Thursday, April 26, 2012

Native Plant Garden Update

 It is hard to believe there was nothing along this fence just a few years ago. With the exception of the service berry tree purchased at and planted by Merrifield Garden Center, I planted all of this!

Soon the Itea shrubs will be blooming--I missed its scent because I was on vacation when it bloomed last year.

Berry Patrol

It's that time of year when I begin obsessively monitoring all of my berries. Since finding out the soil near my blueberries was nowhere near acidic enough, I have transplanted them (so I could amend the soil around them exclusively--instead of having them interspersed with other perennials) and added elemental sulfur. So, maybe they will do better next year. This year, I'll have to settle for the usual smattering of fruit. The bush below is doing the best of the six plants.
 The strawberries are doing great!
 Black raspberry just beginning to bloom:
 Maybe the birds will again let us have some of these serviceberries:
Plus the thornless blackberry, which is exploding in growth (but not blooming yet).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

This is why...

You don't plant tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers before nights are consistently warm--no matter how warm the winter and spring are. When temps in the 40s returned, I had to wrap them with row cover in the rain. I know better, but I just could not resist.

On the bright side, the spinach, lettuce, peas, and fava beans are quite happy to return to cool weather. The fava beans (peeking out above the wrapped tomatoes above, were overwintered and should create my most successful harvest yet!

And the kale that I transplanted (it's staying under row cover to keep the cabbage worms out) is doing nicely.

This is probably the first time I've actually gotten the timing right with spring and summer crops. So much overwintered, so along with the record warmth it was easy to start seeds. Now that I have eight beds, I have room to start the summer stuff while keeping the cool season crops.

The Birds

Birds are a big part of DinkyDo--whether it's tossing the robins worms, watching goldfinches and hummingbirds, or hawk-spotting. The latest is this house finch nest. Check out the ugly babies!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rainy Day Irises

The bearded irises are really taking off this year. This is the first of three clumps donated by my neighbor. I need to tie a ribbon on some of his colored ones now so when I transplant some in fall I'll know what color I'm getting. I love the white ones, especially considering all of the purple I have elsewhere in the garden, but I'd love to get my hands on the pink and nearly brown ones as well. They were my wedding flower, plus I love their odd frangrance.
The latest issue of Organic Gardening featured these lovely heirlooms.

More columbines are on display, too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Herbing It Up

I have thus far not been very active in the Sustainable Eats Urban Farm Handbook Challenge, though I love reading about it. I already compost and just found out I have built my soil up pretty well (February), and I've just been too busy to make any dairy products (March). One past attempt at making creme fraiche notwithstanding, dairy is something I may dabble with for fun, but I can get fantastic products at my farmers' market--and a family of two just does not eat that much! However, with April we are getting into the gardening challenges--my cup of tea! The first challenge, from Erica's Northwest Edible Life, is to grow something, from seed, and it must be something you have not grown before. To expand my herb repertoire, I am growing fenugreek, cumin, caraway, and chamomile. In the vegetable garden, I am growing spinach and pak choy from seed for the first time, plus new varieties of peas, lettuce, and onions. (Once it warms up, I have new varieties of okra, beans, and squash to plant).
The second challenge, from the Seattle Urban Farm Company, is to practice pest prevention. This is something that I get a lot of gratification from. Not only are you attracting and nourishing beneficial insects, you have pretty flowers to look at. Some beneficial insect favorites in the garden include yarrow and cilantro/fennel/parsley (I let them all bolt). I also grow mint and other herbs, plus anise hyssop (more for the hummingbirds, but glad to hear it fits the bill), lavender, Echinacea, and Monarda.
Related to challenge #1, I'll be planting a new seed, of Alyssum--another tiny flower for tiny insects. I've noticed many predatory wasps and flies hovering around the garden, and they are interesting to watch in addition to helping a gal out. I don't want to jinx myself, but I believe having these flowers surround my garden, as well as attracting birds, makes a big difference. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

March Summer Brings April Flowers: Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

It's mid-month, and it's spring--time to get back into the bloom day habit with May Dreams Gardens.

 bleeding heart
columbine, sweet william, and wallflower (all from the Made in the Shade seed mix from Botanical Interests)
 more columbine
 Dianthus "fire witch"--so fragrant!
Pincushion flower (Scabiosa "butterfly blue")
 Forget me nots
 native honeysuckle
 Carolina jessamine
 Mache flowers are pretty--waiting to collect seed
 Salvia (recovering well from slug attacks)
 Sweet William (also from the shade mix)
Tiarella (foamflower)


See you again when the real show starts, in May!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Seed Starting Update

 I probably started the eggplants and peppers a bit too early, as the peppers are beginning to bloom! Eight weeks before last frost was the recommendation, but nights are still a little cool to plant these. I'll start hardening them off this weekend--a bit overdue.

I have begun to harden off the kale, cauliflower, and broccoli--also overdue, but if it does not get too hot, I am optimistic I'll get a good kale harvest for once.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Testing Testing 123--First Soil Test!

After three years of gardening, I finally got around to doing a soil test. I had put it off because I found the instructions a little confusing, as they recommend sampling various areas throughout the garden, and that did not seem applicable to my situation. I garden in raised beds and purchased topsoil to combine with my native clay soil, and because my plants have all done fairly well (except sweet peppers), I was just in no hurry. But when I noticed how sad my blueberries were looking, I knew it was time. Those flowers at the left may look pretty, but this picture does not tell the story. My bushes should be larger and more productive. Some of them even appear sickly.
After picking up the sample box and form at my library (check your cooperative extension service for information), I began with the blueberries, which are planted among perennials in a bed along my back fence. A home test had indicated the soil was not acidic--a big no-no for blueberries. I wanted to confirm that and see if there were other nutrient deficiencies.

First, I brushed aside the mulch.
Then, I dug a slice of soil from around all six blueberry bushes. 
Next, I mixed the soil together in a pot.
Finally, I packed it into a box, filled out a form indicating what I wish to grow in this soil (blueberries), and shipped it to the indicated lab, in my case Virginia Tech.

I then did the same for my asparagus/strawberry bed and a combo from three of my vegetable beds, which were built at the same time using similar soil. The results came back quickly--within two weeks, and good news! Though the acidity problem was confirmed, there were no other specific recommendations. The topsoil I have been purchasing from garden centers (combined with nearly equal amounts of compost plus the existing soil) is good stuff. The lab suggested nitrogen, but they do not test for that, it is just a general recommendation for vegetable gardening. I provide plenty of nitrogen when I side-dress my plantings with compost. Plus, I use fish emulsion to fertilize. So, I'm all set. All nutrients were rated as sufficient, high, or very high, except a medium for potassium. The lab did not recommend addressing that, so I'll sit tight, but kelp is a source of potassium that I will research further. My only task will be to head to the garden center for sulfur to lower the pH of my blueberry soil this weekend. Hopefully more than a handful of berries is in my future.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


The white Fritillaria (F. meleagris) bloomed after all--it is even spreading! I am reading conflicting information about its preference for well-draining soil. I thought my clay soil ruled it out, but apparently this spot was amended enough, which means I have to try again with the purple variety.
 Also coming soon: peony and irises!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

State of the Garden

Thanks to the freaky non-winter and unseasonable warm spring so far, I've gotten a good head start on spring seed sowing--something that has always been a struggle. The lettuce, spinach, beets, green onions, turnips, peas, pak choy, and leeks are all coming along nicely, and my over-wintered fava beans are exploding with blooms. I also overwintered m√Ęche, spinach, arugula, and collard greens--most of which are in various states of bolting. My herbs are lush. The blueberries, strawberries, and service berry tree are all blooming. My rhubarb even came back!

The only problem--for both edibles and ornamentals--is slugs. I got pretty used to hand- (well, fork-) picking large slugs and using beer traps last fall, but now I am dealing with an army of tiny slugs. Even my standby, diatomaceous earth, is not going to be effective unless I coat every surface in the backyard with it. A rainy weekend made it even more urgent to find another tactic. Iron phosphate, often seen under the brand name Sluggo, is safe for wildlife, so that is what I'm trying. Fingers crossed.

Monday, April 2, 2012

In the Pink

I'm not really much of a pink gal, but in the garden it is a different story altogether.