Monday, May 18, 2009

Some Things Are Discouraging

Maybe I am impatient. I planted potatoes on May 4th (two weeks ago) and don't see any sign of potato sprouts yet. The pieces of potato that I planted seemed in good condition and those several that I didn't cut into pieces should not have rotted if that is was happened to the others. I planted asparagus crowns April 29th (two and a half weeks ago) and don't see any sign of asparagus shoots. Admittedly the asparagus crowns really looked in bad shape - more like dry strings - but I know that 20+ years ago when I planted our current asparagus they didn't look like they had potential either. But I can't imagine that these asparagus crowns have the strength to send anything through six inches of soil. I looked at an article on asparagus several days ago and the advice of that article would have been to not buy asparagus crowns that looked like the ones I received.

For several weeks I have been disappointed in the growth of all the lettuce that I have planted. It just seemed to be very slow. And a few were disappearing. In fact, one group of six or eight seedlings that I planted in one spot were all gone several days later. I blamed slugs. Then, on Friday I discovered that almost all of my broccoli plants that were in three different locations had been chewed almost to the ground. My immediate thought was groundhog. But a few minutes later seven year old Julia next door called over that they had seen a deer jumping the fence from our yard into their yard that morning. So then I thought "deer". Saturday I went to the Regional Market to buy more broccoli and friends there didn't think that deer would eat broccoli. Sounded more like groundhog to them.
This morning every one of the twelve new broccoli plants was eaten to the ground. And the lettuce looks more chewed than stunted so I think those plants have been trimmed back by the groundhog also. And the parsley that I planted out recently has been cut back.
We used to have a ground hog living under our shed until I put hardware cloth around the base of the shed and down into the ground. No problem for a number of years. Last year there seemed to be one episode of severe damage to the brussels sprouts. I was also told that there was a ground hog living a couple of houses away under a shed. This year the damage seems to be daily. I am pretty sure that fencing will not work unless it is fairly high and set about a foot into the ground. The fence that I have around part of the garden to discourage rabbits certainly hasn't and won't stop a determined ground hog.
Now I am afraid to plant out the warm weather vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers) for fear that some (or all) of them will be delightful treats for the ground hog.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Some Early Mistakes

The gardening year is young but I have already discovered a few things I do that need to be changed:
(1) In early March (the 14th to be exact) I seeded the area within a wooden frame that has a glass cover with various kinds of lettuce, some Swiss chard, and some other greens. While they all germinated germination and growth was very slow. I did much better with seed that I started indoors and transplanted outside later. Having this frame in one of my beds also interfered with my ability to follow my garden plan because lettuce wasn't scheduled for that space. When I did remove the frame it fell apart so that will help not repeat this mistake.
(2) I still have a habit of using more seed than I need to. For example I may put four or five tomato seeds in a little pot. Generally they all germinate and I am loath to thin them out. But I only use as many pots as I want plants, so two seeds would be enough. But I am learning to snip off extra seedlings (or, at least, some of them). Outside I also tend to overseed. This all goes back to Jim Crockett saying something to the effect that if you are stingy with your pea seeds your peas will be stingy with you. Maybe that is true for peas in the early Spring but it doesn't seem to be necessary for all vegetables.
(3) I still set out seedlings too soon. Nice weather just doesn't mean that the soil is warm enough for little seedlings to flourish. And often I have not hardened them off long enough. So I am putting seedlings that are too small and not properly prepared into the garden before the soil (and sometimes the air) is warm enough. While they try hard to please me they would do better if I waited a couple of weeks more.

So that I don't feel totally full of mistakes, I am happy to say that I have actually begun using the row cover material that I bought last year. That year I put it over an area where I had just planted pak choi and Chinese cabbages seeds. (Flea beetles seem to love these plants.) But with the row cover there I did not water the seeds and germination was poor or many of the emerging seedlings dried up, but the number of plants was very small. And, they also had flea beetles anyway. This year I started the plants indoors and put the row cover over them immediately after planting, making sure that it was pretty well secured around the edges. They seem to be doing very well and we may be eating some of them in the next few days. So that looks like one success.

May there be more.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's Hard To Wait

Okay, so the cold weather vegetables have been planted and are growing nicely - especially with yesterday's gentle rain - and we aren't yet at "the average last frost date", but I can't wait to plant the warm weather vegetables. After all the 10th of May is only a few days away and with the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere the weather is warmer and the newspaper doesn't show any cold nights in the immediate future, so why not get a jump? I planted my pole beans two days ago. I thought about planting the tomato seedlings but I have been "stung" before by planting tomatoes early only to have a frost seriously set them back. Anyway they are not actually big enough and haven't been hardened off enough. Not to mention that the spinach that occupies the bed where the tomatoes are supposed to go aren't even close to picking size. I guess I can wait until the 25th or the 30th.

Not that there hasn't been enough to do in the garden recently. Taking care of the seedlings indoor takes a certain amount of time especially because I started about 250 milkweed seedlings for a local nature center's fund raising plant sale. Boy will I be happy to deliver those. They have been ready to go for about three weeks and I have visions of them drying up for lack of space in their little containers.

I had this great garden plan all mapped out. Then we decided that the flower garden that was going to become part of the vegetable garden should remain in flowers. Since I then didn't have the place to transplant the pak choi and Chinese cabbages I just put them in a different bed. But that was where the new asparagus was supposed to go. And the little seedlings in the glass covered frame really didn't grow as quickly as I expected so that space remained tied up. [The seeds started indoors later that thos ein the frame have done much better.] I decided to scatter the cucmbers around the garden instead of putting them all in one place where pests could easily find them. Today I went out to see what I had put where and where I had empty spaces. Then I sat down and rewrote the plan around what I had already done. Somehow everything still fits. Part of the reason is that I cut way back on the number of tomato plants because Janet isn't supposed to eat tomatoes.

Right now the swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, zen (a green), new asparagus, peas, broccoli, garlic (some from October, some planted in April), new raspberries (and the dry little sticks are beginning to send out shoots), fava beans, scallions, potatoes, fennel, kale and leeks are in the garden. Plus a few nasturtiums as companion plants.

We ordered a number of new fruit plants - two cherry trees, two concord grapes, two more rhubarb, a currant, and a cranberry. The directions were to plant them within 8 hours. It took a little longer than that but they were all in the ground within 24 hours.

One thing I have done this year is cover some of the empty garden beds with compost. Then I can just plant seedlings through the compost. Will this keep down the weeds? Or will they grow even better with the compost. Another thing I have done is grow red clover among some of the larger plants - broccoli and kale and around the new raspberry - as a cover crop. I did scatter a little too much seed so they might crowd each other out.

I think this year I succeeded in using a row cover over the pak choi and Chinese cabbage. I started them indoors and then transplanted them and immediately covered them with the row cover material. They seem to be growing beautifully and not being eaten by little black bugs. Maybe I will try the same with the summer squash. I also started those indoors and they should be ready soon after the 15th of the month. Will that keep the squash vine borer off of them - at least until they flower and the cover needs to be removed?

I have been much better at record keeping this year. That also takes time. My planting schedule has been very helpful in keeping me doing what needs to be done. In the past there were always some things that didn't get planted because I didn't have a written schedule of what to plant when.