April 30, 2011 - End of April Garden Progress

The weather has been unseasonably cold, and it seems much of the garden is about two weeks behind its normal growth. Even the lilacs are just beginning to bloom, two weeks later than normal. An article in this morning's paper had the farmers lamenting the fact that they should be getting some crops to market, but they are at least two weeks away. That is, if there is even a crop. It seems an early killing frost last November, along with this cold spring, have taken a toll on many of the crops. There will be no cherries this year and an apple crop is "iffy". One farmer stated that his sugar snap peas should be knee high by now, but they are just barely breaking through the soil. My own garden reflects many of the same problems, yet some crops are actually ahead of previous years.

The Garden at the End of April

I brought in my first bouquet of lilacs last night.

Snap peas are just beginning to grow.

Cabbages, broccoli and yellow onions. This is the later planting of brassicas.

The first planting of broccoli, with spring planted garlic. All of the broccoli and cabbage plants are way ahead in growth from previous years.

Spring planted shallots, lettuce and more cabbages. I don't know why I planted so many cabbages! I have no room for potatoes this year, I should have used the other cabbage/broccoli/onion bed.

Uh-oh, a cabbage moth appears to be enjoying the Sweet Williams.

The Walla Walla sweet onions aren't as large as last year's, but they started off smaller and less robust than the ones I bought in 2010.

Even though I separated and then replanted this bed of strawberries, it's nowhere near as mature as in previous years.

The strawberries in the two whiskey barrels are faring much better than those in the bed.

Last year the raspberries were in full bloom by mid-April. This year the tiny buds are just now beginning to form.

The first planted radishes are probably about a week from first harvest. The second planting was consumed by the quail. I set out two tomato plants in this garden the other day, and protected them with row cover. I have follow up plants if these don't do well. I think the weather should be nice enough to plant all of the tomatoes next week, but I'll probably wait until after the 10th. of May to set out the peppers.

If there are any radishes left after the ants get through with them. I've never had ants eat radishes before, but teeny-tiny black ones are just swarming over them this year. I can't find an ant hill, Mr. Granny thinks they must be in the wood.

Look closely. You might have to click the picture to make it larger. The first planting of bush beans has just broken the surface today! Again, these are quite a few days behind last year's.

My-oh-my. I planted carrot seed mats in a 1'x7' plot, and I think germination is close to 100%. I can see a few places where it looks as though our resident robin has done a bit of seed shuffle while pulling out worms, and I'll have to do a bit of thinning, as I put these seeds only 1" apart. Cookie will love the baby carrots as they develop, though.

I combined a bunch of old lettuce seeds in a shaker, and sprinkled them over the surface in this whiskey barrel. When the seedlings get large enough, they will be moved to other areas to replace earlier planted lettuce.

Under the nylon netting, the spinach is beginning to put on some size. Seedlings of beets and turnips, as well as a later planting of spinach, are showing. The chard has yet to make an appearance.

The under-cover bird protected lettuce is providing us with all we and Cookie can eat. The two rows on the left were just picked of their outer leaves, and the three rows on the right will be next. The spinach, in the foreground, is already showing a few leaf miner eggs. I do hope the main spinach crop under the netting escapes them.

Little Gem and Buttercrunch lettuces.

Flowers, lettuces and broccoli are growing well against the fence.

The "North Garden". Three hills of bush butternut squash have been planted in the right foreground. This may cause a problem. I originally planted one hill each of butternut, scallop and bush acorn. Then Mr. Granny and I decided we loved that butternut squash so much, I tried to dig out the seeds of the other two kinds. I only found one of six seeds, but I went ahead and planted a couple of butternut seeds in each of those two hills anyway. Until they grow and bear squash, I'll not know which types are growing!

Granddaughter Alicyn visited us Friday, and I put a pillow on the sofa for her to use if she needed a nap. Otto thought I put it there just for him. Isn't he adorable with his little dwarf legs and his fat tummy?

April 25, 2011 - Harvest Monday

Finally! I have a harvest to share today, albeit a small one.

On April 20, I harvested the first greens from the Washington garden. They consisted of 7 ounces (total) of Red Sails, Summercrisp and Yugoslavian red Butterhead lettuces, and Tyee spinach. It was such a pretty rainbow of colors, deserving of two photos.

Yesterday, April 24th., I harvested 8 ounces (total) of Little Gem, Buttercrunch and unknown varieties of mixed lettuces.

Total harvest for the week: 15 ounces
Total harvest for the year to date: 15 ounces

Please join in the Monday Harvest at Daphne's Dandelions!

April 24, 2011 - Happy Easter!

Easter Greetings!

From Granny and Alicyn

April 22, 2011 - Sunny Seedlings

I don't have a lot of seedlings left, and I'm quite happy about that. I'm getting rather weary of hauling them in and out of the shed every day. I think it was much simpler task the year I had them in the garage.....no wading out through wet grass in my pajamas and slippers every morning.

Not that I have to carry them far. The sun only hits this side of the shed for a few hours, then it's in the shade of the arborvitae. It's also sheltered from the wind in this corner of the yard. The plants have grown quite sturdy, having been put outside every day that the temperature is at least 50F, and back inside the shed every night.

I do think the tomatoes would appreciate more heat. I don't like that some of the leaves have turned so yellow. Normally I would blame it on over watering, but I let them get quite dry before I give them water, so I'd have to say they are suffering from a nitrogen deficiency. I did give them a feeding of fish emulsion, but that hasn't seemed to help yet. I hesitate to fertilize them any more, so I'll probably do nothing. Soon they will be planted in fertile soil, then hopefully they will green up.

The peppers aren't showing the yellow leaves like the tomatoes, and they get exactly the same treatment and watering schedule. I'm quite happy with their progress, even though I wish I'd started them a week or two earlier.

Then there are these hardy little specimens! They've been out 24/7 for the past two or more weeks, and they're still plugging right along. Never again will I plant lobelia. Those tiny seeds could NOT be planted with proper spacing in a six-pack. The ones in the front have been slightly thinned, the ones in the back will be ripped apart at planting time, and I hope to have at least a few survivors. I'm wondering if anything will kill the California poppies. They need to get planted somewhere, but I can't make up my mind where to put them!

April 20, 2011 - I Might Be Old, But.....

I know you've heard it. The elderly lady or gentleman declaring "I might be old, but I'm not stupid!"

Well, I'm here to say "I might be old, and I might be getting stupid!"

Case in point. Look at the following photo of the controls to a double oven. Look at the selector knobs. Go ahead, click on the picture to make it larger, then take a good look. Pay special attention to the position of the bake and broil settings on each knob. See how the settings are completely opposite of each other?

They're my double ovens. I've been baking in them for twenty-two (22) years. So why, when using both ovens today, did I bake one pan of cinnamon rolls for 20 minutes in the bottom oven, and broil the other pan of cinnamon rolls for 20 minutes in the top oven? Why? Because "I'm old, and I'm getting stupid!"

At least I'm not stupid enough to let the burnt rolls go completely to waste. I cut off the tops, then flipped them over and frosted the bottoms. We devoured them with our dinner!

Luckily, the burnt buns (back) were the last ones made, and there were only five of them in that pan. The other two pans of a dozen properly baked cinnamon rolls turned out perfectly fine.

We had a garden dinner tonight. I picked the first of the lovely young greens for a big salad, and cooked barbecued chicken wings, using home made barbecue sauce from last year's garden. We had three varieties of lettuce in the salad, Red Sails, Summercrisp and Yugoslavian Red Butterhead, and baby Tyee spinach leaves.

The salad was tossed with a simple vinaigrette. It was good. No, it was great.

April 20, 2011 - Soon.....

Soon it will be tomato planting time. It's hard to imagine, since our nights are still freezing and we're lucky if our daytime temperatures hit 60F. It's been such a cold spring, with temperatures running 10-15 degrees below normal. Here in our section of Eastern Washington we should be getting temperatures in the 40s at night and the 70s in the daytime. It's not happening!

Most years I can get by planting my tomatoes during the last week of April, with some protection against unexpected freezes. This year I'm hoping to get them planted around the second week of May, but just in case the weather man and Mother Nature decide to finally bring on the warm, I'm getting everything ready for the biggest event of my gardening season.....tomato planting time!

As you know, I've already prepped the "tomato fortress". That's where the Brandywines will be planted, as they grow so huge. I can't be that aggressive with large structures elswhere in the yard and garden, as there isn't space for them, but I do have to make sure I have a really sturdy support for the heavy plants. I would really like to have some CRW cages (that's concrete reinforcement wire), but being the weak old woman that I am, I'd probably keel over if I ever tried to build them. Nah, that wouldn't happen, but I really do not have the strength in my hands that it takes to cut that heavy wire and form the cages. Instead, I must rely on the biggest (and cheapest) cone shaped cages I can find. Two years ago I got some really heavy duty ones from Wal-Mart for under $3 each. I wish I had bought about fifty of them! But I didn't, and when I purchased more of the same size last year, they weren't nearly as heavy duty. The wire was thinner than what was used the previous year, and some of the welds have already broken.

But I digress. On to tomato planting preparation.

Yesterday I looked over the west garden. Yes, I have an east garden, north garden, west garden, shed garden and patio garden. That's what happens in small yards like mine, you garden wherever you can find a spot. It keeps me running in circles to tend them all! Anyway, I decided the west garden could hold four tomato plants this year. As usual, the bottomless buckets will be used here, so I can take advantage of the surrounding soil for planting other things. I had already put the new rhubarb in this bed, and it probably won't achieve enough growth this year to need more space than I've allowed, so four Cherokee Purple tomato plants will be its companions. As usual, before setting the buckets, I amended the soil with a couple of inches of composted cow (not steer) manure. The buckets were set and the supports were installed. The stakes were screwed into the neighbor's fence (I didn't ask him, but I have to look at that ugly thing, so the least he can do is allow me to use it as a tomato stake anchor).

I moved on to the patio garden, and set two buckets on the east side, installed 8' long stakes, and screwed them into the patio eaves. The cherry tomatoes will go here, and I'll just try to keep them tied to the stakes rather than double decker two cages.

I then filled all the buckets with a mixture of half top soil and half compost, both of which I had to buy as I'm completely out now. I pulverized the last of my saved egg shells in the food processor with a few aspirin tablets, a handful of old calcium tablets, a cup of corn meal and two cups of alfalfa pellets, and divided among the six buckets (two others by the patio). Now, with the tomato fortress, I have prepped 9 buckets for planting. One more bucket will be set at the west corner of the patio today, and I'm contemplating a third one for the east side of the patio. That spot is a bit iffy, as the nearby dryer vent might provide too much heat. I'll have to think about it.

If I use that third bucket on the east side, that brings the total to 11 places for the tomato plants. Today, if it doesn't rain on me, I'll prep the remaining planting spots, which will all be in-ground rather than in-bucket. I think I can crowd five plants into the east garden, and two plants next to the shed, for a total of 18 plants. That's five more than I had originally planned for this year, but didn't you all know I'd never make do with only 13 tomato plants? I have 20 plants growing, and I'm going to (gasp) buy (gasp) one from the nursery. All but one of the dozen Sungold seeds I planted failed to germinate, and that one is less than an inch tall, compared to most of the others that are 8-12" high. I haven't much hope for the wee thing. When I bought the rhubarb plant, I checked to see if they had Sungold. They didn't, but they had Sun Sugar, which is similar. I'm going back for one.

Speaking of the nursery, which is less than a mile from here, I might be buying all of my tomato plants in the future. Not only do they have lovely specimens, and a huge selection of heirlooms, they are priced at $1.49 a four pack. I don't think I can grow them from seed for that price, considering the cost of the planting medium, the electricity to keep them warm and under lights, and the personal time spent on them.

But, back to what got accomplished yesterday. After I got all those tomato buckets prepped and secured, I moved two pots into the west garden and filled them with California Poppies and blue lobelia. Then I moved eight strawberry plants from next to the patio, and planted them for a ground cover. Lastly, since that west fence has a dog on the other side that Otto just absolutely hates, I constructed a short fence to keep him out of the bed. When Otto met up with the little fence, he actually sat there and cried! He has now been banned from nearly every garden area in the back yard.

The west garden doesn't look like much yet. I'm thinking I'll move those white pots and add some taller flowers to help hide the ugly buckets. I'm also thinking I need to unscrew the stakes from the fence and add a second cage to each bucket, because the Cherokee purples got so tall they blew over last year and broke where they flopped over the edge of the cage.

OK, Mr. Weatherman and Mother Nature, I'm ready for that warm!

April 19, 2011 - The Tomato Fortress

Several people have asked me for more information about the structure I use for my indeterminate tomato plants that are in the raised garden bed. So, here ya go!

Click on photo to enlarge.

The dark green "bars" are 6' metal T-posts (fence posts, heavy duty). They are crossed because there are the remains of a maple tree underneath the bed and we couldn't pound them straight down. We ended up crossing them, then drilling holes through the Ts at the bottoms and screwing them into the boards that form the beds. We wired them together where they cross. We erred in that the bed is just a bit longer than 8', so the horizontal 8-foot 1"x2" doesn't quite span it. It was supposed to seat in the Xs. We had to drill holes in the board and just attach it with zip ties. Last year we wired everything together, but I dismantle it in the spring to empty the buckets, and I felt snipping the cable ties would be much easier than removing all that wire.

1. The entire bed was given a few inches of compost, which was scratched into the top six inches or so. Remember, the buckets are bottomless and the roots of the tomatoes will go right on down into this soil. Also, there will be crops planted all around the base of the buckets, which is the object of using them.

2. Set the nearly bottomless buckets into place. I use 3 or 4 buckets in this 8' long bed. Last year I felt four were a bit crowded, so this year I'm only doing three. I have done as many as seven, but never again! See: why I use bottomless buckets.

3. I use heavy duty cone-type tomato cages. I try to poke the prongs down into the ground until the bottom ring sets on top of the rim of the bucket, but sometimes they're stopped by those pesky tree roots. I have holes drilled in the nearly bottomless buckets for the prongs, so I don't add the soil to them until the cages have been installed. If you're going to just push the prongs through the large hole in the bottom, you should go ahead and fill the buckets first.

4. Add your planting medium. I use a mixture of half garden soil and half composted manure. I mix in some perlite, probably 1-2 quarts of it for a wheelbarrow full of soil mix. Then I add to the wheelbarrow, and this is just my personal preference, a pint or more of egg shells that have been pulverized to a course powder in the food processor, aspirin tablets equal to two per tomato bucket and some old calcium tablets (10-12) that have passed their use-by date, all of which have been pulverized with the egg shells. I also add a half cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer, a slow release mostly organic variety (contains chicken poo and a bunch of minerals). This year I even mixed in a packet of powdered milk. Don't ask me why, it just seemed like a good idea. A cupful of corn meal (regular kind you cook with is fine, NOT corn gluten) and a couple of cups of alfalfa pellets also get mixed in. That just about covers everything! That is the concoction I used last year, and the plants grew huge and heavy with fruit.

I only fill my buckets about half full, then add extra soil mix as the plant grows. The bucket provides a good environment for the young plants, sheltering them from wind and keeping them warm.

5. Add a second tomato cage, inverted, to the top of the lower cage, and wire or zip tie them together. I actually used wire fence clips and attached mine permanently with about 8 crimped clips per set of cages.

6. When your double decker cages are all secured, run the horizontal bar (8-foot 1"x2") from one side to the other. Wire or zip tie it to the posts at the ends and in the center.

7. Pound the 8' long stakes down the middle of each bucket (you'll need a ladder and a helper). Check them for plumb and attach them to the horizontal cross bar with screws.

8. Gather the prongs of the top cage together and secure them with a zip tie, tepee style. Don't fall off the ladder!

9. Secure the cages to the X-fence posts with zip ties, pull them all good and tight so the cages don't move.

10. Using heavy garden twine or cotton clothesline, tie it horizontally about every 8-10 inches up each side. The tomato branches can be tucked in to keep them under control. This is similar to the Florida Weave, only it's done before the plants are in the ground.

11. When it's warm enough, plant your tomato deep. Add soil to the bucket as the plant grows. I keep removing the bottom leaves until I have about a foot of bare stem showing above the bucket, then I do no more pruning.

So there you have it, Granny's tomato fortress!

4/27/10 Tomato plant nestled down in the bucket for protection from the elements.

5/25/10 Lower leaves and stems removed.

6/3/10 They've grown past the horizontal support.

6/24/10 They're past the tops of the T-posts.

7/6/10 Heading for the tops of the 8' stakes.

7/31/10 Over the top!

8/2/10 Still growing.

They gave me tomatoes, too!

April 18, 2011 - A New Addition to the Family

We decided we needed a rhubarb plant. I haven't had one since we moved from our previous house, nearly 22 years ago. I'd like you to meet......

Crimson Cherry

It's supposed to be a very hardy variety, with stalks that are red all the way through.

Not much got done in the garden today. I had a sick dog last night, so my bedroom carpet got shampooed this morning. Otto has such a weak stomach, he cannot stand it if I change the food I give him. He usually has chicken, green beans and a bit of dry kibble. Yesterday I had some sirloin steak trimmings from a pot of home made soup, so I gave him that with a few mixed veggies instead. I don't know how I managed to sleep through all the puking that was going on in the bedroom, but it was a rude awakening when I climbed out of bed!

I did get a half dozen bottomless tomato buckets set up this afternoon. I ended up with four in the garden above, where I had planned on three. Since I decided this would be the best spot for the rhubarb, I had to even things out with two buckets on each side. I don't expect the end tomato plant on the right to do much though, other than hide the neighbor's ugly fence. I hope if that fence falls down, it doesn't land on my rhubarb!

See, I'm already finding spots for more tomatoes. I think I'm up to 16 possibilities now!

This is the "tomato fortress" I finished yesterday. The 8' support poles were screwed into the crossbar to hold them upright.

Everything was screwed down, zipped up, clamped and/or tied off. It's so sturdy, I can grab those cages with both hands and shake them, and they won't budge a bit!