Monday, January 30, 2012

Update on Biochar

I planted Swiss Chard, Beets and Kale in the garden with the Biochar in it. So far, no sprouts, but it has been a little cool for us lately. This week is warming up and I see some cucumbers sprouting, so hopefully the Biochar garden will progress. My peas had a 'bug' problem. I am not sure what the bug was, but I did find a large, fat, rolly polly caterpillar hauling buns toward the pea garden early one morning.  I scooped him up in a shovel and put him the wheel barrow. I decided to use the shovel to cut him in half. 2 hours later, upon inspection, he was one again and trying to get out of the wheel barrow. I hate killing bugs, but was convinced he was what was eating every leaf off of my pea now he is gone. I bought Cayenne Pepper and put it in a shaker and I use it around each pea sprout after I water. I hope the peas are not too hot to eat, but there are now about 70 pea plants, and all have leaves and all are about two inches tall. The plants will be pretty up against the fence and my grandsons should love picking and eating them off the vines. I am adding the cucumber plants to that garden, once they have a few more leaves.

I planted 4 types of lettuces and added some spinach seeds to the already growing spinach just today. This should be awesome to be able to pick and eat all of these veggies soon. Today I cooked a Potato, Swiss Chard and Chick Pea Stew that was pretty amazing and yesterday was a Red Lentil and Spinach Curry. My garden will supply me with lots of those ingredients soon.

My Artichoke plants. Another story. I started 3 years ago with 1 artichoke plant. We ate about 60 artichokes from that one plant. The were about the size of a tennis ball. (The nice big ones at the grocery store...probably Dole and they have a patent on their artichokes.) But mine are very tasty. The remaining artichokes flowered and were very pretty. The plant died back in winter and the next spring, WOW!!! Seriously, I had about 200 sprouted plants, plus the original plant created off shoots, which I cut off and transplanted 6 of them in a new spot. I now have the original one, plus off shoots by that one, and two others in the original garden (and who knows what else will come up soon?) and I have the 6 in the newer garden, which is now producing off shoots too. These guys are weeds! GOOD weeds! We love them! Let's hope this season we get 60 off each plant, and I WILL be at the Farmer's Markets selling them!

As for the asparagus...I planted 7 sets just over a year ago and just let it go. (It flowers and that feeds the roots and allows them to grow for the next season.) The sets I planted were already 2 years old (I paid for it, too!) and should produce edible asparagus after the 2nd year.   I should have some edible asparagus this year. Although my soil is not as sandy as it should be there, they seem to like it. I just hand tilled the soil around the plants and fertilized for a good start to Spring. I am hoping for a good crop.

And now it is time for Summer Squash. I live on summer squash when I can. And I cannot fathom spending $1.29/lb. when it grows the way it does here. I gave away almost as much squash (and tomatoes) as we ate. And I only had a few plants last year. This year I am planning on 14 plants...mostly yellow crookneck, because that is what we like, but also some zucchini and summer patty squash (my favorite). So tomorrow, I should be out there working on planting squash seeds and that means I need to work on my irrigation system, too.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What to do with the Biochar?

I have a pretty large garden area (I'll measure it later!) and have tried and been successful at several different vegetables. My spinach, swiss chard, tomatoes, beets, bell peppers, eggplant, artichokes and asparagus have been very abundant. Right now I have tilled a garden next to a fence that will be used as a trellis for my peas and snow peas. I planted about 100 seeds and have over 50 that have sprouted now. The peas do not need the Biochar, as the roots of peas actually replace the nitrogen in the soil and do not require much in the way of fertilizer. So the Biochar I created yesterday will be incorporated in the garden with the existing plants, which currently include bell peppers, eggplant, asparagus, artichoke and spinach.

A word on Artichokes? You can buy a plant at most nursery's for $3 (small) -$15 (1 gallon). Or you can buy a pack of seeds. The first plant I started with produced about 60 med. sized artichokes the first year but the really great thing was in the next spring, it had a bunch of shoots off the base, which I cut off and replanted and they all took. So what started with one plant quickly turned to 10 or 12. These things grow like weeds. And I didn't mention all the plants I pulled up that grew from seeds off the artichokes we did not pick and allowed to flower the prior season? Lesson? Don't invest a lot of money...they grow like weeds. Also, they grow to be about 6' tall and take up about 6-8' across, so you need some room! I currently have 7 artichoke plants that are large, healthy plants, all from one $15 plant, either grown by splitting the shoots or from seeds off the flowers I allowed to bloom.

In the next couple of weeks I will be planting seeds for swiss chard, kale and beets. These will all be grown in the soil with the Biochar I created. I will post pictures once they sprout so we can watch it grow! Another project I am going to begin is a semi-raised garden for what I will call my salsa garden. It will include jalepeno's, tomatoes and peppers. (Maybe some garlic and onions, I am not sure yet.)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

First Attempt at Biochar

I gathered up all the organic matter readily available in the yard and attempted my first round of Biochar. First I dug a pit. I chose a place that had a large patch of Bermuda grass, so the heat might kill the roots. I shoveled the material I had to burn in the pit and lit it and watched it burn. The beginning smoke was dark and thick and turned to a yellowish, which indicates the "sugars" in the material are burning.
 Once the smoke turned thin and blue/gray, then I covered it with soil to allow the embers to smolder and hopefully create "charcoal".