Earth Box under cover

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When I first saw the Earth Box at my local garden center, I thought it was a pricey planter good for folks who live in an apartment with a tiny balcony.

Later I learned about the benefits of sub irrigated planters.  They make a lot of water wise sense when gardening in the desert.  I love that they are a small finite space that you can clear out and plant in a short amount of time.  I have a few now, taking advantage of end of season sales over the years. And, yes, in addition to raised beds on the ground.  I have some on the balcony!

The funny thing about living in the desert is that the variations in temperature during one 24 hour period can be pretty dramatic.  From near freezing in the morning  to upwards of 70-80 in the afternoon. Makes germination tough.

Discovered years ago that beans will not germinate when temps get over 90 degrees.  We go from an early spring where it is too cold for seeds to germinate outside, to too hot in a manner of weeks. This leaves a short window of time for bean germination.   I have taken to germinating inside, and have used all manner of purchased pots to do so.  Recently I found a newspaper pot maker on Amazon.  Love it.  It takes some time to roll up enough pots, but a ruler and yesterday’s newspaper, a glue stick and something nice on TV are all it takes.  Fill them with good potting soil, then carefully stand them up shoulder to shoulder in a tray, pop a seed in each one, and cover it, then water the tray.

Suddenly it was like Jack and the Beanstalk at my house.  Tall little bean plants needed bigger digs, and quick.  I planted a row of peas on one side of the earth box, and a row of 8-9 bean plants on the other side.  Now what to do to keep them from freezing.

Measured the interior dimensions of the box, and with this nifty tool,  cut 1/2 inch PVC pipe to fit.  Using eight 8.5 lengths and two 24.5 lengths, four elbows and four elbows with a third opening (side outlet)   to make the upper corners,

My little contraption looked something like this:image

 

It was very easy to assemble.  It will somewhat contain tall willowy flowers or legumes, but more importantly, it will support a special cover made of garden fleece.  These little covers make a world of difference to tender young plants.  Like wearing a sweater, it seems to take enough of the chill out of the equation that gives those green babies a fighting chance.  I had a 10×12 foot piece of the light weight stuff.  I cut two 12 x 12 squares for each end and a 30 x 36 rectangle to cover the top.  I sewed 3 sides of each square to . the 36 inch end of the rectangles.  This made a nifty little cover that was loose enough to pop on, but to keep it on I used a large binder clip.

We have woken to some frosty mornings recently after a little teaser warm spell, and those beans are happy in their little mini green houses.  I believe they were providers.  They are my first beans to plant each season.  Helps to soothe the urge to garden when temps are still a bit too cool. Here you can see the remains of a newsprint pot, peas, beans, lettuce and some ever present morning glories, which will be pulled shortly.image

Their neighbors, the sugar snap peas came up surprisingly well.  Peas can handle cooler temperatures, but the little shoots are often fodder to birds and rodents.  The covers give them a chance to get bit enough to be ignored by these ravagers of the garden.

Another season extender is the Wall of Water. This is a pea plant or two, and a sun gold peeking out of the top.  Love Walls of Water. They allow me to plant a few tomato plants each week, when the moon says it is ok.  More on that one in a bit.  Happy planting!image

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Gardening under cover

Staring at the end of January, wondering when spring will ever arrive, I got the itch to plant some seeds.

Planting by the Moon always conjured images of the witch in Rapunzel and her magic garden.  However I am looking at Farmers Almanac Gardening, and found that the last couple days of January this year are good for starting seedbeds!  So, on a sunny Saturday, with visions of a magnificent harvest like this,

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Gathering Apron pattern designed for picking produce.  Holds up to 4 pounds easy, with five pockets to separate different varieties. Pattern is sold at Hip Stitch

I pulled the remains of last summer’s garden from a 4×4 raised bed.

The soil seemed to be low, so in one corner, I dug a hole about 18 inches deep, and placed tree limb cuttings my friend and I scavenged from what a neighbor was giving away last October.  Why plant wood in your garden?  In the spirit of hugelkultur (making raised garden beds filled with rotten wood) I covered that area with the soil from the next hole, added a couple logs and move around the circle till it was complete.  The wood behaves like an underground sponge, absorbing excess moisture and then releasing it back to a soil that is somewhat drier. The wood eventually bio degrades completely. Until then, I believe the roots of the plants will figure a way to wind around them.  I had two half empty bags of garden soil that topped off the ensemble nicely.

Mr. Mischievous Odin couldn’t stop  himself and helped to put holes in the soil.  He makes great company in the garden!

The basket in the middle collects compost that feeds the soil below, keyhole style.

Did a quick inventory on my seed stash, and found several varieties that do well in cooler temperatures. Mostly some form of brassica and mache, sometimes known as corn salad.  Some will germinate, some will not, but in a week or two some little green thing will poke it’s head out of the soil and make me happy.  All of these greens can go in a nice salad, and give me something to do while waiting to plant melons and squash in April.

After these were scattered in the bed, I looked for the sugar snap peas I wanted to plant around the edges, so they could climb up the barrier I installed to keep my furry friend from getting in again!  I like to buy them by the pound, so that they can be planted several times in a season.

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The PVC idea came from a too-short hose.  Holes drilled every 6-8 inches allow for more even water distribution. One of the corners is a 3 way elbow that my hose end fits in snugly.  Turn on the faucet and tend to something else for a bit.

The garden trellis keeps my friend from planting his toys in the soft soil, and does double duty to hold up the reemay and  plastic layers that cloche the little plants from the elements.  It is a hopeful gamble.  More sewing in the garden.  I cut squares of reemay off the corners of the big fleece blanket and sewed them together like four darts so it fits snugly over this garden bed like a loosely fitted sheet.  Sew reemay before it goes outside, just take my word on this!

Last fall I planted cabbage, lettuce and peas under cover, and they are doing nicely!  The uncovered peas produced a few pods then succummed to the first frosts.  No peas yet from the covered plants below, but I am hopeful they will jump into action once the weather warms, and give me something to munch on when I am putting out tomatoes in March. They are covered in plastic and get water when I remember it about every three weeks.

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Eliot Coleman, I hope you are right with your four season gardening advice and the double cover method of growing in winter.