Sunday, June 21, 2015

Gardening Notes

I used to do a lot of gardening before I got married. I lived with my mom for a few years, and she had a yard with some empty space. Mom's into instant gratification, so she mostly bought plants and pots. I've always liked planting seeds; watching them push up out of the soil, get their first set of leaves, and another, and another, and grow into something that has flowers -- that's pretty cool.

Every spring (which in California is, like, February, or maybe late January) I'd start planting seeds in pots or trays or whatever containers I could get ahold of. I used the lids of paper boxes once, but they were really too shallow, and they dried out too fast, being cardboard and all. After we'd been doing this for a couple of years, I'd saved up a bunch of the plastic six-packs and pony packs and small plastic pots that Mom's plants from the nursery had come in, and used those. They worked much better.

Around March or April (I honestly don't remember anymore -- it depended on the weather and how I felt) I'd get out this ancient pickaxe we'd inherited from when my grandparents owned the house, and go over the beds. The soil in Cupertino is dry and sandy and gravelly, and it produces a fine crop of rocks, up to fist-size and occasionally larger, all on its own. No matter how I worked it, or what amendments we put into it (we tried peat moss, compost, actual potting soil, and various combinations) it was back to its dry, pebbly self by the end of the season at latest. I dug down about eighteen inches or so, then mixed in whatever we were adding that year with a spade, so we had great soil to plant out my babies.

By mid-summer, the yard was blooming with pansies and alyssum and baby's breath and yarrow and delphiniums and columbines and carnations and sweet peas and lobelia. All right, I'll admit I had great beginner's luck with the delphs, and could never get them to sprout after that first year. :/ But the delphs kept coming back, mostly, for a few years; I think the last plants finally gave up after four or five. They were gorgeous while they lasted.

And the alyssum and carnations and sweet peas smelled wonderful. Flowers are supposed to stink real pretty, you know? :)

I haven't done that in a long time, though. I planted some columbines in pots while we were in our first apartment in Long Beach, and some bowls balanced on the fence at the condo, but it wasn't the same. My health got worse, and I couldn't get out to tend plants every day.

But now we're in Seattle and I have a little yard, so I thought I'd try it again.

Mind, the yard gets like four and a half minutes of sun per day, and less if it's cloudy, which... well, this is Seattle. But there are plants that do okay in shade, so I'm giving it a shot.

I'm not used to gardening in an area where it gets below freezing every year, though, much less an area where it snows, like two years out of three, at least a little. Wait, seasons? What are seasons...? :P When can you plant seeds outside? I didn't want to get everything sprouted and then have it all freeze. My husband noticed a local community ed program had a workshop coming up for starting seeds, though, and that helped. I didn't go, but I figured if they were planting seeds on a particular date, then it was probably safe, so I decided to plant mine shortly after.

I ordered a bunch of seeds online, and decided to try those pressed cardboard type pots, the ones you can supposedly plant right in the dirt? Although I have no intention of doing that, because I read somewhere that although they do break down eventually, they maintain their rigidity long enough that the plants end up essentially rootbound anyway. But the site I ordered from didn't have the little plastic pots I'd seen in nurseries (basically the 4" pots small plants come in when you buy them; I bought some while experimenting with containers back in the '90s and they were like a quarter a piece). All they had were either shallow little seed trays that required a ridiculous amount of space, or these compressed pots, so there you go.

Bad idea.

The problem is that they dry out like crazy. I water every day, and they're still bone dry by the next watering time. With plastic pots, moisture can only evaporate through the top, but with these compressed pots, moisture can exit from all sides. Which I suppose isn't a major problem if you have an extra-humid greenhouse, or if you sit your pots in huge trays of water. I suppose I could do the latter, but I was born and raised in California, which has droughts with depressing regularity. A wide, shallow tray of water evaporates like crazy, which is a huge waste. So. :/

And about a week ago, I went out to find my plants all knocked around, and some of the pots were bent or broken. Someone's cat got curious. :/ I picked things up and put them back together as best I could, but I lost a lot of plants, including all of my pansies, which really ticks me off.

I've had cats crapping in my pots before, and this is a similar problem. If it happens again, I'll get some mousetraps. They're great -- they sting hard enough to make Mr. Kitty yowl, but don't do any real damage. Great deterrents; even the dimmest cat eventually gets the message.

In the mean time, though, I have a lot less to plant out than I was hoping. Losing all the pansies is really annoying.

I have about half the alyssums left, some Shasta daisies (planted for my husband, because he likes daisies; I've never planted them from seed before, so this is an experiment), about half the lobelia, and some snapdragons, which I've also never planted before, for whatever reason.

Somewhere in this process, my husband started talking about how he'd love to grow some tomatoes.

Umm, okay. The problem is that tomatoes need sun, and we don't have any in the yard. But then I noticed that our little balcony off the living room (which is on the second floor, because Seattle) gets some sun. Huh, that might work.

At that point it was too late to plant tomato seeds, so I told him to look through the online site I'd used and find a tomato plant he wanted to try. I'd order the plant and put it in a pot on the balcony. He was happy with that, but he's almost as good a procrastinator as I am. :P Finally, about a week and a half ago, I went online to order a tomato plant for him. He could live with whatever I got, and maybe next year he'd pick one for himself, earlier.

Except it turns out you can't order just one plant from this site. They sell them in threes only, and I really didn't want three tomato plants taking over our tiny (no, really, it's miniscule) balcony. They'll do a mix-and-match thing with three different plants, though, so okay, I could live with that. I set up a three-pack with a tomato, plus basil and chives, and went to process the order.

Oops, they apparently can't ship live chives to Washington state. No clue why. :/

I tried a couple of other herbs, and they all got bounced. Of course, none of the plant listings tell you ahead of time which states they don't ship to. [sigh] I finally gave up and got another tomato plant, different kind. We'll see which one works best.

The tomatos arrived the other day, which was pretty cool. I've never ordered plants by mail before, and was wondering how they'd be packed. Turns out they have these little three-cell plastic clamshell packs, inside a cardboard box. The root balls are pretty small, but the plants seem healthy, only a bit battered from shipping.

The next step is "hardening them off," which I've never done before, because see above re: California. Apparently you have to keep the plants inside for a day or two, then them used to being outdoors slowly, a few hours a day, until they're ready to be outside full time, like big, grown-up plants. Umm, okay. [bemused smile]

So I have two tomato plants and one basil plant living in the downstairs bathroom, in the sink (because the tub is used for storage -- boxes and an old printer and stuff -- with the light on 24/7. I just put them outside for the first time. I hope they don't, like, die of shock or anything, and that Mr. Kitty doesn't show up. :/


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