Friday, March 27, 2009

Rain, Rain, Please Don't Go Away (Random Garden News)

The weatherpeople keep teasing us with promises of heavy rain, but so far we've just had light showers. My garden NEEDS some heavy rain.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the winter sowing. I think that the concept of throwing seeds in a pot and waiting til Spring probably works best for colder climates--ones not prone to freak warm spells followed by freak cold spells followed by freak warm spells followed by...On the other hand, one can't deny the head start I've gotten on my squash and cukes. However, by the time the second round of seeds went in, it was already too warm for much more than sizzling death inside the containers. The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are up, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to get enough growth to justify a transplant. Does that make sense?

So. I think I'll do this next year BUT I'm going to add a wheeled cart into the mix so that if it DOES look like we'll get a heavy freeze after freak-warm-spell-induced-seedlings come up, I can just push the babies inside for the overnight hours and return them outside during the day. I also am thinking about expanding the container sizes so that I literally have little mini-greenhouses. Am thinking about green ways to try to finagle this.

I'm feeling a bit slumpish about the garden right now. I feel as if my soil isn't "alive." Things are green at first when they come up, but then seem sort of tired and spent soon after, which just depresses me. (I am perhaps a wee too emotionally attached to my garden. :)) I plan to use the next few weeks adding as much organic material as I can to the soil and hooking up my watering system again. I also might work a little "live it up" charm with this girly. Isn't she precious? I got her at a yard sale last week from an African woman who does wire work. I luff praying mantises (manti?) and think she'd make a good guardian spirit for the garden.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

I've got a couple of gardening quandaries that I'm working on right now. Maybe some of y'all can hook me up with some advice?
  1. My winter composting consists pretty much of me chucking bits of kitchen waste out the backdoor. (A method that Will simply ADORES.) Sometime in January, I realized this was not very efficient, so I went outside and hacked some of the larger bits of kitchen waste into smaller bits to ensure better breaking down. A few of the bits were actually whole mini-pumpkins given to the kids by my mother-in-law at Halloween. They hadn't broken down at all, probably because of the coating of waxy stuff used to preserve the painted on faces that decorated them. I chopped them into pieces, noting in passing that they sure were full of seeds to be so small. Can you see where this is going? The fruit of the pumpkins broke down beautifully, but I am now the proud owner of at least ten mini-pumpkin seedlings, with more popping up every day. Some research shows them to be edible and full of uses, from the aforementioned painted on pumpkin doohickeys to autumnal candle holders. BUT--I can't use ten vines...I'm not even sure if I could find room for two or three. I have considered potting them individually and trying to sell them at the Farmer's Market. Or maybe using them as a vine in the as-yet-to-be-decided front flower bed. I love the IDEA of mini-pumpkins and think that they could be a good cash crop, but I'm not up for an entire garden of them. What do y'all think?
  2. My winter-sown heirloom white scalloped squash is rapidly outgrowing it's container. I've got EIGHT (because I'm a nut) plants that are growing like gang-busters and which really need to be transplanted soon. However, squash is notorious for being difficult to transplant and I really want to baby these guys. Tomorrow is the last date for average spring frosts in my area, but the temperatures are expected to fall to the upper thirties on Saturday night. I really want to get my watering system in soon, which would be best done if the plants are in. Ackk!!
  3. Also in the self-seeding category are a whole menagerie of tomatoes: Romas and Better Boys. Below is a wad of Roma seedlings.Daddy has asked for a few of them, but I might be able to get as many as twenty out of all the little seedlings. I've winter-sown both varieties--as well as Cherokee Purple and Jelly Bean, so I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to need any more tomatoes. Should I just chunk them in the compost? Try to sell them at the Farmer's Market?
The biggest issue here is that I HATE to waste plants and money, so when I lose a plant or can't use one, it makes me nuts. What would YOU do?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Catching Up...Again

Seriously, early spring is a BAD time for my blog.

How about a list to catch y'all up? I think yes. (Also with a bit of stream of consciousness thrown in. Woohoo!!)

  1. The garden is coming along swimmingly. I have learned sooo much from the winter sowing experiment. Like, cucumbers sprout so quickly. Why in the world would anybody ever start them as seedlings? I probably won't do this again with cukes. I also learned that Swiss chard grows in little clumps from one seed and is pissy about being transplanted or thinned. It will transplant, but it isn't all that thrilled about the whole thing and the primary leaves will turn a sickly yellow before agreeing to green up. Not sure I'll winter sow them again, either, maybe just start them earlier. Last weekend, I planted a vast assortment of stuff; everything from three different kinds of basils to four different kinds of tomatoes. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to stuff all of these seedlings along with the beans and peas and carrots and onions that will come along with them, but I guess I'll figure something out. I also put out some more lettuce and spinach seeds, which have sprouted and been dug up (by me AND Frodo) and sprouted again. Still actively growing are the lettuce, spinach, and arugula I set out as plants. I doubt I'll do plants again when it comes to greens. It seems redundant and expensive now that I'm on this side of the winter. Still, we've had several salads off of the greens, so the investment was worth it. The broccoli is also growing well, but hasn't gotten any heads yet. On Thursday, I "rearranged the furniture" in the garden in order to take advantage of the light better. I realized when I saw this picture that the bird netting I use to grow cukes and peas shadows the plants behind it more than I previously supposed. (Note how much smaller the broccoli in the back is.)So I'm moving all of the trellises to the back of the various beds. Anything tall will be on the north and east side of the garden, mainly in the back beds where there's more shade. I know from last year that peppers and cukes will do okay in partial shade and I think some of my beans will, as well. Here's a shot of the garden complete, which isn't too different than it was a few weeks ago. What you can't see from here are the raspberries planted along the newly moved trellis and the transplanted sorrel and cutting celery. We love raspberries with a passion and Jeffrey would make himself sick on sorrel if I let him, so I'm trying to put a lot of "nibblies" in the two beds closest to the house. I'll be putting a "Jelly Bean" grape tomato in the bed on the left for River.You also can't that a potato (and a random, unknown weed?)It is! (And, unfortunately, a highly identifiable bit of nut grass. Argh.) BUT!!! The potatoes are up! I am just THRILLED about this, as potatoes still seem like some sort of new and insane piece of craziness to grow--and I'm still worried about my soil. Further worries involve a disconcerting lack of earthworms. I seriously am earthworm deficient. My feeling is that the number of fireants in my garden is keeping the population low, and my soil is probably STILL organic material-deficient. So I have two plans of attack. The first is that I've found an organic fireant control that has good reviews. (I'll let you know if it works.) The second is that I need to get my compost cooking FAST and add it as a top dressing ASAP. Then, you know, I'll add worms. The leaves are doing a great job of controlling weeds in the paths so far, but I'm getting some in the beds. I'll have to do some weeding when it dries out. I also discovered (HORROR) that one of my beds has termites...the price to pay for untreated lumber, but not cool at all so close to the house. I read that some beneficial nematodes are used to control termites, and I found a seller who combines nematodes that work on ants, termites, fleas, thrips, loopers, and some beetles that were problematic for me last year. So...I think I'll do a double whammy on the beds and see what happens. I've also been cleaning out the front bed and readying it for spring. Still mulling over the idea of making it all medicinal and tea herbs. And then zinnias and other cut flowers for the strip next to the house? Not sure if I can convince Will of this. He's pretty anti-flowerbeds, because they always seem to get weedy and produce well. He thinks bushes are always the way to go.
  2. In non-gardening news, I have FINALLY figured out a biscuit recipe that makes me happy. The winner is: Mama's recipe. For years, I've fought against it, because I wanted to have MY recipe, the thing that I do. But it really is the most workable. I've made changes to it, the first being that I use all purpose flour versus self-rising like she does. I also use my fingers to sort of smoosh the butter into the flour--and I'm going to start using unsalted butter because I feel that they're a bit too salty. I knead the dough a bit and then I poke holes in the finished biscuits for extra rise. Mama doesn't do all of the above, so I feel like I have my OWN version of the recipe and it makes me happy to have reliable biscuits every time. I'm contemplating getting a cast iron biscuit pan just because it seems cool. I also might try to do my own buttermilk with lemon juice thing next time to see if a tangy taste is better for my family. The pictures below are a fairly flat batch--it was very humid that day and I added too much milk. They still tasted great!
  3. Still working on the organizing thing. It might actually make me go crazy really, really soon. I've developed a new way of cleaning, one that works for me when I'm not sitting on the computer writing blogs all day. I just take my timer from room to room and force myself to only work five minutes at a time on each room. It takes forty minutes to do the whole house and then I vacuum each room. You would think that this would mean every room is just a little bit messy, but I'm actually finding that I'm starting to have time to get a deeper clean and do stuff like wipe down baseboards or scrub windows with the leftover time. Each room has a day when I give it an extra thirty minutes for a total dust and vacuum and scrub down. The kitchen is different, of course. I work on it during meal times and when I get a spare second. I seriously doubt that it will ever be clean enough. Sigh.
So, here I'll make the obligatory "I'll do better about posting" statement. And I WILL try. When I'm not going mad on sunshine. Or dusting. Whichever.