Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 28, 2010

The Friday before Spring Break, my 3 year old was given a book by his preschool teacher.  Let me say he LOVES reading.  Well we read to him.  He'll sit raptured as we read him stacks of books. I love reading anything about gardening to him.  Surpisingly there are many kids books that are about farming or gardening.  So when he showed me the book from his teacher, I was happy.  It was about a real chicken and how she loves worms when her "sisters" like corn, and she likes finding creative places to lay her eggs rather than just the nesting box.  He loved the book and wanted me to read it over and over.  That afternoon, the sun was breaking through the clouds I took my boys for a walk. 

A block away from my folks place is a couple that raises chickens in their fenced front yard.  I had expected to show them the coup and the nesting boxes like in the book, and maybe get a glimpse of some of the girls pecking away in the yard.  Instead, we found the home owner in the yard gardening.  She was gracious and generous.  She let us tour the yard, the coup and play with the hens.  I hadn't expected that, but it was a joy for the kids.  I love that she uses the eggs for her family and the left overs go to her restaurant.  When I get a job I plan on going there to return the favor.


The coup has all the right ingredients including 4 nesting boxes, one had several eggs in it that day.

The kids had a blast feeding bread to the chickens, though even the nicest ones shied away from them. 

However, the best time was when she brought out a couple of chicks that she bought for her cousin and is raising until they're ready to leave the nest so-to-speak (she has heat lamps). 

The kids got to hold the little ones, but we had one dropped bird and one pecking.  All in all, that was the highlight of my week.

I would love to have a few birds of my own.  I saw a mini-coup that was like an egg for two birds with a hoop cage to protect them from raccoons. I am a bit worried about the viscious coon problem we have here, but that setup was a good solution.  Sorry I didn't take a picture of it. 

Anyway, it doesn't matter, my wife doesn't want them.  I've asked and asked, but she keeps saying no, despite her love of the fresh eggs we've had in the past.  Maybe some day.

Enjoy your garden, and try a fresh egg, they're unbelievable!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

March 27, 2010

Well, spring showers has been an understatement since my last post.  It's rained off and on for the last few days.  That's probably a good thing for my plants since I don't have water outside at the moment.  I haven't re-attached the backyard hose and the front yard hose is missing a spiggot following the pipe freezing this winter.  Probably a project I should tackle soon.  Don't you think?

Anyway, I finally planted out my salad greens and cole crops.  They were clearly outgrowing their 2 inch soil blocks and beginning to wilt.

Compare that to two days earlier from my last post.  Note to self, start hardening off sooner so it doesn't get this far.  Oh, well, cool weather crops have historically been very resilient, so I'm hoping they bounce back.

Of course it had to start raining the day I planted these out.  So much for taking my time and letting my kids help.  I just threw them in the ground.

Sorry looking greens if I ever saw them.  Sure hope they ounce back.  Anyway, the picture above is my three foot wide bed, which works well for my lettuce since I have three varieties.  I'm more hopeful for the Italiensheir and Red Sails.  The salad bowl has seen better days.  Man they went downhill fast. 

Not sure if you noticed the bare space in the bottom right hand corner. I didn't plant anything there.  It's not the best space, so I threw in a handfull of radishes.  You can't have spring salads without radishes, hehe.

Lastly, I planted my cole crops. All four broccoli and cauliflower worked well for me, though they were getting a bit leggy despite my plans otherwise with the light system and fan to simulate wind.

I'm tempted to cut a toilet paper roll in thirds and ring these plants. I recall in years past I may have had something nibbling at them.  Never found out what they were, but now would be the time to try to thwart it.  Thoughts?

Well, Spring is here, so I hope you're thawing out and getting outside.  Gardening time is upon us. Enjoy your garden!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 23, 2010

Today I spent some more time outside.  The weather is cooperative and the kids LOVE the fresh air.  Most of the time it's just watching the kids ride their bikes or play in the dirt with a neighbor kid.  Today however, I took the seedlings for their second walk.  They're actually getting a bit long in the tooth to be out of the ground, so I'm doing a crash course in hardening off.

I wasn't kidding when I said I didn't know if I should plant them out or harvest them.  We could have a nice salad from these two-inch soil blocks.  I think I'm going to plant them out tomorrow and let them deal with mid 40s night time temps.  Speaking of which, it's 1 am and the seedlings are still out there. BRB. hehe

Today I also played musical seedlings.  If you recall, I set up an impromptu light system in my kitchen to let the cole crops germinate before moving them upstairs to the real light system.  Well, today all my broccoli and cauliflower had officially germinated (five of each, which rocks).  I wanted to move them upstairs, along with the three germinated tomatoes. 

Carefully I moved the seedlings upstairs and rearranged the kitchen area.  I took a picture of the upstairs system which looks very baren while the original seedlings were outside.

Notice how steep the slope of the light fixtures is?  That's to accomodate the cup-o-tomatoes and the new cole crop seedlings. From not on out this season, the fixtures will look like that due to the tomatoes.

To end, I'll share two random comments and pictures.  The first is a stubby carrot my youngest pulled from the garden. 

He said he thought it was ready.  I can see why he thought that.  It's fat, but short.  I wonder why that happened?  Anyway, my eldest loves baby carrots, so he ate it up in two bites.  I hope the rest aren't like that.

Secondly, the neighbor my kids play with have several towering pine trees in their yard. They hate them because of all the pine needles and cones they drop, but I have been looking for a local source for pine needles.  They're very acidic and make a great mulch for acid-loving plants.  So today while the kids were playing, I got a kitchen garbage bag and convinced the kids it was a game to fill it with needles.  I took them and spread them liberally around the base of my blueberry plants.  I hope I'm not too late and all the acid's run out of them.

As you can also see in the picture above, I still need to thin my garlic.  I never harvested last year's heads, so they went to seed in the ground.  Each of the cloves sprouted.  They're way too crouded to grow properly, so I need to pull all but one per few inches.  I'm thinking I could probably transplant them, but don't really have the space for it.

Well, that's about it for tonight.  Enjoy your garden!

Monday, March 22, 2010

March 22, 2010

Yesterday I spent a lovely Sunday evening with my family to celebrate my wife's and my birthdays (belatedly) It was a great time all around, but I especially enjoyed taking a stroll with my brother.  Not only did I get to see his garden, but we walked down the street to the chicken house.   It appears that Mountlake Terrace has no rules on owning chickens in the city.  These neighbors of my brother's have 5 hens that live in a fenced-in front yard.  I love thier chicken coop.  I should have taken pictures, but I didn't want to pry.  Safe to say the hens looked fat and healthy.

While we were out, I took a few pictures of my brother's garden and seedlings.  He's planting is similar to mine, though with some major differences.

He's got TONS of tomatoes going, many of the same variety.   Like me last year, he'll give away what he doesn't use.   This year however, his seedlings are well beyond mine in the tomato front, though I've got him beat in the cole crop department (see below).  Oh, and the red pots are hot peppers.  He'll hoop house them in the summer to kick the heat up a notch.  Apparently it works here.  Neither of us has tried it, but a friend of his has great luck locally.  They'll be great for salasa making this year. 

Also, he just planted 88 pea plants in a 4 SF bed.  He did something similar to KitsapFG, and went horizontal and vertical.  Here's his setup.

Apparently the slats are made from recycled plastic bottles, so they'll never rot.  Oh, and the bamboo poles used to tie them together came from my folks place across the street.  They've got bamboo growing.  Very cool.

Lastly, an update on my germination efforts.  If you recall, many of my tomatoes didn't germinate the first time, so I replanted.  Further, I planted another 5 each of broccoli and cauliflower plants.  We love those veggies and I plan on getting succession crops out of them.  Hasn't worked out perfectly in year's past, but I'm hoping for the best this year. 

Anyway, I noticed that out of the 10 cole crops I planted in a Jiffy-Peat egg carton thingy, 3 seeds germinated fast and were bending over toward the south-facing kitchen window.  I didn't want to move the whole egg carton thingy upstairs to the light system because it's too cold up there for good germination.  What was I to do?  I had 7 seeds that weren't germinating and 3 seedlings going leggy.  I needed a compromise.  Well, they say necessity is the mother of invention.  It was here.  I found an old funky clip bowl lamp that we used 10 years ago with a black light bulb to find cat stains.  I replaced the bulb with a CFL and clipped it to the spice cubboard door handle.  Tada, an impromptu light system in the Kitchen.

Before you comment, I realize the light is WAY too high over the tray.  It was the best I could do to secure the lamp, and it's only temporary.  Especially since the lamp throws of a decent amount of heat to warm the seeds a bit.

We shall see what happens in the next day or so.  If the plants get too leggy I'll break apart the egg carton and move the seedlings upstairs.

Enjoy your garden and the first days of Spring!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March 21, 2009

Well, blogging didn't happen last week like I'd hoped, but it doesn't mean gardening didn't.  In fact, I've been so busy that tonight's post is going to be short and sweet.  I need to hit the sack. I actually brushed my teeth and came back out to the computer to post this.

Speaking of sweet, that is the topic of today's post.  Specifically my stevia plant.  If you recall, I planted 10 seeds in a separate pot so I could bring it in during the winter. I had heard you can overwinter here if you bring it inside.  Well, last year, 9 of the 10 seeds failed to germinate.  Thankfully one did and I got a beautiful plant out of it.  Here's a pic of the plant in all it's glory when I brought it inside at the end of last season.

I stuck it in the southern facing window of my garage hoping to give it enough light to survive despite the unheated temps in the garage.  Alas, my attempts to keep the plant alive were thwarted, even after moving it indoors to the top of the fridge to keep it warm.

I can't seem to find a picture of the plant completely brown.  My guess is it's in the device memory of the phone that died.  These were properly stored on the memory card.   Anyway, I felt betrayed by the claim that I could overwinter the plant.  Sure I can't keep houseplants alive, but this is a hearty herb, right? Wrong.  So the entire winter this dead plant sat in my fridged garage in a southern facing window.  My plan was to clean the pot out for use this season.

Well, I finally gave it a second glance this week because I was eyeing it for use to plant my wife's licorice herb.  I am ashamed to say the pot is difficult to get to since we've let that room get cluttered over the winter. So from ten feet away, the plant looked a foot tall and brown, brown, brown.  Or maybe it wasn't. Did my eyes deceive me or was there a bit of green at the bottom?  Sure enough, when I cut away all the dead branches, I was left with this...

I was shocked!  Seems there is some sort of root ball or crown in there that survived and grew this nice new plant again.  Maybe THIS is what they meant by overwintering?  And in case that's not shocking enough, notice that I said I paid not attention to this for several months.  This plant grew with absolutely NO watering!

Of course, I have since watered it and moved it to the bright sunlit window up in the light system room.  I expect it to thrive this year.  Yay!  This year I will harvest all the leaves and dry them at the end of the season, so I don't have to worry about keeping it alive during the winter. 

I guess I need to find a new pot for my wife's herbs. hehe

Enjoy your garden!

Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15, 2010

See, I really can post two posts in a row like the good old days.  Remember when I posted over 25 blog entries a month?  Not sure I'll do that this year while I'm searching for work, but this is a start.

Today I want to finish up my thoughts from yesterday.  The spring-like weather we've been having, complete with tons of rain, has got me thinking.  I have time on my hands for the first time in 15+ years, so what's stopping me from completing my rain barrel setup?  Sure, money is an issue, but if you make them yourself they're pretty cheap.  So I have been researching food-grade 55 gallon drums.  To my surprise, I no longer have to go to Yelm to get them.  There is a place in my town that carries used drums for $15.  Even more shocking, there is a place that delivers plumbed rain barrels for $50.  I'm not sure I can make a rain barrel that cheap.  I'm checking into availablity of the $50 one. 

I want three total.  Two will go in the garden area. I think I have the space for 3, but I'm going to start with 2.  I have over 2,000 SF of roofline that flows into the downspout at the corner of my garden area.  I can easily divert the downspout into a rain barrel, connect the two via the overflow, then send the final overflow back to the storm drain. 

The third I want to put over by my kids room to support the blueberries.  Not only to support them, but to protect them.  You see, I planted the two new plants I got from Sandy on either side of a downspout.  I knew it could be a problem with too much water for the plants, but with a rain barrel, I can divert the overflow out into the yard or to the other side of the fence or whatever.  

I'm looking forward to the project.  The kids spend so much time outdoors these days, they want dad out there too.  Gardening gives me the chance to kill two birds with one stone.

Lastly, I am looking forward to reviewing a book for Patti the Garden Girl.  I'm almost done with Michael Pollen's Omnivore's Dilema and it would be good to read a gardening book after that heavy reading.  More on that later.

Enjoy your garden!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

March 14, 2010

Yes, it's been over a month since my last post.  Sorry.  I must say I've been very discouraged about the job market.  We're ok as a family, in fact we're great.  Being frugal isn't a bad thing when the crap hits the fan.  Anyway, I only bring this up as a lame excuse why I haven't been blogging like I'd wanted.  I wouldn't say I've been depressed.  I've been having the time of my life with my budding reader and his little brother that will probably be doing everything his older brother does 2 years earlier because he's in direct competition with him.  I love my family to death, so that's why today I gardened. Yep, I decided the weather wouldn't wait for me to break out of my funk, so I did a ton of little things today.

My first task was to check on my seedlings upstairs under lights.  They are looking great.  So great that I'm not sure if I should harvest the greens or plant them out.  For that information, I went to my new planting bible.  I must say, I haven't followed KitsapFG's seed starting schedule as closely as I'd hoped due to my lapse of reasoning.  I do plan on following it to the T from now on out.  However, today was spent catching up with what she's already done. 

Mostly I re-planted a half-dozen tomato varieties that didn't germinate properly or died under the lights due to my in-attention.   As you can see above, only two of the eight plants made it upstairs.  The others are germinating in the kitchen.  I must say I love watching the dirt through the clear plastic wick up the water I pour into the tray.  Isn't science cool.  My eldest is getting me back into it these days.  He's my little inventor.

Anyway, after I replanted my tomatoes (I should be potting them up now), I direct sowed about 5 SF of spinach.  First I spent a minute or two weeding the area and aerating the soil a bit to mix in the moss and anything else on the surface.

You can see how nice and black the Mel's Mix looks with just a bit of work. Then I added a smattering of compost from my finished bin.  Then I planted.   I no longer have strings or lines to mark off my square foot boundaries.  Mel wouldn't be proud.  However, I still have the U stapples in the wood where I ran the jute twine that disintegrated.  To create the lines temporarliy, I improvised and ran some PVC pipe across the beds.

Doesn't it look crooked?  That's the artistic angle for the pathway between the beds and the neighbor's fence.  If you look closely you can see the holes I estimated for 9 spinach seeds per SF.  I did about 5 SF, which is a good start.  I'm going to try to harvest them smaller this year to avoid the Spinach Leaf Miner problem.  There just isn't any place in my garden that I haven't planted spinach before, so I'm out of luck there.  To finish, I scattered more compost over the area.  I didn't water it in because I don't have water hooked up outside this winter following the pipe bursting incident.  More on that later.

Speaking of spinach, I made our first smoothie that included a handful of "organic" spinach from Costco (if you've read Pollen's book Omnivore's Dilema, it's from Earthbound).  It was yummy and the boys didn't notice a thing.  That's a really good thing since my youngest LOVES smoothies and hates all vegetables.

Lastly, I prepared the area for peas.  I didn't plant them because I am soaking them overnight.  I don't think it's necessary, but it's worked well for me in the past, so I'm going for it again.

Well, that's about it for tonight, I have more to talk about so hopefully I'll have another post as early as tomorrow. 

Spring is in the air, so I'm hoping that you are starting to enjoy your garden!