Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Getting into Quite a Pickle

I have played around at canning and fermenting in the past.  I would love to try making my own fruit wine.  However, so far all I have made was a single batch of delicious caraway spiced sauerkraut!  In fact I am still eating it this winter!  I am lucky in that no one else in the family so far it quite as excited as I am about it.  My youngest, at 2, thinks anything Mommy is eating must be good so I do have to share with her.

This year I want to get into fermenting in a big way.  I would love some naturally fermented dill pickles, pickled beets, kimchi, homemade rootbeer or ginger beer, pickled carrots, and oh how the list goes on.  I dream of trying out new combinations!  Fermented radishes....combined with?  Fennel....fermented with?  I love the idea of creating both  new flavors and beneficial effects with fermenting.  I would like to try making watermelon pickles this year also!

I have mentioned in earlier blogs that I want to improve on the preserving of our harvest this year.  This includes storing carrots and other root veggies in buckets of sand.  I do not have the ability to create a root cellar at this time and because we garden in the park we cannot store things in the garden.  What strategies work well for you?  This is something I could really benefit learning more about.

I would also like to let some crops go to seed both for sprouting and for seed saving reasons.  I wonder how many radishes I would need to let go to seed to be able to sprout some?  I am sure we could grow plenty of sunflower seeds for sprouting but I wonder if the season is long enough to get broccoli seed?  So much to learn this year.  This is why I love gardening...there is always more to learn!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Picture Perfect Gardening

I am so excited about the plans for this years community garden.  We plan to plant a lot of unusual vegetables.  Purple and yellow peas, purple green beans, ruby chard, cheddar cauliflower, purple broccoli, white carrots, yellow carrots, purple carrots, lettuce with speckles, you get the picture.  Our garden is in a public space so it's appearance is important.  It must be kept nice and clean, weeds must be kept to a minimum and it is important that we do not fall behind in our harvesting.  Community gardening comes with a lot of responsibilities that you might not have in a private space.  Here are some strategies for dealing with them.

First- stress the importance of weeding to all your gardeners.  Not just weeding, but also disposing of the weeds in either the compost pile or the garbage.  The area should be patrolled for stray trash and trip hazards.  Plants need to be kept neat, pruned, staked and generally look well cared for. Diseased plants must be removed as soon as a problem is identified and disposed of in the dumpster.  Tools must be put away, so that they are not a danger and to ensure that they are not stolen.  Remember the parking area and shed area must also be kept neat.

Second- Plantings are utilitarian but an effort to make them attractive is appreciated.  Greens planted in patterns to show off foliage color. Flowers inter-planted to offer incentives to pollinators and to add color an interest to the garden.  Paint and display signs telling what you are growing.  We will be growing several varieties of cabbage and we will plant them in a pattern.  Melons and cucumbers will be planted densely to give a lush look to the beds.  We will make an effort to plant so that the different textures of foliage are also highlighted.  Both carrots and fennel are beautifully feathery.  Squash created a dark jungle look and corn even comes in a variegated variety.

Some of the plants I love to feature include rainbow chard and eggplant.  The peppers also put on a great show late in the summer as they turn red.  Pumpkins and winter squash put on a hide and seek show late in the fall.  Crops that you can grow on a trellis offers height and a way to section off a large garden.  They can be used to stop the eye.  This year we will grow both peas and beans up the trellises and use some to stake tomatoes.

Third- Make an effort to take quality photographs of what you are growing. Both as it grows in the garden and as you harvest it.  This is also a great time to take a moment and keep a record of how much you harvest.  Your journal can also include any problems that occur during the gardening season.  Make sure to map out each years garden so that you can be sure that  you are rotating your plots to cut down on pests.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Here's to Dreaming Big!

 This post is a pictorial history of our community garden.  This first photo shows my father and some other volunteers clearing the field that was to become our first garden.  We had twelve beds the first year with ten gardeners.  This is a open field behind a local church.  This year we had to put in water, clear weeds, roto-till and we worked very hard!
The picture below is a very sucessful gardener.  They used an entire pick up bed worth of compost to improve their soil and they had a wonderfully productive plot!
I am the pregnant one with my little girl standing next to me in this picture.  As you can see we had plenty of space!~
This is later in the year and you can see our sunflowers growing in the background.  The gophers where a bit of a challenge in this field!
The second year we expanded the garden and recieved a grant from the Home Depot Foundation for a shed and tools!  A local fraternity supplied some of the muscle!
The Home Depot Foundation even supplied man/woman power for the construction of the shed!
It was a bitterly cold day with both rain and snow!
Look at all our beautiful supplies in their new home!  We no longer have to haul all of our tools back and forth!
Growing nicely isn't it?
One nights harvest from my plot!
A sideways picture of my girl! Found a use for all that awful bind weed!

Breaking ground at our new site in the new city park!  No longer will we garden in the middle of a field of weeds!  They tilled in a lot of compost for us this first year...very greatfull gardeners!
Planting out in the new format- we no longer have individual plots but will all garden together.

The garden grew very, very well!
A local youth group came out to help us harvest for the food bank.
A sample of what we donated!

More to donate!
My girl has grown with my garden! She took these to share with her kindergarten class!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Girls Garden

I am developing a plan for what will be the square foot garden in the back yard.  My goal is for this one bed to be a year around garden.  This will take some planning on my part and a willingness to pull plants as they reach the end of their productive time.  This is something I am not normally good at because I just hate the see things end.  However, if I pull the peas at the beginning of July I can immediately plant green beans.  If I replace radishes with beets and lettuce with Swiss chard or kale I can keep the greens coming.  I am still struggling about giving space to a cherry tomato- one because they get so very large and two because we will certainly have plenty at the community garden.

I think the key to this garden is handing over ownership over to my daughters!  This will be a challenge for me- but I think it is only fair.  They  put in a lot of hours with me over at the community garden which is my pet project.  There they get very little say and often have to spend time they would rather spend playing in the water park moving sprinklers around with me.  With all of the wonderful color choices offered in everything from beans to zuchinni it promises to be an interesting garden.

My eldest daughter has successfully grown every seed ever given to her in preschool so I am sure the garden will have plenty of marigolds and zinnias.  She proudly tells everyone that because we planted sunflowers one year and we let the birds harvest the seeds that we no longer have to plant them.  She calls them our magic flowers!  She also loves johnny jump ups.  She insists on the traditional ones and has no interest in fancy colors.

I will encourage them to plant things that they like and that can be eaten straight out of the garden. I love to start the day snacking in the yard.  The girls love the hunt and the anticipation of the first harvest.  They watch each individual pea grow and discuss when it is ready to eat.  Even the dog gets into the action and she gladly eats any discarded pea pods.

I would like to include the introduction of beneficial insects this year.  The ladybugs show up with out fail but mantids and spiders are more sporadic.  A couple of years ago we had a beautiful Cat Face Spider which we watched with great curiosity   Last year we never saw any.  About three years ago there where preying mantises everywhere and we have not seen any the last two years- at least not in our yard.  We don't spray at all so I am not sure why this is.

Please keep reminding me this is their garden!  Maybe we will add a fairy garden in the middle!  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Mini garden in the Yard

I will be trying out the square foot gardening method in my raised bed in the back yard.  Do you think I should replace the soil with Mel's mix?  I must admit that part of the attraction to this method is that my maiden name is Bartholomew...no relation to the author of this method though.  The raised bed now gets late afternoon shade, however that is much improved because a large weeping willow was removed to the south of my yard.

I am thinking the girls will enjoy planting using this method because it should be a very productive garden.  What should I do with the improved soil that I will remove from the bed?  I have been adding compost to it for the last five years or so...so it is pretty good soil!

I think I will use the wonderful suggestions from My Square Food Garden to plan the bed.  The current space is 4 by 8 ft which is just about perfect.  I want to grow peas, lettuce, kale, carrots, radishes, a miniature tomato, a pepper and some herbs in this garden.  We will definitely inter-plant with flowers. Maybe a bush cucumber to round things out.

So who has done the square foot method and what did you think of it?  I can see planting fall crops and over winter crops in this spot so I want to be sure that I have great fertility in this bed.  I think onions, leeks, and garlic, along with chard and kale should round out my seasons.  I might even put in some mums to add some color in the fall.

So who has suggestions?  Cautions?  Encouragement?

Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Horrors in the Garden

Have you had the unique pleasure of watching "Little Shop of Horrors"?  Would you believe that this is my idea of a great romantic movie?  It has nerds, needy plants and love....what more could you ask of a movie?  This movie has always made me laugh- the release of endorphin's is certainly romantic, don't you  think?

Did I mention its a musical?  I really do love this movie- Seymour (I think that is the plant's name)  is hilarious!  What kind of plant is that anyway?  Have you ever had a plant take over your life?  I can think of a few...ivy, bamboo, and roses to mention a few.  All of them in need of boundaries and extra time and care.  Each of them in their own way, a horror!

What movie do you love for its plants or gardens?  I can name a few!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sunsets and Farmyards

My perfect date would take place during the summer.  A warm summer evening dining under the open sky. Eating perfectly prepared farm fresh food; food that was harvested at this very farm on this very day!  Our local Peaceful Belly Farms offers  Farm to Fork events complete with local wines.  The setting is in a small valley in the Boise Foothills surrounded by the organic fields full of produce that will be sold through their CSA and local Farmers Market stand.

I imagine a wonderful meal, surrounded by others who care about how their food is produced.  Interesting conversation with people happy to share in the harvest.  My wonderful husband joining me, though this is not his idea of a good time.  He prefers air conditioning and a great steak.  A romantic sunset with vivid colors.  The sounds of the birds and peoples laughter rather than cars.  A walk to peek at what our hosts are growing while holding my husbands hand.

The food will be outstanding!  Presented as elegantly as it would be in a fine restaurant   It is a 5 course meal so I look forward to an array of flavors and uniquely presented dishes.  A sampling of local wine, to heighten the occasion.  The relaxed atmosphere encouraging conversation between total strangers.  The table beautifully set, a long expanse of possibility where you can comment to your neighbor about each dish.  A little hand holding under the table to let my husband know just how special this is to me.

This is my idea of a perfect date.  My favorite type of surrounding, joined with my favorite person, experiencing something both new and unique.  The planning on his part may be minimal  but the event created to provide a deep experience of connection between the grower and the consumer.  A meal months in the making   Winter planning, followed by spring sowing, then late summer harvest reaching a climax of chef creativity.  Nature will add the lavish touches of warm breezes and brilliantly hued skys.  A perfect date.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's Not Me, It's You!

Break ups are hard.  They are even worse to go through when you have mixed feelings about your partner.  Sometimes things just are not working out and you need to take a break.  You would not have invited them into your life if they were completely without merit.  Some are too messy, a few have been too lazy, others simply did not preform up to potential.  The real question posed here however is whether or not you can remain friends with an ex.  I would say yes! This does not however mean that you are still willing to share space with an ex.

Some of the plants that I have broken up include the lemon cucumber, the Armenian cucumber, spaghetti squash and turnips.  All of these plants have disappointed me in some way.  The lemon cucumber was lazy, it way under produced compared with the other types of cucumbers. The Armenian cucumbers attempted a garden take over and even the voles would not eat them.  I just don't like spaghetti squash and turnips.  I could not come up with enough different recipes to entice my family to eat them despite both crops preforming very well.  Also- ragged jack kale, this plant broke up with me.  It simply can not survive the aphids that seem to find it each year.  I have tried to rescue it each time, but it did not seem to have the will to live.

By remaining friends with these vegetables, I mean that if your garden happens to produce a bounty of them I will still gladly accept them as gifts.  I just can not justify giving them space in my own garden. We need our space.  Perhaps in a few years nostalgia will kick in and I will yearn for them. I may even invite them back into my garden.  I could discover new recipes that transforms bland stringy spaghetti squash into a delicacy beyond description   Or I might learn that I enjoy turnip greens and grow them for their greens rather than the roots.  But for now we are taking a break from each other as I explore other options.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dark Eyes Full of Mystery

I was very young the first time I fell in love.  It is a love that has lasted for years and one I believe that will last for a life time.  It is an innocent kind of love.  I delight in all my loves new accomplishments.  I can sit quietly for hours simply enjoying the company and often seek out my love during times of stress.  My love brings out the best in me and always encourages me to grow.

I first knew love when I gazed into a pair of dark mysterious eyes. He silently regarded me with mild curiosity, reveling nothing.  I cupped his tiny slender body with my hand and observes his tiny legs with their almost invisible toes. He was the length of my longest finger and the color of darkest midnight with a sheen of deep eggplant purple.  I was amazed that he had made a home in our garden.

The mystery of how he came to be there and the many secrets of his life held my attention.  That day gardening became a joy rather than a chore.  I was 11 years old and my family had always had a vegetable garden. My neighbors often commented on how Saturday morning was a show of asses and elbows as we all worked to weed the many flower beds that took up the majority of the yard.  We raised rabbits and chickens in the back yard and had veggies planted throughout.  The main garden took up the entire side yard.

The rabbits provided amazing fertility to our garden.  The compost pile was full of worms and covered a palm tree stump to speed its decomposition.  Tomato Horn Worms were considered a delicacy by the chickens who clamored over them.  Even the moth that is responsible for the Horn worms is beautiful.  Our garden provided a haven for me.  It was a vibrant living place full of discovery.  It was a hiding place that let me escape the often hectic and stressful environment of a divorced mother trying to fill every role possible in her three young girls lives.

That year I fell in love with a mysterious slender salamander and our families vegetable garden. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

My First Crush

You might call me a late bloomer.  Although I married my husband a number of years ago my first crush occurred just a few years ago.  I observe from afar and wish I could bring my self in closer contact with the object of my crush.  I yearn to spend time with the object of my desires and I concoct plans by which I might bring myself into closer association.  There is so much to admire about my crush.  She is generous and giving.  She provides for others while teaching them to provide for themselves. She loves children and spends hours nurturing them every summer.  She is vivacious, bright and lively- and she never looses her temper!  I suppose she might be male, but all of the traits I recognize in her appear to be female.

When we moved to Boise I worked as a nursery consultant for Home Depot.  I was interested in finding a community garden and soon discovered a unique and powerful program called BUGS.  This was a garden that's purpose was mainly educational.  They run a summer camp, provide weekend classes for toddlers, and promote gardening as a wonderful form of education.  The program has a farm stand where children learn about commerce and actively participate.  A true learn by doing philosophy that reaches kids in a whole new way.

The garden is too far from my home to make it practical for me to participate as much as I would like.  So I observe what they do from afar and take part on rare occasions.  My crush on the BUGS program is quite romanticized.  I would love to run a similar program some day.  What could be better- a perfect melding of my desire to educate and my love of gardening.  Perhaps someday I will have a bit of land within a city setting where I can provide such a program.  I will continue to pine from afar as I dream of what could be.  It is the best of crushes!

The object of my crush!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Relationships are Tough- Even Gardening Ones

The greatest variable that any project will ever face is the group of people that work to make it happen.  Each person has a different idea about how the project will develop, how much time it will require of the individuals involved, and how personally invested they intend to become.  Next, add the production of food. This endeavor has as many approaches as the sun has rays.  The challenge of taking ten or more people and developing a workable plan when creating a community garden is not one to take lightly.  In this post I will look at some of the issues involved and try to give some enlightenment as to how each works in the garden.

  1. Land Wars- It is certain that you will have a finite amount of land to use for your project.  The decisions regarding how to divide and use the space will be of major importance.  Will the entire space be used as one large garden or will it be divided into individual plots.  How much land will be used for paths and utilities and how will these be maintained.  If there are individual plots will they be the same size, can an individual garden more than one plot? If it will be one large garden how much space will be given to each crop?  Who decides?
  2. He said, She said- If you have individual plots you set your self up for boundary disputes.  His weeds/plants are shading her tomatoes.  Her weeds/plants are encroaching on her plot. In a large garden you might face. She left the water on, he said he was going to get the cabbages weeded this weekend and look what happened!  Trust me communication is important!
  3. Disappearing Acts- Hey what ever happened to so and so?  Has anyone seen them?  Do you know if they went on vacation?  People will disappear during the growing season.  I don't know if they are abducted by aliens or simply overwhelmed by how much work it takes to bring a garden from planting to harvest.  Trust me they will disappear and they will probably not answer your phone calls! Your goal is to check in with everyone as often as possible, offer encouragement, and provide realistic expectations.
Through the five years that I have been doing this I have learned that our garden opperates most effectively as a cooperative community garden.  This means that we all help to tend one large garden and we share out the harvest.  If one person leaves we do not have a plot that is slowly reclaimed by weeds.  We post what jobs need to be done and individuals complete them and sign them off.  We meet monthly to discuss what needs to be done and answer questions.  Yes, people do leave and we miss them. However, because we work the garden as a group, when someone has vacation time it does not effect the overall operation of the garden.  We have come to know each other much more intimately because we must communicate to keep the garden running smoothly. In short by growing our garden this way we have built a community!
These are a group of wonderful volunteers that came out to help us harvest for the local food bank!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Winter Garden, Empty Cupboard

This time of year there tends not to be a lot going on in the garden.  My Chard still soldiers on, dark leaves and bright stems surviving even the most bitter of frosts.  The wild edibles that I leave alone the last months of fall are waiting for the warmth of spring to get back in on the action.  The pickings out in the garden are slim, but my family is still eating winter squash and some of the bounty that I canned during the summer. In the freezer I have a few soup packs left and we can make a few more home grown meals.  However, last year during the hugely productive months of summer I failed to put enough away.

Next winter I hope I can say I was more wise.  That I took the time to freeze, can, and dry enough of summers bounty to get my family through the winter.  I doubt I can keep us from needing to buy fresh produce, but with planning I should be able to keep us in the staples and ensure something that we grew can appear at each meal.

We need to freeze more loose veggies next year.  We also will need about twice the amount of jam.  The raspberry freezer jam is just a memory and we miss it.  I will buy more local honey and see if I can't buy up more local beans.  The things that my family uses are produced right here near my home.  I will work harder to seek out what we can not grow ourselves.  Although we have not taken the 100 mile challenge I will work to seek out more local products.

I would love to purchase a pressure caner in the coming year.  It would expand what I could preserve and I know the family would love to have ready to eat soups, beans, and chili available.  The ability to can finished products that contain meat and to have less uncertainty will low pH foods would be a relief.  I have some trepidation about pressure caners, but from my research it seems that they have become much safer.

My love affair with gardening will continue.  I will strive to be a better steward of the bounty that it provides. Through better planning and having a better idea of what we need I hope to find next winter with a healthy stock and find my cupboards nearly bear as the garden sends me its first wave of produce.

Wish me luck!

Friday, February 1, 2013

What Flowers Are Really All About

My daughters have been learning all about sex for years.  They are now 2 and 6 years old.  We often sit and observe the sex workers going about their business, visiting client after client, as they hum and buzz about their work.  The work they do is not unlike that undertaken by Sperm Bank employees, they introduce the necessary elements for conception to the new mother without her ever meeting the soon to be father.  The girls are disappointed when a conception fails to take place.  They are sad to see an opportunity wither away without producing anything.  So to increase the likely hood of conception I have taught them to aid the sex workers at their jobs.

In many cases a cotton swab comes to the rescue of the hopeful female.  A dab of brilliant yellow powder is carefully collected from the would be suitor and carefully tapped within the skirts of the would be mother.  Only time will tell if my daughters efforts at assistance will be fruitful.  We carefully tie the skirts together with a piece of thread, we want to know the paternity of the offspring and chastity from this moment forward is important.  Now its a waiting game, will the patient swell and put on weight, or fail completely?

As agents of love my daughters are eager participants.  The sunshine, blossoms, bumble bees and birds all inspire them.  They check on their patients, inquire about their health, and eagerly await the day when the babies join their parents in the garden.  From seed, to leaf, to blossom, to fruit and back again to seed they love to observe the cycle of life.  This is what I have taught them about reproduction.  They are after all only 2 and 6.