Monday, December 29

Garden Planner Beta testers---

I've sent out a beta to several testers.
Notes for those of you who came here to look for more information...
  • you need to install MS Excel Analysis Toolpak - (on office 2007, hit the round button, and "Excel Options" on the lower right, then choose "add-ins" and follow prompts to install)
  • I forgot to add a couple succession planting numbers, so it won't calculate multiple harvests for Peas, Pole Beans, and Peppers.

Saturday, December 27

Garden Planner Spreadsheet

I've been putting this spreadsheet together for several years now, and it's finally in a fairly useful stage. Since I haven't been convinced by anyone to make it into a 'real' application, it's currently in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, with heavy use of multi-worksheet formulas, form controls, and a couple macros.

The final output (at right) is a form with drop-down crop variety selections, room for cultivars, order info, source, and it automatically populates a weekly calendar with tasks for the garden. The succession planting column allows for scheduling multiple iterations of the crop without confusing the scheduler. Everything is based off the Last Frost date as entered in the spreadsheet, so the scheduler is portable to other zones.

Future improvements I'm still working on are a automatic bed plan, and some different output options for the schedule. The bed plan will order crops by family (Legumes, Brassicas, Roots, Curcurbits & Grains, Solanaceae, and Alliaceae); and keeps historical records from the last several years of crops to facilitate rotation for pest control and maintain soil nutrients. Schedule output options I'd like to add are a printable schedule based on popular binder-style planners, and outputs to Microsoft Outlook and/or Google Calendar appointment systems.

I've created a small version that I could email, if you want to try it out for yourself.


Sunday, December 21

12-21-2008 A winter wonderland

We're sitting here at -11 F, with a windchill of -30 F, and almost 2 feet of snow cover. It's safe to say winter has reached Wisconsin.

The garden is, of course, buried.

So, what did I accomplish this past season? Just about nothing. I did harvest almost a peck of carrots, some of them wormy, most not too bad. (Not sure if this is recommended, but I found that soaking in water encouraged the worms to come out). Two of the apple trees did well, the third was not so great. I only sprayed the organic pest deterrent once, so maybe next year I'll hit them more frequently. Between the two, almost 10 gallons of good (not pest-ridden) apples were picked, and the third had about a gallon or so of smaller, but still good apples. I've lost the slip of paper describing which tree is which, so I need to do some investigation.

The apples were made into homemade, unsweetened apple sauce - quartered, dumped in a stock pot with a quart of water, and boiled/steamed until soft. Then sent through a food mill to remove the seeds and peels. What was left was a beautiful rose-colored sauce (for the yellow color you get in stores, peel the apples before cooking). It froze well, and some was used for Christmas cookies this year that didn't survive until Christmas. For the cookies, take some commercial puff pastry dough, thaw it out, coat one side with cinnamon & sugar, spread applesauce on the other side, and roll it up like a jelly roll. Freeze it to give it some shape, and cut thin slices with a sharp knife. Bake according to package directions. You end up with cute little spirals that are so good I only got 2 myself.

Next year....
I should plan better. And not drown the melons.

If I can revive my other computer, there is data on it for creating custom 'day-planner' style calendar pages that remind me weekly which tasks need to be accomplished in the garden - for example in mid-February, it has a note to start pansies indoors, mid-March to start herbs, and mid-April to start tomatoes, with the corresponding dates to plant them outdoors. I find it much easier to follow a calendar with all the dates listed rather than try to remember each individual plant. Again, I need to revive a computer to get the data. ugh.

I'm going to kill off some of the strawberries this year. The lipstick hybrid has outgrown it's usefulness - beginning to spread too much, and not providing enough fruits. So I hit them with roundup once this fall and didn't mulch them in. Next spring I'll hit any stragglers with more roundup, and plant some of my seed-started non-spreading strawberries in their place.

I also hope to tackle the area outside the office next year - know anyone who can teach me to build a stone wall with my huge supply of round stone?


Saturday, July 12

The weeds rule my garden

I've been neglecting my garden. I have all my pepper plants in trays in my basement under lights (um, still). Most of the vegetable garden is weed-ridden right now, but I'm slowly making progress.

Carrots and lettuce are doing well, peas were planted way too late & have yet to produce. Beans are showing strong, however.

The recent flooding and rains left the garden under 4" of standing water for more than a week - that killed off all the melons - I never knew they were susceptible to drowning.

Perennials are doing well, I'll try to post some photos this week, but the front bed of black-eyed-susans and Maltese cross is amazing. The day lilies are filling in nicely, but I'm still fighting the thistle problem by the electrical box.


Tuesday, March 4

March 2008 - Seed Ball Project

Easter comes early this year, and I thought a nice gift to my gardener friends would be some wildflower seed balls. These little balls of clay, compost, and seed can be placed on the soil surface to germinate, not requiring planting into the ground. The clay helps deter pests from stealing the seed and retains moisture.

Commercial sources of these include "Seedballz" which sell for about $6 for a package of 8 at Amazon. These commercial varieties are a bit larger than what I'm about to show, but I found the smaller version is easier to make by hand.

My original plans came from Path To Freedom. I've modified their recipe slightly.

You'll need:
  • dry terracotta clay powder or moist clay
  • dry composted manure or compost
  • seeds
The basic recipe I use is:
6 parts clay
4 parts compost
1 part seed

If you cannot find terracotta clay powder, you can use moist clay that has been air dried (not kiln fired!) and crushed. I found a cheese grater and mortar/pestle the best tools to dry and pulverize the clay in an efficient manner. Strain out any large chunks and crush again (a kitchen sieve works fine).

Using the directions from Path To Freedom: mix the seed and compost together, add the clay, mist water with a spray bottle while stirring to get it to clump together. Do not add too much water, it will be difficult to form balls with too much moisture in the mix. Pinch off a small portion of the mixture and roll into a ball. I find it easiest (and cleanest) to use plasticized gardening gloves for this step, keeping most of the clay off my hands. Let the seed balls dry for a couple days, protecting them from curious children and pets.

Plant about 1 seed ball per square foot.

For a spring garden gift, consider packaging a handful of seed balls in a small flowerpot, perhaps with a plant marker and twine bow. Include a card with instructions and descriptions of the seed varieties. I've chosen to make a shady blend and a sunny blend.

Be sure to check with your local university extension office for native plant species to use in your seed balls.

How much did it cost me?

compost: free
clay: $1 from potter friend (can purchase 50 lbs for about $23)
seed: 1/2 cup wildflower seed mix (no filler) $13 from local garden center. (makes 250 or 300 balls)
pots: $0.50 each
twine: $0.05 (on hand)
seed markers: $0.50 each at local garden center
instruction card: $0.05 (printed on index cards)

So each gift will cost about $3 total, plus my time. The seed balls alone will cost about $14 total (clay and seed), or about $0.05 each.