Friday, May 22, 2009

This year's veggie beds

This year's vegetable gardens are coming along great. We've been eating on the winter started red cabbage for a while now. The beets have recently been appearing in meals as well as green onions and the neighbors have been given extra crook neck squash.

These two beds with potatoes and cantaloupe are covered up and not just with mulch. Pretend like you don't see major construction in the back ground. That's a future post.

With raised beds it's possible to build your soil to a very rich level so that planting can be very crowded and all the plants still do well. As with these two beds we always plant corn in the middle and beans on the side. It's easy to reach in to pick the corn as it's tall. With beans that will require picking more often they are planted down the sides so they can hang out of the beds.

You can plan your bed spacing for the roots if you can get the rest of the plant out of the bed. This trellis [a stock panel] is for the Armenian cucumbers to climb. The beets are a new variety I'm trying and they will be gone before the cuke vines sprawl very much. The trellis for the Armenian cukes is never enough. It will cover this entire bed and more in a month. That's why I have the beets and some radishes in this bed, so they will be harvested before the vines cover them. The Armenian is our favorite cuke, very sweet and extremely heat tolerate, but it must be allowed for.

These beans are yellow wax and needed to be away from the Blue Lake that is our standard. I think the only reason Lyn grows these is to put a few in with the green ones when she cans so that they look nicer in the jars on the shelves. The watermelon is Sweet Dakota. I think it's going to be a bust. They are not nearly as far along as the Crimson Sweets, my standard.

You can't go wrong with Dark Detroit beets. I've raised them everywhere we've lived with good success. I still try other kinds though. I live for pickled beets.

As I said earlier, you get used to crowding in raised beds. You don't think in terms of rows as much as just spacing and places plants will fit. I love radishes and just plant them wherever there is room. In this picture you can see carrots planted in front of and between tomato cages. They won't bother the tomatoes and the tomatoes won't bother them. If you don't plant something there it is just wasted space and in beds space can be at a premium.

No vegetable gardener is ever completely satisfied with a variety of plant as there could always be something out there that performs better in their particular soil. My favorite cantaloupe has been for years, Burpee's Ambrosia. Even the name is cool. But I still have to try another or two every year. This year it's Stutz. The story of its development is worth the try. To try different varieties you must separate them to make sure you get them true and not have any cross pollination. With tomatoes I've heard everything from 5' to 25'. Who knows? Some separation is a must though. I originally made seven beds in a group. As I added beds I started to spread them out more. I now have 15 beds in four different places. I think this is enough beds although as a gardener you just never know.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Water usage

Man, I'm mad at Lance Armstrong. I saw on the news tonight that his water usage at his house is around 330,000 gallons a month, and he's not even home most of the time. After reporting that, the talking heads stated that they would have water saving tips for all us schmucks because we are in drought conditions. Oh yeah, we need to save so that Ol Lance can squander it on I have no idea what. It was already reported once that he was the biggest water user and he hasn't even tried to cut down. Years ago when it was reported that ex Austin mayor Roy Butler was the biggest user, he cut down a bunch on usage. Lance's usage has gone up since the last time. How arrogant can you be. And this was after he nearly destroyed a creek and land mark swimming hole. If I lived in Austin I would have to call my councilman to complain.

When we lived in Liberty Hill and got a water bill, our highest bill showed water usage of 3600 gallons, barely over 1/100th of his water usage. We had gardens there as well as a lawn. We also had milk goats, chickens, and pigs. Maybe I'm just mad about him dumping Sheryl Crowe, even after she watched his kids during his races. But I don't think so. I must ask, how can he use as much water as I used in a month, in 8 hours?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Building a Bog Garden

We tend to do our really hard projects here at Draco in the cooler months. Also, some projects require planning, plotting, scheming, logistics study, and budget analysis. Well, there may be some procrastination in there too. I mean who can get pumped up about digging in the hard ground and lifting big rocks? We made up our minds that we needed a bog garden. They can work like natural filters for your pond system and a place for plants that fall between "in the water plants" and "out of the water plants." After going on the Austin Pond Society Pond Tour again last year and talking to people about their bogs, we knew we wanted one too. [Damn, that pond tour.] I wanted to improve on the filtering capabilities of the bog even more than the ones I had seen. I studied several filter systems and decided I wanted one that the water would rise through the filtering medium and then run over gravel in the rest of the bog before it reentered the pond system.

The Pond Queen approved the plan and budget. The budget was less than twenty dollars as we had a piece of liner and gravel left over from previous projects and I picked up the rocks at a friend's ranch. Only things to buy were PVC pipe and fittings. Let the work begin.

You can't have a pond without a hole. Thank goodness it was in the only place that has any dirt on the entire place. Oh, but there were tree roots. As you can see in this picture, there is the main, big hole and there is a trough. The trough is where the pipe with holes in it will be laid. The gray stuff is mortar mix, the kind you buy in a bag. The mortar mix is used to form over dirt that wants to fall away and not stay to the right shape.

The liner is laid now. You can see a bulge where the tree root is. Don't cut any big roots if you don't absolutely have to. The PVC is plumbed. The part in the trench has holes drilled along its length. The PVC comes from the pump at the far end of our big pond over sixty feet away. The dirt is added before the gravel goes in. We will have plants growing in there to help filter.

This is not a quickie project and takes considerable planning. It needed to be higher than the other ponds, if only a few inches. The wall on the trench had to be a few inches below the outside perimeter. The number and size of the holes had to equal or exceed the area of the PVC supply line. And of course you need to have some place to put the dirt you take out to have a hole. Here the Pond Queen is taking the spoils to parts of the garden that could use it.

Here the gravel has been added, a few plants are in, it's been tested, and the rocks are laid out to start bordering it for the final look. Of course final looks are not when you complete it, but when it has matured a bit and gets away from that just finished look.

This is closer to the finished look. The water bubbles up through the gravel, runs across more gravel and around plants and over the little falls and back into the pond system.

These kinds of projects are great to do yourself. It doesn't take any skills that can't be learned from books or on the computer. They aren't meant to be fast, so you can take your time, enjoy the planning, the scheming, and the challenge. Plus you really have something beautiful that you will enjoy for a long time. My greatest thrill is in the planning and gathering the materials. I am a real scrounge when it comes to our projects. That's why this whole project cost less than $20. But then I had to load rocks out of the San Gabriel river on a friend's ranch and haul them home in my little Toyota pick up. My wife, the Pond Queen, dug almost the entire hole by herself. I have no idea how much this project would cost to do it professionally but I'm sure it would be a whole lot more than $20.

Coming soon we will build a new section of rock walk way. And we will be using some big rocks. Also in the near future we will be getting into what may be the biggest project, other than building the house, that we have done here at Draco. It's all just a bunch of good clean work. But, there is always something to look back at when you're done. That and it's a lot better than exercising to stay in shape.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Nopalito in Bloom

I've always been a fan of cactus. Most cacti are like irises, not much for looks for fifty weeks of the year and two weeks of blooms. That's why I really don't care much for irises. My big Nopalito cactus is an exception though. It's just starting to bloom and will have some blooms on it the rest of the summer. The first flush is the best. It will cover up in big, waxy, yellow blooms. Those blooms will draw many kinds of beetles and bees to them. The blooms have no odor that I can detect so I would suspect that they are drawn by color. The yellow of the blooms is a pale but pure yellow, much like Calylophus or Fluttermills. Here is a series of pictures showing how beautiful Nopalito blooms are start to finish.

Here is a bud just starting to grow. Click picture to view full size, it's just stunning.

This one is a little more developed.

This one is about to make the big show.

A bloom just opened up and a bee is in it immediately. The bugs really like these blooms.

It looks like I'm in for one heck of a show.

And of course I will be getting plenty of these.

Where it grows more pads instead of blooms, these little clusters come up. I can only imagine the picture that East Side Patch would have beside this.

It looks like there will be plenty of new pads this year as well.