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Irrigating with drip tape

27 Apr

Carlos is out catching up with a ranching friend who lives near where we have a few cows. He wants to make sure our cows are still grazing in the area and is going to ask his friend to corral them next time he sees them.

It was getting late, so I decided to take care of his evening chores for him: I fed the goats and the chickens, and checked on the irrigation. I had little 3 month old Peter with me, in the stroller, and Leon, our 14 month old riding on the front step!

Now I am alone. The kids are all in bed. Carlos is not back yet. It’s dark, quiet, and I’m sitting in peace outside, enjoying the night. No one is crawling on me. No one needs me. And it feels so good! I’m going to take this time to write without interruptions! Ahhh….

We just put in some additional beds here at home, so I’ve got irrigation on my mind. In this post, I’m going to show you how to install drip tape, for easy watering.


In this photo you can see a thick black hose connected to a white T. Off the trunk of the T is the drip tape. Also black. The thick black hose is the main artery, and the drip tape goes down the beds.

Here’s my favorite part.

We cut off a piece of the drip tape a little over a foot long. Then we cut that into centimeter-wide strips.


This material is slightly stretchy and perfect for sealing the drip tape to the connector! Stretch it out just a bit to start.

Now wrap it around, pulling tight on each pass and tie a knot.


This will create a perfect tight seal that won’t leak. Best of all, it’s cheap, easy, and takes advantage of a resource you already have on hand, if you’re irrigating with drip tape.



A garden is born

24 Apr

Every year we battle with growing lettuce, a spring crop, in the hot summers here on the Tropic of Cancer. Why bother?

Our restaurant clients depend on us, and I hate to let them down! I tried explaining that it’s a spring thing and that they should invent a summer salad, like a Greek tomato, cucumber, feta mix. They looked at me like I was crazy.

It seems that their clients depend on them, and that everyone is in the mood for a cool salad in the hot summer. Makes sense. So where does that leave us?

We are installing a garden here at the house (the farm is a block away on my brother-in-law’s place). The site here is shady, and we also have more access to water here, because in the summer months, the powers that be drastically reduce the agricultural water coming our way. Luckily here at the house we can supplement with municipal water.

Installing a Garden

1. Lay down drip tape. Water for a few hours.


2. Loosen soil with a pitchfork or a shovel. A day after watering, the soil will be soft for digging.


3. Throw compost on the bed
Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of Carlos doing this step, and he refused to reenact it for me! Just fill a wheelbarrow with compost and use a shovel to cover the bed. Doesn’t have to be neat!

4. Use a shovel to turn the soil. Just mix the top layer of compost under. If you compost all the time, you could skip this step and just leave it on top. We want that nutrition to be down with the roots right away in our case.

Happy planting!

Kids are good for some things, like planting tomatoes quickly!

22 Mar

We had a couple flats of tomatoes ready to go in the ground and a niece and a nephew hanging around, so we took advantage and put them to work! They’re at that perfect age where they still think work is play, especially if they get to do it with the adults.

Luckily the beds were already prepared–compost dug-in and mulch on top–so we were able to get straight to planting. Carlos sat down on one end of the bed with the flat and carefully took each seedling out. I went ahead with a shovel, killing stray arugula and digging holes in a zigzag.

Here’s Dominga planting a seedling.

Here comes Jonathan with one while Dominga goes back for another.

There’s Jonathan carefully planting! I love to see them working hard and learning about farming, helping, and finishing a job.

They helped us make a long task a lot quicker!

Easy Ways to start growing your own food

24 Oct

1. Grow a container garden with cilantro and basil.
Sprinkle cilantro seeds close together in a pot, about one seed per square inch. Place in a sunny window in your kitchen and water and love until the plants are about three inches high. Whenever you need fresh cilantro, trim a whole section of the pot to about one inch. Cut often; plants are very resilient! This will keep your cilantro from getting tall and flowering.

Basil should have about four square inches per plant. Again, trim often and don’t be afraid to cut low. Just make sure to cut above a leaf. If you cut below the bottom leaf, it won’t grow back. When you cut the main stem, two branches will grow. This will make your plant nice and bushy rather than tall and top heavy. You can also just pinch off the top cluster of four leaves if you just need a bit.

2. Make a small lasagna garden.
I have yet to make a lasagna garden but I think it sounds like fun and I appreciate the philosophy behind it. It’s easy to get started because it doesn’t require any digging! It does require lots of composting supplies. Gather tons of newspaper and cardboard boxes, leaves, grass clippings, pulled weeds, straw, anything you would throw in your compost pile.

Layer the newspaper down covering the entire future-garden-area. Put lots on! Throw some cardboard on there as well. Thickly! Now choose another material, say leaves, and layer that on thickly. Keep going, layering, until your lasagna is two feet deep or more.

Now, if you have a few months to wait, you could water deeply and let it sit. When you’re ready to plant, just dig a hole with your hands, add finished compost, and plant into that. If you don’t have time to wait, you can go ahead and plant into it as is. Use a spadeful of compost to give your plants something extra to work with. You can even sow seeds into this.

Add new layers of mulch every year to keep the weeds away and because your plants will love it.

3. Grow a tomato plant in a hanging basket.
Hanging tomatoes are all the rage in home gardening magazines. It certainly eliminates the need for staking and tying and makes harvesting a breeze. Just make sure it’s in a sunny place and water frequently. I’d give it some compost tea once in a while as well to ensure good production. If you’re starting from seed, sow three or four and thin to one later. Keep moist until it has good strong roots, and even then water every day.

4. Grow lettuce in a window box.
When you harvest your lettuce, you can cut the whole head clean across with a knife, even with the dirt. Alternatively you can pluck off the outer leaves.

If you like baby leaf lettuce, sow the seeds thickly–about every square inch. When they’re about three inches tall you can begin to harvest. Cut clean across with a knife above the ground. You’ll be able to harvest again in about ten days!

5. Grow a three-sisters garden.
Beans, corn, and squash: each crop supports or feeds the others in some way. Corn is good for drawing fungus out of the soil and also serves as a trellis for pole beans. And of course beans are nitrogen fixers so they will feed the corn and the squash. Squash is a low-growing crop which takes up a lot of space and has big leaves. This shades the soil, conserving water and preventing weeds from flourishing.

Check out this website for excellent thorough planting instructions.

Plowing the field, preparing the beds, and planting!

9 Oct

Here are some pictures of what we’ve been up to in the garden.

About three days after our last big rain, we hired someone to plow the field. His tractor also has an attachment for automatically making raised beds. Pretty cool, and a huge labor saver!


We laid the drip tape and watered all day Sunday. Sunday afternoon we planted lettuce. We mix the seed with compost, and then just throw the compost on the bed. It’s an easy way to broadcast seed, plus you’re automatically fertilizing.


Here’s a little lettuce just peeking out of the ground.

Our tomatoes are past due for getting in the ground! We had to wait for the rain to stop to be able to plow the field. Oh well, nothing in farming or gardening is perfect. Ideally they’d be in their planters between three and four weeks. Right now, they are five weeks old.20121009-113437.jpg

Here they are in their new home.


What to Plant now if you live in the tropics

27 Sep

Coming from Illinois, I always heard that corn should be knee-high by the Fourth of July. Most experts will tell you that you should start your tomatoes indoors and put them out in the garden after the last frost, and that you should plan your mid-season plantings so they have time to mature before the first frost. Well, we don’t get much frost in Baja.

Forget all that because in Todos Santos, on the Tropic of Cancer, we can grow year-round. However, I do find its best to avoid growing in the summer because there are way less pests in the winter! It is great for organic growing if half your pests just don’t show up during your growing season.

So, we are coming off of our resting season and getting ready to start for fall, winter, and spring growing. That’s an 8 month growing season! If you are a home gardener, the absolute best time to start is January because there are less pests and the days consistently get longer. For example, if your tomato plant is ready to flower come December, it will feel the shortening days and go dormant. The plant will hibernate for about a month and then finish its life-cycle when the days start to lengthen in January. During that month, it’s still susceptible to damage from pests. I’m still experimenting with this. This year I’m hoping to have mature tomatoes fruiting by December 1, and babies that will start to flower in January so that we don’t miss any harvests. Have any of you noticed this or found a good way to time your plantings around the solstice?

We start our season now so we can satisfy our clients come November. They would love for us to start earlier, but lettuce (our primary product) doesn’t germinate well at temperatures higher than 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Many plants, like tomatoes, germinate better in the heat, but they take longer to mature. That allows us to time our plantings so that everything will be ready come November.

Here’s a list of heat-loving plants: good until about 95 degrees F
Cauliflower (best at 86 degrees F)
Celery (surprisingly good to 100!)
Summer and winter squash
Tomatoes (to about 92 degrees)

That said, there are lots of cucurbit-loving pests right now. If you hold off to plant melons and cucumbers until January it will make your life a lot easier! There are also lots of beautiful little white and yellow butterflies. These will lay tiny yellow eggs on the underside of your leafy greens. they are fun to discover and watch develop, and even more fun to squish. Kids are good squishers as well, though you may have to explain the circle of life to them to get them to do it. If you don’t get to the eggs, they will hatch into tiny worms which get bigger really fast! Get squishing. Left on their own they can devour a bed of lettuce in days. But don’t worry, once the weather cools off you won’t find many caterpillars in your garden.

Wait to plant these: they prefer to germinate around 75 degrees:
Asian greens

7 Steps to Starting Seeds

21 Sep

Starting your seeds in a seed tray will make it easier to keep them moist while they germinate. Tomatoes are especially suited to transplanting: when its time to go in the garden, plant them up to their necks, and they will send out new roots all along their stem! However, beans, melons, and cucumbers do not transplant well, so sow them directly in the garden.


1. Buy Seeds. Starting the season with new seeds, or seeds you saved from your own garden last year, is always a good idea. There is so much work to do in a garden, so why plant old seeds and then have to replant them if they don’t germinate? Many professional growers use Johnny’s Seeds. I’ve also had great results with Turtle Tree Seeds. Stick to varieties you know and love for the bulk of your order. Experiment with just a few. It’s easy to go crazy and want to buy everything when browsing your catalogue. Resist!
2. Make a List of all the seeds you have. I like to organize my list into three categories: Leaf, Root, and Fruit. You can look up the best planting days for each category online and plant everything in that category on its proper day. Here’s a calendar.
3. Decide what to plant now. It is also a good idea to check ideal germination temperatures. Some plants prefer heat to germinate, and others will germinate poorly in these temperatures. For those, it’s a waste of time and effort to plant in this heat! Wait until it cools off.
4. Decide how much to plant Write down how many plants of each type you want. Plan on planting a few extras in case of casualties. Don’t make the mistake of planting too much! It’s better to take care of a few plants well, then to get behind on your garden work because its too much to take care of! We supplied a restaurant for the entire year last year from just three eggplant plants!
5. Prepare your seed trays We fill our seed trays with straight compost. Many growers mix with peat moss and other additives, but we have never had a problem. It’s worth it to set up a planting table so you can stand and do your work, and that way they can have a place to live while they wait to go in the garden. Use an old yogurt container or a trowel to fill the trays with compost, then shake the tray to help it settle. Leave room at the top for more compost after you plant the seeds. Water thoroughly before you plant. You want the surface to look shiny for a few seconds.
6. Plant! Use your fingers to tamp the soil in each cell and make a little divot. Place one seed in each hole. If you’re using poor quality seed plant two seeds and thin later. Sprinkle some more compost on top.
7. Mark your calendar Write down what you planted in your organizer. Skip ahead to the date three weeks from now, and write a reminder to plant that again. If you plant every three weeks you’ll always be harvesting!

You can leave your trays in the shade until they form their first true leaves. They are unable to process sunlight before then, and it will cut down on your watering. I water my trays once a day, in the morning. If they look dry in the afternoon, always give them more water. Once they have their first true leaves they need partial shade. Too much shade will leave you with long, leggy, thin-stemmed plants, while too much sun could kill them if you forget to water (it happens!)