Monday, December 12, 2016

Great Gifts for Gardeners

When choosing a gift for a person who gardens, we might be inclined to get them something for the garden itself and that can be a great thing but it also poses a lot of questions. Buying plants for someone else's garden might not be the best idea unless we know exactly what type of plant they desire. After all, they will have to nurture that plant and it in some ways is akin to buying them a surprise pet. I think we can all agree that giving someone an unasked for puppy or kitten is a definite no almost without exception. The same can be true for many plants. Aside from seasonal plans like poinsettia or amaryllis most plants are going to need a lot of extra care in the winter.

We can always go for the gardening tools idea such as gloves, kneeling pads or hand trowels. These can be a good idea but if we are going that way, let me suggest getting a higher quality set. I have received plenty of 'cute' gardening gear gifts and many of these have ended up breaking very quickly or being unusable from the start.

Gloves

A good pair of gloves is very welcome to any gardener. Just be sure to know hand size. If in doubt, go with medium or large. Only purchase small size gloves if you know the person has very small hands. The Custom Leathercraft Handyman Flex Grip Work Gloves are very nice and have a synthetic leather palm along with a velcro closure at the wrist which helps them fit well. Of course what I often need is several pairs of gloves since I am invariably drenching them on one day and then needing a dry pair the next day or that evening. A multi pack 7 Pairs Pack SKYTREE Gardening Gloves have a nitrile palm and stretchable back which I find to be very comfortable.

Kneeling Pad

Gardening for me means spending lots of time on my knees in order to keep life reasonable for my back. A Large Foam Kneeling Knee Pad can make this a lot easier. There are many different styles and they come in many price ranges as well as multi-packs.

Hand Tools

In my opinion if you are going to give a gift of garden hand tools then choose either the Fiskars Traditional Bypass Pruning Shears or the Fiskars Big Grip Trowel - not that I am totally attached to that brand, but I have both and they are good quality. I can also tell you that if I received them again as a gift I would not be upset at all. Maybe it is just me, but I can either never find them when I am looking for them or they are some place far away when I need them. Having several pairs would help with this dilemma.

Garden Theme T-shirts

Those who garden are likely to go through plenty of shirts, seeing as how gardening can get one dirty. What better gift for a gardener than a garden themed T shirt.
Gardener's Green Thumb
T-shirt
Green Thumb Up
Baseball T-shirt
A Gardener's Green Thumb
short sleeve option
is nice because it can be used summer or in winter as an underlayer. The great big green thumbs up will let others know the wearer's gardening skill. Of course a longer sleeve option is nice on those cold days in the garden. Both come in women and men's sizes and can be had in a variety of colors.

Hoodie

Cherry Blossoms
Hoodie
This hoodie is a great option for when things get really cold. It is an extremely soft lightweight fleece that will keep you warm while spending time outdoors. The hood is great for keeping your ears warm as well. It features cherry blossoms to help remind us that spring will again return. The image can be placed on the front or the back of the hoodie.

Garden Apron

An apron can be very handy. Not only will it keep your clothes clean but you can also carry tools around in them.
Gardener's Green Thumb
Apron
Yellow Thumbs Up
Apron

The apron on the left has been created by a group, LIFE Line, in support of their mission to empower Kenyan mothers of special needs children, to be self-sustaining. Each product is handmade in Kenya and product sales directly benefit the Malaika Mums, many of whom have been shunned by society because of their special needs children. The apron on the right comes in yellow, khaki or white. They both are printed with my own gardener's thumbs up design.

Garden Theme Towels

Gardener's Green Thumb
Hand Towel
Hand towels are another thing that it seems I am always in need of while out in the garden. What could be better than a gardener's thumbs up towel?

Garden Theme Notebook

Bees Knees
Notebook
Keeping track of gardening adventures can be made a lot easier if we keep a journal. Writing down what was successful so you can do it again and also recording our failures can turn us into gardening masters. This bee themed spiral notebook also comes in a hardbound version.

Happy Gardening!

Here are some links to help you find the things I mentioned on Amazon: ------------------------------

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Mr. Cardinal Takes a Bath

One of the best things about the spring garden is the incredible beauty of the native birds. A few years ago we found that all we needed to attract birds to our yard was a birdbath. Watching the various birds use this garden facility can provide hours of entertainment.

Here is a close up view of a beautiful cardinal taking a dip in our cement pond.



A birdbath is an easy thing to set up and can fit into any size garden. There are many different types and sizes and it is an easy way to make your garden very attractive to our fine feathered friends.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Growing Vietnamese Mint


A beautiful, fragrant and useful addition to any garden is Vietnamese mint, Kinh Gioi.  Unlike other mints, such as spearmint and peppermint, this mint has a very mild fresh scent with a hint of lemon.

It grows easily from seed and in fact, once you have this plant one year, expect to see it cropping up in years to come since it reseeds itself freely.  Even with this in mind, it is not anywhere near as invasive as the spearmint in my garden.  Spearmint sends out runners that takes it all over the place.  Vietnamese mint may sprout up in multiple areas, but once there it does not form runners.

The plant grows much taller than either spearmint or peppermint.  Untrimmed stalks can grow as high as three or four feet.  If you trim it back it will make a bushy plant.  You will want to be trimming it back often because this mint is excellent for culinary purposes.  It is often included in spring rolls and salads, combining its soft mint flavor with a lemony taste.

Fresh picked Kinh Gioi, Vietnamese mint 

I tried it recently in a tincture recipe and after just 5 days of steeping it produced a wonderful result that lets me impart its wonderful taste to my chilled water (if you would like instructions about making an herbal tincture with this mint, check out my blog post here).  Of course its fresh leaves are a great addition to chilled drinks as well.

This is a tender perennial in frost-free areas, and an annual herb elsewhere.  You plant it in late spring or summer.  It seems to thrive in hot weather and mine is still growing strong in mid-august.  It seems to tolerate dry conditions very well.  It does however die back if you get a freeze.  This is my second year with it and I feared it was gone for good after last winters hard freeze.  It delighted me by sprouting up in multiple locations so I just transplanted the volunteer seedlings where I wanted them and they took off and never looked back.

Last year I didn't know how to use it very well so it ended up going to seed fairly quickly.  Like most mints if it is not cut back it will flower and make seeds.  This year I have cut it back about three times and it has not gone to seed yet.  I will make sure to let at least one of the volunteers go to seed to make sure I will have plenty of returning players next year.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer Gardening

It may not be officially summer yet, but already I am full force into the summer garden.  Oh sure, the cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are starting to yield what will be a great crop and I am picking pounds of produce every couple of days.

Already I harvested the Yukon Gold potatoes I tried for the first time this year.  I planted about a dozen seed potatoes and harvested about 10 pounds of potatoes.  This is not a stellar production, but since I got them in late and harvested a little early, it is enough for me to try again next season.

Although the weather has been very nice compared to years past, I know the heat is only going to go up and by the middle of July it will be all over for almost everything I planted in the spring.  Over, except for three summer survivors: eggplant, okra, and sweet potatoes.

I have resisted counting the numbers of tomatoes that are on our 7 plants, but if I had to guess
I would say there are 50 to 60 or more per plant.
Now I learned two years ago that if you plant sweet potatoes you can ignore them throughout the summer and you will have this verdant green vine smothering your garden beds all summer long.  In the fall you get to dig up these great sweet potatoes.  Last year I didn't plant any sweet potatoes, but because I could not find all the tubers I had an enormous crop of volunteers.  I dug those up last fall and set some aside.  Those tubers sprouted some sets and this year I already have my vines growing in the beds.  Sweet potato plants will make it look like you are an incredible gardener when the reality is you don't have to do anything from August through October to get a great yield.

eggplant plant
They will deliver Eggplant
plants to your door!
Last year I also put in a couple of eggplants which produced a large crop.  I did not however make the most of them, but this year I came up with a tasty eggplant recipe, so bring it on eggplants.  My eggplant fandom has also been assisted by a local nursery having an eggplant sale.  For some reason they did not sell out of their eggplants this year and had dozens left which they wisely put on sale as two for one.  One of the dedicated nursery workers did an excellent job of keeping these plants watered and healthy even though they were root bound.  As a result I now have over a dozen eggplant plants growing in the garden.
totally eggplant cookbook
I spy with my little eye
a cookbook I need
'Totally Eggplant Cookbook'

I would not have had room for these extra eggplants if my squash plants had not just up and died.  It is not clear to me what exactly did them in.  Not only did the vines die out, but even the small fruit rotted on the vine.  This makes two years in a row that my butternut squash and other winter squash varieties have failed me.  I am starting to take this personally.  I might try again with a fall squash planting, but quite frankly I am feeling a little rejected at this point.  Sniff.

We finally relocated our okra bed behind the dog proof fence.  Last year like the years before we were afflicted with the okra pest caninus chompinski - border collie and westie forms.  I am not sure why okra amnesia causes me to forget how ruthless our canine duo can be on the okra pods.  Granted the extra cold weather for spring 2013 made the plants grow slowly, but once again I was scratching my head on just what kind of bug was eating the okra pods.  Cue border collie skulking guiltily in the background.

This year I put in some plants early and they have just given us our first pods.  I planted a second batch about a month after the first and they are growing well.  I just this weekend put in another half dozen.  In all I have about two dozen plants which will go into full swing soon and provide weekly okra batches.  I love them freshly steamed.  Later in the year when the temperatures soar and you cannot under threat of pain get me to go out into the mosquito laden, humid and MegaSummer garden, these okra pods will grow to about a foot in length where they will become the much sought after dog toys.

So, while I admire and relish the garden of today, I am looking forward to a great summer garden as well.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Spring harvest so far




It's about time I started posting about my organic garden again, so I will start chronicling the harvest so far to begin with.

Today I picked a half pound of blue lake green beans.  I will be adding this to the half pound I previously picked on two different days last week.  Total beans = 1 lb.  I can tell that the sequential planting of seeds every two weeks is going to give me great dividends.  This part of the harvest so far has been from the initial 6 plants.  The other 15 plants are in various stages of development with the next row of 4 ready to start harvest by the end of this week.  I predict about a pound or more a week for some time to come.

Cajun Belle Pepper

Last week I picked 2 pounds of sweet peppers from four of our six plants.  The other two plants are a little slower in maturing their fruit, but should be ready by next weekend.  Since pepper fruits are slow to set and mature, I see these producing about 2 - 3 pounds per month.

I have harvested 3 pounds of the yukon gold potatoes.  This was my first real effort with this type of potato in a garden bed.  I have had previous random success with volunteer potatoes found in the compost pile and enormous success with sweet potatoes.  I think there is another 3 to 6 pounds left to harvest and I have set the date for that as June 1st.

The cucumbers are vining like mad but as yet I have only seen one or two female blooms.  No fruit set, but if the 40 plants of various types start to produce this year I think we will be buried in cucumbers this spring.

Creole Tomatoes

The tomatoes are brewing with multiple fruit set on all the plants, but no ripeness yet.  This year is well behind the past two years in fruit development which I blame on the cool and pleasant spring.  The varieties I am growing this year are - Creole, Homestead, Arkansas Traveler, Grape, Roma and Early Girl.

Butternut Squash

We have butternut squash on the vine, but already I had to dig out a squash vine borer from two of the vines.  If they make it we have at least a dozen butternut squash.  The Tatume squash is growing but no signs of female blooms.  I wish I knew what that volunteer squash needed in terms of conditions to set fruit.  We always get something from it - last year 3 pumpkin sized, but it also is touted as a summer squash if you pick the fruit early.

My technique for squash vine borer removal


  1. Look for a disturbed part of the vine.  It will look like the vine has split in multiple lengths along the vine and the area will look a little pulpy.
  2. Use scissors and cut parallel to the vine from the start of the disturbance to the fresh vine part.  This part of the vine will be hollow since the borer is eating the pulp.
  3. Use your scissors to dispatch the borer.  Sometimes you don't even see the critter, just its nasty guts as you 'unbore' your vine.  Sometimes if the borer is more developed and the vine larger you will be able to pluck the little grub out.  Show no mercy.
  4. Cover the cut part of the vine with sand or compost.
  5. Hope like crazy the vine will recover.


This technique has worked for me in the past if  I got to the plant in time.  This year I was alerted to the threat when I saw one of the very pretty squash vine borers flying around.  Ah - if only I had some amazing speed I could have snatched that beautiful, nasty bug from the air.  "I'll get you my pretty and your little grubs too..."  As you can tell, my years of organic gardening have left me calloused to the plight of the garden pests.

And oh yeah, onions too...

Okay, I think that about covers it - except for the eggplant and okra... and sweet potatoes... and do you want to know about the dill, mint and stevia?  Well, there is always next post.

... and lots of pretty, pretty flowers... 

- back to the dirt pile...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Spring 2013 Line Up



It is that exciting time of year when hope springs eternal because it is spring.  The weather is mild and still cool.  We had a recent series of rain showers.  The mosquitoes have yet to make an appearance.  There could not be a more wonderful and more 'waiting for the shoe to drop' time of year than this.  It is great, but it won't last.

Instead of dwelling on the upcoming horror that is the summer I am keeping my sights on the current moment and reveling in the garden.  This year's garden is the best yet.  I can't wait to introduce you to the starting line up.

If you have been following this blog from last year, you may recall how we spent a lot of time and effort transforming our ceder fence garden from several six foot by six foot beds into three foot by six foot beds.  We also installed a water line down the back of each bed and installed drip hoses into each of ten beds.  Whew!  What an effort, but at least we won't have to redo the beds again since we got them so perfect...

The briefly perfect 2012 garden..

Ha ha!  Oh how naive I was to think that.  No, actually our perfect beds were not so perfect after all and this year we fixed them.  Last year we had each bed surrounded by a back pathway, a front pathway and a pathway in between each bed.  Each of these paths were about 22 inches wide.  Why 22 inches?  Because that was all the room I felt we would need to navigate and quite frankly was all the room I begrudgingly wanted to give up for something 'unnecessary' like a path.  A path... pfft.  You know, the thing you will walk down when your arms are loaded with harvest.  That walkway you will travel countless numbers of times as you attend to the gardens needs.  The thoroughfare that will become so choked with vines and abundant growth you will think malevolent thoughts of vegi-icide just so you can make your way through without tripping for the four billionth time.

Hmmm... I know there was a pathway around her somewhere...

So it turned out that 22 inches was not nearly enough room, especially between the beds and the ceder fence.  Heck, my shoulder width is 22 inches so each walk down that path meant rubbing up against the ceder fence (there was also this remnant of a fence post that was strategically placed in nearly the center of that 22 inch pathway.  A post that we were going to remove but never got around to.  A post that was about thigh high, the exact height which can be measured by the scars of where I rammed into it on at least half a dozen occasions leaving wounds and many more torn pants, torn shirts and narrow misses.  God how I hated that inanimate object by the end of last year...).

The front pathway of last years beds became lost in a vegetable haze of overgrowth from the garden beds met by Bermuda grass from the lawn.  Walking that path meant sliding along the dog fence and hippity hopping over vines, plants and tall weeds.  Some places you would just have to detour up an in-between path to the back path before you could proceed up the front of the garden again.  Definitely a cartoon map of Billy's path from Family Circus if ever drawn out.

This is a fairly accurate image map of a day in the life from my garden last year...

My husband first suggested we widen the ceder fence path.  My first response was 'but, but, nooooooo!' followed by the quick recognition of his wisdom.  We could just take out the useless front path and move the beds forward to butt up against the dog fence.  Not only would this give us a wider back pathway, but also add several inches onto the bed length.  All it meant was digging out the front path, removing soil from the back of the bed and reframing each bed.  Hard, relentless labor?  Sign me up!

It was awful but in a mercifully limited way.  The Bermuda grass covering the front path was tenacious and difficult to get rid of.  There were thick cement blocks, about half a dozen, sunk into the ground and hard to remove.  Along several sections I had created a rock pathway, which was totally overgrown with grass.  Not only did we have to move the dirt from the back of the garden, but also pull up the water system we had so diligently installed last year.

On top of all of this work, we decided that the ceder fence path should be paved.  No more of this unsteady footing, muddy walk and treachery.  We were going to put down plastic to block the weeds and brick in that pathway.  Piece of cake!

What a back breaking cake that was.  But it is done.  Many weeks of labor later it is done, all except cementing in the bricks (check in next year when I lament my decision to cement the path and am chipping through the bricks for some yet unfathomable reason). Last year I calculated that I must have moved a whales weight of dirt and stones in my gardening efforts.  This year I am pretty sure I moved that whale again.

Ah yes.  Moby Dirt.

So we now are living the 2013 Spring Gardening Nirvana.  Here is what is different this year:


The ceder fence pathway:
No longer will we have to lurch through a too small area encountering wayward fence posts and muddy footing.  It is about 3/4 done and just needs some quick set concrete swept into the spaces, a sprinkling of water and viola - our garden super highway.

The back 40:
This was the last untamed land of our garden as it looked in 2012.  Clumps of clay filled gumbo soil, tough roots, resilient weeds, and piles of rock were all that grew here.
What a difference a ton of backbreaking labor can make! 

In addition to several new beds, this area also has strategically placed stepping stones to aid in squash vine navigation...

and a drainage system to keep it from getting boggy.

18 garden beds:
I think we may have finally maxed out our garden bed potential this year.  Although, next year we may find a way to put a bed in some underused corner of our yard - or who knows -  maybe even start gardening on the roof.  

Sand:
We needed some sand to help fill in some low areas of the yard and also use as a soil amendment.  We figured that we needed around 4 yards of sand.  However, upon checking with a local 'sand dealer' we were informed that the only amount of sand we could have delivered was 8 yards.  So after some internet research we found that an 8 yard pile of sand would easily fit in our front yard and we (meaning my husband) would have only about 50 wheel barrow loads to bring around to the back.  Okay - let's get some sand...

Well, about 30 wheel barrow loads served to fill in some low spots and even out most of the back yard.  This made no appreciable dent in the hulking sand pile in our front yard.

90 wheel barrow loads later and there are still about 20 more loads left in the pile in the front yard.  We have this chest high sand berm along the back yard fence, along with the two other piles taking up space in our compost area.  Suffice it to say, the sand company was very, very generous in their delivery quantity and it is likely we will have all the sand we could possibly need for the rest of our lives.

A cooler spring:

Based on the photographic evidence from last year, our cool spring is having a dampening effect on our vegetable crop.  We have not lost any plants due to freezing weather and most lows were in the 40s.  We had several weeks where the temperatures did not rise above 70 degrees.   I could see some minor leaf damage, but overall nothing seemed to be strongly effected.  Then I took a look at my pictures and found some shocking comparisons.  We planted at the same time last year, but by this time in 2012 I had already harvested my first crop of green beans.  This year the first tiny little beans have just set.  Last year the tomatoes were already bigger than my fist, but this year they are about golf ball sized so far.  The butternut squash had a large sized fruit in April 2012.  This year it is yet to start blooming.  The worst effect seems to be on the okra plants.  Leaf size last year at this time was triple the size of the leaves of the 2013 okra.  The little plants look as if they have been in some sort of suspended animation.

The good news is that the plants are all doing very well and I am pretty sure they will catch up as soon as we have warmer night time temperatures.  Don't get me wrong.  I personally have been enjoying the cool weather and it has allowed me to do far more in the garden with far less personal suffering.  It is interesting though how much difference there is in the plant growth.

Coming soon - an in depth look at this years garden participants.

Happy Gardening. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Mystery Squash



It was a vegetable mystery.  It crawled under our fence from some neighbors yard and set up shop in an otherwise desolate area of our garden.  Somehow, despite the heat, despite the lack of rain and despite the hard packed cracked earth, this plant seemed to thrive.

That it was a vine there was no doubt.  It sprawled in abundant viney growth.  Its tri-pointed leaves were dark green with strange lighter almost silver spots.  It had plenty of blooms, but they all seemed to be male blooms without a single fruit to let me know just what it was.


Since it was the hot time of year and since the thing was far away from the part of the garden I was actively gardening in, I mainly ignored it.  I thought about it a little, especially when I first saw its strange silver dotted leaves because I initially worried it had some sort of powdery mildew that could bother my plants.  Closer inspection showed the lighter areas were just the nature of the plant.

Other than noticing it, I pretty much forgot about it.  Fall came and when the heat broke the mystery plant was quite entrenched in our yard.  It seemed to have multiple rooted areas so it did not matter if one part of the vine was cut or crushed.  The other parts being rooted still thrived.  I searched again for any sign of a female bloom.  Just what was it?  A squash?  A melon?  I figured it was something growing outside of its element and the conditions would just not let it reproduce.

Then in late November I found some fruit.  The plant had been growing so vigorously that its leaves hid large patches of where it was growing.  I found three round fruit with dark green and mottled rinds.  They were all different sizes, but the largest was about seven inches across.

It did not look like any squash I had seen before but it also did not look like a melon either.  I could not tell if the fruit was ready to harvest or not.  If it was a squash then was it a winter variety or an overgrown summer squash.  If it was a melon, just how big would it get and how would I know if it was ready to harvest.

I resolved to harvest the next weekend.  That day came and I forgot all about the mystery fruit.  In fact three or four weeks passed and here it was now December.  I went out again and this time harvested the now soccer ball sized fruit.

Melon or squash?  A few days later we cut into it and found out it was a squash.  It was very firm like a winter squash and very tasty as well.

But exactly what was it?  I searched the internet for green round squash and several candidates came forward, such as Eight Ball squash.  However, the description of that squash did not totally match the plant we had.  Still not quite sure what we had, but encouraged by its growth and taste we saved and dried the seeds to plant the next year.


Strangely enough, some parts of the 2012 plant were still growing in the garden as we prepared the bed for our spring 2013 garden.  We maneuvered these plants into a bed and planted seeds as well.  The seeds sprouted with near explosive vigor.  This plant was eager to be a part of our lives.

I just kept referring to it as mystery squash in all my journals, but today the mystery has been solved.

It is the Tatume (Calabacita) squash.  This open pollinated squash hails from Mexico and it is considered both a summer and winter squash.  This means you can harvest it when it is small and the skin thin or you can wait for it to grow into a pumpkin sized hard skinned squash.  It is very hardy and seems to be resistant to squash vine borers.  From our experience it thrives in the heat (although does not seem to produce fruit at that time) and does well with little water.

I am hoping that we will find it to be a robust producer as well as grower.  It is know for its crowding vine habit and each vine can grow ten to twelve feet.  We have placed it well back of our garden to give it plenty of room.

So, mystery solved.  Welcome Tatume to the 2013 garden.  May your vigorous growth make you the squash of my dreams.