Our 2022 garden: sweet potatoes, bed prep and… frost?

Yay! A day without rain! We finally got to get some serious work done outside!

I had a few goals for the day, but before I could even start on any of them, I had to get the weed trimmer out. The grass is getting out of control, but it’s still too wet to mow in most places. In the main garden area, the ground is so rough, it’s just easier to use the weed trimmer.

Easier on the lawn mower, that is. Not on me! Particularly since I was trying to trim as close to the ground as possible, as well as under the logs framing the beds. It’s pretty much all crab grass, with some dandelions thrown in for good measure, so it’s all going to come back, but at least it’ll take a bit longer, this way. :-/

Once that was done, I decided on where I would put the purchased grow bags we are testing out this year. I picked up a couple at Canadian Tire, mostly because they were on clearance. My original plan was to try growing some sweet potatoes in one of them, then have the remaining slips planted in the ground. The bed I was going to use for that now has the white strawberries in it, so I figured they could all go into the grow bags.

I decided to place them near the small potato bed, where they will get full sun, and be sheltered from the winds at least somewhat. I did put some straw in the bottom of the bags. The straw will act as a sort of sponge to hold moisture, but it also held the sides of the bags up, making it easier to add the soil.

The truck load of garden soil by the main garden is mostly used up, but so far it has been enough for what we need. The problem is that, after a year, it’s so full of roots, it’s actually hard to stab the spade into it!

We really need a soil sifter. I don’t have the materials to make one right now, so I rigged one up.

This steel mesh is what we use on the burn barrel as a spark catcher. I used it to sift soil last year. A couple of sticks to support it over the wheelbarrow, and it worked all right. Some roots still got through, but at least the big stuff was kept out.

It took a couple of loads to fill the bags. They’re not that large, but even with the straw on the bottom, they hold quite a bit of soil. I decided not to fill them to the top. I figure, once sweet potatoes start to form, they’re going to need some space. I’ve never grown them before, so we’ll find out!

Also, you can see that one of the handles has already torn off on one side!

These bags are probably too small for sweet potatoes, but this is a bit of an experiment, anyhow, so we’ll see.

For these, I decided to use the stove pellets as mulch. In the above photo, the one on the right had its first watering, and you can see they’re already starting to swell and soften.

After wetting them both down, I left the pellets to absorb the water and moved on to our other experiment.

I got a pair of these at The Dollar Tree to test out. The fabric they’re made of is a thick felt.

Hmmm… Did I mention I got these at The Dollar Tree?

You get what you pay for! The first one I opened, and it had a hole in it!

Some of the stitching looks like it simply came undone, but the opening was about a third of the circumference!

The other one was fine, though, so I gave the first one to my daughter. She’s been doing a lot of sewing, so she’s got all the supplies on hand and was able to stitch it up for me.

While she worked on that, I filled the second one. As with the others, I added straw to the bottom, using it to help hold up the sides. In between loads of soil to fill it, I watered the pellets in the first bags a couple more times, before smoothing out the sawdust, then repeated the process on the smaller fabric bed.

It looks so small compared to the other two!

The sweet potato slips I ordered was a 5 pack, and I decided to plant 2 in one of the green bags, then 3 in the black felt bed. I wanted to see if the black fabric, which would absorb more heat, would be better. We did get a short season, cooler climate variety, but they are still a heat loving plant.

Well, would you look at that!

We have extras!

After breaking up the bundle of slips (there was still ice in the packing medium!), the green bags got two each, while the shorter but wider black fabric bed got three.

Sweet potato slips, I’ve learned, are the only other plant that share a trait with tomatoes, in that you can bury them up to their leaves, and new roots will grow out of the buried stems.

I’m sure these bags will be too small, but with how sweet potato vines grow, I think I will let them spread onto the ground. Where the vines touch the ground, they can root themselves, and grow more sweet potatoes. So we might get some growing in multiple places. 🙂

Once those were in, I got to work on one of the low raised beds that needed to be weeded (again) and prepped for planting.

It was actually a bit worse than the remaining bed that needs to be weeded. I got as many of the rhizomes and dandelion tap rooms out that I could. I know I didn’t get all of them, but at least I got most.

We’re running low on the canopy tent pieces I’m using for supports. This bed got only 6 of them. The other beds got 8. There are 4 left of these longer ones. After that, there are only some really short pieces. Short enough that I’m not sure where we can use them in the garden at all!

By the time I got this bed done, I really needed a break, so I popped inside for lunch … er… lupper? and a rest.

When I sat at my computer, one of the first things I saw was a flashing red alert on my task bar’s weather app icon.

It was a frost advisory.

*sigh*

Pretty much everything else we’ve got going right now is frost tolerant. These sweet potato slips, however… yes, they’re supposed to be a cool climate variety, but they just got planted!

I decided to play it safe.

We hang on to more of our water bottles, rather than putting them in recycling, and this is one reason why! They can be used as cloche over smaller plants.

Such a hot day, and we’re supposed to get frost. Ugh.

Okay… “hot” is relevant. It was only 16C/61F out there! It certainly felt hotter while working outside. I got a wicked sunburn on the back of my neck. My daughters chastised me for not wearing sunscreen, while one of them applied some aloe vera gel on the burn for me. 😀 We do have sunscreen. Somewhere. I just forgot sunscreen existed, and didn’t even think that I might get sunburned!

Tonight, we’re supposed to dip to 2C/35F. Tomorrow’s high is expected to be much the same as today, while the overnight low is supposed to be 4C/39F. After that, our overnight lows are supposed to continue to slowly increase over the next couple of weeks.

Which means that we have one more night before we can start transplanting our warm weather crops. Even then, though, we will start with the ones that are most likely to handle colder overnight temperatures. There is still lots of work that needs to be done, including a repair on the squash tunnel – one of the screws holding a bottom cross piece snapped. Likely because of the winds we’ve been having.

There is still so much to do! The extended cold and the rains have really set things back.

Once everything is in, though, I expect we’ll have quite a good growing season. I look forward to not having to water all the garden beds, twice a day, almost every day, like we had to last year.

Between the weather and the critters, though, nothing is ever a sure thing!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2021 garden: making grow bags

One thing about our internet being a problem is that we’re really learning what browsers and websites are data hogs of one type or another. Chrome is better than Firefox, and WordPress is just awful. Not just the editor, but simply trying to view other WordPress blogs. I don’t know what they’re trying to do in the background, but it’s more than our internet can handle and they are constantly timing out or only partially loading.

Today, I’m trying a new browser, and it seems to be working MUCH better. Which is weird, because I’m using Tor right now, and it’s an onion, so you would think it would be worse, not better!

Either way, here I am, able to write a blog post!

As much as possible, we keep Sunday as a day of rest. What often happens during that rest period is that it becomes a time of inspiration. Today was one such day, and I came up with a garden solution.

When I posted about our layout plans for this year’s garden, one of the things mentioned is that our potatoes aren’t anywhere on it; we are planning to grow potatoes in containers this year.

The question was, what to use as containers?

The easy solution would be to buy grow bags. That requires money, of course. Money that would be more efficiently spent elsewhere. We had a number of things around the property we could use, but each had more negatives than positives about them.

So that problem got set aside, and we got to thinking about other things. Like how to preserve our harvest. Particularly the root vegetables. I got to thinking about the bags from deer feed and bird seeds we’ve been accumulating, and how they might be usable.

Which is when the inspiration hit.

The feed bags would make excellent grow bags!

The bags are simple tubes with seams sewn on the top and bottom. The seams are basically slip stitched, so to open them, I trim one end of the thread close to the bag, then yank. The whole thread pulls out, leaving the top of the bag undamaged. Once the bags are empty, they lie flat.

So I grabbed one to experiment.

To use them as grow bags, they need a flat bottom. To create that, I folded the ends of the seam so the points met at the middle, then stitched them in place. Because of the layers of thickness from the seam, I had to do two rows of stitches on either side of the seam. I used a back stitch, as that would hold better. The thread I used was salvaged from the inside of a very long length of paracord. My younger daughter had made herself a corset, but the lacing she got was not long enough. The lacing is the same as the outside of paracord. My husband bought a 1000 yard roll of black paracord a while ago, so we had plenty to use. It took a while, but we got the inner strands out, which we then separated into individual strands to keep for other things. It’s remarkably strong, and we didn’t want to waste it! It was perfect for this job.

This is the end result. A flat bottomed bag with sides that can be rolled up or down to the height desired. The bags will allow for drainage, and are strong enough that we will be able to move them around as needed.

They’re fairly small. The bags are more long and narrow than wide, and the bird seed bags are taller than the deer feed bags. They are large enough for just a couple of potatoes, or maybe three or four fingerling type potatoes, at most. So we’ll need a lot. I don’t mind the smaller size, since that means they’ll be easier to move after being filled. We are pretty sure we know where they will go, but if that doesn’t work out, being able to easily move them is a bonus.

I brought in the rest of the bags from the sun room, which turned out to be another 12 bags, plus we’ve got two more bags of feed on the go. Over the next month or two, we will be getting more of both deer feed and bird seed, which will likely give us another 8 bags to work with. After that, we’ll just be buying bird seed, but by then, we’ll be planting, so it won’t matter. Until we actually get the seed potatoes, we won’t know how many we’ll have, since they’re sold by weight, not number of potatoes. If we don’t have enough bags, we’ll just try some of the other ideas we were thinking of.

I’ve stitched up three, altogether, to get the hang of it, and now they are set aside. Over the next few weeks, we’ll stitch up the rest so that they will be ready for our planting in late May or early June. Being in bags, we should be able to get away with planting earlier.

The cats, meanwhile, are absolutely fascinated by these bags, and all the smells that came in with them! 😀

The Re-Farmer