Friday, August 14, 2015

Dandelions, a love affair

This too was sitting in draft, started some time in May. Oh well.

Some plant lovers believe it is possible to call plants onto your land. Not by direct means like seeding or transplanting, but by sending a mental invitation to....what? Plant spirit? Why not. I rather like the idea, which is definitely out of the realm of 'evidence based'.
There was a time when no dandelions graced this land. Some time in the mid eighties I wrote a little piece for the local newspaper extolling their virtues. 
The next year the first yellow visitors appeared. This may of course be pure coincidence. We also started seeing Arion Ater, the large black slugs, which were definitely not invited. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed toying with the notion that Dandelion is a personal friend. 

When I received my first Reiki activation (I prefer that word to initiation) the teacher told me to visualise a lotus in my crown chakra. Now I have never liked lotus worship. All that talk about purity in spite of it growing in the mud. Such patriarchal snobbery. Where would that pure white flower be without the life giving mud, huh? How about honouring the mud instead? This insight owed to Starhawk's "Dreaming the Dark."
I saw a dandelion instead. 
Glorious, or what? A word in Dutch my brother will get.
Een zonne dyade met een krachtige pippeling.

Bent out of shape. A learning curve with PVC.

This post was started early in July. I realise tablets have been slowing down my bloggery. I used to work on blogs in the evenings while relaxing on the couch, watching spouse's TV with half an eye. These days I take the iPad into the living room, while the laptop stays mainly plugged in on the kitchen table, there to provide entertainment during drudgery.
__________________________________________I am finally catching my breath after a frantic two months. Progress report of actual gardens with pictures next, but first I want to finish this tidbit that has been sitting in draft. 

When it comes to practical matters involving spatial insight and fine motor skills (or any motor skills) I am a bit learning disabled. The  kindergarten teacher had asked my mother, in all seriousness, if I would not be happier in a school for special needs children. She was flabbergasted when I went on to test highly gifted and attended university. There are days when I can see where she was coming from.

The days I wasted messing about with PVC structures were some of them. I am writing this as a reminder to self of where the H the time went. Be forewarned, it gets boring. 

Anyone who enjoys garden porn has seen nifty hoop houses made out of PVC pipe. They always start with: pound some rebar into the soil. Now my soil is rocky. Augers for drilling fence posts are useless in it. Years ago I had tried to use that oh so handy T-post, AKA as T bar. Forget it. 
As you can see above, T post is three sided. It gets snagged on obstacles. Hardwarese is a foreign language I have not mastered. It took a while before I found out rebar is not the same as Tbar. Rebar is just one straight round piece of metal, see below. (Pictures stolen from Google.) It comes in 20 foot lengths and the hardware people cut it to size.
I bought one stake cut into 7/7/6 to take home. Hallelujah! It could be pushed into my soil! There was much rejoicing. Visions of shovel free fences and nail free hoop houses started dancing in my head.

As reported, last year's experiment with straight rebar poles with deer fence netting attached to them was disappointing. 
The netting sagged in the absence of a horizontal element.
Next, take all rebar posts back to the store and have them cut in half, and start playing with PVC in the section below the greenhouse. This is the part I would like to start gardening intensely. It has been neglected for a while. I did not feel like spending the money it would cost  to enclose the whole garden, some of the beds still have perennials in them that need to be moved, there is too much to do already, so I decided to protect a few beds individually. 

The first one was easy. Start potatoes, protected by Remay, with wire hoops I already had. Will keep off flea beetles as well as deer. 

The second one posed a dilemma: Hoops, or posts? In order to play with the stuff I bought some  10 foot 1/2 inch pipes, as well as a snipper to cut them with and a variety of connectors. 

Great was my joy when I found out I could just bend one whole pipe, slide it over the shortened rebar spikes and voila, instant hoop, almost tall enough for me to stand up in. I am not much over 5 feet. Never mind the connectors, we'll just sling floating row cover over this and call it a day!

Readers familiar with floating row cover will know that it comes in rolls 7 feet wide. The deer netting ditto. The beds are 8 feet long and we also need extra fabric to cover the sides. Readers with more spatial insight than yours truly will immediately grasp that we have a problem and just slinging a length over will not work.

Remay is fragile stuff and PVC is slippery. I have no idea how to attach them to each other. Something 7 feet wide will obviously not cover an arch made by a 10 feet pole. (obvious in hindsight, see what I mean by being LD?) 
Solution: use the deer netting instead. Deer netting can be attached to PVC pipe with handy twisty things. 
Now at this point I became obsessed with the notion of adding a horizontal ridge to the structure so I could attach the netting to it. Cut poles in half, use the right connectors, add a horizontal pole. Excess fabric could just be bunched up at the bottom. I felt very clever and in theory it was a perfectly fine idea, BUT! It was not that easy to keep the bendy hoops in their connectors. They kept wanting to pop out. The force of a hoop wanting to go straight again even broke one connector.
With much struggle I almost  had all hoops in when the very last one popped out of its spot. The whole works went SPROINK! and fell apart. Grrrrr.
I understood the problem. The tension was too great. That bent hoop wants to go straight. The very sproinkiness of the PVC pipe that made it work while whole worked against the structure when it was composed of parts. When the hoop is whole the pressure is sideways, against the boards of the bed. It is not going anywhere. But in pieces the easiest way for the hoop to go straight is to slip from its connectors on the top.
The only way I can learn this stuff is by standing there and fiddling with it. I have NO theoretical insight in practical matters. Friends who tell me they can visualise a structure and turn it around to see it from another angle in their mind completely baffle me. They must have a different brain. 

I messed about a bit more with my five foot pipes, just trying to figure out what length of pipe would cover what width. Fifteen feet would made a nice hoop over two beds side by side. The picture shows three pieces of five, but two plus a horizontal would work well. Turn 4 beds into a second greenhouse? But then you have to deal with the sides and need doors and figure out how to throw the cover over and attach it. Maybe not, but it is nice to explore the option.  

PVC is such a forgiving medium! A bent pipe can be made straight again by inserting rebar and sticking it straight up into the ground. 

At long last some of the pipes went over the potatoes after they outgrew the wire hoops. I slid them over the rebar till they were exactly the right height to still hold deer netting.
From now on all my potatoes, even those inside Fort Knox, will get floating row cover in their infancy! Look how gorgeous these look, without flea beetle holes.  
One more effort that came to naught: Try horizontal structure in the middle only and make a tent out of deer fencing, one width on each side. Not. In practice trying to get in and out of excessive amounts of deer netting makes one understand why the Roman gladiator armed with net and trident was such a formidable opponent. 

Finally, some of the freshly straightened poles were used to make a trellis for cucumbers in the greenhouse. This is the first time I had a decent trellis with a net for cukes instead of improvised poles, and what a difference that makes!
I already know where they will go next year, at the far end of the greenhouse in the boxes, following early snow peas. The trellis is wasted on tomatoes.

I will take the risk of planting the same crop year after year. I know several good gardeners who do not rotate because they don't have the space. They just make sure the needs of the plants are well met and grow great peas on the same trellis year after year.  
Ah, NEXT YEAR! Always the perfect garden!

Friday, May 8, 2015

A wonderful spring!

The world may be a mess, here in the Shire it is a wonderful spring. These double narcissi are still blooming after the regular daffodils are finished. Picture from May 3.
As reported, snow melted early. Then we had an alternation of sun and rain that was just perfect for growing things. Everything is early, at least compared to the last few years. I do remember this being normal in our earliest Kootenay times. It would be so nice to have a clear record, but I don't. This blog is as close as it gets. The trees are still bright green but fully leafed out. Spirea has started to blossom.
It is now May 7. Food production is a bit later than last year, when we had abundant salads from the greenhouse by May 11. That is the price we pay for taking off the roof. We are making up for lost time fast. We are getting green onions, sorrel, the odd leaf from overwintered Lucullus chard and the first lettuces, and best of all, asparagus!
As usual I wish it were 4 weeks earlier. Time is going much too fast. I am a poky puttering worker at the best of times, and besides my energy tends to fluctuate. Oh,  the things I could do if only I were at peak level and totally focused all the time! I am slowly learning to not, in the flush of high energy, make promises I cannot keep when it is lower. That only took about half a century.
My last serious garden work days were spent, I almost say wasted, on moving perennials around in the big sunny flower border. This ticks me off because it is work I thought I had done last fall. I had a lovely patch of bee balm that was in need of revival. I had dug it all up, fertilized it and planted pieces  over a wide area. This is a member of the mint family. Need I say more? I expected a healthy, major emergence in spring. Not. Only the strong big chunks returned and the patch was overrun by weeds. I blame the early frost and late snow. Meanwhile the vigourous, much loved yellow loosestrife got hit by deer again. It also looked in need of some TLC. Those rhizomous (is that a word?) perennials tend to go off in search of new ground if they are not happy. I wasted time trying to sort both patches out, and then decided to take drastic measures: dig up both patches, rework the ground and made them trade places. That took a whole day.We had a good rain afterwards and they look good. 
The beebalm looks skimpy but the stuff spreads.

The top garden is still waiting for attention. However, once I get there it will be instant greenery. The blessed greenhouse is full of thriving bedding plants. I worried about the lateness of tomatoes and Brussels sprout starts, but they are looking super healthy, vigorous and already bigger than when I took these pictures two days ago.
There is an immovable, huge, but more or less flat topped rock underneath the red tub that is closest to the front. It dictates the layout for that section. I scored two more of the tubs, which were originally used to store some animal food supplement. They will be used for the real heat lovers, peppers and eggplant. They serve as a safe place for bedding plants in the meantime. The farthest visible tub holds a quickie planting of arugula.
The greenhouse does not look nearly as fruitful as a year ago at this time. Give it a week. The small bed that did so incredibly well last year got a generous sprinkle of COF and was planted mainly in mesclun mix, to be followed by snap beans. It is up, just hard to see. The two boxes at the end are also still awaiting their final destiny. Both have been fitted with a trellis. Snow peas in one are up, yeah! They will be followed by nasturtiums in one box and yellow pear tomatoes in the other one. One box will hold a total of 4 tomato plants, the other one broccoli, Lucullus chard and radicchio.

The tipi of poles, just barely visible here, will be devoted to cucumbers this year. 

Speaking of boxes, I really want to grow more food closer to the dwelling in the raised beds. This section was not fenced and originally planned to be a herb garden. It was also used to store the bedding plants I was selling at the farmers market. I am not doing that anymore. It just takes too much time and something had to give. Last year I experimented with rebar and net by way of fencing. Without a top rail the netting tended to sag. I will play with PVC this year. I have not yet decided whether it will be hoops or poles or some of each. 
 But for starters I rigged up an improvised net cover over the three small ones. They are planted in green onions and early greens and I am quite pleased with myself.
To be continued.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Wresting late out of the jaws of early.

Late April already. Green grass is poking through the bracken duff. Perennials are racing out of the ground. Panic season is approaching. We were early, right? Note past tense.

What happened in two months? The snow was almost gone for weeks. It was nice weather but the nights were cold and the snow took its time. Without the cover on the greenhouse I couldn't do anything yet.

Below, February 25, view of the bracken field with home from the edge of the grove we call the Magic Spot. 
Snow was gone in sheltered places, like the small flower bed just below the living room window. Yellow aconites are spreading and welcome. It takes them a few years to go from seed to flower. I started out with just 3 and look at them now! Some have also been given away. They are the cheeriest little things and I just love them. This was March 10. Not the greatest photograph but it will do for a record.
The deer were merciful, or Bobbex was applied timely, and I got to enjoy the crocus.
I just found out that my beloved greenhouse/car shelter has been discontinued. This new cover should be good for four years. Who knows where we will be after that.
 Getting the roof back on might have taken me days of struggle. Instead my handy buddy Rick did it in one morning in return for three hour long sessions of acupressure. Barter rocks! We will take it off again in early November. Yes, we lose a few weeks of growing time but the advantages are worth it. The greenhouse went up in the last week of March. Until then there was no place to put the first batch of early greenery. Many plants got too leggy and some bolted, not worth transplanting. We ate them as microgreens. This is the crowd on March 31, just before they were finally moved.
The Chinese cabbages and arugula were a total loss, but chard, kales and lettuce did fine. I gave quite a few away too.
 This planter with lettuce and Lucullus chard will be moved to the deck once the weather warms up.
These trays were started in the greenhouse after our Easter trip to the coast. The grow light space is taken up with tomatoes.

 Brussels sprouts, more kale, broccoli.
The first thing I did after the trip was check the bulbs in the veg garden. I had been very clever last fall: tulips were planted inside the veg garden in containers. The plan was to put the containers on the deck in spring. Planting tulips in the flower garden is an exercise in futility. Guess what. Deer may love tulip greens, but voles love the bulbs! And I had been so kind to leave them in loose potting soil mix instead of underground. About ninety percent of them were gone. 
I should have remembered tulip bulbs are nutritious. During the bitter winter of 1944/45 my relatives in Rotterdam and The Hague ate their share of tulip bulbs as an emergency food. My parents with infant me lived in the Eastern part of the Netherlands in a rural town and never went hungry.
All the more reason to cherish daffodils. Actually their bulbs get ravaged by some soil dwelling wormy thing but that only hurts next year's blooms. As long as I treat them as an annual we're good. Some dafs do make it back, enough to transplant into these containers by the stairs.
We had a week of wonderful weather, green up is early this year.
Last Wednesday, April 22, the weather turned. The rain was welcome but one could do without the beastly cold. Anyway, I am now in the "OMG Where do I start?" phase. As usual, I have to choose between the bottom garden and the top one, either section would be plenty to keep me busy. The plan is to make the top garden an extensive section, with wider spacing among plants, and have all the fiddly piddly stuff like salad greens at the level of the dwelling, gardened intensely. I am finally claiming the whole space inside the fence. The section between the old raspberry row and the asparagus bed has now been covered with cardboard, wonderful cardboard! Hay will be piled on top and then we will see.
And speaking of asparagus, they are coming up, yeah!
Also coming up: sorrel.
And so it goes. To be continued.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Garden 2015. And so it begins.. .

We are eating green onion tops. The leeks just had their first haircut. The first seeds of hardy greenery are emerging under the grow lights. 
I hereby declare this garden season officially opened.
Leeks are one plant I can put in the window sill. They get trimmed when they get floppy, and the container gets turned around to keep them growing straight. Leek babies don't mind being crowded but love having vertical space for their roots. This narrow planter fits on the shelf and has a good tray to catch drips. The shelf space next to the onions has to stay clear for the sake of the cat. She insists. OR ELSE!
We are having an exceptionally early spring, unless winter makes a comeback. As mentioned elsewhere, the land can be clear of snow any time from early March to mid April, with snowfalls in late April or early May not uncommon. It looks like we will have an early start to the season this year. Even if we get more snow, whatever is gone now will not have to melt later. I am itching to get the new roof over the greenhouse, but there is still too much snow in the way. 
Go snow go! I get frustrated imagining how warm it would be in there if the roof were on and what a pleasure it would be to mess around in thawed out dirt. However, the soil will be healthier for the exposure to frost and snow, the cover will last longer and it sure was nice to have no worries about the works collapsing. We had one epic snow fall that would have been impossible to keep up with.

The vernal pond is trying to become just that. 
The grow light setup has new tubes. This necessitated taking the heavy frame off its stand and putting it back on. At first I thought something was broken, but fortunately my handy electrician friend and barter partner Rick knew exactly how to twist them into place. Phew! Rick will also give me a hand when the time comes to reinstall the roof in return for body work. Old Dutch did it 4 years ago, all by himself, but that was then. It still took me the better part of a morning to get the tubes back onto their metal frame thingy. I had to do it three times. Never mind all the details, I am a bit learning disabled when it comes to practical things. It is done and that is all that counts. 
The first planting is just early greens, hardy stuff that can go into the greenhouse ASAP. In a few weeks I will need the lights for tomatoes. If the roof is not on then we will enjoy them as microgreens.

And so it begins.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Asparagus to Zucchini 2014

The good news: We finally had enough for a delicious dinner for two. The bad news: that is all we had, just one dinner and some raw treats for the gardener. Some of the plants looked as if there was some pest trouble. The emerging spears were thin in places. Voles? Beetles? Slugs? Otherwise most of the ferns are looking fabulous at the end of summer, in spite of scanty water. They have received a fresh weeding, a generous sprinkle of COF and more mulch and are now ready for the first snow. Next year, right?

As mentioned the greenhouse gave us a delicious early start of haricot vert type snap beans. Blue Lake pole beans did well but were hit by an early frost in September. Just one quick light frost but it did in the beans and squashes. We had weeks of growing season afterwards. I had been counting on the pole beans for more beans later in the season and for freezing. Never mind, we can live with them being a seasonal treat. We ate lots for 2 months. Next year do start a succession of bush bean plants for a second wave. And DO prestart beans. It works fine and really gives them a head start.

Voled, as mentioned in previous post.

Broad Beans.
We have the wrong climate for them. They will not set fruit if it gets too hot, like, over 70F, around 20C. They thrive in places with long slow springs, like the Netherlands, Great Britain or the Pacific North West. I have fond memories of them as a special Sunday treat in June or September, the same season as cauliflower. Everyone ate with the seasons in those frugal post-war years in the Netherlands. Brother Jaap and I loved shelling them and playing in the kitchen sink with boats made out of the fuzzy aromatic shells.
This year I stuck some seeds in between the cabbage plants that succeeded the garlic, in early August. They were meant more as a cover crop and to have something to show for my efforts in case the cabbages failed. To my surprise they grew and bloomed profusely, in between the thriving cabbages. But that was all, blossoms. The temps should have been perfect. I don't know what they want. Pollination? I planted one whole bed in broadbeans as a cover crop quite late, well into September. They grew insanely fast. The frost just killed them but there is lots of loverly plant matter to be incorporated into the soil next spring.  Must buy a few kilo seed next year.
Packman hybrid is a great variety that will be planted again. They did well and kept giving sideshoots for months after the main head was done. They yielded till hard frost
but the shoots were minuscule towards the end. Next year I must have another batch ready as a succession crop.
Brussels sprouts
The mystery of the year. I always devote one whole bed to them. They got everything I have to give.  The bed received a generous supply of rotted manure and compost as well as COF before planting, and several top dressings of COF during the season. The plants were well mulched and reasonably watered all summer. During the worst of the cabbage butterfly season they were protected by Remay. They grew great. Huge whole leaves, tall plants. Look at this. Promising or what?
This picture was taken in mid September. By now they had outgrown the protective covering but most of the cabbage loopers were gone. In August I had started removing bottom leaves, right after this picture was taken I removed the tops to encourage the formation of sprouts.  I expected a bumper crop. NOT. Here is the crazy thing. The top sprouts are gorgeous. 
 About a third way down the stem they start looking awful. The transition happens suddenly and across the entire row.
I would sure like to know what caused this.  Meanwhile we have been enjoying what we have, after a hard frost that mellowed them to beautiful sweetness.

I had beautiful starter plants for the first spring planting. The final potting up was in one liter yogurt containers. The roots were just right.
 Then the slugs hit as soon as they were planted out. Look at this poor victim.
A planting that was started in the greenhouse to succeed the garlic did amazing once they were in the ground. Must plan better, with smaller plantings but in succession. Once again Alcosa hybrid Savoy cabbage performed like a champ, as did early Wakefield pointy cabbage. With a household of two it makes no sense to grow giants.

I grew some beauties but not nearly enough to satisfy the almost daily juicing habit. The earliest plantings were ravaged by slugs. Only one 3x3 square out of 5 escaped their wrath. Below, extreme close up of carrots slugged in infancy. I used to think the seeds had not come up, but when you look really close you can see tiny stumps of green. I suspect Arion Ater, the big black slug, sometimes kills them just by slithering over. I started saving all my egg shells. They might not be enough to deter the big one but it is worth a try.

Because of the slugs I cannot use the square foot method of spacing, which makes thinning so much easier. I seeded again later but those batches suffered from not enough watering and thinning.

It is a Prima Donna, but I like it so much I will keep trying to grow it. The spring planted regular ones were first demolished by slugs and then by heat. Below: my one spoon cauliflower.

I planted lots and it did great! Usually I just buy a few plants but this year I started some as well. They all did well, except for one dumb thing. The market buddy who had sold me some starters asked me how I had liked the red variety. Oops! I had forgotten there was such a thing, and had ripped them out, thinking it was some disease. Here is the funny thing. Several other local gardeners also had great celery this year and weird Brussels sprouts. It is not always something we do.

Chard was its usual abundant self. Bless the hardy reliable stuff. Rainbow chard looks so beautiful in the garden, and it brings out the collector in me. I want one of each colour. But really, for eating I prefer the lighter green Lucullus. It is mild and tender and an excellent subsitute for spinach. Slugs like it better too but there is enough leafy green goodness for all of us.

However! In the fall we had some nice Romanescos, love those crazy fractal florets. I wonder if this plant is easier to grow, or if it was the timing? Will play with both.
I tried growing some fat white radishes and failed miserably. They were woody and bitter. I suspect the sudden excessive heat is too blame. I did not feel like repeating the experiment in fall. I don't really care much for them anyway.

In spite of all the good care about 30% of the harvest was lost to the dreaded rot. It appears to attack just before harvest, when the temperatures rise. You see a perfect bulb with the yucky mold covering it, sometimes only part of it. There is enough left and the clean bulbs last all year. My best friend has a garden that keeps being invaded by deer, so almost nothing grows except garlic. She does not have the rot. This year we planted most of her garden in garlic. I just planted one small bed at home. Meanwhile I grow more than enough of everything else for both of us. Cooperation with neighbours is a good thing. Fingers crossed!

Many green leafy things were grown and eaten, dried and frozen. I don't feel like going into detail. In recent years kale, that easiest to grow member of the cabbage family, seems to have acquired near cult status among the young wannabe homesteader crowd. This makes me laugh. I remain the Queen of Kale but as mentioned, this year I also fell in love with Lucullus, a mild variety of chard. 

Basil did very well. I have a confession to make. I don't really like pesto. Fresh basil in tomato salad I love, pesto not so much. One large planter on the deck is enough. Yes, I have planters on the deck. You'd think with 10 acres that would not be necessary, but I love having the fixings for a lunch salad or some herbs for dinner right next to the kitchen. Parsley did spendidly, cilantro went to seed like it always does, why do I even bother? And somehow I never did get around to starting dill. I have a serious borscht addiction and must have dill. The medicinal herbs were sadly neglected. I really need a bed of echinacea again, not to mention growing mushrooms on stumps. SO MUCH TO DO!

To my everlasting shame I ruined my own seedlings and had to buy them. I did not get as many as I would have liked. One batch that I grabbed when I was in a hurry and had low blood sugar to boot turned out to be red onion, which does not like my land. But the ones I did plant did fantastic. I know what I did wrong. Seed for this year is standing by and the planter was filled with mix in the fall. Coming soon to a window sill near you!
I had Norli snow peas in the greenhouse in June, a first.
This was just a teaser row of 3 feet. Tasty but just a few. The main crop did not do well because it got too hot. I only grow edible podded peas for fresh eating in season. They don't freeze that well. Regular peas are on the list of plants that do not have to be organic, and they are cheap frozen. 

The best peppers ever! I had only 8 plants in the greenhouse in the same small bed that housed the early greens followed by the snap beans and some leeks.
Why oh why did I not keep better records of what went into that bed? That two and a half by eight foot bed was by far the most productive section anywhere. I do remember it was in tomatoes last year and received generous amounts of compost and COF.

I have come to love those crisp bitter balls. They are incredibly resilient and will bounce back after being mercilessly slugged like the one shown below, as long as there is a growing tip left. They resist heat, drought and frost.
Also, they look cute in the garden while growing. 
Winter Squash
I wasn't going to bother, they are such space hogs. My friend gave me one plant, a mystery acorn variety, that did amazingly well considering how late it got planted. It went in after the garlic. Also, I love their glorious flowering sprawling exuberance. Squashes are almost a bonus. I still have seeds and may will get seduced for 2015.

Once again there was too much plant and not enough fruit. 
Two plants in a boxed bed in the greenhouse got a mystery fungus in the stem when they were just starting to fruit. They got ripped up and dumped. There was also a tipi in the greenhouse with about half a dozen plants of different varieties that did so-so.
In general it was a good year for them. I had planted more than I normally do and there was enough for fresh eating. But my neighbour with only 4 Roma plants was harvesting enough to can! Towards the end the late fruits were cracking. I can't control the rain but I suspect a need for more potash. Paste tomatoes did suprisingly well, especially Principe Borghese.

Covered in previous post. Lots of seed left from last year, including an untouched package of hybrid mix. I loved the suprises.