Well, I’ve finally done it. I went and spent $30 on this “snip and drip” irrigation system:
Wow!! I’ve never done this before because I’ve never uh had a working hose outside. That’s right, for 2+ years I watered all my plants with two watering cans filled up at my kitchen sink multiple times a day (except for that short period when I thought the outside water line in our old house was working but then it turned out it was cracked and flooding our neighbors’ basements. Sorry!) Just having a hose was already pretty sweet, but then my annual freak out about not being able to water my plants while I’m at work – “If they’re drying out during the day in early May what’s going to happen in July and August??” – I realized that I could just order one of these do-it-yourself irrigation kits. So I did!
I’m not going to say too much about it because if you Google “snip and drip irrigation” you’ll get tons of reviews of various products that are essentially just a length of black soaker hose and green regular hose that you connect via little black clips. There’s another black clip for the end and you attach it to your hose with yet another black clip, and that was the only tricky part until I realized I was trying to connect them backwards. But there are lots of online videos to help you with that one. And then you turn on the water and watch the soaker hose soak the dirt around it – avoiding all the foliage!! – and breathe a big sigh of relief. Finally!
So here’s the obvious problem: it’s ugly. I figure in about a month the plants will be so big that they’ll completely cover the soaker hose and probably even the regular hose connector sections. But what to do until then?? Well, I’ve been thinking about drilling holes into the raised bed so that you don’t see the hose sticking out on either end. I also need to get some of those metal clips that hold hoses down in the dirt because I think that will make them less visible too. Ultimately, though, this is still kind of a trial run: I’m not going to drill any holes until I’m totally satisfied that the plants are getting enough water. The good thing about this system is that it comes with 50′ of soaker hose and 25′ of regular hose and you just cut them to whatever length you need. You can also get a timer so that everything gets watered automatically! But I’m not ready for that level of sophistication quite yet.
I’m mostly excited about the fact that I can water my plants without getting water on the leaves. When you water at night, getting water on the leaves is no problem because it has all night to evaporate. But when you water in the morning a lot of times droplets of water are still on the plant leaves when the sun hits them and that leads to scorching, like in this picture:
The leaf scorching isn’t really a big deal – as long as it’s only a few leaves on each plant the plant’s going to be fine and it doesn’t affect the fruit at all. But it is kind of ugly and watering this raised bed with the hose it was impossible not to get water on everything: dirt, leaves, the wall behind it, me, my cat… you get the picture.
But really, the best thing about this is that my plants will get a steady stream of water which is best for vegetables. It’s so hard to keep pots watered in the middle of the summer – I’ve been known to run home on my lunch break to water – and uneven watering leads to cracking and other vegetable problems. So now with my raised bed and irrigation system I’m all ready for summer! Let’s go, veggies.
Well the raised bed vegetables had a very hot and sunny first few days but thanks to the rain earlier this week they seem to be doing just fine:
While the picture above makes them look pretty scrawny (and they are) I am feeling hopeful because of this:
Okay – this is a picture I take every year, I’m sure of it. Yes, here’s a blurry version from last year:
What these pictures are of, besides random tomato plant crowns, is that yellowish-green color of the new growth. One thing I have learned over these few years is that this is a very good sign: the plants are healthy, adequately watered and probably growing very fast. I love seeing that “growth spurt” color – then I feel like I can relax a bit because I didn’t kill all my seedlings when transplanting them. Good news!
That’s all until next week, except that I found these two cuties growing in a pot with some ginkgos:
A closer look reveals:
Swiss chard! I let my chard go to seed last year hoping to harvest the seeds but never getting around to it (gotta get better on that) but I guess a few seeds flew into some neighboring pots! Good thing, because my mustard greens are not looking so good.
It finally happened!!
The raised bed has been filled with lots and lots and lots of dirt and sand and compost and now things are planted! And lest you think it’s small, let me tell you that it’s ten feet long by three feet wide, and that’s the inside measurements.
Having never had this much space to plant in, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Ha. So we just kept filling my little car’s trunk full of soil and compost and sand and rocks (for a layer of drainage on the bottom) and, yeah, it took a lot of dirt to fill that bed up. But I knew it had to be done now since my tomatoes were huge and the giganto-bean was starting to climb up the blinds. So yesterday afternoon I planted tomatoes (copia and black krim), three types of mustard greens, broccoli, bibb and romaine lettuce, some sort of long green pepper, cucumbers, thyme and chives. That’s a lot, but I was so excited about having MY OWN RAISED BED that I didn’t mind.
There are some things I think I should tell you, though, in case you are thinking about your own raised bed. The first thing is that I have no idea if this will work. The bed itself is made of untreated spruce. I did not physically nail it together – that was my father who is good at things like that. I was going to stain the whole thing, but after starting to stain that back lefthand corner of the bed I decided I didn’t like the color. But I was still a little worried about the wood rotting so I stained the inside with two coats and let it dry overnight. I have no idea if this will help or not. I also am unsure about drainage: as you can see, the bed is on cracked concrete and there is also a large rectangle of dirt inside it so I figured that would be good for drainage. I dumped a 2″ layer of pebbles inside the bed before putting anything else in and then spread some of that black landscaper’s fabric on the pebbles so that the dirt from inside the bed wouldn’t impede drainage. Then I did layers and layers of soil, sand and compost until the last foot or so which was just soil and compost. The sand is to help with drainage but, again, I’m not sure if it will work.
I think I have mentioned before that I have a bit of a cat problem, meaning that there are a few cats who like to use my yard as a litter box. After filling this huge bed with soil, I realized it was basically just a huge litter box, so I covered it with tarps held down with bricks and other potted plants when I finished filling it this past weekend. That was actually a good idea because it rained early in the week and I didn’t want to plant in waterlogged soil. The other plus from this was that when I lifted the tarps off (after a nice warm sunny day) the soil was nice and warm, perfect for little delicate baby plants. And I should tell you here that I did something highly unorthodox: I didn’t harden off my little seedlings before putting them in. Usually I do harden off, but this time was different. [Hardening off is when you set your tender seedlings outside for a little bit more time each day to get them used to this new harsher environment slooooowly.] My main reason for not hardening off is that these plants were grown in a less sunny window than what I’m used to and they were routinely subjected to temperatures as low as 55-60 degrees because I keep my house at a toasty 64 degrees in the winter. I considered getting heat mats or grow lights, but the seeds seemed to be growing pretty well without any of that. The (hopeful) payoff is that they’re hardier than little seedlings grown in an 85 degree greenhouse. And honestly, the tomatoes are so big they’re probably past the hardening-off stage already.
I’m pretty comfortable with tomatoes and mine this year seem to be doing well. But I planted all these other things that I’ve never tried before, like the gherkins above. Cucumbers?? I have no idea what I’m doing. They seem to be growing, though. And on that note, THE BEAN:
This is another case when I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just went along and planted these beans and then hey, only one came up! Turns out I should have soaked them overnight first. But luckily the strongest bean in the world is growing right along and now has beans:
Now I am wondering if I should come up with some sort of contraption to keep the birds/squirrels/cats/racoons out of the raised bed or just hope for the best. And maybe I need some irrigation? Oh the possibilities!
Finally the weather is warm and soon I’ll be putting all these guys outside:
In their soon-to-be new home!
Ten feet long by three feet wide means space for lots of veggies and soon there will be a trellis on the wall for giganto-bean, cucumbers and tomatoes. Exciting! But there are lots of other things coming back out too, like a little ginkgo:
That little thing spent the winter looking like a stick stuck in the ground but I figured if these trees have been around since the dinosaurs they must be pretty tough. Same (except for the dinosaurs part) goes for the mint:
This mint has been planted and dug up and replanted so many times I’ve lost count. But now they are in a big container so that my entire backyard doesn’t turn into a mint forest.
And some bulbs finally came out!
Winter Wolf’s Bane:
The Winter Wolf’s Bane even looks good after it’s done flowering:
And here is one little blue squill in the deceased bathtub (RIP):
I also have lots of blackberries, raspberries and strawberries but that “wing” of the yard is not done yet. Soon!
Listen. I planted a lot of seeds. I always do. And when they first start sprouting, they all look the same. So I don’t have much news to report other than: more things have sprouted! You’ll just have to take my word on what all these are.
Hey, little green things! This is romaine lettuce. Mmm mm.
Look at these green things! These are lettuces too, only bibb this time.
I planted these a few weeks after my first seeds so that’s why they’re all so small. But below are my mustard greens, which are actually starting to look like mustard greens:
Cute. And now, the bean that’s grown like a foot since last week. Just a couple more weeks, bean, and you’ll get to go outside!
Crazy one, that bean.
Just checking in to show you the amazingly fast-growing bean:
Crazy! Soon it’s going to be big enough to need something to grow on, which should be about the time when I can put it outside. Which means I have to build the raised bed/trellis in these next few weeks. Okay! Game on, bean.
My first tomato seedling popped up! It’s just a little one compared to some of the other seedlings I have, like this bean:
Which actually just popped up yesterday too! Such a nice, strong stem, little bean.
And these are little broccolis. I planted eight seeds and there are seven seedlings which is pretty good, if you ask me. My first two years of starting seeds I always planted many more than I needed because I was afraid lots wouldn’t sprout or that I’d kill some once they did. That never really happened and I just ended up throwing out all the little seedlings I didn’t have space for. This year I actually made a plan for my garden and figured out how many plants I have space for. I still planted a few extras, just in case – I really only have room for two broccoli plants – but if I only have to get rid of five extra baby plants instead of 20 I’d say that’s an improvement.
And then we have mustard greens – three kinds. Again, I only have room for a few plants of each kind of mustard green so I only planted a few seeds for each. I’d like to note here that the broccoli seeds are from 2010 and seem to be fine. I keep my unused seeds in a paper bag folded over and taped shut (for darkness) in one of the drawers in my fridge, away from any food. The tomato seeds are saved from last year, too. So I must recommend this method of storing seeds.
Lastly, I found myself with an abundance of wooden chopsticks – the kind you get with takeout Chinese food, which is strange since we don’t order Chinese takeout very often. I don’t know why I didn’t do this earlier, but obviously their secondary purpose – after utensils, of course – is as plant markers! Duh, Sarah.
Above is an embarrassing photo of my garden “plan.” For my birthday next month my father has agreed to build me a raised bed for the sunny part of my backyard! Thanks, Dad! I measured it out and decided that 3′x10′ would be a good size for the space, against my neighbor’s wall that he has graciously allowed me to attach a trellis to. So the beans and tomatoes will have something to grow on! Then I did something strange – I looked up each plant in my copy of Square Foot Gardening to figure out how many plants I could reasonably fit. No more crowding as many tomatoes in as possible! (And note that you’re supposed to plant ONE tomato plant per square foot which is definitely not what I was doing in the past.) If I do end up with extra plants, which I most likely will since I planted a few extra seeds each, I can still grow things in containers around the raised bed.
Happy spring, everyone! Here’s to sprouting seeds!
Friends! It is almost the best time of the year: the time to plant seeds!
The past two years I’ve gotten my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I chose them because they had a wide variety of open-pollinated seeds and lots of strange heirloom varieties that I couldn’t find other places. Also, and most importantly, none of their seeds are genetically modified. Now I’m not here to lecture you on the potential horrors of eating genetically modified vegetables (ahem) BUT my reasoning is that if I’m going to go through the trouble of growing my own food I want it to be as healthy as possible. I recently stumbled across a list of seed companies that are either owned by Monsanto or sell seeds from them, and then there’s also a list of seed companies that are not affiliated with Monsanto and sell only non-genetically modified seeds. Here’s the list and, of course, take it with a grain of salt since it’s coming from a website called “Emergency Homesteader.” But! Both Baker Creek and Happy Cat Farm are on there – I mention Happy Cat because they are right in Kennett Square and you can find their seeds at a lot of local places (including Reading Terminal) if you’d rather go for local seeds. Another local-ish one is D. Landreth Seed Company, which is near York.
Although I’ve been very pleased with my Baker Creek seeds I think I might try Happy Cat or D. Landreth for some seeds this year since they’re closer. Plus they have lots of strange varieties that are hard to find elsewhere. This year I am going to actually try to save some seeds (fingers crossed!) so I’m looking for some slightly weirder things to grow. Plus, isn’t it fun to grow produce you can’t find in a grocery store or farmer’s market? I think so!
One last thing: even if you’re not too worried about eating genetically modified food, Monsanto still uses lots and lots of chemicals to grow their genetically-modified seeds – in fact, lots of their seeds have been genetically modified so that they can survive insanely high doses of pesticides. That’s not cool, especially because those pesticides seep into the water and ground and then people and animals end up ingesting them unknowingly. This is where I grew up so I witnessed it firsthand and let me tell you, the fish in the Housatonic River are deformed and dying rapidly and it’s just ridiculous what big companies can get away with in this country.
Anyway! Choose your seeds wisely. Soon it will be time to plant!
Happy 2013! After things calm down after the holidays I tend to get really antsy to plant seeds but I still can’t do that for another couple of months. My solution this year has been to plant bulbs inside (and impulse buy cheapo plants while I’m at the grocery store.) But for now let’s focus on the bulbs.
I don’t even know what this bulb is. I think it’s a hyacinth but who knows? My mother gave me this one a few months ago and for a while I just left it thinking I would plant it outside. But I forgot about it when I planted my bulbs outside so I decided to do it inside. This picture is from about a month ago, right after I had put it in the window that actually gets light.
You can see I put too much water in it – the bulb itself shouldn’t be sitting in water, just the little roots. I did that on purpose in case I forgot about it (which I did!) but it definitely started getting a little moldy around the parts of the bulb that were sitting in water. I got worried so I took it out and washed the vase and even washed off the bulb a little bit with some water and a dishcloth and it seemed to work out fine. Obviously the way to avoid this is to not let your bulbs sit in water.
Clearly the mold didn’t deter it too much because here it is a month later. Now that I’ve gotten used to watering it (and remembering that it’s there) I make sure to keep the water level below the bulb itself. It’s not so hard now because check out the roots:
These guys are pretty crazy! I like how they look through the glass.
The other thing I do when I’m feeling like I don’t have enough little plantlings to care for is Sarah’s Yearly Attempt to Grow an Avocado. This year is no different!
This is what happens with me and avocados: I love avocados. We eat a lot of avocados. And I’ve tried and tried to grow one like this and without fail I forget about it and it dries out or it gets too wet and is mushy and moldy and either way I end up with no avocado plant. I mention the eating of avocados not because I want to grow my own to eat – I’ve pretty much chalked that up to an impossibility in this climate – but because I am ALWAYS tempted by pits lying around and eventually I can’t take it anymore and try this again. This time I did it a little more carefully: I washed and scrubbed the pit in water to make sure I got all the avocado off. Then I let it dry for 24 hours to make sure it was nice and dry. Then I put the toothpicks in at an angle so that more of the bottom would be submerged in water. AND I have been changing the water in hopes of discouraging mold growth. But you can still see in the above picture that there is some weird dark stuff going on around the water line so I may take it out, change the water, and scrub the pit itself a little. I fully believe that this would be easier if I just planted the pit in some soil in a pot but I have a weird (okay, not weird just proprietary) stubbornness and I want to grow it this way! I remember doing it as a kid, I remember my friend’s mother doing it and I KNOW IT CAN BE DONE. The nice thing about this, though, is that it’s completely free and I can try it again if this attempt doesn’t work. But come on, people. It’s time.
Do you grow bulbs indoors? I always thought it was kind of silly but then my mystery bulb started growing and I got that sense of accomplishment mixed with pride that comes with watching something thrive under my (minimal) care – the same feeling I get from watching my plants grow in the summer. It’s good to feel that again! And it’s a good reminder that spring will come no matter how long winter feels.
It’s true, you know, but luckily planting bulbs is hardly any more work than planting seeds. I believe it was Beverley Nichols who said (I’m paraphrasing here) that the best way to plant bulbs is to have your friends throw them around your yard and then plant them wherever they land. I don’t have too much yard space for bulb throwing so I planted mine in the already-existing beds.
I bought a lot of bulbs. I ordered some (lots) online, forgetting that I had already bought some at the Lansdowne K-Mart back in September. So now I have quite a variety. Here’s a list of what I planted: daffodils (all yellow), crocuses, muscari (grape hyacinths), irises, snowflakes, blue squill, starflowers and winter aconite (eranthis.)
It didn’t really take that long to plant all that, though. Since I was planting so many, I didn’t really worry about rows or anything – just kind of sprinkled them all around and then covered them with dirt. Did you know that it doesn’t matter which way you plant bulbs – they will always turn right-side up as they start growing! At least I think that’s true. We’ll see!
One big difference between this garden and my old garden is that this one is a lot more open and therefore has a lot more…wildlife. Of course in a city, wildlife has a slightly different meaning than I’m used to…okay, it’s mostly stray cats. I saw a possum about a block from my house once, too. But mostly cats and squirrels. The cats tend to use whatever dirt they can find as a litter box but I’m actually more worried about the squirrels eating my bulbs. There were like five different squirrels watching me plant my bulbs, probably thinking about what a tasty snack they were about to have. I asked them nicely not to eat my bulbs but I still have the sneaking suspicion that maybe I was just planting squirrel food. Some bulbs, like daffodils and crocuses, animals don’t eat as much but I know something back there is eating things because something ate all my little carrot seedlings. ALL of them! Rude, I say. Selfish.
Okay, I know these three pictures look strikingly similar, but the above one is after everything was planted. This is, again, a bed that was here when I moved in and I’m planning on changing everything around come spring (or summer or fall) so I’m only planting things here temporarily. But here you can see some of my other plants. From the left side of the picture: a gingko turning yellow for winter, some rosemary and lamb’s ear in the front left corner of the bed and a burning bush (burning!), a blackberry and a raspberry, a hibiscus (uh, I think) and the fig I got at the Rittenhouse farmer’s market two years ago. Everything else will (hopefully) be bulbs!
Lastly, I planted this elephant ear I got at Greensgrow earlier this summer. It was never really happy in the pot I transplanted it into after buying it and kind of drooped sadly in my window until I put it outside. I decided I’d put it in the ground to see if it would make it through the winter. It already weathered a few frosts outside this year so I may be too late.
I’m still getting used to my new backyard – I find it takes at least a full year to fully understand the bright spots, the sheltered spots, the windy spots and things like that. It’ll be interesting to see if these bulbs make it. I’m ROOTing (get it???) for you, bulbs!
Sorry, I’ll let myself out.