Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Tag Archives: spring

Iowa Ave. Garden Update

We’ve been focusing our efforts on our newest garden at Amy’s place, but we’re still going strong on our plot on Iowa Ave.  Here’s what’s growing over there:

The tomatoes, peppers, and herbs are thriving in the back section. Thanks to some burlap and straw, the grass isn't too bad back there.

The tomatoes, peppers, and herbs are thriving in the back section. Thanks to some burlap and straw, the grass isn’t too bad back there.

Our new tomato container garden, built over a thick layer of plastic sheeting and wood chips, is also grass free and doing well.

Our new tomato container garden, built over a thick layer of plastic sheeting and wood chips, is also grass free and doing well.

And, since we had so many tomato plants, here's our newest little tomato patch by the front fence.

And, since we had so many tomato plants, here’s our newest little tomato patch by the front fence.

The middle section we tilled up this year is supporting four varieties of beans, with salad greens and carrots planted on either side of each row. Burlap and straw line the middle of the rows. So far the grass has been kept at bay with this system!

The middle section we tilled up this year is supporting four varieties of beans, with salad greens and carrots planted on either side of each row. Burlap and straw line the middle of the rows. So far the grass has been kept mostly at bay with this system!

Cucumbers are filling in. We planted three varieties, lemon, a pickling, and Japanese.

Cucumbers are filling in (also some grass). We planted three varieties, lemon, pickling, and Japanese.

The hops along the front corner are doing well this year, their second year in this location.

The hops along the front corner are doing well this year, their second year in this location.

Some of the Italian pole beans we planted did succumb to pest damage, so we've replanted to try to fill in the teepee trellis.

Some of the Italian pole beans we planted did succumb to pest damage, so we’ve replanted to try to fill in the teepee trellis.

Lots of beets!

Lots of beets!

Sharing the beet bed are some sugar snap and snow peas. We've had several great harvests from these- the cool spring was good for something!

Sharing the beet bed are some sugar snap and snow peas. We’ve had several great harvests from these- the cool spring was good for something!

These curly scapes will eventually flower and produce seed if left in place. We've been cutting ours off to promote bigger bulb growth. Plus they're delicious!

These curly garlic scapes will eventually flower and produce seed if left in place. We’ve been cutting ours off to promote bigger bulb growth. Plus they’re delicious!

The popcorn we planted started taking off.

Popcorn!

Got these French breakfast radishes planted right in time, they're starting to get pretty spicy now that summer weather caught up with us.

Got these French breakfast radishes planted right in time, they’re starting to get pretty spicy now that summer weather caught up with us.

The ginger we planted is starting to sprout.

The ginger we planted is starting to sprout.

These salad greens have been going strong for several weeks. The spinach toward the back of the bed bolted and is setting seed.

These salad greens have been going strong for several weeks. The spinach toward the back of the bed bolted and is setting seed.

Some volunteer lettuce heads also bolted and are currently flowering. In the three days since I took this photo they've grown even more and shot out some beautiful blue flowers.

Some volunteer lettuce heads also bolted and are currently flowering in the onion bed. In the three days since I took this photo they’ve grown even more and shot out some beautiful blue flowers.

This is shaping up to be our most productive year for this garden. Tilling the back and middle sections definitely got rid of a lot of the grass we’ve been battling and gave us extra planting space. We had planned to install drip irrigation but time got away. Maybe next year!

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Amy’s Farmhouse

We’ve been spending a lot of time at our newest garden at Eric’s sister’s new house.  It turns out the previous owner, Wendell, had farmed the yard and sold his produce from his driveway! We’re excited to continue the farming tradition.

2013_05_12_356We got Eric’s family together on Mothers’ Day to help us plant the narrow plot (pictured above are his parents hard at work). Eric used our walk-behind tiller to carve out the space between each row, then mounded up the rows using a hoe. This also incorporated the compost, gypsum, and organic fertilizer I had added on top of the soil earlier.

2013_05_12_352For planting tomatoes, we always bury the stem as deep as possible to promote deeper root growth and stability. The timing was perfect. Usually it would’ve been a little late, but this year the weather really delayed everything. The tomatoes we’d planted earlier in Sunset Hills and our Iowa Ave. gardens are stunted compared to these.

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With Eric’s family’s help, we planted 60 tomato plants and 40 pepper plants, mulched with grass clippings around each plant, and seeded basil, calendula, and other flowers throughout.

2013_05_16_379Last week Eric and his folks installed a drip irrigation system for the tomato and pepper plot. The system connects to the exterior hose with a battery-operated timer, which we’ve set to allow water flow for two hours every other day.

2013_05_15_373We also started planting the big plot last week. Like the narrow plot, Eric used our small tiller to carve out the spaces between rows, then I used a hoe to mound each row up. We mixed in some free leaf compost and seeded the first three rows with several types of salad greens and lettuces because they are shaded by the garage for most of the afternoon.

2013_05_15_371This is the back of the garden. The squash pictured above were started from seeds I saved from a huge pink banana squash last fall. We also seeded the next row to the right with several varieties of pumpkin and the last row with watermelon and cantaloupe.

2013_05_16_374As you can see, there’s still lots of space to fill. We’ve got some some sweet potatoes sprouting inside and zucchini plants we started from seed about ready to transplant. We’ve been researching other types of squash to grow, specifically some that are pest and disease resistant.

Also on the agenda: installing drip irrigation for the big plot. We bought the rest of the supplies we need, but we’ll have to set it up in two separate zones and reconfigure the part we already installed. It’ll be worth it though, not only would watering by hand take forever, it’d also be difficult to navigate the hose without running over plants.

This is our biggest contiguous garden space, at about 1/4 acre, but we haven’t neglected our other gardens! More updates to come!

Busy Busy Busy

It’s funny how drastically different this spring season is compared to last year’s. We enjoyed such a mild winter and early spring last year, we were able to get a lot done. The only reason we waited until May 2 to plant our tomatoes last year was because we hadn’t yet acquired the land for them. This year has been so cold and wet that a lot of things have been delayed.

2013_04_28_204We finished planting our tomatoes in Sunset Hills on April 28. However, this may still have been too early; we’ve also since planted some at Iowa Ave. and they seem to be faring better.

2013_05_06_314Along with tomatoes in the back section of our Iowa Ave. garden we also transplanted some pepper plants last week. Because of the invasive grass, we planted the peppers in holes we cut through burlap coffee bags and lined all the paths between plants with burlap and straw.

2013_05_07_321Here’s the whole back section, complete with burlap and straw. Between the peppers and tomatoes we planted parsley, nasturtium, thyme, and other herbs.

2013_05_07_319We also started a new tomato container garden in the section by the west fence where we were growing nothing but tall grass and weeds. To keep the grass out, we laid out a tarp and plastic sheeting before placing the pots and topping with wood chips. This method worked well for us in a different section last year.

2013_05_06_2992013_05_06_312Besides dealing with the terrible grass, we’ve also found evidence of pest damage to some of our newly-sprouted bean plants (above is an Italian pole bean seedling). It happens every year, the beans and peppers are the first to be eaten. We’ve used Dawn dish soap in the past but  this year I got some Dr. Bronner’s castile soap- more natural. Mixed with water, I’ve been spraying the tops and bottoms of the leaves and stems of all of our bean plants, and the damage has been limited.

2013_04_30_210Some of the popcorn we planted sprouted, but not all of it. We want to make sure it grows close together enough for sufficient pollination, so we reseeded some of the areas where germination was low.

2013_05_07_323We have two new raised beds at Iowa Ave.  (as seen in our garden outline) this year.  I planted horseradish, mustard, and kale in one, and Eric planted ginger (pictured above) in the other. We grew ginger last year in our side yard after sprouting it in shallow pots first. This year we direct seeded- the smaller pieces are our ginger from last year, the bigger pieces are organic ginger from Local Harvest.

2013_05_01_221The other thing keeping us busy this spring is setting up a new garden space at Eric’s sister’s new house. She found a house in the city with a 1/4 acre lot, and she’s letting us farm it (thanks Amy!). We tilled up this section of her yard literally the same day she closed on the house, May 1.

2013_05_01_233We called on our Sunset Hills gardening buddy, Tom, to till the area. It was just too much space for our little walk-behind tiller.

2013_05_01_239After several hours, Tom had mowed the overgrown grass and tilled up these two big sections for us. Unfortunately we were losing daylight, so he was only able to pass over each area once with the tiller.

2013_05_08_330To really remove all the grass, we needed it tilled again. Of course it rained for the next four days straight, so it took a week before Tom was able to come out to finish the job. As he tilled we worked to pull out grass clumps, and we returned yesterday to continue pulling them out.

2013_05_08_333Here’s a view from the other side of the yard. In this big section we’ll grow sweet potatoes, squash (summer and winter), pumpkins, melons, and whatever else we can fit.

Today I applied some fertilizer and crushed gypsum to the longer, thinner section where we’ll plant tomatoes, then covered with a layer of free compost. Eric is planning to return tomorrow with our little tiller to work the compost in and space out our mounded rows, then plant tomatoes and peppers! We’re also hoping to install a drip irrigation system to help with watering.

The weather has really forced us to be super productive in the short periods of time between rain. The forecast for this coming week looks pretty clear, thankfully. Lots of work ahead of us!

How We Spent Earth Day Weekend

This weekend was dedicated to the gardens.

2013_04_19_110It all started Friday night, when the forecast called for a chance of frost overnight. A few days earlier a surprise frost nipped a few of our tomato and pepper plants, so we didn’t want to take any chances. Thus began the great plant shuffle of 2013- all of the pepper plants and the tomato plants that hadn’t hardened off yet (they were in the half-hoop house) were brought inside. As you can see above, we had hundreds of plants inside, covering literally every available surface in our apartment. The plants we’d had outside hardening off were put in the hoop house. Then, about 12 hours later on Saturday morning we put them all back where they started.

Most of the rest of Saturday was spent at our Sunset Hills garden working on our tomato patch.

2013_04_20_119We’re using a similar method as last year, utilizing burlap in between the rows and all plants to keep weeds down and moisture levels high. It’s been a cool, rainy spring here in St. Louis so we only planted about 1/3 of our tomatoes for the year, the rest to be planted later.  Most of Saturday was spent building trellises.

2013_04_20_121Last year we staked each tomato plant separately and tied them as they grew, which was a royal pain. The plants sprawled in all directions and we lost a lot of tomatoes that ended up growing on the ground. So this year we constructed individual 5′ tall wire mesh cages for each plant (about 50).

2013_04_20_126Though we didn’t plant all the tomatoes, we plotted out the rows and fertilized the spaces for each plant. We interplanted some borage, basil, marigold, and calendula seeds today and finished off with straw on top.

After a full day’s work at Sunset Hills we shot over to Iowa Avenue while we still had daylight.

2013_04_12_067Our bamboo teepee trellis stands 8′ tall and will support our favorite flat Italian pole beans. We’re going to tie string horizontally around the bamboo but leave an opening in front so we can walk into the middle to harvest the beans.

2013_04_20_129After several brainstorming sessions, we figured that purchasing nylon netting was the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to trellis our new bean section this year. We planted a row of mystery beans (unidentified, collected last year), black beans, bolita beans, and burgundy bush beans, with carrots and salad greens along each row. The paths in between were lined with burlap and straw to keep the weeds down (the evil grass was already starting to regrow- UGH!).

2013_04_20_137On the other side of the beans we planted popcorn in rows. We haven’t grown corn before, we’re hoping we planted them closely enough to allow for good pollination. We plan to interplant seeds from a wild gourd that Eric found along the Meramec River.

We have a lot to do still, but the forecast predicts lows in the 30s again this week, so we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ll probably go and wrap plastic around the bottoms of the tomato cages in Sunset Hills to help protect the plants over the cold nights. As soon as the weather breaks, we’ll be planting another big wave of tomatoes, all our peppers, and the rest of our veggies. Can’t wait!

This Week on Iowa Ave.

March blasted through and left us with about 7 inches of snow on the ground. We got to work as soon as it melted. On the agenda: major expansion of the Iowa Ave. garden. Ideally we would’ve completed this last fall, but we ran out of time.

Here’s a shot of the back part of the garden before all the work:

beforeLast year we planted tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans directly in the ground in the back section by the fence. No beds, no tilling, and the eventually the grass totally took over. So this year we’re determined to nip that problem in the bud by completely eliminating all the grass before we plant.

grass rootsThe grass is a formidable foe, and we’ve battled it before. This section was buried under a tarp, burlap sacks, wood chips, and containers of tomatoes for nearly an entire year. We never expected to see such a thick mat of grass roots under the tarp after we pulled it up! So instead of just tilling, we had to hand-dig as much of the root mass out as possible. To do this, we had to dig down a foot or more, physically pull out all visible roots and then sift through the resulting mounds of soil to ensure no roots were left. We’ve found that even the tiniest piece of root, no matter how dry and brittle, will regrow and eventually generate a field’s worth of grass.

2013_04_02_023The back section was ready to till after a couple hours of digging. After tilling, we added a rock border to retain the soil and started a chicken wire fence to keep out chickens and dogs. All said, tilling this back section added about 300 square feet of planting space; we’ll be planting tomatoes, peppers, basil, and as many flowers as we can fit.

2013_04_02_033Next, we tackled the middle section of the yard. Previously this had been home to our keyhole garden, which contained sunchokes and melons last year (along with a truly despicable amount of grass). We love the idea of a keyhole garden and hope to install another one someday in the future.

2013_04_02_029We dug up the sunchokes first and ended up filling a 5 gallon bucket! We had only planted a handful of little tubers, so this harvest was a welcome success. There were two other beds that we moved out of this area, too, out of which we transplanted garlic, mint, and strawberries.

2013_04_05_040I worked on digging up this middle section myself for a whole day and didn’t even finish!

2013_04_05_045Three-quarters of the way through, and I had filled this giant red bucket with roots and emptied it four times. With Eric and his mom’s help, we finished digging today and then quickly ran over the area with the tiller. We had basically already tilled it by hand.

2013_04_05_050Luckily St. Louis city provides yard waste dumpsters, so we can take the roots completely off site. At the end of my time digging yesterday, the yard waste dumpster had already been emptied once and was half-full of roots. By the end of our workday today, the dumpster was completely full. That’s right, an entire dumpster full of grass roots.

2013_04_06_052The newly tilled middle section added another 200 square feet of planting space to our garden. Like the back section, we also bordered it to retain the soil and will need to fence it in eventually. We added a stepping stone walkway to separate the left 2/3 of the space from the right 1/3 so we can plant different crops.

Here’s our overall garden plan (click to enlarge):

2013_04_05_panorama*plus many other things already growing (hops, sunflowers, etc.) and more to be inter-planted.

With all the work we put in this week, we have high hopes for this garden this year. Eric is planning to install a drip irrigation system (easier said than done, he says). That way we can devote our time in the garden to more productive activities, like truly keeping the grass at bay.

Wild Spring Salad

Harvested from the garden: spinach, beet greens, garlic chives, kale leaves and flowers, broccoli florets and flowers

Foraged in the side yard: wild onion, wild violet flowers and leaves, wild strawberry buds and leaves

Our wild strawberry and violet patch, next to our cultivated strawberry patch

Just a note: We always check to make sure our foraged foods are safe to eat. The  Missouri Department of Conservation has a great field guide organized by flower color (you’re out of luck if the plant hasn’t flowered yet), and we also like Green Deane’s site Eat the Weeds. Just in clicking around a bit we learned that redbud flowers and wild pansies are edible, so more wild salads to come!