Monday, April 28, 2008

More good progress at Mom's

We put a lot of stuff out at the curb for the spring bulk-trash pick-up at Mom's house. Lined almost the whole front curb. It made a big difference in her back yard. Most importantly, she put out more stuff on her own, which tell me she is getting the message. On Saturday, DD15 and I worked on making one of the backyard beds look better. We want her to get immediate visual gratification for making changes.

Next to the back door is a brick-edged bed with roses, poppies, and lily-of-the-valley, but choked with grass and full of garden tools and stakes against the wall. We made a spot around the backside of the house to sort stakes and tools into milk crates. We sorted all the stuff, and sawed the ends off some broken tools to leave the handles for stakes. Mom got to work weeding. The bed looks good now, and the plants will fill in more normally. I still have to work on getting the poison ivy out of the Rose of Sharon bush at the corner of the house.

Made a big pile of cast iron scrap - have to call the recycling place this week to get prices and get rid of that stuff. We established a brush pile with a carpet path to it, so we can gather stuff for an annual chipping event. I want to also start a second compost pile near that. We will need to clean out the whole composting area behind the shed.

Next, I want to clear some actual vegetable bed. I want to be able to do some substantial planting by Mother's Day. Bean poles would be good.

Wet and chilly week

Of course, as soon as I jump the gun and buy tomato and pepper plants, the weather turns cold. It will go back down to 37 tomorrow night. Lots of rain and somewhat chilly weather forecast for the next week to 10 days.

I planted the celery and parsley, which will be fine with the chill. They are in front of the peas.

We pounded in stakes and set up a cage for the two eggplants and the Brandywine tomato, but didn't plant them. I am debating whether to keep bringing them inside at night, or to plant them and cover them with boxes at night.

I planted the Pontiac Red and the Yukon Gold potatoes, but I am worried about the soil in the bucket. It seemed too wet, like the bucket wasn't draining well enough. I did start with half compost and half topsoil. Now it is supposed to rain for a week - I don't want them to rot. I may have to dig them back up quickly and work more organic matter into the bucket. Or drill more holes in it.

I must thin the greens this week. I will think some into the third fish box and take it to Mom's house. Some will be transplanted into little lettuce basket-gardens as gifts. Some of the lettuce may even be eaten immediately. But I will still have far more little plants, especially mustard spinach, than I can use. There is my lesson in succession planting - I planted the whole envelope at once. I need to get more boxes and set up a better system of planting every two weeks.

My seed swap arrived - commercial packets of Parsnip "Harris Model" and Pak Choi. Also a packet Roma tomato seeds that I won't use this year. I posted looking for a swap to get lemon cucumbers.

DD11 offered to weed the onions beds, and found a tiny white potato attached to one of the weeds. We realized that a piece of potato in last year's trench-composted kitchen scrap must have germinated. We replanted it in a spot with no onions.

More things to get done in the next week or so:
Thin greens
Make basket-gardens of greens
Find 5-gallon bucket for sweet potato
Buy more bags of dirt - try Lowes
Plant parsnip seeds to in toilet paper cores
Prepare bed at Mom's for carrots and parsnips
Spray the peonies with baking soda water

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Trip to Oley

I love going to Oley, about 8 or 10 miles into the countryside. We had an early dentist appointment at the Vo-Tech, and then we went to the Oley Legion Diner for breakfast. Less than $10 for three of us to have breakfast, and the conversation is fabulous - peak oil talk, discussion of artisan bread and cheese, gossip among people that eat breakfast together on a regular basis. I got a farm auction flyer hanging on a fish chain on the wall - lots of garden tools and canning jars, but I wonder if its worth driving to Colebrookdale Township on May 10 at 9AM.

A man in "overhauls" came in with two loafs of bread for the waitress (who is think is a part-owner). The man and the waitress are both "bread freaks" and he wanted her to try the extra-sour pumpernickel he just got. It was from the Oley Bakery, which is mostly wholesale to fancy urban outlets, but can be found at Christman's Meat Market just down the road. He offered us a sample slice - it was definitely sour, but it made me immediately want to put corned beef and swiss on it to grill. The man was from Philadelphia, now living in Oley and wearing bib overalls in diners.

I asked if they knew anything about that Old Earth Farm, and they had heard of it, but didn't say much else. Don't know what that means. They told me about an organic farm run by an Aaron Burkholder near Bowers. Googling turned up an address: 460 Bowers Rd, Kutztown PA 19530. We'll have to check that out.

We did stop at Cristman's - no pumpernickel, but they had other great Oley Bakery loaves for about $3.25. But better yet - the meat market is great. Premise-made scrapple and pickled tripe. I found real lard with no additives for $1.19/lb. They render it right there and dip it out of a bucket for customers.

Then we went to Glick's, which is full swing. The front parking lot was full. I stayed out of the perennial section - I knew I would be too tempted. I had to limit myself even in the veggies. Market 4-packs are $1.45, or 45 cents for single plants. Perfect for small gardens where you can only support one or two of each plant. Here is what we got:

Potatoes: Yukon Gold (1), Pontiac Red (3), Dark Red Norland (2)
Sweet Peppers: Valencia (red), Baby Belle (dark red-purple), Chocolate Beauty
Eggplants: Ichiban, heirloom Black Beauty
Tomatoes: Brandywine, Sun Sugar (yellow cherry)
Celery "Tall Utah"
Italian Parsley

I thought we were only growing cherry tomatoes for DD15, but she also wanted a slicing tomato for sandwiches. I must pay more attention to pruning, water, and fertilizing this time.

At $0.90/lb, I only spent 45 cents on seed taters, and I already need more buckets to grow them! The whole bill was $6.90. I saw a lot of brassicas I would have tried, but I can already see the white cabbage moths - I am not buying until I have row cover arranged. Maybe I will get some when they have the spring sale, if there is any room left in the yard!


There are four peonies, and the girls named them yesterday, to make them easier to refer to. We don't know their real names - we found them in the yard when we moved in. All of them have suffered from powdery mildew the past few years, which I see throughout our neighborhood on peonies. They have all been growing really rapidly since those 80-degree days last week.

Elizabeth ("Betty" to her friends) is the largest, and has bloomed each year quite nicely. She is often the last to get mildew. She comes out of the ground first, becomes large first, and will likely bloom first.

Inez has been the middle-sized one. She didn't bloom last year - looked like the buds died, but no other signs of trouble until mildew came along much later in the year. Last out of the ground - leaves still red and unfurling this year.

Dolly was the smallest - but mostly because she was accidentally dug most of the way out of the ground two years ago by a child helper. It has not bloomed since, but looks very strong this year, only a bit behind Betty, and possibly larger than Inez. It has a bud covered with ants.

Tommy is a small plant in the alley outside the gate. It has not bloomed yet. We need to move him after this year - he is at grave risk of being crushed by tractor wheels while the neighbor is doing construction. I may pot him up after bloomtime, even though that will keep him from blooming even longer. He lasted longer than any of the others before getting mildew last year.

I am going to spray them with baking soda water today, in hopes of avoiding the mildew this year - we will see.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chickpeas and other legumes

We went to a church rummage sale this weekend - our favorite one at Faith Lutheran Church in Mount Penn - they have a spring and a fall sale. I scored a big blue muck bucket to grow the potatoes, a bunch of pots, a pile of berry baskets I can use to make gift baskets full of lettuce plants.

Two of the pots are large plastic ones with saucers - one will hold the cherry tomato for DD15, and the other will get my experimental chickpeas. I soaked 5 chickpeas from a bog of dried and they sprouted almost immediately. I did some reading, and they will grow, but I am told they take up a lot of room in a small garden, for a limited crop yield, and they need a special innoculant. I will just plant these five in a pot and see what happens - apparently they have fern-like foliage that is attractive.

I got some good advice about legumes in on GardenWeb. Boiled down to: the best varieties of beans for shelling are pole beans, which at a good bet for vertical growing and a big yield in a small yard. I should explore cowpeas - black-eyed peas and their cousins from the South. Most peas are garden peas - most dried peas are grown commercially, and I will have to order them from specialty suppliers to get seeds. Also not so efficient in a small yard.

So - this year I will grow garden peas, one Taylor Horticultural bean, a few chickpeas, and look for some black-eyed peas. Maybe a few green beans to freeze for DD15 - she likes to eat them frozen, right out of the bag.

DD15 tried to argue for us to plant things we could sell at the West Reading producer market - but we can't grow enough in our yard. We need to stick to our goal of reducing our own grocery bill. When I think about it, dried peas and beans are really cheap - I don't need to replace those in our budget. I need to focus on herbs and fresh veg, for us to eat and to trade with other gardeners.

Earth Day

We went to Earth Day at Centre Park on Sunday, between rain showers. It wasn't as well attended as I recall in the past. Partly the threat of rain, but there was also a lot of competition from the live Obama appearance at the high school at the same time. The kids found it boring - the face painting was lame, and there were not enough activities for the number of kids there. The whole event needs refreshing. It has turned into a series of tents with petitions for adults to sign.

They had recycling bins next to all the trash cans - but people didn't pay any attention. There as mixed trash and recyclables in both. We need a return to the basic messages about littering and recycling - and it need to tie into city living more. City gardening - container gardening, environmental issues in the city.

I thought the live raptors were cool - there was a booth with a live turkey vulture, a horned owl, and a red-tailed hawk.

We got two tiny lilac bushes Miss Kim, supplied by the Henry company, who makes the recycled molded-paper pots they came in. Miss Kim is supposed to have a smaller habit, more disease resistance, and less tendency to form suckers. Reported to have very fragrant flowers. But they are only 6" tall at this point!

We also scored a violet plant - which we didn't really need, and some sunflower seeds in newspaper pots. We will plant the lilacs and violets in Mom's yard today. We are going to go do some work this afternoon. I guess that's our Earth Day commitment this year - we are working steadily on cleaning up Mom's back yard and returning it to use as a productive vegetable garden.

Path is built - hooray!

I started loosening the dirt where I wanted a path last evening, and DH came out and took the shovel and dug it all up. I so seldom see him do (or want to do) anything in the garden - I was pretty surprised. He said it wasn't hot, there were hardly any bugs, and there was no cut grass yet (to which he is allergic). I will have to keep him in mind more for spring and fall tasks. Personally, I think he has just heard the rest of us blabbing about the garden so long that he felt left out.

This morning, the girls and I went out and laid the path. We took out some dirt, which I used to fill in depressions left by lifting perennials last fall. Then we smoothed out the path bed, packed the dirt, laid thick newspaper to deter weeds, and laid brick. DD15 built a step with a big flat stone the neighbor gave us from his foundation excavation. Then we needed a "back" to the step, so we sank bricks edgewise. We had a pretty sharp curve to lay brick around, and no way to cut bricks, so we left wedge-shaped opening that we filled with dirt and topped with flat pieces of stone we scavenged. DD15 chipped them to fit with a hammer. Then we swept dirt into the cracks and watered it in.

We were concerned that the step back would collaspe if someone stepped on it hard, so DD15 drove in bamboo garden stakes and cut them flush to reinforce the step. I am proud of her engineering skills. She did the bulk of the hard labor. DD11 hauled bricks, but has little fondness for things that involve bugs. There were bugs under all the bricks. She needed goading to keep going.

It's "rustic", meaning no mason would lay claim to it. But it does what I need it to do - make a path for me to get to the back of the yard after all the stuff grows in, with no holes to step in or weeds to pull. It's a tiny path in a tiny yard, not a public thoroughfare. We will have to go back and re-level a few of the bricks after we walk on for a little while. I need to scavenge a few more bricks to finish the edge of the border.

It only took about an hour, and it was FREE! We scavenged all the bricks - some where buried in the yard, some were from a sidewalk being dug up, and some from the neighbor's excavation. We used recycled newspaper collected over the winter.

I think it looks great! I am going to plant some thyme along the edges.

I also like this idea of edging with wine bottles - I wonder if I could get people at church to save them for me.
wine bottle edge

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hardening off herbs

Weather: Low 80s daytime, 50s at night. Rain expected Sunday (Earth Day) and Monday, followed by a cooler week nights in the upper 40s and days in the upper 60s. We could use the rain - pretty dry for the past 2 weeks.

In my own yard, I have brought out the potted herbs that we overwintered. A little trough of sage (pretty straggly), a rosemary from last summer, and a lavender. I am very happy to have gotten the rosemary through, after last year's powdery mildew horrors. It was drier upstairs in Celeste's window environment. I put them on the warm sidewalk with the bean plant in the pot. Might have to cover them next week for a few evenings. It will go back down to cooler temperature after a few days in the 80's.

I am doing a bad job with the milk jugs. I didn't tape them all, so they evaporate more than I would like and I don't water them enough. Uneven moisture is going to slow down germination. Trying to get back into my regular morning water patrol habit.

Almost forgot: there is a place to get composted leaves in Exeter, which we can visit since that is Mom's township. We can take fishboxes there and fill them to haul the dirt. Have to remember to get more fishboxes Wednesday.

Progress at Mom's

We have begun to work on Mom's yard. We went for a few hours each day on Wednesday and Thursday. There is a bulk trash pick-up on the 26th, and we want to have a lot of stuff out on the curb. We are sorting and organizing, filling trash bags and recycling bins that go out Monday. We assembled a lot of hubcaps that she thinks are valuable - we can take them to someone who trades in them, so she can hear what they are really (not) worth.

The kids have been working on raking leaves out of the bushes and flowerbeds, building a leaf composting pile outside the side fence. We have a good collection of stuff at the back of the driveway to put out for bulk pick-up. DD11 took charge of collecting all the artificial greenery and Christmas stuff that had been stuck into various crevices. We bagged it with a collection of 6 old rotted basketballs, and brought it home to put put out in our trash. She has an awkward by-the-bag trash arrangement.

It frustrates the kids sometimes, that we have to talk her into doing things that seem obvious, but she is more cooperative than I expected. No major blow-ups so far. I keep reminding her that she is at risk of enforcement action if her yard looks like she is collecting trash. We are making real progress. I think it helps to keep talking about gardening goals. We found a nice patch of Virginia Bluebells in the back corner. She has good boxwoods, dogwoods, and other plantings.

We are looking for a way to borrow or rent a chipper for a day, to make a pile of mulch with her yard trimmings. Kurt works in landscaping, and might be able to help us out. It looks like he did a good job of helping her trim the horribly overgrown pear tree.

There is room to do a lot of good vegetable gardening once we remove some of her stuff. She has some compost to get started with, although her dirt is horrible clay that needs a *lot* of amendment. She has been taking too much stuff down to the field to get rid of it - she needs to keep all the organics she can get to make more compost. I will get some more fish boxes for lettuce and greens for her - she has a real rabbit problem. But she also has a number of good places to put the boxes well off the ground.

We will go back this weekend for another few hours. I am buying a trash can to use for water collection, and a new clothesline. Need to clear a safe path under the clothesline for her.

If we go 2-3 times a week for an hour or two at a time, we will make progress, and keep her from back-sliding. Once the garden is established, she should feel good about it's usability. We can then move on to the back patio and get a table set up in there, so she can sit in the shady area when it is hot. The challenge will be to keep from re-filling the back yard with stuff when we start to work on the cellar and porch.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hitting 80 on Friday!

Wow! This week is supposed to be in the 70's, almost 80 by Friday. Nights only in the 50s. That should really warm up the ground. The warmer days have had a dramatic effect on the returning perennials. The peonies are just about jumping out of the ground. There are violets in the grass.

I pressed some violets in a phone book the other day, along with some daffodils, hyacinths, and tulip petals. Never tried those before; can't wait to see how they turn out. I'm trying to press some of everything has blooms this year.

The green onions finally sprouted. I thought they weren't going to do anything. I guess they just needed warmer dirt. All we need to see now is the carrot and beet sprouts. DD11 checks every day.

I should get more planted. I am swapping some guy in Arizona for some parsnip seeds. We cleaned up some stuff in the yard today. Pulled some weeds and stacked some bricks, preparatory to laying out a new brick path. It will just be a temporary path, with the bricks set right on newspaper over dirt, so I can get into the back corner of the yard after things start growing.

The short breaks taken out in the yard have been sanity-saving lately, as I am yanked in different directions by competing responsibilities.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lots happening now!

Weather: Clear and cool. Nights in the low 40s, days in the upper 50s. Occasionally warmer.

Things are cooking now! The peas popped out of the ground on the 11th. A few of the yellow onions have already sprouted, but many had to be replanted after cats dug them up - I guess the new plot looked like an attractive litter box. And now the bunching onions are also sprouting. The greens continue to do beautifully - developing second leaves. Will need thinning soon.

The jugs have not sprouted anything yet, but if the week warms up a bit as expected, that should change. I have decided to look for some broccoli transplants for the larger fish box. I need to get it off the ground and find a cover, to keep the cabbage butterflies away.

To do, this next week or so:

Find broccoli transplants
Get more seed potatoes (killed the first batch by forgetting to plant them)
Find tires for potato tower
Find 5-gallon bucket for sweet potato
Get parsnip seeds to plant in toilet paper cores
Lay out the brick path
Get the abandoned pallet behind Turkey Hill to use for a bed paths
Spray the peonies with baking soda water

Ohh! I found out when the spring Master Gardener Sale will be - Friday May 2 is the first day. Yay! Loved it last year - must put money aside.

On the ornamental side, a few tulips are blooming and I pressed a few daffodils and hyacinths to see how they turn out. Most of the perennials are showing good signs of new growth, some faster than the others. One peony is definitely racing ahead - could be a different cultivar than the slower ones, or the others could just be weaker plants. It's the only one that bloomed last year.

Taking the kids to work in Mom's yard on Wednesday. Should prove interesting. Have stopped in and looked at the things I transplanted in the fall, and they all look good. Getting her to make room in the back yard will be a priority, as well as clearing the junk out of eyeshot just inside the gate.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Taylor Bean propagation disappointing

Nothing much happened with the Taylor beans. One looked like it was thinking about germinating, and poked out a little thing that might be a root one day. I stuck it in a pot of dirt. Maybe it will grow, maybe not.

I need to find something else to try. I want shell beans and dried peas this year. Some snap beans and garden peas will be okay, too, but I want the dried ones more. I need to find out what grows well around here. I posted to the PA forum at GardenWeb, but it doesn't seem to be getting much traffic. A woman did give me a good method for intensely planting peas and beans - dig a wide shallow trench and plant the seeds all across it, 1" apart in all directions. Then cover and insert twigs for pea fencing, or supports for pole beans. She said it came from an old Victory Garden book - and she never soaks them first.

Maybe I should look for the things I buy in cans! Cannelinis, garbanzos, northern whites, black beans, etc...

Herbs and more Onions in

I made six milk jug hothouses - hot jugs? Heh. I now it's late in the "winter-sowing" season, but there is still a good danger of frost, and stuff will sprout faster in the jugs.

I over-watered one jug and have to wait for it to drain, but I planted the other five: Lavender "Munstead" from a swap, Cinnamon Basil, Genovese Basil, Thyme (unidentified variety from a swap), and Sweet Marjoram.

DD11 planted a whole quarter with yellow Stuttgarter onion sets. The white onion quarter is doing well with little sprouts all over, but the bunching onions don't seem to be doing much. Maybe I will try them again in a fishbox, since they don't need a lot of depth.

11 also asked me to dig a patch just for her to plant whatever she wants. She said she doesn't want any help - she will look it all up on the internet. I will dig a rectangle at the edge of the grass next to the brick path. DD15 and I need to finish the path this week.

I filled a big fish box with soil, but didn't plant it yet. The spinach and lettuce are doing well, and I could use this box for the next succession of planting in a week or so. Maybe romaine. Planted Japanese Blood Grass in a bagged meat tray. If it goes well, I can use it for swaps. (Note 5/31/08: the JBG never sprouted at all. Could have been bad seed - came from a seed swap.)

Also filled two clay pots from a yard sale - but I may empty the big one and use it to pot a dug-up guara. I need to move the largest one away from the mulberry stump. The stump is sprouting again, and I am going to paint the leaves with Round-up, repeatedly, if necessary. So I don't want any keeper plants near it until I kill it once and for all. (Note: The guara is doing well in a pot, and the stump was susccessfully dug up; no chemical intervention needed.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sprouts Up, Seeds In

DD11 planted 5 rows of Nates Coreless Carrots and a row of Detroit Deep Red Beets in one the veggie quarters. It will be warming up this week, and raining off and on toward the weekend. We will get more stuff planted this week.

I took some photos of sprouty-things that I need to put up when I get time. All the lettuce and spinach has come up, and the little white onions are growing. No sign of peas yet. I thought I saw one, but it was a purslane sprout.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

First sprouts: Mustard!

The mustard in the little meat tray is coming up, only 5 day after planting. Yay! Nothing yet in the regular beds and boxes.

Madelyn's little pot of mixed seeds is also sprouting inside its ziplock. I think she planted wheat (!), peas, and English daisies, all in one 4" pot.

I planted blackberry lilies in another tray of mixed dirt. I must get more bagged soil!