Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Planting Tomatoes

I'd been staring at my tomatoes and peppers for a while with one question in mind. The question was whether to plant them or not.

There are a couple of good arguments for getting them into the ground. The first is that they have started outgrowing their containers. They either need potting up or planting. If I leave them in their current pots they will be very stressed. If I pot them up they will no longer fit under the lights. As it is they are almost too big.

The second is that I'm leaving town for a week starting Monday. The plants can survive outside without me, but inside they would be under the care of my husband. Last night when I told he he would be taking care of them when I'm gone, he stared at me like I was crazy. And to be perfectly honest, it is a bit crazy. Joel has never taken care of any plant in his life, not even a houseplant. He doesn't grow things. I can explain certain things to him, but it is a big risk giving the care of the poor things to a total neophyte.

The third is that the peppers are on the verge of blossoming. In fact two already have the tiniest buds on them. To get the best yeild out of a pepper plant, they have to be planted before they flower. Picking the buds off doesn't change things. The plant is putting its energy into blossoms not roots. It is too late for some of them, but the others are still bloom free. They need to go in the ground now - well last week really.

The only argument against is that it is way too early. I've never planted out tomatoes and peppers this early. The odds are good that the last frost was April 12th, but it is by no means certain. Even without a frost we could get cold wet weather all May. The tomatoes would really get stressed out with that. The long range forecast says that in the next week we will have one cold day (probably on Sunday), but the lows won't get below 40°F (4°C). Towards the end of next week the weather will start a warming trend (maybe to the 70°Fs) and be wet. I usually don't like planting tomatoes before a long stretch of wet weather because of mildew issues.

Basically I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. Since it looks like it will be cool and wet instead of cold and wet, I planted today. The plants looks so happy out in the ground. I hope they don't hate me in a week.

This morning I put in the Sungold F2 experimental tomatoes in the ground. The six plants were spaced 2' apart. I probably ought to have twice as many for a good experiment, but that is what fits. In front of the bed the chili peppers were put in a foot apart. In back of the tomatoes I put in three Italian basil plants and there are also the three marigolds that were planted yesterday. The only thing missing from this bed right now are the carrots. When I get back I'm going to put a row of carrots down the middle of the bed between the tomatoes and the peppers. After they were all watered in. I put a row cover over the tomatoes and peppers. That should keep any unusual light frosts from killing them.

This afternoon I'll pot up my other tomatoes in the buckets that I prepared yesterday. To protect them I'll place a soda bottle filled with water, sitting right next to each plant. I'll put them by the chimney because those bricks are a great heat sink.

Am I insane for planting so early? Maybe. I'll know when I'm back from my trip.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mowing, Soil Making, and Planting

Marigold seedling planted in the garden

My dandelions have been popping up their heads for a while now. They have stretched up high and were making the lawn look a little scraggly. The lawn has barely started growing, but I still felt it was time to mow for the first time. I'm not talking the first time this year, or the first time with my new Neuton rechargeable lawn mower. This is the first time I've ever mowed in my life.

Mowing is pretty easy. It uses a few muscles in my forearms I obviously don't use on a regular basis, but other than that it really isn't much work at all. Just a gentle stroll on the grass trying to push an obstreperous mower over the tree roots. Oh that's why people put those circular mulch piles under their trees. It makes it easier to mow. Well we don't have alien circles in our lawn. The grass goes right up to our Norway maples with huge bumpy roots. Evil trees. Luckily my little Neuton 5.2 is very light. Even I can force the mower over the roots when the mower balks.

The little mower doesn't cut a very wide swath so there are a lot of passes back and forth. All in all, mowing is pretty boring. I wonder. If I put on my noise canceling headphones, will I be able to hear my podcasts? Escape Pod (scifi podcast) and Pod Castle (fantasy podcast) kept me double digging easily. I'm sure they could put a little more fun into my weekly mowing too. I must try that next time.

I noticed that I also need an edger. Is there an easy one to use that is manual? I'm thinking clippers on long handles. I'll have to look into it. Otherwise I'll need to buy a rechargeable trimmer.

There wasn't a lot of grass in the grass catcher though there were a lot of decapitated dandelions. I put what little I had on the compost pile. Then I looked at my leaf pile. I tossed a bit of leaves on the ground and sucked them up with the lawn mower. Instant shredded leaves. Nice. It isn't powerful enough to deal with a huge pile of wet leaves, but it does the nice dry or slightly damp ones just fine. Maybe this year my compost will break down faster if I chop all the leaves up first.

The next chore for the day was to get the tomato pots all ready. I'm sure EG will be disappointed in me, but I didn't make self watering containers. I just drilled holes in the bottom of the six green five gallon pails. It was quick and easy. The hard part was mixing the soil for them. I mixed one pots worth at a time in the wheelbarrow. I used 1/9 course sand, 2/9 vermiculite, 1/3 ancient compost, 1/3 soil from the garden. I also added to each pot: 1 cup 5-3-3 organic fertilizer, 1 cup bone meal, 1 c crushed eggshells (calcium), 1/4 c lime (I have very acidic soil), 1 1/2c azomite (micro nutrients). I mixed it all together and filled each pot. It took forever. My back hurt afterward. It never hurt when I was double digging. It takes bending over a wheelbarrow for way too long. I need a taller wheelbarrow or shorter legs. I ended up squatting on the ground to make it more bearable. I must say I really like planting in the ground over all this excess work of making your own soil. I have issues with potted plants. It seems so unnatural to me. But I'm trying it because I'm greedy and want those tomatoes. They had better produce well.

While I was mixing up soil, I made a bit more for my pot for the front door. I really ought to put it at my back door. So few people use my front door. All my family and friends go around back. I'll think about it. I don't have any flowers to put in it yet anyway. I'll have to buy some soon.

Then I noticed I hadn't brought my plants out for the day. Whoops. I took them out and noticed some of the littler seedlings were getting lost in the foliage. So I decided to plant out my marigolds and tithonia. I consider May 1st to be my last frost date. This year it was (I'm hoping) the night of April 12th which was not just a frost, but a freeze. Last year it was April 15th. The long range forecast says for the next seven days there will be no nights below 40°F (4°C). So I think my plants are safe, though it is by no means 100% certain.

The marigolds had to be cut out of their container. Their roots in the soil blocks had knitted all the blocks together. They really needed to be seeded later than they were. They were way too large for their root system. They were seeded on March 22nd. Note to self: give marigolds only four to five weeks from seed. The tithonia wasn't as bad. They were much slower growers.

I've moved some of the cold hardy plants like the lettuce, tatsoi and monarda into the outdoor flat. They will stay outside all day and night for a couple of days before they get planted. Now the eggplant and tomatillos can breath a little better and more importantly they can see the light.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Working Hard

The garden has been incredibly busy recently. There is nothing like hot weather and an up coming trip to remind you that you need to get things done and soon. My main chore has been finishing up that double digging of the tomato bed. I started double digging on Friday and did two hours every day throughout the weekend.

Then came yesterday. I did two hours in the morning. I had a friend stop by after I was almost done with my time. She wanted to go for a walk. All I could think at the time was that I really didn't need the exercise, but off I went. Walks really aren't about exercise. They are much more about gabbing with friends in the guise of exercise. An hour later I was back; had lunch; and decided I wanted to get the bed done already. Two hours a day is good to keep the arms and back from getting sore, but really it was taking forever. I didn't want to dig today. It is a really hellish day, at over 90°F(32°C). So I put in a couple more hours of digging yesterday and finished it off. Now I know people complain about all this digging stuff but I've lost a pound and am buff. Who needs the gym when you have a garden to dig? Sadly the rest of the summer will be lighter work, so I might have to lift those weights again.

Just digging the bed of course is not enough. I had to de-pile the dirt, rake it smooth and amend it. The piles were hard to smooth since it was much higher than before. I may have removed a ton of rocks, but I put back in even more of my half decomposed compost. I put it in the lower layer which is mostly clay and small rocks. Since I had so much extra dirt, I took two pails worth of the good top soil and will save it for when I make the mix for the potted tomatoes. The soil ended up about three inches taller than the edging of the bed. I'm sure over the next month it will sink back down a bit and be more manageable.

Here is my finished bed. The closest part is where my flowers will go. I'm going to put in some sunflowers and my tithonia. This morning before it heated up I prepared that bed. That is why it is darker then the far end. It is still moist. A little farther on you can see some trenches. I planted my chitted potatoes in that 4x4 section. I'll blog about that saga later. Next is the section where my pineapple tomatillos and my eggplant will go. That section currently has carrots growing down the middle. The last section will be the tomatoes and chili peppers.

I made the tomato end walkable. This bed is long and I hate to have to walk around it all the time. So I made sure I had some way to get around. If it wasn't there I might try to hop over the bed at some point. It is much safer to have a way around.

Today I did as much as possible before the hot weather descended. So as I said I prepared the flower section of the bed and planted potatoes. Then I planted some nasturtium and borage seed along the fence. I made the pea trellis since the peas are starting to grow and reach for things. It is still out of their reach but it won't take long.

I harvested some greens. Aren't the little radish seedlings I thinned out just darling? They went whole like that into my salad. Salad today for lunch. Whoo hoo! And I went to the store to pick up bone meal, vermiculite, and coarse sand. These are for my potted tomatoes. Well the bone meal is for all my plants.

Now I'm ensconced inside and contemplating cleaning the filter to my air conditioner. It is something that needs doing every year before I start it up for the first time. It is a small air conditioner that only cools down the family room and only on those really hot and humid days. Like today. Today? Really? On average Boston only gets 13 days in the 90°Fs all year long. And we are getting one in April? If this keeps up, I'll be really screwed. I don't take the heat well.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday Seedling Update and Harvest Tally

My seedling update will eventually end as the seedlings all become plants. In its place will be my weekly harvest and the monetary tally. Since this week is the first week with a harvest and I still have lots of seedlings, I will do both.

The harvest was tiny and if you follow the this blog you've already seen it once. I harvested 1/2oz of chives and 1/3oz of spinach thinnings. It was exciting for me to get my first harvest, but it hardly evened out my tally. The spinach came in at a whopping $0.14 and the chives at $0.22. But hey, its 36 cents on the positive side of the tally. Us northerners will take anything we can get at this time of year.

On the negative side I spent $1.56 more on two pounds of seed potatoes this week to make a total spent of 210.55. Dang I'm getting a harvest and still spending more than I'm making. The total now stands at $210.19.

Now on to the seedlings. Since I harvested spinach from seedlings, I'm going to show you those first. This photo is for Annie's Granny and Annie's Kitchen Garden who had trouble thinning her spinach (but did finally do it). The bottom two rows were planted with chitted seed three inches apart. The rows are six inches apart (15 cm). The top row is where I put all my excess seed. It was seeded 3/4-1 inch apart (2 cm). I thinned out half of the top row already. That row's plants are tiny compared to the ones that have had more room to grow. They are about 2/3s the size of the other plants. Thinning really makes your plants grow faster. Be ruthless.

Weirdly our recent heat has really made the peas take off. I have gaps in the rows that never germinated. I reseeded the gaps on Friday.

The heat has really made the corn start to grow. It just sat there during our cold weather earlier last week, but now it is shooting up. I took the plastic off the four hills that were covered with it. The mid 80°F (30°C) was really hot enough. It didn't need to be baked. The three hills with the remay row cover I left on. It also covers my spinach and I want to protect that from any possible insects.

My brassica bed is really no longer seedlings. They are plants. They have grown so much. The row on the right side are Gonzales cabbage. The dark green plants in the front are tatsoi. The light green plants behind that are the Fun Jen. Above the middle Fun Jen you can just make out the purple mizuna. Over to the left is the komatsuna (also called mustard spinach) and the Holland greens. What you can't see is the broccoli. It is to the right of the cabbage. Two are doing well, one is getting eaten by the slugs. Sigh. I pulled a slug off this morning and squished it.

I do have real seedlings out in the garden too. My marigolds in soil blocks were eating up the warm spell. I had to pinch off the first bud. They really need to go into the bed already, but I haven't finished double digging it yet. Note to self: seed the marigolds two weeks later next year.

However the tithonia is has gotten burnt from the heat. Poor things. We have had two days of record breaking weather in the Northeast. We broke one record that has held for about a century. The seedlings would have been fine if they were in the ground, but the little soil blocks just heat up too much and the plants suck the water out of them too fast. I did water them twice yesterday, but even that wasn't enough. I've moved them to a place that gets afternoon shade, but really they are of a size to go into the ground. I need to make their bed today. I have SO much to do in the garden. I spent about four hours yesterday working and am still behind. At least today will be cooler.

Now on to the indoor seedlings. I've been starting the hardening off period for them. Friday they had an hour. Saturday three hours. And Sunday five hours. The place they were in was almost full sun. It is under the oak trees, but the leaves haven't come out yet. The branches provided a bit of protection from the scorching sun however so they all did fine.

They have taken off now that they are in the real sun. I can't believe how quickly the peppers and tomatoes have grown in just two days. I normally plant them sometime between May 1st and May 15th. Usually the later date since May can turn very cold and rainy. About May 1st I look at the long range weather forecast and see if it is going to be nice weather. Nice weather means not rainy all the time. I can make it hot with a plastic tunnel, but only if there is sun. Sadly it is too early to tell what May will be like and the peppers really need to be planted now. It looks like the tomatoes will need to be planted in about a week. Note to self: peppers only needs six weeks, tomatoes only four weeks from seed. Don't believe that silliness of 8-10 weeks for peppers and 6-8 weeks for tomatoes.

I have so many other plants growing in small amounts. My Italian basil is doing well (four plants on the right). The lemon basil is smaller but still looking nice (center bottom). The tomatillos doing great (bottom left). It took them three weeks to germinate, but once up they seem happy. The following are not shown. The eggplant is all up and just has seed leaves. The monarda is finally getting a bit bigger. The next succession of lettuce and tatsoi is coming along great. One block of lettuce (not sure which one yet since the blocks got mixed up) didn't germinate so I seeded some more red sails in it and it is up.

All in all the garden is getting to be an exciting place. In a few weeks there will be almost nothing left of my seedlings. Just my eggplant and maybe some germinating cucurbits.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Change in the Weather

The weather has made an about face here in New England. Our week started with cold rainy weather. The plants picked up little jewels of water on their leaves. The couple of inches of water we received were much needed as we are quite behind our normal precipitation this year. The week is ending with sunny dry hot weather. We have gotten into the 80°Fs (27°C). I think my two daffodils that just opened in the rain will start to wilt in a couple of days in this heat. The heat will mostly stick around for four or five days before we cool off again.

So at the beginning of the week I couldn't dig in the soil because of the rain. Now I just don't want to due to the heat. My solution this morning was to start working early - before breakfast. It is not easy to walk bleary eyed out the door into heavy digging, but I did. I put in my requisite two hours of digging today. Yesterday wasn't so hot so I waited until a reasonable hour - 10am - to start that stint of digging.

Slowly the bed is taking shape. A few more days and I'll be done. I hope I keep the digging up throughout the heat. I need that area where all my dirt is dumped so I can plant my nasturtiums. I need to get my marigolds in the ground or pot them up and I'm not potting them up. I'd better keep myself digging every morning. I'll be so happy when it's done.

After a hearty breakfast and a shower - in that order since I was starving - I went to meet Pam from Pam's Garden Dreams for the first time. We gabbed a bit to get to know each other. It turns out we have an awful lot in common. I'm sure our husbands will hit it off too once they meet since they are also a bit alike. Then she took me over to her new community garden plot. It was great fun to get a tour. The community garden is build in a marsh. The ground is extremely wet. Everyone there uses raised beds to drain the garden, but I don't know how you can ever dig in that place without destroying the soil structure. Very wet. The soil was also black as night. It looked very fertile. Hopefully later in the year when everything is growing I'll get to go back and see it again. I love peeking in other people's gardens.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Short Stories

I wanted to catch you up on what else I did yesterday, but here I am running out of time. In a couple of days I won't remember a shred of what happened, so I'll make the long stories short.

Story one. My tomatoes were getting crowded so I potted them up. Today they are getting their first hour long sunbath outside. Story over. I won't tell you about how I dropped one or how serendipity made me pot up more than I was going to. I hate short stories. Long novels are much more satisfying, but sometimes you just don't have the time for 400 pages.

Story two. I made one of my compost bins a little bigger so it can hold more. I'll need the increase in size because of the massive quantities of coffee grounds that are starting to come in. Story over. I'll leave out the parts about how I found the wire to make it bigger. Sigh.

Story three. I had my first harvest this week. Whoopee! I picked 1/2 of an ounce of chives and 1/3 of an ounce of spinach. The spinach was from thinning the one row that I planted too closely together because of too much chitted seed. I didn't take a photo of the chives and almost forgot to do the spinach, but remembered after taking a couple of bites of lunch. So there it is, my first bites of tiny spinach next to the huge pile of coleslaw. Yum. The first taste of spring.

Preparing for Tomatoes

Yesterday was a huge day in the garden. A lot got done, but this post is just about the morning. My morning chore was to start preparing the tomato bed. When I started it was covered in vetch. I wanted to wait to prepare this bed so the vetch could grow well in spring. And grow it did.

Usually one just cuts vetch to the ground when it starts to flower. This kills the plant, but there are no flowers yet and vetch will easily grow back from the roots in other stages of its growth, so I pulled the plants up roots and all. The roots are amazing. When I was pulling the plants out they just didn't want to let go. I had to dig them out. They were just covered in little nitrogen nodules. I didn't get half the roots out, but I think enough. Especially since this bed will get double dug soon. The vetch was spread out to dry. I'll use it as mulch for my tomatoes once they get established unless the worms eat them first.

And speaking of worms, for some reason there were fewer worms in this section of garden, especially where the vetch was the thickest. Do worms not like vetch? Usually when I dig the worms are just everywhere. They existed here, but mostly where the vetch was thinner.

My next problem and main chore for the day was to remove the frame around this bed. This is the one place where I have a lumber frame. It is done in 2x8 cedar and has a hardware cloth bottom. Oh how I regret putting this in. You can't dig when there is a bottom to the bed. And more to the point, I can't grow carrots when the bed is only 7" deep.

I dug all the soil out of the frame and piled it up. There wasn't much space to pile it. Most of the garden was planted or mulched nearby. So I carefully made the pile as it got bigger so it wouldn't collapse. I even brought out the wheelbarrow and one of my pails.

After removing most of the soil I still had trouble levering it up. The maple tree roots - the bane of my existence in this garden - had grown through the wire and were holding it down. The image of an evil creature with long bony fingers holding the wire down came to mind. I had to cut them all off before lifting it up. The cutting would have been easier without that image fixed in my head. Luckily it was the full light of day, so I didn't keep looking over my shoulder at my evil Norway maple tree.

The cedar edging which is about six years old is already starting to rot. The vetch and maple tree roots were quite attached and digging into the boards. I was thinking of using the lumber for a cold frame. I might not with all the rot. I'll think on it.

The next chore was to edge the raised side of the bed (the beds are all slightly terraced due to the slope of the land, one side is raised, the other level with the path). This time I'm edging with some logs I had gleaned from the woods over the last couple of weeks. Since they had already been cut to size, all I had to do was put them in place and wedge them in with some small rocks.

Now I have my work cut out for me. I was tired enough that I didn't want to start double digging today. To make the double digging less strenuous than last time, I'll put in a couple of hours a day until it is done. I'm hoping to have it done before I leave on my trip in a week and a half. I probably should have started earlier, as I still might have to put in a long day to finish.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Requisite Earth Day Post

It is Earth Day. To celebrate I'll unveil my new lawn mower. It is a Neuton 5.2, rechargeable mower. The little engines in lawn mowers are notorious polluters. The rechargeable ones are much better for the environment. Please don't tell me I should do a reel mower. Sadly I have a good sized lawn so those would be way too much work.

In the past I've had a lawn service. They use large ride on mowers. Their edgers are all gas. They use blowers to clean the lawn, not rakes. If you go outside after they leave, you can smell the stink of their engines, not the smell of fresh cut grass. I work from home most days and the noise pollution is terrible. As soon as I hear them I run to close all the windows to keep out the noise and the smell. Ick.

So now that you are thinking I'm being a good citizen, and trying to save the world in my own small little way, I must confess that that is not the main reason I'm doing it. It is on the list of reasons, but at the bottom. The number one reason I'm doing it, is the economy. No not because I can't afford to pay them, but because I'm selling less of my craft in this economy, I have more free time to do it. Despite my shortfall, my husband still makes enough to support us just fine. Some of you may think I'm poor because I'm always trying to find ways to save money in my garden. Nope I'm just parsimonious. I should just say cheap. Parsimonious is a $10 word for cheap and I really wouldn't pay that much for a word. I should stick to the $0.10 words. So I'm cheap. I deserve my APLS membership. I live simply because I like to. But I've gotten off track.

The second of my reasons is that the lawn service has been garden unfriendly. Last year they ran over my rhododendron that I layered off of one of my other bushes (see really cheap). I nurtured it for a decade to get it to its present state. Well last springs state. Right now most of the bush is dead. It doesn't like getting run over by lawn mower. It wasn't a tiny little thing either. It was two feet high. Sigh.

Then they weed wacked my bluets while they were in full bloom. I love my little bluets. When I found them growing wild here I brought a small patch to a border where I could take care of them. I had a large group of them naturalizing there and taking over. Sigh. Then they weed wacked down my hostas a bit later in the season. I might point out this border has no grass in it I keep it weeded. It is edged with some pavers. It is obviously a border. Yet they still weed wacked them down. Sigh.

Then I told them I wanted all the leaves from my yard to go into my 10' wire bin since I save them for my compost that I make throughout the year. Did they? Nope. If they collected it with the lawn mower they did. But if they were blowing them, it was too much work to get them into the bin (which I opened up wide on one side just for them). So they blew them all into the woods. Sigh.

Then they take the tight corners too fast and their big mowers dig holes in the lawn. I have bare spots because of them. Now my dog makes more bare spots but she doesn't need help from my mowing service. Sigh.

So I confess the environment only made it to number three on my list, but it was on the list and the reason a rechargeable was bought.

Anyway back to my Neuton. I picked this one because it was small and I can move it easier. I have a bad shoulder and was a little afraid the larger, harder to push ones would aggravate it. Also Neuton has a cool policy. If I don't like it, in the next six months I can return it on their dime. So if I can't handle mowing because of my shoulder or I feel I really need the bigger version. No problem.

Neuton does try to keep their petroleum product packaging down. There was only a little bit of styrofoam packaging to hold the wheels. There was still lots of plastic bags to make sure things didn't get scratched, but the main packaging was hard cardboard. You can see some of it sitting in the opened package. So a nice plus. I'll keep the packaging until after the trial period, but then it can be recycled or composted.

It was very easy to put together. The little part on the bottom right is not part of the package. I got that separately. It is a sharpener for the lawn mower. I figure if I'm getting a nice mower that doesn't need any tune ups, I ought to do all the maintenance so I'll sharpen it myself. The lawnmower blade came pretty dull. So I took it off and touched it up a bit. Then put it all together.

Here is the finished product. I haven't tried it out yet. The lawn is about a week away from needing a mow and the battery is getting charged. We will see how it goes. I've never ever mowed a lawn before. My parents didn't have one and my husband mowed before we got a service. It doesn't seem like it will be a hard chore, at least if you have a light electic mower. It is just walking around the yard. Right?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

There are so many thing growing right now. I'll start with the outside first. Yesterday I planted three parsley plants, two borage and four lettuce. I love the photo below that shows the each succession. They were planted on: 3/27, 4/7, 4/19. Hmm I really need to plant them farther apart in time. They are supposed to be every two week, but they are closer than that. Note to self: Next year I need to plant three times as many plants in my earliest plantings. If I had I'd be in salad greens already.

Plants that were direct seeded a while ago were spinach and peas. The peas have finally started coming up. Their germination is spotty. I'll probably go out and fill in soon. The chitted spinach seed almost all came up. I'm doing this again next year. In the photo below the top plants were grown without a row cover and the bottom ones had a remay cover. The covered ones are so much bigger. Note to self: always use a row cover in the spring. It's worth the effort.

I might have carrots coming up in the garden too, but I just can't tell. I let my dill self sow and it is coming up all over the garden, but the worse section is near the carrots. The majority of the dill grew right here last year. The seed leaves of dill look just like carrots. Sadly carrots and dill hate one another. I really need to get that dill out as fast as possible. I've weeded out the stuff that isn't following the rows, but I'll have to wait until the plants get bigger to tell which ones to pull. As speaking of the self sowed seed, both the cilantro and parsley are coming up. I can't tell these apart as seedlings either. I need the first true leaves, but I do know where they grew last year so I have a good idea which is which.

The Fun Jen (above) has been found out by the slugs. It might be in the middle of the bed, but the slugs will always find it first. They love this stuff.

The outside seedlings are my marigolds and tithonia. Mostly they have done well. One tithonia has some brown edges. Did I let it dry out too much? Sometimes after a day in the sun they are very dry. I should check them more often. One tithonia was tossed. It never grew well and was barely green. Is there such a thing as an albino tithonia? It looked like it barely made chlorophyll.

The princesses of the indoor seedlings are the tomatoes. They are getting bigger and will probably be potted up at the end of this week or the beginning of the next. The Sungold F2s are the most vigorous. All the others are doing well except for Gregori's Altai. Neither of the two seedings germinated. Well one seed did, but it didn't make roots, just a stem. I chitted the rest of the seed to see if I could get any to grow. No luck yet. The seed just isn't viable.

And if the tomatoes are princesses, the peppers are definitely the princes. Most of them look gorgeous, but one pack of six was at the end of the fluorescent lights where it is too dim for them. Their new leaves were coming in a bit yellow. I've shoved the lettuce down to the end and moved the peppers closer to the middle. The lettuce can take the dimmer light.

The basil is still doing well too. It is still small with just one true leaf - well two, but just one set. The tomatillos finally came up after weeks of waiting. Not only that but they were all up within a couple of days. The eggplants that were seeded four days ago are not up yet. This is expected. Last year it took a week for them to germinate. I start them so late because I like small transplants and I also wait a while before putting them out. Waiting until after my last frost date really isn't sufficient for eggplants. Last year they got planted on June 1st.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Corn, Champion Sprinter

On April 16th I planted my corn in soil blocks. I placed them on the heating mat. I was hoping that in about four to seven days they would sprout for me. The weather at the end of the week is going to get pretty warm. It would be perfect timing.

Did you know that if you give corn good conditions that it comes up faster than cole crops do? They are speedy germinaters coming in at three days. My corn germinated in two. Two days? Arrrrgggg!

I came home from working the store yesterday. I was tired. My husband said Nat had called and wanted to play a game (my friends often play European board games - much better than an American parlor game). I said I wasn't interested. I was tired. I just wanted to put my feet up for a while. But first I had to check my seedlings. The corn was up. Gack. Not only was it up, but it was up with 100% germination. No rest for the weary. The seedlings had to go out immediately. Some of the roots were already sticking out of the bottom. Corn does not like root disturbance, and to keep it anchored in the wind I needs those roots to go down deep into the soil.

Leftover seedlings from yesterday, note the root stick out at the bottom.

I grabbed the biggest 28 seedlings and ran outside to plant - in the rain. It wasn't raining hard, but it had started. I had already measured out my hills on three foot centers with sticks. I didn't actually hill up anything, in fact I sunk the seedlings in a bit. They will get hilled up as they grow. This will anchor them even more.

My favorite measuring tool is my hand. When I stretch my hand the distance between the tip of my index finger and the tip of my thumb is 6" (15cm). I used this to place four seedlings each 6" from the marking stick. If you do the math (remember the Pythagorean Theorem?), that would make them 8.4" apart. In reality they are about 9" since the stick has width. The rest of the post will be nerd free. I promise.

I wanted them to germinate later, once our cold snap was over. There were some dire predictions a few days ago of frosty nights and forties during the day for today and tomorrow. Well the corn was early and the predictions have changed. It is still a little chilly, but will probably break into the 50s both days. And the nights? Nope. No more frost predicted. I'll still protect my plants however. You just can't trust a prediction anymore than you can trust your corn to wait four days to sprout.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Favorite Pail

Remember those pails I got a month ago. Another of them is being put to good use. Finally. It took a while.

It all started when my husband complained that his company could be greener. He asked me if he brought home the coffee ground, could I compost them. YES! I had no container at the time to put them in but I knew I was getting pails soon so waited. Then I forgot. This kind of behavior is no surprise to my family, but y'all may think I'm perfect. (Quit laughing.) Yes I can be forgetful about my garden too. I do it often enough. A couple of nights ago I forgot to bring the little seedlings in. I'd been in bed an hour and remembered. Ack. Yes I did get up and remedy the situation. It could have gone under freezing that night. It didn't but it could have. And after seeing my poor shivering chard the other day, I didn't want to torture the poor seedlings. Harden them off, don't kill them. Yes that is my motto. At least if I remember.

Anyway back to the main story. So I fianlly remembered and told him I had pails and could he start bringing coffee grounds home? Sure he said. Two days later no coffee grounds. "Where are my coffee grounds?" I ask him. He said I never gave him a pail. "Really?" I thought to myself, "they are right in the garage. About three steps out of his way." But I just thought it. Maybe I said it. I should have just thought it, because there are two types of pails. My white ones and my green ones. He can't have the green ones. They are MINE.

I put a white one out for him the next day. By this time he was off on a business trip. Eventually on Friday, the stars aligned, the angels sang, and I have my first batch of coffee grounds. Ok he took half of Friday off so we could go hiking on our first 70°F day, so there was only half a days worth of coffee grounds barely covering the bottom. But I'm calling my pail half full. I have coffee grounds to compost and I don't even drink the stuff.

I'm expecting more next week. I'm also expecting my pail to runneth over. I hope I'm not expecting too much.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The First of the Three Sisters

Well I've started the seed for the three sisters garden (along with my eggplant and next lettuce succession). Or at least I might have started it. Our Boston weather in the spring is very variable each year. Some years May is cold and rainy in the 50°Fs (10-15°C). Some years it is warm and sunny. We have even had 90°F (32°C) temperatures, which for us in the northeast is HOT. If we get a warm May corn will grow just fine. If we get a cold May it will rot and not even germinate. Corn is the first of the three sisters. She is planted before the others. She has to get a good start before the beans can climb up her stem.

So my solution is to plant in soil blocks to germinate the seed. There will be no rotting since it is on a heating mat. I seeded 35 blocks, each with one seed. That ought to give me about the 28 I need to plant.

So where did I get 28? The three sisters garden is traditionally planted in hills. The corn hill is thinned to the best four. Most hills are planted 4' apart, but some people that do intensive gardening say 3' is enough. My garden bed is 21' long (about) so I'm going to try for 7 hills each, three feet apart. Yes math in the garden.

I'm still debating on internal distance. The most traditional seems to be 6" apart, but some go as far as a foot apart. I'm thinking spreading them out a bit might be useful. So maybe 9"? Hmm I'll have to think about it. If anyone has any experience, let me know.

I'm hoping for at least decent weather in May. If I get sun, even if the temperatures are a bit low, I will be fine. I have plastic over much of the bed right now and can keep it on as a tunnel when the corn is transplanted and possibly switch to remay later. I don't intend to keep the corn in the blocks for any length of time. As soon as they are up they will be planted out. I'm crossing my fingers that this will work. I'm going to be out of town in May until Mother's Day. If they aren't thriving by then, I can always reseed.

You would think I would have learned my lesson from my chard seedlings, but no. I'm still trying to push my seasons. Unless I move to a warmer climate, I always will. But at least I learned something from the chard. If you are pushing the seasons, use protection.

Chard is a Wimp

I planted two different sowings of Swiss chard. The first one was seeded inside on 3/13. The second 3/22. The first one was planted out on 4/7. The second on 4/14. One would think that the earlier one would be bigger by now. But that is not the case.

The four tiny little plants on the top (not the large one on the top right) are from the earlier sowing of chard. Yes they are there, just look closer. I said closer. Still can't see them all? Well trust me. There are four little seedlings there. They barely are starting their first true leaves. The larger ones are from the later planting. Chard is supposed to be one of those plants that can handle the cold. It might be able to handle it, but it really doesn't seem to like it much. Such wimps.

Note to self. Stick to a later sowing of chard or give them protection like I do for almost all the other plants that are out in the cold right now. Hmm maybe that is my problem. The early chard is on strike because all the other plants are getting coddled. Come on plant. Suck it up. Grow some balls leaves and act like a man hermaphrodite.

And speaking of cold, it might disappear for a couple of days. Friday may just be our first day to hit 70°F (21°C). Saturday ought to be in the low 60°Fs. Yipee. It will give us a taste of warmth before it dips into the forties again. At least no one is predicting any frost for the next week.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Potting Up Chilies

This is the first time I've potted up any of my soil blocks and it went rather well. My chili peppers that I showed off on Monday really needed potting up. Not only are their leaves touching now, but with soil blocks you can see their roots and when you start to see some good root sticking out, it means they need potting up.

These chilies were seeded on 3/16 and germinated on 3/21. So it took about a month after planting for them to need potting up. My biggest issue was what to pot them up into. I have lots of little plastic pots, 3" and 4". I could use either, but with the soil blocks I'm free of plastic pots floating around the garden. I'd like to keep to that. So I made paper pots instead.

I took some old Wall Street Journals and cut them into 4" strips. I loop them into a circle and press potting soil into the bottom. My newspaper pots don't have bottoms. The bottoms hold together for the same reason soil blocks hold together. I use little color coded paper clips to hold the top. Before I plant them out, I'll remove the clips to be reused again. As I was making them I noticed that financial crises look so much more benign when wrapped around a pepper seedling. You don't like what AIG is doing. Cut it up and plant something into it. It is very therapeutic.

After the pot is half filled with compacted potting soil. I added in a pepper block. Then I carefully filled in around the edges, tamping it all down. And a while later it is finished. Ta Da!

That 'while later' was on the order of an hour. Why does it take so long to transplant 15 plants? I'm always shocked if I look at the clock when I do things. I suppose if I did a lot of transplanting I'd get quicker at it. I'd also buy a 4" soil blocker so I could just press it out and plop them in. Now I'm fitting a square block into a round newspaper pot. We have all been taught that square blocks don't go into round holes. I guess I've just never learned this lesson. The square edges kept trying to fall apart as I tamped in the soil. I had to be really careful about it, but it worked.

I'm almost caught up in my posts. I have one more left from yesterday to write. I suppose I could just say it in a one liner, but where is the fun in that?

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day April 2009

I wish I could show you a plethora of wonderful spring flowers, but they don't seem to like the cold. Even the Johnny-Jump-Ups that I had last month are not blooming right now. I do have some really beautiful moss.

Some year my daffodil will bloom.

The only thing blooming right now is my hellebore. It finally opened opened up on April 10th.

Will I have anything for next bloom day? I can only hope. If you wish to join GBBD go visit Carol of May Dream Gardens.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Update and the Fruit Garden

I'm getting so behind in my postings, so I suppose I'll do a little catch up today and again tomorrow. First I spent another two hours working on my perennial border edging today. It is almost done. It just needs a little touch up near my Daphne where the two kinds of borders come together. I've run out of good rocks, but I'll get more in a couple of weeks when I finish up preparing the vegetable garden.

Sunday, yes a couple of days ago, I pruned my fruit garden. So not only am I behind in posting, but they should have been pruned in March, before I started seeing any growth. The raspberries has some broken canes as usual and a few tiny canes. I took them out. There isn't any other pruning to do for the raspberries in the spring. I have everbearers and the major pruning comes right after the first fruiting is over. Everbearers aren't really everbearing. They bear twice a year. Once in the summer and once in the fall.

The other fruit in my fruit garden are my blueberry plants. I have four old ones that aren't really producing anymore. They are still there. They got a huge pruning last year and got another one this year. The last of the old wood will be removed next year. I'm hoping that will start them bearing again, but I'm not counting on it. Last year I put in six new plants. Their location isn't ideal. They are along the driveway which means in the winter they get snow shoveled on them. Usually this is not an issue, but this year with the massive amounts of snow we got they were not happy. There were many broken limbs. I did the best I could cutting out the broken bits, often whole limbs. Most of the blueberries have only three stems now. I'm counting on new growth this year.

The one other plant in my fruit garden is a rose. I pruned it a bit too, but I really don't know anything about pruning roses. Most years the rose dies back almost all the way so I just prune out any dead wood, but this year there was no die back at all. I took off the rose hips and evened out the bush. I keep my rose bush in the fruit garden because it make rose hips so it seems like an appropriate place for it. I don't use the hips, but they are pretty during the winter.

Edging the Perennial Bed

Yesterday I spent about two hours in the garden fixing up the edging of my garden. The perennial border near the maple tree is slightly raised. The soil has been washing out, so I wanted to put something in that would hold it back. I only needed a few inches at one end, but the other end needed a much higher edge.

I thought about what to use. I could have used the tree trunks from my backyard like I often do to line my vegetable garden, but frankly it doesn't look that good. It is a bit too rustic for the front yard.

So instead I used two different materials. The first was rocks. These have been pulled out of my soil over the years. In fact while putting in part of the edging I found another large one I could use.

The rock edgers in front of a spot where some iris was removed a couple of weeks ago

For the rest I used some pavers that were formerly a path in the vegetable garden. I don't need them there. I'll just put down some straw. I finished the rock part, but the paver part is still in progress. I thought two hours of digging was sufficient for today. I'll have plenty more nice days this week to work. No reason to be achy tomorrow.

The pavers were put sideways into the bed. They will keep the grass from invading the daylilies as well as keeping the soil in the bed. Sadly the rocks are not so useful, just pretty. The grass will be able to sends its rhizomes right underneath and into the bed. I'll just have to be vigilant.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday Seedling Update

Last night we got our predicted freeze. The ground was quite frozen under my feet. Since we had gotten a rain right before the cold weather the ground was saturated and made beautiful crystals. The photo may be deceptive as the crystals are just under 3" tall. My plants seemed to have survived the experience. There is a reason I have a garden covered in plastic and remay in the spring. If you want to push your seasons, you have to protect the poor plants.

Certain plants like my onions and leeks are fine with this kind of weather. I'm thinking the spinach is too. I have two sections of spinach. One is unprotected (just to see how it will do) and the main part is covered in remay. The unprotected spinach has frozen ground under its feet, but seems to be happy enough with it. It is growing slower than my protected patch. That patch has spinach that is already starting to put out its first true leaves. I have images of spinach salad dancing in my head, but I've got to be careful about expectations since spinach hasn't like me in the past.

The section I was most worried about, my brassicas, have weathered the freeze just fine. They had the soda bottles laid out next to the plants. The water in the bottles are not even frozen and the ground is still much warmer than any of the other beds. Success. Though it is possible to get another freeze, it is unusual for us in the latter half of April. Light frosts are more prevalent.

Today it is sunny and more moderate. The wind is really kicking up. I've brought out the above plants to start hardening off. I'm not sure exactly when I need to plant these out, but real sun can't hurt. I'll plant the chard soon since it has been hardening off for a few days. The rest need to be planted after our last frost or under protection.

I still have lots of seedlings under the lights. My favorite right now are my pepper plants. They looks so pretty. I really have to pot them up sometimes this week. After that the lights will start getting crowded.

The tomatoes have had almost a 100% germination except for Gregory's Altai, a large beefsteak of Siberian origin producing at 67 days. It didn't germinate at all. So I reseeded. It still hasn't come up. Sigh. I knew a large early beefsteak was too good to be true. If I don't see germination by tomorrow I might just try to paper towel sprout all the seed. These are seeds from They were free. All of their others came up fine. But they only send 10 seeds. If they don't sprout at all maybe I'll replace it with one of the extra seedlings. Maybe Miracle of the Market.

Besides tomatoes in the above container (I have a whole other container filled with just tomatoes, but I needed more room), I have basil popping up. Four plants of Italian basil and one of lemon basil. The empty blocks are my tomatillos. I was getting concerned that they hadn't germinated, but sometimes they can take a couple of weeks. This morning I see a tiny little stem of one plant just poking though the soil. So maybe in the next couple of days the rest will come out. I hope, or I'll have to reseed that too.

I haven't shown my lettuces or my parsley, but they are up. My lettuce had germination issues with the first round. Neither the Australian Yellow Leaf or the Dear Tongue came up, so I reseeded rather heavily. All of the second batch of seed germinated. Of course. Put four seeds in one block and everything comes up. It makes it hard to thin, but I'll take it.