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Archive for April, 2013

What's needed for soil testing.

What’s needed for soil testing.

As I mentioned in a previous post getting our soil nutrients right is one of the major goals of our garden this year. We bought a test kit from the county, and a few weeks ago we dug up samples from each bed and the ground to send to the lab.

There are two reasons we are testing our soil this year. The first is to get a good analysis of what nutrients are present. The tests will let us know how much magnesium, calcium, potassium and other important elements are in the ground.

Once we know that, we’ll have a better idea of how to amend the soil to give each vegetable its optimum level of each nutrient.

There was a big color difference between our ground and garden soils.

There was a big color difference between our ground and garden soils.

The second reason is to test for potentially toxic elements like lead or arsenic because our garden is around our garage. It’s been there for almost 60 years so who knows what might have spilled and/or leached into the ground around it.

It was kind of interesting to see the difference in the colors between the garden soil and the ground soil. It’s not a difficult process, and I’d recommended it to other gardeners.

Here’s what we did:

Step 1: Order the test kits. Our county doesn’t do it’s own testing, but they still sent us kits. They were $12 each and will be sent to the Michigan State soil lab.

Crush the dirt to a powder.

Crush the dirt to a powder.

Step 2: Dig a 6-8 inch hole from several different areas in the test area then mix everything together in a bucket. I used an old hanging basket pot.

Step 3: Spread the soil in an even later so it can dry out. We just put it on some old newspaper in our garage for a couple weeks.

Step 4: Once it’s dry, break it up as fine as possible. We just stepped on it and crushed the clumps with our shoes.

A fine mesh strainer separates particles from powder.

A fine mesh strainer separates particles from powder.

Step 5: Sift the dirt with a screen. We have one my grandpa used to use. This gets out leaves, twigs and any other objects. We found a rusty nail and a small piece of broken glass in ours.

Step 6: Use a fine mesh sifter to get even more particles out. It’s important that the dirt be almost a powder. We used a small strainer from our kitchen for this part.

Step 7: Once it’s sifted, measure out the correct amount the lab needs and send it in!

I’m excited to see the results and hope that they don’t find anything bad.

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Random sprout.

When we were checking our garden last week, I noticed two random plants growing in one of our raised beds.

We didn’t plant anything there yet, and last year it held cucumbers, squash and a fall crop of peas.

These leaves aren’t anything I recognize, so we’re going to let them go and see what happens.

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In my head, I said this post’s title much like Dr. Frankenstein when his experiment woke up.

While it may seem a bit silly, it kind of replicates my feelings when I saw our herbs bouncing back. The oregano has sprouted a handful of leaves, and the chives and mint are getting out of control, which is a bit of a surprise because it’s still so early in the season.

Chives and oregano in the first pot, mint behind it.

Chives and oregano in the first pot, mint behind it. The thyme didn’t survive the transplant.

Last year we dedicated an entire raised bed to herbs. Matt thought that was a waste of space, and I’ve come to see his point. Our plan this year is to intersperse the herbs throughout the vegetable beds – both as a space saver and possible pest deterrent.

But until we planted tomatoes, squash, peppers and a host of other plants, herbs were going to be on hold. So when I dug up the landscape fabric from last year’s herb bed, I replanted the chives, thyme and oregano in a spare pot until they were needed.

My thought was if they survive, great; if not, no big deal.

We’re glad to see they’re mostly doing well – the thyme looks dead, but the other two transplants look lush. I’m going to divide the chives into smaller clumps and plant them around the maple tree in our back yard. We also have hostas there that were nearly destroyed by slugs, and chives are supposed to repel those slimy beasts. Plus, they have pretty purple flowers when you let them go to seed.

As for the mint, well, Derby Day is right around the corner …

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One of our goals this year is to be more diligent about checking our plants for pests or diseases. So last night we took a stroll to check on the vegetables in the ground. I was particularly concerned about the broccoli plants because they’re in the same family as Brussels sprouts, and the cabbage white butterfly decimated those last year.

These two small slugs did quite a bit of damage to the broccoli leaf in just one day.

These two small slugs did quite a bit of damage to the broccoli leaf in just one day.

I was checking the undersides of the leaves for their eggs when I noticed some chew holes. We ripped off the affected leaf but didn’t find any evidence of the butterfly. What we did find was two small slugs.

Last summer we set beer traps around our yard to lure the slugs into an alcoholic death trap, and it was a resounding (but disgusting) success. Looks like we’ll need to buy some more tiny pie pans and a case of cheap beer and get ahead of the problem before it gets worse.

In the meantime, I spread some coffee grounds around each plant because I read that it helps. We keep those separate because it makes the kitchen collector for our compost too soggy.

Here’s a website that has some pretty interesting and natural ways to deter/kill slugs. This one also has some cool tips.

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It’s been a few weeks since we planted some of our spring crops. Everything is coming up, and the temperatures have been more consistent, which helps.

One problem I noticed is these spots on the broccoli leaves. I’m not sure what they are and haven’t had much luck finding an answer.

White spots and discoloration on the broccoli leaves. Not sure what this is.

White spots and discoloration on the broccoli leaves. Not sure what this is.

My best guess is frost damage from the first week after we transplanted them in the garden. No other plant diseases or leaf disorders seem to match from the various diagnostic tools available online.

We removed the affected leaves from each plant and the broccoli seems healthy, so we’re hoping for the best. All the plants have started growing florets in the center, which is pretty cool to see.

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One of the few snakes hanging out in our yard.

One of the few snakes hanging out in our yard.

So it’s not as exciting as the movie title, but that’s where we found a small family of garter snakes this afternoon. Matt came home from a business trip and said there were a bunch of snakes hanging out on the tree stump between our yard and our neighbors’ yard.

I walked over and sure enough, there were four snakes slithering around the dried leaves, emerging flower plants and the tree stump. We watched them for a little bit and saw them disappear and re-emerge from a small hole.

It makes sense why we saw so many. Apparently April is near their peak breeding season.

While I’m not a fan of snakes (and consistently think they’re slimy even though I know they’re not), these garter snakes don’t bother me.

We don’t plan on getting rid of them because they can be beneficial to our garden and eat some insects (hoping they stick to the bad ones that destroy our plants).

Check out a few of the photos of our snake family below.

This is their home.

This is their home.

DSC_0163

Not too happy with the photo shoot.

Three of the four "family members."

Three of the four “family members.”

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It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

After all the gardening research, reading and planning this winter, spring was supposed to be the start of a splendid gardening season.

But Ohio’s weather seems to have something else in mind. On the first day of spring this year it was 38 degrees. Last year we were seeing record-breaking temperatures around 83 degrees.

We’re now almost two full weeks into spring, and the weather pattern is still wreaking havoc on our plans. It’s been warm then cold, sunny then snowy.

Luckily we had a bit of a break this past weekend and were able to get some garden prep and planting finished. We finally removed all the weed barriers from under the raised beds, turned under the decomposing leaves, and mixed everything together with a small dose of compost from our bin. Everything was much easier and quicker with help from my fiancé and his brother!

Our broccoli transplants are in the ground. We're hoping they do well this year.

Our broccoli transplants are in the ground. We’re hoping they do well this year.

We also planted a few vegetables, even though it’s a couple weeks later than expected.

With the weather a bit colder than usual – and a few nights with below freezing temperatures – I’m a bit worried about how it will work.

Peas, lettuce, spinach and broccoli are pretty frost-tolerant so we’re hopeful they sprout and survive. I checked the broccoli yesterday morning, and the leaves were a little wilted.

When I checked again in the evening, they seemed to bounce back and are looking healthy. I might cover them tonight if the temperatures are still expected to be chilly.

I’d remove the cover (probably the landscape fabric we removed this weekend) from the broccoli in the morning, but I think I might leave it on the lettuce, spinach and peas to warm up the soil and give a small boost to the germinating seeds.

We’ll also plant another few rows of lettuce and spinach in a couple weeks so we’re not forced to eat nothing but greens for weeks when it all matures at the same time. Or it might be to replace what the squirrels decide to dig up.

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