Tag Archives: gardening

2013 garden inventory

 

 

[warning: picture-heavy post]

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

I am trying, so very hard, to make a garden worthy of the colonies. I have dreams of bean pole tents and sunflower arbors, a bench here or there, and children merrily carrying watering cans through the straw-covered paths.

Too bad I kill 50% of what I plant, am terrified of tomato worms, and forget to weed.

But I try. I’m going to try. This year will be better. I’m turning over a new leaf.

Look! I managed to get fencing up on all four sides, though the fence mocks me. It does. It it neither straight nor plumb, but it keeps the chickens out. ALSO, I did it without the help of Curtis James (and it shows, you say). It saved him a day of measuring and making things perfect. Right now, it works, and that’s all I need.

layout 1

One third of the garden is still grass… that far right strip. The strawberry patch will move in there after this year. And that back right post surely is crooked. Wow. But, easily fixed. You can’t see the entrance… did you know it’s hard to take a wide, sweeping photo of fence and dirt? It is. But you enter on the bottom left of the photograph- right before that black tire. It’s an angled entrance. Fancy, I know.

tomatoes

It’s a big year for tomatoeshere at TexasNorth– 12 plants. We are out of salsa, tomato sauce, and crushed tomatoes. There are also 8 plants of cherry/grape tomatoes. Because I cannot help myself. They are so rewarding to grow. Did I mention Curt hates tomatoes? Expect some on your doorstep.

peppers

Bell peppers (both green and orange) and some poblano peppers for salsa. Peppers hate me in the garden, so we’ll just see how this plays out. I am determined to win this fight. Rylie loves peppers.

onionskale

Onions and kale. We’ve never eaten kale before, so that’ll be… awesome. Also, never stored onions before… advice welcome.

bird collage

The SouthEast fence post has a birdhouse on it, and it was quickly inhabited this year by a mamma Chickadee and her eggs. They hatched 2 weeks ago and are doing well.

berries

My berry bushes line the Western border, outside the fence. There are blackberries, yellow raspberries, strawberries, and one lone surviving blueberry plant. The strawberry hill will be moved inside the fence after this harvest, leaving only the bushes on the outside. This will be a big strawberry year for TexasNorth, too, though I doubt my own personal crop will help much. The freezer is completely out of jam and we all know Gus Man can’t eat a sandwich without JULLY.

beansbroccoli

Alright. We’ve got broccoli (which has never worked for me), and a green bean tent (which I’ve never managed to pick and freeze in time). Worst-case: a play-area for the kids. Best case: a freezer full of green beans. Which reminds me: do you freeze your green beans or can them? 

basilcilantropotato

That’s sweet basil on top, potatoes on the bottom, and cilantro on the right. I’ve never grown cilantro or potatoes before… big learning curve here. When to trim? When to cover? When to pick? How to store? No idea.

Not planted yet: cucumbers, butternut squash, and yellow squash. All of the above was planted last Saturday and I just could not dig another hole to get them in. My legs STILL hurt. Abby is STILL covered in chicken coop shavings. It’s embarrassing. But, I’m purty darn proud of the results. It’s a great garden. Surely I’ll get at least one tomato out of there. The plants cost me $50 total. Not a bad investment at all, I say.

So, uh, wanna come help me weed?  

I’ve got lemonade 🙂

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mary mary quite contrary


Let’s jump right in.

It was our first time for growing sunflowers… success and super fun to watch them open and follow the sun during the day.  We’ll do this again next year and maybe try to make a fort out of it.  The beans and peas never got planted.  I think a fort is in order for those next year, as well.  Maybe a la SouleMamma’s metal arbor?  I planted green peppers… again.  I do this every year and every year they laugh at me.  From now on, no more green peppers.  Just get those at the farmer’s market, Kate. #remindme

I bought some extra blueberry  and raspberry bushes on clearance and tried to plant those last night.  Better judgement would have reminded me that I had 3 children, no husband, a serious head cold, and ground as solid as cement, but we went for it.  Every one came in soaked, as you can imagine.  We’re soaking the ground to let me dig a few more inches tomorrow.  OR, we’ll wait until Dad and his muscles are able to get home before dusk.

The blueberry bushes are forcing the June-bearing strawberries to be relocated.  There was no jam this year, so we will be forced to eek out what we can from last year’s bounty.  We surely won’t make it through the year, but we’ll have a fighting start.  I haven’t bought store jam in 3 years, and I don’t think we could go back!  I need to brush up on transplanting.  Moving the strawberries and adding the blueberry bushes will create a hedge of blackberries, then blueberries, then yellow raspberries along the West garden fence.  I need to draw you a map.

(That’s Ry watering, Gus waving, and the bull out back… watching.  He stood there for a good 30 minutes taking in all in.  We’re a show, People.  We are our own show.)

The strawberries will be relocated into a permanent, more protected area within a fenced garden (hence the poles and holes everywhere).  A fence will let the chickens roam without eating all my squash and tomatoes and it’ll keep the bunnies at bay. #fingerscrossed

I planted blackberries and red raspberries last year.  We lost all the raspberry bushes (I believe they met their fate with a weed whipper, but that has been denied) but the black berries have flourished.  They were so. good.  And HUGE!  And, overnight, they’re done.  I’m learning as I go.  Tomorrow, I’ll cut all the canes down that gave us berries this year to let the new canes grow.

The corn died a terrible death… not sure what happened, exactly, but we planted 10 rows and had 4 stalks grow.  SO, that half of the garden was tilled under earlier this summer.  It’s now a dust patch for the chickens, who applauded the change.

I planted 2 butternut squash plants and they are taking over the garden.  We should be set for years.   The onions are in there under the squash vines and are doing just fine.  I need to brush up on winter storage methods.

The tomatoes- all 16 pants, some cherry, some roma, some heritage- are enormous.  I fought the tomato worms this year and won, and now the plants are so big they are snapping their stakes in half.  I should have pruned a bit harder at the start, but, well, I didn’t.  So there.  The fruit will be medium-sized instead of gi-normous, and that’s just fine.  I did plant basil plants in-between each tomato plant because I’d heard it helps ward off the caterpillars, but it was a no-go for me.  The basil is doing just fine, though, so I see some frozen pesto in our future.

2012 expected harvest: tomatoes, sunflowers, butternut squash, 3 different onions I can’t remember now, blackberries, sweet basil, and a handful of strawberries we ate before they made it inside.

More photos HERE!

How does your garden grow?


compost and other dirty words

I give you all permission to make the changes to your homes that you dreamed about on Thursday.  Send me pictures, ok?

I love April because I’m not behind on anything yet.  According to this schedule, I’m completely fine!  But in another month, I’ll still be looking for plants… putting up garden fence… hauling compost.  Late to the party.  I need more kids to help out around here. Make a note: have more children.

Now, your kitchen scraps, plant leaves, paper, and other organic trash has a better home than the landfill: in the compost.  You may think composting is something only manageable in the boonies, but YOU’RE WRONG.  And, I mean that in the nicest way possible.  Saturday, The Franklin Farm was host to its 2nd annual “Till -n- Turd.” Smack-dab in the center of G-Rap!  Basically, Holly convinces a bunch of people that they should come over and spread cow poop all over their yard. It’s awesome.

From Holly:  My husband and I have a “cow share” so that we can have raw milk. Basically, we own a portion of a cow and therefore have legal rights to its “by-products”  of raw milk and… manure.  Our farmer composts the manure until it’s just about the best organic fertilizer ever, and we get to pick up a truckload of it for our use.  We drive back from the countryside, through the center of the city to our little homestead with a truckload of poop. It gets spread by the bucketful throughout our yard, then tilled into the garden beds.

We’ve got three trash bins in our kitchen:

  • Reuse: That’s the compost, getting turned into soil for “reuse.”
  • Recycle: The (free) city recycling program. That is, by far, the largest bin.
  • Reduce: The regular trash goes into the smallest of the three bins, thanks to the other two.

Because of our recycling and composting and intentional shopping, it takes 2 or 3 weeks to fill a city garbage bag, even with a newborn in disposable diapers. I’d like to say it’s because we care so much about the earth, but honestly what kept us doing the separating in the beginning was the saved money and the bragging rights that our garbage had been cut down to 1/4 of what it was before was started composting and recycling. Now it’s just so normal we don’t even need motivation: it’s just the way life is.

The garden, meanwhile, is still smelling like …ahem… the country today. I know it will pay off this summer when our produce just seems to produce much more than other friends in the city with gardens. Thanks to a day of spreading composted manure around our yard, and a few days of noticing that smell, our tomatoes will be weighed down with fruit, our watermelon will produce well over a dozen fruits per plant, and the whole yard in general will be “going to town,” as they say.

Do you have a recycling and/or compost system?

At TexasNorth, we have LOTS of animal by-product.  Awesome.  You are welcome to it ANY TIME.  I’m not kidding.  I very much want a compost tumbler (like this one) that will sit neatly off the back porch and make beautiful potting dirt, but another person I live with thinks I’m crazy with a k.  That’s fine.  That’s just FINE.  Right now, the table scraps that don’t go to the barn cats or chickens go in a horribly un-cute 5-gallon bucket on the back porch.  Eventually, this bucket makes it out to the big bi-product piles and mixes in.

The unsightly bucket sits next to some very chic 30-gallon metal trash cans.  One holds aluminum and plastic soda pop cans and the other holds metal and plastic I take to the Rockford transfer station once a month. The black signs are just scrap wood painted with chalkboard paint.  The bins are large enough that I’m not changing bags every week and can handle a party or two before overflowing.

Gardening daunting to me.  I’m terrible at it.  But, help abounds.  The web is full of fun people and places that can help you grow one or 40 plants in an apartment, a 40-acre farm, or anywhere in-between.

  • My favorite gardening supplier is HERE.  I want one of everything in their catalog.  They makes me feel like I can grow broccoli, which is not true and has been proven many times… but they make me feel that way and I like them.
  • This is a great website to help you in your garden.
  • Triscuit has a super fun new website that will help you plant your own garden and talk to other folks… plus the design is cute cute cute.
  • Here’s a great site to find out more about heirloom seeds.
  • Local Harvest will help you find the closest garden to you that sells shares of their product… all you have to do is pay once a season and pick up the goods!  They also have a seed section.

So, dig in.  Get your hands dirty, plant some tomatoes on your porch if nothing else, and reap the harvest of the season.  It feels amazing, and tastes even better.


urban gardens, continued

Holly and her husband, Masi (tall, dark, handsome, and European) own The Franklin Farm here in Grand Rapids. They’re also passionate about intentional living- community, conversation, co-creating.  Gardening is making a huge comeback in popularity- especially in the cities- as people realize they both want and need more personal control over their food.  But, gardening within city concrete can be hard.  I asked Holly a few questions about the community garden at The Franklin Farm, and she obliged.  Here’s part 2 of Urban Gardening (part 1 can be read HERE).

I shall entice you with a photo from the front-yard garden first:

Front yard:  in the front yard, we get a little more decorative (though still edible) with our plants. We trail scarlet runner beans up the front of the porches, and plant yellow orange and red nasturtiums all over. Hiding within that are winter squash..with their giant yellow blooms. By mid-july it’s the most lush cacophony of colors on the block.

Best thing about growing produce in the city?

The best thing about growing produce Anywhere is being able to walk out your kitchen door and get still-warm tomatoes, fresh herbs, and some greens and have an instant gorgeous dinner. The great thing about doing it so completely in the city is that you challenge your neighbors and friends to rethink how they utilize the land they have around them. We’ve noticed several neighbors planting flowers since we started, in yards that were previously neglected completely. Because of our shared interest in growing things, we can also have conversations with our neighbors-about things other than the weather!

Hardest thing about gardening in the city?

I know for some people it can be finding good soil and enough sun. Thankfully, we have a cow share for raw milk …and any other animal by-products are thus part of our ownership as well.  That takes care of the poor soil problem! I distinctly remember while house shopping making sure that the back yard, at least, would not be shady. That was on our list of needs for our home.

Do you fertilize or plant and pray?

We don’t do anything chemical, but we don’t just plant and pray either. We fertilize with organic cow manure, tilling in at the beginning of the year (and apologizing to the neighbors for the odd smell for a couple days). That seems to be plenty! Then we bring in beneficial bugs like ladybugs and praying mantis to ward off other bugs. We also ring all our beds with a small row of either garlic or onion-those smells do a good job of keeping predators out. (Please visulalize Katie taking notes here.)

I love the idea of a communuty garden and shared-work.  How do you divy up the communal bounty between share-holders of the garden?

We have four households in our community, and everyone wants to be a part of the garden! But those households have different limitations of time, so we have a system to make sure everyone kind of gets what they give.  We just keep a rough estimate going (so rough: like “a lot, somewhat, not much at all” kinds of estimates), and the more you put in to the garden, the more you get back. So if one household doesn’t end up doing much in the garden, they don’t get much of the “haul.” Basically, everyone can step out back to get things for dinner as needed/wanted and then the excess gets divided up according to those estimates. So our onion crop last year, for example, produced about 350 onions.  Some of us got a bucketful, some of us got a small bag. And everyone felt like they were getting more than they had put in the work to deserve. 
 
Best books for learning about gardening?

I’ve really enjoyed the books Food not Lawns and Grow Great Grub.  Those are specifically for the city environment, and have some basics and some fun projects.  

Are you and Masi equally yoked in the garden or does one person handle most of the dirty work?

Massi loves nurturing, so he’s the one who is constantly out there checking on everything, making sure everything is watered. He’s the constant caretaker. I, on the other hand, go gangbusters in the spring, setting everything up and organizing, then I slow down for a few months, then I go gangbusters again, harvesting and cooking and preserving and putting up for the winter. So over the year, we’re pretty equal. And we both get to focus on the part that we enjoy!  The dirty work, for us, is the weeding. It’s very satisfying once you get started, but it’s too easy to put off.

From Holly:  We will, in fact, be letting people know about events and things happening at The Franklin Farm (in the garden or otherwise) on our facebook page. Also, I’m not opposed at all to having people come and visit, maybe get some practice in if they’d like to get some “project based learning.” But seriously: they can come try it out, see how it’s done, get a feel for what it’s like for your backyard to become a farm. As it turns out, it’s not all that odd and pretty gorgeous. It’s a great way to get “out of the city” without leaving the city.

From KatieKate:  I’ve got one more post up my sleeve involving compost & manure in the city, buying plants, building raised beds, and all that jazz next Monday.  Until then, you can find Holly HERE, HERE, and HERE

Onions curing:  this is our dining table, full of about 400 onions-they had to be harvested, but it was forecasted to be a rainy week. so instead of curing them outside, our home smelled like onions and dirt for a week straight.  I’m not gonna lie, I loved it.


get’cher garden on

Folks, Pat’s family will be walking in the Ft. Worth Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.  If you’d like to support them, tax-deductible donations can be sent online HEREAn update from our Mrs. Pat can be read HERE.  

It’s planting time.

I’d like to introduce you to a dear friend of mine… though, we’ve never sat down for hot chocolate together… Holly.  Holly and her husband, Masi (tall, dark, handsome, and European) own The Franklin Farm here in Grand Rapids. They’re also passionate about intentional living- community, conversation, co-creating.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Gardening is making a huge comeback in popularity- especially in the cities- as people realize they both want and need more personal control over their food.  But, gardening within city concrete can be hard.  I asked if Holly would answer a few questions about the community garden at The Franklin Farm, and she obliged.  Here’s part 1 of Urban Gardening.

What is your whole name and the story behind it?

My full name is Holly Len Bechiri. My mom thought Holly was really original, and was pretty upset when a couple years after I was born, the “Holly Hobbie” doll came out. Suddenly other moms were discovering my name and she wasn’t as unique any more. It’s no surprise I’m not afraid of creativity. My middle name is after my father, Leonard, who goes by “Len.”

Do you remember your first garden?

I remember my mom having a vegetable garden in a part of our yard, rhubarb in a patch along the street, and strawberries in a patch out our back door. I distinctly remember running through and picking food from each of those places to munch on while i was running around outside playing.  My mother, however, remembers my unwillingness to Work in the garden-so she’s quite surprised at us turning our yard into garden space now.

How many years have you been gardening at the Franklin Farm?

This will be our 3rd year gardening. The first season we owned the houses, we just kind of watched where and how things grew, the amount of sunlight that surrounding trees blocked, and so on. Well, that and we were fixing up old, neglected houses pretty much full time.

What are your go-to crops? The no-fails?

I used to think lettuce was a go-to first crop. Then last year, we planted seeds 4 times before we got germination for some of them. (from Katie: Um, agreed.  I cannot grow lettuce. Walter Tango.)  I have no idea what was going on there, but it did seem to be a strange year weather-wise for a lot of crops. I honestly think most things aren’t as hard as newcomers assume, but tomatoes are great because they’re pretty hardy and let’s face it, So Rewarding. herbs are wonderful and really add a lot to your meals (and are so expensive to buy at the store!). I’d say whatever you really just love finding at the farmer’s market, that’s what you should grow.  Go for the most pleasure-giving plants you can think of.  Let’s face it, starting a garden is not also the time we should be bound and determined to start eating those weird vegetables we hate the smell of when we’re eating them. If you don’t want to eat them, why would you have any desire to spend the time to grow them? Stick with what you know you’ll love eating. Then grow from there.

The other thing I tell first-timers is that you don’t have to mess with seeds. You can start with little plants, and honestly in this part of the country, that can increase your crop yield significantly before the snow starts flying again. Some things are easy from seed though, and I wouldn’t bother buying the plants of the following: greens/lettuces, peas, and beans. I also will often plant basil plants and also basil seeds… but I may be a little obsessed with basil. Tomatoes, I recommend getting small plants, a couple medium plants, and then treat yourself to one already-large plant. Who wants to wait til August for a tomato! That one big one will keep you working and taking care of the smaller ones, knowing that you’ll be rewarded so much sooner.

Holly will be back with Part II next Monday.  Until then, you can find Holly HERE, HERE, and HERE

Y’all garden.  Speak up!  What always works in your garden?  What’s fun for kiddos?  Any hidden tricks up your sleeve?


maize

Our abbreviated garden is finished with its sweet corn crop for the year.  This family loves corn.  I do not like frozen corn, though.  Too mushy?  I dunno… something about it.  This year I’m freezing it in glass jars and see if that changes the texture (as opposed to being in plastic baggies).  If it’s no good, then next year I’ll do the full-on liquid canning.  The smaller jars work great for our individual meals and are easier for me to measure in recipes and schtuff… so glass it is.

Preserving food is really, really easy, Folks.  The issue is TIME.  It takes a little commitment.  None of this farming stuff is hard.  But it does take time, effort, and repetition that we are simply unaccustomed to these days.  Why spend 2 hours shucking corn for 10 measly jars when I can buy a can for 72 cents?  It’s certainly not time-efficient. If you look at it from that standpoint, canning and preserving is absolutely not worth it.

What used to be necessity and good planning is now a test in patience and frugality.  You can buy anything you want at any time of the year… there is simply no need to can or preserve anymore.  Our culture has traded more time for a loss in personal effort into your own food, personal input into your own food, and company.  Canning (and quilting and harvesting and branding and planting… and all that ol’ time stuff, really) was a time when people worked together.  The chore falls quickly to the background as conversation starts and stories are told and laughter or debates begin.  Now that we are so efficient with our time, we sit in front of computers to make up for the lost company. It’s a strange trade-off.  But, we are all victims of progress in one way or another. 

Here’s the simple process: gather, clean, cook, and pack.

Curt and Rylie pick all the corn and throw it in a wheelbarrow.  The next morning, Ry and I shuck and clean all the ears.  Now, remember our garden is a wasteland this year… no fertilizer, no weeding, no nothin’.  Not every ear of corn was worth canning, but that’s ok.  Not every good ear was trimmed of every single kernel, either.  Our chickens were happy to handle the leftovers.

I started a big pot of water and waited for it to boil.  I added salt and butter… just a little.  Then, about 10 ears of corn at a time.  We’re blanching here- boiling for a short amount of time to stop the growing enzymes inside the vegetable.  You boil for, um, 5 minutes?  Big shoulder shrug here… I waited until the corn was bright yellow and then took it out.  You’re supposed to plunge it in ice water then to completely halt the cooking progress, but I was unprepared and out of space.  I boiled for less time and let it cook a little more while cooling down.  Don’t tell your gramma.  I’m a rebel.

Ok, the corn boils for about 5 minutes and cools down.  Cut the corn off the cob.  Put that corn in your jars.  Put the lid on and shake like mad to help pack it down a bit, and then add a little more corn on top. Repeat everything until all your corn is gone or all your jars are full or you are about to die of heat stroke.  Put all your jars in the freezer.  Take all the leftovers out to the animals.

[You can see my work station above: stock pot full of boiling water, roasting pan of uncooked corn waiting to go in, tray of blanched corn ready to be trimmed off the cob, jars at the back for filling, coke for breaks while waiting for corn to blanch, waste bucket for trimmed cobs.]

For foods that will go straight in the freezer, I use the plastic screw-top lids.  They’re awesome. 

2010 sweet corn yield • 8 pints, 6 12oz. (corn from our garden; cost $0)

I’m keeping track of the grocery items we’re replacing over in the the right column.  So far, we’ve got corn, strawberry jam, and pickles.  Lots more to go!


join us

My life is a jumble of countless ridiculous minutes which add up to hours which add up to days which lead us to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Then I do it again.

The 3 of us are in the potty again… we’re 100% on the #1 issue.  Public bathrooms, no problem.  Big potties, little potties, no problem.  But going #2?  It is a mere concept.  Like planning ahead for dinner.  Like knowing you CAN have good posture but chose every day NOT to have good posture.  Like people who give up carbs.  I cannot fathom.

Come on in.  We’re in the loo.

[Portrait is a challenge to take one photo of yourself each week for a year :: play along!]

When it’s 91° outside not accounting for the 100% humidity, I like to steam out our kitchen by throwing on a stockpot of boiling vinegar and salt.  Pickles, anyone?  You’ll have to wait until October 1st.  The hardest part about these babies is waiting the 2 months for them to soak up the brine and taste like, well, pickles.  But, I’ll save you a jar. The Boy favors the bread and butter variety… which I did not know before we married or I would have scheduled an extra pre-marital counseling session.  I’m all for dill.  Heavy dill and garlic

*sigh*  We are completely different people.

I am trying to be a better farmer and consumer by canning or freezing a few more items I would normally buy at the big grocery store.  Strawberry jam, frozen local blueberries, pickles… that’s where I stand so far.  Soon I’ll add green beans, summer squash, and sweet corn to that list.  That makes 6 items grown by me or my immediate neighbors and processed by me instead of a factory and workers far, far away.  My goal for this year is to replace 10 items in my kitchen with home•grown / home•processed / home•made ingrdients.  Can I count our eggs?  I think so.  So, 7.  What else? Our meat!  Vension and beef will be home•grown this year.  I should not have to buy beef at the store in 2011.  So, 8 items. 

It’s not as hard as it seems to get back to basic, simple food.   

Oh my word, I forgot tomatoes.  Our wild garden will produce tomatoes soon.  So, spaghetti sauce and a few cans of diced tomatoes can be replaced.  If that counts as 2 grocery items, I’m already there without breaking a sweat.  Let’s go for 15.

What else could I replace?