I don’t know whether it was in honor of the summer solstice, but I spent twelve hours gardening today. I am fortunate enough to have had the time free to spend, and there were quite a few chores that I planned to knock out. Wouldn’t you know it, quite a few more turned up while I was working in the garden, and the next thing I know I’m wondering have I really been out here a full twelve hours?
I woke up early as usual this morning, and by 5:30 a.m. I was in the garden adjusting the placement of the soaker hose in my raised bed. I got that turned on and set up another hose at the base of the Red Jewel crabapple that I planted the other evening, and turned that hose on to where it was just a trickle. While the watering was taking care of itself I walked to the corner and got a drink at Knockbox Cafe. When I came back to the garden I met another gardener who was tending her plot, and O.M.G. I’m trying so hard to remember all of your names but there are so many of you and it was such a long day! I’ll get there. We talked about gardening and we talked about some of the changes and struggles that Humboldt Park has gone through in the last decade, and she asked me if I knew of any way to keep houseflies out of the yard and garden. Somehow or other it was already 8 a.m., and I had to leave the garden to move my truck, but I promised to look into it.
Drove back home for a second because I wanted to pick up some gardening supplies from the back porch, and while I was in I looked up some information quick about houseflies. It turns out that the shoo-fly plant, Nicandra physalodes, is either a deterrent or a natural pesticide for houseflies. I can thank @MrBrownThumb as well as the Master Gardener database for the information I found about the shoo-fly plant. It sounds like @MrBrownThumb isn’t the biggest fan of the shoo-fly plant but I can’t be too critical of him. He set me up with my tomato starts this year, because that’s just what community gardeners do — they help each other out and when they can they like to trade plants.
Sent out a quick email to the Monarch Garden email group about Nicandra physalodes, and figured that I deserved breakfast at the Flying Saucer so away I went, ready for the best biscuits and gravy north of Macon, GA. I don’t always, but this morning I ordered my eggs poached, and on account of one broken yolk I got an extra poached egg, gratis! This wasn’t at all necessary because the first thing I do with the poached eggs is break the yolks anyway and scramble them up in the gravy, but I appreciated the extra protein, and as it turned out, I probably needed it today. A couple of iced teas later, I headed back to the garden for some seriously caffeinated weeding.
The weeds along the alley line have been bugging me, so I got out the hoe and started culling the mess, at least along the south half of the alley line. I’ll leave the other half for somebody else. Before too long I came up with the idea of soaking the whole line down with the hose, thinking it would loosen up the tap roots, and that worked pretty well. I got the line more or less cleaned up and then scattered a bunch of seeds that I’d been saving — some cleome and some random “bee attracting” wildflower seeds that a friend had mailed me. The robins really seemed to appreciate the moist soil and the fresh seeds I’d sown for them, almost as much as the squirrels seem to appreciate visiting my vegetable bed. I’ll be happy if anything at all germinates along the alley line, and if not I probably have at least a couple dozen more packages of seeds that would be appropriate.
By 10 a.m. it was time to shut down the soaker hose and the drip I’d set up for the crabapple tree. David had shown up to spend “a few hours” in the garden, and he was busy with a Maddox making short work of some tall weeds. We’d spoken earlier this week about meeting today to get the compost area situated, which meant clearing out some space where the newly built compost bin could sit properly and dealing with some mucky mess that wasn’t really compost at all. Getting the compost bin to sit properly was the easy part. That left two barrels full of sludge to empty out, which had gone anaerobic on account of not having any drainage in the bottom of the barrels. If you’re going to compost in rubber trash cans, and you absolutely can, make sure you drill them full of plenty of holes, both for aeration and for drainage. I guess I got splashed with some of the nasty compost water because David spent the rest of the afternoon telling me I reeked something awful, and I did feel like everyone was looking at me a little funny when I stopped back in Knockbox later on for a quick lunch — which I was sure to order to go.
Eduardo had salvaged a bunch of square pavers from a job site somewhere, and David thought they’d be great around the bulletin board, so guess what project we started in on next. David pulled some tube sand out of his garage to level the ground and we got the pavers down and the area looking pretty tidy. I’ve been messing around with setting pavers and flagstone lately and I’ve come upon the trick of running a hose over the area at a trickle and using the water to find out where the sand isn’t level. I won’t detail the couple hours we spent on that project here, but the next to last step involved sweeping sand over the pavers and again using the hose to make sure the sand got in between them all and that the whole area was more or less even. We’ve now got a spanking patio around the bulletin board where all the tools can stack neatly without sitting on wet soil, and hopefully people will be inspired by the tidiness and keep everything looking tight.
There were some rain delays and there was some moving of rain barrels around to more convenient locations within the garden, and I even sowed some One Seed Chicago basil seeds into a planter that was set out on our new patio! When I ran home earlier I’d grabbed my full complement of organic amendments and fertilizers, along with what precious little potting soil I have remaining, and it was finally time to ready the asparagus planter that I’m planning. Yes, I am planning on starting asparagus from seed, which could wind up being its own series of blog posts. One fun bit of alchemy came about when I realized that I didn’t have any lime handy to balance the pH from the super peaty mix that I’d made up to extend my potting soil. Fortunately David had been drilling some pine earlier, and there were plenty of clean wood shavings about. I burned enough of them to come up with a tiny bit of wood ash, which was all that I figured I would need to level out the pH in my window planter box. When the whole box was full I watered it in and wrapped it in a black contractor bag to sit out and bake in the sun for a few days. I’ll check on the pH and make whatever adjustments are necessary before I hopefully sow some asparagus seeds in the next week or so.
The sun was still pretty high in the sky when I started thinking I’d been at it an awful long time today, so as James was leaving the garden I asked him what time it was. Nearly 4:30 p.m. and I hadn’t even gotten around to tending my veggie bed, other than watering it in! I checked on some Pink Beauty radishes that are about the size of apples and mulched them in heavy with some of my deliciously fragrant cocoa shell mulch. I’ve harvested about half of my radishes already, but I want to let some of them go to seed, and most of those that remain have gotten so large that they’re heaving themselves out of the soil. I’m all out of soil now but I still have some mulch left, and I figure that ought to keep them comfy enough to set some seed. Cover me in cocoa shell mulch and I just might be comfy enough to set some seed, but that’s probably a little T.M.I.
Time to tidy up and get out of the garden, but oh! That person isn’t watering her plot in nearly deep enough! I walked over and introduced myself to Rachel and asked her about her watering strategy. Actually, she introduced herself to me, because I basically just walked over and shouted “You’re doing it wrong!” After some polite introductions, I filled her in on the basics of watering and she told me about radish sandwiches with butter salt and pepper. Who’s coming out ahead in this exchange? The sandwiches are self explanatory, but let me try and explain watering in as few words as possible here. You want to train your plants to develop deep roots by watering them in deeply, but not too frequently. Most established plants will need about an inch of water per week, and it’s best to give it to them all in one good soaking. For a typical sized veggie bed (50 square feet), that’s about 32 gallons of water. In the heat of summer (when the temps get above 85), they might need that amount of water twice a week. Letting the soil dry out some between waterings forces the roots to grow deeper looking for water, and deep roots mean healthier plants. You never want to water any faster than the soil can take up the water. Puddling on top of the soil or water running off your veggie bed means that water isn’t getting where it’s supposed to go. It’s always best to water as early in the morning as possible. Watering early means that your plants have the water they need when they need to have it. It also means that your plants have a chance to dry out before the sun goes down. Wet foliage and cool temperatures are a recipe for mildew and all sorts of gardening disasters. How am I doing on keeping this down to as few words as possible?
Finally got everything put away and the hydrant shut off, and it’s only 5:30 in the evening! I can’t complain one bit, either. I had a great day in the garden, got the chance to talk with some great people, got a ton of work done, and I can go through the rest of my week and this weekend riding that feeling of productivity and using it to knock out a whole lot of tasks on my to-do list which are less fun than getting splashed with smelly compost water. Plus I wrote another post for this blog, which is something I’ve been meaning to do a little more often. Check back in for photos of the new patio or to find out what I do with my asparagus planter, and I promise I’ll be a little more pithy next time.