By Roger Erpelding
This was truly a gardening weekend. My only regret is that I didn’t have more time to spend outdoors, and that I didn’t get more done.
Immediately after work, Friday, May 2, Beth picked me up and we headed out to the new Master Gardener greenhouse in Altoona. I had originally planned not to go to the Master Gardeners’ only pre-sale, but I saw some plants I wanted during the open house on April 27, and just couldn’t stay away. The pre-sale began at 5:30, and even though we were early, we were far from first. I threatened to throw a giant fit if the yellow cannas were still not there when I arrived. Fortunately, I didn’t need to show my infantile nature, as there were a flat of cannas left when I reached the aisle. Beth had spotted them during the open house, and we agreed that this would be our first stop.
I had my Braille list, and we were off to the races. What a zoo!!! I have heard that we have 300 active Master Gardeners in Polk County. We were also permitted to bring a guest. Not all were there of course, but it was definitely a crowded village. We kept jostling each other with our cardboard flats as we grabbed our items for purchase. If I had a dollar for every time I said “excuse me,” I’d be a millionaire. And the same can be said for others who kept jostling me with their boxes as well. It was a great time with a bunch of crazy and active gardeners.
An hour later, and $100 poorer, Beth and I had our five flats loaded into the trunk, and were heading for home. In the interim, our plants got all mixed up in our flats, but we knew we’d get them sorted out when we got home. After dinner we did just that, and also put our plants into water baths to soak until we could plant them.
The alarm went off at 5:30 Saturday morning so I could get my house work done, and eat a big breakfast. By 7:00 we were again heading out to the greenhouse—this time to work in conjunction with our annual Master Gardener plant sale. I greeted, and Beth checked off items for the cashiers. This gave me a chance to greet many customers, throw a box or two or three their way, and even answer a few questions about gardening. There were enough volunteers so we could work in tandem, so I got to know a few new master gardeners as well.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, we had enough time for breaks as well. I hooked up with Bob, who managed the greenhouse for us along with his wife this year. Of course we got talking plants, and I took a third tour of the greenhouse. And yes, it wasn’t long before I had another flat of plants. Bob showed me some test cucumbers from Ball Seeds called Patio Snackers. Into the box they went. I had purchased 3 Early Girl bush tomatoes on Friday night. But Bob said he had two more cultivars of bush tomatoes suitable for planters—Home Slice and Fantastico. I knew we had eggplant, but I didn’t have the space or time to look them over on Friday night. I soon had a 4-pack of Amadeo eggplant in the box as well; this is a new cultivar for me, so I had to try it. The eggplant will fit perfectly into my new raised bed on the south side of the house.
Before going to the greenhouse, I made my lunch—a chef salad. All I needed to do was to pour on a little dressing and wolf it down, as I knew I’d want to get outdoors and start planting. My first task was to plant the lettuce, spinach and radishes I’d purchased at Earl May. I hoed up the raised bed, and made some rows. As it turns out, I had less space than I planned in the bed. This is the same bed the eggplant will inhabit later. Next year I will plan better, and plant the early crops at least a month earlier. If I dig up a few radishes for the eggplant’s sake, it is no big deal.
The four Brussels sprouts went into the garden next. Just east of them I made a row with the handleless hoe, and planted the kohlrabi seeds.
It was time to plant the bar bed. This is a raised bed just east of the house. It is a divided bed—Beth has the west side, I have the east side. For some reason, this bed came with some plastic bars that arc over it—thus, the bar bed. Beth calls it the green bed, as the walls of the raised bed are green—I’ll take her word for it.
I grabbed a flat of annuals I’d purchased during the previous evening, and carried them out to the bed. I planted them based on height with the shortest ones in the front. They included dwarf marigold, Bells of Ireland, double purple-white striped double petunias, Celosia (cockscomb), and zinnias in the back. I had Beth read me the heights of these plants during the previous evening. There is a gap between the Celosia and zinnias. I hope to plant mid-sized marigolds just in front of the zinnias. My cultivar of choice is Uptown Grape zinnia. I’ll let Beth judge their color; I’ll judge their flower form.
Also on Friday night, I purchased three cherry tomatoes—Sugary, Sweet 100, and Red Grape. I had plenty of pots for peppers, but took some even larger plastic pots which were stacked along the east side of the garage. Again, I used a mixture of mulched wood chips, followed by a mixture of garden soils. I use coffee filters for drainage, something I learned in my Master Gardener course. They work beautifully, and are fully degraded by the time I dump the pots in the autumn.
Sunday dawned beautiful, and by 9:30, I was out in the yard. I had a couple of tasks in mind. I first trimmed the 9 sun room plants brought out a week earlier. Since the citrus trees were beginning to bloom, my trim job on them was conservative. Two of them also need re-potting, which will be saved for a day when it is too wet to work the garden or flower beds. The oleanders went to the butcher shop, where they were both very severely trimmed. I told Beth I wouldn’t kill hers, but I made no guarantee about mine. I left a couple of promising branches on Beth’s plant, but I aggressively got after mine. When I began to prune, there were no holds barred. I think there are a couple of 2 inch sprouts I left behind.
I carried tomato cages from the back, set the three pots along the edge of the garden, placed the cages into the ground, and planted the three cherry tomato plants. In the afternoon, I planted marigolds in the 5 clay pots, and put tomato cages or trellises in the pots. I haven’t planted the tomatoes as yet in them
And how about those cannas? After lunch, and a little nap, I filled up two large plastic pots, and planted them. They are by the pile of soil near the east side of the sun room, outdoors, and they will be moved in the near future. My garden will be lined with pots, especially after I get my peppers planted. This summer, the pots will help hold up the chicken wire fence, and keep the rabbits out as well. When the peppers get bigger, the rabbits will be tempted to climb the fence for a tasty pepper meal, but blood meal and a repellent spray will deter them.
This week looks fairly free, so the gardening frenzy will continue. It is simply that time of the year. In the next blog I’ll comment on last winter, and how it has decimated our perennial plant population—and why this has happened.