Monday, March 21, 2011

First Day of Spring

And what a wet, dreary chilly day it has been. The best thing I can say about it is that it stopped snowing.

Meanwhile, as my heat blasts away merrily, I put a grow light on the succulents. Just for a few hours, but each gets the light that is missing today. I am planning some table top succulent gardens this year, and I want as many plants as possible available. I have a very good selection in the garden, but of course I don't want to take all of any planting. But they seem to have come through the winter well, I've been harvesting new growth as the snow melts and replanting them inside. They're taking off, with all the careful attention. Wouldn't we all!

One project I'm planning is to plant some hen n' chicks in a straw bale. I purchased a very small straw bale, roughly a foot long in A.C. Moore, and spent the required ten days "curing" it. This is just keeping it wet, so the straw starts composting and will support growth. The straw bale gardens I've seen on the internet are all normal size bales, and I do want to try them, too. They'll be perfect in a new garden space I'm starting. The bales can go right over the rough ground, keeping down weeds while the plants grow from the bale.  Then by next year they'll be rotting away, right where I'd want them. Should be interesting, we'll see. But the succulent bale will be part one. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 18, 2011

3 Ways to Jump Start Gardening Season

This early spring weather makes many of us want to get outside and get to work in the garden. But it is March, and in this area that means it could snow next week. Still, there is a lot to do before full spring hits.

1. A little raking makes a big difference. In many of my beds, there are dried stalks, etc, left from last  season.  Pulling them out improves . My Lamb's Ear was a flattened mess, the bamboo rake helped perk it up. This also works for grass. I don't rake too deeply around the plants, I leave some leaves for protection.
But under larger bushes and trees, in corners by fences or the house, getting rid of the old leaves blown in my winter winds makes things look more attractive, instantly.

2. It's kind of early to hook my hoses up again, but the furniture that didn't get put away needs to be wiped down. The same with any odds and ends that never made it back into the house last fall. Everything non organic looks better with winter's dirt wiped off. My trusty leaf blower does a great job clearing debris off the patios and other hardscapes.

3. Trimming the dead wood off perenniels, making sure matted leaves don't hold down emerging bulbs, checking out what made it through the winter alive, there are so many things to do. But don't let it overwhelm you. Start small, make lists, and try to do at least one thing a day, your garden will get prettier and prettier as springs marches along.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Actually Out There

The snow is about gone, what a relief. It died a sort of slow death by rain this week, gradually shrinking and getting dirtier and then finally the full melt. So I was able to get a good close look at the front garden.

Of course it is much too early to rake the leaves out of the beds. They add protection, especially necessary now that the snow blanket is gone. Anyway, I never like to rake too many of them out. I'd rather use the trowel to dig them into the soil a bit. It is on the spot composting. I started to use that method many years ago out of laziness. Instead of fully raking the garden in spring, I'd leave some leaves behind. Then when I was planting, of course they got turned into the ground. They condition the soil, which improves the texture, and add nutrients. On top of the soil, they act as mulch. The mulch I purchase goes much further, if it is on top of a layer of leaves. And it all decomposes, making the soil better and better, every year. I have been gardening in this spot for 24 years, and the soil has gone from having the texture of cheap cement to being reasonably black and friable. Laziness doesn't usually work out so well.

But there were many things I could do in the garden. There were dead stalks to cut down, as I leave many in place to feed the birds. There were dead annuals which succumbed very late in the season, I added them to the pile in the driveway. I bolstered up a butterfly bush that had heaved out of the ground. A bucket of soil was needed to get it straight with all roots protected again. Then I got the trimmers to clean it up a bit, but was distracted by the slimy stems of the left over herbs.

By the time I got rid of all the dead stuff in the pile, my Chihuahua, Niles, was shivering. Niles is not much for the cold. Snow storms with him are challenging. I brought him inside, and then got to work on some of my big finds, succulents in odd spots I had forgotten about. I brought them in and potted them up, succulents are going to be big in my garden this year. I have a sunny room that is slowly filling up with them. Rescued from the cold they're really taking off. To them, it is May.

Well, I'm off to trim the butterfly bush.  And before I know it, my garden will look more like this.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

And So It Begins

It is kind of a bleak Sunday today in Fishkill. Torrential rains are forecast for later, so I'll be happy to stay in today. If the snow is finally melted off my front garden, I'll be able to go out tomorrow and find some treasures. It has been covered with snow since December, I can hardly wait to see it again.

I did see snowdrops blooming in my neighbor's garden, they weren't there yesterday. Here we go.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Grow the Good Life, or How About Some Fresh Mint for that Mojito?

Has anyone else noticed that food is getting pretty expensive? It irritates the heck out of me to pay a couple of dollars for a bunch of dill, knowing that it can be grown all season with a pack of seeds for the same price or less.  If you purchase a pack of seeds each week when you do your grocery shopping, by planting time you'll have an impressive selection, and it will  seem almost free.  A small patch of herbs goes a long way, and the flavor is never quite as delicious as when you have just brought some inside.

One problem with people starting veggie gardens can be the experts. They try to be so thorough, covering all that can go wrong, that the process seems intimidating. It's a little like thinking about getting pregnant, and preparing by reading up on learning disabilities and childhood illnesses.

So this new book by Michele Owens is refreshing. Michele is a blogger on one of my favorite blogs, Garden Rant. She puts perspective back in the garden, and shows the newbie how very possible, and affordable, it is to grow some fresh food for yourself.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Getting Ready for the Garden Season

Spring is close, there are swelling buds on trees (if you look close, against the light), and market umbrellas on sale in Stop &Shop. But most importantly, there are seeds for sale. At a dollar or two a pack, hope for spring has never been cheaper. I usually start buying a pack or two a week in late January. This way, I accumulate plenty without feeling it financially. It also gives me small, attractive envelopes that I take out and enjoy (ogle) when I'm sick of winter.

I don't start many seeds in the house. I don't have good grow lights, or window sills. But I plant directly in the garden as spring progresses. More on that at the right time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1

Today is the first day of March, it's not a moment too soon to start planning your spring garden chores. And doesn't that sound like fun! Well not so much, but it's always worth the trouble.

There is probably not a garden anywhere that couldn't use some compost. This does not have to be a big messy deal. A few carrot scrapings and onion ends can be buried in a flower bed, where they quickly decompose into the soil, improving nutrients and texture. Tea bags, coffee grounds, kitchen waste of all sorts, well, no animal waste. No animal waste should be in compost, ever. It smells bad, decomposes poorly, and attracts pests, even coyotes. But small amounts of veggie peelings, shredded paper,  and other plant based material get added to my chopped up autumn leaves daily. The chopped leaf pile is under a window, so I can dump my kitchen bowls easily all winter long. As soon as I can get back there without wading through snow, I'll start turning it over. I'll add soil from last year's pots, if I didn't do it last fall. I can always get a bucket or two of friable black compost when needed. It makes a big difference in how easily the garden grows, and how productive it is.