Category Archives: gardening

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.

It’s a long, hot summer

I can’t believe how long it’s been since we had any substantial rain.  Thank goodness we have the drip irrigation in the main garden and the raised beds:

Main Garden 7-27

Raised Beds 7-27

For the first time in ages, the cucumbers are actually doing something, and will bear fruit:

Cucumber 7-27
Lush cucumbers, dead lawn behind them

Powder mold, squash beetles and other environmental factors have contributed to the lackluster performance over the last few years.  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to make homemade pickles.  That might be changing this year.

Of course, we’re still being supervised:

I love hard work, I could watch it all day
I love hard work, I could watch it all day

The nicest thing about this cat is that he wants 5-10 very intense minutes of your attention, and then he moves off to stalk birds or mice or just snooze a bit.  We were commenting the other day about our luck in getting neighborhood cats that actually give us the time of day.  Even better when they keep away the destructive pests.

The first weeks are always the hardest

The growing season is now underway, with the plants doing remarkably well:

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I love that picture because it’s a beautiful shot of an Adirondack chair I never get to sit in.

There’s also a critter in the garden:

Luke Main Garden 6-26
Luke

This is our neighbor Luke, who arrived with the new neighbors when they moved in across the street last spring.  Can’t have an updated garden blog without photos of a neighbor’s cat.  He’s reasonably helpful:

Watching for chipmunks
Watching for chipmunks

He’s actually a better birder but we’ve seen him snag a chipmunk or two.  Good kitty!

He’s not much help with the rabbits, though:

Frolicking
Frolicking

Fortunately this year we have not had a moment where I’ve spotted them in the garden because they can squeeze through the fence.  It seems like our bobcat from years past may not be around, because there are a lot of them.  It was a mild winter, however.

Even the Back 40 is coming along nicely:

Back 40 Second Photo

As part of our new crusade to pay more attention to this garden, we’ve been watering.  It’s pretty dry here – there was very little snow this year, and it hasn’t rained much at all.  It’s a pain to walk out there to water, but we figure it will give the seedlings their best chance.

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.

There are always a few surprises

We have always ordered our seeds from Pinetree seeds, in Maine.  We like them because they are a small company and they promote seeds with a good germination rate.  On the few occasions that the seeds do not do well, Pinetree either replaces your seeds or refunds your money. We’ve noticed that when we let them know about a problem, it is probably not limited to us because those types of seeds often disappear from the following year’s catalog.

Last year we ran into our first case of strange vegetables.  We had ordered more of the Mr. Big Pea and decided to try Sugar Snap peas as well.  We very carefully planted the seeds in specific rows, one type at a time.  The plants came up, and we had a mix – some were the Mr. Big Pea (shell peas), others were just Sugar Snap (pea pods.) Literally from one plant to the next they could be different.  We investigated – peas can cross-pollinate.  Lesson learned – we shrugged it off, ate what we liked, and froze the rest (mostly the pea pods.)  I had the thought of using them in a stir fry; I think we still have a few bags, a year later.  Clearly not popular with us.

This year something’s going on with the squash.  We’re growing yellow squash and zucchini; they are in the same area.  One yellow squash plant is producing these:

2014-08-13 19.16.25Now, you would think that it’s a cross-pollination issue, right?  Except that there is a type of squash that looks just like that, called a Zephyr squash.  We know this, because we grew it two years ago.  It was not a particularly disease-resistant plant, so we only grew it that one year.  So it could be cross pollination (both types of plants are in the same area) or it could be a Zephyr squash plant.  Which is essentially a cross-pollinated summer squash/zucchini whose seeds are saved.

Maybe we should start our own seed company with the offspring of all of our mistakes.

First harvests

I have been spending my spare time weeding, rather than posting on this blog, for which I apologize.  I find this the longest time of the year, when everything is growing merrily (especially the weeds) but there is nothing to pick and enjoy.  But that is starting to change.  First up:

Turnips and lettuce
Turnips and lettuce

This year we are growing the same lettuce mix we purchased from Pinetree last year, and it is doing equally well.  We have a new type of turnip, an Asian-style that you pick while they are still fairly small.  I have been trying to correct my less-than-stellar thinning efforts from earlier in the season by picking ones that are too close to other ones.  We only have a small row of them – about five feet across – so I am picking them for meals as we need them.

Yesterday was very exciting, because this is what was harvested:

Summer squash, banana peppers, sungold tomato
Summer squash, banana peppers, sungold tomato

Oh yes, your eyes do not deceive you – that is the first sungold tomato of the season.  J picked it and brought it in for me to enjoy – what a generous guy.  I think I surprised him when I cut it in half to share.  That’s very unlike me, where sungolds are concerned.

The precioussssssss
The precioussssssss

Meanwhile, our search for a substitute pet continues:

Not as cute as a cat
Not as cute as a cat

I really couldn’t tell if the toad was closing his eyes because he was relaxed, or he expected imminent death and didn’t want to see it coming.

We maybe need something with fur.

Summer begins

So once again, I cannot take a lot of credit for moving the garden from concept to reality – J has done the lion’s share of the seedling care & planting. I did go on a massive weeding spree this past weekend, so the gardens are attractive enough to be posted on the internet:

Main garden
Main garden
Parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets
Parsnips, carrots, turnips, beets
Herbs & lettuce
Herbs & lettuce

It has been such a cold spring that growth has been sluggish.  Everything went into the ground the weekend of May 17th but it’s barely done anything.  I know the heat of July will kick everything into high gear.

One crop that is doing well are the hops – J bought three different types a few years ago.  The first year we put them in pots outside our sun porch, and ran them up a trellis.  Last year they were transplanted out into a sunny spot in the area where the orchard is going to go, and this year he split them.  Several of them are already higher than five feet:

Hop vines - without flowers (yet)
Hop vines – without flowers (yet)

Two years ago J grew barley, with the intent of trying to brew his own beer.  The birds ate most of it, and Max napped in what the birds didn’t get.  It was less than optimal, so we’ve abandoned barley.  And beer brewing, truth be told.  Turns out Sam Adams makes perfectly acceptable beer, and it is ten times easier to get it at the store.  Go figure.

Finally, the back garden went in this weekend – this year, everything is being started from seed (watermelons, corn, beans, peas, pumpkins, etc.) so there’s nothing to look at here except exceptionally fluffy soil and beautiful rows achieved with the assistance of some John Deere tractor attachment that’s been cluttering up our basement.  Meaning that it gets to live another year at our house, because there is no way I want to rake a 25′ x 90′ garden into parallel rows.

Back 40, after planting
Back 40, after planting

And now we wait.

A banner year

So while we’ve had a few problems this year (see also: rabbit in fenced garden, bugs) it’s turning out to be an amazing year:

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We’ve lost a couple of squash plants – due to powdery mold, bugs or both, it’s not clear, but we’ve successfully harvested zucchini pretty consistently since the middle of July.  Of our 6 plants, 3 are producing – all zucchini – and we’re keeping up with consuming what we’re picking.  We’ll stick with the 6 plant plan for next year, because if everything does well we’ll have to give stuff away even at that low number.  We’ve come quite a way from the days of 6 of both types of plants.  Those were some dark times – for us, and the neighbors.

The tomatoes this year are amazing.  Our sungold plants are over 6 feet tall, and so heavy we’ve taken to leaning the cages against the fence and lashing them in place:

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Our peas this year have been somewhat anemic – Mr. Big Pea produced enough peas for a sandwich bag, and the sugar snap lagged further behind that.  Which is interesting, given that we rotated them to a different part of the garden and we used a soil inoculant to help the plants live longer.  Currently they start to die off just as the pods begin to form, so instead of being indeterminant, we get one harvest.  J yanked out all the Mr. Big Pea plants earlier this week and planted a second crop, something we’ve never done before.  We estimate about 7 to 8 weeks before we’re at a huge risk for frost, although the last 2 years we’ve had snow near Halloween, which is about twelve weeks away.  We had the seeds for planting, so we figured we’d give it a shot.  Also planted this weekend – the third crop of lettuce, and more parsley, cilantro and basil. I’ve picked pretty much what we have, so if I want stuff for the fall, I had to replant.  I’m also hoping for enough basil to do a little pesto this year, and freeze it.

We’ve had a lot of rain this summer, punctuated but spells of hot, sunny weather, which has been enormously helpful to the garden, and to our non-farmed yard.  It has never looked this nice this late in the summer since we moved in.  And as I write this, it’s raining again, after a week of sunny 80-something days:

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I’m sure in years to come we will look back on this season fondly.  Except for the peas.  And that rabbit.

Mid-July report

I am pleased to report we might actually be winning the war with bugs and weeds.  I know this was a pressing concern for all of you.

Turnips and radishes
Turnips and radishes

 

Beets and carrots
Beets and carrots

 

Onions
Onions

 

Potatoes
Potatoes
Strawberries & herbs
Strawberries & herbs
Brandywine tomatoes
Brandywine tomatoes
Cucumbers
Cucumbers

 

The back-40
The back-40

 

Beans & peas
Beans & peas

 

This past weekend I harvested an entire mixing bowl of banana peppers and cucumbers.  And promptly canned all of it, with the help of Old McDonald.  We have three jars of sweet banana peppers and three jars of bread & butter pickles.  There will be plenty more coming, as we are about to be buried in tomatoes. Our Roma plants are producing like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I see a lot of sauce in our future.  And everyone else’s.

Still waiting……

We have now entered the difficult time of year where everything’s growing merrily (particularly the weeds) and yet nothing is ready to harvest (except the lettuce, that’s still coming.)  Maddening.

The back 40 garden looks good:

Back 40
Back 40
Beans, corn , pumpkins & watermelons
Beans, corn , pumpkins & watermelons

While we were away at Barbecue University, all the peas and beans came up, much to our delight, because it apparently rained really hard for that week.  We need to focus on putting up trellises this weekend, and we’ll see if we’re still so pleased when we’re out there picking bushels of legumes in either the broiling sun, or the mosquito-infested twilight of August.  Either way, likely to be uncomfortable while harvesting:

Beans and peas
Beans and peas

In other news, almost all of the seeds I sowed for herbs have come up.  The dill has been a little difficult, but that happened last year so I’m not worried, plus I don’t use a ton of fresh dill in my cooking so what’s coming up will probably be enough.  And another challenge is that I absolutely cannot tell the difference between the tarragon seedlings and the weeds.  This should sort itself out in a few weeks, because the weeds will grow much bigger much faster.  I think.  I didn’t photograph it, because who wants visual evidence of their weeding incompetency?

I am currently reading The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden, edited by Thomas C. Cooper.  It’s a series of essays by famous gardeners (not that I’ve heard of any of them, though) trying to articulate why they garden.  Most of them can’t – they can trace the roots of their interest to a family member, or family tradition, or just an interest – but all of them are universal in their love for working with dirt and plants.  It’s a mix of both vegetable and ornamental gardeners (and sometimes folks who are both) and an interesting read.  Something to occupy my time while I avoid weeding the tarragon right out of existence.