Showing posts from 2018

Jenny Lind Melons

In addition to the heirloom tomato seeds we bought in Pennsylvania last spring, we also picked up a packet of melon seeds. Jenny Lind melons are a variety of cantaloupe from the 1800s, and we gave it a try on a whim since it was described as cold-hardy. We always had trouble getting melons to ripen in our relatively short growing season, so this seemed like a reasonably good bet.
We picked the first one at the very end of August:

As you can see, they have a funny shape. The bump on top is not the end that connects to the vine, by the way. 
The inside is also different:

It’s a cantaloupe, but it’s green instead of orange. (This one has already had its seeds scooped out.)
I’m not a huge melon fan — with the notable exception of melons we grow in our garden. These are sooooo sweet and juicy and fragrant that they’re really a totally different thing from the sad melons you get in a restaurant fruit cup or from the grocery store.
This didn’t disappoint! It’s delicious, especially served w…

Both Sides of My Skin — On Sale!

ICYMI: I wrote a book of short stories:

If you haven’t read it yet, now’s your chance! Annorlunda Books is having a 50% off sale at Gumroad, where you can download the ebook for just a couple bucks. 
To do that, you’ll need the coupon code BACKTOSCHOOL to use at checkout. 

Heirloom German Gold Tomatoes

Last spring we spent a week traveling across Pennsylvania, visiting some parts of Amish country. While we were there, we purchased several seed packets of heirloom fruits to try. But since we had already started our seeds for the year, they had to wait until the next growing season.
Fast forward to today, when we finally get to see what a German Gold tomato actually looks like:

These are enormous heirloom tomato from Germany. They are a gold variety with bright red streaks along the sides, making them very colorful (though we picked the first ones way too soon, not realizing that they would redden up). 
The flavor is really good — mild, juicy and well-balanced. And since they’re so big, they’re perfect for stuffing:

This one practically took up my whole salad plate and was filled with chicken salad. It was a perfectly filling meal! I’m also thinking these tomatoes could make a pretty salsa, too, but mostly we’ve just been slicing them for sandwiches and eating on the spot.

Raspberry Lime Rickeys

Our main raspberry harvest is just about over for the summer (though we should get a second flush of our everbearing variety in another month or so), but two weeks ago we were still completely inundated with them. We have gallons of raspberries sitting in the freezer, but I also found another great way to process a bunch of them: raspberry syrup, which is then added to one of the prettiest drinks around:

It’s really easy to make. Just bring a cup of water and a cup of sugar to boil, then add 2 cups of fresh raspberries. 

Bring the mixture back to a boil briefly and then take it off the heat. Let it steep for at least 30 minutes before straining into a pint jar:

The straining process is pretty slow, but it keeps (most) of the seeds out. Raspberries are so delicate that they break down into a nice, thick goop pretty easily.

Once the syrup has cooled, it’s ready to use for mixing some drinks! To make that easier, I highly recommend a flip-top spout lid designed for Mason jars. We also u…

Bunny and Toad

Yesterday while Kirk was mowing the lawn, he accidentally flushed out a couple of creatures who jumped out the way to escape certain doom from the blades of the very loud machine. Kirk turned off the mower and took a peek under the cucumber vines.

It wasn’t one, but two little animals getting out of the way. This baby bunny is very young. Last weekend it was still in its nest, which Kirk partially dug by accident while dealing with a weedy portion of the garden. 
We have seen a couple rabbits in the yard all summer, and they’ve nibbled a few items — notably the beet tops. Mostly, though, they have only been interested in the big patch of clover growing on this year's fallow sections of garden. Since we no longer have an outdoor cat to take care of critters, this is a great way to peacefully coexist. We’ll probably plant a decoy clover section on some portion of the garden every year, especially now that we’re content to do slightly less intensive growing.
Anyway, the nest of babi…

Berry Bounty

Berry season is upon us!

This is, as they say, just the tip of the iceberg. Over the past week we have easily picked 2 gallons of raspberries, and they just keep coming. For reference, those are ceramic pint containers in the photo. So 16 of those. Jonas has been eating about a pint of raspberries a day, and we still have too many.

It’s not just quantity, either. These are the biggest, sweetest raspberries we’ve ever had. Kirk compares it to 2014, but I’ll have to take his word for it since the kids and I were in Costa Rica and missed all of the raspberries that year.

The key seems to be a wet spring followed by lots of sunshine and no drought. Not that we can control that, but we’ll certainly take it when we can get it!

These conditions create a raspberry jungle, though:

Walking in that path will get you scratched even if you’re careful, so picking raspberries is not for the faint of heart. It takes a good two and half hours to get them all because there are so many, and because you…

Turkey Day Spa

We have wild turkeys visit the garden from time to time, but this year is much more interesting:

That’s a pair of females, but they’re not alone! Between them they have 11 little poults that follow them around, just like ducklings imprint on their mothers and travel in a line:

When they saw me, the mothers hopped up on the fence. The poults soon followed:

When the little ones jumped up, they had to work a lot harder to get air, and plenty of dust flew out of their wings. It turns out that our garden is their preferred neighborhood spot for dust baths:

If you look closely, you can see five or six little hollows where the babies were getting a dust bath. The chickens do this too — they wallow in the dirt and spread it over their feathers, working it in like dry shampoo
This turkey group has got things pretty well together now, but about a week ago Kirk and I saw one of the mothers and her half dozen poults crossing the street at the hospital. The little guys were much smaller then an…

Adjusting the Office Garden

We added a small landscaping project to our to-do list this weekend: 

It was incredibly sunny yesterday, so the photo isn’t great. Hopefully you can see that Kirk added a brick edging to delineate the small flower garden in front of my office. Before, it just kind of blended into the utility yard — and that meant that tons of weeds bled over into the flower garden. Now there are no weeds at all, since Kirk took a hoe to the whole area. 

To keep the weeds out of our hair forever, we’re adding some landscaping fabric and will cover the whole area with wood chips. This will make a nice surface for the area in front of the compost bins and chicken coop, and hopefully any new weeds that pop up will be easy to pull.

The new little wall left some space to plant, so I moved the hosta and black cohosh that used to be along the side wall of the office to the front bed. I also added some pink snapdragons to fill in the gaps. 

From another angle, you can’t even see the new plants, because they’r…

Just Because It’s June

May and June are the prettiest — and most aromatic — months in the garden. Here’s a taste of what’s busting out all over this month:

Alyssum, miniature petunias, cosmos, pansies, and sweet potato vine.

Coleus, miniature petunias, impatiens, and heucherella. 

Peonies, snow in summer, veronica, and Siberian iris.


2018 Master Plan: The Driveway Quadrant

The plan for the final quadrant isn’t very interesting this year:

This entire section will be left fallow. That’s not really about crop rotation so much as it is about making repairs to many of the raised beds in this section of the garden. These were built back in 2011, and after seven years of service, parts are rotting or have warped and come apart where they were screwed together. For example:

To make fixing them easier, we aren’t planting anything here and instead will be able to move all the dirt we need to get at the joints to patch them up. 
Once that’s taken care of (probably in June, after all the planting is complete), we’ll sow cover crop of clover to add nitrogen and generally keep the beds looking nicer for the rest of the season. Next year we’ll choose a different quadrant to repair, thus working our way around the garden until it’s all back in fighting form.

2018 Master Plan: The Workshop Quadrant

Last weekend was a fairly big planting time for us, and just about all of it happened in the central "C" of the workshop quadrant:

In this central bed we have Swiss chard, early and late carrots, cilantro, mesclun lettuce, head lettuce and spinach. Most of this bed is really only in partial sun once a nearby maple tree leafs out, but that usually works for leafy salad greens to keep them from bolting in the heat. I also used some onion sets as dividers between these plantings to mark the rows.
Across the top of this quadrant are still perennial grapes and herbs. The right side and bottom are largely empty. We have a few repairs to do in these sections, and after that we’ll plant a cover crop of clover to give these beds a rest for the season. That leaves the left side, which is a much-reduced tomato section. Because the area is so much smaller, we’re not planning to do much tomato canning this year, but we should have enough for plenty of fresh eating and frozen salsa.

Happy Harvest

Though the loss of the bees was very sad, not everything about this winter was a disaster. For example, we had a large bed of winter carrots that happily spent the season underground. In this case, the warm February weather brought on an early thaw and allowed us to access them throughout the spring.
But as we were about to revamp their bed for a new planting of cabbages by April, it was time to dig the rest of them up: 

Carrots that are harvested after enduring freezing temperatures are very sweet, so these are delicious roasted plain or diced into soups. At this point they are purely cooking carrots, though, as their crunch is long gone thanks to the weird free/thaw cycles this year.
So we had a mini carrot festival this month, enjoying them in all kinds of dishes. Ginger Carrot Soup was a favorite:

To make it, Kirk sweated some leeks (another vegetable that we overwintered underground) in butter and added rough-cut carrot chunks to the soup pot, along with slices of fresh ginger a…

Sad Harvest

When we last looked in on the bees in February, they were doing well. The hive that had swarmed had made it through the winter, and the bees were foraging for pollen during the unusually warm February weather. We even saw the queen when we took a peek, and they had honey stores left. To be safe, we gave them a few extra combs from the hive that had died off over the winter. We figured they had only to get through a few more weeks.

And then March happened.

Temperatures plummeted, and the whole month was far colder than usual — as if February and March had switched places. We went from a high of 76 on February 21 to a low of only 12 on March 18, and it struggled to get above 40 for most the March. The average temperature for the month was 35 degrees.

That was too much cold coming on too fast for the bees to reorganize after they had broken cluster to forage on the warm days during the last two weeks of February. Bees huddle together and beat their wings to produce enough heat to stay a…

2018 Master Plan: The Swingset Quadrant

Continuing around the garden to the swingset quadrant, we have our planting plan for the 2018 season:

On the left, as always, is the asparagus. It’s not nearly as productive as it once was, so this spring we will try renovating it by resetting the crowns lower in the earth and adding some lime to counteract the soil acidity from a nearby evergreen tree. 
Across the top are perennial grapes and herbs — nothing to see there. 
Along the right side is space for Jenny Lind melons, which is a new variety of small, green fleshed melons. This is an heirloom variety popular among the Pennsylvania Dutch, and we got the seeds on a trip to the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum last spring. There’s also a potato patch.
Along the bottom is a very small length of trellised cucumbers, which will be for slicing. We have tons of pickles from last summer, so we won’t be planting any pickling cukes at all. There’s also an assortment of dill, arugula, beets and cauliflower. 
If you’re thinking that t…

2018 Master Plan: The Patio Quadrant

We made our garden plan back in February, but I forgot to document it. I was reminded of this when we pulled out the plan to actually start planting. It hasn’t been warm — it’s snowing as I write this — but the ground has thawed and we can get started with our hardiest cool-weather plants.

The leeks we ordered came in the mail, so we had to get them in the ground. We bought transplants instead of doing them from seed this year, and they are about as big around as a pencil — much bigger than the tiny strings we’ve managed to get starting them on our own. These are much easier to work with, and I’m certain they’ll have a better survival rate than our tiny seedlings, so this looks to be a good investment. Behind the cold frame you can see a few of last year’s leeks — these are the stragglers we haven’t harvested yet.
Usually when we plant in March, we’re out of luck when it comes to compost. That’s because the City Yard doesn’t open until April and our pile is usually frozen. Not this y…

Repotting Seeds

In theory, we should be planting peas and onions next weekend, but this is the state of things in the garden today:

A series of four nor’easters and below-average temps have set us behind schedule for planting. I imagine the snow will be gone by next weekend, but I’m not sure if the soil will be ready to work or if it will be too frozen or too wet or too something else. 
I’m not feeling in much of a rush this year since it’s been so miserable outside this month. The local weather reporters have taken to saying that March is the new February, and they’re right. Since we appear to have some additional time on our hands, I transplanted our broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower seedlings into peat pots:

It should be noted that these seedlings look great this year. I attribute this to more diligent use of our lamp to make sure they were getting enough light on all those cloudy, stormy days:

The brassica is scheduled to be transplanted into the garden in two weeks, but this seems unlikely — mo…

It’s Spring Somewhere

We’ve been socked with three nor'easters in two weeks, all of which resulted in snow that canceled school. We also lost power for a couple days, which is not at all fun in the middle of winter. 
So I was very happy to ditch the crummy weather and head south to North Carolina for the weekend. They’re a good six to eight weeks ahead of us when it comes to the ground warming, so my trip to Reynolda Gardens in Winston-Salem was a hint of what is eventually to come this spring. Enjoy!

It was nice to be reminded of green grass, pansies and daffodils, but I did have to return to an additional 18 inches of snow at the end of my trip. Sigh. 
Did I mention there’s a possibility of another nor’easter next week? March is the new February, it seems.