Preparing the Ground

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We have talked and talked about how we’re going to make our garden bigger this year; even with all the missteps last year, we still yielded a lot of pounds of food and this year promises to be just as exciting. Yesterday was an unseasonably warm day, making it perfect for digging out some old grasses and bushes along our back fence line and preparing the ground for a new raised bed garden box.

We first had to root out as many of the persistent roots and grasses that we could find, and then we laid out large amounts of garden fabric and staked it down. The hope is that, even with this crazy warm weather we’re having, going ahead with this process will help keep the weeds down when we put the boxes in on top. It’s going to be long, perhaps 12 feet, and about 2 feet deep, so there’s going to be a ton of space for plants. It’s the most full-sun Β box we have, so it’s going to get our squash plants, our tomatoes and peppers, as well as newcomer cucumbers.

I sometimes see metaphors for life in the gardening process, and one of the biggest ones is this idea of preparing the ground – our minds cannot change on a dime, and when we want better habits or stronger muscles or anything new, we have to start getting ourselves ready ahead of time. It’s not just the training for the race, but the recognition of what foods make us feel crummy when we run and which ones make us feel energized. Preparing the ground isn’t always possible; I’d say last year we pretty much leaped before we looked, but when life gives you the opportunity to really get ready for a new change, it’s wise not to bury your head and pretend the change isn’t coming. Things go so much better with prepared soil.

Making Garden Plans: Reading Homegrown Harvest

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I’ve been reading a new book! This gardening book, as opposed to a lot of others I’ve looked at, seems geared to be a reference guide for a home gardener, not something to be read cover-to-cover. Using the seasonal sections and the guidelines for each kind of plant, kind of gardening space, and kind of climate, you can isolate small pockets of advice on your particular goals and start planning!

For instance, my area of the country is right at the edge of USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and 6, so I look for the advice that the book offers to mid-temperate and cold-winter areas, often splitting the difference since I’m so close to being in cold-winter but not quite. I know I want tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, strawberries, squash, basil, cilantro, and a mess of other things in my garden, so I look for those foods or the families in which they are grown (herbs, rather than basil and cilantro specifically) and get advice on when to plant, how to plant, how hardily they will grow, cautions about thinning them out or hardening them off in the new warm days of May and June, etc. It’s making planning much easier, because when I tried to “plan” last year, I just got overwhelmed by the individual needs of each kind of plant.

This way, I’m creating some week-by-week checklists, which will make my time commitment to gardening much less haphazard but also will hopefully yield better crops! Reading about them now, I am lucky that as many of my plants survived last year as they did; I didn’t follow almost any of the guidelines! What’s nice is that I can take what I learned from experience and the advice given here to make less work for myself but hopefully yield better results, with more delicious fruits and veggies for the rest of the year. I recommend this book!

 

Food Memory: Fresh, Tiny Bell Peppers

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The combination of rain and sunshine didn’t do our bell peppers that well this year, but in early October a few late and small peppers came from the plant before frosts took it. They were bitter, like all the thick flavor of a full sized bell pepper had concentrated into these tiny versions, but they made me smile because they seemed awfully tenacious. I hope to help my garden need less resilience next year, but it makes me smile to think at how the plants were fighting to survive, not fighting me. It puts me on good terms with Mother Nature on these frigid days.

A and J = Gardening Goals!

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This is part of a row of fall greens planted by my sister-in-law and brother-in-law – don’t they look luscious? Husband and I got leaves of salad greens, but never big, lush heads of lettuce that we could use. A and J have developed 8 or 9 100 foot rows of veggies behind their house, and they work awfully hard to keep the veggies and fruits coming all spring, summer, and fall – between the three seasons, they provide veggies for their own vegetarian lifestyle, local veggie restaurants, and a tiny farmer’s market they host in their hometown! I don’t want my life to be quite as garden-ful as theirs, but they sure do remind me how much more is possible! Will be spending some of the drive home today daydreaming about how to expand and improve for next spring. πŸ™‚

The Ripening of an Interesting Year

I was visiting the community garden and saw this plant, big and lush and green, but until I got down at grass level, I couldn’t tell that there was indeed a big purple eggplant growing under there.

I’m sure, if you are like me, that sometimes, you don’t feel like you have seen any fruit for all the efforts you’ve put in. Maybe you are a blogger and you feel like not a lot of people are reading your work; maybe you are a student who has yet to receive stellar feedback from faculty members; maybe you are a cook whose toddler looks at every meal with suspicion despite the many times you have fed them delicious things. It can take a long time to see results from many worthwhile endeavors.

Yesterday, I visited with a former Professor of mine, who asked me questions about my future. I hadn’t had any questions like that in a long time – where was I going, did I want to stay at the place where I worked, what did I want to do next? It seems that in the hustle and bustle of getting married, starting first jobs, getting to know a new community, I had been let off the hook for future plans for a while. Now, as the beginning of the semester seems to be finally settling into a pattern instead of non-stop new demands, it seems that the future is something to be asked about.

It makes me think about the future of my writing and my cooking, but it also makes me feel like here and there, I’ve found some “surprise eggplants,” some fruit. I have written a few articles for websites, which I hadn’t done previously. I have a rough, but complete, draft of my novel. I’m running, for better or for worse, a 10K tomorrow. There are little displays of results, if I’m willing to look.

It makes me want to know what I’m looking for in the next few years, though. I think it’s easier to identify your successes when you think about where you want to go and where you’ve been sometimes. What goals are you setting for yourself lately, cooking or writing or otherwise?

Uexpected Garden Delight: The Squash in a Tree

Today, I share with you the silly story of the butternut squash vine that crawled 20 feet along our fence line and then weaseled its way 7 feet up a tree. The best part? That, of all places, was where it decided toΒ  deposit a new, plump butternut squash. Gardening is full of surprises like this, more unhappy than happy, so I’m pretty thrilled this morning to have squash gently swaying from the branches of the tree in our yard.

How has gardening surprised you lately? I’m intrigued to know if other plants climb trees. πŸ™‚

Seasons Changing, Seeds for the Future

My friend N recently mentioned that she likes having two new years, because she’s still in school and gets a new school year and a regular new year. My job operates on the school year calendar, and so I get that too. Strangely enough, the weather has gotten the first whispers of cool in it the past couple of days, and school begins tomorrow. The tomatoes are still coming in strong, though less strong than last week, and two more squash are still on the vines, but five have already come in. We’re past peak summer, we’re into ebbs and drips of remaining heat.

I’m excited to pull out the tomato vines when they stop yielding and I hope to put in a few more spinach plants to make salads for us till first frost. I’m excited to save the squash seeds I’m painstakingly rinsing and use them in the spring to create another lush bed of vines that will, eventually, be pulled out so that Husband can actually mow the yard again. I’m excited to drop a few more carrot seeds into the ground and just see if maybe, some of them will grow.

But I’m also pretty happy, today, with where I am. I haven’t been good at that, most of my life, but gardening, especially what I would call a bounteous harvest season, has taught me that all the steps seem to be joy-full. I don’t need to be looking to fall crops to be happy, or looking to winter to construction of a window box for herbs, or to spring for new sprouts. Now is good enough – soup on the stove is good enough, the heavy smell of curry and squash mingling. The hum of bugs outside, and the knowledge that tomorrow will be a very busy day, are all enough. I’ll enjoy these first gulps of fall weather and not hurry myself to whatever comes next.

Ugly Strawberries and First Fruits

You know how they say no child is anything but beautiful the first time he or she is handed to their mother? It’s all about perspective, about the hard work that brought that child into the world – it bonds you to them, drives you close.

I am starting to see what they mean, but I am not quite so invested: namely, I am realizing that my garden produces ugly strawberries. They are whorled and have lumps and bumps; they fold in on themselves and get dirt on them and there are occasionally ants to brush off. But the fact remains: we’ve had 7 strawberries and a whole pile ripening up as we speak. I am so excited to be growing my own (tiny) quantity of food.

I am accustomed to the same act that so many people go through at the grocery store every week: search the small baskets of uniform strawberries for the one that holds only perfect fruit, no fuzziness or mushiness or strange shapes. If I grew strawberries like that on my first try, I’d be thrilled, but I’m realizing a different virtue lately, namely, loving what I do have. The ugly strawberries, which I set beside breakfast for Husband and I to try, are deeply sweet, warm from the time outside, and with the characteristic tartness that strawberries do so well without hinging into a more stringent flavor.

I feel the same way about our greens, which have now garnished a delicious sandwich I made and topped a salad for Husband, though I have to say – they are quite pretty. We’ve been getting bucketloads of rain, so spinach is just plumping up constantly as we speak. They were tangy and crisp and just full of deep iron-y flavors, no bright white iceberg leaves with the flavor of water.

I know that gardening isn’t for everyone, or even available to everyone, but I also hope that no one ditches it because they have ugly strawberries their first year. The first fruits are messy sometimes, but we grow when we encounter and care about imperfect things.

I am saving up strawberries now, 3 at a time as I pick them in the mornings – I drop them right into a tupperware in the freezer and will be making me a strawberry rhubarb pie when I have enough and can get my hands on fresh rhubarb. I will pick greens again before Husband and I leave for a camping trip this week. I will keep doing this thing, the growing thing, and I will be so thrilled that I have a crop of anything that ugliness, spots, or dirt will not dim my enthusiasm for the whole growing-your-own-food hobby.

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Life is Long

This post comes from a tattoo that my dear friend T has on her arm, reminding her that she shouldn’t get out of doing the good things in her life because they take too much time. Gardening has been like that for me so far: imperfect and tedious and day-by-day, but so worth it, I hope, when food comes out of the ground for us.

Here’s the gardening updates, complete with photos!

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The herbs (dill, parsley, basil) have sprouted! They are in a metal bucket (pretty much everything is modular so we can move or cover it if we get an unexpected late frost).

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The latest addition: a cherry tomato plant! D, of D’s Kahlua Brownies fame, visited us this weekend and brought this, which was perfect because our currently tiny sprouts of tomatoes are san marzanos, a paste tomato. This will make our salads lovely in summer. πŸ™‚IMG_4023

 

The beautiful bearded irises that were planted by those who used to live here, and the lovely sourwood tree we got from Husband’s brother as a wedding gift! We’re excited to get it in the ground next weekend.

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An old whiskey barrel full of potatoes! I never knew how leafy and green their plants were.

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The strawberry plants are bursting with green fruits! So excited for a few good hot sunny days to get them ripened up. πŸ™‚

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Carrots are so distinctive and feathery that I knew they weren’t weeds immediately, which can be hard with other plants!

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Lettuces, spinach, and some garlic sprouts!

So, things are moving along. No harvesting even of the spinach yet (except two leaves I sampled just because they were there) but soon. πŸ™‚