Archive for September, 2010

Hello Everyone, and welcome to the last installment of “How Does My Garden Grow?”  This week we’re hearing from my friend Allen (I’ve written about he & his wife here & here & here).

How/why did you start your garden? When someone asks you why you garden, how do you answer?

My very first garden was a section of my dad’s garden where I grew herbs and sunflowers.  Later, I  gardened in pots and window boxes at a condo.  I pretty much took over the deck in front of our door.  I’m not entirely sure why I garden, but I like to look at flowers and the veggies taste better than the ones you get in the store.  As a kid although I didn’t like helping in my parents’ garden I think I got used to eating fresh vegetables and fruit.  Trust me the strawberries they sell in the supermarket are frequently nothing like what you get out of your garden or a upick operation. My current garden was sort of a continuation of those pots at the condo as I knew I wanted a garden when we bought the house, just a lot bigger. At this point I think I do it mostly because I want the fresher food.  I expect there to be some flowers around too.  There are certain things that I think a home should just have and a garden is one of them.

Could you tell us some information about your garden?  For instance, what zone, what’s your soil like, what type of system, if any, do you use?

  • Zone 5/6 depending on whether you read the old maps or the new ones.  On the new ones I’m right on the border.
  • Soil type: Main garden is a mix of clay like loam, composted cow manure, and compost.  Far garden beds  pretty much have the composted cow manure I had trucked in or the leaf/clipping compost I made mixed with whatever was there.  The far parts of my yard can be said to have sandy soil if you want to be nice, fill is more like it.  Theres maybe 1 inch of actual soil there before you get to the sand (which is the good stuff) or the rubble, old bricks, bits of pavement, etc.  When I planted my oak tree I had multiple wheelbarrows of building rubble I removed.  Oddly that oak tree is very happy.
  • My system is raised beds all around.  This is dictated by the soil type, or lack thereof in parts of my property.  Additionally it drains well which is nice.

The beginning of Allen’s current garden.

The closer garden completed.

What types of plants do you typically grow?

Mostly vegetables and fruit.  I have some areas that have perennials although crab grass reclaimed some of them this year.  I have a good deal of echinacea which I love and some lily’s which are nice as well as a clematis from the previous owners.  I also grow datura and nicotiana, both annuals, every year because they look nice, are hardy once established, and the nicotiana smells very nice.

Are there any crops/plants that are on your “wish list” to grow?

Most of the things I would like grow are not crops/plants so much.  I might like to try some more fruit trees, but I think ornamental/shade trees would be what I would like most.  Ideally I could get a nice mature tree without the 20+ year wait.

What do you do to enrich your soil?

I enrich with compost and organic fertilizer.  I use North Country Organics: Pro Grow, ideally in 20lb bags. I’m probably a bit heavy with the fertilizer, but I don’t think it has caused any problems.

How do you water your garden? How do you decide how much and how often to water?

I water my garden mainly with a drip irrigation system.  Its great as I just push a button and it waters itself, saving a lot of time.  Unfortunately I just made the garden bigger and gave myself other work to do.  Seriously though, if you find watering takes a lot of time get some dripline, its great.  It also helps cut down, in some cases, on diseases that are aided by wet leaves by only putting water on the soil, not the leaves.  I think this especially helps my tomatoes, which always get some kind of disease.  Its always worse when the leaves get wet. I tend to turn on various parts of the system whenever it looks like things need it.  I don’t have it on a set schedule.

Do you have any gardening woes?

My current woe is lack of motivation.  I think I let my garden get too big, to the point where it became too big a burden.  Don’t let this happen to you, expand slowly!  Once it gets too overwhelming you tend to ignore it, which makes it worse.

The back garden, where most of the fruit is grown, along with the squash.

The back garden growing strong–look at those berry bushes!

Woes of the more traditional nature include blight on my tomatoes (late blight sometimes!), cucumber beetles, japanese beetles, cats, and skunks. Only the late blight is a real killer, the leaf spot (septoria I think) kills your plant, but it takes its time unless it is really wet and you still get a good crop.  You can also slow it down with Serenade, an organic spray made of beneficial bacteria.  For the cuke beetles row covers really seem to help.  Keeps the plant protected while it grows a bit so when you finally take it off the plant has a lot more mass and has toughened up some before the beetles go a munching.

For the animal pests cats are evil(sorry to all cat lovers), and are a terrible pest in urban places, garden = litter box to them.  I hates them.  The skunk, I hate him too,  mine seems to have a habit of digging up ANY newly planted plant.  They can smell exactly where you dig and will remove EVERY plant without fail if it is not protected.  Took me a year to figure out exactly what was doing it (I witnessed it doing the deed one night).  A simple chicken wire fence on temporary stakes seems to stop the skunk and the cats.  The skunk could go under it by digging, but hasn’t yet and the cats don’t bother to leap it just to do their business. Copious sprinkles of ground hot pepper also works reasonably well to protect a new plant without the fence from the skunk, but you need to use a LOT.

Do you have any favorite techniques or garden habits you’d like to share? Favorite resources?

The Vegetable Gardeners Bible by Edward C Smith and The Garden Primer by Barbara Damrosch come to mind. Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman is also good.

Seed starting in the winter!

What would you consider your biggest learning experience to date with your garden? Could you tell us about it?

Don’t make it too big to handle.  It will suck more and more energy from you and you will get discouraged.  Your wife will get a bit sick of the constant picking, canning, etc too!  For that one you will need to be sure to grow something she (or he for a husband) likes.  It will probably turn out to be something difficult, like black raspberries, which you cannot buy in the store, requires pruning only the spent canes each year, and has thorns like a rosebush which do not merely scratch you but will actually tear the skin from your body if you piss it off.  She will not consider the red raspberries which you can just mow down with a hedge trimmer each year an acceptable replacement, but you will keep them because she helps pick most or all of them, and will even pick almost all the red ones too.  Second lesson is ALWAYS grow something the significant other likes.

Leading from your biggest learning experience, what do you consider to be your biggest gardening flop?  Your biggest success?

Flop this year,  was squash.  Squash is getting harder and harder for some reason.  It doesn’t seem to like the far garden beds built on top of the sand/fill although every thing else is fine there. Pests like cuke beetles seem to build up rapidly too.

Raspberries, black and red are the biggest success.  Red especially are EASY.  Plant em, water occasionally, prune (easy with red, use hedge trimmer and mow to within 2 inches of the ground each spring), and pick.  That’s it (well you’ll want a trellis too perhaps).  I’ve gotten 30-40+ pounds  of reds and 20 pounds of blacks each year from just 1 20 foot row of each.  However, the cherry tree is coming into its own, got 11 pounds this year.  I REALLY like a pie made with cherries from our tree.  Tip, grow pie cherries (sour) if you don’t mine the sourness.  Makes great pies, are less available in the stores which usually carry bing cherries, and the birds don’t seem to like them as much as sweet ones.  Also, if you get enough you can make wine.  I’m waiting on that still as I want enough for pies, eating, and wine so I’d need like 30 lbs I think.

How do those in your life respond to the garden?

It’s a love/hate relationship.  My wife loves the fresh fruit and produce and does help a good deal. However, its a bit trying at times.

What do you do, if anything, to extend your growing season?

I’ve done coldframes and just started trying low tunnels this year.  However this winter I may or may not do anything.  Might take a break from it.

The coldframes covering their cold-season bounty.

Do you have any favorite things you like to make with your garden bounty?

Wine.  Uses up a ton of fruit and tastes great!

If you’ve ever grown your garden from an apartment or other rented property, what kind of advice or tips, including reading, would you offer to those in the same position?

Use BIG pots, tomatoes like them 🙂  And yes you can grow tomatoes in a pot.  Basil, mint, and lettuce are easy too.  Even cukes will work tied up.

What is going to bring you back to the dirt in 2011?

Ideally a nice break from it all during the winter.  Hopefully I will have less back pain too as that normally makes gardening hard.


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So Glad I Waited

All summer long I watched  some stems growing tall and strong in one of my flower gardens.  I thought they looked like sunflowers, but they also looked a lot like the weeds I pull out of other nearby beds.  I held off pulling them out of the ground.  I waited, and waited, and waited some more.  One morning recently as I watched L3 get on the bus I noticed there were buds and blooms on most of the stems.  Flowers, at last!

Worth the Wait Flowers

So now as most of the rest of the gardens are going dormant for the long season of rest ahead, these bright petals are bursting forth, a reminder of why it’s good for me to continue to cultivate patience.  There are some areas in my life I find I am able to be patient and others, well. . . let’s just say that I might be 34, but sometimes I feel more like a 3-year-old.

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One of my favorite patterns from Girly Style Wardrobe, B, was made twice for L4 when she was a toddler. Oh, how I loved those shirts, and she did too! In honor of my girlie starting kindergarten, I made her a new pattern B.

Kindergarten GSW 1

Kindergarten GSW 2

Fetching, no? Well, at least what you can see of it.  She was so intent on her puzzle-making that I didn’t want to stop her.  I’ve been waiting for quite a while for the puzzle to be done so that I can clean the floor in that room again.  Back to the shirt–what is great about this pattern is that it works really well for layering in colder weather, but can be worn in warmer weather, too.  Plus, if you have a girl who is sensitive about things going over her head, as L4 is, the tie opening leaves plenty of room with no sense of claustrophobia.  The big pleat detail is probably my favorite part about it (can be seen better in the photos linked above).  In fact, it inspired a sketch quite a while ago for an adult shirt which I am in the process of creating now and hope to share with you all soon.

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{this moment}

Peaceful Sleep

From Soulemama: “{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.”

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Welcome to the second interview of “How Does Your Garden Grow?” series on A Crunchy Life!  Today we welcome Rachel of The Times We are Living In.


How/why did you start your garden? When someone asks you why you garden, how do you answer?

I started gardening because it was what I grew up with. My parents had a huge garden and mom would start canning in early spring and keep going until fall. We were pretty self-sufficient out of necessity and I had fond memories of things like sitting on the porch snapping beans, weeding the garden, harvesting the potatoes etc. So I started my own garden the first year I was actually home during the summer instead of in the field (2003) and have had a garden every year I haven’t been in the field (about 4 total years).

Plain and simple, I continue to garden because I love plants, I love watching them grow and produce, and I love the satisfaction of planning a week’s worth of meals during summer and only having to spend $10 at the grocery store!

Could you tell us some information about your garden?

I’m in zone 5 and we have a pretty clay-based soil which I struggle with each year.  One day we’ll convert to a raised bed system but for now I buy local compost and rotatill this plus some sand in each year.  I have two vegetable gardens…one about 60-70 square feet and another larger one about 300 square feet.  I also have 3 small raised beds for herbs that I grow to use fresh and dry.  We also have a number of fruit trees on our property that produce a bounty (apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherry…plus raspberries).

Rachel's smaller garden

This is a shot of my smaller garden (~65 square feet)…which shows 1) I often neglect my garden as evidence by the weeds and 2) how I utilize space to the max.  This has 7 tomato plants (4 varieties), 3 tomatillo plants, 4 eggplant, a row of bush beans, brussel sprouts, chard, kale, leeks, onions, and rhubarb.  What’s been removed already was spinach, lettuce, radishes, and about 70 garlic plants.  I’ll plant some fall spinach and radishes and then the garlic will go back in mid-October.

What types of plants do you typically grow?  Are there some you plant every year without fail?  Do you grow any perennials?  If so, what are they?

The only perennials are herbs and rhubarb.  I base what I grow on a couple things:  how the vegetable can be preserved and how ‘easy’ it is (I work typically 80-100 hours a week so I don’t have a huge amount of time to process food), how much space is necessary relative to what the plant produces, whether it works for a short season, and I always plant a few ‘new’ experimental things each year.  Staples to me are potatoes, zucchini, an assortment of peppers, garlic, tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, bush beans, cukes (pickling and slicers), onions, winter squash, basil, and greens.  This year, I planted for the first time tomatillos, beets, carrots, brussel sprouts, leeks and sweet potatoes.

You mentioned working 80-100 hours a week.  That’s a heavy schedule.  How do you fit gardening into your schedule?  I know it’s not your only “recreation” activity, since I’ve seen your beautiful knitting!

Well, as much as I hate it, sometimes things get by me and go to waste or I end up with more monster zucchinis than is probably normal!  I’m not the best about weeding so the actual time for maintenance of the garden after the soil is tilled and the plants are in the ground is fairly small for me.  For the most part, during the peak, I try to take one evening a week and one day on the weekend and just push to get as much done as possible.  It’s not unusual for me to be making jam or canning tomatoes at 1 in the morning so I can get it done.  I’ll be honest though and say that’s probably the least enjoyable part of gardening for me…not the processing itself, but how I have to jam it all into short periods of time.  It can tend to feel more like ‘one more chore’ than something fun.  And of course for about 6 weeks a year, my other ‘recreational activities’ suffer!  This time conflict is also one reason I love to grow things like potatoes,  winter squash, garlic, peppers etc…you plant, harvest, stick in a cool, dry place (or pop whole in the freezer for peppers) and you have food for now or winter with barely any time invested.

Are there any crops/plants that are on your “wish list” to grow?  What are they?  Why do you want to grow them?

I’d love to have the space to grow grains and the space to grow beans for drying.  I want to grow them just for the desire to experiment and the challenge to go even one step closer to ‘the basics’.

Are there particular beans you’d like to grow for drying?  I’ve thought about that as well, but haven’t gone so far to research them.  I don’t know, for instance, how much space they require.

I’ve not done the research yet either so I can’t offer suggestions.  But what initially got me excited was listening to an episode of The Splendid Table about a year ago where they interviewed Steve Sando and he talked about all the varieties out there and where to get them.  At the end, they mentioned his book ‘Heirloom Beans: Great recipes for dips and spreads, soups and stews, salads and salsas, and much more from Rancho Gordo’.  Not only full of recipes but apparently he goes into detail about varieties and identification along with growing tips.  It’s been on my wish list to buy as soon as I have some time to actually read it!  If anyone is interested, the link to that episode is: http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/listings/shows09_03_28.html. Via podcast, you can still listen to it.

What do you do to enrich your soil?  How often do you do it?

Compost mainly.  Once a year at the end of the season we’ll dump a truckload on each garden.  The bigger garden has been problematic due to poorer soil so the second year after its development we let it rest and planted a cover crop for nitrogen-enrichment. We may do this again next year.  I also use Epsom salt for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant…about a tablespoon when planting and once a month thereafter.

Nitrogen fixing cover crop that we planted one year to help out the larger garden (mostly legumes as shown by this pea variety).

Forgive my naivety—what do the Epsom salts do for the tomatoes & other plants?

My understanding is the benefits are due to its constituents – magnesium and sulfur. Magnesium is pretty beneficial for plants right from the beginning when the seeds are germinating.  It strengthens the plant cell walls and helps it make chlorophyll; it also enhances the plant’s efficiency in absorbing nitrogen and phosphorous from the soil.  Sulphur is useful for repelling pests and making the plant resistant to diseases.   For tomatoes in particular, a magnesium deficiency is pretty normal.  The leaves of the plants start yellowing and the production of flowers and fruits may be affected.  So supposedly epsom salt is benefical to the health and fruit production of the plant (though not scientifcally proven).  I learned this tip about 2 years ago and I am certain I see a difference in my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.  (this is also good for roses but I haven’t tried that yet).

How do you water your garden?

It’s quite dry here.  The rain ends about mid-to late June and returns late September normally so watering is a must.  Every 3 to 4 days is normal but more or less depending on the heat.  I just watch my plants and they tell me if I need to water.

Do you have any gardening woes? Are there any pests or other issues that plague you and your garden?  How do you handle them?

Knock on wood, I’ve been lucky with pests of the insect variety.  This year I planted brussel sprouts and they seem to be a target of aphids.  I haven’t really had time to deal with them but I hear a good water spray is a common remedy.  Otherwise, I do some precautionary stuff like planting marigolds in amongst tomatoes etc.  My biggest gardening woes are deer (but we use electric fence to keep them out and it works great), and weather.  We have a relatively short season anyway, but also notoriously unpredictable spring and fall weather.  So if one year has an unusually late spring (like this year) or an unusually early frost, production can be reduced more than half and some species won’t even grow.

Do you have any favorite techniques or garden habits you’d like to share? Favorite resources?

The thing I’d like to share may seem a bit odd.  Last year I finally made up a recipe book (3-ring binder) specifically for vegetables from the garden and another for the fruit.  The tabs are labeled by vegetable and by fruit rather than the conventional way of appetizers, soups, baked goods etc.   I put all recipes using that particular vegetable as well as preserving directions/suggestions in the appropriate tab.  If I have a cucumber ready or some peppers or zucchini, I can flip to that section and easily come up with a use/meal for it quickly or find directions for how I preserved it in the past.  This has been a life saver this year and I’m finding less and less goes to waste since I have those recipes at my finger tips.

A mosaic of some of my preserving methods.  Top left going clockwise: zucchini pickes, plum jam, slow-roasted tomatoes with garlic, thyme, and olive oil, canned tomatoes, roasted eggplants for freezing, pickles.

I love this idea!  It makes me want to cry when the things we’ve grown go to waste because we haven’t been quick enough to use them or were at a creative loss when we harvested them.  This sounds like a great winter project!

Any favorite stories to share?

I’d say it’s my beet experience from this year.  I planted them in with my herbs and when they were about 6 inches tall, the deer started eating the entire plant.  Every day I’d come out and find more gone.  Interesting to me was that I planted them haphazardly all around the herbs and the deer picked through eating the beets, but didn’t touch any other plant.  It took about 3 weeks before every single plant was gone…as if I never even planted them!

What would you consider your biggest learning experience to date with your garden?

I think two things…gardening for a short growing season and learning how to use space.  The former is pretty self-explanatory.  The latter?  One example is that I love corn on the cob and so when I got a garden space I wanted to plant corn.  Sure, it can grow here but I found quickly that for the space it utilizes to get a few cobs you could have gotten at the farmer’s market for a couple of bucks, it’s really not worth it.  I also disregard many of the space requirements by planting in a zigzag pattern rather than rows.  You can put more plants in less space this way.  Another example is to plant things like cucumbers or melons or winter squash (traveling vines) in amongst vertical plants.

Leading from your biggest learning experience, what do you consider to be your biggest gardening flop?  Your biggest success?

I haven’t had any gardening flops.  That’s not to say I haven’t had things not produce or die early etc.  But to me, I garden because it’s fun so if something doesn’t work I just chalk it up to a learning experience.  For example, consider the above story.  I planted the beets in the herb beds because it was the most ‘workable’ soil after having a very wet spring.  The herb beds are not protected from the deer so I learned that next year I need to work up a space within the electricity for beets.  And I learned that though carrots were planted in the same beds, the deer didn’t touch those…so those can go in the raised beds again next year.  I don’t consider this a flop…just part of the gardening experience.

My biggest success…I’ve learned how to garden to meet our average season and I’ve learned how to garden to compliment rather than interfere with the other demands of my life.

I love your attitude toward your garden experiences.  It’s the kind of grace I’d like to feel when things don’t go as planned.  Another work in progress for me!

How do those in your life respond to the garden?

My husband loves plants and landscaping/gardening so I think he really enjoys the garden.  He of course also enjoys the meals made from the garden bounty!  He doesn’t help with processing (although he probably would if I asked) but anything else I ask his help on, he is more than willing to do.

Do you have any favorite things you like to make with your garden bounty?

Hmmm…outside of canning/freezing/processing recipes…I just put a post up on some of my favorite zucchini recipes…I like to make salsa…pickes…pesto …home-made tomato soup with slow roasted tomatoes…butternut squash and caramelized onion galette …butternut squash and red lentil souptomato and corn pieItalian Squash Piegolden potato and leek soupchicken, roasted butternut squash, and feta lasagna…oh and applesauce and jams/butters/fruit desserts/dried fruit from the various fruit trees.  The list could go on!!

Thanks for sharing all of those great links with all of us! I always welcome new-to-me recipes!

What is going to bring you back to the dirt in 2011?

The constant challenge of gardening and the joy of at least partial self-sufficiency will bring me back to the dirt any summer I’m not in the field.

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We often traverse the sidewalk that goes past our home & the local businesses.  The kids love to scooter & bike down it, Jasper gets in his mission-mode on his leash, & it’s easy because we don’t have to drive anywhere and can return home quickly if necessary.

Beautiful Ordinary Walk 1

Here’s a little secret: I often disdain this walk, thinking it isn’t “good enough” because our feet are pounding pavement rather than a woodland path. Yesterday when we set out for our walk I decided to change my mindset and recognize how much I do enjoy this walk despite, or perhaps because of, its suburban sights and sounds. I’m so glad I did because not only did I recognize my pleasure in the path we took, but was able to *see* some of its beauty in a here-to-unrecognized way on my part.

Beautiful Ordinary Walk 6

These apples aren’t in anyone’s yard, nor are the grapes below, so we have plans to go back and pick some before they all rot on the ground. How lucky are we to have this a short walk from our front door?!? The red apples will add nice variety to the abundance of green we have in our own yard.

Beautiful Ordinary Walk 7These smelled so very good!

Beautiful Ordinary Walk 5

L4 and I spent sometime examining and sharing with each other the area of the sidewalk near our home that is covered with acorns and oak leaves.

Beautiful Ordinary Walk 4

Though I’ve noticed it before, yesterday I finally stopped to take a picture of the flowers someone planted beneath the speed limit sign. It just made me smile, to think of someone making beautiful the industrial metal of this traffic sign.

Beautiful Ordinary Walk 3

What have you seen with new eyes lately?

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Soon Will I Rest. . .

. . . underneath this quilt that I have been working on for more than a year now!  It has been pushed aside for other projects more times than I can count, though always visible and mocking me for not staying true to finishing it.

Quilted at Last

All that’s left now is to hand sew the binding down. I know some people loathe this part, but I enjoy it, save for the stress it puts on my hands (bilateral carpal tunnel, 😛 to you!). This past weekend was full of sewing and knitting, and putting food by; it was so good. It finally feels like the energy of the coming equinox is finding its way into our life. Harmony, you make my heart sing!

ps: Don’t you love Yoda’s vernacular?

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