Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I was out of town for most of the holiday weekend.  Fortunately, it did not rain more, so when I returned, things were dry enough that I could actually accomplish something yesterday.  The last two tomatoes are in their MiracleGro bags (I did that before I left), the peppers are in the ground along with some of the marigolds, and the first of the green beans are planted.  There are still the herbs and flower plants I started indoors to get planted, plus some direct-seeded veggies and flowers, all of which I hope to do this week.  Then it will be time to weed, weed, weed.

My SO came over yesterday and started weeding the meadow.  He does not always know what's what plantwise, but he knows what Canada thistle, garlic mustard, and dandelions look like, so I figured if he targeted those three, the rest of the plants would be safe.  It was his first foray into my yard this year, and he pooped out kind of quickly, but made a good start.  This Fiskars weeder was great help with thistle embedded in clumps of yarrow and bee balm.

While we were taking a break, we witnessed a bluebird trying to check out the bluebird house.  The resident sparrows were not willing to give it up, though.  I have a second bluebird house, so will put that up in the front yard, where it is more open, which the bluebirds favor and hopefully the sparrows will not.

Currently blooming are the iris, peonies, spring phlox, columbine, clematis, and honeysuckle vine.  The latter is not looking very healthy this year.  I have never pruned it, so maybe that would help.

Current edibles from the garden are rhubarb, chives, scallions, greens, and radishes.  Salad, anyone?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lake front property

According to my rain gauge, 2.25" fell this afternoon, too much for the storm sewer at the end of the driveway.  The water came almost into the garage.  Thank goodness it has stopped raining.  For now.

Some gardening has occurred between rain showers.  Most of the tomatoes are planted - 8 Amish Paste, 2 German Pinks, and 2 Hungarian Heart all fit into the 4'x20' bed in the garden, and a Patio Princess is in a pot.  I am going to try something different with the two remaining - an Early Girl and a Fresh Salsa Hybrid - and plant them directly into bags of Miracle Grow potting soil.  I've seen this somewhere and thought I would give it a try.

The onions are looking good:

The yellow flags mark where the natural gas line crosses my yard.
Another experiment is growing sweet potatoes - my first time - in containers:  6 grow bags, 4 plastic pots, and two recycling bins the city no longer uses (we have single bin recycling now).

The white pot is for the Patio Princess.
 I tried mixing peat with my own compost, adding bone meal and blood meal, but ran out, so I hope to finish filling these with more Miracle Grow potting soil.  For the record, I prefer growing my garden in the ground, but my soil is heavy clay and not very amenable to root crops.  Until it shapes up, I will have to resort to some above ground solutions.

So far, the patio strawberry tower is looking good:

I expect the robins will be trying to steal berries off this.
 And, inside, the Meyer lemon is not only thriving, but blooming.

The smell is so sweet!
 I don't know if these will produce fruit without being outside where pollinators can get to them, but the plant looks too tiny to support lemons.

And that's all for now!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Raw deal

When I was a kid, I was quite the milk drinker.  I had milk at every meal, would even trade my lunch (except the cookies) for other kids' milk, and saw nothing wrong with washing down dill pickles with milk.  I loved milk.

When we lived in Ohio, the milk was delivered to our door by the dairyman.  When we moved to Illinois, we purchased our milk at the grocery store, but it still came from local dairies.  Into adulthood, I continued my milk drinking habit, even when teased about picking milk as my beverage of choice with pizza.

Then milk, especially whole milk, began to get a bad rap.  We switched to 2%, sometimes 1%, but rarely skim because it looked blue.  The funny thing is, even though we are consuming less milk fat, we keep getting fatter.

And milk no longer tastes good.  My theory is that, since milk is no longer produced just for local markets, the milk from multiple dairies is mixed together and trucked long distances to be processed, getting bruised along the way.  Then, it is not only pasteurized but ultra-pasteurized.  That sounds like a good thing until you consider the fact that ultra-pasteurized milk cannot be used to make cheese because the process alters the protein molecules.  Is it even milk anymore?

Some people resolve this issue by trying to purchase raw milk from local sources.  In many states - including mine - selling raw milk is illegal.  One local dairy is attempting to circumnavigate the legalities by selling "herd shares" and accepting "boarding fees" in exchange for raw milk.  It's an intriguing business model.

I don't know what to make of the health benefits touted by those who promote raw milk.  I doubt any scientific studies have been done.  I grow my own vegetables because I believe they are more nutritious than trucked-in-from-far-away, store-bought ones, and I KNOW they taste better.  So I may try raw milk for the taste, and choose to believe that it is better for me.

Anyone out there have any experience with raw milk?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Water, water everywhere...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we really received that predefined one-inch-per-week of rain throughout the growing season instead of getting too much in May, not enough in August?  Fortunately, the weather forecast changes daily, this time from day-after-day of predicted rain to a break in the clouds tomorrow.  One problem with mowing high is the lawn looks long a couple of days after cutting, and the almost-constant showers are not helping any.

(Another problem with mowing high is finding dog poop - it is well hidden - so I patrol both before mowing and after, to find what I have missed.)

Yesterday, before the storms hit, I managed to stroll the nabe with Baby N, stopping to chat with one of the few neighbors who gardens.  Their vegetable patch (and yard and house) always look perfect; I have to remind myself not to compare their property with mine because they are both retired.  Anyway, the conversation naturally turned to rain and gardening.  They practice what I think of as "traditional" gardening - rototill in the spring, plant in rows.  Consequently, they have not been able to get the early veggies planted yet.  My unmolested raised beds, on the other hand, have onions, potatoes, peas, and lettuces going strong.  While my garden is not as pretty, it is productive.

The tomato plants I ordered from Seed Savers arrived last Wednesday, so Thursday I dug up the bed where I plan to plant the Amish Paste.  However, this time I marked the bed with string before I dug.  Since my raised beds are not planked in, they tend to bleed into the paths, making them appear smaller than they really are.  So, not only is there room for the Amish Paste, but for the Hungarian Heart and German Pink as well.  (My tomato patch sounds so international!)

I recently read in some gardening forum one man's solution to Canada thistle: smother crops.  He plants buckwheat in the summer and winter rye in the fall, and their dense growth chokes out the thistle.  Now that all the tomatoes will fit into one bed, I have a free bed to try this on.  There is also an area I am prepping for raspberries, so I can do the same there.  Each time I use RoundUP or WeedBGon, I suffer the guilts.

If it weren't so rainy out, I would provide you with a few pics of what is blooming right now.  You will just have to take my word about the bleeding heart, columbine, creeping phlox, lily of the valley, lilac, and spring phlox.  Or take a look at my May blog entries from years past.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

That's too bad, but SCORE!

Our local Borders is closing.  Even though they fell out of favor with me a while ago, I am still sorry to see them go.  BUT the remaining stock has been progressively on sale, and a couple of days ago I purchased three hardcover cookbooks for 50-60% off:  The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown, The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones, and The Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser.

The latter has received most of my attention so far.  I'm anxious to try these rhubarb recipes first:  Rhubarb Bellini, Rhubarb-Strawberry Mousse, and Straight-Up Rhubarb Pie.  Most recipes have some commentary, but what can one say about Swedish Ginger Cookies made with BACON FAT?!?  And the Club Sandwich is as follows:  "Go to the club.  Drink six toasts.  Eat a slice of meat.  Drink six more toasts."  All I need is a club.

After I purchased the above books, I was perusing my own shelf of cookbooks and was surprised at some of them, as I don't recall buying them or ever cooking from them.  Must remedy that, but I am not sure how, without giving up my day job.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

What's next?

My business trip this past week was bracketed by mowing.  Although I was gone only a few days, I expected things to look different upon my return.  While the rhododendrun and the forsythia are fading and the redbud and flowering crab are coming on strong, not much else changed.  Temps were cool, there wasn't much rain, so stasis prevailed.

The plants I started indoors are ready to be transplanted.  I could have started them a week or two later than I did, and it is obvious that using old seed frequently results in poor germination, but in general, I am satisfied.  I purchased some plants online and they have not arrived yet.  Just as well, as the tomatoes and peppers don't do well when the temp dips below 50 at night.  My transplants are being hardened off on the patio, where they were also watered thoroughly by yesterday's rain.  Today should be drier, but I have grandma-duty, so won't get out into the yard until late in the day.  Hopefully, it will be a good time to spray the thistle some more.

Besides attacking thistle with RoundUp, my one other non-organic weed control this year is using WeedBGon on the dandelions, which are running rampant.  I am also mowing at the highest setting on my Toro, which is supposed to help discourage lawn weeds.  I plan to test the soil in the front yard, to see if there are any amendments I could add that would also discourage weeds.  And I am leaving the mulched clippings on the lawn this year, for added nutrients.  I don't have much lawn left, but I would like it to look reasonably nice.  I don't try to wipe out al the dandelions, as song birds like the White-Throated Sparrow eat the seeds.  I saw some of these birds just yesterday.  Too bad they don't eat all the dandelion seeds.