Sunday, April 27, 2008

Food is Springing from the Ground

Two days ago my rhubarb started clawing its way up from the dirt. This plant looks unstoppable.

And yesterday at some point during a clear, dry afternoon, aliens quietly deposited these in my asparagus row.

I took both photos this morning in a slight drizzle. Before this, we had a week of uninterrupted blue skies and frighteningly summery weather. Massachusetts has been on high alert for wild fires. Fortunately the ground was wet deep down from the weeks of rain prior to that, so all the deep-rooted plants have been happy.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Massachusetts is in Bloom!

The blooms on this understory tree or shrub are just now fading to leaves. It looks similar to witchhazel, but no seedpods were present, and I don’t know if witchhazel would bloom this late in the season. This one is waist-height and is growing inside of the loop path in our yard. I have seen larger specimens in the woods along the highways.

Another understory tree or shrub had these humble blossoms hanging from its branches until recently. They were one of the earliest things to bloom this spring, unfolding over the course of a couple of months from small, hard brown nubbins to thumb-length yellowish sausages. I have seen them about along the banks of streams. This one grows alongside our poison sumac, which is still dormant.

The bleeding heart surprised me by producing copious quantities of little blossoms overnight!

I had to look closely to see the tiny little blossoms on the tiny little bearberries. I do hope these little evergreens have a growth spurt this summer. If I can get them to spread, they would make a fantastic all-season groundcover for the edges of full-sun flowerbeds.

We have one large, gorgeous evergreen azalea in the front, which is currently purple with blossoms. In a few months I’ll try growing more from it by taking cuttings.

I swear, this Jack-in-the-pulpit must have made a “sproing” sound effect when it popped up. It looks a bit like Chris when blinking awake in the morning with the rumpled pattern of pillow embossed on his face.

Happy spring everyone!

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Roll of the Dice

The various seedlings I started back in February were really starting to show the stress of multiple months indoors in small pots. A look to the weather showed no overnight freezes for at least the next ten days or so, and that motivated me to take a chance and get the plants into the garden early. Technically I shouldn't be planting until around May 10th, but the rest of April looks to be beautiful and in the off chance early may kills off the plants I have replacements available. I spent Sunday evening potting up 74 tomato seedlings. I should have room for around 55 or so once I finish the last new bed for this year. I'm not sure what I'll do with the rest.

Planting the tomatoes meant I had to setup a support system. I decided I'd try the Florida weave approach this year. It is way cheaper than cages, and looks really good in my humble opinion. I'd also like to try hanging lines down to wrap the tomato vine around at some point, but I don't think that'll happen this year.

I also direct seeded the rest of my peas around the pea tower. In the greens bed I planted carrots, lettuce, spinach, and mustard. I also finished digging out about 15 feet of the bed to the right of the tomatoes. It'll be 37 feet when its done so I still have plenty of digging left to do. This weekend I really felt like I was working in a 'real' garden. The aisles are clearly defined now and there is green stuff growing! I can't wait to see what it looks like in another month or so.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Epic Weekend!

So, you know that big rock Chris rolled up the driveway to position triumphantly by the mailbox? I had added a few companion rocks to it. Then I piled up some dirt behind those rocks, and transplanted some lupines into the dirt. Chris retaliated by adding more rocks.

Yesterday, I upped the ante by expanding the rock ring around the lamp and mailbox, filling the whole thing with dirt, adding in plants gathered from around the yard, and – gads – I even mulched the darn thing.

Plants used: lupine (sprouts and mature plants), iris, lily, New England Aster, winter squash, ground cherry, and obedient plant. The lamp and mailbox already had a few plants around them, including tickseed, alliums, and some other native plants bought on sale last year at the end of the season from Garden in the Woods.

As if that weren’t enough, I used the remaining rocks to edge the bed across the driveway from this one, and mulched it to match. And today I planted some seeds: alyssum, marigold, pussytoes, bartram’s Ixia, dill, and nasturtium.

It’s not as easy to see, but today I worked on the bed in the woods along the little path to the frog-pond. I brought in more soil and relocated ferns and other plants that had been creeping into the lawn.

Plants used: at least two types of ferns, spiderwort, and a couple of mystery plants. The bed already contained more spiderwort, trillium, the likely-dead nursery plants, and a very much alive bleeding heart. I also planted some ramps here.

This photo shows fern fiddleheads next to a soft green leafy plant – both of which I planted in the new bed. But by the way they seem to grow next to each other, I’m not sure if they are two separate plants. I moved some root-snarls that had both sets of leaves, and I couldn’t tell if they were just tangled, or actually springing from the same roots. The leafy plant has more in common with the bleeding hart than with ferns, so I’m hoping for flowers.

Today’s critter count includes two more salamanders, which seem easy to find on cold mornings, when they are still sheltering from the cold under rocks; and a snake! The little fella was right under my (gloved) hand when I swept back some leaves looking for ferns. I think it was an Eastern Brown snake (which are harmless and can make great pets), but since it could have been a baby rattlesnake, I didn’t handle it. Instead I ran for the camera. Alas, the snake didn’t wait around to become blog photo fodder.

Tomorrow is Patriot’s Day, which is a holiday here in Massachusetts. So, more gardening ahoy!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Raspberries and Asparagus Rows Planted

I can finally relax! The 30 raspberry bushes and 25 asparagus plants are in the ground. I still have three rhubarbs in the crisper waiting to go out, but that’s gravy. The bulk of the work has been done.

My shipment from Nourse Farms arrives on the same day as my smaller shipment from American Meadows. The difference between the two was telling. The Nourse Farms plants were sorted and bagged professionally: five raspberry canes to a bag, sealed thoroughly, tied neatly, labeled with a printed tag, and with moist shredded paper packed around the roots. The box had spent the day in the sun, but nothing dried out entirely – even the asparagus, which was packaged in a damp paper bag.

By contrast, half of the American Meadows shipment arrived dead. The mountain laurel and one other plant were shipped leafed-out, in unsealed baggies too small to be zipped. Both contained what must have been a damp paper towel. Both paper towels were dry, and the foliage of both plants was so dry that it crumbled in my hand. I don’t believe green leaves can reach that state of desiccation in one afternoon, even cooking in a box without water.

There is still some hope for the three bittersweet vines in that shipment, since they were shipped dormant; and the trilliums were small enough to be shipped in a sealed baggie, so I have high hopes for those. I have asked American Meadows to replace the two crispy plants or refund my money, but perhaps I just should have expected less from a company that sells plants for $2.50 a piece.

Anyway, even the deadest of the plants is in the ground, in the vane hope that they will revive.

Here are five of the raspberry canes. And the whole row in the new raised bed:

To my regret, I realized this afternoon that raspberries put up new shoots from their roots, which means these cute little sticks are likely to spread to my neighbor’s side of the fence. I need to ask my neigbors if they would like me to insert a root barrier to prevent that, which I dread having to do. With any luck they’ll prefer the idea of free raspberry bushes. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

And here are the asparagus babies lined up and ready for planting. They look like squid. I wonder how long it will take before they put up their first spears?

So Very Much Happening!

I’m thirty now, and life is good! So much has been going on in the yard that I have been barely able to keep up with the plants, much less with a blog.

Thank goodness for friends and family willing to lend a hand, because I’m up to my eyeballs in plants this week, and thanks to them I have beds ready to go. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to speed through the rest of this post so that I can scurry outside and get twenty-five asparagus into the ground before Chris wakes up.

Here are a few of the other exciting goings-on about our yard:

This is bleeding heart, I think. A previous owner had planted it beneath the deck, in a spot that gets a surprising amount of moisture. I have relocated it to my pond path where it will be better appreciated. Despite slicing off numerous finger-thick fleshy roots in transplanting it, the new growth is shooting up faster than anything else in the yard.

Less alien then the mass of bleeding heart growth, the spiderwort which I transplanted is going gang-busters, too. I moved these from the dry, sunny swathe along the driveway the pond-path, where they should be more at home in the shade and damp. Like the bleeding heart, this is planted in the amazing soil that I scooped up when digging the pond. It’s black, crumbly, seemingly made entirely of decaying stuff, and holds water like a sponge. I with I had fifteen yards of it to play with.

Perhaps this summer I will have some luck identifying the ferns in the backyard. I would like to eat some of these fiddleheads, but some searching yesterday hinted that most types of fiddleheads are carcinogenic.

My reduced iris patch is going gangbusters, and the relocated irises are continuing to do well. It also turns out that some of the plants that I initially took for lilies and then thought were more irises are, in fact, lilies. Maybe. And then there are the two mystery bulb/root types I unearth while raking the asparagus bed, which I forgot to take pictures of.

Are you a good rose, or a bad rose? There is a type of rose which is invasive around here. Last summer I transplanted three rose seedlings out of the lawn. I bet I’ll have to kill them. Oh well. . . that’s more room for blueberries I suppose.

I suppose it’s good practice for having children that I woke Chris to show him a salamander! This little beauty was drowsing in the damp soil beneath a rotting stump. He became abruptly active in the warmth of my hand, and escaped me near the frog-pond, where the sun was warming the damp soil. What do salamanders want first thing in the morning when rudely awakened? Food? A mate? A nice cup of coffee flavored with dirt?

It speaks volumes for our yard that we have amphibians about. They are the canaries in the mineshafts when it comes to pollution. This yard must have seen years of neglect before we got here, despite the giant can of Preen in the shed. This yard is a little slice of heaven!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Happy Dirt Day

April 12th was Michelle's birthday and like any loving husband should I bought her a big pile of dirt. Not just any dirt mind you. No this is grade A premium loam, and as an added bonus I get to lug all 15 cubic yards of it all over the yard to the various beds it needs to fill.

It didn't take to long to fill up the second major garden bed with loam because we had some extra muscle up this weekend. Michelle's parents came up from Virginia to visit for her birthday weekend. Her father Rob and I hauled a whole lot of earth to the places it needed to go.

The fact that we were hauling dirt to the appropriate places seemed to make Michelle quite happy.

On Sunday with the additional help of Walt and his son Ian we managed to scalp all of the sod off of the 3rd and final major garden row that we'll be preparing this year.

It looks like we'll have just enough loam left to fill it once I finish excavating out the rocks and sand.

I've been experimenting with leaving may various tomato plants outside during the day, and unfortunately I think I managed to scorch my seedlings. Their cotyledons have started to yellow, but the true leaves that are starting to grow out look very healthy so I'm hoping they pull through. The original batch of seedlings I started are really getting huge now, and need to be in the ground. Since I still have at least three weeks before that happens I'm wondering if they'll hang in there. Some of their leaves have started to show signs of stress, so I'm not sure if they will.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


The more rocks Chris unearths, the more rocks I want. I got it into my head to build a low rock wall along the driveway flowerbed strip where I will be planting raspberries. This came to mind when moving some spiderwort from that bed to my frog pond path. To my disgust, the soil in that side bed is just as shallow as the lawn. And ugh, I don’t want to dig out all of that sand! My raspberry bushes will be here in two weeks, and next week our mountain of dirt will arrive. So, I’m just going to stack up the dirt six inches on top of what is already there. And some rocks along the edge will fend off erosion, and look nice.

Fortunately, a local construction dig ever so kindly put up a sign for free fill, and “fill” is exactly what we have been digging up from Chris’ vegi beds: sand with rocks. I have been to the grand free fill heap three times to load the car with rocks. Jen came on the third trip, and lifted some giant beauties for me, and Chris has helped me lug them into place.

Next: we fill this raised bed with dirt! Did I mention that I also ordered strawberries to plant along the edges? As if I don't already have enough to do in the garden!

Chris found a use for his giant rock, as well. It went to the curb next to the mailbox, where it is becoming the centerpiece of another raised bed. He had to get down on all fours to roll the thing all the way up the driveways, and where he rolled over the grass his path looks like a battle took place.

Alas, as much as I would like to, I don’t think I can continue to build rock walls myself: my pregnant belly seems to have grown again this weekend, apparently to make room for the baby’s karate dojo. Bending over is becoming an ordeal, my energy level is going down again, and rocks of any interesting size are just a depressing reminder that I’m not allowed to strain myself lifting heavy loads. I’ll be lucky to get my hoard of my raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, and rhubarb in the ground before I have to turn my garden involvement down to a minimum.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Old Man Winter's Last Gasp

This evening the peepers are chirping up a storm in the swamp. It is a sound that annoys some of our neighbors, but Michelle and I find the noise relaxing. They didn't show on Saturday though because it was frigidly cold, with temperatures well below freezing. While waiting for the weather to warm up I spent time potting up my way to early tomato seedlings.

The Brandywine seedlings that I started a week later are also getting to the point where I'll need to pot them up shortly. I'm finding all the work it takes to keep the larger plants happy is a high incentive to start them at an appropriate time next year.

The major project for the weekend though was working on the second large bed. Michelle had worked on it during the week for around an hour or so each morning and turned over a little over four feet. We went into excavating overdrive and finished a huge portion of the row, with just a couple feet on each end to finish off.

The first four feet have sod dropped back in them. For the rest we piled up all the sod on the first row before starting to excavate all the sand and rocks. With so many rocks in the soil it helps to have a lot of room to work with. This was especially true on Sunday when I went to work on the far end of the row and uncovered another monster rock. This time, however, it wasn't so big that I couldn't move it without leverage.

With the long dug out bed I was able to create a ramp to roll it out of its hole, and I had enough room to really use my whole body to move it. This of course led to me ending up hugging the rock very affectionately after I extracted it from its hole.

Michelle was actually in the car backing out of the garage when she saw me resting hugging the rock. She was laughing so hard as she jumped out of the car to grab the camera that I was sure she was going to fall. I didn't have the air to protest, so I just squinted into the sun and continued to hug my rock. At the very least I've learned that if I find a rock bigger than this one, I'll just have to leave it be.

I started all of my remaining tomato seedlings on Sunday night, which should give them about six weeks of grow time before I plunk them in the ground in mid-May. I'm re-using the Ultimate Growing System with tomato soilless starter, so I'm not sure exactly how they'll do with a replacement substrate but we'll find out soon enough.

Fireflies (Lampyridae ) or Lightning Bugs

Michelle took some pictures of the first Fireflies of the year. The way these two males were pulled up next to each other I couldn't help but imagine them working on their pickup lines.