Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Redneck Container Garden ver. 2.0

I don't know about where you are, but the prolonged cool, wet weather in Northern California has definitely slowed the pace in my yard. I've had some upgrades going on though to keep things interesting. If you've followed my previous posts (here, here, here, here, here, & here), then you know all about my miniature urban farm, grown mostly in five-gallon buckets as my postage stamp lot just doesn't have any other suitable space. Well, let me introduce you to The Redneck Garden ver. 2.0.

This was the final image from my April post, giving a hint of things to come. The 5-gallon buckets now have some tougher, stronger more handsome big brothers.

Most of the buckets received a basic drainage modification courtesy of my cordless drill.

Thanks to a couple of my favorite tools, this...

and this,

Have turned into these...

and these.

I learned a lot from conversations with other gardeners and reading articles like this one from Love Apple Farm's Cynthia Sanberg, with very good instructions for growing tomatoes in containers. I learned that tomatoes need a minimum 15-gallon pot and they prefer to root deeply. The metal tubs met the 15-gallon minimum, but seemed a bit shallow. The Redneck Garden still has a very tight budget, so I searched for the best possible option for my dollar. Having no luck at yard sales & thrift shops, I settled on the metal tubs for $15.00 each and the plastic buckets are still just $2.34 each. Even the cheapest plastic containers approaching this volume were nearly three times this combined cost. Clearly, a better scrounge, with a little time & energy could round up these items for free or cheap, but I had procrastinated myself into a corner and needed something quickly.

This pot-within-a-pot design gave me the necessary depth to give the tomatoes the full Master Gardener treatment. The holes were dug, I dropped a couple aspirin into the hole, placed some calcium sulfate (basically high-grade gypsum, but egg shells are good too) and some organic tomato & vegetable fertilizer and tossed in the lower leaf stems that I removed from the plant. Unlike most plants, tomatoes will actually grow more roots from where the stems were removed when you plant them deeply like this.

 Here you see a plant that was nearly 2 feet tall in it's 4" pot, now only rises about ten inches above the soil. Fill them in loosely, resist the urge to pack the soil as this forces much needed oxygen out of the root zone. I finish all my containers off with a layer of compost as a mulch. This will help retain moisture and provide more nutrients to the soil as the compost decomposes.

As many of you know, my day-job involves large-scale soil blending for commercial landscapers, nurseries, golf courses and more. I've been using The Redneck Garden as a bit of a proving ground. Okay, so I couldn't stand to grow plants in sub-standard soil, meaning that there isn't any sort of true comparison. However, I offer the next two pics to show what kind of root growth takes place in good soil.

This is one of the buckets that had a Romanesco Cauliflower in it until recently. With the plant and main root stem removed, you can see that the fine root hairs permeate the entire container.

This is a bunch of the "Brite Lites" chard I pulled out of the little window boxes. The soil couldn't have been more than 4 inches deep, but when I lifted up on this plant, it picked up all the soil in the whole container. The roots of the neighboring plants had all intertwined and were now just one big root mass.

Here are some of the other new residents of The Redneck Garden:
Lemon Cucumbers

Ambassador Squash

Black Chu-Chu Eggplant

And Blue Lake Bunch Beans. Oh, and that lettuce, we've been cutting off of that plant since last November and it is still going strong!

The window boxes are now home to Marjoram, Cilantro & Chives.
There are a few hold-overs too. I saved my pepper plants from last year, some of which are doing well, others not so much. Three of my four Poblanos made it through winter, but they have been very reluctant to leaf out & flower. If they don't come around soon, they will lose their space to the new Habanero and Hinklehatz Red I picked up at the Palo Alto Master Gardener's plant sale.

My Yellow Bell has several clusters of new fruit already.

This Green Bell is doing better than it looks in this pic. It has lots of blooms and new fruit already.

The Jalepeno has been bloomin' it's fool head off.

Now, my wife enjoys the fruits of my garden too, but she was craving flowers, so I surrendered my only two in-ground planting areas to appease her...

The back-fence planter is a heavily shaded work in progress.

And the narrow front walkway strip now has lots of color. Hopefully it will attract some beneficials.

The current view from the curb.

And my front porch farm.

I hope you've enjoyed the updated Redneck Garden ver. 2.0. There are a few other new happenings too, but I have to save something for the next post. I encourage you to share this post with new or potential gardeners who may not feel they have the ability or the space to grow their own food. It has been a fantastic experience for me and I've been amazed at the amount and variety of produce we've been able to harvest. It's great to get in touch with your food supply. I know exactly what goes into those plants  (100% organic) and the fresh, honest taste is at least ten times better than store-bought.

Stay Happy & Healthy,

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thunderbird Pilot Nicole "FiFi" Malachowski

Most of you know by now the meaning of my handle, "WASP-kid". "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" may be appropriate to my heritage, but what we are really talking about is my mom, the "Women Airforce Service Pilot".  She was an amazing woman who lived in an amazing time. She racked up time in T-6s, B-25s AT-11s and every other WWII aircraft flying in American service in the nineteen-forties.

If you've been following the story of the WASP, then you know they were recently awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. What you don't know, is that the most amazing woman you never met was actually the driving force behind this huge honor. Nicole "FiFi" Malachowski was the first female "Thunderbird" pilot, even though  she was really an F-15 pilot. I was lucky enough to see her fly when she toured with the USAF demonstration squadron and have met her in more intimate settings since those days. Nicole Malachowski is truly an amazing person.

When Nicole was approached by Nancy Parrish, daughter of Deanie Bishop-Parrish, she couldn't possibly refuse. As a graduate of the Air Force Academy and a White House Fellow, Nicole made it a personal mission to see that the WASP were finally recognized for their service.

Well folks, now the amazing Nicole needs our support.
Nicole has been on bed-rest with twins for the past month. They just  passed 27 weeks, which is a huge milestone for the babies. But they need your help. Please send them all the positive energy you can muster. If you are believers, please pray for them and ask your friends to do the same. Nicole and Paul "Eyore" are incredible people who have done so much for others without any thought for themselves. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as often as you can. These are quality people who have never asked for anything from anyone, but they deserve our help. Please hold them up in your hearts today.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Taking Mother's Day Personally

Mother's Day hasn't always been a "Hallmark holiday". Though there have been occasions to honor women or mothers throughout time, Mother's Day as we know it today is mostly the commercialized evolution of of what began as a daughter's memorial to her mother who had passed two years before. In 1914, Anna Jarvis succeeded in having "Mother's Day" become a nationally recognized holiday. Much to her chagrin, it didn't take long for the commercial interests to jump on board. 

From Wikipedia: By the 1920s, Anna Jarvis had become soured by the commercialization of the holiday. She incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, trademarked the phrases "second Sunday in May" and "Mother's Day", and was once arrested for disturbing the peace. She and her sister Ellsinore spent their family inheritance campaigning against the holiday. Both died in poverty. According to her New York Times obituary, Jarvis became embittered because too many people sent their mothers a printed greeting card. As she said,
A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.
—Anna Jarvis.[2]
 A devoted daughter, she clearly had a vision for each of us to take just one day out of our busy lives to personally thank our moms and to show them some appreciation for all the sacrifices they made for us over the years. Now, I understand that not everyone has/had Harriet Nelson for a mother, but there was  most likely a positive maternal influence of some kind in your life. A grandmother, an aunt, cousin, neighbor, family friend, parole officer, etc. How do you intend to show your appreciation to that person or honor their memory this Sunday?

This was my mom in her heyday, pre-flighting whatever crate she'd been assigned for the day's target-towing mission. I don't know exactly where this was taken, but it would've been March Field, Muroc or one of the many dry lakes the WASP were flying from in Southern California in 1944. I didn't get to know her until several years later. I always thought she was just a regular mom. She cooked & cleaned, taught me how to make snow angels, packed my lunch, cut my hair, nursed the usual scrapes and bruises. All the regular mom things. Now I know she was Harriett Nelson with a major attitude!

Being the youngest of a big family has plenty of upside, but there is a big downside. My super-mom passed away half of my lifetime ago, but that doesn't mean I'm off the hook, far from it. Now, mom was a very selfless, honest and practical person. The last thing she would want me doing is rambling on in her honor, wasting my energy and boring you to tears.

In the spirit of Anna Jarvis' vision, this will be a personal day in our home. Our grown kids still hand-make the cards they will give their mom. They think its just to save $2.00, but its really because I want them to keep it personal & my wife really enjoys them. They will help with chores while I plant the flowers she picked out at the nursery last Sunday and I will prepare the dinner of her choice. It will only be a mere token compared to what she does for us every day and something we should do more often. And yes, I'll be thinking of my mom all day. Honoring her memory by making Mother's Day a very personal day for my family.

Take a little time this weekend to appreciate the people you love and that have done so much for you.