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?

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…

Green Thumbs: Buckwheat

Starting now, and in the future, I plan to write occasional informational posts about growing food/living self-sufficiently/homesteading. I’m going to call this series Green Thumbs. I’m hoping to build a bigger readership in the homesteading/farming/gardening set as my goal in the next few years is to start my own CSA. I have a serious, SERIOUS desire to have my own farm. Barnheart, it’s called. That term was coined by Jenna Woginrich, one of my farming idols. Barnheart is an incurable longing for a farm of one’s own. Oh, does that describe me. And having something of a following will help me gain customers, too, when I am finally able to achieve my dream. There’s a lot standing in my way, the chief concern being how the heck I am going to afford land where I live. I will have to compete with people selling out their land for development into subdivisions (cows not condos, people!). Retiring farmers/landowners can get a lot more money for those subdivisions than they can from a young family who wants to farm, even with the crappy economy. We need to find someone who wants to see their land remain a working farm, and who is committed to that end. I’m looking into land link programs, which help aspiring farmers find folks selling land. I figure it can’t hurt to join now, since it will probably take years to get linked up, if ever. We plan to let our local extension agent know our desire, to see if she can help us find land. There are USDA loans, and other such funds out there. We WILL buy land in the next few years. It just feels so far off now, unfortunately. I’m trying to find comfort in my garden, which is doing very well, and considering it practice for the future farm.

So anyway, the first Green Thumbs post is about buckwheat. Buckwheat is such a neat crop, I thought it would be a good starting point. Buckwheat is a cereal grain, but has an amino acid composition nutritionally superior to ALL cereal grains. It has a lots of lysine. Did you know the amino acid lysine helps get rid of cold sores?

In addition to buckwheat’s use in flour (buckwheat pancakes are awesome!), buckwheat is also a great smother and green manure crop. Because buckwheat germinates and grows so rapidly and because its canopy is quite dense, it can be used to smother weeds. These include the horrible quackgrass, Canada thistle, sowthistle, creeping jenny, leafy spurge, and Russian knapweed. In Montana, quackgrass, knapweed, and leafy spurge are common invasive weeds. In my garden, I am using buckwheat to smother grass, lambs quarters (which is actually quite tasty and great in salads!), and thistles.

As you can see in the above photo from my garden, buckwheat’s understory shades the ground below and crowds out weeds.

Buckwheat is also a green manure, as I’ve mentioned before. A green manure is a crop that one turns under once it flowers to add nutrients to the soil. The plant material of buckwheat decays rapidly and the resulting humus improves the soil, the soil’s ability to hold moisture, and the nutrient availability to succeeding crops.

Buckwheat thrives in poor soil. Later in the summer, when many flowers have expired, buckwheat’s flowers are a crucial source of nectar for bees. It is an indeterminate plant, which means its continues to grow until killed by frost. In the northwest, it’s typical to get three crops of buckwheat during a short growing season, as long as it’s tilled under at flowering. I’m planning to leave my current crop in flower for a few days, maybe a week, for the bees. Then I will turn it under for the green manure and plant another crop of buckwheat.

At the back of the garden, one of my beds is really struggling with grass. I’m planning to plant the entire bed to buckwheat next summer, to beat back the grass. It is partially planted to buckwheat now.

Here is a photo of buckwheat that was seeded about a little more than a week ago (buckwheat typically takes 3-5 day after planting to emerge from the soil):

And here is the buckwheat I planted a month ago:

As you can see, there are plenty of weeds around the buckwheat, but there are few in the buckwheat stand.

And this taller stand is about to flower, too!

Here are buckwheat seeds:

To seed, broadcast by hand in the area you want your buckwheat. Cover at 1.5 times the depth of the size of the seed (which makes raking a light cover over, about half an inch in depth). Pat firmly, as buckwheat has a small root system and prefers firm soil. Water daily. When the buckwheat comes in, it can be patchy, but fills in quickly. Below is an example of the buckwheat I planted more recently:

We haven’t decided yet if we’ll try to get some buckwheat from our last crop of the season to use for flour, but I think we’re going to try. We’ll pick it by hand and mill it ourselves, if so.

EDIT: To turn over your buckwheat, cut it if it’s pretty wooly, as mine is, like you would grass (I’ll be using scissors or a pruner), so that there isn’t so much leggy biomass. Then using a shovel, push the biomass into the ground to a depth of 3-6 inches. Follow with another crop of buckwheat, or if it’s the end of the season, cover the bed in mulch or straw until spring to preserve your topsoil.

I hope this has been helpful and informative. Please let me know in the comments if there is a way to improve upon this post, and if there’s something you’d like to learn about in the future. UP NEXT: Composting.

Special thanks to Purdue University’s horticulture department for this fantastic article about buckwheat.

A little beauty

Gardens are beautiful places, and that’s one of the many reasons I enjoy spending a lot of time in mine. I love my stroll across the lawn every day to the garden. I like watching the growing things, and smelling the unique and instantly recognizable scent of soil and plants working together to feed me. A few days ago, I found a toad chillin’ under the broad leaves of one of the strawberry plants. Birds perch on the fenceposts. Butterflies and bees flit about. When we turn over the compost pile weekly, worms twist about before burrowing back into the pile (doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing in there!).

Here are a couple of photos of the beauty in my garden:

Drops of morning dew on cabbage leaves.
Lavender in bloom.
Can you hear the ears a-growing?
Johnny Jump Ups, planted around the perimeter of the garden.

Green joy

Here’s a much-needed garden update post. I’m proud to report that despite the hail a few weeks ago, everything appears to have rebounded and is growing away. We’re supposed to have a string of hot days (well, hot for Montana: 80s and 90s) and that means big growth days! Here’s a photo of the garden from the June 19 post about the garden:

And here’s from today:

Clearly things have been happening out there! A few of the stalks of corn have the beginnings of ears, we’re taking regular cuttings off the herbs, the Asteraceaes and the Chenopodiaceaes (Gotta keep up my plant biology terminology! But for those of you not trying to keep up your plant biology terminology: lettuces and chards.) are going gangbusters, you can hear the beans growing, there’ll be flowers on the squash any day, and the strawberries are turning red. And of course, the weeds are constantly threatening hostile takeover.

My tomato plants are pretty pathetic looking. They got thrashed by the hail storms. One of my neighbors has beautimus-looking tomatoes. I have Solanum lycopersicum (woo plant biology!) envy. However, despite their ragged appearance, there are several little tomatoes on each plant. We won’t have much of a tomato harvest, but will we have one at least!

My red romaine lettuce looks great. This is the second year I’ve used seeds from Baker Creek, and I’m again pleased with the results. Isn’t that some great color? We’ll be doing our first harvest tomorrow! Exciting!

Here are my snow peas. They’re just getting big enough to need to climb the trellis. Yesterday I put out some twine for the vines to climb onto the piece of old wooden fencing we found in the field that we’re using as the trellis.

This is my first time growing onions, but clearly they don’t need much assistance! I planted the onions from sets I got from my mother-in-law and they’re thriving. They’re nearly a foot tall! Here’s hoping the onion bulbs below look as great as the shoots above.

In an effort to beat back the weeds and put some nutrients back into the soil, we’ve planted a lot of buckwheat in various places around the garden. In the above photo, it’s the lush looking stuff with heart-shaped leaves to the right of and behind the cabbage. Buckwheat is a great smother crop, and, if turned under once it flowers, makes a nice green manure. So far, we’re pleased with the results! So much so that we recently seeded a bunch more around the garden to help with the weed problem (darn thistles, grass, and bunches of unnamed nasties!).

Here’s those beans I was talking about earlier. They’re doing great. Totally exceeding my expectations. Of course, I didn’t expect them to do anything at all, but then again my problem last year with them was more likely the climate than the beans. I’m glad they’ve decided to be the all-stars of the garden this year (so far). I’m not kidding when I say you can practically hear these guys growing.

My husband and I are very pleased with the garden’s progress. And impatient too, because we want to start harvesting! Good thing the romaine is ready.

Garden 2012

I’ve got a lot more going for my garden this year. First of all, it’s not in Butte. And that pretty much sums it up. It’s pretty hard to grow veggies in a place where it’s likely to snow in July. This year’s garden is in a very sunny patch of my backyard. My husband spent a few long afternoons rototilling and such and building me one heckuvan awesome deer fence around it, too.

Before we left for our trip to the Midwest, I planted three strawberry plants, two aronia (also known as chokeberry) bushes, and some flowers in pots and in the garden. Upon our return, there was quite a lot of grass coming up that we had to pull and till under again (a temporary solution, no doubt; I have a feeling I’ll be fighting an ongoing war with the grass). Yesterday afternoon while our son napped we planted.

We planted spinach, romaine, ruby red chard, rainbow chard, carrots, acorn squash, pickling cucumbers, slicing cucumbers, sunflowers, and chives. Outside the garden along the perimeter I scattered wildflower seeds. I also planted flax and black-eyed susans in the garden. I would still like to plant some onions, corn, garlic (this fall), broccoli, tomatoes (either in walls of water or pots on the porch since our growing season here is so brief), and some other things. I’ve planted all the perimeter beds and just have the two interior beds remaining. Amazing how fast the space got taken up! I suppose next year I could make my walkways a little more narrow.

On the right is our compost pile along one third of the wooden fencing we found in the field. The other two thirds of the fence are where I planted snow peas and blue lake beans. The fencing is for trellising. What I’ve planted so far is around the perimeter. The big spot in the middle will be two more beds soon.

A few hours after we finished planting it rained heavily for ten minutes or so, complete with thunder and lightning. I’m glad for the rain, but I hope it wasn’t too much. Wouldn’t want it to flood out my seeds. I enjoyed listening to the heavy rain fall, the thunder rumble, and watching the lightning light up the walls. All this while I was feeding Jonathan before his bedtime. I hope he enjoys a good rainstorm as much as his parents.

The strawberries have their own little corner of the garden. I’m hoping they take over that area and we get lots of strawberries every year. I decided to go with Junebearing strawberries as opposed to everbearing, which was the advice of my master gardener instructor. At least in our area, Junebearing strawberries provide a better crop. The variety I chose is called Sparkle. Maybe next year I’ll plant an everbearing plant just to compare.

I’m a little fuzzy on the aronia details. The bush is supposed to grow to about 6 feet tall. I’m not sure when it will start providing fruit and whether or not I can harvest it this year. I’ll need to do some more research. Aronia berries make fab jam.

I’ll be sure to provide frequent updates on the garden status throughout the summer. In addition to my own garden, I’m planning to work on a local farm (possibly two) some this summer in exchange for veggies. Good training for me, and good food. Excitement!