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Blogging about gardening in zone 4, marriage, our golden retriever and life in general.

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29 Friday Farming

Most of the images in this post were actually taken on Wednesday, April 27.

It seems as if we might, just maybe be moving towards spring around here. I rode my bike to work on Wednesday and went for a 16+ mile bike ride after sending my bags home with DJ in the evening. I arrived home windblown, hungry, but oh so happy to not have to go inside to exercise!

Lets start with things that bloom. 

We planted 15+ perennials in 2010, many of whom underperformed last summer due to their immaturity. I've been curious as to which plants will bounce back from the winter. Since I'm impatient, I've been known to root a finger around in what remains of 2010's growth to see if anything green is growing. 

The crocus is doing well:

 The "Autumn Fire" Sedum was a transplant from my friend Jane, and I'm relieved to say I didn't kill it! I really thought I'd been to rough when I slapped these plants in the ground last fall, but it appears I'll have sedum, which will look lovely in the fall:

I threw spinach seed in the pots in the front over two weeks ago, and have been wondering if perhaps my spinach seed is kaput as nothing has come up. The photo is out of focus, but there it is; just popping through.

I purchased two pots of salvia last fall at $1/ apiece. Usually salvia is planted in the spring, but I threw it in the ground. It's coming back well and will produce great blooms through the late summer and fall.

 The daylillies we planted in the utility box bed, on either side of the front steps and along the kitchen porch produced exactly one bloom in 2010. I was concerned I killed them, but they appear to be recovering. They'll bloom in July and August, and maybe into the fall here in Bozeman. 

I know I snagged two different types of Sedum from Jane, and this is the stuff that isn't Autumn Fire. I'm just not sure exactly what kind it is. We'll let it grow out a bit and do some googling. 

I planted spring bulbs in the rocks beneath the aspen trees separating our driveway from our neighbors. They were slow to start, but have taken off. This is a mix of tulips and alium. I think I'll sprinkle snapdragon seeds in the weed-mat opening, to have color in the area through the summer and deter weeds. Or perhaps a creeping phlox for more spring color?

More crocus, under a tree. 

This image is along the driveway bed. There are daffodils on the left, bee-balm in the middle, and the muscari which didn't amount to anything in on the right. 

Bee balm is a really interesting plant. I had another type along the kitchen porch, beneath where we hang the hammock. It took me one summer of listening to bees buzzing around below me as I lay in the hammock to be convinced into moving the bee balm. It was relocated to the utility box bed on Sunday. 

This bee balm will grow taller and look something like this:

I'm not kidding when I type that my mom and I have been trying to grow clematis for over a decade now. We could just never seem to get it started. I think because clematis likes "cool feet". Or perhaps my dad would accidentally hit it with roundup. Either way, I planted a ground cover. And it seems to be coming back this year!

Now onto the edibles! 

The flats inside are doing well. I've been plopping them on the front porch every morning as I leave, where they're relatively protected from the wind yet also in full sunlight through the day. Most of the plants I start inside this year are things which will go outside pretty early in the season. 

The marigolds; all of these have just their starter leaves, but their true leaves are beginning to bud. I'll have to thin them to one plant per opening next week. 

The purple basil sprouted. I almost missed it, since it just looks like more dirt. (blurry photo)

Broccoli round two is doing well. These plants will be transplanted outside a week from Sunday, so they better beef up!

Bibb lettuce on the right, Romaine on the left. Or vice versa. Again, I'll need to thin these to one plant per pot. I tried really hard to only put a few seeds in each pot, but have you seen how small a lettuce seed is!?

And of course, the cilantro, rocking it. MMMM fajitas. 

And outside?

Thus far, all I have is garlic shoots:

None of the seeds planted in the ground 10 days ago have sprouted, though they've probably been covered with more snow than not. I haven't seen the asparagus yet, nor any of the sugar snap peas or sweet peas either. Patience, right?

On tap for this weekend? Mostly just watching things grow. Waiting for the tulips, daffodils and allium to bloom. finishing blocking out the square feet in the garden. Mowing the lawn, then over-seeding it. Any suggestions for what to do about dog-pee spots?

Anything sprouting in your world?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What is "Home"?

I struggle to answer the question "Where are you from?"

I've lived in Montana for 11 years now. It's been a big decade +1, including graduating from high school, college, coming "home" from grad school for breaks and summer, and my current job, where I met and married my husband. We now own a house and have a dog in Montana.

And when I travel and people ask me where I'm from, I say Montana. It has a kind of exotic, wild meaning to many people. 

But when someone in Montana asks me where I'm from, I struggle to answer. In a state recently flooded with people from somewhere else, most of the Montana-native population puts a premium on being born and raised in the state; no matter how ridiculous that is. Apparently you don't "get" Montana if you haven't been here your entire life?

Anyway, I was born in Montana, in the state capital of Helena (Hell-en-a, NOT Hel-E-na). My family lived in Montana until I was 4, and moved back when I was 17. I've spent more time living in Montana than in Washington, where my parents are from. Where my husband is from. Where 95% of my family still resides. 

So where am I from?

I'm driving to Eastern Washington today, to visit my sister in school at Washington State. To visit my grandparents. To visit my mom, who will join my dad in Pocatello in the fall. To visit my extended family. I miss them all. I also miss the landscape of open rolling fields, tidy farm towns and church steeples. 

It sounds very Scarlet-about-Tara-in-Gone-With-The-Wind, but Eastern Washington is home for me. People and customs and cultures I know. 

But, yet, I don't know. I visit and we'll gossip about the neighbors and there's always a point in the conversation when I get the "Oh Courtney, you know so-and-so!?" 

To which I reply, "No, I don't think I do." 

To which they reply "But he's your cousin!" 

To which I reply, we're Catholic, I only know my first cousins; the remaining 3259867456 are unknown!"

It's a funny thing to have many places to call home, yet feel a little unrooted. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Pocketbook Environmentalist

Last week I discussed my ambivalence about riding my bike to work. It was fairly nice yesterday, but again, I didn't ride to work. I had to return 40lbs of library books. I had a televised commission meeting until 7:30pm, and needed to look presentable. I drove. 

The truth is, I'm really a "Pocketbook Environmentalist." If "being green" benefits my bottom line, or reduces our energy consumption and thus bill, or tastes better, I'm for it. For example:

Now that it's not a frozen pile of dirt, I've begun adding kitchen scraps to the compost pile. I'm probably not "doing it right" but whatever. If we have leftover egg shells, too-old spinach, or anything not meat, I'll dig a hole in the compost pile and bury it. This adds nutrients to the compost, which will be recycled into the garden and landscape beds and produce better flowers and edibles. It positively effects my wallet by letting us keep the smaller garbage bin. 

I farm/ garden, mostly for the pleasure of it. I like cutting flowers from my yard and having fresh arrangements in the house. I like to give them to friends and take them to work. There's no way I could afford huge bouquets every week! And it also reduces the environmental impacts of shipping in exotic flowers for my pleasure.

I "farm" because I like fresh vegetables, to the point of disdaining tomatoes for 10 months of they year because they aren't fresh. Tomatoes just taste so much better right off of the vine! Same for asparagus, sugar snap peas, potatoes, corn... everything. Growing it at home benefits our budget; a $1.27 pack of seeds is much cheaper than buying 15 heads of lettuce. And it means that we don't throw out half a head of lettuce a week. It's great to run out to the garden and snip chives, basil or cilantro for dinner. We usually don't need these herbs in huge quantities, so having just a bit of them available saves us from buying, then throwing out, a bunch of fresh cilantro every time we make fajitas. Of course, growing these at home removes the pesticides, fertilizers, packaging and energy consumption related to transportation from the environmental cycle. 
Plants, "starting" on the front porch, and pillowcases drying in the sunshine.

We also hang most of our clothes to dry after a short spin in the dryer to remove wrinkles. This is a time-tested lesson from my momma. It means you usually don't have to iron things, unless you want them to look really crisp. It also means you run the dryer for 10 minutes instead of 55, thus saving you money (and energy). Our laundry area has a rod useful for hanging shirts and it's usual to see jeans and trousers hanging from the trim work in our hallway. I want to put up a clothesline in the back yard this summer to be able to dry things more regularly. I strung one up between the poles in our kitchen porch this weekend, in the 40 degree sunshine, but the porch roof throws the area into shade by noon and the house protects the area from wind. It took a while to dry our duvet cover, sheets, shams and pillowcases, but 4 hours in the sunshine is a lot cheaper than an hour and a half in the dryer. 
An impromptu clothesline. 

Are there things I feel "environmental guilt" over? Certainly. We could do a better job of recycling our plastics and paper. We should do a better job. You'll note I didn't say that we should recycle our glass, as doing so would have sent DJ into an apoplectic fit. Here's the deal with glass recycling for us in Bozeman: There is a glass crusher in Livingston, then they ship it to Seattle for reuse. By the time that I drive my glass to Livingston, then they ship it to Seattle for reuse, we've used more carbon fuel to "recycle" the glass than it would to produce new glass. Our market is too small for effective glass recycling, so I toss my glass without remorse. 

Except for the beer bottles. My husband home-brews; we can always use beer bottles. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22 Friday Farming

We received another 3"  of wet, spring snow last night. The storm rolled into town with lightning and thunder too. It's really pretty crazy to watch a thundersnow storm; the flash of lightning reflects off all of the snowflakes and is really eerie. 

Of course, this means my Friday farming update is pretty much all interior plants. Le sigh.
The broccoli I started in early March is doing exactly what I'd expect broccoli to do in a south facing windowsill in Montana; it's leggy and spindly, and probably a waste of seeds and attention. I don't get enough or strong enough sunlight through my south windows to really start seeds appropriately. Perhaps a grow-light is in my future?


Alyssum (there should be a pot full of this, rather than a single sprout. WTF?




And now for the exciting part. The bibb lettuce, romaine lettuce, broccoli and marigolds I started last weekend are sprouting. I plan to let them grow a bit before being transplanted into the garden about May 8. It'll be a race to see which performs better; the lettuce started inside, or the stuff direct-seeded outside.

Broccoli sprouts: 

Marigold sprouts:

Lettuce sprouts

 Sorry guys, that's a pretty abbreviated Friday farming post. I can tell you that the spring bulbs are still pushing up and all but a few of the perennials planted in 2010 are showing signs of life. The daylillies, a big disappointment last year, have all sent up new spikes. The salvia I bought for $1 on clearance is greening up, as are the daisies, delphinium, bee balm, etc.  

The other good news is taht the 15 day forecast calls for 70 degrees two weeks from tomorrow. I'm holding my breath. 

This weekend's planting? Hollyhock, though I'm not sure where yet, and sunflowers across the back of the garden. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Harlow in sun

Remember these photos I snapped of our puppy last April?

Holy big dog! She still loves laying in the sun, anytime she can. Mornings in the kitchen are great, since she can keep an eye on the cats across the driveway. Unfortunately, she no longer fits in one pane of sunshine.

Regal dog, looking down her nose at me. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

For record keeping purposes

Because there is nothing polite to say about the 6" of snow we woke up to yesterday morning... 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On biking to work, and other financial considerations

Gas in Montana is currently $3.59/ gallon. I'm sure that seems "cheap" to many of you already paying $4.00+ a gallon, but for me, it's incredibly galling to pay $50 to fill up the tank of my sedan. Or to see DJ spend $70 filling up his truck.

My Nissan Altima gets decent gas mileage. 20 miles per gallon or so in the city, 28+ mpg on the highway (depending on how fast I'm driving). We only live 4.2 miles from work, and if I don't go anywhere else, I usually buy three tanks of gas every two months, or 1.5 tanks a month. 

I ran the numbers a week or so ago because I was curious to see how much money it costs me to drive to work each day. 

Known factors:
  • Distance: 4.2 miles one way, 8.4 total
  • Gas tank capacity: 17 gallons
  • Gas price: $4.00/ gallon
  • Fuel efficiency: 20 mpg
So... trying to remember a little math problem solving here... 

17 gallons of gas X $4.00/ gallon='s $68.00 to fill an empty tank (!!!)
17 gallons of gas X 20 mpg='s 340 miles on one tank
340 miles / 8.4 miles per trip='s 40 trips
8.4 miles per round trip/ 20 mpg='s .42 gallons per trip
.42 gallons X $4.00='s $1.68 per round trip
$1.68 per round trip X 5 times/ week='s $8.40
$8.40 x 4 weeks a month='s $33.6 dollars a month in gas.

... huh. Even with gas at $4 a gallon, $33.60 a month in gas to drive back and forth to work might just be worth the convenience. 

Riding my bike is a good alternative, if I don't have a late night meeting or obligation. For example, I rode my bike to work in the 35 degree weather yesterday. The ride took me 20 minutes (which seems slow; I'm out of biking shape) and was pretty easy, although I did arrive both chilled and sweating a bit. 

I planned to bike from work to an AOII obligation at 6pm, then home before dark at 8:30pm. And then it started snowing. And then there was a winter storm advisory which rapidly progressed into a winter storm warning. Instead of completing my loop, I put my bike in the back of DJ's truck and rode home with him. Had a quick dinner, and drove back into town for my AOII meeting. Drove home at 9pm in a blizzard. 

So yeah, that didn't really work out well. I like getting in an extra 20 minutes of cardio, and the 15-20 minute ride is comparable to driving. The real hassle with biking to work is the uncertainty of it. What if it snows? What if it rains? I usually have 2 night meetings a week; it'd be a fruitless endeavor to ride into work, then make DJ come get me because of weather. I'm also the bag lady, with a lunch bag, purse, briefcase, and sometimes gym bag. How do I schlepp all of that, not to mention coffee, to and fro?

Hopefully the weather will stabilize shortly. I do plan to ride my bike to work frequently this summer, but not because I'll save money. The environmental impact is nice, but I don't have a huge footprint of oil consumption already. I'll bike to work because it's a fun way to add more exercise to my day, to enjoy the weather and to change up my routine. But biking to work 3 times a week probably won't really start until May June.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A real start to Farming 2011

... Sort of. 

DJ and I accomplished a lot on Saturday and I can already say that our 2011 farm has a much better chance of being successful than last year's effort. Compost tilled in, actual terraces that create flat beds and a more planned approach to planning stack all the cards in our favor. 

If only I could control hail. 

We cheaped out on the terracing effort, by going with untreated lumber instead of a more waterproof treated lumber. This is all experimental to us, and well, even though it's not "doing it the right way"... it'll suffice for 2011. Again, our terracing is intended to level out the gardening area and facilitate effective watering. We, I mean, DJ, created three levels.

Here's how it looked coming together:

While DJ worked on the terracing I started seeds in flats. I've got 18 marigold, 18 snapdragons, 3 eggplant, 3 more broccoli, 6 bibb lettuce, 6 romaine lettuce, 3 purple basil and 3 leeks going so far. When I plant seeds, I label them with the date planted and the time they should germinate.

Marigolds aren't my favorite flower, as they're too short to be cut for display. They are, however, a great companion plant for tomatoes where they draw bees to polinate and attract bugs which are detrimental to tomatoes. And I didn't know their seeds looked like feathers!

Once DJ finished wrapping the farm area in chicken wire to deter gophers, I went ahead and strung out square feet so I knew exactly where plants would go. My estimation of the space we had to work with when I planned the garden in January was a little too big. Once we strung out the square feet, I realized we were short two feet on row lengths. This required adapting the farm plan on the fly. No problem; it's a spreadsheet and can be erased. 

I ended up planting four squares of Spinach, two squares of Chantenay carrots, two squares of Kaleidoscope mix carrots, two squares of Bibb lettuce, two squares of Romaine lettuce and four squares of sugar snap peas. I also popped a bunch of Sweet peas into the edges of where I'l planted; they'll be a beautiful screen this summer!

The Farming spreadsheet currently looks like this (green are items in the ground, yellow are plants started indoors):

Here's what it looks like in real life:

You might have noticed that the bell peppers have been removed from this plan. I've decided to keep the garden pots in the front flower beds, and this year the peppers will go "out front" as that area gets the most sunshine and heat. I've always struggled with getting bell peppers to ripen before the first frost, so hopefully moving them out front will help. I'll also plant a jalepeno and banana pepper in front. 

I'll let you know how things are growing on Friday!