Archive for the ‘soil’ Category

Autumnal snippets Friday, October 15th, 2010

What are you doing this weekend? Besides hunting.

Me, well

  • Raking – I do it more for fun and exercise – we like to fill a couple Halloween leaf bags for decoration. We still don’t have any trees more than 7 years old so we don’t get a lot for leaves except what blows over from the neighbors or the park across the street. But I am surprised to see that the meager amount has increased a bit – a sure sign our trees are growing up!
  • Starting to put away tools – clean off dirt, drag them through the oil and sand bucket to keep rust away.
  • Cleaning up leftover garden debris – cleanliness keeps disease away from next years plants. Rake it up and dispose of it – especially if you had any problems this year with mildews, blights, rusts or bacteria. Don’t put these back in your compost.
  • After the garden plot is cleaned up – turn the soil. Autumn is one of the best times to turn the soil – come spring, after snow and ice have packed it down a bit – it will still be easier to work with than if you didn’t. Add leaves while turning to lighten up your soil – great addition for heavy clay like we have around here.
  • Getting out for a walk. Listening to the crunch of leaves and the fleets of birds heading south and enjoy these ridiculously beautiful days that we’ve been having – they won’t last forever.
Garrrrrlic! and autumn ramblings Friday, September 24th, 2010

Sorry folks – too much work and none of it in the garden as of late. But, BUT, The Hub got his first garlic bulbs in – I told him we still had some ordered bulbs on the way but he was determined to plant some by the light of the Harvest Moon. We saved one good bulb of cloves from this last meager harvest so that’s what he stuck in the garden. This is possibly based on some principles from the idea of biodynamic gardening. But that’s another post at another time.

The garlic we ordered came in today – both varieties are hardneck. My mother gave me, basically, one tip: follow the directions. This calls for high nitrogen fertilizer (think lawn feed) and bonemeal (phosphorus) to be added at planting time. A good amount of hummus and fluffy, compost rich soil doesn’t hurt. So I’ll need to pick some of that up tomorrow in hopes I, or The Hub, can finish this last bit of fall planting. The Hub also plans on taking down the garden this weekend but I’m skeptical, we’ll see. It’s time to get the last hopeful tomatoes off the vines and cook up or store what pumpkins are left and gather those last few seeds to seed the dreams of next spring

Resist being the early bird Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

I made my first nursery trip of the year this past weekend. It was wonderful just feeling that greenhouse heat and humidity while the winds whipped up a frenzy of dust and chill outside. I did purchase 3 items which I’ll talk about later but I wanted to use this post as a simple warning. Aside from cold-weather veggie crops, trees, shrubs and very-hardy perennials, please put off any planting for a while longer. We are still more than a week from the last average frost date and even then it won’t wait to hurt a little longer before filling up your flower and garden beds.

Soil temperature is a huge factor, especially with warm-weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and melons. You may have good-sized transplants that can weather a few cool days but it can really stunt their progress to have cold ‘feet’. I might wait closer to June before setting my transplants out. Transplants set out earlier can actually be set back weeks when it comes to actual production, so resist until the soil is warmer – 60F if you want to get technical. I had a grandmother that didn’t start her veggies until June and she always seemed to have a bumper crop.

Pots, baskets and raised beds will be more susceptible to temperature changes. Annuals might be in full bloom in the nurseries and garden centers but that doesn’t mean they can weather a night outside yet. If you are eager to get some pops of color outside, plant your annuals in baskets and make sure to bring them in when temps dip below 55-60F. Same goes if you fear your favorites will be picked over at the stores if you wait until they can actually spend the nights outside.

There are a few things you can do to start a little earlier in the garden:

  • Use bottles with bottoms cut off and caps removed to shelter new transplants for a week or two. Make sure to remove them if it does get hot outside or you could risk cooking the baby plant.
  • Mulch heavily
  • On an especially cool night, cover your tender plants or ones that have just set buds with cloth, overturned buckets, plastic bags or blankets.
  • Cover the ground around plants with plastic to make it heat up quicker – cut ‘Xs’ where you want to put your transplants
Budgets, building up and barrels Friday, January 29th, 2010

The minimal time I’ve been gardening at my home (7 years) I’ve learned to have, if not a strict budget, at the very least a focus of what I wanted to accomplish that season. The first year or two I was buying and collecting with abandon. It was a good start (but I did burn a hole in my pocket book). The best choices I made didn’t come from nurseries but through collecting and trading. I’ve acquired some tried and true specimens that I already knew would work well in this corner of our world. Hostas, daylilies and iris from my mom, roses I’d known grew well from childhood memories at my grandmothers’, native grasses, mints, sedums and thyme.

Now that I’d found some stuff to work with I moved onto more foundation plantings like shrubs and trees. Having all of ours wiped out by dutch elm, blight and scald those became the focus the next couple years. To save money we went to the nearly-annual city surplus sale and donated to the Arbor Day Society – for a minimal donation you get quite a few trees, though tiny, it’s worth it even if only a couple survive. We only splurged on the two trees planted the day our kids were born. Investing in perennials, trees and shrubs will always be a better deal as they, hopefully, come back year after year needing less and less maintenance as they become established.

Last year (and the year before) we put up a fence to enclose the backyard both for our kids’ and dog’s sake and to keep rough-n-tumble kids from breaking, beating and stomping the stuff we had planted. There is just something way too appealing about breaking branches.

Bringing us to this year’s focus:

  • Dirt — basically building up the veggie garden, raising or mounding the beds. This will help them heat up faster, drain better and hopefully provide more of a path to get to things. I’d love all raised beds as it would make the work easier but the building materials would probably be out of our range. By bringing in a mix of compost, dirt, peat etc. we will improve the soil quality. Before all of this I should finally get soil samples sent into the extension office so that I know where I’m at as far as pH and basic nutrient needs.
  • Water conservation — rain barrels and soaker hoses. Our old soaker hoses need replacing and they really are the smartest way to water. I’ve been talking about rain barrels for a few years and have never tackled the project. To buy one premade will cost a minimum of $150 from what I’ve perused in catalogs, but there are easier ways to make your own. I just need to find large plastic food-grade barrels that have never held any chemicals. They could be used as is by dipping watering cans into, or I can add spigots and drain hoses for greater ease with some strategic holes, faucet and hose attachments. Not only do you end up with free water, it’s actually much better water for your plants. City water around these parts is more alkaline and will increase soil pH. Just remember a couple mosquito dunks to kill the larvae.
  • Lastly, another tree splurge as there is another Pharris on the way to make his/her appearance in April. We haven’t nailed down the type of tree we want yet but I’m leaning towards an evergreen of sorts or an oak. I’ll have to call the nurseries and check on the availability of bareroot vs. container in early April.
Sugarbowl Monday, July 20th, 2009

My Sugarbowl clematis, or Scottii wasn’t looking so hot. When I received it in the mail I planted it immediately in May. It kept getting more and more pale. It looks like a scraggly tough little plant but I may have been too late trying to save it. I stuck it in an all-day-sun spot with minimal mulch. Bad idea.

Now I’ve transferred it to the West side of the house among some much taller, therefore shady, perennials. Hopefully this unusually cool and wet July will help it along. The scottii is a non-vining clematis. Its nodding little blue-cupped flowers is what seduced me. Some day maybe I’ll have my own pictures to post here.

Clematis need, in general:

  • Some sun. Some can take more than others – the late-summer blooming varieties for sure. Seem most adaptable to this.
  • The bottoms and roots like to be cool so plant a groundcover or other plant by the base to offer shade.
  • Most are vining varieties. Some will do this readily others may need a little tying. Almost all will need extra support once matured.
  • All can use a good trim. Generally the early the bloomer, the later the pruning. Late fall to early spring is a good time. The later-blooming varieties do well with leaving little above ground. Earlier bloomers do ok with leaving 8-12″ above ground.
Gardener’s travels Saturday, June 13th, 2009

birdlostTrying to keep up with one’s own garden is one thing. Trying to keep up with an avid gardener’s paradise is quite another.

My mother’s garden is beautiful to say the least. Every corner finds another hidden treasure and a dozen (understatement) or so are added every year to create quite the oasis on the prairie swamp we call home.

Over the last few years she’s perfected the art of taking leave during the growing season and leaving the garden’s care in another’s hands. Some pointers for any gardeners who like to travel are:

  • Soaker hoses – if a kind friend, neighbor or child can just hook up a hose and let the water trickle for an hour or so, this really saves time. They can turn on the tap, go get some groceries and come back to a well-watered veggie bed.
  • Pots – if at all possible move them to the shade and close to a water source, be it a rain barrel or faucet. Rain barrels are great for dipping watering cans into quickly instead of waiting for a slow hose.
  • Stakes – pure genius. If you have some newly planted tiny plants amongst a bed of older, hardier plants, stick in a tall stake beside them. Then the friend/neighbor/child can see easily what needs more frequent care.
  • Have all equipment in one area and hoses hooked-up. No need to make someone find that watering wand or sprinkler.
  • Bounty as payment. Tell your friend/neighbor/child that they need to pick anything that’s ready and take it home to eat – you won’t be there to. Nothing’s better than a salad so fresh it has elm seeds in it.
  • Tolerance. Your friend/neighbor/child has tried their damnedest to take loving care of your beautiful garden because they love you, but inevitably something will get overlooked – that’s just the life of being a gardener, you gotta handle a little loss.
A sampling Friday, May 29th, 2009

Soil sampling does cost a few bucks but it’s money well spent. The benefits include:

  • fertilizing smartly, means less throwing money blindly at a posed problem
  • lawns looking better, more grass, fewer weeds
  • veggie gardens have fewer problems when they are grown in the right soil
  • flower gardens with more blooms and sturdier growth
  • healthier, stronger trees

How to: Pick up a sample bag from your local extension office. Decide what you want tested: lawn, veggie garden, flower garden etc. Dig down 6 inches in several places of the targeted site. Mix these diggings together in a paper bag to get an average. Let them dry thoroughly if wet. Fill the sample bag to the indicated line with this soil. Mark off what you want tested  – basic ph/nitrogen test will be one amount, additional testing costs a little extra and is indicated on/with the bag. Fill in the rest of the info and then return it to the extension office. You should get a reply in a couple weeks detailing your soils needs. You can also send in multiple samples: a couple for different areas of lawn, one for veggie garden, etc.