Monthly Archives: June 2013

Wildlife

AnoleIbisOne thing I enjoy about living in Florida is the wildlife—both indoors and out. Since insects of various species make their way indoors I’m grateful when lizards do, too. Somebody has to eat the bugs!

Here’s a Carolina Anole hanging out under my computer desk. Yes, I really do sweep the floor from time to time.

A gardener needs help with outside pests as well. From time to time I’m visited by White Ibises. They root around with their long beaks, reducing the population of grubs in the yard.

Making a Compost Bin

Bin 2I built bin #3 on May 19th and now it’s June 12th. Must learn to type faster!

As you can see, bin #2 was getting a little full.

Most people probably only need two bins—one filled with aging compost and a second one still being filled. I have three since my first one filled up in only two weekends.

Note: If you can’t see enough detail in a picture, double-click on it. That will take you to a larger version. Don’t forget to hit the “back” button to return!

1-Wire FenceBill of materials

(1) Roll, 4′ x 50′ Welded wire fence. This is galvanized for outdoor use—it should last for several years. The wire is 14 gauge and the wire spacing is 2″ horizontal by 4″ vertical. One roll is enough for four bins and cost me $38.67 (plus 7% tax, divide by 4 = $10.34 per bin). Maybe you can split a roll with a friend or neighbor. Do not buy chicken wire/poultry netting/hex netting (or whatever it’s called where you live). A number of years ago I tried it and it’s way too flimsy. Very frustrating to work with. When I last checked, the chicken wire was actually more expensive than the welded wire fence!

(1) Sheet, 9′ x 12′ x 2 mil plastic drop cloth (in the paint aisle).  This is enough to line two bins—so after you make your first, set 1-Chicken Wireaside the leftovers. My cost was $2.98 plus tax divided by two equals $1.59. I could have purchased a larger roll of thinner plastic but I’m one of those guys who has trouble with Saran wrap. Two mil (0.002”) plastic is thick enough for me to handle and strong enough to take some abuse. Sunshine tends to destroy plastic so I may or may not be able to reuse it.

(2) Stakes. I use cheap wooden surveyor’s stakes but you can use whatever you have lying around – tent stakes, rebar, or sharpened sticks. These may be reused.

(6) Clothes pins. More is better and, once again, they are reusable.

(1) Piece of cardboard, about 4 feet square or round. I put this in the bottom of the bin to keep the water from draining out too fast. Remember, the soil here is sand. A scrap of plastic would probably work even better. I don’t try to cover the entire bottom of the bin since I think (for no logical reason) that some contact with the earth is a good thing.

1-ToolsTools

  • Wire cutters
  • Pliers
  • Scissors or razor knife
  • Measuring tape (12 feet or longer)
  • Bricks, blocks, or logs (at least 2) to keep the fencing from rolling up

1-Layout AHow I Done It

First of all, if you try this at home, remember that you are working with sharp wire. Pay attention to what you’re doing so you don’t hurt yourself. I recommend wearing long sleeves, gloves, and eye protection. Do as I say, not as I do.

I used my pliers to open the little wire rings that hold the roll of fencing together. I save a couple of them and put them back on the roll when I’m done. It keeps things neater.

As I began to unroll the fencing I placed a brick on the loose end. I unrolled about 14 feet and blocked the roll with another brick to make it stay.

With the tape I measured 12 1/2 feet.

1-CuttingLook at the picture if you’re following along. I’m going to be cutting the horizontal wires flush against a vertical wire. When I’m finished, the roll of fencing won’t have any sharp ends sticking out. The sharp ends will be on the 12-1/2 foot piece that I’m cutting off. I hope that’s clear.

My wire cutters/pliers are a cheap combination pair. I cut each of the horizontal wires flush with the same vertical wire. Before I cut the last wire I took a moment to think things through. Both pieces of fence are going to try roll up! Not sure about you, but I certainly don’t want to get snagged. It takes too long to heal at my age. I put one knee against the roll and shifted the brick over to the cut piece before I made the last snip.

1-Bending BIt only took me a minute to put away the leftover roll. This prevented me from tripping over it-—a distinct possibility.

Take a look at the pictures to see how I bent the loose horizontal wires upward using my fingers. You might prefer to use pliers.

I allowed the piece of fencing to roll back in the direction that it wants to go and slipped the newly-formed hooks around the vertical wire at 1-Hookedthe other end. This forms a heart-shaped tube—the wire tends to roll up more than I want it to. It’s always a little tricky to get all the wires hooked (at the same time). Notice that the hooks – the sharp ends – are on the inside. That’s so I won’t snag myself as I work around the bin. I didn’t bend them tight—once they’re in place they stay.

 

1-StakesThe sheet of cardboard goes down first, then the tube of fencing. Bin number three is located next to bin number two. I left enough space so I can slip between them if I need to. Be sure you’re happy with the location; even a partially filled bin is difficult to move!

I used two stakes to anchor the bottom of the bin. this a) pulls the bottom into a round shape and b) 1-Cut Plastickeeps it from falling over when I jostle it. The top of the bin still looks a little heart-shaped but it will straighten out as it fills.

Now for the liner. I spread out my sheet of plastic and folded it in half lengthwise. I used the scissors to cut along the fold leaving two sheets 4-1/2 feet wide by 12 feet long. One 1-Add Plasticof the sheets goes in the shed with the roll of fencing. The other I draped on the inside of the compost bin. I folded a couple of inches over on the top and held it in place with clothes pins. Voila!

Black plastic might work better than clear. I haven’t tried it. Its big disadvantage is that it isn’t available locally in handy, drop-cloth-sized sheets.

 

1-Anchored

It’s time to start filling the bin. The first couple of bags of grass clippings and shredded leaves I poured gently down the inside, forcing the plastic against the wire on the bottom. I leave the stakes in place and (gently) add a couple of buckets of dechlorinated water. I’ve never had a compost bin blow over, even during a tropical storm.

From now on it merely needs to be maintained:

  1. Continue filling it with compostable material
  2. Make sure it stays damp enough so that it will continue to rot

The bacteria and fungi do the rest of the work.

May God bless our endeavors,

Rick

p.s. I figured out (and fixed) the time/date problem. My time zone (in WordPress) was set to New Zealand!

 

Update June 10, 2013

Okra More rain on Sunday evening–none so far today.
Hand watered garden with bucket and scoop.

Okra looks OK–but a couple of the stems look suspiciously thin where they meet the soil.

 

PurpleOne of the Purple slips looks dead. The others are beginning to stand up and look like plants!

Compost piles:
#1: 100°
#2:  110°
#3:  140° (less than half filled)

I’m trying to figure out what world my web host lives in. It’s June 10 where I live but the date (below) says June 11. Weird.

Southern Exposure Comes Through

Open BoxI mentioned in an earlier post that my order of sweet potato slips never arrived. I had gotten the impression, from the seed company confirmation email, that they had been shipped. Apparently, this was incorrect. On Tuesday another email arrived:

Subject: Sweet Potato Order Update Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Your sweet potatoes have shipped today 6/4. They should arrive in 2-3 days.
Sweet potatoes should be planted quickly. If you’re not prepared to plant, place slips loosely in a flat of soil. They can be revived upon arrival by dipping in water or placing bottom half of slip in a cup of water.
You should expect the plants to look wilted after their long journey!

BowlsThey arrived on Thursday evening – and I was not ready. I opened the shipping box and placed the root ends in a couple of bowls full of moist vermiculite. I figured that would hold them till Saturday. As you can see they weren’t kidding about the wilting.

One reason (excuse) for my lack of preparation was named Andrea. This tropical storm sideswiped our area from late Wednesday to late Thursday – bringing heavy rains and strong winds. Between the two days I got over 4 inches of rain.

Saturday morning I was up bright and early to clean up from the storm. It was well past noon before I had all of the yard debris – mostly oak branches – raked up and shredded. While I was at it I mowed the lawn. The rain did wonders for my grass.

Okra CardboardAndrea’s winds had shifted the cardboard mulch on the okra bed, covering some of the plants. I stripped it off and noticed that more seeds had germinated underneath. Apparently the rain had washed them to new locations far from the holes that I had punched. The germination rate was better than I had first thought.

After a break for lunch I went grocery shopping. As a side note, Cornell University has just done a study proving that you should never go shopping when you’re hungry. I stumbled across this article on the Telegraph website. Don’t these people have anything better to do? My mom taught me this fifty years ago!

BuffyI began preparing the new garden bed about 3 PM, spacing the Beauregard slips 12 inches apart and the purple slips 24 inches apart.

VermiculiteI modified my planting technique this time (gardening is an art, not a science). In a 5 gallon bucket I mixed a couple of gallons of vermiculite with about a gallon of worm castings (measured by eye). I then dumped about a quart of the mix in each spot where I was going to plant. Using my hands I stirred this into the dirt along with a couple of cups of chlorine-free water, making a nice mud hole for each of my plants. Since we had just gotten 4 inches of rain the soil still had a vague hint of moisture. Talk about extremely well-drained! By the way, I purchase my vermiculite locally in 4 cubic foot (about 30 gallon) bags. An 8-quart (2 gallon) bag sells for about five dollars. The 30 gallon bag is about thirty-five dollars. It’s very convenient to have large quantities on hand whenever needed.

PlantedTwo of the slips didn’t look very good—one of each variety. Maybe they’ll survive.

I finished up about five o’clock. It began raining—a nice, steady downpour—about 5:30.

Having completed the planting, I decided to read the instructions that came with the shipment (it’s a guy thing). It was generic info that recommended a spacing of 9 to 18 inches. Close enough. It also recommended that I “transplant in the evening and water immediately.” Under the brutal Florida sunshine this is excellent advice.

As you can see from the date of this post I was too tired and sore to do any writing on Saturday evening. I retired early. The rain was still falling.

The Okra is Up

Today was a very busy day – lots of maintenance. The good news is…

The okra has germinated and is doing just fine – sort of. I had planted  five groups of three seeds. The germination counts were three, two, two, one, and zero. Eight out of fifteen isn’t too good.

No CardboardNotice that these two okra plants have no cardboard around them. We had a bad windstorm on Tuesday and I guess that one piece of cardboard wasn’t weighted down very well. I don’t know where it went; it isn’t in the yard. It’s interesting that the cardboardless seedlings look better than any of the others. Perhaps I need to rethink that “trapdoor in the cardboard” idea.

About an hour after breakfast I perceived that the neighborhood was awake – one of the neighbors started doing some outside repairs with a hammer. I headed out to get the lawn mowed. Rain was in the forecast and I wanted get finished before it began. Of course it started raining while I was still doing the front yard. It was a gentle rain, though, and didn’t make it through the Oak-leaf canopy over my head.

Soon the rain stopped but I had to wait for the grass in the backyard to dry out again. I stayed busy working on the compost heaps. I’ve neglected, til now, to provide a time-line and updates; this I will now remedy.

I started the first compost pile on the weekend of February 16 – 17. I finished filling it on March 3. The second compost bin began its life the following weekend, March 9. It was filled to overflowing by  Sunday, May 5. Since I was out of town the following weekend I built my new compost heap on Saturday the eighteenth, two weeks ago.

Compost pile number one, which was mostly Oak leaves – thoroughly shredded – didn’t heat up very quickly. The highest temperature I recorded was about 125°. Last weekend it was down to 110 and today I measured it at 108°. I dug into it today and took some nice pictures to show how well, though slowly, it was decaying. Alas, techno-trouble with my SD card resulted in the loss of those pictures.

Compost pile number two had a lot more nitrogen in the mix. I checked the temperature two weeks ago and it was 135°. Last weekend it was down to 120 and today about 115. Unfortunately I have been slack on keeping the compost heaps moist enough so I took some time today to give them a drenching – 15 gallons in the two older bins and ten for the new one. I’ll check the temperatures again this week to see the affect of the added moisture.

Water BareAfter clipping the back yard (all twelve blades of grass) I still had some time before lunch to “repair” the okra problem. Rather than replant seeds in the bare spot I pricked out a seedling from the threesome and planted it in the empty location. I’ll have to thin the extras in any case.

The verb, “to prick”, is one of those lovely Anglo-Saxon words with lots of different meanings. If you look it up in an (online) dictionary you have to go way down the list before you find the definition “to transplant a seedling.”

I first gently watered the vermiculite in each of the spots – including the one with no seedlings. I punched a hole with my finger where I wanted the new plant to go. Then I used a wooden matchstick to gently loosen the vermiculite around the seedling I was going to prick out. Some people like to use a pencil, a toothpick, or a skewer, but since I moved I haven’t been able to find my pencils or my toothpicks or my bamboo skewers.

Tap rootAs you can see from the photo I gently lifted the seedling out of the ground. Notice the nice taproot it is developing. I had to stir down pretty deeply to get it to pull loose easily. This is another case where vermiculite really shines. It’s so loose that it does minimal damage to the roots when you have to transplant the tiny seedlings.

I placed the seedling in its new home and gently firmed the vermiculite around it. All done. I wonder if the okra will be ready to pick next weekend?

Sweet potatoesThe sweet potatoes, by the way, are looking good.

After lunch I had a long and exhausting trip to Home Depot – spending a little more than I had planned. But that’s a story for another post.

I’m going to sit here and enjoy the gentle evening rain.

God bless,

Rick