Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Friday, January 5, 2018

An Update on the Cutting Garden

This past fall I worked on converting one of my raised vegetable beds into a cutting garden for next spring and summer. One of the first things I needed to do was to remove the only vegetable growing in it, three large celery plants.

Raised bed, cleared and weeded

That was followed by a trip to Lowes to pick up bagged compost -- ten or twelve bags of it, which Garden Helper Nigel (he prefers the title Garden Gnome) then opened and spread, and tilled into the bed, perched precariously on top of the raised bed, walking back and forth with our electric, plug-in tiller.

There are no photos of this, because I was busy, alternately freaking out over my worry that he would accidentally fall off the edge of the bed, and holding the cord of the electric tiller out of the way so he wouldn't trip on it. Also, in case you're wondering, I had moved all those drip lines out of the way.

With that done, I proceeded to locate and dig up every Dahlia tuber I had growing in my front garden. A few years ago, when I had the front redone, I bought a handful of tubers from Swan Island and planted them in what I thought were good spots in the front beds. Those beds, of course, quickly filled up with other plants and shrubs, and the Dahlias became overwhelmed. One ended up in a good sunny spot, and the others may have flowered that first year, but after that never produced anything but foliage, and weak, floppy foliage at that. I'm sure they'll be much happier in my raised bed, where they should get good drainage in winter, and summer sun and automated summer water. In the bottom of each planting hole as I planted them, I placed a few tablespoons of organic fertilizer.

Floppy Dahlias

Old Dahlias from the front garden:

Bed Head
Totally Tangerine

Around this time, I met my friend Peter The Outlaw Gardener for a trip to Molbak's and Flower World, where I met yet another potted Dahlia that I couldn't resist. It came home with me from Flower World (you can see it, still in its pot, flowering on the right in the picture above), and has since been planted in the bed. Also, since the above photo was taken, all that foliage has turned to mush in our series of snowy days and freezes, and I've cut it all back to the soil line.

Typically, I've already lost the tag of the Dahlia from Flower World

I had a handful of tall Phlox paniculata 'Starfire' that I dug and potted up a while back from another bed where it wasn't getting enough water, which I decided would be a good candidate for the cutting garden, so into the bed it went. I also finally managed to plant my Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus bulbs in a row next to the Phlox.

If you've been following my blog since the beginning or near the beginning (God forbid you haven't actually read any of those early posts, they're mortifying), you probably remember that I'm an advocate of a method of seed sowing called winter sowing. I used that method every winter when we lived in Massachusetts, where winter temperatures often went below freezing for weeks on end, snow stayed on the ground for months, and the ground froze at least four feet down all winter. It's a great method for starting seeds, especially seeds that prefer stratification, in conditions like that.

Here in Washington state, with our milder winter, I like to modify the method somewhat. I sow the seeds directly into the bed where I want the plants to grow, but I cover them with makeshift greenhouse/cloches, usually made from the bottoms of berry packages. I use ground staples to make sure they don't fly away in the wind. The cloches protect the seeds from wind, excessive rain, and birds and other critters, but the small openings in the sides allow some rain to come in and keep the seeds watered. This also allows me to save my limited space in the greenhouse for seeds I need to start out there.

Some of the many berry bottoms I've saved

Seeds, from Chiltern, Swallowtail and Johnny's, that I plan to start under cloches in the beds this winter:

Consolida ajacis Annual Larkspur 'The Seven Dwarfs'
Calendula 'Solar Flashback'
Statice 'Midnight Blue'
Statice 'Seeker mix'
Zinnia elegans 'Queen Red Lime'
Zinnia elegans 'Senora'  
Zinnia haageana 'Jazzy mixture'
Lathyrus odoratus 'Matucana' 
Ammi majus 'Graceland'
Daucus carota 'Dara'
Chrysanthemum maximum Shasta 'Crazy Daisy'
Cosmos bipinnatus 'Double Click'
Delphinium consolida 'Exquisite' series, 'Blue Spire'
Salpiglossis sinuata 'Kew Blue'
Salpiglossis sinuata 'Little Friends'
Nigella orientalis 'Transformer'
Lupine Russell's mixture
Nasturtium 'Climbing Phoenix'

I'm planning to edge the bed with the Nasturtiums and Calendula.

Some time in the next few weeks I'll be out there sowing seeds, although I'll probably save the sweetpeas until March.

I've saved some space for new Dahlias, too, ordered from Swan Island Dahlias, which are set to arrive in the spring:

Gonzo Grape
Smarty Pants
Hot Tamale
Charlotte Mae

I did buy some seeds for a Dahlia called 'Black Beauty,' but that won't be going in the cutting garden. I have plans for the messy, overgrown bed that you can see in the pictures above to the right of the raised veggie bed, and those Dahlias will be going in there. I've grown Dahlias from seed before. You can see some of them in these old posts here, here, here, and here. For some reason, none of the Dahlias in those posts are growing in my garden any more.

Since tilling and amending the bed, weed seeds have sprouted. One in particular that I didn't recognize carpeted the bed on one end. I thought at first that it was annual Larkspur, it resembles it somewhat, and I grew Larkspur 9 years ago in a nearby bed. But I eventually realized it was baby celery, from the most recent veggie crop that I had grown here. I didn't think I had let those plants go to seed, but of course, I must have.

Millions of celery seedlings

The ever-present shotweed

I allowed lettuce to go to seed many years ago in this raised bed, and babies sprout here every year

I almost -- ALMOST -- gave in to the urge to go to Lowes and pick up a ready-mixed bottle of Roundup. I didn't. An hour and a half of weeding on a recent dry day when the temperature finally reached the high 40s, and they were gone. Funnily enough, several years ago when I first started growing vegetables in these raised beds, I tried growing celery from seed. Did any seeds sprout? Not a single one! I'm sure the God of Seed Starting was laughing his ass off, watching me bent over this bed, laboriously pinching and pulling all those celery seedlings.

In order to amend the bed I had to remove my cat deterrent, which has served me faithfully for several years now --  wooden skewers stuck all over the soil about 6 inches apart, sharp end up. When I was growing food here it was essential to keep the bed free of cat business, but with flowers I didn't consider it as important, so I didn't bother to replace them. It didn't take the neighborhood cats long to find the nice open soil.

Telltale sign of cat business

What do you think was under that meticulously scraped together pile of soil? Pee or poop?

Of course it was poop.

It's always poop.