Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Turning new soil in The Shire

As usual it's been way too long since I've last updated but as usual life is busy, busy, busy! I have registered our garden in OneMillionGardens.ning.com as The Shire. I have Rivendell dreams on a Shire budget. Here is a path that we take from the back of the house down to the garden. Not everyone has a canopy of pine needles and leafy hardwood saplings to wander through before reaching their garden and I'm very grateful for it. It smells wonderful when the temperature rises and the sap in the pines gets very aromatic.

Even though I started my tomatoes and peppers in egg cartons like last year something like this was what I really wanted and it turns out needed. I picked up this little domed starter and wished I had gotten it from the beginning. It came from a cool little shop in the dairy district of Charlottesville, VA. The place is called Fifth Season and it's a wonderful little oasis of all things hydroponic, organic, and even home brewing! The staff was very friendly and the place had all kinds of wonderful things to make the gardener drool. (Check out their website: http://www.fifthseasongardening.com/) I had already put some of my peppers into larger peat pots when I picked this little starter dome up but I instantly saw improvement once the plants were placed inside. My peppers had taken FOREVER to start and most of them didn't start at all. This was most likely due to cool conditions. I know that a grow (heated) mat would solve my problems but I'm trying to steer clear of gardening methods that make me dependent on the grid. I found with other paid for starter boxes that once the plants began to grow there was no room for the sprouts to go up without hitting the top of the plastic and starting to rot. Most kits have a clear plastic top that is about 2 to 3 inches high. The nice thing about this kit is that the top is more like 6 or so inches high and you can also control the humidity with two little sliding vents. This allows you to grow out the sprouts high enough for hardening off and even starting that process by messing with the vents.

Here my little pepper sprouts are happy under the jungle like conditions of the dome. I'm glad I purchased this. I think the peppers are too!

Here's a shot of "The Shire Garden" from the bottom of the path behind the house. I should have shot some before pictures but if ifs and buts were cherries and nuts then everyday would be Christmas. Those large mounds are going to be used for the three sisters method. Those represent one plot and my intentions were for three plots but since this entire garden was dug with the shovel my husband and I wore out before the intents were met. I still think we'll have a lovely garden and this was double the ground covered from last year.

Now hind site is 20/20 and I learned last year that the puny cages that I bought for the tomatoes just weren't cutting it. My sprouts turned into monsters that fell over at every turn. This year we sunk fence posts into the ground and ran a series of wires around the whole to act as a support. I looked longingly at some of the pretty tomato staking methods that were sturdy and decorative but at $50.00 a pop that just wasn't going to make it in the Shire budget. I found some rusty discount fence posts at the Home Depot for $3.98 and they should do just fine. Who's going to see the rust once they are laden with big fat tomatoes? I also laid down some cypress mulch. Last year we spent forever trying to make sure the tomatoes had enough water. I'm going to try mulch to see if it retains more water. AquaCones also made it into the budget though I've never used them before. I have to attach 2 liter soda bottles to the ends and that's going to look REAL attractive but at least the soda bottle gets repurposed.
Here's a shot of the first crop I put down. The shallots were planted in April and have a very cool healthy green glow dusting them. I just finished potting the volunteer mini pumpkins that were invading the bed yesterday. I was taking these pictures and took a closer look. I thought to myself "are those what I think they are?" I pinched up a small sprout that was congregating near a clump of shallots and smelled it. Yep, tomatoes. A ton of volunteer tomatoes has sprouted up around my shallots. I know what that means. I'm sure the compost that I put down with the shallots contained some unwanted tomato seeds. I guess I'll let those go for a little while longer and then pull them out too. I have plenty of friends that would like free tomato plants.

Last year my sister gave me some wonderful strawberry plants that had a myriad of babies. I carefully pinned and potted up all the babies and meant to establish a permanent bed for them but alas like all intentions these days they got away from me. They were happy to spill out of their pots and nestled down in the driveway. Since they seem so happy and are going to fruit I'll just let them be until those plants have babies. They are near the compost tumbler so are probably enjoying some of the tea that runs out from it occasionally. I suppose we'll see how many strawberries I get after the birds and chipmunks take their share...