Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Last Days Of January

    

Hubs and I have been slowly trying to get back into the swing of things, what with these beautiful days we've been having.  We even sat out on the patio with our coffee cups this morning and watched the sun rise, heard the birds' sunrise serenade.

We've had a couple of nights above freezing or at least close enough to it that my little cold-weather seedlings could ride the night out in the cold frame, snug under the glass and a blanket over all.  Another band of cold weather is expected soon, along with the promise of rain (well, maybe I shouldn't use the word "promise", because we ARE talking about weather predictions here) and maybe even some "snow/sleet", as Mesonet calls it.  So those nights, I will be bringing my seedlings in.

I'm thinking I'll go ahead and plant the Copenhagen Market cabbage seedlings into the garden during the next warm spell.  I have a collection of opaque plastic vinegar bottles, been thinking about cutting the bottoms off them and using them as cloches when it turns cold after the cabbage seedlings are in the ground.  And it WILL get cold again, several times, before the end of April.  Generally we tend to think we're safe once it turns May.  Last year, unfortunately, that was not so.   But cabbage is a cold-weather plant and it can tolerate some cold a lot better than it can the heat of summer.  It's best to get the cabbages in early, so they're done and harvested by the time it starts heating up. 

It's also nearing time for growing sweet potato slips.  Last year I planted some Beauregard slips that I grew from the previous year's crop, and I bought some Carolina Ruby slips from some folks in Arkansas who listed their varieties on eBay.  I wasn't at all pleased with the condition of the slips when they arrived, and I lost about half of them.  So I was glad to have the Beauregard slips to fill out the bed.  And then I had another disappointment due to a rat infestation in the garden happening because of neighboring ranchers burning off their fields, and our neighbor across the back who burned down his brush pile that was there when we moved in.  It was plenty dry, burned fast, and we watched the rats as they fled.  In our direction.  Maybe they would've found us without the fires, I don't know......   Those rats ate half my sweet potato crop.  At least.  *Sigh*.  

But, it's another year, right?  Everything else is "water under the bridge", right?

    

So I went through the brown paper bags that had my sweet potatoes in them in the pantry, and pulled out all the small ones.  I'll let them languish in a bowl in the kitchen.
    
The big one, I plan to roast within the next few days.  You can tell which variety each potato is because the Carolina Ruby potatoes have the more purplish skin, if you can see through the dirt, that is, and they are a deeper orange inside.  I wonder if they'd sprout better if I washed them?

This seems to be the perfect place for sprouting potatoes.
    

I will not be planting these potatoes.  They are the driest potatoes I've ever eaten.  They don't bake up nice.  They absorb a lot of oil when they are fried.  They're ok as mashed potatoes.  But I won't buy any more of this brand and I don't want to grow any of them.  Guess I'll have to buy some seed potatoes this year.

I need to start pre-sprouting my spring peas, as well.  I'll try to time it for the next warmish spell.  I pre-sprout them in an envelope of damp paper towels and when they get their first leaves, I carefully plant them in the garden.  Previous instructions were to plant just when the seed coat splits and a little "finger" starts emerging, but I have found it less than satisfactory to plant them at that stage.  If it turns cold after they are planted, they go back into dormancy and some will rot before they've grown enough to emerge through the ground.  So I don't feel like I'm really getting any better germination rates that way over just planting the pea seed directly into the ground.  The biggest problem I've had is that, as soon as we get a rain, the seeds float to the top of the soil, and if I don't catch it in time to re-bury them before they dry out, they die.  It seems to me that Mother Nature meant peas to be planted in the fall, because they need warmth to germinate, but the plants themselves can tolerate quite a bit of cold.  I bought some to plant in the fall last year and then I misplaced them.  I have never found them.  Thinking now maybe they accidentally fell into the trash.

I have sown my tomatoes and peppers in peat pellets and so far nothing much has germinated.  You might remember that I said I had some herb or flower seed that was very, very tiny, and that I was going to try to germinate it on top of the soil with a sandwich bag over.  That worked much better than the coffee filter method.  I do like to use coffee filters for some things, but tiny seed is a problem.  So here's the results and I'm happy with them:
    

    

    

    

    
They went under the lights today, without the bag.

Last weekend we hit a couple of estate sales.  I didn't find anything I needed except another watering can, for a dollar, one quart glass canning jar for a quarter, and a nice broom for fifty cents.   One of them was in Dewey and so we decided to drive a few miles north to Copan, where I grew up.  After they died, the house my parents lived in was sold to a local man who used it as a rental until it wasn't fit to live in.  We saw it in that condition, and that made me feel sad.  And then later we saw it when the barn and all the other out-buildings were gone and it looked like they were starting to bulldoze the house, too.  So this time, all the buildings were completely gone and hauled away.  Mom's smoke tree, her silver maple (ugh), the spiraea, and several other bushes, vines and small trees were all gone.  The cellar, which had been made from an old round cistern, was dozed down and filled in  There just was nothing left on the lot to be seen but a bunch of bulldozer tracks.  It made me sad, again, to see it, but I don't think it would've been cost-effective to repair it, as run-down as it had gotten.  It was a poorly-built house to begin with.  It was even hard to get my bearings with everything gone.  I finally figured out where Dad's garage had been, and I looked around and found some bamboo that had survived the bulldozer, just laying there in piles.  My mom planted that bamboo there and she was so proud of it.  She used the stalks sometimes in the garden but for the most part, the biggest benefit was that the plumes that it made in the fall provided seed for the birds all winter.  I have read that bamboo will take over but it pretty much stayed right where it was planted.  Even though, one summer one of my brothers-in-law decided to mow the grass when he and my sister were visiting, and he cut down all that bamboo and was out there stomping around on it when Mom looked out the picture window to see what he was doing.  Her mouth fell open and she kind of caught her breath, but she never said anything to him about it.  He was married to her favorite daughter and they always lived far away.  She didn't want to mar a too-rare visit with an argument and she knew if she said anything to him, there would be one and then he'd probably want to leave right away.  He was like that.  But she also probably knew that the bamboo would recover just fine, and it did.  I brought home a big clump of bamboo shoots, don't know where I'll plant it, somewhere out on the land where Hubs can keep it in check by mowing around it.  I like having habitat for the birds.   And every time I see it, I will smile at the mental picture of Dick stomping around on those bamboo stubbles while Mom stood there at the window with her mouth hanging open.
    
About the only other thing going on here, what with the nice weather, is that Hubs and I have been putting down a layer of leaves and covering it with wood chips in the walk-ways of the garden.  Wood chips have to age a bit before anything can be grown in them, and I saw where someone was spreading them in their garden walkways, and then at the end of a year, scooping them into the raised beds to enrich the soil before putting more down in the walkways.  I thought this would work well for the garden, especially if I put down a layer of leaves first, and then the wood chips to keep the wind from blowing them around.  There are several bags in what we collected last fall, that are full of oak leaves.  They look like brown leather and they won't break down in the compost for a long time.   These were perfect for the layer under the wood chips.
    

Well, this is a start, anyway.  It's a lot of work.  The RockWhisperer Exercise Plan.  Heh.  After we get a rain, it will pack down and look better.   We are so lucky to have Kylie to bring us wood chips.

When I opened one of the leaf bags, I found it to contain three athletic shoes, one nice gardening glove, three small glass candle holders, all broken, a disposable aluminum roast pan containing pot-bound roots, a big tangle of vines with small, roundish, variegated leaves, and a pile of cuttings from some kind of bush.  I sent pictures of the cuttings to a couple of friends that I thought might be able to tell me what it is and whether it's worth trying to root them. 
  
I don't know why people put non-degradable stuff in their leaf bags.  Even if they buy a tag or wait for "free leaf-pick-up day", it still all goes where the City expects it all to bio-degrade.  I think.  Although Bartlesville doesn't seem to have caught on to the fact that if they would have composted material somewhere, it would be something gardeners would actually come and get, and they'd pay for the privelege.  As it stands now, the "sanitary landfill" seems to be very protective of its contents and there doesn't seem to be any interest in the recycling of any of it.  I would so love to live near one of those "progressive" cities that I'm always reading about, but we always seem to be about ten years behind in this area. 

But I digress.

Both Glenda and Carole thought it was a Euonymus and Carole thought it was the 'Manhattan' variety.  So I have some of the cuttings in water to see if they'll root there.  They are still green and fresh-looking after being in that clear leaf bag since October.  I happen to need some kind of a bush that is tough enough to grow in this western exposure bed.
  

  
It's hard to keep anything growing here because the sun heats up the brick, and then it's just too hot and dry there for most things to live.  My pantry is on the inside of this wall, and it gets warm on hot summer days.  Not a very good thing to happen in a pantry.  Having a nice tall bush there would solve that problem.  But not sure whether the roots would be bad that close to the foundation?  ....Maybe it would be better off planted elsewhere.....  I looked it up on Dave's Plant Files HERE, and looks like it can grow up to eight feet tall, makes good-smelling white flowers, but attracts flies, wasps and bees when in bloom.

Well, that's about all I have for this time.  Rock on........   xoxoxoxoxo

Friday, January 23, 2015

January Gardening In Oklahoma

This is early Monday afternoon and I'm sitting here at my computer resting.

Hubs and I did a little quick project to get ourselves started off for the year.  As you may remember, I used the front driveway last year as the place to harden off my seedlings and such.  It was handy, as I had rolling carts and they went easily out of the garage and back in.  This was ok for some things, but I had trouble with the early spring winds beating everything to death and critters running over them and eating them down to ground level.  And I really needed a place where I could get early things acclimated to the cold.  So I asked Hubs if he could build me an 8" high frame that would fit exactly on top of the raised bed that's just outside my office door.  I had set this bed up originally for cuttings and it worked ok as long as I kept the sun off the jars.  I only did a few cuttings this year and I set them in the edge of the herb garden that's against the patio.  Now that we have a patio cover, that area is shaded all the time, this time of year, and therefore there's not as much babysitting required.  So I had the idea that if there was an 8" tall temporary open extension to the raised bed, I could set my plants that need hardening off in there.  The bed was just about 6" too wide to accommodate my old shower doors for the tops, so Hubs put a 2x4 on each side.  That makes the shower doors fit beautifully, and this gives me a nice wide surface to slide them back and forth on.  I've left them off today, as it's sunny with hardly any wind.  But yesterday I had the doors  on with just a space left open in between.  I was concerned about the sun burning the tender leaves of the seedlings, so I didn't put the plants under the glass until about noon, when the house shades that area.  I think I will be able to use this as a cold frame late in the fall, as well, and plant things like lettuce and spinach to be used well into the winter.  That's my hope, anyway. 
          

          
          
          

          
Maybe I will actually be able to grow some spinach this year.

Old shower doors can be found at garage sales, or sometimes at the local Habitat For Humanity Re-Store.  If you know anyone who's remodeling their bathroom, you might get lucky and get some for free if you ask.  Usually I'll pay $5 for the pair and the seller is always really glad not to have to haul them to the dump.  Garbage collectors here won't take something like that.  They are kind of cumbersome to carry, but while we were at Lowe's one day I saw a man carrying a sheet of sheet rock (aka plaster board) with something called a "Panel Carry", Stanley makes the one shown HERE           on Amazon, but there are other brands.   I thought, "Wow!  I could carry my shower doors around with one of those!"  So I came home with one.  Being as they are plastic, don't leave them outside for extended periods of time or it might not last as long.  We all know what the hot sun does to plastics.

We have been enjoying some lovely warmish weather.  I do love the sunshine this time of year.  And so of course I'm out in it.  I've been doing clean-up.  I have pulled all the zinnia and basil stalks, trimmed the brushy vegetation in the herb garden at ground level: the Monarda, Milkweed, Pearly Everlasting.  Pokeweed, Gourd vines and broken gourds, and Hibiscus stalks, a few dried-up tomato plants that I missed earlier, have gone into the garden wagon.  All these things are either too brushy to break down easily in the garden, or they have potential disease or seeds that I don't want to spread by trying to compost them.  They were then taken to the burn barrel.  Yesterday was too windy to burn but on Saturday and then again today I had a long-burning fire in the burn barrel which I fed by handfuls until I enjoyed about as much of that as I could stand.  My back has been really hurting for the last couple of days and I'm sure it's my increased level of activity after many weeks of being a sloth.

Hubs covered the Canna bed (where I used to grow zinnias) along the driveway with wood chips from one of our piles.  Well, I wanted him to do it, just not yet, and I wish he'd told me what he was going to do before he did it, because I was going to scatter my poppy seeds there.  Poppies will be finished blooming before Cannas stick their pointy little obscene-looking buds up out of the ground, and after the poppies are done and the pods are harvested, THAT will be the time to spread the wood chips.  Now I'll have to pull them back with a rake before I can broadcast the seed.  *Sigh*.  Today would've been a good day to do it but I just wasn't able to build up enough steam to do it. 

Tuesday now.I spent the early part of the morning planting pepper seed and one tomato variety, Cherokee Purple, into little peat pellets. 

The only peppers that I'm planting this year are red, yellow and orange cheese peppers and some jalapeno.  Last year's red cheese peppers were a real disappointment so I'm planting some from the seed I saved in 2010, 2011 and 2012.  My 2013 peppers must've cross-pollinated because the ones I grew from that seed last year weren't nearly so thick-walled as the orange and the yellows were, or as prolific.

Our temperatures got up to 70 yesterday but now it has turned off colder and will be so for awhile.  Still not bad, though, nights in the lower 30's or upper 20's and days mid-40's to mid-50's.

Today I planted little peat pellets with tomato seeds that I set to soak last night.  I've had crossing problems with my tomatoes, too.  On the up-side, it probably means we're getting more activity from pollinators, but on the down-side, if I've got my mouth all set for a nice big golden Kellogg's Breakfast tomato and the plants are covered in red ones,  I'm a little disappointed. 
  

Hubs was thrilled.  He thinks the only good tomato is a red one.  And these were actually very good.  

Due to crossing problems, though, I decided to limit myself to only five or six eight varieties instead of the twelve I usually plant.  I do have some tomato favorites that I wanted to include this year.  I tried Ox Heart last year and the pink tomatoes were big and dense, some as big as a large orange, with hardly any core, few seeds and a small blossom-end scar.  They make beautiful heart-shaped sandwich-sized slices.  Tomatofest only put twelve seeds in the Oxheart package, and only one survived due to some problems I had before set-out time, so all the seeds I have now are those I saved from that one vine.  There was quite a yield from the one plant.  I think they are closely related to the plum tomato and I decided I'd rather grow them than all those plum tomato varieties I've been trying to grow.  I mean, even Mr. Fumarole, which I tried last year, did not live up to it's glowing description.  I think if I have six to eight plants I'll get a nice big yield just from that one variety (fingers crossed, Mother Nature willing and if The Creek Don't Rise). I hope it didn't cross with anything.  I think it bloomed before anything else did.  Ox Heart gave out about the same time that Mr. Fumarole did, so I plan on tearing it out after the first flush to make room for some of the others that will be (hopefully) over-growing their cages by then.

Of course I chose the nice red tomatoes that were supposed to be Kellogg's Breakfast.  They were two shapes, one a beefsteak like Kellogg's Breakfast is and the other was shaped like a large peach.  I saved the seed separately and so I count them as two varieties and will keep them apart from each other.  I always want something that matures quicker than most, Hubs is always starving for fresh tomatoes and he welcomes the early ones, even if they aren't as big or as good as some of the others.  So I chose Ruth's Perfect this time.  I've not grown those before.  I tried last fall, but the first freeze came before any of my fall tomatoes bore fruit.  I like to have one cherry tomato so I chose Black Cherry.  I think Glenda grows them.  Striped German was a really dependable variety in my garden at The Ponca House.  I've grown them a couple of times since moving here but they haven't done as well.  Now that the garden soil is built up better, I'm trying one last time.   And something that's made my list of favorites is an accidental acquisition I call "Lime Basil" because that's how the seed was labeled.  I got it in a trade.  Nice round, smooth, red tomatoes with hardly any core or blossom end scar at all, with a nice flavor.  Of course we all know that once you've had tomatoes from your garden, the tomatoes you can buy at the grocery store are pretty tasteless.  They are ok for salads but that's mostly for looks and texture.  This is when it's nice to have a really flavorful salad dressing.  Or chop them up into things like macaroni salad, guacamole or black bean salad, where there are other flavors to mingle with.  I make my guacamole rarely, because Hubs thinks he doesn't like avocado.  Combine chopped red tomato, sweet onion, and chopped avocado.  Sprinkle in some lemon juice, salt and pepper.  That's all you need.  It's good on corn chips, as a side dish to a bowl of pinto beans, or just on a spoon.  Mmmmmmm.  Simple, but so good.

A lot of people love those pink Brandywine tomatoes, or, as my mother used to call them, Pink German tomatoes.  They can be huge and they can be eye-candy for the gardener.  But, there is a large core to cut out, a long blossom-end scar that sometimes stretches out across the whole bottom of the tomato, and lots of times, one lobe of the tomato does not ripen at the same speed as the rest of the tomato.  So you are left with cutting out a lobe that has rotted or that is still too green to eat.  Once you get done cutting out all the bad parts, you don't have nearly as much tomato as you thought you had.

Those varieties, added to the Cherokee Purple seed I planted yesterday, make eight.  I expect Oxheart and Ruth's Perfect to fizzle out when the weather heats up, so that will put me down to six. 

It's now Friday.  WHERE has the week gone?  I will try to get this mundane thing posted today.

I set several seeds to soak last night, I'll sow them in pellets today.  Red Swamp Milkweed, Showpiece Dahlia (so few seeds in the pack!), Gomphrena, Pineapple Tomatillo, Aunt Molly's Tomatillo, Purple Tomatillo.

I've been bringing the cold-weather plants in from the new cold frame every night, but we are forecast nights above freezing for about a week, starting Saturday night.  By the time Saturday gets here the forecast may be changed completely, who knows.  But if the nights are not going to be freezing I can leave the plants in the cold frame.  Moving them is not that hard, I have a large but lightweight rolling cart that I bought (say in unison:) At A Garage Sale that holds almost everything.  So there's only two trips instead of several.
  

I found I still had some seed in the packs for the onions I tried to grow last spring, Borretta Cipolini and Clear Dawn, so I planted those on January 8.  This is what they look like now.   I should've planted them in shorter pots.  It's been hard for them to get enough light.  I think I'll make a couple of aluminum foil "collars" and set one down inside each pot, to reflect the light.
  
And this is what the teensy-tiny seedlings that I took out of the coffee filter have done since transplanting on the 7th:
  
St. John's Wort seedlings were so tiny and fragile.  It was very hard to get them off the coffee filter without damage.  I have tried to grow this from seed for several years now.  I try a different method each time.  Maybe one of these little seedlings will make it.  I didn't dare cover the seedlings with soil as I thought that would break them.  So this is vermiculite on top.

  
There's only one little Angelica seedling and I think I'm going to lose it.  These were really touchy to plant, which is why I put several in each cup.  I thought most of them might die.  But the Valerian and Elecampane have done really well.  You win some, you lose some.

One thing that I don't like about the peat pellets is that if the seed planted in them takes awhile to germinate, there's danger that mold will start forming on the top of the stocking on the pellet.  And then even if the seedling comes up, it won't do well and will be a miracle if it doesn't just go ahead and die.  Yesterday I moved 5 Jericho lettuces into cups a little earlier than I normally would because of this.  I always peel the stocking off before I transplant into cups.  I hope this will help.  The bigger plant is one of the ones that germinated earlier.  I don't know if these little babies will survive or not, they had already started to turn yellow in the peat pellet.  But now as I compare them to a healthy plant, which does have some yellow, maybe they're not so bad.  Time will tell.
  
I also plan to start French Thyme, Roman Chamomile, Mexican Tarragon, and White Pom-Pom Feverfew today.  They are all bitty seed.  I think this bitty seed would have a better survival rate just sown on the surface of soil in a cup, and then maybe a sandwich bag over it to keep the surface moist till things start to germinate.  I really like how that coffee filter method speeds up germination, but when the seed is this tiny it's just so hard to transplant them out of the filter.  At least with perennials, once you get over the germination hump, you have a good chance of having a thriving plant in the garden that comes back every year, thus you never have to plant that particular seed again.  Boo-yah.

Well, this is about all I have this time, I hope it's not been too boring for y'all to read.  Too cold now to get out and do much and too dry now to burn anything.

Till next time, Rock On.....   Hugs, xoxoxoxo