Monday, May 29, 2017

Spring Video Tour

Earlier this year, I let you all see my gardens and yard.  As a perfectionist, it is hard for me to show you my imperfections.  My gardens are definitely not the perfect picture I want them to be.  However, I was brave and shared them anyway.

I am oh so slowly learning to enjoy and love what is now, rather than wait for the imagined perfect future.  How many times have I looked at pictures of a younger self and ponder why did I not like that version of myself.  I know for a fact that I thought myself too fat, too pudgy, too something not good enough in those pictures.  I want to go back and hug that child and look her in the eye and tell her that she is beautiful, to stop worrying about all that is wrong, and just enjoy what she does have.  When I catch myself in the now repeating the same kind of hate crimes against myself, I have to again grab my chin and say, “Stop.  Find your peace and joy now, in the here, regardless of the lack of perfection.”

So, here is another video of my yard we took last Wednesday (May 24).  It is most definitely not more perfect, in fact it might be messier in many ways.  However, I have some gorgeous flowers and plants growing right now that I am excited to share with you.  We have done a lot of work and although it doesn’t show as much as my body feels it should, we are getting there.

Yesterday Timothy and I spent some 9 + hours in the food garden beds specifically.  I was not feeling well at all, but we engaged the “forever” mode gear and just kept moving.  I didn’t move quickly but I did enjoy the day.  Sir T watered the beds by hand with water from the lower rain barrels and with a hose running water from the upper rain barrels because despite the predicted 50% chance of rain, we didn’t believe it.  Wrangling hoses, leaky water faucets, tomato cages and fence panels kept him busy.  It did sprinkle for about 30 seconds in the afternoon, so I guess the meteorologists were technically right.

My to do list is lengthy but the top goals were to trim all the weeds in the beds, empty the greenhouse so we can take it down, and finish planting all the beds.  In my very linear fashion, I started at Bed 1 and I made it all the way to Bed 8.  In typical perfectionist fashion I looked at what I didn’t get done.  However my amazing, wonderful husband told me that I did a great job and although I didn’t get one thing on the list completely gold star checked off done, I did accomplish a lot.  In fact I should have taken a picture of the pile of now empty pots.

I hope that you are enjoying your garden, no matter what state of progress it is in, and I sincerely desire that you see the beauty in your day and in the mirror.

Click here for the video tour.

May you be blessed with peace and joy and know that you have enough for today.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Spring Has Sprung!

Sir T found spring!

I have been wandering around with my camera for the last few weeks and here are some of my favorite shots in no particular order.  This blog is purely a celebration of spring.

Forsythia always helps to kick off spring with the amazing cheerful yellow.

One of the “fancy” daffodil bulbs purchased last year and put in the big bulb bed.

Passover Lamb given to me by a friend that evening.  So sweet with tete a tete daffodil.

Our celebration of spring has to include our observance of Passover (sometimes called the last supper, recalling the night before Jesus died and the Children of Israel’s redemption from slavery and journey to freedom), Unleavened Bread (where we intentionally seek to remove sin from our lives as we clean the house and eat flat bread for a week), and First Fruits and Resurrection Day (He arose!  Hallelujah!). Currently we are in the midst of the counting of fifty days until Pentecost.

My omer counter, each smaller blue bead represents a day of the week while the Sabbaths are marked with the larger marbled bead.  I move my beaded marker up the line until we reach the top.  An omer is a cooking measurement from scripture that equals 9.3 cups.  My understanding is that you use an omer of flour to make the bread eaten at the celebration for Shavuot or Pentecost – literal meaning is to count 50.

My front bed of bulbs.  This was so much fun to watch come up and bloom!

Split corona daffodils from my mother-in-law’s farm

I love the beautiful blue of squill, a small bulb flower

One of my new tulip bulbs, I’m too lazy to go find the bag in the pile in the garage to tell you its name,
but I really like the two toned colors.

Grape hyacinth or muscari gets planted in every place I plant bulbs so I can find them in the fall.  Muscari puts up foliage in the fall marking the place of the bulbs so I don’t accidentally put a shovel through them trying to plant more.  These cuties will naturalize as this one did in my patio.

Spurge or euphorbia plant from a cutting that my sister gave me several years ago

White bleeding heart

My largest redbud tree in my yard received as a small stick on Arbor Day from the library.
I have 4 trees that are pretty good sized now.

I really enjoy the beautiful flowers of the redbud…. It should be called a pink bud though

Brunnera under my Japanese maple

Yes, I really like daffodils

Trillium!  I planted a root in a horrible spot and forgot about it.  Several years later I noticed a bit of white in the shrubs and investigated.  I am now up to 3 flowers in my cluster and I really need to mark the spot so I can move them to a better location.


Another daffodil… brightening up a gloomy grey day

Our first real harvest of greens for a salad.  Walking by and eating a leaf doesn’t count as harvesting.

A bumblebee busily pollenating our apple blossoms.  It is too cold for honey bees so the native bumblebees are essential for pollenating this spring.

My glorious bed of bulbs.  I really like the two toned tulips and the contrast with the blue and yellow.  This bed makes me happy and I go look at it every day.

Sigh….  My spring broke  5/8/17

Monday, May 8, 2017

So you think you can…garden.

It has been almost two years since I have started seeds with intent.  The idea of how to plant something is simple, take a seed, stick it in some moist soil and it grows.  I’m an Advanced Master Gardener, I’ve got this.  Or perhaps not.

I HATE having to thin, it is needless murder to me, but a second seed germinated after I transplanted the first one and two cannot live here and the plants are too entwined to separate.

This year I pulled out the seed trays, mixed up my medium and happily planted away and waited with great expectation.  I waited a long time.  The first things I start are my onions and brassicas as they are cool season crops.  Of the 300 or so onion seeds I started, zero came up.  Nada, not one single thing.  I was surprised.  So I tried again…. Same result.  A great deal of my seeds had zero germination this spring.  I want to cry.  The above picture pretty much shows how my heart felt this spring looking at my empty seed trays.

Ok, after getting over the wanting to cry bit, well, I still want to cry but it isn’t going to help anything so I’ll just have to cry inside while I try to figure out the problem.  I believe there are several issues that could all possibly affect my germination rate which at the moment if I were to roughly guestimate is around 25%.  That means for every 4 seeds I planted; only one came up.

1. My seed is 2 years older than the last time I planted in 2015 when I had good germination. Two years is a long time for some seeds.  Onions (and lettuce) in particular have a rather short shelf life with the suggestion to buy new seed annually.  Two of my onion varieties were over 4 years old, one was saved seed that was 3 years old and one was a year old.  Solution: buy new seed for varieties that are known to be short lived. Still, I feel I should have had something come up rather than absolutely nothing especially with the year old seed so this was not the only problem.

2. My starting medium was too compacted.  I mix up my medium with water and press it into my seed tray, then put the seeds in and often press more on top to make sure the seed has good contact with the soil.  Several of the seeds that did germinate had roots that went sideways rather than down which told me that the soil bed they were on was too hard for them to grow into.  Solution:  make sure that the medium is not too compacted when putting it into the seed tray.  In subsequent seedings, I did not press down on the soil to get it into the tray but rather smoothed it across the opening so it filled up but did not get squished.   When I put soil over the seeds, I sprinkled it and let the water mist settle it in.

Pulling out the medium and starting over again.  I fluffed it up and put it back in.
The cup holds the tags to all the varieties that failed to germinate that I am trying again.

3. My medium was too wet.  After a second particularly spectacular fail in germination, I cleared out a seed tray and found the soil to be almost dripping wet.  The seed had drowned.  Solution: be more careful with watering and water with the spray bottle rather than a watering can.

Fungi eating my popsicle stick plant tag.  Fungi need water to live and move and it was very happy here.

4. The soil was too cold or too warm.  My basement, where the garden center is located, is 65 degrees which is a bit too cold for most seeds which prefer an average of 70 degrees.  Combined with too wet soil, I think most of the seed rotted.  I did put one tray containing nightshade seed on a simple heat mat to germinate and still had terrible germination.  My thought is that the combination of too wet and compacted soil negated any benefit the heat may have brought.  I also do not know if the heat mat gets too warm and actually cooks the seeds.  Solution:  bring the seed trays upstairs to germinate where it is a bit warmer and the trays can be in front of a window.  Also, I may need to do an experiment to see how warm the heat mat makes the soil and determine if it is a benefit or detriment.

My chilly basement isn’t conducive to enthusiastic growth.  

5. Patience.  I often would start seeds and become worried or impatient if several days later there was no sign of life.  Some plant seeds take up to a month to germinate.  Peppers can take 14 days to germinate.  Going through my seed tray (this was the third time I had started seed) I checked a row planted with peppers which looked empty.  Upon closer inspection I saw the beginning of stems starting to curl up out of the soil.  On day 13, I saw almost nothing, day 14 showed the tips of green coming up.

I have started some seed three times now with no germination.  We are late enough in the season that is does not make sense to keep trying for plants that need 6 to 8 weeks of growth before being planted out after last frost which for us is in one week.  For my onions, we ended up buying sets from various box stores in our area.  While I wasn’t impressed with the bulbs or the green sets, it will hopefully get us a few onions this summer for making salsa.

Along with issues getting seed to simply germinate, I haven’t been happy with the growth of the plants that did germinate either.  They just seemed to sit there and not grow despite being under the LED lights in 2” paper pots.  While discussing this with my Dear Friend during our weekly phone call, the thought occurred to me that they were too cold.  In the past the fluorescent grow lights gave off some heat which offset the cold in the basement.  The LEDs are very cool as they use very little electricity.  The temperature is about 65 degrees or maybe a bit cooler depending on if we have the heat on.  My poor babies are shivering.

We have done two things in response.  First we are trying to put the flats of seedlings out in the greenhouse as soon as it warms up enough.  If the sun is out, it will be warm by late morning and we’ll trek all the flats out and open a window or two for ventilation.  This has been helping this last week as the sun has come back despite the below average daily temperature.   We are about 10 to 20 degrees shy of average and I can feel it. In early evening I will close up the greenhouse to preserve as much heat as possible before the sun goes down.  Once the greenhouse temps drop to around 65ish, we march all the trays back in.

Sir T and I usually make it a two person job.  He takes the trays off the light rack and hands them out the door to me and I take them to the greenhouse and water them.  I have found or have been given some large plastic cafeteria trays that work wonderfully.  The black trays work ok for the little 2” pots but can’t handle the heavier 4” pots and you have to support them with both hands or it will twist and either break or dump out the contents.  These large trays are sturdy enough to be held with one hand while fiddling with a door handle or the greenhouse flap.  In the evening we reverse the process.  It does take time but I believe it is worth it.  Perhaps if we are able to have a more elaborate greenhouse that holds heat over the night time, we won’t have to do this.  Until then, we trek them in and out.  It is a good way to make you look at all your plants and gauge growth or issues from day to day.

On days that the sun isn’t out and temps are in the 40s and 50s, we leave them inside under the LED lights but have also added a heater with a thermostat plugged into the same power strip that the lights are on which is on a timer.  It is now a nice toasty 72 degrees next to the plant rack.  I have already noticed a bit of improvement in the peppers which are starting to put out a second set of true leaves.

Starting to look like something good is happening

One positive thing that we planned to do from the beginning was to pot up plants that had an extended indoor stay a second time.  I usually start my seeds in a seed tray and from there pot them up to 2” paper pots which are larger than the typical 4 or 6 cell tray that you would purchase from a store.  However, since my plants are not being fed via “blue water”, they are relying on the nutrients in the soil to create a healthy root system.   That requires more space.  Now the plants are moving from a 2” paper pot to 4” plastic pots in a mixture of 1/3 compost to 2/3 organic potting mix.  I have been very happy with the root system that had developed on the plants that have been planted out to the garden.

My cauliflower has lovely roots in its 2” paper pot.  Time for a new home!  3/24

Lovely roots on this purple cabbage that we planted outside on  4/14.

Planting out the purple cauliflower (4/25) with a beautiful root system

In the end I have to remind myself that I need to remember what I tell people in my gardening class, “You will never know everything and you will fail many times, that’s ok.  You will get better as you learn.”   Learning is so important and here is my opportunity to fail, figure it out and learn what to do better next time.  All is not lost.  I have a full greenhouse!

I think I need a bigger greenhouse, imagine how full it would be if everything had germinated!

Garden Update: Outside

We had a lovely mild winter and a few 70 + degree days in April which were so lovely and tempting, however this evening we have a freeze warning with temps falling to 31 degrees.  Tomorrow evening is supposed to be 34 degrees and from there on it gets better.  Our daytime temps have been 20 degrees below average hovering in the 40s.  So to all those who planted things that are not frost hardy, cover them up!  We have chard, brassicas, spinach and a great deal of greens all planted out and not under cover this evening.  We are hoping that they are hardened off enough to survive this (hopefully) last frosty hurrah before we shut the door firmly on winter.  (Please go away, I want to be warm again.)

We did get all the beds cleaned up from their long neglected hiatus of 18 months during the shemitah year.  The lovely warm days were quite conducive to motivating us to tidy, repair, rake, refill, weed, transplant and plant out.  While we spread the work out over several days, it did take about 20 hours of work divided between the two of us over a week’s time.  I did try to be conscious of how I moved and tried to stretch and not stay in one position too long.  It has been a long winter and I am not healthy or in shape.

Messy beds….
Close-up of the chaos
Minor tree removal

We found all sorts of goodies in the beds.  I removed hundreds of fennel plants, some which were tiny babies and others which had a foot long tap root on a 3 or 4 year old plant.  The equivalent of an 8’ by 6’ solid mass of lamb’s ear, which is a wonderful ground cover by the way, and about a mile of mint roots or was it two miles, was also removed. We found maple and oak tree babies and two unidentified stick trees.  One I could not get out due to the roots growing through the hardware cloth under the bed and the other I transplanted near the blueberries thinking it might be a blueberry.  T wasn’t convinced it was something we wanted to keep but I was pretty sure it was… something good.  It has since leafed out and now we think it is a peach tree as it matches another confirmed peach tree I have rescued from the compost pile.  This new one grew from the compost we put on the beds two years ago.  I KNEW it was important.

Matted lamb’s ear and mint roots don’t stand a chance against my garden weeder and stubborn bruteness

It always gets messier before it can be tidy.
The after picture of the berry bed.

Timothy decided that we should take out all the blackberries and leave the black cap raspberry which was the only plant that gave good tasting fruit.  The giant blackberry never tasted good and was very seedy and bitter.  The thornless blackberry tasted about the same, just was a bit later in the season.  So Timothy cut down ALL the canes except the raspberry and then told me his plan.  Ookkaay, well, I guess it will be nice to not be grabbed from 10 feet away by the wicked thorned blackberry.

The pile of thorny canes Sir T tackled in shirt sleeves...  For perspective, that post is 5 feet long.

While cleaning out the beds we discovered that most of the posts have almost rotted through at the base, often with just an inch of wood left in the middle holding it up.   I tend to hang onto them when I lean into the bed and found that to be a precarious position.  We are looking at this as a blessing.  We are in the process of creating a plan to increase the food growing space in our yard as part of the permaculture course we are taking.  It is suggested that you don’t start with your own property because one is often inhibited by emotion.  It is hard to have an unbiased view of a place that you are intimately acquainted with and have poured much blood, sweat and some tears into.  An objective observation of a flower bed that does not help you towards the goal is that it needs to be removed or changed.  The emotional response is that it can’t come out because too much time, money for supplies, and all the collected plants, each with their own story were put into it.  It is like the person trying to declutter Grandma’s antique china that they never use or even like but are stuck on the fact that they perceive its value (emotional, monetary or both) as too great to let go.  It is easy to declutter other people’s possessions, rather much harder to declutter your own.

Another problem with starting out with your own space is that one can be blinded to what is possible by what is there.  I am so accustomed to my yard and how it is laid out that I may not see the possibility of how it could change.  To see beyond what is there is often easier when you are not attached to the there.  Our raised bed’s rot is a blessing because I am not “stuck” with them in that place.  They are going to have to be removed at some point and replaced by something.  That something is where all the possibility comes back in.  Something could be in a completely different place, in a different shape, made of different elements, arranged in a different way or even replaced with the same idea.  The blessing is that we do not feel “stuck” with what exists and that opens up everything.

Once we got the beds cleaned out, Sir T topped them off with the compost we got last fall.  The soil in the beds was rich with life: earthworms, pill and sow bugs, centipedes and millipedes as well as the soil itself being crumbly, light and fluffy.  The compost we added in contrast was lovely and dark but very heavy and clumpy with very little life.  I was working on clearing beds while he added the compost so we did not get it covered right away with mulch.  It turned to “compostcrete”.

Getting there but not all is well yet…
 It looks pretty from a distance but the soil is in desperate need of cover.  Under the mini hoop house are my baby greens.
Close-up shows hard, cracked soil… Mulch please!

My big ornamental grasses are beginning to earn their keep in Timothy’s mind now as he chips them up for mulch for the garden beds.  They are quicker and easier to chip than leaves as leaves are often wet and take a long time to feed through the chipper.

The chipper we got for $75 from a lady who was cleaning out a Quonset hut.  Lovely pile of shredded ornamental grass trimmings
A couple of inches would have been wonderful but I don’t grow enough ornamental grasses for that.
Perhaps we need to add more ornamental grasses to the new plan?

While Sir T was working on cleaning up the first few beds, I was planting out our baby greens.  One of the goals we have for this year is to decrease the amount of greens we buy and instead grow them.  Lettuce germinates quite quickly and it was a bit leggy when I finally got the bed ready for them.

Meticulous…. Makes for taking too long to get plants in the ground

I was trying to plant the individual lettuce plants two inches apart in rows that were 2 to 4 inches apart depending on variety and final size.  I should have just eyeballed it as it was difficult to keep the yardsticks even and my count correct.  If I were to do this frequently, I think it would be worth making a template dibbler to mark where the plants go.

It sure does look nice and neat when finished though…
After finishing putting in a hundred or so baby greens, we covered them with grass pulled from the fence.

Our neighbor has lush lawn growing up through the back fence and behind our raised beds.  It never got mowed as it was in between the fence and our beds – a space of about 6 inches and was about a foot and a half tall before it dried over winter.  I cleaned out the area and put it on top of the babies to protect them from too much sun and chilly nights.  Makes great mulch!

Of course spring brings out the varmints and other rodents.  A day or two later, we found holes dug in the bed and several seedlings destroyed.  After hopping up and down and yelling for a minute, I went and created a row tunnel with a section of fencing, clips and remay cloth.  Not only would it protect the tender plants from the elements, it would also keep out the squirrels.

A bit impromptu but effective and colorful.
Mouse damage on the greenhouse cover

We also put up the greenhouse and as I pulled the neatly folded up cover off of its shelf, birdseed and debris fell out.  A mouse and perhaps its family had made a nest in it.  We are annoyed but grateful that the holes were down towards the bottom and not on any of the stress points of the cover.  We red-necked a duct tape patch and it is functioning fine and filled to the max on a daily basis.  Because of the cold nights we are putting all the trays outside during the day and bringing them inside at night.  We are overly maxed out inside so it is good that we can put all the plants out for light.

Swiss Chard germinated very well and was planted outside without potting up.
A bit more elegant row tunnel over the newly planted Swiss Chard.

We had a few strong storms which took out this row tunnel but the greens one was spared.  Now the plants are hardened off and are doing ok but I’m sure that they would appreciate some warmer weather.  Along with the Swiss Chard, all the chitted peas, kale, cabbage and cauliflower were planted out.  This year I had a lot of trouble with my germination (which I will talk about in another blog) but I did manage to get enough plants to put out of those varieties.

Happy cabbage plants in the garden

Among all the plants we found in the beds that we didn’t want to keep, there were a few that we were very happy to find.  Several varieties of kale were represented in 6 or 7 plants that overwintered.  Kale is a biannual.  It grows leaves the first year and if it survives the winter, will set flowers and go to seed the second year.

Volunteer kale that over wintered from last year – this one is Red Russian
I believe this variety is Dwarf Siberian.  It was very yummy.  

I appreciate the kale that over wintered as we were able to harvest it several times this spring before it bolted.  It is now flowering so I don’t want to take away from seed production.  Once it is finished we will either collect the seed or just let it reseed in the garden.  I have several hundred baby red Russian kale plants coming up in the pathway that I will transplant to a safer spot once it warms up a bit and they get bigger.

Other chores that we completed were reinstalling the rain barrels and cleaning up the raspberry beds.  Once the canes show growth, we go in and take out all the dead stalks.  Our canes are ever bearing, meaning that they set fruit on last year’s canes in the spring and they grow new canes from the base that will fruit in the fall.  We are cutting out last year’s second year canes, tidying up and weeding.  We did find quite a few trees growing amongst the thorns that took advantage of a year of no weeding.

Very easy to see what to remove and what stays
Much tidier, just needs a bit of compost and mulch for the paths.

The garden tasks are not done yet but we have a good start.  The beds are ready to be planted and hopefully we will soon get peas.  This cold snap has set everything on hold a bit as I imagine my plants are just huddled in the cold air shivering.  When I put my hand on the ground though, I am surprised that it is warm.  When the sun is out, it is wonderful.  Personally, I think someone was praying for cool weather to preserve the tulips for Tulip Time which were all blooming last week.  People were worrying we would have a stem fest.  Tulip Time started yesterday and it is supposed to be cool all week.  The tourists and businesses will be happy with the 5 million plus tulip display, none of the dancers or band members will get heat stroke in the parades and the end of this week is supposed to be warm.  Perfect for my Mother’s day and May Birthdays Family Party on Sunday.

Tulip rescued from outside that is splayed open in the warmth of the house