Monday, May 30, 2011

The big picture

This weekend was the big weekend for gardening in Montana. Supposedly the chance of frost has now passed and everyone was busy planting everything out. Jeff and I finished planting the warm weather crops including tomatoes, squash, cukes, corn, and beans. Our brassicas, onions, beets, peas, celery, fennel, leeks, lettuce and cilantro have been in the ground for a couple of weeks and have tolerated the light frosts well.

The lawn finally started to grow and green up a bit more. I spent most of the day mowing our (almost) acre of yard and edging a bit. I'm proud of the results. The lawn was full of dandelions when we moved in and has suffered a bit from daily canine abuse. It's finally starting to fill in a bit more and we don't look like the neighborhood derelicts.

It's hard to capture with the diffuse sunlight, but we have a fairly nice view of the cabinet mountain range from our second story. Our neighborhood doesn't look too bad either. It's mostly woods and horse pasture.

More green grass... now is the time to savor it. In another month or two this will become pretty brown.

I spread grass clippings mixed with shredded leaves around the berries and the tomatoes today. Yesterday we spent the whole day helping our neighbor put in his garden. He has wonderful, rich soil of which I am envious. Every year he puts a layer of grass clippings on his garden beds and lets it break down. If it's worked for him, hopefully it will work for us.

Free of nettles and pine needles the back yard is barefoot friendly for the first time since we moved into the house 1.5 years ago.

I think our girl Zoe (the border collie mix) has noticed the difference too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The end of the beginning

We are almost done planting things out in our garden. This weekend I started hardening off the squash and cukes. Store-bought tomatoes were planted out yesterday despite our last frost date being more than a week off. Don't worry, I covered them with a plastic tarp that should act as a hoop house for the next week or two.

Some Photoshop magic spruced up our cloudy sky a bit.

We are ready for the hurry up and wait/water aspect of gardening. Our weekends have been consumed by gardening and lawn care. I don't mind the gardening, but raking an acre and burning the brush is quite a chore!

The chicks are getting moved around the garden. They took care of my squash bed for me and are now hanging out waiting to get moved out into the yard and future berry patch. The big concern right now is our dogs interest in the chicks. Once that wanes a bit we'll move them outside the fenced garden.

I ended up buying some tomatoes this year. The plants that I grew from seed were severely stunted. We have chalked it up to using cocoa fiber as a major component of our seed starter mix. We used cocoa fiber as it is a more sustainable material than peat. Unfortunately, it didn't work for us and we'll be doing another experiment next year to find a good sustainable alternative to peat. Any suggestions are welcome - so far I am thinking about using some material from ant hills in the area mixed with our sandy-loam soil.

The greenhouse is going slower than last year due to our La Nina winter and persistent cold temperatures. At long last, salad season is in full swing.

Our violas are doing well. I wanted to post this picture to show how these flowers bring together the colors from our house trim. Still loving my newly purple front door.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dirt is good.

We have officially kicked our little chickadees out of the house. Jeff and I were sick and tired of our upstairs smelling like chickens and the chicks were starting to jump out of the bath tub. They've got some nice nesting spots in their chicken tractor and a light in there to keep them warm. Temperatures are getting down into the upper 30's to 40's at night so we're hoping they stay warm enough. The chicks are about 4 weeks old now and seem to have nearly all of their true feathers in.

The chicks have all learned the delight of dust baths. It is so cute to see them learning to act like chickens. We saw an interesting behavior this weekend for the first time and were concerned. The chicks were sunning themselves by laying on one side with a wing out-stretched. It looked like they were dying, but we've since learned that this is normal chicken behavior!

My shade bed is barely coming to life. The ferns, hostas, hellebores, columbine and bleeding hearts are just starting to wake up. No sign yet of the astilbe. This bed got so water logged with snow from the greenhouse roof draining into it, I would not be surprised if some things died.

The strawberries are filling in nicely and sending out flowers. We've got an ever-bearing variety - fragaria. Jeff is very excited about the strawberries.

The honeyberries are in full bloom with several small berries that have set. I've never tasted a honeyberry so I am looking forward to trying some! Looks like we might get enough for a pie out of our two bushes.

My perennial flower bed is looking colorful! I just moved a bunch of lupine in here to fill some gaps. The bulbs have done nicely and are about to be joined by the dianthus in flowering. Everything else seems to be doing great in here.

The broccoli, celery, onions and other brassicas are doing very well. You can see to the right of the compost pile some flat ground. I turned the soil in this corner with some compost this weekend and planted out some fingerling potatoes. Eventually we'll build two more compost bins to the left of the current bin. Then from the right side of the compost bin to the fence we'll have another garden spot.

The flowers on our cherry trees are opening! These are doing wonderful and seem to enjoy the climate. Our two pear trees and one Italian plum made it through the winter. Unfortunately, we lost both of our apple trees for unknown reasons.

Overall we are feeling very satisfied with the way our outdoor gardening is going. We are so far ahead of last year and think for two beginners we're doing good. I'm about to start master gardener classes, so pretty soon the label beginner might not apply anymore - maybe "intermediate".

The front garden bed isn't turning out quite how I pictured it. The new plan in my head is to add a few crimson barberries as anchor plants and then cluster groups of plantings around that. The bare spots contain mums, coneflowers and black-eyed susans that are growing slowly. No real hurry on this bed, it's just cosmetic and we've got enough other projects that we're dealing with right now to worry about this.

The solarium is filled with plants ready to go outside! All of the squash are getting big and setting flowers. If the forecast looks good this upcoming weekend I might plant some things out a week early (last frost date = June 1) just to get the house back to normal!

Can't forget about the citrus, they've been flowering and flowering some more. This lime tree has set quite a bit of fruit! I'm imagining making some lemon-lime-kumquat marmalade...

Whew! We've been busy this last month. I'm looking forward to getting the garden planted out so that I can quit watering seedlings every morning and start enjoying the fruit (literally) of our labor.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May Flowers

Click the Hyacinth to go to Bloomin' Tuesday

A couple things are blooming around the garden. Hyacinth are just about at full bloom. The asparagus just started coming up today.

Of course the daffodils are going.

Some volunteer pansies from the greenhouse adjusted nicely to a hanging basket next to our newly purple front door.

The mums that I started in the fall are blossoming nicely outside! The ones that wintered outside (that I took the cuttings from) are only about an inch tall right now.

Ready for summer..

Monday, May 2, 2011

They grow up so fast...

The chicks are getting so much bigger... and so much more challenging to photograph.

All of the chickens minus one buff orpington stayed in the basket for a good 30 seconds as I got my camera set up... then all but 1 jumped out.

Above is "Bertha" our ameracauna. She remains much larger than the other chicks. Her feet are turning a blue-green color, does leg color reflect egg color to some extent? Our cuckoo marans have dark brown legs and their eggs are supposed to be chocolate colored. Hmm...

Above is "Molly" our little Banty. She remains the smallest and cutest of the flock with her feathered legs. We named the other four chickens after our grandmas. They just sounded like good names for chickens. No disrespect to our grandmas, they just had quintessential old-lady names which we thought worked well for chickens. The cuckoo marans are Virginia and Hazel and the buff orpingtons are Maxine and Evelyn. I think the fact that we named our chickens so obviously demonstrates that neither my husband or myself have any type of animal husbandry in our backgrounds.

Very slowly things are turning green in the garden! We tried to plant green manure crops for the first time this year. It looks like we timed it poorly. Perhaps if this hadn't been a La Nina year with increased snowfall, our timing would have worked. As I am posting this, we still have one mound of snow on the ground - in May! I can't wait to see everything get bigger. I would love to be able to see into the future and see what the garden looks like 5 years from now.

I finished painting the chicken tractor. Purple and forest green to match the trim on our house and because you can't go wrong with purple and green. This chicken coop will get moved around the garden. We are also prepping a berry patch and will move the chicken tractor over there for most of the summer to get some soil enrichment.

I hope the chicken tractor serves its purpose. We had a hard time finding detailed plans on the internet for free. Once we build the chicken coop this summer/fall we should have a good idea of what works and what doesn't. If not, we'll pay for some plans.