Sunday, July 28, 2013

Trellisses, Arbors and Gnomes


Gimli son of Gloin

 We have more vertical gardening going on this year, with this cucumber trellis.

The cucumbers didn't do all that well but the ones we harvested were very tasty.  We have a "bean arbor" on two sides of the garden as you enter into the space.  The bean plants are only temporary (of course) but we plan on planting grapes to completely take over the arbor.  Our tomato structure is supports at the end with three wires running horizontally through the beds and there are two sets of those running through the beds.  It worked fairly well and I'm sure we'll tweak it for next year.  The peppers and eggplants could use some support, so we'll work on that over the winter on what to do.
 The eggplants did very well in the beginning and one variety continued through the whole season but the other variety stopped producing fruit but was still producing flowers when I pulled it out. 

Farmer Bob
Next year the bean trellis will be our grape trellis.  Bob is starting a vineyard.
The bean trellis

First tomato ripening
 These calendula flowers were bedding plants from Off Beet Farm and were an amazing success.  They just kept growing and producing flowers even after the rest of the plants were all done.  We really enjoyed them.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Staw Bale Greenhouse Update: Tomatoes Enjoying Their New Home

We continue to have variable weather in these last days of April - some rain, some sunshine and some windy days thrown in.  Overnight temperatures a few nights ago were below freezing but our tomato plants were cozy in their new home.

Here is what the straw bale greenhouse looked like this morning in our backyard in Dartmouth.

We moved about six tomato plants outside last weekend and they appear to be thriving in their new home.

Since the first few plants did so well, we moved more plants out to the greenhouse this morning.  Black Plum, Sunshine Yellow Cherry, Black Prince, Andean, Teton de Venus and Isis Candy Cherry are just some of the tomatoes we are growing this year.

We've already hit 15 degrees celcius here this morning so we've opened up the bales and windows to give the tomatoes some fresh air and let them feel the spring breezes.

That's all for now.  The Flowtron Leaf Eater arrived yesterday.  Stay tuned for a report on how well the dang thing works.

Happy Vegetable Growing!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tomatoes and a Straw Bale Greenhouse

The days are getting longer and warmer and green garlic shoots are starting to poke up out of the soil.  Spring is here!  We're starting to get things organized for another growing season both inside and out.

Great work space for me
Better late than never - we now have a workspace down in the family room close to the light stand where the seedlings were started in February.

We put together a few sawhorses and placed an old door across them to make a work surface.  Placed by the light stand and just a few steps from the utility sink in the laundry area, this will simplify the process of making soil blocks, starting seedlings, etc. (note: we don't have a garage, greenhouse or other suitable space on the property so this activity all takes place either in the family room or upstairs in the dining room).

Running out of room to grow

We've had a number of seedlings under lights inside since the end of February and now, as usual, the tomatoes have reached the lights and they have no more room to grow.  In past years we would have simply carried them upstairs and placed them in the sun by the beautiful southern-exposed garden doors but since we've done some major upgrading (new oak hard wood floor and ceramic tile entry) and removed the old plant stand that used to sit there, we needed to come up with a different plan.  One of us (Bob - the guy who did the reno) also mentioned something about not "turning the living room into a barn" this year.

Straw bale greenhouse (asparagus bed in front).
The solution we settled on was setting out straw bales in a rectangle and placing some old double-pane windows across them.  This spot gets lots of southern exposure at this time of year and should make a nice 'transition' space for the plants that we move outside over the next month or so.  For a little more heat boost overnight (if required) we added an electric trouble light powered via extension cord from the walk-in cooler (in the rear of the picture).

 Straw bale greenhouse
with end open.
Note the compost bins
on the left.
As it was very warm today, I left the end bale open so the tomato plants wouldn't suffocate, but have since closed it. The temperature is dropping and is expected to go below 0 degrees celcius tonight.  The trouble light I placed inside with the plants  will be giving off a little heat, so I'm pretty sure they will be fine. I'll just have to see when I check on them tomorrow. I only put 5 or 6 tomatoes out - just the tallest ones that were touching the lights.

We have eggplant and pepper seedlings but they are taking their sweet time with germinating and growing.  With the straw bale system we should have plenty of room for all our seedlings as they grow.

On another note, we bought an electric leaf/twig  mulcher like this one a couple of years ago and while it works well on twigs and small branches it is horrible for mulching leaves.  Unfortunately, leaves are what we have in abundance.  Without a mower we haven't had a way to turn the leaves into a good addition to our compost or soil making piles.  Bob heard about a great leaf shredder and mulcher for about the same price as the one we have ($199) so we searched for it online and found it at Home Depot.  The only other machines I knew of were about $1000 and that's a bit out of our budget!  We ordered the Flowtron Electric Leaf Eater from Home Depot.   It hasn't arrived yet, but when it does we will be giving it a good workout and reporting back for others who are trying to make their own soil in the city.

That's all for now.  Happy urban farming everyone!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

'Tis the season for starting seeds . . .

The days are getting longer and while we still seem to be getting steady doses of winter (cold temps and snow) there is a definite hint of spring in the air.

Of course, that means seed starting.

We still don't have a proper stand-alone greenhouse (we're running out of room around the old urban farm homestead!) so we'll be using the indoor three-shelf plant stand again.

Lots of decisions to make in the next few weeks and lots of good seeds to choose from, many supplied by local Nova Scotia seed companies.

Another growing season is about to get started here at Lake City Farm.

Happy farming!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Three Bin Compost System

We finally have an organized system for composting at Lake City Farm.

Our previous composting was done in an old open framework made from extra pieces of cedar planking left over from a deck project.  It worked okay but being open to the elements above and rodents below it became a problem.  In fact, we eventually had a small population of rats using the old garden shed as a 'rat motel' situated right next to a convenient food source in the old compost bin.  This led to the eventual tearing down of the old garden shed and the rehabilitation of the compost heap, along with the permanent 'removal' of the rats.

Since then, we haven't really been able to properly utilize the bulk of our compostable garden gleanings and kitchen waste.  That is, until now.

Pictured above is our new three bin compost setup, seen from one end.  We used a basic plan from The Rodale Book of Composting and adapted it to our purposes by putting it on a concrete base instead of a wooden one.

You might get the impression from the pictures that follow that the whole thing represents a bit of 'overkill' for something as simple as composting vegetable matter.  But we had to find a way to deal with rodents that didn't involve trapping and 'terminating' large numbers of them on a seasonal basis, and also build something that would meet this requirement and last more than a few seasons.  These two requirements led us to consider something a little more elaborate than a heap in the corner of the yard.  An open heap or bin was out of the question.

We constructed the bins out of hemlock, which we hope will provide us with some longevity without, of course, having to resort to treated wood or any kind of paint.  The entire structure was placed on a base of concrete patio blocks held in position on a bed of concrete and mortar.  The first bin (seen with open lid above) which will receive some raw kitchen waste is also lined with 1/2" x 1/2" hardware mesh.  Even though rats are quite good at gnawing through wood, we are hoping that the concrete base and the hardware mesh will act to discourage passing rodents from looking for a quick snack.

We started by excavating a level surface about 9' by 3'.  We then constructed a base with a combination of concrete/sand and patio blocks.  The product we used is meant to be spread 'dry' then leveled and then have the blocks placed on top with more used as mortar between the blocks.  The pictures above show the base with the back and two ends of the bins in place.  We used 1/2" x 6" hemlock for the side slats and spaced them 1/2" apart to allow for air circulation, all held together vertically by hemlock 2x4s.

Next came the addition of the internal dividers made from the same hemlock.  At the front of each divider and the two ends, we used cut down 2x4s to make channels for the front removable slats to slide into.


 In the centre and right hand bins we also added  2x4 crosspieces to give the whole structure some needed lateral stability and rigidity.  This was something of a design compromise, since it interferes a little with freely pitching the pile from one bin to the next. We didn't do this with the left-hand bin so at least the first turning of the heap can be accomplished without the crosspiece getting in the way.

The picture to the left gives a more detailed view of the channels on the front which allow the slats to be slid up and out of the way to allow access with a shovel or pitchfork.  Also just visible in this picture is the 1/2" x 1/2" hardware mesh in bin #1.  This will be the bin that receives the raw (and tasty!) kitchen waste that the rodents are attracted to.  We are hoping that the hardware mesh, along with the habit of burying the kitchen waste under a layer of leaves or coffee chaff or something similar, will discourage unwelcome rodent guests from dining in our compost heap.

We constructed 3' x 3' lids from 1"x 6" hemlock held together with hemlock battens.  These are attached to the back of the bin structure with large 8" strap hinges.  The lids are solid (ie. without 1/2" gaps) in order to prevent rainwater from getting the pile too wet and washing away the nutrients.  One final refinement will be the addition of a small hatch in the lid of the left-most bin to allow dumping the kitchen compost bucket into the bin without having to raise the lid.

As you can see, with the slats in place and the lids closed the compost should be pretty well rodent-proof.  Although we've reached the end of our 2012 growing season here at Lake City Farm (except for a few hardy greens!) we've already started using our new compost system.  The dead vines and leaves from the garden beds have all been added.

With the addition of the new compost system to Lake City Farm we expect to keep most of our garden and kitchen waste on the property and not see it going to the municipal compost bin.

Happy composting!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mid Summer Happenings

This has been a strange summer in regards to the weather.  It just keeps reminding me how little control we have with our growing environment.  May was warm and everything got an early start but then June turned cold and rainy - but mostly cold.  Most of what I had in the garden just went into a holding pattern.  Then end of June and July has been very dry.  No rain for weeks.  Most of my gardens have drip irrigation, so that hasn't hurt us too much.

The basil!  Boy do they love the hot, dry weather.  I have never grown basil so successfully.  I have made pesto twice and will be able to make more or use it a different way.  It seems that in the past I was only able to make a decent amount of pesto once.  I love my pesto!

My lettuce has been a total bust at my house but I am growing it at another location.  I tried starting lettuce multiple times and I have one lettuce plant.  I had three at one time but two of them got devoured by something - I'm sure it was slugs.  It is very weird to only have one lettuce plant, but it works for a single family to harvest some of it about once a week.  I have lots of other greens, so that's why it works.  One lettuce plant wouldn't be enough without the other greens.  My bok choi, and arugula are doing great.  My kale, mizuna and mustard greens seem to go to seed regularly, but we eat them anyway.  The squash plants have been very weird this year.  My yellow crook neck is beautiful and huge but only now just starting to flower.  I'm not excited about pretty squash plants.  I want pretty squash fruit.  Doing a little research, I figured out it is most likely a unbalance in nutrients.  Too much nitrogen, maybe.  So I fed them with a seaweed/fish plant food and that seems to help. I'm getting flowers now and not just male ones.  My magda cousa is ahead of the other plants and I should be able to harvest some of that real soon.  I also have a zucchini at the other location that should be ready soon.  Everybody else has been harvesting their squash for awhile now, so I am very behind others.  Once they start, I should be inundated - I hope.  I have been craving summer squash like crazy this year because last year with all the rain it was a horrible squash season.  I'm harvesting beans and just finished with the peas and we have raspberries we can't keep up with.

I took a video and made it into a movie to show how we build tomato trellises.  I've attached it here and then  added two snapshots of what they look like today.  I hope people enjoy and learn how we do things.  I find the trellis system we use to be successful. There have been  many years of tomatoes falling down and breaking off and other disasters.

Movie of Building Trellises:

Cucumber Trellis

Tomato Trellis

Saturday, July 14, 2012

We Make Some Changes Down On The Farm . .

Over the years we have tried various methods of vertical growing but weren't completely satisfied with the results.  A method of supporting our annual crop of tomato plants seems to be a challenge every year. Various other crops that can be grown vertically (beans, cucumbers, squash, zucchini) all need supports of some kind but our rocky soil doesn't lend itself to just driving a few poles into the ground where needed. In fact, it was the rocky soil and a desire for an easier way to build support structures that prompted us to consider a major rehab of the growing beds at the Murray Hill Drive location of Lake City Farm.

We sat down in the early spring and hashed out a plan. We would convert the growing space in our backyard, which comprised in-ground beds, into a system of raised beds. This would allow us to have deeper (rock free) growing beds with better drainage AND give a convenient means of installing support structures for various crops by attaching frames and poles and trellises to the beds themselves. We would maintain about the same square footage of growing space but gain much flexibility in how it was utilized. Yes, a lot of work and not insignificant expense but we felt it would be worth the effort in the long run.

Meanwhile the garlic is coming up in the front yard.

Front yard garlic bed