Let's Get Dirty
A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.
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By Penny Stine
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
I bought a bunch of flower seeds in January or February when I was trying to combat the winter blahs, determined that I would plant all my flowers from seed this year. But some of them got nipped by a late spring frost when I forgot to bring them in, so I ended up planting cucumbers in this planter, which also has a few flowers (I don’t know what, exactly), some red-veined sorrel and a watermelon.
I don’t know why I stuck a watermelon seed in the soil… Perhaps I thought the cucumber would be lonely.
Now the pot is probably too crowded, but I just can’t bring myself to tear out either the cucumber or the watermelon. The cucumber plant (which is a compact variety that's supposed to be perfect for containers) has cukes that are about two centimeters long, and look what I saw on the watermelon vine!
I planted watermelon in two other big pots, plus in a front flower bed and in a couple of places over in my west garden. It’s one of the few melons and/or squash that doesn’t seem to be getting chomped by bugs or rodents or whatever is killing them by eating all the leaves off a week or so after the seedlings come up.
By Penny Stine
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
I’ve been trying to grow raspberries for years. The bushes in my yard look extremely healthy and they send suckers and spread like crazy. They even flower. But those flowers don’t produce fruit. I have moved them around my yard to three different places. (And even though I tried to dig out all the non-productive bushes when I was moving them, I didn’t succeed, so I have raspberry bushes that don’t produce berries in three different places.)
Hope springs eternal, however, and I think I’ve identified a place that might work. This is a little bed next to my weed flower area that had some onions and a broccoli plant. It doesn’t get full sun, so it can be challenging for some plants, but may be a good thing for raspberry bushes. It's also in a part of my yard that I can control the water a little bit better. I can also fertilize easily.
After sending my question out to the universe via Facebook (ie., why don’t my berry bushes actually produce berries?), I think the answer lies in the amount of water and/or fertilizer they get.
So I pulled most of the onions out of the bed, left the broccoli in place and tried to pull out all the weeds, too. Then I shoveled up some raspberry plants that were in their first year (i.e.., non-fruit-bearing year) and replanted them.
They don't look real happy in this pic, but I'm hoping they'll recover.
Next spring, I will give them plenty of fertilizer and water and see what happens.
Of course, the weeds will also come roaring back, so it will be a struggle to keep them out, but since raspberry bushes are fairly weed-like in their persistence and tenacity to spread, I think they’ll hold their own.
I’ve been checking on all the raspberry bushes in my yard. So far, all the flowers are drying up and turning into brown little non-berries. So sad…
By Penny Stine
Monday, June 30, 2014
It’s the last day of June, and I wanted to include an update of the cost vs value project I’ve been doing this year for my garden. Since mid-to-late January, I’ve been paying attention to how much I spend on my garden (seeds, irrigation water and materials, fertilizer, plants, etc) vs how much value I get out in terms of food.
Because I started this in January (when I wasn’t harvesting much of anything out in the garden) I decided to place a value on stuff as I used it. So I counted all the produce I grew in last year’s garden and either froze, canned or dried and use throughout the year. Obviously, I won’t count stuff from this year’s garden that I preserve in some way but won’t actually get around to using until 2015.
I did this out of curiosity, since I often hear that it’s cheaper to just go out and buy produce or that gardening is an expensive hobby. I wondered where those ideas came from, since back when I was a kid, and especially when my mom was a kid, it was “country folk,” or basically the poorer people who had to grow their own food rather than buy it at the grocery store.
So I made this handy spreadsheet and used my smarty-pants phone to help record what garden goods we consumed every day.
From January through the end of April, I spent $225.97 on my garden, which included a December charge for half of the irrigation water we use for the season. I used $109.94 worth of produce, which didn’t include anything that I used for the first three weeks in January, since I didn’t start this experiment until Jan. 22. Based on the average value of garden produce I used per week during the winter and early spring ($7.85 per week), the value of the produce should probably be about $133.49.
There’s a difference of $100, give or take (depending on whether I use the $109.94 recorded value or the $133.49 estimated value), meaning that my garden cost me about $100 more than it gave me from January through April.
Not surprising, since that’s when I start buying stuff for the upcoming gardening season, and I'm not picking much from the garden yet, although according to my spreadsheet, I started using onions from my garden in March.
As an aside, just because we need a photo here... I grow these crazy walking onions. They sprout their own bulbs, so once you get them started, you never run out, nor do you ever need to buy starts again. They'll grow anywhere, even this horrible west-side bed, which is shady all morning and hotter than a firecracker all afternoon, but sort of shady most of the time. I haven't purchased onions since March. They're not a good keeper, however, and will turn mushy in the ground, so I'll pick a bunch before September, which will probably last until Thanksgiving. Then I'll have to start buying onions again until next March, when I can start picking my walking onions. They're a small onion, so instead of using one, you might need three, but I've got lots of onions.
I had a separate spreadsheet for May and June (because I used a lot more garden stuff in May and June). I’m also still in buying mode, as evidenced by the $140.43 I spent on my garden. The value of the produce I used in two months, however, jumped to $125.40, since by May and June I’m usually consuming a fair amount of stuff right out of the garden. So the deficit is $15.03, meaning that I spent $15.03 more than the calculated value of my garden returns.
So far, the garden has cost me about $115 - $125 more than what I’ve gotten out of it, but I expect those numbers to start skewing in the opposite direction, since I won’t be buying much more from here on out, but I will continue to consume produce from my yard.
By Penny Stine
Friday, June 27, 2014
I can't grow lettuce that's not bitter. My pak choi toi choi went to seed, as did my spinach, thanks to the heat.
In my quest to find greens that like it here, I'm growing more beets and Swiss chard, and they seem to be doing just fine.
My latest cooking experiment with the greens started with the usual onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil, then I added the chopped chard and beet greens once the onions were carmelized.
I had some dried tart cherries, so I grabbed a handful and chopped them coarsely, then put them in the pan with the half-cooked greens. I also added about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of chicken broth and cooked it until all the broth evaporated.
I thought the result looked good, too, with the red stems and cherries, along with the bright green leaves. I had just sprinkled fresh ground pepper over the greens before I took the photo, which is why it looks somewhat spotted.
It was also absolutely delicious. I read advice that said you were supposed to add the stems to the pan first, because they take longer to cook, but since I love them when they're crunchy, I prefer to add the greens and stems to the pan at the same time.
By Penny Stine
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Usually, when plants go to seed, they don't look good. Interesting, yes. Good or tasty, no. This tall thing with a little yellow flower that looks surprisingly like a dandelion is actually lettuce.
I tend to let things go to seed in my garden, however, because I've discovered it's a cool way to get stuff to come back every year. Or at least that sounds good. The reality is that my garden is big and trying to stay on top of it is the impossible dream. So I let stuff go to seed.
It's always a fortunate coincidence when young seedlings come up the following year and actually turn out to be something you'd want to eat.
Although I'm not the word blogger here at the Sentinel, the term, "go to seed," can also mean to get a rundown appearance, as if you no longer care.
Personally, I think these plants look pretty cool once they go to seed. Perhaps it's because the plant is actually a biennial plant (i.e., one that takes two growing season to complete it's life cycle), even though we grow it as an annual.
This allium-looking plant is a carrot. A couple of years ago, a few carrots went to seed in a cramped corner of my garden, and I got the most carrots (produced with the least amount of effort EVER) the following year. So I deliberately left a few carrots in the ground last fall, intending that I'd let them go to seed this year and give me boatloads of carrots next year.
There's nothing wrong with long-range garden plans.
I've got kale going to seed, too, getting about 3 or 4 feet tall and producing these seed pods on long stems. I'm picking the pods and letting them dry simply because I'm curious to see if they'll produce good kale plants next year. I've never had kale go to seed like this before.
Btw, gardening experts say that you shouldn't let carrots go to seed, because most carrots are hybrid and the carrots that come up the following year may not breed true to form, so you don't know what type you'll actually get.
That's OK with me, since I can't seem to get any carrots when I actually purchase seeds and plant them.