February 28, 2009: A Day Closer to Spring

The last day of February....spring can't be too far away! I'm busy packing up for my trip north, a month earlier than usual, so I can get my seed growing area furnished with lights, trays and heating pads and begin sprouting all kinds of vegetables in earnest. I have eight more varieties of tomatoes, not counting the Tumbling Toms that are already growing, and four more varieties of peppers besides the green bells that I've already started. There's cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce....just all kinds of things that can get a head start under those lights!

Besides getting the seedlings started, there will be so much to do once I get home.

1. The first thing that has to be done is a trip to the nursery for a yard of good "leaf & twig" compost, since I have several beds to fill up and the rest to be topped off.

2. Four of my 4' x 4' raised boxes need to be joined together with 2x12s to make one 22' long bed, and the resulting 2' x 4' areas filled with compost.

3. I'll have to dig out some sod along the south fence line and prepare a makeshift planting bed for the sugar snap peas. These weren't in my original plan for this year's garden, so rather than a wood enclosed box, I'll simply provide a 12' x 1' raised bed of compost rich soil. I'll do the same along the east side of the "dog kennel garden" for the tall peas and some early lettuce. The peas will have to be planted right away.

4. New compost will be added to all the beds and incorporated into the existing soil.

5. Four or five raspberry canes, 2 new blueberry bushes and 50 strawberry plants must be purchased and planted.

6. I have to either find room to plant at least a dozen of the pepper plants that I didn't plan on originally, or find enough containers to grow them in. I kind of got carried away with the Tumbling Toms, too. I had only planned on one of those, in a hanging bucket, and now I have four that I won't be able to part with. Of course, they may all be too large to fit in the picnic cooler for the trip home next week....in which case they will be given to friends here in AZ and new ones will be started when I get home.

7. I have some "garden art" that I want to install....some decorative trellises and my home made hand painted birdhouses.

8. I have to remove three or four large lilac bushes and a volunteer mulberry tree to make room for a large compost bin. Getting rid of the shade might allow me to add a melon patch next year, after we build a new shed next to that area.

9. I'm taking six 6' T-posts home to pound into the tomato bed so I can try the Florida Weave method of trellising this year. I'll put three on each side of the 4' x 8' bed, and wire some 8' 2x2s to them to extend their height for the indeterminate tomatoes.

10. A new sprinkling system has to be planned, as I don't want to use the existing impulse sprinklers in the garden. I have a bunch of drip tubing left over from the drip system in my AZ gardens, so I'll spend some time playing around with that and planning out a permanent installation.

I think I might need another month of spring, just to get the garden ready this year!

Tumbling Tom Tomatoes, planted 2/4. The tallest is 6" now (not including the pot).

The California Wonder 300 TMR (Bell) peppers planted 2/7 have their first true leaves.

The plants now live in an old picnic cooler, with foil taped inside the lid to reflect the light.

With the lid closed enough to still allow the light cord to be plugged in, it makes a toasty growing chamber that maintains a constant 85F temperature. This is how they will be transported north next week, carried through the hotel and placed in the hotel bathroom, with the light plugged in overnight.

My daughter called yesterday to say she'd picked up my mail (in WA), and I had a box from John in PA (John's Journal). That would be the soil block maker that he made for me...I'm very anxious to try it! I also had my order from Ohio Heirloom Seeds (that was fast!) and a free packet of seeds from Patti Moreno the Garden Girl. I think Amy said it was Bok Choy, which I have never planted before.

February 25, 2009: EZ Does It Sooper Dooper Soil Blocker

Yesterday, on the Square Foot Gardening forum on GardenWeb, the blogger at John's Journal was showing off some of the soil blocks he'd made with his home made soil block maker. I was kind of kidding around and told of an experiment I wanted to do......John said "Use your imagination and give it a try". So I did.

I wanted to make multiple small soil blocks at a time, and I thought an ice cube tray would be just the thing I needed. I also needed something small, round and hard to make the indented area in the center for holding the seed. John had suggested small round beads, but I didn't have any of those handy. Hmmmm...what looks like a small round bead, that I have right here in the house?

Frozen peas!

Now I needed a good soiless mix with which to fill them. I had a partial bag of seed starting mix, and some peat blend potting mix that I'd combined for repotting the tomato plants last week, so I poured some of it into a bowl and added warm water until it was the consistency of oatmeal.

I carefully dropped just a bit of the mix into each compartment. Just enough to cover the peas and hopefully keep them from moving.

Then I packed the mix into the tray just as tightly as I could press it in. I think I had it a bit too wet, as the water was squishing out over the top, so I took it to the sink and carefully pressed out some of the excess water. When I felt it was sufficiently moist, but not too wet, I placed it into the freezer for several hours.

When the blocks had frozen solid, I submerged the bottom of the tray in hot water for a few seconds, just to loosen the blocks enough to pop them out. I placed them on a small tray, and took a paring knife to scoop the peas out of the centers. Most of the peas had stayed in place, only 2-3 were off center.

I let the still-frozen blocks sit for a few minutes, then removed any leftover pea that was showing, and they came out much easier than with the solidly frozen cube.

I left the tray of blocks on the counter overnight to thaw and dry out a bit. This morning they were still very wet, but held together beautifully when I picked them up.

I'd consider the experiment successful! I'll probably use this method to make small blocks for starting things like lettuce, that can go straight to the garden in them. I do think I have some old trays with square compartments, rather than the rectangular ones like this one had. I'll use the larger block maker that John made for me for larger vegetables like tomatoes.

We don't have an ice maker in our refrigerator down here, and Mr. H wasn't real happy that I used his ice cube tray to make soil blocks! I told him just to be sure he didn't use them in his evening bourbon and cola *grin*.


Yesterday I was cutting some dry leaves from the bottoms of my two little cucumber plants. these cucumbers had been planted in a large pot last November, and never did grow into anything worthwhile. The tallest is probably around a foot high, neither looks terribly healthy, but I didn't have the heart to dispose of them. Well, wouldn't you know. While I was removing a leaf, I found a cucumber! It wasn't very big, about the size of a tennis bal, but it was definitely ripe. It will be my one and only cucumber from these plants, as there aren't any others that will mature by the time we leave for Washington. But I can't say they were a failure, can I? I actually got a harvest from them, even though it was only two ounces!

I got another cutting from the little salad garden yesterday. Every week it is an ounce more than the previous week, and this time it put my total harvest over the one pound mark! And Mr. H said it would never grow. I should get about two more cuttings of lettuce and spinach before we leave, and we might get a small meal of beets. I felt under the dirt, and the beets seem to be about the size of a quarter now. I'll give them ten more days, then pull them and see if they are large enough to fool with. I will weigh them into the harvest total regardless, as the greens and tiny roots will be edible. we don't care much for beet greens, but I have a neighbor who will gladly take them.

February 22, 2009: I Need More Seeds Like I Need...

I need more seeds like I need another hole in the head. However, I was visiting Skippy's Vegetable Garden this morning and she told of some new sources for open pollinated seeds. I decided to take a peek at one, and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. An on-line source for heirloom seeds that only charges $1.29 per packet and...get this...$1.99 for shipping and handling! Yes, you read that right, one-dollar-and-ninety-nine-cents. Is that unbelievable? I don't know about you, but I refuse to pay $7 and up for someone to mail me a few packages of garden seeds.

Ohio Heirloom Seeds doesn't have a huge selection, but do go look at their tomatoes, peppers and lettuce/mesclun. I ended up purchasing Early Jalapeno, Golden Calwonder, Purple Beauty and Quadrato Rosso D'Asti pepper seeds as well as Red Romaine lettuce and Mesclun. If I didn't already have more tomato seeds than I need, I'd have ordered them too.

While I was at it, I emailed Mike Dehlendorf, the owner, and he contacted me immediately. Mike started the business because he was fed up with seed prices. A man after my own heart! Friendly service, very reasonable prices, and a promise to ship your order within 24 hours. You can't beat that with a stick! Check it out...it's a good thing!

February 21, 2009: Odds & Ends, This & That

I shot that radish eating rabbit this morning! Not with a gun, with the camera. He was digging a tunnel, about three feet from the salad garden....is he planning an underground attack? Notice the smaller air hole to the right of the hole he's in. When I went outside, he had tunneled that far. Bad me....I stepped on his tunnel and collapsed it. No, he wasn't in it at the time.

The Tumbling Tom Tomatoes that were started February 4th are growing well. I keep them under the light from around 8:00AM until 11:00PM. On warm sunny days I have been setting them outside for natural sunlight from 11 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.

The bell peppers that were planted on 2/7 look pretty good too, even though they have yet to grow their first true leaves.

Here is the happy family, snuggled in their foil lined box, basking in the light. I have the peppers sitting up on mini-bread pans to get them close to the light. One tomato is getting so tall, it's getting hard to keep all of them 1-2" from the light source.

The peppers seeds that I placed on a damp paper towel and put in a ZipLoc bag on 2/15 are showing signs of sprouting today, six days to germination. I doubt I'll use this method in the future, as it only saves a few days and Mr. H keeps throwing them in the garbage can. I have no idea what to do with these sprouts, as my light box is as full of plants as I can get it, and all of them will have to take a two day, 1200 mile journey to Washington in just two weeks. I'll have to put them into an insulated cooler to keep them from freezing, and take them (and their shop light) into the hotel room with me. People will stare, won't they!

When I get home, I'll start all the rest of my seedlings.....at least eight more varieties of tomatoes, more peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage. I'm looking forward to the present I'm going to have waiting in my mailbox.....


That's a 2" square soil blocker that my dear friend John has made for me! Do check out the different ones he has made on his blog, John's Journal. I really worry about how I'm going to get my little ones out of their pots when it's time to transplant them. The way it is tapered, I might have to cut the pot away from them to keep from destroying the tap roots. With the soil block maker, that will never be a problem. No pot, no damage and no transplant shock! I can hardly wait to try it!

I still like the idea of using the soup containers as seed starting pots, but I should have thought them out a bit better. If I cut off the container in half and plant it with the lid on the bottom, when it's time to remove the seedling I can just pop off the lid and push everything out the large end of the container. Maybe. There's still a metal rim in there that might keep everything from sliding out. Yep.....I think I'm going to like that soil blocker!

Yes, we'll be heading home to Washington in just two weeks. That's much earlier than previous years, but I have some hugging to do! Many of you have been with me since the birth of my newest granddaughter, Alicyn. well, she's four months old now, and I've missed about 3-3/4 of those four months. Who wouldn't want to get back and hug this?

And here are a couple more who need some hugging and spoiling:

Kevin & Alicia

Updated today:


February 18, 2009: I'm a Quadmom!

I have four new babies this morning. No, I'm not quite as good as "Octomom" but, unlike that new mother of eight, I'm not planning on hawking a reality show to TV, and I'm not going to use my blog to ask for donations to raise my four.

They left their "incubator" this morning and went under the light with their four Tumbling Tom siblings.

It took these California Wonder 300 TMR (bell) peppers eleven days to sprout. They were kept in their mini-greenhouse at 80-85F, sitting on an old heating pad that was turned to low. I planted six seeds, and if the other two sprout it will be a really tight fit under my single 2-foot light.

I'm also trying to pre-sprout six more pepper seeds, placed on a damp paper towel and sealed in a ZipLoc bag. I hope we get some warm, sunny days so the tomatoes can go outside to make room for all the peppers!

February 17, 2009: A Salad for Me

This morning's picking gave me mostly spinach, which is still really small. It must weigh more than lettuce, though, as I got 5 ounces from the garden today. I did share the last salad with the rabbit, so this one will be a wilted spinach and onion salad for my dinner tonight. Rabbit can eat the $tore bought $tuff.

The Tumbling Tom tomatoes have their first true leaves. I may have rushed transplanting them into larger pots, but I was anxious to get those long stems covered with soil. They look quite happy now.

February 12, 2009: Rabbits *Heart* Radishes

The 49 radish seeds were planted in a container on January 18. After they germinated, I set them in a sunny area on the front porch for a few days, but the pups kept trying to dig them up so I moved the container to the back, next to the little salad garden. The radishes were growing well (not as well as the ones planted in the garden, though). I didn't put them inside the fencing, but they sat there undisturbed for about two weeks. This morning there were only two radishes left, the rest had been eaten by rabbits during the night. Another container, which held two lettuce plants, a few carrots and one spinach, was missing the spinach. I guess that will teach me to keep all the plants protected by poultry wire.

I moved the container inside the fence. Maybe the radishes will grow new leaves, but I doubt it. I think they're "toast".

February 10, 2009: Surprise!

Last night I lifted the lid of the mini-greenhouse that held the Tumbling Tom tomatoes that I started last Wednesday, so that I could mist them. Surprise! Those little stinkers had sprouted and grown leggy overnight! So here I was, with four babies to care for and no light setup. I kept the dome off of them and set them in a cool area of the house for the night. As soon as I got up this morning, I set up a single florescent light over them.

I was still concerned about how leggy they were, so I cut a toilet tissue roll into three 1" lengths and placed them around three of the seedlings. I then back filled the cardboard rolls with potting soil. I only had one empty roll on hand, I really needed two of them cut in half, as there is still a good inch of stem exposed. I don't know if this method will do any good, but tomatoes grow roots along the entire length of their stems, so hopefully it wont hurt to give it a try.

They will have to live on top of my microwave until it's time for their trip to Washington next month. In a couple of weeks, it will probably be warm and sunny enough here to set them outside for their light source.

I had a second picking of greens from the little Arizona garden today. This time it included a bit of spinach, which looks like it might actually have begun growing since being transplanted. And one onion, that hasn't grown a bit since it went in the ground, but sure has developed a good root system! My bunny, Cookie, isn't going to get this salad. Mr. H and I are going to enjoy it ourselves.

The little garden continues to grow. Look closely, I think the spinach is looking larger, don't you? The beets have certainly put forth growth, as has the parsley and the lettuce (which has already been picked once).

Garden February 10 compared to January 15th.

The peppers I planted on January 24 from saved seed have done nothing. I'm not sure how long I should keep babying them, but I guess I'll give them another week. In the meantime, I bought a packet of bell pepper seeds and started another batch. I found out they germinate best at 80F so, not having a seed starting mat for heating, I grabbed the next best thing....my heating pad. With a wire rack between the pad and the mini-greenhouse, the temperature stays at exactly 80F all night. In the daytime they get moved to the top of the refrigerator, where they also maintain a constant 80F temperature.


February 6, 2009: 2009 Garden Plan Update (edited)

* I had a few errors and omissions in the original post, so here is the edited version. See, Sinfonian, I'm not planting all determinate tomatoes, I had them labeled wrong! I also left out Daphne's pumpkins, and had the sugar snap peas too close to the potatoes...after viewing a photo of last year's garden, I saw that I had more room there than I had remembered . I've also included a view of the garden in its entirety.

You knew I couldn't stick with my original plan, didn't you? Well, you were right, I just had to mess with it some more. Heck, half the fun of gardening is in the planning!

Here's my new plan for the east garden. I've decided to use my three-tube sprinkler hoses this year, upside down, covered with mulch and turned on low for a "poor man's drip system". They show in the photos as the green strips through the beds (they will run through all the beds, not just where shown here).

*Note: after you click on the photo to enlarge it, you might have to click on it again for the full size, so you can read the labels.

The unused dog kennel will make good 6' trellises for the peas and pole beans. The bare spots will eventually have some type of shade loving plants.

And, finally, the north garden.

The north garden tomato bed plan assumes the seeds I plan to start actually grow.

And here is the garden in its entirety.

There will also be a west garden available for more tomatoes, if I need to use it. I'm still working on Mr. H to move the north garden fence out another 5 feet, which would give me room for more container plants.

February 5, 2009: Birdhouses Revisited

Back in September I took up the hobby of building birdhouses (It's for the Birds and Birdhouses Continued). It's not an all consuming hobby, just something to do when I get bored.

I'm bored.

I bought the lumber a month ago and it's been languishing in the carport, warping and cupping as lumber does these days, so I figured I had better hurry and do something with it. Half an hour later, my face and hair covered with sawdust, I had enough pieces cut for five birdhouses, minus the perches, roofs and bases which will come later.

I got out my electric brad nailer (I HEART my nailer!), and the exterior wood glue, and proceeded to construct the little houses.

The next day they got two coats of white primer, with a light sanding between coats.

After the primer had dried, and a final sanding had been done, the first two were given two coats of acrylic paint. These were done in Antique White, my background of choice for the patterns I had picked out to paint on them.

It was warm and lovely outside, so I put my supplies out on the patio table. I used the lid of my plastic paint box for a palette and as protection for the table from the paint. It's easy to clean up, and provides a good painting area.

The houses were given another light sanding between coats of paint.

I have all the patterns on my computer, so it's quite simple to pick out what I want to paint, size it to fit the birdhouse, then print it out for tracing onto the project. Unfortunately, my almost NEW Kodak printer isn't working. *Note to Kodak: Please stick with making cameras and leave the printers to the pros. So I made a rough sketch of the pattern, then transferred it onto the birdhouse #1 using graphite paper. It's a simple pattern, as the main attraction on this house will be the roof.

To be continued.....

February 3, 2009: We Have Liftoff! ....er...Lettuce!

Ha! remember when I planted the little Arizona salad garden and Mr. H said it would never grow? Well, I just picked the first greens this morning, all 2 1/2 ounces of them! That doesn't sound like a lot, but those same baby greens would have cost nearly $2 ($3.98 for 5 ounces), plus the gas to drive 50 miles round trip to the store to buy them!

Even though the harvest was small, Mr. H was impressed. I don't know why he ever doubted me in the first place, as most things I plant do grow successfully.