Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wet, Wet, Wet

We've had intermittent rain (and sometimes downpours) since Saturday, which means my garden is nice and watered, but now it's too watered, and I don't dare sow any seeds anywhere, lest they rot. But that hasn't stopped me from moving some things around: I dug some daylilies out of one area of my garden and put them in the verge (the place between the sidewalk and the road), so that daylilies now run the entire verge. Where those daylilies were (and some were just little off-shoots of my larger plants), I planted a few more peonies, two 'Benjamin Franklins' that I bought from Skillin's, and two mystery peonies that a neighbor gave me last fall (which I had planted in the back yard).

I also planted my potatoes (Red Pontiac and Yukon Gold), which needed to go in, so I had to balance not being too late with not having them rot in the ground. Let's hope I chose well. Also defying the weather, I planted some gladiolas alongside my fence.

In an annual ritual, it's pulling-out-the-blasted-oak-seedlings time. I walk around my garden, weeding tool in hand, looking for those distinctive red leaves, and out they come. With three oak trees in my neighbor's front yard, adjoining mine, we are inundated with acorns -- and their nefarious consumers, the squirrels.

Finally, my big purchase: I bought an espaliered apple tree, with three varieties grafted onto the same root stock. Unfortunately, Skillins' supplier lost track of what the three varieties were, so it'll be a surprise in the fall. Here's the challenge: I have to cut down four immature oak trees (each about two inches in diameter), which are all right next to each other and in the exact spot in the back yard where I want to put the apple tree. I'd been wanting for years to cut out those trees, but they had become a "house" for my daughter Sage's imaginary persona, Hack (who is, in her mind, a gardener and also an employee at Skillin's). While Hack still shows up once in a while, Sage now likes the idea of harvesting her own apples, so she's willing to give up the trees.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's been very dry these past two weeks, despite some brief drizzles here and there, and I've had to tap into my rain barrels for the past week to keep these moist.

I'm starting to take things out of my greenhouse and put them in the ground: nicotiana, amaranthus, lobelia, bachelor buttons, morning glories and thunbergia (the last from my generous neighbor).

I bought some red pontiac and yukon gold seed potatoes yesterday, and cut them up to harden them up before I plant them today or tomorrow. I also had to buy more gladiola bulbs: I hadn't planned on buying new ones this year, since I dutifully pulled last year's bulbs in the fall and put them in a pot to dry (I usually just leave them in the ground to rot), but I mistakenly put another flower pot on top of the bulbs, and when I discovered them last week, they were all moldly. Oh well.

New blooms: my peach (below) and cherry trees have bloomed, and my strawberries are beginning to do so. Among the perennials, the iberis and creeping phlox are in their full glory.People have been enjoying the "wow" factor of my garden this past week. A woman walking her dog paused to point out the tulips to her labrador. (I'm not sure what the dog understood.) A school kid on my daughter's bus stood up from his seat and started pointing and shouting to his friends (though I couldn't hear what he said). Passers-by compliment me on the garden when they see me out there. And my daughter thinks I have the prettiest garden in Portland. So I'm happy. Here are some pix:

Friday, May 6, 2011

getting greener

After a few days of on-again off-again rain, my garden is filling out with green stuff. And now that classes have ended, hopefully I'll have a little more time to identify what that green stuff is and separate the weeds from the rest. A few notes:

I have only a few blossoms (10 or so) on my cherry tree. It's only a four- or five-year-old tree, but I have images of the cherry blossoms in Washington D.C. in my head, and I'm envious.

As I've noted, only two of the three peonies that I planted last fall came up, so I took the peonies in my back yard (that a neighbor gave to me last summer) and moved them to the front. Let's hope they put on a good show: I have no idea what they look like.

While waiting for my daughter's school bus to arrive, I shelled and sowed lupine seeds that I collected last year. I'm sure they'll all resort to standard purple flowers, but that's fine. I need more variety in the parking strip out front, and as long as they don't become aphid magnets (or even if they do), I'll be happy with them.

I soaked and sowed six more morning glories (well, moon flower, but it's the same species) and put them under lights. Once they sprout, I'll be done with my grow lights and bring everything out into the greenhouse.

So many of the bulbs are open that I had to do a photoshoot yesterday, even if it was drizzling on me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

glory days

This is one of my favorite times of year for my gardens: when most of my major bulbs are out, especially the daffodils, hyacinth, grape hyacinth, and the first of my tulips. This time of year, my garden acts serves as a traffic-abatement device, slowing down cars as they drive by. Neighbors wave and give me a thumbs-up if they walk by and see me sitting in the front window. It's very rewarding.

Seed-starting update: most of my morning glories have sprouted and emerged from the soil, as have all of the other warm-weather seeds I first started in the greenhouse and then moved into the basement. Lesson learned. My raised bed is now covered with little green things poking out of the soil. Now if I can only find the little map I made as I was sowing the seeds, so I can figure out the seedlings that I don't recognize.

My new bowl-of-beauty peonies sprouted seemingly overnight a few days a ago and are now about 9 inches high. One of the three has yet to emerge, and I'm concerned I buried it too deep.

Friday, April 29, 2011

another greenhouse lesson

I've learned that seeds don't sprout so well in my greenhouse this time of year. I should have known. None of my morning glories, cukes, zucchini, melons, basil or parsley sprouted in the greenhouse on their own, so a few days ago I brought them back inside and put them under my grow lights, swapping places with all the annuals that I've already sprouted. Now everything's fine, though only two of 10 morning glories have sprouted. I'll have to start another batch.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kale in

I brought my kale starts out of the basement (under grow lights) and planted it all in my deck planter -- about two dozen plants. I'm also going to take most of my basement plants and put them into my greenhouse. I'm guessing we'll have no hard frosts this season, and the greenhouse will protect them from any light frosts. I'm just hoping I can remember to vent and water them regularly.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

first harvest

My daughter Sage and I harvested our first crop already this Spring, though it felt like cheating. I planted some lettuce and pansies in the ground the other day (purchased at Skillins rather than growing them myself), and we nibbled on some the other day. Sage loved being able to eat the flowers. I also found some arugula that over-wintered underneath a cold frame in my back yard. Most of it was still tender and green, so we both ate some. Eliot Coleman is right: you can have a four-season harvest in Maine.

I'm already planning for my Fall bulb planting. I have such dreams of splendor over the winter, only to find what emerges to be less than half of what was in my imagination.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sowing Seeds in the Raised Bed

I finally got a moment to sow some seeds in my raised bed this afternoon. The sugar snap peas went in, as did two rows each of spinach, carrots, and a mesclun mix, plus four rows of kale (a big hit in this house).

Now I know the attractions of timed venting systems on greenhouses. Trying to remember to (or getting a chance to) get out there and open up the roof vent in the morning and close it in the evening is a challenge.

A couple of pix of the garden in its current state: crocuses and chiondoxa.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Greenhouse seed starting; nitrogen pollution

Today I finally started using my greenhouse for what it was intended (other than as a writing studio): I started some seeds in flats and them left them in my greenhouse to see how they do. I'll have to make sure I ventilate it each morning, and close it at night, because unventilated it gets up to 100 degrees in there on warm sunny days, but still goes down to frost temps at night. I've started my warm-weather crops to take advantage of the heat in there: cantaloupe, zucchini, cukes (a variety called Poona Kheera, which is new to me), basil (regular and Thai), and parsley.

I still have to put my peas in the ground! I'm almost too late, but it's time to start sowing my raised bed, now that I can fully work the soil. (I tried early last week, but it was still frozen a few inches down.)

Why I only use organic fertilizers (like compost, or seaweed extract): I heard today on the BBC's Farming Today that nitrogen pollution is costing every person in Europe up to 650 pounds a year to clean up -- due to over-use of chemical nitrogen by farmers and gardeners. That doesn't count the cost of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, which is a leading cause of global warming. (Yes, I listen to Farming Today! It's a good show.) Organic fertilizers break down more slowly, meaning less is unused by the plants and subsequently released into the groundwater or atmosphere.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Pruning the roses

I spend about a half-hour each afternoon waiting for my daughter's school bus, which fortunately stops right in front of my house, so I get to do a little bit of gardening every afternoon, weather permitting. Yesterday I was able to cut back the laterals (side shoots) on my two climbing roses, which I'm training to run along my picket fence. You get more blooms when you let the vines run horizontally as well, and last year was the first year of their full bloom, so I'm looking forward to a good year.

Now I've got a bucket full of thorny canes to try to stuff into my compost bin.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My first iris

We're at least a week behind last year's schedule in terms of Spring blooms -- which is fine by me, as last year we had record warmth. The bees are now out and enjoying the crocuses, and my first iris reticulata (miniature ones that I planted last fall) just opened today.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Goodbye Crocuses, Hello Snow

April is coming in like a lion, with a significant snowstorm currently covering up my garden. Knowing that the storm was coming, I took some photos of my garden yesterday, so that I could enjoy the crocuses while they were out.

I always love the first emergence of my bulbs and perennials: so much promise, so little work to do at this point.

Friday, March 18, 2011

hot hot hot

On a day when it reached 68 degrees in Portland, the temp in my greenhouse rose to 110. Whoops! Who knew I'd need to ventilate the thing in March. I almost scorched my kale. Let's hope it survives.

More signs of Spring

Yesterday, a chipmunk in the back yard, and a bee flying about the crocuses.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

FIrst Crocuses!

My first crocuses opened up two days ago, where all the snow has melted from the radiant heat of the house. Spring is coming!In my eagerness I've taken to shoveling much of the snow off of the garden, as I have in years past.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A new year begins

In the 18th century, before people switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, March 25 used to be the start of the new year. (Thought you'd want to know.)

Today I'm celebrating my garden's new year, since I finally started my seeds. I have had some kale growing under lights since early January, as I wanted to see if I could move them into my new greenhouse. (The ones I moved out didn't survive.) But today I set up two new grow lights (the lazy-boy kind that you can move up and down on a string), mixed up a seed starter by using only coco fiber (a great bargain, though I'll have to feed the sprouts when they're up), then sowed impatiens, amaranth, nicotiana, lobelia, shasta daisies, zinnias and bachelor buttons (among the flowers) and green peppers and two kinds of kale. (We love kale here, both roasted and in our smoothies every morning.)

I had planned on getting an earlier start than this, then move things out to the greenhouse when weather permitted. I'm still on a learning curve on how to use the greenhouse. Stay tuned.