Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Chilly Pear Tree - The Sequel

 It was this time last year when I had just planted my four in one pear tree and the polar vortex dipped down and chilled us all to the bone.  All of the (well, most - not the old timers) gardeners on my local garden Facebook page were frantic about the forecasted snow yesterday.  Especially the ones who had planted tomatoes.  Rookie mistake.  Yeah I know it was 80 degrees the other day.  But its also April.  In New York.  We had been enjoying 50 degree weather and some sun.  I have gotten a good start cleaning and weeding the landscape beds in preparation for mulch.

Of course the pear tree had begun to leaf out this past week in the mild temperatures.  It was showing some nice buds and I really want to give it a chance to do well so I got out the bean poles and frost blanket again.  Deja vu.

We could have gotten up to 6 inches of snow today.  But luckily the temperatures are hovering in the low 30s and we aren't dealing with high winds this time.  I gathered up everything I had in pots (pansies, transplanted perennials etc) and tucked them into either the cold frame or under a frost blanket I threw over the cabbages when I planted them

It was a rather slushy snow which weighed the covers down.  And at one point we did have a good inch of accumulation everywhere but - I didn't go outside then....

I went out and shook everything off and coaxed it back into shape.

The apple trees are showing buds but will be OK 
unless the temperatures take a real dive.
The pear tree was in the same stage of bud, silly thing.

I think even the daffodils will still look nice.  These I planted last fall in the new bed in front of the deck.  I considered picking them to enjoy before the snow ruined them but I think there will still be some nice flowers left after this is over.  I have hundreds of daffys blooming all over and they were so beautiful this week.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Spring in Full Swing

 We have a hot dry spring under way.  It has been nice to have the warm weather and sunshine, but I can't help thinking that I might almost prefer gloomy and rainy.  I have been having to water regularly just to get things going.

I filled my deck planters with pansies.  Home Depot had a great selection of the citrus blend which was exactly what I was in the mood for.  It is always hard for me to choose pansies because there is such a wide color palette and I love them all.  They were always the first plants to flower in our greenhouse, and the stems were perfect for little hands to pick.  Thus, I spent a lot of time picking pansies.  I just need to top off the mulch now that its settled.

The first two plantings of peas are up (planted March 15 and 29th) and the third planting is seeded.  I seeded leftover lettuce seed from last year down each side to act as living mulch but nothing has germinated yet.

I bought two packs of cabbage at the nursery.  I will still wait a week or two before setting out my cauliflower seedlings.  This time of year I had planned to use the frost blanket weight of row cover because it holds up well to snow and hard freezes.  But instead I grabbed a short length of summer weight floating row cover.  I was glad I did because the day after I transplanted these I came home to air temperatures of 86+ in the garden

The cabbages didn't seem to mind.

I seeded carrots a week or more ago.  Carrot seeds can be a real bugger to keep warm and damp and I get impatient because they end up not germinating until June.  I considered covering them with burlap but the draw back to burlap is the little leaves will push up into the weave and you can pull everything up when you remove it.  It does best when you can elevate it half an inch above the soil.  And I couldn't figure out how to do that in container (without using up all of my grow-thru grids) and still keep it secured so instead I'm trying bubble wrap.

This week we are expecting more seasonable weather of mid-50s and rain.  This is the perfect time of year to mulch the landscape beds because the plants are small and the lawn is soft enough to edge.  So its time to get busy!  I have dug up the perennials that I want to move and pried up any dandelions. Finally I will apply Milorganite fertilizer to everything then the mulching will begin.

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Cold Frame - Mark II

Since I don't have a greenhouse yet I make great use of my Cold Frame that  was built 10 years ago.  I use it to start seedlings a few weeks early, harden off all of my seedlings and store greenhouse purchases until weather permits planting.

It was quite pretty in it's youth.  The lids were picture framed with mortise and tenon corners.  The panels, salvaged from a friend's commercial greenhouse, were set into grooves.  All these details made the lids attractive, but also created some problems.  The panels were recessed below the wooden surface which made a great place for ice to collect in the winter.  The weight of snow could bend the panels enough for them to pop out of their grooves.  Water accumulated along the lower edge and any moisture or dirt that got into the channels of the panels, from either end, was trapped there forever.

Last year the corners of the lids gave out.  My husband really wanted to throw the whole thing on the burn pile and I don't blame him for that.  It was definitely past it's useful life span.  But instead he reinforced the corners so it would survive the winter and then this spring he offered to make repairs.  
We could have used the remaining salvaged panels and rebuilt the lids exactly the same.  But the remaining panels weren't in much better condition.  As the polycarbonate ages it discolors and becomes brittle.  The old panels were no longer surviving hail storms and were beginning to look as if someone had shot them with a pellet gun.  Last spring when the weather was so cold they did not let in enough light to raise the temperature much.  So it was time for a little redesign.  
Voila'. I give you - the Cold Frame Mark II sells reasonably priced 2 foot by 4 foot twinwalled polycarbonte panels in packages of 5 with free shipping.  And they also offer a 10% discount to listeners of the Joe Gardener podcasts. These panels are perfect for a do it yourself cold frame project.  They come in either 6mm or 8mm and I ordered the 8mm.  My husband was really excited to hear that their size (while convenient to ship) meant the lid would have to be built in three pieces instead of two - but not excited in a good way.

Has anyone recently checked on the price of a 2x4?  Anything that gets built around here this year is going to need to be made of salvaged material.  We had some lightweight 1x material left over when we replaced the deck, but not enough to make three lids.  This meant they had to be built out of 2x4 scraps.  Which therefore means they are heavier and super stiff.  The large lightweight lids had a tendency to become sails in any sort of a wind.  If you were lucky this meant they could slam closed.  If you weren't lucky it meant they would wrench off a hinge.  We use old window weights to keep the lids weighted closed, and chains to keep them from resting the weight on the hinges.

I'd like to point out two significant changes to the lid design in case someday you want to build something like this yourself.  The panels are attached to the face of the 2x4 frame with special padded washers designed for twinwall polycarbonate.  You can find an example here.  You first drill a slightly larger hole and then secure the fastener.  The fastener allows for expansion and contraction.  Our friends actually included some of these when they gave us the salvaged panels and my husband even knew where he had put them all those years ago.

Because the panels are secured to the face of the frame, the bottom edge is open to allow any moisture trapped in the panel to run out.  Also, there is a piece of wood with a rabbet cut along the edge to overlap the top edge and prevent water from entering in the first place.

So now I am in business for spring planting.  The cold frame, while its base is weathered and warped, is sturdy and functional and looks clean and respectable.  A lot more sunlight is making its way in.  I have a thermometer in it so I can get a feel for its temperature swings with the new panels.  I have moved several potted herbs from my office window to the frame, and I am preparing flats so I can seed some annual flowers and lettuce.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Seed Starting - Step #2

 Today I transplanted my cauliflowers into individual cells.  They are on the edge of being too big, but they just formed their first true leaves over the past couple of days.  I decided to do cells instead of 3 inch pots just as a space saver.  They should be able to go outside two or three weeks from now and I will move on to tomatoes.

The first thing I did was prep my cells with water.  These are bottom watering cells so I added about an inch to each individual tray and let them sit for a few hours to fully absorb.  This makes the soil damp enough to form but not sloppy.  I use a dibble tool to make deep, wide holes in each cell.

Next I scoop the entire cell of seedlings out onto my work surface.  This is where the intensive cell planting makes the process different from seeding one by one into individual cells.  The roots are intertwined and need to be teased out.  But the advantage is you have at least the number you need, and probably a few extra, and you can choose the strongest plants with the best roots to plant and cull any weak plants.  This time I got 100% germination so I had a couple of seedlings "excess to requirements".

In light, dry starter mix teasing them out is easy.  

These seedlings have awesome root structures!  The best I've ever grown I think.  At this stage you might get just a single tap root.  Ideally you should always handle seedlings by their leaves and not the stem.  If you put too much pressure on the stem you can kink it and kill the plant, but if you tear off a leaf it will grow back.

 I make sure the holes are as wide as they can be then guide these huge root systems into the holes and use the dibble to arrange them and close the soil around the stems.

Then I top water each cell to get the air out.  The cells should be kept quite damp for a day or two until the seedlings appear to be recovered and begin to stand up again.  They go back under the grow light on the same settings but with the fan OFF for at least two days.  Not only do they not need the stress, but also I don't want the fan to dry out the soil or the plants themselves when they are not able to replace moisture quickly.  When it looks like they have all recovered and are taking up water well, then the fan can go back on at its previous setting and I will rotate each tray every day so all of the seedlings get a breeze, not just one side.