Our Garden

526864_10200192772515394_756307364_n(Community Matters) It’s not hard to see why our garden is so beautiful and plentiful – a note from our gardener:

Hi Eugene and Steven,

The summer garden is almost completely planted. I’ll drop by tomorrow to check on the seedlings if it’s okay with you and not raining too hard.

The only thing left to plant are the tomatillo and honeydew melons, as Natural Gardener was out when I was there. I won’t bother with an invoice for the time and planting of those as it should be negligible. I’m also not charging for time watering or other routine maintenance…it’s just too enjoyable for me.

Complimentary Planting

I’ve been researching horticultural techniques and the concept of complimentary planting (you guys mentioning your friend in Australia inspired me to do some research). You will notice that in the tomato bed there are onions, garlic chives, and chives (a class of plants known as alliums). These will naturally help repel mites and aphids. There are also carrot seeds in the tomato beds, as carrots help break up the soil and disseminate air and nutrients. The marigolds will help repel worms, asparagus beetles, and whiteflies. Dill seed is also planted there, which is good for tomatoes while young, but attracts hornworms when mature. I will yank the dill before they blossom, and I have seeded dill in other areas of the garden. As a happy accident, basil, oregano, and parsley also help to repel bugs, and these are already in the tomato bed.

The Soil

The soil in the raised beds is superb! It consists of what was there before (dirt, decomposed granite, clay, and broken down compost), in addition to what is new this season: slow-release organic fertilizer, mycorrhizal fungi (forms a symbiotic relationship with plants, expanding their water absorption capacity and reducing the risk of fungi), new compost, and humus from your very own compost. I remember you being disappointed by the radishes, turnips and carrots, so I’ve also added some expanded shale. Your beds need it due to the residual resident clay, which is water logging the soil a bit. The shale is unique in that it helps with drainage but also slowly releases water if the surrounding soil (matrix) dries out. I recommend amending more expanded shale for the next few seasons. The compost helps, but it is temporary, and the decomposed granite is good but is not enough, and doesn’t have the water-releasing property. Once there is enough shale in the beds, it is a permanent solution to clay-heavy soils.

Your Plants

The range of plants in your garden is quite expansive, including six tomato plants, sweet basil, Thai basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, chocolate mint, two types of sage, lemongrass, leeks, heirloom onions, heirloom carrots, dill, chives, garlic chives, cucumber, cantaloupe, squash, and, as of this coming weekend, tomatillos and honeydew melon.

I’ve changed the selection of tomatoes this year. While I hope you agree with me that last year’s crop was delicious, I was disappointed in the quantity of the harvest. What I’ve learned is that those amazing heirlooms don’t do so well in our climate. While there is some disagreement on the exact range, Brandywine (the archetypal heirloom) sets fruit best when the daytime temps are below 85 degrees and the nighttime temperatures are above 55 degrees. For us, that is a very narrow window. Even with planting the tomatoes two weeks earlier than last year, I wouldn’t expect the fruit set to be as good as it would be in a more temperate climate. The people who have success with cold-climate heirlooms in this area typically put seedlings out before the risk of frost has passed and have several rounds of backups ready to go if they lose plants to a cold snap. I admire the dedication, but see this as wasteful.

Luckily, there are some quality hybrids that do well in the heat; one variety I planted was bred by a gardener here in Central Texas. I also planted two Arkansas Travelers heirlooms, which are supposed to be phenomenal in the heat. The more heat-adapted varieties, combined with the improved soil, should lead to a good crop (barring uncontrollable variables, of course). I’ve added asparagus and garlic to my calendar as I’ve learned that those will need to be started in cooler weather. I applied a $10 rebate card to the purchase of the vegetable plants.

Cutting flowers include three varieties of zinnias (almost a whole bed!), cosmos, torche tithonia (Mexican sunflower), Love in a Mist, larkspur (will be better next year; note to plant in December), strawberry fields gomphrena, and globe amaranth. I’m probably missing a plant or two, but that’s what I remember off the top of my head.

The native plants we planted last spring are coming back well. I expect them to bloom out nicely in the coming months.

The Experimental Pollinator Plots

I’ve prepared the soil and sowed seeds for pollinator plants in three different parts of the yard (by the back wood pile, in a pocket by the retaining wall, and to the right as you enter the garden area). I’ve done this at no charge for either time or seeds, and I’m approaching it quite casually. In fact, if you were to still hire someone to redo that area before the plants bloom, my heart would not be broken. My main interest is to see how easily plants will grow without too much care in that area, and also to provide some extra beauty and more nectar for butterflies, hummingbirds, and honeybees. My guess is that the plants will fail in mid-summer with the drought, but that native wildflowers would do better if planted there. It’s just for fun and curiosity, really.

The Compost 

I got about four gallons of spent coffee grounds (they’re a great nitrogen source–about 2.3%) from Flightpath Coffee and added them to the compost pile, along with part of a bag of turkey compost. I also took the opportunity to aerate and rotate the mix. The water, compost, and coffee grounds should help reactivate the microbial culture and get it composting at a more efficient speed. Will probably need to sprinkle the compost with water occasionally as it seems to be completely drying out above the bottom foot. While some advocate adding coffee grounds directly to garden soil, I chose not to do this. While they do add nitrogen in the short term, they consume nitrogen in the long term because they encourage so much microbial action that the microbes start pulling from the soil, requiring supplemental fertilizer. To avoid this problem, I added the grounds to the compost and will let the decomposition process create a more balanced humus that can then be added to the garden soil.

Mosquito-free Bee Water

I repurposed an old ceramic tray to provide a clean water source for the bees (have already seen them using it). The irrigation system will flush the water (and any mosquito larvae) every morning. The bees will have clean water, will be able to drink without drowning in the bucket, and the bees won’t visit water sources belonging to the neighbors (or your koi pond).

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