Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Playin' in the dirt

The weather was beautiful today (high 60's) so I thought I'd get outside and see what I could get done. First, I turned the horse manure compost pile. The pile was smelling a bit like stagnant water when I dug into it yesterday so I figured it was time for some air. I skipped the plastic on the bottom this time as the plastic was a pain when I was turning the pile and the worst odor in the pile was the wet hay at the bottom, on top of the plastic. I think it's probably done enough to use when I am ready for it . There's still a fair amount of the paper bedding visible, but I think it's no different than the paper in a lasagna bed, so I'm not going to worry about it. I do kind of wish I had gotten the compost thermometer when I started the pile so I knew for sure what temperature it reached, but too late for that now. Oh well.

Next I started digging the holes for transplanting the lilacs that we'll be moving soon. There are 3 lilacs along the fence by the vegetable garden that I'm moving so I can add 3 more beds. This is how far I got...

I will admit, I was a bit tired from turning that pile but geez this ground is hard. The one farthest back got a good start but check out the one in the middle! It's about 2-3 inches deep! I just didn't have the strength to attack it with the San Angelo bar today. I'll try again tomorrow.

Here's a close-up of the nearest hole in the picture. The whitish colored area is where the shovel scraped against that layer that is about as hard as concrete. I dumped a couple gallons of water in each hole and called it good for the day. I'll see if the water softens it enough to dig out, otherwise I'll have to break out the bar. I suppose I'm due for a good upper arm workout anyway...

Yesterday's project ended with a bit more success than today's. I prepped a couple of additional spots for spring planting. One of these rings is for rhubarb and the other for zucchini. I'm going to make probably 2 more of these later.

I started with 10' pieces of metal landscape edging (I picked up a stack of it free a while back). My husband riveted them into circles for me. Since I put them on a slightly sloped area, I did have to dig around the edges a bit to level them somewhat though I didn't get terribly particular about it. Thankfully, this area was not near as hard as the spot I was digging today. I put the plastic trim on the top edge and hauled over some rocks to dress it up a bit. The rocks are from a large pile we picked up free last summer (Craigslist again). They look a bit like fire rings don't they??

This is what they're being filled with. Newspaper, spoiled hay, coffee grounds, some of the manure compost from the big pile and about 1/2 bucket of mostly finished compost from my regular bin (not pictured).

(Granny, that's my dumping garden cart that gets LOTS of use! It's how I move nearly everything out here!)

Campfire anyone?? Ok, this is the first layer, newspaper. The wind wasn't blowing a thousand miles per hour at that point, so I didn't have to wet it down first.

Next a couple inches of manure compost, then a layer of hay, which I attempted to wet down in the tote but I didn't let it sit long enough to absorb much apparently. Next a silver bag of coffee, a little compost, the other half cart of manure, the rest of the hay, and a plastic bag of coffee. I poked at it a bit with the cultivator so the coffee fell down into the hay so the coffee layer wasn't quite so thick, dumped the rest of the "hay" water on top and finished it off with a tote full of leaves.

After I filled the second one, I laid a piece of old fencing over the top weighted down with a piece of lumber so all the leaves don't blow away. Now we just have to wait for planting time!

Friday, February 20, 2009

What's that plant again??

I put out all those containers of seeds to hopefully sprout this spring and give me something to put in my new garden. They're all labelled so I'll know what they're called. I was concerned though about remembering what was what. Most of my seeds were sent to me from very kind people from the Rocky Mountain Gardening Forum on Gardenweb and are new plants I have never grown before.

Here's what I have out there: (I have one more crate full of 2 liter bottles not in the picture)

Agastache foeniculum
Agastache rupestris 'Apache Sunset'
Asclepias tuberose 'Gay Butterflies
Aquilegia chrysantha
Belamcanda chenisis
Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
Dianthus knappii
Echinacea purpurea
Gaillardia 'Burgundy'
Gaillardia 'Goblin'
Lavandula angustifolia
Linium perenne
Marigold, French Dwarf
Penstemon pinifolius
Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'
Rudbeckia hirta 'Rustic Colors'
Scabiosa ochroleuca 'Moon Dance'
Shasta Daisy 'Alaska'

I also have some seeds we collected this fall from mixed Daylilies near my husband's work, Liatris, Goldenrod, Mountain Mahogany, Clematis and Sage from the yard, and some Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Seafoam Sage and Russian Sage from my neighbor's yard.

Most of these plants are new to me so I needed a way to keep track of what they look like and how they grow. Using photos of the flowers, information sent to me with the seeds and filling in with information from the web, I created a book of plant files. Here's a little sample of what I did. Each flower has it's own page.

I included on my pages the scientific name (the pronunciation key is good- I may actually learn these plant names properly...), how large it grows, bloom color and time, light requirements, sowing information and any other tidbits I thought could be useful.

When I was done, I thought of one more thing I missed. Since I am trying to plant a waterwise garden, I went back and wrote on the pages what the x-rating for each one is. The x-rating is a guide to xeriscape plants. More X's, less water needed. A pretty handy list if you ask me.
I have a few that I don't have marked, but most on my list are either XX or XXX rated so I should have a less thirsty garden, a huge plus in this dry land!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Very Cool Seeds - Cercocarpus

I wanted to post a few pictures what I think are some pretty cool seeds.

These are seeds from Cercocarpus or Mountain Mahogany. We have several small bushes lining the south fence in the back yard and one of them produced seeds this year. This fall I was trying to find information about planting the seeds and I read that the curly-cue tail helps the seeds travel in the wind. When they land, the tip goes to the ground and the tail uses changing moisture in the air to twist the seed down into the ground.
I decided to try to winter sowing the seeds. I hope to plant them along the east fence, though they may take years and years of slow growth to look like much. I sowed them in the 1 quart containers that our orange juice comes in. I had purchased a bag of soil from W-World (you know the one...) hoping to find a cheaper solution to the really expensive bag I purchased at a nursery. I gave it a shot because it was a product of Colorado, and I was holding out hope that it would be good. I don't think I'll be purchasing more... I had containers that were wet like the mud pies I made when I was little. I decided to use it for some of the seeds I had collected from what few things grow in my yard. I had collected the Mountain Mahogany as well as a lot of Liatris and Goldenrod. I have enough to try again if these don't work. I didn't want to risk the seeds that are of a more limited supply.

I planted 6 seeds in each container (I think) 13 containers total.

I didn't worry about labeling these because these are the only plants that are in OJ bottles.

I went to check on the containers after they had been out for a little while. I found that all the tails were straightening out with the humidity. This photo was taken after 2 days of being outside. I was quite surprised at the difference.

When I was looking for information about these plants I found quite a bit of information about the bushes in the wild but not much about how to grow them at home from seed. I found one person on GardenWeb in another state who had grown them from seed in the past. I'm fairly sure these are Alderleaf Mountain Mahogany since the plants are not evergreen like the Curl-leaf and I don't think the leaves looked like the Littleleaf variety. I do know that these are some very tough bushes. They survive on very little water. I gave them a small drink once last summer and they got a very thorough soaking (close to drowning) twice in August after a the 2 heavy rains we had (all summer). They are planted at the bottom of a sloped area and in addition to the rainwater they also caught a lot of the water that came from the sump pump in the basement. I moved one of the bushes toward the end of summer because it was growing up into the fence. I watered it a couple times after moving it and then I forgot about it for a bit. When I went out to check on it, it looked quite dead, but the little guy surprised me and put on some new leaves in the fall! I can't wait to see if my cool little seeds will grow!!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Winter Sowing

What is Winter Sowing?
"Winter Sowing is an easy germination method that starts many seedlings for just pennies. During Winter seeds are sown into mini-greenhouses that you make yourself from recyclables. After sowing, the mini-greenhouse is placed outside to wait for the end of Winter. The seeds will begin to germinate at their own right time when weather warms. "
(from http://www.wintersown.org/).

After reading about winter sowing and the success that others have had with this method, I decided to give it a try. I am planning to convert a pretty sizeable area of my front lawn into a flower garden. Some of the nice folks from the Rocky Mountain Gardening forum (http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/rmgard/) were kind enough to share some seeds with me (yay!) and I picked up a few other packets on clearance this fall so I have something to start with.
The containers used most often for winter sowing seem to be milk jugs and 2-liter soda bottles. We get our milk in re-useable containers and don't often have soda in 2-liter bottles, so I had to do a little scrounging. I picked up a few milk jugs at Starbucks when I went in for coffee grounds but I got the bulk of my containers through Freecycle. I had to do a little picking & choosing (and some washing) and my recycle bin got a little extra material, but I got enough containers to start.

First I moistened the soil with warm water in a bucket and let it sit while I cut the containers. I started the cut with a small exacto knife and then used scissors. I cut 3/4 around the jug and left a hinged area. We get such strong winds I didn't dare completely cut the tops off my containers. I also used the exacto knife to poke about 5 drainage holes in the bottom.

To avoid confusion later, I labelled the containers before sowing seeds. It's too easy to get distracted and since I am working with plants that are new to me, I probably wouldn't recognize most of the seedlings. I read a lot of comments about sun fading the ink so I wrote on the jugs and for safety, outside and inside my folded (metal) mini-blind labels which I tucked into the front of the jug.

Next I scattered the seeds on top of the soil. I covered some of them, but left most of them on top of the soil. Others reported the seeds heaving up to the top on their own so I decided just to let them start there. I hope that doesn't turn out to be a mistake. I did lightly tamp most of them to be sure there was seed-soil contact. Then I put a piece of duct tape on the front to hold the lid closed.

When sown, I put the containers into some well-used storage crates we had in the basement (hey, these were a bookshelf once upon a time- many moons ago-) I put all the containers into something else because of the wind.

Then the little guys go out to the container corral (yep, more straw bales!) I actually added one more crate full of 2-liter bottles after I took the photos. I'm also trying some seeds in strawberry containers and chicken containers. I put the strawberry containers in the boxes because I read that some of them are made from plastics that don't hold up well to the elements.

I put the containers in the corral for a couple reasons. We get some very cold temperatures and some very warm temperatures, often in the same week and the change usually comes with a lot of wind. We also have very intense sunshine here. This corner has slightly filtered light from the neighbor's tree. The straw is to provide a bit of shelter from the wind and sun. I hope this will moderate the temperatures some so the little guys don't get fooled into popping up too early. Although they were watered before going out (I put them out Jan. 8 & 15) I did notice they dried pretty quickly. I'm sure this is due to the VERY dry windy climate. I moistened them with the mister setting on the hose sprayer one warm day and will check them during our next warm spell. Watering will be much more crucial as spring approaches but for now they should be ok.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Finding FREE straw in the fall

If you read my last post, you know I acquired a few (perhaps too many?) bales of straw this fall. After reading Sinfonian's comment, I thought it might be helpful to note how I got all that straw.

After Halloween, I posted a request on my local Freecycle group looking for hay, straw and/or pumpkins. I got a couple replies, and started my collection. I also kept an eye on craigslist.org. I watched both the "free" section and the "farm & garden" listings. One day, I had an idea (insert mischievous grin here). I decided to bend the rules a bit. Since posting requests on the "free" listings is not allowed, I decided to offer a free service.

Free removal of your fall straw bale decorations-----------
If you have hay or straw bales for your fall decorations that you no longer want, I can come pick them up and take them away for you. If you have some pumpkins or similar items too, I can remove them as well.
When contacting, please let me know your general area. Thank you.

I received 6 or 7 bales (and quite a few pumpkins) from this ad I posted right after Thanksgiving from people who were so happy I was going to take the things away. It seems people buy the bales with no idea how they're going to get rid of them when the fall holidays are over. One person was going to put them out for the trash when she saw my Freecycle request. I picked up a bale from a neighbor who told me he's had it in his yard for 2 or 3 years! I will warn you though, the first time I posted the ad I had no problems. When I re-posted it a couple weeks later, I was promptly flagged and the ad removed.

I hope I have given you a couple ideas you can use (you'll remember this post next fall, won't you??)

Hmmm.... you know, a little while back, when I was out walking the dogs, I spotted a couple straw bales in someone's yard ...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

So there's this big pile of poo in my backyard...

Fall is the perfect time to find straw bales for free. First round just after Halloween, second round right after Thanksgiving. I am planning to convert part of my front lawn to a flower garden, and plan to use straw as part of the process, so I was on the lookout for free bales. I did a good job finding it, maybe a little too good... I really probably had enough when I had acquired 13 or 14 bales, but then there was this ad on Craigslist, a church that had about 40 bales to give away. I went planning to pick up about 5 more bales, but there was this nice man who arrived while I was loading my truck. He was sure we could fit more in there. By the time we were done, I had 9 bales of straw in the back of a short bed, stepside GMC Sierra. He even put one on top of the toolbox. So now I have about 23 bales of straw just sitting there until spring, so I got to thinking (that often means trouble by the way...).

I decided to put some of my straw bales to good use. We used 16 bales to build a temporary compost bin. Then we took a trip to the horse boarding stable where our helpful horse folks kindly used their tractor to load the trailer for us. He topped it off with a scoop from the spoiled hay pile, just for good measure. We brought it home and built a pile. My intent was to build a pile ala Soilguy's methods (for those who follow the Soil, Compost & Mulch forum on Gardenweb.com) but because of timing and weather (when hubby offers to help you go get a load of horse manure, you go whether you're quite ready for it or not) I didn't really get all of the information I needed beforehand and I wasn't able to water the pile because the weather turned too cold. So, here's what we did...

The straw bin is 2 bales wide, 2 bales high (turned on their sides) which gives an interior space of about 5'x5' and around 3' tall. I put a layer of hay on the bottom and layered hay throughout the pile. The load contained both manure and paper bedding from the stalls. I was unsure what the brown:green ratio was so I layered in hay in case it was too much "green". I tossed a layer of leaves in there as well 'cause I had some aspen leaves that just wouldn't shred this fall.

Then, I "capped" the pile with another thick layer of hay. This was to serve two purposes, as some added insulation (we built this pile December 30) and to keep the odor down since we do have neighbors.

(check out that nice, lush backyard I've got... yep, another project!)

If I had followed Soilguy's methods a bit closer (it would have still been a modified version of his methods) here's what I would have done. First, lay down a layer of plastic to keep liquids from leaching out (ideally using a trench to collect the liquid to add back into the pile). Then I would have watered the pile really really well (wet is ok) and tamped down the edges to "seal" the pile. I should have closely monitored the temperature, and not allowed the pile to get above 150 degrees, and turned it when it cooled to 105-110 degrees. That's the short version.

What I actually ended up doing was adding some water when the weather warmed in a couple days (but I don't believe it was watered deeply enough) and then I let it sit and cook for about 3 weeks. When the weather turned nice again, I decided to turn and water the pile. What I found was it was quite dry throughout (not a real surprise) and I probably didn't need to add the hay when I built it. I saw quite a lot of paper bedding and not many horse apples. I added the bag of bunny cage cleanings I had picked up the day before and about 15 various sized bags of Starbucks coffee grounds I'd been stockpiling and I watered it in hoping to get it "cooking" again. I have also been dumping a couple gallons of dishwater on the pile most days. I have gotten the pile heated again, but since I've been a bit of a slacker, and have not actually purchased the compost thermometer I should have, I don't know the actual temps. I do know it was hot before since I had a meat thermometer I tried to use (we never use that one in the kitchen) but then it quit working. I had a reading around 140. I figure, it no longer smells like manure and it has several weeks to sit before I'm going to use it so I'm not too worried. Most likely, this is going to be used on ornamentals rather than edibles, so I'm even less worried about the time & temp.

Just a note to fellow dog owners: If you have a large dog who finds horse manure and similar items to be a tasty snack, they will find a way into this bin eventually. After I turned the pile, my two lovely lab mixes decided to take a bit more of an interest. I never caught them in the act, but they started flipping the top bale off the pile and onto the ground, making the goodies accessible to them. As I was trying to dog proof the pile, my young one decided to show me his jumping skills and hopped up on top of the stacked bales where he stood trying to lick my face as I worked. Lovely children...

Veronica & Wilson, my charming companions in one of their favorite places.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Expansion!

Last year's garden was an experiment for me. It was the first at this house, my first in Colorado (at 7000'), my first raised bed garden, as well as the first time I have used so much organic material for planting. Although there were some flaws in my planning, I feel it was probably the most successful garden I have had. I also enjoyed it very much, sooo... I expanded it! Here are a few photos of the new areas. I labeled some of the photos, if you click them, they should enlarge.

In my original plan, everything was screened from the street by the retaining wall. With the new beds, that wasn't possible anymore, so we added a little fence to keep it looking neat from the street. I purchased the fence and the posts used. I think I spent about $50 or so including primer and paint ($15 for fence, $12 for posts). I admit, cleaning up the old fence took longer than I would have liked, but I would have spent $50 for the fence alone if I had purchased new materials.


This is the view from on top of the retaining wall. Just past the compost bin are the two beds I built last year. There will also be two 4'x4' and a third 4'x5' bed against the fence. There are 3 small lilac bushes there now that I plan to move this spring. The 4x4's are already built, they are just temporarily on the side of the fence (in the "alley" as I call it). There is also a 2.5' x 11' bed that sits low to the ground by the neighbor's fence.

The new beds expand the garden from 80 square feet to almost 200 square feet. I am also planning a second potato bin and I am planting the zucchini outside of the regular beds this year. We're using some metal landscape edging formed into a circle in a few spots around the area for the zucchini. I decided to give them their own space and use the bed space for other plants.

I topped off the original beds with a layer of horse manure, leaves, pine needles and coffee grounds (UCG) as last summer it shrank down by about 6 inches. Part of the west bed is covered with a piece of landscape fabric, as is one of the 4'x5's, (mostly because I had the fabric). I have noticed that in the original bed, under the fabric, there are worms just a couple inches down in the leaves, even in January. The 4'x5' beds are filled with weeds from the backyard, manure, leaves, pine needles, spoiled hay, straw, UCG, and pumpkins. There are also some pumpkins buried in the east bed. The 2.5'x11' is filled with weeds from the backyard, rabbit manure, hay & cage cleanings, and some leaves. Where I used the weeds, I wet them and put them under clear plastic (some in the beds, some in bags) and let them sit in the sun to hopefully kill the weed seeds. I used the weeds at the bottom of the beds. Since I'm not tilling these beds, the seeds shouldn't see the surface to sprout. We'll see how that plan goes...

Here's another view of the garden area.

I am also planning to add a raspberry patch. We had so many raspberries at our house in Alaska, I miss having them. Really, I would like to have raspberries (yellow & red), blackberries and black raspberries, but I'm just starting with the red & yellows. They are actually the only types recommended for this area (according to the CSU website), but I think I'll see if I can get the others to grow here as well. I'm also going to put in a couple of rhubarb plants.

So, that's the end of the expanded tour.
(I do hope I didn't get carried away! )

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Plans vs. Reality

It is the time of year that many of us are working on our garden plan for 2009. If you are like me, you're trying not to repeat the mistakes of last year. In the interest of sharing, I'm posting last years Plan vs. Reality.

So, here it is. My high-tech garden plan for 2008. Each bed is 4' x 10', so I have 80 square feet of planting space. So this page wouldn't just be some colors on a page that nobody could possibly read, I went ahead and typed the vegetable names onto the scan. (I want you to know, yes, I did have fun playing with the colored pencils.) I should explain the odd shaped plantings in the right (what will be the east bed). I purchased my seeds, but had no idea how much the packets would plant, so one night I opened them and counted (just the corn, beans & peas, not the small seeds). I wanted to plant all of my beans, so I made the number of squares match the number of seeds I had., then it became a matter of putting the puzzle pieces together. I will try to avoid the jigsaw look this year, as I would like the plan to flow a little better. I put this drawing and and a thin piece of cardboard in a plastic report folder (with the binder piece on what should be the open side) so that it stays clean when it comes to the garden with me.

This photo is of the overcrowded west bed.

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The major problem with this bed is the 4' x 4' area that contains the cucumbers, zucchini and the one (bush) tomato plant. This end became such a jungle, it was difficult to work with. I ended up cutting out some of the bush zucchini leaves in an attempt to give those poor onions I planted in there some sunlight. The zucchini was even creeping in on the cucumber. Most of my onions did not make it. I had a little bit of garlic and no scallions. I planted sugar baby watermelon under the corn thinking that the watermelon could use some shading. Next year the watermelon will be where it gets more sun. I don't think it stayed warm and sunny enough under the corn to make the melons happy.

I did a bit better with the east bed. The biggest problem with the east bed is most of the plants were shorter, but then I had the peas (and pea sticks) in the middle. That meant in order to cover the bed when I needed to, I had to have the cover high enough to go over the peas. Height is going to be more of a consideration for the 2009 plan.

I am expanding the garden for next year, but of course, I'm expanding the plant list as well. I know that there will be errors again next year, but I hope I can do a little better job planning. I'm afraid only time will tell...