23 November 2010

My New Edger

When it comes to gardening, I wanted to do things as cheaply as I can. I have trouble spending a lot of money on things - that has caused problems for me recently - I've been wanting to lay out some new beds and spruce up the yard a little bit, but it all seems like a lot of work for little reward.

Take edging, for example - after we bought our house, I needed to make sure I kept the yard looking nice, so I decided to buy an edger. The last thing I wanted was another noisy tool. At one time, leaf blowers were possibly my biggest pet peeve. No, I was going to buy an old-fashioned half-moon edger. Actually, I was lucky to find one. I thought it would be good for me, the environment, etc. It was fine for the first couple of years, but it's gotten to the point where I edge 3-4 times a year - that's become a lot of tedious work. It's also how I spent edging and laying out all of those beds the last couple of years. So when it came time for me to get off my butt and start this shade garden, I needed a real edger.

Gas-powered was out of my price range. I've had other yard tools that were either corded or have a rechargeable battery. I wasn't sure which one I might want. My experience with hedge trimmers is that the battery might die before I finished with the hedges, but the electric, we've cut the cord a number of times. It turns out my only choice was one with a cord.

I took it out of the box and tried it out on Sunday - laying out the new shade garden and edging the driveway and walkway. It has three different depths, 1/2 inch to 1&1/2 inch, calling the deepest "trenching". Not much of a trench, but probably the only one I'll be using it on, especially to get through tough sod.

22 November 2010

The Winter Vegetable Garden

I've been pondering the winter vegetable garden recently - rethinking it. I planted two beds of broccoli, two beds of onions, and a bed of greens - lettuce and spinach. We rarely eat broccoli - especially from the garden, I haven't successfully grown a really good onion, and our greens are nonexistent - the spinach never came up and something must have eaten our lettuce - I don't think it just died.

I need to rethink our fall planting more - I don't want to give up on onions, but I may limit myself to a half of a bed, and only one type of onion - yellow granex hybrid, also know as a Vidalia. I'll stick with the broccoli, though I'll try to grow more from seed. Robin says she's trying to sneak more vegetables into meals. I think my focus during the winter ought to be on greens. We will get the most out of them - they're usually easy to grow, cheap, replenish-able and I really enjoyed all the salads I ate last spring.

R.I.P. Dream Gardens

I was off work last Wednesday and decided I would visit Dream Gardens and take some photos - and maybe even buy something. If you have never heard of Dream Gardens, you missed a heck of a place. Cultivated over the years on what I'm told was a former car lot, it became an Eden in a world of pavement and just as elusive - its frontage on Rivers Avenue was the size of a storefront.

Once past the front gate, you felt like nature had reclaimed this part of town. You couldn't walk down the winding paths without brushing against every plant - especially in the late summer / early fall. I have to admit I didn't go there as often as I would have liked, so I was disappointed to find that they are moving their operation to Hollywood. Gone is the jungle that occupied that small part of Rivers Avenue. It will be missed.

Ennui de jardin

When it comes to gardening, I'm not inspired right now. The summer was so hot and long that I just stayed inside. Now that it is turning cold - in fits and starts - I can see only work - landscaping, edging, laying out beds, digging up grass.

I've put off planting our large bed until spring - I have ideas about what to put there, but nothing definite yet. My plan is still evolving. Since I'm not doing that, I told myself I need to put in the shade garden under the oak tree. I have all of the plants and I need to do it before it gets too cold. Unfortunately, all I need is to dig up grass and put in lots of topsoil/compost. That just sounds like back-breaking work to me, and right now my back isn't feeling up to it.

Recently, I had some back pain, enough to keep me out of work for two days and to a chiropractor three times in a week - a first for me. So, I'm a little hesitant to dive back into gardening just yet.

08 October 2010

Planting Time


I just took a couple of days to organize my vegetable seeds/plants and to decide what I'm planting and where. I've narrowed my first planting down to white and yellow onion sets, broccoli plants and carrots, lettuce and spinach seeds.

Also I have three kinds of onion seeds, more lettuce and spinach seeds and broccoli seeds. I plan to use the lettuce and spinach in a succession planting. I'll probably start the broccoli in seed flats and move them to the garden when I have room. I've been wanting to try to grow onions from seed - fall is the best time to do that, but I don't have a lot more room. I'll try to squeeze them in with the carrots if I don't have too many.

If nothing interferes with my plans, I should be planting everything this weekend.

06 October 2010

Fall Gardening

Fall sneaked up on me this year. Back in August the newspaper ran an article about it that made me feel like I was behind in my planting. I could have planted some things, but it seemed really too hot for lettuce, spinach, etc. Onions wouldn't be planted until October, so I really had time to wait and see what the weather did. Strangely fall happened almost at the same time as October - which means I need to get planting.

I called a few feed stores last week, looking for onion sets and I found them. I only know of around five, but after a couple of years of buying potatoes and onions, there seem to be only two reliable ones: Dorchester Feed and Supply and Red Top Feed and Tackle Shop. There is more info on these stores here.

I had today off and planned to go to one of them to get onions and whatever else they might have. I thought I would check with my neighbor, Mr. Hiers - he was looking for collard greens and last year I gave him onion sets, because he couldn't find any. I told him I where I was going and volunteered to buy him what he needed.

I ended up buying Mr. Hiers two pounds of yellow onion sets and five 9-packs of collars greens. I bought a 9-pack of broccoli and a pound each of yellow and white onion sets for myself. I don't think I'll plant all of the onions, so I've offered some to a couple of friends who are getting serious into gardening. I've had mixed results with onions, so let's hope I fair better this year.

After I took Mr. Hiers what I bought him, I began preparing my garden. I pulled weeds and worked some compost into the beds and I sat down and started planning what and where to plant. I've got onion sets and onion seeds, broccoli plants and broccoli seeds and lettuce, spinach and carrot seeds. The broccoli plants and onion sets I have to plant this fall. If I plant the onion, carrot and broccoli seeds I should plant them this fall. I have two packs each of lettuce and spinach seeds, so I will plant one now and one later, so I will have salads all winter and spring.

I think I have room for most of this - I do have two many onion seeds, though - three different varieties. I'll at least try growing one kind just to get some experience at this. I'll let you know soon what I end up planting.

Pond Redo

It looks like I may redesign the pond this winter. I've been meaning to completely finish it - decide on a permanent design and lay the flagstone with mortar - but I've had things happen. There was a leak in the bog that was a major fix - now there is another leak, so I've quit circulating the pond through the bog. It's slowly drying out - I've watered a few of the plants - but I have to find a new home for most of them in the near future.

One of the reasons I've had problems with the bog is I didn't invest the money in this project that I should have. In hind sight, I wouldn't have spent the extra money to do it right. We didn't have the money to do it that way - we were relying on mostly donated materials and my own sweat equity. I probably bit off a little more than I could chew, and did what I could with what I had. The way I should have done it was to make the bog and the pond out of a single piece of pond liner, rather than the two that I used. I also used about the cheapest liner I could find for the bog - twice!

I'm redesigning the pond/bog to use the current pond liner for both the pond and bog. obviously the pond will be smaller with a very small area used for a bog. I will probably plant some of the other bog plants in the ground around the pond - I just have to make sure they get the extra moisture they need to thrive. Maybe I'll make a bog in the ground like I've seen lots of places around the internet. I'll put most of the carnivorous plants in that area or in pots - the one that's in a pot seems to be doing fine. I have a design in mind for all of this , but I won't know exactly what it will look like until I get in there and get digging.

25 September 2010

Third Annual Fall Park Circle Plant Swap

Today was the 3rd Annual Fall Park Circle Plant Swap. I've been looking forward to this for...well. since the spring plant swap! I didn't do a lot of growing specifically for the swap, but I ended up having a number of things that I was able to take as is. There was a growing number of garden-related items being brought for people to take, so I had a number of things in that area - old tools, pots, books and magazines. I guess there wasn't much of a trend, because I think I was the only one to bring any of that stuff this time.

Getting rid of the books and unused tools was great for me - like a fall purging of junk. I had a few plants that I felt the same way about too. This morning I got rid of most of my water irises around the pond. It's real hard to contain them and by the fall, they are just trying to take over. I still have some in my waterfall filter, but all of them in the bog are gone - at least I think so.

I might have mentioned this before, but I was dividing and repotting succulents a few weeks ago - most of those went to the swap. I got some hibiscus from a neighbor in the spring, and have had it in a container of water since - minus what Robin wants to keep and what my neighbor Joan wants, I took the rest to the swap - about four pieces. I changed my mind about a few things I could have taken - if I don't want them, they can always go to the next swap. I also took the smaller Hymenocallis that I divided earlier this year - I still have twenty left.
I gathered up everything and got there a few minutes after 10am, when the set-up started - the actual swap wasn't until 11am. I wanted to get there a little early so I could socialize a little - I always do too much talking and not enough looking. When I got there, there were about 10 cars and hundreds of plants - I couldn't believe it. I unloaded my plants and stuff and started to look around, but ended up doing a good bit of socializing - catching up with friends and neighbors, helping other people with plant identification where I could. Eventually I got around to looking at plants.

Like the last few times, I wasn't excited about what I saw - there were some things we could use when we do our landscaping in the near future, but nothing that jumped out at me. I remember feeling this way at the last swap, but ended up being very happy with what we got at the end - I hoped today would be the same. When Robin showed up I was able share my ideas about which plants we might want to try to get. One good thing about not being overly excited about many of the plants, is that there is no disappointment when you don't get the plants you want.

I was interested in a couple of hostas and ajuga. Robin found a couple of ferns. There were a number of bromeliads that I considered, but I already neglect the ones I have - same goes for the night-blooming cereus. We got the ferns and the hostas and the ajuga - Amy Dabbs, who brought the ajuga, said I could have more if I ever needed it. After several rounds of grabbing plants, we started running out of plants we definitely wanted - I laughed a little bit when I saw Robin grab plants that I had brought, until I did the same thing a few minutes later! I was impressed by what we ended up with - a lot of what Robin grabbed, I didn't even see! We got a lot for the landscape: rug juniper, liriope, hosta, ajuga, society garlic. A couple of curiosities - pregnant onion, bed of nails. A couple of things that I'll repot and give away - dwarf papyrus, aloe, spider plant.

I was very pleased with our haul and I feel like we will get more use out of these that any other plant swap we've been to. Now it's time to get planting.

05 September 2010

Butterwort

I repotted all of my carnivorous plants today. They had become overgrown in the 18-inch container I had all of them in. One of them, the butterwort, was getting overrun by the Sarracenia purpurea. Originally, I was only going to take out a few and repot, but I ended up repotting every plant, including the butterwort.

I bought the butterwort on a whim last year. I was at Lowes looking at clearance plants and there it was, for $0.48, I believe. When I got home, I took it out of its cube and sat it in a shady area of the bog and then eventually planted it with the rest of the carnivorous plants. I was saying in an earlier post about handling some so small and seemingly fragile - and a little sticky. This was no exception. That was the main reason I was going to leave it in there and not repot it. I lost a few rosettes in the transplant, but it's still pretty big. Who knows how many rosettes it has now. As you can see, it started out with only a couple. To give it room to grow, I put it in a seven-inch pot. I hope that's ok for the next year or so.

Sarracenia "Judith Hindle"

I repotted all of my carnivorous plants today. They had become overgrown in the 18-inch container I had all of them in. One of the pitcher plants - Sarracenia "Judith Hindle" had grown so much, that it's now in a 12-inch pot of its own.

I got these from Lowes about two years ago - they were in one of those "death cubes" that they sell carnivorous plants in. There's a post on another site I found about "surviving the cube" here.
The first six months or so, I managed not to kill them. I had these along with probably tow other pitcher plants in a pot that was maybe six or seven inches wide at the most.

These are so big now that I'm definitely going to divide them in the spring. Any of my friends that want any of these, speak up now!

More About Repotting Carnivorous Plants

I still consider myself a novice when it comes to carnivorous plants. I've gotten lucky with a couple of
species, but outside of those, I don't have a lot of confidence. I was hesitant to initiate this recent trade because of my lack of experience with Venus flytraps and sundews. I told myself that I really needed to study these plants before I decided on a course of action.

When I got them in the mail, they looked pretty decent, larger and possibly healthier than the ones you can buy at Lowes - known as "death cubes" to CP enthusiasts. I knew I had to take care of them for a week or two before I had time to repot them, so I kept them in a mostly shady spot and made sure they didn't dry out. It wasn't until this weekend that had time to tackle this task.

I remember when I got my first CPs. I was so nervous about handling them too roughly. I've gotten better about that now - they may be small, but you shouldn't be afraid to handle them. So, on to repotting - I was originally looking for some nice pots to put these plants in, but I didn't have nearly enough for all, so I settled for plastic pots a little larger than the ones they came in. Once they're in a better environment, I won't worry about them, and I can take my time figuring out what kind of pots to put them in.

The CPs all came in 3-inch pots - the Venus flytraps in a clumpy Sphagnum peat moss and the others in a peat/perlite mix. The pots were only half full, possibly to save weight or to better protect the plants during shipping. I spent some time trimming the dead parts and firming up the soil, hoping to get a solid mass when I pulled it out of the pot. For the most part it worked out that way. I noticed the peat used for the flytraps wasn't nearly as finely milled as the kind I was using. This may sound weird, but it was sort of the consistency of barbecue, stringy pieces as well a small clumps - not very easy to work with when your plants are fairly small. So I transplanted them into 4-inch pots and, for lack of a better place to put them, sat them part of the way into the water in the bog. This should be a good environment for them - mostly sunny, moist and humid. I hope they thrive there.

Repotting Carnivorous Plants

This isn't something I would do in September, but I have my reasons. The five carnivorous plants I have were getting overcrowded in their 18 1/2 inch pot. They looked ok back in April when they were blooming, but they must have grown like crazy in the summer. My goal for today was to repot those five and to do something with the twelve that I got in the mail a couple of weeks ago.

At first I thought I had taken on more than I could handle in an afternoon. I had to use a wheelbarrow to move where I had my repotting operation set up. Once I started digging the individual plants out, I realized I had underestimated the size of the pots I would need. Then I would run out of peat and have to prepare some more, by soaking the dry, shredded peat in a container of water.

My original plan was to remove a couple of plants from the large container and replace them with the two smaller pitcher plants I got in the swap. Also, I hadn't decided exactly what I was going to do with my new sundews and Venus flytraps. After I potted up the first couple of plants, I decided I would do the same for all five and put them back in the bog. Although they definitely could be divided, I'm going to wait until spring.

I did all of this the same as before. I took pots with drainage holes and put landscape fabric in the bottom, so they would soak up water without losing any of the potting medium - moistened, shredded Sphagnum peat moss. I'll be writing more about this in the next few posts, so stay tuned.

04 September 2010

Plants Swaps

I was involved in a interesting plant swap recently. There was a post on the Carnivorous Plants page of Gardenweb - someone was looking to trade a dozen carnivorous plants for any number of things - irises, coins, etc. I've been wanting a Venus flytrap, but I haven't been willing to pay for one, since I'm not 100% sure I know how to make it thrive. I saw this as an opportunity to get something for essentially nothing.

I emailed about my irises, but they weren't the kind he was looking for. He asked if I had any old coins - I did, but I wasn't sure what I had and I wasn't sure I wanted to part with any of them. I found my coins - I had wheat pennies, buffalo nickels, silver Jefferson nickels, Mercury dimes, silver Roosevelt dimes and silver Franklin and Liberty half dollars, and other miscellaneous coins.

After a little negotiating, we came to an agreement - half of the Roosevelt dimes and half of the half dollars for the dozen carnivorous plants. From what I know about each of the items in the trade, it was an even swap.

Once the plants arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. They were packed well and looked like I had hoped. There were two pitcher plants, four sundews and six Venus flytraps. Since receiving these plants, I've been reading everything I can find on carnivorous plants - I want to make sure I do everything right. I feel comfortable with the pitcher plants - I already have some of those and they are thriving.

Getting the plants in the mail sent me on a mission to round up all of my pots to figure out which pots I would put these plants in. I started two piles in the driveway - pots with drainage holes and pots without. I thought I would need pots without for carnivorous plants, but after a little reading, that doesn't seem to be the case. Venus flytraps don't like to be swimming, and I'm not sure what to do with the sundews yet.

While I was de facto organizing my garden area, I started thinking about plants I wanted to repot and divisions I wanted to make, to get ready for the plant swap in a few weeks. I repotted some succulents and a cactus. I divided my aloe and Euphorbia tirucalli "Fire Sticks". I've got a lot more that I can do and I'll probably do a lot over the Labor Day weekend.

22 August 2010

When You're Not Looking

Unexpected things happen when you're not paying attention. I didn't pay attention this summer - it was too hot. I gave up on my vegetable garden. I let weeds invade my flower beds and I let some plants die. Some of those plants died during our unusually cold winter - like a sago palm, majesty palm and a queen's tears bromeliad.

Lately, I have felt really bad about letting the yard get to this point. I plan to do alot in the fall, but that's really no excuse. We have friends and family in town this week and I've been wanting to make the yard look presentable, but it has rained almost every day for the past two weeks. I managed to mow the front yard yesterday. I had planned to mow the back, but it started raining just as I was finishing. It rained again this morning, but I was able to get out there this afternoon. I mowed and I did some edging, really just pulling grass out of beds. As I was doing this I noticed the bromeliad was blooming. I had given up on these - I left them outside all winter and I thought they might be dead. I thought the same thing about the majesty palm and the sago palm, but both of those have put out new growth in recent weeks. So, things really do happen when you're not paying attention, especially around the yard.

14 August 2010

Free Energy Audit - The Attic

Last month we called SCE&G about a free energy audit they were offering. We had been meaning to so something like this, but we were procrastinating and companies who do this professionally charge around $400 - so we opted for the free one. The inspectors came and looked around our attic and our crawl space. They inspected our A/C unit and water heater. We also discussed our windows.

The inspectors spent most of their time in the attic. Currently we have R-11 insulation between the joists. Their recommendation was to increase the R-value to R-38. The closest level of insulation to reach that goal is R-30. They recommended either blowing insulation or to get unfaced rolls and lay it out perpendicular to the joists, which would raise our attic to an R-value of 41. (By doing this, we would be eligible for a rebate of $6-per-100-sqft of R-30 insulation we added to the attic. Before doing that, they said we should use the spray foam insulation to seal all the holes between the attic and the conditioned part of the house, which mostly includes where the wiring has been run.

The next day, Robin and I went to Lowe's with the intention of buying spray foam insulation and pricing rolls of unfaced R-30 insulation. The inspectors recommended using insulation without a vapor barrier, which the insulation between the joists already has. I had priced it on the internet and it looked like it would cost a little more than $16 per roll, which is 31.25 square feet. That was almost exactly what we found at Lowe's. We also talked to an associate about blown insulation - apparently, if you buy 20 bags of it, you get the blower free for 24 hours.

We were thinking about all of our options when we walked to the front of the store and noticed the same insulation priced at $10.86. When we compared products, it was the exact same thing. The price was a misprint, but they were going to honor the price. With that bit of new information, we decided to go ahead and buy enough insulation for the whole attic.

I spent Tuesday night insulating wall outlets using the expandable foam. Wednesday I spent some time in the attic filling the holes where the wiring runs into the house. Later, I opened a roll of insulation to lay it out and realized I had few questions. I called my uncle who is a contractor and while talking to him, I found out that building codes require only R-30 insulation, so what the inspectors recommended must be from Energy Star.

While in the attic, I realized that above our bonus room (closed-in porch), there wasn't any insulation at all. So before I add extra insulation to that room, I have to put some in there to begin with.

Robin and I spent the early part of Wednesday morning in the attic rolling out insulation. We seemed to get a lot done. There was more to work around near the front of our house, but when we moved to the back, we had nothing to stop us from rolling out the insulation the length of the house. The first few rolls went fast, but by that time we were hot and ready to call it a day. We don't think it will take us too long to do the rest of the attic. I'll need to leave room to get to the bonus room, so I can insulate that in the near future.

The few other things we need to do is get better weather stripping on our doors and caulk our windows. I'm really glad we did this. It makes me feel like we've done something important for our house and our lives.

Free Energy Audit - Air Conditioner

Last month we called SCE&G about a free energy audit they were offering. We had been meaning to so something like this, but we were procrastinating and companies who do this professionally charge around $400 - so we opted for the free one. The inspectors came and looked around our attic and our crawl space. They inspected our A/C unit and water heater. We also discussed our windows.

The inspectors tested our A/C unit and I'm glad to say that it is working well, despite being the same age as the water heater. First they ran a test measuring the air temperature at the vents and comparing it to the air temperature at the return. The air should be a difference of 18 degrees between the two. I'm glad to say that ours met that standard. I was pretty surprised - I've worried about ductwork under the house since we moved in. We have a moisture issue under the house that affects part of the insulation and I was afraid that it would hurt the performance of our A/C - I was glad to hear that. I had the idea to move the ductwork in the attic, but they recommended against it. They said it gets too hot in the attic and that the crawl space is the best, because temperature is more consistent close to the ground. They noticed we were using a pleated air filter - one that pulls allergens, etc from the air. We have a small house and I thought it would be a good idea to filter the air well - it's an old house, too. He said that these restrict air flow, which reduces the efficiency of the system. It also doesn't work effectively as an air filter. He said if that's what we want, we should get a separate air purifier. You learn something every day.

We've got our last pleated air filter in there right now and I just bought some "green" fiberglass-free filters. I was amazed at the lack of choices - either they cost $3 for 4 30-day filters, or the pleated ones start at that price for one.

Free Energy Audit - Water Heater

Last month we called SCE&G about a free energy audit they were offering. We had been meaning to so something like this, but we were procrastinating and companies who do this professionally charge around $400 - so we opted for the free one. The inspectors came and looked around our attic and our crawl space. They inspected our A/C unit and water heater. We also discussed our windows.

Our water heater is a gas storage unit, which means it uses gas to keep a tank full of water heated all the time. It is 14 years old, which means it is near the end of its life. I'd rather take a little time and replace it now, than have to do something when it fails. SCE&G is offering financing if we replace it with a gas tankless water heater. There is also a rebate/tax credit we can take advantage of.

A few years ago I took it upon myself to insulate our water heater. I went to Lowe's and bought a water heater blanket and managed to wrap it around the tank - it was hard, because it was in a small, vented, metal box outside. After the inspectors looked at it, they said the insulation may be restricting airflow to the pilot, or something like that, and I should remove the lower part of the insulation. I did that later the same day and I think it has helped our hot water supply.

31 July 2010

Corpse Flower Cactus

I got this cactus at a plant swap a couple of years ago. It's Stapelia gigantea, or Corpse (Carrion) Flower Cactus. I spent the first year or so dividing it and giving it as gifts or taking it to plant swaps. We had a really cold winter this year and the cactus seemed a bit traumatized by the weather. It just got some new growth recently - really the first sign on life it's shown since last year.

So when I saw a bud forming, I was excited, as well as surprised. It took about two and a half weeks from the time I noticed it until it bloomed today. I've been watching it intently the last couple of days - it's looked like it was was going to burst any minute. I went to take a photo this afternoon, before it opened, and that's when I noticed it had opened. We all had to go look at it, and take pictures, AND SMELL IT!

We really didn't smell anything, so I put my nose right up in it. That's when I got the faint smell of roadkill. I'm just happy my plant bloomed and it didn't smell as bad as I anticipated.

For a slideshow of the bloom, click here.

27 July 2010

From Garden to Table

There's something I've noticed the last couple of summers - there is poor coordination/planning between what's ripe in the garden and what we are eating for dinner. There's nothing better than picking something from the garden and immediately cooking it. For us - and maybe for a lot of people - that's easier said than done. Every vegetable has it's own timeline, which makes it "feast or famine" with a lot of them.

Salad greens were the easiest plants to work with. Once our lettuce and spinach matured, we were able to continuously harvest it from December through April. We could have started earlier if I had planted it sooner.

Unless you plant the same crop a few weeks apart, some veggies tend to be harvested en masse - like onions and potatoes. You can leave them in the garden and pull up what you need, but at some point you will need to harvest the entire crop. Luckily, these two veggies, as well as other root crops, have long shelf lives.

More tender vegetables are what I have the most trouble getting the most from - tomatoes, squash, corn and beans. Either we don't get enough of these at any one time to use - like squash or corn, or we get too many and they get overripe on the plant like beans.

I don't feel like too much of a failure this summer. We had neighbors give us a lot of early squash they started in their greenhouse. When our tomatoes succumbed to disease, we got fruit and more plants form other neighbors. And we spent May and June digging (and eating) potatoes.

I've learned a little more this year and with better commitment and knowledge of what's ripe in the garden, I think we can eat more garden-to-table meals in the future.

Fall Gardening Already?

A recent Sunday newspaper had an article on Fall vegetable gardening and suddenly I'm feeling a lot of pressure to start planting. I was already feeling a little bad about my poor summer garden - diseased tomatoes, roundup-ed beans, unpicked corn, late watermelon, etc. There is plenty of warm weather ahead of us - I was planning on a second shot at warm season crops when I read that article.

It's probably a good thing. I tend to be late when it comes to planting some things, so this really gives me a heads up. I have the rest of July think about what I want and to find seed for what I want to plant. (I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago and, as I am posting it, I realize how close to August it is.)

We were at Lowe's today and I saw the seeds, but I wasn't prepared to buy anything. I'll have to get my act together soon, so I can get some early seeds started, before I put onions and potatoes in the ground in October.

21 July 2010

Never Fear - William Moss Is Here

Ever since the demise of HGTV's Gardening By The Yard, I've been looking for another gardening show that I like. I watch the Victory Garden, but it's too much like a slick landscape design show - also I can do without the cooking segment. Another show I've dismissed - without giving it much of a chance is P. Allen Smith Gardens. My impression of it would be if Martha Stewart had a gardening show.

The other show that has a little bit of promise for me is HGTV's Dig In with William Moss. He is a landscape designer who helps people modestly make over their yards. After coming up with a design plan, he coaches the homeowners on proper pruning techniques, planting depth, etc. He tends to reuse plants already in the yard and he's not afraid to use a plant's Latin name. There is usually a hardscape element to his designs, but he doesn't seem as interested in that as he is in the plants.

HGTV's Dig In is not a replacement for Gardening by the Yard, but it's all I've got right now.

17 July 2010

Hidden Ginger

I got a plant called Hidden Ginger (Curcuma petiolata) from my friend Billy in the fall of 2008. It's definitely not like the ginger lily that everyone knows. Its growth habit is similar to that of a canna or banana. I'm sure it's a sun- and water-loving plant, but it's in a good bit of shade during the first half of the day. Despite all of this, it has decided to bloom this year.

The stalk the bloom is on is only about six inches tall - there are a couple of taller ones. I thought this might be why it's called "hidden", but apparently mine is just a fluke. Billy says they bloom at the top of the tall stalks like everything else.

It's been a couple of months since it bloomed and it hasn't bloomed again - down low or higher - probably due to the amount of shade. I've thought about moving it and our other tropicals to a sunnier spot, but I like them by the pond.

05 July 2010

Yard Work

Ella has been asking to help out in the yard lately. I have things she can do, but I feel like I need to show her or explain really well what she can do to help me out. So, here it goes:

The first thing that needs done is the bed along the azalea hedge needs weeding. The newest part, closest to the fence, has clumps of grass coming up through the mulch. There's bound to be some, when you lay newspaper down and mulch on top of that. The best way to pull this grass up is to grab small clumps of it as close to the ground as possible, and pull slowly, trying to get as much of the roots as you can. I know it won't happen every time, but it'll keep it from coming back in the future. As you get closer to the street, there will be more weeds instead of grass. There will be more of them, but they'll be easier to pull up. Use the same technique as before, grabbing it as close to the ground as possible and pulling slowly. There's mostly grass - maybe crabgrass - among the daylilies, so if you pull that out, that would be great. When you're pulling weeds, pick a spot nearby and make a pile - I'll put them at the street on trash day.

There's crabgrass invading the desert garden as well as dollar weed - it has a round leaf, like a dollar coin - maybe not as large. They've got a long root connecting them, so if you grab one just under the soil, you'll be able to pull up a whole string of them. There are a few other types of weeds in there, but they should be easy to pull.

All around the raised beds, in the back yard and a little in the front, crabgrass and dollar weed has invaded the area. All of that needs to be pulled up. I made the mistake of trying to spray Roundup near the vegetables. I ended killing our pole beans, so I don't want to take any chances with that again.

The last thing I need help with is cleaning behind the garage, where the chickens will be. I've cut down (I know it will come back) and smothered most of the bamboo, but I need the rest of it cut down. It'll probably easier to use the small pruning shears. If you cut it as close to the ground as you can, that'll make it easier to smother later. I'm going to cut down some of that magnolia tree, to let in more sunlight, which will be good for the chickens. The most important thing to remember back there is to avoid the poison ivy. (pictured) Thanks!

24 June 2010

Potatoes

If you look at my labels to the right, you will notice that onions and potatoes top the list. Part of the reason is that they are two cool season vegetables that can be grown twice a year. The photo is of the last of our potatoes I harvested this week. I planted them in mid-February and have been pulling them up for the past month. Apparently you can plant a fall crop of potatoes in mid-July for harvest in November, before it gets too cold. No one I know that grows potatoes has done that, but I think I'm going to have to try it out.
The problem with that is that feed stores only sell potatoes in February. I may call around for the heck of it, but I don't expect results. I could try planting some I bought from the store, but I feel like I might be wasting my time with those. They are usually treated so they won't sprout. I thought about planting some that I have already grown, but I'm not sure about those either. There are also problems with catalogs too - the cost of shipping whole potatoes is not worth it. I did find a catalog that sold potato eyes, and I kept it, hoping they would still sell them when it was time to plant a second crop, but I've misplaced it at the moment. It seemed really reasonable - the price was good and shipping wouldn't cost as much since it was only the eyes and not the whole potatoes. Hopefully in the next month I'll be able to locate potatoes suitable to plant for a fall harvest.

17 June 2010

Yucca Update

I wanted to post an update on the yucca that was flowering on my mail route. It wasn't chopped down immediately and was left alone long enough to flower. At that point I started doing research on pollinating yucca flowers.

It turns out that there is only one known pollinator - the yucca moth. These moths will fly around at night, gathering pollen from many flowers - they are very fragrant at night. When they are reproduce, they lay and egg in the stigma of the flower. Also, they seem to intentionally pollinate the flower, which will fruit and provide a food source for the developing moth. As the fruit matures, so does the moth, feeding off the seeds of the fruit. What it doesn't eat is left to grow into another yucca.
The page I found on hand pollinating yuccas, mimics the moth. Using a toothpick and a film canister, you collect pollen and insert it into the stigma, just like the moth. I practiced a little on my own flowering yucca, but without success. Before I had a chance at a serious attempt with the yuccas on my route, they were chopped down by the landscaping crew. Although I wasn't successful at it this time, I learned a lot about yuccas and their pollenation.

15 June 2010

Spider Lilies

The last couple of years I've been bugging my father-in-law to get me a few spider lilies (Hymenocallis caroliniana) whenever he goes kayaking. This was after he started bringing me plants that he had pulled up in the marsh. Being in a kayak, he couldn't exactly pull plants up by the roots, so most of the plants he got wouldn't survive. He got me a couple of cow lilies - the water lilies you see in farm ponds and in the wild - and they had roots, but I already had three water lilies at that point, so I really couldn't use it. When I told him that I would need the roots - bulb, tuber, etc, he decided he would take a shovel with him next time. That really wasn't realistic, and neither of us has mentioned spider lilies until recently.

One morning I when I was dropping Ella off at their house, he came out with a wilted spider lily to show me and said that he knew exactly where to find them now. I didn't think anymore about them until yesterday. That's when some lilies I had gotten in trade from a woman started blooming. I few bloomed last year, but I didn't remember exactly what they looked like. I had decided that they were a giant asiatic lily - Crinum asiaticum.

When the first one bloomed yesterday, I saw the distinct membrane connecting the narrow petals and I knew exactly what it was. I don't know if it's Hymenocalis caroliniana, but it's definitely in the same genus. The ones I have do well just planted in the yard, but obviously they can live in water as well.

06 June 2010

Stink Bugs!

I'm learning a lot about garden pests this year - I'm using these attacks on our garden as educational opportunities, and hopefully I'll be more prepared next year. First it was squash bugs - now it is stink bugs. Apparently they like beans - that's where I found them.

I haven't had a lot of luck with beans this year, but that's mostly my fault. I got a late start this year and my focus was on other vegetables. I also killed half of my beans with some overzealous use of roundup. I had a ton of weeds I was trying to get rid of close to my raised beds. I thought I did a good job of keeping it out of the garden, but obviously not. Half of my pole beans have died and now the other half are being attacked by stink bugs.

According to my master gardener training manual, stink bugs like beans, tomatoes and curcubits - cucumber, squash, zucchini, pumpkin and watermelon. Also they may damage sweet corn. According to the book, the best way to control them is with pesticides. My corn and tomatoes are planted close by - I'll have to keep an eye out for stink bugs on them.

31 May 2010

Seeds from the neighborhood

Robin and I were walking the dogs the other afternoon when we passed Mr. Hiers' house. We saw him working in his vegetable garden and I thought I would take this opportunity to go talk to him. I say "garden", but he has closer to a field of vegetables in his back yard. The lots on our street are a third of an acre and the placement of his house leaves probably close to half of that available to farm in the back yard. I always think I'm doing well with my garden until I see his. Although I did feel that way this time too, I'm proud of what I've done and wouldn't trade it for anything.

We spent some time looking at what he had planted and swapped stories about what we had planted and harvested, etc. He showed me his fruit trees and his grapevines and then we went into the garage. He opened up a cabinet with all the seeds he has saved over the years. He had some he had collected himself, and others he had bought at the Cross Seed auction. He started pulling jars, medicine bottles and paper bags full of seed off the shelves and handing them to me. By the time he was finished, I could hardly carry everything home - that includes the bag of squash too.

The containers of seeds have been sitting on the desk for the past week, waiting for me to have time to plant some and I finally did that today. I planted whole seed flats of each type of seed he gave me:

Butter beans
Bush Lima Bean
Brandywine Tomato
Beefsteak Tomato

Actually, I didn't plant the vegetables yet, but I did plant the flowers.

Gloriosa Daisy Yellow
Hibiscus "Dinner Plate"
Hibiscus "Poinsettia"

Those are his descriptions on the containers of flower seeds. When I opened the bag of gloriosa daisies, there was another bag with more seeds. They were different than the seeds in the original bag, so I planted those as well. I've labeled them separately on Myfolia.com and on the bags themselves so I'll know in the future.

Yard Waste Bags

I've been wanting to write about the compost I buy at the landfill for a while now. It's made from the yard waste of the residents of Charleston County, so there are no guarantees about anything. We can hope their piles heat up enough to kill or break down all the bad things like diseases, pests, herbicides, pesticides and weed seeds, but there is one thing that does not break down during the composting process - plastic.

People put their yard waste out for collection in plastic bags. I'm not sure, but the composting process probably begins by taking all of the yard waste and dumping it in a shredder, which puts very small pieces if plastic into the compost. I see it all of the time in the compost that I have gotten from the landfill and I think that has had a negative effect on my feelings about getting compost from them.

I decided this weekend to try something new and use the paper yard waste bags that you can buy at Lowes or Wal-Mart or other stores that sell lawn and garden items. I have two reasons for trying these out. The first one is I refuse to use plastic bags for my yard waste - it's obvious that the plastic is ending up in the compost that they sell. The second reason has more to do with the aesthetics of our landscape than anything else. For nearly four years I've been dumping piles of yard waste near the street every week without bagging it, and the city workers come by and pick it up with a large bucket/scoop loader attached to a dump truck. Over the years, or maybe it happened to very first time, the bucket has scooped up our grass in that one area and I want it back. Instead of complaining to the public works department all the time, I thought I would be proactive. By putting everything in bags, maybe they won't need to use the scoop on my yard waste and will leave any future grass untouched. I've got two full bags on the street now, waiting for pickup in a couple of days - we'll see what happens.

27 May 2010

Daylilies

Before I had daylilies, there seemed to be so much hype surrounding them - all the different varieties, etc. So, last March, I bought some off of craigslist - they were just putting out new growth, so I had to wait with anticipation to find out what colors they would be.

Once they finally bloomed, I was a little disappointed. They were mostly yellow, some having touches of red on the edges. I tried to cross pollinate one last year, but I didn't get any seed from it. Oh yeah - another disappointing thing about daylillies? Blooms last only a day.

I've got a different outlook this year. I plan to catalog and label each of them, so I know what color each of them is - and maybe I'll try some cross pollination again.

26 May 2010

Cactus Collection

I bought these five cactuses from Lowes on clearance. I really didn't know what to do with them, but they were either $0.88 or $0.48 each - and they didn't look bad either. I potted them up together in one pot and I thought they looked nice for a while - one recently bloomed, but they're starting to look crowded. I had amassed a small collection of ceramic pots that I never knew what to put in them - so I figured this would be a good idea. I tried to match the cactus to the pot, taking into account size, shape and color. I'm happy with the outcome and so is Robin. Now I don't know where t o put them!

Prickly Pear Cactus

Our Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia) is blooming for the first time since we've had it. We call it the "Murder House" cactus, because I grew it from a single pad that I got from a cactus at a house where a recent double murder had occurred. Soon after, the owner spruced up the house and the yard, removing the cactus and selling the house. So, in a way, I feel like I did this plant a favor by propagating it. We've had this cactus since 2007, but it's only been planted in the yard since spring of 2009. Last year I saw a couple of other cactuses bloom, but not ours. This year, it finally happened.

15 May 2010

Fall Plant Swap

I know it's not even summer yet, but the date for the fall plant swap has been announced - Saturday, September 25 at 10am at Park Circle. For more information click here, or the link above. To see how the plant swap works click here. I'm looking forward to seeing everybody there

Squash Bugs?

I think I have squash bugs, although they weren't on my squash. Now that I know what they are, I'm going to have to check my squash in the morning. Actually, I was trying to take some photos of my blooming yucca for an upcoming post when I noticed these bugs all over the flower stalk. It even looked like they might be mating - they were backed up against each other. Sorry for the slightly blurry photo - I wanted to get the closest photo I could. They seemed familiar, but I really didn't know where to start to figure out what they were. I had to narrow it down a little since there are a large number of bugs and insects out there. After consulting the "Basic Entomology" chapter of my MG training manual, I narrowed it down to bugs or beetles. Then I searched Google images for "beetle", "beetle pests" , and then "garden pests". Found on the first page of results was something that looked pretty similar to what I had - it was a squash bug.

I'm quoting from the manual: "Squash bugs overwinter in protected places as unmated adults. They appear rather slowly in the spring. They mate and begin laying egg clusters about the same time the vines begin to grow and spread. Eggs are yellowish brown to brick red in color and are laid in clusters of a dozen or more on the leaves. They hatch in about 10 days into nymphs that become adults in four to six weeks. Only one generation of bugs develops each year. New adults do not mate until the following spring."

So how does one control them? Advice on the subject varies, from not planting squash, to killing them as you see them. I may leave the ones on the yucca alone, but I'll make sure to check my squash and related plants for eggs on the leaves. If you have any, good luck with getting rid of them.

Potatoes and Lettuce

I get curious about potatoes, probably because they're growing in the ground, where I can't see them - too curious, perhaps. Last year we ate most of them as new potatoes, but I'm trying to be patient this year. I dug up one small plant last weekend, because it was dying and I got a single Yukon Gold potato from it. Then I decided to dig up a potato without pulling up the whole plant - so I got two new potatoes last weekend, but I'm trying to hold out. I pulled up a plant one morning this week before work and got a large handful of them. I and going to be good and wait, but we've got enough for dinner this weekend if we want them.
Earlier this week I knew Robin was planning to cook dinner, but I was hungry when I got home from work. There was nothing I really wanted, so I went out to the garden and pulled up some lettuce and spinach and had a big salad. We did this one night not too long before that, and I told myself I should do that every day this week. Unfortunately, I didn't stick to that plan - when I dug up the last potatoes, the lettuce was in the process of bolting. Summer is definitely here!

14 May 2010

Garden Ramblings


It's been a slow couple of weeks for gardening. We had a neighborhood cleanup three weeks ago and I was a little under the weather for about a week after. I'm mostly over it now, but it's been too hot and humid recently for me to want to do much outside.

I guess I've done more virtual gardening lately. I reformatted this blog a little - there was getting to be too much stuff along the right hand column. I've consolidated most of it under individual tabs. It's also allowed me to add more information without making the site cluttered.

I've been updating my garden at MyFolia.com a good bit recently - adding new plants and photos. I have spent a little time outside taking photos of plants and doing a few little things, like starting seeds and repotting plants, deadheading, pulling a few weeds, etc - really just observing the goings on of the yard.

I don't know if anyone's seen the MyFolia page I have, so if you haven't, go check it out. And if you have, but it's been a while, check it out. I've added a lot of gardens and plants and photos - not a lot of comment, though. I save that for here. Ignore this if you want. It's just a shameless plug for my page there and maybe to pad this blog a little!

Flowers

I haven't done a whole lot in the yard lately - mainly, I've been noticing flowers. Watching them go from buds to flowers to seed pods has left me wanting to know more. I know the basics of pollination, even if I don't remember what each part of the flower is called. (I started studying today) Last fall I did a little seed collecting and this spring I've been planting a lot of seeds, but I've really become interested in the last couple of weeks. I also tried to cross pollinate a couple of my daylilies last year, but I didn't get any seeds from it.

First it was the irises. I watched each one bloom and die, but I think only the water irises have seed pods - maybe the higher pollination rate is due to the water attracting more insects. Last year I was thinking the same thing - I'll collect the seeds and grow some more - but I always have too many of these things - so I don't know what I'll do with the seeds.

I brought home a few lilies from a now-wild area of the neighborhood and they have since formed seed pods. I've collected seeds from most of them, but I don't know when I should plant them. After some research, there are different techniques, depending upon which type and I don't know what these were. I'll spend some time this summer researching and I'll let you know what I find out.

My pitcher plants have been blooming for the last several weeks and I've been really curious about their structure. I could see into them until a few of the "petals" fell off. It appears that they have produced seeds, but most of them have fallen out of the flower. I'm not sure if I want to bother with germinating them - I've heard it takes months - and the plants you can buy at Lowes - I think those are two years old - too much of a commitment for me.

Before I had planted all of my squash, they started blooming - the same with my cucumbers. I didn't have anywhere to put them in the ground, so I just transplanted them into larger pots. As they continued to bloom, I thought I would try to take advantage of this and hand pollinate the flowers. As I started looking at the flowers, they turned out to be all male. This got me wondering about squash flowers, so I read about them in the master gardener's training manual - apparently most of the early flowers on squash are male. So I'll be biding my time until a female flower shows up.

I know you're supposed to be able to grow potatoes from seed as well as from a potato, so when my potatoes began flowering, I held out hope that maybe there might be seed pods when they were done, but no such luck. That's fine - they're very easy to grow from a potato eye. Same goes for water lilies. I've always wondered about getting seed pods out of them. A big problem is that there are so few blooming at the same time in most situations - except for the wild, white cowlilies that you see in ponds and ditches everywhere.

The last plant I want to mention is probably my favorite at the moment, at least as far as pollinating goes - it's the yucca. There's one on my route that I've been watching flower for the past few weeks, knowing any day the landscapers will chop it off, but it hasn't happened yet. I've been doing some research and I think I've figured out how to pollinate it. I'll let you know how it goes.

Second Summer Planting

In the near future I'm going to have some empty garden beds to fill and I don't have a clue what I want to plant. I know I can plant more of the same - corn, beans, tomatoes, etc. I'll probably do that - I've got some more corn to plant and various beans - pole beans, bush beans and cow peas (black-eyed peas). If I'm not mistaken, I think you let cow pea pods dry on the plant before picking them. Then you can store them dry until you cook Hoppin' John and collard greens on New Year's Day. If I do plant those, I really ought to plant collard greens this fall too.

I'll probably buy a couple of plants from Lowes. I'm growing peppers, but they're a little stunted and the second group of tomato seedlings didn't fair so well. So maybe I'll buy two pepper plants and a tomato plant or two. I'm also thinking I should plant zucchini - it's not my favorite, but we would eat it - in a casserole or sauteed with other vegetables.

I haven't been successful with everything I've tried growing this year, but it's a huge improvement over last year. I think because I've been landscaping and building raised beds, I didn't start some of my seeds early enough or not at all. So I feel like I'm playing catch-up a little, but overall, I think I'm doing pretty well this year.

29 April 2010

Free Plants

I got a couple of free plants off my route this week. The first was a large pot of ornamental grass - nothing about it looked as if it should be trash, but many people throw out plants when they are redecorating or they just don't want it anymore. The other was a fatsia - it's a Japanese evergreen that has a very tropical look to it. It also has white flowers/fruit in the winter. That wasn't in a pot, but it did have roots. After I picked it up, I really needed to get it in a pot of soil. It was trash day so I figured I would find a pot somewhere. And as for soil - I really didn't want to do it but - Dollar Tree sells bags of soil for a dollar. I figured it was only temporary.

I found a few plastic pots in someone's trash and as I'm grabbing one, a landscaper lives on the same street stops me. He tells me that he has lots of pots if I need them. I explain what I'm doing and he mentions he has soil in the back of his truck. He gives me some soil to put the fatsia in later and we started talking free plants. He's always removing plants from people's yards. He tells me he's getting some sweetgrass later this week and he'll give me some if I want it. I think I might have made a great connection as far as free plants goes!

25 April 2010

Garden Update

A number of things not significant enough for their own post have been happening in the garden and I thought I would lump then all together here.

It turns out the irises growing in the pond filter are two different types. The other type is the same as the one in the bog. In my walk around the yard today, I noticed that one of the irises from the Spontaneous Craigslist Roadtrip is actually blooming. I really need to do something with those.

My collection of canna that was in a plastic bag is growing again this year - the second in a row. I decided today I need to plant that somewhere too.

There's new growth on our cactuses large and small and one of our yuccas out front is about to bloom.

I found some carpet last week and brought it home to smother bamboo. I let it sit in the driveway for a couple of days until I heard it was going to rain. It was heavy enough for me dry - I definitely didn't want to deal with it wet. I got out there that evening and laid it out. I also took the carpet I was saving in the garage and did the same thing. Almost the whole area behind the garage, with a few exceptions, is bamboo free. Now we're one step closer to doing something with that area - like getting chickens. I just have to put up a fence, trim some trees and build a hen house.

Seed Flats

I've tried a lot of different containers in which to grow plants. I didn't like plastic ones originally, because it always seemed like they got used once and thrown away. When I found out about making seed pots out of newspaper - by rolling it around a can and flattening the bottom - I was sold. It was free and eco-friendly at the same time. It didn't turn out to be so great. Once wet, they were very flimsy and hard to handle. I think the idea is to use something like a tray with low sides and cram these pots in and don't remove any until the seedlings are almost root bound. That seems like the only way these pots would be very good. The other drawback was making the number of pots that you might need - it could be a massive undertaking.

Something sturdier seemed to be using cardboard tubes from paper towels, toilet paper and wrapping paper. Once again it's a numbers issue - most people will not use enough of these products to have enough tubes for their seedlings.

This year I pulled out the seed trays I had collected last year or the year before. It looked like I had a lot, but once I started planting, I ran out fairly quickly - so I've had to prioritize a little and do some succession planting in my seed flats. I did splurge and buy biodegradable seed trays from Lowes - 4 8-pot trays for less than two dollars. At that price it didn't feel like a splurge at all.

After using those trays, I'm not very happy with them. Like the paper and cardboard, they get a little flimsy after a while, and the other thing I'm having problems with is that they dry out so quickly during the day. Almost none of the seeds I've tried to start in them are sprouting. My Better Boy hybrid tomatoes are growing, despite being dried out every day. It's all I can do to keep them alive.

So, I can say with certainty that I'll be using recycled plastic seed trays until I try peat pellets and soil blocks. When I try those - next spring maybe - I'll let you know how they work.

Front Yard Garden

I was glad to be off this past Wednesday, because I still had plants I wanted to get in the ground - and it took me longer than expected. I was expanding the vegetable garden into the beds in the front yard and had to move the plants that were there. After taking Ella to school, I went by the recycling center to get some compost, but they were out. I thought this was a little strange, but it was Earth Week and there is a sale on compost during April, according to Ken Burger's column in today's paper. It was also raining sporadically, so with two strikes against working in the yard, I took the morning off.

Once I made it outside, I started clearing the bed of plants - mostly lilies, but also a citrus that survived the winter that I had to pot up. After digging up the six or seven clumps of lilies - crinum asiaticum(I think) - I decided that, since I didn't know where they were going yet, until I do, I should pot them up for now. I was thinking about doing a mass planting somewhere, but don't know just yet. And while I'm digging, I figure I should go ahead and divide the clumps - they're quite large. I spent the rest of the morning and through lunchtime dividing and potting the lilies, ending up with 35 of them, some having multiple bulblets too small to divide.

I had an afternoon of non-gardening activities to do, so it was early evening before I got back to work. I worked some compost from a near-empty raised bed into the front garden and laid out three hills for squash, a place for watermelon to roam and room for supports for cucumbers and gourds. I planted nine Early Prolific Straightneck squash in the three hills and four watermelon vines, but I still need to get supports for the cukes and some for beans as well.

We had some much needed rain this weekend and the corn I planted a week ago is coming up, So everything is going well.

23 April 2010

Blooming Potatoes

Last spring was the first time I had ever grown potatoes - I didn't know what to expect. I watched an empty garden, what was going on below ground. Eventually they began growing - I was so excited. After a while I started wondering when I could dig them up. I was told that when they were blooming, you could harvest "new" potatoes. I waited and waited but no blooms - I heard that sometimes they don't bloom - so I started digging. We ate a lot of new potatoes last spring, before torrential rains came and ruined the potato crop.

This year is different - I've got raised beds which means no flooding, and I've got three kinds of potatoes and my red ones are blooming. It really surprised me, since none of them bloomed last year, but those are the only ones. I don't know whether or not the others will - we'll see.

20 April 2010

Power of the Pepper

I mentioned before about harvesting ornamental pepper seeds, and my friend, Darren, wrote about how hot peppers can get here. And I've read things like don't touch your eyes nose or mouth after handling peppers. I've always had a hard time believing that, but no more.

The morning of the plant swap I was looking at everything I had in the driveway. including the dead ornamental pepper. I squeezed one of its dried fruits to see if I could get any seeds out of it. It broke open and some seeds fell out. At that point I decided that I would collect these soon. A little while later, I started to notice that the outside edge of my nose was starting to burn - I couldn't figure it out. Then it occurred to me that I touched the pepper and then touched my nose. I was really surprised by this.

So when it came time to harvest all the seeds, I was ready. I sat down with the fruit on a paper plate and got all the seeds out. As I'm breaking open all of this dried fruit, my eyes and nose feel like they're about to water - I wasn't sure if it was real or I was imagining it. Once I was finished, I put the seeds in a small envelope, scooping them up with tab and letting them fall inside.

Despite what happened before, I still had a hard time believing how potent peppers could be. I dared to lick the glue and seal the envelope. It turned out to be pretty hot and still quite unexpected. After my experiences the past couple of weeks, I have learned to respect the power of the pepper.

19 April 2010

Weekend Gardening

All week I was looking forward to Sunday - I was planning to work in the yard, planting corn, pulling weeds, etc. When Sunday rolled around, I was feeling lazy. I decided that I would pull up the lettuce and spinach and prepare that bed for the corn, even though it wasn't the bed I wanted them in.

After I composted the lettuce, I put the spinach in the fridge for later. Once the bed was empty, I took a look at it and decided something need to be done. If you remember from before, this is the first bed I built and it's a little different than the other beds. I decided that I needed to fix that - it was just one concrete block longer than the others. Once I pulled the soil away from one end, I moved and leveled the blocks. The extra soil plus some compost went into my newest bed - one that was built, but not yet filled.

Since I filled the new bed, I planted corn there - where I wanted it to begin with. I planted two varieties - Early Sunglow Hybrid and Silver Queen Hybrid. I was having the gardener's version of writer's block - I couldn't decide what to plant in the other empty bed. I considered bush beans or cow peas, but ultimately I decided to transplant the three Razzelberry Hybrid tomatoes from one of the seed flats. With half a seed flat free, I put some sunflower seeds in it to germinate - I need more seed flats!

I've been dieing to get my squash, cukes and watermelon in the ground. I took another look at our front bed to see what I needed to move. I'm thinking about moving the phlox in front of the hedges and maybe do a mass planting somewhere with the asiatic lilies. I could put the Rose of Sharon somewhere else and I want to put the citrus back into a pot. It's starting to come back to life, but I don't know when.

While I was messing around the back yard, I decided to take a look at the plants we got at the plant swap. One of the things was a dried apple gourd. I thought I'd harvest the seed to grow my own - the birdhouse gourd seeds I'm trying to germinate haven't sprouted yet. While I was at it I went ahead and picked the dried fruit from the ornamental pepper, so I could get the seeds later.

All and all, it was a productive day. I got a lot done and I know what I have a plan for the near future. Hopefully, I have Wednesday off and I'll get the veggies planted in the front bed.

The Queen Bee

Several weeks ago I ran across a neighbor's blog about her adventures in beekeeping. My curiosity was piqued - it's been in the back of my mind as something I'd like to do for a couple of years. I've read a little about it, but there's equipment to buy and bees sting(!), and I had other things to do in the meantime. After reading Kristen's blog, The Queen Bee - that's her in the photo, I think I might get into beekeeping sooner.

Until I get a hive, enjoy Kristen's blog and I'll keep you posted.

16 April 2010

Irises

Recently, as flowers began blooming, I was surprised how many different kinds of irises we had. Well, I only have five, but they are of a wide variety. I've been considering planting irises in the yard lately, although I've been told how finicky they can be. It all seem like a Catch-22 to hear about. If you don't divide irises every few years, they will stop blooming - or when you divide irises, they may not bloom the next spring. I think there is some truth to these statements. I have seen irises get overcrowded and they definitely don't bloom as much - I walked by the house tonight and there only one bloom out of probably close to a hundred irises. I have also had experience with irises not blooming until the second spring after they were divided - and I've also had ones that bloomed the next spring. I think it really depends on how soon after they finish blooming do you divide them. The soon the better, probably.

The first iris we had was here when we bought the house. The first spring there were only a few, so they didn't get much attention. A couple of years went by and I noticed them again - I really liked them for some reason. I looked them up and found out they are Yellow Flag Irises - Iris pseudacorus. I was pointing them out to my grandmother and she was very familiar with them. She said when she and my grandfather would go out in the boat, she would see them growing on the banks. I dug some up and put them in the bog as an experiment, but it was a bust. Not that they did badly - it was just the end of their blooming and they got droopy and I didn't have the patience for it. Last year I marked the handful (less than ten) we had so I could dig them up later and move them, but that didn't happen - I haven't decided where to put them. They came up this year and I had about fifty of them - talk about invasive! Yes, they are on a number of invasive species lists around the country, but I'm keeping them.

I've got two different bearded irises, but I don't know what kind. I tried looking up some of the irises and there were just too many that I gave up. These two are a good representations of how finicky irises can be. The first one I got because someone was throwing them out. It was October 2008 and someone was selling/buying a house on my route. The junk started to pile up on the street, including a rotting half whiskey barrel planter full of irises. I threw it in my truck and took it home. I spent the evening digging and dividing the irises, ending up with at least forty plants. I found a spot in the yard for them and planted them within a couple of days. Much to my surprise, they bloomed the following spring.

I'm not sure when I got more bearded irises - it seems like it wasn't too much later than I got the others. One of my coworkers brought them in and left them in the break room for someone to take. They sat there several days before I decided to take them. They may have sat at our house for a while longer before I found a place for them in the yard. Maybe it seems like I got them so much longer ago, because they didn't bloom the first spring. I finally started noticing buds on them before Easter just recently. When we got back from vacation, they were in full bloom - sort of a creamy white color.

The next two irises are both water irises - sometimes they are called Japanese Irises, or Louisiana Irises - I'm not really sure. There was a lot of non-specific information on irises that I found. The first water iris I bought from Dream Gardens in March 2008, right after I finished the bog. I bought it a little too late, because it had just finished flowering for the year - I had to wait until spring 2009 to see it flower, and when it did, it was so nice to see - sort of a deep purple flower - the woman at Dream Gardens said that you can tell the color of the flower by the color on the leaves. In this case she was right, but I don't know if that's true all of the time. It's putting out buds again this year and about to bloom. I'm planning to divide it afterward and find someone who wants some of it. (In the photo, the flower isn't open completely. To see a photo from last year, click here.)

The other water iris I don't know much about. I got some small plants that looked like irises at a koi club plant swap summer 2008. They never bloomed and I took a few to one of the Park Circle plant swaps, where an old lady questioned whether they were really irises at all. All I could say was, "don't they look like irises to you?" I planted them in a few small pots and put them in the top of my pond filter/waterfall where I've ignored them until recently. I was looking for something to do in the yard the other evening when I decided to clean the dead stuff out of the pond filter. I was pulling dead iris leaves and water hyacinth out when I noticed buds on the plants. Once again I was completely surprised that they were about to bloom. I had written them off, but it seems that over the last couple of years, they've matured into large irises that have almost taken over the filter. These need to be thinned out too - but not until they finish blooming. I've seen these flowers for the first time and they are a paler purple than the other ones.

I take it back - that I only have five different irises. It just occurred to me that I was leaving some out. I just remembered that this past summer that Robin and I took a "Spontaneous Craigslist Roadtrip". I may be the first person to use this term, but not the first to actually do this. Imagine reading a craigslist post titled "Curb Alert" - someone has thinned out their irises and put them on the curb. Robin comes home and I say, "how do you feel like driving to Summerville to get plants off the side of the road?" Robin replies, "when do you want to go?"

We put them in shopping bags so we didn't get too much dirt in the car, and when we got home I put the bag in the back yard, intending to do something with them in the near future. I haven't touched them since! They've obviously rooted in the ground now and they're putting out new growth, but they're in the same place I dropped the bag more than six months ago. I've got some yard work to do this weekend, like pulling weeds in the back yard - I'm planning to do something with those irises as well.

Yucca vs. Landscapers

There are a few interesting yuccas in front of an apartment building on my route. I've been interested in them the past few years. They're not just green - they're more pale and a little blue. I did some research and, to the best of my knowledge, they called yucca pallida. Last year, one of them started to produce a flower spike. Once it straightened up, the small stems that hold the flowers started to pop out, and just as the flowers were about to open...the landscape maintenance crew chopped it off! That's how life goes sometimes.

When I got back from vacation last week, I noticed that all three of these yuccas were forming flower spikes and I thought I would document this - including when they get chopped off again. I managed to get a few photos, but it was with my cell phone, so they're not the best. This is just a little something I wanted to write about and I'll post an update if (when) they get chopped off.