Preparing and Planting a Spring Lettuce Bed

Lovely weather–finally!–on Friday and Saturday here, and so I got outside and got busy by preparing and planting a lettuce bed.  I had lettuce starts as well as a few baby Walla Walla Sweet onion starts that I had grown indoors under lights from seed, and I had been hardening them off for about three weeks (didn’t need to do it for that long, but it was so cold and rainy I never could get them planted until now.)  Anyway, here is the process I use, which originates with Steve Solomon’s method in his book, Gardening When It Counts.

The first step is weed removal.  Last year in this spot I had tomatoes planted, so the dirt was pretty friable from the tomato’s extensive roots loosening it up for me, so it didn’t take too long to weed it.

These are the tools I used for this project:  shovel, metal rake, and a two-in-one tool that is great for breaking up the soil, hoeing in between rows of plants, and weeding.  Plus I used a measuring tape and a small hand shovel.

Next I applied fertilizer.  This is complete organic fertilizer that I mix myself–Solomon’s recipe is 4 parts seed meal, 1 part dolomite lime, 1 part bone meal, and 1/2 part kelp meal.  This bed is about four feet wide by six feet long, and because lettuce needs highly fertile soil to grow well, I put 1 and 3/4 quarts of fertilizer on the bed.

Next I placed a 1/4 inch-thick layer of homemade compost on top of the fertilizer.  This compost is wonderful–full of worms to take all this wonderful stuff down into the soil.  I wish I had five-times the amount of this stuff, but can only produce so much with my available resources.

I use the shovel to dig the fertilizer and compost in.  (That’s a parsley that wants to grow there in the front, so okay with me.)

After digging, the bed is lumpy and not level, so I use the metal rake to break up large clumps and get the bed level and as smooth as I can.

Now it’s smooth and ready for planting lettuce and onion starts.  It’s still a little too lumpy if I was wanting to plant seeds, however, so a little trick I like to use is to put seed-starting mix just in the rows where you’ll plant the seed, and that way they have no trouble germinating and coming up through that light and airy mix, and by the time they get big enough they can reach down into the regular soil to expand their roots.

The lettuce and onion starts.  I am planting ‘Two Star’ looseleaf lettuce, ‘Bullet’ green romaine, ‘Red Iceburg’ crisphead, and ‘New Red Fire’ looseleaf lettuces, plus a few ‘Walla Walla Sweet’ onions and a very few ‘Pacific Pearl’ scallion/bunching onions to finish up a little bit of seed I had leftover from last year.  The lettuce starts are in a 6-pack, and the onion starts in a 4-inch container.  I started the seeds indoors back at the end of February.

Since I put two seeds into each 6-pack cell, and the seed is new and fresh, I had good germination and got two plants per cell, mostly.  So I carefully separate the baby plants, making sure both lettuce starts have their root systems intact as much as I can.  This is ‘Two Star’ looseleaf.

I use the rake handle to press into the soil to make straight lines indicating the rows where I will plant the lettuce and onion starts.  These rows are about 12 inches apart.

Then I plant the starts using a small hand shovel.  I planted them about 9-10 inches apart on the row, so I got four plants on a four-foot long row.  The onions I planted 2 inches apart, because I can thin them at the green onion stage to use for cooking, so it’s okay to plant them closer.

The finished lettuce and onion bed.  After this, I carefully watered them in, and sprinkled Sluggo around the plants, because these babies are like ambrosia to slugs.

Because our weather patterns are imitating Siberia for as long as possible this cold and rainy spring, and it may go down below 40 degrees at night–the lowest night temperature at which lettuce will grow–I went ahead and covered the whole bed with pvc plastic hoops and clear plastic held down with rocks at the edges. 

That’s it.  Did you have fun in the sun in your garden this past weekend?  Do tell in the comments.  And visit the Garden Party.


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Indoor Seedlings

I have gobs of seeds that I have started inside, and they have been germinating.  I have no fancy equipment, but everything seems to be working so that they are growing, which is good.  Here are some pictures:

This is a closeup of several vegetable starts.  I’ve got some ‘Bullet’ romaine lettuce that is growing very well in the back in a six-pack, and in front of that a couple of ‘Gardener’s Delight’ cherry tomatoes that I am planning on planting out early under plastic, because I am starved for ripe garden tomatoes (!)  In front of that are some ‘Walla Walla Sweet’ onion starts.  I use an egg carton to get a little air circulating under my seed potatoes.  These are early ones–‘Dark Red Norland’ potatoes.

Here is part of the flotilla of baby tomatoes that I started from seed!  This year I am growing these varieties:

  • ‘Gardener’s Delight’–because we had such a bad growing year here last year, I wanted to give these a try again to confirm my findings, but these cherry tomatoes, which for me have been a little larger than ‘Super Sweet 100’ cherry tomatoes, are supposed to not split as easily as the Super Sweets, so we shall see.
  • ‘Costoluto Genovese’–I plant this tomato every year.  Very reliable here, and produces quite a bit of fruit.  Very tasty as well.
  • ‘Super Marzano Hybrid’–I have in years past gotten ‘San Marzano’ seed, and have been very pleased with them, so am trying the Super hybrid to see if it’s any better.  These are a Roma-like tomato excellent for drying, but are also delicious sliced and eaten in salads.
  • ‘Brandywine’–These produce gorgeous and huge tomatoes late in the season, but lately we’ve had cold weather late in the season, so I am only doing a few of these this year.  However, I look forward to them–very good flavor.
  • ‘Cherokee Purple’–I am trying a few of these to see how they do in my garden.  Jamie at An Oregon Cottage blog recommended them and said she’s had good luck with them, so I thought I’d give them a try as well.

I also am growing several different types of flowers from seed this year.  Above are some lavender multibloom geramiums.  (Now, in actuality, these are really called pelargonium, and there is a different plant known as a hardy geranium, and they’re not the same.  However, this is how it was labeled from the seed seller.)  I bought 11 seeds for just under three dollars, so they are a little expensive.  However, I got 10 to germinate, and when you consider that even on sale pelargonium plants are at least one dollar apiece, I think I came out way ahead on that deal.  These seeds are not for the faint of heart at seed starting, however:  tiny little things–don’t want to be planting in the wind or blow your nose at the wrong moment!  I used a tiny little baby spoon to get out one seed at a time, and then I placed it in the center of each container.  That works pretty well for small seeds–petunias are another type that I started from seed, and they are expensive and very small as well.  I don’t normally grow a huge amount of flowers from seed, but I just went a little nuts this year and decided to go for it, so I could do my hanging baskets and containers in hopefully very beautiful ways this season!

It’s been cold and incessantly rainy here, so I am waiting for it to warm up so I can get back outside more.  What is happening in your garden–let me know in the comments!

Visit An Oregon Cottage Blog as well.

Early Gardening Activities For February

I got my vegetable and flower seeds ordered and bought last week.  I normally do this in person, but circumstances this year did not allow for that, so I ordered almost all online.  I ordered from Territorial Seed, Johnny’s, and I am trying Pinetree based on their great prices as well as Jami’s word of recommendation at An Oregon Cottage.  They have a glorious selection of coleus seed, and I went a little crazy with that, but I should have some really gorgeous hanging baskets and containers this year, because I could get seeds that had been sorted into individual colors rather than mixes–I cannot wait!  I will be starting flower seeds around Valentine’s Day, so they’ll be ready to transplant in the middle of May.  I was actually a little late apparently getting my order in at Johnny’s, because they had already run out or had backorders for a couple of the seeds I wanted, but I was able to get my second choices, so it all worked out.  They are really expensive for their shipping costs, but they are also the only place I know to get ‘Nadia’ eggplant seed (a must-have for me because it grows well here, or rather, as well as any eggplant grows here), and they were cheaper in certain instances than Territorial.  I had to figure out the seed cost on a per seed basis (I was seeing double by the end of that mathematical experience), and sometimes Johnny’s was cheaper and sometimes Territorial.  (If you buy a lot of seed, the cost adds up very quickly.  All those packets look so innocent, and you think,”Well, it’s only a couple of dollars.” but it ends up being a lot of money if you are not careful.)  It’s best to get all your seed in the spring, because seed is not always available later in the season, so it always seems expensive to me, but when you consider how much food and flowers it will produce, it’s actually much cheaper than other options, like buying transplants from a nursery.

I got a few little jobs accomplished yesterday out in the garden.  First, I started a little bit of onion, lettuce and spinach seed inside under grow lights to get a few transplants to go outside under plastic in March.  Today I started sprouting my early ‘Dark Red Norland’ seed potatoes inside under lights, as those will be planted out later around the first weekend in April, depending on the weather.  You can read how to do it here.

Next, I moved on to the flower beds.  Slugs are always around, and so I took Sluggo and put it around all my emerging bulb foliage, the hostas, tradscantia and hellebores.  (That’ll fix ’em .)  I then picked the dead leaves off of my ‘Asao’ and ‘Louise Rowe’ clematis vines.  The weather has been fairly warm here, and many of the clematis and roses are starting to break dormancy, so there was a lot of new growth on both.  (The fruit trees and hydrangeas are also beginning to break dormancy as well.)  Now they look a lot neater.  I tied them back into position, so they are all ready to go.

I then noticed the curb strip was looking a little worse for wear, so I went down and cut down dead foliage, and raked up leaves that had caught around the plant crowns.  I used those leaves to mulch nearby flower beds, so that worked out well.

After that, I picked a little mustard greens, arugula and swiss chard that had wintered over under plastic in the garden!  Made greens and feta with penne pasta for dinner with some of it. 

I have yellow crocus and winter aconite blooming–so pretty.  My snowdrops have been blooming for a couple of weeks now, and the winter jasmine is in gorgeous display.  ‘Arnold Promise’ Chinese witch hazel is blooming, but it had a lot of the flower buds blasted by freezing temperatures early this winter, so not so many flowers this time around.  The ‘Texas Scarlet’ flowering quince is about to bloom.  There are even one or two blooms on the forsythia, very early.  And the viburnum continue to bloom off and on–they got their buds frozen late last year, so fewer blooms there, but more appear as the weather warms.  The ‘ Tuscan Blue’ rosemary has also been blooming for a couple of weeks, but much more now as the weather warms.  The rosemary is situated right in front of our dining room windows, and the hummingbirds are often out there eating from the rosemary flowers!

Hope your garden is doing well–leave me a comment and let me know what you are doing in yours.

Please visit An Oregon Cottage for The Garden Party.

Garden Update and Troubleshooting Guide

I am in Southwest Washington State, gardening zone 8, and until recently the weather has been extremely cold for this time of year and damp.  Last week, it shot up to 99 degrees.  The plants actually loved all that warm weather, as did I, although I was out watering vegetable beds twice a day to keep them going in the heat.  Here is a little guided tour of the vegetable beds:

The Cukes:

Now, I know you’re being polite, but you’re probably thinking to yourself, “That bed looks mighty empty.”  And I would concur.  This is due to my having to replant this bed three times before anything would grow.  I did chitted cuke seeds, which worked very well last year, twice, and twice they all died but the one bigger one at the bottom of the photo.  I then decided that I should plant plain old seeds in the 90 degree weather we had last week.  I kept the bed watered, which you typically are not supposed to do with cuke chitted seeds, and four days later all these babies appeared!  So now I have all salad slicing cukes, because I ran out of pickling cuke seed in all the replants, and they are about 2-3 weeks later than they should be.  Such is life in my vegetable beds this year.  And did I mention that I am a Master Gardener and have been through all the training, and have about ten+ years of vegetable growing experience under my belt?  So don’t feel bad if you have problems sometimes in your garden–we all do at one time or another!  The trick is to think like a detective and try to figure out how to fix it or do it better or differently next time to get a different result, hopefully a better one.  Also, notice I still have hoops and plastic in place–I cover this bed every night it is below 60 degrees or until the plants outgrow the hoop area.  Cukes, eggplant and peppers require it to be 60 degrees at night before they will set fruit and the fruit will mature, so if Mother Nature does not provide that for the plants, you need to do it for them.  This is one big reason why people can’t get eggplant and peppers to mature around here–it’s too cold and we have a short growing season because it takes forever for the temperatures to warm up at night in the spring (and this year in the summer until about last week).  The only way I’ve been successful with eggplant and peppers is to cover them at night, and then they produce well.  Usually.

The Eggplant, Peppers and Green Onions: (Voted Most Likely To Succeed)

 

So this bed looks a bit better than the last one.  To my eye, the plants are on the small side for this time of year, and that is purely due to cold temperatures for the entire month of June.  Also, I cannot for the life of me get green onions to germinate from seed outside.  I followed all of Steve Solomon’s tips, to no avail.  So I tried some thing different to get a different result–I started some seed inside under light, and transplanted the little guys out when they were big enough–about 4-5 inches tall.  They are doing alright, but they too would prefer some warmer weather.  No flowers yet on the eggplant (and they are a gorgeous lavender color!), but the peppers have a few flowers and baby peppers on them.  Now you may notice some leaf damage to the pepper plant in the corner.  Here is more of a close up of the damage to the leaves on some of the bigger peppers:

You see those holes and part of the leaves chewed off?  That is slug damage.  How do I know?  Experience gardening here–slugs are notorious for this, and I saw a huge slug on the inside of the plastic when I uncovered this bed today.  Remedy:  Pick the slugs off when you see them and smash them to bits with a rock.  Not the violent type like I am when I see a slug?  You can also put out beer traps and Sluggo.  A good and cheap slug trap is to get a clean and empty cottage cheese carton or a yogurt carton with a lid.  Use an exacto knife to carefully cut slug-sized holes in the upper side of the container(go slow and be careful–easy to cut yourself doing this–don’t ask how I know), then fill it with beer (don’t use non-alcoholic beer–it won’t attract the little devils–alcoholics all–don’t ask how I know), and then put the lid on it.  Dig a little hole in the dirt so the holes in your container are level with the soil line, and put the container in the hole.  Come back in a couple of days, and there should be drowned slugs in the container, which you can empty in the trash and refill with beer and replace.  Hey, at least they die happy.

The Beans:

They look pretty good–about where they ought to be for this time of year and when I planted them.  I have both bush beans and runner beans. 

The runner beans produce red and lavender flowers that the hummingbirds love, so I planted these right next to our pergola so we could see some hummers up close, and then from the flowers come the beans.  It doesn’t look like much at the moment, but it will soon be covered with bean vines and flowers, and eventually, beans for dinner and freezing.  I put garden twine on the outer edges of the trellis to provide more room for the outer bean plants to grow up.  Here’s a close up or two:

I use what I have to hold those strings taut in the dirt–a heavy wire u-shaped garden staple, or even tent stakes.  Tie your string on, and then use a mallet to drive them into the dirt.  Easy.  The beans will climb up those strings–you might have to point them in the right direction to give them a little help at first.

The bush beans are next to the peppers, so guess what I noticed is going on up there?

In the bottom-left corner of the photo you will see the telltale holes and unevenly chewed edges on a few of the leaves indicating slug damage.  And now you know what to do about that.  However, you will also notice that most of the plants are clean and look great, so this is a relatively small issue.  C’est la vie.  I may just sprinkle a little Sluggo around the chomped plant and call it good.

The Corn and Pumpkins: (Voted Best Body)

Just had room for one little bed, but they are doing as well as can be expected due to the colder weather we’ve had.  I would like these plants to be bigger (kind of a recurring theme with me, you’ve probably noticed), but the good news is that they are pest and disease free, which is great–a success story!

They would be happier with more sun and warmer weather.  (So would I. )  I probably should cover these with plastic, but I took it off because we had company over, and the plastic was pretty ugly.  Perhaps an excuse to get some better looking plastic.  Is there such a thing?  I could also cover them with row covers, but they are quite expensive to buy so plastic it probably will be.

The Tomatoes: 

They loved the warm weather last week, and shot up!  Still, very few have flowers yet, no green tomatoes yet.  I have one tomatillo at the end that has some flowers–yay!

This is about half of our tomato crop this year.  I hope we have a “crop”–come on warm weather!

Okay, I have kept the worst for last.  That honor goes to . . . (drum roll, please):

The Salad Greens and The Potatoes: (Mustard Greens voted Miss Congeniality)

I have had so much trouble with the salad beds this year, beds that ordinarily are really super easy to grow.  First off, could not get any lettuce seeds whatsoever to germinate outside.  I finally am starting some seed inside under lights so that I can transplant it out.  Next, I have planted the mustard greens that will not die.  Seriously.  We had a warm winter, and I started a bed very early, on Feb. 2nd, of course covered with plastic.  We had salad greens to eat for dinner in four weeks!  Only thing was, all the the cold-tolerant seeds that I had planted, like spinach, beets, arugula, swiss chard, etc., all had been overtaken by the mustard greens.  So I think to myself, not a problem, quit your whining, at least you have salad from the garden in March!  So then I started another bed in March with a variety of seed types, and guess what?  All mustard greens again.  The problem continues, but to a lesser extent now that the weather has warmed up a bit, and I have clued in.  I think what was going on is that I used my own homemade compost on the beds, and my guess is that I had composed mustard greens that had gone to seed, and the seed did not die but remained viable over the winter, and then when I added fertilizer to the bed, they said “Yippie!” and shot up, smothering the other plants.  I have been trying to be more scrupulous about keeping the beds weeded, but as you can see, I have a lot of beds, and I am the only gardener in the family, so I do my best to keep up, but in all honesty I hate weeding (don’t tell the Master Gardeners–they’ll excommunicate me), and it sometimes finds its way to the bottom of my gardening to-do list.  But I do love salad, and so I have been trying to mend my wicked ways.

(Notice the gigantic mustard green leering at them from the other bed.)  The rows need to be thinned, and I can take the thinned out ones and either replant them in all the empty rows that had lettuce seed in them, or I can put them in tonight’s salad.  A win-win situation.  And if I am going to be really on top of things, the old mustard greens that have now gone to seed?  I will cut off the flower and seed heads and those will go into the trash rather than the compost heap.

Now for the potatoes.  As readers of my blog know, I have been battling flea beetles out here all season.  Several factors led to this situation, the biggest one being a long cold and wet spring and summer until a couple of weeks ago.  Normally in the past, I have applied diatomaceous earth early when I first notice leaf pin hole damage on early growth, and that tends to get rid of them.  Then normally the weather warms up and the flea beetles are no longer a problem, because they tend to go after new growth on potatoes and tomatoes for me, but they get killed or are less interested in the older growth on plants.  Well, along came the Spring and Early Summer of Our Weather Discontent.  Because it stayed cold for so long, the flea beetles really dug in and caused a lot more damage than they normally do.  Thus the following pictures:

I did everything right in starting these potatoes.  I spaced them correctly(rows should be 36″ apart on the centers).  I started with certified clean seed potatoes from a reputable nursery(if you use potatoes that come from the grocery store, you run the risk of introducing the disease called scab into the soil, which is very hard to eradicate once there).  I used the appropriate fertilizer on the hills (which is complete organic fertilizer minus the dolomite lime, or four parts seed or alfalfa meal, one part bone meal and a half-part kelp meal.)  I planted them at the right time (when the minimun air temperature is at least 43-45 degrees and the minimum soil temperature is at least 39-41 degrees–I planted on April 20th, but could have done it even a couple of weeks earlier but was too busy).  As they grew I hilled them up properly, ending with hills that are about 10 inches tall and about 18 inches wide.  What more could a potato ask for?  Well, it could ask to not be devoured by flea beetles, apparently. 

The good news is that it was really hot last week, and I am hoping that put a damper on the flea beetles.  I also found out that diatomaceous earth will harm beneficial insects, so then I ran to the gardening center to find something that would work on organically grown vegetables that actually works.  I ended up with Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew.  This I sprayed on the tops and bottoms of the potato leaves and vines twice.  I think that, plus the warming weather, helped to stop the infestation.  I am seeing dark green leaves with almost no leaf damage now.  This stuff is not perfect, however, because it can kill bees for up to three hours after application.  The good news is that there are no bees around these plants because they have no flowers yet, so the bees were kept safe.  I am a little worried that there are no flowers yet–it seems pretty late in the growing season to not have flowers.  I guess time will tell with this bed.

I will be writing other posts soon about how to troubleshoot problems in your garden, so tune in frequently!

I don’t want this to be a complete gardening buzz-kill post, so here are some pictures I took this morning of pretty flowers and other plants.

Summer jasmine, dark purple ‘Jackmanii’ clematis and lighter lavender ‘General Sikorski’ clematis

This is ‘Niobe’ clematis reblooming.  If you keep this one deadheaded, and fertilize once a month, it will usually bloom through September.

This is the Garage Rooftop Garden.

Flowers and grasses and sedums.  Okay, I gotta confess–that green tall plant has a story.  Went to a plant sale, saw a plant, liked the plant, bought the plant.  Got plant home, realized it had no name tag, and I had forgotten the name of the plant on the drive home.  Solution:  Pot the plant up and get it to flower so that I can identify the plant.  (Sheesh, I hope no other Master Gardeners are reading this . . . excommunication here I come . . .)

A plant rack I got for $5 for a pair of them at a salvage yard (!), attached to the fence and filled with strawberry plants.  And do you know that slugs still occasionally find the fortitude to climb all the way up there?  (Dirty bastids . . .)

 My basil plant flotilla.  ‘Genovese’ basil.  The flower container is filled with coleus that I started from seed, a burgundy petunia, ‘Cambridge Blue’ lobelia that I started from seed, and Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’.

That’s all I got.  Please visit the Tuesday Garden Party for more gardening fun!

 


Planted The Last Of The Tomato Starts

Yesterday I planted twelve tomato plants that I started from seed back in March.  I put them in a front terrace that originally held flowers, but I needed more room to grow vegetables, so the center of the bed is now devoted to veggis and the flowers ring it on either side.  The soil is very full of clay, and so I added several buckets of homemade compost to help lighten it a bit, plus fertilizer and dug it all in.  Then I planted the starts, which include these varieties:

  • ‘Gardener’s Delight’ cherry tomato  (supposed to not split like other cherry tomatoes–we’ll see)
  • ‘Brandywine’ tomato (a wonderful, late in the season producing heirloom tomato)
  • ‘San Marzano’ paste tomato (looks like a Roma, has great flavor and less water inside, so it works well for drying)
  • ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomato (this is my go-to tomato plant, which along with the ‘San Marzanos’, has pretty much replaced my use of ‘Early Girl’.  The Costolutos have rumpled shoulders and are an heirloom variety that produces lots, as does the San Marzano.)

Here’s a picture from a couple of seasons ago of Costoluto:

Also another tip:  I like to put my plant labels on the top of the tomato cage, so I can read them even when the plant gets big.  I use electrical tape, which you can get at the hardware store, to tape the label in place at the top of the cage. 

I also started a few more ‘Pacific Pearl’ green onion seeds inside under lights.  I planted out my green onion starts yesterday, so we’ll see how they do.  I have not been able to get those to start outside from seed, so I tried transplants this year instead.  I also planted out my ‘Cinderella’ pumpkin chitted seeds yesterday in prepared hills, and some dill seed in an empty hole I had in one of the salad greens beds.

I still have more basil starts to plant out, and I am quickly running out of room in containers–I may need to find another in-ground spot for some of them.

I soaked morning glory seeds overnight, and will plant them on a decorative blue and white gate that I use in the garden just as a decoration, and on a metal tuteur, so they have room to grow up, and hopefully cover the gate and metal with flowers.

Hope you can get out into the sunshine and get gardening today, or at least this weekend!  How are your plants doing thus far?  Are you harvesting anything yet?  Feel free to leave a comment!