Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wood chip soil pictures

The garden beds, which had wood chips dug into the soil, did the best this year.
So I decided to dig up soil in them and take a look at what was going on.

Most noticeably was that the plant roots all congregated where clumps of wood chips were buried.

Also very noticeable, there was lots of worms throughout all the soil, soil that had wood chips and soil that didn't.  In previous years I had never seen so many worms. I believe having the wood chip mulch encouraged more worms than the leaf and pine needle mulch that I used in previous years.  I had wondered if worms would feed on wood chips, it seems that they do.

Here are two clumps from the same bed.  On the left no wood chips had been mixed in. On the right lots of wood chips had been buried. Notice the almost total lack of roots on the left, yet these clump were only about 4" away from each other in the ground.

Another soil & wood chip aggregate from another wood chip bed. Notice the darker parts of the soil in this picture. These are worm castings. The soil had lots of worm casting deposits wherever wood chip clumps were, even over a foot deep.

Here I dug up soil from a regular hugel bed (horizontally placed logs).  In the spring I did dig in some pine needles & leaves, but they had totally disappeared.  The cucumber growing in this bed did ok, but not great. Cucumbers growing in the wood chip bed did great. Cucumbers growing in just a clay bed (no wood chips, no hugel logs) did very poorly (didn't produce any harvest).

There were lots of worms and worm holes in the this soil, but it was still thick clay and no where close to being as good as the soil in the wood chip bed.

It seemed the roots did best in soil that was about one-half wood chips!
Quite a surprise.

As another experiment, I had planted a couple seedlings above some wood-chip-only clumps in the soil that were about 3" deep and 5" diameter. The plant roots did not like growing into only wood chips and these plants didn't do as well.

Seeing how well roots did in "wood chip soil", has given me confidence to really go all out when digging in chips. I had wondered what would be too much. But it seems even 1/2 chips, 1/2 dirt is great for the plants.  If I had seen this before I prepared my 4 new hugel beds, I would have dug in even more wood chips. For the 2 existing wood chip beds, I'm digging in a lot more chips now, before planting fava beans.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Garden bed construction

This last summer I experimented a lot with different growing methods in my garden and in containers.
Based on the results, this fall I redid my garden beds using:

1.  Vertical hugelkultur
2.  Large quantities of wood chips dug in the soil.
In small test beds this year these 2 techniques did the best.

Just completed 4 beds, here are pictures of building one.

Dug down average of 2.5 feet. At that depth I hit a layer of pottery-like clay that would be unusable for garden soil.
This bed is 3.5 feet wide and 12' long.

Added wood scraps, from splitting wood, at the bottom.

First layer of vertical stumps, packed closely together.

Added dirt mixed in with wood chips and then put a 2nd layer of vertical stumps.

More dirt and lots of wood chips.

Added a 3rd layer of branches, partially rotted and began building retaining walls from logs and 1/2" rebar.

No pictures, but did add a 4th layer of larger branches placed horizontally on top of here.

Here are 2 completed beds, built with retaining walls.

Also made 2 other beds without retaining walls. Those ones only had 2 layers of logs, one vertical, one horizontal. So they did not raise the soil level as much.

The only cost for these beds was the rebar (~$30).  All the logs, stumps, and chips were free. Lot of digging though.  Didn't get a chance to go to the gym for the last 6 weeks :)

Roughly the top 6" or more of soil in each bed does not contain logs or branches, just dirt and wood chips.  This is to make it easy in future years to dig in more wood chips with a normal shovel if this will be needed.  The soil is very thick clay and I believe I'll need to dig in more chips in a couple years.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Corn cob seedling mix

Here I mixed some various amendments with compost to see which worked best for starting squash and cucumber seeds.
Tried several amendments, leaves, wood chips, wood chunks, wood wafers, corn cob slices, b
The best was compost and corn cob slices.
2nd best was compost and wood chunks or a wood wafer.
These and others are shown in this video.

All these seedlings were planted in the ground. After 2 weeks, the corn cob one is still doing the best with the wood chunk and wood wafer ones still doing second best.
None of the transplants wilted. It has not been hot, less than 80 degrees.

Tree roots in garden

Large redwood trees send extensive root mats into my garden

Rather than fighting these roots, or trying to set up barriers blocking them, I'm trying to use them to add organic matter every year into the garden.  I dig a trench between the tree and garden, cut the roots and refill the trench with dirt.  Will add a drip line to then lead the roots back into the garden, so that I'll know where to cut them again next year.  This could add a great deal of organic matter to the garden each year. Only unknown is how far down I'll need to dig a trench to be sure all the roots are cut.

If anyone knows an easy way to cut tree roots about 3' deep, please post.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Transplanting Wilt Free Update

Here's an update on my trials to transplant large squash and cucumbers on hot sunny afternoons without shade, without wilt and without shock.

Plus some ideas on how to improve this for next year

This sheet shows an idea to try next hot season.  It is discussed at the end of the video.

Worm hole roots

Just for fun here are some pictures of bean roots growing through worm-holes.
They looked like miniatures of the roots growing in gopher tunnels. 

I dug up two bean plants, one doing great, one dying, to see the difference.
The dying bean plant had wet, saturated soil.
The good bean plant, had very dry soil.
Classic mistake, over-watering bean plants.

In the dry soil I was able to get good pictures since the dirt that didn't crumble or compress.

Eggplant stump & branch pot comparison

Well I couldn't resist digging up my eggplant stumppot.  It was doing so well, I just had to see what was going on in the roots.

Here is a slideshow showing what I found and also how it compared to the other eggplant in a branchpot.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pepper Containers

This year I planted 4 pepper-plant tubs with different soil mixes.

In this video they are compared and dug up to see what can be learned from the roots, to improve future container plantings.

Interestingly these trials have led to the conclusion to put rotted wood at the top of the container (not in the bottom), just like nature does it in the forest, with rotted logs on top of the ground.

Based on this and other root excavations, here are some ideas for future soil arrangements I plan to test next. Will try to test with lettuce over fall, but might have to wait until next spring.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Squash Root Excavation

After seeing one of the squash plants to so much better than all the rest in the garden, I had to see why.
So I dug up the roots very carefully to find out what was going on.
Some unexpected and surprising results came to light.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Zero Cost Organic Container Update Aug2012

Been seeing some interesting results so far and learning a lot.

One big surprise is that the eggplants in the stumppot are doing the best.
Another big surprise is the peppers growing in mostly leaves are doing very well.
I didn't expected either of these to do well.

Here are the 6 vegetable containers (see previous post for explanation).

Here are peppers in the compost, leaf and branch mix.
Doing very well with most fruit set on all the plants.
This one is probably doing the best all around for the peppers.
These plants did and do wilt, but not as much as the just compost & leaf tub.

Here's the peppers in the compost and leaf mix.  This is what did well last year, so it was my "control" for comparison.  It is doing well, but the plants are much shorter and fruit set is not quite as much.
These peppers wilted a lot when first transplanted, and so took longer to get established.

This tub had 6" of compost on top with 1' of leaves underneath.
It has done surprisingly and unexpectedly well. Planted 2 peppers and basil.
These peppers wilted/wilts the least.  It grew the fastest and is still the tallest.  It does look a little "lanky".The far pepper has 4 large fruits, 2nd most of any of the pepper plants.  The close one just started to fruit, later than any others. It may be that it didn't feel stressed, so it is fruiting later.  Too early to tell how much fruit it will produce.
   The basil is doing well, more than we can use, but it is a little smaller than last year.
I didn't really expect to be able to get a good fruit set with the peppers growing in mostly leaves.  I thought the basil would do just as well as previously. Both assumptions where wrong; peppers are excellent, basil is smaller.

Here's an addition.  I made an air-pot and tried it out with just a heavier forest mulch mix, no leaves.
Even though the pepper transplants didn't wilt when in smaller containers, as soon as they were put in this large air-pot, they started to wilt.  Oh well, it seems that all the extra soil around the roots cut off the air enough to make it wilt after transplanting.

Here are the eggplants.  It is the best ever harvest so far for container eggplants that I have had.  Already harvested over 20 eggplants.  The stumppot on the left has done the best, no wilt (see vertical hugelkultur post).  This is very exciting and unexpected result, for me.  I definitely thought limiting so severely the amount of soil in the stumppot would have stunted the eggplant.  Just the opposite, it is the biggest I've grown.  And it has never wilted, not once.  When I transplanted the eggplants into this tub, the transplants were placed directly on the stump and the transplants soil still stuck up about an inch above the tub's soil level.  I believe this is one reason it didn't wilt when transplanting.  Being higher than the soil line helped it get better aeration when it was getting established in the new container.
This helped spark me into the whole transplanting & growing without wilt investigation.

Here are the pepper in the fast draining mix (1/2 bark, 1/2 turface).
These plants wilt very fast in any heat & sun.  For the first 2 months I watered them 2x per day on hot days to help them get established. After watering the plants would perk up very fast, faster than any of the other plants. However, 1.5 hours after watering they would start to wilt again. I believe that even though the mix felt wet, it was too porous and the roots were not making enough contact with the soil in order for it to wick up fast enough in the heat. For my "only-hot-sunlight-hours" location, I believe it would take a continuous drip to keep them going.  The plants obviously felt stressed with the extra wilting and watering cycle.  They started to set fruit the earliest and have the smallest fruit (and plant) size.
Seeing how fast these plants perk up when watered in the fast draining mix has produced a lot of ideas to try when attempting to transplant seedlings "wilt-free" in the regular garden.

Overall, not bad for only 4 hours of sunlight a day.

Zero Cost Organic Container Experiment 2012

For the last 2 years I've been growing vegetables in containers with only materials from the yard for mix and fertilizer.  I try different methods each year and see what happens.

My deck only gets 4.5 hours direct sunlight at the summer solstice, beginning of August it is getting 3 hours and 45 minutes. This adds extra problems as it is mostly afternoon sun (10:30am to 2:30pm) and the deck is hot, so the plants wilt easily.  I've been forced to really figure out how to grow the plants with the minimum of wilt in full sun. If the plants wilt from say 11am on (which they could easily do without extra care) it would mean they'd only get 1/2 hour of direct sun photosynthesis hours!

Only getting direct sun when it is hot out is especially hard on transplants. The transplants don't get any chance to photosynthesize in direct sun, so it takes a long time for them to get established.
 In a normal garden a plant will get morning sun, when it is cooler out to photosynthesize.

Below is a post that was written in May 2012 explaining this years setup.  Updates to follow.

Zero Cost Organic Experiment 2012

Last year the forest floor mulch mixed with leaves did the best. The forest floor mulch is nice compost-like and scraped off the ground under some pine & oak trees. I'd use it in all my containers but in a dry climate I only have a limited supply on my property. So instead I used old container mix which is basically fine compost, and I add or do other things with it.
 A mix of half dried leaves and half old mix (basically compost) also did quite well last year.
Only fertilizer used is ashes and HLF (homemade/human liquid fertilizer).

This year I'm continuing experimenting. Read about Hugelkultur garden beds, basically burying logs under a raised bed. I put some of these in my in-ground garden and thought, well why not try it in a container also!
Made one container with big stump in it:
Made 2 containers by layering up branches and mix.


Here is this years container lineup.
Back row left to right:
* Mix is: old mix + leaves + branches. Plants 3 peppers.
* Mix is: old mix + leaves. Bottom 6" of container is only compressed leaves. The idea here is that the bottom of the containers accumulate fine mix over the season. With just leaves at the bottom it might not develop into the usual heavy muck.
* Mix is: Bottom 1 foot of container is only compressed leaves. Top 6" is only old mix (thick compost). It would be great if this works. It is the easiest to set up. Just empty old mix from the tote. Then walk around and fill the tote with leaves, compress them by standing on them. Then just put a 6" layer of the old mix on top and it's done. Also this is the lightest container.
* Flower container, mix is leftover turface, bark, & peat. I've put in a "clay pot reservoir" which will be filled with diluted HLF. The idea is to see if I can cut down on fertilizing frequency and make the container more maintenance free.
Front row left to right:
* Not organic. Mix is half turface, half bark. I've never had good results with these mixes outdoors. In a hot dry climate you need to water several times a day to prevent wilting. I do use this fast draining mix for indoor plants and they do great, much better than the peat mixes I had used before.
* One huge stump surrounded by old mix. This is the heaviest container. A saturated stump is quite heavy. I don't have high expectations from this one, (but do have high hopes!). The mix is heavy and so is the stump, so probably will not have enough aeration. Only planting eggplants in this one, as they like it wet.
* Branches combined with old mix. This is also heavy. Planting eggplants in this one also.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gopher Aeration Tunnel

Here was a trial to see if a 6-pack cucumber can be transplanted wilt free.

Dug a small 6" diameter hole ~3" deep.  Put the cuke in and carefully covered the peat transplant mix with a thin layer of compost.  The compost layer will help keep the peat from drying out too fast. 

After the compost layer, just added wood chip mulch to fill in the hole.

For a comparison/control, another cucumber from the 6-pack was planted traditionally, just dug a small hole and filled it back in with garden dirt.

Here are the 2 6-pack transplants side by side.  The one on the left was "no-wilt" planted.  Right one was planted normally.

To my surprise and frustration, at first neither of them wilted.  Then after a few days, the "no-wilt" planted one wilted just a little.  The normally transplanted one continued to be perky.
At this point I questioned all my conclusions and thought maybe something else entirely is going on.

 I carefully examined the soil around the "no-wilt" one. The peat mix was slightly dry, but not completely dry.  However, the clay soil beneath was totally saturated.  To much watering.  Also I think there was too much wood chip mulch, it was cutting off access to oxygen.  So I removed much of the mulch, leaving just a thin layer of wood chips.

Then I carefully looked at the soil around the "normal" transplant. The soil was saturated also. As I dug carefully around I found a small gopher tunnel next to the roots! A gopher has dug close to the cuke, but didn't go into the roots.  Some of the roots dangled a little in the tunnel.

 It's hard to see but there is a small tunnel under and off to the side of the roots.
The tunnel had been providing the oxygen to keep the plant from wilting!

I filled in just half the tunnel and tried to leave a small hole next to the roots.
Here are the plants after all this investigation and poking around, about 12:30pm.  Both were doing well.

About 4 hours later, here are the 2 plants again.  The "no-wilt" one isn't wilting.  And now after the gopher tunnel had been mostly filled in, the plant started wilting as I had originally expected it to when transplanting it.

Well maybe gopher tunnels can be used to help aerate transplant roots?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

110.9 degrees F and no wilting!

On a hot 110F day yesterday, the 3 cucumber "net pot" transplants were not wilting at all.
Whereas most of the other garden plants were wilting.

The regular older cucumber is wilting in this heat, the "wilt-free" transplanted cuke is vibrant with no drooping at all.

The 2 "wilt-free-transplanted" cukes on the right did not droop at all this 110F day.
The one on the left drooped a little.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Shock & Wilt Free Transplanting

After seeing how seedlings in soil blocks do not wilt, even in 100 degree F heat, I tried many ways to get this same result after transplanting the seedlings in the ground.

But it seemed that every time I took a soil block seedling and transplanted it in the ground, it wilted in heat.  Each time I had covered the soil block entirely with ground dirt.

It seems the soil block not only supplied enough water, but also air to the roots. When I buried the soil block it cut off easy access to air.  This happened even when I transplanted a soil block plant into a 15 gallon air-pot.

Finally I tried this transplanting setup in the diagram and it has worked great so far, no wilting even in hot weather for cucumber transplants.

Basically grow your transplant in a net pot, or repot a 2-3" transplant into a 5" net pot.
Then dig a 5" hole in the garden where you want the plant.  Put the net pot in, only bury the bottom half of the net pot.  Put woodchips in the remaining top up to and over the surface of the net pot.

Now the roots can grow out into the soil, but also get a lot of air b/c of the unburied top half.
I believe it is important not to use peat moss as your seedling mix, because the top half may dry out and become hydrophobic, causing severe plant wilt.

I used soil/compost that I scrapped off the ground around a pine tree, very rich organic material.
I had tried using this material in a soil block, but after compressing it, it was too dense and seeds wouldn't germinate or grow well. Put into a net pot though and seeds sprouted and grew well.

Here's a cucumber seedling that was grown in a 3" peat moss soil block, then put in a 5" net pot with compost/forest mix surrounding the soil block.  I transplanted it in the ground about a week ago.

Here is a close up of the pot & roots, with the wood chips temporarily moved away. Notice that the root have already started to grow out into the wood chips, providing more aeration.
This plant hasn't wilted yet after one week and one hot day.

 About a month ago, after seeing the results of vertical hugelkultur, I prepared another bed with 3 vertical stumps in them. To test out this method further.

I first planted a cucumber seedling from a peat moss 3" soil block. It was planted in the ground on top of the wood wicking wafer. This one wilted and needed shade for a couple weeks to get established in the ground.

Next, the idea came for just covering half the transplant with soil.  So then I took 2 cucumber seedlings in 3" peat soil blocks, put them in net pots. One with compost around it, one with just clay dirt around it. And planted them in the soil.  I did not at this point cover the plantings with wood chips.
Here's a picture of them several days after transplanting. I watered them every day, except this day.
Neither had wilted before, but now the one on the right was wilting. It was the one with clay in the net pot.
While the soil in the ground was wet, the clay in the net pot had dried out and formed a hard crust.  I believe the main reason for the wilting was the roots could not get enough air.  Right under the crust the soil was wet.
The soil in the net pot on the left was still damp, it's plant did not wilt.

Close up of plant on left, non-wilting with forest compost in net pot.

Close up of plant on right, wilting with clay in net pot.

Next I top watered the plants and put some wood chips on top of the plant in clay.

 After about 10-15 minutes it recovered.

Later, I covered both planting holes with wood chips.  Initially, I though this would cut off to much air and might cause wilting, as had filling the hole with soil did in the first planting.  But the wood chips proved to provide enough air exchange and the plants did not wilt, and it was easier to keep them watered enough, so they didn't wilt from dry soil.  Here are the two plants today almost 3 weeks after transplanting.

Here on the left is the originally planted cuke that needed shading.  It was transplanted almost 2 weeks before the other two. (The right plant is the same as the left plant in the picture above.) 

I'm very excited to see how these 3 cucumber plants grow.  Will the two net pot ones stay wilt free, even when they get bigger??  Hopefully the stumps underneath them will help with this.  Will the net pots planted in the ground restrict the roots and stunt the plants somewhat.  I don't believe so, but want to see.
Also I want to see if the one planted first becomes completely wilt free once it roots grow bigger and reach the stump below it. It now still wilts some in heat.

Up to this time all the transplants have been first 3" peat soil blocks put into net pots.  After seeing the problems with peat drying out when transplanting I started a squash and one more cuke in 5" net pots planted with just forest floor compost.  I'll transplant them (when they are bigger) exactly as in the diagram to insure this method works. Next year I'm currently planning on doing all my own transplants this way for the entire garden, and putting stumps under everything.

5" net pot seedlings in forest floor mix, waiting to be transplanted.