Starting Seeds Indoors

It’s that time of the year when gardeners everywhere are aching for spring to arrive! Every February and March our entire dining room turns into a grow operation with seed trays, germination heating mats and artificial lighting.  It is a family affair, picking out the seeds and getting set up –  but this Sunday we are participating in #supersowsunday a twitter event for gardeners!
This year we got a new light system which is T5 light fixture with stand, which is adjustable to move up as the plants grow.  Without enough light seedlings can become leggy quickly as they reach for the light, resulting in weak plants that don’t stand a chance outside.  Using a south facing window sill will work ok, but artificial lighting is ideal!
Originally, we were going to build a cheap DIY PVC structure with scrap irrigation parts and attach an adjustable light fixture (like this one), but this kit wasn’t too expensive, it was easy/quick to put together and we know it will last year after year.
Seeds we are starting indoors first include food from the brassica family (broccoli, kale, cabbage), then  the plants that have a long germination period or longer window for harvesting which require more heat to be productive  (tomatoes, peppers, etc)  There are many seeds we simply wait to start outside because they don’t appreciate being transplanted (some lettuces and root crops such as carrots).
About 4-6 weeks after germination we move the seedlings into our hoop house  and there they will harden off and acclimate to cooler temperatures.  Once the danger of frost has past (which is usually late April here) then we can finally move them outdoors and into the garden.  Although, this year we will keep tomatoes and peppers in the hoop house until July.  I want more peppers damn it!

Egg cartons are one of my favorite seed starting trays

The Book- Gardening + Chickens

For anyone who doesn’t know, I am currently writing a book for Timber Press and I am thrilled to say it is almost done!  The finish line is right around the corner and it is coming together perfectly.  The book is tentatively titled “FREE RANGE GARDENS: A guide to creating a beautiful chicken-friendly space” and is a mix of garden design, permaculture, chicken keeping 101,  and lots of plant information.  I can’t wait to share more details in the coming months as the book goes to marketing and print!  Be sure to look for the book in Timber Press’ Fall 2011 catalog and follow my events page which I update regularly.   This Feb I will be speaking at the NW Flower and Garden show about designing urban homesteads and a special seminar on gardening with chickens called “What the Cluck?!”

Sneak peak - the photographer Kate taking photos at a special chicken garden

The process of writing has been so much different from my daily work as a business owner, landscape designer and farm girl-mama.  One of my favorite  things about it has been meeting a bunch of like minded chicken owners who have great gardens!  Normally when I go to someone elses garden I am consulting and answering questions, but the roles have reversed and I’ve loved it!  I’m the chicken garden reporter!   I have also been ecstatic to be working with a professional photographer.  Kate of Kate Baldwin Photography is fantastic to work with and when I look through her gorgeous photos I have a permanent grin and will often laugh out loud at some of the moments she captured.  I wish I could always work with her on every project!

Halloween Garden

Every year we decorate for Halloween – starting in early October.   We see lots of spooky gardens in nearby neighborhoods, and our garden is pretty mellow in comparison – no orange string lights or blow up ghosts, but we do have our fair share of cheesy decor.

Gravestones at the base of each Vine Maple

the family's pumkins on the front porch (including Spanky the dog - his it the white one)

This is Charlie - he greets everyone at the front door

A Skull wind chime that moans and groans when you walk by

guess who was buried here?


from this happy zombie couple

We're off to a Zombie Wedding!

Garden mayhem – Turkey style

I was really starting to get attached to our turkeys – the male is stunning when he is on display and the female is sweet and submissive.  But she has a tough attitude towards the male when he is *ahem* trying to get down to business and kicks his ass!  My kids (and most people) are intimidated by their size and intensity.  If you wear anything shiny like buttons, they will charge and try to eat it, which can feel like a bite but is really just curiosity.
Well… yesterday, the large male turkey managed to figure out his way into our veggie garden… and all hell broke loose.
Plants were crushed and entire tomato trellis structures toppled over.  This bird weighs close to 20 lbs and his feet are bigger than my hand…like a toddler in a china store -total destruction.  To top it all off, he chased after my 1year old Staffy Bull Terrier Spanky, who ran away with his tail tucked in between his legs.

Things I learned from this experience:
•my chicken-proof garden is not a turkey-proof garden by any means.
•my dog is a wimp – so much for a pocket sized pit bull
•I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving!
On the bright side, it IS the end of the season and this gave me an excuse to do some major clean up – the damn nasturtiums were out of control this year!

Memorial Gardens – Small & Large

It is never easy to lose a loved one, whether it is a family member, a friend or even a pet.  The grieving process can be one of the most emotionally difficult and painful experiences we go through in life.  Even after years have gone by, my throat and chest still tighten up and my eyes start to burn in my effort to hold back tears when thinking about my loved ones who have passed.  Everyone grieves differently, but it is nice to try and focus on celebrating your loved one and remembering their life.  Naturally, I look for ways to do that in the garden.

A small angel statue watches over the grave of a special pet

As a landscape designer my clients often ask me to incorporate memorial elements into their garden spaces– whether it is a small sitting area surrounded by plants with sentimental value, a small plaque, statue or a single tree.  Often the plants used have a specific fragrance, colors or a species that their loved one once enjoyed.  I’ve also been asked to place such memorable transplants into gardens that were carried from home to home.  My own mother dug up her special roses every time we moved when I was young.  To this day, the only reason I plant roses is because of her passion for those few plants.

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Me & Grandpa

Last year I had the pleasure and honor of working on an amazing project.  The City of Mill Creek asked for my help to design a memorial garden for veterans. Early on in the process, my Grandfather passed away unexpectedly which left me unable to function normally for many weeks.   He was an incredible man that I was proud to call my Grandfather.  It was a difficult time, but this project helped me get through it.

Throughout the design process – especially once I could see it coming to life, emotions always got the best of me.   Both of my grandfathers served in the military during WWII, and now neither will ever see this memorial.  However, both will have their names engraved in stone at this site.

Veterans Memorial Rendering

On Memorial Day, May 31st, 2010  the City of Mill Creek unveiled the “Veteran’s Monument”, the community garden for people to honor and remember the men and women who served in the military.  The morning event was full of hundreds of faces young and old, many in decorated uniforms.  Despite the downpour of rain, people stood and listened to the dedication and heartbreaking stories of families who’ve lost their loved ones. Afterwards the visitors where able to browse the many names of men and women who were in the Armed Forces, all engraved on beautifully polished basalt columns.

In the course of this project I listened to many stories of veterans and their loved ones which often left me speechless.  These are all people to respect and remember; who sacrificed time away from family and often their lives.  I cannot easily find the words to describe how much of an incredible experience it was; to work with so many passionate people on a community project that has so much meaning to everyone involved, and the great community it was built for.

Even months after the unveiling ceremony I can’t help but get teary when I see someone in the garden, which will be a place for people to honor their loved ones, forever.

More on this project:

How to build a hot bed out of recycled glass bottles

Earlier this year I designed a wine bottle bed for the 2010 Northwest Flower and Garden Show display we created in partnership with Seattle Tilth.  After the garden show I moved it into a spot in our garden and grew our very first RIPE pepper, before any of our tomatoes ripened!!!

Ripe pepper in a wine bottle bed

The idea is simple: the sunlight warms up the air inside the glass and expands.   The heated air is pushed through the bottle neck into the soil warming it, and the plant growing in the soil.

Because of the limited size of the garden show display we made it small and in a circle large enough for one plant.  This concept can be used for any size bed – just keep in mind the size or length of your bottles, which can be valuable growing space.

Follow these steps:

  • collect bottles (wine, beer or soda) that is the fun part!
  • place in an area for raised bed(s)
  • concrete the necks, one row at a time – leaving the necks open for air movement (we used half cobb in this mixture)
  • stack at least 3 bottles high
  • fill with good growing soil
  • plant inside of the raised bed a plant that thrives off of heat (peppers, tomatoes, melons, etc)

This is a great way to grow warmth loving crops that don’t normally thrive in a limited growing season.  Here in the Pacific Northwest I live in one of those cold microclimates that is nearly one month behind the warmer maritime microclimates of Seattle.  I plan to build many more of these, and much larger… so, I’d better get to emptying those bottles!

Grow beans grow!

Ok.  So I have never been a great vegetable gardener – I admit it.  I am usually crazy busy every spring worried about client’s garden’s and don’t have too much time for my own.  I do try though and that is what counts, right?

So this year we built a cool trellis and please, just take a guess at what kind of beans I planted… Yes, BUSH beans which will have no interest in climbing on the pretty new trellis made of hog fence in a birch colored pencil frame.  It was 3 weeks ago that I figured out this goof up and tried to think of every possible way to jump start a climbing bean crop.  So I started seeds in the ground, I started seeds in the greenhouse and even bought some veggie starts at the local hardware store. Any other year it would be no big deal, but in 5 days the Seattle Times is coming to take photos of our garden!!

Grow beans grow!

and just because.  This is our first sunflower of the season.

Garden Enemy #1

At this time of the year, my daily ritual involves walking through my vegetable garden several times throughout the day to check on my plants, harvest, weed a bit and snack on the raspberries.

Yesterday in the late afternoon I found a big squash plant uprooted  and four feet from where I planted it,  along with a bunch of other plants all dug up, knocked over slowly dying from the heat.  Immediately I growled, started to see red and looked around for the offender – was it the chickens?  But within seconds I heard what sounded like a hiccup… then a little sneeze.

This fat little bastard was sun bathing on the fence and just looked at me with a taunting “yeah – whatchya gonna do bitch?”

Oh.. it is ON squirrel!