Monday, May 26, 2008

The Weekend Chores

It may still be too cool to get the rest of the garden planted, but that doesn't mean other chores aren't possible. So, this weekend I put up trellises for the growing peas and for the yet-to-be-planted pole beans.

Reading through my notes, I discovered that potatoes should be planted almost as soon as the ground can be worked, like peas. I guess I was confusing potato requirements with corn requirements. Anywho, I remedied my failings by getting the potatoes in the ground on Friday. Four varieties this year: German butterball (my favorites), Austrian crescents (interesting), Carola (also good), and, new this year, red gold. Not only did I plant the 'taters I ordered, but also the ones that had sprouted from last year's harvest (and I never got around to eating this winter). All told, I have three beds of potatoes.

That leaves me only three small beds for the rest of the produce. Not enough. True, there are also the two new beds I created last weekend just piling manure on top of newspaper, but I am leery of using them (what if the manure is too strong, even though it's been rotting almost a year, or what if it provides way too much nitrogen and not enough other nutrients). So, I dug into the compost heap from last year and tossed some of that (still not completely composted, but maybe 70% there) on top.

I peaked under the plastic I put down in April to kill off more lawn, thinking I wouldn't be able to utilize that area until late summer, and it actually looks nice and brown underneath - I may attempt to till up beds there this next weekend (if it doesn't rain). I should be able to get another 4-5 beds out of that plot!!!

Lastly, I started to install my drip irrigation system. Ran out of the clips/staples that are used to tack the dripper lines to the ground, so I had to stop. Installing driplines is really not difficult (aside from trying to get the coiled tubing to lie flat). I had opted for 12" spaced drip line, even though the catalogue recommended 6" for veg gardens, and now I'm thinking they probably knew what they were talking about (but the 12" lines were significantly cheaper). My timer only has four settings per day (rather than the desired six), so I've upped the watering duration from 9 minutes to 15 minutes each time. It works great...except in the spaces where there is no water dripping. I suppose I should dig down to see just how far the wet zone spreads from each dripper, but I hate to disturb the stuff I've planted. I think my next option will be to run two lines down each bed, rather than one snaking its way over the surface. This is how we learn - from our trials and mistakes.

Meanwhile, the crabapple blossoms are starting to open! And two apple trees (Haralson and Northern Spy) have flowers - at the very tippy top where the deer couldn't reach this winter. The Jonagold, which gave me my first apples last year, has no flowers this year - I suspect too much trauma from browsing pressure. The remaining trees (Milden, Black Oxford, and Keepsake) are all too young to have fruits yet (and were also heavily browsed; must find a solution for this).

My azaleas (Northern Lights varieties) are also starting to bloom, just as the rhododendrons (also Northern Lights) are shriveling up and calling it quits for the season.

And, as a final note, the bluebirds are being quite vocal these last few days. I checked my nest boxes on the golf course last night, and found only one with a potential bluebird nest in it. One box is full of twigs - signs of wren occupation. Another had twigs, but they are now covered with a layer of moss - chickadees? I have one enterprising chickadee who was sitting on her nest yesterday when I peaked in; when she flew I counted a whopping eight eggs!!! She's an over-achiever. One other box was stuffed with grasses - I suspect a red squirrel. The rest of the boxes were all empty. As for my boxes at home, well, I've seen bluebirds around, but apparently none have chosen to take up residence (yet). Even though eggs have been laid and chicks are hatching out in the banana belts of the Park (Lake Champlain area and the St. Lawrence Valley), our bluebirds haven't laid their first eggs yet - some haven't even chosen nest sites yet. Yes, we are a good several weeks behind the rest of the state.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Welcome to My Garden Page

We nature nuts find something to celebrate in all aspects of the outdoors. Thus, in addition to being a nature nut, I'm also a bit of a gardening nut. While modern gardening has really gotten away from nature (nature is something to be beaten into submission and then improved upon with technology), I prefer to embrace nature in my gardens (although the deer are questionable) and work with it. So, in this blog you can join me as I attempt to raise all my own veggies in an organic garden in the middle of the Adirondacks, where Zone 3 is the norm, and the growing season is really really short.

My goal: to grow all of my own produce organically! I have just over an acre of land in a residential area (so chickens are, sadly, out of the question). I have a basement that floods for part of the year, so a proper root cellar doesn't seem too likely. I don't like canned foods, so what I can't eat right away gets blanched and frozen (thanks to Mom and Dad for the chest freezer I got for Christmas two years ago).

2007 was the first year I grew veggies here. Peas did great (Mirigreen, which unfortunately were not available this year, although I had a few seeds left over from last year and they are coming up nicely), as did tomatoes and potatoes. Beans were not great producers, the corn (all four tiny ears) was tasty, and the cukes were nailed by frost. The garlic I had planted the previous fall did very well. Pumpkins and gourds - well, one really shouldn't bother. And I had a total of four squash (buttercup, which were very tasty).

2008 has found me going a little bit nuts. First, I decided I had to double the size of the garden, and now I find that even that will not enough. And it won't be enough because I went overboard with seed orders! There are lots of great sources for organic seeds, and I had to try some from just about all of them! Top companies are Fedco in Maine, and Johnny's Selected Seeds, also from Maine. But I've also used Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seeds of Change, Seed Savers Exchange, Turtle Tree Biodynamics, The Natural Gardening Company, Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Seeds (VT) and a few others whose names escape me at the moment.

So far I have planted peas (five varieties, in an attempt to find one as good as Mirigreen), greens (assorted), onions and leeks (for two years I've tried starting these from seeds - I don't recommend it; The Natural Gardening Co. has sets of organic onions and leeks, so I bought some to supplement my pathetic seedlings), cauliflower and broccoli. So far everything is growing well (except my onion and leek seedlings, but that was a given).

I've been itching to plant the beans, but snow is still in the forecast, so I will wait until the traditional planting date of 31 May before I plant anything else.

The tomatoes I started inside are doing great! I bought sixteen varieties of seeds and have, oh, 150-200 plants waiting to go out. Needless to say, I have a few more plants than I can realistically use, so I'm hoping to surplus some to fellow gardeners in town. Note to self: don't start tomatoes in February - they end up getting way too big before you can plant them outside!

Peppers are another veg to let go - we just don't have a long enough or hot enough season to do them justice. I ended up with two midget green peppers by September last year: they were maybe 2-1/2 inches long. I got some free eggplant seeds this year, and I have a feeling they will do as well as the peppers. No real great loss to me, though, since I am only planting them as sacrificial plants. Their job is to draw the Colorado potato beetles away from the potatoes (I was swarmed with them last year). We'll see how that goes.

So, while I wait for the weather to warm up and for interesting things to happen that I can share here, I will pass along some things I've picked up along the way.

My influences: Sally Cunningham and her book "Great Garden Companions" - a book I highly recommend to all gardeners. After her I recommend Lee Reich's "Weedless Gardening," Neil Moran's "North Country Gardening," and John Jeavon's "Grow More Vegetables."

What I have done: Using the advice of the above-mentioned authors, my garden consists of long beds, each about three feet wide (give or take six inches), with footpaths in between (1' to 2' wide). I plant using the biodynamic method of clusters rather than rows (you can plant more in less space, and the plants, because they are grouped, in theory act as their own mulch and cut down on weed growth by shading the soil). And I do companion planting. This is how you work with nature - you group your veggies together in combinations that help each other, like onions and carrots; beans and potatoes; corn, beans and squash. And to top it all off, you plant flowers and herbs around and among your veggies, for they attract predatory insects that attack the insects that attack your plants and produce. They also attract pollinators. My yard was full of butterflies and birds and all kinds of insects last summer - it was very pleasant to sit out in the yard and just "be" with the garden. It may not be the tidiest vegetable garden, but it is a riot of color and life. That's as it should be.

Some flowers and herbs to consider: marigolds (a classic companion flower), cosmos, calendula (related to marigolds), dill, parsley (great for butterfly larvae, especially swallowtails), fennel, chamomile, borage (the blue flowers look great in salads, and are edible), chives, sweet Annie, alyssum, nasturtiums (also edible).

So, now I wait. Wait for the sun, hope for some rain (we are so dry...precipitation patterns have changed drastically the last few years), and watch for the UPS gal to bring my drip irrigation system - but that's a story for another post, another day.