email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Starting the Garden!

It is time to plant the first few seeds indoors.  That is usually the best single day of the season (well, maybe eating the 1st ripe tomato is, too).  So I took my seed tray out of the fridge, opened the index card tray of which seeds to plant (more on that later), and went to open my seed list.  Hmm, the seed list isn't there in the seed tray.  So I looked around at likely spots.  Couldn't find it...

OK, I should explain my system...  Several years ago, I got tired of trying to remember when I should plant seeds of each crop.  I sat down and thought about a system for such stuff.  The 1st thing I decided was that knowing when each type of seed should be planted depended on the average last frost date (AKFD).  8 weeks before ALFD, 4 weeks, plus-two weeks, etc.  And I needed a quick reference for how deep, what kind of light, germination time, etc.

ALFD was easy to determine (April 20 here).  So I took a calendar and marked the Saturdays plus or minus from the ALFD.  Two weeks before ALFD is -2; four weeks after is +4, etc.

Then I bought index cards and dividers.  I marked all the dividers with - or + week numbers (-12 through +12).  Then I designed a card template suitable for all crops.  The top line names the crop and the - or + weeks from ALFD.  The next line says what action is required ("plant seed inside", "transplant to larger pot", "transplant outside", plant seed outside", etc.

Notes on the further lines mention unique requirements regarding fertilizer, transplant depth, spacing, etc. For example, there are individual cards for initial tomato seeds planted inside, (-8 weeks) inside transplant (-4 weeks), and outside transplant (+2 weeks) all based on ALFD.  So on each weekend, I look at the marked calendar to see the - or + week number, open my index card box, and take out all the cards with that number.  Then I now exactly what I have to do for the day...

The other half of my system is my seed storage method.  Years ago, I found medical specimen vials for sale cheap.  They are about the size of your index finger.  I marked them all with indelible marker numbers.  I placed each type of seed in individual vials and made a list of the vial #, seed type, variety, and year.  Then I made a wooden holder for them.  I just took a piece or pegboard and used it to mark spots, then drilled holes in plywood that fit the vials.  I glued a bottom on the plywood and now I have a permanent holder for all the seed vials!

There is even space in the tray for my index card box and all the seed packets (for detailed information should I need it).  I keep the seed vial list in the index card box.  The seed list is done in Excel (easy columns, and it is also stored on the computer.  When I buy new seeds, I merely write the changes on the list in red ink and change it on the Excel file each season.

So, why did I have a problem this year?  Because I didn't follow through on the Excel file changes...  I got many new seeds last year and this year.  I made the manual changes to the list.  I put the changed list on the computer table to update the Excel file.

And didn't do it...

I make notes on scrap paper all the time.  Any piece of paper around the computer may have bits on information on several subjects.  I go through them from time to time and throw away the ones I no longer need.

So there I was, with no updated seed list in the index box, in my gardening notebook, nor sitting around the computer.  But I couldn't find the hand-written changes of vials identifications!  I felt sick...  Yes, I can tell corn seeds from bean seeds, but I can't tell among 5 varieties of lettuce or 5 varieties of tomatoes or 5 varieties of peppers, etc.

I searched the house from top to bottom.  I'm not the most organized person.  I write notes on scrap paper, on the backs of stuff I print out, on old envelopes.  But still, I had checked all my piles of scrap paper, the index card box, the gardening notebook, etc.  I had run out of spots.  I even checked under the fridge vegetable crisper in case the list had fallen over the side.

So I checked the piles again.  At the very bottom of the pile on the floor next to the computer, I noticed the list of this year's seed order.  And when I turned it over,,,  The LIST!  Oh, I was, I was SO RELIEVED!!!

I think that was the single deepest breath I have taken in months!

I immediately updated it on Excel with a few seeds I bought locally, and printed out 3 copies.  One for the seed tray, one for the index card box, and one for my gardening notebook! 

At least now, I am ready to plant the -8 week seeds this evening and know which all my seeds are...


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Catching Up, and Random Thoughts

This has been a really annoying and unhappyWinter!  Computer problems, seriously excessive snow, trying to quit smoking, losing a dear cat, really delayed delivery of things I ordered, elder-parent concerns", etc.  I can't complain too much about any individual thing and I know things could be much worse, but it adds up.

As a result, I've been somewhere between a couch potato and a recluse, trying to ignore the problems and slow to take action.  I just haven't felt like doing any projects lately (and I sure have plenty of them on my list).

So I've been watching way too much TV with a cat or two on my lap for hours.  And sleeping way too late.  It's easier than blogging or doing any serious work.

I feel snowed in.  There has been about 2' of snow on the ground for a month.  What melts is replaced.  My highest boots are only 14" tall, so it is hard to fill the birdfeeders or get items out of the toolsheds way in the back yard.  I went out to buy some hip waders, but no one was selling them yet this year.

I did make a couple heroic efforts to fill the birdfeeders with black oil sunflower and thistle seeds.  Hauling the stepladder out way hard.  And to open it, I had to hold it above the snow with one hand and open it with the other hand and one foot.  That was awkward but it worked.  I can tell that my 10 pairs of cardinals and the dozens on small birds appreciated it.  Well, it would be cruel to feed them partially all year and then let them starve when they needed my food the most.    But man oh man were my feet cold when I completed the task.  In spite of best efforts, my boots were snow-packed!

I tried to do some woodworking in the basement, but it was just too damn cold.  Its just not safe to work around a tablesaw wearing a fluffy jacket.  I'm just letting that go until the basement gets up to 60 F again.  Seriously, wood glue doesn't even seem to work right below 60 F.

I can see that the snow is beginning to melt.  There are a few spots where I can see bare ground.  And the melting will spread rapidly from those spots.  We are forecast to have some temperatures in the mid 40s for a few days and that might melt it all.

Well, except where it was shoveled to 4' heights around the driveway.  That will take longer.  Amazingly, some Winters, I have never had to shovel any snow at all...

I've been watching the Winter Olympics.  That's unusual because I normally don't care about Winter events.  But I got interested in speed skating, free-style skiing, an slalom.  Free-style skiing is the strangest event I have ever seen.  I think the participants are crazy.  My initial thought was "that's not possible", yet they all do it well.  I think it is like Summer high-dive free-style, but having to land on a hard slippery surface with boards on your feet.  LOL!

I don't understand the speed skating.  They seem not to be working very hard at all.  Well, obviously they are or more people would be doing it, but the movements just seem so slow and steady.  It must be that the successful format is of great precision and the "passing" technique is the main skill.

I notice the the USA teams are doing well.  That vaguely nice, but I am quite impressed with all the participants.  For the most part, I can't even conceive of doing any such thing.  I heard some people say "I could do THAT" (like with curling or speed skating).  Yeah, right!

I hope to get more active again when the snow melts off the lawn.  I just have this odd sense of immobility when the outside is not easily available.

I really hate snow...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Feeding the Birds

Well, I sure didn't want to go outside and drag a stepladdder and a bucket of sunflower seeds to the birdfeeder today.  I had filled it before the last snowstorm, but I noticed that the birds seemed to be pushing into the feeder hard to get any seeds.

So out I went yesterday.  The snow is still 2' deep, and dragging a stepladder (and setting it up in the snow) is a pain.  Think about it.  Just to spread the ladder legs means holding it above the snow while you do that.  Even fiberglass ladders are heavy when you have to hold them up with one hand and open them with the other!

I have a routine for this.  I use a cleaned kitty-litter bucket to carry the seeds (it's plastic, has a handle, and fits inside the trash barrel I use to store the seeds).  The stepladder hangs on a rack on the side of the deck.  I fill the bucket to a premarked depth, bring it outside, set it down, lift the stepladder from the hanger, and carry both to the feeder. 

Once there, I climb the stepladder, unlatch the top of the feeder, set the top on the top od the ladder, climb down, pick up the seed bucket, pour the seeds into the top of the feeder, drop the bucket, put the top of the feeder back on, latch it, and carry the ladder and bucket back to the basement.

I sure wish I had a bird-feeder pole that I could just lower, fill, and raise!  I love having 10 pairs of cardinals and many finches, other birds, etc, but it gets hardest when they need the seeds the most.  And I ain't getting any younger!

I considered putting on my chest-waders, but that is really quite an effort.  I think I'll buy some hip-waders.  Those are easier to get into and they would be good for work in the ponds.

Sorry not to have taken any pictures.  I had feeding the birds on my mind, not camera work... 

But it sure was nice seeing the birds mobbing the birdfeeder.  Feeding them now in the hardest time means seeing more of them the rest of the year!

But here are previous pictures to show the activity...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter Windowsill Lettuce

Not the best lettuce I've ever grown, but "tis enough, twill serve...

Actually, it is a nice combo of romaine, head, leaf, mesclun, and cress.  And when I pick them by leaves, more grow!  It's nice to have stuff growing that costs $7 a pound...  And I can pick whichever I want each day.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I'm getting pretty tired of the snow.  Hard to find complete data by storm (which seems odd) but we had about 18" here Dec 20th, 20" Feb 6th, 10" Feb 10th, and a total of about 55" total (some minor snowfalls along the way)...

55" of snow in Southern Maryland?  That just bizarre.  And there is more forecast for Mon 15th.  That's only the middle of Feb!  We have had bad snowstorms in March on occasion...

After the December snowstorm, I finally decided to buy a snow blower.  Right, all the local stores were sold out for the year and had no plans to restock.  I looked online, but the manufacturers wanted another $350 just to ship one!  I'll have to wait for next November, and believe me, I'll be there the day they arrive.

I've been lucky this year in that a neighbor teen is looking for money and willing to shovel my 65' driveway for about $10 per 6".  He is neither fast nor skilled (I could shovel it in half the time without over-exerting myself), but that is up to him.  I offered suggestions the first time, but he just wanted to do it his way.  He is willing to do the work, so I am grateful...

The official snowfall isn't the same as the amount to be shoveled from the driveway.  Especially this last snowfall.  We got an official 10", but the accumulated snow is 30" deep and my nice cleaned driveway was just a tub waiting to be filled by the blowing snow.  The new driveway depth was 18"!

I decided I had to shovel my own driveway at least once this year, so I got at it just as the snow was tapering off.  The neighbor has to do his own first, and the last time, it took him 2 days to finish mine.  I'm not ungrateful, but I needed to do some shopping (food, beer, printer ink, cat food, etc).  I had done about 1/4 on the driveway when my adult neighbor with his snowblower came up and started work.  YAY!  I had been SO jealous watching him do his driveway in 15 minutes in each of the snowstorms.  He just started right up the driveway.  I've only talked to him a couple times casually, so I didn't think I could ask to borrow it.

So he did the main part and I kept busy cleaning up the edges and leftovers.  He stopped and said he was sorry he hadn't offered to help before.  Sorry?  I was thrilled he was willing to help even once.  He didn't have to at all.  Most of this neighborhood is renters, so it isn't "close-knit and cooperative".  I've been here 26 years, and everybody just goes away after a couple years.  He moved here 2 years ago, and he says he plans to stick around for a decade.  That could work out well.  We both like to fish, I noticed he tried to grow a tomato last Summer, and he has mentioned that he hunts deer. He likes cats too (has 2 and mourned the loss of one the same week I lost Skeeter).

Anyway, more snow pictures:


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Superbowl Game

I'll admit that football is not my favorite sport.  I'm more an individual player, so I prefer baseball, tennis, soccer, or golf.  And I prefer to play rather than watch.

But I do like the Superbowl ads (not many outstanding ones this year) and it seemed both teams were evenly matched, so I watched most of the game.  It WAS a good game and neither team has to feel too badly about it.  Both played well.  A little change of luck and the results could have been reversed.

I rooted for the Saints.  It was their first Superbowl appearance, and besides, I felt New Orleans needed a bit of happiness.  So "Hurray" for the New Orleans Saints.  Let the good times roll...

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Yikes!  I knew they were forecasting "substantial snow, but I didn't realize HOW much we were going to get until it started yesterday morning.  Fortunately, I was able to rush out and pick up some staples (beer, wine, fruit, veggies).  And I tried to find anyplace selling a snowblower.  HA-HA-HA!  They sold out in December and won't being restocking this season.

When the forecasters started to talk about "record snowfall" (I'm near Washington, DC) of possibly 30", I cringed!  The last thing I want to do is shovel over 2' of snow.  I injured my right hand a few days ago, and the idea of pushing a shovel and lifting heavy snow with it is daunting.  And my driveway is 65' long.  Plus the 4' high wall of frozen slush down at the end where the plows have pushed it...

I haven't gone out with a yardstick, but out in the level backyard, the 2'high flower cages are covered.  The driveway appears to have a 3' high mound covering 1/3 of it.  The deck is about the same.  Both are due to peculiar anomalies of wind patterns around the house and snow blowing off the roof.  

I may be in the house for the better part of a week.  Fortunately, I don't suffer from "cabin fever", and I have lots of cooked meals stored in the freezer.

And it is STILL snowing very hard!

The birds are doing OK.  I filled my 2 feeders as the snow started.  They are flocking around...

And the cats are sure loving watching them all!  Alya jumps up to the high bathroom windowsill where she has a great view (and through which I took most of these pictures).  Iza is not so lucky because she can't jump that high.
I have a bunch of cardinals.  I counted 10 males at one time, and there are many various female cardinals, juncos, nuthatches, sparrows, doves, titmouses, etc.  Black oil sunflower seed is very popular with many birds.

I also have a thistle feeder for the finches and some other smaller birds.  It's hard to get a picture of that today because the snow piled up against the deck door would fall inside.  But here are three little birds waiting their turn to perch and feed...

This snow is very wet, sticky, and heavy.  Various evergreen shrubs are crushed right to the ground!

That 2nd one was above the fence 2 days ago!  I had to cut away some broken branches after the December storm.  I expect to have to do more pruning after this one.  That's a shame; I had them well-shaped.
And you notice the 3 cages at the bottom of that 2nd pic?  Those are 2' tall.  They are covered now.

I like this pic of my compost tumbler.  It sits about 30" above ground and there appears to be 2' of snow sticking on top of it.  If the snow won't fall off a curved plastic top, it's STICKY!

Here are some more pics of the birds...  I think the middle 2 pics are good candidates for Holiday Cards next December!  But there might be better ones tomorrow when the sun is out and the birds are still collecting around the feeder.

I think I will mention something that I am very grateful for, that I did not really appreciate when I first moved here 24 years ago.  We have underground electrical lines!  Somewhere around 300-400 hundred thousand homes in the Washington DC region are with electrical power.  I almost never lose power (only when a switching station is struck by lightning) and it almost all comes back on within minutes.

And, being retired, I don't have to go anywhere for days.  From the sound of things, even by Monday, it is going to be very difficult to get around here.  Lots of people are going to have to get to work Monday.  I'm glad I'm not among them.

Oh, before I post this, I wanted to mention why this was such an evil snowstorm.  It started coming at us from the Northeast.  Then, as it passed over us, it looped around and hit us again from the southeast.  Finally, as the storm tracked east again, we got hit a 3rd time!  It did 3 loops with Maryland in the center each time!

Oh, BTW, do you know what happens the moment the camera "Card Full" message shows?   8 Male cardinals all sit close together in the same shrub!    LOL!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

(Almost) Wordless

LC's little memorial.

They are both close together, as in life as in death...