Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Woodchuck fence

Stephane Mortier, part-time handyman and part-time computer whiz,, responded to my appeal for a 12-guage wire saying he had some, and offering to help me install my electric fence. I immediately hired him, and on Saturday he installed it. We bought it from Harbor Freight Tools at 441 Market Street in Saddlebrook, but Fred tells me that is a national chain, so you may find a source nearer to you. We did need the fence wire and holders, but had some left from our previous electric fence ages ago. When that battery wore out, we couldn't find a replacement. This unit is solar powered with a back-up rechargeable battery, so it's more promising. It cost $75 including a 3-year guarantee of replacement if anything goes wrong.

It needs to sit in the sun for 8 hours before it functions, so Stephane offered to come back Sunday and see if it is working. I wondered how he would do so. He touched it, shivered, and jumped, and decreed it functional. What courage! I touched my previous one just once accidentally and would not consider doing it intentionally.

No wonder woodchucks stay away! However, I also noticed where mine had been living, and Stephane also fenced that off on Saturday. I haven't seen any sign of a woodchuck or woodchuck damage since. I planted out small broccoli plants as a test. It doesn't like this cold weather, but it is getting no outside assault. It's time to plant out the collard seedlings I've been raising in my greenhouse window.

Meanwhile, the electric fence forced me to reconfigure my inner garden, since we needed to have more-or-less straight line borders, outside which the electric fence is strung. I noticed that a garden path in the new arrangement went right through my milkweed plant, which attracts butterflies. Trina said I could transplant it or pot it up to give away. When I attempted to transplant it, it fell apart. Apparently, it should have been separated long ago. I transplanted the largest piece, and put six more on the right side of my front steps for anyone who wants to take a milkweed plant. It's slightly different from Trina's, but she says it does do what monarch butterflies need.

Nobody picked up ANY celery or pak choi (L-R) Sunday or Monday, and I thought maybe I was going to soon commit mass seedlingcide, especially since the celery seedlings are beginning to look vaguely like celery plants, and won't be able to stay in their cradle for much longer. Someone did arrive yesterday, and I replaced these offerings. They hadn't done well with the lack of water and frozen soil, but those there now look inviting.

My Heritage raspberries are budding! So it's time to prune off the dead remainders of last fall's crop. This makes it much easier to go through the raspberry patch without losing my hat.

When I realized this, my internal Guilt Monster (surely some of you have one too) said to me, "If you had pruned two weeks ago, your life would have been much easier."
"But I couldn't see until now WHERE to prune." I now preserve all parts with buds and cut away the tops, which look convincingly dead. Anyway, the plants are healthy, and I should have a nice crop to share in a July Open Garden.


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Thursday, March 24, 2011


Happy spring to all! (My daughter in MA was startled yesterday to hear I had been shoveling snow.) I was happy this morning after I went out first thing to peer into the wall-of-waters at my babies. The tomatoes are fine! Even the ones covered with snow inside an open WOW seemed to be basically happy.

Meanwhile, the pac choi has germinated with wild abundance. I don't seem to be able to practice moderation in scattering seeds. I expect there to be a continuing supply of 3-packs of pac choi on the right side of my steps until they are too big to transplant. Having given away 27 celery seedlings from indoors, I still have an uncountable number of celery seedlings. They grow very slowly, so I will continue to put out 3-packs of them for a long time on the left side. Notice they are in alphabetical order: celery on the left, pac choi on the right. You are welcome to both, but might like to know what you are raising!

Meanwhile, not ALL is well in the garden. I had a wonderful day Sunday socially and physically, but I didn't go out to the garden until dinner time to make preparations for the precipitation predicted the next day. Oh, my! My collards were nipped to the stem. I should be enjoying collards this week! WHAHH!!!

The kale was also gone except for the stems, but I have great lettuce inside, so that's only slightly sad. The lettuce, which had miraculously survived all winter under floating cover, was gone, but that had been an unexpected treat anyway.

Most surprising, "someone" had chewed away at the Chinese cabbage in my cold frame, the first time that has ever happened. I closed the frame, of course, which is fine in this weather. There is probably enough there for us, but what should have been our major annual donation to Toni's Kitchen was eaten by a non-human on Sunday. (Do I hear you calling me a "speciest?" I plead guilty.)

I saw a woodchuck crossing my back yard last week. When I mentioned this to a neighbor, he said he had seen it too.
"Very thin."
I nodded.
"Very hungry," he added

Fred, bless him, spent lots of time on Monday on google, and located Harbor Freight Time at 441 Market Street in Saddlebrook. He went there Tuesday and bought a solar-powered generator for a electric fence with a back-up rechargeable battery. If we can get this to work, it will last! Better yet, it has a three-year returnable guarantee.

Not all is solved. HFT does not sell the needed wire for the fence itself or the holders of the wire. With lots of searching our house and our memories, we found these left over from the time we had the other electric fence over ten years ago. When he read the directions in detail, Fred found that some 12-guage wire is also needed for connections. If you see this around a local hardware store, let us know. Meanwhile, we will continue to search for that, and Fred's electrical skills may enable us to keep out woodchucks from our inner garden. That would allow us to raise collards, broccoli and lettuce there. Here's hoping!

Meanwhile, I also unearthed our woodchuck cage and put it out, but without bait (everything having been eaten) or a convenient location, I'm not too optimistic about that.

Here's still hoping. Happy shoveling! (I did more this morning.)


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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fruit tree spraying

"Do you spray the whole tree?" asked a friend last week.
"Yes, and it takes a lot of time." I think I saw a rolling of eyes.

For this reason, I would not advocate fruit TREES for people with young children or others who are very busy. Raising vegetables and berries takes much less time per calorie yielded.

These days I am spraying and pruning to an extent that I never remember doing before. It is partly that I usually do this in February, and now I want to be enjoying the garden. It also is due to the enormous growth last year of my fruit trees. When I complained to this to Dr. Jim, he said it indicates that the trees are very healthy. That helps me to stop my internal complaining!

I never had a pruning mentor, so I know only what I've read in books and pamphlets. They say to eliminate branches that cross with another and those that go directly upward. I also cut a lot of downward branches from my peach tree to clear the walk to the back of the yard. I feel the tree complaining, "I can't win. I go up and you cut, and I go down and you cut." Perhaps that reflects my experience as a teacher and/or parent.

I am uncomfortable with the sun in my eyes, so I've discovered that it's best to stand on the east side of a tree in the morning and the west side in the afternoon.

I spray my peach, apple, and pear trees with dormant oil spray, using one of Fred's discarded "Fantastic" bottles from his car cleaning. He bought a nice bottle of concentrated "Spray Oil" locally that makes it easy to measure the one tablespoon that is needed to mix with a quart of water.

I am, thankfully, finally finished with the aforementioned trees and the grape vine, and need only put copper spray on the peach tree to try to keep down the mould. Now I embark on the kiwi vine, which is much easier, and the plum trees, which I care about less.

Do plant raspberries! They are easy to care for needing only to have their obviously dead vines removed in midsummer.


P.S. I ran this by Dr. Jim Conroy, and he says it's okay. His doctorate is in plant pathology from Purdue University. He adds the following. Not spraying would certainly save lots of time.

"I have clients with kids. They don't spray their fruit. Just peel off the skin, mold and all. Then can the apples, pears, or crabapples in Ball jars. It is good!!"

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

More to plant now and clearing misunderstandings

Necole tells me she is now sowing arugula outside. Good idea! My seeds are ready. Arugula has the advantage over lettuce that of lasting MUCH longer, but it is not as universally liked. It would be ready now well before the end of the school year and still available in September. Jose has started arugula and Swiss chard, among other items. Both will be available this spring.

I simply forgot to mention radishes. In recent years I've been raising Hakurei turnips as a preferable substitute, but it wasn't available this year and the Johnny Seeds rep suggested Tokyo Cross turnips instead. I will soon sow that outside. All three are ready to harvest before summer if started now outside.

No, one does not sow pepper or eggplant seeds outside now! I start them usually in April in the greenhouse window, but late March might be reasonable. Some you use grow lights, which use artificial energy. A majority of NJ's electricity comes from nuclear power, and I am glad I need none for my garden -- especially today with the news from Japan.

I allow my own grass clippings to stay on my lawn, but some neighbors kindly bag up theirs, and we grab them from the curb before Montclair has to pay to have them removed. Sometimes neighbors even kindly bring their grass clippings to me!

Ludwig writes, "I planted scallions three weeks ago--in my "window garden"--and they are ready for harvesting. But I did not use seeds. I planted lower parts of stalks (with roots) from the consumed supermarket scallions. Sun was usually shining for about three hours, each afternoon. The soil in the pot was watered each evening."


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What to Plant Now? 3/12/11

An elementary school teacher asked me what can be raised on school grounds that can be harvested during the school year, and I thought my reflections would be of interest to others.

A blend of leaf lettuce, available from every seed supply company, is always plantable. It takes roughly six weeks from sowing to harvest, and each harvest lasts several weeks of pick-and-renew before it turns bitter. So I sow lettuce seeds about every three weeks almost year round. There is plenty of time now to enjoy the harvest before the end of the school year. If enough is sown, a class could go out and each student pick one leaf of the best lettuce she or he has ever eaten -- good motivation to go home and help start a family garden!

Pac choi can be sown now to expect a harvest before the school year ends. This isn't as pleasant for a variety of people to nibble as lettuce. I much prefer it cooked, and that means much of it "disappears."

I'm sowing Sugar Ann seeds now, for harvest in late May or early June. Sugar Spring will also do. Neither needs any staking and both are good for beginning gardeners. Peas and beans add nitrogen to the soil, which is good for a crop that might be planted later in the same place after the pea plants die (which is in plenty of time for a successor crop for peas the same year).

Broccoli is harvested before the school year ends IF it is grown successfully. The past two years woodchucks have eaten mine, but today I'm going to pick up human hair from the shop where my hair is cut. They seem happy to help me, and it has kept the critters off the crop in the past. The problems are two-fold: it must be replaced after every rain, and it looks -- well -- unsightly.

Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant started now should still be available when school starts in September if they are well mulched for the summer. I mulch with grass clippings and practically never need to water my garden in recent years. Throughout my decades of gardening, I was free to leave the state for three weeks and experience little damage when I returned. Small tomatoes are great for kids (of all ages) to nibble; my favorites are Sweet 100 and sun gold. Peppers can be cut up and handed around raw. Eggplants are very pretty, but I haven't heard of anyone eating them raw, although I don't remember a health prohibition for doing so. I suggest that someone should visit such a garden at least once a month during the summer to renew the grass clippings.

People not on school grounds are welcome to use these ideas too! Some people vacation for the summer and may find them useful. If you go for more than a month, put down a very heavy mulch before you leave and see if you can get a neighbor to mulch occasionally for the reward of picking ripe veggies.

At least two Montclair schools are hoping to set up community gardens on their grounds this year; if you are interesting in participating, let me know, and I'll give your email address to the teacher-organizers.


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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sowing, clearing, pruning

I had a lovely day today. It would have been lovelier if the predicted sun had shone, but no rain or scheduled events made it a lovely gardening day anyway. I dug a plot for pac choi, scattered seeds, and raked them in. The plot is not far from where I did a similar job with lettuce on Monday, and I was amused at how much satisfaction I had from those two bare one-yard-square pieces of soil. Only I know the secret they hide, although anyone can see how much more neat they are than most of the garden.

I also sowed one squat-worth of peas again today. Squatting for a long time is not comfortable and probably not health-building, so I space my pea sowing over much of March. It's the most tedious job in the garden. Poke one hole, drop in one pea, and move on two inches. Again. And again. Until one squat-worth of time is over. I try to space them in a hexagonal pattern because you can fit the most in that way with the 2-inch spacing, but nobody could do this exactly and I don't worry about it.

Snow drops are blooming! Not far away, also between the sidewalk and street, the winter rose has bulging buds. Last year it bloomed in March, and it looks like it will do that again.

Having noticed the front yard, I also spent a fair amount of time today squatting there, pulling up the alysm that bloomed incredibly late last fall, and scattering the seeds for this year's flowers. There were also a fair number of leaves that helped fill four garden carts worth. Underneath were poor bulbs, trying to get some sun. I found myself remembering that old Sesame Street song about it's being all right to be green. They SHOULD be green, and white and yellow don't look right. Probably they will change to their proper color now that they can see the light of day.

Since that squashy time last week, I haven't walked on the lawn in the back of the yard, so emptying the garden cart was a true project in itself. I get to the compost heap by walking through the raspberry patch, which is on higher ground. I suspect the raspberry bushes don't totally approve since they keep snatching my hat and throwing it on the ground. I'm learning to outwit them as I carry bucket after bucket of goodies to
the compost heap.

I pruned some more trees today, but it's a long, long project. Not having given gardeners a useful February, Nature seems to be going full-speed ahead with March. So I'm trying to do two month's activities in one. Good thing I'm "retired!"

I like spring, and even March!


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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Pruning revelations, preparations

What a lovely day! The robins were busily assuring me it was March.

Soil! I can now see most of the garden. The two kale plants that survived the insect onslaught last fall are trying valiantly to stand up after being squashed for two months; I'm sure they will succeed. The collards under the floating cover are also working hard to revive, having been similarly squashed. Floating cover doesn't provide protection from the weight of snow. More amazing, some lettuce seems to have survived under floating cover and snow!

Meanwhile, February slipped by without my usual chore of pruning being done at all. When I snipped some unruly peach branches two weeks ago, the juicy ground soon discouraged me. Before that there was too much snow to think of venturing to the fruit trees.

Knowing that I usually sow Sugar Ann peas the first week of March next to the house (and the cold frame), and enjoying the slight rise of the ground next to the house that causes more solid ground, I decided to prepare by pruning the grape vine next to the house. What a surprise! It grew last year unlike any other. I trimmed and trimmed; it took me several days of outside gardening. I finished that job today, and decided to take the yield to the wood compost heap. Slosh, slosh! I hope the lawn will forgive me and that I haven't ruined it. Anyway, I don't think I will go there again for a while.

So I deposited the rest of the grapevine branches (I had four loads!!) at the brink of the lawn in the back of the yard on the left, where they won't get in the way of my trips to the compost heap when I think I can venture there again. This motivated me to cut some of the peach tree that you may remember was getting in the way. This is a much bigger job than the grapevine.

For all the trees (and the kiwi vine) that I prune in February I also spray with dormant oil as I go. This keeps the baby bugs from emerging and causing trouble as adults. Last year I also sprayed the peach tree with copper oil, and I got more peaches than recent years. I could do better. I had hoped to spray both more thoroughly this year, but having lost a month on garden preparations may thwart that.

I started Green Goliath broccoli seeds ages ago, and the few seedlings are still less than an eighth of an inch high. My Bonanza Hybrid broccoli, started much later, is approaching two inches, so I thought I would throw the Green Goliath away. Then it occurred to me one of you might want free seedlings. Does anyone? They've done fine for me in other years, except for woodchuck effects recently.

Next week I'm going to get a haircut, and I'll ask them to save hair cuttings for me. They've been generous in the past, and it does keep away woodchucks. It looks awful, but just around the broccoli...

I wonder when the first deer might come. I want to put fresh Irish Spring soap around just before, which seems to keep them away.

Fedco said they would backorder both Sugar Ann (short) and Sugar Snap (higher, later, and sweeter) peas, and the accompanying explanation didn't sound reassuring to me. So finally Thursday I ordered them from Johnny Seeds. Yesterday they both came. ("Oh, ye, of little faith!") So I have twice as many pea seeds as I need in fresh new packets. What should I do with them?

I may sow my first Sugar Ann seeds tomorrow. And maybe I'll also sow some lettuce seeds outside. What exciting thoughts!


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