Archive for February, 2011|Monthly archive page

Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 3: Installing a Rain Barrel

 

We all know that April showers bring May flowers. And if you have a rain barrel, you can stretch those beneficial showers even further. A rain barrel is a device that collects and stores rain water, therefore allowing you to recycle it in a variety of ways. It is an efficient device that is earth-friendly and easy to maintain. If your city has any type of water restrictions, then a rain barrel is a must for you in order to be able to water your plants. It is also a great way to know that, should you be without running water, you will have a stored supply available to you. Just one single rain barrel can store up to 80 gallons of rain water. I probably would not recommend drinking water from a rain barrel yourself. But collected rain water is perfectly sufficient drinking water for your survival garden.

You can purchase a rain barrel at pretty much any major lawn and gardening store for less than $100. Or, if you are a big do-it-yourselfer, you can even make one yourself. If you are particular about its appearance, then don’t worry. You’ll find that there are several different designs, including ones that are designed to match your decor, such as those that mimic the look of ceramic or terra cotta.

Rain Barrel Tip #1: If you have gutters, your rain barrel should be placed underneath a downspout on your house. If you do not have gutters, you can place the barrel under a spot on your roof where water flows off. Either way, this is the most logical place for your barrel to collect water.

Rain Barrel Tip #2: If your ground is not even, try placing the rain barrel on some cinder blocks, patio stones, or gravel. If it is possible, try to prop your rain barrel up so that it sits about 1-2 feet off of the ground. Cinder blocks are an easy solution for this, or some people build a wooden frame. This will make it easier for you to empty water from the barrel once it is full. (You should not expect to be able to lift 500 pounds of water, you’ll need to rely on a spigot.) Having the barrel propped up also means that you can rely on gravity to feed the water to the spigot, and into hoses.

Rain Barrel Tip #3: Once your rain barrel is in place, all that is left for you to do is cut your downspout, and/or the top of your barrel to insure that water flows into it. If your rain barrel has a solid lid, you will need to cut a hole for the downspout using a jigsaw. If your rain barrel does not have any lid at all, it is wise to cover it with a piece of screen in order to prevent leaves, debris, and animals from getting into your barrel. Try to fashion your rain barrel so that there is only one specific opening where the clean water will flow in.

Rain Barrel Tip #4: You also have the option of installing more than one rain barrel, and installing overflow tubes so that if one rain barrel overflows, the water will flow into another barrel.

Rain Barrel Tip #5: A rain barrel is really not something that can be used year round. You should not leave water in your barrel over winter to freeze. If you live in a region where you are still experiencing very cold weather, wait until the risk of a hard freeze passes in order to install your barrel. Once the start of spring hits your region, it’s rain barrel time.

For some great how-to tips, check out these resources:

Making and Installing Your Rain Barrel- Do It Yourself. com

Rain Barrel Basics- YouTube Video

How to Set Up A Rain Barrel- Cool People Care

Installing a Rain Barrel- Joel the Urban Gardener

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Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 2: Taking Seed Inventory

I derive a great satisfaction from saving my own seeds from my garden every year. Perhaps it is because some giant monopolizing seeds companies (ahem, Monsanto) will have us believe that we shouldn’t be doing it. Or perhaps it is because it symbolizes just how self-renewing and self-sustaining gardens really are. But either way, saving seeds is a simple task from which I receive great pleasure. So if you’re reading this blog, hopefully that means you’re a seed saver, too. With spring on the way, it’s time to start taking inventory of your saved seeds. It is wise to not let your seeds get too old, and to track just how long you’ve been storing them.

Each time I save seeds from an item from my garden, I dry them out completely, place them in paper envelopes, then file them inside a plastic file box or glass jar. (For full details, you can read my tips on saving seeds here.) This storage system helps to keep the seeds from being exposed to extreme heat or cold and moisture, which is very important.

Now you’ll notice that in the above article, I recommended planting seeds within a year. This is the best case scenario- to plant seeds the year after you save them. But of course this is not always possible. So if this is the case, it is very important to rotate your seeds storage. As with any survival food that you store, you should be rotating the oldest seeds forward and using them first. The newest seeds should be rotated to the back of your storage.

Not all seeds have the same shelf life, so you can actually safely and effectively save some seeds longer than others:

  1. Short Lived– Short lived seeds are ones for which the one-year rule applies. I generally do not recommend keeping corn, leek, onion, parsnip, or spinach seeds for longer than one year. Try to plant your seeds the next planting season after you save them. These items all are a high priority in my garden- I’ll pull these seeds out of storage first.
  2. Medium-Lived- These include beans, carrot, celery, chard, eggplant, parsley, peas, pumpkin, and squash. Medium-lived seeds should be planted within 2 to 3 seasons. So if you have pea seeds from last season that you don’t intend to plant this year, that’s okay. You can rotate them to the back and plan to keep them for another year or two.
  3. Long-Lived- Here’s some good news- lots of seeds that you can easily store are long-lived seeds. These include include beets, all brassicas (such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, collards, and kohlrabi), chicory, endive, escarole, radicchio, cucumber, kale, lettuce, melons, mustard, peppers, radish, rutabaga, sunflower, tomato, and turnip. Whew! So for long-lived seeds, you should rotate your oldest ones to the front. If you have cucumber seeds that are 5 years old, you can still plant them this year. And the newest ones can go to the back. You can store long-lived seeds for 5-6 years.

Planning for the Spring Planting Season, Part 1: Crop Rotation

It’s February already, and that means spring planting season is just around the corner. I know it may not feel like it just yet, but Punxutawnie Phil did see his shadow last Wednesday, so that means warmer temps are on the way. It is time to get ready for seed starting and planting season. This is a great time of year to allow yourself to be bitten by the planning and organizing bug.

Now while it’s still too early to start tilling and amending my soil, it’s not too early to create my 2011 garden map. I’m sure you’ve probably heard the term “crop rotation” before, but did you know that it applies to gardens on a small scale, not just been large crop fields? Crop rotation is important, even to small garden plots, because it is one of the best ways to thwart pest and disease problems, as well as prevent soil erosion and allow your soil to remain healthy. For example, tomatoes are heavy eaters. So if you plant them in the exact same spot for a few years in a row, you are likely to deplete your soil of the nutrients that the tomatoes need. However, if you plant peas the year after you have planted tomatoes, the peas will help to return nitrogen to your soil, therefore helping to keep your soil and your garden healthy. Isn’t it cool that plants have the ability to balance themselves out like that?

My goal in creating my garden map for 2011 is to insure that I am not placing members of the same vegetable family is the same place as I put them last year. The nine vegetable families are:

  1. Nightshades- Tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.
  2. Legumes- Peas and beans.
  3. Squashes and Melons- Summer and winter squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, and melons.
  4. Brassicas and Salad Greens- Greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
  5. Sunflower Family- Sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), lettuce, and endive.
  6. Carrot Family- Carrots, parsley, parsnips, and celery.
  7. Goosefoot Family- Beets, swiss chard, and spinach.
  8. Grass Family- Corn.
  9. Onion Family- Onions, garlic, leeks, and scallions.

Now, a good goal to set for your spring garden map is to plan not to plant members of the same family where they were planted last year. For example, don’t plant beets in the same place where you planted spinach last year, because these are members of the same family. So, in essence, you are rotating not just a single crop, but a whole crop family. If you planted beans in one spot last year, plant corn there this year. Members of the grass family need good fertile soil, so they will grow well in a place where legumes were planted the previous year. Members of the sunflower family are light feeders, so they will grow well in a spot where heavy feeders such as brassicas grew the year before.

Are you starting to get the big picture? Crop rotation does take some attentiveness and planning. But it is very well worth it. It not only helps you maintain the health of your soil, but also helps to insure that your spring and summer vegetable garden will have the largest output possible.  Plus, come spring, having a garden map will make planting that much simpler for you. Planning in the winter makes for ease of planting in the spring.

Other important things to take into consideration when mapping your spring garden are:

  • Taller plants should not block sunlight from reaching shorter plants.
  • Some veggies and fruits grow really well together. Check out this information from Seeds Of Change on Companion Planting for more details.
  • Will your garden be exposed to harsh elements, such as wind? How will you protect it? How about protecting it from critters?
  • If you are expanding your garden this year, will it still be within reach of your irrigation system?
  • How much space do you need between your plants? If you have a 3″ by 3″ plot for carrots, for example, how many carrots can plant in this space? It is important not to crowd your seedlings. And with climbing plants, make sure to leave enough space to stake them.

Okay, now I am sure I have given you plenty of food for thought. Time to get back to the ol’ drawing board!