Wednesday, April 18, 2018

New Project 2018

Well Spring, we're going to go ahead without you!

We did finally get two nice days in a row and I got a lot done.  The raised bed garden is prepped and ready to go.  Two rows of peas and some carrots seeded.  Three flats of lettuce seeded in the cold frame.  Over-wintered plants spruced up, potted up, trimmed up.  And I've started on the landscaping.

March is usually the best time to start cleaning up and mulching the landscape.  You don't have to work around foliage.  You can see the dandelions that are hiding in clumps of perennials.  The soil is soft.  I'm a month late, but everything still looks like March.  This past weekend I scooped all of the puffball fungi out of various areas, raked the myrtle bed, the snow on the mountain bed and the chameleon plant bed to clear out all of the pine needles, oak leaves and dead stems from last year.  I dug out a few things that I'm tired of. Then I mulched the areas with the most daffodils because in a few weeks they will be in full bloom and it will be too late.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I will no longer be sharing my garden with the next door neighbors.  I need more room to properly rotate crops and rest the beds without struggling with planning and the constraints of succession planting.  But don't feel bad for the neighbors.  We are in the process of designing and building a garden in a spot which is out of the way for us, but very convenient for them.  If the neighbors tire of gardening (why would they?) then I can still use it for planting field pumpkins or an asparagus bed or raspberries or something.

Site of the Garden Annex
This plot of land used to be a brushy wooded area, but it is also in between areas which have been developed and over the years it has become lawn by default.  It is behind the mulch bunkers, and beside the drainage ditch, and near the neighbor's barn.  And because of this, it has become relatively flat and mowable.  It has full afternoon sun from mid-morning to sunset.  It is well drained and sheltered.

When the mulch bunkers were built, the area was cleared and the bunkers were leveled with loads of bank run.  This elevated the bunkers above the future garden plot, and created a slope that needs to be leveled.  The bunkers themselves were built from 2x6 lumber reclaimed from a temporary bridge that the town highway department removed.  They had been nailed side by side like a butcher block and asphalted over.  A lot of asphalt seeped between the boards giving them this ugly drippy effect.

When we completed the water project two years ago, there was a patch of tiger lillies left over from the days when our frontage was open ditch and woody wilderness.

The tiger lillies were filled in between two tree stumps. 
Before we dug up the stumps, we salvaged the lillies

We scooped them out with the backhoe and plopped them onto a pile of top soil in the woods until fall when we planted them along the back of the bunkers.  We figured they would grow tall and fill in and disguise the ugly drips.  Which they did.  But now fenced from the deer they will take over fast.

Tim carved out the bank in front of the lillies and began placing railroad ties along it to form an elevated bed.  The entire garden area is going to be higher than the surrounding driveways, so he is placing RR ties all the way around it and will fill in with gravel.

To make the mulch bunker look a little more attractive, I scraped all of the brittle tar drips off and Tim sprayed it with rubberized undercoating.  That neatened things up considerably.

If this area ever dries up again, we can finish laying out and measuring so we know exactly what is going to fit in here and we can make a materials list.

We are now in a holding pattern waiting for dry weather.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Spring 2018

Buckwheat Johnny's Seeds need #1

C'mon Spring!  You can do it.

This has been a long winter.  February was mild and that got every one's hopes up for an early spring.  But then winter started back in full force.  In the past three weeks I've experienced some of the worst driving experiences I've ever had.  I even gave up on a fun work meeting at our district office and turned around and headed home.  And I'm no quitter!   But it's melting now, the birds are coming back and gardening season is just around the corner.

It's time to make plans.  This year will be different because I will no longer be sharing half of my raised beds with the next door neighbors.  They will have a garden of their own.  Which means I now have 12 beds instead of 6.  My husband asked me "what are you going to do with all of those beds?"  - Well, anything I want to do!

First off I can improve my crop rotation.  Each family of crops should be rotated on a 4 year rotation because that is how many years it takes most soil born problems to dissipate.  And the beds need to rest somewhere in there with a cover crop of grass as a green manure.  So ideally one crop (tomatoes for example) requires 5 beds.

Sunflower-Autumn-Beauty-Mix-15-SeedsThe order of rotation is also important.  Tomatoes should be proceeded with grass and followed by legumes.  In fact just about any heavy feeding crop should be followed with legumes which fix nitrogen in the soil.  That isn't difficult for me because I always plant several beds in peas and beans.

Zinnia is longest-lasting cut flower | Home, News | Amateur Gardening Amateur Gardening
I will plant 4 beds with a cover crop of Buckwheat.  I chose Buckweat because I haven't grown it before, and the flowers will attract pollinators.  There are a lot of options for cover crops.  I've used both red clover and vetch. I've also planted black beans just for the fat that they are a legume, You can also plant alfalfa, oats, rye grass.  A lot of the recommended cover crops are more appropriate for large scale gardens or farm crops, especially because their root systems make it difficult to dig them up when you are done with them.

Resources for Crop Rotation and Cover Crops
Rodale's Organic Life
Mother Earth News
Cover Crop Basics

Snapdragon 'Chantilly Peach' (Antirrhinum majus) snapdragon...these look like a snapdragon fell in love with a hollyhock
Secondly, I am going to do something I've been wanting to do for many years.  I'm going to have one bed for cutting flowers.  Zinnias, Cosmos, Calendula, Snapdragons, Sunflowers and things I haven't even thought of yet.  Most of my flowers are landscape components.  You want to cut them and bring them in, but if you do then you can't enjoy them outside.

 But I'm sure if I start cutting stems from my cutting bed then I will want to fill in with other interesting things from the landscape like Black Eyed Susan and Fountain Grass. 

Thirdly, this leaves me one more bed to experiment with.  Because of my rotations it will be the 8x8 bed next to the garden shed.  That's where I usually plant potatoes or squash but this year I will experiment with some herbs I haven't planted before like Lavender.  This is part of my research prior to designing a full fledged herb garden.  I have herbs tucked in here and there but as I learn more about their habits I will be better able to plan a complete herb garden. 

Next weekend I will begin setting up my seedlings in the house.  The focus will be on tomatoes.  It's high time I did a year of my Barlow Jap tomatoes and replenish my seed store.  What do you think the odds are that I will deviate from this plan and plant a few more varieties?  And end up with Too Many Tomatoes?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Finding My Christmas Muse

I was more than content to postpone Christmas spirit 2 or 3 weeks in favor of warm sunny weather, but this morning we woke up to snow.  Not a lot of snow, but enough to let you know that winter is on its way.  I've slowly but steadily going about my Christmas decorating and creative crafts.  No stellar results yet.  Decorating has consisted mostly of the scattering of spruce tips (fake), pine cones and candle (also fake).  Last year my main focus was fresh greens.  But this year it didn't seem anywhere near as important.  Due in no small part to the fact that after three weeks or so, sodden floral oasis begins to smell bad.

Friday was a gorgeous sunny, dry day so I took my garden hod and pruners around and gathered more than enough fresh greens for a centerpiece (or two).  I decided to duplicate last year's arrangement in the wooden bowl.  That's pretty normal for me, repeating a successful idea.  Especially when lacking any exciting new ideas.  I'm not sure why last year I felt I had to cast my net so wide to get a variety of greens because I did pretty well within a hundred yards of the house.

Grape Vine Tendrils
This year my brilliant new idea was grape vine tendrils.  I pulled a few grapevines out of the berry patch and cut out the sections with interesting curlie-cues.  I had several left over partial cans of gold spray paint which were all shot, so I dry brushed glimmery gold paint on each one and also on the edges of a few small pine cones.

Last Year
You can start with all the same basic ingredients, and each effort produces slightly different results.
Not necessarily an improvement, but a unique outcome.  I always keep notes each year as to what my inventory of decorations are and what I used where and what I want more of.

This Year
Last year's passion was fresh greens, and this year it seems to be bottle brush trees.  My inventory of bottle brush trees has tripled.  Which means I'm saving empty water bottles, because along with my obsession with decorating inventory is clever and organized storage.  Storage Tip: Empty water bottles with the tops cut off, stapled into six packs, allow you to neatly store the trees without them getting crushy bottle brush tree bed-head.

So the seasonal decorating continues.  I have a couple of craft projects going on.  A paper putz house, paper-mache snowmen and "altered Altoids" which is what they call miniature shadow boxes created from empty Altoid Tins and scenes cut from greeting cards.  The beauty of all of these craft projects is that I already have most of the ingredients.  You can do a lot of interesting things with paper and glue.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A Slow Start

Thanksgiving came pretty early this year and I'm not ready for holiday decorating yet.  The tree is up and that's about it.  Usually, on Black Friday, I put on Christmas music and probably a movie and spend 6 hours decorating the whole house ceiling to floor, no corner forgotten.  This year I spent the day really cleaning the house instead.  I usually clean the house well the weekend before because I don't want to decorate dusty shelves.  This year on Black Friday I pulled the area rugs, dusted the walls and corners, cleaned the wood floor and the tile kitchen floor, shampooed the area rugs and laid them out in the sun to dry and basically drove every dust bunny out of the place.  This morning when it was time to decorate, I developed a strong disinclination to glittering up my clean floors.

But I did decorate the tree, after assembling it out on the front porch and carrying it inside.  I went slowly, with the hand-vac close at hand, glitter contained.  The only other decorating I did was bottle brush trees, ornaments and candles scattered amongst the china displayed in the pie safe which is something new, and therefore more interesting from a creative standpoint.

Then I duplicated my favorite arrangement from last year which took all of three minutes, the amount of time it took to place batteries in the candles.

One thing I'm totally drawing a blank on is the table centerpiece.  That is usually my most creative idea of the year.  Sometimes I do the same one two years in a row, but never more than that.  I usually find something online for inspiration.

 For several years I used the centerpiece form I got from the Colonial Williamsburg catalog.  This is a neat cut iron form which holds a hurricane lamp glass or a pineapple in the center, and has rings to hold pears or apples, or just ornaments after your pears get over ripe.   You place a foam or oasis disc underneath to hold your greenery and I always made the effort to find fresh greens.

 Sometimes a new collectible purchase inspires my centerpiece,  This oval enamelware roaster base is a great beginning and I replicated this arrangement at least once.  Again with fresh greens.

 In the kitchen, my cheery red colander is my favorite starting point


 Sometimes I find an inspirational photo online and have to go looking for the components.  This sometimes leads to whole new collections.  My Campfire Marshmallow arrangement brought a lot of fun and the following year I amended it to add the mini-marshmallow tin

Double Decker Marshmallows 2016
Last year's simple wooden bowl base is my favorite I think.  I may duplicate this.  I also bought a lantern for my autumn decorations this year so maybe I'll use that instead.

Or maybe this year I'll just go buy a poinsettia....

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Turkey Party

There is something about a soaking rain that brings out the turkeys.  It seems like whenever we have a stretch of rainy weather I find a soggy turkey slouched miserably in the yard trying to air out.  Not a year goes by without us seeing a few turkeys, but they aren't as common since the coyotes moved in down the road.  Today we saw a whole flock of soggy but happy turkeys.  In fact, they were having themselves a little turkey party.

It started with a lot of airing out and preening and ended in a hoe-down.  They were dosey-doeing and promenading and popping up in the air like popcorn.  We tried to count them and came up with at least twenty.  

Besides the turkey party, our two squirrels, one back and one grey were darting in and out, and a couple of cautious deer lurked in the edge of the woods.  The deer aren't as bold as they usually are.  We promised a friend of ours who bow hunts that if he just sat in the glider rocker on the garden patio, the deer would come to him, and that's exactly what happened.  I've been joking that when we opened her up she was full of Hosta.  And that's not far from the truth.  So we're down one large doe, and hoping to get rid of the medium sized doe as well.  

In fact, here she is.  That's right! You'd better watch your back.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

One Week To Live

The target date to shut down the garden is the first weekend of October.  There really isn't much left in the main garden except beautiful Marigolds and Nasturtium.  I have been admiring them daily knowing they now have only one week to live.

I'm slowly pulling things out and cutting down stalks of 
horse radish and daylillies in preparation for leaf season.

This is the time for cleaning the beds and evaluating the soil

Preparing to plant the fall lettuce

The lettuce must fit under this frame so I can wrap frost cover around it.  
This way it will be safe down to 26 degrees
One year we ate lettuce until it just stopped growing mid-December.
I've learned not to plant anything where it will be hard to reach since I will mostly be cutting lettuce in the dark, in the wind and probably in the rain as well.  It's hurry up - snip and git.

I'm bringing my big pots of bell peppers up onto the patio.  These will also be covered with frost cover not only to give it a personal greenhouse, but also to keep the deer from nibbling on them.
After last year's poor showing I am so pleased with these big beautiful Blushing Beauties from Burpee.  They will turn through shades or orange and be red when completely ripe.

The only thing really left growing in the big garden is the bush beans.  I picked some this morning for dinner today and even the immature ones are getting soft and pithy because we have had more sun and heat this week than any other stretch of days all summer.  Low eighties and nothing but sunshine symbols in the extended forecast.  We are taking full advantage of it and spending as much time as possible out of doors.  I think the remainder of the bush beans are candidates for an experiment in dilly beans.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Low or No Maintenance

We spend a lot of time, planning and money trying to keep our garden and landscaping "Low or No Maintenance"  You can probably guess that there is no such thing as No Maintenance.  Anyone with  a gravel driveway knows that if you were to turn your back on a driveway for a year or two you would end up with a lawn instead.  Every leaf that decomposes and every twig that gets pulverized into the gravel is creating soil and where you have soil you will certainly have weeds.  Heck weeds grow quite happily hydroponically in gravel with no soil whatsoever.  But allowing soil into your gravel is just an invitation of LOTS of weeds.

With our garden being surrounded by gravel and paver pads, we enjoy very low maintenance.  With raised beds there is no tilling, very little weeding and in my garden I can easily do half of my chores in my office clothes.  Which comes in handy when I need to skip out the garden in the morning and pick some lettuce for lunch.

About twice a year we have to have a day of maintenance, usually straightening frost heaved posts and/or pavers, replenishing gravel and mending fences and patios.  Then every once in a while you get Mother Nature surprising you with an extra day of maintenance.  When the remnants of Hurricane Irma arrived here at 2 a.m. Thursday morning, she dumped three inches of rain in pretty short order.  That resulted in the bank, which recently had all of the summer squash plants pulled out, washing down into the walkway.  This will happen now and then on a small scale, but this week we got it in large scale.

Believe it or not, a shop vac will remove a decent amount of mulch from gravel without sucking up the heavier gravel.  But this was a lot more than the shop vac would have been able to handle.  But it really wasn't a disaster of epic proportions.  We always have pile or two of  gravel on hand.  It's best to just shovel out all of the contaminated gravel, use that for "clean fill" elsewhere, and put in some fresh gravel.

The bunkers nearby store mulch, bank run
and pea gravel for projects throughout the year
And hour later things were back to normal and even looked better than normal with fresh clean, perfectly swept gravel.

I cut into the bank to give a little edge to stop regular runoff from cascading over the RR ties and raked everything smooth again.

Speaking of constant maintenance - another challenge is keeping the destructive little chipmunk varmints in check.  Last year I killed fourteen.  This year I've killed ten so far, and the next door neighbor caught his ninth one this morning.  If you have a big problem with chipmunks, the key to trapping them is to find out where they like to run and putting a good heavy snap trap in their path.  In this case, they love to run behind this step close to the chicken coop.  So that's where I leave a trap.  You can see it tucked in there behind the step in the shadow.

Chipmunks are awful cute and cheery and I hate to have to kill them all the time, but they are so destructive.  Not only will they eat every last strawberry, despite the strawberries being protected by a secure cage of 1 inch square woven wire - which the little buggers squeeze right through - but they will undermine and kill your shrubs and ruin your house.  There is absolutely nothing more aggravating than laying cozily in bed on a wintery Sunday morning, listening to a G-d D---d chipmunk gnaw on his breakfast in the crawlspace under the bedroom.  And who know s what else he's gnawing on before he goes back to bed in the insulation he's pulled down and rearranged.  So chipmunk control is another item of constant maintenance.

I'm slowly going through and pulling out spent plants getting ready for autumn.

I'm potting up things I want to over-winter for next year.  
Spikes and vinca vine are fairly easy to keep alive and well.

The Nasturtium are looking gorgeous

The Supertunias are holding their own


Red Fountain Grass "Fireworks" in the dry creek bed.
"Cherry Sparkler" in the background

Soon these green lawns and lush leaves will be gone.  Enjoy them while they last.