Archive for category Greenhouse growing
I know the folks in the Northeast are cold, snow-plagued, and miserable. I know the folks in the Pacific Northwest who prayed for rain for most of a decade are desperately looking for the emergency shut-off valve to Heaven. And I’m sorry for your troubles, truly I am, which is why I feel a tad guilty complaining about the temperatures dominating the southeastern Piedmont region of the US.
Sure, it got down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit at my house this morning. I had to remove ice from the bird baths. But according to the forecasts, I probably won’t need to do that again for at least ten days. And the way things are going, maybe not until next November. My neck of the woods is hurtling full-tilt-willy-nilly into spring.
We’ve already zoomed through crocus season, the snowdrops opened yesterday and will likely be done in a few days. I planted a variety of daffodils that are supposed to provide me with an extended seasonal bloom period, but I’m starting to think that may not happen this year.
I started seeds of greens for my spring garden during the first few days of February; at the time, I wondered if I was overeager. Now I’m exhorting the seedlings to grow faster, fearing that if I don’t get them transplanted into their garden bed soon, summer temperatures arriving by early April will melt them before we’ve harvested more than a salad’s worth. This. Is. Not. Good.
I posted the above shot to my Facebook page the other day, and someone there asked me to list the varieties I’m growing, because she couldn’t read the scrawls on the labels in the photo. So for her — and anyone else who might be interested — here are the spring salad varieties growing in my greenhouse right now.
- Coastal Star — This is my go-to green romaine lettuce. It stands up to the early heat that hits my area in late April/early May. This is the third year I’m growing it.
- Outredgeous — I grew this red romaine for the first time last season, and we loved it. It faded in the heat a little faster, but it stayed alive and productive this whole past winter for me beneath a row cover. I love this lettuce.
- Cherokee — This is a red summer crisp lettuce that I’m trying for the first time, because Johnny’s Selected Seeds (the source of most of my veggie seeds) says it is more heat-tolerant (i.e., bolt-resistant) than most.
- Ovation Greens Mix — I’ve grown this mix several years now. I get a nice assortment of fast-germinating speciality greens that give a nice tang or slightly bitter note to sweeter lettuces. They bolt very quickly in my heat. I direct-sow a few more when I transplant the starts in my greenhouse; sometimes that pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.
- Seaside Spinach — This is a new smooth-leaf variety I’m trying this year, because it is touted as being bolt-resistant. I often have trouble persuading spinach to germinate for me in the greenhouse, but this variety is popping up and growing with enthusiasm — a promising start.
- Rosaine — I grew this red bibb lettuce for the first time last year. It produces really lovely thick, buttery leaves. It is supposed to be bolt-resistant, but did not impress me last season. However, like Outredgeous, it produced all winter for me under a row cover. I’m thinking red lettuces may be more cold-tolerant.
- Corvair Spinach — If Seaside remains as enthusiastic as it is starting, I won’t be growing Corvair again. This smooth-leaf variety is a downright temperamental germinator for me — and most everything germinates for me, so this is unusual. The plants that do show up, grow well enough, but I would rather grow a spinach that I can always count on.
- Sparx — This is a new green romaine I decided to try, because it is supposed to be heat-tolerant and high-yielding. It is back-ordered until March 1. At the time I ordered, I figured this would not be a deal-breaker, timing-wise. The crazy weather may preclude a proper test of this variety, but I’ll give it a try when it shows up.
That’s it for the greens. Believe it or not, I really tried to keep down the number of varieties I’m trying this year. I also tried to contain myself when it came to tomato varieties, but I compensated with a new pepper variety, and an eggplant that intrigued me. Seed catalogs in deep winter are very, very hard to resist.
The absurd warmth caused my flowering apricots to zip through their bloom cycles much more quickly than usual. Only Peggy Clarke Senior is still perfuming the air, albeit faintly, with the magical cinnamon-sweet scent of her rosy blooms.
Our Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Stars’ has opened flowers at the top of the tree. The forecasted heat this weekend will no doubt cause most of the rest to explode into bloom.
Both of my Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas) are in full bloom. I’m hoping the warmth will encourage pollinators to cross-pollinate them to produce fruits this year.
This member of the dogwood family doesn’t naturally occur in North America, but it doesn’t seem to be invasive, so I decided to give it a try. If I start seeing seedlings popping up, I will yank it out pronto.
My patch of Golden Ragwort grows larger every year. It does a great job of reducing erosion, and when it blooms, its bright yellow flowers make the ground glow.
The weekend is supposed to reach high temperatures in the mid-70s here, so Wonder Spouse and I will be outside preparing spring vegetable beds and hauling fallen branches knocked down by winter storm winds. I anticipate plenty of sore muscles and creaky joints. But it’s all worth it when we sit down to the first salad of the season.
I’ll leave you with one last photo. I posted this to my Facebook page, but I wanted to share it here for my non-Facebook followers. On February 10, we enjoyed a penumbral lunar eclipse. Just the left edge of the full moon in the photo below was obscured by the sun’s shadow, but it was discernible. The Amazing Wonder Spouse set up his tripod and took this shot. Enjoy!
It’s been too long since I posted here. My apologies. Late winter in my corner of North Carolina has been a mostly soggy mess. And as I type this, yet more rain is pouring down upon my mushy landscape. I have been posting small items regularly on the Piedmont Gardener Facebook page; if you use that social media tool, you may want to check out the photos and announcements of relevant events that I post there.
As I’ve noted on the PG Facebook page, beavers have once again moved into the wetland adjacent to my creek. They have built a dam downstream and off my property, which has raised the water level in the creek so that every rain event involving more than a half-inch is causing the creek to overflow in numerous places along my property, even cutting channels into what has been a stable, flat floodplain for over 25 years. It’s a real mess, and we’re not sure what, if anything, we can do about it.
The beavers are actively foraging all up and down the creek. In addition to harvesting a few saplings, they even “tasted” two of the Leyland Cypresses still standing beside the creek. To discourage them from returning, I sprayed the entire lower trunks of all the Leylands with a deer repellant spray in the hopes that it would make them taste bad enough for the beavers to ignore. So far <knock wood>, it’s working, but all this rain probably means I need to reapply the repellant.
But not all my landscape surprises are less than wonderful. Case in point: a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers appear to have chosen a sycamore just across the creek to raise this year’s brood. Until the forest leafs out, I can see this spot from my living room window and back deck. That’s a good thing, because when I try to walk near this tree, the woodpeckers make it clear that I am not the least bit welcome.
Another pair of late-winter nesters has settled in, as usual, in the wetland forest — Red-shouldered Hawks. They often lurk in the trees near our backyard bird feeders, but I haven’t seen them catch any songbirds. Frogs, salamanders, and earthworms, on the other hand, seem to be dietary staples. Wonder Spouse took that spectacular hawk photo two days ago when it decided to hunt from a tree in our backyard. He actually took the shot from inside our house. He is a wizard with his camera — and his post-processing software.
When we’ve gotten a few back-to-back days of sunshine, we’ve been hard at work preparing the vegetable garden for another season. All my seeds have arrived, and last Wednesday (2-16), I sowed my first batch of greens in my germination chamber. The ones in the above photo germinated in two days! I’ll enumerate the spring garden veggie varieties I’m trying in a new post soon. All the lettuces germinated instantly, along with baby kale and radicchio. The spinaches and parsley are only just now showing signs of germinating, which is entirely normal. When they are all well up and moved out of the germination chamber, I’ll sow another batch of spring veggies.
The two varieties of onion plants I ordered arrived mid-week, and I managed to get them all planted in their garden bed yesterday. I know they don’t look like much now, but if the voles will leave them alone, we have big hopes for these.
It’s always amazing how these stubby little onion starts that arrive with shriveled roots plump up in just a few weeks. I was delighted to get them planted the same week they arrived. Usually I’m not this organized and they wait a week or more. I’m hoping my efficiency will pay off in bigger bulbs. Stay tuned.
We’ve had a few bouts of deep cold and some ice — mostly freezing rain — which damaged my Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ flowers. They opened too early, thanks to the absurdly warm December we had here. Fortunately, not all the buds opened before the cold, so I’m able to enjoy a round of new blooms during our current milder spell of weather.
In addition to the witch hazel ‘Amethyst’ blooming well in the first photo of this post, my Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ trees are bursting with bright golden flowers. I’m hoping they will cross-pollinate each other this year and produce some of the red berries that give them their common name: Cornelian Cherry. I was thus heartened to see a pollinator on these flowers yesterday.
Of course, spring bulbs are well up. My crocuses were eaten by deer before I remembered to spray them with repellent. Snow drops and myriad daffodils are all loaded with buds and will soon be glowing in the landscape as it wakens from its winter slumber. Meanwhile, the lushest, greenest parts of my yard are the lichens, soft and fluffy from abundant rains.
If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that most of the vegetables, flowers, and even herbs I grow began as seeds germinated in my little greenhouse. Frankly, I get a little giddy every late winter when these arrive:
I have my reasons for preferring this method, but there are plenty of good reasons to plant your flower and vegetable gardens with small plants you buy locally. Today, I thought I’d go over a few of the pros and cons for each method.
Starting from Seed: Pros
- You can grow exactly the varieties you want because you order the seeds and grow them yourself.
- Seeds are much less expensive than plants, so you can grow more of everything.
- You control growing conditions for your plants from germination to transplantation in their permanent locations in your garden.
- The big sense of accomplishment that comes from doing it all yourself is a great feeling.
Starting from Seed: Cons
- Unless you can provide optimal indoor conditions for germination, you may get poor germination rates.
- If you direct-sow in the garden, you are at the mercy of the weather. You can ameliorate a lack of rain with watering, but you must watch for soil crusting that can prevent seeds from emerging, and if you get a hard rain, seeds will travel remarkable distances, or disappear entirely.
- If you direct-sow in the garden, you also must watch for raids from marauding voles, and if soil temperatures are too cool or too warm, some seeds won’t germinate.
- Most herb seeds, many flower seeds, and even a lot of vegetable seeds are quite small. You’ll need practice to become adept at handling them, putting them where you want them, etc.
- Soil depth is critical when planting seeds. Many beginners plant seeds too deeply, which prevents their germination. Follow planting depth directions on the seed packets assiduously.
Starting from Plants You Buy: Pros
- You save enormous amounts of time by not having to bother with seed germination, and transplanting and nurturing seedlings until they’re ready for your garden.
- You can buy exactly the number of plants you want without spending time trying to find homes for extra plants you grew because of inaccurate guessing of seed germination rates.
- You can see living plants before you buy them, rather than relying on often-overflattering catalog descriptions. This allows you to select the sturdiest, healthiest plants with the best root systems.
- If you live in an area like mine, where farmers’ markets abound, you’ll be able to purchase healthy, locally grown plants ready for your garden. And because these folks usually sell the same varieties they grow for market, you’ll be able to choose from plants well-adapted for your area, grown by experts who love their work. And they often sell heirloom varieties of plants as well as hybrid choices.
Starting from Plants: Cons
- If your only option for plant starts is a big box store’s garden section, you usually won’t get great plants. These are often grown in one place and shipped all over the country, so varieties aren’t necessarily the best for your region, and are usually limited to a few choices. Also, the plants are not treated well during shipping or even in the garden section at the store. Have you ever noticed how staff at such places leave innocent plants out in conditions that are too hot and/or too cold? And how they water the poor things? Find a better local source for your plants or suffer the consequences.
- You don’t know if your purchased plants always grew in optimal conditions. Even if they look healthy, if they were exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees, studies have shown that tomato plants are never as productive as those maintained above that temperature.
- Often the sizes of plants you buy are limited. Early in the season, they may all be small. Small plants don’t handle transplanting stress as well as larger ones. On the other hand, larger transplants can break during transplanting. As with seed sowing, transplanting takes practice and patience to perfect.
- Buying plants is more expensive than buying seeds, and if you lose plants during transplanting, you’ll spend more money to buy replacements. Most folks will buy fewer varieties when they buy plants instead of seeds because of cost considerations.
I hope this helps my fellow Piedmont gardeners as they contemplate this year’s growing season. Time, money, and experience all impact what you decide to grow. I hope this post helps you clarify how you’ll choose what to grow in your garden this year.
Sorry for the prolonged silence, folks. I’ve been too busy to write, thanks to a break in the weather. After the snow melted, we got 1.28 inches of rain, which caused my creek to flood.
Although our vegetable garden is at the top of our hill, a good 200 yards or so up from that active floodplain, the raised beds were still unworkable for a while. I actually hit ice in the first one I tried to weed before the rain came! But my property is blessed with sandy loam instead of Carolina clay, so my raised vegetable beds became workable a few days ago, and just in time. My greenhouse was overflowing with eager spring lettuces, spinaches, and assorted other greens.
I rid two vegetable beds of their winter weeds. The crimson clover I had planted to prevent their takeover was killed by our super-cold February temperatures. But the henbit and chickweed thrived. At least they are relatively easy to remove.
I was hoping to direct-sow some carrots, but they need a minimum soil temperature of 55 degrees, and as of yesterday afternoon, my soil temperature was 48 degrees. Maybe next week, if the clouds will part to allow the sun to warm the beds.
I know they don’t look like much, but that’s a lot of potential salad in that shot. I left a bare spot in the middle for a few carrots, when the soil temperatures allow. I mulched the new transplants with the last of the mushroom compost we had delivered last season. I finished off that pile, so we’ll be getting more delivered as soon as the weather allows.
The kind folks at WordPress who created and maintain the blog software I use provide me with many useful statistics, including a daily list of search terms folks are using that lead them to my blog. From this, I know that a number of Piedmonters are starting to think about spring gardens and what they should plant. So I thought I’d share with you what I’m growing this year and why.
First, gardening — especially vegetable gardening — is a trial-and-error endeavor. Even if you grow the same varieties every year, you won’t get the same results. Weather, diseases, insects, seed quality, pollinator availability, varmint invaders — these are just a few of the variables that make it impossible to be sure you’ll end up with what you envision. That being said, I’ll tell you what usually works for me.
This assumes, by the way, that your garden area is already prepared and waiting. If you’re just now contemplating breaking ground for a spring garden, forget about it — unless you’re going with a container garden. The soil is too wet, and you don’t have time to get it ready for a spring garden. If the soil dries out soon, you could still grow summer crops in new ground, but it will take some serious work on your part. I wrote about soil preparation here.
What I Grow
I like to experiment, so most years I try at least a few varieties that I’ve never grown before. Sometimes the hype in the seed catalogs leads me astray, but sometimes I strike gold. That’s how I found Sweet Treats tomatoes — a cherry tomato variety I can’t live without now.
In the spring garden, there’s really only one kind of onion variety that grows well in our area. Onions are tricky, because most are sensitive to the amount of daylight they receive. The only kind I find worth growing are Yellow Granex onions. These sweet onions remain reliably mild. Mine rarely obtain the enormous size of the ones I see in the grocery stores, probably because I never manage to give them as much water as they want. But we always end up with a nice crop of medium to small sweet onions that store very well in our cool basement.
Spinaches come in two forms — smooth-leaved and savoyed-leaved. Savoyed-leaved varieties have wrinkly leaves. For me, the savoyed-leaf types seem to grow better, but if I plant early, I usually get at least some smooth-leaved leaves worth eating too. Spinach in my garden bolts at the first sign of heat. An 80-degree day is enough to get it to start sending up its seed stalk. When that happens, the leaves turn bitter and inedible very quickly. I always look for varieties that are described as “bolt-resistant” or “heat-tolerant.” Even so, the spinaches are done well before the lettuces every year in my garden.
This year, I’m trying three different spinach varieties. Tyee is one I grow every year, because it always seems to be the last to bolt. It is a savoyed-leaf type. I’m trying another variety, Crocodile, of the same leaf type. This year, the smooth-leaved spinach I’m trying is Corvair. I purchased all three varieties from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
OK, I admit I always go a little nuts with the lettuces. Back in January when I’m perusing catalogs, I’m nearly always craving fresh greens. I look at all the pictures, read the enticing descriptions — and I just can’t seem to stop myself from ordering an array of selections. A few tried-and-true varieties are always on the list, but I’m always on the lookout for new varieties touted as heat-tolerant, productive, and tasty. My selections this year:
- Annapolis — This is a red romaine that I grew last year and loved. I think it was the last lettuce to bolt last year.
- Coastal Star — This a green romaine that also holds up very well in the heat. In the most recent growing years, the romaine lettuces have outlasted all other types.
These are the only two lettuces I ordered from Johnny’s this year, because I had already been tempted by the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog to order a few of their offerings:
- Merlot — a leaf lettuce reputed to be “the darkest red lettuce in existence.” Red lettuces, as with red/purple fruits, contain beneficial phytochemical nutrients. Baker’s claims it’s very bolt-resistant. Time will tell.
- Slo-Bolt — a green leaf lettuce with a name that tells you why I’m trying it. The Baker’s catalog claims it to be an excellent variety for the South. That’s me.
I also love the bitter speciality greens so often featured in fancy salads these days. The arugulas, mustards, and assorted other brassica relatives are very quick to bolt in my spring garden. So I limited myself to one mix from Johnny’s called Ovation Greens. They did produce a nice mix, which I interplanted in the bed with the lettuces and spinaches. I also got a complimentary packet of Tuscan Baby Leaf Heirloom Italian Kale from Renee’s Garden. The packet says it is a fast-growing variety designed to be picked small for salads. Free seeds for salads? You know I had to try it. I suspect it will bolt quickly; I’ll keep you apprised.
I started a few dill plants in the greenhouse when I planted the greens. Like the greens, dill bolts in the heat, and I wanted to try to give some an earlier start than I can provide with direct sowing (that soil temperature thing again). Interplanted with the greens are a few, slightly spindly Superdukat Dill plants from Johnny’s. This variety is supposed to produce more leaves than flowers, and it is the leaves we use in cooking. I’m hoping the plants will look more lively after they adjust to their new surroundings.
Interplanted with the onions are a few Red Ace beets that I started in the greenhouse. They germinated quite well for me. I’m hoping that I’ll get bigger beets by having plants in the ground this early.
I am absolutely gambling on the weather by transplanting now. I plan to cover the greens bed in a tent of heavy-weight garden fabric to protect them from freezes. But I won’t be able to get to that for a few days. If the temperatures dive more than predicted, I could be in trouble. But the prospect of an early, prolonged salad season was too tempting to ignore.
After I finished planting yesterday and took pictures of the results, I walked around the yard to document some of the early-blooming trees and shrubs beginning to explode with color. I’ll share some of those shots soon.
For those of you wondering about summer garden plants, if you’re growing from seed, you should not wait any longer to start your tomatoes and peppers. I’ll share my progress with those veggies soon too.
So much to do and show and tell. Surely, it must be almost Spring!
My goodness, Winter has certainly been having his way with us lately, hasn’t he? At my house, we got rounds of freezing rain and sleet, followed a day later by about a half inch of snow. In a “normal” winter, all would have melted in short order. But this year, Siberian cold followed the precipitation. At my house, the thermometer on our hill bottomed out at 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. No, that is not a typo. Before and after this polar low temperature, our lows and highs had remained mostly below freezing for quite some time. In our 26 years here, I don’t think the ground has ever been so thoroughly frozen.
We finally got a glorious 55-degree high yesterday. Wonder Spouse and I walked around the yard, slipping and sliding in that welcome mud I mentioned in the title for this piece. But the mud is the result of thawing of only maybe the top quarter-inch of the soil. Walking on this ice-hard ground, you could feel the lack of give with every step. Even on the floodplain beside our creek, which is usually squishy wet this time of year and booby-trapped with myriad mole tunnels, the ground didn’t give at all. It felt as if I were walking on sharp rocks of multiple sizes spread unevenly across the terrain.
Even the deer tracks were really mud skid marks. Their hooves didn’t penetrate the frozen ground either. This is all bad news for southeastern Piedmont gardeners eager to plant their spring gardens. You can’t plant in frozen soil.
Most years by now, my spring veggie beds would be weeded and planted. But you can’t weed frozen beds. My little greenhouse is nearly full with seedlings of lettuces, spinaches, kale, beets, dill, etc. Somehow, I’m going to need to figure out how to transplant them all from their starter cells to larger pots. And then find room for all the pots in the greenhouse. This is going to get … interesting.
Yesterday’s brief warm-up (more snow is in our forecast) had me out in the greenhouse in shirtsleeves transplanting some of the cuttings I took last fall into individual pots. They were well-rooted and beyond ready for their own spaces. I don’t usually take cuttings of my front garden perennials in the fall. But last fall, something told me to root fresh cuttings of rosemary, several perennial salvias, verbenas, and lavender. And now I am very glad I did. The salvias and rosemaries may have been completely killed by that 1.6-degree night. They certainly aren’t looking well at the moment. Many other plants are showing cold damage too, including the large loropetalums up front. The lovely pink flowers on my flowering apricot are all soft brown, but a few tightly closed buds may yet yield more flowers, if Winter decides to loosen his grip.
He can’t hold out for much longer. Soon the sun will be too strong to be denied. Meanwhile, I’ll be juggling plants in my crowded greenhouse, testing soil temperatures in my vegetable garden, and keeping my feathered friends well supplied until the insects return.
I am not a gambler. I don’t buy lottery tickets or spend money at casinos. I am not a gambler — except when I garden. As with any game of chance, all the variables involved in gardening cannot be controlled by humans. In truth, even the plants are gamblers. My lovely ornamental flowering apricots are prime examples. Ten days ago, they were barely blooming, but a slightly (and I do mean slightly) milder round of weather this week persuaded them to open fully for business, much to the delight of my neighbor’s honeybees, who were also out taking advantage of the relative warmth.
When I realized my early-blooming gamblers were waking up, I made a quick trip around the yard a couple of days ago. Although the January Jasmine was still barely open, My Amethyst witch hazel was in full bloom.
The Cornelian Cherries (Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’) are just cracking open their flower buds. I told them to hold off for at least another week. Betting on successful blooms this upcoming week is a sure way to lose.
All these early-blooming gamblers may pay for their enthusiasm this week. Winter has decided to slam us hard at least one more time before allowing Spring to take over. The weather seers haven’t quite made up their minds (divergent models) about the duration and depth of the cold — and the amount of frozen precipitation that may or may not come with it, but I feel certain that early flowers will mostly meet their demise this week.
I confess the impending forecast has me wondering if I’m being punished for my impudent suggestion in my previous post to defy Winter. Maybe yes, maybe no, but I was left wondering what I should do now. All the spring greens I sowed in the greenhouse two weeks ago are well up. If we lose power, they will turn to green mush, along with all the potted plants I overwinter there.
Today’s mail brought my complimentary seed order from Renee’s Garden. She offers garden writers a few seed packets in exchange for publicity about her wonderful offerings. I am happy to oblige, and you can find my accounts of previous seed trials if you search on the company name. Several of the varieties I ordered this year require a lengthy nurturing period in the greenhouse before they’ll be ready for transplanting into the garden. I pondered — should I sow them now, or wait a week until the arctic deep freeze abates?
What the heck, I figured, I might as well double down and go for broke. I sowed the new seeds in the greenhouse this afternoon, and I fed my vegetable seedlings with a dilute solution of fish emulsion/seaweed to encourage strong growth.
Go big or go home, I say — at least when it comes to gardening. I’ve got plenty of leftover seeds. If all is green mush in a week, I just begin again. Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.
Is it just me, or has this already been the longest winter ever? Oh, sure, we get occasional very brief moments of temperatures in the upper 50s, but they’re usually accompanied by rain. And, yes, I know I’ve had it easy here in the southeastern Piedmont compared to those poor
fools folks in New England currently buried under three feet of snow and counting.
Even so, my winter-blooming plants are way behind their normal schedules. The only one currently blooming respectably is the pink flowering apricot in the above photo. My two other apricots — Peggy Clarke Senior and Junior — are only just starting to try to open a few flowers here and there. Often by this time of year, the apricots have been blooming since late December. Ditto for my January Jasmine. If I scrutinize the flower buds, I can see one or two showing peeks of bright yellow, but no open blooms. They didn’t make their namesake blooming month at all this year. The hellebores are also way behind. I can’t even find any flower buds showing yet. The snowdrops are just pushing up out of the soil, and so on and so forth with all my early bloomers. It’s enough to discourage any gardener.
But for the last two days, suddenly my Northern Cardinals are singing again. Since autumn, they’ve been cheeping among themselves at the feeders, but now the bright scarlet males are perching in the treetops bragging about their good looks for all to hear. Their surge in hormonal harmonizing defies winter’s tenacious grip, and reminds me of the sun’s lengthening daily presence. So I decided to take my cue from them and start some vegetable seeds in my greenhouse yesterday during a “warm” spell.
Personally, I am eager for salad season. An array of fresh-picked spring greens lightly dressed and perhaps mixed with a few other veggies, some nuts or berries or cheese — I’m salivating just writing about it. This excitement annually grips me as I survey my seed catalogs, which probably explains the assortment of seed packets I pulled out yesterday.
Yes, as usual, I’ve probably gone a bit overboard. But that’s why I’ve planted some of each of these in the greenhouse now. I want to prolong salad season as long as I can. You see, the problem with spring gardening in the southeastern Piedmont is that the optimal growing conditions for these veggies can be depressingly short. Sometimes the temperatures leap into the 80s in early April and never look back.
My plan is to grow the seedlings in the greenhouse until the nighttime temperatures stop regularly plunging into the teens. When that happens, I’ll transplant them into a garden bed, mulch them well, and cover them with a tent of the heaviest grade of spun garden fabric — the kind designed to protect plants from nighttime temperature drops. It’s a gamble, but the pay-off is totally worth it.
The lettuce seeds are tucked inside the germination chamber, where the propagation mat warms them from below to raise soil temperatures just enough to enhance germination rates. The spinaches, greens, and beets are sitting in flats on the greenhouse bench beside the germination chamber. They really prefer cooler soil temperatures, so that’s what they’re getting. I’ve never tried sowing beets indoors before, but the seed packet suggested it, and my germination rates from direct sowing have always been unpredictable, so I figured I’d try it this way. Of course, I’ll be sure to let you know the results of the experiment.
I use fresh potting soil for germination operations, and I fill all the cells and water them thoroughly before I start planting. By moistening the soil before sowing, I don’t risk dislodging tiny lettuce and spinach seeds by adding water later. Lettuce seeds especially need to be just barely covered. The only way to achieve the control I want is to slide the seeds in place one at a time into the pre-moistened soil. The green fabric beneath the flats is capillary cloth; this greenhouse staple holds excess water which can be pulled up by the seedlings as they need it. It allows me to maintain more consistent growing conditions inside my little greenhouse.
The top on the heated germination chamber ensures optimal humidity and warmth for encouraging seedlings to emerge. As soon as they do, I’ll move them to a bench. The enclosed chamber is too humid to keep growing plants happy. Plus, I’ll need the space for the next round of seeds I’ll be planting in a week or two.
Today, the winds are howling again, and nighttime temperatures are predicted to be in the low 20s, which translates to the mid-teens at my house. I confess I feel a bit less frustrated with winter’s tenacity, now that I’ve started my own spring revolution in my greenhouse. I encourage all my fellow Piedmont gardeners to join me in this rebellion.
NOTE: For those interested in the germination success of the seeds I planted, I’m providing a running account on the Piedmont Gardener Facebook page. Scroll up and click on the handy link on the right side of this page to get there.
It was inevitable, of course, the prediction of our first freezing temperatures. They’ll actually arrive a bit behind the average date this year. By next Sunday morning, the weather forecasters are calling for temperatures around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. At my house, that will likely translate to the upper 20s — more than cold enough to kill the still-blooming flowers in my yard.
As has been their habit in recent years, the nasturtiums in my vegetable garden have staged a takeover, covering the beds that once held summer vegetables.
Pretty much any flower still blooming — from salvias to coral honeysuckle to abelias, verbenas, lemon basil, and Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ — will be killed by the upcoming freeze. The bees know it’s coming. They work frantically on my salvias and other flowers from the time the air warms up enough for flight until full dark.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to protect my deliciously productive lettuce bed through this first bout of cold.
I didn’t manage to start my own seed for the fall lettuce, but I found starts of two of my favorite varieties at my local farmers’ co-op.
I also planted some Premium Crop broccoli. It is growing well, but is just starting to create flower heads. I’m hoping the Reemay cover over it will allow it to grow to harvestable size before cold weather settles in for the season.
The weather forecasters have been talking about the upcoming freeze for about two weeks, so I knew it was time for winterizing our front water feature and moving the potted plants from their summer home beneath the towering Southern Magnolia to the greenhouse.
Wonder Spouse kindly helped me with both tasks. Those pots are heavy — especially the waterlogged ones that sit inside my water feature all summer.
We relocated two Green Frogs who were summering in the water feature. We end up relocating amphibians every year at this time. We carry them down to the permanent pond on our floodplain. It was quite warm when we moved them, and they were very energetic, so we’re hopeful that they found a spot on the muddy bottom to sleep through winter’s cold.
After pulling out all the sprouting weeds in the pots, cutting off dead bits, and generally sprucing up the plants, we found good spots in the greenhouse for all the potted plants. The heater in the middle of the above shot keeps the greenhouse from going below 45 degrees — except for power outages and prolonged bouts of low temperatures. Most years, the little heater is enough to keep all the plants healthy.
The annual Changing of the Lizards occurred about three weeks ago. All summer long, the skinks own the front deck, basking in the sun, and scurrying into the flowers when I approach. But every fall, the skinks vanish and the anoles return. I think the anoles summer in the trees and shrubs, but every fall, they return to the west-facing front of my house, where winter sun warms the front wall all season. We often spot them hiding behind the drainspouts, or wedged beneath the overlapping boards of the house’s siding. This year, I decided to create a spot where they could soak up sun more comfortably.
I took some flat stones from a bed we dismantled, and stacked them so that small spaces — just large enough for lizards — remain between the layers. The structure is in a flowerbed beside the front wall of our house, where it should receive plenty of winter sun all season. I’m hoping that the sun will heat up the rocks enough to encourage the cold-blooded anoles to come soak up the warmth. I’ve already spotted some of them on the structure on cooler days, so I’m hopeful that the Lizard Palace will be a popular option for them as we progress into winter.
I’ve started keeping the bird feeders well-stocked, but they’re not getting much attention these days. I think most of the trees and shrubs in my yard produced abundant fruit this year, and the birds are taking full advantage of that fact — which is wonderful! The massive Southern Red Oak at the top of my hill produced zillions of small acorns this year. The Blue Jays and larger woodpeckers spend most daylight hours dining on these nuts.
And the great Southern Magnolia in our front garden is absolutely loaded with cones extruding scarlet seeds on thin filaments. These dangling fruits must truly be delicious, because every warbler, robin, woodpecker, etc. animates this tree until full dark. I find myself looking for excuses to linger nearby, so that I can watch the feathered folk engage in circus-worthy acrobatics as they vie for tasty magnolia treasures.
Have you tucked in your outdoor potted plants and other cold-sensitive items in your yard yet? If not, make haste. Our first taste of wintry air is almost here.
Is is just my yard, or is everyone seeing an explosion of growth from their gardens? There is so much to see that I really need to be outside every day with the camera. I am certain that I’ve missed peak moments of some of my spring beauties.
Everywhere I turn, I am wowed by another gorgeous flower — like that iris in the above photo. Long ago, I chunked some irises into a bed in my vegetable garden, thinking it would be nice to have a place for cut flowers and to bring in pollinators. I’ve forgotten the names of the varieties planted there, and most years, I am very slow to get their area weeded. But despite nearly complete neglect, they reward me with spectacular flowers every year. I love that about the bearded irises.
Speaking of which, check out these:
These jaw-droppingly gorgeous blooms live in my front garden — another currently very neglected part of my yard. But do they complain? Never! They continue to multiply, blooming ever more magnificently every year.
Another plant that stops everyone in their tracks in my front garden this year is the coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’). It grows and blooms so wonderfully that I’ve had to prune it severely several times over the years to prevent it from pulling down the trellis it perches on.
Why, you may ask, am I missing daily walks and neglecting beauties like those above? Two things: the vegetable garden and the greenhouse. As you may recall, my greenhouse was jam-packed with plants I grew from seed — veggies and flowers. However, in my part of NC, by early May, our temperatures are usually getting summertime hot. Even though the roof of my little greenhouse is covered by shade cloth and ventilated with a temperature-sensor-controlled fan — and I keep the door wide open during the day — temperatures get into the 100s in there pretty early.
Thus, I’ve been in my annual race to get everything growing in the greenhouse planted and/or moved to their summer spots before they sautéed themselves in the greenhouse. I’ve been working dawn to dusk at least every other day (weather permitting) to achieve that goal. And I just finished yesterday. Yes, I am tired, and yes, my aging, overused joints are not entirely happy with me. But it’s done. Every seed-grown start has been transplanted, watered, and mulched. Now it’s up to them and the whimsies of weather.
Top priority was the vegetable garden. Food plants always trump flowers. If I do say so myself, that part of my yard is looking pretty darn good. See for yourself.
The Fortex pole beans are making excellent progress.
One thing I love about a late spring vegetable garden — everything looks so neat and tidy. After the plants have grown a while, weather, bugs, and diseases create a more “lived-in” look.
Today is the first day my area will go into the 90s since last September. I have not missed those temperatures. Also, all the bugs are back — the good, the bad, and the really annoying — biting flies, gnats, ticks. It’s a jungle out there again, or getting there anyway.
No more working dawn to dusk for this gardener. As summer temperatures settle in, I’ll be up at dawn for a bit of quick pruning, tying, watering, and harvesting, then back indoors by 9:00 a.m. Unless a rare cool spell stops by.
Also stopping by this week, a couple of critters I don’t often see. A Red-headed Woodpecker hung around my yard for about 4 days, even sampling my suet feeders. I see them every once in a while, but they never seem to stay. I’ve always wondered if the Red-bellied Woodpeckers drive them away.
This other critter was trying to hide in my garage when I found him. I suspect he escaped from a load of wood chip mulch that I’d been spreading. That’s where these beetles live, so it was likely my fault that he was wandering around my garage. I relocated him to the mulch pile.
I haven’t begun to enumerate all that’s showing off in my yard right now. The Ash Magnolia blooms will be open very soon. The deciduous azaleas are amazing this year. The swamp wildflowers are ridiculously enthusiastic, likely from all that rain they had last summer.
I confess I spend my too-infrequent walks around the yard exclaiming over the loveliness of a bloom, the rate of growth of a particular shrub, the tiny discarded cones beneath my towering Dawn Redwood. Spring in my garden makes me a child again — surprised and delighted by every gift Mother Nature bestows on me.
It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks, but Wonder Spouse and I have just about got the vegetable garden where we need it to be. Mostly, anyway. Certainly, the bed of lettuces, spinaches, arugula, and broccoli is doing very well. We’ve enjoyed a number of quite tasty salads. However, as usual, the arugula has already begun to bolt. It’s really too bitter to eat now, and I will force myself to pull it up as soon as the scary weather predicted for the next several days is safely past us.
The spring garden was planted later than usual, because our darn temperatures wouldn’t stabilize, and because the ground was too wet to work longer than usual. My greens are doing well, because I started them in the greenhouse and then transplanted them to their bed.
But by the time I direct-sowed the beets and carrots, it was already about a month too late. They’ve sprouted beautifully, but the plants are still really seedlings. I am not hopeful that I’ll get much from them unless May high temperatures are much, much lower than normal.
Wonder Spouse’s potatoes are doing well. Here’s what one bagful looked like earlier in the week:
This past weekend, Wonder Spouse unfolded another third of the bag, filled in around the plants with the rich leaf mold/compost mix he devised, and counseled the plants to produce yet more tubers at this higher level.
The onion plants I transplanted in mid-March are doing well. I’m trying to be very attentive about watering them. For once, the well we use for the garden is full to the top, so I can be more generous with this precious resource than in recent past springs.
Of course, as soon as the spring garden was in, I began weeding the beds set aside for summer vegetables and flowers. Weather — again — slowed my progress, as did my cranky joints. Alas, this aging gardener has discovered that repetitive gardening tasks are ideally allotted to alternating days, at least if I want to walk upright.
When I saw the weather forecast for this week — basically, an entire week of rain — I knew that the tomato starts in my greenhouse would never last another entire week confined there. So, ignoring my joints and with the help of Wonder Spouse this past weekend, the tomato beds were power-weeded, planted, and mulched.
It is a very satisfying feeling to step back and admire a well-planted, well-mulched bed. Of course, now I will chew off my fingernails worrying about hail and damaging winds.
The first summer bed I prepared was for the Fortex pole beans. I think I planted them about two weeks ago, and I may have gotten 100% germination from them. I am excited.
I also got my squashes planted yesterday. I start them in the greenhouse, to ensure top-quality plants. Direct-sowing isn’t a terrible option, but when you have a greenhouse, you might as well use it. I transplanted three plants each of two kinds of zucchini — Spineless Perfection, and a new variety for me — Dinja. As soon as they’re tucked in, watered, and mulched, they are covered in their garden fabric tents to prevent insect pests from devouring the baby plants. As I explained here, the fabric comes off when the first flowers open.
I interplanted a few basils and marigolds with the tomatoes, but I have many, many flower and herb plants impatiently waiting their summer homes in my greenhouse. I can’t even think about their relocation until this terrifying weather pattern is past and the ground dries out. My area is predicted to receive 3-5 inches of rain. I’m praying my yard receives the lower end of that range.
Several of the tomato plants were displaying their first open flowers when we transplanted them, so I’m praying that the weather will be kind, and I’ll be devouring fresh-picked tomato fruits soon.
That’s about it for the veggie update. But I can’t close without mentioning the arrival of two species of birds that I associate with late spring — Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Summer Tanagers. The grosbeaks visit for about two weeks every spring and fall on their migrations to their summer and winter homes. My well-stocked feeders are a favored stopover for them.
The Summer Tanagers nest in my region every summer. I rarely see them, but I hear them often. They exchange a chipping call high in the treetops as they hunt for and devour the zillions of caterpillars that feed on the leaves of my canopy trees.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the folks in the middle of the country being hammered by tornadoes. It is indeed a cruel twist of Fate that Spring is often as destructive as it is beautiful.
Stay safe out there, ya’ll.