Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An unexpected doorstep garden

An unexpected doorstep garden

Last fall, I potted up a whole bunch of sale bulbs into old plastic pots I had hanging around.
The bulbs were layered--larger bulbs below, smaller bulbs above--in ordinary garden soil.  It was my intention to hold the pots in the root cellar (40 degrees average temperature) for a few weeks, then move the pots to the unheated shed, where they could freeze for a few weeks.  The further plan was to bring the pots into the house, one pot a week, so as to enjoy a never-ending succession of spring bulbs.

What actually happened was that the bulbs immediately began sprouting, making me afraid to take the pots to the shed.  The fear was all the tender new growth would immediately freeze, causing the entire experiment to fail.  Instead, I just left the pots in the root cellar, watering VERY infrequently in an attempt to get the damn things to STOP GROWING before I was ready for them to do so.

My readiness, however, was not the issue--not at all.  The issue was the BULBS' readiness, and they just kept growing, in the cold, in the dark, until they were like horrible underground mushrooms, tall, spindly, white spears falling over the pot.  It was like a horror movie--the things that lived in the basement.

Not zombies any more...
When the weather consistently got above freezing in the daytime--about late March this year, I brought the pots of horrible white creepy-crawly growth outside and lined them up on my doorstep. I wasn't expecting much from these bulb zombies, but it was too muddy to take the mess to the compost, and I figured maybe, just maybe, there would be a few blooms.

Well---what can I say?  The darn things greened up and bloomed madly, now there's a whole spring garden out on the stoop--a cheerful welcome to anyone coming to the front door.  Perhaps next year's crop can be planted in better-looking pots, now that the bulbs have shown how they want to be grown, and for what purpose--an early spring doorstep garden, rather than a succession of indoor bulbs.

Oh, and by the way--the one pot I did bring into the house also greened up, but the light in the house was not strong enough in mid winter.  The bulbs did bloom, but they made a sickly-looking falling-down mess.  So, doorstep bulbs it will be from now on.

You can see how far ahead the doorstep garden is over the bulbs planted in the ground
PS: the elapsed time of planting and hauling around was maybe two hours total, the expense negligible--I had the pots, the soil was dug from the garden, and the bulbs were on half price sale in at the end of October.  Pretty good return, I'd say.

PPS:  The bulbs will be truly worn out from this, and must be composted.  The soil will be returned to the same bed it came from, and mixed thoroughly with amendments (leaf mulch, compost) to renew it after its winter-long sojourn in plastic pots.  And, despite the fact that it was heavy and seemed to be a lot of soil when it was dug, the fact is, compared to a whole garden bed, this is a very little soil, really.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Disappointment in a big box

Yesterday at Costco, I saw a huge display of plants which will never thrive in our soil--blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons.  These plants require acid soils, yet the soils in this part of the state are neutral to sweet.  Once sold to the unsuspecting and put into the ground, these many plants will stunt and die.  Similarly for sale were tree roses, box bushes of a non-hardy variety as well as many other plants which will never survive a Wisconsin winter.

I wanted to station myself at the display and warn all comers, or talk to the manager and tell him or her to send all these plants on to a region south and east of here--somewhere with a milder climate and an acid soil.  But, however, I did nothing--the ignorance of plant requirements which sends a semi-load of plants to the absolutely wrong region is unlikely to be cured by little old me registering a complaint to a store manager. After all, the plants were well-grown, beautifully packaged and well-priced--sure to sell.  Too bad that not a one of them will thrive, and most will be dead by this time next year.  What a pity, what a waste--disappointment guaranteed.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Nature hits the pause button

For each 10 degrees (C) of temperature, the biological activity doubles, and the opposite is true too--when it's cold, nothing grows, despite longer days and plenty of sunshine.  It has been so cool (below freezing every night) that the day lilies, those hardy beasts, have barely poked their heads up, the new apple trees carefully wrapped up in the root cellar are starting to worry anxiously about getting their roots into the ground before they dry up, while the potted-up bulbs overwintered and set out on the stoop have simply stopped growing, although they were doing fine in the protected environment of the shed.

This being the upper tier of states in the midwest, with no moderating body of water nearby, the prevailing weather will veer around one of these days, and the wind will blow off the gulf of Mexico, rather than down off the Canadian shield as it is now doing.  Suddenly, the garden will explode--roses and late tulips blooming together, lilacs and strawberry blossoms compressed into a concentrated riot of spring, followed shortly by the first mosquitos.  For now, though, nature has hit the pause button--the days are getting longer and longer but nothing is growing.