Archive for the ‘Mother Nature’ Category

How Much Sun Do You Need?

I’ve known for some time that my vegetable garden boxes do not get as much sun as they should, especially for fruiting plants.

At minimum here are the sun requirements:

Fruiting Vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, vine crops) – 8 hours per day.

Root Vegetables (carrots, beets, etc.) – 6 hours per day.

Leafy Vegetables (lettuce, spinach and other greens) – 4 hours per day.

Depending on the time of year my beds are shaded in the morning by a fence and the neighbor’s very large apple tree. In the late afternoon and evening our house shades them as the sun drops.

In general Boxes A and D get 6+ hours per day. Box B gets maybe 5 hours and Box C gets a bit less than 5.

This means none of the beds get the 8 hours that tomatoes would do best in and Boxes B and C are more suitable for leafy vegetables and perhaps bean. Because I’ve rotated crops however I’ve used all of the boxes (except C) for tomatoes and peppers. Peppers never do well here and it is because of the lack of direct sunlight I am sure.

One of my gardening friends has his garden along a wire fence which never casts shade and a good 40 feet from the house. The entire bed gets 8-10+ hours of sun a day. His plants thrive and currently they are over twice the size of mine.

You can grow vegetables with less than optimum light but they will not do as well and I’ve struggled with that all along. I do not have the option of moving the garden now, so I have to make due. There is one possibility I suppose – I could remove most of the back lawn and convert it to veggies. That would provide at least 6 -7 hours of sun per day. I am not sure I want to do that however. Something to ponder for a future year.

Perhaps I’ve been too slow to fully realize this. I could remove the herb garden and use that space for tomatoes next year. I could move the herbs to one of the boxes that does not get quite so much light. That is something to consider.

I also should probably keep the tomatoes in Boxes A and D where the most light is and reserve Boxes B and C for greens.

Our weather has been very cool and that has been delightful to work in. This week however the heat is back. It was 84F today and should be in the mid to high 80s all week. That should give the plants a boost I hope.

The lesson here is to plan better. When I laid out the boxes many years ago I should have given more attention to sun exposure and designed things accordingly. Live and learn I guess.


Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


No Till Gardening II

Last June I posted my No Till Gardening post about how I had red Weedless Gardening by Lee Reich and studied his no-till method of gardening. I used that method last summer and found it quite successful. Though I do not have a significant weed problem in my garden boxes there were even fewer with no tilling.

My favorite British gardening videos recently discussed this. They call it no-dig gardening. They show how to create new garden beds without digging as well. It is certainly much easier than digging, and far easier than double digging.

This winter my boxes have a healthy cover crop of red clover. I am not sure yet whether I will try to pull them all out by hand or dig them in. My aim will be to dig as little as possible. One of the advantages of cover crops is to dig in the green material to benefit the soil. So there seems to be some conflict between these two methods. In the past I have removed the cover crop tops to the compost pile and only left some root material behind. I shall try that this year I think. That will avoid deep digging.

So have a watch of the video below about no dig gardening and consider using this method. No digging, no tilling – it is definitely easier and better for your soil.



Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Of Geese and Crocus


For some reason I’ve been noticing the geese more this year. I watch them in Grand Prairie Park near our home and in the sky where they are busy honking and rallying to fly south for the winter.

The other day I was walking through the park and saw over a hundred Canada Geese in the park on the other side of the pond. They were honking now and then but more so they were softly talking to one another. Then I noticed they were lining up along the water’s edge. Each line had about 15-20 geese in it. They formed these lines parallel to one another from the water’s edge backward. Soon the entire flock was lined up.

Within a minute the first line began to honk and babble much more and then flapped their wings a bit. Then that first row lifted off in perfect unison, flew over the pond to the north and banked to the left to head southwest.

About the time the first group was banking the second row started talking and flapping and it took off and repeated the same flying pattern. Each successive row of geese took off in this manner about 30 seconds apart.

Finally, growing impatient I suppose, the final four rows took off in one group. By the time they had banked the entire group formed the familiar V shape and headed south by southwest. Once in the air their honking was louder and more of them seemed to be doing it.

I’d never seen this behavior before in geese. But then I am not sure I’ve watched such a large group take off. It was fascinating and beautiful.


Yesterday I noticed that the crocus have broken ground. They are just nudging up. This seems very early for them. I recall seeing them come up in early January or even late December – but never before a day after Thanksgiving.

It has been unseasonably warm of late, is that why? Or is this another sign of climate change? If they grow as fast as usual we are likely to have flowers by Christmas.

Fall Faces

On my walk the other day I captured the photo on this post of three fanciful faces peaking over the fence at a nearby home. I love it.

I love fall itself. I love the turning leaves and the crisp air. It is an enchanted time of year with the changes happening.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Fall is in the Air

It feels to me as though fall is coming more quickly this year. It may be because August and the first week or so of September were so hot and so smoky. The upper 90F heat and the smoke sucked all my energy away.

Now for the past week the temperature has dropped very noticeably. The smoke cleared for several days though it was back yesterday. The forecast now calls for five days of cooler weather and rain.

There are other signs that fall is here even though the calendar will not acknowledge it for five more days. Leaves are beginning to turn and fall. Not in large numbers yet, but enough to tell you that summer is coming to an end. Nights and early mornings are now chilly. Yesterday morning I actually had to wear a jacket working in the yard until about 10 AM.

The vegetable plants are also showing the end of summer. The tomato plants are looking tired. The leaves are beginning to dry out and although there is still some fruit ripening it is near its end. The pepper plants still look vibrant as does the potato.

In the next week or so I will clean up the vegetable garden and consider planting a cover crop for winter.

I do not like the dog days of summer. There is no denying that climate change has made summer hotter here and it is no fun for me. The smoke this year from the many forest fires throughout the western US also made August less pleasant.

I still have projects to finish though. I need to fashion a cover for the new compost bins before the rains come. I also need to finish the rain collection barrels to be ready for early spring.

I did get one little job done yesterday – cleaned up the Japanese garden. I trimmed the boxwood shrub and trimmed the lace leaf maple a bit. As autumn sets in I want to plant a couple more plants in the Japanese garden and in the front yard. There are some bare spots that need filling.

A friend of mine told me he reads this blog and that I must be very serious about my gardening. I suppose I am. It is a great hobby and it feeds me! Not many hobbies do that.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Tis’ a Wet Spring

It has been a cooler and wetter spring this year than normal. The average temperature for today in Albany is 72F. the high was 60F. This has been typical this spring.


There have been advantages to this cool weather. I can still pull the wild onions that litter my perennial beds out by hand. The mostly come out whole. By this time of year they usually snap off because the ground is too dry. Other weeds also pull out more easily except of course dandelions which manage to cling to the soil no matter what the condition.

I did have to water the lawn and veggies for the first week or of June so but for the past four days the rain has done that for me. Rain provides a better soaking than irrigation does and there is something about rain water that promotes growth better than city water. In part it may be the chlorine and fluoride that come with city water.

My cool loving lettuce loves this weather. No threat of bolting in this cool cloudy weather.


Weeds also love this weather. Weed seeds that might not sprout at this point are and growing weeds are thriving. I continue to battle them (pull them) but cannot keep up with the entire yard.

My sun loving plants, especially the tomatoes, do not love this weather. Their growth is slowed and setting fruit is not happening as yet.

There are fewer insects around, especially bees, which means less pollination. On the other hand the water sitting about in puddles and containers will produce more mosquitoes.

It is likely that later this month or for sure in July the heat will return and things will return more to normal. That is my expectation anyway. I am not complaining. Cool or hot each condition has its advantages and disadvantages. For now anyway the garden looks happy and all is well.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

No-till Gardening


Box B

Normally every spring I till up my garden beds. I’ve read in various books over the years that this is a good thing to do as it mixes levels of soil to bring nutrients to the surface, aerates the soil to improve drainage and bring air to the area where roots need it.

I’ve also read about the advantages of not tilling the ground, so called no-till gardening. Various sources also call this lasagna gardening because it involves creating layers of mulch, compost, organic matter, etc. and then to plant on these layers. All methods of gardening have their advantages and disadvantages and one site discusses some disadvantages of lasagna gardening.

In his book, Weedless Gardening, Lee Reich advocates a form of no-till gardening. He does not advocate true lasagna style gardening which involves multiple layers created at once. Reich’s reasoning is that in nature the ground is not tilled. Mother nature naturally layers thin applications of organic matter on the ground each fall as leaves and plants dies and fall down. They rot into the ground adding all the benefits of organic matter without disturbing soil structure.

Reich writes that there is much less work involved with no-till gardening. There is no backbreaking labor in the fall or spring to turn over the soil and then till it. He suggests you just add a couple inches of high quality compost to the top of the soil each year and let nature do its work.

He cautions that you prevent soil compaction by avoiding walking on planting beds. Walking and wheel barrows are confined to pathways between the beds.

In addition to better soil structure he suggests that there are fewer weeds because weed seeds are not brought to the surface to germinate each year from tilling.

I decided to give this method a try this year. I could not fully use it on my garden boxes because I rebuilt them and had to add about 4-6 inches of soil and compost to build them up. I then raked this in well along with organic fertilizer. I did not till the boxes so to some extent I followed this method. I am also using his method in flower beds and beds that contain shrubs.

Next year I will follow the method to the vegetable beds. I will just add a couple inches of compost and see how things go.

I must admit it is a lot less work and if Reich’s theory is sound it may create healthier soil that is more natural in its structure. When you consider the ample flora that nature supports using this method it seems to make sense.

This is one of the things I love about gardening. Learning new approaches and trying them out.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Spring is Here!

Today is the official beginning of spring this year. The daffodils have been up. The sun was out yesterday (though it is to rain today and all week) and the high yesterday was forecast at 50F. It was cold yesterday morning though with a thin layer of ice on the windshield of the car.

On Friday my box of seeds arrived from Territorial Seed. My plan was to plant some of them in the greenhouse today to get started on my “starts”. If the warmth continues I may be able to plant some cool weather plants next weekend.

I got busy with visits from family and other things so the planting will have to wait until later in the week.

A soil test kit also arrived with the seeds so I hope to test the garden soil today to see what is deficient. Then I can amend as needed. With no cover crops this year my garden boxes have been pounded with rain all winter and we’ve had a lot of rain. I expect I will have to dig the garden boxes to loosen the soil.

I am persuaded by several sources that using the electric tiller is not necessary or an advantage. I will let the worms do the tilling as discussed in this Fine Gardening article.

My best laid plans to plant yesterday failed but I will get those seeds started soon – hopefully today.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy