Jun 7 2010

Flower Power


final bed june 2010The love of my life completed the last bed and tilled compost into it this evening.  Then, I began my flower planting adventure.  I started with a row of hollyhocks.  It would help if I knew what the flowers will look like when I plant the bulbs.  When Roger and I reviewed later, I learned that hollyhocks grow to about 8 ft., so they’ll have to be moved once they come up.  There were four calla lily bulbs, several white dahlias, some zinnias, marigolds.  I think I threw in a row of azure allium bulbs that I got from a school fundraiser, but Roger says they’re too old to germinate.  I also did a planter box of forget-me-nots and a planter box of “flower mix” that I received in the mail from an insurance agent (I do not remember the date).  I put in about three dozen more gladioli bulbs in several other places in the garden an a couple of rows of marigolds in the lettuce beds.  I planted some more lettuce in the holes where we’ve eaten our lettuce, and I stuck some radishes in a row near the turnips.  If it all grows, it will surely be by the hand of God alone because this green thumb is suspect.

May 8 2010

The Audacity of Gardening

A long way to grow...

A long way to grow...

Hope:  At this point, that’s about all these tomato plants amount to. Truly, I’ve never put such a pathetic bunch of wannabes in the ground. But they are my babies, and I will stick by them. If past experience is an indication, they will stretch their roots out quickly and soon catch up to all those overachieving store-bought specimens. I found room to put 16 in, and lamented not being able to fit more. But it’s a good variety of varieties, including two from seeds Natalie brought from France.

What’s beautiful now, though, is that the paths are established. I’ve always held that a garden is its paths, which is certainly true in the overall landscape, and particularly true in ornamental plantings, and true enough in the vegetable or “production” garden. What’s worse than walking along the edge of a property’s “border” plantings, with no opportunity to interact or get in with the plants? It’s like driving down the highway watching the scenery go by and never getting out of the car. Anyway, the production garden is all right angles and perpendiculars, geared toward maximum production in the space, which makes it interesting to get around in.

In the order of paths in the garden, there is calm. Welcome, wonderful calm.

May 2 2010

Wool, Sheep Herding & A Hidden Cemetery


It was a busy day for country things here in greater Sykesville, where the weather felt more like mid-August than the second of May. We started the day at the annual Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival at the HoCo fairgrounds, billed as the nation’s largest. We saw every imaginable kind of raw wool, felt, and yarn in every imaginable form, including a number of beautiful finished products.

We browsed the livestock barns and watched part of the parade of breeds. The highlight, though, was the herding demonstration with border collies. Simply amazing beasts that were able to move a mini-herd of four sheep with precision wherever the handler directed. Great, smart, focused dogs. We’re thinking maybe we need to buy a sheep farm for our Blue.

I bought a super-duper tomato cage I couldn’t resist. It’s really heavy duty, an ingenious hinged design, and I got the “extender” so that it can be, like, 8’ tall. I love a challenge! Don’t dare ask me what I paid for it.

We had met some friends at the festival who stopped by the house for a quick cold drink. Then, after a brief nap, we kept a hiking date with some neighbors we had met at the Howard County Hospital emergency room (all ended well for all of us). They live directly adjacent to Patapsco State Park, and had promised to show us a small family graveyard they had found there.

Most of the hike was places we had already been, but we did go up to an old barn we had only seen from afar, which was an amazing log construction now frequented by teens who favor Budweiser. The graveyard was not far away, and had three impressive headstones, including one that was hand-chiseled.

Blue and our neighbors’ three dogs had a blast swimming in the river, chasing deer and generally romping in the woods. Blue was totally hot and tired. Near the end of the hike, he decided to lay down, yes, lay down in a little swamp pond. I thought we were going to be lucky and finish the hike with a relatively clean dog, but no luck. I had to give him a bottom wash when we got back.

Out in the garden, things are beginning to hop. We have peas, kale, spinach, lettuce, green beans, lima beans, turnips, beets, radishes, cucumbers, blue potatoes, hyacinth beans, zinnias, and gladiolus coming up. Tonight, we had our last salad with store-bought lettuce for a while. We have some beautiful Red Tiede, Cos, and Simpson Elite just about ready, and a bunch coming along behind them. I plan to put out tomatoes and peppers the second weekend of this month.

I have to admit, seed starting was a bust this year. I don’t think I’ve ever had poorer germination. Less than 50%, I dare say. Perhaps the basement was too cold, and I started too late in the greenhouse. In any event, the seedlings are small, but we should still have everything we need to plant.

Aug 23 2009

Tomato Tragedy: Late Blight Fungus


Well, it’s the worst disaster to hit my tomatoes in all my gardening career.  If you’re a gardener, you know how bad the late blight fungus is this year — a veritable epidemic in the eastern U.S.  Evidently, the cool, damp Spring and a bad infection among some major growers created a perfect storm. You can read the Maryland Cooperative  Extension Service’s info here:

Region’s Tomatoes & Potatoes At Risk of Devastating Disease

I noticed it first on three plants at the end of our “tomato alley.”  But when I went to pull and dispose of those plants the next day, it was clear that the entire crop is infected.  I did pull those three plants as planned — indulging that helpless feeling of having to do something — but I left the rest.  Basically, the fruit that is on the vines is mostly ripening and usable.  Maybe 15% spoiled.  But the vines themselves are rapidly dying off, and no more fruit will be set.

That said, we’ve enjoyed quite a number of tomato sandwiches, and tomato-mozzarella salads, and last night we sent off some of our guests from Nicole’s send-off party with small bags of tomatoes, and today I made maybe 5 or 6 quarts of homemade tomato sauce.  But we won’t be doing the massive canning that we anticipated.

It’s sad, because the plants were so big and beautiful and loaded with nice fruit.  I just hope the fungus doesn’t overwinter.  It typically does not, but there is concern that it may have mutated.  We’ll take some precautions.  Meantime…

Lessons Learned

  1. Plant further apart.  No matter how far I space them, it’s never enough.  I will plant fewer and further apart next year.
  2. Be cautious about evening watering.  I’ve never been too disciplined about this; after all, it rains at night, right?  But I’ll avoid this practice in the future.
  3. Water from the bottom.  I will set up a drip or seeping irrigation system next year.  I’ve always meant to do this.  Now I have incentive.
  4. Start our own plants exclusively.  I really doubt any of the plants from Dana’s, our favorite nursery, brought it here, but who knows?

Aug 8 2009

Time For Fall Planting!


Gardeners and other people of the outdoors are always thinking one season ahead.  In the past month, I started shooting the bow again to prepare for the season that starts September 15 here in Maryland; I’ve got my MD license, and PA license and doe tag.  Also, I’ve been thinking about getting the greenhouse ready for growing greens all winter.  But now, it’s time to plant for fall!

I’ve got lettuce seeds ready to go in, and places to put them, thanks to Natalie cleaning up the garden…she’s been so great about keeping up, I’ve hardly had to pull a weed.  I’m getting spoiled.  She also has planted the cabbage plants she bought up in Meyersdale at the Amish greenhouse when we visited my sister.  Anyhow, the lettuce should be good to grow through October; with some floating row cover to keep the heavy frost off, probably into November.

Also to go in the ground now:  beets, turnips, and kale.  If you’ve never grown kale, you should.  It’s easy, productive, and one of the healthiest things you can eat (lots of calcium, take note, ladies!).  The nice bonus:  if you plant now, you’ll get a good fall harvest, and it will one of the first and most prolific things to grow again in the spring, without you having to do anything.

Apr 19 2009

Seeds In The Ground, Finally


Apologies, dear reader(s), for the long delay in posting…the list of distractions is long and varied.  Suffice it to say that the things keeping me from writing have, sadly, also slowed my progress in the garden.  The quick update: The seed-starting venture in the basement is enjoying mixed success; mixed no doubt because of inattention.  There will be a number of (hopefully viable) things to plant, but there have been a number of casualties as well.

Outside, two weekends ago, we had a productive fence-post session.  The holes are all dug, and about half of the wooden posts are set.  I screwed up and picked an 8′ where one of the 10′ should be, to frame the gate.  I’ll have to pull it and replace it.  CJ and Luke were a huge help with the heavy labor.  Meantime, I tilled the whole garden over.  As it turns out, it’s a little smaller than I thought when I stepped it off; 37′ wide by about 48′.  Plenty big enough.

So yesterday, despite a weekend-full of intense prep for CJ’s Eagle Scout ceremony, I managed to get most of the afternoon free to get back into the garden.  We had knocked together three 4×8′ frames for raised beds.  They’re made out of typical framing white pine (no pressure treated!), so I coated them with boiled linseed oil for protection.  I set the first one into the garden and planted onions, radishes, lettuce, carrots, and spinach.

It’s nice working with the short 4′ rows.  Maybe, finally, I’ll become a decent succession planter, which is something I’ve never been good at.  I’m looking forward to using the beds to segregate and rotate plantings.  We’ll start with six, and add three more in the Fall.  And then the back of the garden will be more open and free-form.

The plan is to put the other five beds in next Saturday.  We’ll see.

Mar 13 2009

Maryland’s Garden Writer in the NY Times


Always nice to read Anne Raver’s column to see what a fellow gardener is thinking and doing nearby.  I believe she lives in Frederick County.

In the Garden – At Last, It’s Time to Get Into the Garden – NYTimes.com.

Mar 3 2009

Time to Plant!


Planting detail.JPG, originally uploaded by rebetsky.

Detail showing seed sowing into peat pots using the handy dandy “dial” seeder from Jung Seed (but available from lots of places) blog here.  Photo by Natalie.

Feb 26 2009



The leeks have sprouted!  Who would have thought I could get so excited about a tiny green shoot?

Feb 22 2009

Let the Planting Begin!


Today, the first seeds go in the dirt…in the basement.  We have plastic, eggcrate-type shelving (that was bought for, and will move to, the greenhouse); black trays and plant markers bought from Jung Seed; organic seed starting mixture from Lowe’s; and peat pots and saved yogurt cups from my inventory.  We’ll be setting up 4′ fluorescent lights, suspended from the ceiling on chains, so the height can be adjusted as the plants grow.  Ideally, the lights stay just 3-4″ above the plant tops.

We ordered seeds from Jung Seed.  I like them because they have nice varieties, and the seed packets are relatively small.  Like most obsessive gardeners, I have a very hard time discarding seeds; my “carryovers” no longer fit in even a large shoebox.

Today, We’ll be planting:

  • Broccoli, Packman Hybrid
  • Leek, Lincoln
  • Sweet Pepper, Fat ‘N Sassy Hybrid
  • Rosemary, unspecified
  • Basil, Sweet Italian Large Leaf
  • Basil, Jung’s Balcony Blend (free trial packet)
  • Delphinium, Blue Fountains
  • Achillea, Summer Berries (it’s just not a garden for me without yarrow)

As I was drifting off to sleep last night, it occurred to me that I should also start some tomatoes; I keep forgetting that we have a greenhouse.  Hopefully, I’ll get enough of a head start that we’ll be able to enter some in the Howard County Fair in early August.  BTW, with virtually no planning, last year we won second for sweet bell peppers and fourth for long Italian sweets.