Thursday, April 30, 2009

One Way To Plant Gourds

After trying several different plots of gourds over the years, this year I'm returning to the idea that worked best, but using a twist on it in order to accomplish two things at once.

I have an odd corner of the garden that I want to convert into an open, grass-free area (the idea is to build a permanent pergola over it, and have either a brick or pea gravel floor, thereby creating a sort of shady refuge I can rest in while gardening).

I also love growing gourds, and that means they'll do the hard work for me. To do this, I mowed the area till the grass was very short, then laid down a thick layer of newspaper, thouroughly wet it with the hose, then laid these discard plastic bread racks over it (turning them upside down). In previous years I've used wooden pallets and they work just as well, but this year I happen to have bread racks.

I left a 6-8" gap between the racks, filling it with bags of the cheapest top soil you can buy. If you have fill dirt available, it works great. Gourds hate good soil.

After filling the gaps with top soil, sprinkle the gourd seeds in the gaps, and lightly water.

Sprinkle them fairly wide apart (6-8") because in my experience, either none of the seed will come up, or *all* of it will come up. Gourds do not transplant well, and they grow incredibly fast. The upside is that (assuming they come up -one year they didn't) come July, this will be a mound of huge green leaves and vines that will kill all the grass underneath, and give off a wonderful smell similar to making bread.

The gourds will be able to sit on top of the racks, protecting them from dampness and insects, plus harvesting them is much easier.

There are many different kinds of gourds - my favorite is the huge bushel gourds that can grow to the size of coffee tables. We dry them (takes a year), hollow them out, then use a dremel to cut designs in them. After coating with a clear coat of sealer, we have permanent pumpkins to use at Halloween.

This year I've only been able to find birdhouse and dipper seed. Usually I hang the dippers on the fence along the puppy pen. Last summer, the pups grew some beautiful dippers on that fence (the dippers grow inside the fence as well, but the pups don't bother them at all).

Gourds are easy to grow - they love poor soil, and don't need watering (although the more water they get, the thicker their walls will be). And you can do strange things, like putting small fruit inside bottles, and letting the bottle shape the fruit, then break the bottle and let the fruit out.
I'm easily entertained. Give me a square gourd anyday.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Breaking News Update: Shrew Tamed. No Devil.


Humans: 1
Shrew: 0

Then we threw trap and shrew into water just to make sure.

Of course, the second trap was knocked around a bit this morning, so there may be a second shrew. Possibly a disgruntled spouse.

No sign of Tasmanian Devil.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Taming of the Shrew. Or Devil. Whatever.

This is a shrew. A North American shrew, one with a terrible appetite (high metabolism), one that eats almost constantly, and can attack animals larger than itself, thanks to a paralyzing venom contained in its bite.

This would be what ran up to my foot this morning when I took a break out in the Swing Garden.

Picture me, drinking my raspberry tea, reading my book, and then, out of the corner of my eye, seeing a black shape run up to my foot, bump into me, and then run back the way it came to hide in the logs and rocks on the edge of the carport.

Picture me, jumping up and yelling "WHAT THE .....!!"

The only response was a couple of rustling leaves.

The five dogs just sat and looked at me, useless creatures that they are.

I retreated to the house and started hunting down the D-Con traps, and these weird mouse traps that are like big clothespins. Set and loaded those suckers in all the strategic places.

Meanwhile DD gets up, listens to my tale of woe, and promptly goes out to sit in the Swing Garden.

Shortly thereafter, DD comes in complaining that the shrew ran up to her foot too. Her theory is that he actually lives in the leaves by the cat food. Since there was no cat food out, he wandered over to the logs looking for food. Then I came out and sat down and cut off his means of escape. He attacked and retreated. By the time he got his courage up, DD had come out and sat down. Foiled again.

My wonderful, charming, talented, beautiful 18 year old DD also elaborated on shrew trivia, just so I would understand how important it is that we get rid of said shrew (like I enjoyed having rodents around running up my legs).

She explains that shrews are one of, if not THE, most aggressive animals out there. That they attack and bite and are vicious. They are born in sets of up to three pupmates, but only one survives, because it eats the other two.

Now I am ready to napalm the shrew nest, nay, the entire carport for good measure.

At this point we go out to run errands, and then on the way home, driving by the horse pasture, my aforementioned wonderful, charming, talented, beautiful 18 year old DD says: "Hmmm. Uh oh. Oh, man. Was I thinking of a shrew.....or....a....Tasmanian Devil?"

"Mom, I can't remember if it's the shrew, or the Tasmanian Devil that's really aggressive and eats its litter mates. Remind me to check that when we get home."

Yep, you do that sweetie.

Either way, we have to get rid of the shrew/Tasmanian Devil. but we may need bigger traps.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Stupid Thing You Should Not Do

Because I did it for you....

This is your brain.

This is your brain with heat exhaustion.

This is me about 3 hours ago.

Yep, first really hot day, and a long list of stuff to do in the garden.

Up at 7, out in the yard (80 degrees already), first I re-stain the greenhouse (to protect it from further damage from our hot Southern sun -ironic, no?), then mow the lawn, then work with the rain barrels (emptying and shifting one barrel so it drains properly into the overflow barrels), then load and haul the trash, then home and sit in the swing (in the sun, no less), then replace winter door on greenhouse with the screen door, water the broccoli (which, at this point is smarter than I am, since it's in the shade).

At this point, I go and take a shower and think about making dinner. Except, my body has other plans - I start shaking, my vision gets sparkly, I'm dizzy and weak, have a massive headache, break out into cold sweat, and can't catch my breath.

This would be a demonstration of heat exhaustion, the forerunner to heatstroke. Totally brought on by myself and totally preventable. Apparently I need to be reminded of this every couple of years.

After drinking water, and sleeping it off for 3 hours, I'm fine. I'll need to take it easy tomorrow (which shouldn't be a problem, since I insisted on doing everything today).

You should be fine too, since I've now reminded you this can happen and you won't overdo it, will you?

Symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • heavy sweating
  • paleness
  • muscle cramps
  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • headache
  • nausea
  • fainting
  • dizziness

Thursday, April 23, 2009

American Giants and Mammoths Oh My

It's only 1:42 p.m. here in Virginia and already I'm exhausted. We're going from a spring-like 60 degrees today to a couple of upper 80's days, so I thought I'd get a little bit done out there.

That way I can enjoy the heat while we mow (again). It also helps to break the endless list of gardening down into bite-size efforts. Otherwise, I'd be planted out in the garden permanently, composting away.

First job today: uncovering the water system, now that the chance of freezing is past. I have one proper faucet in the back yard, and have added an underground system of PVC pipe down to the gardens and the greenhouse, complete with drainpoint and cutoff valves, and of course hose hook-ups at different points.

During the winter, I cover the main access with some of the scrap carpet I use for garden paths, then cover that with a broke-up bail of straw. No matter how cold it gets the water doesn't freeze, and I can still use it for the greenhouse if necessary. (The layers of carpet hold in the heat from the de-composing straw, and keeps the temp fairly warm. I've even had seeds sprout and take hold under the straw.)

Today was the day to pull the straw and carpet off the hookup. The carpet was put back down in the tomato garden to use as a path during the summer.

The straw is broken up and used to cover the sunflower seeds just planted next to the greenhouse. That same greenhouse that is so perfect and warm all winter will be an inferno in July with temps reaching 120 degrees easily. One option to keep it a little cooler is to buy a shade cloth that fits over the outside. I eventually may have to do this, however, the last couple years I've been planting mammoth sunflowers along each side, and letting them keep the sun out.

The key to this is to pick sunflowers in different sizes, that way the shorter ones support the larger ones, and keep them from falling over. Theoretically anyway.

This year's choices? American Giant (16 ft.), Mammoth (7-12 ft.), and Moonshine (4 ft). This way I can honestly tell people I have Moonshine in my backyard, see my other blog:

By June, the greenhouse will look like this:

And in July and August it will look like this:

At the end of the growing season, the sunflower stalks go in the compost bin, and the seed heads go in the dry birdbath, so the birds can snack for most of the winter. Whatever seeds are left get snowed/rained on, and distill into a seed-soup. I use that as fertilizer (think compost tea).

So this morning I planted the sunflowers, broke up the straw, got the water system running full tilt.

Most of these bedding plants can't go outside yet. They'll need just another week or two. for now, the greenhouse vents are open, and they are hardening off, getting use to the wind, and the cool nights, and the hot days. But they're excited about going out with the big boys. I can tell.

After planting two more blueberry bushes, I moved the six new broccoli plants out with their cousins, then added four more bok choy to that bed. We've cleared out the brush pile this year (for the new pond that's going in), so hopefully there won't be as many baby rabbits snacking on the broccoli this year.

Planted a tub of spinach, and eventually will transplant those seedlings outside. Should have bought spinach plants earlier, but it was on the list of stuff to forget.

On tap for this weekend: mowing, putting top soil in the new gourd bed, running new soaker hose, and sitting in the Swing Garden while the pups sleep in the sun. That's the most important job right there.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Green Consumerism on Earth Day

Isn't this the most gorgeous lettuce you've ever seen? I picked it this evening for our dinner salad, then added orange, purple and white cauliflower (we love cauliflower), orange carrots,a fresh crisp cucumber, and a hard-boiled egg.

I love green.

Which reminds me today is Earth Day. I'm older than dirt, so I remember being in middle school (which we called junior high school) on the first Earth Day a bazillion years ago. We spent the afternoon picking up all sorts of trash from the school grounds, and surrounding city blocks and the local paper came and took a picture of all of us with the trash. We felt positively revolutionary.

Today I took DD to my favorite greenhouse, Walters Greenhouse, to pick up plants for the garden. This is our third greenhouse trip in three days - we made the rounds of all the best places. (If you are in the Roanoke Virginia area, here's the link: Sorry, they don't do mail order, but they are well worth the drive. (And while you're there, give Max a pat on the head for us, He's a sweetie of a golden retriever.)

Plants we picked up include tomatoes (Roma, Better Boy, Early Girl, Sweet Million, Sweet One Hundred, Carolina Gold, Oxheart, and my absolute idea of a perfect tomato: the amazing Mr. Stripey. I could happily live on Mr. Stripey's for the rest of my life.

I also picked up extra broccoli (we're planning to grow produce for two families this year), cauliflower (see top paragraph, although we only grow white), cayenne, jalopeno,green and red bell peppers and cucumbers. I waited too long to pick up spinach so that will be started from seed (and it better be soon if I want it this summer).

Still my favorite color.

In addition to all those plants, I picked up herbs as well. As I've mentioned before, my favorite herb is basil. I found a new "boxwood" basil plant, plus a seed pack for Siam basil. Of course, I stocked up on the regular basil as well, 6 plants plus a ton of seed (I like to plant basil all over - the fragrance is wonderful.)

I'm hoping to dry my own "Italian Seasoning" mix this year, so we added Greek Oregano, plus added some rosemary, thyme and French Tarragon.

My DD picked out her favorite plant, bloody dock. It's an odd little plant that grows well anywhere from a rock garden, to potted container, to swampy bog conditions. No matter how cold it gets in the greenhouse, it winters over just fine.

I just can't get enough of it: that intense brilliant green. Love it. And it was tasty too.

After picking out plants, I added seed packets -whatever I plan to grow in the winter greenhouse has be purchased now. Then they go in the back of the frig till late fall.

The only item I haven't been able to find locally is any sort of variety of gourd seeds. I prefer the big bushel gourds, but we may be limited to the birdhouse gourds this year.

So this Saturday, think of me - I'll be out planting and digging, starting seed beds, running soaker hose, hauling water.

That reminds me - we got the water barrels hooked up, and about an hour later it rained, and now we have 550 gallons of water waiting to be used. For free.

What more convincing do you need to go hook up your own rainbarrel?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ask Not Whom The Garden Calls....

How sits the garden today, 4-19-09?

We are having our first "safe" spring rain as I type, meaning one that can fall on the outdoor plants, with no worries that it will freeze overnight and hurt their tender leaves.

Yesterday was spent mowing (after fixing the riding mower and finding out we lost the charger for the push mower), doing a little trimming of branches, and putting slightly taller legs on the water barrel platforms (more on that in another post).

But today it was all-important to set out the broccoli seedlings, covering each one with a milk jug.

YES - a plastic milk jug. Cut the bottom out, take the cap off the top, set it over the plant, making sure you work it into the soil a little to keep it from blowing away. Look down inside and you can see the little broccoli plant.

For those of you who try to go plastic-less, good luck with that - I can't do it. But my rule is to reuse as much as possible. Meaning that we get our milk in plastic jugs, then save them to fill with water and stack in the greenhouse over the winter. They form a wall that collects heat and helps to keep the plants warm over the winter (solar greenhouse - no other source of heat).

As the winter wears on, I use one jug of water at a time for watering, and by the time spring comes along, the jugs are all empty.
At that point -reached this afternoon -I can use as many jugs as I need for protecting set-out seedlings. This is called "hardening" the seedlings - they need the fresh air, but they also need protection from wind while they build up their stem strength. The plastic jug serves as a little hot house until they grow up just a litte.

As plastic goes, milk jugs generally just under one year - meaning one winter in the greenhouse, and one cycle of serving as miniature greenhouses. After that they go brittle and disintegrate.

Cat litter plastic jugs can last several winters in the greenhouse (useless as plant covers), as can the new Lipton Green Tea and Arizona Tea gallon containers.

One winter I used the large Sheetz Slushie glasses (with the domed lids) - they make wonderful individual greenhouses and can hold up at least 2 seasons.

Speaking of using plastic, one day my DH came home with stacks of bread racks that were being thrown away at work. We've used them for various things, including shelving in a root celler my parents built (perfect holding apples and potatos that need circulating air), and today I used them in place of finding free wooden pallets.

This particular project is the gourd bed. First the grass was mowed very short yesterday. Today we added multi-layers of newspaper (2-3 sections deep), wet it thoroughly, then set the bread racks on top, upside down, and with a 6" gap between racks. Around May 1st, I'll fill in the gaps with the least expensive top soil, then plant gourd seeds there.

Gourds love poor soil but need airy spaces to protect the gourds from dampness. In previous years I've just let the vines run willy-nilly, and set scrap boards under each gourd. That works okay, but last year I tried wooden pallets, and that worked much better.

Unfortunately, the pallets were already weathered badly, and this year they just need to be burnt (but it's okay, the ash will go on the garden too). However they can be replaced with the plastic bread racks this year, which are indestructible.

There are several reasons I plant gourds: 1) I have visions of becoming a great creative gourd craftsperson (this will never happen, mostly because I suck at crafts); 2) I LOVE the smell and feel of gourd vines - they are soft and fuzzy, and give off the aroma of baking bread; and 3) growing gourds this way breaks down the soil underneath, and allows me to enlarge the garden the easy way. The earthworms come up under the newspaper, and literally break up the soil for me, then in the fall I add a few layers of mulch, and by next spring, there's a new planting bed ready to go.

Today was also "fence rotation" day - the tomato bed is moving where the old potato bed was (and the potato bed has moved to where the old cucumber bed was). The fences had to be moved as well, so they are ready for tomato planting in a couple weeks.

I've tried every sort of tomato support, including the idea of "no-support", which turned out badly, with poor fruit taste -it was musty and something short of "rotted" tasting. I've used the cone-shaped wire cages, made round wire cages, garden stakes with string lines between them, plain wooden poles, and one year I ever designed a PVC support that could be put together to fit each individual plant. None of them worked as I wanted them to.

One year I was visiting an Amish farm up in the mountains and saw their very simple idea. They used large (6" square) grid fence wire, and just strung it up between garden stakes. The tomatoes are planted on alternating side of the fence. I've been doing that ever since. The large grid means you can reach through and pick tomatoes if necessary.

There were surprises waiting in the greenhouse today too - this approx 5" across cauliflower, and buckets of bright green lettuce.

Some of these beautiful plants were transplanted outside, some into other large buckets, and some came in for dinner - fresh romaine salad with bacon quiche!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Monarda, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

My perennial herbs are back! Herbs are my favorite part of the garden. This is the part where I say how I use them to make little fragrant sachets, or flavorful bottles of vinegars to give as gifts, or mince them fresh for seasoning mouthwatering gourmet dishes.

But I don't.

I should, and maybe this year I will, but I have the same problem with herbs that I have with lettuce. I hate thinning and cutting them.

The thing about herbs is they need to be harvested at their very peak, right before they flower.

Here in Virginia, that's in June. Right about when they've grown up all green and healthy and fragrant.

That's why I grow herbs. For the fragrance in my gardens.

Last year I grew nine kinds of basil, just because whenever I brushed up against it the wave of fragrance was to die for.

Italian Basil, Prince Michael Basil, Sweet Basil, Thai Basil, Purple Basil, Greek Basil, Cinnamon Basil, Bush Basil, and Lemon Basil.

I love basil.

You would think I would have cut and saved some, but I just couldn't bear to cut the plants down.

So far the basil hasn't come up yet (it needs warmer weather, being a Mediterranean and Indonesian herb). But the rosemary is back with a vengence, little green spikes popping out all over.

The oregano is filling in, but still at that 1" stage. When the temps rise a little, it will grow quickly.

This is Woolly Thyme. It's actually a low-level ground cover, and just as soft and fuzzy as a cat's paw.

One of the easiest herbs to grow is sage because there's really nothing you can do to kill it. No need to water, mulch, or fertilize. The roots will spread, and new plants will spring up all along the root line. After the new plants are 5-6" tall, they can be transplanted by just diggin up the clump of dirt around them (severing the original root runner). Both mama plant and baby plants will continue to spread, mostly because secretly they are members of the mint family.

And then there are yuccas (also called Adam's needle). Not an herb, but I liked the way they looked in the rain. These are sister plants to the ones in the front yard, and all of them are transplants from the family cemetary up in the mountains. These two are in the Swing Garden, broke free of their plastic pots, and have new babies spring up all around them.

Yuccas have little hairs, like threads, that grow off the spikes. The Native Americans took those little threads and wove them into rope. Those threads are the strongest fibers in the natural world. Besides the threads, yucca roots can be ground up into a soap-like substance, and used for shampoo.

Except I can't stand to pull up the yuccas either.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Rainy Misty Day in Virginia

And the perfect day for a greenhouse update. Remember a couple weeks ago when we planted tomato seedlings, covering them with plastic and setting them in water trays?

They're up! These are all Better Boy's, the big round red ones that are perfect for slicing up for burgers, or freezing, or just eating off the vine. By the middle of May, they will be ready to set out.

Lettuce is a little over 8", and in sad need of thinning and transplanting. Thinning is something I always have a hard time doing - the little plants are so green and enthusiastic, I hate to kill any of them. I've already transplanted part of this crop, and will probably move more this weekend.

Over the last few weeks I've been unable to refrain from picking up a few seedlings -mostly green peppers, bok choy, broccoli and Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes. The bok choy and broccoli can be set out this weekend but the green peppers and tomatoes need to wait. BTW -green peppers love heat - make sure you give yours lots of mulch. I've also used black plastic around mine -it seems they can't get enough heat, as long as their roots are kept damp.

The former potato bed still has potatoes coming up - the plant on the left is horseradish, while the smaller plants on the right are new potatoes. By practicing companion planting, in this case putting horseradish with potatoes, the possibility of insect damage can be avoided. While others in our area were inundated with Japanese beetles on their potatoes a couple summers ago, my plants stayed almost beetle-free - thanks to having horseradish plants sprinkled in among the potatoes. Horseradish is a perennial that reaches 2-3 feet in height, and easily spreads (everywhere a piece of root is left, a new plant will come up). The root can be grated and made into sauce. I enjoy the plant - it's a beautiful green, large and leafy, and needs no special care or watering.

And of course, the blueberries are leafing out, and flowering. Berries should start appearing during May-June. This is a good time to start collecting old CD's at yard sales for decorating the berry bushes and lettuce beds. By using these, I've eliminated the need for protective netting or wire fencing against bunnies and birds. The dangling CD's reflect light back and simulate movement to both birds and four-footed snackers. This is one of the new plants we added in February. The older five year plants are almost 5 feet tall, and loaded with buds.

Maybe this is the year we'll need a bucket to hold all the berries!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cow Teat Tomatoes

Several years ago, my mother gave art lessons to my daughter and two other homeschooled friends of hers.

While the kids were stashed away with mom in her art room, their mother (Hi Margie! Yes, I'm going to tell that story!) and I offered to help Dad around the farm, even though neither of us had a clue what that would involve.

After an hour or so of picking peaches while trying to avoid the wasps, Dad either felt sorry for us or his peach crop, and we ended up parked on the porch drinking lemonade instead.

This initial visit was when he mentioned that he was growing cow teat tomatoes. I guess the looks on both Margie's face and mine impressed Dad, because he went out of his way to say cow teat tomatoes every chance he got.

Not just that day, but at least once during every single visit afterwards. Usually with a big grin on his face. For some reason he still finds it incredibly entertaining.

For the record, the tomatoes themselves are amazingly tasty, perfect for making tomato sauce.

They grow to about 5-6" long, in clusters of 3 or 4, looking for all the world like, well, like cow teats.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Most Important Gardening Tool

...Is your pen. Or pencil, or microcassette recorder, or cunieform stick with clay tablet. Anything you can take notes with.

This last blast of winter is the perfect time to set up your garden notebook. This time next year, you will be wondering which specific blueberry bush yielded the most berries, which cukes came up first, which type of tomato was the sweetest or froze the best.

Or in my case, which sunflowers were the tallest and provided the most shade for the summer greenhouse.

In previous years I've just carted spiral notebooks around the garden, and years later I can still see the dirt stains, or find pressed leaves or stems in their pages.

The last couple years, I've made notes on scrap paper out in the yard, then re-typed them into a document on MS Publisher, adding all sorts of info of other info. I always try to do this same-day, and then print out each page as it's finished, and slid it into a sheet protector (adding whatever seed packets were mentioned, or other clippings or brochures that I used).

Every notation starts with the date. This alone tells me global warming is real -I have almost 35 years of gardening data to compare. What else is important?

Specific plants, their garden location, whether over-watered or underwatered, any garden pests that seem drawn to that plant, neighboring plants (from year to year this can provide companion planting info), catastrophes (hail, wind, animals as well as recovery from said catastrophes), possible fragrances or fragrance mixes, fruit or vegetable yield (amount, plus dates of earliest and latest), amount of yield frozen or canned.

Keep the seed packet - compare your results with what was promised. Did you maybe plant where there was only 4 hours of sun, versus the required 6 hours? Makes all the difference.

Next winter, this year's garden notebook will provide you not only with a motherlode of gardening in your specific location, but it will remind you what worked, what didn't, what you want to grow again, and what you definitely *don't* want in your garden.

And best of all, looking at your notes (and pictures, don't forget photos) will remind you of exactly how incredibly sweet that first tomato is, straight off the vine.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The First Full Day of Gardening

.....And the exhaustion that follows. This time of year I've been busy laying out the spring garden plan - a few new crops are being added, and some of last year's crops have to be rotated. I've also been making long lists of various outdoor housekeeping chores that will get the garden up to speed.

Once all that planning is done, there's that first long warm day in the garden. That happened this weekend. Never mind there's going to be three nights this week with temps at the freezing mark. We've started!

Yesterday was the first mulch run out to my folks farm. They have pine tree forests where I can rake up all the pine straw I need (blueberries are notoriously fond of pine straw), and the local tree-trimmers grind and dump their load of trimmings there as well, providing excellent mulch.

Raking pine straw is easy. We carry pitchforks and giant, contractor plastic bags to hold the pine straw (and they are re-used many, many times). This is one of those times I wish I had a pickup truck.

With a rake and a pitchfork, we can fill two bags in under 15 minutes. Each bag holds the same amount as 1.5 bales of pine straw if you purchased it at Lowe's.

Right after the pine straw we move the van over to the oldest pile of mulch, procured for free from the tree-trimmers. They love having a free place to dump because it means they don't have to drive to the landfill and pay to tip the truck. And we can use all the mulch we can get, in addition to sharing it with family and friends.

The van holds six large bags, in this case 2 bags of pine straw, and 4 bags of mulch. If I had remembered the string or twist ties, we could stack the bags longways, and fit 8 in the van.

Today the bagged straw and mulch was spread: pine straw on the blueberries and newly planted peas, and mulch on the new potato and tomato beds.

This is the blueberry patch - the little buds and a very few leaves are just starting to show, so the sixteen plants are hard to see. Before the pine straw was spread, we first added three bags of hardwood sawdust (only untreated wood is usable). Blueberries need a lot -a *LOT*- of water, and the sawdust will soak up rain and hold it for days, especially when covered with the pine straw.

The two rows of fencing on the left are going to be sugar snap peas this year, and the row to the right will eventually be green peppers. Further to the right will be various herbs.

The grassy area in the foreground was originally going have a canopy over it, with potted herbs, so I'd have some shade to work under. We have the canopy (actually 2), but it seems everytime we are ready to put it out, the wind picks up, and I can see us having to constantly take it down and put it up.

The eventual idea now is to make a wood pergola, and possibly a pea gravel floor. To prepare for that, this summer we'll lay down thick layers of newspaper, thoroughly wet them down, then lay wooden pallets on top. Some gaps between the pallet boards will be filled in with top soil, and then, probably in early May, gourd seeds will be planted. I love the smell of gourd leaves (like baking bread), plus their roots will help breakdown the grass, and the gourds themselves will sit on top of the pallets and stay dry and clean. After the growing season, we'll pull up the pallets, and the ground will be grass-free and ready for pea gravel, and hopefully our wallets will be ready to add the pergola.

This is a grassy patch from last year that was prepared for planting with a trailer-load of horse manure, and leaves. Today it was planted with garlic bulbs.

Before we quit today, with aching backs and faint sunburn, we also:

Planted four buckets of forsythia starts to form a live hedge (that hopefully will break the sight lines of our barking schnauzers)

Planted one bucket of rose campion up under the locust tree, as an addition to the flowerbed of purple irises.
Spread fertilizer, lime and manure on three beds that needed it.

Planted a 12x12 ft raised bed of potatoes. This bed has been lasagna gardened for years, with the latest layer being straw. All my daughter did was cut seed potatoes in half (makng sure each half has at least one eye), randomly sprinkled them on top of the straw, and then added a layer of mulch. No digging. We all hate digging here. It's probably genetic.

The middle of the potato bed has a circular wire bin, about 4 feet tall, that serves as a compost bin.
I just keep adding organic material to it: grass clippings, leaves, kitchen waste (except meat or dairy), coffee grounds, sawdust, non-diseased plants, anything organic. It decomposes, and feeds the entire bed. Last year, I planted cukes on the outside of it and tomatoes all around it. No need to fertilize this bed at all - the compost bin does it all (and no need to move the bin contents or turn it).

There's plenty more to do, but we got at least 80% of today's list done.

This week's weather is calling for lots of rain, and at least three nights of freezing weather, so all the additives and planting we did today will take nicely.

After the last freeze is over, we can start on ponds, rain barrels, gearing up tomato seedlings, and deciding whether or not to plant sweet corn this year.

Meanwhile I'm making more lists.