Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spring Gardening Project #4 Patio

Tim and I debated what we would do with the area around the garden shed. Originally we were going to fence it all for the chicken yard. But I really need an area for an outdoor potting bench, and to keep some of my transplants. To be cost effective, we were going to gravel the area, but then Tim's networking finally paid off and and he found a pile of old city street bricks that needed a new home. He and our good friend John made a few trips, digging these bricks out of a pile of fill. In their short journey, Tim has had the priveledge of stacking them a few times so I'm sure he has become intimately acquainted with each one.

The "potting area" turned out more like a patio. So now I've sort of abandoned the idea of using it for gardening, and am trying to decide whether it would be more enjoyable to have a table with an umbrella, or just two comfy chaise lounges overlooking the garden where I can sit and sip Margaritas. You see, since Tim has been working on "Britaland" he has been distracted from finishing our front porch, and building a deck so we are in dire need of an outdoor entertainment area. I've even considered putting a water trough a.k.a. Red Neck "Hot" Tub on it.

We put it to use over the Memorial Day weekend inviting all our gardening neighbors for dinner.

Mike brought his bubbles to play with.

Here Shelly helps us aerate our yard with lawn darts

Bob and Trish's dog Daisy thinks we're ridiculous. Smile Daisy.

Mike gets fancy with his bubbles.

A bubble inside a bubble... you can do better than that!

Three in one!

And a tree!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Growing up in a Greenhouse

In May my favorite activity is visiting every greenhouse for a 20 mile radius. And my favorite color is green. Why? Well because I grew up in a greenhouse! Literally.

My parents met at the University of Kentucky. They both emerged with degrees in Horticulture (you can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think) , and within a couple of years, had returned to my mother's home town to buy the Busti Greenhouses. For about 5 years we actually lived IN the greenhouse. Our little 2 bedroom house was attached to the end of the two original greenhouses.

When we arrived, the greenhouses still had their original glass panes. The roofs were soon replaced with plastic because having loose glass panes falling on your plants and customers is rather inconvenient. But the greenhouses retained their vintage charm. I remember a concrete slab near the end of one house had a date in the 1920s scratched into it.

The center of our home was the Sales Room. Mom cozied up the sales bench by stapling bright plastic picnic table clothes over it. I would sit on the counter for hours blowing bubbles, sniffing flowers, and examining the bright pictures on the seed packs and boxes.

As I grew up I advanced to stapling boxes and punching the sales numbers into the old cash register. My family sold out when I was a teenager, but I returned during college to work in the summers. Memorial Day Weekend was our big sales time, but the two or three weeks leading up to it were utter mayhem as well. My mother planted hundreds of combination pots that were set out in the cemeteries on "Decoration Day". And, if the normal mayhem was insufficient, Mom would invite the radio station in for a remote broadcast, put on a pot of Marigold Chowder and dye her thumb green.

The existing, more contemporary, outlying greenhouses were inefficient, so one of the first things Dad did was tear them down and replace them with modern hoop houses or "Quansuts". We referred to them as "The Tomato House", "The Petunia House", "The Marigold House" and "The Pansy House" based on what dominated their contents.

I remember watching them scrape the ground level with the plow on our Allis Chalmers Model B, and I spent a lot of time with my own tiny tools digging in the mud.

I was three years old.

I spent my formative years playing in dirt. My inherited Marx farmsets were set up on the dirt and the animals grazed on freshly plowed fields full of perlite and peat moss. Each spring my Dad would "make dirt" which involved mixing the various contents and cooking the resulting potting mix to sterilize it. I still love the smell of warm dirt. Any dirt bin or wheelbarrow full of the stuff was my playpen.

This was the view out of the picture window in our dining room, hundreds of geraniums grown from cuttings. We grew almost everything we sold. We didn't ship it in from large wholesale growers. Everything was started in the warm and steamy seed room. My mother still has the weathered doors from the seed room hanging on her wall as rustic art. All the planting dates and amounts were entered in a grimy ledger.

My little sister got a chance to grow up in the greenhouse too. Mom put her out of harms way in her own "hanging basket".

My Dad shows Holly how to transplant Wizard Mix Coleus.

Greenhousing runs in my family. My father's father took a summer hobby (he was a shop and math teacher) and turned it into a full time job during his retirement. Above are PaPaw's Barlow Greenhouses in Shelbyville, KY. They are now gone, and Fletcher Lane runs to their west in honor of my MaMaw Mary Fletcher Hodges Barlow.

The inside of Barlow Greenhouses. In my eye, these modern houses were never as charming or esthetically pleasing as Busti's vintage houses.

THE actual honest to goodness original Rototiller™.

Much like all facial tissues are not Kleenex, and not all adhesive bandages are Band-Aids... Not all rotary tillers are Rototillers. PaPaw is tilling the soil inside the newly constructed tomato house. The dirt in Kentucky smells completely different from the dirt in New York.

Each spring I anxiously await the opening of the greenhouses. I walk methodically through each one looking for old friends and new varieties. Both the Busti Greenhouses and the Barlow Greenhouses have been flattened to the ground and erased, but their legacy lives on.

PaPaw and I in the geranium house. Dad is back in the upper left corner. Look at those clay pots and peat pots! How Retro!

Hey Mom, how come you're not in any of these pictures? Probably the same reason I'm not in any of my gardening pictures!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A week ahead of schedule?

The tomatoes are in. Usually I wait until Memorial Day weekend, but the weather has been nice, with temps in the fifties each night (for almost two weeks now). I realised last weekend that I needed to get serious about hardening off my tomatoes. I put them out on the northeast corner of the house on Wednesday where they are sheltered from the wind. Wednesday and Thursday were overcast, but yesterday they stood up to their first half day of sun with very little if any bleaching. The corner I use get's full sun until about 2pm which works out well. I thought I was sunk on Wednesday when I noticed at the office the breeze was coming stiffly all day from the east, but when I got home I was pleased to see 18 straight seedlings with no windburn at all. In fact, I'm really please with my transplants this year. I got them timed just right and they are all healthy and vigorous. I didn't even break any this time. I also planted my first crop of bush beans. They could have gone in two weeks ago like just about everything else.

The onions are growing well.

Two rows of peas with a row of mixed radishes and carrots in the middle. The radishes are just starting to bulb. The pot of violas I won in a game at the Mother's Day brunch at the nursing home. I would have left them with Tim's Mom to brighten her room, but she is very allergic to pollen. I can't imagine having that misfortune!

The newest thing that's catching my eye in the greenhouses this spring are calibrocha (Million Bells Petunia) planted in mixed baskets which I think is a great idea. This red, orange and yellow one dresses up the corner of the garden picking the colors out of my bench cushions.

I spent a couple of hours Saturday morning getting the Amish going on the fence again. As I was walking back down the fence line, this picture caught my eye. The work team waits patiently with little Levi (who has bruised ribs from a fall on the stairs) lounging in the seat under his hat while Irven pounds posts. They don't mind if we discretely take photos, but they won't pose because that would be vain. Mom printed out my fencing blog so Elsie could read it. Elsie smiled broadly when she told me she thought I did a good job writing it. Then she sent me home with a bowl of rhubarb crumble!

My Mom took this picture later in the day. What fun!!!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Spring Garden Project #3 Strawberry Cages

Tim thought this project up all on his own. For a disinterested non-gardener he does pretty well.

Here are the cages we had on them before. It did keep the deer from mowing them down, but obviously, the open ends were ineffective in keeping nesting rabbits from coming in and undermining the roots. Plus, they're a little homely.

So Tim enlisted the help of neighbor Mike, and they tidied the place up. Mike helped him bend the conduit, then welded the frames together. Tim painstakingly filled and sanded the corners. Then he primed and painted them and spent several days cutting and attaching the wire, carving up both hands and arms in the process. He says he's never doing this ever again.

The old cages served their purpose when the strawberries were in their original spot. They were fastened together so both ends were closed, and they didn't look half bad.

This is my old strawberry/rhubarb/horseradish/asparagus bed.

And this is the new one. There are three sections and I can easily lift them off and set them aside to get to the plants.

This row of strawberries was salvaged from the hard, rooty, shaded, clay soil of the old bed, and the second row was discount plants from a nursery last fall. The plants are easily five times the size they were in the old bed and absolutely loaded with buds and blossoms. If all goes well we should have a bumper crop. These plants are doing so nicely that I spend a lot of time standing there admiring them and scratching my head.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spring Garden Project #2 The Cold Frame

It was hard to guess whether Spring Project #2 or Spring Project #3 would be finished first. And it's Spring Project #2 by a nose!.. I gave Tim lots of picture of cold frames and turned him loose. And this is what he came up with.

We have plenty of sidewalk that was not being used, so we decided this would be a good spot. Our good friends John and Sandy who own a greenhouse and landscape business were unfortunate enough this winter to lose the greenhouses to the weight of the snow. But I made out extremely well inheriting scraps of the special roofing. I had saved a Plexiglas storm panel which would have worked well, but this stuff is the real thing! I have a mini greenhouse.

All that is left to do is install an automatic opener and a thermometer and it will be fully functional. Just the moisture of the wood and the gravel underneath fogged the surface right up. Tim sized it to fit 8 of my largest flats. Now I can start annuals and vegetables in here. I plan on picking up a load at the green house this weekend, and if we get a frost, I can just move any hanging baskets or potted plants in here. I am looking forward to discovering many new uses for my cold frame. Thank you Honey! You have out done yourself yet again.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Spring is here!

I spent all of Sunday afternoon out in the garden with a sleeveless shirt! As promised, it was 10 degrees warmer in the garden!

Neighbor Mike launched the great asparagus bed building. He bought 75 crowns and has gone hog wild. He researched and dug and mixed compost with ashes and did a bang up job of constructinghis asparagus bed. All but one of my crowns have put up shoots, which are quite promising and hefty.

My Asparagus is up!

Mike's wife Shelly planted 297 onion plants. Tim was hard at work on Spring Garden Project #3, which we will be unveiling soon. Spring Garden Project #2 is also waiting in the wings. It's hard to tell which will be finished first. For a non-gardener, he sure comes up with excellent ideas.

Shelly's 297 Onion Plants

So while all this stuff was going on, what did I do? I added compost to one of the beds. Planted sunflowers, planted catnip seeds around the catnip plants, planted more borage, chased the cats out of the carrots, planted zinnias, planted a flat of Amaranth, chased the cats out of the catnip, snapped buds off of the horse radish and rhubarb, got the garden benches and tables set up, dragged the drunken cats out of the catnip and repaired the collateral damage to the pansies and peas, asked Tim to figure out a way to fence the catnip, sent the cats to the house, edged and mulched around the linden trees, made drinks for everyone... sat in the sun.

Ahhh... Spring!

My Rhubarb is blooming. I hate to snap it off!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Day with the Amish or How I Learned to Roll Barbed Wire

Besides my garden, I also own some acreage that was part of the family dairy farm farm. It was left to my sister and I by my grandfather and now I own it. He got it from his father before him. Our family has farmed this land continuously since 1905. It has fields and pasture, quite a nice woodlot, two unruly streams, and an apple orchard. While the fields have been in use right along, leased to the neighboring dairy farm, and the woodlot is under management, the large pasture has fallen into partial neglect. This year we will again be leasing the pasture to the same dairy which will help with the rest of the taxes and put the land back in use. However, it has been a long time since the fence was fixed. In the past two years I have spent quite a few lunch hours out there lopping off saplings and generally trying to restore order, but there is a lot of work to do on the fence itself before we turn two dozen wild heifers loose in it.

We have a nice Amish family that my mother and stepfather are quite close with. Irven spent almost two years working on stabilizing and weatherizing the two old dairy barns so we could save them. Elsie is one of my Mom's best friends and is a wonderful baker and gardener, and always a cheery spirit. Their children Levi, Anna, Rueben and Daniel are as charming as you can imagine. The whole family turned out today to work on the fence. Little Levi is quite the go-getter and diligently pulled staples for hours.

I spent the afternoon working along with them and got my first ride in an Amish wagon. I didn't think to bring my camera, but brought my vintage cell phone along to keep track of the time (I don't own a watch) and managed to snap a few very poor photos. I felt like I was on the set of Little House on the Prairie.

The wagon and some very bad fence

Back in the day, every landowner had a "dump". There was the "Metal Dump" and the "Glass Dump". These can be fascinating to dig through in the spring when the frost brings new treasures to the surface. My tidy self has always been rather bothered by the existence of these dumps. But I'll tell you, I have a new view! How convenient to have a dump, way older than I, conveniently located 12 feet from the fence line I was working on. Problem solved. This one is built on rocks. To the left is an abandoned hay rake.

There is wire in this dump that is older than my mother and I put together. We happily piled our coils on top. Now is the funny part. I was dismayed to find that my wire coils sprang open like Slinkys run amok. I was messing up my tidy wire dump! All the coils in there already were round and tight. The last thing you want is your wire coils springing open and entangling your livestock. So I began to study wire rolling. Mom and I had been coiling it like you would a water hose or a lariat. This was NOT working. I tried wrapping it between my palm and elbow like an extension cord. Nope. The wire was too brittle and broke into 2 foot lengths.

A perfect coil of Wire

Finally I discovered the proper technique. You roll it in front of you like a wheel or snowball hand over hand, it's hard to describe, but it works great. The wire catches on itself and forms a cohesive reel. You can even safely set it down without it rebelling. I quickly passed this new info on to my mother, and we happily coiled up all the old useless wire.

Figuring out the usefulness of a fencing tool for pulling staples took a lot less time. I showed little Levi my new skills, and he was unimpressed. Apparently Amish kids are taught how to pull staples and coil wire!

Anna and Levi struggle with a stubborn fence staple

I had a great afternoon fencing with the Amish. It beats sitting at a desk any day. We removed the old broken wire, pounded new fence posts and lopped off rose bushes and willow bushes. We waded through muck and tripped over hidden rocks. I got wound up in rusty wire and multiflora roses more than once (Rueben had to disemvine me), but my $2 gloves from Walmart and heavy clothes saw me through. I don't think I even snagged my favorite hoodie. It was wonderful!

I enjoyed it almost as much as the day Tim, Stepdad Richard and I spent digging rocks.

2008 Tim and I pull rocks (BOULDERS) so the land can be safely bush hogged.

The Monster Rock and the rock pile. This was not our only rock pile. On the other side of the pasture we found a spot where someone had filled in a well or treefall and there were 23 rocks the size of a large suitcase or more in ONE HOLE. I actually sold these rocks to a friend who has an excavating business and needed a quick fix for a retaining wall that had washed out. One rock was too big to move. We dug down about 4 feet and didn't find the bottom. Because it was right along the gas right of way we elected to leave it.

I feel so fortunate to have been born in the countryside with land to work. Farming is in my blood. Thank God I'm a country-girl!