Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What, Where, When, How

This is the start of my blog for my Vegetable Garden.

I live in a suburb of Los Angeles. 

What do I grow?

Winter Melons (several different types),  Chinese Pumpkins,  Cherry Tomatoes (many different varieties) and next year I hope to grow Okinawan (Purple) Sweet Potatoes.

I have also tried Zucchini, Bak Choy, and Napa Cabbage.  The Zucchini only last a couple of months before I pulled them out.  The Zucchini grew way too fast and took up a lot of space.  They were crowding out my Winter Melons and I rather eat Winter Melons than Zucchini.  The Bak Choy and Napa got eaten by the caterpillars.  Since I grow organically, there was nothing too protect the plants from the insects.

Where do I grow?

I grow in the backyard of my house.  I am lucky that I have a relatively large backyard (for Southern California).  I have two large raised beds. One raised bed (38 sq feet) I used solely for Cherry Tomatoes and there other raised bed (20 sq feet) I used for the Chinese Pumpkins and the Winter Melons.  The raised bed for the Chinese Pumpkins and the Winter Melons is smaller but I let the Chinese Pumpkins and Winter Melons sprawl all of the backyard, so the total area taken up by them is much larger. I have also grown Cherry Tomatoes in containers, but I was unhappy with the results. Next year, I plan to exclusively use raised beds for my Cherry Tomatoes.

I just added (this past weekend) a third raised bed (9 sq feet) and plan to add a fourth raised bed (8 sq feet) in the next couple of months.  I plan to grow Cherry Tomatoes in these two new raised beds.  This will allow me to get rid of the containers completely.

The containers won't go to waste. I plan to try to grow the Okinawan Sweet Potatoes in them next year.

When do I grow?

I am very fortunate to live in Southern California where the weather is almost perfect.  I usually start at the end of December planting seeds.  I have a grow light in a storage room that I use to start the seeds.  In March/April, I transplant the seedlings outdoors into the garden.  The Tomatoes usually last until September.  The Winter Melons and Chinese Pumpkins last until Thanksgiving. 

This year, I am experimenting with a 2nd crop of Cherry Tomatoes. I started the seeds in August and transplanted them in October.  Already, I see a few little cherry tomatoes growing on the vines. 

How do I grow?

Organic!  No Miracle Gro in this garden.

My primary organic fertilizer is Alfalfa Meal. I can get it at the local feed store for $18 per 50 lb bag.  I also use Fish Bone Meal (available for $30 per 25 lb bag at the local nursery) and composted Steer Manure ($1 per 1 cu feet at the local Home Depot).

I typically layer the Alfalfa Meal into the raised bed and sprinkle Fish Bone Meal over the Alfalfa Meal .  I then add the Steeer Manure on top and let the earthworms go to town.

When I first started, I used Soybean Meal ($26 per 50 lb bag), Peruvian Bat Guano ($30 per 11 lb bag), Seaweed Kelp ($30 per 25lb bag) and Earthworm Castings ($17 per 25 lb bag) but I found that they were too expensive and I saw no difference in yield.

Alfalfa Meal is a good well balanced fertilizer (N-P-K of 3-1-2). Before I was combining the Soybean  (7-1-2),  Lime, Guano (10-10-3),  and Kelp (0-0-1) in a ratio of 4 to 1 to 1 to 1 .  That was way too complicated and expensive.  

I have also tried regular Bone Meal. I switched over to Fish Bone Meal because of safety concerns on Bone Meal.  I know there is no scientific proof, but I decided to play it safe and use Fish Bone Meal instead.  I don't use that much Fish Bone Meal so the added cost of the Fish Bone Meal is not too much.  The only problem is the fishy smell.

Next year I plan to try composted Chicken Manure ($7 per 50 lb bag at the local nursery).  I have already put 5 bags of Chicken Manure into the 38 sq feet raised bed and 6 bags of Chicken Manure into the new 9 sq feet raised bed.  Later on, I will put in Alfafa Meal on the top.  I want to save the Fish Bone meal until I transplant the seedlings into the beds.  One  scoop of Fish Bone Meal into the hole before I drop the seedlings in.  I read that phosporus (the primary purpose of using Fish Bone Meal) travels very slowly in the soil (only a few inches per year),  so it is better to put it directly where the roots can get to it. This plan will hopefully reduce my fertilzer cost even further.

If nothing else, my earthworms seem to love the stuff.  In my raised bed, I just have to shift the soil a lit bit and I see several worms.

How do I water?

I use drip irrigation.  I have setup a drip irrigation system all around my backyard.  I even use drip irrigation to water my containers.  I have used emitters and "pot misters".  I like the pot misters a lot better. I get better coverage with the misters than I can with the emitters. I had to put in 25 emitters to cover my 38 sq feet raised bed adequately.  I just switched over and I can cover the same area with just 7 pot misters.

In the summer, I water every day for 2 hrs per day. I find the Chinese Pumpkins and the Winter Melons require a lot of water.  When I water less, the vines show signs of stress.  Unfortunately, the Cherry Tomatoes are on the same drip line as the Chinese Pumpkins and Winter Melons, so they get too much water.  Short of creating two drip irrigation lines (which I do not want to do), I need to find a compromise.   I think I will try watering 3 times a week at 3 hrs per day and see how the plants do.

How long have I been doing this?

This is the end of my second year as a vegetable gardener.  The first year, I only grew regular tomatoes and 1 type of winter melon.  This year, I dropped the regular tomatoes and added the Cherry Tomatoes,  Chinese Pumpkins, and 3 more types of Winter Melon.  

What do I plan to put in this blog?

I plan to document the various stages of my garden from planting seeds, to transplanting seedlings, through the growth, flowering, fruit development and finally harvest.  I plan to have lots of pictures to show what I do at each step of the way.  

How often will I update this blog?

I'll try to update the blog once a weekend.  We'll see how that goes.  

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