Tuesday, October 2, 2012

To Till or Not To Till

Every Fall, weather permitting, I roto-till my garden beds in preparation for Spring. When the frost has taken its toll I clean out the plant material for the compost bins. In this case it is a bed of dahlias where I also dug up the bulbs and will attempt to store them. (My previous attempt was unsuccessful). 

The next step is to till the clumps and pick out anything I missed the first time.

Next I get a trailer full of compost and add about 3 inches to each bed until I run out.

The compost is tilled into the bed, smoothed out and the rocks are swept off. All ready for Spring planting!
I've been trying to do less work and a little more reading/research which isn't easy with so many children/chores/animals, and I've found some articles in support of doing the opposite.... do not till.

Obviously, I haven't bought into this method yet or I would have saved myself a lot of work. For me tilling my gardens is a bit like burning my lawn in the Spring... I can't NOT do it. I'm a bit like the old dog who can't learn new tricks.

I read two articles here and here and I'm not sure if I disagree or am just stubborn. Am I really damaging my soil? Do you till your gardens? I would love if you could share what you do.

Friday, September 28, 2012


I am by no means an expert on composting, but I would like to share my methods in Zone 2 with the gardening world. These are my bins. An 8th bin has been added where you see the shovel plus two separate bins inside the chicken yard. We originally built with wood pallets, but when my husband was able to recycle these plastic pallets last summer we tore it apart and rebuilt. These are much lighter and more manageable. 

This is where they are located inside the sheep pen.

In the Fall my compost is not completely decomposed and ready, but I add it to my garden beds anyhow. Leaves and straw are still visible, but I find that in our short summer's it would take several years for it to completely break down. Personally, I think the material helps keep the soil from becoming so compact or at least that is my theory. 

It's proven to successfully enhance my soil and the only real issue was the introduction of chickweed into a couple of beds, but when mulched it isn't too much of a problem.

The material for the compost bins comes from the sheep yard where I spread out straw to catch all the "good stuff" and then rake up.

The chickens and their coop contribute to the bins.

 In the Fall I mow the grass one last time gathering the fallen leaves. During the summer some grass clippings are added, but they are mostly eaten by Daisy and the hens.

I also add all the plant material from the flower beds, vegetable beds and greenhouse. These are carnations and this is where a shredder would come in handy, but I can't justify the expense. During the winter I save the ash from the wood stove and that gets added in the Spring. Sometimes I add our kitchen scraps as well, but the truth is I go in cycles of saving it all to saving nothing as it really seems to be more effort than reward.

My "mulching" comes in the form of a tiller. I used to toss the pile once a summer with a pitch fork, but that is truly a lot of work. Now I use the tiller to pull it out, mix it up and then I shovel it back soaking layers with water. Then it's ignored until Fall when it goes into the beds. I'm not very scientific and I never test the compost or my soil, but my plants seem to thrive. One of these days I made add a testing to my routine to get even more out of what I have. Or maybe I shouldn't mess with a good thing.

Finally, three sides of the bins are held together with zip ties and the fronts are held in place by cute little bungee cords. Very easy to remove and enough to keep Daisy from eating it all. 

I would love to hear your experiences with composting especially if you live in a cooler climate, but I find all gardening interesting so please share.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rhododendron Bed Over Haul

I have not been updating my gardening blog. It's not because I don't want to as the thought is always nagging in the back of my mind. I am just busy. I would really like to try and develop a routine to include this blog in my life which will entail making posts all winter from this past summer. We'll see how it goes.

We are at the tail end of Fall in our area with low's in the 30's and high's in the 50's. We had our first hard frosts quite some time ago. On most days I can be found frantically trying to get the gardens ready for snow as well as clean the yard of snow plowing surprises left by the children. Neither task is happening fast enough. Yesterday I worked on the Rhododendron bed. I was pleasantly surprised when these plants made it through the winter. They had some growth this summer although it was not as much as I would have liked. There are six bushes with a space for a seventh that died shortly after purchase. 

I began by blowing out the leaves, pulling all the grass and weeds and removing the top row of rock.

Next I added two inches of compost from one of my eight compost bins. This particular batch was from the chicken coop.

On top of that I put down some fabric. This summer I discovered that I am unable to keep up with the amount of beds that I have and they quickly become over-grown with weeds. Next Spring I will mulch with straw or wood chips and in the permanent beds I will put down fabric.

Then became the task of piling rock which I have 10 yards of and did not even put a dent in my pile.

I washed away the dirt and there you have it.... a low maintenance, neat and tidy bed of rhododendron along side my greenhouse.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Crazy Time!

I am frantically trying to get my gardening act together. I really do more than one person can handle while raising a bunch of kids. I get myself frustrated every year, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Sunday my husband put up shelves so I can move the flats out of my plant room into the natural light. They will do so much better now.
I cleaned out the right bed, tilled the dirt and planted tomatoes on the far end with jalapenos. There are cucumbers along the back and some garlic in the corner next to the blue barrel. I still need to figure out something for the middle front.
The left side is all tomatoes. The pots are the daylilies that will go around my upper pond.
The center bed has cantaloupe at the far end (we still need to put up a trellis) and some bell peppers. I have to figure out what to put in the rest of the bed.
Cucumbers and the rocks mark the garlic rows. My husband is bringing me some paint stir sticks to make labels. The dirt is holding at 60* and up to 66* today.
Here are nine jalapeno plants.
The cantaloupe on the end and 15 bell peppers. I have a lot more pepper plants, but can’t decide if I should plant them or grow something else. I think a guy only needs so many peppers.
I have flats full of flower starts that need transplanted plus 401 things that need taken care of around my home. I love gardening. I anticipate it all year long. April and May are my two stress-filled months getting it all going while school is winding down and sports are starting up. Throw in some drama with my kids and I'm usually taking two steps back rather than forward. Hopefully tomorrow will be a more productive day.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring is Here!

Olivia and I did some work in the greenhouse. I’d like to get the furnace running and my flats moved out into the sun.
One should always finishing cleaning out the beds in the Fall. It wasn’t a lot of fun to do now, but we got it done. Then I tilled the bed on the left. At the end of last season I topped each bed with 3-4 inches of compost and needed to mix it in.
My husband brought me home two really big thermometer’s to check soil temperatures. He’s always bringing me odd stuff for my gardening. The undisturbed bed was 46*.
I dug two feet down to the bottom where it was also 46*.
The dirt that had just been tilled read 52*. The air temperature during the day was 80*. It still gets down to 30* at night.
I’m not a big fan of Spring and mud. I’d like it to go from Winter to Summer.
Seeing the sun shine and my garden beds buried drives me nuts so I spent some time Saturday and Sunday flinging snow into the drive to melt. (This photo was at the beginning).
Hopefully in the next few days we’ll have things up and running. Some of my plants have outgrown the plant room especially the tomatoes and Impatiens.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Busy Times

Spring is an insane time for me. The weather is getting warmer so I want to be outside. My kids tend to act out with Spring Fever and I am at the school a lot. Planting needs to consume all of my time, but can’t. This will be a brief catch-up without super accurate numbers.

First round of Tidal Wave and Wave Petunias that I planted from seeds purchased at Lowe’s. There are approximately 60 plants.

Tidal Wave Petunia

Wave Petunia

Wizard Coleus with about 8 plants. I am not having luck with the Coleus like I did a couple of years ago.

Wizard Coleus

California Wonder Bell Peppers have around 70 survivors. I also have 9 Jalapeno plants.

California Wonder Peppers

I have a variety of Dahlia’s coming up. Here are four flats plus I just planted several more.


This is a flat of Petunia Hybrid Choice. I’ve never grown the smaller border petunias and just stick to the Wave varieties, but thought I’d do something different this year. This flat had a clear plastic cover and has essentially been ignored as in no water for a couple of weeks.

Petunia Hybrid Choice

Same seed packet, but grown without the plastic cover. Obviously the greenhouse effect makes a huge difference. Unfortunately, the covers are $3 each and I need about 100!!

Petunia Hybrida Choice

My first year growing Carnations and there are about 70 that are hanging on.


I have around 200 Impatiens of different varieties that are doing great. I’ve been pinching them back which is something I never bothered to do before. It sure makes a difference in the strength of the stem.


Early Girl Tomatoes about 2 feet tall. These will be for the greenhouse and I think there are around 25.

Early Girl Tomatoes

Another 20-some plants of Sweet 100’s and Purple Cherokee. I also will be starting tomatoes to try growing outside.

Sweet 100's and Cherokee Purple

Border Scarlet Geraniums (26). I seem to lose more than I keep.


I have 10 Rainbow Coleus.

Rainbow Coleus

Moss Roses that could use a transplanting. This is my first year with these as well.

Moss Rose

Lots of Stocks coming up.

Dwarf Stocks

Plus multiple flats of Snapdragons because I tend to be a little rough transplanting and lose quite a few. Too big of a hurry!


Livingstone Daisy…one of my favorites.

Livingstone Daisy

I have flats and flats of Zinnia. I am planting the 100-foot bed along the fence with them. I know it is a move I am going to regret, but I am getting tired of the Petunias.


A very late start to these Maverick Geraniums. I hemmed and hawed for over a month on my seed order and then it took over two weeks to arrive. I have many plants that are way behind which is greatly going to affect my success.

Maverick Geranium

One of the late starts are the Wave Petunias. Highly unlikely I will have very big hanging baskets (again) this year.

Wave Petunia

Here’s the whole plant room. Thousands of little plants vying to be the one who goes into my garden.


My plant room will hold 168 flats (and 42 shop lights)….one flat holds 10 - 4 inch round pots or 18 - 3 inch square pots or 12 - 6-packs with 72 plants…you get the idea. There’s room to have a lot going on (and it seems I always want more room!).