You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2007.

Have I mentioned that I’m already thinking about next year’s seeds? I was thinking about them while still raising my seedlings this year. Now that I have the prospect of brassicas sprouting from the ground soon (it would be too early today, but you can bet I’ll be moving the severely bolted cilantro–now I’m really growing coriander–out of the way to check anyway), I’m thinking about it even more.

It doesn’t help that I keep hearing about how the price of food is going up, partly due to corn being used as a replacement for oil, and the price thereby going up. So I can’t help indulging in survivalist fantasies and wondering whether I should be planning on growing more of my own food, and maybe getting my husband to like winter squash a little better. Also my circle of family and friends are the type of people who talk about who would do what if we moved onto a fifty-acre commune, against the end of civilization or otherwise. (Aside from being an amateur gardener, I can also spin, knit, sew–somewhat–and do basic things like cooking and simple carpentry. We also have, among other things, a nurse, a hunter, and a leatherworker. We still need a metalsmith, a woodworker, an animal husbander, a…)

And then there’s the simple fact that this growing food thing is a lot of fun. And I was a biology major for a reason. And my husband is a total enabler because he knows it’s not a complete money drain, since I keep running out to the garden at dinnertime and bringing food back (“We don’t have any carrots,” I said when we were discussing dinnertime yesterday, then, “Oh, wait, I have some in the garden,” and he laughed) and it makes me happy.

So in my spare time at work, I’ve been going through online seed catalogs and reading about other people’s gardens and thinking about what I would grow, if I were in charge of the garden on that fifty-acre commune, or what I should be saving for if the economy does go to hell and I get laid off (because my job is not what I’d call essential) and we’re poor. In the winter, when the new stuff has come out (changing my plans, I’m sure) and it’s time to actually order, I’ll pare it down to what interests me most, and try to remember that I have plenty more years in which to try other things.

The current full list would cost about $150. My first pass at a paring-down brings me to $80. None of this includes shipping or taxes. I have currently spent around $250 this year on garden stuff, but some of that was one-time costs (stakes, dirt, a rake). I would like to keep the total cost below $75, preferably below $50, especially since we’re getting paving stones and more dirt for the new garden.

In other words, I’m going to have to clamp down on my magpie desire to pick up anything that looks interesting. (It’s a purple bean! It may be the pea Mendel used in his experiments! A tincture of it acts as cold medicine! The Hopis used it for dye!) Either that, or do some serious swapping and sharing with other seed buyers. Any takers? I can’t be alone in this. Maybe in the elaborate survivalist planning, but not in the desire to grow everything.

It rained hard last night. I rejoiced, glad that it was raining and even gladder that I had just planted some fall crops–broccoli and cauliflower in the beds where the now-bolting lettuce and peas very recently were, plus a smattering of radishes and some baby spinach. And six more green beans, though I doubt anything will come of them.

This morning I went out to the garden before work to check on things and did not rejoice: four of my bamboo-staked tomatoes had fallen over. My work pants are now dotted with wet dirt from where dirt had splashed on tomato leaves. I snapped the top off the Cherokee Purple plant getting it back upright–it needed it anyway, but some flowers came off with it and that made me sad.

Tonight I’ll be checking out the support situation more thoroughly. If nothing else, I have some fallen tree branches I could tie to the stakes as necessary for extra support. I haven’t come this far to be stymied by mechanical errors.

I love serendipity. I made a gorgeous quinoa salad last night, with tomatoes and corn and black beans and herbs from the garden (I will be so sad when winter arrives and no fresh herbs are to be had–though my friend tells me freezing them works well). I’ve never had quinoa before, except for an ill-fated experiment in which I didn’t cook it properly, and it turns out I adore it. It’s tasty and pretty and has a good texture.

So of course I looked it up to see if I could grow it. (The answer is maybe–it likes cool nights, which we haven’t been having around here lately. I may try it anyway, though.) And in the different sources I found and read, I repeatedly read that it’s part of the family that includes pigweed and lambs’ quarters. I hadn’t heard of these, so I looked up lambs’ quarters and it turns out I know it very well…it’s what’s infesting half of my garden right now.

I love knowing what it is I’m cursing and yanking out of the ground. Everyone knows dandelions, but now I have bindweed, Japanese knotweed, and lambs’ quarters as part of my vocabulary.

As a bonus, that page also told me why some of the leaves have red dots and lines in them–leaf miner larvae–and that I should therefore be wary when I’m picking Swiss chard (and spinach, only I’ve torn out all my plants already). My Swiss chard is a litte holey, but I didn’t worry too much about that. Now, though…now I’m going to watch out.

I didn’t do everything on my garden to-do list today, but I did some. I weeded part of the driveway beds–the weeds that were actually starting to flower, anyway–and I tied up the tomatoes, and I dumped dirt over the potatoes–I still don’t really understand this part, and I suspect I’m going to get a poor crop because of it–and I picked the last of the peas. And a few other things.

Harvest

There’s my first ripe zucchini of the season, in its Crayola-yellow, six-ounce glory. I picked the basil because I noticed most of the plants were trying to flower–those are the tops–and the onions because I knew I wanted to cook the zucchini with onions as well as basil and at this point everything else was coming out of the garden anyway. I had a delicious dinner (blogged here and here–my God, how interesting can one dinner be?), munching on the carrots while I made it.

And the peas? I don’t know about the peas. I left them too long. I knew I had, and when I went out there today I saw without surprise that the plants are starting to brown. (I did see one last intrepid white blossom. Poor thing.) I picked every pod I saw, including some brown ones and some tiny ones with only one or two peas in them. What do I do with them? They’re probably not very good; I noticed the best-tasting ones last time were the smaller, less ripe ones. I hadn’t intended to save these for seed, but perhaps I will. Or perhaps I’ll let them all dry and have a glorious split-pea soup–I think I can do that, can’t I? What about the ones that were just ripe, will those work? I don’t know. But I wasn’t heavily invested in the peas to begin with, so I can wait and see without too heavy a heart.

The quilt is finished, the baby shower has been attended, and Sunday has been spent in a lot of reading and napping and doing nothing of real significance. I meant to spread mulch, but I didn’t. I meant to pick the peas again and hill the potatoes, but I didn’t. (I did notice, when I went out for Swiss chard for last night’s dinner, that one of them is flowering a lovely lavender.) I meant to do a Green Thumb Sunday entry, maybe the sole rose on my property, maybe that potato flower, maybe the lush weeds in the driveway (I’m not killing them, but am I technically growing them?), but I didn’t.

I needed the break. I have another quilt to work on, but it has no deadline since it’s for us, so no rush there. However, the garden needs working on. At some point a few weeks ago I had weeded thoroughly, and so for several days after that I didn’t weed, thinking “But I already did it.” That was a mistake, which I rectified at the cost of lots of hard work and a heat rash. And of course now I need to weed again, and mulch and hill the potatoes and pick the peas, and potentially cut off the tops of my tomatoes since they’re outgrowing the supports I gave them. (Taller supports next year.) And decide whether I’m going to try saving seeds from my cantaloupe and cucumber plants this year or just do the easy stuff and save that for next year.

And I need to attend to my mother-in-law’s garden. We’re watching the house while she’s gone, watering and feeding the fish, and she asked me specifically to get rid of the purslane in her front bed. Her roommate asked me to pick and freeze the currants and gooseberries as they ripen, and over the weekend we did that–and stole their first ripe raspberry, too. It was delectable. Did I mention that my poor, sad specimen of a raspberry bush had five berries? And one was ripening? And when I went out to pick it I found something had already taken it? I told Eric I don’t like the garden critters in Ohio. I imagine having a more flourishing raspberry plant would help, though.

Oh, and one more task: pick the first of my Gold Rush zucchini (and maybe the second too, depending on how it looks today). It’s zucchini season!

I picked a bunch of peas last night and shelled them while reading Death of a Doxy, by Rex Stout. (This didn’t work particularly well, and wouldn’t have worked at all if it hadn’t been a hardcover and the peas in a relatively big bowl.) I got about a cup’s worth. I blanched them and used them in aloo mutter (of a sort), and they were delicious. I will probably get another crop, but that may well be it–I’m seeing some browning at the bottom that I assume means they’re tired and/or in trouble.

I don’t think I’m getting anything out of my broccoli plants. I’m trying to decide at what point I give up on florets and just eat the leaves. Might as well get something out of them, right? And there’s always the fall to try again. Apparently I should be planting cauliflower in about a month for fall harvest. Works for me–if the peas aren’t dead by then, I have space behind the amaranth plants. (After weeks of slow, chewing-inhibited growth, they’re taking off. That chewing part? Is foreshadowing. Or at least more evidence of my idiocy.)

I planted a pumpkin sprout in the garden the other day. Today I went to look at it and it was gone. Completely. I dug around where I’d planted it and eventually found the peat pot bits that had gone into the dirt with it, plus a sad, bitten-down-to-the-ground stem.

I knew my fence was no longer working; I’d stumbled over it a couple of times (I knew I would do that), making it too low, and I’d seen a few small weeds that looked chomped. And the amaranth. But my plants are mostly old and tough enough that the rabbits haven’t seemed interested. This pumpkin, though…I feel like I betrayed it. Is that silly? I also feel disappointed–I wanted to grow my own pumpkins, and that was the only pumpkin seed that sprouted. (I think I have a couple more. But germination has, obviously, been lousy.) And at the same time I’m vaguely relieved: the cucumber, squash, and cantaloupe are starting to take off and cover their half of the raised bed with vines, and the pumpkin would have been just as bushy in a less convenient part of the garden.

But I do have those few extra seeds. And it won’t hurt anything to try again. I have leftover fencing that I could encircle a seedling with.

Here’s what that weed I allowed to live looks like these days:

Weed 6-17-07

It doesn’t…quite…smell like a tomato plant. Unless I’m prejudiced, which I might be. But it smells like something. It’s in the driveway bed, plenty of sun, no water other than what the sky has dropped on it except for when I planted it. There’s a Taxi tomato caticorner to it, and you can see one of the branches for comparison.

It looks like a tomato. And it has flowers like a tomato. For a while I was thinking maybe it was sterile, but there are a couple of slender blossoms just appearing now, so no. I’ll have to wait for fruit for a better identification, though.

I made homemade pesto tonight with basil from my garden. Fresh pesto = wow. I have some in a jar from Trader Joe’s sometimes and it’s perfectly pleasant, but this stuff is a serious upgrade. (Oh dear, I’m channeling Mimi Smartypants.) I could use less parmesan next time, though. And I’ve still got to try cilantro-walnut, once I work up the determination to sort the leaves from the flowers on my out-of-control cilantro plant.

For Green Thumb Sunday, here’s the most recent flower I’ve grown:

Quilt flower

I don’t know what you’d name it; I’ve been calling it the H flower (I couldn’t tell you why).

Okay, so that doesn’t technically fall within the guidelines of Green Thumb Sunday, though since I’m not participating officially anyway, I’m not sure it matters. (Like the Three-Day novel I unofficially wrote a couple of years ago. I did participate officially a couple of years before that.) Try my back porch, then:

Back porch, infested with plants

My back porch is infested with pots. On the porch itself are my bay tree (growing much faster than I thought it would; two crowns of new leaves in the past week) and the salad bowl, plus some Micro-Toms and pumpkin seed starts. On the steps, there are cosmos in the tallest terra cotta pot, leftover wedding rocks in the smallest, hyssop in the middle. The red pot holds a wisteria grown from a seed my dad gave me last year. The green pot is merely holding dirt, awaiting the spilanthes that will soon be repotted in it, and the red plastic tray holds indigo seeds, one of which has sprouted.

And the plants in the black try and the white-and-green pot? Those are giant papyrus, leftover from the wedding. We bought four and cut off the tops for the centerpieces, and one disappeared to my mother-in-laws house, but I repotted one in this pot because it doesn’t have holes in the bottom and in the papyrus, a water plant, I have finally found the perfect plant to be housed by it. I love these plants, and they’re bouncing back from having their pretty mopheads cut off very well. It’s not at all winter-hardy, or I’d be planting it outside. As it is, I will have a tall, interesting houseplant that can’t possibly be overwatered. I love it.

“What should we eat?” Eric said last night.

“We should try risotto!” I said, since we had purchased arborio rice at Trader Joe’s–because several months ago at a restaurant we love, Ciao!, he had tried risotto for the first time and loved it–but haven’t used it, and it’s been months.

“Do we have the prepackaged kind?” he said. “Or should we make it ourselves?”

“We don’t have the prepackaged kind,” I said, annoyed. “We’d have to cook it ourselves. Or if that sounds too difficult–”

“Let’s cook it ourselves,” he said.

We found recipes in a couple of cookbooks (though he tried the Food Network website first) and combined them to make risotto with tomatoes and onions (since we don’t have any other vegetables in the house that we’d want to cook). “It would be nice to have something else in here,” he said while stirring the tomato broth. “Oregano, maybe?”

“Fresh?” I said.

“Ooooh,” he said.

The recipe also required fresh basil. So I took the kitchen shears out to the herb bed and cut a few sprigs of oregano and several leaves of basil. The parsley’s growing big enough that we could use bits of that, too, though not enough for tabbouleh yet. But the summer’s young.

Inside, I chopped the basil and oregano up small and put half into the broth, saving the other half to put into the risotto just before serving. “Want to try an oregano leaf?” I offered as I was taking the stems and the onion remnants to the compost box.

“Sure,” he said. “I’ve never tried it fresh.”

I gave him a tiny leaf. He chewed, then yelped. “That’s–that’s very oregano-y,” he gasped, and I laughed. The risotto was excellent.

I watered last night, and picked five plump pea pods. There are plenty of others that will be ripe soon. And these bush peas, they could have benefited from sort of support. I planted them in a mass, about two feet by two feet, and placed a decorative (because I learned last year it wasn’t good for anything but) trellis in front of it. Some of the pea plants latched onto this trellis and stretched themselves tall. The rest are hanging onto each other, and I can actually waggle the entire pea bed back and forth like a joystick. They’re hiding some serious weeds in their midst, too. This arrangement doesn’t seem to have stopped them from producing like mad, but I’m thinking I’ll try regular peas next year and trellis them.

The bush beans (Hutterite soup beans) are starting to flower. And both remaining pole bean plants have started twining around their companion sunflowers, just as I’d planned, only they’re growing faster than the sunflowers. I don’t know why the sunflowers are falling down on the job (so to speak). They’re Mammoths, after all, and they seem to be pretty healthy, even if they are the favorite perch of the red-banded leafhoppers (prettiest bug ever!) that frequent my garden.

I asked Eric to look at a small tree in the side yard where my herb garden will go next year, because I need to remove it before I can put plastic down to kill the grass. “It’s probably dead,” I added helpfully when he came out with me. “That vine strangled it.”

Indeed, it was dead. So much so that Eric put his hand on it and tugged gently, and the whole thing came up, rootless. The strangling vine (I don’t know what it is, except it’s not bindweed) will be harder to eliminate, but I have a shovel and an exercise deficit.

After that I sat on the back steps, next to pots of hyssop and spilanthes and Micro-Tom tomatoes and the salad bowl and just-started indigo and pumpkins, and three pots of papyrus left over from the wedding–my back porch will never be the same now that I’ve started this gardening madness–and read in the evening light.

Flowers and even fruit are only the beginning. In the seed lies the life and the future.

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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