The Pressures of Gardening

Yes, that’s right, the pressures of gardening, not the pleasures… The warm weather this spring has given me a small but constant case of the anxious willies.  I started seeds that needed an early start a long time ago but I thought I had all the time in the world to start warm weather seeds like cukes and squashes.  I didn’t start them early, however, and the weather just kept getting better and better: sun, plenty of rain but not too much, soft breezes, no really bad storms, and I have been trying to catch up for several weeks now. But…normally I would not be planting most of these things until now anyway!  In thirty years I don’t think I have planted my canning tomatoes before the first of June, it just hasn’t been warm enough. The USDA has moved my town from zone 5A to zone 5B and we are just down the road, literally, from zone 6A.  The most significant difference is in the first frost date which is weeks later.  For several years now surviving the first frost has meant almost another full month of growing time.  Terrible snow fell last October and crushed so many beautiful trees and landed on all sorts of still growing vegetables, not just cabbage family but tomatoes and beans as well.

All of my transplants are in, more carrots, beets, more corn, slicing tomatoes, many peppers, eggplants, all the cole crops, the sweet potatoes are in,  we have around 375 feet of potatoes (food bank supplies), and three twenty by three foot beds of onions, five kinds.   I put in a twenty-five foot row each of Milano plum and Amish paste tomatoes for canning, all squashes, and  melons are planted in holes on newly cleared ground and I am getting flats of carrots, kale, beets and other crops ready for a July planting to harvest late fall.

Hog Panel Greenhouse Frame

Greenhouse made from Hog Panel
Picture from Mother Jones Magazine

Galvanized Cattle Panel Tomato Cage

Tomatoes growing on hog/cow panel. Photo from Southern Living by Ralph Anderson and Laurey W. G

Recently I visited family in Arkansas and we were shown a nearby garden where I was introduced to the wonders of hog/cow panels. The panels are sixteen feet long and about fifty inches high and are very tough.  Two people can bend one into an arch and metal stakes zip tied to the edges go into the ground to make a sturdy  arch.  Set up with metal stakes the long way, one gets sixteen feet of trellis for all climbing plants.

Tomatoes can also be tied to the panels and the panels are strong enough to support the entire sixteen foot row. Of course, it helps to have beds longer than the panels but they can be cut with wire cutters and strong hands.  Now I wonder if putting two panels together  about six or eight inches apart wouldn’t let the tomatoes grow up between  the panels without having to tie them at all, just train the fronds through the wire.  This would eliminate dealing with those pestiferous wire cages that have to be secured with a metal stake anyway.  Normally, I let my canning/paste tomatoes rest on deep mulch (the entire garden is mulched year ’round) which I add to as the year goes on to keep it fresh and clean. The tomatoes grow over this mulch and rain passes through so it stays relatively dry and disease free. This is a good system, considering how many plants I have but what would happen if I grew the tomatoes between two of the panels?  Too late now but I’ll try it next year…

In the top picture you can see the panels being used as a greenhouse.  This looks like a permanent structure but plastic could be secured over a panel set into the ground on stakes and held down outside with boards or bricks.  Ends are always a problem and you can see the zipper in the end of the one above. This would not be a good solution for the short, the dumpy or the no-longer-young but two pieces of plastic could be fixed to the ends and held together with clips.  We put up a panel in an arch and it occurred to me that the arch could be used as a temporary greenhouse to warm the soil in the spring for an early crop of beans, used as a trellis for cucumbers in the summer and then remade into a greenhouse to be placed over some tomatoes and peppers to carry them past the frost. We got our panels at Ag-Way but any farm supply place should have them.

In a recent post I mentioned the fifty meat chickens we acquired. Gosh! They were so cute! Now…they are half grown and feisty, they eat a tremendous amount of nice organic feed, they mock fight all the time and need constant attention and care.  We have two water cans going all the time and we fill them morning and night, we have a large feeder and fill that every other day and we check on them several times during the day just to make sure nothing is going awry. No one should do this unless they are sure they are going to be home while the chicks are growing.  Our next decision is if we are going to process them ourselves or send them out to be processed.  In the former case, we will have to spend money on processing equipment, especially a chicken plucker, and in the latter case we will have to pay each time we need chickens processed.  Make no mistake, by ‘processed’ I mean slaughtered, scalded,  plucked, gutted, washed, wrapped and frozen, after which the problem of disposing of feathers–compost pile, and guts–garbage?, bury?  will need to be solved.  We can spend the money once for equipment and do the work or we can spend the money over and over and have someone else do the work. Hmmm. Any suggestions?

About Clio

I am an organic gardener with thirty years experience, a former minister, a former home-schooler, (they grew up), a current clarinet and flute player, knitter and spinner, and swimmer. I am interested in food security issues, food and policy issues, food preservation and encouraging people to become more aware and pro-active about their own food supply. I teach home food preservation, especially water bath and pressure canning, beginning organic gardening using bio-intensive methods, and give talks on food and food security for groups.
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