Monday, February 23, 2015

Broccoli and Kale

Just a quick update on the greenhouse progress. Eight days after planting, my broccoli and kale are up. The greenhouse has been reaching the 80s most days and cooling off to 40 or so at night. We've had frost the last three nights, so I am sure the heater has been kicking in at 35 degrees. We picked the sunniest spot we could find in the backyard for the greenhouse. It only gets sun from about 9:00 until 3:00 at best right now. Anyway, a few more cosmos poke their heads up every day but still only one artichoke.

I moved the onions left over from last year yesterday so that John could till manure into one last bed. The garden took a side seat to the concrete pour for the pizza oven this past weekend.

We added colorant to the water before adding the bags of Readimix to the concrete mixer. The pizza oven will go in the area next to the stairs. Our plan is to do different squares of eight by eight-foot concrete in different colors (browns, blues, greens, etc.) and also stain each with acid. We'll eventually cover the whole patio that way. The path from the deck to the garden gate will wind through the patio in green concrete.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

First seedlings emerge!

After one week's wait, a few seeds came up today. Since this is my first time using my greenhouse in February, (I didn't have it until late April of last year), I am pretty excited. Emerging from the soil are two tiny cosmos seedlings and one artichoke seedling.

Two tiny cosmos seedlings peeked out today (foreground and right background).
I almost missed the artichoke beginning to poke out from the soil.
An update on the frozen peat moss: it spread out just fine today, now that it has had a chance to thaw. There is still one small clump from the middle of the giant, half-bag chunk that wasn't quite ready to break apart.

I also bought a new rhubarb plant (gallon-sized) from True Value in Duvall (they have a great nursery) for $7.99. Much better than Territorial Seed's price, which was double. I planted it today. Its roots will be happy to spread--they were bunched pretty tightly.

My husband requested that I plant sunflowers in memory of his brother, who used to grow sunflowers as tall as he could. We bought some Mongolian Giant from Territorial, and I planted them today in the greenhouse. I know you're supposed to direct sow them, but mine always get eaten by the birds. They are supposed to get 15 feet tall, and the flowers are 18 inches. Even if they reach half that size, they'll be pretty cool.

We have work to do on the patio tomorrow (pouring a section of concrete slab for the pizza oven), so I may not get to plant my tomatoes until next weekend.

I'll keep you posted!

NG Gardener

Friday, February 20, 2015

Going all-out for tomatoes

Colder temperatures and rain set in the last few days (highs around 48), so we headed for some eastern Washington sunshine. I came home to several packages for my tomatoes and peppers waiting for me. I am going to make my best attempt to grow my own tomatoes and peppers from seed.

Hydrated lime, worm castings, a grow light, a timer, a thermostatic outlet, and Thrive Alive are all part of my tomato plan.
I plan to add 10 percent worm castings to my potting soil, along with 1 teaspoon of lime per gallon of soil. I will water with Thrive Alive and have my seedlings under a grow light on a timer--on for 18 hours. I ordered a light from Amazon that has red and blue LEDs, so it only draws 12 watts. The plants are supposed to absorb the light better than a fluorescent light. It's a TaoTronich LED Plant Grow Light:

I have a heater in the greenhouse set to heat to 50 degrees, but I bought an outlet that will turn the heater on at 35 degrees and off at 45. ( That will pretty much heat the greenhouse if we have an extreme temperature dip. Since I have the heater out there, and I also plan to have a fan going once the seedlings come up to keep it from getting too humid, I think it is best if I don't have the light on 24 hours, since it is guaranteed not to heat up for 18 hours. I don't want to trip the circuit that the greenhouse is plugged into because our freezer full of salmon and berries is also on the same circuit!

We got home just before dark, so I haven't had a chance to check on my greenhouse to see if anything has come up yet. Maybe tomorrow! Sunshine again until mid next week!

NG Gardener

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Frozen Peat Moss = Another Day of Hard Work!

After yesterday's manure moving, I was determined that today would be a relative day of rest. My plan was to pick up a few leafy debris piles in the garden, clip a few salal trunks to the ground, plant some leeks and paint the garden gates. Oh yes, and spread some peat moss onto several of the manure amended beds. It turned out to be a little more work than I bargained for, that last item, which prevented me from getting to other items on my list, not to mention rest.

Peat moss lightens up heavy soil and improves its drainage. I was worried that the manure on the top of the garden beds was too heavy, even though my husband tilled it in as best he could.
John, my husband, brought home five 3-cubic foot bags of genuine Canadian peat moss from Home Depot. I cut the bags open, expecting the peat moss to spring out of its compression and await being raked into the bed. A strange thing happened, though. Over 50 percent of the peat stayed compressed. I tried breaking off chunks, and that worked for a while, but it became so difficult to break apart that I had to get a hatchet. Even through my garden gloves, the peat felt cold. Could it be frozen? As I chopped away, I realized that I could see small chunks of ice cut through by my hatchet.

 A hatchet thrown into peat moss should break it apart; not MY peat moss!
John suggested I leave it for later when it had had a chance to thaw. Three of the five bags had the same problem. John reported that the bags had ice on the outside of them at the store. Late in the afternoon, I returned to some of the frozen chunks to find that they had indeed began to thaw.

You can see the frozen chunks in the foreground. I'll try raking them tomorrow!
With the peat moss finally being (mostly) spread out on the beds, I began to clean up, picking up the debris piles from yesterday. I tugged at a few salal stalks in the stump and starting pulling them out by the roots as much as possible (sometimes, they just broke off). What I had intended to be just a little tidying up became a full-out attack on the salal and the stump itself, which is rotting. Hours later, I had a wheelbarrow piled high with salal root and cedar stump, a tired back, and a transformed flower bed.

About two-thirds of the stump remains, and you can actually see the day lilies. The sedum that used to be growing in the rocks is gone, choked out by the salal, which, until yesterday, engulfed the stump top to bottom.
After hauling the carnage to the burn pile, I didn't have the energy to pick up the remaining debris piles.

I managed to plant leeks (seeds my friend Nicole saved from her garden), but the gates didn't get painted (or hung for that matter), nor did I transplant some left over onions from last year.

My newly planted flats of seeds should sprout by this weekend. I hope!

I was wavering on my decision to have John cut away the rest of the cedar stump; it could be pretty with cucumbers or squash growing up it, mingling with nasturtiums. After examining the stump from several vantage points, I decided that though the stump could be pretty, I would rather not have it in the middle of my vegetable garden. Some day soon, I'll come home to the stump cut to the ground. We may actually reassemble it in a nearby herb garden bed. Cool!

You can just about see my entire garden from the upper deck. The blueberry cloche behind the stump will get much more light with it gone completely. Even now, it gets more light with the salal gone (and the huckleberry bush, which John cut from the top several months ago).
In all, I got a lot done today, despite the cooler, cloudy weather. Cliff Mass (University of Washington meteorology professor) says our weather is to be colder and wetter the last week of February. It's not spring yet!

My greenhouse hovered at a comfortable 60 degrees, even without an ounce of sunshine.
Until Saturday afternoon,

NG Gardener

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I have a greenhouse!

Welcome to Nitty Gritty Garden, a down-to-the-details how-to vegetable garden blog about gardening in the Pacific Northwest, zone 8a. (I found a helpful website where all you have to do is put in your zipcode and it tells you your zone, plus adds others by clicking in a box.) We live in Duvall, WA, so we are a bit colder than Seattle. Everything is a little later here than the surrounding suburbs of Seattle.

I have been gardening for over twenty years, but 2015 marks my initiation into gardening a la greenhouse. Late last spring, I purchased a kit greenhouse with some inheritance money (thanks, Dad!). By the time we were done with the greenhouse (my husband built the foundation, we put the kit together over spring break, and I built my own benches), it was late April. Currently, 2015 is really my first year using the greenhouse.

Specific greenhouse info in case you wanna know: I purchased an 8 x 8-foot greenhouse from the Greenhouse Mega Store ( for around $1200. I also got my potting supplies (not soil) from them. The greenhouse was relatively easy to put together, but you should know my husband and I built our own log home (and I mean that literally) and I did the wiring, so we are no strangers to construction, following obscure directions, and the like. I am quite happy with the greenhouse thus far. The self ventilating window is pretty cool!

Venturing into virgin territory, I am scrambling to figure out what to plant when. Last spring, I realized that even the size of the seed starting pots was an unknown, though my 2 x 2-inch pots seemed to work well for all seed starts. We had a mild winter here in Duvall, WA, and we seem to be having an early spring. Our average last frost date is around March 29, so I am planning accordingly.

February 15, I planted a good deal of my cooler weather plants in the greenhouse using Edna's Best Organic Potting Soil, purchased at my local True Value:

  • artichokes
  • beets
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • chard
  • cilantro
  • kale
  • lettuce
  • peas
  • spinach

I purchase most of my seeds from Territorial Seeds, some this year but some saved from years past. I also have some seeds from my friend Nicole, who is also an avid gardener and award-winning garden photographer (

I also planted some flowers, as my goal is to grow all my flowers for decorative pots and window boxes from seed:

  • nasturtiums (saved from my flowers last year)
  • sweet peas

The temperatures have been amazing: 55-60 during the day, but a chilly 32-34 at night. I have lidded five-gallon buckets filled with water under my planting shelves in the greenhouse, and I also have a small heater set to 50 degrees. On a sunny day (as it has been the past week), the greenhouse reaches 90-100 degrees, but at night it cools off to 40, so I decided to use the heater. I have ordered a 35 degree activated plug that will turn the heat on at 35 degrees and off at 45. I'll let you know how it works when it arrives. I have also ordered a special grow light for my tomatoes, which I plan to plant this coming weekend. I will have it on an 18-hour timer.

Meanwhile, I have spent the last several days getting my garden beds ready. I have 5 x 5-foot and 5 x 10-foot raised beds (made from 2 x 10" treated wood); two 5 x 5' beds, six 5 x 10' beds, plus other randomly sized beds, a blueberry cloche, and a raspberry patch. The soil level is low and needs amending, so we are adding aged manure from Hollandia Farms in Monroe. We inherited a farm truck from my dad (aka Rosie) that my husband used to bring home manure and a compost soil mix from West Coast Nursery on Hwy 203.

Yesterday, we started amending the two small beds and one large one. We used our cement mixer to mix the manure with the existing garden soil and some ROCK DUST, and the rototilled the mix into the beds. They turned out beautifully, but it took a really long time, and my husband is recovering from knee surgery so a lot of the shovelling and wheelbarrowing was left to me. Today, we decided to skip the cement mixer and just till the manure into the beds directly. It didn't work as well, but I think it will be OK. In all, I moved 13 large (two-wheeled) wheelbarrow loads into the garden to the remaining beds. I am pooped (pun intended)! I will be skipping my core workout tomorrow morning and just doing my physical therapy!

I will start planting in the beds as soon as the potatoes and onions get here. Hurry up! Here is my garden plan for 2015:

Also, we have decided to plant edibles amongst decorative plants on our patio-to-be. We are still installing planting beds, but for now, we have 250 plus daffodil and tulip bulbs that we planted on a very wet and rainy day late last fall. They are all sprouting now, even the daffodils I forgot to plant that stayed in a box outside on the deck in a covered area! Can't wait to see them bloom. I will post pictures soon. The bulb sprouts, from the nearby Skagit Valley, are huge!

I ran out of energy today, but tomorrow I will take and post some pictures. I will also be planting leek seeds. I hope you are making the most of the early spring! Yours,

NG Gardener