Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stone and Sweat - Building a Low-Lying Wall for the Circle Bed

 As the summer season approaches its zenith, there's so much to do around the garden.  Plants need to be staked, spent flowers need to be deadheaded, veggies need to be picked, cuttings need to be taken for next year's plants, and seeds need to be sown for the fall garden.  And then there are the weeds, which in the middle of my garden beds have been drowned out by the lushness of our ornamental plants.  Those along the edges of the borders, on the other hand, have seemingly thrived mainly due to my lack of attention.

 Normally the weeds within our driveway wouldn't be so aggressive as they are now.  But when you add a new source of nutrients to the area (like the soil mix I added to the circle bed), the plants you don't want to grow seem to benefit as much as the plants you do want to grow. 

The neat edges that I'd worked so hard to achieve earlier this spring were now lost in a sea of green carpeting.  A couple of weekends ago, I decided that enough was enough and that something had to be done about it. 

 So out came the hoe.  It took me the better part of a day to remove all of the crab grass and other weeds that encroached on the circle bed.  By the time I was done, I had a couple of good-sized blisters on my hands to show for it.  

 After the weeds were carted away, I raked along the border to smooth out the edge.  At this point, I was willing to call this project done.  But that was not in the cards.

When I first devised the circle garden, I had in mind that I would line it with cobblestone.  What I didn't anticipate was that twelve yards of soil mix would be added to it, resulting in a steep slope all along the edges touching the driveway.  This made planting along the edge rather difficult and resulted in a look that was less than neat.  Eventually, I decided that cobblestone as an edging material would not work and that I would need something a bit more substantial to line the bed.  What I settled on was a low-lying wall that would help retain the soil and allow me to plant to the very edge of the bed.

 Earlier this summer, we visited several local quarries to browse for landscaping stones.  I've always loved the look of a dry-stack wall made of flat stones.  Unfortunately, I couldn't justify spending a lot of money on landscaping stones when there are other more pressing home renovation projects that need to get done within the next year or two (like the entire upstairs of our farmhouse).  In the end, I decided to use what we had on hand and what was FREE. 

 When the prior owners replaced the septic system a few years ago and installed a new leach field, the excavation left a big mound of rocks and dirt to one side of our front lawn.  This past weekend, I dug into the mound and collected as many big rocks as I could.  I also scavenged in the woods behind our home.  In the end, I had enough to create a low-lying wall all around the circle bed. 

I know next to nothing about building a wall so the end result wasn't perfect.  But then again, I really like the rough and rustic look of this wall.  It seems to fit our surroundings well since we used materials derived from our own land.  And best of all, I was able to accomplish this project without spending a single dime.  Soon, I'll order more soil mix to fill the backside of this wall.  Eventually, I'd also like to add a fresh layer of gravel to the driveway.  But for now, I can sit back and enjoy the circle bed again.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Glut of Summer

This past week, I've been pickling, drying and freezing most of what the garden is producing.  The zucchini plants are looking a bit overgrown right now so I can imagine a time soon when they will no longer be productive.  As you can see, I haven't been good about picking them on a daily basis and so some of the fruits are on the heftier side.  These I've shredded and frozen for zucchini bread and fritters.  And after a brief hiatus, our broccoli plants are producing really good-sized side shoots.  One in particular was almost half the size of the main head. 

 The beans have been prolific this week.  Aside from my runner beans, I'm growing bush-type beans and so this abundance won't last forever.  Most of my runner bean haul was blanched and frozen.  Frozen beans don't sound too exciting now, but I imagine that they will be a welcomed sight come winter.

 What I've been doing lately is going out into the garden when I get home from work and picking a handful of string beans for dinner.  I love when the garden becomes an extension of our kitchen pantry. 

 I've been picking a lot of scallions as well.  They've held up incredibly well despite the heat.  I treat them as a cut and come again crop, leaving about 3 to 4 inches of the base to regrow.  They seem to bounce back fairly quickly.  And even if they end up yellowing and flopping over in August, by late September, they'll be green and lush again. 

Lastly, the beets (like this year's spring carrots) have taken quite a long time to size up.  In every growing season, there always seems to be one crop that suffers. This year, it's the root vegetables.  The leaves on the parsnips that I seeded back in early May are only about 8 inches tall.  And my winter carrots, which I seeded the other week, did not germinate well.  There's really nothing else to do at this point but to keep trying and hope for the best.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Mid-July Harvest

 The garden is producing such bounty these days - and it's not even tomato season yet (aside from the first few cherries that have been snagged by the kids).  At times it can seem pretty overwhelming, especially when you have a drawer full of summer squash in the fridge.  What we haven't given away, I've been able to preserve.  I've dehydrated some of our zucchini for winter soups and have also shredded and frozen a lot of it as well. 

 We also have a few jars of homemade fresh dill pickles in the fridge.  I used to can my pickles but it felt like a lot of work and the end result was good but not great, simply because I personally prefer uncooked refrigerator pickles.  Now we simply try to enjoy our pickles while cucumbers are in season.  In this state, they have a shelf life of a couple months stored in the fridge, though we can easily go through a large jar a week.  And when the garden stops producing cucumbers, I start pickling the late season green tomatoes that will never ripen in time. 

 I've also started to freeze a lot of my runner beans, which I imagine will be really good cooked in hearty stews and soups. 

I picked the last of our black currants this week.  Considering that I started my plants from 12 inch cuttings two years ago, I'm really happy with how well they've produced.  Next year should be even better.

 Our French beans and Hungarian wax peppers are starting to come in as well.  I usually roast the peppers to use in salsas or make pickled hots with them.   They seem particularly spicy this year.

 My garlic is drying nicely, though I'm a bit disappointed with the harvest this year.  The bulbs are a bit smaller than what we've been accustomed to and I really have no one to blame but myself. Since I didn't mulch the bed, the weeds took over and ended up diverting a lot of the nutrients from the plants.  Next year, I'll be sure to mulch.

This year has also not been a great one for spring sown carrots.  Mine are growing particularly slow and the roots themselves are only about 4-5 inches long.  Hopefully, our winter carrots will do better.  
 Our blueberries are starting to ripen as well. 

 Despite the voracious robins in our yard, we've been able to pick a decent amount from the three bushes I planted last fall.  Next year, I'll have to invest in some netting. (Either that or plant more bushes.)

Finally, it's been a few years since I've grown chamomile.  I've even forgotten when you're supposed to pick them.  The flowers smell nice so that should be a good indicator I guess.  Hopefully they'll produce a tea that's worth drinking.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Blooms of July

Circle Bed - July 2014 - black-eyed Susans, lacinato kale, lupine, scarlet runner beans
Earlier this year,  I must have sown over two thousand plants, most of which were hardy flowering perennials.  While it will be at least a couple of years before my ornamental beds fill in completely, I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of blooms we're getting just this first year.  The circle bed is looking particularly nice right now.  And as certain plants begin to fade (like my fava beans and kale), I've been replacing them with other plants I've kept on hand (like my cannas and some additional perennials I purchased online back in May). 

In any case, here's what's currently blooming in the gardens at the moment.  Enjoy!

Circle Bed - July 2014 - scarlet runner beans, bi-color rudbeckia hirta, delphiniums

Sweet Peas - 'Perfume Delight' blend

Circle Bed - July 2014 - nasturtiums, petunias, dill, black-eyed Susans, Imperial Star artichokes

Evening Primrose

Delphinium - 'Pacific Giants' blend

Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus ruber)

Imperial Star Artichokes



Nasturtiums and Cascading Lobelias


Fern-leaf Coreopsis

Black-Eyed Susans and Jupiter's Beard

Veronicas, Bi-Color Rudbeckia Hirta and Phlox 'David'

Bi-Color Rudbeckia Hirta

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia Hirta)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea Purpurea)

Monday, July 14, 2014

What's in Season - Zucchini Overkill

 It happens every year.  At the moment, we are drowning in summer squash.  If I forget to pick daily, then the problem just compounds itself.  I've been able to give much of it away to our neighbors.  And summer squash has become a permanent fixture in our weekday stir-fries.  The rest - well, tonight I broke out our dehydrator.  I'll grate and freeze some of it as well.  I've been putting it off, but now is the time to hunker down and start preserving some of the bounty. That would be the sensible thing to do.

 Our runner beans are starting to come in.  They seem almost as prolific as the summer squash.  Up until this point, I'd never eaten runner beans before.  The outer skin is more leathery than your average green bean, but they are still very tasty and have an excellent crunch.  I imagine they would make great pickles.

 Our salad cucumbers are coming in as well.  I've picked about 10 so far.  'Tasty Jade' is an excellent choice for the home grower in my opinion.  I am partial to growing cucumbers that don't require pollination in order to set fruit.  Tasty Jade is also very crisp and sweet. One of our favorite summertime snacks is simply a freshly-picked cucumber slicked and sprinkled with a bit of course salt.  It's true what they say - heaven is a homegrown cucumber. 

 I've picked all of my red currants.  This week, I'm due to pick the rest of the black.  Strangely, the birds have left them alone, which means that I'll be able to pick them when they are perfectly ripe.  These are destined for making jams and syrups (for homemade soda).

The last of the broccoli is slowing coming in.  Pretty soon, it will be time to pull out the plants and grow something less, which reminds me that now is the time to sow seeds for fall broccoli, beets and kale.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Vegetable Garden in July

July is a wonderful time to be walking around the vegetable garden.  The first succulent crops of summer like zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes are starting to mature.  The plants themselves are big and precocious, yet everything still looks neat and tidy.  The East garden, in particular, is coming along nicely. 

The tomatoes are about half way up their trellises.  No sign of blight so far (knock on wood) though a couple fruit on one of my 'Speckled Roman' plants are showing signs of blossom end rot - not a big deal considering the number of plants we have.  The trellises themselves still feel sturdy despite the added weight of these vines. 

I'm really happy with my sweet corn this year.  They are starting to form tassels.  My only regret is that I didn't plant more as homegrown corn that's picked at the perfect moment and cooked right away is one of the best treats of summer. 

My pickling cucumbers and melons are coming along nicely.  Still no sign of cucumber beetles or foliar disease.  At our old home, a fierce battle between beetles and cucurbits would have been well underway by now. 

My three sisters planting is coming along well.  My only regret is that I didn't sow my Cherokee Trail dry beans earlier as they seem lost in the mix at this point. 

I procrastinated in making trellises for my cherry tomatoes, and so in the end, I just threw together these tall teepees.  So far they seem to be doing the job, but in a few weeks time, the tomato vines will undoubtedly outgrow them.  Then I'll be left with flopping vines. 

My salad cucumbers ('Tasty Jade") are particularly aggressive this year.  It's still early in the season and yet they are close to reaching the top of their trellis.

There are tons of cucumbers forming and already we've harvested four nice-sized cukes.  Tasty Jade is mild, extra crispy and very prolific. 

It will be a few more weeks before we pick our first heirloom beefsteak tomatoes but they seem to be forming nicely. When moving, one of the things I contemplate as a gardener is whether a particular vegetable will thrive in our new location.  Being so close to the coast, I was concerned that my tomatoes would be more prone to disease than they were before.  Tomatoes are incredibly important to us as we love eating them fresh and try to make enough sauce to last us throughout the year.  I'm glad that so far they seem to be doing well in our current location. 

I haven't really harvested any of my nasturtiums, mainly because I'm not too fond of their taste.  However, they are quite stunning and add amazing color to any vegetable garden. 

That's it for now.  Happy gardening everyone!