Category Archives: compost

Sustainable Backyard Tour 2012

While I checked out the yards for this years tour, I thought I would snap some pictures to give everyone a little preview.  I’m very excited about the Carondelet area offerings!  The area I’m coordinating is south St Louis near the river.  Take a look at some of the fantastic things you will see on the tour if you follow my node!  There are gardens, up-cycled elements,  unusual plantings, chickens,  rabbits, solar power, and composting just to name a few elements of our area.

Click on the link to register to go on the tour.  This signs you up to receive a map a few days ahead of time.  Its a lot if fun and free.  Meet some great people, get some great ideas and come out June 24

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These are pictures of right now.  Think how great these yards will look in five weeks!

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Potato Upkeep

About a month ago I planted potatoes.  The weather has been very mild so they are ready for the next step.

When the potatoes are 9-12 inches high, they are ready for a good thick layer of mulch.  I use straw, it’s easy and inexpensive in this area.  My brother uses horse manure and sawdust.

Loosen up the bail and pile it on until about 3 inches show out the top.  This is why I like using rows instead of a hexagonal layout, it’s just easier for me.  These two rows took seven bails of straw.

Here you can see one bed that is finished and one that isn’t.  The cats across the street love this so I just check it occasionally to make sure they haven’t thrown it everywhere and straighten it up if they have.

Here they are both completed.  They make the rest of the garden look pretty puny at this point.  The corn is only 6 ” high and most of the plants are still in the greenhouse waiting to get some size to them before going out into the garden.  We are slowly working our way across the garden adding in compost and manure.  This ground is so full of building debris, even that isn’t going to help as much as it should, it’s pretty weak ground still.  Next year it should be beautiful though.

Every time the potatoes get about a foot higher than the mulch, add more until they start flowering.  After they start to flower, they can be left to grow until they start to die back.

See also:  Potato Planting Time

Plant Your Potatoes, It’s St. Patrick’s Day!

Family tradition says to put the potatoes in the ground on St. Patrick’s day.  I always aim for that week, so Thursday the potatoes went into the ground.  I got a great deal on a sack of potatoes at Rural King this year.  I’m planting Red Pontiac, nothing too far out sadly.  But I like them and they grow well for me.  Maybe in the future I will get some heirloom to grow, but not this year.

Due to crazy kidling stuff, we got behind on the digging and borrowed a tiller to get caught up.  It’s a terrible nuisance.  It won’t run consistently, but we loaned it to our mechanic and hopefully it will come back in better working order.  We have the best mechanics on our block that anyone could hope for.

A note on tilling.  I very much am a fan of double dig followed by mulching.  It cuts down on the amount of labor you will spend on your garden later in the year.
Another reason is the superior results.  On the left you can see a bed that was cut solely with the tiller.  Lots of weeds, lots of clods of dirt to work around, and not very deep.  On the right is a bed my husband tilled that I had double dug.  It is beautiful.  Since this is new land it’s low on organic matter and probably nutrients.  After these pictures, we put a 3-5 inch layer of compost down and a 1-2 inch layer of composted horse manure, then tilled them both again.  The one on the right is now a dream and the one on the left will do for this year.

For the potatoes, we tilled the soil and laid out the potatoes on it every 6″.  The beds are 4 feet wide, so I put the potatoes in two rows, one foot in from each side.  I find this makes it much easier to mulch as they grow.  By the end of the growing season this will be a pretty impressive pile of straw and potatoe leaves, last year it came up to my chest.

As you can see, I laid out whole potatoes.  Many people recommend cutting them into pieces and letting them cure before you put them out.  I don’t have that kind of space or time and I was planning to plant 40-50 lbs of potatoes.  I’m not sure how to accomplish that sort of curing without one of those bun carts like bread companies use.

After you lay out the potatoes, put on a layer about 6 ” thick of compost.  This is the free compost from our city park.  Sometimes you have to pick a little trash out, but it’s never very much, mostly plastic water bottles and sometimes wires.  So, fill out the bed with the compost and move onto the manure.  This batch came from just across the river at a riding academy.  Free off of Craigslist.  We lay the manure on 2-3 ” thick over the whole thing.  Dr. Ron’s 1000 cats think this is the best thing we’ve done so far.  When I look at the window at night there are always cats laying around in this bed now.    We don’t mix this up, we don’t dig holes for the potatoes or a trench, we just make it as simple as we can, there is a ton more gardening to do and we need to conserve our energy.

Lastly, we put on straw mulch.  Right now we don’t have it on thick enough yet.  There is a knack to getting the right amount of straw mulch on a bed.  You don’t want to completely smother everything, but you need enough to keep the weeds down.  I can see the compost through the straw so I know there isn’t enough on.  We were battling incoming rain though and needed to get as much done as possible.  I will go out soon and add some more straw.

We also got mesclun mix planted and green onions.  I wanted to get my onion sets in too, but the rain started and we didn’t make it.  The leeks I planted are up though and most of the other flats are planted for this week.  I also put in some gladiolus and a few other bulbs to pretty up the place.  It occured to me last year I get too focused on the vegetables and neglect filling the niches with flowers.  They certainly make the place more enjoyable.

See also:  Potato Upkeep

Chickens Won’t Walk in the Snow

We’ve had our first real snow of the season here in south St. Louis.  The chickens are not pleased.

The backyard covered in snow.One of the big problems for them is that it never really gets dark here when there is snow on the ground.  Three of my chickens are retired layers from a farm.  The first two nights they were here they totally freaked out about going to bed.  It’s not quiet here, it’s not dark.

It’s really a beautiful snow, I have no idea why the chickens won’t walk out in it.  This is a problem.  The other thing about cities is they are stocked with predators.  Dr. Trivia’s 500 cats are not going to let a night go without checking to see if I put the chickens away.  Normally in the evening I just have a seat and wait until they all decide to mill about and into bed.  Generally by 8 o’clock they have all headed into the coop and I can close the pop hole and get back inside.  I can’t even sit them out, my chair is covered in snow.

This seemed like an ideal time to use the evil dog for good.  He loves to chase the chickens so I went to send him under the porch where I can hear them (not the wisest of all plans) fortunately I forgot that I moved the rain barrel closer to the back stairs so no dogs can get under there.  It would have been a bad plan.

I can’t find a flashlight so I grab the camera and head out to see if I can find them.  Today was pork liver keep away sporting day for the chickens, so they’ve had a great day trying to tackle each other in their little selfish ways.  They were still tackling each other when the snow started up so they rushed under the porch on the way back to the coop and apparently sat down.

I found “little red hen” first.  She want’s to go to the coop and just can’t quite summon up the courage to go.  I have left these unpatched holes under the porch this spring because I thought it might provide some cover when the chickens need to escape.  I had a raptor get one about a month or two ago.  I thought there were enough shrubs in the yard, but no.  So we have this weirdly patchy double thing going on and a water barrel so I am not at all ever going to get under this porch tonight.  To the left the grates are covered in grape and kiwi vines as well.  Sigh.

So where are the rest of the girls?  Perching on metal pipes under the porch.  Jeez.  Metal?  Really ladies?  You won’t walk 10 feet in the snow, but standing on metal seems fun?  I can’t get them out.  Gigantor the Possom that lives in the abandonded building across the street, or the 500 cats, or the raptor that hunts at dawn are going to swoop them up in the morning because they are not smart little creatures.

Look at this warm and inviting coop!  It’s got a tarp, a heat lamp, plenty of wind blocks.  It’s nestled all nicely on the north side of my neighbors house.  You would think one of them would be brave and go.

Sigh.

So, there is some good that comes from the snow.  I can see how effectively my compost pile it working.  The answer is, it’s just not.  I will need to give it some attention in the next couple of days in an effort to get it doing what it needs to do again.  Do you know how I can tell?  There is snow on it.  It’s not warm at all.  Thinner snow than the rest of the yard, but not by much.  This is my cheater pile of last year’s debris waiting to be spread out in spring hopefully after it has broken down.  Hauling it to continue breaking down does not seem optimal.

This picture shows pretty accurately how bright it is out there.  Will I have any chickens tomorrow?  I go to bed with a queasy stomach thinking about it.