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.

What went down in the garden: March

Kale sprouts in early March (top) and late March (bottom) show how quickly spring growth happens.
Kale sprouts in early March (top) and late March (bottom) show how quickly spring growth happens.

A monthly round-up of garden activities seems like a relatively effective way to keep track of the garden’s progress, so here’s what’s been happening in March.

By now, I’ve started three varieties of kale, three types of lettuce, six peppers, three tomatoes, four basil, two chives, chard, calendula, globe amaranth, parsley, cabbage, broccoli, cosmos, two types of cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash. Whoa, that seems like a lot when I type it all out like that. They’re growing in four flats indoors under a rigged-up fluorescent light set-up, but whenever possible I take them out into the sunshine to toughen them up (and utilize the free energy).

Photo of seed trays from early March and late March.
Seed trays in early March (top) and late March (bottom) are making nice progress.

They’re sizing up nicely, and I’m hoping that the kale, cabbage and broccoli might be ready to plant out as early as next week. Just in time, too, because I (whoops) impulse-bought three more tomato varieties, and I have to find a place to get them going.

Garlic, radishes and strawberries are all looking happy at the end of March.
Garlic, radishes and strawberries are all looking happy at the end of March.

As for what’s already outside, the radishes and peas are coming along nicely, and the garlic I planted in the fall has really started to take off. Scapes will be here before we know it! The strawberries I planted last month look happy, too, and I’ve been pinching off their blossoms to encourage them to grow strong and root deeply. We planted a few strawberries last year, too, so I’m hoping those might bear fruit while the others settle in.

Radish sprouts and sage plant with light coat of frost.
Radish sprouts and sage were kissed by frost, but seem fine.

Of course, at the end of last week, nature felt the need to give me a little reminder that it wasn’t quite through with the cold yet, and brought a nice coat of frost.

And then, a couple of days later on Easter, it went all-out with a dusting of snow. I get it, spring. I won’t get too far ahead of myself just yet. Fortunately, everything outside already is hardy and nothing looks worse for the wear. And frost-free days are coming soon!

Pea plants are several inches high, despite snow.
Despite a dusting of snow, the pea plants are going strong.

There are a handful of seeds in the main bed, too – radishes, beets, carrots, spinach, lettuce, bachelor’s buttons, etc. – but I’m still waiting to see everything but the radishes. No matter how many times I watch seeds sprout, I’m still skeptical that it will happen the next time. So my fingers are crossed that I’ll start to see more growth soon – and that April will bring the first of the bounty!

I took a chance on early peas. Worth it?

Shelling peas about an inch tall, planted Feb. 21.
Shelling peas planted Feb. 21.

I am an impatient gardener under normal circumstances. But give me gorgeous, spring-like weather in February, and I’m likely to do things that are…inadvisable.

The prep of my expanded vegetable bed helped with my garden longing this year, since I was too sore to do much else. My hands were still dirty at the end of the day, so I felt like I was doing SOMETHING. Starting seeds indoors helped, too.

But before long, temperatures in the 70s and lovely packets of pea seedlings resulted in the inevitable: I planted seeds on February 21.

February 21.

That’s a good three weeks earlier than you’re supposed to plant peas around here. Was I crazy, I wondered? Probably. Would the peas fail? I told myself they would. But still: The forecast was promising, and I just could not wait a moment longer.

In went the peas, three varieties, on the far edge of my garlic beds beneath the new trellises. And then I waited, and watched, and waited.

And waited.

A little panicky, I started researching what would happen if I started peas too soon (sure, it would have been smart to do that research BEFORE planting, but who has time to be smart when the weather is freakishly warm?). Sure enough, the experts pointed out, seeds are slow to germinate in cold soil, and might not sprout at all.

I bit my nails and waited some more.

Shelling peas grow about an inch above the soil
Shelling peas planted Feb. 21.

Finally, on March 6, right on the edge of their 7- to 14-day germination window, the first pea pushed its way out of the soil. Over the next few days, others followed.

Phew.

Snap and snow peas are already about two inches tall.
Snap and snow peas, planted Feb. 21. Disregard that lost garlic in the middle – I think the squirrels helped move it over the winter. It will be pulled out to eat as green garlic soon.

They’re growing merrily now, and I hope they’ll reach up and take advantage of their new trellises soon. For comparison, I planted more shelling peas in one of my whiskey barrels on March 6. I could see the first of those poking up on March 10 – much faster! Despite being planted two weeks later than the first round of peas, they’re less than a week behind. It’ll be interesting to see whether there’s any notable difference in the two plantings as they grow and produce peas.

Later planted shelling peas just above the surface.
These peas, planted March 6, are just coming up.

The lesson here is probably that it’s not worth it to plant peas early. But in reality, when the forecast looks good, and the need for spring is getting desperate — sometimes, you just can’t wait. And that might not be such a catastrophic thing.

Shelling peas in whiskey barrels just starting to sprout.
Shelling peas planted in whiskey barrel on March 6.

Changes to the garden in 2016

The view of the garden from the driveway.
The 2016 garden, waiting.

This is my most impatient time of the year.

Sure, there are seeds sprouting inside, and I’m trying to get a jump on some early peas. The garlic I planted in October is poking up through the soil. But I am restless, eager for the sun to come out and the soil to warm so we can really get going in the soil.

To give myself something to do while I wait (not to mention fulfill this year’s goal of expanding the veggie garden), I’ve been busy making some changes.

You can see here where we put in three raised beds and carved out a tiny section of lawn for gardening last year.

This year, we went a step farther, encroaching even more onto the lawn. (Less to mow = happy Kate!) The bed might look awkward, sticking out into the grass, but I keep reminding myself that it’s part of abigger plan. Someday, I hope to install a patio in the back of the yard, and then the veggie garden will butt up against it.

Plastic landscape edging carves out a section of lawn where the expanded vegetable bed will go.
Vegetable bed expansion in progress. Forgive the photo from my phone, taken after a long day of working.

After roping off the new bed with some plastic landscape edging, I heaped the doomed lawn with several inches of soil and several inches of compost. I’m crossing my fingers that will be enough to smother the grass and create nice, fertile soil. It might not be perfect this year, but I think next year’s garden will be in great shape. I’m trying to remember that I’m in it for the long haul, now that we’ll be here for a while.

A small strip of soil against the south fence is edged and mulched with compost.
Tiny strip of land against the south fence. More herbs, flowers and maybe leafy greens will go here this year.

While I was at it, I also edged the strip of land next to our driveway, against the south fence. These herbs flourished last year, which convinced me that it was worth trying to plant more there. Wherever I can snatch up a few extra inches of soil!

A photograph of my garden, with changes labeled.
A closer look at the changes for this year.

This year, I’m also hoping to get more cut flowers in the ground. I added compost to a couple of neglected beds in the back corner of the yard and along the opposite fence and finished them off with some mulch. These beds are too close to questionable neighbor gardening tactics (and neighbors working on cars) to make me comfortable about growing edibles there, but I’m hoping to fill them with flowers and get a grip on the weeds that tend to take over by July.

View of the garden from the west, standing at the back of the yard and looking toward the house.
A view of the garden from my imaginary future patio.

How are you passing the time in the garden early in the season?

The Garden Today – August 14, 2015

August 14 garden panorama
The garden as of August 14. Apologies for the wonky panorama – I’m still trying to work out the best way to capture the garden.

One of my goals in this journal is to capture the garden in photos through the year. I’ve admired the way that garden blogger Gayla Trail at You Grow Girl does this, and it’s neat to watch her garden’s progression.

The garden in August is an especially good reminder of why I want to take these photos. In the spring, I never remember that the garden will look like this in just a few months. I always have this naive belief that things will stay neat and tidy, with plenty of space in between…yeah, right.

Then we get to August, and the tomatoes are flopping, the cucumbers are taking over the driveway, and the tomatillos are threatening to take out any other plant in a four-foot range.

Cucumber vines
Cucumber vines sprawling ALL over the driveway.

A few notes on the garden today:

  • The two nearly dead cucumber starts that I plopped into the bed along the driveway wound up going like gangbusters. After our weird weather this year the vines are looking a little rough and the cukes have all been funny shapes, but they’re going strong. I have a batch of relish on my canning schedule this weekend.
  • The tomatoes – in the top far left bed in the photo – are in sad shape. The squirrels have taken every single one. Rather than cope with my distress over this, I’ve just tried to ignore the tomatoes. As a result, they’re overgrown, poorly supported, and just a mess. I think they might come out this weekend to make way for some fall plantings.
  • The basil is going like gangbusters. Time for pesto!

 

Beautiful basil
Isn’t this basil gorgeous? It’s been my best year ever for it. And we’ve eaten so much pesto pasta.
  • It’s not totally obvious in these photos, but area around the three raised beds was one of my big mistakes this year. We put the beds together in the spring. My plan was to get rid of the grass around/between them and cover it with gravel, but my gardening budget was gone and I decided to wait until next spring. In the meantime, I figured, I could keep the grass trimmed with my weedwhacker. But I forgot to account for the watermelon and butternut squash vines that are now covering those areas, and the grass is wildly overgrown and full of weeds – and I can’t do much about it for fear of killing the good guys! I’m trying to take deep breaths, hope the neighbors don’t mind too much, and plan to get that gravel in ASAP.
  • Either this fall or spring, I’m planning to take out a little more lawn to put four more raised beds in next to the driveway-adjacent flower bed. Those will get gravel paths, too — right away, this time!
The garden today - looking like a jungle!
A closer look at the beds. Look at that jungle!

A Garden Journal

Yellow snow pea
The first yellow snow peas from this year’s garden. They didn’t do very well in our weird spring, but they were beautiful.

I have been gardening on and off since 2009, when my husband and I turned the trash- and weed-covered patch of dirt behind our first rental into two neat vegetable beds. We had no idea what we were doing, but it didn’t matter — I was hooked. Since then, I’ve planted vegetables every summer, as long as we weren’t in the middle of a move (and that one dreadful year where we lived in an apartment building and didn’t have a yard at all).

Every spring, it seems like a miracle to me that the tiny seeds I tuck into the dirt actually sprout, let alone become rambling monster plants by late summer. And every year I think to myself that I should have been keeping track, should have been documenting the garden better. What grew well, what floundered. Pests that plagued us, and whether I was able to fight them off. How and when I fertilized, watered, harvested. When exactly those first tomatoes ripened, so that when I’m anxiously watching them in June, I can remind myself that I still have a month to go.

Our very first garden.
Our very first garden in Pocatello, circa April 2009.

But the chore of record-keeping has never been my forte, so I thought keeping an online journal might be the perfect way to track my garden. Nothing formal or structured, no set rules, just a simple way to remark on what’s happening in the garden now, so I can look back on it next year and the year after that.

Starting this journal in mid-August means I haven’t done a very good job of documenting this year, either, but at least I can reflect on the end of this year’s garden while I dream about next year. And besides, timely, organized, well-planned? That’s not exactly how I garden, so why should my garden journal be any different?