Monday, March 31, 2014

A Mini Hoophouse for My Flowers

Potting on Purple Coneflowers and Pacific Giant Delphiniums
 This past weekend was a rather dreary one.  I was able to get some work done in the yard on Saturday, but Sunday was almost completely shut out due to rain.  We must have gotten about 5 - 6 inches worth within 24 hours.  I guess the only upside to all of this rain was that it wasn't snow.  In any case, it gave me an opportunity to get some work done in the comfort of our kitchen.  I spent most of Sunday potting on most of the flowers I'd started in February.  At this point, I have absolutely no choice but to find a new place to house all of these transplants as my indoor shelves are filled to beyond capacity with more flowers and vegetable starts.

 After all of my flowers were potted on, I went to work late Sunday afternoon setting out my flats and constructing a mini hoop house to house them all.  I'd built my raised beds last fall with this eventually in mind so putting it all together was not very difficult at all.  We'd picked up some PVC pipping earlier in the day along with some 2 mil plastic sheeting.  The pipping was bent and pushed into the larger diameter PVC pipes, which I'd previously attached to the sides of my beds.

The plastic sheeting was laid on top and pulled taut against the hoops.  To stabilize the plastic, I laid down some narrow wood planks on all sides and placed some heavy stones on top.  This hoop house is rudimentary at best, but at this point, it's the best I can do.  Sunday night, we experienced some extremely mighty winds.  Fortunately, I was happy to find the hoop house in one piece and practically unscathed when I woke up.

Amazingly, our early spring temperatures have begun to stabilize (or so the weatherman says). Our daytime temperatures are expected to be in the high 40's and our nighttime temperatures are expected to be in the mid to low 30's according to our 10-day forecast.  To be on the safe side, I will add an inner layer of fabric row cover if night-time temperatures creep down to near freezing.  But for now, things look optimistic. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Potting Up and Planting On

Potting on several 6-packs of cascading lobelias.
 My seedling starting endeavor is in high gear and things are growing along fast.  My indoor plant shelves are filled to capacity with several more trays of seeds germinating as we speak.  As a result, by next weekend, I will have to perform the daily task of carrying many of my plant trays outside in the morning and back in at night.  During the day, I'll set them out in a sunny spot on our patio under large clear Tupperware bins, or what I like to refer to as my 'poor man's mini greenhouses'.  I'd done this several times last week and my young plants seem to be fairing well.  I could build something a bit more elaborate, but for the time being, these seems to do the trick. In any case, here are pictures of several flowers I'm growing from seed this year.  I've very happy with how they've grown thus far. 

 On the left are several 6-packs of Jupiter's Beard - a butterfly favorite.  Also pictured are some purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).

 On the left is 'French perfume' lavender, which only grows to about a foot tall and will make for a good border plant.  On the right are Montauk daisies, a late flowering perennial grown from seeds I collect at nearby North Scituate Beach. 

 Small pots of cottage pinks, zinnias and black-eyed susans - all of which will need to be potted up again soon.  I'd potted on many of my seedlings into individual cells.  Others, I grew on in groups of 2, 3 or 4.  Since this is my first real attempt at growing a flower garden, I'm experimenting a bit.  So far, all of my seedlings seem to be growing well whether potted on individually or in small groups. 

 Two small pots of 'Tarpan' strawberries grown from seed.  Tarpan produces beautiful pink flowers and edible fruit.  Soon I'll have to separate these seedlings into individual pots. 

Trays of penstemon, rudbeckia and cascading lobelias sunning outside for the first time. 

At this point, I've started most of my flowers, brassicas, alliums and herbs.  This past weekend, I also sowed my peppers and tomatoes.  It seems crazy to think that our average last frost date is only 5-6 weeks away, especially considering that we're expecting another snow storm this Wednesday. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Garden In Progress - Building More Raised Beds

It's finally starting to feel like Spring.  While we're expected to get another snow storm this week, the beautiful weather this weekend offered us an opportunity to do some work around the yard, which included building two new raised beds and filling them with fresh soil mix from a local landscaping company.  Since I've been sick for most of this past week, it felt good to be outside in the fresh air flexing some muscles.  I'm hoping that by next weekend, we'll be able to plant peas and Fava beans.

I love the view of our house from this angle.  Where I stood to take this picture is a rather under-utilized area of our yard - perfect for a small vegetable garden and maybe a berry patch.  It's amazing how sunny our lot is this time of year.  Unfortunately, the tall oak trees that surround our property will render most of our growing areas 'part-shade' by the time they leaf out.  Lucky for me, I've grown accustomed to gardening in such conditions.  While it does take more time and patience, in the end, the veggies still manage to grow and the soft fruits still ripen.  Such is the reality of growing in most parts of suburbia. 

Anyway, Happy Spring everyone!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cold Treatment (Vernalization) for Artichokes

It's been about 6 or 7 weeks since I started my artichokes.  My initial batch was a variety I've grown in the past - 'Imperial Star', what is a reliable producer of artichokes during the first year.  It's also the main variety grown here in the Northeast for annual production.  A couple weeks later, I found some 'Green Globe Improved' artichoke seeds at a local nursery and decided to give those a go as well.  In my opinion, Imperial Star is good but doesn't come close to the amazing flavor of a fresh Green Globe.  Though not as reliable or productive as Imperial Star, Green Globe may also produce edible buds the first year if you provide it with at least 6 to 8 weeks of cold temperatures.  Artichoke plants generally start flowering in during the second year and this cold treatment tricks the plant into thinking it's experienced a winter. 

With temperatures reaching into the low 50's this past weekend, I was able to sun my artichokes for the first time.  As long as they are brought back in whenever temperatures drop below 35 degrees, they should fair perfectly well outside.  And if all goes well, I should get my first artichokes sometime in July. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sowing Sweet Peas

Sweet Pea seeds sown in newspaper rolls
For a while there, it felt as if March would never arrive.  Still, it's becoming more evident that winter will be slow to release it's grip on us this year.  It's strange to think that the official start of spring is less then 3 weeks away.  And yet, temperatures have barely reached above 30 degrees all week.  During an ordinary year, my early spring greens would have been sown by now.  Unfortunately, the cold weather hasn't given me much motivation or incentive to do so yet.  Hopefully that will come this upcoming weekend.

At present, my mind has been focused on flower flowers flowers.  So much so that I haven't given much thought to blogging either, which I intend to rectify from this moment on.  During the past couple of weeks, I've been pricking and potting on all of the flower seeds I started back in early February.  (More on that in another post.)  And this past weekend, I decided to celebrate the beginning of March by sowing my sweet peas.  This particular medley is called 'perfume delight'.  Hopefully it lives up to its name.  This is my first time growing sweet peas so it will be interesting to see how their growth habit mirrors or differs from that of edible peas.  However, I have read enough to know that they require conditions amiable enough to allow them to develop strong, deep root systems, which is why I started mine in 6 inch rolls made from old newspaper.  Maybe one day I'll invest in a proper set of commercial root trainers, but for now, these will have to do.

While the cold weather lingers, things are definitely starting to ramp up on the seed-starting front.  Plans are being drawn (more on that later). Preparations are underway. More seeds have been ordered.  And before you know it, our planting season will be in high gear again.