Friday, March 27, 2009

Colorado Blizzard

As you may have heard, Colorado had some nasty weather the last couple days. We were under winter storm and blizzard warnings until noon today. We were expecting anywhere from 8 to 13 inches of snow in our area. I don't really know how much snow we ended up with because of the winds and the drifting. They closed highways, schools and Air Force bases last night and today and we heard stories of pretty rough driving and a few bad accidents. I didn't have to be anywhere, so I just stayed off the roads and hubby worked an overnight shift at the fire department last night, so we weren't travelling.

This was my driveway this morning. I forgot to take a picture before I started to clear it, so this is the best pic I have. It doesn't look like much in the photo, but the snowdrift was about 3' deep and ran across the drive (even though I did get it mostly cleared last night). The rest was pretty clear. The chunky snow on the left is what I had moved already. One neighbor came to help me shovel and another came with his 4-wheeler & plow. He had taken out the highest portion of the drift and was clearing the mailbox area when a cable broke on his plow. We got enough done that hubby could get the car in when he came home. Once he got home from work, he fired up the riding mower & plow and finished the drive.

While we were working, one car couldn't make it up the hill (we tried pushing it but couldn't get any traction) and a UPS driver decided not to try it as he had already been stuck once today. Turns out, if I sit on the front end of the mower with my feet on the plow while he drives, it can do a really good job clearing the street, so we actually plowed the road too. With the county budget problems, we had no idea if/when they would make it out here to plow, and people would be coming home from work soon. We were happy that when the plow did come by around 6:30 or 7:00 he didn't just re-spread the less-than-professional-plower piles we left between houses causing us to have to clear the end of the drive again...he zigged around them instead.

I was watching the temps in the garden throughout the day yesterday. Before the storm rolled in (around 11), it was sunny, about 32 outside and about 50 in the garden. The clouds came and within an hour or so I think, the temp outside dropped to about 20. About midnight, it was 7 degrees outside and it had finally fallen to 30 in the garden. I plugged in the just-in-case Christmas lights I had strung in the bed, and the temp went up to 35. We had a bit of a snow drift up the side of the bed last night, but by morning, it was HUGE!

This is about the same viewpoint I took a photo from the other day (just from a little further back). The metal trash can you can see is at the end of the garden bed that has the plastic cover (and the veggies started). That drift is about 5' tall. (Notice the bare ground in the back yards)

Just to the left of center, you can see the top of the plastic covering the bed. The end over the garlic didn't hold up well and appears caved in, but I really didn't go poking around there too much today. We are expecting cold temps tonight and I figured the insulation was good. Right now (at 11:20 pm) it's 18 deg outside and 31 under all that snow. I didn't plug the lights back in, mostly because I have no idea what they're touching now.

Finally, this is my neighbor's trampoline, and not the neighbor who's yard it's in. It travelled quite a ways and over 2 fences to get there. It has held up surprisingly well to some strong winds this year, but I guess this one was just too much for it. We saw them move it back to the owner's yard. It didn't look good.

All in all, it was some nasty weather but warmer temperatures are coming back tomorrow. It brought some much needed moisture to our area, and for that, we are happy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March Updates

It seems I have garden projects scattered all over the place right now! I have a few seedlings under lights in the basement. I'm pre-sprouting the seeds in the egg cartons on the cable box then moving them to the lights as they come up. Here are a few of the baby tomatoes I have down there. I have tomatoes, a couple peppers, herbs and a few ornamentals for companion planting. I found a pretty helpful website on companion planting not too long ago. Some of them I knew but many were new to me. Check it out at . I actually have seeds for a number of plants on the list so I'm going to work them in around the garden this summer.

Here's a look in the garden today. The peas I pre-sprouted and moved out are doing pretty well. They're about 3-6" tall now. Of the sprouted seeds I moved out, most of the seeds I started on the paper towels didn't make it. I might try this method one more time but only if the upper layers of the bed are more like soil than mulch. I think they just dried out. The seeds I started in the organic starting mix are doing better. When I started putting these out, I planted them into a layer of more finished compost I added to the mulch layer so they'd have a little more to grow in.

Here's a rather messy view of the garden area today. The bed in the foreground with the plastic is where I'm starting the cool season plants. It's covered because it is still very early in the season here. Out last frost date isn't until about May 15. More than anything, I'm playing with these seeds and learning a few lessons along the way. Eventually I'll find the right combination of methods or the proper planting time will come along. Either way, eventually, something will grow...

Along the fence are the 3 new beds. These are filled with the horse manure compost from the straw bale bin, the contents of the temporary beds, the last of the pile of aspen leaves that wouldn't shred last fall, coffee grounds, a bit of compost and a handful of worms. I topped these off with pads of straw (that I soaked in water first). I'm thinking the straw pads will help keep the beds from drying. I'm really wanting these to break down and settle so I can top them off before planting. The straw does seem to be working. I also have them covered with some old landscape fabric to also keep them from drying out and to keep the straw from blowing away. I saw on the news last week that so far this YEAR we have had about 1/4 inch of moisture. Yep, it's dry! I also added a little more to 3 other beds (I stole some material from the raspberry area - where the path will be) and topped them off with straw as well.

In between the beds (adding nicely to the look of the garden I must say...) are the bags of shredded leaves I'm saving to use as mulch. Next year I need a nicer looking storage (or hiding) spot for those. I had them tucked away a little nicer until I moved the lilacs out and the new beds in.

In the left corner are the stacks of large (I think 35 gal maybe?) nursery pots I'm going to use for potatoes. In front of the bins is the kiddie pool that I used to park the strawberry plants I was given in October. Their bed wasn't built yet, so I thought they'd be ok in the pool. I stabbed some drainage holes in the pool and filled it with some of the (fairly fresh at the time) horse manure and hay mixture I had cooking in the raspberry bed. The plants looked ok in the fall. I let them grow until freezing weather came and I mulched them with straw and circled the pool (which was in the corner by the fence) with the bags of leaves as insulation. I didn't want it to thaw too early. I pulled out the pool this last week and uncovered the little guys. I should have done it sooner. The survival rate does not look good. Most of the crowns were rotting and very few show signs of life. I think they have recently rotted because the roots are black but still attached. If they had rotted in the fall, I doubt I'd see the roots. I pulled out all that I could find and moved them to small trays filled with the starting soil and put them on the front porch until I can see how many survived. I didn't dump the pool in case I missed some that might be alive. It's really quite a bummer. Now I think I'll need to order some. This is a little bit of the life left in that whole pool full of strawberries. (sigh...)
But spring is coming, the hyacinths are appearing... Daffodils and tulips are coming up as well.

And I had a moment of excitement this weekend. I was giving my wintersowing containers a drink and I noticed I have a few sprouts!! Not many yet, but I was happy to see that it just might work! I found a couple sprouts of Rocky Mountain Penstemon, Dianthus knappii, and Liatris. Here are the Liatris sprouts...

I actually sowed 22 more containers this weekend. I'm trying lettuce & spinach that way too.

These are the lilac bushes we moved (remember those fun-to-dig holes a while back?). I have one more to move but the straw bale poo pile is still in the way. I had it all planned out, but when we moved the bigger bush a piece split off so we planted it where the other one (from the front yard) is supposed to go. I really wouldn't mind the lilac in the front yard but it's planted in a spot where I don't think it will work well when it grows big. It's at the corner of the front walk. When it grows, it will encroach on the walk and block the view of the front door. I think they're going to survive the transplanting. We were concerned about the larger one but it has the biggest buds of them all. We dug up a saucer-shaped area around the plants to break up and aerate the soil for the roots. We put a layer of the composted manure around the plants, then mulched that with a layer of hay topped with some wood mulch. They actually stayed moist for two weeks this way. They may have gone longer but we watered them for good measure. I want them to have enough moisture to re-grow the roots they lost in the move.

And finally, some things don't really change... This seems to be how a game of fetch always ends... if only Wilson would play fetch... he prefers to play keep-away with the occasional game of "chicken" mixed in. I actually got smacked in the kneecap with his hard head the other day. Ouch. :-)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


I've been working on finishing up the new raised beds on days we've had nice weather. Today I filled the last of the 3 beds that we put where the lilacs used to be. Each one got a layer of newspaper (for good measure) followed by layers of old hay, the horse manure compost from the straw bale bin, coffee grounds, leaves, pine needles and the contents of the two 4x4 boxes we built and filled in the fall in their temporary location just outside the gate (pretty much the same materials, they've just been mixed for a few months). Today's box also got a little of the dirt I dug out from the spot we put the lilacs (yep, that lovely stuff in the pictures...). I probably added about 16 shovels full of the dirt I think. I was careful to layer and mix it well with the manure compost so it wouldn't have the chance to return to it's former state. I do try to remember to add some form of dirt into the beds just for the mineral content.

I was pretty happy with the condition of the contents of the temporary boxes. From the top, it didn't appear much had broken down but throughout the center, most of the materials had broken down very nicely.
I also added a little bit of finished compost (last year's batch) to the first two (I forgot today) and some of the mostly finished from my current bin in the hopes that I would be adding beneficial microbes to the bed in the process as well as compost from a wider variety of materials. I also a little bit of the lower mulch layer from my older beds to "seed" the new ones with some worms. I have a pretty good population in there these days it seems. This is what I pretty regularly find in there.

I reached into the mulch and grabbed a handful of material, took it to the new bed and this is what I saw.

Aren't they beautiful?

Because the beds are filled with so much organic material, they shrank down by several inches throughout the season last year. In the fall, I topped them off with leaves, hay, pine needles and some horse manure. After Thanksgiving, I picked up about 10 squash & pumpkins from someone who had used them as decorations. I had recently added many to the compost pile, so I decided to chop these open and bury them under the new mulch layer for the worms. Seems the worms like them (this is a chunk of squash they're on).

I have also been finding worms under the wood mulch in the pathways. Portions of the path had landscape fabric (some scraps I had) under the mulch. When I had to pull up some of the fabric to add the new beds, I discovered quite a number of worms stuck in the fabric. I few of them seemed to be wound up in the fibers and I also found several that were dead. I'm removing the rest of the fabric because of this. I want the worms to be able to travel between areas and be able to move up and down between the ground and the mulch. The worms seem to live near the surface and I want to help them survive.

I'm quite excited about the worm population. When I dug into the ground to level the beds and break up the top layer of soil last year, I think I may have found about 3 worms (maybe). Last year's load of manure came with a good supply of my little pals. Conditions must be favorable for them in there because they do seem to have multiplied! I'm starting to think of my garden as a giant worm bin. They eat the organic material and leave worm castings to fertilize my plants. It seems to me, if I keep them happy and well fed, they'll keep my plants happy and well fed, like a self-fertilizing garden!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Potato Crazy!

Last year, because I got a bit of a late start with the garden, when I went to the nearest nursery for seed potatoes, they were sold out. They sent me to a feed store across town who had a few left. I wasn't going to let that be the story this year, so a couple weeks ago, I emailed the local nurseries I could find online (I think 5 places?) and asked when their seed potatoes arrive, what varieties they carry and how much they cost. Within a day, I had replies from all but one. From there I looked up the varieties they carried and decided on my list. They got the potatoes in early this week, so I headed into town to get the best selection. I went to 2 garden centers. I got most of my list from one store (ok, and I added one type on a whim) and found my way to the second just to get some Purple Majesty seed potatoes. These are said to be unusually high in antioxidants. They are VERY purple inside! I should have taken a picture when I cut the seed, but I didn't think of it at the time.

I'm quite sure I went a little overboard but I liked the different colors and I wanted some early types and some later maturing types. Here's what I got:

Red, Early (determinate - so won't do well in a "tower")
Yield: Low to intermediate
Excellent for boiling & frying. Fair for baking.

Red, Main season maturity, but early tuber set
High yield potential
Excellent culinary quality

Red, Late Season
High yield potential
Generally good storage properties

White, Main season maturity
High yield of large tubers
Thin, smooth white skin
Good culinary qualities (especially chips & fries)

Yellow, Medium to early maturity (also not good for towers)
Moderate yield
Yellow/white skin & light yellow tuber flesh
Retains flesh color when baked, boiled or french-fried

ALL BLUE (this was my impulse purchase)
Blue, Main season
Oblong medium size, deep blue to purple skin and brilliant purple flesh
Moist, firm flesh with slightly grainy texture
Excellent storage

Purple, Medium to late season
Smooth purple skin and deep purple flesh
High yielding
Makes excellent purple chips

The above descriptions are from the following websites:

There is a lot more information there as well on a dizzying number of varieties. I'm glad I had a relatively short list to choose from.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Seed Starting Round 2

I tried the cornstarch gel and paper towels which successfully sprouted radishes, scallions, and some of the lettuce & broccoli seeds but I had little success with my Walla Walla and Red Onions. I also had no success with Carrots or Spinach. For the sprouts that were successful, I put them straight into the garden (which is under plastic). Of the pre-sprouted seeds I put out from the previous try, the peas are doing the best. Most of them have come up and are about 2 inches tall and looking healthy. The others have been very slow. Part of the problem is probably that the top layer of my garden is currently more like mulch than soil. I plunked the paper towels into the mulch layer to see what they'd do. It's been over a week, but I am starting to see a couple of them poking out. I dug around in there a bit the other day. Some of the seeds look the same as when I put them in, some looked like they dried out and I couldn't find a couple of them (I didn't dig them all out, I was just curious as to what was going on out there). We'll see what the rest do. In the meantime, I'm trying another method which seems to be going better.

I used the same clear plastic egg cartons but I used Organic Starting Soil in them this time. When I filled them, I pressed the soil in pretty firmly so it would pop out intact like a little tiny soil block. I re-sowed both types of onion, the carrots, a few spinach, lettuce & broccoli to fill in for those that didn't sprout. I started these last Thursday, so it's been just under a week. I put them back on the cable box again. Those little soil plugs actually get quite warm on there. I had a couple lettuce sprouts by Saturday! With this method though, you have to be able to take out the sprouts as soon as they appear. One appeared late Friday but I left it until Saturday. It was about an inch tall and looking for some light. I also propped the lids open a bit with a toothpick as the lack of circulation did cause the loss of a couple of the little guys. I'm guessing it was the dreaded Damping Off.

The onions have done much much better this way. I planted out about 14 of them today (in about 40 degree, windy weather to boot...).
Just a little push on the bottom of the egg carton and the little soil plug just pops right. I did have one come out accidentally today but it stayed together well enough to pop back in. When I planted these, I used some pretty well finished compost (from one of the beds I layered in the fall) that was more of a soil-like consistency to use around the little plugs. I think they'll fare a little better that way. I also direct-seeded carrot seeds (in the same compost) and covered them with a square bucket lid (substitute for a board).

I started a few tomato seeds in a few of the empty plugs last night. When these sprout, I'll move them to larger containers and I'll put them under lights to grow.

We had such nice warm weather for a few days, then it got cold again. I really can't complain since it is only March, and the weather forecast looks nice for next week (I'm not sure, but I THINK I saw 77 on the weather chart one day next week???) With the nighttime temps back into the mid-teens, I put the original sheet of plastic over the "new & improved (and uhm, more ventilated) piece that's been covering the bed for the past couple weeks. What I have found is that it seems to stay about 10-12 degrees warmer in there than the outdoor night temps. This must be from the water jugs because with just plastic, the garden thermometer usually reads a couple degrees lower than the one just outside my back door. It's nice to see they make such a difference.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Seed Starting Experiment

I decided to try and get an early start on some cool weather crops this season. I put the plastic over one of the beds a couple weeks in advance to warm the soil a bit more and watch the temperatures before starting some seeds. There were some wild temperature swings in there, down in the 20's at night but about 115 degrees in the late morning (until I opened it). We added a row of milk jugs filled with dark colored water to each side of the bed in hopes that they will help regulate the temps a little better. I have noticed it does stay a few degrees warmer at night. I can't tell as well with the daytime temps because my husband had an idea for making the plastic easier to open and close. When he was finished, there was a bit more of a gap around the edges than he had intended. Shortly thereafter, the wind ripped off one of the hooks it was secured with. Let's just say my garden is better ventilated now than it was before...

I had read about making homemade seed tapes and about pre-germinating seeds and I decided to try a little of both. First I tried making a paste with a mix of flour & water. What I ended up with was a sticky gooey mess.

It didn't squeeze out of the bag very well at all. The cat liked it though...

Time to try something else...

This one seemed simple, pre-sprouting sugar snap peas (collected from last season's plants). Last spring, I soaked the seeds overnight before planting and they came up quickly. When I attempted a fall crop, I didn't soak the seeds and they took a lot longer to sprout. Since I'm really starting this pretty early, I figured pre-sprouting may be a good idea. This is just peas on a napkin in a bit of water.

I also read about using a cornstarch & water gel to start seeds. This was much better than the flour & water. I used about 1 TBSP cornstarch mixed with a cup of water and boiled it for a minute. I may have brought it to a boil too quickly resulting in a few lumps which I'll try to avoid next time. I put a spot of gel on a bit of paper towel using a baggie like a pastry bag and placed the seed in the gel. This was really pretty easy using a toothpick. Once I touched the end of a toothpick into the gel, it picked up seeds quite nicely.

Then I put the paper towel into these new style egg cartons. If you haven't seen them, they are a 3 piece unit. One cup under the egg, one cup over the egg and a flat lid over the top. I cut off one section of the cups (leaving a regular egg carton) then took that section, stabbed a hole in the bottom of each cup with an exacto knife and placed the seed in it. That piece sits in the upside down egg carton lid with the other cup as the new top.

I tried red onion, walla-walla onion, spinach, broccoli, lettuce & mesclun in the egg cartons. I also tried some seed strips of carrots, scallions & radishes in a storage box.

After a thorough spritzing with the water bottle, I put the storage box on the back of my television (which is on WAY too much) and the egg cartons on a rack over the cable converter box which seems to be warm all the time. I used the rack so I wouldn't burn up the box by covering it's ventilation.

Then I learned a few things.

1. Peas don't smell good when you get them wet and leave them in a warm little box.

2. Onions don't either.

3. Radishes can sprout in 24 hours!!

The peas took 3 days. I thought they would be easier to plant using the paper towels, so I used some of the gel (I had put it in the refrigerator) and carefully placed the sprouted seeds in the gel. I used a pair of hemostats to place the seeds.
I also used them to place the seeds & paper towels in the garden.
I pulled back the mulch where the seeds were to go and put the strips in and loosely covered them with an inch or so of the mulch (leaves and pine needles added in the fall).
The seeds have been outside since Feb. 18, almost 2 weeks now. When I checked earlier today I have some peas that are up through the mulch. I can see signs of life in the radishes and scallions. I'm still not seeing anything from the lettuce, mesclun or broccoli. Next time I will put the seeds in soil (or soil-like compost) rather than plunking them in the mulch. I suspect they may have come up better that way.
The red and walla-walla onions, carrots and spinach did not sprout. They might have, but after 2 weeks, I wasn't as regular with the spray bottle and they dried out. I like the egg cartons better than the storage box because they have more air circulation but planting the strips was really easy.
The verdict? Not sure. For some seeds, this didn't work well at all. I really won't know for sure until I see the results in the garden and what the survival rate is for the seeds. I'm going to find another method to start the onions & spinach.