Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Rude Flower–Red Amaranth

Flowering Red Amaranth

Maybe it’s just me, but I think my red amaranth plants are the rudest in the garden. They always seem to be flicking everyone off with a giant middle finger. It’s probably their revenge for eating their leaves all summer. Yum.  They do look nice though.

Flowering Red Amaranth

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How To Make and Use Compost Tea

What is Compost Tea?
Compost Tea is a liquid made from compost which contains beneficial microorganisms and helpful plant compounds. It is used to replace chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. Compost Tea is more than simply a suspension of compost material in water. The tea is a good overall plant health booster. Healthy plants are better able to resist pests and diseases.

Compost Tea is made one of two ways: with aeration and without. Take some finished compost material from either an outside bin or finished vermicompost and soak it in water for several days. I like to use an aquarium bubbler to make the aerated variety because I think it helps the aerobic microorganisms grow faster. There seem to be as many recipes out there as people making it, but I like to keep mine relatively simple by using things I already have onsite.

Making Compost Tea

How I make Compost Tea:
  1. Put some water into a bucket. If you are using chlorinated tap water, it is best to let the water sit for a day first to let the chlorine dissipate. I filled a five gallon bucket about half full. Since I have a small one gallon sprayer, I don’t like to make large batches. 
  2. Fill an old sock with a few handfuls of finished compost. In this case, I used a handful of finished vermicompost from my worm bin and a handful of finished compost from the regular compost bin outside. Making Compost Tea
  3. Tie the sock to a stick, so it doesn’t fall all the way in. Then add the aquarium bubbler. Making Compost Tea
  4. I held my aquarium bubbler down with a small rock since it wanted to float. Let it sit for several days. I like to wait about a week, and just leave it bubbling away in the basement laundry room. It doesn’t smell bad at any time in the process. Making Compost Tea
  5. A week later, you can see the color has gotten much darker. Some of the compost has dissolved into the water, and microorganisms are thriving in the oxygen rich environment. Use it immediately after turning off the bubbler for maximum benefit. Making Compost Tea

How do you use Compost Tea?
Compost Tea can be used two ways: spraying and as a soil drench. I use mine both ways. I fill my sprayer up first. I use a small one gallon sprayer since my yard isn’t very big. This sprayer has only been used for compost tea, so there shouldn’t be any harmful chemical residue behind to interfere with the compost tea.

Making Compost Tea

I spray it on the non-edible parts of the plant. In the photo below, I am spraying one of my small blueberry plants. It should be applied very early in the morning or later in the evening to minimize the effects of UV rays on the microorganisms.

Making Compost Tea

After I am done spraying the leaves of plants. I pour the remainder out into the root zone as a soil drench. This helps to build up the soil microbial populations. Healthy soil leads to healthy plants.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tomato Fruit on my Potato Plant?

Walking through the backyard garden inspecting the different plants I was very surprised to find what looked like small tomatoes laying on the ground especially since I didn’t plant any. They were about an inch across and green just like an unripe cherry tomato. How did they get here?  I was stumped.

Tomatoes on my Potato Plant

Then I found some more. Hmm. These were attached to a plant. Did a bird or a squirrel bring in some seeds? Then I brushed the leaves aside further and discovered they were growing out of the end of my potato plants. The more I looked, the more I found. Did I create some weird tomato-potato hybrid? Potatoes are from the nightshade family (Solanaceae) like tomatoes and peppers, so maybe it was possible. I’ve grown potatoes before, but I’ve never seen this fruit. Time to ask google.

Tomatoes on my Potato Plant

After some quick searching, I found that no, I had not created a mutant plant. In fact potato fruit is common on the yukon gold potatoes I planted. The previous years plantings were a different variety, so no fruit.

Tomatoes on my Potato Plant

The potato fruit is not edible just like the potato plant itself. Both contain large amounts of a poisonous alkaloid called solanine which is what makes some of the nightshade family poisonous. I also learned that the Internet recommends against saving the seeds as they won’t grown true to form. Instead, seed potatoes should be used which is what I had planted.

I love how the garden is always teaching me something new.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Growing a Pineapple Part 2

Earlier, I had posted about how to start growing a pineapple from a cutting of the top: Growing a Pineapple Part1. This post picks up where the other left off two months ago.

Pineapple Growing Part2

The pineapple plant is much bigger now and has grown almost a dozen new leaves. I can tell which are the new leaves since I snipped the tips of the original leaves.

Pineapple Growing Part2

A healthy root mass has also developed. I was changing the water every other day or so for the last two months. I think I could have planted it sooner, but it still seems healthy enough.

Pineapple Growing Part2

The pineapple plant potted in the dirt. It has grown more than double in size from before. I’ve been leaving it outside, so it can get maximum sunlight. Once the weather starts getting cooler, I will bring it inside for the winter.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Geese Eat My Weeds

Yard Geese

Many times this year I’ve had some wild geese in the yard eating my weeds. They leave some fertilizer behind as well. When we first saw them, my wife was concerned they would eat our cultivated vegetables. They didn’t, but they did eat the weeds growing in between along with the weeds in the yard.

Yard Geese

I’d read in my Permaculture books and learned in my PDC class how useful poultry could be in a garden. It was nice to get a first-hand demonstration with these wild geese since we won’t be getting any livestock anytime soon.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Garlic Chives Blooming

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The backyard is buzzing with activity with all the flowers blooming. All the white flowers are the garlic chives. They are a very hardy perennial, and they keep coming back year after year. Garlic chives are also known as Chinese chives. They have a milder chive flavor than regular chives. The entire plant is edible including the bulb, stalk, flowers, and seeds. I like eating the stalk, but the main reason I keep them around are the flowers.

They bloom in September, and attract an amazing amount of insects. When I took these photos, there were over 100 bumblebees and many other pollinators enjoying the feast. The extra attention our yard is getting from the bees means our raspberries and squash continue to get pollinated as well. A win-win.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Permaculture Design Course at Center for Deep Ecology

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This past week, I finished a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) at the Center for Deep Ecology. The class was taught by Wayne Weiseman who has taught over 120 other PDC classes. The class of 18 spent eight days together camping and learning. The days were long, but filled with lots of information. It was very relaxing not to have to worry about food, time, or money during the class. It created a positive environment to focus on learning without many other distractions.

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Well, besides the near non-stop shower of acorns from the mature oak trees. The only thing to worry about was if I was going to get hit in the head with an acorn falling out of the trees. It only took two days for the first one to connect. lol.

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Permaculture is a design system with ethics for creating sustainable human settlements and agriculture by following natural patterns. I had not heard of permaculture until earlier this year, but have been interested in some of the components for years (organic food production, energy efficiency, green building, etc).

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I plan on using the training to continue to transform our yard from primarily growing grass into a productive, sustainable system.

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One of my favorite days of the class was visiting Kinstone Academy of Applied Permaculture in Fountain City, Wisconsin. We were able to participate in building a cob cabin and expanding some sheet mulching beds. There were also numerous other permaculture systems in progress. I’m looking forward to going back to see more. It is a very beautiful property.

Kinstone also posted some photos of our work day on their facebook page here.

The local media came to visit one day during class. You can see the video here.

Wayne posted some photos on his site from the class on his website here.

It was a great class, and well worth the money. I learned a lot and had fun while doing it. I’m looking forward to drawing out some designs for our property.