Memphis Backyard Farmer

Spring Planting
April 18, 2013, 10:02 pm
Filed under: Gardening | Tags: , , , , ,

IMAG0865April 15 in Memphis is “the day” to plant. Last year I fudged and got some plants in the ground a little early. I’m glad I waited this year. At the end of last week we were certainly having warm days, but then the temp would plummet back to the 30’s. Monday, and every day since, has been gorgeous, between 70-80 degrees, so my wife and I spent Monday putting seedlings in the ground.

Tomatoes,  peppers and loofah seedlings went in, but my okra and herb seedlings didn’t look quite strong enough to put down yet. I also seeded some pumpkins, squash and cucumbers. My usual routine is to put my tomato and pepper seedlings in rows with adequate spacing, then plant vining, creeping plants in between rows to make the growing space a little more intense. Tomatoes grow up. Curcurbits grow out.


I still have some beds to finish up. I have spinach and kale seedlings to put in one bed, basil and cilantro to seed in another, and a few more cukes and squash to put into two yet un-weeded beds.

With all that said, the temp tomorrow is supposed to drop back down in the 30’s, but not quite to freezing. Hopefully the plants will be hardened off enough to handle the change.

Bees and Taters
April 13, 2013, 3:32 am
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Had a great afternoon working in the garden today. In preparation for planting my spring crop I harvested a boatload of turnip greens (with my first turnips). I let the plants go to flower because they’re really beautiful and have a fantastic fragrance. I picked some as a bouquet for the kitchen, let the bees enjoy some (the bees love them!), then fed the rest to the bunnies.


In addition, I did a walk through to see what was coming up, and it looks like my first potato is up, and the grapevines are covered in buds.


My seedlings are going in the ground next week, along with lots of pots full of plants. I’ll keep you posted.

How does your garden grow?

Garlic Update
March 29, 2013, 2:31 am
Filed under: Gardening | Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s 65 degrees here in Memphis today, so it’s not hard for me to be distracted by the garden, even though it’s mostly bare this time of year. One exception is my herb garden. In November I planted about 60 cloves of garlic, my first ever attempt at growing it.

Garlic Bed At Fall Planting

Garlic Bed At Fall Planting

Today I walked around to weed out some wheat that’s taken root (from the wheat straw I use for rabbit bedding and mulch). Here’s our current garlic progress. I’m so excited. So is my wife. And my kids. Why? We use an incredible amount of garlic around here, especially on homemade pizza night!

Garlic Bed In Spring

Garlic Bed In Spring

Seedling Update
March 28, 2013, 7:05 am
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IMAG0812In my last post from March 17, I detailed how we had moved our seedlings from trays over to “pots” (used plastic cups). I thought I’d give you an update a week-and-a-half later. Not bad, huh?

In addition, I planted some new seeds: Kale (Red Russian), Spinach (Long Standing Bloomsdale), True Lavender, Common Thyme, Rosemary, Okra (Bowling Red), and some Loofahs. I’m a little worried about the loofahs, though. I grew a couple of vines two years ago which did great. But last year’s vines didn’t come through. So these seeds are a couple of years old. I’m not sure how the germination rate will be after two years, but I’ll keep you updated.

Make Hay While The Sun Shines

There are so many sayings that folks throw around that they just can’t understand unless they garden or farm. “Make hay while the sun shines” is one of them. I’m on the road a lot and next week I’ll be away even more. But it’s mid-March, it was 74 degrees today, and there’s a lot of gardening to do. I had one day to get a lot done. So here’s a list of what happened at the homestead today.

First, coffee with a good book. Wendell Berry’s latest stories from Port Royal. Just got it yesterday.


Then it was time to get busy transplanting some seedlings.I had 54 tomato and pepper plants to put into their first pots; Early Treat, Brandywine, and Cherokee Purple tomatoes, and Serrano peppers. I created a quick video today showing how I do my transplants. You can check it out here.

Rats – after finishing the tomatoes, I ran out of potting soil. I make my own using organic potting soil and my own compost. But I had to cook the compost first. Into the oven with a batch of compost!

While the compost cooked, I also made a batch of sugar syrup for the bees.

On to the bee yard to feed the bees. They had already eaten all the sugar syrup I put on last week. Busy bees.

Meanwhile, time to clean rabbit cages. I turn my rabbits loose in the yard while I clean their cages. They love it, and it’s incredibly entertaining to watch. The straw, hay and rabbit poo goes into the compost pile.


Then on to plant potatoes. I have two big planters (used cotton seed containers) that hold four potato plants, so I had to fill them with soil, straw and compost. Three plants went in a raised bed, then three more in a trench in the yard. In case you’re wondering. I’ve got a little experiment going with potatoes, trying to find what is most productive here.

Time to take a break from gardening…and change the oil in both cars. I’ve got a big drive on Monday, so it’s got to get done.

And now to gather up the bunnies.



Got to finish potting the peppers and load them all back into the attic under the grow lights.

And I’m done. Big day. The sun finished shining a long time ago, but the hay is put up.


Spring Into Beekeeping
March 14, 2013, 6:53 am
Filed under: Bee Keeping, Livestock, Memphis, Urban Ag | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Bees on framesI made a lot of bee keeping mistakes last year. At some point, I’ll detail them, because the tale is worth telling. I’ve been keeping bees for 17 years now, and I’ve never made as much of a mess of my bees as I did last season. But 2012 is gone, and spring is springing in Memphis, so I decided to bite the bullet, wander out to the apiary and see if any bees made it through the winter. Imagine my pleasant surprise to find my last two remaining hives going strong. And compared to years past, I’d say strong is an understatement.

What’s typical for especially new beekeepers in this area is for their bees to starve, not freeze, over the winter months. Often bee keepers take too much honey off the hive in the fall, and don’t feed early enough in the spring. Once the cluster breaks (due to warmer, 50+ degree temps), the hive has a desire to take in more calories. In Memphis, we can have 60, almost 70 degree days in February(!), so the cluster breaks early. Because there is no nectar source, a bee keeper must have a sugar supply ready for his girls. If not, he’ll discover a hive full of bees with their heads buried in wax cells, dead. If you’ve ever experienced it, it should make you sick, because it’s your fault.

Last fall I left two honey supers on both my hives, more than I typically leave. Part of it was penance for my poor care of the bees last summer, some of it was a lack of time to take off fall honey stores, and some of it – honest! – was to make sure they had plenty of honey to over winter. It appears to have worked. I did feed them on this trip. I didn’t pull the frames in these supers, because it’s still cool enough to chill the brood and I didn’t want to take any chances. I used the baggie method of feeding since the cluster had already broke. I’ve posted a video here so that you can see how this works. It’s quick and easy, and perfect for this occasion.

I’ll reverse the brood boxes in a couple of weeks, and tear the supers down to see what kind of shape they’re in. I can typically get several boxes of early spring honey by May if I’ve planned ahead. Take note: I am planning ahead!

Oh – and if you want a video version of this update, check it out here.

Lessons Learned 2 – I Have Seen The Light!
February 25, 2011, 1:56 am
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This is the second post in a series of “lessons learned” from last year’s garden. Lesson 1 can be found here.

Images under florescent lightWe’ll be on the topic of seedlings for a while, because – first of all – it’s where my mind is at this time of February, and also because last year was the first year I tried my hand at starting all my own plants from seed. And, as expected, I made quite a few mistakes.

I start my seedlings in the attic. As it turns out, the blower for my furnace is located right inside an attic door. February in Memphis still has a chill, so my heater is still working, at least at night. The surface of that blower makes a terrific place to start seeds, because it heats up the soil in my starter pots nicely.

But light is hard to come by in an attic. Fortunately, there is a light fixture near the furnace. I was smart enough to know that incandescent lights didn’t put off the necessary light for growing plants, so I replaced my incandescent with a compact fluorescent (CF) bulb. However, the bulb was located above my head, and the seedlings were located below my waist. One CF bulb four feed away from seedlings is simply not enough light for strong seedlings. The stems were weak, the seedlings were leggy, and the leaves had very little dark-green color.

This year I’ve installed a full sized fluorescent shop light in my attic, mounted just inches above my seedlings. The fixture is on adjustable chains (much longer than the 6 inches of chain they ship with the light). I’m using full-spectrum bulbs, which technically aren’t “grow lights”, but are a more complete light source than standard fluorescents.

My greens have only been up for 2 weeks, but I can already tell a huge difference in their color. Plus, my normal houseplants are getting regular doses and love it as well.

How do you light your seedlings?