Monday, March 25, 2013

Failed Fall Seeds

In a past move, I gained a yard in August, but didn't plant much, thinking the growing season was almost over. I came to regret it, as fall went on and frost didn't hit until November. So when I moved into this apartment last summer, I quickly got to work in early August planting for a fall vegetable harvest.

Radish greens with no radishes underground

Poor little broccoli that died at that size.

I'd done alright growing a few things from seed before, so I thought I would try growing it all from seed rather than starters, since it's so much cheaper -- especially having just spent a lot of money related to the move. However, it was an experiment that largely failed. I direct sowed a variety of cool-weather vegetables - carrots, leeks, kale, mixed greens, arugula, radishes, broccoli, delicata squash, and more, but they all sprouted into little seedlings and then just stalled out.

Kale seedlings, the one plant which actually did get bigger (though not big enough for harvesting) and survived the winter.

I'm not sure why. It shouldn't have been the soil, because I used soil from a few different sources. Maybe it was that I didn't add any compost to the soil myself, but the potting soils I bought had organic matter mixed in, and the garden store owner told me I didn't need to add compost. It may have been the weather, since there was a storm that beat down the two-week oldish seedlings, and they never really recovered. After a couple more weeks, I planted new seeds, but they also stalled out, and I think there was another storm that didn't help matters. It's possible it was something called damping off, which can happen when soil is too wet and fungus attacks the young plants...which is worrisome since the fungus would still be in the soil this year. Another theory is lack of light, since there are several trees overlooking my yard, and trees are at their leafiest in summer when the seeds were planted.

Any gardeners out there have any suggestions for what I could do differently this year?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Yard Last Summer: Before and After

As I prepare for the season of gardening ahead, I realized that I did not write a single post about my new yard last summer, probably because I was too busy working in it to write about it. It's a grassy 70 by 20 feet, which is big for New York standards and gives us a good amount of space to work with. Unfortunately, the lush and shady trees make gardening a challenge. I also think the patio is awkwardly small - something we're trying to improve this year. It's a constant experiment and work in progress.

Before: the first time we saw the yard last June

After: In Late August, after cleaning, planting and decorating

We moved in to the new apartment in late July, and the apartment had been vacant since April or May, so the first step was just to clean up the overzealous weeds and trim the grass, which my boyfriend did using a scythe and a pushmower. I also dug out lots of weed roots using a trowel.

Under the weeds, I found the remnants of an old raised bed. However, without knowing the provenance of the soil and it being in a shady spot, I chose to plant ornamental plants rather than vegetables in the bed. I did a lot of digging to put impatiens in the ground and decided that I'm never again planting annuals in the ground as starters - only as seeds. Perennial starters - like the hostas and dusty miller - on the other hand are worth it, since they will come back again this year.

I planted an assortment of flowers and herbs in pots, which did fine, and fall vegetables from seeds, which didn't grow (post to come). In the back of the yard we keep a compost bin made out of a trash can (which also deserves its own post). While we trimmed back a lot of weeds, we left the lovely ivy already growing and expanding along the fences on both sides.

Evan's parents gave us a bistro table set, which is perfect for dinners for two. They also gave us the chiminea which extends the use of the yard into cooler mosquito-free fall and spring times. It's technically illegal to have open fires outside in New York City, but the chiminea is much safer than a firepit, and it's only an issue if neighbors complain to the fire department, and so far, so good. 

For entertaining, we made a big table by putting an old door on top of sawhorses. We found several wooden folding chairs on craigslist, that we keep stashed away inside and pull out for extra seating for dinner parties or backyard gatherings. My images of actually having outdoor dinner parties around this table, however, were quashed by tropics-level mosquitos (someday I'll write about that too).

It may still be snowing, but this year, I'm already scheming up what are probably over-optimistic plans of more flowers, more vegetables and fewer mosquitos.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Turning Up and Down the Heat

In past winters, Crunchy Chicken has encouraged people to join a Freeze Yer Buns Challenge to lower your thermostat as much as you're comfortable. I always wondered, given the opportunity to control my heat, if I would keep my home cold.

Now, for the first time in my adult life, I have an apartment where I get to control (and pay for) my own heat. What I've found is that because our heat is not that expensive, my selfish desire to be warm wins out over my recognition that it's an indulgent consumption of more resources that I need.

Head over to the Green Phone Booth, where I reveal how much I pay for heat, to set off a discussion about the costs and temperatures of our homes during wintertime.