Thursday, April 30, 2009


The heat wave broke yesterday and temperatures have returned to normal. All my plants seemed to have survived it okay. One of the Iceberg lettuce plants isn't looking real healthy, but I'm going to give it a little more time to see if it recovers.

Three out of four swiss chard has sprouted. I'm a little confused with these. I planted what I'm fairly certain was one seed per hole, but it looks like 3 sprouts have come up from each. Not sure if this is all one plant or not. I guess I need to read up on them a bit more.

Spinach, also doing well. (One shriveled up and died. I resowed another seed there.)

Peas and broccoli.

I planted a second square of spinach, a second square of swiss chard, a square of radishes and started my cucumbers inside. Also finished my first SWC. It's a bit on the ugly side, but luckily no one will see the guts of it. The "one tote" design was a bit of a pain. Took forever trimming and trimming to make the lid cutout fit down inside. Walmart had 18 gal Sterilite totes on sale so I'm going to try the two-tote method with the pond basket wicking chamber for my second one.

Lastly, the fruit trees are flowering. And my new dwarf gala looks to have survived the transplant. It's leafing and I see some flower buds starting to poke out. The grape vines are also beginning to leaf.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I recorded 90 degrees in the shade here yesterday and looks to be about the same today. Too hot to do much in the garden, but I did manage to get out and give everything some water and set the peppers and tomatoes out on the back steps to soak up some sun.

I rigged up a shade screen for the lettuce. I don't think they were quite ready to face this kind of heat so soon. I think I'm going to lose 2 or 3 icebergs but the rest seem to be holding their own.

Here's a shot of my cauliflower. This one has a lower leaf that's turning yellow. Not sure what to make of it yet. The newer leaves look okay and the other plant seems fine. I'll keep an eye on it.

Here are the yellow onions, all doing well.

Spinach and parsley.

Snow peas (left) and Mr. Big peas (right). Looks like a bird took a dump on one of the snow peas. They seem to like sitting on the crossbar of my trellis.

Broccoli and peas.

Peppers and tomatoes, out on the steps.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I forgot to take pictures today, so this will be text only. I'll try to get out there and take a few tomorrow.

Over the last few days there wasn't a whole lot to do with the garden, but I did get a few things done. I forgot to add some lime to soil when I planted my broccoli and cauliflower, like you're supposed to do to help prevent club root. So I sprinkled a little around the plants today and watered it in just to be on the safe side.

Today, I transplanted some lettuce I started three weeks ago to the garden. Some of the Iceberg looks a bit wilted, but hopefully it'll bounce back. Although we are going to have some unseasonably hot weather the next several days. I may try to rig up some sort of shade cloth for it. The Buttercrunch and Green Ice don't look too bad.

Also planted my first batch of carrots. I plan on planting a square about every 3 weeks or so.

Lastly, I had my tomatoes and peppers outside all day in the warm sun. They seem to love this weather and are growing stocky and strong.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New composter

I picked up an Earth Machine composter cheaply from my county recycling center and set it up today. I shoveled the contents of my failed trash can tumbler into it. I have neglected the tumbler for a month or so now, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a bit of steam coming off the contents. The bottom of the can was a bit gross and slimy since there were no drainage holes there, and the whole thing smells a bit. I think I have too much "green" and not enough "brown" in there right now. I'll try to remedy that over the next couple days.

You can see just beyond the compost bin is a small creek. Our property actually extends to the other side, but the concrete bridge that connected the two banks washed away 6 months after we moved in. We've been trying to come up with some way to make a bridge so we can access that side again, but the span is about 19 ft -- hard to find treated beams that long. We'd love to plant a few additional beds there to grow some of the things that can get out of hand like squash, pumpkins, watermelon, etc. Would love to build a legit 3-bin compost pile there also. If anyone out there knows where to get 22-ft long treated 8x8's (or maybe a couple old utility poles) in central NJ, let me know!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beautiful day

Another beautiful day here, so I had all my plants outside to soak up a little real sunlight rather than the florescents. That was pretty much all I had time for today.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Indoor seedling update

I haven't included many shots of my indoor seedlings, so here's an update on them. Fist is my tomato plants (started on 4/3). I'm starting a few for my mom's new garden, too.

Here's most of my first round of lettuce plants (also started on 4/3).

Finally, my pepper plants (started on 3/18).

This afternoon I began work on the first of two Self Watering Containers (SWC) that I will use for tomatoes. I'm working off the plans that use only one plastic tote (to save some $$). I have to say, these are kind of a pain to make. Lots of drilling and cutting tough plastic. I got the PVC sections cut and drilled, the lid cut to size and drilled full of holes. Still need to cut out the sections for the wicking chambers and fill tube.

Lastly, I started my last 20 lettuce plants in the peat pellets and potted up a couple tomato and lettuce plants inside.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Things are poppin'

Went out this morning to find several spinach sprouts poking through the soil.

As well as some real pea sprouts (as opposed to the weeds I mistook for peas the other day).

Transplanted my broccoli and cauliflower to the garden with cutworm collars made from cut up cereal boxes.

Lastly, I planted the first of two squares of swiss chard. Here's the garden ready to rock and roll. It's exciting to see the squares starting to fill with plants.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Construction almost finished

After a few days of cold and rainy weather, today was absolutely beautiful so I was able to get outside and get some things done. I put together the last trellis and erected it in its place. I found a pipe cutter in my toolbox and that certainly made cutting the conduit much easier as opposed to the hacksaw I used on the other ones. I wish I had found it a week ago.

Then I strung the trellis netting on the last two. What a tedious job that is -- tying all those little knots!

After that, I built the last chicken wire enclosure. I still need to put it up but have to cut some more clothesline and melt the ends first.

Lastly I transplanted some tomatoes and lettuce into some larger plastic cups.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Busy day

Headed to Walmart first thing this morning to get another apple tree to replace one that died two years ago. Got a Dwarf Gala Apple tree for $20 and planted it next to out existing apple tree.

Then I built the third of four chicken wire enclosures, built and erected the third conduit trellis and attached the netting to the first trellis. I also put the broccoli and cauliflower outside all day to prepare them for planting on Friday. That was about enough for one day.

Here's the first pea sprout poking through the soil.

EDIT (4/17/09): Apparently, this photo is not of a pea sprout, but of some sort of weed. I only realized after the REAL peas began to sprout. I yanked out the weeds (3 of them).

Saturday, April 11, 2009


It's a cold and rainy day here, so can't do much work outside. I did go out and check my peas -- the first spout of my Mr. Big peas has poked through. These went in on 4/2. Nothing yet from the sugar snap or the spinach I planted on 4/7. It's supposed to be sunny tomorrow and Monday, so hopefully I can get the other two trellises up and build another chicken wire pen.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Trellis and transplanting

Got the materials for the other three trellises and built one of them. Also test-fitted the netting on one. I still need to build two more trellises and two more chicken wire enclosures and then I'm pretty much done for the season as far as major construction goes.

Also transplanted my parsley (started 3/7) to the garden.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Trellis and hardening off

Built my first trellis out of 2x2's and bolted it to the cleats attached to the beds. Still need to attach the netting. I am still a little concerned whether it's sturdy enough. I'm just picturing a a netting full of vines in a high summer wind snapping the thing off. I still have some time before the trellises come into play, so I'm going to think about it some more.

It was in the 60's today so I had my parsley, broccoli and cauliflower out all day. I'll probably leave the parsley out overnight now that it will be transplanted to the garden in a few days.

UPDATE: Went back to Lowes to brainstorm a bit and came up with another trellis configuration. So I picked up the materials for one prototype and threw it together at home.

This is 1/2" electrical conduit slid over 4 ft rebar pounded halfway into the ground (just like the book says). The key that makes this all an affordable solution is -- rather than using those metal conduit elbows that cost $5/ea., I used cheap 1/2" PVC elbows (threaded on both sides) that cost $0.56/ea. I just hammered them on the ends of the pipe. It seems the threads compress around the pipe when hammered on. I couldn't pull them apart at all once on all the way.

I swear I saw this mentioned on someone's blog someplace, so I can't take credit for it. I was just reminded of it as I walked down the PVC fittings aisle. I did a search but couldn't find the post, but if anyone reading this knows, I'd like to give credit where credit is due.

Time will tell if this will hold up, but I think I'm going to outfit the rest of the boxes with this type of trellis and see how it works out this year. There is some give, but I think that's good/expected. The rebar is 2+ feet into the ground, so I can't envision a situation where they'd pull out. I also like the fact that they're physically less bulky than the 2x2's so probably easier to store as well.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

More construction...

Today I put together the fence for the second box.

Also planted out one square of spinach (Giant Noble heirloom from Pinetree Seeds). You can just see the white marker in the right fenced in box.

Also had the parsley outside all day to harden. It was cool and a bit breezy, but they seemed to handle it okay.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tomato cages, storm windows & bug

I scored 4 tomato cages off Freecycle this evening. Not super tall (42") but I'm going to use them for a few plants. I'm going to run the majority of my tomatoes up trellis netting, but I'm going to stick a couple more plants elsewhere and see how they do in cages.

Also on Freecycle I've located a guy who has a few old storm windows. On Wednesday, I'm going to see what he has. Hopefully he'll have something suitable for making into a cold frame or two.

Lastly, when I was inspecting a few of my seedlings today, I noticed a tiny beetle crawling on one of my pepper pellets. I tried to take a picture of it, but it was just too small. About 1mm in size and sort of black and brown speckled. I only saw the one so too early to tell if I have a problem on my hands. Hopefully not!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hardening off

I managed to get my parsley, broccoli and cauliflower outside for a few hours today in the nice weather. The parsley is scheduled to go in the garden on Friday, and the broccoli and cauliflower in less than two weeks. Also got to Lowes and got a few more 1x2's for my fencing project. While I was there, I picked up a couple 2x2's for the first trellis. I'm still not sure if my trellis system will be strong enough. I'll have to wait until it's installed to really be able to tell.

Onions & Compost

My four squares of Yellow Onions I planted from sets on 3/13 are doing well. Nearly all of them have sprouted now.

In the fall, I built a "tumbling" compost bin from instructions I found online. It's a 32 gallon trash bin with holes cut in the sides covered with window screen. Unfortunately, it has a few problems. One is - I should have drilled lots of small holes for aeration rather than the large, screen-covered ones. The screen has peeled off a number of them and there's no good way to reattach. Also, the lid is too flimsy and won't stay on well when tumbling it. I think I'm just going to invert the can, cut out the bottom and use it as a regular compost enclosure for now.

Seed Starting

I mentioned that I'm using Jiffy-7 peat pellet greenhouses. I went this route for a few reasons. One was my uncle used the Burpee trays last year and complained about them. He said the chambers were too small and it was nearly impossible to get the plants out without either destroying the tray or destroying the root ball. So in looking for alternatives, I found the Jiffys and I liked that the tray and dome seemed to be decent quality -- good enough to last a few years. Also, the pellets have a netting around them to hold them together. This way, you can lift individual cells out as they germinate without disturbing any others. Also, they're very inexpensive. And next year, all I have to do is buy a couple packs of refill pellets to reduce costs even more.

Most seeds call for an ideal germination temperature of 70-75 degrees. I don't have anyplace in my house that gets this warm. I tried the top of the fridge, on top of the furnace, everywhere. Best I can do is a max of 65-68. So I resorted to sticking the tray on an ordinary heating pad for a few hours a day just to give it a boost. I know some say this isn't a good idea since regular heating pads aren't designed for this, but I keep a close eye on them and just use it for a few hours at a time.

What I've been doing is, once the seeds sprout, put them under the lights. Then, once they start to get their first true leaves, I'll thin them to one per pellet, then transplant them to a plastic cup. I remove the netting at this time since I've read reports of the netting impeding the roots.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


My name is Luke. I'm 31 and live in Central New Jersey with my wife and two kids (ages 6 and 5). I've worked in IT for 7 years (most recently as a SysAdmin) until being laid off in Oct., 2008. After being laid off, my wife and I decided to fulfill a dream of ours of starting a vegetable garden in the backyard. Inspired by my uncle, who started started a small square foot garden in Maine last summer, I bought a used copy of Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening and started planning our garden.

Being technical by nature, I really like the orderliness and efficiency of SFG. We decided to put 4 4x4 boxes on a gravel area just off the patio behind our house. This space is largely wasted and previously had a small, neglected flower bed along the edge.

After a bit of clearing, leveling and digging, the space looked like this -->

I then bought the 8 8ft 2x10's from Home Depot, some landscape fabric from Walmart, and got to building using some deck screws left over from another project. And a couple weeks later, I had this...

Those 2x2's sticking up from each box are cleats to which I'll bolt the trellises when the time comes. Next came filling the boxes with some variation of Mel's mix.

As stated in the SFG book, "Mel's Mix" is 1/3 peat, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 compost. After an inital search for vermiculite, it seemed like it was generally unavailable in central Jersey, or was obscenely expensive. Best price I found locally was at Agway, and that was $25 for a 4 cu ft bag. I just about decided I wasn't going to use it when I stumbled on a wholesaler 20 minutes away who also sold to the public. Price was $13.15 a bag, so I shot over there and bought 4 bags.

I then bought a couple bales of peat at Lowes and some various composts and manure at the local Agway (which is only 5 blocks away). After a laborious afternoon of mixing and shoveling, I got the beds pretty much filled. The next weekend, I bought another 10 bags of manure to top off the beds. I was skeptical at first, but this soil is absolutely beautiful -- light, friable, and holds moisture well.

I planned to grow everything from seed and bought 2 Jiffy-7 greenhouses, 72 pellets each, as well as a 25-pellet version with slightly larger pellets. Most of my seeds came from Pinetree Seeds. The nice thing about them is the price and the fact that the envelopes contain a reasonable amount of seeds. One of the advantages of SFG is supposed to be that you don't plant a huge row of plants, only to thin out 80% later on, so a small number of seeds is needed.

I threw together a simple 2-shelf rack made of 2x2's and one 4 ft florescent T12 light fixture from Walmart for $10. The other 3 fixtures came from Freecycle so didn't cost anything. This gives me 4 40W light tubes per shelf. Should be plenty of space for now. It's tucked in the corner of our partially finished basement. Stays rather cool (58-60 degrees), but the seedlings don't seem to mind it.

At the moment, I have parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, cayenne peppers, California Wonder bell peppers, four types of tomatoes, three types of lettuce, mint and basil started indoors. I also have yellow onions (from sets) and two types of peas planted out in the garden. I have a master spreadsheet with my garden grids, planting schedule, cost breakdown, harvest schedule, succession planting schedule, etc. EVERYTHING I do is based off this spreadsheet, and yes I do have it backed up since I'd be totally lost without it!

Today, I built the chicken wire fence around the first box. We have a lot of rabbits around here so keeping them out is a priority. It took me a while to come up with something suitable. For a variety of reasons we can't fence in the whole area at the moment, so I needed to come up with something to surround the individual boxes. So it needed to be either low enough to reach over to tend the plants or be easily removable. I ended up building 2ftx4ft frames from 1x2's and tacking chicken wire to it. These panels are placed against the box and tied at the corners. Seems like it will work. I need to build the rest next week.

Well, this was a long introductory post, but there was a lot to get up-to-date. Overall, I'm enjoying our first garden and it has really given me something to keep me going during my layoff. Now that the planning and most of the construction is done, when I do eventually manage to find work, I should be able to tend to the maintenance.