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Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Apple Tree update

Awhile back, I planted a stick in the ground that Henry Field’s assured me was a Sweet Sixteen apple sapling. I was dubious it would turn into anything, because it was only about 18 inches long and not much bigger in diameter than a #2 pencil. I am pleased to report that it not only survived, but it’s done pretty well:

I not inviting any of you over for apple pie this fall or anything, but I’m saying the tree now vaguely resembles a young tree, and I’m not actively embarrassed to have such a beefy support for a tiny twig. Maybe next fall (or more likely Fall of 2012) we’ll actually get some fruit…

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The greenhouse is up and functional. Here’s a pictorial description of the process:
The structure with the deer (squirrel) netting still up and row covers on.

A big hunk of greenhouse plastic, donated generously by my horticulturist friend Gwen.

To get the plastic over the ribs, first put a rock on one side…

Then attach a cord around the rock and pull the cord from the far side.

The plastic is up and my 1-meter tall child stands in as a height reference.

At the bottom, roll lath into the plastic and nail down.

The plastic ,after being secured on all sides.

A crisscross of guy rope goes over the top and through screw eyes at the bottom, to help keep the plastic on where it should be and to make the structure a little more stable.

The inside view of the greenhouse after the plastic is on.

I am happy to report that the greenhouse survived the 40-50+ mph winds that arose the following days, without a bit of damage. The ribs are independently flexible and the plastic is tough, so while the shape of the arch was…altered…at times, no problems arose and the plants didn’t even notice the storm.
Here’s to some later fall/winter produce!

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Temperatures are dropping around Chicago, and this is normally the time when I’d been doing a fall clean-up, some final mulching, and putting my garden to bed for the winter.

But not this year!


This is the winter of Eliot Coleman, when Melissa and I are going to try our hand at Fall gardening aiming for a winter harvest. Here’s where we are as of the start of October:

Planted right now (clockwise from bottom left) are Romaine and Buttercrunch lettuce, endive, yellow globe onions, bunching onions, full-grown endive, carrots in various stages from seedling to mature, tomato plants up against the house (1 box wrapped, 1 unwrapped to see the difference), mache, more lettuce, spinach, and a fallow place for garlic that’s just outside the picture in the lower right.

As you can see, I have row covers in place. These let in about 80% of the light and are water-permeable. They have the added benefits of keeping out insects and providing some cover from the wind. I will say that they make my seedlings look beautiful:

Another new experiment for this Fall is the mache bed. These hardy little salad greens can germinate at 35 degrees and can bounce back from -5 if necessary. The adult plants are only about 4 inches across, so it takes a lot of plants for a salad. So, I’ve planted about 1200 plants in my bed and they’re just starting to pop up:

They’re a little hard to see in this picture, but they’re there.

One of the successes this summer season has been the raspberries. All of the canes in this picture started as tiny 4″-6″ transplant cuttings that came from my 5-year old bush on the side of the dog run.

As you can see, they did very well, despite having the fence in front of them completely overwhelmed by cantaloupe vines for much of the summer. Maybe they decided to grow tall to compensate.

I have noticed that the Fall temps do slow down germination and growth, so I’ll keep you apprised of our progress every so often. Check back for more later, especially when we install the plastic on our greenhouse…

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The Greenhouse in its summer look.

My blogging attention always flags in July. I start out with the best of intentions, but when summer is in full bloom, I always vanish from the blogosphere for a good month. Perhaps things get too busy, or maybe I can’t imagine anyone caring how many heads or broccoli I picked or how many raspberries I harvested or how my carrots are coming along. Whatever the reason for my silence, it happens every year right on schedule.

This is the deer netting.

For those of you who have been following my greenhouse series, I have indeed completed the project and I present the pictures to prove it. The hoops were installed and painted and the perlin (ridge pole) lashed in place, and the whole structure is pretty solid. I used deer netting (a thin, black plastic mesh in about 3/4″ squares) to wrap around the hoops until October arrives and it’s time to put on the plastic. The best part is: the protection is working. Yesterday I watched a squirrel actively looking for a way in, even partially climbing the mesh, then giving up the exercise as fruitless and wandering away.
Malamutes, however, are another matter. Not once, but *twice* has Milady invaded the greenhouse. The first time, she slipped between the hoops and the neighbors chain link fence, pulling open a hole in the mesh. She proceeded to trample through a newly-seeded carrot bed, dig a bit in a lettuce seedling bed, and then apparently tried to exit through the yard side. Judging by the way the netting was ripped and the snap clamps were blown off (the clamps keep the netting attached to the hoops), I think she encountered the net, didn’t know what it was, and panicked. Let me tell you, a scared Malamute is *strong*.
I chalked this first transgression up to experimentation and innocence…but the SECOND time it happened, I could see where she had purposefully pulled the metting away from the hoops with her claws, forced her way in (again trampling the carrots) and dug down the lettuce seedlings bed until it could no longer be considered a “raised” bed any longer! My lettuce production then suffered a three-week hiatus because all of my intermediate plants were destroyed utterly. How did I feel about that? Angry wasn’t the half of it. Milady earned a quick confinement to her dog run until I figured out how to stop her.
I finally installed a stronger wire fence to prevent her from getting between the greenhouse and the neighbor’s chain link fence, and that seems to have done the trick because she hasn’t gotten in since. Anyway, the greenhouse is up, just waiting for plastic, and the things inside it like the broccoli and squarshes are going CRAZY. Of course, the greenhouse itself is not responsible for this growth, but soon it will be. I just planted a fall crop of endive, Winter Density Lettuce, and more carrots. Looking forward to adding leeks, mache and other goodness…

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Success and Not So Much

Sorry about the long gap in updating. I’ve been having a fair amount of garden success so far this year. Above is part of one harvest: onions and cilantro (pictured), along with lettuce and baby spinach. Pretty much, we’ve stopped buying salad fixin’s for the foreseeable future. The lettuce, carrots, onions, spinach, garlic, squash, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and raspberries seem to be growing great, BUT…

Those are my strawberries. Note the scale. They’re tiny and not all that sweet. I don’t know if the rain gutter system I devised doesn’t allow good root expansion, or if they needed more fertilizer/compost because they used up what’s was present in the shallow trough. On the plus side, the squirrels haven’t bothered them (probably because they weren’t worth the trouble!).

You win some, you lose some.

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A flower-like romaine lettuce plant.

Wow, I see it’s been a full week since my last post. Didn’t mean for this to be a Sunday blogging thing; will try to do better next week.

At any rate, I received no less than three questions from friends today who were asking me about various gardening-related questions. Apparently, they have me confused with some kind of knowledgeable person, but I answered two of the questions anyway and have done research on the third. I thought others might be curious about similar things, because you know the teacher’s adage: if one kid asks a question, that means two others had the same question but were afraid to raise their hands. So, here’s what I was asked:

“The seeds I planted said they were spinach, but the things that sprouted up look nothing like what they’re supposed to.”

Take heart. Everything is proceeding as normal. The first leaves of a seedling are called cotyledons, and are present in the seed before germination. In fact, they contain the stored food reserves of the seed, and can sometimes stay with the maturing plant for some time, or wither soon after the true leaves appear. The true leaves of many plants do not appear until the post-germination phase (meaning after the seedling has sprouted). Shown on the left is a juvenile spinach seedling with both the cotyledons (the long thin leaves) and the first pair of true leaves. Later, the spinach plant will grow and its true leaves will expand to their more familiar shape, and begin to look like the right-hand picture as the plant matures.



“My compost bin smells awful. Is it supposed to do that?”
Sure, that’s what’s happening to a lot of things while they decompose…remember that “composting” is little more than a euphemism for “rotting.” Want your compost bin to not smell? Make sure you have a good mix of  “greens” and “browns.” “Greens,” or items high in nitrogen, are things like kitchen scraps (remember to keep any dairy or meat products out of your compost mix), grass clippings, coffee grounds, chicken manure, or weeds you’ve pulled. “Browns,” or high-carbon items, are things like straw, dry leaves, dryer lint, shredded paper (avoid colored paper or paper with colored inks), eggshells, coffee husks, etc. The most common culprit for foul-smelling compost is a mixture too high in nitrogen caused by adding too many kitchen scraps without covering them with some kind of carbon or “browns.” Also, remember to keep the pile a bit damp–like a wrung-out sponge but not sopping wet–and occasionally add a shovelful of garden dirt. The dirt will add millions of microbial bacteria that are the prime movers in the composting process. When your mix is right, you will find the pile will heat up, sometimes to as high as 140 degrees or more. Today, for example, my bin was steaming in 60-degree weather! This ‘hot composting’ means your nitrogen/carbon mix is right, and the only thing you will smell is the lovely scent of fresh earth.

“My potatoes are growing and I know I’m supposed to add dirt to them…but how much, and when do I stop adding it?”
The two main things that potatoes hate are inadequate water and excessive soil heat. Both problems can be solved easily, and there are many viable ways to do it. Perhaps the easiest is mulching. When your seedlings first appear from the ground and get a set of true leaves, mulch around them with an inch of compost and then cover the entire bed with a foot of clean straw. The plants will grow right up through it and the soil will stay cooler and retain moisture longer. This method can even be used at planting time; just set the seed potatoes right on the ground, cover with compost and straw, and water well. What could be simpler? Another way is to use a hoe to mound the soil up around the plants every few weeks. Don’t worry about covering up the stem and lower leaves; the plant doesn’t seem to mind. I’ve even heard of people who grow potatoes in raised beds using a “potato collar.” This is another wooden frame (without a bottom) that sits on top of the raised bed and, in effect, raises it still further. This second bed is then filled with compost and straw, or just plain dirt, and the potatoes keep right on growing. In short, cover them with something to keep the ground moist and cool, and don’t stress too much about the particulars.

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Well, actually, gardening with a mother happened today–not my octogenarian mother, of course, but the mother of my kids. Melissa and I were home together and both healthy on a free day with decent weather; a perfect storm that hasn’t happened in quite a while. She worked on building out a new flowerbed along the dog run, while I finished building three other vegetable beds and disassembling my drip irrigation system in preparation for installing the greenhouse. Then, Melissa planted a variety of flower seed (specifically designed to attract butterflies and hummingbirds, apparently) while I transplanted cantaloupe, acorn squash, butternut squash, lettuce seedlings, and planted about 15 more onion sets.

Both of us cleaned and straightened the patio within an inch of its life and reorganized where we stored things to make the backyard look a great deal neater and less cluttered. We marveled at how large our patio seemed after all the stuff around the periphery was stowed in more efficient places.

There are still things to do. I need to direct sow many more rows of carrots, and I need to get topsoil to fill one of the new lettuce beds and the second container for my tomato plants, which will probably be filled next week with my six 8″ seedlings that are happily growing in the basement. And then there is the weeding, and many things will soon need composting/fertilizing and mulching.

But, a good day!

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