Monday, May 28, 2012

Advice for bagged "Garden Soil"

If you are tempted to buy the Miracle-Gro Garden Soil for Flowers and Vegetables please reconsider, depending on how you plan to use it! Be advised it repels water rather than absorbing it.

I just spread 4 bags (1.5 cu. ft. each) of it about 2" deep over the inverted sod on one end of my hugelculture bed, and put the sprinkler on it for an hour to soak it thoroughly so I could plant in it. I thought as a quick-start, it would be better than the cheap bagged topsoil that often has lumps of clay in it.

NOT!!  After an hour of running the sprinkler, I started to plant some winter squash seedlings (Potimarron), and the Miracle-Gro crap was wet barely 1/16" deep (if that) and the rest underneath was bone dry. It has no wetting agent and the water just ran off. Total waste of $24, and defeats the purpose of hugelkultur.

I scraped it all off as best I could, and went to Lowe's and bought Sta-Green's equivalent bagged garden soil (which was also cheaper) and applied it. After 45 minutes with the sprinkler, it was damp almost 1/8" deep, so not really any better than the Miracle-Gro "soil". The remaining 2 bags will go back to Lowe's.

I still have about 40 lineal feet of hugelkultur bed to cover with soil. My initial plan was to use the huge pile of compost/mulch/soil combo scraped off the sheet-mulched area I did last September, because there's plenty of it, rather than buy topsoil. However, my home pH test kit tested the pile at a pH of 9.0 so it's not useful in the garden until I can bring the pH down.

I tend to be wary of home garden test kits, so I also tested the pH in a couple of beds where I have a pretty good knowledge of the pH from previous professional testing, and they tested as I expected... so the pH of the "black gold" is probably close to what the test showed.

So now I have to buy a load of topsoil before I can get on with planting in my new hugelkultur bed.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

New Hugelkultur Bed

I'm starting a new food forest garden area that will hold a few fruit trees, and the old barn is just above that area. Rain pours off the barn roof and flows down the slight slope right to the creek, so I decided to build a hugelkultur bed right on top of the buried electric and telephone lines. That not only accomplishes a bed that holds water, but it also covers the lines to keep me from digging a planting hole too close to the lines.

I plan to plant winter squash vines on it this year, and they can ramble on both sides of the hugelkultur bed. It's a good technique to build a mini-water-retention landscape.

This will be the new planting area

"Call before you Dig" is the Law in Virginia, and it's free, so I had "MissUtility" come out and mark the lines. You can barely see the flags in the photo above if you enlarge it.

Then I hauled in some logs that were beginning to deteriorate, and placed them over the lines. I would have liked to extend the row about another 6 feet, but I can add on later when I find more logs.

Next I added small branches from trimming some bushes in the yard. Having more intermediate sized stuff would have been best, but I used what I had.

The next layer has more greens, and I also added grass clippings (not shown).

Next, I had someone with a Bobcat come and scrape off the sod in the new area, and dump it on the hugelkulture log piles. Some of the grass still needs to be turned grass-side down, and it's quite lumpy so I also need to smooth it out a bit.

My plans are to add a thick layer of wood chips to the area that will be planted down the slope from the hugelkulture bed. The black pile beyond my truck is the mostly composted material from the sheet mulching last fall over the drain field, that I didn't know was a drain field when I did it. The pH is highly alkaline, so it will have to sit for a while before I can use it. It will get a few small applications of elemental sulfur to help bring down the pH.

I still have a lot of work on the hugelcultur bed, turning the grass clumps and evening it out. Then it will get a layer of topsoil and planted with winter squash this year.

More photos coming when I het it planted, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Green Wall for Summer Shade

I am building a green wall, aka "summer shading wall" about 30 inches from the house on the south end. Eventually the deciduous trees I'm planting nearby will grow up to shade that end of the house, but that will take a few years. In the meantime, I am putting up a trellis with 2 horizontal cattle panels, one on top of the other. Cattle panels are 16 feet long and 50" wide, which will cover most of that area. I plan to grow some flowering vines on it, but also some hardy (smaller, smooth-skinned edible) kiwi vines, and pole beans. I may consider putting some grape vines on it next year.

The south end of our house is narrow (the house was originally a single-wide trailer, with more house built around it). That end has no windows except one to the long front porch, but it absorbs a LOT of heat during the summer. I suspect there is scant insulation in the walls, and since it is the master bathroom, I'm not about to tear out everything (including all the plumbing and fixtures) down to the studs to fur out the walls and add adequate insulation. The foam insulation they can pipe into walls doesn't work very well if there is already minimal fiberglass insulation and/or fire-stops in the walls.

After having some sod removed for an adjacent food forest area and the post holes drilled, I started on the shade trellis. Photo above is the posts just stuck in the holes, awaiting some help to hold them plumb while I backfill. (The temporary opening in the skirting is for access where the plumber is replacing all the water pipes.)

Finally the posts are set, the area between the house and trellis has been covered with weedcloth and a heavy layer of wood chips on top, but only one horizontal cattle panel has been attached until I can get 2 people to hold it up while I hammer in some fence staples. That will happen before any vines grow that tall.

I ended up planting Japanese morning glories, 1 moonvine, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, Mexican sour gherkins and my 2 hardy kiwis along the base of the cattle panels. I cut a bunch of comfrey and sorrel leaves for a "chop and drop" fertilizing mulch, covered with some wood chips. 

The cattle panels don't cover the whole end wall... about 3 feet on each end will be exposed after it all grows and leafs out. I think I'll plant giant sunflowers along the ends for the summer, and transplant some Jerusalem Artichokes on the ends this fall.

I'll post another photo in a few weeks when stuff has grown up the trellis enough to see it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Preventing Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Damage

I haven't had a decent tomato from my garden in the last 2 years, thanks to the sucking damage from the Brown Marmorated Stink bugs. However, this product just might be the answer! (Other host plants for this pest includes peaches, apples, green beans, cherry, raspberries, and pears. I might have had some summer squash damage last year, but for sure I had winter squash damage.)

Tomato 'Greenhouse' Products
Get the most from tomato plants with their own individual mini-greenhouses made from red, perforated plastic film. Allows air circulation and heat retention for faster growing tomatoes while protecting against rain split and pests. The Tomato Greenhouse is sized to fit over tomato cages or attach to stakes. U.V. stabilizers added for longer life.

Since I usually grow indeterminate tomatoes (which grow tall), it is not tall enough, but I'm sure there is a way to add an upper-layer as the plants grow and still keep the stink bugs out. The website says it comes in a roll 20' x 28" for $9.19. At this point, I'm willing to try almost anything!

Disclaimer: I have NO financial interest in this product, nor any company connected to it!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Coming Soon... Garden Re-Do!

The front bucket is just carrying the drill. It will be attached in place of the bucket to drill some post holes, and a few planting holes after the earth-moving is finished. I'm SO excited to finally be getting on with my project!!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Elderberry bushes

My first unschooled attempt at elderberry cuttings has proven successful! I just transplanted 23 rooted cuttings into tall "treepots" so they can develop stronger roots before setting a few out in the yard; the rest I will trade or sell. 

In addition to these 23, I have given away 4 more, and there are still 6 in the rooting box that have produced top growth but alas no roots yet. Actually there are also 2 that have grown roots but no top growth. Being a Novice, I have no idea what will happen with those but I'm not trashing them (yet).

I'm a little upset at the company from whom I ordered the tall treepots and the carrying trays to hold them, because the trays do NOT adequately hold the post without adding fillers to keep the pots upright.

Two of the plants already developed a small flower but I pinched them off so the energy goes into growing, rather than fruit production. They will all produce fruit next year.

I'm a Happy Camper!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Demanding GMO Labeling

All of our persistence and insistence in the U.S. for labeling GMO ingredients in our foods has been ignored for years because Money Talks, but we finally have an opportunity to change that by a public vote. 

Which way California votes will largely determine the future of what we all eat and what we grow all over the country. If we can force GMO labeling in California - the eighth largest economy in the world, and a population of nearly 40 million people - consumers will finally know what's in their foods and can choose to avoid buying foods containing GMOs. Labeling laws in CA will affect packaging and ingredient decisions nation-wide.

SAN FRANCISCO, May 2, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In victory rallies across state today, supporters celebrated as the California Right to Know campaign filed 971,126 signatures for the state's first-ever ballot initiative to require labeling of genetically engineered foods. The huge signature haul, gathered in a 10-week period, is nearly double the 555,236 signatures the campaign needs to qualify for the November ballot. 

If passed this November, Californians will join citizens of over 40 countries including all of Europe, Japan and even China who have the right to know whether they are eating genetically engineered food.

Of course, I'm not in California so I cannot cast a vote, but I can send a few $$ to support the effort to get the ballot passed. My own Right to Know is at stake! 

Monsanto and their minions have billions invested in GMO's and are pouring millions of dollars into California, lobbying and advertising to defeat this initiative, trying convince people that GMO's are safe, and labeling is not only unnecessary but will drive up the cost of foods. (The bill has been carefully written to ensure that it will not increase costs to consumers or producers).  

The best thing those of us in other states can do is to financially support the campaign in California, because if they lose... we all lose. I'm encouraging you to make a donation to the campaign behind the grassroots-powered citizens' ballot initiative (California Right to Know GMO Labeling Campaign) to require GMO labeling. It's time to put our money where our mouth is!, the largest alternative health website in the world, along with a group of leading organic companies including Nature's Path, Lundberg Family Farms, and Eden Foods, pledged another one million dollars to the campaign - but only if the campaign also reaches a goal of $1 million by May 26. 

For decades, Monsanto has controlled the world's food supply by buying off politicians and regulatory agencies, intimidating small farmers, manipulating the outcome of scientific studies, lying to consumers - and threatening to sue states like Vermont if they dare to pass a GMO labeling law. It's time we have a choice in our foods, and we can't choose if we don't know what's in them. 

Labeling genetically engineered foods is a wildly popular idea and enjoys nearly unanimous support across the political spectrum. A March 2012 Mellman Group poll found that 9 out of 10 American voters favor labeling for genetically engineered food.

Every dollar you contribute will go directly into the California Right to Know ballot initiative and other state GMO labeling campaigns, including a legal defense fund to defend states that pass GMO labeling laws from Monsanto lawsuits. 

Long White Worm of Hay Bales

A nearby field I pass on the way to my house from the interstate grows some kind of grass for hay, which is cut and baled, and then followed by a GMO corn (Pioneer) for silage. Year after year (Ugh). I had noticed his round bales encased in a white plastic over the last year or two, but I finally saw how it's done. I suspect he has the only set-up in the county to do this.

The machine accepts round bales from the back, and they get wrapped as the machine moves them forward, and at the same time the machine inches backwards so the wrapped bales drop off in line with previous bales and it's ready to accept another bale.

I found it fascinating even though I HATE that he grows GMO corn for his cows. Fortunately I think his fields are far enough away from my garden that I'm not too worried about pollen contamination, and I don;t grow corn anyway.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Indentured Politicians - What's in it for Them??

I came across an interesting term recently, new to me but maybe not to you. It really explains a LOT! The term is "Indentured Politicians". Does that need any explanation? LOL.

But just in case it needs explanation, "indentured politicians" are those who "owe favors" to the big contributors to their election campaigns, and the politicians return the "favor" by voting in favor those contributors when new laws (and other regulatory federal legislation) come up for votes, rather than voting the requirements of the population they are charged to represent. I'm posting my thoughts about this here because I believe it explains why the regulatory agencies for our food systems have gone bonkers.

When it takes millions of dollars (or sometimes billions of dollars depending on the office sought) to be successful in a political campaign, is it any wonder why big corporations see an advantage to finance a candidate who will favor the corporation's interests in future legislation?

One interesting question I have, is why a candidate will spend millions of dollars campaigning for a position that pays far less than they spend to get there? What else is in it for them? The current salary (2011-2012) for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate is $174,000 per year. House Representatives are elected for a 2 year term, and Senate representatives for 6 years.

In order for a member of the House of Congress to qualify for a pension, they would have to be elected 3 times, for a total 6 year payout of $1,044,000, which is far less total salary than what they spent to get it. A Senator only has to serve 1 term (6 years) to qualify for a pension; same pay for 1 Senate term of 6 years that a Congressional Representative gets for 3 terms (6 years, $1,044,000), far less than either spent to get there.

So, where's the payoff for election to federal office, when you consider cost to get there versus salary once there? It certainly IS NOT in the salary, and probably not even in Employee Benefits, although the overall "esteem" of the Office no doubt strokes their ego. That STILL doesn't cut it in the money balance.
  • In a complex system of calculations, administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, congressional pay rates also affect the salaries for federal judges and other senior government executives.
  • During the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin considered proposing that elected government officials not be paid for their service. Other Founding Fathers, however, decided otherwise.
  • From 1789 to 1855, members of Congress received only a per diem (daily payment) of $6.00 while in session, except for a period from December 1815 to March 1817, when they received $1,500 a year. Members began receiving an annual salary in 1855, when they were paid $3,000 per year. ($3,000 of 1855 dollars would be worth: $78,947.37 in 2012)
Please note that Members of Congress have to serve at least 5 years to receive a pension.

The amount of a congressperson's pension depends on the years of service and the average of the highest 3 years of his or her salary. By law, the starting amount of a Member's retirement annuity may not exceed 80% of his or her final salary. (80% of the current pay of $174,000 is $139,200. I could live on that!)

President's Salary
Effective January 1, 2001, the annual salary of the president of the United States was increased to $400,000 per year, including a $50,000 expense allowance. Please note that the Presidential salary doubled in 2001.

The increase was approved as part of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act (Public Law 106-58), passed in the closing days of the 106th Congress.
"Sec. 644. (a) Increase in Annual Compensation.--Section 102 of title 3, United States Code, is amended by striking '$200,000' and inserting '$400,000'. (b) Effective Date.--The amendment made by this section shall take effect at noon on January 20, 2001."
Vice President's Salary
The salary of the vice president is currently (for 2011) $230,700. (BTW, who IS our VP [yes, I do know his name] and what does he do? I never see his name in the news.)

Presidential Retirement and Maintenance
Under the Former Presidents Act, each former president is paid a lifetime, taxable pension that is equal to the annual rate of basic pay for the head of an executive federal department -- $199,700 in 2011 -- the same annual salary paid to secretaries of the Cabinet agencies.

Each former president and vice president may also take advantage of funds allocated by Congress to help facilitate their transition to private life. These funds are used to provide suitable office space, staff compensation, communications services, and printing and postage associated with the transition. As an example, Congress authorized a total of $1.5 million for the transition expenses of outgoing president George H.W. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle.

So, where IS the payoff? It sure doesn't appear to favor Joe Citizen who voted for Representation in Congress.