Sunday, March 18, 2012

it's too nice to be indoors

these two never get tired of playing with water.  they were supposedly watering the asparagus.

Officially it's still winter.  There's still a day or two until the spring equinox, so it's still astronomical winter, at least in the northern hemisphere.

Taking a step outside told a different story though.  Warm, humid, beautiful temperatures, starting the middle of last week, and continuing through the weekend.

The plants don't know what to think.  They've gone from being covered with ice, and inches of snow cover a couple of weeks ago- to this- 82F and humid.  Lilacs are starting to bud, the tulips are starting to emerge.  I even saw a few dandelions starting to poke up out of the space between the foundation of the house and the sidewalk.

I'd already committed a chunk of the weekend to sanding the floors at the vacant apartment at our rental place.  But they didn't have a machine at the rental place Saturday morning, so I thought I might be able to change plans-- but no luck, they got one back in an hour later.

Nice weather helps when sanding a hardwood floor.  At least I can open the windows to let some of the dust out- but if I had known the weather was going to be this beautiful, I would have planned to be in the garden.

As it was, I was able to spend most of Saturday and Sunday mornings in the garden.  Couldn't wake the tenants up with all of that racket early in the morning after all.

chocolate brown compost on tulips
I was able to clean out the compost that had all year to break down.  I'm sometimes amazed at the quality of what we get, for just throwing stuff in a bin and turning it once or twice.  This year was no exception.  Nice, crumbly dark chocolate brown compost with a little bit of a 'carroty' smell.

I'm not sure why it smells like carrots, but it does.  I throw some carrot waste in the compost, but it's a really small amount by percentage.

the old reliable compost bin- due for replacement soon
I was able to scrape together four wheelbarrows worth of good compost while my son watched, wondering what dad was up to now.  He followed me as I dumped a good 'barrow and a half on the asparagus bed, then dumped the rest on the raised beds we had built last year as a part of the patio/wall project.  I had filled in some of the beds with subsoil we dug out in the process of digging out the patio, and it was showing.  The soil was dry and cracking- needed organic matter.  Time for topping off with compost.

biodegradable?  really?
The roses got a shot of compost too.  After the veggies, they're probably the biggest nutrient hogs, so I try to make sure that they get a little love when it's compost time too.

One surprise I found when digging in the compost was  a couple of 'biodegradeable' plant pots which have been in there for almost a year now.   No biodegradation happening there.    I didn't buy the plants just for the biodegradable pots, but it was a factor.  I was pretty excited to see a local store selling plants in this kind of pot too.  Too bad it doesn't actually seem to work.

I'll leave them in the compost to see if anything happens this year.  Maybe I need to bury them deeper- I'm not sure.

But that sort of thing bothers me.  If an item is sold as a green alternative, but then doesn't perform like one, that reflects badly on all 'green' products, whether it's warranted or not.  A green product, whether it's a flowerpot or an electric car, that doesn't work as advertised squanders some of the social capital, or goodwill that green products are more or less automatically endowed with.   There are too many people and businesses trying to do environmentally responsible things, earnestly, not just for a buck, to have that goodwill thrown away by a greenwashed product.

Not to be too hard on this particular product, but I do want to hold the makers and sellers of these things to be held accountable.

'straw' on the strawberries

But enough of that. 

I was  pretty proud of finding another way to recycle something from our yard in another way this weekend.  I cut back the Indian grass in our front yard and the hosta canes, then cut them up more finely as 'straw' for our strawberry patch now entering its second season.

I was thinking about breaking down and just buying a bale of straw, but looked around, and staring me right in the face, were stalks of tall yellow grass- not so different than the stalks of wheat or oath that 'real' straw would be made from.  Who says native plantings and permaculture are incompatible? 

The grass is a Minnesota native, and the strawberries are not- though the 'Sparkle' cultivar may have a larger than average proportion of wild strawberry genetic material, given the small size and delicous flavor of the berries.

As a friend of mine in college once said, "You already have everything you need'".   I just needed to look a little harder. 

mom and son gardening

Gita, despite the chemo and fatigue that comes with it, was outside raking leaves and cutting back last year's plants this weekend. 

The leaves will be saved as mulch for the veggie garden, or as a donation to the new local community garden.  I put a half-dozen bags in the garage where they'll stay until we need them.  We may snag a few more bags if the neighbors put out their leaves for the trash truck to pick up.  (That is, pay people to take away some top-notch natural mulch and fertilizer.)

This was a good weekend.  Between the gardening and floor sanding, I've got a good muscle ache going, which I'm sure will be with me for the next couple of days.  But it's a good ache, and it's satisfying to get the first real gardening of the year in.  Nothing a cold beer won't fix.

I hope this weather lasts.  I've had several conversations this week, all with the theme 'Do you think this is real/ will last?'  My guess is that it will.  The predictions are for this kind of weather to last for the next 10 days or so- and that puts us almost into April.  If the ground is warm in early April, I think that creates an inertia that's hard to turn around.  Snow will melt as soon as it hits the ground.

Minnesota weather is famously fickle, so I may eat my words.  But this seems like the real thing.  Either way, I'll take it.


  1. I just got in from a weekend of work as well. We are going to start raising meat rabbits, so we got a few hutches off craigslist (with a pet rabbit not destined for the pot). We also built a a couple of new raised beds and borrowed a truck to get some soil. I had to sprint with barrows full of soil so we could get the truck back to our friend.

    Then, made some serious steps on a greenhouse. Foundation 4X4s and the frame is up. Next the back wall, and then the glass starts going in.

    Definitely a good muscle ache. And tomorrow I head to an organic farm I work on each Monday. The farmer is old and wise, and pays with food....

  2. I spent Sunday mixing soil for some of the Square Foot Garden boxes I've made. I did get my 2x2 patio box planted. I was excited that just as I finished it started to rain, but by the time I got everything put away it tapered off.

    I am truly astonished by those pots. I expected there to be some fine print about having to shred the pots to biodegrade. The fact that I was able to read the label at all was amazing. Those seem to be holding up better than a lot of my plastic pots.

  3. Ruben and John,

    It sounds like the gardening weather is good all over the northern part of the continent! I'm planning to turn over our veggie bed this weekend and maybe get some of the cold crops in. This weather is amazing and as a gardener it's hard not to be excited.

    As far as the biodegradable pots - not sure what to say about them. I think I'll try to bury them under some heavy mature compost this year, and see if I can find them this time next year. If I can, then something's really wrong.

    1. We once got salad in "biodegradable" containers. We finally tossed them into the garbage two years later.

  4. Lots of biodegradables degrade only in industrial composters--big closed vessel composters or municipal windrows. It is one of the dirtly little greenwashing secrets of disposables.

  5. Yay for cold weather crops. I braved planting some older bean and kohlrabi seeds last weekend, just to see what would happen. Now, I fear I may have to think about running the lawn mower in March - the way the yard is starting to look this week.

    RE: biodegradeable pots - saw some bamboo-based decorative ones at Jung's the other day. Think the label said it would start cracking after a few years of use...and then to 'plant' the whole thing in the ground for it to decompose.

  6. I am so itching to get back to my garden...well, *a* garden! I've had to leave my garden of years and now live in an apt in a house with a largish untouched yard. Even just raking the old leaves feels transformational. I've got to come up with a "transitional" garden for the summer. I've heard of ppl in Chicago cultivating gardens in little kids swimming pool, for lack of space and soil.

    I'm really glad that things, esp with Gita, are on the upswing a bit. I really hope the warm spring weather brings you all good cheer and happiness.