Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cold Frame Part II

I realize it has been a long time since I have written anything, but time kinda got away from me. So what better time to pick it back up again than when I have constructed cold frame v2 (or is it cold frame 1.2). It is similar to my first cold frame, only with some slight improvements. But let's start from the beginning. First I purchased cedar 2x2's and cut them to length. I butt them together for a simple joint.

On the last cold frame I bought metal brackets for corner supports. This time I decided to save some money and cut the leftover 2x2's into corner braces.

This is what it looks like with all the braces in place. The lids were much easier to put together with store bought 2x2's rather than twisted scrap pieces off my wood pile.

Then I clamped my pieces of plexi-glass to the lid frame and drilled holes in it. I used a drill just slightly larger than the sheet metal screws I planned on using. A word of caution, when drilling through plexi-glass drill gingerly. It can crack easily.

Once I had all the holes drilled, I screwed in the sheet metal screws with a nut driver.

Next I cut the side pieces to length and cut them at an angle from 12" down to 8". I don't have a picture of that, but here is how I attached them to the back 2x12 and I did the same with the front 2x8.

This is the whole frame put together. After I got it put together, I had a thought. The the joints where the angled pieces meet the front and back pieces don't allow the lids to lay exactly flat (a problem I had with the first cold frame). So it dawned on me that I could just flip it over. That worked really well and the lids now lay completely flat on the frame. I don't know if I explained that very well, but it will make sense if you ever build one.

The other improvement I made was to use heavy duty hinges on the back. I also wanted hinges that would allow the lids to be removed in the summertime. The perfect solution was recycled door hinges. I didn't pay anything for them and they are really sturdy. As you can see from the picture they are a little to big to fit all three screws in on the top side, but 5 out of 6 screws in the hinge is plenty to hold it all together.

On the next version I plan to try to recycle some old window sashes instead of using plexi-glass. The plexi was also free, but I think that window sashes or storm windows will last longer than plastic that isn't UV resistant.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm a Tree Herder

I had a thought the other day. Why am I trying to keep 10 tiny trees alive from ten miles away? Wouldn't it be easier to pot them and bring them into town? "Absolutely!" said Frank Gomez of Ok, so I'm a little slow with my epiphanies.

So, I loaded up my tools and some containers into the trusty rusty pickup and began herding the rogue poplings into town. 10 out of 300 lived, not a great outcome. One might think that I would be upset. At first I was, but I am choosing now to chalk it up to experience or lack there of. I will be wiser next year, and by the by, Frank has graciously agreed to replace the ones I lost next year and he has given me tip after tip along the way. If you want to look at it with a positive spin, I now have the strongest 3 percent of the trees for propagation purposes!

So, until next year this is where the little buggers will live (well, they have a winter home in the garage).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sláinte Slugs!

While my wife was picking lettuce this afternoon in the garden, she found a few slugs. We have had a very wet year, in fact we have surpassed our yearly average already. So, I decided to toast the little buggers and give 'em a drink. I have read about beer traps, but never needed to use one. So, I buried a dish up to an inch from the top and put some Keystone in it. We'll see if I catch any.

After finishing the rest of the 'stone, I had to take a picture of the beans. They have completely outgrown their allotted space. If you look closely you can see a few ticked off pepper plants getting caught up in the mix.

I reached a personal record in my compost pile, 150 degrees. Yes, I have a compost thermometer (pause for snickering). The science of compost fascinates me to no end. I have been experimenting with composting coffee grounds obtained from a local coffee shop. I have been mixing them in with a little wood ash (to counteract any extra acidity) and then buried with last fall's leaves (and of course kitchen and garden scraps).

We are saving peas as next year's seeds for the first time. These are snap peas. I ended up saving way more than will fit in my garden, but they won't go to waste.

This tiny little guy is an alpine strawberry, we started them indoors this winter for funs and we finally got to eat one. Although they don't get much bigger than this, I picked it a bit too early and it didn't taste that great. I picked it in my zeal to win the harvest over the birds. I won, they lost, it was very tart.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Random Updates

I haven't had much time to blog lately so I thought I would lump a few brief entries into one ball o' randomness. This first picture is a pretty decent sized harvest of snap peas and broccoli. We ate some and froze the rest. The broccoli was two years in the making since the rabbits ate it before we could last year.

This is one of the poplars. It is doing well, most are not. The weather this spring was not great for these guys. The guy I bought them from said the heavy rains we received likely caused them to rot before they grew. Even though they could be considered a failure this year, I am still optimistic for next year. You can click the tag at the bottom for the rest of the story.

We were so excited about the broccoli that I decided to grow a second round of it as a fall crop. The seeds were planted in peat pellets that we received as a gift one year. They work just fine, but I still like soil blocks much better for moisture retention and size.

This is one lonely maple that lived from the maple experiment. It is the only tree standing from the 15 seeds planted. About 4 seeds germinated, but only this one is still going. One out of fifteen doesn't sound very good, but for free seeds I gathered in the neighborhood I think it is encouraging. I will try again next year with a lot more seeds. I also plan to harvest some acorns to plant this fall.

That's what's going on in brevity at our household. Hopefully I can keep up and dedicate enough time to certain topics in future entries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hello Neighbor

I went out to our acreage for a status update (I'll talk about that in a bit). Upon leaving I was walking down what will someday be our driveway, when I decided to say hello to the neighbors.

I don't know their names but they sure like attention. But that's not the story. While I was having a chat with my equine friends, I heard a rustle in the grass. I didn't think much of it. Then I saw something moving through the grass. I got a visual on it. It was a snake about 18 inches long. At first glimpse I thought it was a juvenile bull snake. But then I thought to myself, that is a bit too stout for a bull snake and the head is a bit too wide. So then I begin to worry it is a rattle snake. Bull snakes are common in this area, rattle snakes are not as common but not unheard of. So, I backed away to try to snap some pictures. It didn't work so well, but I did get one that would allow me to identify it. Actually, my Dad identified it. My Dad taught biology for many years and has far more knowledge on the subject than myself. Anyway this guy

is a western hognose snake. Not dangerous to humans. Being an amateur science geek, I thought the whole experience was pretty exciting. I hope to see more of the little buggers. I love the country! Here is a better picture from google images.

On a different note. I now believe that the poplars are doing better than I thought. Our spring was just too cold for them to sprout. I counted 46 of them showing green. 46 out of 300 hundred doesn't sound good, but it tells me that I gave up on some of the buds too early. I think I may meet my benchmark of 75%.

I haven't done a garden update lately, I don't have pictures nor the time right now but hopefully this weekend I will. I can tell you though, that we are now eating broccoli, leafy greens and snap peas.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

OP-367 Update

I'm starting to smell the stench of failure. Don't get me wrong, some of the poplars look like this.

Most of them do not. I was looking for about 75% of the cuttings to survive in order to call it a success. Granted I have never done this before so I could be wrong, but it is looking to me like I am going to get about a third of them to live. Not a success in my book. Tomorrow I'm going to email the guy that I bought them from, and see how many of the cuttings he will replace and how I can do better. So far his customer service has been excellent. I think it is important to share failures as well as successes. Along those same lines, here are a couple of things I would have done differently.

1. Weather - Ok, so I can't control the weather but I can tell you we are having an unusually cold spring complete with the occasional frost.

2. Longer Cuttings - Since we have sandy soil on our land, I think longer cuttings would have been in contact with more moisture. Also, our soil seems to "float" the cuttings to the surface when it rains. Longer cuttings would probably anchor down a little better.

Only time will tell how many poplars are really going to live. The good news is, I can take my own cuttings in the future if I do ever get them to grow.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Maple Experiment

While walking through the neighborhood, I noticed how many "trees" go unplanted each year or become "weeds" only to be plucked out of flower beds. Stay tuned for the results. And ... yes that is the color of the floor in our laundry room.

In other news, I made a little hoop house to keep the bugs from eating the broccoli before we do. It is made from 9 gauge fencing wire and floating row cover. I hope it works. Never mind the extremely tall grass just outside the garden. I better go do some trimming.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Operation OP-367

If you know what an OP-367 is, you might be as big of nerd as I am. Last night my wife, my parents and I planted 300 hybrid poplars on our acreage. Clone OP-367 to be specific. What was the purpose, you may be thinking. It is the birth of my future wood lot. Why poplars? Poplars grow fast and can regenerate from the stump once cut down. Poplars are a hardwood, albeit a softer hardwood.

Here's the plan: you plant a quarter acre a year of the poplar cuttings for four years in succession. Every year (after the fourth year) you harvest a quarter acre for firewood. The trees will be about 4-6 inches in diameter, a good sized log that doesn't need to be split. Just cut it into length for the wood stove. Each quarter acre should yield 3 cords of wood their first cutting and 5 each cutting after.

Poplars aren't as good for firewood as say oak, but they will yield more BTUs per acre when planted on 6' centers.

The little buggers came in bags of 25.

You plant them so that only one bud is showing out of the ground. That's a Sakakawea dollar next to it. It was the only change my Dad had in his pocket.

My Wife and my Mom doing some final watering.

I tried to mulch around each one with mulch to retain moisture.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Garden Update

Our first salad cut from the garden. This was cut for our supper last Saturday. It contains giant mustard and spinach. We discovered that my wife severely dislikes the mustard greens. I think my immense pride overtook my taste buds.

One of our favorites, Sugar Ann snap peas!

The broccoli is still hanging in there, despite mother nature's efforts to destroy it.

Cold frame plants are doing well.

I planted a stick on our 12 acres! Actually I planted three raspberry canes. Two Boyne and one Fall Gold. I'm excited but I am trying not to get my hopes up since I killed a few of the same varieties last year. To be fair, the wild life nipped off all the leaves. Still, I blame myself. This year I protected them with chicken wire. Cross your fingers.

These are our tomato seedlings indoors. They are about ready to potted up.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Frost and Snow

I haven't had time to post about the broccoli adventure lately, I've had a million things going on outside the garden. But, if there is anyone out there that may have stumbled upon my blog and thought that I was a seasoned veteran gardener, well I should let you know right now that I make mistakes - a lot. I think it is important to share my pitfalls as well as successes. That's what makes the global gardening community so tight knit.

So here goes. Remember when I told you all how perfect the day was for planting broccoli. It was perfect, but the next morning I awoke to frost ... a lot of frost. I made the rookie mistake of trusting Mother Nature. I went to bed without even checking the weather report. When I woke up, I noticed the frost and immediately grabbed my watering can to wash the frost off. I saved the plants, but there was plenty of damage. Needless to say, I was pretty upset with myself.

Along those same lines, I made the mistake of trusting the weather report. Today I woke up to trace amounts of snow. The forecast was calling for rain, so I didn't cover the broccoli in order to give it a drink from Big Momma Nature. When the wife announced to me that it had snowed, I promptly let out an expletive and threw on a jacket. There I was green watering can in hand, wearing my sweatpants and a gray hoodie and cursing under my breath. I washed all the snow off. Once again it is still alive, but could look healthier.

I apologize for not having any pictures but I was much to busy cursing at inanimate objects to think about the camera.

Live and learn.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Planting Out the Broccoli

Today I transplanted my broccoli seedlings into the garden. It actually turned out to be the perfect day for transplanting broccoli. It's overcast, not too warm and not windy. Broccoli likes cool weather. From here on out it's a race with time. It's best to get your broccoli harvested before the warm weather brings in the bugs. Bugs like to lay their eggs in the broccoli heads and that's not good. Kinda nasty actually.

The Marvel that is Spinach
Spinach surprise number one: the over-wintered spinach plant is alive and well!

Spinach surprise number two: we allowed a couple spinach plants last year go to seed, but never got around to harvesting the seeds. Where they died, a whole host of volunteer spinach plants are sprouting.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cold Frame Gardening in April?

It's mid-April and it was 64 degrees today, so perhaps it is about the end of the cold frame season. Nonetheless, I finally got some plants underneath my cold frame. I transplanted the spinach and mustard, and also planted some swiss chard, lettuce and more spinach. Even though the cold frame season is probably coming to an end in most of the country, here in North Dakota we could easily have another cold snap or two. None of that matters anyway. My beaming pride would have forced me to stubbornly put the cold frame in the garden even if it had been 90 degrees.

So far the transplants don't seem to be any worse for the ware. It will take a few days for the roots to begin venturing out and then I'll see some new growth. In this picture you can see the mustard in the back and the spinach in the foreground. You can also see the Univent automatic vent opener that I installed. I ordered it from this company. It is temperature sensitive and expands and contracts with the heat and cold cycles of each day. It was a little spendy, but I'm not home during the day to manually vent the cold frame to keep the sun from scorching the plants.

Upon strolling through the newly snowless garden, the wife spotted something interesting. Something green. These are a couple of spinach plants that didn't get out of the garden before the snow flew last fall. Now that the snowy blanket has lifted, they have emerged and almost look lively. I'm going to monitor them to see if they start growing again. If they do, it will give me great hope for winter gardening. Even in zone 4!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring is Here

Yesterday was one of the first days where the weather felt good enough to be outside. So I took the opportunity to screen some compost so I can be prepared to plant under my cold frame. Which, by the by, finally made it outside. We planted our leafy greens within the cold frame, but I haven't taken any pictures yet. I digress. It may be a true testament to how big of nerd I am that I am very proud of my compost. So here it is.

The screen is 1/4" hardware cloth. I realized right quick that I need to construct a larger one approximately wheelbarrow sized. The last picture is my two bin compost system. I turned the full side over into the side I just emptied out into the wheelbarrow. I'll leave it there to finish and I will start a new pile in the now empty side.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tour of the Farm

I thought it was time for a seedling update, mostly I thought it would give me something to do while a spring blizzard wreaks havoc on my home town. First on the docket, the spinach. They have their first "true" leaves and I have almost been tempted to cut and taste. But, thus far I have refrained.

These little beauties are red giant mustard seedlings. They purportedly have more folic acid than even spinach leaves. I got these seeds from Markham Farm. I can't recall ever having eaten mustard greens so I'm pretty excited about them.

This leafy jungle is the broccoli seedlings. They are growing very fast. Last year we didn't get to eat any of our broccoli. A group of rogue bunnies in leather jackets (maybe)  helped themselves to the plants before they had a chance to head. It looked like someone had run over them with a lawnmower. Shameless gluttons. Shortly after that I enclosed the garden with chicken wire. That kept the buggers out.

Last but not least these tiny little guys are called alpine strawberries. They're a bit of a fun experiment. We got these seeds as part of a Valentine's Day gift. They grow a small strawberry about the size of your thumbnail. Everything that I have read about them says that they are very tasty despite being rather small. They took a long time to germinate so I was pretty pumped when they came up. Only time will tell.

Hopefully this weekend I will be able to get my cold frame out in the garden. It would have been nice to get it out there before the recent snows, but I had to go out of town for work on short notice.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sprouting Spinach

Spinach kinda looks like grass, no? People may be wondering why I am so garden gung ho when my garden still looks like this.

I have constructed a secret weapon. Well, it's not really a secret to gardeners that routinely use season extenders. This week I put the finishing touches on my first cold frame.

The cold frame is a bit like a mini greenhouse. It takes in sun and warms the soil throughout the day, then at night the soil slowly releases the warmth back into the cold frame. It's a really simple means to extend the gardening season. The design of my cold frame is an amalgam of this design and the thoughts of Eliot Coleman in his book Four Season Harvest. By the by, I highly recommend anything written by Eliot Coleman. He's not only a master of his craft, but a very talented writer to boot.

I made my cold frame out of 2x12 and 2x8 stock. The back side is 12" tall and slopes to 8" in the front. The slope is meant to face south in order to maximize the amount of sunlight in the lower winter sun. The lids, or lights, are made out of a 2x2 frame with salvaged plexi-glass screwed to it. I put corner braces in each corner for support.

There are 2" hinges on the back side of the lids for opening and closing. Next time I'm going to use beefier hinges. The 2" ones are a tad flimsy.

The initial test of the cold frame was a success.

The power of the sun warmed the inside of the frame 34 degrees more than the ambient air temperature. I speculate that both temperatures were a little high since the test was done on the concrete right next to the garage. Nonetheless, the difference is what I was looking for. Now, I just need to dig a 4'x3'x3' hole in the glacier covering the garden.