The Sunset Garden

I decided I needed to come up with a name for my community garden plot.  Saying I’m “going to the plot” just sounds dull, and when I’m having a conversation, or typing up a blog post, mentioning my community garden plot is wordy and unimaginative.  So I’m calling my community plot The Sunset Garden.  It is directly to our west, and I didn’t want to call it just The West Garden, so sunset it is, since that’s where the sun goes down at the end of the day.

Spring has left us for a day here in Wisconsin.  Last night after work, Andy lugged 26 pails of compost over to The Sunset Garden and this morning I thought I’d go work that in and prepare for planting tomatoes later this week.  It’s cold out!  I wore layers to go work with the hoe, and when I came back in a few moments ago, my ears were feeling a little numb from the chilly wind.  I had originally planned on also laying my landscape fabric over there, but it is so windy, I cannot imagine that project going very well for me.  It will have to wait.  But what I did do was work in the compost and mark my rows with my feet, and figure out how many plants will be going over there.  Later today I am going to take the time to flag my tomatoes.  Since it’s too cold for them out today, I may as well take advantage of them being inside and do their labels.  It will be one less thing to do on planting day.

Anyway, here’s a picture of The Sunset Garden today.

It seems I already need to re-do my very outside border, but you can sort of see two rows of mulch around the garden.  In between the rows of mulch are where I’ve planted about 500 onion sets, as well as chives and garlic chives.  Hopefully they start growing soon- those are my protection against critters over here.

In the bottom right hand corner where the pink ribbons are, is a patch of strawberries that were already in the garden when I claimed it.  That needs to be weeded, and I’m not sure how many of them will grow, as I moved a lot of them a few weeks ago.  In the corner closest to me you can see my tiny lovage plant, and to the right of that is the peppermint.  You can at least see the label for the peppermint plant.

At the far back corner you can see my compost bin. It’s full, full, full. The one thing I’ve been told about this garden is that weeds are a problem.  You think?  I’m hoping to combat that with the landscape fabric.  There is mulch on site that I am welcome to use, but I discovered when I put the mulch border around my garden that I am quite allergic to it.  It’s a lot of pine- I suspect the curbside Christmas tree collection contributes to our mulch pile over there, and I am definitely allergic to pine trees.  So I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with regards to a mulch.  Straw is a possibility as long as it’s fresh, as I’m also allergic to the mold that can develop in old straw bales.

My current plan is to plant peppers and tomatoes here in the home garden tomorrow, and then the sunset garden on Thursday.  I’m running out of time to get them in the ground.  Sure hope the weather cooperates with me!  We actually have a frost/freeze warning for tonight, so I’ll need to get things covered that are already out.  Sure hope that sun comes out early tomorrow and warms things up!

Moving Right Along

I am at a standstill with the gardens today.  My tomato and pepper plants are very much ready to be in the ground.  I keep planning to do that, and then something comes up, which has turned out to be a very good thing, as we’re dipping close to freezing temperatures tomorrow evening.   So they wait for just a few more days.  They are all too big to fit under the lights anymore, so they’ve been going outside for the day, and coming in at night while cold and/or storms roll in.   Here they are, basking in the sun.

This year I’m using surveyors tape to label my plants as they grow in the ground.  The pepper plants get a bamboo skewer, the tomatoes will have the tape tied right to them when they go in the ground.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get everyone labeled correctly.

Since those are on hold, I turned my attention to some herbs this past weekend.  I filled a few pots for on the deck, and then tucked a lovage and peppermint plant into my community plot.   I have more herbs to add yet, but this is a nice start.

And now for some pictures of my main garden here at home.   We have discovered that Andy over-ordered the compost to fill the beds.  We’ve worked compost in everywhere, and still have a big pile.  He’s going to haul some over to my community garden tonight and tomorrow, which will be much needed over there.  We have so much, though, and he had lumber on hand, so he spontaneously built another bed for me.  This one is outside the fenced in garden, and we decided to put the sprouted potatoes in there from last fall.  I have no idea if they will actually grow- I have terrible luck with potatoes.  But if they don’t sprout soon I’ll figure something else out for the bed.  The main purpose of this though is for garlic in the fall.  Here you can see the new bed with the garden behind it.

See all those buckets filled with dirt?  Those are what he is going to take over to the plot, and THEN we will probably still have enough dirt to fill them again with.   I will then plant some extra peppers in the buckets- I’ve always wanted to try a few different things in buckets, so this is the perfect opportunity to try that.

Here’s another view looking down the length of the garden.

All that space in the ground is where I am going to plant some tomatoes.  The rest of the tomatoes are going in the community plot.  Today I plan to go out and staple down the landscape fabric in this space.  That bed to the right with the pink flags in it holds my eggplants and a row of snap peas.  I’ll have to cover that bed up for the next few nights.  Eggplants do not like it cold!  There is also plenty of space in this bed for cucumbers, and I’m thinking a row of bush beans right now.

And then one more view

You can see I’m going to have to do some serious weeding between the beds soon.  The bed here in the middle has cauliflower, kale, collards and broccoli in it, as well as scallions and radishes.  I am saving space in this bed for the cucumbers as well.   To the left, where you see more pink flags, are a few peppers, as well as some Swiss Chard sprouts, and then a whole bunch of blank space for bush beans.  The two beds in the back have lettuce, carrots, spinach and beets in them.  Those beds get some shade at the end of the day from the trees next to the garden, and I’m really hoping to extend the lettuce season that way.  Hopefully it works!

 

Constant Changes

Today I really, really wanted to go over to the community plot and do some damage with the weed removal over there.  However, after two days of working over there, my hands and forearms are feeling sore and tired, and with an upcoming conference weekend where I need my hands and arms for drumming… I have to lay off the hard garden prep until Monday.

In the meantime, I found a few things to do today.  :)

After my brassica and celery plants spent the night outside, I decided it was time to get them in the garden.  I don’t have a ton of plants that made it to this stage, but I do have 3 cauliflower, 2 cabbages, 3 broccoli and 1 collards plant in the dirt.  I also sprinkled some lacinato kale seeds in there as well.  Here’s a close up of that bed.

The brassicas are along the front, and the celery ended up smack dab in the middle.  The radish seeds are to the right of the celery, the scallions to the left.  The dry row at that back of this bed is being saved for the cucumbers.

This morning I also decided to sow carrot seeds.  Overnight lows are going up and up, so I thought it was okay to do so now.  I planted seven varieties of carrot this year.  I have Cosmic Purple, Amarillo, Dragon, Kuroda, Imperator, Asita Black and Nantes.  The Asita Black is the darkest purple carrot I have ever seen.  I found it at Baker Creek, and the seed packet was over packed due to low germination.  I hope I get to sample a few of those!

At one point when I walked outside I spied two baby bunnies who appeared to have made a home underneath our deck.  Since my pepper patch is going to be in the bed right below the deck, I decided to spend some time adding extra fencing to keep the bunnies away from my peppers.

Overall, I got a few things done today.  I also managed to snap a closer picture of the home garden.

One day at a time.  :)

Compost Is In!

Andy had our load of dirt delivered last Friday, and he spent the weekend filling my beds up whenever he had a few spare minutes.

We still have a pile of dirt, and Andy has lumber, so he MAY build me one more raised bed for in the garden.  If he doesn’t, I’ll just plant in the ground, so either way works for me.

The community plot is turning out to be quite the project, but on the plus side, I have found a whole bunch of hidden strawberry plants in the plot!  I’ve been digging them up and moving them to one corner of the plot- I hope they like their new spot.  Tomorrow I plan on moving the rest and then mulching around them.

Also, yesterday, April 27th, I sowed seeds.  Snap peas were put in the dirt the day before, but yesterday I sowed lettuces, spinach, radishes, scallions and Swiss chard.  I’ve also been hardening off the brassicas, so they should hit the dirt sometime Thursday.

I think this is a full two weeks earlier than I sowed last year.  Come on warm temperatures!

Growth And Excitement

When I finally sat down this year to sow seeds, I faced a serious dilemma.  I had no idea if I would have extra space to garden this year, or if I’d have what was here in the backyard.  Obviously, I have plenty of space here at home for a decent garden, but I really want to trial all kinds of new tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant this year.  In the end I decided to just go for it.  If I didn’t get in at the community garden, this year’s garden would be devoted to these plants, with just a small space for a few lettuces and carrots.

Fortunately, that desperate planning was for nothing, as I was notified last weekend that I DO get a plot at the community garden across the street.  Across the street!!! My biggest problem with the last community garden plot was that I had to physically get in the car and drive to it several miles away.  It was hard for me to find the time to do it. But across the street?  All I need is a garden cart to haul things back and forth and I’ll be set for the season.  I finally got over yesterday to look at my plot.  Oy, I have some work ahead of me to get it ready to plant in, but I’m very excited to do so.  It’s wonderful knowing that all of my plants will have a home this year.

Speaking of plants.  Check this out!

The top shelf is still my peppers, first round of eggplant and a few brassicas that want to go outside.  They are really thriving up there, and not growing too fast either.  I’ve been watering an average of once a week. The light goes off overnight, and during the day the ceiling fan is also on.  I rotate the trays every couple of days as well so they all get a turn closer to the fan.

The second two rows are my tomato plants and the second round of eggplants.  You can tell the tomatoes on the middle shelf have had an extra week in the dirt over the bottom shelf of plants.  They’re coming along nicely.  For the first few weeks I kept the lights over the tomatoes on all the time, but now that the plants are healthy and established, I am turning the lights off overnight as well.

Of all the plants I transplanted out of the starter cells, I had one pepper plant die and only one tomato didn’t make it.  I even had one tomato that the stem snapped… I carefully tipped it over and tucked the separated part in the soil, and it must have rooted from there, because it’s alive and well.  The one tomato that didn’t make it I had a duplicate of, so all is well.

Germination was spectacular this year.  Out of the 62 varieties of tomato I sowed, only 2 varieties didn’t sprout at all.  Unfortunately, in my careful mapping and crossing off, a third variety never made it to get potted up.  The sprouts were there, but for some reason I’d crossed that one off, so when I did the final potting up, I assumed I already had that plant under the lights.  I didn’t realize my error until I was rearranging plants yesterday, and by then it was too late, as I’d composted the extras.

With the eggplants I had four varieties that never came up- and two of those were brand new seed, so that was disappointing, but I have high hopes for the 13 eggplants I do have.  I cannot wait to come up with new ways to use this vegetable.  It’s become a favorite of mine, and I’m especially hoping to figure out a way to freeze it to use year round.

Anyway, later today my dirt is arriving to fill the beds here at home, and then it gets really real!  I’m about to go put the brassicas on the deck for a few hours to start hardening off.  I’m hoping to find time this weekend to get some lettuce seeds in the dirt, but first we have to get the dirt IN the gardens.

Tomato Explosion

Just four days after tucking the seeds into the dirt, the tomatoes are exploding all over the place!

I may be starting to get a little concerned about space… I maybe shouldn’t have tucked 3-4 seeds into most of the cells, as it looks like they ALL want to come out to play.   Time to get the next shelf ready on the grow rack!

Not Quite A Week Later

And my plants are thriving!

Just two pepper plants decided they didn’t like being moved from the starter tray.  I lost a Bulgarian Carrot Pepper and a Serrano, both of which I have more of, so it’s no big loss.

Last Friday I pulled a few last pepper plants out of the starter flat and then started over with the tomato seeds.  I sowed early Friday afternoon, and just after lunch today I was shocked as all get out to look over at the tray and see sprouts!

Several of the varieties that I received over the winter from a friend in France have popped right up! I am sure this week will be full of popping seeds.  The first varieties up are Perle de Lait, Glam Eve and Klujka V Sahare.

I’m really loving having all the plants growing in the same rooms that I live in.  I can see my plants all the time, and all I have to do is give them a glance and they make me smile.

Start Your Engines!

Just over two weeks ago, I tucked my first garden seeds into the dirt.  Specifically, I sowed pepper and eggplant seeds, and then as long as I was sowing, I added some brassicas- some broccoli, cabbage and kale.

For Christmas this past year, I was gifted with a heat mat for starting seeds.  I couldn’t wait to use it!  I put my seeds in my seed starting mix and set it on top of the mat. About four days later I discovered my first sprouts.  The brassicas were popping up all over, but it quickly became clear that just using the heat mat was not going to cut it.  The sprouts were a sickly yellow color, and every single one was reaching towards the window way on the other side of the room.  I needed a light.  Andy quickly dug one out and we added an overhead light to the seed starting set up.  Here it is in action, tucked onto my storage shelves in the laundry room.

This is working perfectly!  The heat from below is encouraging the seeds to pop, and the light above is giving them something to reach towards.  Once the seeds were sprouting, my thoughts quickly turned to panic, as I realized I had no where to put my potted up seedlings.  We’d been talking for months about where the seedlings were going to be pampered, but hadn’t really decided on a spot, nor had we purchased any shelving to utilize any of these spots.

One day, on a whim, I surveyed my tiny house and decided that there was a corner of the kitchen that could be repurposed.  I shuffled stuff around all afternoon, but when all was said and done, I had a rather large spot that could house a set of shelves.  Since my other spot was carpeted, and I’ve dealt with escaping plants before, having my plants growing on a hard floor seemed the better idea.  So I cleared my spot, showed my husband, and then left for a weekend away with the kids.

Upon my return, I found that Andy had purchased a massive set of shelves and found some lights to put on it.  This was definitely a bigger shelving unit than I’d been planning, but honestly, it made me excited to fill it with plants! I quickly assessed my sprouting shelf and discovered that I’d actually waited too long.  Most of the brassicas had keeled over while we were away, but there were some Mammoth Giant Jalapeno sprouts curling under the plastic dome and wanting out.  Here’s my shelf in action.

To give you an idea of scale, there are about 70 plants on that top shelf, and there is still room for more!  I love these shelves!

Over the course of this week, I’ve potted up a good many of my peppers and eggplant.  Yesterday I did the bulk of them, and today I see just how happy my plants are to be out of confinement.  I only have one Bulgarian Carrot pepper this morning that looks like its not going to make it.    Here’s a close up of the top shelf:

A beautiful bonus about putting this shelf where we did is that we do not need to worry about air circulation.  I’ve had years in the past where I’ve lost a good deal of my plants to damping off.  Not this year!  I have a ceiling fan right by the shelves!  I turned it on yesterday and watched my sproutlings move ever-so-gently in the breeze.  Here is the side view of my shelves, you can see the light fixture attached to the fan:

My plants are very happy!

I still have about 20 or so peppers that need to be potted up after they’ve had a bit of growth, and then we move on the tomatoes.  I’ve been playing around this year with following the recommendations for moon planting for my seeds.  After several years of dismal gardening, THIS is the year, and I’ll take any nudge towards excellence that I can get.  The moon calendar says that this coming Friday and Saturday is great for sowing tomato seeds- Friday more than Saturday, so that’s what I plan to do.

I am hoping the remaining pepper sprouts will have grown by then, because I’d like to use my little heat mat/light set up for the tomatoes and a second round of eggplants.

I’m making my list and checking it twice, because I’m very limited in my space and need to make the best possible decisions.  Lists and varieties to come.  And hopefully a lot of details as I work to make this year the best garden yet.

 

The Blank Slate

Last week our family did some dog-sitting for a dog who loves to be outside.  Since our current home is such that I don’t feel we could just put her out on a cable by herself and she’d be happy, I took advantage of  “mandatory” outside time and spent the week pulling weeds out of the existing garden bed.

It wasn’t quite as much work as I’d anticipated.  We’d had quite a bit of rain, so the ground was soft and the weeds came out easily.  I got as many of the roots as I could as well, so hopefully  those big bad nasty weeds won’t be back.

It is nice that we moved into a place with an existing garden space.  It already had a small perimeter fence even, so that’s a little less work I have to do.  When Andy moved the garden beds over, one of them broke, so right now there are five garden boxes.  I may just make do with that amount, because I think I like how I have them laid out at the moment.  There’s not a huge space to view, but I did take pictures.

This picture below is a straight on view.  The garden shed on the right is actually outside the garden space. I’m debating extending the garden out to the shed.  The hose box right at the front will be coming out of the space, as will the garbage cans on the left.  That left corner has an existing compost bin- but it needs to be expanded a bit.

Also, if you squint and look very closely in the picture, way in the back you can see a tiny red stop sign.  To the right of that is a tiny white blob the size of a pinhead.  THAT is the community garden that I am on the waiting list for.  I am number six on the list, and they are planning on adding more gardens next year,  so I have a good chance of getting in.

garden 3

Here you can see a little better how I have the gardens laid out at the moment.  There’s enough room between the beds to work, and then it also leaves a nice space at the front of the garden for some in-ground tomato plants.  If I don’t get my community plot I will have to drastically reduce the number tomatoes I grow next year.  Also, if I decide to extend the plot in this direction towards the shed, that space will also be a couple of raised beds specifically for eggplants and peppers this coming year.

garden 1

And then here is the view from the other side.  You can see my raspberry bush on the outside of the garden over here.

garden 2

 

It’s a decent enough space.  There is also a small raised bed off the back of the house by the deck.  There were everbearing strawberries growing in it, but the rabbits ate those down to nubs, so we’ll have to see if they come back.  If they do, I plan to fence it off and see what kind of a strawberry harvest might be possible.

The next step is to have Andy level the beds and actually get them ready to receive compost.  Then I plan to line them with cardboard or newspaper, and then he’ll fill them up with compost.  My ultimate goal is have at least three of the beds ready to plant for when the spring thaw comes.

As for the upcoming dormant season, I’m making my plans for seed starting.  I don’t have any southern facing exposure here- except one small window on the upper level.  I plan to re-pot my fatalii pepper in a hanging pot and give him that spot.   I do have some nice east and west facing windows with ledges below them, so I’m thinking about starting a pair of dwarf tomatoes in pots, and see if I can manage to find them enough sunshine there.

For seed starting I have a small spot in our downstairs bathroom that one of my plant racks will fit in.  Andy can hang some lights on there- and that will be good for some of my seed starting.  The other plan is  a little drastic.  On our sleeping level in our home (split level, so the layout is wonky) we have a solid security door that goes out to the deck and the backyard.   This door is south-facing.   Andy is keeping an eye on our local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store to see if anyone brings in a single-paned glass door that he could put in instead of the security door.  If he finds one, that will let a TON of sunshine into the house, AND I can put my green growing rack in that spot in front of a sunny window.  Between that and the smaller rack in the lower level bathroom, I can get a good head start on next year’s growing season.

Plans are exciting.   It’s way to early to really start planning what I ‘m planting, but it’s exciting to think about!  I do know that I have some seed stock I need to refresh and new things I want to try.  One difficulty with the planning is that I don’t really know when I will know about the community plot.  I gave my notice to my current garden that I won’t be back.   It’s mostly cleaned out now except that I want to head back over there and pull up a patch of mint to put in my garden here at home.  So right now I have to plan as though the only garden space I’ll have is the one in front of me.  That makes it a little challenging to figure in everything that I want to grow.

But it will work out.  I’m just thrilled to have the space in the first place.  It is amazing how much I came to love my time in the garden at the last house.  Every morning I would take my coffee and wander through the garden slowly.  Looking at every plant, pulling weeds, adjusting trellises and support systems.  I’ve missed that time, and I can’t wait for spring to get back at it.

Too bad tomorrow is only October 1st!

 

Changes.

I’ve gone back and forth on doing this post for some time now.  But I figure since the whole point of this blog is note-taking on the garden, I better get these notes down before I forget.

Nine days after my last posting, we were informed by our landlord that we needed to move.   It was a blow we definitely were not expecting.  Our plan had been to purchase that home.   And as I looked at my garden that very next day I was so torn between crying and cheering.  Because my garden really was spectacular.  I have never had a garden grow like this one!  Everything I planted was growing, and growing well.   I started planning and preparing, and 19 days after that, there was no more garden.

Amazingly, we got some harvests.  I managed to harvest all the garlic, although it was a little on the small side.   We had several bunches of carrots, scallions, beets, a nice pile of green beans, the celery and the swiss chard.  We’d enjoyed the lettuce until it bolted- and had so much I was giving it away left and right!   We harvested and fully enjoyed three nice sized heads of broccoli as well- those were a real treat!

The tomatoes I dug up and transplanted to two separate growing spaces.   Amazingly, all 52 plants survived the transplant process, despite their maturity.  I had dug up plants that were bearing fruit already! But I was determined to not leave a scrap of plant behind for someone else to benefit from my labor.  That really showed the resilience of tomato plants!  Transplanting them did seem to set them back a few weeks though, and I won’t get the spectacular harvest I’d have gotten had they stayed where they were.  And of course, I can’t save seed from a single plant this year.  They were all bunched together as they traveled to their new homes in the back of my van.

What I especially was excited about seeing in my garden was the progress of the winter squash.  My plan to get them to grow up a ladder and trellis worked perfectly- and it was very clear that had we stayed, that blue hubbard squash would have taken over the entire garden.  But it was growing exactly how I’d hoped- and there were dozens of baby squashes on those plants.   Next year, we will revisit the winter squash using the things I learned growing them this year.  The biggest thing was that I did have to continually attempt to manipulate the plants.  I needed to coax them to grow where I wanted them to grow- moving and adjusting gently daily.  That paid off after a while, and then I could just let them grow and tangle themselves on the growing mediums I had for them.

My gardens were producing WEEKS before anyone else’s was in the area.  Part of that was my quick sowing of seed as soon as I could get in.  But part of that, I really feel, was the fact that my growing medium was solely compost.  I didn’t get fancy and mix anything it.  It was just compost from the local composting facility.  When we tore the gardens out it was clear that the compost had settled a lot, and had we had another growing season, we would have needed quite a bit more to fill the boxes back up.  But using the compost straight up produced amazing results as far as growth.

My nemesis (other than the landlord, lol) were the squirrels, of course.  They dug and dug and tried to dig some more.  My method to foil them was multi-faceted.  Initially when I planted the seeds, I covered the beds with bird netting.  That keeps all animals out, and I would leave the netting on until the sprouts were a good inch above the netting.  Then I would carefully lift it off.  Later on, as the plants grew and there was more space in the dirt, the squirrels came back.   The first thing I tried doing was spraying my plants with a hot pepper spray.  I took the hottest hot sauce I had and mixed it with water in a spray bottle and sprayed that everywhere.  That seemed to deter the squirrels, but it wasn’t perfect, and I thought it could get tedious spraying everywhere everytime it rained.   So instead I went and bought an institutional sized bottle of cayenne pepper and sprinkled that everywhere.  That seemed to work well also- but again, every time it rained I needed to go out and reapply.  A little time consuming, but it saved my plants from the squirrels.

In the end, we completely tore the garden out.  We didn’t leave a scrap of anything growing.  We harvested what we could, and ripped up what had yet to come to fruition.  Someone else was not going to get to harvest the fruits of my labor…

Anyway, we move on.  We have a garden space here at our new home, which, while still a rental, we have no danger of being asked to leave.   Andy moved my raised beds over here, and the next few months are going to be spent re-arranging, filling, and preparing the beds for spring planting.  I am also eyeing a community garden that I can literally see from my backyard.  I will be seeing if I can rent a space there next year for a tomato trial I wish to do.

The best thing?  With a garden, there’s always next year.  Armed with the knowledge I obtained this year, I cannot wait to see how next year’s garden works out.  I am already looking forward to it.

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