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Posts Tagged ‘garden’

In the past couple years, I’ve heard a lot about square foot gardening. It keeps coming up in Google searches and the 500 Gardens program we’re part of recommends it to all of the new gardeners in Madisonville.

Our garden grid made out of old blinds.

Our garden grid made out of old blinds.

So what is square foot gardening? It’s a method that lets you grow more in a smaller space and is great for small gardens. We’ve half-tried this in the past and decided this year to go for it (almost) all the way.

The essence is breaking your garden bed into grids — one square foot at a time — and planting one to 16 plants per square foot. How do you decide? It’s all based on the plant spacing recommended on the seed packet or transplant tag: 3 inch spacing is 16 per square; 4 inch spacing is 9 per square, and so on. This has a good explanation of spacing as well as which plants typically work in which spacing plan.

This is what happened to our grid after a storm. It was easy to fix and put back together.

This is what happened to our grid after a storm. It was easy to fix.

It also helps to have a grid to better visualize where you’re planting everything and the Mel Bartholomew book says you need a grid to be “a true square foot garden.” Even though I think a grid drawn in the dirt would suffice, we decided to make a real grid this year.

Our gridlines are actually slats from old blinds that the cats have previously destroyed and they worked out really well. They are “secured” with a nail through the holes already in the slats.

An errant onion in a totally different bed. Squirrels probably dug it up

An errant onion in a  different bed. Squirrels probably dug it up

I will say the grids helped already.

When I was checking on our plants, I noticed a couple of onions weren’t poking through (we had nine per square). I was able to find a few where they were supposed to be but a couple of bulbs were missing. One I found in the next bed over, lying by the garlic. I suspect squirrels are responsible.

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We’re now in mid-April and all our early spring crops are looking good! I’m kind of amazed at how much we have planted so far.

There are peas (sugar snap and snow), spinach, radishes, carrots, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and onions all doing really well, along with the garlic planted in the fall and chives that come back every year. Most of those are repeats from previous years, except the onions.

We decided to grow onions on a whim this year, even though they’re cheap to buy at the grocery store. After successfully growing garlic last season and learning how much better the homegrown variety was, we suspect onions will be the same. I found a bag of onion sets (they look like tiny, slender onions) that had red, yellow and white onions so we’re trying each variety. There are also a few squares we’ll use for onion seeds to have another later harvest (and for green onions).

We have tons of broccoli this year because the cell packs I bought had nine plants each instead of six, and I decided to try two different varieties. Some are planted in the garden beds and others in containers; same idea with the Brussels sprouts, which we can move around to find the ideal conditions/area for them to grow.

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Here are the final two of our “mystery plants” found in the garden. I really have no idea what either of these are but with some searching I have a best guess — borage and carrots.

MysteryPlantsThe borage makes sense because we did have that in several beds so it’s very likely a seed or two were dropped somewhere else. But carrots? We didn’t grow any carrots last year, although we are trying them this year.

My only theory for how a carrot could possibly have gotten to our garden is our in-bed composting from this year. And maybe that’s what’s responsible for our other “mystery plants”

It’s quite possible that I cut of an end of carrot, tossed it in the compost bin and never thought of it again until this spring.

If that really is what happened — again, we’ll never know — I think that’s amazing! It shows you how resilient plants can be, and if we get a few random plants from the compost, well, that’s fine by me.

 

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Last week when I finally decided to get myself out of bed, I walked sleepy-eyed toward the stairs and looked out the window, as is typical of every morning. To my surprise, there were two large deer just hanging out in our neighbor’s yard. It’s not that we haven’t seen deer in our neighborhood — we actually see them fairly often, sometimes just walking down the middle of the street.

They bolted not even a minute after I woke up and jumped over the fence to go … well, wherever they went. It actually made me think of Tripod/Bruce who used to come around a lot. We haven’t seen him in a while, so I hope he’s OK.

After grabbing my cup of coffee, I walked into our office to check my email and on the way to my desk I noticed a big, fat rabbit hanging out in our backyard. He (or she) was happily chewing away at our grass.

Luckily though, it didn’t get to any of our vegetables and everything looked fine when I went outside to check later. All of our plants are doing really well, especially the broccoli, which last year got chewed by slugs and cabbage butterfly larvae. I was a bit surprised there weren’t more than a couple holes in the leaves and it makes me think the garlic we have planted next to it and in two other beds are doing a fantastic job keeping our garden safe.

The rabbit eventually hopped back into our woods (really, just a patch of honeysuckle) and disappeared. It stayed for a while and provided a great morning show for these two. You know something big is happening outside when they’re this close together (they get along fine, but aren’t the best of friends).

 

Meera, left, and Rajah watching the rabbit.

Meera, left, and Rajah watching the rabbit.

We are getting used to seeing (and hearing) all sorts of wildlife, but it is still strange sometimes, especially living in city limits.

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When I was checking on the garden last week, I noticed something that looked of place. It was too big to be a weed, but the leaves didn’t look familiar. I let it go and a few days later “it” actually turned out to be six separate plants, all bunched together.

Last year we had cucumbers, radishes and peppers in that bed, along with some borage and nasturtium. But these leaves didn’t look like any of those. After searching for seedling pictures of everything we grew last year, I think I stumbled upon an answer.

They look like Brandywine tomatoes to us. If that’s the case, I’m thrilled. However, we showed the picture to another gardener and they thought it was a potato, but we didn’t grow any potatoes last year.

 

Either way, we’ll let them grow a little bigger until we transplant them to a different bed or to large pots.

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Since we put everything in the ground, there’s not much to report and most of it seems to be doing well. I think the rain and warm, but not too hot, temperatures helped the plants along.

The broccoli has big healthy leaves, and a couple of plants are starting to form heads. The peas have sprouted and are starting to grow tendrils, and the row of radishes did so well it really needs to be thinned. Our lettuce is forming nice little leaves, and even the spinach has stopped looking like grass and grown its “true leaves.”

I keep waiting for the garlic to sprout its scapes, but so far it hasn’t happened yet. The four elephant garlic that survived are huge! They come all the way up to my hip, and I can’t imagine how big these bulbs will be, but we’re excited to find out!

We’re also discovering some mystery plants, and I’ll share those pictures later. If they are what I think then we’re going to be stocked on seedlings this year!

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I just learned about a brand new initiative in our neighborhood, and I had to share. It’s called 500 Gardens. Here’s a little more about it from their website:

Madisonville is a neighborhood of Cincinnati that has a lot going for it, especially for a gardening project.  There are large lots, generations of garden tradition, active community partners in the Madisonville Community Council, the Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Council, and local churches, and we have two years of partnership with Lighthouse Community School and success in building gardens on the school parking lot and nearby vacant lot with the students.  The neighborhood has a vibrant mixture of ages, ethnicities, incomes, and family origins, and carries a USDA Food Desert designation.

In this project we plan to:

• Recruit, organize, and teach volunteers.

• Recruit, teach, and coach mentors.

• Organize, promote, and teach on- going classes and workshops.

• Develop and disseminate educational materials.

• Acquire and organize lumber and soil.  Manage use and distribution.

• Schedule garden building, coordinate volunteers and homeowners.

• Host monthly Gardener Gatherings during the growing season.

I’m really excited about this and hope it is tremendously successful!

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We actually had a really good, big harvest from our green bean plants. The problem, however, is we only had one. And it came at the end of August.

Most of this is our fault. First, because we planted them too late — in June after the peas were done. Second, because we forgot to check them after the first bowl.

We also attribute some of this to the weird weather this summer. It was cooler than most summers and we had a lot of rain in July.

The Kentucky Wonder pole beans grew very well — some tendrils and leaves reached more than six feet tall and wrapped around our garage toward the tomatoes. But once they started to actually mature into beans, quite a few were bulging, which means they’re overly mature and could be tough (not good).

The good and the bad of our green bean harvest.

The good and the bad of our green bean harvest.

 

We made a delicious garlicky green bean sauté (recipe below) but wished we had more throughout the summer. On a positive note, the deer didn’t eat them like they have the past couple years.

So, what can be done better next year? We need to plant early! And check on them more often. I’d love to have a steady supply throughout the season.

Garlicky green beans

We had about a pound or so of the green beans, and this is an adaptation of a recipe I found. First, snap off the ends and de-string the beans. Then cut/trim to desired size.

Toss into a pot of boiling, salted water and cook for about three or four minutes. While those are cooking, add garlic to hot pan with oil. We used about four or five cloves of garlic.

Once the green beans are done, transfer from the boiling water to the pan with garlic and continue to sauté for another four or five minutes, stirring, until the green beans are crisp tender.

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Making salsa is a great way to use tomatoes from the garden.

Making salsa is a great way to use tomatoes from the garden.

We’re in the heart of winter here, and that makes me miss the long, wonderful days of summer. I wrote this post and recipe a while ago but realized I never shared it here.

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Right at the end of July and early August, we had more tomatoes than we knew what to do with. This is a perfect time to make a big batch of fresh salsa.

While I’m good with the jar salsa, there is nothing like when it’s fresh out of the garden with no cooking to muddle the flavors.

Here’s what you need:

• About two or three pounds of tomatoes, chopped. Ours were a mix of Roma and regular tomatoes (Brandywine and Celebrity are what we grew).

• A bunch of cilantro, finely chopped

• Hot peppers. We used about four jalapeños (two seeded, two with seeds) and two Anaheim peppers.

• One lime, for juice and zest

• Half of a medium onion, chopped

• Four cloves of garlic, minced

• Salt

Mix all the chopped vegetables and herbs together. Squeeze out the juice from both lime halves and add the zest from one half. Add a couple pinches of salt and mix again. Let sit overnight so the flavors mix. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Should make about six cups of salsa.

* To avoid the salsa being too watery, you can squeeze out some of the pulp & juice from the tomatoes before chopping. Add it back to the salsa until it’s desired consistency.

* As always, you can adjust to taste. To make it less spicy, remove the pepper seeds and ribs. Cilantro is necessary, but you can add more or less, depending on taste.

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I wrote this in November and forgot to post it. But instead of re-writing it, I’ve decided to put it on the blog anyway. We haven’t been keeping up with the in-bed composting as often as we planned, mostly because we haven’t been collecting kitchen scraps and our stash of leaves is soaked from the snow. 

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A couple weeks ago we did some major fall clean up in the garden. It’s always sad to rip everything out, but what wasn’t diseased was cut up and tossed into the compost bin.

We were able to save some of the herbs and preserve them for the winter (more on that later). As I mentioned in other posts, we have lots of beautiful trees on our street. In past years, we’ve shredded them and added the leaves to our garden beds to decompose over the winter. But I recently learned many of the pests that plague our garden – most notably the cucumber beetle – overwinter in leaf debris, so we’re switching it up.

I know it will be impossible to keep all the leaves out of the garden, but I don’t want big piles on each bed, so we’re trying in-bed composting. The basic concept is digging a big hole and adding your green material (plant debris, vegetable scraps, etc.) and brown material (dried leaves, shredded paper, etc.) and burying it. The idea is it will breakdown over the winter and add nutrients directly to the beds.

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