Friday, November 2, 2007
So it's been salad week, over here, and the only thing left in my garden is some beets, that feral mint and the decomposing hay mulch. The hay is much larger in quantity than the last time I noted it, because I bought a big bale of it when Alli, Brynne and I went to a farm selling pumpkins (and also cider, cheeses and hay, among other things). You should have seen Alli trying to wrestle that hay into the back of her perennially pristine car trunk. There's no better way to say "I love you."
We finally got some much needed rain around here, which all came at once and preceded the first frost by only a few days. And it's still a very dry year.
Hannah and I went apple picking, oh ages ago now. My garden is one part of my general eating locally and seasonally efforts and I've decided to include a few others from time to time. So we went apple picking. We each bought an absurd quantity of apples (about 25 pounds?) and I also got a lot of winter squash. When you re trying to eat seasonal and local there are times of year where you just have to make your peace with apples and squash. We've been able to supplement these things with the greens, root vegetables and late tomatoes from my garden and our experiments in bread making.
If you were to look in my refrigerator and freezer for a while there (and also now) you'd find a plethora of squash and pumpkin soups and homemade apple sauce. Alli can cut up apples REALLY FAST as I learned while I was trying to peel them and keep up with her when we were loading our crock pot for the applesauce. It was a truly delicious applesauce but all those apples and apples products went surprisingly fast.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Of course, it's also shedding onto the ground a little and that is crunchy underfoot and obnoxious, but oh well.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
A good use for the basil was pretty obvious. We made pesto. The other pieces of the equation (olive oil, nuts, salt, garlic) already exist in our kitchen in quantity, so we just pulled all the basil leaves off the main stem, piled/poured everything into Baum's extremely cool blender and hit "liquefy".
It turned out quite well - as things loaded with garlic, olive oil and salt tend to do.
Well, with a plant killing frost coming up and my tomato plants still producing, my lettuces still still growing and my turnips still turniping, what am I going to do?
At my home we're transitioning from production mode to consumption mode, fast. Sick of arugula? Tough. Eat it.
I avoided space-consuming vine plats in my fall garden, like winter squashes and pumpkins, for various reasons and the result has been: lots of lettuce. And root vegetables. What am i going to do with all these radishes and turnips? The package was serious when it said radishes were easy to grow. They are running amok. The root vegetables, at least, will keep for a while. We'll have carrots, beets, turnips and radishes coming out of our ears for at least part of the winter.
No matter how many tomatoes become ripe, we manage to polish those off pretty quickly. There is the possibility, though, of having to pick a great deal of them all at once to outsmart the weather a little. In that case, I guess we'll make sauce and freeze it to have later.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
And trust me, I did every idiot thing in my power to ensure that I had no successes.
But I just can't resist....
HEY CHECK OUT ALL THIS STUFF I GREW.
There's a misshapen radish, a tiny turnip that spit itself out of the dirt (I swear) while it was still all tiny, some various greens, carrots and a bunch of cherry tomatoes. The growing season is winding down, but I'm finally able to head out there a few times a week and bring in some seriously good stuff.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I was able to procure two extremely compressed cubic feet of "salt hay substitute." Well since "sugar substitute" can mean "scary white powder more closely related to a micro-fleece sweater than actual sugar" and "butter substitute" can actually mean"yellow, salty motor oil" I took the time to check what exactly I was using instead of hay. Well, it's just hay and straw - the pieces less inclined to have a bunch of weed seeds hiding in them. That I can go for.
The two cubic feet ended up being a whole lot of mulch. I was able to easily cover the entire non-planted area of my garden - between plants and rows, edges, etc. Since I'm hoping that all this mulch will, in addition to mulching my existing plants, compost into soil-enriching humus (decomposed organic matter in dirt, not a tasty chickpea and tahini-based dip) I also found a micro-organism rich, all natural bio accelerator to kick start that decomposition process. Now, i have heard about the high temperatures that can be produced be decomposition processes, so I did not use the bio accelerator on parts of my garden where I have things planted. Yet.
I'll tell you where I did use it, though: on top of all the mint. So, long before my tenure in this community garden plot, someone planted mint (as my 4 regular readers know) and it just runs amok. I have kept pulling it out, with increasing ferocity and less worry that it will not be able to regenerate itself. This time I pulled out every scrap I could find, by the roots, covered the bare area in mulch and compost starter and stomped on it a few dozen times for good measure. I have no doubt that as I write this, 20 hours later, the mint is back and better than ever. I also have no doubt that I looked as if I had lost my mind, jumping up and down on a little corner or hay covered dirt.
I knew that I have waited far too long to apply mulch between my plants and I also know that I did a pretty poor job. But until I see the negative results of my efforts, I won't change my ways. I'm still that little kid who must put my own hand on the stove, despite everyone else's tales about stoves being HOT. For instance, my method for mulching between tomato plants, which are all overgrown and form quite a canopy, was to pile the mulch on the canopy and shake the branches around until it fell through. Genius, right?
Speaking of tomato plants, I have seen the stems and vines of tomato plants described as "delicate as childs' wrists" or something like that. Well, that is a nice image, but I must be doing something wrong (we knew that) because my tomato plants are WAY more delicate than the wrists of children. They are tiny. Like the wrists of ... some sort of diminutive marsupial. Or something.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Seriously. I had noticed that sometimes I'd see a tomato about to be ripe enough to pick and then I'd come the next day to get it and it would be gone from my plants. I didn't know, though, how widespread the problem was.
My favorite garden plot neighbor, who has a large and extremely full and well tended plot nearby, confirmed my suspicions of deliberate foul play. She said that she and her husband (I think) had been noticing many missing tomatoes, especially from the more expensive heirloom plants that they had bought. This was particularly annoying because they had planned to save seeds from these started plants so they wouldn't have to reinvest in seedlings the next year.
A friend of theirs, who lives in their building, is also one of the community security guards and they mentioned the problem to him. Well, one evening while he was circulating through the grounds he saw the tomato thief in action, in his friends' plot.
First, he gave her the benefit of the doubt and tried to politely explain that the plots were not community property, that individual residents tend them and that if she wanted any produce from them she could either tend a plot herself (there are usually spaces available) or ask the growers.
Well, she was not ignorant of the community garden's rules of propriety. She did not come from another culture and have a different understanding of ownership. English is her first language and she is not starving or unable to purchase her own food. She just "wanted garden fresh tomatoes," because they are better. Simple as that. She wanted them, so she felt justified to take them, and she has continued to do so even after being caught.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
But you know what else loved the rain? Weeds. Right before that rain would have been a great time to get my whole garden mulched, to try to prevent hostile takeover by sprouts, but, you know, hindsight is 20/20. So I did not get my whole garden mulched; there are still just a couple of areas with the ground covered.
On the other hand, the primary idea of mulch is to shade out the weeds, right? Well, the area under my tomato plants is complete shade, because they're all crowded and overgrown, but quite a few weeds still thrive in there. Despite my careful reach-in method of keeping those guys in check, I discovered something disquieting among my tomato plants. One of the weeds that just looked like a whippy little plant, struggling for life, was in fact whippy looking because it's a VINE. A vine which wrapped itself around a limb of one of my tomato plants and pulled it TO THE GROUND.
That made me mad. Like, mama-bear mad. And it reinforced my resolve to begin mulching. But on the other hand, I know the secret of weeds: I could mulch with bomb grade uranium, and all of my plants, my neighbors and also myself would die... but a few weeds would straggle out of the radioactive mess and they'd be pissed.
Friday, August 31, 2007
But I'll leave the preaching for now - there may be a little during winter, when all my garden is doing is composting itself - to tell you about some of my other efforts and ideas. First, I am sewing up an old hemp skirt to make a "sprouting bag," which is essentially the same as a normal bag but for the fact that you use it to sprout bean, radishes, greens, whatever else. I am doing this because with a little water and a little time, you can about quadruple the amound of food afforded by beans and many other seeds. I already have a fair few seeds left over which I will not be using in the spring because I'm switchig to heirloom plants. As an added bonus, a 60 cent bag of dried beans can be turned into a great deal of bean sprouts for use in salads, stir fries, etc. That is cool, because even while my cheap instincts tell me to buy dried beans, they are pretty nasty.
Also, I purchased a small, inexpensive "mushroom kit" of a variety of (purportedly delicious) mushrooms which will grow from spores in a sterile substrate in my kitchen. Or my office, if Alli makes me move them. It will only yield for three or four months, but after that I can dump the well established spores into the composting material in my garden and they will occur randomly beneath my plants for the next several years. Actually, since I probably won't live here that long, they will occur under someone else's plants. And really freak them out.
Every time I get to bring stuff in, wash it off and eat it, it makes me happy. Stupid happy. Still, my dirt sucks; It's horrible, and I can tell that its affecting the growth rate, yield and overall happiness of my pants. I fret over them a whole lot for average to below average results. I don't want to fall into the expensive trap of ammending my garden with pre-made compost which my plants will rob of its nutrients, forcing me to buy it all over again. I definitely don't intend to use any sort of synthetic fertilizer, that's a bit scary for me.
So step 1: mulch. I used the grass that I chopped off at the edge of my plot to mulch between the pea plants, and i can already see some benefits. The soil around them stays wet longer than the exposed soil and weeds don't go quite as crazy, due to the lack of light. Now that my lettuce, radish, turnip, spinach and mustard green sprouts are a little sturdier I think I'll mulch around them, too. Probably with hay, because I've heard good things about it and huge amounts of it were scattered around my neighborhood during a sidewalk construction project. I think that I will borrow some of this, as it has served its civic purpose and it also has the added benefit of already being a little decomposed.
my hope is that, after frosts have knocked out sections of my garden i will fold the plant matter of these sections down, and cover the whole mess with a few inch thick layer of hay. Most of the hay and plant matter will all slowly decompose over the winter (I'll purchase worms and throw them in there if I have to), providing much needed organic matter. To improve drainage and make the soil a bit lighter so that if I plant root vegetables next year they won't struggle so much, I'm going to spend a few dollars on a bag or two of some kind of crushed volcanic rock. I'm also looking into soil-building forms of "biointensive gardening" (more on that later) which have their own methods which often don't call for mulch, but whatever I choose to do, better soil can't hurt.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
Sunday, August 19, 2007
I did this on the assumption that since the mint ran rampant all of its own accord, shitty soil and all, if i cut it back to a couple of tiny sprigs, it would make a comeback on its own. The grass all came out, out of spite. I used the cuttings (those free of root matter or seeds) to mulch around the pea plants. Take that.
The freed up space has been used as the new home for a couple of basil transplants and an herb that smells a lot like pineapple which I came to own in a totally legitimate manner. Welcome to the family, herbs, please don't die. It would be an especially hard blow, since I've taken more care and improved the soil for every successive round of plants. The survivors of my earliest attempts are a hardy bunch. I salute them.
There was some talk about the two of us setting up a simplified hydroponics setup. We'd be the only people our age delving into hydroponics for lettuce growing rather than weed. The problem there was that no matter how bootleg we made the system, it would be a little time consuming and labor intensive for a 2 foot by 4 foot growing area. Also, hydroponics relies on a nutrient heavy water solution to sustain the plants in a soil-free growing medium, and the chemical intensive nature of this gave us both pause.
Before we cut our losses, I found this guy, Mel Bartholemew, who originated "square foot gardening." You can read about it on his site, it's actually pretty interesting. It was also just the degree of simplicity for what BFH and I had in mind. I only had to shell out a few dollars for a plastic tub that had been used for underbed storage (yay craigslist) a few more for some compost-rich dirt and vermiculite (a volcanic rock used to keep the dirt porous) and we were set to go, since I already have many extra seeds.
The method allows intensive planting, re-use of the soil, (just add a little compost, which BFH is now making herself)and requires very little water compared to a conventional garden. There is only enough time left in the season for lettuce, greens, radishes, some herbs. But that's fine, it's a good experiment of the method. If it works out really well I might use some 2x4s to make a frame for part of my garden, next spring.
My plans for the space that was filled with beans and cucumbers entail more of the same from the fall garden, some Swiss Chard (regretfully, I cannot find seeds for this crazy Chard in my neighborhood and time is of the essence, so i shall not order them. Maybe next season) if I can find it, and some herb transplants, hopefully something a little cold tolerant. We still have just over 60 days to the first frost, so there's a number of things I could do. I plan to get BFH to accompany me in making these decisions and getting the necessary items. Even with all my vacillating on decisions and the costs of my ineptitude, this has been a pretty cheap hobby. I appreciate that.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Well, I intend not to repeat that particular lack of common sense. So I wrote it down. i planted things on August 5th. I checked the average first frost for my neighborhood and calculated back to make sure I was planting things that would survive to adulthood. Or when i want to eat them, whichever comes first. I also asked Garden Center Man, and he approved of my seed choices, so i feel pretty good about them. One of the things I got to plant were these crazy purple heirloom radishes. They're from Germany, but I called and asked and they should be well suited to my climate. These seeds went in a little later, though (August 14). I also plan to follow the seed directions about successive plantings every two weeks for some varieties, which I did not adhere to before.
Here's my fall harvest plans. if I had gotten a normal time start most of these would have been planted in early spring first, and the re-planted for fall harvest. The two rows of peas are planted together like that, instead of one long row across so that the bushes can intertwine and support each other. Or so the story goes. Plants are adorable.
The tomatoes, while behind because of when we planted them, are doing quite well. There are many of them, and some are even turning yellow and orange. Our cherry tomatoes, which we grew from seed have really shot up. They're growing up so fast. Getting reproductively mature, body odor, stuff like that.
I just feel bad for the ones who need braces; they get teased.
Also, I suck at growing carrots. The package said "tolerant of mismanagement." I should have gone for the one that said "tolerant of some idiots" (in fact that is radishes: they suggest fast growing, fool proof radishes for elementary school kids, who we all know are some idiots). My particular brand of carrot mismanagement consisted of not thinning them, and not keeping the dirt loose enough. So basically they are stunted little runts, all crowded together and battling to push through the rock hard soil that my garden is full of. They grow to their environment like snakes and iguanas, I guess. I finally had the heart to pull about two thirds of them out, to give the bigger ones room to grow, but it was tough for me. Seemed a little East German. I also got some good advice from an elderly garden-neighbor, about using my tiny shovel (a spade!) to dig around the root vegetables (carrots and beets for me) to loosen the dirt up and let the water get down to them. i had been timid around them for fear of damaging them, but they really do look better since I've implemented this strategy.
Here's a tiny stunted carrot:
Here's some early progress of my beets:
My beans, who were such stars earlier are probably going to be pulled up this weekend. They're about done. Since we got such a late start, the season was pretty short for them. In their place I will probably put some candy striped beets or something else relatively fast growing. I will also do a better job keeping the soil less rocky and less packed in. I promise. I may even invest in some compost or something to augment my soil, keep working it over the winter and just battle to get this same plot for next spring. Between my own lack of knowledge, the poor soil and the drought we've been having it is not surprising that my plants haven't been running rampant with growth and health. So I'm trying to put the pieces in place for next season. For one thing I think I am going to plant mostly heirlooms suited to my area's conditions. There are lots of good reasons to do that. Powdery mildew resistance is definitely one. That made me real angry.
Monday, August 6, 2007
With the notable exception of the mystery row, which is growing almost exclusively weeds, the plants all grew quite well. Little tiny pale green tomatoes, hard as rocks, appeared on the tomato plants which we transplanted, so they had a little head start.
Of the seed-started plants, though, the bush beans were the early performers. They were fast growing and leafy and made tiny little flowers that attracted a fair number of bees. They were only about a foot and a half high, so i wasn't expecting much in the way of beans from them, so I was surprised when one day I was weeding around their bases and saw a three inch long bean pod. Somehow the natal stages of this pod had escaped my notice and here it was, fully formed. Upon closer inspection there were a couple dozen large pods and many smaller ones scattered between the ten or so bean bushes crowded into their little row. I went and did a quick google search to figure out how to tell when beans are ready and how to pick them. A couple of generations ago this information would be as basic as tying your shoes.
So apparently all bean varieties have an immature but edible phase before the beans within the pod fully differentiate, and this is what string beans are. While I left many of the pods to fully mature, I picked some of the others, and we ate these early string beans with dinner.
Kick ass. My first legitimate vegetable yield.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
As I had been advised, I put the organic fertilizer along the rows, a little distance from the plants (apparently this is called side-dressing). All of this was fascinating and great, but i definitely had the thought, "Man, plants grow SLOWLY."
This, however is not entirely true. The only plants that grow slowly are the ones that you WANT to grow, and that you carefully tend and fret over, and side-dress with organic matter. The other ones, the weeds, grow alarmingly fast. I once watched one grow a million feet tall in half an hour and climbed it and met a giant. But the giant tried to eat me, so I cut it down. True story; Wally Shawn is in a movie about it.
So once the plants matured a little, I could tell what they were from the pictures on the seed packets and I have drawn up a plan that shows the rough layout of my garden. Here it is.
Notice the row with a question mark. I may have planted the peppers there and it just didn't work out for them. Maybe I didn't plant the peppers at all. Who knows? In any case, we have no peppers and a mystery blank row. Well done, Liz, you suck.
Half the plot here is marked as weeds and dirt. That was true until recently. Now it is just dirt, because BFH and i weeded it. It was just as hellish as the first half. I have plans in the works for planting it with cool season vegetables but that's a story for another post.
We ended up leaving with two varieties of carrot seeds, (they said "tolerant of mismanagement" on the packet, so I doubled up) beet seeds, pepper seeds, cucumber seeds, beans (should I call them bean seeds? They just looked like beans), cherry tomato seeds and three little straggling tomato plants. We also picked up a small bag of an organic mix to mix into the soil in small amounts and place a couple of inches away from the seedlings in about two weeks. We had a pretty amusing time trying to get out of there without the man helping us to our "car." He gave off the impression that he would not like it if we stuffed his babies into a backpack and rode home on our bikes. But that's exactly what we did, albeit sneakily.
We got home and I went back out to the garden and planted the tomato plants as I had been directed, in mounds, burying the bottom six inches, of stalk and a couple of leaves which Garden Man swore up and down would sprout roots. They each had a piddling three inches sticking above the dirt. I then planted the seeds in haphazard rows mostly ignoring the seed spacing directions on the package. One of the other pieces of advice that I ignored was writing down where I planted everything, thinking "this is not exactly a massive expanse of plants, and I'm definitely not an idiot," but I was wrong on the second point. There were some areas of great confusion until the plants were well and sprouted and recognizable.
In the weeding process, we discovered mint running rampant among the less interesting weeds, and we decided to leave a patch of it near one border, and just keep an eye on it so it didn't strangle the little seedling babies. After I was done planting I took some of the mint, and we went to a friend's house and made some mojitos and I felt rather smug.
That mint is from our garden. I had nothing to do with it. But enjoy anyway.
We also met another, much friendlier garden neighbor. A young woman who was dressed for some serious gardening got out of her car by the garden, lit up a cigarette and said something to the effect of
"So, you guys are going to plant some stuff?"
"Yeah, we plan to. Have any suggestions about what to grow since we got such a late start?"
"Hmm, welllllll... There's a little garden center just down Georgia Avenue, you should ask them. Their plants all look a little scrawny, but I bought some squash there last year and as soon as I got them off of Georgia, they were pretty happy."
"Well, thank you that's good to know."
After a little more conversation and getting directions to the garden center, she excused herself and walked over to her own plot where she hooked the hose into a rotating sprinkler which she had brought with her, lit another cigarette, sat down and started making phone calls. After about twenty minutes of this she said goodbye to us and got back into her car. And drove about 200 feet to her building.
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
This person could be a very good resource, I hoped. Unfortunately, the gift of gardening seemed to come at the price, for her, of an inability to communicate with other humans. As BFH and I sweated in the ever increasing heat bent double and pulling rangy weeds she refused to respond to greetings or even make eye contact except to stare pointedly at me when my foot came too near one of the bricks she had installed as a walkway (read: barrier) between our two plots. In fact, the weedy overgrown mess on the other side of us was much more useful, as it served as a good place to unceremoniously hurl the weeds we pulled out. Just as plentiful as the weeds were rocks ranging from thumb to fist-sized. We considered hurling those into the vacant plot as well, but ours was so rocky that we thought maybe it had been the target of everyone who weeded before us. As BFH put it, "last one to start weeding's a rotten egg."
So instead we used them to build a rock-line at the edge of our plot so we didn't weed a single inch more than necessary. The plot is about six feet across and twenty feet long. It was much larger than I had expected. There were still considerable leftover rocks, so we built some divisions within the garden, too. It actually turned out quite attractive, but the fact remained that after a full 4 hours of work two thirds were not cleared and the other third was growing rocks.
Was it too little sun? Too much water? Did someone pour rum in there? I still don't know. R.I.P. little herb garden buddies.
So I contented myself with looking up which plants could still succesfully be planted in late June, since the plot came open well after most people plant their gardens. I picked them from an ideal list, and drew out a plan arranging them so that the taller ones were in rows along the North edge (I read this somewhere). Well, of course the shape and orientation of the plot, once I saw it, and the seeds that were actually available changed my plan considerably.
Basically I ended up throwing out all of the suggestions that I carefully googled and tagged in my favorites folder. In the end I just roughly copied the plots of my community garden neighbors. But that comes later.
"Hi, is this Liz.?"
"Oh. Ok, well tell her that she should call me, because she has gotten off the waiting list for a garden plot."
"Oh, I have, that's awesome!"
"You asked which plot. It's plot ten."
"Ummm... thank you."
"Make sure to tell her. Have a nice day."
My building manager is a little hard of hearing. In her defense, she also called me on my cell phone which at that time was 250 million years old, give or take. I borrowed it from a trilobite, right before they went extinct.
So naturally, I thought I was totally qualified to start a vegetable garden, with the help of my slightly more experienced best friend (her mom gardens) and my extremely citified roommates.
I still live in an apartment, but this one has some grounds, instead of just jutting abruptly out of the ground within a few hundred meters of sidewalk. We're just blocks outside of the DC city limits, but the change form downtown is dizzying. Within the grounds of the complex there are a couple of community garden plots. The place is commendably family oriented and you can often see parents, kids, twenty-somethings, all sorts of people out in the community gardens watering and weeding their little slice of cultivable ground. Some of them are on cell phones the entire time, but it's still a nice sight.
When my roommates and I arrived in late April, there were already notices in the community bulletin about applying for garden plots, and in a fit of ... something ... I applied. So, I guess this is a garden journal. But it is not a good place to look if you're after tips, smug stories of success, pictures of smiling middle aged people and their children eating heaping plates of fresh grown vegetables.
I'm 22; I work, I ride my bike a lot, I drink, I really want a Nintendo Wii and I pretty much act like a college student. I'm bumbling through this, and I don't know anything. This could be funny.