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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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?

Go outside

I’ve found one of the best salves for the busy, stressed, or troubled soul is to get outside. Go for a hike. Plant a garden. Push your child on the swing. Read a book on the lawn. Snowshoe. Shovel snow. There are so many ways to get outside that doesn’t cost a penny and can be so soothing and restorative. I know I’ve written a lot lately about being stressed or worried, and it’s been true. There has been a lot of stress and worry in my life recently trying to get a small business operating while maintaining a welcoming home and raising a child the way I think that child should be raised. I certainly am an advocate for extending the hours of every day just so I can get things done! On the other hand, I’ve had to tell myself to pull back a bit lately and to get outside to enjoy life. And to enjoy the beautiful part of the country where I live. I am truly blessed to live in northwest Montana and there’s no point living here unless I get out and enjoy it!

A few weeks ago I went on a great walk with my friend Flannery. We explored an old homestead (now vacation rental), and enjoyed a wonderful walk through big meadows and beside still-white mountains. We watched a herd of elk move across the meadow and into the trees.

Big skyThose peaks never fail to amaze me. What beautiful mountains. Those white peaks in their imposing, monumental, wind-swept, snow-covered splendor. I run out of adjectives every time. I think there are just some things that language cannot describe. Some things are just meant to be gawked at, to be enjoyed on a primal level. To be connected to as a child of this planet connects to the earth.

Charred treesTurning around from the mountains, you can see that this valley has experienced fire. Fire is good for forests. It rejuvenates the land, and did you know for many pine cones to germinate they need to be burned? Fire is part of the ecosystem here. It’s always painful to think about how might those burnt forests must have been, though, when all that remains is charred lodgepole trunks. Someday again, there will be forest.

Wagon mountainsAnd even though this part of the world can be very remote, it is also touched by humanity. This was a homestead, many years ago. A family struggled to make a living here through winters harsh and howling, through summers bright and bountiful. Hard people making a hard way, but in one of the most magnificent places on the planet. That family still owns the property, by the way. The homestead has made way for a vacation rental now, but at least the place is still enjoyed and that view is still appreciated. I will always wish that the land were still worked, but that isn’t this piece of land’s destiny, at least not right now.

Wagon wheelFor now, this wagon will gather moss and make for pretty lawn art. The wheels will sink into ruts and eventually the earth will reclaim the wooden spokes and the iron rims. Everything in this life is eventually reclaimed, you know. The earth is one heck of a great recycler.

After our walk, we retired to Flannery’s rented summer cabin. Like all cabins in this part of the world, there’s no electricity save for generators. Heat comes from the wood stove which comes from the wood you chopped and split. Chopping wood is great fun, great exercise, and I can’t say enough about its virtues. Go chop some wood, people.

Twice warmedWe were also warmed by some strong coffee spiked with whiskey and with excruciatingly rich chocolate cake Flannery baked. Flannery is a world-class baker, after all.

Flan 1

Flan 2

Flan 3We followed our chocolate snack with some gypsy stew, bread, and wine for dinner, eaten by candlelight (because there’s no electricity, remember?).

Delightful dinnerWhile I obviously enjoy the perks of electricity, I do love getting away from it too. I think there’s something in all of us that yearns for the simplicity of a life lived close to the earth, and without distractions like television and Internet. Of course that simple life did lack things like coffee, easily procured beautiful yarn, and blogs. And I would greatly miss those things.

It’s about balance people. Do some soul balancing and get outside. There is a big, beautiful world out there for exploring. The Internet will be there when you get back, but the glaciers will be gone if you tarry too long at your computer screen.

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!

 

Unusual bouquets

I like roses as much as the next girl. Lilies, too. And sunflowers. Sunflowers were the main flower in my wedding bouquet. But the traditional flowers you can buy at the florist aren’t the only flowers you can use for beautiful bouquets. I’ve been enjoying some more wild-looking, nontraditional blooms lately. Before we turned the buckwheat under, I picked some of the stems for their lovely white flowers. I’ve added some stems from my flowering dill and cilantro plants, too.

Isn’t this bouquet lovely? And it smells great, too! Like dill and cilantro. Can’t decide if I want some pickles or some Mexican food when I take a whiff of it.

 

Dill is part of the Umbelliferae family. This name describes the way the flower grow. Their umbrella-like blooms are called umbels. Carrots are also part of this family.

Isn’t it pretty on the windowsill? And hey, there’s our first two tomatoes! Those two are about to be lunch!

 

 

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.

Renovation of the world

“There is, indeed, something inexpressibly pleasing in the annual renovation of the world, and the new display of the treasures of nature.” – Samuel Johnson

A week ago, before planting the transplants I bought, my husband built up five more beds in the garden.

We ran out of the horse manure compost that a friend with a horseback riding operation gave us, so we used organic compost from a local gardening shop in these beds. We laid a thin layer of compost, and I added some organic bone meal, too. I did this, because, as mentioned before, my soil test showed that the garden’s soil was lacking in nitrogen and phosphorus.

Here’s yours truly spreading the compost. Yes, I am wearing a fleece. Why? Because up here at 48 degrees (latitude), that’s also been the high temperature for a while. We have glorious autumns here, but cold and wet springs. In fact, there’s a winter weather advisory in our area today. Sigh.

Here’s the garden as it was about a week ago after planting the transplants. I apologize I haven’t posted this sooner, but I’ve been busy, ya know. The garden looks much the same now, except the lettuces and carrots are coming up, as are the onion sets and the buckwheat. And the weeds. Oh the weeds. I weeded for half an hour yesterday and got one half of one bed done. Well, that’s what I get for not weeding for a week: Now I get to spend my free time weeding!

Of the transplants I planted: I planted a pumpkin, a zucchini, a squash, two tomatoes, a pepper, mint, cilantro, shallots – all of these from the local Terrapin Farm. From a local greenhouse, I planted corn, more squash, cucumbers, cabbage, lavender, parsley, basil, oregano, and dill.

From seed I planted spinach, red romaine, rainbow chard, ruby red chard, carrots, acorn squash, cucumbers, snow peas, blue lake bush beans, onion (from sets, technically), sunflowers, and a bunch of wildflowers on the outside perimeter.

Here’s the herb garden we planted. In it there’s parsley, basil, oregano, cilantro, lavender, mint, and dill. We love to use fresh herbs in our cooking.

Here are the corn transplants. I will not be doing these again. At least not transplants that are this big. These transplants have taken an absolute beating with wind and rain, and yesterday, hail. They don’t have the established roots they need to stand up to the beatings, which, looking at the weather report, will continue until morale improves. Lesson learned.

And yesterday it hailed for fifteen minutes. The hail was about blueberry size. Big enough to cause some damage. I think I lost a squash plant, probably some of the corn, and time will tell what else I’ve lost once the lake in the middle of the garden recedes. We also had a bird get in the house, trying to escape the hail (we had the door open because we were standing on the porch watching the hail come down). It flapped around inside for a few minutes until we could get it out. Hopefully the hail didn’t kill it! It is supposed to rain more today (and snow up high). The picture below shows the hail. And the puddles full of hail that are probably three or four inches deep.

It’s supposed to warm up in the next few days. Hopefully, if everything didn’t drown, I’ll see some real growth out there!

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!