Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Outdoor Space

We have been dreaming of our garden for several years, and have run into difficulties each year. We do have a back yard, but it is small and is used primarily as the playspace for the daycare kids--as you can see, it is filled with playstuff:
The above picture is how the yard looks in very early spring. Looking at the picture I just took from the same view, you'll see it becomes a much greener, happier space in the summer. But still, not much room for a garden:
We knew that for as long as we ran a daycare, we needed a separate, more protected area to grow food. Along the south wall of our house is a wonderful space, and we were inspired to turn this area into our garden.
It seemed like such a great area where we could just throw in some nice soil, put in some vegetable seeds, and watch the plants take over! HOWEVER. This is what happened every time we got some rain:

Yikes. Now that is what you call some flooding. This perfect area between the house and sidewalk has literally NO draining ability. Now, we are complete novices about all things gardening, but we instinctively know that this much water every time we get a slight rainfall isn't exactly a plant's idea of happiness. Too much of a good thing is very, very bad.

How could we make this space useful? First, we had to deal with the drainage issue. A little background: when we moved in, this space was already filled in with gravel. It grew lots and lots of weeds and was pretty unsightly. When we originally had the idea for the area to be a garden, we didn't realize that the ugly, weedy gravel was serving a purpose: DRAINAGE. All we saw was a future dirt-filled area, so we spent a whole weekend removing all the old gravel, to make way for dirt. That was 2 years ago. A neighbor gladly took the gravel from us for his driveway. We couldn't wait to fill up the empty space with some fertile soil and start growing...and then, it rained. And realization hit, hard. All the sweat and digging created nothing but a water pit.

Realizing we didn't have the money to refill the area with stones right away, but still wanting to start growing for the season, we got some 'whiskey-barrel liners' and prepped them with drainage holes, a layer of rocks, and soil. These were our first planting containers.
We had tomatoes, zucchini, and peppers growing in the whiskey barrel liners, but they didn't do well. The space around the containers still flooded every time it rained, and it just was not a healthy place for growing plants, which need air for their roots.

If we wanted a good, healthy growing place, we had a little work to do first. This spring we set out to create the Little Hands Garden. First, we cleared out all the weeds, clumps of grass, and saplings that had made a home in that gnarly place. Here, my 12 year old helps dig out some insanely strong clumps of weedy grass:

Once the weeds were evacuated, we staked down some weed liner...

Then hired a neighbor to bring in some river rock to fix our drainage problem. Upon the bed of rocks, went cedar garden boxes that were built by my Other Half, which we then filled with a mix of soil. I will admit, Other Half (aka Craig) did most of the work.

So now, for your viewing pleasure, if you haven't grown tired of looking at pictures, you can see the BEFORE and AFTER shots of the Little Hands Garden:

The after pics are showing some lovely green! The plants that the kids and I started from seeds months ago seem to be doing very well in their new home!

Updated 2013:

The space has had some additions over the past few summers. What looked clean and sparse above is fuller and happier now! A few pics below show the garden this summer:

Future plans for our space?
*Blueberries along the outside of the fence (we got permission from neighbor, since it's her yard)
*Grapes along the inside of the back fence
*Growing boxes and containers along the back of the house
*More perennials like asparagus, fennel, sorrel, jeruselum artichokes, berries, fruit trees....
STAY TUNED! Our tiny space can do so much!!!

We always have a straw bale sitting next to the boxes now, for added growing space

An herb garden made in pots has set up residence!

The garden sometimes threatens to take over the trash bins!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rain Barrels Rule

Once again, the local newspaper's Home and Garden section has come through for me! I have a barrel that I scored for FREE (which is another story to be told soon), and I am planning to make a rainwater barrel out of it. I can't think of a more sustainable way to keep the Little Hands Garden happy and thriving.

Here is the article posted last Sunday that will be a great help as I set out to turn my free empty barrel into a rain barrel.

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Gardeners can customize their rain barrel setups as needed, such as with a diverter assembly.
Published: June 12, 2011 3:00 a.m.

Build your own rain barrel
Tap downspouts for free source of water for yard with master gardener’s advice
Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette
Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Rain barrels can help gardeners save money on watering, and they don’t have to be expensive. Kyle McDermott demonstrates how to make one from an old rolling trash bin at the local Purdue Extension office, which offers advice on building and using rain barrels.

Parts for making a homemade rain barrel should cost about $20.
The Journal Gazette
For gardeners, the concept of a rain barrel isn’t too hard to grasp.
You just catch the free water that flows off a roof now and use that instead of expensive tap water later to refresh vegetables, shrubs and flowers.
The mechanics of actually setting up a functioning rain barrel? Now there’s a problem. But it’s one that Lyle McDermott of Fort Wayne is trying to help solve.
McDermott, a master gardener, has been teaching area residents how to assemble rain barrel systems. And you don’t have to be a mechanical or botanical genius to get them working for you, he says. You just need to be willing to do a little math and have some rudimentary assembly skills.
“I’m a simple guy, so I believe in simple,” says McDermott, 68. “I show the easy and inexpensive way. For something like $20, not including the barrel, they can have one put together.”
McDermott says there are three major issues to consider in setting up a rain barrel system.
The first is figuring out how much storage capacity is optimal. Many gardeners, he says, drastically underestimate both how much rain will run off a given roof and how much water it will take to quench the thirst of a drought-stricken garden.
“A 1,000-square-foot roof – that’s only 50 by 20 feet – will produce about 500 gallons with an inch of rain. That’s 10 of these (typical) rain barrels,” McDermott says.
While 500 gallons may sound like a lot of water, it probably can be used up in a couple of days in a proper deep watering of a 10-by-16-foot vegetable garden, he notes.
Given that a house could have 5,000 square feet of roof, it might take 50 barrels to catch all that rain.
“So you have to be realistic in your expectations and not expect to collect every drop,” McDermott says.
Still, the problem of a lot of water is not insurmountable. McDermott has devised a way to link several rain barrels together with inexpensive hosing to fill them successively. An ideal system, he says, places two or three connected barrels under the gutter downspout at each of the four corners of a basic roof, hiding them behind shrubs, he says.
If they still can’t catch all the rain, a hose connected to the third barrel can direct water to a rain garden, a garden filled with water-loving plants, he says.
Or during heavy rainstorms, gardeners can always disconnect the downspout from the barrel and allow the water to go where it would if there was no barrel. McDermott stresses that it’s important to divert overflow water away from the home’s foundation if large amounts of overflow are anticipated.
The second issue, he says, is that standing water, especially if there’s any organic debris in it, can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile virus.
So, McDermott says, any barrel should be tightly closed with even small openings screened. Ideally, its top should not be flat so as not to gather standing water, as mosquitoes can breed in just a couple tablespoonfuls of water.
McDermott likes to use barrels from Sechler’s Pickles in St. Joe, which are slightly domed. Barrels are available to the public for $10 to $20, says Max Troyer, Sechler’s owner. He advises an advance call to 260-337-5461 to check availability.
Pest-control devices called mosquito dunks and mosquito bits are another way to prevent breeding, says Ricky Kemery, horticulture educator with the Allen County branch of Purdue Extension at IPFW.
The dunks and bits contain harmless bacteria that kill mosquito larvae, he says. Dunks are put in the barrels, and bits can be sprinkled on top.
“They won’t hurt the plants,” he says. “You above all don’t want the barrel to be a mosquito breeding pit.”
The third issue is water transport. Yes, water is heavy – it weighs more than 8 pounds a gallon. That means in most cases, there should be a way of connecting a hose near the bottom of the barrel, although a simple spigot works for those willing to carry water to their plants.
McDermott says the pressure of the water above the hose connection is usually enough to get liquid through a length of hose or to a soaker hose.
The need to get a hose or container easily under the spigot makes him advise gardeners to place a rain barrel or barrels on top of sturdy, stacked concrete blocks or bricks or a platform made from treated lumber.
If multiple barrels are linked, the barrel connected directly to the roof gutter should be the highest, to allow gravity to assist in getting the water to subsequent barrels, he says.
The weight of the water in the barrels also leads some gardeners to affix them to the side of the house with metal strapping to keep them upright and avoid a safety hazard, Kemery notes.
McDermott says his system uses simple-to-find plumbing fixtures and standard hoses and nylon screening. The only tools required are a drill or knife and a screwdriver.
McDermott says that with an investment of less than $40, a gardener can save $200 to $400 or more in the cost of water over a single growing season if he or she is a city tap-water user. For a well user, the benefit is conserving water for household use at a time when wells might dip low because of drought, he says.
Another benefit of a rain barrel, Kemery says, is that research suggests plants prefer rain water to treated water. While tap water tends to be on the alkaline side, rain water tends to be slightly acidic, he says. That aids plants in absorbing nutrients, he says.
Kemery has a linked rain barrel system at his own home that incorporates about a half-dozen barrels and a kiddie pool outfitted with a small pump to help transport water to nearby gardens.
Although he doesn’t know how many Fort Wayne- area residents use rain barrels, he says more seem to be thinking about doing so.
“We do know calls (to the extension service) from people who ask about them seem to be increasing. We’ve had more than 20 so far (this year), whereas five years ago it would have been zero,” he says.
He adds that kits are now available at area home stores and garden centers for those who don’t want to go the home-made route.
“Five years ago, would you have seen anybody offering a rain barrel kit? No,” McDermott says.
“But,” Kemery adds, “water is a precious resource, and more people are seeing you need to start using it more effectively.”

Get a barrel
A limited number of rain barrels put together by master gardener Lyle McDermott are for sale at the Purdue Extension Service office for $35, with proceeds benefiting the master gardeners program. There also are instruction sheets available from the office; call 481-6826.
McDermott and fellow gardener Larry Bracht of Fort Wayne are available to speak to groups about rain barrels. McDermott can be reached at 402-5779.


Here's another helpful link from fortwaynehomepage.com that includes a video:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Our First Peas

Remember our peas on the porch? They've had to share their trellis with the clamatis and the roses, and as you can see, the roses are in full bloom right now. Here is the view from the outside edge of the porch:

Go in a little closer to see our pea plants, vining up happily:

A week or so ago, the kids and I noticed something really beautiful happening with our pea plants:

We saw several of these dainty, sweet little blossoms. It was such an exciting discovery. But what is even more exciting? The newest discovery....just take a look!!!

All together we counted FIVE pods! We are hoping the pods will keep appearing. I'm thinking we'll be having peas for lunch in the very near future!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Our First CSA Bundle!

Here it is, our very first share of locally grown, organic food! Doesn't it look gorgeous sitting there on the table? There is a lot of luscious green, for sure...but I know that before long our weekly share will begin to show color: tomatoey reds....carroty oranges....squashy yellows (or would that be 'corny' yellows?)

For now, the shades of green are as beautiful to me as any rainbow.


Tonight's share included kohlrabi, kale, salad greens, arugula, spring onions, garlic snapes and lemon balm. What are garlic snapes? Lemon balm? Exactly what I wondered...and Wendy (the farmer herself) enthusiastically explained. Garlic snapes are the green growth of the garlic plant that needs trimmed in order for the garlic bulb to grow to its full potential. Lucky for us garlic lovers, the snapes are just as good as garlic and can be used in the same way. Lemon balm? An herb that is great for tea...or, as some people claim, great to rub all over your skin as a natural mosquito repellant. You know I just have to try that!

Half of the onions went into tonight's supper (tuna casserole), and one of the kohlrabis disappeared before supper was even prepared...not even an hour after bringing the share home. I peeled and sliced it, thinking I might roast both of them to go along with supper...but the memory of my grandma's kohlrabis got the better of me, and I had to start eating it. Memory explosion! My grandma grew these and sliced them up raw for our supper often. Craig (my other half) wandered in (a strange habit he has when supper is cooking) and said he had never had kohlrabi before, so I handed him a slice. He loved it! Yay, score one point for the lady trying to get her family to eat healthy! Sorry kids...perhaps you can try the next kohlrabi!

So, tonight was the start of my weekly Thursday evening date with Wendy the farmer. It feels amazing to finally be supporting local organic food growers. Meeting Wendy tonight was a treat--she is a fun lady who makes you feel like you've been friends for ages. She mentioned that the farm has a facebook page, so I checked it out and 'liked' it. There is a ton of info on their page for me to check out!

And if you are wondering what is up with the Little Hands garden...we have been busy, and we do have some exciting photos to share of our progress. Coming SOON! We have garden boxes built, the soil is in them, the plants are in their new homes!