Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The May Garden - A Picture Tour

 I thought I'd share some photos of the progress we're making on some of our gardening projects.  One area of the garden, which I'm calling 'the great border', is coming along nicely.  So far, I've put in several shrubs and tons of perennial flowers.  I've also planted a small purple asparagus patch.  My goal is to get the rest of the border planted by this upcoming weekend and then start thinking about what type of stone I'd like to use to pave the small walkway. 
 I made two sweet pea trellises out of maple branches and dried grape vines.  I'm really happy with how they turned out.  Unfortunately, my sweet peas are not growing at all and have not recovered from the transplant shock.  Planted in front of the trellis is a hardy geranium (cranesbill) I picked up at a local nursery. Hardy geraniums are one of my favorite perennials and I was able to root a ton of offsets from just this one plant. 

 The other sweet pea trellis.

 The trellis I made for my 'purple podded' and 'champion of England' shell peas on the other hand is a bit more rustic looking.  I tried to build it in the same style as the ones I saw while visiting the vegetable garden at Colonial Williamsburg.  What it lacks in style, it makes up for in utility and sturdiness. 

 I also put in a couple of small raised vegetable beds within this border.  Hopefully they won't be as noticeable once this space fills up with flowering plants. I wanted these here as this area gets lots of sun during the winter months (a small winter garden maybe?) and for the added convenience of being near the house. 

 Here are some of the many seedlings that still need to be planted out.  In front are the hardy geraniums I rooted from offsets.  Out of one 10 dollar plant, with very little effort I got 11 more - a reasonable deal if you ask me.

 The circle bed is also coming along.  I hope to have it fully planted (or as much as I can with the remaining plants that I have) within the next two weeks. 

 This past weekend, we also created the center bed for the east garden.  It took my husband all day Sunday to dig up the sod and remove all of the tree roots, but in the end, I thought it looked great and was well worth the effort.

I don't quite know yet what we'll ultimately do with this center bed (maybe an herb patch lined on all sides with English lavender), but for this summer at least, we'll be growing summer squash and dry beans here.  This past weekend, I also planted my tomatoes - 27 plants in all and gave at last a dozen more to our neighbors.

This is becoming one of my most favorite vantage points on our property.  One day, I'd like to put a small bench at this very spot where I can sit and just watch things grow.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tender Baby Kale - My New Favorite Salad Green

Pots of salad greens (from left) - baby kale, arugula and mesclun mix.
Last fall, my neighbor introduced me to baby kale by way of a simple yet delicious salad she made for one of our last minute neighborhood potlucks.  Up until that point, I'd only ever eaten mature kale leaves.  The difference between the two was pretty stark.  Kale has always been near the bottom of my favorite veggies list primarily because of its toughness.  Baby kale on the other hand is perfectly tender.  This spring, I decided to try growing it in pots, and the results were pretty good.  I used a Portuguese kale variety given to me by fellow garden blogger, Michelle.  It has a mild flavor yet holds up nicely in a salad. 

The salads are steady at the moment and so are the Asian greens.  Hopefully it won't be long before we harvest our first snow peas. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Circle Bed - A Nod to Thomas Jefferson

In the middle of our circular driveway once stood an old pear tree that was at least 25 feet tall.  It was apparent to us when we first moved in that the tree had been terribly neglected through the years, having had all branches removed from the bottom 10 feet of the main trunk.  I debated last fall about whether to keep it, and in the end, decided that it was taking up too much valuable space in the middle of one of the sunniest spots on our property.  So during this past winter, our neighbor was kind enough to cut it down for us.  Naturally, my next thought was, "So now what?"

It didn't take long for me to realize that I wanted to create a real focal point on our property here.  I love the idea of a grand flower bed that would serve as a destination for beneficial insects and birds.  It would also help to break up the monotony of an otherwise dull gravel driveway.

Going into this project, I was mindful of the fact that it would take at least several years for any future plantings to mature and for this space to truly come into its own.  I think far too many people shy away gardening or from making any changes to their outdoor spaces because they can't bear the thought of having to look at bare soil for months if not years on end.  But for me, that's a large part of what makes gardening so fun and rewarding.  I don't think gardens are meant to be static things.  (Few things in this natural world are.)  Ultimately this bed will develop at its own pace, reach a certain level of fullness, and still continue to change from year to year.  And I get to enjoy and critique every moment of it. 

As is the case with other parts of our property, the soil here was in a terrible state.  My first task for this project was to dig a narrow trench around the bed in order to define its shape and borders.  

We then got to work on turning over what little grass there was here and then covering it all up with a layer of partially decomposed leaves from last fall.  

Next, we arranged to have 6 yards of soil mix dumped on top of it.  After spreading it, we realized quickly that we only had enough to cover about half of the bed with a decent amount of soil.  So the back half laid bare for a few more weeks while I got started on planting some things in front.   The first to go in were my Imperial artichokes (Yes I know - a vegetable, but also a flower).  The bed was also staked and lined with construction tape to keep the neighborhood dogs at bay.

Eventually, we had another 6 yards of soil mix delivered to cover the back half of this bed.  While at times the shoveling and spreading seemed backbreaking, it also gave us an opportunity to work on this garden project as a family.

Gradually I've added more and more seedlings to this space.  And of course my ideas for it are continuing to change and evolve.   Aside from several clumps of irises (which I'd received from our next door neighbor) and a persimmon tree I recently planted on the right side of this bed, I'm growing all of the plant material from seed.  Since I surely won't have enough perennials to fill this space up entirely this year, I also decided to plant some vegetables as well, including kale, broccoli and Fava beans.

This past weekend, I came up with another idea to add a bit more interest to this space for the time being.  I wasn't quite sure where to plant my runner beans, which I'd intended to train onto two towering teepee trellises made in the colonial style of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello garden.  Then it dawned on me that this would be the most appropriate place for them this year.

Planted alongside some other edibles and ornamentals that may have been found in a colonial era garden - like artichokes, love-in-a-mist, lupine, nasturtiums, scabiosa, anise hyssop, columbine, rudbeckia and purple coneflower (all of which I'd started from seed earlier this year),  I began to realize that this bed would also serve as a growing tribute to our colonial-era gardeners.  Seeing as how we live in New England, this small bit of living history appeals to me.

Hopefully the runner beans will take to these poles and climb vigorously in the coming weeks.

I have hundreds of seedlings that still need to be planted.  I also need to re-trench the edges of this bed.  (Ultimately we'd like to line it with cobblestone and refresh the gravel in our driveway.) But for now, I can step back at least and see that this bed is slowly coming together.   It will definitely be exciting to see how it all takes shape this summer, and in the many summers to come. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Salad Days

 The garden is finally producing enough greens to provide us with salads throughout the week if need be.  It's a luxury that gradually fades as spring turns into summer.  One of the best things about having a home garden is that you can practically turn anything into a salad and design mixes that you could never find at a grocery store.  Today I harvested two types of hearty kale, spinach,  some green lettuce, peppery arugula, earthy beet greens and mustardy mizuna to create a nice salad for dinner.  It feels go to take a break from shop-bought flavorless lettuce for the time being. 

In addition to salads, we're also starting to harvest some Asian greens.  Yesterday I picked two large heads of win-win choi and some tatsoi.  These will make for a nice stir-fry later this week.  So far, there's not a slug in sight around these parts.  Growing Asian greens and cabbages was such a challenge at our old garden because the slugs were everywhere.  Now I can relax a bit and just deal with the cabbage worms, which can be a menace in their own right. 

To see what other folks are harvesting, click here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Let it Rain - Planting a Berry Garden


The garden has been so incredibly dry lately.  You can just tell by the way the plants are growing (or not growing).  It's as if they exist in a state of suspended animation, trying to conserve as much water as they can.  In my garden, I try to water as little as possible, preferring to allow nature to drive things along for better or worse.  This is part philosophy and part necessity.  My planting beds are scattered throughout the property and installing an irrigation system to cover all parts would be not only expensive but in many ways impractical.  It's funny how something like having to manually water your plants with a hose will shape your thought process and ideas.  It's time consuming and inefficient - sure signs that it should be done as a last resort. 

In any case, I've been doing a mental rain dance everyday during the past two weeks, obsessing over the weather forecast, and hoping that we would receive some much needed rain soon and in substantial quantities.  That finally happened late Friday night and into Saturday morning.  The showers were steady and strong - enough to penetrate past the top layer of garden soil.  You can just tell that the parched ground was taking it all up.  Now is when we gardeners give thanks and wait for the explosion of growth that usually follows.

I might have been among the few of my fellow New Englanders hoping for rain, but this hasn't stopped me from appreciating our time in the garden.  I'd recently received a large shipment of plant material from Nourse Farms.  And so, the clock begin to tick on getting everything planted, which can be difficult when you still haven't prepared areas in the garden for them.  In this shipment were 25 asparagus crowns ('Pacific Purple'), 5 blackberry canes ('Triple Crown'), 10 raspberry canes ('Jaclyn') and 100 strawberry crowns ('Jewel' and 'Mara des Bois').

Last weekend, I got started on a large rectangular berry bed in the West garden.  Removing the sod was as easy I thought it would be since grass does not grow well here.  I also dug up plenty of large rocks.  Then I added about 10 wheelbarrows worth of compost and leaf mold to enrich the soil and create a semi-raised bed.  Ultimately the dimensions of this bed will grow to wrap around the perimeter of this garden.  But for now, it will serve the purpose of housing most of my raspberries and blackberries. 

I planted as many canes as I could practically fit in this bed.  The rest will grow in pots until I can clear more space for them.  I will have to wait until next year in order to harvest any blackberries.  However, I'm hoping to still get a light fall crop from the raspberry canes I planted.  Jaclyn is an fall bearing variety that produces exceptionally flavored large dark red berries.   I planted a good number of Junebearing strawberries in this bed as well. 

Most of my strawberries are being grown in two of my newly built raised beds.   Still, I had plenty of crowns left over to dot around the garden.  I've tried and failed miserably to grow strawberries in my old garden, mainly because the squirrels, chipmunks and field mice tended to get to them first.  This time around, I trying to increase my chances by planting four times as many plants.  I'll put more effort into netting them as well.   So far, only 2 or 3 of my crowns have failed to leaf out from the hundred I planted.   Hopefully, that's a sign that they will do well here. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Glorious Blooms of May

I've been so furiously busy at work and in the garden these past couple of weeks that I haven't had much time to blog, which is a shame since so much is happening all around us.  In New England, May is arguably the most dynamic month from a seasonal perspective.  One minute, the world looks dank and dreary, and the next, the sun is bursting and everything is exploding into color.   The vegetation all around town is changing so rapidly at the moment that I almost neglected to capture some of it on film.  I love this time of year when the neighborhood trees and shrubs are in full bloom and what green foliage there is looks fresh and new.  Being that this is our first spring here at the farmhouse, we're seeing our old peach tree covered with hundreds of delicate pink flowers for the first time.  I have to say that I am really struck by how lovely it looks.  It's been around for a long as some of our neighbors can remember and I hope that it will continue to grace our front lawn long after we are gone. 

 For a mightier punch of color, I turn to our flowering quince, which sits in front of our kitchen window.  When we moved here last august, the shrub measured a good 10 feet tall with the top half flopping over to one side.  I pruned it by half and removed a lot of the older canes in order to reign it in.  I'm glad that despite my heavy pruning, it has flowered beautifully this year.   Hopefully, it will grow into a more shapely looking specimen in the years to come.

 I'm currently marveling at my currant bushes, which I'd started from small cuttings two years ago.  Last year, I removed all of the flowers to allow the plant to devote all of it's energy into growing.  This seems to have paid off as the plant is growing vigorously now and it looks like we'll be getting a decent crop this year.  This is a red currant variety ('Red Lake').

 I love how the tiny almost pentagonal-shaped white flowers form along these thin long tendrils.

 My black currant bushes are growing even more vigorously.  Black currants are not as popular as red ones in this country but I personally love them and think they are every bit as good.  They have a musky almost spicy flavor and make incredible jams and sweet syrups (which we use to flavor homemade sodas and cocktails).   I also have a few bottles of homemade currant wine that should be ready to taste test now. 

Black currants develop in clusters that are looser than those of white and red currants. The leaves on black currant bushes also have a pungent currant aroma when bruised.  I will have to make sure that I water these bushes well until the fruit ripens as the they tend to drop prematurely under drought conditions. 

 This is my potted beach plum, which I'd purchased from a local nursery last fall during their year end sale.  These shrubs can be found growing wild all along the coast here in Massachusetts and other parts of New England.  Being that we are so close to the beach, it seemed only appropriate to be growing this fruit.  Beach plums are traditionally used to make jams and jellies.  Unfortunately, the plant requires cross-pollination to set fruit properly so I won't be getting any this year.  Hopefully, I'll be able find another one to grow beside this one. 

 Beach plums can bloom quite profusely and is worth growing as an ornamental plant alone.  They also tend to be biennial bearing so the fruit harvest can be either feast or famine.

Finally, I bought some tulip bulbs from Home Depot late last fall at a discount.  When I got home and opened the bag, I thought that I'd made a terrible mistake as most of the bulbs were dried up with hard outer shells and were all around ratty looking.  I didn't have much hope that they were still viable but planted them in front of our house anyway.  Low and behold, they've flowered beautifully.  It's just another reminder of how surprising plants can be if given a chance. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The East Garden

This past weekend, we started work on an area of our property I'm calling the East garden.  It runs along our driveway and is on a slight slope, but has some of the best sun exposure - which is partly why I'm growing my apple trees here (top).  This area sits to one side of our farmhouse and is also the mid-point between our front lawn and our backyard. 

Because this area is slightly sloped (downward from left to right in this picture) and irregularly shaped, I had a rather difficult time trying to come up with a design scheme for this garden.   One thing we did decide upon early on was that we wanted these raised beds to be square-shaped instead of rectangular.  After we had six of them built, we started to arrange them into different patterns.  In the end, this is the one we chose.  I have to admit that I'm quite taken with it and can't imagine it any other way. 

Like the West garden (which currently only consists of four 4' x 8' x 20" raised beds), the soil here is rather poor with little to no top soil.  But unlike the West garden, I didn't think that extra-tall raised beds suited the space.  As a result, the beds here are only 4' x 4' x 10" tall.   Hopefully, our vegetables will still thrive here.  I also decided to save my back and not remove the sod.  Instead, I added a layer of dried leaves to help smother it before dumping our soil mix into each box.  Nature tends to take her time, but in the end, she usually gets the job done. 

Ultimately in the middle of this space, I'd like to put in a large rectangular bed that I'll line with either dwarf boxwood or lavender and will contain most of our herbs.  I'd also like to lay pea gravel over the paths to tidy things up a bit.  As you can see, grass does not thrive here.  So the more of it I can eliminate, the better. 

Finally, this area also provides us with a nice view of our neighbor's expansive lawn, which is looking particularly nice this time of year. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Another Meager Harvest

Unfortunately, the harvest hasn't really picked up this past week.  But at least we are enjoying somethings from the garden.  The late start to spring this year has really delayed our harvest of greens as well.  On the bright side, our first heads of bok choy should be ready to pick in a week or two, which reminds me that I desperately need to sow more seeds soon, like my parsnips, turnips and more Asian greens.

To see what others are harvesting, click here

Thursday, May 1, 2014

At the End of the Rainbow

 We were treated to a rainbow this evening - a rather dazzling one I might add.  In between the setting sun, scattered clouds and rainy mist, everything seemed to glow.  The weather was cool, but also a bit muggy - a sure sign of things to come later this spring.  I took it all in while I did a bit of gardening after dinner.  All in all, it was the perfect way to end this particular workday. 

 My spring vegetables are starting to grow steadily now.  I couldn't help but notice how tall the garlic has gotten already.  This past weekend, I transplanted some Chioggia and golden beets that I'd started in soil blocks in March.  When they get a little bigger, I'll thin each small cluster down to one strong seedling.  My snow peas are up as well and by the looks of things, germination was pretty good.  I even managed to get a makeshift trellis of branches in before they got too big.

 My Fava beans have also germinated well - I'm guessing close to 100%.  I'm growing them in three separate spots throughout the garden.  Fava beans have to be one of my most favorite edibles to grow and I'm really hoping for a good crop this year.

 Tonight, I also transplanted my shell peas - an heirloom variety called 'Champion of English' (which grows very tall much like the peas I saw growing in the vegetable garden at Colonial Williamsburg) and a purple podded soup pea.  Normally, I don't start my peas in pots, but for this spring, I was forced to since our planting beds are still a work in progress.  Luckily, they also germinated very well and I was careful not to disturb the long thick roots when I set them out. (On a side note, you can see my garden fork has seen better days.)

Is that a double rainbow I see?  Maybe we'll have double the luck this gardening year.