garden update

i’ve had a surprisingly large number of new followers given the fact that i’ve written close to nothing in months.  i’m not promising that new followers is gonna change anything – in fact i’ve given serious thought to packing in this blog and calling it a good run.  i’m not quite at that point yet – but the reality is that reality is really in need of my time.  having a kid certainly is taking up a large amount of what little free time i have, plus lots of work around the house, working, and supporting s with her business and  art.  i’ve been thinking about switching to some sort of print type thing likely in the form of a zine, but if i can’t get my act together to post something on the interweb, am i likely to do a zine? not likely.

it’s been months since i’ve done an update on the garden, so here is a quick one, i’ll try to get images of the hoop house up soon.

the strawberries and asparagus are doing well.  the strawberries in particular seem to have taken to their new home like champs.  they are spreading in every which a away making it look like one big carpet of plants not three beds.  one of the  difficulties of growing strawberries is the need to pick off the flowers in the first year so that plants can focus on root development.  while i was diligent in my flower removal i did miss few, and i can say that these are some of the best strawberries i’ve consumed. i’m looking forward to next summer.  my son will also be old enough to enjoy strawberries (strawberries can be a big trigger for food allergies so are off limits until age one) which i’m looking forward to.


i’ve done a good job of keeping the asparagus plants weed free – but the asparagus has been attacked by asparagus beetle.  i wasn’t expecting the asparagus beetle to attack so quickly as my patch at work took a couple of years for the beetles to discover.  i still need to finish filling in the trench that i set the plants down into – and get the plastic out of the way that surrounds them.  i’d hope it would keep the weeds at bay, but not really done so.  asparagus

we planted a couple fruit trees, a peach and a cherry tree.  both i would never plant were it not for my love of these two fruits.  these trees are too much work to keep pest free using organic methods – but i also want to have plenty of these lovely fruits – and my lovely s requested these.  what we do for love…cherry

we also planted hardy kiwis – a male and a female.  what do hardy kiwis taste like you ask?  yr guess is a good as mine, but at 50 pounds of fruit a year and a flavor somewhat like the not so hardy kiwi, it seemed like a good choice to plant.  plus the variety we selected was bred at michigan state university – so i figure it will do well.  kiwi

finally the fig.  you might remember that last fall we planted her after she had been tended in a pot for years.  we sheltered her with plenty of straw and yet after last years crazy cold winter, she showed no signs of life in the spring.  i wasn’t sure anything would come of her, and s had pretty much written her off but after a couple of warm months she sent up a shoot and by the end of summer took off with a vengeance.  she is gonna be a lot more work now that she is so much bigger to cover – but i’m looking forward to figs in the years to come.



what’s happening in your garden?  what projects have you been up to?


hazelnuts for sale

hey folks this fall i’m digging up some of my hazelnuts to offer for sale – these were planted back in 2011 so they are almost 4 year old plants and most stand at two and half feet tall.  vigorous and healthy they should start producing for youin three to four years.  these are hybrid hazels grown from seeds selected from mark shepard‘s breeding program at new forest farm in wisconsin.  if you haven’t heard of mark he has written a book called restoration agriculture.  i haven’t read it, but i’ve heard it’s good.  maybe this winter.  hazels

plants will be potted up and priced at 10 dollars a piece – highly recommended that you buy a pair so they pollinate each other.  they should be available the first weekend of october.  locals i’ll let you know pickup location and details once i receive orders from you.  mail order is a minimum of five plants.  send email to dirtysabot (at) gmail dot com to reserve your plants.

garlic grader

it’s time for garlic cleaning – and that means grading garlic too.  what’s grading?  it’s sorting for size.  why would you want to sort for size?  cause if you are gonna use the garlic you harvest to replant, the size impacts how many row feet it will plant.  how’s that?  pretty simple, with the variety we mainly plant “music” you can plan on at least 6 good cloves on average per head.  2″ wide heads equal about 60 cloves per pound – which means at 6″ spacing, 2″ wide garlic heads will plant about  30 row feet.  you move up to 2.25″ garlic and you are only getting 42 cloves per pound, the bigger the heads the less amount of row feet.

garlicgraderthis means that if you are planning out how much garlic to save to replant for next year, or tell someone to buy, that size does matter.  but is bigger better?  i’m not really sure – i am convinced that larger cloves make bigger heads than little cloves, but does it matter if it comes off of really big heads?  this is pretty inconclusive.  in the past i planted seed from the largest heads, but from year to sometimes had bigger heads sometimes smaller.  overall i’ve come to decide that the most important thing is timing of planting, fertility, openness of soil, spacing, and moisture.  still i plan to try to track this year at home (where i have much more control over what gets harvested and what gets planted) the yield based on head size.

do you need a grader?  unless you are growing a lot of garlic then, no, but they don’t take too long to make, and it is fun to know how big yr heads are.

eating poison?

not truly poison, but something i thought might be poison.   for years i’d seen black nightshade in the garden, and thought it poisonous.  it is after all nightshade, and many of us think of deadly nightshade when we hear anything about nightshade.  deadly nightshade was one of those fears along with quicksand that was a big fear for me as a kid, but doesn’t seem to concern folks these days.   i had heard reports that this nightshade was actually not poison, including this post on the excellent root simple blog that had me pretty convinced  to try sampling some black night shade a couple of years ago, but s seemed to think it a poor idea.  i’m somewhat famous for sticking what ever is at hand into my mouth, she seemed to think that my possible death would interfere with our plans to procreate.  having successfully  procreated, and now having some life insurance, i found myself weeding the other day and faced with a very large black nightshade plant that had plenty of ripe berries on it.  i took a chance and stuck a few in my mouth.  the next morning i was doing just fine, they must be edible.

how did it taste?  kind of like ground cherries.  actually a lot like ground cherries.  but they are really small.  i liked them, but if i had my choice i’d just grow some ground cherries – as they are bigger and much more prolific.  but now that i know they are edible, i’d certainly much on them when i see them.  here they are for those wondering what they look like.


hoop house build part 6: pulling plastic

this last post on building the hoop house has taken forever it feels like.  i’m frankly over it, and there are plenty of other topics i’d rather write about at this point, but i feel i need to finish this out.

were getting close to the finish line with pulling the plastic, and its the point at which it really feels like we have a hoop house.  pulling plastic is also one of the tasks where you need the most hands on deck, even with a small house like this you need at least five people to help you.  i apologize for the lack of photos in this section – i was just to darn busy pulling plastic to take photos.

for this step you are gonna need: duck tape, plenty of wiggle wire, plastic, several strong ropes, tennis balls,  batten tape or old drip tape lines, scissors, and a staple gun.

a lot of folks like to pull the plastic over the top instead of putting the plastic on the end walls first.  while i appreciate why one might what to do this – mostly cause it makes you feel like you are closer to finishing the house, i urge you to resist this temptation and instead put plastic on the end walls first.  the reason for this are a couple, 1. it makes putting plastic over the top easier, as it’s harder to get wind up underneath it and 2. it keeps you going, pulling plastic over the top makes you feel like you are pretty much all done, and it’s easy to stop.

putting the plastic on the end walls is comparatively simple – you only need one other set of hands, unless you are working on really big end walls.

cut the plastic to the size you need, plus a little extra so you have some to tug on.   then using a ladder host it up to the top and start putting it in place with wiggle wire on the end bow.  make sure you have someone who can help you pull it tight as you go, pulling both down and across. make sure to keep constantly pulling the plastic so it is good and taunt. once the plastic is in place on the end bow it’s time to work on attaching it to the framing.  there are several ways to do this, but i’ve found the fastest and cheapest is to use old irrigation tape as batten tape.  i start at the top and pull the plastic down and across as i staple the tape in place the irrigation tapes.  work slowly and make sure you do it right.  leave some extra at the very bottom so you can bury it down into the ground. when that is done, you get to move on to getting plastic over the top.


first step is to take the duck tape and cover all the spots where plastic could get caught, such at ends of channel, bolt heads, etc.

next unroll the plastic along the ground on the length of one side of the greenhouse.  throw the ropes over the top of the greenhouse from the opposite side.  find the edge of the plastic and tie  a clove hitch around a tennis ball stuffed behind the plastic.

lemon repeat this three to five times depending on how long the house is thee ropes was enough for our little house.  readers paying close attention may notice that this is in fact not a tennis ball, but lemon that i used for the sake of convenience in this photo, i couldn’t figure out where s had hide the tennis balls.

next layout your wiggle wire so it’s all in place and easy to grab, get a ladder ready so it’s handy, and start assigning jobs.  you want as many people as ropes to pull the plastic over, and two folks to help if it gets stuck on anything.

those that are pulling the rope should pull until they don’t have any slack left in the line.  then start to pull in an equal rhythm.  it’s not a bad idea to yell something in unison as you pull to help keep a rhythm.  everyone should  keep a look out on everyone else so they will know if they are falling behind or getting ahead of each other.  most plastic is printed with the name of the manufacture going down the length of it so you can use that to help determine if it is straight.  it’s surprisingly handy.  if the plastic gets stuck have someone climb up on a ladder and get it uncaught.  once the plastic is pulled over both sides, is even on both sides and straight, it’s time to secure it.  i usually start with the ends, working the wiggle wire from the very top down both sides, pulling out and down as you go to make it as tight as possible.  then secure the sides with wiggle wire pulling down as you go.

you might have to pull some wire out and adjust after you are done. sometimes you realize that there are spots that are not as tight as you want them.


next is putting hardware on the vents, doors and installing the roll up sides, but frankly i’m getting sick of writing about hoop houses, if anyone wants to know more about that process let me know and i might write about it.

hoop house part 5: framing endwalls

after putting up the bows, hip boards, and wind bracing it’s pretty easy to feel like you are close to done.  sorry to break it to you, but framing the end walls usually goes pretty slow.  it’s not hard though, its just really a matter of being good with a saw and using a level.

for this part you are gonna need – a skil saw, tape measure, screws, impact driver, level, screws, and plenty of 2×4’s.

i’m not gonna tell you how you should frame your end walls as it’s up to you – but i wouldn’t put less than four of what would be called studs when framing walls even in a small house like ours.  the wider the house the more studs.  these are attached to the bows with what are called brace bands that go around the bows and are connected with a carriage bolt with an end wall bracket that connects to the top of the two by fours.  the band braces you should be able to find at any place that sells supplies for chain link fencing (locally are plenty of places to go, but my favorite is federal pipe and supply absolutely one of my favorite places to shop in detroit ) – the end wall brackets are kind of hard to find you are best off going to a greenhouse supplier like rimol.bowbrace

it’s best to start with a sketch on paper of how you wanna lay everything out – focusing on where the doors and vents will go.  i like to put a vent at the top of the end wall – and as big as you feel will work – just try not to undersize – i put in a 3×3 foot size vent, which is pretty big for such a small house, but i really like venting as much from the top as possible before having to open the side vents.  doors you have to figure out what you are gonna install – make yr own doors or install a standard door.  using a standard door is much easier – but does limit what you can do.  i prefer to make my own doors so i can make them dutch style and use the top part to vent.  no matter what, as you think about the size of door you want to use, my biggest consideration is if a wheelbarrow will fit though the door.  if it doesn’t – get a wider door.

once you have figured how you want to lay everything out, start by framing in the studs.  figure out where you are gonna lay out yr studs – i laid them out at 9 inches from the end bow, and at 43 inches from the end bow and then one on the center (you can tell better in the finaly picture of the framing).  dig holes where they are gonna be – as you want the studs to go into the ground at least 6 inches, more if you feel like digging holes, as this helps to secure the bottom

don’t hurry those studs, spend plenty of time making sure they are the proper width apart and level in both directions.  tighten down the band braces, once they are properly in place and you done with the studs.

congratulations, this is the slowest and most frustrating section of framing.  next i frame in the opening for the door and screw in some pieces between the studs.  what are these called?  i’m not really sure.  then frame in the vent opening.  make sure when doing all this that each piece is level.

our vent hole is three feet by three feet, and you want some extra space on all sides so it can easily turn, i plan on a 1/8 of an inch on each side – so you want to make the vent 35 and 3/4″ in both direction.


to install the vent, set it in the vent hole, use a few shims to make sure that it is raised up an 1/8 about the bottom of the hole and drill holes half way up the framing though the framing and the vent.  then thread a steel rod though both sides.  this should be enough to secure it and make it useful.

door can be made from 2×4’s and just like the vent make sure to shim it up when framing so it swings freely and leave 1/8inch gaps on either side.

here is an image of the finished framing.  endwallnext up pulling the plastic!


hoop house build part 4: bows, ridge pole and wind bracing

i could have been taking lots of photographs of all this, but i was more interested in doing something than documenting.  weird i know.  the hoop house has been going full steam ahead, and if you have worked hard to make sure everything is level and square, you should find that the house does come together very quickly.

raising the bows.

depending on the size of your house you might have to assemble the bows first, if it is wide the bows often come in two parts and then truss supports are added.  our little 14 foot wide house has none of those parts, it’s simply a single piece.  most bows are all the same, but the bows for the ends often are pre-drilled for purlin connection, make sure you tag those and put them at the ends where they should go.  with people on both sides, walk your bows to to the ground posts and slide them in if they are swaged or in our case use the sleeve to connect them.  pre-drilled holes that are swaged get connected with carriage bolts, we used self tapping screws to run though the sleeve into the bow.  if your ground posts are not square this is where is can get really difficult, as the bows will not want to go into the ground posts if they are not properly set and you find yourself pushing and pulling to work them in.

the bows usually go up pretty quickly, and it’s amazing what a difference having the bows up makes.  it really gives you an idea of scale.  it’s very difficult to imagine what the house will really look like on the site until you have the bows in place.  then it tends to look big, and in our little side lot, it looked really, really big.  bows

you really shouldn’t put the bows up unless you also have time to add the ridge pole or some of the purlins (if your house uses them).  If you don’t have the ridge pole or purlins attached then the bows can knock about a lot in a major windstorm.

the ridge pole is the pole that connects the bows at the peak of the house (technically a ridge pole is purlin too, but unlike other purlins, it is not paired, if someone calls the ridge pole a purlin they are accurate).  usually the ends are pre-drilled and you slide a carriage bolt though and connect them, then the rest of the bows and pole are connected using cross connectors.  use your same 4 foot spacing tool you used while pounding the ground posts to make sure the bows are properly spaces as they can flex quite a bit.  i don’t tighten the cross connectors fully down until i have everything put together as i find i some times have to make adjustments and it’s much easier if they are not fully tightened.  cross connector nuts are usually 7/16th and it’s great to have a deep socket on yr impact driver to drive these in quickly.


purlins are similar to ridge poles, connecting the bows together but go further down the house.  our house lacks these because it’s so small.  the bigger the house the more purlins.

any house that is gonna have roll up sides, and i highly recommend that it does, is going to need to have a hip board.  the hip board is located a few feet above the bottom board.  it functions as a purlin, providing strength, but it is also where the plastic that covers the majority of the house meets the plastic that will make up the roll up side.  if this isn’t making much sense, don’t worry too much about it, give it time.

the hip board is installed very much like the bottom board.  we use a 2×4 mostly so we have enough wood to drive the lag screws which connect the pipe straps.  figure out where you want the bottom of the hip board to be located, four feet about the top edge of the bottom board is  a good location and mark that.  much like the bottom board you will need to cut the first board so that its end is between two boards, and you will need to make plates to connect them.  screw the pipe strap to the hip board with a lag screw and then use a self taping screw to connect the pipe strap to the bow.  level the hip board as you go, connect the boards together with a piece of wood (make sure it goes on the inside so it doesn’t interfere with the plastic when it gets pulled.  on the outside of the hip board you are gonna wanna put a piece of channel – either single or double for attaching the plastic cover.

hipboardchannelyou are also gonna need to attach the corner wind bracing on the hoop house.  this just helps it be a little bit more secure by providing diagonal connection between the bows.  usually they have holes in the end that you can drive a self taping screw into.

coming up next – framing the end walls.