Friday, April 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - April 2011

In honor of May Dreams' Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day I'm posting pictures of my blooms, which in this case won't take much time at all!

Ready?

The hellebore in the back garden is low to the ground and facing the back wall, but it's blooming!

And, right now, it's all I have.

But I know there's more to come, I have these:

lilacs

pansies

and more hellebore

May's bloom day should be a whole lot more fun!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Surprise me!

Ok, I'm not usually one to want surprises in my garden.  I like to know what's coming and plan ahead, which I know is kind of like begging for disappointment when you're dealing with nature, and I like to think I can roll with the punches pretty well, I just don't like to go around asking for punches to roll with!

But, based on Pam's (Pam's English Garden) recommendation on her blog here, I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (I'm enjoying it a lot--there's a little preachiness, but much more a very delightful account of her and her family's year of local food and gardening).  

That, combined with some interesting sustainable gardening posts here on Jan's Thanks for Today blog, and some general "Heirloom Seed" shout-outs that seem to be everywhere lately...

I seem to have jumped both feet into the historic varieties deep end, at least long enough to purposely and intentionally order something completely unknown and unpredictable.

That's right...I'm going to be growing Pineapple Melon.

What is Pineapple Melon, you ask?  Um...well...beats the heck out of me...

I was charmed by Baker Creek's recent resurrection of Comstock Ferre seeds and requested their free catalog.  Flipping through it during the early spring grays, dreaming imaginary dreams of Rose and I sitting out on the patio in the summer sunshine, gazing at the lovely flowers and cracking open ripe sweet melons for a refreshing summer snack...

I think there must have been some strange fairy magic afoot--I turned right to the melon section (never mind that I've never successfully grown a melon) and saw this:

Pineapple (melon)
This historic heirloom was grown by Thomas Jefferson in 1794. It was offered commercially in America in 1824, and it was illustrated in color in France in 1854 in the Vilmorin Album. This wonderful variety is very rare. The productive plants can be trained on a trellis. The fruit is highly perfumed. This was one of the ten melons we offered in 1846 from our Wethersfield Seed Gardens.

Contains 35 heirloom seeds
And I was all: "Thomas Jefferson (I went to UVA, it's a Pavlovian thing)... 1824... Vilmorin Album (I'm a sucker for botanical illustrations, see "addiction, Botanical Interests seed company")... productive... trellis (remember, space, especially sunny space, is an issue here)... highly perfumed" and before you could say, "what on earth are you doing?" I was completely sold on having this glorious thing in my garden.

So...skip ahead to now--the seeds are ordered and on their way and I'm wondering what on earth I've gotten myself into!  Is it red? green? yellow? netted? smooth? crisp?   Darned if I know.

Googling was not especially helpful.  It might look like this:

Photo by Andy Nightmaar here
or, looking at another seed website, it could look like this:
from Cherry Gal seeds here
or it could look an awful lot like cantaloupe, like this:

from The Seed Kingdom here
or, for something a little different, it could look like this:

from Kokopelli seeds here
The funniest part is each of the 3 seed catalogs linked above all say "this" is the variety Thomas Jefferson grew...

Curiouser and curiouser!

I'm feeling a bit like Jack and the Beanstalk; I'll throw these seeds in the ground and wait to see just exactly what grows up my trellis this summer...stay tuned!


Monday, April 11, 2011

US Postal Service and an Interesting Link

Came home on Saturday to find our letter carrier had left me this:


Very exciting!  I have just the hard to plant spot that I'm hoping the Jupiter's Beard will take to and make beautiful.

And, not just good news to share but an interesting link, too:  http://volantefarms.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/beneficial-biological-controls/

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to grow in a healthy way and how that's accomplished on different scales--the blog post linked above details how one greenhouse is using bugs to get rid of other bugs and reduce or eliminate the need to spray chemicals on their plants.  It's not preachy and the thinking isn't black-or-white--very interesting stuff (at least to a geeky kind of gal like me!)

Hope all of you have a not too crazy Monday on your hands!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Signs of things to come

Between the many cool gray days and the hoping that seed will really come up and the waiting for strong indication that there will really be a garden this year, this is a rough time of year!

My inner toddler is ready to stomp her feet and hold her breath until she turns blue or until strong spring finally comes, whichever!  Good thing I'm actually a reasonable adult (ha!) or I have the feeling I'd be stomping and blue a lot these days....

And, looking around here, I do have some signs (beyond the intermittent warmish days, right now still followed by cool grayish days) that the good things are on their way.

My Lenten Roses look like they're going to be blooming this year!  I put them in 2 years ago and last year was a time spent settling in but not blooming.  Guess it has to get with it if it's actually going to make it for Lent this year, but I think it has a chance.  I bought 2 plants in "mixed" colors, so I'm excited to see what colors I actually have (feels odd, but I think it's good for my plan-everything-to-the-nth-degree self to have some surprises in the garden every now and again!).
Hellebore, aka Lenten Rose

The Lilacs, which I adore, are starting to swell their buds--definitely a happy sign for me!

Lilacs
Plus, we've had another sunny day nice enough to take the seedlings out for a little sunshine:



 And, speaking of the seedlings, they're looking hopeful, themselves--remember the Crème de Cassis Hollyhocks?  Alive and well and growing rapidly:
one Crème de Cassis Hollyhock seedling...

....another Crème de Cassis Hollyhock seedling
And the Snowdrift Marigolds?  They've starting to show off their first sets of leaves:
Snowdrift Marigold seedlings
(Probably best to ignore the roundish Dwarf Ten Weeks Stock seedlings that I'll pinch off eventually--I had a little issue where I planted the Stock seeds in half of the tray, was briefly interrupted, and couldn't figure out which had the stock and which were completely empty!  I figured better safe than sorry and just replanted the whole thing--not hard now to tell which is which!)

And....drum roll please...the weather report says the temps are going to be nice today and rising steadily over the next 10 days--happy days are coming!

Wishing you all the same,

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Where's that Crystal Ball?

Blue Boy Bachelor Button
from Botanical Interests site
It's that time of year--the time when I obsessively check the 10 day weather forecast and try to guess when the last frost will be.

This is the 3rd year now that I've done some direct sowing outdoors and the 2nd year now that I've tried to determine (with lots of failed research and a final desperate guess) when it's a good time to plant those things that do best when planted a few weeks before the last frost.

The first year I went blithely on my way aiming for Memorial Day and counting back.  For some things that worked--all the veggies and some flowers--and for others it seemed to be the wrong move--first columbine didn't come up until the next year, and then last year columbine and nodding allium didn't come up at all and may or may not come up this spring--which may have been because it was too warm and they needed some time in the cold, or maybe it was something I did and has nothing to do with the weather?

Wish I knew!

The thing is, experience tells me that Memorial Day is way past the safe time here where we are (not necessarily true even 10 miles west of here, though!), but I have yet to find anyone who has a better answer.

Plus, I'm impatient to get going with it already--it's been a rough winter!

So, I planted some bachelor buttons (blue and dark pink) today and the dream is (for now) alive--hope Mother Nature plays along with me....


Monday, April 4, 2011

Sustainable lifestyle, a hill of beans one bean at a time.

The other day I was reading this post on Pam's English Cottage Garden and, through Pam's eloquent description of Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (a book I'm excited to get from the library--I loved Kingsolver's Animal Dreams and several other of her books I'd read a long time ago) I discovered this post on Jan's Thanks for today blog.

Not only are there some terrific give aways involved (Really. They are terrific. Don't believe me, check it and see!), but a lot of links to lots of other garden bloggers with some very interesting things to say about sustainable lifestyles.

Now, I'll be honest here, the first thing I did after reading Pam's and Jan's posts was to google "Sustainable Lifestyle" to figure out exactly what that was supposed to mean.  Ok. Found it on Wikipedia and it's a fairly broad term.

But that brings up my next question--and no, it wasn't "what of the many things I do on a regular basis to help the earth should I blog about?"--it was actually more along the lines of "hmm...do I do anything on a regular basis to help the earth?!?"

I like a clean and healthy planet, of course, but in my real life there's an effort to find the balance between what we should do and what we can do with the resources we have here and now.

I'd love to purchase only grass-fed beef and grow a huge garden plot to supply all our vegetable needs for the year, but also need to be mindful of meeting our food needs within our food budget, andour yard is not so big and not so sunny and is governed by its own set of condo rules and regulations.

Which means 1) I'm not going to be raising urban chickens, but also means 2) I'm in exactly the same boat as a very large number of other people. 

To quote my favorite FlyLady saying: sometimes you just have to hit a lick at a snake.  Which is a way of saying, "heck, even if it can't all be done and done perfectly, maybe I'll just take a stab at it and see what does get done"

So, what do I do, exactly? Well, I'm glad you asked...


I compost, for one--not a huge series of self-heating bins in different stages of composting, but a converted trash bin that I can put by my door and fill and fluff and, when completed, spread over my gardens.  It works for my situation and my gardens seem to really like it--plus I get a real kick out of getting useful stuff out of my garbage scraps--my inner Rumpelstiltskin spinning gold out of straw!



I shop with reusable bags--I made the 2 above a few years ago out of some favorite fabrics from my stash (lots of free patterns online to do this) and have since sewn another (currently in Rose's room holding the latest haul of library books) and amassed a few others from various sources.  

My brother gave me one of them (from the grocery) last year as a gift bag with a birthday present--they tend to be cheaper than paper gift bags and can be reused many more times after the big day is over--pretty clever idea, I think!  

And, at least around here, you get 5-cents off your grocery receipt for each bag you bring--not enough to buy a Prius or anything like that (at least in my lifetime of shopping), but after a few visits that packet of seeds is paid for, right?


I pick plants that attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds--but I need to fess up that this is just self-serving on my part.  Really, I didn't even know this was a sustainable practice until I read it on a couple of posts linked to Jan's blog (above), especially this one from Betsy S. Franz's Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog.  I actually just like butterflies and bumble bees and have only ever seen a hummingbird once in my life--I'd really like to see another one sometime before I die!



I built a trellis out of found materials.  Ok, so I did it mostly because I like the rustic look and partly because there was no harm in trying something for free--still, no fossil fuels used in production and no harmful chemicals into the environment--win-win!

As I've recently posted, I grow my indoor seedlings in "fossel fuel free solar growing system" (yeah, I hear you, putting seedlings in a bright window probably doesn't count, really, but there you have it--and if blogging about it encourages someone else who doesn't have the space, money, or desire to go out and get a big seed starting system to give it a go in the window, that's not a bad thing)

But really, the big thing I'm proud of is taking a stab at growing thingsSimple, but big.

When we lived in our apartment, my garden looked like this:


(and, yes, it did usually feature some of Rose's toys in some way or another--this was one set-up when she was 6, some game about exploring the jungle or something like that--turns out these are the only really good pictures I took of the balcony garden, but they make me smile because they remind me of my 6 year old Rosie)

The "garden" was small, used soil donated from my parents' garden, and it tended to look especially hodge-podge before the plants grew enough to fill in, but we got to enjoy the flowers and have some meals' worth of green beans, lettuce, and tomato for our trouble.  Again, it was really very self-serving as I got to enjoy the gardening and the fresh produce, but that just couldn't be helped, right?

These days we're on to some bigger areas and more experiments to see what does and doesn't work around here, both decorative and eatable. 

Last year we ate a bit of this:

and some of this:
and a bit of this:
 and this:

Which couldn't be any fresher or more locally grown if it tried.

(and, yes, I do know those are a lot of pictures to say "I grew some food" but it's dreary outside today and Spring still isn't sure it's going to stay, so please just indulge me here this once...)


Now the astute reader will notice that while I talk about sustainable measures, at the same time I'm really just going on about things that I enjoy:
  1. making free enrichment to make my gardens better
  2. shopping with pretty bags and saving pennies each time
  3. planting things that will attract things I want
  4. getting a free trellis that I like the look of
  5. eating fresh delicious food for pennies...
Ok, I won't argue that I benefit from it (benefit a lot, actually!) but maybe sharing things that benefit us and help our world at the same time is a useful thing to do?


I've learned so much about gardening from other garden bloggers out there and gotten lots of great ideas.

But I also had fun reading the links from bloggers who have answered Jan's challenge and written about their own projects in sustainable living.

Like Cinj's making produce bags out of sheer stash fabrics, and Ramble on Rose's rain gardens (never heard of that before!), and Jezibel's painted rain barrels (check those out, they're really neat!), and Patty Hicks' milk jug tomatoes (I'm dying to see how those come out!).

Crazy thing about blogging is that it's a great way to share ideas that might suit someone else, too, and in doing so "hit a few more licks at a snake," if you follow what I mean.  (And also I enjoy blogging, but let's leave that part out of it for now, shall we?)
 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yesterday in the garden

Two days ago we had a "last hurrah" kind of snow but yesterday saw a warm enough day to melt a lot of it and get out into my gardens for the first time this year.
the front garden, looking a little alive!
the back gardens - more shade more snow
Spent some time stirring the compost for the first time since fall (not good, I know), and shoveling the uncomposted stuff into a bag so I can put the done stuff in the gardens today (well, done-ish stuff, truth be told--but I think it will finish ok on the ground).

Followed that up by digging up some of my "we will overtake the entire earth if it's the last thing we do" strawberries from the front garden and put them in the strawberry pot (these guys (Ozark Beauties) spread like mad, but haven't been especially heavy producers yet).

Dug a bit farther on the side of the shed where we had tomatoes last year to make a garden the full length--Rose and I are going to make another trellis and put the beans there this year (the Scarlet Runner Beans again and also some Asparagus Beans which aren't real beans but are bean-like)--not sure it really has the best sun for it, but they say you shouldn't grow the same crop in the same place each year, so I'm trolling for a new spot.

Funny thing--might  be timing or might be nature working things for me, but the ground was a lot easier to dig this year than when I started at it last year.  Also, both front and back I came upon several earthworms, which I rarely did when I started gardening--I'll take that as a good sign!

I took the seedlings out for a bit of a vacation since the weather was nice.  Too early to really harden off, but I figured they could use some time in the light and breeze, kind of like me:
seedlings on vacation
And, not to be outdone, I also brought out my poor leggy herbs that have been surviving the winter on my windowsill, adding to my cooking while counting the days till spring (and from the looks of it, reaching as spindly and long as they can, trying to find a more spring-like place to grow):
my poor herbs--leggy and then some
But, Rose and I did also go to our local nursery to pick up some good looking plants (apologies to all my bad looking plants, it will get better, I promise!).  A 6-pack of Pansies are now potted on our front steps--Rose is not really as interested in the gardens as she was last year, but she certainly spent enough time checking out every one of the 100's of mixed pansy packs to find the one that had the best combination of the colors she likes!  We have 2 deep burgundies and a dark purple (both with faces)--we'll just have to be surprised on the other 3 once they bloom.

And, while I was poking around, I saw a few signs that we may just have something to look at in the future:

under the snow, the bleeding heart looks alive...

and the hydrangea has some branches budding

and I think this will eventually be lily-of-the-valley, but I'll need to see more to be sure
I love seeing the signs that plants are still alive and planing on coming back--welcome, spring!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Seeds - you're doing it wrong!

So, about these seeds.  

I love starting with these itty bitty dead (looking) things, throwing them into dirt when the world still looks like winter and ending up mid-summer with a (small) world of flowers and multiple meals.  Especially because none of the seed packets cost more that $3.00 and they last over several years.

Guess it's the power hungry dictator in me.  Or something like that.

I also adore the selection gardeners get when they start with seeds.  Last year, when I used purchased seedlings, I couldn't get my now adored deep purple nicotiana--instead I got something nicotiana that didn't smell or look as heavenly and was kind of disappointing.  Plus I was suck with only one variety of full-sized tomato that just didn't do that well for me.

But, being the kind of person who researched everything do death before starting, I know there are lots of awesome ways to properly grow seeds indoors.  And I know I'm failing miserably at being as properly awesome as any of them.

This is what my seed set-up looks like:


It does not look like this:
from Burpee's website
or like this:
from Burpee's website

And it especially doesn't look like this:
from Gardener's Supply Co. website

(which is really too bad, because wouldn't that be cool?)

It just looks like a motley of trays, cups, and one newspaper pot, filled with top-soil this year (sorry, little seeds, it was all I had on hand and we were not spending money that week), draped with saran wrap where needed, sitting on my sunniest windowsill, leaning toward the light (I do turn them regularly--I'm not that mean to the poor little things) and waiting for spring.  

Ideal?  Not hardly!

But, and this is the point of my crazy rant (see, I have a point!):  they are growing anyway and will most likely survive in spite of their less than optimal beginnings and will most likely this year do just what they've done in past years, which is to grow nicely in my garden when the weather grows warm.

Which is pretty much all to say, if you're anything like me (or Rose, who is a lot like me) and want to make sure you know exactly what you're doing before you start and want to do it exactly and perfectly right once you do start, why not give it a go in spite of yourself?  Using whatever you have on hand and meets your budget, no less.  What's the worst that could happen, anyway?

And come to think of it, our gardening fore-bearers never had heated tray bottoms, growlights, or poly-hoop-houses, and they still managed to feed themselves off it, right?   Wonder if I could sound cool and trendy if I called my method "Heirloom Seed Starting"?  (and, yeah, please don't answer that!)

Why yes, that is a sandwich bag over my muskmellons....