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My tomatoes are big and glorious and crowding the windowsill. My peppers aren’t looking bad (which is the best I’ve ever been able to say about home-seeded peppers). My cucurbits and flowers are coming up. And the ten-day forecast suggests that it probably won’t frost, which suggests I’m probably safe to plant, since our last-frost date is in just a little over ten days. (Besides, I have some plastic covers from the Christmas before last. Or birthday? They were a gift, anyway.)

So…I think it’s time to venture into warm-weather gardening. It would be nice if Eric would mow the lawn so I could get to the garden without feeling like I’m on a safari, but I’ll manage. (It’s not really his fault. He got horribly sick and there were several heavy rains while he was out of commission, so everything is overgrown–for one thing, my front bed has sprung into being full-formed, like Athena.)

I haven’t managed to weed, certainly not since all the parsnips started coming up, so that’s first. That and hardening off. And counting my poles to see if I’ve got enough to string up the tomatoes this year. Some break every year, but I’m planting fewer than in previous years, too. Also figuring out where I’m going to plant beans.

This year does seem more ad-lib than previous years. I’m liking it.

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It was nearly fifty degrees today. I went to the store with a light coat and could have gone without one. If my yard weren’t still covered in snow, I think I would have had to do some work.

It’s been a long, slow, gray, sedentary winter, and I’m waiting for it to end. Today was a very welcome harbinger of spring. I’m still not chomping at the bit to get going on all the weeding and digging I’m going to have to do, but I do think it’ll be good for me. And it will be very nice to grow things again. We went to Home Depot today and I got a plastic “greenhouse” tray with Jiffy pots for starting seeds. Yes, I’m letting the side down by not rolling my own, but it was only five dollars for the tray plus fifty pots, and this makes it much more likely that I’ll actually do the seed-starting. And with a built-in greenhouse to keep them moist I might have a shot at successfully starting peppers and eggplant, which excites me. And it was only five dollars.

I think I’ve mentioned (can’t remember, it’s been, uh, a long time) that we’re trying to move this year, and so this year’s garden will be partly for show. I still think having a working vegetable garden will be a selling point, but it has to be a pretty garden. So my focus this year will be not on cramming as much growing into the ground as possible, but on correct spacing, enough weeding and mulching and pruning, and all those things I’ve known I should be doing but haven’t been able to bring myself to care for. It should be an interesting change of focus.

I’ve been in a bit of hibernation, I think, recovering from having a baby and then having postpartum depression and then having to figure out what life with a baby is supposed to be like. (Hint: frequent bouts of uncontrollable crying and wanting to give your baby away is not it.) (Further hint: Zoloft is awesome. So is a decent bedtime for the baby.) And of course the dying of the year didn’t help matters. But even though it’s still winter, I think I’m ready to rouse.

The current status of my garden: lousy. I got my pile of mulch (mostly grass clippings and leaves) and my newspapers, but I only managed to spread them over one corner of the vegetable garden–the corner that was recently dug up by the city to install new sewer lines and is therefore lousy as far as soil integrity. I cut down the wormwood and feverfew and some raspberries and cleared out the herb garden, but didn’t spread any mulch there either. The weed situation in the spring will be dire.

Inside, my papyrus is dying. I could say it’s a symbol that the previous incarnation of our marriage (this was a decoration at our wedding) is dead because the baby caused a new one to be born with her own birth, but actually it’s scale. I hate scale. It came into my house with what was the Meyer lemon, now whatever-kind-of-citrus-they-used-as-rootstock. It’s still out on my back porch, frozen to death. I let it die partly out of laziness and partly out of pique.

The seed catalogs have arrived, which is partly responsible for rousing me from my nature-starved slumber. I’m not planning on buying anything, because I have lots of seeds and we’re hoping to move out of the house before the main harvest hits, but I’m enjoying looking and thinking about I would buy, if. And there’s plenty of room for dreaming and planning and experimenting in my seed box already. So, despite my dark thoughts on the subject not long ago, I’m going to–slowly, because a baby really does cut into your free time–start preparing for a new gardening year.

There’s a spot in the vegetable garden that’s always bugged me (even ignoring the rabbit warren/weed invasion issues). It’s on the east side of the Asian pear, the bit between the tree, the raised bed, and the compost box. It’s too crowded to be a good place to grow vegetables but it’s too big just to be a pathway. The neighbor mentioned a while ago that the corner garden she put in next to the fence is a butterfly garden, and it struck me that that would be an excellent thing to do with this space: get rid of the weeds and general detritus left from using it as the auxiliary compost pile, maybe do some lasagna garden-type layering, plant some nice bushy beneficial-insect-attracting flowers, and mulch the heck out of it. Of course with her butterfly garden just on the other side of the fence it’s really not going to be all that much more beneficial, but I don’t see why that should stop me.

The auxiliary compost pile actually left a nice amount of straw-type detritus that will do as beginning mulch. It also left an anise hyssop, which is nice and tall and just budding out, in exactly the right place. Today (after planting more insurance basil, plus the sunflowers and the Red Warty Thing in the corner with crossed fingers) I pushed it aside, dug or pulled out the weeds, moved the volunteer Hopi Red Dye amaranth that showed up in front of the cucumbers beside the anise hyssop, and put the detritus back. The bugs and hunger were starting to bother me, so I didn’t do more, but I have plans, plans that involve some of the flowers and Red Leaf basil on my porch (why did the Red Leaf come up when the stuff I actually like to eat didn’t?) and two bags of mulch that were leftover from aborted projects in the fall. Maybe even plans that involve getting some bricks or stones to ring it with and delineate the bed from the path, which I know would be a really, really good idea. I never thought I’d enjoy building an entirely ornamental bed this much. I wonder if it’s because of its connection to the vegetables, or my horizons are simply expanding.

There’s a pomegranate in the fridge that I must remember to open and eat. I did this last year, you know…bought one last pomegranate around the holidays and never quite got around to opening it, and eventually threw it away in, um, the next fall, I think. It was still okay, just shriveled, but I didn’t want to eat it. I’ve been obsessively eating oranges and grapefruit for months now, so some variety would be nice.

I made bagels today. They need either a little more salt or a little more honey (I’m not sure which), but otherwise they turned out astonishingly well. Who knew bagels were so easy to make? It’s the boiling step that intimidated me,  but I read a The Fresh Loaf account and recipe and was emboldened to try it. I made some modifications and mixed up my own “everything” topping to put on it, and I’m more convinced than ever that I need to work on growing seeds for cooking with. Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, caraway seeds…plus onion and garlic, and some salt, and I’ve got my own savory bagel mix. Maybe I’ll get ambitious and plant some of the seeds in my spice rack this spring. The lentils I planted last year did nicely–I never picked any, because there were only a few plants and each lentil was encased in its own pod and it just seemed like too much damned work and now I wonder how lentils can be so cheap with as much labor as they much take; but they did well, and I’ve certainly grown other seeds that can be used culinarily.

Only tangentially related to gardening: we’ve been battling mice in the kitchen for months. I spied one running across the room before Christmas; it crept into my garden tote and I put it outside and thought we were done. At Christmas it became evident there were still more. We put out glue traps and caught four; we bought twelve more glue traps and caught none, but I kept seeing the mice every once in a while, spreading from the pantry toward the stove. Today I started working on the dishes that we’ve neglected and found droppings on the counters. I swear the mice are avoiding the traps on purpose. I even put little bits of food–scraps of bread, a piece of walnut–into the middle of them, but no luck. I’m comforted that they seem to be staying in the kitchen so far (and indeed, why wouldn’t they?) but enraged that they’re expanding throughout it. I have a deadline of May 1 (when we’re planning on going away for a weekend) to get rid of them through traps and cleanup and sealing holes (either chivvying Eric to do the latter or figuring out how to do it myself–his lack of motivation to do anything about the mice, or other household problems, is also irritating, but that’s a different issue); if they’re not gone by then I’m going to consider poison. Between them and the rabbits, which have enlarged their warren over the winter to the point where I can’t think about planting seedlings in the vegetable garden this spring until I’ve done some serious filling and maybe shooting, I’m not feeling very kindly toward the rodent family these days.

As far as I can figure it, here’s my planting schedule for the year:

January Winter-sow flowers
February 15 Start broccoli seeds
March 1 Start shiso, lavender, pepper, Chinese cabbage seeds
March 15 Start tomatillo, tomato, eggplant, cauliflower, feverfew, hyssop, celery seeds
ASASCBW* Plant fava beans, carrots, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, spinach, turnips, potatoes, beets, alyssum, poppy
April 1 Start basil, nigella sativa, wormwood, elecampane seeds
  Set out broccoli transplants
  Plant Swiss chard
April 15 Start leek, luffa, thyme, borage seeds
  Plant lentils, parsley
May 1 Start cucumber, indigo, some cotton seeds
  Set out cauliflower transplants
  Plant cilantro, dill, lovage
May 7 Start melon seeds
  Plant sunflower seeds
May 15 Start more cauliflower, more broccoli seeds
  Plant creeping thyme, balloon flower, nasturtiums, spilanthes, echinacea, safflower, flax, zucchini, quinoa, amaranth, beans, corn, more green onions, more leeks
  Set out flowers, basil, nigella sativa, shiso, thyme, borage, hyssop, wormwood, elecampane, cucumber, pepper, tomatillo, tomato, celery plants
June 1 Plant winter squash, brussel sprouts, more beans, more cilantro, more dill, cotton
  Set out eggplant, leek, luffa, some melons, feverfew, indigo, cotton (leave some indigo, cotton in greenhouse)
June 15 Plant more corn, turnips, cucumber, melons
July 1 Plant zucchini (other variety), more carrots, more cilantro and dill and basil
  Set out cauliflower, broccoli transplants
July 15 Plant turnips (other variety)
August 1 Plant more peas, favas, onions (some in greenhouse)
August 15 Plant more lettuce, spinach, kale, beans (some in greenhouse)
  Plant parsley, dill, basil, cilantro in greenhouse

Yes, I have seriously overthought this. Also, I have a lot of stuff to plant. Good grief. But I love having a plan, love knowing that I get to start in a week and a half, love knowing that while there’s not a lot to do now, I’m going to be busy for the next six months after.

*As soon as soil can be worked

[ETA 3/3/08 to add new seeds: Utah celery, cutting celery, Chioggia beets, alyssum, bread seed poppy, and Chinese cabbage.]

All right…this is it. Unless someone stops me or I change my mind at the last minute (perhaps it’s time to stop reading other garden blogs temporarily?), here’s my list of what seeds I’m buying this year:

Pinetree Garden Seeds

  • Chantenay Red Core carrot
  • Bloomsdale Long Standing spinach
  • Red shiso
  • Lavender (vera)
  • Walla Walla onion (incidentally, am I being hypocritical for ordering these? I saw Walla Walla onions in the store yesterday and was going to buy some until Eric pointed out they were from Peru. Also from a company called Bland Farms, but it was the Peru thing that did it for me, not so much the food miles as because they weren’t the Washington Walla Walla onions that I grew up with. But if I grow these, they’ll be Ohio Walla Walla onions, which isn’t right either.)
  • Harris Model parsnip
  • Narrow-leaf echinacea
  • Indigo
  • Elecampane
  • Nigella sativa (black cumin)
  • Golden Sweet pea
  • Trionfo Violetto bean
  • Incredible corn
  • French Fingerling potato
  • All Blue potato

Seeds of Change

  • Giant Musselburgh Sherwood leek [ed.: Either they used to carry it and don’t anymore, or I saw this at some other site and got them mixed up]
  • Deep Orange safflower
  • Balloon flower
  • Mitla Black tepary bean

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange or eBay

  • Nankeen Brown cotton
  • Erlene’s Green cotton

(It’s a fiber-arts thing…the safflower, tepary bean, elecampane, and indigo are for dyeing, though they probably won’t dye cotton, assuming I get any. However, cotton flowers are supposed to be very pretty, even if I end up with no cotton harvest.)

Andersons

  • Christmas grape tomato (or another grape tomato; Eric’s not picky)
  • Rosemary (plant, not seed)

Seed Savers (these are already ordered and arrived, but they are part of this year’s purchases):

  • Hidatsa Shield Figure bean
  • Dragon carrot
  • Buran pepper
  • Potimarron squash

I calculate this as coming to $57.73, not including tax or shipping. Not bad, I think, for a year (assuming I don’t impulse-buy too many things over the course of the spring). I’ll be buying more dirt this spring for the new garden, but I should recoup that money easily in produce. This is not the outrageously expensive hobby I was afraid of when I first started thinking about how very much I want to try growing. It helps to have a small yard and a two-person family, I think.

As for everything I’m planting, and when, that will have to be its own post. According to the schedule I drew up (yes, I’m that detail-oriented, but also yes, it’s that slow at work this week), I don’t have anything to do until February 15 but order these seeds, buy soil and a grow light, and winter-sow a few containers. But that’s only six weeks away.

Last night I sat down at the computer and wrote out my 2007 annual review. This includes goals for the new year, but I don’t consider it my New Year’s Resolutions list so much as a way of organizing my thoughts for the new year. (Though I’m introducing an innovation this year: print out the list of goals and put them somewhere that I can see them rather than leaving them in a file that I won’t check until January 1, 2009. Ahem.) Gardening was a new section this year. I listed several specific goals, but the gist of it was: learn more about gardening. I’m liking this new hobby; let’s run with it.

How did 2007 go for me, garden-wise? Very well. I started my first real garden: killed the grass, dug compost into the dirt, planted seeds and seedlings. I discovered the joys of starting seeds indoors. I planted more things than I’ve ever planted before, more than my parents used to plant in their garden. I learned what baby amaranth and cucumber and basil seedlings look like. I identified tomato hornworm, cabbage worms, box elder bugs, and red-banded leafhoppers. I learned what my local weeds look like, young and old. I ate lots of tender, tasty vegetables. I deduced the presence of rabbits in my backyard. I found out what happens when you put off harvest (moldy beans or zucchinis as big as your arm) and when you let tomatoes pile up in your kitchen (colorful photographs and hours of chopping). I fell completely in love with growing things. I found I was already eager for the next year, now this year, so that I could try again and try more.

Accordingly, I have pulled out my refined and re-refined list of seeds to purchase. I’m going to wait a few days to send in my orders because of a possible development I’m waiting on, but I’m pretty much set. This means I’m pretty much ignoring the seed catalogs that have come my way so far. This may be the main benefit of having so much I want to grow that I started my list in August or so: I already have things in mind and places to get them from, and I know I don’t have space for much more, so I’m charging head-down through the catalog flurry into what I planned my next seed-starting season to be.

I already have bunches. I have seeds left over from what I bought last year: Russian Gray sunflowers, nasturtium mix, thyme, hyssop, Green Goliath broccoli, Little Finger carrot, Snow Crown cauliflower, compact Romaine and Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce, spinach, chard. I have seeds that I saved: Brandywine, Roma, Garden Peach, and Purple Cherokee tomato; jalapeno peppers; Irish Cobbler potatoes; butternut squash; cantaloupe; Straight 8 cucumber; Genovese basil; cilantro; Hutterite and Kentucky Wonder beans. I have seeds I traded for: shasta daisy; morning glory; butterfly weed; more sunflowers; feverfew; Cherokee Wax, Scarlet Runner, Royal Burgundy, and Blue Lake Bush beans; Red Russian kale; Rosa Bianca eggplant; bush pickle cucumber; Black from Tula and San Marzano tomatoes; Purple Top turnips; Beaver Dam peppers. And I have seeds I got for free. And I have seeds I already bought for this year from Seed Savers. And I need more? It does seem a bit crazy. But I’ve got land and time and a whole year’s worth of digging, weeding, learning, admiring, and eating to do.

Eric and I went out to clean up the yard last night. Specifically, to clean up the mess the contractors left behind after fixing the driveway. We’re pleased with the driveway itself, but not with anything else they did, like telling my mother-in-law about their plans rather than, say, me…or leaving furrows on either side of the driveway while taking away our dirt…or dumping trash all over our backyard. I acknowledge that the trash was ours, or rather the previous owners’–it was drywall they had laid down in the garage, presumably to soften the bumps caused by the cracked surface–but they took all our dirt away, couldn’t they have taken the drywall? Or at least not thrown it all over the grass the way they did?

At any rate, we put all the trash out (turns out the contractors ate Wendy’s for lunch the days they were here) and moved the retaining wall they had seen fit to disassemble and scatter across our front lawn. We moved the old roots they had presumably unearthed and dumped on our grass. We considered how much dirt we’ll need to fill in the furrows, and that we probably need to do it before the next heavy rain.

“We need some landscaping before we try to sell this place,” Eric observed as we looked around. He’s right, which is bad for our pocketbook but good for my gardening practice. There are holes where I moved things or, in one case, where the previous owners had had a completely useless stand of concrete that the contractors took out. There are spots where my plants have been killed, dug up or buried by the contractors. There are spots I plan to lay bare (i.e., the mosquito bush by our front porch), and spots where I don’t have to but really ought to dig out some plants. There’s the lilac bush that’s coming down in the spring, once I’ve gathered cuttings enough to appease my in-laws.

Plus there’s this narrow strip of ground between our garage and the fence separating us from the neighbors. It had been blocked by the old garbage can that the garbage people wouldn’t take and two propane tanks, but we moved those since we were doing all this cleanup anyway. (Eric took delight in jumping on the old can to make it look dilapidated enough for the garbage people to take.) “What should we do with this?” Eric wondered, gazing at its thistle-infested length.

I was ashamed; the neighbors have been having parties in their backyard all summer, and the cracked and peeling paint on the garage was bad enough for them to look at without a section of pestilent weeds. (Why couldn’t the bindweed have gotten that far along the fence? It did everywhere else.) “Spray with Round-Up and lay down gravel?” I said.

“Sounds good to me,” Eric said. “We can get some when we get the dirt. And a drum of Round-Up. What do you think? Spray the grass, plant Eco-Lawn in the spring?” I foresee us spending a lot of time at Home Depot and Andersons in the near future.

I pulled out my two Toga eggplants yesterday. I’ve tried cooking with them and I just don’t like them. Too much seed and too little meat. Very pretty, though. I need to get out there with the clippers and cut them into smaller pieces–I’ll need to do that to the poor dead sunflower stalks, too, once frost hits and I don’t have to worry about the bean vines they’re supporting. I do love this method of staking beans; I want to do at least some of it next year (but with purple bean pods).

I got one Celebrity tomato, one Taxi tomato, and 273 g of ripe, unsplit cherry tomatoes. (I weighed them to see if I had enough for roasted-tomato-and-garlic risotto. I did. It was marvelous.) Also several Asian pears, a small zucchini, and another handful of beans. The amaranth puzzlingly is not going to seed–it’s just sitting there and being red, which is pretty but not what I was expecting. I guess I’d better get out a last batch of wool to try dyeing. The last two butternut squash are tan but don’t pass the fingernail test yet. The nasturtiums think they’re competing with the zucchini to take over the garden. I need to get my monthly garden picture soon.

I still need to freeze a bunch of parsley and cut more rosemary for drying. The basil is pretty much completely given over to seed right now, which is okay. (Incidentally, I tested a couple of the seeds I’m drying. The basil doesn’t taste like anything but the dill seed made my tongue numb. I guess I knew that would happen; they sell dill seed in the spice aisle at the store.) I might get another couple of pods of Hutterite beans, and I’m definitely expecting more green beans, and I really ought to cut some Swiss chard for freezing or at least flavoring the homemade vegetable broth I’m due to make again. (I put vegetable leavings–potato skins, parsley stems, broccoli stalks–into a gallon bag in the freezer, and when the bag is full I boil it senseless with a few extra spices and freeze the broth until I need it.) Things are slowing way down. Have I mentioned that?

The one thing that does need doing is moving plants from the driveway. We’re getting it redone October 17-19, and widening it by a foot, and I have plants there. Some I don’t particularly care for, but some I do, and they need saving. I also need to work on the herb garden, pulling up the plastic (yes, I still haven’t done it) and marking out where the paths will go and transplanting a couple of herbs in the hopes they’ll live through the winter. I admit the bathroom needs cleaning more than the herb garden needs digging, at least right now, but I’m hoping that in the next few days I’ll be able to do both.

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

Marion Zimmer Bradley

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