Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Did I not just write a few posts ago that I always have a plan but rarely follow it?

After having publicly declared my excitement about checking out Community Forklift, after convincing Mulch we should go to Community Forklift's annual to-do on Saturday, after Google-mapping the way to Community Forklift, I decided not to go to Community Forklift.

Do I have attention-deficit disorder, or am I just a flake? That's for Mulch Boy to decide. Still, there was some logic to my decision. We had a plan--ie., The Plan--that included a trip to the hardware store, the possible purchase of a new gas grill, some shopping, and planting. Given that we were getting out of the house late, I decided that we would never get the rest of our errands done if we schlepped halfway across the Beltway to get to the Forklift, and so the late cancellation.

Instead, we got lots of other things done. It started with potato prep. We got our seed taters and seeds the previous weekend, and so this past Saturday I cut up the seed taters and left them to cure in the sun room. We are going to have quite a lot of potatoes.

Seed taters, garlic, asparagus crowns.

Next we went to the Dee-pot and bought a new gas grill, tried a new sandwich shop in the neighborhood, then went to PetsMart to snuggle the dogs at the adoption event (under the guise of buying treats for Charlie and Rosie).

Back at home, we did Poop Patrol (you dog owners know what I mean), while I impulsively cleaned out the shed (i.e., it made me mad by being a mess). I never understand how we can routinely make such a tiny space so completely a wreck. I took nearly everything out and put most of it back in. There were, however, sacrifices. Why do I hold onto tools that are broken or rusted out or that I never use? I don't know. (Perhaps naming them doesn't make it easier to dispose of them. That's just a theory.) But Saturday, I decided NO MORE, and tossed rusty loppers and shears and the Garden Weasel to the curb.

(You know the Garden Weasel, as seen on TV? I can't believe I allowed myself to become victim to the marketing of this lame tool. The commercial show gardeners breaking ground effortlessly with this silly thing. I am here to tell you, it does not work this way.)

Once finished cleaning out the shed, I threw some potting soil in the rectangular planters on the porch and sowed some mesclun seed--a new experiment. Will they survive? Will they grow? Or has Monday's snow done them in? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Mulch turned the garden bed, which was of course The Plan. Part of this included harvesting the Super-Soil (you probably know it as compost) from our two compost piles and adding it to the garden bed. In the process, he uncovered several potato and carrot survivors from last year. While occasionally yelling at me in the backyard, asking when I was coming to the front to plant the garden according to The Plan.

Mulch Boy tills the good earth with Super-Soil. Also, this is Mulch Boy's butt.
Rescue potatoes.
He's mighty mighty.

Finally, I made my way to the front yard and the garden. This is when Mulch discovered the Garden Weasel, ready to be abandoned by the roadside. And decided to give it one last chance. And that's when the Garden Weasel got its reprieve. Turns out the Weasel may not break ground As Seen on TV, but it DOES do a creditable job in breaking up the big hunks of dirt and clay created when you turn the ground with your garden fork. And so Mulch used it, and so now it's back in the shed. I guess I'll have to come up with a name for it now.

The Garden Weasel, redeemed.

Then finally, FINALLY, I rejoined Mulch in following The Plan and put down my pathways...

Paths of landscape fabric--added!

...and FINALLY got my first planting done! In this first section, there are three rows of peas, two rows of kale, two rows of garlic, and a general dispersal of mesclun next to the creek bed. All of these are new experiments for us. Will they survive the snows of Monday to sprout another day? None can say.

I guess one butt shot deserves another. The Potato Queen in her dork boots, planting kale.

Monday, March 25, 2013


I finally, FINALLY, got some planting done this weekend. Peas, kale, garlic, and mesclun seeds and bulbs are all in the ground--all of these new experiments to us as well. Yes, spring planting is finally underway here at the little blue house. So naturally it snowed 3-4 inches last night.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. After all, the Post did predict snow. However, the Post also predicted a 90% chance of rain yesterday, when it didn't rain a drop. You learn to take weather forecasts with a hefty grain of salt here in the Washington metropolitan area.

Still, I could wish a little more accuracy from the day-of predictions. I have six potted perennials on my porch, now buried under three inches of heavy wet white, because I believed yesterday to be a washout and didn't get the poor dears in the ground. I can only hope that the garden center, who had them out in the weather themselves, judged rightly and these plants are hardy enough to withstand this meteorological disaster.

Three inches not a disaster, you say? Clearly you don't live in the greater Washington area. We shut down the federal government because it was SUPPOSED to snow. (Did the rest of the country even hear the term "Snowquester" or was that just us? Oh, we Washington wags!)

That, I expect, is why the fed is open for business today, when normally this level of snowfall at least rates a "liberal leave" policy. DC really took it on the chin for its panicky reaction to snowquester, the storm that wasn't. To be fair, while there were 3-4 inches on my yard in Falls Church (about 11 miles west of Washington), here in the district the lawn across the street at the fire house isn't even covered.

I can't complain, though. Much as I love the idea of a snow day, as a government contractor, I have to either use my vacation time or make up the hours within the pay period when my government office shuts down. So while I'd love to be home with a hot cup of tea, watching the dogs tear up the backyard, I'm relieved to not have to work overtime the rest of the week to make up eight hours.

This is what you get when you take a picture in the dark with your phone.
It's really quite lovely. Trust me.

Janis is us

Arlo and Janis

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I was just talking about Adrian Higgins and his fork

Then today in the Washington Post, he writes a great piece about recycling tools and other items for use in the garden, and he starts off extolling the virtues of his garden fork.

The rest of the article is about the Community Forklift Annual Spring Soiree. I've never heard of this, but having read Adrian's article and visited the Community Forklift website, I may be wheedling to Mulch about checking this out. Anyone been? If we do go, I'll report back on how it was.

P.S. Yesterday's pea-planting turned out to be eating potato chips in the sun room, talking to the Queen Mother on the phone, and reading up on the best time to plant peas and kale and parsnips. Also, the dogs licked my pants a lot.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Having just unintentially bought six perennials, I now find myself in the position of needing to plant them. That was my plan for Tuesday after work. As it turns out, I did all kinds of things, only none of them was planting those six perennials.

This is par for the course for me. I often make plans, and often actually follow them. However, I also commonly set out to complete one task, but then get distracted by another and start on that, maybe even finish it, but then notice this other thing that should be taken care of, and so on and so on.

So it was Tuesday. I got home, put on my dirty garden clothes from Saturday, put on my stylin' gardening boots, took the six plants outside... and then wondered whether the soil was too wet for planting. One of the first things Dad taught me about gardening was to not plant when the soil is too wet. We had rain on Sunday and Monday. I decided perhaps I should wait on the planting till the soil was not so soggy.

On the other hand, wet soil is great for weeding! Those little stinkers that are nearly impossible to pry from the ground when it's hard and dry are easy-peasy to dig up when the soil is wet--why, you can do most of the weeding with The Claw! So I started weeding in the back yard by the dry creek bed.

Only the dry creek bed by the back gate was full of wet leaves that had blown there all winter. So annoying! So I got the rake and gingerly raked the old dead leaves out of the bed and through the gate to the front by the vegetable garden.

I can't leave them here, though; they'll blow all over our nicely cleaned up garden! Raked the leaves to the front of the yard, to join the pile of yard trash from Saturday.

Back to the back:  weeding on hands and knees, making little piles and carrying them to the patio to make a tidy pile. Better tear out the old dead perennials, too, to make way for new spring growth.  Weeded up to the end of the patio, then ran over to the other side of the deck to weed there.

That forsythia! Who knew it could be an invasive? Not me. Turns out if you don't trim it back, those long bending branches will root and make lots of new baby forsythias. Note to self: in future regard forsythia as hostile. Started digging out all those volunteers and cutting back the original plant. More hands and knees work, several attacks by the overgrown Knock-Out rose (which the forsythia had become entangled with). Finally, i was back to one (severely trimmed back) forsythia.

As much as I was cursing the forsythia volunteers...  free plants! Where can I poke some of these guys in the ground for instant coverage?  Plunked three root-y stems in the ground in the backyard.

Hey, check out the climbing hydrangea; it's also rooted a bunch of branches. More free plants! I trimmed several of these and transplanted them by the porch.

I still had a handful of forsythia sprouts, so I moved to the front yard and planted three more. Note to self: don't forget to trim them back in the fall.

By this time, the sun is going down, so I took the tools back to the backyard, where the dogs were desperate to go inside NOW. So they, I, and the six perennials all went back inside. I spent two hours in the yard, doing everything except the one thing I set out to do. Nevertheless, I felt extremely satisfied with myself.

Tonight my goal is to plant some peas. I wonder what I'll actually end up doing?

Inspiration at the garden center

Saturday was a warm spring day, and the predicted rain held off long enough to let Mulch Boy and me clear out the vegetable garden in preparation for spring planting.

Afterwards we hoofed it to the local garden center for seed potatoes and seeds (i.e., seed potatoes, seeds, garlic bulbs, asparagus roots, two ornamental grasses, a pincushion flower, and three pots of English daisies). And thanks to an encounter with a guy at the garden center, I’m blogging today. Thanks, Guy at the Garden Center!

What happened was this: Mulch and I were circling the seed racks, searching intently for kale (new experimental crop for us this year). During this process, I could not help but notice a gentleman juggling an indoor seed starter tray, along with a supply of 4-inch plastic pots, as he quizzed the garden center lady on the how-to’s of starting seeds indoors.

Now anyone who knows me or knows this blog knows I am no expert here. But I have started seeds several times, and had some success, and learned some nice lessons over time. And it seemed pretty clear that Garden Center Lady, while doing her best to be helpful, was not an actual gardener herself, and so was winging it on some of her advice.

Thus, I opened my big mouth and inserted myself into the discussion with my advice and "experience," which amounts to: “I’m no expert, but here are a few things I’ve learned in the last three years trying to do what you’re about to do” and “You may fail with some things, but you won’t with others, and in any case seeds are cheap” and “Adrian Higgins of the Washington Post says to not bother starting peppers from seed; in our area you’re better off buying plants.” (Following this last bit of advice last year resulted in our first actual crop of peppers.)

From this, Guy at the Garden Center seem to conclude I knew what I was talking about (even though I repeatedly told him we are totally winging it) and asked if I blogged, so we gave him our address. Guy at the Garden Center, I hope you came to visit, and if you did, here are my two favorite resources I mentioned:
  • The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. This book has all kinds of great information about building a vegetable garden, the needs of all kinds of basic veg, dealing with pests, etc. Has lots of photos, too. The one drawback is that some of the planting advice is geared toward a more northern climate, so that must be taken into account. However, that’s why I love...
  • Adrian Higgins from the Washington Post, in all his forms. He writes regular columns. He does live Q&As on the Post website (in fact, if you’re here, Guy, check out this most recent one, where he’s got lots on starting seeds indoors and in the garden). He’s on Twitter. And he wrote this wonderful book that is exclusively about gardening in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, with chapters on both ornamental and vegetable gardening. He changed my gardening life with a single piece of advice: dig holes with a garden fork, not a shovel. Think I’m crazy? Try it the next time you’re struggling in our native clay.
It felts so great to be out in the garden again on Saturday, getting dirt under my nails, smelling that good earth smell. But it felt equally good to be talking gardening at the garden center, sharing experiences with another amateur gardener. That made me want to continue the discussion online. I probably wouldn’t be writing here if I hadn’t gotten into that conversation with That Guy. So thank you, Guy at the Garden Center, for inspiring me to get back here and get blogging. And if you did come to visit, let us know how your garden grows. I myself am planning to plant peas--outdoors!-- when I get home today.