Getting My Hands Dirty – Real Dirty

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It has been a long “dry spell”- if you will, a drought for my Gardening Blog. I haven’t stopped gardening but have found/made little time to write about getting my hands dirty in the garden. My beer blog….I seem to find more time to write about my favorite beverages!!!! http://bishopsbeerblog.com/

The garden has slowed down at the end of a long hot summer. All of the tomato plants have been pulled save one. It looks like I may be able to squeeze out a couple more “maters”. The asparagus patch is over head high with ferns and if I peek under the foliage I can still find a few spears to snap off and eat as I work. I shared one with a visitor last week and she couldn’t believe how sweet the spears were! I have carrots coming up, beets have sprouted, the sugar snap peas are climbing, strawberry beds are looking good and my two banana trees have started to dominate their locations……not sure if they will become permanent members because of their size. One of then is a bit unique, a manzano (apple) banana. I have also heard it referred to as a manzanillo….Regardless of the name, I am told that they are very sweet.

Strawberries….I added 50 Chandler plugs and 50 Sweet Charlie plugs on the day before Halloween. I like the ease of planting the plugs I order form Ison’s Nursery. http://www.isons.com/

I used my wood lathe to turn a dibble; From Wikpedia – “A dibber or dibble is a pointed wooden stick for making holes in the ground so that seeds, seedlings or small bulbs can be planted. Dibbers come in a variety of designs including the straight dibber, T-handled dibber, trowel dibber, and L-shaped dibber. ” I found some images on my internet  search and I must say….some people can turn some very nice ones….Mine was a quick utilitarian effort….it works and was sized to match the plugs! The strawberry towers are filled and I can’ wait for the February/Spring crop!

Strawberry plugs in the tray from Isaon's

Strawberry plugs in the tray from Ison’s

My home made dibble sized for the strawberry plugs.

My home made dibble sized for the strawberry plugs.

My beehive is humming along…..sorry about the pun! The mouse guard is in place for the winter and has obviously kept the fat toad out of the hive. My daughter had seen him hanging out near the entrance but I actually found him nestled inside with his head poking out through the entrance….wonder how many he ate! I shooed him away and installed the barrier.

Back to bananas for a moment – The Mexican family that that gave me the corms, also gave me a family tradition for making tamales. They use the banana leaves! They hold the leaf over a gas burner moving it back and forth until it becomes pliable. They then use the banana leaf like you would the corn husk. Here is a pork tamale recipe. I think I will give it a try. Marcelino  tells me that they are much more moist than the traditional method. http://www.food.com/recipe/pork-tamales-in-banana-leaves-tamales-con-puerco-381926

PS – while out to dinner last night at the restaurant my wife looked at my hands and shook her head. I know what she was thinking….”you have nice gardening gloves yet you choose to just let your hands get dirty!!!!!!!” I tried, I really did try to scrub everything clean. The problem –  I have a fingernail on my right hand that was crushed many years ago and it grows goofy looking creating a dirt trap. So, as she was looking and shaking her head my mind quietly said, “yes dear!!!!!!!”


Paused for a week…..computer issues and then one of my many trips to Williston, North Dakota.  Now, about those very dirty hands. I had ignored my composting worms for too long. The drain off the bottom of the bin was plugged up and I knew the bottom tray was probably getting saturated. Oh yes, absolutely full. No problem, I made up a 5 gallon bucket of worm compost tea. I fed the majority of the tea to the newly planted strawberry pugs now thriving in the strawberry towers. My sugar snap peas are starting to climb but appear fragile. I harvested about 4 pounds of worm poop and spot fed the peas as well as giving a good dose to my asparagus ferns. I am very hopeful for a huge asparagus crop next spring.

My wife had the paper shredder fired up taking all of the probable confidential mail to create worm bedding.  The identity thieves will certainly have a tougher time putting the stripss back together. I also use the worms to take the ground up eggshells and make some calcium rich fertilizer. Between the worms and my big outdoor compost bins I send very little to the landfill.

Now wash hands thoroughly and make a sandwich with my homemade sourdough bread. Later on today I need to make the sourdough sponge for tomorrow’s baking day!




Strawberry Towers Phase One

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I have decided to try going vertical with my soon to arrive strawberries.  I have seen a number of different approaches to going vertical and decided to build a two tower set-up as my first test. I chose 3″ PVC drain pipe – it is light weight, cheaper than the heavy wall PVC and easy to work with. The picture below shows the two tower set-up after they were put together and filled. The base of the structure is filled with pea gravel for stability. I drilled 24 –  1 1/4″ holes in each tower, none on the back side. I inserted a butcher paper tube inside prior to filling with potting soil. The blue masking tape is used to keep the tubes in place as I filled the pipe and to help keep the soil in place. When planting a small hole will be made through the paper and the bare root plant will be placed into the hole. I have subsequently added a 3X4 swage on top as an added reservoir for water and liquid nutients.

The Twin Strawberry Towers

I also drilled a weep hole a few inches above the “Tee” at the base of the tower. Wetting the soil by pouring water from the top was going very slowly. So when I returned from my inner injection appointment this afternoon I swung by Lowes and picked up a couple of 3X4 swages and placed them on top to increase the volume of water I can pour. Seems to be working much better. Have not yet filled the towers with enough water to  reach the weep holes. It may take a lot of water as the pore space in the base could be considerable.

During the construction of the  test towers it dawned on me that this could develop into a viable hydroponic set-up. The PVC piping used for the base could be used to provide the return run of the nutient run-off. Rather than using potting soil, a hydroponic perlite type of material could be used. While doing a little research into the hydroponic stuff I seem to run across lots of sites that are linked to growing that funny seven leafed plant that is in the news quite often. Wow – 55 gallon drums of nutient chemical will set you back about 3 grand….Must be good money in growing that other stuff……

The week of November 7th is the promised date for my strawberry plants to arrive. I have to work all week so planting will be deferred a bit. The plants should hold well in the produce drawer until the weekend.

Shown next is the close-up of the 1/8″ weep hole and another angle of the base and towers set up next to my compost bins and in front of my blackberry bed.  If the experiment works it could lead to a small commercial patch. I think you could increase plantings by a factor of 5 or 6 in the same square footage of space and really simplify the harvest. I have seen the strawberry harvest in California and it is back breaking, stoop labor. This could be a win all around. Intitial investment might be a little higher but in the long term could be much cheaper.

FYI – The towers are not glued in place to aid in dumping and replacing the growing medium. In the future I may consider 4″ or even 6″ PVC drain pipe.

Towers next to compost bins

1/8 " Weep hole

TTFN Folks


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