Monday, March 21, 2011

Marching On

March is a miracle in the garden.  Wet frozen earth covered with brown, lifeless leaves and twigs, eventually give way to joyous signs of spring.

My forgiving hellebore, now established in her third site in the garden

My wonderful sister's fall pansies perking up

Happy that the cold wet days are gone, neighbors emerge with big smiles and arms full:

My great neighbor Dorcie with one of her "Girls"
And Dorcie's fine husband Todd, who designed and built "The Girls'" sumptous henhouse
And even Tiny Tim is emerging from his newly found hiding place to frolic in the pale sunlight:

In Tiny Tim's Garden, however, March is all about digging, pulling, pruning, wheelbarrowing, dumping, raking and getting back in touch with our bit of Nature.  This happens to be our 18th spring in our house.  For both of us, we treasure the fact that we've both lived here longer than anywhere else in our lives.  We are grateful for the opportunities, friends, and family members that have kept us here, something I know is not always economically or emotionally feasible in the 21st. century.  Living here in Bellingham, WA, we honestly appreciate the beautiful landscape around us, our town's great energy, and yes, even the damp, rainy weather!

In Bellingham, I've learned that a few raindrops mean chickweed, white prairie clover (I know, it's good for fixing nitrate, but . . . ), wild carrot, wild forgetmenot, wild rose campion, wild sorrel and that %!^$# crocosmia are actually easier to pull out when the ground is wet.  What a blessing--and much easier with appropriate gear like my great yellow "Paddington Bear" rain hat, silk long johns (feels great on the skin) under jeans and my always slightly soppy, very dirty celery green gloves, bless their hearts.  

This year, I hurried (for me) to weed the front bed facing the street and our driveway.  For the third year, Bruce and I, our neighbors, Dorcie, and James on the other side, agreed on our annual joint purchase of mushroom compost and "other stuff" to save the cost of delivery.  We are all drifting happily towards sustainable gardening, creating an edible landscape without giving up the flowers we adore.  Dorcie and I don't have lawns at all, and each summer, James digs up more grass:  to create a beautiful rhodie garden, a little creek and pond, and an arc of blueberry bushes. Dorcie laid out a very orderly, well-nourished vegetable garden and also has a gorgous cutting garden and pond.

In any case, this year we ordered 7 yards of the m.c.+:  4 yards for us, 2 for Dorcie and Todd, and 1 yard for James, to be delivered to the spot between Dorcie and me near the mailboxes.  Ladies and Gentlemen, may I now introduce you to:

Mt. Doom!! (and a few weeds)
Yessiree, the gardening aficionados absolutely believe in amending our rocky, somewhat clay-ey soil annually, and look forward to the day we get to dig in, shovel, dump and rake in the amendment.  It keeps the soil light and fluffy, adds nutrients our fast-growing herbs, veggies, berries and flowers will need to be their best.  It's even going to help prevent weeds.

I'm also going to use it to start a new design in the front bed, suggested by my friend, Jaime:  send out rows from the apple tree, like the rays from the sun.  So, on Saturday and Sunday, I won the battle of Mt. Doom:

North view of the new beds

South View
and of course, the kitties just loved coming by and supervising.  That, in turn, sent our lovely staff photographer, Miss R., out of her swing and running for the camera.
Tiny Tim is getting so big!
She also thought that Dorcie's crocuses were just beautiful:

They absolutely are! 

Hope everyone is enjoying daylight savings and the chance to breathe spring air!
Happy First Day of Spring!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Meet Tiny Tim and Our Staff Photographer, Miss R.

Meet Tiny Tim!

I'd also like you to meet my very smart nine year old friend, Ms. R, who has graciously offered to take pictures of Tiny Tim, the 5 other garden kitties (N'yala, The Poppit, Toothless, Boo and Scout), and the the garden as it grows.  Today, Ms. R. has agreed to a short interview about Tiny Tim, the other kitties and the garden.

Q.  Tell everyone about Tiny Tim

A.  Tiny Tim likes to play alot with me and the other cats, especially the boys, Boo and Scout.  He's a happy little cat since he's less than six months old and pretty small.  He is growing as fast as the garden!

Q.  Can we see the pictures you took of Tiny Tim and the other kitties yesterday?

A.  Sure:  here they are:

Here's Toothless on the deck.  She was a tiny kitten last year, but not now!

This is The Poppit Child.  She's going to be nine, so I'm older than she is!

Benita just started letting Tiny Tim, Boo and Scout outside.  They like playing and investigating everything!

For example, Tiny had never seen tomato cages, so he had to investigate.

Boo is checking out the porch swing.  I like to swing in it, too.

This is Scout.  He always looks a little worried, but he loves to play with the other kitties, except ...

N'yala Kate Garbo.  She is beautiful, but she definitely is not a "play girl," especially with the boys.

Q.  You're a very good photographer, Miss R.  How do you know how to take a good picture?

A.  The digital camera I use has a button that I can push so you can see what you're photographing even bigger.  It gives you a better view of what you're taking a picture of.

Q.  How hard is it to take pictures of cats?

A. I think it is kind of hard because the cats like to move around, and they don't like the flash when you take the picture.   So they can run off just when you're going to take the picture.  You have to sneak up on them.  That's why that bigger screen helps you see whether they're running away or not.  It's very easy to take pictures of them when they're asleep, like N'yala, or these pictures.
Can you tell that Scout and Boo are brothers?

The boys love to "play" with the fish (note:  the fish don't like it so much

Q.  Miss R, thank you for taking these great pictures.  I hope you'll take more pictues of the cats and the garden this year.

A.  I will take more pictues this year for you.

Q.  You are pretty wonderful and I love you!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

First Saturday in March: Starting seeds

If you're a gardener, a newbie or a gardening diva like the ladies at Garden Rant or Margaret at A Way to Garden, don't deny yourself the pleasure and reduced costs of seed starting.  Once you start, it becomes highly addictive and extremely annoying to your family, friends, and co-workers.  They will view you, a formerly sane, friendly and interesting person, much like my adorable 9 year old friend Rory with her first musical instrument.  Just as she can't stop proudly demonstrating how to "play" her recorder, I can't stop talking about choosing the seeds, planting the seeds, and sharing how the germination process is going to anyone who doesn't care.

The thing about starting seeds is that it's so amazingly easy that anyone in any space can start seeds successfully.  All you need is:

  • sterile potting mix (try one from your local independent nursery--you'll get all kinds of local appropriate advice and meet nice people),
  • water
  • plastic kitchen  film
  • great seeds (see my next post)
  • styrofoam cups
Gasp.  What am I thinking?  STYROFOAM?  Among the world's least sustainable products?  The new cup de jour of the Republican majority in Congress that is also intent on gutting the EPA?

To be honest, my goal is re-use:  I will use these seed cups for at least a decade, and consider them an investment.  I also am trying to watch costs since I got laid off from my well-paid, benefits-filled job as an HR Director.  My new gig is part-time, no benefits, half my old salary--and I love it.  Life is good.

Back to the job at hand. In March, you can start geminating tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and the "cool weather" vegetables like cabbage, spinach, peas, chard, and lettuce., a fabulous resource for germinating hardy seedlings, has great information on what to start when.  The process I'm going to show you is adapted from this website.

Get your ingredients together (note how blogging is fueled by freshly ground French Roast) :

Make a drainage hole in the suspect cup:

Add enough water to the seed starting mixture so that it's very moist:

Plant your seeds:

Cover with film, secure with rubber band, and label with seed type and date:

Admire handsome assistants:
(Tiny Tim is in the foreground and Mr. Boo sits behind him)

Place your "cup o' seeds" in a warm, well-lighted room.  You'll notice that the film is beading up with moisture-a good sign that your cup is now a greenhouse.

I find that seeds actually germinate earlier, using this method, so do check the cups often.  After they germinate, pull off the film and water gently but thoroughly, adding a tiny bit of diluted compost tea or liquid plant fertilizer to add nutrients.

It's just that easy, and you will savor the pleasure as the tiny seedlings pop up.   By the way, you can start annual and perennial flowers this way.  Imagine not investing huge amounts in flowers for your borders, pots and hanging baskets, and getting exactly the colors and species you want.

Happy planting:  next time, another way to start seeds and why ordering seeds can be worth the carbon footprint.