Garden Diary 2020 - May 1-15
Spring planting is complete…for now! But the wacky weather presented some unexpected challenges that may force me to replant. Heavy wind and rain and a Mother's Day weekend frost required some quick, DIY solutions to protect the tender seedlings. Did my excessive "hardening off" save them? Check my intro article here, where I'll add links to my Garden Diary 2020 posts throughout the gardening season.
Direct Sowing Seeds
Now that the main plants and seedlings are in the ground, and the last frost date has passed, I've been sowing seeds directly in the garden beds. Most are flowers. I have no idea if they'll come up, so I've packed them in pretty tight filling just about every gap in the planting bed. My garden plan has been mostly on the fly in order of height, color and month of bloom. There are some plants that I've never tried before, and some are old favorites. I've purchased dozens of seed packets - anything that could be planted after the last frost date. This is rather experimental since I have little experience sowing seeds directly into the garden. My mom has had great luck with it, so I thought I'd give it a try. I've labeled all of the plantings with my tags, giving the date and indicating "seed outdoors," to prevent mixing them up with those I started indoors. I can't wait to see what pops up!
I didn't have any luck growing celery from seed, so I purchased six plants from the garden store. I interplanted them in the lettuce bed with the hopes that the tall stalks will help shade the leafy greens from the direct sun this summer. Two of the three interplant rows are celery and the third row are the ginger plants.
Leafy Green Bed Complete
I finished sowing seeds in the leafy green bed that I dug out at the end of April. I tried a wide variety for experiment's sake. There's red and green romaine, mesclun mix, gourmet mix, bibb lettuce, iceberg, looseleaf lettuce, radicchio, kale, spinach and cabbage. I made the mistake of not creating a footpath within the bed for maintenance and harvesting. I'm sure I'll be smashing a few leaves along the way!
Today I planted borage seeds throughout the garden. Though I had never heard of it before, I kept seeing it come up as an ideal herb to grow in the vegetable garden to attract beneficial insects and repel pests. The leaves and pretty blue flowers are edible and decorative, and have health benefits, too. Though seed packets in general are running out at the garden store, there is still borage on the shelves, as it doesn't seem to be a well-known plant. I planted the seeds near the tomatoes, cucumbers and leafy greens. I'm eager to see the results!
Better Lettuce Planting
Before I started growing my own lettuce, I had no idea how many kinds there were and how they grew. I just assumed they all grew in head form, as we find it in the grocery store. As I've since learned from growing Mesclun Mixes from seed, that is not the case. During my first attempt, I planted a couple clumps, each of which had one or two types of lettuce, which defeated the purpose of growing a mix. For Mesclun, it is better to sow a patch of seeds rather than a clump to get the proper balance of leaf types intended for the mix. I should have watched this video first.
Despite looking healthy for the first couple of weeks, my tall corn seedlings that I started indoors fell over and died. Only six of the 24 seeds I planted germinated, and they didn't last long. I will try replanting them directly in the pots outside when the weather warms up.
Grow Bag Planting and Prep
Several weeks ago I purchased the Smart Pot grow bags with handles from here. I picked up six, each of a different size. I planted herbs and herb seeds in three of them and I'm reserving the rest for our extra hot peppers and corn. I mixed two parts potting mix to one part composted cow manure in my wheelbarrow and scooped it into the bags. They sure hold a LOT of soil!
For placement, I put a spin on interplanting and succession planting. Since my veggie beds are only accessible from one side, I had to leave space for me to step into the beds for maintaining and harvesting the back rows. That space between the tomato plants is now occupied by the three herb grow bags. When I need to reach back to access the back rows, I can simply pick them up and move them onto the grass and put them back in the planting bed when I'm finished. The larger bags for the peppers and corn will go into my currently empty succession planting spaces. The carrot and bean beds are only partially occupied. The empty space will house the three larger bags of peppers and corn. When the corn gets tall and too obnoxious looking to be placed on the fenceline facing the sidewalk, I'll find another full sun spot in the yard to move it.
The garden stores have too many temptations! There are so many varieties of certain herbs, and I want to taste every one of them!
Since I already have mint invading my fenceline and strawberry beds, I couldn't resist adding to the mix. I have spearmint and chocolate mint from previous years, and this year I added apple, pineapple, mohito, peppermint, sweet, ginger and orange mint. They each have a distinctive aroma, leaf shape, taste and color. I will collect seeds or propagate them just in case they don't return next year, even though I've had no luck growing spearmint from seed. Yes, mint is an invasive plant, but I harvest it regularly for tea or drink flavors. I can't wait to try the new ones!
I've been collecting thyme this year, too. Though I started many plants from seed to serve as ground cover for the flagstone footpaths, I couldn't resist the variety of thyme transplants available at the garden store either! I ended up creating the "Walk of Thyme." I bought two each of eight different varieties to flank each flagstone in a wonderful array of aromas and flavors - 'Cascading Lemonade,' 'Lemon,' 'Lime,' 'Golden Lemon,' 'Spicy Orange,' 'Pennsylvania Dutch Tea,' 'Hi Ho Silver' and 'French.' Hopefully they will all come back next year.
Basil also comes in a variety of flavors. In addition to the four types that I originally started from seed, I've purchased a few more varieties of plants and seeds to sow directly in the ground. Each type is used for a different selection of dishes. I've planted the purple 'Dark Opal' and 'Red Rubin,' 'Cinnamon,' 'Italian Cameo,' 'Sweet Thai' for my Asian cooking, and the red flowering 'Cardinal.' Since basil was so slow to grow by seed indoors, I'm hoping the coming warm weather and longer days will speed up the growing process in time for harvest. For transplants, I purchased a cinnamon basil to replace the one killed by the frost a few weeks ago, and an unusual, wonderfully fragrant purple leaf called 'Wild Magic,' which smells to me like bergamot. I have a few other varieties of seed that I might try for grins and to collect their seeds for next year. You can't have enough basil!
Lavender Tree Restored
Last year, I bought a beautiful lavender tree and planted it in a container. The short, stocky deep purple bloom heads shoot from the top of each spike in comparison to the longer, slender bloom heads of most lavender plants. At the end of the season, I kept it outside to face the elements, never watered or cared for it. I thought it was dead and came very close to throwing it in the compost bin. To my surprise, when the weather warmed, the leaves and blooms came back to life! I replanted it in a larger pot, and surrounded it with herbs - a colorful, golden oregano, a purple-leafed sage, and a thyme I've grown from seed. I also threw in some pink candytuft seeds and hope that they add some color this summer. It's a beautiful and unexpected feature in the flower garden.
Seed Envelopes Arrived
After achieving great success with harvesting and sprouting the hot pepper seeds, I decided to add seed harvesting to my list of gardening tasks. Though seed packs are inexpensive, they do add up when purchasing dozens of flower, herbs and veggies. It seems silly to keep buying seeds when some are very easy to collect and store. I ordered these kraft envelopes which arrived today, and so far I like them. I chose these because the size is close to the standard seed pack that you purchase from the seed companies. And I like that there's plenty of space to write a description, such as full name, date harvested and from which specific plant. I also like the peel-off strip seal, as opposed to the kind you have to wet. I have a feeling I'll be using them all up in one year!
Dry Creek Bed Experiment
My little pond and rock garden have an erosion problem. Located next to our downspout, heavy rainstorms leave deep indentations in the soil where the water rushes down the rock garden, and as a result is destroying my tender seedlings in its path. I'm installing a dry creek bed to redirect the water from the downspout directly into the pond. It's very small - just about six feet long - and will take a bit of planning and observation. The abundant pebbles and rocks we already have on our property will make this a very low cost project. I dug out the trench last week to test if the water would flow where I wanted, and when a daytime storm came, I watched the water rush through the channel just as I hoped.
I was starting to build the side walls until I observed our birds struggle to lean over the fieldstone pond edging to reach the water for a drink. Since they are short, the songbirds were unable to reach the water and would give up. I believe the dry creek bed will serve them better. During a visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden last year, shown here in this post, I noticed dozens of birds crowding around the rocky creek in the outside garden. I intend to replicate that on a very small scale in my rock garden as a dry creek bed.
If I were to lay the stones for the dry creek bed directly on the soil, the water would quickly seep through the ground. To capture the water and let it puddle for the birds, I decided to line it with plastic. I bought an 8-foot flexible drain pipe (this one) from Home Depot, and cut it lengthwise in half. A pond liner cut to size would have probably worked as well. I dug that into my trench and covered it with rock.
Ginger or Weeds?
Either the ginger I planted on April 23 is sprouting or I have a bunch of weeds. Let's wait and see!
I've always felt young at heart, but my body keeps reminding me that I'm not a teenager anymore. I injured my wrist working on the dry creek bed, and it's hard to do anything as simple as opening a can of cat food! I guess I'll have to rest for a couple of days so that I don't make it worse. Bummer.
Mother's Day Weekend Frost Coming?!?
Oh no! The forecast is calling for 33 degrees! Seriously?!? Even if the overall temperature doesn't fall below freezing, I know from the April near-frost event that the high wind and heavy rain could blow in a pocket of colder air that would wipe out the tender seedlings. Will I awake to a garden of dead tomatoes and herbs tomorrow? I had to prepare.
All day I knew this was coming, but I decided to wait to cover my plants until the heavy rain had stopped. I was concerned that several inches of rain settling on the tarps would crush the tender seedlings underneath. So around midnight, when the rain was down to a sprinkle, I went sloshing outside in the cold, soggy dark garden with a flashlight and covered the frost-vulnerable plants with anything I could that wouldn't blow away. I covered the pepper and herb beds with tarp held down by bricks and rocks. The high wind made it even harder to do the job.
I covered most of the tomato plants individually with a double layer of plastic grocery bags pinned down with landscape pins. I normally save those bags for scooping the cat litter, but tonight they served a different purpose. After running out of pins, I covered the rest with ceramic and terracotta planters, and covered those that had holes. One got covered by a heavy box held in place by the tomato cage. I hope that is enough! For once, my overplanting of tomato and hot pepper seedlings came in handy. I brought all the extra, unplanted ones inside for the night to serve as backups, along with all the other potted plants. It was a muddy mess! Was it enough?
Yeah!!! My plants lived through the night! I'm going to leave the coverings in place again tonight since temperature is forecast to drop to 33 degrees again. The two new basils that I purchased last week look like they are barely hanging on, just like last time. The wind throughout the day has been tough on them. All of my plants that I started from seed survived just fine. I wonder if all the excessive hardening off I did before planting them in the ground preserved them?
It's too cold and windy to work on the garden today. It's a good day to catch up on laundry!
…But What About the Seeds?
I also wonder if the seeds I directly sowed outside in the ground have been damaged. Most of the seed packets say to wait until all danger of frost has passed. I didn't cover the seeds with mulch because I thought it would be too heavy for them to find the light and germinate. Is the ground warm enough to protect the germination? I'll keep a close eye on the seeds. I may have to replant some of them.
I'm learning more about harvesting seeds from the plants in my garden. Since I hadn't pruned my two Nikko Blue hydrangeas, the dried seed heads were still attached. I clipped them off, shook out what I think are seeds and planted them in a seed starter kit. It was hard to distinguish which were seeds and which were dust. So I poured what I harvested into a four-cells starter pack. I took another set and placed it in a wet paper towel to see if they would germinate. Then I could know for sure what the seeds look like next time I harvest them. While it's probably easier to propagate hydrangeas rather than grow them from seed, I decided to try this for fun. The cold weather has kept me inside all day and I needed a break from laundry.
Dry Creek Bed Complete
After spending several days squatting in my backyard handpicking pebbles and stones, and my wrist somewhat healed, I finally completed the dry creek bed. I tested the water flow with a hose a few times and it seems to work. The big test will be the next rainstorm. I'm eager to see if the water settles into the bottom of it to provide a little creek for the birds to drink. I also planted several flowers by seed to surround the bed and pond, which included lupine, foxglove, poppies, Canterbury bells, phlox, sweet william and dianthus, most of which will grow in partial sun. While that seems like a lot of different flowers for one small space, as with the rest of my spring planting, I'm not expecting them all to germinate based on my experience of trying to start the cottage garden indoors. Now we sit and wait for the flowers to bloom and see the water flow in action.
Am I Finished?
I finished direct sowing flower seeds in the remaining beds, and all there is left to do is add more mulch. Now the clean-up begins. I'm putting away the garden tools, arranging the flower pots, and thinking of creative touches to add to the garden hardscape. It feels so good to be finished…sort of! I'll continue to monitor the seed germination progress for the dozens of plants I direct sowed or started indoors. There are a few gaps left in the landscape, which I'll fill in as I find plants that catch my eye at the garden centers.
The backyard is still a mess, and I'll tackle the clean-up of that next. But for now, I'll enjoy a few days "off" and attend to everything else that I've been ignoring since the garden project began.
It looks like all the plants made it through the last night of the cold snap. Yeah! There are a few that are barely hanging on, and I may have to replace them if they don't recover in the next few days. Given how warm March was, the May frost and wind really surprised me. Next year, I'll have some better plant protection strategies in place in case that happens again. I now understand the stress our farmers face every year when battling nature.
Warmth and Sprouts
After the unexpected frost over the weekend, we finally turned the corner and saw some warmer weather today. All of the beans and some of the direct-sown seed flowers are sprouting now.
Planting Harvested Cornflower Seeds
Last week I harvested cornflower seeds from the 'Amethyst in Snow' perennial that I planted several years ago in ground in my border fence garden. This beautiful white and purple flower heartily blooms every spring with no maintenance on my part. Everyone that sees it has to know what it is. Some of the blooms that had already been spent were drying out on the plant. I clipped a few of them off and took them inside to carefully examine the structure and harvest the seed. The problem was, I couldn't tell which part was the seed! The seeds of the annual cornflowers I planted gave me a clue what to look for, and after finding some photos and videos online of similar plants, I guessed that this is the seed. It looks a little like a miniature sea anemone to me - bulbous body with fine hairs on one end. I harvested the seeds by squeezing the bottom of the bloom and removing all the parts attached to it. I have no idea if I damaged them by doing this. We shall see!
I let the seeds dry out completely on a paper towel for about a week. Then today, I planted them in a four-cell seed starter pack with three seeds in each. Using a tweezer made it easier to place them precisely in the cell where I wanted. After watering, I set the cell pack outside where it will stay unless the weather gets rough again. I'm really eager to see if it blooms. Already, I'm getting excited for fall when many other seeds will be ready for harvesting.
The weather has been bonkers, bouncing from freezing to the high 80s within a few days. Most of the plants survived however, and are thriving in these unpredictable conditions. I could tell that they were waiting for a couple sunny days to burst from the ground.
The pole beans have finally sprouted around all six bamboo poles. I can't wait to see them climb my homemade trellis!
The bush beans that I replanted in late April have made their way to the light.
The potato plants are green and lush.
The onions continue to boldly spike out of the ground.
Carrots are growing steadily in succession.
Broccoli very easily sprouted in spite of the blustery weather.
We've harvested the lettuce numerous times and have many more salads left in them. The celery is growing steadily, and the ginger leaves are spreading on two of the three plants.
The hot peppers have continued growing at a slow and steady pace.
The color of the tomato leaves are slowly recovering from the heavy rains that turned their leaves yellow. The new growth is bright and green, and it looks like they all survived the Mother's Day weekend frost.
Oh, the cucumbers! So far, none of the three sets of seeds I planted have sprouted. Only the transplants from the garden store are alive.
Strawberries are fruiting plentifully, and a couple are starting to turn red. My son and I are eagerly awaiting the harvest. Many are small and a little odd-shaped, but they don't appear to be soggy this year even with all the excessive rain. It looks like the heavy mulching took care of that problem.
The second leafy green bed near the driveway is showing some signs of life. The mesclun mix, gourmet mix, and spinach are on their way. I'm hoping to see kale, cabbage, romaine and others in the next few days.
The herbs that I started from seed indoors still look ragged from the storms and frost, but they have been improving with the last couple days of sunshine. Lemon balm, however, continues to thrive.
I'm eagerly awaiting the herb seeds from direct sowing to show their sprouts. So far, the borage has come up in several places. I'm still waiting on basil, cumin, anise, more varieties of basil, chives, oregano and others.
My cottage garden seedlings have mostly survived, though they are still tiny and insignificant. It's hard to imagine that they will ever become full grown plants by the end of the season.
My attempt to grow plants by directly sowing seeds into the garden are showing mixed results so far. The annual cornflowers popped up first within about a week, followed by zinnias and cosmos. Alyssum seems to be another easy grower. Nasturtium is sprouting much better than my earlier attempt at growing from seeds indoors. This time I soaked the seeds for 24 hours before planting and my germination rate is much higher. No sign from amaranthus or marigolds. It's hard to tell with the rest of the seeds because I have many weed sprouts coming up, and I'm not sure which is which.
In the meantime, my long-time perennials are blooming vigorously. The hardy geranium I planted years ago spread so well that I was able to successfully transplant pieces of it to other parts of the yard with ease.
The lawn is in sorry shape, but thankfully, my kitty volunteered to cut the grass.
In spite of the challenging weather, the first part of May has been a pretty good success. It's a joy to wake up every day and visit the garden.