Category Archives: Gardening

Seedlings Update No. 1: frustration

It’s been 12 days since I started trying to germinate some seeds. California Poppys have a germination time of between 10 and 15 days, I’m told. I have two of those that have sprouted. But, that’s all. One looks good, the other looks, um, not as good. Is it, as they say, “leggy”? I’m not sure.

Two seedlings: in the foreground… lying down. In the background, standing up.

The picture shows the two seedlings. The one in the foreground is the first to have sprouted. It has been lying down like that the whole time. The second one, in the back, looks better with four leaves and is standing up. It’s possible others will still sprout. But, I’m a bit disappointed with the “crop” so far.

Spruce and Joshua Trees take longer to germinate, anywhere from 20 to 30 days. So, maybe they will still show up, too.

My tray has a heating mat and I have it on a thermostat set to 75 degrees (those are freedom units, of course. That’s what the F stands for, isn’t it?). I chose that number because it was about average for spring time and it’s what vegetable seeds seem to like. Also, I didn’t know I needed a thermostat initially. The mat didn’t come with one and the instructions said it would keep the soil about 10 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. Since, the garage is around 50, I thought that would be okay. But, the mat was actually warming up to 80 or 90 degrees! That’s too warm. I’m wondering if I didn’t do something wrong with the seeds by having it too hot like that for the first few days. I also have two LED grow lights I bought on them during the day. I’m under the impression that the lights emit the right spectrum for plants to grow while limiting heat output and using minimal energy.

LED grow lights on the germination station.

Anyway, the seeds were cheap and this was just for fun. Maybe I will still get some more sprouts. And maybe I’m learning enough to not make mistakes with the veggies and the other poppy seeds I have. I bought some from Grow Native Nursery at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens. Those are the ones I’m really hoping to get growing this year.

Baby Makin’: Germinating Pines, Joshua Trees, and California Poppies

I didn’t put on any Luther Vandross or Barry White. But, maybe I should. What I did do, however, was to get out my Germination Station (Note: that link is to Amazon, but, at least right now, I don’t get anything for referring you to it. I’m linking it for information, though.) and fill it with some Black Gold seedling mix so I could sow some seeds and give it a try. As I mentioned in a previous post, I will be putting together a vegetable and herb garden bed. To grow those plants from seed, I got these items to increase my chances at success. The germination station comes with a heating pad and a cover to keep the seeds warm and moist. Also, this way, I should know if the seedling is a plant I’m growing or a weed.

To practice, I filled the 72 cells with the soil mix and sowed seeds for pine trees, Joshua trees, and California poppies. I got all of these seeds from a store in Julian, CA called the Julian Candy Basket when we visited this summer. It was a whim. I had bought California Poppies seeds last year but I lost the packets. These were seed packets that were inside of postcards. The were less than $3 each so I thought, “What the heck!” I like Joshua Trees and would like to have a couple in the corner of my yard. I had been wanting poppies, and the post card said it contained Blue Spruce, Bristle Cone Pine, Douglas Fir, Pinyon Pine, and White Pine. But, once I opened the card and got out the seed envelope it listed White Spruce, Norway Spruce, and Black Hills Spruce.

Seriously?! None of these seeds are what the card said they would be!

Come on, man!

I only bought it because it said it was seeds for a “Grand Canyon Pine Forest.” I am trying to have a California Native garden. Although I would like to be a purist and only grow plants that are native to my home state, I’ve already made a few concessions. I have some succulents that I’m not familiar with at all and I never see them on any of native plant sites. I also have a Gambel Oak which is, theoretically, suitable for this climate, but is actually native to Colorado. I have enjoyed visiting the Grand Canyon and I really like Pinyon pines. So, if I got a couple of those, I would have been perfectly happy. Even a Douglas Fir would be cool because it could be a Christmas tree one day.

But, no. All Spruces. Ugh.

Anyway, I’m just practicing. So, it’s fine. Maybe if they grow, I will put them in little 1 gallon pots and give them as Christmas gifts next year. That might be fun. You know, if growing trees is fun to you. The Black Hills and the Norway Spruce trees are pretty, at least, and the White Spruce grows fast. Maybe I will use them in the back yard on the western side of the north yard on the other side of the pool. They could act as screen for the street. I could, I suppose plant them in the front yard, too. We’ll see what happens.

In case you’re interested (and if you’re not, I will remind you that you voluntarily came to this blog to read this), I’ll briefly describe my process for sowing the seeds. If nothing else, this will serve as notes for me in case it doesn’t work so I might be able to figure out what I did wrong.

My germination station. That’s baby makin’ goin’ on right there.

First, I dropped the soil into the little cells in the tray that came with the germination station. I filled them to the top but I didn’t pack the soil down. I would drop the soil and then slide my hand across the top to scoop it into the cells, kind of like I was leveling it out. Then, I took the seeds and tried to drop one in per cell. In a couple cases, with the pines and poppies, I got two or even three in a single cell. Those seeds were small. The Joshua tree seeds were much larger, a little more than 1/4 inch wide, but thin. So, each of those cells got one.

There are six rows vertically and 12 across. On the right side, I sowed the first two rows with Joshua trees. So, 12 of those. On the left side, I sowed three rows of pines. So, 18 pines. The rest are California poppies, all in the middle. I did it that way so I could remember which was which.

After I placed the seeds, I went through and covered them. Next time I will get a little stick or something to make a hole about 1/8th of an inch deep to drop the seed in. We’ll see how this goes. Maybe I did it wrong. So, then I put the tray inside the station’s tray and watered the soil. I used a water bottle, like people drink out of, and poked holes in the lid to make a little sprinkler. I watered enough to saturate the soil but not so much to leave water standing in the bottom of the station. I put the lid on the tray, plugged in the heating pad and then set up the lights.

Now it’s up to the seeds to do their thing.

Rain and rest

Since finishing the paver patio/pathway, I’ve been resting a bit. I get back pain due to a bad S-I joint. It’s been nice to rest and maybe just stroll around the garden a bit, but I’m also thinking about the next thing. The south side of my yard is small, gets some shade, and I’m planning to put in vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs. I have two raised garden beds ready to go and plan on maybe a third. The area needs some work, though. There’s a lot of soil that was removed from the front yard when we put in some additional concrete for parking. And, the retaining wall I installed needs another 15 feet to really be finished.

My idea is to bring the wall over and curve it a bit, similar to how I have it on the north side. That will give a slightly raised area. Then, I will try to level the rest of the area and plant lime, orange, and avocado trees, one each. I have some heirloom seeds on order for vegetables and herbs.

And, of course, I’ve never really done gardening like this before. I had a tomato plant in 2015 that never really made it through the summer. I’m guessing I didn’t give it enough nutrients in the soil. But, I plan to have the beds have much better soil and fertilizer. They have hardware cloth across the bottom so that should keep at least the gophers out.

Rain has been much better this year than last. I remember going all of December with no rain. This year we’ve had over 5 inches since October! Most of it came in the last week of December. That’s great for my garden. I’m very interested to see what happens with my California native plants. I have California Buckwheat, manzanita, and sage that have been in the yard over a year now. My understanding is that after the first full year, the plants are usually established in the garden and they require little to no water.

In November I attended a workshop at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden nursery, called Grow Native. They sell, as far as I know, only California native plants. Anyway, one of the workers, a young guy who is studying native plants in school and sounds like he has a lot of experience gardening/landscaping, gave a workshop on planting and watering. To summarize, you did a hole twice and wide and 1.5 times as deep as the pot the plant is in. Then, you fill the hole with water, let it drain, then fill it with water again, same. Then, install the plant with the base of the plant about an inch higher than the surrounding soil, then water it again.

After that, I didn’t water much. I had some bad luck though with plants I bought in the Fall Planting Festival at Grow Native. We got some really damaging winds in November. I always seem to lose a plant or two to the wind. Sticky monkey flowers do not seem to respond to the wind well, at all. Also, four penstemon (electric blue) died. They just turned black. I don’t know what happened there. It wasn’t lack of water. Maybe the heat got them. Or, a disease. But, anyway, they died. Then, many of the sages I bought got a powdery white mildew that hasn’t gone away. The black sages and the Cleveland sages all got them. I was careful not to get water on the leaves and that never happened with the plants I have now. I’m waiting it out to see how it goes. I lost two Bee’s Bliss plants to that mildew. Bummer

Most of my plants seem to be doing well at the moment. I’m seeing some new leaves growing on the manzanitas and sages.

Coming soon to my garden: fruits and vegetables

The final phase of my yard makeover is the south yard which is a much smaller space. I thought it would be a good idea to grow stuff you can eat. So, a month ago I built two raised garden beds. I needed some place to put extra dirt in order to finish my path and patio areas. But, now that I’m done with that, and January is in full swing, it’s time to start the veggie and herb garden.

Raised garden beds that need filling.
I bought some seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and I got a little germination station, some seed soil, and a grow light (well, the light is on the way). I also got some garden soil and steer manure from Home Depot. I’m going to mix my native soil, which is actually pretty loamy, with the garden soil and manure. Then, my plan is to water it and see if I can get weeds to germinate so I can get rid of them. Meanwhile, I’m going to use my germination station to get seeds started indoors.

For practice with the GS, I’m going to try germinating some California poppy seeds I bought from Grow Native Nursery during the Fall Planting Festival. I also have some Joshua Tree and various pine tree seeds I got at a shop in Julian, California. So, I will try those, too. I’m not sure what I will do with a bunch of trees, though. I guess I will start a forest. Lol

Anyway, I will then start some carrots, lettuce, broccoli, garlic, and onions. Then, in a couple months, the warmer crops will be starting.

For now, I will hand water. But, soon, I want to get a micro-sprinkler system going over there. I have to put pressure regulator on the line that feeds the sprinklers on that side. Then, I will use the existing piping and add to it to have irrigation go up to my beds. I will cap off the other sprinklers there because there’s nothing but my shed and dirt over there. Long term, I’m going to to sift a bunch of rocks out of the top six inches of soil and put them on top as ground cover in most of that area. And maybe add another raised bed.

Then, I will get at least a lime tree and avocado tree. After that, maybe, but not for sure, a dwarf orange tree. That might be all the side yard can handle.

Gophers drive me crazy

I had really a really bad amount of gophers last year. Using traps, I was able to kill about 12 of them. I lost exact count, but that is close. I had one that was going after the flowering plants in my little central area. It got a Dr. Hurd manzanita, a Firecracker Penstemon, an Electric Blue penstemon, and started after another before I trapped it. It’s hard to describe the frustration of watching a plant die as a gopher attacks it from below.

Usually I would see the gopher mound and know I had one. But, this last summer, a couple of them stopped making mounds, somehow they stayed underground. I thought the heat was just killing my plants. I lost a black sage that was doing very well. It was over two feet tall and three feet wide, looked beautiful. Then, parts of it started dying. Finally, it was all brown and shriveled. It took me several plants dying to see that this was because of gophers.

I would bet I have lost at least 15 plants to gophers. After planting it, watering, weeding, watching over it, then to see it turn brown, shrivel, and die, all because some ugly rodent that rearranges my dirt is hungry is really enraging sometimes. But, I got that one. He evaded my traps a few times but I finally got him with the Black Box.

I have another gopher that is digging around the succulents next to and behind my waterfall. This is really upsetting. First, the animal is kicking dirt out of the area and down on the rocks. Secondly, it’s killing these plants. My succulents have been amazingly resililient I must admit. These particular plants are an unknown species to me. I got a gift from my sister-in-law, Martha, and I thought I would just go ahead and plant them. They’ve taken off and look great back there. It’s making me insane watching the gopher destroy them. I’ve been trying to trap it now for several weeks.

I have three kinds of traps. I have the aforementioned Black Box, the Easy Set pincer traps, and Cinch traps. I have not yet caught any gophers with the Cinch. The black box is probably the most successful trap. This is a hard plastic box with a spring wire that traps the animal and crushes it when the gopher gets inside. It works because the gopher goes to investigate a “problem” with its tunnel. Gophers, apparently, really hate having openings in their tunnels. There is a small hole at the back of the trap that, I think fools the animal into thinking the tunnel is longer than it really is. So, it goes inside and gets caught.

But, this one behind the waterfall has twice simply filled the trap. It happens. Eventually I’m going to get him. He’s making mounds but they are all “inside” the plants where I can’t really get in there. And, I haven’t seen new activity from him for a couple days now. I’m going to keep an eye on it.

Finished stone paver walkway/patio!

I was finally able to finish installing my paver patio and garden walkway.

Much of the walkway and patio areas can be seen here.

One of two paths leading from the house out to the garden.
In some ways, I’m glad I was so inexperienced at installing pavers. I think that if I had known how much work was involved in making my pathways curved I would never have done it. But, straight paths would have looked so much worse. I really like how the path curves through the garden. It looks much more organic and informal, which matches everything else in the garden. Straight paths would have looked far too formal and organized.

Almost all of the pavers I installed can be seen in this picture.
There is still a lot of work to do. But, at least now the pathway and patio areas mean the garden and yard can be used by others. I have a little fire pit I got from Home Depot for the patio on the far side. A bench will go on the little patio by the stream. I’m really looking forward to being able to walk through the garden without getting mud or dirt on my shoes. Between the stones and hose guides, if I need to water (which shouldn’t be often), it should be so much easier now.

And, above are a couple pictures of the pathway in progress, in case you’re interested. In some ways, it’s a very simple process. Level out the area, install edging, compact the ground, add a gravel base, if necessary (but if you read my previous post, you know why I skipped this step), add a sand base, level it, place pavers carefully (no dragging or sliding!), cut pavers on the sides to fit as needed.

I have no illusions about my skills, though. I am satisfied with how it came out. It looks good enough to me. However, I realize that a professional would probably tell me a variety of mistakes I made. My pattern is very irregular. Many of my cut pieces are poor fits. And, one thing I think that could be an issue that I didn’t foresee, is that I laid each block right against the other. There are little to no gaps between most of the pavers. I thought this a good thing but time will tell if I’m right. I feel like the right way to do it would have been to leave small gaps of 1/8th to 1/4th of an inch between each paver that would be filled with sand. This is how tiles with grout are done. I didn’t think that pavers were done that way.

My final step was to use the PermaSand I bought (aka polymeric sand) and sweep it into the gaps. This was not an insignificant amount of work. The instructions said to make sure all of it was swept off the surface and then two sprinkle water on it so that it penetrates all the way down. This activates the polymer that eventually hardens. The packaging says it will hold the stones together and inhibit weed or insect activity. Otherwise, I could see ants burrowing upward or weeds growing. Maybe that will still happen, I tried following the directions but I will see if that works.

My thinking was that pavers tight up against each other would be less likely to move around and would be stronger in the long run. But, if I’m wrong, I’ll just have to fix it somehow. One reason I chose pavers over concrete was the ability to change it, if necessary. I imagine that making repairs or alterations would be far simpler with pavers instead of concrete. Ideally, I won’t have to make any changes at all, though.

Dust was a serious issue on this project. I was unprepared for how much dust cutting the pavers created. I used an old miter saw with a diamond cutting blade to cut the pavers. It worked well enough. I had purchased a similar blade for my circular saw but found it more difficult to use. If I had known, I would have only bought the blade for the miter saw. I also got a grinding wheel for my angle grinder but I didn’t use that often, either. It took too long. The diamond blade on the miter saw chewed through stone after stone with relative ease. I have no idea how many I cut, but it must be in the hundreds. The curves required so many customized stones and that’s what really took the longest to complete the project.

I also struggled with estimating how many stones I needed. In total, I used 576 of the square stones and 641 of the rectangular larger stones. My initial order was for 1 pallet of the squares and 1 pallet of the rectangles. That got me through the larger patio (for the fire pit area) and the first pathway leading from  the house. Then, my wife helped me try to estimate how many I would need to finish. In my opinion, she did quite well. I ordered another pallet of the squares and two of the rectangles. Yesterday, I went to Home Depot twice. I bought 40 more rectangles the first time and then 25 the second time. That got me to the end. Whew! It’s hard to tell how many you need with irregular shaped areas and all the curving paths. I think getting within 60 is pretty amazing.

I I had been able to order all of them at once, I might have saved about $100, maybe more. I’m not sure. Ordering more of the blocks at once lowers the prices. The rectangular blocks cost $1.98 each and the squares were $1.31 each. But, in bulk, they are $1.78 and $1.18 each respectively. But, I did the best I could. Maybe I could have gotten one of those measuring devices with a wheel to find out exactly how much path and patio I had in length and then try to average out the width and then calculate the area and add 10% for waste but I’m not positive that would have gotten me closer. So, I guess I paid an “inexperience tax” or something.

I’m glad it’s done, though. As soon as the skies are clear, I’m going to get my telescope out and see if I can observe the Orion Nebula. It will be nice not to have to set up in the dirt. And, maybe the kids and I will have a little fire outside tonight. It should be fine to walk upon tonight.