Ages and ages ago I was randomly a judge for a grilled cheese contest at a home show here in Salt Lake (SO random, right?!). While browsing around the stalls, in between stuffing my face with delicious sandwiches, I met the authors of this book. I'm pretty sure it could totally transform the way we garden.
I love this time of year. The garden seems to be putting its all into the final celebration of the season. Everything's coming in abundance. There's something tender about it; the plant sacrificing for its posterity, feeding us, bringing a certain grace and serenity to the changing of seasons. Here's what our garden is looking like as we pass through summer into fall.
It's that time of year, time to be buying and planting tons of little seedlings! Unless, of course, you are a planner and already have trays of little starts ready to go. I am sometimes, but not this year.
Instead, I'm trying another angle to get lots and lots of little plants for super cheap...
The seeds we all ordered together have been divided and set to sprout in little pots beneath flourescent lights. We're also starting a few tomatos and eggplants for our neighbor and she's letting us keep some for our garden. We're so excited about the garden this year! It seems that on the years that babies are arriving, the garden is generally rather abysmal. Last year our tomatoes ripened too late, edibles were choked out by weeds, I didn't can anything. But, I did grow a beautiful, healthy baby! But this year, with Viv turning 1, I'll have more energy to devote to nurturing our edibles and keeping them healthy and looking beautiful. They are on the front lawn afterall, so it's nice when they can be attractive as well as productive. We love watching the progress of our little sprouts. Sam likes to peer over the tray, which is on a shelf just about at eye level for him, and check the pots for signs of new life. We have so many new and exciting varieties to try this year; I can't wait to see what's growing a few months from now!
We've been working on the garden. Well, by "we," I really mean Clay. He does most of the heavy lifting in the beginning; turning over the soil, mixing in fertilizer (thank you chickens), tearing up the sod (we put in a new strip of garden this year), etc. This year some of the heavy lifting came in the form of filling several buckets with wintered-over carrots, "candy carrots" as Elliot Coleman calls them. And so they are, sweet, delicious, crunchy. We leave a row of carrots that can be harvested long into the fall as well as early in the spring as soon as the soil is workable. If you place hay over the top, I believe you can even get them throughout the winter. We love being able to harvest a crop before the first seed even hits the ground in the spring.
This week we'll been having carrot-heavy salads and fresh juice every morning. And I believe I see carrot soup in our future...
Well, hello spring! So nice to have you back.We spent most of our weekend outside, enjoying the deliciously warm sunshine. We've been falling into bed at night, dog-tired and sun-kissed. Sam, overhearing his dad and I talking about planting, has been eagerly poking holes in the ground and scattering dirt about, doing his own version of planting. We've been sorting seeds and getting ready to set up our indoor garden so we can hit the ground running when the weather is warm enough.
Sam has an eagle eye for spotting flowers and loves giving them to me; he equates giving me flowers with being an adult. Once he was telling me about what he was going to do when he was a man (that's how he says it); the list included, "going to Idaho to build stuff, driving a truck, and giving Mom flowers." I love observing what he picks up from us as crucial "grown up" acts. I think he's off to a good start, if he thinks giving flowers is one of the defining tasks of manhood.
One of the wonderful things about the warm weather is that as long as we're outside, the kids are are happy. All I have to do is lay out a blanket and everyone's happy as little larks. I even got some reading and writing done, which was icing on the cake. What about you? Has spring come calling yet, or are you still waiting?
The sun is shining and we got our seeds in the mail today! Yes, spring is certainly around the corner.
Sam was very into examining all the seeds and "reading" the instructions on the back. In fact, the little illustrations of what to do are actually quite readable to a toddler. We talked about putting the seeds in the ground, building little mounds around cukes and melons, about how the plants will need water and sun and so on. We're both so excited to actually get to the part where we dig our hands into the soil!
When asking about the various plants he asked about the Chioggia beets, "Mom, are these lollipops?" As soon as I find a seed that grows into lollipops, we'll plant it!
I spend the winter months looking longingly at the vibrantly colorful, glossy pages of the seed catalogs. But when I tally up all the dog-eared pages and highlighted plants that I want to try, it's often waaaay too much money to spend, especially on such a tiny garden. It only recently dawned on me to team up with some other families and split the cost of the seeds (duh), since none of us have very large gardens and don't need a whole pack of seeds ourselves. Each family picked plants that are strange, interesting, new and novel, knowing we could get "normal" seeds from our stash or the local nursery. Here are the new plants that will be gracing corners of our garden come spring.
Golden Beets :This is my sister-in-law Vanessa's pick. Clay says they're delicious, but hard to grow. We'll give them some extra TLC. Charentais Melon: I've heard good things about this French melon, Vanessa and I both wanted to try it.
Clemson Spineless Okra: This one was my sister-in-law Carlie's pick. I've never been a fan of okra, but that's probably just because I haven't had it done right. I'm excited to experience the home grown version. And I think the plants are pretty. Five Color Silverbeet Chard: This one is a treat to see growing among the leafy greens. We grew some a couple years ago and the colors are so vibrant and lovely. Dragon Carrot: So far we've stuck with Scarlett Nantes. These were Clay's brother Christophr's pick. It will exciting to try something new! Poona Kheera Cucumber: These crazy, rust-skinned, Indian cucumbers can be eaten through all shades of maturity, green to dusty red.
Chioggia Beets: These are a family favorite. They're just so gorgeous in a salad, and really sweet and tasty. Joe's Long Pepper: Chris is apparently the most adventurous of the lot of us because he chose this long, spicy pepper. I may not be brave enough to eat it, but I'll definitely enjoy the splash of red in the garden. Speckled Cranberry Bean: These beans, my pick, seem interesting not only for thir pretty color, but because you can eat the whole pod steamed, later as shelling beans and you can even leave them on the vine to dry and keep over the winter. I've always wanted to try doing my own dried beans. Obviously we'll only get enough for about one pot of soup from our tiny garden, but it will be a fun experiment. Romanesco: I've wanted to try this one for awhile and finally have an excuse to do so. The electric green whorls and tips look like modern art.
Mexican Sour Gherkin: They're tiny, they're cute, and they taste "already pickled," what's not to love?
Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry: I'm so excited for this one! I've never even tasted a ground cherry before. We've had great success with tomatillos (almost too much success; they reseed themselves with exhuberance!), so I'm optimistic that these will do well.
Strawberry Spinach: Okay, get ready for your mind to be blown; spinach with little mulberry-esque berries growing on the stems!!! I know!!! Your mind is totally blown. I think this is the plant I'm most excited about; I can't wait to try it.
Hardy Kiwi: I've always wanted to try growing kiwis. We're going to put some trellises along the south side of the house, so that's where these will live. I know quite a few people who have successfully grown these in Maine, so I have high hopes for them here.
Rich Sweetness Melon: Another climbing plant for the trellises. These melons are tiny, so won't weigh a trellised plant down, and the melons are ridiculously sweet, so they say.
How about you? Anything new and exciting going into the ground at your place this spring?
I almost forgot to share these pictures! Sam and I were out a couple weeks ago harvesting the last of the garden when I snapped these pictures. I've actually been surprised, the garden doesn't look all that different now. It's only been the past week that things have started getting brown. The growing season sure is a lot longer here in Utah.
Clay planted some beautiful golden amaranth that we haven't actually done anything with, but it added a wonderful structural element and interesting texture to the garden. And now we've snapped a few of the dried clusters off and put them over by the bird feeder for the birds to snack on.
A funny thing about our garden this year was that some of our most successful crops were those that we didn't actually plant. The Swiss chard above was a volunteer as were the tomatillos. Aren't the skeletons of the husks gorgeous? So delicate. We also had a couple volunteer delicata squash plants that must have come from the compost. I went on a delicata binge last winter and bought a ton at the grocery store. We fertilized the garden when we cleaned out the chicken coop and the chickens must've missed a few seeds from the compost! The delicatas were definitely our most productive crop; I think we got at least fifty and I still have a whole bunch lined up along my counter.
I love how the colors change throughout the seasons, from the vibrant, almost neon greens of the spring to the deeper, richer colors of fall. The tomatillos don't turn their deepest purple until it gets quite chilly.
Our tomato crop was rather abysmal. We noticed halfway through the season that the tomatoes were looking rather spindly and wimpy, and only then realized that we had forgotten to fertilize them! By then they were dwarfed by everything around them and never really caught up. Sam and I had a good time going out every day until about a week or so ago to pick late-ripening cherry tomatoes though. He tells me every day that he wants to pick tomatoes, but they're pretty much done for the year. I've been surprised though that some of the tomatoes we picked that were about 90% green have eventually ripened in the house.
This, of course, is my favorite part of the fall garden! We've been loving having delicata squash with nearly every meal and aren't even close to getting sick of it! It's hard to go wrong with a simply baked squash with a bit of butter and salt.
These pictures are a couple weeks old, but I wanted to give you a little taste of what's growing around here. My little baby, for one, is turning into a little boy right before my eyes! There is nothing he loves more than working alongside his dad. Dad is off to the side with a grownup shovel, turning over some soil.
The garden has been interesting this year, or, I guess it's the weather that's been interesting. That's one of the exciting things about gardens. There are so many variables and you're constantly reminded that you're not really in charge. It keeps you humble, and in awe of things bigger than yourself.
The abundant rain has been so good for the hardy plants that returned all on their own. The sage bushes are huge and singing with bright purple blossoms and the cilantro has generously cropped up all over the garden where last year's plants dropped their seeds. I love how gardens develop their own personality and character as they're cultivated year after year. We even had some leftover greens that came back to life. But our seedlings that we nurtured indoors were a bit more sensitive to the strange fluctuations in temperature. The cold, wet days alternating with baking hot sun was rather shocking for the little cukes and basil; we almost thought they weren't going to make it. But, as the weather has normalized, they've managed to stay on course and are looking healthy and strong now.
Sam and I planted some lettuce very early in the spring, most of which came up, with volunteer cilantro sprinkled throughout. It's been lovely being able to step outside and pick a salad each night for dinner. The crop I think we've enjoyed the most though is the peas. Those were also planted in the wee days of spring and spent some of their earliest days under light snowfall. Sam loves picking peas and is adept at spotting the fat ones, while leaving the skinny ones to ripen. If he goes missing, I know I can likely find him hunkered down in the pea patch, munching away. The peas are almost past their peak now and will soon be pulled up to make room for the tomatoes, which will likely inspire a whole new round of garden munching.
My parents got this new gardening tool and they're so excited about it. Honestly, they can't stop talking about it. Of course, I know all about how that goes; I totally geek out about handy gadgets, seeds, new knitting needles, you name it. Now it's clear where I get that!
My dad emailed me these pictures and the following praise for the Planet Jr. Wheel Hoe. "Our
garden is about 3000 sq. ft., and I got out this morning around 6:45 and
weeded the whole thing in about 1/2 hour with the Planet Junior. It was
invented back around 1870 or so. I saw an old one in action when I
went down to help a neighbor with his garden a week or two ago. Our rototiller
had broken down, and as soon as I saw this old thing, I wanted one. Best
thing since night baseball!"
Maine is pretty rainy in the spring. And I lived in Oregon for awhile and it defines rainy. So, a little rain rarely puts me in a gray mood. In fact, this rainy, rainy spring we've been having here in Utah has actually made me feel quite cheerful!
Each rainy day has felt like something of a celebration. Every morning that I wake up to the sound of rain on the windows I think, "Oh goody, I don't have to water the garden!" And I think about how much the dry, desert ground is just loving this outpouring of moisture and soaking every last drop up. The mountains are green all around us and our own yard is growing lush and green before my eyes. You can practically watch the plants unfold and deepen in color, knowing that they have to act fast while the feast is upon them.
We even had a little snow this morning, which was kind of wild. But that's moisture too and it was more than welcome! All the things in our garden right now are pretty hardy and cold tolerant, and the lettuce has been extra sweet with the chill weather and extra rain.
I find that the more I love the rain, the more I love it. Do you know what I mean? I think that's kind of a general principle in life, and it works particularly well if you're not especially fond of something: a chore, a person, a day of the week etc. If you decide you love it, the more you put effort into really enjoying it, the more you find that it becomes effortless. Kind of neat how that works:)
I've mentioned Seeing the Everyday before; it's an advertisement free collection of stories celebrating the importance of families. Chock full of beautiful, soothing, nostalgic images, it's like a vacation for the eyes. I love seeing it in my mailbox and carving out some time to sit down with a cup of tea and leaf through the pages. One of the neat things about the magazine is that all the stories come from regular people, so the voices are authentic and simple. I sent an essay that I wrote in grad school to them awhile ago and some excerpts from it ran in the recent spring issue.
They don't pay contributors, but you do get the thrill of seeing your words in print, accompanied by lovely photography. You also get a thoughtful, hand-written thank you note from the editor on their classy, letterpress stationary, which is kind of fun too. If you have a story to share, send it in! It's a wonderful thing to contribute to. I think a quiet place dedicated to celebrating the simple and important things in life is so needed right now.
PS I put the full essay in the comments if you'd like to read it:)
Clayton's grandmother lived on her own for quite some time before moving in with his parents (though she is still sharp as a tack and probably in better shape than me! She's just with them for the company). After many years of keeping her home and large yard in immaculate condition, she grew tired of some of the chores, especially taking care of the peach trees and their abundant crop. So, she had Clay's brother chop them all down.
But one of those trees refused to be chopped down without a fight! It sent up a new sapling the next spring and turned into a new, sturdy little tree. Unfortunately, it was growing right in the middle of where Clay's brother (who later bought his grandma's house) wanted to plant his vegetable garden. So, he and Clay dug it up and transported it to our yard where Clay tucked it in between our two strips of veggie garden on the front lawn.
I'm happy to report that it's thriving and makes quite a charming addition to the yard. And with the pruning that Clay did I had a lovely arrangement for the dining room table as well. We've got our fingers crossed for a peach or two this year, or definitely the next!
We've got quite a few things in the ground already (4" pea plants, lettuce, carrots, beets...) but the more tender plants we're waiting to put it until it's a bit warmer. But to give them a head start, Clay has started them indoors.
It's the simplest of setups, really. Just some cups in a tray (so you don't spill water on the counter) and a grow light (just a regular fluorescent light with a cool and warm bulb so you get the full spectrum). We have them sitting in the window, but we use the light too, otherwise they get too leggy. We covered them with pieces of wood until they sprouted, but would impatiently check several times a day to see if any green tips were peeking out.
It wasn't too many days until we were rewarded with cheerful, baby plants. Clay leans on the counter and gazes at his little seedlings all the time; I'm getting rather jealous. It really is a miraculous thing though. You notice more details about the whole exciting process when it's right there in front of you.
We've planted some herbs, zucchini, amaranth (what are we going to do with this? I don't know, but it looks cool in the garden), tomatoes, peppers and... I'm sure I'm missing some; he planted a ton. We used a lot of the seeds we got from Hometown Seeds as well as some we had saved from last season. I also got some pretty flowers and herbs that we're going to start inside so they're robust little seedlings by the time it's warm enough to plant them outside.
This post is a little late; I took these pictures a week or two ago and now we have pea shoots emerging from the dark, spring soil! I love planting things early enough that you can take advantage of the spring rains and not have to water as much.
Sam, enamored with all things creepy and crawly, requests, "Finda worm!" as soon as we step out the door. We dig one up for him and give him instructions on how to be gentle, but I'm afraid it's rather traumatic for the poor wormy. He's learning though.
I feel so farmer-chic when I put on my boots and stalk around the yard, digging stuff up, feeding the chickens, mucking around. They're so perfect for anything rain or garden-related and I love that they practically come up to my knees. When I swap out my winter boots (another favorite that I've had since high school!) for these cheerful ones, it feels like spring has officially set up shop. Those are the very last of our wintered over carrots. Sam went through a grated carrot phase and ate them with salad dressing nearly every meal for a week!
We set out bush peas, spinach, lettuce, swiss chard and a couple grape plants that seem to be suffering a bit... I try to cover them at night, but I'm not sure they're going to make it. Keep your fingers crossed for the little guys! We filled up two of our three beds, planning on replacing the plants with those that like warmer weather; tomatoes, peppers, melons, cukes etc., once the peas and greens have been harvested.
Every winter I worry in the back of my mind, "Maybe this is the year spring won't come!" Okay, logically I know that's pretty unlikely, but sometimes the arrival of spring seems like such a miraculous thing and winter just seems to dig in its heels so hard, and I do wonder if spring will ever come. But finally, I've been seeing some signs!
Bare feet in the warm soil is a sure sign of changing seasons!The firewood Clay laboriously chopped at the cabin, brought home, and stacked on the patio has been steadily dwindling; I made my last fire the other day. Thankfully the mornings have been warm enough now that I haven't missed the daily fires burning in the stove. And the final harvest of last year's crops means it's time to make room for new ones! We let some of our carrots winter over, hoping to get some of the "candy carrots" that Elliot Coleman talks about. They are definitely sweet and crisp. And it was so fun to have something edible to dig up when the urge to be out rooting around in the soil struck.
We even had some volunteer New Zealand Spinach up and ready! Love those optimistic little guys. And, of course, the classic sign of spring: the freak snowstorm! This happened only a couple of days after the barefot-in-the-garden day. Luckily it was just a minor setback, turning to rain and puddles by the afternoon, and spring has continued to plug along, bringing us warmer and warmer, bright and sunny days.
And yes, green things are finally beginning to tentatively and bravely poke their pointy green hats out of the soil! The brave bulbs, always the first to test the air, are the surest sign that spring is, indeed, on its way.
I got the coolest thing in the mail last week from Hometown Seeds; a sealed package of non-hybrid, emergency survival seeds that keep for up to five years (ten if frozen)! Talk about some brilliant food storage! The whole package is only thirty-odd dollars (on sale from $50) and you can plant 3/4 of an acre worth of food with it. And, of course, all the seeds are non-hybrid, non-GMO so you can save the seeds and continue the whole storage/preparedness/self-sufficiency thing. But I just love that someone else figured out which are the best varieties and put it all together in a little kit (I love kits!) that you can simply tuck in the back of your freezer for a few years for some peace of mind.
I, of course, opened ours right away because a) the curiosity was killing me, and b) we're going to plant a lot of them this year anyway and then save the seeds. I wish we had room for corn though... maybe we'll give those seeds to Clay's brother and sister-in-law. So, here's what spilled out of the shiny, silver package; Golden Bantam Sweet Corn, Lincoln Peas, Champion Radishes, Spanish Onions, Beets, Tomatoes, Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach, Golden Acre Cabbage, Swiss Chard, Paris Island Lettuce, Scarlet Nantes Carrots, Peppers, Butternut Squash, Cucumbers, Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans, and Black Beauty Zucchini!! That's a whole garden's worth!
The seeds came with a whole packet of information about the seeds; they were chosen because they do well in short season climates (and thus would be fine in long season ones too), are easy to grow and are adaptible for most regions. They quote a study that says that with $30 worth of seeds you can grow $600 worth of vegetables; that's a way better return on your money than playing the stock market! The packet gives tips abot soil modification, moisture, planting times, harvesting and saving the seeds and even nutritional info about each of the veggies. And it's all really simple and basic, no frills, nothing fancy, just good, honest seeds. I love it and I can't wait to plant some!
Seeds are amazing! A little soil, water and light and that's all they need. No complaining, they just push up through that soil, optimistically green and delightfully tasty. The roquette from the seeds we saved last summer was the first to arrive in bright green rows. The spinach and Swiss chard followed with their deep red stalks, just mere wisps at this point.
I couldn't resist a little nibble of the roquette, my favorite. And it didn't disappoint. All that fresh, spicy taste packed into one tiny sprout instantly transported me to my summer garden. I could practically feel the warm soil under my knees. Oooh, I can't wait to get my hands in some good soil!