Sunday, March 30, 2008

New greens to grow

I want to buy arugula seeds or starts. I've never grown it, but so many people have told me they love it. I found a recipe for a versatile arugula pesto, so I will have at least one thing to make from it. Two more people mentioned it at church today during coffee hour. Lots of gardening and cooking chat.

I also want to try cutting celery, an heirloom herb also called smallage or "soup celery". It's no good for salads, but the flavor is more intense than regular celery, which makes it good for soups and stocks. It looks like parsley and use it in a bouquet garni. It's biennial, and it you let it come back the second year, it will bolt and you get seeds that taste like regular celery seed.

Nothing germinating yet - checked all the boxes. The weather is warming slightly. No nights below freezing forecast for the next week.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Taylor's Dwarf Horticultural Bean

Last year, I swapped for seeds that included some Taylor Dwarf Bush Beans. It's an heirloom open-pollinated non-hybrid bush-type bean for drying. Some say they are similar to cranberry beans (borlotti) used by Italian cooks as fresh shelled beans for pasta e fagioli. I planted a few that didn't germinate last year. I am giving them another shot this year.
I put them in a dish to soak for half a day or so. Then I will wrap them in a damp paper towel and see if they show any sign of germinating before I put them in dirt.

Southern Exposure says:
60 days. Popular shell bean. Dates back to the early 1800's when it may have been brought to the U.S. from Italy. Plants are semi-runner (14 to 18 in.), producing cream-colored pods splashed with red streaks. Can be used as snaps early in the season, but pods quickly become stringy and fibrous. Seeds are medium large, pink-buff splashed with carmine.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Lettuce and spinach mustard

Weather: About 50, damp and cloudy with periodic drizzle.

Planted a fish box of Black-seeded Simpson lettuce. Also planted a recycled meat tray with a 10-cent packet of Spinach Mustard, which I never heard of before. I think it's the same as "mustard greens" also called "tendergreen." For a dime, it's worth a try.

Note: The clear plastic bags that bread comes in at the farmer's market bakery are perfect to slide over a meat tray. Remember to save them from now on.

Read up on coffee grounds a bit more. I will put them around the roses this season, and around the lettuce and greens. other vegetables may not like the acidity. It is recommended to mix 3 parts of grounds with one part of hardwood ash, to balance the acid a bit.

DD11 ground up all the saved eggshells, with a mortar and pestle. It made only a few inches in a spaghetti sauce jar. They are slow to dissolve, even ground up, but on the surface the ground around plants they are supposed to repel slugs.

The pair of mourning doves have returned. They were sitting on the wires watching me to see if I would fill the feeder. Also saw a big pregnant alley cat. Must find a humane trap and get her to the Humane Society before she gives birth.

Forgot to get fish boxes yesterday - made a calendar note for next week.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spinach planted in fish box

Weather: Sunny and 50 today, down to 40 tonight, back up to 50 tomorrow, with showers. More rain and mild temperatures predicted through the weekend.

The soil in the two fish boxes seemed evenly damp, so I planted a packet of spinach in one. It will come up dense, but we can eat the thinnings. But I couldn't find my clear plastic to cover the box! Not freezing tonight, so it should be OK. I will buy plastic tomorrow, and plant the other box full of lettuce. I plan to keep the plastic on with big rubber bands I saved from something.

Tomorrow is Wednesday, so I will be stopping at the market to get more fish boxes, and I need to get a couple more bags of soil. I am tempted to use my own garden soil, but I know it is full of weed seeds that will sprout soon. Last year, I had that fiasco of growing a whole tray of carefully tended weeds, going so far as to transplant them, thinking I had planted mislabeled herb seeds of some kind. I even posted a photo on GardenWeb, and people thought it might be a cress. I even tasted it! It was a weed that soon sprouted all over my yard. I had accelerated the germination in the contaminated seed tray by fertilizing and watering the damed things. So, much as I hate spending money buying dirt, I am controlling what goes into those fish boxes, so I can plant successive crops of greens.

Still not sure where to put all the onion sets I want to get in the ground. I better save the rest of the pea seeds for late summer, and concentrate on finding room for carrots and potatoes. As the ornamentals come in, I will be able to see where I can fill holes with veggie plants. I have a dozen potato pieces chitting, and a sweet potato with two strong sprouts.

I toured around the yard looking at the ornamentals starting to poke out of the ground. One crocus is blooming in the grass, lots of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth coming up - most planted by former homeowners. I planted a few tulips and one crown imperial last fall - I see the tulips, but I am not sure what the crown imperial looks like, so I may be mistaking it for a tulip. If we were staying here, I would naturalize more early bulbs into the grass areas - I like that effect.

The red peony shoots are showing - all the peonies have gotten wider. I am going to spray them with baking soda water, since I read that is supposed to help prevent powdery mildew later. I am anxious to see of all three bushes bloom this year. The one that was accidentally dug up has been back in the ground for two years now, and I hope it blooms.

There are the tiniest beginnings of Siberian iris, larger fans on the bearded irises. The salvia are alive, but mostly still dormant - most of them heaved, as did the sedums. I have to research how to prevent that heaving. New growth in the crown of a big yarrow. The stella d'oro lilies continue to sprout. I see the beginnings of rose growth, and the fringes of larkspur germinating. Wish I had a camera with a macro lens to take photos of the the beginnings of things.

I trimmed last year's dead stems off the guaras. I think at least four of five lived. I left the foliage on to help protect them, then piled a lot of yard waste on most of them to protect them from the wind all winter. I just raked that off about two weeks ago, and I see growth in the crowns. Three along the sidewalk are alive - not sure about the one at the back fence that was uncovered. The biggest one, next to the mulberry stump, looks alive. I read complaints on GardenWeb that people had trouble bringing guaras through the winter in Zone 6 - but if this winter is an indication, I think the key may be heavily mulching or otherwise protecting them.

This week I will go to Mom's house to see how the stuff I transplanted in the fall survived. I have been in her yard, but not specifically to look for my plants. It's probably too early for many of them to be visible.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

At the greenhouse already

Weather: There were snow flurries when I woke up at 8:30. But it wasn't too cold, and DD11 ran up to the egg hunt at the park, which was not canceled. She won a prize basket. The little bit of snow that stuck melted quickly as the day warmed up. Still dipping down below freezing at night, but regularly in the upper 40s and low 50s during the days.

I couldn't resist. I called Glick's to see if they had seed potatoes, and they do, so off I went. There were quite a few cars there - they have Easter flowers and lots of pansies. But I dived back into the humid greenhouse to see the tiny starts of tomatoes and peppers for later in the spring - like going into a restaurant kitchen to see how they make your dinner.

A little silly, making a trip for so little. I bought half a pound of seed potatoes for 45 cents - 3 of them actually, with all sorts of green eyes popping out of them. Red Pontiac from Maine. Felt a bit foolish - Glick's is in the middle rolling farm land, and I bought three seed potatoes. I hastened to explain that I had a tiny urban yard. I am seriously considering finding a tire and trying that potato-tower idea.

My first impulse buy of the year: another half pound of yellow onion sets for $1.35- Stuttgarter is the variety. Aren't I the big spender, with my tiny yard? Half a pound of onion sets is a lot, it seems - I don't know where I will put them all. The lady said the onions store well, which is what I am after.

I saw some things to try later in the season - peanuts sprouting, for instance. I've never even seen them grown up here. There are a lot of African daisies in an orangesicle color that appeals to me.

DD11 picked out a packet of Nantes carrot seeds - I told her she would be in charge of carrot tending - it may get her more interested in growing stuff. She had a good time throwing a wood chip for the Collie that lives at Glick's, named Cider. The two of them ran all over. We stopped for ice cream at the Oley Turnpike Dairy afterward, and walked through the sad little petting zoo out back. It looks even worse this early in the season with so little green. Like a prison camp.

Also picked up a bunch of 10-cent seed packets at Wal-mart. For a dime, some things are worth a shot, like sugar baby watermelons. I put the taters in an egg carton to chit when I got home. Now I really feel like spring is here.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

2008 Garden Plan

Since we expect to move this year, and we live in a rented house, I moved most of my perennials to Mom's yard last fall. I have a few left that I will pot up this year. I will leave behind what was in the yard when we arrived - peonies, lilies, roses. I will only be planting vegetables and a few annual flowers in this yard. Ideally, we will be able to take our containerized plants with us where we go (as yet to be determined). I plan to grow:

In the ground:
Onions, potatoes, and carrots
Peas along the fence
Beans up a trellis
Containerized in buckets, boxes, and bags along the sidewalk:
Spinach and lettuces in raised boxes
Zucchini - only one
Purple, orange, and yellow sweet peppers
Cherry tomatoes - Black Cherry and/or Sungold
Eggplant - just one "Little fingers" or "Hansel"
Might try baby beets in a box
Lots of potted herbs:
Italian parsley
French thyme
Lemon thyme
Basils - Genovese, Pesto Perpetuo, Thai "Queen of Siam"
French Tarragon
Garlic Chives
Not growing paste tomatoes, broccoli, or cucumbers - they are all easy and cheap to buy locally, and they attract too many kinds of bugs and diseases. The zucchini will only last until early summer before the vine borers and squash bugs get it. I hope that putting it in a bucket will give me better access for bug-picking. Similarly, I hope that raising boxes of lettuce and spinach off the ground on crates will reduce the critter access. I am making slug traps for each box.

I am sure other things will catch my eye at the garden centers. The difficulty will be in resisting the ornamentals. I like my flowers - but I don't want to invest more in a yard I won't be keeping. I will have to work off my flower-gardening desires in Mom's yard. I am starting seeds for a few annuals here: marigolds, zinnia, calendula, etc - from saved seeds. Some coleus from starts, for color. The remaining perennials will also come up - peonies, iris, roses, stella d'oro lilies, and some guaras.

If we do end up staying here longer, I will plant greens, garlic, leeks, and shallots to overwinter. The lemon thyme would have produced all winter with a little protection. I missed the fresh basil, thyme and parsley when it was gone this winter. I dried some, but it wasn't the same.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Onion snow tonight

Weather: Sunny and chilly, a bit windy, in the upper 40s. Supposed to snow tonight into tomorrow morning. Low about 30. Full Moon.

I suppose we are about to get our onion snow. I thought "onion snow" was a widely known gardening term, but I read that it is regional to South-central Pennsylvania. It's that last spring snow that comes along as the wild onions and garlic sprout, and gardeners are often getting sets into the ground around that time.

I need to get potatoes in as soon as it clears up. I am buying some to start chitting this weekend. Chitting is my new word - it means putting seed potatoes out in the light to start encourage sprouting from their eyes. People often line them up in egg boxes for this. I have been saving cardboard egg boxes. I already have some sweet potatoes from last year that have healthy sprouts.

I read that potatoes actually from the stems of the plant. Apparently you can grow them vertically in tires. You fill a tire with dirt and plant potatoes in it. As the plants grow, you pile on more dirt, and then add a tire, continuing to add dirt as the vines grow. At the end of the season, you unstack the tires and there will be taters growing in the whole column. They say you can do this even on bare concrete. I am not going to try it this season, but I do want to try that one year. Talk about getting a lot of production out of a small area!

It's Easter weekend, so we will be coloring eggs - more shells. I have been drying shells on the counter for the past few weeks, to grind later. When we trench composted kitchen waste last year, I pretty much just dumped it right into the trench, in whatever size chunks came out of the ktichen, including whole eggshells. I know that many people blenderize their garbage before they compost it, but I figure it was better to get the stuff into the ground than to never do it all because it was too much trouble to process. I noticed the shells were still mostly whole when we dug into the dirt last week. I will have to be less lazy and dry them for grinding. Most of the rest of the waste seems to have rotted into the dirt. I will do some research and see if there is something more useful to do with the shells.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Planted peas and onions

Weather: Below freezing last night. 50s during the day. Cloudy, clearing to sun by noon. Windy. Forecast says more of the same for the next week, except for Saturday which will be in the 40s with snow showers in the morning.

I meant to plant peas a few days ago on St. Patrick's Day. All the really cool gardeners have had their peas started in rain gutters or under cloches for weeks. But at least we got the darned seeds in the ground on the First Day of Spring! That's better than last year, when I planted no peas at all.

DD15 planted the peas along the back of the strip along the fence, where there were eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers last year. This strip could really use a round of legumes. When the peas are done at the end of May, I will put beans in. There are also a few perennial flowers left in the ground there, and some spring bulbs getting ready to bloom. I can fill any bare spots with potted herbs. If things go as planned, I will be able to strip the pea vines off the fence by June, before they shade the neighbor's tomatoes in the next yard.

I didn't have any innoculant for the peas, so I will look for some and add it after the fact, hoping it will still work. Pruned the lemon thyme at the end of strip. Smelled great and is budding new stems all over.

We got onions in the ground, too - sets of white onions, and green onions from seed. Intense little 3x3 patch of each, where there were sweet potatoes last year. I buried a lot of kitchen waste under there last fall, and I will mulch with newspaper and grass clippings after the rows sprout. Not sure we had the "onion snow" just yet, but the ground is completely workable, so I am forging ahead.

I filled the fish boxes with bagged soil and stacked the boxes. Need more boxes and more bagged soil. I want to try a few with regular garden soil, too. The kids filled the top one with water to let it filter down and soak the soil. I want to get them really wet and let them drain before I plant them with lettuce and spinach. My plan is to raise the boxed off the ground to try to keep the slugs and rabbits out. We lost our whole fall lettuce and spinach crops to critters.

My plan is to ramp up my casual veggie gardening this year, and so far, I am way ahead of last year's game. Let's see how much this little city backyard can produce.

TO DO: Buy legume innoculant. Find another camera on eBay for garden photography.