Rain Gutter Tomato Garden

I have spring fever. I have had spring fever for weeks now, or so it seems. Living in the desert and wanting to garden has led to interesting learning. Patience and Spring go together in the high desert. Warm days do not mean the last freeze is gone, and Spring is really here.

My first gardening learning was about new methods of gardening was Square Foot Gardening SFG. I have a SFG box still waiting to be opened and put together. In the back yard on the porch I have vermiculite, and three different types of bagged compost, and peat moss waiting. I have two five gallon buckets of chicken manure. I am still on the fence about SFG for here though. The system seems to want more water compared to other gardening methods or gardening systems.

In March of 2013, if you follow my blog, you know I wrote a post about Tomato Gardening in Self Watering Containers. Self Watering Containers work very well, use the minimum amount of water, and are almost trouble free.

I planted tomatoes in the six self watering containers I made. Spring and my spring fever were out of sync however, and it was a series of take them in the house, put them out, take them in. I do not think the tomatoes enjoyed the climate changes and the handling from frequent movement.

The tomatoes grew well though until about July, when my tomato plant action slowed down to a crawl. I had thought it was the very hot weather taking its toll. The tomatoes  were using a lot of water of course, but they never ran dry.

To make a long story short, my tomatoes ran out of food! I did not know I needed to keep feeding them, as they make short work of available food in their limited bucket homes. I had a harvest, and the tomatoes tasted good. They fell short in size and quantity however.

This year I have some tomatoes starting from seed, but have my doubts about how they will do, if they make it at all. I am afraid I do not have a good window to put them in. The little white specs are form me treating a fungus gnat infection. So much for saving money and buying cheaper unheated compost.

Tired Tomato Seedlings

Looking kind of sad

Being always curious, I started looking for an ever more lazy way to garden. I started on a search for  low water use gardening technique.

I found Straw Bale Gardening or SBG. Everything looks easy and promising. I even bought the book. Slowly though as I read more into Straw Bale Gardening on the web, water usage was becoming a cloud hanging over the process. There is a certified SBG gardener in the state, but none  close to me. I have four straw bales I’m not sure what I am going to do with yet.

Reading about alternative gardening systems, I found Olla (oy-yah) gardening. Ollas are clay pots filled with water sunk in the soil. Water leaches out through the pot and waters close by plants. I may make an Olla based Square Foot Garden this year as an experiment. I am thinking maybe four milk jugs with holes facing out?

What I have finally settled on for this year is a method developed by Larry Hall of Branerd, Minnesota. Larry is credited with a number of container gardening innovations. The one that has caught my eye is Rain Gutter Grow System. Here is a link to one of Larry Hall’s videos explaining the Rain Gutter Grow System.

I went out today and bought lumber (4 2x4x10′), vinyl rain gutters (2), end caps (4), nails, screws, and silicon sealant. So far I have invested almost $70.00 into the system. I still need floats (2), a couple feet of tubing, and 2 tubing T’s. I have the buckets already, so no need to spend money on buckets.

On the bright side, the most digging to be done, will be leveling the gutters. Same as Self Watering Container Gardening, they will be almost pest free as they are off the ground and out of reach of most insects.

The way I see it, a Rain Gutter Garden is a Self Watering Container Garden with a bottomless water holding container. How much easier can it get than this? I think I will make a modification of the basic system, and cover the gutters with something to help keep water from evaporating.

Assembly is still required however. I have two or three weeks yet, before it is safe to think the last freeze of the year is over. I know from the high afternoon winds, spring is on its way. With desert living above 5000 feet though, it is possible for more freezing weather to show up before spring actually arrives.

Which reminds me. I put in a rose bush last week. It had started to leaf out in the store, three little sprigs. This week after two good waterings, the growth has died out. I am not sure if the rose bush died of something or has decided to go dormant. Any thoughts about this?

Tomato Gardening in Self Watering Containers

This is the beginning of my latest attempt at having a garden here in Albuquerque. I put out six of these five gallon self watering buckets ten days ago. I had to move them into the kitchen for four days because the weather went to below freezing in the mornings last week.

While it is not obvious, these are homemade self watering containers. The bottom bucket holds the water and is filled through a plastic pipe (behind the plant) which goes through the top bucket (on the inside bucket edge) to the bottom bucket. The top bucket has an ~ 3 inch hole cut out (the size of pop bottle bottom) in the middle. The bottom part of a plastic pop bottle is pushed into the bottom of the outside bucket. The plastic bottle bottom has holes cut into it so the water can get in.

The dirt in the pop bottle bottle and the dirt above it act as a wick, drawing up water for the plant. At least that is the claim. Seems to work so far. The height where the top bucket meets the bottom bucket is a small hole in the outside bucket. When I fill the bucket, water runs out the hole when it is full.

These are “container bush tomato” plants. I have no idea how big they will get or how big or small the tomatoes will be.

Tomatoes in Self Watering Buckets

Look up self watering containers on youtube if you are interested in trying them out yourself. Pictures are better than words, and a video is better yet. I had to watch a few different videos before the concept made sense. Of course after I figured it out, I found better videos that showed and explained all the steps needed to make self watering containers.

I am also working on two raised beds in the Square Foot Gardening style though they will not be 4′ x 4′ but about 3′ x 6′ because I am using a roll around closet I found in a second hand store. It helps to be creative when it comes to gardening.