Friday, March 20, 2009

It's Too Nice To Do Nothing

Yesterday was sunny. Today I am tired and sore. There is a relationship.

It is a little early to plant although I wouldn't be surprised if people have already planted spinach and peas and other early spring vegetables. My soil certainly can "be worked". I'm thinking of planting peas tomorrow and maybe spinach. I looked in the "lettuce frame" today and see that the broccoli raab is beginning to emerge along with one of the lettuces.

But, yesterday was a clean-up day. I have a three part composter (I believe the plan came from Crockett's Victory Garden) that receives garden waste and those kitchen scraps that don't go to the composting worms in the cellar. I used to make compost fairly quickly when I could layer the garden stuff with my neighbor's newly mown grass. But most people mulch their grass these days and if the grass is really growing nicely it means that chemical additives are likely creating the lushness and that is something we don't want in the vegetable garden. So I no longer experience that early spring joy of a steaming compost pile. I still get compost, it just takes a lot longer. But one job yesterday was to break up the accumulated flower and vegetable stalks from last fall and move everything to two of the three sections. That job didn't quite get finished because the material in the lower half of the soon-to-be-empty section is still frozen.

I also spread straw over most of the vegetable garden beds. My son left behind the better part of two bales of straw (from the cob oven he constructed in the back corner of the yard) last fall and I used those. I have read several sources recently that strongly suggest not leaving any part of your garden uncovered.

My son also collected more bricks than he needed for his oven. Actually he used some of the bricks that I had lining the sides of my raised beds for the oven and brought in others that he gave me to replace those. I spent some time on my hands and knees replacing the bricks that he had removed.

We are removing the yellow raspberries that we have in the garden and planting another variety. I spent some time - on my hands and knees again - digging around some of the stumps and pulling them out.

Three days ago I set up two of our rain barrels and they both filled during the rain the next day. I have three more to set out. The purpose for the rain barrels is to provide non-chlorinated water for the garden and for the two ponds. One of our ponds has a circulating pump (not yet started up for the season) with the water then running down a stream bed to the pond, the other pond has no circulation. Toads gather in our ponds at mating time and lay their eggs. One year we saw thousands of our tiny, tiny toads develop and then leave the pond to seek their fortunes. But then recently we have seen eggs, tadpoles, and then nothing. One year we believe that grackles ate the tadpoles. But we also believe that they may be sensitive to chlorine and that when we add water from our faucet to the ponds we may be killing them. This year will be a test. If we see lots of little toads hopping away from our ponds it will suggest that the chlorine was the problem.
Anyway, one of my knees is sore, my back was stiff, and one wrist felt weak. Today is a day to rest up so I can wear myself out again tomorrow.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Nice Days for a Nice Beginning; The First Frog

Yesterday (Saturday, March 14th) and today were very nice days - in or close to the 50s in temperature and sunny. Yesterday I planted lettuce, zen (a very nice green), broccoli raab, and swiss chard outside in a wooden enclosure with a glass top. This had been sitting in one of the garden beds all winter in the hope that some lettuce seed that I planted in late October would begin to grow. Several previous years I started lettuce in September and had seedlings to transplant into this bed and they would grow for a while, sit there all winter, and then start growing again in the spring so that we had edible lettuce in April. But last year I was too late (back injury). The soil in that enclosure was warm and certainly ready to work yesterday and so I expect that the seeds that I just planted will germinate and grow.

Today I turned under the winter rye that I had planted in one bed last September and then I moved inside to start broccoli, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, parsley and chamomile. Back on the 5th I started leeks and scallions and they have already germinated and are under the lights in the cellar.

I am trying to do much better this year in keeping records of what I start (including the variety), when, and when the seeds germinate and when I plant them out. Hopefully at the other end I will record when harvesting begins and ends. That is where I have been really weak and so I never know when to expect the first tomato or other vegetable.

Other than one frog that slid across the ice on the pond three days ago when we pulled out the pipe that we used to allow gases to escape, we saw the first intentionally appearing frog today. So one, at least, of the 12 to 15 frogs that we had last year made it through the winter. We have also seen one that didn't. Since our frogs were not mature enough to produce tadpoles we needed the adults to make it through the winter. No adults survived the 2007-2008 winter so as far as our yard was concerned they were on the brink of extinction. So now we need only one of a sex different from the one that appeared today.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

At Long Last

This has been a very long winter because it started in November and any break - like a January thaw - was pretty weak and short. But on March 1st I noticed that our pussy willow was showing the end of winter. Little fuzzies were beginning to emerge from the buds. And at the Edible Gardening meeting on February 28th several people reported having seen their first red winged blackbird. When I was a kid I always looked for the first robin as a sign of spring but some robins stay around during the winter. My wife's records for 2001-2008 show sightings of robins in all months of the year, although not necessarily every year. The numbers are less in the winter than the rest of the year, but they are here. But apparently the appearance of the red winged blackbird is a sure sign.

Another hopeful sign is that the dawn is noticeably earlier and dark noticeably later as the days pass.

So it is time to prepare for outdoor gardening. I am setting up a table in the cellar with fluorescent lights above for starting more seedlings than I have in the past. I think I have washed (and rinsed with a little bleach) enough little pots and six packs for all the edibles that I want to start, along with a lot of milkweed in connection with my wife's Monarch butterfly garden activities. [I never knew that Monarch butterfly larva only eat milkweed. No milkweed, no Monarchs.]

All my seed packets have arrived now - from four different sources. By the time I get them started the snow will be gone from the garden and the soil will be workable and it will be warm enough to be out there. I hope to see lots of other people doing the same.