Posts Tagged ‘planting boards’

Teaching an Old Dog to Teach

Monday, December 12th, 2011

The outdoor season is over for my 2011 Wisconsin garden.  I may do a little more clean up, and possibly drag in a few leaves to cover up some north beds, but the frost has already penetrated deep and there is nothing left to harvest.  There will be no more weeding or working the soil.  All my efforts now are in preparing for next year.

Gardening patterns and habits repeat themselves as you learn what has to be done to ensure a good harvest, but that hardly means every year is the same.  Change is constant and I’m always ready to try something new or modify what may not be working.  Here are a few new things from this year’s gardening adventure:

Cold Frame

I finally built a small cold frame.     I really didn’t put it to the test until this fall, but the results were excellent and it has me keen on trying more season extending structures.  Next year it’s going to be put to work early in the spring.

New bed

After shrinking my garden area for the past several years, I actually carved out a couple small new beds in the compost area.  The bed project was a test to back up my teachings on making the raised bed system I employ and the ease with which these beds can be formed and put to work.  The results were carrots, beets and peppers that I otherwise would not have had.

Planting Boards

I had been using planting boards for years, but my boards were just scraps of plywood I had laying around.  Not quite right, so this year I cut a couple to exactly the right size and I’m really glad I did.  It makes planting and working on my hands and knees much easier.

T-Post Tomato Trelils

I finally built the rock-solid tomato trellis I had envisioned for many years.  It put an end to the wind blowing over the cages and made it easy for me to string the vines up high.

And lastly, I became a teacher this year.

I’ve actually been giving talks about my garden for several years.  I’m a very loose disciple of the garden teacher Alan Chadwick.  What I really embrace is the open raised beds  of his teachings on intensive food production.  In the past  these talks were done gratis, but I’ve secured some paying engagements next year, and I’ve found that I really enjoy sharing my gardening experience with others.

To be a good teacher you have to keep learning.  And to learn you have to try new things.  I was quite happy with several new things I tried this year and I’ll continue to innovate in the garden in 2012.


Garlic Growing Redux

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

I took advantage of a dry day between the rains to get my garlic planted.  I’ve been using a method Geoff taught me years ago that works particularity well with raised beds.  I’ve posted the method several times before, but it’s worth repeating as it works so well.

I form a loose worked-up bed into three ridges (or two troughs) using a steel rake.  This year, before I planted the garlic cloves, I liberally dusted the entire bed with cilantro and anise hyssop seeds that I had saved.  I’m hoping to have an early harvest of cilantro and if the hyssop takes off, I’ll move some of it to other areas of the garden to use as an herb and as a pollinating insect attractor.  I really like anise hyssop, but I never seem to have enough of it, so I’m hoping this will work.

I’ll also seed and transplant spinach, lettuce and other greens into the bed in the spring, after I pull away the straw from the sprouted garlic.  Interplanting the garlic with greens pays off.  I get more production out of the bed and the greens seem to do well in the shade of the garlic flags.

I kneel on a plywood board to keep my knees from damaging the soft edges of the bed.  The garlic is planted  into the top of the ridges.  I push the cloves into the soil until they are just covered.  To plant the garlic neatly, I set down one row of plant markers on six inch centers.  I eyeball the planting for the two rows across from the markers, and the last row is planted alongside each marker.  A yardstick would work just as well, but this is an easy approach to getting the spacing just right.

I covered the bed with two small square bales of straw, using the small CobraHead tool to rip apart the sheaves and to fluff up the straw, thus making it as insulating as possible.  I then raked up and tamped down the straw with a small adjustable aluminum rake so the straw wouldn’t blow away in the gusty winds.  We’re looking forward to another good garlic harvest next July.

If you haven’t planted garlic yet, it’s not too late. You can also plant early in the spring, but your yield will not be as good in terms of bulb size.

Planting Boards for Raised Beds

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I planted a bed of potatoes Sunday, using two new planting boards that I made from a 4′ x 4′ sheet of 1/2″ plywood.  I had been using some old scrap plywood for planting boards, but I decided I would be happier and more efficient with two boards exactly the size I wanted.

I cut a 12″ strip off the 4′ x 4′ sheet so I have a 3′ x 4′ board for using when I’m on top of a bed and I have a 1′ x 4′ sheet to use to kneel against when I’m working along side the beds. I don’t kneel directly on the boards, but I use the Garden Padd kneeler to protect my old knees.  It has become my favorite kneeler.

Using planting boards allows one to sit or kneel atop a raised bed for seeding.  The board spreads the weight out fairly evenly across the bed and keeps one from compacting the soil or gouging it up.  In many cases it’s easier to plant from above than to try to reach in from the sides.  When working from the sides,  the smaller planting board prevents one’s knees from depressing and wrecking the bed edges.

The potato planting worked out most perfectly.  My beds, across the top, are almost exactly 20 feet long and 3 feet wide, so I set up a block grid pattern of 60 – one foot squares, and centered one seed potato in each of the 60 holes that I made.

I used BioMarker plant markers as surveying stakes for laying out the planting pattern, using 21 markers one foot apart along one edge of the bed and four markers at the top end, again, one foot apart.  Then, using a couple yardsticks to add a little precision to the process, I eyeballed the imaginary center of the first three holes, and put a stake into the center to mark them.

I used my CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator to make the holes.  It was easy to dig a 7″ to 9″ hole, much easier than with a trowel or a shovel.  I dug a hole, placed a seed at the bottom and pushed the soil back over the hole.

I alternated rows of seeds cut from some very large russets and red potatoes, which I had bought as organic food potatoes at our food coop in Madison.  I’ve had very good luck for the last several years buying just organic food potatoes, not certified seed potatoes.  As I’m not re-selling these, I can take the chance I won’t have any virus or disease problems and save a lot of money.  Going on four years doing this, I have had no problems, so far.

The process required me to dig three holes, plant three seeds, get off the board and slide it back a foot, plant three more and repeat until I was down to the last two rows.  There, I worked in from the sides of the beds to plant the last six spuds.  The whole planting process took about 45 minutes.  The potatoes are centered perfectly and I plan to mound up the stems as they surface to get a little extra tuber production.  We’ll see how everything turns out, but as far as the planting boards go, I’m totally happy with them.