Archived Monthly Posts

Handy On-Line Garden Resources

Here are some very useful on-line gardening resources that I have come across recently:

Sources for Vermiculite
Excellent list of sources of vermiculite, sorted by location.  I get asked about this quite a bit.  I now know where to send people who have questions about where to find it!!

Cubic Yard Calculator
This is a very good on-line calculator to help one determine how much soil is needed to fill a raised bed.  Just input the dimensions of your raised bed and it calculates the amount of soil amendments needed (expressed in cubic feet) to fill the bed.

Frost/Freeze Data for the U.S.
An easy way to find the frost/freeze dates for many locations around the U.S.  These dates vary slightly from a previous blog post on this subject.  These dates are based on temperature data from 1971-2000.

First Harvest of Spring Planted Lettuce, Drier Weather

My spring garden is growing well despite the rain.  The rain has lessened over the past few weeks, and I think the garden soil is starting to dry out.  The first harvest of the spring planted lettuce started on April 30th.  See picture below of what the lettuce looked like just before it was harvested.  Who says vegetables are not attractive!  I harvested more of this lettuce yesterday.  There was a moderate frost a few days ago, but most of the lettuce was under the plastic covered hoop.  The cabbage, broccoli, and brussels sprouts were covered with row covers, just to be on the safe side.  I am hopeful that this will be the last spring frost.  I will be taking down my cold frame today and I will also be planting out my celery seedlings today.  I will also be planting out the pepper and tomato seedlings within the next week, along with the cucumber seedlings.  My brother planted the corn yesterday in the raised bed.  If the soil continues to dry out and warm up, I would like to get the green beans and lima beans planted in another week or so.  I am hopeful that the weather will turn a little warmer and drier.  The forecast is for highs in the lower 80’s next week, Hooray!  Happy late spring gardening!

Beautiful Spring Lettuce Awaits Harvesting, 4-30-11

Please Stop the Rain!!

Somebody please stop the rain!!!  It has been so wet here in Central Indiana over the past 2 weeks.  I think my rain gauge has recorded nearly 6 inches of rain over that time.  Despite all of the rain, the garden is doing okay.  I transplanted out the broccoli and cabbage seedlings about 2 weeks ago, and then about 4 days later, we had a freeze.  I did not have the seedlings covered because a freeze was not forecasted.  Fortunately, the seedlings were not damaged by the cold snap (I sprinkled the seedlings with some water that cold morning before I went to work.  I am not sure if that saved them or not), but the uncovered overwintered lettuce was nipped quite a bit.  That is okay because it is about time for that to come out anyways.  I am hopeful that the rains will cease soon.  If it stops raining, I will try to get the brussels sprout seedlings transplanted out into the garden in the next week or so.  Despite all of the goofy weather, the lettuce seedlings are growing well under the hoop, and I should begin harvesting them soon.  I have been harvesting green onions (from the fall planted top-setting onions), with a few more still to be harvested.  The spring planted onions are starting to grow.  I side dressed them with some fertilizer about a week ago.  The peas have germinated, but because of all of the rain, they are not growing too fast right now.  I planted cucumber seeds in small pots about 6 days ago, and they have since germinated while inside the cold frame.  Most of the potatoes planted in the two raised beds have poked up through the soil surface within the last few days.  Happy April Showers :-(

Lettuce Seedlings Planted, Garden Peas Germinated

Lettuce seedlings were transplanted out into the garden and under a plastic covered hoop on April 6th.  I have a few more lettuce seedlings to plant out, if I have room. The peas (variety, Mr. Big) have started to germinate.  Some of the top setting onions planted last fall are about ready to be pulled for green onions.  The other onions planted in late March are just starting to push on new green leaves.  I will be fertilizing them soon.  I think I will hold off transplanting broccoli, cabbage and brussels spouts plants for about one more week.  The forecast might include some frost over the next 3 to 4 mornings.  The weather has been warm up until yesterday.  The high temperature on Sunday, April 10th, was 83 degrees.  High temperatures are now back down into the upper 50’s and low 60’s.  Most of the heavy rains have stayed away, which is good news as the garden does not need any more rain for now.  The red bud trees are now blooming, which is a sure sign that spring is here.

The new baby chicks got their first tast of the outdoors last week.  They have now been moved into the coop, but are separted from the 3 adult hens with fencing.  They will be integrated slowly with the other hens over the next month or so. My adult hens have stopped laying eggs.  It is not for the lack of food, I assure you.  Hopefully they will start laying soon.

Baby Chicks in Their New Temporary Home Inside the Coop

My 3 Fat Adult Hens. How About Laying Some Eggs?

Lettuce Harvested - Onions, Peas, and Potatoes Planted

The first of the overwintered lettuce that was growing under the plastic covered hoop was harvested on March 27th (this might be a record for the earliest lettuce harvest).  It’s great harvesting from your garden in March!! The onion plants were delivered and were planted out into the garden March 29th (Candy and Red Candy onions).  For those of you new to this blog you might find last year’s post about planting onions interesting:  A Guide to Planting Onions

The potatoes (in the raised beds) and peas were planted on April 2nd.  The potatoes in the grow bags will be planted within the next few weeks.   The seedlings in the cold frame are growing well.  I am hopeful to start transplanting lettuce seedlings out into the garden within the next week.  The weather has been cooler than normal, but at least it has dried out quite a bit.  The soil was even dry enough to allow me to till up a few plots the other day with my Mantis tiller.  The forecast is for slightly warmer weather, but also with some rain.

The baby chickens are really getting big (now over one month old).  Waiting for warmer weather before they get a chance to run around outside for the first time.  I have posted a few pictures below.

Overwintered Lettuce Growing Under Hoop, 3/31/11

Onion Plants in the Ground, 3/31/11

Seedlings at Home in Cold Frame, 3/31/11

Live Tillers Working Over a Garden Plot

Can We Go Outside to Play? Picture Taken 3/29/11

Lead in the Urban Garden - As Seen in the News

I was interviewed last fall for a story on soil lead concentrations in urban gardens, and it was released yesterday, March 23, on the AP news wire.  You can read the full story and see all of the pictures from these sites (the article and the pictures are the same): Lead, Other Chemicals Taint Some Urban Gardens – ABC News  OR  Experts urge soil testing – The Washington Post OR Newsvine – Lead, other chemicals taint some urban gardens

Last spring I had my soil tested by Professor Gabriel Filippelli who has been researching lead concentration in urban soils, after watching a presentation by Gabe on our local cable access channel.  He was offering free soil lead testing for those in the Indianapolis area.  Not ever having a soil test of my garden before, I jumped at the chance.  I was very interested to find out what the lead levels were in several areas of my yard and garden.  The results revealed high levels in the front yard right along the street (evidence of the legacy of leaded-gasoline combustion and deposition) and in the back yard along the drip line next to an old garage (probably a result of deteriorated lead-based paints and the contribution from the fallout of leaded gasoline sources).  The good news is that the vegetable garden soil was found to contain some lead, but at levels significantly lower than the average of all samples tested in this project, but somewhat above the background values of ~10-20 ppm for a completely pristine area.

If you have not had your soil tested, it would not be a bad idea, especially if you live and garden in a pre-1970 area.  Lead paints were commonly used up until that period.  Also, if you garden in an old urban environment close to a street, you should also expect to find elevated lead levels in the soil.

The risk from lead in your garden soil is primarily from contaminated soil being brought into the home on clothing, shoes and tools where it can mix with household dust and inhaled or ingested.  This can result in dangerous increases in blood lead levels, particularly in infants and toddlers.  Lead can also be ingested from contaminated soil clinging to root crops.  Lead uptake by plant roots in edible plant parts, however,  is very low, even when soils have a very high lead content.  Generally, it has been considered safe to use garden produce grown in soils with total lead levels less than 300 ppm. The risk of lead poisoning through the food chain increases as the soil lead level rises above this concentration. Even at soil levels above 300 ppm, most of the risk is from lead contaminated soil or dust deposits on the plants rather than from uptake of lead by the plant.

It is important to note that just because you find high lead levels in your garden soil, does not mean you should not garden there.  Possible options would be to build a raised bed in that location or maybe chose to not grow any root crops in the high lead soils, and/or to wash all produce grown from this area extra carefully.  Luckily, the soil in my my vegetable beds are low in lead concentrations.  I at least now know the areas of my yard that are high in soil lead levels, which I will be keeping the chickens out of.  Remember, arm yourself with the right information and make an informed decision based on the facts.

Oh, by the way, my chickens are now demanding extra treats.  All this publicity has gone to their heads.  I will probably relent and give them some extra treats.  They deserve it.

Here are some good sources for lead in soil information:

Happy Spring Gardening!!

Frost Free Dates, Cold Frame Filling Up

One of the questions new gardeners always seem to have is when are their last frost free dates in the spring.  It is important to know this as it determines when you should plant or start seeds of your favorite vegetables.  Most seed packets will list the best time to either start seeds indoors or when to plant them out into the garden based on the last frost free date.  Getting accurate frost free dates from the Internet is somewhat problematic.  I did a quick search and found nearly as much inaccurate as accurate information.  Here are two excellent sources of good frost free dates for the U.S.  The simplest one to use is from the Victory Seed Company, found here: Frost Date Selector Page – Victory Seed Company  You first select your state, then your nearest city.  This should work for fine for most gardeners.  There is also another good source from the National Climate Data Center (NOAA) for those who want a little more in-depth information.  The PDF can be viewed and downloaded from this address:  Using this source one can find the date and probability levels of the last 36, 32, and 28 degrees for a particular city based on climatological data from 1951-1980.  To be very conservative, I would recommend that the 36 degree threshold be used (frost can still form at the surface even with temperatures above 32 degrees) along with the 50 % probability level.  As an added margin of safety I would add 7 days to this date.  As an example the “Indianapolis NWS”  location list the date of the last 36 degree day with a 50 % probability as May 3rd.  Adding 7 days to this gives you May 10th.  This date seems right because, in Central Indiana, seasoned gardeners know that you should not put out frost sensitive plants until Mother’s Day, which is usually around May 10th.  To be extra safe, one can also use the 10% probability date, but that seems just a bit too late, in my opinion.

My cold frame is starting to fill up.  Most of the broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts seeds have germinated and have joined the lettuce seedlings inside the cold frame.  The rain has finally stopped and the soil is getting a chance to dry out a little, which I am very thankful for.  I will be emptying both of the compost bins either today or tomorrow.  I should be receiving my onions plants in another 2 weeks.  Happy Early Spring Gardening.

Baby Chicks Arrive, More Seeds Started, Too Much Rain

Our baby chicks arrived on March 2nd from Meyer Hatchery  They have been a super good hatchery to do business with.  I believe they were hatched on February 28th.  I was a little worried about the chicks making it through the mail and having to spend 2 days in a delivery box, but they did just fine.  Pixie and Dixie are the names of the black ones, the Barred Rocks (not sure who is who yet, TBA) and Molly and Dolly are the names of the orange/reddish ones, the Rhode Island Reds (also not sure who is who yet, TBA).  When they look up you can almost hear them asking, ‘Are You My Mommy?’  They are now 9 days old and doing well.  And oh, by the way, they are going to be spoiled.  A large plastic rubbermaid container was converted into a brooder.  See all the pics below.

The broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, and fennel seeds were started yesterday and placed over the seed germination heat mat.  Most of the lettuce seeds that were started about one week ago have germinated and are now outside in the cold frame.

The weather here in Central Indiana has been very wet, with lots of rain.  Too much rain, actually.  I guess our drought, which had carried over from last year, is finally over.  It would be nice to see at least a few days in a row without rain.  I need the ground to dry out a bit so I can empty my compost bins onto the garden beds.  My onion plants should be arriving in another 3 weeks.  Spring is here!!

Baby Chicks, 3-2-11

Sleeping Beauties, 3-2-11

Are You My Mommy?

Chick Brooder Complete with Heat Lamp, Food, and Water

Cold Frame Up, Lettuce Seeds Started, Lettuce Under Hoop Growing

My cold frame has been up for about one week, but I do not have any plants in it as of yet.  I like to get the cold frame put up before any plants are moved into it to allow time for the containers of water to warm up a little.  This also allows me time to do any adjustments to the solar vent.  See the two pics of my Juwel cold frame below.  I place the cold frame over an area of the garden and line the bottom with black trash bags.  I then line the back side of the frame with 1/2 gallon plastic milk jugs filled with water.  This helps to moderate the inside temperature of the frame, especially at night.

I started most of my spring lettuce seeds yesterday.  I then placed them under florescence lights and over a heat mat inside until they germinate, then they will get moved to the cold frame.  See my relatively low tech set-up for germinating seeds below.  I converted part of a bookshelf for this purpose.

I looked under my sorry looking hoop the other day, the one that has spent the entire winter under snow and hard packed ice.  Wow, was I surprised at how green the lettuce is, despite spending all winter under that sad looking piece of plastic (see pic below).  Just goes to show you that things do not always have to look good to be functional.  The weather forecast here is for relatively warm weather and sunny skies for the next 3 days. 

Low Tech Seed Propagation Set-Up

Late February Cold Frame Awaiting Plants

A Look Inside the Cold Frame

Sad Looking But Functional Hoop House

A Peek Under the Hoop and Lettuce Looks Green!!

Seeds Ordered – More Chicken Stories

My Spring 2011 seed orders were placed on February 2nd. The weather here has been absolutely dreadful. I have never seen an ice build up like this before. There is at least 4 inches of hard packed ice covering everything. It has also turned extremely cold. It got down to zero degrees this morning. The good news is that it will be warming up into the 40’s by this weekend. I guess it will be time to break out the shorts :-). I am hopeful that all of the ice will melt in the next week to 10 days so I can at least get my cold frame put up. My chickens are also tired of all of the snow and ice. They have a hard time walking on ice, but come to think it, so do I.

Speaking of chickens, I thought I would relate some more humorous chicken stories. Anybody that thinks chickens are dumb have not truly raised chickens. I occasionally let them “free range” around the backyard, but only when I am out there with them for safety reasons. I have certain areas that I have to keep them out of, like my vegetables beds. My 3-foot high galvanized fencing seems to work very well for this purpose. They have yet to jump over that, although I think a few times they have thought about it. I have also trained my chickens to stay out of other areas of the yard that are not fenced off. I use a squirt bottle filled with water for some negative reinforcement in case they forget. After a few times of being sprayed, they know where they are not supposed to be. Most of the time I can shoo them out with a snap of the fingers. They especially like to follow me around when I am working in the garden because they know I will always feed them treats, mostly earth worms or insects. If they see you digging, they will go absolutely wild because they know they are probably going to get fed. The times when I am working in the yard and they are not out, they stand against the fence in their run and either stare or pace back and forth. My brother termed this as “Being on Chicken TV” (see the first picture below).

My favorite chicken is Mary Ann. For being the smallest chicken, she lays the biggest egg. A few of her earlier eggs approached ostrich size (no kidding). Anyway, she is at the absolute bottom of the pecking order, but I think she does not really care about that. When she is out she is always at your feet and very personable. She also enjoys being picked up. I have several nicknames for her, but my favorite is “Booger”. I always make sure see gets extra treats when she is out with me in the garden (see second picture below. Thank you Susan and Bob for taking that picture).

Spring will be here before you know it!!

Hey, I’m on Chicken TV

Yours Truly with Mary Ann