Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Preparation For The Coming Garden Year

The time is coming up now when most of us will be getting very busy on good days and twiddling our thumbs on days when it's too cold, or raining (hopefully), or the ground's too wet to mess with, or when we still have energy left in the evening (yeah, like THAT's gonna happen at OUR house....).

There are lots of things that need doing that don't require us to be outside.  They can, in fact, be done all winter long, depending on what inside work spaces you have.  If you think ahead a little, I'll bet you can come up with several do-ahead projects, depending on your resources and your needs.

It's a good time to clean out the pantry, defrost the freezer, and maybe even cook double- and triple-batches of main dishes and desserts, stowing the extra away into the freezer for those days when you don't want to have to come in from the garden to cook.

Of course you can do your garden planning now.  And you can start seeds for cold-weather crops.  In fact the window for that is beginning to close for our zone (Zone 6a).  It's also closing for Wintersowing, though the "baby-sitting" part of that project is nearing.  Lots of people here are buying and planting onion plants and even the extension agency had an article in the local paper saying it's time to plant potatoes here.  I don't agree.  I really don't plan to put ANYTHING into the garden until early March.   When you say "Oklahoma" to people, they automatically think of weather like it is in the southern part of the state.  That's Zone 7, and if you go south far enough, there's even some Zone 8.  But our part of Oklahoma is in the northeastern corner.  We're almost in Kansas, and fairly close to Arkansas and Missouri.  In fact, we're considered part of the Ozarks region. 

I've been washing styrofoam seedling cups that I brought in from the shed.  I won't buy any more of them, but I will use what I do have until they are no longer useable.  I don't like having to store them, nor do I like having to wash them before I can use them again.  So much better to make paper cups that will be buried with the seedling still in it.  I don't imagine I will have any trouble getting newspaper to make them from, at least till all the newspapers are no longer printed because of going digital, which I don't see happening till a bunch more of us Baby Boomers kick the bucket.

Last week when the power was off for a couple of hours, I sat at the dining room table and made a stack of seedling pots.  If you don't open them out until you're ready to use them, you can store a lot of them in a box.  The link to the instructions on how to make these newspaper pots are on a previous post, called "Burying Flower Pots In The Garden". 

On those days when the ground is not frozen, I'm digging up buckets of soil out of one of the raised beds we're going to be moving, and bringing them into the garage.  Every time I need to mix up a new batch of seedling mix, I can bake ("sterilize") a couple of pans of it and save having to buy bags of inferior "compost".

If you have a garage or shed to work in, now is the time to make tomato cages.  You might want to try making the reinforcement-wire tomato cages like the ones that we used last summer.  The beauty of reinforcement wire is that it's about the sturdiest wire you can get for the money.  I like how, at 5' wide, there is enough to cut off the horizontal piece along the bottom of the roll of wire so that will leave "prongs" about 6" long to stick into the earth and help stabilize the cage, and the cage is still tall enough to support most indeterminate tomato plant varieties.  After having used them last summer, I can tell you that I was able to push the cage down into the ground all the way up to the next wire which made for a pretty stable cage.

Our cages were kind of mis-shapen because we had to use wire that came in a roll.  We could bend out the curve, but no matter what we did, we could not straighten them out well enough so the hooks down that one side would match up very well with the spaces they were supposed to hook into.  They were always coming loose and then catching in inconvenient places.  I think this summer I will close those hooks into a loop with the pliers and I will tie the open side closed, maybe only in two or three places, by running a wire or a twist-tie through the loop and then wrapping it around the side it's supposed to connect to.  Other than that, they worked great and contrary to the comment from Hubs about how they'll rust away during the first summer, anyway (Oh, the negativity!), they were still in good condition by the end of the summer and they all folded up well and were easy to stack.

I might also add that what I said about the bolt cutter still holds, and in fact, I used it a lot last summer.  Some of those small wire tomato cages had bottom wire sections that were as much as 2 feet long.  They would only go into the ground so far and then the cage was wobbly because it was so top-heavy.  I guess manufacturers added that length to make us think the cage would work for bigger tomato plants and in fact it's just the other way around.  So I used the bolt cutter to shorten some of those ends, the part that pokes down into the ground, to uniform length.  I think about a foot is plenty.  We also used it to cut through those heavy stock panels when Hubs made the trellis over The Fraidy Hole. 

My initial inspiration was THIS You-Tube tutorial.  This man has an advantage that we didn't have, and that is that he can get concrete reinforcement wire in flat sheets.  All we could find locally was in rolls.  This is a problem because the makers and sellers of these rolls don't care how they handle them and aside from each piece having a curve in it that has to be flattened out, you have to waste a good bit of it that's on the inner part of the roll because it gets progressively crooked as you unroll.  So if you can get reinforcement wire in sheets, do that, even if they do cost a little more, because you will not have any waste.
Hubs and I have made tomato cages out of other stuff.  We made some out of PVC pipe.  They were just OK.  And expensive to make because of all the little elbows and tees they need.  We had some we bought at a garage sale to start with, which eased the pain some.  The thing I didn't like about them was there was too much open space for the tomato to lean outside of the cage.  When this happens and the tomato plant gets big, it will tip over the cage. I like that they come apart for storage but they are a pain to take apart and put together, that's a project in itself.  I followed Bob Matney's instructions but now there are a lot of PVC variations on You-Tube.  You can do a search on "PVC Tomato Cages" and see all of them if you're interested.  Mostly now I use my PVC cages around baby trees we've planted out on The North Fourth.  Being white, they stick out like a sore thumb.  Anyone can see where the trees are and not drive or back up over them.  And if the tree dies we have the hole marked so we can replant.  Every tree that's planted out here has to have rock excavated from a big ol' hole, so we don't want to lose that hole.  I'm told PVC will disintegrate out in the hot sun after awhile, but I've used these outside every year for probably five years now and they still are just as strong as ever.

Two summers ago, we paid $100 for a big roll of wire fencing at Lowe's, but the wire is just too bendy and lightweight.  The dang cages were blowing over all. the. time.  We didn't have the garden fenced yet and so the dang things went visiting our neighbors a lot more than we do.   One summer I mostly used them laying on their sides to spread shade cloth over, or tucked in under things that were getting floppy, for extra support.  Or covered with orange barricade fence to keep the chickens out of things.  (The spaces between the holes were so far apart that if the barricade fence material wasn't draped over them, those silly chickens would just walk right through the holes.)  Or staked along the edges of my zinnia bed during my garage sale to keep people from walking on my baby zinnias.
I have lots of the small tomato cages that inexperienced gardeners buy to support their tomatoes and then find them woefully inadequate and put them in their garage sales.  Atwoods puts them on sale every spring for about a dollar apiece, but the used ones at garage sales go for a quarter or so.  While these aren't that great for tomatoes, they are wonderful for lots of other things.  Peppers, for instance.  They are decent for tomato plants that stay relatively small, like paste tomatoes, allowing you to save the big cages for plants that get bigger.  I like that they nest into one another for storage.  Mark them well, or spray paint them with an easily seen color if you're going to use them in unexpected places.  Our postman, who liked to cut through my zinnia bed rather than use the sidewalk (when we lived in town), would tell you they are not fun to get tangled up in.  Nor is it good for the tomato cage, which you will find laying in your yard all bent up or flattened.

I posted the next few paragraphs on the old blog and so some of you will have already seen the next few paragraphs.  But for those that didn't, here it is:
I am really enjoying owning a bolt cutter!  MVC-024SSeriously, why have we not owned one before this??  This small one pinches through heavy wire, like stock panel and concrete reinforcement wire, in just one quick motion.  I took it out to the driveway and cut all the sections for our triangular, folding tomato cages.  Good thing we experimented with some old round ones we took apart first, because following the specifications given in that You-Tube demonstration I found left a little to be desired.  Each section is cut right up against one vertical wire, so that each piece has all the sticky-outy wires on only one side.  The fella doing the demo recommended one section with two squares and a side of sticky-outies and two sections with three squares and a side of sticky-outies.  We decided it made a better cage to make them all the same, three squares and a side of sticky-outies. MVC-025S(The ends of the sticky-outie wires are then bent into a little hook that attaches to the straight side of the next piece.)  When it's all together it looks like each panel has 4 squares.  Pinch down the hooks on two sides so they're permanently in place but still loose enough to work like a hinge and leave the hooks loose enough on one side so you can easily get them apart.  That way, they fold flat when not in use.  Oh, and you cut the bottom horizontal wire off so that it makes stickie-outie wires that will poke down into the ground to stabilize the cage when it's in place.  Now isn't this just the coolest idea?  Hubs bought a 150-foot roll of 5' wide CRW for about $95.  I don't know how many that'll end up making, I'll estimate about 35.  It takes a little doing to bend the end hooks small enough.  Hubs, who has nearly every tool known to mankind, found a pair of Diamalloy pliers that he bought at a garage sale for a dollar sometime back.  MVC-031SI just found one on eBay listed for $8.  They call it a "cowboy fencing tool".  But anyway, there are two holes on the head of it, and the hole nearest the outside edge is just right to bend the right size loop.  MVC-029SThe tool is forged steel so it stands up to the job without breaking, too.  MVC-030SThese cages are a little work to make but they should last for as long as we need them to, be a lot easier to store, and I won't have to be weighting them down with rocks to keep them from falling over or blowing away. 

Well, this is about all for this time.  There are things to do and I'm burning my daylight.  .......Are you? 


1 comment:

  1. We have two sizes of bolt cutters; one so big I don't use it! and of course, 2 or 3 fencing pliers. Finding them when you need one is sometimes an issue.......

    I left my panels up in both gardens last year so I am ready to plant tomatoes.


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