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Behind the Scenes at Thicket

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Today we thought we’d create a short photo essay taking you behind the scenes at Thicket – our local gardening center.  We showed up to create a quick video for our Kickstarter project but – as luck would have it – we were quickly hit with a classic Portland downpour.  Does this mean summer is officially over?

Here are some great shots of her space from the shoot:

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We really like the recycled materials used to create this unique gardening center.  Note the blank chalkboard wiped clean by a few minutes of rain.

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This gardening center took over a vacant lot and has transformed this space into a thriving neighborhood destination.

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Adria Sparhawk, the owner of Thicket, has so many unique and wonderful plants; many I haven’t seen elsewhere.

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Another unique plant in a very unique space.

Here’s a link to our Facebook page with a short video giving you an idea of how much rain came down on us:

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https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=575402562494961&set=vb.355717401130146&type=2&theater

And another short video (sideways – sorry about the iPhone malfunction) showing a cup filled by the downpour:

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https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=575408605827690

If you are in Portland, I highly encourage you to stop by and see Adria’s shop.  But be careful:  You can spend a lot of time looking at all of the amazing plants and garden accessories she has.  Oh, and bring an umbrella!

About Thicket:

Thicket is a garden boutique filled with a lush selection of flowers and plants along with a clever assortment of vintage ephemera and modern craft curated to inspire life lived in the garden.

Spring has sprung! We are now open
Thursday-Monday 11:00am-6:00pm

Address: 4933 NE 23rd Ave PDX 97211

TogetherFarm Blocks:  Kickstarter update!

Kickstarter Campaign for TogetherFarm Blocks

The TogetherFarm Team has been hard at work the past 4 weeks getting the word out about TogetherFarm Blocks. Our Kickstarter campaign continues to progress towards being fully funded and there’s still time for you to pledge and receive a garden kit of your own. The Kickstarter Campaign will end on September 23rd at about 9pm. So, hurry on over to the TogetherFarm Kickstarter page and make your pledge before it is too late. Be a part of a movement that is empowering more people to grow their own produce. Follow this link to make your pledge now:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/togetherfarm/turning-plastic-into-produce-togetherfarm-blocks

 

 

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Gardening with Recycled Materials

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We’ll keep it short on words and long on pictures in this post as we review different ways of gardening using recycled materials.  My wife and I prepped and planted our spring garden earlier this year.  Here are some quick how-tos and tips for your 2014 garden.

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There they are – a winter’s growth of cover crops.  These guys are all ready to be folded back into last year’s soil which fed a bounty of tomatoes.  Now it’s time to feed the soil.

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There are a few articles out there on incorporating your cover crops into your soil beds.  One says to get a pair of garden shears and do a bit of a mowing, trimming them all before anything else.  We simply got a pitch fork and began turning the cover crops into the soil.  It looks like hard work but it was actually pretty easy.  The cover crops kept the soil moist and well aerated making short work of this task.  The other thing we noticed was the soil, which was a light brown when we planted last year, was rich and dark black with worms and other small critters thriving below the surface.  The beds were very much alive and healthy.

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When done, our beds looked like this.  Note that some of the greens are still at the surface.  We didn’t mind too much because we planned on amending the soil with a few bags of organic soil.  It is important, however, to make sure to cover up any of the greens.  Remember, these guys are still alive with roots in the ground.   You don’t want them to reestablished themselves amidst your new garden.

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We added “Edna’s Best” potting soil to our gardens since it had a nice mix of soil, mycorrhizal fungi, earthworm castings, kelp meal, bat guano, feather meal and a natural wetting agent.  It’s easy, just toss the bag on the garden bed, split it open with a shovel and then remove the bag.  All the soil dumps right where you want it.  We decided to spread it evenly across the top instead of folding it into the beds.  Since it rains fairly often in Portland, Oregon, the soil and nutrients will melt into the rest of the beds.  Again, this also keeps light away from any leftover cover crops to make sure they decompose into the soil.

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The finished project:  Soil is now spread evenly and ready for planting.

yard junk

In 2013, we had an old wire and metal pipe greenhouse that was showing its age.  We took it down and were planning on taking it to the dump.  However, part of our spring garden was peas that love to climb.  My wife, Rhonda (the brains of the operation), figured out a way to keep this out of the landfill while putting it back to work.

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She took the wire shelves and some old tomato hoops from the green house and created an attractive and stable structure for our peas to wrap themselves around.  The structures made it very easy to harvest the peas once they were ready.

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There are a lot of books and magazines on gardening in the Pacific Northwest, but save your money – if you plant to start from seed, all of the instructions including when and how to plant for your specific region, are on the back of the packet.  This would have saved me some money because I bough about a dozen heirloom tomato seeds anxious to get them going earlier this year but found it was too late.  Oh, well.  I’ll save them for next year and start them in egg shell starters.

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Using the poles from our old green house, we divided our beds up into sections for spinach, beets, onions, kale, and carrots.  A common mistake is to plant your crops and then forget to mark them.  They all look alike as seedlings and you won’t know what’s what until they are mostly grown.  For our spring garden, we simply followed the directions on spacing and number of seeds to plant.  We then looked around the yard for more material that would end up in the landfill.  We found some old boards from a planter box, broke them up, and then wrote on them with a green wax pencil to identify our different crops.

Now that the seeds are in the garden, make sure to water them well to wake them up.  Follow watering instructions for your plants, making sure not over-water, which will drown those new roots reaching down into the soil.

You can also be very strategic about planting certain types of plants in close proximity to one another.  Tomatoes and basil do well together.  Marigolds planted in your bed near your crops will function as a natural pest repellent and helps gauge the health of your garden.  There are many other tips and tricks to planting crops which we’ll cover in the coming weeks.

We’re so passionate about using recycled materials that we started a Kickstarter Campaign, where we are raising funds to bring our very first product, TogetherFarm Blocks™.  Made from food safe recycled plastics, it’s an easy way to quickly build a garden bed in a matter of minutes.  If you have a small space you can use these to quickly build a custom garden box without tools or carpentry experience.  Check them out!

TogetherFarm Blocks - the best way to build a garden box

TogetherFarm Blocks – Modular Garden Box System

 

 

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3 tips on how to prep for the new growing season

Harvesting your own organic veggiesI always like to start planning for the next growing season during January and February. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you plan to grow some delicious garden vegetables this next season.

1. Crop Rotation

This is a basic gardening practice that helps to ensure that your plants always have the maximum nutrients they need. Whenever you plant something in an area of your garden, that particular plant will extract certain nutrients from the soil. If you plant the same plant in the same area the next year, it won’t do as well. It gets even worse the 3rd year. This is because of nutrient depletion. In addition, if you don’t rotate crops, your plants can be more susceptible to disease and pests. So, if you plant tomatoes in one area one year, plant corn there the next year. If you plant beans in one area, plant lettuce there the next year (beans put nitrogen into the soil and lettuce thrives on nitrogen). It is also helpful to alternate planting deep root plants and shallow root plants in each area of your garden to help with soil structure.

2. Find out what vegetables should be planted when

Every climate has different growing seasons. It is important to figure out what grows best in your area and when you can plant it. Here is a helpful link to a hardiness map where you can enter your zip code to find out what zone you live in: What are Hardiness Zones. Now head over to this site that has the most popular garden vegetables grown in the U.S. and their respective hardiness zones: Vegetables. Once you figure out what grows well in your area, you can begin to plan on when you should amend the soil, what plants should be started indoors, and what can be planted directly into your garden. If you live in the Northwest, here is a helpful chart that will give the specifics on when you should plant vegetables and whether or not you should direct sow or start indoors: Veggies Calendar.

Growing Cucumbers3. Soil Amendment

This is one of the most important aspects of gardening. I had one year where my soil was not amended well (meaning that I didn’t have a good blend of compost and essential nutrients). Most of my veggies that year had little to no yield. I was so disappointed. Finally, I tested my soil with a cheap soil test kit like this one: Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Soil Test Kit. I discovered that my soil was nearly nutrient depleted in phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. I did some research on how to better amend my soil and I came up with a soil amendment recipe. Here is a link to the recipe: It’s all about the Chicken Poo! (Garden Soil Recipe). The recipe is comprised of Composted Chicken Manure, Teufel Compost, Fish Meal, Flax Seed Meal, and Rock Dust for trace minerals. Each year that I have amended my soil with this recipe, I have gotten incredible yields.

Here’s another idea to consider, many of us are really good at growing certain veggies. This is often due to the microclimate that we live in (for more on microclimates, see this article: You Grow Potatoes and I’ll Grow To-mat-toes). If you have certain veggies that you grow well, think about connecting with a few neighbors to plan your gardens together. When it comes time to harvest, you can do your own neighborhood produce exchange – everyone wins! And, the added bonus is that you have built some community in the process – another win!

That’s it. Do you have other tips for getting ready for the next growing season? Let us know in the comments.

For other helpful tips on how to plan your garden, see these articles:

  1. Recommended Book: How to Grow More Vegetables on Less Land than You Can Imagine
  2. Gardening with Free Apps
  3. Block Party!
  4. TogetherFarm: In Practice
  5. Edible Landscaping

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Cover crops in 15 minutes

Cover Crops and Garden Helper

Are there any treats in that bag?

Doug recently posted an article about cover crops.  Well, count me as inspired!

On an ever-so-rare sunny, Portland Saturday afternoon I stopped by our local gardening store, Thicket, located on NE 23rd and Alberta Street.  I visited with the owner, Adria (interview with Adria coming soon) to find out what sort of cover crops I should plant for the winter.  She recommended a blend of rye, alfalfa and clover.  I purchased about two cups of seeds and headed back to my yard to get to work.

Garden Beds before cover crops

Garden Beds: before cover crops

I was lucky.  If any of you remember the article on the Tree of Heaven I wrote a couple of months back, you’ll note that our garden had become a bit unruly with tomatoes and other unattended overgrowth.  My wife, Rhonda, lovingly cleaned the garden to give me a head start on this project while I was at work (thanks, Rhonda!).

Pitchfork in tilled soil

Pitchfork in tilled soil

My much easier task was then to break the soil that had hardened with rain, sew the seed and turn the soil once more to keep birds and rodents from devouring the soon to be cover crops.  You only need to turn the surface of the soil, so the work for two 6′ by 4′ garden beds is short work using a pitchfork.  I was surprised at how dry the soil was just a couple of inches down after a week of heavy rain.  It’s a good sign that the soil is active and keeping itself relatively warm with what compost was left after the overhaul.

Seeds on Soil

Cover crops sewn across the soil.

Next I simply sowed my seeds evenly across the garden bed making sure that you cover as much of the surface area as possible.  As Doug’s article noted, we’re going for two things here:  weed suppression and nutrient replenishment.  In the spring, just before we’re ready to start planting, we’ll simply fold the crop into the soil for a natural fertilizer.

Garden beds ready for winter

Garden beds ready for winter.

When you’ve finished sowing the seeds, all that’s left to do is turn the soil once more, again about an inch depth.  By doing so, you’re making sure that some crops will survive the cold and the onslaught of birds and small rodents looking for an easy meal. While I had my pitchfork in hand, I redistributed some of the soil that had moved around during the harvest season so my beds were more evenly distributed.

That’s it.  The whole process took at most 15 minutes and now my beds are tucked in and ready for winter.

Have you had success with cover crops before?  If so, let us know in the comments section.

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