Friday, April 5, 2013

Busy days, longer days

The tomatoes are growing tall
Spring is finally here, independent of the calendar! The snow, while still there, is melting quickly. Sap is running, greens are poking through the snow in the herb garden, and my greenhouse smells like a steamy garden.

Green onions... not
The one dark spot on my current planting horizon is the flat of green onions. I planted them some time ago and they are not sprouting. Admittedly, the seed was a few years old, but I had hoped. I will have to purchase new seed and get that into the flat. I don't think it's too late; I started the seeds very early this year out of desperation. Then again, I seem to remember making that desperation comment last year around this time, as well. Ah well! Nothing is quite so nice as fresh green onions diced in a salad of greens you've grown yourself.

Kale, repotted
My kale is doing 100% better than the green onions, that's for sure. It took very little time for them to germinate. The rate of germination wasn't as high as I'd hoped (only nine out of the 24 seeds sprouted), each of the plants that made it is healthy and vigorous. They're happily stretching out their roots in their new, more spacious homes. I love my plastic cups, because they're cheap and easy, and they make excellent planters.

Beets, sage, and basil
The sage has been slow to come, but now seems to be doing quite well. The beets are fantastic. I have no idea if they'll survive transplanting, but these were intended more to be a germination test than anything else. Beets generally do best when direct seeded into the soil, because they create a taproot which is easily damaged. Sweet basil is coming up gangbusters, too, stretching its little leaves to the sunlight. I've been pleased with how well each of these seeds germinated, as they're all a year out of date. I also planted oregano, a year old, which did not germinate at all. I'm keeping copious notes, so that I know how long seeds will keep. Oregano apparently is not something to keep for more than one year, but peas, beans, and some other herbs have done quite well despite being out of date.

Broccoli, transplanted
Of all the transplanting I've done, the broccoli was the worst. Tomatoes have stems that break easily, so you need to be really careful with them when re-potting. Broccoli, on the other hand, is just all-over fragile. I managed to break about nine of the plants beyond repair during the repotting process. Still, there were so many that came up (100% germination!) that losing those few didn't hurt as much. I've put the broccoli into plastic cups as well, and despite looking a bit weary immediately after, they're now perky and happy in their new homes.

I know I've mentioned my love of these greenhouses before, but I simply can't say it often enough. They were easy to put together, and beyond a few zip ties to keep things more secure, required no special tools. They've held the heat even when our house temperature dropped below 55F. They've kept the plants in a moist atmosphere despite being right beside our wood stove, which has been used on and off since we filled the greenhouses. They were an excellent purchase, and I'm forever grateful to Ms. T. for picking them up.

Until a couple of days ago I was only using one of the greenhouses, with the other one having some houseplants I was rehabbing, and my garden supplies. We've run out of room, however! I had to move the tomatoes (pictured above) into the second greenhouse. They were actually growing so quickly that I'm hoping the reduction of the light on them might hold them back just a wee bit. I'm still impressed with myself for creating tomato seedlings that are almost five inches tall!

Rhubarb peeking up
Outside the Freehold, we're finally seeing a few signs of life. The snow is still pretty deep in some spots, but the sunny area that encompasses the garden is rapidly melting. The rhubarb that I planted last year seems to be coming up wonderfully, and I've covered it with a clear plastic tub to "force" it to develop stems and leaves earlier. This is a common practice, especially in colder climates like our own. I have never done it before, but figured it was worth an attempt. Our family has a deep love for strawberry rhubarb pie, and so I really want this to work!

One of the best signs of it really being spring was found underneath a box that I'd inadvertently left sitting out all winter. When I moved the box, there were fat, happy worms wriggling there. I'm pleased that our soil naturally has these fat, hungry little guys residing in it. It means that the soil is healthy, and that it's life-sustaining. The other bit of spring that I hope to see soon comes in a little green hopping package. Frogs abound on our property, another healthy sign. Our children spend their summers catching them, keeping them around for a day or two to watch, then setting them free again to be with their fellow frogs. We also have newts, salamanders, and some snakes, all of whom have found their way into our observation tank. Talk about education!

The current raised beds
Our raised beds got quite buried over the winter. From late November until just this week, these beds were under a couple of feet of snow. I wish I'd followed through on my intention to cover them with newspaper at the end of the harvest last year, but I didn't. The soil looks great, though it's still frozen quite solid. As soon as I can effectively hoe the soil, though, we'll be putting in our Lincoln peas, snap peas, and our green beans. Every day I'm out there, kicking the dirt with the toe of my bright red wellies, hoping it'll clump and crumble instead of thumping.

Mt. Maneenee
There's still a lot of snow out there. For some reason, hubby piled all the snow on top of my tire beds, so those are still a few days away from being free and clear of the pile. The kids have been packing it down all winter, too, using it as their "mountain hideaway" which they called Mt. Maneenee. Still, all that snow had to go somewhere, and where it currently sits will melt quickly and leave me with well moistened soil.

Herbs returning
The herb bed is harboring life, despite being buried beneath the mountain. I can see parsley returning, something I didn't expect since I bought cheap pre-grown clumps of it last year. Some of the chives appear to have died off, but more of it is coming up cheerily. I have some in the greenhouses to supplement, so I'm not too worried. The German thyme looks to be returning as well, although it's touch and go at the moment.

The compost pile
Our compost pile has done well over the winter, maintaining enough heat that it was almost snow free for most of the time. It desperately needs turning now, but until I dig out our garden tools from the shed, I'm afraid it's not going to happen. I need my manure fork, a metal behemoth with four, wide set tines. It digs deep into the warm interior of the pile, and lets me turn large chunks of compost, revealing the rich dirt below. We cheated just a little, adding some already-finished compost (with excellent worms) to the pile before it got cold last year. I'm expecting great things from the bin this year!

The site of the hen house
Each year, I try to expand the garden in some way. This year, being only our second on this new Freehold, will include the addition of a lovely chicken coop, to be occupied by ten or so fat and contented brown egg layers. Our family can eat a LOT of eggs, and it isn't unusual for us to put away three to four dozen eggs in a week. If we decide on a "breakfast for dinner" night, that number can reach as high as six dozen! Chickens are on the "must get" list for this year, and as soon as it's warm enough for new chicks to be brought in and not die on us, we'll have our new coop brought in and installed. We'll be running electricity and water to the coop (and a new shed we hope to put beside it) underground, thanks to Gray's backhoe. We'll be able to put the piping a good three feet below the surface of the ground, which ought to keep it from freezing all winter. The spot where the water comes out for the chickens will have to have a heat light shone onto it in order to keep it flowing, but it's doable. I can't wait...

The new orchard
We have a huge, semi-circular driveway, suitable for parking about 20 cars in. This is just too much for even our large family. We've decided to take a huge chunk of the driveway, and remove it. The resulting space will have good compost put down, sod laid on top, and fruit trees planted. We currently have plans for two more apple trees to supplement the one we have, two peaches, two plums, and two pears. We'll also be picking up several blueberry bushes, some raspberries, and blackberries. With any luck, we'll be able to put a nice shade in the area center of the picture to the right, suitable for a picnic table or table and chairs, and perhaps a hammock.

New raised beds
At least three new raised beds will go in this year. They'll be on the opposite side of the driveway (to the right in the above picture, whereas the current raised beds are to the left). The new spot (pictured left) is a bit more shady, but still gets about five hours of sunlight a day, and possibly more. This will be our spot for greens, beans, and other shade-loving plants. We'll be building the beds out of scrap lumber we've picked up at the dump and from craigslist, so they're free, for the most part, aside from a few nails. Then we'll get Gray to pick up several square yards of good compost from the dump, where they give it away for free. There's no way we could fill all these raised beds with good enough soil if it weren't for the wonder of our dump.

The cornfield
My last innovation is our corn field. Last year we used one of the raised beds as a corn field, albeit a tiny one. This year, I need that space for the large number of tomatoes we've sprouted. Each of these plastic tubs will be lined with a black garbage bag, and a few holes will be poked for drainage. Dirt will be put into them, and five corn seeds will be planted in each: the four corners and one in the center. During germination and early growing, they can be shoved all together, and if it gets cool some nights, we can toss a tarp over them easily enough. When they start to tassel and fertilize one another, we'll set up the tubs in a checkerboard pattern, allowing the spacing for good cross fertilization. I expect it'll look fairly nice, too! In the fall, after the corn is collected, we can just dump the soil out into our compost bins, to be recycled with the various other compost.

What amazing plans do you have for your garden this year? Are you a balcony gardener, or a farmer with acres of room to spare? Share your dreams and plans with us!

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