Monday, August 13, 2012

Squash Root Excavation

After seeing one of the squash plants to so much better than all the rest in the garden, I had to see why.
So I dug up the roots very carefully to find out what was going on.
Some unexpected and surprising results came to light.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Zero Cost Organic Container Update Aug2012

Been seeing some interesting results so far and learning a lot.

One big surprise is that the eggplants in the stumppot are doing the best.
Another big surprise is the peppers growing in mostly leaves are doing very well.
I didn't expected either of these to do well.

Here are the 6 vegetable containers (see previous post for explanation).

Here are peppers in the compost, leaf and branch mix.
Doing very well with most fruit set on all the plants.
This one is probably doing the best all around for the peppers.
These plants did and do wilt, but not as much as the just compost & leaf tub.

Here's the peppers in the compost and leaf mix.  This is what did well last year, so it was my "control" for comparison.  It is doing well, but the plants are much shorter and fruit set is not quite as much.
These peppers wilted a lot when first transplanted, and so took longer to get established.

This tub had 6" of compost on top with 1' of leaves underneath.
It has done surprisingly and unexpectedly well. Planted 2 peppers and basil.
These peppers wilted/wilts the least.  It grew the fastest and is still the tallest.  It does look a little "lanky".The far pepper has 4 large fruits, 2nd most of any of the pepper plants.  The close one just started to fruit, later than any others. It may be that it didn't feel stressed, so it is fruiting later.  Too early to tell how much fruit it will produce.
   The basil is doing well, more than we can use, but it is a little smaller than last year.
I didn't really expect to be able to get a good fruit set with the peppers growing in mostly leaves.  I thought the basil would do just as well as previously. Both assumptions where wrong; peppers are excellent, basil is smaller.

Here's an addition.  I made an air-pot and tried it out with just a heavier forest mulch mix, no leaves.
Even though the pepper transplants didn't wilt when in smaller containers, as soon as they were put in this large air-pot, they started to wilt.  Oh well, it seems that all the extra soil around the roots cut off the air enough to make it wilt after transplanting.

Here are the eggplants.  It is the best ever harvest so far for container eggplants that I have had.  Already harvested over 20 eggplants.  The stumppot on the left has done the best, no wilt (see vertical hugelkultur post).  This is very exciting and unexpected result, for me.  I definitely thought limiting so severely the amount of soil in the stumppot would have stunted the eggplant.  Just the opposite, it is the biggest I've grown.  And it has never wilted, not once.  When I transplanted the eggplants into this tub, the transplants were placed directly on the stump and the transplants soil still stuck up about an inch above the tub's soil level.  I believe this is one reason it didn't wilt when transplanting.  Being higher than the soil line helped it get better aeration when it was getting established in the new container.
This helped spark me into the whole transplanting & growing without wilt investigation.

Here are the pepper in the fast draining mix (1/2 bark, 1/2 turface).
These plants wilt very fast in any heat & sun.  For the first 2 months I watered them 2x per day on hot days to help them get established. After watering the plants would perk up very fast, faster than any of the other plants. However, 1.5 hours after watering they would start to wilt again. I believe that even though the mix felt wet, it was too porous and the roots were not making enough contact with the soil in order for it to wick up fast enough in the heat. For my "only-hot-sunlight-hours" location, I believe it would take a continuous drip to keep them going.  The plants obviously felt stressed with the extra wilting and watering cycle.  They started to set fruit the earliest and have the smallest fruit (and plant) size.
Seeing how fast these plants perk up when watered in the fast draining mix has produced a lot of ideas to try when attempting to transplant seedlings "wilt-free" in the regular garden.

Overall, not bad for only 4 hours of sunlight a day.

Zero Cost Organic Container Experiment 2012

For the last 2 years I've been growing vegetables in containers with only materials from the yard for mix and fertilizer.  I try different methods each year and see what happens.

My deck only gets 4.5 hours direct sunlight at the summer solstice, beginning of August it is getting 3 hours and 45 minutes. This adds extra problems as it is mostly afternoon sun (10:30am to 2:30pm) and the deck is hot, so the plants wilt easily.  I've been forced to really figure out how to grow the plants with the minimum of wilt in full sun. If the plants wilt from say 11am on (which they could easily do without extra care) it would mean they'd only get 1/2 hour of direct sun photosynthesis hours!

Only getting direct sun when it is hot out is especially hard on transplants. The transplants don't get any chance to photosynthesize in direct sun, so it takes a long time for them to get established.
 In a normal garden a plant will get morning sun, when it is cooler out to photosynthesize.

Below is a post that was written in May 2012 explaining this years setup.  Updates to follow.

Zero Cost Organic Experiment 2012

Last year the forest floor mulch mixed with leaves did the best. The forest floor mulch is nice compost-like and scraped off the ground under some pine & oak trees. I'd use it in all my containers but in a dry climate I only have a limited supply on my property. So instead I used old container mix which is basically fine compost, and I add or do other things with it.
 A mix of half dried leaves and half old mix (basically compost) also did quite well last year.
Only fertilizer used is ashes and HLF (homemade/human liquid fertilizer).

This year I'm continuing experimenting. Read about Hugelkultur garden beds, basically burying logs under a raised bed. I put some of these in my in-ground garden and thought, well why not try it in a container also!
Made one container with big stump in it:
Made 2 containers by layering up branches and mix.


Here is this years container lineup.
Back row left to right:
* Mix is: old mix + leaves + branches. Plants 3 peppers.
* Mix is: old mix + leaves. Bottom 6" of container is only compressed leaves. The idea here is that the bottom of the containers accumulate fine mix over the season. With just leaves at the bottom it might not develop into the usual heavy muck.
* Mix is: Bottom 1 foot of container is only compressed leaves. Top 6" is only old mix (thick compost). It would be great if this works. It is the easiest to set up. Just empty old mix from the tote. Then walk around and fill the tote with leaves, compress them by standing on them. Then just put a 6" layer of the old mix on top and it's done. Also this is the lightest container.
* Flower container, mix is leftover turface, bark, & peat. I've put in a "clay pot reservoir" which will be filled with diluted HLF. The idea is to see if I can cut down on fertilizing frequency and make the container more maintenance free.
Front row left to right:
* Not organic. Mix is half turface, half bark. I've never had good results with these mixes outdoors. In a hot dry climate you need to water several times a day to prevent wilting. I do use this fast draining mix for indoor plants and they do great, much better than the peat mixes I had used before.
* One huge stump surrounded by old mix. This is the heaviest container. A saturated stump is quite heavy. I don't have high expectations from this one, (but do have high hopes!). The mix is heavy and so is the stump, so probably will not have enough aeration. Only planting eggplants in this one, as they like it wet.
* Branches combined with old mix. This is also heavy. Planting eggplants in this one also.