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

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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

Raw Potential

Gardening can benefit from a healthy combination of vision, creativity, and random surprise.  For me, gardening serves the dual purpose of helping me to discover things about myself while I slowly learn about the green world.  This summer I have been extracting my garden from weeds and tree sprouts.  In these pictures you can see what I’ve uncovered so far.  It may not look like much, but all I see is endless potential!

 

 

 

 

 

The strawberry harvest was excellent.  This small patch yielded about 2-3 cups of fruit for 3-4 weeks (making for some delicious, vitamin-packed margaritas!).  In a few more weeks the blackberries will begin to ripen, and I’m confident that I’ll have enough for pies and freezing.  I will relocate a few plants to increase my yields next year.

 

  

The herbs bring back a strong sense of nostalgia as they work their way back into my meals.  Certain herbs and spices remind me of places I have lived (and grown) or visited.  Lemon rosemary reminds me of Kitsap, Washington.  Greek oregano will probably always remind me of Chester County, PA.  I have already taken cuttings of the herbs so that they too can be relocated around the property.  I also found time to plant a couple tomatoes and an Anaheim chili pepper – I’ll show you what they’re doing next week.

 

While the wild plants had to be removed to make room for planted vegetables, I’ve made sure to leave many in place.  These wildflowers are an important attractant for bees and butterflies (and besides that, I like them).  The rest of the garden is slowly being cultivated into soft, open beds like the one you see here.  This is where I will be sowing seeds for cold-hearty plants which will likely survive the temperate Washington winter even outside of the coldframe.

 

 

 

 

 

And speaking of cold frames, now that we have completed new gates for the garden, cold frames are the new weekend projects.  Stay tuned for diagrams, pictures, and step-by-step instructions for you to build you own cold frame in time for autumn and winter planting!

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