Thursday, April 24, 2008

Movin' on up

Within days the peas I planted were showing signs of life, as were what seems like every broccoli seed I poured in the baby food jars. Now, the peas are at least an inch tall and the broccoli is ready to top two inches.

They seem to be enjoying the daily rotation I give them as they reach toward the sun. But with this growth spurt I'm wondering if I should soon put them in larger pots or just nestle them outside in a permanent location?

I'll also note that the clear, covered tray I've used has made a wonderful little greenhouse. I'd read egg cartons don't keep soil moist enough but I've yet to have to water any of the seeds since planting.

There's still no signs from the eggplant and squash, but just today I saw a lone carrot seedling has begun snaking its way out of the soil. Checking the other jars I see root growth from several others so all is well.

With these plants off and running, I'm going to start another selection, this time Walla Walla onions, English thyme, Greek basil, Nasturtiums "Jewel Mix" and "Evening Sun" Sunflower. I'll also add the established chard and borage brought home from a friends house the other day.

According to Garden Guides, borage is a good buddy plant for tomatoes and will improve their flavor, kind of like how chives are excellent companions to carrots.

Best things come ...

Sometimes there are drawbacks to monitoring the garden so closely. I become impatient with how slow things are happening.

I look around the blogosphere and see waves of color in others people's gardens, longing for more from my own patch of land. My daffodils are waning but I see little evidence that there's a volunteer to take their place. It makes me want to run out and snatch up anything blooming at the nursery.

But, then sanity returns and I remember I have plenty of work to do just to get the garden in shape. Cleanup of the kitchen garden continues, there's still a pile of mulch to spread, I have more seeds to plant. The list goes on.

Besides, if I look a bit closer, I find whispers of rewards soon to come. The globe thistle has emerged from bluebells along the north side of the house. My orange lilies have survived another season of the dogs.

The "Midwinter Fire" Dogwood also is putting on its leaves, promising to fill the dark corner near the upper deck. And the Pearl Bush has fat buds that will soon burst forth with delicate creamy white flowers.

(Bride Pearl Bush)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day every day

I confess I didn't know when Earth Day was. It was just another date to cross off the calendar. This doesn't mean our family hasn't tried to be more environmentally conscious.
With the wee one hitching a ride in the sling, I took a stroll around our house to see what tangible evidence I could find of us doing our part.

We have glass bottles of milk, purchased at our local grocer but provided by Golden Glen Creamery, a dairy about 75 miles north of Seattle. We've went back and forth between these and the traditional plastic jugs of organic milk, mainly because the two percent we prefer is always out of stock. I'm happy to say we're sticking with glass, regardless of what they have.

When buying groceries, we have reusable bags, including some our store has been giving away as part of Earth Week. It's best to leave a bag or two in your car so they're handy at all times. If you forget, either carry out purchases or opt for paper bags that can be brought back or used for garbage.

Our cleaning supplies are almost entirely from biokleen, a Vancouver, Wash.-based company that provides natural, non-toxic products. Good old vinegar is also a wonderful cleaning agent.

Chemical-free cleansers also eliminated the need to buy special detergent to wash our son's cloth diapers. There's debate over whether cloth is better when you look at the water and the chemicals some services may use to wash them. That's a decision each person must make. Still, there are greener options for disposables, or there's the diaper free practice. We simply opted to wash our own.

Outside the home, our biggest impact is through our recycling. We've added a third compost bin for a total of three around the house. There's also a wine barrel we converted to catch runoff from the roof. We plan to add another rain barrel this spring.
We've also switched to a reel mower, which I'm happy to say is working great. No noise or air pollution and you get a bit of a workout.

We buy organic, grow organic, drive a hybrid, shut off lights ... the list goes on. Others are doing more, but each day we find additional ways to reduce our footprint so we can leave a bit more earth for the next generation.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

White for Green Thumb Sunday

Mother Nature is obviously confused if she's dropping hail and flakes halfway through April.

The family hopped a ferry to Bainbridge Island on Sunday and were treated to another bout of wintry white. It was much like driving through a snow globe since it only lasted about five minutes and dissipated by the time we reached our friends' house.

Since I was out of the house for much of the day I didn't get many shots of what's happening in the yard this Green Thumb Sunday. I did peek in on my seedlings to find a little action, though. It appears the peas are germinating, and some may have shifted during their initial watering. These were planted during the last bit of hail so it's only appropriate that they sprout today, no?

And just for the sake of trying, I snapped a shot of our Japanese Maple backlit by the garage light. It's really leafed out in the past week and the leaves glow at night when the light is on.

Evening is also when I realize I need more white or light-colored plants so the garden can be enjoyed at night, too.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

In with the new ... and green

Our family's effort to reduce its carbon footprint became a bit greener Saturday when we recycled our old gas-guzzling lawn mower for a reel mower.
Each spring, King County in partnership with Seattle and the state Ecology Department holds Northwest Natural Yard Days. The program provides information on natural yard care and encourages residents to practice it with discounts on products at select retailers. This includes deals on such items as mulch, soaker hoses and electric or reel mowers.

The recycling process was pretty simple. We emptied the gas mower of fuel and oil, took it to an area transfer station (dump), where we received a $25 coupon to mail in once we bought our "green" mower.

We opted for for the Sunlawn Push Reel Mower, which had better reviews than the optional Great States version. We also bought a version not on sale at the retailer but it had more blades for better grass dicing. We still get the city's discount, I think.

A quick read of the directions, a few nuts and bolts and we were off. My husband did most of the mowing but it seemed easy enough. I especially like not having to haul the heavier gas mower out of the garage, down several steps and into multiple areas of lawn surrounded by beds.

As long as the grass isn't out of control, the workout is minimal and it takes about the same amount of time. With all the curves and twists in the lawn, it's easier to maneuver. The edging isn't as great but we have an electric weedwacker.

Are you serious?

The saying goes "April showers bring May flowers," but what does hail bring? Friday's Jekyl and Hyde weather culminated with about 30 minutes of snow, hail and a more characteristic rain. This is of course after I'd finally gotten in some of our crops.I was also prompted to again research when exactly our last frost date should be. April 15 is the standard but "to be safe" shoot for April 30.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The crops are in!

I've been able to plant most of the coral bells that had been sitting next to the house. The weather was touch and go Friday, however, so the boy and I spent it inside sowing seeds.

We're behind, yes, but the kitchen garden is still a wreck. This way by the time it's usable the seedlings should be ready to go. The forecast shows our area isn't supposed to get above 50 degrees or see sun until Tuesday so starting seeds inside probably isn't such a bad idea.

I'm sowing the seeds in egg cartons and baby food jars, a handy (green) alternative to buying pots. I have read that the egg cartons don't provide enough soil and dry out quickly so I'll keep watch over the peas I tucked in there.

There's also the question of how much to plant. How many carrots is enough for a family of 2.5? What about broccoli or peas? Advice on this is welcome.

I also filled a planter with starts I bought at a local nursery. These had also been tucked next to the house so I met with some nasty little bugs when I was transplanting them. Did I mention I hate bugs?

In all, here's our crops for this season:
Broccoli, green sprouting calabrese (3); Carrots, Nantes half long (9); Eggplant, berenjena hybrid (2); Peas, sugar snap (6); Peas, snowbird (6); Squash, winter acorn (5)
Bouquet Dill (1); Lettuce Romaine "Forellenschluss" (4); Lettuce Heirloom "Australian Yellow" (2); Parsley, curled (1); Spinach semi-savory (4)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gardening blues

(Muscari armeniacum: Grape Hyacinth)

A teething child and a tired mom means gardening is at a standstill this week. Meanwhile those plants I purchased awhile ago still sit in their nursery containers, drying up save for rain that has come through in the last couple days.
Today was a good day to plant but we had a music class and the little guy was more interested in inside play. Now he's in bed but daylight is dwindling and I just don't have the energy.
How often do others buy and plant the same day I wonder?
I can't say this is the first time I've bought plants only to put off the planting. I've lost my momentum before, ending up with a dried or fried version of the plant I'd so giddily bought the week (or two) earlier.
This time I'm being a little more careful. I've got container grown perennials that I've tucked in a corner next to the front of the house. They were outside before I bought them so I don't need to worry about hardening off. But closer to the house they're protected from winds and they're getting morning sun.
Now I just need uninterrupted sleep tonight (cue baby) and another decent day tomorrow (enter Mother Nature) and I just may complete this task. And then there's those seeds ...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A spot of blue for Bloom Day

I popped out into my yard Tuesday morning for a much needed garden fix after Monday's dreary weather and a cranky baby kept me inside all day. I'd just started snapping pictures when I heard a mysterious squawking from above. Strange sounding crow, I thought, until the silhouette of telltale mohawk revealed itself.
It seems our Steller's Jay has returned for his annual visit _ just in time for my first Garden Blogger's Bloom Day put on by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. I haven't tracked when he usually shows up but I know he isn't here year round. Last year I thought I saw two, so perhaps he has a buddy. I'll have to keep watch.
After my momentary distraction, I managed to capture a few other spots of color in the yard, including the apple tree buds that are beginning to break. We just last month had this tree pruned and I'm happy to see it producing so many flowers. When we moved into the house in 2002 it had been allowed to run wild and had lost it's "traditional" fruit bearing shape. I don't necessarily desire apples from this tree but I would like it to remain healthy.

The Weeping Cherry is in full bloom, hovering over the lupine and poppies like a pink cloud. This was the first tree I planted and I'm pleased to see it doing well.

At lower elevations, buds have started appearing on the barberry. The golden barberry last year looked like it had lost its will to live but clearly it was just in a funk and now is putting on a bright face.

The honeysuckle vine is starting to send up shoots that will eventually reach about 15 feet. It really does need to either be moved or given a proper support for it to climb. Now it tends to reach toward the path, scenting the air as you head to the front door. Nice, but sometimes it's a little much to disentangle yourself from it as you walk by. I'm debating whether an arch of it over the walkway would be a bit much for our front yard.

Nearby, there's a nice blanket of candytuft that upon closer inspection is starting to climb up last year's growth of agastache. To cut or not to cut?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Respite - Green Thumb Sunday

Sunday brought overcast skies and cooler temperatures, so we took a break from yard work and enjoyed playtime with our son. My husband did, however, treat me to some of his own floral design that I thought I'd share. He's gotten quite good at these lovely images. It's often a shame to drink the coffee.
As I sat enjoying a cuppa I caught a glimpse outside of the warm pink blush from my potted tulips. Two days ago they were still pinched closed, the colored tips just starting to show. Perhaps yesterday's warm sunny weather encouraged them to spread their wings.
It's such a joy to watch the minute changes that take place in the garden from day to day. I'm inspired to bring in more bulbs and perennials to help mark the weeks as we march further into spring.
Just today I'm noticing that my color scheme surrounding these tulips seems to be burgandy and pink, with splashes of silver. This area of the backyard includes a Hebe "Great Orme," Japanese Willow, barberry, "Emperor I" Japanese Maple, and Nandina "False Bamboo," which is tall enough now that it catches light from the setting sun for brilliant color. Columbine also peppers the bed, apparent offspring from a plant tucked in across the path three or four years ago.
This portion of the yard also slopes up and away from the house. I've been able to tuck plants in randomly, without much regard for height or size, yet still see everything. With the fountain, and despite the alley serving as its backdrop, this has turned into a nice little spot for the eye to linger and the mind to rest.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Unsavory Potager

If there's an ugly side to gardening I got a glimpse of it Saturday when I started clearing what used to be our kitchen garden. I'd been weed whacking around the house's foundation to clear a spot for our new compost bin and decided I'd just jump into the mess of grass and weeds that have crept into the potager.

A rather large pile of dried cuttings and twigs sits in what used to be full of tomatoes and squash. I think there's even the remnants of a rhododendron in there.

The mound that I'm clearing is from sod that I'd tossed in a pile over a year ago. I'd like to use it also for vegetables without disruption from the nearby Mock Orange. Perhaps I can build a trellis for peas or squash like was demonstrated at a vertical gardening exhibition during the Northwest Flower and Garden Show here in February.

We also picked up a much needed new wheel-barrow since our old one keeps getting a flat and is too heavy and unsteady. The little guy took the inaugural ride in it before we mucked it up with weeds we had to yank out to lay about 60 square feet in the front. I hate having to actually put grass back but since we're not entirely eliminating the lawn we need to maintain a bit of a path for the mower.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Backyard awakening

I've been spending so much time in the front that I've barely noticed that spring has crept into the backyard.



Japanese Willow