Wednesday, April 27, 2011


The pepper seedlings aren't looking so hot. What ever bugs got in and have been chewing on them sure are doing a good job of it. Hopefully when I put them outside in the next few days to start getting acclimated, they will perk up with the added sunshine. The tomatoes on the other hand are looking great! I don't think I have ever had "seedlings" that are nearly as big as the ones from the nursery. I probably have babied them a bit too much though.... they should really be out getting some fresh air during the day. Carrying them from their greenhouse to the porch each morning is a hassle though!
The forget-me-nots, impatiens, coleuses and spider plants are looking great next to the pansies. I always want to tuck a few more plants in... but this year's motto is "do not overcrowd" so I left nearly as much space as the packet suggests between plants.And now for some garden activism. I think we should have a letter/ email writing campaign for seed sellers to include pictures of what the plants look like at 2 or 3 stages of growth. I went out to weed the lettuce, chard and cabbage beds today and hope that I end up with the proper crops and not beds full of full grown weeds with nary a proper green in sight! Here's to full disclosure! Here's to making gardeners lives' easier!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

garden update

There isn't quite enough going on outside yet to have a weekly garden update, but here is what is going on so far:
I'm trying out row covers to help get the cabbage and chard started. I don't think I watered under the plastic enough because the plants are slow to catch. I will soon be switching up the plastic in favor of row cover fabric to keep the hottest of the sun, and those crazy bugs that Amy mentioned, off my greens anyway, so I will have to wait for fall to try the plastic again.
I brought the birdbath top out of storage, cleaned it and filled it up. This year I am trying one of the floaty things that is supposed to keep the water clear and algae from forming on the dish insides. So far, so good.
The little bit of green visible in the lower leftt corner are the bulbs, chives, garlic and rose bush. A few purple hyacinths showed their colors. I am still working out the best times and ways to feed the bulbs so that the flowers come out full and happy. They looked a little better this year, so I will have to check my notes from last year, and hopefully improve again next year.
The trellis is strung up and waiting for the peas to decide to grow. I did another "spiderweb" but this year I used jute twine instead of bright orange acrylic yarn. I'm still finding bits of the blasted stuff in my compost bin.
The pots in the tiered corner herb/mum pots were rearranged. Again, I am trying not to crowd things in hopes that better airflow and more space will allow for larger, healthier plants.
In front of the far right fence I have erected a trellis from 8' tall plastic/metal stakes wired together to form a frame and more jute twine. That location will soon become home to my fuzz-less kiwis that are due to arrive in 2 weeks. Hopefully next summer I will be able to pick apples, kiwis, and if I'm ambitious, strawberries!
Lastly, the grass. Since the yard was a weed bed when we moved in 5 years ago, we used a little RoundUp to get the mess under control. Once the toxicity left the ground and we got rid of all the weeds and debris, we scattered grass seed more as erosion control than as a lush lawn. Tilling in compost and properly planting seed or even laying sod is in the long term plan for the yard, which will also involve building a permanent tiered structure of some kind for the herbs and include a small fountain or pond with a trickle of water. Since that day is still a ways off, grass seed with some mulch and a little sprinkle of long release fertilizer will hopefully at least give me something other than weeds and mud to scrunch my toes in this summer.

Monday, April 18, 2011

creating a garden

As I surveyed my garden recently, I contemplated locations for new perennials, where I should dedicate space for a bulb garden, and other ways to arrange the space, it occurred to me how many of the plants were given to me by other people. As house warming gifts my mom gave me the butterfly bush and the apple trees and Amy's mom gave me a piece of her peony that had been gracing her garden for ages. A long time neighbor of my parents sent along a few of the bearded irises that she divided from the patch I used to be able to look out of my bedroom window at, and another friend's dad sent along some of his irises that he divided. I also plant some of the marigold seeds that originally came from a mother's day project way back in second grade. My mom has been saving seeds from and planting them year after year, I have faithfully planted them, often end up with plants, but somehow my seeds never work, seed saving is another task I have yet to figure out.

This year I am hoping to obtain a cutting off of a neighbor's hydrangea and I am trying to get some forsythias to take root (as much as I love the bright yellow, they may end up being bonsai-ed, not sure where I would put a full size forsythia- but never say never!) In years to come I am sure that I will obtain other bulbs, cuttings and divisions, and will pass along more than a few to other gardeners.
I'm telling you all of this for two reasons: one, I am a sentimental fool, and love to look around my garden and see little bits of friendship from all of the people who have given me plants and two, dividing plants is a necessary part of gardening.
Plants getting root bound in their pots; carrying so many baby suckers that they are trailing on the floor; bulbs, rhizomes and root stocks getting so big and crowded that the plant can't get enough nutrients to bloom correctly, all of these are reasons to divide. Each type of plant has its own set of rules about how and when to divide it, any good garden book should be able to guide you. But what to do with all of the "baby" plants when you do divide?! (yes, there were 6!!! plants in a 6" pot!) Passing them along to friends, especially those that you know are starting a new garden, looking to expand their garden, or want to add more perennials instead of annuals, are good places to start. If they are newbies, you may even get lucky and they will accidentally kill it and in a few years you can pass more along when it is time to divide again. There are groups out there (like the seed saving group that Amy is now part of) who not only trade seeds, but also divisions of plants. It sure keeps the cost down if you can find somebody with the kinds of plants that you want, and somebody else probably wants the kinds of plants that you have. Guerrilla gardening is another way... only a few of the irises that I dropped along the train wall seemed to take this year, but that means I can try again 2 years from now when they need divided again! Just be careful not to introduce invasive non-natives such as bamboo or honeysuckle- in the right- controlled- location they are great, but they can cause destruction of the habitat rather than enhancement.
If you can't find somebody who wants them, another option is always the compost pile. Now when it comes to things like the peony and irises that came from someone else's lovingly cared for garden, and especially because they were given to me when I was starting my own garden, I try extra hard to find someone to pass the starts on to. Sometimes though, it isn't practical. Many plants, such as thyme, mint and oregano crowd themselves out of their pots so fast that I am chopping a chunk of the plant out every year and adding fresh soil. Often times someone will need more herbs and will take them (speaking of... does anybody need oregano, mint or thyme for this year? I thought I had divided them in the fall, but the roots still seem kind of tight, so I will gladly pull a start off for you if you need them) but just as often, everybody else I know will have a bumper crop of herbs, that's where the compost pile comes in. Even though it is "throwing a plant away" I like to remind myself that once decomposed, it will add nutrients back to my garden so that other plants will be big and healthy. If a flower start is extra tenacious and lives through being thrown in the compost bin, I take it as a sign, replant the start somewhere else in my garden or a pot and enjoy the beauty of the flowers. One of these is going on my desk at the office, the other 5 are getting added to my shade garden in the alley as soon as the temperatures go up just a bit higher.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


The bonsai has been hanging out on the laundry room window sill since Christmas. As far as I can tell, other than letting it get perhaps a little drier than it would like, it is healthy, perhaps a little too healthy because it has become one big lump of green. In the class that I took I learned that there are many different styles of bonsai. All of them are meant to be trimmed to resemble a full size tree in miniature, but some of them are more natural, and some are more sculptural. I didn't want to go extreme, but I knew that there was a cool shaped trunk under all the green. With my bonsai picture book for reference, a shiny new pair of ultra pointy nosed clippers, and knowledge that if some how I do kill it, I can obtain another one for about $20 in Chinatown, I set about to work. Half an hour, a tray full of clippings, and an appreciation as to why the instructor suggested getting a lazy susan or cake decorating turntable to facilitate the care and shaping of bonsai, later, I had my finished result. It has been a week and the tree seems healthy, but I think my next project will be to wire and shape the tree. I can see the trunk now, but somehow I feel that the branches are not quite as graceful as I would like them to be. I am beginning to really see the fascination with bonsai. It is at once a delicate operation, but also landscaping. A little bit of patience and the training of the eye is required to create a tree that, set against a size-less back drop, creates the illusion of an old tree, standing proud in the forest, gently blown and twisted (in the exact sculptural form that I desire). I think I will stick with just the one or two for now, but perhaps by the time I reach retirement instead of learning to bonsai, I will be learning how to take care of a forest of bonsai!

LOVE your park

Bright and early this morning, well not actually so bright, it was really overcast and chilly, I packed up my shovel, a few hand tools and a pair of gardening gloves, and headed to the bottom of my street. I met up with several lovely ladies who help take care of the half block size patch of green known as Inn Yard park. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people across the City of Philadelphia were also outside, in a citywide spring cleaning of neighborhood parks. As with most cities these days, finances are tight. The LOVE your park day (a nod to the iconic "Love" sculpture by Robert Indiana, which sits in the park across the street from City Hall) was initiated to help recruit neighbors from across the city to take care of their parks, not just on this day, but all year long and not just so the Parks & Recreation budget stretches a little further, but also so people can meet their neighbors and have neighborhoods they can take pride in. (photo of Robert Indiana's sculpture in Philadelphia by Bob Krist)
I go past Inn Yard park all the time. I know that the basketball court is a popular place any day that the temperature is over 50 degrees and the spring blooming trees never fail to make me stop and admire them. Being part of the neighborhood, and hoping to someday take my own kids down to play on the playground equipment, I figured I had better heed the mayor's call and start doing my part to maintain this valuable resource. We pulled weeds, mulched beds, spruced up the flowers that were planted by other volunteers last spring and fall, talked, laughed and got a little exercise. I am on the email list and plan to stay involved. To boot I found flower beds that could some shade plants, it looks like I will have a place to put the spare flower seedlings that I always seem to have!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Up on the roof

Back in February, when being able to go outside wearing a sweatshirt instead of a coat meant that it was warm, I climbed on up to the roof and ripped out all the remaining bits and pieces of tomato and pepper plants that had overwintered there. I have since been up to do the annual leak and problem check of the roof membrane, but today, I got to plant something!

I have decided that a few of the pots are a little on the small side, and so have a few new drywall mud and primer buckets waiting in the wings for me to scrub and get a load of compost to help fill them but that didn't stop me from taking advantage of the pots that are already up there. When I was at the garden center the other weekend, a bag of onion sets called my name, and I listened. Since it is possible to eat onions any time along their growth cycle, and Paul and I can go through a pound or so of onions a week, I figured a bag of 100 wasn't too big of a stretch. I put one row in the middle of my main garden bed. I figure that I will let those stay in all season and mature to full size onions. Next, I put a row about 6" in front of that row, where the cucumbers and squash will go. I can pull 4 or 5 out, plant the cukes and squash, then I can remove the onions outward as the plants spread. I also planted a few in the big pots that I plan to use for basil and annual flowers along the patio. I will do the same there as I am doing with the cukes, as the plants spread, I will pull the onions. Onions have nice tall, green leaves though, so if they don't affect the root systems of the flowers I may leave them in as background greenery.

We have finally had a few days of nice weather, and the onions are peaking their way up through the soil (I wish the peas would get the hint!) so today's planting expedition was in the pots on the roof. Here again I figure I can do something similar to what I did in the ground. I added 2 or 3 sets (that's what the baby onions that you plant are called, seeds take too long for most northern climates) to each bucket. Since I am only going to put one plant in each pot this year (I will not crowd the veggies, I will not crowd the veggies, I will not crowd the veggies...)I figure by the middle of May when the tomatoes and peppers go in, the onions will have a firm hold. By the beginning of June I can thin the onions and let the veggies take over, perhaps leaving one onion in each pot to mature. I hear onions are good pest deterrents, even if this is not the case, with the addition of a cilantro plant, we will be hopefully be eating salsa around the middle of July!
In the words of the Drifters (or Carol King, or James Taylor, or whoever really wrote it) "...right smack dab in the middle of town, I've found a paradise that is trouble proof..." and will be providing me with the makings of salsa to enjoy with my margaritas as I look out over the hot, steamy city...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pest Patrol

Besides the cursed ground hog my garden has other pests as well:
The cabbage white and the cabbage looper moth. Also squirrels, but I'll get to them in a bit.
Its not really the flyers that do the damage its their hungry, hungry spawn that they deposit on your Brassica that do the damage. I'm told that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so I looked into how to keep the flyers from laying there eggs on my plants. I wanted it to be non-chemical if I could. What I found was that these moths don't like to lay there eggs were other moths are. "Excellent" I thought, "I'll make decoys." This didn't turn out to be an original idea but I made my own and I'll let you know if they work for me.

Now the squirrels.

Photo by CaitieBeth
There is nothing in the world to deter a squirrel. People who put out bird feeders know this better then anyone. Making access harder just makes them want it more...
Your best bet it to leave something they like better around, really.
I also try to spook them. I have a small army of plastic snakes with sequin eyes that I put out in my garden. It seems lower the damage. You do have to move them around the garden every so often. I'm told there are smells that squirrels don't like, but my guess is I don't like them either. Also that I could put out blood or bonemeal to make them think there is a predator around. I might try that.
My pest patrol: