Rain, Rain, Go Away; or, Be Careful What Your Wish For

As predicted, this past weekend was pretty much a wash. The weather folks all said that it was going to do nothing but rain on Saturday, as well as Friday night and possibly sometime on Sunday. While we don’t know what happened Friday night because we were sleeping, and though we did get a passing shower on Sunday, Saturday was all rain, all day. So, no planting or transplanting happened.

[huff 😦 huff]

However. We still had a pretty productive weekend.

First, there was the bathroom, which has evolved into a “re-insulating a portion of our attic” project. While the work area is still a mess, and that mess has spilled over into seemingly every part of the house, we managed to get quite a lot done — namely placing small pieces of foam insulation into about a million cracks and crevices.  That may not sound like a lot, but when the work involves lots of measuring, cutting, and crawling around in a tiny space, time seemed to fly by rather quickly. Interestingly, since the bathroom we’re working on is on the house’s second floor, it was rather serene working with the rain pitter-pattering away on the roof. That didn’t make the work any easier, but it felt a little less stressful. That was nice. (Maybe we should have one of those rain soundtracks playing all the time during work!)

That was all on Saturday. On Sunday, after getting off to a really chilly start in the morning, things warmed up significantly in the afternoon. With the sun brightly shining, we had to get outside and do something, at least. The ground remained super soggy and the planting beds were cold and muddy, so there wasn’t going to be any planting happening. Instead, we opted to start replacing the netting on our cages. Of the four that we made, three of them had been chewed through by our resident rascally rabbits, and on all of them, the netting was falling apart in some manner. So we got out the replacement netting and all the cable ties were could fine, and got to work.

It’s not obvious, but this cage has all-new netting.

In the end, we only had enough ties to complete one cage, but it’s the most important one: the net around the pea bed. If we discovered on thing and one thing only, it’s that rabbits l-o-v-e pea shoots. We actually had a few growing from seeds that we threw in the bed last month, but they had been summarily eaten. The fact that the rabbits could hop right through the cage didn’t help matters any, so getting to that cage first was the priority. Thankfully, we had just enough cable ties to do the trick. The others will have to wait another week until we can get some more ties.

They aren’t as much of a priority, because it would seem that maybe, just maybe, the concrete blocks have kept the rabbits at bay Our greens and lettuce beds are actually showing signs of life, and that life hasn’t been nibbled at…yet!

In this raised bed, there’s arugula (top right, bottom left), kale (top left), and romanesco (bottom right). In the surrounding spots we planted a variety of things from lettuces to flowers to carrots to radishes to, yes, even onions! Not sure that it will all do well, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
In this raised bed, we planted various lettuces and spinach in the main part, surrounded by more lettuces, flowers, and herbs — basil, thyme, dill, and cilantro.

So we’re on our way! With the drenching on Saturday, we heartily wished for a respite from the wetness, and it seems out calls were answered. This week and weekend there’s no rain in sight…and it’s going to be extremely warm with some days reaching into the 80s and possible up to 90. That’s a bit much for May, but we’ll take it. Plus, our strawberries should have a grand time once it heats up. Hopefully the heat won’t be too much, though. The good thing is that it should dry everything out so that we’ll be ready to plant and transplant this weekend. Can’t put things off much longer!

And here are a few more pictures to finish up this week’s garden round-up:

We planted more lettuce in our small hanging — they just started sprouting.
The radishes in our barrels are coming along nicely, and that’s despite the fact that we forgot to cover them with netting. Thankfully, the squirrels and birds haven’t dug in them too much.
This radish barrel looks a little more promising.
While weeding, we discovered and marked a patch of volunteer squash in one of the stone beds. Wonder what variety it’ll turn out to be? (Our guess: zucchini or Long Pie pumpkin.)
We’re just a couple weeks away from strawberry season! Hopefully the warm temps this week will prompt ours to grow and ripen.

 

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!

A Beautiful Weekend Full of Chores (and That’s a Good Thing!)

Being outside this past weekend one would never know that the place was soggy from rain and snow a mere 7+ days before! As they say, what a difference a week makes. We had two gorgeous days in the 60s and 70s (almost reached 80 on Sunday!). And it was with the sun in mind that we packed our schedule full of outdoors chores. This included everything from mowing the grass to planting some early seeds.

It also included the requisite bout of resulting allergies. Ick. They aren’t too bad yet, but based on the light sneezing and wheezing in our household over the past couple days, it’s a good sign that Spring allergies are certainly on their way.

But enough about silly things like allergies — we had a garden that needed some more TLC!

After mowing and completing some additional clearing of random leaves and branches, the bulk of Saturday was spent weeding. It turned out that the little green seedlings scattered about that we initially thought might be tomatoes…

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…had really just blossomed into weeds. So they had to go.

However, most surprisingly, we did find a couple of carrots growing!

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No plans to plant carrots this year, but we’ll see if these guys make it.

And then, we had to deal with this stuff.

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This ivy-like weed is called many things — we had been calling it “dollar weed” — but we like the term “Creeping Charlie” better. Not that it’s better; in fact, it’s is highly annoying, and it has all but taken over the backyard. And before we got to weeding, it has started to creep into most of the garden bed. We pulled out as much as we could stand. After awhile its “minty” scent that it produced upon being yanked up proved to be too much, and we had to call it a day. Hopefully it’ll start to die back once the weather gets warmer and less damp.

But as much as we got done well into the evening hours of Saturday (this included digging up and resetting a number of stones out in our front beds, as well. Oh! And moving/transplanting some lilies. Boy, we were busy!), it was nothing compared to the banner day we had Sunday. It was time to start some early seeds — mostly lettuce, greens, radishes, and we took a risk with peas and a couple peppers — which meant that we had to re-assemble our net cages.

Last year we made four square-ish net cages to go over our raised bed. We made them in a way that they could be taken apart and rolled up over the winter. It was all quite grand until it came time to put them back together, which we couldn’t quite remember how to do, at first. As we hadn’t labeled which pieces when together to form which cage — we had two small ones, one large one, and one with a “door” to lift for easy access — getting them back together was puzzling at first. We eventually decided to simply lay all the pieces out in the yard to figure things out.

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So many pieces!
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And more pieces, still.

Once we remembered how to put one cage together properly, the rest were a snap. The only issue we faced were repairs, as a number of zip ties used to hold the net to the PVC pipe had cracked. So each cage had to be moved to the driveway for inspection.

First cage in line ready for inspection.
First cage in line ready for inspection.
We removed any cracked zip ties...
We removed any cracked zip ties…
...and replaced them with new ones. Simple but a little time consuimng.
…and replaced them with new ones. Simple if a little time consuming.

Once all the cages had been checked and fixed, we placed them over their proper beds.

Good to see the gang back together!
Good to see the gang back together!

We have a couple things of note here. First is this raised bed:

Notice anything funny?
Notice anything funny?

Over the winter, the wood boards bordering the bed picture above collapsed and rotted. Rather than replace the boards, we decided to continue our “design” scheme that we had applied to our stone beds and picked up some landscaping stones to make a new border. The layout right now as seen in the image is rough. They might stay like that, we might dig them out a little to set them straighter, or might turn them up on their edges so that the cage fits better. Not sure yet what will happen, but the idea is that we’ll replace each raised bed with a stone border once the current wood borders deteriorate. The rest of the beds are fine for now.

The other new “addition” are some small, makeshift trellises that we added to the bed in which we grow peas.

011peatrellis

These were made using a set of old wire shelves, some zip ties, and some metal poles. Nothing special but it works! And it means that we can now fill the bed with different peas rather than only planted the peas along the edges. And despite the fact that the nights will be a little on the cool side for a couple more weeks, at least, we went ahead with planting out the bed.

And that brought the busy weekend to a close. Interestingly, on Sunday we were joined in the backyard by this guy:

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Hello, Mr. Robin.

While we think this Robin stuck around because he knew we were digging up the yard, and hence, digging up grubs and bugs and worms, it was nice to have to company. For much of the day he just stood around in the background watching us. But during one brave moment he got up close to our work area and got himself “stuck” in one of the net cages. (The cage was on its end with the open side out. He flew in and insisted on trying to fly up, only to meet with the netting. He eventually solved the “puzzle” and flew out instead of up.)

All in all, it was an excellent weekend, even if it resulted in muscle pain and allergies. And there’s plenty yet to be done!

 

On the Up and Up, and Weather Ups and Downs

So after a rather disastrous start to seed starting this year, it looks like we’re getting back on track, and happily so! Things are by no means perfect, but they are better, as the new round of seeds that we planted last week are doing mostly well.

09seedlings3

For example, above is the tray of newly-seeded tomatoes that were all but dead a week ago. Yes, the seedlings are spindly, and yes we still have light and temperature issues to contend with, but at least almost all of them came in and are growing.  In the pots next door, there are a variety of things growing. While we had to dispose of a couple guys that didn’t survive transplanting, everything left is stable enough.

09seedlings1

09seedlings2

Though the trays in the two images above may not look like much at first glance, they are leaps and bounds better than the nearly empty trays of dead seedlings that were there. These trays contains mostly lettuces, mixed greens, and a few other oddballs. Whether or not everything comes up remains to be seen, but we did transplant a few of the larger seedlings into our little pots and replaced those cells with new seed starter and seeds, so we’ll see how things go.

The only thing not pictured here is the tray of pepper seeds, and that’s mostly because there’s nothing there to show. We transplanted a few more of the seedlings that had come up, but pepper seeds take much longer to germinate than most. Rather than add in new seeds now — it’s late enough into the season as is — we’re hopeful that a few more seeds that we planted last week will come along before the end of the month.

We had such good pepper crops these past couple years, it’s a shame to think of not having one this year, but part of gardening is learning to roll with the punches and being thankful for what does make it. This is been a very strange Winter/Spring transition with temperature peaks and valleys that mimic sine graphs. One day the house is super warm and the next it is super cold. Hard to keep the little seedlings completely happy when we don’t even know if we’ll need blankets or fans! And now they’re calling for snow showers over the weekend. Sheesh! Maybe we’ll get back out in the yard…someday…

Starting Over, Sort Of

So last time we revealed the problems we encountered with this year’s crop of seedlings — that’s to say, they just weren’t making it. While things initially looked like they got off to a rip-roaring start, all was not well, and the bulk the seedlings that had come up were dying. So this past weekend, we decided to start over, in a sense, despite it being late in the seedling, um…season. This involved saving the seedlings that were doing okay and replanting the trays.

After reviewing the trays, we counted a few dozen seedlings — mostly tomato seedlings — that looked okay to move out of the trays. They still had leaves and weren’t too wilted. Then we made a trip to our favorite dollar store to pick up about a million…or maybe just 50 little terra cotta pots. (In the past we used dixie cups to hold seedlings that were too young to put outside but too big for the seed trays. This year we decided to go with something more reusable, hence, the terra cotta pots.) And we also got a few plastic trays to hold the pots. We already had plenty of coir/seed starting mix, as well as a stash of soil, so we we’re ready to go with our dollar store haul.

Small, yes, but the perfect size for holding small seedlings.
Small, yes, but the perfect size for holding small seedlings.

Back at the abode, we divvied out the pots onto the plastic trays and set about labeling them, filling them each with a bit of fresh soil, and moving the “good” seedlings to their new homes. Once that was done, we fully replanted most of trays according to our trays maps. We had to make a few adjustments, as in some cases, such as with the tomatillos and the special Planet Hybrid peppers, we didn’t have any more seeds. In their places we planted more tomatoes and arugula.

08seedlingsdoover2
Go, little seedlings! Go!

So here we are, keeping close watch on the transplanted seedlings and waiting to see what comes of the newly-planted seeds. We’re back on track with watering and aren’t using the mylar “blankets” to keep things overly warm. Instead, we ‘re just going to hope for the best. Frankly, in a couple of weeks we’ll be able to start planting seeds of lettuces, other greens, and peas outdoors. And shortly after that, it’ll be time to plants beans, cucumbers, squash, and transplanting any tomatoes and peppers. So whatever makes it indoors, makes it, and we’ll be grateful enough for that. 🙂

08seedlingsdoover1
Part of gardening is accepting the challenge of gardening. Nobody said it was going to be easy!

 

 

Getting Out and Cleaning Up

For the first time in a couple years, at least (or so it seems), our March hasn’t been filled with brow-beating tasks. That’s to say each year past in the early Spring we’ve had things to build, either garden beds or net cages. Or, the weather had been so snowy/cold that getting outside until late April wasn’t even an option. This year, however, we’ve nothing to build and the weather has been unseasonably warm. Rainy, yes; but warm, still.

It’s actually quite…wonderful. After all, who doesn’t want to enjoy a few extra lazy weekends before gardening starts for real! 🙂

Okay, so we haven’t been that lazy. Even though we don’t have to lug stones and soil between the store and our house this year (though we do have a raised bed to replace), there’s still plenty to do. This past weekend, we took advantage of a stretch of non-rainy days to get outside and do some cleanup. And we made a few discoveries along the way!

The first task was to remove debris, such as old plant stalks and sticks, from the stone and raised beds. At the end of last year we decided to compost most of the dying plants in place. A lot of them broke down pretty well over the winter, but a lot didn’t. So everything that didn’t had to go.

Removing debris from the bed -- mostly old tomato stalks.
Like a giant birds nest. (Hate to see the bird that could make a nest this size!)

Also at the end of last year we covered all the beds with leaves that we had raked up in the yard. Our usual plan would then be to remove the leaves from the beds sometime in April in order to add new soil. But this year we’ve decided to keep the leaves on and simply uncover or make planting regions when we’re ready to plant. (Plus, the soil underneath is in fantastic shape — very dark and rich.) The hope is that the leaves will help keep weeds under control over the course of the summer. Considering how pervasive weeds are in our yard, it should be an interesting experiment.

As we worked on removing debris, we uncovered a couple surprises. First is no surprise at all, but we have what we’re pretty sure are tomatoes coming up e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e!

Found these seedlings in one of the lettuce beds.
Found these seedlings in one of the lettuce beds.
And these in a spot where tomatoes once were (and will likely be again.)
And these in a spot where tomatoes once were (and will likely be again.)

Last year we mistakenly thought these same seedlings in one of the beds were marigolds, but nope…we ended up with the “tomato jungle.” This year, these exact same seedlings are popping up all over the place. They are definitely in most of the places where we planted tomatoes, and they are in some places were we didn’t and don’t plan on planting tomatoes this year. Considering that we already have a tray full of tomato seedlings indoors, we’re going to have to make some tough choices…like, tilling in most of the volunteer seedlings. It’s an unfortunate option, but we also want to grow other things besides tomatoes. Go figure, right?

In other discovery news, it seems that a few bunches of kale are alive and well!

Have to find out if it tastes like anything.
Have to find out if it tastes like anything.

Late last year, we left a few kale stalks out with the intention of making a winter harvest or two. Unfortunately, the rabbits and squirrels got to them before we could, leaving mere stumps in their wake. Eventually the winter snows arrived, and we kind of forgot that the kale was there. Upon cleaning we found that the kale was making quite a comeback, with bunches of deeply curled and beautiful leaves sprouting from what we thought were dead stalks.  We’ve not tried this kale, Blue Curled Scotch, in it’s “baby” form, and now we can! Tasty or tasteless?  We’ll let you know.

In addition, we found all sort of vegetative remnants, from seed pods to tomato skins, scattered about. Among the most visually striking were the in tact, skeletal remains of tomatillo husks.

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Somebody still needs to learn how to take good camera phone pictures…

All in all, while we’ve got a non-lazy Spring ahead, it’s not going to be backbreaking like previous ones, and that is most welcome!