Category Archives: Gardening

Garden pics

The garden is finally in a state where I’m not completely embarrassed to show it to the world.  It’s still not perfect, but whose garden is right?  😉

The pic below is looking out from about the middle of the garden.  Directly in front of you is my cold frame bed.  It’s extra deep and I place two windows across the top in February to get the lettuce in early.  The lettuce has been dying because of the heat (and we’re eating it) so I’ve been sowing carrots in there as the lettuce comes out.  Directly to the right of that is a large batch of broccoli, cabbage and zukes/summer squash.  Straight across on the left are green beans.





The pic below shows the beans again but also the mixed bed.  That bed had lettuce and spinach in it.  It hasn’t been replaced much yet but also has carrots, some lettuce and cabbage left.  You can also see some kind of grass growing in there that I’m having a hard time getting rid of.  Behind that is the bed of peas, which I think I’m done growing.  They are a pain in the butt to harvest.  I think I’m done growing them.  On the right is more broccoli and carrots.  On the far left back is a bed of peas, potatoes and brussell sprouts, along with two onion plants that were left from last year I guess.  As you can tell I really need to get some wood chips down, but I’m behind the game so far.





Here I’m standing next to the bed of cabbage, squash and broccoli.  There are 3 beds of potatoes (I like to grow potatoes on new beds the first year so all the grass and leaves can decompose in place while they cover the taters).  Behind the black wheelbarrow I have some beans, onions, canteloupe and watermelon.  Also a bed with sweet potatoes and cukes.  Right in front of you here I have winter squash.  Only one has come up.  I think I’ll need to replant.  This area is all new this year and still being built out, but it’s still growing food.





My comfrey plants.  I finally got some after all these years of wanting some.  I ended up planting about 20 plants so I should have a ton of biomass here before too long.  The weedy patch right behind them is the sandbox which I’m going to fill in with compost and plant to carrots this month.






This year I’m doing something very different with the garden as I’m trying to grow a lot of things to store for the winter and focusing on the things we really eat, both fresh and preserved.

Even with all this stuff planted I still have about two beds that aren’t fully planted yet (we eat a lot more cool weather crops than hot weather crops) so I have to wait for July so I can sow more broccoli, cabbage and carrots for the fall.  I love working with small spaces and seeing each bed rotate over as one item is spent and replaced with another.  I don’t think you would get the same thrill from seeing that when you have a really large garden space.

Not pictures above is a bed with garlic and herbs in it as well as another bed of potatoes.  They are closer to the house but will move when they are harvested shortly.

It’s strawberry season too.  Last night I put up 20 jars of jam and last Friday it was 6 quarts of strawberries.  I have another 6 or so to do tonight and tomorrow and then we’ll probably be set for the winter.  My blackberry bushes have so many berries on them I’ll need to make plans to make jam from them too!


Easiest way to grow potatoes

Potatoes.  Who doesn’t love potatoes?  I know I do.  And I love how easy they are to grow.  If I was ever to get involved with growing  large amount of some crop, ala, monoculture, I would choose potatoes over our traditional (at least around here) corn and soybean rotation.

Check out this article on Sustainablog about easy ways to grow potatoes.  I think these are two good suggestions, but I like my method better, which I’m going to share with you.  It’s similar to his method #2 but provides a bit more safety from weeds and grass growing through your bed.

Method 1-otherwise known as the one where you plan ahead

When I need to plant potatoes I usually plant them on virgin soil that I want to eventually grow on.  I start the planting area in the fall by collecting lots of leaves.  Then I make a huge pile of them in the area that I want to grow the potatoes on (sometimes with cardboard under them and sometimes not).  Over the fall and winter these leaves will decompose, as will all the weeds and grass that is under the leaves.  When the spring comes I simply pull back the leaves and stick the potato seed in the ground and cover it back up with the leaves.  Now, as the summer progresses I cover the plants with grass clippings.  Voila!  When the tops die you’ll be able to dig up the potatoes and eat them.

In summation

  1. Collect leaves and make them into a pile.
  2. Let them decompose over the winter.
  3. In the spring make a hole and set your seed potato in the hole.
  4. Cover up with your remaining leaves.
  5. As the summer progresses cover with leaves or grass clippings.

The best part of this setup is that after you harvest the potatoes you have created a new raised bed that will be filled with mostly composted soil that you can plant right into.  Essentially you’ve composted the soil you’ll need in place!  I’m thrifty with my energy like that.

Method 2-wherein you didn’t plan well enough 

Now, if you want to grow potatoes and it’s spring and you didn’t plan ahead (I promise I won’t judge you) this is how I do would do it.

  1. Put down a healthy layer of newspaper or cardboard.  (cardboard is better)
  2. Toss down a little bit of compost to give them just a bit of nutrients.
  3. Put down your seed potato chunks.
  4. Cover with leaves, straw or grass clippings.
  5. When the tops die back you can simply reach under the mulch and harvest the potatoes.
  6. If you let these clippings continue to decompose you’ll have a nice bed of compost shortly.
There you go.  I think he and I are on the same page except that I like to set up the bed in the fall.  I also like to put down cardboard to kill the grass if I don’t pile up enough leaves to kill it for me.

Things I’ve learned in the garden this summer

I need to plant a lot more sunflowers.  They grow great, need little care and make a ridiculous amount of seeds to feed to the chickens.  Simply break down the stalk, chop off the head and throw it in a bin to be shaken to release all the seeds.  By using plants that grow shorter I could plant a lot more in the plots.  Definitely do this next year.

Oats fall into this too.  They grow well and make a great addition to the chicken coop.  I threw the whole stalk in there with the oats still on them and the chickens had a grand time figuring out how to eat the oats off the stalks.

Peanuts are too much work.  You can get most of the nuts when you pull up the plant but you still have to dig them and it’s really not worth it.  But, if you wanted to grow some feed for pigs I think they would be great.  The pigs could eat the tops and then root out the nuts and the high fat content would be good for them.

It is possible to plant too many green beans.  For me, bush beans work better than pole beans.

Don’t waste space on tomatillos.  They produce heavily and grow well, but we aren’t into them that much.

 I didn’t miss tomatoes this year.  It was a bad year anyway, but all the time I saved not slaving over the plants and canning them was better spent other ways.  I’m going to just plant a few next year too so that I can use all that space and time on other things.

Don’t be afraid to pull up some squash plants.  You don’t need as many as will sprout.

Sweet potatoes yield very well.  Plant more plants in the future.  4 gallons from 2 plants is a good deal, especially when this year was cool even so I would expect they under-yielded compared to a normal summer.  They were almost no maintenance even, I just kept them halfway weeded and then dug them up.

Plant peppers earlier in the spring so they will be bigger when they get outside.  They are heavily loaded down now but don’t have time to get ripe before the frost.  (I don’t like green peppers)


Sorry I’ve been away for so long, I’ve got a lot to say but not a lot of time right now.

Well, most of the month of February was lost. I ended up gaining 3 pounds by the time the week in Vegas (and subsequent week long readjustment after wards) was over. That puts me as of now at 15 pounds lost. Still have 20 to go. This week might be the week though. I feel some changes in my body and with gardening starting up I’m now busy in the evenings too (even if I just want to lie down) which means even more calories burnt. I typically lose 10-15 pounds over the summer so hopefully that will continue.

Loving them. I’ve been spreading out mostly finished compost in the garden and they are finishing the work for me. I’ll be planting or trimming something nearby and they are digging up the beds and spreading around the compost looking for things to eat. Unfortunately they got into my cold frames when I had the lids off but I think I was able to stop most of the damage. They are doing a great job though earning their keep.

I planted lettuces, Swiss chard and spinach in the cold frames. Also transplanted some so we’ll see how that takes. First results aren’t very good. Last night I also planted onions, carrots, parsnips, beets and turnips. I’m waiting for the moon phase to turn again at the end of the month and I’ll plant peas, broccoli, cabbage and other things, although I did start their seeds to see how they take. I also started some tomato and pepper plants. I’m not planning to grow many tomato plants this year. I’ll plan to buy most of what I need to can. Squash and melons will be started when the moon phases line up too, although they’ll only have about 6 weeks in the tray by that time. Seed potatoes are sitting on the counter waiting for the right time.

I heavily mulched some spinach last winter and it seems to be coming back just fine this spring, which is really cool. I should get my first asparagus crop this year and the garlic is doing nicely, although I planted less this year. I haven’t seen the rhubarb coming up yet.

Food stores
I did a lot better stocking up last fall and managing it through the winter. We ran out of pizza sauce, but that was really all. Most of my potatoes are unusable because of shriveling and sprouts, but that was because I was sold bags of mixed potatoes instead of just long storage ones. Otherwise we’ve had plenty of jelly, tomatoes, sauces, beans, corn and other things. We ran low on meat for a while but we’re past that now. I guess heading into this summer I have a much better idea what I need to stock up on and how much to stock up on.

If you live in the area and want to help I’ve got some opportunities for you!
I am planning to do my runs again this summer from a local CSA farmer to the food kitchens. This would be once or twice a week. You would need to be able to pick up about 40 pounds and have a large enough vehicle to hold 4 or 5 boxes of produce.

I’m working with the Matthew 25 hub on a couple of projects.
1) We are setting up an effort to beautify the flooded areas of the city. Right now (pending city approval) we are planning to build a sheet mulched garden bed in the public space at intersections (maybe 6-8 ft around) that will be studded with native Iowa wildflowers, sunflowers, etc. Sometime in late April we are planning a gardening blitz, so keep your options open at the end of the month. Contact me if you would like to donate some seed packets.

2.) Additionally, through Local Food Connection we have two CSA shares being delivered to Cedar Rapids to Red Cedar Farm that will need to be picked up and delivered to the Matthew 25 hub once a week for 18 weeks. This produce will then be distributed to local low income families at a time to be determined. We’ll need volunteers to pick up the produce on occasion as well as people to staff the area during distribution time. We’ll also be doing some education opportunities which might be fun and interesting to be involved with. Let me know if you are interested.

Seed starting among other things

Tonight I led a discussion at Cub Scouts with 6 kids about running a garden, starting seeds, what plants grow well here and what plants go into certain foods (pizza sauce, salsa, etc).  I also talked about how these plants start small and end up pretty big all from the energy of the sun, the soil, the fertilizer in the soil and time.

Overall it went a lot better than I expected, although I didn’t cover as much as I had hoped.  I took a lot of my early seeds there tonight and had them do my work for me (he he).  I’ll still be stuck doing maters, peppers and other late season plants.  The downside is that I ended up with A LOT of trays planted but not really any idea what went in them.  One kid dumped a whole packet of lettuce seeds on his trays.  Another planted way more kale than I could ever wish to have, but, I figured that would happen when I decided to do this.

Man, 6 kids firing rapid fire questions at you while you try to maintain some calm is tough.  Not to mention massive amounts of seed mixture and worm castings are flying around.  The boys got a huge kick out of worm poop as fertilizer in the mixture.  I think maybe more lecture before they got started with the dirt would have been better.  After the dirt came out all bets were off!

The plan is for them to come back in May to see how the seeds turned out.  We’ll also talk about garlic, potatoes and other plants that I didn’t bring at that time.  Not to mention they are very excited to see the chickens.

Choo choo. Do you hear that train a comin’?

Seeds galore

Well, possibly not this season.  Check out Sharon’s post.  Apparantly Fedco is already out of some items, and people aren’t even ordering their seeds yet.  You may want to think about ordering your seeds soon if your a gardener.

Just what we need.  As food get more expensive, and more scarce the means to grow it yourself disappears because of incredible demand.  This really could be a catastrophe.