Saturday, January 29, 2011

Seed Starting, Bok Choi, and the Battle of the Slugs

I've added two new products to my menagerie of garden supplies:

On the left is a liquid concentrate of 3-10-3 (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium).  I've added it in 1/2 the recommended strength to the pump sprayer I use to water my seedlings.  It's heavy in phosphorus, which encourages root growth and I've started fertilizing with it now that I've got a set of true leaves on my seedlings.

The Happy Frog is a similar mixture of 3-4-3.  A small amount is added to the hole when I transplant my seedlings out to the garden.  Hopefully, this will help get my new little veggie plants off to a good start.

The first plants to get it are my bok choi.

A mere 22 days after I started the seeds, my bok choi is ready to be transplanted.  I've put it in my new barrels, hoping that out of all my planting areas, this spot will be most resistant to slugs.

Why worry about slugs, you ask?

I've discovered that bok choi is the single most favorite food of the slugs in my yard.  Case in point, here's a picture of the bok choi I planted over a month ago:

You'll notice these bok choi plants aren't much larger than the ones I just planted above.  That's because ever since I put them in the ground, I've been fending off slugs.  They came from nowhere and disappeared before I could isolate and conquer.  I put out bait, then more bait, then the highly toxic Deadline, all of which they just strolled right past on their way to my little plants.  And the fact that they're tiny and dirt-colored just made it all the more difficult.

In one case, the slugs out and out won.  Here is a picture of the other bok choi I planted on the same day as the two above:

See it there?  Me neither.  That's because the slugs mowed it over the very night it was planted.  The next day it was gone.

I was finally able to find the culprits early, early one morning and again late one night (armed with a flash light and tweezers).  I had to hand pick them off the plants and crush them in the gravel.  I've also instructed my husband to step on any slugs he sees on the path and patio.  Since then, it seems my little choi have been slug free and are finally starting to recover from their near-fatal attack.

I later read in the book Golden Gate Gardening that I need to get control of the slugs before I plant, not after.  (Now, she tells me.)  So, I've been sprinkling around Sluggo in my empty beds, hoping that it will work.   I haven't seen any slugs, though I never do until I plant something delicious. Let's hope this preemptive measure was just the trick I needed.  My new little choi is counting on it!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Plotting and Scheming

Last year was my first year with a garden and I learned one lesson:  If you're growing from seed, the day you discover an empty spot in your veggie beds is not the time to decide to plant something new.  Seeds take time.  And unless you're planting something that can be direct sown in the spot, you'll want to have them started long before you have the space in your garden for a new plant.

You might think that buying nursery plants is the key.  That would allow you to be a little less premeditated about what you're planting and where.  And in many cases it can.  But nursery plants aren't always available when you want them, and besides, starting from seed is fun!

So I've added plotting and scheming to my list of gardening tasks.

I started with what I wanted to plant and how much of it I wanted.  I then poured through my library of gardening books (coupled with the personal experience I gained in my first year) to come up with dates I should be planting my young starts in the garden.  Based on that, I back-dated when I'd need to start the seeds in order to have the plants ready in time.  Then I added a "Done" date to my chart, which represents the date I would most likely be pulling up the plant, thereby making room for something new.

My seed starting and planting chart ended up looking like this:

Then comes the fun part:  Where does it all go?  Enter PowerPoint and it's easy ability to make a picture of my vegetable garden.  The blue shapes are my planting areas.  The little half moon to the left is the shade pattern of my garden.  I need it to remind myself which plants might get shaded by others--a good thing or a bad thing depending on what I'm growing.

I have three of these charts printed for the year, one for spring, summer and fall.  The sample below is my summer one and it's the chart I start with because it's my primary planting season.  I develop the spring and fall chart off this one, taking into account what space I'll have and when.

You'll also note that this is written in pencil.  Half the fun is picking up my charts and "moving stuff around", altering and perfecting where I want things to go.  It's also a record of where I've planted so that I can avoid planting the same thing in the same spot two years in a row, which is something the veteran gardeners advise against.

So there you have it.  This is how I spend my winters.  Pouring through seed catalogs and gardening books, daydreaming about my lush summer garden.  Admittedly, this is the first time I'll be using an actual schedule for my garden.  Last year, I just winged it, but I wasn't happy with all my results.  We'll see if all this plotting and scheming helps.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mushroom Fever

I finished my second garden mushroom.

Here it is at home with the first one I made. This also does a good job in showing the improvement in my technique from the first to the second. Three dimensional mosaic is very challenging, I'm finding out. I'd still like less grout area, and will work to improve that with my next one. Regardless, I'm happy with these little whimsy additions to my yard.