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Meet my garden helpers, Chloë and Maia:

The girls

I’m sure they will be immensely helpful in the garden. Someday.

In the meantime: hello, gardening world, I’m back! Infrequently, probably, though my current plan involves scheduling gardening time at least twice a week so I can be sure to (a) get things planted and picked at least, and if possible tended as well, and (b) get the girls (and me) outside, especially Chloë. We’ll see how that goes.

While I’ve been gone gestating and raising an infant, the USDA decided to sneak in a new zone map. I am now in zone 6. Hurrah! Not that this changes anything, but it makes me feel better about getting my seeds started and plants planted earlier than conventional zone-based wisdom has dictated. I’m not comfortable following my instincts. I like to be following the rules instead. (Pay no attention to the lack of tilling, weeding, proper support, soil testing, etc. previously recorded here…)

So Chloë and I have planted a few early seeds, mainly the ones I’m not sure are actually going to germinate–onions; leek; cotton; old kale, komatsuna, and choy sum; and some flowers. Some were “winter sown” (though I’m not sure that term actually applies with the mildness of the winter and the lateness of the date) and some started in Jiffy pots and put in the window. Chloë was intrigued by the process, particularly the “sprinkle seeds on the dirt” and “mix the dirt and seeds around with your fingers” bits, and when I came home today with more seeds immediately wanted to plant again. I sure hope some of the ones in the window sprout.

Today’s seeds are from the Toledo Botanical Garden (actually Toledo GROWS, I think) Seed Swap, which was a hell of a thing. In previous years it was at the actual Toledo Botanical Garden and was fairly crowded, but this year it was at the Erie Street Market and it was a mob scene. They took a large room, and had a whole section just for kids to pet bunnies and look at chickens; there were the usual tables for corn, roots, greens, cucurbits, flowers, etc., plus some displays on native flowers and rain gardens and such; and there was also a corner for garden-related stuff for classrooms (I loved the straw-and-Saran-Wrap greenhouse and the five-plastic-bottle-and-rope seed starter with central water reservoir); a table of seed bombs; dozens of displays; tables from commercial farms, nurseries, and other less relevant businesses from the area; a silent auction; and probably more that I didn’t catch because I thought I was just going to pick up a few seeds among a few gardeners, not fight my way among half the city.

The place was packed. I got there about forty-five minutes in (because I’d had to get the kids to naps first, and then get a bag of apples from the farmer’s market and a new 9×13 pan from the Libbey Outlet) and the tables were two and three people deep, except for the legumes table where they’d run out of green beans. This was something I’d come for, but by the time I was getting ready to go later donations had shown up and I got some Chinese beans, which should be interesting, and some cowpeas. And I think I’ve got some Kentucky Wonders on the windowsill and I’ve still got Trionfo Violettos from a number of different recent years, so I think I’m fine. And I got some cucumbers and more carrots and a lettuce, which was all I’d really come for, plus some other interesting-looking stuff because why not? and I needed the crush of people to be worth it. I did recommend Russian Red kale to someone, and help someone else by pointing out the purple kohlrabi, and maybe the seeds I donated ended up with people who’ll use and enjoy them.

Last year was a washout on gardening, by the by. I planted five tomato plants in pots, plus some green beans and some basil. The basil did fine, and we got a small number of grape tomatoes. But tomatoes in pots are clearly not a good idea without more care than I put into them–though cleanup was great. I did get the gardens covered in plastic to kill the weeds–and by “I got” I mean “Dad did it while he was here for Maia’s birth”–but only got one uncovered last fall, so there’s plenty of prep work to do once it decides to stop snowing/slushing/being ridiculously windy.

In summary: hello again! I’m going to be gardening this year. Some. With the dubious help of a toddler at times. (I’m considering growing a Mammoth sunflower “fort” for her.) Watch this space. But not with any assiduity or you’ll probably be disappointed. But believe that I’m glad to be back.

 

I got out to the farmer’s market Saturday, for the first time since it turned cold. “No one’s going to be there!” Eric exclaimed. “Who’s going to go when it’s 25 degrees out?” I explained that the winter market is held in the covered area of the market where the walls can be put down. Apparently he doesn’t remember me going there last winter.

Plenty of people were there, actually–vendors as well as shoppers. I stopped to talk with a couple of friends for a few minutes in front of the honey lady. We probably stood there too long, but I got a big jar of honey and some whipped honey-with-blackberries, so I hope that made up for it. I also got some bay leaves, since my bay tree died a while ago, some sweet potatoes, apples, and kohlrabi. I’ve never tasted kohlrabi, much less prepared it myself, so this should be interesting. I’m not sure what to do with it. But I’m up for trying, and we need to start cooking more; we’ve been doing too many dinners that are a pot of pasta and nothing else, or Jimmy John’s, or pizza. (Homemade pizza, but still.)

It’s also time to think about winter-sowing some lettuce. The winter-sown lettuce I did the year before last was bigger and better than any I planted in the ground directly, and with the beds a mess I can’t do that right away anyway. Now that Chloe is able to be by herself for reasonable stretches (I made two kinds of bread this weekend, for example) I should be able to spare a few minutes to cut open a cider container and dunk in some dirt and seeds. Eventually I want to do gardening with her, but right now the dirt and seeds would go right in her mouth and that’s a situation best avoided, so she can play in her jumper while I start some salad.

I planted most of my winter-sown flowers yesterday. The Merveille des Quatre Saisons lettuce, which is doing excellently, has been partly in a planter and partly in the herb garden (where I planted red flax, because it hadn’t come up yet and I’d forgotten) for a while now, but the rest were sitting quietly on my porch, blocking most of the steps.

Status: the cleome (my first sprout was actually a bachelor’s button) and the pot marigolds didn’t come up at all. The bachelor’s buttons did the best, towering over everything else. The anise hyssop was a decent second, and smells wonderful. The Husker’s Red penstemon and Indian paintbrush germinated thickly but remained small (probably because I forgot to thin them a second time). The “Garden Treasures mix” and hollyhocks came up nicely and were easy to separate. The butterfly bush, shasta daisy, and purple coneflower were small but had nice leaves and weren’t too crowded. The tomato mix container has a tall plant that clearly isn’t a tomato and nothing else, and there are two unlabeled containers that must be the nicotaina and the blanket flower, but I’m not sure which is which. (They were labeled when I started. Note to self: Sharpie does not last an entire winter outdoors on plastic.)

So the bachelor’s buttons and a shasta daisy went into the front porch bed; I put the butterfly bush and coneflower here and there in the yard and the gardens; the penstemon and hollyhocks went into the newly-filled-in driveway bed; the Indian paintbrush went in the herb garden near the garden stone my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas; the anise hyssop went in the herb garden and a corner of the vegetable garden near a lone borage; the “Garden Treasures mix” went into the pot on my front porch, left by the old owners, which I put mint in last year. I hauled a surprising amount of dead roots out of the pot before I transplanted them. I have two flowerbeds, the newly-dug one by the garage and a not-yet-dug one by the back fence, where I’ll put the unlabeled plants and some more penstemon, since I had a lot.

I still haven’t started my sunflowers yet (or the fall brassicas), and the ones in the garden aren’t coming up but the beans are so I need to get on that. I may well make a trip out to Home Depot this week to get more dirt and mulch, whatever I can load into the car, and make an end run for getting this stuff all settled. I’m enjoying the yard gardening but I’m thinking I’ll enjoy having it all in place so that I can just watch it grow (and weed), too.

Also, the alyssum and red flax in the herb garden are up–I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize them and would pull them as weeds, but when the same plant that I haven’t seen elsewhere springs up en masse overnight, I think I can assume they’re what I planted. I have a single parsley root plant up, but no parsley beyond the one I raised indoors. And I’m definitely not getting more than about three onions in the onion bed, so carrots will go in there soon. Sigh.

I feel like I’m stuffing so much data into my posts these days. Well, it’s spring; that shouldn’t surprise me. Things are happening every day, and by being outside so much–much more than I have since I was little–I’m seeing it all. And I have no other garden journal, so it all comes here.

I am bushed. (But not treed. And it’s not true that I rose. Excuse me, it’s the effect of having spent all day with my husband.) Today we bought 960 lb. of topsoil (“organic soil dressing,” the label said, but it was sold at the topsoil price) in the mothers’ van (plus bagels for a day trip we’re taking tomorrow) and unloaded it in our driveway. This was the only way to ensure that we would really deploy it as intended today, since we need the driveway clear in order to get my car onto the road.

Eric mowed. I pulled bindweed and Japanese knotweed. Eric got the bright idea of dethatching the lawn to find any bare spots to cover with dirt and/or grass seed, so I dethatched the front lawn while he mowed the back. He raked the top layer of leaves/dead flowerheads/mulch from the triangle and dumped it in the hole on the curb grass strip left from the New Year’s plumbing fiasco. We both pondered the question of the wild onion. (No decision made.) We spread dirt along the driveway moats and finally filled them, plus that hole at the curb, plus most of the hole near the garage and the little strip between the driveway and the fence where I want to plant morning glories. Eric spread grass seed while I moved the thatch to the compost pile. We went inside and collapsed. It doesn’t sound like so much, but it took hours and we’re not used to marathon yardwork sessions.

There’s still plenty to do, but we made a good start. I’m hopeful that the yard will actually look nice by the time, say, fall rolls around. Also that soon I will be able to plant out the winter-sown flowers, which I’m itching to do, but I intend to put a lot of them in the driveway bed where we didn’t quite have enough dirt to fill. Still, morning glories and cardinal climber will go out soon, and I’ll find places to tuck flowers. I’m pleasantly tired still, with threats of unpleasantly achy tomorrow, plus there’s that day trip, so it won’t be this weekend; but soon, very soon, those flowers will graduate to regular plant status.

Well, I wrote this part earlier today, so I may as well post it. Besides, part of it may count as irony, or at least foreshadowing.

—–

My lemon tree is finally out of the plant window and on the back porch. If weather.com is correct, it will stay there for almost a week because it won’t get below 48 until next Tuesday. Of course, it could all change tonight, but that’s why I’m keeping an eye on the forecast. I love spring.

I watered last night, which felt oddly humiliating. Partly it’s that I know the dirt is not as good as it could be, and therefore doesn’t hold the water as well as it could. Still, it’ll be better next year (and the year after that, if the next owner happens to be a gardener or the job market in the Pacific Northwest is completely toast), and I do want my parsley and carrots to sprout, so out came the hose.

I have some minor chores to do–weeding of course, and hardening off more broccoli (and maybe cauliflower if the weather continues looking nice) and cleaning the sap off the lemon tree as Jen suggested, and putting collars around my brassicas as Tina suggested to protect against cutworms. Not enough for as much as I want to be outside right now.

—–

And then there’s this:

I actually went outside this evening after dinner (homemade pizza–as of last pizza, I’m out of slow-roasted and dried tomatoes to use as toppings) to rake, dig, pull weeds, and generally potter. Eventually I sat down on the back porch, thinned the anise hyssop, discovered that there are a couple of shasta daisy sprouts after all, and contemplated the lemon tree. It’s looking a little scraggly after its long winter, but it’s still got about half its leaves and is flowering like the world’s going to end, and I discovered a bright green, newly-minted leaf, so maybe it finally decided to take the advice I’ve been giving it all spring about investing in leaves before putting its all into blooms.

A little further up I discovered a leaf with hard, dark, limpet-like things stuck to it. Oh, hell, I thought, and picked it. Scale? Being squeamish, I didn’t want to scratch at the things with my fingernail. I picked up the nearby grill scrubber and used it, but as you might expect, that only led to a torn-up leaf.

I didn’t see any more dark spots on other leaves. But my gaze fell to the dead leaves in its pot. All winter as they fell, I’ve left them there, because I figured they would act as mulch. And they have; I haven’t watered it much at all. I stuck a finger in the soil and noted it felt dry, so I fetched the hose and watered it. Then it occurred to me that if those things were scale, there might be more in those dead leaves, and I should probably get rid of them.

I took a handful of leaves out. Dark squiggly earworm-like insects ran everywhere. I swore and scooped out more leaves. More squiggly insects and some smaller dark insects skittered away from the sudden harsh light. More swearing, more leaves. White flies flew out. It was like a compendium of houseplant problems. Like Barbara Kingsolver’s vegetannual, but with bugs.

This lemon tree apparently has practically every pest I’ve ever heard of except aphids and spider mites, and maybe I just didn’t look hard enough. I don’t think they can have all moved in over the thirteen hours it sat out on the back porch today. Which means I’ve been providing them a nice, happy, dark, damp home all winter. Why is this tree flowering like the world’s going to end? Oh, right: because its world is obviously close to ending.

Well, that explains that. Arugula is a brassica–or rather, it’s a Brassicaceae (family versus genus). There are very definitely two different kinds of fused-circle cotyledons coming up in that part of the garden, and this is why. And I thought I was separating the family members.

Spinach and lettuce are coming up in the herb garden…I think. Maybe they’re weeds. Weeds are starting to come up too. As mentioned, both arugula and turnips are up. And I have potted and labeled luffa, thyme, borage, and non-winter-sown purple coneflower, shasta daisies, and marigolds. The winter-sowing pots are doing well; I thinned the anise hyssop and the lettuce this afternoon, and was delighted to discover that the Indian Paintbrush I bought in 2005 have sprouted mightily. Nothing from the purple coneflower or shasta daisy yet, which is why I started some indoors.

One of the oldest Green Goliath broccoli appears to have had its stem gnawed all the way around. But the top is still there. This is a total mystery to me. I get the feeling I’m going to be dealing with pests more this year than I did last year. Also that this brassica thing could get out of hand if I let it. At least brussels sprouts aren’t part of the plan until the fall.

Winter sowing: it really works. I have sprouts of: bachelor button mix, anise hyssop, Merveille des Quatre Saisons lettuce (clearly the drainage problem didn’t hurt it), a “Garden Treasures” mix, and a tomato mix…only it doesn’t look like a tomato sprout. The cotyledons are short and rounded rather than long and pointed. Here we go again with the weeds.

(Incidentally, that is my most-looked-at post. I can only imagine that a lot of people are searching the Internet for “weed” and are coming here to be disappointed, though I suppose the “Roll your own” post didn’t help.)

I’m not hopeful that I’ll get any gardening done this weekend other than rotating my seed trays, as it’s supposed to rain and snow (but I’m pretending I didn’t see that) all weekend. Our (detached) garage’s roof needs fixing, too; the tarpaper tore away at one end, and now the water is all running down the inside of the garage. So there’s a trip to Home Depot in our near future, and I will pick up more dirt and a cactus pot and some gravel for the side of the garage that was infested with weeds last year, but I think this is going to be more of a cleaning/baking/goofing off weekend than a gardening weekend. Oh well. You can’t win them all.

The snow is gone. I see crocus leaves in the yard and one unfurled purple bud in the front bed. Eric pointed at the daffodil leaves (they really need dividing, I see) and said, “Geez, look at them all!”

Store-bought quinoa will indeed sprout when put in a pot and watered. So much for the extra space I thought I might have in the vegetable garden.

The Utah celery has decided to come up. I also have my first winter-sown sprout, the cleome. Who’s next?

The earliest-sprouting of my Sorrento broccoli has formed tiny buds, like Meg and Kelly’s spinach. But since that’s what Sorrento broccoli is supposed to do, can I call it successfully growing broccoli as I set out to do?

There’s a level 2 snow emergency in effect today, with more snow coming down. It is a fuzzy-sock day–which is to say, a day in which I put on a pair of my beloved fuzzy socks because I’m not going anywhere that day. I have remote access to my work e-mail and it’s been slow anyway, so I’m going to enjoy the unexpected day off.

One of the things I’m going to do is winter-sow some blanket flower my friend Carol gave me. I only remembered I had it when I pulled out my oatmeal tub of purchased seeds, my Ball jar of saved seeds, and my paper bag of Seed Shop seeds and sat down to organize them. I annexed a plastic container of Eric’s that he had been using for photographs, added dividers (Alliums, Brassicas, Cucurbits, Flowers, Greens, Herbs, Legumes, Roots, Solanaceae, and Other–and yes, I alphabetized them, except Other which should always go in the back), and sorted. Happily, the seeds just about fill the container, and when planting is done this year it will be considerably emptier. Of course it’ll fill back up in the fall and winter, but that’s okay.

I hope this is the last snowstorm of the year. It’s getting very close to March, and March is a time for snow to stop, I think. That’s my considered opinion.

So today, I think, is the day to do winter sowing. It’s light out, Eric’s got homework, it’s nearly February, let’s do this thing. I get out my containers: seven apple cider jugs, two half-gallon milk jugs, a huge plastic container of organic spinach from Costco, and a two-liter soda bottle (pomegranate 7-Up, I believe). I’ve been very forward-thinking: they’re already cut open, with slits and holes in the bottom for drainage; the bag of soil is in the corner of the kitchen, out of the freezing cold; and I cleaned up the kitchen from the bread-baking of yesterday so I have room to work. 

I’m supposed to fill each container with dirt, water it well, let the water drain out, plant seeds, put the containers outside. Easy. I get an old salsa container from the Tupperware cupboard and start dishing out the dirt. 

I put four gallon containers in the sink, fill them with dirt, and spray them with water. All’s well except for one, which doesn’t drain. I spray them again. Three are fine, one is becoming muddy soup. I pick it up. Maybe the holes are too small. I get out my trusty utility knife and punch into one of the holes and twist, and water comes out. There, I think, I just needed bigger holes. I enlarge more of the holes and set it down. 

The three other containers get switched out. The three new containers drain just fine. The first one is still soup. I stick my fingers into the muddy water and probe. There are, inexplicably, small rocks in the bottom; but they can’t be covering all the holes. Out comes the utility knife. The holes widen. Water comes out. I set it down and put more water in. The water level rises and stays up. 

I push my now-wet sleeves up my now-dirty arms. I switch out the three new containers. I enlarge the holes on these before I fill them, just in case. Everything’s fine except for the first container. I go back to it. I gouge new holes, big holes. Water pours out. I add more water and the water level rises and stays there. 

“I’m done with my homework,” Eric announces from the doorway behind me. “We were going to do our budget now, right?”

“Right,” I say and go with him. I’ll figure out which of my seeds I care about least and put them in this container. Later.

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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