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.

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.

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.