Monday, September 29, 2008

compost pile: stacked (day one)

Finally, the compost pile is assembled.  I picked up the manure today, free of charge, from Drake Family Farms, a goat farm about 30 minutes away.  Big thanks to Fred and Aimee, owners of this restaurant, for the use of their pickup.  
The pile is about 5 feet wide by 5 feet long by 4 feet high.  It'll probably shrink down over the next few weeks as it is decomposed by the microorganisms in the soil.  It's been A LOT of work - and I really hope it's worth it.  My body is feeling the work of the last three days, and I need a break.  

I built it up like a parfait, with about 6   8-inch layers of ice cream (the carbon-rich wood chips) and 5   2-inch layers of chocolate sauce (the nitrogen-rich goat manure.)  I also threw in some coffee grounds that Fred and Aimee brought me from the restaurant for additional nitrogen.  Over the next few days, the internal temperature should rise to about 120-140 degrees F, then start cooling (I've read that if it's cold enough outside, the pile will steam as it warms up).  Once it dips below 100, I'll turn the pile over to introduce some more oxygen, add some water to feed the microorganisms, and repeat every so often until it stops heating up and the soil is soft and dark.  

Sunday, September 28, 2008

compost pile: raw material

Well, about 2/3 of the raw material, in the form of chopped up branches and weeds.  The branches were courtesy of the two trees removed last weekend, the weeds were from the hours of work we've put in clearing out the planting beds around the house. 

Here's a look at the trees as they stood last Saturday:

Then the big pile of branches left after they were chopped down:

And, finally, after a day and a half loading those branches into the limb chipper, having my forearms all scraped up, and getting more dirty than I've been in years, this is the pile we are left with.  It looks pretty small in these photos, but in reality is a big pile:

Next stop: Drake Goat Farms in West Jordan tomorrow afternoon to pick up the goat manure. Then form the pile and turn it every few days.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

next steps

1.  Saturday (after work in the morning) and Sunday: chipping all the branches from the trees we tore down last weekend and mulching all of the yard debris created in the past couple months.  Cost of renting the chipper: ~$165

2.  Monday afternoon - borrow Fred's truck to pick up some goat manure from West Jordan.  Then mix with the new mulch to create a huge compost pile.  This should take roughly a month or two to decompose.  

3.  I have two weekdays off in October - the 16th and 17th - for Joel's and my birthday weekend.  My plan is to rent a bobcat and a dump trailer and accomplish the following tasks on the evening of the 15th and the 16th (I've got the timing carefully planned out so I'll only have to rent the bobcat and trailer for one day each):
  1. demolish the driveway from the front corner of the house back.
  2. level off the parkstrip out front in preparation for new grass planting.
  3. dig up grass in backyard in accordance with new design.
  4. pick up more manure from the goat farm and mix into raised beds to let sit over the winter.
Renting bobcat and trailer for one day: $360.  
Dumping fees: $100 (estimate)
Goat poo: free (woo-hoo!)

new 3d designs

Refining the design phase of the garden.  This is the latest version.  I'm loving Google's SketchUp software for helping with the 3d design.  Dark brown rectangles = 4' x 8' raised beds for veggies.  Click on images for larger size.  First view is from above:

This is what you will see from the street (minus the roof):
From the rear:
And another view of the new backyard:
The trees will all be fruit-bearing, 11 total (in this design).  Includes existing grape vine and a new raspberry patch.  I'm also adding some flower beds along the side of the house where the driveway is now (more on that in a later post.)  Total square footage of vegetable beds: 1008!

Monday, September 22, 2008

fall garden update

Most recent pics of the fall garden, taken on September 21.  It has now been about 7 weeks since I put these plants in the ground, and here they are.  As another fall experiment, I went ahead and finished planting the partial rows of the three lettuces, the onions, and carrots.  It's really late now, but I had the seed and the irrigation is already set up, so I figured, "why not?"
The kale and swiss chard are ready to be eaten, which we will begin doing this week.  Mmmmm.
The peas started falling over, so I set up this old section of chain link fence I found buried in the backyard underneath some brush.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll have peas before the snow flies.  We'll see:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

the deed is done

All weekend long, Mike has been putting me through the guilt treatment for wanting to chop down these trees.  "If you're so green and organic, how can you kill a tree!?"  Fair enough.  We're killing these trees to make room for other trees - ones that will produce fruit, and make our yard look a ton better.  Here are the before and after shots:

I never thought that there would be so many branches.  Here's the pile.  Next stop: Diamond Rental for a wood chipper.  I can't imagine how big the pile of chips will be, and, once the manure and other ammendments are added, how big our compost pile will be.  We'll need it though, 'cause I've been brainstorming again, and more plans are around the corner:

Finally, here's the star of the show, in action.  Karson is Camie's cousin's boyfriend, and is awfully handy with a chainsaw:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

garden plan: next several weeks

I don't have anything against fir trees.  I grew up with douglas firs in the pacific northwest.  But this tree, right in the middle of the yard, is neither majestic nor beautiful.  It is awkward and ugly and big.  And it's coming down this weekend, thanks to Camie's cousin's boyfriend, Karson.  It will open up the backyard quite a bit, and good riddance to it.
So that is next on the list.  Once that's done, and we have another huge pile of branches, etc., it's time to rent the limb chipper.  I'm not real thrilled, because it's going to cost probably about $150, but since we're getting the tree cut down for free, I guess it will even things out.

The limb chipper is also going to take care of this pile, which has grown to about 3 times this size since I took this picture:
This process will create a huge pile of mulch ready for composting.  Next week, my plan is to get a couple truck loads of manure, combine it with the mulch, and let nature do its thing.  Hopefully in about a month I'll have a nice compost pile that will feed my garden soil next year.

Also in the next few weeks, it's time to lay out the planting beds and work in some manure to sit over the winter and slowly decompose.  I'm delaying this, though, until the current crops have run their course.  I'm in a bit of a time crunch, too, since the garlic seeds have arrived and need to be planted.  I'd like to have some compost to use by then, too, but I'm not sure exactly how long the compost pile will take to decompose.  So we'll just proceed one step at a time and see how it goes.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

garden economics: first harvest

With the harvest of the arugula today, I can now start the "income" portion of garden economics.  I'm estimating that the arugula was worth about $2.  So here's the total:

Expenses: $274
Income: $2
Time: 16.5

All righty!  We're closing the gap. 

Please note: the expenses include many one-time purchases - tools, books, irrigation supplies - that won't need to be made again.  But I'm trying to be thorough, and I think that over the long term the gap will close and eventually move into the black, even with these big up-front purchases.  And more than half of the 16.5 hours was taken up in weeding the yard (still working on it, too), but, since those weeds are going to be reduced to compost used in the garden, I've decided to count it as time spent on the garden.

fall garden: first taste

First harvest of the fall garden this morning.  Arugula, no surprise.  We could have harvested several days ago, but waited until today when we had some tomatoes (thanks to our neighbors Fred and Amy for the pineapple tomato used in the sandwich).
Pretty much delicious.  I guess this would be a B.A.T. - bacon, arugula, tomato - sandwich.  The arugula was moderately spicy, and makes this sandwich way better than its cousin, the B.L.T.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

compost pile: getting started

I am reading a terrific book - Step by Step Organic Vegetable Gardening by Shepherd Ogden.  It's about 15 years old, but in the world of organic gardening, it makes it that much better.  I highly recommend it.

I have officially started my compost pile today.  Here is how I'm doing it.  In this photo, on the back right corner of the garden, you can see a wall of leaves - vines hanging down from telephone pole support wires.

In this photo, that wall of leaves and vines is in a big pile on the ground because I ripped them all down today.

Here's a closeup of the pile.  It is large, and there's some big branches in there.  Also there are all the weeds that I've been pulling up from all over the yard in the past week.  It will continue to grow as I finish up the weeding process this weekend.

Compost principles.
  1. Ingredients: fuel, heat, moisture, air
  2. Fuel: carbon.  comes from "brown material" like dried out weeds or plants, hay, etc.
  3. Heat: nitrogen.  comes from "green material", such as fresh weeds, grass clippings, or manure.
  4. Moisture: key word is moist.  Not soaked.
  5. Air:  has to be there to feed the process.
I'm doing a quick compost process, which is a bit more labor intensive, but quicker.  My plan is to let all of this stuff I cut down today dry out for about a week, and it will serve as the fuel for the compost.  I may end up renting some sort of grinder/chipper to chop the big stuff into small pieces and allow for faster composting.  Then, I'm getting a truckload of goat manure (free of charge) and will mix the manure (nitrogen source, green material, heat) with the clippings (carbon source, brown material, fuel) in about a 1:4-5 ratio.  

In about thirty days, after keeping it moist and turning it regularly to allow fresh air to enter, I should have compost.  It will be ready to use then, but I'll wait to use it until the spring, working it into the soil just before setting out the seedlings.

today's harvest

I had the afternoon off today, so spent some time outside doing yardwork.  More on that in the next post.  But one thing I did was harvest all of the ripe veggies from the back garden.  You'll notice a couple clusters of grapes - delicious, and there's a lot more still on the vine.  I'm particularly fond of the bright red cayenne peppers.

Some of the grapes still on the vine.

Update on fall garden in front yard.  We had some warm days this past week, and the new plants loved it.  They seemed to get bigger each night.  The arugula is definitely ready to harvest, and it's probably time to thin out the kale, swiss chard, and broccoli.  I'll let the carrots and onions go a while longer before thinning.

The pear tree out back is heavy with fruit, but it's not quite ripe yet.  I'm not sure what to expect in terms of insect damage, but hopefully it will be minimal and we'll have tons of pears to eat and dehydrate.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

fall garden

I planted this area in the front of the house about 3-4 weeks ago, in early August.  Here is the view of the entire plot.  It was an experiment in two things initially, and has turned into a fertile learning opportunity with many more lessons.  The initial objectives were to learn about late-season planting and drip irrigation systems.

Arugula has been the superstar so far, which is no surprise given its very short time required for maturity - about 35 days.  And it likes cool weather, which we are definitely starting to have.  I intended to plant in succession to have a steady crop, but never did, so I have a quarter of a row instead of a half.  I have tasted a few leaves already and it is spicy and delicious.

Next up are broccoli and peas.  Broccoli is a cool-weather relative of cabbage, and takes 80-100 days to sprout.  Which means these would be ready about the end of October.  So far so good.  I had good germination and will have many seedlings to choose from when I thin these out.  Peas are also cool-weather plants, one of the first seeds to go in the ground in the spring.  But planting during late summer?  Totally depends on the weather.  The plants survive frost just fine, but the flowers, which precede the actual peas, so not.  So it's a race.  Needs 65 days for maturity, or mid-October.  Yikes - that might be cutting it too close.  Hopefully we'll get lucky.  Also had good success with seed germination. (peas on right, broccoli on left)

Lettuce.  I thought lettuce would be a sure thing.  Another early spring plant, I assumed it would take well to fall weather.  But it hasn't.  All three of these rows should have lettuce plants all along the top half of the rows.  As you can see, that hasn't exactly panned out.  I have two guesses as to why, and I think the first one is the best guess.  Lettuce seeds won't germinate if the soil temperature is too high.  I thought that with the drip irrigation, set for every 5 hours or so, would keep the soil cool enough.  Maybe it didn't.  Second guess, I may have just killed a lot of the seedlings during the initial weeding.  There were a lot of weeds. and I may have been a bit too rough and tried to get too close.  Solution: start these indoors next time.  Both during spring and late summer plantings.  I predict the headstart will do wonders.  

Carrots and onions.  Both germinated well, so we'll just wait to see how they fare.  Both of these will remain in the ground for a while.  I'll use some of the onions as green onions, and the remainder I'll leave in the ground until next year, to see how well they do over the winter.  Much like garlic.  Carrots on left, onions on right.

More superstars of cool-weather: swiss chard (on left) and Russian kale (on right).  Great germination with many seedlings.  These should last well into the late fall, maybe into winter.  

Additional lessons:
  1. Don't bring rocks into the garden.  I did this to protect the sprinkler line between the third and fourth rows, because as I was cultivating the ground in preparation for planting, I busted one of those shallow sprinkler pipes (thanks to the previous owners for taking the shortcut on the sprinkler pipe depth).  It actually turned out for the better, because the knowledge I gained of sprinklers while the geyser was going in the front yard ultimately allowed me to tie the drip system into the sprinkler system.  I thought the rocks would make a nice path in between those rows and over the sprinkler line.  They don't.  They just get buried in the dirt and give the weeds a good hiding spot..  So now the rocks will be coming out, and staying out.
  2. I should have used raised beds.  Planting in rows makes it difficult to get in and out and work in the garden.  I've probably trampled quite a few seedlings that way.  Raised bed eliminates this problem, which is why they're being used in the backyard.
  3. Weeding.  My initial weeding process involved me on my hands and knees, digging with a hand tool trying to pull up every single Morning Glory root.  It took forever.  It was disheartening and led to me postponing the work.  It took about 3 hours to weed the first half.  Then I read in a book about the hoe.  And promptly borrowed one from my neighbor.  30 minutes later, the second half of the garden was weeded.  I know I didn't get the roots, but I'm not so much worried about it.  Now, 15 minutes once a week takes care of any new growth, and makes me a much happier gardener.  By the way, having rocks in the garden makes weeding with a hoe almost impossible.
  4. My iPhone takes pretty decent pictures.  Next time, when shooting into the sun, I'll need to use my hand to shade the lens so there is less glare (the last two pictures show why).