Category Archives: gardening

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




Strawberries & herbs
Strawberries & herbs
Brandywine tomatoes
Brandywine tomatoes


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.

It Only Seems Slow

….at least, that’s what I tell myself.  I keep looking back at the time-lapse plant cam photos from last year and reminding myself (and J) that things really didn’t get going until mid July and serious harvesting didn’t start until mid to late August.  Still, patience is a virtue, one I am sorely lacking.

It has been a really weird growing season so far.  We got hit with some intense heat in April, bumping up the planting season by a good week or two.  Then June was predominantly cool and wet, causing plant growth to stall.

Last week we got a couple of days of hot, humid weather which helped quite a bit.

The plants we put in during the original April heat spell (potatoes, carrots & parsnips) are doing really well:

As are the herbs:

Especially the herbs in the pots with the hops:

There is more hot weather predicted for this weekend and we fertilized the plants last weekend, so we might just have a chance of a halfway decent growing season.  Our second planting of beans and corn are coming up, and I intend to stop talking about planting another two rows of carrots and parsnips and actually do it.  Someday.  We have zucchini starting and at least a half-dozen summer squash, which seems exciting now.  Ask me again how I feel about squash right after Labor Day when I’ve been eating it for weeks.

Tomorrow is the 4th of July and I intend to harvest a few of our cucumber beetle-deterring radishes.  They look like they might be ready.  I’m not sure exactly how I feel about radishes – I don’t think I really like them, but I haven’t been eating them for a few years so I’m not sure.  I did suggest that we plant another crop, just in case.  I am planning to make a recipe from The Hungry Hippo that she calls “Delectable Radish Dip/Slaw” which Stella Caroline has also made and raved about.  These are two smart women who are fantastic cooks, so if I don’t enjoy this dip, odds are good that I don’t like radishes.

First Harvest of the Season!

……and it’s not anything I’ll be sharing with Stella Caroline.  Sunday night we picked our first crop of cilantro.

(She hates cilantro and claims it tastes like soap.  I say this might be her only failing, the hatred of cilantro.)  This was the very first year we ever had any success growing it; I have been told it is difficult to grow from seed and the last two years that has certainly been true for us. 

The crop we picked was started indoors and transplanted into the herb bed in early May.  I’ve done this in the past with lousy results and was expecting the same result this year.  It looked anemic and wilted but it was in and that was that, in my mind.  I had sort of forgotten about it, to be honest.  And then on Friday J sent me and email that he’d been out looking at the gardens that morning before work and the cilantro was bolting, so we needed to use it soon.

Say what? 

I was convinced he had somehow confused the cilantro with parsley, but no – it was really and truly bolting and about to go to seed, rendering it considerably less tasty.  Since I want to be able to continually harvest cilantro all season and didn’t want to cut every stalk in the garden, I did a little internet research at lunch on Friday and came up with a great article from Sunset magazine which instructs growers to cut off a little bit from the plants to keep the leaves growing continuously.  So I sent J to go out and cut some while I changed out of my gardening clothes before making dinner. While I was upstairs he started chopping the cilantro and I could smell it on the second floor.  I know for a fact that we’ve never had cilantro that fresh before, because I’ve never successfully grown it, and it’s impossible to know how long it’s been at the supermarket.

Now, what to make?  I settled on Thai Style Black Bean Salad, courtesy of Taste of Home magazine, which is a must-have cooking magazine at my house.  Their light recipes are almost always phenomenal.  Anyway, the salad:

Thai-Style Black Bean Salad:

·  1 cup frozen corn
·  15 oz can of black beans, rinsed & drained
·  1 small onion, chopped
·  1 celery rib, thinly sliced
·  1 small sweet red pepper, chopped
·  1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro (or, you know, skip this if it tastes like soap)
·  1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & finely chopped (or cheat & use a 4-oz can of chopped green chilis)
·  2 tablespoons sesame oil
·  1 tablespoon rice vinegar
·  1 tablespoon lime juice
·  2 garlic cloves, minced
·  1 teaspoon minced fresh gingerroot
·  1/2 teaspoon salt (I always skip this ingredient)

Cook corn according to package directions. Transfer to a small bowl; add the beans, onion, celery, red pepper, cilantro and jalapeno.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, lime juice, garlic, ginger and salt. Pour over bean mixture and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Yield: 4 servings.

I love this recipe because I almost always have all the ingredients in my fridge and pantry.  I cheat by using a small can of chopped green chilis and I never refrigerate the salad for an hour before serving – I mix and serve immediately.  It does taste better if you refrigerate it first, but I’m always in a rush with dinner in the summer, especially after gardening.  And it makes a nice company dish, too.  Unless you’re inviting Stella Caroline.

Psst! Hey kids, want some free seedlings?

Now that the garden is established, we had a dilemma as to what to do with the leftover seedlings that didn’t get planted.  We had tentatively discussed putting them on Freecycle, and last night J announced he was sick of tending to the unplanted seedlings and I should post them to the list.  He put the trays out on the front porch last night, and wondered if anyone would be interested. My experience with the list has been there is a taker for everything. 

Particularly free seedlings.

I posted this morning just before 8:30.  It’s now just over two hours later, and I’ve had over 30 responses.  It helps that we offered a lot of variety – tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, summer squash & peppers.  The first respondant sent her email within 2 minutes of my post and has already picked them up.  I reposted that the seedlings were taken, but the emails still keep coming in.  I’m the kind of person who responds to everyone, so I’ve been letting people know that they’re taken.  Several people have mentioned in their emails that they’re behind with seedlings this year and they wouldn’t have a garden without getting seedlings, so I’ve recommended our local nursery.  This is so much more fun than focusing on work.

Only one set of our plants is from a nursery – I purchased Brandywine seedlings when I was picking up flowers for the pots I have all over the front porch.  When I read The $64 Tomato the author went on and on about how good Brandywine tomatoes taste, so I asked at the nursery while I was there.  Sure enough, they had some, so I bought a flat of six and we planted five.  Bradywine tomatoes are an heirloom tomato, which I’ve discovered is code for “might not look so pretty.”  I am okay with that, if they taste as good as that guy said they do.  If they don’t, I’m totally writing him a letter.  False advertising!

The potatoes, carrots and lettuce have all sprouted.  I’ll try to get some photos tonight, even though the carrots and lettuce can hardly be seen (and I can’t weed right now, for fear of accidentally mistaking the carrots for grass blades.) The potatoes look really good.  I should really figure out what the signs are that the potatoes are ready to harvest.  I think I read someplace that the plants die, and that’s when you harvest them.  You would think, being Irish, I would have some idea.  But I’m pretty sure I’m the first person in my family to grow potatoes since we left the Old Country.

How we got started

American Gothic by Grant Wood

Almost four years ago, we bought a house with just about 2 1/2 acres of land. The majority of the property was in an untended state; close to the house the flowering gardens were becoming overgrown and invasive species bordered one side of lawn near the house. We spent that first summer (2007) knocking the yard back into shape, removing the invasive species by hand and dealing with all the things new homeowners typically encounter, like the fact that our paychecks were going almost exclusively to home improvement stores and occasionally for groceries.

By two years ago we had pulled down over 100 feet of 20 foot high invasive bushes (and by we I mean my husband did a fantastic job with an occasional assist by me) and had uncovered and mostly rebuilt an old farmer’s stone wall. The prior winter we had discussed the idea of putting in a vegetable garden, and that spring we borrowed my cousin’s tiller, bought some fencing, and put in our first garden in a sunny section of our yard. It was about 8′ x 20′. We went to a nearby nursery and purchased 4 types of tomato plants, summer squash, peppers, jalepeno peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, a few pumpkin plants and corn, and crammed them all in. (Well, the pumpkins had to go outside the fence line; there just wasn’t room with the way they spread.) J set up an automatic watering system on a timer and we put down weed block to cut down on unwanted plant growth. It was totally a lazy person’s garden, and we figured we’d give it our best shot.

It went better than we could have expected – the garden produced a lot for so many plants crammed in a small area. The corn struggled, but that was an experiment from the start – we knew right away we did not have enough stalks for decent self-pollination but we weren’t even sure the corn would grow. We did manage to harvest a few small ears; enough for the two of us for one dinner.

Last year we purchased seeds and started them in the basement before moving them onto our sun porch during the day so they could get some light. We brought them into the kitchen nightly and put them in the ground right after Memorial Day. We expanded and contracted some of our selection, too – we cut back to two types of tomatoes (Sungold and Cluster) added two new types of jalepeno peppers and experimented with eggplants, and added a lot more corn. A lot. I also decided to experiment with carrots and lettuce down at one end of the garden, an experiment that got decidedly mixed results. (Planted too late. June? Really? In New England? What was I thinking? Those carrots weren’t ready until almost October.) We also grew peppers, zucchini & summer squash, cucumbers and those pumpkins again. Overall we were pleased with how things turned out, and made a few notes on what wanted to do differently this year.

Starting with the purchase of a 1984 John Deere garden tractor two days before Christmas off Craigslist. Apparently not very popular around here, we had to drive just over 2 hours to Connecticut to pick it up (and this was the closest one J found.) And then J spent a good amount of time on Christmas Eve cleaning it up and preparing it for winter, before I snagged it and went joyriding around the yard. (Yes, really. Yes, I’m in my 30s. But you cannot know the joy I feel in knowing I no longer need to use a push mower to cut our grass.) Since then we’ve purchased a rototiller and plow attachment, mulching kit and bagger, and a 6-gallon sprayer attachment. Oh, and the plans for the garden? Or should I say garden(S)? About five times the current space, spread out in various sunny locations on the property.

But that’s a story for another post.