Monday, April 29, 2013

Prepping Established Raspberries

If you have not yet tackled the job of getting your raspberries ready for another season, here is how I tackle the prickly job (wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt/jacket!).

Our raspberries were starts from Nourse, planted in trenches with compost added.  The rows are six feet apart.  In between the rows, the ground is covered with landscape fabric topped with pine bark chips for mulch.  We have used straw mulch in the past, but it does tend to "compost" itself, and let more weeds come in.

The goal in renovating your raspberry bed is one good cane per foot for maximum berry size, flavor and plant health.  This is what one faces come the spring snow melt:

It's fairly easy (if tedious) to prune out the little-finger-sized canes, the peeling, dead looking canes (they bore berries last year and won't again), and the ones growing outside your intended row.  Once you've removed all of the definitely-unwanted canes, prune the tops down to your preferred height.  For us, that is approximately 3 feet tall.  Any taller, and the branches tend to bow down to the ground when full of berries... where local critters then pick more than I do!

So now your row should start looking like this:

If your plants are healthy, you have lots of strong, sturdy canes to choose from.  This is where some "art" comes in.... you need to choose which canes to prune out (at the base again) until you're down to approximately one cane per foot.  I pull back leaf mulch around the canes at this point.  Once all of the branches are finally removed (our kids LOVE the bonfire  :-)  ), it's time to lightly rake the leaves off of the mulch (again, for plant health and less future compost for weeds to grow in).  And you're almost there!:

Irrigation needs to be connected (raspberries like LOTS of water during fruiting!).  We use t-tape drip irrigation, with the t-tapes connected to the white PVC header pipe pictured in the distance.  Microirrigation (with emitters) also work well.

Fertilizer needs to be added.  Our llamas provide what we need for rich llama manure compost  :-).  Fish meal provides an added Nitrogen boost.

And the trellis either needs to be established, or the wires tightened, or the string replaced so all is ready for a heavy load of berries come summer!  :-)  (see above picture for our very simple design).  You CAN do without a trellis, but picking is slower and trickier.  ;-)

We throw out "semaspore" from Planet Natural a few times each May and June to naturally reduce grasshopper populations.  Shiny bird tape tied here and there to flutter in the wind help repel birds.  We really have no other pest problems with our raspberries here in southern Montana.

And your end result this summer will hopefully look like this (2012 crop)!  :-)  Happy Berry Growing!

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Secrets of a good Raised, Covered Bed

As I start to plan retirement from intensive Market Gardening, (NEVER from gardening :-) ), I want to pass on a few "trade secrets" learned by experience and experimentation. :-) As we finally move back into early spring here in Montana, getting our 4' wide, 48'long, 18" tall raised bed up and running is one of the first projects on the longggg outdoor todo list.

After reading "Square Foot Gardening" about the same time I needed Physical Therapy following a 1000 pint hand-picked strawberry season in our Market Garden (OUCH!), I was VERY interested in both getting those strawberries up off the ground ;-D, and getting rid of the intensive, on the knees, weeding process needed twice through every spring when one raises perennials without chemical use.

I found easy to follow plans for building raised beds here: . We made our first raised bed 18" tall, and made the corner posts longer, of course. Since the beds are first made upside down... we did that on our relatively flat gravel driveway near the final bed site. We used mostly used redwood from someone's deck remodeling... stain almost completely worn off and placed to face the outside of the bed. Since most of the boards were 12' long 2X6's, we built 4 units... planning for joining the middle sections... with braces, as shown, at the 6' mark of each board. Purchased 4X4 redwood posts were cut such that they went 6" into the ground when placed upright. They were cut 18" even for the 6' mark bracing spots. 3.5" and 4" decking screws were used to attach all the pieces of wood together.

After each section was moved into place and leveled onsite... they were attached to one another to make one long 48" bed. This bed has been in use for 2 years now, and is very solid.

Then hardware cloth (similar to chicken wire but thicker) was placed on the bottom of each bed to help prevent rodents from tunneling.

WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY >> Grass and Field Bindweed became an issue EVEN through 18" of soil! We had tilled the soil around and under the bed several times prior to installing the bed, but as you can see in the picture... they renewed before we could finish the bed. We eventually laid down landscape fabric on both sides of the bed, and covered it with natural pine chips. Now I would do that AS the bed is established.

In Montana's short growing season, we need to capture all the early and late heat possible. I found 3/4" outdoor PVC conduit (the grey hoops) that would fit inside 1" PVC piping cut into 12" pieces. We found conduit clamps (inexpensive) to attach the PVC footlong pieces inside the beds... even with the top of the beds. 1.25" decking screws were used. Two hoops were placed in each 6' bed section, as shown in the picture. Once you get your covering cloth, you can slip the pipes back out and cut them to the length needed... or measure ahead of time. More on covers later. But keep the hoops IN while you fill the bed with soil, or the insert holes may plug up.

Basic bed done!!

"Square Foot Gardening" recommends a fill of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 mixture of different composts, and 1/3 vermiculite. Ex.pen.sive for such a big bed! We had locally dug coarse sand-gravel delivered to our gardens. Without a tractor here, and no other innovative idea cropping up, I moved bucket after bucket of the sand mix into the bed by hand ;-}. Great heavy lifting exercise! So the first 10-11" of the 18" bed is straight sand-gravel mix. Then I used a small tarp, laid over each 6' section, and filled the tarp with 1/3 peat moss, 1/6 OMRI approved compost, 1/6 our own llama/mini horse compost, 1/6 vermiculite, and 1/6 the same sand-gravel mix. Shaking the ends of the tarp helped mix the recipe. Sliding the tarp out dumped it into the bed. This was repeated until all of the bed sections were filled to within 1-2" of the top of the bed.

WHAT WE'D DO DIFFERENTLY >> We have good loamy soil. Weed seeds were a concern, but the soil texture is good. We will be making OUR raised bed soil mix 1/2 our own soil from now on... with the other half consisting of the same recipe as above. Why? Besides less expense, the recipe used above dried out too quickly in our low humidity. And a little blew away each time :-O in strong winds whenever covers were not on and plants weren't anchoring the soil mix. Otherwise... all plants grew beautifully in this recipe :-).

STILL IN THE EXPERIMENT PHASE: We were so impressed with the production, and the better use of MY back with the raised bed, LOL, we built 2 more. One is 12" tall, and the other is 6" tall. 12" may be the "right" size? The 6" bed allows watermelon and pumpkins to drape off the side easily :-), BUT it also filled up with our pine wood chip mulch every big wind :-(. The mulch is not blowing into the 12" or 18" beds. So for that reason... we'll be raising the height of the 6" bed as soon as we locate more redwood 2X6's in need of a new use.

Info on covers, watering and plantings to come in future posts. Happy Gardening!!

Monday, April 8, 2013

The World of Computer Blogs and FB pages! Oh My!!

Wow! Please have patience with me as I try to figure out the crazy, not-always-intuitive, ins and outs of blogging and setting up a business FB page, etc!

I've already learned one VERY important lesson to share with you'all. I played with lots of potential blog names, etc, and checked on my final choice "Heavenly Essentials" :-). It was available as a .com name, a blog name, and a FB page name, AND as a Montana registerable DBA (Doing Business As) name! Yahoo! So I quietly set up the nonpublished FB page, the unadvertised blogsite, and sent off my DBA registration. As soon as approval of the DBA name arrived in the mail, I went to register the .com name. Taken and parked and offered for sale at a steep price!! :-O My other, oddly named, private blogspot name is "parked" also?! I suspect a sneaky bot...

Lesson learned... google possible names to see if they're in use or not, but lock up the .com name FIRST.

Hence the "z" in Essentialz, LOL.

Now if I can only learn how to do the business FB page, while not messing up the news feed for my much more private, personal FB page...