Tuesday, May 15, 2012
The Gardening “Decks-periment”–Part One
It has been a productive couple of weeks since my last post. We are currently in our 7th week since planting our first two bins, and now have a dozen bins planted with vegetables growing on our deck.
Since moving back to GA a few months ago, we decided we would create different growing areas on the property based on the types of plants we’d like to grow and based on the wildlife we would like to attract to our yard. We are working on a bird and butterfly sanctuary, a shady flower garden entrance, a tilled garden plot for large or sprawling vegetables, and our deck garden. All are works in progress and we are very much enjoying the process.
In this post, I will discuss the deck garden – a sunny, south-facing spot we use as our “incubator” for seedlings, bulbs, new transplants, and any container/bin plants requiring extra protection from wildlife and/or possible soil diseases. One might describe it as a “working deck” and not so much an aesthetically pleasing garden spot (that would be the intent for our front shade garden – more on that in a future post).
Our deck serves as a potting shed and plant lab – a convenient place to do growing experiments. Below are some seeds I received as a gift on Mother’s Day (my family really knows what I love!). I started saving plastic food containers to use as mini-greenhouses for seed-starting and now have a small collection. To germinate, I placed the seeds between 2 moist paper towels, misted and enclosed them in the container, then labeled the plant variety and sowing date with a small Post-it sheet. I moved the stacked containers to the potting bench away from direct sunlight, and I will check to see what has sprouted every few days.
This method works well if you do not have a large space to dedicate to seed germination, and if you would rather not deal with the mess of potting mix or peat pots in your kitchen sink and window sills or other indoor growing space. It can, however, require a bit more work when it is time to transplant. When using peat pots or potting mix in cell packs, you can just remove the rooted seedling and place it in a larger container or garden spot. With paper towel-sprouting, you remove the seedlings at an earlier stage – just after the seed sends out the tap root. Transplanting is easy to do with medium and large seeds, but a bit tricky with tiny seeds. For smaller seeds, I usually lift the whole sprouted paper towel out of the container and lay it directly onto a watered potting mix surface. Rooting continues in the soil mix and the paper towel eventually dissolves.
If a particular seed variety happens to have a low germination rate, you haven’t wasted peat pots, soil, or cell pack space. If you have problems with birds eating corn or sunflower seeds that are directly sown in your garden, pre-sprouting these seeds on paper towels might help to discourage wildlife seeking a meal of dry seeds.
Our “decks-periment” and other uses for bins
I have a makeshift aquarium (32-gallon plastic bin) on a sheltered part of the deck where I keep 10 goldfish and one blue mystery snail (the snail is for algae clean-up). There is an air pump for oxygenating the water and a couple of fish caves for cover. I change the fish effluent water once every week or two and use it to water plants in pots (not bins) on our deck. The combination of the oxygenated water and the nutrients in the fish effluent water is quite beneficial to plant growth. Plant roots need oxygen for health and vigor. Using this watering method has blessed us with some beautiful produce!
I have another open bin under a rain spout on the deck to collect rain water. We normally keep a back-up bin on a dolly to move under the drain spout in case of heavy rain. My daughter keeps a large brown tadpole (picture below on right) in the rain bin to clean up algae, and if we cannot use the water before mosquito larvae grow, we put a goldfish in the bin for a couple of hours and the fish eats every bit of the larvae. I am currently using a low-tech system, manually watering the potted plants with the fish and rain water, but hope to eventually move toward a larger, more efficient aquaponic system.
I use our garden hose to top off the water in the bin reservoirs every other day. Not much water is needed in 10 of the 12 bins. The 2 tomato bins require more watering. I contemplated pouring rain or fish water into the bin reservoirs, but I feel it is a healthier practice to have very clean water (no particles) in an enclosed container. This is only my opinion – there may be folks who have had success using recycled water in enclosed containers. I would love to hear how this worked for others – please email me at BeenGardening@gmail.com or post a comment sharing your growing experiences. I always welcome suggestions and feedback!
Thanks so much for reading this post. Below is a picture of a garden gift that bloomed today and also happens to be my favorite scent – freesia!!
Enjoy your gardening,