July 16, 2007

Garden Update

I had a good weekend garden-wise and completed the following tasks:

1) Harvested most of the beets - including the golden beets. I can't believe they worked out.
2) Pulled up all the arugula which bolted long ago.
3) Planted lima bean seeds and new Beet seeds where the arugula and Beets used to be.
4) Weeded (of course)
5) Watered
6) Cooked all the beets and the beet greens - I put the red ones and golden ones in a container together with a paper towel in between so that the golden ones wouldn't get red but, that worked for about 5 minutes.
7) Made my first small jar of pesto for the season (from basil given to me from someone elses farm share though)

I have also made the following discoveries and decisions:

1) The "bee balm" that was given to me isn't bee balm but, lemon balm. It smells good but, has no crazy, fun flowers on it.
2) The general layout of the garden seems to be working and I am very pleased.
3) The seedlings from the women's shelter really were just so-so this year. The basil is just now starting to look ok. The eggplant didn't grow at all and the tomato plants look healthy and are growing now but, I've only just started to get flowers while most of my garden neighbors have big, green tomatoes on their plants and they're about twice as big as mine.
4) The sink needs something new in it. It's basically a bunch of weeds now with one california poppy. I'm thinking it might be the perfect place for mint (or maybe the lemon balm) actually.
5)Some of the plants near the sink -- like the lavender -- are too crowded and shaded. I need to move things around a bit.
6) The purple coneflower looks great and the black-eyed susan is enormous and should be blooming very soon. I need to remember to divide it though otherwise it's likely to take over completely.

June 30, 2007


Once again I am amazed at the fact that I can grow real food from seeds! Check out these beets!
I celebrated the accomplishment by making a sandwich conceived at a cafe near my house:

Whole grain bread
Goat Cheese
Steamed Beets
Arugula with a little bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

They call it "The goat in the garden."

The cafe uses pretty bland arugula (no spice!) nor does it have the tell-tale signs of being homegrown in the form of tiny holes from flea beetles. The beets I grew were sweeter too. It's actually a great cafe but, there's just no comparison. I plan to keep the house stocked with good bread and goat cheese until I've harvested all the beets.


June 18, 2007

kid, flowers, rampage

I walked into the garden at about 7:30PM on Saturday evening after being out of town for a week. As I approached my plot I was stopped by a neighbor and gardener who is a very nice guy and who has 3 young children that spend a lot of time in the garden. He let me know that he saw a kid over by my plot earlier in the day doing something not very nice to my flowers. He also let me know that:

1) He was not in the garden but, in his yard so unable to yell or stop her.
2) It wasn't his kids........he wanted me to know.
3) He know's whose kid it was, that her dad was in the garden and nearby at the time but, not paying attention (obviously!) and wasn't sure what I or he should do but, he was very sorry.

When I got to my plot I saw lots of mutilated california poppies and lots of bright orange petals on the ground. As I surveyed the scene more carefully I noticed a kid-sized watering can filled with more flower petals. Now, had these been tomato blossoms or something else more "important" I might have really lost it but, as it was, I was able to use my good sense of humor to overcome any anger or disappointment. It's pretty funny to think of this little kid going to work on my flowers while her Dad just worked about 20 feet away.

I assured the nice neighbor who tattled that this experience would note turn me "anti-kid."

I'll probably shoot the oblivious dad an e mail just so he can try not to let it happen again but, it is a little awkward and I don't want him to feel accused. I guess this is all part of sharing space with neighbors right?

June 10, 2007

Tomato "Do-Over"

Two of my tomato plants (ciudad and striped green german) were looking pretty terrible so I picked up some more seedlings to replace them. The best I could find were some non-heirloom roma's. A little less exciting but, I was feeling like I needed to have a couple of "safety" tomatoes.

I'm thinking that maybe the women's shelter is not the best bet for seedlings. I love the idea and last year was fine but, pretty much everyone else in the garden seems to have larger and healthier tomato plants than I do right now. Some of that may also be the tp rolls I used. Although I haven't seen any cutworm damage, the plants don't seem to be growing that much bigger. It didn't seem like a great idea to cram the roots in there but, I wasn't sure what else to do. I decided to plant the new tomatoes sans toilet paper rolls. We'll see how it goes. Maybe next year I'll try newspaper instead. I watered with fish emulsion which I'm thinking of as "plant vitamins" so I'm hoping that will help.

I also got my first garlic scape. I had read that I should cut them off once they start to turn - even though I think they look super cool growing like that -- so that the plant will put more energy into the garlic in the ground. I was really nervous about cutting it because I wasn't sure where on the plant to cut but, I just took a guess and cooked it up with some mushrooms and butter. Delicious.

Oh and the california poppies next to the sink are out. Still no real flower activity IN the sink but, I'm hopeful that I'll see some action pretty soon.

June 3, 2007

In the weeds

Weeding really sucks. It's incredibly tedious and my back and legs start to ache almost right away. I'm sure that part of the problem is that I pull things out by hand instead of digging up weedy areas with some sort of tool. Most of the time though, I lean over thinking "let me just get this one weed, it'll just take a sec" and then realize there's more down there that needs to be pulled.

The things I think about while weeding are similar to the things I think about while running or at the gym ie: I'm talking myself into continuing and telling myself a) that its not that bad and won't last that much longer....I'm "almost there" b) that the work I put in now will be worth it in the end because it will make the next time that much easier and c) that this is something I can and will be proud of once I'm done.

Ok I'm done complaining.

I did a good job today. I weeded and then added a bunch of mulch to keep future invaders at bay. I know that even though there will be a zillion new little weeds in a few days the weeds I pulled today would have grown much larger and be stealing precious sun, water and nutrients from the plants I really care about. Check out the garlic above!

In fact, I really like weeding or rather I feel good about the fact that I do it dutifully. It seems to me that a big part of being a good gardener is just a willingness to do a lot of tedious work. Knowing what work to do and how to do it correctly and the timing, spacing and needs and wants of things is the rest and I'm getting better at all of that but, those things are trickier. Weeding I can definitely do.

Plus, it gives me something to do in the garden pretty much every time I go out there. Even if I don't need to water. In June, I always have to weed.

Overall I'm feeling really good about the garden layout this year. There are lots of things going in different directions and the plants look organized but, not so orderly that they're boring. I can get to everything and everybody seems to have enough space to grow.......except maybe the zucchini. Frankly, I'm a little terrified of the zucchini.

The sink continues to be a challenge but, now that I've gotten the person who was putting cigarette butts in it to stop, I've planted some seeds and will hopefully have some new flowers growing out of it.

May 29, 2007

Safety First

Memorial Day Weekend is the unoffical tomato planting weekend for my area but, since I was away for a wedding in D.C. I had to wait until today. The wedding was lovely and congrats to the happy couple by the way!

My flight landed and less than 2 hours later I was in the garden getting the seedlings, that had been pretty much just surviving on my porch, into the ground. These included 6 tomato plants (5 varieties), 4 eggplants (2 varieties), zucchini, and basil. I also borrowed my brother's car and got marigolds and rosemary.

Since all my seedlings came in six-packs I selected a few healthy ones and gave the rest to a friend who gardens in a nearby community garden and a new gardener who happened to be clearing out her plot while I was working.

I might have gone a little overboard but, here's what I did for maximum seedling survival:

1) I staked AND caged the tomatoes. I know that everything I read says that if you do one you don't need to do the other but, my experience last year (with just staking) was that everything just got out of control and ended up on the ground. I only had 5 stakes and 5 cages so two of the plants only have one support thingy but, I'm planning to add the extra reinforcements as soon as I can get to a home depot. Most of the time I'm glad I don't own a car just every once in a while it would be pretty handy.

2) I planted everything inside toilet paper rolls as a defense against cutworms. This was kinda tricky since the soil and roots for the seedlings was often bigger than the width of the cardboard roll so I really had to cram them in there. I'm worried that this will be a little suffocating for the plants although I know that the roots can grow through the bottom of the roll, it just seems like a long way to go at first. Hopefully it will all work. I will say that the chard I planted a few weeks ago seems to be doing ok in the tp rolls so I suppose that's encouraging.

3) I layed out Enriching Mulch around all the seedlings that I planted (not in the photos) which will help retain moisture, prevent splashing and keep the weeds down a bit. I assume the "enriching" aspect of the mulch is a good idea. I sure hope so.

4) I watered with diluted fish emulsion which is supposed to provide really good nutrients for seedlings -- especially tomatoes.

By the end I was really filthy, smelled like fish and had a really bad and funny looking sunburn (due to my racerback tank top). I stupidly ran outside and stayed in the sun for hours without applying sunscreen -- pretty dumb move I know. Safety is important for plants and gardeners alike.

May 14, 2007

No Pineapple!

I picked up all my seedlings from the shelter/farm on Saturday. Although I was excited to get them, I was a bit disapppointed because:

1) I was really excited about getting the Pineapple tomato seedlings that I ordered but, when I got there the farm dude said they weren't able to get the seeds or something and he had to give me something else . We had a nice bonding moment over the fact that the Pineapple are THE BEST TOMATOES EVER and an even better moment (for me) when he mentioned how hard they were to grow and how you're lucky if you get one from a whole plant. That was exactly my experience last year but, seriously that one was huge and beautiful and the most delicious tomato I have ever tasted in my life. It would be worth it to try again. It's nice when the experts agree with you. It makes me feel like I know what I'm doing. Still, being denied the Pineapple is yet another reason why I need to figure out how to grow my own seedlings.

2) They didn't have the marigolds I ordered either. They let me switch them out for some other herbs or veggies ( I chose leeks) but, I'll still need to get marigolds from someplace.

3) Overall the seedlings didn't look that great compared to last year. I'm not sure why since the weather last year was MUCH worse but, c'est la vie I suppose. Some of my "six packs" had only 3 or 4 viable seedlings. Still, the price is right (most of the six packs were about $3) and it's a good organization.

I planted the parsley, leeks and chard so far and I got some purple sage and planted that too. I'm trying to baby the rest of the seedlings on the porch. I hope they can survive until it's warm enough to get them in the ground.

PS: Very special thanks to my cousin Darth Green Thumb to whom all the credit is due if I end up with carrots in about 55 days.

May 10, 2007

Soil Temperature Maps

I've been dreaming of a soil thermometer lately and I still might get one but, I just found a link with current and 5-day soil temperature maps by region!! Should I trust this? Its been really warm the past 3 days, will the soil cool off again?

Looks like its warm enough to plant my snap bean seeds and maybe even tomatoes but....probably better not to push it.

May 5, 2007

Moving Day

Today (Saturday) was amazing!!!
I worked in the garden from 10AM to 3:30PM today. It was a scheduled workday so most of that time was working on community projects like digging holes and pounding in borders for new plots. I also spent a lot of time asking for advice on the layout of my plot and talking about the garden shed. I think we're close to a resolution on the shed issue. Fingers crossed.

I did settle on a new layout though and got it all set up. This involved some aggressive hawking of plants to assuage my guilt over giving them the boot. A few plants got tossed in a heap, a few were "adopted" and a few got moved around. The biggest victims were the daylillies (tossed) and the strawberries (half and half).

I moved the coreopsis, blackeyed susan, and purple coneflower out of their respective corners to concentrate all the perennials into just 2 areas. Oh and I got some free bee balm from a vacated garden plot. It pays to tell your friends the plants you want so they keep an eye out for ya!

I also created a back row that will become "Tomato Lane" to hopefully keep the tomatoes from shading everyone else while giving them enough room to get air and be happy. I still haven't figured out exactly where everything else goes but, I'm getting closer.

The garlic I planted in the fall is coming up! See the photo to the left. Not all of it made it but, I have at least 4 potential bulbs making their way in my little garden plot.

I haven't included a picture but, for those of you following along, its safe to say my porch composting experiment was a big fat flop. It just looks like dried leaves now. Luckily we got some of the good stuff delivered and I added about 5 wheelbarrows full into my plot today.
I feel sure that this will be my best gardening season yet!!

April 7, 2007

Cutworm War: Pre-Battle

Today I took my first real step towards fighting cutworms in my garden this spring. Regular readers may recall my troubles last year and I've been collecting toilet paper rolls for a few months now so I think I'm set for planting. That won't happen until late May though and I had heard that one good technique is to turn over the soil while its still sort of cold out but, the ground is no longer frozen. The idea is to expose the cutworm eggs (is it larva? pupa? I know I should know this) to the harsh elements before they grow into their next, most damaging stage. The high temp today was 40 and tonight's low should be about 33 degrees so I'm hoping that will be cold enough to freeze them to death - literally.

I'm not entirely sure if I've got the timing right - so it could be too soon or too late but, I figure there's no harm in trying. Also, it was GREAT to get back out there digging in the dirt. Technically, by turning over my garden in the fall last year I ALSO did some damage to the cutworms but, given the seedling carnage last year I figure it's better to be safe than sorry.

Over the past few days I've come up with a few ideas for layout. I feel like last year was functional but, not very inspiring. This year I have an idea of a path through the garden that vaguely resembles a question mark. To pull this off and make room for all the plants I have in mind it might be time to give up on the strawberries. I didn't really get more than a tiny handful last year so I can't really say that I grew strawberries as much as I grew strawberry potential.

Meanwhile my order of seeds arrived and I got 2 kinds of beets: Golden and Red Ace. I'm most excited about golden beets but, red ace is my "safety" since they're supposed to be easy to grow.

I expect the blogging to pick back up again now that I'll actually be out there although right now true gardening weather still seems like a loooong way away.

March 9, 2007

City Natives

Update on the Garden Meeting: The meeting went surprisingly well. There were about 30 people there which was more than I was expecting given the cooooold weather.

1) Natives vs. a "Rose Garden" - I am pleased to announce that natives won hands down. There was virtually no one who was interested in any other idea. Yippee. We agreed on a general shape and size for the area and now we need a committee to help figure out the details.

2) Garden Shed - This was the most controversial aspect of the meeting. The Steering Commitee had started to worry about the initial idea of building something from scratch due to the cost and specialized skill needed to pull it off and one member started looking into "compromise" options so that we could still do some sort of community "barn raising"but, maybe not need to spend as much time or money to get what we need. Heck, we need a shed already. There was some concern about this option and how sad it is if we really can't do it from scratch. The group was split over just getting it done at a lower cost with some community input vs. doing it from scratch. I just don't know that we have anyone in the neighborhood with the skills required who is willing to put in the time we'd need. Regardless we are gonna have a shed (and it will be made of wood and designed just for us) and that is exciting.

There were a few angry neighbors at the meeting but, we managed to appease them after a while and there were lots of new people who seem very willing to help out.

March 6, 2007

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Tonight is a big Community Garden meeting where we will discuss some pretty controversial topics like work hours, a garden shed, a natural plantings area and dog poo.

Our garden has a lot of space beyond the garden plots and was designed as a "multi-use" area for the community. Its basically like a small park in the middle of the neighborhood and everyone has some opinion about how it should look. The natural plantings area caused a stir last year (with a petition and everything) so it could be an eventful night. The issue is about the look and height of what we plant. Native plants and flowers tend not to be as pretty and neat as a rose garden but, they are a really cool thing to have in an urban area. The battle will likely be among the "lovely manicured garden" camp and the "wild and natural" camp. Plus there will be a contingent who just want it all to be grass so they can kick a ball and run around unencumbered.

It is amazing how heated this stuff can get. Before last summer there was all out war over whether or not to have a designated dog park in the garden - thus the controversy over the dog poo that's been littering the perimeter. I have agreed to run the meeting. Most of my co-Committee members think I'm crazy to volunteer for such a job. Its a good kind of crazy I think. I'm up for it.

Honestly though, its about 4 degrees outside and feels like -17 so there's a good chance that very few people will come to the meeting which means we won't get input but, also means we can't (in theory) be blamed for going forward with the best options available since we invited people to participate. It's seriously hard to get people to think about gardening when its dark and cold outside.

February 14, 2007

Give me your toilet paper rolls!

I placed my order for seedlings and ended up spending the exact same amount of money as last year: $33.50. That's a pretty good deal for 66 individual plants. I actually e mailed a friend to see if she wanted to share the order since I definitely won't have room for all of it in my garden plot.

They didn't have beets so I ordered:
Tomatoes: Brandywine, Green Zebra and Pineapple (loved these last year even though I didn't get many) Sun Gold, Sweet Olive, Ciudad Victoria, Peacevine and Super Sweet 100s. I'll definitely need to narrow these down.

Eggplant: Nadia (same as last year) and Fairy Tale which are supposed to be purple with white stripes.

Zucchini (just for the flowers so my brother can have a reason to buy a deep fryer)
Swiss Chard
and Marigolds

So I still have a lot of seeds to get: snap beans, lima beans, carrots and beets for sure! I think I have finally given up on peppers, at least for this year. I think 2 years of failure in a row means I should take a break. Perhaps this year I will really map out the whole plot and stick to the paper plan.

I also started collecting empty toilet paper rolls to ward off cut worms when I plant the seedlings. If you live in my area please feel free to save a few and hand them over next time you see me. I'm serious. I figure I'll need at least 20 or even 30 by May and I'm not quite sure how long it takes to go through TP in my house.

February 6, 2007

The Long Winter

I have been gone for a long time and for those of you who got used to my weekly posts I am sorry to have left and I hope you come back to read this. All of a sudden I am panicking at all of the garden related stuff I need to do. The deadline for ordering seedlings from the women's shelter that is also an organic farm is February 10th and I haven't even looked at the list yet!! Beets though, I definitely want to grow beets.

I am still enrolled in the Master Urban Gardener Program and planning to go to all of the classes that I can this Winter but, I've already missed 2. One, I had a good excuse for and the other...well...I had been out of town a lot and had just flown home the day before. I was really intending to go but, then it was insanely cold out and I just couldn't do it. I need to get back in the habit. They sent me a nice list of all of the classes I still need to make up and almost the whole list is highlighted. I'll be taking this free, weekly, class for 4 years at this rate.

Oh and can we talk about this weather? It's finally really cold but, I am sure that all of the warm weather for so long was not good for the garden. I had planted garlic bulbs in the fall and I don't think they were supposed to have sprouted anything green until the spring but, if you walk over to my garden plot now there are these little garlic shoots coming up. That's probably bad. I have learned some things since last year though. I'll be beginning my stash of toilet paper rolls (aka: cutworm protection) shortly.

Alright well more on the weather and classes and the porch compost and the Garden Steering Committee and my seedling selections next time.

I am glad to be back.