Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Garden Made Fifty Cents!

This year I am going to once again keep track of my garden's yield.  Last year I slacked off when the tool I was using wasn't working efficently for me.  This winter I spent some time tweaking my excel file with formula's and conditional formatting to make it much easier to keep track of yields.  I also bought a better scale.  One that I can take with me into the yard to weigh stuff right there without trying to keep it all separate.

This is a snapshot of just a portion of my Garden 2010 excel file. (Click on it to see the far columns).  Lower down I have a section for costs.  The formula's hidden in the cells are such that it will automatically calculate gains and losses based on what I put into the pounds or number yielded columns.  Once foods are no longer in the red, the last column will turn green.  I already have one row that is green.  It is the herb row.  Since the chives, thyme, and sage all had zero cost this year, my harvests from them have made it a green column.  Yield to date is fifty cents!  LOL

There was a chance of frost last night and it looks like the neighbors took a hit but my tomatoes were under row cover along with the lettuce so no harm done.  I'm looking at significant plant out this weekend if the rain holds off. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Two weeks later, SALAD!

On April 11th, I took this picture right after I planted lots of tiny lettuce seedlings into the ground.   In that blog entry I mentioned that we would have salad in a couple of weeks.  I wasn't kidding.  I made the first clippings for salad tonight just two weeks later!
The lettuce isn't the only thing making progress.  In the foreground you can see the beets have sprouted and to the right of them the spinach is ready to surrender baby leaves too.  The onions are a bit of an experiment.  They were planted last year and never got any size to their bulbs.  I think they are just going to go to seed this year which will be pretty.  If not, I'm hoping they will get bigger bulbs.

Not much accomplished in the garden after work today.  Its meatless Monday and there was Veggie Lasagna to be made.  I planted the Chinese Red Noodle Beans in a big pot and that's about it.  Beans are normally direct seeded into the ground here but this variety is tropical and needs heat to avoid the pouts.  I figured I would get it off to a headstart while I wait for the ground temperatures to hit 65.  I'd like to harvest before Labor Day and last years beans were such a disaster I'm stacking the odds in my favor as much as I can.

Yesterday was pretty drippy out.  I got the strawberry popcorn in the ground along with the peas (again!) and the rest of the carrots.  The soil prep for the carrots took a bit of time.  I got a tip that they like soil very fine with no twigs or chunks of any kind in it.  The dechunkification of the carrot area took about an hour.  Then the rain came and I squeezed in planting cilantro and marigold seeds between the storms.  Pretty lazy day.  It was a treat!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Goodbye Ugliest Bush in the World

I can completely understand how it happened.  It had to have been the lure of the amazing catalog picture.  Looking at this flower up close, I really can't blame the old owners of our house for planting this bush.  I imagine they had visions of orange spring loveliness when they saw its close up.  It had to have been that.  No sighted person would ever buy this thing once they saw a long shot of it.

My mission today was to purge the yard of this Japanese Beetle attracting, blob of sticks topped with orange.  It would be a dicey mission.  Rain was forecast for the entire day.  It came only once, for about twenty minutes.  Just enough to make lots of slippery clay and gunky soil.  Otherwise the air was just thick with humidity, like a rain forest only way cooler.  About sixty degrees.

It took an hour to reduce the Ugly to this.  During removal, I discovered that Ugly had yet another charming aspect to its personality, very sharp thorns.  These thorns easily pierced my gloves and made chopping Ugly down difficult, since the thorns of each cut branch would grab the other leaves and branches and dare you to yank hard, lest you whack yourself in the face with the branch.  Ugly gifted me with small flesh wound.

It took an additional two hours to remove the base of the Ugly.  The former brilliant owners that bought this hideous beast made real sure that it would be hard to get rid of.  They mulched around it with lava rock.  Lava rock gradually sinks into the soil over time.  Clay soil studded with lava rock cannot be dug in at all.  You have to scrape it, bit by horrid bit.  

At this point I took a break from the patch above.  There was so much work to do in it and I was so far behind what I had hoped to get done today that I walked away from it.  I was secretly hoping for another downpour so that I could go inside and snuggle up with a book to purge my brain of the Ugly adventure.  No such luck though.  Instead, in my wanderings around the yard, my eyes fell on the tomatoes in the frame.  I decided today was the day for the first five to hit go into the ground.  I put in Gajo De Melon, Chocolate Stripes,  Crnkovic Yugoslavian, Amerikansky Sladkiy and San Marzano (Pagano seed).  They went in without incident.  Recharged I decided to get in another rain barrel near the Ugly spot and to start cleaning up the bed.
I quit around 5pm.  I did not finish, not even close.  Work got broken up when I had to run to Home Depot to get parts for the overflow thing for the rain barrel.  It took forever.  The guy that was helping me pick parts will probably drink tonight.  I don't think he appreciated me repeatedly telling him that what he suggest was unacceptable because it would look cheesy.  Heh. 

I like the way this rain barrel came out though.  The little hosta that I planted in front of it was rescued from under the rubarb to the left.  The tiny green spikes in front of the boulder are leeks.  The mulch is grayish because it was molded in the bag.  I will look OK once the sun hits it and as yuck as it is, its still way better than the Ugly bush.  : )

Friday, April 23, 2010

Big Babies: Hold, Pot Up, or Plant

On April 9th, stuff in the cold frame looked like this.  Two weeks later, growth has been pretty significant.
Now we are at the tricky part of the year where you have to decide what track to take.  Once plants get this big, you have three choices, hold, pot up, or plant.

Holding:  Holding means keeping them in the same pot for now.  The benefits are that they are less likely to outgrow your cold-frame before you get them in the ground.  The negatives are that plants outgrowing their pots are needy.  Really needy. They need more water (often daily) and are more vulnerable to vitamin deficiencies.  Notice how the plants in the lower right hand corner are very light green?  They are hating on their  cramped toes and want a bigger pot or a bit of nitrogen.  The biggest negative to holding too long is that you can stunt the plants and sometimes they won't recover from it.

Potting Up:  Potting up means transplanting to an bigger container.  It need not be a pot.  Big Gulps with holes cut in the bottom work great and are Earth Friendly!  The benefits of potting up are that the plant continues its rapid growth and you get a bigger plant going in the garden.  The negatives are that it's work to pot up, bigger pots take up way more space and each time you transplant a plant it may get shocky.  Shocked plants stall their growth for a period of time.  For tomatoes that period is short for me so I pot them up several times.  For peppers, they will pout for a couple of weeks, so I only do it once to them.

Planting Out: Planting out refers to getting the plant into its final location in the elements.  Whether it be a container or garden soil, a planted out plant is more vulnerable to the elements and hungry varmints.  Planting out early means you may get an earlier and possibly more productive harvest or it may get you a cold shocked pouty plant that starts recovering in late June.  Planting late delays the harvest and may decrease the overall amount your plant produces that season.

There are all kinds of rules that exist as to when you should do any of these things.  You can follow moon phases, farmer's almanac's, relatives rules or Tommy Skilling the weatherman.  Me?  I never put all the eggs in one basket.  Thus, this weekend will involve a bit of holding, a bit of potting up and if the rain allows, a bit of planting out too. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pea War. Its On.

Here's a picture of some Illumination Vinca in bloom around an old Hyacinth bulb.  I post this because I have no picture of pea sprouts to post.  Something keeps stealing the peas!  They are being dug up within a few nights of me planting them, before they even sprout.  Based on the footprint in the bed, it may be a raccoon.  I had hoped to take a photo of the print for confirmation but my assistant detective and his friend wiped out the evidence during their investigation.  Sloppy detective work aside, Pea war is on.  Tomorrow replanting number three will occur and this time I'll be topping the area with row cover and topping that and surround it with rose bush trimmings.  My nastiest trimmings from my prickliest roses.   Fingers crossed that raccoons, or whatever this thief is, hate prickers.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jack Frost Brunnera

I bought Jack Frost Brunnera the very first year it became available commercially.  I paid $35 for a teeny tiny plant in a 4" pot.  It was worth it.  This plant is a pleasure.  It is one of the first to bloom in the spring and its little true blue flowers are so pretty.  Jack Frost holds its variegation unlike other Brunneras.
This plant is called Hadspen Cream Brunnera.  Its leaves are supposed to look like this.  It did the first year.  After that it was solid green.Still pretty mind, but definitely not worth the extra dollars I paid for the pretty variegation.

Jack Frost on the other hand has never lost its variegation and I have had it for years.  It thrives in shade and one plant easily becomes multiple plants since it responds so readily to dividing.  The blooms are only around for a few weeks in the spring, but the leaves hold their own the rest of the summer and if you pair it with something like red impatiens, the effect can be dramatic! 

In the garden the last couple of days I've gotten the chard planted and about half of the leeks.  I also put in a new rhododendron in the new shade bed along with a Strawberries and Cream Hydrangea. This particular hydrangea is a zone 7 plant and probably has no prayer of making it through the winter in my garden.  It is so gorgeous though, I bought it as an annual and will try and baby it this fall to see what happens.

Otherwise, the beets and zinnia have sprouted.  The pea patch looks like it was dug up by a critter.  I'll need to do some investigative digging in that area in a couple of days.  I really really need to get the carrots in in the next few days as well.  The soil prep for carrots is such a pain, but I want them in and and happy well before the heat arrives.  With this whacko weather, that could happen any time now.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Corner Shade Bed Before--->After

Check out the ugly!  Click on the picture to fully appreciate it's scope.   This homely little corner of the yard reads like a checklist of last year's abandoned projects.  Last year the center of this bed held a huge silver maple that was developing a house crushing angle to it.  After one particularly creepy windstorm, we decided to take it down.  The wood from it went to the woodpile, except for those for remaining logs which were so heavy and wet that I left them where they were.  They became ant condo's sometime over the winter.

The lava rock boulders in front of the stumps is part of my husband's remove all hateful lava rock mulch from all beds project.  It's a cruddy project.  I'm glad he's taken it on.  The stuff cuts your hands up, makes digging impossible and makes every bed into the equivalent of a pizza oven.  He's been chipping away at its removal for two years now but often takes breaks from it.  Its that bad.

The plastic container hidden behind the stump is missing tubberware from the kitchen that the kiddos apparently swiped last year for something.  The grass in the bed?  That's from me getting bored with grass removal last year and moving on to other things.   The fire circle is my temporary set-up that I move all over.  If there is a place that needs grass removal, it often sprouts a fire circle!

There was a lot that needed attacking in the yard today but this little area is among the worst and since there is a chance of frost tonight, additional planting is on hold so the improvement was on!
I started at about 10am after the usual coldframe fussing and stick pick up.  It took me until about 4pm to complete which included a trip to Sids for some Cotton Burr compost.  I think it came out pretty good!    Aside from the obvious weeding, grass removal and raking, I added a gravel dust base underneath the bricks.  I found this stuff under a bunch of leaves in the back of the bed (hubby's work) and had to do something with it.  I also thinned the Norway maple that is nearest this bed which only took a couple of minutes and added a ton of light to the spot.  When I moved the stumps over to make a new compost areas, I got a shirtfull of black ants and their eggs.  GAH ROSE! That inspired the first garden shriek of the season.  I wonder if the neighbors take bets on that?  Finally I removed a ton of creeping charlie from between the hedges that I would never have to do if the neighbor would make some attempt at erradicating it from his yard.  Its been years.  You would think he would have taken the hint from my muttered swears by now.
Unfortunately the whole of this bed is far from done.  While most of it still looks OK thanks to piles of leaf mulch piled in it last year, there is still a ton of work, not to mention planting that is needed in this space.  In order not to go completely broke, I'll be dividing a lot of my shade perennials and adding them to this bed gradually.  The area of the bed I finished today will get some vegetables.  While it is high filtered shade, it successfully produced both corn and leeks last year so I'm going to ask it to contribute to food production again this year as well.  Maybe some flowers too.  Oh and a hosta!  An area with soil that looks this great definitely needs a hosta.  Or two!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Afterschool Chores

  Mmmm,  its spicy viburnum season!

During the week, it's tough to get a lot done in the garden.  Between homework assistance, kid limo service and dinner prep, there is usually only an hour or so in the evening to get stuff done.  Since the first half hour or so of that hour is coldframe inspection and watering, progress on muchelse during the week is slow.  Thankfully, the extraordinarily good weather has continued so I've had lots of outdoor time.

This week I finally got the peas in the ground.  I tried a new location for them this year with more sun so we'll see what happens.  Last year they were really late to emerge and ended up cramping the space plans badly.  I spent most of the early part of the week potting up the peppers and eggplants.  A part of me toyed with the idea of just sticking them in the ground now.  We haven't seen frost for weeks and there is none in the forecast.  Since I am only a couple of weeks away from the last frost date for this area it is really really tempting to get a few in the ground now to save a bit of work later.  If this weather continues for one more week I'm going to go for it.
Tonight, in addition to potting up a couple more tomatoes,  I finally got four broccoli "Early Dividend" and four Ruby Perfection cabbage in the ground.  I left them out and not covered by the row cover tonight.  Hopefully the varmits leave them be.  Also planted was fennel, and a rosemary.  

Now that we have hit the third week of April, I've started my annual spring freak out.  Everywhere I look there is so much to get done and while mother nature has gifted me with multiple weeks of gorgeous weather, in a sense its made things worse.  Its been so balmy the magnolia only held onto its blossoms for a few days.  Now that mess already needs a clean up and the lawn is already getting crazy long thanks to all the warmth.  Normally regular lawn mowing doesn't start until May!  

In addition to all the usual spring chores, we are seriously toying with the idea of both residing the house and finally reclaiming the patio area which means new fencing, concrete work etc etc.  If we do the siding we have to replace all the railings on all three balconies too.  This project will involve significant research and planning.  The electrical mainline will have to be shut off the the back of the house, fence posts will have to be dug. I have to research a different siding product we want to switch too (concrete fiber) and figure out if I can get decent styled fencing that will match it.  If we are doing the patio I have to research a pond installation and get all that coordinated in such a way that we are not dealing with massive dirt piles all summer.  ARGH!  LOL.  Oh well at least its not blizzard season anymore right? 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Manure Musings

  A few days ago, I was explaining to my mom why I was a bit behind in the garden.  Mainly manure and the lack of time and weather conducive to retrieving it.  My mom rolled her eyes and told me to got to a box store like everyone else and get some.  I won't I explained, because its not the same.  The lovely pile of goodness in this picture is local.  No trucks hauled it across country.  Its not hidden away in a bag.  I can sniff it up front an appreciate its earthy but not rotten smell.  Most importantly, I know where it comes from.  I drove past the horses that produced it to get back to the pasture where it stands.  I know it is made of poop and straw and thats it.  There is no human sludge in it, there is no toxins from flood waters, no fill from Katrina dumps.  Its just poop and straw.  Beautiful in its simplicity and really really heavy to load when it is still this damp!
It took me about an hour of shoveling to load this up before the back started to go.  While composted manure doesn't really have any nasty smells associated with it, in appreciation for hubby letting me use his brand new truck for this chore, I bagged it up in trash bags to keep the truck clean.  Then it was back home, er with just a teeny little stop at The Growing Place first.  I forgot what the excuse was for visiting there.  Once there the shade plants beckoned to me and the resulting damage to the wallet originated in that area.  I need to start working on the new long shade bed.  Its newest inhabitants as of yesterday are Hosta Earth Angel, Hosta Green Velveteen, Heuchera Georgia Peach which is a peachy maroon that really glows in the shade.
The extravagant purchase of the day was Hosta Hanky Panky.  I've lusted after this one for awhile now.  The switched leaf color is so unusual and so pretty.  I also love the name of this variety.  I had to have it.  $24.99 later, the tiny little pot that held about three eyes of this treasure was loaded into the car with the other new items.

Once home I started on the first garden project of the day, the greens bed.  It was looking a little rough, but not all that terrible.  I did a bit of weeding, gently dug in a bit of compost and planted 52 lettuce transplants, 18 spinach and three kinds of beets.  My daughter was outside and enjoying the weather too.  She wanted to help out and did a bunch.  She removed the dead stuff from the perennials and did a lot of work on the hedge.  It took a couple of hours but the time went fast. 

We ended up with this, which doesn't look like much now, but just wait. In a couple of weeks its going to look like a salad.  I'll keep row cover on it at night and until it gets a bit bigger.  I've found that certain birds really like to rip out the lettuce seedlings and the bambis definitely love them at this stage.  Once things are bigger, I don't mind sharing but for now its all under wraps.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This Year's Problem Tomatoes

When I first got into gardening, I used to think that people that referred to their tomatoes as anything other than tomato, were a little bit pretentious.  Who were they trying to impress with the "Tomato-Black Krim" stuff?  How different could one tomato be from another?  The answer?  Very different.

The first sign of difference can occur as early as the very first green you see.  Most tomatoes emerge as dicots, which means two cotyledons.  This year I got my first tricot.  Three cotyledons emerged in one of my Striped Roman tomatoes.  This trait can occur via spontaneous mutation but also may be inheritable.  It doesn't occur that often so it pretty cool to see.  Supposedly, tricots may be potentially superior plants.  In theory their larger surface area should make for faster establishment.  To this I say HA.

My tricot Striped Roman is best described as frail and needy.  Sure its bigger than its dicot brother but it is extremely sensitive to over watering.  If its feet get a bit too wet, it turns yellow and drops leaves.  Since some of these stems are fused together, these losses can be substantial.  I lost all of the branches in this photo.  I then dug it up, replanted it deeper and gave it a drier potting mix to help fend of the wet feet.

  I can't blame all this plant's issues on genetic oddity though.  The tricot's brother also has a leaf structure that is odd.  Sort of wispy and prone to getting tangled on itself.  I fear for this plant once I get it in the garden and the wind.  I'm holding out hope that once in the ground it will get some sturdiness to it.  Other gardeners report it does better once in the ground.  My fingers are crossed.  Otherwise, I won't be seeing any of the gorgeous tomatoes this plant produces.

Striped Roman is not the only tomato that has me scratching my head this year.  I have a few varieties that have been grown in the exact same conditions as the rest of the group, yet they are only 1/3 of the size of the others.  Odder still is that these varieties are supposedly known to have some size to them.  The worst of the bunch are Big Rainbow, Big White and Pink Stripes and Kelloggs Breakfast.  Also currently sorta shrimpy are Black From Tula and Japanese Black Triefele which incidentally is from Russia!  They are all healthy, just really really short. 

I did a bit of reading on these varieties to try and see if it was me or them that was the problem.  It may be me.  So far I haven't found anyone that has said that any of these particular varieties were slower than typical though there were a few mentions of difficulties growing JBT.  So for now, I continue to scratch my head, clearly they need more of something.  What that particular something might be remains a mystery for now.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Baby Pictures!

The blog neglect is a reflection of a bit of garden neglect.  No worries, the babies in the coldframe are still getting their daily inspections.  The weather, and life have me behind with bed prep though.  I'm behind on getting peas and beets and lettuce in the ground.  I have some lettuce starts in the coldframe though, so I'm not yet in terrible shape.

The plants in the frame are thriving.  The tomatoes have been in there since the first week of March.  They are still getting a light bulb for heat at night.  The lowest temperatures they saw was 44 degrees.  They were fine with it.  Last year, they got purple leaves when exposed to cold.  This year nothing.  This year the challenge has been making sure they get enough nitrogen.  I used Fertilome when I potted them and was a little worried about it because of the would chips in it.  The worry was warranted.  This years crop has needed fertilization every two weeks.  Last year I did it only once using different potting soil.  I fertilize with Neptune's Organic Fish and Seaweed 2-3-1.  I dilute it to half its recommended strength to be safe and bottom feed only.  Its a fertilizer that isn't so great for indoors.  It reeks!

The size variation in the tomatoes is pretty interesting.  I'll post on that tomorrow.  So far disease wise, things are good.  I noticed a bit of leaf spot on one of the eggplant leaves and nipped that off.  Otherwise, so far so good.  Here's a picture of most of the plants in the frame.  The back wall is so high, I've found that some of the plants have benefited by raising them up off the ground to get them higher in the frame.

Here's a closer look at some of the peppers and the eggplants (left).  Both are ready for potting up.  I'm going to get the lettuce and spinach in first so I have more room in the frame.  Are these happy looking plants or what?!