Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tomatoes are starting to sprout

Actually, these were visible 2 days ago.

First to sprout: Lemon Boy, Better Boy, Supersweet 100, Black Krim.

Some dried out. None are on a heated mat, just room temp on window sill.

Burnt Bridge Creek Trail

Ning and Baigou. And a glimpse of Charlie.
Trillium are blooming all along the trail.

Dogs in Spring

It looks vicious but it's all in play. They had a great time.
Practically in flight. I wish that I had that energy!

Saturday, March 29, 2008


According to the news, yesterday was the latest that is has EVER snowed here in the Portland area.
All day, snow, sleet, heavy rain

It's difficult to photograph snow. It moves.


First flower. Grown from seed taken from a "Belgian Hybrid" clivia. It took 6 years to first flower. In person, the color has more red tones.

I played honey bee and applied pollen from the Yellow Sahin's to these flowers. And vice versa - pollen from these flowers was added to the Yellow Sahin's. We'll have our own hybrids now, in about 7 years!

Compost and earthworms

Stirred up the compost. This is probably 1/3 chicken droppings + straw bedding, with generous amounts of poodle wool, yard trimmings, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds.

This compost will need a couple more months before it is ready. Right now it's not 'done' enough.

No worms were added - these find their way up from the soil.

When I remember, I've been bringing home coffee grounds from work. I weighed them, it's about 1 pound 7 ounces daiy. Over a month, that's a lot of garden supplement.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

New Bee House (Orchard mason bees)

Yesterday a few Orchard Mason Bees(Osmia lignaria)were out flying around, and a couple looked like they were in need of new houses. The choice is to spend about 20 bucks for a new house, or use scraps and make one for free. So I used scraps and made one for free.

It's not rocket science. The best book that I have seen on the topic is "The Orchard Mason Bee" (clever title, huh?) by Brian L. Griffin. This book details their interesting life cycle, and ecological role, as well as rationale for promoting them (decreased viability of honey bees, so can't take fruit pollination for granted). Washington State University also has this site and the extension service has this site, about Orchard Mason Bees. North Carolina State has this site, for an East Coast perspective. This site has more information than I can digest so I'll mark it here to refer back to it.

The main issue is how big the holes need to be. The answer is 5/16th of an inch. Mine were made from 2 2X4 scraps nailed together to create a 4X4, then a little sloping roof added to keep rain from soaking into the wood. The roof is probably not needed since it's under the eaves, but not much trouble.

Here is the result.

Just finished

Date added, so that I know which ones are the oldest and need to be disposed of.

Next to an older bee nest.

I need to set out a dish with some mud for them. I better go out and do that now.

Master Bathroom Project (Bathroom 2.0)

There hasn't been time or energy to do much work on the master bathroom rehab. I did pull down some insulation and the small amount of remaining drywall today. This is also a form of meditation, even if it seems like work to others.

What is done so far:
1. Removal of sink, counter, and toilet.
2. Removal of shower.
3. Removal of wall dividing bathroom from empty space on northwest corner, to enlarge bathroom.
4. Removal of closet wall on east side, also to enlarge bathroom.
5. Seal closet doors to reduce dust mess in house.
6. Removal of ceiling drywall.
7. Removal of remaining walls' drywall.
8. Punch holes through wall into hallway. OK, that was a mistake.
9. Repair holes noted in #7.
10. Tear down crappy, inadequate insulation from ceiling and outside wall.
11. Dispose of all of that demolition trash (2 trips to dump, one to go).

What remains of deconstruction:
12. Construct temporary wall in bedroom so that I can tear out the closet doors and re-frame for pocket door.
13. Remove solid oak flooring from former closet to save for bedroom floor patch.
14. Seal off shower pipe and sink pipe.
15. Remove remaining flooring.

Then it's just a big box, deconstruction is done, and construction can begin.

Northwest corner. You can see the nice mold-proof paperless drywall that I used for the adjoining guest bath.

Southwest corner. The insulation is for the tub surround of the adjoining guest bath.

The floor. Actually demolition trash, none of which is reusable. Unlike all of the framing that was removed - it is almost all reusable, and is better than the new stuff. The 2X4s are all stored in the basement, waiting for their new role.

Ceiling. You might say, why tear out all of the fiberglass insulation. Answer: It's inadequate, only being 3 inches thick. It's filled with dust and dirt, reducing the R value even more. The paper backing is brittle and probably can't be reinstalled even if I want to. There is no vapor barrier. All in all, it's better to remove it all and start over with the right stuff, installed correctly and to code.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Seed starting.

Yesterday I had to leave work due to an amazingly painful back spasm. I couldn't believe how bad it was. I literally couldn't move from my chair - not even a couple of inches. Today it's about 80% better. Since it's my 'day off' anyway, instead of doing homework I mostly rested, but also planted a few seeds. You can't lay in bed all day (it's not recommended, even), and starting seeds in 3 oz. paper cups is not exactly heavy lifting.

Tomates and peppers. I planted the new seeds that I bought by mail order in december (Hybrid tomatoes including Supersweet 100, Lemon Boy, Better Boy, and Heirloom tomatoes including Ponderosa Red, Black Krim. Also some older seeds, Supersweet-100 about 1-year old, and 1-year old seeds of Black from Tula and Cherokee Purple. There were also peppers, including mail order Bulgarian Carrot and Portugal Hot, and older seeds including some old peppers that Ning had in the kitchen. Ning's peppers were brought from China about 8 years ago, and I grew some about 2 years ago but did not save seeds from those. So this is starting over again. The peppers were in a kitchen cabinet in an old zip-lock bag. Will they grow? Also a 3-year old packet of Tabasco peppers.

The paper cups were left over from last year, as was the seed starting medium (looks like about 3/4 peat moss and 1/4 perlite). The cups have holes drilled in the bottoms.

Here they are planted in the windowsill, south window. These little paper cups last about long enough for the plants to outgrow them, then basically fall apart. That's fine, they can be composted.

I thought that I was showing some self-discipline by waiting until today to plant them. Then I looked at last year's entry - they were planted March 25th. So about the same time.

Here is a gardenweb thread on old seeds. Some writers had seeds much older than these, in worse storage conditions, and they apparently germinated and grew. Here is someone who used 5-year old tomato seeds, with 35 of 40 varieties germinating. Here are some 120 year old seeds at Michigan State - fine, if you want Verbascum (but also hopeful for other types of seeds). They were placed in sand in bottles and buried - not exactly optimum storage for seeds, but who would have known, 120 years ago? Of course, there is the famous Judean Date that was sprouted after 2000 years in desert-dry storage. I did a search on the resultant palm, and 3 years later, it is still growing, and is 14 inches tall. According to the article, if it is female and if its DNA hasnt been damaged in it's 2000 year storage, it is expected to bear in about 2010. Maybe. Oh - here's another article about the Methusaleh palm. according to National Geographic, it was 3 feet tall in 05. I'm not sure about the discrepancy. Then there are these 500-year old canna seeds that germinated. They had been used to make a rattle, by native peoples of Argentina in about 1420. Here is the wikipedia artical on the oldest viable seed.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Brugmansia, getting ready for Spring.

This brugmansia was also stored in the garage. I did give it water 2 or 3 times during the winter - about a couple of pints each time. Some branches died, but most remained greenish and appeared plump and viable.

Bruggie looking crispy, but most of the stems look healthy. It has more dehydration damage than it did in storage last year (see photo link via labels) so maybe i needed to water it more.

This year it will be in a larger container, a wooden container that last held a fig tree. The root mass isn't overly tangled. I think that bruggies don't make the mass of roots that would be seen for a fig of the same size.

Now it's pruned, with only the dead material removed. I don't think that it needs additional shaping at this time.

Now repotted, and thoroughly watered. Like the cannas, it's now on the south facing sun deck. It's a cloudy day, with more to come, so I don't think that there is much risk of sunburn.

Overwintered cannas & zantedeschia: ready for Spring

Today I cleaned up and potted the "overwinter dry" tropicals. Those that were in the ground were dug up and stored in open containers, with clinging soil as their only protection. Those in containers were just moved inside. THey were stored in the garage, which is attached but not heated. It's probably in the 40s to 50s in the winter.

Here they are, dry and crispy. I removed the potting soil vs. garden soil from the cannas. Some of the zantedeschias were already bare (oops) but they were plump and healthy looking. One zantedeschia container, that I have grown for about 15 years, was unpotted. It was packed solid with tubers. I did some damage to delicate sprouts but overall I think they should be OK.

Here are some cannas about to be potted. The rhizomes are plump and healthy looking.

Here are a few more. Oops, I didn't label them when I placed them into storage. This may be several varieties.

The plan is to have a tropical looking deck this year. I think that the cannas will do better in containers, where they'll be warmer (for an earlier start) and can be moved around as needed.

Filled with potting soil.

Moved to the south exposure sun deck. It's not really that sunny now but it;s better than the north side.

"Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most"

From Mark Twain

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Gene's Backyard Orchard" Web Site Review #1.

Here is a site that visits Gene and his backyard orchard, in a Chicago Suburb.

Gene has been growing dwarf apples in his yard since 1983. He has 93 varieties of apples in a 2,500 sq foot yard. He keeps them pruned and maintained to a mini-dwarf size - generally, smaller than our fruit trees (although similar to our mini-dwarf apples).

Visting his web site, I get the feeling that I'm visiting a real person's yard. It would be fun to follow him around the yard and hear what he has to say about the individual varieties, and talk about his grafting technique and what works, and what doesnt.

He's not organic, but does pay some attention to avoiding spraying when bees are present. He tells us how he knows that an apple is ripe. He describes why his beds are geometric, squares instead of circles.

This is the kind of folksy, 'next door neighbor' site that I especially like to read. It's kind of an old posting. On a news story link from the the midwest fruit grower's site, he states that he now has 176 varieties.

This also has me thinking - with a California Rare Fruit Grower's association, and a similar association in the midwest (see link above), maybe we need a backyard fruit growers association in the Maritime Pacific Northwest. Hmmmmm.

Asparagus Planting (delayed entry, planted 2 14 08)

These were the asparagus starts that I planted 2 14 08. Other people eat chocolate or send cards with red hearts. I plant asparagus.

See today's entry below for how it looks now. Sprouts are 1 to 4 inches tall today.

These starts are bigger and plumper than I tried last year. They are mail order from

This time they were soaked in water. Soaking time was about 2 hours.

They were planted in a trench. I covered them with a couple of inches of soil, wtihout filling in the trench completely. This is closer to the 'traditional' method, so hopefully I did it right this time.

What's Growing March 15 2008

VIctoria Rhubarb. This has been fertilized with generous helping of Chicken Compost, after earlier servings of Starbucks Coffee Grounds. The mulch is chopped yard waste, mostly trimmings from lavendar and grasses. Can rhubarb pie be far behind?

Chinese chives. Similar supplements as the rhubarb, but the mulch is bark mulch. This is more weed prone than the rhubarb, so I wanted something less likely to allow seeds to sprout. Chive dumplings ahead, in about one month....

Success at last! At least, in so far as getting purchased asparagus starts to sprout. So far 7 of the 10 planted have come up. On from of the asparagus, potato onions, about 5th generation of saving starts. This time I want to settle on this one heirloom variety only.

What's Blooming March 15 2008

Blooming indoors, anyway. Ning's yellow clivia, grown from seed. "Yellow Sahin's". The sprouting berry was planted today as well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Unknown Soldier

"Cares melt when you kneel in the garden"

This is true. Anonymous quotation on

The best thing about working from home

Charlie is never more than a few feet away. There is no loyalty like dog loyalty.

Early bloom

Aprium. This will need some hand pollination, no bees out yet.

The little narcissus are the early ones.

I've been spraying the peaches weekly with neem. Will the leaf curl be an issue?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Unknown Soldier

Whatever happened to the folksy "do it yourself" gardening shows?

These are my curmudgeonly thoughts today.

I can remember gardening shows on radio and TV, that were really about gardening. I just did a web search on "Doc and Katie Abraham" who had a show in the 70s, and came up with essentially zilch. As I remember (at this much later, I can't promise an accurate memory), their show was really about gardening - how to improve the soil, making compost, propagating the plants, dividing, taking cuttings, pruning, starting seeds, planting.

There was also Crockett's Victory Garden, in the same era. This was more sophisticated, but was still really about gardening - all of the above, and maybe more, like cooking your garden produce, and visiting gardens, and traveling to gardens in other countries. I'm not the only one who feels this way, of course - here is a related thread from the gardenweb.

Of course, the old "Organic gardening and farming" magazine was pretty much the same thing, pre-counter-culture, with a greater gardening aspect. But if you wanted to learn how to grow aspargus, or graft your apple tree, or get a start from your Dad's 50 year old grape vines, you could find it there.

What do we have now? HGTV, with all kinds of garden make-overs, curb appeal, ,'garden rooms' , landscaping, hardscaping, and lots of stuff to buy, of course. There probably is something that I dont know about, but it seems like it's all marketing and consumer oriented, instead of true gardening oriented.

Of course, there's the GardenWeb, where everyone can sign on and discuss their gardening, and all of the how to and success and failures. Maybe that's the 21st century answer to those old garden shows. And of course, some blogs.....

I would still like to turn on the TV, some time, and watch someone walking through their back yard and pull a grub off a leaf and talk about it. Dirty fingernails, and shirt tail half out, and all.

Apple grafting. Reworked tree.

This is the tree before reworking it. This is a "miniature" Golden Delicious. It's about 5 years old. All of the others have been bearing at this point, and this one had grown larger than the others (probably due to lack of fruit). It set a couple of fruit last year, but they were deformed and did not ripen properly. I'm not a proficient grafter - we'll see if any of them take!

I chose to do wedge grafting, similar to the demonstration in this web page.

This is the source tree. The owner "pruned" their side of the tree, basically topping it, but left many of the branches overhanging the fence. Apples that have fallen into our yard have been somewhat small, but with good flavor. I'm hoping that on a tree that is properly cared for, they might be larger and taste just as good. Plus, they'll be in reach and easy to pick on a small tree.

Here are the scions. I placed them in water while working.

It took multiple tries, but finally I started cutting smoothly with one fast cut.

Example of scion wood. As above, this isnt the best example but it's the one that came out in the photo. Again, after multiple tries, I learned how to hold the scion wood properly, and cut each side with one slice.

After completing the work, I counted fingers. There were 5 on each hand, and no bleeding.

Reworked tree when completed. I did not follow all of the grafting instructions perfectly. Without grafting wax, I tried melting actual candle wax and mixed with parafin, but that was still hard at room temp let alone outside. Finally, I just used petroleum jelly, which at today's temperature was thick and gooey, so it might work OK. Then, I wrapped with plumbers' silicone tape, which is soft, stretchy and flexible. Some grafts were held closed with dental floss before applying the petroleum jelly.

Posted by Picasa