Tag Archives: garden

Starting the Fall Garden

Last winter I built a greenhouse out back.  By the time it was finished it was too late to be starting seeds for the summer garden because it was already getting warm outside.

A few days ago I whitewashed the greenhouse using some hydrated lime mixed with water and applied with a broom.  This provides some shade so that it doesn’t get too hot in there.  Each rainstorm will wash away a little bit of that whitewash and so as weather cools, the ‘greenhouse effect’ will be stronger.

Inside I prepared some beds and planted kale, spinach, mache, lettuce, arugula, beets, kohlrabi and radishes.  I moved in a few kale transplants that we started outside a month ago, too.  This way we have a succession planting of kale.  As we plan better in future years we will do more of this.

According to some of the Eliot Coleman books we’ve read, we are a little late in doing this planting.  Better late than never!  I’ll let you know how it turns out.



Drip irrigation

We love our arid climate, but realize that it can make gardening a challenge.  On average, we get less than fifteen inches of rain per year, which is almost 1/3 of what I am used to growing up in Pennsylvania.  In an attempt to provide more consistent and conservation-minded water to our garden we’re installing a drip irrigation system utilizing 5/8″ drip tape gravity fed from 55 gallon plastic barrels.

In the above picture, you’ll first see that I have elevated the barrel on a few cinder blocks in order to create slightly more water pressure from gravity.  The barrel was originally a white color and I painted it black so that a.) sunlight penetration is reduced which will prevent algae growth and b.) the water will heat up in the barrels.  Using warmer water will reduce shock that the plants might have if the water was colder.  A threaded PVC nipple was JB Welded to the side of the barrel one inch up from the bottom.  It is one inch above the bottom because I don’t want to draw any sedimentation into the lines that may collect at the bottom.  Between that and the hose I have a brass shutoff coupling.  The supply line running between the beds is the cheapest garden hose I could find.  I cut pieces to fit each row of beds.

Each bed has two driplines running down the length of the bed.  Beds, by the way are 30″ wide and 20 feet long.   Everything is uniform, which will allow interchangeability.  We plan on getting several years usage out of the tapes and this way we can easily install them next year, not needing to worry about where each tape goes.  Each tape line begins at the supply line, coming through another shutoff valve.  That shutoff valve has a barb on one side that you push into the hose (I used a cordless drill to make the appropriate size holes in the supply hose first) and the other side connects via a coupler to the 5/8″ drip tape.  The tape and the shutoff valves are from Farmtek.  At the other end of the tape, fold it over on itself twice to crimp closed and then fold lengthwise.  Then slide a 1″ section of drip tape over the fold to hold it together.

Having every line on a valve gives you maximum control of water.  Some beds contain a crop that is harvested early in the season, and once done you could turn that bed off to save water.

To calculate how much water you’ll need, we estimate that each bed will need 1″ of water per week.  A bed if fifty square feet.  That translates to ( 50 / 12 x 7.48 ) 31.16 gallons per bed per week.  Said differently, I’m dividing fifty by twelve to find the cubic feet of water that 1 inch of rain on that bed would represent.  One inch of rain would be 1/12th of a cubic foot of rain.  One cubic foot of rain water on a 50 sq ft bed is 50 cubic feet and that would be twelve inches of rain.  Then convert to gallons by multiplying by 7.48.  Most of our lines are set up to water seven beds at once and I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that each bed is getting an even amount of water.  So, you could fill your barrel to the 30 gallon mark every day of the week and know that all seven beds are getting 1″ of water over the course of seven days.

Click here for follow up posts in August 2012 and June 2015.

Thanks, Robert.


When making your own compost, we find it is best to just get weird.  Lots of people throw away things that they consider junk or garbage.  But it isn’t.  The winter reading Courtney and I have been doing has motivated us to capitalize on a lot of this free soil fertility.

We’re bringing in some manure, and there are still plenty of people that give it away.  And they smile as you drive off, probably thinking “that sucker just took a load of crap off my hands”.  We smile, thinking the same thing, because that crap is loaded with nutrients that will grow high quality veggies for our family.

Courtney’s latest score is fish.  There is a man who posted an ad for free fish on Craigslist.  And he’ll even deliver.  I can’t wait to see it for myself, but we’ll be burying trenches full of carp.  This particular variety of carp is considered an invasive species in our area and is being selectively harvested for that reason.

Thanks, Robert.

Breaking in a new garden

Yesterday in my rototiller post I mentioned that we are installing a new garden in an area that once was an old horse pasture.  It is also next to the area where the leach field is for our newly installed septic system.  The system was installed only few weeks before we moved in to the new house.  There were a couple of snows during that time period, which meant the large backhoe loader was driving around on moist soil and providing immense compaction.

It is easy to tell where the loader was driving, because the rototiller cannot till those areas.  Along the fence is easy tilling, but the path where the loader drove is tough.  The tiller just scalps at the surface of the ground and pulls me along.  I’m having to resort to using my shovel to dig this ground up by hand.

It looks like a lot of work, and it is, but it really is quite enjoyable.  I call it my country-boy’s gym membership.

Another important point to mention has to do with the blade of the shovel.  I’ve read many times in gardening books that sharp tools make a big difference.  I took my angle grinder to that shovel and put a sharp edge on it and boy did things get easier.  I couldn’t believe it.  And to think about all those years of my youth, digging with a dull shovel!

Thanks, Robert.

The Troybilt Pony Rototiller

I recently purchased a used Troybilt Pony Rototiller that I found on Craigslist.  We wanted a tiller because we’re currently planning a garden around 2500 square feet, as well as a greenhouse with earth beds and also a few separate and permanent beds for things like asparagus. The site where these beds will be located is currently a hard packed horse pasture.  I’ll need to incorporate as much manure, compost and other material as I can so the garden has a good start.

I’m following in my father’s footsteps again on this one.  When I was younger in the 1980s we had a Troybilt Pony.  The thing is absolutely unstoppable and is perfect for a garden of this scale.  The machine I found was in great condition and was a little older.  This is preferred because I’ve read that the newer models in more recent years leave much to be desired in terms of manufacturing quality.  Just as in about anything, they don’t make ’em like they used to.  That’s why I’m glad to have found an older model.

Eventually I’d like to build the soil up to the point where lots of tilling isn’t needed, but that’ll take several years.  I do have my eye on one of these babies, though, for some time in the future.

Thanks, Robert.

News Alert: We’ve got our homestead!

Time for a big announcement: we’re northern Colorado landowners!  We’ve been very patient and been praying for our own little place and we’ve found it.  This cute little 1946 home comes with a little over one acre of flat land out in the country in a prime agricultural area.

Our blog won’t be as active for the next week or so as we get settled in, but we’ll be back to share more of our adventure with you.

Thanks, Robert.

Gardening tip: Make all beds the same size

It’s garden planning time around our house.  Just so you get a feel for what it’s like around our house right now, our coffee table is stacked high with gardening books, seed catalogs and graph paper.  Robert and I are both obsessed and our poor children have to either scream for our attention or physically remove the book from our hands.  I like to think that I am the master gardener in the house but he seems to think that he is.  This leads to many arguments over where to plant things and what to plant.  Our latest argument is about how much to plant.  I always want to plant less, he always wants to plant more.  Since he usually wins the how much to plant argument, we need to figure out where it all goes.

Since reading Four-Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman, which I highly recommend, Robert recommended that we use a technique talked about in the book and that is make all beds the same size and all the foot paths the same size.  Why didn’t I think of that?  As I sketch out the garden I am constantly consulting Johnny’s Selected Seed catalog to find out plant spacing and row width, etc.  I get a little carried away, as is my habit, and the plans end of being somewhat complicated.  So to simplify, this year we are making all our beds 30 inches wide and all our foot paths 12 inches.  Done.

If you want to learn more or how to plant different veggies in those sized beds, you’d better check the book out of the library or order it on amazon.  It’s a good one.  I have consulted it at least a few hundred times in the last week alone.

Thanks,  Courtney

Wish me luck on my upcoming battles with self proclaimed master gardener, Robert.  🙂

Gardening time: Order your seeds

It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love…with seed catalogs.

Go ahead, buy way more than you need, we did.  We already placed our order with Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Here’s what we ordered:

5 lbs Kennebec seed potatoes

5 lbs Adirondack Red seed potatoes

1 lb Russian banana seed potatoes

Belgium endive, Totem

Asparagus, Jersey Knight

Leeks, Megaton

Onion, Copra

Here’s what I forgot to order:  shallots, popcorn corn and cantaloupe.  Oops.

What are you planting this year?  Anything new?

Thanks,  Courtney

Book Review: Steve Solomon’s “Gardening Without Irrigation”

In searching for more books written by Eliot Coleman and Steve Solomon, I came across this link to a copy of the book on Scribd.  I wanted to share the link with you and offer a few thoughts.

Plant spacing has always been a problem for me in my gardening.  I have this problem with always wanting to maximize value or return, and so I squeeze in as many plants as I can into a given space.  Not only is that bad for the plants, but it is also water intensive.  In order to reduce or eliminate water usage, plant spacing is paramount.  One big idea learned in this book is that capillary action within the soil will draw the water in from much further than I thought possible.

Another idea discussed is mulching.  Steve Solomon is a big proponent of dust mulching.  I’ve been a big mulcher in the past, mostly with grass clippings, though.  I’m not sure I’m sold on the idea of dust mulching, because we live in an area that can get pretty windy and I don’t want my valuable topsoil blowing away.  As for me, jury’s still out on this one.  I would love to hear from other’s experience with dust mulching, though.  I’m still intrigued and open minded on this matter.

Thanks, Robert.