Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Constructing a Raised Planting Bed

Finally, spring has arrived. We’ve survived another Nebraska winter and have done every indoor chore on our “to-do” lists. Our gardening tools are ready; some seeds have already been started in our basement greenhouses. All we’re waiting on is the weather, specifically warmer air and soil temperatures, to launch our season. What else can we do while we wait? Well, now is a good time to build a raised planting bed.

The basic idea of a raised bed is that instead of battling against poor soil conditions, you build above ground, where you have absolute control over the soil texture and ingredients.

Growing in raised beds has many advantages. It can be easier on aging backs and knees, and optimal soil conditions inside a raised bed can easily be maintained. By relegating external areas to the compaction of walking and wheelbarrows, the contained soil stays aerated, thus draining better. Raised beds can be maintained by simply topping with compost or mulch. Another advantage to raised beds is that they extend a gardener's growing season because the walls collect early spring sun and warm up before native soil, giving plants and seeds a jump on the growing season.

There are some key considerations when selecting a site for a raised bed. A flat, level area works best for a raised bed. If there are specific plants you want to grow, make sure you’ve located your bed so it receives the correct amount of sunlight. Having a water source close at hand is important. A raised bed will dry out more quickly due to improved drainage and quality soil so you’ll want to minimize the distance you have to travel with a hose or other irrigation device.

Another important component in selecting the location of the bed is its size. The point of raised bed is to avoid soil compaction, i.e. all weight-bearing activity such as walking, kneeling, and wheelbarrow placement occurs outside the bed boundaries. By not stepping in the bed, soil remains light and fluffy and keeps your plant’s roots happy. If you will have room to work on either side of the bed, a four-foot width is ideal.

When prepping your site, you will want to remove the existing sod. There are two ways to do this. If you want to skip your workout for the day, grab a shovel and dig out the sod and loosen the soil with a shovel or garden fork to a depth of 8 – 12 inches. A less labor-intensive alternative is to lay down newspaper or landscape fabric, effectively smothering the sod.

Raised beds can be constructed from a variety of materials and are a matter of personal preference. Treated lumber should be avoided as it can leach hazardous chemicals. Cedar and redwood will resist rotting and are good alternatives as are stones, cinderblocks, and bricks. Once the frame has been constructed, fill it with a good mixture of quality topsoil, compost and rotted manure to a minimum depth of six inches. To ensure the plants’ roots have ample room to grow, a depth of 8 – 12 inches is ideal. Rake the soil mixture level and you are ready to plant.

Happily, raised bed gardens require very little maintenance. Each spring or fall, it's a good idea to top dress with fresh compost and manure, or if your bed only holds plants for part of the year, go ahead and dig the compost or manure into the top several inches of soil. As with any garden, mulching the top of the soil will help retain moisture and keep minimize weeds growth.

If you have raised beds as part of your landscape or if you build a raised bed this spring, send us a note and let us know about your experience. As always, we love to see pictures of your projects, so we hope you’ll send us those as well.

Happy Planting!

Rachael and Tobias

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

One Potato, Two Potatoes, Three Potatoes, FOUR: Planting potatoes indoors

Spring is just around the corner and green thumbs everywhere are getting the itch to get out and dig in the dirt.  We can only peruse seed and plant catalogs for so long before the dirt calls our names. What can we do to satisfy the planting craving?  We can plant potatoes indoors!  This is a great project for the whole family, including those budding gardeners who, by now, are bored with all the usual indoor winter activities.  With the exception of the initial cutting of the potato, this is truly a kid-friendly project. 

To get started, you’ll need a few simple supplies:  a deep pot, some potting soil and, of course, a potato that has begun to sprout.

Cut the potato into sections with one or two eyes (sprouts) each.  Make sure each section has enough “meat” with it.  The potato will probably be soft, but should not be mushy or rotten. The sprout will use this portion of the potato to feed on until it begins to grow roots.

Fill a deep pot 1/3 full with potting soil; place the potato section atop the soil and cover with three additional inches of soil.  Water the potatoes and place them in a warm, sunny area.  Soil should be kept at room temperature.  The plant will require about 14 hours of sunlight daily so, if you don’t have enough natural light, florescent lighting is a great supplement to natural light.  Keep the moisture level consistent.  It is possible for a potted potato to suffer from drought which will yield a lumpy spud with a strange texture when cooked.

When the plant is six inches tall, add 2-3 inches of soil.  Continue to add soil as the plant grows until the soil level is about 3 inches from the top of the pot.

Once the plants have flowered, the greenery will begin to turn yellow and die back.  Stop watering at this point to allow the potatoes to mature.  Overwatering at this stage can make the potato mushy.   

'Baby' potatoes may be harvested 2-3 weeks after the plant flowers.  For larger potatoes, wait 2-3 weeks after the tops of the plants have died back.  Using your hands, a small shovel, or a large spoon, carefully turn the tubers up from the dirt. “New” potatoes may be washed and eaten immediately.  If you plan to store your potatoes, spread them out, unwashed, across the top of the soil for 2-3 days to allow the skins to thicken.

You should plan on two to three months from planting to harvest so your potatoes may not be ready for Easter but should be a hit for Memorial Day.  We’d love to see pictures of your DIY spud projects so please send them in.

Happy Planting!

Tobias and Rachael 

Potato foliage peeks through the top soil.

Foliage growth is really taking off

Foliage has a lot of growing to do before it reaches the top of the planter

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Importance of Mulching

What is mulch?
Mulch in itself is material that is spread out over and around the roots of what you have planted. Two types of mulch are organic and inorganic mulch. Organic mulch includes grass clippings, leaves, bark mulch, newspaper and straw like pine straw. Inorganic mulch includes various types of rocks, stones and gravel. The advantage to using organic mulch is that overtime it breaks down and adds nutrients to the soil, thus making the soil richer. However, because it eventually decomposes, organic mulch will need to be replaced from time to time.

Why Use mulch?
Mulching is one of the most important ways to protect and maintain healthy landscaped plants, shrubs and flowers. Some of the uses for mulch are:

- it prevents weeds from coming through
- organic mulches add to the nutrient base of the soil making the soil richer
- helps to hold water and moisture in your plants and gardens, therefore you don’t have to water as much
- helps the roots maintain an even temperature
- protects your soil from erosion
- adds to the aesthetic appeal of your landscape by making it look more finished

Applying Mulch
When applying mulch you want to put a layer of it 2-4 inches as close to the roots as possible. Remember to replace the mulch as needed if using organic materials. Make sure you don’t use too much as too much of it will be a bad thing possible causing the roots to suffocate. You also want to make sure you keep any mulch away from tree trunks. Organic mulches are very beneficial but they can wind up being a habitat for insects. Most of these insects will not harm your plants but they may become a nuisance for you. Keep this in mind when using organic mulch close to your house. Pavement ants are known to love bark mulch. If put too close to your house you may have unwanted guests. Some people like to spread out a layer of plastic underneath before they apply mulch. This isn’t a good idea because it dries out the soil underneath defeating the purpose of maintaining proper moisture for the root system. The best time to apply mulch is in late Spring once the ground starts to warm up.

As a final mention on using mulch I can’t emphasize enough how it can improve the aesthetics of your landscape. Whether you use colored bark mulch or beautiful colored rocks, it will really make your yard pop. It is well known that beautifully landscaped yards add to the value of your home.

Article from www.LandscapingIdeasOnline.com