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Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Need For Speed

One of the conundrums new gardeners face each year is when to plant each type of seed.  The seed packs always say 4-6 weeks before/after last frost date or something similar, but that's not all that helpful most of the time.  They also sometimes say what temperature the soil should be for germination, which is nice for outdoor planting, but doesn't really matter for things you start inside.  More important is the question of how fast the seeds will sprout and grow before you run out of room for them and are forced to put them outside?  And how slow will they grow?  Will you run out of summer before they are big enough to go outside?

So here's a quick list of the crops I've grown and their growing speed to give you an idea what should be planted super early, what can wait a bit and what will outgrow your indoor space before the weather warms.

Fastest to slowest:
-lettuce
-spinach
-squashes (summer and winter)
-radish
-brassicas
-melons
-peas
-beans
-tomatoes
-Swiss chard
-peppers
-carrots
-basil
-onion family (from seed, not set)
-herbs
-eggplant
-celery

I haven't grown corn yet, so have no idea how quickly it grows, but this should give an idea that you would not want to start celery and lettuce together in early Spring for a harvest at the same time.  In fact, celery is the slowest growing vegetable I've planted, which is why I usually buy it as a start.  I could plant celery in January and it still might be too small to go outside in April.  At the same time it would be pointless to plant zucchini seeds (summer squash) inside in February when it will outgrow your space by April and (here, in Oregon) can't be planted outside until the rains slow down in May.  I've lost many cucurbits to powdery mildew and no longer take any chances, plus since they grow so quickly I have plenty of time for a good harvest even after waiting out the rains.

Tomatoes are much faster growers than peppers or eggplants, if you plan to transplant all three together once the weather is warm enough you'll have to plant your eggplants, wait a week, plant the peppers, wait two more weeks and then start the tomatoes.  Otherwise your tomatoes will be far too large to keep under grow lights before the rest have a chance to catch up, especially if you have failed germination and have to replant something.

Point in case:  One row of my garden bed right now has lettuces and swiss chard that were planted inside the same day, cared for the same, and transplanted the same day as well; it also has peas that were planted outside the day the others were transplanted.  Today this row has lettuce that's nearly ready to harvest, peas that are about 6" tall, and Swiss chard that is still little more than a sprout with it's first true leaves.  I transplanted all of this on March 26th, then started some tomatoes on April 10th.  The tomatoes are already putting on their second set of true leaves, and are far ahead of the chard despite being planted 2 weeks after the chard went outside.

I hope this post is helpful in determining planting dates, and good luck with the gardens everyone!




Monday, April 23, 2012

Quick Pics and an Update

Just to keep things updated:  I cleaned out the back shed yesterday, forcing my poor mistreated husband to do the dirty work of smashing all the wasp nests in it.  Everything in there is now neat and tidy, we have tons of free space there now and as a bonus there is no longer a giant plastic Frankenstein staring at me every time I look for a shovel.  Frankie is going to Goodwill to grace the porch of some other kindly soul on Halloween night. 

The trailer is filled with things to go to the dump, and we didn't even get the other shed done!  I still have work to do in the back yard to prep it for all of my overflow plants and the squashes, but it's in much better shape now and won't be too much work.

The seedlings are all out enjoying a lovely sunny day.  Everything is in great shape; but I am desperately awaiting the sprouting of the eggplants and peppers which seem to be taking forever.  Until i know if they will sprout I don't want to plant more.  The eggplant seed pack says it'll take 16 days for germination!  In gardening, that's like saying an eternity.

Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden supply sent me a catalog the other day with an enclosed free pack of Beefsteak Tomato seeds, so I suppose I will add them to my list of varieties to plant, and a friend gave me a few seeds of Chadwick (?) Cherry tomatoes as well.  I think that brings my tomato variety list up to around 12.  Hopefully I can find room for all of them, I generally only plant one of each variety but the Brandywine and Cuore di Bue which I plant two of.  This year both beds will be planted in hot season crops though so i might be able to fit extras of each, as well as the peppers and cucumbers.

I can't wait to have a larger garden, the lack of space is really beginning to get to me. 

For posterity's sake here are a few quick pictures of how the garden is coming along:

Sasha enjoying the garden.

Sasha is a firm believer that the garden is a tiny jungle grown just for her.


Pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, and tomato seedlings in the sunshine.

more tomato seedlings, the ones in the clamshell haven't sprouted yet.

Winter squash seedlings are getting big... may be time to repot.

Bed #2 all planted and covered

Whiskey barrel #2 bizarre scattering of volunteer sunflowers, carrots my son threw in, cilantro in need of planting and two old onions I had no room for.

Whiskey barrel #1: kale and a few spare lettuces (they are sad because they went through the snow)
Backyard full of Goodwill holiday decor. Wanna play Where's Frankie?

The lovely, (almost) blackberry-free soil behind all the Goodwill boxes.


And that about wraps it up for today!  It's supposed to be hot, hot, hot today reaching a near record high of 81 degrees so I think I'll kick back and relax and just do the dump trip to conserve energy.  Have a lovely day all! :)


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Takin' Out the Trash

My second 4x8 bed is finally planted, I just hope it's not too late.  Things are starting to come together and soon I won't have a to-do list nagging at me every time I sit down to relax.  The second bed is a bit sloppier than the first; somehow I ended up with almost a dozen cauliflower in it and only 2 broccoli, plus a couple unlabeled brassicas.  The seedling tray these plants were in took the most damage when the greenhouse fell over, and I'm guessing that was when the labels got lost.  I think they're cabbages... but most brassicas look very similar at that stage. 

The strawberry bed is growing in beautifully, I can't wait for the berries!  I still have to finish edging the lawn but my back just starts to whine as soon as I think about it. 

Also, I have the best husband ever; he brought his mom's trailer home yesterday so we can start cleaning all the junk out of the back yard and sheds and take it to the dump.  Good thing too, I'm worried I won't have enough room to keep the squashes happy until that area is ready for planting.

The weather is beautiful this weekend, nearing 80 degrees, but after living in Oregon most of my life I have come to expect sneaky cold wet weather late into the Spring.  As a rule, if Mother Nature is going to be difficult it will happen by Memorial day weekend.  This is why I don't plant my hot weather stuff outside until the first of June, last minute cold spells and miserably wet conditions are brutal on the tomatoes, peppers, and squashes; and can lead to some nasty fungal diseases, my least favorite of which is powdery mildew.

I'm thinking if my cold weather plants take too long I can set all the hot stuff on the patio most days and just move them into the greenhouse or house if it gets too chilly for them.  Hopefully we'll have a beautiful next two months though and the brassicas will be done before the tomatoes go in.  Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Garden Update: Pictures!

 Garden bed 1 has grown in enough that it was safe to remove the kitty covers; 24 hours later, no plants have been torn up and no presents left behind.  Yay! (plenty of digging happening in the whiskey barrels though. Grr!)

 View of the same bed from the front side. 

Close up of cabbage, tiny carrot sprouts and lettuces.  For once I've actually been impressed with the carrot germination, usually they don't turn out this well.

Above: peas popping up through the dirt.  It seemed like I was running late on everything this year until I checked last year's notes and found that my first peas last year popped up the second week of April too.  One more reason to keep good notes on your garden!

A muffin box from the bakery worked out great for starting seeds.  The clamshell top was used as a cover until the sprouts popped up and then cut off and placed underneath as a tray.  The plants in this are 4 Delicata squash, 2 Butternut Squash, and 2 Buttercup squash.  I hate squash, but my mom really likes them, especially Delicata, so I will be growing them in the blackberry patch  to supply her with all she could ever want.  (My mom is diabetic and lives in a tiny apartment on a very limited budget, I love being able to help her out by growing tons of extra veggies that she can eat throughout the year.)

Artichokes, basil, dill, and cilantro patiently waiting for me to find places to plant them.  I was warned that artichokes tended to be poor germinators, so overplanted in case they didn't do well... but they ALL sprouted and now I'm not sure what to do with them.  Maybe the extras can go out back with the squashes?

Brassicas, onions, and a couple very healthy lettuces for bed number 2.  Now that the kitty covers are no longer needed elsewhere I should be able to get these planted this weekend.  (Unless it's pouring rain!)

Very first tomato starts (Beaverlodge Plum).  They are looking super healthy and I am just hoping they stay that way.  I have had to start most of my own hot weather seeds after all, since my brother is in California and isn't sure he'll be home in time.  These are the first hot weather seeds that have sprouted so far.  Right now a heating pad is under the flat of seeds in hopes that they'll sprout well with the extra heat.  That room tends to wobble between 63 and 75 degrees, so the heating pad is really just for insurance, especially for the eggplants which love the heat.  I kind of wish I had gotten a seedling heat mat, but I think my husband is cranky enough about the money I spent on the grow lights already :).

Hopefully my weekend will be busy and sunny and lots of work!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Let's Talk Tomatoes!

Tomatoes are probably the most popular garden plants, they are the first vegetables most gardeners grow and as they become more experienced they are likely to plant more rather than fewer tomatoes.  There are so many varieties of tomatoes available, in different shapes, sizes, and colors that selecting for a small space or limited budget can be a real challenge.



Tomatoes can be sorted into cherry/slicer/sauce or determinate/indeterminate or ultra early/extra early/early/midseason/late or tomato leafed/potato leafed... like I said, it can be challenging to pick just a few.

From my own experience, and based on your personal needs, I suggest planting at least three tomatoes each year.  If your family likes cherry tomatoes plant a few of them; if they like slicers and cherries, mix it up accordingly; if you plan to do some canning, freezing, or drying do saucing tomatoes as well.

The primary difference between these types is size and dryness.  Cherry tomatoes (or grape, currant, etc.) are generally one to two-bite sized.  Depending on the variety they can be super sweet flavored to tart.  They can be highly wet and juicy like a mandarin orange or thicker skinned and drier (more like a tiny roma).  Generally cherry tomatoes run in the sweet and juicy category, more than the dry and tart.  They come in every possible color; white, yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, brown, green, even striped. 

Slicing tomatoes are what people think of for thick slices of ripe tomato on their burgers.  They are usually much larger than cherries.  Slicers tend toward rich tomato flavor, lots of juice and large seed pockets.  They are delicious for fresh eating but don't make the best sauce since their flavor is not as strong as a saucing tomato and they have less actual flesh; all slicers would make a very watery, seedy sauce.

Saucing tomatoes are meaty, they contain fewer seeds in smaller seed pockets than slicers.  They have much more actual "flesh" to them.  Saucers also tend to be more tart than slicers or most cherries, this tartness is due to a higher acid content (which is necessary for safe canning).  They also make excellent sun-dried tomatoes because of their lower moisture content.

Personally, I never seem to plant enough saucing tomatoes to make full batches of sauce so often add a few slicers or excess cherries to fill it out.  This year I'm hoping to solve that problem.

Determinate tomatoes tend to be shorter in season, they keep a compact size and are preferred for container gardening.  Determinates will grow to a certain size, put on almost their entire crop at once and then stop producing.  These are a great option for canning if you have enough of them because all of the tomatoes are ready at once.  They also are handy because of their shorter season, and are likely to be the first tomatoes of the summer.

Indeterminate tomatoes will grow throughout the summer, and produce fruits one after another, after another up until the weather cools.  They can get up to 10' or even 12' tall, and can produce 15 lbs of fruit or more before cold weather sets in.  Indeterminates tend to outproduce determinates, but the fruits come on a few at a time over the summer.

Remember the difference: Determinates are determined to fruit at once; indeterminates will grow to an indeterminate height.

Choosing based on season can be very confusing.  Here in the Willamette Valley we can easily get 100-120 days of pure sunshine over the summer.  It rains 9 months of the year here, but for the 3 months of summer and even into the Fall a bit we have completely dry sunny days.  Effectively this means by starting seeds inside we can plant even the latest season tomatoes here.  People living in areas with higher altitudes, or higher latitudes may find they can only get fruit from the ultra early, extra early, early, and maybe midseason varieties.  Also those in warmer climates than mine may find that planting in summer gives them bushy plants but little fruit; this is because tomatoes will often stop producing flowers when temperatures are above 80 degrees.  If this causes you trouble try starting plants inside and then moving them into the garden earlier in the year when nighttime temperatures no longer drop below 40.

If you plan to plant a lot of tomatoes try mixing it up and including both early and late season plants.  This should keep you in tomatoes from mid-June until October.  If you are more limited in space give midseason varieties a try, they can be a good way to test whether you should swap to an earlier producer, or if a later one would work in your garden.  In my opinion, the very best tomatoes I grow are late season and I recommend trying to get at least one of them into your garden.

Some other things to consider with tomatoes:
- potato leafed varieties can be great but tend to be more susceptible to late blight and fungal diseases,
- watch for resistant varieties where possible,
- some of the best flavored tomatoes are heirlooms and I highly recommend them,
- crack resistance can be important in containers (where plants are more likely to dry out between watering) and in late season plants (chilling and warming in early fall can cause cracking),
- if the varieties you select don't seem to do well in your garden there are plenty more to choose from!



Here's a quick list of some varieties I've had experience with in my own garden.

Stupice: ultra-early.  I wasn't impressed by these, the tomatoes were fairly small and my harvest was not particularly good but they had a great slicing tomato flavor.  I have heard other people rave about them, but I prefer my slicers to be larger.

Oregon Spring:  extra early, determinate, slicer.  Loved these!  Stumpy 2'-3' plants put on nearly 10 full sized slicer fruit that were delicious, also the earliest of the varieties I planted last year.  Plants were healthy and compact and would likely do very well in containers.

Beaverlodge Plum:  ultra early, determinate, sauce/slice.  These produced great fruit, that were a bit on the juicy side for saucing but very tasty.  Fruit came about the same time as the Oregon Spring ones.  Got a bit tall and probably wouldn't do as well in containers as more compact varieties would.

Oregon Cherry:  cherry, determinate.  These did not produce particularly well even when all the other tomatoes did.  Also, the fruit are not the juicy sweet globes you expect from a cherry tomato, they are more like a tiny roma.  Tart, and more dry.  I was disappointed in this variety.

Sweet Million:  early, indeterminate, cherry.  My favorite so far of the cherry varieties (I've only tried a few though).  Little red spheres are one to two-bite sized, and pop open on the tongue nicely with thin skins, tons of juicy goodness, and a sweet flavor.  The epitome of a cherry tomato.

Chocolate Cherry:  indeterminate, cherry.  Everyone loved these! These little globes are a purplish brown in color, and plants produce well.  Sweet, juicy, thin skinned.  My mom compared their flavor to that of a plum. Yum!

Cuore di Bue (oxheart):  indeterminate, mid- to late season, sauce/slicer.  This is one of my favorites.  Plants have been consistently healthy (planted them for 3 years now).  Fruits are very large, meaty, and flavorful.  They have a great rich flavor to them.  Dry enough for saucing, but moist enough to use as a slicer as well.  I absolutely recommend giving them a try.

Black Plum:  heirloom, indeterminate, mid-season.  I was very impressed with the health and productivity of this variety.  The fruit were plentiful and tasty, with more sweetness to them than the Beaverlodge Plums.  They are a little too juicy for good saucing, but are excellent slicers.  The downside is that most of the fruit were fairly small; which makes using them for sauces a pain as well.

Brandywine (Pink):  heirloom, indeterminate, late season.  Everyone raves about Brandywine, and for good reason.  This potato leaf variety is not a big producer, but what it does produce is often huge! Last year I picked a Brandywine that was as large as a small pumpkin, and weighed in at about 3.5 lbs.  Fruits are large, juicy, sweet, meaty, and rich.  They have the best old fashioned tomato flavor.  However, as late producers a cool summer means fruits may never ripen (they are great as fried green tomatoes too), they are not prolific producers, they are fairly susceptible to fungal diseases, and may not fruit at all if planted to late or too early.  Yes they are finicky, and yes they are worth it.

Silvery Fir Tree: determinate, extra early, slicer.  I tried these last year, the plants were pretty and fairly healthy, and they produced well.  Tomato flavor was average, not great, not bad either.

Legend:  unknown, slicer.  My sister and brother grew these and said they did well and were tasty, but mine grew a healthy plant that only produced about 3 tomatoes.  Though the flavor was good, and the size was decent, I wasn't impressed enough to grow them again.

This year I will be trying a few new varieties as well as my old favorites.  Pineapple caught my eye and I'm hoping it turns out to be as great as it looks; with great big yellow fruit with pink striping inside.  San Marzano Gigante 3 is a large saucer; I'm still looking for the perfect saucing tomato and this year I'll give San Marzano a shot, the larger fruit will hopefully make all the skinning and chopping go faster.  Zebra Cherry is a new cherry tomato I'm trying this year with gorgeous striping; if it's productive and has a good flavor I may recommend it next year.  Indigo Rose: this one just struck me as super cool and I'm willing to give it a chance; a main season slicer that is indigo in color.  I'm curious about the flavor of this one and would be very excited if it turned out to have a sweet, almost blueberry-like flavor (not likely, but I can dream).



What are some of your favorite varieties of tomato to grow and why?  What are your least favorite?  (I'm always on the lookout for help narrowing my options.



Things Are Moving Along

Just a quick update.  The peas are popping up like daisies... or peas.  Everything else is growing, but slowly. 

I managed to convince my yard work resistant husband to help me with tearing out more blackberries, and we got most of them chopped down.  We won't be able to get rid of the cuttings until the first weekend of May when the yard debris dumpster is brought in though.  So for now we have a pile of blackberries in the way, keeping us from digging up the roots. 



Admittedly it doesn't look much better than it did two months ago... but they grew back quite a bit in that time!  I'm also slowly (very slowly) laying down a thick layer of newspaper along the back of the house and covering that with buckets full of lava rock that I have been removing from the front yard.  Hopefully this will make a weed proof barrier that can act as a path behind the house, and protect the siding from encroaching blackberries.  i picked up a towing ball for my car so my husband can borrow his mom's trailer this weekend and we can make a dump trip or two.  My hope is that we can remove all the junk from the blackberry area and get both sheds cleaned out as well.  They still have tons of stuff the previous tenants left behind.

Eventually the back yard will house winter squashes, which i just can't seem to fit in the garden proper, and maybe some nasturtiums and sunflowers that I also ran out of space for.  The soil back there is in great shape and should work out well with just a bit of sand and compost mixed in. 

Lastly, the patio is completely scrubbed, the patio furniture moved into place, my solar lights were repaired or replaced, and most of the gardening junk has been moved.  It's finally starting to look like a nice place to spend our time in the summer.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Preservation Step 1: Finding Space

We just received our new chest freezer, replacing the 1960s era ice cream freezer that leaked and was so noisy we kept it on the patio.  I am thrilled to have 8.8 cubic feet of freezer storage now.  It is nearly silent, EnergyStar rated (will only cost about $28/year to run), and I no longer have to run out in the rain to get a pot roast using a rubber mallet to chip it out of the icicles. 
So shiny!
This made me think back to the first year I had the garden and the challenges associated with the harvest.  So this post is a brief discussion about finding space. 

Ideally, a garden should be able to produce a year's worth of each fruit or vegetable.  Excepting of course those that just don't preserve well and are best eaten fresh.  Ideally you'll also have a huge pantry to store all of this in, or a root cellar, freezer, etc.  Surprisingly a year's worth of vegetables and fruits both frozen and canned can take up a lot of space.

Best investments for your preserved harvest? A chest freezer, and a few cabinets, or a large shelving unit that will fit somewhere convenient to the kitchen, but out of the way.  Also, it helps to train your family and have designated space in the fridge for canned/frozen foods.  I can't tell you how many times my daughter has taken a freezer jam out of the freezer because she somehow is blinded by the refrigerator light and can't see the open one already there.   Generally things like salsa, relish, pickles, and jam aren't eaten in one or two sittings and having multiples open in the fridge will likely leave you throwing out quite a bit.

My ~100 sq. ft. garden actually does produce nearly a year's worth of many things, but since we live in a fairly small home I have had to squeeze my preserved foods into whatever space I can fit them.  This is less convenient than I'd like and leads to a lot of confusion about whether we are out of things or not. 

This year, with the freezer inside and adjacent to the kitchen, and a new shelving unit (for my grow room, remember?) just around the corner from it, i should be able to keep things more organized and fit much more than previously.  Including storing my winter squashes and other cured foods up on top of the shelf.  Pumpkins can be a pain in the butt when the only place you have to store them for 6 months is the floor in the laundry room.  Plus hanging drying herbs and other foods all over your kitchen is not particularly practical. 

Since my shelf unit has barred shelves instead of solid ones everything should get adequate airflow too. 

If you are planning a vegetable garden for the first time and plan to preserve your harvest make sure you have the space to do it.  This may mean a new chest freezer, which is a great option because so many things can be frozen so easily.  Freezing veggies and fruits is just a matter of cleaning them, blanching them, and stuffing them into freezer bags labeled with the food name and date.  Freezer jam is simpler to make than canned jam as well.  Also you can make up stock from meat bones and veggie scraps and freeze it in plastic containers.  Pre-make and freeze all sorts of things to save you time and money during the year:  handmade pot stickers, pizzas, burritos, quiches, pies, soups, anything you can buy in the freezer section you can make up and freeze yourself.  There is one other major advantage to having an extra freezer:  Costco!  Or, buying in bulk anywhere.  You can save a lot of money buying meats when there is a BOGO sale, or at wholesale stores like Costco.  Even better with a large enough freezer you can order a half or quarter of a cow or pig from your local butcher shop, sometimes even selecting which cuts you prefer or requesting free range or grass fed animals.  Buying half a cow often works out to about half the price per pound of meat and you know the meat is top quality since it is slaughtered, butchered, and then you are called to come pick it up.  Plus meat sold this way is generally local as well.  A large freezer is well worth the cost.

For canned and dried goods you'll want airtight containers, canning equipment, paper and plastic bags... but more importantly enough space to not only dry or cure these foods but also to hang them, or store the cans and containers.  in fact, one of the things no one really seems to mention about seed saving is just how much space it takes!  All those flower heads need a lot of room to have air flow in order to dry their seeds, and mesh screens covered in fruit seeds that are drying will likely take over your house.  Plus, you have to bag and store all of those seeds somewhere cool and dry until next Spring.

A huge pantry or a root cellar work great for these things, otherwise you'll have to get creative.  A cool basement can be great for storing roots and cured veggies like winter squash, it'll even work fine for storing things in glass or plastic (dried herbs in glass jars, or canned foods), but a basement is often too moist for actually doing the drying and curing.  Setting a metal box full of straw along the coolest side of your house can work well for a root cellar.  Just dig it into the dirt as much as possible, tuck hay bales around the box to insulate it, fill with layers of hay and root crops so that the roots aren't touching each other.  If you live in an area that freezes solid during the winter you should dig the box completely into the soil and top the lid with more hay bales.  

When in doubt find way to carve space out wherever you can.  Stash cured squash under your bed, tuck a box of cans and jars in your closet, into empty nooks in your cabinets, on bookshelves, on top of the fridge, etc.  Hang onion and garlic braids, and chili ristras from the ceiling.  If needed you may even be able to store some things at a friend's house, or if you have more than you can eat in a year just give away the extras you can't find room for.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Tulips, pansies and a cedar tree.
The first color of Spring came in these gorgeous tulips that were nearly as pretty before they bloomed due to the fabulous spotted stripes on the leaves.  The little potted cedar was a find from the front yard that I am planning to bonsai.  It needs a shallower pot though.

Volunteer sunflower.

Kale planted in January.

The "winter cabbage" that is not.
The kale in the whiskey barrel are bigger than the ones started inside now.  I have been tempted more then once to go pick all the leaves off them because I'm craving fresh veggies.  Also the winter cabbage that I rescued before turning over the big bed appears to actually be a broccoli, and is bolting now.  I guess growing for 9 months without getting anywhere made it decide to just cut its losses and start making seed.

Seedlings getting some sunshine.

Between-the-beds space all finished.
I've had my seedlings out most of the day every day this week, they are soaking up the sun and growing incredibly fast.  The space between my two large beds is all done now; weeded, un-lava rocked, planted with perennial herbs, and barked.  When the herbs grow in a bit it should look great!

Garden bed this week.
It's hard to tell but this bed has actually had some growth happening.  The cat screens make it harder to see.  The peas in the back row are just popping up, in another week or so I should be able to remove the screens and really see the difference.


Last of the pictures: I was this close to having all of the bark in the garden done... ran out about 4 square feet short.  /facepalm  Which means yet another trip to Home Depot this week.

Git'Er Done!

The garden is still sitting in that disheveled in-between phase.  Most of the winter detritus is cleaned up, the algae and moss has been scrubbed off the patio, pots have plants in them, bark mulch is laid down (almost everywhere).  Things are kind of on hold though since I only built two 4x4 cat protection screens.  I'm not willing to go to that much hassle to build more just to get the other bed planted sooner.  With the few days of sunshine this week the plants that were already put in are finally starting to grow noticeably, if I hold out until they are a bit bigger and the peas are all a couple inches tall there won't be room for the cats to tear things up.  They really only like the garden beds when they are freshly turned and there are no plants in the way.  Then I can move those screens to the other bed; until i can do that it's kind of pointless to start digging in it.

I keep coming across little brown caterpillars out there, I'm not sure what they are, but I know they eat leaves, so I've been gently picking them out and sending them on a high-flying journey into the empty lot. Pretty sure they never thought they'd fly before turning into butterflies/moths.  There are also a ton of weird light brown/dirty white grubs roaming the garden, I have no idea what they are either.  Grub identification is not an easy thing; but they seem to be fairly harmless (so far) and hopefully the nematode population I introduced will keep them in check.  I saw a spotted cucumber beetle out in the lawn by the park office yesterday; THAT I squished!  Haven't seen them in the garden yet, thank goodness, but i have a feeling they'll show up as soon as the curcubits go into the ground. 

The bird feeders and the fountain are all cleaned up from their winter gunk, and filled and ready to attract birds into the garden.  In my yard I've seen everything from grosbeaks, woodpeckers, robins, swallows, sparrows, starlings, hummingbirds and dozens of other birds I haven't yet identified.  I have never yet seen bird damage on my food plants though (that may change since I plan to grow corn this year).  I love inviting the birds in with food and water, most also eat bugs and they sing these wonderful little trills that add an auditory beauty to the garden along with the little trickling noises of the fountain.  I could live without the jays squawking, and the noisy cooing of the mourning doves, but those too are nice in their own way.

In other news, I got some winter squashes started inside that will eventually be planted out in the back yard where the blackberries are.  I am constantly amazed to see the big wide squash leaves popping up out of the soil.  Who knew there was so much plant hidden away in those seeds?  Of all the little sprouts I think squash are the most impressive, everything else seems so delicate and tiny but squash are large and sturdy.  Yesterday I uncovered the whiskey barrel that I had thrown row cover over in February to keep the cats out of it, and discovered to my surprise a little volunteer sunflower hiding in there.  I'm guessing it was dropped by last year's sunflowers, and while I'm heartily impressed by it's fortitude, it will have to be moved elsewhere since the barrels are not adequate to meet the needs of a 12 foot tall Mammoth sunflower.

I'd love to share some pictures of things with this post but for that I'd have to wrestle my phone away from my son, so instead I'll save the pics for later.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Busy Busy

The sun was shining and a nice cool breeze was blowing... the perfect day for some heavy duty yard work.  I didn't get as far I'd hoped, but I got farther than I expected thanks to the assistance of my kids.  Turns out little boys like to dig in the dirt! Who'da thunk?

We got started edging the lawn (and ripping out the bermuda grass that had spread beyond the confines of the lawn), we didn't get it finished though, because back-breaking labor has its limits.  But things are starting to look better out there, and it's a chore I've been putting off for years.  A few tons of bark out front and things will be looking great!

We also got rid of some old furniture that was starting to cramp our style, and our house.  Then my daughter and I made a run to Home Depot to get more bark for the garden side of the house.  Everything back there is still a huge mess but with the bark in hand it won't take much to get it back into shape. 

Now it's time for a good long soak, a hearty dinner, and maybe a handful of painkillers.  It is supposed to be fairly nice the rest of the week and if my back will cooperate we'll be digging up another bed and mixing some Mel's Mix soil soon.

Spring is FINALLY here!
Happy Easter/Ostara everyone!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Garden Update: Yep, Raining Again!

Since my last post it has rained all but 3 days; and it's not expected to stop for 4 more.  Luckily the weatherman is on my good side again for predicting sunshine for the next week after that!  One good week of sun should be enough to finally get all those transplants growing, and to get the second bed turned and amended and planted with more transplants.

My brother, for those who don't know, has a very nice heated grow room and was planning to get my hot weather starts going for me.  His grow room got infested with spider mites a few weeks ago though and is currently under quarantine.  Hopefully he'll still be able to get things started and grown to transplant size before June.  My fingers are crossed that we'll have tomatoes and peppers that are happy and healthy by then.  Last year he lost a lot of them to damping off and mildew issues from lack of air circulation.  This year he has a better ventilation system.

Since I gave him all my seeds for starting but the winter squash, I figured I'd go ahead and get them rolling along today.  I planted Buttercup Squash, Waltham Butternut Squash, and Delicata Squash.  Personally I am not a fan of squash; I kind of hate it.  My mom loves Delicata though, and will eat the others as well.  The main reason for growing them is to fill in the blackberry zone in the back yard.  If I tear out enough blackberries and put in squashes that grow fast and are huge and shade out the ground; my hope is the squashes will also shade out the blackberry roots and help keep them in check.  Of course, having squashes for eating isn't a bad thing either.

Meanwhile, back in the garden... Nothing in the main bed is really growing yet, a few leaves have appeared here and there but not much growth beyond that.  Who could blame them? All this rain doesn't help and they are still recovering from the transplanting.  On the plus side, none of the transplants have died, and the cat-proof covers have done their job.  The kales in the whiskey barrel are doing great though, they have really taken off and are actually putting on some decent sized leaves (about the size of my thumb), which is a big improvement over a week ago when they only had their tiny first set of leaves.

I'm still not seeing any growth from the potatoes, or the rhubarb, but I have heard they can take a while to get going. My cherry tree is popping out green leave buds though, so I guess I didn't kill it after all. :)

In other news:  I was out of town most of last week and apparently one of the cats tried to jump on my little greenhouse.  The cat broke through the plastic cover and tipped over the entire thing, including my tray of starts that was hardening off.  My husband did his best to save everything (and he did great!), I'm hoping the trauma won't do too much harm, but a few stems are looking kinked despite the plants looking as healthy as ever.

And that's the news for today!  Hope everyone's enjoying Spring and growing some garden goodness!