An East Nashville Edible Garden

creating an edible garden in the heart of Tennessee

Page 3 of 4

The Wood Chip Update.

It’s been a  few weeks since the first seeds where planted after the wood chips went down so here’s an update.

Planting in wood chips in not easy. You cannot plant in the chips directly so they have to be pushed aside to reveal the dirt underneath. Seeds like squash and pumpkin will be easy to plant as you only need one seed every few feet so taking up the wood chips for that is little effort. However, for most seeds that are laid in a trench (carrots, beets and greens for example), it’s a different story. After a few months the chips will have compacted a little, especially if you don’t have paths laid out to walk on, and have been walking on the chips instead. Digging up those trenches is tough. I did the best I could to scoop out the chips, then used some wooden boxes I’d built to help shape the trenches for the seeds. Once they were planted, the boxes were removed and the chips held their shape fairly well, not falling back over the seeds.

 

Mulch update Fall 2015

 

I’ve since read that this problem is not as bad if you put down already composted chips. That’s great if you have the room to house a mulch pile, but on my East Nashville plot, I don’t so this will have to do. Over time as the chips composts and a new thinner layer is spread on top every year or so, it should get easier.

Despite the difficulty with planting at the moment, I don’t for one minute regret putting it down. The extra effort is far outweighed by the lack of weeding.  Everything that grew well in the unmulched soil is doing equally well in the mulch – so far. I did wonder how the strawberries would fair since they transplant themselves but they all look healthier than ever.

 

strawberriesinmulch

Wood Chip Gardening.

Last year, the first year I planted the vegetable patch, I loved weeding. And not just the tidy aftermath, I actually loved the process. I must have been crazy. A year later and weeding was enemy number one. I now have 1500 sq ft of space dedicated to growing edibles and weeding was taking up 80% of the time I spent in the garden. I thought about that a lot. 80 per cent. Over 3/4 of my time was spent managing the one thing that didn’t give me anything back. I wanted to spend that time taking care of the plants that were going to give me sustanance, they were  the reason I started the garden, after all.  My priorities had gotten topsy-turvy. And to make matters worse, I wasn’t giving the edibles the attention they needed and they were starting to suffer.

About a year ago I read about mulching & wood chip gardening and its benefits. The theory is that mulching follows a more natural state of the earth when left alone and not tilled. As leaves, twigs and branches  fall they create a ground cover, eventually rotting down and providing more sustenance to the soil. And so the cycle goes on. Some of the biggest advantages of this ground cover are very little weeding and watering, if any. Mulching also prevents the soil from compacting since you never have to walk it directly, and this makes it easier for the vegetables to grow.

One day earlier this year,  I noticed some huge trees being chopped down at the back of my neighbours house, so I asked if I could have the chippings. An hour later and my driveway was literally overflowing. I didn’t know what kind of trees the chips came from, and the leaves were all mixed in (I didn’t know if that was good or bad – it’s good) but I’m constantly reminded that gardening is about doing, even if you don’t know what exactly you are doing.

 

Mulch pile

 

It took 2 weeks of shoveling 10 barrow loads a day to spread it about 4″ deep onto the front beds, and the same depth on 1/3 of the huge back bed. You can also put newspaper or cardboard down first but I forgot, although I did add grass clippings and I’ll continue to do that once in a while on top of the chips. I haven’t watered that area since, even in the blazing TN summer heat, and the earth underneath has remained moist.

 

Mulch

 

And what about weeding? Only one type of grass is poking through. I pull about 5 stalks a day and that’s it!

The garden has become much less stressful and most of the plants seem to love it too. The camomile didn’t do well, but I will try it again next year. The only other issue so far, is occasionally I’ll go outside to a forest of mushrooms! They won’t do the plants harm and die off in a day, or you can rake them out, but I’m still trying to find a solution.

 

Mushrooms growing in mulch

 

Some gardeners are against mulch.  One reason I’ve read is that unless you have a large plot with your own trees to provide it, it is something else you are reliant on to grow your food, when the ideal is to be self sufficient and not to incur unnecessary costs (both monetary and environmental).  Also, some mulches are from trees that really shouldn’t have been chopped down in the first place (cypress, for example). I think both these reasons are valid. However, in Nashville we have so many trees growing in our city, and in taking care of those trees by pruning them, we do have access to sustainable chips.

Of course, it’s early days and I’ll be on a huge learning curve with the wood chips for a while. I have no idea how the mulch will effect the bug problem, for example, but already this is making sense to me and I’m seeing huge benefits in my new, no weed, garden.

 

How To Make Fold Away Tomato Cages.

There are lots of different ways to support tomatoes. You can leave them free form, grow them up trellises or in cages. Last year mine were free form with only one stake and it was a mess, not just to look at but to manage and harvest. Trellising is a big investment so, this year, I built cages.

The cages from big box stores are a waste of money. Tomato plants will usually grow over 6 ft tall (and up to 12 ft) and they just aren’t big enough. Here’s what you’ll need to build stronger, stable 7ft x 1.5ft triangular tomato cages. Each cage will cost about 13 bucks and should last for a very long time. And the great thing about these cages is that they will fold away.

  • concrete mesh and some way to cut it.
  • a screwdriver
  • pliers
  • twine

I got my mesh from Home Depot. I wish it had been a little wider, which would have made the trellises wider, but I liked these flat sheets better than a roll as they kept their shape. 3 sheets will make 2 cages, so that’s what we will be working with.

Firstly, cut 2 of the sheets longways in half. Cut the third sheet into 2 panels so you don’t have any extra mesh in the middle.

 

june 8th 2015 a                                                                                    Sheets 1 and 2.                                       Sheet 3.

 

We are going to use sheets 1 and 2 first. Using a screwdriver, bend up the extra mesh (1,2) and then place the second half on top (3).

 

June 8th 2105 b           1.                                                                    2.                                                                      3.

 

Still using the screwdriver, continue to bend the mesh down (4) and tighten up with pliers (5). You’ll have the bend the final piece back on itself so it attaches to the frame (6).

Note: If you don’t use a screwdriver and put the two sheets together, bending the mesh around itself, the joints might be too tight for the sheets to easily move. That gets frustrating to work with so you really will want to bend it around something wider than itself.

The two pieces should now easily move without coming apart (7).

 

June 8th 2015 c          4.                                                   5.                                                   6.                                                  7.

 

Repeat picture 2 and then place one of the pieces from sheet 3 on top, as in picture 3. Repeat 4 – 7.

Bring the edges together and tie with twine (8). Every year when it’s time to put the cages away, you can easily untie the twine and fold them flat.

If I find these cages are too narrow for my plants, I’ll just add an extra panel and turn them into squares. But for now, I think the size will encourage me to prune more which might lead to a better harvest. We’ll have to see.

 

IMG_2453                                                                 8.

 

Tomato cages do have a habit of blowing over in really bad weather and that will damage your plants. So, I found it useful to dig a trench for the cages to sit in, using bricks to help weigh them down before covering in earth.

My tomatoes now have their own little kingdom.

 

June 8th 2015 d

 

One Harvest Down, Many More To Go.

The year seems to fly by when the garden is your timepiece. The first (strawberry) harvest is already over for 2015, and 8 weeks after putting the first seeds in, the greens are now ready to start picking. There is so little waste. If you need one leaf, or twenty, that’s what you pick. Lettuce, spinach, kale, beet greens and rainbow chard are all in my garden this year and I’ll keeping picking at them for as long as they survive. The onion greens will probably make it into something too.

 

June 1st 2015 a

 

The first potato plants are now huge with the second ones not far behind. And, although it’s still a few weeks until the carrots will be large enough underground, the tops are holding their own above the dirt.

 

1st June 2015 b

 

Strawberry Jam With Honey.

The strawberries were just beginning to turn red when I left for 13 days on a tour up the East Coast. The timing was terrible… or so I thought. Although I did miss some of the harvest (which friends and neighbours took care of!), I came home to a strawberry bed brimming with bright juicy fruit. Time to make jam.

 

Screen shot 2015-05-18 at 11.58.19 PM

 

I made my first jam last year and I don’t mind telling you that I thought it would be a lot more work than it actually was, especially since I was preserving in jars, as opposed to keeping it in the freezer. But after a few more tweaks to the recipe this year, I am so happy with this jam that I have no intention of ever changing it. Making strawberry jam has now officially been crossed off my gardening learn-how-to-do list. And even better – there is no refined sugar in it – only honey.

 

STRAWBERRY JAM WITH HONEY

For approximately every 8oz jar of jam you will use:

  • 1 generous cup chopped strawberries
  • 1 tbsp pectin (I used Ball Real Fruit Classic Pectin)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 tbsp lemon juice

You will also need 8oz mason jars and it’s a good idea to buy a jam canning utensil kit so you don’t burn yourself. Ball make a great one for under 10 bucks (which is sold at Target, Walmart, Amazon and Bed, Bath & Beyond.) If you grow your own strawberries, each jar will cost a total of about $1.17 to make.

 

1. In a large bowl mash up the strawberries with a potato masher. A couple of minutes mashing should do it. You don’t want too loose too much texture. I make 8 jars at a time so I’m working with 8 cups.

 

IMG_2318

 

2. Add 1 tbsp of pectin per cup of strawberries and mix in.

3. In a large pan or pot, bring the berries and pectin to a boil and boil for about a minute, stirring occasionally.

4. Take the pan off the heat and add the honey and lemon juice, and mix well.

5. Put back on the heat and boil for about 10 minutes, again, stirring occasionally. You’ll see foam starting to form around the edge of your pan. Try to skim off as much of that as you can.

 

IMG_2320

 

6. After the jam has boiled, take it off the heat and leave to cool for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to aid the cooling process. Now it’s ready to be ladled into your jars.

  • Just an extra note here: I made my first batch without leaving it to cool slightly before canning and the fruit rose to the top. As the finished jars were cooling, I shook them occasionally to help it all to settle, but cooling for a few minutes first seemed to help.

 

PREPARING THE JARS

Submerge your jars and lids in boiling water and leave them to boil for 10 minutes. I use an old stock pot for this which will take 8 jars at a time. Lift them out onto a towel until you are ready to fill them with your jam. They should air dry very quickly but try not to let the jars cool completely before filling. They may crack when you plunge them back into the boiling water.

Once the jam is in, wipe away any mess around the top of the jars with a paper towel and put the lids on. Then, put them back into the pot and boil for another 10 mins. Lift them out again and place them back on the towel to cool completely.

You now have jam that will keep until next strawberry season! And once you’ve tasted your home made version, anything from the store is not going to come close.

 

May 20th 2015

 

Everything’s Coming Up…

Surely one of the most satisfying parts about planting a seed, is waiting for the first sign of green in the dirt as it pushes it’s way through. One day it’s not there, and the next, it is. It’s as slow and as sudden as that.

It’s been a few weeks and already everything is coming up. The lettuce, beets, carrots, broccoli, chard, spinach and kale are all making an appearance and the second round of seeds are in, still unseen. The larger leaves of the potatoes have been pushing their way up as if the dirt has been a weight on their backs for the last few weeks. Whole clumps of earth are suddenly pushed aside to make way for the new growth.

It will be another week before I’m back home again from the East Coast Tour and by the garden will already be a teenager.

 

May 12th 2015

 

The Fruit Trees A Year In – Pruning

We all need a bit of pruning once in a while. (Did you know that the name of one of the five basic processes that make up brain development from pre-birth to teenage years is called pruning?!)

I had left the pruning until the last moment (for fear that I wasn’t going to get it right). But the final snow had melted here in Tennessee and spring was coming. Since trees should ideally be pruned when they are dormant, I had to get a move on. I have come to realize that the garden often forces my hand in this way.

Lee Reich is king on this subject and wrote an excellent book which I devoured. I even emailed him to which he replied a few hours later. Here’s what I learnt about pruning my multi-variety trees.

Let’s take the apple tree. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are four varieties on my apple tree that have been grafted together – Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji and Golden Delicious. Left to their own devices, at least one type will inevitably start to outgrow the others. It might have started out a stronger graft or get more sun, there are numerous reasons, but when this starts to happen one fruit will take over to the detriment of another. One variety might even be lost entirely .

Simply put, each of the four must have it’s own space and that space must be protected.  If Grannie Smith starts to bully Gala then she must gently but firmly be encouraged back into her own quarter, or trimmed away. We must encourage the weaker, lest they completely disappear.

 

2nd May 2015

 

Above is a before and after picture of my apple tree, a few weeks apart.  The tree has been divided into four. One main branch from each variety was chosen, pulled and staked so it remained in it’s quarter. If a variety had a second branch of equal size in it’s quarter, that was pruned away, again to keep all four varieties balanced.  Also pruned were any branches pointing inwards towards the middle, so the tree will be encouraged to grow outwards. All the other branches were left, for now, until I start to see how it all continues to grow. For so much of gardening is watching and adjusting as your plants lead.

 

The Herb Garden

I only have a week before heading off on tour again but really wanted to get the herb garden going first. I decided to put it at the front of the house since I’m trying to save as much space in the back yard to grow the things that might not be as aesthetically pleasing for my neighbours to look at. There was the perfect spot for a bed right up against the house. So, late last year it went from this…

 

April 28th 2015 b

to this…

April 28th 2015 a

 

I’m a big fan of planting edibles around the front of a house for a few reasons. It’s a fairly unintrusive area and there are often beds there anyway that contain shrubs or maybe flowers. Why not replace them with edibles?  And planting herbs close to the kitchen just practically makes sense. Also, your house gives you walls you can use to help trellis, if you need that. The downside? Since my venture is new, the jury is still out on whether these edible beds will attract more pests. Yes ants, I’m talking about you.

I’ve made a similar, smaller bed on the other side, and just less than half of these beds will be plenty of room for a large herb garden.

Seeds or starters?

Personally, I like to grow basil (green and purple) from seed since it’s really easy too. I also use a lot of it for pesto to carry me through the winter so it makes sense, for me, to buy a packet of seeds. Everything else, I bought as starter plants. Since many will come back year after year it’s still a cheap option. Just make sure you always buy non GMO herbs.

The biggest mistake to make when planting herbs (and most young plants) is not giving them enough room. Some rosemary, for example, can grow up to 4′ round, from a 3″ plant. Don’t be fooled by the size of these beauties when you are planning, no matter how bare your bed looks. Always read the labels… and believe them.

 

April 28th 2015 d

 

Now, most herbs don’t mind each other but it’s worth giving some thought to what goes where. I put the sage, rosemary and thyme together, because Simon & Garfunkel told me too. (Although sorry boys, the parsley is going under the apple tree because I read somewhere they like each other.) Then comes the lemon balm, a flavour that follows on well from the thyme. The chamomile and dill are next; the delicate feathery herbs, both with yellow flowers. Then moving into the purples and blues we have some chives and lavender. The eucalyptus rounds out one bed, growing tall up next to the steps of the house. On the other side, more eucalyptus, lavender and chives to create a mirror image, then, tarragon. Finally we have a curry plant next to pineapple sage because, yes, there is such a thing as pineapple curry so these smells work side by side. Had I planted coriander (which I still may do), that would be there too, making the curry trio.

The only herbs not in these beds are the basil. That’s all going next to the tomatoes, as they too, like each other.  In fact, I could have planted many of these herbs next to certain vegetables to aid them grow and I still might do that in addition. For example, rosemary and sage deters cabbage moth and carrot fly.

For now though, I wanted them together. I really do think there is nothing more romantic in an edible garden, than it’s herb garden.

 

April 28th 2015 c

 

Final Planting… Almost

I left Nashville on Friday for an 11 day tour, but first, there was just enough time to get the final few seeds in the ground. Last on the list was the potato.

This year, I ordered 4 varieties : Viking Purple, German Butterball, Red Desiree and Yukon Gold from Grow Organic. Each small potato will yield about 8 more so these should give me enough until the fall planting comes around.

 

April 12th 2015

 

Potatoes are incredibly easy to grow. Just a note here though: don’t plant potatoes you’ve bought from the supermarket. Any diseases will be carried over so you need to get disease free seed potatoes. Dig a trench and place the potatoes with the most eyes facing upward, about 4 inches down. I used my trowel to measure the distance in between. Then rake over the trench. I didn’t add anything to the dirt. Even if you have soil that feels a little clay like, I’m told they won’t really mind.

 

The Weird World Of Rhubarb.

Rhubarb – even the name is odd looking. (And for those of us from the UK in the 70’s, it will probably always be associated with a cartoon dog). I decided to try to grow some this year (rhubarb and ginger jam anyone?!!). This is what came in the mail…

 

March 31st a

 

I didn’t really know what it would look like, but I wasn’t expecting some dried up diamond shape, that resembled something left on the barbeque too long. I planted them with just the tops sticking out and we’ll see what happens.

It’s been a busy week in the garden. All the planting will be finished in a few days!

 

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