Monday, May 8, 2017

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

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