Thursday, September 24, 2015

Carbon Munching Garden: Lessons in Ollas, Self-Wicking, and Aquaponics

[Warning: This post contains almost no wheels and no electric vehicles.]

Fall just started. We had a little rain yesterday. I have been watching the garden begin to wither, and I realize how much I will miss it over the next months. We still have foour strawberries and seven tomatoes ripening, but I think that will be it for this year.

The ollas have been a success, and I am very much a fan of that approach. The self-wicking pallet planter had its struggles, but it has turned into a success as well. My wife made spaghetti sauce with roasted tomatoes (from the planter) last night. And it was delicious.

I have learned a lot of things from this year's experiments.

Get bigger planters!!!
With the ollas - use Gorilla Glue!!! Everything else I tried eventually broke down. Also, start with better soil and feed that regularly with good compost. And, no matter what, use bigger pots! It's just like an aquarium - the bigger the container, the larger your margin for error can be. Overall, I am a big fan of ollas in big containers!

Before compost
The raised-bed, self-wicking, Food-is-Free-Project, pallet planter? I learned two major lessons there. The first was the importance of soil that allows water to wick. I used soil with a high clay content, and the water could not travel through it. And the garden barely survived it first six weeks.

After compost

Things did get better when I mixed in good compost with lots of organic matter. The second thing I learned (and it seems really obvious) is that it is smart to add wicks to your self-wicking garden. A piece of cotton rope or  shoestring reaching from the bottom of your planter directly to the roots of your plant - it's a straw for your plant to sip from. Good stuff!

The Aquaponics setup - not a success - I hope to take another approach at that in the relatively near future. I blame the failure on poor lighting and lack of water quality monitoring.)

One other incidental lesson, move slowly near pollinators. The wasps love the garden and were ever-present. I was stung by three wasps this summer, but none were in the garden. Two, somewhat ironically, happened when riding a Vespa scooter - "vespa" is Italian and Latin for wasp. The other sting happened on a bicycle. Speed near wasps equals pain, but they love it when you bring them flowers slowly.

What's next? I am prioritizing projects. I would love to throw together a small greenhouse and keep the momentum going, but it looks like a better time to pursue minimalism. There's too much stuff - no money, time, or room for projects. (I am hoping to find some people who have decided to pursue maximalism so we can all feel good about our stuff.) So the greenhouse (and a much more productive garden) may need to wait until next season.

May your experiments thrive and grow (great food)!

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