First harvest of the year!

Last night I harvested from our garden for the first time this year: spinach and red chard. We put it in pasta, with garlic from the community garden and onions, and it was delightful. Pictures of how the garden is coming along soon!

First harvest

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Good work

PeonyIt’s been raining all day today and the world outside is damp and growing dark. Inside, though, I’ve got these beautiful peonies to keep me company, in their awesome turquoise vase (which is actually a vintage Fiestaware pitcher that I found at a local antique store). It’s been a treat to watch these flowers unfold, and an added bonus to smell their delightful perfume as I walk past them.

Crochet buntingHave big plans for these little dudes. These crochet bunting flags, made using Lucy’s pattern, are going to be part of my first ever yarn bombing! Details to come, folks!

Spring saladWe enjoyed this lovely salad tonight for dinner, along with some Algerian flatbread Big Country made. It was delicious, but was made precious considering the salad’s source. In the summer I volunteer on a local farm every week, pulling weeds, helping build dirt beds, weeding the asparagus, whatever needs done. In exchange the farmers give me produce. And they are VERY generous in their giving. I really think I’m getting the better end of the deal. Anyway, this week I came home with a giant bag of mixed greens, four or five different herbs in bundles, a bundle of Johnny Jump Ups, chives, rhubarb, and green garlic. Tonight’s salad was garnished with chive blossoms and Johnny Jump Ups as you can see, because I just found out they’re edible! The Johnnies don’t taste like anything, but they sure are pretty. The chive blossoms on the other hand are divinely oniony. It makes me feel such contentment and wonder to know that with the exception of the carrots, every bit of that salad came from within 10 miles of my house.

Crochet bitsAnd here’s a photo of the projects I’ve got going right now. The three bunting triangles are done, just lying in wait for the yarn bombing, the two granny squares will be joined by four more and turned into a ball for Jonathan, and you can see the ripple blanket peeking out from under the table. I’ve only got eight more rows and the edging to do before that blanket is finally finished. I have to admit I’ve already cozied up under for a cat nap, though, yarn ball and crochet hook resting on my stomach, the cats resting on my feet. Naps are so much more rewarding when taken beneath the wooly good work of one’s own hands.

 

 

 

 

Garden 2013

It’s amazing how productive you can be when your son wakes you up at 6:30 a.m. We’d planned to spend the morning getting raised beds built for our backyard, and because we were up so early, they were done by 10 a.m. (and we even had pancakes for breakfast for getting our DIY on, too)! We planned to have two plots in the community garden this summer, but realized that even though the community garden is only four blocks away, we just weren’t making the effort to get over there every day and BAM the weeds have taken over our two plots. So instead of stressing about it all summer, I’ve given my plots up so someone on the waiting list who really wants them can have them, and we put in some raised beds in the backyard instead. Much easier to just dash out the door and tend to the plants in the backyard than have to pack up the Peanut, get toys for him, a blanket, etc. to go to the community garden (any other moms notice how getting ready to go anywhere with kids takes about four times as long?).

We decided to put the raised beds around the shed because the shed walls will continue to give off heat from the day even after the sun goes down, and in a place like Montana, we’ll take that season-extending radiant heat for sure.

Shed beforeI bought eight 2×8-foot untreated cedar boards to build the beds (cedar is somewhat rot resistant). We used frame anchors and galvanized nails to put the boards together; the boards we cut in 4-foot and 2-foot lengths to make 2×4-foot beds.

When you lack a sawhorse, improvise.

When you lack a sawhorse, improvise.

Peanut sat on a blanket in the grass playing with toys, newspaper, and tools (got to start those little DIYers young, you know).

Peanut in grass

He also reminded us to do things properly and use the level!

Peanut with level

So by 10 a.m. we had five raised beds (though a friend just surprised us with a bunch more plants — one of the tomatoes he gave us is already 4 feet tall! — so we may need to built another one or two). We put layers of wet newspaper down on top of the grass to kill it (and because newspaper is biodegradable while a lot of weed fabric is not). We filled them with locally made potting soil (organic mix of compost, vermaculite, and perlite) and got to planting seeds!

Raised beds 2I planted two kinds of basil, spinach, red chard, carrots, bush beans, peas, onion sets, and zucchini. We’ll plant tomatoes and garlic tomorrow, and noodle on building a couple more beds or just buying some planters for the other plants.

Raised beds 1After the raised beds were finished, my husband planted to raspberry canes another friend gave us along the fence, where they can keep our neighbor’s lovely lilac bushes company. We still need to mulch them and put some river rocks around the raspberry cane bed, but we’re looking forward to enjoying ripe red berries soon!

Raspberry canesAll in all, a very productive day. I don’t have anywhere near the space I had to garden last year when we lived out in the country (heavy sigh), but on the other hand, I am much more busy this summer with Peanut and the brewery, so I think in the end it’s actually a blessing. We are going to put river rocks around the raised beds as well for decoration (and for when we move… we’re definitely taking our raised beds with us, and since the grass will be dead beneath them, we want to ring the area in stones so it looks like a nice garden bed for whoever lives in this house next).

I am looking forward to enjoying the garden this summer, and am especially excited to involve the Peanut this year. What are you growing your garden? Is it a raised bed garden like mine, or do you have acres at your fingertips?

Green Thumbs: The trouble with cabbage loopers (or, a not-so green thumb moment)

Well, I know I said I would do a post about composting next in this series, but I decided a post about the dastardly cabbage looper was more appropriate. This is also a post in which I admit my failures as a gardener. Can’t win ’em all!

The cabbage looper is a caterpillar that becomes a moth after metamorphosis and has a been a royal pain in the butt for me this summer. Cabbage loopers love plants in the cabbage (brassica) family, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and collard greens. They will also go after tomatoes, potatoes, and cucumbers. The little green caterpillars eat holes in the leaves and keep the cabbages (in my case) from heading well. The moths lay nasty little eggs in slimy clutches in the cabbage, which of course spawn more cabbage loopers and drive me batty (not too mention the disappointment I feel at having my future sauerkraut literally nipped in the bud!).

We first noticed the problem about a month ago. The cabbage leaves were looking pretty chewed like this:

I picked around near the head and pulled green caterpillar after green caterpillar out of the cabbages. Despite my best efforts to nab the caterpillars and squish them, we still have had lots of the moths, which can be brown or white. The moths lay the nasty eggs I mentioned before. Here’s a couple of caterpillars AND eggs in my cabbages (and here’s my sigh of defeat):

Disgusting, no?

So what do you do about cabbage loopers? I’m running an organic operation in my garden so insecticides are out of the question (and who wants all those chemicals on their food, anyway?). My mother said to try putting chili powder on the cabbages. My mother-in-law recommended pouring milk on them. A farmer friend said they catch the moths in butterfly nets and squish the offending bugs. Another farmer friend said to use Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which is a bacterium that targets insects (it doesn’t affect people), though using anything like that is a bit sketchy she said, and I agree. She also swats the moths with ping pong rackets. This sounds the most fun, bounding about the garden with a ping pong racket of mothy death, plus the fringe benefit of actually feeling like you made a difference in the moth population’s demise.

Here’s hoping your cabbages are looper-free!

High summer garden

Sorry for the complete lack of posts the past few weeks, people. It’s summertime in Montana which means we’ve had some visitors! And I think those visitors would rather I hang out with them than update my blog. Apologies, blog friends. So, to make up for my neglect, I’m going to post quite a few times this week! I’ll update you from the backlog of the past few weeks.

First up: a little garden update. While I write this, the sky is darkening and there’s a dislocated thump of thunder in the distance. We are so excited for rain, and we hope it does actually rain instead of passing tantalizingly overhead. It’s been very warm here, in the 90s, which is not normal, folks. Aaaah, global weirding. Anyway, it’s finally cooling down, back into the 70s. And I think my poor plants will appreciate the reprieve from the heat. They’ve been rather limp the past week, despite their daily dousing.

These photos are from three days ago, but things haven’t changed much in the garden since then. Things are continuing to ripen well. We’ve pulled three nicely sized zucchinis out and we’re having a bumper crop of green beans. Here’s our Thai peppers reddening into ripeness.

I am excited for the heat they will add to our cooking this fall and winter. A good way to remember the warmth of summer.

My pumpkins are oranging nicely on the vine. Yes, oranging. I did just make that word up, but I think it works well.

Remember the pumpkin photo from July 31?

Here’s the same pumpkin three weeks later:

 

These aren’t the only pumpkins I’ve got growing. I’ve got another that’s still quite green that’s double the size of the other two.

We’re looking forward to pumpkin pies, cookies, and muffins. And pumpkin mush for our son!

The sunflowers are much taller these days. The tallest is about seven feet tall. Here’s yours truly again for scale. Seems like every few days we have a couple more lovely sunflower blooms out there. I planted two varieties of sunflowers: the standard yellow sort and one called Mexican Torch. I adore the Mexican Torch variety. Here’s a bloom:

Definitely saving the seeds from this flower. Isn’t the color just amazing?

The bees like the sunflowers too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progress and plants

It’s been three weeks since the last garden update, and my how things have grown! I find myself grumbling about the heat, but when I am doing that I must remind myself that the heat is making my garden flourish.

Here’s June 19:

Here’s July 6:

And here’s July 30:

Some things have already started to flower/go to seed, like the dill and cilantro in the photo above. Pulled up the spinach last week, and will turn under the lettuces next week (they’re starting to get bitter, which means they’re about done).

The plant I can’t wait to check on every day is one of my pumpkins. Here’s the beauty:

Cannot wait to eat that sucker. Seriously. Can. Not. Wait. It’s a pie pumpkin and I’m having delicious visions of that pumpkin for Thanksgiving dessert. Below is a photo of my foot for scale:

So it clearly has a ways to go yet, but it’s getting there! And it’s bigger every day.

Here’s a photo of yours truly with the sunflowers for scale. I’m 5 foot 7 inches.

Remember that tiny little carnival squash plant? Here’s what it looked like in early June. It’s the first squash at the bottom of the photo between the corn:

And here’s yesterday:

Has a few male flowers on it, but no ladies yet. They’ll come. And with them, squash! Squash is probably my favorite vegetable. Acorn in particular.

The peas finally have pods on them (I planted these about a month late), and we’ve been enjoying some in our salads for a few days. They’re really great. Crunchy and sweet.

Oh hey there, little guy.

Now if only the weeds weren’t keeping pace with the vegetables…

Rainbows for dinner

My rainbow and ruby red chard is really going to town (as is my romaine lettuce) even after repeated cuttings.

So much so that when I’ve been offered lettuce the last few weeks at the farms I volunteer at, I’ve turned them down. I’ve given away a lot of it, too. Must be doing something right out there.

In addition to making salads with the chard leaves and stems, my husband and I also enjoy sauteing it in a skillet with olive oil, just until it’s a vibrant green. We add some garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and pierogis (which we have to make ourselves since we can’t find them in groceries stores around here… it’s just mashed potato and onion in a dough shell… sort of like ravioli). It’s a delicious meal.

 

I hope your gardens are bountiful!

 

Creepy crawlers

Not only is the garden a place for plant growth, it’s a gathering place for insects and animals eager to enjoy nature’s bounty. Sometimes those animals and insects are what we consider pests, such as gophers (the war for the backyard continues!) and caterpillars in my cabbages. But many insects are beneficial in the garden. Bees have been headlining the list lately with the issues over hive collapse disorder, but other bugs are important, too. Ladybugs are a good example, because they eat aphids.

Anyway, here’s a sample of what’s creeping and crawling in my garden lately:

Here is a bee (it only looks green… it’s not a fly) gathering pollen from a male pumpkin blossom (the pumpkin is one of many plants that is considered “bisexual,” having both male and female flowers… more on that in a minute). Can you see the pollen on the bee’s legs?

A ladybug/ladybird beetle chillin’ in the dill. Hopefully protecting it from aphids and other pests!

Joining the ladybug beetle in the dill is a wasp. Humans definitely value bees over wasps for their pollen spreading services, but wasps are predators and are helpful in their own right. In the lower righthand side of the picture, there is an ant. There’s another in the middle bottom of the photo. I hope the wasp was hunting ants!

Here’s a crab spider (not sure exact kind) in the marigolds!

Oh, and since I mentioned the pumpkin flowers earlier, here’s a brief biology lesson: Many plants are considered bisexual or “perfect,” which means they have both male and female flowering parts.

Pictured above is the male pumpkin flower with its slender, pollen-containing stamen. Male pumpkin flowers usually come onto the scene before the female flowers, but eventually there are both at the same time. Pollen from the stamen will be carried by bees (or you can be your own bee: pick the make flower and rub the stamen on the female flower) to the female flower’s multi-segmented stigma, shown in the photo below. The pollenated female flower will go on to become a pumpkin!

I have to say I find it endlessly amusing that while some humans seem to consider anything but heterosexuality peculiar,
bisexuality in flowering plants (“angiosperms”) is considered perfect. Oh, the irony.

Anyway, that concludes today’s bug lesson! I hope you’ve enjoyed the up-close-and-personal view of the bug world in my garden. All this talk about bugs has me wanting to re-watch “Ants.” Remember that movie? It was the more adult version of “A Bug’s Life,” and the better of the two in my opinion. Think they’ve got it on Netflix?