Gardening by the Moon

Ever wonder about those full moon names?  Harvest Moon, Pink Moon, Flower Moon . . .

The full moon in June is called the Strawberry Moon.  Sorry to say, it won’t be pink.  But it represents the peak season of this favorite summer fruit.

I refer to the Farmer’s Almanac periodically, and there is an Astronomy tab, giving much information on the moon phases.  Here’s the link on Gardening by the Moon.

strawberry moon

A friend once informed me that there is a particular time each moon phase when it’s better to apply for a job.  Much better to make introductions after the New Moon but before the Full Moon.  Use the energy of the new moon for new ventures and new beginnings.  This strategy actually worked out very well for me on a few of my many job interviews.

So it came as little surprise to realize that the moon’s phases could have something to do with success in planting.

Plant annual flowers and vegetables that bear crops above ground during the light, or Waxing of the moon – from the day the moon is new to the day it is full.

moonphase

Plant flowering bulbs, biennial and perennial flowers and vegetables that bear crops below ground during the dark, or Waning of the Moon – from the day after it is full to the day before it is new again.

Sounds a little superstitious, but the power of the moon is magical and mysterious!

I’m adding a moon phases chart to my collection of widgets here on g4t.  Just in case.

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Thunder and Lightning

So much rain these past few weeks.  Seems like it’s done nothing but rain since we came back from our beach vacation.  I haven’t had any time in the sun to maintain that tropical tan!  Though sun worshiping isn’t the wisest thing to do these days, I have to admit that I do feel so much better with a little sun on my face.

I’m not sure exactly when I stopped being terrified of thunder and lightning.  I have some pretty vivid memories of hiding from thunder storms as a child.  I’d pull the blankets up over my head, hide my head under the pillow.  And it was sweltering hot in my room to begin with.  I always assumed my sister was just as frightened, as we shared a room and shared those terrifying nights.

I remember one storm that occurred while my grandmother was visiting.  We were huddled in the game room, on the couch, talking about things grandmas talk about.  Thinking back on that afternoon, I would venture a guess that we were in the throws of a tornado warning.  I can only remember being told to get to the basement when the conditions were ripe for a tornado.

I wasn’t alone in my fear of those storms.  There was a little boy, I think we called him Jimmy Joe, who could not be comforted during one storm while Miss M, the kindergarten teacher, tried to distract us with a singing circle.  She had to call Jimmy Joe’s father to the school.  And his dad came to the rescue that day.

I smile when I think of our dog, Willis, in a thunderstorm.  I have heard plenty of stories of where dogs go to hide during storms.  Linda’s dog, Pal, used to hide in the clothes dryer, a remarkable feat for a full-grown collie.  Pal would find his way into the dryer on the 4th of July as well.  He did not like the loud booms of the firecrackers and fireworks.

Our bunny, Puffer, never liked storms, but Willis could not care less about them.  Good ol’ Willis.  He doesn’t like to go outside when it’s raining, doesn’t like getting wet.  Doesn’t give a hoot about thunder.

Lightning over Pittsburgh

Photo Credit: Photography by Jon Holiday

And how do you like this for irony?  My phone just swooshed with the latest Severe Thunderstorm Watch from the national weather service.  Guess we are going to get some more rain.

The Smell of the Rain

On my way into the office this morning, I heard one of the students complaining about the rain.

Rain.

Rain is good – and today it sure beats the snow!  It was so gorgeous yesterday – at one point in the day my weather app informed me it was 80F!!  And that is just fine!

keepcalm

The smell of the rain this morning took me back a few years to the days we walked to school.  Who could spot the longest worm!  Up Livingston Road, across the highway, along the path that skirted the Lebanon Jr. High practice field, back down across the same highway, through the back drive to the elementary school.  There were two crossing guards that kept us safe on that trek.  Crossing Guard Ernie always had a stick of gum for each of us on Friday.

I wonder how far it really was.  I’ve always thought it was at least a mile.  And that’s how we stayed in shape in those days.  We walked to school.

Imagine that.

I would like to take a trip back to Livingston Road and walk the walk to school one more time.  And measure the walk.

My kids can’t believe it was that far – but it was only uphill one way!

A Formula for Seed Starting Success

I have never really given much thought to the science of starting seeds.  I estimate our set out time (here in Zone 5b) to be somewhere between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. So mid to late May.  I usually start my seeds on St. Patrick’s Day – mid March.  No science to this logic whatsoever.  Most years it works, depending on what seeds I’m starting.

seedling

So I’ve been reading many other blogs and a few have mentioned a starting formula, a seed starting schedule.  Wow – a formula for starting my seeds.  I should have thought of this myself!

We seriously need to start with the seeds.  And if you have organized your seeds like me, you know exactly where to find them!   Check your seed packets and separate them into 2 categories – those that are sown directly into the soil, and those that are started indoors.  Most annuals will be sewn directly into the soil.  Most perennials will be started indoors.  But take a look.

Most of my seeds indicate “6-8 weeks before last frost date”.

Last frost date?  Just how am I supposed to guess at the last frost date?  There’s an app for that – well probably, but I did a quick Google search and, lo and behold, a link that reveals the last frost date!   Check it out, compliments of the Farmer’s Almanac!  You can find cities in the US here, and any Canadian cities will be linked to the closest US Climate Station.  Interestingly enough, there are no guarantees here.  The site claims to be 50% accurate!  Hah!  It’s their best guess, I guess!  My last frost date is May 1.

Sort your packets according to these recommendations.  I added a small sticker to indicate (in large numbers!) which week to start, 4, 5, 6, and so on. Some packets, especially those for perennials, may only tell you how long it takes the seeds to germinate. If that’s all you have to go on, take that figure (which is usually a range) and add 6 weeks. Then label the packet accordingly.

If there’s no information on the seed packet, you can pretty safely just start all your seeds about 6 weeks before you’ll plant them outdoors. Make note of which plants are too big or too small at planting time, and then you can make adjustments next year based on your notes.

Creating the Calendar

To calculate your planting dates, you need to count back from the last frost date in one-week increments. (I base my calendar on Saturdays, because that’s the day that I usually have available for seedstarting). In my area, the last frost date is May 1.  For me, when I count back from May 1, Week 4 is April 3, Week 11 is the week of February 13, etc. Simply write the week number (8,4, 6 or whatever) on the seed packet.  When the planting week arrives, you just grab the right packet and start planting.

Making Adjustments

Now that you have a great schedule, here are a couple of reasons you may want to make some adjustments:

Start earlier: Seeds take longer to germinate and plants grow more slowly when air and soil temperatures are cool (below 70 degrees F). If you plan to start your seeds in a cool basement or cool bedroom, you may want to shift your whole schedule a week or two earlier.

If you have a cold frame or greenhouse, or if you use row covers or water-filled teepees, you can plant tender seedlings several weeks before the last frost date. Just count back from that expected planting date to get the right date to sow your seeds.

Start later: If you grow your seedlings in a greenhouse or a very warm room, you should cut a week or more out of your schedule. Heat promotes rapid growth, and you could find yourself with giant plants that are ready for the garden before warm weather arrives.

So, back to my seed collection.  Most of my seeds that can be started indoors should start 6-8 weeks before last frost date.  Seven weeks before May 1, is the week of St. Patrick’s day.  So, according to my system, I wasn’t so far off with my “St. Patrick’s day” to “Mother’s day” formula.  If I back it up just a bit, I should be able to enjoy a couple more weeks, 50% of the time.

Ah, but beware!  Last year was one of the “other” 50% frost dates, as we had a killing frost in late May.  By the time I went out to purchase the annuals I hadn’t started, most gardeners in these parts were purchasing their second crop, and the nurseries were sold out.  Good for those nurseries, not so good for me.

Putting the Garden to Bed for the Winter

Here in Zone 5a, the beauty of Fall is waning.

pathway to winter

Time for reality, and tending to winterizing before it gets too cold out there.  November is the perfect time for putting the garden to bed.

  • Divide and cut back perennials.

Tall grasses should be tied with twine or tape, then whacked close to ground level with hedge trimmers.  You can then divide the roots if necessary.

Daylilies, like the tall grasses, should be cut back if they aren’t already.  About once every three years or so, the roots can be divided with pitchforks, as demonstrated in this clip.

  • Gather seeds from the beautiful annuals you had in the garden this year.  Shake dried seed pods directly into small plastic bags, making sure to slip in a small piece of paper that identifies the seed before sealing.  Here’s a seed catalog project I’ve finally been able to achieve!
  • Once the frost has hit them, dig out annuals and throw them on the compost pile.
  • Fall is the perfect time to plant new trees or shrubs.  The roots will need plenty of water and will establish themselves before the ground has a chance to freeze.
  • Amend your soil.  Here in the Western Pennsylvania region, clay soil is pretty much the norm.  Amending the garden beds by adding compost annually really helps the plants and trees that are planted in this soil perform and breathe!
  • Empty hoses and shut off water from inside the house.  Bring those clay crocks and other breakables inside, they may will break 😦
  • Take a look at your bird feeder location.  Make sure it’s high enough to discourage ground invaders, in a nice sunny spot so birds will enjoy the location.  And make sure it’s not in the range of any domesticated animal run.  Sound like experience talking here?
  • Place a stick in the bird bath, so that when the water freezes, you will be able to remove the ice and refill with fresh water.
  • Protect cold-sensitive plants.  This could mean mulching with leaves or constructing burlap enclosures and filling with leaves.  Anything to keep the plants protected, but not too warm as to encourage growth.

With minimal pain, you will have a head start on the Spring chores once Mr. Winter goes back into hibernation.

Not to rush life along, but I’m soo looking forward to Spring!

Red sky in the morning

Very often I’m up early enough to see the sunrise.  Most times, I’m in the shower or packing lunches – not really paying attention.  This morning, I happened to be making coffee and feeding the dog.  The strange light that was streaming through the back door was, low and behold, the sun!  Such a striking sight, here in sun-deprived Pittsburgh.

pink sky

But what made the light even more spectacular was the pink tint that accompanied it.  My mind immediately starts reciting “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.  Red sky at night, sailors delight.”  My mom used to say that.  A little Google search reveals that there is truth in the saying.

A red sunrise reflects the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the west. This indicates that a storm system may be moving to the east. If the morning sky is a deep fiery red, it means a high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain is on its way.

When we see a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles. This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. Basically good weather will follow.

A quick visit to weather.com indicates we are in for some rain or snow showers late this morning.  But I could have told you that, just by noting the morning sky!

After the storm

I have to tell you, I’m in a state of disbelief and mourning, and not just for the robin family.

We installed a gazebo over the Memorial Day weekend.  I love this thing – it’s a very large 10’x12′ double canopy that will shade the deck perfectly in the early afternoon.  Up until now, we had to avoid the deck at lunchtime, as the boards get so hot in the sun.  I love eating out in the summer, and this gazebo has a mosquito net that will keep the bees and flies at bay.  I got one with sturdy legs so that it wouldn’t get whipped around in storms.  We built it on the deck and secured it with bungee cords, with the intention of securing it permanently once we decided the location was right.

Well, Sunday afternoon as I was finishing up a weekend filled with weeding, I looked up to realize that black clouds were rolling in.  I quickly put away all my weeding tools and headed inside.  I moved the cars to the back just in time to get in from the impending storm.  As I walked inside, the wind started.  And it got pretty fierce.  And it lifted my gazebo like a child’s umbrella, over the side rails of the deck and into the yard below.  Thank goodness we had it secured with bungee cords.  One set held, and the gazebo just missed crushing the side of our new pool.  It landed with legs in the air, and just missed smashing my car.  I have no idea how we were able to avoid real tragedy, but I have to believe my angels were watching over.

Shortly after the storm passed, my kids ran outside to see the most spectacular double rainbow!

Two Pots ‘o Gold?

We snapped a few pictures, but they truly don’t do justice to the intense colors – I have never seen such vivid colors in rainbow.  There appeared to be more colors below the purple – simply glorious!

So I’m back to wondering how I’m ever going to get the nerve to reinstall the gazebo, if I even should.  I’m investigating ways to secure it to the deck boards.  I’m probably going to have to drill holes through the floorboards and secure it from below.

Groundhog Day 2012

Punxatawny Phil has seen his shadow – which means we will have 6 more weeks of winter.  But how bad is that this year?  I’ve really enjoyed the mild temps and lack of snow – I wish winter was this mild in Pittsburgh every year!

However, these mild temps will surely lead to a rather buggy spring.  I’m not sure where they hide or where they live, but when the thermometer hit 60 on Monday, we found 6 stinkbugs in my daughter’s room.  Just makes me wonder what this spring will bring – no doubt we will be hearing news of mosquitos and West NileVirus.  And I hear the bat population has taken a hit.  They eat thousands of bugs each night.  So, just a warning now, mosquito netting and Off spray will be necessity items come May.

But that’s just MY prediction!

Ice in the trees

Mid-January in Pittsburgh.  Hardly seems like the time or place to start thinking about gardening.  But a girl can dream! 

I’m actually listening to ice pellets hitting the windows at this moment.  It’s only 28 degrees out there, and the ice on the grass will soon be covered by the estimated 2-4 inches of snow.  The gardener in me often wonders why I live here – we don’t get much sunshine – in the US, second only to Seattle for cloud covered days.  I really believe the dreary majority of days helps me truly appreciate the sun when it does appear.  That’s what I keep telling myself . . .


Thank you, Lord, for this beautiful day – for this ice storm that is surely creating crystal encapsulated trees that the snow will cling to.  I can’t wait to see your magnificent work in the morning light!