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Armchair Gardening

Winter has definitely arrived.  A few nights have dipped into the high teens; a few days have topped out around freezing.  There’s just not much to do outside right now.  Oddly, this is one of my favorite times of the year for gardening.  It’s all still in my head, and it’s BEAUTIFUL.  As the year goes on, I deal with real plants, and they’re taller or shorter than they were in my head.  They bloom earlier or later than I planned and the combination that was amazing on paper doesn’t happen at all in real life.  Worst of all, the beautiful picture in the catalog and the spindly dying twig in my garden share no resemblance at all.  I’m a gardener though, so hope springs eternal…

This time of year, I’m neck deep in planning next year’s garden: sorting through seeds, scribbled notes, garden catalogs and gardening books while I jot new notes, sketch out plans, and review lessons learned and previous successes.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks pulling together scattered notes, documents and spreadsheets to put together an organized Garden Journal.  As I complete each “chapter”, I’m posting it online.  To see progress so far, click on the new Garden Journal link at the top of every page.  It will probably take a couple of years to finish, but the work in progress isn’t too bad.

Of course, all the planning leads right to execution.  I’ve already placed several seed catalog orders, with a few more planned.  Pinetree Seeds (https://www.superseeds.com) is my first stop for gardening every year.  The prices are reasonable, the selection is great, always including a few fun odds and ends, and their catalog includes the bonus of a book section with fun bargains.  My next stop is Select Seeds (http://www.selectseeds.com).  They’re a little more expensive, but extremely fun.  They specialize in old fashioned flowers full of fragrance and style, many of which reseed.  This year, I’ve also ordered from Plant World Seeds (http://www.plant-world-seeds.com) a company in Britain which offers many unusual seeds not available elsewhere.  Shipping is quite reasonable, especially considering it’s international.  Finally, a friend pointed me to the Sample Seed Shop (http://sampleseeds.com) where I found some great bargains including an heirloom strain of garlic.  It will take two years to grow from bulbils, but the fruit trees will enjoy the protection while it’s growing.

After last year’s fruit planting extravaganza, I’m focusing on the new vegetable garden this year.  It’s been years since I had a full vegetable garden, and the new planned garden is more than twice the size of my old vegetable garden.  I’ve also been reading up on permaculture and sustainable gardening and farming, so that’s impacted my garden planning this year.  Check out the vegetable garden plan in chapter 22 of the Garden Journal.  (Link to the Garden Journal is at the top of the page, remember?)

It’s also prime season for Winter Sowing.  After two short sessions, here’s a list of what I’ve winter sown so far:

Latin Name Common Name
Meconopsis cambrica ‘Muriel Brown’ Welsh Poppy ‘Muriel Brown’
Meconopsis cambrica floro pleno aurantiaca Welsh Poppy, Double Golden
Roscoea cautleyoides
Roscoea scillifolia (alpina) pink
Primula auricula ‘Viennese Waltz’
Primula japonica ‘Miller’s Crimson’
Liatris spicata Gayfeather
Eupatorium maculatum purpureum Joe Pye Weed
Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’
Lysimachia punctata
Eryngium giganteum Miss Wilmott’s Ghost
Leycesteria formosa aurea ‘Gold Leaf’
Helleborus lividus
Allium sativum ‘Niawanda Park’ Garlic ‘Niawanda Park’
Amsonia tabernaemontana
Adlumia fungosa Alleghany Vine
Aquilegia flabellata var pumila kurilensis ‘Rosea’ Columbine
Aquilegia sp Mixed Double Columbine
Aristolochia fimbriata Native Dutchman’s Pipevine
Primula beesiana
Vernonia fasciculata Ironweed

At the top of the page is a snapshot of my small herd of winter sown milk jugs.  For more information on winter sowing, check out http://www.wintersown.org/

Happy Armchair gardening to all!

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Achy, Breaky Fruit & Rotten Stuff

DH & I spent as much of the weekend as we possibly could installing cinder block raised beds for fruit trees.  Six of the seven trees I ordered are planted now.  We can both barely move and are trying to muster energy for positioning blocks and planting that last tree tonight. As you can see from these pictures, the trees are barely visible in the center of each cinder block square.  Truly a triumph of faith over reality!

Two plum trees: 'Early Laxton' in back, 'Stanley' in front

Baby pear trees: 'Moonglow' in back, 'Seckel' in front

Two apple trees: 'William's Pride' on the left; Liberty on the right (Enterprise to be added later behind.)

These trees are comfortably ensconced in that mythical garden environment:  moist, rich, well-drained soil.  The magical ingredient for this is of course compost.  Reading most modern garden books, compost is good for whatever ails your garden.  Soil too dry?  Add compost!  Too wet?  Add compost!  Too much clay?  Add compost!  Too sandy?  Add compost!  Children are failing in school?  Add.. no wait..that doesn’t help.

Seriously, compost is an amazing all purpose soil amendment.  I’ve been as generous as I can afford with it over my gardening career and NEVER regretted adding compost or wished I’d used less.

It was a marvelous addition to the hardpan clay front yard in my first garden when we renovated the lawn and ordered 10 cubic yards of “half horse,” that is compost that is a half and half mixture of composted leaves and composted horse manure.  I still remember my four year older daughter gleefully informing a horrified peer, “You know what THAT is?  It’s HORSE POOP!”  Ten yards was a rather excessive amount, and I’ve promised DH never to buy more than 5 yards of anything.

That same hardpan clay got another dose of compost when I put in a large flower bed using sort of a lasagna gardening approach:  Six to ten layers of newspaper (no colored ink) topped with six inches of compost.  I moved away several years ago, but the bed is still going strong.

After checking out the book Lasagna Gardening from my local library, I’ve adapted a slower approach,letting mulch turn into compost over time.  For existing beds, mulching once a year with shredded hardwood has made a significant difference in soil quality in just a couple of years.  The “new” oval bed where the plum trees are located was lawn before spending Spring through Fall of 2009 covered with cardboard and six inches of mulch.  I’m gradually adding shrubs and perennials over time, and topping off the mulch with a couple of new inches every year.  So far the weed problems have been tiny to nonexistent.

Now we’re systematically working our way through five yards of Leafgro compost to amend raised beds for this year’s edible gardening extravaganza.  In addition to the fruit trees, there are 50 strawberry plants, 8 blueberries, 13 raspberries and an assortment of ornamental plants from Burnt Ridge Nursery waiting to be planted.  Hopefully I’ll have plenty of fruit in the coming years!

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