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that consists of packets of seeds. My neighbor Norman came over and said he will be plowing today and tomorrow and if I wanted to plant a little garden or something, he will be more than happy to plow a spot for me. He said his wife planted peas this weekend, but they like the cold. He also said other than that, there is no hurry to plant anything for a while if he plows today because of the cold (except peas I guess).

He asked how I was planning on turning the soil because we do not have a nifty team like he does (he didn't say that, but I am sure he observed it) and I said I was going to build some raised beds. He thought that was interesting...I didn't want to speak too much because I know I sound like such an amatuer. The few things I did say I think it was because I heard Peony say them like "oh yeah, peas they like the cold..." Actually, I did know that one by some fluke, the rest was from associating with Peony.

Garden Journal: raised beds

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Already I am so glad we raised the beds in the vegetable garden. It has been gently raining for about 36 hours straight now. We have clay soil with poor drainage, and in the past I would have looked out to my garden and seen it under giant puddles of water. with a few trickles of water carrying away all my seeds and soil amendments.

But not this year! All I see are my raised beds, with my sticks and strings and strings and soil all exactly where I left it.

Now I am on a mission: I want raised beds everywhere. I had some leftover castle block last fall from our retaining wall project, and I used it to build a flower bed on the side of our shed. Now I look out the window and I see the green grass, the white shed, the red brick, and the yellow daffodils nodding away. It's so cute.

One of my many dreams for the Prussian Green Money Pit is to save enough money to replace the rusty old chain-link fence with a simple wood fence, with raised beds along the perimeter of the lawn. I could put in hostas, azaleas, daylilies (like the big pink and white "Stargazer" lilies; some people think they're tacky but I really like them....) I'd love to raise a bed along the outside wall of our carport and plant lilacs.

Once I get all these beds built and filled, I will be able to consult Erik's Gardening in Hell post for hints on what not to plant in them.

Garden Journal

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Last Saturday was a busy garden day. It rained in the morning, so I worked on some prep stuff.

I am still trying to find the best way to mark off the squares in the garden, and so far I've had the best luck with string. Last year the string got all muddy and difficult to see; this year I got some fluorescent pink surveyor's string that contrasts nicely. I tied the string to those 1 foot long bamboo stakes and stuck the stakes around the perimeter at 1-foot intervals, so now I've got a nice 1-foot grid. This year I got really obsessed and drilled holes in the stakes to poke the string through, instead of looping the string around the top lasso-style. As I was running the drill, I thought I cannot believe I am doing this, but I'm glad I did -- the pink string tends to come unknotted, so what I did was just poke each end of a 4' length of string through one of the stakes, tie a knot, and then fix the knot with clear nail polish. I felt very ingenious, and laying out the grids went very quickly. Now my gardens look like archeological digs with those string grids, but that's okay.

So after I laid out my grids, it was time to plant. I direct-sowed parsnip, carrot, and lettuce. Those carrot seeds are so tiny -- what a hassle. I was also ruing making the paths between the beds a mere 18 inches -- much too small. I am planting "Short 'n' Sweet" and "Nutri-Red" carrots -- the Nutri-Reds are supposed to be extra high in phytochemicals and should be cooked. Sometime I might plant some of those carrots that are shaped like golf balls, just because they're cute.

For the lettuce I planted Romaine, loose-leaf, corn salad (mache -- I don't know how to make that little carrot over the a) and mesclun mix. I had also tried starting lettuce from seed indoors but it got very leggy and droopy. It wasn't doing well inside at all, and I was in a hurry, so instead of carefully hardening it off I just took the seedlings and stuck them in the ground. It's been five days now and they don't look dead yet -- we've had cool rainy weather -- so perhaps my gamble will pay off.

I also planted some more garlic. I have so much garlic available for planting, I'm still trying to decide where to plant it all.

The peas I planted at the beginning of March have started to come up. Two of the three new rhubarbs have their first tiny leaf out, and the third one has a bud. I was worried that I'd planted those too early, but looks like my gamble paid off.

After I did all that sowing, I came inside and started some plants from seed: tomatoes (Brandywine, grape, and Roma) and basil (Genovese and purple) Talk about instant gratification -- all of those seeds have already germinated and are well on their way!

The other seeds under the lights are also doing well. I am delighted at how well the eggplants are doing -- they are about four inches tall now and have their true leaves. The marigolds all look good, and I have three tiny geraniums growing too. I planted some broccoli, and I need to start hardening it off. It's also looking all weird and leggy.

Our last frost date is late April to May 1 -- hard to believe it's coming up so soon. I'll be planting out marigolds and direct-sowing nasturtiums right away, and will probably plant out tomatoes and eggplants closer to Mother's Day.

The intensive organic gardening methods I'm interested in lend themselves to succession planting -- planting things close together, or one after another. For example, I put the lettuce I started indoors in the squares where I plan to put the tomatoes in another month or so. The lettuce will probably be ready to pick just when it's time to set out the tomatoes, and if not, there will be enough room for the little tomatoes for another week or so.

Meanwhile, the bulbs I planted last fall are blooming in just the choreography I hoped for: first the crocuses, and now grape hyacinth, daffodils, hyacinths, and a few narcissi. They look so cheerful. I'm looking forward to the tulips.

Garden Journal

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I was originally going to title this post, "All Dressed Up and No Place to Go." When we had our first snap of warm weather a few weeks ago, I ran right out and made three raised beds (I'd made the fourth last fall.) I filled them with some soil and compost and... now I have to wait.

We were enjoying weather in the fifties and even in the low sixtes, but it's gotten much colder again, especially at night. My sources tell me that it's not too early to start planting things like peas and lettuce -- "plant as soon as the soil can be worked" -- but I'm still nervous about doing too much planting. I am terrified that I jumped the gun on the rhubarb -- I found some on March 12 and planted it that very afternoon, just in time for the cold weather to come back. I am anxious for the survival of these roots. When I planted them, they had a few little stems coming, maybe an eighth of an inch thick; the weak little leaves withered but the stems themselves seem to be hanging in there. I mulched them with leaves for the coldest nights; I just checked them and all of them still have good turgor in those little stems -- and one of them has a few leaves getting ready to come out. The rhubarb plant from last year is doing great and has plenty of fat stalks with big green leaves coming up.

I have also planted peas and mesclun but I haven't seen any germination. The garlic I planted last fall is doing fine, and I picked up some more from the garden center for a spring planting.

I am delighted with the success of the seeds I started inside under a grow-light. Almost all my eggplants have germinated, and some are starting to get their first true leaves. The parsley and geraniums are coming up too. I tried starting lettuce and broccoli indoors and I'm not sure how good an idea that was; they are leggy, and flopping all over the place. This week I must start the tomatoes and basil.

The flower bulbs are coming up now too -- not quite as precisely choreographed as I had hoped, but then I do have spring fever. The crocuses are all up, untouched by deer or squirrel, and the first daffodils have bloomed. The outdoor hyacinths, in white and deep blue, are coming too -- the first buds are starting to open.

In the next few days I want to check the schedule and start hardening off some lettuce seedlings to transplant outside and start doing some direct sowing: lettuce, mesclun, corn salad, parsnips, and carrots. I'd like to find some little gadget to help me plant the carrots and lettuce -- the seeds are so darn tiny!

This is a picture of my vegetable garden. Yes, I know the bed frames aren't quite level, and if I could go back in time I go to last spring and say, "Don't waste your time double digging! Make raised beds, and space them at least 24 inches apart! Don't bother with the brick paths, they are a pain to level and you'll have drainage problems!"

The back bed by the fence is the rhubarb bed, and if you look closely at the corner you might see the rhubarb from last year coming up. The green stems in the front fence-side bed are garlic. The pink strings are marking off one-foot squares to help with plant spacing. That bed will be the future home of the parsnips and carrots, I think. The back left bed is where I planted the peas and will be the home of summer lettuce, and the front left bed -- the sunniest -- will be for spring lettuce and then for tomatoes, eggplant, and garlic. But I keep changing my mind about where I want to put the tomatoes.

raised bed 030401.jpg

and we just got three inches dumped on us. The kids looked out the window and said "This stinks!"

I am jealous Peony! It is hard to think raised beds when the grass dissapeared yet again.

Spring Fever, week 2


Last week I was working like a busy beaver on the raised beds -- dragging the boards home, painting them with linseed oil, flipping them, painting the other side, and finally painting them green. Over the weekend my husband helped me assemble them, and yesterday I wedged them into their spots. Now I'll just need to fill them and I'll be ready to roll.

I planted some lettuce (mesclun) in my existing bed but I'll wait till

The weather was a tease all last week: warm, but intermittently rainy, so I never knew how much time I had to prep the boards. Sunday was perfect -- sunny, mild -- so we had a good time working in the yard.

All of us, that is, except for Hambet. Poor kid, all his efforts at yardwork were thwarted by his unfeeling parents. Don't pour all the grass seed out at once! No digging holes in the lawn! No rocks in the garden! No waving rakes in the air! Bricks are not for throwing!

Finally we gave him the hose, and that put a smile back on his face (and the cold, cold water dripping down Daddy's back.) Note to self, Hambet needs boots ASAP.

Maybe next year he'll be able to follow directions well enough to have his own little planter to tend.

Spring Fever!!!

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I think I'm going to be scarce again this week -- we're supposed to have weather in the fifties, sixties, and even into the seventies! So I will be working on getting my garden ready.

Last year I was dig, dig, digging away and all for nothing -- the rain carried away soil, soil amendments, and seeds alike. This year I'm doing what I should have done last year: making raised beds.

I just got back from the Big Orange Store with 12 4-foot boards, screws, angle brackets, and a clamp. The plan is to coat the lumber with boiled linseed oil, assemble them into boxes, maybe add a bit of paint to address my husband's aesthetic concerns, line them with plastic, and them fill 'em up with soil enriched with peat moss and compost.

In our area (zone 6B- 7) I can start some planting some things as early as March 15, so I want to get a place ready for those early plantings: peas, garlic, rhubarb, and some early lettuce.

My attempts to force hyacinths and tulips this winter failed utterly -- next winter I'll just buy them at the store -- but I do see little bulbs peeking up already, including the ones in my bulb planters. I also see new growth in all of the lamb's ears (including the ones I thought were done for.) Looks like the sage and rosemary made it, too. And this morning, I went out to the the rhubarb bed to peek under the leaf mulch. There it was -- the first little green leaves, all curled up like a baby's fist, on tiny little red stalks.

This week I'm also going to be starting some seeds. I'm going to try eggplant again ("Rosa Bianca" and those white eggplants) and lettuce, along with tomatoes and marigolds. I want to plan out my flower bed and see what else I want to grow.

Last fall I mentioned trying some rooting hormone. I took cuttings of rosemary and basil. The basil didn't make it, but the rosemary did great -- every cutting "took." It's continued to thrive indoors through the winter. It's been so gratifying to be able to just walk over to the windows and snip off a few leaves for cooking. I used to kill every houseplant in my custody, so just having the things survive has been a thrill.

Summer's encore

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We have been enjoying temperatures in the 80's for the last few days. We took Hambet to the zoo on Saturday (a bit of a waste of time -- he was interested in everything but the animals -- never mind the elephant, Mommy, I'm trying to climb into the basket of the stroller!)

Yesterday was a big gardening day. I dug manure and compost into one of my vegetable beds, installed the raised bed my husband made for me, and planted some garlic. (We'll raise the other beds in the spring.) All that's left to do is mulching the vegetable beds, and I'll probably use chopped leaves for that.

Today I plan to dig a flower bed along the side of the shed, and plant some bulbs. I will probably be scarce this week; I want to take advantage of the nice weather, and then when it gets chilly again, I'll be catching up with all the stuff I didn't do before.

Remember those white eggplants I've been coddling all summer? What a story -- I think I planted fifteen seeds and got five seedlings, of which three plants survived. I planted this just because it was cute, and figured that if I got one crummy eggplant the experiment would be a success.

Our summer was so cool that I didn't end up setting the plants in the garden until mid- July (they just looked to small, but that was a mistake.) They liked being in the garden, though, and started to take off in August and set a few lavender flowers in September.

One plant has several fruits on it now! So even this experiment had some success.


From Thy Bounty

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Soon it will be time to start mulching the vegetable garden and putting it away for the winter. I still need to decide where I'm going to try planting some garlic (a friend gave me a couple of bulbs from his garden.)

I still have a few Roma tomatoes that are hanging on bravely. I did have one great tomato success in the Brandywines. That plant had two green fruits before it toppled over. I took the fruit in, intending to make fried green tomatoes, but they started to ripen. One spoiled before I could get it, but as for the other.... I enjoyed two lunches of chicken, bacon, and luscious sliced tomato on sourdough bread.

I had a big basil harvest earlier this week too, enough for eight batches of pesto! We had one for supper and I froze the rest, so we'll have some for the winter.

I picked up some rooting hormone today. My next project is to try to get some of the herbs to root so I can grow them indoors. I hope to get that started this weekend.

On Friday, I got a flat of pansies and a couple of little mums for our front flower bed. I set out yesterday to plant them. When my husband came out a little while later to see what they looked like, he found the pantries still in the flat and the front bed in complete disarray -- some strange fit came over me and I was compelled to dig up the perennials, divide a few, and move them all around. And I mean all around -- I left only one in the same spot, and that's because I had just planted it last Sunday.

So I dug up the lamb's ears -- they looked crowded -- and spaced them all out along the front border. They didn't look like they're thriving, so I hope they like the extra room and aren't too traumatized by the move. I dug up and got rid of the black-eyed Susans; yes, they're the Maryland state flower and all that, but they just looked so straggly all the time, and their leaves scratched. I divided the big purple coneflower and moved it and the two volunteers to the back of the bed, and stuck a couple of rust-colored mums between them. The three rosemary plants got moved to the back southwest corner, closest to the house, and the two purple sages moved in front of them; I'm hoping they'll all successfully overwinter there. Finally, all the pansies -- little white ones with purple faces -- went in the middle of the bed. They're supposed to be able to overwinter.

I have bulbs on the brain now. The smart thing to do would have been to plant bulbs while I was doing all this moving around, but I'm not sure if it's too early here or not. I would like to plant tulips, hyacinth, and maybe some crocus. I'm also thinking about making a layered planter with my pansies -- one of those deals where you plant the bulbs in the pot and then plant pansies on top. The bulbs bloom first, and then the pansies rebloom (and their foliage covers the bulbs' dying foliage.)

At some point I should turn my attention to the indoor garden. I have exactly one houseplant (a Pothos, in the kitchen.) I have not done well with houseplants in the past, even with the hardiest "you-can't-possibly-kill-this" plants, so I'm timid about trying them again. I also am lacking places to put them; we don't have a lot of end tables, and no plant stands or attractive planters. I'm not sure about the light issue -- I don't think I have bright, direct light anywhere in the house except in the guest room. Then there's the Hambet factor -- keeping the little gardener from doing his own repotting. So a lot to think about. But I want to start soon, perhaps by starting cuttings from my outdoor herbs. If I succeed, we can just put the herb garden in the guest room.

We are also going to plant a new flower bed in the back. At first I was thinking about planting those big, splashy Asiatic lilies (perhaps in succession with tulips) but maybe I'll try... peonies.

Garden Report


Garden Report

I went out and did a little work in the garden. I'm harvesting carrots now, and I think I'll have enough basil for a batch of pesto this weekend -- yum yum! The Roma tomatoes have lots of green fruit, and one tomato is starting to turn red. The Brandywine tomato is very tall now and has two green fruits. And -- hooray! -- no blossom end-rot! That blight took half my little crop last year. All that soil amendment and eggshell paid off.

I planted a watermelon for the heck of it and it is taking over its patch, so I made a little tent of poles for it to climb on. It has two fruit already that are about the size of bocce balls, and a few more little fruits the size of ping-pong balls. I'm still trying to grow those white eggplants. I have two plants that are still alive, but they haven't set any fruit yet.

I consulted the planting guide that the state extension office sent me, and was full of chagrin to find that I've missed the target date for planting broccoli again! I should have started seeds for transplants a month ago. I may just try planting anyway and see if I get anything.

I do have a garden tragedy -- three of my rhubarbs have withered away! I don't know whether it's the heat, or whether some of the weed killer my husband was using drifted over and killed them. How I hope they come back! But if they don't, I'll just try again next year -- in a different spot. We are setting up a little bed near our shed, and that seems like it might be a nice spot. Meanwhile, I've written to ask the state extension office for advice. I hope they'll have some encouraging news for me.

Garden Report


Garden Report

The endless rains of the spring are over and I've gotten a chance to finish weeding and survey my situation.

I did my front perennial bed last weekend. My husband was very distressed when he saw how much I'd pruned, but the black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers had gotten totally out of control and were crowding everything else out. I did pull out one coneflower that looked pretty bad and put one of the thriving rosemarys in its place. Success stories first: the Susans and the coneflowers, the rosemarys, and the purple sages are all doing great. The three lavenders I planted this spring are also growing (though they did not flower -- boo hoo!) One of those three is the one that the critter ate! It came back! So I will be pleased and amazed if it continues to grow.

Now for the failures. The lavender plant I thought was doing so well suddenly curled up and died in the space of a week! I am so disappointed. I had the opportunity to chat with one of our county's Master Gardeners and he suspects that it might have drowned. (My soil is clay, and I did not double-dig the flower bed as I did with the vegetable beds.)

I am also worried about the lamb's ears I planted this spring. I planted eight for the front border, and they looked so nice and seemed to be doing well. But now one of them is dead, another one has only three healthy leaves, and another three have a bunch of yellow and brown sickly-looking leaves. I put soil amendments in when I planted them, so I hope it is not another drainage issue. I may be visiting the Master Gardeners again this week. I fertilized with kelp extract this morning, so I hope that helps.

As for the vegetable beds, the rhubarb continues to survive (I want to put some manure on it) and I am still cutting good lettuce. The carrots are thriving too -- the last one I thinned was about an inch long -- they seem to have liked all that rain!

Best news is that the tomatoes are finally doing something! The two Romas have blossoms and one of them has a tiny green fruit starting to form. Hooray! I also planted a tiny watermelon on a whim, and it has blossoms now too. I lost my first basil seeds when they washed away in the rain, but I have two little plants that weren't washed away, and some of the seeds I replanted have started to sprout. So perhaps I will be making and freezing pesto after all.

My other big news in the garden department is that I finally have started composting! I have not yet found a good place to put it -- it's right in plain view of the house -- but I can always move it.

I had wanted to compost for a while but aesthetic considerations held me back. Compost piles should not smell, but they are a little unsightly, and I couldn't find a place to hide it (our yard is not very large. If the Misguided Handyman had only built a smaller shed instead of the giant barn, and sited it a little bit further from the fence, there would have been a perfect space right there.)

I saw a Rubbermaid composter at Home Depot the other day. This item certainly addressed my concerns about aesthetics, but I don't have $89.00 lying around at the moment. But I was back on the compost kick, so I searched around a little more and discovered that the county has compost bins for free. Nothing as elegant as the Rubbermaid composter -- the free one is basically a length of PVC plastic with big holes for ventilation and small holes for fastening the thing into a tube -- but the price was right.

We set it up yesterday. The instructions suggested elevating it above the ground to improve air circulation, so this morning I went back to Home Depot and shamelessly mooched a pallet junked in the parking lot. My plan is to put some landscape fabric on the pallet (to keep the compost from falling out) and then plop the bin on its little stage. We still have lots of fallen leaves behind the shed, so that should be a good start for the compost.

Some Lessons Learned so far:

1) Start as many plants as possible inside! I am going to try setting up a plant light this winter to help make this possible.

2) Eggshells, eggshells, eggshells! Tomatoes love them, but I also learned that if you crush them coarsely and sprinkle them on the surface of the ground, they will ward off slugs. (I had a problem with slugs under the lettuce.) I don't think I will ever throw an eggshell away again.

3) Get those Master Gardeners on speed-dial. I wish I had consulted them before I planted that ivy; they warned me that it is considered an invasive non-native around here (Vinca would have been a better choice.)

Garden Report


It's UNDER WATER, pure and simple! We've had at least four inches of rain this week. All my big plans are in a puddle.

No, I take that back, the lettuce continues to thrive. I'll cut some this afternoon. Three tomatoes cling to life, but they're not growing very much; no sign of fruit anytime soon. I'll have to check on the garlic, I hope it hasn't rotted in the ground.

Today I worked on my little perennial bed in the front. The lavender plant I planted last year is doing great -- I actually had to cut it back. I took a whole plastic grocery bag full of lavender and there's still plenty on the plant. So I am having fun putting it in vases and getting some ready to dry.

I also harvested my first mint this afternoon. I am crazy about mint ice cream (even though I have no business eating it!) and am eager to try this recipe for mint chocolate gelato.

I have two little planters by the front door. We did the dwarf-Alberta-spruce-in-the-pot thing this year, and then I filled in some of the space with cheap annuals (vinca vine, dusty miller, impatients, and that pink polka-dot plant) from the Home Depot. Those little planter gardens are doing great (and are making the dwarf spruces look rather..well, dwarfed....) So at least something's not drowning. I trimmed back some of the dusty miller and the vinca and brought it back with the lavender.

I am so proud -- for the first time in my life I am arranging little vases with flowers I grew myself!

WOO HOO! Finished the fourth and last garden bed today! Now they are ready to be sectioned off and, in May, planted.

Progress on the other plants, too. A second eggplant seed sprouted and the marigold seedlings are coming along great. The lettuce is just peeking above the ground too. And all four of the rhubarbs have sent up leaves -- they live! they thrive!

Rhubarb looks kind of like red celery or Swiss chard. It grows in bunches of stalks that have deep green leaves. The stalks range from green to deep magenta red. (The green ones are the most tart.) You cut the stalks in the late spring and summer, and then let the plant replenish itself for the rest of the year. Only the stalks are edible; the leaves are poisonous (although it seems in the 1800's they were used medicinally.) Sometimes around here (Maryland) you can get it fresh in the supermarket or at a farmer's market. The plant comes back, year after year. My grandmother has plants that could be 70 years old -- they're huge!

The stalks are not eaten raw, and are too tart to eat by themselves. (In The First Four Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder tells how, as a new bride, she learned this lesson the hard way. She calls rhubarb "pieplant" in that book.) But with a little sugar, they can be chopped up and stewed, jellied, baked in pies or crisps, or frozen for later. Rhubarb also marries well with other fruits, especially strawberries.

A slice of rhubarb pie is one of life's sublime pleasures. The jingle from Bebopareebop Rhubarb Pie? It's all true. I'll be harvesting my first rhubarb next May or June. I can't wait.

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