Sunday, August 2, 2009

A (Midsummer Afternoon's) Dream Garden

Thanks, faithful readers, for wondering what's been happening in our garden! A rare treat is in store for you: no talkie, just lookie. I'll let the photos tell the story this time.

Corn 06.26.09

Corn 08.1.09

Tomatoes 06.26.09
Tomatoes 08.01.09

Zucchini. OMG.

Haricots vert (much classier sounding than "green beans").

Gorgeous Swiss Chard (Saturday night dinner with whole wheat pasta, garlic, tomatoes, parm, pine nuts and onion).

Pesto, baby!

This was the 5th of July. Carrots, beets, peas!

Unfortunately, we overplanted lettuce and it bolted. Waste! I hate it!

Fingerling potato blossom. So sweet! We had some for brunch today, along with a zucchini and basil frittata. Life is very good!

Is anything more beautiful than a vegetable garden in summer? The colors! The textures!

The problem with the sky around here is it's just not blue enough. Gosh!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Still At It: Two Months of What? How? and Why?

Where have we been? Outside! It's been a busy and glorious couple of months here in the Pacific Northwest--way too nice to be indoors for one minute longer than we have to be. In other words, after working  8 or 9 hours a day, we're outside for the duration. Thus, no blogging.

We have been gardening, of course! It’s a good thing I’ve kept notes. This blog, which was supposed to be our gardening record, has been sorely neglected. Luckily, I kept up with the classic method of tracking planting dates, spatial planning, and reminders of what went where: my gardening journal:

And you thought we were modern! Not so much. The fact that we both write a lot every day for a living, including blogs of our own and three for ­a client of mine, makes the idea of writing after hours a wee bit unappealing. Obviously, our priorities are whacked—because this is the fun stuff. The garden has my heart and the rest is just work. Lovely, enjoyable, dream-job work; but work, just the same. 

So on to our updates. When we last left you, fellow gardeners, we were deliriously happy with ourselves and our amazing sprout-growing abilities. Turns out, we are pretty darn good at growing seeds. We make nice sprouts.

So nice that I could have cried when I had to thin them out. I called that my “Teresa’s Choice” day (after Sophie's Choice, the heartwrenching William Styron novel and film starring Meryl Streep, which I'm sure most of you are smart enough to know without me telling you) because I couldn’t bear to choose among my little seedlings that way. Who was I to decide who lived and who died? But I did what I had to do. I'm strong that way.

Sniff. That was me, taking the scissors to our babies on April 11. And then I got over it as we watched them continue to grow. In the meantime, things were hatching in the cold crop bed:

 We are peas! We love to grow under the protection
of King Cucumber!

April 21: Planted fingerling potatoes. Talk about late! I hear it was supposed to be done on St. Paddy’s Day, but we didn’t even get them in the mail from the seed company until early April. Then I had to cut them into pieces and leave them in the window sill to shrivel up and die sprout. Just when they looked too wrinkled to live, I finally got my butt out to the bed and put them in the ground.  The trenches were nice and straight: 

I planted four rows and couldn’t bear to throw the leftover potato pieces away, so I stuck them down in the ground between the rows. What the hell—I wanted to see what they would do.

Here’s what they did:

 I think they're going to be okay. This is today, June 6.

April 28: Planted some onion starts given to us by our lovely neighbor Kathy: Walla Walla, which are Washington specialty onions, and some yellow cooking onions. Unfortunately, I can’t remember which I put where, but I think the WWs are on the left and the yellow onions on the right. We’ll find out.

April 29: Everybody in the cold crop bed looked like they were struggling. Except the peas. Carrots were barely up, spinach and swiss chard not doing much. Lettuce okay: seedlings not above ground yet. What are we doing wrong? I started asking. On a daily basis.

May 1: Anticipating an in-the-ground planting day of May 8 or 9, we started leaving the seedlings outside on the porch during the day. They got a little late-afternoon sun but we brought them in every night. Like good parents.

May 7: We left the seedlings out all night. Full moon, and chilly. Oopsie?  We’ll see.  

Friday, May 8 was Plant the Garden Day. For reals. We put everybody in the ground. With much measuring, discussing, and reconfiguring, we transplanted the little guys. 

I was so nervous. I didn’t want to hurt them. Little did I know I already had.

We also planted seeds: squash (2 summer, 3 winter), corn, beans, beets, and kale. And we crossed our fingers.

In the cold crop bed, the carrots were finally showing feathery leaves—six weeks after we planted it! Geesh.  The lettuce was sprouting well, so I started my heinous chore of deciding who would live and who would not. As I was thinning the little guys out, David came to the rescue: “Why don’t we just move them around and replant them?”  Genius! We did that, and they are still growing all over the place!

We had lots of seedling starts left over, so we gave them away to our friends and neighbors. That felt nice. Little did I know I’d be jealous later.

Now we’re at June 6, almost a full month later. Here’s how things look now.

Swiss Chard: We have one, count it, ONE plant.
And some still-pathetic seedlings. 
People, this was planted on March 25!

 Fairly healthy squash, one month after planting. (But really, who CAN'T grow squash??)

And it looks like we can grow peas. Slow peas. Seed package said we'd have some to eat about May 20th. This is June 6. At least they're blooming!

So pretty!


Our transplanted seedlings have had a rough time:

Poor little eggplants.

Tomatoes are looking pathetic. Yellow leaves, weak stems, sad little things. 
I am especially upset about the tomatoes. I feel we really failed them. I mean, look at our tomato plants at our neighbor's house:

 What is he doing that we're not?? Maybe I should have kept them for us. Grrr.

Poor peppers: haven’t grown since the day we put them in.


Cucumbers: my beautiful sprouts!

Shriveled up and died. And I had already given all the rest away.
So, I planted some leftover seeds, and they’re starting to come up.
Remind me not to give away starts next year!

The rest of the seedlings have met a similar fate. I think the leeks are still barely alive, but they need a miracle. Same with the basil, which are hanging on by little threads.

Today I crossed over to the dark side and purchased a big, beautiful basil plant. At Trader Joe's. For $2.99. What is wrong with me? Do you think the basil plants will think I've given up on them? That I don't believe in them? How can I explain that it's me, not them? I'm the failure. Oh, why did I even bother with seedlings? (the drama) Why is it only now that people tell us how difficult it is to start from seeds?  I thought that's how everybody did it! 

Always the calm one, David called the Cooperative Extension or Master Gardeners or some plant savvy department and they said we planted our seedlings "way too early." What? We read the books! Everything said our last frost date was April 30. We waited another week! Next year, I'm waiting until May 15 at least. Maybe later. I can't bear to see everyone die. And I really can't bear to see all the other gardens in town that started with greenhouse-grown starts--now full, beautiful, and producing food. It's enough to make me pout.

But we've learned. We'll see. The person on the phone (?) told David that everything would "probably" come back. Oh, please do.

And David learned how to take care of our wee slug problem:

Here are his thoughts on that slimy, ickky subject:

Slugs drank my beer    

Ill give up a lot for a garden.  A beautiful sunny week that I could have been kayaking was spent moving 12 yards of dirt.

The countless hours that lie ahead of us this summer weeding and tending to the babies (thats what we call our plantssick, I know).  Its a symbiotic relationship and I know well get a lot in return.  But the latest sacrifice was almost too much to bear.

Finally, as brave little pea shoots began to emerge a few weeks back, Ts motherly eagle eye spotted a baby slug in the dirt, likely plotting its attack.

We thumbed furiously through the stacks of gardening books, jumped on Google and searched for not just an answer but the right answer.  How to control slugs without harming the babies (the green and the furry ones) whom we shower with so much care.

Seeing that look in her eye as she arrived at the solution I tried to dissuade her.  No, not the…”

Beer! T exclaimed, and ran to the fridge fetching out an ice cold Fish Tail Organic Amber Ale.

Now this took the cakeand the beer.  Slimy critters.  Things French people eat for dinner.  And theyre drinking my beer!

Oh well, Ive seen no evidence of late night parties or glistening trails leading to the refrigerator.  So I guess one beer wont hurt.

But theyre not getting my potato chips,  even if they knock on the door and ask!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That's it for today, folks. Hope you're garden is growing better than ours. But we still have much hope. We know all those little plants are trying to survive. And tonight we're having salad for dinner, made with our greens--all is not lost. Happy gardening! 


Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Sprout Post

I have a thing about sprouts. I even named my business after them. One wouldn’t do that without a true and deep affection for the little darlings.

And who can blame me, when considering the absolute perfection contained in each strong, proud, hopeful, stunningly green, amazing one?  

I mean, just look at this basil and parsley

And these tomatoes, for god’s sake: 


Our hearty, happy cucumbers:



Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and leeks (in the back corner), plus sage to the left:



Everybody grow now!


Dear Sprouts,

Thank you for coming up to see us. You are beautiful and we're incredibly proud of each and every one of you. We vow to nurture you and help you reach your full potential. And then we will eat you or your offspring.

Love, Mom and Dad



Friday, March 27, 2009

We Have Babies!

Look what happened while we were out walking! Broccoli Sprouts! They weren't there when we headed out. Yes! Sprouts happened! In ONE HOUR. Isn't that amazing?

This was a few days ago, March 25, only 4 days after planting. The broccoli seeds deemed us worthy and good, and erased our nagging thought that not a single one would sprout. Up came the tiniest of leaves and stems, hoping against hope that the sun and soil and water will continue to nourish them.

Bouyed by the idea that we managed to do one thing well, we ventured outside to plant our "cool crop" bed, referring not to the trendiest, most popular crops, but to those preferring cooler soil and air temps.  Here is Teresa, planting Swiss Chard:  

This bed, hopefully, will bring forth spinach, lettuce, carrots, sugar snaps and shelling peas, as well. Impressive, yes? I know - we make it look easy. It's supposed to be pretty easy. But it was not. Picture two inexperienced dorks walking around the bed for forty-five minutes, discussing the best way to proceed because we were too scared to actually DO it. 

He: "How far apart did it say to plant these?" 
She: "It says 1/4 inch deep, three inches apart."
He: "Okay."
She: "That's not three inches.  That's, like, two."
He: "I know three inches, trust me."  She measures. It's not three. "Oh, okay then."

And so on. Every seed, every row required many measurements, consulting of seed packets, and discussions.  He won some; she won some. In the end, the seeds made it into the ground--probably too close together; or too far apart. Probably in rows that make no sense and with a terrible waste of valuable garden space (EVERYTHING else has to fit in the big bed, and ALL the herbs have to squeeze into the herb bed, oh dear!). But they're in there, and they might even grow.

But what about row markers? Knowing nothing about what all the real gardeners use, we looked around the house and came up with this idea:

That thing on the left? The row marker? It's a bendy straw. I wrote the plant name on it with a sharpie. I think they're weatherproof enough until either the plants start growing and thus identifying themselves, or we buy something more permanent. But hey, they're working for now. Even King Cucumber approves. (We found him in the yard a year or so ago, and now he rules over the cold crop bed.)

In the last four days, we've also seen sprouts for the basil, eggplant, grape tomatoes, thyme, oregano, cucumber, and brussels sprouts. Wow. Nature is just amazing.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seed Starting Virgins

Yesterday was the second day of spring, and our first day as seed parents. We finally put our start-inside-seeds in the dirt. There is quite a bit of planning and math involved with this process, and in the end, much guesswork as well.

A series of procrastinations and practicalities prevented us from planting on our original target day of March 5, which is 6 – 8 weeks from our purported last frost range of April 16 – 30. Most of the seeds needed 6 – 8 weeks inside (although rosemary needs 8 – 12), so this seemed reasonable to me. Then I heard from more experienced gardeners than we that Mother’s Day is the big planting day around here. Mother’s Day?? That’s around the 10th of MAY! Where did I get the idea that April 16-30 was our last frost date?  Why, from this book:

Oh, and the seed company we ordered from says our last frost is May 6! Who’s right? What to do? What if I plant them too early? Too late? Will they be too leggy? Will my eggplants get such a late start that they die on the vine before we even harvest them?

We decided that mid-March made more sense, so we were able to put it off a bit.  And luck intervened again when a last-minute trip to Austin and Houston made the decision for us. Not wanting to saddle our house sitter with the house, a dog, two cats and 125 seed pots to care for, we happily put it off until we got home. Once back, jet lag and work intervened so we fell even farther behind. Can you tell I have a fear of taking on the unknown?

Finally on Thursday we soaked the pots and Friday we cleaned and air dried them. David helped with this part.  Doesn't he look happy?


Saturday was THE day. It turned out bright and sunny, so I filled up all the pots with seed starter out on the deck while David fixed our broken washer agitator. He remained completely focused on appliance repair throughout the afternoon, so I was forced to figure out the seed planting on my own. Not that I couldn’t—I just hesitated to proceed without my co-virgin because I didn’t want to screw it all up by myself. Shared blame is so much more palatable.

I set up my planting station and got started. Let’s see. . . how many pots of peppers should I plant? Got me.  How many seeds per pot?  I dunno.  How deep do they go?  What does “2x their diameter” mean? They’re TINY! That means one speck of dirt to cover each seed, right? What if I bury them too deep? They’ll die! Scared again, I scoured the Internets for the answers. I hit some really amazing sites like A Way to Garden (by Martha Stewart's former garden editor) and Garden Guides. Then I looked through all my gardening books. I still didn't know a peat pot from a drip tray.

Whatever. Unable to put it off any longer, and hearing nothing but grunts and curses from the laundry room,  I proceeded to planting them however many to a pot and at whatever depth I thought was right, based on the sketchy instructions on the seed packets. 

By the way, who’s in charge of writing these instructions, anyway?  Talk about inconsistent!  Some packets tell you how many days to germination. Others, from the same company, do not. My research indicated that the packets would have all the answers. Nope.  But I did my best. 

I planted, labeled, and misted. All the seeds were tucked in safely. Then we tried to figure out a whether to cover the trays of pots or not. 

This book 

says that some gardeners use plastic wrap to keep the soil from drying out; but others don’t.


This book says to cover them with plastic wrap, period.


This book 

says to use damp newspaper,which breathes, rather than plastic, which can cause fungi to grow. But not if your seeds need light to germinate, which some do—the information will be on the seed packet. Except it wasn’t.

In the end, we decided to just leave them hanging out there all naked and uncovered. 

They live in our mudroom, which is a pretty cold area of the house. They have a big southern-exposure window, which helps during the day, but we keep our house very cool at night, and these babies need to be warm in order to germinate. We’re tricking them, you see, into thinking that they’re outside in warm soil in a warm climate so they’ll actually produce this summer.

So last night, we set up a space heater to keep the area at 70 degrees. This made David very nervous because everyone has heard the stories of house fires caused by space heaters. This one is new and seems safe, but really, who knows? David put a smoke detector on the shelf just to be sure. Which led me to conclude that all space heaters should have built-in smoke detectors. 

Our seeds are tucked in; we’re keeping them moist and warm. All we can do now is wait, while I am plagued with one thought: what if they don’t germinate?


Monday, March 9, 2009

When Irish (Potato) Eyes Are Smiling

Here's an astounding news flash: more people are planting gardens, so seed company sales are way up! It seems everyone I know is doing it and today I see this article in the Seattle Times. It says that sales at Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, a seed and seed potato packing company (and winner of today's best company name award) are booming. Most of their inquiries are newbies like us.  "We had one person ask us which way the seed goes in the ground," said Sue the owner. No, it wasn't me.  I haven't received my seed potatoes yet, so I'm saving that question for when they come. 

People are thinking survival. Planting tubers and building chicken coops. Raising their own food for eating, or for bartering. Tightening belts, and trying to have some control over SOMETHING. Ensuring that the food you're eating is organic--and that there will actually be some food on the table--is a damn good start.

Here are last year's top ten seeds, according to Burpee (is it me, or are they kind of blah?):

1. Green beans

2. Zucchini squash

3. Tomato

4. Lettuce

5. Cucumber

6. Peas

7. Sweet corn

8. Peppers (sweet and hot)

9. Carrot

10. Radish

Photo courtesy of Seattle Times