Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rainwater catchment

Colorado just finally overturned their ban on rainwater catchment. Apparently it was illegal because most of the land in CO has water rights. In the West, a lot of people own rights to water on land -- they might not own the land, but they own the water. It can be very contentious. I had no idea water rights was why rain water catchment was illegal in CO but it makes sense. People can get very worked up about their water, especially when it is in short supply.

Some people figured out that 97% of the runoff roof water that could be collected was evaporating or going to feed plants instead of going into the water table for the water rights people to suck up.

Utah and Washington still have this rule against water harvesting. It's kind of like being one of the last ski areas to ban snowboarding. Get with it people!

But in my lovely adopted state, not only is rainwater harvesting legal, but it is mandatory for new construction in the City Different -- to you all not from New Mexico, that would be the city of Santa Fe. The new southside library there has pretty awesome rainwater containers -- they look like big galvanized metal silos and I WANT ONE. I love rainwater harvesting. You'd be amazed at how much you can collect off a roof during a short storm. Our storms tend to result in about .05 inch of precipitation, but we often can fill up the barrels with that meager amount

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hoophouse porn

Originally uploaded by rarichard
I snapped some pix yesterday of the hoophouse. This photo shows the chiles off in the left (in the corner of the hoophouse), as well as a pathway that is (partly) covered in baby clover. On the far right are the edges of some tomatoes and an eggplant.

The clover (NZ dwarf white to be exact) is to add nutrients to the soil and break up the clay soil The clover has deep taproots -- I'm not sure it will break apart the tuff a foot down but who knows. (Tuff -- rock that is made out of petrified volcanic ash -- think pumice -- we have a solid layer of this stuff 12 -18" under the dirt.).

Here's a link to all pix tagged "garden" on my Flickr page.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

temperature triggered irrigation (i wish)

I wish I had a drip irrigation timer that was temperature activated. Why? Because when it hits 90 in the hoophouse, I could let loose with the foggers, little gizmos that lets out a fine mist that felt really good, kind of like running through the sprinklers. Of course the point would be to cool off the plants a bit and pump up the humidity. But really I should avoid it I suppose as it's totally against the water restriction. If I wanted to do this I could set up a separate irrigation timer for the fogging system -- but it would be time triggered, not temp triggered. So it would go off hot days or cool days. However conveniently enough, I am pretty much always at home during the afternoon.

Monday, June 22, 2009

crop rotation

I'm reading "The New Organic Grower" by Eliot Coleman. When I first skimmed through it I didn't think it would offer much new information above and beyond the other book I have by him, "Four Season Harvest." I wasn't ready to go ahead and buy it off Amazon so I checked it out from the library. Now I definitely am going to buy it. This is one of those books I will refer to over and over again, like The Garden Primer (by Barbara Damrosch, she and Coleman by coincidence are married to each other). I read it from beginning to end -- not because it was such a page turner necessarily, but I had started off skipping around and reading a few pages here and there, and then decided it would be more informative and less scattered if I read it in order. And it's really a great book and now that I'm done reading it I'm still going back and re-reading certain chapters to try and come up with a list of stuff to do.

There are definitely some chapters that are irrelevant for the home gardener, but the majority of it is applicable to my home garden as well as for a farmer.

So the book offered great information on how to get some great fertile loamy soil that plants will thrive in. Of course we all know you need great soil. But he's saying you will avoid the issue of "How do I get rid of aphids/ants/disease" in my plants in an all natural way. He's saying if you provide a low-stress environment for the plants you won't really have these problems. I hope all that road-work noise isn't stressful for the plants. We were joking about putting speakers in the hoophouse and blasting classical music for the tomatoes but that's another post. :-)

He isn't into using organic fertilizers or pesticides. He does use some soil amendments for sure -- greensand, phosphate. But he's not into fertilizing plants while they are growing except perhaps with some compost or something. He emphasizes using crop rotation which is not growing similar crops in the same plot. Crop rotation also is beneficial as some plants do better when they are planting where a different family was the year before -- for example, broccoli after onions.

He also uses green manure to improve the soil. Green manure are plants like clover and alfalfa that offer soil improving benefits. Sometimes they have deep roots that improve the subsoil tilth, or bring up nutrients higher up in the soil, or add nitrogen or other nutrients. You also can use the green biomass to compost or till into the soil to add more nutrients. He also uses short plants like clover to underplant with plants like tomatoes so they add nutrients while the other plant is growing, and basically grow more in less time as you don't have to wait until harvest to plant the green manure.

These things are probably common knowledge among experienced organic gardeners and farmers. He covers a wide range of issues in both a general and specific way. For example, at what stage you should till in a green manure for maximum soil benefit, or which plants will grow well using the multiplanting technique which is ideal for the lazy gardener/intensive garden.

There are chapters on tools (he's always figuring out how to make better tools to make farming less work), winter gardening, greenhouses and cold tunnels (hoophouses), tips on vegetables that I hadn't heard of before, and his way of starting seedlings that was also new to me. I'll post on a few of these things in the future as I try them out.

As you can see, there are a lot of ideas in this book I'm going to take a go at. The hardest one to get started on for me is planting up part of the garden with green manure. Like actual garden plots. I keep wanting to plant empty areas with lettuce or beets or tomatoes. But improving the soil now will payoff over time. And planting alfalfa is a lot cheaper than buying soil amendments and less work than pitchforking tons of compost every year.

the harvest this week

Well since I was gone for a week everything had a chance to grow without being nibbled on. I made two big salads out of all my lettuces this weekend -- mixed loose leaf lettuces, more super strong arugula, baby beet greens, and some French Breakfast radishes. Vinaigrette had tarragon, basil, chives, and parsley from garden.

I harvest some baby turnips and a whole handful of sugar snap peas. Got a little cilantro for eggs one morning.

Last night I made some delicious arugula pesto with bolted arugula, toasted walnuts/pepitas, garlic, olive oil, salt, and mashed avocado. Yum...

We harvested all the broccoli that was starting to flower as well as the stuff that was threatening to flower. I have a ton of radish, turnip greens and spinach to stir-fry, when they will turn into a tiny mass that only provides a few bites per person, but is of course is like a concentrated nutrient dose.

The lettuce has been loving the rainy weather. I am eating it a lot right now because I figure any day it will get hot and the lettuce will start bolting.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I'm away for a week, which means the hoophouse needs to leave the nest. There are two things that need to be done that I was doing myself mostly.

1) Watering; and 2), climate control. If the weather would have been guaranteed to be cloudy thunderstormy afternoons every day I could have left the hoophouse shuttered up. But of course weather prediction is not even close to 100% accuracy.

If it's a sunny afternoon, the greenhouse will quickly get into the 90s or hotter and the plants will bake. So I opened up the ends of the hoophouse at the top to let the hot air escape and allow the breeze to circulate. Although I did ask Marguerite to check in on it if it gets really hot outside as the lower part might need to be opened as well. So it is almost self-sufficient in that regard. I'm planning on putting in one of those heat-activated windows soon so that would completely take care of this issue. The downside to keeping the ends open is it's cooler at night, but that's just the way it goes.

The hoophouse also needs regular water. I have a number of seeds that need to stay moist so they'll germinate. I planted New Zealand white clover on some of the garden walkways, and there's some okra, edamame, and scarlet runner beans that will probably sprout up while I'm gone. The established plants could have gotten by with one really deep watering before I left town.

To keep everything watered I have a drip irrigation system. It's hooked up to a timer that is set to water every other day for 12 minutes or so. I was bad and have it water during mid-day. I figure there is less evaporation in the hoophouse, and drip irrigation systems water right next to the soil so it's not as wasteful as other watering methods. I wanted it to water mid-day so it would cool the hoophouse down a bit during the hottest time of day.

The outdoor garden is also set up to the same system as I have seeds out there that also need to have moist soil. The outdoor system would be better if I had a rain gauge hooked up to the timer so it could skip it on the rainy day. Someday I will do that.

One thing that is nice about going away from the garden for a while is I get to see a more dramatic change in the garden when I get back. The plants get noticeably bigger. When you see them every day you see the change very gradually.

Two years ago we went away for almost a month during end of June and early July. I set up drip for the tomatoes and they went from tiny little plants to huge tomato bushes with fruit on them. It feels like a gamble to do that but really with regular sun and water the plants will most likely do great.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

coffee is better than shit

I liked this article on composting with coffee. It's about people ("compost specialists") at OSU composting with coffee grounds. Coffee grounds, if you've never heard of ththem before, are an abundant natural resource in western Oregon. The compost people said that when they substituted coffee grounds for manure in their compost the pile heated up much faster. Is it any surprise? I'm sure the fresh aroma of coffee wakes up those aerobic bacteria nice and early every day and keeps them going all day long.

The harvest this week

Mainly greens: turnip greens, arugula, radish greens, lettuce, spinach, beet greens.
Two peas. Some French Breakfast radishes (they don't really eat them for breakfast do they?) A baby beet.

* Stir fry with tons of greens, two peas, complimented by whatever I had in the fridge.

* Salad with mixed lettuces, some feisty arugula.

* Broccoli raab (flowered before I could blink!) & mini broccoli (i.e., one floret threatening to bolt)

* Tarragon and basil -- the basil is mostly from a plant I overwintered. The tarragon is happy to put out.

* This was two weeks ago, but I pulled up some baby garlic when I was out. That stuff is GOOOD. It's like you get one green onion bulbs worth of garlic, but when gently sauteed in olive oil and put over pasta it is very nice.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Compost is supposed to be the miracle drug for the garden. It isn't an instant gratification kind of thing but not much of gardening is. The resulting compost is great for your garden, and I like how we have so much less trash because so much stuff can get recycled in this manner. Composting is also flexible to one's lifestyle -- you can make a pile and let it sit there for a year untended, or you can turn it all the time and get it a little bit faster.

My first time making compost I had total beginner's luck. We had mowed an area to make a garden, so I had a ton of grass clippings. From what I recall I just dumped them into a huge pile, covered it with black plastic, and about a month later I had great compost. Since then my compost piles have taken a bit longer to break down.

The key apparently is getting the pile to do some aerobics. The pile can get really hot -- the center should get over 120 degrees. Lots of aerobic bacteria do their thing, and in a month or two the compost could be ready if all goes to plan. The other type of composting is passive. The pile stays fairly cool and the pile takes a long time to break down. I think my piles are usually more like this.

I have two compost piles going right now. One is made up of alternating layers of straw/cardboard/dry wall, dirt, and coffee grounds. The other pile is a combo of kitchen waste, cardboard, and compost (mixed, but with a lot of carbon rich shredded wood). Both piles are about 3' or a little more in diameter, and 3' high.

I'm composting compost -- John and I pitchforked a big truckload of compost this weekend, and I had more than I needed. So basically I just needed to put the extra compost somewhere, and I had a ton of kitchen vegetable scraps to compost as well. I buried the scraps deep under the compost. This way rodents won't find the vegetable scraps.

I took the meat thermometer out today and plunged it in the piles. The compost/scrap pile is 90 degrees (started yesterday), and the other pile I made a week ago (coffee ground pile) was about 85 or so. I moistened both piles both pretty well yesterday and I hope that will help them heat up. The goal is to have it be as moist as a wrung out sponge, apparently the bacteria like that, and I want to get in on that hot compost action.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Row covers on plants

Row covers on plants
Originally uploaded by rarichard
I bought these floating row covers for the garden for whenever the plants need some extra heat. I was using my little 3x4 cold frame some nights to protect some plants, but this you just toss on over everything.

It's a woven fabric that is kind of papery but pretty tough. There are so lightweight that they just "float" on the plants and the plants just keep on growing up. They let through 90% or so of light.

The main purpose of these is to retain heat -- they protect down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit, in theory. I'm covering up the plants at night right now since we keep have these lows in the 40s. Once it starts getting warmer at night I'll leave them alone. Today I actually left them on all day. Under the row covers was usually 8 degrees or so warmer than outside the greenhouse. Right now at 9:30 pm it's only 4 degrees warmer that outside -- I kind of would have liked if it kept it warmer than that since I have both a greenhouse AND row covers. But I'll take what I can get.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Coffee is good for everything.

I frequent a coffeeshop in Los Alamos and I've been collecting tons of coffee grounds for them to put in the garden.

You can mulch your garden with coffee grounds, add them to the soil directly, and you can compost them. You can even water plants with your cold coffee, though I have only really done this with the lawn, I haven't really dared on my vegetables yet for no good reason.

You might think coffee grounds are super acidic since liquid coffee is acidic. Sunset Magazine sent some coffee grounds to a soil lab for analysis, and it turns out they are a bit acidic (~6.4, 7 is neutral pH.)

Slightly acidic anything is good for the highly alkaline soil covering New Mexico and most of the West. I imagine someone with super acidic soil might want to compost them, as finished compost is supposed to end up pretty close to neutral for some reason or another.

So anyways here is how I use coffee grounds: I mainly compost them along with their filters (I'll do another post on how I make my compost pile at some point). I've also mixed them directly into my garden soil and I've mulched with them. The downside to the mulch is it tends to wash away after a good rain. I'd like to experiment at some point to see if a coffee mulch repels ants.

So a final thought -- you can buy compost made from mushrooms, steer manure, cotton burrs and a ton of other agricultural by products. I'm surprised there isn't coffee ground compost that you can buy at garden stores. I imagine I could make a killing off of composted coffee. "Fair Trade Organic Coffee Compost." It think a catchy name is needed though -- that way you can sell it in small bags for a fortune. Have to do it before *$ beats me to it.

Thunderstorm building up

Thunderstorm building up
Originally uploaded by rarichard

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Oh...I was going to have a post about how rainy it's been and how strange it is and how we normally get no rain in June, etc, etc. Then I found a page that says May gets about 1.21 inches of rain on average. We got 1.22 inches last month, so apparently we are very normal or boring or average or something. And June gets a bit more rain than May as well. So I guess all the rain we've been getting is not a freak event. But the daily thunderstorm pattern seems a little odd, it is like the monsoon season started two months early or something.

I remember past Mays (not that I've lived here all that long, going on 7 years now I think) we'd have these 3 day storms where if it was April we'd have gotten snow, but because it's May it's rain instead. I guess every now and again there are freak May snow storms.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Heat can really build up in the greenhouse on a sunny day. It's gone over a 100 degrees a few times, while outside it was probably only 70 some-odd degrees. Right now what I do is remember to open the ends to vent the greenhouse. Sometimes I forget and my plants get kinda droopy and wilted.

There are these cool gizmos called automatic greenhouse vent openers. When it gets hot enough the vent opens. They are heat activated, so they open when it gets hot enough, and then closes when it cools off. Pretty cool. If I got them I'd probably have to buy two, and I'd have to install a window in order to have something to vent. I'm not sure I will bother to do this anytime soon. Right now I either remember to open it up or just leave it open, or on these days that it rains I don't have to worry about it at all because as soon as those big thunderheads build up and darken the sky the temperature starts dropping.