Garden 2013

It’s amazing how productive you can be when your son wakes you up at 6:30 a.m. We’d planned to spend the morning getting raised beds built for our backyard, and because we were up so early, they were done by 10 a.m. (and we even had pancakes for breakfast for getting our DIY on, too)! We planned to have two plots in the community garden this summer, but realized that even though the community garden is only four blocks away, we just weren’t making the effort to get over there every day and BAM the weeds have taken over our two plots. So instead of stressing about it all summer, I’ve given my plots up so someone on the waiting list who really wants them can have them, and we put in some raised beds in the backyard instead. Much easier to just dash out the door and tend to the plants in the backyard than have to pack up the Peanut, get toys for him, a blanket, etc. to go to the community garden (any other moms notice how getting ready to go anywhere with kids takes about four times as long?).

We decided to put the raised beds around the shed because the shed walls will continue to give off heat from the day even after the sun goes down, and in a place like Montana, we’ll take that season-extending radiant heat for sure.

Shed beforeI bought eight 2×8-foot untreated cedar boards to build the beds (cedar is somewhat rot resistant). We used frame anchors and galvanized nails to put the boards together; the boards we cut in 4-foot and 2-foot lengths to make 2×4-foot beds.

When you lack a sawhorse, improvise.

When you lack a sawhorse, improvise.

Peanut sat on a blanket in the grass playing with toys, newspaper, and tools (got to start those little DIYers young, you know).

Peanut in grass

He also reminded us to do things properly and use the level!

Peanut with level

So by 10 a.m. we had five raised beds (though a friend just surprised us with a bunch more plants — one of the tomatoes he gave us is already 4 feet tall! — so we may need to built another one or two). We put layers of wet newspaper down on top of the grass to kill it (and because newspaper is biodegradable while a lot of weed fabric is not). We filled them with locally made potting soil (organic mix of compost, vermaculite, and perlite) and got to planting seeds!

Raised beds 2I planted two kinds of basil, spinach, red chard, carrots, bush beans, peas, onion sets, and zucchini. We’ll plant tomatoes and garlic tomorrow, and noodle on building a couple more beds or just buying some planters for the other plants.

Raised beds 1After the raised beds were finished, my husband planted to raspberry canes another friend gave us along the fence, where they can keep our neighbor’s lovely lilac bushes company. We still need to mulch them and put some river rocks around the raspberry cane bed, but we’re looking forward to enjoying ripe red berries soon!

Raspberry canesAll in all, a very productive day. I don’t have anywhere near the space I had to garden last year when we lived out in the country (heavy sigh), but on the other hand, I am much more busy this summer with Peanut and the brewery, so I think in the end it’s actually a blessing. We are going to put river rocks around the raised beds as well for decoration (and for when we move… we’re definitely taking our raised beds with us, and since the grass will be dead beneath them, we want to ring the area in stones so it looks like a nice garden bed for whoever lives in this house next).

I am looking forward to enjoying the garden this summer, and am especially excited to involve the Peanut this year. What are you growing your garden? Is it a raised bed garden like mine, or do you have acres at your fingertips?

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Green Thumbs: Buckwheat

Starting now, and in the future, I plan to write occasional informational posts about growing food/living self-sufficiently/homesteading. I’m going to call this series Green Thumbs. I’m hoping to build a bigger readership in the homesteading/farming/gardening set as my goal in the next few years is to start my own CSA. I have a serious, SERIOUS desire to have my own farm. Barnheart, it’s called. That term was coined by Jenna Woginrich, one of my farming idols. Barnheart is an incurable longing for a farm of one’s own. Oh, does that describe me. And having something of a following will help me gain customers, too, when I am finally able to achieve my dream. There’s a lot standing in my way, the chief concern being how the heck I am going to afford land where I live. I will have to compete with people selling out their land for development into subdivisions (cows not condos, people!). Retiring farmers/landowners can get a lot more money for those subdivisions than they can from a young family who wants to farm, even with the crappy economy. We need to find someone who wants to see their land remain a working farm, and who is committed to that end. I’m looking into land link programs, which help aspiring farmers find folks selling land. I figure it can’t hurt to join now, since it will probably take years to get linked up, if ever. We plan to let our local extension agent know our desire, to see if she can help us find land. There are USDA loans, and other such funds out there. We WILL buy land in the next few years. It just feels so far off now, unfortunately. I’m trying to find comfort in my garden, which is doing very well, and considering it practice for the future farm.

So anyway, the first Green Thumbs post is about buckwheat. Buckwheat is such a neat crop, I thought it would be a good starting point. Buckwheat is a cereal grain, but has an amino acid composition nutritionally superior to ALL cereal grains. It has a lots of lysine. Did you know the amino acid lysine helps get rid of cold sores?

In addition to buckwheat’s use in flour (buckwheat pancakes are awesome!), buckwheat is also a great smother and green manure crop. Because buckwheat germinates and grows so rapidly and because its canopy is quite dense, it can be used to smother weeds. These include the horrible quackgrass, Canada thistle, sowthistle, creeping jenny, leafy spurge, and Russian knapweed. In Montana, quackgrass, knapweed, and leafy spurge are common invasive weeds. In my garden, I am using buckwheat to smother grass, lambs quarters (which is actually quite tasty and great in salads!), and thistles.

As you can see in the above photo from my garden, buckwheat’s understory shades the ground below and crowds out weeds.

Buckwheat is also a green manure, as I’ve mentioned before. A green manure is a crop that one turns under once it flowers to add nutrients to the soil. The plant material of buckwheat decays rapidly and the resulting humus improves the soil, the soil’s ability to hold moisture, and the nutrient availability to succeeding crops.

Buckwheat thrives in poor soil. Later in the summer, when many flowers have expired, buckwheat’s flowers are a crucial source of nectar for bees. It is an indeterminate plant, which means its continues to grow until killed by frost. In the northwest, it’s typical to get three crops of buckwheat during a short growing season, as long as it’s tilled under at flowering. I’m planning to leave my current crop in flower for a few days, maybe a week, for the bees. Then I will turn it under for the green manure and plant another crop of buckwheat.

At the back of the garden, one of my beds is really struggling with grass. I’m planning to plant the entire bed to buckwheat next summer, to beat back the grass. It is partially planted to buckwheat now.

Here is a photo of buckwheat that was seeded about a little more than a week ago (buckwheat typically takes 3-5 day after planting to emerge from the soil):

And here is the buckwheat I planted a month ago:

As you can see, there are plenty of weeds around the buckwheat, but there are few in the buckwheat stand.

And this taller stand is about to flower, too!

Here are buckwheat seeds:

To seed, broadcast by hand in the area you want your buckwheat. Cover at 1.5 times the depth of the size of the seed (which makes raking a light cover over, about half an inch in depth). Pat firmly, as buckwheat has a small root system and prefers firm soil. Water daily. When the buckwheat comes in, it can be patchy, but fills in quickly. Below is an example of the buckwheat I planted more recently:

We haven’t decided yet if we’ll try to get some buckwheat from our last crop of the season to use for flour, but I think we’re going to try. We’ll pick it by hand and mill it ourselves, if so.

EDIT: To turn over your buckwheat, cut it if it’s pretty wooly, as mine is, like you would grass (I’ll be using scissors or a pruner), so that there isn’t so much leggy biomass. Then using a shovel, push the biomass into the ground to a depth of 3-6 inches. Follow with another crop of buckwheat, or if it’s the end of the season, cover the bed in mulch or straw until spring to preserve your topsoil.

I hope this has been helpful and informative. Please let me know in the comments if there is a way to improve upon this post, and if there’s something you’d like to learn about in the future. UP NEXT: Composting.

Special thanks to Purdue University’s horticulture department for this fantastic article about buckwheat.

Fertile earth

This is the future site of my garden, as it was earlier this week:

My husband has since mowed the patch and I raked the chaff. It’s a pretty big area!

Today we’re erecting the fence for my garden (we want to eat the fruits of my labor, not watch the deer enjoy it). Shawn rototilled the space a few times. Excitement! Will post pictures once we get the work done. I’m planning to plant a multitude of things, but since our last frost date is, oh, June 1, I’ll hold off on all the greens, herbs, and such for a few weeks, and focus on getting the cold-hardy plants like potatoes, onions, and garlic in the ground. And aronia bushes. I’m an aronia convert after having aronia jam from a farm in Bozeman. Yum. Hopefully this big garden we’re planting helps me stave off Barnheart for the next few years.

Completed some soil tests and while my pH test is hunky dory at 7:

… looks like I’m going to need to add some nitrogen and phosphorus.