Thursday, March 31, 2011


Sometimes, like today, I like weeding.  It was a good day for it, cool, foggy, and the ground was moist enough for the weeds to pull out easily.  Even though I was "in my head" for quite awhile during the weeding, eventually the relaxed nature of the task and the day allowed me to become present and really enjoy the day.  And I got the whole bed weeded!
before weeding

after weeding

DeWit hand weeder
My weeder is a Dutch hand hoe which is quite similar to Japanese hand hoes I've used.  It is one of my favorite (and all purpose) tools.
Next step is to get a load of pine needle duff for mulch, mix it with dolomite limestone, test it for ph, and spread it on thick.  I think that will be happening tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kitchen Science

We have been thinking quite a bit about mulch these days.  We like to use mulch on garden beds to provide weed barriers, to hold moisture in the soil, and to add organic matter to the soil.  With a garden as big as ours, purchasing mulch can become prohibitively expensive, so we have been plotting about how to get free or low cost mulch.
It just so happens that we live next to a spruce/pine forest.  The forest has a great deal of leaf mulch available, but we have always heard that pine needle mulch is quite acidic.  We decided to test the leaf mulch for its acidity, and in the meanwhile test some of our garden beds for their ph as well.  In order to do this we found our electrical ph tester and calibrated it, and then tested our soils and a mixture of pine mulch and water.
pine litter for mulch

So we did the testing and found some startling results.  The pine litter tested at 6.25 (about as expected).  The ph scale runs from 0 to 14 with 7 as the balance point between acid and alkaline.  I don't pretend to understand the science of the power of hydrogen (ph), but I do know that certain nutrients are more available to plants at certain ph's.  
kitchen testing

The really fascinating results were that our garden soil is alkaline.  We have been thinking for years that the soil is more on the acidic side.  We have been adding wood ashes and dolomite limestone to the soil on a haphazard basis for years, and came to find today that the different garden beds came in at 7.2-7.4.  This isn't bad, but just unexpected.  I do need to check some specific beds (like the new asparagus bed) to be sure that the ph is right for the specific crops planted various places, so more testing is in order.  Our rainwater today came in at a ph of 7.25.  Interesting stuff.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The no hair guy and evening weeding

Illijana asked me to put in some photos she took of me today doing an early evening weeding.  I got through about half the bed (to be finished tomorrow) and it was nice to just weed in the evening sun for awhile.  I did notice that I don't have much hair left on the top of my head anymore.  I don't notice this until I see photos. You can click to enlarge them should you want to count follicles.  Oh well, more vitamin D.  My doc says I'm deficient in that anyway.  By the way, my favorite weeding tools are fingers, and my Dutch DeWit hand-hoe.

The wall and the garden environment

We continued to work on our recycled retaining wall today.  Illijana has been guiding the building while I have been wheeling the blocks up to the wall.  We are making significant progress.  Our neighbor Margaret is renovating her house and had concrete blocks used in the previous construction to spare so we are using them to build a retaining wall.  We are unsure about whether we will mortar them together, or whether we will put a finishing limestone cap on the blocks.  This was the progress today.

The dominant environmental factor in our garden is the Pacific Ocean.  We live on a bluff, at about 150 feet above sea level, but only about 500 feet from the tide line of the ocean.  The next pictures give a hint of its presence.  If you click the photo you might be able to catch a glimpse of our powerful neighbor.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Friends bearing tomatoes, and tulipmania

We had an enjoyable visit today with friends who brought us tomato plants!  David and Julie toured the garden with us (yes, in the rain) and brought over some seedlings David had started.  You can tell by the photos that my seedlings were started just a bit later.  I will plant these beauties in the hothouse this coming week.

A nice thing is happening in the garden this week.  The tulips are starting to bloom.  Here are pics from today, just after the rain stopped.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fertilization of plants, fertilization of minds

     My list of garden tasks today included fertilization of plants and some educational fertilization of my garden mind... A local nursery, Miller Farms, hosted spring seminars today featuring talks by local experts. I went to the early lecture on Growing Vegetables on the North Coast given by Eddie Tanner, a local market gardener who has written a book called "The Humboldt Kitchen Gardener." He tried to cover a smaller subset of the topic focused on eating from your garden year round.  The whole event was a benefit for Community Alliance with Family Farmers and their farm to school program which educates kids about where their food actually comes from.  The clickable photo can tell you more.

Eddie Tanner
Eddie was quite knowledgeable and could even make himself heard over the pounding rain and cars going by on Central Avenue.  He started the talk detailing what he considered cool season, neutral season, warm season, and hot season crops.  He described the temperatures needed to grow these crops, and when one needed to plant them in succession in order to maximize eating from the garden year round.  He discussed and answered questions about season extension via greenhouses or row covers, and then talked about the characteristics of early, main season, and late or storage crops.  It was great to be encouraged to think about extending seasons and the benefits of row covers and late season crops.

I then came home and set about fertilization of the early crops I have growing including broccoli, chard, lettuce, peas, radishes, mixed greens, and perennial blueberries and fruit trees.  I also fertilized the roses.  When we first moved to Humboldt County in 1988 I had a job as a gardener/ranch hand in Southern Humboldt county in Piercy.  The owner of the ranch had a son who was just launching a business creating a seaweed based fertilizer called Maxsea.  While not strictly organic because it contains small amounts of commercial fertilizer as well as seaweed and organic fertilizers, I have used it ever since and found it to be very effective.  Today I mixed the fertilizer into a watering can and watered away.  I also spread some pelleted chicken manure (a nice new touch to the chicken manure family).  I gave handfuls of epsom salts to the roses and fruit trees for the micro-nutrients it contains.  Finally I spread some iron phosphate pellets (Sluggo) to discourage the slugs and snails.
It was good to have my brain engaged in thinking about new ways of doing things in the garden, and to get some fertilization done even on such a windy, rainy, and chilly day.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Peas-a favorite

Fresh peas from the garden are a favorite of mine.  There are so many types-snow peas, snap peas, shell peas, all of which I like.  My favorites are shell peas though.  Those are the type that you have to remove the shell on in order to eat.  When I'm in the garden I think of them as garden candy.  One of the more interesting parts of growing peas here is that my little Pomeranian dog likes to pick shell peas on her own, opens them up and eats the peas.  She also likes it when I'm shelling the peas.  She will wait for me to throw her a pea and catch it in the air before eating it.
    Peas can be planted early, when the ground is still very cool.  I usually soak the seeds for 24 hours which plumps up the peas, then plant them with a bed prepared with bonemeal for phosphorus.  I would inoculate them with bacteria but the price of the inoculant has gone through the roof, so I skip that part.

     The pictures show some of the peas which I planted earlier this year and also shows the usual bush pea supports.  I usually use prunings from the trees I prune each year, but a neighbor gave us some folding steel panels that we are also using.  The final two pictures show some of the types of peas I plant, and tonight's dinner which featured peas which we froze from last year.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


One of the big changes in our gardening occurred when we began using greenhouses.  In our personal history we built our first when when we lived on Redwood Drive in Santa Cruz.  It was quite ramshackle but functional.  When we moved to Big Lagoon (which is the northernmost section of Trinidad, at least in postal terms) we tried quite a number of things for seed starting like building trays for our south facing home windows, exterior boxes with heating coils and plexiglass lids, a plastic greenhouse with a zipper door, cold frames with used windows as lids.
Finally, we collected windows from our neighbors who were getting rid of them and seven years ago constructed our first greenhouse (now known as the hothouse).  Illijana made scale paper models incorporating the windows and doors we scavenged, and then we built it. We made a few mistakes, since corrected, but this hothouse has been a fabulous place to grow tomatoes and cucumbers in the summer, and greens in the winter.  It has sliding windows for ventilation, and re-used tent poles in the interior for supports for growing plants.  It is "funky" but extremely functional.
     The second greenhouse we constructed and use was a Harbor Freight greenhouse.  It was amazingly cheap 6 years ago when we built it, and you still can't even buy the polycarbonate panels for the price they sell it for.  Ours is the 6'x8' version and in it we start our seedlings on heat mats, and grow hydroponic tomatoes each year.  It is a great addition.

I had to do a bit of repair on this greenhouse today.  Recent wind storms had damaged a rear panel so I had to use some clear packaging tape to seal the rip in the panel.  It was affecting the plants growing near it on the interior of the greenhouse by allowing a breeze to dry them out.
The interior of the greenhouse is ringed with benches we constructed of scrap scavenged lumber and old refrigerator shelving and used tent poles.  The floor is scavenged brick. You can see the heat mats on the lower tier of the left bench.
I was glad to get this patched, and it was a good rainy day project.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beets and the waning moon

     One of the things I try to do is follow the moon cycles for planting.  I'm not religious about it, but I did notice today that when I realized that the moon was waning I decided to plant beets.  The general theory is that when the moon is waxing (from new moon to full moon) it is good to plant plants whose edible portion is above ground, and in the waning moon cycle (full moon back down to new moon) it is good to plant crops whose edible portions are below ground.  So it was a plant beets day even though both sections of the plant are edible.  I used some old seed called Early Wonder, red beets that have done well here before.
     I also weeded and thinned the radishes, did some weed pulling, chatted with my neighbor across the fence as she dug in some beautiful compost she had made into her raspberry patch, and also brought up three big concrete blocks for the retaining wall out back.  I also did the daily watering of the seedlings in the greenhouse, and opened and closed the greenhouse and hothouse.  It was a slow day in the garden, but I know I'm gonna love those beets.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Death in the hothouse

There were several deaths in the hothouse last night and today.  The cucumber seedlings I planted out succumbed to something like wilt or some fungal disease.  I think I planted them out too early in their growth cycle, and the temperatures have been cold.  Since we do not heat our hothouse or greenhouse, the plants have to be strong enough to survive some major temperature shifts in March and April.  The pictures show the dying plants.  Sad.  I planted 3 more 6 packs of cucumber seed today.  I will keep them in the greenhouse longer this time.

The yard looks great as Illijana, my wife, just mowed the lawn, and there are lots of daffodils and tulips blooming at the moment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

If at first you don't succeed...

Carrot seed being planted
Carrots from the fall planting
Outdoor sink and carrots
     I am one of those gardeners who other people think have a green thumb.  My sense is that a green thumb is simply another term for continuous attempts at something when you don't get the results you want to start with.  Case in point, carrots.  I planted a small plot of carrot seed on March 1st this year, and nary a seedling sprouted.  I went back and planted today (a more auspicious day for root crop planting if you follow the waxing/waning moon theory of gardening), and if this crop doesn't succeed then I'll suspect that the seed I used isn't up to par, and will try another variety or at least another batch of seed.  I happen to like Danvers half-long carrots which is what I planted.
     One nice thing about our garden is that we plant "rounds" of seeds for continuous crops.  We have a small carrot patch of Nantes type carrots planted last fall which are about ready to eat.  Another nice thing is our outdoor sink, salvaged from one of our neighbors, which we use to clean veggies and seed trays and pots, and to play with water.  The carrots were tasty.
     I have a few early lettuces growing out in the garden.  I thought you might like to see the different varieties.
Yugoslavian Red buttercrunch
Green buttercrunch
Grand Rapids green leaf
Red Sails leaf lettuce

Finally, I used our new tool, the handtruck, to move three concrete slabs by myself up to the wall site.  It was much easier to do than using the wheelbarrow.  
New slabs for wall

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rainy day gardening

It rained steadily today so I decided to spend my time making an equipment purchase.  We are building a retaining wall at the southeastern portion of our property to mark the lower boundary of the "daylily bed". Our neighbor is reconstructing her home and had quite a number of reusable concrete squares.  They vary in thickness but are quite heavy.  A tractor and loader got them to the edge of our property, but to get them up the hill to the retaining wall site has been a real chore.  We decided to forgo further lifting into a wheelbarrow, and to purchase a hand truck.  Enter the Harbor Freight sale on the "bigfoot handtruck" and voila, an easier way to get the blocks up the hill.