Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

One of the very few successes in our garden this year was the soup beans.  Hubby weeded them thoroughly early-on, and the plants were well-established by the time we gave up on the garden and abandoned it to the thistles.  We planted seven rows, approximately 40 feet long (each), which, if i recall correctly, took a couple pounds of seed beans, altogether.  We planted three rows of Jacob’s Cattle heirloom beans, and two rows each of Light Red Kidney and Black Turtle.


black turtle beans


The Jacob’s Cattle and Red Kidney beans are listed with a fairly short growing season – 90 days, I think, while the Black Turtle beans indicated they needed 110 days.  It really showed.  When we harvested, the day after the first frost, the Black Turtle pods were still green and pliable; the other types had brittle, dried-up pods. 


I pulled the pods from the plants, and laid them out on a sheet on top of one of the freezers to dry, but apparently they were too bunched up, or had poor air flow, or something, as many of the pods got moldy. 


moldy black turtle bean pods

They should have been nice and pale gold, like the others…


nice black turtle bean pods


Now, I am shelling the beans, and I am finding the Black Turtle beans smaller than I expected, and many of the pods are poorly filled.  While there were lots of pods per plant, they just didn’t have time to fill out properly, so the yield is low.  It’s still worth shelling them out, but I don’t think I will plant them here again; that garden real estate could be better used by something that is appropriate to our growing season and climate.  I just had to try, though!


shelling the black turtle beans


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I took the day off work today, because I have some planting to do.  Not my usual trees and berry bushes, though; today, it’s bulbs.  Several hundred of them, as a matter of fact.



When the brightly-colored fall bulb catalogs came a couple of months ago, I was entranced, as usual, with all the bright colors and pretty flowers.  I made up a wish list, and I had a lot of wishes!  I hemmed and hawed for a long time, since I thought maybe that money would be better spent on more practical things, like hedging trees to replace the ones that came down in last year’s storm.   When I added up all my wishes, though, it wasn’t really that expensive, and they had a really good sale on bulk orders, so I could actually afford to get most of what I wanted.   In the end, I decided that if I was that enticed by the catalog pictures, maybe beauty really did matter, too.


flower bulb catalogs

In the end, I ordered bulk quantities of a few types of bulb – mixed-color snow crocuses, primarily, but also a bunch of little purple muscari, some daffodils and lilies of the valley, a few English bluebells, and assortments of daylilies and irises.  Plus, a few other odds and ends, because…well, you know.   Of course, after I made my order, several friends decided to divide daylilies, someone dug up a bucket of lily bulbs to give away, and my mother in law showed up for a visit with a collection of plants, as well.  The acreage will be a riot of color next summer!


I can actually even justify what (in my mind) could be seen as a frivolous expense.  Bees and butterflies need to eat, too, and feeding the pollenators brings a net advantage to our garden.  I’ve ordered mostly spring bulbs, for now, but some of the new plants will flower all summer, and will feed birds, bees, and butterflies, all of which we are happy to have around here.  In the end, it didn’t take much justifying, and, of course, Hubby was happy enough to support the project, as long as it wouldn’t break the bank.  Five hundred bulbs makes for a lot of digging, though.


handful of bulbs

I am excited to see what comes up next spring!

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We picked two big mixing bowls of strawberries, today.   The berries were huge huge and sweet and still warm from the sun.


acreage strawberries


I chopped seven cups for the freezer.  Martha Stewart would freeze them nicely on cookie sheets, then package them up once they were frozen, so they didn’t stick together.  I am not Martha Stewart.  I pre-measure the packages to the sizes my recipes call for, throw them in vacuum-sealer baggies, and go to town.  We just break them up and throw them in the blender for smoothies, anyways, or thaw them for baking and such.


acreage strawberries


This is way beyond the hundred mile diet.  This is a zero mile diet.  Those berries came from literally just out my front door!



Standing on my front step; the little round strawberry patch is to the east of my door

Standing on my front step; the little round strawberry patch is to the east of my door



Standing on my front step; this little round strawberry patch is to the west of my door

Standing on my front step; this little round strawberry patch is to the west of my door


We planted about 100 plants in four little patches, in 2011.  We got fifty of an everbearing variety, and fifty of a June bearing variety.  For whatever reason, all of the plants are going nuts right now.  Last week, we put seven cups in the freezer, plus I took strawberries to work for lunches.  This week was much the same; seven cups for the freezer, plus plenty to eat!


eating strawberries

The taste is incomparable.

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The weather has been odd, at best, this year.  Spring was very late for us; we still had snow on the north sides of the hedges on Victoria Day, which is the third weekend in May.  Then we had a couple weeks where it was hot and dry, then it decided to rain…and rain…and rain…


A week ago Friday, we got three inches of rain in a few hours.  Our normal annual precipitation is 12 to 14 inches.  Of course, there hasn’t been a normal year since we moved here in 2011; it’s been one wet year after another.  It’s gotten to the point that the roads are so soggy that they dissolve under any sort of heavy traffic, like, for instance, tractors out doing seeding, and car-swallowing potholes appear more or less overnight.  As well, with the ground saturated to begin with, the roadside sloughs creep a little higher with every rain, until the roads are underwater, or just wash away entirely.  Of the five routes i could normally choose from to get to work, we’re down to one, and there is a slough within a few inches of wiping that road out, as well.  If it came to it, I could take a ferry to the other side of the river, but that would add an hour or so to my commute.


Today, the rain finally stopped for a bit, and some of the roads started drying out.  We took a peek in the garden, and it’s…bad.  Really bad.  Like chest-high thistles bad.  On the bright side, from our vantage point, we could see potatoes, onions, lots of beans and sunflowers, some squash plants, and some corn, so at least the rain did not rot all the seed. We couldn’t see the carrots, spinach, or beets, but I don’t know if that was because they haven’t sprouted, or if they’re just obscured by weeds.   Now, we just have to go in there and find our vegetable rows in all that weedy mess…

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In organic gardening, a trap crop is used to lure pest bugs away from your cash crop, or edible vegetables.  For instance, nasturtiums attract aphids, keeping those aphids from doing damage to beans and spinach.   We use trap crops sometimes, here, but we haven’t had heavy pest loads, and are therefore reluctant to use the space for planted trap crops, when the hedges and fields nearby seen to host sufficient predators to keep our garden pests mostly under control.


However, our garden is in one corner of a farmer’s field.  A conventional farmer, who periodically sprays fertilizer and Roundup and who-knows-what else.   Stuff I am pretty sure I don’t want on my beans and potatoes.  Stuff I don’t want to eat or to feed to Baby M.


So we make space at the edge of the garden for a double row of sunflowers.  Black oil sunflowers, that grow really tall, really fast.  They’re cheap – I bought a five-pound bag of them, labeled as bird seed, and planted them; they grow just fine.  And, should the farmer decide to spray on a day that is not perfectly calm, those cheap sunflowers will ‘trap’ the nasty gunk, and keep my carrots more-or-less organic.   Plus, they attract all sorts of good bugs and birds into my garden, helping keep the pests down.   They add a cheerful, pretty note to the garden, too!




I spent my morning planting sunflowers, in case anyone was wondering!

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Well, spring is (supposedly) coming.  Despite the two-plus feet of snow still on our yard, we’re getting ready.  Getting ready for spring, getting ready to garden, getting ready for baby goats.  Getting ready for me to go back to work.


I go back to work in about ten days.  I’m actually looking forward to it – it’ll be nice to do things that stay done.  Laundry and dishes and cooking and picking up baby toys seems like a treadmill of just getting one finished, and having to start from scratch with one (or all) of the others – it never ends.  However, a report, once written, is done.  You can move on to the next task.  I can tidy my office, and expect it to stay that way.  I will miss the rather more leisurely pace of the days, and of course, I love being able to spend time with Hubby and Baby M, but there are advantages to this working business, too.


We’ve started a couple hundred plants for the garden, beginning back in February, with the artichokes, and planting more every couple-few weeks.  This year, I’ve tried to stick more closely with the stuff we know we like, and do a bit less experimenting, so at the moment, we’ve mostly got artichokes, tomatoes, and peppers.   I started a few pots of herbs, as well.  This year, I decided I wanted to plant more flowers, just because.  Because I like pretty things, because they attract hummingbirds and butterflies, because we don’t always have to be strictly practical.  I’ve got pansies, zinnias, rudbeckia, calendula, delphiniums…no real plan, but a mish-mash of things that appealed to me.  Some will go in pots by the back door, some in a dedicated flower bed, and some will undoubtedly be tucked here and there among the tomatoes that I plant along the south and east walls of the house.  I’m looking forward to the planting!  In the meantime, I still have squash, melons, and cukes to start; I’ll probably sit down and get that done this weekend, or maybe next.  I don’t want to start them too early, especially with the melt being so late.


Two of the three pregnant does are due any day now.  Saffron is about the size of a bus, but it doesn’t stop her from jumping up on the old hay bales we’ve stacked along the cold wall of the maternity stall, to stop drafts.   Skye is smaller than Saffron, but is still developing a bit of a waddle.  Missy is hardly looking pregnant compared to the other two, but she could have been bred up to a month later, so it’s not that shocking.  I think Sky was bred first, but I’d put my money on Saffron having her kid(s) first.  We’re making special trips out to the barn every couple of hours, now, just out of anticipation.  The three bottle babies that I brought back from Alberta are appreciating the extra attention, as are the cats.  We’ve located and gathered all our ‘kid contingency’ stuff – extra bottles and nipples, colostrum replacer, towels, rubber gloves, and the like.   None of our goats has had major problems kidding so far (besides their habit of dropping kids in snowbanks, which the maternity stall should solve), but it’s bound to happen sooner or later, and we’d like to be prepared.


While we’re waiting for overly-cute newborn goat pictures, here are a few of the also-very-cute Alberta bottle babies:


baby Splash



Alberta baby



baby Alyssum

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It’s April 7th today, theoretically six weeks from last frost.  The three feet of snow on my lawn (plus the inch that fell yesterday) suggest that my plans to plant the main garden on Victoria Day are more than a little optimistic.  It’s -7 Celsius, with no day forecast to be above freezing until the end of next week, at the earliest.  Bleh.


I started artichokes in February, twelve weeks from last frost.  They’re a couple of inches tall, now, contributing to the living room jungle.   My permanent windowsill herbs have gone a little nuts; there is a brief span, spring and fall, when the sun is strong enough to really get them growing, and still low enough in the sky to shine directly in the south window.   My scheffelara has grown a foot in the last few weeks.


seed starts


I sat down this afternoon with a bag of dirt and a bag of seeds.  The result is an inability to find my kitchen table.  Again.  Today’s focus was mostly herbs and flowers; I decided not to pot up any more tomatoes until it looks like spring might actually come, as they do seem to get leggy if I start them too soon.  But we’ve got flats of calendula, zinnia, rudbeckia, pansies, dianthus, and basil on the go, now.  Potential beauty, beautiful potential, right there in my kitchen.  Planting seeds feels like such a hopeful thing to do; an act in defiance of this apparently never-ending winter…



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