Friday, May 28, 2010

Rain, please!

We have had a lengthy period of insufficient rain and some record breaking heat. And this is only May, albeit late May.

But, the garden is doing fairly well. There is far less snail and slug damage than last year. We have only seen a woodchuck once - but I have seen a couple of broccoli eaten totally off in the last two days so it probably has returned. As soon as we saw the groundhog we had the trapper set out two traps, but all we caught was a skunk and two raccoons (or the same raccoon on consecutive nights). I released them, making sure I had a large plastic sheet between me and the skunk (which was very timid and calm) and that I had gloves on when releasing the raccoon(s) (which was/were aggressive). Now the traps have been empty for over a week and therefore not attracting anything. We had a deer in the yard on at least two occasions - one evidenced by hoof prints and the other by an actual sighting.

As to my efforts at deer control, we have a four to five foot fence around the back yard but this clearly does not keep deer out. The question has been where the deer (I have never seen evidence of more than one) comes in. Our neighbor has seen the deer go into their yard and jump the fence into our yard. Several weeks ago I added a three foot post to each fence post on that side and then stapled deer fencing to those posts to make a seven foot barrier. That has remained intact. When the deer was chased out of the yard it went over the gate in the back corner of the property. I have now put up two pieces of metal 3 foot fencing there. One piece was pushed over several days ago, perhaps meaning that the deer tried to enter there (or maybe meaning that it just fell since I didn't actually attach that piece to the fence. I now have.) Without rain the ground is so dry that it would be difficult to see hoof prints.

The photo is of part of this year's spinach crop. I have never been particularly successful with spinach but this year both beds did very well. This bed is a variety called Space which I believe I bought as being particularly good for growing through the winter. We have so much spinach that I have been cutting it and freezing it. I have always pulled out spinach plants before as my method of harvesting them - and creating room for warm weather plants - but I want to see how well it will regrow.

June is just a few days away and we will be taking a short trip to a conference so I am working on planting all the seedlings that I can. It would be a lot easier if the forecasts for rain were accurate for where we live. I spend a lot of time hauling water to the little seedlings. I also planted some ground cherries, tomatoes and potatoes in containers and they need watering a couple of times a day. Hopefully it rains while we are gone. We also have to figure out what to do with the toad tadpoles in the aquarium in the kitchen, but that is another topic.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Mid-May Garden

The potatoes began emerging four days ago.

Because of the slow growth of my seedlings I bought some lettuce, broccoli, basil, and pepper seedlings at the Regional Market. Lettuce because we have eaten all the winter lettuce and all the lettuce that I put out in cold frames early in the year. My later seedlings just won't be producing lettuce to eat for a while yet - they are the ones that I started in inappropriate potting soil. Basil because I started seeds late - I don't know why I scheduled them so late. Broccoli and peppers because my seedlings are not growing. I may put them (and the tomatoes) out in the garden in a covered cold frame to see if the warmth will encourage them.

A new item this year is minutina. The seeds are extremely tiny and since it is hard to dole them out I have at least 30 little plants in each little pot. Today I decided to plant some out since they are a spring green. Supposedly they should be planted eight inches apart. It will be amazing if these little things that look like small grass stems will grow big enough to be that far apart. Or, considering how they were all growing together in the little pot, if they will grow at all. They will need the tenacity of lettuce to survive. This is one of this year's experiments.

We have grown very fond of ground cherry jam and it takes a lot of ground cherries to make the jam. The ones I started from seed were also in the potting soil that didn't work well. But it is said that if you once have ground cherries you will always have ground cherries. They are coming up all over the area where they were grown last year so I transplanted some of them to containers. This is one thing we decided to try in order to be able to harvest them more easily. I also am transplanting some of them in the area where they are already growing. I will also plant some of the ones that I started from seed.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Snow peas or snow spinach?

I was sure last week that the danger of a May frost was over. Sure, it wasn't May 10th yet but the warm April and the effects of global warming made it seem that we weren't going to have a late frost. And I don't think we actually did here in our yard notwithstanding the obvious snow. Here it is sitting on the spinach.

The outside temperature actually read 36 degrees while I was watching the snow fall and there was enough to require clearing off the car windows before driving.

At least I didn't plant out any warm weather crops in anticipation of continued warm temperatures. But that may be more the result of not having seedlings that are large enough (see prior posts) not that I have learned from experience.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What Have We Eaten So Far?

We have been eating from the garden since April 6th when we picked some of the lettuce that was started last October along with some of the mache and claytonia that we started in the winter and put out in the first cold frame around the beginning of February.

We have also been eating crops that we had assumed would be killed by the winter cold - namely scallions and kale. We have also had some zen (an Asian green), spinach, and lettuce that we started indoors and put out into the second cold frame.

All of the scallions and kale that survived the winter have now been eaten (they were sending up flower stalks), along with the lettuce that overwintered in the "lettuce frame".

Lately we have been eating claytonia, lettuce and Chinese cabbage (including pak choi and komatsuna) all of which were transplanted into the spring garden. We did pick a small amount of rhubarb also.

My tally, which is fairly accurate although some produce comes in and forgets to weigh itself, is about 23 pounds. Timing to keep enough, but not too much, ready for eating is not yet something that I have mastered. Perhaps because of the very warm (and dry) spring some crops have already "bolted". That happened with the pak choi and so I picked it all (only eight plants) and froze it for later use.

Is it the potting soil?

What am I doing differently this year such that my seedlings are not growing well? The tomatoes (left) and peppers (right) that I started on April 3rd have germinated but have not developed as they should. Admittedly I started them later than I wanted to but these little plants represent seedlings that emerged four weeks ago. The same is true of most of my other seedlings. The lettuce I transplanted this week are the smallest little lettuces I have ever planted out. That is also true of the broccoli, zen and kale that I have now transplanted.

My suspicion is that the potting soil I used after I finished up last year's bag is the cause. I know that a lot of sources on starting seedlings say to not use commercial potting soil but I have never had a problem. What I have been using the last several years is Miracle-Gro potting soil (the bag also says that it feeds plants up to six months). When that ran out this year I bought what I thought was the same - well, the color of the bag was the same - but I think it was Scotts Premium Potting Soil, which, according to their website, is intended for container gardening. I knew that it was different when I opened it because it was fairly coarse and full of little chips of mulch and woody stems.

The seedlings I grew thorough the winter to try out in the cold frames did not have any problem but they would have been grown in last year's potting soil. The most recently planted seeds also seem to be doing well and would have been planted in potting soil from a new bag of Miracle Grow. It is what I started in between - that is, using the coarse potting soil - that has not done well.

Since the soil around these seedlings, when I knock them out to plant, is very wet I suspect that this potting soil is a type created to retain moisture. On the other hand I have also changed the way I water the seedlings, using a little watering can and watering from the top as opposed to my prior method of pouring water into the bottom of the tray in which the pots are sitting and then draining it out a short time later. But I don't really think this would change the amount of moisture retained by the soil in the pots.

As a result of the slow growth, I have been planting seedlings into the garden that are much smaller than what I would normally plant. Time will tell if they will thrive. They may have been in too much water too long and can't recover in the garden soil. [The tiny lettuce plants seem to be doing okay, however.]

Also today I transplanted the tomatoes and peppers into larger containers using the newer potting soil. Hopefully they will soon be smiling back at me - and growing.

Monday, May 3, 2010

I'm Getting a Slow Start

Maybe I am misled by the warm spring we have had so far, but I seem to be behind in my "regular" gardening. Working on building cold frames and trying to get some greens started early in cold frames I have been late in starting seeds for the garden. As a result I have peppers that are just beginning to form their first true leaves and tomatoes that certainly don't look like they will be big enough to set out later this month.

I am concerned about the potting soil I used. It retains a lot of moisture so that some of the seedlings that I set out were sitting in dripping potting soil. But they certainly have roots. I am mostly concerned about the growth of the seedlings. Several days ago I planted out the smallest lettuce seedlings ever. But, knowing that lettuce is pretty hardy (and that I have bunches more still in their little containers), I set out about 60 tiny seedlings. I put them in the frame that I used for the winter lettuce and, later, the early Asian greens and covered the frame with row cover material to protect them from too much sunlight. Hopefully the slugs won't find them immediately.

I have also set out celeriac - although this may be too early as I have read that they will bolt in the warm weather. Anyone with experience with celeriac, let me know. The parsley is in - now that it is large enough so that I can distinguish it from the cutting celery. [I didn't label the containers.] I have planted potatoes and set out more leeks yesterday. I planted the leeks by dropping them into holes made with a dowel. Usually I dig trenches and plant them in the bottom and then pull the extra soil over them as they grow. I'll see how this method works because it is certainly easier and allows more leeks in the same space since there isn't soil piled up along the sides.

We may now be where we are producing enough of our own greens that we don't need to buy them at the grocery store. The Asian greens (Chinese cabbages, komatsuna, and pak choi) have grown well and are ready to eat. We have been working on the lettuces that I planted out in the cold frames earlier. [The winter lettuce have been gone for some time - how long will 22 lettuce plants last?] We have been eating last year's kale and scallions and have started on this year's zen and spinach.

Now, since I am already late, I need to start some basil, more kale and squash inside, and fava beans and scallions outside. From the limited way in which scallions have germinated inside this year I suspect that the seeds have lost much of their viability.

And, just as I finish this my wife spotted a nice fat groundhog in the back yard with something nice and green in its mouth. Guess we didn't get them all last year.