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Archive for May, 2010

No Rain. No, not the Blind Melon song, but my life. In an effort to shake things up a little bit and try to conserve, we installed two rain barrels this year. We have a 156 gallon barrel in the back for the large raised beds and other smaller beds (tomato, carrot patches), and a 50 gallon barrel in the front for the raised stone bed, which belongs to my partner in crime in the dirtbox, the Silver Fox. (The front barrel also covers my onion patch and the sunflower/pumpkin bed)

We get a fair amount of rain in our neck of the woods, so the barrels were more out of curiosity than necessity. All gardeners in the Hudson Valley no doubt remember the torrential downpours of last summer (I use the term “summer” lightly), and the destructive late blight that followed suit.

Fast forward to this year, and my rain barrels are nearly empty! Of course I still have my trusty old hose setup, but if I can use rainwater over well water I will. I’ve been poring over the forecast for the last several days, waiting and hoping for rain. Not that I’m going to plan my whole summer around this dry spell, but I do feel a little hesitant to plant my last vegetables if I feel like its going to be a very dry summer.

Meanwhile, the weather has been a fickle friend this year, and the meteorologists even more so. Strong scattered thunderstorms have been all over the Valley, and although we hear the thunder, we get no rain still. My rain barrel, once up to almost my shoulders with water, is now dust and pollen.

Today I awoke determined not to let the ceaseless jewel blue sky deter me. (Sounds like an oxymoron, I know, but I never realized how crucial rain can be until I started gardening!) I just checked the forecast, and…finally! 80% chance of thunderstorms in tomorrow’s outlook, before back to warmth and sun for the week, and then thunderstorms again over the weekend. If I’m lucky, it’ll be a strong enough storm to fill my barrels.

Are you getting enough rain this year for your garden?

“When halo rings the moon or sun
Rain’s approaching on the run.”

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My arugula that has since gone to seed...

Any garden blog or book worth its weight in compost will tell you that the best way to fail at being a gardener is to over-plant. Crops are like potato chips – its impossible to have just one! I find self-imposed space limitations to be the best way to avoid over-planting (although I still somehow manage to do it anyways…) After all, if you don’t till it, you can’t plant it. A salad box is a great way to avoid over-planting, looks beautiful, and is easy to take care of, too!

First, you’ll need to create or buy the box. There’s several ways to go about this: You can find several different styles of large pots from any garden store, or for the do-it-yourself crew, you can create your own. A good-sized box is around 2×2, but you can make it bigger or smaller, depending on your available space and how much time you want to invest. Because salad greens generally have a shallow root system, you can construct the box with a bottom panel; this won’t interfere with the plant growth. (Another great benefit to the box being enclosed on the bottom is that the potential for bugs and disease is greatly reduced) Another idea for a salad box is to use scavenged materials, like an old, rotted out log (my personal favorite – the center will decompose before the bark and outer layers, making a perfect natural pot).

So, now you’ve got a box filled with dirt – time to make it a garden! I try not to buy pre-started plants, but if this is your first time in the dirtbox, you may want to check out the seedling selection at your local nursery. Stick to easy to grow, fast maturing plants, and don’t forget to be mindful of your climate (lettuce generally likes cool weather)! There’s nothing like planting a nice row of crisp greens, only to check on it one day to see that it has wilted and gone to seed. For cool climates, try things like arugula, spinach and a mesclun green mix. For warmer climates, stick to swiss chard and buttercrunch.

TIP – Remember, if you want to save seeds for next year, try to use open-pollinated (heirloom) seeds! Hybrids (which are what you most likely will get from pre-started garden center seedlings) will produce good fruit for the season, but are typically bred to be sterile.

Another crop you may want to try planting in your salad box are radishes. They add beautiful color and flavor to any salad, and are good for stir frys too. (Its just an extra added bonus that they’re one of the easiest and fastest crops out there.) Radishes, on average, take less than a month from seed to maturity, and require little more attention than some dirt and a little watering!

Admittedly, I went a little overboard with my salad box this year and ended up using about three-quarters of one of my raised beds! That arugula is so temptinggggg….What are you going to plant in your salad boxes this year?

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