Monday, March 25, 2013

Heard it through the Grapevine

We pruned back the grapevines recently.  

When we bought the house, there were grapevines all over the fence.  Upon closer inspection, we found that the vines were attempting to overtake the apricot tree and the fence.  Note all of the green on top of the fence.  We also found vines climbing up a utility wire that led to our neighbor's garage.  Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to take a "before" picture, so you will just have to make due with this blown-up cell phone picture.

After pruning back the grapevine to four main runners, I constructed a trellis using 6-foot garden support poles and galvanized steel wire.  I put turnbuckles in the wire to keep it taught.  Because we only pounded the poles into the ground, we added supporting guy wires attached to our large cherry tree (in background of photo)  and a power pole (out of picture to the left of the photographer).

We tried to prune the vine to match the head-trained variation of grape vine pruning. However, the video below might suggest that we should have left more pieces of runners coming out of the vine.

We had a total of three steel wires going parallel to the fence, strung across the pounded in poles.  I also plan to grow berries on the far end (near the power pole).  If they are very long, then the wires should be loosened in the winter, because they shrink and will be dangerously tight.

We made a wreath with the scraps of grapevine that we pruned!

Once our grapes grow, we can mash them up and make juice for fermentation!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Planted Some Seeds

Today I started some seeds in my little basement grow station area.
I planted Marketmore Cucumbers, Sibley Squash (C maxima), Super Sugar Snap Peas (Pisum sativum), Red Fig Tomatoes, Pickling Cucumbers (Wisconsin SMR), Jalapeno Peppers, and Long Red Cayenne Peppers.

The Sibley Squash and Red Fig Tomatoes are from Slow Food Utah Ark of Taste, provided by Seed Savers Exchange.
Booth at People's Market seed swap in Glendale Neighborhood, SLC, Utah

Ark of Taste program with Slow Food, USA

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Soiled Again

As I mentioned in a previous post,  I filled the void in my yard with horse manure.  There was some soil where my garage used to be, but it was mostly clay and sand.  After talking with a coworker, I wondered if almost pure horse manure is a suitable substrate for growing vegetables.

As a geologist, I was forced to learn about soil and soil description, though I didn't necessarily retain that information.  Based on what I have heard from friends, the important aspects of soil are the soil structure and soil chemistry.


Soil structure is key for proper root growth, water drainage, and moisture retention.  Most gardeners will tell you never to step on the soil, as it compacts it and destroys the soil structure.  Organic material generally helps improve soil structure.  The USDA has a good help sheet for evaluating soil structure.

Different soil structures from the Colorado Master Gardener program.  The structures are arranged from left to right in order of how quickly they drain water.


One concern that a gardener might have is that their soil chemistry is not right for the type of plants growing.  Different plants like different ratios of nutrients and different soil pH.

The pH of soil is easy to determine and control.  The Garden Helper lists preferred soil pH levels for different plants.  It seems like most vegetables prefer a slightly acidic soil (pH 6-7).  The pH level in soil can be changed by adding lime (to make it more basic) or sulfur (to add acidity) and is described in detail in this "For Dummies" site.  Amazon and most hardware stores sell inexpensive soil pH testers.

To determine the current condition of your soil, you should have it tested by your local extension agent.  They usually provide results, interpretations, and recommendations for a reasonable fee.  The USU Extension office offers an excellent soil testing service, which is open to the public.  It is key to get a representative sample when taking soil samples to the extension agent.

Plants also require nutrients for survival.  Most fertilizers have the Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) ratio printed on the bag, which is known as the NPK rating.  The USDA has a pretty cool crop nutrient tool to help determine NPK ratings.

My concern with all of the horse manure is burning my plants with excessive nutrients.  I found some information on this on eHow.  Based on what I have read, as long as the horse manure isn't fresh and has had time to compost, it shouldn't "burn" the plants.


Most of the garden books I have read recommend a process known as double digging to prepare soil for cultivation.  This process requires digging up a small section of the land (3x1x1  foot block), then loosening the soil under that block with a pitchfork, then digging up the adjacent block of soil and moving it to the the hole from the last spot you dug.  When preparing the soil below the old garage foundation, I double dug, and sifted the soil.

USU Extension has a pamphlet on soil preparation.  Organic gardening also has a good article on soil preparation.


Soil is an ecosystem, supporting a variety of organisms, including our plants.  Ensuring that the soil is vibrant with life could help with vegetable production.  Root nodules in some plants indicate a symbiotic relationship between plant roots and a bacteria (rhiazobia).  Amazingly enough, you can buy rhiazobia.

Red wrigglers significantly improve soil.  They break apart soil particles and increase void spaces. Nyworms, USDA and Colorado State also talk about the benefits of earthworms.  Amazon sells earthworms!

Nematodes can be both a pest and benefit.  Beneficial nematodes can kill all kinds of pests that lay their eggs in the soil.