As of today, every seed we’re starting indoors for 2010 has been started! We’ve got ever-more-hearty onion seedlings hardening off in the cold frame in the garden, pepper seeds doing their slow germination thing in seedling trays in the plant window, and freshly-planted tomatoes and broccoli. All the hard work of gardening is over now, right?
Category Archives: 3. March
We took advantage of the gorgeous weather yesterday (it was 60 pretty much all day) to plant peas. (In a rare fit of restraint we did not take a million pictures of dirt.) Anyway, we’re totally out of practice and completely forgot to water the peas after covering them up. “Pshaw,” we said, “the soil was damp, they’ll be fine until tomorrow.” Well, it’s tomorrow and guess what? We forgot again.
And so it was that on March 10th — March 10th, people! — this phrase was uttered at Maple Hoo: “Don’t worry about watering, it’s going to rain tomorrow.”
You can tell it’s the very start of the gardening season because we’re still excited enough about everything we’re doing that we’re taking tons of pictures and writing posts about all of it. By July, we’re going to be all, “Garden? Meh. Yeah. It’s such a burden.” But for now, we’re all updates and smiles. Heh.
So yesterday was the first day of Spring, which explains why our backyard was a snowy winter wonderland when we woke up in the morning. Seriously. Everything was covered with a thick, fluffy blanket of snow at 7:30 in the morning; by 9 it was all dripping heavily off the tree branches, and by noon there wasn’t a single snowflake to be found anywhere. Weird. Out like a schizoid lamb, I guess. Anyway, today will stand on the record as the first springtimey day of Spring, as it’s sunny, warm, gorgeous and very, very gardeny. In other words, a perfect day for the onion seedlings to move out of the seedling-starter window in the basement and into the cold frame in the garden.
Aside from their unfortunate run-in with Matsui’s Jaws Of Death, the seedlings have been growing without incident, unlike last year, when one of the trays got completely flipped over during watering. No, this year our little baby onions are just growing like gangbusters, and today we thinned them and put them out for their first taste of garden air and full sun. Within a half an hour they were taller and sturdier-looking, clearly happy to have the wind blowing in their hair. It’s supposed to get down below freezing the next few nights, so we’ll still be bringing them inside after sundown, but we’re hopeful they’ll be living full-time in the coldframe within a week.
So now our garden has all kinds of activity going on in it. We’ve got our pea trellis eagerly awaiting the first little tendrils to start clinging to it, a couple of rows of radish seeds that are showing absolutely zero signs of life (since they were seeds we saved ourselves, we won’t be at all surprised if they turn out to be inert), the cold frame with its precious contents, and the garlic beds, which are but a week away from losing their straw covering. We peeked under the straw in the smaller bed today, and sure enough, we’ve got neat, happy rows of little garlic shoots.
Green garlic pesto is just around the corner!
And now that the onions have vacated the seedling window, we’ve been able to move the rapidly-sprouting tomatoes and peppers into the sun.
I smell bumper crop.
[Posted by Schnookie.]
Spring must be in the air, because I spent all day yesterday looking at our pictures on flickr of last year’s garden, reading our archived posts about it, and basically just freaking out about how much I can’t wait for our plants to start growing. So imagine my delight when I got down to the nuts and bolts of wasting time on the interwebs at work this morning, only to discover that the New York Times had an article all about planting peas.
The gist of the article? PLANT PEAS RIGHT NOW!!!! If you don’t do it TODAY it’ll be too late!!! And more than that, peas will be harvestable BEFORE YOU’RE EVEN PLANNING TO PLANT MOST OF THE REST OF YOUR GARDEN!
I got on the horn with Pookie immediately, and before we knew it, our garden plans for 2009 suddenly included shell peas.
Most of our other crop selections involve careful research of heirloom varieties (and by “careful research” I mean poring over the Seed Savers Exchange and Seeds Of Change catalogs to find the coolest veggies they offer), but we didn’t have time to think about our peas. No, we’d read the article. The Paper Of Record said they had to be planted TODAY, so I just picked up a pack of whatever type of Burpee shell pea seeds they were selling in the section with the greeting cards at my grocery store.
We put in two rows of peas, with a little fence of tomato ladders between them to work as the trellis. And then we bordered our new pea hedge with a couple of rows of Purple Globe radish seeds from the radish we were too lazy to pick last year, and left to go to seed.
Radish flowers are really, really pretty.
It was the most exciting day of the gardening year so far — we planted seeds in the ground! Woo hoo! Now grow, little garden, grow!
NOTE: It was also the most exciting day of the gardening year so far because it was the first day of 2009 where we decided not to water because it was supposed to rain. And it didn’t rain. Go us! The first of many such days, most likely.
NOTE: Also exciting? After ordering a whole new batch of pepper seeds in a complete state of panic yesterday, look what’s started sprouting:
That’s right, if you look really closely there you can see the first of our germinated peppers. If we’d known all it would take would be ordering more seeds, we’d have done it days ago.
[Posted by Schnookie]
Garden Fever struck Maple Hoo hard today, getting us all in a tizzy to have green stuff to poke around at outside. Sadly, that’s still months off. However, we did take one exciting step today:
Those there are tomatoes. Sweet, heavenly, fabulous, wonderful, gorgeous Jersey tomatoes. We showed much better restraint than we did last year and waited until that magic 6-8 weeks before the last frost before starting them. Here’s hoping that restraint will pay off and we won’t spend all of May in a constant state of freaking out that a frost will kill our tomatoes any instant.
This year we’re growing Ramapo and Moreton tomatoes, as developed by the Rutgers Extension. Our farm grew Ramapos last year and they were unbelievable. Simply without-a-doubt the best tomatoes ever. I cannot wait to have one fresh from the garden. The Moretons are new to us, but we couldn’t resist them after learning that their nickname is “The Fourth Of July Tomato” because they ripen so early. Sold! Rounding out the group are the black plum sauce tomatoes which made such delicious pasta sauce for freezing.
Meanwhile, the onions are growing happily down in the garden window, and the peppers… Well, the peppers look like they’re doing nothing. So we ordered another set of seeds. And then read our garden calendar from last year and realized it takes over two weeks for peppers to germinate. Oops.
On a happier note, the daffodils that always come up first in our yard are three times bigger today than they were on Wednesday. Spring is on its way!
Today was a big day in the lives of the tomatoes of Maple Hoo, as we could no longer deny that they have grown too big for the little trays we started them in. Knowing what a mess the three of us are capable of making with a few peat pots and a bag of potting soil, I suggested we use repotting plants as an excuse to bring the outdoor furniture out of storage. I know it’s a tad bit early for, say, grilling, and theoretically we could get that “last big snowstorm” Boomer keeps ominously saying could happen, but honestly our empty deck was starting to get depressing.
The furniture was put in storage early last summer because of the kitchen remodel so it’s been a long since the deck has been usable. I’d never thought of myself as a deck person but after having our picnic table and benches sitting like this for a year:
I can’t help but being antsy to be out sitting out on the deck in the evening, nursing a beer while Schnookie grills up some pork and bacon kebabs. Mmmmm pork and bacon kebabs… So it is with much glee and anticipation for warmer weather that I present the Maple Hoo Deck Furniture — restored to it’s former glory!
I can practically taste those kebabs looking at that!
For today though, the table was less about Summer food and more about Spring gardening. The tomatoes have grown up a lot since before dinner — here they are ready to bid fond adieu to their old seedling trays:
They look (and smell) like happy, robust and strong paste tomato plants, but beneath the soil, so to speak (no, wait, literally beneath the soil) they look like a cry for help:
They’re bursting at the seams in those tiny trays!
All 32 plants (of which we’ll probably only plant 8 in the big garden and maybe 4-6 more in the back) got re-potted in bigger peat pots, or as Schnookie dubbed them, “big boy beds”. We took great pains to label them with tags tied to their mini-skewer steaks (those skewers could be holding pork and bacon kebabs… O! When will it be grilling weather?!) and carrying them down to the yard to water them.
Looking at the paper tags and thinking about a steady steam of water being poured over the plants, Schnookie sighed, “If only we had those little plastic garden label things.” That’s when I remembered moving some garbage off the picnic table before moving it to the deck. That garbage, I was fairly certain, contained little plastic garden label things that came free with the peat starter trays. Heh. We may not solve the problems we face in the most efficient manner, but in the end we usually get it right! The tags were removed, and little plastic garden labels added.
For Christmas, Schnookie and I gave Boomer new watering cans, fancy ones, to replace the crappy ones we’d all hated using the last two years. Turns out spending a little extra on a watering can is worth it, as these work like a dream. (At the same time we gave Boomer the watering cans, we gave her ForzaMotorsport2, an Xbox 360 driving game. She and I had played it a bit, driving the starter car, a Volkswagen Golf. On a whim we fired it up last night and fumbled our way into getting enough points that we we awarded a 1961 Jaguar. The thing about these new-fangled computer games is that they’re considerably more sophisticated than the MarioKart of my youth. I stupidly thought the difference between driving the Golf and driving the Jaguar would be the Jaguar would be cooler to look at. I was wrong. Damn, but that Jaguar handles differently than a Golf! And that’s what I felt like using this new watering can. It’s a 1961 Jaguar compared to the Golf watering cans we’ve been struggling with. Watering the garden this summer is going to be like joy-riding in an Aston-Martin!) Schnookie commented, and I agree, that there is something just so very zen about watering plants with a nice steady rainish stream. And when you’re watering in the sun, and there are little beads of sunlit water collecting on fresh green leaves? Well, there’s not much better than that.
One thing that is better than that, though, is seeing the plants you water grow big and strong. The tomatoes weren’t the only seedlings getting a new home today. The onions got to take the new wood-and-glass cold frame (as opposed to the tent-y thing we wrote about earlier; that threatened to blow away in a recent wind-storm and has been relegated back to the garage) out for a spin. We plunked them down outside at around 2:00 or so.
The cold-frame supposedly will be about 20 degrees warmer than the outside temperature, meaning cold weather crops (like onions and lettuce) can be put in it starting, well, now. It’s supposed to get wicked cold tonight, so we’ll bring the onions back in for the night, but we figured they might enjoy some fresh air for a few hours today. We were right! Two hours later, we’re all convinced they look considerably perkier.
Look at them! They’re ready to be harvested and served alongside some pork and bacon kebabs! Seriously, we’ll be putting them out permanently starting tomorrow, along with the lettuce and the second set of onion seedlings. That’s right. We’ll have plants outside. Spring has certainly sprung. And the Bounteous Bounty is well on its way!
This morning saw tragedy befall our onion crop. Pookie reported shortly after the event, “The onions will someday be able to tell their descendants about the time they survived the Great Earthquake.” It seems she was rotating the flat of seedlings and, well, dropped it. Many were lost in the cataclysm. Of course, a fair number of them made it, so we should still be okay when it comes time for the big outdoor planting.
Meanwhile, the tomatoes are growing at a ridiculous rate. We were thinking they’d stay small enough that we’d transplant them in three weeks just directly from the seedling trays (like the peppers), but these are not well-behaved tomatoes. They are willful and perhaps even mutants. They’re huge. We’re going to have to graduate them up to little peat seedling pots soon, because their roots are starting to bust out the bottoms of their trays. Also, they’re tall enough now that they’re starting to fall over like they think they’re creeping, free-range tomatoes or something. So Boomer got out some twine and bamboo skewers and staked them today.
Meanwhile, we started a few more trays of seedlings — some more onions (we were planning to do so even before the Great Disaster) and some lettuces.
Now, lettuce is a total bobo plant. You can direct sow it into even the crappiest of soil, and with a bare minimum of care, really at any time of year, you’re likely to get a nice crop. But we want to start them early this year because we have ambitious plans for decorative planting patterns. I have no doubt this will yield highly comical results, but who are we to let that stop us?
The first day of Spring was two days ago, and it appears the plants in our yard got the news. I’ve spent much of this morning glaring jealously at the little cluster of crocuses at the base of our neighbor’s mailbox, until suddenly it dawned on me that we have a spot in our yard that traditionally gets a crocus or two, too. And lo and behold! Here one is!
I raced out to take a picture of it to send to Pookie, who’s stuck at work today, and on my way back inside, I glanced into the garden. The only thing that’s in there right now is the bed of garlic, which we planted in the Fall. It’s been covered with straw since November, with chicken wire over that to keep the squirrels out.
What’s this? Can it be? For reals? OUR FIRST CROP!
I can practically taste the scapes!
Ah, March. The time of year when you wake up to steel-gray skies, bare branches, and a 50-degree, drizzly day and say, “It’s a great day for gardening!”
Well, okay, it’s not a great day for gardening, per se, as much as it’s a great day for garden readying. We’re still a few weeks out from doing the actual planting part of things, but our seedlings are motoring right along, so it’s time to start getting their future home ready for them. The garden beds were winterized with thick layers of straw, so this was what we were starting with:
We’re not sure who or what was making those circular holes in the straw (the latest theory is mourning doves), but at least we’re reasonably confident we didn’t have as many squirrels burying shit in the beds this year as last. We’re hopeful that without an autumn spent loading the beds up with acorns, the squirrels will be less inclined to dig up the beds in the Spring. It’s not likely to play out that way, but what can I say? We’re hopeless optimists.
We pulled the straw off the dirt, praising ourselves for saving this task for today instead of doing it yesterday, because a long night of steady, frigid rain really made the straw nice to handle. It’s always surprising to see how low the soil level is after a summer of crop harvesting and then a winter of weathering. In a month or so, our nearby nursery will be selling leaf compost by the cubic yard, so we’ll be able to fill the other beds with that, but for the early-planting beds, we can’t buy in bulk. Instead, we’re making our own enriched-soil mix.
We ended up with two parts “garden soil”, one part Bovung (or dehydrated cow manure. “Bovung” is, like, our favorite brand name for anything ever), and one part leaf compost. (Yes, we do have our own compost bin, but we hardly have enough usable compost in it to be able to fill one of our big garden beds.) After much lugging and dumping and raking, the bed looks super-lush and inviting for young onion plants.
Matsui supervised the whole process from the front door.
Of course, we’re still expecting at least one more hard frost, and while raised beds allow for earlier planting because the soil warms faster than in-ground beds, we’re still planning to get the soil that much warmer for our precious baby plants by putting a cold frame over it. We’ve never used a cold frame before, so it’s going to be interesting to see how this all works.
This is a super lightweight, collapsable, one-piece, crazy simple structure that folds into a little tote bag and springs from that state with just a flick of the wrist to its full splendor. Our plan is to warm the soil with it, then maybe do some hardening of the flats of seedlings, then actually plant the seedlings in their final growing spot with the cold frame over them, so we can get a little jump on the growing season. It’s such an easy structure to move around that it shouldn’t be at all difficult to take it off when the onions are ready to go out into the world on their own.
This is what the inside of our onions’ house looks like:
If I was an onion, I’d want to live there.
It felt wonderful to be working in the garden again. Last summer was a bit of a lost season for us, as we only half-heartedly planned any crops (thanks to the kitchen being in mid-remodel), and then neglected the condition of the garden because we were in a holding pattern waiting for the fence and pea gravel installation. The whole thing was overgrown with weeds and unmown grass, and the only crops that grew at all were potatoes and the world’s most unstoppable catnip patch. But now the kitchen is ready for all the bumper crops we can throw at it, and the garden is fenced and has nice paths. It’s ready to not be a headache anymore. And after a chilly morning of dirt-hauling, it looks, from the front door, like it means business.