28 May 2009

Pond Saga, Part 1

A little more than two years ago we got a pond. It was pretty close to being a spur of the moment decision.  My daughter saw a neighbor's koi pond and wanted one, and I said, "we'll see". Soon after I was talking with my co-worker Billy about his pond and he offered us a 100 gallon preformed pond he had sitting in his garage. So begins the pond saga.

To start with, I dug a hole and put the pond in the ground and filled it with water. I bought a pump, but I didn't by a filter yet, because Billy said we could build one and save money. He's a real do-it-yourselfer which I like. It fits in well with the fact that we have no money! While we were waiting on Billy to be free, we went ahead and got about a dozen little goldfish. I figured they would be fine without filtration for the moment and they were. Eventually we got the filtration system going with a little waterfall and we started adding plants. That's when it dawned on me - the pond opened the door to a whole new world of plants.

Billy gave us some papyrus and we got some water lettuce and water hyacinth and eventually we got a waterlily. Within six months I decided that what I liked most about the pond was the plants I could grow in it. I began designing our next pond. I planned to dig it in early Spring when the weather was still cool, hopefully, and I had several months to plan it. My designs changed a lot over the months, but I a couple of parameters - It had to have room for plants and it couldn't be larger than the flexible pond liner that Billy gave us. After reading and article about pea gravel bogs, I decided that sounded like a really good idea. It would be seperate from the pond, but water would circulate through both and I could get away with using Billy's liner for just the pond and I would get another for the bog. It also allowed me to take a break after digging the pond, before I dug the bog.

I took four days off from work and began deconstructing the old pond. I borrowed a kiddie pool and set it up as a temporary pond and transferred the fish. I pulled the preformed pond out of the ground and dug a bigger hole. Then I laid the liner in the hole, filled it back up and transferred the fish - all in four days! Technically it was a working pond, but I had a lot more to do.

During that first year of having a pond, I learned so much about water quality and biological filtration. I also had a little bad luck with my filter. In hind sight, it was probably too small. During the height of the summer, I was cleaning it more than once a week and once I became more knowledgeable about all of this pond stuff, I realized it didn't have any biological filtration, so I started researching DIY pond filters. The best thing I found was called a "skippy" filter. I'm not sure where the name came from, but it seems to be a great filter. You can build it in any size from a 20 gallon barrel liner, which is what I have, to huge stock tanks that are hundreds of gallons. You start out with the container. a pvc pipe runs down the center and makes a "T" at the bottom. Water will flow through the pipe and to the bottom of the filter, creating cyclonic motion. The rest of the container is filled with nylon pot scrubbers. These have a large surface area for the beneficial bacteria to colonize. As the water flows through the filter, the bacteria pull nutrients from the water, hopefully starving things you don't want like algae. The water flows back into the pond via a spillway, waterfall or pipe, however you have it set up. In my case, it's a waterfall. I've attempted to hide the skippy filter with plants, but I haven't had much success. I'll be doing more landscaping this year, so we'll see.

This has really been a saga. I thought I would post what I've written so far. I should finish the last part in the next few days hopefully, so stay tuned!

Pond Saga, Part 2

20 May 2009


This was my first season for a lot of things. Growing potatoes was one of them. When I first began the vegetable garden a few years ago, I neer considered potaotes mainly because of the high price. I always saw different varieties in seed catalogues but the prices seemed really high. Last year I found out you can buy a few varieties locallly for a lot less. When the time came - I believe it was early February - I went to the local feed and seed store and picked up a five-pound bag each of brown and red potatoes for a total cost of six dollars. I was so excited - I didn't realize how many potatoes were in a bag. At the time I counted about twenty to thirty potatoes in each.

When it comes to planting potatoes, everyone has their own way of doing it. Some people cut the potatoes and plant the pieces with the "eyes". Book tell you to let them sit a few days after cuttingd them so the cuts will heal and there's less chance of disease and rot. The other option is to plant the whole potato which is what I did. Our neighbors cut them and immediately plant them and they have no problems, so I may try that next time.
Since there were snow flurries on the day I bought the potatoes, I waited until a nice warm day about a week later to plant them. My daughter and I did that and then began the waiting game - and I took a leap of faith. I say "leap of faith" because, I certainly had never grown potaotes before, but wasn't even sure I would know what they would look like when they did start growng. After what seemed like weeks or months I finally saw the potato plants coming up.

After doing some research, I found out there are many "strategies" for maximizing your yield or for ease of harvest, when it comes to potatoes. Some call for planting potatoes at the bottom of a hole and as the plant grows, filling in the hole with soil or straw(for easy harvest) to shade the tubers. Others go so far as to plant in a barrel - my friend, Darren, mentioned a better idea - something similar to a barrel, but you add additional height to it as the plant grows.

Well, my plants looked fine until recently. We had a major hot spell and that seemed to make the potatoes a little sad-looking. I would have to say that 3/4 of them look fine, but a few look dead! I want to pull those plants out of the ground and salvage the potatoes, but I don't know if they're any good. You're supposed to be able to harvest "new" potatoes when the plant begins to flower, but that hasn't happened yet. I asked Darren about that and he doesn't know when they're supposed to flower either. It's his first year growing potatoes too, I believe. Addressing my sad-looking plants, he thought my soil might be too compacted. I know I have soil issues that I should deal with. I figured I would try to improve it a little each season, although if I follow through qith my raised bed idea, I'll have dramatically improved soil.

I was messing around the yard today and I decided to just go for it and harvest the tubers from the sad-looking plants. I ended up with several pounds of small "new" potatoes and some too small to do anything with. I was reading in a vegetable gardening book I have about potatoes, and according to it, some potato plants don't flower - maybe what I have don't flower either. I still have more potato plants to harvest, so hopefully they'll stick it out a little longer.

I have learned some things growing potatoes this Spring. I should improve my soil, which is a given. I need to mulch potatoes next time. It will save a few of the tubers that grow near the surface and keep the soil cool and retain moisture. According to friends, I'll be able to plant again in late summer for a fall harvest, or fall for an early winter harvest - I'm not sure, but I'll keep you posted on my progress.

09 May 2009

Shade Garden

I planted a shade garden a few weeks ago. I hope it will be shady enough - the last place I planted one ended up getting full afternoon sun in the summer. That's not a good thing - it burned the heck out of the hydrangea. The new garden is definitely shadier, but it still gets a few hours of sun in the late morning, possible early afternoon. There are still almost six weeks until the longest day of the year - that will be the true test.

Why did I do this? For starters, my old one was a bust and I knew I had to move the hydrangea before it suffered another summer. I was working to create a shady area on the northwest side of the house, but I hadn't gotten very far with that. I think the real push came when I found what amounted to a heaping wheelbarrow full of hardy ferns. I had to do it. I started looking around the yard for other plants that would do well in the shade. I definitely wanted to move the hydrangea and the hosta would look good in there as well. That was all I had in there at first. I got two different types of bromeliads last fall that I never knew what to do with. They're not hardy as far as I know so I potted them and sunk them in the ground and mulched around them. I'll have to pull them out before it freezes, but that's a small price to pay for a little color in the garden. The other plant I have that's going in the shade garden is a root beer plant. We got a few of these from friends last fall. They died back during the winter, but returned again this year. I looked them up recently and they do well in shade, so that's where they're going.

I've been looking into native orchids to put in there but most of what I've found don't seem that interesting. That's disappointing, because I'm really curious about them, but don't think I have the skill or growing enviroment for the exotic orchids. I have future plans for this garden, not including orchids. I plan to get a few different types of ferns to go in there and maybe a perennial or two that likes the shade and has some color. Any suggestions?