latest news from the garden

IMG_7534We have been hard at work building our new garden.  Actually, we have been engaged in a war with bermuda grass and right now, we are barely hanging on to the lead in this battle!  Despite using lots of cardboard and wood chips, this stuff finds a way to break out and sprout up everywhere.  Luckily, there is no shortage of cardboard or wood chips as well as my stubborn determination!

Because of the density of the grass layer, we have turned to a favorite method of building beds and have begun layering materials on top of it rather than break our backs and knees with digging and sifting.  The blue tubs each have a sweet potato plant and we are hoping that we will have good luck with this method.  In the empty beds, I have layered horse manure, leaves and grass clippings and I will cover the area with cardboard and use purchased organic soil to grow in.  Eventually, the layers will compost and the cardboard will disintegrate leaving us with a nutrient rich layer of soil to garden in.  Patience is key here because this will take at least a year to accomplish and if all goes well, it will also smother out the bermuda grass in the beds.  Otherwise, I will have to dig it out because using something like glyphosate is not an option-read this to see just how bad the stuff is!

IMG_7536In late winter, I started a few beds by broadcasting a bunch of seeds over them.  In this bed, the Chinese Cabbages are doing really well and we should be harvesting them soon!

IMG_7539These Tokyo Market turnips are a favorite of ours and we are harvesting them about once a week.  They are wonderful when roasted and the greens are tender enough that you just have to saute them, no boiling necessary!

IMG_7541In a nearby bed, I threw in lettuce seeds, obviously too many but, we have had tons of lettuce to eat and to share.

IMG_7545We purchased about a dozen broccoli plants and we have been eating it roasted and in salads.  Did you know that you can harvest those large leaves and eat them too?  We have done this on many occasions making the individual plants twice as productive.  Use the heads and some of the stems raw in salads and slaws or roast the florets with a little oil and your favorite spice blend.  The leaves should be blanched first to soften them, then saute them with a little garlic, you won’t regret it.

IMG_7554Who doesn’t love surprises?  Especially if it is a raspberry bush-we have found two so far!

IMG_7556Of course, we learned of the muscadines from a neighbor and earlier this spring, we gave them a hard pruning to alleviate some of the weight and shading on the vines.  New vines have erupted and we are starting to see the promise of fruits.

IMG_7557Beyond the garden is an area where I am hoping to develop a meadow for bees and butterflies.  Right now, it is a tangle of weeds and in the middle, is what looks like a dandelion on steroids.  Goatsbeard, trogopogon dubius, is a type of salsify and is considered a weed.

IMG_7560It was disappointing to learn that it is an introduced species and not considered a beneficial addition to the landscape. But that seed head!

IMG_7550Then there is this guy, Hunky Dory the Americauna rooster we got in the latest brood.  He is a handsome fellow but a noisy one as well.  We gave him that name because he will crow to let us know that something is not up to his standards.  Not enough pellets; crow.  No water; crow.  Roosting bar fell down; crow.  Clock strikes 3am; crow…

IMG_7553Not only is it against the law, we do not want fertilized eggs or more chickens so the handsome fellow will be rehomed as soon as we can find a suitable situation.

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garden snapshots; life with chickens, bees and butterflies

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You’ve heard the saying, life gives you lemons-make lemonade, or something like that.  So we purchased six pullets, and when one turns out to be a rooster, you look for ways to make that lemonade thing work.  And if you have looked closely at the photo above, you wonder just what I am talking about because that is obviously a photo of five hens and you are correct.  Number 6, the rooster, is not in that photo, he is in the one below and a quick glance makes it pretty obvious.


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No question which one he is.  The hatchery guarantees an 85% accuracy rate on sexing them as they hatch.  One in six, about 85% accurate.  He had to go, especially since he had learned to crow.  Last time we saw him, he was tucked under the arm of a nice older gentleman who had a large farm and a collection of roosters like ours that needed a new home because city folk cannot have roosters.  He is surely enjoying the farm and his ability to free range the cotton fields.


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It took us several tries and a few near misses to lure him into the cage for the long ride.  He almost seemed to know that the jig was up.


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For a 14 week old bird, he was pretty and I am a little disappointed that I will not see him with all of his adult feathers.


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The garden in mid summer is teeming with surprises.  Finding these little guys on my dill plant was exciting because we were hoping for some caterpillars.  Although, they did eat most of the leaves and my dreams of homemade salad dressing were shelved until the next time I have a plant with leaves.


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Society garlic is an ornamental plant and if it has flowers like this, it is welcome in my herb garden.


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We have a lot of cucumber vines, not so many cukes but plenty of vines and on a stroll past one morning, I noticed a bumble bee tangled in the vines.  Except that it wasn’t tangled in a vine, he was caught in the arms of a praying mantis and apparently, his breakfast.  Such is the life in a garden and for all of you who did not know, a praying mantis will eat bugs of all kinds, good or bad which means that sometimes, the good bugs get eaten.


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He did not seem to enjoy the photo shoot so I moved on…


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Summer is salad season and in my garden, I have few greens to pick.  From the top left, going clockwise; leaf lettuce, nasturtium leaf, lemon balm, parsley, beet greens, mallow-chima(an asian green) and colorful swiss chard.


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Remember those caterpillars?  They get big quickly…


IMG_4061And finally, cucumber vines do crazy things-love the spiral that the tendril formed.  Until next time, garden on friends…

keeping up with the joneses; maintaining the garden in summer

It’s summer, finally.  The spring that wouldn’t come has finally gone and we are now enduring 100 degree days.  For the gardener, summer weather presents many challenges.  Whether it is the high heat and humidity, long, dry spells or of the many insects and blights of all kinds, there is always something that needs doing.  This week, Melissa of Corbin in the Dell and I are exploring the many needs of a garden in summer.

Each winter, as seed catalogs arrive, I patiently await the warmer weather to plant my vegetables.  When the dreary weather passes, garden centers begin selling starter plants and gardeners snatch them up quickly, myself included.  The funny thing is that not all of these plants are best suited for spring weather here in the south but it never stops me from trying and this year was no exception.  Brassicas, commonly referred to as cole crops, which include broccoli, brussels sprouts,  cauliflower, cabbage and the like do not do well in warm weather.  By the time the garden centers set them out in March and April, it is almost too late to grow them here and honestly, they are better suited to the fall season.   While listening to a Q & A with organic farmer Jeff Poppen, he declared to all that brassicas need to come out of the ground by May or they will attract all sorts of undesirable insects to the garden and he is right-some day I need to listen to this advice!  Our spring weather was a few weeks behind and I just pulled out the last of our broccoli and kohlrabi.

Remember, gardening is a continuous cycle and the seasons flow somewhat seamlessly.  As temperatures creep up then down, plants thrive, mature and ultimately begin the process of dying.  For many vegetables, succession planting will keep you harvesting produce for longer periods and I try to use that method in my garden.  Thankfully, Virginia has a long growing season and since our first frost date isn’t until November, I am still starting seeds and planting summer crops and dreaming of fresh picked corn and tomatoes.

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Pulling out last seasons plants to make way for the next wave is just one task on the gardening “to do” list.  Keeping the bad bugs at bay will also keep you busy.  Even if you just garden with flowers, there will be battles with bugs!  In my new shade beds, I discovered some wooly aphids in one of my hanging planters.  The fluffy white stuff on the stem in the photo above is actually a few wooly aphids.  As you walk through your garden looking for signs of pests, be sure to lift the leaves and look carefully at the whole plant including the undersides of the leaves.


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One of the worst offenders in a summer vegetable garden is a flea beetle.  They can quickly devour leaves and the damage can kill a plant.


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This is a leaf on one of my eggplants that flea beetles damaged.  The damage reduces the plant’s ability to produce chlorophyl and it can die as a result.  While I do practice organic gardening, I will occasionally use pesticides but only those considered acceptable for organic gardening.  To combat these horrible creatures, I sprayed the plants with pyrethrin and the plant is now recovering from the damage.


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And just as insects can damage a plant, so can sunshine; this celery plant shows signs of sun scald on the leaves.  Over the winter, I grew a celery plant from the bottom part that was cut off the bunch.  By slicing off a thin piece of the root end and placing it in a dish of water, and in time, some roots appeared.  Eventually, I planted it in a pot of soil and then put it out in the garden still in the pot.  As it grew and grew, I decided to take it out of the pot and plant it in one of the bales.  Unfortunately, I put it in a bale that gets a little too much sun and I will most likely move it to a bale that offers more shade.  

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Basil is one of my favorite plants in summer for so many reasons.  It tastes good, smells wonderful and is actually a pretty plant but if you let the flowers grow, it will stop producing leaves so be sure to snip them off as they appear.  Since I am also a beekeeper, I tend to let a few of the flowers remain on the plants because honeybees love basil too and they will visit the blooms to gather nectar.

IMG_3859 While I have not seen honeybees visit a dill plant, I have seen many caterpillars on them.  But just like basil, if you leave the flowers in place, the plant will switch over to reproduction mode and it will concentrate on producing seeds so be sure to snip these off too!  Then be sure to harvest the leaves and mix up a batch of homemade buttermilk ranch dressing!

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Potatoes are such an easy vegetable to grow and if you plan your beds, you can grow a companion plant above the soil while the potatoes grow below, a great way to maximize limited space.  In late spring, flowers will appear and soon after, the vines will begin to die.  Once the vines die, it is time to harvest the potatoes.  Our Yukon gold potatoes are coming along nicely and as these vines die off, I will pull apart the bales to find them.

As the season progresses, a gardener must pay close attention to details.  Weeds can be a problem at any time so it is important that you remove them quickly.  To keep the soil from drying out, use mulch in the beds.  Another plus to using mulch is that it can also help keep the weeds at bay.  Applying fertilizers or compost tea as well as treating for pests is an ongoing process so be sure to use these products properly for the best results.  Some pests are best treated by hand picking.  When asparagus beetles, harlequin bug and stink bugs descend on my garden, I fill a 1-2 gallon bucket with water and mix in a few tablespoons of dish soap.  After stirring it to mix, I simply drop the offending critters in and watch them drown.  This works for caterpillars too so if you see one munching on plants, give it the same watery grave.


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Not all insects in the garden are a problem.  Dragonflies feed on mosquitoes and judging by the number of them flying around here, I must have a lot of mosquitoes in the garden!  At any given time, half a dozen or more dragonflies are hunting in my garden and when they are as colorful as this one, it is hard not to take a minute or two to chase after one with a camera…


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This one is not as colorful but it sat still and watched me as I took several photos.

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This planter box was the first one I added to the front of the house and the plants here are much more established than the others.  As a matter of fact, I have had to trim some of the plants just to keep them in check.  Recently, my mother noticed a house wren going in and out of the planter.  He would return each time with grass or small twigs, and yes, he not she because male wrens are the nest builders.  The whole wren courtship ritual is interesting to watch.  The males build a nest or two and then sing out in the hope of attracting a female.  Whether or not our little guy was successful remains to be seen, in the mean time, we have a spare nest available if anybody needs one…


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At first glance, the nest is not noticeable and that is good for the wrens but in truth, it makes watering the box a little bit of a challenge.


IMG_3876Look at the work that went into this little nest.  Strand by strand, that lady wren is one lucky bird!  And much to our surprise, she said yes!  We discovered that the little lady wren laid some eggs in the nest when I approached the planter to water it and she flew out.  A quick peek inside revealed two speckled eggs!

When we moved into our home last fall, we knew that a garden would be part of our new yard.  Slowly, we sculpted the beds and layered them with the falling leaves, coffee grinds and compost which will be turned into the soil with hopes of lightning the dense, compacted clay.  While we waited patiently for spring to arrive, we added 45 straw bales to the beds and now that summer is here, the first of the bales are beginning to collapse.  A few are leaning like drunkards, threatening to spill over and dump out the plants in them and I couldn’t be happier!  Having followed the instructions found all over the interwebs for straw bale gardening, I suddenly have a large supply of compost to turn into the soil.  But, do not call this method a success, yet.  And if truth be told, I wouldn’t follow those directions again because the extreme amount of fertilizer called for has the ability to cause just as many problems as the instructions claim they solve.  Look for more on this method later in the year, I will keep updating and I plan on a complete review in the fall.

Be sure to visit Melissa’s blog to see how she takes care of her mid-season garden.

patience is a virtue; words to garden by

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tomato seedlings for my garden

Last year, in January, I attended my very first blogging conference.  While this isn’t big news or even an interesting tidbit about my life worth sharing, it is an important event to me personally.  You see, at this very event, I was lucky to forge a friendship with Melissa of Corbin in the Dell.  We already knew of each other since we traveled in the same foodie circle in Nashville and would occasionally run into each other at Nashville Food Bloggers events but it wasn’t until that weekend that we realized just how much we had in common and how much fun we could have together (remind me to tell you about our pranks at the 2015 conference.)

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beneficial insects are attracted to the garden by planting flowers and with any luck, these zinnias and marigolds will draw many.

 

During many conversations, we would discuss gardening, something we have in common and it led to the decision to collaborate on a project.  While we both practice organic methods in the garden, our approaches could not be more different.  Melissa is a true farm raised, country girl, and as you may know, I am your typical city girl who grew up in an apartment with no garden to play in.  Then my husband’s job led us to Williamsburg; this put a serious wrinkle in our plans to work on a book together but luckily, with the use of email and telephones, we came up with a plan; we would attempt to grow the same plants and let our personal gardening styles be the focus as well as our inspiration for the project.

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before we left Nashville, I took cuttings from our fig tree and rooted them over the winter.

 

During a recent phone conversation, we were both speaking of the unseasonably cool weather and how it was hindering our ability to get growing.  Temperatures fluctuating wildly, rain that hasn’t fallen and plants that failed to thrive are just a few things we discussed.  Gardeners play a waiting game, always.  We wait for the weather to be right.  We wait for seeds to germinate.  We wait, and hope for rain.  And even when things go perfectly as planned, we still wait for fruit to ripen, vegetables to mature and so on.

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not all of the plants in my straw bale garden are from seeds, these are chard transplants and I can actually harvest some leaves now.

 

We won’t even talk about compost because if you think waiting on vegetables is tough, properly cured compost can take as long as a year.  In the world of gardening, one must be patient, very, very, patient.  Since Melissa and I are collaborating on this, we will post updates on our blogs simultaneously, please be sure to check back and see our progress.  To read Melissa’s post, follow this link

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when Melissa and I saw each other in February, she gave me seeds that her husband saved from their garden and here is an okra plant that just sprouted.

 

how does my garden grow?

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The big news in our garden this week is our new rain barrel.  Months ago, I purchased a used barrel from the Habitat store.  It was bright blue and made of food grade plastic which made it safe for use in the garden.  We just needed to install the spigot and an overflow valve then attach it to the gutter pipe.  Having a bright blue barrel in the garden isn’t so bad if the garden is in the back yard but our garden is in the front yard and bright blue was not an option for me.  It was just a little too blue for my liking and without shrubs to hide it, I painted it white.  It now blends in pretty well.  The best part about this barrel was the screw on top.  We wouldn’t need to make a screen cover to keep mosquitoes out.  The hose is attached to the lid and the gutter so that the mosquitoes shouldn’t be able to get in and breed.


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Darry sealed the hose in place with outdoor grade silicon caulk and it held up during the 1 1/2 inches of rain we had last week.


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Here is the barrel up on blocks in the corner of our front yard.  It is so exciting to have water available; water that is not only chlorine free but free of charge!


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When I ordered 24 straw bales, I thought it would fill most of the beds.  How wrong I was!  Until I can get another load of bales, I am hoping to get some of the leaf filled beds moving along and on this one, I added a bunch of coffee grinds to give it a boost.


IMG_3194The process of straw bale gardening starts off with curing the bales by fertilizing them with a nitrogen supplement.  The feeding is alternated with watering for 10 days.  Once this part of the process is completed, a rest period of a week is given to the bales before they are planted with seedlings or a shallow soil mixture can be spread over the bales to plant seeds.  These bales hold a lot of water which means the plants will have a better chance of surviving dry spells.

IMG_3197Bales actually have a top and a bottom in the world of straw bale gardening.  The cut side is considered the top while the folded side is placed on the bottom.  The cut straw stalks are hollow and when placed right side up, they can fill with water.  The other advantage of placing them with the cut side up, it is easier to insert the plants into the bale on this side.  For more information on this method of gardening, visit the website.

In the meantime, visit here to see the progress of the bales in our garden as well as the arrival of our bees and hens.