Category Archives: Gardening

Back in the Blogging Saddle

It’s been nearly two years since I last posted. TWO YEARS! I haven’t forgotten about my little blog. It’s been quietly nagging me in the back of my mind. For two years I’ve been thinking about and meaning to get back to it, but life has been so busy. In those two years I increased the amount of hours I am at work and our two kids are now school age and involved in more activities (soccer, swimming, gymnastics, piano). I value our quiet time and we all enjoy just hanging out at home and playing in the back yard. We aren’t usually involved in that many things at one time. However, in an effort to try different things and see what the kids really enjoy (in addition to wanting the kids to learn how to swim), it feels like we’ve been overdoing it. My son informed me last night that he’s ready to take a break from swimming. Right on. He’s been doing great and has really progressed since he started winter lessons in January, but a break is definitely due.

One of the highlights of the last year is that we now have backyard chickens! I plan to write a whole post on that, but in short: husband built a coop and a run, and in March 2015 we got six Golden Comet chicks (red sexlinks). The kids loved watching them grow from chicks and have continued to love and care for them. They even gave them names. The chickens deserve a blog post of their own, so we’ll cover all that next time around.

In the meantime, it’s April and the weather has been gorgeous (except for the last few days of heavy rain). We’ve gotten our garden started, and since my garden is the topic I blog about most (aside from my kids, maybe), I wanted to share a few pics of what we’ve got going. I’m also home today with a sick kindergartener, so while she’s resting and watching The Land Before Time (a favorite movie series around here), I decided to finally bring back the blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Our new chicken coop and run along the side of the garden. Also, last year Mr. L. added a fence around the garden to keep the chickens, dogs and deer out. It’s been working great!

 

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This is late afternoon and as you can see, the garden gets a good bit of shade then. I usually try to start planting in the far end and save the sunniest parts of the garden for tomatoes.

 

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The first transplants include cabbage, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts. I will need to keep an eye on them so I can see when the cabbage worms start to show up, then take action.

 

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Our “walking onions” popping through! My dad gave me a bunch of these a few years ago and I save the bulbs to replant each year. They develop a flower at the top with a bunch of new bulbs that get heavy and plop over, starting a new plant, which is how they “walk”.

 

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These two were really into helping garden this month, so we harnessed that enthusiasm! They helped plant onions, potatoes, and green beans. Miss D. also helped transplant the Brassicas one afternoon when her brother was at soccer practice. We still have lots to do!

At the recommendation of my Uncle Joe, I’m currently reading Growing Great Tomatoes in preparation of planting our own tomatoes in the next week or so. I’m also checking out Straw Bale Gardens and am thinking of giving that technique a try at some point. There’s always so much to learn!

To be continued…

 

 

Spring Garden, 2014

We got a late start on this year’s garden, due to the harsh winter that ran into spring. However, this spring has been mostly nice and cool, and our garden is looking pretty good so far! My goal this year was to space things appropriately (everything was super cramped and overgrown by October in years past) and to stay ahead of the weeds, which overcame the garden in previous years. I’d get to point where I just gave up, and the weeds won.

This year, I laid much more leaf mulch, thanks to the nifty leaf compost bin that my husband made out of wooden pallets last year. It was packed full of leaves that we collected in the fall.

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I’ve also been trying to get out there regularly to pull weeds and cultivate. It’s working so far, although I fell behind in a few rows… mainly the peas and the radishes/carrots. The weeds don’t seem to be bothering the peas, but I know I have to clean up the row with the carrots or they won’t grow. Does anyone know the best way to weed around carrots?

We started harvesting a couple of weeks ago. First out of the garden were lettuce, radishes, and spring onions.ย  I love growing radishes and spring onions because they are so easy.

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This year we had better luck with lettuce, too, partly because we started with plants. I think the last few years I sowed lettuce seeds too late, and I waited and waited for them to get big enough to pick, and then they bolted. It’s working out much better this year, from plants. We have big, full heads of lettuce. I’m sure the cooler spring is helping too.

Our most recent harvest from the garden has been peas. During our first year gardening, we had a great row of sugar snap peas that seemed to produce early, and just kept giving us peas. This year I sowed three rows of peas, one of Frosty Pea, one Sugar Bush, and one Sugar Snap. Not sure why I dedicated three rows to peas, but I did. They grew strong and big, but it seemed like the blossoms were never going to develop. I even considering pulling out the plants so that I could put something else there, because I was starting to think they wouldn’t produce for us. Then, after a recent weekend of heavy rain I walked out there and they were full of beautiful little pink and white blossoms! It’s been my favorite part of this year’s garden so far, particularly the pink pea blossoms. I went out there last night and snapped some photos before the blossoms were all gone.

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Are you keeping a garden this year? How is it doing?

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Gettin’ Dirty

What a gorgeous weekend! The late, heavy snows that we got in March delayed the start of our gardening, so I tried to get caught up this weekend. It was the perfect weather for it; just like those perfect couple of weeks of true spring weather that we get between winter and the hot summer weather that always seems to come too early. I remember a couple of years ago we had what felt like two full months of true spring weather. Hoping for another spring like that this year, now that spring has finally arrived.

We spent most of the weekend in our back yard, transplanting and sowing in the vegetable garden, as well as making a butterfly garden next to the kids’ play house. I’ll follow-up with a post on those, but in the meantime, here’s what we got started in the vegetable garden this weekend:

  • Egyptian (“walking”) onions (actually planted a few weeks ago; my Dad gave me these spring onions a couple of years ago)
  • sweet onions
  • potatoes (Kennebec and red)
  • lettuces (Buttercrunch, Bibb, and mesclun)
  • swiss chard
  • cabbage (early flat Dutch and red)
  • peas (frosty pea, sugar snap and dwarf sugar bush)
  • Tepary beans (heirloom from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company)
  • carrots (short n’ sweet, and rainbow)
  • radishes (easter egg mix)
  • arugula
  • parsley
  • dill

After all of that, I have over half of the garden planted already, which I always find a little depressing. I can never keep up with our garden, once the weeds move in. Then I wish it were smaller. But when I’m planting and sowing, I always wish it were bigger.

We all got very dirty and by Sunday evening, I was tired and sore. But it was a divine weekend. I took this photo of my daughter playing in the less-than-half of the garden that we haven’t planted yet. She had gone inside to fetch her favorite blanket and brought it out to the garden. This photo pretty much sums up how I felt about the weekend. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Hoping you also had beautiful weather this past weekend and got outside to enjoy it!

 

Simple Things Sunday: Sunflower

We’ve had some crazy weather lately… extreme heat and a “derecho”, which I’ve never heard of before. The weather was so strong Friday night that I considered waking the kids and heading to the basement. Though the lights flickered several times, and we lost power for a moment or two, we didn’t lose power long-term. It turns out that many people in our community are without power, so I guess we were lucky.

We did have two casualties in the garden. The two biggest sunflowers that I had growing in the garden were laying flat on the ground Saturday morning. One was open; the other had a head on it but hadn’t bloomed yet. I decided to use the downed open sunflower and get some macro shots. They’re hard to photograph from 6 feet over your head, so might as well seize the opportunity and not let it be a total waste. ๐Ÿ™‚

Notice the ant at the bottom right.

Rosemary From Rosemary

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs. I love to use it in a garlic rub on roast pork or chicken, on oven-roasted potatoes, or have it baked in a bread. I also love to touch a fresh sprig of rosemary and smell its scent on my hands afterward, and I love the sight of thick, lush rosemary in flower. I’ve tried to grow a few plants of my own so I can enjoy all of these luxuries and avoid the expense of buying fresh herbs, which are pricey! I’ve had to move the plants around, though, because they haven’t always been happy in their chosen spot. In fact, I’ve lost a couple small ones that I had planted on the side of the house where the soil is hard and the sun is brutal, and they just dried up.

When we put our raised garden bed in last year, I put all of my herbs in one corner of the garden. At that time I transplanted some of the small, unhappy rosemary plants that were in our flower garden to the vegetable garden. For the most part they have gotten comfortable and seem pretty happy there.

A healthy rosemary plant surrounded by its friends,
onion chives, horseradish, and mint.

Rosemary getting established in the raised garden bed. It’s a little sparse on the bottom but is actually reaching over the wood beam. Perhaps some more active pruning would encourage more growth near the bottom.

I want to try to propagate new plants and had read in the Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook that you can grow new rosemary plants by “layering” some of the branches of an existing plant to sprout new roots. Layering will occur naturally, if the plant has room, but you can help the process along by covering the bottom part of a low-lying branch with soil. I did this a couple of months ago with the branch in the bottom right of the photo above. Apparently once it roots you can separate it from the original plant and, viola! Two plants!

Another simple option is to take a decent-sized sprig of rosemary and place it in a jar with water and set it on a window sill. That’s what I did with a few pieces of the fresh-cut rosemary that a friend gave me a few months ago. (I didn’t realize I could do this until I saw a piece of rosemary rooting in a glass of water at a friend’s house and then I read about it again at The Soil Toil blog.) One of the sprigs didn’t root, but the other one went crazy! Here’s a photo of the mass of roots that this one little rosemary twig sprouted.

Over the last year we’ve added topsoil and compost to our house-side flower garden in an attempt to improve the heavy clay soil there. As a result, the plants there are doing much better than they did a year or two ago. So, I decided to try the rosemary there once again, since I’m gradually converting this garden to an herb garden. Hopefully this little guy will get a chance to grow before the catmint plants on either side close in. If they start to choke it out, I’ll move the rosemary again. I plan to eventually pot one so I can keep it in the house for quick access while cooking, so I’ll either take a layered piece from the sprawling garden plant or bring this one back inside. For now, though, it seems to be enjoying its new home.

I Blew It With the Broccoli… Again!

I was really optimistic about my broccoli this year. Last year I grew it from seed by sowing it directly in the garden, which didn’t go well at all. I had a handful of plants come up, but only a couple of them actually got a head on them, and it took forever! I also expected them to get much bigger than they did, so I kept waiting and then before I knew it, they bolted.

Same thing this year, though this time I got a much better start. I bought plants instead of trying to sow seed in the garden, which is definitely the way to go. I also installed an app called “Gardenate” on my smart phone and I recorded when I planted the broccoli. Gardenate allows you to keep track of when you plant each crop in your garden, how long each takes to mature, and approximately when you can expect to be harvesting them.

The broccoli plants were looking great all spring, though I did have a battle with cabbage worms, which took no time at all to find us. Even still, I got the caterpillars under control and the broccoli heads were filling out nicely until one day I went out there and found a second round of caterpillars boring holes through the heads and pooping all over the plants! (Grrrr!) I dealt with the caterpillars again and hoped the broccoli would recover. Shortly thereafter we got several hot days with thunderstorms. The next time I was out there to check on them, the plants were bolting! I thought it might be too late, but I picked the heads off most of the plants, washed them, and put them in the fridge. Here is how they looked when I picked them.

We steamed some for dinner and though they looked a little more like broccolini (broccoli rabe) than broccoli, they still tasted like broccoli should and they were very crisp.

I’m disappointed that I blew it again and missed the window, though. Like last year, I was waiting for the heads to get bigger instead of realizing they were mature and would bolt soon. Even though I did catalog my broccoli using Gardenate, I hadn’t been checking the program to check my predicted harvest time. To be honest, some crops in my garden haven’t grown as fast as the app (or even the seed packet) said they should, so I wasn’t putting much stock into what Gardenate said. However, I did go back to check when it said I should have harvested the broccoli and it actually did say it would have been ready just a few days before it bolted.

So, moral of the story when growing broccoli: 1) plant transplants rather than sow seeds, 2) keep the caterpillars in check 3) don’t wait for small-but-mature heads to get bigger and 4) watch the broccoli closely, looking for signs that the flowers are getting ready to open, so you are sure to harvest them before they bolt. I plan to grow a fall crop of broccoli, so we’ll see if I can do better next time around. Third time’s a charm, right?

If you have any tips for growing broccoli, I’d love to hear them! We eat a lot of it around here, so I’m going to keep trying to grow it.

Turnip or Not Turnip? That is the question.

Look at these two beauties that I pulled from different parts of the garden on Saturday. The one on top was in my turnip patch… so that’s definitely a turnip. The bottom one showed up in my radish and carrot patch, but it looks more like a turnip than a radish. The leaves on the two are practically identical, but the radish-turnip was starting to flower. I pulled them both but I’m not quite sure what I’ll do with them. I am thinking of just roasting them with some carrots and potatoes. I’m hoping they both are actually turnips; I don’t think roasted radish would taste very good.

In other garden-related news, I started to lose faith in the tomato and pepper plants that I started from seed. Some are doing okay, but many of them are not looking great and I started to worry that this year’s tomato harvest would be as disappointing as last year’s. This past weekend I decided I would go to the garden store and buy some new pepper and tomato plants to at least supplement the plants I grew myself, in case mine were a bust. I also got a couple of large pottery planters. I didn’t pull out all of my tomato and pepper plants, but I pulled out the weakest-looking half of them and replaced them with the much-more-robust-looking nursery plants. I also put a few plants in the planters. I’d say a full 1/4 of my garden is dedicated to tomatoes and peppers, so I’m hoping for a good harvest. Last year was my first try at canning, so I hope to do a lot more of that this year, especially using tomatoes.