Wednesday, March 29, 2017

2017 Planting Calendar

During the February Pollen-pocolypse, when I couldn't bear to go outside, I made a plan for the rest of the year, looking up the planting and harvest times of all the seeds I want to sow this year. I'm going to post it here.

February 15 - Plant 1st Peas (Did it, obviously)
February 28 - 1st Peas sprout (They're coming up this week, a bit slow)
April 1 - Plant 2nd Peas
   Plant Kale
   Plant Morning Glories
   Plant Nasturtiums
   Plant Moon Flowers
   Plant Hollyhocks
   Plant Okra indoors
   Plant Artichoke indoors
   Plant Asparagus indoors
April 11 - Kale sprouts
   Moon Flowers sprout
April 13 - Nasturtiums sprout
April 15 - Plant Pumpkins
   Plant Squash
   Plant Corn
   Plant Beans
   2nd Peas sprout
   Morning Glories sprout
   Hollyhocks sprout
   Okra sprouts
   Artichoke sprouts
   Asparagus sprouts
April 25 - Pumpkins sprout
   Squash sprouts
   Corn sprouts
   Beans sprout
   Harvest 1st Peas
May 1 - Transplant Okra
   Transplant Artichoke
   Transplant Asparagus
May 21 - Harvest Kale
May 29 - Harvest Okra
June 10 - Harvest 2nd Peas
July 4 - Harvest Beans
   Harvest Corn
July 14 - Harvest Squash
August 8 - Harvest Pumpkins
September 28 - Harvest Artichoke

All the information for planting times and harvest times are taken from the backs of seed packets. Will they be accurate? Do I even have enough room in my garden for all this? Probably not.

I also want to plant Amaranth and Carrots. We'll see.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

As I Emerge From A Pollen-Coma

I talked about how every year there's a false spring in February that makes me want to go outside and start planting. I forgot to mention that every year, immediately following the warm weather, the plants also get excited and FLOOD the city with pollen. This means that I spend the next week or two in bed, my sinuses so irritated that it feels like my face will crawl off my skull.

So I didn't get into the garden much in the following weeks. Just a couple of times to check on the chickens before retreating to the house and my benadryl.

But spring marched on without me and, washing dishes yesterday, I was thrilled to look out the kitchen window and see that some of the apple trees budding out!

Not only that, the asparagus that struggled last year (mostly because of the chickens. I blame the chickens) has sent up 2 spears!I am absolutely thrilled with this as I was pretty sure that none of the asparagus I had planted last year had survived.
 Even more surprising, it looks like we have a new guest in the garden. At some point during the winter, a gnome settled into a corner of the wall. I managed to sneak a picture of him as he was sweeping his porch. Well, I'm happy to let him stay as long as he doesn't disturb the plants.
Apparently hummingbirds are back in the city (seems early) so I should try putting out a feeder again. I'm really bad about keeping bird feeders full, especially hummingbirds. In the past I've made a big batch of nectar for them and kept it in the fridge. But it takes a lot of shelf space and spoils before I use it all. So this year I'll try making small batches as I need them. But more on that (with photos) later.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

I Can Do Soil Science, Me!

I've never really done such a thing before but I figured a soil test wouldn't hurt. For one, it might shed light on why my garden hasn't been living up to my expectations. It also just gives me something garden-y to do while it's still too early to really do much planting. So I watched a few YouTube videos and picked up a test kit at the home improvement store.

First step was to gather some soil (chosen from the center of the bed and about 4 inches below mulch level) to soak in a jar with filtered water overnight.

As per the kit's instructions, this was for the NPK test but it also gave me an opportunity to check the soil texture ratio while it was in the jar. The ruler shows that my soil had (roughly and from bottom to top) 15 mm of sand, 3 mm of silt, 2 mm of clay, and floating at the top 10 mm of peat. So mostly sand, which is no surprise given my geography, even though the bed was filled with 100% municipal "compost".

 Here are those measurements, charted out to easily visualize ratios and then plotted on a soil texture triangle. Solidly in the "Sandy Loam" category but at least there's some loam!

The next step was drawing the liquid from the jar and using it to test for nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium levels. Those 3 tubes on the right should be bright magenta, deep blue, and a rusty orange. The orange, at least, is clearly present. Plenty of potash. The blue, indicating potassium, is there, if faintly. Nitrogen is very much lacking, as you can see from the sickly pink. Are these tests highly accurate? Probably not but it gives me a ballpark.

Last, with a bit of soil reserved from the jar, I tested the PH balance. The result, a rather rich blue-green, looks pretty alkaline. There is limestone in the area so this is possible. Or it could be a procedural error on my part. The jar I collected into had been full of sauerkraut. Fearing that residual vinegar would give me a false acidic result, I used a fair bit of baking soda when I washed it out. I tried to rinse it thoroughly but there's still some doubt. Clearly I should to run a few more tests.

However, assuming my results were more or less accurate, where does that leave me? Sandy, alkaline soil that's lacking in nitrogen and phosphorous. I my sandy soil is usable, it just won't hold on onto nutrients as well as might be hoped. If the alkalinity is due to limestone, I could adjust it with sulfur but it would swing back eventually, requiring continual amendment. Nitrogen and phosphorous levels can be fixed with fertilizer but, due to the sand content, would need constant re application. Or I just accept my soil for what it s and plant things that prefer alkaline sand.

Or I continue laying on as much good compost as I can make with a lot of chicken manure. Which is what I would have done anyway if I had never done the tests. My garden will probably never be the best ever but over the years the soil will improve. Maybe I'll try a ground cover that is a nitrogen fixer, like clover. I kinda wanted to do that anyway.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

False Spring is Still Spring, More or Less

Every year Albuquerque has a false spring. Right around Valentine's Day it gets really nice and warm. Everyone yearns to go outside. Plants everywhere bloom and I get hit by the first wave of allergies for the year.

The past two weeks have been sunny, in the 70s, and beautiful. I was sneezing my head off. Then, yesterday and today, it snowed. There goes this years false spring.

The best thing about the false spring is that it reminds me that it's time to plant peas. It's actually a little early for Albuquerque but mid-February is definitely pea planting time down in Las Cruces, where I picked up the habit. Sometimes you can get away with it in Abq. The first planting of the year. The beginning of the gardening season. I love it.

So this afternoon Little Digger and I went out and planted a row of Sugar Snap Peas along the back of the apple bed. Hopefully, they'll sprout and wind their way up the chainlink wall of the chicken pen that presses up against the bed. If the chickens don't peck them to pieces first, we'll have fresh, sweet peas in a few months.

While I was out there, I noticed that a few plants in my garden were fooled by the false spring. Day lilies are peeking their heads through the mulch in a few places, as are the Hollyhocks we planted last year. Maybe they'll actually produce a few flowers this time around! The herbs all seem to have overwintered pretty well. We even have a couple strawberry plants that seem to have survived!

I am so excited for this year.

Monday, February 13, 2017

This Year Will Be Better

Things have been rough. Here's a summary of a pretty pathetic year of gardening and a promise to myself that this year will be better.

The biggest addition to my garden last year was fauna, rather than flora. We got a couple of chickens! Me and Mrs. Digger had been considering it for a while when a chicken coop showed up on Craigslist for $20. It had been purchased by a family living in the mountains and, immediately after putting chickens in it, a bear knocked it over and devoured it's contents. I bought it, fixed it up, and put a couple chickens of my own in it. They're Dominique hens, which have the distinction of being America's oldest chicken breed. They were selected for being hardy, decent layers who tend to be quiet and friendly.
Now, chickens came with some problems. First, I'd heard that chickens dig but I hadn't expected them to really DIG. They are worse than the dog ever was. They killed off most of the day lilies and asparagus before I managed to erect a fence around my little garden bed to keep them out. I feared for the survival of the apple trees. They also poop. A lot. Especially on the porch, where they like to hang out. It was manageable if I swept every day but that got old fast. Without even realizing it, it got to the point where I was simply avoiding going outside because it was so gross.

Now, there are some great things about having chickens in the yard too. Primarily, I got fresh eggs on a regular basis (until they started hopping the wall and hiding them in neighbors' yards). Second, they love grubs as much as I hate them. Any time I'm digging in the yard, they are right there with me, waiting for a chance to snap up a juicy grub. They turn those grubs (and a lot of other stuff) into excellent fertilizer. Lastly, they're sweet, easy creatures. I think their temperament is similar to that of cats. They're independent enough to exist alone quite happily as long as I keep their food and water filled but when I'm out there they ask to be petted or held. That's the kind of pet I like.
Mostly because of the chickens, but also due to some other life issues, my garden was pretty sad in 2016. The total harvest from my yard (ignoring the eggs) was 2 tomatoes, which weren't ripe until November and 1 strawberry. I did pull up and sift all the rocks in the front yard, laying down fresh weed barrier. During that project I planted a row of spineless prickly pears, which are coming in nicely. Photos of the cacti later.
Looking forward, this will be a good year. Little Digger is old enough to help me in the garden now. The chickens, rather than running rampant through the yard, are now mostly contained in a large pen. The dog passed away so he can no longer dig things up. The neighbors moved away, taking their dogs with them, so I can garden without being barked at. I am pretty excited.

This year will be good. I will dig. Plants will grow.

I can't wait to get out there.