Saturday, April 12, 2014

Creating excitement

Our neighbors have been showing a great deal of interest in the activities this weekend of Max spray painting the lawn with a bright orange can of marking spray.  He is in the process of creating the ground work for installing the beds by marking out exactly where the beds will be placed.  He has made sure that a lawn mower and ourselves will fit in between the boxes should we have to expense out costs over a few seasons.  I have been transplanting on the front porch surrounded by flats of plants and neighbors have popped in to see how things are going.  Not everyone will be on-board with your plans for an urban garden, so making it as appealing as possible and having great curbside appeal will help to dissuade fears of 'guerrilla gardening' (things just haphazardly arranged with no concern for esthetics) .  Gaining interest and encouraging discussions will also include a small lawn sign with a link to our even the shy ones can be included in our adventure or the not so friendly neighbor across the way.  Always find out from the city what the bylaws, if anything are and then comply to those.  The better your garden looks and the more appealing it is to visitors walking, biking or driving by, the better opportunity for them to start one themselves or to respect the one you have created.

Note: look up your city bylaws to ensure you are following the law and that you will not have to remove what you worked so hard to install.  Our house is zoned as R02 and as such, we have to have approximately 10 feet from the curb as the road allowance.  You should also be aware that you could be faced with a stiff penalty for trimming or killing the tree(s) without permission from the city - trees that are typically considered boulevard trees and which are within the allowance.  In our city, it could cost you thousands of dollars for an amateur attempt at trimming of which one of our neighbors is facing.  The city has arborists and are responsible for any and all trimming of trees on city property.  If you have any questions, the City Manager office will be more than happy to help.  Taking things into your own hands is just asking for trouble!!   There is also a list of banned trees in our city and if you plant them, you will have the responsibility of removing them yourselves.  When I first moved into our house, the entire back property line was planted with Hawthorn bushes!!  These nasty needle sharp thorns were a challenge to remove.  There are better trees that can be used as ornamental trees that attract butterflies, birds and beneficial insects for pollination for your garden.  

This weekend, the weather is in the double digits.  It is a great time to clean out the garden beds and pull the early weeds and plants that you do not want now that the earth is warm and wet. We have a number of large wheeled garbage containers which we use specifically for green curb pick-up and a complement of paper yard bags.  The previous home owners had planted a number of perennials and not all of them desireable.  It is a constant battle trying to curb those that spread seeds throughout the garden with the assistance of my cat and the myriad of rabbits, so it is wise to pull them early and before they get a chance to produce seeds.  This week, with the snow gone, there are a few flowering shrubs that have a fair bit of rabbit pellets beneath which indicate a healthy population and I expect they will want to visit the gardens which is part of the reason why we chose the above grade planting boxes. The pussy Willow in the far corner of the back yard has been chewed on and many small green branches have been severed and are laying on the ground which again point to the long winter and the healthy 'rodent' population. The snow banks have damaged a few smaller trees and these have been carefully trimmed below the damage and above the new buds. 

It is always best to create a plan and then to implement it by outlining where you expect things to be placed.  Max wanted a little bistro set to be in the front nearest to the house.  This way, we could have a coffee, work or just read the paper in the morning before gardening. We have a neighbor who has gifted us with one they no longer use.  Free is alway welcome!!  Of course, she will be gifted with some sun-kissed, freshly picked ripe tomatoes this summer as a thank you!!  We want to have more than an  urban garden, we want an experience we can share with others.  It is important to create feel good, welcoming and healthy environments.

Outlining the garden
1 spray can - orange marking spray
1 36" wooden stake 
Measuring tape

Max has hammered the 36" stake into the ground to signify the middle of the small sitting deck.  He will not only use this to mark out the round sitting deck but he will also use it as a center guide for the boxes and paths.  Max selects a length of string that will represent the radius of the circle - equal to 1/2 of the total diameter.  With one end tied to the stake and the other end tied around the spray can, Max will walk around the stake with the string taut and spray a perfect orange circle.  He shortens the string by 6" and creates a half arc at the top and in parallel with the first circle.  Rocks will be placed between these two lines and create some interest to the garden and allow for flowers to be planted.  The plants within the circle have been dug out and relocated above the circle knowing that it will rain overnight.  This rain will help to get the transplants started in their new home.  Within hours the thunderstorm hits and sends a deluge of rain to the warmed earth below.

Max has used a measuring tape from the stake to the farthest point where the flower bed will be planted to dress up then vegetable garden.  Paths will be 24" wide throughout the garden and materials are discussed.  We are using raised beds so we have many options.  Depending on how much we have in our budget, we can use anything from crushed gravel, pea stone or mulch.  Mulch is relatively inexpensive but will have to be topped up yearly.

Grow Light  ( )
Despite our best efforts to encourage growth of our seedlings, it has become clear that the weather is less than cooperative and our plants require more 'daylight' and warmth afforded to them.  Today I purchased a Grow light (Jump Start 4') and one that could provide enough light for not only the seedlings but also the outdoor potted plants I stored in the garage to over-winter.  It is a nuisance to drag out the pots on the days in the spring that are in the double digits, only to drag them all back in again before the temperatures drop.  Yesterday, I spent hours folding paper pots and transplanting the tomato plants that are looking rather sorry from lack of light.  I cleared out a corner of our garage and suspended the adjustable light hanger with 4' bulb and angled to reach all the plants.  The best part... this unit was on sale for $60 off!!!  This unit can be used all year round to produce lettuce and other veggies.  

Tomato plants: These plants need to be transplanted so that the roots are at the very bottom of the paper pots and filled to just under the first set of true leaves.  The hairs on the stalk will produce roots and help to create a stronger stalk.  Healthy leaves should be emerald green and rigid.  Some plants might seed but then do not thrive without ideal conditions of light and moisture.  This of course is what we are currently dealing with and of course the fact that the light from the windows encouraged horozontal growth.
Peppers: These have been consistently good growers and all from seeds harvested from store bought peppers.  Their growth has been remarkable even without a grow light.  They too require top lighting to give them upright stature.

Marigolds: are in the flat to the far right and most of these have little flower buds in the middle.  These seedlings have grown remarkably fast and most of the seeds took.  For the few cells that did not, I have placed seeds in those cells to get a better yield.   I have another flat that I will have to seed as well because there were fewer seeds that took in the first planting.  Having these already blooming and in the garden will help when the transplanting begins to discourage cats and attract bees.

Squash: These seeds take longer to germinate.  Without a heating pad, these seeds took a few weeks and of course not all seeds took.  It is by far easier to sprout these first in a glass container with wet paper towel to see which ones are viable and plant only those that will produce a plant.  In the second photo below, you can make out the root shooting out and downward from the seed coating.  Once the first leaves are out, I will plant them into a paper pot.  These seeds are from a peppercorn squash.

Hints and Tips

Lettuce, Swiss Chard and leafy greens:  According to my friend Pat, who has years of farming experience - these should only be planted directly into the garden and I whole-heartedly agree!!  These do not grow well at all without being directly under a grow light or sowed directly in a garden. 

Potatoes: According to Pat, when growing potatoes in an above ground growing box, you should line the bottom of the box above unturned ground with rotting leaves.  She suggests that you place raked leaves from the garden beds into a black garbage bag and place it on the black asphalt driveway to really break it down quickly.  She warns that it will be stinky but will serve the purpose of keeping bugs out.  We will be building the boxes from the ground up by using four 36" stakes inserted into the ground forming a square.  The four sides will have wood slats screwed into the stakes on ground level. Note:  We will show you a step by step pictoral of our potato box build over the next few weeks.

Technology, Innovation and tried and true advice:

Using technology and innovative ideas to help grow a garden while implementing tried and true methods gives any beginner urban grower an advantage.  Any advice from someone with experience is  very worthwhile and will pay dividends in saving money, time and aggravation.  Networking with other urban gardeners, books and online blogs are great resources as are local growers and the Farmer's Almanac.  

As an Electronics Technologist, I will eventually want to incorporate some innovative additions to the ever evolving garden.  I hope to eventually put in automatic drip irrigation, motion detect 'rodent' tripped sprayer and photocell controlled underlighting for the boxes.  I will also integrate a few pinhole cameras to monitor the garden for little visitors and hope to get it streamed.  I also want to use a waterproof camera in our fish pond to check on how they are doing... a live fishtank!!  We cover the pond through the winter and until we remove the cover, we cannot see how they are doing.  Our neighbor just lost all of his fish because the pond froze solid.  Either his heater failed or he didn't use one.  

Adding to the wish list would also involve using our fish pond in the back of the house to provide nutrients for a hanging strawberry garden which will provide shade, interest, filtration and best of all - food!!!  Hydroponic growing at its best.

This coming week in the garden:
We will be cutting the pieces for the potato boxes and preparing them for planting.  The planter boxes will be put together and hopefully I will hear back from a local business about the possible use of Chalk paint as opposed to wood stain that will leech into the soil.  Investing in proper materials and protecting your investment are the important foundations for an Urban Garden.

We will also check in to how the plants are doing now that they have a grow light to give them a much needed boost.  

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