What’s a garden season without a few experiments?  Gardeners are notorious for their adventurous spirit, trying all sorts of new contraptions and plant varieties in search of the next big thing.

Each year, we try a few new different varieties and growing methods in our garden as well. All in an effort to find a new vegetable or crop we might like – or a better way to grow existing ones.

The beautiful colors of just picked lady finger and strawberry popcorn
The beautiful colors of just picked lady finger and strawberry popcorn

A few years back – we grew our first crop of strawberry popcorn – having no clue how it would turn out – and it was a huge success! In fact, so much that we now grow three different kinds of popcorn and have enough to last us the year around.

Of course – they don’t always work out, like our infamous leaf storing silo project that lasted until the first wind blew it over, or the attempt to transplant a huge ornamental grass in the summer – only to watch it wither away.

But it is the successes that keep you going – like the Stake-A-Cage tomato stakes we created that have become a garden staple for us. (see: The Inexpensive DIY Tomato Stake-A-Cage).  And of course, if you don’t keep trying – you never learn!

So we thought for today’s Sunday Update we would share what’s cooking for this year’s experiments in the OW Garden:

Red Plastic For Tomatoes

Red Plastic "mulch" is reported to make for larger tomato harvests. (Photo courtesy of Gardeners Supply Company)
Red Plastic “mulch” is reported to make for larger tomato harvests. (Photo courtesy of Gardeners Supply Company)

We have toyed with idea of using plastic before in our growing rows to help control weeds and warm the early spring soil – but truth be told – our raised rows have kept both of those problems in check. But over the last few years, we have continued to read about the benefits of red plastic for tomatoes and it’s promise of a higher yielding tomato crop.

According to research at Penn State University – the red plastic film can warm the soil 4 to 6 degrees and will reflect far-red wavelengths into the plant’s canopy, triggering photosynthesis and stimulating rapid growth and development. It also is said to work the same for strawberries as well – all the while helping to suppress weeds.

So we are going to put it to the test this year! We will plant one of our Amish Paste tomato rows using the red plastic, and leave the row beside it in our traditional raised row method for a side by side comparison.  We will also trial it with some of our Roma tomatoes, and a section of new strawberry plantings.

The Potato Crates

This is actually a continuation and expansion of an experiment last year. (See: The Great Potato Crate Experiment)

Our potatoes growing early last summer in our crates
Our potatoes growing early last summer in our crates

In addition to growing our potatoes in our traditional rows last year, we trialed growing them vertically in a few crates above ground.  We planted them in a loose mixture of straw, compost and dirt – filling up the crate with more soil mix as the potatoes continued to grow.  The results amazed us – a half a bushel of potatoes came rolling out at harvest time in a single 30″ x 24″ crate.  In addition – the potatoes on average were much larger than any that we had grown in our rows.

Add to that the time it took to harvest – about 3 minutes – and it was pretty easy to see that the crate potatoes were a hit!

This year we have created some new longer and stackable crates to use for growing all of our potatoes.  In fact – building the crates will be our DIY post for this coming Thursday.

Seed Crop Raised Beds

We love the simplicity and effectiveness of our raised row beds and would never think of gardening without them. (See: Gardening Simple With Raised Rows)

But we are adding a new wrinkle to the garden beds this season.  For the first time – we will use a few simple 6″ high wooden raised beds in 2 of our growing rows for our smaller seed crops like lettuce, carrots, kale and spring onions.

We hope crops like these green onions will be easier to maintain in true raised beds
We hope crops like these green onions will be easier to maintain in true raised beds

We are building (4) 6″ high, 8′ long x 18″ wide raised wooden beds for the experiment – using inexpensive untreated pine lumber to create them for about $20.

Our raised rows work perfectly for our tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans and more – but it can be a little challenging sometimes to perform early weeding on the smaller crops. We thought a few raised beds in the garden might help make those crops even easier to grow.

Share Your Garden Experiments…

We will keep you up to date on all of the experiments throughout the year – and feel free to share any of your past or future garden trials in our comments section today. We love hearing about all kinds of garden ideas!

If you would like to receive our DIY & Gardening  Tips each week – be sure to sign up to follow the blog via email in the right hand column, “like” us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary!

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