Monday, March 30, 2009

Soil Testing

With the preparation of so much new garden space, I learned that soil testing is a good idea. In the past, I have tested my soil with the do-it-yourself kits you can get at a hardware store. It is unclear how accurate these tests are, so this time, I am going to get the soil sampled at a professional lab... with my University Extension service.

If you are in MN, you can find all the information you need for a soil test at here. Each sample costs $15, and you get a reading on phosphorus, potassium, pH and lime requirement, percent organic matter and estimated texture category. They will also recommend which "crops" will grow well in your soil, or recommended amendments for what you plan to plant. Seems like a good deal to me!

Our results came back pretty much as expected: We have alkaline soil, with a pH of about 7.0. We have a decent amount of organic matter in it, but it is recommended that we add phospate. (Phospate is the middle number in the plant nutrient breakdown you see on packages.) We also need to grow our blueberries in pots. To get our soil acidic enough to grow blueberries would require "heroic measures" in the terms of the Extension office. But, in pots, a few bags of peat moss should do the trick!

Friday, March 27, 2009

We *heart* Natural Built Home

If you are looking for green building materials or resources, look no further. Natural Built Home is like a one-stop shop for the best green building materials out there. We discovered them at the Living Green Expo (which is May 2-3 this year btw) a couple of years ago, but we didn't have any projects that could utilize their products right away. So we just drooled. Me, over the mosaic recycled glass tile, Sean over the reclaimed hardwood flooring.

They will work with you if you don't live in the Twin Cities, as they used to be just an e-shop. Although if you live nearby and you haven't been, you really need to go take a look.

From the Natural Built Home website:

"Natural Built Home was founded in October of 2005. Our mission was to create a one-stop shop for the safest and most sustainable building supplies. We initially provided these products to our customers on the world wide web through our e-commerce website. Our first brick and mortar showroom opened in Minneapolis on Earth Day in 2006."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is the house sinking?

We have noticed some disturbing signs around the house in the past year that indicate something is amiss with the foundation or support beams. When we bought the house 2 years ago, there were normal signs of a 100-year-old house "settling" but nothing that alarmed us. Still, this last year, we have found changes... shifts... cracks where there weren't cracks before.
The front door is hanging more cock-eyed.
The dog's ball rolls toward the dining room when we set it in place in the kitchen.
The newly painted ceiling in the master bedroom reveals new, wider cracks along the edges of the walls, where old ones were patched and fixed.
There are now noticeable humps in two places where the limestone foundation holds up the house... where no sinking has occurred.
The laser level that Sean is so fond of indicates that there has indeed been a more dramatic shift in floor levels... it seems that the center of the house is sinking, and at a more rapid pace than anything we expected.
We live in an area where there is a lot of peat, so it's possible that a post has actually sunk. It just happened to one of our new fence posts- we dug it down 4 ft deep (below the frost line here), and yet it has sunk about three inches since we set it in place last year.
The other possibility is that the post is rotting. Apparently, this would, in fact, be better, since the footing would theoretically still be sound and we would just have to replace the post. But to really know, we have to do some basement floor destruction and dig.
The carpenter of the family (not me!) assures me that we can fix this. And I believe him. He knows how to do it, and he has consulted with several other carpenters who have actually done it themselves. But it's still unsettling (pun intended) to think about. I've started my reading on house-jacking, but any success stories ya'll have would make me feel a lot better!

Seeds, Seeds, and More Seeds!!

I have officially gone overboard on the seed starting. I'm not sure when my madness drifted from the garden-variety seed starter to the seedling-crazed garden fiend, but I'm guessing it was somewhere between 30 and 144 tomato seedlings ago. This year, the whole yard becomes garden. (Ok, with the exception of the backyard where the doggies will continue to do their business.) We are planning a mixed edible/perennial garden in the back, front, and side yards, plus a huge swath of boulevard. Not bad for an urban city lot, eh? As I've been planning, I've found lots of help along the way. Turns out, there a ton of folks who are doing urban gardening. Yay! Here are some of my favs...

Metro Blooms
Gardening Matters
Cold Climate Permatculture Research Institute
Urban Harvest

I also checked out a lot of books, including Edible Estates, Gaia's Garden, and Landscaping with Fruits and Vegetables.

As for the plants, I have started: 3 kinds of tomatoes, 2 kinds of cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, 4 kinds of peppers, oregano, 2 kinds of basil, chives, garlic chives, stevia

Flowers: Marigolds, Alyssum, Bee Balm, Blue Butterfly Delphinum, Shasta Daisies, Lavender, and Dahlias

In all, I have 7 trays of seedlings, with about 72 plants each. That's a whole lotta plants. But I figure what I don't have room for myself, I'll trade for other plants, or give away to neighbors to help them grow their harvest. I have used Jiffy Peat pellets , which I used last year with great success. I also used seed-starting medium in 6-pack cells in trays (when I ran out of pellets!).

We already have 2 raspberry plants and 2 blueberry plants, and I have more on the way. I also am expecting about 50 strawberry plants, 6 ligonberry bushes, and a few hops plants. (Can you say oranic beer?!) These I had to order bareroot and will come at approximately the last frost date. Which, for those not from sunny Minnesota, is May 15th. WAYYYYYY too long from now! My madness may be dangerous by then!