Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Prepping Open Raised Beds for Winter

Friday, December 1st, 2017
Open Raised Garden Bed

Open Raised Garden Bed

We’re taking advantage of good weather to get a lot of garden beds prepared for winter.  We’re loosening them up with a broadfork, pulling out most of the weeds, shaping them up neatly, and covering them with a thick layer of leaves.

Raked Smooth, Ready for Winter

Raked Smooth, Ready for Winter

I don’t use cover crops to protect the beds through the winter.  Cover crops are a good approach, as garden soil should not be left uncovered and bare, but I have an abundance of leaves, and covering the garden with them is a lot easier than planting another crop.   A bed all raked smooth as this one is will be ready to plant in the spring.  All we’ll have to do is rake back the leaves, which we can leave in the paths to break down and also act as a weed mulch.

Left – Done, Right – Not Done

Left – Done, Right – Not Done

Note the bed on the right, the one with the bucket.  It needs to be worked up, weeded, and re-shaped.

All Forked Up

All Forked Up

Here’s that bed after I worked it up with a broadfork and removed the weeds.

Shaped Up Bed

Shaped Up Bed

Here’s the same bed after it’s been shaped up and smoothed out using a five-tined cultivating hoe, an antique tool, that in my opinion should be made again, as it is so useful.

Tools

Tools

These are the four tools I use to work and shape my beds: a scoop shovel, a five-tined cultivating hoe, a broadfork, and a steel rake.

I maintain a large garden and the raised bed approach we use is working.  Our soil continues to improve and maintenance is in many ways a lot easier than it would be with a rototiller or any other more conventional approach.  From a sustainability aspect, using low technology and minimal outside inputs, I’m pretty sure this method ranks at or near the top of all home gardening systems.

Black Friday Garlic

Friday, November 24th, 2017
Ridged Garlic Bed

Ridged Garlic Bed

I try to plant garlic by the end of October.  This year it didn’t happen.  Having great faith in climate change, I knew I would get another opportunity or several before the ground froze too hard to work easily. Today the high temperature peaked at around 66 F and it was a quite pleasant day for planting, a very good way to spend Black Friday.

I plant garlic in ridges, three per bed.  I work up the soil in a bed until it is soft. The ideal tool for this is an antique five-tined cultivating hoe. I rake up the soil into three relatively equal ridges.  A steel rake is good for this. I tamp everything down with the rake after I have my ridges shaped as I want them.

Garlic Cloves

Garlic Cloves

This year I was fortunate to meet Greg and Cathy Kosmeder. They own Copper Kettle Farm in Colgate, Wisconsin and are small-scale organic garlic growers. The Kosmeders were vendors at the Wisconsin State Master Gardener Conference as were Judy and I. I came away from the Conference with two varieties of garlic which I added to our home-grown crop of no longer known origin. I seeded the center ridge with Extra Hardy German and Georgia Crystal from the Kosmeder’s farm, and seeded the outer ridges with our home-grown seeds.

Planting Garlic

Planting Garlic

I like to use six-inch spacing for these large cloves. I lay the cloves out on top of the ridges at their six-inch intervals, then come back and insert the closes into the soil, just covering the top of the bulb.  The Original CobraHead works very well as an assist for this. I could just push the cloves into the soil, but by pushing the CobraHead blade into the soil and shoving the clove down alongside the blade it makes the process cleaner, and easier.

Garlic Bed Covered in Straw

Garlic Bed Covered in Straw

A thick covering of straw ensures the garlic will survive the hardest freezes and will be sprouting very early next spring.

Horseradish

Monday, November 13th, 2017
Horseradish

Horseradish

I prepared horseradish sauce yesterday.  I ran the horseradish twice through a food processor, first slicing, then shredding the pieces of root. As I was shredding, I added enough vinegar to keep the horseradish from drying out or heating up. The vinegar helps retain the hot flavor and allows it to keep for a while in the refrigerator. It will last a couple months.  It’s a tasty condiment and it has an impressive list of purported health benefits.

Horseradish Plants

Horseradish Plants

I grow horseradish in the herb bed, along with my plantings of perennial onions, garlic, leeks, and chives.  It is very easy to grow and quite difficult to get rid of once you have it.  I could encourage larger, cleaner, and easier to harvest roots if I grew it in softer soil, but it’s not high enough on my list of priorities to give it the treatment it deserves. I do like to have it around because the finished product is so good.

Horseradish Roots

Horseradish Roots

I dug out several plants. The ground was frozen on top but quite soft below the thin crust. I didn’t try to get out the whole plant. That would have entailed a lot of work. Pieces left in the ground will most often grow back. I brushed off as much dirt as I could. I trimmed off the crowns which I shoved back into the soil where I had harvested, just to make sure there would be some around next year. It was too cold to wash them outside so I brought them inside to do that.

Horseradish Peelings

Horseradish Peelings

I’ve read recipes suggesting not peeling the roots, but just washing them before shredding. The roots I harvest are pretty gnarly, with folds packed with dirt, bug holes, rotten spots, and other imperfections I’d rather not have in my sauce. I think peeling is in order.  The peeling process is where the vapors of mustard oil that make horseradish famous first show themselves. Strong whiffs of horseradish vapors could be likened to tear gas. Usually, it’s just some fun in the kitchen, but I think an overdose of fumes could be a real problem.

Peeled and Washed Horseradish Roots

Peeled and Washed Horseradish Roots

Horseradish: washed, trimmed and ready for the food processor.

 

 

 

CobraHead Tools in Uganda

Monday, October 30th, 2017
Happy Gardener in Uganda

Happy Gardener in Uganda

I think Rose Berry bought her first CobraHead from us at the Madison Garden Expo many years ago.  Rose likes our products and she has purchased many tools for gardeners over the years. She let me know that she really could use a lot of CobraHead tools for a project she was involved with in Uganda. I let her know that I had a lot of obsolete but totally functional tools that I would be happy to donate.

Blue CobraHeads in Uganda

Blue CobraHeads in Uganda

Rose is involved in several projects that help Ugandans live better lives.  She got our tools to Africa and sent me pictures of the local people getting their CobraHead tools. I got the pictures but no background story so I asked for some information and Rose sent me this:

“We work with an amazing nun in Uganda named Sr. Salome.  I also work with Remembering Jesse Parker Inc. (You can see the documentary by going to News8000 and search Tears Into Water). Jesse’s Mom is a friend of mine here in Tomah.  Jesse died in an auto accident and aspired to a life of drilling water for Africa. In his honor we have now (in 7 years) drilled 51 wells.

Other projects we have there are a Diva Cup Project which allows adolescent girls to attend school during menstruation, a sewing project, a microloan project, a school sponsorship ($20. per year for primary school for a year), Photos For Peace (where we set up a photo site and take pictures of families (the only one they own), and more. 

The area is called Busalo and is about 70 miles west of Kampala near Mityanna. Laura (my daughter) and I have traveled there 3 times and love the people and their culture. 

Thanks again for your donation!  Your Cobrahead tool has made a difference in my life and it is making a bigger difference in the lives of people who depend on their gardens for life in Africa!

Yellow CobraHeads in Uganda

Yellow CobraHeads in Uganda

The world certainly needs more Rose Berrys and I’m happy we’ve contributed in a small way to helping people in Uganda to grow their own food.  I’m sure Rose and the projects she is involved with could use more help so feel free to reach out to her.  You can reach her at jfberry at centurytel dot net or contact CobraHead and we’ll forward any messages.

Children in Uganda

Children in Uganda

Gardening in Uganda

Gardening in Uganda

2017 Sweet Potato Harvest

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017
Sweet Potato Harvest. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Sweet Potato Harvest

We harvested 89 pounds of sweet potatoes yesterday. That’s not a record, but it’s well above our normal yield, and we’re happy with the results. Our average sweet potato yield is about 80 pounds per bed.  We grow a variety named Jewel (sometimes spelled Jewell).  We’ve been growing Jewel from our own starts for over 10 years and we find it excellent for both yield and long-term storage, and they taste great, too!

Empty Bed. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Empty Bed

The potatoes were grown in this very clayey bed.

Sweet Potato Vines. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Sweet Potato Vines

For harvesting, we first removed all the vines and the black plastic sheet which covered the bed and acted as a solar collector to heat up the soil.

18 Harvested Sweet Potato Plants. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

18 Harvested Sweet Potato Plants

Here are the 18 harvested plants.

Vole Damage. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Vole Damage

More Vole Damage. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

More Vole Damage

The forecast is for warm temperatures for the next ten days, but I had to harvest now because I noticed some vole damage on one of the potatoes when I checked under the plastic, two days ago. Any increase in yields we might have gotten for leaving them in the ground longer could have been easily offset by damage from these little varmints.

Fortunately the damage was limited to two plants and was not significant. I found a nest under the plastic, but no voles.

We trimmed up the roots before we weighed them and wheeled them to the house for a two week curing on the kitchen table.

After two weeks in the kitchen, we’ll wrap the larger potatoes in newspaper and store them in the basement. We will be able to enjoy our harvest all year long.

 

T-Posts in Trellises

Friday, June 30th, 2017
T-Post Trellises

T-Post Trellises

Intensive gardening in open raised beds practically demands working with a lot of trellises.  The system of concentrated planting doesn’t lend itself to sprawl, and the solution is to grow vertically.   I stake or trellis many plants to get maximum production in limited space and to keep the aisle spaces passable.

I use T-posts as my main trellis component.  They are cheap, strong, and last forever.  And they lend themselves well to various designs. Most of my T-posts are 7’ 6” long.  I’ve found the 90” length adaptable to many trellises.  The post is tall, but not so tall I can’t work with them easily.  T-Posts normally come in lengths from about 3 feet to 12 feet.  I do have some smaller ones I use for other tasks, but I like the 90” post for most of my trellises.

Here are three different trellis structures using the same T-post for the frame.

Squash / Melon Trellis

Squash / Melon Trellis

Lacing Melon Through the Grid

Lacing Melon Through the Grid

Squash and melons:  This trellis uses concrete reinforcing grids.  The grids are 42” x 84” and are readily available at building supply stores.  I place one grid vertically between two posts and use jute twine to tie everything together.

Pea Trellis

Pea Trellis

Peas:  This trellis uses 24” landscape fence tied between posts set 3 feet apart.  The trellis makes it easy to get a lot of peas into one bed and it also puts the peas up and easy to reach from both sides of the trellis.

T-Post and Bamboo Tomato Trellis

T-Post and Bamboo Tomato Trellis

Tomato Trellis - 2

Tomato Trellis – 2

Tying off Tomato Stems.

Tying off Tomato Stems.

Tomatoes:   T-posts provide framework for the bamboo stakes and also act as a tomato stake to the adjacent plants.

Guardian of the Garden

Guardian of the Garden

T-post trellises fill a need in my quest for both a practical and sustainable garden.

 

 

Garden Bloggers Fling – Willowsford Farm

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Hi, everyone. Anneliese here. I’m back! Did you miss me? After four years away from CobraHead, I’ve returned to the family business, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

One of my resumed responsibilities is representing CobraHead at events like the Garden Bloggers Fling. Geoff and I attended the very first Fling in Austin, TX in 2008, and I continued attending every year until 2012. The garden bloggers who attend the Fling are invariably a wonderful group of people, and I’ve maintained friendships with many of them over the years even when I wasn’t working in the gardening world. After several years away, it was a privilege both to see many old friends and to make new friends with bloggers who’ve started attending Flings in my absence.

This year’s Fling was held in the Washington, D.C. metro region, and boy, was it a good time. Probably my favorite site of the entire Fling was the very first garden we visited, and it was really more of a farm than a garden. In fact, the place was called Willowsford Farm.

Willowsford Farm

Willowsford is a relatively new residential development not far from Dulles Airport in northern Virginia. They’re committed to keeping 2,000 acres of open space, and 300 of those acres are kept for the farm. Willowsford’s Director of Farm Operations, Mike Snow, graciously led us on a tour.

Mike Snow of Willowsford Farm

Our first stop on the tour was the farm stand. Mike explained that the food produced on the farm is available to consumers in a number of different ways. They operate a CSA with members picking up their weekly produce shares, but for those who would rather not commit to a CSA share, they can always stop at the farm stand for a la carte shopping.

Produce for sale at the Willowsford Farm Stand

The farm sells some of their produce to the Willowsford Kitchen, where it’s processed into various ready-to-eat goods and then also sold at the farm stand. Some of their items are brought in from other nearby producers.

The dairy cooler at Willowsford Farm Stand

Right next to the farm stand is the “you-pick” garden, where visitors can harvest their own fruits, veggies, and flowers.

Bloggers enjoying the “you-pick” garden at Willowsford Farm

Mike then took us to the production areas of the farm. Our first stop was a corral with a chicken coop and a pair of geese. The fencing was easily movable so the animal pen could be relocated every few weeks. This way the animals could naturally fertilize different areas over time.

Movable fencing for the chickens and geese

The farm had several acres under cultivation and produces a wide variety of crops. Here Mike is explaining the fabric row covers that are used for insect damage prevention on certain crops. If I recall correctly, these were radishes or perhaps cole crops.

Crops with row covers for pest prevention

I asked Mike if they started their own plants from seed, and the answer was yes, most of the time. The farm utilized several hoop houses for both seed starts and some greenhouse growing.

Covered crops, lettuces, and hoop houses in the background

I was really interested to see that one of the hoop houses was being used to grow ginger and turmeric. These aren’t crops that are commonly grown in Wisconsin, and it’s always fun to see some of the plants that can grow in different parts of the country.

Ginger and turmeric growing inside a hoop house

 

I truly enjoyed my visit to Willowsford Farm. They’re doing great work using both traditional and innovative food production methods, and it was a perfect reintroduction to the Garden Bloggers Fling.

Cucumber and squash trellis

Wood Garden Flats

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Wood Flat

This old flat dates back to about 1990.  I started making my own flats from some cheap fence wood I had acquired.  I’m not sure where I got the design, probably a garden magazine or garden book, but it has proven to be long-lasting and very useful.  The flats are built using  3″ x 12″ x 5/8″ wood for the ends and 3″ x 18″ x 5/8″ wood for the sides.  Thus they are 3 inches deep.  The construction is very rough, especially the older ones, which were cut with a hand saw.  Now I use a table saw and the newer flats are definitely squarer.

Flat Lined with Newspaper

I line the flats with newspaper. They can be filled with soil, or filled with seed starting cups or pots.

Flat Filled With Potting Soil

When I fill the flat with soil, I use a block of wood to level out the soil and tamp it down.

28 Seed Cups in Flat

The flats hold 28 small 5 ounce drink cups exactly.  I start most of my seeds in these small cups.

Stackable Flats

The flats are stackable and strong.  Unlike many plastic seed starting trays, they are ridged and less likely to be upset when moving them around.  I now have about 30 of these flats in my collection.  They are easily repairable.  Wood flats are an important part of my gardening routine.

Potatoes in Cold Storage

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Cold Storage in the Barn

It’s the end of January. We still have a lot of potatoes stored in the barn. Barn temperatures are often well below freezing but the potatoes are in good shape. Last fall, before I put the potatoes in storage, I modified my straw bale walls and replaced the bales on top with insulating foam panels. It was a good move. It’s way easier sliding off panels than wrestling straw bales when you need some potatoes. The barn stays cleaner and the potatoes seem to be in better shape than the last year.

Mover’s Blankets

Below the foam I placed some mover’s blankets, which are good insulators, to take up a lot of the gaps.

Shipping Crate Set in Straw Bales

The bales surround a wood shipping crate that has been re-purposed as a storage bin.

Potatoes in the Crate

The potato varieties are separated in the crate by walls made of scrap press-board. I mixed some loose straw in with the potatoes and that seems to be a plus in potato longevity.

Potatoes Ready to Cook

We’re pacing ourselves on potato consumption, trying to get most of them eaten before serious sprouting and shriveling sets in. Our improved above ground cold storage system is helping us enjoy all those good potatoes we grew.

Talking and Writing About Gardening

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator

I started CobraHead to sell a tool I designed. I was quite sure my tool would be a help to a lot of gardeners. Since then, sales have proven what I knew when I started, the tool was a good one. Supposedly it was Emerson who said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” I can assure you Ralph got it wrong. You can have a great product, but you have to sell it and sell it hard before anyone will even know it’s out there.

CobraHead Logo

 

 

Fifteen years into our CobraHead venture it’s obvious no one would know anything about the tool if I didn’t become a marketeer to extol its virtues to the public. Word of mouth happens, but it’s way too slow. You have to fuel the fire. There is so much noise out there and so many people claiming, just like me, that they’ve got something people need to buy. Selling is actually the most time consuming part of the business. Fortunately, I was a salesman before I started the company, and I‘ve learned a whole lot about marketing since we first launched.

Magazine Ad

 

We’ve chosen a relatively low key approach to marketing our company. Print advertising hasn’t been our best venue. We don’t do a lot of it. We’ve found many lower cost tools to get our message out. Maintaining a blog is quite inexpensive. Talking about gardening at trade shows and garden conferences can cost almost nothing and I often get paid for doing it. And while I almost never talk about my tools directly, the association and connection to our company through blogs and public appearances strengthens the perception that I’m a gardener who walks the talk.

The CobraHead Blog

Very early into our history, we found out about a group called the Garden Writers Association. We began attending their conferences with the specific purpose of getting tools into the hands of garden writers with the hope they would like the tool and mention it in their articles and talks. That has proved to be our most successful method of gaining publicity, but attending the conferences also taught us about writing and presenting. Now, while I hardly consider myself a garden writer, I really am one. It’s just not my full time job.

PowerPoint Slide Show

While I’m not on the speaker’s circuit, I’ll be giving three talks on gardening at our favorite garden show, the Madison Garden Expo, coming up in February. I’m talking about growing garlic, growing sweet potatoes, and the raised bed method of gardening that I employ. In none of these talks do I hard sell my tools, but they do generate sales for us at the show and after.

Facebook Page

Social media is the newest selling tool out there and it can be low cost. We maintain a Facebook page, but so far, Twitter, Pinterest, and other such venues are yet to be explored. It probably will be a while before we jump in with those.

Promoting CobraHead has taught me a lot about marketing and certainly has improved my gardening knowledge just by being associated with the garden industry and trying to figure out ways to become a stronger part of it. I’ve met hundreds of people in the industry and many of them are, like me, trying to show others the value of gardening. I’ve learned a lot from them.