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On the side of our house, between the house and the driveway, we have a small strip that was once a flower bed.  It's about 20 feet by 3 feet roughly.  Last year we ripped out the flowers, yes they're pretty but not edible, and planted 4 raspberry bushes and 3 blackberry bushes.  Before you yell as us for pulling out nice flowers, they were transplanted out back about the garden to attract bee's, hopefully ;o)

We already have a great 3 year old black lab who is trained not to dig and listens well.  We got a second pup black lab... well I don't need to go into the gory details, but only 1 blackberry bush survived.  After morning the loss and trying to figure out what to do with that space, I thought of planting some tomatoes we started from seed.  These are doing great, but do require more watering then out in the garden.

This space is south facing, which got me thinking of putting up some cold frames and try for winter greens after the tomatoes are done.  I salvaged some old sliding window panes and have some access to free left over lumber, so just have to come up with a game plan to build them.  Let's see how the tomatoes do first though.

The raspberry bushes have more then doubled since last years planting and look very healthy.  They seem to love it there and hope to get a good pick this summer.  The one blackberry bush that survived is thriving... so we'll see how this tenacious one does this summer.  It's sitting between the tomato plants, which I'm not sure is a good or bad thing, but so far so good.

Planning Our Summer Garden: Raised Beds

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Backyard Garden 2009

For the past 3 years we've planted a traditional type of row garden in a 14' x 40' and 20' x 6' sections of our backyard.  When we bought the house from my parents, there was a large ornamental flower bed that we slowly converted to a full vegetable garden.  Not really knowing what we were doing, we started slow, learned along the way and know there's much more to learn. 

This picture is the only one I could find that showed the entire garden.  Even though it's a bit small you can see the rows and the 2 apple trees in the back that we planed last spring.  The large tree in the top left corner will be moved as this year we want to move towards raised garden beds.  We want to go down that road for a few reasons:

Dogs: We have a 3 year old and an 8mth old pair of black labs.  They are great but the little one is a digger and chewer, so this is one of the main reasons for the change.  She already chewed up my raspberry bushes planted last year, which was my fault for putting her out where she could reach them, what was I thinking??  More on my remedies for this later.

Square Foot Gardening: The last few years we basically bought our seeds on a whim without much planning.  This worked out OK, but we didn't space our our plantings and ended up with too much lettuce or cherry tomatoes all at once, not enough potatoes, beans or carrots to carry us into winter, etc...  This year we are going to plan for preserves and follow intensive square foot gardening practices to increase our yields and maximize the space we have.  Also want to try companion planting of mutual beneficial vegetables and flowers.

Extending Growing Season: I've seen a few articles on using 8' pvc pipe and cover to create nice row covers to extend the growing season here in our Great White North when frost comes earlier then we want, so want to test it this year along with possibly experimenting on a few removable "Cold Frame" cover for the beds.

Ease of Management:I've never worked with raised beds before, but from I've read and feedback I've received from others, they are easier to keep up and work on.  Ours will be hemlock, which will match our fence when it goes up.  Everything is at an arms length away and the paths in between give you ample room to move about, also important for the dogs and kids ;o)

Esthetics's:I honestly find raised beds more neat and esthetically pleasing to the eye.  Since my wife is a photographer, we have a few other backyard projects to create good photo ops, which will tie into the beds as well.

I'm still playing with the design and layout, but we can easily go with eight 4' x 12' raised beds in the main area and another two 4' x 8' in the back.  This year we're going to test growing potatoes in a "potato stack" so that will be in addition to the raised beds and another post all together.

Putting money away for this project already and will purchase the hemlock for the raised beds in end of April or start of May depending on how the thaw goes... can't wait and will do a follow up post including pictures ;o)

Winter Gardening in Dome Greenhouse?

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Sometimes I feel like I have A.D.D.  When I start researching a topic through books and/or online, one thing leads to another, then to another, and before you know it I have 10 new projects on my to-do list.  I always have a notebook with me to try and keep my overzealous  plans in order and in check. 

I am doing research on winter gardening in my climate for next year.  We live in Eastern Canada just north of Maine, so we get cold snaps and lots of snow.  I got started reading a couple books that touch on the subject: "Intensive Gardening Round the Year" and "Solar Gardening", that I picked up from the Library.  I've done research on Cold Frame Gardening which was the route I was going before I stumbled on a few very inspiring YouTube videos about Dome Greenhouses and people actually using them to grow during the winter months in Northern climates and in the mountains.

One of the sites I'm checking out is Growing Spaces.  There are a few kits out there, but I like theirs so far and they have a lot of information available.  Here is their introduction YouTube video:

Here is another great video by PeakMoment that goes through a large 52ft year round growing dome project 6000 ft above sea level in Colorado.  Pretty sweet, but a bit large for my backyard ;o)

I am building or buying a greenhouse this year for sure, and was leaning towards traditional passive solar ones, but now I'm really liking the dome design.  It has a fluid nature to it and the dome design is perfect for our windy winters and snow loads.  I would love to buy a DIY kit, but cost is an issue and shipping is $$.  If I can find a design to piece it together and find some place local to purchase and cut polycarbonate panels, it is doable... dream dream dream ;o)

If anyone is currently winter gardening in a similar climate I would love to see and hear your experiences.

Winter Gardening: Cold Frame

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If you live in a region with cold winters, you probably spent some cold days and nights dreaming of gardening or planning out next seasons garden plot. Rest assured you can still grow fresh lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions and more if you build a Cold Frame for your winter garden.

Cold Frame gardens are very easy to build and even better can be built with 100% recycled materials. All you need is an old window sash or aluminum, glass door frame. You can use fiberglass, polyethylene or other transparent material is glass is not readily available. Build a frame according to the dimensions of the window sash or other material you decided to recycle and use. Ideal dimensions would be approximately 18 inches at the back and 12 at the front to provide a good angle facing the sun and rain/snow drain off.

There are two ways to setup your cold frame garden: above ground or partially below ground. Insulating factors will be much better if the Cold Frame is partially below ground. Like Solar Panels, Cold Frame bins should face south for maximum sunlight exposure and have at least a 10 percent angle to make the most of the limited sunlight in northern regions.

If the weather gets extremely cold, say low twenties, it would be best to cover the Cold Frame in burlap or moving blankets for protection. You can also add a heating cable, the same kind you wrap around water pipes to keep them from freezing. Warm weather days are just as crucial to keeping your garden in top shape. You will have to monitor and open the top glass hatch to allow proper ventilation. Don't forget to water ;o)

The best veggies to grow are lettuce, radishes, chard and green onions. You can also try small carrots and other greens. What you can grow in your Cold Frame will depend on your local weather. We will build and chronicle the success of 2 Cold Frame plantations over the fall and winter to see what we can grow. Hopefully we can harvest enough for a nice fresh winter salad!

Keep it Green!