Friday, March 30, 2012

Learning Lotus and Lilies

I've been gardening for a long time.  Because of this is it really weird to be working with a group of plants that I feel absolutely clueless about.  I'm experiencing this now with the water plants for the pond.  A couple of weeks ago I ordered a few plants to try things out.  I ordered 1 hardy water lily , one tropical water lily (Director T. Moore shown above) and 1 lotus (Thousand petals).  They came the other day along with an additional tropical lily called "Imperial".

I immediately panicked when I opened the package.  Basically they were water lilies set in giant baggies with a tiny bit of moisture in there.  The directions said plant immediately.  Okee Dokee no problem, how do I plant them?  The site I bought them from (Texas Water Lilies) had some really great directions.  I didn't skim them either which is why I was able to quickly observe that the tropical lilies want pond temperatures of at least 65 and preferably 70 degrees.  On the day the lilies came, it was 37 degrees outside.  I checked the pond and it was 61 degrees.  Surprising.  I decided that the 61 degrees wasn't going to last too long with the air temps being down so I had to figure out another plan.  The internet saved me here in that I was told to stick them in a big pot inside.  So that is where the tropical ones are now.
I'm a little concerned about T. More.  One of the leaves turned black.  It seems to be very sensitive to touch, bruises easily.  The bloom opens every morning and closes each night but I don't think this plant is happy.  I hope the weather gives me a bunch of heat soon so I can get this outside.

I'm toying with what to do about the lotus on the left.  It is just coming out of dormancy.  I have no idea if the stems it is showing need to be in the water or are OK above it.  I'm thinking of putting this in the pond this weekend.  The thing that gives me pause with all of this is that these were not inexpensive plants.  If they croak I am out a decent amount of cash.  I probably should have started with something cheaper, but I wanted to go to most pretty right away.  :P

The hardy water lily is in the pond.  I was worried that adding a pot full of clay would make the water cloudy.  It didn't at all.  I'm glad to get these started.  Plants in the pond, eat the nutrients in the pond.  Keeping nutrient levels down is a great way to keep algae suppressed.  Between that and the UV I turned on this past weekend.  I am hoping to avoid green floaters completely.  Except for those I want of course.  Hang in there T. Moore!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rock On A Roll

I did a lot of research related to finishing my pond's edge.  There are many options, grass, time, small stone, a ring of boulders, poured edge, ring of flagstone etc etc.
My plan is still evolving in my head as I stare at this space a bit each day.  What I've know for sometime is that I do not want the common pearl necklace of flagstone around the edge (too formal).  I also wanted some flatter areas for easy access.  I also wanted low maintenance and didn't want to worry about thousands of tiny pebbles falling into the pond.  That is why I was so excited to find Rock on a Roll.   It is what it sounds like.  Rock.  On a roll.  It is completely flexible.  It shapes itself to conform to whatever it is laying over the top of.  It is water friendly, easy to work with and very realistically colored.

I am using it around the entire perimeter of my pond to cover and protect the liner.   It also does a fabulous job covering the wrinkles.  Wrinkles under rock on a roll just make the rock work look even more realistic.  Done right it ends up looking like a way more expensive poured shell.  Installation took a bit of time because I wanted a lip to the pond edge to help contain the mulch;/grass/moss that are coming.  I did this by gluing flexible plastic electrical gluing to the collar, then draping the liner over it, then the rock on a roll over that.  Landscaping fabric and mulch finished off the area in front of the seatwall.  All it needs now is some plants.  I started with a bit of phlox (I like its mossy look).  Added a bit of hardy lavender to the one end.  Coming soon are a few Canna, some wintergreen and a few other herbs to keep the edible theme going!  Yay Progress! 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tomato Babies

Whoa, something major happened in the last few days.  It was either the watering with the pond water or the exposure to the rain storm.  Whatever it was, the tomato babies liked it a lot.  Growth has exploded for all but Hays.  They are now a month and a half old and are looking really good.

Today they are out of the cold frame and hanging in the foyer because we have a single day cold spell and the outlet normally used to operate their heater (light bulb) is  being used to operate the UV in the pond.  More on that tomorrow.

Despite the extended heat wave we had, I never got around to putting any of these guys out into their final locations, container or ground.  That's OK.  There isn't currently a rush.  Just so long as they are sized OK for their containers, they can sit tight for a week or so more.  Thought the potato leafs are starting to push it!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Potatoes-From Seed!

One way to take having way to many gardening tasks, is to nip at them a bit at a time.  Today has been back to back to back meetings.  But I just the 15 minutes it took them to get the bridge line running for the conference call to plant my potatoes.  This was easily done in the kitchen because this year I am planting them from seed!

Why seed you ask?  Mainly cooler varieties but also less expense.  Plus I want to try and do it.  I have never tackled it before.

My seeds were obtained from New World Seeds and Crops.  Tom Wagner has been breeding cool potatoes and tomatoes for years and I'm excited about the varieties I am trying.  One is called All Blue "All Blue The ubiquitous blue potato on the market. Blue skin , blue center with white ring. Pretty flowers."   The other is called Purple Valley. "This is the Korean potato that has All Blue as a parent. Much like the parent…purple skin, purple flesh and the F-2 offered should segregate for some excellent blues."  


I watched Tom's videos on how to plant them before doing so and am glad I did.  In the case of the potato from seed, there are clearly some wrong steps you can take.  Including leaving it in the pot for too long.  Anyway, these guys were planted and photographed in ten minutes, now its back to work!

Monday, March 19, 2012

I'm Never Going to Finish this Pond!

Sunday was another gorgeous day.  Eighty four degrees which is around 35 degrees above normal!  The goal was to complete the piping to the veggie filter, from the waterfall box and for the overflow line.  Before I could do the one from the overflow line, I had to cut a notch out of the concrete collar.  The notch is about 2.5 inches deep and about 14 inches long.  In other words ITS SMALL!

It took me five bleeping hours!  Yes five.  I attacked it with a sawzall, chisels and a circulating saw. Five hours later the little channel for the overflow pipe is done. Was I kicking myself for forgetting to put this in when the concrete was wet? You bet I was, lol. This was messy painful business. My husband was watching me and told me that my ratio of whacks to the chisel to whacks to my hand was roughly 4:1. Now you know why it took me five hours.

The only other thing complete was the planting of six pansies, the watering of the tomato babies and the ordering of some organic mosquito control tablets.  Oh well, the forecast for the rest of the week is good too.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Watercress and Waterworks

I went to California on Thursday for business and got back about 5am this morning.  I was disappointed about the flight delays because I was hoping to put a full day in on the pond today.   I did pretty good.  I grabbed about three hours sleep and then went at it.  The weather continues to be amazing.  Eighty four degrees today in mid-March!  We should still have snow on the ground, not green grass.  The Magnolia is starting to blossom and the roses are leafing out too.

This rapid advancement into the season is creating a bit of a problem in pond world.  The weather is dirty from the winter.  This isn't a problem with cold water, it will not smell.  I was hoping to have a long enough period of chill this spring that I could get the filtration up and running before the heat came.  I made a bit of progress towards that goal today.  The first of two runs to the filtration areas is completely connected now.  I'm hoping that tomorrow I can finish the drain to the high falls and then I can start playing with building the waterfall itself.

That's after I finish the the overflow....and the shape of the veggie pond filter...and the bottom drain of the veggie pond filter.  Gah, still lots to do but at least the weather is giving me the chance to do it.

Since the pond water is heating up I decided to toss a bit of rooted watercress in there to see what will happen.  I bought a bag at Whole Foods.  Of the entire bag only this tiny little sprout actually developed roots!  I really like the peppery flavor of watercress but its tought to get fresh.  I'm excited I might be able to grow my own.  This little spout is growing in the end of a swimming noodle that I chopped up.
In addition to the food value watercress can help the pond by eating up the nutrients in it.  The more nutrients you have the more algae you have, so the sooner I can get stuff growing the better.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Best Garden Book-EVER

I'm a voracious reader. On topics that I am interested in, even more so. I have consumed dozens and dozens of gardening books over the years. Most are pretty mediocre. This week,however, I am halfway through what I think is possibly the best book on gardening I have ever read. The name of the book is Gaia's Garden-Second Edition.

The book's focus is on the central message of permaculture, which is to create fantastic garden spaces by working with nature and not against it. Think of it as a combination of all of the best features of wildlife gardens, edible landscapes, organics, and conventional flower and vegetable gardens. Its about working with nature and restoring the soil and its nutrients while at the same time having a landscape that is not only pleasing to the eye but also sustaining to your local wildlife and your family's bellies.

It is not a book that will teach you how to plant a seed. You need to know that already. It is not a book that will direct you to rip out your yard and replace it with yards of corn. It is not a book that will tell you to rip out your lawn and fill it with native grasses and native flowers.  It teaches you can absolutely have landscaping that looks great, is low maintenance and still feeds you.  Without the need for carcinogenic sprays and dustings, expensive amendments or wasteful practices.

I like that the concepts in the book are for the average lot size and there are plenty of tips for those with urban sized lots. This book will leave you feeling OK about your current lot size and climate.  You need neither expansive acres nor tropical zones to accomplish its goals.  The book has very few pictures but it more than makes up for that with the dozens of extremely helpful tables. It is LOADED with information which means it is not a fast read.   Its the kind of book your read a bit and then think a bit. 

Basically it is geared towards those of us that want our home to have attractive landscaping AND want it to give food AND want it to be low maintenance AND want it to support some native insects and wildlife AND want to do it without a need for dumping "stuff" on it ever week. The best thing about this is that you can approach it in baby steps, little bits at a time.

As I read it I have been stuck by how easy it is to accomplish all of the above.   I've been struck  by how far we have strayed from these easy, common sense methods.   Instead resorting to damaging practices for quick (and temporary) gains.  These days I'm talking about this book anytime I'm around people with yards.  The ideas in it are so great and could serve us all greatly should they become the new norm.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring-The REALITY

The weather forecast is unreal.  Twenty-two degrees above normal for the next week plus.  That is the only thing unreal about today's blogging.  Some bring you close ups of lovely spring posies, cherry blossoms and robins.  Here at Mutiny in the Garden we give you a taste of Chicago spring reality.  First, ducks pooping in the new pond surrounded by the pond carnage itself.  Hey at least the leaves are gone!

Next, more pond mess so that one can appreciate just how much work there is left to do here.  If you think a large pond is little more than digging a hole and lining it.  Think again.  In the background is the snow blower being drained from its gasoline.  Buying the snowblower is what gave us the ridiculously mild winter.   Draining the snowblower will probably bring a blizzard.    Maybe mother nature will give me a break if I get the yard beautification going.
There is a whole lot of beautification to be done. I started at it hard core this weekend.  After picking up A LOT of sticks. I attacked the circle bed.  Soil is completely thawed so time for spring amendments.  A bit of organic bloodmeal and organic lime and a top coating of leaf mulch to keep down spring weeds.  That's it.  No soil destroying double digging or petroleum based chemicals in this bed.  If you look in the far right you can just make out some newly planted onions.  In the ground WAY ahead of schedule.

I forgot to take a picture of how messed up this bed was before it got its spring cleaning.  No matter.  It still is giving a good representation of March in Chicago.  Mushy, Drab, Messy.  It it all fits.  Here and there though, tiny peaks of promise.  No close ups though.  Today is big picture day!

In the back corner, begins some of sites that got pretty neglected last year when the pond took over.  Here we see some newly planted onions next to some dead purple cabbage and backed by dead perennials and some garlic I thought was dead.  It is hard here to see the difference between the freshly amended soil and the mess of mess topping the rest of it, but I promise  the 3x3 section surrounding the onions is done!
This is the shot you get of the berm bed when Stacy forgets to take a shot of the berm bed and is to lazy to get out of PJ's to do it.  From this distance the berm bed is a pleasant earthy brown with a whole lot of dead stuff in it.  The berm bed will be an entire two days to get in shape.  It will have to wait, the corner bed, front bed and side beds are first (after the pond).
Amazing how that dead purple cabbage pulls you right into the corner bed.  I almost look brilliant leaving it there all winter.  It almost makes you miss the large dead weeds, blotchy grass, the general bed debris and the massive pile of limbs in the neighbor's yard.  Almost.  This bed is being targeted this week for those periods of time where I stop working on the pond because I am scared to mess something up.

Productivity is the goal this season!  It is desperately needed.  Today's photos haven't even begun to show you the worst of it.  I have to get out of the jammies to get those taken.  ;)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Chicago: The New Zone 7

Spring in the area is often an exciting time.  We see huge temperatures swings from warmth to blizzard from gale to sleet.

This spring looks like it is going to be a bit different.  All of the long range forecast models at NOAA are predicting above normal temperatures.  WAY above normal.  Preciptation is also looking like it will be above normal for this area.

What does this mean for this gardener?  I will be going for my all time early records in garden harvests.  This weekend will be shorts and t-shirt weather out there (yeah in Chicago-good grief).  <--OK we are a hardy bunch, 55 is shorts and t-shirts here if you are working outside.  My plan is to get stuff out there NOW and to have plenty of back-up in case the usual Chicago whack kicks in and we get a blizzard in late April.

I'm excited about this, and yet still not a little bit concerned.  Twenty degrees above normal?  That is pretty darn abnormal.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Piece O'Crap Coldframe

If you are a zone pusher like I am, a cold frame is a critical piece of equipment.   Over the years my blog has featured some homemade, seriously ugly cold frames.  Some were a traditional design.  Last year I did the "tsunami" which included a back wall of water.  They have all had two things in common.  They were all really ugly and they were all very sturdy.  Having no problem whatsoever with our spring winds.

This year, in honor of the shiny new patio I decided to "upgrade" to a purchased, more attractive and theoretically more functional model.  I purchased the cold frame above.  It has been a huge waste of money.  I am two days into the first spring wind storm and already the frame is falling apart.  Now one could argue that perhaps it was never meant for 40-50 mph winds.  Fair enough.  Shouldn't one still be able to expect a frame that the lid closes squarely and tightly on?  Also, a means to anchor it other than the tiny wire I am supposed to hook over the tiny screw might be nice.

Because the frame is so ill fitting, I don't have nearly the insulation value of previous ugly frames, which means a lot more careful watching of the weather and will likely mean a lot more hauling plants back inside.  What a disappointment.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Where's the Woolly and other Freak Searches

I am growing a few seedlings this year that I check several times a day for evidence weirdness.  I'm definitely drawn to plants that are unusual and this year has been no exception.  When I heard there was a really furry tomato that was also BLUE I had to have it.  I later read the rest of the description and learned it was an F3, meaning that chances were good that there was going to be a whole lot of variety in the seeds.  Ruh roh, that means I might not get the fuzzy blue I'm pining for!

My angst over Seattle's Blue Woolly Mammoth has surrounded whether or not I  was lucky to choose a few seeds from the pack  that will give me the traits I want.  So far so good.  Despite my horrible camera skills I think it is clear that I have some blue (aka purple) going on with these guys.  Since these are the only purple ones in the tray I'm hopeful their blue(purple) is from breeding and not from cold which can happen with tomatoes.

The other trait I am hoping for is big time fuzz!  I'm talking seriously hairy weird looking plants.  Again, the early signs are good.  The plant on the left definitely has the fuzziest stem out of any plants in the tray.  The seedling in the foreground looks like its first set of real leaves might have some big hairs going on.  If I have to choose between blue and fur I choose blue but I really want both.

The other current freak getting a lot of poking these days is a single seedling of Maiden's Gold.  Two of these seedlings are very green.  One is not.  Since I really love this color of green, I am hopeful this will be its mature color and that is lighter color is not a symptom of some sort of nutrient deficiency.  That would be strange since it is sharing the exact same soil as the other greener seedlings but I have asked about it at Tomatoville. Tomatoville is where way smarter tomato than me hang out. 

Finally the last freak in the tray is Fuzzy Pink Boar.  This one is bugging me because it has such a cool name and the plant looks absolutely normal.  I need to find out if the only fuzz on this plant is on the tomato, which might be disappointing except for the fact that the colors on the tomato are cool all by them self.  I guess time will tell!