Sunday, May 22, 2016

Protecting Eggplants

Last year the only eggplants that survived and produced fruit lived in the greenhouse. Flea beetles killed those planted outdoors. The year before those protected with floating row covers did well so this year we are using more elaborate tents to prevent flea beetles from finding them.

Since the spun fabric is seven feet wide, we made a four foot wide aluminum frame of 3/8 inch diameter aluminum rods suspended about a foot above the ground. Seams along both sides and ends captures more aluminum rod and can be stapled to the ground if weight and mulch are not able to keep the edges tight enough against the ground to keep flea beetles out.
Well Mulched Eggplants About to be Covered with Fabric

First Tent with 28 Eggplants Inside with 30 Still Needing Protection

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Time for Planting Seedlings

Although it may freeze tonight, some seedlings can tolerate cold nights. Over the past two days I planted our five types of sprouted onions and later today will start setting out cabbages, Brussel sprouts and kale. Later this week should warm up enough to set out tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.
Flower and Vegetable Seedlings Waiting for Warmer Weather Before Growing Outdoors

More Then 100 Tomato Plants Fit in a Small Area

The newsprint tube seedling holders is working out very well: No winding up of roots at the bottom and they make it very easy to transplant seedlings. They readily slide out of their containers and do not stick together. Many of the onion tubes had more than the optimal three plants and were easy to separate into groups of two or three. Roots were not tangled and readily pulled apart, a chore that was impossible with shorter vessels without breaking rootlets. The tubes that had two or three layers of newsprint were too robust and resisted tearing down their entire length.  Removing the newsprint and adding it to the surrounding mulch seemed appropriate to prevent it from impeding root growth. A single layer with overlap for glue proved most appropriate.
Onion Sprouts Ready for Planting
Onions Planted in Mulch, Garlic Behind

Closeup of Some Onions

Directly Seeded Sugar-snap Peas Growing Well

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Grass for Mulch

We have a few acres of fields that I mow in spring and early summer for garden mulch. After July they simply grow untended except for a few paths that help us avoid ticks, burrs and wet shoes. The first cutting in spring is substantial because it includes both early new growth and plants that died over winter.

Because dry plant matter is easy to handle, works better as mulch than wet grass that heats up and decays within a few hours, and can be used to cover sensitive plantings if frost threatens, I initially mow fields a few sunny days before picking it up. This year our first harvest of mulch delivered four trailers full plus over 100 bags (the bagging feature of the mower fills three at a time) all together totaling over 30 cubic yards of mulch. 
Diesel Tractor Connected to a Trailer That Catches Dry Grass Delivered by the Mower Via an Articulated Tube
Tractor with Bagging System

Filling the trailer behind the mower requires the grass to travel more than ten feet through a large articulated tube that only works well with dry matter easily transported by the blower. Wet material clogs the system. This combination of tractor/mower and trailer connected by a tube requires a large turning radius so it can only be used by proceeding clockwise around two large fields. Filling the trailer that fits about 40 bags of mulch is a huge time and fuel saver because it avoids so many back-and-forth trips to garden plots. For a few years I emptied the bags into the conveniently located trailer but then emptying the trailer required removing the bagging system. And it's a lot of work emptying bags every five minutes, the time it takes to fill them. The trailer sides and top are now lined with mesh that catches the mulch thrown by the hurricane of air that transports it from the mower. It now takes less than a day to pick up the four trailers and 100 bags of mulch that used to take many days.

View Showing Dry Grass Surrounded by Field Where Mulch Has Been Picked Up
Mulch Ready for Distributing Around Garden
Worth noting: last year's mulch has essentially disappeared by this time and gardens are bare soil except for corn stalks, tomato vines and pepper skeletons from the crops themselves. The nutrients in the mulch have been processed into the soil by worms, bacteria and fungi.

Hours driving around fields are not boring. There are dozens of birds to watch, baby rabbits, snakes and frogs to avoid, and other wonders to ponder. The fields have animal paths crossing them and often matted grass that show where deer bedded. Once in awhile I have to escort a newborn fawn from harms way for they refuse to move on their own. 
Belle, Our Dog, Sitting on a Deer Path Through Our Harvested Field. Their Hooves Trim the Dead Grass To Allow New Grass to Grow More Vigorously Than the Rest.