Peas Sowed & Deer Fence Up

Believe it or not, we got a little bit of snow Saturday night into Sunday morning!  The weather man said we could get between four and six inches of snow, but we ended up only getting a slight dusting of snow.  It did stay cold for most of Sunday and only got to about 37 degrees.

Today, Monday, the weather was a bit nicer.  The sun was out in its fullness and the temperature got up to about 57 degrees.  The rest of the week is to be around the same temperatures; higher 50's, with rain every other day.

So I took the opportunity to get out and get the Dwarf Gray Sugar (Dwarf Grey Sugar some people spell it) peas planted out in the garden behind the garage and the new garden area between the garage and the house.

In the "Square Foot Gardening" book, it says that the peas can be planted three inches apart from one another.  To me, that is way too close.  On the package, it says to thin to six inches apart.  So, I went between the two and chose to plant them five inches apart.

The area between the garage and house was 200 inches long, so I was able to sow 41 peas in this area.  I pushed the peas down about 3/4 the length of my thumb – which is just a little less than two inches – and then covered them back up.

The area behind the garage was 320 inches long, so I was able to sow 65 seeds there.  That makes a total of 106 pea plants!  I hope we get quite a lot of peas for the season.  We will be freezing the whole peas with the pod (since these are snow peas and the pods are edible).  It would take too long to get the peas out, and there is no reason to since you can eat the pods anyways.  One of my favorite chinese dishes uses the full pods, which is where I got this idea to plant peas.

Backyard Garden

Later on this same area will be used to grow the tomatoes, so I'm trying to get a harvest of peas in before that.  Later in the year, probably late July/early August, I will plant another set of peas in the other garden area (between the house and garage) to get another harvest just before the winter comes in.

You can also see the green fencing on the right side of the picture.  This was also put up today.  You can see in the background that we have a forest preserve, so we have quite a lot of deer that come up into the driveway and the yard.  I used the fence last year and it did a great job keeping the deer out – and we had the tomatoes here and corn between the house and garage during that period.  The fence is four-feet tall, but the deer don't jump it since it is so close to a structure.

As in the previous post, I noted that I wanted to get some pictures of the Macon County Compost Facility.  I had to go back to the compost facility to load up many containers of compost.  We went to the in-laws house on Sunday and dumped two car loads of compost.  So, the area where the corn will be planted is ready to be tilled (couldn't since it was rainy and wet Sunday in their area).  So, here is a picture of part of the compost facility.  There is a lot you can't see here, but you mostly see the new mounds of leaves that are less than a year old:

Compost Facility

Just to the left of the picture was the small mound I was getting the manure mix from.  I pretty much used the whole mound with filling everything around the house.

Lastly, here is a picture of one of their tractors turning a pile of leaves/compost that is less than a year old.  You can see all the steam coming off the pile since compost heats up while it is decomposing.

Compost Facility

Another Day In The Garden…

I took some time off of work today in order to get the rest of the garden beds filled up.  The Macon County Compost Facility is only open from 7 am to 3 pm during the weekdays and closed on the weekends, so this conflicts with my normal work schedule.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the compost facility as it would be a nice touch to see where I get all the "black gold" from for the gardens.

The car was full again and it took me about five trips to the facility today to take care of everything that needed filled.  This time the trunk was full with nine five-gallon bucks, the backseat with eight buckets, and the passenger seat with one.

Strawberry pyramids were the first on the list to be filled.  They are now all done, and in this photo they are in front of the grape arbor, but from the road they are behind the grape arbor.

Strawberry Pyramids Filled with "Black Gold"

The next place was behind the house.  A few weeks ago this area was filled with rock, but I moved all the rock and re-did the landscaping.  This area is between the house and garage, and there is only about six-seven feet between the two.  Since this is the north side, I had to clear all the rock so the little amount of sun that makes its way between the house and garage goes here.  In this area, my wife and I put up some chicken wire fencing (was cheaper than the plastic fencing believe it or not).  The fencing will be used to hold up the dwarf peas.  I read that even though they are dwarf, they grow about three-feet tall, and need some support.  So, the top two feet will be supported, but not the bottom foot.  In front of the peas we will grow the onions and some radishes.


It was already past 5 pm so the sun was setting and is now lighting up the walkway between the rock bed and the new garden area.

Lastly, I got some dirt and put some over the top of the area we had the tomatoes last year – this is behind the garage.  We did the same thing here and put the chicken wire fencing since I hope that I can get a harvest of peas in before the tomatoes take the area over again – just like last year!  I know you are not supposed to plant tomatoes in the same place year after year, but this will make the second year in this area – and there just isn't any other place to put the monstrous plants these grow into!


That closes the day off in the BsnTech garden.  Quite a day worth of work.  This weekend we will go to the in-laws house and take two car loads of compost to fill in the area for the corn and potatoes.

How Much Dirt Can You Fit Into A Car?

How much dirt can you fit into a car?  Apparently quite a bit.

Here is the front seat with a big cooler and a small bucket:

Front Seat with Dirt

And here is the back seat with two five-gallon buckets and a huge tote that holds another 35 – 40 gallons:

Back seat with more Dirt

And lastly, a trunk filled with nine more five-gallon buckets:

Trunk with more dirt

That is a whole lot of dirt!

I had time today without anything planned, so I figured I would spend a good part of the day down at the local compost facility.  I took all the buckets, a big shovel, the tote, the cooler, and a big coarse-sized screen so I could get some good dirt/compost without any big sticks, rocks, or globs in it.  I wanted to finally get the garden on the driveway completed.  The dirt/compost in this container has to be without big rocks and the like because the carrots will be grown in it.

Overall, it took me from about 11 am today to 5 pm to fill the containers.  I had to make two trips to the place to finally fill the driveway garden, but I got it all done.  Here it is turned into a "greenhouse" with some clear plastic over the top.  I did this to keep the rain out (which incidentally it rained on and off today).  When I get all the carrots planted out there, I will wait until they are mostly all sprouted with a few leaves before taking the plastic off – that way the rain won't do any changes to the soil and move the seeds around in the ground.

Driveway garden all completed

I was very surprised today as well!  I've had a heck of a time getting the peppers to germinate so I went out and bought a heating mat to put underneath the new peppers I planted last weekend – thinking that it is too cold in the house (hey, it is between 59 and 64 in the house since I have to save on the gas bill – and peppers – from what I read- need at least 70 to germinate).  Well, finally after 18 days, ALL THREE of the peppers – that were not on the heat pad – all germinated at the same time!  What a coincidence was that!  Amonst the peppers, there also were two more cauliflower that sprouted.

So, another good day for gardening around here.

Backing up a bit – we went to my in-laws house – whom own quite a substantial amount of land.  There, they set aside some land for us to grow things and use for whatever we would like.  Well, we will be planting about 300 seeds of sweet corn (so we can eat it on the cobb and also take the kernels off and freeze them so we don't have to buy the canned corn) and potatoes. In addition, we will be putting in our grape vines on the property too.

So with the help of my father-in-law, we put up some 2-foot fencing around part of the area where the corn will be.  I only had 50 feet of fence, so there is still some work to be done.  We also get the grape trellis finished.  It is just standard 5-foot metal poles and some 13-guage wire.  The length of the trellis is about 80 feet for ten grape vines.  I used some earth anchors on either side and on one side (hard to see in the picture below), but there is also a fence strainer.  The fence strainer allows you to use a small little tool, like a crank, and tighten the wire.  So, the wire is pretty tight.

Grape trellis fecing

We already have the grapes (as in the previous blog entry).  Three of them are Niagara, three are Concord, three are Catawba, and the last one is a Mars.  The Mars is seedless so the in-laws can pick and eat them, and the other three are seeded – and will be used to make about nine gallons of wine each year (after the first three years of getting settled).  Each grape vine will produce about one gallon of wine from what I read elsewhere.

We'll be going down again next week to finish up a few more things before the season starts.  Last time we all drove on car and the car was loaded with the compost that we spread over the area the corn will be at and also onto their little garden. There is a lot more that needs covered – so we'll drive both cars and have both of them fully loaded with containers of compost!

Area where Corn will be grown

Garden – Week of March 15th

Quite a lot has happened since the week before when I first planted out some seeds.

Last time I planted out three of the following:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Radish
  • Pepper
  • Bush Green Bean
  • Carrot
  • Lettuce

The goal was mostly to test the soil that I have picked up from the Macon County Compost Facility where they have an 80% horse manure mix and 20% compost mix.  Out of all of those, the following sprouted:

  • 2 Broccoli
  • 2 Cauliflower
  • 3 Radish
  • 0 Pepper
  • 0 Bush Green Bean
  • 3 Carrot
  • 3 Lettuce

I'm not sure what to make of the pepper plants not coming up.  I'm sure the bean plants didn't sprout because the seed is at least three years old and was not taken care of.

Here are the seedlings that sprouted along with a picture of my fluorescent light unit:

New Seedlings 3-15-09

Light Fixtures 3-15-09

I have two fluorescent fixtures that hold two 40 watt bulbs each.  I have two standard bulbs and have two grow-lux bulbs – which you can't see in this picture.

You'll notice a whole bunch of cups right up front in the last picture.  On March 14th, I planted ten more broccoli and ten more cauliflower plants.  I need at least eight of each to sprout to put in the garden.  So far as of this writing, there have been three broccoli and two cauliflower that have sprouted out of these containers.

I also transplanted the two other broccoli and cauliflower from the small six-packs to the 16-ounce cups as well.  After a week between the pictures, they have grown quite a bit!

Broccoli & Cauliflower 3-20-09

Out of the three, the cauliflower (on the left) looks the best out of them.

The lettuce has also grown very well as well:

Lettuce 3-20-09

We had some pretty good weather at the beginning of the week – in the 60's – so the plants were all put outside to get the benefit of direct sunlight.  Thursday and today it has been in the 50's so I have kept them in the house under the lights.

On Thursday, I received the test results back from the lab that did the soil test.  I was pretty surprised with the results, because the home kit showed something completely different.

pH:  7.2
Phosphorous:  310 lbs/acre
Potassium:  800 lbs/acre
Organic content:  3.8%

I'm surprised the organic content is that low, but I don't really know too much about that number.  However, I called the lab and they said that optimal phosphorous levels are 50 lbs/acre and optimal potassium levels are 300 lbs/acre.  That means I have six times the amount of phosphorous and almost 3 times the amount of potassium!  They said that it will not harm the plants, it will just remain in the soil and eventually will be used up.

I was a bit worried still about the pH – but at least it wasn't the 8.0 that the home tests said it was.  They said to spread sulfur over the area at a rate of about 5 pounds per 1000 square feet to get down to a pH of 6.5.

I got my front yard garden bed all filled in with the compost from the county compost facility and then spread about a half pound of sulfur over the area – it is about 80 square feet.  I did not use elemental sulfur like other websites say to use since I couldn't find any locally.  A local store did have a 2.5 pound bag of sulfur that also has gypsum and calcium in it.  I hope that is enough to get the level down to at least 7.0 or lower.

I also have been filling the bed along the back driveway.  With this bed, I'm being a bit more picky with the material from the compost facility since carrots will be in this bed – and they do not tolerate big chunks, wood, or rocks.  So, I have been sifting through all of it.  So far I've put in a couple hours over two days and have filled about 1/8 of it.  I still have a ways to go!

Driveway Garden 3-20-09

I also have some PVC pipes up so I can put some clear plastic over the top of the area to make it enclosed.  I will do this after I plant the carrot, onion, and radish seeds in here to keep the rain from beating down the plants.  Once most of them are all sprouted, I will take the clear plastic off and replace it with a deer mesh netting to keep the deer, birds, and other animals out of it.

Well, that is all for this week's gardening adventure.  I hope I get some pepper plants come up sometime soon – it has been two weeks now for the first set of three and nothing has sprouted!  I alloted space for eight pepper plants in the garden, so I hope I can get that many!

Soil pH Testing

After talking with some folks at GardenWeb on my post, I opted to go to Lowe's and buy a soil test kit and a pH/moisture/light meter just for some piece of mind.  While someone told me to quit worrying about it and just plant, I couldn't let it pass my mind because of all of the work and expense going into the garden this year.  I want it to be productive right from the start – not a year later after amending the soil.  You know what they say – garbage in, garbage out.

Anyways, I first started with the pH meter.  In the instructions, it says to put the probes about 5 inches down into the soil you want to test – but the soil needs to be muddy.  So, I brought in a cup full of soil and filled it until it was nice and muddy with tap water.  Well wel – the pH meter just barely moved off of the default 8 the needle points at, and went to maybe 7.8 or 7.9.  Not happy let me tell you!  People on the board said that the stuff should be around 7.0 – and most veggies need between 6.5 and 7.0 to grow well.  So I have stuff that is basically about 9 times more alkaline!

A bit upset, I then went back outside and got a cup full of soil from where I grew the tomatoes last year, and a cup from where I grew the corn.  I had them separate and made them into a muddy mush – put the meter in – and about the same thing!  It shows around 7.5 – 7.6 for them!  Now, corn can grow in a pH of 5.5 to 7.0 and tomatoes in a pH of 5.5 to 7.0 also.  So how on earth did these grow as well as they did last year?  Is this tester broke or are the pH scales for the veggies over/under stated in some way?

So, I got out another cup and put a few tablespoons of lemon juice in it and then filled it to the top with tap water again.  Well, the pH scale sure moved this time!  It showed a pH of about 3.5.  So the pH meter did move and showed that lemon juice was more acidic.

I then got out the soil test kit which tests for nutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous that plants need to grow – and it also has a pH test as well.  After reading the instructions well, I followed the procedures for the pH to check it one more time.  After a few minutes, I checked it and the color was a medium green hue.  Holding up to the pH chart provided showed that it was showing about 8.0 again.  OK, I give up – so apparently the soil in this area – even the manure/compost mix is more alkaline.

The nutrient tests were then done and showed medium nutrients in each of the three tests – so those checked out fine.

Since it still is a bit too early to start planting, I figured I would get some of the manure mix today and sift it through a fine screen to see if the seeds or plants will even sprout.  I planted three of each variety that will be in this soil type – carrots, broccoli, radishes, lettuce, peppers, cauliflower, and green beans.

Afterwards, I knew that I needed to make a stand for the 4-foot fluorescent light to hang from to put over the seedlings.  So I got out some scrap wood and made the litle hanging thing which wasn't too much work at all.

Plants to test soil

I was also reading online how to preserve seeds / how to preserve vegetable seeds.  In the Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew, it mentions to put the seeds in a container and then place them in your refridgerator because seeds need dry conditions and cold conditions to keep the seeds in good shape.  So, although a small investment of $10 was purchased on seeds this year, there are plenty of seeds that will be left of carrot, broccoli, radishes, lettuce, pepper, tomato, and cauliflower for the next five years!  I will have to get more green bean, pea, and corn seeds each year though since they are larger and you don't get nearly as many of those as you do the other seeds.

Gardening in Boxes

The growing season is coming in fairly quickly!  I have been getting ready and making new spots in the yard for the garden this year.

Last year I had good luck growing tomatoes and corn – but that was about all.  The corn was even a bit stunted because it was grown between the house and garage – which is a sliver of five feet so when the sun was moving directions, some corn only got maybe an hour of sunlight a day.

This year I am doing things completely different and there is quite a start-up cost involved in it unfortunately.

I have been reading the "Square Foot Gardening" book by Mel Bartholomew which was given to me by my grandpa.  In the book he details how you can save much more space and get more yield out of the square-foot method of a garden versus planting in rows and using all that space.

This works with what I am needing to to – because I can't have the typical garden in my yard since it is a big garage and a concrete driveway in the backyard.  So, this year, I am making two large container growing units.

The first one is 2 foot by 16 foot long and is 1 foot deep.  I set it right on the edge of the driveway and is pointing north/south.  On the north end of the container, I also have an area that is 2 foot by 3 foot marked by posts that are three-feet high.  I was reading online on how to maximize space for potatoes – and you can grow potatoes vertically and they will branch out and make potatoes on their way up as long as you keep covering all but the first inch of the plants up.  So, as the plants grow, I will add more 1×6 pieces of wood around those posts and fill with more dirt.  This way I will potentially have a good amount of potatoes in a small space.  One website I found said that in a 4 foot by 4 foot container that is 2.5 feet tall yielded about 100 pounds of potatoes.

Driveway Garden Box

I started woking on the second container yesterday.   For the second container, I had to dig up part of the front yard – again right along the driveway.  Last night I excavated a pretty large portion of sod, but I still have about 25% to go – which is because I decided to make the container bigger since it would only cost another $4 to increase the size by 25%.  This container is going to be 4 feet wide by 20 feet long – and will vary in depth since it is on a little bit of a hill.

So far this project has been fairly high in price – but hopefully in the long run I will get the investment back out of it.  For the 2×16 container, the cost was about $70 ($15 was from the extra wood for the vertical building of the potato box) and for the larger, 4×20 container, the cost was $53.  I made sure to use the arsenic free treated wood so they will last many years.  The cost is fairly similar although they are different sizes – because I only need one 1×6 board on one side of the large box and 2 1×6 boards on the other side because of the hill.  So effectively it needed three large boards for the length, but the smaller box required four.

Front Garden Box

Now – the question is what to fill the containers with?  Luckily we have a county compost facility just about two miles down the road from us.  I called them yesterday and spoke with a person there.  They informed me that they have a special heap of compost for gardeners that is rich in many organics including some manure.  He forwarned me that it is pretty "rich stuff" and said that it needs to be mixed in with some dirt.  I asked the price and they said they give it out for FREE.  So, that sure beats buying the bags of compost for over $2 each or even topsoil for that matter.

Anyways, back to the Square Foot Gardening book.  This book is pretty good and in the back, it shows all of the information for planting veggies.  It shows when and if you should start them as transplants, when to make additional sowings, when to expect harvest, and all kinds of other information about the plants – such as sun/shade, pH for soil, etc.  I have learned through looking at the book that cauliflower and broccoli need to be started indoors as transplants at least eight weeks in advance.  This has been my problem previously as I was go out and plant them directly in the garden around May 5th – which in the Central Illinois area is a good day that shows the forst chances are about 15% from that point forward.  By putting them in so late, they never could bloom and fully grow.  So, next week I will start the cauliflower and broccoli inside.

This year I have a pretty sizable plan for growing many more things.  At the in-laws house, they have plenty of acreage so we are going to make use of it this year.  We plan to put in about 300 or so stalks of corn and will also plant some rows of potatoes for the extra seeds I have left over (it will only take about a pound of potato seed for the potato box, which leaves me with four pounds left that I don't want to waste).  In addition, I have purchased nine grape vines that will be put up at their place as well – three vines of the Catawba, Concord, and Niagara grape varieties.  We are using this to make wine – and with three vines each, they should each produce about three gallons of wine for each variety.

At the house, there is quite a lot more that I will be planting compared to last year – but we have also basically doubled the size of usable garden space with the new containers.  In the 16 x 2 area, I will plant four potato seeds, 106 carrots, 68 onion sets, and about 32 radishes.  This container was designated as the container that would hold the plants that will take all year to produce or are small in size.

The larger 20 x 4 container will have 80 bush beans planted around the perimeter, 12 lettuce, 8 cauliflower, 8 broccoli, and 8 peppers.

With the square foot method of gardening in the containers, you can fit much more into a smaller space because you don't have to walk around on the soil to get to your plants.  Since the container is only four foot wide, I walk around the container and can harvest the produce without stepping foot into the container.

The garden space used last year will have sugar peas and tomatoes.  I know you are not supposed to plant tomatoes in the same spot for two years, but at this point I am still limited in space.  They will be put behind the garage in a 24 x 3 area.  Last year I planted two cherry tomatoes and three roma tomatoes.  This year I plan to do about the same – except I have some "better boy" tomatoes that I will plant in with them as well.  This way we will have the small cherry tomatoes, the oval-shaped romas that are very meaty, and then some larger ones for slicing onto hamburgers and salads.