The Impatient Gardener: April 2009

30 April 2009

A great mail order day

I love mail order, particularly for gardening products, since our selection in the area is somewhat limited. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities. For most gardening companies, before I buy I consult the Garden Watchdog which has customer reviews of companies.

This time of the year, I order so many things that sometimes I forget what's due to come. So it was with great joy that I pulled into the driveway after work and saw a big box sitting on the patio. I knew immediately what it had to be: Acer japonicum aconitifolium! This baby came all the way from Oregon from a great tree nursery I discovered on the Garden Watchdog called Whitman Farms. Now, the "Dancing Peacock" Japanese maple, as it's sometimes called, is not that uncommon of a tree, but the Japanese maple selection at area nurseries consists mostly of Bloodgoods and occasionally a few other varieties. Plus, I bought a Kamagata Japanese maple from Whitman Farms last year and was so impressed I knew it was where I would go for another Japanese maple.

Lucile Whitman, is probably the sweetest person I've ever spoken with. When I bought the Kamagata last year she sent me a picture of it in an e-mail and said, "I think it will have a good home with you." It was a lot like talking to breeders when I was looking for my dogs.

Whitman farms grows their field grown trees (which is what I purchased) in root control bags, and it's a really interesting concept. As you can see, this tree is pretty big. At a local nursery it would have been in about a 5-gallon pot. The root control bags allow nutrients and water to get to the tree (which is sunk in the ground), but when it comes time to ship them, it's a lot less soil to pay to ship across the country. The root system is really healthy and not pot bound at all. When I pulled it out of the box I really couldn't believe how big it was. Sure, shipping ends up being about 33 percent of the cost of the tree, but it's still less than I would pay for a comparable tree at a local nursery, and I don't think I'd be able to find it anyway.

So the new tree went in the ground last night. We're due to get even more rain today and I didn't want it sitting around waiting to get planted. I'll post pictures of it in its new home when the sun comes out!

Also waiting for me yesterday was my Bahco pruners. I wasn't planning on buying new pruners, as I've been using a pair of Coronas for a couple years and have been mostly happy with them. Then I read the pruner showdown on and decided maybe I needed a new one after all. What really appealed to me about the Bahco pruners is that they come in different sizes. This makes total sense to me. After all, there's no way the same pruners are going to be comfortable in my hand and the hand of a big, burly guy. I ordered the PS version in a small hand size with a medium blade. I've not used it to cut anything yet, but boy, this thing feels GOOD in your hand. I'm not pruning professionally so I don't really have to worry about hand fatigue, but I think these are going to make pruning a lot more fun.

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29 April 2009

A new look

If you've been here before, this page probably looks different to you. I've been playing around with the various blog templates, trying to find something that suits me and the subject matter. If you have any suggestions, particularly as far as readability goes, I'm more than happy to hear them.

Come on, spring, hurry up!

I'm not sure why (well, I'm sure it has something to do with the big lake about 500 feet from my house), but spring seems to take forever to arrive at my house. Right now the only real signs are a few daffodils and the arrival of the Virginia Blue Bells (in the foreground). All around town, things are blooming, but not at my house. Granted, we get a little extra time at the end of the season because that big pond to the east does a good job insulating us against frosts even when just up the road they get nipped, but that's a small consolation at this time of the year.

The good news about spring taking it's own sweet time to arrive is that looking at this photo, I realize I stil haven't cleaned out this bed yet!

So folks, what's happening in your gardens? Am I the only one wishing Mother Nature would speed things up a bit?

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28 April 2009

The first things in: Onions

So the first plants to have the honor of going in the new veggie garden are onions. I bought onion starts (a long-day onion sampler of Walla Walla, Ringmaster and Mars onions) from Dixondale Farms and planted them Saturday, April 25. Then I planted them again on Sunday, after we had almost two inches of rain on Saturday and the soil settled a whole bunch and then wasn't level enough so water started pooling around the onions. So I pulled them out on Sunday, added some more compost, leveled things better and stuck them in again. I still have tons of starts left, but don't really have enough room in my garden to accomodate them.
Then yesterday (April 27) I planted the evergreen bunching onion seeds I bought from Jung's. I did two rows and I'll plant a couple more in a couple weeks to extend the harvest.

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Almost finished

The new raised vegetable garden is almost finished. We still need to mulch the path between the beds, and put up the deer fence around it, as well as the door at one end. We (and by we, I mean my husband) made it with cedar posts sunk into the ground about a foot, and untreated pine 2x10s. The pine will rot faster than a treated pine or cedar, but cedar was too expensive and I didn't want any treated wood touching my vegetable garden.

The beds are 14 feet long, 30 inches high and 30 inches deep. The depth was determined by how far I can reach from the middle aisle. I filled the bottom with anything organic I could find: all of the stuff from cleaning up the garden, the sod pulled from the middle aisle, uncomposted compost and lots and lots of leaves. Then I filled it with a combination of pulverized topsoil and Soillife Compost (great stuff sold by Minor's Garden Center). I also added a bit of composted manure. For now I will just mulch around the outside as well (in the distance you can see the large pile of itty bitty pine chips leftover from grinding out some tree stumps that I think will do the job perfectly), but in the future I'll probably plant some deer resistant perennials there (nepeta comes to mind) to pretty it up a little.

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27 April 2009

I want this

The compost bin we threw together two years ago in about 15 minutes and four pallets has disintegrated. It didn't help that we stirred the compost pile with the Kubota. That's the bad news. The good news is that I REALLY want this: Lee Valley Tools Compost brackets.

I first saw this on Gardening by the Yard with Paul James (one of the last two decent gardening shows left on HGTV). Here's the problem. Just the brackets alone cost $79. That seems excessive for something that's going to hold decomposing stuff. That doesn't include the boards, which they recommend be cedar or redwood so they won't rot.

So, has anybody used this set-up? Do you love it, or are you wish you had just skipped the expensive brackets and thrown something together for a lot less money?

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The makings of a veggie garden

For the first time in my life I'm going to try my hand at vegetable gardening. Well, not the first time. When I was a kid my mom gave my brother and I some space in her veggie garden to grow things that are satisfying for kids to grow. In our case it was radishes. I detest radishes, but fortunately my dad liked them, so I would merrily pick a radish and hand it to him, waiting to watch him eat it and compliment me on how good it was.

I've also grown a lot of tomatoes (although technically I suppose that would be fruit gardening). It was actually the tomatoes that led me down this path. A few years ago I created what I call the Circle Garden. It's not a circle, but it's round so let's not get too technical about it.

It's one of my many gardens that is still under construction (although, aren't they all?). In one segment of it I planted rhubarb and tomatoes. Well that was great. For three years. And then last year my tomatoes were not doing well at all. I had yellow leaves, not a lot of fruit, and, generally, they were unhappy. I realized that the problem with the circle garden is that it doesn't allow anywhere for me to rotate where I place the tomatoes (the rest is planted with perennials and then herbs, a climbing rose and a clematis in the middle). So, last year I started thinking about a veggie garden somewhere, but where? I didn't want it too close to the house (come on, they are NOT pretty, at least not to me), but there wasn't a lot of sun elsewhere.

So we ended up putting it on the opposite side of the property (I'll explain more some other time), after cutting down a few huge pine trees. But the inspiration for this garden—the thing that REALLY made it happen—was lunch at the Kumeu River Vineyard in Auckland, New Zealand. It was there where I saw this raised veggie garden.

The problem there was the birds, but without the top netting I thought this kind of garden would work perfectly to combat the deer and bunny issues we have. So my dear husband set to work and built me something like it. This is the first bed completed.I'll have post more on the veggie garden soon. I'm really excited. Now if those veggies would just hurry up and grow (oh yeah ... have to plant them first.)

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The best place to get your herbs and veggies

Local gardeners, take note. The Ozaukee Master Gardener Heirloom Plant and Herb Sale is 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 23, at Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin. More than 11,000 plants will be for sale. Just about every kind of herb you can think of (and plenty you didn't know existed), plus heirloom tomato, peppers and eggplant will be for sale. There is also a garden merchandise area featuring all kinds of cool stuff: Atlas gardening gloves, a soil scoop, original artwork, great gardening books, tub trugs, plant labels, and lots more. Door prizes will be given out beginning at 8:30 a.m. and we have some great stuff to give out. Two Earthboxes, a Potlifter, Organic Gardening Magazine subscriptions, Bluestone Perennials gift certificates and more.

Come early. People start lining up more than an hour ahead of time for the best selection of herbs, and we'll have free herbal tea to sip on while you wait. For more info go to Ozaukee Master Gardeners.

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Patience is a virtue

It really is. And there's nothing like becoming a gardener to remind you of that.

I've been gardening for about 15 years now. Well, 15 if you count the peppers I tried to grow in a pot on the front step of my first post-college apartment that I watched with eager anticipation of eating something I grew. Unfortunately the squirrels have less patience than I do and day after day I'd come home after work to find one more pepper with a bit ol' bite out of it. Actually that didn't last for too many days, because I only had three peppers to begin with.

My gardens grew over the years, and it wasn't until I had completely covered a small patio at an apartment that my husband declared we needed to get me a garden, preferably with a house attached. For the last seven years I've been gardening at our rural converted cottage near Lake Michigan, and slowly taking over the lawn for more and more gardens.

In my haste for a lush, garden-filled yard, I've definitely cut some corners. And paid the price. I'll talk about some of those mistakes I made here, but don't worry, I'm sure I'll be making plenty more in the future.

But there are occasional reminders of why it's worth it to just hang in there and have patience. Here's one of them. This Mrs. N. Thompson clematis was the first clematis I purchased, as a lanky thing at a local nursery. I didn't have a clue what to do with clematis, so I plopped it in the ground and waited for the show. And waited, and waited. For three years. I didn't realize that I wasn't doing it any favors by not planting it deep to encourage new shoots, by not fertilizing it, but not pruning off all that lanky growth the first year. Fortunately, Mrs. N. Thompson hung in there, and three or four years after I planted her (and subsequently abused her), she forgave me and gave me this sweet bloom. Let's hope the rest of the plants are as gracious.