Leaves are dying and a frost is expected this week. I still have dozens of tomatoes and pepper on the plants and I have not decided how to deal with that. I could pick them all green and let them turn red inside over the next few weeks. I could try covering the plants with blankets and hope for the best. I have heard that pulling the plants up and then hanging them upside down can allow the tomatoes to grow a bit more and ripen better, but I don’t think that is practical. Some of the plants are about 6 feet tall and about half as wide. I can’t imagine being able to move them and hang them with out damage.
The Garden is over. Sure I have several winter crops that should do fine with a light frost; carrots, cabbage, peas, lettuce and lots of herbs. But those don’t feel quite the same. The high point of the garden is red ripe tomatoes, beans that make loud cracking noises when you break them, big messy bunches of wild flowers, and a canopy of sunflowers (they got cut down months ago, so I am over that lose). Gone are the things I have to climb under to harvest, the plants that I can hide behind if I don’t want to be engaged by my neighbors. I guess it all makes sense, winter is the time to pull in, stay close to home and rest. And given how hard my little piece of perfect worked this year it deserves the break.
The time I spend working on my garden is precious. From planning to harvest, each stage gives me new pleasure and challenges. Every year I experiment with new varieties and placement, new structures and supports.
One of my favorite changes this year is the bean tunnel. It is made of livestock panel and some metal fence posts. The idea is for the beans to climb up it, making this pretty covered tunnel that I can hide in. Having a small yard in a dense neighborhood means very little of my yard has the private solitary feel that I like from a garden, and also almost no shade. The bean tunnel is an attempt at making private space, no matter how small. So far I love it. The beans are growing exactly like they should with almost no help from me. The ones climbing are mostly rattlesnake (Bountiful Gardens seeds), a very tender purple spotted bean with great flavor. We grew it last year and liked it, so we decided to do it again.
On the ground you will see black weed block. This is also new this year. My front yard was all grass when we moved in. And no matter how hard you try, grass is resilient. I think I work harder killing all my grass than anyone in my neighborhood does keeping theirs a creepy green color all year long. This year Erik had the idea to hoe up the first few inches of grass, staple down weed block and then cover with something. The something you see here under the tunnel is rubber mulch. I got it because it is recycled, rather pretty, lasts forever and nothing is going to grow in it. The downside is that is sucks to walk on with bare feet. The other option I tried, which you can see to the left, is sand. Feels great on the feet, and not likely to get things growing in it. But it will wash away over time.
Speaking of structures, a new one is called for with these tomatoes. They have bent this support and are about to take it down. Tomorrow I am going to take some more livestock panel and make something to put around them that might be a little more sound. While I am at it, all the other tomato plants which are still pretty small might as well get the same treatment. Lots of volunteer tomatoes this year, there is a one under the sunflowers that looks to be a roma of some type.
I am using the biointensive method, with increasing success. My lettuce and radish area is just about perfect – almost no space at all between these plants. That means no weeds, no mulch, and great water retention. The idea is to make a mini-ecosystem under a group of plants. I have found that growing close makes for much healthier plants, and that some plants like radishes will not even grow if too far away from others of their kind. I need to eat all of this very soon. With the super high temperatures (mid-90s everyday this week) lettuce is about to bolt, which will not be good eats.
Companion planting is fun, sort of like a game. For the last few years I have been trying to get nasturtium and squash both growing at the same time, with no luck. I killed every nasturtium I planted. Which was sad, because I thought they would be pretty. And they are! This year they are finally working. I have three plants living, one each red, yellow and orange. Which is odd, because the seed package shows red, and I have always heard they are red. I am happy they come in more than one color. I like surprises like that. I hope having the nasturtium helps with squash bugs. Summer squash is one of my favorite foods when fresh. Last year was a real disappointment for squash. Between squash bugs, mexican bettles (tricksy bastards) and not enough water, we got maybe 2 meals worth of squash all season.
Here are the two great friends- yellow squash and nasturtium. The leaves of the nasturtium are almost as pretty as the flowers. This plant looks like it either came from the past and was a favorite of dinosaurs, or else from an alien world. No, I don’t know why I feel that way, I just do. I have an active imagination. Oh, fun thing about my squash. I planted the seeds of several kinds at random, so until they have fruit I don’t know what they are. This one is yellow straight neck. One of the others is getting its first fruit and it looks like it might be a pattypan of some kind.
Sometimes I look at my tiny yard and I long for the future, when I will have a real farm with all the garden space I could ever want, with chickens and cows, and an evil mule. But most of the time I am happy with what I have. I am learning each plant’s likes, dislikes and needs on an intimate basis. Each plant is special. With a small garden I can take the time to care for them one at a time. Also, a suburban homestead is a nice step. A 5-acre plot might overwhelm me. I might run around like crazy planting things at random, wanting to use it all, and making a big mess. With my small plot I have to really think about how I am going to use every foot. Until I started this garden I always thought of growing my own food as efficient, self-sufficient and utilitarian. Having a garden in the front yard as taught me that a garden can also be a beautiful work of art.
Word is there will be snow today, but I think this should be our last wave of cold weather, so the little plantlings will be outside soon, so they can grow big and strong.
Here they are two weeks after going into the flats.
The onions are ready to go out now, but I don’t have a bed prepared yet, I hope they can hold out for a few weeks. It will be so interesting to see how the celery grow. Looking at the little plants, I can’t figure it out. I guess I could look it up, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Last night I added lettuce and sunflowers to the flat. So the first flat is full. This weekend I am going to fill up the next 3 flats and then I will have all my seeds except the few (carrots, radishes) that I am going to broadcast.
I am doing something new this year, testing the soil. I have never felt this was nessacarry, and have taken a survival of the fittest approach. But I was reading a book on growing berries, and it talked about how important it is to know what your soil is like to make good choices about where to plangt, and how to prepare beds, that I figured I would give it a try. I gathered one sample yesterday from the front yard. The way this works is you dig little holes about 6 inches deep in 5 to 8 random spots of your growing area. From each of those holes you cut a slice from the side with a trowel, trying to get about the same sample amount for each depth. You put all these samples in a clean plastic bowl (don’t use metal) and mix it up. Once well mixed you put it in the little bag, take it to your extension office, and they send it off for testing. I will do the same thing in the rose garden tomorrow and then drop them both off. I am doing this a little late so it might not be helpful to my planting, but it will be interesting to know.
Yesterday I also set up an area in front of the living room windows to grow a wild flower/butterfly garden. I think the kittens will get a kick out of it. Those are their favorite window to sit it. This turned out to be a much more dangerous task than you would think, I tripped and got a very minor sprained ankle. It would have been funny recorded. I was walking, and then I was on the ground, with a little squeaky scream. My back was towards the walk way, so I put one put one arm behind me, and rested my head in my hand, all comfy looking. So by the time Jeff ran over to check on me, I was relaxed looking and said “Oh, I meant to do that, just needed a rest, right then” We also found a giant black widow. I don’t mind that they want to live here, but could they maybe hang out not on my plants (last year I picked one up on accident) or in my garden. Yesterday’s big girl was inside the hallow fake gray rocks that made up my front garden boarder. I was moving them to the butterfly garden. She was pretty sleepy from the cold, so she did not run out of it and bite us. Sadly, I made the decision to kill her. I did not kill the one I found last year. Our next door neighbors have a three/four year old, and I worry about her being outside and getting bit. I am pretty sure that if Puck, Jeff or I got bit, we would be able to go to the hospital and live, but I don’t know about a little kid, and I did not have time to go research it. I will research that today, so I can make a better decision next time.
We got the first part of our seed order today, more than half of what we will be planting. I am so excited, too bad it is still cold and rainy, but I am sure the spring will be coming soon.
There is still lots to do. We need to make our flats before we can start the seeds. (Tomatoes Feb.15, everything else March 1) Then while they are going we need to figure out for sure where we want the gardens, dig them and make some raised beds. We are doing a hybrid of in the ground and raised, because our soil is very poor (if we can afford all the supplies).
Our Burpee seed order should arrive in a few days, and our live plant order will not be here until mid-march. We ordered some wonderful flowers and berries, for the rose garden in the back yard. I hope it is all looking lovely in time for the wedding.