A New Way
To Secure Plastic Mulch
With Raised Garden Beds

Dateline: 27 April 2015
click on pictures to see enlarged views




In my previous blog post, titled Step-By-Step Raised Garden Beds, I showed my simple way of making raised garden beds. The technique I use is nothing new, but the blog post shows a systematic approach to the task. The end result (pictured above) renders an orderly, visually pleasing, and practical garden bed. But making the beds is only part of the systematic raised bed approach I'm developing in my garden. There is also the added aspect of plastic mulch for weed suppression.

As many readers of this blog know, last year was my first gardening year in which I used black plastic mulch (Click Here  and Here for last year's blog posts on the subject). Black plastic is certainly not anything new in the world of gardening, but it was new to me. I've been gardening since I was around 16 years old (I'm 57 now) and I refused to use plastic all that time, primarily because it's not "organic." 

I don't know if I've compromised in my "organic" convictions, or just gotten smarter. Probably a little of both. The fact is, last year's plastic mulch trial run was a great success. I had one of the nicest looking, most productive, and downright satisfying gardens I've ever had.

I used three different techniques for securing plastic sheeting from blowing away last year. In This Blog Post I showed how the edges can be buried, and how to make "staples" to hold down any edges that are not buried. I used both techniques for securing permanent plastic mulch, which is to say, plastic that will remain in place for it's 8 to 12 year lifespan. Thus far, both techniques have worked very well.

For securing "temporary" sheets of plastic in walkways between my garden beds, and for holding occultation covers over the top of beds, last year I used tire sidewalls. I have lots of tire sidewalls and have used them for many years for various purposes in my garden (they are discussed on pages 45-48 in my Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners).

The tire-sidewalls-as-plastic-holders worked pretty well, but, when used to secure plastic in the walkways between beds, they presented something of an obstacle to walking. And, as many sidewalls as I have, they are not enough to handle the greater number of raised beds I'm now making in my garden.

So, another idea for securing the plastic mulch is needed, and I found the needed idea right in my own Planet Whizbang Idea Book For Gardeners. As I say in the introduction to the book, "... it so happens that ideas beget more ideas, and even the best of ideas can often be improved on." Or, in this instance, a good idea can be appropriated and applied to another purpose. 

On page 71 of my book I tell about "Mark Albert's Caterpillar Cloche System." Mark is a smart guy and he devised a way to simply and efficiently secure plastic or floating row covers over hoops. His system involves sturdy stakes, polypropylene baling twine (super strong and no stretch), and.... clothespins. Why can't the same brilliant system for holding row covers over hoops be used to hold plastic sheeting over raised beds and in the walkways between beds? I can't think of a reason why not.

By way of review, the plastic I'm using for reusable (8-12 year lifespan) mulch covers in my garden is Dewitt Sunbelt woven ground cover (3.2 oz). I purchased 4' wide and 3' wide rolls last year. With my 30" wide beds and 18" wide walkways, and the hold-down system I'm about to show you, the 3' wide rolls will work. Here's what the product looks like...




As you can see, the plastic needs to be heat sealed on the ends (as on the left side in the picture) or it will unravel (as seen on the right side). My standard length of garden bed is 16', so I have cut 17' lengths of the plastic.

To secure the plastic, I repositioned the polypropylene strings that outline each bed down tight to the ground. Then I used clothespins to secure the plastic to the string, as this next picture shows...



At one end of the garden beds, I tucked the plastic under the sheet metal walkway...



At the other end of the bed, I used a rock to weight the plastic down...



This next picture shows plastic secured in the walkways between the three example raised beds...



The same string lines and clothespins can be used to hold an occultation cover over the beds. Or they can be used to hold a sheet of clear plastic over the beds to encourage weed seed germination.... 



Using clear plastic for this purpose is a new idea for me. The plastic is 4mil at 3' wide, and it is common plastic. I'm curious to see how well it holds up and how many years of use I can get from it.

After the weed seeds have sprouted up under the plastic, I will put an occultation cover over the bed to kill the weeds. Then, once that is done, I'll plant into the bed without disturbing the soil. This should significantly reduce the number of weeds that sprout in the planted bed.

I secured the clear plastic over the bed on the end by tying a short piece of string from stake to stake and using clothespins to hold it...



The big question with this plastic hold-down system is... will it hold up to heavy winds? I have a somewhat sheltered garden (which is what you want with a garden space) but the day after I put the plastic in these garden beds we had some very high winds. They were enough to peel back a couple of sheets of the metal used in my walkway, and that was a first. But the plastic secured with the string lines and clothespins showed no ill effects at all.

Mark Albert's system for holding row cover onto hoops proved itself to me the first time I used it. I stood in my kitchen and watched a thunderstorm with driving wind and rain pummel the hooped cloches for half an hour. I fully expected them to give way, but they didn't. This odd little idea really works. But, as it applies to plastic mulch covers, it is still an idea I'm testing.

Speaking of testing garden ideas, this next view, taken from behind my row of raspberry canes, shows sections of my garden under large sheets of plastic (in the background). That is my Gardening Without Cultivation experiment from last year. The idea worked very well last year, but I'm still evaluating Tom Doyle's approach to gardening.



In my next post in this series I will show my technique for planting in the beds.

Stay tuned....


Return
Of Futureman

Dateline: 25 April 2015


Children grow up fast. In May of 2012 I posted the above picture to this blog and introduced my six week old grandson.  I have given him the name of Futureman, because, Lord willing, he will grow up to be a man someday, and that is something to always keep in mind.

As I've stated here so often in the past, my Grandmother Kimball made all the difference in my life, especially with the circumstances of my parents divorcing when I was young. Thankfully, my children never had to deal with such a family situation. But Futureman is now growing up in a broken home, and I fear he may have a rougher time than I did.

My grandmother taught me an important lesson through her example. It is a lesson I will follow. And, in so doing, it occurs to me that my grandmother has inadvertently blessed a great, great, grandson she never knew. That's how life works, or, it is how life is supposed to work. 

After 6 weeks of not seeing Futureman, we are very happy to have him here with us again. He arrived today and will be with us for the next two weeks.

I can report that Futureman was all smiles and excitement when he got here. He ran into my arms, and when I picked him up he hugged me tight. Six weeks was too long for this grandson to be away from me.

Futureman's uncles and future aunts have stopped by to visit. There is an extended family here that loves him and cares about him. After awhile, he and I took a walk down into the creek behind our house. Futureman loves the creek and, in particular, throwing rocks and sticks into the water....











Step-By-Step
Raised Garden Beds

Dateline: 25 April 2015

Raised beds in my 2014 garden.
(click on pictures to see enlarged views)

Most how-to articles or YouTube videos on the subject of making raised beds in the garden focus on using lumber or concrete blocks to frame the beds. I have made and grown food in lumber-framed raised beds in years past, but not any more. These days I make simple raised beds as I explain in this blog post...

My raised beds are all 30" wide and 16' long, with an 18" walkway between them.

I have made wider and longer raised beds, but this size is one that works well for me. The bed and walkway width is the same as used by Jean-Martin Fortier in his excellent book, The Market Gardener (which I reviewed HERE), but his beds are 100' long. 

After cultivating the garden soil, I stake out the beds, using wood stakes cut from old pallets...


the stakes are 18" long

The stakes are driven into the soil with a sledge hammer...





A standard shovel is 9" wide. The walkway between the beds is 18." See how nice that works out?....


The red metal in the background is recycled sheet metal siding
that I have laid down as a walkway in my garden.

I use polypropylene baling twine, tied from stake to stake to outline my garden beds and walkways. Polypropylene twine is very strong and does not sag after being stretched tight...


This next picture shows the strings in place, framing what will be a walkway between two beds...



With stakes and strings in place, it is time to start making the raised beds. I do this by working my way down the 18" walkway and "excavating" one shovel-width of soil onto the bed on the right, as this next picture shows...


I am shoveling the loose soil, down 4" or 5" onto the bed.

This next picture shows the right half of the walkway has been shoveled onto the raised bed on the right, and I am about to shovel down the left side, putting the soil onto the left raised bed....



Once that is done, the walkway and raised beds will look like this...



And here you can see two walkways shoveled out, with a raised bed in the center...



Now it is time to shape the raised bed. I do this with a garden rake. This next picture shows the bed is shaped in the foreground, and has yet to be shaped in the background...



And here is the whole bed after being shaped with the garden rake...



I take this shaping and finishing  of the bed a step further by using a leaf rake...


The smoothed and finished bed is in the background.
The small rubble in the foreground is what the rake collects.

Here you can see a finished bed, ready for planting...



This next picture shows three beds all shaped and smoothed. A Planet Whizbang wheel hoe can be used to keep the beds cultivated and free of weeds. I've used my wheel hoe for this purpose in the past,  but I now use black plastic mulch in the walkways.



The strings and stakes stay in place for the entire gardening season. In my next installment of this series, I will show how I am using black plastic as a mulch in the walkways between the beds. I have a new way of easily securing the plastic.

Stay tuned...





Learning
All About Capons

Dateline: 24 April 2015



The above picture comes from the 1914 booklet, Caponizing, by George P. Pilling. Here is an excerpt from the book:

"A capon is a male bird (cockerel or rooster) from which the testicles have been removed. As in other animals—bull, horse, boar, etc., this operation changes his nature entirely. He has only one function in life, to get fat. The growth is more rapid, the comb and wattles cease to grow, the bird is lazy, his plumage is heavy and very beautiful, the spurs do not develop, neither hen nor rooster has any further use for him, and he seeks the company of the little chickens, brooding over them at night, and leading them about during the day. In France, the capon largely takes the place of the mother, the hen confining herself to laying. 

To the poultry producer of today the capon is an absolute necessity, if he intends to stay in the business and make it profitable. He makes quick meat, tender meat, and much of it, and, best of all, he makes the highest priced meat in the market.

The uncaponized rooster runs his flesh off; he is always in trouble. When Mary E. Wilkins made one of her characters say "Chickens allies die in debt," she was, no doubt, thinking of the rooster, for he does usually die in debt; his feed bill is never settled by his carcass; he is a nuisance any way you take him.

Caponize this good for nothing fowl, all legs and appetite, and, presto, he is changed into the quiet Capon; his mission in life is now to convert his owner's food into the delicious and highly profitable meat."

My interest in learning about caponizing is not to produce profitable meat for sale, or even to produce superior tasting chicken (capons are, by all accounts, remarkably flavorful) but to produce meaty birds for my own family, using common breeds of chicken, instead of depending on a far-away hatchery in another state to supply me with the common hybrid Cornish-X chicks (preppers, listen up).

If the idea of being able to raise your own high-quality meat birds, using the cockerels (young male chickens) of standard egg-laying breeds, intrigues you too, I recommend that you first educate yourself in the old, and mostly forgotten, art of caponizing. You can do this by reading articles on the internet, and by downloading the four inexpensive caponizing resources I have just released at Agriphemera.com.

The following pictures show the covers of the four caponizing books. You can click on the title under the pictures to learn more about each...


Capons and Caponizing

Producing Capons in Pennsylvania

Beuoy Bow Capon Book

The Pilling Caponizing Book

I have yet to caponize a cockerel, but I am confident that, with the information in the above resources, I'll be able to do the surgery. The confidence comes, not just from the books, but from the fact that I've butchered enough chickens in my life to be familiar with, and comfortable around, the bird's internal organs. 

I don't know if I'll caponize some chickens this year, but I'll acquire the tools this year, and, eventually, I'll get around to the task. Sooner or later, I get around to actually pursuing something that interests me, but it begins with learning all I can about a subject first.

With that thought in mind, I'm wondering if anyone reading this has personal or offhand experience with raising or eating capons. If so, please share what you know in the comments section below.

Thank you.







High Quality
Handcrafted, Hardwood Clothespins
(For Mother's Day)

Dateline: 18 April 2015

Casey Schillinger's Heritage Clothespins

Mother's Day is about three weeks away and what, I ask you, would make a nicer gift than some heirloom-quality, handcrafted, hardwood clothespins? 

With that thought in mind, I would like to direct you to the online Directory of Artisan Clothespin Makers that I have put together at www.GoodClothespins.com. There are currently six clothespin makers in the directory. All of them have clothespins to sell.... except one, and that's me.

It was my intention to make a production run of my Classic American clothespins this spring, but I've changed my mind. Instead, I'm going to do some necessary work on my house, tend my garden, and spend time with my three-year-old grandson. I hope to get a production run made this fall, but don't wait for me.

Clothespin season is here and I encourage you to check out all the other quality clothespin makers at www.GoodClothespins.com

My goal of building a network of artisan clothespin crafters throughout the United States is slowly but surely taking shape. Please let your friends know about www.GoodClothespins.com on Facebook and other social media.

And I thank you.

===

P.S. If you are a woodworker, you can make your own heirloom clothespins. Top-quality, stainless steel springs and specifications are available at MakeYourOwnClothespins.com



Going To See
Nabeel Qureshi
At Cornell University

Dateline: 18 April 2015

Dr. Nabeel Quershi

I’m a homebody. I don’t get out much. I rarely go to any events, other than church on Sundays, and sometimes I don’t make it to church. But when I heard it mentioned in church last weekend that a speaker from RZIM was going to be giving a presentation at Cornell University, my interest was piqued.

RZIM is a Christian ministry that focuses on apologetics, which is to say, a reasoned defense of the Christian faith. Their objective is to “help thinkers believe and believers think.” RZIM speaking teams go to secular educational institutions throughout the world. I have listened to some of the RZIM speakers on YouTube and they are remarkably intelligent, articulate people.

I have a lot of respect for anyone who has the mental capacity and courage to go into the secular temples of the land (a.k.a. universities) and speak to the important issues of life from a Biblical perspective. 

So I did some research on this Cornell speaking engagement and decided I would go. Cornell is only 45 minutes from my home. I was intent on going alone but I sent an e-mail to a few friends, inviting them to go with me. I ended up taking three other men, one of whom has three degrees (including a doctorate) from Cornell. Having a Cornell alumnus is handy when you visit the campus, because they know where they are going. :-)

We got to Kennedy Hall about half an hour early. The auditorium seats 600 people and there was plenty of seating to choose from. But by the time the presentation started, the place was jam packed full. I didn’t see an empty seat anywhere!

There were some grey haired outsiders there (like me) but the audience was mostly Cornell students, with many different cultures of the world represented. 

The main speaker was Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, an American-born Muslim (his parents immigrated to the US from Pakistan). Qureshi is a remarkably well spoken intellectual. He has a medical degree, two masters degrees and is currently pursuing a doctorate at Oxford University. His talk was titled, Why Jesus? The Gospel in a World of Religion and Irreligion.

Dr. Qureshi covered a lot of cultural and theological territory in a couple of hours, starting with the question of, “what is the meaning of life?,” and ending with a Q&A session covering topics like, “if God is a God of love, why is there so much suffering in the world?”  The audience was respectful and listened intently.

I’m glad I went, and I think my friends were too. We had a lively discussion all the way home.

Having said all of that, I would like to take this opportunity to recommend This YouTube Presentation by Nabeel Qureshi, in which he tells the story of his conversion from Islam to Christianity, while in medical school. It's well worth taking in this unique personal testimony.

Nabeel Qureshi has also authored a book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslin Encounters Jesus, and has a Facebook Page Here.