Category Archives: crazy plans

Worth the work

So, more days than not Old MacDonald (sometimes accompanied by me, but I have late hours at the job) has been going out to water the Back 40 garden, and it has absolutely paid off:

Photo Aug 05, 6 19 34 PM

Photo Aug 05, 6 43 18 PM

I can’t get over how good it looks.  He did admit that there have been two applications of fertilizer, which combined with the watering seems to more than be working.  Our experiment with grass clippings is also a success; we’ve been out to weed only twice so far this season and both times took about an hour and a half to do the whole garden.

The secret to our success is a 50-gallon cistern we keep in the back, and refill by running hoses linked together from the house whenever it gets down in volume.

And making her first appearance on the blog, Old MacDonald’s mother and a farmer’s daughter (her father was a farmer in Denmark; apparently farming is genetic but skips generations):

Photo Aug 05, 6 40 50 PM
Like Luke, she’s smart enough to help by watching carefully

Our experiment out back is a success – this was the second picking of beans, just two days after our first round:

Photo Aug 10, 9 08 22 AM

I only wish they didn’t turn green when cooked.

And the season begins

Howdy!  It only seems like we didn’t do any gardening last year, because I never updated the blog.  We did grow plenty of vegetables, although the Back 40 garden was a complete disaster, overwhelmed by weeds.  I was also overwhelmed by a new job, hence no posts.  But we’re back, and this year there’s a new plan.

This year we are of course doing the usual in the front gardens:

Tomatoes 5-22
Tomato plants
Eggplants & peppers
Eggplants & peppers

These are the leftovers, which we will be giving away to friends and family.  Old MacDonald likes to have extras on hand, in case of premature vegetative death.  Or because he has the flats, so why not fill them?  I just nod and smile; as we all know, I don’t do the seeds.

Out back, though, we’ll be trying something new and different.  In previous years, the Back 40 has been a 25′ x 90′ monstrosity of a garden, where whatever is planted must survive on its own – we’ll weed, but we don’t water, and we’ll fence it to keep critters out but we don’t do much about the bugs.  Last year was such a disaster, weed wise, that we knew we had to do something different this year.  It was so bad we barely harvested anything from the gardens and I refused to go back there by late July because the conditions were so depressing.

This year we’re cutting that garden in half.  As much as we’d like to add to the square foot total of gardens, to make people question our sanity (go ahead, we do too!) – last year was depressing from a yield perspective and until we retire, we need to do what we can manage.  Its been reconfigured, too – a series of raised mounds of dirt to help create beds that can be mulched to keep down weeds:

The new Back 40 configuration
The new Back 40 configuration

We’ll fence it, as we always do, and we’re going to try putting down grass clippings as our mulch to control weeds and lock in moisture.  We’ll see how it goes.

No rest for the weary

We have had one heck of a winter in the Northeast this year.  Boston just broke its all-time snow record for the last 20 years over the weekend, and further out where we live it has been a banner year:

This was the first storm
This was the first storm

Of course, all that snow has to go somewhere, which in our case was a big pile next to the deck:

Mount Cocktail
Mount Cocktail

That’s a pre-Prohibition drink perched up on our hastily-assembled ice bar called Satan’s Whiskers.  Here’s the recipe:

1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. orange juice
Dash orange bitters

Old McDonald likes to stir the cocktail rather than shake it with ice.  Your mileage may vary.

Speaking of Old McDonald, he’s got a new hobby, and oh lucky me, it involves more boiling!  The new farming hobby is……wait for it…..maple sugaring.  We did the first part the weekend of March 13:

Drilling The tapEmpty single bagEmpty double bagsOf course, you drill the taps and set the bags, and then you get some warm days and this happens:

Full single bagSemi-full double bags40 gallons worth of that, as it happens, in just about 2 weeks.  40 gallons of sap is equivalent to about one gallon of syrup, or so we have read.  But to get to that syrup, first you have to boil it:

Boiling photo 1And boil it…..

Boiling photo 2And by the second weekend, you will decide that you should also have a propane burner to assist in the boiling, and to help your wife this summer, when she cans vegetables:

Boiling photo 3We are currently at about 2 gallons of not-quite syrup, waiting for its final boil.  It’s sitting in the fridge, because we ran out of time and daylight last weekend, and intend to follow up tomorrow, just in time to have it ready for Easter.  Of course, the homemade maple syrup needs a label:

Cocktail_Farmers_LogoI cannot even tell you how excited I am we’ve got a logo now, courtesy of Old McDonald and Adobe Illustrator.  I am going to get a coffee mug out of this entire endeavor if it kills me.

What on earth…..?

Saturday night we arrived home from a day out to discover these plants in our mailbox:

CIMG6307

They were packaged up with moss around the roots, waxed paper around that, bound up with an elastic. I was mystified – what on earth had we ordered that would result in us being sent live plants?

Any guesses?

Sweet potatoes! We were astonished – all the other potatoes have arrived as tubers. We were even more astonished to have them arrive at the house, because both of us mistakenly believed we’d taken sweet potatoes off the order list because of their price. Apparently not, but this is a mistake I’m more than happy to live with.

This particular variety will produce potatoes that are between 2 -3 pounds if grown properly, and evidently do well in all types of soil, including very poor soil. Which is good, because we have a habit of benign neglect when it comes to our potatoes.

Big Plans

 Well, the tulip bulbs are now in.  While other people battened down the hatches for Hurricane Sandy (which thankfully did nothing to us) we dug up an area of approximately 50 square feet in the front yard around our crabapple tree.

First we cut away the sod and hauled it off to another part of the yard:

Then we dug down about 6″ into the dirt.  We uncovered a few shallow tree roots, which we cut off.  If the tree dies, we won’t be upset because it only blooms every other year and when it does bloom, it lasts about a week, then 8,432,452,917 crabapples form, weighing down the branches and leaving a mess on the lawn.  Also, the tree is crooked, as you can see in this photo:

I added bulb fertilizer to the entire area, then I placed all the bulbs in the pit according to the plan I had developed.  There are 11 types of tulips, ranging in height from 10-12″ up to 24-26.”  So I needed the plan.


Trust me, it’s about 6 inches deep



And now we wait, and hope they come up, flower, and actually look good.  Here are some of the types we planted:



Apricot Impression



Blue Parrot
Burgundy Lace

Golden Artist

Ice Cream
Professor Rontgen


You’ll have to wait until spring to (hopefully) see the rest!

Thinking of Spring

I have always loved planting spring flower bulbs.  Even as a teenager, passing by displays at the local nursery or in Home Depot, I would stop to see what was available and more likely than not, pick up a package to put in the ground.  Daffodils are my absolute favorite flower, but I also really love tulips.

This past April, J and I took a visit to the Netherlands for our April anniversary.  I have always wanted to see the tulip fields.  Interestingly, tulips are not native to the Netherlands – they were imported by Ogier de Busbecq, the ambassador of Ferdinand I to the Sultan of Turkey around 1554, and spread across the continent.  For some reason they took off in the Netherlands.

As our flight was landing at Schipol Airport, you could see these huge swaths of color dominating the landscape.  It was every bit as amazing as I thought it would be.

Near Amsterdam, in the town of Lisse, is the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens, a flower park featuring more than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.  We took a day trip out there to admire all the flowers:



Ice cream tulips



Keukenhof very thoughtfully has several tulip vendors situated within the park, where you can view their color catalogs of tulip bulbs, make your selections, place your order, and those vendors will very helpfully ship those bulbs to you in the fall for planting.  It’s not legal for you to pack the bulbs in your luggage because they must be inspected by USDA inspectors before shipment to the United States, and if you had to carry them back in your luggage you might feel more restrained in your purchasing.  By simply filling out the order form and handing over your credit card, buying tulips is virtually painless!
Until half of the 240 tulip bulbs you ordered show up on your front porch one cool October afternoon:
I will say that these bulbs appear to be the healthiest I have ever purchased – a quick inspection shows they are free of bug damage, rot and mold that have plagued purchases I have made in the U.S.  I would hope they would be a higher quality, given the cost associated with them.  However, the tulips were ones I had never seen here in the U.S., so they were worth it.  To me, anyway.
I can’t help but think that in 16th century Amsterdam, I might have been a victim of tulip mania.  Probably not, though.  I don’t play the stock market now, so I would have been unlikely to speculate on the value of something I would be most interested in planting in the ground.
“Every person is like a single tulip.  While they may blend when together, each one is special in its own light.” – Daniella Kessler 

The sweet taste of success

Last year we tried, and failed, to grow watermelons.  Our selected brand of choice was Sugar Baby, a small volleyball sized fruit noted for sweetness and quick ripening. One of the major problems of gardening in New England is that sometimes Mother Nature smites you with a frost the second week of September. 

Our plants last year got to be about 8-10″ long, produce a few watermelons the size of golf or tennis balls, then shriveled up, died and rotted.

We were undeterred, however – only after trying something a couple of times and failing will we give up, so we used seeds saved from last year and planted seedlings this year, then transferred the seedlings out to the garden in mid-May.  The plants grew, the fruit grew, and everything seemed to be unmolested by bugs.  Hurrah!

Returning home from vacation this past weekend, we were confronted by basketball-sized fruit, dark green on the outside:

We Googled “how to tell if watermelon is ripe” and learned that you can:

a.)  thump them – if they sound hollow, it is usually ripe;
b.)  look for the spot where the melon rested on the ground – a yellow-white, yellow or a cream-yellow color spot suggests ripeness and a white or pale green spot indicates immaturity. A green watermelon will have a white bottom; a ripe melon will have a cream- or yellow-colored bottom;
c.) check the “pigtail” or tendril closest to the melon on the vine – when begins to shrivel and dry up. If it dries while the leaves and rest of the vine looks good, the melon should be ripe;
d.) crack a few. You’ve got a whole field of watermelons, and you can practice a little, right?

Er, no – we have exactly three watermelons, so the margin of error is non-existent.  Also, there are no pigtail tendrils on our watermelons so we had to rely on a.) and b.) to decide whether or not to pick a watermelon.  I would have let them go a few more days, or probably until next weekend, but J was really eager, and what do I know about yellow-white vs. white anyway?  Better to let him take the shot in the dark and pick it, although cutting it was my responsibility:

The watermelon is not quite as sweet as some we have had but J swears it tastes better because it came from our yard.  I would agree – and you don’t get much fresher than having watermelon with dinner that you picked 20 minutes before.

The remaining 2 watermelons are still out in the patch and will be picked in successive order as soon as they are needed.  We’re calling victory on this one.

“When one has tasted watermelon he knows what the angels eat.” – Mark Twain

More than just vegetables

In addition to our vegetables, this year we attempted to start our flowers from seed.  Longtime readers will remember that I managed to avoid planting many of the flower seeds and instead left it for J.  They have done remarkably well, as you can see:



This front basket was a gift from a friend



We did not grow the hanging baskets – they were purchased Memorial Day weekend from a nearby nursery.  I need to find out what the large green leaf plant is – it fills in the basket nicely as petunias get pretty leggy by August and the baskets still look great.
Originally we had planned to have hanging baskets of snapdragons, but the type of snapdragons – Lantern – really did not look anywhere close to good by Memorial Day, so we made the substitution with the nursery baskets.
The extremely tall flowers are dahlias.  I have never seen dahlias get quite so tall.  I was forced to tie all of them up with stakes due to their weight and the fact they were tipping over and covering the cosmos, geraniums, double petunias and aquilivia that I also put in the pots.
My front steps have never looked better.  Now if only I could grow a decent hanging basket.  Maybe if I plant seeds now, for next spring…..

Another Season Begins

Most of the garden is now in the ground:

Tomatoes!



Potatoes, carrots & parsnips, planted in April

 I didn’t remember to photograph the main garden, because we were headed out immediately to plant the back 40:

From this angle, it doesn’t look so bad.  Hunched over the rows, planting peas, beans and corn, it seemed like the worlds loooooongest field.  Where you can see the furrows above, we planted corn in one half of the right hand side (we are planning a successive planting over the weekend of June 16-17 if the weather holds) and on the left-hand side, we planted 1 1/2 rows of pole beans, 1/2 row of green bush beans, 1 row of purple bush beans, and five rows of peas.  I must have put in more than 200.  J claims to like peas – we’re about to find out just how much.  We left 2 rows empty to do successive plantings of green and purple bush beans.  About the middle of the field you can see some very thin stakes sticking up – J planted barley in that area.  Behind the barley is where we will be putting the pumpkins, watermelons, winter squash and radishes.  We don’t actually like radishes all that much, but J read that they repel the bugs that eat squash and pumpkin plants, so hey!  Let’s grow some radishes.  I bet the woodchuck will love them.
Our newest concern is how often it rains.  Unlike the main house garden and raised beds, there is no water source out by the back-40 field, and it’s quite some distance from the house:

Standing next to the field, looking back towards the house



In fact, you can’t even see the house from the back-40 garden.  Fortunately today it is raining, and it seems like we got a pretty good soaking rain last night.  We’re hoping the overcast/drizzly weather last through Thursday, as predicted, while J investigates the possibility of rain barrels for out back.  Otherwise it’s a really long way to haul 5-gallon buckets of water, even if we put them in the trailer that attaches to the tractor.