Category Archives: Gardening

The Snarky Gardener is moving!

ZucchiniWinner
Glory days from this summer

The Snarky Gardener is moving to a new web server.  The web address will remain the same, but some of the site functionality will be different.  The change over should happen on November 30th. If you see anything wrong, like links not working or graphics not showing up, let me know at thesnarkygardener@gmail.com.

Many Thanks – Don Abbott (aka the Snarky Gardener)

Building Raised Beds Using Hugelkultur

The Snarky Gardener built raised beds using hugelkultur
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The new bed joins 3 previously prepared beds.  The green plants are a cover crop of turnips with a volunteer dill plant in the foreground.
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Same beds a month later

Hugelkultur is the German term for garden beds made with buried wood. The wood breaks down over time, providing garden vegetables with nutrients and moisture (as in you don’t have to fertilize and water as much, if at all!).  The wood does not have to be brand new as rotted wood is actually better is some ways.

This fall, I decided to utilize this technique to build four 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 3 feet high raised beds.  In general raised beds are beneficial as they warm up earlier in the spring, keep humans (but not my dog) from compacting soil, and allow plants better drainage.  Usually raised beds are built with a frame around the soil, but my beds have no borders. After completing each bed, I planted cover crops (turnips, spinach and clover) to minimize winter soil exposure. My long term plan is to convert more of my garden into hugelkultur beds, but wanted to perform a trial first, as putting these beds in is labor intensive, with all the wood gathering, moving, and burying.

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Started with a dug out bed
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The middle of the hole is filled with heavy logs
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Branches, and bark fill in over the logs
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Dirt from the surrounding area is put on top of the wood

Many thanks to Paul Wheaton for his inspiring and detailed hugelkultur article – http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

A cool related podcast about hugelkultur – http://www.permaculturevoices.com/podcast/hugelkultur-what-it-is-when-is-it-appropriate-and-when-isnt-it-with-javan-bernakevitch-pvp082/

Save the Beans

The Snarky Gardener is managing his herd of Jacob’s Cattle beans.
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Jacob’s Cattle beans before the herd was split up

Saving bean seed is really easy. Allow your bean plants with with beans still attached to turn yellow and die off. Collect the seed pods. Open up the pods and there are your seeds. You will want to let these dry out completely before putting them in an airtight container (I use old vitamin bottles though glass jars will work also). Make sure to keep an eye on them over the winter as they could mold up if there was any moisture in them.

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After I do my “shelling”, I like to divide them up based how they look. Some will be deformed or have some flaw that makes them less than perfect. These will be put into the “eat me” pile. Jacob’s Cattle beans are specifically “dry” beans (think kidney or black beans), but I do eat some green.

So, you might be asking “Why does the Snarky Gardener bother with saving bean seed when it’s so inexpensive to buy at the store or online?” In a word, adaptation. These plants grew up in my garden with it’s specific conditions. Plus beans make the soil better, especially through their nitrogen fixing nodules.

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How to Save Tomato Seeds

The Snarky Gardener shows you how to save tomato seeds using a 5 step process

1.  Let the tomatoes ripen.

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2.  Cut open the tomato and scoop out the seeds

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3.  Put the seeds into a covered glass or jar.  Add water.

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4.  Let sit for 3 days or so, stirring once a day

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5.  Strain seeds from the liquid and put onto a plate to let dry for a few days.

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Fairly Snarky

The Snarky Gardener entered his vegetables in the local county fair.  Now the Snarky Girlfriend will never hear the end of it.
Zucchini Winner
The Snarky Gardener with his award-winning zucchini

A little while back, the Snarky Girlfriend picked up this year’s Portage County Randolph Ohio fair book. She thought it would be cool for us to enter some items just for fun. She had some photos she wanted to enter, including one of my dog River. According to the rules, our entry forms had to be in by 8/5 even though the entries needed to be onsite when the fair started two weeks later. Telling the future is hard with garden produce, though I did have the option to enter and then just not have them. Going with a conservative first-timer approach, I perused the book, looking for viable vegetable categories.

Vegetables not quite ready for the big show:
1. Tomatoes and peppers – behind all year with cool wet weather
2. Corn – a few weeks off, not sure they would be ready by then
3. Beans – they wanted a quart of beans and I didn’t have that many.
4. Swiss chard – would rather eat it then enter it
5. Carrots – not enough and/or too small

Showable Vegetables:
1. Red potatoes – Red Chieftain
2. Golden potatoes – Yukon Golds
3. Kale – Red Russian
4. Turnips – Purple Top
5. Zucchini Under 10 inches- Sure Thing from Burpee

We dropped them off on Sunday 8/17, the day before the first day of the fair.  Right away I realized something was amiss.  People with kale and Swiss chard were using jars of water to keep them hydrated.  The fair book said to do this, but somehow I didn’t pick up on it (oh well – lesson learned).  On the plus side, we didn’t see any other turnip entries, so I knew I had a good chance of winning something in that category.  The turnips I entered were far from perfect, as they had pits and marks on them.  From the Internet articles I read after the fact, fair entered vegetables should all be little clones of each other and as close to retail sale quality as possible.

On Thursday (a long 4 days later), we attended the fair with some friends to see how I did (at least that’s how I saw it).  They seemed to be interested in other things first, like seeing the Snarky Girlfriend’s pictures (she won a second place ribbon for a flower picture), and eating fair food.   Finally we arrived at my vegetables and lo and behold, some had ribbons!  Two firsts and a second (yeah).  My red potatoes didn’t win (3rd place out of 3) as they were noticeable smaller and less uniform than the other competing entries.  But my Yukon Golds won second place (out of 4) – not bad at all.  My sad turnips garnered a first place ribbon as they had no competition.  But the topper was my zucchini which earned 1st place out of five.  Mine seemed to look the most like the ones you see at the grocery store.  Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to spend all the prize money on.  I wonder what I can purchase for $5.50?

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Zucchini 10″ and Under – First Place out of 5
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Root Vegetables – Turnips – 1st place out of 1
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Golden Potatoes – 2nd Place out of 4

Groundhog Love

The Snarky Gardener discusses not his love for groundhogs, but what groundhogs love to eat from his garden.

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For the garden, groundhogs are very destructive. They have great appetites and can wipe out a whole season’s productivity. Fencing does help, although groundhogs are known for going under or over to get at the buffet the Snarky Gardener has provided. After seasons of experience, the SG has developed a strategy to mitigate vegetable loss. Below is a list of groundhog favorites and another list of those that have never been touched. Some of the “groundhog safe” plants have even been grown outside the fence with no munching, including garlic, onions, turnips, and various herbs. Going forward, more of these will be planted outside the fencing and efforts will be redoubled (more fencing!) to keep these little guys out of the good stuff.

Groundhogs have never munched on:
Turnips
Garlic
Onions
Leeks
Herbs (lemon balm, thyme, sage, basil, rosemary)
Tomatoes
Potatoes
Peppers
Zucchini (bush)

What groundhogs really love (in order):
Broccoli
Carrot tops
Sunchokes
Peas
Beans
Cucumber leaves
Kale
Spinach
Lettuce
Corn (pulled down the stalks to eat the cobs!)
Pumpkins (the outside of the fruit).

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Yum! Broccoli

Abundance

The Snarky Gardener writes an abundance of words about abundance.  Imagine that.
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Too many snow peas? I think not.

To the Snarky Gardener, abundance means having plenty (even too much) of a thing. Often people are concerned with what they can’t grow or what’s not doing well because of pests, lack of sunlight, or poor soil. But if you take this “problem” and turn it on its head with abundance, your mindset totally changes. The question, “What can I grow a boat load of?”, offers up all kinds of possibilities. I believe food growers should build upon their successes, with new and experimental plants taking only a small amount of total resources, and removal of those that produce poorly. At Snarky Acres, that means growing more sunchokes, turnips, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, peas, kale, garlic, onions, greens, zucchini, corn, Swiss chard, comfrey, and herbs (especially perennials like mint, lemon balm, oregano, and sage). It also means growing less (or no) broccoli, watermelon, peppers, eggplant, spinach, and beets. It’s hard to stop trying with those fruits and vegetables we love to eat, but not everything grows well everywhere, even in the same relative climate.

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Too much mint or not enough mojitos?
How to create abundance:

1. Grow a lot more of what grows well.
2. Look for alternative resources (weeds, trees, native species)
3. Create environments where abundance happens naturally (perennials and self-seeding plants)
4. Save seeds, plant extra starts (tomatoes, etc), and start new plants from cuttings.
5. Grow in non-optimal spaces (shade, poor soil)
6. “Invasive” also means “Abundance”

How to utilize abundance:

1. Find trading partners (food swaps, seed swaps, time banks, neighborhood barter systems)
2. Learn to preserve (canning, freezing, drying)
3. Find other uses (dynamic accumulators, medicinal)
4. Learn to create products from your produce (extracts, salves, pesto)