Eat your heart out!
I’ve got a couple of quotes floating around in my head as of late, and most of them are pretty cliche. It seems like this year Eliot, Dickens AND Guns ‘N Roses had it right: “April is the cruelest month”; “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”; and, of course, “Nothin lasts forever, even cold Novemeber rain.” Cliche or not, these pretty much sum up how my last month and a half has gone, there have been ups and there have been downs. My nephew Joey was born and I got to see him THREE TIMES in April. Then my family had an expected death throw us in a loop, and finally the school referendum that we needed to pass to save Brian’s job did NOT pass. Throw in a big Polish Easter celebration, lots of rain, rain, rain, rain and the end of the school year and you’ll start to see the kind of roller coaster I’ve been on. So, even though I felt like a quitter, the blog was the first thing to go on the back burner. Sorry folks! But, hopefully now that I’m officially on summer break I’ll be posting more often. I should- I’ve not got much else to do!
However… just because I haven’t been posting doesn’t mean I haven’t been taking pictures for the blog! Because I have! On the few sunny days we’ve had here and there I’ve been out in the yard and garden every chance I can get. I think my last “Garden Update” post was a little premature…. there really wasn’t a whole lot going on in the garden for anyone but me to be very interested in. I think it was just the blooming trees that got me excited about spring. But now the gardens are really starting to green up and I even got my vegetable starts planted!
Everything looks a little sorry right now. I think I may have tried to harden my starts off a little too quickly. I guess I was getting impatient to get them in. Before I planted the tomatoes in the bed I amended the soil with some peat moss and mushroom compost. It was a labor of LOVE, let me tell you. I felt like I was on Survivor competing for immunity because I woke up one morning and checked the weather to see I had three hours before it started raining. So I decided to get it all done in three hours. Sounds like plenty of time, but I was finishing up with a drizzle coming down on my back. The thing that made it so hard was that I don’t have a tiller, so it was just me and my good pal the shovel. I dug up 6″ worth of dirt (I hesitate to call it that, because our yard is mostly clay) and shoveled it into the wheelbarrow where I mixed it with the amendments and then shoveled it all back in. I was able to do about a 1’x1′ area at a time because that’s all the wheelbarrow would hold. So, it took me the whole three hours and I was laughing at myself the whole time. Hopefully it will be worth all the effort when the tomatoes and cucumber seeds I planted explode into a jungle of ripe veggies.Too bad I’ll have to wait until at least July for that!
The raised bed has eggplants, yellow squash and two kinds of beans planted. The squash and beans I direct sowed into the dirt, so I’ll be anxiously waiting to see those sprouts come up in the next couple of weeks.
I also planted my basil starts in some pots. Last year I had oregano, thyme and mint growing in these pots with my basil and all three came back! I didn’t expect any of them to make it. So all I need now is rosemary (which I’ll go out and buy at some point) and my potted herb garden will be all set.
Brian and I also finally got rid of that dead spruce and replaced it with a river birch. It’s hard to know what to plant in our yard– last year we had a severe drought which is what killed the spruce, but this year we’ve only had a handful of days without rain, so our yard has been a marshy mess in the back. We’ve seen lots of our neighbors with river birch in their yards so we figured it must be a pretty low-maintenance tree. Plus, they are nowhere near as expensive as Blue Spruce!
We added a few other things as well. I planted FOUR more lilac bushes near the house. I hope we get to stay in this house long enough for me to see them start to mature. I love lilacs and I wanted to put them in a grouping close to my kitchen window so their pretty scent would waft in. Below is a picture of one with some ornamental grass that should grow up to cover whatever ugly yard thing that is.
And we also planted a pussy willow bush in another particularly wet spot. I really like the way this looks, and the other day we noticed a neighbor that planted three of these on the north side of their house as well, so I think this will do much better here than the Mountainfire Spiria that I replaced it with.
I don’t think I’ll add any new plants to the front garden this year… I’m just waiting to see how everything I planted last year turns out. One thing I do know is that this fall I need to get some early spring bulbs to plant because I was so envious of everyone’s tulips and daffodils! I didn’t realize that most of my flowers (besides the lilacs) won’t be blooming until summer!
Speaking of lilacs, the one up front is finally blooming. It’s much later than the ones I have in back.
I also need to put up some pictures of my alliums. Last post I kind of neglected them, and when I went home my aunt Lilly’s alliums looked very different than mine,. I had a hard time explaining mine, so I really want to show her how they look. I can’t wait to post pictures of these when they finally bloom in June!
I am also thrilled with how well my bleeding heart bush is doing! I thought it was dead, dead, dead last year. My Aunt Barb told me it’d come back and I didn’t believe her, but I’m so happy she was right!
Whenever I go out taking pictures of the garden I always try to snap a few shots of the dogs as well. This is pretty easy to do with Truman– he’s patient with me, good at posing, and is very photogenic:
Just like with everything else, though, Finnegan has to be completely opposite of his brother. Although he’s a very handsome boy, he hates the sounds the camera makes and is very camera shy. So it’s hard to get a good shot of him when he’s always running off. Most of them end up looking something like this:
But, after chasing him around the yard and taking about 1,000 shots, I think I got my favorite portrait of him ever!
What a sweetheart, right? When he puts on that happy face it’s hard not to smile myself.
I’ve been taking some pics of meals I’ve been making lately, too. Those should go up soon!
Thank G-d spring is here! After the week I’ve had, I need some of the symbolism of spring to keep me going. It’s nice to be able to look outside your window and see things greening up and pushing through– even nicer to be able to go out with a camera when the sun is setting and catch some good light. I’m one of those people who get so anxious for the growing season that when things start to sprout I go out and check on their progress almost every day. Last summer and fall we did a lot of planting, but because of the awful drought we had I wasn’t sure what was going to come back this year. Here’s this year’s roll call!
I did the most planting in this bed, which is right in the front of the house, so I am really impatient for everything to bloom here so I can see the effect of all my choices and work.
I was especially happy when I saw this plant coming up because I’d completely forgotten that I’d planted lily bulbs last year when I got some in an Easter planter. I don’t remember what color these were, so it will be a nice surprise when they bloom.
Here’s a plant that my aunt gave me last year. It’s supposed to be drought resistant (so it was one of the few that did well last year) and it gets yellow flowers. I don’t know what it’s called (maybe my aunt does?), but I know that she had to divide her plants up last year and gave some to me and my younger sister, so hopefully that means it’s also a fast grower!
I wasn’t sure what to do with this plant, lavender, because it’s new from last year too and I wasn’t sure how it was going to grow back… do I cut it back or leave it alone? Looks like the old growth is greening up from the ground, so I’m glad I didn’t cut anything back. Lavender smells great, so of course I planted three of these!
I’ve got three of these ornamental grasses planted, and I’m trying to remember what kind I bought… I think it was called “Heavy Metal.” I wanted these to act as a kind of curtain that will set the stage for all the flowers in front of them, so I hope they get taller and wider than last year. I think they will, since they’re in the ground instead of root bound in a pot.
And THIS is one of my very very very favorites: a lilac bush. It’s going to bloom soon, as you can see. We’ve got this one in front and another in back, both different varieties. I absolutely love the smell of lilacs, so I plan on planting many more of these in the back yard.
Here’s the other flower bed in the front of the house.
It’s got a nest evergreen up front and two other kinds of bushes that were here when we moved in. Luckily, we thought they looked great, so we kept them. In the back you can see three smaller plants- these will be awesome come June. They are giant aliums, a part of the onion family, that have huge round flowering heads that stand on extremely long stems. I think they’re supposed to get at least 2 feet tall. I can’t wait to see these.
I also found these coming up just today:
Just kidding, I put these in today after waiting all winter with them in the closet. I love these mushrooms! I got them last year at a big craft show, Fall Diddley, that my family in Illinois goes to every year.
Here’s the bed on the side of the house. This bed is the most reliable and never needs any watering. I didn’t plant any of these, but this bed needed a lot of love when we moved in. All the beds were filled with ROCKS. I can never understand why anyone would ever put ROCKS in a flower bed!!! Beside the fact that they are ugly, they keep your plants from thriving! Since the rocks came out (after a whole summer of me digging them up), these plants have really started to shine. The bushes on either end are burning bushes that will turn bright red in the fall.
There’s one flower that blooms year round! I love these recycled material garden decorations. They are also from the craft show, fall diddley, and are one-of-a-kind. When I bought them it probably took me 20 minutes to pick out just the right ones. I think I did pretty well, if I do say so myself. I especially love the light bulb bug. I’m hoping he and his buddy will help keep Truman and Finnegan out of the way and keep them from trampling my flowers.
Speaking of, here’s what those guys were up to while I was snapping shots of my garden:
I spent a lot of time outside today. Before I took all these pictures I mowed the lawn and raked up some old leaves from last fall. I love working outside, but I am not excited about this looming project:
We got this blue spruce last summer for $10. It wasn’t looking good, but we thought if it got in the ground, got watered and fertilized regularly that it would make it. Well, it was a nice try I guess, but no luck. This thing is deader than dead and needs to come up because it’s quite an eye-sore. Ugggh. It will probably have to wait until I can rope Brian into helping me.
Obviously, my seedlings are doing much better than the spruce. They’re about 3-5″ tall now and all we’re waiting for is the threat of frost to pass and then I’ll get these out in the sun. Hopefully that’s sooner rather than later because my Aerogarden’s lamp is as up as high as it goes and I don’t want these growing up into the lamp and burning. It should only be a couple of weeks at the most- I’ll update when these go in… which means I’ll be direct sowing my beans, cuckes and squash at the same time. Can’t wait!
Part of the reason I started this blog yesterday is because I’ve been on spring break. I haven’t been up to too much, no big trip or anything, just taking it easy. Honestly, it’s been pretty boring around here for the most part. I got started on a spring diet and exercise push, gave my dog Finnegan a much needed at-home grooming, cleaned out my car, did a little yard work, tried to break my ABC soap opera addiction, finished reading “Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood” by Maria Tatar…..aaaaaannnnd I watched my veggie garden seedlings sprout!
That’s right. It’s seed starting time! I actually started a few of the seeds (eggplants and herbs) a few weeks ago and then started the tomatoes at the beginning of this week. I decided to buy all heirloom seeds this year. Here’s some information from Wikipedia about what “heirloom seeds” are:
An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, or (especially in the UK) heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing in popularity in the United States and Europe over the last decade….The definition of the use of the word heirloom to describe plants is highly debated….One school of thought places an age or date point on the cultivars. For instance, one school says the cultivar must be over 100 years old, others 50 years, and others prefer the date of 1945 which marks the end of World War II and roughly the beginning of widespread hybrid use by growers and seed companies or industrial agriculture….Another way of defining heirloom cultivars is to use the definition of the word “heirloom” in its truest sense. Under this interpretation, a true heirloom is a cultivar that has been nurtured, selected, and handed down from one family member to another for many generations….Regardless of a person’s specific interpretation, most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. While there are no genetically modified tomatoes available for commercial or home use, it is generally agreed that no genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars. Another important point of discussion is that without the ongoing growing and storage of heirloom plants, the seed companies and the government will control all seed distribution.
I decided to choose heirloom rather than standard seed for many reasons. I wanted to try varieties I’d never heard of that had the history of being handed down through the generations. I also wanted to support the smaller (typically family-owned) seed suppliers, rather than the huge conglomerate companies (like Monsanto) that seem to be lurking behind everything we buy these days. After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and watching “Food Inc” I learned that many of these companies have some pretty unethical business practices and I decided to opt out of this troubling industrial system whenever I can. It all boils down to my new and growing dedication to buy food (which seeds really are, if you think about it) from smaller, sustainable and (in the best cases) local businesses.
So, I bought my seeds from a company I found online, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. It was VERY difficult to decide what I wanted to buy– they seriously have thousands of seeds to choose from!! So, this is what I finally settled on: two kinds of eggplant, two kinds of beans, three kinds of tomatoes, summer squash, pickling cucumbers, and my mainstay herbs (basil, thyme, dill). Thanks to Baker Creek for sending along some lettuce seed as a free gift!
You may have noticed the packet of Poppy seeds. I was very excited about these, I think poppies are some of the prettiest spring flowers! The bad news is after reading the instructions on the packet I learned that poppy seeds should be put out in the fall, so I’m going to have to wait a season for those. Bummer! But I am thrilled to try the “Dragon Tongue” beans- they look so exotic and the customer reviews online said they were the tastiest beans they’d ever grown. Plus, the name “Dragon Tongue” sounds like something out of a fairy tale!
I got my seeds started in my Aerogarden, which I was lucky to get as a gift from my mother-in-law a while back. I really like the Aerogarden, but eventually I will have to transplant these seedlings into peat pots. I check these little guys out almost every day, and today I noticed that the thyme and basil have already started to smell!
Last year I went a little overboard on the seeds that I started.I ended up with over 72 plants! I gave some away and sold some at a garage sale. I tried to reign myself in this year, but if you check that first picture out closely, you’ll see that there are about 66 spaces in the aerogarden, and I have almost all of them filled! In my defense, I started quite a lot of herbs figuring that I can plant 3-4 of them close together in the pots I keep on my patio. Last year it seemed like I was always using the basil very conservatively, so this year I splurged. And I have to make sure I have enough dill to pickle with! One MAJOR improvement I made over last year is that I remembered to label which seeds where planted where. Last year I forgot to do this and my tomato garden was dominated by cherry tomatoes, with only ONE Brandywine and a few early birds. That will NOT happen again this year!
Speaking of gardens, I noticed quite a few green things starting to come up in my flower gardens outside. Then, today these crocuses finally bloomed:
The first flowers of the season are always so heartening! After a long, long, long, long winter my favorite day of spring is the day you notice there’s shade on the ground because the trees finally put out their leaves. That day is still a ways off here in Indiana, but the trees do have buds on their branches. Brian and I actually spent some time outside today, mulching up some of the fall leaves we were too busy to rake up last year. It felt good to be outside getting things accomplished again. If I’m honest, I’m usually a bit lazy and a big procrastinator, but for some reason I love yard work. Since I’m a teacher by profession and a scholar by habit, I think getting outside and having my body do some work is a nice respite from my normal work. I’d rather pull weeds on any given day than grade papers, that’s for sure! It’s hard to track whether my teacherly work ever makes much of a difference to my students, so planting a seed and watching it sprout and grow into something that will eventually bear fruit that you can slice up and serve on your table is something that always lifts my spirits. I’m not saying I’m a horrible teacher, or that I even dislike teaching, but sometimes I can feel the hobbit in my heart longing for sunny gardening days with the sun at my back.
Maybe all this thirsting for a reunion with spring and the green life is what lead to my dinner menu today.
A two-cheese caprese sandwich with asparagus. I toasted some wheat bread and spread on some ricotta cheese. Then I stacked on a huge slice of tomato, some fresh mozzarella medallions and big basil leaves, finished with a drizzle of olive oil. I baked the asparagus in the oven with some olive oil and garlic salt. Simple, leafy, and delicious! I’m still looking forward to the day when I can make the same sandwich with tomatoes and basil from my own garden…
Now I’m off to lesson plan for my first day back tomorrow. I have a really fun food activity planned for one of my classes- more on that tomorrow maybe. In the mean time- go out and get something growing!