Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Straw Bale Garden Update

Transplants in the bale bed

My second round of bales have been ready to plant for a bit, and I finally blended bale readiness with plant readiness and plugged in my stuff over the weekend. Broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choi, and lettuce. You just poke a hole, and take out some straw if needed for the size of the seedling, and back fill with a little potting soil. I think the plants are looking rather happy. 

The other row of bales, where I planted seeds, are not doing as well. I direct sowed a selection of spring crops: mostly peas, but radishes, carrots, beets, spinach, arugula. The peas have done ok, though the germination was spotty. The spinach seed apparently wasn't any good, because none of them came up. A few beets and carrots, have emerged, and the arugula has also, but it doesn't seem to be growing. I'm not sure if this is the bales, the weather, or the mechanical difficulties with the floating row cover and how the wind can whip that stuff around and maybe bother the seedlings. This method is supposed to allow covering your bale row with greenhouse plastic, but I think our wind is too strong for this. Anyhow, I'm interested to see how all this goes. 

I also stuck a strawberry crown into the side of one of the bales, as an experiment. Our strawberry bed is ready to get torn up, and the crowns need to be thinned anyway, so I'm hopeful that they will love growing in the sides of the bales, and I can grow them all around the edges.

It's been several years since I successfully grew a spring brassica garden, so I'm hopeful and excited to see how this all turns out.

The direct-sow bed, with peas growing

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Pumphouse Stucco

The pump house with a coat of stucco

We've been slowly building this cute little pump house and water tank roof for many months now. This little structure is set to become our first true and permanent utility infrastructure on the property. It kind of began with an accident. During our first wall concrete pour, we overestimated the concrete needed by 1/3. That is, we ordered 1/3 more concrete than we needed, which translated to about 3 extra cubic yards. Oops!

Drew asked me, "Can you think of anything we could do with that much concrete?" I thought about it a few moments, and then said, "How about a water tank pad?" And Drew said, "Brialliant!" Our crew, with Karl at the helm quickly formed up a 16 foot by 16 foot pad, and poured within 15 minutes.

For several years, the tank slab has had nothing doing. Finally, this last fall, we decided we needed to upgrade our water system, to meet fire and residential code. The pad will hold three, 3,500-gallon water tanks that will be plumbed appropriately, the little attached shed will house our pressure pumps so that they can no longer freeze in cold weather, the roof will collect rainwater into our agricultural and fire-water tanks, and the roof of the structure will hold our solar panels once we permit our solar-grid intertie system. It is also home to our new PG&E meters, and will be the future home of all the guts of our electrical system and our generator. Now that's stacking functions! As an added bonus, it's also much more centrally-located than our current water tank and pump setup.

Drew spraying on stucco

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Planting the Straw Bale Garden

 Gardner pours potting soil onto our straw bales

Last Sunday, which was a gorgeous sunny day, Gardner and I got busy planting seeds into our straw bales. As per instructions, we put a layer of potting soil on top of the bales, laid down our water line, and planted away. We planted shelling peas and snow peas, arugula, carrots, radishes, and beets. You can see what a big help Gardner was. He has asked me every day since we started conditioning the bales if it is time to plant yet.

Gardner planting pea seeds

I put bird netting over the bed, because the little winter flock of dark-eyed juncos, sparrows, and scrub jays are very interested in the spare wheat seeds in the bales, and little birds often like to scratch up newly planted areas, or eat pea seedlings, especially. We are tearing down our big greenhouse, because it is in a bad location, and the plastic had torn, so we're cutting it up into pieces to use for our straw bale garden. I tried using one of these pieces, but that first night we had some of our infamous wind. It didn't want to stay put, and I was worried all the flapping might disturb our newly planted seeds. So I dug out our row covers, and that works much better, though I'm not sure it will provide much of a temperature buffer for the plants. We'll see. We have had frosty mornings the last few days.

The finished, planted bales, with bird netting and greenhouse plastic

Looking forward to spring food, fresh stuff from the garden! I also started two additional beds of bales this weekend. They are lined up in the other direction. These two new beds are a total of 16 bales. I plan to plant all the brassicas, lettuce, and onions I planted in the cold frame a few weeks ago, plus potatoes. I'm feeling excited about our garden this year.