Saturday, May 10, 2008

Things are Growing

It's been ages since I updated. I've been using a site called as a sort of garden notebook, and it works better for me than Blogger since it allows me to keep track of individual plants, etc. without having to rely solely on tags. Since I don't think many people read this blog, I didn't think it would be a big deal to switch. If you're interested, you can find my gardens on myfolia here. I'm not sure I'll bother updating much here anymore, since I can add journals there just as well, and I think it'll be easier for me to look at next year when I'm trying to figure out what to do.

I really do like the myfolia site - it's kind of like Ravelry for gardening. Maybe not quite as robust yet, but pretty great so far.

Meanwhile, my allergies are protesting all the time I spent hacking down weeds today, so I'm going to sneeze my way off into the sunset.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Absences and tomatoes

I haven't made the time to write a blog entry lately; I should remedy that, if I'm going to stick to this. Nothing particularly exciting has actually happened yet, though. Right now everything is in anticipation of building the square foot bed (tomorrow, if it doesn't rain too much) and moving some plants outside.

I have started my tomato seeds, all five varieties, though I've no idea where I'll put them all. The pepper seedlings have come up, too, and the cats are chewing the onions to death. I haven't been able to keep them out of the office (where the seedlings are) with any great success, yet. I did buy some cat grass of some sort or another today while we were out getting vermiculite for the garden beds, so hopefully they'll chew on that soon instead.

The birds are back, though. They're flocking to the little suet feeder I have, and I think I'd like to put a bird bath out front as well as perhaps a few more feeders scattered around in back. I don't want to end up attracting them to the vegetable garden and have them eat all my tomatoes, though. Tomatoes are all for me. Still, it's nice to hear them singing again, and the cats are fascinated. I saw a birdbath I liked at TSC today for about $40... maybe a birthday gift, I hope. Though I've also asked for pruning shears and nice gardening gloves. Hmm.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Seedlings getting in shape

I was, to be honest, a little hesitant that starting seeds indoors would work out for me at all. I was kind of convinced the cats would eat them, or I would under- or over-water them, or that they would somehow fail to sprout at all. But right now, many of them are starting to look like the grown-up plants they will become, and I'm very proud. The most startlingly delightful surprise was checking in this morning and seeing that the one of the parsley seedlings had developed a leaf that's actually, well, parsley-shaped. It kind of looked like it might've been thinking about becoming parsley-shaped yesterday, but overnight it just magically transformed itself into something recognizable.

parsley at 18 days

The other plants I started back at the tail end of February are looking good, too. The basil has developed its second set of leaves, and they're like little tiny pesto components already. The metamorphosis wasn't nearly as dramatic, but it's there. I transplanted one of the seedlings into a larger pot, the one it will hopefully stay in; it's under the lights, still, but as the days get longer and warmer I plan to transfer it to the kitchen windowsill. The peppermint seedlings are so tiny they're barely visible (in fact, I can't really see them in the photo below) but they're there, with their cotyledon leaves and a pair of real leaves. The onion stalks are growing thicker, to the point where I start to worry they may be too crowded until I can get them outdoors, but then I remember they don't put energy into building their bulbs until light and temperature tell them to do so.

state of the seedlings, 16th march

You can see there, too, a recycled mushroom box; I punched some holes in the bottom with a chopstick (egads, what an awful sound that made) and filled it with seed starting mix, then planted jalapenos on one side and sweet red peppers on the other. Unfortunately I forgot to label which side is which, but as long as I get one plant from each side into the garden I know I'll have both. They were just started on the 13th of March, and I hear pepper seeds can be a long time in germinating.

There's also a Ziploc bag, which I do not find at all aesthetically pleasing, but I wanted to grow some lettuce indoors and it seems this is a good method. Essentially, I filled the bag 4" deep with potting soil, cut the corners off at the bottom, then watered the bejeebus out of the soil. I let it drain so it wasn't just straight mud, then tossed in three lettuce seeds and sealed the bag except for 1" along the zipper. The seeds sprouted within 2 days, but I saw signs of mold at the base so I opened the bag up. They seem to be doing quite well and with luck we should be eating some lettuce within three weeks. One of the little guys seems to have established himself sideways in the bag, and I doubt he'll make it, but I haven't plucked him out yet. I figured I'd see what happens.

lettuce in a bag, 8 days

Audrey, the cat pictured basking in the fluorescent lighting, seems to have developed some kind of affection for the plants. Whenever I water them or otherwise tend to them or just sit and look at them, she has to join me, and often meows at me (she's a talker for sure). She has also taken to curling up under the seed trays; really, who needs a heating mat when you've got a heating cat?

I also read on a forum that blowing on and brushing (i.e. petting) your seedlings is a good idea to help make them strong. So I've set up a small desk fan about three feet away from them, and I turn it on low every couple of hours for about 20 minutes to simulate a breeze. Audrey does a good job of sniffing at and "petting" them, but I touch them sometimes too, not least because it's just fun. I don't know why I never read about or thought of this before, but it certainly seems like it will help the plants to prepare for the Big Move Outdoors later in the season.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Growing lettuce and herbs indoors

It seems that ever since daylight savings time hit this past Sunday, I've been even more impatient to get my square foot garden started. Considering the snow's only just today melted away, I've got a little while before I'll be harvesting much of anything; our last frost date here is around mid-May, from what I can ascertain. Even though I know one morning I'll wake up and it will be August and I'll wonder where the time went, I still get antsy now, so I decided to try growing a few things indoors.

I cook so much I've always thought I should grow some herbs in the kitchen windowsill, but somehow I've never gotten around to it. Until recently I'd never had any luck with indoor plants, so I let that discourage me, plus sheer laziness, you know. But this year already I've got cute little basil, parsley, and chives going, and I'm going to think about starting some shiso today as well. It's not commonly used in the US, I don't think, but I love the way it tastes and it's especially good during the hot summer. Anyway, the basil in the picture in an earlier entry has already been repotted into something a bit larger, and it's looking quite nice; the parsley has come up, and the chives are getting quite tall.

I've also got some lettuce going: I planted the black-seeded Simpson in a Ziploc bag full of potting soil as suggested in several places online. The seeds sprouted within two days - now that's instant gratification. I have to admit I'm still a little wary of growing anything in a Ziploc bag, but we'll see how it goes - and so far, so good.

All in all, I'm really pleased with my indoor light setup since it allows me to grow these things indoors rather than waiting for the actual warm weather to commence. Hopefully the experiments turn out well....

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fluorescent Lights and Your Cat

So. I took the advice of a few gardening books and websites and just used one cool and one warm fluorescent tube in each of two light fixtures as "grow lights" for my seedlings. Even though they all assured me that this was Fine and A Good Approximation of Sunlight, I have to admit I wasn't entirely convinced. That is, until one of my cats discovered the lights.


She now spends a majority of her day basking in the glow of the fluorescent lights, even rolling around just like she does in the sunlight. I guess if it's good enough for a cat, it's good enough for the plants, hm?

Monday, March 3, 2008

They're up!

I checked the seedling flats tonight and o! exciting day! Some of them have poked their heads above the surface! The basil has actually unfurled its wee little cotyledon leaves.

Itty bitty basil!

See him? The onions and chives are as yet just bent stems, heads down in the soil, but they'll probably join the party soon. The parsley and mint don't seem to have joined the party as yet.

I also got my copy of The New Seed Starter's Handbook in the mail today. It's got rather more content than I'd expected, and I've been happily reading along. Based on my reading, I think I'm going to start some pepper seeds tomorrow, since they can take a while to germinate.

Meanwhile, I'm going to continue admiring my little sprouts, and try to make a schedule for planting their summer neighbors. Oh, and for getting them all out into the yard; there's no bed awaiting them just yet.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Finally, actual "dirt"

On Wednesday, my order from Baker Creek arrived. They were out of stock on a few items: the Little Gem lettuce, Delikatesse cucumber, and Sugar Snap peas. I'll have to get at least the last two from another source. I haven't quite decided where, yet; I'm trying to avoid possible GMO seeds, so buying them at a local shop is pretty iffy. Then again, I don't want to pay another shipping charge. I'll have to look into my options a little more. Because of the delays in getting my order to me (caused by snow and ice, of which there's plenty here), Baker Creek sent an extra packet of seeds - a tomato variety called Furry Yellow Hog. I have to find somewhere to raise a plant of those, because come on, really? It's like a bacon plant! Only tomatoes!

At any rate, on Wednesday night we went to Lowe's again and I bought the shop light fixtures for the plant stand, along with both cool and warm fluorescent bulbs. In total the cost was about $32; not bad, and the long life of fluorescent bulbs should mean I won't have to buy any again for a couple of years, at least. With luck the fixtures themselves will last indefinitely. I also picked up a bag of seed starting mix (sterile and soil-less) as well as some peat planting cubes. I'd been planning to reuse plastic tubs from cream cheese, sour cream, and the like but our usage of those has apparently declined because I didn't have nearly enough. It was another $5 for those items.

My thoroughly wonderful husband helped me to finish assembling the stand and put the lights on it; it's just much easier sometimes with two sets of hands. After an inordinate amount of fiddling and guessing, we reached an agreement with the electrical outlets in the room and got everything in place. I do love living in old houses but one of my major complaints about them is the fact that there are never enough outlets for a family that uses as many electronic devices as we do. Maybe that's supposed to be some kind of sign to cut back, but I like my internet very much, thanks.

Here's the setup:
PVC seed starting setup

Very late that night, actually about 5am on Thursday, I planted the onion seeds and some herb seeds. They're actually inside those black plastic seed trays in the photo; they're covered right now as they don't need light to germinate and I'm trying to keep the moisture in since, with forced air heat, it gets pretty dry in here. I'll take a picture of the seedlings when there's something to show.

I guess the fact that I have all the equipment and seeds now means I need to make my actual seed starting schedule soon, hm?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Vegetable and Herb seeds for 2008

Since I'm planning to use this blog as a reference for my own gardening next year, I think it would make sense to list my seed inventory here. As of this original post, I'm still waiting for all these to arrive in the mail. All are from Baker Creek; I'll probably do a post again in the fall updated with seeds I've saved from this year and information on the performance of the ones I ordered. I will also update this post with more information as I need it.

- Papa de Rola
- Cylindra (or Formova)
- St. Valery
- Delikatesse
- White Wonder
- Forellenschluss
- Henderson's Black Seeded Simpson
- Little Gem
- Australian Brown
- Sugar Snap
Peppers, Hot
- Tam Jalapeno
Peppers, Sweet
- Red Marconi
- White Hailstone
Squash, Winter
- Potimarron
Swiss Chard
- Canary Yellow
- Amish Paste
- Black Krim
- Grace Lahman's Pink
- Basil, Genovese
- Borage
- Chives, common
- Dill, Bouquet
- Parsley, Hamburg Rooted
- Peppermint
- Shiso (Perilla), Purple

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Building with PVC pipe

So in a rare display of initiative, we went to Lowe's tonight and bought the PVC pipe and fittings for the seed starting stand - I had Zack cut the pipes to length and I put it together in about half an hour. I only made it one shelf high, rather than three, for economy of both space and money.

The pipe and fittings together cost less than $20; if I wanted to add another shelf it would be only about $5. The lighting will be a little more expensive. Each fixture was $9 and the bulbs are $7 for a pack of two, so I'm looking at another $32 for that. But this is something I can use every year, so the expense is sort of amortized, if that's how you use that word.

Here are all the bits:
seed starting shelf makings

And assembled:
seed starting bench thing!

Unfortunately my usual failure to properly estimate size has come into play - this thing is too big to fit into the closet, I think. So I need to figure out another location for it where the cats won't get to it. I'm thinking of just keeping it in the office and closing that door when we aren't in the room. This will probably result in much feline frustration and meowing at the door, but Audrey does that to the closets as it is; what's one more door?

Even with the size issue, I'm pretty happy with this. It was fun and really easy to put together, and cheap. It's given me all sorts of ideas for other PVC furniture, too. Normally I'd rather avoid plastics when possible, but I've got so many other, more major changes to make that a few PVC pipes here and there aren't my biggest contribution to the decline of the environment, really.

Now I just need to research which type of fluorescent bulb to buy, and even more anxiously await the arrival of my seeds from Baker Creek!

Seed starting setup

Now that I've ordered all my seeds and am actually awaiting their arrival, I've started to get a little nervous about my plan to start them on top of the refrigerator. I think a slightly better setup might be in order, since I'm starting darn near everything indoors, and I'd hate to waste that much time. I was reading the MDC gardening forum today and someone posted a link to their seed starting setup. It's really simple and built from PVC to accommodate fluorescent shop fixtures. I priced most of the parts online at Lowe's and it looks like building something similar would be affordable. I'm only planning to build one shelf this year, because I'm not starting that many plants. If it's a success and I start more seeds next year, it can always be expanded because of the way it's constructed.

I think Zack and I may take a trip to Lowe's tonight. Unfortunately they don't have any of the lighting fixtures listed online, but they should be in the neighborhood of $10 each; if they are, I think we can afford to build this. At the very least I'd like to get the pipes and have them cut, so I can assemble the majority of it and buy the lights when the seeds actually get here.

I'm worried about the cats attacking the seedlings, and since the fluorescent fixtures will provide all the light that's needed, I'm thinking about putting this in the closet in the office. I'm really pleased to have run across this today, because I think this will work really well and is within the budget. I think, too, that I may use it to try to start some herb plants to grow indoors on the kitchen windowsill so I can get an early start on having fresh herbs in the kitchen again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Beans and Cornbread

I thought I'd be able to keep cooking posts out of this blog, but I've realized that cooking is such an integral part of why I'm gardening that it would be impossible, and foolish to try. Besides, for me, cooking is a big part of who I am, and this is sort of a journal for myself from a perspective I'd like to adopt more wholeheartedly. All that is to say, please bear with me as I try to tie things together into as neat a package as life allows, at least in a few topics that matter to me.

Today I've been knitting, doing a bit of housework here and there - some vacuuming, some glass cleaning - and all the while listening to my Pandora radio station. I haven't figured out how to link it just yet, and chances are good you wouldn't want to listen to it anyway; it tends towards the melancholy just now. Anyway, Pandora decided to play me a good chunk of Gene Autry and Hank Sr. and Johnny Cash and basically just actual, good country music. This always makes me think of my grandparents, and the time I spent in West Virginia on family farm land, and a sort of nebulous concept I have of ways in which I'd like to simplify my life and move to a more agricultural lifestyle, if I can't live in the city. It's all just things I turn over in my head, and very little of it is concrete enough to be able to write about yet.

At any rate, country music lead to West Virginia lead to beans and cornbread. My gramma used to make these a lot - she was one of those gifted cooks who just threw things together and they turned out great because of years of experience and some degree of talent. I like to think I got lucky and inherited this particular trait, and my friends and family enjoy my food, which is the important thing. When I first had beans and cornbread I thought it was horribly bland and just not that great; probably because I was used to McDonald's and TV dinners. (My mom tried hard, but was never a great cook, and I don't have a problem with that; I'm just sayin', is all.) But over time I came to love it, and now my infatuation with beans is kind of bordering on the ridiculous. I love the way the skin makes a firm little packet and then you slip it into your mouth, and it's smooth, then a bite gains you access to all the creamy interior goodness. I tend to eat the beans individually so I can enjoy the tension of teeth on the exterior as it gives way. Makes for slow eatin', but what the hell?

So today I decided I needed to make this. Just presently I've got about half and half Great Northern and Pinto beans simmering away with some bacon on the stovetop, in my Lodge cast iron dutch oven. It's actually meant for use in a campfire but the feet slip easily on top of my stove burners, so it works just fine indoors, too. I just don't tend to pile coals on the top of it when I'm working in the kitchen, you know. So far no seasonings; those will be decided at the end, as the beans are dispatched to their final dishes. Most of them will probably be eaten just as they are, but some will inevitably be turned into refried beans - an entirely different way to experience the bean, yes. So here's the beginning as they simmer away; I'm updating this post as they cook. Yes, live blogging about beans!


I've decided that, if the lighting is good and I can get the soil prepared, I'm just going to go slightly off the deep end plating beans along the chain link fence in the yard. I won't be harvesting them green, but leaving them on the plant to dry, so I don't need to worry about keeping up with picking them; with any luck I should have a nice harvest of dry beans to keep us through the year. I am inordinately excited about seeing the beans. I selected Papa de Rola beans, which have a beautiful little speckled bit, an eye, and a creamy white section; so pretty. I hope this works out, because I'm excited.

But for now, back to tending the cooking beans, just simple stuff in an unfancy pot, which is what makes them exactly what I need today. There's not much of a recipe, here; I tend to just rinse the beans, don't really bother soaking them. I throw them into a pot and cover them with an extra inch or two of water, and throw in a ham hock or some bacon or whatever other smoked meat I've got around, if any. Simmer for a couple hours or until they're tender, and then add other seasonings: salt, pepper, sometimes other stuff, more often not (until they reach their final dish).

As for the cornbread, I have to admit to being a sweet cornbread person when I'm eating chili, but for all other applications, unsweet cornbread is tops. I'll have to consider whether my recipe is worth posting; after all, there are so many available online, and mine's not much special. I do like to pour the batter into a super-hot pan, preferably greased with bacon grease, but that's about the only "trick" there is to it.

Must go stir; photos to be added anon, I'm sure.

This is what the beans look like when they're done - you can't see the broth since it's hidden in there!
yay beans

Choosing tools

In the past, I haven't had much space in which to garden. At the one point during my life when I did actually own a house, there was a condo association that prevented us from doing any of our own planting. In other places, I've mostly used containers (with minimal success in growing tomatoes, but pretty good luck with everything else). So last year, I borrowed tools from my in-laws. I may end up doing the same thing this year, but I would like to get a few basic items just because it seems like a good idea.

First and foremost, I need some gardening gloves, because I have a rose bush, and it's of the New Dawn variety - an old climber with an abundance of thorns. I also have a lot of contact allergies, and gloves provide some protection from rashes and general unpleasantness. I'd like to try the Bionic Gloves, partly just because they seem garden geeky. I considered the rose gloves (who doesn't want to talk about wearing gauntlets?) but I can't see myself wearing elbow-length anything in the middle of the summer on account of one rose bush. The gloves are a little expensive, though, so I'm thinking of asking for them as a belated Valentine's Day present or some such nonsense, since all the money comes from the same place anyway.

I also need a shovel. It's embarrassing to admit, but I only just learned how to properly dig a hole last year. Oops. I'd been doing way more work than I needed to, and now that I know better, I actually really enjoy digging big holes in the yard. Good thing we have a tolerant landlord, hm? At any rate, the front bed needs a ton of work, and I've also got to dig out at least a shallow depth for the square foot garden. I don't figure a shovel is the sort of thing you can properly examine online, so I'll be hitting up all the hardware stores to find one with a good angle and handle length. Unfortunately Zack is about 5" taller than I am, so what's optimal for me will be wrong for him, but I do most of the digging so I'll probably choose one that I like.

Pruning shears are definitely on the list. The rose bush is going to need a pruning in the spring, and I can also use them for the front perennial bed once I get it going, as well as nipping suckers off tomato plants and whatnot. I really, really like scissors and shears and just generally going snip snip snip with stuff. This may be some manifestation of OCD, but I don't really care, because it's fun, and nobody's getting hurt (except maybe a coupon flyer or five). I've heard and read that Felco shears are the pinnacle of awesome in their field, so I'm aiming for a pair of those. They're expensive, but when it comes to cutting edges I tend to be kind of a snob. I don't like to have to replace these kinds of tools, and I want a sharp blade I can maintain. There's a local rose nursery (which, sadly, is going out of business this year as the owners are retiring) where I plan to pick up a pair.

I've also got miscellaneous other desires, like a small hand trowel, a hose reel, different containers for fertilizer, an over-the-door shoe holder to keep all the small bits (like twine, shears, gloves, etc) on the inside of the back door, etc. etc. I'll have to prioritize these somehow, since I've failed to establish an unlimited income as yet. Oops.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I'm finalizing my seed order for the vegetables and herbs today, but until I actually click the order button, I'm not going to record my choices for posterity. It's been really hard narrowing down the tomato varieties. I want to order at least 20 kinds, but of course that would be a very, very bad idea.

Until I get the seeds all sorted, I'm thinking about my houseplants. I never had any luck with houseplants - they'd usually die within a week or two. But last year I bought a pothos, which we named Montgomery (for some reason), and it's done so well I've branched out into other indoor plants.


I do have to be careful, because we have two cats; they've never shown any interest in eating the plants, but better safe than sorry. I got a clearance plant arrangement at Lowe's the other week, and someone pointed out that one of the plants, a dieffenbachia, was toxic to cats - so up on a high shelf it went. Fortunately, neither one of them climbs shelves. Yet? I think the other plant in the dish is one we saw growing in large form in Hawaii, but I can't find a name for it.

Desk plants

I really enjoy having plants in the house, particularly in the winter. They really make a difference in how the room feels, and I can see how easy it would be to start collecting them. If I manage to keep all these guys alive long enough, I might do just that. I'd really love to have a large tree or palm of some sort in the corner of a room, but I think that might be too tempting for the cats. Might be best to just stick to hanging baskets for a little while.


One of the fun things about houseplants is how many of them we actually saw in their larger forms growing rampant on Maui. Like this bromeliad, which presently occupies the back of the toilet, and which looks quite similar to a lobster claw plant we saw all over the place at about fifteen times this size:


And here's what I think is the same unidentified plant from the Lowe's clearance section, only... big. Very, very big.

Houseplant gone Hawaiian

I think my next houseplant acquisition will be a succulent of some sort; hopefully something small and nontoxic that can occupy a space on my already too-small desk, so I can look at it and think about being outside even when it's cold and snowy.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It is I, Captain Vegetable

In mid-February it seems like there's all the time in the world before I need to worry about setting plants into the ground, since everything is covered in a blanket of snow right now. So I've been procrastinating a little on actually finalizing what I want to grow. But last night I was reading Square Foot Gardening and I took a look at the schedule for starting seeds indoors, and realized I'm almost behind already.

So it's time to get down to business and decide what I actually want to grow. The time for idly perusing the seed catalogs has come and gone; I need to sort out my budget and my desires and get my hands on the beginnings of this summer's food supply. Especially the onions; I somehow didn't think about the fact that they are extraordinarily slow to grow from seed. I don't want to jump in half-cocked, either, so I need to figure out what I'm going to do about providing light for the seedlings I start indoors. My husband has a special lamp he uses for painting miniatures, and I'm considering appropriating it. I'm also wondering if compact fluorescent bulbs work. That's gone onto the research list for tomorrow.

It's exciting to decide what I want to grow. Today I'm not making a final decision on any specific varieties or sources, so it's not stressful at all, just fun. I have a pretty good idea of what vegetables and herbs I actually use and which tend to sit in the vegetable bin until they move along to the compost pile, so I'm basing my decisions largely on that knowledge. And so, below, my notes to myself (and to you) about what will be living in my backyard vegetable square this year. I've got some more basic information in a spreadsheet I'll probably post at a later point, once I get the kinks ironed out, since I think it might be helpful to other folks too.

Tomatoes: At the top of the list, and out of alphabetical order, because having easy access to good tomatoes is - if I'm being honest - my primary motivation for growing any kind of edible garden at all. I'd like to grow three varieties. One paste type, for canning and freezing to use in salsa, chili and tomato sauces; one good slicing variety to sit around and eat with some salt until I feel sick, to be repeated again the next day; and another spot reserved for whatever type catches my eye. I'm not actually a huge fan of baby (cherry, grape, etc.) tomatoes so this will probably be a medium-sized type that's not as great for eating plain but which will be good for salads and fresh cooking purposes. I can never quite bring myself to use a beefsteak tomato for anything besides near-immediate slicing and chowing. It's probably unreasonable to grow more than three types both because of space limitations and because Zack doesn't actually like tomatoes, so I need to exercise some restraint, here. I plan to start these from seed indoors, so I can grow more exciting varieties than what's available at the local garden centers (oh, wow, more Sweet 100s, never seen those before!) - I hope it actually works. My dad always had great success starting his own plants from seed, so maybe I'll call him and pester him with a lot of questions.

The rest, vegetables first, then herbs:
Beans: I mean to grow beans to eat fresh as well as some to leave on the vines to dry. I love dried beans. They're beautiful to look at (if I ever get around to posting pictures, you'll notice I tend to use my food as home decor as well), amazing to feel, and also delicious. And good for you. I've never dried my own beans before so I admit to having some hesitation here but really, how hard can it be? I'm looking for a variety that can fill both roles but will probably end up with two types. These will be started from seed outdoors.

Beets: I love roasted beets. I am not in love with stained fingers and cutting boards, but beet pickled eggs just don't look right if they're not violently purple-pink. Just one kind, I think, to be sown directly in the garden on a continuous basis throughout the season.

Carrots: Carrots are good. Carrots are vital for stock making, and also carrot cake. Plus braised carrots are kind of like delicious candy. Again, just one type here (for this year), planted from seed outdoors for continuous harvest.

Cucumbers: I've always loved cucumbers (or, as I called them when I was little, "cuke unders" - my mom adopted that and always called them that). They taste like melons to me, just not as sweet. One of my favorite uses for fresh cucumbers is thinly sliced and soaked overnight in heavily salted water. I may have a salt addiction, you'll notice. Anyway, two varieties of these; one for pickling (about which I am so excited I can't find words right now) and one for fresh eating. I believe these will be started indoors for transplant.

Lettuce: What else would I use for our daily salads? My favorite lettuces are Kos type (like romaine); I plan to grow one of those, some butterhead, and a looseleaf. I may just order a sampler so I can try more varieties, especially since lettuce is easy to grow from seed and I'll be doing many plantings throughout the season.

Onions: I'm going to try to grow some type of globe onion from seed, preferably one that's good for storage. I always keep onions on hand in my kitchen and go into a panic state when I find I've run out. I don't know how many I'll actually be able to plant, though, so I probably won't be able to supply all the onions I'd use this year; I'm considering this more of a starting experiment, to see how well it works. It's unfortunate but I've found that the onions available at the store lately are nasty pungent and they seem to rot very quickly, so I'm hoping for a better solution. I'll start these indoors from seed and move them outdoors; if I have a spare spot in the garden I'm going to try to grow a few sets later in the season to use next year.

Peas: Amazing little sugar packs, aren't they? You can't really get good peas if you're more than five minutes from the plant itself. Snap peas are my favorites, and due to limited vertical growing space I'll probably just grow one variety of these. I believe they will be direct sown outdoors.

Peppers: When I start thinking about peppers, I wish I had a lot more space. In the square foot garden proper I'm going to put at least one kind of sweet pepper, probably an Italian (long, pointy) type to use for stuffing and in salads. But I love chile peppers, and there are so many kinds. I've got one spot reserved in the square foot garden for a hot pepper plant, and will probably put a relatively mild, fruity type in there. But how can I say no to all the others, the poblanos and the habaneros and etc. etc.? I've had really good luck growing these in containers in the past, and the concrete driveway next to the kitchen door needs some serious adornment, so I think I'll try three or four kinds this year. All will be started indoors and transplanted outside later.

Radishes: I really like radish, butter and sea salt sandwiches on nice, fine-crumbed white bread. The problem is that it only takes about, oh, one radish to make a week's worth of sandwiches. So I'm just going to grow one type, no matter how gorgeous they all look in the catalogs, and not very many at a time. I did a radishes Anna-style dish a couple years ago that led me to the discovery that they're really, really good sauteed in butter, so I can do that with any that won't fit on a sandwich. These are another one of the seeds to sow several times throughout the summer (ooh, alliteration).

Squash: As much as I love zucchini, I probably won't be growing any this year, simply because I tend to end up getting them from other sources anyway and my vertical growing space is so limited. I would like to grow one variety of winter squash, since it's nice to get something fresh from the garden after most everything has frozen and gone away. It will be started directly in the garden, perhaps in the same space occupied by the fresh beans, since their harvest will finish in time to allow the squash to grow. Ah, logistics. Still, I know I want to grow them, and I'm likely to have one spot in which to do so, hence they go on the list to be bought and sorted out a little bit later.

Swiss Chard: Greens are good for you. I need to eat more of them. At one point, I was actually told to limit my intake of dark, leafy greens because they inhibit blood clotting, which I guess is a bad thing post-foot surgery. This is no longer the case, so I'm hoping to use the chard in omelets and dips and just, ooh, greens with ham hocks and vinegar. Zack is not a huge fan of greens just yet so I have to be careful not to plant too many (especially since we'll have beet tops as well). I think this will be started directly outdoors, too.

Basil: Pesto! Tomato and mozzarella sandwiches! I'm probably going to stick with just the Genovese type this year and expand in subsequent years to Thai basil and other varieties.

Borage: You can tell we're into herbs now, since this starts with a B, right? I've never actually had borage but it's described as having a cucumber-like flavor, and the flowers are really attractive to bees. I like bees (though I hate wasps), so this is a bonus.

Chives: Chives make almost anything better. Plus I got really, really good at chopping them finely when I worked in a restaurant kitchen - it was almost like a little Zen meditation every day. At home, I just snip them with kitchen shears. Oh well.

Dill: I love dill; Zack doesn't like it much. (I think oregano is poison so I can't really say anything.) I plan to grow enough to use for making pickles, as well as some to dry for use throughout the year.

Mint: Lemonade with mint is so refreshing in the summer. Plus, mint goes so well with so many things; I could also use it to garnish desserts if I wanted them to look like every other dessert ever made. I tried to grow some last year and, unbelievably, it died. It will be in a container for sure, since I've had it take over before. Weedy little thing, hm?

Parsley: It's just such a basic culinary herb. I prefer the flat leaf types just for the sake of appearance.

Sage: Smells like Thanksgiving and is essential to roast poultry, tuna and bean salads, and just generally being yummy. It also looks very pretty.

Shiso: I'm not at all convinced I'll have any success in growing this, but it's one of my favorite flavors, and difficult to find here in Southeast Michigan. I feel like I have to at least try it.

That's it. There are other things I'd like to grow, but I don't want to overreach (yet again) and wind up being frustrated. In particular, I really want to grow my own potatoes, but I think I'm going to hold off on that and add them in next year. Nearly everything will be started from seed; I'm not terribly worried about messing up, since, if the transplants don't grow well enough to go out, I can replace them with plants from the garden center and at least feel I gave it a go.

Now that I've decided what I want, it's time to finalize which varieties I'm going to try and get some orders in to the seed companies. I hope to have seeds and supplies ordered by the end of this weekend (Sunday's the 17th of February - later than I'd like, but time goes so quickly anymore).

And now that I've got all that typed up, I'm going to head outside to hang a new bird feeder in the tree, and perhaps take a picture of the snow-covered spot where the vegetable garden will go.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Starting a new year

This isn't the first blog I've started, nor will this be my first year of gardening, but I'm determined to do a little better with both this time than I've done in the past. Somehow the blogs always slip through the cracks; the gardens kind of do, too, because I've never quite made a plan that incorporated the patience you need to see these things through; I always rush to get to the end, and of course there really isn't one for blogs, or gardens. So I hope this blog, this garden, will be an exercise in tolerating non-completion for me, and that I'll learn to live with things that are works in progress. This blog is intended mostly as a journal for my own reference, although I hope other people will read it, too.

Last year I thought of a hundred things I'd like to do with the yard here. I didn't end up doing many of them, although I did manage to dig out a bed and plant a climbing rose and catmint in it. This year I'm trying to limit myself to that bed and two more projects: a square foot vegetable garden, and planting a perennial bed out front.

The vegetable garden is the most important. Last year we joined a CSA, Needle-Lane Farms, and it was wonderful. If it were in the budget this year, I'd join again in a heartbeat. Since it's not, though, I'd like to try to tailor our produce supply a bit more to what we actually use. This is the garden I'm actively planning right now, and what I'm really excited about. With only the two of us, I'm going to start with just one four foot square bed. My thinking is that something so small won't be terribly overwhelming, but it will provide us with enough to eat and preserve. I really enjoyed canning applesauce and pie filling last year and hope to extend that to pickles and tomato sauce this year. There's something so pleasing about seeing rows of jars all lined up and knowing you made the contents yourself; even more true, I think, if you grew those contents from seed.

I tried to fix up the front bed last year, but ended up just planting it with a lot of petunias. If the vegetable garden takes up most of my budget this year, that may happen again. What I'd like to do, though, is get a perennial garden set up out there. Our neighborhood isn't exactly brimming with examples of fantastic landscaping, so I guess I don't feel pressure to do so; it would just be nice to have something nice to look at when I come home. The biggest problem is that there are two big shrub stumps out there, and my attempts at removing them haven't been very successful. Perhaps I can enlist my husband and an axe and have another go.

At any rate, sitting here in February and looking out the window at the back yard, I feel excitement about the possibilities for this year. The vegetable garden, particularly, seems like it will be a wonderful thing, the root of so much that's positive. I've learned that the real world rarely corresponds to the elaborate fantasies I create about it, but I really do think this will be a good year for gardening.