Now we’re cooking!

And we mean “cooking” in the figurative sense. We will certainly be cooking, literally, later on in the summer once all of our lovely vegetables appear, which we’ve now fully planted! Well…almost. Though we still have at least one plot to plant, over the weekend, we met our goal to have the majority of the rest of the garden planted. This included our tomato and pepper seedlings, along with cucumbers, squash, and beans.

While we didn’t need to get everything in the ground this past weekend — our planting calendar’s last viable day for planting is May 31 — we didn’t want to miss out on the perfectly perfect weather. Okay, so it was a little on the cooler side generally, but we’d much rather be working outside when it’s in the breezy 70s than in the heat of the 90s.  Plus, a big rainy storm just passed, and we wanted to get things in the ground before any more mudiness ensued. So we set to work last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And it paid off!

First off, we planted our cucumber bed. And though you can’t really tell from the picture, there are little mounds all around the edges from which cucumbers will soon sprout! We also uncovered a couple volunteer cucumbers that you can see at the bottom and right-hand edges.

Then, we seeded the entire bean bed. In the horizontal rows are all of our bush beans, and then pole beans will eventually take over the cages in the middle.  At the far end of the bed, we ended up planted more peas. That particular spot is very shady thanks to a neighboring tree, and nothing we’re ever put there has seemed to do well. In the past, we’ve tried beans and cucumbers, and their yields were mediocre. This year, we decided on peas. If nothing else, they might just save the beans! We know from past experience that rabbits really like bean shoots, but they really, really like pea shoots. So if any peas do come up, we’ll happily sacrifice them as long as they distract the rabbits from the beans.

Moving on, we planted eight groupings of tomato seedlings along the edge of our first stone bed. There’s still asparagus coming up on the other side, so we’re avoiding planting there for the moment. (That may change as we have lots of tomato seedlings.) (Also, sorry for the sideways picture. A couple others are probably coming up. We were a little tired at this point.)

In the second stone bed are all our squashes. After getting way too many traditionally large zucchini a couple years back, we didn’t plant any zucchini seeds this year, save for a small golden zucchini variety. The volunteer squash at the end of the bed is still a question mark, but hopefully we’ll get some nice variety this year — acorn, butternut, pattypan, long pie, and so on.

And along the back, our barrels contain an array of peppers and tomatoes.

(Seriously, the sideways pictures are bit much. Going to have to look at these camera settings!)

All in all, we had a great weekend of planting, and it’s a relief to have just about everything in the ground now. As we mentioned, we still have at least one more bed to plant – not sure yet what’s going to go in it. Probably more tomatoes and peppers, somehow. But that decision will have to wait until next weekend. Also, it looks like we may be harvesting strawberries soon! Probably not within the rest of the month, but hopefully next month. They’ve been a little slow to grow and ripen, but it looks like some warm weather is once again on it’s way, which will really help them along.

And finally, check out what else we found growing:

This is a tall red poppy that we found growing in our yet-to-be flower beds at the edge of front yard. (By “yet-to-be” it means that the beds need to be weeded and planted. More tasks for Memorial Day weekend!) The funny thing is that we’ve never specifically planted any poppies in these beds, ever. However, last year we got some free wildflower seeds from our of our seed companies, and we scattered them in these flower beds. Nothing came of them last year, but we think this poppy was part of the mix, and somehow the seeds survived the winter. It’s a very pretty flower, and the plant looks like it contains a few more buds, so maybe we’ll see a few more flowers show up before its demise.

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In a holding pattern

So it seems that this year, March and May decided to switch places. During March, temperatures round here were moderate to above average. Now here was are in May with days barely reaching 60 degrees! While it’s nice to not suddenly be in the 80s (June will be here soon enough), this weather pattern has put a damper on gardening activities. And the rain isn’t helping either.  Well, it is helping of course, but you know what we mean.

Last Friday we had a dreary day full of rain, and it soaked the backyard through and through. The idea then was to hope that things dried out enough, and got warm enough over Saturday so that we could start some tomato and pepper transplants on Sunday. What actually happened was that it was cold and showery on Saturday and even colder but less showery (though it still rained a little) on Sunday. So our ground has been too cold and too soggy for anything much, though some of the lettuces and green that we planted that time around have started showing small sprouts. Nothing too exciting is happening yet, however. If things dry out a little this week, maybe we ‘ll have something fun to show next time.

Maybe.

These past couple mornings, we’ve been waking up to temperatures in the 40s! Yes…four-zero. In May. And the daytime highs have only just broke 60. As long as it doesn’t rain between now and the weekend, the ground might be warm enough for the tomato and pepper seedlings, but we’ll just have to wait and see. (According to the current weather report, it’s possible that we’ll have another cold wash-out this coming Saturday…so that’s just great. 😦 ) It’s certainly not warm enough yet for in-ground seeds, such as squash and cucumbers and beans. However, it does look like some of our early pea plants might just make it…if they can survive the two silly rabbits we keep seeing around the yard. (And where there are two rabbits, there are bound to be little ones eventually.) Ah, such are the trials and tribulations of gardening.

By the way, it’s not like we’re just sitting around twiddling our thumbs as we wait for the weather to warm up. We just started renovating one of our bathrooms, and it’s been more than enough to keep us busy inside. In fact, the process turned up some troubling insulation problems that need to be rectified. Do you know what mangled and decaying 50-year-old insulation looks like? Friends, it is gross and dusty. And gross. And really, really dusty.  After dealing with it, working outside in the cold rain sounds like paradise.

We’ll sign off with a look at our seedlings. How we hope that they hold out long enough to see the outdoors!

The pepper seedlings are looking quite robust. No really…they do compared to the poor things from last year!
Things are looking very sparse now in the flowers/pepper tray. We’re hoping to get these seedlings out in a couple beds once the weather is better.
These tomato seedlings look okay, except for the spindliness and droopiness. But neither is too troubling yet. We know if we plant these seedlings deep enough, they should take off quite nicely.
The second tray of tomato seedlings looks much better. They’re ready for transplanting…but we have to wait on the weather for now.

 

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!

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. 🙂

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! 

The Year’s First Update in Pictures

As much as we’ve been hemming and hawing about the lack of “spring” in this year’s Spring, not everything has gone sour. In fact, if anything, this year is turning out to be late and slow, which isn’t all bad. Though it seems like the un-sunny and un-warm weather has put a kink in things, maybe we’ll luck out and have a sunny and warm Fall, which would help extend the growing season past our usual ending in October. Or maybe we’ll have a great summer that’ll kick things into overdrive! All we can do is wait and see. In the meantime, indoors, we’re still caring for tomato seedlings, putting them outside when the sun comes out. Maybe they’ll get in the ground before the end of the month. We also, finally, have some pepper seedlings! They are still so tiny at this point, but a good dozen or so of the full tray that we planted have been steadily growing. It better than nothing.

How are things outdoors? So glad you asked! Because we’re about to get on with our first of out monthly updates in pictures. Let the gallery commence!

So first, we've got the bed of greens - arugula, kale, broccoli, endive, and cabbage. Things are still a little small at this point, but everything looks healthy.
So first, we’ve got the bed of greens – arugula, kale, spinach, endive, and cabbage. Things are still a little small at this point, but everything looks healthy. What’s really taking off at the moment is the arugula, endive, and cabbage. Maybe the cooler weather will prevent everything from bolting to seed!
Next is...well...this is actually the cucumber bed. But seeing as how it's been much too cool for in-ground planting, we decided to stick some random lettuce seedlings in the middle of the bed. If they take, great! And we'll eventually get the cucumbers planted around the perimeter. If not, then we'll still have plenty of space for cucumbers.
Next is…well…this is actually the cucumber bed. But seeing as how it’s been much too cool for in-ground planting, we decided to stick some random lettuce seedlings in the middle of the bed. (You can barely see them, but they’re there!) If they take, great! And we’ll eventually get the cucumbers planted around the perimeter. If not, then we’ll still have plenty of space for cucumbers.
In this planter we decided to place a few of our huckleberry seedlings. Hopefully they'll take. So far, so good.
In this planter we decided to place a few of our huckleberry seedlings. Hopefully they’ll take. So far, so good.
Next is the lettuce bed, which remains very quite for now. A few sprigs have popped up. Hopefully more will show as it gets warmer.
Next is the lettuce bed, which remains very quiet for now. A few sprigs have popped up. Hopefully more will show as it gets warmer.
This is a close-up shot of some lettuce sprigs that came up in another planter. Very glad to see them!
This is a close-up shot of some lettuce sprigs that came up in another planter. Very glad to see them!
So many peas! We're happy that our good luck with peas continues -- they seem to do well each year no matter what.
So many peas! We’re happy that our good luck with peas continues — they seem to do well each year no matter what.
And here we have a barrel of radishes. Too many radishes probably. Have got to get to thinning out the herd!
And here we have a barrel of radishes. Too many radishes probably. Have got to get to thinning out the herd!
More radishes in the second barrel planter.
More radishes in the second barrel planter.
Out back we stashed our herb planters. Since it's been too cold for basil, etc., we decided to stick a few more lettuce seedlings in to see if any would take. They look a little wilty at the moment.
Out back we stashed our herb planters. Since it’s been too cold for basil, etc., we decided to stick a few more lettuce seedlings in to see if any would take. They look a little wilty at the moment.
The strawberries are looking good! They've spread a little since last year, and now have so many flowers. The fruit is just starting to show, and now we really need to sun to help with the goring and ripening!
The strawberries are looking good! They’ve spread a little since last year, and now have so many flowers. The fruit is just starting to show, and now we really need to sun to help with the growing and ripening!
So last year we had a ton of volunteer tomatoes. This year, for whatever reason, we have some volunteer carrots!
So last year we had a ton of volunteer tomatoes. This year, for whatever reason, we have some volunteer carrots! We’ve had some success with carrots in the past, but our soil isn’t great for them. (Someday we’ll plan a nice sandy soil bed just for them.)
And speaking of volunteer plants, squash, anyone? This is the first if two little plots where squash of some variety (probably zucchini here) has popped up unexpectedly.
And speaking of volunteer plants, squash anyone? This is the first of two little plots where squash of some variety (probably zucchini here) has popped up unexpectedly.
And this is the second spot of squash seedlings. This could be zucchini as well. We'll just have to wait and see!
And this is the second spot of squash seedlings. This could be zucchini as well. We’ll just have to wait and see!
And finally, though the sky may not say Spring, our lilacs do! It has been ajoy watching this little plant grow. and we love it when it blooms each year. The smell is amazing!
And finally, though the sky may not say Spring, our lilacs do! It has been a joy watching this little (now big) plant grow. and we love it when it blooms each year. The smell is amazing!

Thanks for joining us for this first trip around our 2016 garden. Hopefully things will just get better from here on out!

 

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.

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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…