Thursday, May 6, 2010

Take risks! jump in!

I'm going in! The forecast has no frosts through May 15th, which is the average last frost date - so I'm going to plant my tomatoes and everything that I was going to plant indoors last week (like marigolds) outdoors today or tomorrow (depending on the weather). Then I will pray. And possibly find out who has extra floating row cover (a white, floaty mesh covering for plants in case of late frosts - it has to be hooped up over the plants with pvc piping). I only need a little bit, so it would be a shame to buy a whole row.

My tomatoes are tall enough to be staked at this point. The peppers didn't respond well to hardening off, so I lost 2 plants in the cold frame, but that's okay. the few calendula and daisies the survived the dampening off epidemic that hit this spring are going strong. The leeks are spindly and never quite grew well. I can't tell why, but I'll try to transplant them and see how they do. I've decided I'm going to grow several of the smaller tomato varieties (Garden peach and also the ground cherries) in pots so as to have them right at my doorstep. I'm also going to try to keep the black krim in a pot, though I don't know how much they like that, seeing as they're big plants. the sauce tomatoes will be fine in the garden. I have a steady supply of chives, oregano, sage, marjoram, and rhubarb from my landlord's garden

Lettuce, chard, kale, chives, and chamomile have all germinated. More calendula has been direct seeded in the garden, which will be coming up soon. The peas are going strong and climbing up the trellis. Everything has been thinned. I'm doing basic weeding, but keeping off until the little veggies get a bit bigger so I don't weed them by mistake (and because weeds are easier to pull when they have 4 leaves). My constant weed struggle currently is with the morning glory vines that insist on popping up everywhere and grow faster than humanly imaginable. The thistle in the northwest corner of the garden is, sadly, growing strong. I might take a scythe to it to keep it from flowering.

Sorry for the lack of updating. I'v been too busy lounging outside and enjoying the weather.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wool Dusters vs. Swiffer Nation, and other old timey cleaning suggestions

It's Monday and I have the strange sense that going back to work is actually going to be like taking time off. This weekend I embarked on the great journey that is Spring Cleaning.

For the uninitiated, spring cleaning is different than your regular ho hum sweep-and-mop cleaning. It is moving everything (yes, including the couch and the dresser), getting the dust out of the corners and high-up places, throwing stuff out, reorganizing closets and pantries, and really getting the settled winter grime OUT! Two days and two absolutely exhausted evening foot baths later, my living room is still upside-down, books are sprawled everywhere, the fridge is pretty much empty, and the cat is utterly confused about the new state of things. however, the floors are spotless, the pantry is finally sensible, all of the winter's mouse holes in the walls are stopped up with steel wool, and I finally have enough drawer space for my clothing upstairs (read - my clothing's default home is no longer on the floor).

Over the weekend I have, unfortunately, discovered that the world no longer believes in proper wool dusters. Apparently, everyone uses Swiffers now. To be honest, I only know what Swiffers are thanks to a year spent living in college dorms, but I know them well enough to know that they are tacky and disposable, so I am opposed to them on principal. Nothing, in my experience, has ever worked so well as a proper wool duster (on an extendable pole for high-up windows or under the bed). The duster just needs a good shake outside to clean it, and it's good for a generation or so with no need to replace anything. The Swiffer, on the other hand, is just a ploy to get us to buy baby-wipes for the bottom of a fake mop that "dusts" while releasing noxious "Hawaiian Breeze" scent into an otherwise decent-smelling living room. My grumpy old lady tendencies aside, suffice it to say that I truly regret the sacrifice of useful and long-lasting cleaning tools to the god of profitability in the form of disposable parts. If I can't find a nice wool duster at my local barn sale, I'm going to buy myself one at Lehman's, a lovely Mennonite catalogue, and I'll still be using it in 20 years, thankyouverymuch.

For those of you who are about to embark on that gratifying and hilarious task of spring cleaning, I have a few suggestions:

Cleaning Sinks
The best way to clean a sinks while keeping drains open is with that great marvel of second great science experiments - baking soda and vinegar. Scrub down the sink with a good helping of baking soda. Add some extra soda to the drain for good measure, then upend a quarter to a half gallon of cheap, white vinegar over the soda, rinsing it off of the sides of the sink and down the drain for a good ten minutes. In the mean time, boil a full kettle of water. After the bubbling has stopped, dump the boiling water into the drain. I clean out my sinks this way every other week, rinsing with very hot tap water instead of boiling water. I reserve a double course of boiling water for thorough cleanings once a season or when my drains start backing up.

It was to my utter surprise that I discovered that proper broom corn brooms are quaint and old fashioned (a good friend let me know by laughing at my broom as if my life were a quaint caricature of old timey living). For those of you who use plastic brooms instead of proper grass ones, let me tell you, you are missing out! Nothing sweeps like a good, wide broom corn broom (it's called broom corn for a reason!). They last longer and are much more effective than their plastic alternatives when paired with a standard dustpan and small dust broom (or a whisk broom if you are so inclined - though even I use a plastic broom for my dustpan). Store your broom by hanging it off a hook or nail or standing it upside-down. if you stand any broom on its sweeping end, it will bend and become useless very soon. If you vacuum rather than sweeping, I highly suggest trying out sweeping. It's quiet, calm, and just as fast and effective. Vacuuming is an assault on ears and the senses. It was invented by that horror that is wall-to-wall carpeting which should really be ashamed of itself for all of the horror and tackiness it has brought into this world. Go and get out some tension by hanging your rugs on a line or over a sturdy tree branch and beating the hell out of them with the broom handle. It really is the best part of spring cleaning, especially if there's someone you'd rather beat the hell out of for not helping out enough.

Laundry separation
As I'm sure you already know, there are 5 (not 2, 3, or 7) baskets for laundry needing attention in the bedroom (listed from largest to smallest basket) - colors, whites, hand wash, fix (for clothing that needs sewing or patching), and dry clean. It helps to also have a kitchen laundry area for tablecloths, towels, and napkins and a utility room laundry basket for rags (in my case, the "utility room" is under the sink). Despite this careful separation, I tend to wash my whites and colors together in cold water, reserving a "whites only" hot and bleached wash (though I use hydrogen perozide instead of bleach) once a year when things get noticeably dingy (the exception being new colored clothing - which tends to leach color and is always washed separately its first time). I also hand wash my dry-clean only clothes but this has more to do with the fact that there are no decent dry cleaning places around here than anything else.

Washing floors
I don't know who told anyone otherwise, but there is only one way to wash floors - mop, bucket, and soap (usually floor soup). anything else, including Swiffers or floor sprays are gimmicks and they'll probably kill your cat they're so toxic. The reason is quite simple - if your floor isn't wet, forcing you to sit still and not walk, it can't possibly be clean and you can't possibly take a break. Just make sure to sweep before moping (this should go unsaid, but with folks "mopping" with Swiffers I just can't trust what people know and don't know anymore) and carefully plan your route around the house so you don't mop yourself into a corner. I like to hang the rugs on the line, sweep everything, and then mop myself out of the house, thus forcing myself to beat the hell out of my rugs and then either hang the laundry or take a nice long break while waiting for the floors to dry with iced tea in hand. I've also been known to mop myself onto my couch during winter days, where i am forced to lounge while the floor dries. See? Swiffers really were made up by the devil - and they have such a tacky name!

Take a break
At around 6 o'clock, when you've gone through 3 handkerchiefs (translation = half a box of tissues) thanks to all that dust, but before you get terribly hungry, put on something simple to simmer for dinner (rice and green lentils with lots of onion and garlic is my favorite cleaning day dish) and get yourself outside! The fresh air and sunlight helps like nothing else. Just sitting on a bench outside with a cold beer or a pre-dinner bowl of ice cream does wonders to rejuvenate a dustier, more splattered version of myself than I am used to. Taking a break really gives me that kick of energy to follow-through on the dinner dishes and a little evening cleaning before I collapse into a foot bath with a post-dinner bowl of ice cream, tea, and a good book.

I would say this spring cleaning weekend has been a huge (if as yet unfinished) success. it has been utterly lovely, full of gratifying moments (cleaning out under the sink was momentous), and with only one break down moment where I questioned what the hell I was doing with my life, sobbing to a friend that I'm 23 and how can I possibly live such a dull and drab life that housecleaning is one of the most gratifying things I do? I could be traveling, or throwing money to the wind not caring about saving, or doing some other fun and youthful thing that other people my age do who don't even know how to properly mop a floor! I blame this breakdown on exhaustion and spending my whole weekend without company and without a single night later than 11:00 PM. After all, I am only 23 and would love to go out dancing or spend a late night with friends at least once a week. That being said, I have since pulled myself together and reminded myself that it's okay to genuinely enjoy spring cleaning and sedentary life.

In garden news, my ground cherries have started to sprout, tomatoes and peppers all have several leaves, and that's about it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

beautiful, beautiful spring!

For those of you up here in the Hudson Valley you, like I, are probably luxuriating in the most unbelievably beautiful spring these parts have seen in years and years. Thanks to record temperatures everything is blooming all at once, some things months early - like lilacs. What I've always termed "mud season" has turned into the most wonderful season I could have imagined. Those of us who are blessed with the most magical autumn aren't usually blessed with so magical a spring.

I like to think that it's the world's way of apologizing for last summer (and for the most snowless winter I have ever lived through around here). But I'm also painfully aware of how much danger those beautiful blossoms are in. We're still almost a month from the average last frost and a hard frost could kill off our apples, our apricots, our cherries - all of it! But given the choice between worrying and luxuriating in the beauty, I easily choose the latter option. It's not hard. it is so incredibly beautiful outside.

Unfortunately, my cold frame is buried in the barn and i have not been able to get it out. I also discovered that the hinges broke off of the frame, so I'll have to reattach the windows to the frame, whenever I can lift off the residue of winter and take the cold frame out of its winter hiding.

This weekend marks 3 weeks before the last frost, so I will be planting a ton of things Indoors and outdoors. I'll let you know what's on the list for planting soon! For now, enjoy the spring!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Spring! Usually, it's called mud season around here. But this year it's just beautiful! Everything is blooming all at once thanks to an incredibly warm spring. Even the lilacs are blooming! Lilacs! those usually wait for late May, at least. And, someone has already found morels in the Hudson Valley.

I am going to go morel hunting today and then pray that a hard frost doesn't come through and freeze all of the early fruit blossoms that seem to think it's late May.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Building a Cold Frame!

One of the luxuries of the early spring for the hobby gardener is that this isn't a particularly stressful time. with 2-3 hours of investment, at most, per week, it's relatively easy to be right on path. I keep the light on over my seedlings, water about every other day, plant the seeds I need, and generally keep things going. Perhaps the hardest thing is keeping the temperature in my house consistently warm enough for new seeds to germinate. The ground cherries I just planted, which are a nightshade - a relative of the tomatillo - require fairly warm temperatures to germinate. With frosts still rolling through the region every few nights and with wamr sunny days, my indoor temperature is in a constant state of flux which averages around 55*, not the ideal 70, but still workable. Heat mats, unfortunately, make for a more expensive tomato than I am willing to dish out for. Maybe next year I'll finally dish out the cash for a few.

I decided that i will bring out the cold frame for my calendula this weekend. The process of moving seedlings from an indoor seed-starting set up to a cold frame is called "hardening off." I typically do it 2-3 weeks before transplanting. It's a step between the total ease and comfort of indoor living and the harsh reality of life in the garden that helps to acclimate your seedlings before the shock of transplanting. Plop your seedlings into the cold frame and -prop it open during the day for ventilation (otherwise you risk burning your plants). Close the cold frame at sunset to lock in the heat. This will keep temperatures moderated and protect plants from hard rains while exposing them to being outdoors. If there's a hard frost coming your way, throw a blanket on top of the closed cold frame to keep the heat in.

If you don't have a cold frame, you could bring your plants outside on nice days and take them in every night. However, building one is fairly easy, and I would recommend it. I built mine with friends, a hand saw, a power drill (though I could have used a hammer), and some old windows I picked up from the side of the road, and a couple of old hinges and drawer pulls. We used old 2"X10" planks. The procedure is absurdly easy.

Build a cold frame
Cold frames are a really great home building project, especially given how much people will charge for a pre-fab one. I would definitely recommend building your own. Start out by studying what you're building so that you understand the concept. If you've built anything before, the basics of this project will be fairly obvious. If you haven't, you might want to consult instructions in this book Country Wisdom & Know-How or on the web. The type of cold frame I outline below is like this one, but made with only one row of panels in the front and two in back. While building, keep in mind that cold frames are sloped, facing south, so as to maximize the amount of sole exposure and minimize shading. Also keep in mind that any part of your coldframe that isn't flush or properly fitted will let out precious heat on cold nights.

- Salvaged window, glass door, shower door, or frame with plastic. Storm windows are best, but not necessary.
- Salvaged 2x8 - 2x14 boards (just make sure they're not pressure-treated)
- Scrap wood (preferably 2" square) for bracing, 2 cut to the width of a single board (8-14"), 3 cut a hair shorter than double that length, and 2 cut to a middle length (doesn't have to be exact)
- Screws and drill or hammer and nails
- 2-3 hinges and screws
- A Drawer-pull
- Hand saw, chop saw, circular saw, whatever.
- a chisel
- Shims, Weather stripping, and/or caulk (if you need it)

The procedure
- The first part of any building project is the math. First measure (twice!) the length and width of your window and write this down. Your longer front and back panels will be the exact size of the length of your windows. Mark this length for 3 boards, keeping in mind that the saw will turn a few millimeters of solid wood into dust. That 1 board for the front and 2 for the back.

- Next, measure the width of your windows (twice). Write this down and then measure the height of your boards, which should be just shy of 2 inches (and jot it down). The shorter panels for the sides of your cold frame will fit inside the long panels, and therefore need to be measured to the width of your window minus 2 times the height of the boards. Therefore, if your window is 28" wide and your boards are 1.75" high, your boards should be cut to 28-(2*1.75), or 24.5".
Again, mark out and measure 3 boards of this length. That's 1 for either side plus a third that will make the slope on both sides.

- Now that you've measured and marked everything twice, cut your panels - 3 long ones, 3 short ones.

- Now comes the Hard part. Draw a diagonal line that bisects one of your short, side boards and forms two long triangles. Take into account the width of the saw to make sure that, when cut, the triangles will be identical. These two triangles will form the slope of your cold frame. Take a deep breath and cut the board on the diagonal, so that you have two triangles.

- Phew! Now let's assemble. You're basically building a sloped box in two teirs. Use 4 of your pre-cut bracing wood on the interior 4 corners (the two short ones in front and 2 of the longest ones in back, making sure the long ones are flush with the bottom of the boards and stick up in the air). Attach the bottom four pieces by screwing/nailing the boards into the 4 corner braces - remember, the sides fit inside the front and back boards.

- Next, Add bracing wood to the middle interior of each side except the front so that everything on the bottom is flush. The 3rd long piece should be in the center of the back sticking up and the two middle-length ones should be halfway along the sides sticking up (make sure they're in a place where they won't stick up over the sloping side panels). Add the top boards on the sides and back of the cold frame by drilling or screwing them into the bracing wood. You can add toeholds into the bottom boards, but this isn't necessary. Make sure everything is tight and together. Lift the frame to make sure it's sturdy.

- Now that you have the frame done, set your window on top and make sure everything fits. Make sure the window sits flush and tight against the top of the box. Attach the window to the frame by attaching hinges to the top of the cold frame and the window - making sure to keep it it as flush as possible. It wouldn't hurt to chisel out a small depression in which to set the hinge to prevent the window from lifting off of the back by the width of the hinge. If you don't have a chisel handy, you'll probably end up having to add weather stripping to the back seam. If you've never attached a hinge before, make sure you have someone there who knows how to do it or else really spend some time with that hinge to figure out the right side, the wrong side, and how it wants to be attached. Hinges are trickier than they appear. Once attached, lift the door to make sure they're on properly.

- Finally, attach the drawer pull to the center front of the window so that you can lift it easily.

- Check for any holes and add weather stripping or caulk where needed. If you want, paint it with a light, nontoxic paint to help it weather better and to reflect light back onto the plants.

Congratulations! You have a cold frame!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Garden Journal, Sleep, etc.

Monday night I went over to my garden at the co-op (aka my former house, aka my friends' house), prepped another bed (by forking out all the weeds, aerating the soil with a garden fork, and raking the surface smooth) and planted another round of lettuce and kale plus a border of chives, and a clump of chamomile on the edge of the bed along the central, large path running down the center of the garden. i did this without a real plan - just leaving room for additional, staggered plantings of kale and lettuce. We're having a garden meeting and work day in the garden on Sunday, so I'll have a follow-up design that day. with 2 15-foot beds that are 4 feet across plus plenty of additional space, I anticipate that the design won't change much.

In other indicators that the summer is nigh, I have started waking up at 7, a full hour before my winter wake-up time of 8. This is partially because of the sun, which start streaming into my east-facing windows around 6 AM, partially due to my cat, who has taken to standing on my pillow and batting at my alarm clock (I assume to wake me up sooner), and partially due to more physical work going into a regular day (whether work in the garden or just more walking during my lunch break) which results in me falling asleep quickly and sleeping better. I really think lethargic days lead to bad sleep lead to oversleeping lead to feeling tired all the time.

Now I need to figure out what I'm going to do with the spare hour of awake time I have in the mornings. I think I might go back to making myself delicious lattes with honey and working on my book. Yay!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Garden Journal - 5 weeks Before Last Frost

I planted my ground cherries, finally. And I separated my seeds into separate envelopes, as is my habit, organized by planting times. That way I can reach for my packet that says "3 weeks before last frost - indoors" and plant all of those seeds in one go next week without consulting which seeds I need to plant or where I need to plant them, or searching through all my other seeds for them.

In other news, I thought my rosemary was a lost cause, but it germinated! yay!

Things seem to be doing well. Some damping off of daisies and calendula, but the repotting has helped with the mold, which seemingly cleared up. Most everything has a second pair of leaves on it.

Time to get out the cold frame and start hardening off some of my lovely little seedlings.