 days or so.  The sandy soil still dries crusty hard, even under the leaf cover.  I have to put much more organic matter this fall and next spring.  I know that it will take several years to get an acceptable quality soil in these beds.

The beds are on the east side of tall trees.  As such, they get the rising sun after it clears the trees in the front of the house and mostly full sun until mid-late afternoon when the sun is beyond the western tree line.  This means that the garden gets maybe 7 to 8 hours of full sun.  That is enough sun with out beating the squash and cuke leaves to death with the hot afternoon sun.  This is the best that I could do with what I had to work with.  Total full sun would have been too much.

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