Monday, November 21, 2011

It's wet, it's cold, it's dark.  But I don't mind, I relish autumn. Apples, wool, and woodsmoke; soup, fresh hop beers, rich red wines, and baking just to warm up the kitchen.  I love the change of seasons, well at least this first part.

And although I ran out of steam at the end of the summer this year, due to various distractions and general disappointment with the  summer growing season, I still like to get out in the garden even if it's just for lots of cleanup.  I've been harvesting fallen leaves from some of my neighbors to fill my compost bins and spread over bare dirt spots as a mulch.

I never got around to planting all the fall/winter crops I intended to plant.  I did manage to plant some Lacinato kale and some peas.  So I haven't been doing much in the garden, but that doesn't mean that the garden has continued to work without me.  There are still edibles being produced and each time I venture out I am suprised and amazed and a little ashamed.

The kale is producing enough to make big batches of kale chips, and the peas a few handfuls each week.  Kale chips are terrific and let you eat dark, leafy greens while pretending you are eating potato chips.  And the Jerusalem artichokes I planted a few years ago, intended to be an automatic food crop, have become just that.   Even though I have been lazy about regularly harvesting them, they go on happily multiplying undeground.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ha! In Which I Take It All Back

All that whining and bellyaching paid off. In above average temperatures, that is. We've just had several weeks of 90 degree days. Who knew? Well, certainly not me. I have been recently heard predicting this to be a year with no days above 90 degrees. Again, hah! I guess anybody that wrong about the weather is instantly qualified to be a local TV news meteorologist.

I couldn't be happier about being so wrong. What a treat the last few weeks have been, even though all this sudden heat stunned some of the plants and necessitated much more watering. Many of the tomatoes that I feared were destined to become fried green tomatoes have become the buxom, ripe and ribald beauties that are the dreams of gardeners during the winter months.

Here are a couple of the top performers this season. Caspian Pink, which I had never grown before and Pork Chop, which I had never heard of and bought on the charm of it's name alone. Both of these plants yielded lots and lots of big, juicy tomatoes.

And the Sungolds, of which I have 2 plants, have been in overdrive, producing buckets and buckets of the bite size orange candy.

So following a late summer that really wasn't much of a summer we end up with a beautiful Indian summer. I LOVE this time of year in the Pacific Northwest.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Particularly Uninspired

That's right, I haven't been posting much this "summer". It's August and we have yet to reach 90 degrees on any day of the year. And there are hints that fall is not far away. The days are beginning to get shorter and there is a cool in the air that I associate with autumn.

And no 90s in the near term forecast.

I know I should be able to find inspiration in a flower or a bud or some other botanical miracle, but I just don't have it this year. It's not a complete washout, there are fruits and vegetables in the garden, tons of beans, squash, but the really warm weather loving plants are just not getting what they need. Oh well.

I have been enjoying these 2 Nicotiana plants that I got at the 3rd Annual Plant Exchange. They are beautiful and the blooms just keep on coming. And while most of the plants may be yearning for more intense heat I have 2 new favorites that seem to be thriving in these lackluster conditions.

Purple Orach and Soleil bush beans. The Orach is related to spinach and tastes very much like it. It produces big triangular leaves that have a gorgeous shimmery velvety underside. They are big enough to make lettuce rolls with whatever you fancy inside. And of course they are great for dressing up a salad. And it just looks so striking int the garden. Big hit, I will definitely be growing this again.

And the yellow Soleil bush beans are compact, but prolific. They have produced tons of slender, tender, straight beans. This another discovery I will look forward to growing again next year.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

How Industrial Farming 'Destroyed' the Tasty Tomato

Here's a revealing and discouraging story from NPR about the tomato growing industry in Florida.
Just more compelling evidence for growing your own if you can.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fruits and Flowers

Temperatures remain cooler than normal, but happy things are beginning to happen in the garden. Here is the first strawberry of the season. I probably should have waited one more day for optimal ripeness, but I didn't. It was delicious.

And apples have set on 2 out of the 3 trees. These are Empire.

Below is the view under the gorgeous canopy of my neighbor's kiwi plants. The flowers have a rich, heady fragrance and open facing downwards. Theses are ancient plants, one male and one female who reach across a trellis to embrace and share pollen, with the help of industrious bees.

The loads of flowers look promising, but we had the same abundance of blooms last year and all that promise produced not even one kiwi fruit. We think that cold caused the blossoms to drop before they had a chance to be transformed into fruit. So we will enjoy the flowers now and watch carefully to see if we will get fruit this year.

And I couldn't resist including a portrait of one of my beloved peonies. Not edible, not practical, but richly nourishing to the soul.

In other news we have begun a small remodel on the farmhouse. And by farmhouse I mean our vinyl clad double wide, with a big ole garage right up front. The first phase is complete. The old fireplace, which sat astride a corner of the room and was framed in a hulking, dark brown surround extending to the ceiling, has been replaced. In it's place now sits a sleek, compact, beautiful, super-efficient Danish wood stove. It almost makes me wish for cool enough weather to light a fire. Almost. So here is a peek at the before and after. Yes, it really is the same room.

We reclaimed about 16 square feet, and lots of wall space. The room feels much more spacious. The fireplace didn't give out much heat, it went up the chimney. I have been assured by all associated with the purchase and installation of this new stove that it will "heat us out of the house in the winter". I can't wait.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Charming and Impressive

Okay, so it's not strictly gardening related, but definitely sustainable living related. My town has a series of rides called Sunday Parkways. The events are inspired by the Ciclovia events in Bogota, Colombia.

The rides are on city streets temporarily closed to cars. They are several miles long, connecting parks. These events are free. People are invited to come, ride, walk, skate.

The parks are full of activities and food vendors. And it's always a good time.

On the first ride of the year I spotted this ambitious mom and her impressive cargo. Two kids in the box of the bakfiets, one behind her on the rack and one more being towed and adding pedal power on the Follow Me. Wow!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Really? Still?

It's the end of May and the temperature may reach 54 degrees today amid showers. And tomorrow maybe as high as 51 with more showers and possibly some hail. Luckily most of the plants don't seem to mind. Here are a couple of super achievers doing their thing.

Lovely Wisteria on my next door neighbors house.

Hops on my porch, rapidly creating a shady haven from the sweltering days that still seem so far off.

Even the tomatoes and peppers, who most crave the heat and sunlight, don't seem to be suffering much. They aren't making a lot of progress, but they look pretty good. Some of them even have tiny blossoms. And the currants have already set their fruit.

The cedar shavings around the plants are my favorite mulching material. It keeps the soil from caking rock hard, helps retain moisture, which isn't currently a problem, but hopefully will be sometime soon. And the cedar smells nice. It is usually sold as animal bedding and is really inexpensive. I got 11 cubic feet for less than $10, and that covers almost all of my planted areas. And it breaks down adding organic matter to the soil.

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's Raining, But I Don't Mind

No, really. I can hardly believe it myself. After boring both my readers and myself to death with endless self pity and complaining about the weather for far too many posts I find myself enjoying a gentle spring shower.

Maybe it's because I am lazy and won't have to water the plants I put in earlier today. Maybe I am feeling smug for getting my gardening done before the ground got muddy. Maybe I have given up grousing about the weather for Lent, even though Lent ended weeks ago. Maybe it's because it isn't freezing, and I think we have left the really cold temperatures behind. I am hopeful for warm sunny days in the not too distant future. And the plants have given up waiting. So many trees and flowers are looking gorgeous.

Whatever the reason, I am at peace with the rain.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Keeping Calm and Carrying On

The plants have resolved to soldier on with their springtime business despite the cooler temps. Here are few of the top performers in several categories.

Apple trees in bloom.

Red veined Dock. Also known as Blood Sorrell. One garden blog describes it as a drama queen in the garden . It can be eaten as a salad green or in soups

Strawberry plants with flowers and tiny fruits, even though the plants have barely had a chance to leaf out the way they like to.


White Currants. These didn't produce much fruit last year, but there are loads of blossoms this year. So I remain cautiously optimistic.

And the raspberries look ready to deliver another bountiful harvest. Such a treat.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cold Comfort

I take little consolation in the fact that we are setting records for cold and wet this year. If we get the promised rain today April 2011 will vault into third place among wettest Aprils on record. Yay. 51 degrees to go along with that precipitation too. Really?

But last Saturday was divine, 71 degrees and sunny, balmy even. A perfect day for what has become known as the 2nd Happiest Day of the Year. The 3rd Annual Neighborhood Plant Exchange. Friends and neighbors gather to trade starts, seeds, and plants they have too much of in their gardens. We also share our hopes for the coming garden season and of course our disappointment in the weather. Coffee and pastries sustain us while we choose our plants.

It was a huge success.
I bought home 3 tomato plants, 2 peppers, some onion starts, Sweet Pea seeds, Gourd seeds, Chinese Lantern plant, Red Bee Balm.

And the very next day temperatures were back down into the 50s with plenty of rain.

Many plants are defiant in the face of this unpleasantness. Rhododendrons and Dogwoods are in bloom, trees have leafed out. Raspberries and strawberries have set their tiny fruits. But the cool weather persists. It will have to give up soon. I'm sure you are tired of my complaining, especially if you live in a place that has real winter, and you still have snow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring Hopes Eternal

You'd think there would be more posts on a garden blog at this time of year, right? Well, I haven't felt much like gardening lately and I haven't felt like I had anything worth writing about. This can't go on much longer. Can it?

Another drippy day. Spring is late. Again. Temperatures are below normal for this time of year. We keep telling ourselves if we can just make it through the next few wet days there are suns on the weather page of the paper. Just over the horizon, at the end of the week. Maybe.

Right now the sun is shining, even though an intense shower with some hail is passing through. But the plants don't seem to notice that what is supposed to be happening isn't. And we've had a taste of pleasures to come. Buds are bursting forth and all over town there are colors besides gray and brown. This little tease has me yearning for more; more color and the smell of plants and flowers warmed by the sun.

I can't wait for:
Milky orange of squash blossoms, and the flesh of pumpkins
Blinding, piercing orange of marigolds and zinnias
Peaches, even though they are more about the smell than the color
Carrots, which always provide a surprise when pulled from the soil

Waxy perfection of daffodils, shocking against the still dead landscape
Winter jasmine and Forsythia, (these have come and gone)
Pale yellow of sweet corn, only at peak for a few weeks, but such a classic taste of summer

Soft pink of cherry trees in bloom, fluttering away at the touch of a breeze
Pink Magnolia buds, like a tree full of Easter eggs
Searing pink Zinnias and Cosmos

Western Scrub Jays that turn up looking for peanuts most mornings
Borage flowers and their fan club of bees
Sweet pea flowers of whose delicate perfume I never tire

Star Magnolia, bright light against the frequently gray skies of March
Blousy, charming, old fashioned Peonies
Classy white Roses, always elegant

Roses in every shade of red
Blood red beets
Fire engine red Crocosmia

Rich, loamy soil, crumbly fragrant compost
Black tomatoes, which aren't really black, but dark purply green and rich in flavor, my favorite
Creepy black Tulips

Millions of greens as plants emerge from hibernation
Blue green of Lacinato Kale
Electric chartreuse, green of new shoots and Sweet Flag grass

So I will distract myself with spring cleaning and in a few days we may have sun and warmth.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Now You See 'em

And now you don't. Just as promised. We placed the dabs of Terro among the swarms of ants and waited. At first more ants came, just like we were warned on the package. We remained calm. We kept the bait traps full.

Each morning there were fewer and fewer of them and they seemed more and more tired and slow moving. Finally, after 2, maybe 3 days, there just weren't any more ants. Hooray!

We waited, just to make absolutely sure before we reclaimed our kitchen counters. After a day or 2 with no ants we wiped everything down and replaced appliances and utensils and life returned to normal. And we have been ant free ever since. Until next time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Uninvited

It could be worse. At least it's not cockroaches.

At first there were just a few. Scouts presumably, looking for food. Then the word spread and more of them began to appear. Ants. We kidded ourselves for the first few days, just crushing the random intruders, and mopping them up with paper towels. But it got difficult to keep up with the increasing numbers.

We cleared the counters where they were most active, on both sides of the stove. We swabbed the counters clean and applied vinegar. Still they came. I took a certain degree of pleasure in vacuuming them up. A nice quick solution, but like the others we had tried so far, ultimately ineffective.

Nathan, who is much better at finding real solutions than am I, was browsing the internet for ant riddance solutions came across what we hope is the final solution for these annoying critters. He found the answer on a website called Get Rich Slowly, coincidentally run by a friend of a friend.

Terro was the answer he claimed. I made haste to the hardware store around the corner and got a small bottle of this sugar and borax bait. Ants come, indulge in the mixture, transport it back to the nest, and well... you know. The slogan is Bait, Wait, Eliminate.

We are currently in the Wait part of the strategy, trying not to freak out at the increased numbers of ants, while they stock up on the poison that will solve the problem once and for all. Or at least for the near future.

Here is what the bait traps look like. Kind of like a pretty flower, right?

It's just a piece of cardboard from the packaging, doused with the sticky mixture. They do seem to love it, and belly up to the bar like it's happy hour. And it is kind of fun to watch them stagger away from the bait station with high hopes, not of moving a rubber tree plant, but of delivering their load of "food" to the colony.

It is my task today to make sure the feeders don't run dry. I want to be a generous as possible with the juice in the hopes that I will soon be able to use these counters again for normal kitchen activities, instead of entomology experiments.

Updates to follow.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Wet Ground Makes For Good Weeding

And I have pah-lenty of weeds, mostly Little Bitter Cress right now. And it's starting to flower, which means seeds and many, many more Little Bitter Cress. They are among those weeds who propel their seeds when touched, an dastardly evolutionary trick. Hence the nickname "shotweed".

So even though I am trying to be more One Straw Revolution minded, and live as one with the weeds, I just can't bear to let them multiply, even though they are kind of pretty. I just don't want them everywhere.

It looks like they may be edible, but I haven't tried them yet. I have seen a couple of forager blogs making this claim.

They identified as Cardamine oligosperma, and are in the family Brassicaceae (Cruciferae) .
Here's a nifty weed identification tool.
Weed ID from University of California

So yesterday I pulled out hundreds of weeds, and it felt good, very good. It was a bumper crop. I also pulled out lots of Forget Me Not volunteers. And I came to the conclusion that the name Forget Me Not is not sweet and old fashioned it is cruel and ironic. Plant it once and it will never be forgotten.

And it looks like it's going to be a great year for slugs too. I wish I still had the hens to feed them to. I took great pleasure feeding them slugs and they loved them. On the bright side I guess I should be glad that my soil is healthy enough to support so many thriving life forms.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Promises, Promises

Not much happening in the garden, so not much happening here on the blog. Ah, but there are signs, early signs of spring. We are in the middle of a warm, wet week, and the plants seem to be sighing in relief and relaxing, after a week of cold, dry freeze.

This is the kind of warm spell that makes me want to do crazy things, like plant lettuce seeds.

I admit, I'm soft. I grew up in San Diego, and I know I couldn't hack a real winter, a Chicago winter, or a Boston winter. Winter in Portland feels cold to me. But it's short and mild. And I do like to pile on the sweaters and sit beside cozy fires.

And now, only into the middle of January there are signs of spring.

Winter Jasmine isn't a big surprise, I expect it to bloom in January. But buds are swelling on other plants too. And the biggest shock was this...Cherry Blossoms!

So tonight the Bean Queen and I will review the seed catalogs that have arrived so far, and start making our lists.