Monday, April 26, 2010

Pollen and It's Enablers

The pollen cartel is out in full force.......the locust tree is loaded with blossoms

Many of which are blowin' in the wind.....

Right down into the bird bath....

Which has just been cleaned and filled for the first time this year.

The first iris has appeared....

Along with the second iris...

But this is the one I'm waiting for. Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Leg Up To Climb On

Since the tornado weather is coming our way tomorrow, today was the day to work on the yard. First the mowing, then putting up fencing for the peas and soon-to-be-planted tomatoes.

This "fencing" is actually left over wire that goes in concrete, zip-tied to rebar poles. We put two rows across, one a few inches above the peas, and the other at the top of the rebar. In between I'll run a wire line, so the peas can jump the gap.

The little peas just have to grow another three inches before they can grab hold and start climbing.

I love zip ties! Mid-summer I'll be zip-tying the tomatoes to their fencing.

Speaking of which, the tomato fencing went up this afternoon too. Tomatoes will be planted along the back side and the bottom arm of the bales.

Now their fencing is in place. Extra added bonus: the fencing posts and rebar poles are placed very tightly against the end bales, so that when the bales loosen naturally from decomposition the poles will act like bookends to keep them intact.

Hopefully it will all remain in place after tomorrow's stormy weather!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Days of Mulch and Sunflowers

Gardening has slowed a little this year. Days are warm (after being hot for a week or so), but the nights are still cool, so cool that we had frost warnings night before last.

So the tomato seedlings (Better Boy, Mr. Stripey, Sweet 100, Red Oxheart and a new one: Viva Italia) are still inside the greenhouse, along with the green, sweet red and cayenne peppers,the Sweet Italian basil, the thyme, the chives, the parsley, and the sweet marjoram.

I may continue to coddle them until next weekend, just in case.

Meanwhile, this afternoon was spent spreading a trailerload of mulch on the former hollyhock flowerbed. It use to be impossible to kill hollyhocks, but somehow the thick bed I've had for years has thinned out. A few hollyhocks come up along the edges, but none in the middle, so today I tossed in a lot of sunflower seeds -the big 12 foot mammoth ones - and then covered them with mulch.

After that, two 5 gallon buckets of strawberry plants were installed in between the blueberry bushes, covered with pine straw and watered with the drip hose. Blueberries and strawberries both love acidity in their soil. The pine straw mulch not only keeps the pH of the soil acidic, but it also keeps the water from evaporating and keeps the weeding to a minimum.

Also planted today: 1/2 each of a set of red onions and a set of white onions (these went in with the roses - roses LOVE onions), a flat of basil seed, and another flat of oregano seed.

I also broke down and thinned the peas. I hate thinning plants. It seems so cruel to plant the seed, water it, nurture it and then pull it up for no other reason except it has too many siblings.

This weekend plans include *finally* connecting the remaining water barrels, putting up trellis for the peas, adding fertilizer to the straw bales, and planting beans.

Unless it snows, freezes, or we have another frost.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Strategy in Ink

Here we are mid-week and the romaine has exploded out of its pot, the spinach has sprung (another 3"), the oregano has achieved bush status, and the peas will be wanting their trellis within 4-5 days.

Now more than ever, it's time for advance planning and some form of strategy.

I really can't recommend anything more important in a garden than the yearly garden notebook.

Three months in you will not remember exactly when you planted what, or more importantly, what was planted there last year and whether or not it's a conflict with what you want to plant there now. Those peas that refused to come up last year -what brand were they? That corn that was so tasty -what was the name of that again? Silver Queen? Golden King? Did I put a 20-20-20 fertilizer there last year, or a limestone dust?

To prevent confusion as well as wasted time and money, get yourself a notebook and a pack of sheet protectors. Many years my notes are handwritten, but in 2003, I got ambitious and typed everything. First a list of plants I'm planning on having in the garden.

Then, a map of the garden. Actually, more than a few maps, where I can scribble, erase, highlight, and map out the planting map.

Also included in the notebook are lists of previous plants from prior years, and notes on what went right and what flopped big-time. All my receipts are tucked in so I know how much the garden is costing from year to year.

Some people (HI CARRIE!) actually weigh out their garden produce, so they know how many pounds they managed to grow. I've never done this, but maybe this year I will.

Might be nice to know how much that head of romaine is actually costing me.

Or maybe I'm better off not knowing....

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Guess What I Found?

A whole fan page on Facebook for straw bale gardening!

Learn to Grow a Straw Bale Garden

The creator lives in Minnesota, my old stomping grounds, and there's lots of info, plus he has a website.

He uses ammonium nitrate (a type of fertilizer) in place of legume inoculant, otherwise very similar to other attempts I've read. BUT - lots of great photos of mature bale gardens and ideas for doing fencing.

I'm in heaven!

Monday, April 5, 2010


My name is Carole.....and I am a Seed Addict.

This is what down and dirty garden planning looks like. Garden maps, highlighters, lists of what plants I have, what I need, and of course those I want. What goes where, what will need extra water, what will need trellis or fencing, and what needs plenty of room to spread out.

And the seeds. The beautiful piles of seed packets I've been accumulating this spring.

And the ones that wintered in the back of the second shelf of the refrigerator.

And the other ones that wintered in the back of the third shelf of the refrigerator.

And the ones gathered by hand from last years plants, fresh from the back of the fourth shelf of the refrigerator.

It's a wonder there's any room for food in our frig.

This is the rough garden plan for this year. The highlighted items are items already planted, either as seeds or plants (blueberries, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, onions, romaine lettuce, oregano, lavender, rosemary, valerian, comfrey, peas, roses, marigold and hollyhocks).

The handwritten notes are crops that still need to go in as spring progresses (tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, squash, 6 different sorts of gourds, cantalope, sunflowers, several varieties of basil, sage, marjoram, calendula, and, of course, more comfrey).

Eventually this week the handdrawn map will move onto a computer drawn version. And I'm trying to figure a way to file my seeds and better organize them. I'll get back to you on that.

Today's updates: The peas in the straw bales are 1/2" tall, the caulfilower seedlings have two tiny leaves, no spinach as of yet (I am cursed with spinach-barrenness). Oregano is doubling and tripling, even from just yesterday. Also, I added 9 broccoli plants today, and 9 cauliflower plants. Between the seedlings and these older plants, the cauliflower crop will be spread out over the spring (maybe even the summer).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

100 Degrees in the Shade

It is unseasonably warm in Virginia -about 20 degrees above the norm for this time of year. This means it is 120 degrees in the greenhouse, and even the tropical water plants are wilting.

This calls for some sort of shading on the southern side. The first summer we built the greenhouse, I planted mammoth sunflowers on either side, thinking it would be a low cost alternative for shade, as well as a food source for the birds. The sunflowers were beautiful, but weren't thick enough to block any degree of sunlight.

The two following years I simply moved plants out when it became too hot inside, and sacrificed the use of the greenhouse for the summer months.

This year, I really want to see how long I can stretch out the growth season for both lettuce and spinach (both cool weather crops).

So this year I purchased a 60% shade cloth. This means the weave blocks 60% of the sunight and UV rays. Not only will it keep the temperatures down, but it will protect the outside wood a little more from the sunlight. The one I chose is black, but they also come in white, green, and tan, in a cariet of sizes. (Source: CatalogClearance) Order a larger size than you think you'll need, particularily if your greenhouse has a gable roof. Voice of experience here.

The shade cloth comes with both finished edges and grommets. Ours is anchored at the bottom with a 12' length of 1" PVC pipe. We drilled holes to match the grommet spacing, then ran zipties through the pipe, and then securely through the grommets. The PVC pipe is then attached to eyehooks on the greenhouse. This anchors it on windy days.

The other end is attached the same way to another length of PVC pipe and then secured to the roof line and anchored to eye hooks.

Inside, the temperature has already started dropping from 120 down to 100 degrees, and the light is softer with the heat filtered out.

By the end of the day the temperature has dropped to 80 degrees.

This morning the lettuce was crisp and literally a brighter, deeper shade of green.

The oregano seedlings have started sprouting.

And the pot of oregano literally exploded.

The comfrey added an inch or two, and the leaves are more alert with variations of green.

On the whole, everything just seems to prefer the filtered light, and the warm, but not searing hot temps.

Even the water plants have greened-up. They are probably anxious to get back in the outdoor pond. Hopefully, that will be ready next weekend.
Meanwhile in the outside garden:

Horseradish is back with a vengeance. I use it as an insect deterrant, but it can be easily harvested to make horseradish (just grate the root). But be warned that this is a plant that is almost impossible to get rid of - every piece of root will sprout a new plant. I happen to like it, and don't mind it spreading.

The peas planted in bales a week or so ago are sprouting now, thanks to everyday watering to get them established.

Today we had to mow for the first time this year, and cut down some wild paradise trees that seem to pop up everywhere. Next weekend is the rain barrel system!