And in other plant news….

So I’ve been neglectful in updating the progress of plant growth in the raised beds.  (That’s probably because we’ve kind of been neglecting them, absent the weeding and watering.  They desperately need a dose of organic fertilizer, which we hope to do this weekend.)

                                         The shallots and carrots

                                         Lettuce!  (There’s more than this but this looks the prettiest.)

                                                        Herbs (those are the Home Depot strawberries on the left.)

                                                       Eggplants and peppers
Not robust as the stuff in the main garden.  We’re unsure about the quality of the soil in the beds; we had a loam delivery at the beginning of the spring that we used to fill them.  Where the main garden is located the ground was obscured by invasive species that we cut down and hauled away, but the resulting leaf litter might have given us a more nutrient-friendly soil that what arrived from elsewhere. So, in order to get the plants to catch up, we’ll be putting down organic fertilizer.  It can’t hurt.  At this rate we’ll get a handful of carrots, a few herbs, a few shallots, and maybe, maybe some potatoes.  Maybe.

In the next few weeks I’ll actually be planting the next round of lettuce for fall harvest.  So perhaps soon the bed won’t look so bare!

How does your garden grow?

Well, a lot has changed in the garden in the last few weeks.  Back on May 31, I posted this picture:

Looked pretty sad, didn’t it?

This was last night’s photo:

We’ve had a string of hot days lately, so that’s helped enormously.  (Also enormously helpful?  The Cocktail Farmers were in the Caribbean for my cousin’s wedding, partaking of tropical frozen drinks at the 2-for-1 Happy Hour.  One of the best was called a Tropical Breeze featuring mango puree, strawberry puree, and Midori.  When we figure out how to duplicate it, expect to see it here.)

There have been some casualties along the way:

Just before we left I noticed several of the Brandywine tomato plants had some sort of yellowing blight near the stems.  Because they came from a nursery and previous tomato blight infestations have been linked to nursery plants, I ruthlessly ripped them out before we left.  Nothing, NOTHING must interfere with the Sungold tomatoes, further down the row.   I’ll sacrifice everything else in the garden for those.  The bonus in ripping out the plants was that I discovered the subterranean watering system J put in the garden is working, and the roots are reaching down into the soil rather than spreading out along the surface.  So that was a decent consolation prize.

So far everything else is hanging in there.  We have lots of zucchini coming in – in fact, we harvested the first one before we left and gave it to our neighbor, and picked three more on Wednesday.  But they keep coming:

As do the summer squash:

                                         This one has my dad’s name written all over it

And we’re starting to see tomatoes, too:

                                          Early Girl

                                         Sungold flower buds, soon to be crack…I mean, tomatoes.

And beans!  Last year we put in about a half dozen plants, transplanted from the seed starting trays, and got enough for one meal for the two of us.  This year?  Directly into the ground, 1 inch apart and I planted 40 of them.  36 came up:

We’re going to have bushels of beans this year, if things continue as they have been.  I can’t wait.  Last year nobody else got any, because there simply weren’t enough to share.  I’m sure my friend Stella Caroline will come up with some fantastic side dish for them.  (She is both a fabulous cook and a tremendous baker.  Seriously – when she brings me something there is the internal struggle to listen to the angels of my better nature and share with J.  I do, but boy, I really, really don’t want to share her yummy treats.  I didn’t know her when I married J, because if I did the marriage vows probably would have included a line about sharing pastry.  Instead we recited a Navajo Wedding Blessing, which does not include a reference to caramel chocolate matzo.  That alone entitles her to one of my kidneys.  And one of J’s.)

Our experiment with peas is so-so.  They look a little feeble, and we put them in kind of late:

We do have one ENORMOUS pea pod, however.

We’re just not sure there are any peas in it.  There are buds on the plants, though, so hope springs eternal….like death, taxes, and the neighbor’s cat needing to nap right in the way:

Which came first…..the chicken or the joke?

I have been meaning to post for more than a month now about the anniversary gift our friend Aideen gave us.  (We celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary at the end of April.)  Since Christmas, Aideen has been going on and on about how she was going to get us chickens as an anniversary gift.  I was not amused.  (See also:  March 7th post.)  I really don’t want to own chickens, for all the reasons listed in that rant.  But Aideen was insistent – we were getting chickens for our anniversary!  We would love it!  There is no stopping Aideen once she gets an idea in her head.  You just have to roll with it.

I made contingency plans – I would post them on Freecycle and claim that the cats next door ate them; I would try giving them to people I already knew had chickens; I would drive them to Drumlin Farm and leave them in a box with a note: “Orphans.  Please adopt or eat.”  I was prepared.  I was ready

Aideen showed up with a 7-pound Perdue oven-stuffer roaster and a dozen eggs.  She is endlessly pleased with herself that she had me riled up for months over this.  I have never laughed harder after opening a gift.  Or been more relieved.  Because really, when it comes to Aideen, you can never be certain.

How do you know he’s a king?

So part of our weekend was very much like the first 9 seconds of this video:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

(I resisted the urge to shout, “Help!  Help!  I’m bein’ repressed!” while planting.  After all, I was there of my own free will.  And there was no sign of a king, although Max thinks he’s pretty important.)

It’s been a very rainy and wet spring.  J was finally able to get the tilling done out back on Friday night, and when he was finished, it looked like this:

Once that was done, we could think about planting the pumpkins and watermelons.  We created mounds to plant the seeds in:

Put the seeds in……

And covered them up:

It was really muddy.  Really, really muddy:

It was a great excuse to wear my frog boots, however!  (They’re left over from my days as a Conservation Commissioner.  So yes, I’ve worn them out in public.  I’m not known for my fashion sense, but I am known for my practical footwear.)  The whole thing felt a little like a, well, Monty Python movie.  At least I was laughing as I squished through the mud with my hoe.

We planted Jack-Be-Little, Lumina, Howden and Orange Dream pumpkins, and planted Sugar Baby watermelons.  We have hope that we will get both plants and pumpkins.  Watermelons would be great too, but we’re mostly interested in the pumpkins, because of our love of Halloween:

Of course, in the end, they all meet a fiery death:

This is what passes for entertainment in the suburbs – flaming produce.

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.

And They’re Off! Mostly…..

….Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, and a great majority of it was spent out in the gardens, putting in the plants. Here’s what went in this weekend:

Tomatoes (Early Girl, Sungold, Brandywine)
Eggplants (Dusky, Black Beauty)
Peppers (red & green)
Summer squash
Green beans

This is a shot of the main garden this morning:

Last weekend I planted
Carrots (Adelaide)
Lettuce (Romaine)

And so far, nothing’s happening.  If I remember correctly from last year, germination for the carrots and lettuce takes a bit of time, and the potatoes and shallots are, you guessed it, another one of our experiments.

We’re still waiting for some of our seedlings to be big enough to transplant.  Some of them have started to develop their true leaves, but it still might be several weeks before they’re ready to be moved.  Fortunately, most of them will be going in the herb bed and will eventually be covered with a cold frame, prolonging their growing season:

Strawberries (Alpine)

My Home Depot strawberries are doing beautifully.  They have already produced some berries that are turning red.  I have a long way to go before I’ll be making jam, however.  I am hoping to keep the chipmunk away from them.  The garden is fenced, but he’ll probably just see that as another challenge.

Tonight we’re going to start the pumpkins and watermelon, and maybe the corn.  Plowing the back-40 field has not been easy – there have been many stops and starts, much to J’s frustration.  It might be another week or two before that field is ready to go.  So we’re going with plan B and starting the seeds indoors.  They germinate quickly, meaning that we aren’t going to lose much time by having to delay our in the ground planting by another week or two.

That photo of the main garden amazes me.  When we first decided to plant that space three years ago, we originally guessed we could get four rows across the narrow part of the garden.  (In some cases we did, but we had to switch down to three rows in many places.)  Now we’re doing just two, with a path up the middle.  I am looking forward to being able to move more easily through the garden this year.

Denial – Not Just a River in Egypt

You should know that right now I have four beautiful strawberry plants, and that I’m enjoying fresh strawberries right now.

The plants are from Home Depot.
The strawberries are from the supermarket.

Over Easter my mother-in-law told me that I wouldn’t have strawberries this year.  She is obviously unaware that I am willing to think outside the box to achieve my goals.

Speaking of boxes, this past weekend was our big gardening weekend where we built the raised beds we needed to expand our garden. 

And by “we” I mean J, who built the beds, and the two of us filled them with the dirt I had delivered.  Three yards of it.  Which is a lot of dirt.  It was so much dirt, I swear it was multiplying as we pulled away from the pile with another load in the trailer.  Like the rototillers, but with less rust.  The rototiller worked great, by the way:

At one point, it tilled up a rock the size of a soccer ball, so we added it to the wall.  Way easier than digging it out of the ground by hand!  (Which we would have done, had we known it was there.)  While we were working on the main garden, it tilled up a brick.  Other than a really loud clanging noise, the tiller just kept going.  But if it hadn’t, hey, we have a spare!

There was so much dirt J built me a third raised bed, to be dedicated exclusively to growing herbs.  I was so excited I went out and bought more seeds.  And then started plotting the construction of a cold frame, something I have been intrigued by for years.  Don’t ask me why; it’s not like I can’t get fresh herbs at the store in November.  I suspect it’s because it feels like it’s pulling one over on Mother Nature who sometimes dings the gardens with a killing frost before the end of September and then hits us with warm sunny days for several weeks in October, as if to taunt us.

We were, of course, properly monitored all weekend:

He had no complaints about our work, except that it kept us from scratching his ears as much as he would have liked.

Looking on the Bright Side…..

Things are looking up for the cocktail farmers.  J managed to liberate the grow lights from UPS’ clutches yesterday on his lunch hour and installed them last night.  They look great, and apparently use half the electricity of the ones we filched from our attic. 

Last night while J was busy with our new lights, I began the search for the strawberry seeds.  I remember putting them on the top shelf of the freezer.  I even took a photo, way back on March 1:

So I started there.  Now, I think it’s a pretty standard design for most systems that freezer shelves are not solid construction but more like racks with bars, so when I didn’t find them on the top shelf, I moved down a shelf, thinking that perhaps they slipped down and ended up there.  Nope!  Nothing.  Onto shelf three, with the same result.  At this point I was mystified – sure, the package isn’t very big, but it’s not like we would have pulled them out of the freezer to use in a recipe for anything.  Shelf four, also a bust, led me to pull out and empty the drawer where I keep frozen meats.  Then I removed the drawer and looked underneath it.  No strawberry seeds.  What the hell….?  I was pondering where they might have disappeared to when inspiration struck, and I looked on top of the fridge…………..and there they were!  They were obviously removed at some point when we were rummaging in the freezer and forgotten.  J swears he never saw the seeds in the freezer, leading me to belive that I am the one who removed them.  The question remains – when?  And were they in the freezer long enough to make a difference?  Risk taker that I am (with a $1.29 package of seeds, mind you) I am just going to plant them and see what happens.  Worst case scenario, I will still be purchasing strawberries at the farmers’ markets this summer.  Also, we have chipmunks and a groundhog out therre – it’s only a 50/50 chance I’ll get any strawberries anyway.

On the bright side, my freezer has not been so organized since we moved into the house four years ago.

Here’s the cocktail I drank the night we found out the Back Forty garden is on our neighbor’s property.  I decided it should be called “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and J did not object. 

2 oz Gin
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz Chambourd
1 oz Grand Marnier

Mix in a shaker with ice until shaker is too cold to hold, pour equally into two glasses,  Serves 2.  Or one, if you’ve had a very bad day.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Things are rolling along back at the homestead, with mixed results:

The good – the red peppers, green peppers, and two eggplant types have been transplanted into larger containers and seem to have weathered the change fine.  All 30 of the tomato seeds that were planted (15 early girl, 15 sungold) have sprouted and are growing quickly.  I can almost taste the sungolds, affectionately referred to around our house as “crack tomatoes” due to their addictive taste.  Speaking of tomatoes, I am reading, The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden, by William Alexander.  It’s a very funny book.  I was a little nervous when he started talking about his irrigation system (very simliar to ours) but he’s way beyond where we are.  Maybe.  But maybe I’m just reading about our future.

The bad – J has purchased 2′ lights for our bakers’ rack to aid in seed germination, and UPS seems to be holding them hostage. First we received a notice that we needed to sign for them, then when he attempted to get them to take the delivery off the truck and hold for pickup they didn’t process the request, so the lights spent yesterday riding around in a UPS truck and not coming home with J to be installed.  Mildly irritating.  Also bad – I haven’t even looked for the strawberry seeds in the freezer, and yesterday at a meeting someone commented that they always think of June as strawberry season, since that’s when you can start picking berries.  What?!  Looks like I’m emptying the freezer tonight.

The Ugly – the Back Forty garden, designated for the 5 types of pumpkins, watermelons & 300 stalks of corn?  None of the patch that was mowed on Christmas Eve is on our property.  Not one inch.  And the area that is our property has invasive species, needs work, and might have limited sun exposure.  Great!

I will post a photo of the cocktail I had when I found out our property line isn’t where we thought it is, along with the recipe, in another post.

Spring is coming…

On April Fools’ Day we had a snowstorm that amounted to a whole lot of nothing around our parts and melted away by late Saturday, allowing us to get out and do some work in the yard.  Well, I worked on the yard, J worked on our (new to us) John Deere trailer in the yard.  Last night he was talking about a harrow he saw on Craig’s List or some other list serve that looked intriguing and all I could think was, “If the Con Com doesn’t allow us to build a new shed I am going to sob in the middle of their meeting.”  We really just need a place to store the stuff where it won’t be exposed to the elements, requiring more repair and rust removal.  I really don’t have a problem with any of the John Deere stuff, as is evidenced by my recent purchase of fruit snacks for my 30-something husband:

“Wired” magazine’s April 2011 edition had an article recently about cobranding and labelled these snacks as an “Awesomely Awful Frankenbrand.”  The snippet makes fun of the idea of grape-flavored gummy pigs.  For the record, I have yet to see any grape-flavored pigs in those packets.  But I only eat the orange ones anyway.  You can read the whole article on their website (it’s short.)

In other news, the eggplants and peppers are due for transplantation to larger containers this week (photos coming soon), we planted the tomatoes on Saturday (Sungold and Early Girl), and the strawberry seeds have gone missing in the freezer.  I don’t relish emptying the entire freezer out to find them, but today marks 5 weeks, so tonight’s post-meeting/post-dinner project is freezer organization/strawberry seed retrieval.  My life is so full.

Adventures in aggressive suburban gardening