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May 22, 2005

Got the containers up and the 'starts' out.

Yesterday couldn't have been a better day for getting the container plants put up and out. Fortunately, no diarrhetic dog or household emergency ensued, so we actually were able to get the larger portion of what we intended to get done yesterday completed. No more often than that happens, you'd think we had children.

First the vegetables in the containers. The bigger ones are prepared with about an inch of pea gravel in the bottom and a forty pound bag of topsoil per container; the smaller ones have the pea gravel, but only hold about 25 pounds of topsoil each (yeah, we went through a shitpile of topsoil yesterday; fortunately, it's cheap):


A bit of a digression (though related). When we moved into the house in 2000, in June, it was too late to really attempt to plant anything other than a few flowers, so that's all that got done that summer. The next year, however, we decided to try to till up a square about four by eight out back and plant some things. We tried tomatoes, lettuce and a couple of different kinds of sweet peppers.

The slugs and snails ate all but the bitterest of the lettuce, from which I think we got one thin salad (and even through dedicated cleaning and washing, wound up almost eating at least one slug). We planted radishes, too -- they came out looking like fat, white eyelashes with big, green leaves.

We fenced the plot with plastic fencing and metal doweling. The rabbits must have learned to fly -- they got into it and ate the pepper plants off to the ground. The birds and the squirrels (and perhaps even the chipmunks) knocked over or bit into every single tomato.

We tried a different location the next year, with similar results.

By the third year in the house, we knew it was shit or get off the pot -- we had to find some other way to grow those things or else give up and find a good local farm market. The decision was we'd buy some window-box rectangular planters, set them on the concrete pad just outside the carport wall, and see how that went.

It went, in fact, remarkably well. We had lots of peppers and tomatoes, at least. Those are the things we find it most practicable and purposeful to grow in containers. For a couple of years, we did pretty well with them in the containers -- we had four containers we lined up there, and they did quite well (though we never really got enough sweet peppers to make it worthwhile and eventually gave up).

Finally, two years and a half ago, we decided to do something a little more permanent toward making the container plantings worthwhile. We drew up and planned a set of shelves to install along the carport wall, and since we weren't sure it would be the ideal place or provide the ideal conditions, we bought treated plywood and painted it white, hinged it and inserted hooks, and used porch swing chain to support it on the side of the carport.

Again, it was successful, so last spring we bought plastic pegboard materials and PVC pipe and replaced the plywood. Last year wasn't the greatest for us timewise, so we didn't water as often or keep up with pulling the fruit, so we didn't get the yield we'd gotten the year before (and some of the planters we used for some of the peppers proved astoundingly ill-designed for outdoor plants, leading us to conclude to be used as-is, they weren't meant for that). After several rounds of modifications, we worked out a support method that worked pretty well.

This year we've added some containers and moved some more out to the back patio. With the maple tree gone on that side, we now can expect sufficient sun on the plants on the patio that they might actually fruit (the last time we tried it, only a few jalapenos and lots of volunteer catnip resulted from anything put on the patio).

Here are the rest of the container vegetable shots:



We had some trouble keeping the tomatoes from flopping all over everything, when they were planted in the same containers with the peppers. Generally, though some peppers get tall and bushy, they're self-supporting with minimal application of velcro tape and even when fruiting don't fall over and try to drag in the grass. The tomatoes were another story entirely. This way, we figure it will be easier to figure something out for supporting the tomato plants when they get tall and want to hang over. If nothing else, we can put some fencing or something along the edge of the table and tie up from there.

I've used Gardens Alive's tomato planting mix this year. Last year, we had lots of tomatoes -- but we'd reused some soil, and I found out later you shouldn't do that because tomatoes deplete calcium in topsoil preparations. The blossom/end rot was so bad we hardly were able to use any of them last year. I'll plan to use the stuff every year, if it helps with the tomatoes this year.


We have three kinds of peppers in the containers right now. There were eight healthy-looking plants we thought were poblanos (started from seed, and one looked a little ragged by the time we were able to get them planted), nine we thought were cayennes, and nine jalapeno plants that we bought. All the peppers are hot peppers, and all can be frozen if all the plants survive and fruit heavily. The jalapenos get tall but not shaggy, and the cayennes don't even get tall. These are, by the way, the cayennes we started in the basement from salvaged seeds. We decided those are the only things that really are worth starting in the basement -- the forget-me-nots are the only flowers that survived the early growing period (the pinks succumbed to some fungus, and everything else pretty much gave up the ghost not long after that, perhaps also due to fungus). I had one lobelia that still doesn't look like much, I think I'll just rely on buying them from the nurseries from now on. I haven't seen myosotis (forget-me-nots) at the nurseries, or I wouldn't have bothered to try starting them, either. My guess is now that I went to all that trouble, they'll be all over the place next spring.


That's the first one I put out in the pot, a couple of weeks ago. It's still surviving, so maybe the dozen or so others that were roughly the same size will survive, too, I don't know. They're planted in various places -- a couple of different spots in the flower bed, and in pots out front. There's also one Texas bluebell and a couple of delphiniums that look pretty crappy, I put them in the pots, too. Figured they'd croak, but if the forget-me-nots did well, I wouldn't care too much.

Here's Tony's herb spot, around by the peony bed:


They always do well there, they get lots of sun early in the morning, and that seems to be the side of the house that gets plenty of water when it rains. Incidentally, I don't think we planted either the oregano or the catnip over there -- the catnip was in the bed where the wild-ass mint is now, and I had some oregano planted out front, by one of the trees that was removed, but neither was planted in what had always been intended to be a basil bed. Some things are remarkably persistent, however -- my mother has some oregano that comes up in her back yard every year that was started from a few slips my late father got from a fellow Cincinnati Post employee in the seventies. She's tried a few times to reduce the size of the bed, but it comes back just as big every year. It's now growing between the slabs in the back sidewalk.

The last time we planted any catnip was over four years ago -- it has not been reseeded since, and we've torn out every bit of it at least twice since then. Only the Mitchum 'scorched earth' mint seems to be strong enough to drive it out.


Just to show what hardcore O/C nuts we are, this is a little volunteer evergreen of some kind or other that we found around back. We presume it got dropped in some bird shit at some point -- it showed its face late last summer, and we decided it was a bad time to replant it then. We did that yesterday, too -- there were three of them, altogether, this was the biggest. Next time I go around the front yard, I'll take some shots of them, if they haven't croaked yet. I'm afraid we didn't get enough of the roots -- they were wrapped around the axle of the oak tree, so we may have injured them too much for them to take hold out front I don't know. Time will tell.

These are the tulips I was so worried about back around Easter, because it was supposed to get so cold. The taller ones hadn't bloomed yet, at that point, but they've been sitting out there for almost three weeks now looking like this. Well, they're getting a little blowsy now, but after three weeks, it's about what you'd expect. The lighter purple ones out front look about the same, except none of them is as tall as the tallest of these:


Finally, some of the veterans:


The peony in the original bed on the side. The others aren't ready to go, yet. They'll probably open up next weekend, while we're out of town, and look like dirty toilet paper by the time we get home. Ah, well.

And my pinks, which I sort of leave alone to re-seed themselves each year:


They're all cheddar pinks of one variety or another, though the tallish ones with the lacy edges I've only seen as seeds, I've never seen them at the garden stores as slips. They seem to be thriving out there where they are -- the sun must please them, because they're blooming at about twice the density this year that they did before. I don't think any of the ones I've planted out there in that spot died off right away, they've managed to get by for at least two or three years at a time. I'm really surprised the slug damage seems to be pretty limited, since the slugs usually hit early and hard and eat everything in their paths for weeks on end.

I figure when we get back into town next weekend, I'll order my black violas from Spring Hill. They should be able to get them here in a few days, which would do me exactly no good this week (going to Pittsburgh next weekend; don't ask). If they're going to sit somewhere unplanted it might as well be in a greenhouse. I'll just order them next weekend and plan on getting them in the ground the weekend after. I don't usually see flats of just the black ones at the garden centers around here, so ordering them is about my only option. Violas are okay, but I really like these because they're black. There's something entertainingly creepy about black flowers, not to mention they're attractive.

Maybe I should go ahead and order some of the dark blue lobelias, too, though I actually see those around here at the garden stores all the time. Might have a look at the ones at Siebenthaler first, and I won't be ordering them from Spring Hill, since Spring Hill doesn't carry edging lobelias at all.

Anyway, I'll shoot some more pictures of the front yard stuff when I have time, it may not be until week after next, since we're going out of town next weekend. Hopefully nothing catastrophic will hit while we're gone, though that's usually around the time the big windstorm hits and blows everything a block and a half down the street. We'll see what happens.

Posted by Melinda at May 22, 2005 10:17 PM


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