Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Kansas Square

I was in Kansas for about 48 hours and enjoyed some really great weather on Monday. While I didn't have a lot of time to work in the garden, I was able to begin the plotting and planning.

This spot has some of the poorest soil on the property. I have no idea why my parents chose it for a garden. Consequently production has been weak, weeds have been frustrating, and the clay composition dries out rapidly. It used to be bigger, but the tilled area now measures 23' (east/west) x 20' (north/south), with a 10' x 10' asparagus patch (lower right corner). On the left side of the tilled area is a row of purple iris. They need to be worked on but for now they'll have to continue on as is.

My uncle had been up to roto-till the plot for my mom earlier in the month. I raked the area a bit on Sunday but it was still too wet to really do anything. Monday's warmth and constant winds dried the area up enough for me to rake it with a leaf rake to level it some and to pick up the weed debris that was left after the till job. The spot needs another pass with the tiller, I don't think my uncle had his tiller set deep enough and I think he missed a few spots. The Husband will be able to take our big tiller down in April and give it another pass before I set the boxes and begin the planting.

Last fall we had spread about a 1" thick layer of horse manure onto the existing area. The soil seems to have been improved somewhat by the addition of this compost (and we've added some in past years). Since the square foot garden method involves raised beds with the addition of new soil and compost I don't think we'll do anything else to the soil.

In a previous post I mentioned my desire to be as chemical free in the garden as possible. This area was let go in the fall (okay, early summer) and I know there are thousands, if not millions, of weed seeds just waiting to sprout and taunt me. So I broke out the Preen and gave the area a good dose just in time for a soaking rain to fall overnight.

I also laid two lengths of landscape fabric. The first is a 20' x 3' strip on the far east side of the garden (upper part of the photo) and was laid north/south. For some reason my uncle did not till that area but it's where the iris end so I chose to make the garden go that far. Our ranch is covered with limestone rocks so later we'll go on a rock hunt and it will be lined with limestone and made into an perennial bed with native prairie plants.

The second strip goes east/west along the southern edge of the garden. This strip will be one of the working path.

I'm also not a big fan of landscape fabric but I believe this garden warrants its use. My mom has a type of Parkinson's that affects her walking and balance, and she tires easily. The landscape fabric will be an extra barrier to weed prevention in the walking areas. I chose to use the two-pronged landscape fabric staples to hold the material in place. We'll see how it holds up over the next two weeks to the Kansas winds. I probably used too many of the staples (I'm going to need at least another box, if not two, of them) but since this garden is in the wide open prairie extras are warranted.

It was good to be on the home place. Being in zone 4 the daffodils, hyacinth and tulips are all up and waving happily at all who pass by. The grass is greening hourly, the tree buds are bursting at the seams and cool weather annuals are begging to be planted. In fact, I put in pansies and snapdragons in some of the porch pots.

I'm just itching to put some more plants in the ground but in reality I'll have to wait another two weeks. Until then I'm going to research some more tomato, cucumber, sweet potato and squash varieties that are bushier and require less maintenance.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I already have a small collection of garage sale finds (The Husband just shakes his head and rolls his eyes) for these projects. One is already painted a bright green and another is in pink. We have a collection of leftover paints in the basement to use on these someday. Again, these projects are courtesy of the Polk County Master Gardeners and their fantabulous display garden at the Iowa State Fair.

I really like the colors on this chair. The deep purple with the pink and orange really make a splash in the garden.

This is a chair that used to have a cane bottom that a large airplane (or spider) plant has been placed into. I'd like to try this with our huge airplane plant this summer. I think I have a good corner for it to hang out in this summer.

We're getting flurries today so no digging but I think The Husband and I may try to get one or two 3' x 3' boxes ready to go to Kansas tomorrow. Happy garden dreaming!

Friday, March 27, 2009


If you're like me you have a "Someday..." list. Those things you'd like to try in the garden, crafts to make, projects around the house and what-not. Thanks to the Polk County Master Gardeners my "Someday..." list gets longer every year. These gardeners do a fantabulous demonstration garden just outside of the Horticulture Building on the grounds of the Iowa State Fair. Here are some of my favorite "Someday..." ideas for pots from their display.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Current Garden Space

So there it is. The garden. The wonder of my world in the spring and the bane of my existence in the late summer when the vines and weeds have taken over. But this year I'm bound and determined this space will remain in my wonder until it's covered in snow.
I think open space in a yard is to a gardener what a prime $29.95 Las Vegas buffet is to those who love food. We see space. We.must.fill.space. Space gets filled. Summer comes. Weeds come. We go on vacation. End of happy garden buffet. This piece has gotten bigger over time and I'll admit to most of it being wasted.

So what do you see in my space? (picture below) In the lower left corner is the 'nursery'. Extra plants, transplants, things I bought but didn't find a space for. At one time it was also filled with beautiful Iris. I got a wild idea one day to dig 'em all up to treat 'em for Iris bore. Then I forgot to treat 'em and they died. Sad moment in my gardening life and never to be mentioned again after this post.

As you move up from the lower left you see an inlet of grass (okay, really it's clover and weekds but grass sounds better) creeping into what used to be some decent strawberrries. I might find a few plants in there still, we'll see this spring what I can salvage. We finish off with the blackberries and raspberries. They need a new home, too, but that location has yet to be determined so for now the stay. Now on to the working part of the garden...

By August this area is the bane of my existence. On the left are some grasses we purchased at a garden center auction, oh....let's see...maybe three years ago? Still in holding. Behnd them and between the fence is a space where I had some tomatoes and bell peppers last year. On the lower right is the bean/pea/cucumber tent. In the upper right corner is The Kid's sandbox and between it and the fence are some daylilly seedlings The Husband planted a few years ago (also in holding, see a pattern here?). This is the area we'll be utilizing the square foot gardening techniques in. The rest will be turned back into lawn so The Kid has more work to do this summer.
It's another cloudy, cool, breezy day here in central Iowa. The forecast calls for more rain, hopefully it will come to an end soon and I can get dirty again. Happy garden dreams!

Going Green

Patience is not something I've been blessed with. Boiling water, drying soil, growing plants...they all need to hurry up and get on with it! With the ground saturated, the sky cloudy and the wind cold my patience is wearing thin. Especially after last week's record and near-record highs! Mother nature is such a tease.

Anyway, to fend off some of that anxiousness I did a little research and planning for this project. Today's topics of choice were using plants to ward off insects, attracting pollinators and kids in the garden.

If you don't have pollinators in the garden you won't have a garden. Attracting these helpful insects is rather easy, but there are some tips in this publication that are worth the reminder. It's also a very good primer on pollination (especially if you slept through freshman biology, which I think I might have...)


I've always been wary of using chemicals in the garden and I continue to be. We keep chemical means of eradication (whether it be a plant or insect or critter problem) to a minimum and this publication has a basic overview of design and implementation techniques that can help keep your gardens insect pest free.


I think one of my favorite parts of gardening is watching the wonder in The Kid as he joins along. Okay, as I said before patience is not a virtue I have, nor is the ability to let go my need for 'perfection' and there have been times I've been close to tearing out my hair with him while we work together (?) in the garden. But in the end it's all worth it. Here's an activity publication put out by Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University on how you and your child can become "Insect Investigators". There are nine insects to search for and there are suggestions on how to track your investigations.


Speaking of Reiman Gardens, if you have a day to venture to Ames this is a must see spot. When it's warm out there's lots of room for the kids to run about and when you're tired of being cooped up and cold the butterfly atrium is just what the doctor ordered.

I've spent the afternoon perusing and have found some information about companion plantings on many websites. I've compiled a list of what to plant to repel insects and critters, what to plant to attract the good insects and a couple of other little tips to keep your garden green and not a welcoming home to bad insects. Click here to download my PDF file.

Keep on dreaming, planning and wishing. Mother nature will straighten out soon and we'll be able to plunge our hands into the warm earth and bring forth life.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Green with Envy

I know I'm not supposed to be envious, it's not a good thing. But check out what my friend Karin has been doing this week on her New Mexico ranch (right click to open in a new window):


I on the other hand am sloshing around in green rubber barn boots and cursing the inches of rain. Some day it will dry out and warm up for good (at least until October 12 when I start to anticipate the first snow fall - blech!). Until then I'm planning and dreaming. I'm sooooooo excited about the prospect of jumping headfirst into this 'new' method of gardening.

To pacify some of my garden envy I picked up two eight-packs of pansies at Home Depot yesterday - big yellows and smaller lavenders. Their cheery colors and faint scent make me smile. I'm going to go find a pretty terra-cotta pot in my recently cleaned and organized garden shed to put them in and plop 'em on the kitchen table so I can smile day and night.

Happy spring!

Welcome to A Little Square Garden!

Join me as I venture into the exciting world of square foot gardening! As the weather warms so does my garden fever. I can't wait to show you what we grow and how we're going to do it this year.