Tag Archives: gardening

The shuttle

Every night there’s a risk of frost I bring in the seedlings from the tomato safe.  Now most of the tomatoes are planted in the GH, so there’s only one wheelbarrow load, plus two flats of peppers etc.

Since the big Benadryl freeze fiasco (well, and before), I carefully check the weather and if it’s dipping, it’s shuttle time.  There’s also a pile of flats occupying the windowsills in the house, and they get set out on the deck during the day, which is a short commute.The more mature tomatoes that have already been put in the ground get tucked in to a cozy frost blanket, just in case.  I think the last frost has passed (May 10), but watching the long term forecast just in case.Hard to believe these little babies will be 8 ft+ tall in just a few months.

Early gardening…In the outside garden, the garlic is off to a proud start; the perennials are wide awake; half of it is planted but it’s still mostly brown.

Sweeping a thick blanket of mulch off of a bed, making worms dive out of sight, and directly planting into moist dark soil, is infinitely satisfying.  No-till is working out exceptionally well.

Experiments of the year: sweet potatoes and cucamelons

What fun is gardening without some wacky experiments?

  1. Sweet potatoes.

I got six vines from Vesey’s, which arrived in rather pathetic condition (the packaging disclaimed wretched looking vines as “normal” and claimed they would perk up.  To be fair, they did.  Five of them made it).  Since they supposedly like under-watering, I left them mostly alone after initial establishment, although the underwatering got a little extreme in this terribly dry summer.  The vines were small, but had lovely purpley-green leaves.

I dug ’em up in September.  No idea what to expect.

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Vine 1 – Uhoh.  Off to a bad start.

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Vine 2 – Oh, that’s more like it.

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Vine 3 – That’s actually a real sized potato.

Unfortunately, there were no more potatoes still in the ground from these vines.  One vine = one potato.  NOT an impressive yield.  No efficiency points for area:productivity.  That’s the gamble with experiments.

But they made one very tasty meal.

2.  Cucamelons

These took off in the greenhouse.  Three vines swarmed up their strings and headed across the cross-ties, producing loads of these weird little grape-sized melons.

cucamelons-intro2Aptly named!  It tastes like a cucumber, or a melon, or is it a cucumber?  Totally bizarre combination of tastes.  If you’re like me, you probably haven’t had cucumber and melon in the same bite before.  Crunchy skin, like a cuke.

I have no pictures of my own because the guineas in the greenhouse enjoyed many more than I did.  This pic is from James Wong, who waxes more enthusiastic about the cucamelon than I do.

I’ll grow them again next year, though; they grow so easily, and I’ll try to find more to do with them.

Garden beginnings

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We are beavering away at the task of putting in a garden.  Priority one: attention to food.  Even though we have no illusions about productivity this year, it’s important to start.

We got off to a poor start- an unusually late frost took out all the tomato starts we’d put in.

We’ve tried a couple methods:  1) digging small holes to put a plant in, and surrounding it by cardboard and mulch.  Over time and continued mulch-piling, ground around will soften up into a bed.  Saves time, but no good at all for seeds.  Good for squash.  2) plastic mulch. Pure experiment.  Neighboring farmer offered us the waste plastic off of his hay bales – those ubiquitous white haybales that dot fields in the fall – and we spread it around to see if it would knock back the sod cover.  So far, the results are not conclusive, nor impressive.  The plastic,is multiple layers of white plastic like saran wrap, only layered up a quarter inch thick on a finished bale, and cut off so the waste plastic has an open clamshell shape.  It’s heavy and insulating, but may be letting light through because it’s white.  3) digging.  We have our labor-saving, painless technique down pat now, with this wicked sod-breaker from Lee ValleyIMGP6853

H.W. goes through with the sod breaker, standing on it and tipping it back and forth, three widths of the tool wide and as long as the bed.

H.W. has to do this part, because I can’t.  I’ve tried, and I’m not strong or heavy enough to plunge the tines into the dirt.  I  jump up and down and get it a whole three inches deep in the ground and teeter there on it, and H.W. laughs and laughs, and calls me a “little feather”, which I can’t say I’ve been called before.  One of many things it emerges I can’t do without him.  IMGP6861Then the sod chunks fall apart and we shake the soil out of them with our hands and digging fork, and shape the bed. IMGP6867 Makes a picture perfect, sod and root-free bed of soil that you’d never guess was just broken from ground unworked for 15 years.   IMGP6879Then we seed it.  If we maintain our beds compaction free, heavily mulched, top-dressed and cover-cropped, we will never have to till again.

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Rooster approved

It’s not horrible work and doesn’t take very long.  Well, after rain it’s much less easy and fun – the sod is heavy and matted; yet it’s still doable in the rain, and we are aiming for steady continuity, not to do it all at once and burn out.

We are aiming for four garden beds a week in June, and that will break a respectable area for this year, easily on top of all the other work we need to do.  Next year we can do the same and double our garden.  So far, six beds.

Mulch is magic!

Stressing over the garden underwater was all for naught; it’s as though it never flooded, perhaps it even benefited.  I won’t worry about my location again; it’s all good.

Interestingly, I got my garden in on the exact same day that I did last year.  It’s perfect weather, raining every night.  Except that could be too wet for the beans.

For some reason, everything seems so easy this year!  I give mulch the credit.  Mulch is magic, I say.  There are two downsides, that I can tell:  it would suck if you had to acquire and transport straw instead of having it constantly available as a waste by-product of horse ownership, and it doesn’t work for scatter seeding or plants that reseed themselves.  Which is also an upside, since that’s how most weeds operate.

I just don’t get non-mulchers.  What, do you like weeding? It’s so easy.  Pile on the straw, leave it there, never weed, never till, and when you want to plant something, rip apart the blanket of mulch to expose the soil where you want to seed.   The upper surface reflects the baking heat of the sun, the interface with the soil retains moisture and warmth so you can water less often and more effectively. It  composts and produces warmth, prevents erosion, blocks out the sun so nothing grows where you don’t want it to, and contributes carbon to the soil; the worms literally carry it down into the dirt which aerates it.  I can see it happening; under the top dry surface of my straw mulch, the straw is brittle and crumbling, and under that it is wet and black and hard to tell sometimes what is straw and whats earth. There are endless worms, thriving on the very surface of the dirt, and the soil is much darker than it was last year after my laborious amending.  Not black yet, but dark brown; I’m really pleased.  Continue reading Mulch is magic!

Dirty hands

Time to close up the garden for the year.  Weeding, banking up the carrots and beets and potatoes that will stay in the ground for now; waiting for a few last vegetables to expire before I rip them out.

My happy discovery of the day was the state of the haypile that’s been sitting there all year, melting slowly into the ground.  I’ve been using the “new” waste hay all summer for mulch, but now I can get rid of the eyesore midfield haypile and there’s enough of it to thickly cover the whole garden.  I expected it to be slimy and rotten and more or less returning to dirt, but it’s completely not.   Parts of it are dry, and then near the bottom the straw is falling into black soil, but none of it is sour or slimy at all.  Totally mulchirific.

Also today I fell the dead danger tree with a distinct lean towards the barn, big check on the backcut side, and a twist at the base.  It needed to come down before a Bella Coola style storm rolls in to us, because then it would come down of it’s own accord on the barn.

It really intimidated me at first, since it’s been years since I fell any trees, indeed, spent all day, day after day, falling trees, back when I knew everything and was missing the wiring for fear and respect. I can still frame a wall my dad would find no flaw with, but can I still fall a tree exactly where I want it to go? Continue reading Dirty hands

Garden, R.I.P.

I can’t say I didn’t expect it.

What I didn’t expect was that it would go down to deer.  Not weeds, or lack of water.  Deer utterly destroyed the garden, and more so by trampling it than eating it.  It looked like a herd thundered through it.  Mucky must’ve had an off day to allow this.

Even with the destruction and inconvenient conclusion that a deer fence is vital, guard horse notwithstanding, I’m happy with my gardening success this year, and even post-deer, there are quite a few meals on the ground.

The scarlet runners were as fail-safe as always, and many escaped the depredations.  I’m sorry I missed the amazingly quick spiral climb they do up their trellises.  The other beans and peas, despite being completely defoliated (by the looks of the stalks, they were quite healthy before attack), forced out a fair number of pods.  Celery- healthy, ignored, but not long like you’d buy in the store at all.  All leaf.

The corn are the most successful and unmolested vegetables, if you don’t count the zucchini that won’t fit in the fridge.  I’m already wise enough to only plant one zucchini.  A megalomaniac  among squash, they are.  Tomatoes, trampled, although my upside down tomatoes are passably successful.  Possibly too much water.  They aren’t reddening, although I hear everyone’s tomatoes are doing that.

I got the cutest, perfect cucumber- amazing considering total neglect and trampling.  I’m surprised it had enough heat, likewise for the jalapeno peppers, which also came through.  My favorite of the flight-of-fancy plants, though, is the watermelon.  At the end of a gnarled, shriveled, pale thread of a stalk, a perfect, green sphere of a watermelon, exactly the size of a softball.  ♥! Continue reading Garden, R.I.P.

Mulch rules!

All that garden, and I can “weed” it in minutes, the first time I’ve weeded at all since planting almost a month ago.  By weeding I mean pluck out the few visible wisps of grass seeded by the hay, and only where the mulch is too thin.  So I spent more time piling on more hay.  It’s melting fast into the ground.

I planted garlic far too late.  About six months too late.  I had these luscious heads from West Coast Seeds that were delivered last September.  But I was moving last September, so I took them with me, and we didn’t move in here until spring, and then built the garden late, so I end up guiltily contemplating these heads of garlic in June.  It seems a shabby way to treat  six beautiful heads of Russian heritage garlic.  I rationalized that they spent the winter in temperature uncontrolled storage, so they definitely froze, and they’ve been in the dark, and they certainly won’t be any good next year.  Some of them were trying to grow, in that way that onions forgotten in the crisper do.  So I planted them, deep.  All over through the tomatoes.  It looks like a gopher was punching holes in the mattress of mulch.  I figure, we’ll never know if they’ll work or not without trying.  Sure enough, the more advanced cloves are already punching through.

I love the way there are so many types of green.  Celery green, bean green, pea green, garlic scape green, squash leaf green, corn green, and tomatoes hold multitudinous greens just among themselves.

Since it’s all a giant experiment, I’m interested in observing what does well in the clay and manure soil I concocted.  So far, potatoes are flourishing, and beans are the happiest of all.  Peas are coming well, and the squashes are ok.  The seed lettuce is struggling, which I didn’t expect, while the lettuce from starts is generally just fine, red romaine much happier than the leaf lettuces.  The carrots are really showing poorly, spinach even worse, and the tomatoes are expressing their displeasure, although still growing.  All else is average.

I spoke too soon about the internet.  It lasted four days, and then- kaput!  Lost to the unsolvable snow leopard glitch.