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.

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