Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Benefits of Companion Planting...

As I look out my window like Tennyson's Mariana in the Moated Grange, I sigh and say, "My garden in dreary, spring cometh not, my garden looks mostly dead".. and then I go back to by books with lots of colorful pictures. Lucy says pretty at all of the flowers, well if you know what she's saying, that's what it is. It probably sounds like "p" "t" and "y" all slurred together, but that's how it is. This leads me to thinking again of companion planting. How? you ask. Well I'll tell you...I don't know.
I'm sure your next question would be, "What is companion planting?" (unless you are among the elite who know all about this, and then you can humor us or skip to the next paragraph) First I'll tell you what it isn't. It is not planting with your significant other to strengthen the bonds of you relationship or keep the pangs of loneliness far away. Likewise it is not planting two plant in the same hole so that they don't get lonely.
It is planting beneficial plants next to each other so that they both thrive in a symbiotic relationship. (another score for watching Jurassic Park)
There is a lot of really heady knowledge about the who, what, when, where, and hows; but I'm going to skip to the fun part - what to plant next to each other for stellar results. I sifted the world wide web and a few different books compiling a list on my yellow pad. You too can do this if you have the desire or time, and fill in all the parts I missed. I also only posted things that I found in multiple areas believing that may lead to more sure results. As I have never done any companion planting, this is all here say until after this year.

  • Nasturtiums repel beetles and especially aphids. They can be planted randomly through out your garden or next to any especially sensitive plant. 
  • Marigolds repel most insects, but must be the scented varieties. The con of this is that they also attract spider mites and slugs, so be ware. Also, don't plant these next to beans. 
  • Garlic is a good aphid repellent for the roses. Imagine the bouquet for your nose walking through a garlic/rose garden! This also is assists in the growth and flavor of beets.
  • Basil helps tomato growth and flavor. It also repels thrips, flies, and mosquitoes. However, avoid planting it near rue or sage. 
  • Rosemary, Dill, and Sage all repel most pests with their distinct aroma. 
  • Broccoli grows well with celery, onions, and potatoes.
  • Chives improve carrots and tomatoes, also blessing and keeping aphids far from them. 
  • Coriander/Cilantro. This was a teaser for a bit until I learned (try not to laugh out loud) that Coriander is the dried seeds and Cilantro are the leaves. This is good for repelling insects. Also, the leaves can be made into a tea that is good spider mite spray. 
  • Bay Leaves are good for repelling lady bugs. You may think that this is bad, and I'd agree in the garden setting, however, if you have had lots, and lots, and lots of them living and dying in your windows, you'll be glad to know that next time just spread the bay leaves like confetti and they should leave. Pun intended.
  • Dill helps out Lettuce.
  • Mints. Be careful here. These will help your Brassaca Family (broccoli, radishes, cabbage and the like). However, they are very invasive. So either plan on dealing harshly with them or just plant them elsewhere and mulch the mint leaves scattering their tattered remains amidst the bassica fields. Then the get that advantage with out being overgrown. 
  • Parsley will increase the smell or odor or nose bouquet of the your roses.
  • Plant radishes with your squash plants. They repel squash bugs and also attract the slugs. This will keep the slugs from eating your squash plants, and the radishes won't suffer from the slugs. 
  • Odd tip...Boiled rhubarb leaves make a good black spot spray for roses. Don't eat them though. Bad stuff.

Planting Asparagus next to Onions, Garlic, or Potatoes.
Planting Carrots with Dill or Parsnips

Like I said earlier, there are way more than these few, but these I found to be most helpful to my plans. There were things about nematodes and other insects I've only heard about, but have never done any serious battling against. These I didn't pay much attention to...yet. I like the idea, because I won't have to use any chemicals if all goes well and shouldn't see too much crop loss either.
A really crazy idea, I don't know if I'm going to try it or not, is to plant Corn, beans and pumpkins in the same area. The Corn provides poles for the beans, and the pumpkin smother weeds growing around the corn. Theoretically plausible... however...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tacoma Home and Garden Show!

Today was quite  an eventful day. We started by trying to clean up some of the large branches broken by the recent storm. I say try because we failed in some of the instances. It seems that we may need an expert after all. This may not be a "do it yourself" type of clean up.

After that, we went to the Tacoma Home and Garden Show. As usual the land scape companies create a beautiful display and you think, "Why can't my yard look like that?" I'm sure for the right price it could. However, until then I'll muddle along. They also had some nice waterfall/pond ideas. Someday I will do this, but it will be in the post dog era of our lives. Right now, our labs would love it if we had a pond for them to jump in... but they'll have to keep on wishing.
I think that I did well, I set a budget and only spent 19 cents more. I saw the springs promise hellebore that I've been eyeing and kept walking. There were other nice ones too, but instead we came away withA Tree Peony (Mo Guan Yu Chi). I've never heard of them, but they sound simple to care for (partial to full sun and don't overwater) and I like peonies. The tree idea should help because our other peonies always flop after a bit. If I'm proactive I do the staking, but usually I find their fallen remains laying this way and that.
We also got some Miss Lucy Oriental Lilies and a couple of reblooming day lilies for the garden border. The people at the stands actually worked for the companies and with the flowers, so they were a wealth of info about the hows and watch out for's.
Last of all, Cisco from Gardening with Cisco, master gardener extraordinair, and self promoter of brussel sprouts was on hand doing his Saturday radio show. We listened in a bit and then got a picture, posted below. Lucy wasn't quite sure what to think, but someday she'll start being nice to people we don't know, saying hi and what not, and we'll have to teach her that you don't just say hi to everyone you meet. (The troubles of parenting!)
So, lots of fun and now I get to do more planting! The ground has been intermittently freezing, but we'll get them into their new homes soon.

Spoils of War

Mini Blogger learning how.

Who could pass up that name?

Cisco, Lucy, and I

Lucy and Helen enjoying the home and garden show.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mostly about Composting...

When we bought our house a few years ago, I built a compost bin and stuck in a shady area out of the way in our back yard. I didn't know much about composting, but picked a few tips and hints along the way. Mostly I just threw in whatever was on hand: orange peels, leaves, weeds, worms, coffee grounds, and other eclectic ingredients. It's been three years and mostly by luck there is some good dirt there. It will all be used in this coming spring for starting plants and topping off the raised bed, though, so I am delving deeper into the dirty issue. I will need to have more or else start buying some over the next year.
One easy solution is to just build more compost heaps, which am doing. In all I'll have three heaps side by side about 15-20 feet long and 4 feed wide. When I write this it seems like a lot, but in the back corner of the back yard it isn't that much. It also is my way of trying to block some of the neighbors morning glories that always climb the fence and sprawl about in our yard. As they climb over the compost, I think (hope?) that I will be much more diligent about informing them that their home is on the other side and casting them forth into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Also, I want to be much more informed. Therefore, condensing my studies to three books and four Google searches, this is what I've found. It sounds simple, yet workable.

The compost ingredients are divided into two categories based on their age and composition called green or brown. Green ingredients - usually green - are young, moist, fresh materials. They are the most active decomposers. Examples: apple peels, carrot tops, bread, grass clippings, weeds, outer cabbage leaves and dead chipmunks. Brown ingredients are usually older and drier (browner too) such as dried grass, old cornstalks, and dried vines. I also include leaves in this, but there is a distinction here and I'll go into that later. According to Eliot Coleman (yes, he has an opinion about this also) straw is the best brown ingredient of all. "The advantage of straw is that it will almost guarantee the success of your composting efforts."
The theory or system behind the compost bin is a layering technique. This traps the heat in and also reproduces the natural environment where the microorganisms, which are necessary for the decomposition, thrive. Our goal is brown layer, green layer, soil, brown layer, green layer, soil, and so on until the bin is full. Then, this is my favorite part, wait!
What we are shooting for.
The depth of each layer depends on what it is that is being put into the compost. You wouldn't want to put in 3" of matted leaves or 6" of grass clippings because they will condense and not allow the pile to breath. If air cannot get into the pile, then it will have problems. As a rule of thumb, the looser ingredients can be tossed in more abundantly and denser materials that tend to mat together should be layered thinly. "The addition of soil to a compost heap has both a physical and a microbiological effect: physical because certain soil constituents (clay particles and minerals) have been shows to enhance the decomposition of organic matter; microbiological because soil contains millions of microorganisms, which are needed to break down the organic material in the heap." I don't know what half of the big words mean, but I am going to put dirt as a layer and pretend like I do.

In The Four Season Harvest Chapter 3, there is a lot of info about temperatures, combinations of ideal balances of carbon and nitrogen and something about aerobics (requiring air). All I say is "I believe" I don't understand, but... I have a small story to explain "I believe" that hopefully won't bore you, but you can skip to the next paragraph if you'd like to
      A long time ago in a state far away...when I was in the Navy (I was an aviation electronic technician, which is a really long cool name for someone who works on the electronics in airplanes) we had 6 months of schooling on how electricity and wiring works. Some stuff was comprehensible, then there was the rest. Why does electrical current on DC only go one way? We learned to push the "I believe" button. Don't ask why, just believe. This applies to many things in life - such as composting.

Now back to the richly dirty details. Leaves can be their own compost heap. I don't like the idea because it means another bin, but here is the idea and you can use it if you'd like to. Due to the fact that most fall leaves will mat together easily, inhibiting the decomposition and making leaf mold, I mow my leaves and them toss them, all small and fluffy into the compost heap. There is another way. Put your autumn leaves in a pile for 2-3 years, wetting them if they dry out. Compaction won't hinder leaf mold, so pack 'em in tight. Then, when it is a nice pile of leaf mold, put it on Brassacaceae/cabbage families or on carrot/Apiaceae families. They will love your extra effort.

Lastly, it's always best to keep the bad news until last, problems in your compost. If the heap starts to smell, you have problems,. A perfect balance with decomposition happening doesn't have any odors. However, if it start to, here is the answer. If it smells like sewage or like something crawled in and died, there is too much green and not enough air. Just turn the heap adding in lots of brown. If on the other hand it smells like ammonia, add more green. This means that the heap is too dry and isn't decomposing. The last tip is that sometimes the bacteria just are multiplying fast enough. Add some organic high-nitrogen liquied fertilizer such as fish emulsion. Dissolve into water, poke holes in the compost, and pour in like medicine. (home remedies include molasses, sour milk, or other bacterial foods)

So, that's the all I've got to go on for now. It will be nice pulling out all of that black gold in a couple of years!

Also, before I go, the Tacoma Home and Garden Show is at the Tacoma Dome this week. I plan on trying to make it tomorrow (if the girls want to cooperate). It should be fun and hopefully I'll get some good advice, plants, ideas, and even pictures.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Pinch the ends and it will get bushier"???

So, if you've followed along, you know that I have a nice golden Pothos. It sits and the corner and looks pretty, which is why we have it. However, being that it is under the poisonous plants act of 1921, we don't want the trailing vines to get low enough for our young girls to grab and possibly, if the idea occurs to them, eat. I have had personal experience (many, many moons ago) of eating green things (mom always did say "eat your greens") and then adults saying, "why did you eat that?" and getting rushed hither and thither.
However I am straying from the point at issue. To keep the pothos vines from going down too low I have heard and read that you should "pinch the ends and it will grow out and bushier rather than long." The question is, How hard? Until it squeals? or just until it knows that you care? I have pinched my wife many times and she looks pretty, but all the pinching I have done does nothing to the golden pothos. Or am I supposed to pinch it until the end comes right off, but then why pinch? why not prune?
So hopefully there are some of you out there who are not as "pinchably challenged" as I am and can throw some light on this dark issue.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

To rotate or not to rotate, that is the question...

 Is Crop Rotation important for the home gardener?

"I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood, make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, thy knotted and combined locks to part and each particular hair to stand an end, like quills upon the fretful porpentine."

Hamlet said that, not me. Yet that is how I feel after in depth study of crop rotation for the home gardener. It is really important if your livelihood depends on it and your 15000 acres depends on nutrients being in the right place at the right time. Is it important to 1/10 acre families like me? I'd like to know what you all think on this. I'll post what I've found online and in books, and hopefully we'll work through this together.

Below are two charts: one for crop families so that I don't plant the same family two years in a row and also an example of crop rotation in case there is anyone out there wondering what we are talking about. This should get you into the same blogosphere.

Right now, (though many things have and will continue to change) this is my plan. I'm going to have my vegetable rotate in a yearly pattern. Most people agreed that a 2-3 year lapse between replanting the same vegetables helps. I will make a three year chart and try it out. The problem will be keeping the taller plants like corn, tomatoes, and peas from shading the rest, but I'll work around that.

Most sources agree that all plants use up the nutrients in the soil, but to different extents. Some like more nitrogen while others like more other stuff. Rotation also prevents pest and disease buildup. Certain crops do make it better for the next crop. Everything does better after onions, lettuces and squashes. Potatoes do better after corn. Corn and beans are not affected good or bad by preceding crops.  Carrots, beets, and cabbages are generally detrimental to subsequent crops.

If you read the crop rotation chapter of Eliot Coleman's, The New Organic Grower there is much more in depth reasoning and practical help, but I tried to touch on the basics. I'd like to know what works for you or any thoughts/opinions you may have.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Snow Day...again.

There was a young man long ago (I'm paraphrasing here from memory of years ago) who being tired for one reason or another went to sleep. The warmth of his body caused an acorn residing in the ground he slept on to germinate and grow. When the young man woke he found himself 60' in the air in the branches on a tall oak. Seeing that he couldn't descend he said, "I cannot adapt my circumstances to myself, so I must adapt myself to my circumstances." He then enjoyed the view. The reason I tell you this story, is that it was me this morning. Since I cannot adjust the snow to my will, I'll enjoy the snow - well, not so much snow as icy, snowy stuff.
The result is a morning ramble with the dogs and another short video. I hope you enjoy it.

I did do some constructive gardening today. As part of an early start to a year around garden, I ordered and received two heating mats with thermostats and two 4' grow lamps. I also purchased two benches from Costco. Putting them altogether, they look like this.

So the point is that at certain intervals, you can look at my previous post,Gardening by the book..., to find out what the intervals are, I will plant each plant and then transplant into the garden for early and sustained crops. I am supposed to wait until January 27th for the first planting of asparagus and broccoli, but time was heavy upon my restless shoulders, and I jumped the gun. I will just plant them in the cold frame when they are ready a bit early. The dirt squares are made by that silver gadget on the left and all you have to do is to plant the square when it comes time. Sweet...and yes that is a re purposed wine bottle. White wine is just water, red wine is water with some type of fertilizer.

So, I hope you pac northwesterners enjoy or at least survive the snow and the rest have a jolly day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow Day #2

Upon waking up this morning, the realization that there was no chance of working or much else, we decided to play in the snow instead. We started by following Catherine's (a gardener in progress) example and make our snow gardeners, except I need to finish our raised beds and trellises so I gave ours a nail gun. 
Since all of the flowers were under 6" of snow, a little imagination, food coloring and water in a spray bottle made a snow flower. It was supposed to be a primrose, but then it may have gotten mixed up with the pansies - so don't hold me to which kind it is now.  
Lastly, in spite of the snow, there were lots of song birds out frolicking. They are fun to watch and listen to as they go about foraging for seeds. All in all it was a non productive fun day! 

Snow gardeners complete with nail gun and rakes. 

Lucy is helping with the Eyes an Noses

It's a new kind of snow flower

Not much water to drink or bathe in!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mostly about organizing...

A few weeks ago Jenni @ Rainy Day Gardener had the idea of organizing all of my scraps of ideas from magazines and pictures into one book so  that it wouldn't be a mess. It took me a while to get all of it together, but here it is. I had a tab for perennials, annuals, projects, misc, and garden. Then I just glued each article on the pages so that I can refer back to them. I also hole punched a few articles and plans I have and put them in. Hopefully this will keep my hodgepodge file drawer cleaner. 

While doing this, I also marked all of my garden seeds that I'm going to be planting in Johnny's Seed Catalog. This way I can keep track so of the varieties and how they did. While doing this, I noticed a section before each of the plant types (example: Peas, Carrots, Squash, etc) that had really good growing information. From planting depth and distance, proper pH levels, diseases, and a germination guide. Even if you don't buy from them, it may be worth looking into for lots of good info. I'll try to post some of them as I do my early starts.

marked pages

Growing instructions

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Snowy Walk...

Here are some of the best pictures from a walk I took during the snow fall. The humming bird is the same bird, but as it moved its head, the colors changed. I thought this was amazing, so I put a couple in a row. Not much to do with gardening, but just enjoying creation while we wait for spring.


snow day #1 2012

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has give my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
                             Robert Frost

We woke up to a small amount of snow this morning. I don't exactly dislike the snow, but I know it makes lots of people happy. Lucy was too young to remember last winter's snowfall, so we went out looking for fun. About 15 seconds later we came back. She called it "ucky" and that was her last word for now. There is always next year.

Below the snow photos are a few blooms. It's gardeners bloom day for January. I wasn't going to post because there isn't much right now, but after seeing the not much en everyone else's garden, I felt a little better. Spring is coming...
Visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see what others around the world have blooming now.

whoops...a little over exposed, but you see the snow. Front Yard
Back Yard

Can we come out and play?

Primroses are hiding from the snow

The weight of the snow may be too much for this little guy.

Is this blooming?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Return of the Pheasants

Today we had some snow, rain, hail, sunshine and clouds. Crazy weather, but Washington is well known for it. We also had some visitors. The hummingbird dropped by for the feeders and some heather. Also two male pheasants came by. They had been regular visitors, but had stopped coming in late September. They usually eat some of what falls out of the bird feeders and move on, but this time they stuck around for a while - even perched in our tree out of the wind.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wine and food pairing 1.01...

You may ask, "What does wine and food pairing have to do with gardening in western Washington?" I don't know. I could say that this will help you pair the fresh vegetables and (if you have them) cows and chickens you grow. I could also say that I'll pair some Washington wines with those western Washington fowls and fine green delights. However, truth be told, I don't think that it has anything to do with any of those. Mostly it is that I'm lazy and love sharing things I love. I don't want to start another blog on wine and food pairing, yet I like wine and want to learn to pair it with foods properly. I also believe that all of you know a lot more about this than me, so you are going to give me shortcuts with lots of good culinary techniques and recommendations to good vintages. I also may stumble upon some myself so hopefully you will enjoy the journey and get a good laugh as I travel the semi dark road of wine and food pairing.

In this travel our guide or sherpa (for this may be very uphill) will be What to Drink with What you Eat. I will use this to make our matches and then report on what I think. I will choose wines from Costco, Tacoma Boys in South Hill, and a good wine shop called Vinotique (http://www.vinotique.com). I know the sommelier there and he will give recommendations as to which bottle to choose.  The only problem may be that due to a deficiency (probably in my dna) is proper taste of what is good and what is not; these opinions will be mine. A true connoisseur would probably have different, and better, opinions. Be that as it may, let's forge ahead.

The idea behind this is going to be every Wednesday my wife and I will cook up some nice pleasant feast and pair a wine with it. Then I will report it on Thursday. Lucy will eat the leftovers and I'll let you know what she thinks if it seems important. 

 I have tasted most kinds of red wine from port to pinot and have stayed far away from the whites. So, the first meal is going to be copper river salmon and Pinot Gris. This is Copper River Salmon from Costco and Uncle Ben's wild rice. Paired with it is 2010 Elk Cove Pinot Gris. I like salmon and the rice, so that is a plus. The pairing seemed good if you like pinot gris. I thought it a bit acidic, but I put too much salt on the salmon - happy mistake - so they offset eachother very well. The fish did not overpower the wine or vice versa. (the book says that is a good thing) All in all, I don't think I'll try it again. There are other recommendations for the salmon, so I'll try one of them.
However, in all fairness, my mother in law loved the pinot gris, so this may just be a lack of a proper pallet on my part.

Until next Thursday, bon appetit!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Easy-Make Plant Markers

I had a little extra time today, so in preparation for spring planting, I made some little wooden markers. I will write on them what is planted and the date planted to help me keep track of all of the vegetables. Once they get big, it is easy to recognize them all, but when they are small I have mistook them for weeds if I forget what I'm looking for.
You might ask, "Can't you get those little plastic ones for 5 cents each?" I'll answer, "Yes, but I didn't make them, did I?" This was definitely a project more for fun than for practical sense.  

So, all you need is a handyman, a table or chop saw, and a belt sander. (optional tools are a scroll saw, band saw and wood burning kit)

I had some scrap wood around about 3/4" by 4" by about 2' long, so I cut it down into a bunch of 3/4" X 1/2" X 4" rectangles. Then I used the saw to make one end tapered so that it will go into the ground easier. Last of all I sanded all of the edges smooth so there won't be any splinters, etc. I didn't mark them yet, but it will be easy with a sharpie or wood burning kit. Or if I feel like a fun mess, Lucy and I will paint them with stencils come spring time.

If you are fortunate enough to have a lathe and know how to use it this would be a very easy and rather fun job, however I am currently lathe-less...

scrap wood ready to get cut into rectangles

Rectangles ready for shaping

Markers shaped and ready for sanding

Sanded and ready for labels

Examples of marking. Try not to notice the bad penmanship. My teachers did try.

Also, another blogger, Julie at Budding and Blooming, mentioned the below article from birds and blooms. It is another way to make nice plant markers that I will try later. I think they are nicer than mine, but I didn't have any copper so I used what I had.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mostly about the weekend extravaganza...

You may ask "Why is this an extravaganza instead of just weekend fun?" to which I will reply, "Just wait and see."

It started with a long shopping trip, where we purchased primroses. Some yellow, some red and some red and yellow mixed. They are for the window boxes now, but there are never too many primroses in the garden, so when the annuals are ready we'll transplant them somewhere else. It's time for color, the dull grey is on its way out!

Sunday was another beautiful sunrise. The dogs and I took a walk in the morning. Then in the afternoon all the birds, mostly robins and chickadees, were out whistling their little hearts out. We planted the window boxes and moved the winter sown annual starts to a less conspicuous place as my wife didn't like seeing them out the kitchen window.

The last project isn't finished yet, but lots of times was spent in the preparation. We are getting the ultimate vegatble garden prepared for spring. Due to the dogs digging up every darn thing I plant in the back, we are moving to the front yard. It may be a latent communist strain, or just the urge to save money, but we re-used a rock wall that was over grown with weeds and falling down, borrowed a rototiller, re-purposed wood from a broken down split rail fence, and some left over weed block to create this delightful delicacy growing area (or potential disaster, it depends on who you ask). I will do a nice long post with videos, pictures, and lots of "this is what I learned" stuff. Until then, here are a few pictures to whet the appetite.

Primroses ready for planting

Window planter on the kitchen window. The climbing rose hasn't made it over quite yet.

Such nice dogs (lady on the left and cocoa on the right)

Caught in flight
Lots of robins were around looking for worms in the fresh dirt

All the tools necessary (and some unnecessary) to build raised beds
The rock wall that was redistributed


After, but not done yet.
Lucy Patricia