Check one corner off

There were a few cool days last week and I was able to drag myself out into the garden and give the vegetable beds a once over (in spite of the dry soil and high pollen counts).  I think it looks as good as it gets, and with all the unintentional flowers it may be fancy enough to call a “potager”, as Annette from Annette’s Garden once called it.  I like the name and it’s stuck.  It has just enough Continental refinement to make me laugh a little when I look at the plastic fencing, weedy sumacs, chainlink and neighboring industrial park!

the potager vegetable garden

The potager with neatly edged beds and way too much disorganization.  By now the warm weather vegetables should already be in but with last week’s frost I’m kind of grateful for my procrastination.

The work always goes faster with a good helper or two, but studies have shown that nine year old boys don’t typically fall into that category.  Still the company is welcome.

kids in the garden

A few edible things are starting to fill the beds but I’m always proudest of the fancy pink marble edging which line the plots.  In a former life the stone accented the front of the house, but now it helps edge the beds.  The look has been called “deep south cemetery” and I’m sure that’s a compliment. 

Ok, so even freshly weeded it’s still kind of messy, but I’m far too proud of the crisp edge along the lawn and the freshly mulched boxwood to let that keep me from posting a photo.  Our little Queen of the Prairie” must agree.  She overlooks the potager but has seen better days as the weather continues to eat away at her plaster self.  Might be time to start hitting the estate sales to find a successor.

boxwood edging vegetable beds

A very rarefied boxwood edging lines the outer perimeter and I think it really elevates the standing of my hodgepodge of plants.  Hopefully I can enjoy it for a few years now that it’s finally growing in, especially since  so many European and New England gardeners are facing multiple boxwood problems … blight, caterpillars, ugh.

The iris are at their peak.  I should really evict them but never do.

iris in the vegetable beds

Seems like for every iris clump I remove a few new ones pop up.  The compost usually brings in a few but the gardener also tends to feel bad for spare plants and ends up putting the innocent little fans in here and there.

I don’t know what to say about this clump.  Two years ago I dumped them here when I needed their real estate for a tomato planting.  I never replanted them but apparently they don’t care.  Two years in an iris bed with no bloom, two years of being tossed to the side and they look great.  Go figure.

historic bearded iris

Their identities are probably lost, but I think the apricot-pink to the right is ‘Jean Guymer’.

It’s not all flowers, there are a few cool weather vegetables braving the up and down temperatures.  Broccoli, lettuce, potatoes, and garlic all look promising, but here the tomato seedlings still all need to be weeded out.  If I knew what they were I’d keep them, but I already have more than enough.  They’ll stay for a few days longer to keep the ground covered since I don’t want mud splattering up into the yummy little lettuce rosettes when I water.

lettuce mervielle quatre seasons matina sweet

Two favorite lettuces, the never bitter ‘Matina Sweet’ and the darker ‘Mervielle de Quatre Saisons’… which should get a delicious tender green heart in a few more days.

The heat was too much for the arugula.  The flowers are nice enough though, and I won’t mind weeding this one out for salads if it goes to seed.

arugula bolting to seed

Chives in bloom and arugula bolting as the weather gets warm.  Time to plant the summer crops!

Even with the weeding and watering there’s still a ton to do.  Some tulips and daffodils will hopefully start coming out this weekend and that should open up room for beans and squash.  It may still be May but I’m going to say summer is here, and the next big project will be summer annuals.  Even though the plantlets are anxious to get out from under the growlights, I hope to tackle one last big weed patch adjacent to the potager before all my energy is lost.  It’s the on again off again red border/ pond bed, and hopefully in the next few weeks there will be some progress there as well.

eliminating weeds from perennial bed

All kinds of weeds filling the red border.  I resorted to roundup along the fence and that’s the only reason it’s not a sea of campanula glomerata.

Wish me luck.  We had a good rainstorm come through this afternoon and everything seems to be letting out a big sigh of relieve (including my water meter).  Facing next week’s high temperatures with a still-dry garden was not something I was looking forward to, so I’m thrilled!

I’m pretty sure there’s fiber in icecream

Many people wax poetic on the joys of homegrown produce.  The flavor, the nutrients, the connection with the earth…. all good things and all good for you (and deep down inside I agree) but on the shallow outside I’d still rather reach for a donut or chocolate bar rather than a carrot stick.  Vegetables just don’t make my heart go pitter pat.

Because of that the vegetable garden always walks a fine line between productivity and extinction.  I love the look of vegetables bursting from the soil, but the newly dug beds and open ground are just too tempting to keep free of flowers.  At this time of year it’s more of a flower harvest.

volunteer sunflower

Oddly enough a sunflower has come up in exactly the same spot as one grew last year. It’s the perfect spot actually, and I’m glad to have it!

The season starts innocently enough, and with a strong will I turn under all the persicaria and daisies and whatever else tries to sneak in.  I need room for delicious lettuce seedlings and broccoli transplants and the flowers just throw off my industrially neat rows.  Things go downhill from there.

dahlia tanjoh

Dahlias always seem to grow best in a vegetable plot and when you’ve got one or two extra roots it seems perfectly logical to sneak them in between the chard. This is dahlia “Tanjoh” which I barely noticed last year as it suffered under the shade of a wayward sunflower.

Harvest time is always a problem.  If the broccoli is ready it needs to be picked, and there are only so many broccoli-cheese omelets you can reasonably fit into a weekend.  Things go to seed and I’m strangely amused to see weeds such as lettuce, pumpkins, and chard popping up the next year.

broccoli bolting

When you lose control the broccoli turns into a froth of yellow blooms and green rattail seedpods. Several of these plants were self-sown seedlings which just showed up from last year’s patch.

One of the sore points this summer was how often the sweet corn needed watering in our pancake-thin topsoil.  It seemed like every other day I’d look out there and see dry curled leaves begging for a little moisture.  Shockingly enough even after giving up in disgust the patch managed to produce a few deliciously sweet and flavorful ears.

freshly picked sweet corn

A space, water and fertilizer hog, freshly picked sweet corn is still worth the trouble (I guess). But it’s a tough argument when the supermarket has 6 perfect ears for $2.50 and mine probably cost me that much just for the seeds!

Another producer was a trellis of pole beans (which called it a year after being blown over in August).  Beans are nice on a trellis, but the kids appreciate “love in a Puffs” much more than bean salad.

love in a puff and cypress vine

The pale green balloons of love in a puff (Cardiospermum halicacabum) with the ferny green leaves and red flowers of cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit). Both conveniently reseeded here at the base of the trellis from last year, something to keep in mind if you don’t like volunteer plants.

The kids share the love by picking the puffs and having a puff-fight but the real reason behind the name is found inside the puff on each of the vine’s black seeds.

love in a puff seeds

A white heart forms on each seed, a kind of ‘belly button’ from where the seed was attached to the plant. Glad my hands were clean for this one 🙂

There is plenty of ‘real’ harvest that comes from the patch.  Tomatoes never fail, even the fussier heirlooms, and here is a huge cluster of “Kellogg’s Breakfast”.  In a rare second appearance in a single blog post (I hate having myself show up in any pictures), I left my hand in there to show just how big the fruits are.  2 lbs, 14 oz for the pair in case you’re interested.

Kellogg's Breakfast tomato

Kellogg’s Breakfast tomato

When I finished planting the tomatoes I couldn’t resist adding a border of “Moldavian” marigolds (from Nan at Hayefield) and a few stray salvia and leftover zinnia seedlings.  Might as well since the other side of the bed is edged in hellebore seedlings.

zinnias, marigolds, and blue salvia

A vegetable garden is the perfect place for bunches of annuals that might not find a place in the rest of the garden. The brownish orange of these “Moldova” marigolds might be hard to fit in somewhere else.

And did I mention I like phlox?  When you’re faced with a few new ones to plant and you’ve given absolutely no forethought to where they’ll go the vegetable garden makes everything better again.

phlox kirmeslander

Just coming into bloom now, phlox “Kirmeslander” seems almost too summery a color for the autumn-golds and yellows which are starting to appear.

With the season winding down one would think the vegetable patch would be safe, but fall is actually the most dangerous time of year for vegetable space.  After you pull up a dead, mildewed patch of zucchini the vacant spot almost begs for a few tulips or daffodils which you can’t find a space for elsewhere.  No worries though, I’m sure they’ll die down before I need the room for peppers!

Oh and I think the colchicums look nice blooming between the sweet corn stalks 🙂

Early June in the vegetable garden

Things don’t look too bad out there.  I was late in getting everything planted (of course) but the cooler weather and the last couple days of rain have helped the spring crops come along.  This butterhead lettuce (I forget the variety) is starting to look real yummy.butterhead lettuce

There’s also some romaine coming along.  These are all in the ‘safe zone’ behind the chicken wire, but even outside the fence its been a relatively damage-free spring as far as the rabbits go.  Slugs have been more of a problem.romaine lettuce

Brocoli is making progress too.  It’s finally taking off and spreading its roots after a too long delay in the six packs (these I bought prestarted).brocolli plantThese tomatoes have been in for a week or two as well as the onion transplants.  This will be the year of the onion since I started way too many seedlings and then couldn’t bare to toss them into the compost.  They’re small for the time of year but I hope I get something by the time the harvest rolls around….. otherwise I guess we’ll have hundreds of scallions to deal with!onion seedlingsThe tomatoes are dealing with what might possibly be the worst soil prep in gardening history.  A month ago this bed was lawn.  I turned under the grass and added a little compost for the onions, but all the tomatoes got was a layer of leaves and grass clippings to kill the turf and then holes dug directly into the lawn.  Maybe I gave them a little compost on top.
Actually the sister bed across the path which I planted on Saturday was even worse.new planting bed

You can still see the lawn peeking out from behind the tomatoes and along the bed edging.  The plants went straight into holes dug into the lawn and then the grass and weeds were covered with a mulch of chopped leaves and twigs and whatever else the mower picked up during spring bed cleanup/winter debris removal…. I didn’t even have any nutrient filled tender grass clippings to put down!  Once I can dig out some more compost I might put a bit around the tomatoes, but until that happens they’re on their own.  At least I planted them deep, covering all the stem up to the top clump of leaves.  this should let them sprout more roots into the mulch and should help with the lack of soil prep.

ripe strawberryHopefully if I keep it watered the earthworms will find the mulch and rototill the soil with their tunnels.  Grass clippings will surely bring them in, in fact last Friday prior to the rain, I fertilized the front lawn.  I’m hoping it will produce a nice bumper crop of clippings before summer drought dries it up.

The garden isn’t all healthy vegetables, it’s also juicy sweet strawberries.  Even with the late freeze there are a couple coming along.

There’s also the promise of a few blueberries this summer.  Most likely the birds will beat us to them, but this bunch might be worth covering up and saving for ourselves.growing blueberries

Of course I’m only showing the good and new.  Peppers and eggplants still have to go in as well as pole beans.  I’m far from having everything planted and growing.  Right now the process of digging up the tulip beds is going on and it’s into these beds that the last of the transplants will go.  Someday I hope to have beds where I want them and supports ready to go but obviously it’s not going to be this year!

Please tell me I’m not the only one falling behind:)

Spring vegetables

I finally got the early vegetable plantings in, each evening last week I prepped another patch of soil, and by Sunday afternoon was able to plant and fence.  My buddy approves, but I suspect she’d rather the fence wasn’t there between her and the lettuce.Spring vegetables planted

I’m guessing it’s a she (I really have no idea) and I’ll go out on a limb and guess there’s a nest of baby bunnies nearby.  She’s never mentioned where during our talks, but she’s around the yard all day so I’m sure it’s not too far.

Soil prep in my case was digging under all the weeds, stray tulips, and whatever leftover dead stuff was lying around from last year.  Once dug over, compost would have been nice, but since I have none I raked/hoed in some chopped leaves from last fall and followed it with a good watering down.

onion seedlings

Once I get some grass clippings I’ll give it a thin mulch to keep down the weed seedlings.  I’m glad I finally got the stuff in, it’s already late for cabbages and onions, and a better person would have done all this prep in the fall.  If you look around the edge of the fence you’ll see twigs laying on top of the unfenced plantings.  This seems to be enough to discourage Mrs. Bunny from pushing through and nibbling the new transplants underneath.

weeds in the gardenSo now I hope things have enough time to mature before summer really kicks in….. and if they don’t, at least it looks better than the unkempt weed patch it was last weekend.

Mental note for next year is *prep the bed in the fall for spring plantings*.  It sounds easy but it’s advice directed more towards the better people who follow suggestions and learn from mistakes.  I’m not sure if I can include myself in that group.  A better person would not have planted a peony in the middle of the bed, a better person would not have first let last year’s turnips go to seed (just to see what they looked like), and a better person would not have left the daffodils in the middle of the lettuce.

Seedling Update

I’m not as far behind as I thought I was.  Even though not a single garden center would ever worry about me as competition, there are a few things looking like they might be ready to go in the ground.  Two weeks earlier and a week or two in the cold frame (which doesn’t exist) would have been perfect… but this is where I’m at… and chances are next year this is also where I’ll be at.  I’m a slow learner.tomato seedlings

This was supposed to be the warm season light, with tomatoes and peppers and such, but I think it’s still not warm enough.  The empty pots are things that just didn’t want to germinate, and the ones that did did it ever so sloooooowly.   I think I need a heat mat to speed them up, it sounds like a good idea but I’ve never committed to getting one.  Anyone have good luck with them?

The tomatoes and peppers look fine, but the coleus cuttings seem to do much better on the windowsill.  Coleus are the one plant that appears to find something lacking in the flourescent lights.  They always seem to have a “funny” look to them until they go outside and I wonder what it is.

The cool weather plants under the lights in the back of the garage look a little more impressive.  seedlings under light

I think once this stuff hits the great outdoors it will take off…. assuming the bunnies stay away.  I’m trying out “bright lights” swiss chard and already like the multicolored stems.swiss chard seedlings So we’ll see where this goes.  Right now the vegetable garden is full of spring bulbs.  It seemed like a good idea in October, now I don’t know.  But at least it looks nice.mixed daffodils

Planning the Veggie Patch

Planning the Veggie Patch

I just spent a large part of my Saturday afternoon putting together this year’s seed list, mostly for the vegtable patch. It’s not easy leafing through all the catalogs, browsing the websites, and looking up exactly what varieties will be best suited for your own little patch of land. The hours add up and it almost seems like more work than hobby, especially when you realize no one in this household really even likes vegetables.
Heirloom tomatoes, obscure asian greens, european market vegetables…. all sound great, but when you’re a canned corn and frozen spinach (usually only used for making dip) kind of family, a normal person might question the whole process.
The neighbors appreciate it though, and when a tray of eggplant parmesan shows up on our doorstep it’s all good.
As you can see in this photo from last year, flowers tend to dominate the veggies, each year getting a little worse. Annuals are one thing but perennials are a little harder to plant the tomatoes around. It seemed like a good idea in September but devoting four beds to tulips and daffodils (and one bed to hellebore seedlings) might be a problem when it’s time to plant peas.