Spring Has Sprung!

MatthewRyan


Here in Southern California, Spring is a magical time where the weather is picture perfect as a healthy mix of sun and rain brings hope and excitement for myriad adventures outdoors. For us, this means much time spent in the garden, which is now bordering on an urban farm, as our endeavors become more and more ambitious. A great quote by Margaret Atwood sums this up for me quite well: “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Gardening for us actually starts in January as we begin to germinate seed trays in our greenhouse and trick them into believing that the season is much more advanced than it is. By the end of the danger of frost, we have 3-4″ starters of our favorite tomatoes and peppers along with every culinary herb we can grow. Cucumbers and Zucchini are the first to go in the ground as they make neighbors with the snap peas that have been underway since fall.
To see what we’ve been cooking up and the new products we are releasing right now, check out our Spring seasonal page!
So each year our little garden becomes less little and grows to the extent our time and budget can afford. What was once the assortment of pots on an apartment patio many years ago is now the entire back yard of our house. What used to be only pots became raised beds and planters. What used to be watering with a hose is now a custom built drip and soaker system on timers. What used to be planting in the natural rhythm of the seasons is now a full-scale greenhouse equipped with grow lights, smart plugs, timers, heaters, and misters. Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!
This is definitely the parable of the frog unaware of a slowly heating pot vs being dropped into hot water. You can’t do what we’ve done in one year. Hell, we barely did it in three, but it’s like Christmas decorations; You just add a little on each year. 🙂
Our intention with this post is to spark your creativity and get your green thumb moving with lots of pictures of what you can grow and enjoy yourself. We will try to refrain from waxing verbose on all the nuances of what makes the garden tick, but if we get inquisitive feedback and interest then we would be happy to discuss specific details in the comments section below. For in-depth queries, feel free to hit us up directly in the Contact Us field at the bottom of any page.

We hope you enjoy the gardening season as much as we do!


~Building a Raised Bed~

Give Yourself a Raise, You've Earned It!

With so much empty space in the backyard, we decided to build some raised beds to capitalize on the garden potential. Weeds and crabgrass were the prevalent crops on the property and I didn’t feel bad at all about ripping up whole sections of grass to lay the foundation for the beds. We are renting this property and I hope the landlords feel this is an improvement/investment in the property, not a defacing. Rolling with the “Better to ask for forgiveness than permission” angle on this one.
The two raised beds we have are custom designs I planned out and built from scratch. No template or pre-fab, but honestly they are really easy to make. You just decide how big you want your square or rectangle bed to be, buy the wood and cement joints and assemble like Lincoln Logs. I bought 12′ or 8′ redwood boards and broke them down into 3, 4, and 6-foot sections. Home Depot will even do the cuts for you if you know what you want going in. I shoveled out the grass and packed in some fill dirt to the dimensions of the future beds and leveled it best I could. The yard slopes down toward the wash which our property is immediately adjacent to. I put down a layer of weed cloth which bought me one year of protection against grass invading the beds, but some heavy duty roots from the surrounding trees traveled long and far and found my beds. Those roots punched through with no issue and now the crab grass from before has found its way in….sigh. In hindsight, I should have spent the money on the mesh wire for keeping out rodents and laid that down on top of the weed cloth.
The materials to build the beds isn’t actually too bad, I probably spent about $125 or so on the wood, cloth, and the stone joints. The soil is actually where this gets expensive… It took about $300 worth of soil to fill this bad boy up! I don’t know what happens to the soil during the year either, but it takes me a full bag per section of the bed to top off and refill from it being compacted, windswept, and from rain run-off. Gardening is not cheap, or for everyone, but if you feel like homegrown produce tastes good enough to be worth the time, expense, and effort then you are in good company.
The stone corner joints have a center punch hole that supports rebar so I ran rebar through each section to anchor them in place and resist the shift of the sloped yard and heavy rains. This keeps the corners in place and helps keep the stacked joints in line so all the boards sit evenly on each other. The shade cloth is a story for another time, but really helps give the crops a break in the heat of summer since we are legitimately in the desert here in East San Diego.

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~Greenhouse~

Climate control and Irrigation

It came to my attention that to get a jump start on the season and be able to provide myself with the “teenager” plants you can buy at the store in early March that I needed to start my seeds while it was still Winter. Also, the cost of buying all your plants as starters for $3-5 a pop really adds up! I already spend more than is comfortable on the garden and it is far more economical to grow from seed rather than buying starters.
Growing from seed is certainly more advanced and complicated than just impulse buying at your local nursery in early spring, but I find it much more rewarding(and frustrating) to start at the absolute beginning. A seed sown by my own hands, watered and nurtured, can become a substantial source of life and food that will feed my family in the months to come. The tools and seed starter kits available now are really great and paired with some modern tech, it is not as hard as it used to be. I use Jiffy peat pellets in trays which I set on thermostat controlled heat mats inside the greenhouse. I keep the ambient temp of the greenhouse warm overnight with an old dehydrator base. I screen the harsh sun with some shade cloth and supplement the sunlight with grow lights.
The extra heat and targeted light will germinate, sprout, and yield 1″ seedlings within just a weeks time in January with a 95% success rate. Of that 95% about 80% will survive and from that 80%, I will have a successful transplant and uptake of about 70-75%. I can grow 100 plants from seed for $20 and end up with 70 of them being hearty and healthy. Bought as starters, that would cost well over $400…
Irrigation and overall water automation was something I really tackled last year. I use a combination of soaker hose line from Miracle Grow and 1/4″ drip line by RainBird. The soaker hose delivers a lot of water deep into the beds and the drip line facilitates targeted watering, topsoil dampening, and mister systems. I run both systems on digital timers and my yards are now about 95% automated which is great as I travel for work often and have a very demanding schedule during most of the growing season. Because I’m a nerd I also use my extra remote BBQ Bluetooth thermometers to keep tabs on the soil and ambient temp of the greenhouse and politely ask “Alexa” to turn my greenhouse on & off via smart plugs to moderate the climate control. I have a Bluetooth Temp probe receiver unit I keep on my nightstand that alerts me if the greenhouse gets too hot as I’m a bartender in full vampire nightlife mode who sleeps until noon most days. It is currently 3:30 A.M. as I write this blog…

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~The Harvest~

The end justifies the means

The harvest, the bounty, the literal fruits of your labor… This is why we do it right?!? I saw a meme once that said something to the effect of spending three months time and energy to save $1.45 on tomatoes was the best investment on the market today 🙂 I don’t claim to know it all by any means and I have significant challenges and setbacks each year. My lovely wife Shawn Rae has accurately assessed that my emotions hang in the balance with the ebb and flow of the health of our garden through Spring and Summer. This bug, that disease…too hot, too wet…The sky is falling chicken little!!!
Personal meltdowns aside, in the end, there is light at the end of the tunnel and the most delicious and nutritious food you’ve ever had, God’s honest truth. Here are some pics of what I’ve been fortunate to grow and enjoy in the last couple of years. Among my crowning achievements, I was able to plant the tops off of a few pineapples I bought at the store, get them to root and grow. Of the 4 plants I did this with, ONE actually grew me a pineapple. It takes a full 2 years for a pineapple plant to mature before it even thinks about fruiting and mine finally produced in its fifth year of my patient caregiving. It was not the best I’ve ever had, but for a tropical fruit grown in the arid desert of East County, San Diego, it was damn delicious!!

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~Advanced Trellis~

So I really wanted an improved trellis for growing green beans since they will keep producing as long as they have room to grow. I ran out of height for them last year quite quickly so this year I designed and built an arch they can travel on and I’m planting on both sides and letting them criss-cross. I built the grid out of PVC pipe and zip tied netting along the length. I sank rebar into the ground and slid the PVC over and up to the bend in the pipe to anchor it. I placed lateral stabilizers where the arch began to stress and it is now windproof and super stable!
This was literally a project I completed for less than $30 at home depot and something I designed while trying to fall asleep one night. For whatever reason, I’m able to repurpose my insomnia to good use mentally. Side note, the novel that I’m writing I wrote the majority of this way… If I can’t fall asleep and I’m going into the next day in a sleep deficit, then at least I can get something out of it!

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