Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Too Much Of A Good Thing: Rain, Rot, And Harvest

The past two and a half weeks have brought nothing but rain.  Every day there has been some form of dreary precipitation that has nearly driven me mad with longing for sunshine.  I mean, come on already!  Although I've been saving money on water in terms of garden irrigation, too much of a good thing can really be a bummer.  The squash are rotting right on the vine, the peppers look horrendous and have taken to falling over just to get attention, and the tomatoes are just not looking like themselves without some hot sunshine.

In spite of this dismal downfall, the harvest is starting.  One night in the lull between rainfalls, I got the tomatoes staked.  Finally!!!  Rob pounded these stakes into the ground for me and I used zip ties to secure the bamboo to the stakes.  The result is a much better system than what I had last year.  There is airflow between the plants and room to walk in and harvest.



The squash plants have already grown to gargantuan proportions.  Here is the romanesco.  The taste is lovely, the flowers are gigantic and buttery, but I'm having rotting issues with these due to the rain.



Here is what the garden looks like right now.  The cucumber vines are already taller than I am!  Thank goodness for velcro ties.  They are one of the most useful things I've purchased for the garden.  I was able to reuse the ones from last year too!  They don't damage the plants and are really easy to secure.  They cost more, but are definitely worth the investment!


Tonight I harvested a bunch of goodies, so it was a bit of work when I got home.  The great thing about the rain is that I can't go outside in this nasty weather for days sometimes, so when I finally do, it's like Christmas out there!

These are dragon tongue beans.  Aren't they so pretty and purply?!  I opted for these this year instead of green beans and I don't think I can ever go back.  The taste of these is fabulous! It's much less grassy than a green bean straight off the plant.  More like a wax bean, but sweeter...I am in love!


The snow peas look like a mess in the garden right now.  Even though I strung some twine they had a mind of their own and look like a shipwreck.  They have a lovely crunch though!



There is a lot of food right now, so I threw a salad together with cucumbers, snow peas, fresh basil, and chick peas.  I'll drown it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar tomorrow for a crunchy lunch because you only live once, right?!  I'm sorry this picture is blurry.  I think I had just dropped the phone in some water on the kitchen counter, or I couldn't hold the phone steady from the wine I was drinking, not sure which.  Oops!


Beets!!!  Ok, I know a lot of you probably hate beets.  They have grown on me.  I really like roasting them.  I throw them in an oven safe glass pan, spray with olive oil, cover with foil, and roast on 350 for at least an hour until soft. Once they're peeled and sliced, I love putting them on salad or eating them with goat cheese.  Definitely prefer eating them warm as opposed to cold or pickled.  Delish!


I am not a fan of beet greens, but I've found a way to cook them that makes them tolerable.  I can't stand to just throw them away!  Dice half an onion and throw some crushed garlic cloves in a pan with olive oil, basil, pepper, salt, and red pepper flakes.


Throw the greens in the pan after the onions are clear and your house smells garlicky.


You'll end up with a sort of mushy healthy bowl of greens.  Throw some pecorino romano on there...throw on some more...you can never have too much Italian cheese, you just can't.


While I was slaving away in the kitchen like some 50s domestic goddess, this was happening.


I mean...!!!  It never gets old, cats and boxes.  It doesn't matter what was in the box or where the box is placed, I guarantee you a cat will be in the box within 10 seconds of it hitting the floor.  She is so adorable, I can't take it!  I hope Rob's dog doesn't eat her when she moves in.  The tragedy...

Ok, I'm back...other parts of the yard have benefited greatly from the rain.  Look at this hideous thing the previous owners left for me when I moved in.  I was going to throw it away, but it's a planter and plants can be stuck in those, so I stuck some hens & chicks in there and voila, it's slightly less hideous, but honestly, you can't really improve a concrete squirrel, can you?


Dad's daylilies are the crowning jewel of the garden right now.  Last year he sent 60 plants down here of his own hybridized varieties.  I tagged the plants when I was home and he dug them all out, boxed them up, and shipped them down here.  Looking at these gorgeous flowers takes me home.  Every year when I go home for July 4th, Dad's garden is blooming wildly and it's hard not to get lost in the loveliness of it.  Now I have a piece of that here and I can't describe how happy it makes me!

This is what the flower bed looked like just a couple weeks ago.


Now it looks like this...







The front walk...


It's so interesting to see how things grow here.  One year, something does really well and then this year, it's failing.  Or last year I couldn't get flowers to grow in a bed and this year, plants are thriving.  I can't imagine not having the garden to come home to because something is always new, a season is always changing the landscape.  The garden requires one to observe or beauty will be missed.  I walk along the side flower bed each day before I hop in the car and head to work.  The fig is taller.  The roses are blooming.  The foxglove is falling over in the rain.  New alliums are turning purple.  The lavender is finally coming back.  The purple coneflower is starting to bloom.  Butterflies will be here soon.

Nothing stays the same and I'm reminded that this is a big year of change for me too.  I'm getting married.  I know that Rob and I will face our challenges as we try to figure out living life together after being independent for so long, but I hope that each of us provides a space where the other can grow and blossom.  For now we will eat lots of fresh things and fill our stomachs and be reminded of how blessed we are.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gardening Breakdown: Flowers, Veggies, & Sundry

My goodness, it's been a while, hasn't it?!  Well, things are happening here in the yard.  While I haven't had as much digging to do this year, the flower beds are still getting established and there is lots to keep track of.  Let's break it down into friendly, easy to read sections, shall we?

ALLIUM

Let's talk about onion flowers because these are some seriously cool things to grow.  When I was a kid we always took trips to Vermont and I remember seeing these huge purple orbs in a lot of the gardens up there.  They were otherworldly and really cool, so I got some for the garden.  There are dozens of varieties and they are all deer resistant, pest resistant, and multiply every year.  Several neighbors have stopped by to ask what those "purple flowers" are.  I give you allium.




I ordered several varieties from Brent & Becky's bulbs online and a few have yet to bloom.  I'll be sure to post more pics as they show up!

CLEMATIS

These climbers were the first flowers that came to mind when trying to figure out something that would grow on the fence and maybe spruce it up a bit.  That thing really is so ugly.  When I moved into the house, there was an enormous purple clematis by the front walk that has obviously been there since the beginning of time.  This year I hacked the woody stems back to 12 inches and it is now taller than me.  I am convinced this plant is going to strangle me one day while I'm walking to the car.



I bought several varieties last year in a crazy sale when they were $5 apiece.  Best $5 I've spent in a long time.  Only one didn't make it over the winter.   They are already letting the fence know who's boss.



SUCCULENTS

I have never in my life made a cactus bloom.  This year I re-potted my succulents, which include a couple types of Hens n' Chicks and several seedum varieties.  They are so happy they can't contain themselves.  Look at this amazing flower!  I can't tell you how this happened.  If you ask me what I did, all I can say is that aside from saying "hello" when I get home in the evening, I totally neglect them.





VEGGIES!!!

So this was the year of the garden fence.  Well, I managed to fill the space with lots of yummy things that are on their way up.  These pics are actually old because I'm a slacker, but I'll post more recent ones soon.  Here you can see basil, dragon tongue beans, snow peas, and Roma tomatoes in the background.


Sweet Slice cucumbers.


Snow peas - bush variety


Garlic (left).  A mish mosh of onions (right).  The squirrels think it's funny to run through the whiskey barrels and knock the onions over.  I am not amused.


Started putting hay down around the squash since weeds are popping through and it will help retain moisture during the hot days we're starting to get.  I need to buy another bale.


Tomatoes need to be staked.  I'm thinking the best way to do this with this many plants (16) will be to put a stake at the end of each row and use horizontal bamboo as an open wall.  We shall see.  Everything is coming along really well!  


MISCELLANEOUS & SUNDRY

This is where I address all the exciting things that don't fit in the thrilling categories above.  The first is my fig.  The winter in Tennessee was much colder than usual, which really ticked me off because I lost a clematis, a butterfly bush, and my fig.  But wait!  I didn't lose the fig!  After much hemming and hawing to Rob about how dismayed I was over the loss of the fig, this happened one day.  The fig prevails!


I was devastated one day when I looked out my window and saw that my squished roadkill bunny from last year had reincarnated himself as a cute fluffy NEW little bunny who also lives under my shed.  How could this have happened?!?! I HATE BUNNIES.  They are so adorable and so cute and so cuddly with their big eyes and soft fur...yet they have this alter ego that desecrates all that is sacred to gardeners with an evil twinkle in those big Disney eyes.  I plan to set a Havahart trap for this little guy.  I can't have him here.  I know, I have the fence around the veggie garden, but he chewed the buds off my new Columbine, which is pretty much unforgivable in my book, so the evil creature must go. 


When I was growing up in Mattituck, our yard was a veritable treasure trove of 4 leaf clovers.  There were patches of them everywhere.  I swear the end of a rainbow must have landed on our house at some point in time because what else could explain this phenomenon?  And then I realized that I have really good eyesight.  Whether it's spotting tiny pieces of sea glass on the beach, or a 4 leaf clover in a sea of ordinary 3-leafers, I can see these things everywhere.  They're actually not as uncommon as we're led to believe.  Truly, start looking and I bet you'll find some.  I ran across this one when I was scurrying between the garden and the shed with muddy hands and feet.  Who knows, maybe the end of a rainbow landed in this yard one time long ago.


It was my birthday the other day.  Rob took me hiking in the morning, to Cheekwood in the afternoon, dinner later, and gave me this amazing garden tool which he said will most likely be what I will finish him off with one day.  He has a machete lying in his garage, so I feel like the odds aren't in my favor on that one.  We can joke about these things before we get married without it being weird, right?

This is my new obsession.  It's called the CobraHead Weeder & Cultivator.   I'm telling you, I could get rid of every other thing in my shed that I use for weeding.  I have the most horrendous wire grass in my garden that I am in a battle with to keep under control and this handles those roots like a champ!!!  Forget tweaking my wrist with a spade, this thing rocks!  I wish I had an endorsement and was getting paid to rave about this tool so they would send me free stuff, but alas, I am not so lucky.  I want to buy this for all my gardener friends, but I don't have enough money to do that, so be sure to trust me on this and buy one for yourselves. 


I have more updates coming soon, I promise.  I'm still getting myself back on track after being in LA for a day...time zones are so weird.  I'm also throwing stuff away and cleaning out my closets (Eminem style, for those of you who get the reference) to get ready for Rob to move in here after he sells his house.  This is a big year for change.  If I wasn't a drinking woman I might not be handling this very well.  I kid.  Well, sort of.  Until soon...

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Fencing (Without Swords): Adventures In Constructing A Garden Fence

The past couple of weekends have been spent on quite the endeavor...an official garden fence.  This year I wanted a real fence around the garden for several reasons. 
  • Even though my yard is fenced in, it might as well not be.  The chain link fence keeps nothing out...nothing...not even people. Critters roam at will and I am the deranged psycho gardener who runs after them with a hose or bangs maniacally on the kitchen window in the morning while wearing my PJs, praying they will get the hint and scram before I have to run out there in my fuzzy slippers for all to see. 
  • Also, I'm marrying a guy with a dog.  In spite of the fact that my backyard is a veritable field of open space, she aims for the big dirt hole in the middle of it every time and has trampled newly planted seed beds several times, causing me to freak out like a deranged psycho gardener.
  • Last year I had a bunny.  This bunny chewed through the reed fencing in several spots and had even dug out a nice little shady cover for himself under the watermelon vines, providing a cute, yet terrifying surprise every time I went to check on the watermelons.  I have no idea what the bunny ate in the garden, but it nearly drove me mad that I couldn't keep him out.  One day in the fall I was driving home and noticed a squashed bunny in the middle of the road.  That's one way to keep a rabbit out of your garden.
  • And lastly, I really wanted the vegetable garden to be pretty, to look like a garden and not a hairy, overgrown eyesore in the middle of the lawn.  A fence that would last for several seasons seemed a practical way to achieve this.
 Rob is master of all things involving wood.  To say I am lucky to have this talented guy in my life is an understatement because when I say, "Hey, honey, I was thinking we really need to put a fence around the garden" he comes to me with this great idea and a beautiful picture of a "we're not messing around" cedar fence.  The things that kept the price down on this project that could have cost a couple thousand dollars:  we did it ourselves (and when I say "we" I mean mostly Rob) and Rob had a supplier for the wood who gave us quality cedar at a price significantly less than Home Depot (whose cedar was shoddy in comparison to what we used).


 We had originally planned to rent a post hole digger from Home Depot, but they were out of them when we got there in the morning.  So we bought an old fashioned, muscle-powered one and Rob dug the holes...or should I say chipped them out with a chisel.  The clay rocks in the yard provided a bit of a challenge in getting the holes dug...all 22 of them.  Three hours later, with only one blister to show, Rob started cutting the beams for the posts.



Instead of leveling the entire fence, we made it flow with the slope of the yard and used a string level to keep everything in line.  This saved us a lot on material and money.


Each opening was framed with one inch pieces, all individually screwed in.  This serves a couple of purposes.  One, it keeps the top pieces from bowing.  Two, if the wire screen ever needs to be replaced we can unscrew the frame and put a new piece in without ruining the whole fence.  We used 1/2 inch galvanized wire fencing which came in 25 foot rolls.  We used 4 rolls for the entire fence and it worked out really well!  I was concerned about a fence blocking out light for the plants, so the 1/2 inch wire was a great solution and much easier to work with than chicken wire.


Before the fence was entirely completed, I was able to get all my starter veggies that I wasn't growing from seed: tomatoes, peppers, and a few herbs. 


On Saturday, I pulled up the black plastic, put some earbuds in with iTunes set to shuffle, and got down on my hands and knees to do some dirty work.  In spite of the black plastic and the fact the garden was tilled twice, grass had still started to grow.  Last year was a total weedy nightmare in the first months of growing because all the roots I'd never gotten out of the soil post-till started to sprout a nasty, invasive grass.  Due to diligently pulling almost all of that out last year, the former part of the garden is almost entirely grass free.  I wanted to start this side out right, so after shuffling around in the dirt with a spade, I was able to achieve a weed-free plot...for one day at least. 


Last year, I got a ton of food out of a tiny space, but everything was terribly cramped and very hard to get to.  This year, the volume is about the same, but the plants are more spread out and there are paths where I can actually walk in the garden instead of needing a machete to reach a zucchini.  I used bamboo to plan everything out and laid the plants and seed packets in their new property lines.


The damage done includes: 16 tomato plants, 16 cucumber plants, 15 squash plants, basil, dragon tongue beans, snow peas, 12 pepper plants, asparagus, and beets...and I think all of them have room to breathe.  We shall see!


The last piece to add was the gate.  Rob put this thing together in no time and made it look like a little country cottage garden gate.  I love it!!!



When you walk around the back of the gate, there is a design only true Harry Potter fans can appreciate.  My little nerd heart will smile every time I see that.  It's really only 2 1/2 hallows, but who's getting technical here?


The finished product (filtered).  I'm so thrilled I can hardly stand it!  There is even a raised bed around the apple trees.  I'm thinking about planting some strawberries in there if I can get all the grass properly taken care of.  I hope this space will help us create a sustainable influx of produce and healthy things throughout the year.  I also hope we will have enough surplus to share with friends.  People talk about putting down roots when they live somewhere, and these are some literal roots I'm planting in this soil even if my real roots (and my heart) are in New York.   There's nothing like a garden to make a place feel a bit more like home.