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

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

A Look Ahead at Spring Gardening

Sunflowers, August 2007, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

The above image shows the southern-most corner of our garden in August 2007.  As you can see our giant sunflowers were in their finest blossoms last August, attended daily by bees and birds from sunup to sundown. 

The equinox is still six weeks away, and those months will be cold for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere.  Don’t let the lingering cold months fool you: now is the time to begin planning your spring, summer, and autumn plantings, and to begin seedlings for tomatoes and peppers indoors.  (If the soil is soft enough, this can also be a great time to prep soil with compost or wood ash, and pull out stubborn root balls.)

Sleeping Garden, January 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater 

My garden in Chester County, Pennsylvania will soon see enough warmth to begin germinating seeds in the cold frame.  Once that happens, I’ll be sowing carrots, radishes, cilantro (coriander) lettuce, spinach, onions, and a few others.  I like to select vegetables that are easy to grow, and that suit our tastes and cooking habits.

Arugula, January 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater 

Fortunately we have a major arugula patch thanks to its wonderful proliferative qualities, so I won’t need to grow any in the cold frame.  The arugula and sorrel have been happy to overwinter in the main garden.  As you can see in these pictures, the cold freezes and snows wilt and kill the outer leaves, while the center of the plant remains vibrant and alive.  As soon as things warm up the plants will grow a fresh set of small leaves, and voilà – fresh salad!

Garden Sorrel, January 2008, © Copyright 2008 Jade Leone Blackwater

With any extra room in my cold frame, I may see how early I can get jalapeños to start from seed.  I’ve been told that the cold spring months are the perfect time to grow a “salsa garden.”  I promise delicious salsa images and ideas here at AppleJade this summer.

If you want to get started with a cold frame this season, but don’t have the time or means to build one, here are a few places to get you started:

Seeds of Change is a great place to find organic and heirloom seed varieties.  They also offer gardening supplies, including their Collapsible Coldframe and Deluxe Coldframe.

Planet Natural also offers a variety of heirloom seeds, and many natural gardening supplies and pest controls.  They offer Single Cold Frame and Double Cold Frame kits.   

To learn more about using (and building) cold frames I recommend you explore the book Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman.  Once I get started with planting my cold frame, I’ll be sharing step-by-step pictures at AppleJade with ideas for your own gardens.  Have a question, idea, or suggestion?  Leave me a comment, or contact me!