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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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I am gardening by the thermometer and tradition this year, rather than by the calendar. My Good Neighbor always told me that St. Patrick’s Day was the traditional day to plant peas, but for the past three years, I worried that the ground was too cold, the weather too damp, and the Fates just not conducive to planting so early. So I waited for the calendar to turn at least one more page.

Not this year. It has been so warm that I almost wonder if I am planting my peas too late! I planted them on St. Patrick’s Day this year, pleasing both Neighbor and my common sense.

Three varieties this year, to mature early, mid- and late:

The early variety is from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and is “Premium.” The vines grow up to 30″ and may be grown with or without support. This year I plan to try using brush to support the vines, again with Neighbor’s advice to guide me.

The mid-season variety is “Sienna,” also from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and I’m told that the vines are relatively short but set heavily for a high yield potential. I am hoping this encouraging description comes true!

The late variety is “Green Arrow,” from the Seed Saver’s Exchange. Besides the later maturation, these peas are smaller than Premium and Sienna, and bear 1-3 more peas per pod. All attractive qualities.

As I did last year, to thwart the marauding chipmunks, I planted my peas and then covered them with recycled milk jugs. These homely-but-effective cloches provide a bit of warmth and a lot of camouflage for the emerging plants. Once the peas are a few inches high, I will remove the cloches, and replace the jugs’ anchoring sticks with brush or some other form of support.

Here is the start of my 2012 Pea Garden:

It was astounding both to Husband and myself that I still don’t have enough milk jugs. I have about 15 seeds planted, but not covered. They are marked with small rocks, to cover as soon as we drink our way through gallons of milk. I am setting out a box of Carnation Instant Breakfast on the kitchen counter as a subtle hint for family members.

Once the peas are established and the jugs are removed, I will only be a few weeks away from putting the jugs back into service to cover my bush green beans and shelling beans.

Ending this post with a few Fun Facts About Peas (because you can never have too many Fun Facts):

-The United Kingdom is the largest producer of peas that are used for freezing, in Europe.

-One serving of freshly frozen peas has more vitamin C than two large apples.

-In 1533, Catherine de Medici supposedly took Italian peas, known as “piselli novelli,” to France when she married Henry II.

-In the 19th and 20th centuries, the thick London fogs were called “pea-soupers” because of their incredible thickness (density) and their slightly green color.

– Clarence Birdseye froze the first peas in the 1920’s.

-Janet Harris holds the world record for eating peas. In 1984, 7175 peas were consumed one by one in 60 minutes using chopsticks.

Source: http://www.bioweb.uwlax.edu, a collaborative website produced by faculty members of the University of Wisconsin.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Field pea (Pisum sativum, L.) was among the first crops cultivated by man. Some say the word “pea” came from Sanskrit; however, most concur that the Latin pisum, resembling the older Greek pisos or pison, is the true origin of the word. The Anglo-Saxon word became pise or pisu, and later in English, “pease”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, by 1600 the last two letters were dropped because people believed the word was plural, forming the singular “pea” that we know today.”

— Best Cooking Pulses, Inc.

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Beautiful Trays

They could just as easily have been discarded cookie sheets.

Instead, when I confessed to Husband that I am both greedy and cheap, and so wanted EIGHT trays for my soil cubes (that I use to plant seeds), and I didn’t want to pay for cookie sheets, he said, “Hmm, hmm, hmm.”

Translation: He’s about to make something for me.

He disappeared into the workshop, and later that day, presented me with a beautiful tray:

And then I learned the best news of all. There were 8 beautiful trays:

“Now you just have to polyurethane-the-heck out of them,” he said. (Except he didn’t say “heck.”) The polyurethane is to waterproof the trays; necessary, as I will be loading them up with moist blocks of potting mix: a blend of compost, sand, soil, and amendments. I was delighted. I would indeed treat them like heck.

Enter the tools:

In this photo: MinWax, polyurethane supreme; a screwdriver to open the lid, a brush for the poly, and a hammer to tap the lid back down.

And so I started:

The tack cloth removed the dust created from assembly. It's pink!

Then I applied the first of 4 coats of polyurethane:

I love how the polyurethane darkens the color of the wood and brings out the grain.

It took several days. Husband and I took turns applying the coats, flipping the trays over, until all were completely sealed against the damp.

Then came the day to bring them back into the house, and place them on the seed rack by my office window. Look how pretty:

And two more views:

And so, the garden of 2012 began weeks earlier than I expected. I thought my Starting Pistol would fire on March 20th, when I mixed the potting soil, set the formed cubes on rusty cookie sheets, and planted my peppers and thyme seeds. Instead, I had the great fun of helping to finish the beautiful trays for the soil cubes 4 weeks earlier. I was reminded of the quote that appears in “Words From Others,” appreciating once again Mr. Wright’s crystal clear reality. I was very willing to start my walking early, and look what I found at the end of the journey!

Almost a shame to fill these trays with dirt. (Except that this dirt is going to be GORgeous!)

WORDS FROM OTHERS

Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.

— Steven Wright, American comedian, actor (1955- )

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Status, June 4, 2011

A lot has happened in the garden since I last posted. There is so much to see and so much growth to measure in these early June days. The cold rains of May have vanished, and we have had several steamy hot days. Those days comforted the tomato plants and I’m happy to report that their posture has improved. The flowers primped in the heat, and now the butterflies are paying court.

The Words of the Day for this post are from George Washington, who also noticed plant growth, and often found it a convenient analogy. Whether the plants were growing slowly or rapidly, he had something to say about it. I would agree: There is a lot of friendship and even more liberty in a garden.

I am also happy to report that I have seen 6 honeybees already, legs loaded with pollen, when I only counted 4 for the entire season last year.

As always, a venture into the garden involves MacKenzie. These are confusing times for her. She was always welcome, in whatever emotional state she was currently experiencing, when I was first digging the beds and securing the fencing. Her impact was minimal. Then Germination arrived, and her life changed. She has mostly been banished, because the seedlings are delicate and she is not. She is certain the garden is under assault from chipmunks (she is correct) and rabbits (one baby, so far), and her first instinct is to tear into the garden and race up and down the rows in hot pursuit, which is better described as focused hysteria when one is referring to labrador retrievers. Enough. While I admire her intent, I’m choosing my seedlings over her ego, and she knows now to sit and wait at the gate. Evidence:

She's entirely too eager right now. As soon as she settles down, she will be welcomed in.

I began my assessment with the flowers in the garden. We have several flat beds by the front porch, and a steep slope garden that leads down to the lawn. The sun is perfect for perennials. Evidence:

The lavender blooms are a few days away from perfection. Hidcote variety.

Echinacea, alba. This variety was promoted as having a vanilla scent and to be attractive to butterflies. No, and definitely yes.

The blossoms of the milkweed are pinking-up. The butterflies adore the flowers. Monarch caterpillars are especially fond of this plant, and I've photographed many of them visiting.

Those last three are part of my flat-bed gardens. Now to the slope:

Catmint has lovely gray/blue leaves, blue blossoms, and it spreads. Who could ask for anything more?

The catmint is loaded with tiny butterflies. They are some type of skipper, but I'm not sure of the exact type. I need a field guide to butterflies!

The Photo of the Day shows the last of the slope flowers I photographed today. On to the vegetable garden, to see how things are progressing:

Beautiful basil. Genovese.

Beets, but you'd hardly know it. The reddish leaves are just visible, and they are coming along very slowly indeed.

Broccoli, DeCicco. Only 6 seedlings survived, and so I have direct seeded into the bed. I cannot have enough!

Garlic, bold and commanding.

Kale, lacinato. Much to Husband's dismay, every seedling survived and is doing very, very well.

Three lettuces have emerged (I’m waiting for two others):

Lettuce, Amish Deertongue

Green looseleaf lettuce, a butterhead variety.

Red Romaine lettuce.

We have had two salads already, feeding 5 of us, from the lettuce and the spinach. I’m giving the plants a few days rest, before bringing my basket back into the garden before dinner.

Spinach, America. A little later in the season I will plant New Zealand spinach, which looks and tastes like spinach, but is not. I will share photographs of the two seeds, as proof, in a later post.

Rhubarb. This is what is left of my 5 monstrous plants after harvesting stalks for delivery to a local organic food market. And Eldest made a spectacular rhubarb upside-down cake. I have, perhaps, one more harvest to enjoy this season.

Garrison Keillor spoke about zucchini in one Prairie Home Companion broadcast. He alluded to the plant’s astounding production by commenting, “July is the only season of the year when Lutherans lock their cars in the church parking lot. They know that if they don’t, they will find bags of zucchini on the front seat when church has ended.”

My summer squash plants, baby zucchini and a yellow variety named “Zephyr,” are already so large that I am a bit alarmed.

These plants are so healthy that I am afraid. Very afraid.

Peas and beans. I had none last year, thanks to the marauding chipmunks. Earlier posts have described my battles, and I have achieved success — so far. I covered the emerging seedlings with cloches made of plastic milk jugs. Once the plants are approximately 6-8″ tall, the chipmunks lose interest. Here are a few photos of my beans sprouting:

Speckled Cranberry, a bean for drying, has a lovely seed that is tan speckled with red. The seedling has shed that coat and emerged pale white and green. I moved the cloche away so that you can see it clearly.

The cloche is anchored with a stake through the handle. This keeps it in place against the wind and against thieves masquerading as striped darlings.

And finally, the success story that is my pea plants:

Peas, Maxigolt, or as I call them: Amy's Triumph.

The potatoes are doing beautifully:

The trench is filled with potatoes now.

As are the peppers:

Pepper, Ancho Gigantea.

And my Cosmos seedlings. These are planted near the peas. By the time the peas are past, these plants will be ready to stretch out and up, to command that corner of the garden.

Cosmos, Sensation. This variety sports blossoms in red, pink, and white.

By the time I finished photographing, MacKenzie had calmed down. She was allowed inside the garden, and dutifully sat where instructed. Sharing the garden with a calm lab is a lovely way to end the day.

She agrees.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”

— George Washington

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Seedlings, 2011

And so it begins: the Seedlings of 2011. The plant tray with steady, adjustable artificial light is next to my keyboard, and the window is filled with the plant display rack, given by our generous and good neighbors, that holds three more trays.

I started herbs, vegetables, and flowers indoors, reluctantly setting aside the “direct seed” packets for planting in the garden when the calendar dictates. This is a supreme exercise in self-control for me. My instinct is to start every plant indoors, but I have so many that I fear I’d be the subject of a new reality show: Seed Starter: The Truth, The Tragedy.

There I’d be, smiling and wide-eyed in disbelief, “But I don’t have too many seedlings. I was put on this Earth to start seeds!” And my children and husband, hollow-eyed, dabbing at dribbling tears, “At first they were just in her office. But now there are seed trays everywhere — the tables, the chairs, our beds, the dog bowl!” (cut to mournful MacKenzie, sad eyed, sniffing the zinnia seedlings that have replaced her kibble)

But I do have self-control, and I have limited myself (ahem) to 228 soil-blocks for planting seeds. Here is what is sharing my office these days:

A close look at the tomatoes. I confess, I am most eager for these seedlings to do well. I can do without anything, except tomatoes.

Tomatoes, broccoli, kale and peppers to the left, borage and herbs to the right.

And at my left elbow:

Keeping the seedlings as close as possible.

And in the window:

Zinnias in the foreground, calendulas towards the wall, both arching and waving towards the sunlight.

The hollyhocks start to emerge, with my boxes of seed packets and oh-so-elegant watering vessels below.

I start and end each day with them, checking on their progress, thinning out the weaker individual in each block (and I will never feel entirely comfortable with culling), and watering when needed. They are with me for such a short time, so I appreciate every minute.

P.S. Take note of the new “widget” (that’s what “wordpress” calls them) to the right: Chipmunk Scorecard. I will keep track through the season of who is winning the Amy vs. Thieves contest. I trapped one chipmunk already, and relocated him, much to MacKenzie’s dismay. No plants have emerged in my garden, so there has been no opportunity for the chipmunks to score. The 1-0 score, while in my favor, is not something to brag about. Yet.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Every seed is awakened, and all animal life.

— Sitting Bull

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Spring, Indoors

I planted 228 soil-blocks yesterday. I started my indoor-seeds, and 228 did not seem like enough. But it was a good start.

I actually “planted” my first seeds in the refrigerator. My eldest daughter was captivated by the photo of Himalayan Blue Poppies, and so I bought a packet for her. Apparently you need to trick the seeds into thinking they’re in the Himalayas, and so you start the cultivation process by chilling them for three weeks.

Into a baggie, and into the bottom-most bin in the refrigerator they went!

It was a cold, sunny, windy day. I made the soil-block mixture in the wheelbarrow: top soil, a bucket of compost, and greensand, cottonseed meal and “super phosphate.” I set the trays on the picnic table, planting outside what was about to come INside.

The wind made some seeds particularly difficult to sow (think zinnias), but that’s why we have quiet Sundays — to calmly work through difficulties. It was such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Here are the vegetables I started indoors:

Tiny little black balls that stayed obligingly in my hand.

Also teeny-tiny little balls.

The first of three types of peppers this year, and I love the warm yellow of the flat seeds.

Sweet red peppers for my sweet daughters.

And the last, a yellow pepper said to be suitable for stuffing. I will report back to you on this claim.

One bed will be entirely devoted to these paste tomatoes.

And the slicing tomatoes will share their bed with the rhubarb.

The sole photographic representative of the flower seeds I planted this year.

I also planted these flower seeds: Lemon Gem marigolds, Queen Sophia marigolds, Wee Willie dianthus, Black Bowles violas, pink and black hollyhocks from Friend Cass in Colorado, and Candycane zinnias.

I also planted the following herbs: borage, spearmint, hyssop, thyme, lemon balm, basil, and parsley.

Next weekend I will plant my peas, spinach, and lettuce. Photos and commentary to come.

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“Men love to wonder, and that is the seed of science.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As I prepare to leave my home and my seed packets for a week, taking Youngest to visit colleges, I’m adding two jars of Good Mother Stallard beans to my bags. They are Hostess Gifts, and I will present them along with the recipe below. What better gift to give in Frozen February, than the results of last summer’s bountiful harvest?

From “The Ranco Gordo Newsletter”: “They’re great for so many reasons but I think it’s their “pot likker” that gets me the most.”

Good Mother Stallard Bean Stew
Yield 2 to 4 servings
Time At least 2 hours

Ingredients

* 1/2 pound Good Mother Stallard (or other good dried beans)
* 2 1/4- inch slices of pancetta, diced
* 1 diced carrot
* 1 diced onion
* 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary
* A few handfuls of arugula, or another tender green
* Salt and pepper to taste

Method

* 1. Cook the beans until tender, about 2 hours. Check them frequently — they absorb liquid more quickly than most dried beans.
* 2. Sauté the pancetta in a bit of olive oil until just golden. Add the diced onions and carrots and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rosemary.
* 3. Add the beans and about a quarter cup of their liquid. You can add more depending on how thick a stew you want. When the mixture is heated through, add the arugula and continue cooking until it’s wilted. Adjust the liquid to your taste, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Source: The New York Times

WORDS FROM OTHERS

“When God blesses the harvest, there is enough for the thief as well as the gardener.”

— Polish saying

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