Friday, May 18, 2012

The 2013 Season is Underway!

It's mid-May already, and time has gotten away from me.  Like much of the northern part of this country, back in March we had an incredible warm spell that got gardeners and plants all excited to start growing NOW! Wild plants went ahead and started blooming, some nearly a month early, much to their ultimate chagrin, because after about two weeks the weather returned to "normal" and many blooms froze.  Just ask the cherry growers up in the northern Lower Peninsula!

I was sorely tempted to start my indoor seeds at that time, and to plant peas and greens, but fortunately I didn't.  April, however, found me getting the tomatoes and peppers started indoors.  The tomatoes were doing great...right up until I transplanted them (it was a little too soon, but it was a nice day and I was eager to move them into soil rather than starter mix).  Over 100 tomato seedlings were transplanted.  Here are all that remain - note the large number of empty cells.  I lost over half of them - mostly because when I moved them from the table to the floor, I forgot to water them one week and they dried out under the grow lights.

But the good news is that I didn't really need 100 plants, I don't have room for 100 plants, and those that remain seem to be doing very well.


The peppers, however, are another story.  They were planted at the same time and here they are, still just     two leaves!  Maybe they need to be moved to real soil...get a few nutrients and that might make them grow.

A couple weekends ago I got my act together and planted the peas.  It's really almost too late in the season, for peas are cold-hardy, but between work and weather, I just had no opportunity to do it sooner.  I was concerned that critters would eat the seeds or pull up the shoots, but they've started sprouting and so far (!) they look pretty good.  I also planted the first wave of greens.  The plan is to plant greens every two weeks, which should assure a regular supply of lettuces and spinach well into the season.  The greens are planted on the north side of the peas, so the peas should shade them from the mid-day sun come summer.  It should help prevent early bolting.

Yesterday was onion day!  I have never had luck growing onions from seed.  I've planted hundreds of onion seeds, and they sprouted and grew, but then they fizzled and the ones that made it into the garden just withered and died.  So, I order starts - a cheat, but it seems to work for me.  This year I have just one type:  copra.  These are a pretty good storage onion and I've had good luck with them in the past (in the Adirondacks).  We'll see how they do here.  Last year I had Stutgarters, and they did not do terribly well.  I have high hopes for the copra.  Maybe this weekend I'll get the spuds in the ground, too.

The soil and mulch piles have hearty growth.  I tackle the weeds every time I walk by the piles, but I think the weeds are winning.

All gardens need a little encouragement.

Earlier this spring the local Conservation District had its annual tree sale - lots of little tree seedlings for cheap prices.  I was there with a colleague who wanted to pick up stuff for his home, and that's a dangerous place to go (shopping for plants) because I can never leave without getting something.  I walked out with three witch hazels, two ninebarks, five white oaks, five white pines, two sargent crabapples (I thought these would have good wildlife value, but after reading up on them, I think they were a mistake to buy), two black elders, and two white flowering dogwoods (which were of dubious quality when I picked them out and I don't think they are still alive).  I got the elders, witch hazels and crabapples planted, and promptly mowed over the witch hazels.  They don't look like a recovery is in the works.  The rest of the plants I heeled into the ground, but now that several weeks have passed and I'm no where closer to getting them planted in their permanent spots, I decided I'd better pot them up, so I did this week.  I also inherited eight more white pines left over from an award ceremony.  So, here is LN's Tree Farm:

Last weekend was the first Open House at our favorite wild plant nursery:  WildTypes. Bill, who's business this is, collects seeds from local wild native plants and grows them for's a labor of love.  What's great about his business is that the plants he grows are mostly local genotypes, meaning they are from here.  Why is that important?  Because these plants are adapted for the climate and soils of this part of Michigan...the ultimate native plants!  As a result, they have the best survival rate (provided you plant them in the right location).

So, about 100 people and I drove up to Mason for the opening day of the open house season (he has three weekends in May and then one in August - the rest of the time you have to call, place an order, and arrange to pick it up - no browsing).  A major rain storm came pouring down on us.  Most of the folks huddled under the one covered portion of the nursery, but I was on a mission and so I sallied forth, getting thoroughly soaked (and chilled).  I wheeled my 5' long cart up and down the aisles, loading it with plants like monkeyflower, three-lobed coneflower, maidenhair fern, and yellow giant hyssop.  It was a rude awakening at the checkout, but I figure it's a good cause:  returning native plants to the landscape helps not only the visual appeal to my property, but benefits local birds and insects - a mark on my side for good karma.

But what was I going to do with all these plants?  I had great plans for turning the spot of grass next to the back deck into a native plant garden, but I did not want to spend my time digging up the grass and all that - I did that back in Newcomb for three years - it got old really fast.  So, this time I took the cheater's way out:  I sprayed the grass (and weeds) with RoundUp.  I used to swear I'd never use the stuff, but conservationists use it all the time to get rid of invasives, so I bit the bullet and bought some.  The latest version of RoundUp is rain-proof in 10 minutes, and you can plant the area the next day (or so the label says)!  I waited nearly a week before planting the precious natives I'd spent all my money on.  And here they are, all nestled in the ground with their blanket of mulch:

If all goes well, in a year or two this should be a beautiful garden full of native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Hooray!

The remaining natives I bought were planted out front under the maple, where I have the other woodland plants growing.  What was added this year?  Jack-in-the-pulpit, maidenhair fern, and wild ginger.

What made this all possible was the serendipitous delivery of woodchips from a local tree service that has been chopping up branches and stuff a couple miles down the road.  They brought me two truckloads (I can use much more with all the plans I have).  Ten wheelbarrow loads went onto the new native plant garden.  MANY loads will go on the paths around the veg garden, and the rest (if any is left) will be used to make walking paths around the property.  I actually started making the paths the evening the first load of mulch arrived (photos to come).

So things are finally underway to a) get the veg going for another year of fresh produce, and b) begin transforming the property from a YARD to a "restored" habitat.  Next on the agenda:  mulch the garden paths, mulch the property paths, hire a burn outfit to come out and burn the back field so I can start the restoration work there, get a chicken coop and then (at last) raise chickens (meat and layers), and (finally) put in a small pond.  Lots of plans.  Might a pig be on the horizon, too?  Who knows...but I sure like the idea of raising my own fresh pork!