Fresh Home Grown Potatoes!!

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Garden BountyWe grew our garden again this summer by double.  It's now about 40ft x 14ft filled with beans, corn, radish, onions, cucumbers, turnips, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, lettuce and for the first time this year, potatoes. 

Since this was the first year, I wasn't sure when exactly I should dig them up.  Reading online and talking to others it was suggested to dig them up in early September, or before the first frost starts and the foliage turns black and starts to die off. 

The foliage on my Yukon Gold potatoes is dying off now and unfortunately we had our first frost warning last night so I decided to dig up the first of 3 rows planted.  I was pleasantly surprised with about 10lbs of potatoes in a 15ft row.  I'm not sure if that's good or not, but I did have some lessons learned.  I'll dig up the rest in the next week or so as I keep an eye out on them.

Our Potatoe PlotNext season I will prepare the plot better and plant the seed potatoes in about an 8 inch trench and cover with 4 inches and work up the mound.  This should ensure a plenty bounty as this first planting seemed to have potatoes popping out of the ground, which I would attibute to not planting deep enough.

Another option I'm going to try next season is a potato stack... but more on that later ;o)  For now I'm pretty happy with the experience and will definately grow a couple varieties of potatoes next year.  If anyone has any tips or tricks I'd certainly love to hear them!

Building a Bat House

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Researching how to naturally control insects around our urban homestead I came across BATS!  OK.. bats have a bad rap and treated unfairly by misconceptions and "wives tails".  One of the best things you can do for your garden and the struggling bat population is to build a few bat houses or roosts.

Bats are extremely beneficial and will help keep you and your garden insect pest free.  Bats will eat between 30 and 50 percent of it's body weight in insects nightly.  Ya that's a lot of mosquitoes, June beetles, cutworms, moths, leafhoppers and many other flying insects.  Bats will NOT get caught in your hair and will NOT attach your small dog or turn into a vampire ;o)  Due to loss of habitat and encroachment of urban sprawl, bats are on the loosing end of the battle for survival.  Building a bat house gives them the safe roosting site they need and in turn they will help keep you insect pest free... win/win

Some important line items I've learned while researching:

  • Bat houses should face south and receive about 6-8 hours of daylight a day
  • Bat houses should be mounted on a pole or building 10 to 12 ft high
  • If building on a pole you can mount 2 bat houses back to back facing east/west and the bats can rotate to help regulate temperature
  • Bat houses need to be somewhat close to a water source, approx a 1/4 mile from a small stream, river or lake
  • Bat houses need to be mounted in a location without bright lights at night and free of obstructions at entry
  • Paint or stain Bat house in black or dark brown colors to help heat inside the roost

My son (6yrs old) and I built our Bat House based on a design we saw online and was easy to adapt to scrap wood I had laying around (measurements approx).  We cut and stained all the pieces and spent a rainy Sunday afternoon putting it together:

1 piece of 1/4" plywood (18 wide x 52 long)
1 piece of 1/4" plywood (18 wide x 36 long)
1 piece of 1/4" plywood (18 wide x 10 long)
2 pieces of 3/4" plywood cut (2 wide x 34 long)
1 piece of 3/4" plywood cut (2 wide x 18 long)
1 piece of leftover plastic screen cut (18 wide x 52 long)
Left over bathroom caulk
1 1/4 finishing nails

Staple the plastic screen on the large piece of plywood (18 x 52).  Staple along the edges and make sure the staples are in all the way.  Tap them with a hammer if you need to and bend the back ends in if the staples are too long and go through your wood sheet. Cut the plastic screen to length.

Leaving about an inch from the top, lay down some caulk along the 2 sides and top and mount the 3/4 plywood strips.  Leaving an inch from the top is required so you can have a slanted roof.  We didn't nail them just yet.  Then lay a bead of caulk on the two long sides and top of the (18 wide x 36 long) piece of 1/4 plywood.  Place this piece on top of the 3/4 plywood strips so that you have an air tight 3/4 inch pocket.

Take the last piece of 1/4" plywood, caulk and place just below the top piece leaving about a half inch between.  This space is the vent.

At this point I used the finishing nails front and back to make sure everything stays together.  Caulk the top where we left the 1 inch space so no water or wind can come in and nail the roof.  Since we left that 1 inch space the roof will be slanted allowing water to drip off.  Make sure the roof has an overhang front, back and sides.

I hope the following pictures make sense of the descriptions... either way there are TONS of great writeup online from actual bat preservation and wildlife foundations.  Find one you like, build and enjoy.  I'll post updates when we finally have a bat colony move in!

Hope this was informative and would love to hear if others have implemented bat houses on their urban homestead and how it worked for you.

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Common even the President of the United States of America is gardening!  Ok well at least the White House will get it's first garden since the Victory Garden days, so what are you waiting for?

Food gardening is becoming a movement on it's own.  Not only due to tough financial times to reduce grocery bills, but also people are becoming better educated about produce and want to know where their food is coming from and is as healthy as possible. 

According to a recent survey by US National Gardening Association, seven million more people will start a vegetable garden in 2009, which is up 19% over last year.  This statistic itself is good motivation to get started if you haven't already!  Home vegetable gardens are easy to start and don't require that much time or effort.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Location, location, location... most staple vegetables thrive in full sunlight so find a location that has at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.
  • Start small... you don't need to feed the neighborhood on your first run (although that can be a goal later ;o).  Start with a couple 8x4 raised beds or even plan some cucumbers, tomatoes and pole beans in an empty flower garden or a small 10x10 plot if you don't want to build raised beds.
  • Watering...take watering your garden into consideration and preferably plant close to rain barrels where you could possibly run a drip line.  Don't plant your first garden where you or your garden hose can't reach or you won't make the effort to water when needed.
  • Planning hint... plant tall vegetables like corn and pole beans on the north or west sides of the garden so they don't block the sun for your smaller vegetables.
  • Good Soil... if you can prepare your soil with plenty of organic material like compost and KEEP AWAY from fertilizers and chemical pesticides.  Key to delicious vegetables is all in the soil.  Not too sandy and not too clay like... good amended soil will stay together when you squeeze it into your fist, but break apart easily.
  • Mulch & Mulch... mulching is one the best things you can do for your vegetable garden.  Use good quality organic mulch and lay about 2-3 inches around your vegetable plants and on top of your drip lines, if you use them.  Mulch will help retain water and help stop weeds.
  • Relax & Enjoy...relax and enjoy the garden.  Gardening is a fun experience and you trully get the fruits of your labor.  Nothing is more fun or rewarding then going out and picking fresh produce from your vegetable garden for a meal.

So there is no reason to not start a vegetable garden.  If you have kids this is a GREAT way to kick off the summer months as they can learn with you from start to finish... from planting the seeds or starter plants, to picking summer snacks while mom or dad aren't looking!  Most of all kids can learn that tomatoes do come from a plant that you cared for and helped grow, not from a grocery store counter.

These are just a few tips to get you motivated and moving.  Trust me and ask others, once you start you will only continue to expand every year... it's addictive.  So what are you waiting for?  Go plan and start your vegetable garden today!

Garden Companion Planting

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Companion planting is the art of combining vegetables and plants that are mutually beneficial to each other.  For example, you can plant pole beans with corn to give the beans a natural trellis.  You can plant different herbs or edible plants as a natural pest repelant.  Of course you can't just throw just any plant together, so planning is key.

Native Americans planted "Three Sisters" which is corn, beans and squash which is a great time honored example of companionship gardening.  The beans use the corn as a natural trellis and the squash use the shade of the corn and beans.  Corn and lettus are also a good combination as the corn lends shad to the lettuce.  Examples of natural pest repelant companions are onions, marigolds, mint and sweet basil.  These examples have properties that either repel or lure away harmful insects from your garden. 

Research is obviously key and we will be picking up a couple of books this winter to help plan our garden for next season.  There are two books that come highly recommended and which we will do a review on after we read through them: Carrots Love Tomatoes and Great Garden Companion.  There is plenty of information out there on the Internet and forums as well. 

Our challenge is to find the best companions for our climate.  Although staples such as the "Three Sisters" can be grown in our Eastern Canadian climate, we want to expirement with other mixes.  Here are some ideas we have:

  • Basil: Will plant to help repel flies and mosquitos as well as improve our Tomatos
  • Sunflowers: Will plant to bring shade for beans and potatoes as well as attact birds and bees for pollination
  • Corn: Will be planting with beans and squash
  • Horseraddish: Will plant to deter potato beetle
  • Marigold: Will plant as a natural pest repelant
  • Onions: Will plant to protect against ants and slugs

These are just a few ideas and I'm sure they will change or become more elaborate as we research and put down our garden plan to paper for next season.  The key is how to put things together which is where your garden plan comes in.  Take the time to properly plan out your garden as noted in Garden Planning Helps.

Keep It Green!