Garden – First Week of May

It has been an extremely dry springtime, requiring almost daily water in many of the beds that aren’t mulched heavily. I also had to water the minibed test beds, which theoretically don’t require much water. I owe this to the fact that we have not had a good rain yet this year. In any case the plants are growing reasonably well, the biggest problem being slugs and snails.

minibed Garden May 7, 2018

Our potatoes are starting to appear, a couple weeks behind last year, again probably do to the lack of rain.

The First Potatoes of 2018

In our other garden the onions are also suffering from the fast drought conditions. Last weekend I added some zucchini and eggplant plants, so far the slugs have not been a problem in this garden.

The L-Garden, May 7, 2018

The Battle of the Slugs

This weekend I focused on slug and snail hunting, as more than half of the vegetable plants that I set out last week have been eaten by the little beasts. My perferred method is to walk around early in the morning, just after the sun comes out and slash the litte pest with my garden knife, a very satisfying method.

I also thinned out the raspberry plants, adding a new row on the edge of the buckwheat patch.

New raspberry plants

I also planted three rows of peas among the bark mulch. I am hoping the slugs will have a hard time reaching the plants once they start to grow. Probably just wishful thinking, but we’ll see.

Three rows of peas

Today its finally raining, hopefully this will spur growth of what I have planted to date.

Update on Espalier Trees and Minibed

This weekend I finished cleaning up the area around the new Espalier fruit trees. This involved removing the top layer of grass (and weeds) and digging up a large pile of roots from the many bushes that were located here. The result was quite pleasing, and hopefully I got rid of most of the weeds. Afterwards I seeded it down with some buckwheat, I find this a good way of building up the soil after removing the sod.

A Clean Espalier Fruit Tree Area

I also replenished the bark mulch in the two beds next to this area. Wood chips are not available in my area of Germany, so I have been trying bark mulch, which is similar. These beds will be used for cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts and kale.

Replenishing the Bark Mulch

The garlic and red currents are looking very good. On the right under the fleece covering, is a row of peas, which are just starting to sprout.

Garlic and Red Currents

I also set out some plants in my Minibed test garden. From front to rear, cauliflower, pointed cabbage, green cabbage and celeriac (celery root).

Adding Plants to the Minibeds

After planing I added some schredded leaves as a mulch, and covered them with fleece to keep the birds from eating the young plants.

The Espalier Fruit Tree Challenge

I was recently inspired by Serina at one of my favorite Youtube channels “You Can’t Eat the Grass” to plant some espalier fruit trees. After seeking permission from the landowner where my garden is located, I started researching and looking for trees. It is possible to buy espalier fruit trees that have already been trained in the right shape, but these are generally quite expensive. I am in no hurry, so I decided to purchase four semi-dwarf trees and prune and train them myself.

The first step was to find a place in the garden, as I share garden space with two other families, I didn’t have a lot of choices. However, one end of my garden area borders a stone wall, is well-drained and gets sunlight most of the day.

Espalier Fruit Tree Area – Before

I removed the old bushes that were there and dug out the many roots that  were present. I ended up with an approximately 5 by 5 meters L-shaped growing area.

I set out three wooden poles that would eventually support the espalier trees and dug my four holes for the trees. I left about 60 cm spacing between the stone wall and trees on one side and the fence and trees on the other side of the “L”. In the space behind the trees I covered the ground with the black plastic that I had left over from my Minibed garden, and spread a layer of bark mulch over this.

Espalier Fruit Tree Area – Planted

I planned on planting 2 apple and 2 pear trees, but my local source didn’t have any pear trees at the moment, so I ended up buying 3 apple and 1 cherry tree. I am not sure how well the cherry tree will work as an espalier tree, but decided to give it a try. I added a generous amount of compost to the holes as I planted the trees. Next weekend I only need to run wire between the posts and finish cleanup the area in front of the trees.

The weather has been warm and sunny the last 4-5 days, so I decided to plant two beds of early potatoes and a bed of onions. I also chanced on a row of peas, covering the row with fleece to protect them from the birds and any late spring freezes.

Peas Under Fleece. Red Currents and Garlic to the Left

Setting up the Minibed Garden

On Saturday I built the remaining 6 wood sections for my Minibed garden. The weather improved throughout the week, and by Saturday afternoon I decided it was dry enough to set up the Minibeds. Here is a set of pictures the (hopefully) illustrate the process.

The garden beds before Minibed transformation

I first raked out the beds, breaking up any large clumps, and removing any stones that I found. I then rolled out the 5-mil plastic.

Rolling out the Minibed plastic

Using a string to try to keep the rows halfways straight, I began setting up the wood sections. I decided to use a spacing of 40 cm between each box.

Adding the Minibed wood sections

Mr. Kimball used steel rebar in three of the corners to secure the wood sections. Rebar is expensive, and I had a large number of approximately 50 cm long wooden pieces left over from another project, so decided to use these. After adding the wood sections, I used a long board and a hammer to dry to level them out best I could. I then used a hammer to drive the wooden stakes in three corners into the ground. This proved to be more difficult then I imagined, I kept hitting stones and other objects, which ended up moving the wood sections around a bit.  My neighbor mentioned to me once that after the war(s) people used to bury the debris in their gardens to get it out of way, a fact that I confirmed when I tried to double-dig this garden last year. The rows ended up being not quite as straight as when I began, but close enough for me. As a last step I place a piece of wood along each side of the inside of the wood sections as a straight edge and cut away the plastic.

The finished Minibed, ready for planting

I added a little compost to each bed, they are now ready for planting.

Starting the Minibed Garden Construction

On Saturday I started working on my Minibed garden. Mr. Kimball’s plan used 2×4 wood for the 30×30” sections. As they don’t sell this lumber size in Germany, I settled on 20 cm high and 18 mm thick lumber, which comes in a 3 meter length.

As I mentioned in a previous entry I decided to go with 80 x 80 cm sections, slightly larger than Mr. Kimball’s. For me it is not important to have perfectly square sections, so to save money I purchased warped and twisted wood. By cutting 2 lengths of 80 cm and 2 lengths of approximately 75 cm, I ended up with roughly an 80 cm square section. The phrase “close enough for government work” comes to mind as I write.

To support the wood section I used 6×8 cm wood pieces. I predrilled holes in my lumber, then screwed the lumber to these pieces. The result is a very study frame that should withstand any wear and tear in the garden.

Minibed construction

I ended up completing 6 of the planned 12 sections, the rest I can build next weekend.

The first 6 Minibeds

I also purchased the 5-mil plastic for the beds, and had planned on spreading this out Saturday afternoon, but weather reports convinced me to wait. On Sunday we woke up to about 3 inches of fresh snow. Notice the budding trees in the picture below.

Springtime snow on March 18, 2018

Starting Seeds in Toilet Paper Rolls

Here is a short update of my seed starting experiment in toilet paper rolls. I 6 rolls with peas and 6 rolls with kohlrabi. I also planted 3 of each in some biodegradable pots that I found at our garden center.

The results after approximately 3 weeks:

  • 6 out of 6 kohlrabi seeds have sprouted in the rolls.
  • 3 out of 3 kohlrabi seeds have sprouted in the pots.
  • 4 out of 6 pea seeds have sprouted in the rolls.
  • 2 out of 3 pea seeds have sprouted in the pots.

The toilet paper rolls have survived multiple watering, I am overall satisfied with the results.

Garden Planning

Garden planning was place on hold the past couple weeks as my wife and I have battled the flu. With Spring in sight Winter is not giving up easily, we had a week with the coldest temperatures of the year, at night dropping to -12 °C. Not cold at all for many parts of the world, but for us cold enough.

The cold hit whatever was left in the garden pretty hard, the kale, Pak Choi and leeks were looking pretty sad on Sunday afternoon. My lettuce and swiss chard that I had under plastic in my raised beds survived well, but I think it may be time to pull the rest. But this isn’t bad, in a few weeks I can set out my kohlrabi and pea plants, and some early lettuce.

I have been working on a plan for a Minibed Gardening bed in our E-Garden. In a nutshell, this involves laying a layer of 6-mil plastic on the beds, framing 30“x 30” sections with a wood frame, and cutting out the plastic within these frames for growing beds. According to the author of this method, Herrick Kimball, this method has its advantages, including low maintenance and high moisture retention. Refer to the author’s web site for more information http://minibedsonplastic.blogspot.de/

Like any “garden method”, it has to be adapted to your local area. Mr. Kimball lives in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York, probably zone 4-5. I live in zone 7b, so may have to adapt a bit. I also need to adjust the building materials, wood sizes and dimensions are a bit different in Germany, but this is not a problem.

Yesterday (Saturday) I picked up the plastic for the Minibed garden. After researching what is available in our area, I settled on 5-mil plastic which is sold as the basis for garden ponds. This UV-resistant plastic is not cheap, but fairly robust. The standard width at our local building supply store is 4 meters wide, which will cover approximately 3 beds in the garden. A 30″x30″ section is approximately 76×76 cm (we are metric in Germany), so I decided to round it off to 80×80 cm. My current beds are approximately 90 cm wide, so this should fit well.

The first seeds of 2018

We live in zone 7b, it is a bit too early to plant anything outside, but usually around the end of March I can plant kohlrabi, peas, onions and some salad varieties outside.

I usually purchase kohlrabi plants from our local garden store, but this year I decided to try starting kohlrabi from seeds. A couple months ago someone mentioned on a Youtube channel that I watch that you can use empty toilet paper rolls to start seeds. The advantage of this method is that when it is time to plant you can plant the whole roll, the plants will continue to grow, and the cardboard will eventually become worm food.

In any case it sounded like a good way to repurpose the rolls, so why not.

Seed starting in toilet paper rolls

While I was at it I decided to try peas as well, so I planted 6 rolls with peas and 6 rolls with kohlrabi. I also planted 3 of each in some biodegradable pots that I found at our garden center.

The E-Garden 2017

Here are a few pictures of our larger garden, which we share with two other neighbors. “E” who owns the land, isn’t into gardening, so is happy when we take care of it.

The E-Garden June 2017
The E-Garden July 2017
The E-Garden September 2017