Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Things that don't belong in my dirty laundry

How did your seed orders go? I just got mine in. Woo!
This was the order I placed with my sister. I wish I had room this year to grow pumpkins!

Garden Clean Up
Last Saturday we had our nicest day so far this year. It was near balmy in the sun at 46*F/8*C and a bit cooler in the shade but a t-shirt and hoody were fine for being outside in. Since the garden experienced a bit of neglect last fall I thought I'd take advantage of the warmish weather and clean up a bit.
A load of dead nasturtiums and weeds to be removed

All done!

I'm pretty sure I'll never have to buy another pack of nasturtium seeds again. Holy cow there were so many seeds in that bed I could open my own seed company. Ha! Glad I like them otherwise they're certainly a vigorous pest.

I also got a chance to clean out the bed that had all the tomatoes in it last year.
It too was a disaster but had some fun surprises in store for us!

For one, an anatomically correct carrot. This would be our second "boy" carrot to date. lol

I forgot to take a picture but I also pulled all the overwintering leeks and we roasted them Saturday night with a pork tenderloin for dinner. Delish! Another surprise came in the form of garlic.
I'd completely forgotten I'd planted a row in-between the tomatoes and lo - they were sheltered so nicely that they've popped up already.

I haven't entirely finished my garden planning, so it's likely I'll "plan" the existing garlic into whatever eventually goes around it. I can't finish planning until I decide what to do with the asparagus bed. I'm dreading dealing with it due to hay that's seeded itself. I can't till it in for green manure due to the asparagus crowns just below the surface. Plus a hubby who's being obstinate and cranky about even the *thought* of me pulling his asparagus out of the garden, never mind it's not done well to date - more on that later... ::La! La! La! I can't hear you!:: covers ears and runs away*

See how nice and pretty it is all cleaned up?
Oh! I guess I'd better do something with those dead starts from last summer still sitting in the cold frame, eh? Whoops!

*Yes, I'm very mature. ;^)

Seed Starting Area
The other thing I began tackling in the cleaning and organizing department this week is the area where I start my seeds. Yes, it's sad but the only spot for this in the whole house is in the basement. So it's lit by shop lights. The thing I really need to do this year is make sure to get some tinfoil or other reflective surface up and around the shelf the seeds are started on. I think some of my past issues have been due to it not getting quite warm enough. Insulating and reflecting that area are on my personal to-do list.

Last year was a little nuts, so not only did the garden see some neglect so did the germination area. Things were tossed all willy-nilly back on the shelf without being cleaned or really put back in any sort of order.

Looking better but not quite there yet.

The top shelf is for paperwork, pens, scissors and some of the clean seed trays and domes. Right now almost all my trays are missing because they need to be washed and there's nothing I dislike more then washing dishes. Heh. The second shelf down is where the seeds are started and since I'm waiting for pay day this coming friday to buy some supplies, it's currently empty. ::pouts a wee bit:: Third shelf stores canning jars. By the end of summer this shelf is usually empty. You can see it's half full now which means we've gone though about half of our canned goods. Though somehow we've completely run out of strawberry freezer jam already. June is too far off! And the bottom shelf is the dehydrator, the liquid compost maker (must get back to that this year) and my new fancy dirt bin.

As you can see I'm trying something new here. Since setting up my seed starting station a few years back, I've always had bags and bags of starting medium laying around usually flumped over into the dirty laundry (the washer and dryer are just opposite the shelves) or half open bags that accidentally get knocked over and spill out on to the floor, etc. SO. To resolve this annoying problem, I went to Ikea and got a recycling bin and put what starting medium I had left over from last year inside. I plan on getting more soon and filling it up so I won't have to worry about it the rest of the year. My only real concern so far is that it might dry out too much since there are some gaps in the lid which allows air to get in. Of course this maybe preferable to the alternative of funky unwanted things growing in my starting medium.
Now all it needs is a scoop!

And one last image to leave off this post with... a beautiful mossy green fungus that's growing off the old apple tree stump in the back yard.


  • START SEEDS: Artichoke, broccoli, cabbage (head), cauliflower, kale, lettuce (head), onion (seeds) and parsley.
  • PRUNE: Apple trees and blueberry bushes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday Check-in


Bird butts.

So as you can see I received a lovely little bird feeder for Christmas. I'm glad it was gifted to me because it's not something I've been willing to spend money on but have wanted for quite a while, so yes, the perfect gift. Next year I hope I get a book on bird identification. It'd be nice to know who I'm looking at. It would also help me plan other areas of my yard to be more bird friendly by tucking in native plants that can provide shelter and food for common local species.

I think I may have found a solution to the pea problem, there is a variety called Serge Peas that supposedly grows well unsupported.
Serge Peas
If you are looking for a top-of-the-line shelling pea for fresh eating and processing, Serge is the one! With unrivaled uniformity, color and disease resistance, this variety will provide a wave of sweet, tender peas in 3 1/2 inch pods. Afila, or semi-leafless vines reach a self-supporting, lacy 26-28 inches tall, and set an abundance of easy to spot pods. Shows disease resistance to enation, fusarium wilt races 1 & 2, and powdery mildew. 68 days.

My other option (and maybe better option?) would be to stake in posts and set up some trellis netting. It would be less likely to blow over in windy spring weather then the wooden trellis I've been using. It would also let more light through for the plants directly behind the peas. This would allow me to plant whatever variety of pea I'd like. What's your favorite variety of shelling pea?


Our Witch-hazel in bloom.

At this time of year there are so many seed catalogs stacked up it's hard to decide what to order from who. My general preference is to place an order for organic seeds from a local company. I personally feel that those varieties they grow for seed that do well for them, will do well for for me too. It's very difficult to resist some of the seed offers from East Coast or Mid West companies but I'm mildly wary of their performance here. This may not be rational but still my feelings are to support local and organic agriculture. Not to say that I never order from far flung companies but the bulk of my seeds comes from companies like Territorial Seed Co. because they are local and have a good offering of organic seed. I was reading an article from in which Patrick Steiner ( from Stellar Seeds) sums up my feelings on the matter rather nicely, "We feel it’s important that organic seed production be part of local organic farming systems, so that local growers work to provide each other with organic seeds from their own region.” Nice, hu?


A Paperwhite that I forced, making our indoors a bit cheerier in that in-between time (between Christmas and spring) when it can seem so gloomy.

I placed my seed order this year on Saturday and I will have to say that I'm quite proud of myself for showing such restraint. It was a small and very reasonable amount of seed. Since I split half the seeds I already own with my sister for her new garden she's putting in this spring, she paid the shipping costs of the order (we went in on the seed order together). Plus there were a few varieties of veg that we'll split seed packs of so that'll be fun too. She ordered some interesting corn I'd like to try and I convinced her (it wasn't hard) to grow some Sweethearts grape tomatoes which are my all time favorite garden snack food.

As you can see the squirrels have discovered the bird feeder but can't quite figure out how to get to the seed easily enough. They are too fat... maybe when they lean up in the late spring? So far they're not inhaling the seed like I thought they might. I did try to buy seed that was geared toward smaller birds - finches and such - to help discourage the squirrels, jays and crows.

Actually I think this is a Mama squirrel that's visited before. She found her way in the feeder once when she was pregnant but fell and has been a lot more cautious since.

  • Now that you've got your garden all planned out don't forget to place your SEED ORDERS. With the exception of the harvest this has to be the most fun thing about gardening.
  • Organize and buy SUPPLIES. This is the week I assess my supply needs. The next few weeks are going to be busy with starts and seedlings and there's nothing worse then going to start seeds only to realize that you're out of potting soil or trays or the seeds themselves! It's also a good time to clean up the potting bench, dust off the dirt and cobwebs and organize the supplies you do have. There is nothing nicer then beginning the gardening season with a clean slate.
  • Speaking of which don't forget to give your old potting trays a good STERILIZATION by soaking them in a 10% bleach solution to kill off any disease pathogens that maybe lurking from last season before reusing them this year.
  • Like last week and the week before, it's time to PRUNE apple trees and blueberry bushes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Planning for 2011


It still feels very much like winter here. They keep threatening snow, but so far it's just cold and not much else.

So what's a gal to do while waiting for spring? Why plan her garden of course! I have a pretty small garden all things considered and so it might not do me much good but I do still try to rotate my crops from year to year. I've also forgotten just how poky slow I am when it comes to planning. I've got a rough draft made up but I still have a few blank spots I'm not sure what to do with. I think I might need to take a gander in some seed catalogs - oh noze! ;^)

I only have four beds to plan out as far as vegetables go. The largest of those I just think of as "The Big Bed", it's seven by eight feet, and have that one pretty well plotted out for 2011. It looks like three tomato plants this year (Mmmm! Sweetheart Grape Tomatoes can't get here fast enough!) Plus I'll be trying out Speckled Roman. San Marzano Gigante did well for me last year so I might give that one another go. I'm also moving the artichokes to this bed as well because every year I've had utter failure with where I've been trying to grow them. The black bean aphids *adore* my artichokes. ::insert grumbling here:: This year, they're gonna have to hunt for them though. So nah! I'm also going to up the number of basil plants too since my DH was so pouty about it last year. He loves basil. Then the standard sweet and hot peppers (Jalapeno, Paprika and Lady Bell), plus onions, carrots, garlic, leeks, parsley and cilantro.

Those shaded squares are stepping stones into the bed - the circles might be marigolds, I haven't decided yet. Also sorry for the cruddy picture but middle of the night garden planning in a darkish room doesn't make for the best photography. On the up side maybe you won't notice my bad spelling and wavy lines that should be straight. Yeah, I know you can do all that on a computer but it just doesn't feel... authentic to me. I like to think of it as a hand crafted garden. ;^)

And now my difficulties begin! I planned the whole thing out and then decided that I sure as heck needed more peas that what I'd allotted space for (we LURVE peas), except there really isn't more space to be had without some finagling. I've got to run trellis ten feet straight down the center of my bed (from North to South) and I'm wondering if I'm going to have problems with it falling over from wind and/or shading the plants behind it. So I've got two options for that, one where I run the trellis against the side of the raised bed for leverage (see left side of photo) and one where I go down the middle (see right side of photo). I think a test run of trying to pound a wooden trellis into the center of the bed here soon might be in order to see if it'll stay up on its own.... as soon as the ground isn't so cold. Maybe later this week.

Two options. LEFT: using the side of the raised bed as leverage to hold the trellis in place, which I know works because I've done it on the North side of the Big Bed but will make harvesting difficult for whole west half the bed. RIGHT: Harvesting will be much easier but will I have trouble with the trellis falling over and or shading the brassica's and greens to the east of it?

Next week maybe I'll have BEDS B and C all planned out and will be able to share that as well. In the meantime can I share how bed C is going to make me weep? I was *IN A HURRY* and bought cheap hay this past fall because I didn't have a lot of time to run around town and grabbed what I could where I could. I just wanted to cover the bare ground with something. Well, guess what? Yup, it sprouted. Big time! Ug. I'd till it in and call it green manure except it's the asparagus bed and there are sleepy little crowns just an inch or two under the soil surface so that's a definite no-go. I'm going to have to weed it which is half of what I was trying to avoid in the first place. Meh.

I also got a rodent squirrel feeder for Christmas. Since they're in my yard anyway they might as well enjoy some corn. Maybe now they'll leave my "people food" alone. ;^) Ha! I also got a bird feeder which has been nice to look at from the kitchen window. I watched this FAT squirrel try and get to it much to my amusement... (pretty sure she was pregnant). Someday I might even get to see some birds eat there... maybe a picture of that next week.

To end this post on a high note and to let you know in a vain effort to get a little spring in my life I indulged in a Paperwhite bulb from the nursery around Christmas. It will be blooming by this time next week. Yay!

  • Like last week it's time to prune APPLE TREES and BLUEBERRY BUSHES.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I'm not too big on annual resolutions (I like to make them year round as I see I need 'em) but I feel like I've really been neglecting this blog and I want to get back to it. I'll use the excuse of the new year to get started. I'm not promising daily posts but I would like to check in at least once a week even if there's nothing going on in the garden... really there's always something though. So today is a new day...

There was a beautiful wintery sunrise early this morning that begged to be captured.

So this week in zone 8a there are a few things to be done if you're feeling motivated and don't mind standing outside in the freezing weather trying to get your fingers to work all the while dreaming of a warm fire and a hot cup of coffee to wrap your hands around. Oh wait. One of them can be done with coffee in front of a nice warm fire. Mmmmm... But, I digress.

Now that the holidays are over and done, with nothing left to do but take down the tree and lights and pack it all away again till next year, it's time to start planning the garden.

This is best done on an over caffeinated brain.... just sayin'.

While I haven't actually started yet my brain has been in over drive thinking about it. I just need to get it all down on paper. I'm sure I'll have more to say about this next week...

Yes, paper, that archaic form information storage.

Not everything in my world is done on the lap top (though there would be those that might disagree!) the reality is: dirt and water don't really get along so famously with delicate electronics. Besides there is something extremely satisfying about writing with a pencil. I both chart out my garden for a good visual idea of what will go where and how it will all fit but also try to note what varieties I'm planting where so that I can keep track of them throughout the year. It'll give me a good idea of what varieties like my microclimate or what varieties had problems with pests or diseases. But like I said, I'll give this whole process more attention next post.

So what can you do outside at this time of year? Well if you have apple trees, this is the earliest that you'd be able to prune older trees and winter hardy varieties but there is no rush, pruning can take place anytime between now and the end of February. I think it's pretty safe to say that my apple stick tree is still such a baby that I won't have to worry about this task for a long while yet.

See that little bit of green fluff in the center of the bed? Yeah, that's my apple "tree". It amuses me. *Someday* I might even get an apple from it.

After the third year, you need to prune blueberry plants every winter. The best time to prune is January to early March, when plants are dormant. The main objectives of pruning are to promote the growth of strong, new wood and to maintain good fruit production. If you prune too little, plants produce too many small berries and shoot growth is weak. Plants have weak, twiggy growth at the end of the season and fail to develop strong new wood for future production. Severe pruning produces fewer, larger berries and more new wood.
If you prune bushes correctly, you’ll have a good balance between fruit production and growth of vigorous new shoots. Experience is the best guide on how hard to prune.

For more information on cultivating blueberries in your home garden check this link.