February and March 2022: The Gardening Frenzy

As often happens in spring, I’m so busy doing the gardening that I don’t have the time or energy to write about the gardening I’m doing. So, here’s a summary of that’s all gone on the last few weeks.

All spring crops and spring flowers have now been sown. I’ve built two new small raised beds close to the back deck which will serve as my greens bed–several types of lettuce, spinach, and chard, as well as leeks and green onions. Herbs have been planted in my smaller greenstalk, also near the back deck. I planted some broccoli seedlings as well, but the snow/hard freeze we had at the end of March killed them off.) I also broke down and ordered some onions starts from Dixondale Farms when my leeks and other onion seedlings did not seem to be faring well; those are all now planted in my large raised beds farther back in the yard. My various onion, leek, and shallot seedlings are still coming along, and will hopefully be ready to plant out later this month.

As for spring flowers, I’ve had a lot of success with my sweet peas and pansies/violas, as well as my lobelia. My snapdragons, not so much. I put a few out before what turned out ot be a hard freeze, and they did not survive. 😦 On to round 2 of sowing snapdragons.

I also ended up purchasing a bunch of tubers/bare root plants, because I was inundated with a million garden catalogues and I only have so much restraint. I received a great looking bunch of purple viking potatoes from Gurney, but they were so fresh and juicy that when I cut them up, they all got very moldy and I had to toss them. Still chitting up are some french fingerling potatoes and red gold potatoes. Still to arrive are two types of raspberry bushes (most of mine died last year, due to some kind of disease); a trio of blueberry bushes; and some thornless blackberry bushes as well. As none of my asparagus seems to have survived the winter, despite growing very well last year, I also had put in another order of asparagus crowns.

I also picked up a new dwarf Fuji apple tree (“Reachables” variety, from Gurney) because I was finally able to find one in stock! The full-size Fuji apple I’ve tended since last spring will go to a friend with a much bigger yard. I also picked up two bare root yellow roses from Costco at $15 or so a pop, which was a great deal. (The red roses I picked up there last year are all thriving.) And my dahlia tubers are all ordered, but not shipped yet as I’m in Zone 5a/b.

Still to sow are my warm weather crops. This weekend I will finally get my tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos sown. The flowers and all of my curcurbita crops (melons, cucumbers, squash) will get direct sown in May, as they don’t like to have their roots messed with. Also, I only have so much space left in my grown room in the basement!

Spring is definitely here, and I’m swamped. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with the blogging this summer, but no promises. Happy gardening!

Seed Planning, 2022: What I Learned from Last Year’s Seed Starts

Lat year I started a bunch of seeds. I followed the seed packets to the letter, erring on the side of longer when seed packets gave a range of days. I use my expected last frost date as the first week of May, which, according to both the local weatherman and many online sources, was correct. I didn’t give much extra fertilizer to my starts–in fact, most didn’t get any fertilizer until I planted them out.

That said, I still ended up with a nearly unmanageable jungle of oversized starts in my basement and living room by mid-April. It was a massive hassle up-potting and moving pots in and out doors in May, waiting for that final frost to hit. And then, after the plants were finally outside, at the end of May we had a few days of light frost. Augh!

It was a massive hassle that I am determined to avoid this year. This year I’l planning on a last frost date of May 15, with the reminder that I’m in 5a/b; I have enough time to grow pretty much anything before my first frost date, around early October, sets in.

Things I learned from last year:

Some hot peppers take forever to grow. Like, 12 weeks before they start to put on any significant growth. So, it’s okay to start those early. However, most mild or sweet peppers take about as long as the seed packets state, so 6-8 weeks or so. That said, peppers are EXTREMELY frost sensitive. There’s no point to putting them out until all chance of frost is a distant memory. So this year, I won’t be starting any but my hottest peppers until the beginning of April, at the earliest, with the plan of transplanting my peppers out around early June.

Tomatoes, however, grow really fast. Especially the cherry tomatoes. These were some of my biggest culprits last year. I still have nightmares about them constantly outgrowing their pots. I’m not even going to think about starting these until early April and transplanting them mid-May. (Again, there’s no real rush. I live in 5 a/b. I have a decently long growing season.)

Tomatillos also grow really fast. They are just as bad as the tomatoes, if not worse. I’m not starting them until April. Eggplants, the last of the nightshades I grew, took a while to get going. I put them in the same category with the peppers. If I were growing eggplants this year, I’d start them in early to Mid-March, depending on variety.

Another plant that grows extremely fast is Napa (or Chinese) cabbage. Do not start this one until you have thawed ground and a bed to put it in. When the seed seller says it hits maturity in 60 days, they are not lying.

Some plants I’m not planning on starting at all–I’m just going to wait until the weather is right and sow them in situ. I’ve found that a winter squash sown in plans in May will grow just as fast as a winter squash sown inside in April and them put outside to start hardening off in May. And, if you sow it directly, there’s no need to harden off starts! Other plants that this works well for are peas, beans, nasturtiums, and moonflowers. Essentially, anything with a large seed should work well for this.

Some plants that did not germinate and grow as fast as I’d like are beets, chard, and rutabagas, so I’m going to start these this week, as I like to be able to put out sizable starts. I’m hoping the ground will be thawed by mid-April. I also had no luck with my sweet peas last year, so even though, as peas, they will likely grow quickly, I am starting them early just in case. And as they are a cold-tolerant plant, I should be able to put them out pretty early.

Seed Starting: January 2022

Yes! I have started my first set of seeds. Yes, I’m in zone 5a/b. No, I’m not crazy (as far as I know!). Here’s what I’ve started so far:

First sowing: 1/31/22

Veggies:

Leek, King Richard (organic)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Alisa Craig (yellow, bulb)Seed Savers Exchange
Onion, Sierra Blanca F1 (white, bulb)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Rossa di Milano (red, bulb)Johnny’s Seeds
Onion, Yellow of Parma (yellow, bulb)Baker Creek
Onion, Zebrune Shallot Baker Creek

I grew onions and leeks last year, mostly as starts from Dixondale Farms. Due to health reasons I didn’t get the starts put into the ground until very late, and that, plus our horribly hot, dry summer, made for a mediocre onion and leek crop. This year I’m not buying starts–I’m going to try to grow all of my alliums from seed. What I remember from the few alliums I did attempt to grow from seed last year is that they took a long time to get big enough to transplant out into the yard, so I’m starting really early. It’s not like they are going to take up a lot of space in my basement greenhouse even if they do get big, and they are pretty sturdy and easy to pot up, so I’m not worried about them getting damaged or rootbound. (Unlike tomatoes and tomatillos, which I’m not even going to think about sowing until at least late April.)

Flowers:

Sweet Pea, Bouquet Blend Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea, High Scent Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea, Knee-Hi Blend Botanical Interests
Sweet Pea, Little SweetheartBotanical Interests
Sweet Pea, Perfume Delight Botanical Interests
Lisianthus, Echo Double MixSeeds ‘n Such

Sweet peas are another plant that I started too late last year, and had very low germination rates and low success with those plants that did germinate. Everyone raves about how amazing they smell, so I am determined to be successful with mine this year. Unfortunately, the root trainer I ordered from Gardener’s Supply is unexpectedly running late (even through FedEx, not USPS) and so, after a day of soaking the seeds, I’ve had to temporarily store them in wet paper towels. If nothing else, this should help me find out which seeds are viable or not.

The lisianthus is, honestly, pretty much a crapshoot–the seed packet arrived smashed, with all of the pelleted coating broken off. As lisianthus are almost impossible to germinate and grow as it is, I will be pleasantly surprised if I get even one viable plant out of the 100 seeds I planted. But who knows? It may work.

I should be sowing my next set of seeds around mid-February, I think.

Garden Update, 5/20/21: Overwhelmed by May

So the garden progresses. Ever feel like you are making progress, only to find that the space you cleared just makes room for everything else to move to the front? That’s how I feel with my garden at the moment.

Maybe this is the usual May overwhelm that many gardeners feel. As a new gardener, and one working under the constraints of both a pandemic and a surgery, I’ve felt particularly behind the ball. I made up for this with research and purchasing power. (I did my part for the economy, boy howdy.) But this research and purchasing power may have ended up working against me, as I have far too many plants and, due to my healing knee, no real way to make all of the physical changes in the garden that would be needed to plant them all. So. Into pots many of them go.

Granted, my plans for the garden this year were a lot. Upon review, I realized I couldn’t make all of the landscaping changes I wanted in one year, even if I was at full health. So I scaled that back. The rock garden overhaul will have to wait, as will the thinning of the overgrown iris and daffodil bulbs along the side of the house and the back alley. The evergreen bushes and overgrown lilac and magnolia trees in the front of the house will have to limp on for one more year without my help. And in the main flowerbed, all of the clumps of old lilies and Shasta daisies will get to enjoy one more season before I replace them with something prettier. (Or, if I get really energetic–or desperate for space for my dahlias–some may get up getting dug up later this summer.)

But I just don’t have the mental bandwidth right now, honestly. I’m already growing about 20 species or varieties that I’ve never grown (for example, I love apples, but I’ve never actually grown them), and keeping their growing needs and the details of how to counteract all of the things that could possibly go wrong ready to pull out of my head at the appropriate moment is keeping me pretty tired. Luckily, I could do my day job in my sleep at this point, so it doesn’t take much of my mental bandwidth, usually. And working from home, I have a lot more time to devote to the garden than I normally would. If/when we go back to the office full-time, though, I’ll be SOL. That’s probably part of what’s driving my anxious need to get everything squared away in the garden right now, actually–the pandemic is winding down (yay!) which means we’ll have to go back to the office soon (boo!)

My two new 3’x8.5′ raised beds are built and filled with soil–mostly a mixture of peat moss, top soil, and manure, with some lime, worm castings, and insoluble fertilizer mixed in, a la Gary from The Rusted Garden. I would not have been able to do this without the help of my father, who ended up doing most of the heavy lifting. (As a trade-off, I fix his computer, on pretty much a monthly basis.) The beds themselves are cheap metal raised beds that I picked up on Amazon back in January. Both raised beds have wooden trellises supported by t-posts, and they are already almost full.

As of now, almost of my tomatoes are out; I had started my Sungold cherry tomatoes too soon and as a result, by the time the weather was warm enough to put them out, despite my best efforts they were 2′ tall, leggy and weak. I now have two-week old seedlings going and I’m sure they will catch up with the rest of the tomatoes soon enough. I picked up a few brassicas as the local nursery–brussels and a red cabbage–as I wanted to give them another go but had no desire to start any more seeds. They ended up in the ends of the beds. This week, we had a day of rain followed by what was predicted to be 6 days of 80s weather, so I sowed my cukes directly into the bed, and added more carrots, because why not? I also had some melon seedlings ready, so they went in as well. And since I have a metric ton of dahlia tubers–most of which are now sprouting–I added an HS Date and a Great Silence went into the melon/cuke bed as well. I figured it would make the bed look pretty 🙂 In the other bed, the tomatoes are surrounded by calendulas and ranunculus corms, which will hopefully draw pollinators.

Eggplants are in fabric pots, and the tomatillos are in large plastic pots, as I recently found out that, despite what the seed packet says, they usually grow rather bigger than 3′ and spread more than tomatoes do. (From what I’ve seen, they look a right mess and I don’t want them anywhere near my raised beds.) I also picked up some seed potatoes, and also planted some from my kitchen that had started to sprout. And I’ve potted up some of the dahlias and ranunculus together; hopefully, even if they don’t bloom at the same time, the pots will always have at least something blooming in them. Tomorrow, I will finish potting up my peppers–why waste trellis space if I don’t have to?–and do some general clean-up. Planting and potting up is a messy business. And, finally, I need to figure out what to do with all my extra seedlings. I’ve already passed on as many as I can to friends and family, but as I was a paranoid grower, II planted a ton and therefore have a bunch left over. Ah, well. At least we have good weather finally, and soon–soon!–my garden will be fully planted, and I can move on to simply managing adult plants, without having to also worry about constantly sowing and caring for baby ones, too. Sounds like paradise to me!

Garden Planning: The Moon Garden

So this week I had good news and bad news. The good news is that the weather is continuing to not dip below 47F for the foreseeable future (usually our last frost date is 4/30). Another bit of good news is that I was able to find many cheap annuals at the local independent garden center. The bad news being that I have to yet again scale back my plans for renovating the garden due to my physical limitations. Currently I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck pretty much any day that I do any gardening, so…. it’s going to be a very long, slow rehaul this summer. (Who knew that simply bending down to weed and moving bags of soil could be so tiring??)

The ideal Moon Garden

Anywho, I have been able to slowly clear out a space in the back yard flower garden for my Moon Garden. This will be an all-white garden with a few plants that only bloom at night. It will be against the fence where the neighbor’s very tall fence ends and my way-too-short fence begins. I picked up a cute 6′ trellis to add to help add height and more privacy.

The plants I had originally planned for this area were the Moonflower vine (obviously); Fleurel dahlia (large white dinner-plate dahlia); white Malva; White Swan Echinacea; and some Acidanthera Murielae (“Abyssinian Gladiolus”)–all grown by me from seed or bulb. I’ve also added to this list some Roman Chamomile, mainly as a filler. The chamomile seedlings are coming right along; the echinacea seeds were extremely slow to germinate and as a result may not even bloom this year. The Abyssinian glads have also been very slow to sprout. 😦 Luckily, yesterday I was able to pick up a good array of annuals from the garden center, all already in full bloom: a couple of four-packs of while dwarf gladiolus, some white single-bloom border dahlias; and white cosmos. I also have a few ranunculus from a mix that might turn out to be white; they’ll get added if there’s room. I may even add one of my night-blooming jasmines, though it will have to stay potted as it is not at all hardy to my area.

Before I realized that I could get so many white annuals locally, I also ordered a few more seeds; Marshmallow from Baker’s Creek (all proceeds going to help India in their current Covid crisis), and some Indian Peace Pipe Nicotiana seeds from Botanical Interests. Now I just need to sow them when they arrive, and sow a few back-up moonflowers (my cat and the sun ruined a few already), and I think I should be good to go. I also have about six mature white Shasta daisies further up in the garden; unfortunately they are not close enough to the moon garden area and I’ll have to transplant one or two over, maybe using them to mark the borders. And once I get everything set up, I’ll likely add some kind of solar “fairy lights” to brighten things up.

Finally! A plan comes together. 🙂 Slowly but surely.

Seeds and Varieties I Recommend

So, this past year’s garden was full of successes and failures. As my first year gardening in this space, I pretty much threw everything I had at the wall and watched to see what stuck. I was surprised at which varieties I liked and which ones I didn’t. Without further ado, here are my favorites and failures of the Garden 2020:

Successes:

Trionfo Violetta (pole bean) This one was the only bean I grew (the only one I’ve ever grow, I believe). I was trying for something unique to add to my garden, and a purple bean fit the bill. First off, the foliage on these beans is amazing–dark purple heart-shaped leaves that turn to sage green as they age. Second, they are very tasty! I picked most of my crop while the beans were young and crisp, and it was pretty much like eating a snap pea. The plants germinated well, were very prolific, and were very easy to grow–I barely had to do anything to them. Highly recommended, especially for new gardeners.

Trionfo Violetta

Musquee de Provence Pumpkin This lovely curcurbita has gorgeous, lush foliage and looks like the perfect fairytale pumpkin. The pumpkin flesh is thick, with notes of cantaloupe. Better for sweet preparations than savory ones, imho. It can even be sliced thin and eaten raw. And they were really easy to grow! Highly recommended, if you have the room. The vines from the two plants I grew grow 20′, growing through and wrapping around my back fence. Also, I found that, even if the roots aren’t watered (we had a very hot, dry summer this past year, and some days I forgot to water), the vine puts out enough roots on its own that it gets all the water it needs anyway. Really low-maintenance.

My final favorite of 2020 were my lettuces. I grew a variety of types: Marvel of Four Seasons; mesclun mix; New Red Fire; and Winter Density. I liked all but the mesclun mix; I found I really detest bitter greens. The other three grew well, even in the heat of summer, and as long as I ate them in a reasonable time, they were fresh and sweet. (Note: the older lettuce gets, the more bitter it gets.)