Thursday, April 26, 2012

Artichoke Plants

I have nine artichoke plants this year and they all seem to be doing well. No signs of aphids this year thank goodness. Most of these will end up at the community garden plot. They've had plenty of cold weather treatment this spring so hopefully they will all produce buds this year. I've yet to have an artichoke plant not produce in the first year and am keeping my fingers crossed that this streak will continue here in Vermont.

I've become an artichoke addict during the past couple of years.  While the medium-sized buds I get from my plants can never compete with the enormous globes that are shipped in from California, they are indeed fresher. That being said, I will admit that I will never be a strict locavore.  When they are good, those California artichokes are just too tempting to pass up. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spring Cleaning

A few weeks ago, we began the task of cleaning up the raised beds behind our townhouse.  The beds had been left unattended to for at least the past year so much of the work involved lots of weeding.  Here, Marc is clearing out the crowded strawberry bed.  This is where I'll be growing much of my tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and string beans.  

I haven't done too much planting up until now.  The snow peas, shell peas and fava beans have sprouted but are growing rather slowly.  I also transplanted some spinach, lettuce and Asian greens not too long ago.  The rest will have to wait until May as temperatures are expected to reach down into the low 30's later on this week.

A while back, I also began work on cleaning up the overgrown soft fruit bed beside our unit.  I pruned back many of the shrubs, removed lots of dead branches and cleared out most of the weeds. Now all it needs is a top dressing of some good compost.

I wouldn't say that I know all that much about pruning fruit trees and shrubs.  Mostly, I pruned each shrub to a manageable size and shape and removed dead and crossing limbs.  I'm looking forward to seeing this elderberry bush in fool bloom.

As you can see from this picture, the raspberries have taken over much of this bed. I suspect that it's an everbearing variety because I remember seeing some fruit on the canes when we visited last December. In any case, I pruned back the tops and will wait to see if they produce an early summer crop as well. It's hard to see in this picture but there are also two black currant bushes behind the raspberry canes.

In addition to the black currants, there are also white and red varieties in the bed. The "Red Lake" currant bush in particular is loaded with buds. Hopefully it will produce well this year.

In addition to two dwarf cherry trees beside our unit, there's also a shrub that's described as a "bush cherry" in this bed.   I'm not quite sure what this is but it's flowering profusely right now.  I'll have to do some googling.

Finally, the four sorely neglected blueberry bushes don't look like they've done much growing thus far. Hopefully that will change as I would love to take some green wood cuttings this summer.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Favorite Thing - Soil Blocks

I'm glad to say that my love/hate relationship with soil blocks has now grown into being one of just love.  (Exciting, I know.)  I think the "hate" part of it was the result of having to source and combine the ingredients to create the soil block mix each year.  One benefit of living in Vermont is that many of local garden centers carry Vermont Compost Company's Fort Vee potting mix, which is designed for soil blocks.  Having used it now for the past couple of months, I have to say that I'm a HUGE fan.  Hopefully I'll never have to go back to making my own mix ever again.

This year, I decided to buy a 1 1/2 inch soil blocker to accompany my 2 inch and 3/4 inch mini blockers.  I start most of my melons, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, peppers and larger brassicas like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower each year using the 2 inch blocker.  However, this size block is a generally too large for greens like spinach and lettuce and most Asian greens like bok choy, tatsoi, mizuna, choy sum, etc.  The 1 1/2 inch blocks are good for onions and beets as well.  If you're on a tight gardening budget, I'd recommend getting the 2 inch blocker to start, but now that I have both, I couldn't imagine doing without either.  Admittedly, I haven't found much use for the 3/4 inch mini blocker and doubt that I ever will.

I generally sow 2 to 3 seeds per block and then thin the seedlings down to 1 (with the exception of scallions, which I don't thin, and large seeds, which I sow 1 or 2 per block).  Most of the time, I get pretty good germination rates this way. 

For tomatoes and peppers, I generally pot-up to a 3 or 4 inch pot once they've outgrown their blocks and bury as much of the stem as I can.  I'd consider buying a 4 inch blocker but don't think it's really worth it.

Anyway, if you've never tried soil blocks, I hope you give them a try.  The blockers run about 25 to 30 dollars each but are well worth the investment in my opinion.

I'm Baaaack!

 I have to apologize for being MIA for so long.  I don't think I've ever gone this long without posting something.  But now that things are starting to warm up here in Vermont (this week being an exception) and I've gotten our community garden plot squared away, I'm sure I'll have more to talk about. 

These are just two random pictures I took of Lake Champlain a while back.  They're nothing to write home about and don't highlight some of the spectacular mountain views you can see from the shore, but on this day, we came across some bird watchers and even spotted a few Bald Eagles circling in the sky.  (I was sorely disappointed that I'd neglected to bring along my telephoto lens.) We're really looking forward to exploring the nearby forests and mountains this summer.

We're finally getting some much needed rain this week, though it might end up being a bit too much.  I don't remember the last time we've had a spring this dry.  The soil in the raised beds behind our townhouse had begun to take on that grey sandy dust bowl-ish look.  Hopefully this is not the start of another wacky year of weather.  This past winter was wacky enough.