Last Spring Frost Date

Of course it’s important for gardeners to pay attention to the weather all season long, but today is the last Spring frost date. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the probability of frost occurring after today is 30 percent. More extensive data is available from the National Climate Data Center if you are into that kind of stuff, but it’s generally safe to put tender plants in the ground now. It was indeed quite cool last night, down to 41 degrees or possibly lower at our house. Since my raised beds are fenced in, it’s relatively easy to drape a great big tarp over my entire garden. This works extremely well as a temporary greenhouse which really helps to improve results with such a short growing season. I’ve got just a little over 3 months until the first Fall frost date.

A couple of days ago, I noticed one of my tomato plants was not looking good at all. The top half was totally wilted and keeled over, but the bottom leaves looked fine. The plant had been looking great for a whole week, so I don’t think it was transplant shock. We did have some cool, wet weather, so it might have something to do with that. Unfortunately my 3 varieties of tomato plants that I started in mid-March got mixed up, so I’m not even sure which type of tomato it was that died. I’m pretty sure Bonny Best and New Yorker are well adapted for the North. Black Brandywine is supposedly a little more high maintenance so perhaps it was one of them. I’m excited to see if I can tell the difference between them when they mature. They all smell so good!

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I don’t know much about diagnosing tomato diseases but I read a little bit about bacterial wilt, and two other causes of wilt caused by fungi, Fusarium and Verticillium. I’m not totally convinced that any of those are the cause, so I will try to replant since I have plenty of extras. If the same thing happens again then I might start to believe that there’s a disease in my soil. I am of course hoping there’s not, and that nothing spreads to the other plants.

I went ahead and put my collection of chili peppers in my new raised bed! Ring of Fire, Buena Mulata, and Shishito, all started from seed, plus Super Chilis that came from last year’s harvest. This bed is not fenced in like my larger raised beds, so hopefully the critters behave. Since these are planted somewhat close together, I did not prune them. But I am experimenting with pruning my potted peppers to make them grow larger and bushier, and hopefully more bountiful. 2nd photo shows a plant that I pruned last week, now branching out. 3rd photo shows a young plant freshly lopped off.

I have been pinching off flowers and buds from my tomatoes and peppers. I think they should become a little more established before expending resources to bear fruits.

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Mulching & Downy Mildew

I was checking on my patio-container plants today and discovered light colored splotches on my Spinach and Swiss Chard. The internet leads me to believe it’s Downy Mildew – which is not a fungus like the White Powdery Mildew that appeared on my Zucchini last year. It was cool last night – below 50, and the patio is quite shaded by our house and a lovely maple tree. It’s also somewhat protected from wind. Since this mildew thrives in moisture and cool temps, I moved my patio containers to a much sunnier, and breezier, area near the rest of my garden. Hopefully that should take care of the problem.

I would like to get some wood chip mulch to keep the grass and weeds from coming up in the center of my horseshoe raised bed enclosure, but when I say “mulching” I mean I went ahead and spread dried leaves all over my garden. All around everything in the raised beds, the potted peppers, and the cucumber in its large container. Mulching is so great because it insulates the ground to keep my plants’ roots warm at night, it helps keep the soil moist so I barely have to water – about once a week is normal, and it prevents weeds from sprouting up so I barely have to pull weeds. I’m also convinced that it increases worm activity which is always a good thing. It’s not the most attractive mulch but it’s free and works really well! I only avoided spreading the leaves on the area where I sowed seeds because those sprouts aren’t big enough yet to clear the height of the leaves. Lettuce, Radishes, Beets, Carrots are all sprouted. One thing that has yet to come up is the Onion seeds.

Even some of my Asiatic Lily bulbs are poking up green in the new mixed herb/flower bed! Another exciting day in the garden.

First Garden Salad Of The Season

Time to harvest my cool weather crops that I am growing in containers! That means it’s salad time. My Swiss chard was getting bushy, and Kale leaves quite large, so it was really time to start cutting those back for new growth. I also harvested some leaves of Red Romaine, Mustard Greens, and Arugula from a few in-ground plants. A crisp, healthful bounty of delightful flavors that simply can’t be matched by produce from any store! I snipped off the bitter stems of the chard and kale, gave the big pile of greens a rinse to remove any sand or dirt particles, and chopped the leaves in half once or twice so they would fit comfortably in my mouth.

For me, homegrown greens are best enjoyed with homemade dressing. My go-to salad dressing recipe is one of many things I learned from my dad. The inspiration to grow a vegetable garden also came from him.

  • Crushed Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Vinegar and/or Lemon juice
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dijon Mustard or Crushed Mustard Seeds
  • Herbes de Provence.

I won’t spell out the amounts since I don’t measure anything when I make salad dressing, but as my dad would always say, “a little goes a long way.” So just remember that you can always add more to your mixture, but you can’t subtract ingredients. I also prefer not to drench my salads with dressing.

Today I used both apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, completely forgot garlic, and used fresh Tarragon instead of a dried herb mix. It tasted great. My Tarragon plant survived the winter in our breezeway in a container, so I’m pretty happy about that. I didn’t know Tarragon was so hardy, but now I do – it is hardy to Zone 4b! And it thrives in cool, early season temperatures. Artemisia dracunculus. *I want to start learning Latin names.*

My go-to salad ingredients are onion, mushroom, plus some kind of nut, and some kind of cheese – today it was shaved Parmesan and sliced almonds. I also added some grilled chicken breasts on the side because I’m hungry. And had a second helping because I don’t want to get hungry later.

No nasturtiums to eat yet, but hopefully soon.

I did notice that something was munching a few holes in various leaves around the garden. So after I ate, I sprayed the whole garden with BT. I’ve been seeing lots of tent caterpillars in trees along the main roads. They can be pesky.

In other news, I found wild asparagus this week! Also along a main road. My fiance pulled over to a spot that my dad had mentioned to us last year, and we arrived just a little too late. The stalks were huge and pretty woody. I was so excited to yank it out of the ground that I didn’t think to dig up the roots, so I may have thwarted the patch and I won’t be able to replant it for myself. Or maybe it will continue to grow wild – I do not know. But it did not go to waste. There were little baby shoots coming off the stalks that were tender and delicious and went into a beautiful omelette. Now if only the morels would pop up in my spot. A friend shared a few with me and that was a real treat.

Putting Down Roots

It’s been a whirlwind of activity since the weather has allowed me to make major progress outdoors. On Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I went ahead and planted my healthiest looking plants. I had already planned out where everything would go, and managed to get it all potted or in the ground right before/during a perfect Spring sprinkle/thunder storm. I made sure to get my netting in place ahead of time too, because I wanted to sow some seeds directly and I just don’t trust the birds around here.

Now I’ve got Tomatoes – Black Brandywine, Bonny Best, and New Yorker. As well as Large Red Cherry Tomatoes, Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries, and a Purple Tomatillo. Falstaff Brussels Sprouts, Waltham 29 Broccoli, Savoy Perfection Cabbage. Florence Fennel. I put two Cajun Belle Pepper plants in the ground, and a couple more in pots, along with, Shishito, Buena Mulata, Jalapeno Chili, Ring of Fire, and Super Chili Peppers. And I’m trying one Hale’s Best Jumbo Cantaloupe in a large container too. All of these were started from seed, indoors, under grow lights. Mostly in Jiffy peat pellets. Then up-potted into various sizes of pots and mixtures of potting soil. Hardened off. And now in the ground.  I added a few scoops of Dairy Doo, about 1/4 cup sprinkle of Trifecta, plus a dousing of Neptune’s Harvest in each hole. As far as I can tell, the plants are loving their new homes.

I sowed some things directly into the ground – Paris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce, Super Red Romaine, Grand Rapids Lettuce, Roquette Arugula, and Red Giant Mustard. As well as Southport White Globe Bunching Onions (an heirloom variety from my hometown!), Detroit Dark Red Beets, Early Scarlet Globe Radishes, and Cosmic Purple Carrots.

I bought a few things from the greenhouse to fill in where my seedlings were lacking. Celery, Pole Beans, ‘Straight Eight’ Cucumbers, and and assortment of herbs including Chives, Savory, Marjoram, Dill, English Thyme, Rosemary, and Sage. I went back to grab some extra Super Chili Peppers, because not every single one of my pepper plants was looking happy in its new pot. And we need plenty of hot peppers because we dry them and use them all year long.

I also added a room! It started with an idea to tack on a smaller bed to the outside of my fenced-in raised beds. I needed a place to grow herbs. I started my own Large Leaf Italian Basil, Giant of Italy Parsley, Triple Curled Parsley, and Oregano. Luckily, in the rafters of my fiance’s boat house, I found an awesome, old, long, heavy plank of wood – I think it’s cedar, about 10 inches wide, 2 inches thick, and 12 feet long. I grabbed two cheap-o cedar planters that I bought last year for the front yard, and used them to cleat in the long plank, up against the exterior of my 12″ tall raised beds. Voila. An herb garden.

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I have been waiting to try planting bulbs too, so I decided to mix flowers in there too. I’m not really sure if they are still good or if this is the right time – I hope at least some of them will grow. Some are from last year, and others I bought a month or two ago. I put Calla Lilies and Clematis in the two end planters, and some Asiatic Lilies and Irises behind the herbs in the new bed. I also bought a couple of flowering Lily plants and put those in too, flanking my proud Tarragon plant in the center – my only plant that survived the winter.

In the front of our house, I’m working on a shady bed under our spruce tree. I want to at least try Ferns, Hostas, Astilbes, and Lilies. I thought I wanted Lily-of-the-Valley but seeing how invasive they are in the area next to our garage – it’s very magical and oh so aromatic, but I don’t think I want to introduce them to a new area since we already have so many in close proximity.

The only problem with this bed is that the ground is not really workable since it’s got a bunch of pine tree roots going like crazy under a thin surface cover of old mulch. So we got a trailer load of top soil and I started moving it to fill the bed. Unfortunately I had to evict our princess Spaniel out of her dirt hole that she likes to dig and lie down in next to our front stoop. I raked the mulch over to fill the hole and moved some large field stones on top. She stared into my eyes for a whole minute after I did that, as if she were saying “how could you do this to me?” but she did get a staff infection from lying in the dirt last year so I don’t feel too bad. We plan to get some more field stone to finish off the surrounding area.

Amidst moving all the top soil, I found a great 4′ x 8′ cedar raised bed kit on sale at the local hardware store! We got it, I filled it with a base layer of dead leaves, and 5 or 6 wheel barrows full of topsoil. I just need a couple more bags of Dairy Doo, and now I’ve got plenty of space to care for all the baby pepper plants I have growing in little pots. It could also serve as a good place to start garlic this fall. In the meantime I started more Nasturtiums Empress of India in addition to the Alaska Mixed Colors that I already have sprouted. I might like to try starting some Echinacea too.

Lastly, I’m looking into adding a hedge of Lilacs to the front of our property. We live on a dirt road, so it’s very peaceful most of the time. But we’ve not got much of a privacy barrier between the front of our house and the road, and I just really want lilacs. It seems like there is at least one bush or tree in front of every house on the main roads, so they must do well here. I saw a B&B in town that is surrounded by a thick, tall hedge of lilacs, and I am now inspired to plant several bushes to define the front edge of our yard. I’m looking at Boomerang varieties.

It’s so wonderful to go outside with my coffee every morning to look at the garden and admire the pure vitality of these little plants. It is such a joy to be at the start of a new growing season. Onward and upward!

Soil is Ready

My soil is ready. At least I think it is. I weeded and turned over last year’s mixture of compost and topsoil in the raised beds. I put a nice layer of fresh compost on top of that. And reserved some of that mixture plus compost for 15 pots, too. I will do some tests on it this week. That should help kill some time!

I was thinking of planting next weekend – Memorial Day weekend, but my dad told me I might want to wait until after the full moon – Tuesday, May 29th. He said full moons often bring low pressure systems and cooler temps. I’ll keep an eye on the forecast, and get things in the ground as soon as I can. Tonight is going to be chilly. I’m keeping Herbs, Tomatoes, and Peppers indoors.

Outside I have: Broccoli, Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Spinach, Lettuce, Mustard Greens, Arugula, Kale, Swiss Chard. And Lavender that I planted along the edge of our patio last year. I tried starting Lupines in cow pots this year but they aren’t doing too well. My Nasturtiums are sprouting!

I’m going to go to the greenhouse to buy some things that I wasn’t able to successfully start from seed, like celery, and onions if she has any? Might be too late for that. Probably some pole beans. Depends what I have space for. I placed tomato cages and marked off some rows with twine to help myself plan. I have yet to revise my map of where I’m going to plant everything.

But my soil is ready! And our apple tree is blossoming and it smells amazing.

My Birthday

I’m accustomed to beautiful weather on my birthday every year. This one did not disappoint! My fiancé helped me pick up a load of compost for the raised beds. My plants got their first drink of Neptune’s Harvest hydrolyzed fish fertilizer – which they will continue to get every two weeks throughout the entire season. And all the young plants and seedlings stayed out over night. It was really mild.

 

I’ve been up-potting more little seedlings into 4″ pots. This time I used a bag of Organic Jiffy Young Plant Mix – with a bit of both Dairy Doo and Trifecta mixed in.

 

The 10-day forecast predicts lots of sun, and not a night below 40 degrees. I may plant my garden quite early – since I have a back-up method to protect against frost (a very large tarp). Just have to weed the beds, till the soil, and spread the compost!

 

The cool weather crops have been doing great outdoors every night. Chard and Kale growing nicely. New lettuce and spinach sprouting up! Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts are all fine in the lower temps too.

 

Cool Weather & Containers

I have a bunch of seedlings getting bigger and bigger under grow lights in the basement, and we have had some beautiful 70 degree days, but of course it’s still freezing at night here in Northern Michigan. I haven’t finished prepping the raised beds, but I decided to put some cool-season crops in containers today. This way I can start hardening them off and move them to and from the patio, the breezeway, or indoors depending on the weather.

In a wheel barrow, I made big batch of potting mix consisting of:

  • 1 cubic foot Dairy-Doo (compost)
  • approx. 1/2 cubic foot Michigan peat
  • 8 qt. vermiculite
  • 8 qt. perlite

I pre-moistened each pot and added some Trifecta fertilizer to the top few inches of soil in each container. I then potted a couple of varieties of kale and four varieties of Swiss chard, and started some spinach and lettuce from seed, as well as nasturtiums. I can’t wait for summer salads – especially those sweet, peppery flowers that I never see in the grocery store.

I had a leftover pack of nasturtium seeds – and I remember they took a long time to germinate when I started them in a container last year. I found info online about scarification – which is filing down the surface of the seed (with a nail file or a grater) to increase the rate of germination. I tried it with the Swiss chard seeds already and it definitely worked. So I used up the rest of last year’s packet and am hoping for more nasturtiums than I know what to do with. I put them in a low, wide plastic pot which can eventually go in a hanging basket if all goes well. Instead of adding fertilizer, I mixed some sandier soil into the potting mix – since rich soil promotes leaves and not flowers. That will stay indoors for now.

The kale and chard seedlings are not hardened off yet and it will definitely be below 40 tonight, so I will bring them in for the night too. The lettuce, kale, chard, and mustard greens that I had started in peat pellets did not seem happy under the grow lights after I put them in pots. Not sure if it was the soil mix that I was using or transplant shock or what, but hopefully they will be happier in a cooler environment, with natural light, and more space to grow.

 

Next on my to-do list is procuring a trailer full of Dairy-Doo for the raised beds and up-potting my peppers, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts to 4″ pots.