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Goodbye Winter

There’s been a shift the past two weeks. I can feel Spring humming in the air, just on the edge of arriving for good.

While we had a big snowstorm last week, this week the temperatures have been in the high 40’s and low 50’s, and the light seems brighter.

I optimistically started seeds, and most everything has germinated, minus the eggplant which I may need to try again with heat mats.

This weekend I’ll start the tomatoes and peppers, and will maybe start kill mulching grass for new beds. We also have spring bulbs coming in! Some of the daffodils that I divided last year are coming in- I’m curious to see how many survived! I’m also seeing one bulb come in by the driveway, and hopefully more will follow. I can’t wait to see them bloom!

Full seed list, 2015

Yesterday, I went to Roher’s Seeds in Lancaster and vowed never to order seeds online again. I went a little overboard looking at the beautiful Rare Seeds catalog and probably bought more than I should. Roher’s seeds has a great selection from Baker Creek, Renee’s, and other seed companies, as well as their own (usually cheaper, too!). They had a huge selection of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, and all the accessories real gardeners would need. I must admit, I did buy a few more seed packets, but now I swear I’m done!

First to sow, this week hopefully, will be eggplant, artichoke, onion, rhubarb, and leeks. Here’s the full list (‘trial’ indicates free seed pack sent by seed company and not something I ordered). As you can see, it’s a pretty big mix of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. I hope it’s a success!

Arugula- Wasabi
Asparagus - Millenium
Baby’s Breath- Covent Garden
Basil - Emily
Basil - Thai Holy Kaprao
Brussels Sprouts - Long Island Improved
Carrot - Parisienne (trial)
Carrot- Kuroda Long 8
Cauliflower- Erfurter
Chamomile - German
China Rose, Angel Wings.
Chives (chinese)
Cilantro, Slo-Bolt
Collard Greens - Morris Heading
Columbine - McKana’s Giant Mixed Colors
Corn, Sweet Stowell’s evergreen (trial)
Cress- Garden
Crown Vetch
Cucumber - National Pickling
Cucumber- Barse (trial)
Dill- Vierling
Dill- Dukat
Dock/ Bloody, Sorrel
Eggplant- Fengyuan Purple
Eggplant- Mitoyo
Golden Purslane
Ground Cherry
Hyssop, Blue
Johnny Jump-up
Leek - Giant Musselburgh
Melon - Charentais
Mustard Greens -Japanese Giant Red
Mustard Greens, Black
Nasturtium - Alaska Mix
Nasturtium- Amazon Jewel
Nasturtium- Rainbow Whirlybird
Onion- He Shi Ko Bunching
Oregano, Wild Zaatar
Pepper - Tabasco
Pepper - Thai Hot
Pepper- Early Jalapeno
Pepper- Fish
Radish - Easter Egg II blend
Radish- Japanese Minowase Daikon
Rhubarb- Glaskins Perpetual
Shiso (Perilla Purple Zi Su)
Snow Pea- Carouby De Maussane
Sorrel, Green De Belleville
Squash - Sweet Dumpling
Squash- Kakai
Squash, Black Futsu
Sunflower - Evening Sun Mixed Colors
Sweet Peas - perfume delight
Swiss Chard, Bright Lights
Tarragon, Russian
Thyme, Wild
Tomato - Old Fashioned Goliath Hyb
Tomato- Jersey Devil
Tomato, Amish Gold Slicer
Tomato, Artisan Mix
Tomato, Bush Beefsteak

The danger of buying seeds online

The danger of buying seeds online is that you don’t quite realize how much you’ve ordered until it’s in your hands…

I may have gone a little overboard this year. My plan was to focus on perennial herbs and vegetables, followed by self-seeding herbs and beneficial flowers, and finally to throw in a few just-for-fun vegetables that would be impossible to buy anywhere in stores. Then I would see how much energy I have for vegetable gardening (as opposed to the shrubs and perennial flowers that I focused on last year) and if I decided it wasn’t for me, I’d at least have some self-sufficient perennials and self-seeders established, and maybe a couple interesting veggies too. Well, I did stick to that plan, but I may have bought about 50% more than I really need. I’m not sure that I can actually plant all this seed this year, but it will be an adventure to see if I can!

This is my “wet guild”. It’s herbs and vegetables that need a lot of water and a lot of sun, and/or will work well together. I’ll be putting this right next to our back patio, where the hose is. I’ll need to double-dig an entirely new garden bed for this!

On the left is the ‘moderate water’ and on the right is the ‘tolerates dry’. These will be on the South side of the house, where I planted some lavender last year. This area is partially dug and mulched, but I will need to extend the bed further.

This area will be to the left of my current herb bed, next to the forsythia hedge. My plan is to deep mulch the grass with layers of mushroom compost, newspaper and cardboard, and straw, and then either dig small holes and fill with compost for individual plants, or just grow from soil bags on top of the mulch. Then next year when the grass is dead, I’ll dig it all in.

And finally, I’m considering getting some chickens this year! I’m picky about where I get them from (I do not want to give money to a commerical/ factory hatchery where the chickens aren’t treated well, are crammed in too tightly, and all the males are killed). I’ll need to find someone with a flock that is too large that they want to divide, or maybe someone who tried chickens last year and decided they weren’t for them. I may not find anyone selling young chickens this year, but if the opportunity arises, I’ll jump on it. “Chicken Land” would be back underneath the pine trees, and out into the lawn a little, for sunshine. There’s a very large area back there that they can free roam as they like (I would probably divide it into paddocks, it’s so large) and then I’d let the chickens totally free range in the garden with supervision. I’m excited at the possibility of more funny pets, fresh eggs, bug control, compost assistance, and lovely mulch.

Polyculture vegetable guilds

This is what the garden looks like in January and February. The snow is actually mostly melted at the moment, but we’re due to get more soon. Needless to say, I am still snuggled up inside with my seed catalogs, trying to plan.

I just put in a big seed order and am now trying to figure out how to plant them all! I want to plant a polyculture garden, with herbs, vegetables, and flowers all together. Many plants do better when they have a variety of other ones around them. It decreases pests and improves the soil. However, it gets really complicated! Here are all the things to consider:
- Height of plant
- Sun requirements
- Water requirements
- Soil requirements
- How deep the roots are (you don’t want to put a lot of deep-rooted plants close together)
- Nitrogen fixing (some plants are good for this, so you want to sprinkle them around evenly)
- How many days until harvest (for the annuals)
- Which plants are beneficial to each other (like basil deterring aphids on tomatoes)
- Which plants are bad for each other (like dill and fennel which will cross-pollinate in a bad way)

I’m going to put together what are called “guilds” of plants that will do well together. Then I’m going to order these guilds according to water and sunlight needs, putting the plants that need the most water closest to my garden hose, and the ones that need the most sun on the Southern-most end of the garden. For now, I’m writing a spreadsheet with all the info I’ve collected, and when I get my seed order in I’ll take the info from the seed packets and add to that. I’ll report back when I have my guilds figured out!

Winter Planning

As the garden wound down for the winter, so did I. It appears I’ve left this blog hanging for a few months! Truth be told, I haven’t been up to much. No big home projects, not much garden planning for next season. I’ve been working a lot, and Autumn sped by with a flurry of birthdays and holidays and anniversaries. I’m not sure how a full year in this house went by so quickly! I did take on one big new project: cooking a weekly meal for some of my neighbors. I make extra portions of my Sunday night dinner and package it up, to be picked up on Monday. All the meals are vegan and gluten free, and it’s been a real challenge to come up with something new and exciting each week that is as seasonal and local as possible. I’ll probably do some more blog posts about it in the future.

Now it’s the end of January and truly time to hunker down and sort out my plan for next year’s garden. My mother bought me a book on permaculture three years ago, when I started my first (failed) vegetable garden. The book was interesting, but as I was renting at the time and very (very!) new to gardening, it was a bit over my head. I re-read the book last year when we moved into our house, but as permaculture is very big on tailoring your projects to the specific site, and I knew nothing about the land yet, the book was again a bit too much for me. Now we’ve lived here a full year and I read the book for the third time and things have started to click into place.

Last year, I focused on establishing large ornamental shrubs that would give some additional structure to the garden. I added hydrangea, lilac, butterfly bush, azalea, dogwood trees, and rhododendron. I also planted a lot of perennial flowers donated by my neighbors. Hopefully this year they will have all stayed happy, and I’ll have bursts of color and fragrance in all corners of the yard. This year, I want to focus on edibles. Specifically, perennial edibles. Last year I did plant two blueberry bushes (one died) and an elderberry. This year I’ll be adding asparagus, artichoke, and rhubarb. I’ll be planting a lot of herbs, as I am still inspired by our Longwood visit in September. I’ll also be adding lots more fruit– currants, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, and apple and pear trees. Finally, I will plant some vegetables- mostly ones that are either impossible to get in the stores/ at the CSA, or that I already have seeds for.

I’m not sure if I posted about my disastrous first vegetable garden, but now seems like an appropriate time to mention it.

We were renting a house on a 5 acre property. This garden was walled on two sides with the barn on the third, and the driveway on the fourth. We were surrounded by woods, so there were a lot of deer, but I thought because this area was walled and close to the house, they wouldn’t come in. There was an old bed (on the left there) that had been used by our landlord’s father for propagating new plants. We built two more raised beds. I was very enthusiastic and said I’d grow all our vegetables for the summer! Unfortunately, groundhogs discovered the plot, and ate everything down to the ground. Additionally, I had put in raised beds in a giant weed patch and did nothing to suppress those weeds. I was weeding constantly and couldn’t stay on top of anything. The only plants that did okay were the tomatoes. At the end of the season, I was discouraged. What’s the point, if everything is either eaten by animals or insects, or strangled by weeds? It was too much for me. I couldn’t keep up and I was over my head.

When we moved to our current house, I decided that I didn’t want to do vegetables ever again. I joined a local CSA and got amazing produce all throughout the spring and summer last year. It was wonderful! I planted nothing but shrubs and flowers. Weeds weren’t so much of an issue. I loved gardening much more than in my weedy vegetable plot two years prior, and started to feel more confident. Now that I’ve been here a year, and have also had success with gardening, I think I am ready to tackle vegetables again.

My first plan is to layer mulch all along the Southern side of our house. I’ll layer mushroom compost (I found a place to get it for free if I can haul it out!), cardboard, straw, and wood chips on top of the grass. I won’t be able to plant much this first year until the mulch breaks down and kills the grass, but I can plant annual vegetables in bags of topsoil sitting on top of the mulch and then work in that soil at the end of the season. I can also cut through the cardboard and dig in plenty of compost for the berry bushes and trees, and can extend my herb bed as well. I will also plant herbs in the flower beds, and grow snow peas along the fence line. I’ll mulch as much of the garden as I possibly can. Jeff hates mowing, and I hate seeing huge expanses of grass, so it’s win-win. I think hauling in all the soil and hay will be a lot of work, but hopefully I can get it done early in the season when I’m feeling enthusiastic.

I haven’t done my seed order yet, but I did order my berry bushes for Nourse:

- 25 Millenium Asparagus
- 1 Ben Sarek currant
- 1 Jonkheer van Tets currant
- 1 Samyl and 1 Samdal elderberry
- 1 bluecrop blueberry
- 1 Jersey blueberry
- 5 Prime Ark blackberries
- 5 Caroline raspberries

What I learned at Longwood

I’m incredibly lucky to live only 15 minutes from Longwood Gardens, arguably one of the best public gardens in the country (and some say even in the world). We had a membership last year but didn’t go as often as we should have, as the kids had gotten tired of it once they had explored each and every corner more than once, so we let the membership lapse. We still had guest passes though, and yesterday we used them.

Most people applaud Longwood for their conservatory and formal gardens, but I found myself drawn to something very different when I visited.

Yep, this is their herb patch. I found this far more interesting and visually beautiful than their neon-bright annual beds or topiary.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I want to focus more on foliage in my own garden beds, and this is the solution. The herbs look so full and interesting, smelled amazing, and were hosts to a ton of happy insects.

I love the contrast of colors, shapes, and textures here, and the humble daisies, purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans in my own flower bed will look right at home among herbs like these.

We especially liked their varieties of sage, and I’ll be adding more to my garden very soon. The sage that I have in my own herb bed is seriously happy (and crowding out the oregano), and so I may divide it up and plant it around my flower beds this weekend.

I also liked this combination of feverfew and lamb’s ears, both low-growing plants that would look excellent as edging in my flower beds.

Other plants I was interested in adding to my garden:
- Wide-leaf sea lavender (beautiful frizzy plant with pale silver-purple colors)
- Yarrow (I have some, but would like to add more- the yarrow we saw had great height!)
- Cowslip
- Chinese anenomie (the flowers looked like old-fashioned roses!)
- Angelonia (interesting purple flowers, similar to phlox)
- Oxalis (for it’s lovely purple foliage)
- Coleus (Jeff thought the pink, white, and green leaves were too much but I think it would be nice among some more toned-down plants)
- Oregano (beautiful ground cover, this variety was very small)
- Horseradish (huge big leaves, really interesting looking- and I LOVE to eat horseradish too!)

As you can see, my list is pretty humble. Who would have thought I’d go to Longwood and only end up wanting common garden sage?

End of summer in a first-year garden: the good, the bad, and the ugly

It’s mid-August and the summer is winding down. Mornings have a bit of a bite to them and some of the trees near us are starting to turn. I’m not ready for my first summer in this house and garden to be over yet, but admittedly Autumn is my favorite season of them all.
I thought now would be a good time to do a recap of what I’ve done in my first year with this garden and what I think my successes and failures were. You may want to start with this post for photos of how everything started before I got digging!

First: the good!

The flower bed next to the arbor is looking okay. Obviously I need to plant something around the irises on the left, as they start to look pretty raggedy. I think in general I need to focus on foliage next year, so that I have mid-to-low growing plants with interesting foliage that lasts through the fall and keeps things looking cohesive. That said, I think it’s looking pretty good for a first-year bed. Next year it will fill out much more and have that cottage garden look that I love.
You can’t really see the elderflower bush in the middle of all those flowers, but it’s growing very well and is starting to put out berries which is great for a first year plant!

The wildflower patch is looking very yellow with all the black-eyed susans- hopefully they come back next year! There are still poppies, too, and it looks like some flowers may put on a very late summer appearance. I’m very pleased with this experiment and will definitely be repeating it around the garden next year. Behind, you can see our forsythia has gone wild again. We need to trim it back one last time before frost starts hitting us hard.

Here’s a view of the overall area. I think once I get that fence line planted up with tall flowers or shrubs, the garden will be much improved. I need to plant around the cupola and work it into the wildflower patch somehow- not sure how to do that yet. I also need to plant around the patio, but we’re considering building a pergola there one day so I might just wait until we’re sure what our timelines are.

The butterfly bush is nice and big for a first-year planting too, which is wonderful. This is a variety that isn’t invasive, and I love the perky white blooms. I would definitely like to plant another one on the other side of the garden, or maybe out front.

The shade garden is hugely improved from it’s previous state, though it’s still a little rough around the edges. I’m quite pleased with the progress though, and am dreaming of the day it’s full of lush ferns.

Now for the bad:

I don’t know what I was thinking with this front bed. It’s in a weird spot, it’s just floating on its own, and all the plants in it are tiny and dying. The ground here is thick with maple tree roots, and so the plants here need much more water than the ones out back. Unfortunately, my hose doesn’t run this far, and I haven’t felt like carting watering cans out here again and again. The hydrangea on the right seems to be doing pretty well, surprisingly, but otherwise it looks bad. I’m not sure what I’m going to do here, but I’m pretty bummed out about this and mostly wish I’d just left it well alone. I’ll probably just sprinkle a ton of wildflower seeds here and maybe dig some shallow beds to line a grass “pathway” from the front porch.

This is another thing I jumped on too quickly. I thought I could mulch this area with just the pine needles, but they shifted a lot with the wind and the layer of mulch probably wasn’t deep enough to begin with. Now I have this monstrosity. I still have a big pile of mulch left, so I think I’ll lay down some cardboard and then mulch on top of that and hope to keep at least the front part looking neat.

And here’s the ugly: the not-bad, but not-yet-good:

The beds by the house are looking pretty lackluster. I focused on the shrubs and didn’t bother with anything else, so I’m not surprised they don’t look great. On the left is a lilac and on the right is a hydrangea. Next year I’ll be filling this in with a bunch of flowers and it will look much better!

This area is a jungle! You can see my post here about rescuing the tree. On the far right is another lilac, and to the left of that is some cottage garden flower seed mix that I sowed way too late in the season. I didn’t really expect it to do much of anything, but it was a $5 experiment and it looks like at least some of the flowers will bloom very soon. I’m not sure if any will come back next year- we’ll have to wait and see. To the left of those is WEEDS and a honeysuckle that we thought we killed but we didn’t (I’ll probably train it to grow along the fence if it’s not going to die) and a couple irises that I got from a neighbor. This area has a lot to do to make it less wild, but it’s certainly better than it was, and I don’t mind wild so much.

My herb patch is also very ugly. The sage has grown like crazy (I love it!) and the oregano is totally hidden. The parsley is also huge, and the chives, which I never use because Jeff can’t eat onions. The tomato is not doing well- we got one ripe tomato a few weeks ago and nothing since, and the other I pulled because it looked diseased. I bought both from a vendor at our local farmer’s market - never again!
I have big plans for this herb patch! I’m very excited about herbs, especially perennials, and I hope to expand this garden greatly next year. For now, it’s pretty ugly though.

Overall, when I look back at where I started, I think I’ve come a very long way in just one growing season. I’ve learned a lot (especially about what I do and do not like!) and will be posting more about that soon.

August to-do list

Not only can I not believe that it’s August already, but the weather is pretty cool, not predicted to go above 85. Our village is situated in a valley, so we’re always a few degrees cooler than the surroundings, and I’m used to needing to turn on the air conditioning at least a few days during a summer. So far, we haven’t even installed the window units we bought with the house, and here we are with only a few weeks left of the summer. Looking up average temperatures, it looks like this summer is actually pretty normal, so maybe it’s just been very hot the past few years, or maybe I’m just less sensitive to heat than I used to be! Regardless, I’m happy with the window fans and no high electric bills!

It’s strange to think about my garden beginning to wind down for the season when it seems like I just got started on it. I’m not sure what fall interest is in my garden– I think hardly any, next to the giant maple trees we have in the front– but I’m curious to find out. Not yet though! I still want to savor the last days of summer.

I’ve compiled a list of things to do in the garden this month, and am posting here for posterity’s sake.

- Finish digging and mulching beds around maple trees
- Weed and mulch by the pine trees (this area is starting to look pretty awful)
- Trim forsythia into a neat hedge line (as much as we can!)
- Deadhead flowers (admittedly I should have been doing this throughout July as well, but didn’t really)
- Expand front yard flower bed
- Collect seeds from some annuals (like poppies, neighbor’s sunflowers, etc)
- Find a use for the rest of the field stone pile not used for bed edging
- Divide daylilies in late August
- Water dogwood trees when needed
- Order peonies and plant (not sure if I’m going to do it this year; may wait until next)
- Consider herb bed
- Take photos and consider re-mapping perennials for more cohesive arrangements

Flowers in July

Jeff took some photos with our real camera of the garden in bloom.

The garden in early Summer

Our fence was installed and the flower beds are starting to fill in. I did a decent job in sorting different heights, but next year I definitely want to add hardy geraniums all along the edges to really make it look full- I think that would make a huge difference.

I am very happy with the septic field wildflower experiment. It’s been a wet spring, so we’ll see how the flowers survive full summer, but so far they are thriving.