Friday, April 6, 2012

April Antics

Here we are almost at the end of the first week in April already.  I have to start paying close attention  because of all the months of the year, this one goes by the quickest of all for me.  Before I know it, I'll be humming that old Three Dog Night tune, 'I've Got Pieces of April' but it will already be a morning in May.  I should never take any month for granted and I try not to, but spring in the garden is so busy and time gets away from me. The weather has gone back to the cool/cold days I'm used to and I'm a happy camper.  No bugs to bite yet and cool enough temps to work hard and not sweat and the weeds are still at bay--now's the time to get those pesky dandelion roots out.

And now is the time to get some major work done.

Well, right after we play awhile.

Joel added another kayak to his fleet of watercraft this week and we had to go out to the quarry and try it out. 

No, he's not tipping over, he's leaning to see how far before he'd take on water.
It wasn't long before he persuaded his Maternal Unit to try her hand at the new kayak, too.

There I am, paddling through the lily pads.
Soon, Joel joined me with one of his older kayaks.  Carl opted to stay on shore and photograph the event.  He is not fond of kayaks.  At all.  He thinks they're too tippy and prefers a canoe instead.

Joel and I spent some fun time going back and forth.  I like the new boat, it's very stable.  The water in the Quarry is down quite a bit from last Spring though it is still a lot higher than we like it to be.  Hard to say what the summer level will be, I think we're going into this season much dryer than normal, so far.

Joel and I nagged Carl to get in the new boat and after some grumbling, he finally agreed to give it a try. 

Carl still prefers a canoe.  (Just getting him into a kayak is a Big Deal though...he tipped over the first time he tried one years ago and the memory hasn't faded for him.)

After disembarking from the new watercraft, Carl went back to work on the wall down in the Formal Garden.  Enough playing around!  We have work to do.  It still gets quite chilly out as dusk draws near.  The wall is coming along, but it's slow, painstaking work, and work we don't do together very much.  I am usually nearby and will retrieve the tractor and haul rocks for him or fetch whatever tool he requires, but we get along much better if he does his wall-building alone or with Ann, who does have an eye for rock wall building and can tolerate Carl's pickiness much better than me.

I guess it's a lesson all married couples of any length of time learn; there are just some things you won't see eye-to-eye on and for us, rock selection is one of them.  I do not have the eye for wall-building and rock selection and I get frustrated when nothing I pick out is correct.  (You may remember this lament from posts about Castle Aaargh?  Not a good idea to put two married people armed with rock hammers in close proximity if one of the party (me) can't control her frustration when she's told for the umpteenth time 'That is not the Right Rock for the area.')  Aaargh, indeed.

So, anyhow, we cut our losses and I go work on the bazillion other things that need doing in the gardens.  If he needs me, all he has to is yell or call me on my cellphone.  We've got 33 years of marriage under our collective belts, we'd like to make it to 34!

Ok, what have I been doing while Carl is toiling in the rock pile?  When I'm not weeding or cleaning up something, I'm working in the greenhouse.
C'mon in.  But I caution you, it ain't very pretty.

This is our homemade greenhouse that I gripe about putting up and taking down every year.  It's a big thing to stick in the yard and have it blend in, 20' x 18' but it works very well.  It's one of my favorite places to be, especially when it's raining and cold outside.  Just to open the door and smell the plants is heavenly.

Carl built the stainless steel heat pans for the greenhouse years ago.  The pans are made in two layers of stainless, much like a Thermos.  They are all individually plumbed with fittings to allow heated water to recirculate from the water container fitted with a hot water heater element and a small fountain pump.

I should have dusted it off for the photo, but this is what the pans look like.  The bottom of the pans are double-lined, allowing heated water to circulate and warm the surface for bottom heat.
This is the tank that holds the hot water heater element and the recirculating fountain pump.  The water runs through the pipes, into and through the metal pans and back to the tank for reheating.  This way, we have bottom heat for the seedlings and we do not need to heat the entire greenhouse structure when the outside temperatures are cold.  Crude-looking, but hey, it works.
We like to keep the pans at a constant 72-75 degree temperature range.  

I filled all the flats with growing mix last Saturday.  I use flats with no holes in them and fill the trays almost 3/4 full of water and allow them to sit on the heated pans for a day or so.  That way, the soil soaks up the water effortlessly.  When I used to plant my annual seeds in the house, we had the entire mess in the kitchen, complete with having to boil water on the stove in an effort to get the cold soil-less mix damp enough to plant in.  It's so much easier to fill 40-odd flats outside in the greenhouse and not have the huge mess in the house.
All of the flats were ready for planting after sitting for a day.  I simply drain off any excess water from the bottom of the flats by tipping them until they stop dripping and then commence to my planting table.

There it is, my glamorous table for planting seeds.  Just a piece of recycled particle board or plywood, whatever is lying around, and a couple of cinder blocks for risers.  Add a bucket of vermiculite for covering seeds and you're ready to go.

Oh, I forgot, you need something else:  a bucket of seeds, this year I've planted just under two thousand, and popsicle sticks cut in half along with a trusty Sharpie marker to mark each variety.  I also use a variety of tweezers and toothpicks for grasping seeds, too.  The sidecutter is for cutting sticks down to smaller sizes if I need to. 

I put one seed in each cell and when the flat is full, 72 seeds later, I label each pack of four and cover it with a clear plastic dome.  Then they're all placed back on the heat pans and we wait for germination.
I planted the first seeds on Tuesday of this week, and by yesterday, Thursday, we have sprouts!  This is always exciting for me. 
And a little nerve-wracking, too, because I don't want to uncover any of the flats until germination is complete.  There's a delicate balance between too much humidity and not enough.  Too wet is worse than too dry, but both can be fatal to seedlings.

Though I've been planting annuals from seed for over 20 years, the sight of new seedlings never fails to amaze me.  Such a miracle.

While the annuals for this coming summer are growing up, the rest of the garden is sailing right into bloom.

Our one and only hellebore, encased in a tomato cage to keep the hens from destroying it, has sent up some blooms.  I think it's time to invest in more of these plants, they are so gorgeous on other people's blogs, too!
Nanking Cherry is stunning in pale pinkish-white.  The bees love it, too.
Not sure if these are 'Tetete' daffodils or not, but they are tiny and prolific. 
I am guilty of buying grab-bags of daffodils and just plopping them in wherever there's room.

I can tell it's time to dig the bulbs again, some of them have multiplied exponentially over the years.

I'm not a fan of digging them up to transplant them and I catch myself grumbling in the fall, but the end result the following spring always makes me glad I did.  Daffodils are my favorite bulbs of all time.

Just look at those faces...

After a long day traipsing around in the garden, they're always a joy to behold.

Oh, drat, it's getting late and Leslie will wonder where I am.

Time to walk.

May you all have a Wonderful, Blessed Easter! 


Alison said...

Thanks for the close look at your greenhouse/seed-starting setup. I am always amazed at the miracle of sprouts too! Daffodils are my favorite bulb too, so it's weird that I don't have any planted yet in my garden. Maybe this fall! You definitely need more Hellebores.

What zone are you? You mentioned on a previous post of mine that you loved our native Sedum spathulifolium, and thought maybe it wouldn't be hardy for you. It's hardy to Zone 5.

Hope you have a wonderful, blessed Easter too.

El Gaucho said...

Too cold for skeeters? Not here in North Dakota it ain't. I got my first bite on March 31st, that has to be some kind of record. I actually swatted the critter and showed the squished bug on my arm to Alycia to prove I wasn't crazy (the jury is still out on this claim).

Your greenhouse set up is awesome, I'm quite jealous. The double walled metal pan with hot water circulating through it is pretty darn ingenious, hats off to your and/or Carl for making that.

myomyohi said...

Can I borrow Carl? I need to build a rock wall around my willow tree and I seem to have your eye for rock selection. It's not going so well.....

Loved seeing the greenhouse and the flowers too.

Enjoy your holiday and the weekend.


Junebug said...

I love your greenhouse set up. I purchase a little prefab one and put it up. I was going to start my seedlings and we got a bad wind store and it blew two panels off and away. Great, now do I try and order more or start walking the neighborhood asking for if they found any? The pics of you floating in the kayak are great.

I am always so excited when I see a post from you for I know I will have a smile and a chuckle for the day.

Happy Easter!!

Darla said...

Hi Karen, all looks about right around your place! I have been wondering about you and your greenhouse. It is a miracle that everything a plant needs is already in the little tiny seed, we just have to ease it out....

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

Happy Easter Karen...You certainly have been the green house...we have the same weather but I wish it would be a bit above freezing at night...plants would be happier..oh least the mosquitoes that were out before March 15th are gone again...

Zoey said...

You two are quite organized. I love your greenhouse set up!

what fun to have your own pond for the kayaks. I have never been in one, but I think it would be fun.

It's hard to believe another gardening season has begun--to me it seems like winter just started.

Beth said...

Love your daffodils, your pond, and the greenhouse. I like how you put one seed per cell. No waste that way. I need to use tweezer next year. I have a different system and I think I'm being wasteful. Thanks for the inspiration and education.

Lona said...

I am with Carl I do not think I would want to get into a Kayak either. I love the set up you have for warming your seed trays. Great idea. You have so many seeds to start. Wow. Where did you get your Bubblegum petunia last year? I loved it and would like to find one or some seed.Your daffodils are so lovely Karen. Mine are all gone now. You and the family have a Blessed Easter weekend.

Larry said...

Such beautiful days we are having here in Wisconsin with the calming of the winds and the sunshine... of course you were quite correct in your frost and freeze concerns... I'm afraid the magnolias are taking quite a hit and it will probably be worse after Easter if the prognostications are correct... Happy Easter to you and Carl and the guys! Larry

Indie said...

How nice to be able to paddle around in your own yard! A kayak is on my list of things I'd love to get at some point. They actually seem less tippy to me than canoes for some reason (I have early memories of tipping out in a canoe as a kid.)

That is some fantabulous greenhouse setup! And what a fabulous bottom heater setup as well! The daffodils are so cheerful. Have a glorious Easter!

Sall's Country Life said...

Yes, new seedlings are always amazing but, I find your husband's talents even more amazing!! That circulating hot water heat is quite impressive! Greenhouses have been in my family for as long as I can remember and seeing yours really makes me miss it!! Hubby keeps talking about building one again and then spring comes and all the work and there's never enough time or energy!! I'll be dragging him to my computer today to see your post, maybe it will help inspire him!! Love the daffodils! Pick a bouquet for your Easter table. Happy spring dear friend!!

Missy said...

Happy Easter Karen. It seems there's never an idle moment at your place. Your greeshouse is amazing.

HolleyGarden said...

Happy Easter! That kayaking looks like so much fun! I would do that in a heartbeat! Of course, if I got tipped over, I guess I'd never do it again, either! :) Loved seeing your greenhouse. Your flats of seeds are so impressive!!! Your daffodils are looking beautiful. I planted daffodils for the first time last year. I really loved seeing their sweet faces pop up.

Toni - Signature Gardens said...

I am so impressed that you plant all those seeds. Wow, you sure save a lot of money!!! I just purchased all of my annuals for containers this week and need to get them planted -- after I get over the sticker shock! My husband and I cannot work on most projects together, but this year we have managed to construct three things: the potting bench, another little table, and a wooden bridge. Wonders never cease to amaze! Can't wait till y'all get started on Castle Aaargh again! This is going to be the year!! Right? :-)

Donna said...

Hi Karen, the kayak looks fun, but I am not one for boats of any kind. I get sea sick at first rock, but at least you are close to shore here! The poly tent is so handy and I agree, not very attractive, but the farm has a few and they are invaluable at this time of year.

Debbie@Debbie-Dabble and A Debbie-Dabble Christmas said...

Stopping in to say Hello!
Your land is just amazing! That pond is to die for!
Love the cone flowers in your header!
I have been busy trying to get things done before Joe has his surgery!


Rosemary said...

Enjoyed the view into your early spring garden .. full of lovely flowers... so cheery to see the daffs..... love the seedlings sprouting..... makes me smile at the fun of kayaking ..