The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Garden experiments: Winter protection, urine fertilizer, sweet potato propagation

Time for another round of small experiments in progress!

  • Young fig leavesTender perennial winter protection --- This fall, I tried two different methods of protecting perennials that are marginally winter hardy in our region.  For our rosemary, I simply put four cinderblocks around each plant and filled in the center with autumn leaves.  All three of my rosemaries died, partly because Lucy got obsessed with digging the biggest one up, but primarily (I'm guessing) because my winter protection was too slap-dash.  On the other hand, the plastic netting that I wrapped around my hardy fig and filled with leaves did the job quite well.  The only thing I'd change there is to wait to remove the leaves until mid-April --- I took the protection off prematurely and the tops of the fig twigs died back.
  • Baby meyer lemonFeeding house plants with urine --- I've been watering our potted dwarf citrus trees with urine for months now --- one cup per week for the biggest plants, watered down into half a gallon of liquid, and half a cup (similarly diluted) for the smaller plants.  All I can say is --- wow, what a success!  After a couple of years of giving us six or seven lemons, our dwarf Meyer lemon is currently decked out in 37 fruits, most of which are so big there's no chance they'll be aborted, and the tree is blooming some more.  Our younger dwarf citrus plants are also growing like crazy, although none have fruited yet.  Without a control, I can't promise you that the urine I've been feeding our plants is responsible for this sudden heavy yield, but I'd definitely recommend the technique to anyone.
  • Sprouted sweet potatoSweet potato propagation --- A week ago, I told you that the sweet potatoes we're propagating in damp gravel on top of a heat mat had started to sprout.  Now there are sprouts shooting up all over, one of which is nearly big enough to clip and root!  I took the clear lid off the flat so that the shoots can get a bit taller, and expect to be ready to put sweet potatoes in the ground far sooner than ever before.  This method is definitely a winner and will be our sweet potato slip production method from here on out.

Our chicken waterer is an experiment that passed the test with flying colors.  Now we can leave our chickens alone for a long weekend without worrying about them fouling or spilling the water.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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There's two things that I wonder about;

  • smell
  • salt build-up in the soil

I guess diluting the urine should help with the smell, but in the relatively limited volume of soil available to a houseplant, I wonder if you'd get salt buildup?

Comment by Roland_Smith Fri Apr 29 17:32:54 2011

In my experience, smell is only a problem if you let the urine sit around for a few days before you use it. If you use it right away, you don't smell anything.

Salts are potentially more troublesome. I'm not concerned for my trees since I put them outside in the summer, so our regular torrential rains flush the soil clean at intervals. Salt buildup could definitely be a problem with a house plant that never goes out, though.

Comment by anna Fri Apr 29 17:54:42 2011
Do you think this method would work with other types of potatoes? I am thinking of getting a few bags of organic spuds from the store and using them in lieu of the expensive seed potatoes. I hear there is a risk of disease with store bought, but I will grow them in a "tower" so maybe that will minimize the risk. Thoughts?
Comment by Whit Tue May 3 19:07:58 2011
White potatoes are vastly easier to propagate than sweet potatoes. All you need to do is cut your potatoes up into chunks, each of which contains at least one eye, and plant them directly in the ground. The only problem would be if your potatoes are too new and aren't willing to sprout, but that shouldn't be a problem at this time of year. If you're concerned about viability, just put the potatoes in a semi-bright spot (like on a windowsill) for a couple of weeks to make sure sprouts will form.
Comment by anna Tue May 3 19:23:02 2011

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