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Worm Wrangling 101

How did you spend YOUR Sunday afternoon? I spent mine in a room with about 30 “children” (ages 5-85), one instructor, and hundreds of worms.

The worms (eisenia fetida, or “red wigglers” for the less lofty) have become my garden partners. I will feed them scraps from my kitchen, keep them warm and contained, and they will produce castings that will feed my plants. I think this is a very good deal.

I took a class on raising worms from F.A.R.M.S. – Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools. These folks offer classes in gardening, cooking, healthy living, and as if that weren’t enough, offer free movies about food and farming every Friday night. The age range of students in that classroom was astounding, and a testament to the interesting and important work they do. Check out their website: http://www.mefarms.org/

In addition to information about what they’re up to, the site includes recipes and an interesting blog.

This class is useful at any time of the year, but is particularly poignant when offered to Mainers at the end of a very long winter, when spring is still many weeks away. (Mainers know that the calendar is a cruel mistress. What she says is virtually never what you get. So, March 20th is labeled the first day of spring? It is to laugh.) But thanks to my worm wrangling class, I can actually start on my garden, even when I shouldn’t start my seedlings until mid-April and I shouldn’t set my seedlings out until Memorial Day. No matter. The worms and I have plans.

It begins with humble ingredients:
— a plastic bin with air holes on all sides (including the bottom),
— a lid for that plastic bin (to keep the worms in. Yes, apparently they will wander if allowed),
— shredded bedding made of paper, coconut fiber, or woods chips (anything that holds moisture and allows the worms to burrow)
— a little grit, water, and organic food
— worms!

Here are a few photos from my happy Sunday. I’ve known about vermicomposting (using worms to transform kitchen scraps into compost) for years, but this was my first hands-on experience. It was a lovely reason to get my hands dirty.

First up: Filling my bin with shredded paper. The instructor confessed that she had just shredded mountains of bills, and brought them to class. One of the benefits, I’m sure of having a class scheduled close to April 15th:

CloseupBinHeapedWithBills

Next step: enough water to make the paper spongy but not wet. This was a delicate operation, and I confess I needed a rag to clean up the water that leaked out of the bottom of my bin. Yet another example of “More Enthusiasm Than Skill” (the name I’ve chosen for my autobiography, if I ever get around to writing it).

CloseupWaterOverPaper

Worms need grit to help them grind up their food. We were offered cups of garden limestone to sprinkle over the bedding.

CloseupGritInCup

The instructor had brought in a large bin filled with worm castings and worms. We were given sieves to tap the castings into round balls that were then easily scooped into Baggies to save for our gardens. The worms were left exposed and were easily picked up and dropped into our bins.

The instructor’s large bin was also available to the class for additional wrangling. One young girl was so thrilled at being allowed to collect worms that she offered to get mine for me. Of course I said yes!

Closeup_ChildHand_SelectingWorms

And this is what my hand-selected worms looked like in my newly made bin today:

CloseupWormsInMyBin_Better

My big compost bin is not yet set up in my garden, because I’m not sure where the beds will be laid out. And every time I’ve tossed coffee grounds and eggshells into the trash, I’ve cringed at the waste and lost potential. But now, thanks to my red wiggler pals, my kitchen scraps have a new home and a new purpose in life.

I think I’m gonna need a bigger bin.

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“I used to say that one ton of worms could eat one ton of garbage. I was always thinking big like that. Then I found out that Seattle had distributed four thousand worm bins. I did some figuring and realized that worked out to ten tons of garbage going into worm bins. That’s when I realized—it’s happening!”

— Mary Appelhof, American biologist (1936-2005) — worm composting activist and author of “Worms Eat My Garbage”

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A Faithful Reader asked for photos of my actual field illustrated in the sketch posted in my last entry. As you wish!

(Please note that you can click on these photos to bring up a larger image, where the detail is clearer.)

Here is another photo of the garden sketch, a little closer:

SketchOnBoardCloser

This shows the main flower garden, with three tiny circles marked with X’s, the shady area to the right, and the rock ledges in the back of the sketch. At the bottom right is the curved area at the front of the garden. I will match these areas with photos. The area to the left that is destined for sunflowers and herbs is not in any photos, because I only recently decided to plant this area as well. It is hard to exercise restraint when the subject is gardening.

First, this is the area that forms the flower garden. A rock wall in front, a large cleared field, and a rock wall in the back. The Plan calls for 9 flower beds to go here:

AfterBetweenTwoWallsCloser

Next, the reality behind the three circled X’s: These are iron spikes anchored in rocks, that were part of the horse farm, once upon a time. This view looks back at our house, with the barn and the screened porch, and Gordon the Gentlemanly Mutt on patrol:

AfterThreeSpikesBetter

Finally, this is the shady area of the garden, where I plan to plant forget-me-not, bleeding heart, coral bells, astilbe, and other shade-tolerant plants. On the sketch, this area is to the right, under the poofy circles that represent trees:

AfterShadyCorner

I just ordered a “soiless” mix from Johnny’s Selected Seeds to start my seedlings indoors, so the 2014 Gardening Season has started. I will photograph the Great Soil-Cube And Seed Planting event very soon.

I will be posting more detailed photos as the snow clears, and I get my hands dirty once again. Now that I know what the Plan is, I can better illustrate the steps and share the triumphs and defeats with you!

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“In garden arrangement, as in all other kinds of decorative work, one has not only to acquire a knowledge of what to do, but also to gain some wisdom in perceiving what it is well to let alone.”

— Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist, garden designer (1843-1932)

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Planning the Garden

We have moved and things are different. Our mortgage is gone. Our taxes are halved. And my garden has doubled.

I left behind a 40’ x 50’ garden in New York, and now I have a 100’ x 180’ garden in Maine. I had better plan this carefully.

Here is a photo of the sketch Husband did of the area I will be working on this year. The scale: 1” = 10’.

SketchOnBoard

The rectangular shapes are stone walls, and the poofy swirls are trees.

From left to right, starting in the back: that smaller rectangular area has woods to the back and our neighbor’s field to the left (northeast). My plan is for this smaller area to have sunflowers, herbs, a seat for quiet contemplation, lots of fragrance, and lots of butterflies.

The larger area to the right will be the flower garden, with the wooded area at the far-right becoming the shade garden.

The area in the left foreground will have the orchard (we have apple, peach, and pear trees coming on April 30th!), and that circular area is the base of a silo. I’m thinking of a rose-covered arbor across the back half of that curve.

How will I tackle this enormous area? Here are my first thoughts:

Step 1. Don’t plan to do too much this first year.
Because we are starting two new businesses, which includes Husband’s art gallery and studio, and a rental apartment above the studio, and because we are having the outside of the house painted in the spring, I cannot plant everything I would like this first year.

I will not be planning or planting anything that is next to the house. I’m going to let the painters come and go as they will, trample anything they want, and I will not be biting my fist in an attempt to stop screaming. I will let this area go entirely.

I have planned 11 flowerbeds out in the back field, and I will be happy if I get 4 of those beds up and running this year.

Step 2: Know the enemy — earth.
What is under that lovely dark, formerly-a-horse-farm soil that I have out back? Is it rich dark loam, enriched over the years by those long-gone horses? Or is it one or two inches of dirt sitting on top of rock ledge? We have lots of granite rearing up that we can see, and that I’m already planning to use as flooring or backdrop for seating in the garden.

But the rest of that vast expanse….will I be able to dig beds there, or will I be begging Husband to supervise the construction of 11 raised beds?

Husband prefers I dig into the ground rather than go to the expense of building raised beds. So as soon as the ground thaws (April?) we will be out there with a metal spike and a mallet, and will tap our way across the field, trying to determine how deep the soil is. We will be graphing the underground lay of the land.

Step 3: Put my thoughts on paper.
Done. I filled several pages in my notebook with lists of the plants I wanted, with the goal of having something blooming all season long. Here’s a look at one corner of one page:

NotebookPageClose

Step 4: Shuffle the cards, and stack the “beds”.
After I write, I need to see. I wrote the name of each plant on an index card, and borrowed Husband’s colored pencils to mark the color of the bloom. Here are the pencils he so graciously loaned me:

ColoredPencilsClear

I mixed and shuffled and reshuffled these cards for days and days. I wanted the tallest of the plants at the top of the stack, with the spring-bulbs at the bottom. Once I was happy with the 11 stacks of cards, I taped them together so that I could then move the “beds” around and arrange them.

CardsOfElevenBeds

And here’s a closer look at a few of the “beds” I have planned:

BorageCardClose

LilacCardClose

WitchHazelCardClose

I am planning to scatter shade-loving woodland plants under the trees at the southeast corner of the garden. While I have these gathered into a “bed” stack, I’m going to plant them individually. Here’s what I’ve chosen:

SweetWoodruffCardClose

Step 5: Know the enemy – roots
I want a bed of mints, which means I need to plan ahead to thwart the invasive roots of these plants. I figured I would gang them up in one area, and install some kind of gulag around them. I’m planning to have monarda didyma to welcome the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and flank it with lemon balm, and mint. While I wanted peppermint and spearmint specifically, I now know that mint plants do not produce true from seed, and so my seed packet is labeled, humbly, “Common Mint.” If I want specific mints, I will have to buy plants. I may do that.

AstersCardClose

Step 6: Think tall.
I ordered some shrubs, trees, and plants from FedCo, a cooperative seed and garden supply company in Waterville, Maine. My neighbors rave about them. My garden heroes (Barbara Damrosch, for one) recommend them. FedCo offers the plants and shrubs and trees that I want, and their catalog is jammed with wonderful advice. And their prices are astounding. I had to exercise enormous restraint when filling out my order form. I got all of my taller plants from them.

FedcoCatalogClose

Step 7: Know the enemy – Odocoileus virginianus and Meteagris gallopava silvestris.
These super villains have secret identities: white-tailed deer and Eastern wild turkeys. They have free run of the place when my dogs are inside.

I need to keep the deer out of my garden at night, and the turkeys out of the garden during the day. I have considered and rejected installing an electric fence. I am concerned, of course, with the safety of our garden’s guests, but truthfully, the most likely casualty of an electric fence ZAP would be me. I tend to look down when I am in the garden, and I’m certain I would walk directly into that fence daily.

The plan, for now, is to buy yards and yards and yards of deer netting, and fasten it to the trees on 3 sides of the garden. If that isn’t effective, I will add a 4th stretch of netting across the house-side of the garden, and will add another chore to the daily list: walking the “4th wall” across the garden and fastening it at the end of each day. I will be, I guess, tucking my garden in for the night.

And so there you have it, my Plan to-date. What’s next? My favorite task of the year: Making soil cubes and planting seeds. That will happen in mid-March, and I am counting the days.

This last plan solves T.S. Eliot’s dark observation of the despair and frustration gardeners feel each April: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”

My plan is to thwart cruel April by tending my seedlings inside. When May comes, I will have my memories of gardens past, and my desire answered by the seedlings. I will be ready.

Stay tuned.

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Pumpkinfest

It is Pumpkinfest in Damariscotta, Maine, and how happy I am to be a part of it!

The Weigh-Off was last weekend — 65 giant Atlantic Pumpkins were brought to the local garden center and weighed. The 1st place prize went to a pumpkin weighing 1,266 pounds, and 2nd place went to the slimmer 1,264 pound pumpkin — both produced by the same grower.

The pumpkins are sponsored by local businesses, and after the Weigh-Off they are brought into town and placed on palettes by trucks and forklifts. It is Damariscotta’s version of the inflating of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons, and it is a wonderful, traffic-tying-up event.

It takes two days for local artists to carve and paint these pumpkins. The giant pumpkins have their insides gutted and the seeds removed before they are turned over for decorating. Why? Because the growers do not want their seeds falling into the hands of a competitor. The total purse of prize money awarded is $10,000, and so the genetics and growing practices of these farmers are a highly guarded secret.

Husband and I walked the streets of our little town today, so delighted that we had chosen this charming place to call home. Here are photos of a few of the pumpkins, some in progress, and some completed. Humor, artistry, imagination, all on display here. I will include captions where appropriate.

1Metcalfs

Outside a jewelry store, this "Day of the Dead" theme is continued on the jewelry for sale inside.

Outside a jewelry store, this “Day of the Dead” theme is continued on the jewelry for sale inside.

3MaineKayak

4Mouse

Every side of this pumpkin shows hardware, and bits and pieces of household stuff.

Every side of this pumpkin shows hardware, and bits and pieces of household stuff.

6SaltBayCafe

Outside the bank, of course!

Outside the bank, of course!

8Mice

This is a monkey-in-progress, and one that had had the seeds removed to protect the genetic secrets of its giant-ness!

This is a monkey-in-progress, and one that had had the seeds removed to protect the genetic secrets of its giant-ness!

Outside King Eider's Pub, this pumpkin was painted by Glen Chadbourne, resident of the neighboring village and illustrator of many of Stephen King's books.

Outside King Eider’s Pub, this pumpkin was painted by Glen Chadbourne, resident of the neighboring village and illustrator of many of Stephen King’s books.

The Princess and the Pea, pumpkin-style

The Princess and the Pea, pumpkin-style

A goldfish, with fins-to-come.

A goldfish, with fins-to-come.

Outside a facial salon.

Outside a facial salon.

Sponsored by a local plumbing company, of course.

Sponsored by a local plumbing company, of course.

16StarFace

17Type

The carving echoes the artwork of the restaurant's logo: the Damariscotta River Grill.

The carving echoes the artwork of the restaurant’s logo: the Damariscotta River Grill.

Herons, sharing their sand bars with pumpkins, and with...

Herons, sharing their sand bars with pumpkins, and with…

...the pumpkin stem that became a bald eagle.

…the pumpkin stem that became a bald eagle.

Outside the Colby and Gale gas station, this artist had just started carving into the huge pumpkin.  Intrigued by the roof, I peaked behind and found ...

Outside the Colby and Gale gas station, this artist had just started carving into the huge pumpkin. Intrigued by the roof, I peaked behind and found …

...the little theater, destined to be placed under that shingled roof.

…the little theater, destined to be placed under that shingled roof.

Outside the ice cream store.

Outside the ice cream store.

Pumpkins can wear masks, too.

Pumpkins can wear masks, too.

14Crissys

This week, Hansel and Gretel discover a house made of sweet squashes and gourds, and....

This week, Hansel and Gretel discover a house made of sweet squashes and gourds, and….

...a witch!

…a witch!

Outside the Newcastle Public House, this pumpkin became a giant cheeseburger, with the pumpkin seeds transformed into sesame seeds.  This one gets my vote for Best Carved Pumpkin Ever.

Outside the Newcastle Public House, this pumpkin became a giant cheeseburger, with the pumpkin seeds transformed into sesame seeds. This one gets my vote for Best Carved Pumpkin Ever.

And of course, what is a pumpkin festival without a little humor? After a day of seeing huge, enormous, gigantic pumpkins, resting their great weight on stacks of wooden palettes, I loved seeing this:

24ClarkFarmStand

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“…dark furrow lines grid the snow, punctuated by orange abacus beads of pumpkins…”

― John Geddes, author, “A Familiar Rain”

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After: Brush-Clearing Part 1

The Father and Family weed-whacking crew arrived at 2 o’clock Sunday, and stayed for 4.5 hours. I have never seen so much accomplished in such a short time. The crew was 3 teens, and they waded into the tall weeds and stands of sumac saplings armed only with weed whackers. Their dad hauled off four truckloads of debris. You’ve seen the “Before” shots in my last post. Here are the “After” shots:

The weeds and stands of sumac saplings are gone from this half of the field

The weeds and stands of sumac saplings are gone from this half of the field. The two walls are now much more visible.

Here are a few more shots of their efforts:

This was the Shady Corner.  The curve of the garden remains, but taking the weeds out shows that there is no rock border here.

This was the Shady Corner. The curve of the garden remains, but taking the weeds out shows that there is no rock border here.

Now the three spikes, mostly likely used as fence supports, are clearly visible.

Now the three spikes, mostly likely used as fence supports, are clearly visible.

Back in the corner where we found the leather straps and horse tack, the crew found more iron.  That large spring is too heavy for me to lift even one end of it.

Back in the corner where we found the leather straps and horse tack, the crew found more iron. That large spring is too heavy for me to lift even one end of it.

The weeds had covered this broken plastic barrel. I  am looking forward to pulling it out of the field.

The weeds had covered this broken plastic barrel. I am looking forward to pulling it out of the field.

You can see where the bramble canes and weeds had flopped onto the lawn.  Weeding reveals that this area as well is without a rock border.

You can see where the bramble canes and weeds had flopped onto the lawn. Weeding reveals that this area as well is without a rock border.

And finally, you can see where this stand of sumac saplings was thinned. More thinning to come!

And finally, you can see where this stand of sumac saplings was thinned. More thinning to come!

This is just the beginning. Father and Family are due to come back in a few weeks. In the meantime, Husband and I will continue to pull trash out, and try to determine how much of the field is rock ledge and how much is soil. I waver between wanting a flowers-only garden, or a flowers-plus-vegetables/farm garden. These are nice decisions to have to make! I am not complaining — how could I possibly, with so many fewer weeds taunting me?! The Taming of the Field has begun, and I am ready for the long effort ahead.

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows.”

— Doug Larson (1926 – ), journalist whose quotes frequently show up on t-shirts

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Moving: Tossed and Found

We are mostly moved. We still have items in a storage pod in Portland that need to be added to the cardboard pyramid in the basement, but other than that, all of our items are safely within the house.

It wasn’t easy. The move was epic on both ends, but made bearable by cheerful movers, understanding friends, cooperative dogs, and a forgiving spouse. We are here.

Naturally, my eyes and attention are entranced with our new yard and gardens. I’ve moved from a 1.3-acre plot, mostly unusable steep hillside, to a flat 2 acres. The land clearly has at least 3 almost-underground streams crossing the width of the property, but I’m looking at those streams as assets to irrigation rather than as barriers to planting. The house looks out onto a lawn, a row of large granite blocks, a thick patch of goldenrod and sumac, and a lovely tumbling stone wall. I have plans for the area between the two borders of rock depending on what is below those weeds and weed trees. Is it dry enough for flowers and vegetables? Or is it so wet that I will have to build raised beds before planting anything? Is it all rock ledge, and so only suitable for ground coverings and artful seating arrangements? (Will I return from The Common Ground Festival next weekend and decide: Hang the garden! I’m running goats and chickens on this ground!)

We have a father and son team coming over today to start cutting and hauling the brush for us. Here is what faces them:

The Two Walls and the Mystery Area between them:
BeforeTwoWalls

This shady corner faces our neighbor to the southwest:
BeforeShadyCorner

This is the full length of the mystery area, facing our neighbor to the northeast. His property is several acres of beautiful meadow:
BeforeFullLengthTowardsNeighbor

Husband and I have walked/struggled through these weeds several times since our move. We found garbage tossed about, and left – TV’s and such – and decided to clear out as much as we could find before our brush cutters arrived today. We found evidence that this property was indeed once a horse farm. Here are a few of our discoveries today:

We found this huge rectangular piece of metal partially buried. We have no idea what it is:
GarbageRectangularMetal

We found 3 metal spikes, aligned, and one is still attached to a fence post. The spikes are immovable, and Husband thinks the farmer might have drilled into the rock ledge to secure the spikes and posts as fencing for the horses:

PostAndSpike

We found a lot of stuff that can only be called garbage: rolls of old wire, boards studded with nails, random bits of metal, plastic sheeting, a huge sodden rug bound with bungee cords (possible script for CSI racing through my head at that one), and the seat to a tractor:

GarbageWireAndSeat

Next to the tractor seat we found an intact scotch glass (possible script for a Twilight Zone episode is writing itself in my head):

ScotchGlass

We found many leather straps, with buckles and tack for horses. I love these.
RectangleCircleHarness
HookAndBuckle
TwoSilverOneBrassHarness

We also found several items that might serve as sculptural elements in the garden some day. I have them on the granite blocks next to the deck, drying in the sun. I will see if I still like them after I brush the mud and moss off of them.

But without question, my favorite “found” item today was the steering column and wheel from that long-ago tractor:
SteeringWheelPlus<a

If we ever do build a beautiful garden, with scented flowers and shaded chairs and tables, this steering wheel will grace that garden. Count on it – I have plans for this recovered treasure.

Next up: The “After” pictures to the “Before"'s I shared with you today.

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“To play safe, I prefer to accept only one type of power: the power of art over trash, the triumph of magic over the brute.”

— Vladimir Nabokov

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I am starting to say good-bye. My garden is part of my very essence. We came to this home five years ago: a lovely house, and an untended yard. Husband built me a 50 X 40′ garden on a south-facing slope. It was perfectly positioned, with rich, black soil. We planted, tended, harvested, and breathed. Here is how this garden fed me, body and soul for the last 5 years.

2009: The grass is removed, the borders are defined, and the deer fencing is up.

2009: The grass is removed, the borders are defined, and the deer fencing is up.


The trellises are in place, the paths are lined with newspaper to suppress weeds and covered in straw to please the eye.

The trellises are in place, the paths are lined with newspaper to suppress weeds and covered in straw to please the eye.

After one year, I’d settled in, and 2010 was the most spectacular year in the garden. I had enough time on the weekends and during the week to tend to the garden. I planted, experimented, harvested, stored, shared, and reveled.

2010: Lush!

2010: Lush!

Here are a few of my favorite crops:

Good Mother Stallard beans are an heirloom variety of dry shelling bean.  I love working in the hot summer garden to have something delicious to eat in the frozen winter.

Good Mother Stallard beans are an heirloom variety of a dry shelling bean. I love working in the hot summer garden to have something delicious to eat in the frozen winter.

Good Mother Stallard beans, shelled.  A feast for the eyes, too!

Good Mother Stallard beans, shelled. A feast for the eyes, too!


Broccoli, dicicco, the Italian variety.  I preferred this variety and the Lacinato variety of kale, as both were sweeter and lighter in presentation than their American counterparts.

Broccoli, the Italian variety. I preferred this variety and the Lacinato variety of kale, as both were sweeter and lighter in presentation than their American counterparts.

I chose flowers, herbs, and vegetables for many reasons. One of the most delightful was to attract pollinators:

The buddelia bushes attract everything with wings.  It is living art.

The buddelia bushes attract everything with wings. It is living art.


Bumblebee on Marigold.  I'm also happy to report that in the last 5 years, I've seen the population of honeybees increase significantly.

Bumblebee on Marigold. I’m also happy to report that in the last 5 years, I’ve seen the population of honeybees increase significantly.

I experimented with different techniques in planting, staking, and harvesting. My favorite exploration was with the Florida Weave: a method of staking tomato plants that supports their branches at regular intervals by weaving string between posts.

The first row of string supports the new plant.

The first row of string supports the new plant.

I did battle with pests. Let’s start with the insect variety. I learned that products that show the initials OMRI on the label are environmentally safe to use. I used Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew to rescue my brassicas from the ravages of moth larvae:

BEFORE:  Ravaged kale.

BEFORE: Ravaged kale.


AFTER:  The recovery was dramatic.

AFTER: The recovery was dramatic.

I did epic battle with chipmunks. The little varmints discovered my delicious, young bean plants one year, and completely wiped me out.

The growing vines were cleanly nipped, and the plants never recovered that year.  NO GREEN BEANS. Disaster.

The growing vines were cleanly nipped, and the plants never recovered that year. NO GREEN BEANS. Disaster.


I spent the summer trapping and releasing (miles away) 37 chipmunks.  MacKenzie was interested in this process.

I spent the summer trapping and releasing (miles away) 37 chipmunks. MacKenzie was interested in this process.

I discovered and used fabulous tools. My favorites:

Compost Turner:  Insert deeply into compost, turn, and lift.  The compost is fluffed and aerated.  I admit it, only a Garden Geek would find this thrilling.

Compost Turner: Insert deeply into compost, turn, and lift. The compost is fluffed and aerated. I admit, only a Garden Geek would find this thrilling.


The broadfork.  It aerates the soil without disturbing the tilth.  Place, step down, rock back, remove.  Again, thrilling.

The broadfork. It aerates the soil without disturbing the tilth. Place, step down, rock back, remove. Again, thrilling!

I made cloches out of milk jugs to get a jump-start on the growing season. I cut off the bottom of the jugs, cut a hole in the handle, pressed a stake through the handle into the earth, and made a mini-greenhouse around delicate seedlings. My neighbor asked if I was growing a crop of heavy cream. 🙂

Pea plants are sprouting under those jugs.

Pea plants are sprouting under those jugs.

I took great delight in starting seeds indoors and Husband made me gorgeous wooden seed trays. Like everything he puts his mind to, the results were both functional and beautiful:

3 out of 8 trays: Pre-polyurethane.

3 out of 8 trays: Pre-polyurethane.


The trays in place, by my office window.

The trays in place, by my office window.

Another fabulous tool is the soil-block press. This particular one makes four 2″ square cubes at a time. These cubes allow the seedlings to grow without becoming root bound.

The first soil cubes go into the tray.  Ready for planting!

The first soil cubes go into the tray. Ready for planting!

I had bountiful harvests. We ate like kings, I had more than enough to share, and I tried my hand at canning. An enormous amount of work up-front, but we reaped the rewards all winter long. Another benefit of canning: you do not fear power outtages and losing an entire harvest in the defrosted freezer. Here are a few photos of the bounty:

A basket of beans next to a heavily laden zinnia.

A basket of beans next to a heavily laden zinnia.


Harvested green, because frost threatened that night.  These were wrapped in newspaper to ripen, and made into sauce.

Harvested green, because frost threatened that night. These were wrapped in newspaper to ripen, and made into sauce.


Too many tomatoes to can immediately?  I froze them, and canned at my leisure.  They resembled bags filled with croquet balls!

Too many tomatoes to can immediately? I froze them, and canned at my leisure. They resembled bags filled with croquet balls!

Garlic, hanging to dry.

Garlic, hanging to dry.

Jar after jar of pickles.  Dill and sweet!

Jar after jar of pickles. Dill and sweet!


Jalapeno peppers, the Dulce (sweet/mild) variety.  I froze many and canned even more.

Jalapeno peppers, the Dulce (sweet/mild) variety. I froze many and canned even more.

I took the overflow into my office on a regular basis. Here is one morning’s offering:

This was in 2010, so to my 2012-13 office-mates, please forgive!  I was growing flowers almost exclusively during my time with you.

This was in 2010, so to my 2012-13 office-mates, please forgive! I was growing flowers almost exclusively during my time with you.

I experimented with craft projects from my gardens. Two of my favorites:

Ristra peppers became...

Ristra peppers became…

...a curtain of sorts.  I harvested enough to make curtains for both windows.  They dried, and were a cheery decoration that looked especially nice during the holidays!

…a curtain of sorts. I harvested enough to make curtains for both windows. They dried, and were a cheery decoration that looked especially nice during the holidays!

And then there were the decorative gourds that became bird houses:

I dried them until you could hear the seeds rattling inside.

I dried them until you could hear the seeds rattling inside.


I used a dremel to grind a hole, tapped out the innards, brushed them with polyurethane and hung them to dry.

I used a dremel to grind a hole, tapped out the innards, brushed them with polyurethane and hung them to dry.

And yes, we had birds move in!

I had the Summer of the Snakes. 2011 was the year when Black Rat snakes made frequent appearances, getting tangled in deer netting, and tangling our heart strings. Husband and I rescued 4 and had to bury two. It was emotional, more than a little unnerving, and ultimately gratifying to see the survivors slide away. MacKenzie was a little too interested in these events, and was banished inside the house.

Going back to where he belongs.

Going back to where he belongs.


Banished MacKenzie, broken-hearted at being removed from all the fun.

Banished MacKenzie, broken-hearted at being removed from all the fun.

Of course, the most wonderful part of having a garden is sharing it. No one shared it more regularly, and with so much enthusiasm as my dogs. Gordon, Puppy Extreme, sometimes was a little too enthusiastic, and had to be banished, for the safety of the seedlings:

On the wrong side of the fence.

On the wrong side of the fence.

And sweet MacKenzie just wanted to be near me. As long as a bed wasn’t planted, I had no objection to her using it as, well, a bed.

MacKenzie warms the soil, prior to planting.

MacKenzie warms the soil, prior to planting.

All of these topics have been discussed in past posts. You can find more info and more photos by searching for key words/phrases.

My beautiful garden. I am leaving you! I hear the new owners are thrilled with what they saw when they came to see the house, and I hope they feel about this small patch of soil as I do:

It is a place of beauty, food, scent, and solace. I hope to carry what I have learned and felt to my new garden, one gardening zone north, and a whole new Life away.

WORDS FROM OTHERS
“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”

–Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) British horticulturist, garden designer, writer

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Abundance

Is it possible to have too many peas? After dedicating every one of my 5 trellises to three varieties of peas, all planted on the same day (no succession-planting here, baby), all ripening within days, I can say unequivocally: No. Not possible.

“An embarrassment of riches” for certain. The idiom originated in 1738 in a French play, L’Embarras des richesses (1726), and has been used over time to describe too much of a good thing — love, fast cars, clothes, vacation homes, and for every gardener that lives for that first harvest of the season: the taste of food you have grown yourself.

The Photo of the Day shows my first bowl of peas, accompanied by my first cuttings of rhubarb. The rhubarb became the title player in Rhubarb Snacking Cake (recipe below, because gardeners/bakers are a sharing lot).

Abundance has been considered by the greats:

Rosalind:
Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?
— As You Like It Act 4, scene 1, 115–124

This quote from Shakespeare is a bit of smirk: While on the surface, Rosalind is speaking of abundance, she’s actually talking about male genitalia. (One of the many reasons I love Shakespeare. He was both obvious and subtle, often in the same sentence.) But honestly, can’t you make a case for planting, eating, and appreciating the delights of a spoonful of perfectly cooked June peas as both a sensual AND intellectual experience?!

I’d have to answer Rosalind with a resounding “no” again — because there is no such thing as too much of a good thing. Especially if you’re talking about peas.

As promised:

Rhubarb Snacking Cake

Rhubarb layer
1 1/4 pound rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch lengths on the diagonal
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1 T lemon juice
Cake
1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 t finely grated lemon zest
/3 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/3 c. flour
1 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1/4 t ground ginger
1/3 c. sour cream
Crumb
1 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1/8 t table salt
1/4 t ground cinnamon
4 T sweet butter, melted

Stir together rhubarb, lemon juice and sugar and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking pan with butter or a nonstick cooking spray. Beat butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition. Whisk together flour, baking powder, 3/4 t salt and ginger in a small bowl. Add one-third of this mixture to the batter, mixing until just combined. Continue, adding half the sour cream, the second third of the flour mixture, the remaining sour cream, and then the remaining flour mixture, mixing between each addition until just combined.

Spread batter into pan. Pour the rhubarb mixture over the cake, spreading evenly.
Stir together the crumb mixture, first whisking the flour, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon together, then stirring in the melted butter. Scatter evenly over rhubarb layer. Bake cake for 50 to 60 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

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Today. May 6, 2012

Time for a status update. I still have seedlings in my office window, but I have been steadily moving them out to the garden, and I have been direct-seeding the cold-weather crops — namely lettuce, radishes, peas, beets, and spinach. I thought you’d like to see how things are growing.

Let’s start with the peas. I tried a new technique this year, suggested by Good Neighbor. Instead of having the pea vines clamber up a panel of polypropolene netting, I stuck brush in the ground, and let the wee pea tendrils grab on. What I did not expect was that the brush itself would root, and I now have pea vines growing up past the buds on the brush!

I planted three varieties of peppers this year, that will result in green, yellow, and red fruit. I planted them in the three sections of the bed, in that order, reasoning: If I can remember the order of colors on a traffic light, I will not have to label these plants:

I tried a new variety of radish this year: Easter Egg. They are darling, and come in shades of fuschia, red, light pink, and white. I love their appearance, but the germination rate has been poor. So my satisfaction with every radish harvested is a little skewed. I shouldn’t have to be this happy about every radish:

On to the beets, with their gorgeous deep red leaves:

And the lettuce. Six varieties this year. This photo shows Leprechaun:

I practice rotation-gardening, to discourage pests from becoming too comfortably entrenched, and to keep the soil healthy by not having it depleted of one nutrient or another. I have my plants on a 4-year cycle, and as luck would have it, none of my 5 trellis beds were scheduled this year for plants that required trellising. So I chose to grow bush beans instead of pole beans this year, and I will allow the cucumbers to run riot over the garden at ground level, which they’d prefer to do anyway. (Cucumbers are a lot like toddlers — tough to restrain.)

So….I knew this was the right plan, but I did hate to see those beautiful Husband-made trellis poles go unused. I had a thought: why not allow a flowering vine use of the trellis poles, weaving up and across the garden below? I love the idea of flowers in the air.

I selected scarlet runner beans, as I understand their blossoms attract hummingbirds. I loosely looped twine around the trellis poles, and planted a seed at the base of each. Because the winter has been so warm, and spring came so early (in February, actually), the seeds germinated quickly:

I also planted scarlet runner beans in the urns outside of Husband’s studio. Last year I planted Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory seeds, and they were pretty. But I grew tired of the purple-blue, and as I had seeds left over from the garden trellises, I planted the urns with these seeds, too. Look at the Photo of the Day to see the status of these plants.

As I said earlier, the winter wasn’t, and spring was early. Even so, I admit that I’ve tempted Fate by planting several varieties weeks early. I created a Safety Climate for these early starters by placing them under my milk jug cloches. On with the jugs in the late afternoon, and then off with them once the sun is up. Labor intensive, but it is a pleasant activity, again akin to taking care of a toddler: Tuck them in, wake them up, start and stop your day with the little ones. These are Calypso, a variety of dried shelling bean:

And wee kale, released early from the cloches, because these plants can take anything:

And even wee-er broccoli:

The other corner of the garden has some burly boys popping up. First, the potatoes:

And (push your chair back from the computer) here is this year’s crop of rhubarb:

Peeking beneath that Acreage of Leaf are the gorgeous reddening stems, also burly:

If there is such a thing as a manly Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie, these plants will provide.

I had another surprise in the garden this year. I planted this year’s crop of garlic in last year’s potato bed. Apparently, I did not harvest the potatoes completely, and I have some volunteers peeking up between the garlic plants:

As I was working in the garden this weekend, I was dismayed to see another crop appearing: chipmunk. It was peeping out of the drain pipe at the top of the garden. This will not be tolerated. I set the first chipmunk trap of the season on this May day:

And one final photo to end the status report for May 6th: Gordon and MacKenzie followed me faithfully around the garden and yard, sitting while I took each photo, trotting behind as I moved to the next plant, and finally, they had had enough. I was in the driveway, taking a photo of the studio urns, and they sat down with finality. That shift to the hip means they are done. There will be no more leaping up to follow me. In fact, the next movement will probably be to lie down on the warmed asphalt.

I have to agree with them. It’s been a long day. I will share photos of the flowers on the slope garden soon. They, too, are lovely and full of surprises. For an unremarkable day in May, there has been a lot to share.

WORDS FROM OTHERS:

“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today. “

~Cherokee Indian Proverb

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Get In Line!

On the 4th anniversary of digging my garden, Husband announced, “It is time to re-lay those beds.”

Sigh. That meant stakes, string, tripping over string, and lots of long, hard work. The end result? As (infuriatingly) always: perfection. Husband is an artist, and to him that means straight lines, clean edges, order — at least when it comes to building furniture or landscaping. There was no point in arguing. He was right, and I trotted along behind, toting tools, holding the tape measure, and trying not to trip.

Because my garden is on a gentle slope, and because my beds are not raised, or contained in any way by boards, they do tend to sag a bit. I tried not to draw analogies between my advancing years and my accompanying sag, and instead cheerfully helped Husband get my garden back in line.

Here are a few photos to give you an idea of the precision of this operation:

The top of the garden. Note the neat edges of the bed that will hold the carrots and beets this year.

And this is the pea bed. I asked for this first, as the peas were going in first:

The pea bed. I asked for this first, as the peas were going in first.

The far edge of the garden that borders Good Neighbor is also the source of poison ivy. I already have a case of it, as I went in to clear the edges and I forgot that the leafless vines were poison ivy vines. I guess it is a small price to pay for a clear flower bed for Red Spider zinnias, but it doesn’t feel like it right now. Here is the bed marked with string:

The newspapers are placed between the strings.  They will suppress the weeds.  The zinnias will go to the right of the paper.

The newspapers are placed between the strings. They will suppress the weeds. The zinnias will go to the right of the paper. Then I put straw on top of the newspaper, to give me a cushion-y place to walk, and to have it look nicer than a path of faded NYTimes.

Then I put straw on top of the newspaper, also to suppress the weeds, but also to give me a cushion-y place to walk, and to have it look nicer than a path of faded NYTimes.

Then I saw that my garlic, planted last fall, was Husband’s perfect evidence for the need to re-lay out the garden: I’d not paid attention to the bed’s intended borders, and (gasp!) a few garlic plants were placed OUTSIDE THE BED. Horrors.

Here it is: Garlic Out Of Line:

Rogue garlic.

And, huge relief: Garlic, relocated:

Garlic, relocated.

It was getting late. I was getting tired. Gordon, the new puppy (to be introduced to you soon in a post tentatively titled “Staff”), likes to dig (as he is part terrier, we think), and he “helped” by trying to dig.

Gordon Between The Strings, thinking about digging:

Gordon Between The Strings, thinking about digging.

And then, Gordon with his nose down, getting ready to dig:

Gordon with his nose down, getting ready to dig.

And finally, Gordon, broken-hearted, on the wrong side of the gate. Sorry, Gordon, but I chose my garden today over your feelings.

Gordon, broken-hearted, on the wrong side of the gate.  Sorry, Gordon, but I choose my garden today over your feelings.

As I said, it was becoming a very long day, with disciplined Husbands, undisciplined dogs, and Practical Amy, who just wanted to plant seeds in the dirt and stand back. I was trying to ignore the fact that I was starting to lose it, when I noticed a shadow of the cherry tree on the ground. The shadow looks like a crazy woman in the garden. I think it is MY shadow.

The shadow looks like a crazy woman in the garden. I think it is MY shadow.

Straight lines don’t really matter that much to me, although I do appreciate them. My garden already looks nicer, darn it. This beauty stuff, this Good Results stuff, always encourages Husband. I just have to accept that fact.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“When builders lay out straight lines, they use stakes and string. Although stakes and strings are low-tech, they’re almost fool proof: The shortest distance between any two points is always a straight line, even if the points are stakes driven in the ground.”

— From Home Depot, Canada, website

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