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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Daring Spring with Low Tunnels

I've always wanted to try winter gardening, but when it is 0*F at night and in the teens during the day, I don't want to be outside any more than the plants do!  And thus, another reason I am delighted to have returned to The South!  Dipping into the teens at night, and barely above freezing this week - but 32*F I can do.  Time to build my first low tunnel "mini-greenhouse."

The Plan

Build two low tunnels for two of my beds.  Each bed is about 3 foot wide and 6 foot long.  These beds are next door to each other.  As for what to plant, I'm going to keep it simple and plant peas, spinach, lettuce, and bok choi.

The Materials & Equipment

The following materials list is for one 6 foot low tunnel
  • 6 - 2 ft pieces of rebar
  • 3 - 10 ft pieces of 3/4 in "schedule 40" pvc pipe cut to 7 ft lengths
  • 10 ft x 12 ft row cover material (extra amounts to bury sides and gather ends)

The Build

1. Drive 2 ft pieces of rebar 1 foot or so into the ground (preferably when ground is not already frozen).  Some people recommended at a slight outward cant; however, I chose to put them in as straight as possible, thinking this might be more successful in frozen ground.  I put one piece of rebar at each corner of the bed, and one on each side.

2. Bend the pipes and insert them over the rebar. 

3. Cover with row cover.

It is January as I write this, and, of course, late January and February are our cold and ice storm months, so I may have to repeat sowing a few times before I get something to eat - but the scientist (or the kid) in me loves to experiment. Crossing my fingers!  Still can't believe that I am sowing seeds in January.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Planting Muscadines

Well, some people are successful at growing wine grapes here in Middle TN, but research makes it seem like I might not be as successful, at least not for a first grape venture - too hot, too much rain, too much clay.  But Muscadines - they were born in The South and love it here.  Even so, the success rate for propagation from hardwood cuttings is still supposed to be only 70% or so.  For $7 for 6 cuttings, I figured I'd take my chances.  And, support a small time farmer.  And if half of them survive, I have Muscadine grapes forever?

Cuttings arrived in damp packing inside zip closure bags, and sat in my mailbox for a few days in freezing weather.  Then they sat next to the tea pot in a 70*F room for several days.  Finally, after all of that abuse, I got down to actually getting them planted.

  • Cuttings
  • Rooting hormone
  • Seed starting mix combined with vermiculite or perlite
  • Pots
  • Pencil or chopstick or something similar to make holes with
  • Knife or fingernail or something to scrap the very outer layer of bark off of the cuttings
  • Seed starting heating pad
  • Something to help retain humidity (mini green house)

1.  Rinsed cuttings and set in tepid water
2.  Filled well cleaned reused pots with 75% seed starting mix + 25% vermiculite (because that is what I had on hand)
3.  Used a chopstick to make holes in the potting mix slightly bigger than the cutting (so that the rooting hormone would not be scraped off
4.  Scraped the outer layer off of the cutting in several places where I hoped roots would grow - this is called wounding the cutting

I made several scrapings along the part of the cutting that would be under the potting mix.

3.  Applied rooting hormone to the whole length of the cutting that would be underground.  Note how I have just made a little slit in the seal of the jar? That is so I can drop the jell onto a coffee stirrer from above without actually touching the coffee stick and contaminating the bottle.  I use the coffee stick like a spatula.

A little goes a long way. 

4.  Placed cuttings in the holes in the potting mix, and pressed the potting mix down so it would make good contact with the cutting
5.  Made a little greenhouse for them out of plastic wrap.  Used chopsticks to hold the plastic off of the cuttings.
6.  Going to set them on a seed starting mat in a cool room to hopefully encourage roots to grow, but buds to stay dormant until roots are well on their way.

Another winter project started.  Another distraction to keep me from planting tomatoes in January!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Journal Entry 2016-01-14

Gardening in Middle Tennessee
Lunch [Note: presumably this entry was written during lunch while at work.]
 Ordered feed and waterer for baby chicks last night. "Fancy" chicken tractor costs $350.  I know I can cut some costs.

4x10 = 40 sq. ft. Could I make a 4x10 foot brooder that would become the base of my chicken tractor? Or do I need a dedicated brooder anyway?
  • 6x8 brooder for ~25 chicks
  • 4x12 brooder for ~25 chicks
  • 4x10 would be ok for a week or two

How did this entry get here? What are Journal Entries?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Permaculture Elements: CowPeas/Southern Peas

If you think that "cowpeas" consist only of California Blackeye, then you have a sweet surprise in store. I've gone a little crazy in collecting them since they did so well last summer - now have over 25 cultivars in my collection.

The cowpea is a member of the bean family.  I have found them to be one of the "set it and forget it" crops for here in the mid-South.
Family: Fabaceae  Genus: Vigna  Species: unguiculata

Sample Cultivars: Colossus, Iron & Clay, Mayo Colima, Hog Brains

Other Names: Southern Peas, crowder peas, blackeyed peas, and also lubia, niebe, coupe or frijole

Hog Brains cow peas -
I've never seen a hog's brain, so I can't tell you if there are any real similarities!
(More photos below.)

Intrinsic Characteristics
  • Permaculture Zones: All, especially zones 2 and 3
  • Layers: Understory, herbaceous
  • Placement: gardens, main crop gardens, in the edges or during the establishment of food forests and orchards
  • Size: cultivars range in size from 2-3 foot "bush peas" to vigorous climbers that will top 10 feet.
  • Vegetable Type: Annual
  • Seed Saving: Easy

Note that while some outputs don't need any additional inputs and can stand on their own, many of the outputs may or could.  Where space, time, and interest intersect, I will include them.
  • For the Bees - nectar and pollen
  • Fresh food for - People, chickens, hogs, horses, turkey, goats, deer, and other wildlife; both leaves, young "snap beans" and peas are edible.  Young "snap beans" taste similar to Asian long beans (they are related).  Whole vines can be uprooted at the end of the season and fed directly to livestock
  • Preserved for People - dried peas can be used in soups, freeze or can shelled fresh peas and/or young beans
  • Preserved for animal consumption - dried peas, dried stalks and leaves
  • Leaves - high nutrient and protein content when used fresh
  • Soil improvement - cowpeas are both a legume (nitrogen fixing) and has a deep tap root for soil improvement. I plant them around young trees, each tree getting its own cultivar
  • Seeds - Generally self-fertile, open pollinated seeds will come true to type
  • Vines - vines can be used for shade or to block views
Note: some of these inputs may not be needed for your situation, but here are some things to get you started
  • Wood mulch and/or compost - I have found that this is generally not needed here in Middle Tennessee
  • Support- tall, vining types need strong support.  Vines on weak supports may topple the support
  • Wire fencing - or other protection, especially in zones 3, 4 and 5 where there is deer and other wildlife pressure

Other Things
  • Climate - are you in the hot, humid South where it rains "all the time"? They will love you.  Hot and dry - they like that too.  Are you in a short season area?  There are some  bush varieties that mature in 60 days.
  • Seed Saving - Select for plants that mature early, have lots of peas in the pod, and that look "true to type."  They are generally self-fertile and come true to type; however, separation of the cultivars may help prevent cross-pollination in a highly diverse environment where pollinator pressure is high.  Tag the pods you wish to keep for seeds and let them dry on the vine.

Flowers are born in small clusters of two or three.
Most of the ones I have grown start out with purple to lavender flowers that fade to cream or yellow by late morning.

Ants like cowpeas but don't appear to harm them.
I call this the "winged" stage - soon slender pods will emerge from the wings. The bean on the right is still a little young for stir fry, but might be tasty as a raw snack while gardening.

Just right for stir-fry!

 This set of cow peas are growing under an apple tree that was planted early in the Spring - they successfully mitigated the crabgrass, fixed nitrogen for the tree, and provided tasty eats, too!

Just about ready for fresh shelling peas.
I usually wait until the bean part starts changing color for fresh shelling peas.  In the case of "purple hulls," they will turn purple, so you'll know when to pick.

Pink Eye Purple Hulls in the foreground.
Fresh from the field - Dreaming of Summer!