Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Hot Mess

There comes a time when your little seedlings, so tenderly started from itty bitty seeds, start resembling the offspring of Medusa.

Here, a mixed flat of cabbages, kale, broccoli and cauliflower (with a few cosmos and calendula tucked in for good measure) are demonstrating that yes, this is what they look like when they need potting on.  I'll be spending part of my long weekend moving them to larger homes with fresh seed compost mix.

And of course, I'll be starting a few more seeds...and potting on others...and pinching out top growth...

What else is a long early spring weekend for, I ask you?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Trap Plants

Have you ever tried using a trap plant in the garden?

I have such an issue with the cabbage white butterflies.  They really, really enjoy my happy heirloom varieties and organic gardening techniques.  I swear, they make a u-turn off my neighbors' Sevin-laced poison plants and head directly into the salad bar that is my brassica bed.

The tiny seedling above is Lunaria, commonly known as Honesty or Money Plant.  I grew up knowing it as Silver Pennies (or Dollars, depending on who's house I was at).  It's in the brassica family, kin to the more delicious cabbages and broccoli of the world.  In theory, the cabbage whites should be just as attracted to these plants as they are to my heirloom Couve Tronchuda kale plants.  Particularly if said kale plants are fenced in by my soon-to-be-built cabbage cages.

I'm hoping they also work to deter the cabbage moths from eating my exotic purple Graffiti cauliflower.
Just look at those wee beauties.  Cannibal cabbage moths, beware.  This year, the brassica bed is OFF. LIMITS.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Hard-To-Starts

I enjoy a good gardening challenge.  New bed from scratch?  No problem--well, sore back but whatever, it's all good.  Add a trellis for more climbers? Sure thing.

But perhaps my more favorite thing is to tackle the hard-to-start seeds.  Things like the Fraise des Boise strawberry seeds above, persnickety little seeds needing moisture and light to germinate.
Or these lavender seeds, also needing light to germinate.
Or these gourds, which are both very hard and very prone to not germinating. 

I've had great luck so far, which is wonderful.  Everything is growing so well, and is so happy, I think in part to the seed compost mix I make up using peat moss, worm castings, vermiculite and perilite.  They can't help but grow in all that goodness!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Tomatoes and Peppers, Oh My!

The Germination Station has worked its magic again.  My tomatoes and pepper seedlings have popped up beautifully, and are growing strong.
Hot peppers, sweet peppers.  Orange tomatoes, red tomatoes, beef steak and plum.
They are stretching and curving, growing toward the light.  In another week or so, I'll pop them into a larger pot, giving their young roots bigger spaces to grow into and planting the thin stem in deeply which will encourage more rooting.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dahlia Update

The Great Dahlia Experiment is continuing on in its successful journey.  The two inch high transplants have settled in and recovered from the shock of potting on nicely.  In fact, I think I need to find some larger pots for them to grow into soon, as they are really taking off.  They are now, on average, three-and-a-bit to four inches high.  I am so pleased!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Garden Bling

Given that this time of year it seems that we live in the Land of Sticks and Mud, garden shopping calls for a little sparkle every now and then.  I found these fun treasures at the garden seminar I attended last weekend.  They are locally made in Hayward, Wisconsin, from old spoons and forks.  I love their shiny silverness, and the bright purple jewel in the center!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Super Score!

Coming back from a fun gathering of the Knotty Knitters the other afternoon, I discovered that a neighbor had put out several dozen fat bags of leaves on the curb.  (They had been using them for foundation insulation over the winter.)  I promptly drove up the block, hopped out and asked if I could take some bags home with me.

I think she was a little perplexed, but she said sure, so I heaved six bags into the back of the truck. 

Once home, I lugged them into the backyard and placed them around the edges of the back deck, where they'll be hidden from view (mostly) and can quietly rest for a year to do their thing.

That thing, of course, is becoming primo leaf mould compost.  All you need to do is poke some holes in the leaf bag, top and bottom sides, and leave it for about a year.  In time, it will decompose down into a luscious mixture that you can use to top dress garden beds, mix into soil, or add to the other compost generated on the Farmlette.  It's really quite a simple process.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Adding to the Shrubbery

I have dreams of replacing the persistently weedy lawn with more generous garden beds, punctuated by grassy paths and discrete dog potty areas.  Of course, to do this means adding in some strong shrubs to add depth and interest (as well as permanent plantings that eventually become low maintenance).  I plan to add gooseberries, because I like them and they are indestructible.  Nothing much can kill a gooseberry bush...

As well as more soft fruit, I want to add some flowering shrubs.  I've recently planted peonies, which die back to the ground in the fall, and next, I want to round up another cottage garden classic: the hydrangea.

I do love them, in all their casual, falling over gracefully style.  I love their large mopsy flower heads in ranges of pinks and blues.  I love how they are influenced by the chemistry of the soil.  And I love how they seem to thrive on benign neglect.  They are so much less flighty than roses (which I do love...and plan to have a few more of in the garden as well...) and respond to half-hearted pruning once a season in fine style.

Plus, I love how easy they are to propagate.  Check out this video demonstrating the simple technique:
Now, all I need to do is find someone with healthy hydrangea bushes who is willing to let me come and trim off some of the new growth in late spring-early summer, and who maybe would like to do some tradesies for them.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Pink Peony Plantings

I love peonies, so it is surprising that I don't actually have any peony plants in the garden.  I know.  It is a tad shocking.  Me, not have a plant that I like?  Wild.

This week, I decided to remedy that.  I came across a bag of bare root peony plants, with five fat and healthy roots in it, that simply cried out to come home.  Since the ground is workable now, and it's still cold enough that bare root plants haven't entirely woken up yet, it was the perfect time to remedy my lack of peonies.

The variety I chose is a fairly common one, a lovely pink bloom called Sara Bernhardt.  In fact, it's a pretty common one, a classic peony variety with lovely double blooms and prolific blossoms covering glossy green foliage.  I decided that they would make a nice border at the top of Berry Hill, separating the new raised beds (yet to be built) from the established bush cherries and fledgling blueberry bushes.  After digging a trench, it was a simple matter of spacing the roots about every three feet, covering them back over with soil and a layer of wood chip mulch.  With luck, the roots will establish themselves and emerge as lovely plants once the weather warms up.

Now, I just need to gather some blowsy hydrangeas to scatter around the place and I'll have the bones of a real cottage garden.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Great Cress Experiment, Continued.

My lively little watercress plants have reached the second set of true leaves stage of growth, which means they are likely ready to move to an all-water environment.  After dislodging a chunk, it was simply a matter of gently swishing the teeny plants in a bowl of water to remove the seed starting mix.
The new location for the continued growth of the watercress is in buckets, filled with clean water straight from my well.  In each bucket (there are two) I've placed an air stone, running off a very inexpensive aquarium pump, to keep the water fresh and provide the roots with plenty of good oxygen for healthy growth.
Into each bucket I put a plastic colander, found for roughly $1, and a layer of aquarium rocks.  Then, small bunches of the watercress are plonked into the rocks and gently tucked into place.  The colanders allow the cress to have wet feet with their green leafy bits above the water's surface.

Of course, there were quite a lot of little cress plants left over.  I put a few clumps into small mason jars, just in case the buckets don't take off, and the rest?  Well, those got a hair cut and became a delicious lunch:
Soft scrambled eggs on toast, topped with fresh watercress.  Ahh.  The lunch of champions.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dahilas, Growing On

The dahlias have grown and grown and are nearly three inches tall.  Hooray, dahlias!  They are developing hardy little root systems, which should eventually fatten up into tubers, so it's time to take them out of their collective nursery and give them their own little pots to fill.
First things first: it's important to gently loosen and lift the little seedlings from their damp soil mix. I find a Popsicle stick works beautifully for this purpose.  I simply slide it under and next to the plant, and lift verrrrrrrrry gently, working around until the plant is freely moving and ready to lift.
Once its free, be sure to hold the little plant by a leaf.  If you hold it by the stem, it'll be crushed and then, sadness, the wee little plant is dead.  Damage a leaf?  It'll grow a new one, no problem.
Check out that amazing little root ball!  It's full of happy little rootlets, all working away and eventually, growing into a sweet-potato-esque tuber.

The final step is to transfer the seedling into it's new home.
I find the Popsicle stick is handy for helping tuck the roots into their new home, and for patting the soil mix in around them.  A gentle press down to firm in the plant, a little drink of water, and now my dahlias are ready to grow a little taller in their own 4-inch pots.

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Tucked inside these humble coir pots are some rather unique seeds.  Speckled apple gourd seeds are a wide, flat and very hard seed which are notoriously slow to germinate and slow to get growing.  In order to get the best germination possible, it's recommended that you scarify the seed, then soak it overnight, then plant it, and then hope for the best. (Encouraging, wouldn't you say?)

Scarifying seeds is pretty easy, although there is a teeny trick to getting it just right.  This video has a pretty good demonstration:
See? Just do it with love in your heart, and the seed will repay you by germinating (hopefully).

In case you were curious about what a speckled apple gourd looks like, it should look something like this while it's growing:
from loghouseplants.com
Pretty aren't they?  I think they'll be fun to have scrambling around the back fence, and once dried they'll make fun birdhouses to hang around the garden.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Looking for a Weekend Activity?

If you happen to be looking for something to do today, and you have a yen to be filled with the joy of spring in Wisconsin, you should come check out the Anticipating Spring activities happening at the Hungry Turtle Food Hub in Amery, WI.  I'll be talking about sowing seeds first thing (and you can take home a little pot with tomato seeds planted in!), then there's a talk about birds in Wisconsin followed by an afternoon of maple madness.  Plus, you can have lunch or a delicious vanilla cupcake (oooh...I love them so....) at the Farm Table restaurant located next door.  It'll be lots of fun and great information, so if you're in the area, come on over!

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Little Entertainment

I am an avid YouTuber.  If I sit down to watch television, I most often tune into Netflix for a variety of murder-drama-mysteries or I can be found watching gardening programming on YouTube.  Actually, I'm rather addicted to my YouTube garden channels...

So, in case you've been pining for a new viewing addiction, here's a few of my favorite YouTube channels:

1.  The Horticultural Channel

Home to a handful of shows, this channel is headlined by possibly my favorite gardening show of all, Sean's Allotment Garden.  You can also subscribe to the podcast available on iTunes, and check out the website here. (I love Sean so much I knitted him a hat...check out the end of season 1, where he debuts a rather dashing TARDIS beanie.)

2. River Cottage

My not so secret love of Hugh Fernsley-Whittingsall is fostered by watching the episode doses of the River Cottage channel.  Not only are there some wonderful recipes shared, but you also get to see how the animals are raised and the veggies are grown on this unique farm-to-table phenomenon known as River Cottage.

3.  Lavender and Leeks

Aside from having a penchant for men from the British Isles, I also enjoy a dose of complete girly cuteness, particularly if it includes an purple garden shed.  (Purple SHED. Love.)  And, who doesn't love a host named Katie who pedals to her allotment garden on a tricycle, while wearing red wellies?  This season, she's getting chickens on her plot, which should equal to even more adorableness.

4. Titli's Busy Garden

It's a little wacky, a little wild, and completely original.  I love Titli.  She has a baking channel, and a kitchen channel, but it's her garden channel that I love the most.  Sometimes, when I need a dose of humor, I watch a marathon of Titli's Garden.  It's like having that wonderful crazy friend over to visit, the one who you can't help but laugh with...and if you watch it while drinking some wine, or beer, or sipping a particularly good smokey whiskey, it elevates to Emmy Award winning level viewing.  Titli ROCKS.

There you have it, a partial list of some thoroughly good channels to tune into on YouTube.  It's not all cat videos, or dash cams from Russia.  You can actually learn from some sorta experts who are completely fun to watch.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Never Toss TP Rolls!

Ah, the ubiquitous TP roll.  Imminently useful for various craft projects, and quite handy in the gardening department as well.  Here you see my current useful repurposing project: using them as inserts into a 36-cell seed starting tray.

Some things, such as sweet peas, need an early start to encourage early flowering during the growing season.  However, they do NOT enjoy short, squat growing spaces.  To accommodate their desire to make a rather deep tap root, simply put a TP roll into the cell and then fill with seed sowing compost.  Pop in your sweet pea seeds after soaking them overnight (it helps speed germination) and wait.  Within a week or two, you should see happy little pea plants appearing.

With any luck, I'll get scads of blooms that look just like the one on the seed packet:
Aren't they lovely?  I can't wait until they are blooming, and perfuming the garden with their sweet scent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Handy Seedy Resource

I know I've mentioned this book before, but seeing as we are entering the throes of seed starting season, it bears mentioning again. 

When I'm faced with a difficult-to-start seed, or just trying out a plant I've never tried growing from seed before, the first book I reach for is my well-worn copy of The New Seed-Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel.  It really helps when you are starting challenging things such as dahlias or watercress or sweet peas or lupine from seed.  It's also helpful in troubleshooting seed starting issues, like persistent die-off or damping off of new seedlings.  While there aren't lots of pictures to guide you through the process, the text is well written and quite easy for even the most novice of gardeners to follow.

You can find copies of this in many used bookstores in their gardening sections, as well as online.  Even if you buy a new copy, the cost is well worth the many years of seed starting advice you'll get out of it.  I highly recommend adding a copy of this book to your personal garden library.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Readying the Cold Frame

Thanks to a good friend clearing out the garage in preparation for a cross-country move, I acquired three lovely, sturdy windows last summer. (Thanks, Joyce!)  I stored them on the porch, but now that the weather is turning toward spring, it was time to march them outside and get the cold frame ready.  They are just laid across my cold frame forms, but they are rather heavy and fit fairly well, so I don't feel the need to add hinges and make them permanent.  It's actually much simpler to have them easily removable--I tend to grow some salad crops in the cold frames in the summer months, and I like to take the glass off before winter's heavy snows appear.

In a handful of  weeks, I should be able to start setting out some cold-loving seeds for early germination in the cold frames, as well as finding room for those plants that need some hardening off before planting out into the garden.  I love prepping the cold frames--it's one of the ways that I know that spring is on the way!

Monday, March 9, 2015

My End of the Bargain

Meet the newest addition to the Farmlette: Alys the rabbit.  Alys (pronounced Alice) is name after one of the quirkier hosts of BBC gardening programming, Alys Fowler.  If you haven't seen the Edible Garden series yet, you should check it out on YouTube and then the cute-whimsy wonderfulness will seduce you as well.  Watching that program makes me want to move to a teeny Victorian house with a postage stamp backyard in the heart of London...

Back to the rabbit.  Alys was acquired as my half of a barter, where Mohair and Cashmere the fiber bunnies moved to live with a happy hand-spinner who adores working with angora rabbit fiber.  While they will enjoy being combed and plucked in sublime conditions over there, Alys will be living the good life here.  Eventually, she'll become Hercules' second wife, but not until she grows a bit bigger.  She's about five-and-a-half months old now, so her childbearing years are not yet upon us.  That's a good thing, as she's slowly settling into her new life living in a big cage by herself (she was previously in with her siblings) and learning to not be scared of me.  She's figured out that I am the source of delicious treats, like dried apples and broccoli ends, and that her water dish is not for swimming in.  All in all, it's a pretty smooth transition.
Isn't she a beauty.  Welcome, Miss Alys!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

DIY Bucket

You may remember me posting a month or so ago about something called the Alaska Grow Bucket.  I rounded up everything except the grommets (which I will be ordering soonish from Amazon, I think), and made my first attempt.  I'm pleased with it, and it only took about five minutes to make.  One bucket, one grocery bag, and one colander (hidden in the bottom of the bucket under the bag) and tah dah, you have a self-watering container large enough for peppers and tomatoes.
So here's how much this bucket cost me:
five gallon bucket on sale for $2
cheap reusable grocery sack $1
small plastic colander $1
Total cost: $4 for a large DIY self-watering container.

I already had the drill bit but that would've been about $4 if I needed to buy it. And if you add in the t-connector which will fit in the bottom hole ($3) and the grommet ($1), you really can make one of these for about $12 or less.  Of course, I need to figure out the flow regulator bucket and the DIY rain barrel water butt, but I am pretty happy so far with both the cost and the simplicity of making these.  I have visions of bountiful pepper harvests this summer...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dahlias & Cress

So a little update on the dahlias and watercress experiments:  The dahlias, seen above, are doing fabulously well.  They are about an inch tall already, and only took four days to germinate.  I think they are quite determined to grow.
As for the watercress, it is quite happy in it's little bog.  The seedlings have stretched to an inch or so tall, and their teeny first leaves are growing larger.  There are masses of them, which is lovely, and at the rate they are growing, it won't be long before they are ready to transfer to their future aerated-bucket homes.  I envision egg and cress sandwiches for tea in the garden this spring

Sunday, March 1, 2015

It Begins...

On Friday morning, a rather large (and amazingly well packed) box arrived.  Inside was a dozen-and-a-half beautifully wrapped and cushioned eggs.  My Swedish Flower Hen eggs!  Every single egg, including the bonus two Cream Legbar eggs, had arrived uncracked, unfrozen and looked beautiful.

After freeing them from their bubble wrap and letting them warm up to room temperature, it was time to fill the automatic egg turner.
Aren't they beautiful?  In 19 days, I'll take them out of the turner and then, three days later, they should start hatching. 
I can hardly wait!