Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day!

Over the weekend I've heard jokes that Mother Nature thought it was actually the 4th of July, and it certainly feels that way.  Classic D.C. hot and muggy...where did Spring go?  The plants are loving it, though.

The pea and pole bean trellises are up.  The pole bean trellis was a pain to put together.  Drilling all the holes wasn't bad but due to its size and "floppiness" it was cumbersome and a little confusing to maneuver it around as I was stringing it together.  I'm still curious to see how it does.  I used nylon mason's line so hopefully the strings will last a few years.

I took all these photos yesterday and since then, I've thinned everything, moved a few things around, and added a tomato, pepper, and a dill plant.  DeBaggio's really is dangerous!

Like I said, I took these pictures yesterday and I swear the pole beans are bigger today.  I remember last year seeing them grow 6"+ in a day when they were on the trellis, so maybe it's not my imagination.

That stack of lumber behind the pole beans is what's supposed to be the potato box.  It didn't happen, as I ran out of compost.  There's enough to partially fill the bottom tier, I think, so I left off and the potatoes are elsewhere for this year.  I'll probably get around to putting the bottom tier together and planting it with something-or-other.

Artichoke and dill.  (I added a third dill today.)  There are Yukons just to the right. 

Purple and green tomatillos, cutshort bush beans in front (which don't seem to have had a very good germination rate), and the right-hand 3 squares are purple kohlrabi.

Tomatoes front, left to right:  Matt's Wild Cherry, Mortgage Lifter VFN (not pictured; just added today), Sunsugar FT, San Marzano, Cherokee Chocolate. 
Peppers back row:  Anaheim pepper (not pictured), Corbaci (not sprouted yet), Super Heavyweight, Big Bertha, Super Sweet Cherry, Ozark (not sprouted yet).

In the back, L to R, four squares each:  Ragged Jack (Red Russian) Kale, giant Japanese red mustard, baby bok choi.
Front: L to R: 2 squares each of White Wonder and Poona Kheera cucumber. The rest is rampicante, now thinned down to one. 

Golden beets.  They are being a little reluctant.  Maybe too hot for them?

Top left 4 squares:  Hailstone beet.  I grew these last year and they are really lovely, white-fleshed and buttery.
Bottom left 4 squares:  Lincoln peas, actually growing!  I had rotten luck with them last year, but the few I got encouraged me to try again as they really are tasty.  Again, I swear they are bigger today than yesterday.  They are starting to latch onto the trellis.
Righthand 4 squares along the high-rise:  Broccoli raab.  I am excited about these...I hope they survive the heat. 
In the high-rise:  Kennebec potatoes and some un-used squares that will be planted soon.

Golden midget watermelon (tiny sprout), Little Fingers eggplant, Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkin (a.k.a. Cinderella), white scallop & yellow crookneck squash.

I planted some seeds for greens and flowers out front today; hopefully the heat will kickstart them.  The hydrangea is developing its first buds...are lightning bugs next??

Hope you've had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.  Happy gardening!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I see sprouts!

The irrigation system and cages went in over the weekend.  Still need to rig something for the peas and the pole beans, though.  And once again, wet weather is preventing us from driving the truck around to bring in the rest of the compost or use power tools outside.  So, I'm going to bring the bamboo and 1/2" PVC to work tomorrow so I can drill them there for the pole bean trellis. 

Almost everything is up, and it all needs thinning.  The White Wonder cukes were a bit faster to sprout than than the Poonas, I noticed, and the pole beans faster than the cutshorts.  So, here are a few obligatory sprout pictures:

Radishes, peas, and broccoli raab

Pole beans, badly needing their trellis!

Cukes in top right four squares, bok choi, mustard, and kale in front... and the top left zone is dedicated stompin' grounds for rampicante.

Rampicante, looking vewy vewy innocent.  I planted three, just in case, but there can be ONLY ONE!  (Cue  theme music from The Highlander.  Though the other squash box could become scarier than this one.)

Now if it would just dry out for a couple of days, I could get the rest done. 

Happy gardening!  And, please stay safe in this crazy Spring.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Getting there, soggily!

Hello again!  The endless rains of May have held me up, but here is what I've been up to in the last month or so.

The first thing I had to do was level the beds.  Originally I thought only one bed, the 3x8, was out of level, and it only by an inch or so.  It turned out to be off by 4", though, and that led me to lay the spirit level on the other beds.  Much to my dismay, I found that several others were also out by 4", and most of the rest by an inch or so.  So, more lumber, stain, predrill, buy stakes, drill those, attach....then pound them into the ground with a sledgehammer.  I thought briefly about staining the stakes, but I was beyond caring at that point.  I just wanted the darn beds in!

May 4:

Between these two pictures....much work! 

 Now multiply by all the other beds (May 8):

After all the beds were leveled, I cut strips of corrugated cardboard and stapled them across all the open gaps between the timbers and the ground so my MM wouldn't wash out.  Happily, I can get all the cardboard I want for free if I am patient.

I finally found my last two composts at Gainesville Topsoil:  Half a yard each of leaf and horse manure compost.  He tipped it into our pickup out of the side of the earthmover's scoop.  A cubic yard is approx. 765 liters or 202 gallons, for visual reference.  Total cost: Under $30.  Buying compost in bulk is definitely the way to go!  (They did have organic compost there, too, at slightly higher cost.  However, it had 10% lime added and I was scared that would make my Mix too basic.  The added lime makes sense around here as our native soil is acidic, but MM is pretty neutral and I didn't want to create a Ph problem in my MM.  So I stuck with composts with no lime added.)

This is much more than the 10 cubic feet I originally said I needed... but that was before I realized the beds would have to be leveled.  Plus I have a 3x4 high-rise and a potato box to fill, too.  Any leftover can go in the compost bins that I have yet to build.

So, the grand mixing day was at hand.  I was dreading it, but it wasn't nearly as awful as I'd feared.  Since I'd had to build up most of the beds to level them, I used the leaf/horse manure mix to fill them to the bottom of the main bed frames.  DH (dear husband) was on the shovel and I carried it in 5 gallon buckets to each bed, and leveled it out roughly with my hands.

After that was the Mel's Mix itself.  Some people mix it in a tarp, or a kiddie play pool, but I decided that for me it might be easiest to mix it right in the beds themselves.  This required some math up front, but the time was worth the effort, as it gave me a list appropriate to both each box and to what I was mixing--portions of a bag or bale, for the vermiculite and peat, respectively, and per the 5-gallon bucket, for the compost.  By lucky accident on my part, the 4x6's and 3x8 each took a whole bag of vermiculite and half a bale of compressed peat, each, which saved a lot of time.  So... I dumped it all into each bed, and mixed it up with my hands.  I was pretty sore the next day from all the lifting and carrying, but the actual mixing was easy; the vermiculite and peat lighten it so much that I didn't have to use much effort.

A few weekends ago, I went to DeBaggio's to buy flowers for out front and a few veggie starts for "insurance".   (Mostly tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos, but I got a few other things as well.  An Imperial Star artichoke, dill, eggplant...)  So here we are with the grids and trellises up and the plants in!

Work still to be done:  
  • Build the pole bean trellis
  • Install cages around the tomatillos and peppers
  • Install irrigation
  • Figure out a trellis for the peas
  • Fill/plant the high-rise
  • Build/plant/start to fill the potato box
  • Build the worm tubes (and order/find worms)
  • Start thinking about the compost bin
  • Find something to lay down over the landscaping fabric
 But, it's almost entirely planted....starting to feel like a real garden! 

In the last few of days I've been drawing up plans for a pole bean trellis.  Initially I'd thought to just use some bamboo poles I already have, but they really aren't tall enough.  Last year my beans climbed to 7' easily and would have gone higher given the chance...I don't think 5-6' poles are going to cut it.  And I'm going to need a good strong trellis for them, too, as I have 6 squares planted full, as opposed to 2 half-squares last year.  (All my conduit trellises are already bespoke for other, bigger plants.)  So, I am a little afraid of the tangle I'm in for.  I bought the parts yesterday, so stay tuned!  I am hoping to copy/modify a plan I saw where instead of the trellis coming together at the top like a tipi, it actually splays outwards so the beans hang down freely and makes them easier to find and pick.  The "Hunt the Bean" game was fun initially last year, but it got old after a while.

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Batter batter swing!

In the past two days I've been to tried to go to three four five places looking for compost. 

Yesterday after work:

1.  Meadows Farms Nursery.  It's big and appears to be strongly oriented to landscaping.  They had Black Kow in 50 pound bags for $10 each.  Definite Maybe, but yikes on the price!

2.  Manassas Topsoil.  I tried to find them on the way back from the first place, and my GPS apparently lies, as I don't think there is a topsoil company in the middle of a ball park or the Manassas Museum.  I was unable to find a street address via their website, so I may try the phone number, as they supposedly have leaf/grass compost.

Today at lunch:

3.  Missed my intended target and wound up at a land development company.  They scratched their heads when I asked for compost, then kindly directed me next door, to....

4.  Shemin Nurseries, which looked wonderful.  The employees were very nice, and broke the news to me gently that they (sob!) only sell wholesale to businesses.  But they kindly referred me to....
Today after work:

5.  Neff Brothers.  Easy to find, but by the time I managed to get there, they were closed.  I'm going to call them tomorrow.

The sad part is this:  There are any number of places on Craigslist offering free, well-aged horse compost, just come and haul it away.  I have the truck....contractor bags would be the easiest means of transporting the stuff, I think.  But those locations are a good distance from here, and given gas prices and the terrible mileage the truck gets, it may make more sense to buy compost than pick some really good stuff for free.

Anyone got some nice compost?  Hmmm??  I need 10 cubic feet more!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Strawberry pallet

Here is how I built my first strawberry pallet.  It's not quite complete yet, as I didn't have quite enough soil (Mel's Mix plus straw, leftover from my potato high-rise last year) to completely fill it, but I'm very pleased with it nonetheless.

Backstory:  This all began with planning for my compost bins.  I don't like my plastic compost bin.  It's big, but very difficult to turn the compost since it's basically a huge bucket with a lid.  I'd much rather have something I can pitchfork into from the side.  Also, I want a "double-wide" bin so I can have compost finishing on one side, and filling in on the other side with fresh material.  And I also wanted it as close to free as possible.  The trick, though, was to make something fairly presentable looking.

I was at a complete loss on how to do "presentable" AND "nearly free", and had almost given up on the "nearly free" part, when I stumbled across a website that showed compost bins built with pallets.  That is nothing new of course... but what they'd done was to stuff the pallets with straw books and planted the tops with flowers.  Brilliant!  I likey!

So, I set out to improve on the original.

I got a number of free pallets from the business next to mine.  They aren't all the same size, but hopefully "close" will be good enough.  I started with the smallest one, which was 2nd best in terms of overall condition.  I sanded it down and rasped off the worst wood splinters (mental note: belt sander does nothing to remove huge wood splinters), then stained it to match the lumber for my (soon-to-be-built) raised beds, some of which you can see in the background here.

I stapled a double thickness of landscaping fabric onto the back and bottom, and wrapping it around the sides as well.

 From there, flip over, fill lightly but firmly with soil, and plant away.....then water lightly.

These are Ozark Beauty ever-bearing strawberries.  From what I read on the package I have actually over-planted.  The spacing is supposed to be 24"... but I'd left the 15-pack languishing indoors for too long, so I'll move some later if need be.  To help it settle, the pallet will lie flat a while.

This pallet is much heavier than the straw-filled ones I'm planning for the compost bin--for those, I hope to use plastic planting bag for the berries and/or flowers I'll be using--so it will either become a fixed side  of the bin, or it may find another home.  Yay for more strawberries!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I'm back!

I must apologize.  I found out last year that blogging took more time than I thought it would.  I'm going to try again, though, so if you are still reading after such a long hiatus, thank you kindly for checking back!

My garden from last year ended up doing very well.  I got a huge harvest, and with help from some dear net-friends, learned how to do water-bath canning, too.  My HOA was displeased with my front gardening adventures, but they were nice enough to let me finish out the season.  This year, the front yard will be flowers and herbs as always, along with some greens.  The "big stuff" is moving to the backyard, and expanding quite a bit in scope.

Up until now I had thought it would be impossible to garden successfully in the back.  It's the south side of the house, but just too dark.  That has changed, though, due to the removal of some huge trees earlier this spring.  I'm not keen at all on tree killing, but these had to come out.  The biggest one was diseased and was dropping big, dangerous branches, and the other one was knocking down a privacy fence.

Since then, I've done several full days worth of work back there.  Cleared 11 lawn/leaf bags, 3 contractor bags, have brought in lumber, most of my new Mel's Mix materials (some left to go) and have the boxes planned, stained and pre-drilled.  The biggest wrench in the works has been the weather.  We are into the rainy season here and tough to get 2 clear, warm days in a row.

I am working on a strawberry pallet that I'm eager to share with you, and if it works out I am hoping to extend the idea to my new compost bins.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hail scare and, finally, sprouts!

This past Friday I had quite the scare.  I knew there was a chance of thunderstorms.  Shortly after I got home from work I was out puttering, intending to harden my sprouts off and do some watering.  One look at the sky told me no watering on my part would be needed.  A few minutes later, I got a county emergency alert on my phone with a severe thunderstorm warning... potential for winds in excess of 60 mph and hail the size of ping pong balls.

I LOVE thunderstorms.  Love them.  (If I grew up in tornado alley, I would probably feel differently.)  But at the thought of what hail that size would do to my garden, I panicked and ended up racing around to cover my plants with whatever I could.  Partway through, I snapped this picture.

We did get an intense downpour, but thank goodness, no hail.  Hail was in the area, though -- my husband and two friends all reported hail golf-ball size or bigger on their commutes home.

We are really blessed with the location of our house... the worst of the bad weather almost always passes us by.  In ten years we have had only one really hellish bash of rain which I think was a severe microburst.  I was certain the back side of the house was going to blow in.  Our neighbors ended up replacing siding from that one, but we were screened by the mature trees on that side.  (And given that, I try not to complain too loudly about having no decent growing area on the south side of the house.)

In other news, things are finally coming up!  Nasturtiums, both kinds of pole beans (Christmas pole lima and Cherokee Trail of Tears), cukes, and I am going to take a chance and say I saw a pepper sprout.  The Cherokee beans and the cukes were just up today.  I transplanted my cabbage and basil, even though they only have seed leaves.  I don't have much hope for the cabbage, but I can try again in the fall.

Wish I had a better camera for this Cherokee bean.  It is quite beautiful, half the outer hull and half a delicate ruffle just trying to unfurl.  When I checked it this morning, the hull was barely visible above the soil, and here it is this afternoon, trying to pop up.

Here are the potatoes after their second 5-gallon covering.  I am now certain that I didn't reserve enough backfill for them, but wise folks at SFG have suggested straw, so I'll try that.

Radishes are getting big, as is the rapini.  The lettuce is doing well, too, though no where near ready to start cutting yet.  Can't wait!

Lettuces (and onions):

Left to right:  Carrots & onions in the high rise, radishes, Rapini, and Kohlrabi

My lonely corn plant:


Tomato plant direct-seeded into my SFG.  I can't focus in on it closely enough, but it is MUCH sturdier than the ones I started indoors!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How does my garden grow?

It has been quite chilly lately.  I have gotten in second and third outdoor plantings, though, and the seeds do seem to be coming up quite quickly.  This would be comforting, except I still have a bad case of Plant Envy for those great big Home Depot plants!

Here are some "What's up?" pictures taken today.  Sorry about the light, it has been raining all day.  The biggest news is that I think I am seeing some tomatoes sprouting from directly sown seed, and my potatoes are ready for their first ground of cover-and-grow, and if I squint hard enough, I think my strawberries might just be sprouting.

Here are the Kennebec potato plants.  They seem very happy in their new bed.  I will be covering them with more soil in the next few days.

These just might be are strawberry plants.  So very tiny!

Mixed lettuces.  So far nothing has been eating them, don't know if it is the coffee ground or the shed cat fur.  Top square was planted first, middle square second.  The bottom square is transplanted thinnings from the top square.  They are not quite as strong but seem to be doing okay.

Tomato sprouts!  There are two (I think) showing their faces.  This one is Cherokee Purple.  Trying to protect them a bit with cut-apart water bottles.

Swiss Chard:

Pak Choi, both squares (the left a later planting):

Rapini Broccoli:

Front to back:  Radish, Rapini, and Kohlrabi.

Carrots, plus some onion sets interplanted:

Summer Savory:


My one lonely garden pea sprout.  I planted more, honest! 

This may be Amaranth.  I sure hope so!

My one lonely corn sprout.  I need more!  Hard to see, but the true leaves are just starting to show.

Indoor sprouts, plus some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes that were gifted to me.  Why are the indoor sprouts so leggy?

The sprouts are backup tomatoes, peppers, basil, cabbage, catnip, and marigolds.  The peppers were extremely slow to germinate, but they did, finally.  Out of all of them it is the heirloom marigolds that are doing the worst, just one sprout from 4 pucks.  I thought marigolds were supposed to be easy?! 

I still need to lay down more mulch around the SFGs, get the trellises up, and think about an outdoor watering system (the hose is very unwieldy!) but given all the rain lately, I am going to wait on those projects for now.

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

My garden smells like an espresso!

It's sad that I'm so congested from all the pollen in the air right now, because my garden smells just like an espresso.  Yep, I scored at Starbuck's!

All I had to do was ask for used coffee grounds and they got the bag right away, good wishes for my garden, plus emptied all the machines currently in use and looked in back for more.  There's filters mixed in, but I picked around them.  I put a light scattering across the beds, plus a couple handfuls in the watering bucket to make a tea for other plants.  (Yes, I clogged the watering can head.  Easy enough to unclog, though!)  So now the soil has a black-brown glow to it and the smell is incredible.  I tried to keep it to a light scattering so as to avoid nitrogen burn.
More plants are up!

Taters....hard to see, but they are up.  Finally!

Kohlrabi.  (Lots of brassicas are up.  So are the carrots, I think, but I forgot to get a shot of those.)


Indoor seedlings, getting their first (very brief) taste of sun.

Pea shoot!  And my attempt to protect it from hungry things... plus maybe some mini greenhouse help?

I was going to wait to post this until the grass was cut and general cleanup, but, here you go.

Here's a picture of blossoms on whatever-it-is in the perimeter bed.  The leaves are pulled back to show the tiny blooms.