Archive for July, 2010

Frugal Gardener: Drought Takes Its Toll

When I began writing I promised to  share my success and my not so positive experiences.

At the moment, I am in one of those not so positive situations.   We have had no  rain for a while; everything, including me, is withering from heat and lack of moisture.

Actual temperature have been  near, and  over, 100 degrees, with heat index readings to 117 degrees in some areas.   Folks, when the weather man warns the “elderly” to be careful, I ain’t arguing that one!

Its strange, all around us there have been storms, floods, RAIN, but all we have gotten so far are  rumbling thunder concerts.

Take a look at these pictures.   It is hard to believe my garden and plants were pictures of health and bountiful harvest a few short weeks ago.

Fig trees shows need for moisture!

This poor fig tree probably shouts the severity of the situation most clearly.   See the yellowing foliage.  Thankfully, the figs are beginning to ripen; but even the birds are finding it too hot to peck, everything is falling to the ground.

The unusual heat is showing me a couple of interesting things about my methods of planting.

I am using eBuckets, and self watering containers for some of my heirloom tomatoes, and

In eBuckets tomatoes can survive heat, bearly.

close planting in mulched beds for others, to compare methods.

Tomatoes in storage container self-waters hold on

These pictures taken this afternoon (7/27/10) answer some of my  questions .

  • Will tomatoes survive full sun all day when sitting in an exposed 5 gallon eBucket?   Here in SC mine have; even when I have not been able to give them the best of care due to health problems and travel.   They have suffered full day heat, lack of water for several days.  The bottom leaves are dying but the tops are growing (and blooming!).
  • Will a 5 gallon eBucket support growth of an indeterminate tomato? Again, my eBuckets seem to with no problem.   You see stakes in these  buckets, the plants growing around them are over my head and still trying to grow.
  • Tomatoes growing in the self watering containers (converted storage bins), planted 2 plants to the container are doing the same.   Those stakes are 8 ft tall before I pound them into the ground, not very far either!
  • What about the tomatoes I spaced 12 inches apart in a row in the raised bed and mulched?  I had to put 8 ft supports on either end of row to support the growth.

12 inches apart in row, produced abundantly and still growing in heat

You probably wonder what kind of harvest I had. It was fantastic!   June temperatures were comparatively moderate, we had sufficient rain, I was able to give the plants the attention they needed.   My reward was a crop of beautiful tomatoes;  with the heirlooms I finally tasted tomatoes like I remember tomatoes tasting.  Delicious!!

Til the end of June we enjoyed tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, berries, beets….all grown with no spray (no insect damage!)

One tomato has really surprised me, I planted it as a fill-in.  Purchased a couple “Early Girls” figuring they would

Won't give in to heat. Still, growing, blooming and setting fruit!!

produce before the heirloom.   One plant is still growing, blooming and setting fruit!!  It is headed toward the 8 ft mark; so much for the delicate girl!

Do I consider the garden a success at this point?   I certainly do.  My planting methods are proving to be productive, if unorthodox.

My first full season using eBuckets under stressful situations indicates  they can be used successful in less than favorable conditions.

Now, if I can figure out how to make rain, I will have it made.

Read about the Native American rain dance; was planning dance in the front yard until my wife hid my loincloth and informed me that was not the proper attire for that dance anyway!!  DRATS!!

Old Fool!!
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Frugal Gardner: The eBucket Is a Winner!

Lianne Meilhac

When the idea of the 5 gallon eBucket began to be developed July 2009, Lianne was one of those who quietly began using the design, on faith–it was new, a lot of people felt it would not  work.    When she posted about her success last fall I was thrilled; when I learned she  had talked her husband into helping build several more this spring I could hardly wait to hear the results.  I asked her to share her impressions after using it; this article is the result of my request.

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In early 2009, I decided to grow some tomatoes; I was tired of spending a fortune for store-bought tomatoes that tasted like nothing. 

I had no idea I would become obsessed with this new hobby; I think that a lot of “hobby” tomato gardeners would say the same thing!

Because I became obsessed, I got somewhat stressed  when my four plants developed issues over the course of the growing season.  All of them caught some sort of unknown foliage disease; I was never able to determine exactly what it was; I was worried  they would all succumb to it before I could harvest any edible fruit.

I decided to root some cuttings from three of my plants to see if I could manage to salvage the season and make all the work worthwhile.

Fortunately,about the time I was ready to start planting the rooted cuttings, some posts started appearing on the  one of my favorite websites about a new design for self-watering containers.

I was familiar with the commercial SWCs like Earthbox and Tomato Success Kit– they work wonderfully but are costly– at  least $30 or so apiece.

I was  also familiar with a homemade design called an EarthTainer, but for me (and apparently some other people) the cutting and assembling of all of the components seemed a bit daunting.

Some of the “regulars” were speculating as to what materials could be used, someone spoke up, asking about the possibility of using a plastic colander to  create the water reservoir in the bottom of the container.  In response, another poster nicknamed “Gessieviolet ” spoke up to say he would see if he could make it work.

I was looking forward to hearing how his efforts worked out, because if the colander worked it would eliminate  having to fabricate a wicking-chamber, which is usually packed with potting mix and sits in the water, wicking it up into the rest of the mix;   giving the plant a regular, consistent supply of water.

In the proposed design, the colander would sit at the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket with the mix packed tightly around it.  A length of PVC pipe would be placed down through the colander before adding the mix so that the gardener could fill the reservoir from above.

A drinking straw or some plastic tubing would also be placed through a hole drilled in the side of the bucket and into the top of the reservoir area, acting as an overflow conduit and keeping the mix from becoming too saturated and overwatering the plant.

When I learned others had achieved success with his first efforts at this newly designed “EarthBucket” (which would later be shortened to eBucket or EB), I drafted my husband to help me assemble some of them to use for my newly rooted cuttings.

Cuttings in eBucket in 2 months outproduced parent plant growing 5 months

The eBucket went together fairly quickly ; I planted the cuttings into them fairly late in the season;  if I got any fruit  before first frost, I’d be happy.

I was thrilled when those cuttings just “took off” and started setting fruit as soon as they bloomed!

Each of these plants  yielded more tomatoes than each of the parent plants even though they grew  for about two months.  The parents grew and bore for about five months.

None of the fruit from the eBuckets showed  signs of blossom end rot,  a problem with the parent plants.  BER results from several factors, a major one being inconsistent watering.

The fact that none of the plants in the eBuckets showed this was proof to me that the EBs were working exactly as I had hoped they would, providing the plants a consistent and adequate supply of water.

My husband has helped me make several more eBuckets for this season and the plants have done well .

I have learned, however, that they seem to be better long-term for determinate plants, rather than indeterminate

Part of this years crop in eBuckets

ones– the determinate only grow to a certain height (maybe 2 or 3 feet in most cases)

More of this spring's tomatoes in eBuckets

then stop.  The indeterminate ones get much,  much taller over the course of a season;

developing a large root system; I feel  the eBucket  does not have  enough room for those roots.

The eBucket can  be used for other veggies– cucumbers would be good, as would beans, maybe even corn.

Others are  trying other veggies with apparent success,  I eagerly await their  input  so I’ll know what veggies to plant in the eBuckets next year!