Tag Archives: garden

Plant Potatoes on Good Friday

There’s an old wives tale that the gardening season officially begins on Good Friday, that this day, set from the church calendar, is the day to plant potatoes. Tomorrow is absolutely booked up– and scheduled to be rainy– so I started a day early.

Potatoes are odd plants, and last year was the first time I tried them in my garden. I admit that the experiment was spurred by my reading of The Martian last year. I dare you to read 200 plus pages about tubers in space and not come away with a respect for the plant. I have a few favorite potato recipes that you must check out, if you doubt my love (here and here).

Yesterday I cut old potatoes with one or two eyes per segment and let them sit. This morning, I dug trenches and put them a distance apart. You need the space because, like prairie dogs, potatoes burrow underground. One of the joys of potatoes is discovering them, finger deep, as you root around the base of the plant. My father told me you can “steal” potatoes as the season goes on– taking baby potatoes early in the season for the tenderest and sweetest and letting some mature to tide you through the fall. If you’ve never planted potatoes before, I highly recommend it.

The peat pellets and my pretty potential peppers- A spring tongue twister

I return to gardening every year for more than the harvest. Gardening is an education in itself. I can feel the accumulation of my successes and failures like tree rings, and it seems foolish not to keep experimenting year after year. Potatoes were my experiment last year, and this year it is seed starting. I bought one of the domed kits from the hardware store and started a few of my veggies from seed. I’m trying peppers, bush cucumbers, and basil this way, so we will see if anything comes from it. Any tips from you who have done this?

This year will be the first season that my son, aged four, can really participate in the gardening process. He helped me pick out the seeds from the seed store (TURNIPS, he exclaimed with glee, as if he actually ate them). My daughter, aged two, is at the reckless but fascinated stage. Both of them enjoyed our annual trip to the farm supply store to gaze at the chicks. God help me if that isn’t my experiment next year….

 

My daughter and the chicks

 

What have you planted so far?

Weeds, weeds, and more weeds

The old cliche “kids grow like weeds” only gets more true the more kids I have and the bigger my garden gets. My kids now grow out of clothing every few months and are both old enough to alternatively shove and hug eachother. Kids, thus, are cute, at least in the non-shoving moments.

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Weeds. Are. Not. Cute.

A few hints to newbie gardeners for eradicating — or better yet, preventing– weeds (chemical free) in the garden.

  1. Grass clippings (or shredded newspaper). After a good lawn mowing, spread the clippings around your already planted garden plot. Like the more expensive options below, the clippings will form a layer which heats the ground beneath it (to kill seedlings) and also gives less space for weeds to grow than open ground. I love grass clippings because they add extra nutrients to the soil, as well!

Unfortunately, my husband let some of the grass go to seed and so the most recent spread of mulch caused a little lawn to appear in my garden… so….

2. Landscaper’s cloth. Held in by metal landscaping staples (or biodegradable staples), this cloth works even more fully to provide the heat because of its reflective black surface. It’s not pretty, but it does the job. I cut “x”s in the material to make room for my plants which I WANT to be there and picked most of the weeds and grass before I laid it down.

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My tomatoes, kohlrabi, and peppers surrounded by grass seeds and weeds.

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Landscaper’s cloth before it’s fully tacked down… still, much better!
A caveat here: unless you use the biodegradable staples, you’ll have to dig around for the metal later in the season when you clean up the garden. For me, the little bit of effort on the back end is worth the time saved on this side.

3. Burlap. Another option, which my sister-in-law uses is burlap material between her plant rows. On many websites you can purchase old coffee bags and cut them into sizes useful to you in the garden. Unlike the artificial-looking black landscaping cloth, burlap softens in color to a natural-looking gray as the season progresses and works quite well to reduce weed growth.

There are many chemicals out there– we’re lucky to live in an age of agricultural wonder– but one of the pleasures of growing my own food is the simplicity of the process. Just like I like food with simple ingredients I can pronounce, I like that take on gardening, too.

A general garden update:

Perennials: Asparagus, Chives, Dill (just barely), Raspberries (but no flowers yet)

Annual Vegetables: sugar snap peas, “seed” potatoes, onion sets, green beans (one row, with another to follow next week), two blocks of sweet corn (with one more to follow next week), zucchini, cucumbers, eggplant, banana and sweet peppers

 

A Preview of Things to Come

This blog is an annual tradition of mine from plotting the garden to the final harvest, so I’m back again this season for another round of garden talk, memories, and recipes.

This year, I’m scrapping some of my traditional plants: no cucumbers or squash this year… or at least, not at draft one of the garden plan. Instead, I’m going to try potatoes and sweet corn, two additions that even my father never planted. More on that as the experiment progresses.

I brought my young daughter to the local farm supply store to pick out seeds and stopped by the baby chick display. Some year, though not this one, I’ll head home myself with one of those small, cheeping cardboard boxes that I see others leaving with. I’ve got chick envy; I’ll admit it.

Today my husband tilled. This is his annual contribution to the effort and one I’m grateful for. I could barely wait until the tiller was back in the shed to go out and dig my hands in the dirt. I planted two rows of carrots (Nantes variety) and about forty yellow onion sets. Tomorrow, if the ground is soft, I’m putting in the snow peas and I’ve got the potatoes ready to pop in the ground on Tuesday.

I’m building a trellis system for our raspberry bushes this year, and hopefully this summer I’ll have some good raspberry recipes to share.

Since I’ve got nothing fresh to share a recipe on today, I’ll share a research item instead. As I map my garden plot each year I like to look at compatible plants to put nearby. I don’t want my plants bullying each other, after all. This resource from the Farmer’s Almanac helps me cross check to ensure a healthy environment for my little sprouts.

Are you planting anything new this year?

Freezing Tomatoes

If you’re like me, you hate grocery store tomatoes.  Anemic.  Pale pink.  Pathetic.  They just don’t taste as good. I don’t even like to used canned tomatoes, if I can avoid them because of the metallic taste that you can’t get rid of.  Boxed tomatoes are tasty, but expensive.  I’m still slightly intimidated by canning, but I like to preserve my food.  So, if you’re cheap, have an extra hour, and have access to a farmer’s market or a tomato plant of your own, freezing tomatoes can be a great option to enjoy that tomato flavor through the winter. 

This was my project today, and the little guy even helped (or at least watched with fascination.)

 

Materials needed:

Ripe tomatoes (larger varieties work best; don’t try to do this with cherries or you will drive yourself crazy!)

Large Pot

Paring knife

Several Large Bowls

Mesh Strainer

Quart freezer bags

Kitchen scale (optional)

Tomatoes, ripe and ready
Tomatoes, ripe and ready
  1. First, collect ripe tomatoes (though not over ripe or they may be difficult to work with) and wash them gently.  Don’t worry if their skins aren’t perfect since soon you’re going to get these tomatoes naked.  Scandalous!
  2. Prepare your work area, since you’ll need a lot of bowls for this project.  Place a large pot of water to boil and prepare a bowl of ice water near by.  Lay out another clean bowl next to that and finally, place your strainer over a final bowl.
  3. Make a tiny “x” on the bottom of each tomato, just deep enough to pierce the skin but not so deep as to cut into the seeds.  Working in batches, blanch the tomatoes for two minutes.  Place the blanched tomatoes in a bin of ice water. Once iced, the skins should slide easily from the tomatoes.
  4. With your paring knife (or a strawberry huller), remove the stem area from the tomato and seed.  Don’t be afraid to squish and squeeze the tomatoes a bit to get the seeds out.  Place the seeded and stemmed tomatoes in the mesh strainer to drain into a bowl.
  5. If desired, measure out preset quantities of your tomatoes for easy kitchen work.  I always do 1 lb bags for simplicity’s sake.  Press out all of the air and freeze flat for easy stacking.  The tomatoes should last at least three months, and for most freezers, could last much more than that without any loss of flavor. 
  6. Remember that bowl you were straining into?  Fresh tomato juice! Feel free to pass it though the strainer one more time for good measure.
  7. Ready for Bloody Marys!
    Ready for Bloody Marys!

What does the fox say?

I had heard from the neighbors that there was a resident Fox who had started to prey on the neighborhood bunnies. But I hadn’t believed it until now! This little guy was sitting on our porch when we got back from dinner tonight. I thought maybe I had seen some unusual scat in my garden, but I thought maybe it had been a cat. Looks like we have a new garden Guardian.

Any tips about coexisting peacefully with foxes?

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Garden Wonderland/Disaster

Some days beg to be enjoyed outside, like the strangely cool late July day we’ve been having here in the Midwest.  Days like this one seem choreographed to bring a smile to my face.  The woodpecker landed at the suet feeder just as I step outside.  Six butternut squash were waiting to be picked in the garden, and my sunflowers are getting close to flowering.

Daylilies

I know flowers are part of the life cycle of the plants, just external reproductive systems, but it seems like such a gift to be able to enjoy their ephemeral beauty.  Even things like green beans and eggplant get the cutest little flowers on them. Continue reading Garden Wonderland/Disaster

Snapdragons

 

I’m a fairly new gardener, and until this year I’ve focused primarily on the edibles.  If I can slice it, roast it, can it, or cover it with tomato sauce, I’m probably attempting to grow it.  I’ve always been slightly put off by the idea of tending to flowers, however.

My husband and I bought our house two years ago with all intentions of beautifying the place.  The woman who had lived in it before was elderly, and the landscaping had slumped a bit in the past few years.  Luckily, time provided excuses to keep me from making the attempt.  The first growing season was past by the time we moved in, and the second growing season our attentions were on a newborn.  I barely managed to weed my vegetable garden, let alone think of uttering the word “mulch”.  This year, though, I swore I would make in-roads.  I’ve been battling the long-time resident weeds and laying down landscaper’s plastic like it was going out of style (which indeed it may be.)  I also had the chance to plant my first flowers from seed. Continue reading Snapdragons