Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's Mid-April: What Else Do I Plant?

This weekend, I paid a visit to Home Depot because they had a Gardening class at 1:00pm.  When I arrived with my two little girls, I was shocked to find the teacher ratio was 1:1!!  I was the only one there!  Needless to say, I took advantage of this and fired a barrage of questions at the instructor, whose name was Sandra.  Poor lady.  She never knew what she was in for.  How do you rotate your crops?  What are the best edibles to plant in the shade and which are best in full sun?  How do you maximize produce?  Can you plant on the same rows?  Which herbs are best within the garden?  Why...What...When...?   In the end, I had gathered quite a bit of information but I think I exhausted the woman.  Nonetheless, according to Sandra, here are some of my takeaways:

1)  For a heavy producing garden, plant heavily in the Peppers group.   Bell peppers, Jalapeno peppers and Banana peppers were my preferences.

2) For heavier produce, put all Tomatoes and Squash in full sun and add Eggplant to that mix. 

3) Watering for a garden has to be extremely regular because, like the human body adjusts to skipping breakfast, a plant will adjust to less water.  If you suddenly began watering again, you can actually drown the plant!  On the flip side, a plant which is regularly watered can more freely produce an abundance of fruit or vegetables. 

4) There are various kinds of Eco friendly bug sprays and rapid grow sprays which are a must in this climate.  Box beetles and leaf pests have grown in number in recent years and they can quickly kill a garden. 

5) I didn't get full answers on rotating crops, but what I did gather is that you don't want to plant things that give low produce like cabbage or Corn.  Some of these crops take months to produce little.  However, it is important to keep in mind that my options are going to be limited in Winter and "cold weather crops" are low producing anyway.  Cucumbers, Beans and Black Eyed Peas are the crops that keep on giving. 

6) Grass is as much of an asset in gardening as are my gardening beds.  The grass is the most rapid feeder to my compost pile.  Whereas leaves and wood breakdown after a while, grass breaks down and composts quickly.  One of the best things you can do is buy chickens and put them in the chicken tractor.  This actually helps your grass grow faster. 

7) Sandra introduced me to a couple of herbs which make a great addition to our herb collection (we have been pretty staple with having your standard Cilantro, Basil and Rosemary plants here and there).  Lemon Thyme has an excellent taste with a nice kick and Stevia is a conversation piece because of its sugar alternative press. 

Needless to say, I walked out of Home Depot with Tomato plants, Herbs, Squash, Peppers and Eggplant.  Christy, my wife, later picked up, among other things, a Blueberry Bush and a healthy Strawberry plant.

On a side note, I noticed yesterday that the frontrunner in my recent plantings is a surprise:  My Sunflowers just came shooting out of the ground!  Wow.  I don't know if this continues, but they are very quick.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Protein Sources: Fish, Chicken or Both?

During one of our conversations regarding Urban Homesteading, the topic arose regarding protein sources of food for our home.  At first, we were thinking about chickens, but we live in a relatively conservative neighborhood, so if it is to be chickens, it has to be low profile.  Then the conversation came up regarding fish.  I never thought in a million years I would be considering raising fish in my yard!  Having spent some time online looking into chickens and fish, I came up with some pros and cons of both.

1) Easy to maintain.
2) Hardy animals to stay outside.
3) With a "chicken tractor", they naturally aerate and fertilize the yard!
4) Regular egg production.
5) Entertaining for the kids.

1) It would require my building or buying this chicken tractor.  
2) Not readily accepted or embraced by the more conservative neighbors.
3) Can sometimes be loud.
4) Might attractive some larger predators to the yard (coyotes and hawks). 

(For us- the best are likely Trout or Tilapia)
1) Quiet and low key
2) Entertaining for the kids
3) This sets me up for a Hydroponics/Greenhouse add-on (will explain later).
4) Rapid growth and reproduction. 

1) Requires temperature monitoring and controls (cold for Trout and warm for Tilapia).
2) Plumbing and water filtering mechanisms are required (not my strenghs).
3) Possibility of "fish kill" where entire school dies because they can be temperamental.
4) Trout have omnivorous diet (plant and smaller fish). 
5) Will likely require a greenhouse to protect from various climates and predators (Raccoons are known to invade).  This affects lot planning.
6) Painfully regular feedings.

I've chewed on this for a while, but I think the answer is really a combination of both.  This way we don't have to go overboard with a lot of chickens (I think Cobb County only allows for 6 anyway) or a lot of fish.  You don't have to read much to see that too many fish in a tank can stress them out.  This applies more to Trout than Tilapia as Tilapia typically swim in tight schools. 

**Use what you have. I have a lot of spare wood from a piece of the deck we had to rip out and I will likely use that for the chicken tractor.  Also, it is a little unusual, but we moved into a house with a broken jacuzzi.  So, we will likely try to put our trout there.  I now wish I hadn't drilled holes in the bottom to make it a storage unit!!  I'll have to plug those now... Also, when in a general conversation with my neighbor, he happened to have a fish pond and pump he was about to throw away!  So, yay, I have two containers for both fish!!