Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Control over watering...

ilex raised a good point in a comment today, and I was going to directly reply in a comment, but then I realized how long my comment was going to be, I thought I'd better just post on the subject.

She asked about whether it was a difficult transition to go from container gardening (where I get to control the plant's water intake, i.e., not too much or too little) to planting outdoors and therefore being largely subject to rain, and I think that's a valid question. I hadn't given it a whole lot of thought, as such.

In the past, my containers always outside, or on windowsill; in fact, one year they were in full sun all day long on a second-story balcony, so while they avoided bugs to a great degree (yay!) drying out was a major problem: I had to soak them every single evening without fail. In addition, containers are less tolerant of extremes of temperature and moisture: they're smaller (in the sense that they have no access to other water sources - they only have what you give them) and so are more prone to drying up, particularly the clay pots, given that they have more exposed surface area. Likewise, they are vulnerable to the cold - a particular consideration in the exposed position on that second-story balcony I had. My housemates and neighbors thought I was nuts that year; I collected baseball-sized rocks as thermal mass to surround the containers in the early spring (read: February). It worked, but yeah, they thought I was nuts. Until I was eating salads harvested from those pots, so...

So, sun (or lack thereof, in the case of one place I lived) and pests brought in by others (e.g. houseplants from the supermarket bought by a roommate, introduced aphids and whiteflies) were the problems I dealt with, rather than water-control being an advantage.

As for the outdoor garden - so far, I have either lugged jugs of water into the plot, or had access to water spigots (when they got turned on for the season; they were off for the first several weeks). We've had a fair amount of rain recently, so for the immediate future I'm not concerned. I'm also covering the seedlings, and plan on investing in some chickenwire cages to cover my rows, to protect them from the ravages of the woodchuck.These nifty ones (picture above) belong to another gardener at my community gardens, and are made of better-quality, more expensive screening (rabbit-fencing?). I think for my purposes chickenwire will do alright.

That said, there are in fact a number of community gardens in the area of Boston. the ACGA has a nifty search engine that, if you are an apartment-dweller like me, will help you search, by zipcode, for a garden near you.

I chose this garden because it lies directly along my daily commute to and from work, and is about a mile away from home. Granted, there's a BIG hill between us, but it's not the end of the world. This makes it easier to maintain the garden during the more extreme weather: I had planned all along to stop by in the evenings on my way home and water the plants (with jugs of water, since I haven't invested in a hose). I have a watering can with a decent spout that won't slosh the little seedlings right out of their homes, so... I think I've got it covered.

I guess the answer is, I'm more concerned about the woodchuck and bugs than about the plants drying out during the hot months, or about either too much or too little rain. If it rains too much, I have means to cover the rows and steer the water away (those raised beds plus the storm windows which I can prop up to give them a little shelter). If it rains too little, I plan on watering them regardless. The disadvantages are bugs and other pests, at least so far as I can see at this point.

Later in the season, I'm told that our meadow is a bit of a cold sink, so that factored into my decision to invest in some lumber in the fall to construct a couple cold frames.

I hope that helps clarify some of the factors I considered when I decided to transition from the containers to the garden.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

rain gauge

rain gauge, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

Made a brief visit after work today - arrived 7ish, close to 7:30, but there was still a little light and it had stopped raining long enough for me to trek out to the plot. Perfect time to install a rain gauge, right? AFTER the rain stops? Yeah, well I missed it this time. I'll check the NOAA page to see approximately how many inches we got this time. Lessee here... according to NOAA/NWS archive, over the past two days we got 1.97 inches
Okay, I can live with that. So about two inches of rain.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

planting seeds...bed #1

planting seeds...bed #1, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

And here is the first bed I measured out and planted. Here's the (hopeful) score:
left to right:
two rows of peas in "drills"
a row of arugula (last year's seeds - an experiment to see how much germinates)
a row of spinach; if the arugula fails, it'll become a second, successive row of spinach
a row of simpson green leaf lettuce
a row of french radishes (red and white, a little more carrot-shaped, and supposedly a little milder / sweeter)
a row of "mixed salad greens" i.e. mesclun mix, the baby salad greens I love from the market.

I'm ever hopeful - and covering it with a storm window after I gently watered the seeds in. We'll see what comes up.

That's the news from Plot 78b! See you next time!

planting seeds...bed #2

planting seeds...bed #2, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

So, I planted two beds of seeds today. Mr. Grumpy Pants deigned to join me for the first half hour, then excused himself to go into seclusion for the remainder of the afternoon. *chuckle* My friends are a real cast of characters, and he is no exception. At least he was sympathetic to my need for lettuces, and was willing to hike out to the garden plot with me after our walk and lunch earlier in the day, so I shouldn't tease too much.

This image is of the second, smaller plot that I planted. I managed to be moderately neat and orderly about each plot, planting rows and/or 'drills' (finger-holes in the dirt). Here's the score for the small bed:
borage (far left & far right most rows)
bok choi (白菜) second and 6th rows
beets ("early wonder") third and 5th rows
sage, middle (4th ) row
now, hopefully they'll do nicely after having been watered in. I have them covered with yet another scavenged storm window that someone nicely threw away, and hopefully that will protect them against the predicted hard rain (no need to pelt the poor little things right our of their beds now that I've finally got them in the ground!)
crossing fingers...

woodpecker in the trees near my garden

so, we were entertained this afternoon as I cleaned up after planting by the pock-pock-pock of a woodpecker. Not sure what kind he (she?) was, as it was hard to tell through all the stems and tree branches, but nevertheless - there he was, vacuuming up all the bugs in that tree.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

the tools of the job

the tools of the job, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

...and how could I forget - the tools of the trade. Actually I have a few new things and a few inherited items - complete with a little family history behind them. The storm window on the left was completely new to me; someone along my morning commute was throwing it out. Likewise with all the lumber just behind it.
the gardening fork belonged to my grandfather on my dad's side, and my parents used it in our family garden after that. The screen in front is for sifting soil - makes it a little easier to break up some of the clumps, strain out the little clumps of rootlets, and sticks, and rocks... very handy, and made decades ago (along with a larger, two-person model) by my dad. The orange-handled shovel is great, and I *just* bought it this spring from Fiskars at the masshort spring flower show. Apparently, vendors often do a half-off sale on the last day of a big show like that, so I got it at bargain rate. Woo-hoo! It works well (sturdy, and has slightly bent over plates at the top where you're meant to stand and drive the blade into the ground).

These aren't my only tools, but they're the ones most in-use the past couple weeks as I dig the beds. I'm hoping to plant my lettuces and peas tomorrow.
hope. :)

some progress

some progress, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

Finally, the newest, and smaller cold frame, as well as the diggings for yet another bed. I think the open (unprotected) bed will house a succession of herbs that aren't likely to seem so tasty to the resident chipmunks and woodchuck. And as for Mr. Woodchuck, we of Plot 78a and b (as it is officially designated) were making threatening references to the Caddyshack gopher today while installing fencing... Happily, I share an unusual plot with someone else: technically it's two plots, lacking a dividing fence. Since it was about 25 x 50, with a couple whopping big boulders at one end, we two met on opening day and decided ultimately to share the plot. So, I'm in 78b, and she in 78a, and I have to say it's made clearing out the plot, reinforcing the fence and the other chores of setting up our respective garden spaces, far less onerous since we can compare notes and joke about all the sunburn and scratches from brambles. She's already gotten her raised beds set up down at her end, and they look great. I am still bumbling along with smaller beds, but that's what I feel like will work for me. Happily, this has turned out to be a mutually respectful working/gardening relationship, and I'm pleased as punch the way things have turned out. We're swapping radish seeds later on as well, since she has conventional radishes that I lack,and I have the "french" variety she'd like to try.
...more later!

some potatoes planted

some potatoes planted, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

As I was clearing out (read: breaking sod, throwing out the rocks - it *is,* as a gardening friend pointed out, the Rock Meadows community garden after all, so expect rocks!) the next plot, I discovered lots of little potatoes from a prior year that were trying to sprout. So, I set them aside, cleared the plot, and planted them in two short rows beside the coldframe on the left, and used a bamboo pole to mark out the area already planted. The Irish in me can't cast aside a free set of gift potatoes...what can I say?

rhubarb's lookin good

rhubarb's lookin good, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

Thanks to ilex for the rhubarb encouragement - it *is* looking better, so I watered it and did a happy little rhubarb cheer and moved on to the bigger jobs of the day...

redtail hawk (female)

redtail hawk_female, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

I almost forgot - when I left the other day, this was who was guarding the gardens. A large, healthy redtail hawk.
[info here: ]
There have been a growing number of them seen in the Boston area, they seem to be adapting to the city. I'm all for it, since they largely eat the otherwise unthreatened populations of pigeons and squirrels.
She looked large and healthy; she can guard / hunt our gardens all she wants, as far as I'm concerned!


rhubarb!, originally uploaded by Margo and George.

and voila, rhubarb is coming up. Actually this shot is from several days ago, and we've had beeeautiful weather, so I'm excited to see how much they've grown since then.

Must run along and fill my water jugs to water the peas, water in the seeds I'm hoping to plant, and water the rhubarb; the town water spigots so nicely distributed around the community gardens are not in fact turned on yet, and I hear won't be until May sometime. That's alright. I'll lug my water jugs.

more later...

2nd plot / cold frame set up.

Slowly, slowly I'm figuring out how to connect photos and updates. At any rate this is how the plot currently looks. I got up late, and am only heading over there now to add raised beds & 3 and 4 (hm, sounds familiar... "Rainy day women #s 12 and 37"?)

The rocks are extra insulation/ thermal mass. Or so I imagine. They may end up being purely decorative. Or I guess I could throw them at the wodchuck if the opportunity presents itself.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Catching up...

A very busy week (wait, was it ten days?) - with several posts in draft coming up shortly. In the course of reading (and commenting) on other people's blogs, I ended up with a wordpress account, so I've decided to drop the more prosaic details of temperature, weather & soil temps over on that page. If you're interested, feel free to check in there. They're a daily account/log for my reference now and for next year etc., but otherwise don't make for terribly engaging reading.

I've been digging the garden, working on setting up raised beds, revising my plans for where to put the lettuces and peas, emailing with another gardener about our plans to trellis the raspberry canes, figuring out anti-woodchuck fencing (or hey, at least discourage-the-woodchuck) as well as getting more involved with outreach efforts at my local grocery co-op. In other news, family have been visiting from out of town, and work deadlines have kept me pretty busy. In the next day or so I hope to get the updates posted...

My thanks to all who've stopped by and commented, and answered my questions about soil thermometers, etc. I'm hoping to clean up the overall appearance of the blog soon, as I've been trying out some of 's new features, with the result that I've decided they're a good idea - but they're not running smoothly enough yet that I feel like committing to them. The blogroll features in particular are nice, or would be if they didn't take over the bloomin' sidebar with huge font. Instead, I'll just break up the list of blogs I've been linking to in to manageable categories, and go back to the old way.

Photos of my rhubarb plant (courtesy of a gardener who was changing plots and not taking the clump with her! thanks!) coming soon - I'm so excited about rhubarb I can't wait. I'm running over to the co-op on the way home to see if they have any and make a rhubarb-strawberry pie. Yum!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Soil Thermometers?

Has anyone actually used a soil thermometer?

Because of my situation, I'll be planting some things relatively 'late' that want a cold start, like peas (I remember my parents always planting them - even if there was some light snow on the ground - on or around St. Patrick's day). My copy of The Massachusetts Gardener's Companion discusses using a soil thermometer because seeds of different plants like to germinate at one temperature range, but grow at a completely different one. Has anyone actually used one, and found this to be true, and warranting use of a soil thermometer? Can I get away with just using a regular thermometer (i.e., like one that you might hang outside for air temp.?) or would that give me a false reading for some reason?

Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Today's fit of optimism led to...

Well, I told myself I'd given up on giving my seeds an early start. After heading down to Concord to help my mother put in a few new small shrubs, I changed my mind. I wandered into my local hardware store and bought a few more seeds and two sets of 'starter kits.' If nothing else, I'll have them for next year, but this way at least I can experiment with having a small set of seedlings started, and the remainder of my growing collection of seeds will just go into the ground sometime next weekend when I get my plot.

Found a nifty watering pot as well - the spout swivels round and out of the way for storage when you're not using it. Cool! Now let's just see how long it tolerates all the inevitable grit that will build up... ha! Still, I remain optimistic as ever.

I think I'll also try installing plastic yogurt cups in between rows, with perforations in them, so that there's some additional water reservoir and gradual watering. Haven't tried that before, so it will be interesting to see if that helps mitigate some of the inevitable hot/drying spells we'll get come July.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

There'll be no early starting those seeds indoors...

...because of the resident fur-person. He's a cutey, but he's very curious, and we've had harsh words before when he decided to dig in my container plants and - yes - eat the dirt.

Oddly, he's not so interested in the greenery, but for a seedling it wouldn't matter. So, I have to just be patient and hope my later start won't cause too many difficulties for my plants.

Fog and mist

I lurched out of bed this morning late, scurrying to the post office. I'd finally found the right size box to send a particularly-sought-after package to a friend in New Zealand. All the others were too small or too large (thus increasing the cost of an otherwise very inexpensive item).

Off to the not-so-convenient post office location (my local is closed on Saturdays); mission accomplished, I wandered around taking some photos of the old wrought-iron fencing around someone's yard, spring buds emerging on trees, and lichens.

Yes, I said lichens. I'm a fan of lichens, they're fascinating symbiotic life forms (photobiont partner plus fungal partner = lichen, one partner takes care of photosynthesis, the other respiration). Some are really beautiful. They also can serve as air quality indicators, because different species are more or less pollution-tolerant, since all lichens are bioaccumulators (as they have no means to excrete the unwanted pollutants).

At any rate, had fun discovering little green things peeking out from under leaf cover, and wandered back home once more.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Coming soon...

Some topics under development for future posts:

  • a history of community gardening (probably broken up into multiple parts)
  • gardening tools (an admittedly biased post, but based on my own observations/use)
  • companion gardening
  • native plants (available choices, advantages, etc.)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

While I wasn't looking...

...they started without me. My fellow community gardeners, according to the obvious rules of "they were there before me" got to start on their own plots already. I stopped by after I left the office this evening and found that they'd been scurrying around, digging plots, weeding, clearing overgrowth, straightening, composting, clearing, and planting. I saw mounds for - what, beans? squash? - and rows of a number of kinds of bulbs. Some folks in the back had already planted new bulbs as well as cleared out the undergrowth from around other more established bulbs. I snapped a few photos as part of my ongoing - and plodding progress at - a photo essay over time and seasons, and wandered back to my car, jealous that I couldn't start planning my own plots. I know that I have several things that want a cold start, and a coworker already kindly offered me a dozen seedlings of sugar peas that she and her mother had started back in February. I wanted to grow things, now! The ground was ready, and I had a shovel and trowel and seeds waiting in my car. All I needed was a plot - but clearly I couldn't just go guessing and staking a plot - it might belong to someone already. I'd have to wait until official opening day when a plot was allotted to me. I can live with the rules of community gardening - I was just having a serious bout of spring fever, standing there in the dusk, looking at others' handiwork.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What's the Plan?

I can't actually plan too much yet: I've got a list of things I'd like to plant, and seeds for many of them. I noted the seed company for each, as I expect I'll want to know next year which ones were duds. I've also done a little research on which ones prefer acidic versus basic soil. For your amusement, I'm including the list (in progress) below: it includes flowers, veggies, fruits and herbs.
Basil (several varieties)
Bok Choi (白菜)
Bush Beans (three varieties - green, yellow & purple varieties)
Chinese Lanterns
Columbine (acquilegia)
Garlic bulbs
Horseradish (hard to start, but may try anyway)
Lettuce (green leaf, and mesclun mixes)
Mung beans
Peppers (Bell peppers - several colors, and a variety of hot peppers. I really like the small green asian varieties)
raspberry canes, of course
Sugar snap peas
Sunflowers (I'm trying a red variety this year)
Sweet peas (don't worry - I won't be planting it next to the edible peas!)
Tomatoes (several varieties - large & small)

coming soon...