Sunday, March 25, 2012

March 2012 - In like a lion, then became T Rex -how will the month end? (Part 2)

So there I was puttering around in between rain storms, trying to get everything done that needed to be done.  It was cold - in the mid-40's, with cold wind and rain every few hours, but I was still able to do a few things on occasional sun breaks.
The marionberry vines for this years crop had grown all the way down to the ground and were rooting beneath the mulch.  I ran 2 x 3 cedar stringers between the support posts, trimmed the vines, and ran them along the lateral supports.
Laterals put on the berry supports and vines trained to run along them.

As the new leaves sprout out, the old leaves dry up and fall off - I spent a few hours getting rid of all the rest of the old leaves (which you see in this photo as red/brown/green) and training the vines on the trellis and lateral supports.  I wanted to make sure there were no bug cocoons on those old leaves and get everything cleaned up for new growth to happen.

I pulled off some of the dry straw on top of the beds and shredded it - added this to my winter mulch between the beds to discourage weeds and grass from coming up.

Strawberry bed #1 - this was the bed that I put straw on to overwinter the berry plants.  when I took it all off, I saw that the damp wet straw had killed off some of the plants, and the ones that were left didn't look too healthy...

This was the strawberry bed with the straw mulch

Strawberry bed #2 - this was the bed that I didn't put straw on for mulch - I used a winter weight row cover.  These plants fared much better, but I did have some slug damage.  I should have been putting some sluggo down earlier.  

 This pic was taken after I cut back some old leaves, and then thinned out the plants and repopulated the 1st bed with some of the runners I found in here.

Then the rains returned, and colder weather.  It rained so much - between a quarter  inch to an inch of rain - every day.  It was so cold, sometimes the high for the day was only in the low forties.  Then the forecast called for the possibility of snow.

In the Northwest, in the Willamette Valley, when the forecasters call for snow in spring, we usually get a light dusting and then it melts by the next morning.  So that is what I expected. That is not what happened.

This is actually a lot of snow for the light dustings that we usually might get in the Willamette Valley at low elevations this time of year (I am at about 125 feet above sea level). This was my view last Wednesday morning.  Notice how tall the rosemary on the right is ( and it was just starting to bloom).

But this time, it didn't melt.  In fact, it never warmed up last Wednesday - it kept snowing off and on all day long.  This is what the yard looked like when I got home from work.

11:00 at night - there was so much snow out, the porch lights and street lights were reflecting off the snow and making it as light as day.  this pic was taken from my porch, with no flash and no porch light on.  At this point, we had about 2 inches of snow.

This is what we woke up to - My poor rosemary, bent in half from the weight of heavy snow, up to 5 inches in spots.  About a third of the upper part of my rosemary bush was broken - I did a lot of harvesting after brushing off the snow.
This was the biggest shock - every row cover except for one had collapsed under the weight of the snow - 4 - 5 inches of heavy, weight, snow.

Here you can see the one bed that didn't collapse - in the background is pea bed #1 - already with new row cover on it.  The plants were a bit flattened, but I think I got to them in time.

Two days later the snow was all melted, and it was 60 degrees.  I will be making changes in how I do the row cover for next fall and winter.  I will put in supports under the high point of the arch to keep any snow from collapsing the frame, and putting more clips on to protect plants from occasional high winds. The plants that were up, chives and garlic, were bent, but recovered.  Strawberry plants had been a bit crushed, but nothing serious.  Thank goodness my main crop of Broccoli Rabe was in the bed that didn't have the cover collapse.

When I first saw all the damage that these storms had wrought, my first thought was to quit on planting seeds early.  I vowed to not plant anything outside until April; I didn't want to go through all this worry again - something that I have done for too many years.

But I know myself too well.  In Rumer Godden's novel, "An Episode of Sparrows", Lovejoy experiences the destruction of her first garden.  she vows to never do that to her heart again - never open herself up to the wonderment of growing something, of planning beauty, of creating life.  But even as she walks away, she can't help herself.  Part of her is planning the next garden, only this time it will be better protected.  She has been bitten by the gardening bug, and nothing can stop her from planning for this future garden.  No matter what destruction I see in my early attempts to grow food, I know that I would do the same thing all over again.  There may come a time when my body is too old to shovel dirt, pull weeds, build beds, plan, sow, protect, reap and preserve; but I pray that is a long time off.

This weekend, we had enough sun so that I could do cleanup, weed the bean beds, and build a new bed for my herbs.  In between rain showers; it is after all, still early spring in Oregon.

The new herb bed

I plan to transplant some of the herbs I have scattered around the garden into this box - not all of them, because some herbs in with the veggies is good gardening practice. I have one box of catnip and peppermint that I planted last year where I need to move the box - it is in the way of my future front fence.  So I will move those plants into this box.  (And somehow protect the catnip from the kitties.  Now if it will just stop raining long enough for me to get a load of  dirt that I desperately need.  There are bare root plants to pot up, grapevines to transplant...


March 2012 - In like a lion, then became T Rex - how will the month end? (Part 1)

 I know from keeping a garden journal that every year starts out the same.  That week or so in February that gets into the sixties scrambles the mind and make even the most pragmatic gardener think they can plant a few seeds. And then you spend the next two months in agony protecting them.  Let me explain.
Broccoli Raab sprouting

The first peas breaking through

Week 2 - 60% of all the seeds have sprouted - It was raining a lot at this point, but since they were under winter row cover, they were not getting too wet, and even with the temps dipping down below 40 at night, they were still doing OK.  Notice my now 1-yr old pyrethrum to the right - the flowers of this plant of the chrysanthemum family are what is used for organic pest control.  They overwintered well and are coming alive under the canopy of my cold frame.

Ready to transplant - 4 varieties of peas, two different kinds of swiss chard and spinach...

From the far left, my speckled troutback romaine, more spinach, magentaspreen, and then my broccoil raab.  I knew that I needed to plant at least one bed right away - and between rain showers, got the bed ready.

I had already removed all the rest of the carrots from last fall, and now just added some new soil mix - the soil had compacted some, and I needed to top off the bed.  Had to be careful on the one end, as that is where I stuck the rest of the garlic I had leftover last fall.  You can see it starting to come up.

These are really ready for transplanting - roots are coming out the ends.  I love using these peat pots - I just plant them pot and all, and the peat adds a little extra to the soil mix.

First pea box planted - peas, romaine, chard, and spinach, and fall garlic.  I watered lightly, sprinkled with sluggo, and also put copper tape around the edges.  I knew the adhesive wouldn't hold long in our damp weather, so tapped in some copper tacks every so often around the box.  Hopefully the sluggo will destroy any slugs in the raised bed, and copper tape will keep any more from getting in.  Will let you know how that goes. 

Then I covered up the bed using the existing tubing where it was set - I didn't worry too much about making the tubing higher, as it would take at least a week or two and some warmer weather before the peas were climbing up the netting and I needed to make adjustments.

And then before I could get the next pea box planted, winter returned with a vengance.

Torrential rain.  Numbing cold.  And wind.  One day we had 60 mile an hour winds.  I didn't worry about the row cover on my peas and seedlings, strawberries and garlic, because we have had wind that strong before and they were ok.  But last year I must have had more clips on, because when I came home from work, all the covers were blown off.  And it had been raining all day, and it was 39 degrees out.

I rushed out and covered everything up quickly.  And added extra clips.  Stupid me, I didn't think to check the seedling trays to see if there was too much water in them.  So the peat pots sat in about an inch and a half of water for several days before the weather cleared enough for me to get to them.  I think what saved the seedlings was the pellets I put in the soil mix to absorb excess water, and the heat cable.  I didn't know if they would be ok or not, but it was too cold and wet for me to do more.

Finally the second weekend of March, it cleared for a couple of hours and I was able to go out and plant the next box of peas.  That was when I discovered that the seedlings had been sitting in all that water.  It did affect a few of the seedlings - but not the peas or Broccoli Raab.  I ended up having about 6 hours between rain storms to get everything planted and row cover on, and to do a few other chores around the garden.

I planted the broccoil raab in front of the peas - and because they will get tall, I did the row cover a bit differently. That seemingly blank space in from of the spinach is where I planted radishes.  Just to see if I could this early.  This was the bed that the cucumbers were in last year, so the tubing to support the row cover goes up to the top of the 2 x 4 frame that supports the netting.  So I started the row cover at the back, and brought it down over the front, so it is a lot taller inside and allows me to let tall plants grow without having to adjust the row cover or tubing.  This was a great decision on my part - it is what saved me the next week from total disaster.

The back of the 2nd pea bed.  I will be redoing this a bit to allow me to uncover it during the day.  will explain in another posting in more detail.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 2012 - The Garden Update

A friend at work asked me to tell him what to plant in the garden, and when.  I didn't have a quick answer for him because a lot depends on your infrastructure ( what I have been harping about for almost a year), and your climate.  In this case, he lives in Vancouver, WA, so his climate, elevation, etc. are different than mine.

The USDA has a new hardiness zone map out - here is the link:

If you live in Canada, here is your version:

(The Canadian site doesn't do well with Chrome as your browser, it was developed with IE and Firefox)

What should you be doing in the Garden right now?

In the Northwest, you should have at least your peas planted and possibly greens, like Swiss Chard, Spinach, etc.  That is if you have built raised beds, and have row cover.  Let me show you why this is necessary.

Three weeks ago I received the 48' heat cable I ordered from Nichols Garden Nursery ( they had a sale on them).  This bed is my largest - the one I had for tomatoes last year - so I won't need it for planting till May.  So I choose this location to be my "greenhouse" to put all my starts in.

Then I needed a good soil mix for the seed trays (I used the trays from last year, and just bought some 2" peat strips to put the seeds in). So off to my favorite nursery here in Salem; 13th Street Nursery:
You have to be looking for the Nursery, as it doesn't look like much from 13th.  The Nursery is located just south of Mission in Salem.  You have to go south on 12th if you are coming from North of Mission St, because 12th and 13th are one way streets.  Cross street is Wilbur.  If you don't live in the Salem area,  I encourage you to find and shop at any local independent nursery in your area.

Entrance to 13th Street Nursery - I love walking in here.  Especially on a rainy day when I can't do much in the garden - then I can look at all the plants that are under cover and I just get cheered up by being around all of them. 

If you do container gardening, 13th St has a huge selection of pots that seem to be always on sale!

13th Street has lots of supplies for the bonsai enthusiast - which I would do if it were not for the 4 indoor cats we have.  

13th Street has a great selection of fertilizers, organic sprays for bugs ( like Neem oil), and of course, lots of Sluggo!

13th Street carries Territorial Seeds ( which is the only off the rack seed I will buy).  They also have potato and onion starts now - but get yours soon as they sell out fast!

then there is all the fun stuff - this is where I go to get gifts for my gardening friends...
13th Street is also where I bought my kneeler last year - it flips over for a seat, and it have been great with the arthritis I have in my knees, and my fibromyalgia!

Finally, what I came to 13th Street Nursery for - My potting soil mix.  I like to use Fox Farm Ocean forest potting soil - it has earthworm castings and also goodies from the ocean, and I mix it with Miracle-gro Moisture control potting mix.

Ready to mix the two potting soils together.  The Miracle-Gro has the little beads in it that absorb moisture, and the slowly let it out if the soil needs it - so your seeds don't get soaked, but also don't dry out.

Seed Trays all ready to plant.  I also had received the heavy duty garden row cover that I had ordered from Gardners - so all I needed to do is plant my seeds.

This is one week after I planted my seeds - a mix of peas, romaine lettuce, broccoli raab, chard, spinach, and ?.  Thats right, there are two trays that are not labeled.  You see, as I was finishing this project, I was coming down with a nasty bug and wasn't feeling very well.  It was all I could do to just get everything planted, watered, the row cover on, and then go to bed.  which is where I stayed for almost a week.  good thing I chose the soil mix with the water beads in it, because a week later when I checked the seeds, they were getting dry.  The Row cover I have on is pretty thick - it lets the sun in, but traps any heat, so even though it was cold and rainy, no moisture got in.  How much difference is there between outside and inside temps?

I came home on a cloudy, cold day to test what the temp difference is.

Here is the outside temp that day:

Outside temp was 49.1 degrees - that was with a few sun breaks that day.

Here is the inside temp of the covered raised bed:

Almost 15 degrees difference!  Which is why I didn't worry last week when the temps fell and we had ice and snow for about two days.  So below is the pic I took yesterday.  The snow peas are just about ready to transplant into their permanent bed.

Seedlings almost ready to transplant!

Just before I became ill, I spent some time cleaning up the raised bed for the peas:

This is a great time to be finding slugs, caterpillars, bugs that will grow up to be diners in your garden

This was the bed where I had planted my fall carrots - and have been slowly harvesting them all winter.  This was the last of the bunch - and they were very sweet.  Put them in a vegetable soup that I lived on while ill.

One Pea bed all ready for peas.  I am going to put sluggo down tonight, and then put the copper tape that I bought around the bed to keep future slug visits from happening, and then I will be ready to transplant - sometime this week I hope!  I have also covered up all my beds with row cover to start warming up the soil. 

So what should you be doing now?  It all depends on what you are set up to do.  If you go to Nichols Garden Nursery site, there is a list for what they think you should be doing in March; it is under garden resources (Click on March Garden Tips):

As for me, today I try to finish that darn fence, so I can plant the blueberries, put copper tape around raised beds, and mow some of the grass down between the raised beds.  It is supposed to be sunny and 60 today, but so far it looks gray and chilly.  which is why I am sitting here at 10:45 updating my blog instead of being outside.  I did finish the posts yesterday - yeah me!

Happy Gardening!