Thursday, April 30, 2009

Varmit

Turns out that we have not been the only ones enjoying an early harvest in the garden. Our square foot gardens have attracted a critter. We lost two broccoli, 4 radishes, one cabbage and 4 lettuce to a grazer. So far I am just treating our little interloper like a funny companion and am going to try to co-exist. We have plenty of garden plots that he left untouched. With our succession planting approach, we still have a lot to harvest. He is safe for now.

We had a hot, hot, hot couple days last week. Those days rushed the yard to a deep green. The grass is lush, the azaleas are a deep pink, and the privet are a visual screen once more. The corn that we planted on 4/13 has broken through the surface. We are harvesting salad cuttings daily now. We are still harvesting asparagus daily, but we are down to 4 or 5 thick stalks a day. The remaining stalks are thinner than a pencil, so we are letting them grow to ferns in order to beef up the roots. I have been harvesting the stalks daily and putting them in a glass of water in the fridge cut side down. That keeps them fresh for a couple of days until we have enough for a meal. The spinach has been a real success so far this year. It is so lush and deep green. We have never had wonderful spinach. It has always been fairly spindly and a small producer. I think this year we are headed toward a much better crop. This makes me feel great, because some of the success has to go to the improved soil due to our compost operation. In most of the plots this is our second garden year, so the soil is much healthier and happier than in year one. The potatoes are also doing quite well. They grow so fast. I have already hilled them up once and will likely need to do some more work on them this weekend. Hilling up is the process of piling dirt/compost around them as they grow. I am told this is necessary because the potatoes grow along the stem, and need to be covered by dirt in order to mature.

The seed starter mix that I made is doing very well. I have brussel sprout seedlings popping up unobstructed by weeds. My approach of trying to burn the weed seeds in a mini greenhouse must have worked.

I planted 72 sunflower seeds in a flat last week - hoping to plant these on top of our large wall. I also planted about 20 seed starter lettuce seedlings inside last week, which have popped to the surface.

With daily small salad harvests we now sit at approximately 5 pounds of harvest for the year.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tomatoes

I was sick all week and weekend too. But I did manage to do a little work in the yard...

1. Seeded approx 4 rows of lettuce - mesculan, romain, and buttercrunch
2. Planted 7 tomato seedlings in the sun garden - two grape, two silver fir, three early bird garden - these I am covering at night with cloches made from 1 gallon milk jugs sliced in half.
3. weeded and composted the sq foot garden #1. Added several seeds of various, wherever some were missing.
4. Seeded three rows of carrots in the sun garden (root plot)
5. Seeded three rows of corn in the lower wall garden
6. Seeded approx 1/3 sun garden plot of peas
7. Transplanted three silver fir tomato seedlings to pots - two hanging.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How many rain barrels does one garden need?

How about 7 - holding 300 gallons of water. Does that sound like enough? We'll see.

I added two more rain barrels to my collection yesterday. The boys and I went for a romp through the Allegheny river flood plain hoping to identify another barrel or two, and we had much fun and success. As an ancillary benefit - I learned about the history of this area (from my sons) which evidently includes a ghost train and thousands of hoofed aliens. Every piece of litter we passed along the way (and there was plenty) was an artifact which helped us reconstruct the truth.

We found the mother load of rain barrels along plum creek, a small tributary feeding into the Allegheny. Altogether we found 6 barrels of various shapes and sizes and took two of them home. We took home one nice looking grey 60 gallon barrel. The only thing missing was a lid for this nice little barrel. But I liked it enough to add it to our collection. I fashioned a lid out of the plastic bottom to a pot. I didn't drill a spigot hole in this one because without a lid - it will be perfect for dunking the watering can, which fills it much faster. The other rain barrel I saved was a small 30 gallon clear one called the "cube". It has very thick walls and a handle on top. I think it was used for ice in it's past life. I drilled the spigot hole right at the very bottom of the barrel and set it up on blocks burried behind the privite along the stairs leading up to the house. This barrel and another 35 gallon one will water my roma tomatoes and corn in the two lower wall gardens. With my two new barrels in operation - I reorganized. I now have a 120 gallon double stack right beside the sun garden. Right on cue - not twenty minutes after completing and reorganizing my barrels - it started to rain.

My mom came to visit yesterday, and I showed her around the garden. We had asparagus for dinner, which was delicious. There isn't much left to harvest at this point, but we'll do the best we can. I think I can squeeze another meal of asparagus and at least three salads out of our current crop during her visit. The harvest isn't so important. What I really need the compost pile to do well during her visit. This blog and my mom's Ellensburg friends have turned my compost pile into the stuff of internet legend. I need that pile to heat up and turn to the finest peat by the time she leaves or else my reputation will be ruined. I plan to secretly bring compost into the house in the morning before my mom's arrival. One yard in the dryer and another in the oven should get the pile sufficiently heated up. I hope my wife won't mind.

3 more small harvests (asparagus- twice, lettuce, spinach, radishes, beat leaves, shallot leaves, onion leaves) since the last harvest update. Estimated total 2009 harvest now sits at 3 pounds.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

peas and compost


I started the morning with the sun and birds at about 6am and worked the compost. The "black gold" pile had shrunk down to about 20 inches high from spring use. I scooped the remaining black gold out to prepare for turning and aeration of the "green" pile. I took 5 wheelbarrows of the black stuff to various places in the yard. Curiously as I got closer to the bottom of the black gold pile, the less broken down the compost looked. So I saved this stuff to layer into the green. Once empty, I removed the bin slats that separate the two piles and started pulling the green stuff over. As I pulled it over I did several things:

  1. Chopped all the branches and sticks up as much as possible
  2. pulled apart or chopped clods of dirt/sod
  3. pulled apart and scattered dry brush and leaves
  4. watered dry brush and leaves with compost tea
  5. layered pile every 5 inches or so with partially finished compost
  6. spread lime and green sand on top of each layer of partially finished compost
I was pleasantly surprised at the progress of this pile so far. While the whole pile was not exceptionally hot - there certainly were hot spots. This green pile only began on 2/27. Its composition was mostly cardboard boxes, dry weeds from strawberry wall, and sod from cherry tree garden. Not a whole lot of nitrogen had been introduced - mainly just kitchen scraps. It also hadn't been layered or chopped significantly. I fixed all that today. After all the work prepping the pile, I covered it with clear plastic for another attempt to heat it up and break it down. At the end of the day I dug about 6 inches deep and already felt the heat - Amazing.

I made some seed starter mix today. For about two weeks I have had a small pile of compost burning up out in the sun in a black concrete mixing bucket with a clear plastic lid. Today I made a 50/50 mix of that and peat moss and put it in a black plastic bag for future use. It looks pretty good. Hopefully it is sterile. That store bought seed starter mix is too darn expensive and skimpy on the quantity.

Sarah and I transplanted several perennials to the cherry tree garden - blue hosta, traditional hosta, mini-irises, lillies.

Most of the rhubarb that I planted a couple days ago looks basically dead. Sarah transplanted many of her perennials. She made me a list so I could keep the blog up to date - how sweet.

  1. long row of cilantro in herb garden - burpee seeds 2 years old
  2. transplanted dill in herb garden and planted dill seeds that we saved from last year
  3. planted parsley seeds - ferry morse two years old. We added these seeds to the parsley patch that we had brought inside during the winter. Sarah transplanted these about a week ago and they look good.
  4. Huge pot of cosmos seeds
  5. more cilantro - this time in a pot with oregano and taragon
  6. chamomile seeds in a pot
  7. more cosmos - in garden near roses in two small plantings
  8. transplanted two sunflowers to rose garden
  9. Sarah did the window boxes today - two geraniums in each and trailing nasturtiums.
spinach in the sun garden is coming up well. I also filled in some blank spots in the sun garden with peas that did not take.

The photo is of the brussel sprout seeds that I started inside in my home-made seed starter.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

4 am garden work


We are literally minutes away from spending a couple days in the hospital harvesting the baby seed we planted 9 months ago, so work has been heavy and sleep has been light. This morning I woke up (with a little help from Sarah) at 4 am. I decided to spend this cold, foggy morning in the garden. I started several seeds way too early. Now that we are supposedly past the last hard frost of the year, I decided to throw caution to the wind and plant some of these leggy, crummy seedlings and hope for a miracle.
  1. Rhubarb - I planted about 10 of these. At one time about a month ago these were one of my indoor seed starting success stories. Now they are just barely alive. I put 4 in their permanent bed on the north west side of the house "blueberry garden". I hope that at least one survives. I planted the remaining 6 in a temporary location in the cherry tree garden - for future transplanting. NOTE FOR NEXT YEAR - I don't feel like looking it up now, but whenever I started these seeds this year was probably about 2 full months too early.
  2. Sunflowers - We started these as seeds about three weeks ago as a church nursery project with the kids. They shot up fast. I have had a couple in pots outside for the last week or so, and while they aren't thriving (they are kind of leaning over), they aren't dead yet either. So I decided to plant the rest this morning. I put about 10 in the ground. I planted 7 at the base of our first wall along the alley. This section is historically a weed festival, but we have been trying to convert it to something at least manageable. We have transplanted lots of pacasandra, and dafadils over the last two years. We also have tried to get rhodadendron seedlings to take in this section with mixed success. I added these sunflower to the very front section hoping to add some sparkle to the folks driving up Center avenue. The three other sunflower I planted in the sun garden at the end of my garden paths.
  3. Geraniums - much like the rhubarb, I was very proud of these geraniums about 2 months ago. Now they just make me sad to look at. I planted three of them next to the sunflower in the sun garden.
I also seeded a couple rows of buttercrunch lettuce this morning in the traditional cold frame. It has been a while since I have sowed lettuce.

This morning photos are of cold frame lettuce and brocolli and our asparagus patch. Mom if you are reading this - you will be eating some of this soon!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter chores

These photos are of the strawberry wall (see previous post). Yuck - I hate this section. The strawberries are on the low side of the hill, very top of the wall. In the plastic I planted pumpkins and mellons last year. I have the same plans this year. Like I said yesterday - a wonderful permanent solution awaits. I just haven't been inspired yet.

I planted some corn today. One of the sun garden rows is dedicated to corn. I have a variety called Golden Bantam. This variety is supposed to stay about 3-4 ft tall. I didn't want the 9 ft variety I planted last year in the sun garden rotation plan because it would likely shade another row or two, but I am hoping the golden bantam plays nice with the neighbors. I planted about 1/4 of the row (the east section - gets the most sun). I planted corn in the sun garden last year on 4/20 and it did well. It came up fast, so I needed to cover it a few chilly nights, but for the most part it was a nice garden success story. Not entirely sure I have enough goldam bantam seed to fill this row.

I planted three herbs that came in the mail from Shumway. I think they are chives and taragon. These are for Sarah's herb garden, but they had been sitting around the house for a couple of days, so I just stuck them in the ground in a temp location.

I potted up some tomatoes yesterday. I started these in flats a while back, and I have them scheduled for either pots or cold frames soon. I potted them in soil/compost mix to give them some nutrients and a little more room to grow. Their roots had pretty much filled out the six packs.
  1. Early bird garden - started 2/27 - 3 seelings - final destination is likely in large pots
  2. Shebyogan - started 3/9 - 5 seedlings - this variety is said to do well in hanging baskets, so I might try that
  3. Silver fir - started 3/7 - 5 seedlings - These may get a row in the sun garden along with the cherry tomatoes that I have going. I may move them to the cold frame next.
The pepper seeds are now doing much better. 17 have emerged and one flat is still pretty fresh, so I expect at least that many more. I will have enough.

I did another 1/4 lb kale, beet leaf harvest for Easter dinner. We had a side dish of carrots, kale, beet leaves mixed with balsmic vinegar. Total 2009 havest to date 1 3/4 lbs.

I rowed on the water this morning. While we were rowing I noticed a rain barrel washed up on the shore. After the row I nabbed it and made another one. This now gives me five working barrels. I still need one more for myself, and a few more for friends who have put in orders.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Scales and Strawberries

I read another garden blog the other day. This blogger is weighing her harvest this year. I kind of like that idea. I am a numbers guy. I believe in goals and accountability. Sure - let's weigh the harvest. We have a baby scale just collecting dust in the basement, which should work just fine. This morning I harvested 1/2 pound of kale and asparagus. I'll estimate the other 4 harvests at 1/4 pound each. So lets say so far I have 1 1/2 pounds of produce. Fine start for early April. Since I haven't weighed my food since Thanksgiving 1997, I have no idea what kind of poundage to estimate for our year's harvest, so I'll refrain.

Just as a the sun rose this morning, I headed out in the yard to work in the strawberry patch. This patch has been a real struggle for me. It occupies one of our few very sunny spots of yard, but it is on a steep hill, hidden behind a thick hedge of private. It is also on top of a 30 foot wall with no fence or handrail to keep me from plummeting to my death, should I tug a weed a little to hard. Are you getting the idea why this section of yard has been tough for us to figure out? Before we moved in this section of yard was just a weed festival. The previous owner mowed it about once a month with a weed whacker. I did that the first year myself. But as our only truly sunny spot, I just refuse to waste this yard. It is also visible from the street, so allowing weeds to fester is just plain bad for neighbor relations. Last year I ordered about 150 strawberry roots from two different nurseries. It was a fiasco. They were crappy to begin with, then I couldn't get them in the ground right away, so I lost a ton of them. When I finally got around to planting them, it was a struggle. The weeds just overtook the tiny little plants so quickly. Anyway - no crying over rotted strawberries. This is the first time I have looked at the berries this spring. About 50 remain alive. I composted them, consolidated them and spread hardwood mulch around them. The ones that lived look just fine. I expect we'll get some berries this year. But I still don't think this is the permanent final solution for this section of yard. I'm sure we'll struggle with this for years.

Picked up a 1/2 yard of hardwood mulch today and spread it in various spots including the Koi pond, strawberry patch and shed wall.

I cut a river barrel in half today. It had a strong odor of oil, and I wasn't able to clean it out well enough to make it into a rain barrel. So I cut it in half and made a big garden basket out of one half of it. It holds about 10 five gallon buckets of mulch, compost, brush - you name it. It works pretty well, but can get to be very heavy filled with mulch.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Snow in April?

videoWe got some overnight snow last night and it continued on into the morning. This photo and video show our backyard and major veggie garden (we call it the sun-garden). In the snow you can really see the raised beds and garden paths. It isn't ridiculously cold this morning and it is neat to see the flowers standing tall with snow on their petals.

Another meal of kale, and asparagus last night. We are harvesting something just about every other day now. The asparagus is wonderful. We have swallowed approx 25 spears so far. About half of them are big fatties and the other half are a little skinny. I was reading about aspargus last night, and it sounds like I should keep my asparagus harvest to a little more than a month (a least on the skinny ones) to give them another year to thicken up. I was super, super aggressive with the spacing of my aspargus bed. I was unwilling to sacrifice the 4-5ft between rows that the books recommend, so I planted them tight - probably 12-18 inches diameter between root plantings. Because of that bold move, I intend to make sure that these roots are always first on the list for a thick layer of compost. I read an interesting strategy for extending the asparagus harvest season into the fall. This book says you should harvest 1/2 your bed in the spring, and let the other 1/2 grow into ferns without harvesting it. Then in September you snip all the ferns off of the unharvested section. The book said this section will regrow, allowing a fall harvest. It is said to be a super sweet harvest with the cold night air giving it the sweetness. I don't think I have a large enough bed to try this, but maybe after we tear out the driveway we will expand our bed.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Hot butt and dump


No this is not a compost recipe. This is a kids game that we played today while we gardened. We loaded up the hot and steamy compost into the wheelbarrow and then sat the kids on top of it (Hot Butt). "All hands and feet inside the ride please". Once the wheelbarrow, compost and kids reached the destination, they all got dumped! Hence the title for this post "Hot butt and dump!" Now don't you wish you were five again.

We did a ton in the yard today. I was outside from 7:30 till about 5 pm. Most of our effort was spent creating a brand new garden bed. This will be a partial sun to full shade bed that runs in front of the weeping wall (ask me later). It is about 20 ft long and about 6 feet wide at its widest point, but it serpentines. Sarah wanted to make this bed to help soften the wall and give us a little privacy from our neighbor. Yesterday we planted a cherry and a rose in this section - today was all about soil turning and prep. I turned all the sod. Sarah and Quinn chopped it and broke up the dirt clods. Then I mixed in about 7 wheelbarrows of compost.

I can't say enough about our compost operation at this point. Today was 4/4, and we were using compost that we basically started on 3/7. It was so hot as I peeled it off the pile that you had to pull your hand away after about 3 seconds of touching it. It is a deep brown and smells absolutely wonderful. This new section of garden really made a dent in our compost - our "black gold pile" is down around two feet high - from almost 5 feet a couple weeks ago. The good news is that I added just about as much or more material to the "green bin". I did a really nice job of layering these additions as we worked today. I would add a layer of sod (upside down), spread some lime and greensand on top of that, and then add about 4 inches or so of sticks and leaves. I repeated this several times.

Veggie work today was limited, but I did do some minor stuff. I planted approx 20 onion seedlings that I had started from seed. I put these in the chimney garden.

I also did a sun study today - a chart telling me when and where the sun is hitting all our various plots. Do you know we have over 15 mini plots? Isn't that amazing? Our property is just wonderful. I did a couple of these sun studies last year, but we have added so many plots that I wanted an update. Our current parking pad is of course our sunniest spot - and as each day goes by, we are closer to getting out the sledgehammer and converting this to yard.

I harvested one large kale, 9 small spinach, and snipped about 10 onion tops. I made a really nice egg dish with all this good stuff and homemade bread. It was delicious. Of course Carter could barely sit at the same table with us - He HATES EGGS!

Crossed over

You know you've crossed over to a strange place when you add the following to your compost...
  1. Hair from your cat and your friends
  2. Food that you didn't finish taken home from a restaurant (wrapped up in a napkin)
  3. Friend's fireplace ashes
  4. Cardboard boxes
  5. Jimmy Johns cups

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Spinach day

I did an early morning spinach planting today. My initial garden plan had two sun garden rows devoted to the cabbage family. I am not completely tossing that plan, but I think I can get away with planting my brussel sprouts and fall cabbage planting later in the summer. According to my PA garden guide provided by my coworker Becky (who took the master gardener class), I can plant brussel sprouts in June for a fall harvest. Spinach is harvested in June. So I am going to try to stagger these plantings. My plan is to start the brussel sprouts inside in late May, early June. Toward the end of June I hope to harvest all the spinach I planted today and replace these plots with my brussel sprout seedlings. I planted the spinach this morning in great quantity. I'm thinking of this planting as a freezer crop, rather than a succession planting. Spinach freezes wonderfully and is a great add in to just about any eggy, soupy, noodely, saucy recipe you can cook. So to that end, I planted about 20 - 3 foot rows of spinach about 6 inches apart in 1 1/2 of my sun garden raised beds. I'm guessing I did about 400 seeds. I also sprinkled in about 4 rows of green onions. Prior to planting I added bone meal and green sand to the soil and worked it with the digging fork and rake, pulling out any lumpy unfinished compost in the process. The soil looks nice - a little lumpy, but really rich and loamy.

I also did some planting in the beet and carrot row in the sun garden. The carrots that I planted earlier in March have not yet sprouted. That is not a good sign. It has been almost a month. In order to continue to give the earlier planting a chance, but add new seeds - I sprinkled a new layer of seeds on top and covered them with 1/4 of screened soil. Then I worked and planted a new section of beets and carrots. I dug the dirt out to about 12 inches deep, loosened the bottom and built the soil back up by screening compost and dirt. I planted cylindra beets. These beets are long and thinner - look more like a carrot than your traditional round beet. I have never tried these before.

Oh yeah - I almost forgot - My pepper seeds are finally starting to sprout. This is the batch that I planted inside on 3/11. It is a mix of Serano (hots) and California Wonder (Bells). Both are sprouting. 6 have sprouted out of a planting of 24. That is great news. I was afraid that I would need to buy pepper seedlings, and I really wanted some more of those serano's for hot peppers and hot sauce.

In the afternoon we went to Chapons and bought two Cherry trees. One is called a Black Tartarian Cherry and the other is called a North Star Cherry. The Tartarian is sweet and the North Star is tart. They are both miniatures - maxing out at about 15 feet height and spread. We got two trees so they could polinate each other. We planted the Tartarian in it's permanent home in the back yard to the south of the stone patio. This spot was chosen to help give us a little privacy from our neighbor and because it has a little sun. We aren't 100 certain where the North Star cherry is going to permanently find a home, so we planted it in a temporary spot behind the shed. It is right off of our parking spot. In both holes I mixed a bunch of compost and watered well. They are about 6 feet tall at planting.

Where the tartarian was planted, we began cutting out yard to make another large perenial garden in front of the weeping wall. We transplanted a small rose that we had in one of our vegetable patches. We already have a currant that is climbing up a section of the wall. Sarah is planning out this planting, and I not 100% sure what she has planned. We'll soon find out.

I filled up the remaining squares of sq. foot garden #2. I planted 2 brocolli, 1 sq of onions. I also dropped 4 other brocoli sprouts into the traditional cold frame. Busy day- Sylvan canoe club for dinner - spring has certainly sprung.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Shallots coming up

I saw the shallots poking through last night. We also harvested more beet leaves, spinach, rosemary, carrot tops, and asparagus for dinner this evening. I am basically out of salad supplies. Only about 6 tiny little spinach seedlings are left. Lettuce is all gone. The "2nd round" of lettuce and spinach is still too small to pillage. I have some sprouts to tide me over and could probably make one more salad out of these 6 spinach seedlings. The asparagus is also coming in pretty well now. I counted over 20 of them this morning.

This year will definately go down as a successfull "test year" for spring season extension. But in order for next year to be a success, I will need much more quantity. I think a good thick fall cold frame planting of spinach, kale, swiss chard, beets etc will be the key. I also plan to improve my cold frame lids (possibly making a double layer of protection), and planting seeds in January. The fall planting of stuff will be my round #1 harvest and the January seeds should be round #2.

Carrots are not doing well in the garden at all so far. I think I planted those teeny, tiny seeds too deep because I was afraid of the cold. I need to start another batch this weekend. The 10 inch pot with carrots is doing quite well. I thinned them yesterday and had some carrot tops on my sandwich for dinner. The carrot roots were still very small, but were running nice and deep and were starting to turn orange.

I woke up at 5:30 - all excited to do some spinach and green onion planting. Yuck - steady, soaking rain. No gardening at all this morning, but at least the rain barrels are all full. Any chance I will need all that rain water? Doesn't seem like it right now in spring - but July and August? I bet we will need it. I pulled another barrel out of the river a couple of days ago and need to get it cleaned out and fixed up with a spigot. It was pretty dirty on the inside. I think I am going to go crazy with detergent and tri-sodium phosphate to get the gunk out. I will let water cycle through it for a couple times before I use this barrel for the garden.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Salads and Pizza

4th salad of the year tonight - Asparagus, spinach, and beet leaf pizza! Harvest season is in full swing.

Besides the bountiful harvest, I just did a few garden odds and ends tonight as the sun set over the river. I filled in some empty squares with lettuce seedlings and seeds, planted about 20 seed savers variety lettuce seeds in the chimney garden, and moved some garlic around.

Still no sign of pepper seeds sprouting, and I'm a little disappointed with the lack of carrots to date as well. Only the carrots started indoors in the pots have sprouted - "as soon as soil can be worked" - yeah right. Anyway - seeds are cheap. I'll try some more this weekend.

Seed fill in

I dropped a couple seeds in the sq foot garden cold frame tonight. The peas that I planted on the first day of March were very spotty. I planted probably 100 of them in 8 sq foot garden sections. Only about 20 sprouted. So tonight I filled in the blank spots. I did the same with spinach and green onions.

Planning note: I want to do a big spinach planting this weekend. Spinach does very well in the freezer and is typically spent by the end of June. I think at this point I have plenty of broccoli and cabbage in various places for the spring planting. I decided this morning to plant the remainder of the two raised beds that I have planned for the cabbage family in spinach. I will also sow some spinach in with the potatoes and in the chimney garden. This will probably give me somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 spinach plants. That should give us a plentiful late June harvest for freezing. As we harvest this huge planting, we can follow it up with a summer planting of corn, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and broccoli (all started indoors, and potentially kale, endive, swiss chard, etc. I like this plan.

One other possible change - given the huge pea plantings I have done so far, I may be able to plant one of the raised beds that I had planned for peas in something else (thinking non-roma tomatoes). I need to check and see how a row of tomatoes would work for my rotation plan.