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

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.

Vegetarian Carnival #13 is now online at VeggieChic

Green Tomatoes, Summer 2007, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

To those just joining us from the Vegetarian Carnival, Welcome to AppleJade!

This week Jul of VeggieChic hosts the Vegetarian Carnival #13.  The Vegetarian Carnival is held approximately twice a month featuring blog posts around various themes associated with a vegetarian lifestyle.

Jul was kind enough to include a link to our cold frame discussions here at AppleJade.  While I am not a strict vegetarian, I enjoy vegetarian and vegan cuisine, and adore growing my own fresh foods year-round.  At AppleJade you can expect ongoing discussions about organic gardening and cooking as a part of our greater discussion about healthy lifestyles and goals.

If you would like to submit to the Vegetarian Carnival or volunteer to host a future carnival, be sure to visit the Vegetarian Carnival information page for more details.

Getting a Jump on Spring Planting

Cold Frame, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

Today I awoke to a warm, humid sunrise.  It appears that my planting opportunity came sooner than I anticipated!  I just finished sowing onions, spinach, radishes, and carrots in the open spaces of my cold frame (a great way to enjoy a sunrise).  As you can see the cilantro, mizuna mustard, and assorted lettuce are all jamming, and today’s warmth (and opportunity to open the cold frame for fresh air) will give them a nice boost.  Salad is on tonight’s menu!

I like to garden by the moon, and while today’s moonsign (Aquarius) is not always ideal for planting, the new moon is a great time to get things started – be they new plants, or new projects.  I’m hoping that today’s warmth, breeze, thunder, rain, and the added energy of a solar eclipse will help get these seeds started.  In a couple of weeks, we’ll know if there’s been any success.  That is – if we can see through the snow into the cold frame!

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

Through sleet and snow the plants still grow

Onions in Sleet, (c) 2007 Jade Leone Blackwater

 

Philadelphia had a cold weekend, and here in Chester County we saw bits of sleet, snow, and freezing rain.  Our temperatures remained around 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) on Sunday, but our plants stayed cozy in the cold frame.

We have a small patch of onions in the main garden which I transferred from the coldframe in early Autumn.  Unfortunately, I never had a chance to build them a little row cover.  This year they are part of my experiment to see what will happen to the onions as we see months of cold, dry weather, and occasional snowfall.  My guess is, they may get a little mad and droopy, but they’ll survive just fine.

Cold Frame in Sleet, (c) Copyright 2007 Jade Leone Blackwater

Meanwhile… in the coldframe the greens are cozy and happy, protected from wind and extreme cold.  I didn’t open the cold frame at all over the weekend, so as not to release the bit of warmth trapped inside.  The picture above shows the mizuna mustard greens pressed up against the cold frame, protected from the bitter cold. (Remember you can click on pictures to enlarge them).

We’ve had a lot of questions about how to build and use a cold frame.  In addition to our health discussions this December at AppleJade, I will be drafting up some simple steps for you to construct and use your own cold frame (although that may not be posted until January).

And don’t worry – even if it’s too cold for you to sow your seeds now, you can still make use of your cold frame in the coming spring (and next autumn/winter, of course).  A small amount of planning can dramatically improve the results of your gardening efforts – big or small!

PS – If you’re looking for a little inspiration today, hop over to my Brainripples blog.  Each week I offer the Monday Morning Muse featuring photography to help spark the creative!  Also, the Festival of the Trees 18 – November Arborea is now online at Riverside Rambles, composed by Larry Ayers.  The Festival of the Trees is a monthly blog carnival featuring posts about trees and forests from around the blogosphere – talk about inspiration!

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.