Thursday, July 22, 2010


Work in progress, still. The plants from the more closed-up wall-water are in the foreground.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Well, it could have been worse

We came home earlier than planned by about half a day, which may have saved us. Nonetheless, the dinner menu will be featuring zucchini tonight.

Friday, July 16, 2010

It figures

The zucchini knows.  That's all I can guess.  We're going out of town for the weekend, so it has to start fruiting in a large and sinister way.  I picked everything that was in the edible-size range (see picture below).  But I know when I get back on Sunday afternoon, the baseball bats will be waiting.

Got a small handful of haricot-vert sized beans from the purple bush beans.  That's my goal with them this year - pick very small beans for freezing and eat them on formal occasions.  Even if legumes are a bit dicey from the antinutrient standpoint (lectins and things), if the seeds are small, I'm hoping (no documentation to back it up) that they'll be less anti.  Regardless, we have a LOT of frozen beans from last year and the year before - all edible thanks to vacuum technology - so I need this year's lot to be different, or growing them at all is pointless.

Something is devouring the brussels sprout leaves.  They're starting to look like eyelet fabric.  I don't know what it is - couldn't see any obvious culprits - and I don't want to use insecticides on food, so they may end up feeding someone other than my family.

The late-planted tomatoes are producing more fruit.  They seem somehow grateful to be in a permanent home.  Wish I'd grabbed more of them; homemade tomato sauce is good stuff, and I have open space this year.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Shouldn't we be eating some of this by now?

We seem to be in sort of a food hiatus as far as my plants are concerned.  I've got a couple more strawberries before the wildlife did (shocking, really!), the raspberry canes are settling in nicely (and spreading) and producing an occasional berry - I've yet to get any of those before the animal kingdom.  Asparagus seems happy and the stalks keep getting thicker; I should probably start adding dirt back to the not-really-a-trench situation in which they're growing.  We have had 4 cucumbers and there is a visible eggplant fruit, and the zucchini keeps producing small fruits that aren't turning into giants overnight - they haven't reached pickable size yet, strange as that seems.  Everything else is sort of a work-in-progress; things look promising, but we aren't able to eat just yet.

We're setting up for an interesting battle next year in one of the asparagus squares.  The raspberries are starting to send up shoots there - which was okay until a couple of days ago, as that was the square where I had one asparagus shoot that got about 1" tall, then dried up and died.  For weeks, nothing.  Now that the raspberries want to move in, two reasonably thick shoots suddenly appear.  I'll let them work it out; that's how it works in nature, right?  And if my perennial box becomes an unregulated wilderness of mixed berries and asparagus, no rhyme or reason to it, I can live with that as long as harvesting doesn't become a jungle adventure or require elbow-length leather gauntlets.  But I have to say, I never read anything about asparagus being quite this weird.  They should put a warning on the package: "Unpredictable behavior - don't give up too soon!"  Maybe that's why they make you wait a couple of years before expecting to eat anything.

Once we pulled the shell peas out, I got some mature-er vegetable seedlings from the local garden center (free, too, if you can believe it; they were doomed to be thrown out two days after we got them!) - mostly tomatoes, with romas and one yellow tomato; and an ancho pepper plant for my daughter who wants it for salsa-making.  They're all lined up between the pea vine support wires - probably not the perfect tomato cage substitute, but I'm hopeful that it'll work.  They also have red mulch to encourage them.  I'm seeing new tomato flowers, so there's hope.

For reasons that they understand and are not telling me, the canteloupes are actually climbing the cages I put them in this year.  I think that's a good sign; they're vigorous, at least.  And some of the wilting flowers are at the end of marble-sized spheres; we could get melons from them.

The original tomatoes are now nearly taller than I am - that is, three of the original four are.  The fourth, poor thing, the one that was stifled under the wall-o-water, is still only about three inches tall.  The barrel that originally had the more closed-up wall-o-water is home to taller plants with a lot more fruit; I sure hope I remember that next spring!

And we have grapes - reachable grapes growing down from the top of the trellis for the first time.  I think we'll have the advantage over the squirrels this year, even on the white Himrod grapes which they have consistently demolished.  I see jelly in my future, conveniently ignoring the fact that I have two gallon-sized ziploc bags of grape juice in my freezer from previous harvests - and a bunch of unopened jars of jelly.  Maybe I should try winemaking this year.

Recently, we've been working on non-food yard projects.  We have a patio going in in the front yard, requiring plants to move into a new bed (nothing like transplanting in the heat of July to give you a firm conviction that your thumb is brown - if ANYTHING survives that process, it will be a miracle!).  I cleaned out the roses, which were being overtaken by Canadian thistles and crabgrass, and gave them a top-dressing of mushroom compost.  We have pulled out a butterfly garden that was getting overgrown, and returned it to lawn.  It's been pretty busy, really.  And with all of the extra watering to get the sod going, the lawn looks as good this year as it ever has.  I think I will try to water the daylights out of my transplants, if I can find a way to get to them without relying on human memory (we're very fond of timers at my house).

Here's hoping that we start seeing some produce in volume (and variety!) soon!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Now what do I plant?

I think the shell peas are about done.  The snap peas are still going a bit, but the end is near there, too.  Score for this year?  5 meals' worth.  Which is absolutely fine.  And, since one of the meals has already been consumed, I can say with confidence that they are really good - so sweet that they could have been dessert.  There are a few small pods left on the vines, and I'll probably add them to the daughter's stash of peas to eat raw.  Pulling them out, once they're truly spent, is going to leave a big space - what on earth does one plant in July?

The lettuce bolted quite quickly in the end.  A couple of the plants - heads no more - were two feet high.  They are now composting, along with a bunch of tiny hostas that had seeded into the middle box.  Since I don't think anyone in my neighborhood even grows hostas, I'm still at a loss as to where they came from.  Gone now, though, and not particularly to be missed.

Something - I have my suspicions, ladies! - stomped on some of the onions overnight.  At least, I assume that's what happened; I can't really come up with any other explanation.  The stalks are bent/broken at sharp angles in one part of the bed.  The other ones are fine.  And someone tasted a peapod; one of the ones I picked had a bite out of it.  Now, maybe it's not Hell's Grannies, because the son of one of our neighbors used to use our garden as a shortcut quite regularly before the boxes went in.  I'm assuming he no longer uses it, but I know that boulders and tomato cages put in his path as midnight trip hazards did not dissuade him, so maybe he's having another go.  Probably not, though.  My money is on wildlife.

We have tomatoes!  The plants that were in the more-teepeed wall-o-water have started fruiting, and there are probably 10 or so tomatoes, all pale green, in sizes ranging from marble shooter to tennis ball.  The other wall-o-water - not so much yet.  Some flowers on the tall plant, and the tiny smashed plant is still tiny, so we would need a miracle for it to produce much of anything.  Anyway, lesson for next year confirmed.  Close up the tops on the wall-o-waters for bigger yield earlier.

The zucchini are acting a bit strange.  About 3 days ago, I noticed about 6 baby zucchini on the plant, and was hard pressed not to pick them just to keep the onslaught off for a couple more days.  But I didn't.  And last night, when I was poking around, I noticed that we - still! - have about 6 baby zucchini; nothing has grown.  Not that there's anything wrong with that...

The canteloupe look exceedingly happy right now.  I'm a little afraid to notice, because nothing ever seems to get them to produce actual food, but they do have a lot of compost this year, and that's in common with the last and only time I actually got edible melons off a canteloupe, so just maybe, we'll get something this year.

And the strawberries?  They are still trying valiantly to give me a taste.  A plant in the absolute middle of the netting has 2 berries that are starting to turn red.  At least, they were there last night.  Not holding my breath, I think. 

The asparagus continues to produce shoots, and each one is thicker than the last.  At the rate things are going, I think there may be hope for next spring.

All in all, things are going pretty well.  Now if I can just figure out what I could put in place of the peas, that we would eat or could freeze, that would still produce starting now.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Nature Red in Tooth and Claw"

Temporarily, at least.  You guessed it; the sweet wee bunnies or flitting songbirds or "Hell's Grannies" ate my two ripe strawberries out from under the netting. 

Fiends.  Why can't they develop a taste for zucchini?  Next year, the hardware-cloth fencing goes back up on that entire box.  That fruit is MINE, dammit!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Canine Peapod Addicts, and Other Updates

The peas are coming in. 

About every three days, I can go out and pick a basketful of nicely filled pods from the shell peas, and end up, after a nice relaxing session of shelling them, with about a half pound of peas to freeze.  We got more than one meal's worth this year already, which was my goal - and maybe my only goal, since shortly after planting them I convinced my family to start eating Paleo, which really is pretty anti-legume.  So the peas will be for special occasions - and worth every bite.  I don't care what Bird's-Eye does to them, they just can't produce frozen peas remotely as good as the ones I get out of the garden.

Anyway, I have a mild bone to pick with my daughter on the subject of peas.  She likes them too - but prefers snap peas that she can eat directly off the vine.  A few years back, that's nearly all I planted, and she ate her way through the harvest.  Which was fine - and the two squares of snap peas I planted this year are all for her. 

What I didn't realize at the time, though, was that she shared the peas with the dogs.  And that they are absolutely addicted to pea pods.  I know it now.  I sat down with my basket of peas to shell the other night and got started, only to find my lap - already full of containers for peas in various states - now had two canine heads resting on it.  Giving me puppy-eyes in the worst way.  And I could not make them go anywhere else until I was done and had dumped the empty pods in the compost bucket.  Oh, they had a few pods.  Not nearly as many as they thought they needed, but I couldn't not share.

I think the strawberry netting is working.  I'll know for sure tonight when I go out to see if the two nearly ripe berries I saw yesterday afternoon are still available.  But because I've netted the strawberries, something is eating the raspberries as they ripen (actually, they're either really good at timing things or don't care as much as I do about sweetness - they get them within hours after I think that they're "almost ripe").  Toads.  Well, not literally; it's probably squirrels or birds, or the flock of deer (I've refer to them as "Hell's Grannies") that have been spotted wandering the neighborhood this spring, casing the various garden plots.  In any event, the 3 raspberries produced to date have been reduced to some red debris clinging to the canes.

The butter lettuce has bolted, and the loose leaf lettuce is threatening.  We might get another day out of it at most.  But we do not despair, because the zucchini is flowering (madly, I might add - I don't think we have any vacations planned, but a few more weeks, and I might become afraid to sleep at night).  The cukes have taken off over the past few days, and even the canteloupe is showing some promise.

I can afford to ignore all of them for a few days more, fortunately.  Because I have more peas to shell (locked in a windowless room without the dogs, if need be).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Late June Update

I always blog up a storm in the spring, and then, once things get rolling, the writing tapers way off.  I'm going to try not to do that quite so much this year (granted, I'm already in the hole!).  Anyway, here's what's been going on in the garden since my last post.

Asparagus: I think it finally decided that the weather around here is acceptable.  After that long, unproductive period in the spring, it's growing - more in the way it was advertised, too.  I've been known to visit the asparagus on two successive days and on day two, to find new shoots that were not there before and are now 8-10" tall.  And they're oh-so-slowly getting thicker - up from the .7mm pencil lead thickness to the thickness of architectural drafting leads.  Not sure that makes them fit to eat yet - they wouldn't grill at all well - but it's an improvement.  I haven't fully filled in the dug-out areas yet - guess I'll do that before everything dies back in the fall.

Strawberries: Well, I'm pretty sure they were really tasty - but I never got one taste of the first crop, due to the shy woodlands creatures that were raiding the bed.  I have some netting down now, so I'm hopeful that we may get a few on the next go-round, but it could be next year before we have any feedback on these.  The few left-overs I planted in the windowbox are producing pretty tasty specimens, but they're another variety.  And they won't winter over - I know that.

Raspberries: There was a nearly-ripe berry on one of the canes last night.  I nearly picked it - and this afternoon, I will surely find out that I should have.

Blueberries: The bushes are looking good, but the flowers that showed up shortly after planting gave it up without producing anything.  Guess we're on hold until next year.  And that's fine - gives them a year to get well-established and all that.

Everything else is pretty routine.  The tomatoes appear to really adore their new supports - they're going to make sure to use the entire structure, at the rate things are going.  One of the tomato plants got smashed in infancy by the wall-o-water (oops), but appeared to be not quite dead yet when I took it off, so I buried most of it to let it root.  It's only about 2" high at the moment, but appears to be in recovery.  Eggplants overtopped the wall-o-waters quickly and I finally pulled them off last weekend.  Many flowers on them, so prospects look good.  At the same time, I pulled the wall-o-water off the 4 pepper plants brought back by my daughter from Phoenix.  They are probably happy to be out of confinement, since I had a hard time getting it properly balanced to start with, and the plants were smashed by a collapse at least twice.

The shell peas are producing - I picked enough for a meal last night (which I will freeze, I think), and figure that there are many more to follow.  The sugar snaps are a little behind them - which makes sense since I planted them later.  The lettuce is on the brink of bolting, so we are trying to eat our way through it.  I probably need to rethink how and how much we plant of it each year.  When the squares are empty, I think I'll do the "scatter the mesclun mix seed" thing again; that worked pretty well last year.  I might also plant that in two pots near the front door that are getting watered because I have drip lines in them (they are currently empty).  Hate to waste that water.

Brussels sprouts look healthy and happy, although given that they prefer a cold season, I'm not sure if they will end up doing much of anything.  But they were this year's annual experiment, and if we get anything from them, it's a bonus.

Cukes and Zucchini are getting ready to explode, I think.  I couldn't quite bring myself to thin out the zucchini when I planted it, and I will undoubtedly regret it bitterly.  The plant(s) are already shading over my canteloupe plants, which are not doing much of anything just yet.

Last, the onions and onion-like plants that were volunteers.  They look amazing - and the one that got attacked by pea-tendrils gave me an idea where the Art Nouveau folks got some of their ideas; it was quite beautiful.  I think some of them are garlic - the leaves are not tubular and the smell is a bit different (maybe shallots, also).

The stuff in the compost spinner is not yet compost, but it resembles it far more than the contents of the previous box, so I'm hopeful.  I even water it occasionally.

On the non-food front, we have been rather busy.  Some years ago, I put in a "butterfly" garden in one area of the back yard.  However, the plants overgrew their space, it got badly weed-infested (and with a flagstone path through it, pretty much stayed that way), and the butterflies didn't hang out back there - but the bees did.  Since my husband is allergic to bees, that was definitely not a good thing.  So this year, we pulled everything out and sodded it.  Looks good, the dogs love it, and should be much lower maintenance.  Although I won't be too surprised if we find rhubarb growing up in the middle of the lawn - that stuff is very vigorous. 

We also installed a spinning collapsible clothesline again.  I love sun-dried sheets more than almost anything, and our retractable single line finally bit the dust last fall.  I even (!) found a clothespin bag.  Stupid thing to get excited about, but it's what I like.  So there.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

(late) Mid-May update

Maybe - just maybe - the weather is starting to settle down a bit.  Although putting a rash statement like that in writing does make me just a bit nervous; even if Spring has finally sprung (so to speak), things like hailstones are ever with us in the warm season.  And we have seen a few of them already this year.
Nonetheless, the forecast for the next 6 days shows highs of 2 digits that start with a 7 or an 8 every day, and lows well above freezing.  And that's new for 2010, so I'm hopeful.  The effect on the "crops" is modest so far - a few of the peas have reached heights sufficient to reach out and grab one of the trellising wires, and the lettuce is starting to approach an edible size (not that we're going to be having any of it just yet unless I plant some random mesclun, which I might just do).  One of the strawberry plants produced a red berry, which was promptly eaten by something (not me); I'm probably going to have to investigate netting or something in order to eat any of the ground-level berries at all.  The raspberry canes are producing flowers and branches.  Two of my tomato plants are peeking up above their wall-o-water, and I finally felt reasonably confident in putting in 2 eggplants and planting the kid's pepper plants - all of them in wall-o-waters.  And we have a lonely volunteer potato - apparently the seed potato was overlooked when we harvested and when we turned all of the dirt out to line that top box last month.
The tomato plants' progress is of interest for future planning.  The plants that have overtopped the wall-o-water are in one that had 2 cells emptied by leaks, creating much more of a "teepee" effect (the top more or less closed in).  In the wall-o-water that didn't have this issue, there is about an 8-inch diameter opening at the top, and the tomatoes there are still pretty short.  So next year, I think I'll leave a couple of cells dry and make sure that the top closes up for all my wall-o-water plants - I think we're getting a better greenhouse effect that way.  But I'll keep an eye on progress; maybe the shorter plants will produce more tomatoes or something.
Wall-o-waters are always tricky, it seems.  They really want a flat surface to sit on, and leaks in the wrong places can be disastrous.  I put one up around the pepper plants last weekend only to find that a) it had several leaks adjacent to one another, and b) they were on the low side, as far as I can tell.  The peppers survived the collapse with no particular damage, it seems so far, but I'm keeping an eye on the replacement wall-o-water.
As for the asparagus, I believe I have sprouts visible in at least 7 of the 8 crowns I planted now.  I've added dirt to some of the taller ones, although we have a way to go before the box is leveled out.  Most of the taller sprouts are becoming fernlike, as expected.  They're not very big, and I can't quite envision how a single summer's growth will be enough to allow us to eat some next spring.  Still, it IS only May.
The blueberry plants seem happy enough in their barrels of peat.  One of them flowered a bit, but seems to have thought better of it, and the other may be about to.  Since I bought them later than planned, they're both the same variety, which I hear depresses the fruit production.  If we don't get much out of them in the next couple of years, other than landscape interest, I will investigate buying a couple more of some "other" variety - a bit tricky since the original pair were labeled only "blueberry".  Although, you know, in nature it seems unlikely that they'd produce a patch of blueberry bushes of various varieties, so we must be likely to get something out of two of the same kind in proximity.
I think I'm going to start putting in my other warm-weather seedlings this weekend, given the forecast.  But the pepper plants are staying in the wall-o-water until they show signs of producing substantive fruit - supposedly they want a "long, hot summer", and by golly, I'm going to do my best to give them one.  Hopefully this year I can find starts of single zucchini, cukes, and canteloupe - last year's 2" pot of 6 cuke plants was a bit difficult to manage.  But the pickles they produced are extremely tasty!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So fast you can practically watch it grow

Yeah, right.  Maybe in some other part of the country, but not here.  Nonetheless, I have about 5-6 spears of asparagus surfacing, finally.  Not from all of the crowns, and the first one that showed up has since dried up and broken off, which seems a bit sinister, but I do seem to have planted them correctly enough to get something started, anyway.
I'm sure they weren't helped by the overnight snowstorm the other day.  We got maybe an inch on the grass and plants, and it was melted by 11 am, give or take.  Nothing seems to have been fazed by it, fortunately.  And, as noted above, the asparagus are finally emerging, ever so slowly.
Got more done this weekend, despite still feeling rather wrung out from a cold that has been far more influential than I would prefer.  Tomatoes are in their barrels, enjoying the climate-controlled comfort of their wall-o-waters (is that walls-o-water?).  And the backyard drip system is hooked up to its timer, in order to water the tomatoes and the window box where the remainder of the unplanted strawberries went.  So at the moment, we have a lot of drips watering not much of anything at all, since it makes no sense to put summer annuals in until things warm up a bit.  Looks a little stupid, but so be it - the tomatoes are being consistently watered.
And we got the tumbling composter built.  The instructions were absolutely correct - that was a two-man job.  Preferably men with 3 or 4 arms each.  Thirty pages of instructions later, it's sitting in the gravel drive next to the other composter, with some of the top layer of that box inside (and as soon as I get home tonight, a bag of grass clippings will join it).  Tumbling is much (!) easier than turning things with a pitchfork, that's for sure.  Maybe we'll get something out of it this year (please don't point out that I have 13 bags of mushroom compost sitting in that same area that I need to do something with, not to mention the 1 bag left over from last year - that would be like protesting at any plans I might have this year to plant purple bush beans, just because we still have gallons of them frozen from last summer).
The strawberries and raspberries and blueberries seem to be settling in nicely.  The strawberry and blueberry plants had fruit or flowers already in place, and I know that I'm supposed to strip all that off to ensure that they put their energy into roots, but I hate wasting work in progress like that, so they stayed.  I'll regret it later, no doubt.
My daughter tells me that I am not to plant any peppers until she gets home from school (in about 2 weeks) - apparently she has several large pepper plants growing happily in her apartment in Phoenix.  I hope they will make the transition successfully.  For some reason, I have never been able to grow peppers with any sort of yield.  Last summer, I think we got 1 fruit off of two plants - and if I recall, it was there when we put the plant in the box, so I don't think I can exactly take credit for it.  We shall see.  I'll give them wall-o-waters this year and see if that helps.
Thinned out the brussels sprout and lettuce seedlings last night - possibly the first time I've brought myself to thin.  But I want heads of lettuce this year, rather than random leaves of mesclun, so thinning is required.  I admit to replanting one of the thinned seedlings into an area where nothing had come up, so my "don't waste things" gene was at least a bit appeased.
I think, too, that I might have a little space for potatoes this year again - places where no potatoes have gone before (or other nightshade family plants).  Since I think there are sprouting potatoes in the pantry, well...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Pictures to come later, but much got accomplished this past weekend - and not all of it by me!  I have 2 visible, definitely growing, asparagus shoots!  Out of 8 plants planted, unfortunately, but we're making progress at last.  The soil temps must have crossed some threshold or something.  Peas, lettuce, onions, chard, and brussels sprouts are all doing well with no drama.
It did not rain this weekend, but I came down with a cold, so I feel especially proud of having accomplished:
  • Mulching around the raised beds - at last!!!  It's only been 3 years.
  • Positioning and filling and planting out 2 blueberry barrels.  If they don't like a planting mix that is 3/4 peat moss and 1/4 mushroom compost, then they just aren't willing to be pleased.
  • Planting out 13 strawberry plants and 3 raspberry canes.
  • Re-hooking up zone 2 on my drip timer and getting it programmed.
The garden looks really good with the new mulch, and having it makes the walking a bit easier.  I'm no longer tripping when I catch my foot in the edge of the weed barrier fabric, and the mulch has leveled out a few places that were decidedly on the low side. 
I still have 13 of the 15 bags of mushroom compost to do something with, and the new composter to build, and tomatoes to get in, and, and, and (the beauty of a garden is that there is always something to be done in it)...  But visible progress is always a good thing - and to have convinced at least part of the asparagus to give things a try is marvelous.
So the tiny asparagus spears were about 2" tall when I saw them yesterday.  If they're as fast-growing as they're reputed to be, will that make them a foot tall today?

Friday, April 16, 2010

The "to do" list versus the weather

According to my phone (which, of course, knows all), it's going to rain this weekend.  Bother!  I have things to do outdoors, and a hint of a headcold that needs to go away, and combining those factors with rain will not come out well, I think.  I guess it could be worse - that slightly colder, solid stuff - but precipitation of any sort, if it's planning on being here all day, or both days, just says to me, "Stay indoors."
And I have indoor things to do, more of them than I'd like, actually, most of them to do with paint in some way, so I can certainly stay profitably occupied there.  But the blueberry stuff is being delivered this weekend - two barrels, compost and peat moss - and the mulch for between the boxes so we'll finally look semi civilized in the garden, and I could get the blueberry bushes planted and the strawberries and TBD berries (black-, rasp-, something of that sort) if the weather would just cooperate a tiny bit.
No progress on the asparagus front, although I got busy the other night and did something I've been meaning to do for about a year - shorten the leaky hoses in that box.  They were so long that it was near impossible to set them out evenly, so some parts of the soil were getting a thorough soaking and others left dry.  The asparagus probably won't care, but I'm happier.  I think, after reading yet more websites on asparagus cultivation, that I'm going to remove the extra dirt from the box and put it aside to add back as they grow, rather than bury them now in order to get things evened out.  Maybe it wouldn't matter in the end, but the majority of advice still talks about filling the trench in gradually, and I'd like to eat my own asparagus some day, so I'm not going to rebel.  (for the record, cutting raw asparagus into 1" pieces and sauteeing in olive oil with sliced button mushrooms until the mushrooms start to brown makes a seriously wonderful dish.)
Since the peas are all starting to pop up now, I got the trellis wires run between my fence-post stakes.  The only worry I have now is that the vines will find the square-foot grid wires first and I'll have to unwind them from there and coax them onto the trellis.  Kind of a minor worry, though, really.  I've grown peas before and they seem not to get too clingy until they're about the height of the first trellis wire.
Back to my list of outdoor tasks (not all food-garden-related):
  • set up blueberry barrels
  • buy blueberries, strawberries and other berries and plant them
  • mulch around garden boxes
  • spray the gravel drive for weeds now before the goats-head thorns mature (worst seedcasing on earth bar none!!!!)
  • clean up various perennial beds
  • clean out any containers worth preserving (a lot of the terra-cotta ones had frost damage this past winter - I KNEW it was miserably cold this year)
  • dig out a couple of bushes which have far overgrown the available space
  • paint a place on the front of the garage that was apparently behind a downspout, which has since moved
it goes on...
Well, it's forecast to rain today and it's not currently raining, so maybe, if I'm lucky, the forecast and reality will fail to match up in a similar way tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A little momentum

I have read a number of websites and books that refer to how to set up an asparagus bed.  By and large, the approach is pretty similar across the board, although there does seem to be some disagreement on whether the whole plant-and-slowly-fill-in-the-trench approach is really necessary.  I think I've followed the basic instructions, and as a result, my third box is a bit of a mess right now - there being nowhere else to put the dirt from the trenches while waiting to slowly fill it in, I put it on the side of the box that didn't have anything planted in it, thinking that if asparagus truly grows 10 inches per day (it was in one of the books), I'd get the dirt back in the trenches and be able to put in the berry plants quite quickly.
That was about 3 weeks ago, and I'm still waiting.  In fact, I've reverted to childhood, and am having a hard (and not so successful) time not digging the crowns up to see if anything is happening.  The only sort of progress that seems to be occurring, and it might be a delusion on my part, is that the crowns are closer to the surface of the dirt than I remember planting them.
Short of standing outside the box yelling either encouragement or aspersions at the plants, the only thing I can think of to do is to take the excess dirt out and put it on a tarp in the corner for a while.  That, or just bury the stupid things now and let them figure it out, or not.  After all, we don't even get to harvest from these plants at all until next spring, so they have some time to get their affairs in order.
On the weather front, I hesitate to admit publicly that it's really beautiful right now - statements like that tend to invoke blizzards around here in spring.  The trees are leafing out and flowering a bit, and the skies are clear and the spring shade of blue, and I've been able to skip bringing a coat to work for a few days this week.  And the peas are sprouting - although I think I have something eating a few of the seeds (do squirrels react badly to pea inoculant?) along with more lettuce and more of the brussels sprouts. 
I finally cracked open the boxes with my new tomato supports this past weekend.  They're as tall as I am and very sturdy.  Of course, putting them into half-barrels is going to make the tops at fingertip level, I think, but they are fairly thin, so we should be easily able to handle 2 plants per barrel.  While I was puttering with them, I also set up the wall-o-waters in the tomato barrels; I'll give them a couple of weeks to warm things up and we should be able to get tomato seedlings in by the end of the month.
We bought a new composter this year at Costco, since the original one is very hard to work with - scraps go in, and I think compost is being created.  There is a panel at the bottom on one side that, I think, provides access to the finished product, but I can't get it to come off and it's short and difficult to get into.  I did attempt to turn it all once, and that involved pitch-forking it all out onto a tarp and then back in in reverse order.  Anyway, bottom line is, it's a real pain and we've never got anything useful out of it yet, even if it's doing useful things.  The new one is a tumbler - or will be when we get it built.  The assembly instructions, which came in three languages, are about 30 pages long and require 2 people and power tools.  Seriously?  I feel like shipping it off to Sweden to the folks at IKEA to get it redesigned properly.  So for the moment, it's sitting in pieces in the garage until we both feel like tackling it and can find the drill.
No progress on the blueberry front; my husband's been down for nearly 2 weeks with a bronchitis of unspecified origin (although the doctor refers to it as a fairly common complaint in the area right now - I vote for H1N1 or the seasonal flu), and can't talk for more than about a minute without doing his dying-of-TB imitation, so ordering the necessary stuff is on hold.  That, and we just had some plaster repair done in the house and have had to repaint large swaths of wall (note to self; work on the inside of the house should be started in November when the temptation to work outside is at its nadir.  Unless, of course, it shuts down the only shower in the house, in which case it should be done in August - yes, there's a story there).
Time to cross my fingers and do sun- and rain-dances, and pray for warm weather, so the rain doesn't solidify and start breaking things.

Monday, April 12, 2010


A few pictures of things that are sprouting:


onions (volunteers from last year)

wintered-over swiss chard


brussels sprouts

Finally! I was starting to think that the seeds (the only new ones this year are the brussels sprouts) were no longer any good, but they're still hanging in there. I think the asparagus is doing something, although I don't know if it's the right thing.

Got the faucet repaired this weekend, so we're operating in auto-pilot now.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Apparently, some pipes froze up last fall

Early last week, we got a chore done that I'd been putting off for a year and more.  When we built the first of the raised beds, we didn't realize that siting it on a slope without lining it would cause the dirt to leak out over time - heaven knows why that didn't occur to us, but it didn't - or maybe I was just a bit too impatient to get it up and running.  Anyway, once we realized that the dirt was slowly vanishing, I put a note on my mental gardening "to do" list to empty and line it in between seasons.  And, while "between seasons" might be starting to push it as a description for this time of year, we got it lined and should be able to retain the dirt until the weed barrier we use for lining decides to dissolve (or whatever weed barrier does).
Once that was in place, I could finally put the leaky hoses down on all 3 boxes (the ones on newly designated perennial bed are in place temporarily until the asparagus surfaces and I can re-bury it and even out the soil level in that box).  And then it was just a matter of hooking up the timer and valve (the timer is still set and going after a winter with last summer's battery - I didn't replace it, yet) and turning on the outside spigot and we would have irrigation on all boxes. 
Which was great for about 15 seconds.  That's how long it took my husband to figure out where "that dripping sound" was coming from in the house.  Apparently, the spigot froze up last winter before we had everything unhooked (probably the same early and depressing freeze that wiped out too many ripe tomatoes to count), and the pipe cracked, inside a cupboard in the kitchen.  We didn't notice it at the time, but it was resoundingly obvious this past weekend.  After mopping up, we hooked the timer and everything up to the hose that originates just outside the back door (the raised beds are in the front yard), and started calling plumbers.  I'm still not entirely sure why the leak only appears when I turn the spigot on - it's a ways inside the house and I would think the valve is downstream of the crack in the pipe.  Something to do with a freeze-proof valve, I'm told (apparently that's a bit of a misnomer).
It took almost a week to get artificial irrigation going this year - a week in which I am hoping the asparagus were enjoying the perfect moisture of beds that had absorbed about a foot of snow just before planting, rather than deciding it was too dry to put down roots here.  The onion transplants seemed okay with the move, as did the overwintered chard, so I'm somewhat hopeful.  None of the seeds has poked anything up yet - possibly also a factor of the delay in getting the water turned on.  And I haven't actually checked since maybe last Wednesday.
Nothing got done over the past weekend.  The college kid came home for Easter, and I spent much of the weekend cooking Easter dinner for 13.  Nearly everything came out nicely, although the rice side dish turned into mush - note to self not to bother with recipes that feature rice in a Crock Pot again.  And as is pretty usual when I cook for a crowd, we had way too much food (leftover macerated berries and custard sauce - good.  leftover mediterranean salsa for filet steaks, with no filet steaks leftover - not so good.)  And also as usual, the "diet" croissants (from the recipe in Frenchwomen Don't Get Fat) left nothing over at all - not even a crumb.  Three days worth of steps to make them, and worth every nanosecond.
I've more or less figured out what to order to do the blueberries (in containers) and finally mulch the walking areas around the raised beds, so that will probably be the next big gardening activity, since we won't be planting anything else for 2 weeks or so (tomatoes in wall-o-waters, I think can go in that early).  Maybe it's time to prune the roses or something.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Even after the most annoying winter, spring comes at last, in some form.  Unless the earth stops tilting on its axis, the sun eventually crosses over whichever latitude line it is for the equinox and our days get longer and at least a bit warmer. 
For us in Denver, that finally started happening yesterday.  Despite a blizzard a week ago and another midweek last week, the sun was out in full force yesterday melting the last dregs of snow off the garden boxes and I could finally get plants in the ground.  I've rejiggered two of my three boxes already - the bottom one will now be a home to perennial crops, and I pulled off the corn fence and put stakes for peas on the middle box.  That latter change may be somewhat temporary - the peas are there in rotation to replenish the nitrogen that the corn sucks up, so after a couple of years, I'll probably put corn in again - although with some sort of protection scheme to allow us to eat it, instead of the squirrels, next time.
We now have in the ground:
8 asparagus crowns (2 year old plants, so we can eat next year)
8 brussels sprouts (4 squares of seeds - no guidance as to spacing in the new SFG book, so I guessed at 2 per square)
1 leftover square of rainbow chard that did not die over the winter
3 squares of onions that volunteered from one I apparently let go to seed 2 years ago (some may be garlic; I just moved everything in together)
14 squares of shell peas
4 squares of lettuce - 3 of Bibb and 1 of leaf
In the process of cleaning up, I found a bunch of carrots that had wintered over just fine and brought them in.  I know from poking at it a few weeks ago that the soil was frozen at least once during the winter, so I'm surprised they're in such good shape, but they are absolutely fine.
The perennial box is exciting for me - asparagus, strawberries, and (probably) some thornless raspberries or blackberries.  I've had strawberries in various locations over the years, and none of them worked all that well.  The bed in the back yard turned out to be the dog's absolute favorite nap spot, the strawberry jar dried out, and I only got about 3 berries from the window box (and I don't think - for sure, anyway - that those plants survived the winter).  So creating a permanent bed away from the dogs may just give us a chance at a real crop - I hope so, anyway.  And I've been wanting raspberries or blackberries for a while, but have never tried them before.
We're also looking at a couple of half barrels for blueberry bushes.  They won't grow in our soil - it's way too alkaline for them - so we have to plant them in a peat-based soil in containers.  But if they work, they'll be my first semi-official edible landscape plants - they're going in a (to be built) bed in the front yard that will probably include lavender and jupiter's beard and russian blue sage and other flowers.
I bought some new tomato supports recently, too.  They arrived Saturday, and are in boxes taller than I am (I haven't had the nerve to open one yet).  If our tomatoes grow anywhere near that tall, it should be a good year.  There are 6 of them; I'm planning on putting 2 out for eggplant (no expectations of 6-foot eggplant plants, but who knows?)
In order to get that nitrogen replenishment going strong, I used pea inoculant on the peas.  Lots of warning labels on that stuff - eye protection, protective gloves, ventilation...  I get that they're bacteria, but are they really that dangerous?
There's a lot still to do in the garden.  My top box needs to be emptied and lined with weed-barrier to keep the dirt from leaking out.  I have plans to put down some mulch between boxes (weed barrier has been reasonably effective, but it's ugly and I keep tripping on the seams).  And we've planted no warm-weather crops yet, so I've only partly finished planting my middle box.  And besides all that, I have to wait on the asparagus to grow out of its first 3 inches of dirt so I can put the rest of the dirt back over the trenches - and that's holding up planting any of the rest of that box (the dirt had to go somewhere, after all).  I really need to turn the compost and see if there's ANYTHING usable at the bottom of the pile.  And we need to reprogram the drip timers and get them going.  And put up the wires on the pea stakes to support the vines once they sprout.  And, and, and...
I love planning for summer - and I mostly love executing those plans, time permitting.  That whole being-gainfully-employed thing gets in the way, but we have our well-lit evenings back and can get things done at the end of the day as well as on weekends.  Now if the snow will just make up its mind that winter is over!