Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

Since I've taken my LED light down, the seedlings have had to survive with just natural light. In the morning they are down in the laundry room. That window gets the morning sun well. Then around 1:30pm I move them to the dining room which gets great afternoon sun. Needless to say this is a lot of work. It worked great while the sun was shining, but for the last couple of days it has been cloudy and dreary. The seedlings are starting to stretch out a bit. Before they were nice stocky little things.

Inside I have the plants that were seeded a week ago. They have started coming up. Above is a container of flowers: Borage (lowest two blocks on the left), tihonia (lowest two blocks on the right and the whole right hand column), marigolds (twelve center blocks, only eight of which have germinated so far), and under the plastic to the far right are my three monarda blocks only one of which have come up yet. They are tiny little things. Their seed is like dust.

I also have some chard inside (not shown) and a group of 15 chili peppers that were sown two weeks ago. I drew a picture of where they all were. I do this for all my blocks since labeling them seems wrong. Usually I mark one side so I can tell which way to orient the container when comparing it to the drawing, but I forgot this time. Whoops! Now I'm not quite sure which side the cayennes are on. I'm hoping I'll be able to tell as they grow. I have them in sets of 3 cayenne, 6 serrano, 6 jalapeno. So if only there is a difference between the ones on the ends I'll be able to figure it out. So far not so much.

The peppers are growing well. One of the chili peppers didn't fit in the above container so I left it with the brassicas and lettuce outside. So far the outside one has survived, but it isn't quite as large. It is still cold outside and not yet pepper weather even under plastic.

The outside plants were all sown two weeks ago under the LED lights. Shown above bottom to top: broccoli, cabbage (one which is a tricot), chard, Chinese cabbage. They are mostly doing well now that they are seeing real light. The last couple of days of dark weather has them starting to strech again. Sigh.

I put in toothpicks to hold up the worst offender the Holland greens. One of those plants seems to be doing OK, but this one has fallen over again amidst the Tatsoi and Fun Jen. It was growing between the LED lights which are spaced 3/4" apart. If it was directly under it would have been fine, but because it grew up between, it just is too leggy. I'll plant it anyway, but I'll plant it deep. Not yet however as it still needs a couple of weeks of growing like the rest of these plants.

Even though a few things have gotten leggy, I've been pretty happy with how things are going. There have been no major disasters. No tripping on the stairs. No pots upturned. No damping off. Currently I'm spraying the inside seedlings every day with chamomile tea and that seems to be doing the trick. The blocks are holding together better now that I'm treating them well. I put boards under their containers so when they get moved they don't tip over. I just need a real light for them. I'm going to buy a shop light soon. The buds are swelling on the trees and as soon as they leaf out, no more sun in the laundry room. Time is ticking. I need to get to the store.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Garlic Growth

A week ago when the above photo was taken, I was dispairing that some of my garlic hadn't made it through the winter. Four kinds of garlic were planted last fall. The one with all the foliage on it is an unknown softneck from the supermarket that I loved. Not long after it was planted, the leaves bravely pushed through the soil. It has slowly grown all winter under the snow. It was a little put out by our cold snap into the teens when it had no snow cover, but it was just a minor setback. It seems to be a very strong garlic.

The other garlic that was up in the above photo were little shoots of my German Extra Hardy. It is the garlic to the far left. It didn't show itself until the spring, but still only one little clove didn't seem to grow. I had a couple of the Georgian Crystal (between those two) push through last week, but not many. Not a sign could be seen of the Bogytar that is the biggest planting on the right. I was very afraid my garlic had failed over the winter. The Bogytar cloves were pretty pitiful. I wasn't happy with that variety of seed garlic. It was small and a little diseased. I had to throw most of it out.

What a difference a week makes. The photos are only six days apart, but only a couple aren't up from all but the Bogytar. Even that one has at least half of them making an appearance. I was afraid I would get a pitiful harvest, but maybe, just maybe all of the 44 cloves planted will come up. I can only hope.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Colors of Thyme

Today was one of those days you dream about at the end of winter. The sun is shining so strongly that your finally wear your sun hat into the garden. The cold sea breeze has finally stopped for a bit. It is warm. Not shorts weather warm, but warm enough that a coat is uncomfortable in the garden. Cool enough that it is pleasant to work in the garden.

My first order of business was to check everything planted the other day. They all seem happy. The spinach has finally started rising from the soil. It just needed a few nights above freezing to start to move. Hopefully in a few days it will all fill in. Green is starting to take over the garden.

But not everything in my garden is green. My chore today was to clean out all the leaves and old foliage from the herb gardens. As the leaves came off I found some beautiful thyme. My French thyme, my culinary favorite, was silver:

My English thyme, which is my most prolific culinary thyme, stayed stalwartly green all winter long under the snow and leaves:

My Creeping thyme (variety unknown), often loses its leaves over the winter, but the parts under the leaves remain green:

My Doone Valley thyme, which is an ornamental lemon scented creeping thyme, is the real beauty of the season. It turns green over the summer but in the cooler seasons it has pretty yellow variegation. After the winter that variegation turns red.

I have one thyme that isn't pictured. I'll save that plant the embarrasment of being shown without her clothes on. Most winters leave her with a patch or two of foliage left, but this winter was a hard winter and she is naked. I hope she grows back. She is the oldest thyme in the garden and she is showing her age. She is a Golden Lemon Thyme. When she was younger she had pretty golden edged leaves. She has lost her variegation over time and now she is just a simple green. She still smells wonderful though and in some years I pick enough to dry for the winter as she keeps her lemon scent very well. Some sites list this thyme as being hardy only to zone 7, but she has faithfully lived for 17 years in my zone 6 garden. I hope she survived our brutal winter.

Friday, March 27, 2009

More Spring Planting

This is really a continuation of my last post about what I planted in the garden yesterday. . . After planting my peas I wanted to get all my hardened off transplants into the ground. I measured out the rest of the bed and stuck in labels so I would know where to plant each crop. Labels are an issue for me. Most people have issues because their labels get lost or they can't read them anymore. I have issues because I just don't. I don't label; I don't keep records; I don't remember.

This year I'm really trying to change that. I'm writing things down *gasp* on a printed out record sheet *gasp*. So far I've been keeping up *cheer*. In the hazy past I used to do things like this. As I got to know my garden better over the years, it became less necessary. Last year however I couldn't remember which peas I planted where. It wasn't the only issue, but I've forgotten all the others, so lets just say that as I age, I ought to write things down more. So far so good. And now I have cute little labels on almost everything. The labels remind me of my kids. They are left over popsicle sticks from my kids' crafts projects. It's nice to have the labels bring up memories of little kids now that my kids are gone.

But I digress. I made four rows for my lettuce transplants. I'll put in a row every two weeks. By the time I need the fifth row the first one ought to be empty again. At least that is the plan. Later I'll have five varieties in each row, one of each kind. For now I just have three, two of each. I planted two Red Sails, two Merveille de Quatre Saisons, and one New Red Fire. I did have two transplants of the last one, so just stuck the other in the tea garden. One of the lemon balm plants died and I put the lettuce there. If that lettuce lives great, but I'm not holding my breath.

Oh I didn't label each lettuce variety. So I'm already falling down on the job. Right now I have Red Sails in the back and New Red Fire in the front. Those two plants look identical right now. Though the other is also a red leaf lettuce, its leaves are more rounded so I can tell it apart. The last thing I did for my lettuce was water it in and put a row cover on it. The row cover won't last long, just a couple of weeks, but it will help if we end up with another bad cold snap.

Next to go in where my bunching onions. I had five multiplant blocks of them. I never have a spot for them. They are little orphan plants. I just put them here and there between the other plants. I put two in the lettuce bed between rows. One where I'm putting some coriander, one in the herb garden and hmm I forget where the last one is, but I'm sure I tucked it away somewhere.

My leeks were the last of the transplants to go in. I planted them just as I did when I planted some earlier. My greens and pea bed is finished until the other cold weather crops are ready to go in a a few weeks.

You would think that would be enough to do for the day, but since we had nice weather and some rain predicted for last night and the coming weekend, I also sowed some carrots in the lower bed. I prepared the bed laboriously a week ago. Yesterday I just had to measure the rows out for four kinds of carrots. Yup I labeled each kind: Danvers, Big Top, Atomic Red, Sugar Snax. I covered the seed with some fine soil. Then covered the area with burlap. Now it is just wait and see if they germinate. I often have to resow parts of the rows.

The last two carrots on the above list were bought this year from Pinetree. I'm surprised that Atomic Red, which is an open polliated plant had so few seeds in it. Sugar Snax is a hybrid and looks like it has more (though it could just be because the seed is bigger). Both packages cost the same. Surely it is easier to make open pollinated seed.

It was a long and pleasent day yesterday in the garden planting everything. Now I have a while to watch it grow before the next major planting. I love to look out my dining room window at the garden. This view lets you see everything. The top bed on the left has the lettuce, leeks and peas and will contain my brassicas. The middle bed has the spinach under cover and will be the three sisters garden. The part in front of those two beds is my herb garden. The bottom bed has the carrots and brown burlap. The plastic tunnel at the back is just warming up the soil and holds the rest of my cool weather seedlings. This bed will have all my solanaceae family plants (tomatoes, potatoes, etc) The little bed by the fence is where my garlic and onions are planted. I'm so happy to see the start of the garden. This week we have seen a real change in our weather. We are back to our average temperatures and no longer have weather 10°F degrees below normal. Whoohoo! Things ought to grow well in the low to mid 50°F (12°C).

Peas Planted

I got a lot done in the garden yesterday. The first order of business was to mark out where everything went in the peas and greens bed. I had made a very rough map on a piece of scrap paper. I know real gardeners are supposed to use something nicer to display their ideas with some beauty. They use programs and graph paper. They lovingly ponder where their peas and lettuce will go and write it down. I might point out that last year I didn't even use scrap paper. My normal mode of operation is to just wing the plan. At least I wrote it down this year.

After I finished writing it down, I noticed there was no room for my Chinese cabbage. This is the smallest of my beds and I'm going to have to cram things in even without my cabbage. So I'm going to dig a little new area. I usually don't use this area. Things don't grow well under the crab apple tree. Think shade, roots and a lot of allelopathic nastiness. But it is there or nowhere.

After the sketch was made. I went out to mark it out in the dirt. I found that when I put in my tree edging to this bed I didn't make the bed 48" wide like it is supposed to be. It was closer to 43" The carpenter's rule is measure twice and cut once. When I laid out the tree I didn't measure at all. Measuring zero times and cutting once is not the best solution. Of course it is an easy fix. I just had to drag it out four to five inches, cut a few inches off the trunk, and level off the bed again.

The back of the bed was to be all peas. I'm still not sure about one spot yet. I'm thinking still. That part I couldn't plant in peas yesterday anyway. It was still frozen. The rest of the bed was covered in plastic for a couple of weeks so the soil was nice and warm. The frozen part was not covered and is partially shaded by the fence so it takes longer for that section to be ready. I'll get to it later.

For now I planted peas along the back in the unfrozen sections. I planted two rows six inches apart, one on each side of the trellis. I've found if I plant more rows than that I can never find the peas to pick in the tangle of foliage.

I have three varieties each occupying one section of the trellis. Cascadia is a shorter snap pea so may not need the whole trellis, but you never know. Last year I had a pea that was labeled to only get to 2' tall and it got to 6'. Never trust the seed packages. The next along the line is Mammoth Melting, which is a snow pea. It did very well least year. I liked it, but it isn't a very sweet pea. The third is Super Sugar Snap a tall snap pea. Last year none of my snap peas did well. I don't know why. Their stems were rotting at the bottom. It reminded me a little of damping off but it was on large stems and not seedling stems. The snow peas were not effected at all. I'm hoping with two varieties I'll get something this year. I love my snap peas.

You will notice that I have no shelling peas, though Cascadia can double as a shelling pea. I find shelling my peas just too much work and to be frank I've never really liked them. They taste fine, but there is something about a pea that bothers me. I think it is bad associations with being forced to eat them as a kid. Snap peas however I love. So I'm hoping for lots of them. I'll finish up the rest of yesterday's fun in the next post.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rites of Spring

According to my planting schedule my onions were supposed to go in the ground on March 20th, but my trusty weatherman forecast lows in the teens so I waited. Those really low temperatures didn't quite materialize. We only had lows around 22°F (-8°C), but still too cold for my poor little onion seedlings. So I waited. Yesterday we started warming up and the weathermen (I actually look at several sites) agree that for the next week we would hover in the low 50°Fs (10-15°C) for about a week and rarely dip below freezing. We won't be quite as sunny as we have been, but we really need the rain right about now. We are way below our normal rainfall for March. We usually get over four inches of precipitation in March and have only gotten about one so far. We are in need of a good soaking.

Yes checking the weather several times a day is a rite of spring here at Daphne's Dandelions. Other rites include planting the first seed, which happened on St. Patrick's Day, and planting my first transplant. Yesterday that rite was lovely preformed. It started by me getting home from the store tired, but it was only 3:30pm so I wandered into the garden. I didn't change, but was wearing my skirt. I rarely wear anything that can't get garden dirty. This skirt was a stone washed grey peasent skirt made of cotton. I wasn't sure I really wanted to dig, so I just sat in my garden for a while enjoying the sun. I have no chair in my garden so when I say I sit in my garden, I'm right down in the dirt. I checked my spinach that still wasn't up. I put my hands in the dirt and broke up a few winter clods.

After a while I wasn't as tired. It was time. I took the onion packs out. Usually I would water them before planting, but somehow that was forgotten. I started preparing the soil. I forked it without turning it over, just to let a little air down to the root level. I put down a couple of handfuls of fertlizer and raked it over. The sea breeze was a tad nippy, but still it was warm and sunny enough that I took off my jacket while preparing the bed for my onions. The cool breeze felt wonderfully nice.

Then I planted out my onions, Copra, a storage onion, and Tropea, a red onion for fresh eating. I debated spacing. Both Mel Bartholomew and John Jeavons, masters of intensive planting, say to plant onions only 4" (10cm) apart. It seems so close to me. I buy onions that are 4" wide, but then they are the huge sweet onions. The onions I'm planting will probably only be 2-2 1/2" in diameter - 3" if I'm lucky. So I listened. Sort of. I have cells that have one onion in them and some cells that have two onions in them. If one onion needs 4", two need 6" to get about the same square footage. So the multiplanted onions were spaced 6".

I had one 6" space left over to finish a row, so I put a multiplanted soil block of bunching onions in. This had four bunching onions in the block. The blocks are so much easier to plant. The other onions you have to loosen the bottom and try to get the plant out without grabbing the stem (which is really bad for the plant). I've always found the process frustrating. Soil blocks are just plopped right in. No fuss at all.

There was one foot left in the bed. I wasn't going to plant leeks here, but I had them ready to go in and a leftover bed to put them in. I dug two small trenchs, then in the trenchs I dug holes and tried to bury about three inches of the stem. I wasn't perfect at it, but no big deal. I hope the leeks grow big enough before the rain washes all the soil back in. The rows are only 6" apart so there is not much room to put the extra soil.

To finish them off I watered them all in well and topped them off with a row cover. I will mulch them soon, but I want to wait until after a good rain which should be Sunday or Monday.

I contemplated my pea and lettuce bed, but it was 4:45pm and it was starting to get chilly as the sun went down. I wasn't sure I'd finish in time. And as planting peas is also a rite of spring. I'll enjoy that another day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How To Reuse Your Empty Soda Bottles

I don't drink soda nor does my husband, so we rarely get soda bottles. For parties we supply our guests with what they are used to, which means for most of the US, soda. To me soda is vile. I will occasionally drink root beer, but for the last couple of years I haven't had any soda unless I've had no choice. However empty two liter soda bottles can be quite useful in the garden, so after our party I collected them and washed them out and removed the labels.

I'm not quite sure what they will be used for yet, but their uses are many. Earlier in the year I wanted them to winter sow some of my cool weather crops. I hadn't done it before, but read about so many people trying it. Sadly I had no disposable containers for this. If I'd had some soda bottles, I would have been all set. For info on winter sowing go to

You can use the soda bottles for little greenhouses for newly transplanted seedlings. Just cut the bottoms off and shove them far enough down that the wind won't blow them over. Leave the caps off during the day so they won't over heat.

My all time favorite use for them is to fill them up with water and put them in the plastic tunnel (or cold frame if you have one). During they day they heat up and provide thermal mass. At night they will often freeze before your little seedlings do. They provide some very nice frost protection. Right now I have an old milk jug under my plastic tunnel but I could use more. I'd love to line the whole back of the tunnel when I plant my tomatoes. Too bad half the lids are gone. They work best with lids so the water can't evaporate (evaporation means cooling).

I've also seen soda bottles used for watering. I've never done this myself since I have such a wet climate. I've seen them done two ways. The first is to keep the soda bottle intact. Drill a few holes in the lid. Fill the water bottle and turn the bottle over so the lid is under the soil. The water will slowly drain out over time. The second way has you cut the bottom off the soda bottle. Drill a few holes in the lid. Bury the bottle half in the earth. To water your plant, fill the soda bottle up. The second way is easier but it can't be used for more than one plant.

I've heard of making self watering containers and bird feeders out of them, but I doubt I'll do that. Do you have any interesting uses for water bottles?

Monday, March 23, 2009

More Soil Blocks

I'm getting better at making soil blocks. I think I wasn't getting the mix wet enough before. Previously I got the mix as wet as a damp sponge. I could squeeze out a drop of water if I really tried. Now I'm adding more water and it seems so soggy. It really disturbs the gardener in me that has been trained not to play with wet soil. However it works.

I still have issues with getting all five of the compartments equally filled with soil. I've taken to jamming the block maker into the soil then checking with my hands to see if there is one or two that didn't really fill up, which for me is usually the case. For those blocks I finish filling them my hand. With these two improvements ALL the blocks now come out usable.

Yesterday I seeded:

  • 2 borage - for the bees, I may direct seed more outside if I find space
  • 12 marigold, Ground Control - to control my nematodes
  • 3 monarda, Panarama Mix - for the bees
  • 6 tithonia, Fiesta Del Sol - for me, I was surprised to find so few seeds in the packet, only about 18? maybe. I used 12, two in each cell. I hope they all germinate.
  • 3 parsley, Italian flat leafed - I usually don't seed them. They self sow every year in my garden, but last year with the rain very few came up and they didn't grow well. I'm making sure I have parsley this year.
  • 5 chard, Bright Lights - I was going to do the red chard, but decided I'll just do all Bright Lights. It is pretty. So I sowed some more. I want about nine plants total (sowed 5 a week ago). I'll sow more if I don't get enough germination from these.

I put them on the heat mat since I had it set up already and the peppers are gone. I put the flower blocks in a brownie container left over from my husband's birthday party. It fit 23 blocks which was good. The chard and parsley went on a lid from one of my plastic containers. I would have put it in the containers like my lettuce seedlings, but the bottom of the containers is not flat. It has a rim that does down farther along the outside and the blocks keep tipping into it. The blocks don't hold together well when they are always tipping over. So I'm on the lookout for things with flat bottoms. The lids are pretty good and hold 8 seedlings pretty well.

The little seedlings aren't up yet. Nor would I expect them to be after just one day, but I'll check them every morning and put them in the sun once they start to germinate. The ones that don't germinate immediately will get covered with saran wrap or an old plastic bag to keep them moist and I will mist them every day to make sure. For now they are covered with lids that keep them all moist.

Monday Seedling Update

What a difference a week makes. I started hardening off my onions and lettuce on the 15th. They have spent a lot of time outside under some nice sunny skies. Before they were floppy and I had to cut them off to 4" when they got too high. Currently they are 8" tall and holding themselves high and proud. I no longer have to snip them for any reason. During the day they are under plastic if the temperatures are less than 50°F. If it is warmer, then they get removed from their tunnel. They have spent several of the warmer nights outside, but not last night. It was cold. By noon it ought to be about 28°F outside. I'll probably put them back in their tunnel then for the afternoon. Until then they have to sit on my kitchen windowsill.

The lettuce has shown great improvement too. It was small and very light green when it started going outside a week ago. Now it has grown substantially and it is picking up its nice red hue. There are three different kinds of lettuce in there, but they are all red.

On March 15th, I had seeded a whole bunch of new plants, cool weather crops and my peppers. They have mostly come up. The exceptions are two of the five chard (I only put one seed in each cell for those unlike the others that have two in each) and one broccoli cell. All the rest have come up well. Most of the cool weather crops were up in 3-4 days and the peppers (on a heat mat) in 5-6 days. After the peppers germinated I moved them into the same flat as the other crops to share the light. I think they will grow fine without extra heat. I've found that chili peppers seem to do OK without extra heat once they are up.

As you can see by the photo, the seedlings are horribly leggy. They are not getting enough light. The LED lights don't seem to be doing the job, which is sad since I love the idea of them. They were fine for the onions that really never get leggy. They just get floppy and you can cut their tops off to compensate. The only other one I had seeded before was the lettuce and lettuce has a high tolerance for shade. It wasn't leggy then and the new seedlings coming up still aren't. I think the LEDs need to be twice as close together (they are 3/4" apart in all directions). Next year it is going to be back to fluorescent lights I think. I might have to break down and get one for this year. Some of those seedlings are 2" tall already and still only have their seed leaves. I might try natural light for a while. I have sunny windows that face southeast and southwest and with a reflector it might just be enough. Right now despite being in a sunny windowsill they don't see natural light. The LEDs are so close to them they block all the natural light.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

To Pea Or Not To Pea

My pea bed was finally unfrozen. Whoo hoo! Confession time. It turns out there were a couple of frozen clods left on the top right near the fence where it doesn't get very much sun. I prepared the pea bed anyway. I just shoved the little frozen bits to the side and ignored them. What a bad gardener. At least the soil was not too wet to dig. We haven't had much precipitation for the last couple of weeks and I've had a clear plastic sheet over the bed anyway that keep out what little we did. And to warm the bed which was really the point of my plastic.

If you look closely at the above photo you can see the little cracks that form over the winter on my soil. The ground freezes and thaws and heaves up over the winter. This bed had a pitiful cover crop of oats that winter killed. It also had a few vetch plants. This was where my tomatoes, peppers and eggplants lived and there really wasn't time to dig over the soil for a good cover crop. I'm thinking that next year I really should do a cover crop over the top of the soil from the nightshade crops. Just seed then cover with compost at the end of August. No digging in to disturb my tomatoes. That might get them started enough to really form some good protection for the sol over the winter.

Back to the main topic, my pea bed. To prepare the bed I raked off the dead plants from the sparse cover crop. Then I forked over the bed. I don't turn the soil. I just aerate it a bit. Then I leveled it with the rake, making sure that it was slightly sloped to the north. I usually slope my bed slightly to the south to warm the soil more, but these will hold my cool weather crops. I don't want my soil getting very warm during the summer. It will, but a slight slope helps out a bit.

Then I noticed that the soil was a bit high on the path side of my bed. My paths are usually about level with the beds on the uphill side, but since I'm sloping the dirt slightly the other way, there is a drop off to the path. Last year this was annoying. It washes flat as the summer rains wear on and doesn't hold its shape. So I went to my backyard and took one of the dead fallen trees and used it to hold up that side. I thought it looked rather nice. I had a few feet extra from the tree so I also lined the little path on the end of the bed. Now it all looks so nice and neat.

After that was done and the bed reraked flat, I added some amendments - greensand, bonemeal, limestone. I would have added some nitrogen source but currently I don't have any. If it were just peas in this bed, I wouldn't, but I will also have my lettuce and brassicas here. The peas are just going along the back of bed, all the way across. The greens will be in the front to get more sun.

I wanted to add some compost. I tried to stick my fork into it. Nope. It is still frozen solid. I'm assuming some year it will melt, but not in time to amend the bed before planting. I will just mulch with it this year. I'm sure my worms will turn it under in due time.

The last chore was to put up the supports. I have a lot of short T posts, but not many tall ones. So I typically use the short posts and extend them with maple saplings that I've cut down from my back yard. Last year's saplings seemed not to have rotted out too much so I will use those again. The maple saplings are probably 7' high though they aren't strong enough at the top to hold anything. Last year I had issues with the posts slowly falling together because of the twine tied between them. This year I put in cross bars along the top of the T posts. That ought to solve my problem.

Will the peas be planted soon? Probably. Maybe. I'm hoping. As I was working out in the garden I felt the temperature start to drop. We are getting very cold tonight, into the teens. As I write this we are getting a quick snow flurry. So the peas are not going in today. Tomorrow will barely get above freezing. Then it is one more cold night before we start to warm up again. The 7 day forecast is for warm weather to come in on Wednesday. They usually aren't very good with long range forecasts, but they can predict trends and the trend seems to be for warmer weather. I feel another whoo hoo coming on. WHOO HOO! Warmer weather. I can't wait. 50s sound so good.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring is here?

Ah the first day of spring. The sun is shining, just a few clouds in the sky. It is Friday. Tomorrow is my husbands big birthday party. It seems the perfect day. As I bring out my onions seedling that have been mostly hardened off, I think something must be wrong. I can see my breath. It is COLD. The ground that I lovingly double dug a couple of days ago is covered with a plastic tunnel. It is also frozen solid. Arrrggg!

The weatherman swears that spring came in at 7:44am. I beg to differ. Winter seems to have its icy grip firmly in place. The Farmer's Almanac seems to have been right. They said for the Northeast we would see a long winter and spring would be slow to come.

I'm supposed to be planting those little onion seedlings tomorrow morning. Hmm the forcast for tomorrow morning is 21°F. There is no way the seedlings can go into a frozen ground. And the ground WILL be frozen even if it is covered in a couple of pieces of plastic. I can't do it in the afternoon since we will have guests. I could plant on Sunday. I might do that. The forecast is for Sunday night to be nice, but the next two nights after that will also be close to 20°F. Is that too cold for the onions? I've heard they don't bulb well if subjected to too low of a temperature, but what is too low? I know most won't winterkill over 15°F. Maybe I'll risk it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How do you spell PAIN?

I don't know about you, but I spell it D-O-U-B-L-E-D-I-G-G-I-N-G. Maybe that should just be the double part. Digging is fine. Digging is easy. Double digging is more than double the pain.

I'm a firm believer in the no till method of gardening. I don't regularly turn over the beds. I do fork them every year to let air into them, but I try to disturb the soil as little as possible. The most I do is mix the compost into the top couple of inches of soil. Not only are my little microbes and fungus in the soil happier with it, but my back is too. I have wide beds with permanent paths between them. I never walk on the garden beds so the soil doesn't get compacted. Ok I rarely walk on the garden beds. Hmm I occasionally walk on my garden beds, but don't mean to? Even today when I was double digging I stumbled and stepped in the onion bed. Whoops.

Occasionally the dog steps in the bed too, though she is a good dog and only does it when very excited which for a dog is almost anytime, like when another dog is walking past or when the dreaded chipmunk runs away. Luckily for me the chipmunk likes to hide from her in the drain spout of my gutters. The drain spout is at least six feet from any plant I really care about. She also gets confused at times. I've taught her to walk on the mulch between the beds. Then I mulch my lettuce and she doesn't understand why that is not acceptable. I never said she was the smartest dog, but she gets an A for effort.

Though I love the no till method, the soil does get compacted over time. My worms just don't work hard enough. After a while it needs to be dug again. When I dig, I double dig. I haven't done this to my main beds in 17 years. That is a long time. I probably ought to do it every decade instead. So this year my lowest main bed (where the tomatoes and carrots will grow) is getting double dug this year. All 24'x4'. Ouch. What prompted this sudden desire to dig? I'm growing some 12" long carrots this year, Sugar Snax.

I've always wanted to try those long beautiful carrots, but have had fear in my heart. My soil is heavy clay. Carrots really don't like heavy clay. In fact they hate it. They don't grow in it and if they do they are mangled, distorted monsters. I figure I've been amending my soil for the last 17 years, so it ought to be better. Double digging is necessary however. Carrots that are 12" long have much longer taproots that go way down into the soil. I wanted to dig down about 20".

Double digging requires that you move half the depth you are working to the side then use the fork to lossen up the next layer. You don't actually turn over the bottom layer, just lossen and get the rocks and roots out of it. The top 10" were nice beautiful, black fairly fluffly soil. Thank you worms. It was slightly compacted but not too bad.

The problem was at about that 10" mark. That is where the digging got hard. There were rocks. Most of them were small, no more than fist sized. I dug out a full pail of those. In addition there were a few larger rocks. Nice sized ones to hold down the edges of my row covers and to edge some of the beds. They were useful rocks. Occasionally they were hard to get out since the rocks tend to jigsaw themselves together. Getting a fork between the rocks to lever them out is sometimes hard. I would occasionally use a trowel to scoop off the soil and see where the cracks were.

The one rock that killed me was the one that is still there. It is really hard to see in the photo, but at least it gives you an idea of its depth. It was 18" down. The rock didn't seem that big when I started. It was only about a foot wide at the top. However it was one of those sloping rounded boulders. I couldn't find an edge. The slope just kept going down and down. Gulp. I thought about it and decided it was better to leave it there. It might be right in the middle of the carrot bed, but without a crowbar and a couple of he-men to help me out it wasn't going to move. I so didn't want to ruin my new garden fork trying to lever that monster out. I've never actually owned a garden fork before that didn't have one of it tines bent at a weird angle until I got my lovely new fork for my birthday (thanks hubby). I mean really I have a beautiful new fork for the first time in my life and I didn't want to ruin it. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. And the rock is still there laughing at my wimpiness.

The other main issue with double digging my garden is the maple tree which is located just outside the garden. More precisely the issue is its roots. Lots of roots. For years I've put my flat spade down along the edge of the bed just to cut them off each year. Do you know what happens when you do that? They grow their larger roots about 12" down so they only have to send little feeder roots up each year. Smart trees. I dug a whole wheelbarrow full of roots out for 7' of bed. That is a lot of roots. The best tool to cut them off is my nice flat spade. A couple of hard jabs down and the roots are cut off. The one inch roots usually take no more than five jabs. But the spade is a problem for two reasons. The first is that the flat spade can't dig a rock out of the bed to save its life. You need the fork for that. So I'm switching between one and the other constantly first the spade to cut off roots then the fork to get up the rocks. The fork gets stuck on roots that aren't cut off so back to the spade and so on and so on. Back and forth. It is very time consuming to switch your tools every few seconds.

The second problem with the spade is the mixture of rock in the soil. I jam the spade down onto the root to cut it off. If I encounter a rock on the way down, OUCH! My whole arm reverberates as the spade stops dead in its tracks. Think the coyote in the roadrunner cartoon as he runs into the wall. His body oscillates back and forth. This is not a fun thing. My hand takes most of the abuse. The middle of my hand is very tender to the touch today. No visible bruises but definite PAIN. Never believe those You Tube videos that show you how to double dig. They show a bed being dug up, no rocks or roots, just easy digging. They lie.

I persevered and finished the 7' that I wanted to get done yesterday. I'll do the rest over time, but I need this spot soon for the first sowing of carrot seed. I will sow the first carrot seed down the middle where my eggplant and tomatillos will be growing. The carrots will be pulled out before those plants need the space. At least that is my hope.

I'll let my hand heal up a bit before I finish the tomato area. The last part of the bed to do will be the potato area and I won't do that until the potatoes get out in the summer. I figure half of the work will be digging out the potatoes anyway. Don't remind me that all the work is really the bottom part. Let me have my illusions that I'm saving myself some work.

Double digging was much easier 17 years ago when I was younger. It took me almost 5 hours to do all this. It did include some easy work like sifting through the top soil to clean the bed of the roots and the worst of even the littler rocks so the carrots will grow straight (not with a sifter or anything useful just with my hands and the fork). It also included amending the bed with greensand and a little bonemeal. I'm not going to put any nitrogen fertilizer on the bed, I'm just going to add in some compost once the pile is defrosted.

I don't want to leave you with the wrong impression. I may complain a bit, but I had a fine time for most of the digging day. It was partly sunny and warm. Digging was a beautiful excuse to be out in the garden.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tomato Flowers

Sinfonian's Square Foot Garden had an article today that talked about tomato flowers and I started to comment, but it just got too long, so I'm putting it here for everyone. As many of you know I'm doing a little tomato experiment growing F2 seed that I saved, so I've been doing a little research in tomato breeding and seed saving and have come across a lot of info.

There are two kinds of tomato flowers. Most modern tomatoes have the first kind. These have short styles. The anthers (the male part of the flower that produces pollen) form a cone around the style and the stigma (the female part that accepts the pollen at the end of the style) is totally enclosed. Bees can't get to the stigma to pollinate it, so they are totally self pollinating. Bees actually do help with pollination here. Studies have shown that the frequency of the bees buzzing is perfect to loosen the pollen and make it fall on the stigma. Wind also helps and shaking the flowers can help too. If you grow in a greenhouse, shaking the plants is mandatory for fruit set.

The second kind of tomato flower has long styles. The stigma sticks out past the cone of the anthers. These don't always self pollinate. They can be pollinated by bees in the usual way. They can cross with other tomatoes. Sometimes they self pollinate like the other tomatoes (and they don't need bees for this, if the flower is pointing down the pollen can still fall on the stigma). However the seed collected from these tomatoes may not be true to type.

So how can you tell if your tomato has long or short styles? Most modern varieties have short styles, but as I found out earlier you can't be sure. My Sungolds from which I saved F2 seed might have crossed with my others since they have long styles. The wild tomatoes all have long styles. According to Suzanne Ashworth's book, Seed to Seed, all potato leaved tomatoes have long styles as do beefsteaks when they have double blossoms. If you want to save seed from your tomatoes it is always a good idea just to check the flowers first. Just look at the cone formed by the anthers. Does the style stick out past it or not? If it does, you have to isolate your plant if you want to save seed. I'll probably do this by making little remay bags for the flowers, since mine will all be planted in one 20'x20' garden. Oh and when you check those styles, make sure it is from newly opened blossoms. Once they are pollinated, the anther tube will start to open and you will see the style then.

Though tomatoes pollinate themselves just fine, that doesn't mean all your tomatoes will automatically be pollinated and if they aren't pollinated no tomato will be formed unless it is parthenocarpic (if you want to read about that go to Sinfonian's SFG and click the link to the article he references). What causes a tomato not to pollinate? Temperature is the major culprit. Low temperatures can cause the flowers to be malformed (55°F 13°C) and pollen is usually not viable under 50°F 10°C. I don't see high temperature problems here in the Boston area, but the same thing happens when the temperature goes over 90°F 32°C.

Please note that those temperatures are an estimate. There is a lot of genetics at play about what temperatures the flowers are viable. Some have been bred for temperature extremes and can produce where others can't. Strange things can happen to the plant at temperature extremes too. If your tomatoes don't self pollinate at high temperatures, the flowers can sometimes elongate their styles in an attempt to try to cross with viable pollen. This is a very cool survival mechanism since the resulting seed will always have some genes for high temperature survival. Though if you want true to type seed, don't save seed when temperatures get that high.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Spinach is one of the lovely early crops that you can plant. It will germinate in even colder soil than will peas, but still it has a reputation of being hard to germinate, so two days ago I put half the spinach seed from my packet onto a paper towel. I dampened the towel and put it in a little baggie. I didn't close the end of the bag so it would have some air. I wanted the seeds to start germinating, not rotting. Spinach is one of those plants that hates to be transplanted. It will often bolt prematurely when moved. So my solution is to presoak the seed and put them in the soil just as the first little roots start to appear. That was today. Maybe 5% of the seeds had roots starting. Most of the rest had started swelling. Perfect.

Today with the sun shining on a most beautiful St. Patrick's Day, I dug the bed over. This is the bed that will be my three sister's garden. I'm planting the spinach where the squash will go on the south half of the 4' wide bed. The north half will have my corn and beans planted in them. The corn will need to be planted soon enough, so I made sure I left enough room for it. Or I tried. I found I had way too much seed and made another row. Well if it gets dug up in a few weeks, so be it. Maybe I'll get a little baby spinach out of it.

I ended up planting two sections of spinach. The first was 5 4' rows of spinach, each row 6" apart. The second was much smaller about 2'x2'. The seeds were placed 3" apart in the row. I'm assuming half of them won't germinate, so hopefully I'll get plants about 6" apart in most directions. If not who cares. It was extra space I wasn't using anyway. It just cost me $1.98 to try it. In the last row I put the seed 1" apart since I had so much left over. Hmm maybe I should have prepared a bigger bed or soaked just half the seed.

Just so you know, I've had great difficulty in the past with spinach. We have a streetlight right near the garden. I've always wondered if that was what made my spinach bolt prematurely all the time. Maybe or maybe it was something else. Luckily I noticed the streetlight was out the other night (shhhhhh, don't tell the town until June and the spinach is gone). I'm also going to grow the larger spinach plot under remay to keep any insects off, just in case that was the real issue. If it is something in the soil, well none of them will grow well. For two bucks, it is worth the effort, and I still have seed to try again this fall.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

It is Monday once again. So I'm going to show you my seedling photos. As I do this every Monday I wonder if it is similar to being subjected to someone's travel slides. Seeing a few slides is so much fun, seeing hundreds makes you want to run in the other direction. Which reminds me, my husband uploaded all our travel photos from the Grenadines. So if you really want to be tortured with photos, go for it.

But back to the main subject, seedlings. They are still going strong. I can see small little roots protruding from the lettuce soil blocks. I think that means it is close to time to plant. The onions have no roots to be seen. I'm sure they are in there, but I don't see them coming out of the bottom of their 12 packs yet. Maybe they are just looping around on the inside.

The seedlings are now being hardened off. Yesterday they saw the late afternoon sun and wind for about an hour and a half. Today was cold. I'm not sure it will make it into the 40s or not, so the seedlings went under the plastic tunnel that I made yesterday in the garden. Right now it is almost 2pm and I'm starting to see a bit of brighter sky. Maybe it will warm up in there. If not, well get used to it seedlings. I've started my spring crops today and as soon as they germinate there will be no room at the inn for you. Life is cruel.

What seedlings did I start? As you can see above I printed out my own list of what I was supposed to be planting today. If I didn't, I'd forget half the seeds. Since you can't read that easily and I forgot some seed despite having a list, I printed out a table for you below. The number after the variety is how many blocks I seeded.

Lettuce Red Sails 2
Lettuce Merveille de Quatre Seasons 2
Lettuce New Red Fire 2
Asian Greens Purple Mizuna 2
Asian Greens Tatsoi 2
Asian Greens Fun Jen 2
Chard Bright Lights 5
Asian Greens Mustard Spinach 2
Asian Greens Tyfon-Holland Greens 2
Asian Greens Chinese Cabbage Rubicon 3
Broccoli Packman 4
Cabbage Gonzales Mini 4
Pepper Cayenne 4
Pepper Early Jalapeno 6
Pepper Serrano 6

I made soil blocks for them all. Though I made 3 too few so will start the rhubarb chard on the 20th when I start my flower seedlings. So far the older soil blocks are holding up OK, but not perfectly. The edges tend to fall off when you aren't gentle with their containers. Since I'm bringing their containers in and out everyday, the edges are looking a tad worn. I think it would be a better design to have a smaller hole for the seeds to go into which would make the edges a little more sturdy. It isn't like you are going to start bean seedlings in these. They are just too small.

My other complaint about the blocker is that you have to make sure the soil is wet enough and you have to really compress it to make it hold together. I think this isn't an issue with the smaller blocks. The blocks are small enough that the roots can get air easily enough. I would be leery of the 4" blocker though. I think I'll stick to newspaper pots when I need something bigger, like transplanting tomatoes and peppers. That big blocker is definitely off of my wish list.

I put the soil blocks in two flats, covering each seed hole with a little soil and misting. One flat was for the peppers so they could germinate with a heat mat under them. The other flat with everything else. I did make a little pair of block tweezers. They are about 3/4" wide. I wish they were wider, but I just flattened an old set of ice tongs that I have but never have used. They work so much better than than my fingers and can pick up a block in the middle of a huge tray. Now I just get to wait and see when things come up.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Almost Spring

Today was another wonderful day outside. I found my first bloom of the season, a Johnny Jump Up and it was a warm, sunny day to work in the garden. I can't turn the soil over yet. The upper bed where my peas are going to go is still frozen. The middle bed is mostly frozen, but thawing nicely. The bottom bed is almost thawed, but it is still too wet to turn over yet.

So instead of turning over the soil. I dealt with trying to warm up the beds. The top bed was quick. I just threw down clear plastic flat on the earth and snow. Yes parts of it still have snow even after two weeks of melt out time. Sigh.

The bottom bed is going to be where the solanaceae family will be growing, ie my tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant and tomatillos. Most of the bed won't be needed for quite some time, but I'm going to grow carrots here and there during different parts of the growing season. So I measured out the bed. I measured four feet in to mark off the potato section, which will be the first of the solanaceae family to go in, but not yet. Then I measured off 2 1/2' for my pineapple tomatillos. They are supposed to be sprawling plants that get 3' across. I'll plant them a tad closer to the potatoes and hopefully they will be out before the tomatillos need the space.Next was the 40" space for my eggplants. The rest of the bed, about 13-14 feet, is for my non-potted tomatoes and peppers.

I had to measure it out because I want to start early carrots down the middle of where the tomatillos and eggplant will be. That middle area I wanted to heat up quickly so I can put carrots there as soon as possible. Carrots means digging the bed deeply. The soil has to be very workable. I have heavy clay and if I don't turn it over before planting, I don't get carrots. I put a clear plastic tunnel in. I'm going to use it to as a cold frame to harden off my onions and lettuce (they got their first taste of freedom today) and it will also warm up the soil and keep the rain off.

The middle bed was where all my over wintered plants were. Or mostly dead plants as the case may be. There are a few that survived the winter. The lettuce that I talked about earlier is looking worse than it did before, but two are still alive. If I get early lettuce, it has a better chance of coming from the seedlings that I'm hardening off.

I found three bunching onions. Little tiny things as they were quite young when winter hit. One tatsoi is announcing "Not dead yet!", but the reality is that it is on its last legs (pun always intended - really who couldn't use a bad pun in their lives?). Everything else is dead, dead, dead, but one surprise. It was the last thing I expected to over winter. It was my Chinese cabbage.

Chinese cabbage is hardy? Whodda thunk it? It may go the way of the over wintered lettuce and die as its roots thaw out. Or not. Time will tell. However I took all the plastic off the beds. It is in the high 50s today and with plastic that is just too hot. I fixed up the collapsed tunnel (which was hard to do since this bed is still half frozen) and replaced it with remay. I left the part with the onions and lettuce bare.

The major thing I noticed was that my three sisters garden will be mostly bare since most of the overwintered greens are dead. I thought a quick crop of spinach might be nice. I have seed for my whole garden but didn't order spinach. It usually doesn't grow well here. It bolts before it gives me much. I have a street light right outside the garden and always wondered if that was the cause. But hey, I had such good luck with my Asian greens last year and they usually don't do well in my garden either. I'm going to try it again. The local hardware store had only one type, Melody, so that is what I'm going to plant. I might just get lucky this year.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day March 2009

I wasn't going to join GBBD this month. I was going to be childish and pout. I went to Frances's page and there were so many beautiful flowers. The Perennial Gardener had a beautiful collage of all sorts of things. What did I have? Frozen dirt. Even my compost pile is frozen solid.

Yesterday since it was actually nice for a change, I went for a walk around the neighborhood with some friends. There were no flowers here at all. Not one in bloom. We did see some new shoots coming up so the spring bulbs will eventually be seen, but nothing yet.

So why am I posting? I was out in the garden doing some cleaning up and lo and behold I saw a bright little patch of yellow and purple in the mint pot. It was a Johnny Jump Up that bloomed just in time to brighten up my day. The soil in the pot was still totally frozen solid. The mint has not yet started its new growth. But the brave little Johnny Jump Up wouldn't let something like solid ice stop it. Go Johnny.

I've always loved this plant. Its cheery little face pops up in the most unusual spots. It is totally uncontrollable. I had a friend that tried to seed it in her garden one year. It never came up, so I gave her a few little plants to start her off. I told her to just let them go to seed. They will come back every year. You can't plan when they are to go. You just have to accept them when they come.

When I weed the garden I'm always careful not to weed them out. If they are growing in a spot that needs to be turned over, I transplant them not far away. I do love my little pixies that jump up from the most unlikely places to greet me.

Ok so this particular flower is a little ragged and and lopsided. I love him anyway and you have to give him credit for blooming before any of the crocus.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Kind of Garden Store

Yesterday was a very good Friday the 13th. I got my pails. In addition I also found a new gardening store in the area. I've been searching. My favorite one went out of business due to the high cost of heating their greenhouses. I hear it is going to be a condominium complex. Sigh. Lexington Gardens was not a large garden center, but whenever I needed something they had it. Well not last summer. They were trying to sell everything they had and weren't replacing things. It was so sad.

Last year I was trying to find a replacement. We have a huge garden center very close, Mahonies, but every time I go there looking for something in particular, they never have it. That isn't to say they aren't a fun garden center to browse, but when I was looking for a garden fork all they had was a pitchfork. When I wanted a 40 pound bag of greensand, all they had was five pounds. I like to buy big bags and use them over the years. It is much cheaper. A five pound bag doesn't last long. I couldn't find large bags of vermiculite or perlite. In the summer they don't have straw or salt march hay or anything I would use to mulch my vegetables. My old garden center had it all.

I kept looking. Finally yesterday I mostly found what I was looking for. In Belmont (about 15 mins away) is a hardware store called "Hillside Garden and True Value". Now they don't have all their summer things out so I don't know if they have wonderful veggie starts, but they have all the amendments I tend to use, all in large bags. I'm hoping they will have a mulch that I find acceptable. Though one guy did think I was crazy when I asked if they had 9 gauge wire (for my hoops), and sadly they didn't have a huge selection of seed.

It is funny how you get attached to a store like that. I still remember the pervious gardening store I used before Lexington Gardens. It was really a feed store, but they stocked large bags of organic amendments. They had straw and salt marsh hay, not to mention dog food that I needed to pick up every month. It wasn't glitzy and didn't have small bags of anything. There weren't any pretty plants or flowers. I still loved it. I got to know the proprietor and it had what I needed at a good price. It appealed to my practical nature. I miss it too. Hopefully this new store will have what it takes. Maybe I'll fall in love with it too.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Joy of Pails

I'm celebrating today. I've had my first WANTED post on Freecycle answered. Last weekend we cleaned out the garage. I posted a large list of junk that I was getting rid of. The kids old skis, stilts, lots of little empty boxes, bubble wrap and air packs, a paint sprayer, a battery charger. Just a lot of junk that we no longer need or have never used. At the end I tacked on a WANTED post, asking for food grade 5 gallon pails.

I was answered. Today I picked up a dozen of them. They all had pickles in them in the past. I'll clean them out soon. I'll use some to store my potting mix and some soil amendments. I will keep one or two to store harvested veggies like potatoes. I'll have to drill holes in them for ventilation, but that is ages away from now.

The real joy was finding six green ones. I was going to use some for pots in the garden, but I hate the look of white pails. Very ugly. I figured I would make "dresses" for them out of some leftover cloth I have. I won't need to now. The six green pails will house some tomatoes. I've never grown tomatoes in pails before, but I really don't have the space to grow all the seed I have. I have plenty of space close to the house that I can't plant food plants into. I'll just put the pails there.

Now the problem is to figure out which seed I'm going to plant. I got eight varieties from, but I'm only going to plant six. The three black cherry tomatoes are my first choices: Chocolate Cherry, Black Cherry, Black Moor. Though just one plant of each isn't the perfect trial, it will have to do.

For the other pails, I've got two selections from Siberia. I don't know if Siberia is humid, but they don't have hot summers, so they can handle our cool ocean breezes. Gregory's Altai is a large pink beefsteak type at 67 days. Miracle of the Market has small fruit about 2-4 oz and produce in 60-70 days. My last one will be from China. Early Ssubakus Aliana is a golden plum tomato. At 75 days it isn't early, but it is earlier then the other Chinese yellow tomato that I have.

Now I have to figure out what kind of potting mix to put in the pots. I have more of a tendancy to kill things in pots than to keep them alive. We will see what happens to the poor things. I want to leave out any real garden soil. My soil has nematodes, which makes it hard for the poor tomatoes to grow. I'm thinking I have a lot of (I'm hoping) finished compost from last summer. That will probably be the majority of the mix. I should get some sand and vermiculite to add to it. Has anyone used a mostly compost mix for their tomatoes before? I know the things grow out of the compost pile all the time. I think they can handle it, but if you have experience let me know.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

Everything inside seems to be going well. The onion seedlings keep growing. They are acting like unruly teenagers. Their leaves are going this way and that. I haven't been trimming them this week. It seems they need a trim every few days to keep up, but I've fallen down on the job. Well that job at any rate. We had some wonderful weather this weekend and we used it to clean out the garage. So at least some jobs got done. Just not caring for my seedlings.

The lettuce is also growing well. Their stems are a bit weak and leggy. Not horribly bad, but not great. Their light is only on for 12 hours to accommodate the onions lighting needs. I think they would rather have 16 hours. These are the only plants scheduled to share time with the alliums who love their long nights.

These plants are all supposed to be hardened off on the 15th. Never to see the blue LEDs again. On the 13th I'm supposed to seed a lot of my spring crops and some summer crops that need a longer growing period. They will be taking over the lights after they germinate. Sadly my schedule is doomed. After a beautiful weekend where we saw temperatures approaching 60°F both days, now we have this:

Yup more snow The garden beds had almost melted out. Today's highs are only supposed to hit 35°F. All day we will have a sloppy snow/rain mix. Yuck. This is not even fun skiing snow. I'm thinking of pushing my planting schedule back. I need to get these seedlings out from under the lights before the next set start, since I just don't have room for them all. These are nowhere near to going out. I don't really need to have the soil workable, but I do need to be able to leave them outside all day long. Freezing and thawing in their pots would be really bad for the plants. This coming week we have a couple of days that will be normal for us this time of year, but the long range forecast is for below normal temperatures.

It really isn't unusual for us to be getting snow in March. It is actually very common. NOAA has all the fun statistics on it. The snow graphs tell me that we usually get 7 1/2 inches of snow in March. After today we will have had 14". It seems to me that we have gotten about twice as much as normal every month so far.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

When Life Gives You Blizzards . . .

Go skiing. So I did. I might not be able to dig in my garden but I can still have fun. Three of us took an hour off from work and skied yesterday and again today. The weather was in the 30s. The sky was blue. It was so pretty. We went to the Minute Man National Park which is quite close. Their first parking lot was closed off, but the Paul Revere Capture Site was plowed out so we parked there and skied on Old Battle Road to the Hartwell Tavern. In the summer we bike there. In the winter if we have snow it is great for skiing.

DH skiing away from me into the blue sky.

Captain William Smith's house is on the path and is an historic old saltbox. It is used as a campsite for some of the reenactments around Patriot's Day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Great Sunflower Project

Last year I joined the Great Sunflower Project. Which despite its name is not about sunflowers but about bees. It is a huge research project on bee populations. Basically what they did was let anyone sign up to help out. They would send you seed for the particular sunflower they want you to use. You grow them and count how many bees come to visit the flowers in a given amount of time.

That was the theory in any case. In reality I never got my seeds. They said they were on the way, so I waited. And waited. It turns out a lot of people didn't get seed or the seed didn't germinate. There are over 26,000 people participating, so it is not surprising that not everything went right. I was sad that I didn't get to participate since I feel understanding our bees better is a worthy goal.

I have another chance this year. I just got an email from them saying the hunt was on again. So I duely confirmed my address and am hoping for the seeds of "Lemon Queen" sunflowers to show up on my doorstep in about a month. I'll count bees during the summer and in the fall the birds will be happy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Worth of a Garden and a Bit of a Blizzard

Kitchen Gardens International may have just answered the question, "Does my vegetable garden makes any money or is a money pit?" Their most recent article is "What is a Home Garden Worth?" Their conclusion is that it about US$1.50 per square foot for a mixed planting. My vegetable garden is about 20x20 feet though in a really contorted way since it isn't square by any stretch of the imagination. My fruit garden is about 4x24 feet. So my vegetable and fruit gardens should be worth about $675.

The poor fruit garden might have trouble keeping up with this since 3/4 of the garden was planted in blueberries just last year. They will hardly be up to par with their harvests yet and if I listen to some of the experts I ought to pick off all of my blossoms this year too. But I'll be honest. If there is a chance of me getting blueberries from the garden this year, I'm going to take it. I'm not picking any flowers off just because I'm supposed to. I'm going to listen to the experts that say I can get a small harvest this year. I'm much happier with that. I want blueberries on my cereal in the morning.

The estimate they give is good news. If true it means I certainly will be well on the plus side when I add my garden up. I swear I spend as much for my small little garden as they do for their huge one. I think there are some economies of scale. You can buy things in bulk and actually use up your packets of seed. The other nice thing about their site is the pricing. It will give me a good start on what to price things at. I'll use my own in season pricing as much as possible, but it is great to have something to put on the spreadsheet before it all starts.

And as to yesterday's blizzard, we got about a foot of heavy wet snow. I shoveled for a little over two hours. My muscles are shouting complaints at me this morning. I keep telling them it is just exercise to get them ready for flipping compost this spring, but they are having none of that. I'll leave you with the before and after photos.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

The seedlings are slowly growing. My onions planted in January now have their third leaves. Some have four, but most have three. The leeks planted a week later have two. They are supposed to be planted out in 2-3 weeks. With the blizzard going on outside my window, I'm skeptical. I keep planting more regardless of the weather.

Last week I seeded more onions. This time it was bunching onions with seed left over from last year. Onion seed doesn't last long. Many people say to throw it out each year. Otherwise one ought to check the germination rate before planting old seed to make sure it is strong enough to grow. If the germination rate is low, you should toss them. Some say you ought to have at least 80% germination some say 60% is good enough, anything less and the remaining seed is too weak to grow well. Did I check? Of course not. I just made blocks and planted four seeds in each block. I want that many because I'm going to block plant them. I won't thin. All of the seed germinated. Including five from one where I only planted four. I swear I counted out four in that block, so the seed is so vigorous it had 120% germination. Whoo hoo! No don't tell me I just dropped one in there. I need something to celebrate during our March blizzard.

The other plants hoping to go out in a couple of weeks are my newly seeded lettuce. I sowed two blocks of three different kinds on February 21st. The Merveille De Quartre Saison and Red Sails germinated in 2 1/2 days. The New Red Fire had one block come up in six days. The other block took eight. That is very slow germination for lettuce. Hopefully now that they are up they will be stronger growers.

So far the blocks are holding up well, but they haven't needed much watering yet. They seem to need water about every 4 days. I bottom water and soak them, then let them dry out until a little of the surface is dry.