Tag Archives: garden

DIY Garden Fence

This week, Cage Free Dad and I decided to get started on a garden fence.  We’ve known for awhile that we wanted to fence off the garden, but our struggle with birds and squirrels made us get started sooner than expected.  We don’t have a huge budget for these projects, having just moved in and having way too many projects to finish at once, so I wracked my brain for a simple, free idea.

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

We constructed this fence from old wood pallets and recycled fence wood.  We didn’t spend a single penny on supplies, which is just great! I love the uneven, messy look.  Eventually, we’ll paint it, but it’s just not in the budget right now.

We designed the fence in a way that we’ll be able to expand it as our garden grows, without too much work.  Right now we just wanted something around our immediate garden so that we could drape the bird net right on the inside of it and fully protect the garden from those pesky birds.  An added bonus, our chickens can now roam the yard again!  They had a great time enjoying the yard after CFD mowed.  Hopefully, letting them out again will help with the bug problem we’ve been having.

I’m pretty proud of our little freebie project.  It sure did take a lot of labor time (we actually started 2 weeks ago pulling apart pallets and fences), but I think it’s worth it! We should have enough wood right now to fence our entire future plot, too.

The process was pretty simple, but I’ll break it down here.  First, we broke apart pallets.  Those were a PITA, though, so after a few, CFD moved on to fence wood, which was much easier.  He cut those boards in half, because we didn’t want a tall fence.  Then, I laid out all the pieces on the grass, staggering cross beams all the way across.  We didn’t measure a certain distance for the boards, just eyeballed it, since we weren’t looking for a perfect looking fence.

Fence posts that borders the garden previously, shown in photo.

Fence posts that borders the garden previously, shown in photo.

Once all of the cross beams were screwed in, we lifted the fence and screwed them to the round fence posts that were already bordering our garden for extra support.  (see photo above)

Once that was done, we secured the corners by making wooden L’s to screw in.  Once that was done, the fence was complete! We still need to build a gate, but I’m hoping that such a small opening won’t be noticeable to the chickens and other critters in our yard.

Side view

Side view

Don’t you just love projects that turn out to be free? I know I do!

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Garden Surprise

Have you ever been surprised by the plants in your garden? What I mean is, we usually go to the nursery and pick out plants based on a plan, so we know exactly what will grow, where.  Well, this year was our first year trying out a local nursery, instead of buying starts at a big box store.  I loved the prices (.99 a start!) and service, but we have now ended up with two garden surprises!

The first one was simply the wrong kind of pepper- it was labeled jalepeno but we are pretty sure it is a banana pepper.  It’s a great producer, though, so no big deal.  However, we’ve now got a big (and I mean big) surprise in our garden.

That's not a cucumber!

That’s not a cucumber!

Remember how I said that right after we planted our garden, we suffered a really late frost and lost a few plants? We had to replace 2 of our cucumber starts.  They seemed kind of puny for the longest time, and I didn’t have much faith in them.  Suddenly, the vines branched out so fast I didn’t even have time to train them. They went everywhere.  Optimistic that this meant we would get a lot of cucumbers, I didn’t mind.  What we thought were cucumbers were popping up everywhere and growing at an exponential rate.  I finally asked in a gardening group, “what kind of cucumber is this?”  Obviously, I was told it’s not a cucumber at all (in my defense the photo was of a much smaller one, but still really big for a cucumber). I’d never seen them get this big, or have quite this pattern on them.  I feel kind of silly, now, but seeing the above photo, this obviously isn’t a cucumber.

I thought it was a cucumber!

I thought it was a cucumber!

We’ve now got 3 good sized watermelons growing in our garden.  I feel kind of silly that I picked a few when they were smaller, but hey! When you’re told it’s a cucumber, you assume it’s a cucumber, right?  I’m a little disappointed that we won’t be getting any pickles this year, but hopefully soon we’ll be enjoying some fresh watermelon straight from the garden! Now, the trick is to know when they’re ready! I honestly have no idea, since I’ve never grown a melon.

Has this happened to anyone else before??

 

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How to Compost for Your Garden

Let’s face it.  Backyard gardens are in style again.  Whether you live in a rural area with lots of space for plants, a small suburban neighborhood  with a corner of your yard reserved for veggies, or an urban apartment with a few plants in pots.  Everyone is doing it these days.  There are plenty of benefits to growing your own veggies, from knowing there are no pesticides to the freshest tasting produce you’ll ever have.  But, did you know that there is something you can do to make your gardening experience even better? It’s free, too, and takes virtually no effort on your part.  All you’ll need is a bucket in your kitchen and a small corner of your backyard, and you’ve got all of the essentials for making a compost pile.

Compost Pile

Compost Pile

Why You Should Compost

Composting is the single best thing you can do for your garden.  It adds vital nutrients to your soil which helps your plants grow bigger, healthier, and more fruitful.  Sure, you can buy compost, too.  But there are so many reasons to make your own, including:

  1. It’s free
  2. It’s easy
  3. It has a wider variety of ingredients
  4. You know what’s in it

By purchasing compost from a big manufacturer, not only are you spending money on something you could get for free, but you are also usually getting a more limited variety of nutrients, since commercial products are usually from big industries.  So you might get wood compost, or chicken compost, or straw compost, etc.  These are all great, and certainly better than just using fertilizer, but by doing it yourself, you can get much more balanced nutrients for your garden.

So, now you’re probably wondering how to compost, right? I know I’ve told you it’s free, and that it’s easy, but you probably don’t believe me.  Yet.  Trust me, I know.  It seems so overwhelming at first, but once you get started it’s the easiest thing you can do for your garden!

Getting Your Compost Pile Started

To get started with a compost pile, all you need are a small bucket or bowl, veggie scraps, dried yard or plant material, and a corner of your back yard.

There are two basic ways to make compost.  You can do an open-air compost pile, or compost in an enclosed drum or barrel.  I only have experience with open-air composting (I’m too cheap to buy a compost barrel), so that’s what I’ll be talking about here.

Personally, my compost pile is just a big pile in the corner of my yard (like the photo above), but you can also build a small wood box about the same size as a raised garden bed.  Don’t build it too high, though.

Once you have your spot picked out, it’s time to start composting! This is where the bucket and kitchen scraps come in.  I keep a small bucket in my kitchen, and throughout the day, I empty all of my fruit and veggie scraps into it. This means that every time I peel a carrot, I put the peels in the bucket.  When I core an apple, into the bucket it goes.  You get the idea!  Some things you can compost from your kitchen include:

  1. used coffee grounds (and filter)
  2. veggie peels and scraps
  3. fruit scraps
  4. old bread and pasta
  5. tea bags
  6. crushed eggshells

Things you don’t want to include in your compost bucket include meat and dairy products, which will rot and smell in your compost pile.

At the end of each day, Pistache runs our bucket of kitchen scraps out to the compost pile and dumps it. See? I told you.  No effort! Instead of dumping your kitchen waste into a trash can, you dump it into a bucket.  And now it’s useful!

So, that’s the first part of composting.  However, if you only add food scraps (otherwise known as “green matter”) to your compost, it will begin to rot instead of slowly decompose.  It will also smell and attract rodents, which can be a big problem. Then you’ll get frustrated and give up, and we don’t want that.  So, how do you avoid this? By adding brown matter to your compost pile as well.  This is the part that many people forget about, or feel that they don’t have anything to add to the pile.  However, brown matter is almost easier to come by than green matter, believe it or not.  Some things that count as brown matter include:

  1. Dried yard clippings- Every time you mow your lawn, let those clippings dry out for a day or two and then shovel them into your pile.
  2. Leaves that fall off of trees- During the fall, rake up all of your leaves and add them to your compost pile.  Or, as your neighbors for theirs!
  3. Shredded paper products- We all have a constant influx of paper products coming into our homes.  Simply throw those into a shredder and add them to the compost pile.
  4. Straw or pine shavings from your chicken coop- When you clean the coop, add that to your pile as well! This will add a little green matter as well, in the form of chicken poop, which is amazing for a garden.

You want to aim for about 1 part green matter (food stuffs) to 4 parts brown.  At the very least, aim for a 1:1 ratio to ensure that the pile doesn’t begin to rot and smell.

When is Your Compost Ready?

Your compost pile is finished when it looks like rich, brown soil.  There should be no noticeable materials left in the soil when it’s ready. If there are any kitchen scraps visible in your pile, stir them in and wait for them to decompose.  Remember, every time that you add new matter to your compost pile, you’re starting over at day one.  It might be a good idea to keep two piles.  Feed one the new matter, and let the other one “cook.” This way, you can get two compost harvests in a year.  Once it’s done, you can till it into your garden bed or layer it on like mulch.  Wait a few weeks before planting in it, to make sure it’s fully ready, and you’ll have amazing garden soil for your new plants!

This is pretty much everything you need to know to start your own compost pile.  If you start today, you’ll have the makings for perfect garden soil for next year’s garden!

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How to Fertilize an Organic Garden

I’ve put off a post about organic garden fertilizing for awhile, because I sometimes wonder “who am I to offer gardening advice?”  After all, I’ve made it very clear that I am also learning as I go. In fact, if you’ve been following my blog since the very beginning, you’ll know that my garden last year was abysmal.  It was my first attempt at organic gardening, and it was a huge learning experience for us.  However, I’ve had some questions about how I fertilize to help my plants thrive without resorting to commercial fertilizers.  I thought I’d go ahead and share my tips now, so hopefully I can encourage other gardeners to convert! After all, if you see something that works, it might help you make the switch to organic.  All of these tips are based on trial and error, and a lot of research on organic websites (see bottom of post for links).

My favorite fertilizers for my organic garden include:

  • homemade compost (come back next week for a post on composting)
  • Epsom salts
  • used coffee grounds & banana peels
  • egg shells
  • natural garden mulch.

I feel that the combination of these in my garden has made a much bigger and healthier garden this year.  Now, I’ll break down the how and why of each item I use.

June 2013 Cage Free Mom Garden

June 2013 Cage Free Mom Garden

First, and foremost, compost is the easiest and most essential addition you can make to your organic garden.  I let mine mature all year, and then add it to my garden bed and till it in once before planting.  It can make a world of difference! Not only does it add essential nutrients to your soil, it can also improve the drainage.  This means that if you have heavy clay soil like I did, you can make it better year after year by simply tilling in your compost each year.  Eventually, you won’t even be able to tell it was ever clay.  It will just be dark, rich, well drained soil.  If you aren’t adding compost to your garden yet, do it!

Compost Pile

Compost Pile

Epsom salt is another favorite in my garden, but this one seems to be more plant specific.  Plants that really seem to benefit the most from the use of epsom salt are tomatoes and peppers, although I’ve also been advised to add it to my cucumbers as well.  Epsom salt adds sulfur and magnesium to your soil, which are both vital nutrients to these plants.  In addition, if it is added to your soil dry, it can help deter slugs, which are a really common garden pest.

To use epsom salt in your garden, there are a few ways you can do it.  A great way to get your plants off to a healthy start is to add about a tablespoon to the hole before you plant your pepper or tomato plant.  This gives your plants a great source of nutrients right at the beginning so they have the best start possible.  In addition to using this during your first planting, you can also add it occasionally during the growing season.  The best way to do this is to either apply it dry around the base of your plant, or mix 2 TBS of epsom salt into a gallon of water and use that to water your plants.  This is my personal favorite method, although I’ve added it dry on a few occasions when I was in a hurry.

My natural fertilizers ready to work.

My natural fertilizers ready to work.

Coffee grounds and banana peels are two other great natural sources of nutrients for your veggie plants.  Coffee grounds are a great source of nitrogen and banana peels are used to add potassium to the soil.  For both of these fertilizers, you can either add them to your compost bin, or put them directly in your bed.  I do a bit of both.  When I want to put the coffee grounds in my garden, I generally just sprinkle the used grounds around the base of the plant.  Not only does this fertilize the plant, but it also burns slugs, keeping them off of my valuable produce.  For banana peels, I generally take whatever peels we’ve produced in the last few days and puree them in a blender with a bit of water, then pour it around my plants.  You can add them whole, or broken into bits, but I feel that pureeing them first allows the break down of nutrients to occur much faster, giving you quicker nutrients for the plants.

Egg shells are another great addition to your organic garden.  They provide calcium, and can also help deter slugs (are you noticing a pattern here?).  When planting my garden at the beginning of the season, I added a handful of blended egg shells to the holes during planting.  Then, throughout the growing season, I simply rinse my egg shells after breakfast and add them to a bag.  Every few weeks I toss them into a blender and then pour them directly around my plants to give them an extra dose of nutrients to keep them healthy.

Straw mulching the garden

Straw mulching the garden

Lastly, if done correctly, your garden mulch can also be a great source of fertilization for your plants and soil!  Many gardeners don’t consider this, since mulch is usually used to keep the soil moist and protect the plant roots from heat, but if you opt for a natural mulch rather than a bag of the rubbery mulch offered in stores, your plants will thank you.  Natural mulch includes hay, straw, dried yard clippings, shredded tree leaves, and tree branches sent through a chipper.  You will have to reapply your mulch more often this way, but that is because it breaks down so fast and goes right into the soil.  As an added bonus, at the end of the season you can just till in whatever is left and leave it for next year!

After careful research all winter long, I devised this system of fertilizing my veggie garden.  I’ve been using these natural fertilizers all season, and I’ve never had a garden look so good.  I feel that a combination of these natural fertilizers gives my plants everything they need to remain healthy all season long.  An added bonus is that you probably won’t have to spend much extra money by doing it this way.  If you do your own composting, that is a free soil amendment.  Bananas and coffee are already on my grocery list, and we eat eggs most mornings for breakfast.  This system simply uses our waste to help produce more veggies! The only things we had to buy to help fertilize our garden were straw and epsom salt, both of which have provided other uses as well.

My favorite gardening websites are MotherEarthNews.com , Organicgardening.com, & organicgardening.about.com

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In the Garden This week – June 1-7

I haven’t shared any photos of our garden the last few weeks, and thought now would be a great time to do so.  We were outside Monday evening and the light was just perfect and all of our plants looked so good that I just couldn’t help but pull out the camera and snap a few pictures.  It’s fun to see the changes over the season.  I hope you agree.

Tomato Plants

Currently, my favorite plants in the garden are my tomato plants.  We have 14 in varying varieties, and they are all producing really well.  The best production so far appears to be Romas and Cherries, but there are tomatoes and blooms on all 14 plants, and they are just looking so green and lush.  I couldn’t help but take this picture of all of them in rows.

Roma tomatoes on the vine

Roma tomatoes on the vine

Cherry tomatoes on the vine.

Cherry tomatoes on the vine.

As you can see, I’m getting some beautiful cherry and roma tomatoes this week.  These pictures were taken after our tomato harvest that day, where we got about 8 tomatoes that were fully ready.

Recovering jalepeno plants

Recovering jalepeno plants

Probably one of the biggest improvements I’ve seen in the garden this year are our jalepeno plants.  A few weeks ago, most of these plants had lost their leaves.  They were still producing fruit, but had mysteriously lost almost all of their leaves.  They were just twigs in the ground with tiny peppers coming out.  After some good pest prevention and organic fertilizing (more on that later) they’ve made a drastic recovery in a short amount of time. There are even some new flowers!

Bell Pepper Plant

Bell Pepper Plant

So far, we’ve only got one bell pepper growing on the 3 bell pepper plants we purchased, but it is getting pretty big.  It’s supposed to be a red bell pepper, so we’ll see what happens! So far, it’s bigger than the peppers that came off our plants last year, and it’s not even starting to turn red.  One of our bell pepper plants we assumed was totally done for.  In fact, even the main stalk had turned brown and drooped away from the stake holding it up.  Then, suddenly, it turned around! It’s now green and growing again.  I’m optimistic for later in the season.

Baby Carrots

Baby Carrots

Okra starts

Okra starts

We planted okra and carrots from seeds back at the beginning of May (or end of April? I can’t remember).  I didn’t weed around that area from the point of putting in the seeds until this past weekend, because I was paranoid about actually pulling up starts.  I wanted to be sure I could tell the difference before I started yanking.  Needless to say, in Southeast Texas, those weeds went rampant before I got to pull them up.  When I finally had a few hours to dedicate to wedding, I was shocked to see just how good this section of my garden looks.  In fact, I realized I have room to plant a lot more carrots! This week I’ll be mulching around the okra and planting new carrot seeds, but for now, I’m just enjoying how clean and well kept it looks.

baby orange on the tree

baby orange on the tree

baby lemons and blossoms

baby lemons and blossoms

Baby lemons on the branch

Baby lemons on the branch

My citrus trees are also doing pretty well.  Our crop won’t be nearly what it appeared when we first started getting baby fruits, but since I didn’t expect any fruit this year, I’m still happy.  As you can see in this last photo of the lemon tree, we keep getting little babies that turn yellow and fall off.  The same thing happened on our orange tree, even after we fertilized (although I believe we did that pretty late). Our lemon tree also lost a lot of it’s leaves when we transplanted it, but what is still there looks healthy, and as you can see from the second photo, we’ve still got some green lemons getting big!

Figs!

Figs!

We also have a new addition to our backyard garden this week.  2 Fig trees! This is the smallest of the 2, a Texas Everbearing fig tree. We also bought a Celeste fig tree that is much bigger (about the size of the lemon tree), but it also lost a ton of leaves when we transplanted, so it didn’t look pretty enough for a photo this week!  Hopefully it recovers quickly.  Both trees were loaded down with fruit when we bought them, so fingers crossed that they get ripe for us this year.

Mimosa tree: a pleasant surprise

Mimosa tree: a pleasant surprise

Some Pink Oleander Blooms

Some Pink Oleander Blooms

And, finally, I just wanted to share some pretty pictures from around the yard.  I’ve had so many pleasant surprises this spring.  Whoever lived here before us must have really loved to spend time in their yard at some point before they got too old to handle it (this was an estate sale, so I can actually say that). We’ve found some gorgeous plants and flowers that I didn’t recognize until they bloomed.  As you can see, we have a beautiful Mimosa tree in the back corner of our yard.  We also found a huge Oleander bush along the fence line as well.  And yes.  I’ve read the book White Oleander, and do realize that these plants are poisonous.  We have no intentions of ingesting any part of the plant, and Pistache believes that the fairies will not come to our yard if she harms any living plant, so she doesn’t play with it, either!

So, that’s it for this week! I hope you enjoyed the “stroll” around our garden.  I know I sure did.

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Let the Harvesting Begin

I can’t believe the day finally came.  It always seems to take ages for the first harvest, but today, I picked the first ripe veggies from my garden (not counting the occasional green onion clipping).  It feels so good! I just can’t wait to put these goodies to use.

first harvest

 

Today, I had a jalepeno pepper (or at least it’s supposed to be jalepeno…that’s a pretty light pepper!), 2 cherry tomatoes, a green onion clipping, a cucumber, and another handful of berries.

So far, the garden is doing better than we could have hoped.  As long as all the peppers and tomatoes hanging on our plants right now ripen, we’ll be doing loads better than our garden last year!  Hopefully, we’ll be harvesting more veggies in the next few weeks, but I’m so excited to already have ripe food straight from the garden.

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In the Garden: This Weekend

This weekend, we spent a lot of time in the yard (again).  It’s the story of our lives now that we’re home owners.  However, I just love this time of year with everything coming into bloom and surprising me. I thought I’d share a few more pictures for you, since everything is coming alone nicely.

Baby jalepenoThe most exciting development so far (because they’re new to me) are our baby jalepenos! I just photographed the largest one, but we’ve got at least 5 that are definitely going to grow, and several more that are little green nubs right now.  So cool!

Tomatoes

 

cherry tomatoesAnother exciting update is the wide array of tomatoes we have growing in our garden right now.  Last year, we only got a few small cherry tomatoes out of our garden, but this year I see little green tomatoes on all 14 of our plants.  We have cherry, roma, and big boy tomatoes, so I’m very excited to see what sort of crop we’ll get this summer! Hopefully we’ll have some to can.

first baby cucumber

I remember in last year’s garden, I sat around and watched our plants for days, studying and figuring out why I wasn’t getting a crop.  With the cucumbers, I even pollinated them myself! This year, however,  I vowed to make my garden less stress and more fun.  I haven’t done a thing other than my original fertilizing and using better soil (and watering).  Still, I noticed a baby cucumber yesterday! The one on the right should turn into a cucumber.  It’s grown considerably from what it looked like before.

magnolia blossom

And, since this is my favorite tree, I had to share one of my first Magnolia tree blossoms. I’ve been waiting on this for about a week because I knew it was coming.  Our tree may be a little worse for the wear, but I still love the flowers (and smell) that it produces in the late spring! I can’t wait to see the whole tree covered in blooms.

 

 

 

 

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