Monthly Archives: February 2014

Waiting For Spring

I have the planting planned. I have the improvements planned. I have the budgeting planned for said improvements. I have materials acquired to start implementing said improvements. I have seeds arriving. I am ready for gardening! Mother Nature? Not so much.

Snow Covered 02-11-2014

This is what the garden looks like. It is under approximately 6″ of February snow, which is a little unusual this time of year, but certainly not out of the question since it is still winter, and this is the Pacific Northwest. I love snow. Really love it. I love the winter and having four seasons, however, when it gets to February, I am about done with winter, and so ready for spring. That feeling is more intense this year than in years past. And, of course, this is because I am ready to get started.

Luckily, it is also the time of year that I can start tomatoes, peppers and some herbs from seed so the are ready to be transplanted into the garden beds in about 6 weeks. I have tried to do this in the past, and because of my ignorance (lack of knowledge), I did not achieve success. I tried to start seeds in a windowsill. Sounded like a good idea to me. However, this produced “leggy” starts due to the lack of a good, direct light source. Leggy starts end up being a much weaker plant, which means they will not grow as well and thus not produce as well. I also attempted to transplant them into the main garden far to early.

Well, I learned my lesson, so this year I planned on building a grow area with a good light source that would enable me to grow good, healthy, strong starts for planting when the time was right. I decided to make a space in the unfinished basement for this purpose. This was mainly chosen due to limited space on the main floor. The basement is used for storage only, and is rarely visited by anyone other than me. After much research, watching many videos on YouTube and reading several articles on the Internet, I settled on my design, and I went about putting it into place. This is my first expansion/improvement over last year’s garden!

GrowShelf 02-10-2014

Here is the completed grow shelf. It is an inexpensive shelf unit. It provides 4 shelves, 3′ wide and 18″ deep, on which to start/grow seed starts. Each shelf has a dedicated fluorescent lamp. I am using a T5-type fluorescent bulb that provides 6500 Kelvins. The Kelvins indicate the color temperature that the light outputs. In this case, 6500 K is the same color temperature as daylight. My research indicated that this is the ideal amount to grow seed starts indoors.

One of the concerns, is temperature. Seed germination generally occurs best if the temperature is around 75 degrees plus or minus 10 degrees depending on the type of plant. Because the basement is unfinished (read: unheated), and it is February, it is definitely not warm enough. I considered a few possible ways around this issue, and performed many different tests and layouts looking to hit the magical 75 degrees mark. In the end, what looks to work the best is simply covering the bottom of the shelf with aluminum foil and running foil over the top of the light. When using foil, make sure the shiny side is facing the light to achieve maximum effect.

GrowShel Tinfoil 02-10-2014GrowShelf TInfoil2 02-10-2014

I know the thermometer only reads 52 degrees in the picture. I had just turned the lights on for taking pictures. 🙂 I know I will need to, most likely, alter how I have the foil arranged once I get the seed trays in place, however, I am confident that I can achieve the correct temperature. If I need a little extra warmth, I have some heat lights I can clip to the sides of the shelf.

GrowShelf Chain 02-10-2014

I also hacked the shelf a little. I wanted to attach the lights to a chain so that I could easily raise and lower them as the situation called for. The shelves did not have any holes in the bottom along the center, and I did not want to hang the hooks off-center. I simply drilled some holes in the bottom of the shelf and put the hooks through. Simple and effective!

GrowShelf Timer 02-10-2014

I have all the lights plugged into a power strip. The power strip is plugged into this simple timer. Seeds like about 16 hours of light a day in order to grow the best. I certainly did not want to have to remember when to turn the lights on or off. It makes much more sense to install this timer, set it, and automate this step. I’ll be busy enough watering, fertilizing, and growing the seedlings!

And there you have it. An improvement to the garden, a solution to the problem of growing good, healthy starts indoors, and a simple way to combat the winter blahs all in one. My daughter and I will be planting the first batch of seeds as soon as I get some good, organic, sterile seed starting soil, which will be in about a week.

Until then, Happy Gardening!

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Grow Up!

I use vertical gardening as one of my methods for growing. This makes it super simple to grow many different plants in a very limited amount of space, such as that in an urban environment. Essentially, anything that produces vines, can be grown vertically, and even some things that don’t! The squash family falls into this category. This includes both summer and winter squash (pumpkins fall into the winter squash category). Zucchini, and similar non-vining squash, can also be grown vertically, however, doing so takes a little more work, but I think it is worth it. Cucumbers, of course, can easily be grown vertically, as can melons such as watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and etc. Pole beans and certain varieties of peas as well. And let’s not forget tomatoes of the indeterminate varieties.

That’s all well and good, but how do we grow vertically? Trellises, of course! There is no right way to make a trellis, nor is there a trellis that is right for everyone. I will talk about the method I went with, and why, however, I encourage everyone to explore the options (do an image search on Google for inspiration!) and find what works for you. 

The trellises I decided to make, and use, are very similar to the ones described in the Square Foot Gardening book. Namely I used 1/2″ EMT (AKA electrical conduit) to build the frame. These pipes are more commonly used to run electrical wires throughout structures. They are very sturdy and fairly inexpensive. These come in 10′ lengths, and cost about $2.25. They can be cut to any size needed, depending on your specific need. You will also need two 90 degree couplers to join the two legs with the top cross-bar. These will be almost as expensive as one of the 10′ poles. There are also a few ways the trellises can be attached to the raised beds. I purchased 2′ rebar for this purpose. I measured with the trellis to find out where the rebar would need to go. Then I hammered 1′ of the rebar into the ground. I slipped the ends of the trellis on the 1′ sticking out of the ground. The rebar provides a lot of stability for the trellis, yet allows for easy removal at the end of the season. The final element to complete the trellis is the netting. I prefer, and recommend, nylon. It is incredibly strong, yet very light and flexible.

Dalen Trellis Netting Last year I bought trellis netting, and it worked wonderfully. The spacing of the holes was perfect and adding it to the trellis frame was quick and easy. Some people thought the nylon would harm the developing fruit by possibly cutting through the stem. However, it has been my experience that Nature will adapt. 🙂 I had no issues with the nylon netting harming any of the fruits in any way. If a pumpkin or melon is getting that large, and you are concerned, you can use an old nylon stocking and make a “hammock” under the fruit to provide it a little extra support. I did not find that necessary last year, but then the fruit I had were not all that big. I will see if this is a necessity this year.

If you do not want to buy the netting (which is very reasonably priced), you can run nylon cord manually, and it really isn’t that hard. It is, however, quite a bit more time-consuming. Here is a video of a fellow gardener showing how to make a trellis the way I have, and how to manually add nylon netting:

Incidentally, Reaganite71, whose video that is, is a great channel to subscribe too. He has a lot of really helpful gardening videos. I recommend spending some time watching a few!

Last year I made all the trellises’ 5′ tall and 4′ wide. Garden Bed 2 07-03-2013In the picture, you can see how I arranged my trellises last year (2013). It worked well for some things, but not everything. There were many plants that did not get the amount of sun they needed, and, consequently, they did not do as well as they could. Also, as you can see in the picture, I was attempting to run the zucchini up the trellis as well. That, also, did not work. I happened upon this interesting article that explains how to stake and trim the zucchini plants as they grow. I will be attempting this technique in this year’s garden. This year I am also going to make some taller trellises as well. 7′ and 10′ high trellises will come in handy. If you make trellises higher than 6′, I would also recommend purchasing 4′ rebar and pounding 2′ in the ground. Yes, it is spendier, however, the extra height warrants the extra stability.

Simply put, there really is not many reasons to not grow vertically. The fruit is easier to find and pick. It does not sit on the ground and will be less susceptible to rot, bugs, and other undesirables. The fruit produced will also be more uniformly formed, and there will be less of a tendency for crooked and twisted produce. And of course, less space used in your yard, thus allowing you to get more use out of the area you have.

Until next time, Happy Gardening!