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

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!

Snow-Gardens

Snowed-In Vegetable Garden, © Copyright 2009 Jade Leone Blackwater

Greetings from snowy, cloudy Washington!  As I’m sure you concluded by my disappearance, I had very little time for gardening or blogging during the second half of 2008.  Fortunately, I returned home to Washington just in time to see four feet of snow fall!  We have enjoyed a beautiful kickoff to winter, and now that I know I’m home to stay I can begin preparations for spring.

The garden, as you can see, has been under a heavy snow blanket.  That snow provides excellent insulation, and beneath it the strawberries and herbs are all healthy and green.  Preparations are underway for a) green houses, b) cold frames, c) indoor vegetable starts, and d) direct-sowing of cold crops.  I look forward to sharing my garden adventures with you in the coming year, and invite you to join me as I pursue a self-sustaining lifestyle here in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

May we all enjoy a healthy, productive, and “green” year!

Simplify Your Life: Clean Your Home and Lose the Clutter

Spring Clean and Clear, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone BlackwaterHappy Spring, Northern Hemisphere (and Happy Autumn to the Southern Hemisphere)!  If the season has you looking for new, creative ways to make positive changes in your life and attitude, try a new approach: simplify.  Simplifying your life in small ways can have an enormous impact on your health and happiness.  Today I’d like to talk about how to simplify your life by reducing your wealth of material “stuff.”

Spring cleaning should not be limited to the dusty windows and the ceiling cobwebs.  Cleaning our homes can make us feel better by improving the quality of life in our living space.  Cleaning is also a great excuse to get up out of your chair and move around.  (Anyone who tries to say cleaning isn’t exercise has never properly scrubbed their bathroom.)

When you tackle your spring cleaning this year, I encourage you to get rid of some STUFF.  If you’re a pack rat, it’s easy to forget just how awesome it feels to downsize your materials things.  Take a look around your home: where do you see piles of “stuff” collecting?  What shelves, desks, drawers, corners, even rooms seem to be magnets for all things useless?  If you are in need of a lift, get rid of some stuff:

Donate – donate useable goods that you no longer use!  In the US I recommend The Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation.  You can make an appointment and they’ll bring a truck right to your curb.  Visit their website for more details about items they will accept.

Freecycle – useable goods that cannot be donated are still useful!  I’ve been Freecycling happily for three years.  It’s easy to do, and you can truly make someone’s day by sharing an item you no longer need.

Recycle – items which are no longer useable should first be recycled or composted wherever possible.  Seriously: get in your filing cabinets and decide how much of that old paperwork you really need.  (Remember to properly shred ALL items with personal information).

Trash – do not try to donate or Freecycle your trash: if it’s trash, trash it.  If you’ve got a major load, call 1 800 GOT JUNK.  They’ll come out and give you a no-obligation estimate for your load of “stuff”, and haul it away without you so much as glancing at a transfer station.  (Of course, if you grew up enjoying trips to the dump with Dad, you might want to save the fun for yourself.  It’s incredibly good for the soul to heave items into the dump.  If you think I’m joking, you really need to try it out for yourself).

Once your house has reduced, reused, and recycled, it’s time to rethink: take a breath and feel the difference in your home.  Acknowledge the change in your mindset about what you really NEED in your life, and what really brings you happiness.  Apparently, it was not all that stuff!

Now that you have removed the first layer of stuff, you will be able to see the next layer of things-you-don’t-need cluttering up your living space.  Give yourself a week to bask in the awesomeness of your newly-cleared home, and then if you’re feeling brave: repeat.

Spring Clean and Clear, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

Projects and Planning

Sprouting Daffodils, Winter 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

While I am busy with my writing projects, hop over to see someone who is REALLY busy with garden planning: Jenny at Seeded has an ambitious planting schedule that will make you groan with envy (plus it’s a great source of ideas if you’re trying to decide what you want to plant in your garden this year).  In my gardens, the early spring bulbs are making their debut from the cold winter earth, teasing me with suggestions of gardening days to come.