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.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Shock & wilt free transplanting -- The failures

This summer I've been trying different methods to transplant squash and cucumber plants with absolutely no shock or wilting, no matter how hot it is.

Mostly now I plant these from seeds directly in the ground, since the transplants usually die or don't do as well as direct seeded ones. But with a garden with only afternoon sun, it takes a long time for them to mature and they usually need shading for awhile.  I lose probably 3 weeks compared to gardens with morning sun in my area.

This post will be about the failures, the next post will have an
initial successful method that I'm quite excited about.

First tried soil blocks as I read they transplant well.  Also I observed that seedlings growing in soil blocks don't wilt.  On this almost 100 degree day, these plants are not wilting!  Whereas almost every other plant in my garden is wilting.

I figured it must be the great root system the soil block plants grow.  And also using the wood wafer for wicking allowed enough water with enough aeration (just like the stumppot).
This squash was planted directly in the ground and it wilted. Needed shade for almost 2 weeks. But it did survive and is doing well.

Next I thought, maybe I should bury the wood wafer also when transplanting, then like the vertical hugelkultur, it will wick enough water to prevent wilting
This cucumber plant was planted in the ground on top of its wicking wafer.  It did better, but it still wilted and needed shading.

Here is the cucumber about 2 weeks later still being shaded. It did survive nicely and doesn't need shade now.

Next tried planting an eggplant directly on top of a stump in the ground. Since this is what I did in the stumppot.  And in the container stumppot the eggplant never has wilted.
Unfortunately, this eggplant wilted also and needed shade.  I believe it wilted (whereas the stumppot one didn't) because it was planted right during a 90+degree heatwave.  It didn't have enough time to develop a root mass over the stump before the heat hit.  It is doing ok now without shade. It will be interesting to see how it grows the rest of the season.

Another failed trial was taking a soil block plant and planting it only half deep. The reasoning was that the upper part of the soil block would still get great aeration.
This picture shows it wilting also.  It wilted because the top exposed peat moss part dried out completely, even though the ground is wet.  This is a problem with peat. Even the peat soil block plants that were completely covered with dirt when transplanted in the ground, had the peat dry out some.  I'd stick my finger in the ground to feel around.  The clay soil all around the peat soil block would be wet, but the peat soil block would be dry.  The clay would just suck all the water out of the peat block.

Summarizing the failures:

1.  Peat soil blocks totally covered in soil when transplanted.
2.  Peat soil blocks partially covered in soil when transplanted.
3.  Peat soil block on top of wood wafer, totally covered with soil when transplanted.
4.  Store bought seedling transplanted directly on stump.  Seedling root block totally covered with soil.
5.  Store bought seedlings transplanted in a 15-gallon air-pot container (pictures not shown).

 Next post:  The shock and wilt free transplanting success.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wood chip bed

After seeing how well the hugelkultur beds were doing, I decided to make another bed but with just digging in massive amounts of woodchips.

The idea is to see if you can get a good first year harvest from this and then in future years will there be enough organic matter in the soil so that it becomes a good no till bed.

I dug down about 1 to 1.5' deep, double dig style.  Then I added wood chips to the dirt pile and raked it back in. The bed rose about 1'+ after doing all this.

This picture shows the bed after being prepared.  The "density" of woodchips on the surface, is the same as the density of woodchips added to the entire 1' to 1.5' depth.

This seemed like a lot of wood chips to me at the time.  However now when I dig into the bed to take a look at the soil, it does seem like much less wood chips than I remember.  Next time I'll add a lot more.

The bed was planted in mid June with transplants and direct seeds of corn & pole beans. Here it is on July 10th. So far it looks quite well. The plants are not quite as green as they should be, but I'll be adding more liquid fertilizer shortly.  I have been able to keep squash, cukes, & tomatoes in hugelbeds dark green, so keeping this woodchip bed green shouldn't be an issue.

No compost, no leaf mulch, and no store-bought fertilizer was added.  The only additions were wood chips and HLF (homemade liquid organic fertilizer).

Simple soil block watering

Here's a simple way to water soil blocks or plants in bottomless net pots.

I cut some dried pine branches, which were about 4-5" in diameter in "wafers" about 2" thick.
Then just place the soil block on top in a seedling tray and keep a water reservoir in it.

In some of the wafers I drilled a small center hole that was then filled with dirt. This gave it more wicking capacity.  It proved not necessary though.  The wafers, w/o the hole, wick enough to keep the plants happy.

To automate the watering, I put a dripper into it that was connected to my irrigation system and set it to water every day for a few minutes.  I cut a drainage slit in the side of the tray to just below the level of the wicking wafers, so the water level would never go up enough to directly wet the soil blocks or net pots.

Originally I was hoping to make the wafers 3" high so they would be higher than the seedling tray and then I wouldn't need to make a drainage slit. But the wafers would not wick up 3" very well.  At 2" the wafers wick quite well.

It might be possible to use thicker wafers if you drill a wicking hole that is filled with the soil. I didn't try this, but might in the future.

One nice feature of this is that you can move individual soil blocks around at any time by just picking up the wafer block.

 Happy gardening!

Hugelkultur works, a comparison

Here's a quick visual comparison of 2 cucumber plants, Palace Kings, that were planted at the same time.  One in a hugelhole, a hole dug about 1.5' deep and wide and then layered up with horizontal branches.  The other in just regular garden soil.  Pictures taken today.

Palace King in a hugelhole.  ~3.5' tall with baby cukes.

Palace King in regular garden, clay, soil.  ~2' tall with blossoms only.

Vertical Hugelkultur eliminates wilt

Vertical hugelkultur helps or eliminates wilting!

This has been a very exciting observation for me.

Here's the background:

I plant about 6 container tubs every year with eggplants and peppers.  Every year I try some different potting mix or technique to see what will work best.  This year after preparing the garden beds in the ground with hugelkultur, I thought why not, lets try it in the containers too.

In 2 containers, I layered up branches horizontally. But in 1 container, on a total lark, I just put in a big stump.  The potting soil used as just last year's mix, basically compost.

Eggplants were planted in the vertical "stumppot" and in one of the horizontal "branchpots".
(Peppers went into the other "branchpot").

These were planted with store bought seedlings in mid-April when the weather was still mild.
The stump was so high I had to place the eggplant seedlings directly on the stump and then put soil around it.

 The eggplant stumppot is front center.  The eggplant branchpot is front right.

Notice on this hot day, mid-May the stumppot eggplants are quite perky. They've never wilted, not ever.

Notice the branchpot eggplants, same day, same time. They drooped and wilted in the sun and heat.

Fast forward to July 10, 2012. Both eggplant pots are doing well and neither now wilts on hot days (95 degrees on this deck). I had to shade the entire settup for about a month after planting on hot days to prevent the wilting plants from being burned. This unnecessarily held back the stumppot eggplant, so I would expect it to be bigger if it hadn't been shaded.  It took about 2+ months before the branchpot eggplant stopped wilting on hot days.  (All the peppers still wilt on hot days, but that's another post and quite interesting.)

The natural conclusion from this is that the roots spread out along the stump and are able to suck up a lot of water when they need it. AND the stump wicks away excess water so there is enough aeration.

Wood only wicks with the grain.  You can test this yourself by putting a branch or 2x4 in a tub with 1" of water.  It won't wick up at all if layed horizontally.  But vertically with the grain it will wick up about 2" high.

Unexpectedly, I observed this in my ground garden also.  In addition to the 3 hugelkultur beds, I made three small 1.5' diameter planting holes that I put logs in.  For 2 of the "hugelholes" I layered horizontal branches again.  In the last hole, I was very tired and just threw a stump into it vertically and covered it up.  The hole was about 1 to 1.5' deep. The stump was about 6-8" high and had about 6" of dirt on top of it. The hole was level to the ground after finishing.  I planted cucumber seeds there.
And these cucumbers never wilted!  (As long as it was kept watered). Yet the other cukes and squash in hugelbeds/holes or in just regular ground do wilt.  

Here's the cukes in the "stumphole" on hot June 20th.  Seeds planted around mid to late April.
These cukes don't wilt.  Notice also the yellow-tinted leaves, indicating nitrogen lack.

Here are some wilting cukes on June 20th, planted at the same time.  Notice how they are much smaller also, since they don't photosynthesize when wilting.

Here's the non-wilting, stumphole cukes today, doing nicely. A fair amount of liquid organic fertilizer had been added to green-up the leaves.

Please post some comments here if you've tried or seen something similar. Seeing this result is my reason for starting this blog and I'd like to learn as much about it to help out my own "low-cost garden".

Happy gardening!