Autumn Garden Updates

Sunflower and Honey Bee, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone BlackwaterHappy autumn everyone!

If you’re wondering where I’ve been all summer, the answer is simple: out in the garden.  Autumn is my favorite season, but learning to grow food has vastly broadened my appreciation of the warm, sunny growing months.

Despite my goals to be more a more diligent blogger for 2009, I have instead focused the majority of my time on writing fiction and poetry, and growing food and flowers.

Kind thanks to reader Diana Hunt for encouraging me to get back to business at AppleJade.  To start us off, here’s a quick peek at what I was doing out in the garden during June, July, and August…

Foxglove Blooms, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

In June we were smitten with strawberries.  These plants have been growing here without any help from me for nearly 10 years.  They have happily consumed a sizable chunk of the vegetable patch, and this autumn many of them will be relocating to new beds which are being established in the rockier and less-hospitable parts of the yard.  My reasoning is that the strawberries are so hardy and so happy to propagate that they should make excellent (and tasty) pioneers.

Happy Strawberry Harvest, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

The corn plants grew steadily through June and July, and I really should dedicate an entire separate post to what they accomplished this year by creating so much food out of so little soil.  We ate sweet, healthy corn all through the month of August.

Young Corn Plants, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Pumpkins had a slow start, and I think we now have three pie-worthy squash out there which are just beginning to turn orange.  My plan for next spring is to start the squash in the cold frame as I did with the corn, and then transplant when it’s warm enough in May.  This was a successful approach for the corn harvest, so hopefully pumpkins and other squash won’t mind the transplant method.  Pumpkins will definitely have a post of their own so you can see their progress and learn about their flowers.

Young Pumpkin Plants, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Sunflowers dominated the scene all around the yard this year.  We collected almost all the seeds from our Pennsylvania sunflowers, and those seeds waited patiently from 2007 to be planted here in western Washington this year and subsequently bloom upwards of eight feet.  They’re just finishing now.  I managed to get three of the largest seed-heads indoors to finish drying, but the rest have been claimed by the busy blue Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri).  As with corn and pumpkins, the sunflowers deserve a post of their own to show just how much they accomplished this season.  (And yes, that’s me, standing in front of some of the corn and sunflowers just before the first flowers opened.  The purple-pink blush behind the corn is from the foxglove (genus Digitalis) and fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) two of my favorite local wildflowers, coming in to full summer bloom.)

The Gardener, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Marigolds, lettuce, cilantro, beans, and many others have boomed throughout the garden and pop up just about everywhere.  I moved all the arugula and other greens out of the cold frames when they went to seed, and let the plants finish in the cooler corners of the fenced-in vegetable garden.  They should be dropping those seeds very soon now thanks to the wind and rain, which will hopefully result in a fresh crop.

Marigold Treasure, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Tomatoes grew strong, vibrant, and healthy all season, but left me with a plethora of green fruits.  They have only just begun to ripen, and as a result many of them are coming indoors as soon as they begin to to show yellow or pink where they can finish among the warmth of the kitchen.  I’ll continue to keep them ripening outdoors until the tomato plants finally turn brown – which I’m guessing isn’t too far in the future.

Green Tomato Load, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

For now, I’ll leave you with a nasturtium, another friendly flower which can be found just about everywhere around the garden.  While all parts of nasturtiums are edible, I’ve resisted collecting too many flowers or seeds for dinners in the hopes that the plants will successfully re-seed themselves for next summer.  I’ll let you know my success when they reemerge next June.

Friendly Nasturtiums, Copyright © 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

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.

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.