Playing in the dirt.

A Quick Update

It’s been very busy outdoors, building new beds.  The salad bed is coming along nicely, and it is officially productive as of Sunday evening, when I pulled the first bunch of radishes to go with dinner.  Corn and beans are between three and four inches high, and the tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons that I planted out are finally starting to recover from what proved to be repeatedly terrible timing.

Salad garden.

Even the parsley and lovage and parsnips have sprouted, and the arugula and radishes are going gangbusters.

There’s still work to do, of course, and when isn’t there?  Still, it has been immensely satisfying, and I may have gotten my money’s worth out of the corn and beans purely on the weight of how much the tiny plants lift my spirits every time I’m out there.

Assorted garden beds with a view of the horizon.

Family photo.

Zoom! Like a Rocket

Okay, yes, it’s a terrible pun.  Of the seeds I planted a week ago, the arugula was the first to sprout, with several little green faces showing up by yesterday morning.  It got close to freezing last night, but never quite got there, which is good, because I did not cover the bed.  I wasn’t feeling particularly well yesterday, and decided that if it was only going to take a week to sprout, I’d just replant them if they got nipped.  It did rain off and on all night, so I did not have to haul water this morning, so I won’t know how it went last night until I get off work this afternoon.

The cucurbits were planted indoors on Friday, and this morning brought two moldy zucchini peats, two moldy watermelon peats, three cantaloupe sprouts, and the suggestion of sprouts in all the other peats.  I’m planning to plant one squash bed in seedlings and one in seeds for each of the cucurbits, then compare the results between the two at the end of the season, to see if I need to bother with starting them early in future years.  Cucurbits don’t like to have their roots disturbed, so tend to make poor transplants, but our growing season is so short, and our nights so cool, that careful transplanting might be the only way to get fruit for most varieties.

It’ll be an experiment!

We Are Go!

It’s official, there are seeds in the ground.  Repeat, there are seeds in the ground.

Yesterday, I pulled all the staples holding down the chicken wire, watered the soil, then raked in two bags of compost to make up for what I took out in produce last year and what settling there was over the winter.  Then I ran out of steam.

Tonight, I re-strung my square foot markers, and planted one square each of:

  • Onions for greens and sets for next year
  • Shallots for the same reason, though some of these might actually get large enough to eat
  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Cilantro
  • Kale
  • Radicchio
  • Parsnips
  • Turnips
  • Carrots (Paris Market)
  • Carrots (Dragon)
  • Daikon radishes
  • Radishes (Early Scarlet Globe)
  • Radishes (French Breakfast)
  • Spinach
  • Lolla Rossa lettuce
  • Bunte Forellenschluss lettuce
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Red Romaine lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Mizuna
  • Kohlrabi

All of those should be okay even if we get another freeze, and some are supposed to be planted before the last frost, anyway.  We’re technically a month away from our average last frost, but the forecast for the next week at least is 70s during the day, and above 40 at night (Fahrenheit, for my non-USian readers).  I have plastic milk jugs to cut down for cloches, and I can throw sheets over the bed cover if the weather turns on us again, so I’m pretty confident.  This is a little earlier than last year’s first planting, which happened on May 27.  I’ll be planting additional squares of most of these after I get the new beds built.

Most recently, Gayla has asked who or what we look to for inspiration in our garden, with Grow Write Guild prompt #4.

For me, that would be Genevieve Mason, a woman I came to meet when my high school biology teacher tracked me down at the end of my senior year to ask if I’d like a job over the summer working in her stepmother’s garden.  Mrs. Mason, in her mid-eighties and frail health, was ordered by her doctors to have someone else tend her garden for her, lest she overwork herself.  I would have gladly done the work as a favor to one of my favorite teachers, but Mrs. Mason would not hear of it, and so we settled on a polite arrangement where once a week I gave her two hours of pruning and weeding, and she would give me a five dollar bill.

She was a delightful woman who had traveled a great deal, mostly to French-speaking countries and most often to France, having been a French teacher before her retirement.  Her husband had been gone for several years, and I expect that our three hours of conversation each week were a greater service to her than the two hours I spent in the garden before she would kindly insist that I come in and have a drink and rest a bit before walking home in the heat.

One of the first things she had me do was plant a flat of pansies right up against the house, and while I do not currently keep pansies, I always think of her when I see them, and if I ever get my Someday and have land of my own, pansies will be tucked in somewhere in her honor.  She had the most amazing climbing roses, which I pruned under her direction.  By mid-summer, when she wanted to add some soil amendments, I told her that I’d bring her a couple of bags of rabbit manure for free, so she could just buy enough pretty “dirt” to cover it with.  She was pleased with the offer, and so the next week, I spent the first hour spreading rabbit manure around flowers of every description, and the second spreading garden soil over the top of it.

She introduced me to Queen Anne cherries, and she had an impossible number of herbs in a tiny herb garden just off her kitchen.  Mint had escaped its bed near the garage, and I spent one week doing nothing but digging it out of the lawn.  She told me to take as many of the cuttings as I wanted, with the suggestion that I keep it in a large pot as she looked over the lawn to see if she could see any other strays.

She had two overgrown evergreen shrubs of some ilk on either side of her front door–which I never used, having been directed to the kitchen door ’round the side–but that she wanted to prune to clear the doorway of encroaching branches.  When I told her that I hadn’t the first idea how to prune evergreens, she said that she didn’t care, she hated the things, anyway, and to just cut it all back so that the doorway was clear six inches all the way around, as high as I could reach.  It was a hack job, but she was happy with it, and I have still never learned how to properly prune evergreens.

I left for college at the end of August, and that last week, she told me that her garden had not looked so lovely in many years and thanked me for helping her get it back into shape.  Then she gave me her suitcase, an old and battered light blue hard-side with her initials writ large on the side in red electrical tape, saying that her traveling days were over, but she hoped the suitcase that had served her well for many years would be of use to me as I packed to move several states away.

Mrs. Mason died that December, just three days before my great-grandfather also passed away, and news of both reached me an hour before a chemistry test.  I failed the exam, but I’ve had more use for the things I learned from her, anyway.

Signs of Spring…Maybe

First up, some recent photos of the seedlings, which are growing sturdier by the day:

Arugula sprouts in a light green planter box.

Arugula in the indoor salad planter.

Chile peppers, leggy kale, and a tomato seedling in peat starters.

Chile peppers, leggy kale, and a tomato seedling.

Two tomato seedlings and a pepper seedling in large yogurt tubs.

Tomato, tomato, pepper, potted up to keep growing strong.

I also found some signs of spring out in the yard over the last couple of very nice days:

Tulip leaves about four inches high.

Tulip greening up.

Unknown groundcover wildflower with tiny white flowers.

Small groundcover wildflower; name unknown, flowers the size of a pencil eraser.

Small groundcover wildflower with closed pink flowers.

Small groundcover wildflower with closed pink blooms. When open, the petals of the quarter-sized daisy-style flowers are white and the centers are bright yellow.

Now? It’s snowing.

If anyone has any ideas as to the identity of either of the two wildflowers, please feel free to hazard a guess in the comments!

UPDATE: The white flowers appear to be Spiny phlox (Phlox hoodii) or another native relative.  My research this evening has also identified Scarlet Globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea, native) and Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius, introduced, can be invasive) that I photographed last summer.  I hope it doesn’t take a whole year to ID these little blossoms!

Ch-Ch-Changes

It’s time to tackle Grow Write Guild Writing Prompt #3, which is the first in what promises to be a very interesting series of posts documenting changes our garden spaces from the beginning of the season through the summer.

My garden is dry and brown right now, in part because three days ago, it was under a layer of airy, dirty snow.  We’re also back under a winter storm warning, so it might well be back under a layer of snow by this time tomorrow.  So, while my seedlings enjoy their continued respite from our harsh climate, my garden looks like this:

A raised garden bed with an A-frame cover next to it.

Last year’s bed and cover.

I set the cover on the ground for the winter, deciding that it would be less damaged by contact with the soil than it would be by being continually blown off the bed and into the fence.  (Wyoming is where the wind lives. It just visits other places.)  I wasn’t sure it was going to survive the winter, either way, so I’m pleased to report that it seems perfectly sound and able to withstand a second season.  I pulled chicken wire across the bed and stapled it down to keep the feral cats from using my garden as a litter box all winter, also with success.  The twine strung every almost-foot is broken in several places, but I expected to need to restring my spacing markers anyway.  I’ll pull the staples for that when I remove the chicken wire, and cut it into suitable lengths to leave for birds to use as nesting material.  The robins have started to arrive, but they’re squabbling about whose bright idea it was to return before it was done snowing.

This year, I’m expanding out a bit to the north, where there are few stands of the tough bunched oats to fight through:

Dry prairie with a fence and some assorted junk.

Oh, the places we’ll go!

The dirt pile in the background was pulled off the front “yard” of the other home on the property, after having been soaked in herbicide so the owner could put in a rock garden.  While the herbicide indicated that it should break down into a harmless form in short order, I don’t plan to trust that dirt pile until I see it covered in weeds other than the ubiquitous and invasive Salsola iberica, or Russian thistle, an ironic symbol of the Old American West better known to many people as “tumbleweed.”  The stuff will grow in the absolute worst conditions, in soil still toxic to most other plants.  I usually pull them up in the hopes of keeping their numbers down to a dull roar, but since they’ll help rehabilitate that soil, I’ll leave what grows there alone.

Some assorted trash has blown in over the winter and will need gathered up and disposed of as appropriate, and that ancient CRT monitor marks the resting place of a beloved house cat, for the entirely pragmatic reason of keeping the foxes out of it.

Don’t let the stark brown fool you, though.  The grass is starting to green up around the base, where the dead blades from last year offer a little protection from the unrelenting wind and freezing temperatures.  Since I took the photos, I have scraped off the top layer from the areas for two new beds, leveled out a “bump” across one of them, removed the monitor (it’s been a couple of years, so there’s no remaining risk) and filled the depression in with the excess I scraped off the two new areas.

There’s still a lot of work ahead, but the first bits are done, so there’s that much less still to do.

Making Haste Slowly

Very little in the way of new news to share, though there is one sprout in my salad planters as of Saturday’s quick trip to the office to check on seedlings, and there’s evidence that an eggplant is going to sprout.  Friday, I planted some more tomatoes and eggplants, in case something catastrophic happens to the first batch, and I planted kale.  This coming Friday, I’ll get the shallots started (from seed, so apparently not “true” shallots, which Teh Internetz suggests only propagate by bulb division).  The sprouts that came up this week are doing well.

Assorted sprouts in starter peats.

Assorted sprouts.

The Anaheims and onions are still visible in the far container, along with the lemon mint, with the Genovese basil and the so far lone Pasilla in the back corners.  But another Pasilla was suggesting it might sprout soon when I checked on things Saturday.  In the near container, from left to right are: Mexico Midget, Italian Heirloom, Opalka, and Beam’s Yellow Pear, along with the lime basil.

And because we’re gardening at 7200 feet, it was cold and snowy and windy all weekend, so I’ve not yet managed to get anything accomplished outside.

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