Budding Vegetables & Gardening Zen

You can only read so many books and web articles about vegetable gardening before you just have to sack up and do whatever is that you have been reading about. By reading and reading and reading, we ended up putting off transplanting for a really long time. Luckily, it hasn’t done any lasting harm to our plants. Check out the buds on the tomato, jalapeno, and bell pepper plants. I am woman! I make vegetable!

What’s that you say? You can’t see the buds? Well, they’re really small, OK?

Annnnnnyway, some form of procrastination leaked into the rest of our original planting schedule and temporarily poisoned our will to plant. I don’t know why we kept putting it off, but eventually we were reading packets that said to plant “2 to 4 weeks after temps reach 65 degrees” or some degree indicative of early springtime. It is so not early springtime anymore. But who cares, I say! I laugh in the face of seed packets! I am woman! I make–you get the point.

So last night when I got home from work, feeling a little tired, a little discouraged, a little envious of other organizations’ websites, whatever, I decided June 12 seemed like a perfect time to plant my early spring vegetables. You know, I just went for it. Who cares if it’s not radish season anymore according to some packet? It’s always radish season in my heart. So I got Jordan to drill some holes in some buckets, and we planted. Radishes. Lettuce. Zucchini. Cucumbers. Carrots. Just like that.

And I felt connected to Ceres, goddess of grain and harvest, as predicted in my cost benefit analysis of vegetable gardening. And I went inside feeling calm–respite gleaned by burying treasures and digging in dirt.

A Few Updates from April & May

Ok, I know we haven’t posted in forever, but we are making lots of progress. It’s just now I have less time to write about the plants because I am too busy looking at them from inside my kitchen. Nevertheless, here are a few highlights from the past month & some:

  • I have officially turned Jordan into a lean, mean, watering-plant machine. He can water plants all by himself and without reminders! Go Jordan, you deserve chocolate chip cookies for your effort!
  • Our tomato plant grows like a foot a day or something. I like to peek out the kitchen window where it’s safe from bugs and heat and to make sure there aren’t any squirrels threatening our plants and seriously, every time I look, the tomato plant is taller!
  • Even though the seed packet said we were supposed start jalapeno seeds indoors, we decided to pull a Hail Mary and scatter some more seeds in our jalapeno pot. The squirrels attacked the poor jalapeno constantly for the first few weeks of it’s life outdoors and we’re hoping new plants will survive and thrive despite our breaking the rules listed on the back of the seed packet.

Now for the bad and shameful news: we are so behind in our planting. No lettuce started, no radishes started (missed that boat), also nothing else. Forget this planning stuff, we’re in panic mode and we’re just going to throw some seeds in some pots and see what happens.

We are also growing herbs but not nearly as many as I wish. I think if we started a garden in the ground instead of in pots,  I would make it a giant herb garden! We have oregano, basil, thyme, spearmint, lavender, and lemon verbena to start. I think my original wish list included garlic, chives, anise, mustard, elderflower, dill, french tarragon, borage, caraway, coriander, lemon grass, jasmine, sweet bay, sage, peppermint, sweet marjoram, nasturtium, parsley, rosemary, and scented geranium. And that’s only a partial list…

One of these days, I’ll have something like this, give or take a few herbs:

Landscape Plan: Herb Garden from HGTV.com

1. Vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanioides)
2. Dwarf Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha ‘Santa Barbara’)
3. Curly parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
4. Periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), a lavender variety
5. Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Purple Osmin’)
6. Anise sage (Salvia guaranitica)
7. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
8. Golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’)
9. Thread-leaf tickseed (Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’)
10. Purple parsnip (Angelica gigas)
11. Purple sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’)
12. Bee balm (Monarda didyma ‘Cerise Queen’ or ‘Blue Stocking’)
13. Dwarf Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum ‘Galaxy’)
14. Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Red Rubin’)
15. Goldenrod (Solidago ‘Fireworks’)
16. Variegated lemon balm (Melissa officinalis ‘Aurea’)
17. English thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
18. Hardy rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’)
19. Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)
20. Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus)
21. Tricolored sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’)
22. Korean mint, Mexican mint (Agastache urticifolia ‘Honey Bee Blue’)
23. Toothache plant (Spilanthes oleracea)

Here’s to dreaming!

Blog Absence Explained; Seedling Progress

Charlotte is something like the second or third worst city in the United States for seasonal allergies and I happen to be the second or third most allergic person in Charlotte. Not a very happy situation. Since we had such a warm winter, the pollen started very early (late February) and we still have brown strands of irritants covering our front yard.

The bad news is that I have fallen off the wagon of tracking our seedlings’ progress and planting new seeds due to uncontrollable sniffling, sneezing, and general allergy induced sickness. The good news is we hardened off our first batch of seedlings and they are thriving on our back deck! We’ve also had a lot of rain and haven’t really needed to water our plants. Nature is finally doing something in our favor.

I believe it might be time to say goodbye to the weaker plants and transplant the stronger ones to larger pots. Today would be the perfect day if we hadn’t wasted the entire morning watching Yard Crashers and wishing Ahmed Hassan would come make our backyard an oasis instead of the jungle that currently plays host to the boldest squirrels that ever lived, several bird families, fearless neighborhood cats, and raccoons and possums who wake us up in the middle of the night by walking around on our deck. But that is a story for another day.

Off to figure out container size and whether or not I can use companion planting in said containers. This container gardening stuff is pretty complicated!

Global Warming/Climate Change Equals More Bugs

Listening to public radio is so interesting. I’m always learning something new. We used to listen to NPR on the way to school every morning growing up so now I think of it as news masquerading as story time. I don’t know how many times a day I start a story with, “I was listening to the radio and I heard…”

Well, let me tell you a story about a story I heard. If you’ve been following along, you know I hate bugs. According to the “Plant Doctor” Melinda Myers, who was on Charlotte Talks recently, our unnaturally warm winter is going to result in more bugs bothering us than normal. Stupid global warming/climate change!

I didn’t hear the whole conversation so I don’t know exactly why there would be more bugs than usual, but I’m assuming they just have more time to wake up and multiply. Having never gardened before, I don’t know what’s normal for populations of bugs, but when she advised us to “grab the bugs early before they multiply into the hundreds,” I have to admit I got more than just a little freaked out. By the way, she really meant “grab” the bugs. Like, with your hands.

An example of my psychological problem with bugs: just a minute ago, I moved my foot and some fuzz from my slippers ended up on my lap. I almost jumped out of my skin thinking it was a bug! A fuzzy red bug, spawned from my shedding slippers. I need an intervention.

With “hundreds” of bugs to deal with this summer (Sacre Bleu! Invaders!) a question remains: will I be able to conquer my fear and save my darling plants?

Who will save me?

Euh, Stinky: Troubleshooting Compost Problems

Jordan is master of compost. He is the one who delivers our food scraps to the compost bin and is supposed to make sure all is well in compost heaven. Well, Houston, we have a problem.

The most dreaded of compost problems for me is stinky compost. And we definitely have stinky compost. I remember reading about troubleshooting compost problems and I decided I should make like Nancy Drew and investigate this mystery. So I asked myself these questions to determine the solution to the stinky problem:

Q: Do you have stinky compost?
A: Yes. Stinkiness confirmed.

Q: What have you been putting in your compost bin?
A: Only food scraps. And no oils, I swear!

Q: Have you been following the ratio from your compost recipe of 3:1 browns (carbon-rich) to greens (nitrogen-rich)?
A: No! This must be part of the problem. Master composter, Jordan has been adding our food scraps to the bin every week but hasn’t been adding the leaves and paper scraps. Eh.

Q: How wet is the mix, like a wrung out sponge?
A: Wetter than a rung out sponge, it’s been raining. At least the holes on the side of the bin are working.

So it seems like our problems are not enough dry browns and too much water and perhaps not enough air. I think it might be time to stop adding greens to the pile and let it cook a while. But what do we do with our kitchen scraps in the meantime? Start another bin? I’m not sure I’ll be able to convince Jordan to bite holes in another trash can…

SproutRobot / AlexRobot

A friend recently told me about a new website that promises to help gardeners schedule when to plant plants based on zip codes/zones. Just like Ouch Pouch toe pads and Cubism, someone has gone and invented my invention before I had a chance to do it myself. Part of my overall plans in starting this blog, including but not limited to world domination, has been usurped by a website cleverly named SproutRobot.com.

Visit the website, put in your zip code, and the robot will populate a planting schedule based on your zone. Now, you can do this yourself by buying seeds, reading the packet’s directions and then organizing the seeds in order of their planting dates. But if that is two too many steps for you, Sprout Robot may be your answer. Once you create an account, you can check the vegetables that you are planning on growing and the robot will customize your planting schedule for you.

With every website (or really anything) that promises to solve all of your problems, there are always drawbacks. Some problems to start:

  1. I am pretty certain that the Robot promised to email me when I was supposed to start my tomatoes and bell peppers but I don’t have an email. (Come on, Robot! Automatic reminders that I don’t have to put in my calendar? Don’t fail me there!)
  2. The Robot doesn’t know about every single herb that I want to plant so I’ll still have to supplement my Robot generated schedule with my own herb planting schedule.

Besides the little issues listed above, I think it’s a helpful site and hopefully will only get better as time goes on. According to the site it is time to plant my tomatoes and bell peppers indoors! We’ll see how Jordan and I do with planting seeds–it can’t be that hard, right?

Compost Recipe

Now that we have a DIY compost bin that cost us $15 and about a half hour of our lives, largepuppy and I need to start cooking. After we combine the right ingredients, mix them together and layer them like a cake, sprinkle the goods with a bit of love (and water), and put the whole mess into the oven to cook, we should have some delicious “black gold” to call our own. Wealthy in a whole other sense of the word.

Ooey Gooey Crispy Damp Paper Food Scrap Compost Recipe
yield: cooks down to about half the starting material

INGREDIENTS
Browns, divided:
1 large bag of dry fall leaves, preferably chopped or minced
A weeks worth of junk mail, shredded into strips**
5 cardboard containers, torn
Leftover paper napkins from last night’s takeout
A few twigs and branches
Sticks to taste
*Optional
Sawdust (who has that lying around?)
Hay or straw (again, who has that lying around??)

Greens:
5 coffee filters + grounds
4 banana peels
8 eggshells, rinsed to prevent rats
Onion scraps, potato peels, old celery, carrot tops, chopped into small pieces
An apple core or two
Pinch of green yard waste, weeds, or grass clippings
*Optional
Manure from the imaginary farm animals in your backyard
Seaweed, from the sea

**There are differing views about whether or not to compost junk mail and newspaper because of the dyes and chemicals in the paper. I don’t have very much material to work with so I’m going with what I have. Less to send to the recycling center and hopefully more compost for me!

PREPARATION
Prepare compost bin by punching holes in the container or dig a hole in the ground (see How to Make a Compost Bin Out of a Trash Can for reference.) Collect browns (carbon-rich) and greens (nitrogen-rich) materials in a ratio of 3:1 browns to greens. Put down half of the browns and give it a little sprinkle of water to slightly moisten the dry cardboard, then add the greens, followed by the rest of the browns. Give the layer cake another sprinkle of water as icing and cover the whole mess with the lid of your bin or the soil you dug up from the hole (this is your oven.)

Give the whole thing a roll to aerate and mix all the goodies together. Add more browns and greens and roll around every once in a while to cook. Compost will be ready in about 3 months. Enjoy!

How to Make a Compost Bin out of a Trash Can

Ok, so I’ve given up on making a compost “pile” because I don’t have a shovel and I fear the squirrels that think they own my backyard. It’s our fault because largepuppy and I don’t really venture outside on the back deck very often. So the squirrels think they own the place and sometimes when I peek out my back window, there they are, staring right back at me with an expression that says, “We run this s***!” just like a bushy tailed Missy Elliott. I can just imagine them digging in my pile, messing with my layers of browns and greens, and being the mischievous little hip hop critters that they are.

So we decided to make our own compost bin out of a garbage can. Here we go!

  1. Grab a plastic garbage can with a tight fitting lid. Round ones are good for future rolling, also known as aerating.
  2. Poke a bunch of holes in the sides using your teeth (or a hammer and nails or a drill, whatever works best for you.)

        

DONE. Compost bin ready to receive our browns and greens and magically transform said browns and greens into beautiful humus-rich compost that will magically help my plants grow into magical vegetables.

(magic!)

Frugal Gardening Tips: Recycled Containers, Water Conservation, & Natural Insect Repellant

I’ve been doing a lot of aggressive reading lately. Reading becomes a sport when you check out too many books at once from the library. Trigger happy and manic, I reserved all these gardening books in about 2 minutes, not bothering to think, “Alex, is there really enough time to read all these books before they start costing you a precious $0.25/day/book?”

Now, faced with a looming deadline, I can’t afford to waste any time leisurely meandering my way through my stack of pretty books. If I put as much energy into exercising as I do into reading, I might be a really good athlete instead of someone who is overly educated on very specific topics like how to make your own worm poop. But believe you me, that information is going to come in handy soon and the ability to run for longer than a minute–well, that could be handy too… Moving on!

I did finish You Grow Girl and it’s as I feared: I love it. I love everything about it. If I were to write a book on gardening, it would be this book. If I could live inside a gardening book, I would nestle between the section on growing edible flowers and the entire chapter on how to combat evil, nasty bugs and diseases. And although it is clearly written for the female audience, I do believe men would find it helpful too. Jordan may want to skip the chapter on sewing a gardening tool belt, but otherwise it’s got amazing bits of information on every single page.

Here are some things I learned that I never knew before:

  • You can use pretty much anything as a container for seed starting and growing.
    When I first started this project, I thought I would need to buy lots and lots of expensive containers and gardening gear. That is not true! I have begun to collect pretty much anything that can have holes drilled into it. My seeds will be started in toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, yogurt cups, butter containers; tin cans, plastic buckets, trash cans, old tupperware–all kinds of junk will be repurposed into suitable housing for my veggies and herbs!
  • You don’t have to buy an expensive rain barrel to conserve and collect water.
    You can buy a rain barrel if you want to, or you can make your own. However, there are lots of ways to collect water throughout the day. We can save the water from our showers and sinks that runs while we wait for it to warm up, rain water can be collected in buckets placed on the porch, we can reuse our pasta, leftover tea, and laundry water. Who says our water bill has to be high this summer? I laugh in the face of the water company!
  • You can combat insects and woodland creatures naturally without expensive and/or environmentally harmful sprays.
    You can use companion planting, i.e. planting something that attracts good bugs that will eat bad bugs next to a plant that attracts bad bugs, to go on the offense for you; you can lay down copper pennies to keep slugs and snails at bay (I feel slightly bad about this one because the copper shocks the poor guys); and burning frankincense, yes the stuff that the wise men brought to baby Jesus, discourages birds, squirrels, and cats from taking up residence in the garden.

FYI, I am not looking forward to plotting ways to murder the bad insects that will inevitably invade my sweet garden. I already know that I will be a ruthless killer. And isn’t gardening supposed to be peaceful?