Annual Vegetables, Permaculture, Sustainable

New Vegetable Bed

My Nematode issue in my primary vegetable bed means I can’t plant tomatoes and peppers there this year. But skip them entirely? Blasphemy. Far better to convert more yard to garden.

Here’s the before picture of an ugly corner of my yard, where the shed meets the awful metal/chain link fence. Someday I’ll tackle both the shed and the fence, but today is all about the vegetables.

That weed-covered trellis is propped over a 2′ x 2′ chunk of concrete. I’ve tried digging it up and can’t find the bottom. No idea why it’s there but it’s in a terrible location and I can’t get rid of it today. So I’m going to try to work with it.

Step 1. Clear out that trellis. Dig up the soil. Mix in manure and a bit of garden soil.

Step 2. Lay down cardboard. This should serve as an early weed block while the garden establishes, without the heat-capturing damage that plastic can do. Eventually it will degrade and feed the worms.

Step 3. Cut holes in the cardboard for seedlings.

Step 4. Cover everything in mulch. I decided to do this before planting so I wouldn’t have to be gentle around fragile transplants. I covered the concrete as well. Hopefully this will help pull it into the design.

Step 5. Plant. I spaced those cutouts so I could easily find them under the mulch. I planted tomatoes and peppers every 18″ or so. In between them, I added peppermint, spearmint, mustard greens, and mesclun mix greens.

Step 6. Clean up, add a bench and a few potted plants. A small mulberry tree in a pot sits on top of the now hidden concrete slab.

It’s not beautiful yet, but it’s better. And when the veggies are tall and full of fruit, I’ll love it. (The dog already approves.)

Here’s the best part of the new area: the view from that little white bench.

Sustainable

The Gift of Mulch

Cool temps and soft breezes. I am thrilled November has arrived.

And, there’s more! I came home from a business trip to find this giant pile of mulch in my driveway.

Mulch from Chip Drop

Chip Drop came through for me. If you are unfamiliar with Chip Drop, this is a sustainable service worth learning about.

To add the recommended 3-4″ of mulch over my giant perennial bed, and my annual vegetable garden, and my large potted trees and bananas, I require bags upon bags of mulch. So many good trees demolished. So much plastic. So much cash.

As an alternative, Chip Drop connects with local tree services companies in the area. When someone in your neighborhood has a tree cut down, the tree service mulches it and drop it in your driveway or yard or wherever you specify. This is my second delivery.

The first time, I received a fresh pine tree and my yard smelled of Christmas for weeks. This one is a finer, cleaner mulch. And they provided enough for me to mulch everything in my backyard as well as start the other landscaping projects I’ve been planning all year.

Technically, the Chip Drop service is free. But there are so many sustainably-minded homeowners in my area that waiting for a free drop can take over a year. I upped my bid from $0 to $20, and voila, a vehicle-sized mound of mulch appeared three weeks later.

I am anxious to get started. Before and after pictures to come.

And perhaps now is the time to buy the wheelbarrow I’ve been coveting. I always appreciate a clever yet simple product design, and this would cut my bending, twisting, and lifting in half.

Find out more about it at Allsop Home and Garden.

Annual Vegetables, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Sustainable

Mulch or Potatoes: Experimenting with Weed Suppression

Rains pummeled Tampa for the last few months. I left town and my garden at the end of April. Knowing I would not be able to do any yard work through May and June, with the exception of a few visits just long enough to collect a harvest, I experimented with three weed control strategies.

  1. I mulched one bed with a free pine mulch that a tree service company dumped in my driveway.
  2. A second bed I interspersed Boniato Potato seedlings wherever there was a gap of a foot or more.
  3. The third bed is the largest, and has historically had the worst weed problems, so I did both: Boniato Potato seedlings plus pine mulch.

When I returned over two months later, the yard was a bit of a mess. But it was clear which strategy was most successful.

Here is the raised bed with pine mulch only.

pine mulch bed
3-tiered raised bed with pine mulch only

What do you mean you can’t find the bed? See that tiny bit of cedar poking out? 🙂

Consider this method a massive failure.

Now take a look at the raised bed with Boniato Potatoes only. I ran out of mulch, so this was clean soil from the compost pile plus potatoes. Some weeds still worked their way through, but this bed is in far better condition.

potato seedlings
Boniato Potatoes used as weed suppression in raised bed

When I started poking around, I was happily surprised at what I found. The potatoes did not choke out my plants, but filled in around them.

Here is a tall basil plant that would have been strangled in the mulch-only bed. The potatoes blocked the weeds around the basil without killing the herb. And those few tomatoes are attached to an Everglade Tomato vine that runs underneath the potato leaves. Also hiding among the potatoes: Yellow Pear tomatoes, Okinawa Spinach, and Pineapples. A few plants that started in this bed have disappeared: kale, a mesclun salad mix, and more greens that don’t typically fare well this late into the summer.

basil
Basil and Everglade Tomatoes protected by Boniato Potatoes

Some weeds still managed to weasel through the dense canopy of potato lives, but compared to the other bed, this method was far more successful.

And here is the largest garden bed. It is lowest to the ground, only raised by about 4″, and already had a weed infestation. I pulled out everything I could in April, but expected a number of returning invaders. In this bed, I mulched, I planted potatoes, I added moss from the tree in the front yard. I did what I could.

both
Boniato potatoes, pine mulch, and a bit of moss as weed suppression

The result is better than I expected. A lot of weeds, yes, but the plants I care about are protected enough. My Rosemary bush is healthy. The Cranberry Hibiscus I thought I lost in the freeze came back, along with at least ten volunteers. False Bird of Paradise, also heavily damaged by January’s freeze, are back.

It took a couple hours to excavate, but the plants I care about are all here, protected by the potatoes and mulch. I harvested a bowl of Sweet Italian Red Peppers, Hungarian Hot Peppers, and Chili Peppers. I clipped handfuls of Basil, Mint, Papalo, and Cuban Oregano. I yanked the tomatoes that were at the end of life. The Prickly Pear Cactus, Aloe, and other succulents in pots throughout the bed are not thriving, but are also not dying. They are just waiting around for some love and attention. Florida Lettuce, Okinawa Spinach, Sticks on Fire, False Roselle, Lillies, Lemongrass…they are all doing well, hiding among the potatoes.

I’m looking forward to eventually harvesting the sweet potatoes, a secondary reward for this self-caring weed control. Overall, I’ll call the method a success.