“To plant a gar…

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow…” – Audrey Hepburn

It’s about that time again!! Almost time to begin planning and plotting…  to start seeing the potential in that little piece of ground and calling the shots.

Can’t wait!

What are your plans for your garden this year?

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Garden Trellis Evolution

Here at the Light Homestead, we have always monkeyed around with the concept of vertical gardening, but to be perfectly honest – we haven’t done a great job of it.

There was our first attempt at holding back peas with small bamboo stakes (4 foot) driven into the ground vertically, and horizontal bamboo poles woven through the vertical poles like a basket. The peas brought those down by season end, and we had a mess on our hands where the peas outgrew the 4 foot poles.

We bought bigger bamboo poles, ran a top pole across the span, lashed it all together with twine, then ran our twine grids, and the peas and beans managed to wreck that too before the season was out, and once again, we had a mess on our hands.

We used the tripod style trellis, but didn’t really like how it worked.

We’ve used the one you can see in the header photo that the pole beans grew up on – we liked it, it worked really well, but it took up a lot of space, and was really difficult to set up initially.

So as we started laying down the plans for this year’s garden, we started seriously thinking – how can we do this differently? What can we do that will provide us with a strong enough trellis that won’t get battered in the wind, that is tall enough and strong enough to allow the peas to grow up it. Not to mention, something versatile enough design-wise to grow peas, beans, our vining heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, etc.. The answer came to us in Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening book.

Metal frames – he advocates steel pipe, but I decided ultimately on galvanized electrical conduit.

Thing 2 and I made a trip to the neighborhood Home Depot, and picked up the supplies we needed. Typically we like to scrounge up our parts and try to do it on the cheap, but unfortunately, the peas we’re supporting needed the support now. No time to scrounge.

Perusing the electrical conduit aisle, we found the lengths of 1/2 inch conduit that we needed (10 feet) for $1.95 each – not terrible. The connectors to give us our 90 degree connection though, those were outrageous. $4.45 a piece and we needed 6. BLECH! They were the only 90 degree connectors they had… we picked up the ones we needed to take care of the length for now until we come up with a better system (already got it figured out – and will detail later)

We picked up lengths of 1/2 x 3 foot rebar, and we were off.

We came home and made the cuts to the conduit that we needed to – the top bar to make it equal to 4 feet with the connectors needed to be 45″, so we cut three of those.

Then we trimmed down the pieces we already cut to 6 feet high, leaving us with about 3 inches of waste. Not too shabby.

We continued this process so that we had enough to do a 12 foot run (3 trellises)
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Began to connect the 90 degree connectors to the top bar (notice the two additional garbage cans for potatoes!)

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Once the top bars were all together, all that was left to do was connect the vertical posts on both sides of the top bar, drive the rebar into the ground on 4 foot intervals, sliding the vertical posts over the rebar anchors, and then lash the whole thing together with twine.

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Here the poles are up and sitting on the rebar over the center of the peas, really sturdy – I was pretty impressed by that.

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Once the twine was on them, they were very sturdy, and it should work great for the peas this year.

Here’s the problem.

At $2.78 cents each for the rebar pieces, $1.95 each for the lengths of conduit (took 2), and a whopping $4.45 a pop for the elbows (2 per trellis)… the grand total for a 4 foot length of this frame was $18.36. Even if you had access to lengths of 1/2 inch rebar, you’re still talking $15.00 a pop, which is pretty pricey for a trellis.

So, while these are nice – and I really like how they came out. I’ve already decided based entirely on cost, what I’m going to do for the rest of them in the garden is take 2 10 foot pieces of conduit, bend the last two feet into a 90 and pick up a butt connector for $1.78, that will connect the two together. (Total expense for the remainder of our trellises with that design is $11.78 -$5.56 if I can get 2-3 foot chunks 1/2 inch rebar free – and we get the added bonus of a near 8 foot trellis.) Quite a bit better price overall too – for an exceptionally sturdy trellis which can be removed each season and stored. Might look into putting some sort of nylon grid system on it that will last better season after season than the twine, but we’ll see.

What about you – what kinds of trellises have you used in the past? What has worked well for you?

Too Cold to Work Outside…

Things have ground to a halt here at the Light Homestead — as the temperature has dipped into the below freezing realm, the ground became the consistency of finished concrete, and our will to work outside in yard has waned considerably.

The lager is bubbling away happily out in the garage, it’s about halfway through the primary fermentation at this point despite the fact that the beer is sitting at 42 degrees — well below the optimal range of the yeast — they’re chugging away quite nicely. A tasting of the wort last night when I took a specific gravity was good – the beer has good taste, good bittering, good mouthfeel, just needs to finish doing its thing, and this should turn out really good.

Other than that, the work on the chicken coop has come to a stop until the weather gets a bit more hospitable. Retaining Wall and Patio Projects are not going to progress until Spring or if/when we get an unseasonably warm period… so as my wife and I looked around for something to do that is semi-progressive – move the chains a bit so to speak — we looked more towards the planning and preparation realm.

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The other day I put together this file in Excel that maps out and divides our back garden into one foot squares in order to Square Foot Garden the back beds. A planning template. We haven’t fully utilized this method in the past, but have experimented with a combination of what we knew of Bartholomew’s methods, and John Jeavon’s biointensive methods. Since reading Mel’s book, we realized we didn’t know half of what we thought we did. This year we’re going to spend more time focusing on the square foot gardening principles, for the sheer fact that it enables you to divide a very large space up into more manageable chunks. For us – as busy as we are, it will be easier to go out and weed/cultivate/prepare/harvest a few smaller chunks here and there, than to feel like we have to do the entire bed in a sitting. Realistically – it all still has to get done, but it’s like the old adage about eating an elephant… one bite at a time.

So we are spending some time planning out the garden using the new template. Shannon spent a good part of the day making her absolutely awesome homemade hamburger buns. We used some tonight for our dinner of smoked tuna boats. (A good friend gave us the tuna, and we canned up a BUNCH of it this past May.) My favorite is the smoked jalapeno and garlic.

We also went through our old grocery receipts today and figured out how many pounds of dry beans, rice, flour and other staples we used in 2012 – which will help us figure out from a preparation standpoint how much to have on hand to help fill the larder, as we’ve set a goal to work towards having 6 months to a year of our staples on hand.

Today was one of those days where it was hard to see progress, despite having made some. Most of it was on paper, and not where it counts. Hopefully the weather thaws a bit in the near future, enabling us to get back to our normal 40-50 degree winter weather. Seriously… the kids need to go play outside…

…Bad.