April 1, 2015

I’ve been suffering from the unavoidable conundrum of a garden blog.  When it’s gardening season I’m too tired at the end of the day to write anything and too busy during the day to do so.  We’ve finally got some rainy weather, an odd thing to say this time of year in Oregon, and I’ve found a little energy to update the blog.

The last couple of weeks have been hectic as the warm dry weather has continued.  It’s still much too early to put in warm weather crops, but I’ve got carrots, beets, peas, onions, spinach, lettuce and other greens in the ground and the lettuce in the greenhouse is looking good.  I’ve been focusing on getting starts going in the greenhouse, both for my use and for sale at the local farmers’ market in a few weeks.  I’m also running into another problem which is that I have so many flats of starts in the greenhouse I’m running out of room to put plants in the beds.

I did put my greenhouse tomatoes in the ground on March 25 this year, just a couple of days earlier than last year, and they’re looking pretty good so far.  Of course, once they went in the ground, the weather started to turn and now we’ve got several nights forecast in the mid-30’s for the next few days.  I’ve broke out the row cover and installed it in the greenhouse to cover the beds with at night.  Since it’s only used at night I put 2-3 layers of row cover on and it gives them almost 10 degrees of additional warmth, in addition to the protection offered by the greenhouse, so even the tomatoes should be fine down into the low or mid 20’s which isn’t likely.

March 28 was the date of the annual Lane County Propagation Fair, springpropagationfair.com, which is an incredible event put on every year by volunteers in Eugene.  It’s a huge scion wood and seed exchange, all done by volunteers and all free.  They offer what seemed like hundreds of varieties of apple scion, almost as many pear, asian pear, plum, peach, and cherry, and also an incredible variety of grape cuttings for rooting.  Honestly I never knew there were that many varieties of grape.

I have been to the event in the past, but never at the opening and I didn’t realize how busy it is.  I got there about the time it opened and there was a line at the doors wrapping around the corner of the block.  I was able to find a parking space 4-5 blocks away and by the time I made it back the doors were open and the line was inside.  It was so packed I basically had to follow the crow as moving was difficult, the space was a little small for a while, but after 20-30 minutes the early birds had grabbed what they wanted and were headed out or were in line to get their stock grafted and the aisles thinned out a bit.

On the other hand, about 20 per cent of the apple varieties, 10 percent of the pears, 90 percent of the cherries and most of the more unusual offerings such as hardy kiwi were already completely gone, which is why the big rush at the opening of the doors I assume.  I got most of the varieties I was after in particular and found a number of new ones to try.

BTW, if you intend to go sometime, here’s a tip.  You’re moving in a crowded room and you’re picking up scion wood and trying to label it, as you want to remember which is which.   The experienced folks there have a roll of masking tape, generally blue it turns out, hanging off their neck by a loop of string like a pendant, plus a sharpie to write with and a bag to store their treasures in.

In addition to scion wood, they also sell a number of different root stocks for $3 each and have volunteers who will do the grafting for you if you’re prepared to wait, as it gets quite busy, and they ask for a $2-$3 donation for the work to go to fund the event.  There are also tables of seeds that have been donated and outside a collection of miscellaneous donations, such as the bucket full of Jostaberry cuttings I took down.

It turns out that one of, if not the, largest collection of pears is right here in Corvallis at the National Clonal Germplasm Lab.  The people from the propagation fair hit their orchard in the Fall and sample the pears, then return in the Spring to take cuttings for the fair from their favorite trees.  This year I got about a dozen varieties of apple and almost as many pear once I saw the variety of pears that is actually available.  I’m afraid I’ve always been blinded by the overwhelming prevalence of Barlett and a couple of other varieties, which are fine, but it turns out that the breadth and depth of pear varieties rivals that of apples.  Last year I had the opportunity to dry a large amount of pears and they were fantastic, so I decided I needed to commit more space to pears.

Here’s a partial list of what I needed up with in the way of scion wood this year.  Apple –  Orleans Reinette, Newtown Pippin, Pendragon, Prairie Spy, Reinette Gris du Canada, Roxbury Russet, Winter Banana, Moyer, Honeycrisp.

I see I need to update my own list of varieties and finish this list later, but the bottom line is I grafted about a dozen varieties of apple and about 10 varieties of pear, plus a few plum and cherry.  Of course, it’s up to my (lack of) skill and nature to see how many take and what varieties I end up with.

I put all the grafted babies in a nursery bed to keep track of them this summer and make sure they stay watered.  More later, I need to go uncover the greenhouse beds as the sun’s coming up.


Garden Update, March 15, 2015

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks here and I’ve just been working too hard and been too tired to put any updates here. That’s the problem with garden blogs, when you’re actually gardening it’s tough to get the energy to do the computer work. I know there’s actually 3 or 4 people who read this, so I try to put some info up now and then. By the way, once again, if someone reading this has any ideas or material to contribute please just let me know. I started this with the intention of it being a cooperative effort as I couldn’t find much info about gardening here in the Pacific Northwest and I don’t have the energy these days in my old age to really do what I’d like to do with the site.

The weather’s been fantastic for the last couple of weeks, warming and sunny with almost no rain in that time. That means the gardens are dry enough to be able to work and the perennials are starting to bud out so mulching and pruning needs to get finished NOW! In fact, I got to the grapes too late and they’ve been weeping pretty badly, so I hope they heal up and recovers soon.

There’s a good weather blog at Channel 12 Weather Blog. It’s run by the meteorologist for Channel 12 in PDX and there’s a ton of good info. He says that the models show warm weather continuing and that it’s time to get the early crops in. Normally our 90 percent frost free date here is about May 1 but it looks like it’s going to be a lot earlier this year.

Here’s what my garden looked like 13 months ago…

Here’s some pictures from a couple of days ago…

I’ve got a lot of starts that I put in a few weeks ago and have had under lights, but I’ve moved them out to the greenhouse and they’re growing like mad with the warm sunny weather. The temperature of the greenhouse runs in the low to mid 90’s during the day when it’s sunny, so the tomatoes are loving it. I have to admit when I planned the greenhouse I worried a lot about keeping it warm, but it turns out the big issue is actually keeping it cool. In the summer, even with both doors open, it’s hard to keep it under 100 during the day. Tomatoes do ok with it but not much else handles it too well, although eggplants did well one year and this year I’ll be trying cucumbers to see how they do.

It looks like we’re going to have a few days of partly cloudy weather and then more rain, the next 10 day forecast doesn’t show much sun, so it’s good to have so much outdoor work done but I’m sure paying for it. I have snow peas, snap peas, carrots, several types of onions, several types of potatoes, some poppies and about 900 new strawberry plants in the ground already and they’ll love this weather. Next week I’m going to pull out my box of row cover I saved from last year and get that set up for the plantings that are in.

When I get some energy I hope to put up an article about this year’s tomato plans, hopefully in the next few days.

Good News / Bad News

I just realized I’ve been lousy about taking pictures this year, I’ll put some up soon to show some of what’s going on this Spring.

The bad news is that the two hives I thought were alive but not in great health are in fact both dead.  The bees I saw going in and out were actually from my top bar hive (TBH) raiding the honey in the dead hives.  I went out today and opened them up and discovered no bees in them, so decided I should remove the honey and clean up the hives before wax moths take over.

I don’t understand what happened to the Italian hive.  There were two deep supers for the brood box, the bottom was almost all old, empty comb, some even with mold on it, while the top super was almost completely full of honey.  All I can figure is that towards the end of the summer something happened to the queen and the hive gradually died out, leaving the new store of honey intact.  The other hive I thought was alive but struggling was the same, but it had just a tiny bit of honey.

The only good news is that I cleaned out the honey from the Italian hive and ended up with more than a 5 gallon bucket full of chunks of honey-filled comb.  It weighs at least 50 pounds altogether and I suspect it’s at least 90 percent honey by weight, so I guess even if I just figure I got 40 pounds of honey for my $100 investment in the nuc of bees that’s a darned good deal these days.  I just need to crush it up and strain it to get the honey out and I should end up with a lot of good wax out of it also.  There’s a fair amount of nice built-out comb to save for bait hives and such, and a little that just looks nasty that I’ll melt down and filter, maybe to make candles or such.

There is one other bit of good news, which is that my TBH is doing GREAT.  Tremendous numbers of bees going in and out, mostly bringing back pollen, but of course many of them are over cleaning up the honey from the hives I harvested this morning.  Hundreds of bees are working the frames that have bits of honey still on them so the bees are having a great time.  It will take them a few days to clean them up as I left a fair bit for them, although the fruit trees and some flowers are blooming well so there’s no shortage of pollen for them.

With one really good hive I’m not going to order any bees this year, but I’ll keep an ear out for swarms and see if I can’t get one or two.  I’ll also see if I can’t split the TBH in April or May as it’s so full I’m sure it will swarm otherwise.

End of February Update

Not much news to report today.  I was on vacation for a week, had a wonderful time but now spending several days recuperating.  This getting old stuff sucks, but at least I can still have a good time even if there is a price to pay for it so shouldn’t complain too much.

In the garden my early greenhouse tomato starts are looking good.  They were looking pretty crummy as they got neglected during vacation time but I gave them some good fertilizer (Pureblend Pro, draw your own conclusions…) and after a couple of days they got dark green and are now growing much faster.  If anyone ever needs some great soluble fertilizer I can strongly recommend Maxigrow.  It’s a concentrated powder, you mix a teaspoon or so per gallon using the enclosed scoop and it’s a 100 percent complete fertilizer, suitable for hydroponics and great for supplementing seedlings in soil or potting mix.  Pureblend Pro is great stuff but it’s expensive, I just have a gallon or so left over from a previous gardening project that I’m using up, but I’ve switched off to Maxigrow / Maxibloom as it’s a fraction of the price and works at least as well.

I invested in a bunch of those fancy expensive Petunia seeds, the “Wave” series, and only got about 50 percent germination on them so not thrilled about that, and several of them are growing like weeds while the others are growing much more slowly.  Hopefully they’ll get big enough in a month or two to be able to take cuttings off them to grow out for summer markets.  I’ve got a lot more flowers going this year for cut flowers, I hope that the market will pick up with a good supply.  I just can’t believe folks won’t pay $3 or so for a nice bouquet of cut flowers that will last a week when I see what they pay at the florist (10 times that).

I’m concerned about the bee situation as the Italian hive has suddenly gotten very quiet.  There’s bees there, but not many.  I can only hope that there’s brood waiting to hatch as the number of bees out foraging seems small.  The hive in the top bar is going gangbusters, just an incredible number of foragers working every day even in the cold weather.  It just seems to be a better strain of bee better adapted to our weather, so hopefully I can split it this Spring and make another hive or two out of it.  I was  told a person in town has a wild hive in their barn that’s been there for many years and makes a lot of swarms, so this may well be a descendant of that hive which would be great as it’s proven genetics.

Next week I’ll be starting a bunch of new stuff for the plant sales, which will start the last week of April, lots and lots of tomatoes to eventually go in one gallon pots, plus more stuff as I saw people buying lots of different types of veggie starts I’d never considered.

I stopped by Nichols in Albany today, which is always a blast.  A huge room filled with shelves with hundreds of seeds trays to choose from.  One nice thing is they have bulk seed for beans, peas and corn among other things at great prices.  I got a couple of varieties of snow / snap peas for $2.80 per pound, some interesting seed potato varieties for $1.30 per pound and a few seeds while I was there.  That’s some real bargains compared to other sources, basically a pound of snow pea seed for the price of a packet.  I picked up several pounds of some nice looking purple potato just to see if it sells at the market as I was surprised at how well plain potatoes were selling and at high prices since they were “local and organic”.

I had to cut the grass last week so the nice weather is a mixed blessing, but my first plum tree has been in full flower for a week an the peaches are pink, getting ready to pop, so it’s sure nice to see Spring here when so many are still freezing.

Getting The Season Started

It’s definitely Spring out there.  The plum trees have a few open flowers and swollen buds, the peach tree buds are bright pink and the brambles are leafing out.

My early tomatoes under the light are about a week old and are getting their first true leaves and the herb seeds I started, oregano and thyme have germinated really well.  They’re so tiny, just little green pinheads, but this year I just sprinkled them on some composted and spritzed them with water, then gave them some indirect light.  It worked really well, they can be tough to start.

This afternoon I started ten flats of various flowers, the ones that are slow growing like Dianthus, Larkspur, Strawflower, Nicotiana and Phlox. It’s easy to say that, not so easy to do.  Each flat gets filled with compost, then I use my finger tip to make a dent in the center of each cell.  Then comes putting the seeds in, varying from one to ten or so in each cell depending on the size.  Finally each cell gets the edges moved to the center to lightly cover the seeds and gets a good spritz of water.  I did ten flats, each with 72 cells, so that makes for a lot of fiddly work, but it should yield lots of nice flowers. I did notice that the volunteer Calendula in the greenhouse are blooming like mad, there an opportunity there for early flowers.

Foggy this morning, the fog line was my west property line.  That end was foggy, the greenhouse and gardens were enjoying bright blue sky!  It happens pretty often in the winter being right at the edge of the valley. I get up and it’s sunny, then go downtown four blocks away and it’s dense fog…

That’s all for today, still on the ipad until next week, but I am getting faster with two-finger typing!