Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Attack of the Killer Potatoes! or is it Potatos? ah, who cares?

Yes, potatoes actually look like this for those of you that thought that they just slithered underground like those things in Tremors. They're huge, again, the pride of the neighborhood, like the cherry tomatoes growing in my back yard.

It turns out that they take a lot of room, and it's best to just grow them in a big pot or a tub like this. Some folks grow them in black bags, which is weird, and I don't completely understand the logistics of it, but whatever. Others swear that if you plant them in an old car tire, a few plants will fill up the tire by the end of the season and the taters will just come pouring out. I hope that the pot I'm using works like that. Obviously, as root vegetables, these things really want to root down, so you'll need to plant them in something deep to let the system flourish. Also, again as root vegetables, they dislike acidic soil, so make sure that the soil you buy has a low pH, like 5.0-5.2, whatever that means. Potatoes will get all scabby and gross if you plant them in soil that's too acidic, they'll look like Gary Busey after he crashed his motorcycle and that's just too frightening to imagine, just say no to scabs.

A lot of people say that you need to cut up the seed potatoes before planting, cut them in such a way that you get an eye or two on every segment before planting, that's what's going to sprout and spawn the spuds. I didn't cut mine up though, and I'm sure it will be fine, they look like they're doing well, they're only supposed to grow a couple of feet and mine are at about 3 feet at the time that I write this. But definitely, cut them up before planting, you'll probably get more and be in fries for years. You could even open up your own business: Loser Gardener's Pathetic Fry Stand, Everyone Come and Laugh. I would pay to see you dance for nickels.

Anyways, if you do decide to grow them, you're going to want to make sure that you don't overwater or underwater, apparently doing either of these causes the potatoes to look weird or taste weird and potatoes are sweet to look at, especially if you've grown them yourself. I water them whenever the soil looks dry, or I just stick my finger in there, about a couple inches down and check. If it's dry, soak them.

As they grow, the taters are going to want to come up out of the ground, so you may need to mound them (by which I mean just pack the soil in a mound over them) or simply just add soil periodically, because once they get exposed to sun, they turn green, you try to eat them, you die. Just kidding, but it will make you sick I guess. Green potatoes are poison potatoes, and every potato brings you closer to the poison potato. You don't want that. Again, I'm speaking to box gardeners or planter gardeners, you row gardeners can bite my ass and eat a poisoned potato. Yes, you're a dying breed, rummy, and we're coming to get you. The plants will eventually blossom, they're supposed to be a light blue or purple, they aren't that pretty from what I've been told, and you'll know to harvest when the flowers wilt and die. There's an old wive's tale that states that you'll get a potato for every bloom, so take that for what it's worth.

Once we get closer to harvesting, I'll write more about how to dig them up. You're supposed to be gentle, like a gay man at a whore house, so the potatoes don't get all scuffed up and cut, then you put them in a sack or something. Anyways, like I said, I'll write more when it comes closer to the harvest. Have fun and enjoy your green potatoes!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Dark Lord and the Black Walnut Trees

The neighbor behind me has ever had the black walnut trees of doom. Before he moved, the last neighbor had the same trees, and before her, you guessed it. Clear back to the beginning, these two towers have inhibited the growing of any conventional row gardens, just ask my next door neighbor, Charlie. He has tried for years to produce a bountiful in-ground harvest, only for his veggies to be turned by the root systems of these hulking goliaths. These trees crept from the most vile pit of hell to infect humanity, horses, and gardens with their poison. Look upon thy tree and despair.

You see, silly, black walnut trees, including branches, leaves, nuts, and, most importantly, roots, contain a substance called juglone, which sounds like a character from Jersey Shore and is just as dangerous to vegetables. Now, it's not deadly for all fruit and veggies, but let's just say don't try to grow tomatoes in a row garden within 50 feet of the drip line of the merciless and fiendish tree, that goes for potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and cole vegetables, too. The good news is that some tasty and fun plants WILL grow within sight of these harbingers of death, including melons and carrots, squash, corn, and beans, so you can still do the row thing right up next to Mount Doom, no problem. Guys like me are suckers for cherry tomatoes and hot peppers, so I just had to find a way around this dilemma.

And don't get me started on the baseball-sized nut pods that fall off these things, you can't even eat the nuts contained within. I opened one up once, only to get coated in a greenish substance that soaked into my skin and didn't fade for like two weeks, my hands were green, I shit you not, green. They're also delightfully invisible when mowing the lawn and produce a wonderfully relaxing sound when coming into contact with any kind of mower blade that will send you running for the telephone, clutching your chest. But you'll need to clear them off your grass if you don't want a huge brown spot on your lawn that will never ever go away, so approach with caution.

Like Minas Tirith (for all of you who don't know what Minas Tirith, it's ok, just go with it), my garden has ever existed within the shadow of the Black Gates, a shining beacon of hope in an ocean of the lost and the dark. The above-ground square-foot garden is the vanguard, our last defense against the armies of the night. But it takes vigilance, I'm out there all of the time making sure there are no leaves of the accursed in my bed, I've also plucked a soft maple tree or two from the soil, flown in on a helicopter from across the yard. But trust me, the effort you put into weeding an above-ground bed is nothing compared to the effort you'll put into weeding a row garden. I have plenty of friends that were driven into the ground and soured on gardening by their parents, forcing them to slave for half hours on end, weeding row gardens when they should have been at the gas station, playing Street Fighter II, or smoking cigarettes under the neighbor's porch, or in the woods, poking a dead raccoon with a stick. I won't lie to you and tell you that weeds don't love the nutritious and luxurious soil of a box garden, they do, but they are so much easier to pull out of loose, moist soil that's neither too wet nor too dry, and it's harder for them to get blown up into the bed in the first place, so you have far less of them, and since your garden is so low-maintenance, you'll be looking for any excuse to spend time with it.

Within reach of Mordor, there is still hope, even if you cannot see it. Enjoy your box garden.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

beginners guide to beginning or something

Hi folks, this is my first blog post on my new gardening blog. I'm not really a gardener, but I'm learning and if you want to learn along with me or offer suggestions if you're experienced, please do, I'm open to learning more, just as long as it's not too complicated. My aim is to eventually, and I do mean eventually, become self-reliant, so a lot of my posts will be geared more towards learning how to take care of myself in a post apocalyptic world.

But enough about me, let's talk about my garden, I built a square-foot garden, which was easy enough. I found 2 old 2 x 10 x 10's in the rafters of my garage and cut them down to 4 4 x 4 sections. I pre-drilled holes to screw them together but the drill bit I needed for the job was bent, so I ended up supplementing a few nails for a few screws, which seems to work well. The next step was to staple a weed barrier to the bottom of the box to make sure my creeping charlie doesn't choke out the garden. You can add the weed barrier or not, I would recommend it because really, what could it hurt? You're going to need about 16 cubic feet of material to fill the bed, and I ended up using 12 cubic feet of garden soil I purchased at Menards and about 4 cubic feet of spaghnum peat moss, which some folks, I've learned, don't like to use because it depletes a natural resource found in marshes and swamps and keeps those fragile ecosystems functioning and growing. Personally, I can't see how harvesting peat moss really makes much of an environmental difference. I'm trying to make an environmental difference myself by growing a huge garden that will produce enough awesome veggies to take some of the load off our reliance on the trucked-in stuff. Remember, the best thing that you can do in terms of your carbon footprint is to purchase your produce at local farmers' markets. I don't think organic farming is a healthier way to farm than the alternative, but organic farming is almost always local, and if you buy at those farmers' markets, you won't be spending much more than if you bought from a huge megamarket, so weigh your options and be thrifty at the same time.

So again, I start with my 12 cubic feet of Schultz's garden soil and 4 cubic feet of spaghnum peat moss. The moss will help your garden retain moisture, but it will actually repel moisture if you use too much. Some gardeners recommend using a 2-1 mixture of soil to peat, some 3-1, some 4-1, I like to be in the middle just to be safe and hedge my bets. More of your snotty gardeners will look down on you for not using compost, well I'm not going to buy compost, I'm going to make my own for next year, we're still in year one of my garden experiment so give it time. We'll also talk about compost more in-depth in another post, but right now it's not important. Square-foot garden inventor and pioneer Mel Whatshisname will recommend using his mix, but you really don't have to get fancy when you first start out. I mixed the soil and the moss in the box in stages. I put in 6 cubic feet of soil, and then 2 feet of moss and used my metal rake to mix it up, then i did the same with the rest, you really want to make sure that you mix it well so some of your plants don't end up with more peat while others don't get enough.

Then some more fun stuff. You'll need a roll of gardening twine. Measure and mark yourself every foot on each side of the box, what I did was hammer a nail out at every mark, tied the twine, hammered the nail the rest of the way down, and then strung one piece of twine around every nail, making a perfect grid of 16 squares. It looks cool and you'll feel good that made something so mathematical-looking. Now, you're ready for plants.

After all of that, it was time to finally plant the fucking thing, so on 5/23/11, I planted 2 cherry tomato plants, 4 Roma tomato plants, 2 cucumbers, 3 habanero peppers, 4 bell peppers, a watermelon, a muskmelon, and an assload of bush beans. The only veggies I planted from seed were the beans though, I figured, why confuse and frustrate myself my first time out? Lets just get a head start and plant some starters this year. The bush beans I screwed up on though, I just kind of dug a hole and poured them in, not smart, I would have to dig them up and start over a couple days later and it was messy, so make sure you only plant about 9 bush bean seeds per square foot and space them out so what you get is well-ordered and not sprawling all over like mine are.

Now, you may notice after counting what I planted, that I planted a total of 18 plants and a 4 x 4 square foot garden only has 16-square feet for planting, how brilliant! No, it's not. I thought, due to room constraints, that it would be okay to put the watermelon in with the muskmelon and combine 2 of the roma's in the same square. Don't do it. They won't grow, I dug up the muskmelon shortly after, put it in a big pot and have started from there with it. The watermelon has done well, I plan on training it to grow up on a vertical trellis, next to the cucumbers which I'm also hoping to train up. If you grow watermelon vertically, you'll end up having to use slings to support the fruit, but it gives you a lot more room to mess around, so I'm going to try it. As far as the roma's go, I separated the two and planted one in a pot, I'll get to the separated twins later on in another post, because the simple act of separating them has convinced me that the square foot gardening method is very effective and definitely the way to go, if that tells you anything.

When you transplant the starters, you'll need to break the root balls a little and try to get some of the roots to unravel so they're actually growing out. If you don't do that, I think you'll just get a much slower starting plant and you could be waiting around forever for some sorry ass-looking cherry tomatoes. Use common sense when judging the depth at which you'll plant them, it's not rocket science, it's........more biological science, I guess. The soil I bought was already fertilized pretty well and enriched with nitrogen and all that good stuff. I bought a simple 10-10-10 fertilizer to spread around on them every 2 or so weeks, this should fit most beginner gardens and works for flowers too. The tomatoes are super aggressive eaters and will just soak that crap up like slurping a milkshake. Also, save your egg shells. I say this because tomatoes and peppers LOVE calcium and egg shells have it in bunches. Save the shells and put them in an old milk jug and fill it with water, leave it out in the sun for a few days to get it nice and steeped and then give your peppers and tomatoes a little drink. You can keep filling it with water and egg shells all summer. It may stink like shit, but like I said, the plants love it. Don't drink it yourself, I'm pretty sure it would kill you.