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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rejuvenating the strawberry patch

I have neglected the strip of strawberry plants along a retaining wall in my front yard long enough. I got the plants from a neighbor several years ago when he thinned his patch. His garden produces impressive quantities of beautiful berries. I gave what plants I didn't have room for to another neighbor. Her patch flourishes, too -- enough that her children sell the berries door-to-door. And yes, I buy them! (To fill my lack.) It's a cruelly ironic circle-of-life kind of thing.

What's the deal with my strawberry patch?

Do you even see the patch?

The plants are crowded and competing for space with grass, herbs and flowers that jumped their boundaries. The strawberries have become more of a ground cover than a strategic crop. A ground cover can be just fine, if that's what you want, but strawberries treated this way will not be very productive. Besides, who plants strawberries if not for the fruit?

My project, then, was to start fresh. The strawberries are to the left of the retaining stones. I dug up all of them in this main path. I kept a few between the stones.

I carefully set the plants into flats, watered them and moved them out of the bright sunshine and heat while I continued working. (Ha! We had a snowstorm since. Ah, you gotta love spring.) 

Then I spread composted manure and mixed that into the soil. 

My berries are the type that produce one crop in spring. The everbearing kind makes an early summer crop and another, often smaller, one in the fall.

These are guidelines for each type. When planting strawberries, keep the crown level with the surface. The crown is where the cluster of roots meet in one point. In this strawberry plant picture the sidewalk line represents the soil level. If roots are loose, (as they are here), spread them out as you plant. Dig a hole two inches deeper than the roots, make a mound in it and place the spread out roots on top. Cover the roots with dirt, taking care to keep the crown level with the surface. Too low it can rot, too high, the roots can dry out.

I clipped off any dead leaves and blossoms before transplanting. As the season goes on I will remove other blossoms. Yes, this will drive me crazy! It is so hard to delay a strawberry harvest. Yet this practice allows plants to pour energy into roots rather than fruit production. This will help the plants get stronger this season and produce even more berries next year. Argh! (Good thing I have my neighbor saleskids!)

I planted the strawberries about 15 inches apart, using the stones as a spacing guide. The ones in the triangles between the stones are the plants I left. These will be the plants I harvest this year. All my transplants align with the left side of the stones. Later in the season, when these plants make runners I will limit them to one per plant. I will guide the runners to the right side of the stones. This system will help me track the age of the plants. Typically plants thrive about three years.

Water regularly the first few weeks to keep ground evenly moist. Cultivate around the plants about once a week. Keep forming strawberries off the ground by putting straw around the plants (hey, I get it!) or making simple posts out of pieces of clothes hangers (like a shepherd's hook plant stake) to lift the berries. They are safer from snails that way. Avoid feeding the birds by installing garden netting or covering plants with cheesecloth you can find at the grocery store. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I'll take that as a sign!

Look what I unearthed in my garden during spring clean-up: an ace of spades!  Do you dig it? (groan)

'Tis the season we uncover balls, Matchbox cars, blown away homework, pencils, garden tools, sometimes dishes and even shoes in our backyard jungle, things set aside in warmth and forgotten in winter. The weirdest things we have found were large, cut bones -- leftover, I hope, from meat previous homeowners fed pets. But you never know.

How about you? What's the strangest thing you've found digging in your backyard farm?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The World is Our Backyard

We appreciate everyone who visits this blog and participates as we learn together about backyard farming. As you have noticed, Marisa and I have left the main duties of writing for Backyard Farming to our good friend Jennifer. While we love gardening and growing our own food, life has called us on a different adventure for a while. We are now traveling the country and living in a fifth wheel as a family. As you might expect this makes it hard for us to have a backyard garden or chickens. We are sad and miss it, but we will return to gardening when this adventure is over.

 Here are a few of the things we are experiencing on the road.

Farmers Markets

National Parks and Forests

Giant Produce 

We spend a lot of time reading the articles on backyard farming and all of the great comments that you have. Thanks for being a part of this blog and inspiring Jennifer to provide the excellent articles and ideas she provides.

We would love to have you be a part of our adventure. Follow us at any of the links below.

Blog: www.livingagoodstory.com
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/LivingaGoodStory2015
Instagram: marisa_livingagoodstory
Instagram: michael_livingagoodstory

Friday, March 18, 2016

Our favorite online seed-starting calculators and tools

Successful backyard farmers know that plants have different cold temperature hardiness and heat tolerances, and that the "plant the veggie patch in one day" approach of so many home gardeners doesn't yield as large and robust a harvest as staggering sowings throughout the growing season.

The back side of seed packets is full of information, yes, but there's an easier way! Thanks to online interactive tools, mapping out when to start seeds indoors and when to transfer seedlings outside has never been so fun. These calculators use decades of horticultural study and weather data to personalize your planting calendar. Here are some of our favorite online tools.

The first order of business is to establish the last frost date in your area. Undoubtedly the best resource is a sage gardening neighbor who knows all about the microclimates and quirks of your hood. Lacking a neighbor almanac, the website Dave's Garden (click here) will provide frost information when you enter your ZIP code. 

Logo and materials from johnnyseeds.com used with permission.

Armed with your last frost date, you can now access the fantastic calculators at Johnny's Seeds. This is a screen shot that shows the results for my last frost date of May 15. The table lists crop name, a range of when to start indoors, and when I can plant outside. On the full webpage you will see a note attached to the asterisks (*): Usually direct-sown, but may be started indoors. The table continues far beyond the crops in this view, with flower listings as well.

Click web address by image to go to the site and generate your own table:

Johnny's also as a feature to determine how many seeds or plants you need to fill your space. You enter crop and row length. Click here for seed-spacing calculator.

If you want to hone your garden planning process even further, check out Johnny's tools for succession planting and target harvest date. Both are available here. The latter would be especially helpful, say, if you desire to finish canning tomatoes before a scheduled trip. (Definition of travel: the thing I hear other people get to do!) These calculators open as Excel spread sheets.

What are your favorite seed-planning strategies?

I wish all of you happy planting, indoors and out. Isn't spring glorious? Here's a parting shot of the first bloom from my soil-less indoor tulip project. See, they will grow!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Super easy newspaper pots for starting seeds

A super simple way to make pots for starting seeds is with a single strip of newspaper. I've seen all sorts of complex cutting, folding and taping instructions and even advertisements pitching a wooden tool to form the pots. Phooey! All you need is paper, scissors, a jar and your fingers.

Choose a jar that is the same diameter as your desired pot size. My jar held bouillon cubes. It is bigger than a standard spice rack jar, and smaller than a pint jar.

I cut a standard newspaper sheet (one side of the vertical fold) into three pieces lengthwise. Place the jar on the strip of paper so about two inches of width extends beyond the jar's opening. Start at one short end of the strip and wrap the paper around the jar as you roll it.

Push the two-inch edges of the paper back into the jar all around. Take the pot off the jar, and using your fingertips scrunch the newspaper down from the inside to form the bottom. You're done!

For a single strip of newspaper they are surprisingly strong. They do dry out quickly, however, so be sure to keep them in a watertight tray. Packing them tightly will help them keep their shape as well as promote even moisture. I also recommend moistening your seed-starting medium before putting it in the pots.

You can plant the entire pot into your garden. I like to pull off the bottom to free roots as I transplant. Be sure to bury completely when planting, as paper still sticking out on top can draw away moisture.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Why buying a home with room to garden is so important

By Ryan Martin

Buying a home is an exciting process, with the opportunity to explore a variety of different environments in a quest to find that perfect space to call your own. When looking for your new home, it’s important to make sure that you’ve got plenty of room for gardening. Modernize knows you’ll be glad that you put gardening on the front burner during the home purchase process—here’s why:

Save Some Money

One of the best reasons to buy a home with room to garden is that you’ll save lots of money on food throughout the year. Even if you grow your own herbs, tomatoes, and greens, you’ll likely save a noticeable amount on your grocery bills. But with room to garden at your own home, you can go a step further and raise some chickens for fresh eggs on a regular basis.

The chickens will pay their rent by providing free fertilizer and keeping intrusive bugs to a minimum both in your garden and around your home. You’ll likely find that chickens are a joy to hang around and will help keep your stress levels in check, as vegetable farming does. In the end, the money you spend on farming and gardening is sure to pay off with money saved on food, health expenses, and lifestyle costs overall.

Decrease Your Carbon Footprint

By making sure that your new home has room for gardening, you’ll reduce your household’s overall carbon footprint as time goes on by minimizing your CO2 emissions and your need for the overall resources, such as gas and pesticides, that go into producing the foods you would normally buy at the store if you weren’t able to produce them at home. The closer your food is grown to your home, the less water, soil, and other resources you contribute to the need for—so kudos for gardening and keeping chickens on your new property!

Become an Inspirational Role Model

A fun benefit of buying a home with plenty of room to garden is that you get to become a positive role model for your family, friends, and even neighbors throughout your community. You can teach others how easy it is to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, lettuce, and even potatoes—as well as care for chickens in a way that is beneficial for everyone involved. Sharing gardening and farming tips with neighbors is a great way to build camaraderie as the newcomer, so enjoy the opportunity.

You’ll love the closer relationship you are sure to experience when spending time in your home garden. You can expect less stress, increased fitness levels, and a healthier lifestyle overall.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Growing bulbs indoors

Tulip and other flower bulbs can easily be grown indoors. The name of this practice -- "forcing bulbs" -- seems a little heavy-handed, don't you think? Consider it more like ... gently nudging.

The key with forcing bulbs is to create a lengthy period of cold before you want them to start growing. Spring-blooming bulbs that you keep in the ground all year (or plant in fall) go through such a phase in winter before waking up, after all. You can create the same effect by keeping bulbs in the refrigerator a few weeks before bringing them out to standard room temperature.

Or, you can do it the "oops" way. Let me explain:

Last spring I removed bulbs from a garden bed where I later planted vegetables, with the intention to put those bulbs back in the ground in the fall. I didn't get around to that task before snow and freezes came. The bulbs remained in a covered area on my patio. When I discovered them while cleaning last week, the bulbs' green shoots were just emerging. I could have put them in the ground, but because I had new uses in mind for their previous space, I decided to bring them indoors instead.

I used vessels from my kitchen: cake pans and a pottery roasting dish. I put a layer of gravel (found in my yard) in the bottom of each dish, with just enough water to cover the rocks. I packed the bulbs as tightly as possible, first removing papery skins (these, when wet, can lead to rot). I check every few days to adjust the water level. Ideally the bulb roots go down in the rocks, but the bulbs themselves do not get soggy. Less than a week after doing this some of the bulbs have sprouted five inches. As the leaves and stems grow taller I will wrap a ribbon around the group to keep them upright.

This shows the root growth in six days:

Other seasons I have grown bulbs inside pots with soil, but the water-only method this time around intrigues my children and visitors to my home. It makes me laugh that the clear sight of green spikes notwithstanding, adults ask incredulously, "Can they really grow like that?"

Note that forced bulbs may not bloom next year, even if you plant it in the ground after enjoying the show indoors. I can live with that. I'd probably forget to plant them anyway.

Update on March 18: Here's the first bloom. You'll see I wrapped the stems and leaves with ribbon.