30 December 2009

Wireless Weather Station

I have other topics I'm working on, but they're not ready, so this post will likely be the last one of 2009.

I bought a new weather station today. Robin gave me one last Xmas and over the past year, it has died a slow and painful death. So I began doing some research on the web. There were so many to choose from that I just decided to go to Wal-Mart. They had a variety of them - most of them were devices called "Weather Boy" or "Weather Girl", made by La Crosse Technology, and endorsed and distributed by The Weather Channel.

I opted for the base model with a wireless sensor that has the time, indoor and outdoor temperatures, and minimum/maximum outdoor temperatures. (The model shown also has the date and relative humidity.) It also has a boy or a girl in various stages of dress, depending on the temperature. It took a couple of tries to get it to work, but it seems fine now. I looks forward to comparing the temperature at our house with what the weather on TV. I think it will be a little colder than what The Weather Channel says. We'll see.

19 December 2009

Rain and Flooding

I’ve always worried a lot about flooding in our yard. If we have a hard enough rain, our garage will flood. Our lot slopes toward the back, away from the house, and there’s a depression, not really a ditch, that runs along the back of the property, where rain is supposed to collect. I think there was also a ditch along our neighbor’s lot that is supposed to take the water from there, but it’s been filled in. I was planning a rain garden in the lowest part of that depression, but after Friday’s rain – at least four inches – I’m rethinking the idea. From what I’ve read, rain gardens need to drain in 24 hours, which this does not – in the worst cases. I need something, like a bioswale, that will hold more water and keep the rest of yard dry.

It rained all day Friday, and when I got home from work, most of the yard was flooded. The vegetable garden area was almost underwater – my decision to use raised beds has proven to be the right one. Since I really couldn’t do anything about it, I decided to wade out into the lowest part of the yard and measure how deep it was. It turns out it was a foot deep!

By Saturday the water had soaked in a good bit. There was still water in the depression and the yard was pretty soggy, but the worst was over. Too bad my rain barrels were already full! The morning paper reported widespread flooding, so much that they closed all roads into downtown Charleston at 6pm.

First Frost

I've been wanting to get a new wireless indoor/outdoor thermometer - the one we have doesn't work anymore. I got it for Xmas last year and I'll probably get a new one this year. I've looked at them online and they have ones with up to three remote sensors. I'd like one of those, but I can't justify spending the extra money. Believe it or not, but different areas of the yard can be different climates.

I've had conversations with serious gardening friends and they've told me about different areas of their yards being different temperatures and plants that thrive in the back yard, but not in the front - and I'm starting to believe the same is true about our yard.

I didn't pay much attention to the temperature when I woke up Thursday morning, but it was probably close to freezing. When I got the paper about 5am, there was frost on the ground. It wasn't until I got home from work that I was able to survey the damage the frost might have done. I've got a few tropicals by the pond that I knew wouldn't look good - hidden ginger, banana plant, etc - so I wasn't concerned about that. The vegetable garden looked fine - even the garlic, which is supposed to die back in the winter. It wasn't until I got to the front yard I notice that our asiatic(?) lilies showed some signs of frost damage - that's really the only thing I saw. I don't have multiple thermometers in the yard yet, but from what I've seen, the front yard is going to be colder than the back. The back has the pond and is a lot more sheltered with the house, garage, trees, etc. The front yard is mostly wide open - including the fact that the canopy of oaks that line our street, ends with our yard - the north side of our yard, where all our plantings are right now, is treeless and and exposed.

I wasn't expecting the frost, so I didn't protect the house plants I still have outside. To my surprise, everything is doing fine, including the night-blooming cereus, which I think might be trying to bloom. We've got near-freezing weather forecast for the weekend and maybe beyond - I just need to remember to bring in a few plants and everything will be fine.

17 December 2009

CFLs have their problems too

In the last year or so, we’ve bought a number of CFLs to replace our incandescent bulbs as they burn out. We had two bulbs – one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom – burn out on the same day. When I tried to replace them with the CFLs that we already had, I found that they were too big for the shade. I had heard they were making smaller bulbs, so I figured out the equivalent wattages I needed and went shopping.

I got the equivalent of 60 and 75 watt bulbs to replace the burned out incandescents. The bulbs I bought were called “mini”, but depending on the wattage, they didn’t always fit where an incandescent would. The shade in the bedroom will hold two 60 watt CFLs, but it will not hold two 75 watt ones. I didn’t try the larger bulbs in the bathroom, but I suspect that I would have the same outcome.

I have two other places I planned to put the new 75 watts bulbs, and I know they will fit, but in the future I’ll have to consider where the bulbs will go before I decide what wattage.

The first photo is a CFL I already had next to an incandescent. The second photo is the 60 watt CFL next to an incandescent. The third photo is the 75 watt CFL next to an incandescent.

12 December 2009

Going Green for the Holidays

We're a frugal family by necessity. I wish I could give my daughter everything she wants, but I can't. I feel the same way about going green. There are so many upgrades we could do on the house, like more insulation, tankless water heater, low-e windows, etc., but those things cost money. We've started small and are working our way up.

We recycle as much as our county picks up.
We use rechargeable batteries, when appropriate.
We are replacing light bulbs with CFLs when they burn out.
We have a couple of rain barrels, but I'd like more.
We are enlarging our vegetable garden.
We try to plant native plants or plants that need a lot of watering.

There are some things we do to be frugal that are also eco-friendly, like line-drying our laundry and shopping at thrift stores. For the past few months I've been reading articles about being greener around the house - about switching to stainless steel or aluminum water bottles - we're definitely doing that for Xmas. Other articles have included:

Using cloth napkins instead of paper towels
Switching to 100% recycled toilet paper
Using sachets of lavender and flax instead of dryer sheets
Making cleaning products with combinations of vinegar, hydrogen peroxide and essential oils

We're working up to those. Ella and I fix our lunches for school and work, probably using four plastic sandwich bags per day. I've found reusable sandwich and snack bags online - I need to do more research, but, I want to begin using those in the near future.

We planned to have an energy audit performed on our house, but with the holidays, we haven't done that yet. Once that's done, we'll start weatherizing our house better ans working up to bigger projects from there.

06 December 2009

Running Bamboo

I was behind the garage today and got a good look at the bamboo that I've been fighting since we bought our house more than three years ago. Once again it made me google "bamboo eradication", but this time I had a different plan of attack. I have read about and tried numerous ways of getting rid of bamboo. Herbicides don't work - I even read about cutting off the stalk and immediately spraying the herbicide on the fresh cut. Digging it might work, but it's back-breaking work. I know it's an environmentally bad idea, but I even thought of "salting the earth"! I just remembered that I had this conversation with a Lowe's employee who said she had a way to get rid of it, but she couldn't tell me while she was at work.

My latest idea struck me as a pretty good one - smothering the bamboo. I read a post about it and found out it's not foolproof. Bamboo rhizomes will eventually grow out from under what you are using to smother it with. I have some pond liner that I've been using to kill grass and make planting beds, but I don't have a large amount of it, and I didn't want to stop using it for that purpose. Posts mentioned inexpensive tarps - one mentioned using old carpet which I thought was a great idea. I made a mental note of it and went about my day. Soon after I had to run an errand and less than a block away were three rolled up carpets someone was throwing out. I brought them home and got to work behind the garage.

I usually don't want to go into the small stand of bamboo in the summer. There is poison ivy and ankle-deep Magnolia leaves with creatures probably living under them. Being as cool as it was today, I figured it was about the best time to venture back there. I started by cutting back the bigger stuff - small trees, etc, and then the bamboo growing along the neighbor's fence before I put the carpet down. While back there, I found spider lilies and a number of small Yaupon hollies. Some of the bamboo I cut, while I decided to lay the carpet on top of others, flattening it by walking on the carpet. I avoided putting the carpet on the areas with the lilies and the hollies until I can transplant those sometime this week. I think I've also decided that I'll go back and cut all the bamboo and put the carpet back down, so there's less of a chance of it rising up.

I still need more carpet and I need to prune a lot of plants and trees back there. That's where I'm planning to keep chickens in the spring. At this rate I don't know if I can pull that off. I'll keep you posted.

05 December 2009

Rain...Rain...Freeze...

We've had some strange weather in the past week - well, maybe not strange, but certainly a variety of it. We got several inches of rain during a couple of separate days this week. I don't think it's rained this much since July when we were on vacation. Part of our yard flooded like it always does during heavy rains, this time it was a good thing - it gave me a chance to see exactly where to put the rain garden I'm planning for that area in the spring. One of the plants I wanted to put in it was the Crinum I have in the bog. To my surprise, It looks like I have about six new plants from the three I started out the summer with. I'm glad I'll have extra to use in the rain garden. Another positive thing is the raised bed I built in the vegetable garden this year. While the ground around it was soggy, the vegetables were doing well about a foot off the ground.

I have potted plants all over the yard. Besides the houseplants spending the summer outside, I also have plants that I intend to plant in the yard as soon as I figure out where I want them. Most are in the driveway, but a few are behind the garage. I had to do something with all of those plants today, because we're supposed to have near-freezing temperatures tonight. Every time I've seen the weather this week, tonight's forecasted temperature keeps dropping - currently it's at 33 degrees - cold enough to do damage to some of my plants.

Probably the most important plant was the "Black Pearl" ornamental pepper Robin got at the fall plant swap. Originally, I had put it with all of the other plants in the garden area/future greenhouse, but after talking to Robin and doing some research online, I decided it needed to come in the house. Most other plants like canna, walking onions, bed of nails, devil's trumpet, society garlic, shrimp plant, hibiscus, Mexican petunia, spider plant, ajuga and day lilies, I'm protecting whether they need it or not - I don't know the cold hardiness of everything on that list. I am leaving a couple of things out, because either I think they can take the cold - like sago palms and daisies, or they are annuals or houseplants that I don't care about anymore like a half-dead spider plant or geraniums. I did remember a few other plants I better bring in like my night-blooming cereus, mother-in-law's tongue, and a couple of pots of small cactuses that I'm not sure are hardy.

The cold has a plus side too. We've been eating lettuce from the vegetable garden all week, the broccoli is really heading now, and it looks like the onions are doing well - now if I only knew when they will be ready to harvest...

22 November 2009

Around the Garden

There's a lot of things I've been wanting to do around the yard lately. I've been procrastinating, but I have to get myself in gear before the weather turns cold for good. I just got a couple of citrus plants from Darren and I've decided I want to keep all of them in pots, so I can protect them during any bad winter weather. I've got two planted in the yard that I may dig up and put into pots. Today I wanted to set up my composter near the vegetable garden and get it started with the leaves I need to rake up and some of my neighbors grass clippings, but it's been cold and rainy most of the day.
I had more to say, but as I am finishing this on Thanksgiving, I will just add a little about the photo in this post. I bought a tiny Butterwort in a "Death Cube" at Lowes. It was on clearance for 49 cents, so I figured I couldn't lose. Once acclimated to the outdoors, I put it in my bog with the pitcher plants, not knowing what might happen. It survived the summer and, I believe, thrived. It spread little by putting out more rosettes, but what surprised me last week was that it bloomed! I really wasn't expecting that. I don't know if it will survive our mild winter, but we'll have to see. Happy Thanksgiving.

18 November 2009

Plant Resilience

I've started writing a couple other posts, but I don't have the brains to finish them right now, so I thought I would pad the blog with a number of short entries. I was going to write about plant resilience - about plants thriving despite the gardener ignoring them.

I got a bag of irises from someone at work back in the Spring, I think. I planted most of them and left the dregs on the ground. Earlier in the year, I thought this was some bulb that was already planted where I decided to put my garden area, but I noticed recently that it was one of the irises that I ignored for most of the year was thriving.
Last winter/spring I dug up a number of canna rhizomes I had planted in a pot. I put them there originally because of their tendency to spread. I stored them in a plastic grocery bag with the intention of getting around to planting it, but it never happened. So, they sat forgotten in the plastic bag since April, until last week when I noticed them growing out of the bag! Roots must have found a hole in the bag to grow into the ground, because I can't move them. It did get sun and a little rain, so there you go.

I had a few more examples that I don't have photos of - like the irises that I got off the curb in Summerville. I put them down in the yard, still in the plastic bag, and they rooted right there. I'll have to do something with them eventually, but for now they're fine where they are.

30 October 2009

Yet More Vegetable Gardening

I've been researching vegetable gardening a lot lately. I'm trying to get organized so I can have a year-round garden. I attempted this a year ago, but I had less experience. I've learned a lot since then - like the difference between long-day and short-day onions. I also tended to get sidetracked with other gardening projects) I wanted to plant pumpkins for Halloween, but I missed the early-July planting time), but this year I HAVE A PLAN. It's a vegetable gardening chart I compiled from fact sheets at the Clemson Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. There are charts that tell you when to plant in your region, fertility needs, which varieties do well in South Carolina and which family they belong to, so you can do proper crop rotation. I pared down some of the information to suit my needs. There are many vegetables I don't plan to grow, so I deleted those.

This will give me a schedule to stick to - I've even ordered my first set of seeds from Park Seed tonight - onion seeds I want to try and lettuce and spinach for several plantings through the winter and spring. I've got at least two places I know that I can get onion sets and potatoes from when the time comes, so I feel that I am off to a good start. I hope I can keep up the momentum.

21 October 2009

More Fall Vegetable Gardening

Fall is definitely in the air. We've had some unexpected cold nights in the past week. The first morning I worried about my plants - especially the tender houseplants that have been outside since the Spring, and the plant swap stuff that are still sitting in the driveway. We've had more cool nights - mid to high forties - and everything have been fine, though it has gotten me to think about what I plant to do with these plants during the winter. I even dreamed that the temperature dropped to 20ยบ and all my plants died!

I've collected numerous houseplants and tender succulents since the Spring, and the reckoning is coming soon. Most of these I picked up off the street, their owners having abandoned them, so I wouldn't be losing out financially, but I'd hate to see these plants that I "rescued" die. Last year I had some metal shelves that I wrapped in clear plastic that I bought at Dollar Tree. It was quite thin, but it was large enough to double up, and when it got too cold, like last winter, I threw some old quilts over it at night. I ended up losing a lot of succulents I was propagating for the Spring Plant Swap. This year I'd like to get some thick plastic sheeting and line the garden storage/greenhouse area and possibly wrap shelves again.

Yet another garden injury!

Despite having sliced my toe pretty good Tuesday morning - first my hand, now my foot - I managed to get a lot done around the yard on Wednesday. Robin said she was planning to do laundry on Tuesday and I wanted her to wash my garden gloves - I started wearing gloves since my last accident. I had replied to a post on Craigslist last week - someone wanting help in their yard in exchange for plants. I couldn't pass that up - free plants and something to blog about. So, while I was out in the yard around six in the morning looking for my gloves, I stepped on something that sliced down the side of my big toe. I cleaned it and put a band-aid on it and called work. I really thought I would be fine in a couple of days.

Of course I had to cancel my plans to work in someone else's yard for plants. After getting a good look at her list of plants, it wasn't that disappointing to miss out. Several of the plants I already had - hidden ginger, taro, canna. She had a few varieties of canna that I wanted for a bed I might make over the winter.

I had Wednesday off and I really didn't go back to the doctor - "you again?" I limped around on Tuesday, but after walking the dogs in the evening, it really hurt. We thought we might go to the doctor on Wednesday, but my toe felt pretty good in the morning. Robin was insistent that I be sure I could go to work on Thursday. She suggested I walk around the block and see how I feel. If it hurt after that, then we would go to the doctor, but it felt pretty good.

I planned to try to work in the yard. I had a long list so I started with the easiest stuff and thought I would see how I felt. I ended up doing almost everything on my list. We've got a few stumps that keep sprouting and I keep cutting them back. I've tried various things - salt, vinegar, etc - to kill them but but nothing has worked. The next thing I'm going to try is smothering them with black trash bags - no light and no water will kill them hopefully. We've got oaks and maples in our azalea hedges that I've been meaning to do that to.

I finished planting all the vegetables for the Fall. I planted (more) onions and lettuce in the raised bed and broccoli and garlic in one of the beds out front. I seemed to do ok this past Spring with broccoli, but there just wasn't enough - and the last of it bolted when we were out of town. (Doesn't that sound like it ran away while we were gone?) I have 18 plants this time, so we'll see how much we actually get.

I had a little trouble with onions in the Spring. The sets were planted all the in the ground, meaning the bulbs were completely covered, and not in a raised bed. We had a few heavy rains in the Spring and some of the onions didn't like all that wet clay soil. Last Summer I sa my neighbor, Mr. Hiers, had his onions planted almost right on top of the soil, so the only thing in the ground were the roots. It looked like he had a pretty good crop. I'm trying it his way this time. I'm sure it will be an improvement over last time, especially in the raised bed.

The last thing I planted was garlic. I've never grown it before, but I thought I would give it a try. I bought three garlic bulbs and peeled them and broke off the cloves. They tell you to plant only the biggest ones, but I figured I would plant all of them and see what happens. I have the 10-12 larger cloves in one area out front and then I put the rest of them behind them. probably 15-20 more. They won't be ready to harvest until summer so it's really an investment of time and space. Robin's excited as well. She's never cooked with garlic cloves before, so we'll both be learning something new.

I have one more thing to mention - I got a free pineapple plant off craigslist today. It was posted a few days ago, but it was crazy trying to get up with this person to actually get it. I finally had to go to her house today and get it. She's been trying to give one to someone else in my neighborhood, so I volunteered to hold it for this guy to pick up at our house. We'll see if he actually comes to get it. I might end up with two.

09 October 2009

Fall Vegetable Garden

I finally started planting my fall vegetable garden. I went a long time without having anything in the ground, so I'm trying to catch up. My raised bed is finished for the most part and full of compost. This past week I bought onion sets - yellow and white - and some broccoli plants. I looked for lettuce plants, but the ones I saw were real leggy. I'll try again this weekend, and I'll also look for lettuce seeds and spinach seeds.

The feed store where I bought the onions, sold them either by the pound or half pound. With a lot of things, a pound doesn't sound like very much to me, but when it comes to onion sets, it is. I think I planted close to fifty onions so far and I haven't even put a dent in them. I looked into storing them until spring, but it seems like a lot of work and they're very cheap.

I wanted to plant something in the holes of the concrete blocks as an experiment. Since I don't know what will happen, I decided to plant onions - since I have so many of them - and hope for the best. I'll let you know how it goes.

When I got compost for the raised bed a couple of weeks ago, I went ahead and filled almost the whole bed. After reading about planting in compost, the consensus is that it is best as an ammendment to the soil. So, before I planted the raised bed, I went around the yard, digging holes, putting that soil in the garden, and putting compost in those holes. I've done that with half the bed, where I planted broccoli, and in the block holes, where I planted white onions. If I can clean out most of the dollar weed in my other beds, I'll be doing the same thing with the other half of the bed.

I feel like I don't have nearly enough room in this bed for everything I'd like to plant. I'm probably going to plant lettuce, spinach and garlic in any space I can out in the flower bed. Wish me luck.

08 October 2009

Plant Swap Review

The plant swap went well, although there seemed to be fewer people and plants this time. Darren said he estimated 40 people and 400 plants. He said he thought the fall swap was a little smaller, because people might be getting ready for colder weather and would not have as many plants to take to a swap.

I was happy with what I got this time. I got a few little cactuses and succulents - hardy aloe I added to the desert garden. I don't think the others are hardy, so I'll have to do something with them when it gets cold. A few weeks before the swap, I picked up some Mexican Petunia. I planned to keep it all for myself, but when it was time, I decided I had more than enough, so I took half to the swap. I'm planning to use it, along with some canna I got at the swap, in a narrow area between the driveway and a low brick wall, where I can plant aggressive species without worrying about them taking over the yard.

My neighbor Joan has had some back problems lately. She called me about an hour before the swap and asked that I take her plants to the swap. I told her I would and asked her if there was anything she was looking for. She didn't have anything specific in mind, but she said it had to be a native species. I thought I was going to have a hard time meeting her criteria, but I lucked out. Darren brought several native Hibiscuses and someone else brought some bog lilies (Crinum americanum). I grabbed a few lilies for Joan, since I have several in my pond, and I got four hibiscuses, two for Joan and two for me. They'll be going in a rain garden I hope to have by spring.

I got a few more things at the swap - a ginger lily, ornamental pepper bush, and something called a "devil's trumpet". It's like the "angel's trumpet", but the flowers are dark and point up instead of down. After the swap, Darrren invited everyone to his house for a tour of his garden. It was a really nice day. For photos of the swap, click here. For photos of Darren's garden, click here.

12 September 2009

Garden Injury

TO DO LIST:
Trim Trees
Work on the Pond
Plant Ferns
Work on Raised Bed
Cut Grass

These are some of the things on my list of things to do this weekend. I've been collecting concrete blocks for the raised bed vegetable garden. Originally I planned 4 x 8 raised beds using cinderblocks. The blocks would also give me additional planting holes. I started laying out the bed this week and 4 x 8 is too big if you factor in the extra eight inches of the blocks on each side and the ends. Unfortunately the bed will have to be smaller for me to be able to reach the center comfortably. On the plus side, I won't need as many concrete blocks.

Last week, maybe longer ago, I bought several hardy ferns from Lowe's on clearance. I've never seen them on sale before, so I felt I had to grab them. I've been meaning to plant them, but I just hasn't happened.

Recently I noticed a small but steady loss of water in the pond, more than I thought there would be with just evaporation. I noticed a constant wet spot on one of the timbers lining the bog. I figured out that it was probably water running over the liner not where it was supposed to go. I disconnected the pump to the bog until I could get around to redirecting the flow of water from the bog.

I had plans to trim the two massive trees in our yard. One is a large Magnolia behind the garage where, if I can trim it back enough, I'd like to put a chicken coop in the not-too-distant future. The other in the old Oak tree in front of our house. We're starting to get some low-hanging limbs and I wanted to cut those back. They were beginning to get in the way of power lines, cars and us.

Friday afternoon, I decided that the Magnolia could wait and I wanted to start on the Oak. I got the ladder out and a few tools - handsaw, tree saw and loppers. There was a lot of dead stuff in the tree, so I began by pulling most of that stuff out - I tried the loppers on a few branches, but they were two big, so I got out the tree saw. I would hold the branch still with my right hand and saw with my left. I successfully cut a couple of the branches before the accident happened. The part of the branch I was holding was lower than the part that I was cutting. When it slipped out of the groove I was cutting, gravity and the force of pulling on the saw directed it down the branch where my hand was - dragging the saw across the back of my hand. It didn't bleed much, but it looked pretty gross. I cleaned it, put some antibiotic ointment on it and a couple of band aids and we left to go to the doctor.

WARNING - GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS

Once there, Dr. Morgan saw me fairly quickly. I'm not sure if they realized how bad it was then, but after they got a look, they were disappointed that their students had left for the day. My injury was actually two deep cuts very close together with a thin strip of skin between them. He said I would definitely need stitches and that I was lucky that it wasn't any deeper or I would have nicked an artery. Dr. Morgan proceeded to numb the area and once that was accomplished, he pulled out the needle and thread and started sewing me up. To this point I wasn't queazy at all, but when it was time to do the stitches, I decided not to watch. I got over that quickly and tried to see what was going on, but his hands were in the way for the most part. It was fascinating that, with just six stitches, everything was pulled back together. My biggest disappointment about this whole thing - besides feeling like an idiot for getting hurt - is not getting to be in the yard doing the stuff on the list.

21 August 2009

2nd Annual Fall Park Circle Plant Swap

The second annual Fall Plant Swap at Park Circle is Saturday, September 26th. For those that don't know the area, Park Circle is the heart of the original North Charleston, which was founded about a century ago. For those who have never been to a plant swap before, it's really fun - this one especially. It begins at 10am with people arriving and bringing plants that they want to swap. Once the car is unloaded, people begin to mill around, looking at what others have brought, talking to people they met at the last swap, or bumping into neighbors. Most people have labeled their plants, but if not, there are usually master gardeners to help identify plants - including Darren Sheriff, who puts this together every year. There have been a least six swaps in the spring, but this is only the second fall plant swap to date.

Once 11am approaches, Darren will remind everyone of the rules - he'll yell "go" and everyone will grab a plant and take it to their "hiding place", which could be just a spot in the grass - whatever spot you have staked out as your own. After a few rounds of that, he'll tell everyone to grab two plants or more, depending upon how many is left. People have started bringing unwanted yard art, pots and tools to the swap as well. After everyone has claimed the last of the plants, there's a potluck lunch to be had and a tour of Darren's yard, which is not tobe missed - especially if you're a fan of Citrus.

The first swap we planned to attend was the 2008 Spring swap. I couldn't get off work, so I sent Robin with about 15 plants. I was surprised when she came home with probably 50 plants! It's been that way all three times we've been. Each time, I know I take more plants to the swap. More than a month ago, I started rooting cuttings for the upcoming swap. I count at least 30 plants that I'm taking, and that doesn't count what I may throw together during the coming month. So I hope everyone will come out and swap plants with us!

For more info, click on the link below:

19 August 2009

Carnivorous Plants

I think I've always been interested in carnivorous plants - who wouldn't be? A couple of winters ago I started noticing them at Lowe's and became intrigued. I was hesitant at first for a couple of reasons. I knew nothing about how to take care of these plants and in the process of learning about them, I also heard that I shouldn't buy them from Lowe's. They are sold in plastic cubes to maintain a high humidity, but as I learned, they didn't need jungle-like conditions. All of that moisture can lead to fungus and other things - hence the name given to these containers - "Lowe's Death Cubes".

There are a number of things that can go wrong after purchasing a death cube. The plant comes in a very humid environment, so you have to acclimate it to normal humidity. Some people crack the top a little more each day until they feel safe removing it from the container. Another thing that it has to adjust to is light. It starts out in a low light environment in Lowe's, so don't immediately put in all day full sun. It has to adjust to that as well. I lost a cobra plant to too much sun a while back.

Once I felt knowledgeable enough to take care of carnivorous plants, I started buying death cubes of pitcher plants mostly and one venus flytrap and mostly when I had a coupon. I potted them separately, the pitchers and the flytrap, because what I read made it seem that flytraps liked it a little dryer than the pitchers, especially during the winter. I was a little underwhelmed by the venus flytrap - unless you buy the giant ones, the traps are pretty small. So I wasn't too disappointed when my flytrap died. I decided to stick with pitcher plants and eventually make a home for them in the bog. (Not that I'm never having venus flytraps again. When I have the money, I'll buy the larger ones and have them in a nice bowl somewhere that's easy to take care of.)

I strive to have a low-maintenance garden. I was looking for a solution to making pitcher plants low maintenance? I figured that shouldn't be too hard. They are native to our area and winter hardy. I read about planting pitchers in a container of sphagnum peat moss that had a few holes in it. Then put that in a container of water. All you have to do is make sure the second one always has water. I thought I had the solution. I took a shallow barrel liner, drilled a number of small holes in the bottom, laid in a piece of landscape fabric and filled it with sphagnum peat moss. Then I planted the pitcher plants. I took that container and sunk it in the pea gravel bog, where it would get a constant supply of water. They even did well dried out some when the bog was in shambles. They have nothing but thrive since.

Right now I have a couple of different pitcher plants - two prostrate ones and two upright ones. I think the prostrate ones are Sarracenia purpurea and the upright ones are...(this is where I was going to put the latin name, but there are so many similar pitchers that I don't know which is which.) I like the S. purpurea, but they take up a lot of room. I think I'd rather have more upright pitchers. I do have something that not a pitcher plant in there - a butterwort - I got it on clearance at Lowe's for 48 cents! I bought two of them, but one died before I could get it in the bog - death cube lives up to its reputation again! I like to think I saved the other one from certain demise. I wasn't sure how it would do in the bog once it acclimated to it, but it seems to be thriving. My only concern is how winter hardy it is. I tried researching it, but there are so many different varieties that I couldn't get information on the specific one I have. Like everything else, we'll just have to wait and see.

18 August 2009

Pond Saga, Part 2


Pond Saga, Part 1

In a perfect world I should have dug the bog the same time I dug the pond. I would have bought a liner that fit both of them together. That would have cost more money and time that I had. Once the pond was up and running I began digging the bog. After I was finished, I laid the PVC liner in the hole and draped it over the edge, into the pond. The extra pump I had would pump water from the pond and to the bottom of the bog, where it would filter up and spill back where it came. Now came the hard part - buy, transport, wash and dump 15 to 20 cubic feet of pea gravel in the bog. It comes in 1/2 cubic foot bags that weigh almost 50 pounds each. At the time I was going to Lowe's on a regular basis, so I would buy 4 or 5 bags at a time. I would dump each of them in my wheelbarrow and hose them down until the waterat washed out was mostly clear, then dump the gravel into the bog - it took a long time. I still look at the bog sometimes and think I could use a few more bags!

Once it was done, I started collecting plants to put in it. I actually went out and paid full price for a couple of things. I already had some regular papyrus and elephant ears and, at a water garden plant swap, I got some cattails, pickerel rush, a bog lily and some floating plants like water hyacinth and water lettuce. So, I bought a really neat dwarf papyrus and some water irises. The bog has been an experimental garden for me. I spent most of the next year planting and re-planting things, either because they grew too much or not at all. I used to have as much as half of the bog to experiment with, but I've pretty much settled on what I want in there now. About a foot and a half square, closest to the front of the bog, I've planted carnivorous pitcher plants and similar plants that I'm happy with.

Initially the pond turned green, but about six weeks after the bog was up and running, the water cleared up and stayed that way until recently when I had trouble with the bog...

Recently I had decided to pull some of the plants out of the bog to divide and give away to friends with ponds. After I dug out the plants, I would put them in pots before returning them to the bog, so the roots wouldn't take over, like they had done in the past. I knew I shouldn't have sone this but, I did it anyway - I used a garden fork in the bog and ended up putting holes in the liner! Once I found out - empty pond will let you know - I unplugged the pump to the bog and started shoveling out pea gravel in order to uncover the hole. After days of finding holes, learning how to patch them, patching them, and finding more holes, I finally decided to buy a new liner. I got one similar to what I had before - when it arrived, I opened it up and discovered that it had a hole in it! I thought there was a chance I had put the hole in it when I opened the box, but upon further inspection, I realized I couldn't have done it. That was good news, because I was already feeling pretty sorry for myself. The company was nice enough to send me another liner free of charge. Once I got that, I proceeded to deconstruct the bog, put the liner in and build it back. I'm happy with how everythig turned out and I will not be doing that again!

16 August 2009

The End of Procrastination

I actually did some yard work today. We haven't had the money for the concrete blocks that I'm going to use for our raised beds and no one responded to my postings on craigslist for some, so I thought I would continue to prepare that area as well as others for future plantings. More than a month ago I covered the vegetable garden area with a tarp. I pulled it up today in order to use it in other areas of the yard that need smothering. I had some plastic edging that I put down around the vegetable garden and I laid newspapers and mulched the area with my neighbor's grass clippings. I definitely underestimated the amount of newspaper and mulch I would need (I always do that). I had enough to cover about half the area. I'm going to lay some black plastic over the remaining part to keep the weeds at bay for now.

(My friend Joan did something similar recently. She writes about it on the Oak Terrace Preserve blog.)

When I laid out the bed along the edge of our front yard, it was quite large - ambitious, maybe. I didn't plan to fill it immediately - instead, I figured I would plant areas of it as I got a feel for the landscaping, and as I got plants. The area farthest from the street has been the most neglected and recently I've decided that I want to make it an extension of the vegetable garden. When I removed the tarp from the back yard, I laid it over the area in the front yard where I plan to plant vegetables at a later date. Whenever I remove it, I'll use it to smother some areas in the back yard around the pond. I plan to give that area a makeover during the winter - at least that's the plan.

The desert garden in the front yard experienced an unusually busy time this week. I've been meaning to cut back our lantana. It had gotten very overgrown and it doesn't grow extremely upright, so it was beginning to take over the bed. I really just tried to reduce its width and make it somewhat symmetrical in the process. I think I did just that. (I should've taken before and after pictures!) It had completely engulfed one of my cactuses - Cereus Peruvianus Monstrosus (this not my plant-mine is only a foot tall) - after getting a good look at it again, I'm thinking I may dig it up and put it a pot somewhere instead. Speaking of cactuses, I came home from work the other day to find that my prickly pear had nearly fallen over. It had gotten overgrown during the summer since planting it. I knew I might have this trouble in the future and planned to take cuttings and plant more of it around the original plant, to make a wider and hopefully stronger base to support greater height. I didn't get around to doing this, thus the problem at hand. I got out there with my heavy work gloves and heavily pruned it back and mounded rocks and dirt around the base to stabilize the cactus. (Why don't I have photos of any of this? I need someone in my family to document these things - hint, hint.) It seems like I've lost a lot of plant material to pruning this week, but there's a bright spot - I found a yucca on the side of the road this week. It was just cut down out of a neighbor's yard - no roots - so there's a chance it won't survive, but I have confidence. Robin has been wanting some height in that bed. I expected something I planted - the cactus, lantana, or (what turned out to be dwarf) echinacea - to get tall, but nothing has. So I was glad to find this yucca that was probably six to seven feet tall. I didn't need anything that tall, but I figured I could plant it in a deep hole and cut it off if needed. I did all of that - using post-hole diggers, I dug as deep as I could, maybe two feet, and cut off maybe a foot and a half of the yucca and planted it. I'm happy with how it looks and hopefully it will live. I just remembered another plant acquisition in the past week. It's some kind of succulent - a groundcover that has nice yellow flowers. If you can see in the photo, I planted it in front of the birdbath. I'm not totally sure that it is hardy, but the person I got it from, his seems to last from year to year, possible dying back in the winter. I'll just have to wait and see.

Chickens

I really don't have a lot to say about chickens. I just really liked this comic strip. We do have plans to get some in the near future, but there are a lot of details to work out - exactly where to put them in the yard, building a coop and fencing. My biggest hurdle will be the coop. Buying one is out of our budget and building one is almost outside of my skillset - add in the cost of materials and this option might be out of our budget as well.
Once I decide where the chickens will be, I'll find a coop design I like and then start collecting building matierials. I'm still aiming for Fall, but we'll have to see how everything goes. Wish me luck and I'll keep you posted.

(7/15/9 Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis)

12 August 2009

Downtown excursion and more procrastination

I've been lazy some more lately. I've got plans to redo the garden, but I'm putting it off a little longer. I think I'll be getting the concrete blocks next week. Once I get those, I'll get the compost and plant whatever I can at the time and then put in onions in about a month and a half.

I thought I would post this photo I took recently. It seems like I've seen this before years ago, but that was before I knew what I was really looking at. I noticed this one before we went on vacation and I had a chance recently to go downtown and take a picture. I really can't believe how tall it is. For anyone interested, it's on Coming Street near the Crosstown.

Lately I've just been doing little things around the yard - throwing away dead plants, potting things that I found, propagating plants for the plant swap in late September. Hopefully I'll come up with another post very soon.

29 July 2009

Revamping the Vegetable Garden - Again

July is the worst time in the vegetable garden, I think. It's so hot that it's a wonder anything will grow. It's when the squirrels , birds or rats(?) have found the tomatoes and this year it was when we took our vacation. Since we were going to be gone for more than a week and our garden would go to heck, I decided to start the process of revamping the garden early.

I decided to do raised beds again, but this time I'm using something inexpensive, but durable - concrete blocks. I really didn't want to do raised beds, but our yard had some flooding issues this spring - the last of our potatoes rotted and our bush bean seedings didn't like being in standing water - I can understand that. I've done raised beds before out of wood, but I had problems with rot and wood is expensive. I really considered pressure-treated landscape timbers, but I would have to use too many to get any kind of height. We are talking about raised beds here. We have some neighbors who made their beds from concrete blocks, two blocks high, and they really like them. I think for starters I'm only going to do one row of blocks - that's eight inches, which I think is a respectable height.

I've done the math and I think I can fit three to four 4x8 concrete block raised beds in the part of the yard we use as our vegetable garden. Before we left on our trip, I started on preparations. Since our most recent vegetable garden was hastily laid out and dug, I've had a huge problem controlling weeds and grass. I laid extra pieces of pond liner (EDPM/PVC) - black rubber, essentially) over the area that will be the future garden. It's been down almost three weeks now - I glanced under the edge and it doing a pretty good job of killing the grass. In addition to depriving it of light and water, the black plastic is also cooking the soil - killing weed seeds , etc. I'll be leaving it at least another week and then I'll be laying out the first of three or four raised beds.

It looks like I'll have plenty to plant in the next few weeks, from late summer crops tomatoes and beans to fall crops like onions, garlic, lettuce and maybe potatoes(?). All of my neighbors that "farm" have never planted potatoes in the fall, but the local planting guide says you can. I'll have to try it and see how they grow. I'll let you know.

My Week of Not Gardening

I had the past week off with the intent of doing some serious gardening, but it did not happen. School was over for our daughter the week before, which meant that it was about the first time since Xmas I had more than one day to sleep in, and boy, did I! I was so unmotivated in the mornings. By midday, it was 90 degrees and humid - then it would rain buckets in the evening. Everything I planned to do involved digging in the dirt - or, this week - MUD.

Thinking I had a full plate this week, I did a few of those things last week instead. I edged the driveway and walkway. It didn't take too long and the satisfaction I got from it was good. The same goes for weeding the desert garden. Leftover grass and weeds keep rearing their ugly heads and I wanted to make it presentable when my mom and grandmother visit at the end of the week. Grass had invaded my sedum patch and I had to pull it out from the roots, nearly one blade at a time, so I didn't destroy the sedum. Any future weeds and grass will be thoroughly Roundupped!

I should have know what kind of week it was going to be from the way Monday went. I talked to my dad a few weeks ago about visiting some family land to gather some plants for the yard. I quizzed him over t he phone about what plants I wanted and he thought this property had it all - ferns, orchids, pitcher plants. Many chiggers and tick bites later, there was only one type of fern, but my dad enjoyed himself riding us around which was a good thing.

You'll have to excuse me if I don't write anymore about this week. It wasn't very good and I'm finishing this entry about six weeks after it happened. I wish I could say it's because I've been hard at work in the gardening, but I can't. I'm afraid that TV and these hot Charleston summers have made me procrastinate. I promise that in the near future I will be posting more about our little piece of the world.

28 May 2009

Pond Saga, Part 1


A little more than two years ago we got a pond. It was pretty close to being a spur of the moment decision.  My daughter saw a neighbor's koi pond and wanted one, and I said, "we'll see". Soon after I was talking with my co-worker Billy about his pond and he offered us a 100 gallon preformed pond he had sitting in his garage. So begins the pond saga.

To start with, I dug a hole and put the pond in the ground and filled it with water. I bought a pump, but I didn't by a filter yet, because Billy said we could build one and save money. He's a real do-it-yourselfer which I like. It fits in well with the fact that we have no money! While we were waiting on Billy to be free, we went ahead and got about a dozen little goldfish. I figured they would be fine without filtration for the moment and they were. Eventually we got the filtration system going with a little waterfall and we started adding plants. That's when it dawned on me - the pond opened the door to a whole new world of plants.

Billy gave us some papyrus and we got some water lettuce and water hyacinth and eventually we got a waterlily. Within six months I decided that what I liked most about the pond was the plants I could grow in it. I began designing our next pond. I planned to dig it in early Spring when the weather was still cool, hopefully, and I had several months to plan it. My designs changed a lot over the months, but I a couple of parameters - It had to have room for plants and it couldn't be larger than the flexible pond liner that Billy gave us. After reading and article about pea gravel bogs, I decided that sounded like a really good idea. It would be seperate from the pond, but water would circulate through both and I could get away with using Billy's liner for just the pond and I would get another for the bog. It also allowed me to take a break after digging the pond, before I dug the bog.

I took four days off from work and began deconstructing the old pond. I borrowed a kiddie pool and set it up as a temporary pond and transferred the fish. I pulled the preformed pond out of the ground and dug a bigger hole. Then I laid the liner in the hole, filled it back up and transferred the fish - all in four days! Technically it was a working pond, but I had a lot more to do.

During that first year of having a pond, I learned so much about water quality and biological filtration. I also had a little bad luck with my filter. In hind sight, it was probably too small. During the height of the summer, I was cleaning it more than once a week and once I became more knowledgeable about all of this pond stuff, I realized it didn't have any biological filtration, so I started researching DIY pond filters. The best thing I found was called a "skippy" filter. I'm not sure where the name came from, but it seems to be a great filter. You can build it in any size from a 20 gallon barrel liner, which is what I have, to huge stock tanks that are hundreds of gallons. You start out with the container. a pvc pipe runs down the center and makes a "T" at the bottom. Water will flow through the pipe and to the bottom of the filter, creating cyclonic motion. The rest of the container is filled with nylon pot scrubbers. These have a large surface area for the beneficial bacteria to colonize. As the water flows through the filter, the bacteria pull nutrients from the water, hopefully starving things you don't want like algae. The water flows back into the pond via a spillway, waterfall or pipe, however you have it set up. In my case, it's a waterfall. I've attempted to hide the skippy filter with plants, but I haven't had much success. I'll be doing more landscaping this year, so we'll see.

This has really been a saga. I thought I would post what I've written so far. I should finish the last part in the next few days hopefully, so stay tuned!

Pond Saga, Part 2

20 May 2009

Potatoes

This was my first season for a lot of things. Growing potatoes was one of them. When I first began the vegetable garden a few years ago, I neer considered potaotes mainly because of the high price. I always saw different varieties in seed catalogues but the prices seemed really high. Last year I found out you can buy a few varieties locallly for a lot less. When the time came - I believe it was early February - I went to the local feed and seed store and picked up a five-pound bag each of brown and red potatoes for a total cost of six dollars. I was so excited - I didn't realize how many potatoes were in a bag. At the time I counted about twenty to thirty potatoes in each.

When it comes to planting potatoes, everyone has their own way of doing it. Some people cut the potatoes and plant the pieces with the "eyes". Book tell you to let them sit a few days after cuttingd them so the cuts will heal and there's less chance of disease and rot. The other option is to plant the whole potato which is what I did. Our neighbors cut them and immediately plant them and they have no problems, so I may try that next time.
Since there were snow flurries on the day I bought the potatoes, I waited until a nice warm day about a week later to plant them. My daughter and I did that and then began the waiting game - and I took a leap of faith. I say "leap of faith" because, I certainly had never grown potaotes before, but wasn't even sure I would know what they would look like when they did start growng. After what seemed like weeks or months I finally saw the potato plants coming up.

After doing some research, I found out there are many "strategies" for maximizing your yield or for ease of harvest, when it comes to potatoes. Some call for planting potatoes at the bottom of a hole and as the plant grows, filling in the hole with soil or straw(for easy harvest) to shade the tubers. Others go so far as to plant in a barrel - my friend, Darren, mentioned a better idea - something similar to a barrel, but you add additional height to it as the plant grows.

Well, my plants looked fine until recently. We had a major hot spell and that seemed to make the potatoes a little sad-looking. I would have to say that 3/4 of them look fine, but a few look dead! I want to pull those plants out of the ground and salvage the potatoes, but I don't know if they're any good. You're supposed to be able to harvest "new" potatoes when the plant begins to flower, but that hasn't happened yet. I asked Darren about that and he doesn't know when they're supposed to flower either. It's his first year growing potatoes too, I believe. Addressing my sad-looking plants, he thought my soil might be too compacted. I know I have soil issues that I should deal with. I figured I would try to improve it a little each season, although if I follow through qith my raised bed idea, I'll have dramatically improved soil.

I was messing around the yard today and I decided to just go for it and harvest the tubers from the sad-looking plants. I ended up with several pounds of small "new" potatoes and some too small to do anything with. I was reading in a vegetable gardening book I have about potatoes, and according to it, some potato plants don't flower - maybe what I have don't flower either. I still have more potato plants to harvest, so hopefully they'll stick it out a little longer.

I have learned some things growing potatoes this Spring. I should improve my soil, which is a given. I need to mulch potatoes next time. It will save a few of the tubers that grow near the surface and keep the soil cool and retain moisture. According to friends, I'll be able to plant again in late summer for a fall harvest, or fall for an early winter harvest - I'm not sure, but I'll keep you posted on my progress.

09 May 2009

Shade Garden

I planted a shade garden a few weeks ago. I hope it will be shady enough - the last place I planted one ended up getting full afternoon sun in the summer. That's not a good thing - it burned the heck out of the hydrangea. The new garden is definitely shadier, but it still gets a few hours of sun in the late morning, possible early afternoon. There are still almost six weeks until the longest day of the year - that will be the true test.

Why did I do this? For starters, my old one was a bust and I knew I had to move the hydrangea before it suffered another summer. I was working to create a shady area on the northwest side of the house, but I hadn't gotten very far with that. I think the real push came when I found what amounted to a heaping wheelbarrow full of hardy ferns. I had to do it. I started looking around the yard for other plants that would do well in the shade. I definitely wanted to move the hydrangea and the hosta would look good in there as well. That was all I had in there at first. I got two different types of bromeliads last fall that I never knew what to do with. They're not hardy as far as I know so I potted them and sunk them in the ground and mulched around them. I'll have to pull them out before it freezes, but that's a small price to pay for a little color in the garden. The other plant I have that's going in the shade garden is a root beer plant. We got a few of these from friends last fall. They died back during the winter, but returned again this year. I looked them up recently and they do well in shade, so that's where they're going.

I've been looking into native orchids to put in there but most of what I've found don't seem that interesting. That's disappointing, because I'm really curious about them, but don't think I have the skill or growing enviroment for the exotic orchids. I have future plans for this garden, not including orchids. I plan to get a few different types of ferns to go in there and maybe a perennial or two that likes the shade and has some color. Any suggestions?

14 April 2009

Broccoli

It's always interesting when you discover how little you know about plants, or when a plant does something totally unexpected, but after it happens, it makes complete sense. This is the first time I've grown broccoli, so I've been watching it, wondering when it's time to harvest. Everything I read said to do it while the heads were compact, firm, etc. (But no book prepared me for what I saw when I returned.) That's what they were when we went away for a few days last week, but when we gat back, they were on their way to something completely new to me.

Soon after we got home, I took a walk through the yard, checking on plants, fish, etc. I noticed a couple of broccoli heads were loosening up and I figured I missed my window for harvesting those plants. It wasn't until the next morning that I noticed the flowers. Did you know that each little, tiny bud in a head of broccoli will flower? I had no idea! Actually, it makes perfect sense, but I never considered it.

So, I won't be getting as much broccoli from the garden as I planned, but it was definitely a learning experience. I'll be planting broccoli again this fall and I'll plan to harvest sooner to avoid the flowers. My wife and I were talking about how little of it we got from all of our plants this spring. I think when we plant in the fall, we'll plant lots more, spreading some of it around in the landscape.

02 April 2009

Drought Tolerant Garden

Over the past year, I've been collecting (accumulating) and getting to know a number of what some people call desert plants. I'm referring to cactuses, yuccas, aloes, sedums and the like. When we decided to landscape our front yard, originally I planned to incorporate these plants in with the other "normal" plants in our landscape. But there was a high, barren area, far from the house, calling me to plant a drought tolerant garden. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, so that's what I did.

I planted a prickly pear cactus near the center, because I expect it to get fairly large. Then I spaced some yuccas around the bed. I also put another cactus - Cereus peruvianus monstrosus - that should grow pretty tall. I went out and bought some Graptopetalum paraguayense and some Blue Spruce Sedum to plant along the edges. I still had a lot of ground to cover - literally - so I started looking around the yard for suitable plants. We have an old variety of lantana that grows throughout our neighborhood without anyone's help at all, so I planted that. It will flower during the summer, but will leave some interesting structure behind when winter arrives. I continued to look around for appropriate plants. I saw the rosemary and thought - it grows in dry, rocky areas of the mediterranian - why not? The bed began to fill up, except for a couple of areas near the outside, perfect for low-growing plants.

We have a horticulturalist around the corner who has a lot of drought-tolerant plants in his yard, as well as tropicals, such as palms, cycads and citrus. He was thinning out a bed of hardy aloe and had tons that he was going to throw away. He said I could take what I wanted, so I went back and came home with a couple of grocery bags full. I filled the bare spots with the aloe and I expect by the end of the summer, this bed will look like it's been there longer that a few months.

I expect to rotate in new plants in the future, as I find more drought tolerant plants that I want to grow. Until then, I just have to wait for summer and watch everything grow.

30 March 2009

Onions

Like I wrote before, I wanted to grow everything from seed - and that included onions. From what I had read, one had more choice/variety when onions were grown from seed. As much variety you were likely to find with onion sets was red or white, I also read. Friends tried to discourage me - they said sets were the easiest way, but I wanted to grow from seed - I also knew that if things didn't work out, I could still plant sets.

I digress: I experimented with onion sets last year. I knew I had planted them too late, but I wanted to see what would happen. By the time the tops fell over and died (with a little help from some aggressive squash!), they were about the size of a quarter. I pulled them out we ate them anyway.

So, I ordered various onion seeds from a catalog, choosing various kinds that sounded cool, like Walla Walla Sweet, Super Star, Yellow Sweet Spanish and Greek Salad and I planted them. But while those seeds were sprouting, I learned something important about onions. There are two different types - long day and short day - and I didn't understand the difference until recently. I was under the impression that since the South has longer days, we would grow long day onions . Not so - Onions are a cool season crop so they grow during cooler weather. In the North, that can be during summer when the days are longer, but in the South, onions are grown late winter/early spring or late fall/early winter during cooler weather, when the days are shorter.

So I went to Lowes and bought onion sets. There were a few different varieties - I don't remember what red onions there were, but the white onions they had were Yellow Granex Hybrid(like Vidalia onions) and Texas Sweet. I bought the Yellow Granex and planted half of the 64 that came in a bundle and they seem to be doing fine. I'll keep you posted.

On a similar note, there are some other onions I'm curious about. One is the Egyptian walking onion. Instead of small sets, you plant one large onion bulb and it produces baby onions on a stalk. When the stalk dies and falls over, the small onions form another plant where they land, hence the "walking". There are other onions that are small and cluster, that are possibilities. When I know more I'll let you know.

26 March 2009

Seed Starting

I thought I would get a head start this year if I grew my own vegetables and flowers from seed. Boy, was I wrong! I don't think I anticipated how early I should have been starting various seeds. I started seeds in January and February for cool season crops like lettuce, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and onions. They took their time germinating - some didn't at all. (I know that some of them were last year's seeds, but still.)

I thought I was making progress, but I didn't have anything to compare it to...until I went to Lowes. Nothing will make you less inclined to grow from seed than visiting Lowes in mid February. I am exaggerating...a little. I did buy a few things there, but I was determined to see this growing from seed thing through. I bought onion sets - it seems the seeds I started were the wrong kind for my area. (More on onions another time) I bought heading lettuce - it was so much larger than what I had grown up to that point. I also bought broccoli - my seeds hadn't germinated. I will be buying tomatoes as well - you get the picture.

My successes? I consider the sweet corn I transplanted to the garden Wednesday a success. Ditto on the sunflower seedlings I put in the front yard at the same time. Also I have a fair amount of Black Eyed Susans and Purple Coneflowers and a few Hibiscuses that I will be transplanting soon.

On a related note, last year my mother-in-law gave me a grow-your-own-kitchen-herbs kit that she bought at Goodwill. I had no expectations of getting any plants out of it, not knowing how old it was. So I wasn't surprised when nothing happened. She gave me another one this year, maybe for Xmas, and I waited until a week or two ago to start the seeds. To my surprise, most of the seeds germinated - Basil, Parsley and Corriander, but not the Thyme. I'll keep you posted on those.

25 March 2009

Winter Sowing


I found out about winter sowing around New Year's, when there doesn't seem to be much to do in the way of gardening. Then I found out about winter sowing. According to various websites, it seems simple enough - put soil and seeds in a milk jug or like container, keep moist, put outside and the seeds will germinate when they're supposed to. I am simplifying here, but not much.

I spent a little time in January and February experimenting with different variations and decided on an under-the-bed storage container for my winter sowing. I tried milk cartons - they were fine, but I never had enough of them. Then I didn't like having to prick the seedlings out to plant in individual pots - more on this another time. So I decided I wanted to use seed flats and I wanted a large container to put them in. On trash day I ran across an under-the-bed storage container that someone was throwing out. I took it home, drilled some holes in the top and bottom to collect rainwater and for drainage and it became my winter sowing container. We had a colder winter than usual and I'm very pleased with how well it protected my seedlings. Everything did well except some Black Eyed Susans I was trying to get an early start on. Now that I have a more permanent container, I will definitely winter sow again next winter.

Rain Barrels

I've been wanting rain barrels almost as long as we've owned our house - it'll be 3 years in August. When I first priced them online I was shocked that some people wanted $100 or more for one - and I have eight downspouts, including the garage! Then I found out you can make your own - all you need is a 55-gallon food-grade barrel.

The hardest part for me was locating a local source for these things. A friend who gives rain barrel workshops at the Sustainability Institute gave me the name of a local supplier who sells them for $40. We're not exactly rich here, so the price kept me away for a little while longer. Finally, I started a garden fund and had accumulated a little cash - my wife saw an ad in the paper selling food-grade barrels for $20. I jumped at the opportunity and bought two of them - mine must have contained lemon juice! That was in early February - the barrels sat in the yard for at least a month until I made time for them. - did I mention I'm landscaping and vegetable gardening?

There are many different ways to create these rain barrels, but they are all very similar. Over the last few months I've been watching "how to make a rain barrel" videos on the internet, trying to get an idea of the way I wanted to make mine. In general, I decided I like the Paul James video the best. I diagrammed the parts I would need and when I got to Lowe's I discovered that the specific parts that were used in the video were not necessarily the most common parts in their inventory. So I had to improvise again. I find that any makeshift plumbing project I undertake always includes improvisation when I get to Lowes!

Once I got home, I found I needed additional tools and the drill needed to be charged. I finished over a couple of days and also had a lot of site preparation to do. I had to cut the downspout to fit the barrel and I put down landscape fabric to prevent weeds from growing around it - the less I have to use the weedeater the better. I had to make sure the ground was level so it won't tip over when it's full. All of that is done - I just have to finish landscaping around it and hope I did everything right. Now on to the next one.

PS - improvising as I did, I think it took me longer than it would have, but the next one should go a lot smoother, now that I have all the tools and have done this once already.

Spring is here - time to blog?

This seemed so contrary to me at first. The weather is warm. Time for planting. Let's blog about it! It did cross my mind. I've wanted to blog, probably because everyone else blogs, but I didn't feel like I had anything to say. I keep a garden journal. It's pretty minimal - when I planted which seeds, how other plants are doing and anything I can do differently next time. We've also begun landscaping our yard. We have a master plan, but we're doing it a little at a time and I wanted to chart our progress. So last night while walking one of the dogs I decided that I would start a blog about what we're doing around our suburban homestead. This will include everything from our vegetable garden and water garden to landscaping and conservation - even our goal of having chickens before the end of 2009.