April Showers Bring May Flowers (or Something Like That)

pink tulip

I finally felt inspired to get my garden going. Last year, lulled into a false sense of security by unseasonably warm temperatures, I jumped the gun and planted both my seed pots and my garden way too early. I ended up nursing most of my sickly little plants back to good health, but not without some creative thinking and a lot of extra time and effort. This year, with an unseasonably chilly April, I just never found the motivation to get anything going. My seed pots are just now starting to sprout and I haven’t even tilled the main garden. However, I did finally make it down to the corner garden stand to buy some annuals to plant in my pots. That, and a little sunshine and warm temperatures, were all I needed to find the motivation to get the rest of my garden in order. I made a second trip to the corner to buy some perennials to replace some plants that succumbed to the drought last year, and I’ve been happily digging in the dirt ever since.

flowers and herbs

At the corner garden stand, I also saw a couple of heirloom tomatoes that I couldn’t resist. I picked up a Hillibilly. I’ve never grown this variety before, but I couldn’t resist the name – and the description makes it sound like it will be a tasty tomato.

hillbilly heirloom tomato

I also picked up a couple of Lemon Boys. Those are my favorite for tomato sandwiches, or just for eating plain. They have a mild, tangy-sweet taste that I love. I didn’t grow them last year. Instead, I decided to try Purple Calabash. The Purple Calabash were no Lemon Boys. I’ve decided to go back to a tried-and-true favorite this year. I also saved some seeds from my Green Zebras last year. Hopefully, my little seed saving experiment worked, and I’ll have a couple of those in the garden as well.

I spent this week breaking up the soil in the smaller beds around the perimeter of our yard with The Claw. Then I planted a few herbs and flowers, filled some pots with pansies and petunias, and planned where everything will go in the garden this year. We’ll finally get around to tilling the main garden with the heavy equipment this weekend. That is Dear Husband’s job.

I also relocated some poorly placed peonies to a better location. I know now is not the best time to move peonies, but they are growing randomly in the backyard and my husband will just mow them over again anyway. Then I forget about them until they pop up the next spring. It’s a merry-go-round I’ve been riding since we moved to this house. I figured they had a better chance if I relocated them now, rather than let my husband continue to mow them down so I’ll forget where they were growing, etc…

peonies

I counted my gardening as cross-training this week. It was much more enjoyable than situps with a medicine ball, swinging kettle-bells, and skipping rope. Twisting and turning The Claw in the ground was a great upper-body and core work-out. And the change of routine definitely woke my muscles up. I wish all exercise could be this much fun.

This week, I also got to run with my 10 year-old. She asked if she could run the Spud Run 5k with my son and I this year, so we started practicing. We did a short 1.5 mile run/walk on the high school cross-country trails over the weekend. I’m so excited that she’s taken an interest in running.  My son and I ran the Spud Run as our first 5K, so it’s fun that it will also be hers.

Raeanne

I also successfully completed my second double-digit long run. It was a lot harder this time. My leg cramped up about half-way through and I’ve been having a hard time breathing as I’ve had allergies and asthma to contend with this week. Allergy season slows me down and forces me to take frequent walk-breaks so I can catch my breath. I’m already barely above a jog normally, so it’s hard for me to take the slow-down. To keep from getting too discouraged, I keep reminding myself it’s only temporary. I’m pretty sure once the trees are done pollinating my pace will pick back up again.  On the other hand, I did recover a lot quicker after this second run, so I see that as progress. I’ll focus on the positive.

Do you garden? What do you like to grow in yours? Do you have a favorite heirloom tomato I should know about?

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Half-marathon Training Week 11

  • Sunday: Rest
  • Monday: 4 miles + yoga
  • Tuesday: Gardening cross-training 🙂
  • Wednesday: 6 miles with hills + yoga
  • Thursday: Gardening cross-training
  • Friday: 11 easy miles
  • Saturday: 1.5 easy miles
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Well, Hello Again!

School let out for the kids at the end of May, and of course we plunged full-speed ahead into summer vacation; the beginning of which was anything but a vacation. I spent the month of June shuttling kids from baseball to softball to soccer to band camp. It’s all finally over and I am looking forward to a lazy July that includes lots of knitting, reading, gardening, sunning myself while the kids swim in the pool, and one camping trip to the beach……

I started this post about a month ago. I am just now finishing it by saying that I really wish the above description of July actually happened. July was anything but relaxing, and that beach vacation never happened. We all got sick, and after a rogue storm blew through town, an equally rogue strike of lightening caused our A/C to blow up – literally. And just when I thought things were about to calm down again, dear hubby found out he’s possibly being transferred to another state. Needless to say, not much knitting, sewing or reading has been happening in this house.

I have been gardening though. I thought I would give an update in photos. For the most part, the garden is doing well. The milk jug irrigation system worked really well during the record hot temperatures and drought we’ve been experiencing this summer.. I did have a losing battle with squash bugs and vine borers. The dastardly bugs took out all my zucchini plants and my pumpkin vine before I won the war.

I guess we’ll have to buy our pumpkins from the pumpkin farm again this year. I decided to try a second planting of zucchini because I didn’t get my fill before the plants lost their battle with the bugs. Hopefully the bugs will stay away this time.

I spent so much time picking bugs off of plants, squashing them, and removing their eggs, that I had nightmares about giant squash bugs attacking. It was awful. And now they have migrated to the tomatoes. I’ve never had them on my tomato plants before. Their numbers are dwindling though, so I don’t think they will be a problem anymore.

The trellis system is working out great this year. I don’t want to speak too soon, but the bugs seem to be staying away from the melons and cucumbers. Hopefully I haven’t just jinxed myself, because we have some Sugar Babies almost ready to eat.

And a volunteer Cantaloupe from last year is looking very nice. It only has this one fruit on it so far, but I’ll take it.

The Honeydew vines look good as well and hopefully all the fruits they are producing will make it to harvest. These are my favorite melons.

The tomatoes are doing much better this year than last year.  I attribute much of that to the irrigation. It seems to be keeping them better hydrated than the sprinkler, as well as keeping the water off the leaves so they don’t get scorched and diseased. They have lots of green, healthy looking fruit on all the plants. I’ve gotten to eat one of the Bradley’s and it was yummy – so sweet and juicy. And even though the Roma’s I grew from seed started off sickly and leggy, they are doing much better than the ones I bought from the local nursery.

The peppers and green beans have had a hard time this year. We’ve had quite a few strong storms blow through this summer and the peppers and beans seem to take the brunt of the wind damage. We are getting a few peppers though, but the plants aren’t as big as they should be.

My grape tomato is a mutant. It seems to multiply overnight. I had to do some major trimming before it took over and smothered the other heirlooms on either side of it. This picture is before I trimmed it back. I didn’t take an after picture. It’s still huge, but much more manageable now.

Here is some of yesterday’s harvest. I”m thinking salsa is in my future. How is your garden doing this summer?

A Planting We Will Go

garden1

I’ve spent the last two weeks playing in the dirt and finally got the gardens planted and some relandscaping done around the back deck. It was a lot of work, but satisfying, even if this year is already proving to be a challenging one for gardening. It’s hot, hot, hot one week and chilly the next. I sure am confused by the weather, so I’m pretty certain the plants are too. Luckily most of my sickly, little, sunburned seedlings seem to be growing and getting stronger by the day. I did lose a few though, which was sad, but this is the first year I’ve started the entire garden from seed, so I still consider this a success. I’ve taken notes and learned a lot in the process, so hopefully next year will be even better.

The Romas seem to have taken the largest hit. They suffered the worst damage from my negligence during the hardening stage. I had to replace all but two of my Roma tomatoes with store bought versions from the local nursery. I couldn’t find any Roma plants, so I am trying Bradley tomatoes. I’ve never grown them before, but they looked nice and sturdy. And the tag said they are good for canning, which is usually what I use the Roma’s for.

I also lost one of my heirloom tomato plants to the dog as he boldly charged through my little plot by the side of the deck before I had cordoned it off. And I’m not entirely sure what happened to the cucumbers. They appear to have been trampled, and possibly dined on, by those dastardly bunnies that love to hang out in my backyard. The good news is, I had some seeds left over. I planted them. The first round of seeds got washed away in a storm. I replanted and this time I’m seeing sprouts pushing through the soil. Oh yes…and some fencing with smaller openings is going up in an attempt to keep the bunnies at bay.

This year I planted in the main garden:

  • Oregon Sugar Pod Peas, ORG
  • Royalty Purple Pod Bush Beans, ORG
  • Spicy Mesculun (in the gutter)
  • Arugula (in the gutter)
  • 3 California Wonder Peppers (LIFE – local, organic)
  • 2 Jalapeno Peppers
  • 2 Habanero Orange Peppers
  • 1 Costa Rican Sweet Pepper
  • 2 Suhyo Long Cucumber, ORG
  • 2 Black Beauty Zucchini, ORG
  • 3 Green Flesh Honeydew Melon, ORG
  • 1 Calabaza Pumpkin
  • 3 Roma Tomatoes (LIFE – local, organic)
  • 2 Bradley Tomatoes

garden7

All the squash, melons and cucumbers are being trellised against the fence. I’ve grown them this way for the past 3 years and it works out great. It saves space and helps keep the plant healthy and free from bugs because it’s off the ground. If you decide to trellis your squash and melons, make sure the trellis is well secured to the wall or fence so it will be able to support the weight of the fruit when they grow.

If you are wondering what all those milk jugs in the garden are, they are my new irrigation experiment. It has been so unseasonably hot and dry here, and my plants were already sun damaged, I was looking for an inexpensive way to keep them hydrated without damaging them further. I was inspired by this pin on Pinterest. I changed it up a little bit after reading one comment about poking holes in the bottom of the jugs instead of the top as shown by the pin. It seems to be working. I think the plants look a lot happier since I’ve added the milk jugs.

There are a few cons to this method though: it will obviously only work on smaller gardens, it’s time consuming to fill all the jugs and cart them back and forth between the rain barrel to the garden, and one odd con – when the ground gets too hot, the little hole on the bottom of the jug seems to close in on itself. I have to keep reopening the hole. Next year we might invest in a more sophisticated irrigation system, but I think this will work for this year.

What I did for my milk jug irrigation system.

1. I rinsed the milk jugs, and a few large Gatorade bottles, and discarded the tops.

garden5

2. I poked a small hole in the bottom. I experimented with the size and number of holes. I found that 1 small hole is the best. (Maybe when the plants are a little bigger I’ll need a few more holes.)

garden6

3. Place them near the base of the plant and the jug slowly drips out water. Make sure the side with the hole is closest to the plant.

garden4

Since we have a small yard, I try to incorporate some herbs and smaller veggies in with the landscaping around the back yard as well. I grow herbs and wildflowers in the rocks around the perimeter of the main garden. And I have a small strawberry patch and two Sugar Baby plants that will be trellised along the side of the garage.

garden3

And we just relocated a bunch of ornamental grass that was overgrown along the side of our deck to the back of our fence so we could have more room for tomatoes and some other veggies.

garden2

In this little patch I have planted:

  • 2 Purple Calabash (LIFE – local, organic)
  • 2 Green Zebra, ORG
  • 1 grape tomato
  • 2 Habanero
  • along with Marigolds, Lavender, Morning Glories, Calendula, Mexican Heather, Asian Lily, Daisy and some herbs. (This patch extends along the front of the deck, so there is plenty of room for everything.)

And the kids are in charge of the patch along the fence. It doesn’t get much sun, so we’re limited in what can go there. This year they planted:

  • Spinach
  • Pink Beauty Radish, ORG
  • Royalty Purple Pod Bush Beans, ORG
  • Florence Fennel, ORG

This is the first year we’ve tried fennel, so we’ll see how it goes. I found this pin with lots of helpful tips on fennel.

I’ve been gardening for about 10 years now, and each year brings new lessons and challenges. It is certainly unpredictable and never boring in my opinion. It’s great therapy, helps keep me fit, and I love the idea of being able to walk outside and snip fresh herbs or veggies for dinner. The fruits I grow are usually sweeter and the cucumbers are less bitter than their store-bought counterparts. And you certainly can’t compare a fresh-picked, sun-warmed, heirloom tomato to the hard, reddish, tomato-like things they sell at the supermarkets.

I also use gardening as an educational tool for the kidlets. I think it is important for them to learn about the growing cycle, where their food comes from, and how to care for our environment. And because I would like to leave the earth a little better place for the next generation, I try to get organic, non-GMO, local seeds or plants when I can, but it isn’t always possible. There seem to be more organic, non-GMO varieties available every year though, as consumers become more educated and demand more diversity in their produce. I know my little backyard garden is a small drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop just the same.

Happy gardening.

Gardening Update

We put the gutter garden up a couple of weekends ago and the salad greens have sprouted. I decided to try just one gutter this year. If it works, I’ll put a couple more in next year.

Garden

There is a bunny family that sets up house under the shed every year.  They like to raid my salad greens. I wasn’t even going to bother growing any this year, but when I saw the gutters they seemed like a good solution. I’m suspecting my garden is the reason they’ve decided to take up residence under the shed. I’ve tried everything to discourage them from marigolds to human hair. Nothing works.

Not even my dog keeps the bunnies out of the yard. He caught one last year, sniffed it, and let it run free. Now they play and chase each other around the back yard. Not that I wanted the dog to murder bunnies, but I was hoping he’d at least scare them away; not make friends with them.

Stop and Smell the Flowers

And we already have bunches of strawberries. I wasn’t expecting any this early, but I guess all the warm weather we’ve been having set the process in motion early this year. These are green, but I have ripe ones out there too. (Well not anymore because I ate them.)

Garden

Unfortunately, the little seedlings I planted in those fabulous, origami pots aren’t doing so well. They got a little leggy and when I started the hardening process, I got distracted and left them in the sun too long one day. They are all sunburned and sad looking now. I lost a few, but I think some of these may bounce back. They are growing new leaves, and the new leaves look healthy, so I hoping that I didn’t kill them all.

Garden

Today I’m putting in the peas, beans, fennel and radishes. Hopefully this weekend, or early next week, I can get all these seedlings into the ground. I think they might be happier in the ground.