Thursday, January 31, 2008

January 31, 2008

End of the month scrambling at work, but by the time I got home (late) I had the best surprise waiting for me. I opened the door from the garage to find both kids and my wife standing in the doorway yelling SURPRISE!  What a great way to end the day and start quality time with my family.

So while I'm making dinner, my 4 year old comes in and politely asks if we can please look at the garden.  So I get down the lettuce... nothing yet. 

Onions, nothing either.  Broccoli/Cauliflower.  TADA!  All 8 seeds sprouted!


Hehe, I made the picture very big because the poor little sprouts are sooooo tiny.  Only my son could count them all with his eagle eyes.

Anyway, I had the all important conversation with the big guy... no not the birds and the bees, that's this summer when we talk about pollination and bird netting... what did you think I was talking about... come on he's 4 for goodness sake.  No the discussion about him letting me put our plants in his room on his window sill.  Oh, and he can't ever touch the plants without Daddy there.  So, now all my sprouts will move to their new home.

I moved Owen's crib out of arm's reach of the window sill and have room for all my starts (so far).  When the plants sprout, this ledge will get more and more crowded.  Let's hope 70 degrees and 6-8 hours of direct sunlight helps these little guys.

On a separate note, I have a pipe dream.  Ok, I know I'm getting WAY ahead of myself, but eventually I could turn my second and third largest beds into a seasonal mini-greenhouse.  My thinking is that the garage would act as the structural wall...


Then I could build a square 2x2 frame for the roof and top it with opaque corrugated plastic.  I could attach it on the garage above the window and angle it down toward the fence to take advantage of the winter sun.  The supports in the path could be out of say, 2x3s for stability in the wind and rain.  Then the walls could be made of heavy mil clear plastic stapled at the bottom to 2x2s for weight.  The door in the front at the path between the two beds could be simply overlapping plastic that you part like a curtain.  To take it down, the walls could roll up using the 2x2s as a spool and the top could be stored with the support boards behind my shed in the back yard.  I certainly wouldn't want it up all year, but I really want to grow veggies year round.  Hehe, finally, I could actually heat the place by heating my garage (I just ran gas out there for a wall heater) and open the window, letting heat out into the greenhouse.  Ok, now I'm just being silly.  The things cruising the boards makes you think about.

I was just cruising the boards and read a thread on ant problems with gardens (mostly in the South).  One of the posts though mentioned that carpenter ants were destructive.  GREAT... grrr. I have problems on that side of the house with carpenter ants.  We've figured they are coming from the wetland behind my house but they forage for up to 1/4 mile and we've found them in my attic (I've got ant poison up there where I think they're getting in and haven't seen any in a while).  So my new garden has potential problems from a WIDE range of critters.  Of course there's birds, we've got a Starling Jay (Blue Jay to us non-bird people) and various other NW birds that may like my veggies.  Then we've got a family of raccoons that have always used my yard as a pathway from the street to the wetland, so much so that there's literally a worn path in my grass.  It's a whole family of fiveish raccoons that aren't scared by anything.  Their path goes right past my blueberry bushes.  Now there's the potential that carpenter ants could ruin my garden.  All I can say is they better not. 

I saw a good pic of a chicken wire cage to put over the beds, but it lacked a frame so I bet the raccoons would just flatten it in one pounce and eat what they wanted through the holes.  Then I thought back to one recent late night binge on vacation, watching hour after hour of GardengirlTV's Urban Sustainability videos.  Note I have no interest in becoming self sufficient, but boy are these videos addictive.  Anyway, she spent six segments building a Chicken Tractor. I don't have chickens (and don't want them), but boy was it fun to watch.  So since that tractor is essentially a 2x2 box with chicken wire over it, I thought I could build one sturdy enough to keep out birds and raccoons alike.  That and some judicious application of ant poison around the outside of my garden area could stem off ants.  Just another thought.  I could be a VERY busy boy this year.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 30, 2008

Final day of my carryover vacation, and since my wife's out doing her paper route, so I'm watching the boys and checking the boards.  But not before I made smoothies for breakfast.

Quick aside here, the smoothies I make are great!  I get frozen strawberries, blueberries, mixed berries and mixed fruit from Costco and blend 1 serving of each with 2 cups of milk, 1 banana and 1 non-fat yogurt.  To balance the liquids I use Crystallite lemonade.  That blends up into 2-16oz. glasses for my wife and I and 2-12oz. cups for my kids.  I'm growing blueberries  and have blackberries in the wetland behind my home and found out from AB on Good Eats how to freeze them, but I'm not growing strawberries, raspberries, bananas, peaches or any other of the fruits in the mixes so I won't be talking about this much in my SFG blog, but boy are they tasty, and good for you too.

Back to my garden. So, thanks to the good people at GardenWeb, I found out all about my diametrically opposed blueberry bushes.  Apparently, Legacy is a southern high-bush variety that is listed as semi-evergreen.  Since I'm in zone 8b where the temperature doesn't get below 15 degrees (I don't think it's been below 20 this year), it's normal for the leaves to drop.  Blueray on the other hand, is a pure northern high-bush and normally drops its leaves in the fall.  It just looks funny with one bush lush and green and the other is brown twigs. 

Here's my Legacy evergeen...

And here's my twigy Blueray...

Seeing that as new gardener a month after you planted them the same way, wouldn't you worry?  Anyway, it's normal. Go figure.

I was thinking that my blueberries aren't SFG, but technically they are.  They're in a raised bed (concrete blocks cemented together).  It's just that they take up 16 SF (a 4x4 bed) for each plant.  I would have had them in my SFG enclosure, but they were removed in one of my later redesigns for lack of space and proper lighting and natural watering.  But that's a different story.  Maybe I'll put together a whole page on my raised bed design process.  That would be fun.  Anyway, the rest of the blueberry bed is taken up by a mature rosemary plant which is good with potatoes, carrots and chicken.  The other few SF is currently devoted to lavender.  The purplish blue flowers are pretty and will compliment the blueberries, plus the bees love them. I'm trying to attract bees to pollinate my blueberries.  I had a wasp problem not 15 feet away from the blueberries last year. They kept killing the bees. Add that to the national bee extinction issue and I was worried. My plum and pear harvest was horrible last year as well, though I'm thinking it was also a result of over-pruning the year before.  Anyway, the wasps are gone after a 5 minute visit from an exterminator, and the lavender's juicy, so I hope to have lots of bees this year.

Well, my 4 year old who's sick right now, just made me look at the trays on the fridge. I had looked when I got up and saw nothing.  But his eagle eyes found two little green sprouts pushing up from the vermiculite, one broccoli and one cauliflower.  I'm always amazed how that works! 

My wife had a suggestion for a small cabinet with an open back that would fit on the kids dresser under the window of choice for seedlings.  That way the kids couldn't get at them but the sun would.  I may have to rig something up.  I hate to spend money on something like that, but I don't want it to look ugly either.  I'll think about it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

January 29, 2008

Well, I'm still trying to get my blog skills down, but since my background is done and updated, now it's time to start the periodic progress reports. 

Both my son and I are excited about watching the water boil, er wait, the seeds sprout.  Recall that I've got 4 broccoli and 4 cauliflower going in a cool whip container full of vermiculite, as well as, 8 Jiffy peat seedling pots full of Mel's Mix with 2 lettuce seeds each, sitting on top of the fridge.  I'm like a kid in a candy store, always climbing up on a step stool and looking to see if I have any sprouts.  Also, it did my heart good to see my 4 year old ask if he could see if the garden was growing. 

The garage sprouts are doing much better now that I set the cool whip containers in plastic spill trays on top of a heating pad.  Instead of 45 degrees during the cold winter nights they're at 60 degrees, peaking at 65 degrees in the winter sun.  In just 24 hours the leaves are starting to spread out and now I've got as many as 4 leaves at the top of the broccoli and cauliflower.  Still no leaves coming out of the stock though.  I'm confused again.

Anyway, I'm off work, making up the last two 2007 vacation days I didn't get around to taking, so maybe I'll check out lumber today, if the weather cooperates, we've still got 2 inches of snow outside.  Don't laugh, the Seattle area isn't built for snow.

I just checked out the FarmFareGirl blog that Judy has linked to her blog. That blogger has way too much time on her hands.  Wow!  It did give me some not-in-this-lifetime ideas for later though.

Got some more computer time and did a search on GardenWeb for blueberries.  One of the two (Blueray) I planted in October 2007 lost all it's leaves and turned brown/rust color within a month of planting.  The other (Legacy) not only kept its leaves but STILL has all its leaves in late winter. It looks funny in snow.  I asked a couple nurseries and they said blueberry bushes are deciduous so the Legacy would lose its leaves.  It's still proving them wrong.  I did a scratch test on the brown twigs and there's still green underneath, so according to the experts it's still alive.  Go figure.  I'll post on the Fruit forum to see if this is odd. Doh, I posted a question on the Fruit forum, but silly me, I forgot to mention in the subject line.  Oh well, at least I'll get a lot of views, just nobody that knows about blueberries.

On a lighter note, searching for info on blueberry bushes on GardenWeb has resulted in a fair amount of potentially useful information, so I started a Word document and am taking notes. 

EEK! I just figured out I need to start my onion starts so my wife can have her green onions.  They are planted in 16 per SF sets, but I don't want that many onions all at once so I'll just do 8, then do another 8 in two weeks.  If I put them in my sons' window sill I can germinate more in the same vermiculite while I let the sprouted ones get their sun.

Monday, January 28, 2008

My Update...

Let me start by saying that I’m not only new at SFG, but blogging as well.  This first post is sort of my second. My first was my introductory post on  Judy, the moderator asked me if I would write a blog and I said sure.  I’m not sure if she wanted a neophyte’s perspective on gardening or just to get me off the forums.  Actually, I agreed because even if nobody but Judy and maybe my family will read this, it will be a good chronicle of my first SFG, heck my first garden ever. 

You see, I started out hating gardening.  My wife and I bought our first house a month before we were married and moved into a house with a quarter acre yard right after our honeymoon.  We bought our house based on a snap decision in 1997 (the market was ultra hot then, our house was on the market for 12 hours). What I failed to realize was that a quarter acre is a ton of work to keep up the landscaping.  Just mowing took me an entire weekend!

So, if it wasn’t for a dog run that became a jungle of weeds, weeds and more weeds, my brother wouldn’t have suggested I turn the southern facing area into a garden.  Further, if it wasn’t for my good friend Jen, I wouldn’t have checked out SFG (the 2005 edition) from the library.  *aside* why did they have a 2005 edition and then a 2006 edition a year later when they hadn’t put one out since 1980?  After reading the book, I was hooked. I got excited and poured time, energy and money into designing the perfect space and constructing my beds. I don’t even have dirt yet (next month) and I’m already planting seeds… I get ahead of myself.

Anyway, back to my first post.  What I’d like to do here is update My Story today.  A lot has happened in the few weeks since I wrote that post.  So instead of spreading out the last few weeks over the next few weeks, I’ll make this a long one… 

Well, my broccoli and cauliflower are not doing so well.  After growing like weeds (I’m experienced with those) on the refrigerator in the 70 degree house, they’ve all but stopped growing in the deep freeze (45 degrees, peeking at 60 in the sunlight).  The only bright side is that my 4th broccoli seed sprouted after only three weeks germinating.  Go figure.  Just tonight, after 4 inches of snow outside and freezing temperatures, I finally caved and got out our heating pad and put the trays on it, set on low.  Don’t ask me if it will do anything, I just can’t stand to see it constantly 45 degrees in there.  I know they’re cold weather plants, but not that cold.

Yesterday I decided it was time to start a new batch of broccoli and cauliflower seeds.  I’ve got room in my garden for 8 (1 per SF), so if they all transplant well, I’ll have a decent staggered planting. Worst case, I would be planting replacement seeds only a few weeks later than you’re supposed to.  I hope it’s the former because even with our mild summers here, they don’t like heat.

If I didn’t mention it before, I’m not only excited about gardening for me, but for my sons.  Logan’s turning 4 next month and already loves gardening with my Aunt.  He’s been ecstatic about helping me plant our garden, so I’ve let him help start the seeds.  I don’t care what anyone says, no seed is too small for little fingers to pick up and plant!  He’s great at poking the holes and putting one or two seeds in each.  It’s so much fun I can’t describe it!

In addition to broccoli and cauliflower, this time I consulted the book and decided to start 8 lettuce plants.  Instead of using straight vermiculite, I decided to use the Jiffy peat seedling pots with a slightly modified Mel’s Mix.  I combined 1/6 compost with 1/6 Miracle Grow potting soil, along with the 1/3 peat and 1/3 vermiculite.  I figure the fertilizer won’t kill the seeds.    I had my son put two lettuce seeds in each hole in case one doesn’t come up.  That way, I’ll have two SF of lettuce ready to go and can start another set in 2 weeks.  Maybe I’ll find a way to get some different variety of lettuce seeds for my next set to mix it up a bit.  I love the type that tastes like pepper (I love black pepper).  Now they’re on top of the fridge next to the broccoli and cauliflower.

When they sprout, I’m going to cave and put them inside.  The reason the first set isn’t inside is my house is not designed for starting seeds.  I don’t have a good sunny south-facing window in the heated portion of my house (the garage isn’t currently heated, we’re working on that).  My kitchen window has a southern exposure, but it is blocked by my family room and the eves over the window.  It gets poor direct sun rays.  The garage window is perfect, right over my beds, but the cold is not so good.  The reason why I’m caving is that I do have a really good window.  It gets decent direct sunlight and is in the most heat efficient room in the house.  AKA the nursery.  It was tough to convince my wife that we could get my 4 year old who helps with the seeds to not touch them when they’re growing on his window sill above his bed.  Further, if I get them too close to the crib on the other side, my youngest would grab them for fun.  Not good either.  So we’ll give it a try, once they sprout. 

Finally, I’ll share the saga of my potato bins.  If you see by my garden plan, I’ve got two bins marked for two different potato varieties; a russet type and a Yukon Gold. I like potatoes a lot, so I’ve been obsessed for a month or so, trying to find the perfect containers for my potatoes.  In my mind, the perfect container is 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall. That way I can plant tons of seed starts and can get tons of production out of each plant.  I thought of tires, garbage cans, composters and barrels.  None were wide enough.  I went to store after store, website after website, finding nothing.   Then, bless Judy’s heart, all the way from Alabama she finds an article in my local Seattle paper about the perfect potato bin.  It’s built out of 2×2s for height and 2×6s for structure.  You start with one at the bottom, plant your potatoes and as they grow, you add more 2×6 layers and cover with dirt (note when I say dirt I mean Mel’s Mix).  This is the perfect system for me. I can make it as big or small as I want and as deep as I can handle.  I even designed a 3×3x3 container using 1×6s since Mel’s Mix is so light, with landscape fabric on the bottom to hold the dirt in but still drain well.  I had it all planned out.  Then, for some reason I looked at my garden plan.  Hmm, where do these go again?  3×3 bins don’t fit anywhere in my plan.  I don’t have space for two beds that size in the sunny areas of my garden.  I’ve been obsessing over something I can’t possibly have.  The best I can hope for is slightly over 2 feet by 2 feet, though I’m still going up 3 feet.  I can’t wait to buy the materials (probably cheap pine) and build it.  Now if only I can get Territorial Seeds to ship me seed potatoes in early March instead of early April.

My Story

I'm a 36 year old commercial real estate lender (affordable housing) in the Seattle area. I'm married with two young boys (4 and almost 2). We bought our current house on a quarter acre in the suburbs of Seattle 10 years ago and I quickly found I hated yard work. Just mowing was an entire weekend project in the summer. Thankfully my aunt has a green thumb and helps both my brother and I with our yards (he lives a mile away). For about ten years my brother has had two 4x8 raised beds and one 4x4 bed. However, he has never heard of SFG. His garden does very well. 

I should mention a key ingredient to my story.  Although I like some vegetables, I don't like them enough to eat them regularly.  Thank Ken and his "Rich-Friendly" restaurants that serve meat and potatoes for reminding me to include this (they are omnivores and I'm essentially a carnivore, so we have to pick our eatting out places carefully, true friends for sure).  At home though, we tend to eat the same basic menu over and over again, despite my wife's attempts to expand our repertoire.  Part of my problem is only I like some veggies and only my wife likes others, so it's not worth getting big heads of broccoli from the store. It would just go bad before we found enough meals for me to have it.  With my SFG I hope to be able to harvest only what we need for dinner that night.  And it will force us to figure out meals to use all of it with.

Anyway, long story short... My brother convinced me to turn a southern facing triangular area of my yard that was the blight of the universe, full of weeds and garbage, into a garden. It was a fenced-in dog run for the prior owners and we don't have a dog. A friend suggested I read SFG and I took much of Mel's ideas to heart.

I cleared the area down to bare dirt and got up as many weeds as I could. Then I laid down landscape fabric and three inches of pea gravel. Then I built four raised beds on top of the gravel (good for weed control and drainage).The largest bed is 11x4. The next is 10x4. The other two are 8x4 and 6x3. Each box is 15 inches high (three 2x6s). My brother convinced me to go higher than he did (one 2x6). They are all diagonal shaped at one end to form a "perfect" line along the fence line to give a 4' path between my front and back yard (also helps since the fence shades the entire path), with each bed having a 2' path in between.


I will get dirt in mid February and start planting in the Seattle area in late March, early April. Here is where the 150+ years of experience in my family is at odds with SFG. They want me to use a mixture of top soil, compost and peat moss in my beds (pre mixed and bought by the yard). I was thinking use this wonderful 5+ source bulk compost, with peat and vermiculite. But my family is very close and it's tough telling the green thumb in the family you're not following their suggestion. Possibly compromise is in order. Maybe I'll fill the bottom 4-6 inches with their "three-way" topsoil mix and the top 9-11 inches of Mel's Mix. Now if only I can find a bulk supplier of peat and vermiculite by the yard. Hehe don't expect that.

Whew, by the time beds have dirt, I hope to feed a family of 4 with the following vegetables (SF devoted to each in parentheses):

Corn (40)
Cucumber (4)
Onion (7)
Radish (5)
Peas (6)
Bush Beans (8)
Pole Beans (8)
Broccoli (8)
Cauliflower (8)
Tomato (10)
Carrots (8)
Lettuce/Spinich (12)

(See my garden plan below)


I just started my broccoli and cauliflower inside in vermiculite. They came up great. Now they're in my garage (average 45 degrees) in direct sunlight (the window overlooking the southern facing garden). After seeing Judy's blog about the Jiffy pop discs, I got some that I'll use for other transplants, and got some Jiffy peat moss starter bins that I'll fill with Miracle Grow Starter soil. I don't have Mel's mix yet but I'll amend the Miracle Grow with vermiculite.


For fruit, I've got a existing pear tree and plum tree, that my mom uses to can pears and make pear jelly. My in-laws gave my youngest a new apple tree that's planted next to the plum. My kids love blueberries so I bought two high-bush blueberries for second best sun spot in my yard. Odd with the blueberry bushes, they're different varieties to cross pollinate, but though they're both deciduous, only one lost its leaves. I thought it was dead, but a scratch test proved it's green under the brown.So, I guess I went from someone who hates yard work to an avid gardener. This too will be my first season but my 4 year old is excited to plant, and loves veggies, so I expect to be gardening for a long, long time.