Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How I Water My Garden

How you water your garden is pretty important. Plants need water to grow and thrive, some moreso than others. The amount of water needed to keep your plants healthy and happy will depend on your climate, the soil, and the plants themselves.

As noted in a prior post, cucumbers, and other similar plants, need quite a lot of water. Cucumbers can be very bitter if they don't get enough water because they are mostly water themselves. Also, cucumbers and other similar plants like zucchini and other squashes don't like to have their leaves wet and, depending on the climate, may do much better if they are watered by hand, or from underneath, like with a drip system. Wet leaves can lead to powdery mildew which can, in the worst case scenario, kill your plants. I have had powdery mildew here in Southern Oregon, but it has not been bad enough to damage my plants. In climates that are much wetter, or locations with less hot sun, powdery mildew may be more of an issue.

The author of square foot gardening said in his book that each plant needed just a cup of sun warmed water. Maybe in his climate that was sufficient, but here in S. Ore where our summer temps are routinely in the mid 90's or above, our plants need much more water.

In the early spring when we first put the seeds or starts in the ground we do a good hand watering. I have a watering wand.

I find this to be much easier than just the hose or just a handle nozzle. The watering wand can get in underneath plants and I can stand up when I water so it is easier on my back. During the spring, how often we water is based purely on the soil conditions. If we have had rain and the soil looks good and not too dry (I stick my finger in it) then I don't water. If it has been dry for a couple days I check the soil and see how things look. If it needs it, I water. As the temperatures get warmer and plants get bigger watering switches to a daily task.

I still water by hand into late spring and early summer, but as our summer starts to warm up I switch to overhead watering. I use a regular lawn sprinkler for my main garden area. In the early summer I still use the "how's the dirt look" method of watering. Eventually though, it is time for daily watering to commence.

At that point we set up our timer. And this year, because of the additional tomato patch, and the blueberries and raspberries, we have added a drip hose to the watering system. Here's how it all looks.

A timer like this can be found at your local hardware store for about $25-35. It has multiple settings, so you can water once a day, twice a day, every couple of days, or once a week. It is digital and really easy to program. It also has a manual on/off switch so if you decide your garden needs more water one day but you don't want to change the schedule you can just hit the button and get more water. It is also programmable for the length of time it waters. As we are in peak hot season here, I am watering twice a day for 40 minutes. The timer is set for every 12 hours starting at 7 AM. After you water you pretty much want to stay out of your garden until the moisture on the leaves has evaporated. Messing around in the garden when plants are wet can spread disease, and on some things, like beans, it can cause "rust" or dark spots on the plants.

 Attached to my timer I have a splitter which allows me to have two hoses set up on the timer. The splitter has individual valve shut offs, so if I want to water using both hoses (one for the main garden sprinkler and one for the drip hose) I have both valves open and have the timer on. If I think my tomatoes have had enough water but my garden needs more I can simply shut off the valve to the drip hose, and leave the valve for the sprinkler open, or vice versa. I don't have to adjust my timer at all. A splitter like this can be found at your local hardware store for about $5.

Last year, as the plants got taller and our sprinkler was on the ground, the effectiveness of the sprinkler decreased because the tall plants blocked the water path. This year our cheap and easy solution was to put our sprinkler on top of our yard debris container. Pretty? Not really. But it is effective and the tall plants are not preventing water from getting to all of the garden.

Miss Roxie is helping to illustrate the path of the second hose over to the tomato garden. The first part is just a regular hose, but at the start of the tomato box the hose is attached to a drip hose.

The drip hose winds its way through the tomatoes, and around the back of the yard through the hosta and around the blueberries and into the raspberries, ending up at our sunflower.

So that's it. As the weather cools, and stuff in the garden finishes up the process will reverse. The amount of time I water, number of times per day, number of times per week, etc. will all decrease. I do not water at all in the winter, and yes I do have things in the garden during the winter. Last year we had spinach, lettuces and garlic overwintering. I just leave them alone and let them do their thing.

A question I have been asked:

Do I have a high water bill? Well, I don't think so. At my peak watering season I use about 22000 gallons of water (watering my garden, yard, and regular household use) compared to my average monthly use the rest of the year of about 4-5000 gallons. This costs me about $24 (not including sewer and other fees often added to utility bills). I don't think that is a lot, in fact I think it is super cheap! Yes we use quite a lot of water during gardening season, but I think it is worth it.

One tidbit about watering your yard (not garden) in a hot climate: water in the middle of the night. The water actually will saturate the earth and you will have significantly less evaporation, which means you don't need to water as often. Again, use a timer and set your sprinkler up to water automatically.

One other thought, yes you can overwater. Some plants like to dry out and then get a thorough drenching, while others like to have regular watering. At this point, I have been watering in essentially the same manner for three years and have been happy with my results. Could I have better results if I paid more attention to that and was more specific in my watering? Maybe. But at this point the time I save and the peace of mind knowing that if I go out of town unexpectedly (which happens fairly often at casa beebe) my garden will get watered is worth it to me. Watering by hand can be quite time consuming, often taking 30-60 minutes, depending on the size of your garden.

Also, I just want to remind everyone that I am no expert. This is just what I do, based on my own research and trial and error. What works for me in my garden may or may not work for you in yours. Climate and soil conditions have a LOT to do with how much and how often you need to water. That's my little gardening disclaimer.

Now...go water!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Garden Update July 2012

Well, I thought if I was going to talk about the garden, and give some tips and ideas, one thing I needed to do was give a general update on how things are going this year. So here is a mess of pictures I took this morning.

Pickling Cucumbers. Last year our pickling cucumbers did not turn out at all. We only got a handful and they were pathetic and miserable. We think it was due to the dirt they were planted in not having enough nutrients for them, but that is just a guess. This year we planted an entire 2 x 8 box full of seeds and this is what we have going on our there now!

 Another new addition this year is our tomato patch. We had an empty flower bed that was calling out for something. As far as the square foot gardening method, tomatoes need quite a bit of room to branch out, so they actually require at least 4 square feet if you are using the squares. We decided to give them their own entire section this year. We bought cheap concrete block, which matches our concrete fence, and filled it with a mix of compost and dirt. As you can see, the tomatoes (which we started from seed indoors in about February and planted outside mid-May) are doing quite well here.

The majority of varieties I planted this year are heirloom varieties with names like Mortgage Lifter and German Green. I have 12 plants over there. Clearly I am insane.

Tomatoes and basil are called "companion" plants, which means they grow well together and the basil helps keeps bugs away from the tomatoes. I have two basil plants (purchased starts) in with the tomatoes.

 Look! They are taller than the fence!

Overview shot of the "jungle" garden.

This is a watermelon, planted from seeds I saved from last years watermelon. The tiny one in the background is a cantaloupe I planted from seeds saved from last years cantaloupe. I should say that I have yet to have any success with melons. They grow and get to be about the size of a softball and then just quit. I don't know why or what I might be doing wrong. I haven't looked into it. These are growing, so we'll see how big they get!

Chris has an entire box + dedicated to peppers. He has poblano, anaheim, new mexico, jalepeno, banana and bell. Some of them we planted from seeds and grew indoors starting in January, others we bought starts at the store. The starts are doing much better. Growing peppers from seed is difficult. They like to be very warm to get going. Very important to wait until it is good and warm outside before planting peppers!

 Ha! This picture kind of cracks me up. This was our "pea" box. I planted three varieties: sugar snap, snow, and regular peas. I thought they were done (peas are typically a very early spring plant) but they have just kept going and going! I still have peas coming on. In and amongst the pea mess I have a couple of volunteer plants: a couple of tomatillos and a squash of some variety. A volunteer plant is one that pops up that the gardener didn't actually plant. They could come from our compost or with the help of birds.

Onions! The first time we planted onions we had no luck. This year they seem to be doing pretty good. No idea why.

This is a volunteer zucchini. I have a zucchini I planted, but this one just decided to pop up on its own.  Looking pretty healthy!

Cauliflower. Our first attempt. I have nothing to add here except I hope they turn out! And the plants are huge.

Japanese eggplant. My first year planting eggplant. I bought this as a start and it has gone gangbusters with little help from me. It does need lots of water I have noticed, otherwise it gets wilty. Does anyone have a good eggplant recipe? I have a couple but could use a few more.

Cabbage. Our second try with cabbage. The first time we did cabbage they got eaten by the slugs something fierce! This time I planted some sage, another companion plant, to try and help minimize the bug attacks. Looking pretty good!

Broccoli. Same thing as the cabbage. The first year we had a garden the broccoli bolted (went to flower) before we ever got any broccoli heads. This year it seems to be really happy. I have no idea why.
Corn! Started from seeds this year. The last two years we used starts. The first year we were out of town the weekend the corn was ready and so it got very starchy. Last year some bug infestation wiped out my corn. This year things seem to be going okay. Normally corn is planted in bunches of four rows or a circular pattern, but we decided to just try the two rows this year. We'll see what kind of crop we get out of it.

 Cucumbers! They are doing great. So happy. Cucumbers need LOTS of water or they are bitter.

Another jungle box. This one has beans, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, chives, thyme, sage, celery, and basil in it (I think that's it). Oh and a pepper plant, too.

Beans! These are supposed to be "bush" beans, which mean they grow close to the ground and don't need to climb. Ahem. They wanted to climb, so we stuck a bunch of climbing sticks out there.

Potatoes! We have four varieties growing this year. Red, white, purple and russet. The dead looking ones in the middle basically mean that the potatoes are ready to be dug out and eaten! YAY! Our potatoes have always done really well.

The two tomatillo plants ( of the at least 5 volunteer) that we actually bought and planted this year.

This is a picture of one of the jungle boxes with arrows and labels showing what stuff is where. Remember, you can click on the image to see it in a larger format.

Another jungle box: eggplant, volunteer tomatillo, green onion, edemame, zucchini, carrots, pepper, cauliflower, watermelon, dill, cantaloupe. I think that's it.

Spaghetti squash. We planted a whole bunch of squash outside of our garden area this year. We had an empty flower bed in the front yard that we thought would be a good (big!) place for the squash to grow and have room to spread out. I think the soil needs some work because the squash isn't doing as well as it could. Probably we will add a bunch of compost to the soil this fall or next spring and try the squash again next year. We do have a few things going, but nothing like what we could/should.

Okay! So that is an update on most things in the garden right now and what they are doing, with some comments about how they are doing this year versus in the past. I do believe that gardening in general is a lot of trial and error and there is a pretty significant learning curve. What works in Southern Oregon may or may not work someplace else with a different climate. It is important to pay attention to the frost dates (both last -in the spring, and first - in the fall) and what plants will survive a frost and which wont. Some plants actually aren't ready until after a hard freeze, like parsnips, which actually get sweeter after a hard freeze consolidates the sugars in the root. Anyway, the point is: pay attention to your climate!

More to come. Next up: how we are keeping things watered and fed.

Our Mornin' Cuppa

Sunday started early!We really wanted to take the boat out this weekend, but the Friday night unexpected trip to the beach combined with all of our summer and household chores meant time was at a premium. I had homework to do, there was garden responsibilities to take care of, and other regular weekend stuff.

I told Chris we should go out early Sunday morning and have our morning coffee on the lake. We could then hang out for a couple hours and be back by lunchtime with plenty of time left in the day to take care of business.

So we did!

It was gorgeous.



An amazing way to start our Sunday and get out on the lake for a few hours.

We went to Emigrant Lake in Ashland, which means we can be on the water in 30 minutes. We left at 8 and were home by just after noon.

I spent most of the afternoon on homework and house pickup, while Chris made some beef jerkey, grilled a whole chicken, did laundry and puttered around with his own stuff.

Beef jerky, poblano peppers fresh from the garden and roated whole chicken.

And that, my friends, was Sunday!

My friend Christy has expressed an interest in hearing more about the garden, how we got started, stuff we have changed and learned over the last three years, etc. I have started reposting early garden themed links on my Blurb  Column Facebook and Twitter pages. You can check them out there as I post them, often with a tidbit or comment about the content,  or use the "labels"feature on the right side of the screen and click on "garden." This will take you to all of the posts (most recent first) that I have tagged with the garden label.

More to come soon on that front!

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Feet Are Beat!

I'll spare you a picture of my dirty feet... :-) That is one way I always KNOW it is summer..my feet get filthy! I hate wearing shoes in the summer. My feet get sweaty and hot. So I spend the majority of my time bare foot.

This is great, except on days like today where I was on my feet A LOT.

Rewind to yesterday: Chris got a trouble call for a broken elevator at the beach. I had time in my schedule so we made a trip of it and I went with him. We stayed on the beach in Brookings. Here is the view from our room:

Brookings is the very southern part of the Oregon coast. It is often called the banana belt of the southern coast because all around it can be socked in and cold, but it is often beautiful in Brookings. Last night was no exception. A bit breezy, as is typical for the Oregon coast, but absolutely gorgeous!

I hung out in our room on the balcony while Chris fixed the elevator. I decided to have a little wine while I waited.

I love these little single serve wines! I take them camping, to the beach, and they are great for when I just want a little wine and I don't want to open a whole bottle at home. Plus, they are great for taking another type of beverage along somewhere. When we went camping I used a couple of the empties I had saved to bring along some Bacardi, rather than bringing my whole big bottle.

It was a bit breezy on the beach for me, so for dinner we decided to head to the Wild and Scenic Chetco River.

It was really gorgeous.

I had pre-prepped (at home) some burgers and brought some garden fresh potatoes with us, so we grilled that up on our little hibachi, had a bit more wine and relaxed at the rivers edge. We hung out until the sun started to dip behind the hills.

We came home this morning and got busy on getting lots of stuff done around here. The typical chores, picking up the house, loading and unloading the dishwasher...blah blah. We went and ran some errands, too. I got a few new pairs of flats on sale at Payless shoes.

Back at home there was more chores and whatnot, including meal planning, grocery list making and garden maintenance. We decided we had enough cucumbers to make another batch of pickles, so that became our project for th evening.

We made pickles last weekend, too, but someone (me) failed to properly read the directions for one the bread n butter pickles so they had about twice as much salt as necessary. Yeah. Gross.

We made 12 pints tonight and have our fingers crossed that we didn't mess anything up!

Do you prefer sweet or dill pickles? I like both. I just love pickles!

While the pickles were in process, we made dinner, which was amazing. Pasta and some sauteed fresh garden veggies (green beans, tomatoes, red onion, red pepper, zucchini, and seasonings) topped with a bit of olive oil and feta. Amazingly good.

Anyway, all that time on my feet and they are beat! I am ready to sit and relax for the night. We have another busy day planned for tomorrow and it starts early!

I will be back to recap our camping trip a couple weekends ago and a handful of other stuff that has been happening. Mostly school!