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Posts Tagged ‘rain garden’

Finally, Almost a Rock Garden!

BEFORE rock garden photo

Until a few weeks ago, this was an unruly compost heap next to a pit I had dug on my way to creating a rain garden. The pit is dry 98% of the year, so my enthusiasm for planting wet-tolerant plants has been low. Finally, last autumn, I stocked up on succulents and decided the compost heap would become a rock garden. My wife got the ball rolling by clearing the compost, mounding soil along the back, planting elephant ears and calla lilies, and hauling a few rocks from the driveway.

Some years ago (2011), crazy, biblical rains made my vegetable plants very sad. I decided to reduce the likelihood of a similarly unpleasant experience by excavating a drainage ditch above my garden. The ditch would redirect runoff from the neighbor’s yard into a basin I dug at the west end of my vegetable bed. I first mentioned my rain garden in a post about the National Wildlife Federation; there’s a photo of the rain garden in its earliest days.

We’ve not had a similarly rainy season since. In fact, most of the year, my “rain garden” is pretty dry. I couldn’t decide what to plant IN the basin, so I started planting around the basin—but I left the 15+ year-old compost heap in place alongside.

The Rock Garden Notion

Last autumn I decided I wanted to create a rock garden. Coincidentally, my wife complained about the compost heap. It seemed a good plan to move the compost heap to the back of the yard, and construct a rock garden in the vacated space.

I started collecting rocks. My brother has a farm with a small stream. He has generously helped me load rocks into my minivan and I’ve created quite a heap on my driveway. I didn’t know exactly how I’d use the rocks, but at least some would end up in the rock garden.

Last fall I also started collecting succulents. As winter approached, I ended up heeling the succulents into the vegetable bed so they’d winter well. (I wrote about them here: Unlikely Starters in my Kitchen Garden.)

Succulents awaiting a rock garden

I weeded around the succulents in the vegetable garden and was happy to find they haven’t quite been choked out of existence… though they seem a bit leggy and wan from lack of sunlight. I’ll move them all to the new planting bed once the final rock is in place.

Commitment! Once the plants come home, there’s little choice but to give them their own beds.

Building a Rock Garden

So, here we are: The vegetable garden is nearly planted. I’d like to add two rows of beans, but there are all these succulents in the way. I really, really need a rock garden so I can move the succulents and plant beans before I run out of growing season. I finally started.

It occurred to me I could use rocks to reinforce the bank of my lame rain garden. A rock retaining wall could rise into the rain garden and frame one side of it. The exact shape of the wall and the garden itself would “happen” during assembly—there wouldn’t be a blueprint or plan to follow. Rather, I’d “sculpt” the area to please my sense of aesthetics.

Double Team

My wife has been impatient for several things:

  1. Getting rid of the compost heap
  2. Getting a heap of soil off the driveway that’s been there for three or so years
  3. Getting the rocks off the driveway
  4. Getting things planted (I accumulate a lot of perennials from trade shows and local sales)

So, she dug in while my attention was on the vegetable garden. She moved the compost heap and she built up a mound in front of the vegetable garden. There she set a dozen or so elephant ears I had overwintered on our ping-pong table. She also set a bunch of calla lily roots I had bought for a dollar from the local garden club. And there were nearly a dozen flowering perennials we know virtually nothing about…

We Might Have Something

As I look around the “rain garden,” it shows real promise. Some perennials look stronger this year than they did last year, and they even look nice together. The rock garden will transform the area; the basin will probably look far less like an incidental ditch with the rock garden in place.

Mostly assembled rock garden

After two days (working just a few hours each day), the rock garden’s form has emerged. The rock bank will, undoubtedly, appeal to otters that come to splash in the rain garden, and the low rock wall opposite will provide shelter for chipmunks, snakes, mice, rats, and stinging insects. Since taking this photo, I’ve added rocks to define planting areas and I’ve adjusted the centerpiece. There are a few other “artistic” elements finding their way into the design. Oh, and plants. Final unveiling to come soon.

 

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Sick Pea Plants; Excessive Moisture

Looking toward the northwest corner of my raised vegetable bed, you see sick, stunted, and yellowing pea plants to the north (right), and vigorous plants to the south. The northern plants took a beating from water that accumulated in the soil during a three-day rainstorm in late April or early May.

I’ve lost a lot of pea plants in my small kitchen garden. After the winter that never happened, we’ve had less than average rainfall and I planted just about everything at least two weeks earlier than usual this year. The pea plants grew vigorously until we had an impressive three-day rainstorm. That’s when trouble started.

Drainage Problems in my Small Kitchen Garden

Last year’s biblical rainfall revealed that my kitchen garden is drainage-challenged. I had no garden soil until June; instead I had mud. Things dried up in June and I was able to plant but six weeks later, rain returned and whatever was growing in my raised vegetable bed was wet until autumn.

So, I started excavating a rain garden. I dug a trench to channel water away from the vegetable bed and I dug a deep hole as a reservoir to hold overflow during heavy rains. Soil I removed to make the drainage channel and reservoir went into my raised planting bed. I also bought a hopper of sand—about one cubic yard—and added that to the planting bed.

Overall, I raised the level of soil in my vegetable garden about three inches … and then I planted.

My Raised Vegetable Bed Needs Work

The new drainage system and the deeper soil in my raised bed handled the impressive three-day rainstorm pretty well. At no time during that rain was there standing water in my planting bed. Apparently, however, water was not far below the surface at the northwest end of the garden.

I’ve served fresh peas only once so far, with more to come in the next few days. We’ll most certainly eat all the peas in-season this year and none will make it into the freezer. The sickened pea plants have shown me where I need to increase the depth of soil in my raised planting bed.

Half of my pea plants are in the northwest end of the garden and they’re not happy. Their roots must have been saturated for five or six days. That was long enough, I guess, for them to start rotting, and the pea plants are dramatically stunted. As you move south along any row of plants, the vines become more vigorous and about two-thirds of the way along the row, pea plants tower six or more feet.

From the healthy plants, I’m harvesting more peas per vine than in any previous year. However, the harvest will clearly be less than half of what I get in a typical season. Makes me sad because homegrown peas taste nearly as good after freezing as they do cooked fresh and I love to have a gallon or two in the freezer to serve into the winter (I don’t start serving the frozen peas until we finish with fresh vegetables in the fall).

This fall or next spring, I’ll add more soil and sand to the northwest end of the raised vegetable bed and try to provide a buffer between rain-saturated soil during wet spells and the roots of my vegetable plants.

 

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Peas are up in My Small Kitchen Garden


The planting bed went unattended for two weeks after I leveled the newly-added soil; weeds had already asserted themselves. The excavation for the rain garden lies beyond the planting bed in this photo, and you can see part of the drainage ditch I cut along the south side of the garden (left center in the photo). It has been so dry this winter and spring that soil was crumbly in March rather than moist.

On May 17 of 2011 I planted cauliflower and broccoli seedlings in the main bed of my small kitchen garden! On that day, I posted about how miserable the soil was—it had been rainless for a week, but still: big gobs of wet earth stuck to my hand trowel. I planted no other spring crops in the garden in 2011 because rain returned and there was standing water until almost June.

The tide has turned! It’s no secret that winter forgot to wint this year (That’s a verb, right? A “winter” is someone who “wints,” yes?). Then, to confuse perennials, summer started in early February. If I’d been on my game, I could have planted spring crops in the garden then… but that’s not me. Confession: I usually plant peas so late that I consider altogether skipping them.

Preparing to Plant Peas

All that summer-weather-in-spring got me into the garden early. I’ve been excavating a rain garden and moving the soil onto my planting bed. The added soil depth should keep roots out of the mud even in very rainy years. By St Patrick’s Day, the planting bed was ready for peas.

It took a bit of weeding and hoeing to prepare furrows for the pea seeds. The bed is 14 feet from end-to-end along the furrows. Each is about eight inches across and two-to-three inches deep. I set peas about an inch apart along each side of a furrow—that’s right around 1,000 peas—and cover them with about an inch of soil.

Life got in the way, and it wasn’t until March 30 that I finally got the peas in the ground. That’s at least two weeks earlier than usual. I want to remove the pea plants at the beginning of July, and they’re usually done making peas after ten weeks, so they don’t need to be in the ground until mid April.

I’ve set the broccoli and cauliflower seedlings in the garden and they’re recovering from transplant shock. I’ve also planted onion sets which led me to want more onion sets to plant. Oh! And I’ve mended and erected the garden fence before rabbits nested in the planting bed.

Having planted peas in March should make me feel as though I have a huge head start on my kitchen garden—especially with all the other projects completed. But the crazy weather makes me feel as though I’m trying to catch up… and if it stays warm as it is, I really do need to catch up.

Here’s more from past seasons about planting peas:

  • Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook – 1 – Do you want to grow peas in your small kitchen garden? It’s a tough question. Peas require a lot of space for a modest harvest. On the other hand, garden fresh peas taste astonishingly better than any other peas you’ll ever eat…

  • Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook – 2 – You’ve decided how many peas you’re going to plant in your small kitchen garden, you’ve reserved appropriate space, you’ve prepared the soil, and you have some kind of trellis installed or ready to install. I hope you haven’t worked too far ahead. We’re about to plant peas…

  • Small Kitchen Garden Pea Notebook Video – I’ve planted peas as late as three weeks after the last frost date and still had terrific yields…..

One of my first pea sprouts of 2012! Peas are amazingly hardy. I once left some too long in the vegetable crisper of my refrigerator, and they sprouted! Cold nights and cool days keep pea plants vigorous, but when the temperature climbs into the 80s, pea plants wilt and die.

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