Here we go again with more pictures of…dirt

One of the strange and potentially funny side effects of having a gardening blog is that we’ve ended up with an inordinate amount of pictures of dirt. Granted, it is usually dirt that’s brimming with newly-planted seeds, but really, it’s still dirt. There’s nothing wrong with that – it does show the process and all — but it’s still a little bit odd.

So how’s about that dirt?!

Well first, how about the reason for taking pictures of said dirt? It’s because we got around to planting seeds, that’s why! This past weekend, we enjoyed a really lovely and warm Saturday. It was followed by a much cooler Sunday, and by the looks of the forecast, things are going to remain on the cooler side for a bit. With that in mind, we knew we could plant seeds that could handle a slight dip in temps, such as lettuces, arugula, kale, spinach, and radishes.

Planting prep tip #1: identify what you want to plant. Easy peasy!

On something of a whim, we decided to include flowers and herbs, along with a few other surprises, because we now have a slightly different planting situation with two of the raised beds. Namely, we replaced the old, rotting boards with concrete blocks.

This is the “new and improved” raised bed #4.
And this is the “new and improved” raised bed #2. We can barely tell them apart, too.

The reason for including other seeds in the mix — flowers and herbs and such — is because of all the surrounding planting “spaces” that we now have thanks to the concrete blocks. In those spaces we wanted to place a variety of items that might repel rabbits, or if the rabbits happen to get curious, at least distract them from what’s actually in each bed. As we’ve said before, the keyword with the garden this year is experiment.

So, in raised bed #2 we placed two lettuce varieties, along with kale and spinach. In the outer planting “blocks,” we planted various flowers and herbs — basil, thyme, dill, and cilantro — in an alternating pattern. In raised bed #4 are two types of arugula, along with two other types of lettuce. Around the edges of this raised bed, we got a little crazy and planted not only flowers and herbs, but also radishes, carrots, and even onions! While we seem to have the best of luck with radishes, the same can’t be said of either carrots or onions, but with the deeper plots, we decided, what the heck! We had the seeds already — the onions we hadn’t bothered with for a couple years — so why not see if they happen to take?

Meanwhile, we also placed radish seeds in our two half-barrels.

Barrel #1 with Saxa II and Round Black Spanish radishes.
Barrel #2 with Malaga and White Hailstone radishes. …and an unknown volunteer plant that we were too curious about the get rid of.

So there you have it. Pictures of lots of dirt. But hopefully it’s dirt that will soon be full of little seedlings!

We’ll sign off here with two more pictures that we couldn’t resist taking. Remember the little volunteer broccoli bush from a couple weeks ago? Well, it’s gone perfectly gigantic!

It is literally growing up and out of the net cage!

We’re going to have to remove it when we redo this particular bed, which we use for peas and broccoli (haha), in concrete blocks, but for now, it’s pretty wild-looking. And it does have those nice, yellow flowers on it.

A similar thing happened to our asparagus stalks. Seemingly overnight, the stalks grew into small trees!

Our previous attempts at asparagus have also gone to seed, but not quite like this!

The garden is nothing if not a constant source of wonder. 🙂

 

What’s going in the garden this year? Good question!

Around this time each season, we’ve worked on preparing our planting maps. Using, umm…highly sophisticated drawing software (read: MS Paint), we outline our planting beds and decide where to put everything from beans to kale to tomatoes.
Just one example from last year. See, highly sophisticated graphics and all.

Well, this year, we’re doing things differently.

 

For one, we’re skipping the planting maps. Well…we’re skipping preparing them in advance, anyway. Driving this is the seedlings.

Lookin’ good!

We have so many potential tomatoes and peppers that we want to plant them all! So, outside of the beds where we’ve been planting beans, cucumbers, peas, squash, and greens — those will remain — we’re going to transplant all the peppers and tomatoes first, in all available spaces, and then we’re going to fill in any extra spaces with other crops. At that point, we’ll fill in our planting maps just to keep track of what’s been planted where.

Because of this, secondarily, the garden may be a little less diverse than it has been in past years. We’ll likely skip planting a number of things that have been hit-or-miss, such as okra, soybeans, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and possibly ground cherries and radishes. But we’ll see how things go. A lot will depend on how well the pepper and tomato seedlings take.

Now, because we’re replacing the wood raised beds with concrete blocks, we’re hoping to take advantage of the spaces within the blocks themselves to try planting a few underground items in them, such as carrots and radishes, that need the extra length.
While the aesthetics might leave something to be desired, the practicality is where it’s at.

 So what’s going in the garden this year will be mostly tomatoes and peppers, along with our usual complement of bush beans, pole beans, cucumbers, various squash, greens and lettuces. Additionally, we’ll be planting a variety of flowers as rabbit-proofing, as well as a few surprises. It should all be very interesting, at least.

We sign off with our lovely strawberries, which just started blooming. June can’t come soon enough!

Getting outdoors, for real

After far too many delays and excuses, we were not going to pass up the chance to really get outside this past weekend. In fact, the 80+ degrees on Sunday practically called our names! But really, yard work was overdue. While we didn’t get to everything on the ol’ to-do list, we did knock out a number of chores, not the least of which was cleaning up and mowing the yard. We cleared out leaves and sticks, and assessed the garden beds generally. So far, so good! We still plan on replacing the raised beds, though as it’s a bit late now, we might just replace one bed with concrete blocks and then get some sort of temporary fencing for the others. We’ll still use our net cages, though they are not longer rabbits proof  (as evidenced by one of the skittery critters we found lounging in one of the beds, despite the net!) While clearing out leaves and such, we found a few surprises.

First, we have asparagus!


We had no idea that actual stalks of asparagus had been minding their own business during the winter. Granted, it’s only two stalks, but it’s two stalks more than we’ve ever had before, so it’s rather exciting!

Second, do we have broccoli?


We first noticed a little bit of green in this bed sometime in January or February. At the time, we didn’t think much of it, except that it’d probably be weeded when the time came. We’ll, now it’s a legitimate…something. We’ve attempted to grow broccoli in this bed before, but never had much luck. This plant kind of looks like broccoli,  but the leaves aren’t as sturdy as broccoli leaves usually are. So it remains. It looks like it might flower, so maybe that’ll tell us something. 

Speaking of flowering…


…how about the arugula! All these tall plants with white flowers are arugula going to seed. Interestingly, the rabbits haven’t messed with our argula, ever. Maybe that should tell us something about pest control…hmm…

Beyond that, how about a little volunteer spinach?


Okay, so this might be a lettuce, but it looks a little like spinach at the moment. Sadly, like the arugula, it doesn’t taste like much except “green.” But it’s early. Like with everything going in the garden, lettuce and greens will be planted in early May.

In the meantime, with the warm weather in full swing (at least for a day) , we took the opportunity to start hardening off the seedlings. 


And they seemed to really enjoy it! We also picked a few to transplant into large clay pots. These are going inside under our garden cloches and under grow lights. We’re curious to see if this process makes a difference. The rest of the seedlings will remain as is, and we’ll be placing then outdoors occasionally, as the weather permits.

This was definitely the jump-start we needed to get the garden ready for planting and transplanting next month. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and give us a couple more splendid weekends before then!

This year with the seedlings, less is definitely more

If there’s one thing that we’ve learned about plants since starting this whole gardening thing, it’s that it is possible to be too fussy. Granted, many plants require lots of TLC and looking after in order for them to grow strong and healthy, but many don’t. And once fussiness sets in, that leads to worry, and that leads to stress. We keep bringing up our dismal seedlings of last year as a reminder to ourselves that sometimes it’s simply best to let nature do its thing. Because this year, we’ve done just that with the seedlings…and look…!

Look at all these peppers! Last year we had a couple droopy rows at best. This year, only a few of the rows haven’t made any kind of showing, but the seedlings that have started look fantastic!

 

In the experimental tray with peppers and flowers, we did lose a row of marigolds and a row of young snapdragons. We decided not to replant the seeds – at this point, it’s just as well that we sow them directly outside. But we will likely be transplanting a few of these guys into larger pots soon.

 

And boy oh boy, check out the tomatoes! Even in years past when we had good tomato crops, we don’t think the seedlings ever came on this strong. Most all the seedlings have their second sets of leaves, which means it’ll soon be time to start hardening them off. (In time for early May transplanting, we hope!)

 

More tomatoes, more promise!

Last year, as things with the seedlings only got worse and worse, we completely stressed out over them. We found ourselves planting new seeds every week through March and April in the hopes that something, anything, would happen. We watched the seedlings like hawks and were constantly switching trays to different shelves, trying out new light sources, watering too much or too little, and adding and taking away heat.

This year, we’ve practically ignored them. And look how good it worked! Oh, but seriously, we have been tending to them like good plant parents, but not only did we find non-fussiness to be an answer, we also found that taking the simple route is the way to go. Water the seedlings only when they are dry. Remove the “runts” regularly. Keep them generally warm, and only add extra heat only on especially cool days. And most of all, check on them once a day, but only check. If things look dour, take action. Otherwise, enjoy the little seedlings as they continue on their journey. After all, this is only the beginning. 🙂

Going with the Flow (Literally!)

We were really lucky this winter. Like seriously…lucky. Ye ol’ Farmer’s Almanac predicted that we’d have a winter that was “ice cold and full of snow,” or some such. Well, the snow didn’t materialize. And thankfully so. In fact, of the two major winter storms that we endured, the snow totals ended up being far less than predicted totals. And while we did experience a few pockets of very cold temperatures over the winter months, we found ourselves reaching for sweaters and blankets far less often than we expected. So maybe the Farmer’s Almanac doesn’t know everything?

Or…that’s what we thought until we looked at the weather predictions for our area for April and May. In two words: rainy and warm. While we like the second word, that first one is both good and bad.

Just a few days ago, we were drenched by a large storm system over our region for the better part of a day. It effectively turned our backyard into a pool. Or, we should say, a series of pools. There are three or four sections of the yard where water simply collects. At the height of the storm, we could have easily gone wading out in the yard.

Puddle, puddles everywhere!

Also, we just have to ask…why does it only seem to always rain on the weekends? Surely Mother Nature knows by now that the only time some of us can get out and do stuff!

Anyway, it’ll be really interesting to see if the almanac’s idea for our Spring pan out. Right now, it’s warmer here than it should be. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though will it last? Last year we experienced a terrible cold snap right during transplanting time at the end of April, which was just no good. If things are warmer this year, that’ll be good. But if it gets too warm too fast…? Plus, what it rains too much? (Can it rain too much in the springtime?) Are we asking too many questions? (Probably.) Spring is the one time of the year when we really just have to get go and go with the flow. Literally!

 

 

 

Quiet Times

Some weeks are busy, and some are not. This past week was very busy for the both of us in terms of work, but rather quiet in terms of gardening. And that’s okay, because we know there are going to be some busy weeks to come!

The seedlings are all chugging along pretty well. It looks like we might have lost another row of flower seeds — one of the strawflower rows — but it’s nothing severe. As we’ve said before, starting flowers indoors is really just an experiment this year. In the meantime, we’ve got more peppers coming up! A couple of the sweet varieties, too. So that is mildly exciting. And the tomatoes are being tomatoes. Over the weekend, we did a little culling of the seedlings, picking out some of the runty ones in order to let the stronger ones strive. If things keep going well, at this rate, we might be able to do some preliminary transplanting of some of the seedlings into small pots in mid-April. For this, we invested in some garden cloches.

Ideally, these plastic, vented bells are supposed to be used outside, and we’ll probably use them outside. But we figured that we also try them inside when doing a mid-run transplanting. We can fit five small pots under each of the cloches we purchased, with the idea being that it’ll help keep them warm. Some indoor setup is going to be required, especially in terms of setting up the lighting, but all in good time. It bears mentioned that we won’t be doing this with all or even the majority of the seedlings. Most of the them will remain as is, but we’d like to see if using the cloches will provide any sort of advantage to a handful of the plants.

Other than that, we did have a nice, warm Saturday, and it prompted us to get outside for a while. Our intention was to clean up the yard, but we mostly ended up cleaning the garage — a worthy task in its own right! We unearthed all our gardening supplies, tomato cages, hand tools, etc., so at least we won’t have to go trampling over this, that, and the other trying to get to stuff when the time comes. When that will be, we’re not sure yet. There’s lots to do outside, but looking ahead, it seems we’re going to be in for seasonable but unsettled weather over the next couple weeks. Guess we’ll just have to go with the flow, right? 🙂

Checking in with the seedlings

Can you believe it’s Spring, officially?! Over the past week, we’ve been battling the remnants of Winter Storm Stella, which included a days-long bout of dealing with snow melt and refreshing. Nope, we didn’t get much snow from the storm — a few inches at most — but we did end up with lots of ice. And because we were in the deep freeze for most of the week, the same own that did fall stuck around much longer than expected. In fact, the past couple days we’ve enjoyed some very Spring-like weather with temps in the 50s, so most of the snow is gone by now.  Unfortunately,  it left our yard a muddy mess. We had though we might get out over the weekend to do some clean-up, but it didn’t happen. Maybe this coming weekend, if it doesn’t rain. Ah well, it’s always something.

Anyhow, while things remain unsettled outdoor, indoors our little seedlings are coming along quite well. Let’s take a closer look!

Tray 4

Sorry for the really dark photo. It’s a difficult tray in so many ways!

Starting on the top shelf, we have the pepper tray, Tray 4. It’s up here because peppers like warmth and this shelf gets the warmest (hot air raises and all that). And unlike last year when most of the peppers were no-shows, we have pepper seedlings! Well, somewhat. Interestingly,  all the seedlings here are hot peppers –chiles,  cayennes,  and rellenos. The rest of the rows contain seeds of sweet peppers. No signs of life there yet. We know that pepper seeds can be slow to germinate, and honestly, we didn’t expect to see even the smallest hint of anything from this tray til the end of March, at least. So it’s nice to see the early risers, but we’ll be keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t die off early.

Tray 3

Tis a tad one-sided…

This tray contains a few rows of peppers and mostly flowers. We took a picture of the side that’s showing the most life, which happens to be the flowers. Things aren’t looking too shabby, though we did have a row of marigolds die off. But that’s okay — they’re easy enough to plant outside. Plus, we have enough seeds to replant this row of need be. Starting the flowers here was just an experiment. If they take, great! But no harm if not. We’re more concerned about the peppers, so hopefully we’ll see some seedlings on the left side of the tray soon!

Tray 2 and Tray 1

Little tomatoes, lookin’ good!
And more tomatoes, also lookin’ quite alright!

These are the tomato trays, and they’re both doing great! And this is after only two weeks of growth. Needless to say, we’re both happy and a little wary. Last year our tomato seedlings all came up like champs, but then the majority died off before replanting. So we’re watching these very carefully. We’re keeping the warm but not to warm, and watered enough but not too watered. We’re also going to try some intermediate transplanting — placing some in small clay pots. To add to the testing, we purchased a few plastic garden cloche. We’ll place the seedlings under them and see how they do. But that process is a little ways off. These seedlings remain fragile newborns, so we don’t want to disturb them too much.

Keeping an eye on the seedlings is just one task of many; there’s no shortage of stuff to do…we just need Mother Nature to remain calm for awhile so we can do it!