Friday, March 27, 2015

Flower Arrangement Challenge, March

I decided to look in new places for flowers. This is a trio of ornamental cherry and plum tree blossoms and the great structural sweet gum tree leaf blooms. I think they look like hops.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Building a Garden Fence, Part I

As the weather warms day by day, I am persistently reminded by the voice in my head that I must complete the vegetable garden construction soon. Kale, onion, and shallot plants now need a permanent home. I have visions of rabbits and deer munching on the lettuce that is beginning to sprout. The day job is now getting in the way of my plans. I don't have enough energy at the end of a school day to build planter beds or haul rock. Instead, work is mostly consigned to weekends, and as so many of us know, weekends simply aren't long enough. We continue on, though, weary but undaunted.

Turfman and I spent Saturday digging post holes for the fence. We had 24 to measure, mark, and dig. We were told in no uncertain terms by the woman working in Home Depot's tool rental department that I could not serve as the second person on a two-person auger. She rather sternly looked me up and down and said, "You'll get tossed around. You're too little. No way." So we rented the one-person auger, and Turfman gave his shoulders a monumental workout. We also gave ourselves an additional challenge: we had rented the auger for four hours, and the drive to Home Depot is 20 minutes one-way. We essentially started with 40 minutes less. At one point, we despaired of ever getting done.

Lest anyone think I just stood around watching, I did try to pull my own weight. I hauled the 4"x4"x8' posts from the truck to the garden. I lugged bags of cement. We decided it was best to set all of the corner posts so that we could run twine between them to mark where the other holes should be placed. Then we decided that we should set all of the doorway posts, too. In the end, I carried each post to its hole and checked it for level. Miraculously, we dug the 24 holes, set 10 posts, and returned the auger within the time limit. We were tired. Turfman's shoulders were aching, and I had a sunburn. But we made real progress. We set four more posts tonight. That leaves 10 left to set. Then comes the work of attaching the framing boards and the wire fencing.

It's starting to look like a garden

I've had the vision of this space in my head and on paper for some time now, but as we completed each planter bed and placed it, the garden looked less and less intentional. At times, it seemed a potential disappointment. It's surprising how the view has changed after this weekend. The posts now mark the boundaries and indicate where doors will be hung, and now the space feels right. I'm really excited to see the finished product.

Getting the gravel paths laid

Hopefully, everything will be in place and the garden complete by 17 April, which is our average last frost date. Then I can confidently plant the rest of the beds and begin tending my dream garden.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Caring for Seedlings and a Little Design Challenge

I apologize for the long gap in posts, but the Green B has been terribly under the weather. In fact, I suffered (and I really want to stress that word...I make suffering an art form, if I'm honest with myself) for two weeks, and I still have a few lingering effects at week three. I was not careful around all of my students who were coughing and sneezing and sweating all over the papers they were turning in. I should have worn a medical mask and rubber gloves and entered the classroom each time with grand bursts of Lysol, but I worried they might think me a little melodramatic. So I got sick and became melodramatic. I now feel as if I'm emerging, once again, from my germ-fueled hibernation.

This makes me feel all the more in tune with nature. After all, lots of things are beginning to come back to life around the property (which is still unnamed). We enjoy seeing all of the spring bulbs produce flowers and the fall-blooming Clematis plants in a sprint to produce leaves. Everything seems to have fresh, swollen buds waiting to burst open. We are even discovering that the previous owners may have planted some things that were not apparent last summer when we first arrived, so we'll be able to take full stock of what we have.

They're sparse, but we have a good show for our
first year growing them.

Things are also moving along in the productive garden. I received a notification email today that my seed potatoes are due to arrive from Seed Savers Exchange on Thursday, and a number of plants I've grown from seed are ready to be transplanted into the garden. I've been hardening off a lot of them now that the temperatures are getting warmer. 

A mix of seedlings getting a little time in the sun

Our average last frost date is in April, so some seedlings will have to continue waiting out the time indoors. By the time it's warm enough for these tomato plants to go out, they may be ready to produce. 

Principe Borghese and Moneymaker tomatoes under grow lights

We've been making progress in the vegetable garden, but I'm not ready to show everyone the full picture yet. In the interim, I hope that a photo of the garlic bed and the recently planted pea and lettuce bed will suggest that we are, indeed, working toward our ultimate goal. 

Let's hope that peas will soon start scrambling up the trellis
I made.

Speaking of goals, I've decided to set myself two little challenges this year. The first is a result of my reading a post on Margaret Roach's blog, A Way to Garden, about Debra Prinzing's books Slow Flowers and The 50-Mile Bouquet. Basically, she challenges us to take what's growing around us to make our floral arrangements. I'm horrible at seeing the potential of such things, so I thought this would be a nice way to stretch myself creatively. My first attempt is meager, but I hope to get better as the season comes into full swing. I'll try to do this every other week.

Flower Arrangement #1:
A duo of daffodils

The second challenge is to post on the alternate weeks something I've made in the kitchen from what's growing in the garden. This could get interesting. Or it could be an unmitigated disaster. We'll just have to wait and see.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Winter is always a guest that outstays its welcome. In October, I pull sweaters and scarves out of storage bins, giddy that I'm being reunited with things I haven't seen in months. By February, I'm sick of them all. Walking into the closet these days is as exciting as getting my teeth cleaned. This year is no different. I can't imagine how people in the North can cope, especially those who must now be wondering if they'll be buried in snow. I feel for them. Snow is uncommon here, but as I write this post the rain is falling heavily outside, and the temperatures are dropping along with it. By morning, we should expect to find a sheet of ice blanketing all that we survey, so it's hard to imagine the days when I can walk through a lush vegetable garden in the summer sun. 

Winter makes me fidgety. I've scanned every gardening book and magazine in the house two and three times. I just want to get outside. My seed starting operation is all that keeps me from losing my patience. I come home every day to fuss over my little seedlings and count down the days until they'll be mature enough to go into the vegetable garden. Sometimes it feels like the countdown has stalled, even though the seedlings haven't.

Greek pepperoncini seedlings

I suspect we all are desperate for a little green these days. Maybe we need something to remind us how wonderful the green can be. I've been looking back at last year's vegetable garden photos, and they do make me excited for the warm days to come. Seeing things growing in the garden, if only in photo form, renews my faith that spring is certainly on its way. Hopefully they'll do the same for you.

Last year's yellow pear tomatoes

Cherry bell peppers

Greek pepperoncini peppers

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Gentle Plea to Peas

Dwarf Grey Sugar Snap...Flowers

Dear Sugar Snap Pea-

You may not remember me. After all, I was only truly successful at growing you when I lived in Michigan, which was nearly five years ago. If that doesn't ring a bell, I was the gardener who couldn't get you to the dinner table. I ate every single one of you whilst picking you. I couldn't help myself. I apologize for my own memory lapse, but I have no idea which variety I planted. I was new to gardening and took poor notes...or no notes at all. Whoever it was, at least the taste was memorable. You certainly lived up to your French name of mangetout (eat all).

I'm writing because I've been thinking about you a lot lately, what with the spring planting season marching ever closer, and I've been a little worried about our relationship of late. In the past couple of years, your performance has been rather different from those heady days in Michigan. As you may see from the photo above, you put on quite a show in my Florida garden, but, if I may be so bold, flowering seemed all you cared to do. Perhaps you found the garden a perfect vacation or retirement spot?

I don't mean to create any animosity, but your snow pea cousins did, in fact, flower and produce enough edible pods for a few meals whilst in Orlando. So I know it can be done.

Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea

The first attempt to grow you in Georgia this past fall didn't go so well, either. Sure, the cold temperatures came rather earlier than expected, but I'm beginning to develop a complex at this point. Have I done something wrong?

Super Sugar Snap Pea...Flowers

I just want you to know that in spite of everything, I like you. I like you a lot, and I want you back. I'm inviting you to use my garden this spring as the location for your next family reunion. We're preparing the site for it right now, and it should be fantastic. When you arrive, I'll even provide the plates for the feast you prepare. 


Sunday, January 25, 2015

What's Happening Underground

Last week, as I went down and back up the driveway for my daily walk with the dogs, my mind turned to spring bulbs. Before our move back to Georgia, I had never planted any, at least, not really. I did try to grow tulips in Florida by placing the bulbs in the refrigerator for the winter and then planting them in pots when the weather seemed appropriate for tulips. That was, without question, a complete disaster. Of 20 bulbs planted, only two sprouted leaves, and that's all they did.

But beginning in late October last year, we took what we considered a massive leap of faith. I ordered nearly 200 bulbs, a combination of Galanthus (Snowdrops), Hyacinth, and several varieties of daffodils. Day after day, Turfman marched with me to various spots on the property to plant the bulbs in the hard Georgia clay. The goal was 20 bulbs for each outing. Sometimes that was impossible, as we'd hit an especially unyielding spot and the drill batteries would die before the auger had made enough holes. Near the end, in desperation, we would march down the driveway, I with a basket of bulbs in hand and Turfman with the pick axe over his shoulder. He made trenches while I dropped in the remaining bulbs. As I carefully placed each one, I uttered a little prayer that our efforts wouldn't be a terrible waste of time.

Now, at the end of January, I keep thinking about when daffodils should be pushing their way to the surface. I've been wondering what the bulbs must be thinking. Are they making plans for a big move? Are they hunkering down? Rotting? As the dogs and I walk by the general areas where Turfman and I were so often on our knees in late fall, I scan the surface of the soil, desperate for some sign.

And then yesterday, I saw something.

Those are hyacinths

And further on, I came upon something else.

Those are daffodils

And then I was on my knees again, scanning and counting all other signs of impending spring growth. It seems that there's a whole lot going on underground right now, and it all looks pretty promising.

Monday, January 19, 2015

New Life for Old Things

Shortly after we settled into this house, I mentioned in one of my garden dispatches ("First Lessons from the New Garden") that the previous owners of our house left behind a lot of items, most of which were in the fenced pool area. The inventory was pretty overwhelming. As we extricated some garden statues from the lusty grip of ivy and discovered other objects as we trimmed overgrown shrubbery, I began relocating the items to a collection area outside of the fence. I rather unkindly named the area "The Graveyard" and made plans to find everything a new home, even if the home had to be the trash bin.

A mere representative sampling of the menagerie

Now that I've had some time to consider each item carefully, I've revised my estimation of a few. They've been hanging around here for a while because I can't excuse simply throwing everything away, though we did quickly dispatch the items that fell apart as we tried to move them. Other things, such as the various statuary, are in the barn awaiting a good scrubbing (and maybe repainting) before they are offered up for sale. But I've decided that I will keep a few things and repurpose them.

The first item reclaimed from The Graveyard is this bird bath. We found it hidden deep inside some overgrown shrubs. Initially we were puzzled by the strange cord inside the bird bath, but now that I've had time to inspect it, the cord makes a little more sense. It seems that this particular bird bath had, at one point, the capability of circulating water. The flex tubing that carried the water from the basin to a snail attached to the rim has all but rotted away, but no matter. I don't think I like the idea of a snail spouting water from his head into a basin. In any case, the previous owners had drilled three holes in the bottom of the bowl, so they certainly didn't use it as intended, either.

Needs a new paint job

I've carefully brushed every spot on this with a good wire brush. It now has a fresh coat of paint on it and is awaiting a reconfiguration, which I'll show everyone in a couple of weeks once I finish it and get it into place. The snail was a similar light green, but he's had a makeover, too.

The copper paint gives him a little pizzazz

Since my assessment of this odd collection has mellowed, I'm pretty sure I can find a way to turn this monstrosity into a potting bench. It just needs to be cut down to Green B size. At present, the sink area comes up to my shoulders. Stay tuned.

This thing will have to lose a lot of stuff