Sunday, July 31, 2011

Discouraged gardener

I'm currently reading The Bad Tempered Gardener.  Anne Wareham, who readily admits she doesn't deadhead, sometimes hates gardening, and in other ways does not fit into the "normal" gardening world, is a woman after my own heart.  While I am not inclined to create a garden such as hers - the amount of pruning required would do me in - it is refreshing to read a contrarian viewpoint.

Lately I have been the discouraged gardener, especially when measuring the produce the vegetable garden is producing this year.  Three out of four garlic varieties did fine, but the onion harvest was disappointing, many of the bulbs barely bigger than the sets I planted.  I thought the soil, a heavy clay, would be okay, but I did not count on the relentlessly hot, rainless weather, which has turned that clay to concrete.  I needed a shovel to separate the onions from the soil, and even then, had to jump on the shovel with both feet to gain any purchase.  Bah.

I tried succession planting the beans, and the first 10-foot row is fine, the second not-so-fine, the third barely germinated, and I didn't even bother with the fourth.  Next year I will plant them all at once.  It's not like there is nothing else to eat during that time.

I've already lamented about the tomatoes, although finally, FINALLY I have some red ones off the Early Girl.  It's been too hot for the peppers to set fruit, the zucchini seems determined to produce only male blossoms, and the cucumber plants just sit there looking sad.  Today I plan to dig up the potatoes.  Please, PLEASE, let there be some!

On a bright note, the marigolds, zinnias, and sunflowers look great.

I was seriously contemplating abandoning vegetable gardening when I picked up a copy of Square Foot Gardening from the library.  Not only did this book revive me, it made me want to start the garden all over from scratch.  Friday evening I spent a fun hour or two, plotting out my garden in this square foot arrangement and discovered I could squeeze a lot more out of my 30x40 patch than I was, even sweet corn.  Of course, the soil must be in better shape, which is where Lasagna Gardening fits in, and my new manure-hauling trailer.  Toward that end, Saturday my SO and I purchased enough cedar boards from Menards (they were on sale, I had a gift card, AND they are offering an 11% rebate this week) for six 4x8 beds.  I'm excited again.

Last week I decided to mow the yard.  The grass is dormant, but the weeds needed topping.  While I was trudging across the front lawn, my next door neighbor stopped by to joke with me that Neighborhood Code Enforcement had been by to look at my lawn, but the ground was too hard for him to post a warning sign, so he gave up.  At least, I think my neighbor was joking, but it got me thinking about the meadow.

The backyard is mostly private, with privet along the west side and shrubs on the north and south, in part to spare my neighbors the sight of my backyard experiments.  Technically, the city could tell me to mow the meadow because the "weeds" there are more than 9" tall.  They allow scraggly rain gardens, though, so I probably could get a reprieve.  But along with the vegetable garden, I was wondering whether the effort was worth it.

Another book I picked up at the library was Bringing Nature Home.  If insect pictures make you squirmish, beware, but I found the photography to be absolutely gorgeous.  Insects feed birds, so you want them in your yard.  You also want to not only attract insects like butterflies with food sources, but also provide host plants so there will be more insects like butterflies.  Many of the butterfly-attracting plants featured in garden catalogs do not provide habitat; an example is the butterfly bush.  Better to plant milkweed, Joe Pye, and butterfly weed.  I think one reason my vegetable garden does not have many pests is they prefer the meadow and the weeds.  Without the meadow, I might be battling Mexican bean beetles, Japanese beetles, flea beetles, etc. to a greater degree than I do.  So this book also revived my flagging garden enthusiasm.

Then there is the front lawn, which is an absolute mess from a suburban sward of grass perspective.  On the one hand, I do like the look of a well-tended lawn.  On the other, I lost my previous dog to cancer which I blame on the lawn products I was using at the time, plus every time I contemplate doing a weed 'n feed, I feel guilty about how detrimental lawncare products are to the environment.  But quite frankly, the front yard is doing nothing for the curb appeal of my property.  I plan to replace the driveway this summer, and I think after that I will do something about the lawn, like a fall feeding and a weed 'n feed next spring.  But I will limit it to the front yard, where the dog doesn't go, and let the backyard be what it is, although at the rate I am going, there will be no grass in the backyard after a while.  And that's okay.

It is going to be another hot one today, but I'm going to spend at least part of it out in the yard, hose and garden fork in hand.  I let the weather forecasters scare me inside, which is one reason the weeds are so out of control.  Don't worry, I'll take it easy, and come in during the worst of it.  Thank god for AC!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I drive a hard bargain

This cart showed up in a local front yard a few weeks ago.  Isn't that cute? I thought to myself.  I wonder if it is for sale?  There was no sign on it, so I assumed not.  A few days later, a "For Sale" sign did appear, with the price set at $150.  I was tempted, but not enough to knock on their door.  This past weekend, the household had a garage sale.  Surely someone will buy that cart, I thought, but when I walked past yesterday morning, I saw the sign now said "$150 OBO" - or best offer.  As I rounded the block on my final lap, I stopped to further inspect the cart, lingering long enough that the man of the house spotted me.

"I'll let you have that trailer for $125," said he.  I was going to offer you $100, I countered.  "It's yours!"  Now all I have to do is install the brake lights, transfer the title, register and insure it, AND get a hitch for my CRV.  THEN I can use it to haul manure.  My neighbor said I could use his pickup truck for manure, but I was reluctant because 1) I would feel compelled to get a whole truckload at a time and that is a lot of shit to shovel, and 2) I would also feel compelled to not just wash the truck but try to remove every molecule of odor from it - I happen to like the smell of horse manure, but some people find it offensive, and it does tend to linger.

The need for manure for the garden has become paramount.  After the soil tests I did this spring revealed my soil was low in nitrogen, I tried to amend that by adding blood meal and bone meal to some of the beds.  The paste tomatoes now look leggy and seem less productive than last year.  The Irish potatoes grew awfully tall as well.  So I am returning to my root (heh) philosophy that one should feed the soil and then the soil will feed the plants.  Hence, the manure.  I found a free source of it, too.  All I have to do is shovel it.  Sounds like a good job for my SO to help with.  I will turn that river rat into a farmer yet.

Speaking of tomatoes, the only ones ripening are the paste ones, and they are suffering from blossom end rot.  As I recall, BER was a problem with this variety last year.  I thought maybe I overwatered them, so this year I was trying to be more moderate with the hose.  Apparently that is not the key to success.  The tomato plants growing in sacks of MiracleGro look wonderful, are loaded with fruit, but the 'maters just won't ripen. Yesterday I did the unthinkable:  I PURCHASED tomatoes, albeit home grown ones that were grown in someone else's garden.  I did get a handful of green beans from my garden yesterday, though, and I am enjoying some garlic and peppers and overgrown scallions in my omelets these days.

Friday we received a blessed half-inch of rain, but it is still hot and humid.  There is supposed to be a break tomorrow, though, and while the hot will return later in the week, it is supposed to be drier.  I, for one, am tired of feeling trapped indoors.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

No end in sight

I cannot believe how hot it was, is, and will be for the foreseeable future.  And the humidity!  This morning I went out to check the plants on the patio while it was still cool enough to breathe out there, and even though I did not move around enough to break a sweat, my t-shirt was soaked from the moisture in the air.  Very tropical.

I'm still tomato-less.  There are tomatoes out there, lots of them, but none with even a hint of red.  I don't understand what the problem is.  I have enjoyed a Wenk's pepper from the plant I wintered over, plus I scrounged up a potato that was very tasty.  I hope there are more spuds under all that straw.  Maybe next week the zucchini will make an appearance.

Sometimes I wonder whether conventional gardening wisdom is based on scientific fact or old gardeners tales, and I contemplate running some experiments myself.  I accidentally performed one such experiment with the garlic.

Can you tell which bulb did not have the scape removed?  Onions are next, some of which have seed heads on them.  We'll check them out, too.

This little fellow sitting in the cotoneaster came to visit Princess Fern, who loves to watch birds.  The parents were less than happy, but the window pane held despite the cat's pawing at it.

I think this was the same baby that scared the bejesus out of me while I was watering the neighbor's porch plants later in the day.

The coneflower is a bit past its prime and starting to form seeds.  These are in the meadow, and there is a patch by the patio as well, for up close and personal dining by goldfinch.

The Rose of Sharon is in full bloom now, and the hibiscus is just starting.  The meadow is still a bit weedy despite my SO's attentions, but it is just too dang hot to do anything about it right now.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ruint! and eggplant squee!

I've been drinking raw milk for several weeks now.  A very refreshing way to consume it is iced cafe au lait. The other day I went to make myself just such a drink, but because I wanted to skim the cream off my latest share of milk, I used some ultra pasturized milk instead.  OMG, did that stuff taste HORRID!  I'm also getting spoiled by grass fed beef and pastured pork and free range chickens.  I can't help but wonder if part of this country's obesity problem isn't due to "real" food being so tasteless that it cannot compete with food-like products.  What we are truly hungry for is nutrition and flavor, but we aren't getting it at the grocery store.

Second topic:  Look what I found on the patio today:

Itsy bitsy teeny weeny eggplants!

I hope they grow faster than the Meyer lemons are projected to.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gather ye hoses while ye may

How many feet of garden hose is enough?  This pile is just for the backyard.  I bought a new hose for the front yard, one that can reach around both sides of the house.  Buried in that pile above is a wand for sprinkling, also a new purchase this year.  I liked it so much, I bought a second one for the front yard.  Too lazy to make both sides of the house share one wand.

Ordinarily, I don't water the meadow, but there are pumpkins and squash planted there this year.  I have been hand-delivering water to them, but with the bee balm and milkweed in bloom, venturing in there takes an intrepid soul.

"They" say that using sprinklers is the least efficient way to water, but my observation is that watering the soil at the base of the plant works but the plants really appreciate a good shower from above.  It cleans off the dust and clears the pores.  I know just how they feel.

Yesterday it finally rained, one-half inch.  That is the first measurable rain my yard has received since June 20.  Needless to say, no mowing has been going on.  And it has been HOT.  Saturday my SO and I spread two pickup truckloads of mulch around the shrubs.  That just about KILLED us.  The next two days are supposed to be reasonable - high 70's and low 80's - then it is back around 90-ish for the weekend.  Ugh.

I don't know much about insects but I'll go out on a limb and say this is a small white butterfly.  These are also known as cabbage butterflies, as their larvae are responsible for the ruination of many a cabbage patch.

The following two pics are of a hummingbird moth.  At least, that is my story and I'm sticking to it.  I did not expect the photos to turn out at all because this little bugger (ha) would not sit still.  It flitted around each blossom, checking for nectar.

And if a blossom was particularly deficient in nectar, it flitted even faster.  The page I linked to says it feeds on the foliage of the honeysuckle family, but it doesn't say if that is honeysuckle bush (a non-native invasive that I HATE) or the honeysuckle vine.  I haven't noticed any damage on either in my yard.

When I wasn't chasing bugs with my camera today, I was digging holes.  I purchased two more crocosmia because the one I have is not visible enough from the West Wing.  I love the red blossoms, so much so I did not realize I planted one of them in front of the Rose of Sharon, which is just starting to put out its pink blossoms.  I also decided to move the 'Blue' hosta across the yard, to a shadier spot.  When I dug it up, it looked very divisible, so now their are FIVE hostas under the viburnums.

The Early Girl tomatoes STILL are not ripe, which is just about killing me.  And I learned today that "everbearing" strawberries are not really EVER bearing; instead, they produce two bursts of fruit, one in the spring and one in the fall.  I also learned today that those Meyer lemons will take 3-4 months to ripen.  I think I will have to maul the potato plants soon, in search of new potatoes.  So much garden and nothing edible right now.  Besides scallions and ready-to-bolt lettuce.  Which I better go water before I forget.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Wake up!

I've been sleep walking lately. A Way to Garden woke me up the other day with the post about garlic. They say to harvest garlic when the bottom half is dry and the top half still green. I looked at my garlic and realized that the bottom half was still green but the tops were dry, a sure sign of not enough water. Not only that, but one variety, the Broadleaf Czech, was completely dry, at least the plants that were not missing entirely. I think only about half even came up, but since I was not paying close attention, I can't be sure.

Bad garlic gardener!

I harvested the seven bulbs that were discernible, and they are not the best examples I've seen, some small and misshapen and one separating, which I think means it was ready to grow into new plants.  I just might plant the cloves from that one, and enjoy "green garlic" later this season.

Today I broke down and bought sprinklers. That is not my favorite way to water, but I just can't face another summer standing in the yard, hose in hand. Several years ago, I purchased some irrigation equipment which I never set up. While I'm figuring out that, the garden will get showered.

On a happier note, I took a closer look at the Meyer's lemon.

Look!  See!  TWO fruits and a new blossom!

A week or two ago, I stumbled upon a gardening show that had a short segment on a Meyer's lemon. The one in the show was 3-4 feet tall, and the host discussed removing suckers to maintain the single trunk. He also snipped each tip to encourage branching. I'll have to remember that when mine gets a little bigger.

I've been trying to photograph the meadow, to show you its splendor - yarrow, bee balm, milkweed, sunflowers, crocosmia, coneflower, daisies, etc. - but I'm not able to capture its essence.  Here are a couple of up close and personal shots, though.

Volunteer from under the bird feeder

LOTS of bees in the meadow

Finny Knits recently provided a video tour of her garden.  I may steal that idea in the future, but right now I would be too embarrassed to show you all the weeds.  It looks quite wild out there.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Free mint water

Do you pay upwards towards $1.69 for a bottle of mint water?  If you have mint growing in your backyard, you can make it for free.  I don't recall where I saw this recipe, but just pick 1-2 cups mint leaves (I use spearmint), bruise them a bit, then add them to a gallon of water.  Store in the refrigerator and a couple of hours later, you have mint water.  Very refreshing!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Say cheese!

Against your better judgment, I decided to give the raw milk a try.  I am now the owner of one herd share from Pasture's Delights.  I'll write more about this topic at another time, as this move on my part has generated a lot of internal debate and philosophising, and I'm still hashing some of that out.
My one share entitles me to approximately a gallon of milk a week.  I like milk, but living alone, I am finding that to be a lot of milk to deal with.  So I decided to try making some cheese.

First up, because it was easiest, was mascarpone, made from the cream I skimmed off one of the gallons.  I used this recipe and it turned out fine, at least as far as I know.  I think the only mascarpone I have had has been in Italian desserts, and at that time I did not know what I was eating.

I think this is only the second time I have used this double boiler in 20 years.
Most of this was mixed with honey and eaten on rhubarb muffins.  And it was good!

I don't know why this photo is so yellow - the cheese is actually white.
I also used some to make The Most Voluptuous Cauliflower, from New York Times Cookbook.  (I tried adding the Amazon link to that book, but either Blogger or Amazon is not playing nicely today.)  Also good.

Today I decided to try my hand at ricotta made from whole milk, using a recipe that came with Ricki's Cheesemaking Kit for Mozzarella and Ricotta (ordered from here).

Looks like cheese to me!
I did not get the yield I expected.  And the curds are dry.  There are a lot of things I have learned from books, but I'm thinking I could really benefit from attending a cheesemaking workshop.  Also, there is a lot of leftover whey which, unless one is fattening a hog or has time to go on a baking binge, is kind of useless.  I'm going to try watering my strawberries with it - since I used citric acid to make the cheese, they should love it.

Saturday, July 02, 2011


Those little lemon blossoms?  One of them has turned into a baby Meyer's lemon!

The "tree" itself is only 12" tall, but is showing some new growth.  Yippee!

Too bad my green thumb doesn't extend to the Patio Princess tomato.  Don't know what's wrong with it, but it sure looks sickly.  The pepper plants don't look real perky, either, so I dosed them with fish emulsion (and the dog chewed up the watering can afterwards).  We need rain, real bad.  I did some watering last night, but I hope this does not turn into another dry summer here.

Have a fun and safe Independence Day!