Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What's Under Your Deck?

If you have a deck that is so low to the ground that you can't see under it, what do you think is under there? Especially if a previous owner built the deck.

Our deck was old and ugly, so we are building a new one. I recently began pulling off the existing floor boards, and was surprised how much junk was under there!

Our problem is that animals could get under there, but we couldn't. Once a cat died under there and I had to locate it "by smell" and tear off some of the floor boards to get it out. Now that I've taken all of the floor boards off, we've found lots of bones, toys and garbage under there. Several years ago, my wife washed her white canvas shoes and set them out on the deck to dry. The next morning they were gone! We now have found them under the deck. One was still in tact but the other was chewed up and eaten down to the sole. I guess the one still had too much soap on it.

The above pictures really don't show how much junk was drug under there. As disgusting as it was, my daughter enjoyed the treasure hunt. We did find a few keepers - a baseball, a golf ball and a tin Pepsi can from the 70's or 80's (which is an antique to her). Together with gloves on, we collected a sampling of the "junk" and made a sort of "still life" for you.

I was an Art Minor in college and had to draw or paint a lot of still lifes but none of them were quite like this one!

Needless to say, working on the deck has taken some time away from my blogging. I am trying to finish building the new deck before the main gardening season begins next month. I have managed to get some broccoli and lettuce hardened off and ready to plant. I also just built two new beds for my daughters to have their very own garden. I plan to post much about that as a "Kids Corner" of GardenDesk.

As for the deck, we will be fencing off the new one to try to keep out the raccoons, foxes, opossums dogs and cats - all the animals that we have seen going under there. If you have a low deck, you might want to investigate a little. You never know whats lurking under there!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Grow Light Stand... on Steroids!

Since my last post showing my attempt at extra early ripe tomatoes, I re-potted those young tomato pioneers once more.

When I put them back under the grow lights, I remembered that I haven't showed you the light stand that I built new for 2007! Finishing this was one of the things on my 2007 Garden to do list post. I have always hung a few shop lights from the ceiling and had enough space for about four flats of seedlings. This year however, I've quadrupled my capacity!

It's big and heavy and a bit ugly, but oh how many plants we can grow now!

It is really just an old kitchen table extended with plywood and built up with scrap wood to sport a second level. With two levels, I can hang 4 shop lights under the top level and 4 shop lights from the ceiling. Under those lights I have room for 12 flats. Using cell packs that fit 72 seedlings per flat, that's a possible 864 plants at a time! That's not a real number because of transplanting to bigger pots. Regardless of the number, I think I finally have enough indoor grow space. I like to start almost everything on my garden list from seed. Last year it was pretty crowded under the lights. I found myself kicking plants out into the garden earlier than I wanted to just to make room for other plants. This is what my light table looked like last year:

Here is what each level of the new and improved light table looks like:

Bottom Level

Top Level (not being used much yet)

I didn't spend anything on the wood and I just use regular 40 watt florescent bulbs in the light fixtures instead of spending lots of money on "growlight" bulbs. To me the key is having a lot of light. Remember, with florescent lights we are trying to mimick the Sun. The Sun is so powerful and puts off so much light that even though we are 93 million miles away, we can't even directly look at it! With that in mind, I have added an extra light fixture per level. I have four fixtures over three rows of flats instead of the normal one fixture per row of flats. It is also important to keep the lights only a few inches above the tops of the plants. By suspending the lights with chains, I can easily adjust the distance as the plants grow, or as I use bigger pots.

I keep the lights on about 16 hour per day. I don't believe in using an automatic timer either. If I have to turn the lights on and off manually, that is a guaranteed two times daily that I will look at the plants. That way I will always notice when they need watering or any other attention.

This post was really only supposed to be about the new light stand. I will write more about the art of growing from seed later. After all, I still have about 1000 seeds left to start!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Early Tomatoes for Green Thumb Sunday!

My goal is to have extra early ripe tomatoes by July 1st!

I planted Early Girl Tomato seeds in cell packs back in February and then transplanted them to peat pots. They are looking pretty good now.

They now need to be potted up again to a larger pot. Each time I transplant them, I bury the stem all the way to the first set of leaves. This way extra roots grow from what was the stem. Here is what the seedling looks like now compared to the first day I transplanted it.

These seedlings didn't start out as well as they are now. They germinated alright, but then we had a cold spell near 0 degrees and my basement got pretty cold. The seedlings still looked good from a distance, but upon closer inspection I noticed that the underside of the leaves were purple.

This has happened to my broccoli plants outdoors in the past when it was too cold, so I was familiar with it. Leaves turn purple when there is a phosphorus dificency in the soil or when the plant can not take up phosphorus. When soil gets cold the phosphorus in the soil gets "locked up", meaning it is not available to the plant at all until the soil warms back up.

Since my tomato seedlings were still inside, I had complete control over their soil and its temperature. I suppose I could have heated the plants and soil, but instead I decided to go ahead and transplant them up, using warm soiless mix and warm water. The tomatoes responded well, the outside temperatures and my basement warmed up, and now my plants look healthy as can be. They are enjoying being part of the cool season veggies, sitting in the flat beside my broccoli and lettuce seedlings.

There is more to be done than just transplanting to enjoy early ripe tomatoes. I will be warming the bed they will go in with black plastic, and will have to fashion something that can be covered with clear plastic after they get planted outdoors in April (about a month earlier than my main season tomatoes).

I will post more about that when the time comes. As for now, I am just enjoying my growing plants and dreaming of eating that first organic garden fresh home grown tomato - before the July 4th holiday! That is if I have a little luck and if I really do have a green thumb!

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Friday, March 16, 2007

My Garden and Major League Baseball

Spring is officially only five days away! Professional Baseball's Spring Training is already in full swing, and it's opening day is only 16 days away!

I am a bigger football fan than baseball fan, but what says spring and summer better than Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Gardening?!

During the NFL playoffs, I compared my gardening to the NFL, so I thought I should switch sports now to officially welcome Spring.

Introducing The GardenDesk Growers Baseball team!

I took a break from blogging this week to celebrate my daughters' birthdays and to plan my garden on paper. So now I have plans for a new field, a list of teams and rosters for the Gardendesk Growers.

I organized what is going into the vegetable garden under these categories (teams): Tomatoes, Cool Season, Main Season, Fruit, Decorations, and Annual Flowers.

The rosters of each team can get quite lengthy and some need a bit of explanation. For today's post, I will simply list them all. Tomorrow and in subsequent posts, I will explain each "team" in more detail. Are you ready? Its a long lineup. Here goes:

Introducing the GardenDesk Tomatoes:

  • Early Girl
  • Kelloggs Breakfast
  • Prudens Purple
  • Brandywine
  • Aunt Ruby's German Green
  • Dixie Golden Giant
  • Black from Tula
  • Cherokee Purple
  • Big Rainbow
  • Park's Whopper
  • Burpee SuperSteak
  • Burpee Big Boy
  • Gardener's Delight
  • Cluster Grande
  • Golden Girl
  • Sun Sugar
  • Sweet Million
  • La Rossa
  • Roma
  • Principle Borghese
  • Introducing the GardenDesk Cool Season Players:

  • Broccoli-Green Goliath
  • Head Lettuce-Sumertime, Tom Thumb
  • Leaf Lettuce-Buttercrunch, Simpson Elite, Pinetree Lettuce Mix
  • Spinich-Space, Melody, Bloomsdale Long Standing
  • Peas-Mr. Big, and a player to be named later
  • Snap Peas-Super Sugar Snap
  • Onions-Super Star, Alisa Craig, Yellow Spanish
  • Carrots-Short 'n Sweet, Nantes Half Long, Little Finger
  • Radish-Cherry Belle, Easter Egg
  • Beet-Detroit Dark Red
  • And now for your Main Season GardenDeskers:

  • Corn-Mirai 301BC
  • Bush Green Beans-Tender Pick, Blue Lake Bush 274
  • Pole Beans-Kentucky Wonder
  • Cucumber-Park's Whopper, Straight 8, Burpee Bush
  • Sweet Pepper-Pepper Marbles
  • Bell Pepper-Colossal Hybrid
  • Squash-Vegetable Spaghetti
  • Zucchini-Ambassador
  • Okra-Annie Oakley II
  • Potato-Kennebec, Russet Burbank
  • Horseradish-Common Strain
  • Give it up for the new GardenDesk Fruit Varieties:

  • Watermelon-Sugar Baby, Glory Sugar
  • Cantalope-Ambrosia
  • Strawberries-Cavendish
  • Blueberries-Jersey
  • Maybe a Cherry Tree?

  • These newcomers will join our existing Apple, Peach and Pear trees.

    Next up, the GardenDesk Decoration Dudes:

  • Pumpkin-Howden, Jack Be Little, Lumina, Dills Atlantic Giant
  • Gourds-Bird House Mix, Penguin, Assorted Gourd Mix
  • And last but not least, introducing our Annual Flowers:

    These will be managed mainly by my daughters, so this roster is subject to change without notice.

  • Nasturtium
  • Sweet Pea
  • Morning Glory-Milky Way
  • Cosmos-Seashells
  • Zinnia-Cut & Come Again
  • Four O'clocks-Kaleidoscope
  • Convolvulus-Blue Enchantment
  • Impatiens-Dwarf Pink Baby
  • Marigold-Sugar & Spice, Happy Days, Double Dwarf, Dwarf Bolero
  • Sunflower-Mammoth
  • And there you have it ... The comprehensive list of players for GardenDesk 2007! Their playing fields have been drawn up on paper and construction will soon begin. Several players have begun warming up inside under grow lights. Many more will soon join them. Stay tuned for more updates on the pending season and players! Will all players actually get in the game? Will they all hit a homerun, or will some strike out? Many questions will soon be answered.

    What does your "player list" consist of? What vegetables will you be growing that I have left off my list? Are you as anxious to get started as I am?

    Dum dum da dum da dum .... CHARGE!

    Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    Vegetable Garden, Here We Come!!!

    Part of Wordless Wednesdays!
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    Wednesday, March 7, 2007

    Our snowmen come in all shapes and sizes!

    Part of Wordless Wednesdays!
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    Tuesday, March 6, 2007

    Active Robins: A sign of spring?

    Last evening I looked out the window and saw over thirty birds on my front yard.

    Many birds in the yard is not that unusual. But when I looked closer, I could see that they were all Robins! Now that is a bit unusual. We usually only see a few at a time around here, and usually not this soon in the year.

    Many people here say that when Robins appear in the yard it means that spring has just about arrived. I would like to think that to be true but as I write this it is 25 degrees outside. I wonder if these robins are just passing through. I have heard that the ones that do migrate travel in large groups like this one.

    We have become particularly interested in robins since we had the nest in our peach tree, but I don't really know about their migration habits. I'd love to hear from some of you bird experts!

    Do the robins know when warmer weather is coming?

    Sunday, March 4, 2007

    Orchids for Green Thumb Sunday!

    These are the orchids that my friend brought to me to look at:

    I have to admit that I know very little about orchids. About all I know is that they are beautiful, and they look good for Green Thumb Sunday!

    Since I know very little about them, I have to ask you (who hopefully knows more about orchids than I do) the question that my friend asked me. She has two orchids that she got about three years ago and they are still in the containers they came in. Here is a full picture of the one that is currently in bloom:

    And here is what the pot of the other one looks like:

    So the question is "what are those giant above ground roots, and are they normal? Do the orchids need to be repotted, and if so, why are they still blooming so nicely?

    Gotta Garden is a blog I like to read that posts about orchids from time to time. She said that the roots are normal but they should probably be repotted. My friend is reluctant to do so since the orchids are doing so well in the pots that they are in. I would appreciate any further advice. Thanks!

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    Friday, March 2, 2007

    Raccoons will torment me No More!

    The Raccoons that visit my garden tend to talk to me.

    As you can see, this one informed me that he was getting tired of his diet of cat food and is longing for another summertime feast of my sweet corn! To that I say NOT THIS YEAR MR. RACCOON!

    Every year I attempt to grow a small patch of corn, and every year I get to watch the stalks grow healthy and strong. I also get to watch many wonderful ears develop, but when its just about time to pick those succulent sweet ears ... the local raccoons have a night corn eating garden party! They take every last ear and scatter the cobs all around the yard!

    This year the only corn they will get is the few kernels left on the cobs that they find on top of the compost pile! The corn I plan to grow is Bicolor Mirai 301BC which I wrote about in a previous post. The coons won't get any Mirai corn from the garden because number three on my 2007 to do list is to build a raccoon proof fence around that corn! I can't afford to fence in the entire garden, so I am just fencing in the center of the garden and I will grow the corn inside the fence.

    "But raccoons can climb a fence" you might be thinking. I'm going to do three things to combat this. First I will make the pumpkin patch but up against one side of the fence (the one furthest from the house and closest to the woods). Raccoons hate trying to get through and over pumpkin vines. Second, I will grow cucumbers ON the fence. According to Carrots Love Tomatoes, raccoons detest cucumbers, so they probably won't try to climb over them. If they remember how much fun they've had at their annual corn eating party and are determined to not let this companion planting bother them, I think my third trick will stop them.

    I found a raccoon remedy in another one of my favorite books called Jeff Cox's 100 Greatest Garden Ideas: Tips, Techniques, and Projects for a Bountiful Garden and a Beautiful Backyard. One of the 100 great ideas shows how to securely attach the bottom of a roll of chicken wire to the top of the fence and leave the top of the chicken wire unsupported. You also bend the chicken wire out a little and leave it floppy. If a raccoon reaches the top of the fence and begins climbing on the chicken wire, his weight will cause the chicken wire to fold down on him and dump him off.


    I will post plenty of pictures after I get the fence built. I will also report what my raccoon friends have to say about it! Of course they may take their revenge by convincing their deer friends to jump over the fence, but that is material for another post!

    So there you have it - number three on my 2007 Garden to do list!

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