Garden 4.0: Notes for Future-Me

This year, the garden has been a bit, ahem, wild. Overgrown. Unkempt. Let’s just say it’s in need of a serious haircut at this point.

20140726. Our backyard! And Birdie running laps.

Thankfully, due in large part to the wet, cool(ish) summer we’ve been having (and not to my serious neglect), we’ve still managed to get some lovely produce. The tomatoes, green beans, beets, radishes, lettuce, kale, and husk cherries in particular have done awesomely.

20140812. Husk cherries.

Now is the time, though, to start making some notes to future-me for future-garden. I do this mentally every year, and then I completely forget or push out of my mind the previous year’s lessons learned. So, dang it all to heck, we’re documenting the crap out of them this year!

20140708. State of the garden address.

Plans for next year:

  • Husk cherries are the bomb. We need a field of husk cherries next year. Okay, maybe a bed of them will do, but seriously… a lot, please.
  • Half a bed of tomatoes = perfect. Although Chris will disagree, horizontal trellising has worked nicely this year (i.e. no broken twine halfway through the summer during the latest thunderstorm to try to restring, heavy with tomatoes).
  • Let’s do onions for real next year, and half a bed of garlic was perfect. Next year: half a bed of garlic, the other half onions? Yeah? Yeah.
  • ONLY GROW HALF A BED OF GREENS, TOTAL. PERIOD. None of this “eight kale plants will do” crap. Jeez, girl. Greens do awesomely in our backyard, and we really only need two kale and two chard plants for our own consumption. At this point, the chickens have eaten more kale than I have, which is embarrassing (although the chickens are stoked).
  • I really need an entire bed of pepper plants. I love peppers. We EAT peppers. We CAN peppers. I want ALL THE PEPPERS.
  • Green beans: everyone in this house loves them, including Willem. Next year, we’re building a trellis of green beans – a TRELLIS you can walk through and be surrounded by lovely green beans – maybe as part of our front yard landscaping, maybe somewhere in back. Who knows. But we need a lot of green beans. Also, the purple ones are the bomb, because you can actually see them hiding among all that green foliage.
  • A bed of lettuce early in the season was awesome. Maybe that bed can be flipped later for fall plantings of beets, radishes, and arugula, all of which are awesome and need to be planted everywhere again next year, all summer long.
  • THINGS WE NEED NEXT YEAR: Cucumbers were sadly missing from our garden this year, as were carrots. I think I want to do a huge carrot field in one of the beds. I learned that the best carrot planters are 4-year-olds: they just throw the seeds (in huge quantities) everywhere. So that’ll be the carrot-planting plan next year.
  • Last but not least, how about some sweet potato love? I need to expand our sweet potato growing next year. We’ve been doing a sweet potato bin the last few years, which works but kind of requires upkeep all summer, adding more soil. And I want a LOT of sweet potatoes. I’m open to suggestions for best ways to grow them!
  • Oh wait… LAST last one… We need some winter rye for cover cropping this fall/winter. We ran out and didn’t have any last fall, which I swear is part of the reason we suddenly have grass trying to take over the beds this year. It also provides a great winter fresh feed for the chickens.

Also, someday Chris is going to make an epic post about the tens of thousands of bees who have taken up residence in our backyard. He finally managed to get me into the suit last week to help him move the (now two) hives around a little bit. This was me flexing and feeling very high on life after surviving the process without a) getting stung and b) having a panic attack.

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This Bastard Winter Gets the Last Laugh

Yesterday morning, guess what we woke up to? Snow. Yup. SNOW. I covered the greens and the seeded beds, just to be safe. They probably would have been okay… but I decided not to take any chances.

Our morning view. This bastard winter gets the last word.

Can someone please let this winter know it’s not welcome any longer? UNCLE. UNCLE! In defiance of the view outside our windows, Willem put on his best gardening sleeper and kicked away in the sunshine all morning.

In protest of snow on the ground, Willem is wearing his gardening sleeper.

In other news, I made my own baby wipe solution today (finally): 1/2 cup apricot oil, 1/2 cup baby soap, 2 cups water. We’ll see how it works out for us!

Sad Seedling Resuscitation

SEEDLING AND GARDEN RESUSCITATION
Back on February 1, knowing I was about to give birth ANY DAY NOW, I started all of our seedlings. I had an awesome spread of seeds, procured from Seed Savers Exchange, thanks to a gift card given to me by my in-laws for Christmas (great gift!). Thanks to the beauty and joy that is bringing a new being into the world, however, we ended up with our own little experiment in survival of the fittest going under the grow lights in the basement.

Only the strong survive!

Thankfully, the flat of greens did really well and went into the ground last weekend. That left two trays of raggedy tomatoes, miniaturized peppers, suspended animation ground cherries, a few spindly onions, a couple of yellowed cucumbers… and not much else. And those guys were hanging on by a thread, still eking out the last of the nutrients from the peat pods I had started them in.

Luckily, Willem loves his morning nap in his carrier, giving me a chance yesterday to repot all of the seedlings AND even plant a few more pots with fresh seeds, just in case I get some more growth in time for this season. I was especially sad that the arugula, peppers, and cucumbers did so poorly. I really wanted some lovely spicy arugula in my salads this spring; more seeds were planted in pots and directly in the ground. ARUGULA OR BUST!

20140412. Willem and me repotting seedlings.

20140412. Sad little onions.

This morning during Willem’s morning tandem nap, we planted more seeds in the garden – beets, arugula, and chard mixed in among the greens. The kale is looking rad, and the greens are thriving to varying degrees. Which reminds me – I need to water those seeds!

NO RATS ALLOWED!
In other news, Chris has embarked on an ambitious project this beautiful weekend to rid our coop of burrowing rodents (aka RATS), which have excavated extensive tunnels underneath our coop to get at our messy chickens’ dropped food throughout this polar vortex winter. Here’s a sneak peek of what he’s got going on so far; more details to come!

20140412. Rat abatement plan, step one: dig a trench.

And check out our sexy new wood rack, built by Chris. He’s the best.
20140412. New wood rack, Chris' work implements for the weekend.

AND… BABIES!!!
Finally, in other OTHER news, I would be remiss if I didn’t say, hey, I really like our baby. Here’s our nightly bedtime wind down ritual:
20140411. Bedtime routine.

20140413. Willem, 7 weeks.

Garden 2014: Oh, It Is SO ON!

The barren garden beds have been screaming at me through our back windows for weeks now. The seedlings that did actually flourish in spite of almost total lack of care desperately need to get in the ground, and I have so many seeds that need planting.

Like… RADISHES. I want radishes – lots of them. Radishes are the best. In order to get radishes, I must plant seeds. In order to plant seeds, I need someone to watch Willem.

Fast forward to this morning. Willem was in a great mood (probably because he slept all afternoon yesterday and was ready to party from about 5 AM on today). Chris was happy keeping an eye on him. And the kid decided I could put him down in his bouncey seat for an hour. The end result? I got to dig in the dirt for an hour, leaving me feeling more like myself than I have in quite a long while.

Even this morning, though, prioritization was required. It’s amazing how good I am at prioritizing these days. I prioritize EVERYTHING because I never know when Willem is going to need to be picked up. Like, after my shower each morning, I prioritize how I get ready. Deodorant, clothes, and brushed teeth are non-negotiable. Next up is hair combing. If Willem is still doing well? I might even get a chance to pluck an eyebrow hair or two and put on a little mascara.

Same goes for getting things ready in the morning before Willem needs breakfast. Water must be filled, food must be eaten, and pills must be taken. If the kid is still all right, coffee is poured (can you believe coffee isn’t priority numero uno? Who am I?). Usually that’s about as far as we get, but if he’s STILL happy, I might even get a load of laundry in and some music on the stereo before I get the sleeping beauty.

Same goes for my garden planting this year. First priority: getting all the early seedlings – a TON of greens – in the ground. Tatsoi, Forellenschluss, Mizuna, Arugula, various lettuces, and Kale. YUM.

And… that’s as far as I got. Still, though, I’m feeling pretty pleased! Maybe the seeds can get planted this afternoon. Hey, a girl can dream.

The garden always looks terribly unimpressive in the beginning:
20140406. Inauspicious beginnings to Garden 2014.

My garlic army:
20140406. An army of garlic.

GREENS:
20140406. Greens!

I think this is the mizuna (Asian spicy greens)… but I couldn’t be troubled to look at my seedling planting “map.” Low priority, knowing what I’m planting where!
Greens! In the ground! Against all odds, Garden 2014 is ON.

Selfie with my gardening buddy:
20140406. Selfie with my garden sidekick.

This Year’s Hobo Garden Plans

I planted a bunch of seeds at the beginning of February, about two weeks before Willem’s due date. Unfortunately, only about 1/3 of them germinated and grew – and by the time I realized they were looking pretty pitiful, I had a tiny creature that was occupying all of my time, energy, and brain space.

In other words, the seedling trays are completely haphazard this year, which means the garden is going to be completely haphazard. Hobo garden. Ghetto fabulous. I’m okay with this. I HAVE to be okay with this, since I have no time or energy to do much about it.

We do have signs of life out there, though, which makes me very happy. The bee balm and other perennials are coming back, and the garlic is shooting up through the hay. At least we’ll have garlic!

This weekend, the plan is to have Chris on baby watch for a couple of hours at some point so I can plant the many greens that are flourishing under the basement lights, as well as all the direct sow seeds: beets, turnips, collards, radishes, sunflowers, and other goodies. At the very least, we’ll have greens, garlic, some root veggies, and strawberries this year!

I also think I might break down and actually buy some seedlings this year. We NEED fennel, peppers, rosemary, basil, and tomatoes. NEED. And next year? Well, hopefully the seeds that didn’t grow this year will do a bit better next year when I have a bit more of an attention span.

 

20131227. Not that it's a problem, but I might have a bit of a seed problem.

Last year’s garden insanity:
20130629. First garlic harvest = 50 bulbs.

And speaking of the little guy, Willem gets cuter and cuter every day. His happy times are my favorite – he coos and squeals and is generally the most adorable guy in the world. Not that I’m biased or anything.
Afternoon naps.

No Tuber Left Behind

So hey… we just got back from our honeymoon in Jamaica! I was very good about not shouting it from the rooftops (or, more accurately, my computer keypad) that we would be out of town. You know, that whole thing about it being bad to tell the whole world you’re not at home. I can’t tell you how difficult that was, given that I can’t keep a secret to save my life AND I was way overly excited about this particular vacation.

20131028. Amazing storm clouds.

So there you have it: last Sunday, we left for a resort just west of Ocho Rios, spent the week lying on the beach and floating in the ocean, and returned late last night. JAMAICA!

20131028. Chris and his thematic reading matter.

20131028. Virgin pina colada and a good book.

20131028. Crab friend.

20131029. Ocean floating.

20131031. Bob Marley's home when he was a wee babe.

On Thursday, we took a trip into the mountains and countryside to see Bob Marley’s first home and final resting place, and on the way there, we were surprised to learn that 90 percent of the residents of that particular area are farmers.

20131031. 90 percent of the residents in this area are farmers.

The landscape on the way up to Nine Miles.

Additionally, the area’s sole water source is rainfall. This means everyone had not just a rain barrel, but a rain cistern outside the house (along with some very creative guttering systems to get the water from the corrugated metal roofs of some of the houses to the cisterns). There were also large open limestone rock catchment systems scattered throughout the area.

20131031. Limestone rainwater catchment system.

The limestone rainwater catchment system at Mt. Zion.

Being interested in that whole farming thing, my eyes immediately keyed into the fields scattered on hillsides or lower in the valleys. I began seeing squash vines trailing across the red soil, banana trees (I think), cabbage heads cropping up on stonier slopes… and these strange rows upon rows of tall poles, growing thick with what looked like sweet potato vines.

I asked our guide, Ros-shacka, and he confirmed: they were YAMS! He seemed shocked that we could grow sweet potatoes in Indiana, and we chatted for a moment about growing seasons.

20131031. The view from Mt. Zion.

Farms and gardens were tucked in everywhere on these hills.

This was also the swift kick in the behind I needed to get our own yams out of the ground upon our return. November in Indiana also means garlic cloves need to get into the soil. So as our northern diffused November sun slowly warmed the changing leaves above me this morning and with my trusty knit cap snug over my ears, I began the special chore of gently working through soft dirt for those bright red, gem-like tubers.

20131102. Sweet potatoes (or did I plant yams?).

Assembling the only tools needed for the task of digging sweet potatoes (not pictured: hands).

20131102. Sweet potatoes (or did I plant yams?).

This year, I started growing our slips early – like, JANUARY.

20130113. Starting the sweet potato slips.

In January…

201305117. Remember that time I worried the sweet potatoes wouldn't grow?

By May, we had amazing growth. Ready for the ground!

Last year was our first year growing sweet potatoes, and so we planted the slips in June, much later than we really should have. So our haul this year is at least double what it was last October. I love the mystery of underground crops, digging through the soil, not really knowing what you’re going to find. Treasures!

20131102. Sweet potatoes (or did I plant yams?).

Dinner tonight is definitely going to feature roasted, mashed sweet potatoes! Or were they yams? No matter.

She’s a Bird…

Since my good friend, Sarah, introduced this song to us over Memorial Day Weekend, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sung it to our own little Bird Dog. The Everly Brothers, “Bird Dog.”

The other song we sing to her ALL. THE. TIME.

You’re welcome. Other things that are going on:

  • Pants that fit me a week ago no longer do. I’m 21 weeks today, and I’m told the baby is now the size of the world’s largest gummy bear (not the WEIGHT, thank goodness, just the length/size).
  • I’m about to do a little closet cleaning/demolition/priming work today as part of Massive Closet Upgrade of 2013.
  • My office is quickly becoming half-office, half-nursery with cloth diapers, books, and knitted owls falling off the shelves.
  • And I’m finally getting to spend more time on Fall Creek Gardens stuff, harvesting the fruit of our labors! On Monday, we harvested about 30 pounds of produce for the Mid-North Food Pantry, and on Friday I harvested another 20 pounds of kale, chard, spicy mixed greens, and bok choy.

20131004. 20 pounds of greens from Fall Creek Gardens for the Mid-North Food Pantry.

Happy Saturday, everyone!

Trying to Find the Words…

I don’t quite know how to put this yet, but I feel like I am somehow cheating at life last week and this week. I started the apprenticeship with Growing Places Indy, and I can still say, without a doubt, it’s one of the best choices I’ve made/opportunities I’ve been given in this world. EVER.

20130607. Garden jungle.

(Meanwhile on the home front… the garden has taken on jungle proportions…)

It’s like I am living this decadent reality when, really, all I am doing is taking care of myself, taking care of plants and the earth, and taking care of people around me. I guess it’s a little sad that this feels so decadent, but that’s not the part I’m choosing to dwell on. Instead, I’m trying to fill myself up with the awesomeness of feeling this way and trying to figure out how to prolong it long after August 10 when the apprenticeship ends.

20130607. Nasturtium and garlic.

(Nasturtium and garlic make friends…)

And, for the record, we apprentices have already begun talking about how sad we will be to see the apprenticeship come to a close. It’s only the end of week two, but when every day feels like three or four days packed into one (in a good way), I feel very close to these people already. It’s like a happier, soul searching, plant- and food-centric boot camp.

20130607. Beaker does not like being left out of the garden.

(Beaker expresses her discontent at not being allowed to eat – and poop on – all the backyard garden plants…)

I’m surrounded by truly amazing people: the apprentices, the leaders of the program, and the handful of people who have come in to speak with us. It’s just too much! My heart feels like it’s bursting.

20130607. Beaker is the best mulberry forager.

(Beaker scavenges mulberries from the grass while I scavenge from the tree…)

I’m clearing my mind of the extraneous bullshit, being present (really and truly PRESENT), learning so much, working hard, eating well, talking and sharing, doing yoga… I feel like I need to milk every moment for all it’s worth because it’s such a foreign feeling, it’s just not NORMAL, and I fear it could go away at any time.

20130607. Garlic scape.

(Alien shapes find their way into the garden via garlic scapes…)

I feel centered and balanced and vibrant and like I’m paying attention to these things for the first time in years, if not ever. I feel supported and like I really could do anything, like there is a community of people, all around me in the program and in the city of Indianapolis, who can help me accomplish these things and who want me to succeed. And vice versa.

20130607. Mulberry.

(Mulberries fill jars and stain hands and lips…)

Just for the record, here are just a few of the many things I have done or learned so far:

  • Biked 116 miles in two weeks.
  • Learned how to take a soil pH test.
  • Learned how to grow micro greens and sunflower and pea shoots.
  • Laid out irrigation/drip/t-tape across many garden beds.
  • Realized I could still do cartwheels and yoga is actually way more centering and invigorating than I thought.
  • Opened myself up without fear.
  • Met local business folks who are working to put out sustainable, amazing products (and learned I should just do it – with a halfway decent business plan in my pocket, of course).
  • Harvested greens and herbs and helped organize/disperse green goodies at my first CSA pickup.
  • Laughed and got stressed out and talked and picked myself up and worked it all out and laughed again and shared more with strangers than I have in YEARS.
  • Found myself feeling nostalgic for the present, if that’s possible.
  • Began thinking about fundraising ideas and putting together proposals so all of this year’s apprentices can “pay it forward” for next year’s (I’m sure) equally, if not more, amazing apprentices.
20130607. Dinner tonight! All from the backyard or Growing Places Indy.

(What dinner looks like on most nights: beautiful greens and eggs from the backyard, herbs from Growing Places Indy. We lead charmed lives…)

Stop the Presses!

BREAKING NEWS: I’ve decided I’m going to become more of a vegetarian again. I don’t consider myself a meat aficionado, but lately I haven’t been able to get away from the thought about what a huge impact eating meat has on the rest of the world. It’s such a selfish, short-minded thing, in terms of its impacts on our ecosystems, inputs required, and nasty outputs from the way most meat is produced in this country.

20120728. Distelrath Farms' poultry processing workshop.

Learning how to butcher a chicken from start to finish last summer at Distelrath Farm, Indianapolis.

At best, raising meat is a highly inefficient way to feed a population. So really, if I’m going to work towards living more sustainably and being less of a consumer, it was only a matter of time before I got to the conundrum of meat.

So what do I mean by becoming “more” of a vegetarian? I’ve decided to only eat locally produced meats – meats from farms I could actually go visit within the state of Indiana. This has the added bonuses of:

  • Supporting local farmers
  • Lightening my footprint in terms of greenhouse gas production
  • Minimizing the hormones and antibiotics that go into my meat (and, by extension, into me)
  • Limiting the amount of energy required to get meat from the farm to my place, simply based on its proximity

Win. Win. Win. WIN.

I’m also super lucky that our neighborhood restaurants seemingly more often than not feature meats sourced locally. No, I don’t have to give up my occasional burger at Twenty Tap, which uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meat from Fischer Farms. Thank goodness for that.

20120727. Little Red and Boo creepin' yet again.

Another huge part of this, in my mind, is raising our own proteins (in the form of backyard eggs) and growing our own vegetables, which can also be extremely energy-laden in our current food system to produce, depending on how the veggies are processed (frozen or canned, for instance).

Did you know it takes 35 kcal of fossil energy input for 1 kcal of beef protein? With that in mind, the quality of your meat better be really good to justify this very high use of fossil energy input. I consider this at least a small step in the right direction, in addition to expanding our garden.

early-august garden.

The backyard our first summer, July 2011.

20120513. One year in the house!

The same space, May 2012.

20121004. Chris cut up a ton of sod in the garden area. Halfway done!

September 2012. I need to get another bed in there this spring – look at that big, open space, just asking for some artichokes, tomatoes, beets, or chard!

Beets: Making Everything Better at the Space-Farm Since 2012

Last year, okra was our big sleeper veggie. We planted them on a whim, not really knowing what to expect (or how to eat it), and by the end of the summer, we had six plants ranging in height from 6′ to a whopping 12′. And then the gumbo! Oh, the gumbo. Okra + andouille + chicken + hot peppers + a bunch of other deliciousness thrown in a crockpot = pure gumbo magic.

This year, I discovered the awesomeness of beets. For real, I love them. If you have some preconceived, long-seated notion about beets, I think you need to come over to my house and let me cook you up some roasted beets and sweet potatoes with a starter of pickled beets. Plus, they make everything a beautiful shade of fuchsia (EVERYTHING – your hands, the counter top, a nice little trail across the floor where you dropped one and it went rolling away, etc.).

20121005. Root veggie backyard (ad front yard) haul.

The last big root veggie haul from the back and front yards.

The secret: boil them ’til they’re soft, wipe the skins off, then throw them in for another 10 minutes with your already roasting root vegetables. Yum.

20121011. Last of the beets.

20121005. Beets, sweet potatoes, and yellow carrots, all from the garden.

Everything in this pan was produced in our yard (except for the olive oil)! Yellow carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, and herbs – all of it grew up roughly 50′ from where it was eaten.

So, garden friends, what was your favorite surprise in the garden this year? What can you not wait to plant next year?