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I harvested my first garden produce today: a handful of green onions for tacos for a party we had (our not-a-wedding-shower). I can’t say they were phenomenal, but they worked great and it was very satisfying to go out to my garden for a fistful rather than pull them out of my fridge.

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about Green Thumb Sunday. For Green Thumb Sunday, I present to you my pepper, which is finally taking off and growing:

My pepper 4-29-07

And this is a pepper I purchased yesterday:

Purchased pepper

Yeah. I went to Whiteford Nursery, ostensibly looking for papyrus. This was my first visit to a plant nursery…well, ever, and it was wonderful. There were herbs (I also bought cilantro and purple sage, and they joined my marigolds and rosemary in hardening off today) and tomatoes and peppers and broccoli (much, much more advanced than mine) and annuals and perennials and interesting ground covers–the flats of color went on for what looked like miles. I wanted to buy flowers. Flowers. I am not a flower person, and I coveted them. I resisted, however, and just bought the two herbs and two peppers (the other was a jalapeno, and just as lovely), because if I rely on my poor little pepper I don’t know that I’d get even one, let alone a peck.

So, as I said, I’ve been hardening off my sunflower and marigold seedlings, in preparation for planting them this week. Well, only if the weather cooperates. We’re scheduled to have rain all week, and although the weather channel has been extremely unreliable lately, we did have rain and gray all day.

I got home intending to bring in the seedlings, because I didn’t want to leave them out in the cold. And bring them in I did. They looked fine, except for one sunflower seedling. It didn’t look any different from the others this morning, slightly spindly but not bad. But this afternoon, there it was:

Sunflower seedling

Based on this observation, and the knowledge that I set it out in indirect light, I’m going to make the conclusion–and I know this is going out on a limb–that sunflowers need a lot of sunlight. Also that, um, maybe I should start over with the sunflowers.

I think I’ve identified my red-and-black garden guests: they’re Box elder beetles. Mainly harmless, the Internet tells me, except as a nuisance, especially when they cover the entire side of your house and lay eggs everywhere. I’ll pass, thanks. There are a good number of them in the garden, but not enough to be alarming, so I’m content to leave them alone if they leave me alone.

Jen’s very garden-wise mother has apparently given her the okay to plant green beans. She lives south of me, but not by a lot. And the 10-day weather forecast was already making me think about breaking from my carefully-planned planting schedule and putting out my green beans early, maybe later this week. The last frost date for zone 5 is between March 30 and April 30 anyway.

So I’m going to set out the sunflowers and marigolds tomorrow to start hardening them off (I completely forgot to do this with the broccoli; I hope they’re okay), and this weekend I believe I’m going to plant the sunflowers and marigolds and nasturtiums and green beans. Note to box elder beetles: if you bother these plants, I will no longer be leaving you alone.

A tiny spider has taken up residence between two of my Genovese basil plants. I figure if it can catch that one tiny fly that’s been buzzing around my plant window, it’s welcome to stay. If not, well, it won’t be staying long anyway because it’s going to starve to death.

I started more seeds today, Gold Rush zucchini and Ambrosia hybrid cantaloupe and some seeds from a delicious cantaloupe we bought at Andersons last year. My understanding is that depending on how that cantaloupe was grown, I might get delicious cantaloupes or I might get awkwardly-shaped cucurbits with terrifying visages. Either way, I win!

We went to Home Depot today, Eric and I, to get me some more humus. I ended up getting a more expensive and bulkier brand–no more cheap, mostly-water stuff for me; this new stuff is awesome. Also? They have vegetables for sale at Home Depot! Mostly it was just one corner of the nursery area, under a name, Eco-something (ETA: it’s Eco Options, their new attempt to keep up with Wal-Mart’s greening-up scheme), and the plants frankly were not very good. There was some happy-looking ornamental kale, but there were also bedraggled chives and onions. There were big sweet basils with dried-out leaves and cinnamon basils with flowers and some tired-looking tomatoes. (Mine look better. Just smaller.)

But the strawberries looked good, and I bought a flat of Quinaults, which are everbearing, meaning they won’t just yield one crop of fruit in June. Since my current crop of strawberries are a centimeter high and growing very, very slowly, this thrilled me.

I also bought some new carrot seed, Scarlet Nantes at Jade’s suggestion. When I got home with my prizes, I dug the new humus into the west bed–I’m now happy with it being considered the tomato bed again; I was able to pull out a bunch of limp grass clumps and it was pretty smooth by the end–and planted my broccoli and some Swiss chard, and sowed the carrots, and smiled at my spinach and peas, and gave everything a good dousing.

I put the strawberries in a couple of planters. This year I’ve started a small herb bed (more on that in another post, I think), but next year, I want it to be the strawberry bed. I want strawberries taking over my yard.  Aside from those eight stones I need to finish that bed, my garden is entirely ready for planting. Now to wait a couple of weeks to make sure the warmer weather is here to stay, and soon my garden will be outdoors–and off my windowsill, much to that spider’s disappointment.

I fertilized yesterday. It was windy and cold, that last (I hope) bite of winter saying “Remember me; I’ll be back,” and I have no watering can. I filled up my soil-wetting container (an aluminum pot I bought at Goodwill for dyeing yarn before learning that aluminum containers are a bad idea for dyeing) with the fertilizer mixture and practiced on the indoor plants–I don’t know that they need it, since I bought seed-starting soil with fertilizer in it and I added regular potting soil when I repotted last week, but it can’t hurt…right?–and then refilled it and hauled it outside. The blueberries and raspberries were first, since I’m worried about them–the blueberries especially. I also spread more leaves over the raspberries. I’ve read that this can harm plants because as they finish decomposing they pull away nitrogen from the roots, but this is on the top of the soil, slightly away from the plants themselves, so I’m hoping it’ll be okay. If not, well, they were cheap. And I fertilized the carrots and greens and peas, adding extra water to the carrots in the hopes that they’ll take the hint and grow. After all this water application, I expected it to rain, but it didn’t. Perhaps that only works with straight watering.

This weekend, I’ll be starting cucumbers (if my seeds ever come) and zucchini and cantaloupe and squash, and planting out my broccoli and some Swiss chard seeds. The broccoli starts are kind of spindly, and I don’t know how they’ll do–but I may as well try. The Swiss chard I picked up on impulse while buying the salad, but now that I’ve read up on it I’m really happy I got it. It’s healthy! It’s pretty! It tastes like spinach! It’s easy to grow! So there will be a row between the broccoli and the beans (or the space where the beans will be, anyway). I’m so glad it’s warm enough to think about planting.

They’re alive! My spinach definitely has a chewed-upon look to it, but they and the lettuce are hanging in there, the onions are bright green spears, and the peas look downright healthy. So do the weeds, at least until I get to them and toss them into my new weed bucket, a hanging basket I discovered was under the hanging basket my chives were in and probably contributed to its death by drowning. The chives carcass is still in its basket, partly because I hold out a faint, irrational hope it’ll come back, partly because it’s too sad to deal with right now.

I spent some time in the garden today, moving stones from the front to the back to begin my herb plot, spreading bags of humus (Eric is fond of saying “It’s dirt cheap!” but it’s not, so much, when you have to buy as many bags as I’m buying–plus they cheat on the weight by bagging it wet), and raking the soil smooth in the raised bed and the east bed. The west bed I’m a little concerned about. Last year it was the most overgrown with grass, and I killed the grass but I never removed the plants, so there are dead grass clumps everywhere. Is this a big problem? I don’t know. I don’t know that I’ll be able to get them all out if I try–I dug up that whole area. I need to buy yet more dirt-cheap dirt and work it in; I’ll see how it goes. However, I think my original plan to put the tomatoes there might be best meddled with, since the tomatoes are most important to me. I can leave the eggplant and the pepper (if it ever grows) to struggle a little more easily than the Brandywine and the Taxi.

I also worked on the compost pile, turning both old and new and using some half-rotted leaves from the old to cover the blueberry pots (I’m afraid they’re dying) and the onions, partly to mark where they are since they’re currently all alone in the west bed right by the fence. (I also buried some potatoes there. I had set them out in a window to see if they would sprout. Only one did, and only kind of, and they were bright green, which means I spoiled them for eating. So I figured I might as well bury them, even if they don’t grow. I cut them in half and tossed them into holes because I couldn’t remember which way should go up.)

I also scattered some over the carrot rows. The carrots have not sprouted. The hills are dry, which I guess was to be expected, and I intended to water but it looked like rain and then it was dinnertime, so I didn’t. It hasn’t rained, of course. Now I’m worried. Will I get any carrots or not? Is it actually going to rain tonight? It won’t be too late to plant carrots in a few weeks if I have to, will it?

As I worked I saw a huge number of spiders (my number one fear, but one greatly lessened when I’m wearing gloves and wielding a shovel) and red-and-black beetles. I don’t know what they are. I hope they’re good critters and not bad ones, or they’re in for a very short spring.

Mystery F2 hybrid cherry tomato

I’m doing an unofficial Green Thumb Sunday. This is–probably–an F2 hybrid cherry tomato, meaning I saved the seeds from a cherry tomato that Eric’s mom’s friend grew in her yard from a plant purchased at Anderson’s, the local general store, so that plant was almost certainly an F1 hybrid and that would make this an F2 and completely unknown as far as its characteristics goes. But I was a biology major and I couldn’t resist the idea of raising F2s. I repotted the tomatoes and eggplants today and discovered that both my F2s (I also saved some from a conventional tomato) are much smaller than the heirlooms I’m raising. But they seem to be developing just fine; we’ll see how they go.

As part of repotting, I’ve put about half of my plants under my SAD lamp, the full-spectrum lamp that my dad sent me a couple of years ago when I was having a rough time emotionally and it happened to be fall, so he thought it would help. I don’t know whether it did or not, but I love the lamp, and I hope that that half of my plants love it too. I just don’t have room on my windowsills, not until some of these plants get adopted.

I’m not as attached to these plants as that sounds, though. I discarded several that were spindly or too small and added them to my compost bin (a little plastic bin with lid I got on clearance at Kroger, not nearly as cool as The Inadvertent Gardener’s new composting acquisition) as well as most of the oregano–I really shouldn’t have sown all those seeds at once. I’ve saved about six of the plants, and they’re tiny but I hope they’ll survive. I’ve started some parsley (only a few seeds!) in the old oregano pot. Next week, I start cantaloupe and squash and cucumbers (assuming they get here in time) and zucchini. And once the yard has recovered from yesterday’s snow (!!), I’ll get out there and see whether the peas and onions survived.

I bought a salad last night. It’ll be ready to eat June 23.

A coworker of mine, you see, gave me a gardening kit when I moved into my first house, in Dayton. It was a wonderful thing–a nice sturdy tote, two trowels and a fork, mat to kneel on, gloves and fertilizer–and I’m still using it and loving it. She’s pregnant, and mentioned in an e-mail that she had planned on doing some gardening this year but was finding it hard to bend down. She also mentioned she was having a baby shower June 23 and would love it if I could come down. (She also requested a “Jenny original” baby quilt, since I’ve been showing off my work to her for years. I’ve been trying to design a garden-themed quilt but haven’t been having much luck–but I need to apply myself to that design, as the wedding is probably shortly going to consume my every spare moment.) So I decided that a small garden that could be placed at waist level might be a thoughtful gift.

To start with, I ordered the Micro-Tom tomato plant. Unfortunately it’s listed (elsewhere) as being 85 days from seed to harvest, so technically the salad won’t be ready June 23. I’m probably going to aim for June 30, knowing that the tomatoes might take a little longer but the rest of the vegetables can be harvested early–or not, as she wishes. I bought radish seeds and miniature carrots, and I originally planned to use the spinach and lettuce seeds I already have, but I forgot they’re enormous, so I’ll have to go back for smaller varieties.

The plan is to get a list of all the seed-to-harvest times and calculate when each vegetable needs planting, including when a couple of extra seeds for succession planting would be best. I bought a nice wide azalea pot that should fit the Micro-Tom, a head or two of lettuce, a spinach plant, several carrots and radishes, and an onion from my set. (The ones in the ground have sprouted! They’re in danger of being overtaken by creeping weeds from the neighbor’s yard, though. I need to get out there soon.) If there’s room I’ll throw in a basil or a parsley plant, too, assuming I do okay growing them. I need to figure out how much I can crowd these plants. I’ll nurture the Micro-Tom in a small pot to start with, since I don’t have room on my windowsills for such a huge pot (nor a small one, really, but I’ll find space somehow), but the rest of the vegetables will go straight into their final home. One nice thing is that everything except the tomato won’t mind the cold, so I could even set it outdoors for its sunlight. I don’t know if that would be inviting weeds or insects or disease, though. And I’ll include the seed packets with the gift–assuming all goes well and I can actually grow this. If I can, it may well be the best gift I’ve ever made.

I’ve been away in Seattle, visiting my family and attendng my wedding shower. (Lots of crafts, lots of fun, lots of quiche. Don’t ask me why.) My outdoor seeds–the spinach and lettuce that have sprouted, plus the carrots and peas that haven’t–I gave up to fate and the cold and didn’t even mention, but the indoor seedlings I asked Eric to take care of. He was terrified. “If I kill your plants will you ever let me stay alone with the baby?” he wondered (referring to a purely hypothetical baby).I left him a list of what to do:

1. Daily, rotate pots 180 degrees.

2. When rotating pots, check if they need water. If soil feels dry or looks light brown, water gently.

He needed me to explain “gently,” but otherwise agreed he could do this. I enjoyed myself in Seattle, admired my parents’ new yard, the white-blossoming trees I saw everywhere, the spring green on all the deciduous trees, and the sturdy dark green on all the evergreens, and came home late last night.

“I watered your seedlings Friday,” Eric said on the drive home. “But I didn’t today. And I don’t remember if I did yesterday or not.”

It turns out he didn’t. The thyme and the marigolds were slightly moist, but everything else looked bone dry. Before I unpacked, before I got dinner (the only things I’d eaten that day being French toast, a little fruit, Chex mix, and an apple), before I gave Eric a real kiss, I watered.

“Did I kill your plants?” Eric asked mournfully. I said I didn’t think so, but I’ll have to check them again tonight.

When watering, I discovered a few more tiny strawberry plants had peeped out of the dirt, and the broccoli and sunflowers had shot upwards–I’m thinking I’m going to move them to the hall window, which is slightly dangerous but would provide them more sun than I can give at my already-crowded downstairs windows. The tomatoes and eggplants have both true leaves and are looking ready to repot. (I’ve been trying to figure out what pots to use, whether to get more Jiffy peat pots or use plastic cups or what, and then read online about making pots out of newspaper, so I’m going to do that once I run out of Jiffy pots and fake some trays for them out of foil, which is what I’ve been doing all along.) They’re growing up! Now I’m feeling like when we do have that hypothetical baby, I may well not let Eric alone with it–not because I’m afraid he wouldn’t take better care of his child than of a bunch of plants he doesn’t care about, but because I wouldn’t want to miss anything.

It froze last night, and it will the next few. I don’t know for sure what this means for my garden, but I’m expecting everything will die. “Everything” is lettuce, spinach, carrots, and peas, so I’m not too worried right now (except for the possibility that the budding Asian pear will be stopped from delivering a lovely crop of fruit such as I received last year); it won’t be too hard to replant them, though I’ll be sad that it’ll take longer to get a salad. I’d say I should start some spinach and lettuce inside, but I have no south-facing windows left; the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil, oregano, thyme, broccoli, and strawberries have taken them over. Oh, and the sunflowers. You know those novelty plants where when you grow them, they have little messages on their leaves? I’m betting those are sunflowers. I wonder if I could make such messages myself. Maybe using a pin? Or does it take, say, a laser? Anyway, they’re taller than all my other plants and they’ve only been above ground a few days. I’m not sure I’ll be able to support these plants indoors for another month. Fortunately, I only planted seven (one as a replacement for the only one that didn’t come up with its brethren), so I can always replant those, too, if they threaten to take over my house before the outdoors is gentle enough for them to live there.

Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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