A soil mix that both your plants and the undead can enjoy!


Posted by Aimee | Posted in Compost, Raised Beds, Soil | Posted on 01-12-2010

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One of the most important things to do when starting your plants is to make sure that the soil they will be raised in is as good as you can make it. This often means making amendments to the soil or creating a soilless mix for the plants to grow in.

Having a good soil for your plant can often double or triple your harvest and often means the difference between a plant thriving or dying. For my plants I start with the same base every time, then expand to their specific needs. If it is going to be in my garden beds, I mix the soilless mixture in equal parts with my present soil, optimally to a depth of 12 inches.

I cannot claim full credit for my soilless recipe as it got it’s start by reading various garden books and trying different combinations. The one I chose ended up being very close to the one Mel Barthalowmew uses in his “Square Foot Gardening” series.

The key components to this mix are as follows: Coarse grade vermiculite, peat moss, compost, composted chicken manure, MicroLife fertilizer, soil moist, kelp meal, fish meal, and worm castings. These soil amendments combined make an absolutely fantastic soil. If you cannot get all of these ingredients you can still have good soil but each amendment has key benefits that I will go into further detail in our next post.

The recipe itself is pretty easy, I use an old, clean, five gallon bucket as a measure. An old gallon milk jug with the top cut off works pretty well too. Mixing the ingredients on a tarp works well if you have someone to help you mix. Otherwise in a wheelbarrow with a shovel is your next best option. You can enlarge or shrink your batch as you desire just keep the soil amendments in the same proportions. First measure out 1 bucket of each: vermiculite, peat moss, & compost.

The other soil amendments are more expensive and so I usually have less of a supply of them but you cannot have too much of the chicken manure or worm castings so that is what you want the bulk of it to be. Next, fill your bucket half full or more of composted chicken manure, Then add your worm castings to the bucket leaving about 1 gallon of space left (Total composted chicken manure and worm castings of 4 gallons.)add 1 cup of Microlife, 1 cup of soil moist, and then split the remaining room between the ground sea kelp and fish meal. Add this last bucket full to your pile of vermiculite, peat moss, & compost.

Mix the pile together thoroughly and then use as is for potted plants or raised beds or mix in equal parts with your soil. If your soil is very, very sandy, I recommend the addition of more compost (another bucket full). If your soil is mostly clay I suggest the addition of a bucket full of green sand (agricultural sand.)

This base has proved to me to be an excellent choice both indoors and out, my plants have thrived and I only add more compost and Microlife on occasion. You can also tailor this mix to your specific plants likes. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.

Sweet Potato Quest


Posted by Aimee | Posted in Plantings | Posted on 21-05-2009

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Quest completed! You have attained gardening level 3! Woot! Is what I have to say to all that. I have been quite nervous about making the sweet potato bed. I have never grown sweet potatoes before, especially since back home in Missouri it was a tad cold for growing sweet potatoes, of course over the last decade or so they have come out with newer more cold hardy varieties.

Left half is beauregard and right half is O'henry

Left half is beauregard and right half is O'henry

Also, sweet potatoes are very healthy for you and they like to grow in the heat which makes them ideal for the Houston, Texas area. With sweet potatoes there are no seeds to plant, instead you plant rooted cuttings. These are very easy to make too, all you need to do is get a good looking sweet potato and put it in a flat or shallow pan half filled with damp sand, keep the sand damp, do not let it dry out. Or if need be you can just keep the flat half filled with water, however you may not get as many shoots this way. The important thing is to keep them warm, perhaps on top of the refrigerator. Once the shoots are 2-3 inches tall break them off at their base away from the potato and place them in a vase where the base is in the water and the leaves are above water. In a few days they should start to root.

After your cuttings have rooted it is time to plant them in the garden, the best method is to plant them into a generously deep raised bed, with organic time released fertilizer mixed in. Plant 9-10 inches apart and provide something for the vines to grow up if you can. The vines will root if they get a chance left against the soil. Now that I have started mine and they are planted let’s see how they do. I will be sure to update on them this fall. I am only doing 16 square feet of them. To start with I built a 4ft X 4ft bed of untreated lumber and covered the roughed up sod with newspaper. Then I dumped a 55 gallon drum of homemade compost into the bottom and covered it with peat moss and top soil mixed up and applied MicroLife fertilizer mounding the dirt up in the middle to give the plants even more room to grow. Once established plants are drought hardy, these are plants you do not want to over water. Sweet potatoes will continue to grow until overnight temperatures reach about the fifties. I will be mulching and installing some trellising for the vines tomorrow.

If I find any more pertinent information for other first time growers out there I will update that as well as my personal experience with the plant. I am still nervous even after having researched these fellows extensively just because it is a plant that I have never grown before and unlike most fruiting vegetables you cannot see the products of your labor you just have to sort of trust that they are under there. Just like my beloved Irish potatoes, you just have to trust that the beautiful plant that is growing has equally yummy tubers forming down there under the dirt. So for me getting the bed built and filled and planted was overcoming a huge hurdle of my own doubt. I could almost swear I heard the level up ding playing! =D I think that is a feeling a lot of us are coming up against, for the first time gardening isn’t just a hobby for us, but our families may depend on our productivity for sustenance. The booming of the recession garden is all over in the news as well as talks of victory gardens and for so many of us the pressure is on to make a lot out of very little. Have faith though, we can do it. We may stumble and have much learning to do but we will find our way in the end. I will have more on producing a lot of vegetables (loot) for very little cost soon.

Evil Plant Eating Mobs


Posted by Aimee | Posted in Compost, Experiments, Insects | Posted on 30-04-2009

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The weather here lately in the Houston area has been downright sopping wet. As I am sure many of you heard or saw large areas of Houston were flooded Tuesday, so much so I did not even get into work until 9:30A.M. I was fortunate enough to not have to sit in traffic, rather we waited to go to work until after the roadways had been cleared.

With all this water I was a little worried about my plants. My fancy, high tech shade providing devices (card board boxes) got so soggy they fell over on-top of the plants they were intended to protect and started squashing them. I braved the weather for just long enough to pull the boxes out of my raised garden beds and dart back indoors.

Potatoes Growing Crazy

Potatoes Growing Crazy

I am extremely glad to report that after a good once over this evening I am sure my plants are all doing well. Especially the potatoes! The only thing not intentionally planted is doing the best, though I attribute a lot of this to the fact that they were planted straight into compost and I have applied Micro-Life fertilizer to them and since all the rain and warm weather will not wash the nitrogen out and burn the plants like it can with non-organic fertilizers they are doing fantastic. They are a beautiful deep green and other than having to pick a couple of unidentified caterpillars off of them they are doing amazing, growing faster than any weed I have ever seen even.

About those caterpillars though, I should have taken a picture because the only picture I found that matched how they looked exactly labels it as an army caterpillar but by looking up pictures of army caterpillars I am rather unconvinced that is a correct identification. The caterpillar was velvety smooth looking and was black with two vivid, thin yellow stripes on its upper sides, almost so high they would be on its back. I may go out with a flashlight and see if I can find any more of these. Then I will get a picture put up and maybe one of you other Houston area gardeners can identify him for me.

I most certainly cannot have them eating those beautiful potato plants or my tomato plants either. I had read that potatoes were rather hard to grow in this area just like asparagus and peaches. I was worried enough about how well they would grow I almost just turned them under, now I am exceedingly glad I let them stay. Who knows if I will get any potatoes or not but the plants themselves look absolutely gorgeous! Here’s hoping there won’t be any more flooding!