Friday, August 14, 2009

The Strawberry Patch

Dave and I started our strawberry patch with a few runners from Dave's father's patch. The area was about 3' x 4' originally. Now it is about 3' x 12.' It is lined with 4x4s on the long side, bricks on the 2 short ends and a cement slab on the house side.

These edgings allow me to cover the patch with wire to keep out the birds at harvest time. Ha! Being lazy, I've learned to pick the berries just before they fully ripen. They get a day on the counter before being cleaned and stored in freezer bags. This allows me time to amass enough berries for strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry crisp, and of course strawberry shortcake.

Every year I collect the seaweed from the high tide line to top dress the patch. Seaweed is an excellent fertilizer as it breaks down. It acts like straw to keep the berries off the ground where they rot quickly or get eaten by slugs. It also seems to deter mice which love straw and strawberries!

When the runners have filled up the space they've been allotted, I move the bricks out another 2,' line the ground with a thick layer of old newspapers, cover with a thick layer of seaweed and lay the runners on top so they know where to go. The next spring the new plants already have a foothold. The following year they are producing sizable berries.

When picking my strawberries, I would take the bruised, damaged, partially eaten ones and throw them up against the fence behind my veggie garden thinking this would be easier for the birds. Lol! The plants that are growing there rival my patch! So I pot them up, 6-10 to a pot, to sell out front - instant strawberry patch for the lucky buyer.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gardening For Cash

Here in good ol' Taxachusetts you are allowed to sell what you grow from your property without setting up a business identity and paying taxes. Don't expect to make big money either. I'm happy to make enough to cover costs of gardening plus a few bucks.

I embarked on this avenue through requests from others. Because I don't use chemicals when gardening, I get alot of "volunteers." Volunteers are baby plants that sprout up from seeds or suckers from the previous year's blooms from the mother plants. Not wanting to destroy these, I offered them to friends and neighbors when space in my garden became unavailable. This was fine until others wanted them potted up until they decided where they were going to plant them.

Ok. Pots, soil, water, fertilizer and my time cost money that I don't have. Several people offered money for this service. This is how it got started.

When I moved in with my Dave 15 years ago, neighbors told me I couldn't grow things because we live on the water. Hehehe, salt water has it's challenges but things DO grow and flourish. Because of the prevailing southwest wind, different climate niches are created throughout the yard.

Blue Hydrangeas are a waterfront cottage staple. I propogate these from one plant I purchased 15 years ago. The experts say they won't bloom for a couple of years. Mine bloom the first year. Go figure. They are definately a cash crop and a beautiful addition to any property. They are easy to maintain and bloom all summer.

Another is Rose of Sharon. They pop up everywhere from seed. They are supposed to sucker too but I haven't found this to be the case. My original two bushes came from Dave's father's yard. I took them from under a rich pink variety. When they began bloomimg, I had one rich pink and one light pink with rich pink interior flowers. They compliment each other. However, when potting the seedlings up for sale, I don't know which are which until they are old enough to bloom. This takes about 4 years or so. Rose of Sharon likes marshland and attracts hummimgbirds.

Each year that you have a potted plant requires repotting into a larger pot with more rich organic soil and a higher price tag.

A word or two about customers...
Because this isn't really a business, I sell my plants out in front of my fence so that no one will have an opportunity to "get hurt." There is a No Trespassing sign on the gate. Our taxes and insurance are high enough here rivalling a mortgage payment.

Most times, sales are on the honor system. There is a cashbox on the fence. Each plant is priced and labeled. I've only had a couple of girls in a black truck think they shouldn't pay for a couple of $1 plants. What goes around, comes around. By doing this, traffic is at a minimum so as not to upset the neighborhood.

Customers like to ask questions. You need to know about your plants. Growing them yourself gives you more insight into their requirements than any tag or research. Most sun-loving plants don't need as much sun as you'd think. Same goes for soil requirements.

Customers also mistakenly think you have every plant known to man. I have 60'x20' that is my main garden. Here lives 5 trees, shrubs, flowers, fruit, herbs, bulbs, walkways, a swing for two, a pond, a place to park Dave's truck and a dining area. By mid june, it is a jungle. I like the ground covered in plants. No weeds. Plenty of flowers, fruit and wildlife.

Customers also like to request you grow things for them. I do for most of the common veggie plants because the latest practice of retailers is to sell these individually potted at no less than $3.25 each. Jees, it costs you over $100 in plants alone just to have a small veggie garden! 6-pack plants are hard to maintain so they require transplant after a few weeks. Retailers dump them. I usually do 3 plants per 4" pot as this is enough for most gardeners.

Customers also like the fruits of your labor. As my own produce outweighs my needs, I set up baskets with my prices/item with bags. There is an elderly population here on the island. They really enjoy being able to walk here to get a couple of tomatoes, cukes, peppers, pears for a total of a couple of bucks. At the grocery store it would cost them over $10. There is a very nice elderly gentleman that comes every few days for tomatoes and a cuke. He always leaves his $2 in the basket with the veggies. He doesn't like the cashbox. Nobody touches his money.

This is America!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Upside Down Tomato Gardening

Many sites are promoting using a 5-gallon bucket. DON'T!I tried a bucket 1/2 that size and it's just too heavy and an overuse of soil. Instead, recycle a 12-inch high by 6-8-inch diameter plastic pot. Decorate, paint (non-toxic) or wrap in decorative plastic before you proceed.

Turn planter upside down. Center a 1-1 1/2 inch hole. Drill at least 4 drainage holes along edge. Thread a 4' heavy cord or rope through each of the drainage holes so that one end comes up from inside the pot. the other end comes up from outside the pot. Tie the 2 ends together at rim edge. Now you have 4 double hangers. About 6-8 inches up from rim knot these all together.

Find a place to hang so you can work on planter. I used a short shepherd's hook. Take a 4" square of sponge or foam. Make a cut to center and then a > off center cut. >----- Take a small tomato plant and carefully coax leaves through the center hole in planter. If plant is larger, gently wash all soil off roots and coax roots up though bottom of the planter. Gently guide the tomato stem through the cut in sponge from inside the planter. The tomato plant is now anchored. Fill the pot with good soil such as MiracleGro, Expert, or Schultz. Until your plant develops some weight, it will naturally grow toward the sun. Don't be alarmed.

Now hang your planter in an area that will get at least 6 hours of sun. Make sure your hook or branch can take the weight. T-clothesline poles are excellent. So are the 2x4 headers of a porch or from the underside of tall decks.

The theory behind hanging tomatoes is that the pot gets warmed by the sun faster than the ground soil. This promotes faster growth and earlier tomatoes. Since a tomato plant is a vine, free hanging is more natural than staking.

Maintenence is more involved. You need to water thoroughly and more frequently than ground grown. Fertilize every other week with a half-strength solution of liquid fertilizer.
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