Monday, March 30, 2009

What the Hail?!

Quick note.
The weatherman had mentioned the possibility of a storm, but the sky was clear. I went out to put some potting soil in some new pots, it got windy, it got cloudy, it started to rain, then rain sideways, then it started to HAIL! Marble sized hail balls pounding everything. The weatherman said he hadn't seen such a widespread hail storm in years! I had been disappointed that my peas, carrots and radishes hadn't come up. But after that storm, I was really happy that not only had they not come up, but that I had put row cover over them. Spring is such a wonderful, surprising time of year!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Paper pots

My seedlings are coming along nicely. I am starting to see the first real leave on the tomatoes, and the peppers don't look too far behind. This discovery led me to my evening entertainment the other night... paper pots. Now you can be fancy and go out and buy the compressed peat pots that you just kind of mush up and stick the whole thing in the ground, but as I've said before, peat isn't all that sustainable, and besides, who wants to spend money on something that can readily be produced from easily, cheaply attainable goods?!

Once the seedlings have their first set of true leaves, or if you want to be on the safe side when the second set start to emerge, they need to be transplanted to roomier environs. This new pot is also preferably able to be set directly into the ground when they are ready to be planted, thus disturbing the new root system as little as possible. Since it is going in the ground, it needs to readily break down to get out of the way of the growing plant. Newspaper is perfect for this. You will need:

- newspaper -preferably one you have already read = )

- masking tape

- tomato paste can- 6 oz. size.

To begin, pull out a full sheet out, tear it in half down the vertical fold of the paper. Then tear each of those pieces in half by folding along the center crease and pressing with your nail so there is a nice line to tear. Next, tear each of those halves into thirds (fold it kind of like you would a business letter for a long enevlope). Now you have you raw material.

Now take one of these strips and wrap it around the can. You want it to hold snuggly, but not so tight that you can't pull it off! Put a little piece of masking tape just above center of the overlap. Next, flip the can on its end and pull the paper sleeve until about and inch sticks over the can. Fold the overhang in, kind of like wrapping a present, and secure that with tape. Remove the new paper pot from the can. You're finished!

oh, except that you have to repeat ad naseum....

No bother, making paper pots gives me a reason to sit around and catch up on t.v. shows and movies that I have been wanting to watch. 50 down... 100 more to go!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wait for spring



in my


and the turtle

are waiting for spring.

Raised Beds

Fordi was supposed to make this entry, but work has yet again interfered with his leisure time.
Our raised beds are made from scrap wood. they are 3'x5'. We used screws that were way to long, but they were for outdoor decking and with likely outlast the beds themselves. we stapled plastic mulch to the underside to discourage any really ambitious weeds.

We just kinda winged it and used what we could find and I think they look pretty good.
• wood, 2x4s and planks preferably
• saw (we used an electric circular saw)
• screws, for outdoor use
• screw driver
• plasic mulch
• sawhorses
• staple gun
• drill/electric screw driver

Really the only thing i had in mind before i got started was I don't want to have to pay for much and Square Foot Gardens said don't make your boxes so wide you can't reach one side from the other so for me that is 4ft.

so we looked at what we had and with one cut we could get 1 3ft and 1 5ft plank. that became our out side dimension.

2 planks high was 8" so we made our corner pieces 10" tall with a 2" diagonal cut so that the boxes wouldn't slide. this was just an idea i had, we'll see if it works in practice.
there are not a lot of picture right now, but we need to build a few more so I'll document that a bit more carefully.

we should be getting dirt soon, but that is up to the landlord.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

homegrown tomatoes

A song that every gardener needs to know. Originally by Guy Clark, but I believe most people know John Denver's version...

Ain't nothin' in the world that I like better
Than bacon & lettuce & homegrown tomatoes
Up in the mornin' out in the garden
Get you a ripe one don't get a hard one
Plant `em in the spring eat `em in the summer
All winter with out `em's a culinary bummer
I forget all about the sweatin' & diggin'
Everytime I go out & pick me a big one

Homegrown tomatoes homegrown tomatoes
What'd life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can't buy
That's true love & homegrown tomatoes

You can go out to eat & that's for sure
But it's nothin' a homegrown tomato won't cure
Put `em in a salad, put `em in a stew
You can make your very own tomato juice
Eat `em with eggs, eat `em with gravy
Eat `em with beans, pinto or navy
Put `em on the side put `em in the middle
Put a homegrown tomato on a hotcake griddle

If I's to change this life I lead
I'd be Johnny Tomato Seed
`Cause I know what this country needs
Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see
When I die don't bury me
In a box in a cemetary
Out in the garden would be much better
I could be pushin' up homegrown tomatoes

I think the most important line of the entire song is "I forget all about the sweatin' and the diggin', every time I go out and pick me a big one" Tomatoes, peppers, snap peas and green beans all taste best directly off the plant and into your mouth!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In the dirt

Seeds have been planted! it was a busy week with my parents and grandparents visiting, and laundry room renovations in full swing, but I finally finished building my greenhouse and seeds have been put in dirt!
My greenhouse is essentially a plywood cabinet with doors. It is painted inside- to help keep extra moisture out of the wood- with a fluorescent fixture hanging on adjustable chains. I only have one of the lights in now, eventually I will add a light below the shelf so I can put plants on both levels. I have crowded 3 starting flats plus several take out food container trays filled with starter mix and seeds onto the one shelf until I get around to wiring up the other fixture, or I run out of space for all the baby plants.
Garden soil is less than ideal for seeds to sprout in. The weight of it often stunts the growth of strong root systems, therefore, a lightweight starter mix is generally employed. My starter mix is a combination of Coir and vermiculite. Coir- made from coconut husks and used to fluff the dirt and make it better able to hold moisture- is starting to replace peat moss as a soil additive due to its rapid renewability. It comes in compressed bricks that expand and loosen considerably when soaked in water overnight. Vermiculite is a mineral that kind of looks like coarse sand. It also makes the soil looser and helps it to retain moisture. I also added some slow release, baby plant food. I mixed that all up in a bucket with a little water.
Once all the necessities were quelled, my mom and I spread out on what was left of the kitchen floor (remember those laundry room renovations? it meant that the washer and dryer were displaced to the closest available floor space to the laundry room- the kitchen). We sorted out the seed packets and grouped things that like similar growing conditions and figured out how many types of plants could go in each flat. Each starting flat has 3 components, the cell tray has 72 cells about 1.5" x 1.5", the cell tray sits in a bigger tray that keeps a water reserve available for the soil and the top is a clear plastic dome that lets light in and keeps moisture from escaping. It was decided that the tomatoes and peppers could share a flat, and also the heat mat. In the tray next to the heat mat are rosemary, basil and lavender, all things that don't like to be hot, but want it to at least be warm. At the opposite end are the greens and lettuces, parsley, nasturtiums, verbenas and bok choy. These are all cool season plants that I could probably plant directly outside now or very soon. They tend to have a better survival rate though if they get a head start inside. I was being conservative about how many seeds I put in the dirt. My mom said, "oh just put them in" it is better to have to put a few in the compost bin than to end up with too few plants. I put in even more than I thought I should because since my parents will be able to make it back for a visit in June, I will be able to have my roof deck this summer! I have already asked my father in law who is a manager at a supermarket to start collecting 5-gallon buckets for me so I don't have to buy pots. My dad and I were discussing the means of access and construction of the deck, and my mom and I were discussing how to get water etc. up to the plants. This ought to be fun! Despite all my newly acquired garden space, I still doubt that I will need 36 tomato plants and 18 peppers. I will pass the spares out to friends for their gardens or patios.
After dirt was put in all the little cells, we watered it. Next went in the seed, then dirt to cover to the depth prescribed on the packet, anywhere from a dusting to 1/2". On went the lids and they were slid into the greenhouse. We set a timer so the plants get about 11 hours of 'sun' a day. The heat mat under the tomatoes and peppers will stay on all the time. So now the waiting begins. The shortest amount of time that any seeds should take to sprout is 5 days. I planted on Sunday night, so by Friday night I may see some little plants poking through! I should also get outside this weekend and put in some peas. They like to get a head start outside when it is still too chilly for most other plants. Around St. Paddy's day is good for our part of the country. I also have the cold frame warming the dirt so I can put the lettuce starts in. I have to double check when the carrots and radishes go in, but I think it is soon.
I got a gardener's catalogue in the mail today, all the fun toys! The big thing lately seems to be 'self-watering' pots. Most of them essentially have a disc that covers a reservoir in the base of the pot with some kind of wick that allows water to slowly soak up into the dirt at the roots of the plant. They seem like a good idea, but they can be pricey. Since I am going to be gardening in the harsh conditions of the roof, I think I will study the various watering methods carefully and see if I can invent my own version of a few of them. These tools I will use to try different methods of assuring that my plants have the proper amount of water at all times. I feel like I am at my high school science fair, testing out different products and methods and trying to determine which works the best and why. All part of the experimentation that comes with being a gardener!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Garden fever

So last Monday it was 25 and we had 8"+ of snow, and by Saturday it was 65 and sunny. Go figure. I have many household repair projects that need finished, we are renovating our laundry room among other things, and the inspectors (my mom and dad who are helping us renovate) are coming to visit next week. But in working in the laundry room, slaving away at scraping 2 million layers of paint off of the door, I could see outside and how nice it was. So I decided that paint striping and spackling could wait until after dark and I headed outside. Ahhh.... paradise. I dug my shovel into the earth and discovered that all my enrichment is finally paying off. I could get it in with little effort and when I turned it over, I only got a few lumps of ugly grey dirt, the rest was nice dark, almost fluffy black stuff! I rearranged the brick edging so that I now I have a narrow front bed, and what will eventually become a deep, raised bed in the back. I have found in years past that all the flowers end up buried underneath the bushier tomatoes, so I devised this layout as a way to hopefully combat that. Also, when it comes to feeding, different plants like different things and I figure that with that brick separation I can help direct the nutrients where they belong.
Spring is the time for pruning most plants, and I figured, what better time than now! I uncovered the miniature rose that I planted for Paul last summer and was happy to see that its tomato cage full of leaves kept it from freezing too badly over the winter, and that it was fairly healthy and green. I trimmed it back so that only a few short stems with leaves remained. I think it needs fed since the leaves have a tinge of red around them, but I need to wait a few weeks so that the food doesn't encourage tender growth that can be bit if frost strikes again.
I also cut back my butterfly bush. This always pains me because I fear I am going to kill it. My mom assures me that hacking it back to 1/2 or less of its original size will actually help it grow, but it always is daunting to cut back something that you nurtured so diligently the summer before. It never really died of this winter though, so at least I know that there are several good branches of green leaves left.
Butterfly bushes tend to get leggy and tall, leaving all kinds of space near the ground to look bare. I decided that this would be the perfect place to group my irises. I have two types. Great big bearded irises that come from rhizomes and smaller Dutch irises from bulbs. I have had the bearded irises for all three summers that I have had the garden, and last summer was the first year they had really produced. I hope to get as good of a showing this year! The Dutch irises I got at a garden shop early in the winter. I bought them late because they were on sale. But buying them late meant that it was too frozen to put them in the ground to get the several months of cold weather they need to bloom correctly. I hope I fooled them.... they have been in the back of the refrigerator for 3.5 months! I also noticed that the single hyacinths came up again. They have also been in the corner of the garden for 3 years. I am not actually sure how I have managed to not kill them! They are already up and healthy looking, but since they are early spring bulbs, they die off early and seemingly disappear, leaving them susceptible to my over-eager spading of the dirt to put something in a seemingly bare corner. They are in front of the rose bush, interspersed with the other half of the Dutch irises. On the other side of the garden are the calla lilies. These tend to get out of hand greenery wise, but they do produce pretty flowers, especially since I have large and small whites and small reds, that keep nicely in vases in the house. I kind of hemmed them in between the end of the bed and a tiki torch. Any of the bulbs that stretch past there will have to be given to friends, potted as house plants or unfortunately relegated to the compost heap. I like them, but they can only have so much garden space!
I also pulled the finished product from the bottom of the compost bin. I forgot to feed and water it a few times over the winter though, and the end result isn't quite as rich as I would like it to be, but it still looks like a better thing for the garden than the original dirt. While I was digging it out, I have a bin that kind of looks like a trash can, with a flapper lid at the top and a slide cover at the bottom so the finish product can be scraped out (I will put up a picture on a later post on composting) I found what gardeners like to call 'volunteer plants'. These are things that you thought were dead, threw in the pile, then found a month or so later growing like weeds and healthier than any of your other plants. They can be seeds that blew into, or a squirrel or bird deposited on one of their visits, that sprouted and became a mystery plant, that then goes on to produce vegetables or flower. Or, in the case of potatoes, garlic and onions, scrap pieces of vegetables that you threw in the pile that sprouted roots and a few weeks later you find finished produce in the middle of the compost pile. This was almost what I found. I had thrown several cloves of garlic that had sprouted beyond use into the compost bin, and Saturday, I found garlic plants! So I pulled them out and stuck them in around the rose bush. I've been wanting to try to grow garlic and they should make a nice surround of green to set off the rose. I think I have even heard that roses and garlic should be planted near one another because the smell of the garlic wards off bugs that may want to eat the rose bush. I guess we'll find out!
I can hardly wait! Thursday or Friday night I will get to sit down and put seeds into dirt to start to grow and produce. I can almost taste that first tomato... still warm from the sun, not even bothering to wash it off (hey, I garden organically and I do rub it on the cleanest part of my shirt to get any mud splash off) and biting into it. Standing there in the sun, enjoying the warmth and smell of damp earth..... July can't come soon enough! But in the mean time, my cold frame is laying over part of my garden, warming it up for a pre-tomato crop of lettuce and perhaps radishes or carrots. I should be able to get that in next weekend as well.
My fingernails are shot for the next 6 months, but for the fresh picked produce, I'll survive.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Seedling update

I have also finished ordering my seeds. Thankfully I didn't have to many to order this year. I ordered form Baker Creek and Seed Savers. I'll get into the details of that as they develop.

So, again while it was snowing, I transferred the pepper sprouts into cups. They are ready to be moved when they get their first set of real leaves.

Now a lot more sprouts made it to this point then I thought would, so I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was, put with the help of Fordi's yogurt and tea habit I had enough vessels to give all the sprouts some room.

  • vessels to act as pots for the plants. In my case, last year's pots and lots of yogurt cups with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage
  • trays to catch the water that drains out of the pots. Meat trays, clam shell packaging, lids, etc.
  • light potting soil
  • water
  • sharpy marker
  • tub to dampen soil in
Put potting soil in tub and water it lightly, you don't want mud, you'd like moist soil. fill your cups with soil and tap it down lightly. make an indent in the dirt. I use my finger but there is actually a tool just for this. its called a Dibber (google it) ^_^
Now for the delicate part, gently tease the sprout from its soil, you want as much root as you can get. If the seed starting medium is light and a little dry this isn't so difficult, but still. Place the sprout into the indent and gently press the soil to close the hole. Or you can just move the sprout and its soil into the new pot, just make a bigger indent. Now do it 800 more times.
don't be alarmed, but if they don't perk up in a few hours they may be a lost cause.
The sharpy is to write what variety of pepper is in each vessel so you don't have a mystery plant...

Monday, March 2, 2009

seeds, part deux

The seeds have been ordered! I said I wasn't going to change my mind about anything, but of course I did. It wasn't because I was indecisive though, I was originally going to order from two places, but then I realized that since I was only getting a few things from Seeds of Change I would be paying almost as much for shipping as I was for seeds. So I chose the same or similar things from the Territorial Seeds so I only had to pay shipping once.
Territorial Seeds had a different color mix of Nasturtiums, a different greens mix (this one with wild onion, Broadleaf Batavian endive, Treviso radicchio, Dandelion, Garden Cress, and Roquette) and Mammouth sweet basil (instead of lettuce leaf basil). They had the silver fir tomatoes and the Italian parsley. I did change my mind about the peas. Since we are planning to fix the fence I was fearful about ordering climbing peas. So I switched to Maestro peas which grow in a bush instead of a vine. Oh, and as much as I wanted to try chervil, Territorial Seeds didn't have it. = ( There is always next year. I also added one thing, lavendar. It has never been my favorite smelling flower, but I like the look of it and it will fill out the space behind the apple tree. I also seem to have a purple theme going on and figure one more color of purple will fill it out nicely.
I will be impatient coming home from work each night to see if the mailman (yes, ours is male, I am being politicially correct) has brought my box of seeds!