Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Two Weeks and All is Well!

strawberry lemonade!
It has been 14 entire days since I've written last, due to throwing myself into work and having very little time to do much of anything besides make sure the kids are clean and fed.  We had a couple of nice days--and by nice, I mean over 50 degrees!  I managed to get soil into the raised beds and get some seeds planted outside.

The peas are in the hoop bed, red and golden beets are in another bed, an entire bed of red onion sets have been planted, and a couple of different kinds of kale have just sprouted.  By the time our last frost date rolls around, the peas, kale, and beets should be ready to harvest, and the beds will be home to peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and carrots.  Amazingly, our Red Russian kale from last year started taking off the moment the snow melted.  I picked off the browned outside leaves and it is starting to grow new ones!  The garlic I planted last fall has kicked into gear as well, and I'm starting to feel the excitement of impending summer.  I have a schedule of when to plant each set of seeds, based on the number of days it takes them to mature.  Right now, in the house, I have celery and shallots started, but nothing else will go in until this weekend.

seed starts
This past weekend was Evie's birthday, which also coincided with the opening of Pennsylvania's fishing season, so we went fishing for her birthday!  We've been having a ton of rain, though, so the creek was muddy, fast, and the water level was really high.  Everyone was having a rough time getting the trout to bite.  One gentleman overheard that it was Evie's birthday and gave her his only catch of the day, which was super sweet of him to do.

The birthday girl and her birthday trout
On the homemade front, I've been baking apple turnovers with some of the apple pie filling that I froze last fall.  Tonight I baked some bread, and for the past few weeks have been making a huge batch of steel-cut oats in the slow cooker.  This week, I've been working on going "shopping" in my chest freezer so that we can use up the things that we froze from last year in order to make room for this year's harvest.

I managed to burn my hand last week by hitting the exposed top of my hand against one of the hot oven racks.  I put the last of my homemade "owie salve" on it, so ended up making another batch.  It is easy to make and really works well on minor cuts, scrapes, scratches, and burns.  It also smells really good!  I base my recipe on Mrs. Happy Homemaker's Homemade Natural Neosporin as well as on ingredients that my ex-husband's late grandmother used in her "Horton's" salve.

Herbs infuse the oils making it a dark green
I've been up with a sick kidlet for the past few days, but it looks like the tide has turned and she's on the mend, finally.  I'm going to head to bed early (for me) and hope tomorrow brings us a healthy sort of day.  Friday, I'm headed to the creek to hopefully catch some trout, and Saturday, the girls and I are meeting up with my friend Cynthia to go foraging for leeks and morels.  Of course, I'll take the camera this time.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

PVC Hoop Greenhouse for Raised Garden Beds

In typical Pennsylvania fashion, we had a brief break in the icy, snowy weather to be reminded what spring is supposed to be like.  I took complete advantage of this by installing a couple of the raised beds I have been working on for a while.  Since our average last frost date is May 28th (and first frost is in mid-September), I want to have a way to lengthen our growing season, even if it is just by a few weeks.  Building a greenhouse right now is out of the question, but it also doesn't really help when your plants are already in the ground.  I decided to make a hoop-style greenhouse with some really low-cost supplies that you can pick up at any Home Depot or Lowes.

A couple of months ago, a local company in my town was offering free pallets.  I jumped on the chance to score some free lumber for raised beds, and I'm really happy I did.  In the pallet "yard" we found some wooden boxes that were used to package glass and mirrors.  In essence, they  were nearly complete as raised beds, but without bottoms.  Since I am installing the garden on a concrete pad, it is somewhat important that the beds have a bottom so that the soil doesn't wash away during watering and rain.  

This is what they looked like when I first got them:

All I really had to do was to pry off a couple of boards from one of the pallets that didn't have sides, and nail them to the boxes that did.  It sounds a lot easier than it was, since some of these boards had dozens of 3-inch staples that were just horrid to remove, snip, or bend.  

The concrete pad looked like this on Saturday:

That area in the middle that looks like it has gravel
is quick-setting concrete that I applied a couple of weeks ago.
I raked up the sticks in the foreground and applied a good dose of white vinegar to the cracks where the weeds have already started greening up.  Once they're covered with landscape fabric and mulch, they should no longer be a problem.

I underestimated the amount of landscaping fabric I'd need by about half.  I purchased a roll of 3 x 100-foot fabric, since the pad isn't that big.  It covered a little over half of the pad, and I had enough to put into one bed to hold the soil in.  Purchasing more landscape fabric is on my to-do list this week.

Once I had the fabric down, I had to move the garden beds to the concrete pad.  This was definitely the part I was not looking forward to, since I was going to have to do it by myself.  Luckily, I have my workhorse of a garden cart (the Tricam FR110-2 Farm & Ranch 400-Pound Capacity Steel Utility Cart).  The sides drop down so that I can haul something on a flat platform, and the cart can haul up to 400 pounds of material!  The only downside to having the cart's sides down is that the turning radius is slightly reduced, since the sides rest against the wheels.  Getting the boxes onto the cart was no picnic, as they weigh at least 70 pounds. I lifted each one onto one side, pushed the cart beside it, and let it fall.  I had to maneuver the ends so that the weight was equally distributed, but then pulling it the rest of the way to the concrete pad was a piece of cake.  Getting the box off of the cart and onto the fabric, evenly, without ripping the landscape fabric was a feat, but I managed to get that done as well.

To install the hoops, I picked up three 1/2 inch diameter, 12-foot lengths of PVC tubing from Lowes for less than $2 each.  I would not go shorter than the 12-foot length, as it may be too difficult to hold into place while nailing.  I also bought a package of 2-hole pipe straps (about $3) that would fit the diameter of the PVC.  I used some nails that I had on hand.  

While I did this project by myself, and it is entirely doable by yourself, I would highly recommend having another person handy to help with the bending and installation of the PVC pipe so that it does not snap back at you and cause injury.  Wear safety glasses.  If you are doing it by yourself, as I did, please be careful!  

Measure the length of the raised bed and mark the center on both of the long sides.  Then mark 2 inches from each end.  This is where you will install the PVC pipe.  

In order to avoid injuring myself, I nailed one side of the bed with the pipe straps, leaving about 1/4 inch between the nail head and the wood.  In other words, do not nail this side all the way in.  On the other side, I nailed only ONE side of the pipe strap, again, leaving about a quarter-inch of wiggle room.  This allowed me to slide the pipe easily into one side of the bed, bend the pipe, press it against the mark while maneuvering the strap over the "loose" end, and nail it into place.  Then I went back to the other side and finished nailing the straps into place.  In order to keep the pipe from flying up and decapitating me hitting me in the head, after the pipe was bent, since I was bent over facing away from the bed, I held it in place with my hind end and leg.  I'm sure I looked ridiculous, but it allowed me to free up my hand to hold the nail in place while I tapped the strap in.

Installed strap

This is the finished bed, without the plastic covering, since there was nothing planted in there yet.  Filling the bed took 10 quarts of organic garden soil.  Since rain was predicted for the next day, I decided to put in an early spring crop of peas on Sunday morning and would allow the rain to water them in.  Before planting them, however, I soaked them overnight in water to rehydrate and give them a head start in sprouting.  Once they do sprout, I'll cover the bed with a plastic painting drop cloth and use PVC clamps to keep it in place.

I covered these up with soil and gave them a nutrient-filled watering with some of Elderberry Farm's Alpaca Compost Tea.  

I make a concentrated quart, and dilute it with water until it makes a gallon.

The label for this stuff is hilarious!

Bootleggin Walt is the name of one of the alpacas
Since I don't have any finished compost for soil amendment, I can use all the help I can get as far as nutrients, microorganisms, and beneficial bacteria right now.  The "tea brew" is about 8 months old and won't burn any of the plants.  It can also be used over and over until it finally has to be replenished.  We had great results with it in the last few months of summer last year.

After all that work was done, I kicked off my boots and put my feet up, watching the kids play outside for the first time in a very long time.

It doesn't get much better than that.

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