Compost Treasure

About five years ago I built two compost bins side by side out of old pallets. I’ve added compost to them for all this time. Once about two years ago I harvested some nice compost from the one on the right but left the left one undisturbed.

Screening Compost

The old Left side compost bin

Last weekend I began the long-planned move of the compost from the old bins to a new double bin I built out of cedar fencing and chicken wire. I removed about 4 or 5 wheel barrows of dried up weeds and other plants from the main bin, the on the left side, and found the bottom third of the bin was totally composted. I was delighted to find a foot and a half of rich, black compost.

I screened it creating a fine compost material that will be excellent for amending the vegetable garden this fall and next spring with enough to fill my container in the green house with bedding medium. It will be perfect for starting seeds.

Having moved this year’s weed and trimmings to the new compost bin I am starting the process again except this year I will move the contents back and forth between the bins to speed the process. I’ve learned that an undisturbed bin will fully compost in about two years. I hope to reduce that process to 9 – 12 months in the new bins.

I also have an old tumbler composter that I am again filing with kitchen scraps. It is already breaking down nicely and I should have some nice compost by mid to late October for the beds.

There is an original cost to buying the tumbler and building the bins, but they will last a long time and other than some labor the compost is free.

Compost is great for plants. It feeds them and acts a mulch to protect them and save water. More about how I mix ingredients in the compost for a future post.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy


Watering Tips

Here are ten tips from my favorite British garden expert on how to use water most effectively in the garden.

  1. Water selectively adding water when plants need it. Check soil moisture levels by digging down a bit. Hand watering can be the most effective way to get water just where it needs to be though drip systems can be effective too.
  2. Watering early in the morning gives plants a chance to absorb moisture before the heat of the day evaporates it. Morning watering also leads to less plant disease than evening watering.
  3. If watering by hand aim flow of water to the base of the plant.
  4. A good soaking less often is better than a light watering often. Deep watering encourages a good root system to develop.
  5. You can also sink a plastic pot (with drain holes) in the ground near the plants. Fill them with water which will then slowly drain into the soil.
  6. Use drip systems or leaking hose if you want to automate the watering. This I especially good if you cannot be present for a day or two.
  7. Clay pots are very porous which means they suck moisture out of the soil. In dry water this can be a problem. Plant in glazed pots or plastic pots to avoid this. You can place a plastic pot in a larger clay pot for a better appearance. Metal containers will heat up very quickly accelerating moisture loss. You can group pots together to provide shade and greater water conservation.
  8. Whether in pots or in the open soil use mulch to conserve water. The best mulch is a couple inches of well-rotted compost. You can use grass clippings, straw, black plastic and other materials.
  9. Collecting rain water conserves water, provides a free source of water to put on plants and it is better for plants then municipal water which has chemicals in it.
  10. Remove weeds as soon as they appear as they will compete with your plants for water.

The very hot weather we have been having in August and now in September with temperatures in the high 90s F. has made keeping the vegetables adequately watered a challenge. There have been days when the soil is sucked dry before I can get to it again. I try to water in the early morning as is recommended but often must water again in the late afternoon or evening.

I failed to mulch adequately this year. I was intending to get a bail of straw to mulch the veggies well but never got to it. I may yet do that for the remainder of the season as it looks like we will continue to hot weather for some time. I do however add compost.

Finally, I will mention that this is the 201st post on this blog. I forgot to mention last time that I’d reached #200.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Blossom End Rot

I’ve had blossom end rot attack my tomatoes in past years though most often it is not a problem. This year it is. One of my varieties, Big Boy, is supposed to be particularly vulnerable to it. I’ve lost about a third of my tomato crop to it so far.

Blossom end rot is when the blossom end of the tomato fruit turns brown and watery. You can cut it off but the entire tomato is often mealy.

My research indicates that inadequate calcium is the culprit. This often occurs because of erratic watering. I’ve been trying to water either every other day or every day during the recent hot period. I did not mulch my garden this year and I suspect that is also a problem – the soil is giving up moisture to quickly to evaporation.

From one on-line source I learned to make a slurry of pelleted lime and water. After mixing the slurry for a long time I then added it to the plants at the ground. I will report back on how that goes.

Today’s photo are my wife’s Morning Glory which is in full growth and bloom. It greets me every morning as I go out the door.

Happy Gardening,
Dan Murphy

How Should the Garden Grow?

Today’s title is a play on words. I have been thinking a lot about whether to expand our vegetable garden or not, and how best to deal with what is left of our little lawn.

I could expand the vegetable growing area to replace what is left of the lawn. I hesitate to do so however because it would mean much more work for far more vegetables than we could eat. Unless I want to spend all my time canning and garden-tending I am not sure expanding the vegetable garden makes sense.

Sometimes I get this bug in my head about it, thinking how great it would be to have more veggies growing. Then I think about the work involved and how it would prevent me from doing other things I’d like to do and the idea dies.

If I gardened the space I have more intensely I could increase yields as much as we could reasonably use. That then will be my goal for 2018 – to garden more intensely. I will use the space better and add a fall garden in the same space, or at least part of it.

It will be ultimately necessary to create an automated watering system to cover days when I cannot be here. That will allow us to travel a bit more without worry that all the veggies are drying up and dying.

Then what to do with the lawn, or what is left of it? We could create a few more flower beds but leave much of the lawn in its current form. That is feeling like the best plan at present.

I want to enjoy gardening and not have it turn into a chore. Achieving that balance is the challenge. It is a challenge I welcome. My problem is that I want to do too many things perhaps. I want to do more woodworking. I want to start making Shaker inspired furniture. I want to travel a bit more. Choices must be made.

I reflect that my parents had no difficulty tending a large garden because they rarely went anywhere. There were home all the time because they could not afford to travel much. I have spoken to avid gardeners who have large vegetable and flower gardens and they admit it demands a lot of time and attention daily from spring through fall. So the question I must answer is how much time do I want to devote to gardening?

Fortunately, I need not make that decision today. It will be something to think on over the next year.

Happy Gardening,
Dan Murphy

My Little Lawn Mower

I was amused recently to see a manual reel lawnmower on Facebook with an invitation to repost if you ever used one of them. The suggestion was these were antiques not used today. Au contraire, they are used today a lot and I’ve had one for a number of years.

There are a number of manufacturers. Mine is a Scotts. I’ve posted a photo of it here.IMG_0311

These mowers have a number of advantages. They cut the grass (when they are sharp) more cleanly than a power mower which tends to pull on the grass and chops it. This is better for the grass. Reel mowers are used on golf courses and baseball fields because they cut the grass better.

They are so quiet. I can cut the grass any time of the day or night without bothering the neighbors. (No, I do not cut the grass at night, but I suppose I could.) The reel mower makes a gentle snipping sound that is soothing.

Reel mowers create no pollution. No fumes.

Maintenance is easy. Once a year I sharpen the blades. I tighten nuts and inspect it for any problem. No gas, no spark plugs, no oil to drain and refill. No hazardous waste to dispose of. No carburetor to clean.

They are cheaper. You can get a good one for $120. They last forever which power mowers do not.

They require more effort, but that gives you exercise. They are much safer, you could not cut off your foot with one and since they only operate when you are pushing them they are very safe.

The do not throw rocks and other objects at supersonic speed like power mowers do.

There are some disadvantages. In the spring they do not cut that first wet and thick grass very well. It takes a lot of work. Sometimes I borrow a power mower for that first cutting if I have let it grow too long. But the rest of the season the reel mower is great.

There is no need to bag clippings. On the one hand this is a problem because composting really benefits from those green clippings. But since it returns the cut grass to the lawn it feeds the lawn and makes it healthier.

If your lawn is large (over 8000 square feet) the reel mower may not be practical. If your lawn is very bumpy it wont work well. I have a very small lawn and it is very flat so those are not problems.

I like my reel mower and as long as I have a small lawn I’d never go back to fume belching and noisy gas engines.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Tomato Problems

Solanum lycopersicum, commonly called the tomato is an edible delight in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). They originated in Central and South America. Although botanically a fruit, tomatoes have a lower sugar content than most fruits and are considered a culinary vegetable.

Although not terribly difficult to grow in most of the United States they do have some problems due to their sensitivity to how often they are watered, how they are watered and how much water they get.

This year my tomatoes are doing well. All but one of the plants has good foliage growth. All have good blossoms and are setting fruit. I have some cherry tomatoes that are picked and eaten.

I attribute the success mostly to the weather. Until this coming week when we are to have triple digit heat the weather has been mostly in the 80sF and some days in the high 70s. The plants seem to thrive in those temperatures.

In the video below from, Ben Vanheems teaches us about how to care for tomatoes and avoid their common problems.


Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy

Castles and Spuds

IMG_0310Here is another photo of the blueberry castle all finished. The last post had a photo taken before it was done.

Also I’ve attached a photo of my wee potato box. My brother gave me two potatoes from his kitchen that had sprouted. One is a sweet potato and one is a russet. I planted the sprouted eyes in one of the garden boxes. Today I created a small box so I could build up the soil around the sprouts. As they grow up I have another bottomless box that will go on top to deepen the growing area. Maybe I will get a couple spuds!

IMG_0308I cut the grass and watered today. It is hot today (89F) and muggy. It was so muggy I retreated indoors. I hate the heat and hate muggy heat all the more. I could never live in a humid climate.

We are usually spared excessive humidity here but when it comes it saps all my energy.

Happy Gardening,

Dan Murphy