Pre-Solstice Garden Updates

Dianthus Awaits the Butterflies, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

The June solstice is just around the corner, and my garden is ready:

Sunflowers and corn have each been transplanted out of the cold frame and into their respective beds.

Sunflower at Sunset, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

The heliotropes (flowers which turn with the sun, including sunflowers) stand healthy on three-foot-tall stems lining a new flowerbed located along the northern fence line of my yard.  These sunflowers are the progency of my Pennsylvania garden including both the giant and the shorter, red sunflowers.

Flower Bed Beginnings, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

What was once a barren stretch of grass is now home to flowers selected from all around my yard including daisies, dianthus, bee balm, columbine, carrots, daffodils, and many others.  I’ve packed a lot of plants into this small space, which is also the new home to 10 trees (originally received from The Arbor Day Foundation some eight years ago) including dogwoods, hawthorns, and crab apples.

North Corn Bed, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

The corn (which, if you didn’t know, is a really big grass) now lines the western fence line in two long beds of approximately 40 plants each.

Corn Sprouts: Fairy's-Eye-View, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Once the corn was put in place, the beds were sown with beans, pumpkins, zucchini, and melons, with a few sunflowers and nasturtium seeds to artfully anchor the ends of each.  I am pleased to say that the corn is well ahead of the requisite “knee-high by the Fourth of July” benchmark.  This is my first real attempt at growing corn; after three years of living around Pennsylvania farmland for inspiration, I am eager to see my results!  Beyond the fenced yard is a healthy wildflower patch containing foxglove, fireweed, daisies, and brambles, which I have carefully encouraged for some 10 years.  I hope that these flowers will help to attract the wild pollinators that I need for the vegetables.

South Corn Bed, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Why are the growing beds all fenced in, you may ask?

Blackfoot Troublemaker, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Tomatoes, peppers, basil, and marigolds which once in habited all free window spaces inside the house are now safely settled in the vegetable garden.  Although the tomatoes were looking a little scraggly indoors, they positively exploded outside.  I’m sure that flowers are only a week or two away.  The basil hardly seems to have noticed the move, and the peppers are slowly catching up thanks to the warm weather we’ve enjoyed.

Happy Tomato Starts, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Meanwhile, back in the cold frames the arugula, lettuce, assorted salad greens, and cilantro have all made a great showing, and are ready to bolt like nobody’s business.

Late Spring Cold Frame Harvest, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

I plan to dig them out in chunks and pop them in the flower beds so they can flower and seed to their hearts’ content.  Personally, I think arugula, radish, and cilantro flowers are lovely.  So too for the furry purple flowers of the chives plants which welcome me to the vegetable patch each morning.

Welcoming Garden Chive Flowers, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

The peas also need to come out of the coldframe and into the garden – they’ve grown big enough to create a trellis out of each other for support!

Renegade Pea Plants, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

And of course, summer wouldn’t be complete without the sweet, ripe strawberries swelling like so many rubies in the vegetable garden:

Summer's Ripening Strawberries, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

What’s next?  Believe it or not: autumn.  The efforts needed for summer vegetables were all completed in winter and spring.  Now that those tasks are behind me, there’s little else to do but water and weed and watch and harvest.  What’s important now is to plan, prepare, and plant for the coming cool seasons.

For me this means moving things out of the cold frames so I can begin successions of lettuce, greens, onions, carrots, and other small veggies.  I want to get these started now and continue sowing seeds at roughly two-week intervals from now through October.  These will provide the food supply for autumn, and ensure that I have plants at several stages of maturity (rather than one, big, massive patch of lettuce that’s ready all at once).

In addition to the food plantings I am also focused on developing the flowers which grow throughout the gardens.  I have healthy seedlings of calendula, borage, and marigolds, and recently added mature bergamot (also called bee balm or monarda), lavender, and rosemary to compliment my existing collections of mints, thyme, parsley, chamomile, and other flowers and kitchen herbs.  Thanks to my mother and eldest sister I was able to stock up on seeds via Seeds of Change, so my personal seed bank includes hollyhocks, dahlias, bergamots, sages, and many others.

Ahead at AppleJade I’ll be sharing ideas for creative ways to reuse packaging for seed starting, earth-friendly ways to reduce your slug and pest populations, and plenty of ideas for recipes to make use of your garden bounty!

Quiet Bird Retreat, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Cold Frame Countdown

Summer is nearly here, and the cold frames are at maximum production:

Working Cold Frames, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

We’ve built three cold frames so far this year.  The first was built and sown in February with radishes, lettuce, onions, and carrots.  The second two were constructed in April, and were sown at the new moon with a) corn and sunflowers; b) spinach, arugula, cilantro, snap peas, and marjoram.

First Cold Frame: Radish Cornucopia, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

I’ve learned to incorporate radishes into more dishes than I ever imagined possible – nothing like a healthy radish surplus to help you get creative.  The spinach and arugula are now vigorous enough that I can pick leaves each day and they are replenished by the following evening.  The lettuce seems a little slow-moving, but that doesn’t worry me: there’s plenty more on the way!  Now that the cold frames are built, we will have a leg-up for winter and spring.  I’ll begin planting them around August to secure fresh vegetables long past the typical growing months.

Spinach and Arugula Cold Frame, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Another added benefit of cold frames: they are bunny and deer proof (unless, of course, you have some REALLY determined bunnies).  I’ve been keeping the corn-and-sunflowers cold frame closed most days and all nights to keep things really warm for vigorous growth; the other two cold frames have been spending all days open, and temperate nights too.  This is important because keeping them too warm would cause the spinach, radishes, arugula, cilantro, and others to “bolt” to flowers.

Corn and Sunflowers Cold Frame, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

As you can see in these images, our sunflowers are just about ready for transplanting, and the corn will definitely be “knee-high by the fourth of July”.  In fact, these pictures were taken a week ago, and today everything has doubled from what’s shown here.  While it’s true that corn is one of many vegetables which does best when direct-sown, I chose this approach to help the plants along until the ground warms enough for planting.  The plan for the corn is two-fold: some of them will relocate to a new west-facing garden area currently being prepped, and others will be tested with the three sisters method when I plant the pumpkins and melons.

Sunflowers and Corn Sprouts, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Spring Plant Starts

Spring Plant Starts, © Copyright 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

A quick peek ahead at what’s to come at AppleJade: here you can see my plant starts enjoying a little sunshine outdoors thanks to this nice, warm weekend. Not pictured here are the cold frames under construction. I am preparing some step-by-step instructions to help you build your own. More soon!

Spring Sun Fuels the Cold Frame

Cold Frame, March 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterIt may be too cold to sow seeds in the garden, but it’s the perfect time to be sowing the cold frame.  As spring approaches, the sun’s path rises; this gives more warming light which the cold frame is built to capture.

While these pictures may not look pretty, they are actually very exciting (ok, at least for me).  [Remember you can click on pictures to enlarge.]  What you can see here are the lettuce, mustard, onion, chive, and cilantro plants which have grown slowly throughout the winter.  Scattered around them are open patches of earth which I used to sow radishes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, onions, and cilantro.  As soon as we have another warm day, I’ll open up and take some pictures so you can see how big the radish and spinach sprouts have become!  The carrots seem shy – it may be too cold for them to germinate just now.

Cold Frame, March 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterIn coming weeks I will remove the small, mature plants and place them out into the main garden where they can grow full-size.  Every time I pull out plants, I create open space in the cold frame.  Those new open spaces are where I sow the next succession of seeds.  This “succession planting” can continue every two weeks well into the summer, allowing me to have small, regularly maturing crops to feed us.

It’s taken me a while to get the hang of “succession planting.”  When I was first learning how to garden, I had no concept of succession planting, and happily unloaded entire seed packets into pots and garden spaces.  The result was a lot of wasted seed, and a whole bunch of plants that all matured at the same time.  Succession planting allows me to grow usable amounts of food that sustain us over the months.

We’ll be using a similar succession approach with the onions to keep a regular crop in stock.  Currently I’m germinating onions in the cold frame.  The seeds were sown close together in a small patch, and I expect to have slender onion sprouts in April or May.  At that point, the onions that overwintered in the garden will start to mature.  As I take out an onion or two for dinner each night, I’ll replace its empty seat with one of the young sprouts from the cold frame.

Cold Frame, March 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterAs you can see, life is busy in my garden, and it’s busy on my desk too.  I am the new Pennwriters Area 6 Representative for membership in southeastern Pennsylvania.  I will also be attending the Annual Pennwriters Conference this May in Lancaster, PA.  You will be able to find me blogging at AppleJade about once per week through March and April, and our focus will be in the garden.

Cold Frame Winter Veggies

Cold Frame Lettuce, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterOur cold frame continues to provide us with fresh greens.  Recently we finished the last of the summer carrots with a carrot cake (more to follow in a post about carrot cake).  Since removing the carrots and their large tops, lettuce and cilantro have thrived with added light and breathing space.  [Remember you can click on pictures to enlarge them].

Cold Frame Lettuce, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterThe pictures you see with the lid open were taken on December 20, 2007.  It was warmer that day, and you can see the size of the young oak leaf lettuce, mizuna mustard greens, and cilantro.

Cold Frame, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterToday it is too cold to open the cold frame, but you can see through the lights just how big the plants have become. At our next warm day I’ll try to sow some radishes and carrots.  Radishes are easy to grow and delicious when sliced thin on sandwiches.  Carrots are just always good, and it’s time to replenish the stock!

Cold Frame, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

Cold Frame: the treasure box

Cold frame vegetables, (c) Copyright 2007, Jade Leone Blackwater

It may not look like much, but whenever I see my cold frame I salivate and think about dinner.  A cold frame is a tool for extending your harvest through the cold months by protecting plants from wind while capturing a maximum amount of the low-winter sun to keep the plants warm.

Cold frame vegetables, (c) Copyright 2007, Jade Leone Blackwater

We built this coldframe in October 2006, and it has been feeding us ever since.  Our design is based on what we learned in Eliot Coleman’s book Four Season Harvest.  (We’ll talk more about this book in the future.)  Cold frame designs can be modified to fit your available space and materials.

Rather than use old storm windows for glass “lights”, we chose to use PVC plastic on our cold frame.  Despite our mixed feelings about PVC, I’m always glad we made this choice whenever I see our husky take a flying leap on top of the cold frame when he’s feeling “defiant.”

Cold frame vegetables, (c) Copyright 2007 Jade Leone Blackwater

This year the cold frame is filled with the end-of-summer jalapeños, carrots, and a few stray onions, as well as fresh rows of oak leaf lettuce, mizuna mustard greens, and slow-bolt cilantro.  As we explore nutrition, food, cooking, and gardening at AppleJade, you’ll be seeing a lot of our cold frame – and its bounty.

Do you have questions about cold frames?  Contact me with your questions, comments, and ideas any time, and I will try to address them in future posts.

Looking back at Summer’s garden

Summer Harvest, August 2007, Jade Leone Blackwater

 

Tomato Harvest, August 2007, Jade Leone Blackwater

 

These images were taken in August, when our garden was just entering its peak production.  For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the cold months are well on their way in for November.

This season we’ll be discussing how to prepare your garden for the next spring and summer, and how to plan for next year’s autumn and winter garden using a simple, friendly tool: the cold frame.

Since the cold months are generally less colorful, we’ll take lots of looks back at the summer garden to help keep us dreaming of next year’s growth!

I just got over the flu, so next week: natural remedies for the common cold.

 

Good health!