Saturday, May 10, 2014

May Update

We had a couple nice sunny days earlier this week, so I wandered out to the garden to see what was happening out there.  

I poked under the mulch in the main potato bed to see if they were sprouting yet, and I found this:

That would be a big fat slug.
It kept itself shrunk up like that, so I don't know how long it was when moving, but I'd guess 4-5 inches.
We've got some of these big guys, and some little tiny grey ones, and probably every size in between.  I broke down and sent the husband to buy some Sluggo a couple weeks ago as they were defoliating the newly planted strawberries about as soon as the new leaves popped out.  They also ate all my lettuce seedlings I had started.and had set under a makeshift coldframe (an old glass shower door).  I replanted but this time I kept them on the deck.  The slugs will come onto the deck as well, but I'm keeping them closer to the door, which is probably across more lumber than they'll traverse.
This is the potato bed.  The left side is planted with proper seed potatoes.  This year I got Purple Majesty, Yukon Gold, Red Norland and a few Yellow Finn which were recommended by the lady at the feed store where I bought them.  The right side are some from the pantry. 

Last year, I tried the lazy potato garden method as I was generally unprepared to plant them but I felt like my window of opportunity was coming to a close.   I used the spading fork to poke through the grass/moss mix, tossed what compost and bit of soil we had left, and planted the spuds.  I mulched with straw primarily.  While we did get some decent potatoes, the harvest was not stellar in terms of yield.  It seemed that the best clusters of potatoes were all in a soil or compost heavy spot.  

This year, I'm going with a more traditional type of planting to see if I can get a better yield.  We moved the bed to a spot that had just had cardboard and chip mulch put down last year.  It killed the grass enough that it was pretty easy to dig down a few inches after I pulled the mulch back.  I dug out the soil and put it in the strip in the middle (which I also added some of the purchased soil).  I figure the strip will hold the soil for hilling, and will serve as a path down the middle for harvest.  I put down some organic fertilizer (I purchased BLOOM All-vegetable mix ( and covered the seed with soil.  I did toss some straw in there, mostly because I needed to put it somewhere.  I will hill the plants with soil, though I may fill in between with mulch.  

You may notice the bare ground by the potato bed.  That's the remnant of where we unloaded the purchased soil.  I tried not to disturb it more than I had to, as just a couple weeks before, we discovered these:

 This is part of the Morel harvest that popped up in the garden in April.  As we're not mushroom foragers, we did have a friend come and give them a positive ID before the husband consumed them (I'm not a big mushroom eater).  You can see in this photo, the slugs like Morels too, as they ate some of the tops and thinned out the sides.  We figure the spores came in with the mulch, and we're hoping we helped distribute enough of the spores that they'll come back again.  He had never tried them before, but quickly became a fan.  I do wish I had weighed them, but I think we harvested a couple dozen.

 It's not a great photo, but here's an initial overview of the garden this year.  The beds in the foreground were added this winter.  They're the strawberry and asparagus beds.  I still need to haul some more mulch for the far end, but it's getting there.

Aside from that, I don't really have a lot going on quite yet.  We've had some nice weather, but it's still been a little cold to add the warmer season plants.  I have fall-planted garlic, Egyptian walking onions,  new berries (strawberries, raspberries & blackberries) and asparagus, rhubarb and sunchokes (Jerusalem artichoke), and some salad crops & broccoli started.

These are the walking onions and elephant garlic.  The photo on the left was taken in March, the one on the right was this week.  The fence was to keep the young cat out of the onions.  He caught a vole and was having quite a lot of fun tossing the dead rodent around in the onions.  Then for the next couple days, he'd come plowing through the onions like it was his own private jungle.  As they were just starting to look better after the terrible fall cutworm (I think) attack, we though a barrier was in order.    

 I have made 4 sowings of radishes now.  I've harvested and replanted most of the first batch in the foreground.  I'm using the side-lite from my neighbor's old front door as a makeshift coldframe.  It won't last too long before it rots I'm sure, but it worked well enough to get things growing in March. There are 3 sowings of peas in the background.  Sugar Snaps, Super Sugar Snaps, and Green Arrow bush peas.  I goofed and planted the first batch of snaps in the wrong spot, so I'll have the bush peas in between two tall patches.  I would probably only have one variety of snaps, but I forgot I had bought seeds and bought some more, so I figured I'd try them both and see if I have a preference.

We're also trying out some other cold frames.  The neighbor gave us these windows as well, as they were some he had saved from the trash on a job.  We sort of put them together quickly, and  while we thought we were smart angling them toward the prevailing sunshine direction, we didn't take into account that they're terribly heavy (they're metal frames) and if we hinge them, well have to lift the weight of the length rather than the width.  It's not frost weather here, so really I'm using them for a heat boost to get a head start rather than to keep anything from freezing, so I've been leaving them offset so they don't overheat.  I can't lift them well by myself, so it seems the safest option for now.  The Savannah Mustard and the spinach seem happy under there.

 Finally, we have the rest of the berry patch planted.  I had some credit certificates from Gurneys, so that's where I got the berries.  I ordered two kinds of thornless Blackberries (Triple Crown and Ouachita), Canby thornless raspberries (x3), Anne (yellow) raspberry and Jewel- which I'm actually unclear if it's a black raspberry or a purple.  The Triple Crown (below) is the fastest grower so far.  The others are just starting to show signs of life.  The Jewel came later than the others, and arrived with some sprouts showing.  They should be greened up and heading the right direction soon. 

So, that's pretty much what's going on out there right now.  I've got some little tomato & peppers started in the house, and some more seedlings on the deck that should be headed out before too long.  Hopefully I'll have the whole thing looking a little more photogenic soon!  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Goodbye Granny

I logged in to write a much overdue post, when I read the news that Carol, aka Annie's Granny, has passed away.  She was a great influence to other gardeners and bloggers, and a kind, caring and helpful online friend.  She will be greatly missed

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Plans

Just for fun, here's a little comparison of my proposed garden layout last year, and the aerial photo from Google Earth taken May 2013.

You can see at the lower right side of the garden, where we added part of another bed.  I picked up some asparagus on clearance at Lowe's.  It was not a well thought out purchase, and not all of it survived.  We'll see if it does anything this spring.  That area in general is undergoing some changes this year.

I am once again, doing a little expansion of the garden.  Last year, I found that 2 of the beds were a bit shadier than I had realized (the 2 beds on the lower left - those evergreens are very tall and throw a major shadow), and the winter squash I planted there did almost nothing, unlike the volunteer squash that came up in that asparagus bed at the other end of the garden.  Since I'm a somewhat lazy garden-builder though, I'm going to try letting the squashes sprawl, planted in compost-rich hills on the sunnier side of the garden, and reserve the bed space for less rampant crops.

I also have taken the 2 round beds just to the left of the path and combined them with the bed to the left to make one large bed.  I gained several square feet of growing space using the same number of blocks (or very close to it).  I'm joining the 3x6 beds just "north" of those into one long bed as well, though I have not completed the task.

This is the proposed garden layout with the changes.  The areas that are not beds, I'm just laying out cardboard and will cover it with the mulch I got from Asplundh last year.  I'll spot-dig and add compost where I'm actually going to plant. 

I moved the rhubarb into a hopefully sunnier spot, just a little "south" of where it was.  I also picked up another rhubarb, a few Mary Washington Asparagus, and Jerusalem Artichokes at a swap last fall.  I also should soon receive my order of asparagus (to fill in the other half of that bed), strawberries, and thornless raspberries, thornless blackberries and yellow raspberries which I'll plant in the space on the left.  I do need to figure out soon what I'm doing with potatoes this year (other than planting them for sure!!) and I still need to figure out a few more details, but it's a work in progress. 

I don't have sprouts quite yet, but I did pre-soak some peas and planted 2 varieties, I have started some salad greens in containers, planted some radishes, and some very sprouted potatoes I had in the pantry.  I'm also painting and reorganizing the laundry room this week, so I'd better get over this cold (or allergy) that's putting a damper on my productivity, since I got the ship notice email that my berries will be arriving soon!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

August Totals & Notes for Next Summer

I am doing a terrible job with blogging this summer, for which I do apologize.  We have hopefully finished remodeling work for a while, and we have just one more family visit coming up, and perhaps I will be better for the winter garden plans.

Here is one photo, taken in July. The squash plants grew so much bigger here than they did in Colorado!  Pole beans and peas were much taller too.  The winter squash didn't do as well, but that may be a location problem (that bed may be somewhat shaded).

In the meantime, I wanted to make note of some (rounded) totals, and things I want to remember for next year, so these are notes for myself, but you're more than welcome to read them.  :-)

June 2013:
  • Lettuce     approx .75#

July 2013:  
  • Lettuce/Greens:     2#
  • Snap peas:         2.75#
  • Alaska peas:          1#
  • Potatoes (new)   .75#
  • Broccoli:             .25#
  • Elephant Garlic:   .75#
  • Softneck Garlic:   .75#
  • Pattypan Squash:  2.75#
  • Zucchini:                4#
  • Crookneck squash:  .5#
  • Cucumbers:           2#
  • Yellow Beans:     1.75#
  • Green Beans:      1.75#
  • Rattlesnake Beans:  1#
  • Egyptian Walking Onion:  .25#
August 2013:
  • Cucumbers:   13#
  • Pole Beans, Green:  2#
  • Rattlesnake Beans:   8#
  • Bush Green:  1.75#
  • Bush Yellow:  3#
  • Pattypan Squash:  16.25#
  • Zucchini:         37.5#
  • Crookneck Squash:  5.5#
  • Carrots:  6.25#
  • Broccoli:  .5#
  • Cauliflower: .25#
  • Kale:  1/4#
  • Potatoes:  14.25#
  • Tomatoes:  1.25#
  • Pinto Beans 1/8#
  • Corn: 2 ears

Notes for next year:

Plant more pole beans -more Rattlesnake beans.  This year I had about 18sf of green bush beans and about the same in yellow bush beans.  I had 3 towers of pole beans- 2 Rattlesnake, the other a mix of Blue Lake (I think) and Zi- probably 15 sf of bed space.  The bush beans are not nearly as productive, and the flavor of the yellows was lacking.  The Rattlesnake beans produced heavily for a time then stopped quickly.  Next year, stagger plantings to extend harvest.  Pole bean supports need to be very tall and very strong.

Plant more snap peas, and stagger planting.  Trellis needs to be at least 6' tall and sturdy. 

Reduce summer squash, or at least stagger plantings as powdery mildew is killing them quickly, and all at once.

Plan a better potato space, and hill with soil, not mulch.  The pockets of potatoes seemed to be where there was soil (I planted a quick bed- a little compost & soil on the grass, mulched with straw as I overbought seed potato and didn't leave enough space to plant them in the beds).  Slugs seem to love straw.

Plant more garlic, and more onions (not just walla walla- storage onions too).

West end beds get a little less sunshine.  Not enough for winter squash or melons.
Peppers and some other heat lovers may benefit from row covers next year to boost heat.
Carrots around bed edges worked well but make sure bed is dug deep enough for them to grow.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Building the Garden (a catch-up post)

I thought I'd take a minute to backtrack to building the garden beds.  This first pic shows the plan I started with, superimposed on an aerial view of the back yard.  Of course, like many plans, it's not how it actually ended up, but I think the changes were for the better.

This is the "before" shot, looking east-ish.

For the beds against the fence, we went with a 2x12 (untreated) back.  I didn't want to use the blocks against the fence for a couple reasons; first I wasn't sure how many I would actually need to build the planned beds (we had about 400 that we got free from around the building next door to my husband's work that was being demolished, though it took us about 4 trips to get them, so there was some fuel expense) and second, I thought it was an invitation to a weeding nightmare.  The lumber was in the culled pile at Lowe's which cost around $30 for the 2 bundles we bought.  It was enough for this backing and to build the big potato bed that was a spur of the moment addition.  It also gives a little height and space between the veggies and my boy dog. 
Because I was trying to build the garden and remodel the kitchen pretty much at the same time, we might not have done things in quite an ideal fashion.  I had tried to gather organic materials during the fall and winter but all I really had acquired were some OPBL (Other People's Bagged Leaves) and the compost we moved from the rental house.  I feel I should explain that we brought the compost as a simpler way to clean up the yard of the rental on our way out (we just moved a few minutes away) and I figured I would use it anyway.  It's really not that I was so attached to my compost I had to take it with me.  This winter we did get some horse manure and layered it with some of the leaves hoping to get it to "cook" some, but it was not a very hot pile- just warm at about 75 degrees when I checked it.

When I unpacked boxes from the move, I tried to sort them by condition.  Those that were still in decent shape that someone could use again to move, I put on Freecycle.  Those that had lost their integrity became the base layer for the first half of the garden.  The second cardboard half (pictured) would be the zillion boxes our new Ikea kitchen came packaged in.  If you do this, be sure to peel the tape or you'll be digging it up sometime in the future.

I picked up a piece of plastic (or maybe fiberglass?) edging at the Restore which I taped into the center size (I had made one sample ring out by the block pile) which helped me keep my circles round.  It's not a foolproof pattern by any means, but I found it helpful.

This spring, a man found my Freecycle request for hay or straw and gave me 4 very wet bales of straw he had used for archery practice (before they were wet and rotting).  I was happy to have them.  The first couple of beds I filled, all I had was the straw and horse manure/leaves mix.

I answered a Craigslist ad for rabbit manure, which had the potential to be some really nice stuff.  Unfortunately, what I found was a very wet (it rains all winter here) anaerobic pile.  I took some anyway, and used it in a couple of beds.  I did try to unclump it and mix some straw in with it to make it an aerobic mix instead.  The smell diminished in a day or so.  We ended up getting a yard of triple mix (topsoil, sand, compost) for about $22.  Most of the beds are filled with manure "compost" , a layer of half rotten straw, and topped with triple mix.

I have since acquired a large amount of hay (probably 35 bales worth, though some bales were partial or loose- free from another reply to my re-posted request on Freecycle, but about a 40 minute drive each way, so again, some fuel expense) as well as a bunch of alpaca manure.  The alpaca poo and hay mix have been a good, hot pile.  I will have to consider whether or not to get more, though out of respect for the neighbors, I don't think I should do it during any season they might have their windows open, as it was pretty "fragrant", I suspect because the alpaca people bagged the manure in plastic bags, which then sat in a pile until they posted on Craigslist (free).  It made for pretty easy loading into the truck, but a bit unpleasant to "unpackage". 

I apologize for the switching between "we" and "I" when I write about the garden.  The garden is my doing, but the husband has been very helpful in building this one.  Thankfully, he was on-board with this one from the beginning (not so with the last one), and he's helped me by hauling blocks, hauling dirt, hauling mulch, hauling hay, etc.  This is the biggest garden we've ever built, and while I am again doing it on the cheap, it is quite labor intensive.

These poor little potatoes spent the winter sprouted in a paper bag in a cold room in the house.  I got them out as soon as I could, but they've been out there since the end of March and only one sprout has emerged.  They were probably too far gone, or the slugs are eating the growing tips, but they still look about like this under the mulch.

I also did some wintersowing (or early spring -sowing) so I'd have something to put out when we got the beds put together.
And just for the record, this is NOT good labeling.  First the Sharpie faded (which I did renew while I still could read them) but now the tape is falling off.  Right now, on the deck, I have a plant I do not know if it's a zucchini or a buttercup squash. 
So, there's the rundown. 
There are a couple things I probably should have done but did not.  I meant to use the spading fork to poke holes down through the ground before I put down cardboard, to help the roots go down into the native soil when they get there and to help the whole thing mix together in time.  I totally forgot this step.  My mother also mentioned something to me last week that I never even thought of.  As an adult, I have lived mostly in the west that has alkaline soil.  Now I live in the PNW with acidic soil.  I'm not sure if I should have put down some lime under there as well.  Too late now, so I'm hoping the composted stuff helps keep things neutral in there.  I guess we'll find out.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I see trouble ahead...

See those indents in the soil?  Those would be hoof-prints.

The neighbor has told me in the past the deer would walk through here, between the houses and through the back lot, then across the street to the golf course.  I know the dogs have been barking like crazy every night when I let them out, but I've been chalking that up to the raccoons in the trees along the fence line.  I've actually never seen a deer in this neighborhood (though I've been told they come through, both at this house and the rental, which was just a few minutes away from here).  I'm afraid this adds a whole new level of challenge and one I have not had to deal with so far.  I'm not looking forward to it... 

Monday, May 6, 2013


What a beautiful day today!  It was 84 degrees today, a very warm day in May (average is mid-60's)!

Last night, I stopped by Lowe's to pick up a couple packets of seeds I recently realized I need, and they had asparagus marked down 1/2 price.  The husband has been whining a bit because I didn't get the asparagus ordered, first because the beds weren't built, and then I figured it had gotten to be too late to get any.  I came home and told him if he was willing to help me build another bed, we could go get some.  I do hope they'll come up okay, they were definitely not enjoying life in the packages anymore.  I opened them right away and soaked them overnight in some water with a little splash of liquid kelp.  I figured by the time I planted them, I'd be able to tell if they looked like they just were too far gone.  Other than the one I seem to be missing- and I thought I counted all 15 of them last night, so I'm guessing it's just wound in with another root- the roots did seem okay today.  I guess we'll see soon enough.

I was so hot and tired after working outside all afternoon (I am definitely NOT used to warm weather!) I forgot to snap a new photo, so the details will have to wait.

I did finally get out to take some photos of the new garden:

This is the view from the east:
You can see how the little garlic rings we put together in the fall, really don't fit in well with what we ended up building (oops!). After the garlic is done, I'm going to take them out.  We added the asparagus bed in the grassy area in front of the larger rings on the left and will add another bed or two as well, for next year.  I hope to leave the rhubarb where it is (the small ring on the far right, on the side of the chain link fence.  That poor plant has had a rough couple of years, as I dug it from my rhubarb in Colorado and stuck it in a pot, with what turned out to be awful soil, and it spent some time on an apartment balcony, then the too shaded front yard of the rental, then to a sunny deck but with no attention due to moving and remodeling.  That it is still alive shows it is a hardy plant.  We stuck it in the ground last fall and though the stalks are small, it has put up many leaves.  I don't want to disturb it again.

Here's the view from the other end:
The arch is a cattle panel trellis.  When we rented last year, the back yard was not completely fenced- the last 15' of each side was open because I think it is technically a green belt that didn't belong to the landlord.  The way things were when we moved in, nobody could really access the space anyway as it was very overgrown next door, so we bought two 16' panels and a couple t-posts and made a temporary fence, but one that was sturdy enough to safely contain our labs, and one that I already knew how to re-purpose.  I don't think I'll use the second one this year, but it is an option if I need it.  I'm planning melons in the right side bed (where if you look closely, you can see the kitten, Fred) and winter squash in the left bed. 

This is the long bed toward the east side.  It has a mish-mash of transplants, probably too closely planted, and because these were in wintersown jugs, I had to get them off the deck before I had all my materials for bed-filling, so we'll see how they do. They're pretty much planted in composted horse manure and old, partially rotted straw.

 Anyway, that's all for now.  I'll be back again- hopefully with more regularity than I have been.  It's been hard to get back into the blogging swing.  During the past couple of summers with no garden, I had to stay away from Gardenweb and the blogs, as they just bummed me out.  I am glad to be back, and I'm really looking forward to catching up with everyone's gardens, and keeping this blog up to date.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Change in plans

I drew up a plan for the new garden quite a while ago.  I really liked the idea of the little joined rings, right up until I started to build the beds. 

My first problem was an error in measurement somewhere.  When I started to build the two beds in the middle row, to the right of the pathway, I quickly realized there was not room to build them as I had laid out.  I wanted the paths to be 30" between beds as that is a comfortable path for using my garden cart.  I was going to end up with the two beds very close to each other, so I decided at the last minute to just make one larger bed.

Next, I was preparing to build the rings, and when I calculated the extra blocks I would use and the reduced planting space of the design, I decided to change them.  I swapped the smaller triple rings on the left for two more 3'x6' rectangular beds and the small triple ring on the right for a larger double ring.  I may still add the third, smaller ring to what I ended up building as medium double rings, but that's going to have to come later.

This is what I actually ended up building (with some excellent help from the hubby last weekend) though the strawberry bed isn't built yet.  I will probably end up changing the two small rings to the far right (the bottom ones, the top one is at the corner of the fence and has rhubarb growing, I'll probably leave it alone).  After a  quick look at the pile of landscaping blocks after building all the beds shown (except the strawberry one) I have 100-120 blocks left.  I suspect I will add some more beds to the right side next year, but I'll figure it out after I get stuff planted and see how they do.  So far I've got about 250 square feet of bed space, I think almost twice what I had before (though I'm being lazy and not actually looking up how big the other garden was, I think it was about 130 sf) but I want to try giving the plants more space to grow than I did before.  We'll see how well I do with that once I've got it planted :-).