Saturday, April 13, 2013

Suckered by the Sun

My great grandmother used to say "If there's enough blue in the sky to make a pair of Dutchman's breeches, it'll be nice."  While I'm not sure what percentage of blue sky that is (depends on how much the Dutchman in question eats, I suppose), I do know that Washington has a habit of showing little patches of blue sky that are just big enough to sucker you outside so it can rain on you, especially in the spring.

Won't someone think of the poor, homeless gnomes?
However, in a perfect alignment of the stars, a week of sunny weather coincided with my spring break. Temperatures actually hit the seventies - I had to decide if I should put on sunscreen to protect my pasty white Washingtonian complexion.  Such good fortune meant my whole family spent as much time outside as we could, since it's been raining pretty steadily since, oh, October. It also meant we saw how much work we needed to do to get the garden ready. 

The strawberries needed weeding, as did the garlic bed. The compost desperately needed turning and some direct sun to dry it out. The bean vines that we neglected to pull off the trellis last fall needed removal. The blueberries needed separating and transplanting. Luckily, the prospect of spending time in the sun made all of these tasks downright fun – and that's not a word I use lightly when weeding is involved.

This is a bed of pre-shortcake
Parker mainly ate dirt, while I started with the strawberries – last year, we got five sad strawberry starts from my mom. They got even more pathetic when we left them on our patio table for a few weeks after Parker was born. Once we finally planted them, though, they spread like wildfire. Once I had pulled all the weeds out, I was impressed with how many berry plants we have. By next summer, the bed will be fully filled in – weeds won't even have a chance to get started.

Surprise garlic
The garlic bed was a bit of a surprise – we planted garlic last year, but our cat promptly killed it by sleeping in it. We put rocks in between the garlic plants to discourage him, but he apparently just saw a hot stone massage and kept on sleeping in the garlic. We didn't get much, to say the least. Apparently, though, we missed some when we pulled up what we DID get out of the bed last year, because this year, we have a good half-dozen plants doing quite well. So far, the cat hasn't noticed.

My mom was kind enough to donate some well-composted horse manure again. Somehow, with three horses, she never has a shortage! We got one truckload to top off all the garden beds. Randy dug it all in. Last year, we simply filled the beds with the composted manure and planted in that; we didn't dig up the turf at all. This year, Randy went deeper. It was easy to tell when he hit native soil; the rocks scraping against the shovel made it more than evident. Happily, the beds are crawling with worms of all sizes – I love to see that! It means the soil is healthy and the plants will grow.
Look at those worms - three just in that clump!

We got a few planters from Home Depot for the blueberries – last year, all four plants were in one Rubbermaid tub. We got a few berries anyway (it would have been more, but I showed Zoey what they were and it was Game Over). We also put down a thick layer of manure on the ground under them – we're going to try to transplant some strawberries over here, too, since it's impossible to have too many strawberries.
They're much happier now.

Finally, we got the gutters in the greenhouse filled up. We got the greenhouse from Randy's parents last summer and haven't really used it yet, so it will be quite the exciting endeavor this year. We put three gutters on either side; last fall when we got it set up, we planted a variety of herb seeds and seeds we saved from our garden. Nothing grew. Imagine my surprise when we opened it up to find two pea plants in full bloom! By the end of the week, they even had pods growing on them – peas in April? Inconceivable!

Surprise peas!
Mostly, we plan to use the greenhouse for tomatoes and peppers, which we've never grown. Peppers need warm nights, which don't happen here during the optimal time to plant peppers, so we're going to track how warm the greenhouse stays at night to see if it's feasible...and then try it anyway. Randy discovered a packet of pepper seeds we got with bottles we ordered a couple of years ago when we made hot sauce; he decided to give them a try to see if they'll grow. He soaked the seeds for a few hours and then planted them in a pot in our bedroom (the only room that has a windowsill and no children). Hopefully they grow – and survive transplanting!

Greenhouse gutters - waiting for peppers!
After doing all the prep work, we were almost ready to start planting – the warmth had us convinced that it really is almost summer, and everything would grow just fine. After all, we found peas not only in the greenhouse, but sprouting in one of the garden beds, self-started from dropped seeds last fall. Then Washington remembered what month it is and started to rain and cool off again, putting us back into wait mode. At least now all the prep work is done, so when it warms up for real, we'll be ready to plant immediately.

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