Monthly Archives: May 2011

Spiderwort

Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Spiderwort

Spiderwort, a set on Flickr.

When we moved into our house, the backyard hadn’t been touched in years. Have you seen I am Legend? It was like that (minus those scary, shrieking creatures). The entire lot was covered in a thick, dense jungle of weeds and bramble and mud.

Hedwig, the elderly woman who lived here before us, was well into her nineties when she passed away and didn’t have the physical ability to maintain the yard. But even among all those weeds, it was evident that a pretty extensive garden had once existed.

After we closed on the house, Hedwig’s daughter sent a note and told us to keep an eye out for the daffodils in spring. Sure enough, a field of brilliant yellow blossoms popped open in mid-April. These were followed by a curious indigo flower that I had never seen before, but have since identified as Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana).

Each stem has little clusters of purple flowers that open in the morning and close again in the afternoon sun. I read that the plant is native to the Mid-Atlantic region and does fine in clay soils, like mine. At one time, it was believed to be a cure for spider bites (hence the name), and it is still known to grow wild in some areas.

Veggie Update

Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Tomatoes Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011
Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Japanese turnips, beets, cucumbers and string beans Kale and cabbage

Garden Update, a set on Flickr.

I am thrilled with how things are going so far…and extremely grateful to Mel’s Mix and the small fortune I spent on vermiculite.

First: The Tomatoes
The seedlings I started in March are now four feet tall. Since I had little faith in my ability to grow and nurture new plants from scratch, I sowed about three times as many seeds as I thought I needed. I guess my thumb is greener than I thought – I now have close to 20 plants! My full fledged tomato nursery includes four varieties: Ananas Noire, Pantano Romanesco, Black Elephant and Chadwick Cherry. I see a lot of little blossoms and am expecting tiny fruit any day now. Bees – get to work!

Next: The Peppers
I am also growing peppers – Traditional Cayenne and Pepperoncini. Like the tomatoes, I over planted.  Except I don’t think I transplanted these plants fast enough – they’ve started to produce big peppers already but the plants themselves are still pretty small. I have them in 2-3 gallon terra cotta pots.

Third: The Greens
My lettuce and kale are too beautiful to eat. I’ve been picking off a leaf or two to nibble here and there, but mostly I just want to stand back and admire.

The first variety (the largest in the picture) is Lettuce de Morges Braun, which I planted because of its bad-ass name. It’s supposed to develop a reddish, pinky hue, but mine is still green. I had some in a BLT for lunch today and it was delicious.

I also planted Oak Leaf Lettuce,  regular old Romaine and Lollo Rossa. (I see a lot of Caesar Salads in my future.) Next to that is a ton of arugula, which is my favorite green, and some spinach.

I am also growing Tuscan Black Kale, which I think is far tastier than Siberian, as well as a few cabbages. Not sure what to do with those cabbages…but they are definitely cute.

Last: In Development
The other two planters house chives, Danvers carrots and Cosmic Purple carrots, watermelon, Emerald Gem melon, cucumbers, string beans, beets and  Japanese turnips (which are spicy like radishes and delicious).

Things are really coming along! Last year I didn’t begin until the end of June, and I am really happy I got a head start this time around by sowing some seeds indoors. I can finally take a bit of a breather and sit back and watch things grow, though I do have to build my trellises for the cucumbers and melons as well as think about what other crops I want to plant for a fall harvest.

Setting up Planters & Mixing the Soil

Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011
Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Ridgewood Queens Backyard Garden 2011 Last Year's Garden Last Year's Garden

Last year I used sticks and rope to section off my garden rows and grew everything in the existing soil – which in our case is a blend of clay, hot pink gravel from the previous owner’s discarded aquarium, and feces from a colony of feral cats who use our backyard as a toilet. I’m surprised I didn’t catch some sort of disease from eating what grew out of that amalgam.

After a lackluster harvest – and fears of contamination – I decided to invest in a real set-up. This year I have state-of-the-art garden planters that are filled to the brim with Mel’s Mix– a special soil developed by Mel Bartholemew that comprises equal parts compost, peat moss and vermiculite.

The wood for the planters was very budget-friendly. Around $100 or so for untreated lumber, which we built into 5 planters (4 @ 4 x 3 x 2′ and 1@ 8 x 3 x 1′). But the Mel’s Mix was another story. While compost and peat moss are relatively inexpensive, vermiculite – a mineral that improves aeration – costs around $23 per 2 cubic foot bag. And I needed A LOT of bags. In total, I spent $500 (!) to fill all of the planters.

Should I have went with regular (and cheaper) pre-mixed garden soil? I’m not sure. My plants are thriving, as you’ll see, though they might have done just as well with store bought dirt. But from what I’ve read, Mel’s Mix is worth the investment if you plan to be gardening in the same spot for many years to come. The soil will last a long time as long as you add new compost each year.

There are also other benefits to using Mel’s Mix besides crop yield, and the biggest one for me is that it is extremely hard to overwater your plants with this soil. The mix drains incredible well, so I don’t have to worry if I keep the hose on for a little too long.

Starting Seedlings Indoors

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Starting Seedlings Indoors, a set on Flickr.

I started some of my seeds under grow lights inside in early March. I think I could have actually waited a bit and sowed them directly in the ground, but I was really eager to get started and just grow something.

After researching online, I quickly determined that professional grow lights were way too expensive and instead jerry-rigged my own system out of six shop lights we had in our basement. For bulbs, I used 42-Watt Daylight CFLs, which were impossible to find in any Home Depot in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens. I went to four different stores and then finally ordered them from Amazon.

I also bought two Burpee Seed Starting kits, which I highly recommend. The peat pots I used dried out far too quickly under the grow lights and required twice daily waterings, while the Burpee kit kept everything hydrated with minimal attention.

I ran my lights on a timer for 16 hours a day – any longer and the plants will actually start to turn purple, which mind did when I kept the lights on 24/7. When I reduced the number of hours, they regained their green color in a few days.

To maximize the effect of the lights, I covered my shelves with tin foil, which made my basement look like an extraterrestrial landing site, but it really helped to direct the light onto the plants farthest from the bulbs.

In just four weeks I had tomato, kale, cabbage, and pepper seedlings, as well as daisies, zinnias and forget-me-nots!