Sunday, April 27, 2008


It was finally dry enough to till, so today was the day. A friend at the garden plots let me borrow his tiller so we hefted it up and turned over the tomato, brassica, dahlia, and carrot beds. Normally with raised bed vegetable growing you don't need to rototill each spring, as the beds usually get through winter in fine condition and only require hoeing up the top 4-6". In our case the soil was so compacted that the beds had to be broken up deeply to at least 12". Forgot my camera so Em took a cell phone pic.

I look a little nervous. Big rototillers aren't really made for raised beds...

Sowed some more seed as well:

- 4 row feet Oriental Giant Hybrid Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
- 8 sq. foot bed of
Red, Golden, and Chioggia Beets mix (Beta vulgaris)

Since we've had cold nights (still below 40 degrees), I've been moving the tomatoes out for the day and back inside for the night for a few days now. Tonight they will stay outside for the first night in the little cold frame. Doing well and many are budding. Roots are already filling the quart sized pots.

I'll probably head back out in the next few days to finish up bed preparation for all the sowing and transplanting soon to come. Bellingham's average last frost is May 5!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Direct seed update

Spent a few hours at the garden plots today. Although it's been cold lately, the soil is finally starting to dry out. Should be able to rototill soon. Today I dug out the last of the tuberous comfrey and horsetails from the future dahlia and tomato beds. Surprisingly, the soil in those beds looks pretty good - nearly black, not too much clay, and lots of worms and bugs (that means the soil is alive and well). I'll just top them off with 4-way and I'll be good to go.

The radish, lettuce, and mesclun blend sown 2 weeks ago have all come up and are going strong. I'll keep them under plastic for another week or two until they get some true leaves and really start growing fast.

Radish sprouts thinned to 1-2" to give them room to start developing.

Mesclun blend will be thinned when leaves reach eating size.

Back at home in the closet, the tomatoes are really doing well. The Stupice seedling is beginning to flower! If it warms back up, these will go out to the cold frame end of next week, grow there for a week or more, and be ready to go outside under plastic mid-May with fruit already set.

Stupice tomato with buds already!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Garden progress

Transplanted my little lettuce seedlings yesterday. Went back today to put up the plastic tunnel cloche - lows for the next 3 nights are about 33 degrees with 50% chance of snow! The plastic won't hold heat but will at least keep off the frost and any snow that might fall.

Also transplanted about 40 leeks around the garden. One row in front of the peas and one row behind where the peppers will go. Most vegetables in the allium family (onions) taste and smell bad to chewing or nibbling pests, so planting them around the garden is a good natural deterrent. Plus they are winter hardy around here, so I can pick what I need this summer and the rest will be usable through the winter.

I turned over some of my winter cover crop to make way for the leeks and was happy to see lots of nodules on the roots. Leguminous plants have a very unique and beneficial ability. In these root nodules, Rhizobium bacteria live and work symbiotically with the pea plant to use nitrogen in the air for growth, instead of the plants using whatever nitrogen may be in the soil. This nitrogen from the air becomes a part of the greens and roots of the pea plant. When the cover crop is turned over in the spring, it decomposes quickly and that nitrogen is released back into the soil. A natural plant fertilizer (or green manure)! Lugumes fix nitrogen at a rate of 50 to 100 lbs per acre, equivalent to 1-2 lbs of 30-0-0 fertilizer for my entire plot. Not a tremendous amount, but that's not all cover crops do! They control soil erosion, stop soil compaction through the heavy winter rains, help dry out the soil earlier in spring, and, after turning over in spring, leave the soil loose and friable due to a deep and vigorous root system. Not bad!

Strawberries are blooming too.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Upsizing tomatoes

The tomato plants have grown out 4 or 5 true leaves, so it's time to transplant up to bigger pots. The idea is for each seedling to never be root-bound in a pot; that is, to never run out of room for root growth resulting in roots coiling around and around the inside the pot searching for fresh soil. My seedlings' roots were just reaching the walls of the pot.

Tomato seedlings will sprout roots all along the stem if planted deeply, so these were potted deeper than before. The lowest set of leaves were stripped off, and each seedling was slipped out of its pot. The little 2" pots were replaced with quart size. Soil mix was 4 parts potting soil to 1 part organic compost.

These will continue to grow on under lights until nighttime temps are consistently above 40 degrees, after which they'll move into the cold frame to harden off.

Hoping to get to the garden plot in the next few days and get the bed ready for broccoli and cabbage transplants by the weekend.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Fresh soil at the garden plot

Emily and I, along with 6 other plot renters from the Happy Valley Community Gardens, brought in 20 yards (!) of 4-way soil/compost mix to share. We really needed it in some of our beds, which have eroded away as they sat unused for years. I think it will be most useful for lightening our heavy clay soil that has compacted to concrete-like hardpan.

With a generous addition of our new soil, I was able to prepare a spot for our snap and snow peas sown 4 weeks ago. I worked the soil about 8" deep, hoed in fertilizer and lime, and transplanted my healthy peas.

Should begin producing peas first week of June.

We had poly tunnels over some beds to dry them out faster, so today I direct seeded some greens in those beds after turning them over and incorporating new soil.

- 5 row ft Slobolt (loose-leaf lettuce) Lactuca sativa
- 5 row feet Tangy Mesclun Blend (Salad greens)
- 6 row ft Rainbow Radishes (Easter Egg II)

Broccoli and Cabbage starts have been growing strong for 2 weeks under lights. They've formed 2 true leaves, which means out into the cold frame to harden off and grow a bit more. When 3 true leaves are grown out I'll transplant them in the garden.

A few more pictures from today.

Direct sown Bloomsdale spinach seeded March 9. True leaves just emerging. Germinated and started pretty slow because March was so cold. It will pick up as April gets warmer.

Overwintered garlic (front) and leeks (behind). Carrot patch behind in the upper left. The garlic looks pretty bad...good thing I put in about 25 new bulbs a few weeks ago.

I overwintered a patch of Arugula as well. It barely survived and started growing again in February. We cut enough for a salad a few weeks ago and it immediately went into reproduction mode - sent up flower spikes and bloomed! Cool flower.

Tomorrow I'm gonna make Em come with me to the garden plot and we'll move more soil.