Saturday, March 31, 2012

Turban Gourds

I went to a gardening symposium a while back, and got a turban gourd as a table decoration.  Such odd things...  I had a photo, but seem to have lost it somewhere in my picture files. 

I added it to my autumn color home decor, and later stuck it on top of the microwave to dry out.  I wanted to save the seeds. The gourd is peeking over the middle in the photo here, a dark orange color.  The green and orange gourd, and the pale one with stripes were also from the symposium.  I didn't keep their seeds.  The others are just from the grocery store.  I will be planting my own tiny pumpkins this year, Baby Boo (white) and Jack Be Little (orange).  I am counting on the turban gourd to produce true to its type, though I read some of these strange gourds may produce shapes different from the parent.  Turban gourds are not supposed to be trellised, for the best shape leave the vines on the ground. 

I didn't know that I was supposed to harvest the seeds right away (nor was I aware turban gourds were edible), so after reading up on it last month I thought I would try.  Hoping for a "better late than never" sort of outcome.
I removed the seeds and let them dry on a baking sheet for a few weeks, turning them over every so often.

They were supposed to be dry when they could be snapped in half, but all of mine were too tough to break or even bend.  I put one in a damp paper towel inside a baby food jar (no, we have no babies, but we use the jars for science a lot so I keep some around, after eating the apple sauce) in the kitchen window.

It has now been a couple of weeks, and it looks like it is growing.
So, in a few weeks I will plant some in peat pots in the house for transplant in mid-May.  Mid-May...that sounds so very late.  It is taking some adjustment to a last freeze date of May 15.

Only six more weeks to go! 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Some Dirt Moved and Some Seeds Planted

More dirt (I know it should be referred to as "soil," but the longer it sits in the driveway, the easier it is to forget it is Garden Blend soil and that I paid a lot for it!) has been moved.  I think we have made a lot of progress.  A lot of the cinder block holes are now filled and ready to plant. I will start with radishes.

I filled the three white Craigslist containers, after moving them next to the chain link fence.  (When did people stop referring to them as "cyclone" fences?  My kids didn't know what I was talking about when I used that phrase.)  I moved the empty containers first, and was I ever glad of that.  The soil is wet and weighs so much the containers are too heavy to budge now.  These will be planted with cucumbers.  I have decided to try some lemon cucumbers in addition to the Summer Dance I had already chosen.  Summer Dance is recommended for my area.  Lemon is because I read the latest Sunset Magazine and saw some! 

Also prepared with new soil is the area where I am putting in three climbing roses.  New Dawn.  They left yesterday from South Carolina, but won't be here until next Tuesday.  South Carolina?  After some research, that I should of done before I ordered, I discovered that Jackson and Perkins is no longer in Oregon.  I did not know they went out of business not long ago, and someone else is doing business under that name.  I wanted roses grown here, not shipped across the country.  Are they the same high quality roses J & P used to have?  I guess I will find out. 

The weather let up enough to let me sow some lettuce seeds.  Wild Garden mix from Territorial Seeds as well as some leftover cheapies from last year.  The Wild Garden mix better be fantastic, as it cost so much more than the very productive cheapie seeds.  I didn't get as many seeds as I had hoped.   I planted more Cascadia peas in among the ones starting to sprout, after rolling them in inoculant, something I never knew about before this year.

So, I am off to a good start, if I do say so myself. Just getting out in the open spring air for a few hours felt good! 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Container Gardening - Veggie Version

The back yard is still too wet to work in.
I haven't moved any more soil out of my driveway.
I am still putting off planting my lettuce.  According to the April Sunset magazine, it isn't too late yet in Oregon!

I got to thinking of my collection of containers and how I will use them.  Not all my vegetables will be planted in raised beds.  Lots of people plant vegetables in containers with mixed success.  Just what do vegetables need to produce well in containers? 

Most vegetables are shallow rooted and can productively be grown in containers.  But, just what size containers are recommended?  The most important things to remember for containers, or for any gardening, are good soil and drainage.  Most vegetables can get by just fine with 6" - 8" of soil.   Any deeper and you are wasting a lot of money needlessly filling pots! 
Here are some recommended container sizes for common home garden vegetables:

LETTUCES - any broad and flat container works fine. You can even use small pots, household mixing bowls, dish washing pans (cat litter boxes too!), almost anything works for lettuces.  Just make sure to have drainage.  I put four cinder blocks together to make a lettuce planter filled with potting soil.

PEPPERS - Minimum 2 gallon per plant, or 16" pot.  A 5 gallon container can support two pepper plants.  I am planting mine in cat litter containers. 

CUCUMBERS - 1 plant per 2 gallon container, or 12" minimum.  Plant near a fence, or trellis, or buy a bush variety.  I am putting mine near a chain link fence, in white 5 gallon buckets.  You can also tuck a cucumber in the corner of a raised bed and let it grow out of the box. Some cucumbers can be grown in hanging baskets too!

MELONS - Yes, you can grow these in containers!  For full sized varieties you will need a half barrel.  The vines will climb out, so place the barrel where the plants will have undisturbed growing room. Plant mini varieties, like Baby Boo pumpkins in smaller containers, near a fence or trellis.

TOMATOES - 5 gallon minimum per plant for full size varieties.  You will still need to provide support.  Dwarf tomatoes are fine in 2 gallon planters.   Not all plants producing small tomatoes are dwarf plants, so check the size on the labels.  Dwarf tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets.  

BEANS - You can grow beans in planters, but I wouldn't.  You could plant several bush beans (4-5) in a 12" or larger pot, or pole beans with a tall pole in the middle for them to climb.  2 gallons would be the smallest size to plant.  But, if you are growing for a family you really need more than a few bean plants.

CARROTS - Now these are the ones that want depth!  Just how deep depends on the variety.  Check the seed packet for mature length of the carrot.  I wouldn't try anything less than 12" but again, check your package.   Give them enough depth and a fine soil free from rocks. 

SQUASH and PUMPKINS - I don't grow squash, except pumpkins.  I don't like squash!  Don't bother growing what you don't like.  Sure, zucchini is easy to grow, but if you don't like it, don't waste the space. Squash and pumpkins need large containers like melons.  Half barrels, or 16" diameter containers.  They need a lot of room to spread in a garden, or train them to a trellis. 

SPINACH - 2 plants will be happy in a 2 gallon container.  They are shallow rooted, so you can get a way with just 6" in depth.

CHARD - While it would seem to be basically like growing spinach, chard actually needs a deeper container.  12" minimum, 5 gallons is best.
RADISHES - Another root crop. Like carrots, you need to give radishes depth, 4" - 6" in a gallon container.

CORN - Not a container crop!  Did you know that corn has been bred to produce 2 ears per plant?  You would need to grow quite a few to have enough for even a small family.  Why bother when you can buy it at the markets for .10 - .20 each? 

I read that white containers are better than black.  The belief is that black absorbs the heat of the sun, and the soil will dry out faster.  Most nursery pots are black,so I am not so sure it makes that much difference or they would change to white to save on water.  I will be paying attention this year though, to see for myself. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Recycle. Reuse. Scavenge. And Craigslist!

While waiting for the waters to recede in my back yard, I thought a lot about container gardening.  Specifically vegetables in containers.  And what to do if containers are your only option.  Maybe you don't have room for a garden plot, or the desire/finances/know-how to build a raised bed. 

Lots of vegetables can be grown in fairly small containers.  Lots of those containers are just sitting around your house, or are destined for the recycling bins on garbage day.  Still others are available on Craigslist for free or near to it.  They say "Necessity if the Mother of Invention," so use your imagination! 

Besides the large terracotta and plastic pots I found hanging around the yard when I moved in, I used my imagination and came up with these brilliant (if I do say so myself) ideas for growing vegetables!

*Cat litter containers!  Yes, plastic cat litter containers make perfect planters for patio tomatoes, peppers or cucumbers. 
*Those recycling bins the garbage company issues you, and then goes with a truck instead, leaving you with the bins.  They already have handy carrying handles and drainage holes.  I am going to use mine for Baby Boo pumpkins. The vines can climb out and down the sides, or up the fence.
*5 gallon plastic buckets.  Enter Craigslist!  Don't ever underestimate what you can find there.  I got these clean, empty buckets for $1.00 each. 
*Let's not forget the plastic boxes I got free off Craigslist!  Five of those now have strawberries, leaving 3 for other uses.
Not my ideas, but...
* Those fabric type bags that nursery trees come in.  I have one called a RootTrapper.  I see them used for tomatoes, and even smaller veggies growing out of slits cut in the side of the bags.

*I have seen old tires given away too, which make great planters for larger vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers.  
*  Lots of people buy trees and shrubs from nurseries and give away the pots.  

Vary your search for best results.  Nothing under "pots?"  Try "pot," "planters," "planter," "containers," "bins," etc.  Right now I see someone is selling old wooden fruit boxes for $10.00, which are sturdy and will last several years. Another seller lists used plant containers, 1 gallon (10/$1) and 5 gallon for only 2/$1.00!  I am tempted to get some myself!  So what if they are used, they are being filled with dirt! 


What about drainage?  My son drilled holes in the sides near the bottom of the buckets and litter containers.  This allows for drainage, but also for a bit of water to stay in the bottom for a little bit of self-watering.  If the holes were in the bottom the containers would dry out quicker.  Besides, with my clay soil, if it rained the containers would never drain, they might even wick up more water!

What size containers do vegetables need?  That will be my next post!  You'll be surprised just how little room most vegetables actually need to flourish. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Planters are Finally Ready

We moved more soil over the past few days.  We still  have a fair amount in the driveway, but we needed a break.  I caught a cold, then it started raining again, and my son didn't want to get dirty again, since that means another shower.  I will be glad to get my driveway back.  I have my Explorer on the street (We got street parking this past summer when the road was widened.  We got street lights and side walks too!) and the car has to fit crosswise in the driveway. 

The cedar bed,  the lettuce bed, and the large cinder block bed with its ends are all filled and ready to go.  I can put in the lettuce when I get a break in the weather.  Kale too, for my daughter's Guinea Pig, Martha.  G.Pigs need lots of extra vitamin C, and the best way is either fresh oranges or kale.  So, Martha gets her own patch of garden.  I am going to plant more snap peas in the pea planter too.  I realize that I could have planted many more than I did.  I spaced them too far apart. 

The above two beds (including the two end planters in the top one) took nearly 26 garden cart loads of soil!  Only a few of the holes are filled, which I want to do for flowers, lettuce, radishes, even carrots would probably work.

Monday, March 19, 2012


The Cascadia peas have sprouted! 

Spring Blooms are Here!

It is way too early to plant anything but peas and lettuces (I don't like the other cool weather crops) in zone 7, but the bulbs, shrubs and wild flowers think it is Spring!

I just absolutely love the little wild violets that grow like weeds!  I guess they are weeds, but I will let them spread just as much as they want! 

The Flowering Quince is just popping open.  Flowering Quince was on my list of dream plants I wanted in my new home, but it turns out I already have it!



 Grape Hyacinth...


I have some little purple bell shaped flowers I planted as bulbs, forgetting what they were.  Also, the Veronica (Georgia Blue Speedwell) is growing again, with bright purple flowers.

The tiny Vinca has some blooms too.  I am partial to the bright yellows and purples of so many spring blooms.  Even the store bought pansies and violas are flourishing.  There are those gorgeous colors again!  

 I had one volunteer pansy sprout in a strawberry planter.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Raised Beds?

Why do so many people use, and recommend, raised beds for their vegetable gardening?  Well, for one, you can plant earlier in the season, as the soil warms sooner in a raised bed.  They also hold the warmth longer in the season, so you can grow later in the year.  If your beds are tall enough there is less bending to weed and harvest.  You don't step on your plants, or compact the soil around the roots.  It can help keep pets out of the garden!  Plants can be grown a bit closer together.  You can better control your soil mixtures, and begin your raised bed garden life with purchased soil without the hassle of digging up your yard, testing the soil, and amending it as needed for your vegetables.  Raised beds drain better. 

What was that last one? 

Raised beds drain better.

That is why I chose raised vegetable beds and apple tree planter.  I actually had no other choice, if I wanted to grow vegetables.   As mentioned before, I have clay soil.

It rained last night.  And the night before.  And all the day before that.   A lot.  As a result, I have some photos showing you just what clay soil is and why it would not sustain vegetable life. 

This water will be there for at least a week, barring any more rain, which is expected.  It sits in unfilled cinder block holes.  It is slippery, gooey, and sticks to the dogs' paws and bellies like black glue.  Boo loves it. He can't understand why I refuse to throw his tennis ball.

But, the new garden soil is still soft, light, with the consistency of potting soil, which garden soil is not to be confused with!  My peas seeds have not floated to the top to wash away.  They still haven't sprouted, but they haven't washed away.  That reminds me...I think I might dig around to see where they have gotten to.  They should be up by now. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Soil Arrived!

My 4 yards of "Garden Blend Mix" soil came this morning.  "Garden Blend Mix" is topsoil, aged humus, and fertilizer.  4 yards doesn't look like a huge pile in my driveway, but it is taking a long time to make a dent in it.

I moved 16 garden cart loads of the soil before I couldn't take another trip.  It did fill in most of the largest bed, and one of the small lettuce beds. 

This is after I removed 16 loads. 

Cinder Blocks and Back Pain

I finally got the rest of the cinder blocks in place.  I now have a larger 4 x 8 bed that is 2 blocks high.  At either end I have more blocks, one high for lettuce, and the other end 2 high for tomatoes. 

Oh, look!  There's Boo nosing in again!  

I also lugged the the uglier blocks (chips, concrete blobs) behind the shed for a 3-sided compost heap.   Another 4 block lettuce planter and I was done with cinder blocks! 

I then spent the next 3 weeks in pain.  It wasn't until the next day that my back went out.  I was unable to do much of anything for a long while.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dale, my Apple Tree

I have an apple tree now.  His name is Dale.  Dale was the obvious name, as "It's a Braeburn."  If you don't get that, look it up!  "dale +it's a braeburn" will get you the answer. 

I prepaid for Dale in December to save 15%.  The nurseryman forgot to order a bare-root Braeburn for me, so, when I went to pick him up, offered me another apple variety.  That was fine, but I wanted the best kind for growing in our local area.  Other than Pink Lady, Braeburn would be it, and I don't care for Pink Lady's taste nearly so much.  So, he let me have last year's bare-root tree for the same price.  It was much larger and potted in a RootTrapper bag. 

The hole had been dug in January, put rain kept it filled nearly constantly.  I finally filled the hole back in, and planted Dale in a raised bed of cinder blocks two high.   The nurseryman told me to take 1/3 off all the branches, and the ones that crossed each other, as well as making sure a bud was pointing out.  Dale deserves the best care, so I bought some new, nicer pruners.  I have never planted a tree before, let alone pruned one that mattered for fruit development, so let's keep our fingers crossed I did it right.

I want to mention the nursery I go to.  It is Shooting Star Nursery in Central Point, Oregon.  The employees are so helpful and friendly.  Nothing I have bought there has died, which is saying something for their healthy stock, not my green thumb.

I was going to return the RootTrapper bag, but then discovered online they can be used for vegetable growing!  So, it may be a tomato or pepper planter this spring if I run out of planter room or pots.  


My lettuce grew!  I planted some cheap seeds in late summer last year, and they actually grew!  I had enough to share with the neighbor across the street.  I just scattered the seeds, and didn't let them grow big, and harvested them as I thinned them.  These photos were taken in Oct., but they got much bigger.  I have a nice load of soil coming tomorrow, and will put in new lettuce seed for a spring crop.  The 4 cinder block size bed is perfect for lettuce.  So are those cinder block holes!  My new cinder blocks have larger, square holes. 

 The peas in the above photo never did more than it shows.  I planted them too late in the summer and it got too cold too soon.  I am not used to the first frost killing frost being in October!

The lettuce surprised me by living ALL winter.  There were mornings I would find them frozen stiff, but they didn't die at all.  They were still alive in February.  I thought lettuce was a tender crop.  I thought wrong. This is the crop in December.  They never got any slugs or bugs at all.  Tiny birds pecked at them now and again. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lots More Cinder Blocks and a Garden Cart

OK, soon after ordering the cedar bed I located used cinder blocks on Craigslist.  Yes, another Craigslist bargain, I told you I love the place!  They wanted .75 each, but my offer of .50 was accepted.  Most of them were down a hill, so my son and I lugged them up 2 at a time.  They are nice blocks, larger than my others, with one "good" or finished side.

It took two trips on separate days to bring all 90 odd home.  Then we had the task of moving them to the back-back yard.  Enter the Garden Cart!

A wheel barrow is handy, but a garden cart seemed more like what I was after.  Mine is from Home Depot and it is supposed to handle 600 pounds.  Hmmm... that is an awful lot of pounds...  It did help make short work of the cinder blocks though. 

The cinder blocks were in the back now, awaiting organization into raised beds. But, I was so sick of them, that waited a few weeks.  This photo doesn't even show all of them, some are back by the compost heap.  


I moved into the house in June, 2011.  But, I bought it in Feb. and had access to it in March.  In April last year I discovered I had asparagus growing in what I thought was a weed patch!  No, it is an asparagus bed!  Yum!

I weeded them, ate them, then let them grow and die back on their own last fall before cutting them back, then covering the bed with a layer of mulch,  all according to my online research. Asparagus is something else I have never grown.

The mulch was removed a week or so ago, and I scratched in some fertilizer, which one of the dogs licks out of the dirt.  Well, it is made with bone, blood and feather meal, a dog's delight!  You can see how much better it looks weeded.  Now all I can do is wait and see if the plants come back up.  I don't really have much faith it will happen.  In the top photo you can see the garlic overtaking the smaller bed behind the asparagus.  It is gone now.  At least I tried to dig it out, but it is thick in there.  I also removed huge Virginia creeper roots (I tore down the dormant vines a few months ago, they were aged and just too much.) and plan to put in climbing roses.  

Cedar Raised Beds

After building the cinder block bed I realized how much work it was to move those blocks from my driveway to the far backyard.  And how many more I needed to build what I wanted.  I planned on two 4 x 8 beds, a compost "bin" area, and several more 4 block lettuce areas.  Around 100 more cinder blocks minimum for a bed 1 block deep. And I wanted one deeper.  So much work!

So, I broke down and purchased a 4 x 8 cedar raised bed off Craigslist.  That would save me the work of one of the cinder block beds.  The cedar bed looked better in the picture, as is often the case.  It is thick wood, with screws, so it will last for quite a few years.  It cost me $80.  That was not bad compared to others I had seen advertised.  But, within 2 days the man was advertising them for $65!  I like to think he was charging customers $15 for delivery, since mine was delivered free. 

That is Boo's head in the photo.  He is one of the Craigslist dogs!  He is never far from the action. 

As I mentioned before, I may try to put together a smaller bed myself.  I believe I can handle a 4 x 4 if the hardware store cuts the 8' boards to 4' for me.  The do that. I know they don't do lattice, because I needed to replace some rotted lattice on an overhang and they wouldn't do it.  I had to settle for less attractive (though sturdier) lath nailed up in stripes.  I watched numerous YouTube videos on building raised beds. Some were so complicated.  One though was very helpful and simple.  As expected, I can't find it right now.  I suppose it is out there lost among thousand of other videos entitled "How to Build a Garden Box."  The man was building it on a large porch, and a young peacock was watching him.  It wasn't old enough to have the fancy tail, but it tried to show off anyway.  The man turned the camera on the bird, who was doing his best to raise his tail feathers in the air like a big boy!  It was quite cute.  Anyway, no fancy construction, just 4 boards, 4 fasteners/hangers (sort of like joist hangers, but not quite, they just hold the two boards together at the corners) and nails (though I would use screws).  I think this may have been the video where he used old picnic table wood.  I have been regularly checking Craigslist for old picnic tables, to no avail.  People seem to think anything made of wood is worth plenty.

Being from CA I would normally think of redwood as the go-to wood for raised beds.   Fences too. But, here in Oregon we use cedar.  It is a debatable issue which lasts longer, but the man who build mine said it would last many years.  Many being more than 5.  Much longer than pine at least.  Not nearly so long as my cinder blocks though!


I should  explain that I am starting my garden adventure from the beginning, which was last summer, and trying to catch up to current growth.  What you will see is a progressive story of my garden, to be followed by posts whenever something new occurs.  Obviously, I have more to say now than I will once I am current, since growing gardens are not very interesting until something blooms, produces, or dies.

I love looking at photos of other blogs about vegetable gardens.  Especially raised bed gardens.  I am including photos of my adventure hoping others enjoy seeing them too.  I get good ideas from this. In fact, I got a great idea for an herb garden I will be building with my daughter.

This photo is of my garden in 2010.  As you can see, much of it was in shade.  The pumpkin plants look healthy, and did produce many blossoms, but no pumpkins whatsoever.  I even tried to pollinate them myself, but it didn't take.  The bush beans didn't do too poorly, and the cherry tomato was very productive.  The soil in this raised bed was originally purchased years before, and irregularly amended.  I found chicken manure was much better than steer manure, well worth the higher cost.  

I am excited by my garden plans this year, as the entire back portion of my yard gets full sun.

FREE! and almost free. Courtesy of Craigslist...

I love Craigslist!  You can find all sorts of bargains and free stuff you really need there.   You can also get rid of nearly all of your own junk there!  Just post it under "free," add your address (do not include your email), put the stuff out front and peek through the blinds at the cars rushing to the curb.  People love "free!"

My free treasures include two of my dogs, a Border Collie mix, and a Goldendoodle.  But, they are not the focus of this blog, so I will limit my raving about Craigslist to the garden.

A woman gave me 8 big plastic containers still filled with garden dirt she had purchased the year before from Biomass One (hard to explain what they do, but part of it is selling soils).  Fortunately for me, teenage sons are strong, as these babies were heavy.  It took two trips to bring them all back home in my Explorer.  I worried the woman would let some other lucky gardener take the rest while I was gone, as I see these as worth their considerable weight in gold.

This same woman was getting rid of 4 planters of iris bulbs.  They had been dug from a city park during renovation.  I removed them from the planters (too small for iris) and planted 12 in a prepared bed, trimming the tops like I learned to do researching iris care online.  My parents never trimmed the tops before winter, but I did just as recommended.  These are MY iris and I want to do right by them.  I gave the extras to my neighbor.  They died back, and now have new spring growth.  Which led to another problem in the iris bed.  Dogs.   I jerry-rigged some netting over them for the time being.  They are just babies.

Another Craigslist bargain was my strawberry plants.  Delivered from Grants Pass to the Red Lobster parking lot in Medford.  I felt as though I were on some sort of clandestine mission, with cars pulling in, exchanging cash for large black trash bags!  I paid for 20 plants, $10, but I think I got more like 25 and some tiny runners.  I planted them in strict accordance with instructions, these were my first strawberries.  I actually didn't know what I was doing, since what were huge plants were actually the past seasons huge leaves that died back.  I thought the plants were dying!  I cut them off and found new growth at the crown of each plant. That was a new word for me, "crown."  At least I knew not to bury the crowns when I planted them.

The above photo shows them soon after planting.