Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Miss Rose can cook too

One of the best things about moving here and starting a garden is that Rose can experiment with a garden, too. She's a funny, methodical girl and her plan is very nicely laid out in a binder with lists and dates, notes, and an organized map.

Rose picked out what she wanted based on looks and mostly based on our part sun environment. But, for all her planning, she doesn't mind giving something a shot just to see if it really won't work.

This is what she has going and what she's planning to add:

Marigold: Snowdrift

Seed from Burpee

Cream colored, 3.5" blooms, likes part shade (unusual for Marigolds)

Will direct sow after frost

22” tall, needs 9-12” spacing


Nasturtium: Jewel Mix

Seed from Burpee

Double flowers in orange, yellow, red (bush, not vine)

Will direct sow after frost

12” tall, needs 12” spacing


Sweet Pea: Knee-Hi Mix

Seed from Hart's Seeds

Mix of colors, fragrant (bush, not vine)

Likes cool weather and tolerates frost so we started outdoors March 28

29-30” tall, needs 6” spacing


Common Thyme

Seed from Burpee

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 6-10)

6-12" tall, needs 12" spacing


Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Seed from Burpee

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 8-10)

18-24" tall, needs 12" spacing


Columbine: Harlequin Mix

Seed from Burpee

White, yellows, pinks, blues, purples, bicolors

Will direct sow spring to early summer

30-36” tall, needs 10” spacing


Ice Plant: Harlequin Mix (Dorotheanthus)

Seed from Burpee

Succulent plants covered with bi-colored daisy-like flowers with red centers--this one, as Rose knows, is probably the biggest stretch for our part sun/part shade area, but she had the seeds and wanted to give it a shot. And why not, really?

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 8-10)

2" tall, needs 6-12" spacing


Monday, March 30, 2009

More on compost--making my own

Between being impressed with the difference the compost makes so far in the back garden and being less impressed with all the work involved in hauling the stuff, I did a little googling about making the stuff right here at home (outside, at home that is--I'm not at all at the point where I want a box of worms in my house, no thank you), and decided it might be interesting to give it a try.

I don't have a garbage disposal, so in our case it really can reduce the garbage we put out there, so that's a side benefit. And, to be honest, it really appeals to me as a science experiment and a challenge, so that's the biggie right there.

I'm not interested in spending $200-400 on a spiffy "composer" and I don't really want to use lots of my limited and precious outdoor space as a pile or series of piles or as the docking area for a specialized compost bin system.

Fortunately, I happened to recently be at a kids' science night where I was given a compost brochure (either great synchronicity or the topic is just a hot one right now?) that had, among other things, a drawing of a compositor made from a trash barrel with holes drilled all over it.

Well now! I can buy a $15 dollar garbage barrel and I have a drill and I know how to use it. Plus, if the thing is a real bust, I can always put it back to work holding bags of trash, right?

There seems to be some online discussion about whether or not a 32 gallon can is big enough to heat up enough to compost effectively, etc, but some people say it works for them, and like this whole gardening thing is for u
s: nothing ventured, nothing gained, so away we went!

I picked up a trash can (Rubbermaid, $15, even has wheels and a "locking" lid--whoo-hoo! this must be the good life!). I got out our drill and put in the 1/4" bit. I started drilling holes in the bottom and worked my way around the sides. Rose became a little more interested in composting (or at least in power tools?) and I guided her hands as she drilled many more. Rose got tired and I drilled even more. Finally the thing looked like a disco ball from the inside and I called it done.

I've put it in the back by the door and dumped in some dead leaves I had cleaned up from the yard. I made an apple cobbler (mmmm....apple cobbler) and put the peels and cores in. I added some shredded paper and coffee grounds. I cut off the dead branches off last fall's
chrysanthemum and added those. Dumped a little water in it too.

I'm pleased to report that right now I can easily tip it over and roll it around.

So far it doesn't reek, but it doesn't seem to be doing much else either. I was trilled to see it felt warm, but then I discovered it was probably the sunlight on the lid, which was a bit less thrilling, I have to admit.

I have no idea if this will do much of anything. I guess the 12 hour point is not really the place to see what fate has in store for my compost. I've read online that even terrible brown/green mixes with little attention or aeration will still compost, it just takes longer. And again, as I keep reminding my "plan-it-out-and-know-what-will-happen-before-you-even-dream-of-taking-a-first-step" self throughout this whole garden thing: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunny Saturday--things alive

Yesterday was a lovely, sunny day--I thought I'd share some photos of our world looking spring-like (and share them real quick before things get more typically March around here!).

Rose planted the first "crop" outdoors in the newly composted back garden: her sweet peas. These are Knee-Hi Mix sweet peas and they call for sowing in 6" trenches and filling them up as they grow. I've grown sweet peas a few times on the balcony and this trench thing is a new one for me, but who am I to argue with Hart Seeds? Here's our trench with Rose's sweet peas planted in it (look close, a little toward the back, see it now?):

In the middle of the day, it was warm enough in the sun to let the seedlings sit outside for a bit. May not be enough to make a difference in the long run, but we wanted to give them a little breeze to toughen them up and some extra sunshine for growth (look to the back you can also see the geranium I put in the basement for the winter--it's actually sprouting a ton of new little leaves, so I'm hopeful despite it's current spindly look):

And here are the seedlings, only 5 days or less since they started popping up and look at them go!

The tomatoes:

The foxy foxglove and the moon flowers (now 2 up--didn't I tell you they start out like seeds on a stem!):
And the tray with unsprouted spearmint, viola and the little seedlings of common thyme and butterfly weed--I finally got a shot of that little thread of butterfly weed that will turn into a 2' bush with bright orange flowers, amazing!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lots of happenings!

Yesterday was an interesting day here in my little Eden:
  • The Butterfly Weed sprouted yesterday! I tried to take a picture but the sprout is this little tiny thread-like piece, I just couldn't get close enough to make it show. Even the little first leaves are these thin needle-like things. Times like these, it's hard to believe this little frail sprout is really going to grow up into an 18-24"-ish winter-hardy bush. Also hard to believe these things manage to survive in the wild. Honestly, if you don't look close, you'd hardly even know it was a growing thing.
  • Pansies--went to the home store and they had beautiful big pansies at 16 for $8 (plus change). Today Rose and I are going to pot some up for the front porch--a little cheery visual evidence should help us remember that the chilly weather won't last forever.
  • Rose and I went to the community compost project pile and shoveled our last few barrels of compost. That makes 120 gallons on the back garden. That also makes approximately 4-5" over the full thing, which also makes DONE! I shoveled it in to mix and used my hoe to level it down. Now we're ready to plant the sweet peas and, once the last frost passes, we're good to go!

Funny thing about the compost, I've changed my mind and don't think it's evil any more (Rose, on the other hand still thinks it's the work of darkness).

Partly that's because when we started shoveling it into buckets and dumping them into barrels already upright in the trunk, the horrible problem of how to get this bolder-like trash can of infinite weight up into the car, the biggest part of the problem, was solved. Still had to move the compost bucket by bucket, but the bodybuilding part of my workout, at least, was mercifully removed.

But mostly I had a strange conversion experience yesterday when I was digging the layer of compost into the ground.

Because the compost transport was a fair amount of work (and also because we only owned one trash barrel) we'd been spreading the process over a few days. That meant that while I had worked the soil in the full garden, only half of it had compost over it the first day. The second half had less compost the second day, and by the third day I finished spreading the compost and started digging in.

When I went to mix it in, I strangely found that the whole thing was much easier to dig than it had been and also the part that had the compost on it for longer was easier than the other part. Strange.

Now, I freely admit there was nothing scientific about this, lots of things could have been happening. Obviously, the compost was added to make things better for the plants, not for me. But, I've been reading a bit about "No-Dig" and "Lasagna" gardening, and I just have to wonder if something was happening with the earthworms/microbes/dirt-stuff?

At any rate glad the mixing was better than I had anticipated and glad to have that bed ready!

Friday, March 27, 2009

What 'ya got cooking?

Seeds, glorious seeds! Love 'em! The possibilities are just endless and, for the moment, everything is possible (and in my imagination, everything is gloriously working, fitting, looking goooood!). No reality to get in the way here, not yet.

Add to that the live plant catalog--look at those photos of pretty happy plants! They attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bloom early, smell great--yep, just what I want, just what I need.

So this is what I've got in the works (that is, bought and started indoors in seed flats), and so far, believe me, at this moment nothing is buried under a pile of ravenous beetles and nothing turning into a massive tumble weed before my very eyes. Nothing but beautiful possibilities--wish us luck!

Tomato: Chocolate Cherry (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Seed from Livingston Seed Co.

Dark cherry tomato, 70 days to mature

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out (recommended 5-7)

These tomatoes may be a bit of a stretch--don't have full sun at all, but I figured as much as I love fresh tomatoes, it wouldn't hurt to give it a shot.

Indeterminate vine, need 18-24” spacing

Tomato: Best Boy Hybrid

Seed from Burpee

Full size red tomato, 70 days to mature

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out (recommended 6-8)

Determinate, 3-4’ tall, needs 36-48” spacing

Foxglove: Gloxinaflora Mix (Digitalis Purpurea)

Seed from Livingston Seed Co.

Pastel rose, lavender, cream and yellow

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out (recommended 8-10)

LOOOOOVE the foxgloves! So old fashioned and sweet. These may not bloom the first year, but hopefully I can get them going for 2010 and get some reseeding for the years after.

36-60” tall, needs 18” spacing

Biennial, blooms summer, fall (but maybe not the first year)

Foxglove: Foxy Mix

Seed from Burpee

Full range of soft colors

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out

36” tall, needs 18” spacing

Biennial, blooms summer, fall (but Foxy is a variety that should bloom the first year!)

Moonflowers: Giant White

Seed from Burpee

White and fragrant night bloomer

Started indoors March 18, 8 weeks out

Normally a direct sow, but I’ve grown these for years in zone 5 and when I’ve waited for warm weather I’ve gotten frost before blooms—starting them indoors early has worked for me for several years

Vine, needs 12” spacing


Nicotiana: Perfume Deep Purple (Nicotiana x sanderae)

Seed from Thompson and Morgan

Remember, these are “Perfume Deep Purple” Nicotiana! I'm hoping for something lovely with these. Besides, 2009 is the "Year of Nicotiana" so can I really go far wrong?

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 6-8)

20” tall, needs 12-15” spacing

Blooms late spring to fall


Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Seed from Burpee

Bright orange, attracts butterflies, feeds monarch caterpillars, has milkweed like pods but not the milky sap--not sure how well it will work, but wouldn't some butterflies be nice?

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 6-8)

24” tall, needs 15-18” spacing

Blooms summer to fall


Viola: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Seeds from Burpee

White blooms that turn blue/purple as they age

Started indoors March 21, 7.5 weeks out (recommended 12 weeks, but we had some empty cells and found the seeds we had forgotten about in all that winter cold—just planted on a whim)

6” tall, need 6” spacing


Thursday, March 26, 2009

A few words about Moonflowers

The tomato and foxglove seedlings are still going strong (anyone else think it's cool how the tomato seedling's first leaves close together like praying hands at night and open up again in the morning light?), and Rose's Iceplant seeds have made the upgrade to seedlings yesterday, as well.

This morning brought us even more sprouts--Rose's Common Thyme is starting to come up only 5 days after planting, and my Moonflowers are poking up their seeds now, too--8 days after planting.

Moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) are one of the few things I've grown for a few years running. Before we moved here, we had an apartment with a west-facing balcony and I grew them next to Morning Glories, both in pots.

Once I'd gotten a few things worked out, they did pretty well there.

They are a very impressive flower when they bloom, with lots in common with their cousin the Morning Glory, but kicked up a notch or two. The leaves and vines look like Morning Glories, but bigger, thicker, greener. The blooms, when they finally bloom, are really big, 6 or 7 inches across, like a lunch plate, and they smell just glorious.

The seeds, too, look like Morning Glory seeds, that kind of asymmetrical football shape with a hard shell, but about 4 times the size. And when they sprout, they do it just like big Morning Glories--popping up like a seed on a stem before pushing out of whatever remains of the seed coat (and often quite a lot remains) to open into a pair of notched cotyledon leaves.

I've read that you're supposed to soak both types of seeds before planting, and nick the seed coat for good measure. Over the years, though, I've gotten lax on that, but they always work just fine anyway. Whether or not I do that, some of both types of Ipomoea sprouts seem to die trying to get out of that seed coat, but soaks and nicks don't seem to change the rate of that.

You're also supposed to be able to direct sow both types of seeds, but in zone 5 (the apartment), I've never been able to get the Moonflowers to bloom that way. Lots of promising vines and leaves, but nothing like a bud or bloom before the fall frost killed it all. Maybe with more sun than they got on the balcony it would work, but since the sun didn't bend to my will, I needed to change the things I could change, and starting them indoors before the last frost did the trick for me. Could possibly be better here in zone 6, but I certainly don't think it's likely enough that I want to try it and risk a year without Moonflowers. And besides, since they do so well starting indoors and it gives me something to play with in the early spring, what's the downside, right?

They are pretty adaptable, I've found, and can be started a month or two before they get transplanted outside. I bring them outside for sun once the days get warmer (which, by the way, would not be March around here!) and back in at night until the last frost. They, like the Morning Glories, start a bit slowly but take off once you let them vine on something, but that pre-vining growth is fine in a pot or biggish flat, and that's been the best way I've found to get them to bloom by mid-summer.

Not a bad trick, actually--you get something green and growing to play with indoors while you wait for the good weather and, once that good weather comes, you get astounding, fragrant flowers showing bright in the moonlight on summer evenings. Who doesn't love that?

How Rose and I learned that compost is completely evil

Yesterday, Rose and I went down to shovel a barrel of compost from the community compost project to give the back garden something a little more organic to bed the plants in.

Community compost projects are a nice idea--the price, at least here, is pretty darn good, and it helps support and encourage good earth practice, right?

Guess what we found out....That's right, compost is heavy. Very heavy. 30 gallons of compost is too heavy for Rose and me. Way too heavy. Probably ok for Schwarzenegger, maybe ok for a few strong men, but way, way, way too heavy for Rose and me.

Ended up shoveling some back then struggling to get the rest in the vehicle and home. Left the barrel where it fell and shoveled compost out into a 14 oz bucket and carried that to the back garden. Bit by pitiful bit.

Guess what else we found out....30 gallons of compost is very heavy but it doesn't go very far, even in a not-even-that-big garden like the back garden. Don't even have 1" thick over half of it yet, much less 2-3" thick over the full 73 square feet (give or take).

Going to have to go back for more trips, I think.

Next time I'm going to have to leave the barrel in the vehicle and shovel the compost into it right there. Next time I'm also going to have to bribe Rosebud with something really good, because right now the very mention of the word "compost" and she's off and running in the opposite direction.

Isn't this supposed to be fun?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Signs of Life!

Look what I came home to last night!

My little tomato seeds have decided to be alive!

Funny little guys, they were still underground in the am, though the dirt had been looking a little rumbly for a few days, and by the end of the day, 5 of the 6 cells had life!

I planted them 7 days ago (in seed starter mix, covered with plastic wrap, inside at appx 68 degrees) and right on schedule up they came.

I have 3 cells of Chocolate Cherry variety and planted 3 cells of Best Boy--right now only 2 of the 3 are up, but I guess it's still early days.

In other news...the Foxglove seeds I planted at the same time on the surface of the soil started to show their little first roots on March 22nd (4 days out). Yesterday morning they had some little leaves and also a little fuzzy white mold (yikes!).

I uncovered them from the plastic wrap and the mold problem seems to be resolving itself--the seedlings don't seem to mind, they're growing great guns right now.

I planted some Foxglove Foxy (shorter for the front garden and supposed to bloom the first year) and some Foxglove Gloxinaflora--both seem to germinate really well.

I can definitely see where I over did the seed sowing--lots of seedlings going to need to be pulled out to make room for the keepers. Lots.

Monday, March 23, 2009

What we were given

This is the back garden, mine and Rose's. She has the little section on the right and I'll deal with the rest. So far I've dug it up a bit, pulled out a ton of rocks, then put many of the rocks back on site, but this time where I wanted them to be.

Since the whole bed is new, there was nothing growing here last year--nothing to pull up, but nothing nicely settled, either.

Later this week, I'll pick up some compost from the community compost operation and try to make it into more than pulverized granite.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Setting up in Eden

Here's where the blog begins, with me digging up dirt in March and waiting for more cups of dirt to sprout on my table and waiting for Spring to make it all work out...