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February Gardening

In the past few years I’ve made some novice attempts to get a veggie garden going, with some successes and a lot of misses. So now I’m reading up on how to grow veggies effectively in our warmish San Francisco bay area microclimate. For starters, I’m making a concerted effort to start a bunch of seeds indoors, for real this time. My problem in the past has been that all of our south-facing windows are blocked from the sun by the patio covering thing. Oh and we have curious cats who like to knock over anything that’s sitting on “their” window sills. So I’m setting up the operation in the garage. It’s not even remotely insulated in there, and overnight lows have mostly been in the high 40s Fahrenheit, but I bought one of those heat mats to sit under the seed flats… and everything is sprouting really fast!

The next hurdle was getting light for the seedlings. I ended up buying some 6 watt LED “grow lights” and a shelving unit with a zip-up plastic covering billed as a “mini greenhouse”.

Grow Lights

I set the grow lights and the seedlings on the top rack, with the heat mat and unsprouted flats on a lower shelf. Possibly the extra heat keeps night time temps just a little bit warmer for the seedlings, I’m not really sure if it made a difference. But everything still seems to be growing fairly well, so that’s cool. The plastic covering certainly keeps sawdust off the plants while they hang out in the garage, and I’m in and out of there several times a day doing laundry and such, so I get lots of opportunities to peek in and see how they’re doing. I have a spray bottle sitting right there so I can easily mist anything that’s looking dry.

I’ve already started tomatoes, broccoli, kale, leeks, celery, basil and parsley, and I’ll be starting some bell peppers in a few weeks. The basil, tomatoes, and peppers I’m growing inside now to get an early start. For the broccoli, rather than picking at random I actually did some research and am trying to grow a fast-maturing cultivar called “De Cicco”. I got a different one to plant in late summer, “Watham 29”. I’m so fancy with my names and such. 🙂 We’ll see how it goes. The celery and leeks I probably could have seeded directly outside, but those were two that I failed at last year, so I’m starting them indoors to keep an eye on them.

I did sow some seeds directly in the garden boxes too, basically all the ones I had success with in the past: spinach, carrots, cilantro, green onions, and lettuce. And I’m growing some radishes too. I don’t really ever buy them to eat, but maybe I’ll eat some if I grow them. 🙂 Really they’re supposed to be super easy to grow, and I figured I could direct Dakota’s “helpful” energy at the radishes so hopefully she doesn’t drown my other veggies with love and too much water. Maybe I’ll even make a special garden box just for her and plant more radishes in it.

I’m going to try to grow a winter squash this year, so I’ll plant that in April. I’ll build a big trellis for it and the tomato, and hopefully they won’t take up too much horizontal space.

Oh, for the spinach I bought a culitvar called “Okame” that’s supposed to be more heat tolerant. I sowed the last of the cultivar I bought last year already, but when I sow more in a month or two I hope to have more success than my late-spring attempts last year.

February Garden

The big plant on the right in the picture above is the one kale plant that actually germinated from what I sowed last fall… It took its sweet time and came up while I was away for xmas. Cool. The radishes are poking up on the left and the spinach is along the back.

Herb-wise, The sage got too big for the raised box so I moved it over next to the rosemary, and it’s doing just fine.

Sage and Rosemary

My thyme and oregano both died. For the thyme I think I just wasn’t watering it enough, but for the oregano I planted a new plant in one of the main veggie boxes, because I think it needed more depth than the little herb boxes provided. We keep checking the home improvement stores for thyme plants, but they don’t seem to have any in stock yet. Blarg. I’m also going to try to grow dill and chives this year. I don’t currently use either in any of my recipes, but I’ve heard that dill, at least, tastes good in chicken soup… Oh! And I’m going to grow ginger indoors. Should be interesting…

Last but not least, the strawberries! I was sad last year that Dakota couldn’t reach them in the middle of the big box, so I made a long skinny box just for the strawberries, and they seem to have transplanted okay. I’m going to stick with the “remove all the runners” philosophy of strawberries and see how it goes. Having them in this box by themselves probably makes them more vulnerable to birds and bugs and stuff, but I’ll just take things as they come and see how it goes… Here’s Dakota watering them shortly after I transplanted them. You can still see the sage in its old location in the background.

Strawberries

We had bought the temporary fencing to give the chickens their own space on the other side of the yard, but the dogs seem to respect it (though Alaska, at least, could totally jump it if she was feeling adventurous) so we set up the extra fencing to keep the dogs out of this part of the yard. The dogs need to stay out because we’re slowly getting around to repairing the fence and it’s full of exit routes, but the extra benefit is that this setup keeps the dogs from digging in the garden boxes. Sadly it does nothing to deter the neighborhood stray cats. >:|

Temporary fencing

 

 

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March Outdoor Chores

I should probably just title this post “Outdoor Procrastinating”, because whenever I think about getting some work done outside, I think about how I’m STILL not done with the chicken coop, and then I decide to go read a book or bake cookies or something instead of face up to my own slowness.

Okay, that’s a little unfair, here’s the coop as it looks today, and I really am almost done, at least with the functionality:

Coop progress

And I finally got around to trimming back the magenta bougainvillea (and the giant privet that was growing behind it):

Bougainvillea and rosemary

See the poor rosemary bush on the far right side? It looks all lopsided because it was almost completely covered. And despite all the neglect, it still was providing us with delicious fresh flavor for dinner a few nights each week.

Speaking of herbs, here are my mostly ignored herb boxes:

Herb boxes

I think maybe I need to trim back the parsley somehow? That’s the big leafy one in the middle. And the garlic is probably close to ready to be harvested, I’ll have to double check with mister Google on how one determines such things. But why is the garlic to the right of the parsley so much bigger than the garlic to the left of the parsley? Slightly more sun? Slightly better drainage? who knows!

Here’s the main garden box, I finally got around to planting little strawberry plants, hopefully they won’t die horribly, I’m at least watering them a few times a week:

Strawberries

The onion seeds I planted are just starting to break through the soil on both sides of the strawberries, so that’s cool I guess.

Here’s the last big thing I need to prune back, the middle jasmine:

Jasmine bloom

It’s the giant white mound. Since it’s furiously blooming at the moment I figure I’ll let it have its fun. I cut back the jasmine on the far right of the picture before it started blooming, so no flowers from that one this year. 😦 Oh and that fence is SO GETTING REPLACED this year. I know I say that every year, but it’s happening for real this time.

Let’s see, to finish things off, here’s the front yard. The lavender just loves being completely ignored and is looking fabulous:

Lavender

The hydrangea is also doing well despite being completely ignored. I didn’t even cut off the dead flowers from last year. I’m a horrible plant mom. 😉

Hydrangea

I got yet another fuchsia in a hanging pot last week. It’s looking a little droopy, despite the fact that I HAVE been water it! Booooo. Maybe I’m over-watering? Sigh. All previous fuchsias died off after a few months, but they at least looked good while they lasted…

Fuchsia

And thus ends my report on the outdoor happenings this month. Wish me luck on finishing the coop!

 

Another attempt at gardening

My first attempt at growing herbs in little pots two years ago bombed… because I didn’t water them enough. Now that I’m home full time though I figure I can probably keep up with the little daily things a bit better. This time I thought instead of pots I’d try for a mini square foot garden, more like the garden box I made last year with limited success. This time instead of fancy 2×4’s I realized I could save a few bucks and use cedar fence slats. I wanted to make two boxes that were 3 feet by 1 foot, so all I needed was five 6 foot long slats. Here they are after a few quick cuts on the miter saw:

Fence slats

The bottoms of the boxes were just two boards side by side, which left a convenient exit for water between them. I wish I could say I thought of that beforehand, but I was just being lazy since I didn’t want to have to cut plywood for the bottoms. I only realized my brilliance afterward. Here’s a completed box:

finished box

Not the most beautiful bit of carpentry, but whatever, it works. Maybe I’ll paint the outside or something if I decide they’re too ugly. In the meantime here they sit on the back patio:

Herb boxes

I found the little metal labels on clearance at Target. Sadly there wasn’t a label for cilantro, which I’m growing from seed since I managed that with no trouble last year, even with my limited watering. The other two empty looking spots are for garlic (I just stuck a few cloves from my CSA in the ground) and green onions. I really have no idea if I’ll get anything from them, but I wanted to stick to  stuff that I used really frequently, since I figured I’d be more motivated that way.

The bucket of water is great since I only have to refill it about twice a week instead of running to the tap every day. I fill the little gray watering can from it.

The whole setup is in easy view of the kitchen. In fact here’s what I see when I walk out the back door:

View from the back door

I know from past experience that if I don’t make this as easy as possible I’ll start to let it slide and then I’ll be left with yet another pile of dead plants and/or weeds. This way I at least have a shot of being successful. I guess we’ll see how it goes!

Herbs Herbs Herbs!

Well, I made it to the hardware store and schlepped around the gardening department for a while, trying to not look too confused and befuddled. They were running a two-for-one deal on most of the herbs, yay! But it took me a while to figure out that thyme, our number one most used fresh herb, was grouped with the “ground cover” plants rather than the herbs, boo. And then I had to puzzle through the difference between “woolly thyme” and “creeping thyme”. (I’m pretty sure they both creep, but the woolly thyme unsurprisingly looked fuzzier, so I went with the “creeping thyme”.)

Also there were a bunch of different types of basil. Since we don’t use it much currently, I pretty much picked at random and ended up with sweet basil. I also picked up sage, dill, and “garlic chives”, which just sounds yummy.

Anyway, they weren’t terribly expensive, so I won’t feel too bad if they die off really quickly. If nothing else I hope that they’ll be good practice for me. They’re in pots for now, but when things get hotter I may need to look to put them in the ground or at least move the pots to a shadier spot, since I think the roots can fry if they get too hot… or something…

You may have noticed in the background of the picture above there’s a big wooden container with some sort of plant growing in it. (It kinda looks like a bush in the picture.) I’ve been ignoring it right from day one because it didn’t immediately sprout pretty flowers, and I’ve been pretty frustrated at my inability to identify most of the plants in our yard. Well, while I was potting my new purchases something caught my attention… Perhaps it was because we had been drinking mojitos the night before at happy hour…

That’s right, it’s a giant fricking bucket of mint. Really I’m amazed that it hasn’t somehow put roots down through the bottom of the bucket and started taking over the yard. Dave claims to have gotten rid of a mint jungle in his back yard back in the day by attacking it with a lawn mower… He couldn’t smell anything but mint for days afterwards. 🙂 Anyway, I trimmed out all of the dead stalks and we mulched around it and otherwise we’re just going to let it be. That’s a LOT of mojitos.