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Archive for March, 2013

A bright red cardinal sits atop a snowy honeysuckle

Just when I’ve decided I’m done with snow and ready for spring – it snows again! Maybe that’s the trick! I should wish really hard for spring in January and then maybe it would snow during WINTER and not after the first day of SPRING!

Daffodils peak out in front of our little Japanese maple while remnants of a large oak lost in the derecho lie in the background.

Daffodils peek out in front of our little Japanese maple. Remnants of an oak lost in the June derecho lie in the background.

I must say though, it is really beautiful outside right now. As I sit by the fire in our cozy sunroom, big snowflakes are lazily floating down and about 5½” of snow is covering the ground. I just hope it doesn’t turn to rain – that would be a real mess – but it’s a real possibility since the temperature has crept up to almost 35oF. Ugh!

It was snowing steadily when I took a walk outside with my camera this morning. All was quiet with the exception of the chattering of the birds in the trees and on our feeders. I guess they were wondering where spring had gone and what was up with all the snow!

The ornamental grasses have been beaten down by the snow. They will be cut back very soon.

The ornamental grasses have been beaten down by the snow. They will be cut back very soon.

Down by the vegetable garden, a few of the juniper trees were alive with the fluttering and twittering of a large number of birds. I assumed that they were cedar waxwings feeding on the bountiful crop of juniper berries but it turns out it was a big flock of robins!
I guess they were searching for spring, as well!

The one good thing about spring snow, though, is that it usually doesn’t stick around very long and it can be a real benefit to the garden. “Poor man’s fertilizer” it is sometimes called. I wrote a blog about this back in March 2011 when we got snow about this same time.

Spring snow generally falls on unfrozen ground so it usually seeps slowly into the soil as it melts over time rather than running off quickly as water from a heavy rain can. Snow also adds some nutrients to the soil from compounds it picked up in the atmosphere as it was falling to the earth. Good stuff! For more on this read my “Poor Man’s Fertilizer” post.

A rhododendron droops under the weight of the snow.

A rhododendron droops under the weight of the snow.

This past Saturday, Andre had a caller on the radio wondering whether he should go out and spread fertilizer on his lawn, given that it was supposed to snow the next day. Andre said by all means, he should put it down before the snow and mentioned that many people, farmers included, often spread fertilizer right on top of the snow. When I was in Vermont a few months ago, I saw where several farmers had spread manure on top of the snow that covered their fields – a good idea as long as you don’t get stuck!  As the snow melts, it slowly transports the nutrients right down to the root zone.

More good stuff!

A drift of daffodils surrounds an azalea in our woodland garden.

A drift of daffodils surrounds an azalea in our woodland garden.

So, since you can’t do anything about it, look beyond the inconvenience and just enjoy the beauty of this snowfall. Try to think of it as a gift of free food and water for your lawn, perennials, trees, and shrubs. They are probably very thankful for it even if you aren’t!

This snow won’t last long and the warmth and greening of spring will continue where it left off just a few short days ago.

In fact, as I look out our big sunroom windows towards the Allegheny Mountains to the west, the clouds have lifted and the mountains are clear. The snow has stopped – the melting has already begun …

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

The snow storm is over for now and the beautiful Allegheny Mountains have cleared.

The snow storm is over for now and the beautiful Allegheny Mountains have cleared.

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David vs. Goliath

The other day, my co-worker Sheila was standing by the office window and remarked, “Oh my goodness, I wonder how this will turn out. Come over here and look at this!”

Securing the "bonds"!

Securing the “bonds”! I got you now!

I wandered over to the window and there in the corner was a stink bug with one leg stuck in a tangle of spider silk. He was trying his best to free his leg and it seemed likely that he would break away in a matter of moments. Meanwhile, a very small (relative to its prey) spider was desperately assessing the situation, trying to figure out the best tactic to further ensnare this struggling stink bug. At least that’s how I saw it!

“It’s like David and Goliath!” Sheila said. Needless to say, both of us were rooting for David the Spider!

Working on the back legs

Working on the back legs

We watched spellbound for quite a while as this little spider made dashes back and forth from the stink bug to the wall in an effort to further restrain this stinky beast – slow day at the office!

Initially, the spider reinforced the “bonds” on the leg that was already stuck. It then proceeded to work on spinning more strands of silk from the wall back to the bug eventually snaring some other legs and his one remaining antenna. Its hard to tell what happened to his other antenna – perhaps it got pulled off in another struggle.

Hogtied!

Hogtied!

The spider finally managed to get enough silk wrapped around the other legs and part of the body that it was able to flip the stink bug onto its back. So interesting!

“David” then proceeded to hogtie “Goliath” and eventually hoist him up so he was suspended slightly above the windowsill. That was the end – there was no escape for him after that. Goliath was vanquished!

Cheers to another mighty stink bug predator! Be kind to your spiders!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

Now that he is up off the ground, it's all over!

Now that he is up off the ground, it’s all over!

A final bit of silk just to make sure ...

A final bit of silk just to make sure …

The kiss of death! One less stink bug to ruin our crops!

The kiss of death! One less stink bug to ruin our crops!

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Plant lots of tomato varieties for good success

Okay, I finally got my snow! I think maybe now I’m ready for spring!

It was crazy warm here on Sunday despite the snow and I spent the afternoon out on our deck planting my tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds as well as some lettuce and spinach.

Kellogg's Breakfast, an heirloom variety, produces huge yellow tomatoes that are delicious.

Kellogg’s Breakfast, an heirloom, produces
huge, delicious yellow tomatoes.

As I was planting, I started thinking about how amazing these little seeds are! It’s hard to believe that these tiny entities can grow into a 6 foot tomato plant with a huge harvest of tomatoes or a pumpkin vine that produces a world record pumpkin!

But – back to my seeds. I did things a bit differently this year than I’ve done in the past.

For starters, I decided to try the Blue Ridge Organics Super Compost to start my seeds rather than using a potting mix like I normally do. My plants haven’t been growing very well the last couple of years so I thought I’d try a different growing medium. William from Blue Ridge Organics has convinced me that this stuff is gold so I’m giving it a shot. He did caution me to watch the moisture levels in my seed trays because the compost holds water really well and I will need to be careful not to overwater. No problem – I can do that. We’ll see how it works as a seed starting mix.

Each flat holds 18 of these larger sized pots.

Each flat holds 18 of these
larger sized cells.

The second thing I’m doing differently is that I am planting my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in larger cells rather than the smaller peat pots I usually use. Hopefully this will allow them to establish a more extensive root system without having to move them up to bigger pots before I transplant them outside. Maybe … we’ll see about that one.

I’m also starting some lettuce and spinach in smaller cells (72/flat)  so I can plant plugs in the garden and in some of my deck planters rather than direct seeding them.

Two varieties of Romaine lettuce, 'Freckles' and 'Winter Density'

Two varieties of Romaine lettuce, ‘Freckles’
and ‘Winter Density’, plus two mixes.

My sister Leslie has been doing this for years in Vermont and she grows the most beautiful lettuce. Of course, their growing season is shorter than ours and I think she mostly does it to get a jump on her vegetable garden in the spring. Still, I haven’t had very good luck with lettuce in the garden so I thought it would be worth trying. I’m also going to direct seed some spinach and lettuce in containers on the deck but I plan to mix a lot of the Blue Ridge compost into my containers to see if they’ll produce better than they did last year.

Four flats fit easily on one shelf with full lighting.

Four flats fit easily on one shelf with
good light coverage.

I planted four flats on Sunday including the flat of lettuce and spinach. These included 11 different varieties of tomatoes and 3 different types of peppers.

Four flats fit perfectly on one shelf of our plant stand. When Eric built it years ago, he made two shelves so we could start eight flats of plants. It has been a while since I’ve used more than just the top shelf but since I’ve already filled that one, I think I’ll need the bottom shelf, too. I still want to start some broccoli plants and eventually I will start my cucumbers and squash indoors so I can get a head start on those.

I really hope we have solved our deer problem with the high fence. The woodchuck may be a different matter …

A series of pulleys allows the lights to be raised and lowered easily.

A series of pulleys allows the lights to be
raised and lowered easily.

The plant stand Eric built works really well. Each shelf has a bank of 3 side-by-side 4 foot fluorescent light fixtures with a grow light and a cool white bulb in each fixture. The lights are joined together and rigged with pulleys at each end so they can be raised up as the plants grow. It is a great system that we’ve been using for years to start our vegetable plants indoors.

The plant stand is down in our basement which is unheated and stays pretty cool most of the time – especially in winter.

Last year, for my birthday,  Eric got me a 48″ seedling heat mat which covers one shelf perfectly.

The seedling heat mat really helps with germination.

The seedling heat mat really helps
with germination.

It has really helped with seed germination and growth – especially since the basement is so cold. We also have the plant stand surrounded on all sides with pieces of foam insulated sheathing to hold in the heat from the heating mat and also a little from the lights.

Each seed flat is covered with a clear plastic lid to keep the humidity up and the warmth in. I lower the lights so that they are about 2 inches from the plastic cover. Most seeds don’t need the light for germination but it does provide a little extra heat in the cool basement.

Plastic lids cover each flat.

Plastic lids cover each flat.

Once the seeds germinate and grow a bit, I’ll remove the plastic covers and move the lights to within an inch or two of the plants. This will keep the seedlings from getting leggy. As the plants grow, I raise the lights up but I always keep them close to the top of the plants. Sometimes I have to shift the flats around if the plants in one are growing faster. The tall plants can be put at one end and the lights can be raised higher at that end. It works out pretty well.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress of my seedlings as they begin to grow. I’m so excited to be starting the new gardening season!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

The lights are lowered close to the covered flats.

The lights are lowered close to the covered flats.

Foam insulated sheathing keeps the heat in and the cooler air out.

Foam insulated sheathing keeps the warmth in and the cooler air out.

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