July 18th, 2011
Garden in July

On Saturday, my daughter and I were out in our garden, milling around, checking stuff out, they way we often do, when we saw our dog Chester over at the base of the apple tree. He was barking and acting funny. I thought maybe he treed something. Maybe the neighbor’s cat, maybe even a groundhog. For a second I was full of dread that maybe he had treed a raccoon in the middle of the day.

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Upon further inspection we found that he hadn’t treed anything at all, but instead he was just alerting us to the presence of a strange visitor—some kind of carrier pigeon, taking a break from its journey from who-knows-where to who-knows-where. So of course I ran to get the camera. My daughter decided his name was Morry.

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Our garden is looking pretty good these days. Raised beds, deep straw mulch, and trellises have made such a difference in the amount of work I have to do out there. In the past, this time of the year was make-or-break time. One false move, one slight hesitation, and the garden would be completely over run by weeds, crippled by under-watering, or overgrown by runaway cucumbers of squash plants. But this year, everything seems to be under control. The deep mulch takes care of the weeds; the raised beds with drip hoses and mechanical timer take care of my watering problems; and that trellis gives the cucumbers something constructive to do with their time.

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We made our first jar of pickles yesterday. We’ve blanched and frozen 11 family-sized servings of beans. I planted potatoes in straw mulch which makes it really easy to just reach in a grab a few when you need them without disturbing the whole plant or digging up the soil. And the zucchinis are basically relentless. But what my family waits all year for are the tomatoes. Any day now.

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The bean teepee is also a big hit at our house. It provides nice shady place to escape the summer sun. And as an added bonus, volunteer pumpkins are making their way to the top.

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July 12th, 2011
Solar Powered Rain Barrel Pump

A couple of months ago I got a call from someone wondering if they could send me a solar powered rain barrel pump. And my immediate response was: Yep, send it on over. I was so excited. It hit all the right buttons. Renewable energy. Water conservation. Free. The fact that I didn’t have a rain barrel to test it in never entered my mind. All I knew was that soon I’d be pumping water with the power of the sun.

But after the solar pump was delivered to my house, it sat for a while. One thing led to another, and I never got around to setting up a rain barrel or the solar pump. The arrival of our newborn baby sort of shuffled my list of priorities. But finally this past weekend, I made it happen.

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I found a 55-gallon plastic drum to use as my rain barrel. I removed the old aluminum downspout and replaced it with a length of 4 inch flexible tubing, which I fed right into the top of the barrel.

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The RainPerfect solar powered rain barrel pump system was incredibly easy to install. It literally took me five minutes. It’s smart system—the solar panel charges a battery; the battery powers the pump. Pretty simple. Pretty cool.

Stay tuned for more about this awesome product. I haven’t really put it to the test yet. But early indications seem promising.

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July 5th, 2011
Stupid Deer, New Fence

Those stupid deer had to go and prove me wrong. For a while now, when people ask me if I have trouble with the deer eating my crops, I say no, they generally leave my garden alone. I have a fence, a dog, and some wind chimes. Plus there is enough other good stuff nearby (4 acres of alfalfa, 4 acres of feed corn, etc.) that a deer shouldn’t have to pilfer from my humble little organic garden. Maybe the deer appreciate that my corn doesn’t have that chemical aftertaste that the feed corn has.

Anyway, I went out to the garden Saturday morning to find most of my newly forming ears of corn neatly nibbled down to the stalk. Stupid deer. It’s my own dumb fault because my corn patch wasn’t fenced in. But it is now. I spent all day Sunday doing reconstructive surgery on my fence. I had to relocate one of my compost piles, to open up a path to the newly fenced in area. My next step is to mulch all the new inside territory with straw.

Otherwise my garden is doing very well. The bean teepee is growing according to plan. My peas are almost finished. I took out half of theme and will be planting another tomato or tow and some delicata squash on the trellis. I’m definitely a convert to vertical gardening.

We’ve been eating tons of zucchini. I’ve been harvesting onions and garlic as we need them. My lettuce still looks good. The basil and parsley look and taste great too. My self-seeding calendula look amazing. And the volunteer cilantro looks good too. My pop-corn is well on its way, and I decided to plant some more sweet corn in the bed where my turnips were.

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And the corn that the deer ate seems to be recovering OK. It’s starting to grow silk. I think I might get some good corn this year after all.

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June 28th, 2011
cadence of summer

Maybe a twinge of sadness, sure. Or a feeling of not quite having taken full advantage of the situation. Maybe it’s the thought of having to wait awholenother year for black raspberries. The season is just too short. Although my wife assures me that we ate bowls and bowls of raspberries for almost three weeks, to me it feels like the black raspberries were here for a day, like ribbon of migrating birds seen in the sky just one afternoon and then gone. But every end is a beginning, and just as the black raspberries fade away, the red raspberries start to ripen.

As a gardener you can’t help but hear the rhythm and the cadence of the world around you. Flowers and fruits blending and melding together in Ven Diagrams of harvest and ripeness. Raspberries overlapping peas overlapping zucchini, with a steady beat of lettuce and onions, and a slight foreshadowing of corn and tomatoes. And just listen to the crescendo of cucumbers coming on now, a mild rustle to a mighty roar, their tiny tendrils performing feats of super-cucurbit strength as they muscle their way up the trellis. Do they know they are gunning for the pickle jar? Do they sense that the dill over there and the garlic over here will all chill in a summer bath of vinegar and mustard seed? And what’s that popping sound? It must be the germination of the popcorn kernels I planted last week. Yes, here they are now, little green soldiers marching in place to the beat of a summer time drum.

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Above: Black Raspberries, red raspberries, butterfly weed, cucumber tendril, new corn tassel, popcorn seedlings

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June 21st, 2011
DIY Turnip Seeds Continued….

So far my turnip seed saving adventure is rolling along smoothly. As you may remember, I gathered and bundled a bunch of turnip seedpods and let them hang out to dry for a couple of weeks in the sun. This past weekend, I took the bundle up to the deck and crumbled the dried bunch in my hand and to my amazement, a shower of tiny turnip seeds rained upon the table.

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Dried Seedpods

I’m not sure why I found it so amazing. It was similar to the excitement I experienced earlier this spring when the seeds I started in my basement began to sprout. I guess I’m excited to be playing a bigger role in the cycle. It’s easy to buy a pack of seeds at the store and stick them in the ground, but it’s a whole-nuther feeling to know you have been with these seeds through several seasons. On some level, it’s a lot like parenthood.

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Tiny Turnip Seeds

I wished I had crumbled the seedpods onto a smoother surface. The table on my deck is textured which made gathering the seeds a little challenging, but I made creative use of the dust pan and brush and was able to get all the seeds into a little manila envelope.

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Safely stored for late summer planting.

Of course my experiment in seed saving is not over.  The true test, of course, will be to get the seeds to germinate and grow into more turnips. Stay tuned. I’ll be plating them late summer for fall harvest.

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