Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Planting peas

My spring garden is woefully off-schedule. Planting peas in January is usually an option, but if soil or weather conditions preclude an early planting then peas in my garden should be planted by mid-February, President’s day being a convenient marker. When the peas succumb to late spring heat the bed is free for peppers and eggplant. Those delicate prima donnas cannot be set out until night temperatures have warmed considerably, usually in late May.

Conditions in the garden this year are decidedly inhospitable to any direct sowing. The soil is waterlogged and cold. I have abandoned my plans for planting bush peas, usually the staple of my spring pea crop. By the time the soil is dry enough to work the planting window will have closed. Instead I have planted Sugar Snap peas in the greenhouse and will set out seedlings when (not if, ever the optimist) when more temperate weather arrives.

I have always direct seeded peas. Last year I pre-sprouted, trying to get around the low germination that comes with cold wet soil. But I have never set out seedlings. Peas starts are always part of the spring vegetable line-up at nurseries so transplanting must be an option. Given this year’s weather constraints I’ll give it a try. Since Sugar Snaps grow on a trellis I will only need to prepare a small area of soil at the base. This area is slightly raised, presumably better drained than the other beds and the trellis serves for cucumbers later in the year.

Gardeners are nothing if not adaptable and optimistic. The vagaries of weather may dictate what we can’t do, but we simply pull on our boots, step out in the mud or slush and do whatever we can do. I am so looking forward to sweet Sugar Snaps (on the veranda, sitting in dappled sun, with a glass of sparkling wine). ;) Here’s to winter dreams!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Daphne watch

I would like to apologize in advance to all of the intrepid gardeners living and gardening in Zones 6 or lower. But I really must whine a bit. I had been watching the progress of buds on the fragrant daphne (Daphne odora) for the last two weeks. They were plumped up nicely and sported that lovely magenta color that promises fragrant blossoms, their delicate perfume carried on gentle March breezes. (At this point may I insert the sound of a needle being dragged across a record?)

Thursday brought a record snowfall. The snow was especially wet. Branches broke from the venerable old cypress down the block, power lines sagged, and the daphne bush was a white hump. Fragrant March breezes? Hmphh.

But the snow has now melted enough to reveal a daphne virtually unchanged. I have never experienced a snow so far along in the bud development so the bloom status remains to be seen. But the buds look healthy and I am cautiously optimistic.

Here in my corner of the PNW gardeners have been accustomed to a seemly progression of seasons with few surprises. But Mother Nature has seen fit to stop coddling us these last few seasons. Storms are stacked up out in the Pacific, ready for their marching orders. It is windy and cold today, the sky filled with flat, steel-gray clouds. I’ll watch the daphne and see if it lives up to one of its common names. It is, after all, known as winter daphne.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Value Seeds

Imagine a cross between Thompson and Morgan Seeds and the Dollar Store. A place where a daydreaming gardener can find those special cultivars that TM is so famous for, where no seed packet is priced higher than 99 cents. A place somewhere in horticultural twilight zone you say? Check out Value Seeds.

Prevailing internet wisdom claims that Value Seeds is an overstock outlet for TM. A quick scan of both sites shows the same descriptions for many items. Some contributors at Garden Watchdog speculate that the seed is last year’s but many comments report good germination. And the selection, while small, contains some winners and boasts nine sweet pea cultivars.

This value is no frills, however. The seed packets are not marked with plant information, only with a number, much like the small foil envelopes inside the larger paper TM packets. Planting information is available on the web site. One customer recommends marking your packets with an identification as soon as you receive your order, matching the number on the packet with the invoice list that comes with your order.

Each spring I order many seeds and usually with no discernible self discipline. But placing an order for 12 seed packets with a total price of $9.77 including shipping effectively nips buyer's remorse in the bud. I look forward to posting a happy outcome when the seeds are germinated and thriving.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

An Allium adventure

Shallot seeds have germinated!!!

This year’s Experiment in Seeding® is the Alliums. I have always opted for sets or starts for my onions, shallots and leeks. But this year, while in the blissful fog of catalog browsing, I decided to try my hand at seeding my Alliums.

My personal farming guru (PFG) has assured me that this is easy. Out of deference to said guru’s revered status as a consummate farmer I refrained from saying out loud that it might be easy for you, but what about me? But really, where’s the fun in any garden season that does not include some new experiment?

And I did my homework. Wading through much confusion in Allium nomenclature and lengthy explanations of the relationship between latitude and onion bulbing, I was able to determine the cultivars I wanted to try. I asked my PFG many questions, dropping in a reference to ‘day neutral’ to demonstrate my commitment. He was full of good advice so I went for it and ordered seed:

Allium cepa ‘Candy’ -
A. cepa 'Borrettana Cipollini'

A. porrum ‘Bleu de Solaize’
A. porrum ‘King Sieg’

A. ascalonicum ‘Prisma’
A.ascalonicum ‘Olympus’

I selected ‘Candy’ as a sweet hybrid, touted as an onion that will develop a bulb at any latitude. 'Borrettana Cipollini' made the cut because cipollini onions are, well, cute. Flat button shaped and described as superior in flavor. Fedco plans on offering a red cipollini next year. ‘Bleu de Solaize’ is a French heirloom from the 19th century. If it’s been around for that long then I surely must try it. ‘King Sieg’ is a cross of two well regarded varieties, King Richard with Siegfried Frost. It is supposed to take less time to mature. As for the shallots, few varieties were readily available, making me wonder if they are really that easy to grow from seed.

Playwright Alan Plater described a zealot as one ‘who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten the point’. An apt description. I don’t recall the reason I decided to try Alliums from seed. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But in the fashion of a zealot, I will redouble my efforts: watch for more germination, prep the bed, plant the seedlings and cross my fingers.