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What to Put in a Garden Journal

What to Put in a Garden Journal

Keeping a garden journal is a beautiful blend of art and science. It is a testament to your garden and a notebook of learning accomplished throughout your growing year. What you put into a journal makes it incredibly useful for years to come—creating a kind of almanac specific to your location. Tracking changes in your garden—bloom times and harvest, seeding times, and so on also contributes to the study of local phenology. Phenology is “Phenology refers to key seasonal changes in plants and animals from year to year – such as flowering, emergence of insects and migration of birds – especially their timing and relationship with weather and climate.” (read more). Below are some of the things that can be most helpful for your journal, an explanation of why, as well as an example of how to create a journal custom-tailored to your needs.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_journal-planting-plan.jpgPlanting Plan: In the beginning of your journal creating a diagram or map of what you intend to plant where is helpful. As you plant perennials, you might mark them on a base map and copy it each year – creating new plans for annuals. Pasting this into the front of your garden journal will help to keep you straight. It might even help a spouse not remove the wrong thing (I speak from experience) or point a temporary caretaker in the right direction while you are gone. I like to use a map and numbers to keep things straight, but you can also use a narrative description in your records to keep things clear. 

Notes on major projects for the year: Do you want to put in a new compost system or fencing or chickens this year? Arbors, trellis, pathways, water collection, irrigation systems, greenhouses…. Using a Future Log on a couple of pages can help you figure out how to stage improvement efforts between planting and harvesting—or when you typically have good weather.

Plant information: Seed catalogs, gardening books from the library, apps and websites can all help you fill in the missing information over time. Knowing the varieties you have; how they perform in your garden; and whether you like them or not are all important things to keep track of. I like to put in how the kids respond to something (“We love cheese squash!” or “Alpine strawberries are the best!”)b2ap3_thumbnail_journal-planting-dates.jpg

            Variety: This you might research before you order your seeds—or keep track of as you save seeds from your own garden. Paying attention to varieties is crucial because they help you know which niche in the garden to put them in, how long it will take (on average) for them to fruit, color, resistance to disease and many other characteristics.

            Source: This can be a brief notation, but it helps to know which seed companies you like—or whether the seeds came from your own garden or a friend’s garden.

            Date Seeds Started: Again, this is important because it helps you track performance—and have a sense of when to begin your garden and how things are changing from year to year.

            Germination Date: The date you see the seeds emerge from the soil surface is notable because it will help you understand more about your garden and will help you to track the growth of the plants over time.

            OR

            Transplant source: If you don’t plant your own seeds, germination won’t matter, but tracking where the plants came from and how they are doing will help you make decisions about plants in the future.

            Flowering: This isn’t critical (except for fruit trees and shrubs), but it is nice to have a written record of what flowers when and how that changes from year to year. You might use it to help plan to have flowers throughout the year—whether for beauty or to feed and support pollinators in your garden.

            Fruiting or Harvest: This is what you’ve been waiting for!  The date you harvested, the quantity by number or weight, and the quality of the harvest are all items to consider recording. Does it look good, taste good, produce well, and resist pests? Does one variety tolerate the humidity or drought better? You might find you want to repeat some things and not others. Or you may find you want to save some seeds for next year. And a record is evidence when bragging to the neighbors!

b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_2035_20151231-174906_1.JPGWeather information: This might be kept on one sheet in your journal or noted amongst your daily observations. Having it in one place to compare months and years is often helpful. You’ll want to make notes on the high and low temperatures for the day, precipitation, cloud cover, and prevailing or significant winds. Some gardeners like to track and plant by moon phases.

Daily observations: It’s the little things that bring us joy. The most beautiful purple in a flower or seeing the swelling bud that will bring us the first berry in spring. Making a note or including a drawing let’s us track and relive these phenomena in our lives. The coming of insects in the spring to pollinate or the first pests can be valuable to know as our garden grows and adapts from year to year. Whether you can draw or not, this is a great way to record information.

How to do it:  How to keep track and organize all of this? Spreadsheets and apps might work on your computer. I like to physically write down my observations—either right in the garden or at a station set up near my door.

b2ap3_thumbnail_journal-future-log.jpgThis year I’m adapting something I like. The Bullet Journal method of setting up a journal might be a great option for you, too. The ideas from a regular journal organization can be modified to include the above categories. An index at the beginning helps you to organize and find information for the whole journal. A future log allows you to plan each month ahead. The month pages can be places to record weather information and tasks in the garden. Other pages can be dedicated to seed source information, seed starting pages, and pest management plans. With the index in front of the journal, you can cross-reference related items and easily find things from year to year—making your journal truly a reference item.

 

Whether you go all in and like to record every little detail or keep a notebook with a few jotted notes; whether you like to draw out your journal or keep a spreadsheet, journaling can deepen your connection to your garden and ensure more success from year to year. Here’s to a great year ahead! 

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Soil Building 201: Biochar

Soil Building 201: Biochar

While we are on the topic of putting the gardens to bed and building soil this fall, let’s look into biochar. 

What is it?

Biochar is a valuable soil amendment, first and foremost. According to the International Biochar Initiative, “This 2,000 year-old practice converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and increase soil biodiversity, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water.” (1)

b2ap3_thumbnail_Biochar.jpgSimply, it is a charcoal made at low temperature that is often then inoculated with beneficial bacteria and soil organisms that inhabit the very porous and expansive surface areas. Because nutrients, beneficial soil organisms and water are all held by the biochar and slowly released, soils are greatly improved—and maintain their fertility over a long period of time. These were first found as terra preta in the Amazon, where they worked miracles holding fertility in tropical soils. Biochar is useful when incorporated into temperate soils as well.  

Image: By K.salo.85 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

Biochar is now used agriculturally, not just to build fertility in the soil, but for animal feed and health as well—as biochar isable to capture and purge harmful bacteria in the digestive systems of many domesticated farm animals. As a feed additive, it is very useful. A 2012 report stated that 90% of European biochar was used in livestock farming. (2) We can find activated charcoal on the shelves of health food stores to deal with digestive issues. Feeding biochar to livestock is right in line with this practice.

Secondly, biochar can help to address climate change by storing stable carbon in the soil for a perhaps hundreds of years. While there are many ways to build carbon in the soil and remove it from the atmosphere (rotational grazing, for example), biochar may be an important aspect of addressing climate change and providing terrestrial system benefits simultaneously.

What can it do for you?

  1. Incorporate it into your garden soils
  2. Consider it as a feed additive if you have livestock
  3. Learn or encourage others to make it and provide it as a product in the community. Note that anytime you introduce bacteria and new components into an ecosystem, you should be knowledgeable about what it is you are incorporating and how to observe the space to note impact.

Another cautionary note:

When thinking about biochar as a solution to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it might be tempting to think that cutting down trees and creating biochar is the solution. After reviewing the situation, we know that we need our large trees and established forests to do what they do best—and provide the many ecosystem services they already provide (as well as inspire and move us to connection). What we need now are new forests and new ways of working with agroforestry in those new forests and grasslands to produce with biochar. Fortunately, this is something many excellent people are researching. 

Resources:

  1. http://www.biochar-international.org/biochar
  2. http://www.ithaka-journal.net/pflanzenkohle-in-der-rinderhaltung?lang=en
  3. http://biochar.ucdavis.edu

Copyright

© Garden Tower Project, nine months, then reverts to Rhonda Baird

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Double the Growing Power

Double the Growing Power

We wanted to highlight one of our Garden Tower growers, Bill Land. Bill has been gardening and working b2ap3_thumbnail_Bill-Land-setup.jpgtoward an abundant world for most of his life. Bill worked in planning and zoning for many years and has been involved in projects that promote community-building in Illinois and Indiana. Throughout that time, Bill has gardened. He has been gardening with the Garden Tower since almost the inception of the Garden Tower Project. This year he set up his towers a bit differently. We wanted to share with you what he did, incase you are interested in trying it next time you plant your Garden Tower. 


The first thing to note, is that Bill doubled up each of the pockets with lacinato kale, romaine lettuce, and rainbow chard. In the spring, he alternated these three types of plants in diagonal rows. In the top ring of each tower, there are three Bloody Butcher tomatoes, three basil, and two bush beans. This means he had 95-100 plants in the Garden Tower at any given point (remember, you can rotate out plants and add new ones throughout the season). The plants are getting the support they need in the soil, because rich, complex nutrients are available right at the root zone! This is one of the great secrets for healthy, nutritious fruits, flowers, and veggies. b2ap3_thumbnail_First-Harvest.jpg

For amendments, Bill added Dr. Earth and a goat/horse manure mix were added to one tower. The other tower had: Dr. Earth, manure mix, and azomite. He also experimented with putting copper and other metals near the tower to attract a beneficial electrical charge--encouraging plant growth.

 

These two spring towers were planted the on May 3, 2015. The first harvest was on day 26—and continued to go strong throughout the summer despite copious amounts of rain.

If you are interested in sharing your story with the Garden Tower as a feature, contact us!

 

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Soil and Bioremediation

Soil and Bioremediation

When it comes to food, soil is where it’s at. There’s the adage: healthy soil=healthy plants=healthy people. It’s true! That’s why nutrient dense foods are as important to identify as organic or local foods. Growing your own in an active soil food web is key. 

We focused on what goes into healthy soil in a blog from May this year…and there’s more. Many of us live in urban or rural areas that have damaged and contaminated soils: oil spills, herbicides, asphalt and concrete bases in the soil, etc.  In fact, it might be safe to say that most of us have something to consider in our environment. This blog isn’t meant to be a “doomer downer” entry, but to introduce to you some techniques to heal our soils:

  1. Microbial remediation uses the bacteria and other microbes present in a healthy soil food web. Composting and applying compost as well as increasing the variety of plant species present are two of the keys.
  2. Phytoremediation uses plants as the primary processors of toxins. Plants can extract the toxin (and then be removed themselves) or break the contaminant down, or bind it up.
  3. Mycoremediation uses fungi to process contaminants. These are especially good at long-chain carbon substances (such as those made from oil).

These three techniques alone, or in combination, can do much to work with natural processes to break down or bind up toxins.  Remediated landscapes are then much healthier for people, plants and animals to be in.

Don’t go it alone! More research and working with specialists in the subject can help you to assess and formulate a plan for how to address an area safely.  Healing a damaged landscape can take years to fully realize.

Community groups together with municipalities are more appropriate to make decisions for larger common spaces. Many municipalities and states mandate capping the damaged soil with clean soil brought in from outside. Just like throwing a rug over your dirty floor, capping is not a complete solution. While, it is an understandable approach given financial and time constraints, it might be worth suggesting alternative test plots using remediation and proceeding carefully from there.

If you want two sources to inspire you, please do check out Earth Repair: A grassroots guide to healing toxic and damaged landscapes by Leila Darwish (2013) and the work of Paul Steamiest of Fungi Perfecti. Both are cautious, optimistic, and passionate about transforming our landscapes into healthier places for future generations. 

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Casters on the GT2: Supporters have great solutions!

Casters on the GT2: Supporters have great solutions!

The new Garden Tower 2 has been getting rave reviews this spring.  In February we changed the plastic formulation to eliminate the possibility of cold-temperature shipping damages from heavy impacts during transport. We've learned that the HDPE plastic formulation we switched to has too much stretch and flex to use directly with casters long-term. Essentially, the softer (but more durable) food-grade HDPE plastic will slowly warp if caster wheels are used directly under the tower's feet without the proper support for more than a day.

 

*CAUTION: Caster wheels cannot be left inserted into the feet of the Garden Tower 2 (beyond temporary use when moving the tower to a new location).*

 

Garden Tower Project recommends stationary objects under the towers, or the use of a platform with casters attached. For full-time caster-wheel use, we recommend a platform or dolly.  Many of these platforms have inboard wheels that reduce the stability of the tower. Please use them with caution.

 

Three supporters offered their solutions below. The first is the easiest and an out of-the-box solution requiring no skills, know how or tools. The second one--which builds on the first--is the most accessible for most folks with some time, tools and minimal DIY skills. The third is more highly engineered and for the experienced DIY’er with the proper skills and tools. A big thanks to our three supporters for their contributions!!!!

 

General suggestions on casters: 

  • Do not use only a spindle caster through the feet (for more than 12 hours). The base must be supported at least in part.
  • The platform needs to be a minimum 29”, inside diameter for (round) drum dollies.
  • The larger the wheel, the easier to negotiate uneven surfaces.
  • Polyolefin wheels will resist getting flat spots, and/or marring surfaces.
  • Treated (or marine grade) or painted plywood will last the longest in all weather conditions.

AGAIN: Many of these platforms have inboard wheels that will reduce the stability of the tower so please use them with caution.

***

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Raymie-Emslander.jpg


#1  This first offering from Raymie Emslander is the easiest and an out of-the-box solution requiring no skills, know-how or tools.


From Raymie Emslander An 85 gallon drum dolly is the right size for the GT2 without a plywood platform. It has small openings on the sides to let the excess water out. The lip is low enough you can still get the drawer open.

http://www.mcmaster.com/#drum-dollies/=wwutff

 

Ours looks red because we gave it another coat of paint.

*****

 

 


#2  Jeanne Warner posted this solution:

    I just ordered a 29" internal diameter, cross deck dolly from McMaster-Carr for $78 that is load rated at 900# and has 4 rotating polypropylene casters. It will cost about $90 dollars with shipping, delivered in two days. Once I add a plywood circle over the cross, this is the perfect solution to having a stable deck for your GT2. You should still be able to move it when you want to. According to my brother, a mechanical engineer, the polypropylene casters will assist in distributing the load so that the weight of the properly watered and growing GT2 will not overly burden your flooring if you are growing indoors

 

  My dolly is 29" and you can see by the photo that it is just big enough. I recommend flipping the dolly over onto the plywood and tracing around the inside of the rim so that your cut matches whatever imperfections exist in the used dolly. Also, I suggest using treated/marine grade plywood, so that it weathers well.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Jeanne-Warner.jpg

  The treated plywood will be absolutely fine for a LONG, long time—years and years—especially if it is painted with something like Rustoleum. The main danger point is not the top, however, it is the cut edges. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am solving this by running caulk around the edge to seal it to the dolly ring. This will prevent water from getting to the edges, where it wicks in and wreaks havoc. The additional issue (with treated plywood) is that it needs to be dry when any freezing takes place, as that will expand the layers and then degrade the lamination.     

   I would strongly recommend that anyone who is using this set up outside—in other words, most everyone—paint the treated plywood deck with a weather resistant paint and not caulk around the rim like I am. Because I am using it indoors, my main goal was to prevent overflows from hitting the floor of my mud room. When working outside, I should think the main point of the plywood would be to support the GT2 and that drainage around the edge would be optimal to prevent deterioration of the plywood

http://www.mcmaster.com/#drum-carts/=wft83e

 

*****

#3 Duane Benson sent us this great DIY option to us:

My landlord requires any planters be movable. So I began planning on how to put wheels on my GT2 before it ever arrived. Using a barrel dolly never even occurred to me. So I proceeded to do my own dolly concept. A barrel dolly would have been easier, but would not have had the size, quality or locking ability of the wheels I have.

 b2ap3_thumbnail_Duane-Benson-1.jpg

Looking at the feet, I felt it was designed to rest the entire foot on a solid surface, not just a caster carrying the weight. Even though on the website I saw a suggestion a caster cold be inserted, I decided a rigid dolly with platforms to support the entire foot of the tower would be the solution I was after and what it really needed. The tower would be bolted to the dolly. I wanted a large wheel diameter so I could move the tower from the back patio after the growing season, to the garage for the winter without catching on cement seams and handling a transition from grass to cement.

 

I ordered three high-quality, fully-locking 5 inch casters made of polyolefin, so they won’t develop a flat spot sitting in one place long term like rubber and other plastics and soft casters do. Fully locking makes the GT2 very secure when parked and braked. The fully-locking caster locks both the wheel, and swivel. I got the casters from http://www.castercity.com They cost me $47.50 shipped.

 

I already had a scrap piece of unistrut. It was just enough. If you don't know what this stuff is, here is a link to it on Home Depots website. $16.50
http://www.homedepot.com/p/Superstrut-10-ft-14-Ga…/202714280

 

The fasteners were a little pricy ($37 from Home Depot) but after about 40 minutes with the Sawzall, I had a working rigid dolly with my GT2 securely mounted.

 

So my total cost of the dolly would be right around $100 if I had to buy the parts I didn't already own. I'm into it about $84.b2ap3_thumbnail_Duane-Benson-2.jpg

 

If you buy a barrel dolly for $65 (heaven forbid what shipping would cost) and have to buy a sheet of pressure treated 3/4" plywood, your going to be into it at least that much, or even a little more. Finding free or recycled dollies or plywood is the key to cutting cost. I am very happy with the result.

 

As an added benefit, I think I am going to go ahead and plant my peppers and other plants that can freeze since I can easily roll it in and out of the garage each morning/evening.

 

I am keeping my eyes open for a scrap piece of plastic lumber I can replace the plywood platforms with. The plastic lumber is made from recycled pop bottles and never rots. Those can reasonably be replaced with a loaded tower at a future date.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Duane-Benson-3.jpg

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