Garden Diary 2020 - March 16-31
It's been a productive two weeks in my garden. Day after day, I've been planting more seeds indoors, preparing the food and flower beds outdoors, tending to all the seedlings, and experimenting with the bounds of nature. My body is sore and my car still smells like cow manure, but toiling in the fine spring weather alongside my colorful perennial blooms has been a delight. Follow my Garden Diary 2020 starting with this article here, where I'm adding links to my progress throughout the gardening season.
As I continue to clean out my flower beds outside, I've been thinking about more flower seeds that I can start indoors. I planted impatiens, salvia, marigolds, candytuft, coleus and alyssum in the large cell packs. These will be great additions to my flowerbeds and edges, especially those that grow low to the ground.
Hot Pepper Transplant Experiment
A week ago on March 11, I transplanted one cell pack of each of the five varieties of hot pepper seedlings to larger pots to compare the growth with those left in the seed starter cell pack. Wow, what a difference! See the comparison in the photo below. Clearly, the seedlings needed larger pots. In fact, those left in the seed starter kit were already getting to be root-bound. After transplanting the remaining seedlings to the larger 4-inch pots, we ended up with 92 hot pepper plants! My indoor seed starting project has exploded!
A few years ago, I planted some strawberry plants along the inside of my gated fence area. They grew slowly for several years, but then began shooting their way out to the opposite side of the fence. I also added a couple blueberry bushes last fall. We love the fresh berries in spring so much that I decided to expand the berry beds out to 3 feet on each side of the fence. Again, my hubby is loving this! Less lawn to mow! Measuring off, digging out the sod, and amending the soil has begun.
Cat Grass Approved
The cat grass I planted indoors on March 11 grew so tall so quickly that I decided to let the kitties have a look. It was a big hit! Banjo mowed down both pots in minutes. This brand is 100% Banjo approved!
Lettuce Seeds Sprouting
The tiny lettuce sprouts are emerging, and the lettuce transplants are thriving outside. I planted the lettuce in the tomato bed that I had heavily mulched. Of the six sets of seeds I planted, I removed the mulch layer from four of them, leaving a little hole where I had placed the seeds so that they'd have an easier time finding the light. I covered the other two seed sets with the mulch. So far, the latter sets have not yet sprouted.
More Seed Starting
Today, I planted the lemon grass seeds that arrived in the mail. I had planted a lemon grass transplant from the garden store mid-summer last year and it grew thick and tall very quickly. I may have only watered it once or twice. I love it in Asian cooking and as a tea. The plants can be quite expensive from the garden store, so I'm trying to grow it by seed this year.
With the fenceline along the sidewalk cleared, I'm coming up with plans for a fresh herb garden. The mint plants had taken over in recent years, fueling my tea habit, but this year I'd like to have a variety. Neighbors love walking by the herbs with their kids and dogs, and I encourage them to pick some. I started more oregano seeds to plant by the fence, and will do some planning for more.
For labeling, I began writing the date on the back of the plant tag. Since I'm starting so many seeds, and will probably continue into late spring, I'm losing track of what I planted and when.
For the seeds I started in the outdoor pots on March 9, only the cat grass and chamomile are showing signs of life. Not a peep from the parsley, cilantro and basil seed discs or catnip.
I had made multiple attempts to grow rosemary from seed, but nothing worked. That is, until the heat mats arrived. Within a day, the seeds began to sprout. It works!
Heat Mat Update
Wow, what a difference they make! I was hesitant to spend money on these, but after seeing the immediate results, I ordered 2 more heat mats. Not only do they speed up germination time, I'm also getting a better germination rate out of the tough plants that wouldn't sprout at all! After three attempts to grow rosemary, I had given up. Days had passed with nothing. Then I placed the cell pack on the heat mat and the next day they began to sprout. Same with the lemon grass and oregano. Nothing came up for days. Then I placed them on a heat mat yesterday and today they are full of sprouts. While I didn't need them to get the peppers and tomatoes to sprout, the herbs and flowers definitely needed a little help from heat.
New Garden Markers
It may seem trivial, but I received a new set of garden markers today. The ones I previously purchased worked great, but I needed a finer tip. The first set had a 1mm writing width and the new ones have a 0.8mm writing width. When writing long plant names on a small garden tag, the finer tip actually makes a difference with readability, especially now that I'm writing more information on each tag. I started out writing as little information as possible on the tags so that I could reuse them next year, but the usefulness of the information attached to each plant outweighed the cost. I record the full name, date planted by seed, date transplanted, date planted in the ground, brand name, plant height, and whatever else I might find useful. For perennials, I'm including the year with the date so that I have the information for years to come.
Berry Beds Complete
After days of digging, amending and planting, the berry beds are complete. I purchased two more blueberry bushes of different varieties and about 100 strawberry plants, some June bearing and some everbearing. I had planted a couple small blueberry and raspberry bushes several years ago from the big box stores, but they never grew or produced fruit. This time, I purchased four blueberry bushes from the garden store in larger containers of three different varieties. They were quite expensive - about $45 each - but if they actually bear fruit over a period of years, they will be worth it.
More Flower Seed Starting
With my seed starter trays freeing up, I've been starting more flower seeds indoors. There are too many to count. The seed packs are inexpensive and I have the equipment, so why not? Most of them are for the flower beds, a mix and annuals and perennials. It will save me a bundle on plants this summer if they are successful.
Look who decided to nap on my cottage garden! The heat from the mat below and light coming into the window were irresistible. He smashed the seedlings, but they're still alive. Hopefully they will spring back up. Before my starting seeds indoors project, Banjo's basket lined with a soft blanket had occupied the windowsill. It was the perfect place where he could nap, get the warmth of the sun on his back and occasionally look out at the squirrels and birds. He didn't like that the tomato plants stole his spot, so I had to admit defeat and give him is space back. I lost to a cat. Again.
Veggie Bed Preparation
I live on a corner lot in an average suburban neighborhood. My side yard, where I installed the tomato bed, slopes down to the sidewalk and street. We have a wooden fence separating the front yard from the back. The outside of the fence that follows the sidewalk is set back about 1 1/2 feet, which I've used to plant herbs and a few flowers over the past several years. The inside of the fence, at the bottom of the slope, is a mess packed with leaves, roots and weeds. However, it is one of the few unused spots in my yard that gets full sun, so this year, I will use it to plant veggies. I have potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, beans, cucumbers and peanuts in mind. Since several of these grow underground, they will need deep, loose organic soil, not the packed clay I have in there now. It's a 40ft x 3ft strip, and will need some serious amending!
My Faux Raised Bed
While turning the clay soil in my garden over the years, I had unearthed many bricks that had been buried by our home builders over 50 years ago. Some were whole and many were pieces. Every couple of feet I would here the clink of the shovel on yet another brick. We had stacked them up under the deck figuring we'd use them someday. Well, someday finally came.
The wooden fence at the bottom of the slope, which forms the back of my new veggie bed, has wooden slats separated by 2 inch gaps. If I were to level out the bed and fill it with deep, loose soil, it would spill out and erode through the gaps in the fence onto the herb bed on the other side. Alas, I finally figured out what to do with those bricks! I used them to block the gaps between the fence slats. Now I could fill the beds about a foot high with organic material - composted manure and organic garden soil - leveling it off. The end result is a semi-raised bed.
Hot Pepper Redux
After drying out the seeds for two weeks that we saved from my husband's dying hot pepper plant - the Dragon Cayenne - we planted a few seeds in the seed starter kit. Fingers crossed! It's our first seed harvesting experiment.
Herb Planting Experiment
I took a chance and planted some of the herbs outside that I had started from seed. Parsley, cilantro and sage can withstand cool temperatures, so I planted a couple pots of each and held the rest back inside just in case the experiment failed. The parsley and sage I had planted last year came back nicely. They are perennials here in Zone 7.
Veggie Planting Begins
With my new, semi-raised bed in place, and the temperature remaining about freezing, my son and I started planting. I wanted him to learn something practical that he could carry on to his own garden someday. The first were potatoes and onions, which were so easy to plant in my nice loose soil. Then came carrots and beans. After reading more about succession planting, whereby you plant throughout the season to avoid harvesting all at once, I decided to give it a try. For the carrots, I marked out rows for each that will take me into mid-summer, but only planted in the first row this week. Every three weeks, I'll plant a new row. I put the planting date on the marker to help me keep track. For the beans I planted one row each of two types. One type will supposedly come to maturity in 45 days and the other in 60 days, which essentially gives me succession planting. I have two more rows marked out that I'll plant in a few weeks if all goes well. Looks like I should start keeping a calendar!
It's been a very productive month both indoors and outdoors. I've continued to harden off the indoor seedlings when there's good weather, and rotate them under the lights when they are inside. The tomato and hot pepper plants are looking great. Since transplanting the peppers to larger pots, they are growing at a better pace. The basil is a bit slow, but it's coming along. When I visited the hardware store, mine were of comparative size to those from the professional growers. So that made me feel pretty good.
The rest of the indoor herbs and veggies are growing slow and steady, and I have learned a lot about planning for next year. The lettuce transplants and seed starts growing outside are looking fabulous. I can't wait to make a salad!
The cottage garden flowers are a mixed bag. Some are long and spindly, some are densely packed and growing very slowly, and some haven't sprouted at all. They each have different germination times, so I expect their growth to be uneven. I definitely planted them later than I should have, but since most don't bloom until summer, the few week lag in flowers is not a big deal. The food plants are the priority.
Edible Gardening During COVID-19
Though I had begun planting my organic kitchen garden just for pleasure, it turns out that growing my own food may be fortunate timing. With the COVID-19 outbreak, the choices at the grocery stores have become quite erratic. While I'm confident that our food supply will remain strong overall through this crisis, having fresh produce right outside my front door may end up saving me from going to several different stores to find what I want. Now, if only I could grow toilet paper!