Kale ready for harvest

We’ve been enjoying fresh kale on our sandwiches for lunch the past few days.  It has been amazing.  It’s far enough along now that we can harvest a mess of it for an actual meal.  We’ve discussed a white beans and kale but haven’t decided. Kale is in the grow bed on the left. 

kale from a Mittleider garden ready for harvest

Preparing more space for Mittleider vertical gardening

We are a little short on room for growing all our vertical crops and decided to put in two more of the 30 foot long by 18 inch wide Mittleider grow beds.  These grow beds will run north and south.  To the west side of these two beds there will be a couple more grow beds for additional crops that won’t be grown vertically.  

For grow beds/boxes that run east and west you want to put the tall crops to the north end so they don’t shadow out the shorter crops.  For beds running north and south you’ll want those same tall crops to the east for the same reason.

Below you will see the garden area that’s been tilled and read to get started in the first picture.   There will be a 5 foot wide buffer zone on the outside edge of our Mittleider garden with a 3.5 foot space between each 18″ wide bed.  The portion of the garden to the right that has grass in it will be tilled several times and all that grass will be removed. 

preparing the soil for  a Mittleider grow bed
preparing the soil for a Mittleider grow bed

Here you see the t-posts going in that will form the support for our vertical gardening.  They’re being placed every 10 feet, or 4 of these 4x4s in each 30 foot grow bed.  Once the second grow bed t-posts are in place we will put another 8 foot long 4×4 on top to span the distance between each row. 

t-posts  for growing vertically in a Mittleider garden
t-posts for growing vertically in a Mittleider garden

UPDATE 20 May 2016 –

Just a couple pictures of more progress.  We need to tamp the posts in a little more as it dries out a little.  The support wires for both of the grow beds under this structure are up and tight.  One of the two grow beds is formed up and will be finished tomorrow.  Once done we’ve got another 18 tomatoes ready to go in the ground.

After this project is done we will continue to extend the grow beds to the right for a few other crops that are currently in seedling flats.  Just like in our grow box for sweet potatoes, there will be a 5 foot border around these grow beds to help control insects and weeds. 

vertical gardening in a Mittleider garden

Mittleider grow beds and support for vertical gardening

Red fox hunting outside our back door

Last night I had finished outside for the day and had come in to call it a day and sort out dinner.  Half way through the task of taking off my boots I heard a noise outside that I couldn’t easily recognize.  Upon reaching the back door the investigate I saw this red fox 20 feet from the door.  
Since all our chickens were already killed I went and grabbed the video camera instead of the shotgun.  There is some great video of it using its amazing hearing to try and locate a meal.  The kissing sound you hear towards the end of the video mimmicked a rodent distress sound.  It had heard me move and ran off.  I was able to get it to come back with that sound. 

Growing tomatoes vertically in a Mittleider garden

The tomatoes are transplanted into our little Mittleider in garden green house. Recently we started the process of growing vertically to maximize the space and production of tomatoes. In the picture below you will see the heavy square baling twine we use to grow vertically.

 All the tomatoes are grown in one row with 9 inches of space between them. The twine is tied off at the bottom on a wire attached to our t-posts. The wire runs the length of the grow box and is 3 1/2″ above the grow box.  At the top of the t-posts are two more heavy gauge wires running the length of the grow beds.  We then alternate every other tomato plant and use a releasing knot to train the tomatoes to grow away from one another and maximize space. This ensure they get maximum air and sunlight.  In this picture below you can see the “V” pattern formed with the twine.  You’ll also notice extra twine hanging from the top. This allows me to lower the plant as we pick all the tomatoes from the bottom and the plant has grown all the way to that top wire.  And if you do your part they will grow that tall.

In the bottom picture you see where the twine is tied to the bottom heavy gauge wire.  If you tie the twine to the tomato plant you risk damaging it in two ways.  As the tomato grows the stem is going to get thicker.  If your twine is tied to it you risk the chance of strangling the tomato. Additionally, if you’re tied off at the plant you risk damaging or even pulling out the tomato if something or someone pulls on the twine. 

When wrapping  the twine It’s important to wrap the twine around the plant and not the plant around the twine. By doing the later you risk damaging your tomato plant.  Also, as you wrap towards the top take extra care not to damage or break off the growing rip, also known as the terminal bud.  Doing so I’ll stop the growth of your plant.   I stop sever inches short of the terminal bud to ensure that the twine doesn’t damage it. 

You can also grow other crops vertically such as crooked neck squash, eggplants, cucumbers and even melons.  We will have posts on growing the vertically in the future. 

growing tomatoes vertically with balng twine
using baling twine to grow tomatoes vertically

Starting green bean seeds

We are late in getting these seeds started, but today we got enough seeds in grow boxes that we can do one full 30 foot grow bed in bush beans.  There are 9 rows in this seedling flat with 15 seeds in each row.

Notice the old vegetable can with sand and a white handled spoon sticking out of it?  IRS my preferred method to cover those seeds with wet sand.  It cover the seeds and the use the back of the spoon to even out the sand with the growing medium.  The sand, when wet, just doesn’t shake out of the can easily.  

After the picture was taken the rest of the seeds were covered and the seedling flat was covered with burlap.  We water the seeds daily through the burlap seeds sprout.  The burlap diffuses the water and helps prevent the seeds from being washout out of the sand.

Want to build your own seedling flats?  See this blog entry.

starting bean seeds in a Mittleider seedling flat

Protecting garden tools with linseed oil

Protecting garden tools with linseed oil

This past week while working towards getting our garden in I’ve noticed the wooden handles on a few garden tools were looking pretty rough.  They’ve lost all the sealant applied by the factory and a few are showing signs of weather cracking.  That’s a recipe for having handles break and require them to be replaced.  A little prevention can help make those garden tools last a long time.

Protecting garden tools with boiled linseed oil
Protecting garden tools with boiled linseed oil

Remove old finish or dirt

Before applying a sealant to the wooden handle it is necessary to remove any old existing sealant and dirt.  For this purpose we used a sheet of 120 grit sand paper.  A little of elbow grease and the handle will be ready for a coat of a sealant and protectant.

Apply a coat of protectant/sealant

We just happened to have a quart of boiled linseed oil to help remedy this issue.  A light sanding to remove the remaining finish and to open the grains so they can absorb the oil and we were in business.  We simply poured a bit of the linseed oil onto a rag and then rubbed it into the handle.  Everything has been treated three times so far but two of the pieces with the worst cracking will get several additional coats before we put everything away.
There are no pictures to show what the looked like before we started, but the handles were closer to a white than the brown you see now.

Other ways of protecting wooden tool handles

In addition to keeping a coat of linseed oil on those garden tools you can help protect them by keeping them out of the sun and rain.  Simply storing them while not in use, and keeping them protected with linseed oil, will help them last a long time.

Starting seedlings under grow lights

Starting seedlings under grow lights

Let us talk about grow lights . If you’re going to grow a Mittleider garden, or any garden for that matter, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not using them.  But why use them you ask? Because starting your own seedlings gives you several distinct advantages.    As a result of growing your seedlings indoors you get a jump  on your growing season.  Due to having 4-6 week old seedlings ready to plant as soon as the outdoor temperature is right your growing season will be longer.  Starting seeds in the ground outdoors once it is warm enough versus transplanting healthy seedlings as soon as its time to begin gardening.

Another big advantage of starting seedlings is that the gardener can discard any weak seedlings.  You can also start enough seeds to cover any seeds that fail to germinate.  As a result you will have no empty spaces in your gardens row.  And a full row looks fantastic.  Not to mention, a full row of plants puts more food on your table and in your pantry.

Our grow light and heating mat setup

We setup our second grow light in the basement to start seedlings under.  If you look under the seedling flats you will see the black seedling heat mats.  The grow lights are each the Agrobrite T5, 4 foot long, 6 tube light fixtures.

The grow lights are each suspended with their own pair of Apollo Horticulture GLRP18 grow light hangers.  After using these hangers I can honestly say I’ll never have another grow light setup that doesn’t include them.  They make lifting and lowering the lights for watering or general access the seedlings an absolute breeze.

Grow lights help you to maxamize your growing season
Seedlings started under grow lights in our basement

The seedling heat mats

These heat mats are important because they keep the soil and seed temperatures warm enough for germination to occur. It is especially relevant that if the correct temperature isn’t maintained the seedlings will die or seeds fail to germinate.

Our seedling heat mats are both Hydrofarm MT1009 48 X 20 inch mats that are controlled with a the MTPRTC, digital ETL certified thermostat designed for seedling germination.  This thermostat is digital and very easy to use and setup.  The digital timer to control the lights was more difficult to setup as compared to the thermostat.

Everything is connected to the surge protector and the lights controlled by an inexpensive digital timer/controller.  The lights are on for 18 hours daily and the the heat mats are set to keep the seedling trays at 80 degrees.

Agrobrite grow light and seedling heat mat
agrobrite grow light with seedling heat mat

For a  better look at our system check out this YouTube video:

Our quest to be self reliant and grow a healthy garden