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gardening | Atomic Bee Ranch

Tag Archives: Gardening

Potato Cages & Rain Reservoirs

Last year I really wanted to grow potatoes, but ran out of space in the garden. This year, as you can see on my garden plan, I made space for potatoes. I am not popping them into the ground or the straw bales, though. I read a few years ago about making cages for potatoes that are lined with straw and dirt. They don’t get great reviews for production, but I’m experimenting with them. They’re pretty simple to make so if I can strike the right balance between straw, dirt, and water (potatoes need to stay moist all growing season, which may make them less than ideal for our climate) then I think this will be the way to go.

You can read about how to make them here. As a side note this is a great site to browse around on for anyone interested in living on a tight budget. Here is the article from Oregon State about why potato cages don’t really yield great results. It’s a pdf and is well worth reading if you are interested in trying them out or need convincing not to. There is also a lot of good information about how potatoes grow and their requirements for getting a good crop of them. 

As I noted last month in my garden plan we went out and bought some enormous reservoirs to collect rain. 275 gallons each enormous. We tied them in with our gutter system and now the roof acts as a water collector. There are three reservoirs piped together in the front yard that will water the vegetable garden all summer long (hopefully). There is one along side the house that we are going to hook our hose up to for hand watering and then there are two more that we haven’t had time to hook up just yet, but will soon. 

Garden Plan 2016

I spent the last few weeks planning out the garden because, as it turns out, some of my seeds need to be started inside this week. We are very fortunate to live in a mild winter climate, meaning we are in the 50s during the day through the winter (with a few days in the 40s) and nights hovering in the upper 30s. Until a few years ago we seemed to only have a handful of nights that dropped to freezing or below, but I’ve noticed the last few years we’ve had a couple weeks worth of nights that drop down into the upper 20s. Brr! It does not snow where we live in California (although contrary to popular belief there are places it does snow in the state) so once the weather starts warming up in early March we are home free for planting. 

The bigger challenge for our gardening is how hot it gets in July, August and September. There are several stretches of days where temperatures reach 105 and while there is often a delta breeze to cool us off in the evening we have a week or two of airless days. This causes even some of the hardiest plants to wilt and requires a lot of extra watering to pull the food crops through. And water is scarce out here in the West right now. I’m hoping to get some rain barrels and fill them this winter (we almost never get rain in the summer months) to supplement. 

Last year we ripped out our lawn (too thirsty!) and put down bark and a number of other ground covers like lantana and various ornamental grasses. This also freed up space in our sunny front yard for a real garden. Our house faces due north and the backyard is blessedly shaded by an enormous fruitless mulberry all summer long. Excellent for cooling bills, terrible for vegetable gardens. I can grow cooler season crops in the back and occasionally I’ll get some sun-loving plants to limp along. We never got tomatoes. Last year, with the lawn gone, I tried out straw-bale gardening and it worked incredibly well. I’ve never gotten so many peppers and squash and beans and tomatoes. This year I want to expand it and plant more of the crops we tend to use while keeping a few crops and the bee hive in the backyard. 

Here are the layouts/plans for my front and back gardens (to see them larger and more clearly, click on the image to open it in a new page):

Front Garden Plan

Back garden plan

For Your Bookshelf: Gardening Books

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Where we live Spring is most definitely here. It’s actually a little early this year, but I am so itchy to get into the garden that it doesn’t matter to me. In honor of gardening that you may be doing or are planning to do in the next month or two, I pulled together a selection of books about gardens and gardening.

Garden Books

The Carrot Seed by Crockett Johnson: A classic that is both about the patience that gardening takes and about believing in yourself even when no one else does. I loved this book as a child and now my daughter is enjoying it. The simple, repetitive text would make it a great early reader.

My Garden by Kevin Henkes: What kid wouldn’t want this little girl’s garden full of chocolate bunnies, a jelly bean bush and plants that grow keys and shells. The imagination in this book is just so wonderful. I also think it encourages kids to look beyond your basic vegetable and flower gardens and see the garden as some where potentially magical.

One Small Square: Backyard by Donald Silver: This book is full of amazing details about what is in our backyards and it shows it to you by going through a square foot layer by layer. I know it isn’t techincally about a garden, but many of the same elements and ideas apply to our garden, including animals, soil, and natural cycles. This is actually one in an expansive series. They are all well done and I highly recommend checking any of them out.

Ruby Red Shoes by Kate Knapp: Okay this one isn’t strictly about gardening, but Ruby does garden and spends a good amount of time in her garden. Plus she has chickens. I absolutely love the illustrations in this book. They are so whimsical and compliment the gentle story about Ruby and her grandmother so well.

These are some of my favorites, but I’m there are many more. Are there any title you would add to this list?