Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Garden Notebook Gets a 2008 Entry


I haven’t written for a while, because, really not a lot is going on. And I’ve been sick for about a month! I finally gave in and went to the doctor’s office. I have a sinus infection, but I couldn’t get the antibiotic that actually treats sinus infections, because it was too expensive. Instead, I have whatever might do the job that is available from the $4 prescription list as Walmart (AKA the devil’s playground) plus some free samples of allergy nose spray which will probably work since I never take antibiotics. I know it’s very American and all that private enterprise is filling in the gap for cheap prescriptions, since we don’t have a discount system like they have in other countries, but I was kind of annoyed.

I’m not a Walmart shopper. I know people like it and all, but most of their business practices are very bad, and I take buying as little as possible and buying locally seriously. There I was, kicking my heels for the twenty minutes I had to wait to get the prescription filled. They lure people to the store with their cheap prescriptions and take a long time filling them so people get tricked into buying things they don’t need and that they wouldn’t have bought had they not been waiting and waiting and waiting! I didn’t buy anything else. Ha.

Being sick has a good side, too. I haven’t minded half as much as my mother that he weather has been really quite awful the last few weeks. We usually expect a nice thaw in February and even a few sixty and seventy degree days, which never really happened. We also expected to be able to get a little more wood in February, and that didn’t happen either, between the weather being bad and the chain coming off the chainsaw. I figured out how to put it back on, but I haven’t figured out how to control the weather yet!

I’ve been doing a lot of spinning. I have a lovely alpaca fleece that has grey and silver and white and black in it. I also have the baby fleece from the same alpaca. My mother has been hovering looking at the yarn as I’m plying and skeining it, making plans for what to do with it. These alpaca fleeces are not exactly mine, however, and a portion of the yarn has to go back to the owner of the alpacas. That is going to hurt. It’s the prettiest yarn, dyed or undyed, that I’ve ever spun.

I’m also working on a cross stitch nativity scene which is going to be really big and kind of impractical. The Holy Family are in a frame, but the other figures are going to be stuffed and free standing. I can’t imagine keeping it clean and in good condition, but I have a bee in my bonnet about this nativity scene which I saw in a book of Christmas cross stitch years ago and have wanted to make ever since.

And yes, I’ve been reading a lot. Well, a lot for me. I read fast, but I hardly ever find anything I like enough to finish. Right now, I’m just finishing up Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. It’s a cute, little book about little kids growing up during the Great Depression. I’m also leafing through a couple of books about the Depression and the third volume of Winston Churchill’s history of the Second World War plus An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson. That’s about the Allied landings in North Africa, and it’s the second time through that one for me. I read most of it last year and kind of set it aside. It’s been long enough that I started from the beginning. Interestingly enough, I met an older gentleman by chance last year who fought with Patton’s Ghost Brigade at a later stage in the war, and he said the same thing the book did about the North African campaign being important because it taught the American army how to actually fight a war.

My mother has been insane with cabin fever, and she has read the entire history of the Civil War by Shelby Foote, which I read a while back and come back to occasionally, as well. My little nephew is going to fit in well with the family. My sister’s first real job was as a history teacher, and my nephew’s “bedtime book” for the last year or so is about Soviet military equipment. He’s seven. I went and saw “Atonement” a few weeks ago, and I mentioned I’d seen a World War II movie. My nephew was like: “You went and saw a World War II movie, and you didn’t take me?” until I told him it was more like an “Oh, will my true love come back from the war” war movie. He plays those war games on his video game player all the time. I’m waiting for one to come out about Stalingrad before I think about playing one.

But enough of that! The seed orders are in the mail! Soon, they will coming winging their way back to us, and it will be the busy time again. The closest I’ve ever come in my life to keeping a journal is this “column”, and so I had initially rejected the idea of keeping a garden notebook until I realized how helpful it could be. Using my garden notebook, I can keep track of what I have planted where just by drawing rough diagrams of my gardens. I also can create a schedule of what seeds need to be started when and what plans I have for the garden. (As well as if I actually did them.)

My garden notebook is a combination journal and catalog and to do list. My best idea for my notebook was taking the empty envelopes of seed packets and stapling them to the actual pages of the notebook. I leave one side unstapled and just write on the page itself. I make all sorts of notes. When was ti planted? What was the weather? How it is doing? Which bugs are being pests? How long did it take to grow? Did it taste good? Was it prolific?

This is really a good trick, because each kind of plant gets a little spot, and nothing gets really forgotten about. Also, a lot of things are pretty unpredictable. For instance, last year, when I planted a polygonum “Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate”, I had given up on seeing more than a few of them and was even getting ready to use the soil from the seemingly failed flat of Kiss Me’s to plant some other plants. Then, they started coming up like mad. Because of my dated notes in my garden notebook, I’m able to see just how long the flat just sat and sat before the flowers started coming up.

And that’s where I am right now! It is time to start the polygonum! The very first plants of the year. These are interesting because they need to be “scarified” and “stratified” which are just fancy words for sandpapered and frozen. The little black seeds in the wild would be eaten by birds and left out on the ground to grow after the winter was over. They won’t germinate without a period of being cold. The first year, I grew polygonum, I scarified them, but I just planted them where I wanted them outdoors during a winter thaw. I got a plant or two, but ti was disappointing. Definitely, the way to go is by putting them in flats.

Scarify and Stratify:

To scarify: Use sandpaper. Medium to coarse is okay. This is not easy. It just gets mentioned as easy-as-you-please, but the little seeds shoot all over the place, and they knock the sand off the sandpaper a lot easier than the sandpaper will wear through the seed hulls. You don’t need to sane all the way through, but there has to be some kind of damage to the hulls.

Stratify: This can be done many ways. You can put the seeds in envelopes in the freezer or in a cold spot in the basement. One method calls for actually just digging a little ditch in the yard and laying all the seeds that need to be cold treated in it. Every kind of plant needs a certain length of time in the cold. If you are planting from saved seed and don’t have a seed packet with all the information, al lot of time a seed catalog or web site from a seed company will have the information that would have been on the seed packet reprinted. If not, try gardening books or web sites. I’d go with the books, since they have been vetted to a certain degree, and people writing web sites don’t have to be honest or realistic!

With the Kiss Me’s, I had good success last year by putting them in an aluminum cake pan with seed starting medium and wetting it down really well. I covered it with plastic wrap and set it on a shelf in the garage. The seeds I’m planting this year are saved from last year’s flowers, but because I saved my seed packet and stapled it into my garden book, I have all the planting information from the company plus my own notes about how long it actually took for the seeds to grow. They need to be kept out in the cold for at least 21 days. By that time, it will be mid to late March, and I will be starting my earliest seeds in flats and pots in the house. It’s all very exciting!

Late winter is also the time for making sure that the fish in the pond have a good year, too. There is a lot of snow coming down, and the pond has been frozen over a few different times this year. Each time, it has thawed almost completely after a week or two. This is the longest sustained period of time it has been frozen, and the snow is piling up. This is a problem, because the snow is deep enough to block any light. In the winter, the fish and plants are largely dormant, but not entirely. Even under ice, the plants in the water are carrying out some photosynthesis. When there is no light, the plants start to die, and decaying plant matter will consume the oxygen that the fish need to survive.

The solution for preventing a plant die-off and a potential fish kill is pretty simple: shovel the pond! You don’t need to do the whole pond. More like, just create bare “lanes” over the surface. Of course, this is not practical if the ice is not safe. If the ice is safe. it is kind of fun to scoot around on top of the ice. Remember, never go on ice that is less than four inches thick! The best ice is “thick and blue”. Don’t go on ice alone. Don’t go on any ice over moving water, and don’t go on at all if you’re not sure!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ordering This Year's Seeds (and a Carrot Update)


Not too much going on right now. We had another ice storm! But that was a few days back, and things are melting off nicely now. There are a lot of small branches down in the yard, and I could always go on a poop patrol and get the yard cleaned up a little for spring, but it is WET out there, and none of that stuff sounds really fun right now.

These are mid to late winter chores that need to be done before spring rolls around:
1. The grape vines need to be pruned. Also, one of the wires came loose, and it needs to be repaired.
2. Sticks and twigs and branches need to be taken out of the treed areas.
3. Pet droppings need to be taken out of the yard.
4. Ruts in the yard from bringing in loads of wood need to be sodded, rolled, and seeded.
5. Mulches need to be taken off strawberries and borders after really cold weather is over.

Not a lot of stuff, really, but the first week in April is eight weeks before the last frost, and things tend to get busy right about then.

I went out today and sorted through my junk in the garage and got things ready to go the the recycling center. Since I was dirty already, I decided to go and get some carrots out of the coolers. If anyone actually read some of my original root cellaring posts, I was receiving conflicting reports about whether to store carrots in damp sand or nothing. I would have to say that the nothing box won. About halfway down the sand in the cooler with the sand, the sand went from damp to all out wet, and most of the carrots in that storage box rotted. In the box with nothing, a little water had accumulated, but those carrots were still nice and crispy. Oddly enough, in the sandy storage box, the storage varieties of carrots fared the worst, and the white carrots from the rainbow carrots seemed to come through all right. I still got a nice big bowl of carrots that I can cut up later, but just about all of them are gone now, so I'll be buying carrots again soon.

Speaking of carrots, I decided to try a few new kinds this year instead of sticking with all the same ones I planted last year. I'm still sticking with bolero for storage, but I'm really excited about the Touchon carrots from the Burpee catalog this year. And I'm splurging on Japanese Momotaro tomatoes which is reduculous, because I like tomatoes cooked and sauced but not raw, but I still think it's fun to grow all the neat varieties of tomatoes.

I'm most excited about turning part of my wildflower and tall plant garden into a "Three Sisters" garden. I'm not sure if I've described that before here, so I may be going to repeat myself. First: You dig down about six inches and put in a fish. (I can think of some unfortunate bullheads who are going to "volunteer" for that job right now!) then, you cover up the fish and mound up about five inches from level. Plant the corn seeds. When the corn is about hand high, plant the climbing bean seeds (I'm probably going for Kentucky Wonder Waxed unless I get some free seeds from a catalog special for a different kind of climbing bean. I may also try some peas.) Then plant squash (or melon or pumpkin) around the sides of the mound. The beans use the corn for a pole, and the scratchy vines and leaves on the squash (or melon or pumpkin) surround the corn and keep critters from getting it. Also, the leaves from the vines cover the ground and keep the moisture regulated better than just bare dirt. Underground, the corn is taking the nitrogen from the fish and the ground, and the beans are fixing more nitrogen in the soil, and everything that one plant uses is replenished by the others. It's the Three Sisters! The mounds should be about three feet apart.

Basically, It's hard to get excited about anything this time of year, but I am pleased to have found some white alpine strawberries from a company called Pinetree Gardenseeds, which brings to four the total number of kinds that I have: two red and one yellow plus the new white ones.

This year, I will plant more than ten different kinds of tomatoes, four kinds of cucumbers, five different melons, and lots of sunflowers, too, along with my favorite old beans. My seeds for ground cherries finally germinated during their test period, and I need to find a good place to grow them unlike tucking them into the edge of the alpine strawberry patch like I did last year. Luckily, I have space in the tall plant garden for climbing vine plants and I expanded my lower garden by about a third. and I wasn't just being lazy and bad planting tomatoes in the asparagus bed last year! Little did I know that asparagus and tomatoes are excellent companion plants and serve as pest repellents for each other. And you don't have to rotate tomatoes as stringently as some other plants. As long as they are staying healthy, they can stay put, so a lot of garden space is getting freed up by having the raised bed for the asparagus open to tomatoes, as well.

Seed starting begins in about a month and a half, and I'm looking forward to it!