What went down in the garden: April

A photo of a pig statue, painted hot pink.
Garden supervisor.

A lot has been happening in the garden this month, and I don’t just mean the addition of my new friend above. (She is still nameless – suggestions?) It always amazes me that, no matter how slowly I feel like the garden is moving, when I compare photos from last month and this month, so much has changed.
A few blossoms on my pea plants.
The peas are finally starting to bloom, which means that the first snap peas should be coming along soon. I’m trying to decide when to start the cucumbers at the base of these trellises — I know they’ll grow fast, and I don’t want to cut pea season short.
A big green strawberry sits on the dirt.
Last year’s strawberry plants are starting to fruit, and there are several handfuls of little green berries. Every day I check for the first signs of blush. I’ve been debating the merits of covering this raised strawberry bed in bird netting so I can actually eat some of the berries – I think I’ll probably go for it, as long as I remember to buy netting.
A shot of a pepper plant from above. A freshly planted tomato plant in a blue metal cage.I finally broke down and bought a few tomato and pepper plants to get started. I haven’t totally given up on mine, but they’re still so tiny, and I was starting to worry that nothing would ever ripen. If mine get big enough, I still think I can find some room to tuck them in later in the season.
A wide shot of the garden on April 26, 2016. It's still mostly dirt, but a little more green than last month.
The main garden bed is finally boasting a tiny bit of green, and more should come soon. Our heat/rain cycle lately means that I need to spend some time playing catch-up on weeding, but my plants are starting to perform, too. I’ve been harvesting radishes, lettuce, spinach and baby kale for salads (see my monthly totals, below). Bean seeds are going to go in the ground tomorrow or Thursday, once the major storms in our forecast blow by. Those wooden stakes lying in the garden path in the photo above are waiting to secure a pole bean tower.

Even as I wish for the crazy growth of summer, I’m trying to appreciate the little joys of spring. The irises have just stopped blooming, the spirea is putting on its lovely show, and my pink peonies and roses should start bursting open any day. The weather is heavenly (when it’s not raining), and we even set up our new hammock for some relaxing evenings in the yard.

A blooming spirea bush covered in white blossoms.
The spirea is putting on its annual show.

April’s Harvest Totals (so far):
Radishes – 1 lb., 15 oz. (57 radishes and greens)
Spinach – 2.4 oz.
Lettuce Mix – 9.6 oz.
Delaway Kale – 2.2 oz.
Oregano – 0.1 oz.

Sometimes you need a good rain

A hand holding a bunch of dirt-covered radishes.
A handful of radishes just pulled from the ground.

We got a good rain here yesterday. For most of the day, it fell steadily, and in the afternoon it flat-out poured.

Stuck inside all day, I missed my garden, so when the skies cleared in the early evening, I hurried out to see how everything was doing.

A transformation had taken place.

An overhead shot of a healthy kale plant with drops of rain.

Peas reach onto a trellis, finally higher than the garlic.

In the dry days before, the garden had been looking a little sad. And if I’m being honest, I’d been frustrated. The plants grew so slowly. They looked scrawny, and a little-off color. And every critter and insect was eating its fill, so soon in the season!

But after that good rain, the garden looked a little different. The greens were lush, and healthy-looking, even as they bowed under the weight of the water droplets. The peas seemed to have grown six inches during the day. Each plant looked beautiful, standing out in contrast against the dark, damp soil.

A close-up of a radish just starting to push itself out of the ground.A strawberry blossom against the dark wet wood of the raised bed.
I’m not sure if the garden changed in the rain, or if it just looked better in the sparkly aftermath. Maybe a little of both. I’ve been struggling lately, too, feeling worn out, unproductive, stuck. But for a moment, in the sweet, cool garden, even I felt refreshed, more ready for a season to come.

Sometimes you just need a good rain.
A bowl of lettuce covered in raindrops.

Lessons Learned: Vol. 1

If failure is the best way to learn, boy, do I learn a lot from my garden. It seems like every week there’s something that I wish I’d known sooner. Too often, though, these little lessons slip by barely noticed, and I make the same mistake the next year. I thought I’d start a running series of posts about these “lessons learned,” in the hope that I can prevent repeat errors.

A very small red lettuce plant.
This tiny lettuce has been here for weeks and weeks, and has hardly grown at all.

1. The small garden bed next to the fence on the south side of our yard is too shady to grow vegetables. I hoped that the partial sun would still be enough for cool season crops, like radishes, spinach, and lettuce. In fact, I even hoped the shade would extend the season for lettuce. Instead, everything I’ve planted there is growing at a glacial pace. See that little lettuce start? It’s been there for weeks, and is only a tiny bit bigger than it was when it went in. On the plus side, herbs and partial-shade flowers seem to do well here, so that’s what I’ll focus on from now on.

A plastic label marks the home of marigold seeds.
Finally got my act together and started labeling seeds.

2. Label your seeds! I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but every year I plant seeds and fail to label them, despite knowing that I’ll be searching for lost seedlings in a week or two. I even planted my new rhubarb right on top of some flower seeds I’d sewn earlier. I’m resolving to do better, as evidenced by this marigold marker.

3. Mulch the garlic with straw. I did this the first year I grew garlic, but this year I was too lazy to find straw, and I figured it would be fine. It probably would have been, except for the lousy squirrels. They keep digging around the garlic, displacing the planted cloves, exposing the growing bulbs, and generally wreaking havoc. I’m thinking the mulch might have prevented some of their antics. Next year, garlic, I promise.

Cucumber starts that are clearly too big for their britches.
Cucumbers are bursting out of their start containers, but not ready to go anywhere yet – oops.

4. Don’t start cucumber and zucchini seedlings indoors. This is apparently common garden knowledge that seems to have escaped me. I just learned that cuke and zuke starts don’t transplant well – some people have even reported that their starts produced cucumbers LATER than the seeds sewn directly into the garden did! Of course, I learned this after I started seeds, and now I’ve got eager seedlings with nowhere to go yet. I might start from scratch, or tuck these somewhere I wasn’t planning to grow cucumbers and see if they make it. I’m cursing myself for taking up valuable grow-light real estate for no reason.

5. Thin radishes right away. Luckily, I’ve had some radish success so far this year, but I recently learned that I was thinning them too late. You want to get them two inches apart as soon as their first true leaves appear, to give the roots plenty of time to grow. Otherwise, they might never “radish up.” I’ve become a relentless radish thinner!

Sweet gums ring a kale start. They failed to protect the first one.
Don’t be fooled: Those sweet gums didn’t protect that kale plant. That’s the second start that’s gone in that spot.

6. Sweet gums are not an effective rabbit deterrent. Who knows where I read this – don’t believe everything on the internet, kids! – but it seemed logical to me. If I were a rabbit, I wouldn’t want to step on these prickly things. Plus, we have an abundance in our neighborhood. I picked up a few and surrounded my kale starts. Two mornings later, the starts were munched and the sweet gums undisturbed. Major fail. Of course, I still haven’t found anything that DOES work against rabbits, although I’ve got a couple more folk tales to try out. Have you had any luck? Tell me your secrets!

Garden data

A picture of a digital kitchen scale. Fair warning: my gardening is hitting the next level of nerdery this year.

Inspired once again by Rosalind Creasy’s approach to edible landscaping, I’m determined to keep some careful records of the yield in my vegetable garden. (Go here for an article about how Creasy planted a 100-square-foot garden and then tracked its yield.)

Screen shot of an excel spreadsheet tracking harvest quantities of each variety of produce in my garden.
Click on the spreadsheet image if you’d like to see it bigger.

To that end, I bought a new kitchen scale this weekend (the last one met a sad end in a sink of soapy water), and designed a pretty spreadsheet for myself. As soon as the garden starts producing, I’ll weigh and track what I harvest. I’ll also research grocery store and farmers market prices for each item, so that I can come up with a “value” estimate. Of course, nothing can account for the value of growing a pepper outside my door and being able to pluck it right before dinner. But still – there’s something interesting about knowing exactly how much your garden creates, and what you would spend to purchase that same amount of produce elsewhere.

Why am I trying this project? Curiosity, mostly – this winter, when I thought about what had produced well in last year’s garden, I realized that many things had actually done quite well, even though I had thought of the year as a “failure.” Having hard data offers on objective look at the garden’s production. Plus, there’s some useful information that could be gleaned: Over how long of a period does a certain crop produce? Does it fall off so much in its last month that it would be better to pull it out and put in something else? Are some crops more worth growing than others, especially when compared to their grocery store value?

I’ll keep you posted on the garden’s production in my monthly updates. And if you’re ever tracked your garden’s production, let me know in the comments how it worked out and what you learned!