Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nature Forces a Break

Wow May 22nd was a long time ago…sorry for the hiatus. Last night a cold front moved in to the Denver area to offer a reprieve from the stretch of dry, hot days we’ve ‘enjoyed’ recently. This morning I awoke to a gently falling rain and heavy overcast sky. I guess I’ll have to put those garden plans on hold. So here I find myself watching house sparrows and grackles pick seed out of the feeders (tossing what they don’t like on the ground for the squirrels) and I have a moment to post some updates.

Our garden is coming along quite nicely. With the stretch of warm weather all of our late spring and early summer planting is finished. I need to sow carrots again and still plan to plant some cucumber but I think everything else is in the ground if not already up and flourishing. It seemed that we leapt over a true spring and went from cold and dreary to 90 degrees in maybe a week. So I’m quite impressed that we have peas still trying to make a go of it; they’ll appreciate the cold weather this weekend. On the less hearty end of the spectrum, all of our lettuce just about ran its course. We left for Missouri with the prospect of lettuce and came home at the end of the weekend to the prospect of bolting. So we got cutting and have had two weeks of non-stop salad eating thanks to all of the lettuce, spinach and kale harvested at about the same time. I think there were days when Kate had salad for just about every meal: she definitely did her part to not waste the flavorful greens. As an experiment, I did some internet research and found that spinach and kale can both be frozen relatively easily. So I blanched some of the deep red veined spinach and hearty kale and put it in freezer bags for preservation. If that works we’ll have garden fresh greens at the height of summer when everyone else is either doing without or importing it from green houses or colder climes.
Red veined spinach ready for blanching

Big headed...lettuce that is
Cherry tomatoes ready for summer!

Our raspberries return!

Our potatoes prefer this raised bed to last year's location in ground
Carrots in the foreground, kale and sage behind.
The Breaking Ground project has seen some challenges this season but is doing really well. We’ve struggled a bit with some of the volunteer coordination with our halfway house sponsor, but with a new system for communication in place things seem to be going well. Last Wednesday the volunteer gardeners took back to their house 5 large bags of fresh bib and leaf lettuce, spinach, swiss chard and kale. We planted some of our tomato and broccoli seedlings, sowed some radishes in the shadier back beds and got the ground ready for squash and corn. It never ceases to amaze me what grows and flourishes on a plot of land that two years ago was a vacant, trashed lot and remnant of a burned out building. Hell my swiss chard never came up this season despite my best efforts and attention to soil, water etc., yet it thrived at Breaking Ground. Mother Nature must be more charitably minded than I thought.

Buried manifold: a worse sign.
This is not a good sign.

Last weekend I got a lesson in sprinkler system repair. I thought I’d have myself a very productive Sunday of mowing, weeding, watering, planting. I got the mowing down and then turned my attention to the sprinkler system. I started fixing what I thought were just broken heads but soon discovered was an issue with the valve manifold. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t find the valve manifold for the backyard. I later discovered it buried in the ground under a couple random pavers in the backyard which I was always curious about but had never investigated. In modern systems these valves are usually in a box, nice and tidy and not covered in dirt and ants. I spent most of my Sunday (which was like 98 degrees) meticulously excavating the ancient brass manifold and then researching whether I could get a replacement diaphragm for the leaking valve. No such luck, my 1976 oddly sized, brass relic belongs in a museum; manufacturers stopped making replacement diaphragms for this system back in the late 80’s. Cursing Roger Cook from This Old House, who’s web video for manifold repair made this project look so easy, I decided to rebuild the entire sprinkler manifold myself. I did a pretty good job of piecing the parts together but learned some valuable lessons in the process. First, its better to match the spacing of the old valve manifold than try and get all fancy and shrink things down with the replacement; because the second lesson is that the black plastic sprinkler tubing, at short lengths at least, is not very flexible. I fought tubing for an entire evening on Monday to get everything to connect together again. It also pays to be REALLY thorough about testing the fit of your pieces up front. I didn’t fully tighten some of my valve connections so I’ll be redoing them…when it dries out after all the rain (at least the ground is getting watered somehow).

Excavating a valve

My museum piece or brass recycling donation

Pretty new valves...spaced too close together but hey...
So we’ve been busy enough and in my book have earned a bit of a vacation. Coincidentally we’re heading to Telluride for the Bluegrass Festival next week, so we won’t have to wait too long to get one. If it ever stops raining hopefully I can finish my sprinklers and drip system for the week we’re gone, mow the lawn so its manageable when we return and make one last effort against the weeds before they get a vacation too and rise up against me in my absence. By Monday night it will be one well earned trip.

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