Archive for April, 2010

The eBucket –“Feeding the World, One eBucket at a Time”

Dave’s Garden is one of my favorite gardening forums; members exchange pictures, ideas, and encouragement on myriads of subjects.

Build a better bucket was the challenge

Self-contained box gardens has attracted a lot of attention.  This method of growing vegetables in containers  is of special interest;  many people want to grow fresh vegetables in limited spaces.

Several participants were discussing ways to make  self watering containers so the average Joe  (or Josephine) would not have to shell out big cash or have an engineering degree to build.

There are  how-to instructions on the internet;  they,  generally,  entail  use of larger storage containers, then making  fairly elaborate modifications  like  cutting material for a false bottom, adding baskets and drilling numberless  holes.

Compared to commercially available units these are economical and effective.  They are also heavy and awkward to handle if you are  older and not a strong as you  were in younger days.

Several members had used a design incorporating two five gallon buckets—one as a reservoir and the other as a container for the potting mix.  The disadvantage was the problem involved in moving the container once it was full and not disturbing necessary alignment.

What if just one bucket is used?  Mental wheels started turning.  Now the challenge was to create a workable reservoir for the unit.

Members  wanted simple,  with this false bottom idea, the suggestions  got really creative (and complicated) until a forum member from the Virgin Islands asked a simple question:

“How about using a plastic colander somehow? The kitchen bowl with all the holes in the bottom…”

An hour later the reply to the post came  from South Carolina (USA):

“You know, that just might work. I’m going to see what I can come up with.”

So  July 7, 2009 at 5:51 PM it all began.  Next day came a message from Houston, Texas (USA) sharing an experiment using the bucket design.   She would become the number one spokesperson and promoter of eBuckets.

Through the internet, a team  formed that would present a new concept in bucket gardening construction.

Give a man a cabbage; teach him to grow it in an eBucket

In less than a year the simplicity and the economic value of this design is touted nationally via internet forum and blogs.

This email from an enthusiastic veteran of two  seasons of growth using eBuckets is typical of the positive response it is generating.

“Feeding the world, one eBucket at a time!”

I’m not sure the designers truly understand  what they have done and how far  the design goes.

The eBucket does far more than  “build a better bucket”.    It  creates a  life of empowerment for  many hurting people!

Just read the gardening forums.    One can sense in these  communications so many unspoken words from people

Simple, economical, effective--the eBucket components

affected mightily by this fickle economy:   “too expensive at the store… Putting extra on the table… Grow it myself…”  Many are older, retired, and living on fixed incomes.

The  eBucket  provides a simple, efficient, inexpensive way for people to capture a little more control over uncertain futures.    The design is VERY affordable and unobtrusive.

It is more than people just liking the eBuckets –people NEED the eBucket… it fills  this need, at the right time.

I am promoting the  theme “Feeding the world, one eBucket at a time!” to let people know there is something they can do to make their lives a little better.

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Detailed instructions for construction and planting the eBucket are available  no cost.

Become a part of “Feeding the world, one eBucket at a time!”

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Frugal Gardener: Spring planting experiment – Cabbage

The winter of 2009-2010 was one of the worst South Carolina gardeners have witnessed in many years.

Unpredictable, unusual, unnerving are  descriptive of the weather.   Frustrated describes the gardener, itching to get dirt under his fingernails preparing the soil for crops to come.  Heavy snow in early February,  then constant heavy rain were causes of concern.

Mud meant no cultivation of any type–thus no early spring cool weather vegetables.

A warm period the last week in February, 2010 convinced me I just might be able to plant something in Ebuckets, and self watering bins; maybe, one raised bed was workable.

I checked.  Guess what?  Pay dirt!!

Having  never done  cool weather planting, I decided  to test some of my theories.

I would  use a 9 plant pack each of Golden Cross cabbage, Georgia collards, Bibb lettuce, and  Red Sail Lettuce   planted in   Ebuckets, self contained bins, and raised bed using square foot spacing to compare results.

Collards, cabbage and lettuce in raised bed

The ground was very wet, but one of the raised beds could be worked;  I felt safe planting collards- Georgia (9 in bed) and cabbages -Golden Cross (3 in bed).

I turned soil, racked off weeds, put about 2 cups of pelleted dolomite lime on (3×10) bed. Leveled  a 4 ft x 3 ft  bed area with bagged potting soil and planted  one plant in each 12 inch square  space.

In this 12 square foot area I planted 9 collard and 3 Golden Cross cabbage.

Planting   was done February 20; on March 3 cold snow again covered everything–these  plants survived. Here  is  pictorial history of cabbage and collards in the bed til harvest:

2-21-10 planted in bed 1 plant/12" square

4-1-10 Plants have survived a freezing snow storm and chickens

Rapid growth came as weather conditions warmed in April:

4-9-10 Plenty of rain brings fast growth

This growth is evident less than one week later.   A lot of rain had fallen.

Eleven days later :

4-20-10 Cabbages in rear; lettuce in front

I was very pleased with the performance of the bed with square foot spacing.   After planting I did very little maintenance; not even watering was needed this time of year.

How well  did the self watering  bin succeed?

I planted 6 ea of the Golden Cross in the same self watering  bin  I had used to grow peppers.  Stirred the mix; added about a cup of pelleted dolomite lime and 2 cups 10-10-10 mixed into top 2-3″ of mix. I did put plain mix in holes around plants to keep out of direct contact with fertilizer in soil. Watered around individual plants, through lid.

Here is the Golden Cross cabbage  report.  I forgot to take pictures of the collards, but performance was comparable.

4-9-10 Plenty of rain brings fast growth

4-4-10 Cabbage are pushing for space, 1 did not develop

Compare the growth of this photo  on left with the photo of the bed dated  4-1-10 you will notice an obvious  growth difference .   Next time I will plant 4 plants per self watering  bin.  5 are growing here, but there is definite pushing outward.

Began harvesting collards on 4-20-10; these cabbage are beginning to head:

4-20-10 Close up of Golden Cross in bin

I am  convinced that self watering containers are the answer to many gardening problems.   Growth is much better; I have had absolutely no insect problems; once the containers are  planted  watering is the only maintenance.

The plants in the bed and the ones in the self watering  bin came from the same 9 plant pack; they were planted the same day and grew side by side.

I caution that I do not use a studied approach to adding dolomite lime, epsom salts, or fertilizer to my plantings.    My by gosh, by golly approach is probably not the one you would want to emulate, it works for me; I am not a purist!

I Am Allowed To Come Into Their World

As I work in the my yard and garden I am thrilled as birds, squirrels, frogs, butterflies, bees go about their activities, for the most part ignoring me, until I interfere with the routine.

Chickadee

Seven hungry mouths to feed

The chickadee couple has 7 young nestling they are feeding all day.  When I work the  bed near the base of  their home Momma or Daddy will fly in, sit on a limb nearby and warble softly.   That’s my signal to do something else, giving privacy while the pair enters the neatly tailored nest  to feed hungry mouths.    Two down, five to go, in this never ending circle of day long feedings.

I step away, turn and watch the 2 fly in, then quickly  dart out,  headed  on a new  hunt.  Back to work until I am signaled to get lost; so it goes as long as I  work the area.

When I am digging the raised beds of vegetables, the mockingbird who has a nest in the hedgerow nearby flies in, does a little dance with waving wings, eyes me and proceeds to look for bugs; he is not  4 feet away.

We  talk as he hunts, well, I do; he  watches me out of one eye.  When the bug is safely in his beak, he kind’a squats and lifts off to feed Mama as she incubates eggs in the ragged nest they call home.

bluebird eggs

Five sky blue eggs promise babies soon

Mr and Mrs  Bluebird are back  for the 4th year.  Initially,  I junked their handmade, weathered old box shack and installed a fancy cedar store bought bungalow, which they inspected and promptly left;  I could hear angry tweetering  as they flew to the nearby pear tree.

He liked it; she said “Well, live in it  with the chickadees, or by yourself!”  as she haughtily preened her under wing feathers.

I dug the old  house out of the junk pile, re-nailed it together;  set it up about  15 feet from the old site.

Took awhile, but  it is filled with a pinestraw nest that, as of  this morning,  holds 5 sky blue eggs.

The couples sits on the phone line as I work in the area and softly chirp a bluebird  thank you, sir, melody!

The red headed woodpeckers nest in a rotten limb  hollowed out in the oak tree across the street; a pair of doves coo softly each   morning and evening, a nest made of loose  sticks must be hidden nearby;  this is a couple in waiting for the emergence of 2 0r 3 chicks from  tiny white eggs.

A pair of robins, and two brown thrashers busily scout the back lawn .   Somewhere in the thick hedges surrounding the property there must be nests with birdies.  Parents  are hunting as a pair, it seems.

Every evening, as the day begins  to cool, a pair of blue  jays chase a crow across the sky; poor crow never learns; he  suffers the  humiliation daily.

We are hungry. You are late!

The fish in the pool swim forward every morning.  Their gulping sound (yep! they are demanding little finnies!) inform me I am not getting food to them quickly enough.

Lately, the finned prima donnas  have been demanding that I fix the leak in the pool, the water is lowering at an alarming rate.  These  swimming beauties do not accept the idea that I have to let the pool sink to it’s lowest level to see what  has to be patched.

This morning, I think, I fixed it.  They seem to be rejoicing that the shrinking water world is once more filling up.

The blooming purple pitcher plant smiled as its  roots once more are submerged.

squirrel feeding area

A station all our own! Oh boy! Just keep it stocked.

Six or eight  squirrels are thrilled with their own feeding area–until I do not stock it.   Then it is back to raiding the bird feeders along with the flock of cow birds that have invaded.

You forgot! A guy's gotta eat!!

For the first time  I am feeding woodpeckers, chickadee, robin, bluebirds,mockingbirds, wrens along with the usual crowd.    The soft sound of the crowd remind me when coffers are empty.

How can I forget the red throated hummingbirds who return yearly to feed and nest.   They were a day late this year, but they are back!!

WOW!  what an experience to step outside in the cool of the pre-dawn hour to be serenaded by an  awaking chorus of free creatures, inviting me to share their world.

They will live today, confident that food will be found, that life will go on; it will involve work, it may even entail danger, but in the cool evening hours they will sing again, a song of thanksgiving for all life has given.

I am saddened to realize the real message from these creatures:

You have tried to conform us to your world, you have almost destroyed us and yourself.

Come into our world; it is busy;  it  overflows with purpose; yet, it is simple.

Ours is a world full of beauty and hope.

Frugal Gardener – Potato Experiment

I remember my grandfather’s planting  iris potatoes when I was a very young kid.

Granddaddy headed into town with his one horse wagon and returned with a 50 lb bag of seed potatoes; we kids helped Grandma and Mama cut the spuds into large chunks, each containing at least one “eye” that would develop into a plant.

Those seed potatoes were so big that a good sized  core was left after the seed portion was removed.   We had potato soup for several days, I remember I loved it!
Now before going into the   ground those  cuts had to “heal” by being exposed to air for a few hours at least.

Recommended size for cuts; I learned to wait!!

Granddaddy would break up a large area near the house with a horse pulled turn plow, then work and smooth the surface before using a different plow to pull deep furrows.     He carefully walked those furrowed rows, a bucket of cut portions under one arm,  carefully spacing “seed potatoes”;  he insisted the “eye” had to face up, if it did not he would carefully turn it upright with a gentle nudge, with the toe of his brogan work shoe.

About one quarter acre of potato garden was planted, then again, going methodically down to rows, he would pull just enough soil to cover the  spuds before covering the whole area with an eighteen inches deep layer of   freshly gathered  pine straw that had been raked and brought from the woods in the old one horse wagon.

It was a lot of work initially.  Considering that no more work had to be done until harvest time, the potato crop was    probably the easiest endeavor on the little two horse family farm.

Move forward fifty or so years.  I decide to grow potatoes just for the heck of it,  it is a good reminder of the old days.

I  have read quiet a bit about growing in trashcans and buckets.  The principles echo the old straw covered plantings of my youth………..why not try?

First order of business, the seed.  For an experiment I do not  want to spend so much cash for five or six potatoes.

Yes, the rules say DO NOT use potatoes from the grocery store, for several reasons.

  1. Using non-certified seeds could spread diseases that infect my soil
  2. Potatoes are usually treated with a  sprout inhibitor that enforces a  period of dormancy nearly  impossible to break.
  3. Potatoes from the grocery store are probably not grown under local climatic conditions and probably will not grow under local conditions.

Rules are made to break, is my motto:

  • Where can I find sprouted potatoes?

It is not easy;  finally my daughter says “I got some”;  gave me four with promising sprouts.    Seven good sized portions resulted.

  • Do I start them in pots and transplant after sprouts grow?

Everything I read said, “No.”  Potatoes do not easily transplant.

I wonder why not?

Most tubers are  easy to relocate once they begin to  grow.

These seven cut portions were placed in containers and set under a fluorescent fixture to speed growth.   The tuber portion turned green, as potatoes exposed to light are suppose to do, the budding sprouts just sat, and sat…and sat.

Finally I said: “To heck with it!” (roughly translated) and set them aside.

Uh, the books say these will not make plants--they're thin peels

A month later I again visit my daughter.  She excitedly informs me her husband has saved  more sprouts, as she hands me a zip lock bag with about five pathetically thin slivers of peel with healthy head of eyes attached.

Not wanting to appear ungrateful or impolite, I accept the peels , thank her and determine I will discard them when I get home; all my reading says “No way! No how” these  little pieces of skin will support growth of a plant.

“I wonder if?”  took over as I was unpacking.

I put the pieces in a plant insert tray, place them under lights and can not believe, a week later,  I have very health looking sprouts.

From thin peel slivers in less than one month under grow lights ".

Ten days later, this is what  I see  each time I look at these plants “that will not grow”.

When I transplant into 5 gallon containers a few days later, each has a chunk of potato the size of the end of my thumb, not a sliver of peel, attached!

Starting March 15, 2010 over a period of several days these plants are transferred to the larger containers.   About an inch of compost is put on the bottom of the bucket,the plant is buried up to the newest leaves in more compost.

Begging "Give us more compost..hurry!"

Did I experience set back?  Judge for yourself.  This is a photo of first 2 plants  sixteen days later, ready for another burial!!   The others are coming along just a beautifully.

I can not wait to see if I get a harvest.  The rules say I will not, I have done everything wrong.   I say, “We’ll wait to see!”

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I want to emphasize , I am not advocating this as the way to go.  
I am recording  my experience.  I grow for the joy of learning. 
 That means sometimes I re-invent the wheel, most of the time, 
I ignore the rules!!

SO I AM A BASTARD! GET USED TO IT!!

“There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Robert F Kennedy is credited with this profound statement;  his brother,Edward Kennedy  applied it to him at his eulogy.

Bobby says “No, I was just quoting.”

I ask “Who cares?”

This question, in a simpler form  challenges all gardeners  one way or another.

I AM MAD AS HELL

Dirt diddlers  are bombarded with do’s and don’ts by experts and  hands- in- the- dirt everyday Joe Clodhoppers.   Each  alternately snickers, or pooh-poohs, what is considered the absurdity of the other at the moment.

Hey, guys! There is value in each experience.

Benefits that can make the complicated facts of educated experts palatable to us overall wearing, dirty- nailed, barefoot dirt turners who see the practical value of our experience every day in our gardens.

Okay, so this is a little over the line, idiotic generalization.  Do you get the idea I may be a little ticked off?

Well, you are correct, let me vent for a moment; this is my experience, so I can fume if I want to!

I am a subscriber to one of the larger garden forums;  I love it.

Generally, no matter how simple the inquiry, an encouraging remark swiftly follows.   Nobody is belittled for  his inexperience, everybody is invited to speak up, if only to say, “that’s interesting”.    Readers are urged to ask “What have you done that works, here’s what I tried and it didn’t. ”

There is a valuable exchange of information.

What  really surprises  me is that many times I  correspond for a period of time with gardeners who obviously have great practical knowledge.    They know what they are talking about;  they make me feel I contribute to their experience.

What a surprise to find later, from outside sources, that these people are well educated experts in their fields;  yet, not once have I felt belittled or uneducated as we communicated.

These people represent the very best such an informal forum has to offer.

But then…….there are a few others.

I  garden using homemade self sustaining containers,  last year our  group was discussing our limited experiences.   For beginners, we had all had very good results, as we bumbled  through.

A couple guys were obviously experienced and shared their container, soil, water, and weather results.    Yep!  turns out they are professional experts.    Modestly they deny the fact.

These folks are  asking  what we think,  how we manage our containers!!

Viewing their results speaks  volumes;  yet, many times, our suggestions are  followed by comments such as “that is a fantastic idea”, “why didn’t I think of that” from our teachers.

Then one day the soil mix hit the screen!!

A newly interested container gardener asked, what seemed a simple question to me:  “Do any of you reuse your soil mix after the first crop is harvested?”

There is no request, that I discern, for an explanation, pro or con,  on the value of the practice.    Several participants answered, some did reuse the soil mix, others did not.

Just so happened,  I had used a single box for tomatoes two previous seasons; had not changed the mix even in this, the third season;  simply amended the mix.  Two lush plants  were already over my head height-wise.

Now remember the question:  “Do any of you reuse your soil mix after the first crop is harvested?”

All I said was yes I do; this is the third time

My answer was short (and I thought, sweet) “yes, I do; this is the third time, here’s what happened.” (Posted the photo shown on the right)

The response to the forum (not to me) came from someone who had not previously been involved in the discussion; it   really let me have it!!

I will paraphrase what I remember as the flame (the part in quotes are the posters description of me).

The forum was informed that my “uneducated response” showed a lack of understanding of soil structure and breakdown; that the simple fact, that it seemed to work for “her”,  could in no way be construed as proof that this was a practical experiment.

The respondent went on:  since “she has chosen to set herself up as  spokesman for the group” scientific facts on the subject should be addressed.

Geez!! I did not realize a simple  “yes, I do; this is the third time, here’s what happened” could say so much!!

My ears got red, muscles in my neck constricted, steam came from my ears!!

I wanted to say a lot, but I restricted my response (through the forum to the respondent) to the fact  I thought the question requested a simple “yes” or “no”;  so I had answered without discussing its value (or lack thereof).

SO I'M A BASTARD! GET USE TO IT!!

Did not bother to mention, the last time I checked, I am not of the female gender!

The sad part of  this is, I am stubborn,  I am the real loser.

This person authors a very detailed technical discussion of soil properties that I found interesting and scientifically accurate;  yes, this  uneducated, wheat straw chawin’, country bumpkin does understand the contents!!

Will I continue to follow the author’s post to glean useful  information?

Never!! You have made me mad!!   So okay!    I am a bastard, get used to it!!