Category Archives: Green Thumb

Losses and Gaines.

Let me tell you something, dear Internet. This summer? Been kind of rough. So by the time Pasha got sick and ruined the rugs, only to be followed by our basement flooding, I was well worn out. Lately, life feels too short and too fragile to be so fully occupied by such disasters. So, in a manner unfamiliar to me…

I bought a ticket to California.

(and new rugs).

I leave for a week next month. (J. will stay home to man the homefront, water the garden, care for the pup, and miss me terribly, I presume). Any recommendations for sight seeing in San Diego and LA?

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Garden Update, long overdue.

I’m sure, oh so sure, that you have been awaiting news about my garden and summer crop yields and about what critters have returned to terrorize or be terrorized (yes?). It may be long neglected here on the blog, but in real life, the garden still claims a portion of my (ever-shrinking) free time and a larger portion of my should-be-doing-something-else-time (like writing papers!).

So here’s a quick (maybe?) summary of the Cottage’s Farm, although mind you that I wrote this more than a week ago, so things look slightly larger and a bit thirstier these days.

Before the heat wave melted our faces off, I’d spend the 5-6 PM hour weeding + watering + harvesting + hollering at John to look at this insert-something-amazing-here!, which he’d typically ignore, bless him, and then we’d do this:

But it’s been so hot that mostly I’ve been ignoring the dear plants until the sun goes down and then I would water them, usually while wearing my pjs, meaning I developed a charming habit of climbing into bed slightly damp, smelling of tomato plants. I’m lovely.

What are we eating, you’re asking? Well, we’re thigh-high in zucchini season. Despite best efforts, I can never spot my zukes until they are the size of my arm. And, oh my, the banana peppers! Always the over achievers. My green peppers will barely look at me, and here my banana peppers are simply spitting fruit all over the place. If I were in class and my garden were a dysfunctional family unit, I’d label the banana pepper plant the hero child.

Do you want to see the plots?

Upper Plot

Home to the strawberries and lettuce (now done, with one plant remaining), my attention is focused on the 8 carrots I managed to grow by seed, 2 zuke plants, leeks, 3 sad tomato plants (also from seed! basement survivors!), marigolds, and pumpkins that are filling in this tiny space. The mulch hasn’t stopped all the weeds, but it has made a difference in the number.

The new flower plot:

(The problem with planting flowers from seed is that you can never quite anticipating spacing …). And truly, this picture is a week old and the plot looks completely different already. The morning glories (the climbing vine you see) are so advantageous that I would not be surprised if they tried to strangle me in my sleep. Also, the zinnias bloomed (although not in this picture)!

The Back Plot

As usual, I’m growing tomatoes (6 plants here, 3 plants in the upper plot), peppers, another zuke, and cucumbers. The newbies are spaghetti squash (4 on the vine so far!) and garden beans. I did peas-from-seed, which were such failures I’m striking them from my memory forever. Someone told me that planting basil amongst your tomatoes increases yield, so I did that too. I’m never going to do the math to see if it works, so let’s just say it does.

And oh, the containers! The babes that could not fit in the ground have become refugees in pots: another tomato plant, 2 peppers, a smattering of herbs and some flowers. With the heat, they have become the biggest burdens (they dry out so quickly!), bless their stupid little stamens.

As for critters, I’ve seen 5 praying mantises this year, which is 5 more than I’ve seen since I was 13 and my science teacher gave us extra credit to bring them into the classroom to become class pets. A family of bunnies made the mistake of moving into my herb garden, and were terrorized by Constable Pasha on a daily basis until they moved away. Squash bugs have returned (and war is being waged, don’tyouworry).

So that’s that, Dear Internet.

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Life lately (and the garden update you’ve been sorely missing)

I spent a week on the beach with half of my family (and all of my husband), seeking shade like it was my full time job and drinking wine out of a water bottle as the classy ladies do. It was a lovely getaway, despite a multitude of small disasters it included (Oh, you know, I just left my luggage at home thanks to a miscommunication regarding packing the car. And then J lost his prescription glasses. At the airport, J’s laptop took a tumble at Security and broke. Then we came home, and our fridge had died. Ay yi yi!).

While we were away, the garden exploded (thanks in part to some dear friends who tended to it in my absence).

Strawberries are finished for the year, and the lettuce is nearing the end. You can see that the romaine has already bolted. Boo. The other plants in the front are zucchini (x2) and leeks. Green onions (from seed) are mixed into the flower garden.

The back patch is just now getting going (full of peas, zucchini, cucumber, spaghetti squash, tomatoes, peppers, and basil). I planted morning glories around the compost bin, hoping that their vines will latch onto the chicken wire and hid the entire mess from view, but they haven’t started climbing yet … sigh.

The new flower patch has filled in nicely, and the sage has turned into a bit of a bully, crowding out some other plants. I spent a good 20 minutes trimming it this weekend. Excuse Pasha’s digging holes, by the way. That naughty pup.

And finally, there’s quite a show going on near the house (including a volunteer sunflower from last year’s batch!). Lucky us, a family of Cardinals have moved into one of those bushes and there’s an egg in the nest. So exciting!

A garden detail, for those who are interested …

– After some internal debate, I mulched the vegetable patches this year. We’re anticipating a dry summer, so it should help with water retention in the soil and weed repression. I do worry about the soil temperature (lettuce, peas, and pepper appreciate cooler roots), but I gave those plants a wider berth and have my fingers crossed that they won’t mind too much. We’ll see!

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Lesson learned.

Let it be known plants do, in fact, die under my care. All those seeds I lovingly started under lights this winter? DEAD. Of course, the beauty of starting from seed is that you have a million extra seeds for disasters such as this, and cry not, for replacements have all be directly sown and are growing beautifully, but OH how I lament the extra $10 I spent in electricity trying to give those babes an early start. Did I coddle them? Were they too weak for the world? Did they miss life in the basement? I’ll never know. If you need me, I’ll be the one in mourning black for the rest of the month.

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Berry Blessed.

Third week of berry produce:

One third of those sweeties in the sink:

A friend recently asked me what my secret was, and I told her that I assumed it was timing. The patch was a disappointment its first two years, and yet here we are at year 3, swimming in strawberries. So if you have strawberries and are feeling despondent, stop that nonsense. (Stop it!) Let them settle in a year or two, and then if they still disappoint you, rest assured that picking them is an utter pain.  You see, I did not plant these plants with picking in mind, so this harvest has been putting my yoga skills to (extensive) use. Also, strawberry patches are full of spiders. So, don’t feel bad.

After clearing the strawberry bed of all red and laying mulch in the flower beds, I’m taking the rest of the weekend off from gardening. Have a lovely weekend, Dear Internet.

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DONE.

Let us rejoice, for the dark time of laying edging and removing sod is behind us. The rain (and tornado watches) held off until Sunday, giving me enough sunshine to finish up the big landscaping project. Hurray!

Friday evening, I picked close to 20 cups of berries (clearly, the bird netting worked!). We prompt ate half, froze some, and shared the wealth with our neighbors.

On Saturday, I finished this project:

Last year, the bed wasn’t a consistent width and I planted without a plan (don’t plant without a plan!). While it was an improvement from the weeds that were present when we moved in, the end result was disappointing. Now, the bed is a consistent 40″ wide, and I shuffled the plants for symmetry’s sake. I also widened the back bed, giving the blackberry bush, Asiatic lilies, and irises a bit more breathing room. Order restored.

I also evened the edging in this new bed, and sowed seeds in the empty spaces (basil, chamomile, oriental poppies and lavender … we’ll see what grows!):

I relocated the potted plants from the raised bed, and sowed seeds there (zinnias, carpet of snow and morning glories). It’ll be interested to see what thrives in this spot – it gets some awkward sun. Nothing much to look at yet, though.

The lettuce, spinach and leeks are all doing well. I planted some marigold seeds (to attract bees), and then put the rest of the babes (from under our lights) into the soil. So far, we’ve lost 2 zucchini plants, but everything else keeps keepin’ on. (Don’t mourn, squash seeds sprout quickly, so replacements will happen this week).

We re-arranged the patio furniture, and I took some time to enjoy this show:

And oh! We put the window boxes up (hurray!) and I filled in the front planters (hurray x2!), but that will have to be another post.

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Weekend Review.

Rain meant I spent most of the weekend drinking G&Ts and doing laundry (not at the same time, however) instead of finishing the garden chores, but what can you do? Luckily, we had half of Saturday to make some progress:

I picked our first batch of strawberries:

We extended the herb garden by removing 15 wheelbarrows worth of sod:

(Once the ground dries, I’ll be able to level the edging).

Last weekend, I dug out and laid the red pavers. This weekend, I built and installed a new flower bed:

(Yes, I know. I know! But a shallow raised bed was the only option, as the soil in that awkward space is mostly made of broken promises and gravel. I kept the bed shallow so that it won’t stick out as much, and this will limit my plant choices (short roots only please), but it’s ok. The potted plants and bricks are only temporary; I’m thinking of planting morning glories and zinnias).

We also started to clean out the garage, a chore that is not photogenic but still worthy of mention.

Next weekend, we’ll be completing the edging work, and hopefully getting some plants in the ground.

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A weekend of progress.

I declare the strawberries protected:

Using the wood from our demolished fence, I built a frame around the strawberries. After installing hooks on the frame’s interior, J and I attached bird netting (traditionally used to protect fruit trees) to cover the entire patch. Stakes were used to prevent the netting from resting too heavily on the plants, although the netting is lightweight enough that it’d probably do fine without them. The bees can get in, other critters cannot, and the entire solution isn’t too hideous. Let us rejoice with strawberry shortcake (once the berries are ripe, of course)!

In lui of building a fancy pea trellis (another garden to-do), I took a short cut and bought a tomato cage (the triangle kind). The internet warns me that it’s likely to be too short for the plants … oh well. The truth is, peas just don’t inspire me to put forth a lot of effort.

We also hooked up our beautiful new rain barrel, and I laid the pavers for the garage door walkway (a necessary addition to prevent our bikes from getting all muddy in the summer months). And to celebrate all of this productivity, we visited a local nursery, where I bought some leeks and lavender to plant.

This weekend (if you are interested in such things), I’m hoping to finish the last of the very-worst chores. With the mini fence gone, I have plans to expand some landscaping, meaning some sod has to be removed (ugh) and brick edging relaid (blah). After that, however, the yard will be set (well, enough) for company … which is important, as it’s still bonfire weather and I’m craving marshmallows.

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Garden Update.

I’m putting on my construction hat and digging out my staple gun this weekend, as it’s clear that the strawberries are going to ripen early and some sort of protective measure must be built (and built soon) to prevent the squirrels and birds from eating them all. Also, I planted peas without thinking about the fact that peas must be trellised, so a trellis needs to be created. Neither of these projects are particularly exciting to me, but I’ve lost my husband to the craziness-of-the-end-of-his-semester, so Pasha and I shall forge ahead alone.

Unless, of course, you want to come visit, dear Internet? 🙂

If such things interest you, you might be surprised to learn that the directly-sown lettuce and spinach (meaning I plopped those seeds directly in the ground with little fan fare) are doing yards better than the babies languishing under grow lights (who, conversely, are in special potting mix and are misted daily and chatted to often). So much so that the grow-light-babies were told to suck it up and face Mother Nature on Sunday, when I planted them, and almost all of them perished. (Yes, I hardened them off prior). Lesson learned: direct sow your lettuce and spinach. That’s a lesson I probably could have learned online for free, but my learning style is what it is.

Conversely, my zucchini, cucumbers tomatoes and peppers are all killing it downstairs under the grow lights. Technically, today is our last frost date (happy last frost date!) but I don’t begin to trust prairie weather well until May, so in the basement they shall stay (for now).

Lastly, with the removal of the mini-fence, I’ve been in the middle of quite a landscape reshuffle, resulting in the need to lay (and relay) new (and old) brick edging. Instead of focusing on any of the areas that truly need it, I bricked in the back garden plot as an early birthday present to John (he claims it makes mowing easier). And look – it curves!

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Things I irrationally have very negative feelings towards, humorously.

 

#1. Raised gardening beds.

Among homesteading trends (chickens! bees! canning!), raised gardening beds seem to be gaining in popularity. And they shouldn’t, because they are stupid.

Unless you soil is poisonous, you should be gardening in the ground. There’s no reason to spend moolah on extra dirt and cedar wood planks and a weekend of time and labor, when you can inexpensively till up a section of yard, add soil amendment, and be done with it. IN ADDITION, you should really turn your soil annually (prior to planting) and add amendments as necessary. When your soil is locked up in a wooden box, that job is much harder. (Isn’t it? I’ll admit to judging with limited raised-bed experience).

Plus, they look like little coffins.

I simply loathe them.

Related to homesteading trends: John’s been talking about us becoming bee keepers, and chances by chances, we happened to meet a bee keeper at our local co-op (classic Urbana!) who invited us to visit her hive. I’m more excited than I thought I’d bee.

 

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