Soundings: Rain and cat won’t stop my spinach on the farm

SoundingsJune 8, 2014 

Welcome to Horsefeathers Farm, where garden green salads rule the dinner table, the grass keeps growing at a relentless rate, and the rhododendrons may not get deadheaded for the first time that I can remember.

First, a review of the garden. Late last week, I sowed my third and final planting of Bodacious corn, careful to space my favorite garden crop over three weeks so the corn doesn’t all ripen at once.

Only the first planting has sprouted so far, but I have full confidence that I’ll have a near perfect germination rate. After all, I secured my corn seed from a guy down the street who grows some of the sweetest corn in South Sound — East Olympia’s Ray Parker. At 81, his knees are starting to bark at him, but he keeps plugging along, growing a commercial corn crop that draws customers from all over the Olympia area.

While we wait for the corn — and just about everything else in the garden — to mature, we’ve been dining regularly on several varieties of lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, arugula and beet greens. It’s amazing how quickly a picking basket fills up with fresh greens by simply thinning the rows of young plants and picking a few leaves off the older heads of lettuce.

The one item missing from the early harvest is spinach. The first planting was washed out in a late April monsoon. The second one was dug up by our cats.

“Maybe the third time will be the charm,” said Eastside Urban Farm & Garden Center co-owner Brighida deVargas the other day as she rang up my purchase of spinach seed, carrot seed and spaghetti squash, Brussels sprouts, and collard green starts.

In between mowing the lawn and pasture, which is a never-ending job, we built a new flower bed flanked by two existing snowberry plants. The first thing I learned in the process was just how extensive is the root system of a snowberry plant.

The new flower bed is home to a Japanese rose bush (Kerria japonica) we purchased at the Master Gardener Foundation of Thurston County May 17 plant sale at Dirt Works in Yauger Park. We especially appreciate this well-organized and well-attended plant sale because it specializes in perennial plants, which fit with our landscape mantra: more perennials and fewer annuals.

The Japanese rose should take a liking to the backyard cyclone fence that serves as a place for it to spread, climb and show off its yellow flowers in the spring.

The rhododendron flower show is almost over at Horsefeathers Farm in East Olympia after a six-week run. Typically, I would get out the stepladder and spend hours pulling the skeletal dead blossoms off the plants, a task that takes several hours at least. But I ran into retired state Fish and Wildlife fisheries manager Larry Peck at the Dirt Works plant sale. He told me he never deadheads his more than 200 rhodies, and they flower year after year just fine.

Garden columnist Ciscoe Morris agrees. “Your rhody will pump out about the same amount of flowers next spring as it did this year,” he wrote in his Seattle Times garden column five years ago. On the other hand, plucking the dead flowers will encourage increased branching, which usually leads to more flowers.

“The real reason to deadhead is aesthetic: your rhody will look better,” he wrote. Morris couldn’t help but add one more thought. “Maybe the question should be whether it’s worth risking life and limb to climb to the top of your rickety old ladder to deadhead a 15-footer!”

The question has entered my mind a time or two at the top of my ladder as I’ve stretched out to pick an elusive dead flower off a 10-foot-tall rhododendron plant.

This is also the time of year when the deck accessed from the kitchen of our split-level home comes to life.

Before I hauled the deck furniture out of the barn, I fired up the pressure washer to rid the deck of mildew, grime and pollen from the nearby maple trees. I cleaned the deck just enough to realize it needs a new coat of stain.

But I opted to populate the deck with the table, chairs, gas barbecue, hanging flower baskets, potted plants and flower boxes.

Staining the deck will make for a great, late summer project. Let the summer deck dinners and parties begin.

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