Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mark McAfee is my hero!

I am so grateful for Mark McAfee and the whole team at Organic Pastures for not backing down and, as he says in the video, coming back better and stronger, no matter what the regulatory agencies throw at them.  Thank you, Mark, for defending my freedom to drink raw milk!

My garden, 2012

I just wanted to show and tell about my garden.  I am off to a late start, but fortunately the growing season in southern California is long and forgiving.

This is the view as you step outside.  My garden is right outside my living room on a balcony area above our garage.

We set up garden boxes using the Square Foot Gardening method by Mel Bartholomew.  Each square is approximately one square foot, and we planted one crop per square.  Depending on the required spacing, you plant anywhere from 1 to 16 plants per square.  My husband built the boxes with plywood bottoms on them so they can go anywhere and be moved later if we change our mind about where we want them.  We need to work on getting a better drip system set up; for now I hand water what the drip misses.  The crops I have going in this box are, from top left to top right, bottom left to bottom right: bush beans, bush beans, lettuce, lettuce, cilantro, cilantro, green onions, and radishes.  I planted all of these crops directly in the soil less than two weeks ago and look at them grow!

This is the next box over from the one above.  The top row is all cantaloup. I bought a cantaloup at the farmer's market last weekend and put some of the seeds directly in the soil.  So far, two have sprouted.  They take up a lot of room and will need to be thinned later so I only have one plant per two boxes.  Not sure how it's going to go, but it was a risk-free trial!  The bottom right square is two cucumber plants which I started indoors and transplanted a few days ago.  It seems to have been a traumatic ordeal for these poor 'cukes, but they are hanging on and seem to be generating some new growth.  Praying they make it!

These are my old self-watering buckets which I started in the fall.  I have 8 of them and so far have transplanted two tomato seedlings into them for my spring/summer growing season.  I think they will work great for tomatoes since tomatoes like to send down deep roots.  I only have 6 inches of depth in the garden boxes whereas I have a couple feet in these buckets.  I just transplanted these guys this afternoon.  We'll give it a couple days and see how they do before I transplant 3 others I have going.
This box is the third one when you walk out my balcony.  I actually have four of these boxes for a total of 32 squares.  I have more space than I know what to do with at this point but have some seedlings going in the house which will hopefully start filling up my boxes!  I planted 4 sugar snap peas in the top of this square.  I bought them at the farmer's market and they sat in the fridge long enough to sprout, so I thought, what the heck?  We'll see what they do.  Since I could have fit up to 8 of the peas in this box, I filled the other half with two Swiss chard plants I started from seed and transplanted in.

So that's my garden so far!  In the fall, I planted a very small garden in my 8 buckets...I successfully grew a small crop of broccoli, a few carrots, and TONS of lettuces which kept growing and growing as I kept clipping and clipping.  I basically have 5 times the garden space now that I did then, and the weather is more-so on my side (we'll see how everything does in the harsh summer, though).  I do wish I had gotten some seedlings going indoors sooner, but I didn't have my garden boxes set up until about a month ago, and before that, I wasn't sure exactly what we were going to do.  So this is basically a continuation of my first year gardening.  It's been great learning what works and what doesn't.  I am sure as I learn and as time goes on, I will get the hang of things.

Today I just started a few more seedlings indoors.  Today at the farmer's market, I bought some beautiful purple bell peppers (apparently they do come in colors other than green, red, and orange/yellow!).  I am going to see if I can get a couple of those seeds to grow...and then I bought a yellow cucumber that I am also going to try to sprout.  I have some squash in the fridge and will see what I can do with those seeds, too.  I love using "free" seeds from veggies I buy at the farmer's market!

If you are new to gardening, I highly recommend you pick up Mel's Square Foot Gardening book (which I linked to above).  He makes it so accessible and simple.  I really like the concept of the boxes.  Lowe's sells his "Mel's mix" which consists of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 compost blend.  It's much easier than trying to piece together the ingredients and mix them up yourself (which is an option he describes at length in his book if you can't find the Mel's mix in stores).  It cost us about $100 for all of the wood for the boxes and the soil.  Since you are starting with brand new soil from scratch, there's no plowing, no fertilizing, no tilling, no digging, minimal weeding, no testing, etc.  This is the part that really intimidated me as a new gardener, and using square foot gardening, I don't have to worry about any of it!  Mel recommends you have up to two 4 x 4 boxes per adult - one for a daily salad during the growing season, and the other for "supper veggies" during the growing season and beyond for preserving.  We currently have the equivalent of two 4 x 4 boxes with the four 2 x 4 boxes my husband built, which doesn't include the 8 buckets of tomatoes I have planned.  So we currently have enough room to grow over half of our produce needs with this small little balcony garden.  I have room for at least a couple more 2 x 4 boxes.  We own our home and have 1/5 an acre of land; however, our backyard is a construction zone at the moment, and this balcony is very easy for me to get to which means I keep things watered and maintained a lot easier.  Once our backyard is done, we can easily move these boxes back there if we want to...or maybe we will build more boxes for our backyard and have even more space to grow!!

So there you have it.  I will certainly keep you posted as harvest time comes!