Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Long Grass

Lack of gardening continues unabated.

It's been wet, cold and rainy, so gardening amounts to walking through during a break in the rain so I can evaluate what's going on, and applying slug bait.

These are actually really important things to do. I have seedlings hanging out waiting for a spot to open up. If a zucchini is destroyed by slugs (happened) or if a tomato is broken off by wind (might happen today--wowza is the wind rockin' and rollin'!) I can replace them without having my garden set back. It might not be the same sort of plant (tomato it will be--in the case of the zucchini, I'm going to stick a cucumber in its place) but the space won't be empty. Which reminds me--those seedlings need to come inside today, not because it's too cold, but too windy for them.

Slug baiting right now is super important, with frequent re-applications needed. This is prime crawling, eating and breeding time for slugs, and newborn baby slugs are really hungry. They also have this nasty habit of eating their way down into the crown of a plant and destroying it beyond any hope of recovery without ever being exposed to future applications of slug bait or pesticides. So, best not to let them have the opportunity. Early and often, folks. Early and often.

BTW if you haven't pruned off spent peony heads, do that now. Don't take any leaves off. The more stem and leaf you leave on, the better. Next year's blooms will thank you for it, and you'll take some weight off of the plant so that spring storms aren't as likely to snap off a stem or twig and make you cry.

I guess there's stuff to do in the garden after all.

Waiting for the next break in the rain, while the grass grows longer and longer ....

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It's that tender root time of year

I've got almost my whole garden planted. It's really hard to say what the growing season will look like, but so far it looks promising. I'm a little worried that the tomatoes aren't growing lots of new green yet. That's probably due to the temperatures. We've had some low lows (one night below 40 degrees, very chilly for tropicals) and it may have set the tomatoes back. Once they're set back, they don't like to get going again.

But, they're still alive.

Also, there's a lot going on with plants that we can't see, mainly, root development. It's easy to focus on the leaves. Why aren't my leaves bigger? Why isn't the plant taller and more full? What are all those yellow spots and purple patches? Oh noes, there are little holes in the leaves! But these things, though they may signal something like flea beetle damage, aren't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. As long as the plant has enough surface area on the leaves to get sugar to the roots which can then fuel the development of new healthy leaves, ultimately the plant can be okay. It's much harder for the plant to recover from bad stuff going on with the roots.

For best root health:

Drainage, drainage and drainage. Here in the Pac NW it's easy for plants to get cold and waterlogged from chilly spring rains.

Mulch. It brings good soil organisms closer to the surface where they'll help aerate and fertilize soil that's closest to those young seedlings whose roots don't go very deep. Also, it keeps competing weeds down and helps warm the soil from the previously mentioned shivery rains.

Don't go too crazy with pulling weeds, especially if you use tools. You may be inadvertently damaging your plant's roots. Especially when the plant is very young and vulnerable, it's better to snip weeds that are growing very close to your plant, and to gently rub out tiny seedlings rather than using a hand rake on them.

Happy gardening!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

More Garden Geekery

Did something today I haven't done in a long time. I cut flowers for my table.

Also, I was very bad and bought a tree peony, Golden Experience. They say I can hybridize using the pollen from this plant. I'm not sure if the other peonies I have are able to do this, but hey, it's worth a try, right? I have two other tree peonies that I'd love love love to cross with this beautiful plant. And who knows? I might help create an incredible new peony. That would really be something. Of course I won't find out what the offspring will look like for ten years or more after planting the seeds ....

Which makes me want to play with roses, which have a similar seed-to-flower span.

Yes, it's a long time for payoff. But people who do this sort of stuff don't think like that. They don't think about payoff so much as love. I didn't raise my children for a payoff. There's no time at which point I'll feel like I've gotten something in return for my time and effort.

I can plant a seed, and help it grow. I can appreciate what it becomes. The pollen, seeds, plants--they do the actual work. I provide a nurturing environment and occasional guidance. That's it.

So, maybe if I remember, this year it'll be roses. Next year, peonies. It'll be a whole new adventure.

If you would like to give it a go, do some reading first to save yourself some trouble. First of all, not all blossoms have viable pollen and seed production capacity. Second, to control pollination, bag the blossoms before they open (careful to make sure there aren't any bugs first) and then mingle the pollens after the stamens after the flower has opened into full bloom. To prevent fungal issues do this only in dry weather and use paper bags. To figure out when the buds have opened into full bloom, mark buds on the same bush that are at the same stage as the ones you're using. Mark on the bag who the daddy is. And keep records someplace easy to find--on your computer is okay, but it's actually better to have a easy-to-find gardening book that you make entries into on a regular basis.

Of all the gardening things I do, it sounds easy-peasy compared to digging out new beds or weeding!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Baby Roots

Sorry about the long break between posts.

I came home yesterday from work with the intention to go working out. I just had to do one thing 'real quick' in the garden.

Two hours later I had my 'real quick' thing done. The pumpkin and squash starts that absolutely, positively had to go in the ground or else went in. There were several that probably won't make it, or will be so stunted that it wasn't worth starting them in advance.

The thing about squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchinis, melons, etc. is that they hate having their roots messed with, especially when they're wee. Retailers sell them at nurseries and grocery stores but honestly, I would save my money. Except, that we're in a short season area for them. Long season for just about everything else. It's just that for crops that really need hot weather to get going, we don't get that hot weather, not for long. So although my roses are in full bloom and happy, the tomatoes are still shivering.

If you must buy pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchinis, melons, etc. at the store and take them home to plant, this is what I'd do if I was doing as I say instead of as I do (which is plant my own in peat pots and then wait too long):

Don't buy any where the root is coming out the bottom. At all. Peat pots are better than the plastic.
Plant them ASAP, preferably as soon as you get them home.
When you do plant them:
Prepare your area very carefully first. Weed, dig around to make the dirt soft, and make a little hole that's almost exactly the right size. Just make the hole a bit deeper (1/2 inch to an inch, depending on the size of the starter pot.) Use the pot to make sure the hole is the right size. Stick it in the ground, gently compress the dirt around it so that the hole doesn't collapse, and pull the pot back out. Don't worry if it does collapse, you'll be fine if you made it deep enough that a little extra in the bottom won't matter. Get scissors and (very carefully!) cut an x in the bottom of the pot--

Unless it's a peat pot!

Just trim the peat pot (with scissors, don't tear because you might tear down to the roots) down to the soil level if there's a rim, which there usually is. Put some water in the bottom of the hole and then plant the peat pot. (Make a shallow well around the plant and make sure the whole peat pot is covered.)

If it's not a peat pot, proceed to cut from the x up onto the sides a little bit so that you have a guide. Set the pot in the hole you made, make sure again that it's deep enough, and add water. Then cut down the sides down to the lines you cut on the bottom. Gently, gradually remove the pot from the plant, cutting wherever necessary, filling in and gently compressing the dirt as you go so the roots are disturbed as little as possible. Make a shallow well so that water will tend to pool around the plant, but dirt doesn't drift toward the stem when you do water.

You're done!

Sadly I've been too busy to deal with my starts so about half of them had roots poking out the bottom. Sigh. But, I also planted seeds directly in the ground a few days ago. With a little luck, between the two I should have something to show for my trouble come autumn. I will say that although it's a lot of trouble, it's very worth it to grow your own vining broadleaf hot weather plants. Try using them as ornamentals, and even the heavy-fruited ones can climb, though I wouldn't let a pumpkin climb up enough that its fruit won't touch the ground or have some support when it develops past the 10" size.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Garden hour(s)

I got a whole bunch of gardening stuff done today.

It's too early to plant tomatoes, and definitely too early for peppers, but I did it anyway. We've had unusually good weather, and it's very close to tomato time here (Mother's Day for the lower elevations, June 1 for me) so I went for it. I'm holding back my main tomato plants, though. I mulched heavily on the tomato and pepper rows this time, which will hopefully generate a lot of heat and keep those plant roots warm. This is the origin of the term hot bed. Farmers would lay down partially rotted compost with a layer of mulch and heat up the soil for tender seedlings. It is possible to make it so hot that it will kill the seedlings and seeds, so it's not a place/method in which to put your one prize (fill in name of special plant.) These are sacrificial plants that, if they survive, provide a jump on the season and yet aren't a catastrophic loss if they all die or are set back so far that you may as well have planted them at the proper time.

Planted my fuschia starts in their hanging baskets. It's easy to develop feelings of inadequacy when I see the huge baskets of blooming fuschias for sale at most stores right now, but I take comfort in the fact that I didn't spend $60 on the three of them. Having said that, yes, I did buy two hanging baskets, one for sun, and one for shade, to cheer things up in the garden. They were part one of my Mother's Day gift, gotten early and enjoyed fully in the meantime.

Against my better judgement I transplanted two orchids that were in full bloom. I couldn't handle seeing them crammed in their thimble-sized plastic cups with the roots bound tightly around a couple of teaspoons worth of icky old moss. Hopefully they won't keel over from the stress. I got them very inexpensively, which is usually a red flag when buying plants, but Mother's Day is coming up ... the nicer one will go to my mommy, and the smaller one will stay with me as my Mother's Day part II.

Also against my better judgement, I transplanted a poinsettia a friend of mine gave me when she was done with it oh, around mid-January. It's producing new leaves and is still technically in bloom. It would have been better to wait until we were at the other side of summer, but I already had all my transplanting stuff out, and ... yeah. I'll fess up if it dies so y'all will know not to do as I do, only as I say.

I planted out my Mother's Day part III gift, a You Me Forever hydrangea in pale lavender with green tones. It's in a spot that I'll be able to see it from the house, and where I'll be passing it every day that I go out to garden. The You Me Forever series of hydrangeas are exquisite. If you do well with them and have an open spot, I highly, highly recommend them.

My boxwood and chamaecyprus (I'm sure I just butchered the spelling) cuttings appear to be taking root. It will probably be fall before I put them out, but they'll need to be potted up in the meantime, probably in about a month, maybe sooner if I see roots starting to poke out the bottoms of the trays.

Geraniums went in the ground. Geraniums really, really don't like even the slightest cold weather. Mine are in a very sheltered spot, and I'll run out and cover them if the weather report warms me of a cold night in time. I should have waited, but the warm weather makes me dumb like that.

I put chicken wire around the new plantings and a purple rose that would make me cry if the deer ate it before it bloomed.

And lastly (actually, I did this firstly) I switched our back outdoor faucet into growing season mode. It now has a four-way split on it with a little gizmo that prevents water from siphoning back into the house from the icky hoses.

No hard physical labor today, but I'm pooped. I'm glad I had help from my daughter.  And now, bed.

After I set up to plant seeds tomorrow.
Because I'm crazy and I'll garden until after midnight.

What seeds, you ask?
Pumpkins, winter squashes, cantaloupe, cucumber and corn.
Yes, I know. I'm both too late, and too early. But not really. All these items detest transplantation, and need warm soil. By giving the pumpkin, cuke and squash seeds a head-start in the house, and planting in peat pots, if they make it I'll be ahead of the game. I'm also direct seeding all of these later on. As for the corn ... I've failed and failed and failed and finally I think I'm going to try to start them in trays and plant them out when they're really gotten going. Knee high by July is my goal.

I think that's everything for today. Tomorrow is another gardening day!