March 31, 2011 - The March Garden

Seedlings, sitting in the sun, protected from the wind.

The morning glories are already so tall, I hope I can keep them under control for another four weeks! Zinnias are in the foreground.

Ten of the tomatoes had to be potted into larger containers. They are the two varieties of Brandywines (pink and yellow), the Bloody Butchers and the Cherokee Purples.

The peppers are looking fine!!! That's dill in the foreground.

Note to self: do not leave empty tomato buckets sitting in the garden bed. Wind has a way of knocking them over onto your lettuce plants! And just look at my turnip seed mats! In three years of using the homemade seed mats, this is the first time the wind has blown so hard it blew the soil right off the mats, then blew the mats away. The spinach mats are still intact, but more soil is needed to cover them now.

Look closely. You may have to click the photo to make it larger, but it looks like all of the shallots have emerged. I still have more of them in the kitchen, I guess I should find a spot to plant them. That's a cabbage transplant in the front, one of eight in this bed, interplanted with lettuce.

The radishes are growing!

Shasta Daisies, Hollyhocks, Sweet William and lilies are all looking pretty good, growing along the fence line. Next month they will be joined by zinnias. I'm not sure if I'll put the morning glories at the ladder again this year or not.

Raspberry canes are leafing out.

The seed propagation area has been moved out of the bathroom and back to the plant window. It was pretty easy to twist tie the rope lights to the wire shelves, and here it's warm enough in the daytime to unplug them.

I'm still making my soil blocks one by one, using the block maker that John Best sent me a couple of years ago. The spinach was planted last night, the chard was planted this morning.

I have six varieties of basil growing here. What on earth am I going to do with six varieties, let alone at least six of each of those six varieties? Only one 4-pack of marigolds though, and I need many more than that.

I've lost one of my dogs. I wonder where Otto could be.

March 31, 2011 - Which Came First......

The chicken or the egg?

In Granny's case, it was the egg. Mr. Granny is holding firm on "NO! We will not have chickens in our back yard!" I've told him the horror stories of the poor antibiotic filled hens that are mass producing the eggs he's been eating. I've tried to tell him how good the eggs would taste when laid by happy, free running hens, that were eating bugs and worms. I've touted how much more nutritious the eggs from free range hens are, in comparison to those from caged chickens. I begged for just three chickens. I was preaching to deaf ears.

So what was I to do? I'll tell you......I got me an "Egg Lady"!

I decided to check Craig's List for eggs from free range chickens. The very first one found sold eggs for $2.50 per dozen, and if I bought three dozen at once, she would include a dozen banty eggs for free. And they were delivered to the door! Well, I emailed her right away, and ordered three dozen eggs. The next day, the lady from Eggstravagant Eggs of Benton City, WA was at my front door with......

My lady came in with the big basket full of eggs, and with an extra half dozen "Because I'm late"! Aren't they gorgeous? The little blue Bantam egg is almost too pretty to eat, and the basket was included.

I guess it was just meant to be. It turns out her parents live right around the corner from us, Mr. Granny knows her father, and her brother used to work for us! I'm just happy to have found an affordable source for farm fresh eggs, two of which Mr. Granny is consuming right now.

March 30, 2011 - Lucky Me!

Maybe I should buy a lottery ticket. Not only did I win that great book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, from Rowangarth Farm when Fiona had a drawing for Valentine's Day, but I also won The Urban Homestead from Jimmy Cracked Corn's giveaway celebrating Urban Homesteaders Day of Action! Thank you, Jimmy Cracked Corn!

The Urban Homestead
Your Guide to Self-sufficient Living in the Heart of the City
by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

Three of my five gardening books have been won in giveaways by fellow garden bloggers, and all within the past year. At this rate, someday I'll have my very own gardening library!

March 29, 2011 - Garden Progress

The two year old granddaughter came Friday. She had been sick with a tummy ailment all week, but her mother assured me she was over it. Evidently not, as I woke up sick Sunday morning, feeling bad enough to spend the next 24 hours in bed. I woke up Monday morning feeling just fine, so I was happy the bug was only a 24-hour one.

I missed a couple of lovely days to work in the garden though. Both Sunday and Monday were warm and sunny, but I didn't want to push myself after being sick, so I stayed inside, doing little except for potting up a few of the tomato seedlings into larger containers, planting a few more six packs of flowers and herbs, and making a bunch of carrot seed mats.

Today was supposed to be warm, but it's cloudy and windy. I did get out to plant some of the cabbage and broccoli seedlings. John never did show up to till the east garden, so I did a couple more beds with shovel, rake and claw cultivator. That's five of the six new beds ready for a layer of compost and a final digging and leveling. The beds are all 3-feet wide except for one, which is four feet wide and will hold the determinate tomatoes. Two beds are 7-feet long, the other four will all be 8' long. The square footage of planting space is about identical to what I had in the raised beds but, I think, situated for better light and air flow. There is actually room for another small bed at one end, which will possibly just be a hill of squash. It's in the spot where the lilac suckers abound. They have become so invasive, I'm tempted to remove the lilac tree.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Only one mound left to level in the east garden.

The lettuce and spinach seedlings planted last week have actually shown some growth.

Eight cabbages and five broccoli plants were set in today. The Romaine lettuce and shallots, planted last week, are growing. The garlic has yet to show. It was purchased from the grocery store, so if it doesn't grow I'll replace it with green onions.

I feel like I'm being watched.....

March 25, 2011 - Breakfast in Bed

And we wonder why Annie has a weight problem!

March 24, 2011 - The Kennel Garden

I know somebody is going to ask "What is a kennel garden?"

The Kennel Garden

I've told the story of the kennel garden before, but for those who may not have heard about it, here I go once more. Annie and Otto are our two dachshunds. We bought them as ten week old puppies on April 5, 2008, and proceeded from there to make a puppy safe area in our back yard.

Our neighbor's fence, hidden from view by a row of tall arborvitae and our garden shed, was falling down. There were too many open spots where curious little pups could escape and be in danger. We felt the best solution was to enclose half our patio with wire fencing to make a play area, and buy a very large chain link kennel that would sit on the lawn next to the patio. We attached the two structures so the pups could easily go from patio to kennel. To make a long story short, those pups would not go in that kennel. It was as though unseen monsters lurked in that structure, and just the thought of going in there sent them into shivering fits. So I donned a long sleeved jacket, with jeans tucked into the tops of socks, and put a shower cap on my head. Armed with the staple gun and a roll of poultry wire, I crawled into that narrow, dirty area between fence and arborvitae, and stapled the chicken wire to the neighbor's rickety fence. It was a nasty job, but somebody had to do it.

With the fence puppy-proofed, the "kids" had free reign of the back yard, but the kennel was a pain in the backside to mow in and around, as well as being a useless structure, so I decided to move it to the back corner of the yard and incorporate it into the vegetable garden. I removed one side of the chain link to open it to the east garden, and part of another side to open it to the north garden, leaving the rest to use as trellising for climbing plants. The gate can be closed to keep the pups out of the gardens (the north and east gardens are fenced), but to allow me easy access.

The kennel garden 2010, waiting for the morning glories to bloom.

Fast forward to today: I haven't been showing you what a mess the garden was when we returned from Arizona last month. When we left, the morning glories were either still blooming or just ready to bloom, so I left them. You can imagine what a tangled dead mess we had! The neighbor's trees don't drop their leaves until after we leave in the fall, so there's that mess, as well as a few branches from their walnut tree, to clean up. Last week I pulled down most of the dead vines, and today I finished it off and cleaned up all the mess.

It's actually not looking as bad in this photo. I'd already been pulling down vines and raking up debris by the time I thought to go for the camera. Notice the post that is loose and leaning. Evidently the wind and the weight of the morning glory vines were too much for the bracket, and it popped it right off.

Here it is, all cleaned up, and the post repaired.

Next job will be to tackle the east garden, where I tore out the raised beds. All of those mounds of soil have to be flattened out and formed into probably four or five new beds, like the three way back at the other end. These beds will all be 8' long and range from 2' to 4' wide. My pathway will be on the left, bordered by the remaining boards and the neighbor's chain link fence. I sure wish I could find someone to fire up the old rototiller.

March 24, 2011 - My Bucket's Got a Hole In It!

Due to popular demand, I give you The Bottomless Tomato Buckets:

As I explained earlier, I use the five gallon sized BOTTOMLESS buckets for my tomatoes, simply to raise them up off the ground. That way I can plant crops (like lettuce, spinach, carrots, bush beans, etc) in the same bed, and they're not smothered by tomato foliage. In other areas of the yard, I use them to raise the tomato plants high enough that they aren't hit by the lawn sprinklers. I do fill the buckets with fresh compost rich soil and several amendments before planting my home grown plants. The buckets also make the plants really easy to hand water with the hose. I do build a trellising system for them, as the buckets alone would topple from the weight of the mature plants.

You'll need:

five gallon bucket
6" plate or bowl, or a steady hand, for drawing a circle
Sharpie pen
jigsaw (coping saw or keyhole saw would work)
2 heavy duty cone type tomato cages (no wimpy ones, please)
1"x2" stakes 8' long for indeterminate tomatoes

Turn your bucket bottom side up. Draw a circle, about 6" in diameter, on the bottom of the bucket, leaving about a 2" rim around the edge.

Using a good sized drill bit, drill a couple of holes side by side on the circle, so they make one oblong hole large enough to insert the blade of the jigsaw.

Insert the jigsaw blade and cut out the circle.

Turn the bucket upright, and insert the legs of your tomato cage into it. Mark where the legs touch what is left of the bottom. You might have to bend the legs out a bit to fit snugly on the bottom rim. Mark where they touch. Remove the cage and drill holes where you've marked. I also drill small drainage holes all around the rim.

Set the bucket in its permanent place in the garden, and insert the legs of your first tomato cage into the holes you drilled. Push the cage firmly into the ground, preferably until the bottom ring of the cage rests on the top of the bucket.

Fill the bucket just over a quarter of the way with a mixture of soil and compost. Dig in whatever amendments you want to use for good tomato growth. I dig in a mixture of egg shells, a couple of aspirin (because I read it somewhere), and some old calcium tablets and multi-vitamins/minerals that are past their use by date (can't hurt!). I pulverize everything together in a coffee grinder and sprinkle the powder into the planting hole. I also dig in a bit of fertilizer. I buy whatever I can find at Lowe's or Ace Hardware, and I'm not too picky about it, but try to keep it at least semi-organic. Last year it was some stinky Lily Miller stuff that was mostly chicken manure. Then I add more soil/compost mixture to the bucket, filling it up about 1/2 way. I leave mine at a level where my seedling, when planted, is just below the top of the bucket. The bucket protects the (already hardened off) seedling from wind damage, which is a problem where I live. As the plant grows, I remove the bottom leaves and add soil to the bucket, which gives the plant a really sturdy root system. I end up with about a 2" space at the top of the bucket for watering.

After you plant the tomato seedling, drive the stake in next to it.

At this time, I place another heavy duty cone shaped cage upside down on top of the bottom cage, and wire them together. I forgot to add the second cage to some of mine last year. I had the stakes all screwed to the eaves when I discovered my error, and instead of taking them back down, I ended up pruning and tying those tomato plants. Lash the ends (legs) of the top cages to the stakes, tepee style.

Secure the stakes to something rigid! The setup I have in my garden is not the best. I didn't want to have those steel posts in an X shape, but this bed is sitting over the spot where our maple tree was removed, and we couldn't pound the posts straight down due to big roots underneath. They had to go in at an angle, then be attached to the bed. The 8-foot 1"x2" crossbar was wired to the posts, then the stakes were screwed into it.

Now go ahead and plant on each side of those buckets!

Here I have mature lettuce, with newly seeded carrots (under the board) replacing the earlier harvested lettuce. The other side of the buckets is planted with bush beans. The boards over the carrots keep them moist until they germinate. They MUST be checked daily, and removed as soon as you see some green carrot tops emerging.

March 23, 2011 - See What I Won!

Fiona, at Rowangarth Farm, Had a contest on Valentine's Day, and I won!

I received the book, the seeds and a lovely handmade book marker in the mail today. Thank you, Fiona. I'll be sure to plant carrots with my tomatoes this year!

I had another full day out in the garden today. I dug out all my strawberries. That bed was so matted with plants....last year, their second year, should have been their best year. Instead, they got so many runners I couldn't keep up with them, and the berry production largely went to slugs. I separated out a few young starts, and replanted the bed. I didn't put many plants back in, just a dozen, leaving room for new runners to fill in. I'm changing my strategy on that bed, planting two rows, let three rows fill in with runners, then dig out the original two rows next year and let the 3 rows run. The following year I'll dig out those three rows and let the remaining ones run, effectively renewing the bed each year. I just have to remember which rows are the older ones! These are day neutral everbearing, so the new plants are quite productive. I hope.

I finished hoeing out grass and weeds from the north garden, then raked it all clean. Annie and Otto both got into the newly planted strawberry bed, so I decided it was time to install the 50' of plastic fencing I bought this week. I stretched it tight to the posts, and Mr. Granny used cable ties to hold it in place. It looks good, it's virtually invisible. Now the only way to get in the north garden is to either go through the shed or through the kennel gate. Or so I thought. I looked out just a few minutes ago, and Annie was in the garden! I thought maybe she'd got in there when I had the gate open, so I opened the gate and called her to come out. Instead of going through the gate, she just pushed her nose under the new plastic fencing and came out underneath it! Now I'm going to have to figure out something to pin the plastic fabric down to the ground.

Anyway, the north garden is all cleaned up and ready for spring planting, with the exception of the pole bean bed. It still needs some compost, then it will be ready, too. Tomorrow I'll work on sprucing up the kennel garden.

Tomato Buckets

I've had several people ask why I use those five-gallon buckets in my garden.

I use the five gallon sized BOTTOMLESS buckets for my tomatoes, simply to raise them up off the ground. That way I can plant crops (like lettuce, spinach, carrots, bush beans, etc)in the same bed, and they're not smothered by tomato foliage. In other areas of the yard, I use them to raise the tomato plants high enough that they aren't hit by the lawn sprinklers. I do fill the buckets with fresh compost rich soil and several amendments before planting my home grown plants. The buckets also make the plants really easy to hand water with the hose. I do build a trellising system for them, as the buckets alone would topple from the weight of the mature plants.

From my blog of July 1, 2010:

So many people ask why I plant my tomatoes in buckets. This is one reason why. There are four indeterminate tomato plants, in buckets, behind this row of green beans. On the other side of the tomato buckets are two rows of mature lettuce. The bed is only 8-feet long and 4-feet wide. If the tomatoes were planted directly in the ground, there would be no room for all these beans and lettuce plants, as the tomatoes would be crowding them out. I'm picking nearly 2 pounds of beans from this bed every other day. That makes using buckets for the tomatoes very worthwhile!

Photos from my blog of August 4, 2010, showing how other plants can survive underneath the bucket planted tomatoes.

Flowers blooming in front of the buckets. There are lawn sprinklers here, but the buckets keep the tomato foliage from being sprayed, while the plants still get watered.

Notice how the plants are staked right through the middle of the buckets, and the tops of the stakes are screwed right into the eaves of the building. Even though the tap roots go down into the soil below these bottomless buckets, they are still easily toppled by their sheer weight or a strong gust of wind. They must be safely secured to something.

March 22, 2011 - A Full Day in the Garden

Finally, a full day outside. It only rained on me once, so I got quite a bit done.

First of all, I got all the boxes painted and the paths around them weeded and raked up to, but not including, the strawberry bed. The 4' x 8' strawberry bed and the 2' x 8' pole bean bed (not shown) are all that are left to do in the north garden.

I attached the plastic fencing fabric to the hoops on the 3' x 4' lettuce bed, to keep the birds out. The front and back are just held in place with clothes pins, for easy removal, but the rest of it is permanent. I ran out of room after putting 28 lettuce plants in this bed, so I dug an area next to it for seven spinach plants.

Six more lettuce plants found a home under the garden ladder.

The lilies, next to the garden ladder, are up. They got a bit of composted cow poo, as well as some wire frames to hold them upright as they grow.

The new split level bed was planted with Romaine lettuce, shallots and garlic. Before planting, I used an 18" basket to mark where the broccoli (5) will be planted (bottom bed) and a 16" bucket to mark where the cabbages (8) will go (upper bed). Then I planted the garlic and shallots in the areas that weren't covered by the circles. The Romaine lettuce (6) went between the circles, and will be eaten before the cabbages need the room.

I still had 8 lettuce transplants left, so they went between the tomato buckets in the bed where the turnips, spinach and radishes were planted earlier.

My last outdoor job was to haul a couple of wheelbarrows of composted cow poo to the raspberry bed. The canes are beginning to show quite a bit of new green, so it won't be long before they are nice and bushy.

When I planted the tomato and pepper seeds, I only filled the little cups half full of potting mix. They have now grown tall enough to finish filling the cups with more mix. You can see in this photo where the "old" soil level was, and how much dry mix was added.

I'm so proud of me. These are all of the tomatoes and peppers I started this year, and those four cups on the right are dill!

Now I have to eat dinner, which thankfully is simmering away in the crockpot. I got so busy today, I forgot to eat. No wonder I got so much done, I'm running on a tank full of caffeine! After dinner, I'll give the tomatoes and peppers a good drink of weak chamomile tea, then put all the plants to bed under the lights for the night. Then I think I'll be putting myself to bed.....early!

March 21, 2011 - That's Better!

Yesterday. Yucky paint color.

Today. Much better!

March 20, 2011 - The Great Paint Fiasco

My daughter came by just as I was heading out to buy some paint for the garden boxes. I had several paint samples in hand, the rustic brown that was their original color, and some lighter beige colors that I thought might be a better choice. The boxes retaining so much heat has been one of my problems with them, and the dark color doesn't help. A lighter color would reflect heat, rather than absorb it. We finally picked a color that was one of several in the brick on the front of our house, thinking I might just change our trim from that dark rust-brown in the near future. Amy picked the one she felt went best with the almond colored house siding.

We went to Wal-Mart for the paint, and had to hunt someone to mix it up. I told the man I wanted Glidden Exterior Satin, gave him the color card, then did the rest of my shopping while waiting for the paint. When I went to pay for it, it rang up at $29.99! I just about keeled over....thirty bucks plus tax to paint garden boxes? I questioned the amount, and the checker noticed I had paint with PRIMER! I hadn't asked for the dual purpose paint, the boxes are already painted, so they only need primer in a few places where they've weathered badly. I have a whole gallon of primer in the garage, I don't need more! It turns out that ALL of the exterior paint in this store has the primer in it! I went to the service counter, and returned it, although I told the girl I'd take it if she discounted it. After all, they will eventually have to discount it anyway. Well, she wouldn't even listen, just gave me back the purchase price. we we went, across the street, to Lowes. They had Valspar exterior satin for $19.99. I wandered over to the garden department and parted with $21.11 for a big bag of vermiculite, then went back for the paint. Instead of the one I had told him I wanted (15-year warranty), he had mixed up a more expensive (lifetime warranty) version of the same brand. I had just returned a $30 can with primer, now I had a $30 can with no primer! I said, no way. I had the print out of the variety I wanted right there on the counter, and that was the one I had shown him. They ended up selling it to me for the $19.99 price, so I took it.

After all that.......

I don't like it at all. I'll use it to paint the walls in my shed or something. It looks kind of pink, or flesh colored. It just looks yucky. Tomorrow I'll go back and buy a can of that old rusty-brown.

March 20, 2011 - Getting in Shape For Spring Planting

Yes, I'm getting in shape for spring planting. Mr. Granny and I are eating lighter and healthier meals, and I'm trying to remember to do a few stretching exercises before heading out to work in the garden.

We finally got a warm, sunny day yesterday, which was perfect for a full day of garden cleanup and preparation. Since my young son didn't show up to help (two days in a row), as he'd promised, I tackled the hauling of soil from one side of the yard all the way to the other side, and managed to get the lettuce bed in place and filled. I am actually moving today, so I guess the stretching exercises help somewhat.

I decided the PVC pipes that form the hoops over the bed needed to be moved just a bit, so that the clamps spanned the two corner boards, which would do double duty in reinforcing the corners. As I removed the screws that were holding the clamps, which were holding the arced PVC, there was no way I wanted to be outdone by The Idiot Gardener. Therefore, I let my grip on the PVC loosen slightly, which caused said PVC to unbend itself and whack me right in the nose. No permanent damage was done, so once the pain subsided I got the first PVC end firmly clamped and screwed back in place. I moved on to the second one and, being a slow learner, got hit in the nose once more. I did, however, manage not to repeat it with the remaining two ends, and thanked the heavens above that the metal clamps had flown off before the PVC hit me in the face. It could have been worse!

There was a small amount of compost in the bottom of the compost barrel, so I layered that onto the new lettuce bed, then I found about a half cup of chicken poop, left over from last year, and scattered that over the top. I added a few shovels of the composted dairy manure from the pile nearby, and worked everything into the bed. Then I scattered on a few handfuls of alfalfa pellets and worked them into the top couple of inches, and raked everything smooth. This morning it's raining, so everything should settle nicely. All there is left to do is put the plastic netting on to protect it from the birds, then plant the seedlings.

Fast forward to this morning:

Young son found out we aren't dieting on Sundays, so he showed up for a brunch of sausages, hash browns, eggs and toasted home made bread. I made him pay. He finished filling the 4' x 8' box with soil from the east garden, then topped it off with dairy compost. We had some repairs to do to the boxes, removing the old screws and replacing them with new longer ones. There weren't enough good boards, of the right size, to make the entire bed 12" deep, so I'm doing a split level. The back 4' x 4' is a foot deep, the front 4' x 4' is six inches deep. It keeps things interesting.

The two new beds are filled and nearly ready for planting. Otto was already using the lower part of the split bed as his own personal napping spot, so I had to find some small wire fencing to keep him out. I'm hoping he won't get into the upper bed, as I really don't want to have to buy more fencing. Once the composted manure pile has been used up on the remaining beds, that spot will likely hold some type of summer (bush) squash. I haven't yet decided if I'll try morning glories on the ladder again this year. I might just use it for pole beans.

Eventually the small bed behind the shed (with the hoops) will hold the first lettuce seedlings, and they will be replaced with new plants as we use them up. It gets sun for much of the day, but is shaded from the hot afternoon sun, so I'm hoping I won't have to provide additional shade to keep the lettuce producing through the summer months. The split bed will be for cabbages, broccoli and spring planted garlic and shallots.

Most of the north garden is cleaned up and ready for planting. Only the strawberry and pole bean beds have yet to be cleaned up. I was going to remove these fence posts, but with Otto wanting to sleep on the beds, maybe I'll just buy a roll of plastic mesh fencing and string it across the back. I wouldn't even have to worry about a gate, as I can gain access to the garden from the back door of the shed. I'm not going to let the sparrows nest in the bird houses this year, they're so destructive in the garden. Until I can get something glued to the inside to plug the hole, a fat stick will have to do.

I need a bigger table for sunning the seedlings. The lettuce will have to be planted soon.

The broccoli and cabbages are getting their first true leaves. They are destined to be leggy plants, I guess. I keep them about an inch below the lights when they aren't outside in the sunshine, and grow them in a cool environment. I've never grown a stocky brassica, but they don't seem to mind having their lanky stems buried a bit at planting time.

Tomatoes and peppers are up. All of the peppers germinated, as well as most of the tomatoes. I guess I'm destined to never enjoy the flavor of a Sungold. Last year they didn't grow true, and new seeds this year just will not germinate for me. I'll be putting my final few seeds into wet coffee filters, in a plastic bag, to see if I can get any of them to sprout.

I'm on my way to the store now, to buy a can of exterior paint. I'll try to get all of the garden boxes and the raspberry posts painted in between rain showers. We're supposed to have a couple of days in the 60s this week, so it should be good painting weather.