Garden Update, late April

When last we chatted about the garden, I had finished moving around the dirt and rocks that was delivered. That’s all structure and aesthetic enhancements. What else is going on?

I have 4 boot trays and starter “greenhouses” full of seed starts. Luckily, I found some great tracking sheets at Botanical Interests, for easily logging the things in those trays.

Some things are going gangbusters, like the okra, cucumbers, and summer squash. In fact I had to take the lid off that tray because the seedlings were pushing at it already. Tomorrow’s to-do list includes moving those into peat pots so they have a little more room.

But the tomatoes aren’t looking too hot. I started making sure I have full-spectrum lights aimed at the tomato tray during the day, because there isn’t necessarily much sun getting to it. And I want lots of tomatoes for canning this summer! Really. It’s why I started seeds for the following tomato varieties:

  • Cherry Sweetie: red cherry tomato for eating in salads, plain, or pickling whole
  • Golden Rave: yellow Romanita type for eating raw or making chutney
  • Chocolate Cherry: purple/black cherry tomato for eating plain or in salads
  • Tumbling Tom Yellow: yellow cherry tomato
  • Costoluto Genovese: red tomato for sauce or canning whole
  • Cherokee Purple: multi-purpose purple heirloom tomato
  • Brandywine: heirloom multi-purpose tomato
  • Amish Paste: red heirloom type for sauce, paste or salsa

More later in the season on tomato chutney, tomato jam and homemade ketchup.

Next year I’ll have some rhubarb to pick, because I planted 10 last week. There’s one that came up from last year, out of I think 3 that I planted. I should probably move it, becase it’s in the middle of what’s now the asparagus bed.

Radishes, kohlrabi, turnips, spinach, beets and snap peas have all poked their little heads above ground in the garden beds.

Flower starts so far include marigolds, sunflowers and Gaillardia. The marigolds are supposed to help keep nemotodes away from garden veg. Gaillardia are perennials and will attract hummingbirds, butterflies and other pollinators. And sunflowers are just cool. I’m also hoping that they’ll give the squirrels something to eat instead of the garden veg.

Sorry, no pic. Sometime in the next week, we’ll have some sun and I’ll get out with the camera. But there’s not much going on outdoors yet. The average last frost date here is May 2, so it’s considered “safe” to plant out the starts after the 15th or so.

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Well, There Are Rocks

Thousands and thousands of rocks.

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No, I didn’t actually count them. But on Tuesday (April 19), I took delivery of 4 yards of garden soil and a ton of assorted cobblestone.

In other words, dirt and rocks.

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Last summer, which was the first that I had a garden, I had things pretty squished in one of those pre-packaged 4×4 raised bed kits, a few deck containers, and a couple of beds in the front yard that are really probably better used as flower beds. But I had a total blast being able to bring buckets of fresh produce into my kitchen, mere yards from where they were grown. I got a little carried away ordering seeds from a couple of seed companies.

So I decided that this year, I’d go big or go home. Even though this is home.

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That’s butterfly weed, still dormant.

You know what I mean.

Last weekend, we borrowed my parents’ truck to pick up lumber, and we built a really big raised bed. The basic footprint is 10×20 feet, though there is a 2-foot “hallway” running up the middle of it. We built it from 2×6 lumber, so it’s deeper than the other bed. No way in heck was I going to try to get bags of soil from a garden center to fill it.

Enter Main’s Landscape Supply. Order placed Monday, delivered Tuesday, and then it was just a day and a half of pretty constant work with my shovel and the wheelbarrow.

Why not bagged dirt? Wouldn’t that be easier and more convenient? Well, I guess. Sure, it can be lugged around and emptied right where one needs it. But let’s take a look at the math. The large bags of soil at garden centers are 2 cubic feet, and around $7. (Prices vary, but that’s a decent estimate for garden soil with compost, etc., but no chemical fertilizers or plant food mixed in.) A yard of soil is one cubic yard, which works out to 27 cubic feet. I needed 4 yards. That’s 108 cubic feet, or 54 2-foot bags. At $7 each, it comes to $378. Plus tax. Plus delivery or multiple trips to the garden center.

Yeah, no.

For less than that, I got my dirt, delivered. AND a literal ton (that’s 2000 pounds) of rocks to edge beds and things. So I had to move it around myself. That was my workout for Tuesday and Wednesday.

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There you have it. The garden. Nothing in it yet, but we’re not to our average last frost date here. My sun room has a table full of seedlings started to fill it up: sweet peppers, 3 kinds of hot peppers, eggplant, 8 kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, and 3 kinds of squash. Plus seeds for other things that will be direct-sown: green and yellow beans, kale, 2 kinds of beets, several kinds of radishes, kohlrabi, carrots, sugar snap peas, turnips, spinach, and lettuce. Some of those direct-sow items that can handle the chill have already been planted in last year’s beds. Ten new rhubarb plants and 10 asparagus crowns went into their beds, too. (I love that I can say I have a rhubarb bed, even if I won’t be able to harvest any real quantities until 2018.)

Car Guy and I got the last of the soil off the pile and into the beds on Wednesday, just in time for some rain overnight and the next day. There’s some poultry fencing up on the 2 long sides of the garden, but I have to move it around and figure out how to keep it from sagging too badly.

img_0475That’s the veg covered. What about flowers? Oh, those are coming. The seedling trays include starts of Lobelia, daisies, Penstemon, Gaillardia, sunflowers and marigolds. Plus I’ll be direct-planting zinnias, cosmos, four o’clocks, gladiolas, dahlias, Liatris and hollyhocks. One of the new small flower beds was planted with a shade-friendly mix of lily of the valley and bleeding heart.

Today, Car Guy used the last of the rocks to build downspout extension supports that are a little better looking than the old bricks we used to use. With the bed edgings made of the same stones, they actually blend in. Even if I do think they look a little like burial cairns.

I cannot wait to start harvesting!

Gardening Day

I realized yesterday that I was using the wrong date for average last frost in my area. Which means that I am 2 weeks late getting seeds started and getting stuff out in the yard.

*gasp!*

This is not a huge deal. I am not, after all, some kind of master gardener. Not at all. In fact, I’m a huge faker. Last year was the first year ever that I had a garden, and I basically put plants in the ground and hoped to get food from them.

My plan this year is only a little more sophisticated. In that I thought about what I want to have produce-wise for canning or eating fresh, and I got seeds for those things.Blog20160413a

This morning after I hit the gym, I headed to the home improvement store to get some garden soil and some, ahem, amendments (composted manure) to top off a couple of the beds that were used last year. Also in the pic, though it’s under the other bags so it can’t be seen, is a large bag of potting soil for a couple of the planters I have for on the front porch.

Last year, there were 3 beds in the front yard, 4 planters on the porch, a small 4×4 bed in the back and 4 self-watering planters on the deck. I re-bordered one of the front beds, making it just a little bit bigger, got one more deck container, and will be building beds in a 10×20 footprint. Hopefully this weekend. More on that at a later date.Blog20160413c

So anyhoo, 2 of the front beds will be flowers to attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other pollinators. The other, newly slightly expanded front bed will house vegetables, and received its first residents today: Lacinto kale, sugar snap peas, radishes, swiss chard and kohlrabi. There’s some space in the bed still for something else, but I haven’t decided what yet. Maybe a small cluster of flowers to attract pollinators, and some other low attractive plant. I’ve got seeds for other radishes and chard, and 2 kinds of beets.

Blog20160413bThe little 4×4 in the back got a few seeds, too: lettuce, spinach, carrots, turnips. Less than half the bed was seeded, so there’s plenty of room for other produce or later plantings of the same so I can harvest continually throughout the summer.

Beet seeds are soaking on the windowsill for planting tomorrow. This afternoon, I pulled asparagus seeds out of their soak and put them in peat pucks. Does it make me a masochist that I’m starting asparagus from seed and not crowns?

Next steps: build the beast of a bed this weekend and then order a truckload of garden dirt (I figure 3-4 yards) to fill it. Pull out the hostas next to the deck and replace them with rhubarb. Figure out where to plant the hearty fig tree I bought. Start the other seeds that need indoor start: marigolds, brussels sprouts, okra, zucchini and cucumbers.

 

Recipe: Sesame Candy

The forum that is my primary social outlet is having a food swap. There are a few of us who signed up, filled out a questionnaire about preferences (including whether we would be willing to eat homemade food from a virtual stranger), allergies, etc. and were matched up with a name. The responses from the name I was assigned are funny and reminded me of this recipe.

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Toasted seeds and nuts

I have made this before. But like many recipes, I tried it when I first got the cookbook. Then when the novelty of the book wore off, I put it on the shelf and forgot about it.

I really need to go through this book and make some of these things.

Usually when I make this, I do a half batch. So that’s what I’m including below. Depending on how you cut them, you can get 30-50 pieces from the half batch. They are small, but then you can have more than one piece, or can try something else off the dessert tray. They have a nutty flavor that’s only lightly sweet, and are a great little tidbit to include on a cheese tray. Making smaller batches means you can make a couple of variations, trying different nuts and seasonings, without ending up with candy for weeks.

If you live near a store with a good bulk foods department, check it out for some of the ingredients. They can be pricey at standard mega-marts. Middle Eastern groceries are a good source for inexpensive sesame seeds, too.

A word of warning: this stuff gets HOT. The oils in the nuts and seeds come out during toasting and can burn if you’re not careful pouring them into the mixing bowl. And molten honey not only burns, it sticks.

Continue reading Recipe: Sesame Candy

Growing Plan 2016

I started canning in 2014, which led to having a garden in 2015. And I’m planning one for 2016. In fact, I think I’ve gone a little crazy with my box of seeds, considering that I don’t really know much about gardening. I just stick stuff in the ground and hope to end up with vegetables later.

Well, not quite that clueless, but it’s not a terrible exaggeration.

Continue reading Growing Plan 2016