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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.

RWG071811-pigeon

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 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 6th, 2011

DIY Turnip Seeds

Late last summer I planted turnips, and by the fall I was harvesting them, delicate and delicious. I covered them in late fall with a heavy layer of alfalfa and straw, and by early spring I was harvesting some very tasty turnip greens.

Turnip greens in early spring

Turnip greens in early spring.

And then the rain started. I feel like it rained for weeks. Maybe it did. All I know is that when it stopped, the grass in my yard was knee high, and my turnips looked more like wild mustard than turnips. That’s when I decided to let them go to seed and see if I couldn’t save the seeds and grow another crop of turnips this fall.

Turnips in flower and seed.

Turnips in flower and seed.

The tall flowers attracted lots of beneficial insects, but I had no idea what to expect from these plants. What would the seeds look like? How would I know when they were ready? Will they be viable?

A bundle of turnip seed pods hanging to dry

A bundle of turnip seed pods hanging to dry.

After a few weeks it became clear that seeds were developing. I left the turnips alone for a while and when the flowers began to fade and fall away, I pulled out the plants. Then I cut a random sampling of the seed pods, tied them together and hung them from my trellis, figuring that they should dry for a while. And that’s where they are now.

A closer look at the bundle.

A closer look at the bundle.

Have you ever grown turnips? Have you had luck saving seeds? I’d love to hear your tales of turnips.

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April 18th, 2011

inside and outside

The garden at our house is moving along nicely on two fronts: indoor and outside.

You know about the peas, but we also planted spinach and radicchio by seed. The spinach looks good, but the radicchio is taking its time. I planted them together in one of the 2 x 8 raised beds in sort of a diagonal stripes.

turnip greens

turnip greens

We went up to the cold crop sale at the Rodale Institute last week and got some broccoli and arugula seedlings and a bag of onion sets. I put the onions in a few different beds, a row here, a row there, sort of out of the way along the back edges and outside corners of some of the bigger raised beds. I put the broccoli in the bed where I overwintered turnips and collards. (Wondering now if that’s a brassica overload; perhaps some crop rotation was in order. Live and learn.) We’ve been eating lots of turnip greens lately. Last October I planted about 40 bulbs of garlic in the other 2×8 bed. This all sounds like a lot of work, but my raised beds were ready to plant because I kept them heavily mulched all winter. The soil looks great, full of worms, ready for a productive season.

Inside, everything I planted a few weeks ago is up—except the marigolds. I’m wondering if my seeds were bad, or if they’re the kind of seed that needs darkness to germinate. I’ve left the fluorescent light on 24/7 since I planted the seeds. The rest of the seedlings seem to like it.

seedling-helper

The secret to growing seedlings is finding good help

And this past weekend, Iris and I planted tomato seeds. OG senior editor Doug gave me some of the seeds that he’s trialing in the test garden. I’m stating 4 varieties: Velvet Red, Black Icicle, Italian Heirloom, and Henderson’s Winsall.

soil+seed+water+light+love=tomatoes

soil+seed+water+light+love=tomatoes

This is random, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the correlation between having kids and growing a garden. As new parents or new gardeners you have no idea what to expect. You worry a lot about the “right” way to do things and it can be stressful to say the least. But I’ve noticed, as my wife and I are getting very close to having our second child, that things are a little less stressful. Not that it’s not incredibly exciting; it’s just exciting in a whole new way. More on that later.

My seed potatoes shipped today. I should have them in time to plant them on Good Friday. Going for the mulch method this year. I had them in the ground a lot earlier last year.

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