Tag Archive | gardening

Weeding Time Again

It’s that time again. Time for weeds to rear the unwelcome little heads and time to start digging them out of my lavender. There have been a couple of interesting developments since last year.  One is that the weed barrier that we laid down last year is really paying dividends.  Big ones.  Huge. Last year it took half an hour to an hour to weed out a row of lavender. This morning Fixer and I knocked out 14 rows in an hour. That doesn’t count pulling out all the unwelcome unpleasantness between the rows, but Fixer made short work of those with the tiller, so things are looking pretty good out there. We still have about 10 rows from last year that need to be papered, so that’s the plan for tomorrow.

We’re planning to switch from 2 foot wide barrier to 4 foot wide barrier so we can avoid tilling between the rows altogether. The idea is that we will be able to leave it for 2-3 years and it should kill any remaining weeds and seeds.  Also under consideration is planting the rows between with grass, purely for aesthetics.

Fixer also tilled up last year’s garden plot today, which is where we will plant all of our tomatoes for this year.  Last year we had the whole vegetable garden there, but we got a little crowded, so we’re moving the rest of the veggies out behind the shop, where there’s room to spread out.  Again, driven by weed control.  I’ve been reading up on intensive gardening, which will conserve space and help control weeds, but I’ve just not had the time to complete my research.

One other interesting finding from last year is how many of the weeds on our property aren’t really weeds. More like beneficials gone wrong.  Three examples: shepherd’s purse, purslane and dandelion. (I know, right?)

Shepherd’s purse is a medicinal herb that can be used as a styptic and antihemorraghic both from the inside and the outside. You can check out more information here. I’ve not tried it out yet, but as often as Fixer cuts himself, it can’t be long before we have a chance to try it out.

From Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsella_bursa-pastoris

From Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsella_bursa-pastoris

Purslane is a constant irritation because it’s like the Hydra. Cut it in half and you end up with two plants. God help you if you don’t pull it all out. Turns out it’s an edible green.  I bet if we were trying to cultivate it for eating, we’d have less prolific plants. Ain’t that always the way? You can find recipes here.

And dandelion.  Ah dandelion. I’ve learned lot about dandelion this year.  Under cultivation, it just looks so wrong.  All these years of trying to eradicate them from our lawn, only to discover that it’s useable as a salad green, a soap colorant, and a medicinal herb both from the leaf and root.  Who knew? You can find more information here and here.

Check out some herbal books from your local library or bookstore and see what’s growing in your yard.  What unexpected edibles are in your yard?

Friday was also a big soaping day. I’ve been on the road quite a bit the last couple of weeks which slowed me down a bit.  Here’s a couple of photos of what’s coming soon to our Etsy shop.   Cranberry figCucumber MelonUnnamedWhite tea and amber

These were my first purposeful attempt at drop swirls and I’m pretty pleased with them.  What do you think?

Now we’re cooking

No pictures today, but we’re moving now, by golly.  Twelve rows of babies are in the ground, Nine went in yesterday before the wind kicked up and put me out of business. The rest went in today between work and dinner.  I think  I’m going to run out of irrigated rows before I run out of plants and Fixer is out of town.  Erg.  I’m also a little worried about drainage. I’m really surprised how the soil varies across the field within a space of about 15 feet.  Lavender needs plenty of drainage, but large swaths of the rows I planted today had pretty thick soil. I wanted to take a picture, but I’m single momming it so I just couldn’t manage baby, toddler, dirt and camera all at once.  Sorry.  Hopefully I’ll get some pics up tomorrow. I’ve also been soaping a little bit and made a nice little chicken wire picture frame deal so I can post pictures of the soaps that are on the curing rack.  More photos to come.  

Bucklepenny in Progress: Here Comes the Purple Wave, or Lavender Going In

Well, spring is coming and with it the first of our lavender plants are expected to go into the ground.  Actually, I think it may be here. I bet we’ve got one more big frost coming and then the wind will start signaling that Spring is here. We’ve been plotting a lavender hobby farm since we bought the place, but our planting plans were not so much torpedoed as rearranged last year when we discovered that the Lilliputian was on the way.  Can you imagine being 8 months pregnant, bent over in the field trying to dig 900 planting holes? No? Me neither.  So we decided to press “pause” in our plans, lay our egg and go at it again this spring.  You just can’t have too much planning time, I don’t think.

So I spent the winter reading and researching and having Fixer Guy draw me little pictures of irrigation manifolds and property boundaries.  Here’s how the plan looks so far:  800-900 lavender plants, attendant soaker lines and landscape fabric.  Varieties still TBD, but a mix of high oil yielding varieties, varieties suitable for floral or crafting projects, early and late bloomers and possibly some varieties that have multiple blooming periods.

I expect that we’ll be able to start getting the little monsters in the ground some time in April.  If all goes well and the plants are thriving, we would still have time for another round later in the summer.  My feeling is that the lavender in the yard has done well in our climate with little or no care for the year that the house was unoccupied and did even better with the small attention that we gave them since we’ve been in the house.

Worst case? The neighbors have something much prettier to look at than what’s there now.  We plan to purchase our starts from Victor’s Lavender. Victor’s plants come highly recommended by other growers, many of whom grow for retail rather than wholesale customers.  He also does consulting, if lavender cultivation is something you’re interested in doing.

Raw Lavender Patch

Raw Lavender Patch

Here’s a photo of our expected lavender plot. We have irrigation risers already in place down the length of the property but they need attention, so we plan to rehab them one at a time as we are ready to go on line irrigating our plants. I’ll let you know if that works out to be the right decision.

Our growing area is a funny shape, with a large irrigation ditch forming one boundary on the northwest side and two county roads forming the other 2 sides.  The house is set at an angle back from the road, so we have an irregular polygon to work with.  Since I fancy myself as an orderly sort of girl (Lies! Self-delusion!) I want to plan in straight rows off the road on the south side.  That should give us an easy straight line for irrigation systems to work off as well.

Next steps: firm up variety selections, soil testing and soil amendments

 

Garden Dreaming: Will we bite off more than we can chew?

Last year was the first full summer in our new home.  With a three year old running around, a new baby due mid summer and the mad scramble at work before taking leave, it wasn’t exactly the best time to plan a garden of any size.  Too fat to weed, if you know what I’m talking about.  Fact: I would have made a lousy pioneer.  Nevertheless, we planted a few tomatoes that we cared for indifferently and a few pepper plants, which we’ve never had much luck with.

Last spring and summer were mostly about weed control and figuring out what we were working with, since there were a number of plants and trees of indeterminate name when we purchased the property. We had pruned pretty indiscriminately the previous fall and winter just so we could move around the property.

The tomatoes and peppers, I don’t mind telling you were an epic fail. I assumed because of the location of derelict tomato cages and the existence of drip lines and stone raised beds, that the previous owner had been successful growing tomatoes there. Um, no.  What we got was a bumper crop of weeds and about 4 tomatoes.  Blessedly, I was not the only person in the area to have less than bountiful tomatoes last summer. But the neighbors could have just been being kind.  I have great neighbors.

The fruit trees did well, although we didn’t utilize the plums well since they came ripe the same week the Liliputian was born. A good pruning last winter and some experimenting with thinning gave us some nice peaches, not as many as last year but much bigger and very tasty.  Ditto for the grapes.

Our raspberries didn’t do much since they’d been in a state of sad neglect that required us to pretty much chop them down to the ground so we could regain some control. I believe that they mostly bear on second year growth, so this year should be much better.

Strawberries both purposefully planted and volunteer are all over the place. Small berries, but very sweet.  Once we showed Bean that they were OK to eat, she was all over them.  The dog figured out that they were edible and then was caught sneaking berries.  We also watched her eat a large quantity of the low grapes.  The dog, not the toddler. It seems likely that the high grapes are destined for the birds, the low for the dog and the middle for the people.  You have to share the bounty, right?

IMG_3908Since we had more grapes than we could eat, I borrowed a steam juicer from our sitter’s mother and made grape juice. I couldn’t believe the glorious color.

Herbs were quite another matter.  Tarragon, lavender and sage did well. We dug up the mint, since it will get out of control when grown unfettered. I had a large galvanized tub that we used for champagne at our wedding stored in the shed, so I planted the mint in there and Fixer Guy hauled it up on the deck and ran a drip line to it.  It did wonderfully.  The catnip wasn’t as fortunate.  The cat found it and left me with two mangled, sad little plants. The cat left with a very satisfied look. Chives have volunteered all over the property, so I’ll have to dig a few of those up and share starts with anyone who wants them.

Now that the seed catalogs are fairly pouring into my mailbox, it’s hard not to lose my composure and just by every little packet of seeds that catches my fancy.  I flipped thru several last night and noted numerous possibilities.  I’m really drawn to unusually colored varieties of almost everything, which if left unchecked was going to draw me into a garden mostly filled with purple vegetables.  For sure we’re going to try to grow a fancy broccoli variety that’s a charming chartreuse color with crazy pointed florets that make me think of chiton shells. (Google them).  Bean loves broccoli (parenting win!!) so hopefully she’ll find this broccoli as appealing as I do. I also spied purple cauliflower.  Can you see me hopping up and down?   There are also all kinds of crazy things like beans that are eighteen inches long. Wow!

For sure we’re going to plant all the tomatoes we can deal with, since I use them like mad all year for spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili and what have you.  I’ve also been referred to a great peach salsa recipe so we should make good use of three trees worth of peaches. I’m not much for pies, but I imagine we’ll be forced into a few peach pies just to get rid of them.

Since my company grows peas commercially, I don’t care if we never grow any of those. We’re also going to try out some pink popping corn from an heirloom variety.  Ditto for multicolored carrots. The theory behind all these crazy colored varieties is to entice Bean into eating all kinds of veggies.  I think I will skip growing lettuce since I inevitably plant some, usually in a pot on the deck, which does well until I forget about it and it bolts before I get a chance to eat any.

Ultimately, I’d like to see just how much of our own food we can produce right at home. I’ve seen several books that suggest a family of 4 can produce up to 85% of their food on a quarter acre.  That’s a little ambitious for me, but we’ll see.  Here’s hoping canning jars are the limiting factor!

Growing Blueberries: The Right Way, The Wrong Way and The Bucklepenny Way.

IMG_5423

These are my blueberry bushes.  They are two years old and if there is a list somewhere of all the things that you can do wrong to a blueberry bush and not kill them, we have probably checked off most items.

Two summers ago, I went to the hardware store after some tomato cages and spied blueberry bushes on an end of season markdown.  In my experience, end of season plant markdowns  are only a deal if a) the plant is a perennial and b) it’s not so late in the year that the plants can’t establish themselves.  And since I  am seldom watching that closely, my success rate is about 50/50. I figured there’s a guy down the road growing them commercially, so we’re probably good to go.  Pretty scientific, no?

Yup. You’ve got me pegged. Either meticulously planning or totally flying by the seat of my pants.  And alarmingly similar outcomes. Better to be lucky than good, I always say.  So I brought home my five blueberry bushes.  And they sat. For two months.  In the pots in front of the garage.  I know. It’s shameful.

Two of them got some type of blighted looking appearance on the foliage. Sort of a rusty mottling against the green.  So I talked it over with Fixer Guy and we decided to go ahead and plant them.  Blueberries like acidic soil, so we thought we would plant them in the vegetable garden along the windbreak, since the organic material falling from the arbor vitae would make the soil a little more acidic. We also planted the ailing bushes on the end so they would be easier to pull out and replace if they didn’t make it. Aren’t we smart? Fixer guy ran drip lines to them for the remainder of the fall and we waited.

This spring all five bushes had pretty good foliage and the sick plants looked pretty good.  Blueberries will bear more fruit if you remove the blossoms the first year.  Naturally, I didn’t do that, so our crop was tiny, but the berries were large and tasty.  And that was just fine for our three-year-old.  Nothing makes a toddler happier than eating out of the garden, except maybe chasing a cat with a stick.  To be honest, she wouldn’t care if it was dirt or berries she was eating (I know this because she’s done both) but Mommy prefers berries.

So here’s a synopsis of the right way to grow blueberries, according to the University of Maine Extension service.  The full document is here

  1. Planting sites should have full sun, wind protection and acidic soil.  You can typically have your soil tested by the local Extension office or you can pick up a kit at the hardware store, garden center or nursery. We bought ours at Lowe’s. If your soil is more alkaline, you can add amendments to adjust the pH.  Both organic and conventional means are available to do this, if that’s your thing.
  2. You’ll want to ensure good drainage and one to two inches of water each week.
  3. The University of Maine recommends that blueberry bushes not be allowed to bear fruit for at least two years after planting  and only limited crop the third year.  This so that the plants will expend their energy getting themselves well established.
  4. Recommended spacing is 5-7 feet apart with rows 8-10 feet apart.  That’s considerably more space than we allowed our bushes, so I guess we’ll see what happens.
  5. Mulch well for weed control and moisture retention.
  6. Prune annually for high yield. Pruning should occur during dormancy. I guess that’s kind of a no brainer.
  7. Harvest berries only when fully ripe and there is no tinge of red on the fruit.  The berries will grow in clusters which will ripen in succession.
  8. You’ll need to net your bushes once the fruit comes on, unless you feel like sharing with the birds. We didn’t net last year, but the birds were far more interested in our grapes.
  9. Tipnut.com suggests occasionally mixing used coffee grounds into the soil to acidify the soil. An alternative is ground lemon or grapefruit peels.  With the way Fixer Guy drinks coffee, I know which one we’ll be doing.

We flouted a number of these guidelines, which suggests that blueberries aren’t a particularly fragile plant.  Still, I think we’ll mulch carefully this spring and I’ll go out and give them a good prune when I go out next month to take care of my grapes. Hopefully I’ll be  posting a group of lovely recipes we tried out with our bumper crop this summer. Wishful thinking? Probably.  Luck loves an optimist.