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.