A mixed bed in all it's late summer glory

A mixed bed in all it's late summer glory

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The redemption of the circle.

If I had a grave, which I won't, since we'll go for cheap cremation, I would want the headstone to read:

Here lies Ien. Next year her garden will be perfect.

This year the plans for doing things differently and better next year started before the snow was even gone, with the failure of the leek starts.
I am happy to report I have the perfect setup for them ready to roll. Home Hardware yielded a planter that fits on the window sill, and did not have drainage holes punched through yet. Yeah! It holds 4 large square pots with just a bit of room to spare. With the addition of a capillary watering mat it is a perfect fit. Leek babies do not mind being cheek to jowl as long as they have room to go down. Seeds are at hand. So there. 

The winter window will be lively. I saved lots of tops of those crazy top setting onions for use in window boxes. Chives always just sit there and complain indoors, multipliers get wimpy, but the smaller bulbs of Egyptian walking onions make great green onions indoors. Is there any dish that is not improved by a last minute sprinkling of fresh green onions? 
Then there will be the indoor garden I splurged on last winter for microgreens. The seed order will be small this time, but notes are being diligently made so we are ready for an early start. MOAR annual flowers! I loved having my own alyssum, snapdragon  and baby zinnia from dirt cheap seeds picked up at the end of the season. Baby dahlias took a long time to hit their stride but are happening now. Why do I never get around to starting more flowers? There must be cosmos, the tall pink kind. Why did I not stick seeds of nasturtium, which I love, in every empty nook and cranny? And why not start petunias myself? I have added more tables to the greenhouse space to emphasize starter plants and container growing. 

Next year.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A year out of sync

This is a strange year. As reported spring was the earliest and warmest we have ever seen. The season was ahead, but as usual I was behind. A while back I did a post on garden seasons by states of mind. This year the seasons are overlapping in weird ways, due partly to Nature and partly to poor management. 

In Nature, we had excess heat and drought in spring, followed by a coolish summer that keeps threatening or rather promising rain without delivering enough where we live. An upside down year, or is that backside front? As mentioned before on this blog, efficiency has never been my middle name and my body has never been able to keep up with my mind. The ambitions of an elderly (73) gardener with a failing husband (80) got out of hand. The section at the dwelling level would be plenty to keep me busy. Next year I might just put the entire top garden in cover crops and give it a rest, apart from raspberries. (Yeah, right.....)

In short, the season of panic and obsession never quite ended.

For starters I focused on the greenhouse garden, starter plants and the beds below the greenhouse, as reported in earlier posts. I did not get seriously going in the big fenced top garden till late May. In some places the improvised boards had disintegrated, giving free access of the raised beds to the creeping buttercups, threadleaf veronica, yellow dock and others. They made the most of it.

Title of this picture: OMG. WHERE DO I START?
To begin with I put potatoes in the two beds that were still sturdy, in front in this picture. I also planted the section with the fortress boxes. Once again, lovingly seeded carrots FAILED, twice. This in spite of lavish application of  crushed egg shells in between the rows. I ended up sticking celery and multiplier onions everywhere. 
Was this a well thought out, planned decision? Heck no. I just happened to have all those beautiful celery plants. Yes, puppies and kitten syndrome struck again. I want lots to freeze for winter soups, but do I need that many? Multipliers one can never have enough of, and the few leeks are in here as well. Note the tide of weeds lapping at the edge of the frame. The paths had been covered with cardboard and hay the year before last. The weeds enjoyed the extra nutrients.

On the other hand, while I was still prepping and planting the big garden a bumper crop of raspberries demanded to be dealt with, starting the last days of June. We had already enjoyed some fresh potatoes robbed from the earliest planted bed, broccoli heads and side shoots, snow peas, bok choy, and mesclun mix, all from the blessed greenhouse. 
My prize broccoli from the greenhouse, June 6.
Sieglinde potatoes on June 22!

I thought we would skip the 'season of disappointment' this year, but suddenly in mid July the early vegs were finished, even the lettuce in the planter on the deck went tough and bitter and bolted, and the main glut had not arrived yet. Beets were started early in the greenhouse but took forever to form roots. There was always enough to scrape together for a stir fry, but one expects more in July. 

The first half of the summer flew by in a frenzy of work, not quite enjoyed because I felt constantly under pressure. Never mind the astrological detail, but it is a year for Saturn, the symbolic representation of hardship and duty. Into each life some rain must fall etc, and I have had more than my share of good fortune, so no whining.
Well, Gaia bless the zucchini. It must be August. I have finally reached the stage of 'jungle and resignation', together with fullness of harvest, and feel in harmony with the Wheel again. Of course we are not caught up and never will be, and of course the work continues. It is my passion and my joy. But some priority will be given to just sit in the shade with a book every afternoon. Shady lawn is the new beach, a sure sign of age and that is O.K.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Notes on a cool day

In the middle of that frenzied time known as Panic Week(s), when everything is late and screaming to be planted already! we are having a change of weather. The earliest spring ever, with droughty weeks of above average temperatures, gave way to a cool rainy period. The ground is too wet to do anything. I didn't even set foot outside today.  I hope my potted plants in the greenhouse forgive me because even they did not get checked. The day's main accomplishment was the finishing of a jigsaw with two parrots on the iPad app. 
Gaia knows why I find that useless activity the ultimate in relaxation, but I do. I needed the rest. 

Meanwhile, let's record what we have so far.  I am focusing flower efforts on the area right by the dwelling. Anything else that gets done will be bonus. Once again begonias were planted right by the stairs. Must clip back that periwinkle one of these days.
I managed to get the 'lawn' mowed before the downpour but that is all. The yard zone needs trimming and weeding badly. 
The clematis blooms abundantly in spite of neglect.
The big flower border is going to wreck and ruin, too bad but we can only so much. The white peony was stunning but the pink lupin in the border died out. Lupins bloom freely all over the land. Let's leave them in peace in places of their choice and enjoy their beauty without striving for control. This stunning specimen is a volunteer.
I got started at renewing the corner where the Michaelmas Daisy had degenerated, but never got finished. At some point food takes precedence.
Speaking of food: the earliest Sieglinde potatoes are thriving under cover in the section I call the Greenhouse Zone. It has those nice sturdy boxes but no surrounding fence. The row cover does double duty as deer protection.
Brussels Sprouts are doing well in two of the four large beds in that section. They are accompanied by Lucullus chard and celery.
One of the other large beds, below in front of the wheelbarrow, has Norland potatoes, and one is still full of flowers that need to be dug up first. Since this was taken the Norlands have come up and been covered as well.
A few years ago I stuck a few irises in front of the greenhouse, "just for now". They have gone nuts and were glorious. The picture does not do them justice.
I could happily spend an afternoon tidying up that area, BUT. Food first. Inside the greenhouse things are going well.

I should have planted just one broccoli plant in this spot, more towards the middle. I almost did but greed overtook me. When will I learn? This variety, Packman, keeps giving side shoots for months. In the meantime this bed also holds two tomato plants in cages and two short rows of Jade bush beans.
The 3 by 4 boxes are planted in early greens and snow peas for now. Look Ma, flowers! That is only the few who survived being prestarted and transplanted.
The other ones are catching up fast. The spinach in this bed has gone to seed, and meanwhile the green onions have been harvested. In between the peas and the bok choy is now a short row of Roc d'Or snap bans.
Then there are many plants on the big table patiently waiting their turn to be planted out or potted up. 
But that is a whole other post.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Somebody knows my days! Buy this book. Seriously.

No pictures for this quickie post, I am preparing an extensive OMG WHERE DO WE START? tour. Just a heads up about a book.

If you are a gardener, or know one, the book "Crazy about gardening" by Des Kennedy is priceless. It is not a how to book, it is about life as a gardener. It has been around since 1994 but was new to me.

I am an inefficient dabbler, always have been and most likely always will be. Trying to be efficient merely results in paralysis, so I have given up on that. I still always think that the land would be in near perfect order if only I were better at setting priorities! This is a post I did to a facebook gardening group.

Why does everything I am trying to do lead to me standing at the sink in the greenhouse potting up? Yesterday I swore I would put the already chitted, cut up and healed over potatoes in. But first I had to remove the thick pile of leaves that someone had given me and that I had dumped in the boxes below the greenhouse, "just for now", last fall. The potatoes have to go there. Underneath I found a rhubarb plant I had also stuck there. "Just for now". I have a few other rhubarb plants desperate to be relocated. There is a perfect place for them too, but that place has been occupied by Meadowsweet, which needs to be moved to the fenced garden's herb section because it turns out deer love it. I know several people who would love a plant, and next week is the big fund raiser plant sale for the local SPCA equivalent, so......off to the potting place we go. I had been toying with the idea of doing a market table with perennials once in a while, but forgot how much work it is.

Des Kennedy description of an afternoon in May, with a long list of chores, each one more urgent and overdue than the other, had me laughing out loud. I feel comforted I am not alone in my madness.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Little flowers in the chaos

It is April 3. The snow has been gone for weeks. The roof is back on the greenhouse. The last few days it has been warm enough to remove the sweater, once we get going. I believe it is safe to say that the season of garden obsession is fully upon us.

My energy leaves to be desired this spring. I am chomping at the bit on some days and "do I have to?" on others. This could be a normal reaction to stress (spouse is not well) or the fact that I am not sixty anymore, or a return of colon cancer. Fatigue was the only symptom 4 years ago. I am being a good girl and having a checkup tomorrow. 

Meanwhile I am determined to enjoy the process no matter what and not beat myself over the head with the enormous To DO list. The envisioned perfection will never be reached anyway. Apart from adding to the compost pile, standing around envisioning and nibbling a few fresh kale leaves I have done nothing in the top garden yet. Today I mainly felt like playing with flowers.

The first flush of early spring flowers is gone, leaving the usual straggly mess of green that we must put up with if we want to have them back next year. After just sitting there for some years Eranthis AKA Aconite seems determined to take over the yard.

It takes a few years from seed to flower, I am not sure how many. First there is just one tiny leaf, then a single frilly leaf. 
I just love it, so let it spread. In between the mess the daffodils have started to bloom, accompanied by small primroses and Siberian blue quill. 
Coltsfoot should have come with a warning. I would have kept it contained, or planted it in the semi wild if I had known its invasive habits. It will be making a nuisance of itself later in the beds below the greenhouse. Right now its bright flowers, poking through the sawdust mulch in the pathways, are a cheery sight. 
Springing up here and there in the weedy 'lawn' and at the edge of flowerbeds desperate for attention and compost are tiny sweet violets.
I had some violas in a container last year, and they actually came back, yeah! They are company for hyacinths that spent the winter in a veg bed but are now being honoured in a planter. 
If I were sane I would just have a few nice big planters for flowers and let it go at that. Needless to say that will not happen. As a compromise the big flower border will be filled with fewer varieties, all undemanding. Even so, there is always need for maintenance. Last year the Michaelmas daisies had become a grassed over, tangled mess with bare spots in between. Golden Glow, its perennial companion in early fall, was barely visible after being repeatedly deered and invaded by grass. I have started digging that whole section up. 

Something entirely different. Last year my struggles with hoops ended with the serendipitous discovery of the seven foot bow, consisting of a five foot length of PVC and part of the rebar. PVC in my neck of the woods comes in 10 foot lengths. Rather than trying to fence in this whole garden with a wobbly construction  I will just use hoops over each individual bed. Cheaper and faster, though it does mean a small change of plans. I know from experience that one does not always get around to lifting the netting to work underneath it. Therefor, rather than fiddly little things like carrots, I will use these beds for less labour intensive plants like Brussels Sprouts and potatoes. I have started already.

The small square behind the cardboard was planted with Sieglinde potatoes today. I had a bunch that were sprouting. They take a long time and do not yield as much as other varieties but they are delicious. Remay will be installed once they start showing. The cardboard still has to be covered with nicer looking sawdust.
The square behind there is devoted to Egyptian walking onions. Most of these will not be eaten, but will be encouraged to set seed for replanting. They give the earliest greens of the year, beating out even fall-planted multipliers. I learned this spring that there is no advantage in planting them in the greenhouse.
And finally, in the spirit of permaculture, some lettuces and arugula were allowed to go to seed in the far square bed. It worked! Behold, extra early Freckles romaine babies! 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

First Flowers, First Fails.

Is there no mercy? The snow is not even totally gone yet and already we are reporting the first fail. But wait. First something more cheerful. We had a mild winter followed by an early spring. We may pay for this with drought, fires and low water in the lake/reservoir this summer, but let us rejoice today.
The earliest ever blooming flower, in the sheltered bed below the living room, even earlier than snow drops. February 23, beating the previous record by 4 days.
These brave aconites have been joined by many more of their sisters, as well as snowdrops and purple crocus. That early flush is now at its peak, March 10. I find it hard to get a nice overview picture but we get the idea. I did not want to lie down on the wet ground this morning, which is what it takes to do them justice. We had a dusting of snow, which does not faze them at all. 

Now the fail. My beloved leeks will be fewer and later. One cannot start them early enough. February is good, January better. Last year I had them in a planter in the window sill and  that worked great. 
First I discovered that leeks were not part of the leftover seed stash. I made a rush order for just leeks, but somehow William Dam forgot them and they did not arrive till later, included in the main order. Still, they were planted in mid February, not too bad. The planter had become damaged and I thought I'd be extra clever this year: fill the planter with 2x2 pots and do a precision seeding, 16 0r 9 in each pot. Using a skewer for a dibber, one tiny seed at the time. Painstaking is the word.  Well. Somehow the precision seeded babies were not happy. Only a few pots came up. I suspect they got too dry. 
Meanwhile the new toy was performing nicely. We enjoyed a few crops of baby arugula and some tender salads. I ripped out the arugula and planted leeks in one of the containers, 
just for good measure.The seeds in the grow light  contraption, watered consistently from below , did much better. I also planted one container with celery. It came up surprisingly fast. 

The contraption lives in the living room, which is kept ridiculously warm because of old spouse. Meanwhile I started preparing the big grow lights, which live in the reflexology room that is kept much cooler. In order to save on electricity I will move the celery and leeks to the cool room, where I will also start some brassicas, mainly broccoli and Brussels sprouts. The four planters in the living room can house tomatoes and peppers. I hope to get this done in the next few days. 
Outside the perennial onions are coming up strong!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

MOAR grow lights!

The Indoor Garden contraption that I first saw on Lee Valley has been on my wish list for some time. I finally treated myself to it. I have grow lights for starting bedding plants, these are extra and will serve for microgreens.  With shipping and taxes included I paid almost $180. A tub full of California spring mix is around $6. You do the math. 
However, apart from the question how much longer we can count on California, and considerations of carbon footprints and all that, I need the therapy. Life has been somewhat challenging lately.

The words "assembly required" inspired some dread, but assembly was duly provided. By your's truly. If grandma Moses could start painting after 70 it may not be too late for me to become a handywoman.

One thing I did right last fall was preparing for an early start in spring. Starter trays and pots, pails of fresh potting mix as well as a batch of Super COF are standing by on the deck. It is a mess but it is there. 

Behold my new toy! Filled with COF enriched potting mix, capillary mat functioning beautifully, planted with mesclun mix, arugula and baby spinach. Let the growing therapy begin.