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It’s Sprinter!

The calendar says spring is here but you would never know it by the weather. It’s not winter and it’s not looking like spring – it’s “Sprinter”.  March was running 10+ degrees below normal almost every day!  Rain/Snow was 5x last year’s March precipitation.  Based on the extended forecasts from Weather Channel, AccuWeather, & NBC12, it looks like today’s warmer temp is the exception for the week but that a real spring might be starting sometime next Sunday or Monday.

I’ve checked on getting information from the National Weather Service as a feed.  It looks like the closest station is Ashland airport.  Right now I’ve got a spreadsheet I’m filing in manually with basic info on temperatures, precipitation, winds, etc. from the Farmer’s Almanac site.  THe NWS site does provide the data in raw format (it is what Farmer’s Almanac is using) but the existence of a web service is not obvious.  It appears I may need to do a daily ftp download if I want to automate this data record.  If things go well this year and I do expand next year as I would like to, it may be worth investing in a weather station that I can connect to a PC or the web.  That way I would be able to automate some systems for dealing with weather events like frosts, strong winds, or lack of rainfall.  Something to consider at least.

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Supplier for Vermiculite (and possibly some or all compost)

From the SFG Forum Vermiculite database there are 4 places in town that offer coarse grade vermiculite.  The closest seems to be The Great Big Greenhouse at the Meadow Hills Farm at the intersection of Robius & Huguenot.  Their website sucks!  But they do seem to have more than one type of compost in stock – including worm castings.  Home Depot does not look like a source for Mel’s Mix at this time.  However, they might provide another 1 or 2 kinds of compost.  Strange’s should fill in the final compost and the peat moss.  The weather today – an overnight winter storm – is making me think I still have a couple of weeks to go before I am safely out of the hard frost days.  That means there is still an opportunity for some early planting of the cool weather plants in the SFG box.

Planning Software

There appear to be at least a dozen different people who have come up with garden planning software that is either specific to or supports SFG.  I have signed up for a free trial from GrowVeg.com since it seems to support both my containers and my SFG box.  It is Flash-based so it is visually oriented.  (A good thing for me at this point.) Seems to have a fairly good plant database, supports notations of structures and irrigation systems, and provides area-specific calendar information.  If it is used over the course of several years it will show crop rotation needs.  It is free for next 30 days.  If I decide to keep using it the annual subscription is $25.  They also have support for iPhone & iPad apps.  Will still look around but this seems promising.

Gathering materials

George called me from Home Depot yesterday and said he found 1″ x 6″ boards.  Will use brackets to hold them together instead of nailing or screwing 2″ x 6″ boards.  That was the easy part, I think.  Finding a suitable variety of compost kinds on line has been problematic.  Mel’s Mix can probably be ordered through Home Depot or Lowes but then I still would need to create a compost mix for replanting.  Also, it appears most vermiculite sold locally is medium grade when I really need to find coarse grade.  Will use tomorrow to call around to various suppliers to see what I can find.

Buy or Build?

Lowes has a 2″ x 6″ x 16′ pine, pressure treated board for $10.97.  While significantly cheaper than buying a pre-cut, quick-assemble 4′ x 4′ SFG setup from the SFG store, the quality of the wood, the need for hardware, drilling, corner reinforcements, a grid, and a weed mat make it a less attractive option than it first seems.  Will check on Craigslist for anyone with existing SFG frames they want to sell.  George is going to check if there is anything usable at Mary’s.  It will be important to balance the cost vs. convenience of this part since the more important purchases will be ingredients for Mel’s Mix and the plants and seeds.  Also, need to remember the upcoming other living expenses – insurance, FiOS, mobile, and Capital One – that will come due before I can start to invest in 2 new Earthboxes with staking systems, replant kits, and AWS add-ons.

Considering what a tiny project this is in comparison to a family farm, I’m really gaining a new respect for farmers!

Cabbage Looper

AKA the Cabbage Moth.  Common garden pest for this part of Virginia.

Getting Ready for Spring Planting

After a kind of rough last year (tornado, my inexperience, water issues, etc), I’m setting off on an early start this year.  Over the winter I have done some reading and online research.  Today, I went to a presentation at the Strange’s Nursery on N. Gayton Road.  The event was titled “Getting Started with Early Spring Cool Weather Vegetables.”  Fortunately for me the presentation was as much geared to “getting started” basics as it was on early vegetables.  Presentation was by Sunny.  Below are my notes:

  • Containers are excellent choices for beginners.  Many things actually grow better in containers.  Always use “potting mix” for containers.  If it’s not labeled as potting mix it should not be used.
  • Plant root vegetables in March.
  • Bare root starters are best approach.  You can alternatively plant from seed in the fall, but never good idea to do seed in spring.  You want seeds germinated already by spring.
  • Always allow plants to dry between waterings.  Over-watering is most common mistake.  Plants need time to dry a bit.
  • Always water in morning to avoid rot.  Evening and overnight waterings invite rot growth.  Fungus grows at night.
  • Rotate positions/containers of crops every 3 years.  This allows new plants to ‘pull out’ bad items in soil that developed to attack previous plants.
  • Beans in particular are great soil ‘cleaners’.  All types of beans.
  • Keep plants separate or companioned based on water needs.  Example, tomatoes are water hogs while peppers like it drier.
  • Common pest for this area at this time of year (March) is the Cabbage Moth.  Small white moths that lay eggs on plants – especially ‘head’ plants like cabbage, lettuce, broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc.  The eggs produce a small, green worm-like larvae that will destroy plants.  Need to treat plants at first sign of moths since it will be too late once larvae hatch.  Sunny recommended Dipet Dust.  (There is also a more expensive liquid form of Dipet that lasts longer.)
  • Mentioned plants that fight pests.  (Need to research this more.) Often these can be aromatic plants like herbs that keep away pests by their odor, yet are great for cooking.  Also mentioned Marigolds.  Chives were said to be a good pest chaser.
  • Recommend use of bird-netting, resting it right on top of the plants.  Especially good for strawberries.  Will keep away land pests like rabbits and deer as well as birds.
  • Mentioned a product called a ‘potato bag’.  This apparently telescopes up to allow adding more soil over time so potatoes (maybe other root vegetables, too) can continue to grow.  Flaps on sides allow you to reach in an harvest potatoes.  One of the other Strange’s employees mentioned “pallet gardening” for potatoes.  Stacking pallets as potatoes grow and removing lower pallets for harvest.  Not sure how that would work.
  • Sunny’s recommended fertilizer was Garden Tone Organic.  Good even if you are not actually using organic gardening approach.
  • Composting was discussed but I would consider that well beyond my scope this year.