Archive for the ‘backyard’ Category

It’s here, and it’s in full swing. The past month has been kind of like that song on the radio, “you’re hot and you’re cold”. We went from some early March days in shirtsleeves to a couple of weeks of cold-n-rainy, then some nice daytimes with back down the mid-40’s at night. This weekend it’s supposed to get into the mid-80’s. My lettuce is CONFUSED, I tell ya.

Things I’ve been doing, some of which may be things to think about doing in your garden:

Greens, greens, greens!

  • Harvest the first crop of spinach, Catalina Baby, (outer leaves only), and hope I didn’t take too much
  • Plant more spinach, this time a heat-tolerant variety, Oriental Giant (a spinach-alike, really) and a quick to mature type, Nobel 45-day.
  • Harvest rainbow chard, cutting it all way back to some inner leaves. No leaf miners (yet?) this year, for which I’m grateful.

Peas on Earth, Goodwill to Munch!

  • Check on your peas every couple of days– they may need a boost grabbing onto their trellising. I find myself patiently helping them grab the trellis instead of throttling each other. Hmm, sounds like kids!
  • Pick the first few pea stragglers and eat them as snap peas, whether they are conventional or snap peas. Don’t let your pea plant produce full-grown seeds and then think it is done for the season.
  • Dress their roots with a good layer of compost. In addition to keeping the soil moist, this helps keep it cool. Peas with cool feet will produce longer and be less prone to mildew.
  • Now that the weather is getting hotter, make sure that you don’t spray the pea vines themselves when watering if you can help it, and when you water, do so with plenty of time to dry out before the heat of the day. Once mildew takes hold, it can spread pretty quick.

Strawberry Fields (and Containers) Forever

  • Strawberries are flowering now; have you fertilized them since tucking them in for fall? This is a really good time. If you wait until the first crop of berries is ready, they may need a long break to absorb nutrients before putting out lots of replacement flowers.
  • Mine are everbearing, which produce a berry here and there all summer, but if yours are June-bearing, it’s doubly important to fertilize as soon as they start greening up and forming flower buds. You’re only getting the one shot with the berry crop!
  • Before you fertilize, especially if you’re using compost, carefully pull out all the winter-killed foliage. You don’t want rotting vegetation under that compost– the crowns need to breathe and get good air circulation. This will help prevent fungus problems.
  • Be careful what you are pulling on, and either snip out the old foliage at the stem, or grab only a stem or two at a time and give a quick sharp yank. It’s too easy to pull out the crowns!
  • If your strawberries are in a container, like mine, check the crowns. The soil levels drop as organic matter is used up, and you may have little strawberry castles raised up 2 or 3 inches above the soil. Fill in with enriched potting soil, or regular potting soil mixed 50% with compost. Be careful not to cover the crowns themselves– err on the side of caution, because if you cover them, you are very very likely to have fungus or mildew problems.
  • Container strawberries are sensitive to minerals, too– be sure to sprinkle some greensand and bone meal or eggshell into your containers annually. Now is fine, it’s not too late at all.

Gracious, where did the time go? I guess I’ve been a bit busy in the garden lately. We haven’t even talked about the runner bean seedlings, the tomatoes and peppers, and the squashes. Next time!


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Recently someone commented on an older posting of mine that some of last year’s veggies seemed to have no flavor. I think my reply may be of general interest, so I thought I’d post it instead of just replying privately.

Hi Raqui,

The discolored bean leaves I would say are cold damaged. The plant should recover.

For veggies with flavor problems, hmm. The seed being old is ok and won’t affect flavor. If it germinates, it’s got all the goodies. 🙂

Some varieties of veggie are bred for ripening at the same time, or being drought/cold/heat hardy, etc, rather than flavor. If you feel you were using a good variety, though, the next thing to look at is your soil diversity. Trace minerals account for a lot of the flavor, as well as nutrition, in food. It may be time to get a multi-mineral supplement such as greensand or some custom organic preparation, to enrich your soil.

Just like you can make bread with only flour, water, and salt, you can grow a lot of veggies with only NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) but they’ll be pretty wonder-bread bland!

One reason that composting is such a good idea is that you’re returning minerals from the non-edible parts of the plant into your soil. We were putting our plants into the city compost bin and picking up free city compost until last summer. Then we realized we were swapping our huge peavines and tomato plants for grass clippings and who knows what. Wups! So now we have a leaf-shredder that we use to shred garden waste, and our own compost bin.

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Take a little patch of earth and make it a garden. Even if you only grow one thing. Even if it’s a hardscrabble piece of bare dirt along the side of a wall, or a pot on a balcony, or a milk carton in a windowsill. That’s what I’d like you to come away with, today on Blog Action Day, when we are all talking about the environment. Because WE are an integral part of the environment. Our human actions.

Being involved with maintaining the life of plants will involve you more intimately with the life of the planet. Even better if it’s a plant you can eat, because you won’t want to eat poison and you’ll be more careful about what you use to keep other things from eating that plant.

We started our garden when we moved in, in February 2005. The ground was baked, cracked clay, utterly bare, without even weeds. The previous owner had torn out the dead sod, the lawn that nobody had watered while the place was for sale before he’d bought it. For three and a half years, he never got around to putting in a lawn, a garden, even any ground cover. So the bare ground sat and baked. No worms, no bugs, nothing.

After almost 3 years of hauling in compost, planting, putting down wood chips, letting things go to seed and spread, we now have a little ecosystem all our own. Every year we see new critters not previously encountered. Some of these new neighbors are not so great, like plant-damaging soldier bugs. Others are unexpected delights, like the giant salamanders, the little lizard I saw drinking from a soaker hose, and of course the hummingbird regulars who now understand that peas or beans will be flowering here most of the year (and that our neighbor’s hummie feeder will take care of the wintertime).

We’ve gone from seeing a few bees here or there to hosting a wide array of pollinators: honeybees, to be sure, but also big black carpenter bees, ground-nesting bumblebees, and sleek metallic hoverflies. And we’re still learning.

This year we’re putting in mustard and vetch as a cover crop on some of the beds, with fall-winter fava beans. We’ve established alyssum that self-seeds, and cornflowers, and borage, along with plantings of lavender, to try to provide a year-round supermarket for our native pollinators.

We realized that even after just a couple of years, things don’t grow so spectacularly as they once did– we’ve been putting our virgin clay soil-grown, mineral-rich, organic tomato and bean vines in the city compost bin and getting back lawn-clipping gruel, even if it IS composted. Every eggshell that we’ve thrown in the trash is a bit of calcium that could have been useful in the garden. I have a few dozen eggshells, crushed into the bottom of a clean milk jug, drying, waiting to go into the garden now. The top of the gallon milk jug is a warming cap for a broccoli plant, and will nurture pepper seedlings this spring.

This fall we bought a lightweight ‘leaf shredder’ that uses a modified weed-whacker in a big funnel, and we shredded up our plants at the end of summer and mulched them into the beds. I could bang my head on the wall thinking of the cubic yards of tomato plant, squash vine, bean plants, etc that we’ve stuffed into the city ‘yard waste’ bin and sent away, but at least we’re doing it differently now.

It starts with just a little patch of ground, even a single plant. If you do nothing else for the environment this year, plant a garden. You’ll find out that it was really for you, too.

Yes, these are all photos from our backyard. The one below is what it looked like in November 2005. We’ve come a long way, baby!


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