April Garden Tour

The main garden Greetings from Boston!  The beginning of spring on the East Coast is truly lovely.  All over the place trees are covered in fat buds and the first wave of bulbs are starting to flower.  It is in stark contrast to my garden at home where the tomato plants are over a foot tall and a first wave of corn is already planted.  While the garden may look a bit bare, it’s because the summer plants are still quite small or only just sprouting.  As shown above, I’ve started some pole beans outside the main garden fence, as well as a wall of garlic around what will be the cucumber patch.  The milk jugs are keeping the second set of tomato plants and some parsley sprouts warm.

The new gardenIn the new garden (above), the potato plants are taking up lots of space.  The pile of straw is a sheet mulching experiment that should provide a very fertile bed for summer squash (the sprouts are still too short to see in the photo).  There are also leek sprouts, purple bush beans, arugula, and a patch of corn.

The other garden

I finally finished the right-hand bed in the other garden.  Part of it is a doubly-enclosed space for lettuces and other delicate greens, while the other half has mostly been sheet mulched (to kill the weeds) except where I planted a rhubarb start that was looking for a home.  The left-hand bed now sports swiss chard, lacinato kale, purple bush beans, and some heirloom lettuce plants that magically appeared.

Overall, the garden is coming along nicely!  There will be a lot more fruit plants this year (mostly raspberries and strawberries), and I finally have enough space elsewhere (in the other garden) to fill the entire main garden with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and melon.  Happy gardening!

The Lemon Tree Returns to Life

The lemon tree

Looking back at early photos of my dwarf lemon tree, I’m not sure how I let it get so bad.  Part of the problem is that I am terrible at container gardening.  I forget that potted plants dry out more quickly, and that their nutrients eventually run out, requiring doses of compost or a full re-pot.  This is why I don’t start tomatoes, peppers, or any other seeds in pots, preferring to brave the unpredictable outdoors to my responsibility with a watering can.  Is it any wonder then, that I waited until the lemon tree had lost most of its leaves before I lobbied our garden coordinator to let me plant it in the ground?  I could have chosen a better spot, it’s true, but at the time I was desperate to get the lemon tree in the ground.  Not only had it lost most of its leaves, but the lemons were inedible, ripening to hard pellets the size of cherries.

Now the tree was planted safely in the ground.  It couldn’t dry out as easily and I even remembered to fertilize it on occasion.  You’re expecting things to get better, right?  WRONG!  Just when the lemon tree seemed to be recovering from its shocking transplant we had a series of very cold nights that essentially froze all the new leaves.  Oh the devastation.  Then the tree got scale, so I took soapy water to its leaf-less branches, scrubbing off every last bug.  Finally, it became apparent once I started planting other things around the lemon tree in what has become my flower and cilantro garden that the soil in that area is absolutely terrible.  Seriously, it turned the leaves of my cilantro plants yellow and purple (cilantro leaves, like most plants, are supposed to be green).

Finally, my shame over the pathetic flower garden and lemon tree reached a terrible peak, and I completely reorganized it, adding paths, mulching everything to start improving the soil, planting fava beans everywhere to fix nitrogen, and adding copious amounts of natural fertilizer to the lemon tree.  It’s been over a month now, and things are finally looking better, to the point where I can post some pictures without turning a shade of deepest crimson.  The lemon tree has dozens of new bright green leaves (and we’ve passed our last frost date, whoopeeee) and even a tiny pink bud or two.  True, it doesn’t look as good as when it first came to me in its pot with a small tomato companion, but we’re getting there.

The cilantro forest at the base of the lemon tree... plus a sneaky artichoke plant that I only recently identified.

Lemon leaves and poppies

The narrow flower garden and lemon tree, including a small compost container, nasturtiums, kale plants, fava beans, and lots of cilantro.



The Other Garden

Chives!  My nemesis... I have tried to grow chives from seed for the last year, and it always fails...

At the risk of sounding like I don’t already have a full-time job, this week I officially annexed another garden plot from the community gardens.  This brings my garden count up to three and a half (the half being the area between two of my plots large enough for a lemon tree plus plenty of flowers).  The new plot is quite a score, with two long beds edged with bricks and a variety of plants already thriving after the brief winter rains: culinary sage, chives, rampant arugula, raspberries, strawberries, nasturtiums, red-veined sorrel, and a purple-leafed kale plant.  I’ve already weeded one of the beds and amended the soil with compost, trimmed the raspberry bushes, planted a few baby kale plants, and weeded and mulched the pathways (with extensive help from Peter).  There’s plenty more work to be done, but at least I can walk around all the beds without falling into a gopher hole or tripping over trash.  Seriously, I don’t know what went down in the garden under its previous care-taker’s watch; I found tupperware, a spoon, a beer bottle, random pipes, a rusted trowel head, a hat, a skein of yarn, two gloves that don’t match, and a rather rusty pair of pruners.

Here is the garden after the trash was taken out and some of the weeds were pulled:


Before (left bed)

And here is the garden today, after being mulched and otherwise pampered:


After (left bed)

While this garden is my newest, Peter and I determined that it would be too confusing to rename the new garden (that I adopted last fall) to something else and this most recent acquisition to the new garden.  So this garden is henceforth the “other” garden.  Hopefully its unexciting name will help me keep some emotional distance, since the other garden could be taken away from me at any time by the garden coordinator if enough people decide they want to start gardening… I just hope it’s after raspberry season!

Red-veined sorrel adds a delicious lemony flavor to salads

The February Garden

Favas and milk jug greenhouses

My one regret from last fall is not finding the time to plant winter vegetables properly.  Perhaps it was the couple weeks of freezing weather in December, or what I’m fairly certain is a pack of ravenous birds, but instead of a wall of peas, there are only a few sad shoots from which I’m lucky to pick one pea pod a day.  Instead of kale overload I’m accepting unwanted aphid-infested leaves from garden neighbors.  And perhaps most depressingly, there have been altogether too few fava beans, with most of the plants panicking from a couple days of warm weather and starting to flower at all of six inches tall (normally fava plants can be four or more feet tall).

Multicolored lettuces

During the brief patch of summer we experienced in January I tried to make up for my neglect by starting new seeds.  Unfortunately, it is just in time to start thinking about planting summer crops, and I’m eying my carrot sprouts suspiciously, unsure whether I will have the patience to let them mature before ripping them out to make room for tomatoes.  The garden is in limbo, with a few slow-growing tomato plants protected under milk jugs nestled between the kale plants.

Favas, carrots, peas, and garlic

While the plants grow at what feels like a glacial pace, I have completely revamped the garden.  All the beds have been mulched with tree leaves, and I’m slowing tucking bunny manure under the leaves as the shitments come in.  For the pathways I used pine tree mulch to protect against compaction, with the added bonus that for a few days my garden smelled like Christmas.  I will readily admit that these changes were mainly motivated by laziness: mulch equals less weeding, less watering, and less work, in that you don’t have to turn over the soil to plant a new crop because the soil doesn’t get dry and hard if it isn’t left uncovered.  My only worry with the new mulch system is that the soil won’t warm up as quickly, making it difficult for summer plant seeds to germinate.  To combat this, I’ve started some seeds in pots on the balcony by our front door, a location that acts like a solar oven due to surface reflection and a view due south.  I’ve also continued to start pepper and tomato seeds under milk jugs directly in the garden.  Now if only I can remember which milk jug has the habaneros…

Mulched garden overview

A few details:

  • First batch of tomato and pepper seeds started in January.  The tomato seeds had a 50% germination rate (planting 9 seeds per milk jug) and were transplanted to their final resting places in late February, now with their own individual milk jugs.  The pepper seeds had a worse germination rate of 10-20% so far, although at least one pepper seed sprouted for almost every milk jug.  Note to self: don’t be an idiot next year and think you’ll remember which milk jug corresponds to which tomato and pepper variety; you haven’t, you don’t, and you won’t.
  • Currently harvesting: lettuce, arugula, kale, china choy chinese cabbage, fava beans, snow and shelling peas, green onions, carrots, radishes, and asparagus.
  • The dwarf lemon tree took a hit from the December frosts and is only now starting to recover with some serious new foliage.  Mulch and fertilizer no doubt helped.
  • The flower garden surrounding the dwarf lemon tree suffers from malnutrition (bad soil) in places.  At some point I should finish amending it to decrease sad purple/yellow cilantro leaves.  Right now the flower garden sports a volunteer California orange poppy plant that is just beginning to flower, what will be a pink poppy plant, cilantro, fava beans, volunteer purple celery, some sort of spring flower that grows from a bulb (my guess is daffodils), and lots of volunteer nasturtiums.
  • The new garden is finally in shape, with a sheet mulch bed covered in straw for planting summer squash, some potato plants that recovered from the frost, and what I believe are baby leek sprouts.  The beds and walkways have been mulched, as in the main garden, and upkeep has been a breeze.  I also transplanted my mint and lemon balm out of the main garden and into a bed on the edge of the new garden.

Fava beans and chinese cabbage

Summer Garden Plans, 2014

We finally passed our last frost date and I’m having a hard time not ripping out all the winter plants to make room for tomatoes and peppers.  That time will come soon enough, but for now the tomato sprouts are only a couple inches tall and the first bush bean plants have started to sprout, albeit under plastic milk jugs to keep their delicate leaves warm at night.  In the mean time, I’ve been poring over seed catalogs.  Not that I’m going to buy any seeds this year, since my collection already takes up an entire desk drawer, but there are some pretty fun heirlooms that I’d like to buy next year:

  • Peppers: Topepo Rosso Pepper, a pimento pepper like I grew this year, only it might actually grow straight instead of needing to be propped up due to the weight of its own peppers.  Or how about an Italian sweet pepper the Corno di Toro.  Since pepper seeds are some of the easiest to save yourself, I have never actually bought pepper seeds before, but the amazing list of Heirloom peppers from Seed Savers Exchange may change that habit.
  • Potatoes: German butterball.  We bought these from the farmer’s market a few times (basically whenever we saw someone selling them) and now I’m sort of obsessed.
  • Eggplant:  Friends of ours successfully grew eggplant in their garden last year (just down the path from our garden), and now I can’t get it out of my mind.  I’m partial to the long, skinny eggplants that don’t require peeling, salting, or any of that nonsense, such as Ping Tung Long.
  • Tomatillo: Last summer I tried planting tomatillos from seeds I had saved and they kept getting eaten by something.  Meanwhile, a garden plot 40 feet away had epic, un-nibbled-on tomatillo plants.  I think I may just need to buy seeds, in which case, I am (unsurprisingly) drawn to the purple ones.  Maybe when I make salsa verde the salsa will match my purple immersion blender.
  • On the subject of fruit encased in husks, I only just learned about ground cherries!  This is the one kind of seed I might buy for my garden this year (Aunt Molly’s), because, why wouldn’t you want to grow ground cherries?  This would help alleviate my regret for not planting raspberry bushes in the garden in the beginning, when they would have had time to mature before we moved away.
  • We won’t even get onto the subject of tomatoes, because I have almost no self control, but I’ve been drooling over these ones and these ones.
  • Melons: for some reason there are a lot of Heirloom varieties of melon, even one that is only good for carrying around in your pockets because it smells THAT GOOD!  Peter vetoed growing the pocket melon on practical grounds, although I can’t promise I’ve forgotten about it completely.  In the mean time, I already have seeds for Hale’s Best Muskmelon that I bought last year, and I’m ogling Pride of Wisconsin (for its designation as the melon to grow if you can only grow one) and the Prescott Fond (for looking like a warty pumpkin on the outside).
  • Squash: like for melons, I got a bit carried away with this category.  The problem is that I keep finding pumpkins that look weirder and weirder, and of course that only makes me want to grow them more (i.e. Black Futzu Pumpkin, Marina di Chioggia, or Musquee de Provence).  I also suffer from only having normal-looking squash seeds at the moment, delicata and New England Pie Pumpkin (aren’t the pie pumpkins overly adorable?).

Now that you know what I’m not growing, here is the garden plan for this summer:

As a final note, here are some pictures of the garden two summers ago (2012) when I first started gardening again.

Overview of the center of the garden

And just a few months later…

The greens beds

Then more pictures of the garden from last summer (2013)… where you will find fewer greens and more peppers/corn/beans as I learned how to not kill things.  I think I’m making progress!

Corn, beans, and peppers

Happy gardening!

Finally a Summer 2013 Garden Tour

There are quite a few activities that have distracted me from my garden as of late.  There was the trip to Ohio for astronomy-awesomeness, a trip to my parents’ house where it rained for almost a week straight (but not on the Fourth of July when we watched fireworks from a motor boat on the lake!), and a slight sorbetto addiction that brings my count of me-made shirts up to eight (four of which can be found here and here).  Unfortunately, this time of great distraction coincided with the adoption of a new garden plot that is still, even more unfortunately, almost half weeds.  I’m trying not to be too hard on myself, after all it did take a full month to get the main garden weeded and prepared  and that was with the added bonus of my parents’ help in the crucial beginning stages when one is tempted to just give up.  In lieu of physical gardening backup, I’ve been relying on psychological gardening backup by planting some of my favorite plants in the new unfinished garden: melons, a large bush bean patch, tomatillos, and sunflowers.

Now, on to the tour!  We will start with the main human-proof garden where I planted all the things that humans might be tempted to snatch (unfortunately this is an actual problem):

  • Cherry tomatoes (8 plants)
  • Sweet red pimiento peppers (9 plants)
  • Green poblano peppers (7 plants)
  • Tomatillos (five one plant that consistently looks like it’s on the brink of death)
  • Yellow, green, and purple bush beans
  • Green pole beans
  • Corn
  • Delicata winter squash (2 plants)
  • Small cooking pumpkin (2 plants)
  • Summer squash (only 1 plant now)
  • Pickling cucumber (3 plants)
  • Mixed color carrots (I grew one in the spring that was a foot long!)
  • Parsley (suffering from yellowed leaves)
  • Basil

Next is the lemon tree area, which is undergoing major renovations to become an herb and flower garden after I had a buttercup squash stolen one day.  There are no pictures of this area because it mostly just looks like dirt with the occasional volunteer nasturtium.

Finally we have the new garden that is still half weeds (shield your eyes!  Just kidding, I won’t show you any depressing pictures of this area).  It is only marginally safe from animals of any kind.  The main difficulty will be planting things in it that don’t attract too much human interest, so I’m thinking kale, swiss chard, arugula, other green leafy things, fava beans (because no one ever seems to know what they are), flowers, herbs, and potatoes.  Currently I’m going out on a limb with more delicious and tempting varieties:

  • Musk melon (3 plants)
  • Yellow bush beans
  • Tomatillos
  • Swiss chard
  • Dill
  • Mini-leaf basil
  • Sunflowers with edible seeds

Tomatoes and Poppies!

I may have gotten a little carried away.  This spring I tried an experiment of planting tomato, pepper, and tomatillo seeds under plastic gallon milk containers in the garden.  You see, I have a very bad history of killing seedlings started in the house, either from neglect or overabundant watering, so I thought I would try to create a greenhouse environment outside where I would remember to actually water the seedlings regularly.  I planted 9 seeds of something per mini-greenhouse (milk jug), thinking that the process was probably flawed in some way and that I might get one plant in the end that didn’t die from something or other (I’d read that tomato and pepper seeds can be hard to germinate).  Unfortunately the mini-greenhouses worked almost perfectly, leaving me with 4-8 leggy seedlings per jug that I needed, all of a sudden, to find room for.  The craziness has mostly died down now that I’ve pulled out almost everything else in the garden to make room for them.  The count?  8 tomato plants, 5 red bell pepper plants, 8 pimiento sweet red pepper plants, 4 tomatillo plants, and hopefully a couple poblano peppers as well.  Not to mention the fact that there may be some jalapeños and serranos in a couple of weeks.  Peter is, as you might imagine, ecstatic at the prospect of there being less room for cucumbers and their ilk.  I, on the other hand, have started panicking about where I will plant my summer melon seeds.  There may be a pepper-melon-off at some point, but as Peter has started doing the majority of the watering (while I do the digging, planting, transplanting, and weeding) he has the upper hand.  For now.

In other news, the summer squash plants already have large buds on them, which worries me slightly.  I don’t know if I was quite prepared for zucchini season to start in April.  At least the sweet pea blossoms are still doing their heavenly scented thing and the poppy seeds I planted in the fall are beginning to flower the most lovely, large, and delicate flowers.  How the poppy seeds migrated to various places in the flower bed when I planted them within two square feet of each other is still a mystery.