2015 Gardening Season Has Begun

So far 2015 has been a year of many changes.  To begin, my first daughter Rosalie was born in February. Life has been busier to say the least, which has made keeping up with this blog more difficult.  Now that she is almost 4 months, school is out, and summer is finally here, I’m excited to continue gardening and blogging!

Back in April, I prepared each of my garden beds by adding a layer of newspaper and compost to the top of each bed.  As I have written before, this helps to prevent weeds.  Then in May, I placed cardboard that I have saved throughout the year along the paths of my garden and covered those paths with pine bark mulch.  This is the first year that I have tried pine bark mulch instead of cedar, but so far I love the look and the smell.

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Preparing the garden paths

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After applying the pine bark mulch

Back in April I also started my lettuce bed, since greens can handle growing in the cooler weather. In that bed I have:

  • Butter-crunch lettuce
  • Black Seeded Simpson lettuce
  • Romain
  • Arugula
  • Nantes Carrots
  • Mixed colorful Carrots (white, purple, red)
  • Beets (a first for me)
  • Radishes (also a first for me)
  • Purple cabbage (the last new item in this bed)

I have already seen so much growth!

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Front Yard Redo

This year, Kyle and I decided to tackle our front yard.  I have to admit, it felt a little bit like the show yard crashers on HGTV.  The yard had some major issues- hostas growing everywhere, evergreen trees in the wrong places, weed filled garden beds, and dead rose bushes.  We decided that we needed to start over.  For four straight weekends, with the help of his dad, step-mom, and my mom, we fixed the front yard.

 

Our house before the makeover. Notice the evergreen trees and dead rose bush.

Our house before the makeover. Notice the evergreen trees and dead rose bush.

I thought for a long time whether or not to cut down the evergreens in front of our house.  I don’t advocate cutting down trees for no reason. However, aside from creating a blocked view of the house, the trees also were interfering with our plumbing.  The roots had begun to grow into our pipes and caused backup issues.  In the end, both Kyle and I decided that the trees had to go.

Kyle cutting down the trees with a chainsaw.

Kyle cutting down the trees with a chainsaw.

Kyle's dad digging up the roots of the trees, like a pro.

Kyle’s dad digging up the roots of the trees, like a pro.

After digging up the evergreens, we had to begin to dig up all the random growth in beds.  There were hostas and day lilys everywhere. Grass growing within the beds and weeds galore. It was a lot of work to say the least.  Instead of throwing away all the hostas, I decided to individually pack them and give them away. I gave away over 250 hostas to neighbors, church friends, and strangers.  They spread a lot of happiness to say the least!

Hosta hell

Hosta hell

After digging up tons of hostas.

After digging up tons of hostas.

Hosta packaging.

Hosta packaging.

After the hostas were cleared, Kyle’s dad went to work on re-digging and shaping our new front yard garden bed.  With his landscaping expertise, we were able to remove grass and create a great looking space.  Instead of throwing all the extra dirt away, we used it to fill holes in our yard.  Always think about ways to reuse what you have, instead of throwing it away!

Grass removal and re-shapping of the bed.

Grass removal and re-shapping of the bed.

Rototilling in 10 bags of mushrooms compost and peat.

Rototilling in 20 bags of mushrooms compost and peat.

The final step was to add the bushes and the flowers.  I had to consider the existing landscaping that I wanted to work around- a Magnolia bush, Peonies, and a Liliac bush.  I used a local nursery to help me determine what to add.  In the end, I bought two Boxwoods and a Karen Azalea. All the flowers in the bed were grown by my mom from seed.  The front bed has Poppies, Daisies, Forget-me-nots,  Snap Draggons, Marigolds, Bachelor Buttons, Petunias and Sedum. I’m so impressed with the final result and so grateful for everyone’s help!

New bushes in place.

New bushes in place.

New garden bed planted.

New garden bed planted.

After all the 2014 renovations. Can't believe how much better it looks!

After all the 2014 renovations. Can’t believe how much better it looks!

Yardwork

With spring comes the desire to get outside and start working on projects. This year, Kyle and I had a few goals in mind in terms of our landscaping.  The first major task that we wanted to accomplish was to remove a stray tree that had been growing into the fence near my garden beds.  After much thought, we finally located a chainsaw on a stick.  Together with my entire family, we were able to successfully remove the tree, and cut the fence. The garden is looking better than ever!

 

Before

Before

 

After removing the top of the tree

After removing the top of the tree

The tree stump had grown into the fence

The tree stump had grown into the fence

Top of the cutoff tree

Top of the cutoff tree

Final product. NO TREE!

Final product. NO TREE!

Weedless Gardening

When I first started to develop my garden a year and a half ago, the plot of land that I had to work with was one giant weed.  I knew that I wanted to install raised beds, but I didn’t know what to do with all the existing “grass.” A few people suggested that I till the land with a rototiller.  I looked into that option, but decided against it because the rototiller kills many of the useful worms that are already present in the soil.  Most organic gardeners advise against it.

So, I had to figure out another way.  After watching some YouTube videos about organic farms in California, I discovered that by putting cardboard down, and then adding soil or mulch, no weeds can grow. The cardboard also has the added benefit of helping improve soil quality and worm population.  I used the cardboard to help form the paths in between my garden beds, but didn’t use it in my garden beds, because at that point, I needed to start planting immediately.

This winter, I picked up a book at my local library called Weedless Gardening, by Lee Reich, Ph.D. The book describes a method similar to the method that I had used with the cardboard.  It is called a top-down approach to gardening, meaning that you are only adding to the top of the soil, not digging or tilling.  Reich says that about a month or two before planting, you should follow the steps listed below to ensure that each garden bed is weed free.  I decided to try his method this year, and so I have included pictures along with each step.

Step 1: Remove any debris left over from winter (plastic, sticks, rocks, etc.)

Step 1: Remove any debris left over from winter (plastic, sticks, rocks, etc.)

 

Step 2: Leave the dirt exactly as it is.  DO NOT loosen it with a pitch fork.

Step 2: Leave the dirt exactly as it is. DO NOT loosen it with a pitch fork.

 

Step 3: Place newspapers on top of the bed.  Make sure that they all overlap, and that there are no gaps.  Gaps = weeds.

Step 3: Place newspapers on top of the bed. Make sure that they all overlap, and that there are no gaps. Gaps = weeds.

Step 4: Cover with compost.

Step 4: Cover with compost.

Step 5: Water the bed to ensure that all the newspapers are wet.

Step 5: Water the bed to ensure that all the newspapers are wet.

The idea is that no weeds will grow through the newspapers.  Further, the newspapers are helping to keep moisture in the soil, and improve the quality by attracting more worms.   The more worms crawling around, the less compact the soil.  The worms actually do the job of your pitchfork! Needless to say, this year I decided to try this method.  Currently, all five of my garden beds are prepared using Lee Reich’s suggestions. I’m hoping it’s as great as his book says it is!

2014 season has begun

I can’t believe that it is already time to start planting seeds.  Part of me feels like it is too soon, but the other part of me is so excited for the hope of spring.  It has been a very long winter, filled with tons of snow.  However, the weather hasn’t stopped me from garden planning.  A few weekends ago I started seeds indoors.  This year, I decided to use an organic seed starting mix from Burpee.  I am using a combination of store bought heirloom seeds and seeds that I saved from my garden last year.

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Using the information on the back of the seed packets, I determined which seeds that I needed to be started indoors, and which I could simply plant outside once the ground is workable.  In the end, I started heirloom cherry tomatoes, heirloom Rutgers tomatoes, rosemary, broccoli, spearmint, parsley, jalapeño pepper, and heirloom black Ethiopian tomatoes. I am especially excited to watch the progress of the black Ethiopian tomatoes, because I saved those seeds from my garden last year.

After 1 week of growth

After 1 week of growth

After one week of growing, I already had some visible results! It’s amazing how quick the seeds sprout.  I was especially excited to see that the black Ethiopian seeds worked; the seedlings have begun to grow.  I actually saved seeds, and then successfully grew them again.  So amazing. I feel like I can survive a Walking Dead catastrophe.

Black Ethiopian Heirloom Tomatoes

Black Ethiopian Heirloom Tomatoes

what worked + what didn’t work [2013]

What worked [2013]:

  • Peas (little marvel)
  • Jalapeño early peppers. Each plant produced a good amount of peppers, and I was happy with their result.  I planted 9 plants in 2013, and found it to be a good amount for us (we eat a lot of spicy food).
  • Green beans (heirloom variety)
  • Rutgers tomatoes, in cages.
  • My garden beds.  They seemed to work really well, and almost no animals took any of my vegetables!

What didn’t work [2013]:

  • Garden Safe Organic Garden Soil that I bought at Menard’s.  It killed just about everything that I tried to grow in it, and didn’t hold water well.  DO NOT BUY!
  • Buying organic cedar mulch from a nursery near my house for $5.99 per 2 cu. ft. bag.  Menard’s ended up selling pure cedar mulch that went on sale for $2.50 per 2 cu. ft. bag.  Next year, I will just wait for that sale if I plan to mulch again.
  • Diamond Peppers (White), Golden Cal Wonder Peppers (Yellow), Orange Bell Peppers, Purple Beauty Peppers.  I’m not sure if they didn’t work because they were organic seeds, or if I didn’t take care of the soil properly.  None of them grew to be very big, and didn’t have great flavor.  Instead of being juicy, the flesh was thin and sour.
  • Growing pumpkins.  I did get two pumpkins out of my four plants.  However, the vines got a white mildew and it ended up killing them.  That mildew spread to the zucchini plants and killed them too.
  • Broccoli.  It took so long before I ever saw a head of broccoli.  Then, it was tiny and never produced another one.  I don’t know if I would grow this again.
  • Cucumbers.  I don’t think I watered them enough.  And, I just had them grow on the ground, which I don’t think they really liked.
  • Using the hose to spray each garden bed for watering.  I read that if you get the leaves of plants wet, they are more susceptible to disease.

Things to try [2014]:

  • Putting straw around the garden beds to form paths instead of mulch.  According to organicgardening.com, the only thing to make sure is that you buy straw that is weed and seed free.  I’d have to see how the cost compares to the cedar mulch that Menard’s sells in early spring.
  • Dedicating a bed to be a herb garden.  In 2013, I kept my herb garden in pots.  Since I used that horrible Menard’s soil, most of my herbs didn’t survive.  This year, I’d like to plant a lot of herbs so that I can use them to cook, and dry them for tea.
  • Getting cucumbers, peas, and green beans to grow up bamboo sticks or trellises.
  • Using the hose just to water the base of plants as opposed to spraying the whole thing.

Vegetables to plant [2014]:

  • Habeñero peppers.  Other hot peppers.
  • Watermelon.
  • More varieties of carrots.  COLORS!
  • Radishes.
  • Onion.
  • Garlic.
  • Potatoes.
  • More varieties of green beans.

year two garden plan

When Kyle and I first moved into our house, I knew I wanted to plant a garden.  I checked out a bunch of books from the library on garden planning, and one book said that you should have a three year plan when building a garden.  Last summer, I built and installed three 8×4 feet garden beds.

First year plan: The space before I added three 8x4 garden beds.

First year plan: The space before I added three 8×4 garden beds.

Kyle and I dug out paths in between the beds to even the land.  We used the dirt to fill the beds so that we wouldn’t need to purchase a ton of soil. Then we filled the paths with organic mulch.

First year garden plan complete.

First year garden plan complete.

My year two plan was to add two more 6×4 garden beds to my plot.  Before it got too cold, I built the beds.

First, I built the two new beds, and laid them in place.

Year two garden plan: adding two more 6×4 garden beds

Then, Kyle helped me to dig the paths and even out the land.  It was a tough job, but I’m glad that most of the “grass” is finally gone.

Kyle clearing the grass for the new beds

Kyle clearing the grass for the new beds

After the garden beds were in place, I cleared old beds of their dying plants.  Then, I added leaves to the beds to help the old plants compost until next year.  I’ll see how this works.  I read that you should shred the leaves before putting them in the beds, however, we do not have a leaf shredder, so I just put them in whole.

Year two garden plan ready for next season

Year two garden plan ready for next season

We will have a little more digging to do to get rid of some of the remaining grass.  How I am really happy with the results for now and am excited to plan my second garden!

how to save arugula seeds [pt. 2]

A while ago I wrote a post about how to save arugula seeds.  At that time, I had just begun the seed drying process, so I wasn’t able to show pictures of the results.  Here is an update on my arugula seed saving.  I’m so happy with the result and can’t wait to see my arugula plants next year!

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What is left of the seed pods after the seeds have been taken out

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collecting the tiny seeds.

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What the arugula plant looked like after drying for 2 months.