Sunday, April 29, 2012

Cats Will Be Cats

   On the evening of the Friday the 27th, we had the National Weather Service issue a frost advisory for our area. They were predicting the morning low to be about 34, but said some pockets may experience temperatures as low as 25.  Time to cover the strawberry and the spring veggies boxes, we thought.  I also moved my large pots of cannas in the front yard to the front porch, close to the house where it will be much warmer to protect them.

   On the morning of the 28th, I checked the cannas first, and saw they were unaffected.  There was no frost on the ground, so it was a false alarm for our area.  I went to the backyard to remove the tarp from the two SFG boxes.  Much to my disappointment, I found that our cats (I don't know... maybe only one of them did it...) had squeezed themselves under the tarp and trampled all over my spring veggies box! I saw Mesclun seedlings dug out of the soil, radishes with torn leaves, onion seedlings mashed into the soil, etc. all with deep indented paw marks all over the box... T_T  I'll have to look into building (More building!) some protection for the boxes.

   I was a little sour after finding out they had messed with my vegetable garden, and even after tidying up and rescuing as much as I could of the damaged seedlings, I couldn't bring myself to take a picture ... or write up an entry for that matter. XD  I just watered them in really well and put more sticks into the soil for the time being.

   Here's the look at the spring veggies box on Day 21.    Every square has something green in it.  So far, the only failed germination was one of the soy beans.  I have seen this before.  Some seeds just rot right in the soil.  Everything else is going well, despite the damage from the kitties. ^^;

   These two adjacent squares are planted with peas "Alaska".  They started out looking about the same size as the Asian snap peas variety planted in the next 2 squares, but now they are noticeably taller at about 3 inches.  They are starting to grow the tendrils.

   Today, I also cleaned our small garden pond.  I didn't do this last spring and I didn't do it last fall, so it was time that I got my hands dirty and gave it a thorough cleaning it deserved.  I scooped out the dead and decaying leaves and the accumulated mat of roots from the waterlilies that have been in there.  The water was dark purplish brown (Ewww...) and smelled the all-too-familiar sewer smell, thanks to all that anaerobic decomposition taking place in there.  I discarded the debris and the dark water into the various parts of the garden.  A big portion went to the rose bed for extra nutrition.  Some also went to the raspberry patch, which is continuing to show fresh growth, and even some white flowers.   I'm hoping that the water parameters will be acceptable within a few days for me to add some feeder goldfish (mainly for mosquito control).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rare Rain

Yesterday afternoon was quite unpleasant with strong gusts of wind stirring up dust and debris all through the valley and limiting visibility.  My asthma acted up from all the particles in the air and kept me inside for the afternoon. :(  The good thing was that once the low pressure front that was causing all the gusty winds finally crossed into the area, we got a bit of rain.  It's so dry in our area we are lucky to see moisture on the ground -- usually you see rain clouds in the sky, but rain drops do not reach the ground.

So when we got up this morning, and it was still raining, it felt so nice and cool.  I think everyone loves that smell of rain. :)

I don't get to see this very often in our yard -- rain drops on petals.  There's nothing that feels quite as refreshing as seeing cool dew drops on delicate flower petals.

So lovely! *sigh*

While I was admiring the iris, I saw the first rose of my yard.  This bush is planted really close to the foundation of the house and well protected.  This particular bloom was so low to the ground, I almost missed it.  It definitely cannot be seen from the street at all behind all the pale blue irises.  I think this is called "First Prize".  It produces huge, richly saturated magenta/deep hot pink colored flowers with lots of petals with a nice fragrance.  Here, this one's looking a little bit frost damaged along the tips of the petals.

Our wistera vine was hit by the late frost when it was loaded with bud clusters.  T_T  At least, a few dozen clusters had survived and they are still blooming while the vine started to leaf out.  I love the combination of reddish/brownish green leaves against the purple.

Now that the days are consistently hot, the cannas have started growing vigorously.  I planted some dwarf marigold seeds around the periphery of the pot and you can see the tiny seedlings starting to appear.  Once the canna leaves reach good size, I will remove those cat-deterrent sticks. *can't wait*

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Birthday Entry

On Tuesday, my husband finished making the third box frame, which is going to be dedicated as the 'corn box' with nothing but corn (the box on the right with no visible green in the picture above).  We've decided to plant two different varieties 2 weeks apart.  One that I planted yesterday is a hybrid "Early Choice", which matures in 66 days.  It's an early maturing, yellow corn.  I planted the seeds in the 8 squares of the northern half of the box.  In 2 weeks, I will plant the other variety, hybrid "Honey & Cream", a very pretty yellow and white corn, which reminds me of my grandparents' garden from childhood in Japan.  This variety has 78 days to mature.

Speaking of childhood memories, my grandmother once had this funny garden incident.  She used to plant and grow a good-size garden in the backyard -- mainly vegetables and some flowers.  She had a compost pile in the shady corner, too.  One spring, she planted her corn and beans, and they usually come up in a week or so, but nothing was coming up.  Suspicious, she looked at her rows of corn and beans and decided to investigate by digging them up to see maybe the seeds got hit by some fungus infestation and died or failed in some ways.  She couldn't find any seeds in the soil.  They magically disappeared!  "Maybe some kids were playing pranks", she thought.  Being an ever gentle and patient type she was, she went ahead and planted the corn and beans again.  Few hours later, she was sipping tea, looking and admiring her handiwork of freshly sown rows of vegetables and she spots a pigeon.  This pigeon would stick its head into the ground, find the corn seeds, eats them, then hops forward twice to pick at another spot in the ground to find more seeds.  The bird had figured out the spacing and was eating away in a remarkably efficient manner, working the rows!! XD
With the mystery solved, my grandmother had to make sure no birds were watching her this time.  For the third round of sowing that spring, she planted in the dark.  Luckily, this time, everything came up and she was able to have a wonderful harvest.   To this day, I always look around when I plant my corn to make sure no doves or pigeons are watching me. ^_^

The Mesclun salad mix square.  They were the first to germinate.  Still small though. ^^

A closeup view of one of the four Swiss chard seedlings.  We can already tell that this one will have red or magenta coloring.  I have 2 like this one and 2 bright yellow ones.

Soy beans (9 in a square) have finally popped up.  They look really large, but took longer to germinate than anything else in this box. ^^;

Found a tiny strawberry -- so cute.  Some of the plants were already having flowers and berries when I bought them last Saturday.

One of the irises in the front flowerbed.  This one is pure white with lacy frilled edges on the petals.  Flowers are really large this year.

Another clump of irises.  These guys hardly had any blooms last season, so I was given up on them, but they came back beautifully this year.  The colors -- maroon and gold -- happen to be my college's colors.  So I have a certain fondness for these guys.  This was one of the rhizomes I got from a friend years ago and I have no idea what the variety's name is.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spring Vegetables Box: Day 16

   The spring vegetables box that got started on April 8th (Easter Sunday) is now starting to look fun with seedlings in just about every square.  This is when things start to get exciting.  Their growth is noticeable from one day to the next.

   It's been a fun chore to pick out the seeds from the Chinese Elm trees in the neighborhood that fall in our SFG boxes.  They're so pesky this time of the year.  Years ago, I lived next to an old couple who enjoyed flower gardening in a smaller scale.  The old man would be seen vacuuming the elm seeds with his Electrolux out in their driveway, vacuuming the flower bed.  I thought it was comical back then, but now I think he was brilliant.   I got the paving blocks brought over from the abandoned garden plot to keep my shoes from getting muddy when I water the boxes.  This has been a "build as you go" kind of project all along.

   The "Alaska" peas seedlings.  I planted two to a hole.  Almost all of them successfully germinated, so I'll have to thin them when they get a little bigger.  I just realized that the recommended spacing for peas in the SFG method is 8... not 9. XD  Oh, well. (I guess I can pluck out the center ones from each square?)

   My husband got the frame for the third box ready.  We'll put a weed barrier on the bottom and it will be growing a crop of corn for us this season.  There will be a fourth box of summer vegetables.  I'm still waiting for the local nursery's veggies to grow a little bigger.  I checked their green house yesterday and their tomato, pepper, and eggplant were still tiny baby seedlings.  Technically, our area's average last day of frost is April 29.  There has been some years with killing frosts as late as the first week of May, so I'm going to play it safe with those tender summer veggies and wait a little longer.

   Bridal Veil shrub coming into bloom.  Our cats love to curl up under this shrub, hidden away from others, cool from the hot sun.  Speaking of hot, it was almost 90 degrees yesterday.  The weather man on the news said it's about 20 degrees above the normal average daily high for this time of the year.

   And because it's been so warm, my irises have started blooming about a week ago.  This is a rhizome I got from a friend years ago and I don't know the name of the variety, but I have many around the house. XD   I did a better job of keeping the weed under control in my perennials bed last season, and they seem to be doing much better.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Little Garden Fairies

   I was cleaning up my old abandoned garden plot at the end of our property late yesterday and stumbled upon my forgotten fairies!  They are small stick-in-the-soil resin statuettes I bought several years ago at probably Walmart garden center.  They were still looking charming, just placed in a corner of a garden and forgotten.

   So I washed them and placed them into my newly planted pots of pansy and dianthus.  The plants are still small, so the pots look bare.  It was the perfect spots for these little fairies.  Now that they're on the back porch just out the kitchen door, I can see them more often, too.

   And right next to these pots of pansy and dianthus is a large pot of nothing but 'volunteer' plants.  I have  red lettuce, a wild larkspur (It originally came from a seed packet of double-flower larkspur, but I keep getting the offspring seedlings that reverted to the natural, original form with smaller single flowers every spring... for 17 years now.), and a third generation cornflower/bachelor's buttons.  The volunteer plants always do extremely well.  They seem to know just when to come up only in the most favorable micro-climate area around the house.

      One of the new additions to our backyard this spring, aside from our SFG boxes, is the raspberry plants.  They were planted 2 to 3 weeks before my mostly-failed bare-root strawberries in early March.  They were hit a number of times by frost, and some lost more leaves than others.  We planted 5, and 4 seem to be recovering from all the setbacks/damages.  One at the end of the row, farthest away from the house, is looking dead with no sign of recovery.    I may have to replace that one. ^^;

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day

   I missed the local early celebration of the Arbor Day yesterday, running errands which included a trip to the local garden center/nursery and planting afterwards.  But today is Earth Day, and I'm happy to be writing up an entry in my blog about Day 14 of our Spring Veggies SFG box.

   This morning, I went ahead and thinned the radishes and the spinach since they are starting to grow fast and if they were to grow big and healthy, they need room.  I always hate this part of gardening almost as much as digging -- pinching off baby plants. T_T  I know I have to do it, but they sure look so cute and innocent.  It's very much like culling the fish fry for quality control.  It's necessary, but I don't enjoy it. :(  My fingers smelled like radishes afterwards, which reminded me that we will be eating them... so yes, we will be killing them. XD I'll just have to get over it.

   About 10 days before we got this box going, we had started one exclusively dedicated to strawberries.  We started with the bare roots we bought at local Walmart, and many of them were doing OK at first.  Some already were growing in the bag of sawdust (looking long and pale) and right after planting, they turned dark green and glossy and seemingly doing just great.  Then we had several frosts and they were set back each time, losing some leaves, but coming back.  I think I should have mulched them then, but the thought didn't even occur to me and I was just watching them slowly die.  I'd had enough of this feeling of doom, and decided to pluck one of these plants/roots that weren't showing any sign of fresh growth on top a few days ago.  What I found was mushy crown and brown roots with no new fine roots coming out whatsoever.  They were practically composting right in the box. XD

   As much as we spent on the soil mix and the box, I was not in the mood for the pending doom.  I decided to go to the local garden center where they sell a lot of strawberries in flats of 6 and got myself 8 of those.  Instant gratification almost feels like cheating, but no, this is damage control.  There's nothing like failure to discourage my family's renewed interest in gardening.  I wasn't going to let that happen so early in the season.

   The SFG method calls for 4 strawberry plants per square foot.  So for a 4-foot by 4-foot box, we are talking about a whopping total of 64 plants and they look instantly crowded. LOL  This will be a dense patch of green in no time and will most likely be overflowing from the box frame.   We are hoping to build a chicken wire cover to protect the strawberries from the cats as well as birds that will sure to come for the berries once the plants start to produce.  For now, I'm using the low-tech method of sticks to discourage the cats from taking a nap in the strawberry patch.

   Talk about instant gratification.  This one has a flower.  And some plants I bought yesterday already had berries on the vine, scenting the air with the sweet smell of strawberry that is just so irresistible!

   The variety I planted is "Quinault", which is an everbearing variety.  This was one of the two sole varieties sold at the nursery where I went (which is considered the area's "premier" specialist nursery), so I'm hoping that this plant does well in our climate.  *fingers crossed*  The soil mix drains well while holding just the right amount of moisture, so I'm hoping the plants will do well in the box.  They are showing no sign of transplant shock despite the fact I had to gently separate those 6 plants sharing a shallow box with roots intertwined (meaning, I could hear the roots ripping and therefore some damage to their roots were inevitable).


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Photo of the Box on Day 13

   A quick snap shot taken this morning of the spring veggies box.  The sticks everywhere (which I forgot to remove before taking this picture... ^^; ) are in there as 'cat deterrent' -- they are not the prettiest, but cheap and accomplish the job.   I saw the first of the carrot seedlings coming up this afternoon.

   Radish square from April 17, 2012.

   The same square on April 21,  2012.  Time to thin them out.

The Beginning

   I decided to keep a casual blog of my Square Foot Garden's progress for the 2012 gardening season.  This is the first year we are implementing the SFG, based on the "All New Square Foot Garden" book by Mel Bartholomew.  The reason we decided to try this is because it's supposed to save a lot of water, labor, and disappointment. XD  We live in the arid desert west of the Rockies where precipitation is scarce and the summers are dry and HOT.  The average garden plants don't do well in our heavy-clay soil unless you are willing to do a lot of work amending the soil and diligently water.  Many parts of our area enjoy the benefit of the canal water for their field and gardens, but we live within the city proper, served by the regular water service, so the water bills in the peak summer months are no laughing matter just to keep the average lawn in the front.

   I've always gardened in varying capacities all my life, including window sill gardening during my apartment dwelling days.  It's something I was drawn from a very young age and always enjoyed.  So after getting married and buying a house with a fair size backyard, it was a dream come true for the first several seasons.  We had a garden about 20 feet by 30 feet, and it was lush and vigorous.  We also had a composting pile in the shaded corner outside of our kitchen and everything was done organically with great success without much trouble.

   After a few seasons of growing corn, tomatoes, and most backyard garden veggies, we realized that we couldn't keep up fertilizing.  The compost pile couldn't keep up, and we also had to move it to another location because of bug problems.  The new location was too sunny and keeping it moist became a chore.  Little by little, the garden soil started to deteriorate, seemingly requiring more and more water, and the crops it produced looked not worth the cost of water.  The only thing that seem to be thriving was the weeds.

   When the recession hit, I was burned out of doing heavy-duty garden work (like tilling), and I let go of the garden.  It doesn't take very many seasons at all for the top soil to completely die.  We saw it happen in many people's back (and in some cases, front) yard in the last few years.  I had down-scaled my gardening effort to just a few pots in the back porch and mostly focusing my effort on the front yard.

   My husband had the old version of the Square Foot Gardening book.  The thought of growing everything in a 1-foot by 1-foot square didn't originally appeal to me so I resisted.  Then just recently we came across the "All New" version utilizing a 4-foot by 4-foot box, just 6 inches deep.  This radically different approach actually seemed interesting to me who was fed up with all the dredge work the traditional gardening method required.  We bought the book and studied it up, and decided to give it a go on a small, trial scale for the first year.
   As I mentioned, we live in a very hot, very dry, desert west of the US, and our lot has very little natural shade from either structures or tall trees, and water bill is a serious concern.  The SFG's soil mix called Mel's Mix is 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 mixed compost, so it holds a lot of moisture.  So we're going to see if this method is suitable for our area.  We are planning on starting a few boxes first, then keep adding boxes as we gain experience.

   The first box of spring vegetables were sown on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012.  With a grid planned like this.

   The Mesclun mix of seeds were the first to germinate on Day 4.  Something that looked like radish seedlings appeared first.  Mornings were still frosty a couple of times during that week.