Sunday, June 14, 2015

June 2015 Update

Wow, it's been over a year since I've blogged here.  Health issues and economizing have meant trimming extra expenses and I can now post here after having the computer cleaned up and accessing wifi somewhere besides home anymore.  I knew McDonalds was good for something, ha!

I was bedridden a good bit in 2014 with a chronic illness.  In July I was able to ambulate enough to putter a bit, and I really really needed to be outdoors if for no other reason than for my own mental frame of mind!  I rented a plot at the nearby community garden in August 2014 in order to try my hand at growing things we're not set up for in our yard at home...the community garden has a lot of tools and resources right on site.  After initial setup, the plot is a combination of no-till  no-dig and intensive planting.  

This is plot 20, which was initially flat and overgrown with weeds.  I made an L shaped trench inside the 10X20 foot square and dug it down about 3 feet, piling the mostly sandy soil up around the edges to make the raised beds.  I noticed the walkway soil next to the plot was really fertile and in disuse, so I dug those up as well, piling the interior beds higher.  Then I filled in the trenches with composted woodchips  from the piles of them at the garden.  That process would take most people a couple days, maybe.  It took me three or four months.  I would work a few minutes at a time and then sit out for a bit...that was all I could do.

The aisles were all weeds until they were filled with wood chips.  Then on all sides I layered plastic tarp, a thick layer of flattened cardboard (from throwaway boxes from the grocery), and then a thick final layer of wood chips.  This  process elevated the bed considerably.  In the actual raised part I made into the garden beds, I put down thin limbs, green waste, and shredded newspaper in almost a hugelkultur (sp?) way slightly buried under ground level and then piled all the soil atop that in a thick layer. On top of all?  Composted cow manure, the cheapest type of soil amendment I can find without weed seeds in it.  Timberline has 40# bags for $1.57 at Home Depot.  They know me well :)

I put down a thick top layer of the composted manure and watered everything in periodically from a frighteningly stinky homemade compost tea, ha!  The one thing I would change with this design is to make the raised beds  no more than 2 1/2 feet wide...I find the 4 foot reach a bit too far to really reach into the middle (over and upwards) without having to step into the actual bed.  But I do like the "hump" type of raised bed, where the middle becomes raised a bit higher than the sides of each raised bed, because the plants seem to like it and some of them like the peak and others the valleys.

What happened to our land?  It's still there, patiently awaiting us when we find a way to recommence further clearing and fencing.  Our plan has always been for the long term.  I have slowed us down way too much this last two years, my health.  That was a matter of some depression and frustration on my part, especially the very limited mobility and the expenses that arose and put us just about under.  God teaches me patience and He gave me this as a little project, a way  to keep on trying.  If we do get to the land, this will have given me more hands on experience.  Jack tends the alternative-use trees on our current home lot and has gotten really really good at growing those.   Two guavas are fruiting for the first time, the blood orange tree has its first few fruits in years, the moringas and chayas are simply prolific and he is incorporating some wild plant volunteers alongside the other trees.  The jujube is still hardy and both small plums were loaded with fruit this year.  They tasted pretty bitter, but maybe that will change as they mature?  The honeybees are happy with the trees and the trees seem quite happy with them!

I'm learning a lot out at the community garden.  The biggest lesson I'm learning so far is to not fight the zone and the season.  A LOT of gardeners here in Florida just call it quits from about May till September as far as gardening, especially vegetables.  I grew some beautiful greens all winter here, only stopping with the heat in about March.  The summer-loving plants I've learned will enjoy growing in this prolonged heat here are:  Amaranths (we grow the edible leaf types), sweet potatoes, poblano and hot peppers,  eggplants(!!), yard long beans, and okra.  That doesn't seem like much of a veggie crop, but we are trying to grow enough of the amaranths and sweet potatoes to use as an alternative crop of greens during summer months.  We're experimenting this summer.  The flowers that love the heat are the zinnias, cosmos and the volunteer cannas I've transplanted from the overflow common areas nearby. Oh, and some herbs really love the heat, especially the lemongrass.  There's a whole list of things I planted that I had to pull up.  I was hopeful for the green beans but they don't care for our summers.  The melonworms got all the squashes, too, so maybe next time around I'll know more about using Neem or Bt.

Anyway, it's a short update,  but the first I've been able to shoot out in what feels like forever!  Let's just say health problems can keep us from doing what we thought we'd be doing, but there are ways to tailor efforts to an ongoing attempt to keep on keeping on.

Our freezer is full of frozen greens from the winter months and some very clumsy attempts to grow things in raised beds.  I'm now from one plot to two, and am taking on a third very soon, and another shared one.  The  nice thing about intensive planting "no dig" is that you just continue layering plant material and compost or other soil building materials without disturbing the soil much.  Even folks with back problems or reduced stamina or mobility can access the beds from the sides and put in plant starts with nothing but simple hand tools, or seed things directly by hand. 

We have found so far that the fall and winter crops that do well are the greens...Kale, swiss chard, mustard, collards...and nasturtiums for enjoyment :)  Green beans do amazingly well in fall and spring.  My poblanos made it ALL year, even through the freezes and are still cranking out fruit!  I'm not a big fan yet of Florida tomatoes...sand doesn't lend itself to producing much flavor, but the cherry tomatoes are great anyway.

And some day I'll tell you about this monster (fondly smiling) called Bolivian sunflower...

For now, happy gardening...I'm happy and grateful and wanted to share these pics.  Hope to have some newer ones soon!

:)  Robbyn


Michelle said...

She's ALIVE, she's ALIVE! So glad you filled us in; so sad to hear how your poor health has set you back. But you are still growing food; good for you!

ramblingtart said...

I'm so glad you're back! I've missed your posts. :-) I'm sorry to hear you've been so ill. Chronic illness has been a part of my life for a long time too, so I truly empathize. I'm glad you've found such joy in your garden. :-)

Sandy Livesay said...


Good to see you back, and feeling better.
Love your garden plot!

small farm girl said...

I'm glad to see your back!!! I missed seeing you on here!!! Everything looks great. The gardens are beautiful. Starting to sound like your getting busy!!!

Robbyn said...

Thanks for the comments and encouragement! I'm learning how to deal with a chronic illness that lets me stay going maybe 4 or 5 hours a day before the pain shuts me down...that doesn't mean I don't have plenty of time while horizontal to makes lists and lists and lists...maybe there's something to be said for having "planning time"?? Oh well, making the most of what IS there! It's so nice to see you all! :)

Anonymous said...

I saw your post on David the Good's Florida Survival Gardening site and noticed you're in SW am I. I'm a beginner and poking my nose all around to learn from veterans such as yourself. I've recently taken early retirement to "play in the dirt" - start our family on a self (somewhat) sustainable lifestyle. You have knowledge, but appear to lack some ability/mobility from your recent illness. I have the ability, but lack knowledge. If we're close enough, perhaps I could trade my free labor in exchange for you imparting wisdom... Deb

Robbyn said...

Deb, I'd love to meet you! email address is if you'd like to email so we might talk by phone?