Friday, November 14, 2014

Bulb Planting Travails

Stupid cheap tools.... This was a straight-handled bulb planter before it collapsed under use. Grrr!

So I finally got nearly all my bulbs into the ground on Sunday and Monday. I always buy more than I should when I go bulb shopping -- the containers look like candy, with their bright, tempting photos of beautiful spring bulbs, and I'm too much like a kid in a candy store. I also ordered a bunch of bulbs online from Van Engelen, the wholesale distributor for John Scheepers (I almost always buy large enough quantities to qualify for the wholesale price).

But then I have to plant them all, and I curse my greediness, often putting off the work so late in the season that I've had to use a pickax to hew a planting hole in the frozen tundra of my flower beds.

This year, I vowed to get ahead by starting earlier. In early October (a good time for planting bulbs here), I planted 550 bulbs of various kinds in my new Yellow Garden: tulips, daffodils, alliums, hyacinths, crocus and winter aconite -- all yellow-colored, of course. I hope the heavy clay soil there won't be too much for them.

And I got 60 Asiatic and Orienpet lilies planted in the North Border, and 60 more tulips in a small bed near my house, in late October.

But that still left a lot of bulbs in my garden shed, and cold weather was fast approaching, so Sunday and Monday I pulled out all the stops:

First, I potted up all the bulbs for forcing: early daffodils and tulips, crocus and a few other early bulbs. This is the first year I've done this, so it's an experiment, the results of which I'll post about here in January and February. I labelled the pots, watered them and put them into the "cave" that I constructed out of straw bales inside our large tractor shed. The bulbs can freeze (after all, they do every winter in the ground), but they shouldn't freeze and thaw repeatedly, so an insulated place is needed to store them. I think the straw cave might work.

My potted-up bulbs for forcing, after being watered.

I put them in the straw bale cave, with the earliest bulbs in front and later ones in back. The plant markers give a date range for them to be brought inside by my husband, and also identify the bulbs in each pot. I heaped leaves on top of the pots and then closed up the front of the cave with one last straw bale. I'll put them under lights in my basement starting after January 1st, when I'll be more than ready to see some colorful flowers.

After I finished with the pots, I planted the rest of the bulbs:

  • 24 Allium 'Globemaster' in the North Border
  • about 50 alliums, hyacinths and Asiatic lilies in the White Beds
  • 250 tulips, alliums and muscari in the Rainbow Border
  • 90 mixed tulips, 45 mixed daffodils and 50 alliums in the Cutting Garden
  • 24 pink, purple and blue hyacinths in the Front Border

Altogether (but not counting the potted ones) I planted about 1,200 bulbs this year (which is actually less than half of the 2,600 I planted last year, to my great suffering). I mostly plant them by digging out an area with a digging shovel, arranging the bulbs right-side-up in the hole, and shoveling the soil back on top. So I certainly didn't have to dig 1,200 individual planting holes (yikes!).

But I did use my old long-handled bulb planter to individually plant the 60 lily bulbs (which need fairly deep planting holes) in the North Border -- and that's when the bulb planter collapsed, bending under the weight of my stomping efforts and causing me to lose my balance. Luckily I was able to catch myself before I ended up flat on my back in the middle of the border, but it certainly took me by surprise. No more cheap tools!

Maybe this is what I need...
The Yard Butler G-BULB Green
Flower Bulb Planter

Has anyone had good luck with a
particular brand of long-handled
bulb planter?

Anyway, I have all but one bag of daffodils planted at this point, and I'm sure I'll have a chance to plant that last bag before the ground freezes. Monday was such a lovely day to work outside -- it was windy, but 65 degrees (F) and sunny; I actually had to take off my fall tweed gardening jacket.

But it's a good thing I took advantage of that lovely weather on Monday, because this was what my Front Border looked like on Tuesday morning, to my (and the weather man's) great surprise:

I sure didn't see this coming, nor did the weather man. This is what my Front Border looked like Tuesday morning, and it hasn't gotten above freezing all week. Gotta love Iowa weather: 65 degrees one day, the high 20 degrees the next day. Brrr!

Yep, winter's definitely here now and it's time to spend some cozy time inside. I hope you're all keeping warm too. Thanks for reading! -Beth

Friday, November 7, 2014

Our Swank New "Grand Chicken Hotel"

Some of our chickens, staring toward their newly arrived accommodation.

My husband has kept chickens since we moved out into the country more than six years ago, but we have never had a permanent structure for them. He has, over the years, built them several shelters out of lumber, small-gauge wire fence and blue tarps, around which he stacks straw bales in the winter for protection from wind and cold.

These have worked well enough most of the time, although they aren't very roomy in winter, and don't provide any protection from gnats in early summer, which can kill chickens in bad years (we lost three during this year's wet, gnat-filled May, which was really sad and upsetting).

So we resolved to spend the money to get a better structure for them before winter came. I contacted a local builder who has listed a number of small chicken sheds on Craigslist and he built us one to order in a "mini-barn" style and delivered it to us the other day.

The new chicken shed arrives by truck... backed up to the right location... unloaded...

...and is set in place. Puppy looks on approvingly.

A new grand chicken hotel worthy of our noble birds. The screen door can be locked to keep out foxes, etc., while the outer door can be left open for ventilation until the very coldest (or gnattiest) days.

There are two other windows, which can also be opened for ventilation, four nesting boxes and two roosting bars.

A thick layer of wood chips makes it a soft place for the inhabitants.

And a closeable run door affords entry to the fenced-in chicken run.

A very nice addition to our Kitchen Garden area.

Our chickens were a bit suspicious of the new shed for a few days, but they have started making short incursions into their new accommodations and have already laid a few eggs in there. I think they will be happy in their new digs, and we feel better, now that we are able to provide them with a nicer home where they can be snug in winter and safe from gnats and larger predators.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Going, Going.... Gone.

This morning's sudden frigid temperatures.

We had our first killing frost last night. I'd been dreading it because the flowers were still so beautiful, but we don't get to tell Mother Nature her business.

Some illustrative scenes from my gardens: Before (a few days ago), this morning in frost, and After (this afternoon after the sun rewarmed and destroyed the structure of the plants):

Before: My delphiniums, starting their third flush of bloom. I was hoping they'd flower more
fully, but I don't think that's going to happen this year.... 

Frost this morning...
After: Not so pretty this afternoon. Cosmos totally done.

Before: Another part of my front border, a few days ago...

...and today. Over and done.

Zinnias and a surprise reblooming iris in my North Border a few days ago....
...and voila! Fifty shades of grey this afternoon.

The Rainbow Border a few days ago (sorry about the harsh light -- the longer autumn rays make it hard to take photos of this west-facing border).
No harsh colors this morning, only frosty shades of black & white.

Dahlias and snapdragons and zinnias in the Cutting Garden a few days ago....

P.F. -- Post Frost.

I couldn't find a recent photo of the four o'clocks, so here's one from back in September. They weren't blooming as much recently, but they still retained their structure yesterday...

...but not after this morning. I was shocked by their total collapse today. I hadn't seen the rose bushes between the four o'clocks since July, but now they're the only things left standing here.

There are still a few flowers going: the snapdragons and bachelor buttons are cool-season annuals here and they hardly look touched, but nearly everything else is down for the count, at least for this year (in the case of perennials). Time to pull out the annuals so I can plant some more bulbs in their place.

At least a few flowers will keep going inside for a little while. These geraniums looked so floriferous that I brought them into my kitchen to enjoy for a time before putting them in the basement to overwinter. The hibiscus will stay in this spot until next summer. (Sigh. I like the sound of that already: "Next Summer." )

Time marches forward and stops for no one; certainly not for the flowers. It's time to move on to different things. Thanks for reading! -Beth