Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sunny Sunday in the garden

Henbogle coop was put on hold today, we decided we needed to work in the vegetable garden. It was gorgeous today, but we've got rain in the forecast for the coming week, (and we need it) so gardening after work is unlikely this week.

Today we direct seeded the following:
Broccoli -- Early Dividend
Cauliflower -- Mixed selection
Swiss Chard -- Bright Lights
Carrots -- Red Cored Chantenay
Radish -- Easter Egg
Beets -- Ruby Queen and Burbee's Golden

The garden looks beautiful, full of promise of good eating to come. Dan did a lot of weeding while I planted.

We also cut some poles for the pole beans (seeds from my colleague and garden pal Mike), and wrapped up the day with work on our rain barrels. We got word from the Richmond Utilities District to expect our water and sewer rates to increase, probably by 30%. Yikes! We've been thinking about rain barrels for some time, but the proposed increase moved thought to action.

We had one barrel, which we set up by the garden shed, using leftover gutter material to add a gutter and downspout directly into the barrel. We found some additional barrels via Uncle Henry's from a guy who works at a bottling plant in Lewiston. We added one of the back of the barn, and one on the front of the house, in the far corner. We'll add one more behind the house by the grapevine. We will order barrel taps from Lee Valley, and, I hope, reduce drastically the water we use in the garden. We still need to make covers for the barrels, to keep out stray animals, mosquitos, etc.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Building the Chicken Coop -- Day 3

We spent the early morning fruitfully yardsale-ing, coming home with among other things, a 3rd cat carrier (1 for each cat), a taper jig for the table saw, a free box of several years worth of Fine Gardening magazines, a new (old) garden rake, and several other treats.

Here's a gratuitous photo of Ocho, dreaming of chickens?

Then on to the chicken palace. Today we managed to install the front and rear wall siding,the wheels, and take it off the deck. Then we added the roosts, and cut the roof rafters for the roof over the nest boxes. Tomorrow, we hope to finish the roof and the wall siding.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Updated Maine Plant Sale List

I've poked around a bit and found some more plant sales, so here's the most recent list. Send me any sales you know of in Maine and I'll post them.

Pre-Order Sales
Annual Perennial Plant Sale - Order Now!
Peace through Interamerican Community Action (PICA), Bangor
Pre Order plants by May 1, pickup on the weekend of May 20

Laudholm Farm Native Plant Sale
Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm
Pre-order plants by May 10, pickup Sat/Sun June 2, 4-6 pm; June 3, 9 am-1 pm.
For more information

Plant Sales by Date
Saturday & Sunday May 13&14, 9 am-5 pm,
Wildflower Celebration and Plant Sale
The McLaughlin Foundation Garden and Horticultural Center - 97 Main St., South Paris, ME
Season-opening plant sale specializing in wild flowers and perennials. Enjoy Bernard's [McLaughlin] wild flower collection in bloom while you choose additions for your own garden. The gift shop and house will be open.

Saturday, May 20, 9 am - 4 pm
Bowdoinham Library Plant Sale
Bowdoinham Town Hall
Don't miss this one! Bring a box, or plastic bags, or both.
For more info

Saturday, May 27 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Annual Master Gardener Plant Sale will be held at the Barron Center in Portland from Brighton Ave, opposite Lowe's, at ME Tpke Exit 48.
The proceeds provide scholarship money for Maine students studying horticulture.

Saturday, May 27, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Maine Rose Society Annual Plant Sale
60 varieties, $14-$17 ea
The Barron Center, Portland
More Information

Saturday, May 27 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Bridge Academy Public Library
Annual Book and Plant Sale on
Old Town Hall, Dresden

Saturday-Monday May 27-29
Friends of the Maine Wildlife Park Annual Plant Sale
Rte. 26, 3 miles from Gray Center.
This volunteer group helps out the Wildlife Park in so many ways. Learn more about their ongoing projects and enjoy great spring plant deals with plants from their own greenhouse!

June 3&4
Perennial and Herb Sale
Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities
Marrett House in Standish
Call 207-384-2454 for more information

Saturday, June 3rd, 10 am - 2 pm
Peerless Perennial Plant Sale
The Morris Farm, Rte 27, Wiscassett
Details 882-4080

June 10-26, 9 am – 4 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays
Home Farm and Museum, UMaine Orono
Herb and vegetable seedlings

Saturday, June 24, 9:00 am to 2:00 pm
7th Annual Book and Plant Sale
Waterville Area Humane Society, 120 Drummond Ave, Waterville.
For more information, call WAHS, 873-2430.

Winged chicks

The chick experiment has given me a new appreciation for how fast chicks (and birds in general) develop. In just a week we have seen our 6 chicks go from cute fluffy little chicks
to winged toddlers, flapping and experimenting with brief airborne leaps across their brooder.

Look at those wings! And their tail feathers are growing at an amazing rate, too.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

London's Guerrilla Gardeners

A friend sent me a link to this story in the London Times about London's Guerrilla Gardeners, who in addition to beautifying London, are apparently creating a worldwide gardening movement. Read more about the group at their website Guerrilla Gardening. What a great idea, keep on digging!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Where do you get your plants?

One of the great joys of spring is the upcoming rush of plant swaps and sales. Many of my plants were obtained through swaps and local benefit plant sales, (and gifts of wonderful and generous friends!) and if anythig I love them more because of it

The first gardening season in my house, I became very active in the start up of a wonderful gardening club at Bates College where I used to work. The members mostly participated through e-mail, with a few meetings in the spring, when garden fever struck hard, and fall, when we got together to share gardening triumphs or challenges. And we organized a plant swap. What fabulous, generous people my friends there are -- that first year I had little to offer but seedlings I had started and good ol' orange daylillies, but I came home with armloads of plants, many of which are favorites still. Even though I've moved on to a new job, I still participate in the listserve and am planning to go to the big plant swap again this spring --this time, with more to share.

Upcoming Sales (I'll update this list as I learn dates)

Saturday, May 27
9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Annual Master Gardener Plant Sale will be held at the Barron Center in Portland from Brighton Ave, opposite Lowe's, at ME Tpke Exit 48.
The proceeds provide scholarship money for Maine students studying horticulture.

Saturday & Sunday May 13&14
9 am?5 pm,
Wildflower Celebration and Plant Sale
The McLaughlin Foundation Garden and Horticultural Center - 97 Main St., South Paris, ME
Season-opening plant sale specializing in wild flowers and perennials. Enjoy Bernard's [McLaughlin] wild flower collection in bloom while you choose additions for your own garden. The gift shop and house will be open.

Saturday, May 20, 9 am - 4 pm
Bowdoinham Library Plant Sale
Bowdoinham Town Hall
Don't miss this one, it is great! Bring a box, or plastic bags, or both.

Saturday, May 29 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Bridge Academy Public Library
Annual Book and Plant Sale on
Old Town Hall, Dresden
More Info

Saturday-Monday May 27-29
Friends of the Maine Wildlife Park Annual Plant Sale
Rte. 26, 3 miles from Gray Center.
This volunteer group helps out the Wildlife Park in so many ways. Learn more about their ongoing projects and enjoy great spring plant deals with plants from their own greenhouse!

Saturday, June 24
9:00 am to 2:00 pm
7th Annual Book and Plant Sale
Humane Society, 120 Drummond Ave, Waterville, ME

Refreshments will be sold. All proceeds benefit the Humane Society. For more information, call the Waterville Area Humane Society at 873-2430.

What did you do for Earth Day?

I read an interesting post on the Suburban Farm blog about Earth Day. Honestly, this year I hadn't given Earth Day a thought until I read that post. There was a link there to a website where you can calculate your Ecological Footprint(hosted by the Earth Day Network). I was mildly curious, so I took the quiz.

Well, it turns out that my ecological footprint is 22 (the average for the US is 24). If everyone lived as I do, it would take 5.1 planet Earths to support humanity. Yikes. Of course, this simple quiz doesn't take a lot of factors into consideration, like for example I am living in and renovating an 125 year old house, (which surely deserves some credits as it prevents it from being demolished), nor that I live in a very rural area (public transport is a school bus).

Still, there are those lifestyle decisions I feel badly about. For 5 or so years, I used to be able to walk to work. Then True Love led us to buy a house between Dan's and my jobs. Now my commute is 38 miles each way, ouch, and Dan's commute is slightly longer. At least it is only for 10 months a year, I drive a fuel efficient --38mpg hwy-- car (I love my Vibe!) and I carpool pretty regularly. But we love our home and the town we live in, and even if we relocated closer to one of our jobs, the one of us would still have a long commute --that is just one of the trials of Maine living.

We burn oil for heat -- there is not yet an alernative that is efficient, cost or otherwise -- for us. My solar home dreams are on hold for now.

On the plus side, we grow lots of our own food organically, we compost, recycle, avoid chemical cleaners/pesticides, don't by clothing that needs drycleaning, burn wood with an efficient clean-burning woodstove, don't buy plastic baggies, re-use as much as we can, etc. I'm sure there is more to be done. My next car, for example, might well be a car that will burn biodiesel (if only VWs were as reliable as Toyotas) or be smaller and more fuel efficient, now that Dan's son is grown and not traveling with us, or maybe I'll get a hybrid, depending on the way the technology advances.

It does give one something to ponder. What small changes can I make to reduce my impact?

Oh, and buy the way, on Earth Day, we built our chicken coop. Organically and locally produced eggs are in my future.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Rain at last

Finally, the rain we need is here, and perfectly timed to coincide with the end of vacation. Maine Public Radio meteorologist Lou McNally promises a slow moving soaking rain, with clearing later this week, just what the garden (and the Maine woods) needs.

I've been making the rounds, looking at all the shrubs I planted last year trying to determine which lived. The cornelian cherry from Fedco looks to be a goner, and the two clethra bushes look suspiciously dormant, no swelling buds to be seen. How they could have died when the Emerald Triumph viburnum survived even after the devastating 2-prong attack of the evil viburnum leaf beetle, I don't know.

I have to keep reminding myself, though, that it is early (only April!) and very, very dry, and that with a little rain, maybe the buds will swell, and green, and burst gloriously open. I love every plant and I hate to lose any. I had to laugh, though, at blogger Michele Owens' latest post about killing plants.

"In my opinion, any gardener confronted with death in springtime ought to carry on like a merry widow, crying crocodile tears into her hanky while instantly considering replacements and all the fun of auditioning them.

If you're not killing masses of plants, I suspect that you are playing it entirely too safe in your yard."

I've got my Fedco list of potential replacements all ready.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Building the chicken coop part 2

Saturday we finished the majority of the framing, installed the nest boxes, covered the window opening with hardware cloth, and put on the main fixed roof. We covered the roof with roofing asphalt, and will eventually roof it with the stainless steel sheet metal discussed in an earlier post (A real old-time Mainer).

Here's Hyacinth enjoying her new nest boxes.

The next step is to install the roof section over the nest boxes, which will lift open for egg retrieval and food and water maintenance. After that, we will be ready to put on the siding and build the clean-out and chicken entrance doors, and add the wheels. We'll keep it near the house until the girls are living in it and are old enough to move away from home, then we'll move it to the summer location by the garden.

The forecast today is calling for rain later on, so I'm planning on planting more spinach, lettuce, and radishes in the garden. I don't think we'll get much construction done today. Tomorrow it is back to work for both of us, so today we have to take care of the more mundane chores, such as providing sustenance for the week ahead.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Backyard flocks and avian flu

This article, Backyard Flocks are Victims, Not Vectors of Avian Flu, appeared in the Barre, VT Times-Argus on April 21. Makes a lot of sense to me, especially in light of Rumsfeld's close ties to Tamiflu.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Building the chicken coop (aka Henbogle House)

Today construction on the chicken coop began in earnest. This thing is WAY over-engineered, we've spent a few hours surfing the web for ideas, more than a few dinners planning it, and the result is the brick house of chicken coops, solid as a rock and twice as heavy. It's going to be on wheels, but we'll need a team of ponies to haul it.

We made it fairly small, 4'x5' and low-roofed, as we want our few chickens to be able to stay warm in it during the winter. Part of the roof will lift up for egg collection and food and water maintenance, and there will be a side door for clean-out purposes.

We used our new deck as a construction area, and we brought the compound miter saw out and set it on the truck tailgate, which makes construction a lot easier. Today we completed the floor and the framing of the front and back walls.

We don't want to have to heat the coop so we decided to insulate the floor using foam insulation left over from some project (or maybe it came with the house, I don't recall). We covered the bottom in asphalt roofing paper, and then covered the entire base with hardware cloth to keep rodents and other unwanted critters out.

Framing the antique daylight window and the front door was a bit tricky, but it is going to look so cute when it is done.

Baby Pictures

Here are the girls' baby pictures, taken on their second day at home, (3 days old).







Wednesday, April 19, 2006


We have peeps!

We brought our girls home today, they are adorable! The settled in to their new home right away. After a quick snack and some scratching and stretching, they are dozing off, and the chirping has quieted to a more contented occasional quiet "peep."

We have yet to decide on names for all, but Hyacinth's bossy behavior made it clear the name fit. Here she is lording it over Marigold, who is currently a very showy, pretty honey color.

And again, Hyacinth, setled in for a snooze and looking very cute.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Peep prep

A cool and damp April day today, the Monday of April school vacation here, and vacation for me too. We have been scurrying about spring cleaning, gardening and after a big clutter patrol, readying a trip to the local recycling center and swap shop. We also finalized the plans (which doesn't mean they won't change) for the chicken palace and today priced out materials -- I think we can build a 4'x5' moveable coop for less than $200, including the stainless steel roof.

The peeps will be here tomorrow or Wednesday, so tonight we readied the chick brooder -- more complicated than it sounds. We've read the chicks need to be housed at 90F for the first week, with the temperature dropping 5 degrees a week. We set up the plastic bin, lining it with pine shavings and a layer of paper towels, setting the food and water into place, and then setting up the warming lamp. First, using a 75 watt bulb, it was too cold -- then with the infrared heat lamp, it was too hot, 112F (we don't want fried peeps, we want fried eggs later). Finally, we got it just right, a little over 90F under the lamp, cooling to 85F in the corners behind the feeder and waterer. If the peeps arrive tomorrow, we are as ready as we will ever be. Next -- pick-up the materials and get to work on constructing the chicken palace. And planting peas. And a row of mixed nasturtium, calendula, and marigold flowers next to the chicken run. With some spinach. And spinach for us, too..... And so it goes...

Friday, April 14, 2006

Spring Tour, part deux

My primary goals for the back are to increase privacy and eliminate lawn, as (I'm sure you'll agree) lawn mowing is mind-numbingly boring in addition to wasteful of all kinds of resources, especially precious gardening time. Additional goals include improving bird habitat, and adding more vegetable garden, adding fruit trees and berries, and a cutting garden.

To the left is a sunny perennial bed planted a year before my neighbor kindly decided to plant the row of arborvitae behind it. Perhaps he decided a barrier between his teenage children and I was a good idea. If so, he was right. If only the arborvitae offered protection from the dreadful music.... Further along is a hedge of hybrid lilacs planted in 2002 to screen out the dilapidated garage, with a row of tough-as nails orange daylillies in front. This area often has standing water for a week or two in early spring; the daylillies have proving up to the challenge of thriving in that difficult environment. The graite bench was put together with pieces of granite we found, slowly subsiding into the brush piles in the backyard when we bought the house. Further along is a stretch of multiflora roses intermingled with japanese knotweed. What a mess! The roses are good bird habitat and provide badly needed privacy, so I've been reluctant to get a backhoe to haul out the whole mess (although I'd love to rent one of those little min-bulldozers, it looks very fun). The Japanese knotweed is such an aggressive spreader it is growing in the lawn, we keep it undercontrol there with mowing. Our strategy: last spring we planted elderberry shrubs, which are hardy spreading natives and good bird habitat. Now that we have some thing to provide some screening, we will slowly hack back, dig up, and if we must, use some Round-up to get rid of the knotweed and roses, and plant an evergreen hedge behind the elderberries, and create a mixed border amidst the elderberries.

Perpendcular to the first of the elderberries will be a row of highbush blueberries, which will provide a hedge behind which is the vegetable garden and fruit trees. We have bales of hay covering the grass where the blueberries will go, set there to kill the sod underneath. We have lettuce and spring greens planted in one of the hoop houses, and will plant tomatoes in the other hoop house. The soil will warm early in the hoop house, and we can extend the season a bit in the fall. In the summer, the lettuce bed hoops will be used to hold up shade cloth, which both slows the lettuce from bolting, and is a strong deterrent to the ground hog warren which lives next door and comes to our yard to dine on premium organic greens.

Looking back toward our house, on the left, is our blackberry patch, in need of trellising. Two 3 year-old cherry tree lie behind the berries. Next to the garden shed is our materials inventory -- fieldstone salvaged from a retaining wall demolition, a good supply of old bricks, a pallet or 2 for a third compost bin. Also behind our berries is the kitchen garden sink, a salvaged old porcelain double-bowl sink which makes washing vegetables much easier!

Then the garden shed with compost bins, deliberately placed under an ancient, woefully neglected, GORGEOUS dark purple lilac. We figured the compost might give it a needed boost. And finally, our overgrown Bartlett pear tree, showing last year's prodigious growth of water sprouts which it grew in response to a severe pruning by our friend Bill, now an archaeologist, formerly a highly skilled arborist.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Early Spring Garden Tour

Several of the other blogs I've been reading have posted photos of their gardens now, even the bare in need of something spots. I decided to hop on the bandwagon, went out this morning and snapped a few photos. Maybe someone will have some advice on the many problem areas. Here are the front garden beds. The front gets a lot of shade with the big spruce tree and the beech tree. There is also a very old, lilac hedge of white lilacs. We put these beds in last summer, part of the long term less lawn to mow strategy. There are mostly hostas and astilbes, with sweetfern, mountain laurel, and what now looks to be a dead rhododendron moved from the bad location the previous homeowners chose. We'll replace that with more native shrubs, maybe sheep laurel.

The side beds, next to the house and the driveway. The picket fence section was a wedding gift made by a friend. To the left of the drive is a silver garden, which does well there in the heat and poor soil, and a purple clematis which came with the house, and amazingly does spectacularly well there. On the right is a newly planted low hedge of Russian sage, and between the sage and the picket fence is a buttefly bush "Black Knight" planted last year which did well. They are now cut back waiting for spring growth, and recently mulched with straw.

Our lot is 3/4 of an acre, but long and narrow (72' wide) and the house and drive stretch nearly all the way across the lot at the very front. I like this set up as we have a fairly private back yard. Heading behind the house from the driveway, on the right is a row of arborvitae planted by a previous owner, which gives much needed privacy. I'm not normally a big fan of arborvitae, but in this case, I love it. I've planted a lot of daffodils (with some crocus and scilla) in front of them in the lawn, which I can see from my usual spot in the kitchen dining nook.

Behind the house is a small foundation bed which is filled with tulips in early spring followed by some old fashioned double peonies, anise hyssop, salvia, and some golden glow, a perennial double sunflower which gets over 6' tall (and is really too tall for this space, but gorgeous). There used to be hollyhocks, but we had the evil hollyhock weevil eating them, so I ripped them out, hoping I can re-plant in a few years. A concord grapevine provides shade for the living room picture window in the summer, crawling over the stick trellis. The trellis is due for replacement this summer, and this bed is due for redesign and we hope the addition of a water feature over the next 2 summers. We built a new deck last summer and are still debating over a pergola or shade sail as the deck gets the full afternoon sun. You can see the dead lawn area where lumber and bags of cement killed the lawn. The compost tumbler is still in its winter location but will be moved back to the compost area when the ground firms up.

The back is a vast expanse of lawn we want to be rid of, with a gorgeous old sugar maple, a stunning old flowering crab, an overgrown bartlett pear, and an overgrown, hideous, formerly round bed full of iris, tansy, queen anne's lace and varigated bishops weed plopped willy-nilly in the middle of the lawn, and which we are so daunted by that 5 years on, it is still there, and we (dedicated organic gardeners 99.9999% of the time) are still debating the merits of multiple applications of Round Up and a thick layer of black plastic hidden with bark mulch. Oh, and did I mention the horribly invasive Japanese knotweed (how do you kill that stuff??) marching in from the overgrown boundries on either side of the yard and the multiflora roses? More photos tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tomatoes 'n peppers

I finally managed to plant some tomato and pepper seeds. This year I'm growing New Ace peppers and 3 varieties of tomato -- Sungold cherry, Gardener's Delight cherry, and Rose de Berne. I may add a paste tomato, either San Marzano Lampadina from Pine Tree Seeds or I''ll try the Orange Banana Paste tomato from Fedco. I think I have some old San Marzanos somewhere.... maybe we'll try a science experiment and see what their germination success is after improper storage.

This past weekend, in addition to collecting nearly 300 cubic feet of straw, we also fertilized the perennial beds in the front of the house with Fertrell Feed-n-Grow organic fertilizer, fluffing up the mulch and mulching the new perennial bed in front with straw. It looks good and I’m glad to have that done. I pruned the butterfly bush and the Russian sage last week, I suspect as soon as we get some rain they’ll kick into gear.

Tonight, before dinner, Dan and I strolled out back and turned another four feet of the vegetable garden with the broadfork. I checked the soil temperature, it was 46F and the perfect amount of moisture to work. It’s odd to have it so dry at this time of year, but after the floods of last April, I’m happy. I am hoping we can finish turning it this week so that this weekend we can fertilize it and plant the peas! We need to get some manure but have yet to find any in Uncle Henry’s. We’ll keep looking, there is bound to be some somewhere.

On the Northern California Garden Blog Angela posted inspiring photos of her real-life garden, as did Amy Stewart on her blog Dirt. It was great, I love seeing real-life garden photos, dog-related holes and all. I can relate to dog damage. Our dog Fisher thinks he's a de-thatching machine. And he's omnivorous. It took a while, but we finally discovered that the "bug" eating the ornamental kale was a golden retriever. Sigh. Anyway, that inspired me, and I'll take lots of photos this weekend.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Working the list

Whew, what a day.... Yesterday was overcast and cold, thus we devoted ourselves primarily to housekeeping. We embarked on the great laundry challenge, earning a bronze in speed folding, and finally cleared up the backlog of laundry enough to make room for the seed starting cart. I love this cart, it's perfect for the task, and, more importantly, it was free. Yes, Dan found the cart in the Shop n' Save trash pile, and rescued it from the scrap metal factory. Soon it will be full of translucent plastic bins with seedling pots. I meant to start tomatoes this weekend, but we cheated and added a new project to the list. (And of course, I still need to make some paper pots with the potmaker-- what else is new.)

A guy we know in town is building a straw bale house, and had a big beautiful pile of organic wheat straw tailings. So, to make a long story short, we now have 8 pickup truckloads of gorgeous chopped straw. It is currently piled on the freestanding deck, until the ground firms up enough to get it back to the vegetable garden. We put some straw on the perennial beds in front, but we will use most of it on the vegetable garden, once the soil warms up enough and we finish turning the soil with the broadfork. I did turn a short row today, but I'd been hard at it since 7 am and ran out of steam.

I love the broadfork. It is fairly easy to use and silent... no noisy smelly rototiller to scare the birds away. I hope we don't get too much rain this week, and that we have good dry sunny weather next weekend so I can get the garden turned and the peas planted. Plant your peas by tax day, eat peas for the 4th of July.... let's see if we can manage peas for Independence Day this year.

Here's an old picture of Dan with the broadfork in the garden.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Yikes! Company's coming....

Confession time here.... I hate housework. Well, maybe hate isn't the right word. It's just that housework--tidying up, vacuuming, folding laundry, dusting (especially dusting, ugh) falls way down low on the lengthy to-do list. And in spring, well, it gets knocked right off the list. When it comes to gardening, as Michele Owens said in her blog a few days ago, I'm already behind.

I do really appreciate it when my home is clean and tidy, I love to cook and bake, and parties are great fun, but who has the time for that when there's any number of high priority outdoor chores on the list? Not too mention all the ongoing home renovation projects on the list in our 1881 Cape -- all of which I might add contribute to the need for cleaning (plaster dust is just impossible).

We have company coming, however, so time to suck it up, literally, and plug in the vacuum. Dan's parents are coming for a visit during April school vacation. It will be good to see them, they live in upstate NY and we don't see as much of them as I'd like. Dan's mom is a terrific gardener and familiar with the joys of zone 4 and 5 (or lower) gardening, so it is always good pick her brains about gardening. Dan's dad is also amazing, a retired carpenter and bona-fide bookworm with a brain chock full of knowledge and interesting facts from his reading. They will be here for the arrival of the peeps, added fun for all.

So, a thorough spring housecleaning is bumped up on the list, but there are still a few other gardening chores at the top:
1) set up the seed-starting cart in the laundry room (which of course necessitates doing laundry)
2) plant seeds
3) prep the vegetable garden
4) prepare for the peeps
5) set up the pea fence and plant peas

I'm sure I'll think of more.... especially if the sun comes out.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Blast from the past

Brr, what happened to sunny and 60F? Winter is back. Apparently last night we had freezing rain-- I had to scrape the car windows, adding to the challenges of reaching escape velocity this morning.

I got home late today, so did not a chance to go and look at the hoop house and poke the thermometer in to see what the temp is. At least the sun was out for a bit today to warm things up. We received enough moisture (rain/hail/sleet) for things to really pop out of the ground. Sunday I noticed the daffodils were just peeking out of the ground, tonight in the car headlights they were up 3" or more. Our first crocuses have bloomed, in the sunny bed against the house foundation, but the ones I planted in the lawn have yet to emerge.

In another sign of spring, the cats have lately chased down 2 mice, and there is a third at large. Last night the cats were intently stalking the living room radiator, to no avail. I've been making sure to don slippers before heading downstairs in the morning -- I'd hate to step on a "gift" from the cats. Ocho seems to be the most interested in the mouse -- although I think Paisley would be right there if jealous Ocho didn't chase her off. Mercedes is installed on the kitchen radiator, so the world can go the hell for all she cares right now, so long as the oil keeps flowing and the heat is on. All's well and good with the world, Mercedes is happy.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Magic beans

Both my Fedco and Pine Tree Garden Seed orders have arrived as of today. I can almost taste my old favorites Gardener's Delight, Sungold, and Rose de Berne tomatoes.... I know only 3 varieties, but I promised Dan I'd cut back. Sigh.

I am trying a few new things. A pal from work gave me some pole bean seeds, an un-named variety that he has saved and swears by. In addition to Carola, we are trying Rose Gold potatoes this year instead of Red Norlands. A new zucchini will debut, Costata Romanesca, and a new pumpkin, Winter Luxury. I'll tempt fate with yet another attempt at melons with Prescott Ford Blanc, and sorrel and chervil will grace the herb bed.

Tonight I'll be making up some newspaper pots and I hope the seed cart will get set up this weekend. Theoretically, this weekend will mark 8 weeks 'till the last frost. Either way, our heavy clay soil is slow to warm so I'm not rushing the poor seedlings into the cold ground this year. Really.

It seems we raked the garden beds and some of the lawn, and I planted in the hoop house just in time. A cold rainy week looms ahead according to the National Weather Service, with a chance of snow Tuesday evening through Thursday... ah well we need the rain, and better during the week than on the weekend.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Lettuce in mere weeks

We planted lettuce in the hoop house today. Devil's Ears and Buttercrunch lettuce, a mesclun mix, Space spinach, and Red Cored Chantenay carrots. YUM! I am drooling in anticipation.... The soil temperature in the hoop house this morning at about 10 o'clock was 60F. We have room for 3 additional rows of lettuce to plant in a few weeks. Last year we celebrated Beltane with lettuce for dinner, I hope we will be doing the same this year.

We love the hoop house so much that we added a second house this year. They are simple and quick to make, using 1/2" PVC pipe, 18" pieces of rebar, and a sheet of translucent plastic. In all, about $40 and less than an hour to install. We will warm the soil early to start tomatoes in the new house. Our soil is heavy and slow to warm, so this will help extend the season quite a bit. We'll take the plastic off during the summer, and on again in the fall to protect the tomatoes from frost and extend the greens season. During the summer, the lettuce bed will get covered with a shade cloth, which slows bolting, and more importantly, reduces the likelihood of the invading groundhog hordes eating the lettuce -- apparently they don't like to go under the hoops.

I tried a technique I saw in Rodale's Gardener to Gardener Seed-Starting Primer & Almanac. I used strips of moistened toilet paper to create seed tape. I measured a 4' piece of t.p., misted it, placed the seeds in the center at the suggested spacing, then folded the t.p. over the seeds in thirds, and misted again. The damp t.p. mushes together and holds the seeds in place. I then carefully placed the strips in the prepared rows in the hoop house. I hope this will result in neat rows of nicely spaced plants and less thinning than in years past.