This week has been full of last harvests and first blooms.
The garden continues to grow, in both the size and number of plants. Last Sunday we worked in the garden all afternoon, and I have the sunburn on the back of my neck to prove it.
Aside from weeding, we trellised the tomatoes and the cucumbers.
We haven’t tried to get rid of the clover that’s between the beds, we do mow it and attempt to keep it from creeping into the beds, which it really wants to do, and with all the compost we added to the soil, I don’t blame it. This clover is awash with bees. The buzz along side us as we work, and it’s so much fun to see them. It’s no secret that I want my own hive(s) at some point, but with my small yard and, you know, the fact that we don’t own this house. I don’t fancy asking the landlord about bringing hundreds of bees onto the property when he was very skeptical of our one, very tidy cat.
After finally preparing the good ole Earth Boxes we used at the apartment, I go the pepper seedlings in. We have three sweet and three spicy planted. We grew one pepper plant last year, but because of all the moving, we never harvested any of the peppers. They were spicy edibles, but we mostly ended up using it as an ornamental plant, so these plants will yield our first pepper harvest. It’s hard to make out in the photo, but somehow, one of our seedlings got fertilized while it was sitting in the dining room window, waiting for us to get our act together (this isn’t that much of a shock, we live the door open most of the weekend to allow the cat to come and go, so a bee or two sneaking in isn’t that surprising.) We should have our first ripe cayenne pepper soon!
One of the advantages of continuing to use our Earth Boxes, is that setting them up in line with the current garden rows starts setting up a new row for next year.
The boxes are very effective at killing the grass.
This is a zucchini plant. It’s hard to tell, really, because what I suspect must be a little rabbit friend, keeps eating it down to the barest stems, letting it grow a couple of feeble leaves, and then eating it down again. There is evidence of some other bunny grazing throughout the garden, but this seems to be its favorite plant. It’s still coming back though, hardy little plant.
For now, we aren’t doing much about the rabbit. It seems to prefer the one plant, and really, putting up a second fence (the whole yard is fenced) around the whole garden seems a bit extreme just yet. We’ll see how the season progresses.
Perhaps the most exciting news of all, is that we visited the local garden store today and brought home a blackberry bush!
My grandparents always raised blackberries. We used to go over to their house and pick blackberries in the summer. My grandmother made blackberry jelly for us every year and the most amazing blackberry cobbler…it’s still one of my favorite desserts. Blackberries are part of my fondest childhood memories, and I’ve always wanted to grow my own.
My sketches of possible garden plans last fall when we first signed the lease for this house included blackberry bushes all along the southern fence line. (There is room for five or six bushes.) I knew then that blackberry bushes like I bought today ran about $25-$35 each, so five or six bushes in one year was completely unrealistic unless that’s all I was planting. We came away with one today, but I plan on adding at least one more next year. I look forward to picking blackberries with my sons, and making them jellies and cobblers to remember as they grow older.
This week’s harvest saw the first of our decent-sized carrots and the last of the turnips. I still have a few beets in the ground, but I’m pulling them today so we can mow over the bed and replant it with pumpkins for the fall harvest.
Like most folks around here, we got a late start on our summer garden this year. Because of late cold weather and the impending threat of hail everyday for two weeks in May, we didn’t plant until Memorial Day. (Usually I shoot for Mother’s day at the latest.) So this year’s garden is a little smaller than it usually is by this time.
The other thing that’s different about this year, is that we have Minerva, who has been attempting to escape from our second floor balcony ever since it got warm enough to go outside. Minerva loves to be out on the balcony. It is her own little jungle, and we have done our best to make this year’s garden a safe and friendly place for the cat to be.
First step was to create barriers so she could not actually jump off the railing. Here, we collected glass jugs filled with water so she couldn’t jump up on this side. This also doubles as a way to warm the water we give the plants with sunlight.
Next was to further secure our usual trellis. Instead of tying it to the inside of railing, this year it is tied to the outside so Minerva can sit on the railing securely without the possibility of losing her balance. (She has grown more graceful in the last few months, but she is still a kitten, and sometime pretty clumsy.) You can see the old scrap wood Brock reinforced the trellis with and the scrap yarn used to block the holes at the railing, because she can fit through the trellis there. Of course, we also gave her a high seat for bird and people watching.
Until yesterday, we had a clutch of baby birds living in this spider plant. She was very keen to catch them, and catch them she did. Two out of four got away safely, one we got away from her before she was able to do any damage, but she did get one before we realized they were leaving the nest, and the poor thing didn’t make it. She was also very upset when we took it away from her.
They are wearing little cup braces until the get rooted enough that Minerva can’t overturn them when she stalks through that container. Last year, we only got one cucumber before the heat shriveled up our vine. This year, I planted six plants in the hope that we get at least six cucumbers.
The potatoes, which are next to the shelf, have not been so lucky. The potato bag has been a favorite place to bird watch, and I’m fairly certainly Minerva could care less about trampling potatoes. (I also planted them very late, so I didn’t expect much from them, but thought I might as well give it a shot since I had them.)
Next to the shelf, on the garden table, we have our paste tomato plant on the right and our Japanese eggplant on the left. Last year we had great luck with eggplant, so I put it in exactly the same place this year. (Some spider plant starts are in the pot. We’ve got a ton if anybody wants any.)
While I only have this horrendous picture of it, I am trying my luck with a pepper plant this year. I have never done peppers before. This is a tobasco pepper, and I’m hoping to make my own version of tobasco sauce at the end of the season.
Two more tomato plants. Brandywine on the left and Mortgage Lifters on the right. For awhile, I didn’t think the Mortgage Lifter was going to make it, but in the last few days, it has taken off so quickly I can’t seem to keep up with pruning the bottom branches. You can also see our basil in the little terracotta pot. I harvested a bunch last night for the pasta I made, so it looks a bit wimpy this morning.
The balcony garden is officially started. Not everything is planted yet, nor do we even have all of our seeds or seedlings, but we got the balcony fully de-winterized this weekend and a bunch of stuff planted. It’s only a matter of time before we are resting cool behind our food-bearing wall-o-green ™.
First, the peas I planted a few weeks have finally started to come up. I swear they have grown three inches since Saturday. (You’ll also notice that we are using Hefty bags instead of Earthbox approved mulch covers. As much as I love my Earthboxes, I am not paying $15 a mulch cover for every planting when a garbage bag and duct tape serves the same purpose. We used this method last year as well.)
Our herbs so far are basil, mint (for Athrun), and sage. Has anyone ever had luck with oregano? It has never grown enough for me to do much with. What are your favorite herbs to grow?
It’s time (or perhaps a little past time) to start putting the summer garden together. The photo above shows just about the entire extent of my gardening abilities. We have three Earth Boxes two potato planters and a few pots for herbs. Last year we had a modest new potato crop, two good tomato plants, an eggplant a day, plenty of fresh herbs and one super giant zucchini.
I have tried and failed for the last two years to grow spinach and peas. Is that going to stop me from attempting them this year? No way! I realize though, that if I am going to grow them, I need to get a move on. I haven’t even started cleaning the balcony up from winter yet. That’s first on the agenda. Then tracking down fertilizer and dolomite for the earth boxes.
The balcony garden is not the only thing I am doing this year. During the summer, I will be tending a Sunflower garden out at my Dad’s house to grow some flowers for the wedding. Then, at my Dad’s church, they are starting a community garden project.
What are you growing? Where do you grow it? And how?
Though I have had the garden planted for a few days, yesterday we finally got the balcony organized so all the plants received their optimum levels of sunlight.
All of the Earth Boxes are up front with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and cucumber. Then we have basil, rosemary, oregano, and mint spread around the balcony in pots (and a bunch of mini basils that need to be repotted asap).
When you buy an Earth Box, it comes with plastic mulching covers that fit over the box. Last year, we used these, but the holes we had to cut in them to get them over our seedlings still left room for squirrels to dig at our roots and pigeons to root around in the dirt after the squirrels had gone. This year, instead of investing in new covers, I went ahead and planted to boxes as per usual, then Brock duct taped trash bags over them. It seems to be working so far, as all of our plants have doubled in size (and it was a lot cheaper!) And yes, those are old vitamin jars over the watering tube–to help prevent evaporation.
I am overwhelmed with joy every time I check in on my potato bags.
I can’t wait for new potatoes!
Today’s garden tasks include:
Repotting tiny basil seedlings
Adding more dirt to my runaway potatoes
Harvesting some of the giant rosemary plant for drying and then repotting it to promote growth
And just for fun, a look at what I can’t grow.
All of this (except the big chopped onion, which came from the grocery store) was out of last week’s veggie bag. Carrots, peas, turnips, radishes, and green onion all went into last night’s dinner. (The turnips are really good this year!)
Some day, I will grow all of these too.
Athrun and I planted this years seedlings four weeks ago. I know it was a bit early for pretty much everything but the peas, but we’ve been having fun tending them. Since we have very limited space for planting, we only seeded one flat worth of vegetables for the year. We had 100% germination for every variety of plant except peas. Now, I have up to five seedlings when I really only have room one or two plants out of each variety. Some of the seedlings were getting so large that I have already put them in larger pots (I’m looking at you squash and cucumber). They seem to be thriving, I just hope they survive the move from pot to earth box. There is also the secret hope that I can somehow find room all of the seedlings to grown out on the balcony. Of course, then I have to contend with whether I will be able to get out there and water everything.
A jolly cucumber seedling. Last year, we were giving cucumbers away with only one giant plant. This year I have plans for at least two giant plants. The cucumber plant also kept producing through the six weeks we had at 100+ degrees when the tomatoes took a break.
My tomato seedlings are still rather small, therefore not pictured. I waited too long to thin them out. They are doing well, but they look small compared to the rest of the giant seedlings in the tray. (Also not pictured are peas, which are already outside and doing pretty well. Maybe because I am covering them with a blanket at night.)
I have to say that if it hadn’t been for Athrun, I probably wouldn’t have tried to go sunflowers in containers. Sunflowers are so lovely in the summer, and they can really be good bug deterrents, but they are just so darn big. Plus, flowers aren’t food. But, like every year, the balcony garden is one great big experiment. Imagining a row of giant sunflowers on my balcony in late summer gives me enough joy to try it out, even if it doesn’t happen.
And now for the plants that will likely prove the biggest container garden challenge.
This my friends is a cheerful little watermelon seedling. One of five cheerful little seedling full of sweet, refreshing, mouthwatering mid-summer potential. This little watermelon seedling is mocking me. It’s daring me to plant it in an earth box and train its vines to grow up while training it’s fruits to grow down. This will test my limits as a new gardener. This plant is telling me that it wants to grow and thrive, but if I don’t take care if just right it will mock me unceasingly until I can afford a house with a yard.
When Athrun and I planted the tray a month ago, we opened our little packet of organic pumpkin seeds and there were three–THREE!–seeds inside. We both felt as though the seed company had pulled one over on us. I mean, have you ever pulled seeds out of pumpkin? There are only about a million! And here we had paid $3 for three seeds. We made little soil mounds in the box and planted our three seeds. And then waited. All the other seedlings were bouncing up out of the soil. We had a veritable tomato sprout forest (which I used a magnifying glass to thin), and the peas were getting too tall for our plant shelf.
Then, one week ago something started to pop out of the row marked “pumpkin”. It has been ONE WEEK since the pumpkins germinated. All three seeds are up and growing strong. These seedlings are just defiant. Unlike the watermelon, these guys are saying to me, “I am going to go grow no matter what you do to me.” And I can get behind that kind of attitude in a plant.
So far, everything but the peas are growing in the balcony window on a wire shelf. I need to prune my basil plant and chuck the oregano and start over. Athrun’s mint plant is full of new leaves, but needs a little cleaning up after the winter. The hardware store down the street had started setting up its garden center in the parking lot. That means it’s just about time to grab giant bags of potting soil and some fertilizer and replant the earth boxes, even if I have to move them in and out for a couple weeks. (Then I can also direct seed some spinach!) The trellis needs to go back up, because it’s been rolled up in the corner of the balcony all winter and it’s really starting to look sloppy to me. I want my clean, green balcony back.