Saturday, May 29, 2010

Flowers, Wild and Tended

Here's a glimpse of the purple peonies that are doing so well at the edge of the woods. Two summers ago there was one healthy sized bush with about a dozen blooms. And now look. And this is after I took three clumps to move into my own patches of garden.

My transplants are looking ok, but don't look like they will bloom this year. Probably because I took some of the smaller sized plants figuring I could replant them more easily. My peony that is blooming well is the white one I put in two years ago:
I didn't know it was white though. I had forgotten. The first year it didn't do much. Last year it came up and I thought it was a surprise dahlia. (It never bloomed or I would have seen the difference!) Then this spring when it came up I realized it looked like the other peonies in the woods and finally correctly identified it. And now it's blooming so there is no question. Isn't that touch of pink in the center just lovely?

It just about disappears by the time the bloom opens up fully:
These are just the first two blooms to open. There are lots and lots more to come--it'll be great!

Troy bought me three more packs of peonies this week. I don't have them in the ground yet, but I did weed the garden by the garage this afternoon where I plan to put them. (Filled the wheelbarrow three times with weeds--that's what I get for leaving it so long.)

My widow's tears are doing well this year. They go by another name too, but I can't remember it. What is odd is that I bought purple blossomed plants, and have only ever noticed purple blossoms, but this year some white ones surprised me:
The other thing I've realized is that they close up when the sun's not on them, and in the spot they're in now, that happens at about 2:00. I might have to move them because without the open blooms, they look pretty weedy. (I have enough actual weeds; I don't need flowers that impersonate weeds.)

Troy has put in half of the irrigation system. He can now water the garden proper. The other half will water the grapes and orchard, whenever it gets put in. There wasn't enough water pressure to make the irrigation system work so Troy had to increase the pump's pressure. Good for me, I don't have to turn it back down before I shower--love it!

Troy is out tonight finishing the flashing on the east side of the shop because guess what! We are planning to finish the siding tomorrow. That would be great.

Really great.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gardening Tool

I have been gardening, on and off, since I was a kid.  All gardeners face a foundational decision every spring. Do I buy plants ready to put in the ground, or do I buy seeds, and grow my own tomato plants?  And cabbage, peppers, watermelons, canteloupe, and so on.  I have tried it both ways, both ways have advantages.  Buying started plants is somewhat safer, since someone else has managed to get the plants through the risky germination and 1st two weeks.  But it's also a lot more expensive.  "Starts" as they are called are often a buck each, while a packet with dozens and dozens of seeds may cost only a dollar or two.

The other problem, and the real deal breaker for me, is garden center plants really limit what kind of varieties you can grow.  Starts are bred to look good in their little six packs, and give some dependability under the auspices of gardeners with, ummm, highly variable amounts of experience.  This almost always means a hybrid.  Because it's a hybrid, you generally can't save your own seed and get the same tomato plant variety next year.  Taste may or may not be better than average.  In fact, it might be the same flavorless variety of tomato you get in january at the grocery store, just because they are tough to kill.

So, for a number of years, I have tried different systems of growing starts from seeds.  Peat pots, jiffy pellets (which is like a mini-peat pot), home made paper pots using newsprint, plastic pots (designed for house plants), multi-cell pots (recycled from when I bought starts at the nursery), earth cubes, multi compartment tray "systems" with a clear cover.  The whole gamut really.

They all had significant faults and drawbacks.  Peat pots are a terrific idea.  Make a pot out of a biodegradable and natural product that's almost dirt already.  Plant your seed in the pot and then plant the pot in your garden.  The delicate little roots won't even notice anything happened. Unfortunately, they don't work. Here's the hitch, they are all but impervious to root penetration.  So, while it is true that there will be no transplant shock, neither will you get a natural and robust root system.  And trying to get the plant out of a peat pot is an exercise in futility.

Some methods made it very difficult to get the root ball out without ripping off half of the dirt and the roots.  The commercial 4-packs and 6-packs contain so little soil, they often have to be watered twice a day because they have no reserve.

But my current system, which I have used for two years, has been the best of them all.  PVC pipe.  Every big-box building store in the country has racks and racks of cheap pvc pipe.  I had some left over from a plumbing escapade, so my net cost was really zero.  If you want to do this, go buy a chunk of 2" pipe to make as many "pots" as you want.  Cut into 3" lengths (more or less will work). Fill with my favorite starter mix, 1/2 peat moss and 1/2 vermiculite.  Peat moss is cheap and retains moisture well (once you get it soaked the first time) and vermiculite helps keep the mix light and fluffy for good root penetration.  Most garden centers sell vermiculite, in a small bag, expensively.  Don't buy it there.  Most building centers sell the same stuff, but as insulation.  A huge bag is 10-15 dollars and will last for years and years.  A common brand name is block fill.

This is a "no-soil" mix.  If you use actual dirt in there, your risk of having fungal problems like "damping off" are much higher.  Some gardeners go to the trouble of putting pans of soil in the oven and sterilizing it for an hour at 250F or some such business.   I've heard that it stinks too.  I can't be bothered, and plain soil has some other disadvantages as well, like being too dense to get good, fast and deep root penetration.

Growing the starts is straightforward.  Fill your pot.  Put your pipe/pots on something covered with plastic, because if you over water, the water runs right out the bottom. Some people like to water their starts from the bottom.  They put their pots in a waterproof tray or a rubbermaid container and just dump the water in and let the plants soak up the water from the bottom.  These work fine for that.   Plant your seed. Keep it warm and damp until the seeds come up.  75F-80F is perfect.  I have an insulated plywood box that I heat with a 40 watt incandescent light bulb to get things to germinate FAST.  Once they sprout, then they don't need extra heat, 60-70F is fine.  Give them plenty of light, either natural or artificial.

But the magic happens when the plant is ready to go in the ground.  Since the pot has no bottom, you can push the plant out using a round piston shaped thingee.  Any old scrap piece of wood can be made to work.  And because the PVC is so smooth on the inside, the plant pops right out with virtually no trauma to the root system.  This translates to virtually no transplant shock and ~100% success rate.  It's fast too, it takes longer to dig the hole than to pop the plant out and plant it in the hole.

Here's my pusher outer thing.  It's just a 2x2 with the edges shaved off a bit so it will fit in the pipe.  It's screwed to a piece of scrap plywood.  Then I screwed a little disk of plywood to the top that's ~1/8" smaller in diameter than the pvc pipe. You just put the plant and pot on top, and slide the pipe/pot down while the plant stays in place.  Slick!

I'm sure I didn't invent it.  Or if I did, I'm sure 100 other people did too.  The pvc will outlast you if you don't store it out in the sun all year.  They're dishwasher proof, so when I'm done I just run a load of them through the dishwasher to sterilize them and throw them in the box ready for next year.  They're dirt cheap, even if you have to go down and buy a piece of pipe at the lumberyard.  There's lots of scrap pvc pipe around if you're a good scrounger, and if you know a plumber or spot a construction site where they are roughing in the plumbing, you can probably score a lifetime supply for nothing.  Reduce/re-use/recycle.

Since the pvc it totally impervious to water, your root ball doesn't dry out too fast, but the bottom is open, so you would have to really work at it to over water them.  In regular pots, they put some holes in the bottom for drainage, but when the roots eventually sneak out those drain holes, it makes it very difficult to get your start out of the pot without tearing up the root ball.

Watch it again to see how fast and efficient this is:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lookie Here!

Well what is this?!! It just might be a completed north wall. All the north siding is up. The wall is done. Can I get a loud, "Woo hoo!"?

Not only that, we got a start on the east wall:
Not to repeat myself ad nauseum, but that would be the last wall. The east wall is the final wall. I just can't say that enough. We are on the last side.

We actually had to start the east side before finishing the north wall because we ran into some territorial wasps. I fared well on the ground, but Troy was in the danger zone up on the ladder. He sprayed wasp killer and then we had to clear out for a while. (We might not be wasps, but it's still pretty nasty stuff to breathe.) So we started the east wall before going back and finishing the last of the north wall.

I made Troy use the partial sheet we had leftover to finish the wall instead of cutting up a perfectly good piece. So now we have one extra; it'll be handy in case one gets wrecked, I guess. (I don't know, but it seems a shame to "waste" it.)

Then, since I hadn't quite fallen over in the heat and humidity I pushed Troy do a corner trim piece to prove to me that it really would only take about 10 minutes per corner.
Here you can make out the white trim on the south west corner. I'm not sure it adds much, actually, for looks but it's a lot better for water impermeability, which I guess is the key.

So, one more workday (hopefully in the coming long weekend) and I think we will be done with this. And then I can stop mounting siding, and you won't have to hear any more about it!! Think of that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

First Fruits

Any guesses as to what I'm having for dinner right now?

I gave Troy the very first strawberry earlier this week, but I didn't wait for him tonight.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Putting in the Garden and a Question for You

You can see Troy's new fruit and nut trees are leafing already (left). They seem to be doing well, by why wouldn't they with the mix of rain and nice weather we've been having?
The orchard's also doing well. Here you've got the apple trees marked with red; the peach trees marked with yellow; Tom's peach trees (in the back) with orange; and my crab apple and redbud trees marked with white. I put them in the year before Troy got all the fruit trees so he just worked around them.

Look what else is doing well:
Yes, we're getting strawberries! They're coming in nicely.

And this brings me to my question. Troy is getting tired of weeding the grass out of the strawberry bed, and I'm certainly not keen on it either. We didn't have any edging to keep it out and Troy thought about putting in a frame made of two-by-fours.

We've done this before and it works, but the wood needs a lot of structure to keep it straight. It has same problem of all edging that it either works its way too high or too low after a year or two.

So he thought of going lower tech: cardboard
What do you think? Is this Redneck (with a capital R), or smart ecological use of resources?

We figure: 1. Cardboard won't hurt the lawnmower. 2. It'll compost and actually improve the soil in time. 3. Any edging needs redoing after 2-3 years so it's not any more work (and might be less because of the ease of installation). 4. Cardboard is free and readily available.

You can tell we're leaning toward favouring the cardboard. But sometimes I worry that our "Redneck meter" isn't very reliable. So help us out and leave a comment if you think we need an intervention.

In other garden news, Troy had his seedlings hardening off on Sunday, getting them ready to put in the ground (probably on Tuesday):
This includes deCicco broccoli, Brunswick cabbage, Boston pickling cucumbers, ancho poblano hot peppers, Moskovich Russian tomatoes and desert king watermelon. (The irises are looking nice too, aren't they?)

He's also been planting seeds directly into the garden:
This includes Detroit dark red beets, cosmic purple carrots (I'm really excited about those), Reid's yellow dent corn, delicatesse blue kohlrabi (what the heck? blue?), and Oregon sugar pod peas. Sunday he was working on the last seeds: scarlet runner beans, Romano Italian flat pole beans, and aquadoulce fava beans.

If there's any room left, he'll plant some of the great northern white beans we've been eating lately to fill in the empty space as a green manure.

Troy has read that 30 per cent of American bee hives were "lost" again this past winter. This can only push food prices up, so by producing our own we hope to protect ourselves from the cost increase. Plus, removing our demand from the supply will help your prices stay lower. You can thank us later. ;-)

Here's a poll for the Redneck question in case leaving a comment is too much work:

Go ahead and's anonymous!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

How to Distract Yourself from Missing Football

Yes, I'm really missing my Sundays spent watching football. I miss the football. I miss the 1:00 game. I miss the 4:00 game. And I really miss the 8:00 Sunday Night Football game. (I even miss Madden even though he's not calling the games any more--my memory hasn't latched onto that yet.)

But Troy helps me work through it by distracting me and keeping me busy with siding. Yes, we were at it again.

Having gotten past the window last week, it was a straight run for the northeast corner. I estimated we had 12 sheets to go so we set a goal of doing at least six today. That way we'd be half way (obviously) and could be pretty sure of being able to finish next time.

The only thing slowing us down was working around the hill from the cistern. I don't know if you can see it very well in this picture but there is a ring of rocks that come within 12 to 14 inches of the shop:
(The orange line approximates the lower edge of the cistern; the yellow line, the top.) If you can believe it, Troy and Isaac completely cleared off the cistern two summers ago. The sumacs have come back like gangbusters; some of the trees are as thick as Troy's arm already!

While impeded upon by the cistern, we had to work with a smaller ladder and that meant I couldn't work under Troy. But we figured it out and progress continued...and continued...

and we got eight done!! (If you don't think that's worth bold type and two exclamation points, then you don't have enough vested in getting this stop done!) And we got them done very quickly; we were done by five. I believe we would have gotten even more up but we ran out of flashing:
Troy says that is now at the top of his list. (But the first thing he did when we were done was run out to the garden, so I think there's a lot of room at the "top" of his list.)

And what does the north wall look like now? We have made enough progress I can finally take a picture from the east side:
That looks so good, let's see another shot:
Unless we run into big trouble, two more work days just might do it for the siding! Now that will be worth bold, exclamation points and italics! (And might even be more rewarding than watching a Manning-Clark touchdown.)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Siding on a Sunny Sunday

The weather conspired to be sunny and calm on a day when Troy and I were both home, and boy, did we take advantage!

The north wall already had five pieces on it. We quickly slammed up four more and that took us to the window--the only "obstacle" on this wall.

Troy hadn't put on the J-trim so we worked on that:
The last window had some issues (something like the two side pieces being an inch different in length, as I vaguely recall) so we measured twice and got through this one without any hangups.
All trimmed out

I was relieved that the siding worked out as we anticipated (we had to make a decision about using full pieces, or starting with the half piece left over from the south side) so that a seam fell across the middle of the window. We just had to cut a rectangle out of two pieces of siding and slide them into place. So we measured, cut, and scooted the first piece in from the right:
Then measured and scooted the left side in from the other direction. Troy had to show off his strength and muscle to get it in position as the interlocking ridges couldn't easily slide over each other while constrained by the J-trim. Anyway, if you don't get the details, suffice it to say he proved himself a man and got it into place. (Yeah, Troy!)
Not willing to stop at the window we put up one more sheet. We made sure to check if we were level so that things would be ready to go next time, and we were right on. Gotta love that.
Here's a nice angle making it look like we're almost done. Not quite, but with 12 sheets up, we are past half the distance of this wall (36 of 70 feet), and certainly past half the work since the window is done.

Yeah, us!

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