Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gardening 201

This is the 2nd year we've had a garden. Last year we had one bed, 24 square feet. This year we have more than quadrupled that. We have seen some great progress and successes, but we've learned a lot too. Here are twenty lessons I've learned in Gardening 201.

1. I have learned that potatoes (especially white baking potatoes) do not belong in the middle of the veggie bed. So far ours (the monster on the left in the above photo) is 4 feet tall and I have it tied in a bunch to allow the sun to reach some of the other plants. 2. I learned that white potatoes have white flowers and red potatoes have purple ones.

3. I've learned that seven-foot-tall trellises are as high as anyone can comfortably pick from without a ladder (I'm glad that's what we have). 4. I've observed how MUCH the sun angle changes over the course of the year here in the Seattle area. Now our entire front yard is sunny, and the trellises actually cast a shadow forward onto the beds.

5. Now I know that a half-row of sweet peas makes the whole front yard smell good. 6. But nothing can be trellised with them - they are too thick and grabby.

7. I've learned to be careful which variety of nasturium I grow. Some are low and drapey, but this one (Ed Hume's "Tall Single Mix," on left in above pic) has leaves like lilypads and can grow 3+ feet tall and wide! 8. Deer netting not only keeps out squirrels, raccoons and cats, but also will keep momma cabbage moths off the broccoli and cabbages if the netting encloses the whole bed. 9. It's good to plant 2 squashes (and pumpkins) for every one you really want, then pull up the weaker one later if there's not enough room. Some never set fruit.

10. Walla Walla onions (on lower right of the above pic) may not reach full size in Western Washington, but they make very nice green onions! 11. Slugs LOVE beans. And lettuce. And tomatillos. And bok choy. And slug-picking may slow them down but not enough to save those seedlings. 12. Once it is warm enough for slugs (July this year) to be out, you'll need chemicals help to stop them. 13. It is really nice to have a square or two of flowers mixed into each veggie bed! 14. Even if the lettuce doesn't bolt, it gets bitter when it is several months old. 15. Once critters find something they like, they won't let up. Keep the strawberries well fenced at all times. 16. Even if the birds can't eat the cherries through the netting, they will knock them off unless you put visible flags on the netting to scare them away.17. I've learned that although growing starts from seed is more cost-effective, it is worth the money to buy healthy, large starts of some types of plants at the time the weather permits planting. Homegrown tomato, pepper, melon, and eggplant starts may die after months of babying and hardening off since February. 18. Compost needs a LOT of dry "brown" material and a LOT of turning and aerating. 19. It is always better to plant 2 seeds per hole and thin or transplant, than to lose 2 weeks of the growing season and replant again.

And last, but not least...
20. Gardeners always want to have MORE space and try MORE varieties next year!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Souvenir Plate Collection

Today I was checking out the thrift store for jelly jars and sweatpants (check, check!) and then wandered through the kitchenware looking for surprises. Last week I found a dehydrator with all 4 trays and 5 insert liners for only $4.99 and I've been happily experimenting with drying fruit and making raw food crackers all week. This time I saw what had to have been someone's collection of souvenir plates. They were all very dirty, and there were quite a few at once. I didn't get them all, but I picked out a few at .99 each. From the upper left corner of my pic is the New York World Fair of 1964-65, center is the Seattle World Fair of 1962, Ireland, Caverns of Luray, VA, and the Great Smokey Mountains. All of them are in very good condition, and I love all the various plate shapes. I'm not sure if they are worth any more than I bought them, but I'd love to know! If not, they'll make a cool grouping hanging on my wall.

And this is who was waiting for me when I got home! He's my shih tzu/bichon, Gipper.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Slow but Steady

Finally, a day with enough sunlight to get some decent pictures! Today is the first day of summer, and the last day of school here in WA. We continue to have cool and rainy weather, and I'm not sure how my warm season veggies are going to turn out this year. Here are the sugar snap peas, now about 5 feet tall, happy in the cool weather and putting out lots of flowers now. They are NOT having to share the trellis with the pole beans, which have fallen to the massive happy slug population.

This is my first year trying potatoes, and they seem to be doing terrific, as far as I can see above the soil. The leaves and stems are enormous and healthy, and flowers are appearing. I've learned what a BIG plant they are this year and will have to plan my veggie arranging better next year - they are shading out some others.

I am trying 2 varieties of eggplant: Millionaire and Fairy Tale. The Millionaire was the larger of the starts, and it has grown a few buds, despite the cool weather. Hang in there, gal! The 3 melons that I planted have not done as well. Two are totally dead and gone, one struggles on...

The strawberries are looking fab this year, and the fruits are enlarging. The variety is Puget Summer. I am pinching off the runners to keep the plants' energy into growing and not reproducing. I think next year I'll fill this bed with more strawberries, perhaps of a earlier variety, since we are seeing berries for sale already at our farmers' market.

I am keeping track of all of my harvest this year. You can see it in the side bar on the left.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Seattle Slugfest 2010

It has been a tough spring, SO wet and cool. We had TORRENTIAL rain yesterday evening for a spell...sigh.... I have also had to do some replanting - the beans are either drowning or else the healthy, thriving crop of SLUGS is eating them before I can find them! The foxgloves are coming out now though - summer hope!

We planted a 5-way grafted cherry last spring and this year it looks like we may get a FEW cherries to taste. Thanks to my lawn-boy son, it is now a 4-way cherry though... oops! I already have it netted. I hear the birds attack as soon as the color shows!

My very first snap pea blossom! I have a LOT planted, a few in the front beds and 2 full rows in the semi-shady backyard bed. Last year they were very successful in early spring, so I planted an even bigger crop.

I tried broccoli for the first time this year, and the plants are big and gorgeous, but the heads are only the size of a baseball and smaller. Is this normal? The variety is Packman. I wonder if it's the lack of sun? We went ahead and harvested the center shoots already, since they were going to open up. Delicious! The most tender and flavorful broccoli ever! Nothing like cutting a crop and walking it straight into the kitchen and into the pot! Unless I can figure out how to get an individual plant to produce a bigger head, broccoli may just be a curiosity in my garden - one whole square for ONE serving of broccoli? Not very efficient.

Here are my zucchini, which I just transplanted out a few weeks ago - already blooming. My sis-in-law started them indoors in April. I have no idea if this is too early, but I am hoping to attract the bee action around the rhody blooms in the yard. Last year my zucchini were a BOMB. The plants did not thrive, and it bloomed but not one fruit set. This year I am trying: 4 plants instead of 2, deeper soil, and black plastic weed cloth mulch for heat. Hopefully, I'll be drowning in zukes!

I am excited for all the new varieties of plants I am trying for the first time: Delicata winter squash, cantaloupes and watermelons, Sungold and Better Boy tomatoes, 2 types of eggplant, broccoli... This is a year to experiment and see what is successful, space-efficient, and tasty. I already know that with this year's exceptionally cool and wet spring that some of the hot plants may need a retest next year, but we'll see how ripe they get - and pray for an Indian summer!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Trellises? Check!

This weekend, hubby and I built trellises. Lots of trellises. For the front yard, we used rebar, circuit pipe, and nylon tomato netting. Thankfully, we got some recycled resources for it. This is the official "Square Foot Gardening" method of trellising I am learning for my coaching certificate.

The trellises on the "back" (north) two beds are 7 feet tall, the "front" two are 5 feet. I'm hoping the pole beans, watermelon, and vining tomatoes will go the distance and make an awesome display! I started putting the tomatoes in the ground yesterday. Five tomatoes in so far, room for 3 more. We do love our salads and salsa around here!

Here in the backyard, we're set up a bit more casually. In one of my two semi-shady beds, I have planted 2 rows (14 squares) of sugar snap peas, then some bush beans, broccoli, and assorted flowers. Happily, peas don't seem to mind the lower sun levels of my tree-eclipsed backyard. Last year the vines overgrew my 6 foot supports by a mile! So this week, I rescued some bamboo poles from the neighbor who was clearing his front yard and rigged up a cheap-but-functional trellis that is over 10 feet tall. I've started weaving some yarn around the bottom of the bamboo to give the pea tendrils something to hold on to. For now, the broccoli-and-beans section is still netted over, until the beans are well up and not so desirable to the crows and squirrels.

What have I learned recently? Tomato stalks are VERY brittle. Good think they easily re-root in water... Slugs must have bok choy radar systems. Always be on the lookout for free materials. One man's trash (bamboo, rebar) is another GARDENER'S treasure! And I am very, very thankful for my hubby who supports and sweats for my garden dreams...

Friday, May 21, 2010

First Crop of 2010: Spinach

Today I picked 11 ounces (a BIG bowl) full of spinach from the veggie beds. Our first crop harvest of the year! This is "Regal" spinach from Territorial Seed which I purchased last year. I only picked the outer leaves from about 5 squares of spinach today, and the weather is still mild, so the plants will continue to grow. Look at the size of these leaves! I planted about 6 weeks ago.

This is what became of it: a simple salad that our family really enjoyed. Homegrown spinach is so vastly superior to store-bought. The leaves are almost crunchy with moisture, but so tender.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mid-May Update

The garden is looking good this spring! Everything is springing up and getting bigger right in front of our eyes, especially on sunny days. Above is one of the "early spring" planted beds, with some crops ready to harvest. Radishes, lettuce and spinach can be plucked any time now!

Here is the view of all four of the veggie beds, now complete, from our living room window. Our garden is in the front yard, but is not very visible to the street due to a retaining wall, perennial border, and bushes between the garden and street. From the living room picture window, though, it's ALL on display! Here you can see the two "early spring" beds at the top, filled up and growing, and the two "late spring" beds with a few occupants but mostly waiting a bit longer (Memorial Day weekend?) to be planted with the veggies sunning themselves on nice days only.

What have I learned lately? Potatoes grow really fast once they make it out above the soil and you better be ready to hill them up! Slugs love bok choy best: leave room for a dish of beer bait in the square.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wishing for Warmth!

Spring has sprung in Washington and, true to Seattle form, it is changeable! No mere weatherman can prophecy its hourly whims. Generally cool, with sudden showers and gusty winds this month. Our dogwood tree is glorious this year, bouncing back from a pruning and reveling in all the increased sunlight from the front yard remodel.

Our new bunny has made himself part of the family and has reached about 5 lbs so far (he will be about 10 as an adult). Oscar is quite a character and takes his job as manure-producer very seriously. He loves everyone, including the dog, but he is seriously Daddy's boy. He goes crazy for my husband! We are planning to move him outside in the next month or two, but have decided that he needs to be by the back porch instead of the compost pile for safety and convenience. Oscar is getting used to wearing a harness, and if he accepts it, we plan to let him have the run of the backyard eventually.

In the front yard, I have planted 3 beds with my spring crops, and they are looking good for the most part. The asparagus were, for the second time, an epic fail. Their squares have been reallocated to more cooperative crops. Broccoli, kale and lettuce are happily transplanted and bok choy, carrots, peas, sweet peas, and beets are up from seed. A red potato is sending up its first stem, but I'm still waiting to see life from the white potato. The cherry tree flowered profusely, but the plum has only leaves (need to research that a bit). The 4 raspberries look marvelous and are leafing out healthily. I moved one of my orchard mason bee condos to the front yard to help with pollination. My 3rd and 4th veggie beds are leveled and are near ready for the planting of summer crops on Mother's Day weekend.

Indoors, the cherry and Brandywine tomatoes have gone insane and are 4 feet high, with blossom buds! I have started taking them outside every day to harden them off for transplanting and to slow down their rampant indoor growth. On the nursery table, peppers, basil, zucchini, pumpkins, marigolds, watermelons and muskmelons await the big day in May. I even started a few Japanese eggplants from seed to see how well the plants do, although the fruit won't have time to mature this time. I have received a lot of flower seed varieties lately and I plan to add more flowers to my veggie beds and forgo some lettuce squares. I want my garden this year to be full of many veggie varieties and color!

In the backyard, one bed has been amended and planted with 2 rows of snap peas, bush beans, and broccoli, and flowers. The herb bed looks great, and I moved lots of volunteer curly parsley into it. I need to pick up some thymes to round out the role call.

I have learned a lot by my seed starting and bed prep this year. One thing is that I will use peat pots or sterile mix to start my seeds in the future. I have too many mysterious seedlings coming up by using my own soil mix! I also have had some bug problems in the nursery. I have also learned that bargain cow manure is no bargain! Not well rotted, and LOTS of grass coming in.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Introducing Oscar!

Introducing Oscar: snuggle-bunny and garden fertilizer! He is a nine-week old New Zealand Red rabbit. He is living in his (free from a neighbor) hutch in the garage until the weather is warmer at night, then we will move the hutch to the back yard by the compost bins. New Zealands are "meat rabbits" and get to be about ten pounds. They come in white, black or red but red is the rarest. The white ones are most common for eating. They are known to be a very friendly breed, and he is certainly demonstrating that! He loves to be held and petted. From my research I found that bunny manure is supposed to be the ultimate for gardens (not to mention much pleasanter than many types in form and perfume)! For now, he is coming in to "exercise" in the kitchen twice a day, and has already learned to use a litterbox indoors. I am composting his manure with the veggie compost and dried maple leaves twice a week. I am hoping to find/create an outdoor pen for him so he can be outside while I'm in the garden this summer.

Front yard update: Last week I got the asparagus planted, 10 crowns in 5 squares in a six-inch trench. When I see the tips come up, I will fill the bed up a bit higher. I planted a row of sweet peas behind the asparagus, since I can't pick it the first year anyway! I have the 2nd veggie bed leveled, lined with weed blocker, and mostly filled with my soil mix. I plan to finish mixing soil and fill the second bed, and then plant all my early spring crops this week. The cherry tree is budding and the plum tree is sending out green tips: leaves or buds I'm not sure yet. The rhubarb is looking great and the stalks are approaching usable size, although I'm supposed to leave it be the first year. The goldfish in the pond are still alive and look 3 times their petstore- size last summer! The four raspberries are starting to sprout, the blueberry looks healthy, and the strawberries are definitely rooted in their new bed and leafing out.

Back yard update: Hubby helped me remove some soil from the pea bed so I have room to add manure and compost before I plant. Need to get the peas in ASAP. The herb bed looks messy but healthy. The new rosemary made it through this mild winter - we loved our big rosemary that came with the house 8 years ago, but it died in the hard freeze last year. It looks like the garlic cloves that I left in the ground last winter are all coming up! The compost is in full swing and I'm using the ripe compost as I fill beds. The newest compost is now being fortified with Oscar's bunny manure. I am thinking of trying a melon or two in the flower bed against the south side of the house - some of the best reflected heat!

Indoors: The Brandywine and cherry tomatoes are over 6 inches tall so I potted them up from 4" pots to gallon pots. The Siletz and San Marzano tomatoes are starting to show true leaves, and Italian sweet peppers are now potted up from their toilet-tube starters into 4" pots. The kales are all doing great and I plan to plant them outside this week. The onion and lettuce starts are going strong and I am hardening them off outside too. I have 2 red potatoes and 2 baking potatoes from the organic grocery "chitting"on an egg carton, seeing if the sprouts will start to grow so I can plant them in pails this year. I don't want to have to buy a whole bunch of seed potatoes just to try a few. I picked up a packet of yellow dwarf French marigolds and started a bunch too: I have read that marigolds are good pest deterrents and are good near tomatoes. I plan to plant them intermingled in the veggie beds. I know from experience that they are also very easy to save seed from for next year - just leave a few flowers on the plants until the flower head is dead and dried up, then pull off and dry fully inside. The seeds are long and black and easy to separate. Many of my veggies are from last year's or saved seed. If you keep your seed packets in an air-tight container and in the frig, they will last several years. The germination rate may be poorer as they age, so just plant a few more seeds to guarantee the number of starts you need.

My Garden Stats
Location: 15 miles north of Seattle, WA (zone 8)
Last frost date: April 23rd
Front yard beds: 150 sq ft (full sun)
Back yard beds: 100 sq ft (half day sun)
Herbs 2010: about 10 varieties
Fruits 2010: 15 varieties
Veggies 2010: 23 varieties
Method: Mel Bartholomew's "All New Square Foot Gardening"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Future Food!

What's up with you? Here, there's lots sprouting on my card table "nursery": 4 types of tomatoes, mixed lettuce, kale, basil, and, FINALLY, Italian sweet peppers. I guess when the seed packet says, "germination in 10-25 days," they really mean it can take 25 days! In the sunniest corner of my house, with additional fluorescent lights 16 hours a day, on a table over a heating duct, those puppies just started to emerge after 21 days!

I am fairly pleased with my nursery set up this year. Moving the card table to the corner of my living room provides much more cleanliness and stability than balancing the little pots on the window sills. And saving our toilet paper tubes for a few months provided all the seed starter "pots" I could possibly need. I think I got this idea from Mother Earth News: you just cut the bottom of the tube with 4 or 5 one inch slits and bend them in to form a bottom, then fill with your soil. They are not very steady on their own, so they will need a container with sides. I used big plastic lettuce boxes from Costco. My lettuce is planted in a plastic pie box with a generous layer of vermiculite in the bottom for drainage, since it has no holes in the bottom.

So far, my germination rate is very good. What I've learned for next year? Start the peppers even earlier to allow for the long germination time. Plant at least 2 seeds in each pot for tomatoes and peppers: it's better to pinch out and "waste" one seed if both germinate, than it is to start over again if the one seed is a dud. Kale is very reliable, every seed came up. Do not overwater tomato starts or they will rot at the soil level. I feel a little dumb about my oopsies, but I have come so far in the last 2 years! I'm looking forward to my progress every year!

In other garden news: I have been hammering and scrubbing and reading up my library books in preparation for this weekend for months! Tomorrow is the big day! On my next post I'll share about my new garden addition!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Marching Toward Spring

*Trying to post again - is it me, or is blogger more difficult than it used to be?

The weather here, north of Seattle, is SO temptingly warm! I fairly itch to get planting outside, although our "last frost" date is over a month away! With day temperatures in the mid- to high-50s, and lows above freezing for the last two weeks, all of the crocus and daffodils are out, as well as the flowering trees! The pollen level is sky-high too .... hey, maybe THAT's the cause of my itch!

I just realized that in the last 12 months, I have amassed 17 different types of fruits growing in my yard-turned-farm! Quite a change from the former spruce-cedar-fir decorative "island"! Now, instead grows an Asian pear with 4 varieties (hubby's retirement from the Navy gift), a cherry with 5 varieties and an Italian prune plum (both from my men for Mother's Day last year), a rhubarb (shared by a friend), 2 types of strawberries (8 plants from one that my son bought last year, another variety shared by a friend), a blueberry bush and 3 varieties of raspberry bushes (my Christmas gift from hubby). The REALLY cool thing about this is that I paid a total of $0 for all of it!

Today we plan to get two of the veggie beds leveled off and filled. I need some help from he-man to get the asparagus area dug out a little deeper - the old trees are gone, but some of the residual roots are defying me! Praise God that I am doing raised beds and don't need to dig out them ALL! I want to get the asparagus in soon. Meanwhile, I've got my heirloom sweet Italian peppers, Siletz tomatoes ans San Marzana tomatoes started on their little card table nursery in the window, as well as some Brandywine and cherry tomatoes I traded for from my sis in law. Last year I had two plants and that was NOT enough. This year I am planning two pants each of four varieties: cherry, early slicers, late slicers, and paste tomatoes. I'm fairly sure that will be more than enough for our family of four, but there is no lack of friends to share with!

How many tomatoes do you grow? Is it enough?

Pictures are, from top, the veggie bed area, my strawberry and blueberry bed, and the new rhubarb emerging.

February totals:
6 oz. spicy sprouts, value $2.39
2010 Harvest total:
18 oz. spicy sprouts, value $7.16

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Febuary: Finishing Phase Two

This weekend made me really thankful for the healthy way that I get to eat regularly. My son was competing at the state high school wrestling tournament at the Tacoma Dome (see his happy face in the center above) and there was hardly a thing I could eat at the concession stands! All very dairy- and gluten- filled, not to mention fatty! I am grateful that I have so many choices at home, and my husband and I both like to cook! Next year when we go to state, I'll bring a cooler of Paula-food in the car!

My Christmas berry bushes arrived! My he-man helper and I got them in the ground today. We planted a Sunshine blueberry, one Autumn Britten red everbear raspberry, one Rosanna red raspberry, and 2 Anne gold raspberries.

We have two more veggie bed frames assembled, so I'll just need to dig the sod out and level the edges to place them.

I am so thankful that we own a house now: we rented for so many years while my hubby was in the Navy and we kept moving around. I have wanted to put down my roots, literally, for a long time.