Thursday, April 30, 2009

Garden Song

I had forgotten all about this song till I saw mention of it on another blog. Such a sweet balad, makes me want to just sit in the garden and feel the sun on my face and watch the seeds grow. If you don't like folk music you might want to skip this one. If you don't mind it, and especially if you like the Muppet show, check it out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I got a book at the library the other day called "The Plant Propagator's Bible." I have always been interested in starting plants in ways other than seeds. Other than the chapter on bulb and rhizome division I won't be using much out of the book right now. The information seems well laid out and researched though so I will put it on my wish list so that when I do decide to try and divide something I will have the reference book.
It did have a few tricks for starting seedlings that I had never thought about. It mentioned that plants need carbon dioxide like animals need oxygen. Simple enough, that is 3rd grade science class. What I hadn't thought of is that in a contained area it is possible for plants to use up all of the carbon dioxide and therefore 'starve' or at the very least, get really hungry. Logically it makes a lot of sense but I had never thought much of it because I figured the fact that doors do not seal tightly was enough to let more in. I have always thought that the reason people think talking to their plants makes them grow better is because humans expel CO2 when they breathe out or talk, thereby exchanging this gas with the excess oxygen that plants provide. Always one to want to improve my garden I have decided to try a trick of theirs. Periodically setting a bowl of bakers yeast, mixed with warm water and a bit of sugar, into the greenhouse with the plants and letting it froth. My plants may currently be getting enough from the air gaps and my breathing on them/ talking to them but there have been studies that have found that plants grow better when they have an excess of CO2. Think oxygen bar, only for plants! So I am off to give my babies a natural high and I will let you all know how it works out.
p.s. this also appeals to my thrifty side. I have 3/4 empty jar of yeast in the fridge that is a little past its prime for bread making. Since how long it takes too long to froth doesn't matter, or whether or not it froths as much as it should, I can happily use it for this application and not worry if my bread is going to turn out a hard lump or that I am wasting something! YAY!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Roof Top Gardening

I've been meaning to mention this for a few weeks. National Geographic for May 2009 has an excellent article on roof top garden. In the U.S., Chicago especially, there has recently been a major push to install roof top gardens, especially on governmental buildings. While this idea sounds revolutionary to many people here, in Europe, especially Germany, roof top gardens have been popular since the 60s. Canada is also having a large influx of roof top projects. There is a hotel in Vancouver that has a garden that produces almost $16,000 worth of produce and honey each year. They grow everything from herbs to apple trees. Yes, apple trees! they are the cool French kind that are trained to grow flat against a trellis. Imagine if more place had gardens on their roof. How much less money and waste would be spent on shipping stuff from here to there, and how much fresher the produce would be! Could you imagine a city where all the roofs were covered in lush grasses, wild flower meadows and rows of sun ripening tomatoes, beans, peppers, onions, carrots, herbs and fruit? From an airplane it would look like a giant garden with the streets many stories below looking like the walk paths. Fresh produce would be readily available and the heat island effect of cities would be greatly reduced, as well as storm water run off that currently washes all kinds of pollutants into our waterways. These oasis also provide habitats for displaced bugs, birds and native plants. In some areas the country side is already so developed that without these pockets of urban green spaces, entire species would be on the endangered species list. I can't wait to get my little patch here in Philly growing and encourage others to put to use that wide open, wasted space, that most people think is only for keeping your house dry.
I wonder if there are regulations on having a honey bee hive in the city....

Sunday, April 26, 2009


So today's 85 degree heat has made quite an effect on the primrose. It amazes me how fast heat affects plants and how fast water and shade revive them. Half an hour and a quart of water later one of the leaves was back up to vertical.
I was lucky to catch it before it really got bad.
Another hour later and a half later and half the plant was up.
Later in the evening when the sun had gone around to the other side of the house the plant was nearly back to normal.
Most plants can't survive numerous days in a row of such extremes, so I have pulled the plant out of the path of the sun and given it a shade cover until I can find a better permanent location. The extreme heat that is reflected from a solid patio is part of the reason that I want to preserve some kind of grass or ground cover for a majority of the space rather than paving or gravel like many of my neighbors have. If you have ever stood on a patio and felt like the poor little plant that wilted, you know why the heat island effect causes such weather differences between the city and the country.

Weekly update

So Sunday is upon us again. This Sunday is much prettier than last week. It is almost too hot though. 85 in April!!! It is supposed to get back to seasonal temperatures on Tuesday or Wednesday (60s) so it shouldn't do too much damage to my delicate lettuce and peas.

As you can see in the picture, I have uncovered the shaded pea/ lettuce patch. The bed in the back I fear will get scalded in the sun though so it still has its shades on. The raddishes are going nuts as is the lettuce in the pots on the tiered area. Still not seeing much action from the carrots (in the front row of the left side bed) but there are a few sprouts there and I did read that carrots can be picky, so that especially cold snap may have caused their finikiness. What grass there is is about due for a trim. I am kind of sorry now that I have been pulling up crab grass for the past 3 summers. Had I left it I might have some green out there.

This spell of warm weather is further egging on my green thumb and I am valiantly monitoring the plants in their greenhouse so they will be all ready to go out in a few weeks.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Weekly update

The second installment, a bit late, but better late than never! April showers are certainly making their appearance this year. It feels like it has been rainy more than sunny. This weekend was one of the sunny times, so we enjoyed a fire. Of course the previous few days of rain meant that we are back to having mud instead of grass. And since it was raining again today, it is kind of dark and dreary.

Not much has changed though. The lettuce and peas are still hiding under their blankets. The peas are getting bigger, and the leaves are starting to come out. The apple trees do have a few more leaves. You might even be able to see the radishes peeking through in the bottom left corner.
It is starting to green up, despite what it looks like! The mismatched chairs and the old tarp on the chimnea really add to the decor!
Stay tuned for next week's installment!

Friday, April 17, 2009


There aren't many out, but there are a few hanging out in the garden. These are violas in the lower tier. They are great flowers for lazy people. If you put them in a pot, have pretty flowers all summer, then let some of the flowers go ugly, make seeds and fall back into the pot, they re-seed themselves. Come spring you just have to remember that there were violas in there so you don't pull them out as weeds! They are related to pansies and Johnny-jump-ups. They are edible! When they come on in larger quantities I am going to preserve some with egg white and superfine sugar. They are great garnish for sorbets and cakes.

Up top are primula- the fancy name for primrose. They are always such pretty, bright colors.

There are also a few flowers to be. The forecast seems good enough to uncover Paul's miniature rose bush. It is tucked into the protected corner with the compost bin and the retaining wall providing a little bit of wind protection and heat reradiation to temper the temperature changes. I still haven't figured out if it is a temperature thing or a nutrition thing that causes the leaves to be red instead of green.

Some more flowers to be are tucked underneath the butterfly bush. Butterfly bushes are one of the things that I cringe each year when I cut it back, but then am glad I did since it makes it have lots of flowers! They do what there name implies, they attract butterflies. I really need to start leaving my camera by the back door so I can catch more of the butterflies this year. The green leaves at the base are irises. I have two kinds. One are bearded irises. They get BIG and they look like they have beards- you would think people who name flowers would be a little more creative. The other ones are the ones that were hanging out in the fridge over the winter. The greens are up, so we will see if they bloom around Flag Day (June 14) hence their other name, Flags. This was a mixed color batch. I should have blue/purple, white and yellow. I also have a few lilies in there that I thought I accidentally killed last year...

All in all, by the end of the summer I should have a yard full of green and colorful flowers!

I have been trying to arrange the garden so the perennial flowers (rose, butterfly bush, peony) break up the vegetable garden, and are in areas that are harder to get to. I figure if I have to tend to the veggies all summer, but the perennials mostly at the beginning and the end, I may as well put them where they are hard to get to so I can pick my tomatoes/beans/cucumbers without having to do a balancing act.

Quick update

Radishes are up, bok choi is up. Something eat a cabbage, only one. The cabbages are protected by jug cloche. The jug was carefully over turned and the top of the cabbage was bitten off, but as I said only one was treated this way. Maybe it didn't like cabbage?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Awww... look at the babies!

Aren't they cute! I love watching plants grow. How such tiny little seeds turn into plants amazes me every time. They are a month old and most of them have more than one set of adult leaves. There are peppers, tomatoes, lavender, basil, parsley, marigolds, onions, and cucumbers. These pictures also show off the advantages of having your light fixtures on adjustable chains. As plants get taller the light can be adjusted up so that the plants don't "sun" burn.
Also, since the sides are independent, I made the side over the tomatoes and peppers higher than the side over the flowers that I am starting. They have been in a month, and they have about another month before they will be moving to their permanent homes in the garden.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Science Fair project

I guess I have always been a bit of a nerd. I really enjoyed doing science fair projects. As with my hobbies and collections though, they always had some practical outcome that answered a more pressing question than "why does vinegar and baking soda make the volcano erupt?" I tested everything from how to keep 7-up fizzy to vacuum cleaner suction (does your vacuum cleaner suck? my teacher didn't like the title) to deck sealer to what surface to set meat on to defrost it quickest (a metal pan with lots of surface area that is not in direct contact with the counter, aluminum works especially well, though our All-Clad skillet set on a cold burner does a good job of conducting the cold away and defrosting the meat by the same principle, lesson learned, don't spend '2 easy payments of 19.99' on a Thawmatic just stick the meat on a piece of conductive metal and it will do the same thing). Anyway... this summer's "science fair project" is the Earth Box. Essentially it is a big pot with a water reservoir in the bottom beneath the soil and a lid with holes to plant your plants through and act as mulch. The idea is that you can put extra water in the bottom that will be wicked up by the plant as required. As you can imaging, many people immediately jumped on the bandwagon, then proudly proclaimed that they had the best garden ever! And then obviously there are people like me who don't want to pay $29.95 for one of these miraculous products, and I wonder what exactly is in their nutrient patch that makes it so great. Despite all that, I think the idea is good.
I have had my father-in-law, who is a meat manager of a grocery store, collecting buckets for me. I figure if they are on my roof, only a few people and the birds are going to know that I didn't spend $15 a pot, or care. And besides, I'm all for reduce, reuse, recycle. Why buy new pots when there are perfectly sized plastic buckets being thrown in the garbage each day. If you don't have a source of free buckets, and like mine, the pots aren't highly visible, they do sell plastic 4-5 gallon buckets for cleaning or painting at most home stores for only a few bucks each, considerably less than buying decorative pots! My task will be to modify the buckets in such a way that I am able to build a reservoir into the bottom. A few diy sites have suggested using storage tubs, with their lids being cut down and a pot placed through a hole to create the wick from the reservoir. My buckets don't generally come with lids though, so I will have to find some other suitable material. Once I figure that out it should be smooth sailing. I will place a small pot through a hole into the reservoir, drill a few holes in the sides to act as overflow protection, fill with container mix (soiless mix with good water holding properties, preferably light weight) and plant my baby plants. For the science fair part of the experiment, I will treat different plants in different ways. I may try the new fangled red mulch on some tomatoes (looks like a red plastic table cloth to me. may not be exactly the same, but I'll try it this year) some will get a layer of newspaper just below the surface (a biodegradable mulch) and maybe some will use black plastic stretched over the surface of the container with just a hole for the plant. I will have to water those by hand rather than having the rain do it for me like on the newspaper ones. Or I may try some that have the plastic mulch, but have holes poked in it and have it dip into the bucket so it catches and allows the water to seep in slowly. I am going to have to get one of the black and white copy books so I can take my lab notes in true science fair style!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Weekly update

I probably should have started this series of the ever changing garden earlier since I have already done some work in the garden, but better late than never! I am usually pretty careful about keeping track of how long certain plants take to sprout, when I put plants in the ground, what kind of pest problems I deal with, what and when I feed the plants, etc. But this year I intend to include pictures in that collection. Somehow I have gone 3 years and can only find a handful of pictures from those previous gardens. So now I intend each Sunday morning to take a picture of the garden's progress. This week I will also include a picture from an earlier year, and some from earlier this year. Let's watch the garden grow!2007
This is the second summer. Notice the grass... that didn't last long. It seems we enjoy parties too much, parties that involve 10 or 15 people sitting around the chimnea, and it seems that parties always happen a week after a rain storm that leaves a large quantity of mud behind. I'm working to remedy this. Zoisa grass sod is one possibility. It is sturdy, very thick, and has an incredibly hardy root system. Also, notice the color of the dirt. It is kind of pale! We won't even discuss the fence...

Late February
On to this year. The garden in February is always so sad looking. This is before I started anything for the season. My flower boxes were chilling on top of my tomato beds, the birdbath is still flipped to prevent water from freezing in it and cracking, and the border is looking a little mushad. The fence is fixed though!

This is also earlier this year. I appoligize for the screen, I didn't want to go outside and step in the 6" of snow that we got in the beginning of MARCH!! ah, that season known as ALMOST spring! One day it is 60 and beautiful, the next there are 6" of snow.

April 12.
Now for the current yard. I think I have found my vantage point for these pictures, the back bedroom, precariously balancing the screen open so I can take a good picture. You will notice the two row garden and the cold frame (which doesn't have much in it because we will have to fix the retaining wall behind it in a few weeks and I didn't want to have to be stepping over plants, and it doesn't fit in the other bed) The white are row covers. You can buy half-hoops to hold them off the baby plants, I'm cheap so used my triangular tomato cages laying on their sides, my baby lettuce and pea plants (which finally sprouted) are hiding under them right now, it is Easter Sunday, and supposed to get to 31 degrees tonight. I have also finally really organized the mass of pots in the corner. In previous years I have stacked bricks, boards, rocks, crates and buckets underneath of pots to make all of them accessible, this often resulted in a strange balancing act that always looked a little thrown together. Most of those things are still in use this year, I was just much more careful about how I stacked them and connected the piles of bricks with leftover boards so they created a true set of tiers. In successive years this may morph into a built in flower bed made from stone and concrete with a water fall and pond (yes, a pond even in my postage stamp!). If I keep this up, the whole garden may change into a series of tiered gardens, making it a severly divided form of square foot gardening. Tiers are great because you don't have to rely on the height of plants in order to be able to see and access all plants.
Maybe next week we'll be able to see all the baby lettuce and peas!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


It's not raining right now, but there is a possibility that it will later today, and it has rained for the past two days. I love spring. I also found this quote and had to put it up.

"Today I can complain because the weather is rainy or I can be thankful that the tomato plants are getting watered for free." - Unkown

All the baby lettuce plants look good for now. Here's hoping the cool weather tonight won't hurt them!

Monday, April 6, 2009


So I may have made a few too many paper pots... The baby plants are all starting to get their second sets of leaves and will soon be ready to be moved up to their larger pots. I made loads of the paper pots thinking that I had loads of plants, and while I do have a fair number, I think seeing the lettuce, basil, parsley and nasturtiums on the same greenhouse shelf made me think that I would be transplanting more. Now that the cold hardy plants are out of the greenhouse and into the dirt, my plant population is much sparser. No bother, I'll just throw the extras into the recycling bin. Ah, the joys of having made something out of something else, that can be reused or recycled!

Got dirt?

Well Saturday was the big day, we got our dirt. Things didn't go entirely as planned of course. The dump truck arrived hours before our landlord did so I called him and was told to have the dirt dumped onto the grass so it wouldn't interfere with everyone's parking. I apparently do not argue effectively against a guy with a dump truck so I pulled the emergency tarp (girl scouts are always prepared) out of my trunk and laid it down on the driveway. He dumped the dirt, the pile was the size of my car. We asked him about it, being much more then we ordered, and he just replied don't complain and then said I'll be back in 20 minutes... Bry and I are looking at this pile of dirt and one enother and just thought alright lets get started. I have a short shovel and two 5 gallon buckets and we move 20 square feet of dirt that way. It felt like we didn't make a dent. In the middle of this the dump truck returns and dumps an even bigger load of mulch, which we didn't know was coming. At this point we just hoped the neighbors didn't mind parking in the guest spot for a while. The land lord then shows up with a almost broken wagon and some storage container and we move another 10 square feet of dirt to fill the last garden bed. There is still dirt left...
Sunday we went to my families house, to get Bry's bike fixed, help my Dad set up his computer and build another box for the dirt that is left. Those things got done, but not as we expected...we also cut down a tree and cleaned out the computer desk and visited...
So the peices of the new box are in my car the dirt is ready the seeds and a few transplants are ready and it is HAILING out side...I've been waiting to plant my garden for weeks and the weather is giving me the the "nany-nany-boo-boo" I guess it suposed to be nice later this week...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

baby lettuce EVERYWHERE!

It is a beautiful day today, and for once I didn't have plans, so it was transplant time at my house. Transplanting is tricky business. If you put baby plants outside too young they may be wilted by too warm sunshine. The not so sturdy stems may be blown over by a stiff breeze or beaten down by a spring shower. If it is too damp the tender stems may mold or rot. Most seed packets will come with instructions on when it is safe to put baby plants outside. In the case of lettuces and bok choi, they can be planted directly outside, or to get a little jump, you can plant them inside a few weeks before the last frost (I like to wait a week or so after that, they always tell you it the last frost, then it gets chilly again and makes life difficult for seedlings) and transplant them when you would normally be able to plant outside. Technically I'm a bit late, but we have had a lot of rain and even some storms (see "what the HAIL?") and several very cool nights so now that the forecast looks good I decided it was finally time.
First, you don't want to transplant most things until they have their first set of real leaves. That means the plant will actually have 4 leaves, two that came from the seed, and two that have gotten their nutrients from the budding roots.
Next, you will want to harden off your plants. This means gradually exposing them to outdoor weather so it isn't such a shock to the tender plants. I had set the lettuce, mescalune mix, nasturtiums and bok choi out under the cold frame, covered with a piece of white row cover to protect them from the mid-day sun, at the beginning of the week, then part of the week in a partially open cold frame, so they were all ready for full exposure. For things like tomatoes and peppers that go out when the days are already hot, it may be advisable to start with only a few hours on an open window sill, then a morning in a protected place, then an afternoon in a shaded place, then somewhere with a little more sun, and finally outside all day. It is important to make sure that the dirt doesn't dry out while the plant is hardening off, of course you have to also make sure you don't over water and cause rot.
When you are ready to put the plants in the ground, wet the soil in the pot/ starter flat down very well, this makes it easier to get them out. Dig yourself a little hole that is fairly deep. Sprinkle some slow release fertilizer in the bottom of the hole (check your bag to see how much they recommend). Then, using a butter knife or teaspoon scoop the plants up. I know that there are fancy seedling shovels, but they cost more than a the quarter that mismatched silverware costs at a thrift store, and besides, how many people do you know who have silver plated garden shovels?! If there is more than one plant in a cell and you are having trouble separating them without destroying the roots, you can dip them in water to rinse the dirt off which helps the roots untangle.
Lower the little plant into the hole so that the first set of leaves is about even with the ground. Make sure that the root is pointing fairly reasonably down, if they are sideways the plant may have trouble standing up or the root system may be too close to the surface and not be as supportive to the plant. Push soil into the hole and pat it lightly around the stem. Repeat for all your seedlings. The back of your seed pack will tell you how far apart you should put the baby plants. It is listed as 'plant' or 'thin to.'
When you get all your seedlings in the ground you will want to give them each a drink. Be VERY CAREFUL. You don't want to dump water directly on the plant as you run the risk of knocking it over and breaking the stem. I usually use a small can or cup and hold my hand over the plant, directing the water around the stem where I patted the soil down.
If your babies are in an especially sunny spot, it advisable to cover them with floating row cover. This is light weight white fabric that is suspended above the baby plants (most people use half hoops, I don't have any, so I have it wrapped around 2x6 boards at either end and supported in the center with several sticks, not super pretty, but it should work). The fabric helps keep out some pests (when done with the hoops, not my way, mine is not fully enclosed) and shades the tender plants from the hot afternoon sun or driving rain.
This same procedure applies if you are thinning direct sow plants (ones that are planted directly in the ground). If you have to pull some of the seedlings up to get proper spacing, you can do so carefully, then replant those somewhere else. Or, you can toss the spares into the compost pile to contribute to next years batch of compost.
I started 2 rectangular take-out food trays full of lettuce mixes. Who knew so many baby plants could fit in so little space! I have so much baby lettuce that that I could fill 2 of my 3 beds. This is not really a problem though. Since I can't put my tomatoes, peppers, cucumber or squash in yet, and my flowers are still small, I can keep all that space from sitting there empty by putting in an early season lettuce. By the time it gets warm enough that the greens bolt or wilt from heat, the other plants will be filled out nicely.
My lettuce mix and nicisoie mixes should have a variety of green colors and a little red. But to make them decorative I also added some nasturtiums. The variety I got puts out flowers that range from yellow to orange to red with variegated foliage for even more color. AND they are edible! According to the description they are "lightly spicy." I can't wait to have friends over for dinner and present them with a fresh picked salad with edible flowers mixed in! Besides being edible and pretty, they also serve the purpose of row markers. In order to demarcate where one greens mix begins and another ends I added a few flowers. It isn't super important that I can tell the greens blends apart, but since I want to know if I want to re-order a certain mix for next year, I like to keep them separate.
Now I have to keep an eye on the weather report to watch out for exceptionally hot days or chances of storms so I can properly protect the young plants. I also like to go out in the morning and in the evening to double check that they did not get to wet or too dry and to ensure that none of the little creatures that live in the neighborhood decided to make a snack out of them!
I can almost taste that first salad of baby greens. Maybe my radishes and onions will be ready by then. Hopefully soon after I will be able to enjoy baby carrots and sugar snap peas as well! MMMM homegrown dinners are about to begin!