Thursday, April 30, 2009

Silver Lining

Some weeks are tough. Weeks where every day is rain and your backyard begins to resemble a bog can eventually start to dampen the perkiest personalities. If you add on an epidemic and arriving home long after dark, the week can become downright depressing.

There is sometimes a silver lining to weeks like this. Weeks where you simply cannot find a minute to get in the garden. When you finally do find the time to go outside, in between rainstorms and pages, you find huge changes. In the yard, gray has become green, the air smells great from spicy viburnums and sweet daphne and finally, at long last, the vegetables seem to be growing. I only have a few minutes to blog tonight, so I'm just going to share a few images that brightened my day. : )

Vinca "Illumination"

Bok Choi "Red Choi"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Making A Sack-O-Potatoes That ROCKS!

The morning was a little wet, as evidenced by the small creek forming between the yards. It wasn't a problem though, there was inside work to be done including making my sacko-potatoes. I read on-line that you can get great yields growing potatoes in containers. The trick is to plant the spuds and then every few days add more dirt to the container so that the stem stays covered.

Some people accomplish this by growing them in tires and gradually adding more dirt and tires until there is a stack of tires and potatoes. Other people just take a bag of soil, slit a few holes in it and stick their spuds inside. I'm guessing the yields with that method are not terrific. Neither of these methods fits my criteria for good looks in the garden. I don't care how many spuds I get, I don't want to look at a stack of old tires in the yard all summer.

The Brits have potato sacks that can be bought for this process. They have cute garden motiffs. Their sides fold down and then you gradually roll up the sides as you add dirt. I've looked around for them here but the closest thing I found was a green thing that was narrow and $25. Um no. During yesterday's manure musings I had a voila moment and figured out how to make my own sack-o potatoes.

I decided to use landscaping fabric, the good stuff. It breathes, it drains, it is strong, can be folded up and down and submits readily to the sewing machine. Now I am not a seamstress by any stretch of the imagine. I know how to thread the machine and sew a straight line and that's about it. That's pretty much all I needed for my sacko-potatoes. It took me about fifteen minutes to sew. I eyeballed it and took no measurements.

It came out pretty decent for a hurried first attempt. Now looking at this thing, you'll be wondering how this meets the attractiveness criteria. Well, I'll tell you. The beauty of my stacko-potatoes (copyright Mutiny in the Garden-heh) is that once the height of the structure gets tall enough to start looking fugly, I can slit holes in the side of the sack and plant pretty shallow rooted annuals. The stacko-potatoes will morph into a stacko-flowers with purple spuds fattening up inside. I'm very proud of my little homemade sack! I started the spuds in it this afternoon. Fingers crossed it works!

The afternoon dried up enough to move the woodpile from the future shade bed. In hind sight it was a dumb time to move the pile, waterlogged wood is heavy! It took a long time. The rain resumed right after the last moveable log was relcoated. I had to leave four behind because they were too heavy. Hopefully hubby can chainsaw them down in the next week or so. I 'll have things to plant in that location in the next week or so. Despite all the rain and weather weirdness it was a terrific weekend to garden. I hope you all enjoyed similar nice weather.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

All Day Bean Teepee Construction

I'm a big fan of multi-tasking and a hater of weeding grass out of planting beds. Therefore when it came time to decide what to put in the new planting area that joined two beds, a big bean teepee seemed like the perfect solution.

I've been wanting to plant one for awhile. I see it as another way to lure the kids into the garden while at the same time giving them the novelty of picking and eating food off of their hide-outs walls.

Preparation for the teepee started early. Gorgeous weather was forecast for this weekend right up until this morning. It's like the weatherman doesn't want us peeved at him all week so he waits until the very last minute to inform us that the forecast for today is a cold front that will rollercoaster over the area back and forth all day making temperature swings from 76 to 45 along with the potential for five inches of rain. Whee, the race was on.

First a trip to the stables for more manure. The pile is located in a field, far away from the barn and other people. The birds, the quiet... they inspire reflection. I call it manure musings. I'll share these another day. On to the tee pee but first a stop a Lowes. I'm mad at Home Depot because they only carry soil provided by the evil Monsanto now. They've lost my business again at least until the next sump pump emergency.

At Lowes I was looking for 12 foot bamboo for my teepee supports. All they had was six feet and it looked old and fragile. Instead I picked up eight foot metal poles covered with a textured green plastic. They were more expensive than bamboo but since they can be reused each year and stuff won't eat them, it was a win. I paid for the poles, potting soilx2 for a new window box, landscape fabric for the new potato containers, the teepee floor and the shade bed, plant stretchy ties, landscape fabric sticker downer things (a technical term) and the blueberry bush that jumped into my cart. $80 later, I was back on the road.

I cursed the drizzle on the way home and it worked. It stopped and the rest of the day was overcast and seventy degrees. We were on the exact edge of the front, I heard thunder all day but never felt a drop of rain until late this afternoon. It was a neat afternoon weather wise.

I started the teepee bed by first starting a fire in the pepper bed. I had thrown a bunch of sticks on the sod in the teepee bed to start killing the grass, so those were picked out and burned. Richie helped. He needed to earn seven dollars to finally have enough money for a lego castle. The little guy was awesome, he took care of that, all the catalpa pods in the front and even helped our elderly neighbor next door by getting the sticks off her yard too!

Once cleared of sticks, I finished turning over the sod in the bed and then tied together the poles and stuck them in the ground. I though this would be complicated but it was the easiest part of the whole project. I spread composted manure over the whole area and dug it in in the areas where the beans will go. Then, in the center of the teepee I laid down thick chunks of newspaper and covered it with landscaping fabric. I did this to help kill the grass as well as give the kids an decent place to sit in their hideout. I figured the manure would come up thru fabric alone, and paper would help block it. The worms will like the paper too and blocking the sunlight should keep down the weeds in there..

The bean bed took all afternoon, primarily because of the fire. I had such a nice fire going I kept pausing to go find stuff to burn to feed it with. That's how the berm bed ended up getting a pretty good clean-up. All the old foliage and stems are now in ashes in the pepper bed. The old lilac has had a lot of dead wood removed, the russian sage no longer looks like a ghost bush and the jack frost looks much nicer not half buried in oak leaves.

The deluge finally arrived at around 5 pm, right around the time the temperature dropped thirty degrees. My fingers are crossed that the wet tomatoes won't get blight in the cold frame tonight. I tried to dry them out in between showers but it just wasn't happening. Oh well, it was too good of a day to fret about soggy seedlings. Even better, the liar, er I mean weatherman says tomorrow will be sunny and seventy. Hmm front bed or shade bed....decisions decisions...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Open Letter to HGTV

Dear HGTV,

In HGTV, the G was for garden. It is not for gravel. It is not for giganormous groundbreaking machinery. It is not for giant towers of landscaping blocks, 5 thousand dollar grills or for good-looking guys that think bamboo is an excellent solution for property lines. HGTV, I'm afraid you have lost your way. Where you once had lovely shows such as a Gardener's Diary, and Gardening By the Yard, now you are mostly real-estate shows. Your few garden shows feature massive hard-scape projects where anything green is just an after thought. It's a shame. Once upon a time I expanded my cable package just for you. Now I wouldn't blink twice if you went poof.

Please HGTV, I implore you. G is for gardens and G is for green. G is for glorious garden gadgets and G is for great growers. I want shows that inspire and shows that teach. There is nothing inspiring about 2000 square feet of concrete and a resurfaced pool, not even if it "pops". I want lush, and lovely, organic and educational. I know Lowes is one of your advertisers, but guess what, they sell plants too! Please, please bring green gardens back to HGTV.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Frame Expansion, Earth Day Grouch and Random Rambling

I love hyacinths. They are so flamboyant, so fragrant and in your face! This time of year when the weather swings from freezing ice (Monday) to 85 degrees (Friday), there isn't a lot in the garden that is looking particularly exhuberant. The hyacinths are always the exception. Deer don't chomp them like they do the tulips, snow doesn't flatten them like it does the daffodils. Hyacinths hold up to it all and if you plant them under your window, their perfume reaches the second story and inspires all kinds of naughtiness!

The ongoing saga of the cold frame or rather brick daycare center continues. I've had plants in the foyer for the last two nights due to cold. The temps were above freezing in the frame but with ice/snow predicted and the weatherman having issues I decided not to chance it. They went back out this afternoon but not without first expanding out both sides of the frame a foot. I transplanted all of the needy tomatoes after work today into bigger pots and that made the frame too small. It also has become to short in the last three days thanks to Matina. The nice thing about having lots of brick pavers around is that both issues were pretty easy to resolve. More bricks! My next concern is for Friday. The forecast is for 85 degrees and I have to work. I have no idea if simply removing the cover will keep them cool enough or if they need to be take out of the frame altogether. Gah, I'll be glad when frame time is over.

I helped pass out saplings at work today for Earth Day. Our Green Team convinced the powers that be to buy 1000 saplings to distribute to employees. They all went! It was a very positive experience. People were so excited about their little trees. Well except for one guy. He swore at us and told us he didn't believe in Earth Day.

You have to wonder what the earth has done to him to make him so bitter. Is he plagued with yellow clay and drought? Have the squash beetles dessimated his cukes one too many times? Did his wife enforce earth hour and his missed the incredible hockey game? Whatever it was, he got a moment of our pity and then we returned to the positive people. They will be the ones to make the positive changes. The bitter, the fearful and the naysayers will just hold us back. Happy Earth Day everyone.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tomato Inventory

Warning: If you aren't into heirlom tomatoes, this thread will be one big snooze. Even if you are it may be yawn worthy. It's inventory and assessment time and I need to write this all down in a place where I won't lose it!
Cosmonaut-Volkov: Selected as a mid-season slicer that has a full rich flavor that holds up to heat. From Ukraine. Productive with big fruits. Sprouted 3/1 records indicate three were planted, magical seed splitting seems to have occurred since I now have six plants. Health is a five on a 1-5 scale. Size is 8 inches. Buds removed on all six plants today. Two need repotting.

Chocolate Stripes: selected as a mid-season salad/slicer that yields a plentiful crop of 3-4 inch, mahogany colored with dark, olive green-striping. Very pretty! Fruits reported to have complex, rich, sweet, earthy tomato flavors. Sprouted 3/2. It is growing slow and may have been impacted by cold as evidenced by the slight purpling. Health is 4.5. Size is 3.5-5 inches. Has stretched a bit, needs to be repotted deep.

Cherokee Purple:

Selected for flavor, one of the best out there. Late season variety. Sprouted 2/27. Was stunted from early cold exposure in the frame. Now it is stretched and still very purple. Health is a 4-4.5. Size is only 3.5-5" high but not very substantial branches. It's way behind the Ukaranian. All four plants needs repotting.

Dr. Carolyn

Selected as a white, sweet, later season cherry tomato. This took forever to sprout, almost three weeks! Sprouted 3/7 and has thrived in the frame now that temps are up. It definitely likes heat. Next year if replanted needs a heat mat to help sprouting. Health is a five. Plants are well branched and thick stemmed except for the two that share a pot. Those need replanting. Height is 4" at 1.5 months.

Selected as a very early season, very sweet orange cherry. Sprouted 2/25. Plants are now 7-9" high. I removed flower buds today on 3 of three plants. Slight yellowing noted on the lower leaves of two plants. One repotted, the other will be done in the next day or so. Health is a 4 at this point. Hopefully repotting will fix the yellow. If not, they'll get a hit of Neptune's Harvest.

San Marzano
Selected because it's the best sauce tomato in the world! Seven plants with a huge size difference 1.5-8.5 inches. Germinated 2/28. Blossoms removed from one plant today to keep them in the vegetative stage. Health is 5 for all except one. It needs repotting (notice a theme here?) The three sharing the container will also need a new space within the week. I need more dirt.

Black Krim

Selected as a rare black, very intensely, slightly salted flavor tomato. Planted and sprouted later, 3/20. Doing great, great color, 7 inches tall. health is a five. Note to self. No more February plantings. Remember the Krim.

Amish Paste: No picture, got lazy. Selected for Wisconsin heritage, as a large flavorful, early coreless big sauce tomato. Sprouted 3/1. Health is only a 3 of 5. Kind of scrawny. Slow grower 3.5-5 inches. Two need repotting. Consider change to Opalka next year.

Persimmon: Selected as a sweet orange slicer with few seeds, alleged to have been grown by Thomas Jefferson. I call it Prima Donna. Sprouted 2/28. Its a sickly, slow grower. Two plants already sent to compost. The two on the left may be next if they don't improve after repotting. Health is a 1-3. Size is 1"-4". Currently quarantined from the rest of the group.

Matina: Potato leaf variety selected for early yield (about one month before beefstakes) but still with flavor way better than early girl (blech). Plant is frankly going nuts. Now 7" but has been repotted three times to try and shrink it down. I might put one out early to see how it does before it takes over the house.

Carbon: Selected as another black, high ranking in flavor that also happens to be gorgeous. Sprouted 3/1. Next year hold off two weeks. Very healthy plants, currently my biggest and fullest at 8.5 inches. I removed blossoms today on one of them. Health is a five. Now in gallon pots.

Siletz: Selected as one of the best early varieties. Dwarf determinate plant big on tomato flavor and sweetness. I'm not sure which of the unidentified plants is Siletz, but based on the leaves I have an idea. If it is the plant I think it is, it's health is a five and size is 5 inches after second repotting. Each time I repot, I sink the plant deeper in the soil to make it stronger, thus keeping height down while they are indoors and making a substantial root system.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Inexpensive Organic Gardening: Tips for a Healthier Garden.

The organic movement has invaded regular nurseries. When you visit in the coming weeks you can find bags of $25 worm castings, $10 organic soil, organic fertilizers, sustainable pots made from bamboo and on and on. I have no beef with these items, but in honor of Earth Week, I thought I would share some of the great tips I have learned over the years related to organic gardening and doing it without going broke.
1. Cancel the lawn services that spray your lawns. They are killing you soil and polluting our waterways.

2. Buy a mulching blade for your mower and let the clippings stay on the lawn. The worms love them.
3. Let your grass grow long 3-4 ". It will need less water and less weed seeds will germinate in the shade it creates.
4. Unless you are trying to save new sod, don't water your lawn. Let it go dormant. Start showing your kids that this color is a seasonal expectation. You will be helping create a new generation of water savers. Plus, you will save yourself a lot of time!

5. White and pink clover is good for your lawn. Leave it be.

6. Fertilize once or twice a year with time-released, water insoluble nitrogen. These fertilizers are less likely to burn your lawn with excess nitrogen, and slow-release allows the roots to absorb the nutrients as needed. . With fast-acting fertilizers, some nutrients are washed away with watering or rain, and the wasted fertilizer pollutes ground water supplies.

7. Control lawn weeds with corn gluten. It's inexpensive and a nontoxic byproduct of corn processing. It kills weed seedlings within days of application. It also adds nitrogen to your soil.


1. Skip peat pots which destroy habits and instead use recycled containers you find around the house or paper pots you make yourself. Reuse purchased plastic pots each year.

2. Grow some flowering plants native to your area. The birds and bee's that are native to your area will appreciate it.

3. Birds help with pest control. Attract them to your garden with a fresh water source.

4. Put soil building at the top of your priorities in the garden. If done correctly, everything else falls into place.

5. Don't send your fall leaves to a landfill. Dump them on your driveway. Chop them up with your mower and add them to your garden. They are GOLD!

6. Check out the free stuff in your area. Stables often have free manure, sometimes it's already composted. Starbucks will often let you have their coffee grounds.

7. Try out composting or vermicomposting the end products of both are wonderful for the soil.

8. Check out heirlom varieties of vegetables. They taste wonderful and help preserve seed-lines. If you find some that are successful in your yard, google seed saving. It's simple and one tomato can supply next year's entire seed crop for tomatoes!.

9. Rotate your crops to help prevent pests and diseases.

10. Plant french marigolds and basil throughout your garden. Both repel pests and fresh basil, tomato and mozarella salad is hard to beat.

11. Once your tomatoes are in bloom, give them a little shake each day, it helps them to pollinate. Get in the habit of petting them daily when they are small, it helps them grow strong stems.

12. A little bit of epsom salts adds the key minerals of sulfur and magnesium to the soil.

13. Plant your plants a little closer, to shade the soil and decrease watering needs.

14. Mulch with natural products but use caution. Some of the free stuff may be heavily contaminated with diseases or pesticides. Newspaper works as a great weed block underneath wood mulch. The dyes now used in it's print are safe.

15. When you water, water deeply and at ground level, drip irrigation is ideal. Keeping water off of plant leaves helps prevent diseases.

16. Plant to attract pollinators with irrestible temptations such as borage, lantana, butterfly bush, milkweed etc. Not every flower is created equal.

17. Use a crop cover to protect squash and cukes from pests, not pesticides.

18. Fertilize veggies, if needed with compost tea or an organic fish and seaweed product such as Neptune's Harvest. The bottle may seem pricey, but it goes a long way!

19. Support organic farmers, heirlom seed sellers, and CSA's.

20. Plant something to eat. Anything. Commercial growing uses incredible amounts of petroleum, water, and chemicals. Every pound that you grow yourself is that much less that goes to support unhealthy practices. Plus, it's mostly fun and always rewarding. : )

Sunday, April 19, 2009

April Showers Bring Nursery Visits!

I waited for sun all day today to try and get a picture of the bed I completed prepping. It was no use. It rained all day. I took this in the pouring rain a few minutes ago. It's primarily perennial spouts right now though sharp eyes might pick out a few broccoflower.

This is a mixed bed inm that it contains or soon will contain annual vegetables and flowers, perennials and even a fruit tree. The temporary fencing is surrounding a few purple cabbage I'm trying to protect from the bambis. The lettuce bed is back by the birdbath. The stick in the center is a baby cherry tree. Last year it had one cherry on it. The sun exposure is also mixed. To the left of the birdbath is the trunk of a large maple. Everything to the left of the stepping stones is part shade with increasingly larger amounts of sun as you move to the foreground. It's a very pleasant area to garden in with shade just a step or so away.

This morning the rain was only a fine mist so I was able to go out and move the dead tree hubby chopped up to the woodpile. After that, I started turning some of the sod over for the bean bed but it was just too wet and I worried about messing it up, so I stopped. I then began to clean up Mrs. Moon Pulmonaria but it started to pour so I bailed on further garden work.

Instead I studied my Chicagoland gardening map and decided to spend the afternoon visiting nurseries for inspiration. I hit a bunch of them north and west. I didn't buy a single plant which is pretty much unheard of for me. I just didn't see anything unique and of the must have that variety. It was still a great way to spend the afternoon. Then it was home to help the husband hang some closet doors, transplant some zinnia's into bigger pots and move Carbon tomato into a gallon size pot. It's getting huge! It's so weird how these tomatoes grown under the exact same conditions are growing at such different rates.

All and all a very good weekend. The next couple of days is forecast to be rainy and cool but after that, it is t-shirt and shorts weather baby! That means sixty degrees or more for you southern types. ; )

Saturday, April 18, 2009

It's late and I'm feeling the sleepiness that you get from a great day outdoors. The weather held in the low seventies with nice cloud cover. Accomplished today:

1. Shoveled about 500 pounds of perfectly composted manure into bags, drove them home and incorporated it all into the back bed.

2. Yanked the neighobor's creeping charlie from my bed AGAIN and cleared back a bit on her side too

3. Planted shallots, onion starts and more purple carrots. These are going in a little late, oh well.

4. Cleaned out the corner back bed completely. But it got too dark for a picture.

5. Stained some trim, doors and a doorbell cover.

6. Transplanted a San Marzano tomato into a bigger pot. It had some lower leaves turning yellow. I'm hoping it was because it was getting tight in its pot. I would be sad if it was sick. I only have two of these started and they make better sauce than any tomato out there!

7. Left the frame uncovered all day, it hit 91 in there uncovered!

8. Moved the worm condo outdoors.

9. Threw a few borage seeds in the ground to see if they will sprout this early.

10. Deer proofed the purple cabbage.

11. Took a walk at the arboreteum. I figured that the crowds were so big with everyone looking at the daffodils, that any cougar out there would be hiding and I would be safe. If you live in this area, try to get a trip in over there in the next week or so. They naturalize tens of thousands of daffodils in the forest and meadows on the west side and it is quite a sight to behold. Today everything wasn't completely in bloom but with this weather it will likely peak this next weekend. Not to be missed!

Friday, April 17, 2009

List Number 2343.47

I like to make lists, particularly when projects are extensive. My list for our recent kitchen renovation was three pages long and complete with a little visual barometer to visually measure progress. That list is long since discarded. It was not completed. Most of my lists never do get completely done. Plans change, new idea's sprout. My lists, I guess are my way of organizing my thoughts on how to move forward and where to focus. They serve more to motivate than to threaten.

My list for this weekend and the garden is extensive. We finally have warm, dry weather in the forecast for at least one day and there is tons to be done. I'm behind from all the rain and cold and snow and sleet and... well you get the picture. This bed is on my list. Mainly the big Hosta. It's called Paul's Glory and it is massive. I need to decide if I am going to divide it and do it soon. One more week and the leaves will be out and it will have to wait for another year.

Also on tomorrow's list: 1. Pick up a lot more manure from the stables in Wheaton. 2. Move the woodpile. 3. Finish prep on the new bean bed. 4. plant the next group of seeds 5. Divide a bunch of brunnera. 6. Prep the tomato and pepper areas. 7. Clean the berm bed up. 8. Clean the front bed up. 9. Prep the new hydrangea area. 10. Plant my purple potatoes in a (hopefully) purple pop-up pot. 11. Do some staining chores related to the kitchen renovation. 12. Seed all the dog destroyed areas. 13, Prepare the herb bed. 14. Plant the destined for almost certain death cilantro. (Cilantro hates me) 15. Plant the rest of the pansies.

16. Lose list after it becomes clear just how hopelessly ambitious one can become the evening before the first decent day of the year in the garden. Hope everyone has a great day tomorrow. : )

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Smells Like Spring!

Finally! At long last flowers perfuming the house again. The rain has slowed down and the house no longer smells like wet dog. Now it's star gazers from Easter, hyacinths from the garden and a little bit of moist soil from all the seedlings too. It makes me want to breathe in deep!

I had about an hour to muck around in the garden after work today. I wish it was more. It was sunny and 65 degrees and that's digging weather! Today's plantings had a purple theme. In the garden went Ruby perfection cabbage, beautiful Redbor Kale and Broccaflower. The broccaflower has leaves very similar to the cabbage at this point so it fits the theme. I've never grown cauliflower before so this will be an experiment. There is plenty of room for it now since Bambi ate two of the broccoli last night. The weather is too nice to be mad though. Tonight, no plants need to be hauled inside!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Plotting Quiet Takeovers

I've decide to expand two beds this spring which will end up being a fairly large project. I've already started this one. The log on the ground is in an area that was grass and separated two large beds. I've decided to combine them to gain some space in sun. My bean tepee will go where the log is.

I won't throw out the sod out. I just dig it up and flip it over. Doing it that way means less fill to purchase and rich soil from the grass. I used to dig in the brick paver edging but now I just set it on top. I've found that after a few good rains, it secures itself but doesn't sink so low that grass grows over it. I still need to get the bump out of the layout though.

The second bed is a much bigger project. It is about ninety feet long and ten feet wide. It is the area under several maples plus a small area of sun closer to the house. This will be a shade bed with mostly hosta's, hydragnea's and other shade lovers. I'll work on this area off and on all summer. The sod will need to be turned, the soil improved, the woodpile relocated and plants established. On the other side of the hedge is weedville USA. I need to figure out some way to try and keep that out of my yard too.

I had about an hour after work to muck around in the garden today. I replanted the annihalated spinach, dug up a pea to make sure they hadn't rotted in the ground. (They're good). I planted a bit of camomille will a giggle towards today's tea baggers and got the rest of the chinese cabbage transplanted in the ground too. Not bad for an hour!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cougar? Seriously

I live in a solidly suburban area. While coyotes, fox and deer are fairly common around here thanks to all of the forest preserves, cougars are unheard of. I was not pleased tonight when I heard on the news that a cougar was sighted near the arboreteum. I walk the trails there about four times a week. I've seen one too many discovery channel shows about people being eaten by these beautiful cats to feel comfortable about this. I hope they are able to catch it humanely and take it somewhere less populated soon. It's almost time for everything to bloom at the arboreteum!

I successfully tranplanted nine of the otherwise doomed poppies. Their prognosis is guarded. They all had virtually no roots on them. I'm keeping them inside again for a few weeks to try and get them stronger before moving them to the frame again.

On to more positive news, the birds that have been snubbing my new birdfeeder finally gave in and tried it out today. We let all the seed run out in all the other feeders and that did it. So far I'm seeing sparrows and chickadees. I'm hopeful the big woodpecker in the area will check it out soon.

Garden news: All the spinach transplants have gone poof. Something ate it all last night. I'm not too angry, I think it went out a bit early and was looking a little straggly. I'll replant it this weekend. Everything else is looking good including the forecast. We might hit 70 this weekend! Woohoo! Tommy Skilling says we are running 15 degrees below average for temperatures this spring and we are way way over with respect to rain. Cold and wet makes rot. Fingers crossed for the peas!

Monday, April 13, 2009

GACK! Alien green stuff.

Add Image

Crisis in the Himalayan poppy pot! When I left for work this morning there were 12 happy little poppy sprouts in this pot and a half dozen or so other tiny ones just emerging. I got home to this! Nevermind, pathetic picture, let me describe it for you. 50% dead sprouts and soil with stuff that looks suspiciously like the blue green algae I used to get in my saltwater tank.

Clearly this stuff is bad. This mean's tonight I need to scrap my bubble bath, chocolate, gardening magazine plans for the delicate task of transplanting a plant that croaks if you frown at it. I have no idea how to tranplant it without also moving the green stuff. Worse news, if the procedure fails, no more seed. I sprouted the whole pack after someone told me that had a 1% germination rate.

Wish me luck. I really really want this plant in my garden. Do you blame me?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Definition of a Perfect Day

Perfect days can occur at weddings and tropical paradises, but they are not confined to these locations. Sometimes a perfect day can start with giggly kids and chocolate eggs.

They can continue with warm (finally!) sunshine and uninterrupted garden time. Brunnera that divide nicely, sprouting chinese cabbage and pansy planting can all enhance an already perfect day.

A walk at the arboreteum where daffodils are blooming under budding trees and frogs are croaking might be the culmination of the perfect day, but the best is yet to come. An easter egg hunt, a delicious meal and the gathering of fun family is the perfect way to end a perfect day. I hope your weekend was good.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Zone Pushing Burns Calories!

I took refuge from the giggles of the slumber party last night by planting my front window boxes. This time of year I plant red & lime green lettuce, pansies and a few seeds of chard which is kept snipped small.

The pansies made it thru the night just fine. The gardland the dog found on the deck did not. It became a chew toy which revisited us on the foyer tile at around 5am. Waking to the sound of retching isn't exactly a magical way to start the day but if you pretend you didn't hear it, the husband who rises first, is assured clean-up duty!
I'm not sure when the dog managed to drag the garland in or where he found the time to eat it but I guess I was a bit distracted. The gigglers, finally dropped off to sleep around 2am which meant that my big big plans for garden work today would get a bit of a late start.

Today was a mismash of activity, with lots of clean-up and bed enlargement. There was grass to be turned over, dead rose branches and an old large clematis to be trimmed. The three beds off the patio also got a clean-up. My method made the spouse frown. A lot. I used the leaf sucker upper thing but without the bag. This meant as it sucked and shredded it blew fine leaf shreddings everywhere. It was very messy but I'll do it again. Not having to muck with the bag made the process go three times faster. Then after everything was shredded I just attached the blower thing and blew all the leaf mold back into the beds. No more mess and a smug sense of satisfaction that my method worked just fine. Yes, those are leaf bits in my hair. Hush!

The final events of the day occur every evening when you live in a zone 5 and zone push. First you go in the house and listen to the final weather forecast. No silly, you can't use the morning forecast. It will have changed by then, plus doing so means a lost opportunity to steal a cookie and yell at the dog for messing up the clean windows.

Next, hearing the temps are dropping down to 27 degrees, you bring in the pansies. They all came with a weather channel tag that said "bred tough for your zone", but we who have been burned before know that they are talking about atlanta, home of the weather channel. The I'm tough tag is not referring to this zone, home of weathermen on prozac.

Pansies safely on their tarp and surrounded by mousetraps to keep the pooch away from them; it's on to the next station. Frame swapping. This station works the thighs, hind-end and patience.

Step 1: remove the plastic tarp off of the frame.
Step 1.5: throw the brick that you drop on your thumb across the yard. Step 2: answer the phone and tick off your mother when you tell her you have to call back the babies are unprotected and freezing. Step 2.5: retrieve the brick. Step 3: carry all the tomatoes, peppers, impatiens, petunias and herbs inside for the night. Remember squat, not bend. Step 3.5: Reconsider the brick when the hubby makes a comment about the squatting. Step 4: move the cold hardy stuff into the frame, and resecure the plastic tarp . Step 4.5 Pat yourself on the back for not snapping at the children when in rapid fire style they ask." what's for dinner, when is dinner, do I have to eat the asparagus, can I just have leftover pizza, did you call grandma back? "

No doubt many gardeners will read of this production and ask why. Why bother? That's easy. The outside chance of tomatoes before the fourth of July and the certainty that the calories burnt during all this activity means pie without guilt. Maybe even seconds!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

One of These Things Is Not Like the Others

Hey now, what's this? Where did you come from? These Matina transplants were transplanted into all new soil so where did the little stranger in the corner come from? This is not the work of the kids, it is planted far too neat. It's not the husband either. It's the playoff season, and the only thing currently existing in his world is hockey. Additionally, he threw out his back playing hockey with the boys and I'm pretty sure he can't bend far enough to mess with the seedlings. Rats. It must be my fault. Again.

I'm not sure what has happened. The spring started out with such careful records. There were 40 tomato plants of eleven varieties. Now less than two months later I have 52 seedlings growing. Sure I might have dropped a seed or two in when stuff was slow to germinate, but twelve seeds? I don't think so!

Of these 52 seedlings eleven are unidentified including the little mystery above. My exacting labeling system seems to have sprung a few leaks. With it went Siletz. At one point I had a few good looking Siletz. Now they've gone poof. They might be in the container where the label wore off, but that could also be Chocolate Stripes. Sigh, I guess I'll have to wait another three months to know for sure. Thankfully, most of my varieties look very different from one another so eventually it will all reveal itself. In the meantime I guess I'll just admire the troops looking nice and green in the frame.

I'm letting the tomatoes stay in the frame tonight. The weather hasn't allowed this for more than a week. If I throw a blanket over the plastic it should stay above 52 degrees, so they should be fine. I brought the peppers back in though, along with the basil. Both are already growing slow, I don't want to stunt them further. The forecast is shaping up for what could be a major gardening weekend. Fingers crossed it happens. Enjoy your Friday everyone.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Saving Money While Helping the Planet

Everything in the garden survived the recent dump of snow. It's all melted again now and the robins are looking less confused. We have one lone daffodil blooming. The rest continue to cower halfway in the soil. The tulips haven't started sending up stems yet either. Hopefully the plants don't know something I don't. Snow needs to be done now, thank you very much.

The ground was still too wet to fool around in after work today so instead I worked on transplanting various different things into bigger containers. I have started to get away from purchased containers and instead have been raiding the recycling bin for stuff I can use one more time before sending them off to be recycled.

I really like these gallon Fishy Cracker containers. The peppers seem to like the shiny metal sides and if I stick a piece of thick paper in the middle of it, the plants are easy to separate. I don't let the kids eat a lot of fishy crackers though so other options are needed.

Gallon jugs of distilled water work well and though plastic orange juice containers are a little smaller with respect to planting space, they are really sturdy. Large cardboard fast food cups work pretty well, though if you use too much water, they get kind of soft. Wendy's plastic big gulp containers work brilliantly. I cut them down to a size that means I don't need to use tons of potting soil and stab a few drainage holes in the bottom and I'm good to go.

Options don't stop here though. A clemantine mini crate is great for holding pots of herbs and the organic plastic salad boxes are perfect for moistening a lot of potting soil at once. I've also used them for planting a bunch of lettuce or cabbage. These containers have lids that can be used to maintain moisture or to serve as a place to catch drainage, a very definite perk.

Mixed set-ups like these do not lend themselves to pretty photos's of organized seedling start set-ups. When considered all together, at first glance, it looks like a pile of garbage! I'm long past worrying about stuff like that though. If I can teach the kids how to re-use simple items to help the planet and to find creative solutions to problems, it's a look I can live with. Plus, all the money I save on pots, I can spend on seeds. *wink*

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Why Bigger Zone Numbers Are Appealing

Tough decision this morning. The forecast is supposed to reach 55 degrees. This means it will be 110 in the coldframe if I do not vent it. Currently the temperature in the frame is 37 degrees and the peppers and tomatoes are inside. I have a long day at work today so I won't be able to babysit the thermometer. Do I put the tenders out in the frame and let them deal with the chills for a few hours until it heats up or leave them inside and not risk it? If I put them out, it will have to be in a vented frame to make sure they don't steam later. That means they will be chilly that much longer.

My coldframe is not one of those fancy, user friendly models with automatic venting systems. Mine is a sloped temporary brick rectangle on my patio covered with a thick clear plastic tarp. AKA an oven without venting for any temperature about 52 degrees F. These decisions and the ten minute production of moving stuff in and out of the frame every morning before work and every evening after dinner has been going on since the middle of February. It's a pain, but worth it. The plants this year are much stockier then I have ever had them be when they were grown under lights or in a window. They have also repeatedly survived fifty degree temperature swings so I know they are hardy!

Sometimes I dream about living in a place where the temperature swings go from 65 to 85 and back again. Being able to grow year round would be wonderful. Maybe during the retirement years. For now, I'll accept my challenges with intermittent whining. The hard fought battle makes the victory that much sweeter.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Evidence for an Intervention?

No no no, this entry is not about that little problem.

No, it's not about that one either, though they often go hand and hand, especially if it's cold out and a warm blanket is handy.

Mmm, mini eggs.. OK, focus now. This is serious. I seem to have developed a little problem. It has come on insideously. First a purchase from a new vendor, then little hits here and there when I was tempted by a new thrill. Then eventually, whole baskets of starts and bulbs and roots.

Seeds. It's not just the ridiculous number of them, or the fact that I don't have space for half of these. I am buying seeds for things that no one in the family likes to eat or has ever tasted. Amarynth? For the love of all that's green why?

On closer examination of these purchases that I don't always recall making, I'm noticing a disturbing trend. I seem to be drawn to freaks. Rainbow beets, purple carrots, purple beans, two foot long beans, white tomatoes, bright red and lime green lettuces, purple tomatoes, white scallop squash, orange tomatoes, chocolate stripe tomatoes, purple potatoes, weird watermelon, cucumbers that look like lemons, cucumbers that look like dragon's eggs and yes, purple peppers.

While I lean towards heirloms and organic varieties, if the offer is weird enough, it usually find's it's way into my reuseable shopping bag. I make excuses that the bright colors will make the kids less whiney when I tell them to eat it. Or that maybe the chipmunks will be repulsed by the weirdness of my veggies and leave them alone. (Yeah right). Perhaps the bright colors will allow me to lay in the hammock and sight potential new harvests from across the yard! Thus something.

The reality is that I'm drawn to the unusual. Especially if the bizarre products are also alleged to be quite tasty. I'm not sure why. Maybe by growing weird stuff I have a built in excuse if they fail. Anyone can grow orange carrots, but carrots the color of a carnival are HARD! I think a more likely excuse though is one that goes back to my childhood. I like to play with my food. If I grow pretty vegetables, I can call this play, food artistry and no one will know the better.

Regardless, it has to stop. I've run out of people to give my extra's seeds away too and the lady at Sids has started looking at me skeptically. I think it was the Mimosa Nuttallii or maybe the inquiry about gas plant seeds. Gah. I need distraction until the weather turns. Hey, maybe a visit to the hosta forums! *Stacy mentally skips away gleefully*