Going Really "Green"

With all the expansion and frost and seedlings and everything else that been making me run around like a crazy bunny I completely forgot to post about one of the really "green" part of our life - we're now completely on SOLAR power! This picture was taken last summer in July when the system was actually installed. It took 9 month for state of NJ to get us inspector for whole 20 min and actually get approval - insanely frustrating. But all bureaucracy aside - we are live and powering at 115% and minimizing our carbon footprint and it feels fantastic!. As I said many times, my wish is to be self-sufficient as much as possible and hopefully be off the grid completely. We're using our well-watter and now added solar so if only we could stop using oil for heat that would really make us truly green. But one step at the time.

Mother Nature won..

Well I gambled on early planting season and went ahead and planted everything a good month earlier than usual just to see Mother Nature turn around and hit us with a deep freeze. So that gamble was lost and now I have to start from scratch. I will wait until next week warmer weather gets here as we're still expecting another frost on Thursday and then will replant all my brassicas, peas, potatoes, radishes etc. Not sure if my asparagus will make it as the 3 first spears are frozen into popsicles. Looks like we won't have fruit on fruit-trees this year but will know more on that later. It's just heartbreaking to see all this damage :( Frozen parsley anyone?but for now I'm going to focus on finishing new garden area and planting everything in there - raspberries, blueberries, figs, persimmon tree, strawberries - hopefully they'll provide with enough fruit for the year.

Keeping warm...

... my plants that is. Or at least trying to. This is my plum tree full in bloom at least a month early and if I leave it uncovered all those blooms will be wasted and I'll be without plums. So I tried to cover it in a sheet and hope it will help. Can't cover it completely as it's too tall so I'm sure there will be damage on the top but I hope at least it will minimize damage to the rest of the tree. Weather advisory is at 23F with windchill factor in single digits. Also some protection for my original garden beds - they have all been planted with cabbage, broccoli, spinach, peas and purple potatoes.I would hate to lose those seedlings that were transplanted and peas are doing also very nicely so I hope that covering them with sheets will help.

New Garden update and first harvest

It's been a very busy weekend here trying to do so many things around the house, new garden and old garden at the same time. It's usually very hard for us to find time during the week to actually get anything done as we're both working full time and have very long commute so by the time we get home it's usually around 6pm and very little time left of daylight. But not this weekend. Now that my hubby is feeling better he was able to spend most of the time building fencing around my garden and shoveling more dirt. As you can see he finished two sides of it - back and the left side, and hopefully can keep plucking at it during the week. I really hope that it can be close to finish by the weekend so I can plant cold-season plants and protect them from deer (more on the deer issue later this week). You can see a large bale of peat moss (2nd for that bed) and 5 bags of manure on the last bed - they are still waiting for me to spread them in beds. On Friday I will try to get more compost that has to be added to all beds. Oy.

On another note, I did my first harvest of the year - all those beautiful greens that were ready to be picked in the cold-frame. From left to right I have - Sorrel, salad, arugula and parsley. So nice to be able to have fresh greens again from the garden! While our hydroponic is good it's just not the same as when you get to pluck it from the ground :)

A day of pictures..

Today was a good day to take some pictures of the garden. Let's hope that all these flowers and greens won't be wiped out by hard frost. First is a little nook by porch stairs where we have crocuses, hosta, hyacinths and rhubarb - all awake and growing already. A little bit of a close up image of some hyacinths on the other side of the stairs.
And one more - it's actually bright yellow but for some reason it's not really visible on picture. I'm not sure if it's because it's cloudy or whatnot but it's really lovely color in person.
Then in the original garden - some of my broccoli that I transplanted two weeks ago seem to be doing good so far. They are a little close to each other but space is at the premium here and I took a chance of keeping it less than 1 foot per plant.
And in the cold frame my arugula went wild with growth! I'll be picking it tomorrow for dinner.
Also in the cold frame my salad is doing fantastic - and also will be picked tomorrow.
And on another bed some of my garlic that survived are growing nicely. right behind then in the corner is one of my peony plant full awake. Let's hope it will have blooms this year.
Around the corner in front of the house purple azaleas are in overdrive. It was planted before we got the house and it was right next to the pine so it obviously loves the acidity provided by the pine.
My beautiful plum tree is full in bloom and I can only hope that wrapping it in sheets for a night will save it from frost so I can have plum jelly. As you can see it's already wrapped in mesh netting to save it from deer - all our trees have to be done this way or deer strip anything down to a stub.
First daffodil is blooming! I have few of them in a flowerbed under the pine tree and hope that in couple of weeks when everything blooms at once I'll have some nice shots.
My Bleeding Heart woke up and even has some blooms coming out! It's the only one that I'm not worried about with the deer as they don't touch it. I have 3 of them already growing from last year and this year I'll add few more around new garden. And finally my new garden area (still under construction as you can see) - planted two onion beds - one with white Spanish, 1/2 bed of Walla Walla and 1/2 of red onions. This will be the same bed as tomatoes - stakes are placeholder so I know not to plant onions too close there, but in between they should do fine. I'll add some basil as well once tomatoes are in place. I can only fit about 30 on these two beds without squishing them too close and cause problems, so will have to do many containers. And I still have to bring in alot more compost to add to these beds to top them off. Maybe that will be done next weekend.

Incoming Frost!

This is exactly what was I afraid off.. Unusual heat wave brought everything up to bloom and now we have hard frost. I'm afraid it will damage my new growth and all those beautiful blooms on my plums will drop off without producing fruit :( Maybe covering them in burlap will help save them. Raised beds can be covered with plastic for couple of days so that should work out. Sometimes you gamble and win and sometimes you lose.

Happy Spring Day!

.. or more like summer day because it was 80 degrees here. Yes, first day of spring was balmy 78 and today is 80. And we've been told that hard frost coming Monday and Tuesday night. Oy. But for now I can enjoy my forthysia that decided to bloom over a month early. It really lovely in person and makes my yardwork so much more enjoyable. So while I'm shoveling that huge pile of dirt I get to enjoy pretty colors. And today I checked on my seedlings - tomatoes and peppers to see if they need to be transplanted into larger containers. And suddenly realized that I'm your local village idiot. Oh the seedlings are doing just fine. But can you spot a problem with the picture? I'll give you a hint - it's not the missing plants. I have another tray with 46 others that will be mostly in containers or given away that have the same problem. Maybe I should just toss it all and start all over. :(

Imagery vs reality

There are moments when I feel incredibly frustrated whenever someone asks me what I'm building in my front yard and yet they can't comprehend what it really is going to be at the end. Couple of days ago I tried explaining it to my grandma (who lives on the west coast) that it will be a combination of veggies inside and fruit/flowers outside. She didn't get it. So I had to use my crude imagery and try to create a picture of what I hope it will be. So here s what I am planning on making. You can see whole bunch of veggies inside (some smaller things like basil around tomatoes will not be visible of course) and the flowers and fruit are positioned around the perimeter and the outside of the area. I will be planting some of the flowers that are rather large on the outside to deter deer - the okra, bleeding heart and lilies are usually safe. They will be protecting smaller plants like my spring bulbs, roses and my fruit - blueberries, grapes and strawberries. The back will have some high-level plants like sunflowers and hollyhocks. I did not put any pictures of grasses or crawling evergreens but they'll be there too. I just hope it will look as good as it's in my head once it's all growing. Now I'd better send that picture to grandma before she really gets even more confused :(

Exausting St Patty day

Honestly I don't remember being this tired in a very long time. And a little grumpy. Instead of being happy that my new garden is getting more "real" I'm grumpy that it's no where ready to be really used. And if we keep crawling in this pace I'm not sure when it will be completed :( ok, back up for a bit. This Friday afternoon we got our soil delivered - 20 yards of it. The company promised that it was garden soil and ready to plant right away as it should have sand and compost mixed into it. Well when I got it my heart just sank down to the bottom - there is no way this can be used as is in the garden. Heavy gray clay with some sand and no compost or organic matter worth mentioning. I wouldn't bother calling this "garden" soil. So on top of prospect of shoveling 20 yards into the raised beds I had to trek to the local store and got 2 bales of peat and 2 packages of vermiculite so I can at least start doing something with this mess. And on top of that my husband is down with stomach flu so he can't really do much to help because he's very uncomfortable with stomach pains - but he tried to help a little bit anyway. So for about 3 hrs Friday afternoon I spent shoveling dirt into wheel cart, pushing it up the lawn toward the new raised bed frames and dumping it out. Then after it got dark was trek to the store for peat moss and vermiculite. So in the morning I mixed one bale of peat and one bag of vermiculite into the first bed - the bottom right side of the garden and planted some of the potatoes - Red Bliss on the left side of the L-shape, Yukon Gold on the bottom right and regular white potatoes in the rest of the bed. You can see wooden labels separating areas and marking where each variety starts. This was not originally in my plans for this bed, but because of the delay with making this garden I didn't want to waste any more time and just start planting whatever got available first. And even if the fencing is not in place yet and the rest of the beds are not complete I thought it would be ok to plant potatoes as animals usually don't bother them too much. Tomorrow I hope to complete one more bed and plant onions - it will be shared with tomatoes later on (I'll block off areas where they'll be planted). At least I hope we'll get more done soon.
Then I also spent an hour in my old garden area and planted more peas - they are a bush variety that doesn't require support so I made 3 rows of them and hope they'll be ok to grow. I might add a low trellis to support them anyway but that's next weekend. I also planted few of the purple potatoes that I had from last year. They already had sprouted so hope it will grow nicely. And I planted 4 fingerling's just for kicks. I found them on the bottom of my potato basket that was stored in the garage and just tossed them in - if they grow then it's great and if not no big loss. I'm not a big fan of them but my hubby likes them in potato salad.
So long and tiring day and tomorrow will be more. My back is killing me and my right arm refuses to work anymore. Oh well. It's all worth it. Or at least I keep saying so to myself - it will be all worth it once it's all completed and nicely green and pretty. Oy.

Carrot seed mats

Today I took a page from Annie's book of wisdom and decided to try making carrot seed mats. I love carrots and always plant many of them so I can snack while I'm in the garden and have them used in cooking. I also like many varieties but hate that so many seeds were wasted each time - they're so small that it's hard to really plant them in normal intervals without taking forever. So normally i would sprinkle the in wide rows and then thin them out. What waste of seeds! And then I stumbled on Annie's blog and was floored when I read about her seed mats - would never ave thought about it myself. So today being cold and rainy day I made them. I used the same method that she shows in her tutorial - napkin, water soluble glue and seeds. I made several of these and each has label on it so I know what variety it is - Purple Dragon, Nantes Scarlet coreless and Red Cored Chantenay. And I made 3 types of mats - one very dense - this will be used for baby carrots. 3 mediums and 3 large spacing for purple dragon. I still need to do few more because i want more Nantes and more Purple Dragon for second wave of planting. Has anyone else tried this method before? And can you recommend any other good varieties to try?

Couple of days of sunshine...

.. and what a huge difference you can see in the garden already! It's only been few days since I took last pictures on Sunday and today I went to water my planted seeds and was surprised to see so much improvement. It's been mid-60 for 3 days and it shows! Here is my sorrel - completely awake and will be ready to pick by the weekend! I see sorrel soup on my menu on Sunday! And here my peonies woke up! They are normally dormant until first week of April! Does it mean I'll see some early may flowers? I hope so! They are only 2 yrs old so it's a 50/50 chance that they'll bloom this year. And remember those tiny spots of tulips that you could barely see?? Now you can see them without squinting! I do hope they'll be pretty in bloom soon! Because very soon the second garden will be completed and then all these tulips will be transplanted as a border just outside to make it pretty. And this bed will be replanted with warmth-loving bush beans. My crocuses will join tulips in the same area - different height of flowers should make it a nice contrast. As you can see they're doing pretty nicely too. And judging by small offshoots I will have to divide them! Which is great because i won't have to buy more bulbs :)

Spring colors

Ah, first colors of spring.. My hyacints decided not to get larger before opening up but it's ok, I like the color anyway. And right next to it is my white crocus blooming away. Can't figure out why my white ones are large but purple and yellow are tiny. Oh well. They are all pretty. Let's just hope more will open up before weekend so I can enjoy them while doing more garden work! And it will be busy weekend as my soil is getting delivered on Friday. 20 yards of it. Wish me luck shoveling it because I'll need it!

Garden prep

Today was first really nice sunny and warm day and it actually felt like spring. So of course I had to get out to my garden and start preparing my beds - the ones on the side of the house. The new garden area is no where near being finished so it won't be planted just yet. But my old 5 beds could be prepped now. I had cleaned and turned soil and added compost to all of them. Two of the beds still have some strawberries that will be moved to the new area but for now they'll remain there. Then I transplanted some of my cabbages and broccoli to the first bed. Maybe it's a bit early but the weather channel shows that it will remain in 60's and 40's at night so all these transplants should make it. I also planted some early peas, sprinkled some additional spinach, salads and planted couple of rows of radishes. It was wonderful to play in dirt again! And then I noticed that my tulips woke up! can you spot them? And my hyacinths are also waking up! couple of more sunny weeks and it will be all in bloom! spring just can't come fast enough!

Alot more seeds planted!

I never thought that I can run out of space where I can put seedlings and out of growlights to boot. I've planted few trays of seedlings this weekend and tonight added more that i wanted to plant but was too tired over the weekend to do. So far I hope that they'll grow nicely so we have: Brussels sprouts; cabbage babies triplets; broccoli; cauliflower; purpleflower; celeriac; oakra; celery; brocolini; beets; swiss chard; spinach; whole bunch of herbs.

But the main part of space was taken by nightshade varieties:

Pepper - Sweet Chocolate 4
Pepper - California Wonder (Sweet Organic) 3
Pepper - Chinese Giant - Sweet Red 3
Pepper - Habanero Red 2
Pepper - Hungarian Hot Yellow Wax 3
Pepper - Jalapeno 3
Pepper - Jalapeno Early 3
Pepper - Long Pepper Mix 2
Pepper - Pepperoncini Italian 2
Pepper - Purple Beauty 8
Pepper - Quadrato D'asti Rosso (Sweet Red) 4
Pepper - Sweet Banana 4
Tomato Ananas Noire Or Black Pineapple 4
Tomato Big Rainbow 3
Tomato Black From Tula 4
Tomato Black Giant 2
Tomato Black Krim 4
Tomato Caspian Pink Heirloom 2
Tomato Cherokee Purple 2
Tomato Chocolate Stripes 2
Tomato Grandma Oliver's Green 2
Tomato Green Zebra Heirloom 2
Tomato Hillbilly Heirloom 2
Tomato Marmande 2
Tomato Mr Stripey Heirloom 2
Tomato Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge 1
Tomato Pink Brandywine 4
Tomato Prudens Purple Heirloom 2
Tomato Purple Calabash 4
Tomato Red Brandywine Organic 2
Tomato Red Mortgage Lifter 2
Tomato Red Zebra Heirloom 2
Tomato San Marzano Lungo 4
Tomato Sarah Black 2
Tomato Super Italian Paste Heirloom 4
Tomato Sweet Million Hyrid (Cherry) 2
Tomato True Black Brandywine 4
Tomato Yellow Pear (Cherry) 2
Tomato German Green 2
Tomato Jersey Giant 2
Tomato Genovese 2
Tomato Old Italian 2
Tomato Subartic 2

of course not all of them will go into the ground - I assume that not all will germinate. But even if they do come up and grow all perfectly I guess I'll try to plant them outside of the garden and hope that deer won't eat them. I know it's alot of tomatoes and peppers but we use them the most after potatoes and onions and I want to preserve for winter enough that we won't have to buy any in store.

I also did couple of trays of flowers that will be planted outside of the garden area to make it pretty. They will join my bulbs of gladiolus, crocuses, daffodils, hyacints, lilly of the valley and tulips - i've planted delphinium, marigolds, nasturtium, snapdragon, sweet pea, hollyhock, bachelor buttons and few perenials like ornamental grass, peonies, iris, sage and lavendar. I really hope it will all come out just right and we'll have a beautiful garden.

New Morel season!

Several states reported that 2012 new Morel season has officially started! So if you're in Alabama, Georgia, South Caroline, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and California states - GO HUNTING!
These shown in picture below were the ones I found last spring and hopefully will be picking them again this year as well. Of couse my area won't see them for at least two more months but who knows, maybe it will be a bit early this year and I'll find them in April. Happy hunting!

Garden update on expansion

Just a short update on what's going on with our garden expansion - my hubby ordered wood for boxes last week and it arived on Friday so he's been busy measuring, cutting and building my garden boxes. It's not a small job considering how many and how large these boxes are but he's up for a challenge. Almost completed as you can see on the picture. He still has to do some joints in the middle and then add supports to keep sides from "bowing" out under presure from dirt. And speaking of dirt, I'm yet to find a place where it's not going to cost us an arm and a leg for it :( So far this has been one very expensive project since I did not want to use treated wood and we went with ceder 8" and 10" wide - which is not cheap by any means. For dirt I want to go with 2/3 of top soil and 1/3 compost. Hopefully it will be a good mix. Of course there are still posts to be installed for fencing and to line up bottom from groundhogs but it's a good start! I do hope it can be completed in next couple of weeks as spring planting is almost on us and I'm ready with my seedlings! They are doing pretty good, some died off but that was expected of course. As you can see I have my cold-weathered veggies and greens almost ready to go outside. And here are the herb mix that is doing just fine. Thyme is doing best of them all so far. I also started next batch of cold-loving greens as well. They are a bit leggy but it's ok, they'll be fine at the end.
And I do have a new addition that I did not mention before - my kafir lime tree! My sister sent it to me for christmas present but since I wasn't sure if it would survive I didn't want to take any pictures or mention it just yet. But it's been doin good, droped off some leaves at first but then new growth started coming out and it's bright and green. Hopefully in couple of years I might even have a lime!

Splash of color in dreary winter...

One good thing that does happen at the end of winter is that my orchids always bloom at the end of February. Just a small splash of bright color in bathroom and media room. Of course some are more picky than others and don't want to all bloom at once but either way it's pretty.
Here you can see my purple is in full bloom, white one is on the way out and a very large one just growing its spike so will start blooming in couple of weeks.
And one lonely yellow orchid is blooming in my media room - the only one out of 4 in there. Not sure what went wrong here, maybe I didn't feed it well enough on time. Hopefully next year will be better.