Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No-Comfort-Zone for the Win

I just received photos of the willow tree custom PA Dutch hex sign installed on the owner's home.

They love it and I think it looks great, mounted on this brick building. I really like it when my clients send in situ photos!

Out of the Comfort Zone

Custom hex sign - protection and abundance
for the family that uses a weeping willow
as a family symbol
Do you like to be outside your comfort zone? I don't and from what I have read, most folks are in the same boat. But sometimes one gets pushed overboard and -- for me at least -- at that point I flail around like a drowning person for a bit and the, finally, get with the program and swim.

That is always the case when I get an order for a custom hex sign that focuses on a more realistic depiction of something. Usually that "something" is an animal in one of the livestock or companion animal protection signs. Previously, I had done the dog, above left and the cow, to the right...both with much trepidation. But I had never been asked for a realistic tree before this most resent offering, above.

I do think it turned out ok and it has actually inspired me to try to draw, if not paint, some of the trees I have been noticing this winter.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

It's THAT Time of Year Again, Folks!

You know who you are... those who have been pouring... dreaming... drooling over the seed catalogs. Bankrupting yourselves putting in order, perhaps, though I hope not. Moderation in all things... remember! But it's time, here in Maine even, when the potting mix hits the flats and you can almost hear the announcer's voice coming over the aethers: Gardeners! Start your SEEDS!

Or maybe not... maybe you are not sure when to start. Maybe your family tradition has been to put everything out on Memorial Day Weekend. Maybe you have moved and are not sure WHAT your seasons will be like.  Well, wonder no more. I am going to share some of my favorite go-to sites for plotting and planning and learning you seasons.

Your calculations need to start with your last spring frost and the first frost in the winter, in order to choose varieties that will ripen in your climate. This is especially important for us northern dwellers, but folks at altitude have this issue as well, perhaps even more so! PlantMaps.com is the source for this info. You can enter your zip code at the upper left (pay attention! it is in the immediate upper left! the lines numbered 1 and 2 and in large print just below are ADS!) and get an overlay on a Google map base of your area with the climate zones color-coded and first and last frost date averages listed below.

When your seed packet tells you to plant "after all danger of frost" then you are golden, most years. And we all know that gardening or farming is -- always -- a calculated risk. However Johnny's Selected Seeds, one of my favorite suppliers from long before moved to Maine and became their neighbor, has used their and their customers experience to develop a series of interactive tools to help take a bit more of the guesswork out of planting.

They have an online calculator to help you decide when to start seeds indoors for future transplant. The tool also suggest when it will be safe to transplant them after you have hardened the seedling off.

If you have ever considered succession planting -- perhaps when your lettuces have all gone to seed and your tomatoes are signaling the beginning of a bountiful BLT season -- you might find this this tool handy. It is a spreadsheet that can be used with Microsoft Excel, or if you do not have that program, the free and open source OpenOffice Calc program runs it as well. That is what I use. Johnny's says "This spreadsheet calculator allows you to input the date of your first planting of each crop, then it calculates the dates for later plantings. It also allows you to input your first frost date, counting back the appropriate number of days to determine the last date to plant and still get a crop before frost."

They also offer calculators that will help if you want to aim for a specific harvest date (though I know it will not all ripen at the very same time, I have also grown many varieties of paste/sauce tomatoes with the Heinz name that seem to really try to hit that goal! It was a family joke for years.) And if you want a real challenge, a calculator for when to plant crops for a fall harvest.

Another very useful offering is the seed quantity calculator, with which you can work from either the crop, to determine the number of seeds or young plants that you need for a row of given length or from the seed spacing and row length you plan to use, to determine the number of rows.

Based on this last tool, tomorrow I will be making up 300 mini soil blocks, in which to plant 300 onion seeds (plus an additional 40 or so that I will be starting for a friend. Plus shallots and leeks.

Other online tools exist to help you figure out:
-- how much you will harvest per 100' row (you can calculate estimates for smaller gardens!)
-- companion planting, to save space and help your crops thrive
-- identify some of the weeds that inevitably plague us all
-- adjust planting times to avoid some pests and diseases (Maine based)
-- help identify nutrient deficiencies by reference to the plants leaves (You have done a soil test haven't you? Your local extension service can do this as soon as you can access your soil!)
-- how much to plant for your family. Ok, this is just one company's guess... and of course your mileage WILL vary, based on what you love and what you don't like as much, what you put by, and how you cook and plan your meals year round. But if you have never done a garden, and especially if you are aiming to learn to be more self-reliant, it can be a good place to start.

You will also want to become good friends with the folks at your local extension office (this is connection) as they have all kinds of help and publications... from soil testing services, to Master Gardeners who can help answer all kinds of questions, to classes in how to safely preserve your bounty!

Now, don't go broke buying seeds... connect up with friends and SHARE! And all this thought about spring has actually kicked me in the rear to finally get working on a spring-themed custom hex sign order! Watch for the final project photo on Facebook or Twitter.