First harvest!

"Back 40" raised bed garden.I got my first harvest today.  And of course, I can’t take much credit for it.

We have two Cherry Plum trees on our property.  And this is the time when their fruit is ripe for picking.  Cherry plums are not really good for eating, they are somewhat sour, they taste much like a sour plum.  The tree is well named, because the fruits have the qualities of both cherries and sour plums.

I harvested about 10 pounds of cherry plums from the tree in the front yard.  The tree in the back yard didn’t produce any this year, and I’m not sure why.  Perhaps because the backyard tree is still small, and maybe it was stressed, or didn’t get enough water.  I spent winter and spring digging around it, and setting up automatic watering zones, so perhaps that’s the cause.  I’ll fertilize it this fall / winter and make sure it gets enough water next year and see if that makes a difference.

So what do you do with 10 pounds of sour fruit?  You turn it into jam, or wine.  Right now it’s being stored in my chest freezer as Wendy researches wine making.   

 

I planted about three trays of seedlings in my first raised bed garden over the Memorial Day weekend.  I know i’m late to planting for this zone, but hey, I got married in April.  I was somewhat busy.  

As you can see here, I’m using the Square Foot Gardening method.  The bed is 4 foot by 12 foot, and it is simple and easy to reach any part of the garden merely by reaching over.  

Not every square foot is planted with seedlings, some are direct sown from seeds.  Carrots, for example, work better if they are sown directly instead of raised as a seedling.  

Yesterday I also installed a Rainbird automatic drip system with a timer to the faucet.  I used an Orbit 91213 digital water timer that is on sale in local stores for about $28.   I was unfamiliar with how to use an automatic drip system, so I bought an all-in-one kit and used it to teach myself.  That seems to be the best way to do it – it gives you the basics of what you need to set up a small garden like mine, while teaching you what you might need to use in the future.

 

Olla potThis is only one of the two raised beds that I have.  I haven’t prepped the second bed.  Right now I’m using it as an experiment.  Wendy planted 6 pepper plants around an Olla Pot to see how that works.

Olla pots are basically short, round earthenware pots.  Some have long necks.  If they are unglazed, these pots will “seep” moisture through the pot and into the surrounding media.  If you plant in an unglazed earthenware (also called “Terricota”) potyou may be surprised by how often it needs to be watered.  The trick for using an unglazed pot is to make sure it sits in a saucer of water that can seep up into the pot and to your plants.  

Olla pot watering systems are where you place specially shaped terricotta pots in your garden, interspaced among the plants.  The mouth of the pot is above the ground, and the pot itself is buried.  You fill the pot with water each day, or every other day, and that water will seep into the surrounding garden to provide a longer period of watering.

I made my own olla pots.  Wendy researched how to make them, and we decided on a simple olla pot.  I used two terricotta flower pots, a piece of ceramic tile, and some 100% silicone waterproof sealant.  

I sealed the ceramic tile over the hole in the inside bottom of one flower pot.  (I had to chip the edges of the tile with a hammer to make it fit.  I wasn’t worried about it being pretty.)

Next, I put a large bead of silicone around the rim of one pot, and rested the second pot upside down on top.

Many people tell you to glue the pots together, but in my experience in building aquariums from glass and silicone, there will be a great deal of strength in a simple silicone seal.  The two pots are very solid and don’t come apart with normal handling.  Rough handling will probably break the pot before breaking the seal.  I didn’t bother to glaze the top of the pot, but yesterday I did insert one of the rainbird water feeds into it.  Before that, it was just me or Wendy remembering to fill the olla pot with water once a day or so.

As you can see, the pepper plants are doing well.  I think planting them grouped around the pot is a good idea since the plants themselves will shade the pot and cut down on evaporation.

 

bag potatosNext up are my potato plants in bags.  I got these potato bags from the local agriculture supply store, Fresno Ag.  They are about 12-14 inches deep, and about 2 feet in diameter.

To use these bags I first rolled down the sides until they were about 2 inches deep.  I then placed 5 seed potatos in each bag onto sandy soil and mulch, with just the tops of the seed potatos standing out.  As the potatos sprouted and grew I kept adding mulch and slowly rolled up the bags.  After about a month the bags were completely full of mulch and the foliage kept growing.

 

They just put out their first potato flowers.  I’ll try to add a photo of that in a later update.

When the potatos are ready to harvest, I’ll just dump the bags into a larger bucket and seperate out the potatos.  The greens and mulch will go into my compost bins.   Which reminds me, I really need to post a photo of these bins!

 

Tomatos

My sub-irrigated planter is wonderful!  I didn’t even bother to connect it to the automatic drip system because this thing is a water miser!  I have been checking the water levels about once every two or three days, but may step up to once every one or two days due to the increased heat that is forcast.  

Subirrigation tomatos

Small tomatos are already in evidence, and I think this will produce lots of fruit.  I’m curious if I’ll be able to extend the growing season when it gets colder by placing these inside a greenhouse.

In fact, the planter is working so well that Wendy and I made one for one of our friends as a housewarming gift.  This will make the second that I’ve built – and it took me half the time that it took to make the first.  

 

 

And finally, an update on my aquaponics system.

I don’t have grow media yet.  I did stop by the local gravel yard and found rocks of the right size for about $60 a ton.  I’ll be using a half a ton of rock in the grow bed.  This seems too heavy for the setup as I have it.

If you look, you’ll see I repurposed the metal bars to hold up the grow bed over the top of the tank.  This has successfully held up 680 pounds of water, but I have my doubts that it will hold up 1000 pounds of rock and another 200 pounds of water.  

biofilter

Actually, I’m pretty sure it WILL hold it up, but I think it will do so in the same fashion that an empty soda can can support the weight of a person balancing on one foot… everything is fine until someone taps the side of the can, and then WHAM!  Sudden collapse!

That doesn’t scare me so much when the grow bed is filled with water, but when it is filled with rock I start to worry!

So hopefully sometime this weekend I’ll have a chance to grab some 4×4’s and some lag bolts from the local home supply store and build a real growbed table.

Until then, the Koi and Bluegill will have to live with a makeshift green scrubby pad biofilter that Wendy and I whipped together.  It’s working very well.  You can see water coming out of the side overflow hole – most of the water exits from the bottom of the bucket.

The bluegill are fat and happy, and are taking Koi food and the occasional worm.  Once I get the bed set up I’ll add more fish and start feeding them something that does not come from a pet store!