Tag Archives: gardening

Garden 2013–Let There Be Light!

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Dear Reader:

Here we are at the end of June, and my garden boxes are just beginning to fill in. I started late this year, missing my Memorial Day Weekend planting deadline. I picked up baby plants hither, thither, and yon–Tibbetts Family Farm for herbs and a thistle, Newfield Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market for tomatoes and a few more herbs, Snell Family Farm for veggies and flowers. Tibbetts again for truckloads of compost and compost/loam mix.

We also had 26 pine trees cut off the property–a mutually beneficial arrangement where the guys cut the trees in exchange for the lumber. Can I just say…HOORAY! What a difference this is making around my yard. Sunlight hits the garden boxes at least three more hours per day. Another area that was completely shaded from 11 a.m. until dark now gets more light than any other spot on the property, and my brain is turning and tumbling with ideas of creating a branching permaculture style garden there. First, though, there is the keyhole bed to finish, the hugelkultur garden to complete and plant, and–oh, yeah–making edging beds around the new forest perimeters so the blackberry brambles do not get a toehold.

While I have managed to plant the square-foot garden boxes, this will be the summer of garden bed preparation and transplanting of perennials, where possible. So glad I purchased a CSA share–the produce comes to me to me in large brown paper bags, all ready to eat. I’ve consumed more greens over the past month than I did all last year, I swear!

Anyway, here are the garden boxes this year, for a record.

Box One

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row 1: radishes; row 2: oregano, thyme, rosemary, thyme, oregano; row 3: garlic chives; row 4: borage, milk thistle, borage; row 5: dill inter-planted with spinach seeds.

Box Two

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row 1: tomatoes; row 2: sage, lettuces, shiso, green pepper; row 3: lettuces, chocolate mint (perennial), lemon balm (perennial)

Box Three

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row 1: petunias; row 2: sweet woodruff, basil, savory: row 3: bronze fennel, fennel, bronze fennel (radishes interplanted)

Box Four

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center: four pink salvia; corners: pickling cukes; spaces: salad greens mix

Box Five

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row 1: radishes; rows 2 & 3: kale, broccoli raabe, hot pepper; row 4: hot pepper, parsley, celery

Box 6

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row 1: calendula; row 2: fennel, celery, celery, fennel; row 3: basil, celery, celery, basil; row 4: zucchini

Box 7

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row 1: petunia, basil, petunia, pickling cuke; row 2: red pepper, fennel, curly parsley, red pepper; row 3: lettuce seeds, pickling cuke, summer squash, summer squash; row 4: spinach seeds

Box 8

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row 1: petunia, parsley, parsley, petunia; row 2: onions all across from seed; row 3: snapdragon, bachelor button, zinnia, dill from seeds; row 4: romaine lettuce and green lettuce from seed

Box 9

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First two rows: peas; Second two rows: bush beans

New Keyhole garden

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This will be the apple guild eventually. Apple tree will go in the back surrounded by borage, dandelion, comfrey, beans, and daffodils. The “arms” will be planted with various stuff. I stuck some alyssum, camomile, and butterfly weed in there, but more compost and loam is going to be added.

Hugelkultur garden

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This is a big hole where a stump used to be. The stump I tried to “rot” with lime and a plastic covering a couple years ago. When the tree guys came, they hauled it off (and took the beginnings of my hugelkultur garden with it!) I restacked the sticks and greeny stuff, started dumping on compost and old leaves, and will continue to work on it over the summer, eventually covering with a few inches of compost/loam. I wanted to plant potatoes and squash in there. Perhaps if I get my butt in gear…if not, there is next year. Maybe better to get some manure and throw it on and let it age over the winter anyway?

Various flower and perennial beds are looking fine. I have an elderberry to plant and one to transplant from its current location.

So, that is my 2013 garden so far. I am loving my plot of land now that the light is coming in. Now, I better sign off and get out there to work!

Spring!

spring!

spring! by localista featuring a straw hat

Dear Reader:

The snow is gently retreating from my northern lawn. The first brave shoots of daffodils have pushed up beside the front steps. And I am planning and plotting my garden–when I’m not interviewing subjects for my newspaper articles or working on my novella or making homemade granola, that is.

Granola is easy: just throw 3 cups of whole oats, some flax seeds, some chopped walnuts, some cocoa powder, some cinnamon, a dash of salt in a bowl. Mix in two tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 cup of local maple syrup (I love the darker syrup, a little smokey-flavored from the old-fashioned wood-fired pan-reducing process. The syrup I use is made out in an open-sided shed on a wooded property overlooking the White Mountains off in the distance.Thank you Dana Masse of Shady Mountain Syrup Company in Parsonsfield, Maine!)

I put the mixture on a greased pan and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes on 350 degrees, stirring every ten minutes or so. Once cool, add seeds and dried fruits of your choice. This week’s addition of dried cherries from Cornerstone Country Market was SO good with the light cocoa flavor of the oats.I highly recommend both the cherries and Cornerstone.

Garden plans: I’ve convinced Hubby to move his horseshoe pits to a different location which will make room for up to SEVEN more boxes in a mostly-sunny spot just shy of the septic field. That would bring my count up to sixteen 4ft. square boxes. If I can ever figure out the perfect soil to put in them, I should be able to grow lots of greens, peppers, cucumbers, and herbs. Maybe even some cherry tomatoes. But I’m giving up on regular slicing or sauce tomatoes. These I will simply purchase at the farmer’s market or my CSA (reminder to self: fill out CSA form!).

We’ll see how the apple tree guild area fared over the winter. I looked at it a little bit yesterday, and the hay and compost and leaves didn’t break down as much as I’d hoped. The remedy will be to top it off with some composted manure and maybe plant some legumes this spring to turn in. I will plant the apple tree this spring, regardless. It is time for that guild. A guild is a grouping of plants that complement each other. This is a permaculture principle. In this case, an apple tree ringed with daffodils and/or garlic, some legumes, maybe some dandelions to bring up nutrients from the deeper soil, some comfrey to work as a natural mulch, etc. I found this idea in a book called Gaia’s Garden. Click HERE to see the apple guild page. I’ll be researching crab apples as I’d like to make more crab apple jelly.

Last project: hugelkultur. I pronounce this hoogle-cool-tour but I don’t know if that is correct. You could say hoogle-culture. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can take old logs and branches and blowdowns, pile them up, cover them with soil, and plant on it. Click the link to read more. The idea is that as the wood breaks down, it retains moisture, reducing the need to water, and contains plenty of nutrients to support plant growth. I’d like to do this behind the raised beds, where the south-facing slope of the hugulkulture bed would catch the sun nicely. I’m thinking blueberries and potatoes, but I don’t know if those two plants make good companions. Will do more research.

What are your garden plans for this growing season? Are you itching to get out there with your shovel or trowel? Remember, food doesn’t get more local than your own back yard. Even if you set up a few containers and plant lettuce and some herbs, you are giving yourself a wonderful gift of homegrown food, a fun hobby, time outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and a science experiment all rolled into one. Enjoy your week, Dear Readers.

Two Sunday Morning Poems

Dear Reader:

A couple months ago, I wrote a poem about sitting outside on a glorious, summer Sunday morning. I called it “Sunday Morning.”

This week while organizing my filing cabinet, I discovered an old poem I wrote around 1996. Guess what it was called? “Sunday Morning.”

I see so many similarities between these two poems, and it kinda freaks me out. Has my inner landscape changed so little in sixteen years? No wonder I still feel twenty-something!

I will share both of these poems with you this morning . . . this Sunday morning Outside the Box.

SUNDAY MORNING (2012)

Outside, the pollen drops
from the trees, and dew
sparks tiny fires in the grass.
Shadows and heat
play tug of war
on the lawn while a lone
madrigal, solitary musician,
lights the air with sharp,
clear notes. The branches
of beech trees are lines on a page
and the bird’s song rides
up and down–
earnest, imperative composition.
“Find me, please, find me;
I am here, see, I am here, here, here.”
The dog pants hot on the porch.
A hummingbird sips
from the buds of pink Salvia
in the garden box.

I write while the others sleep
tucked into upstairs bedrooms.

SUNDAY MORNING (1996)

The faint whisper of some inner voice
left over from childhood
like dislike of beets
tells me I should be, oh, somewhere
in church nodding with the pious
over a particularly strong invective
from the pulpit
or else joining in a thunderous “AMEN!”
meant to shake the devil
from my very soul; I ache

instead to plunge wrist-deep
into this potting soil;
damp, dirt smell filling my nostrils,
sliding over my skin
like a caress
or a good baptism.
I worship these newborn flowers
petals sprinkled
with earth I tamped around them
and leaves still damp
from the fecund humidity of the greenhouse.
Infant pansies not yet come to bud
and flushed-pink impatiens
the color of a baby’s mouth.
Geraniums, dianthus, basil.
Lettuce leaves frill against the tiny
white-lace blossoms I cannot name.

One of the cats stalks
among the flower pots, sniffs
from each one delicately
before settling down for a wash.
I try to clear my head
of voices that can wait
’til Monday.
This is my Sunday morning
spent with many flowers and one wish–
to write my quiet moments into existence
before moving on to other worlds.

Radishical Propaganda

Easter Egg Radish Bouquet

Dear Reader:

I am in love with radishes at the moment. I bought these cute little Easter Egg radishes from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and planted them in the garden box with the carrots, miniature onions, and parsnips. This idea came from a really informative and inspiring book on container gardening by Rose Marie Nichols McGee and Maggie Stuckey called THE BOUNTIFUL CONTAINER.

The book is chock full of ideas for themed container-gardens along with recipes and basic know-how. The radish/carrot/parsnip idea came from the “A Kid’s Garden” theme. In this scheme, pots are planted in the spring with pansies, radishes, and carrots. The idea is that the pansies will be pretty while the veggies grow. The radishes mature quickly and keep the soil surface loose which helps the carrots, and by the time you pull the radishes, the carrots have space to develop. The authors also say to stick in a pumpkin seed or seedling in June…

First Radish–pinky purple!

Now, I have my pumpkins growing at the ends of my tomato hay-bales, so obviously I didn’t follow the scheme to the letter. My garden box has the radishes, carrots, parnips, onions, an eggplant, and a bright pink geranium instead of a pansy.

Root Veg Box

Soon after I planted this lovely box, torrential downpours swept through the land; I was afraid the teeny-tiny seeds would be swamped, flooded, pushed too far below the surface, or rotted. For a week or so I waited, hoping against hope that my seeds had managed to survive. Amazed one morning to see those evenly spaced rows of miniature seedlings, my heart rejoiced. The radishes emerged and burst into a growing green frenzy. Soon, I spotted color beneath the green just atop the soil. A week or so later, the colored stems began to swell into the cutest little Easter Egg-colored globes of peppery goodness.

I pulled the first purple-pink radish, sliced it thinly on top of the disappointing micro-greens (too micro!) and ate my miniature salad with a degree of satisfaction far out of proportion to the portion size.

The carrots and parsnips are holding their own as I gently harvest the rapidly-ripening radishes. If you are new to gardening or want to entice children to the joys of soil and seed, try some multi-colored, quick-growing, sow-easy-to-grow radishes. You really can’t mess them up, they provide practically instantaneous (for a garden) gratification, and add a nice little spicy crunch to your dinner salad.

Radish Growing and Glowing

Easy Button Pickled Radish Recipe

I am modifying a pickled radish recipe I found on Martha Stewart’s website which has a bunch more radish recipes you might want to try. Really, it’s as hard to mess up quick pickles as it is to mess up growing radishes. These babies are the ultimate “Easy Buttons.”

1. A bunch of nice-looking, home-grown Easter Egg radishes, slice thin.
2. 1/4 red onion, slice thin.
3. Enough red-wine vinegar to cover veggies.
4. 2 teaspoons course-ground sea salt.
5. 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

Mix everything in a bowl and let sit for 1/2 hour. Use right away or refrigerate for up to a day. Nice served with grilled turkey burgers or homemade veggie burgers and some new greens from your garden or the farmer’s market.

Eating Cold Strawberries on a Hot Summer Day

Local BerriesDear Reader:

Summer is here! Summer is here! Nature is ushering in the season with temperatures in the eighties and a haze of humidity, and I am sitting here eating my fill of cold strawberries harvested at a nearby farm and sold at our local branch of a corporate grocery chain. The juxtaposition of cool berries and hot air seems to mirror the juxtaposition of local produce sold, ironically, at a multinational chain store.

Is this ideal? Of course not. Ideal would be me rising early and biking up the road to Dole’s Orchards to pick berries grown at my neighborhood farm, paying cash to the neighbor-farmer who will reinvest in the farm and community, and biking back down the hill to my house to bake a strawberry rhubarb pie with the berries, rhubarb from my garden, and a pastry made from Maine whole wheat flour and lard from a real farm in Pennsylvania and purchased from the locally-owned, Amish-inspired store in a nearby town.

If I’ve learned one thing from my three years of blogging about localism and sustainability and community-building, it is how idealism is the beacon and how reality falls somewhere on the scale that measures between the shade of utter failure far from that beacon and the light-filled space of near-success.

Garden Boxes Summer Solstice

Take my garden boxes, for example. In my head, the ideal garden overflows with lush, green plants beginning to blossom and fruit. No pests reside here, just rich, moist garden soil, fat and happy earthworms, and the occasional bee and butterfly to pollinate and enliven the mini-ecosystem. In reality, the compost dries out much too fast because I really should have added in peat moss and vermiculite, the plants aren’t growing as fast as I wish, the eggplant and cabbages have holes in the leaves (and some leaves completely gnawed) where some tiny, marauding insect has plundered the succulent vegetation. The plants in the herb bed look yellowish. The micro greens in the greens beds are still micro-micro–too small to harvest even after a month of growth.

Peas and Zuccini

I sit outside with my coffee and contemplate the state of my garden and realize that even though it isn’t perfect, it is quite lovely and has the potential for productivity. The peas yearn upward toward the turned-on-its-side tomato cage I placed there for support. The zucchini and summer squash and cucumber plants spread wide palms to the sun. The hot-pink annuals–geranium and petunia and portulaca–burst with color in their corners next to the “black” Japanese shiso plant, the sweet potato vine, the chocolate mint in the pink & black garden box.

Wild Roses

I turn from my garden boxes and look at the wild edge. Here near a tumbled rock wall, the wild roses remind me that Nature often does a better job on her own. This year’s rosa rugosa blooms sweeten the air with their scent even as they glow against the gray backdrop of those old stones some farmer used to mark a field a hundred-fifty years ago. Earlier, there was a profusion of wild strawberries dancing at the feet of those rose princesses. Near the compost bin, a sturdy mullein thrusts out its plush, velvety leaves.

When I reach out to touch a rose, it falls apart, petals showering over my hands.

Perfection is not necessary in this world. The beauty is in the attempt, in the growth, in the trial-and-error. It is the appreciation for what is as well as the striving toward what could be.

Later this week, I will make my way to Dole’s to pick strawberries. I’ll probably drive my gas-powered automobile. Doing what is better than nothing really is better than doing nothing at all.

Straw Bale Sprouts

Straw Bale Sprouts

Dear Reader:

An update on how the straw bale garden is coming along. Following Joel Karsten’s instructions, I have been watering and fertilizing the two rows for about nine days. (Was keeping track and now realize I’ve thrown away my paper!) I’m a little concerned that all these sprouts are bursting up out of the straw, making my bales look like long, rectangular Chia Pets!

Hopefully this is a good sign that the fertilizer is doing its job; however, I’m wondering if this burgeoning hay won’t choke out tomato plants when I get them settled in to their warm and cozy home in a week or so. I’m waiting until Memorial Day Weekend–the traditional start of Maine gardening.

Up-slope in front of straw bale

Evidence is mounting that the fertilizer is also seeping through the bale and into the surrounding lawn. Above shows the decrepit state of my “lawn” on the upward side of the slight slope on which I plunked the straw bales. Pretty sparse and horrible, right?

Now, here is what the grass looks like on the downward slope where the run-off from my watering goes.

Between the Bales

These are not retouched photos! Can you believe the difference? I’m still wondering what to do about my leach-lawn. Maybe putting down some compost, some grass seeds, some fertilizer, some straw and a bunch of watering would make it look like a typical suburban plot of lawn. I could add a round “wildflower” plot perhaps, as I’ve read that wildflowers typically have more surface-loving root systems. The dandelions rioting out there certainly aren’t short-rooted, though. They are doing their very best to bring nutrients up to the surface with their long taproots. I should help them out, don’t you think? I also have some lime in my garage stash. The wouldn’t hurt either as the soil acidity if probably high from all the pine trees.

Crab Apple Tree Guild

I began planting a mini “apple tree guild” around my flowering crab as an experiment. In the inner circle, I stuck bulbs of MOFGA garlic that I will harvest as scapes, or green garlic. Then I transplanted two cuttings from a comfrey plant. Comfrey is a good “living composter.” You can cut the leaves off and compost them in place to provide nutrients to the soil. Comfrey is also known as “knit-bone” and has been used for hundreds of years to help heal bruises and bones. (As always, check with a trained herbalist before dosing yourself with anything!). I also transplanted a dandelion as they bring nutrients up from the deeper soil. In a week or so, I hope to plant some fava beans as nitrogen accumulators and some pretty nasturtiums. In the fall, I’ll put a ring of daffodils around the drip-line to discourage foraging creatures from getting into my guild.

If all goes well, I hope to plant a couple of medium-sized apple trees out front and create similar guilds. I want a good crab-apple for making jelly and maybe a regular apple for pies. I do need to research this as they should flower at the same time for cross-pollination.

Mystery Shrub

The mystery shrub on the north corner of my house is no longer a mystery. It is Kerria japonica. This is a double-flower variety I picked up as a very small perennial plant at a sidewalk sale in front of the beverage store/redemption center in Waterboro about seven years ago. It has grown to nice proportions and I can divide it easily to many spots around the yard beneath the trees. It seems to do quite well even in very sporadic dappled shade.

How is your garden journey going so far this spring? Do tell…Outside the Box.