It's still hard to believe we're already a month into fall. Since August, I've been neglecting this blog, and though I tried to hammer something out last month, it just didn't happen.
Things are slowly beginning to wind down. I've pulled the carrots, the bean towers, the peppers, and the eggplants. All the tomatoes are gone, save for the plants on the south side, which seems to retain heat. I've covered the tomato, solanaceae, and cucurbitaceae boxes with a layer of compost, dug it in with the soil a bit, and planted garlic, shallots, and multiplying onions from Territorial Seeds. I've chosen not to plant any flowering bulbs this year, though I will be switching out a couple tulip patches.
I haven't really been able to get a leg up on fall cleanup in the front yet. As you can see from the photo on the left, our sugar maple has taken on its beautiful golden fall hue, which means lots of leaves to clear up along our curb. But the weather has been dismal, lots of rain and cold, so it hasn't really been ideal.
Once we are able to rake the leaves up, there will be lots more fodder for the compost pile, after which that pile will be "decommissioned" and a new one will begin where last year's was spent. I'm pretty pleased with my compost this year. It has been a year in the making, and I am still picking out the big chunks of wood, branches, and spruce cones. But I seem to have a lot more compared to last year, so much that I'm thinking of places other than the vegetable garden to apply it.
I guess once all that's finished, it's time to start thinking about plans for next year, time to tend The Imaginary Garden. Well, I am trying to follow a crop rotation model, so I have some limits to work within. Next year will mean lots of brassicaceae and papilionoideae, so I've been thinking of bok choy and cabbage, along with something for dry bean use. I'm getting better at thinking ahead and figuring out what to plant that can actually be used. I want to work even harder at planting open-pollinated varieties so that I can get to a point of at least quasi-self-sufficiency (I'm not sure I'll ever be at the fully self-sufficient level).
In the meantime, I'm going to read more blogs by self-sufficient gardeners and farmers, as well as local foodies. I want to read more books about local and slow food and perhaps make an effort to try the few gourmet restaurants in this area that specialize in it. I'm planning also to sign up with a local CSA, which might involve volunteer hours with a local farm. It might be a good way to learn how others work, especially at a large scale.
What's funny is I used to think of gardening as more of a seasonal task, but now I'm thinking of it more as year-round and ongoing. What are your plans for next year?
Originally uploaded by saintartaud
The above photo was actually taken 2 weeks ago, a day or so before my boyfriend and I left for the weekend to spend time with our family. In order to avoid the possibility of losing any tomatoes to squirrels in our absence, I picked every tomato with a touch of orange. Most of these tomatoes have since been eaten or given away. There might still be one or two sitting on the window sill in the kitchen.
With August here, there have been many changes in the garden and plenty to harvest. The sweet peppers are turning red, and the pole beans are in flower. I've been harvesting tomatoes continuously since our return and throwing fresh jalapeno peppers into fresh salsa, burritoes, and a tasty Thai stew. The carrots are still not big enough to use, and my onions didn't hold through the days of hard rain we receive shortly after our return. Perhaps the biggest loss in my garden was of the cucumber, zucchini, and squash vines. Some sort of beetle or borer took over, and within a week, everything died off. I'm not sure what I could have done to prevent or stop the attack. Despite these setbacks, I feel like this year's garden has been a more of success than the last couple of years.
Here are some things that worked:
Planting more than one variety of tomato and including hybrids
Next year I will likely limit my ordering to one or two hybrid varieties, or possibly include another heirloom, but otherwise this concept has worked. The heirlooms produce fewer tomatoes that take longer to ripen, while the early variety provides a quick and constant supply. A beefsteak variety is good to include for size.
As an aside, the 'Big Mama' plum hybrid I planted seems extremely susceptible to blossom end rot.
I never realized these were so easy to grow. I didn't harvest a great deal, but it was enough for a few servings of new potatoes. Sadly, the seed potatoes I saved from my order got wet, so I was unable to plant another batch after pulling up the rest last week.
Including more than one plant in each 4'x4' plot
Even though the cucurbitaceae, spinach, and lettuce died, I have plenty of plants to fall back on. Assuming that I can keep most of the plants alive, I should be able to harvest throughout the seasons, from spring to fall.
Planting beets under cover
A number of my reference have advised against planting beets and spinach indoors under cover, but in comparison to last year, when I planted all my chenopodiaceae outdoors, this batch has done far better. What seemed to be happening was that the insects would attack before the plants had any strength to defend themselves. Also, by the time the mid-July heat came, the weak plants would just dry up. I was able to harvest a teeny bit of chard, but no beets or spinach. So, this month, my goal is to plant the remainder of my beet seeds indoors for a fall harvest of greens. It is possible, and it seems more reliable than my other option.
Things that still need doing:
Building of "the grotto"
A friend donated two large tubs of beer and wine bottles to my cause. Some have been stripped of labels and cleaned, most have not. The heat lately has been pretty obtrusive to getting any outside work done, so I've been putting it off. I could still plausibly get this project going within the next 3 months.
Building of the cold frame
Mostly a matter of sizing up our supply of old glass windows and modeling the plans after that.
One portion that especially caught my attention:
“Weed” is a subjective label applied as a matter of personal judgment, a point that becomes obvious when you consider how many “noxious weeds” — plants now marked for destruction by federal, state or county authorities — were deliberately introduced into North America by individuals convinced of their beauty or utility...One interesting idea is that our efforts to rid our gardens and farms of unwanted guests actually aid in their adaptation. That is, the plants best able to cope with such attacks are the most successful, produce the most seed, and become more tolerant to herbicides, etc. They don't get better with such treatment; they just get worse. The main gist of the article is that maybe invasives aren't such a bad thing, since they're filling in gaps within native ecosystems and might be better able to thrive when the climate warms and levels of CO2 increase. They could plausibly even be used for bio-fuels.
There are countless definitions of weeds, ranging from the hardheaded one necessarily observed by farmers, that a weed is any plant that interferes with profit, to the aesthetic (a popular gardener’s definition of a weed is “a plant out of place”), to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s sanctimonious assertion that a weed is “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” But all agree on the central criterion: to qualify as a weed, the plant in question must be viewed with disfavor by humanity. Simply put, any plant, if we dislike it, becomes an intruder in our landscape and so a weed.
Arguably, then, there was no such thing as a weed until mankind developed the need to discriminate, which came with the development of agriculture.... In fact, many of the wild grains like red rice or wild oats that are among our most troublesome agricultural weeds today were valued food sources until we graduated from the hunter-gatherer stage of our existence.
Certainly a different way of looking at weeds and invasives!
Here's a half-grown Echinacea pallida, a native coneflower not as commonly cultivated as the 'purpurea.' I planted it last year from seed because I loved the narrow pink petals.
The hyssop, another plant I cultivated from seed that never flowered last year. It just started flowering a few days ago and is quite pretty. The leaves, when crushed, smell a bit like lavender and sage. I'm going to try brewing them for tea.
And some 'Rudy' Tritelia flowers from the front garden.
A 'Cottage Red' marigold. I love marigolds, but I'm so sick of the full French varieties. This Mexican cultivar is more diminutive, but the coloration is so lovely.
Here's the Oakleaf hydrangea I recently planted in the front garden. I absolutely love the flowers, though they are so heavy that they weigh down the branches.
But let's not forget my 'Annabelle' hydrangea in the backyard, which is now (mostly) in full bloom.
The nasturtiums are not yet blooming, but their leaves are so lovely I couldn't resist including a photo (please ignore the weeds). And those are 'Bull's Blood' beets in the background for some lovely contrast.
The yarrows, threatening to bloom. These were part of a sunny seed mix I received from Burpee, none of which bloomed last year. Only the yarrow held through. Which is good; yarrow is a traditional part of any herb garden.
Here's a better photograph of the pale coneflower mentioned above. While it looks almost white here, the color is really more of a lavender/pink.
An earlier photo of the 'Annabelle' hydrangea, which I like almost more than the full bloom. Or maybe I just like the photo itself more.
And for more of a surprise bloom, here's one of my cucumber vines.
And here are some tomato blossoms. I've already got something like 10 baby tomatoes. Here's hoping the squirrels stay far away from the fruits of my labor.
By the by, did you know that yesterday was Bloomsday?
More importantly, my Creme de Cassis hollyhock is in bloom:
With all the weevils sucking at it, I was afraid it might never bloom. The leaves are pretty chewed-up, and the stalks are bent, but the flowers are lovely. I realize now that I should have saved some bamboo poles or bought some sturdy stakes to keep the plants upright. Aesthetically, they are not as nice as they could be. Still, hollyhocks always strike me as the flower for a cottage garden, which is roughly the vibe I go for. With any luck, they'll reseed and continue to delight for years to come.
For some reason, I have a subscription to Domino. Many of their ideas are quite out of my realm financially and don't really fit with my lifestyle, but I do like any design/decorating mag as a resource. I have my own idea of style, which I try to maintain against whatever trends are out there, but I don't mind having a guide show me the way around.
Anyway, the most recent issue has an article about gardening design personalities, which highlights a number of names worth remembering. If you've read previous entries in this blog, you'll notice that I'm really interested in the design and "theory" aspects of gardening, so I thought I would list all the figures mentioned for personal reference and share them with you.
Edith Wharton's "The Mount"
Madame Ganna Walska's Lotusland
Thomas D. Church
I own a book called Creative Gardens, by James C. Rose, who studied architecture at Harvard with Eckbo and was similarly pivotal to Modernist landscape design. Some images of his work can be found here and here.
The Vegetable Garden and Backyard
When we got back from Europe, I found all my seeds had finished sprouting and were taking over the basement. There was still a light frost that week, so planting them wasn't feasible. I transplanted as much as I could into every pot I owned, but it wasn't enough. I didn't even have enough window ledges to set them on. It was crazy.
After week or so, it warmed up, and I planted carrot seeds, which are doing quite well and will hopefully produce some carrots by the end of the summer. I planned ahead this year, in a very detailed fashion, and purchased a few pounds of sand to break up the soil some. They'll be sharing the space with the onions, which are supposedly good companions and require roughly the same conditions. I also planted some spinach and a mix of lettuce in another plot.
At this point, nearly all the spaces have been filled in, all seeds planted, including the beans, squash, and nasturtium. It's nice to have the satisfaction of most everything accounted for. There are just a plants that need to bulk up before planting.
The other major project for the backyard will be taking place this weekend. Just yesterday I got five 'Carolin' fall-bearing raspberry plants, which are currently soaking out back. We just need posts which with to build the trellis. I'm really excited about this. One of my goals with my garden has been to provide as much as my own food as possible. While we're quite a ways from self-sufficient urban homesteading, finding fruit to work with our space & light requirements is an important step.
It'll be a while until the garden is producing anything of note, though I have been able to add some fresh greens to salads and picked plenty of herbs for dinner and tea.
The South Garden
We never got around to completing our cold frame over the winter. Though we have glass windows to serve as the topper, there's still the matter of figuring out the design and dimensions, how much and what kind of wood we'll need, etc.
But I have been able to plant some chives, and I just planted another creeping thyme that I grew from seed. My hyssop is thriving, at least 3 feet wide and 2 feet tall. Only two of the 4-5 hollyhock I planted have returned, and while they're growing pretty tall, there an infestation of boll weevils I'll have to deal with soon. I just hope they bloom.
The Front Garden
Last year I did some major cleanup on the strip of irises, and this year it really paid off! Most of the irises are in bloom or about to. The peony suffered from last year's last frost, but as this year is turning out to be fairly "normal" (for the Midwest), I have buds and am waiting expectantly. Also, the rose is actually showing a few buds, which means my intensive pruning last year did some good. This strip of plants was fairly neglected when we bought the house, so it's niceto know that just a teensy bit of attention did some good.
As for the other plot in the front that I've been working on the last year and a half now, all the tulips I planted last fall came up and looked gorgeous. All but the 'Negrita' now have faded, but they put on a lovely show of violet and lavender. The tulips planted in '06, however, fared less well, no doubt due to the squirrels that infest our block. Only one 'Cum Laude' showed up, along with three each of the 'Blueberry Ripple' and 'Queen of Night.'
I'm still brainstorming and adding plants where needed. I rethought the scheme beside the front steps and am planning on setting a viburnum or hydrangea in that spot and placing the foxgloves more upfront. The only difficulty is that it's a tight spot, only about 3 feet wide and 6 feet tall to the window.
I wish I had some photos to go along with my text, but I broke my new camera in Berlin and am waiting on a repair, and a friend swiped the batteries to my old digital camera. So words will have to suffice for now.
I liked the miniature attempt at formality with this arrangement. I noticed that the French are very much into bordering beds with ivy, which has a tendency to obscure the center plants.
These pots were set on top of Charles Baudelaire's family tomb, where he is buried with his father, mother, and brother. I liked the arrangement of the brightly edged waxen leafed ivy with the fuzziness of the purple flowers.
I have no idea what sort of plant this is, but I assume it's a wild thing native to Europe. The leaves and flower are quite small and dainty, and the plant has a trailing habit that is very pretty. I love these sorts of plants, but I doubt it's something I can find in America. I especially worry it's invasive; French gardeners probably pull it out on sight.
A garden in the middle of Montparnasse:
The blue grape hyacinths were also in full bloom. One of my favorite bulbs. Not terribly exotic, but they have a simple unfettered charm I like. They look great when they've gone wild.
This plot looked untended, but I liked the messiness of it. I notice I best like plots that are slightly wild and overgrown. What pulls this together is the color scheme, based around the yellow/lime green/orange and violet/purple tones. It looks unplanned, but there is a logic to it.
This was not taken in a cemetery, rather the gardens at the Museum of the Middle Ages. I was surprised to find an iris in bloom. One of my favorite flowers. Even the everyday purple hues are good enough for me.
At Lachaise. I just like the layering of the composition, with grass at the foreground, the mix of shrubs in the middleground, and the tall evergreens flanking everything in the background. The basics of artistic composition at play.
I love the sword-shaped iris leaves peeking out of the soft, eroded stone, covered in moss.
Since I've been home, I've managed to transplant about 25 tomato seedlings to larger pots, and yesterday I planted carrots, spinach, and mesclun outside. Today, I plan on transplanting as many seedlings as I have pots for and planting more seeds inside. I will also have to plant the green onion seeds I forgot to plant yesterday. I also have the front and side flower/herb beds to bolster. I'm planning on getting some baptisia (false indigo) and heuchera (coral bells) for the front bed. And berry bushes for the back garden too!
Spring is a week away, but the garden is already showing signs of life. I believe the leaves above are crocuses, though I often forget what the previous tenants planted. These beautiful leaves are growing throughout our backyard and are so much prettier than the ugly brown grass.
Last weekend, I purchased a new digital camera, a nice Canon SLR. I wanted to get it before our vacation, though it is not expressly for that purpose. In college, I majored in printmaking, but a good chunk of my studio narrative was focused on photography. I'm fussy, and point & shoots frustrated me. My previous camera, a little Olympus purchased in 2002, wasn't very high quality and showing limitations. SLR's are a lot cheaper now than they were 6 years ago, and I still have some money to spend, so I figured why not?
Why make note of this? Well, hopefully a better camera means better photos of the garden. I'll actually be able to get a close-up that isn't blurry and doesn't need to be developed in order to share.
I've already taken a ridiculous number of photos, but today I thought I'd focus on gearing up for spring. I went into the raised bed with the overwintering carrots, removed all the straw (which now covers the bald patches on the garden paths), and found a few tiny, misshapen carrots:
Though I amended the soil with sand on my second round of planting, I don't believe the younger carrots had enough time to grow or the right conditions for it to matter.
Carrots this year won't be planted until after our vacation in April. I chose 2 varieties, one ideal for early use and the other ideal for storage. Many storage carrots can be picked for early use, but not all early varieties can withstand the cold as well as storage varieties. Makes sense. One thing I learned last year, despite my lack of abundant yield last year, is that garden-grown carrots in their early phase are better-tasting than any carrot from a grocery store. The texture is softer, but the taste is so much sweeter. These carrots, which have been growing through the winter under 6 inches of straw, feel more like grocery store carrots, hard and thick. The taste is not as sweet, but it's still fresher.
Fresh carrots are among the multitude of reasons why I can't wait for spring.
Right now is the time to start seeds for spring, but as I will be out of the country during early planting season, I don't plan on starting anything for another week or two. I'll be starting beets, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes indoors, and before I leave for Paris, I'm hoping it will be warm enough to plant potatoes, spinach, and mesclun outside. Last year, I bought a two tier light garden from Gardener's and have been using the APS systems they sell. It works pretty efficiently, and I'm thinking this year of purchasing a couple more systems.
After our vacation, in mid-April, I'll be planting carrots, onions, scallions, and shallots outdoors. The seeds I start indoors will be transplanted after frost, which hits around that point here in Kansas City.
So mostly I'm looking forward to what's coming, not what's currently here.
What are your current garden tasks at the moment? What are you most looking forward to this spring? What vegetables and herbs will you be planting this year?
Looks like I have a company to add to the regular list.
Also, I mentioned before that they specialize in organics, but they also have biodynamic seeds, which I've not seen any other catalogs carry. For those who are unaware, I've mentioned this method of agriculture before. It was developed by Rudolph Steiner, who was also responsible for Anthroposophy (a splinter of Blavatsky's Theosophy) and Waldorf education. It's essentially organic and treats the farm (or garden) as an organism. According to the Wikipedia entry, it has never been shown to substantially differ from other organic methods. Some of the preparations are just plain weird, like yarrow blossoms stuffed into deer intestines and buried underground.
Carrot "Danvers Half Long"
Hot Pepper "Jalapeno"
Tomato "Big Mama Hybrid"
Tomato "Bush Big Boy Hybrid"
From Johnny's Selected Seeds:
Eggplant, "Rosa Bianca"
Sweet Pepper, "Carmen (F1)"
Green Onions, "Evergreen Hardy White"
From Territorial Seed Company:
Pole Beans, "Blue Lake"
Buttercup Squash "Discus Bush Buttercup"
From Pinetree Garden Seeds:
Basil "Italian Large Leaf"
Potatoes "Dark Red Norland"
Onion "Copra (F1)
Acorn Squash "Cream of the Crop"
Pumpkin "Orange Smoothie (F1)"
Zucchini "Eightball (F1)"
Cucumber "Homemade Pickles"
Tomato "Early Girl (F1)"
+ a couple packets of mesclun, Pinetree Lettuce Mix and Misticanza
While I tried to stick with my list of must-haves, I ended up with another tomato hybrid (I couldn't resist the huge paste tomatoes), as well as squash and cucumber (the extras of which will likely go in pots or get planted in empty spaces throughout the yard).
This is the first time I've ordered through Territorial Seed Company. I really liked their catalog. The prices were reasonable, and they had lots of interesting specialty plants, along with heirlooms and mainstay hybrids. Also, they sell a lot of open-pollinated and organic seeds.
And while I have looked through a couple Johnny's catalogs, this is my first order with them. Like Vesey's, where I ordered last year, they're oriented mostly towards market growers, offering dependable hybrids at reasonable prices. Their catalogs alone are wonderful references on when and where to plant what.
One difficulty I had was finding varieties of pumpkin and winter squash that can be grown in 2'X2' space. There are only so many bush and semi-bush varieties, which greatly limited my selection.
In order to fulfill my goal of maximizing yields throughout the season, I ended up tossing out the rotation I had been following and thought more about what could be grown next to what and in what conditions. So carrots and onions go together, with early, mid, and late season varieties to fill out the year. Cucumbers go with their squash relatives, and eggplants go with peppers and potatoes. I'm going to fill certain dead spaces with flowers and herbs, seeds leftover and saved from last year.
I'm limited in how early I can plant things out because my boyfriend and I will likely be vacationing in Europe in early April. Everything has to be planted indoors in February and March, or planted outdoors in late April to May. Once I figured out a planting and harvest schedule, this wasn't too difficult. The dates for the trip are not quite set in stone yet, but we are planning on staying in Paris and Berlin, roughly 5-6 days each. I'm hoping the parks in Paris will give some inspiration, along with a possible sidetrip to Versailles and Giverny and some forests near Berlin. I know we'll be missing some lovely countryside in the rest of France, but hopefully a train ride through Germany will make up for that?
Carol at May Dreams Garden has written a couple of blogs on the subject of ordering seeds from catalogs that I found insightful and interesting:
How to Read Seed Catalogs Without Going Mad
Understanding Seed Catalogs
I see of few of the same catalogs in my stack in those photos. Pinetree is a wonderful company. I find their catalogs a bit odd to navigate, but their prices are amazing and they have some really unique ethnic varieties and heirlooms.
Since this is the time of year for setting goals, one of the major goals in my vegetable garden is to produce higher yields and a more regular supply of fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season. In the front garden, I would like to add more perennials and find some interesting (yet still cottage-y and not too exotic) sun/shade annuals to fill the dead spaces. The south garden needs to be filled out as well, and I've already got a few herbs that can be transplanted once the frost fades in April.
Other goals include:
The planting of blackberry or raspberry bushes (since we don't have the space and light conditions for fruit trees);
The building of a coldframe from old windows and wood;
The building of our grotto from salvaged cement, stone, and glass;
Laying stone along the border of irises on the northside.
Lots to do. I can't wait!