Archive for March, 2009

Planting tomatoes

It was like Christmas Day. The weather has mellowed out, there’s no chance of cold spells and Sea Island Savory Herbs has their selection of tomato plants out for sale. I think we went a little nuts. Four brandywine vines (which, by the way, can grow in excess of 8 feet tall and branch out like crazy), two early girls, four better boys, two Carolina Golds ( a large fruited native heirloom with golden yellow skin ), three Viva Italias (plum tomatoes) and three Super Sweet 100s (cherry tomatoes). We also got several bell peppers and cayenne peppers from the same spot, since we use both types quite a lot for cooking.

The really fun part was planting them … I take it back, I’m being a little facetious. We had fun, but Kevin had found an old family recipe for planting tomatoes and was bound and determined to use it this year to see how well it worked.

I have had a problem with fish since I lived for a brief while in Pennsylvania and ate one or two meals involving very bad fish. Ever since, I have been trying to overcome my distaste for it. Either way, part of the recipe involves planting fish heads, and I did not enjoy that trip to the fishmonger, even though they had a great selection of fish. Crosby’s Seafood, located both in downtown Charleston and right before you arrive on Folly Beach, has bags of fish heads (about four or five to a pack) for $2.50.

The recipe goes as follows:

1) Dig a hole about two feet deep.

2) Toss in a handful of bone meal, a handful of organic beneficial fungus with fertilizer, a fish head, two aspirin, and an egg shell or two for each plant.

3) Plant your tomato plant as deep as possible. Our plants were about a foot tall each, and we covered them until only the very tops were poking above the soil. This provides for stability and plant health.

This recipe comes from Love Apple Farms, and many a tomato enthusiast has sworn by Cynthia Sandberg’s recipe. If you want to know more about her preferences in planting, visit their tomato site here

. We planted all the tomatoes today, so we’ll see how they turn out!

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Installing irrigation

I think one of the biggest problems we had with the garden last year, besides the spent soil, was irrigation. Both of our work hours went up considerably last year, so there was never any time to water in the morning or evening – just whenever we remembered or when we glanced outside in a mad dash for the door and saw that the leaves were all wilting. This is not healthy practice for gardens, especially vegetable gardens and most especially not for tomatoes. When tomatoes are not watered regularly, they tend to absorb as much water as possible when they do get watered, often taking on so much at once that their skins split; leaving them open to insects, birds and bacteria.

So this time, we wanted to do it right. I’ve heard a lot about the drip irriagation system and on a recent visit to Rosebank Farms on Johns Island, we got to see it in active use. There seems to be no down side to drip irrigation. It’s inexpensive, unobtrusive, water efficient and virtually maintenence free.

It’s also incredibly easy to put together. All you need are two, possibly three, different types of lines. There’s your main half inch line that attaches to the faucet and runs the water to wherever you need it, your quater inch perforated line that drips water every six inches (great for raised bed and row gardening), and your quarter inch regular line, that only drips from the end in regulated amounts (perfect for potted plants or stand alone plants like fruit trees).

We bought a regulator for about $8 from Lowe’s that restricts the flow of water from the faucet into the main line to 25 psi: this not only keeps your watering cycle incredibly water efficient, it also keeps the smaller quarter inch lines from popping out from too much water pressure. We also bought an automatic timer for $25, which you can program to water at certain times of the day for certain lengths of time. Since it’s still early in the Spring, we only have it watering twice a day, at 5am and 5pm, for 15 minutes a pop.

So the main line attaches to the psi regulator, which attaches to the automatic timer which attaches to the faucet. That’s probably the most complicated part of the whole system. The rest is simply running your main line around the garden (we ran it around the outside area of the garden, creating a big rectangle) and attaching your quarter inch lines, whichever type you want to use, to the main line where they can most easily reach what they are watering. The quarter inch lines connect with¬† little couplers to the half inch line. All you do is poke a hole in the main line with a hole puncher (DO NOT use anything besides a hole puncher designed specifically for the drip irrigation system – if you use the wrong size, you could ruin the whole main line), shove a quarter inch line, either perforated or unperforated, on to one end of a coupler and push the other end of the coupler into the hole you made in the main line. That’s it. Really, there’s nothing else to it. Well, make sure you seal off the end of the quarter inch line by bending it over (we used zip ties to hold the folded end in place), and make sure your lines are securely in place. We used French garden staples, but you could just as easily use peices of a wire hanger or even rocks to keep the line down (it tends to curve up after its been coiled in a package for so long) and in place around the garden.

We ran four 32 foot perforated lines  in each 8 x 4 raised bed (an 8 foot long box x 4 rows in each box) and nine 16 foot long perforated lines, one for each 16 foot long row. Finally, we ran 12, 1 foot long unperforated lines to water our individual fruit bushes and potted plants and two 8 foot long unperforated lines to the fig and the peach trees. Each unperforated line has a little regulator that you put on the end which restricts the flow of water. For our loamy soil, we only needed the low flow, 1/2 gallon of water per hour regulators.

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2009 garden

Okay, 2008 didn’t turn out so great. We’re pretty sure it was the fact that we didn’t renew our soil in the garden boxes and mix in more natural fertilizers. What grew last year struggled to produce a handful of fruit before dying off, so whatever you do, remember to really enrich your soil before planting! This year, we went by All Seasons Mulch Market on Johns Island to get two truckloads (2 cubic yards) of 50/50 mushroom mulch and garden soil, which is supposed to be a great combination for vegetable gardening.

Bound and determined to grow as much food as possible this year, we’ve expanded on the four garden boxes and tilled up about 400 square feet of the backyard and fenced it in. The whole garden is now composed of four raised beds, eight 10 gallon pots, 10 16-foot long rows and six individual fence plantings. We also installed a drip water system, which is probably one of the best things ever to happen to the home gardener.

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