Potato Update & much more

It’s hard to know where to begin this time of year – everything is absolutely bursting into life.  The first thing I do in the morning is sneak outside and walk around to see what’s happened overnight.  The potatoes are just breaking through the ground – wow, that seems fast!

When the rest of the newer tulips started opening, I remembered the color palette I chose last year. 



I’m beginning work on a major project, probably better photographed from the roof, which I’ll do another time.  We have a narrow strip on the back edge of our property that was once an alleyway, abandoned by the city and turned over to the homeowners.  It never had real “grass” back there, and is kind of an unused area behind our garden.  Basically, a weed patch, which probably doesn’t amuse the neighbors.  We’re removing the sod, making trails, which will be kind of winding “figure 8’s” so that the kids can still run and play and hide back there.  In fact, they’ve been helping with the weed and sod removal. 

The paths will be sort of meandering and curvy – I have room for probably 5-6 large beds across the back of the property line.  The plantings will be mainly native perennials, for birds, butterflies, etc.  The bed farther back is covered in half-decomposed leaf mulch to try to kill the grass and weeds before planting.  It doesn’t look like much yet; we have a long ways to go.

My shady rock garden, just beginning to show some blooms.  This was a weedy undeveloped area under these old lilacs when we moved in.  The new shade beds are just behind this rock garden.  I left access to the lilacs because my kids like to CLIMB in them.  I can’t keep them out – if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

Mmmmm, just beginning to harvest some greens.

First green salad of the spring!






May 13, 2008 at 7:41 pm 1 comment

First spring vegetables

Today we had the first “harvest” of the season – a big bunch of asparagus.  Delicious! We are mere days away from the first spring salad; I’ve already tasted some spinach and radishes.  I thinned a few today and got some radishes big enough to eat; I have two plantings in, currently, and probably will do a third planting on Friday, if the weather cooperates.

Some of last year’s tulip plantings are up and beginning to open.  I love this mauve color.

Earthworms are out in force.  Every day I’m surprised to see them up on top of the soil, moving from place to place.  Sometimes there are several dozen in just one shovelful of garden soil.

Blueberry update: Things are looking amazing! It seems we have finally solved the rabbit issue; we may have hundreds of blossoms this year – and we’re crossing our fingers for berries.  If we can protect the bushes a few more years, I believe they will be too large for the rabbits to do much significant damage.

Peas! I’m not sure if these were planted early enough.  I readily admit I’ve been a miserable failure with peas.  The kids are not amused at these futile attempts, as peas are one of their favorite garden foods – they eat them right off the buhes.  These are a small variety, just a bush pea a few feet high.  Our weather here tends to get hot too quickly, following the last frost, and then the plants wither.  This variety is called “Frosty” and can go in earlier, so I’m hoping we’ll get something.  They have withstood a couple frosts already.

The stuff that looks like sawdust – is sawdust.  The city spent all day in the neighbor’s tree making several large trimmings – and the sawdust and small twigs, along with some bigger branches, are littering a large area of my yard.  Frustrating.  At least no big limbs fell (to my knowledge).


May 7, 2008 at 11:05 pm 5 comments

Asparagus rows and Potatoes

I was at the nursery last night and saw the asparagus crowns in the refrigerators.  Who doesn’t need more asparagus? Of course I brought home a box. They’re Jersey Giant, male plants.  (The female plants send up skinny, woody stalks).

To plant asparagus, you dig a trench about ten inches deep.  Our soil doesn’t need much amendment for growing asparagus – it’s nice and rich.  I dug a trench near our other row, trying not to disturb the established asparagus.  Then, I placed the crowns in like this:

The crowns are about 18″ apart.  Then, I spread out the roots, carefully, and covered with about 2″ of soil.  As the shoots begin to poke through, you add additional soil, on so on, until the trench is full.

The first year we’ll mulch in the fall, maybe with straw.

It’s a three year project – this asparagus will be ready to eat in three year’s time.  Having some already takes the sting out of having to wait.  I hope to be able to pickle and/or can what we don’t eat. 

I haven’t been great about adding additional soil/compost/manure to the established row, but this year I have some ready and waiting to go on once the aspargus is finished this spring.

Potatoes were the other project this morning! I’ve never planted potatoes before, though I’ve seen it done.  I thought the kids might enjoy digging them up, and as our last frost date is May 15, today is the day to plant.  I got a hardy northern variety, Norkota, which is supposed to be easy to grow.  Seed potatoes are the best thing to try to get the very best results, and they are inexpensive.  I’d like to try some more exotic varieties, but I’ll start with a white eating potato.  If the outcome is disastrous, I won’t feel so bad.

Here’s what they look like:

And then you cut in half, or even quarters, leaving eyes in each piece to develop into the plant.  The cut side is planted downward.

The potatoes go into a prepared bed.  You could plant with a trench method, or a mound method.  I chose to plant in a mound because I don’t need rows, and I could make use of one entire garden bed.  I made a mound in the rectangle – it sort of looked like a fresh grave!

This area actually gets full sun – it’s shaded now because I got up very early.  Then, the potatoes go in, about 3-4 inches deep.  These are about 12″ apart.  Ideally they would be 15″.  We’ll see if they’re too crowded or not.

These are covered – after they are up, and about 8″ of stem showing, more soil is mounded on top – the potato will form tubers off the stem.  The actual potato piece also needs to remain covered – otherwise it could turn green and become toxic. 

I just read about an interesting method of growing potatoes without a garden space, vertically.  You use 4 tires; lightly cultivate underneath, then set potatoes in the first tire; cover with soil.  As the plant grows up, cover the stem again, up to the top of the first tire, and place another tire so that the plant is forced upwards to reach the sun.  You repeat this step with each added tire, and the tubers are formed vertically along the plant stem within the stack of tires.  The tires make the stack “hot” and fast growing.  Very ingenious! Of course tires aren’t so pretty in your yard – so you’d have to pick the right spot.


May 1, 2008 at 4:12 pm 5 comments

Asparagus is up!

The asparagus is poking it’s way through the earth! Usually within a week or so of finding the first spear, we are devising ways to use it – we get a lot at once.  There’s no comparing fresh picked asparagus with what you get in the stores.  My kids even break it off and eat it raw.  I like to grill it, stir fry with garlic – so many ways to enjoy asparagus.  I might try canning or freezing some this year.  It’s hard to believe, but when the weather gets warm, these shoots can grow five to six inches overnight.


I spent the last few nights covering spring bulbs with sheets – we’ve had below thirty temps, and even some snow! The violas are starting to pop up though, and even bloom.  The ground is warm enough that we haven’t had frost.  They’ve survived the cold temperatures, in spite of the leaf mulch being removed.  I love these first little harbingers of spring:

A peek inside the cold frame:

These seedlings look much smaller than they really are; I should have sropped something in there for scale. The radishes will be ready to pick soon.  We should have some salad vegetables! The spinach is looking good, carrots, onions and cilantro are also up! It was 30 this morning when I checked the box, but a balmy 60 inside.  I kept a votive burning overnight since we had below-freezing temps.


April 29, 2008 at 4:34 pm 3 comments

Spring Weather

We’ve been having days alternating between too cold and wet to be outdoors, or very warm and dry.  Last week I decided to lay out some chip paths in one section of the vegetable garden – this makes it easier for me to step in and move around without getting muddy, or crushing down the planting beds.

Rather than planting in rows, I can plant these beds solidly and replace with new plantings throughout the summer. 

I started at the back with some early spring plantings – they will be finished before anything else will be shading them. 

It’s no accident that the bed width is a little less than the distance of my arm length – I can reach to the center of each planting bed.  Ideally these would be raised beds, but we just aren’t able to do it quite yet!

We’ve since had some thunderstorms, and the paths are still in place, and the spinach, lettuce, cilantro are all poking up.  I think the chips are keeping the soil from floating away.  Oh, the peas have been up for a bit, too!

Some of the first bulbs, other than the crocus, are either up or blooming.  The standard daffodils are some of the first! Everyone has seen these, nothing fancy, but their sunny-looking faces always make me smile.

And these.  Bluebells?

The bulbs I planted last year have not yet bloomed.

The last big bit of news is that I’ve procured four 55 gallon food grade barrels in order to make rain barrels! I hope to have one of those up and running by late May or early June. 

April 26, 2008 at 3:31 pm 2 comments

The Rabbits Strike Again!

The first crocus are up and now blooming.  I took these shots yesterday – I chose this giant variety to line some of my pathways.  I intended for them to come up kind of randomly placed around the edges of some stone pathways in the yard, and they should look like this:

But instead, I got mostly this:

A full 80% of the crocus I planted last fall have been eaten! I don’t know if these can recover or not, with some new shoots; the bulbs need to store energy from the sun in the foliage in order to bloom again next year, and they’ve been mowed short at the ground.  Anyway, case in point for fencing the vegetable garden.

I don’t begrude those hungry mama rabbits for eating the first green shoots, but it sure is frustrating.  They’ve even been trying to taste the rosebushes.

After a gorgeous 70+ day yesterday, we’re getting rain today.  I spent the morning putting in some semi-permanent woodchip paths in one section of the veggie garden, before the rains started.  My idea is to divide into beds I can plant intensively, and reach across from either side, eliminating a lot of the unused space.  I hope to mulch better this year, cut down on weed growth – and if I really get inspired, put in a drip system.  Too wet for pictures of the paths today!


April 17, 2008 at 5:57 pm 3 comments

Cobea Scandens

I have a couple areas in my flower gardens that I usually fill with an annual vine; I’ve been looking around for something I haven’t tried before.  Usually this ends up being some sort of odd experiment.  One year I tried to germinate a Black Eyed Susan vine

The first year, I stuck the seeds in peat pots and hoped for the best.  I went through two seed packets, and NOTHING.  I realized the seed packets rarely give enough information; the vine is an African native, requires some warm temperatures for germination, and since germination takes so long, they rot easily if too wet.  I solved that problem by planting them in bigger pots, keeping just barely moist, and putting a heating pad underneath the tray to keep the temperatures closer to 80 during the day.  Success! The plant is beautiful paired with blues, and makes a nice trailing plant in a hanging pot.  It is tender, and doesn’t take off outdoors until the nights are quite warm, and then takes a lot of pinching back to keep in place, unless you don’t mind it taking over! 

Cardinal Climber is another climbing vine I tested out a few years ago.  Burpee sells the seeds – it’s a tropical climber, too.  Lovely, but not much in the way of blooms in my climate until fall.  Once it takes off, it’s also fast-growing. They are very tender and can’t be placed outside until all danger of frost is gone.  I usually wait until June 1.  The foliage is interesting and unique, the blooms are small but pretty and trumpet-shaped.

Morning glory is an old favorite – I nick the seed coating and soak in water to get them going quickly.  I usually sow those directly in the ground.  I think this blue variety is Grandpa Ott’s:

Two years ago we tried Moonflower.  What a shame, I never took a photograph.  It resembles a morning glory, but is GIGANTIC in proportion.  The leaves are enormous, and each bloom is nearly 12 inches across, and white.  It’s a night blooming flower, and smells divine.  We grew those by the back patio so we could catch the scent at night.  Burpee says the blooms are 6″ across, but ours were much larger.

This year, the trial plant is Cobaea Scandens, also known as Cup and Saucer vine.  I’ve learned my lesson and poked around and found as much information as I could before planting.  It’s a Mexican native, and has a lovely looking flower.  From what I read, it may be difficult to germinate.  Reading between the lines, I decided it must need very warm soil, so I’ve got the starter pots sitting on top of a warmer, and the germination period is three weeks, so rot might be an issue.  The seeds are about the size of a dime, and paper-thin.  I only have nine, so we’ll see how this grand experiment proceeds.  No chance of runaway seeds next year, as it’s pollinated by fruit bats.  My main worry is that I’ve planted it a few weeks too late in order to get fall flowers.  It all depends on how soon we get frost.

The other new (to me) vine I’m trying out this year is Hyacinth Bean.  Wikipedia has a nice article with pictures of the seeds, pods and flower.  Those are already pushing up, easy-grow.  They have a lovely purple color and interesting pods – I’ll try some of those potted, and also in the ground as a decorative plant, and probably pair it with the Black Eyed Susan vine.  It can, however, be poisonous, but my kids are old enough to recognize the plants I point out.

April 13, 2008 at 3:10 pm 7 comments

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