Growing cyclamen from seed: Cautiously optimistic

Last year, I tried growing cyclamen from seed.

Spring came and went and I saw no evidence of success; only empty pots topped with chicken grit. I set them on my potting table outside and left them to do what they would. Deep down, I believed I was merely procrastinating at composting their remains and sanitizing the pots for something else.

Last week, I happened to glance down at the table as I passed by.

cyclamen coum seedling sept 2014 2

A single leaf of Cyclamen coum emerging from beneath the gravel

A seedling of Cyclamen coum emerging! I studied it for perhaps five minutes before I convinced myself it wasn’t a weed. And then I noticed something else: I seem to have two (count ’em!) seedlings of Cyclamen rohlfsianum coming up.

Two seedlings (the one on the right is really tiny) of Cyclamen rohlfsianum.

Two seedlings (the one on the right is really tiny) of Cyclamen rohlfsianum.

I’m delirious with excitement. I intend to keep my hands well off them for some time until they appear resilient enough to cope with me. I will also leave the other pots to see if they’re thinking similarly…Bittster, how long should I give them?

 

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Tutorial: Garden hose repair

Although for most of my watering tasks I try to rely on my rain barrels, occasionally I do need to use a hose. And as hoses tend to develop cracks and leaks over time, I take time once or twice a year to do some mending. It’s easy to do, and much less expensive than buying a new hose.

I came into a discarded garden hose recently and am carving it up into lengths to join portions of soaker hose. Using short lengths of non-soaker hose in between the soaker lengths reduces water waste in those areas that don’t need watering. hose repair assemble materials

Here, I have two screwdrivers, a flat head and a Phillips head (x-head). I also have a tape measure, male and female hose fittings (be sure to get a size that matches your hose diameter), and rubber washers. A knife or box cutter is also required for this task.

The fittings can be purchased at any hardware store for a few dollars apiece. Rubber washers can be purchased singly for a few cents apiece, or in larger packets, ensuring you’ve got them when you need them. While these are plastic fittings, and this particular brand has worked well for me in the past, brass fittings are also available, and though they cost a bit more they are well worth the investment to repair a high-quality hose.

Repairing a hose:

1. Measure the length of hose you need, mark it, and cut it. Make a straight cut; it will reduce leaks when you attach the fittings.

2. Determine which fitting you need. Each length of hose should have one male and one female end.

3. Insert the tapered end of the appropriate fitting into the cut length of the hose.  It may help to lubricate the end of the fitting with a bit of petroleum jelly. Make sure the hose comes up to the top of the fitting’s threads. Below on the right is a well-seated male fitting.

4. Secure the new attachment with a clamp (these often come with the fitting, or can be purchased separately ).

That’s it! Once you mend your first hose you’ll be very impressed with yourself and will start looking for other things to mend. This practice is habit-forming and may result in your spending lots of time in hardware stores poring over bins of clamps and screws.

Taking a deep breath, again: Calming (myself) after the storm

We knew rain was coming yesterday. They sky was gray all morning, and I swept up piles of pollen from our deck and dumped them in a large green tub before the storm could blow it everywhere.

The rain started around noon and continued through the night. At 6:00, I got a tornado warning message on my phone. The cell was located just north of me and was heading north. A week or two ago, we got a tornado warning at 4:30 in the morning and we huddled in the hall bathroom until the warning expired. Last night, we decided based on the news that it was okay to continue with dinner. Out our windows, we saw steady but not torrential rain, and little wind.

We were fortunate. Two miles north of me, the roads look like this:

A massive oak tree fell in the storm last night. This is two miles from my house.

A massive oak tree fell in the storm last night. This is two miles from my house.

No one appears to have been injured in the storm, but a tree crushed the roof of a house slightly closer to me, there are many downed trees like this, and power is out in many areas. I’m not taking any chances with any more tornado warnings.

How much rain did we get? This is my weeding bucket from yesterday. It had weeds but no water in it when I went in the house at noon.

Yes, that says 8 1/4 inches of rain.

Yes, that says 8 1/4 inches of rain.

By the way, the rain garden continues to perform brilliantly. No standing water in it this morning, but wow, are the ferns and Iris virginica happy!

Have a safe and happy weekend.

Spring planting time: Building a new raised bed

We eat a lot of fresh produce in our house.  I’ve been wanting to grow more of it myself, but sunny space and time have been limiting factors. That changes this year.

A month or two ago, when the first warm weather began to hit, I prepared a new raised bed so I’d be ready when the frost date passed. The garden on the south side of the house got torn up last fall when we added on to the house, giving me an opportunity for a fresh start. Now it’s time to build a garden again.

Constructing a raised bed 

The new raised bed is 16 feet long by 4 feet wide and 1 foot deep.

  1. First, I marked the four interior corners of the bed, squaring them to the house. The back of the bed is 18 inches from the wall of the house, which will permit me room to move around easily as I maintain and harvest later this year.
  2. I pounded in stakes made of 2 x 4 lumber, roughly 20 inches long, at the four corners and at a point halfway along each length, making sure they were plumb and level. This is the most tedious part of the job, but it makes a great difference in the appearance and stability of the bed. The stakes extend about eight inches into the ground and 12 inches above.
  3. Then, I laid out a pattern of 4 x 4 posts, leveled them, and attached them with screws to the stabilizing stakes at the four corners and in the center of each length. I staggered the post ends in a kind of running-bond pattern, so as not to create deepseams that might work their way apart over time. Four-inch deck screws hold the posts to one another, and the corners are further anchored with 5-inch-long lag screws. This hardware ensures that when the children inevitably use the bed walls as a balance beam, the posts won’t topple down.
    raised bed timbers laid out

    The timbers are laid out in the box pattern, leveled, and attached to the posts.

    raised bed staggered joints

    The timbers are laid in a running bond pattern. The corners alternate for additional stability.

  4. To deter burrowing critters like voles, I stapled lengths of black fiberglass window screening to the inside of the bed walls, overlapping the corners. The screening extends about eight inches into the ground. The voles have been minor problems in the past, so I hope the window screening will be enough to keep them at bay. Although I’ve seldom been accused of under-engineering a project, I opted for the screen over the much sturdier (and correspondingly expensive) hardware cloth, on the grounds that hardware cloth seemed a bit excessive for the threat presented.
    fiberglass window screening for raised bed

    Window screening, awaiting placement.

    fiberglass screening for raised bed stapled

    Window screening being stapled into place. I overlapped the corners, buried the ends, and trimmed away any excess.

  5. I removed the weeds present, broke up the heavy clay soil, and laid lengths of cardboard in the bed’s base. The cardboard will suppress weeds in the short term, until I can fill the bed with soil, and will break down over time and improve the soil’s tilth.

This bed is going to require more soil than I have to hand, so it’s time to order some quality compost.

 

 

Check it out: Durham County is getting a seed library

My local public library is starting a seed library.   

Digging Durham Seed Library

Beginning this week, all locations of the Durham County library will take donations of seeds: vegetable, flower, and herb; hybrid and open-pollinated. In late April, county residents will be able to “check out” packets of seed from three library branches (Main, South Regional, and Southwest Regional) and grow the plants at home. They must save some of the seed from the open-pollinated plants they grow, and “return” those seeds at the end of the growing season. Workshops on seed starting and saving will be offered in April and later in the year.

The first seed library (or one of the first) in the US  was founded in Gardiner, New York and became the Hudson Valley Seed Library, now a small business and certified organic farm dedicated to preserving heirloom and open-pollinated seeds and promoting biodiversity. The Durham County seed library is one of the first in North Carolina, but I hope to see many more sprouting up this year.

My personal seed libraryI’ll be writing more about the benefits and drawbacks of open-pollinated and hybrid seeds next week. Right now, I’m sorting through my own seed library to find what treasures I can share with my neighbors throughout the county.

Garden project for a wet winter day: Desktop moss garden

I’ve always loved moss. Nothing else has such lush texture and color yet requires so little in the way of care. And since February’s damp gray misery persists, I decided to bring some nature indoors.

moss garden materials assembled

I assembled my materials:

  • an old bread loaf pan that has seen better days
  • a drill to make a drainage hole in the pan
  • soil
  • moss (some tufts harvested from my garden, and some which grew in place of my spinach).
  • a plant misting bottle.

drilling a hole in the panWhile mosses require a damp environment to grow, I’m hesitant to try growing it in a container without a drainage hole. I want moss, not mold. So I began by drilling a hole in the pan. Most regular wood bits will also drill metal and plastic. I can’t tell the size of the bit; the marking has worn off.

Incidentally, if you let go of the pan as you drill, you immediately acquire an unwieldy metal propeller. It’s better to do this when no one is around to be injured.

spinning panThe hole is drilled, but it’s a bit rough. I took it out to the shed to find a file to smooth it down.

hole in loaf panI had planned to use potting soil, similar to what had grown the moss in the first place. But on my walk to the shed, I observed more moss growing on my shady, damp clay ground. And I thought, why not give it what it likes?

wet acid clayThis is my naturally-existing backyard soil substrate. Its pH typically ranges somewhere around 4.5 to 4.8, so I don’t expect to need to “improve” the soil here with yogurt, buttermilk, or any other acidic additive typically recommended for starting moss.  The clay is quite dense, and when smoothed out, it might be mistaken (from a certain distance) for peanut butter gelato.

not gelatoI want the final product to look a bit like a loaf of moss, so this isn’t enough soil. I mixed in some discarded potting soil to build up the level.

small loaf of dirt

It was already adequately wet, so I simply mounded it into a hilled loaf shape and compressed it well.

accidental mossThis is the moss that grew where my dead spinach seeds did not. After 3 months, it is well established and peels off in a thin sheet.

thin sheet of mossWhat does it take to plant moss? Simply pat it firmly into place, and mist.

moss garden planted

Mosses are ancient, nonvascular plants. They photosynthesize and take in water and nutrients through their leaves, but reproduce by spores. Rhizoids, not roots, anchor mosses to their growing substrate.

There are three kinds of moss planted here, two of which I harvested from my garden. I don’t know the identities of any of them, but I’ll try to find out. I will keep the moss moist with a daily misting. Normally I’d consider a daily task like misting a tedious chore, but I’ll keep the pan and the mister on my desk and will give it a simple spray each morning as I begin work. Over the next 3 months, it should establish itself and begin to spread. I’ll share photos as it comes along.