Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bike Trail

It is spring again and it is time to bike along the trails wherever they exist. This is the Cedar Valley trail on the way to Center Point from Robin going north. The weather is still kind of cold but is fine for biking especially when it is sunny although windy conditions can feel much cooler than it really is. My typical trip is about 30 miles from home to Center Point and back. Sometimes I do less if it is not the weekend due to the time limit before sunset after work. It is excellent exercise and does not hurt the knees like running for example.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Colors of Spring

After the long winter here in Iowa spring is no doubt welcome with its colors and mild cool mornings. Unlike places that have moderate weather throughout the year, Iowa has four distinct seasons, three of which are nice and one long cold winter. You might think of winter here as a useless dead time but that is not true, because one does not really appreciate spring without a cold winter. Once the snow thaws and the grass starts to turn green again, people here start cleaning the remnant brown leaves from last fall and make way for their wonderful perennial flowers to grow again. The picture here shows some tulips that grow every year. Once you plant a perennial it grows every year on its own. So we clean, mulch, and compost for the growing seasons of spring, summer and fall. We enjoy the outdoors, and work hard in our gardens, which makes it worthwhile after all this effort to rest in the winter and prepare for the next growing seasons. This is the life of the farmers in this area.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Raised Beds Project

This summer we decided to grow some vegetables in the backyard. We chose the sunniest spot which happened to be in a badly sloped section so we could not just place the raised beds on the ground but had to create a terraced structure as seen in the picture. First of all we had to make the two frames which we constructed from cedar wood so that they wouldn't rotten. We used twelve 2"x6" pieces that were 8' long each. Four of them were cut in half to make the two 4'x8' beds shown. The pieces were nailed together at the corners using one foot pieces cut from an 8' long 4"x4" cedar lumber. That was the easy part. Next we had to lay the frames in place. The top one was easy to lay down because the ground there was more or less flat. We had to dig a little around the edges to put it in place as flat as possible. The second was much harder due to the large slope in the land. We chose bricks to raise the steep end in order to make the bed flat. It took 40 bricks and lot of digging in order to construct the wall that would carry one end of the bed. On the other side of it we also did some digging in order to lay the bed as flat as possible. In the end it was perfectly flat and level to our satisfaction.

Next we had to install hardware cloth at the bottom of the beds in order to prevent burrowing animals from eating our vegetables from under the ground. Many moles live in our area and if we don't take any measure to stop them from getting to the vegetables from underneath they will surely eat all the onions, turnips and carrots from down under. Laying the hardware cloth was not that difficult, but it took some time to make sure there were no gaps from where the moles could come through. The hardware cloth is shown in the picture before filling the beds with soil.
Filling the frames was the hardest part, even harder than laying the bricks. First we had to cover the ground with newspapers and cardboard so that all grass and weeds would die. Then we used the compost that we started last September to fill in the bottom of the beds as seen in the picture. The compost was not completely ready but it will get finished in the ground as time passes as long as it is topped with finished soil and/or compost. Then we topped off the unfinished compost with organic soil as shown in the last picture. The only thing remaining is possibly surrounding the frames with some chickenwire in case we see rabbits jump over to the beds to eat the cabbage and lettuce, but we won't bother with that yet.

The project just was concluded just in time before rain starts in the next few days. Now the two beds are ready to be planted with either seeds or transplants or both. Normally the time to start planting is late May to early June here in Iowa after all risk of frost is over, but there are some vegetables that can tolerate frost and can be started earlier in spring. We are thinking of planting the following vegetables: tomatoes, cucumber, beets, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, mustard, parsley, radish, spinach, turnips, beans, cauliflower, eggplant, onions, and peppers. We hope it will be a productive endeavor, and looking forward to some rewarding produce this summer.