Friday, February 26, 2010

Playing in the dirt.

My dad and I spent a couple hours filling up the third raised bed today. We put in a few inches of soil and filled the rest with a rich compost called Coeur d' Green. Yes... I hate to admit it....I paid money for compost when I should be making my own....I will get there someday though...(EG is my inspiration lol) The first two beds are situated so that the dump truck could easily fill them but the third bed is not we had to dig and wheelbarrow it to the bed...We definitely got a workout...but fun it was!

With the third bed filled, we can now focus on getting the rest of the plastic hoop covers on. Hopefully, we will get that done by Sunday. I posted earlier that my dad was adding upper shelves in the greenhouse and that is coming along quite nice. I can't wait for them to be done so I can fire up the heat and get the gazillion seedlings that are all over my house out of here! (the family is tolerant but it is getting to be a bit much :)....A quick note on the covered hoop house: The temperature inside is holding pretty steady around 62 degrees on a 45 degree day. That should get us a good start on the broccoli and the strawberries. Happy digging!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

He'll eat anything.

This post is dedicated to gardeners that have pets. Our pups, Buddy to the left and Stella to the right, often spend a lot of time with us while we garden. The pups are not allowed in the garden for more than one reason. First, they tend to chase after each other going about 30 mph and they can leave quite a trail of destruction behind them. Secondly, I need to make sure they don't ingest plants or vegetables that are harmful to them. We all know the typical plants and vegetables that are harmful to many pets such as onions, chives, shallots, rhubarb, garlic, certain mushrooms, Hyacinth, Daffodils, Narcissus, Hollyhock, Lily of the Valley, Iris and the list goes on and on. But most recently my husband and I were considering growing our own hops for our homebrews. Turns out hops are extremely poisonous to dogs. Once ingested, they cause a sort of reverse hypothermia which results in death. My instincts and experience told me to do a bit of research before buying the plants and I'm glad I did. You see...we have had several costly lessons on puppyhood.... By the time our dear little Buddy was 1 1/2 years old, he had ingested a digital camera, a $100 pair of leather shoes, a cell phone, pieces of an electric blanket, and rocks, among other things. In one instance he got a piece of metal from the electric blanket and a bone fragment (from who knows where) lodged in his intestines. They had to be surgically removed and we all know vet bills are never cheap.....$1,200 dollars later he was fine. In another instance we have no idea what he ate but he became very ill and had convulsions. We suspect he ate some mushrooms from the yard but we never knew for sure. Buddy has gotten better about eating everything in sight...but I still watch him closely. Stella is rather picky about what she eats... her only downfall appears to be that she is constantly stealing Buddy's pillow :)

There are of course many plants that are also poisonous to cats. But luckily for us our cats (to the left is Spud and to the right is a neighbor cat) are finicky...they turn their noses up to most anything except cat food and love apparently. (Photo by Daisy Girl)

Monday, February 22, 2010

W-Hoopin it up!

Yesterday we really whooped it up in the family garden! Well, so to speak anyway....We started putting up the plastic covers on the raised beds hoops. Hopefully, this will allow us an early start on the cold crops. So far, we have the strawberry bed covered, with the exception of placing some ties on it to hold the plastic up once the weather starts to gets a bit warmer. I also spent some time moving the strawberry suckers around in the bed so they have more room to grow. Last year they were so crowded that they hung over the boxes onto the ground.... which isn't a bad just makes it difficult to mow around. My dad is very particular about his lawn so I don't dare make him mad :)

We harvested some spinach and green onions from one of the beds yesterday. It's amazing that they went uncovered all winter and still taste so good.

Today is a busy day.... so my post is short....I'm off to make newspaper pots, clean the greenhouse, and hopefully get some more of my pepper seeds started.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The final order....I promise.

I placed my final seed order from Seed Savers Exchange last week and it arrived yesterday. I must say that I am very happy with their service and the quality of their products. So here is what I ordered: the peppers are Purple Beauty Bells, Orange Bells, King of the North, Bulgarian Carrot, and Tolli's Sweet Italians. I also ordered two types of lettuce: Forellenschuss, and Rossa De Trento. In addition, I ordered Dragon carrots, Rosa Bianca eggplant, Nyagous tomatoes, Hill Country Red okra, Purple tomatillos, Purple Podded Pole beans, and A & C Pickling cukes.
Yesterday I ordered my onions from Dixondale Farms. I ordered Candy Apples, Candy, and a variety pack that contains Copra, Red Zeppelin and Sterling. Now, I believe all that is left to order are the potato starts and I will probably get to that those weekend.

Now it is time to get busy and fire up that greenhouse...woot!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spring has sprung!!!

This is my second post today but I couldn't wait to spread the news!!! While walking the pups at Black Bay a little yellow something caught my eye so I went to investigate.....I brushed back the pine needles and lo and behold...a buttercup along with some crocus sprouts! Around here that is definitely a good sign that spring will make an early appearance.

Bent reminded me that he blogged about the first buttercup of 2009 and that was actually our very first blog post.....the date was March 21, 2009. That puts us an entire month ahead of time....Wow....I gotta get busy!


Today I will place an order for my favorite Texas Sweet Onion bulbs from Dixondale Farms. As you can see, they did quite well in the garden last year. I also grew the Candy Apple version of the Texas Sweets and they were a gorgeous dark burgundy color. These onions were introduced to me by a friend who claimed his onions were as big as a plate. He actually brought me one and they were huge (larger than a saucer but not quite a plate.) My friend proceeded to bet me that I couldn't grow them bigger than his....I'm always up for a challenge...especially that of the gardening nature. (I ordered 50 Texas Sweets and 50 Candy Apples) I believe I came pretty darn close to beating his "plate-sized" onions. Looking back on the blog, it appears that we got them in the ground on April 18th along with the potatoes. If the weather holds I suspect we can plant them even earlier this year.

Since bulb onions mature in response to changing amounts of daylight there are varieties that work best depending on what part of the county you live. Short-day varieties grow best in the South. Intermediate-day varieties are grown best in the northern Arizona to Washington D.C. area, and Long-day varieties are best suited for the North. However, there are exceptions to the rules: The Intermediate-day varieties can be grown as early onions in the North....which is what we did.

The best soil for these guys is slightly acidic and well-drained. When the tops start to lay over (by themselves) as in the 2nd photo, then you know they are ready to harvest. Then to cure the onions you just place them in a warm, dry place and away from direct sunlight. Short-day varieties cure for a few days before you clip off the tops and roots. Intermediate-day and Long-day varieties cure for up to three weeks. Most properly cured onions should store up to 8 months in a cool basement or root cellar. Using a mesh bag or other "breathable" material to store them is advisable. Be warned that sweet onions do have a shorter storage life than most.

A bit of trivia to leave you with: Did you know the sweet onion became the Texas state vegetable in 1997?

Monday, February 15, 2010

A sucker for seeds plus plant updates

So this past weekend I'm innocently shopping for a few items and realize that I need to go pick up some mesquite wood chips for my husband. So I start my trek on over to the outdoor section (where the chips and charcoal are) and guess what I run into? You guessed it....the all addicting seed rack....I try to walk by it and tell myself no.....but the magnetic force sucks me in once again. I have really purchased enough seed this year with the exception of my seed potatoes but like an addict I rationalize my purchase anyway. I figure with the new garden addition this year I sure would hate to run out of seed. We can't have that now can we? And really whose fault is this??? If my husband didn't need those wood chips I wouldn't have come anywhere near the garden kidding dear.... The seeds I purchased are Habanero pepper, Fennel Florence, Cumin, Tarragon, Dills Atlantic Giant Pumpkins, Early Sweet Sugar Pie Pumpkins and Cucumber Lemon. Now, I'm really, really done buying seeds.

A quick update on the tomato plants I started in December. This is one of the Sweet 100 varieties. I had to stake it today as it is getting rather top heavy. I lost some of my Roma plants to some type of bug...I'm not sure if the seed was bad or it may have been a fungal thing. I tossed all of them just in case it spread to the other plants. Sad.... but a necessity when you risk losing others to the same thing. I have slowly started increasing the time the tomato plants are exposed to darkness in hopes that the plants will start to flower soon. My attitude on this is if it works great, if not it was just an experiment.

The cuke plants are doing great but the cucumber fruits are pretty small. They may need more light than they are getting there in the window but regardless they are cute :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Little sprouts and greenhouse upgrades

Short post today as the sun is finally out and if I don't take the pups (Buddy and Stella) on a walk they will go crazy. They are already borderline neurotic.

To the left is a picture of some of the herbs I started from seed a few weeks back. They are all doing great so far. I have about 70 pots total of parsley, thyme, several different basils, and oregano. Yesterday, I started my eggplant, celery, cayenne peppers, jalapenos and serrano peppers. In all, I seeded about 65 pots. I'm still impatiently waiting for the rest of my pepper seeds to arrive....seems the seed company is holding them captive because one variety is on back order. I also started a few broccoli seeds as an experiment. I want to see if it will transition well to the greenhouse when we fire up the heat here in a few weeks.

Here is a picture of the greenhouse progress...Dad finished putting in the lower shelves before he fell ill last week. (He scared us as he ended up in the hospital but he is now thankfully on the mend) Eventually he is going to add upper shelves along both sides as well....but for now he has to take it easy.

I'm really excited at all the extra space we are going to have this year and if the weather holds, I don't think buying the propane will put us in the poor house :)

Now the pups are barking anxiously at off we go to enjoy the sun!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Family Tree

This McIntosh apple tree has been in our family for nearly 100 years. It's a tree that holds many special memories. My brothers and I used to climb the tree and pluck the apples that my mom and dad would use to make applesauce. The tree was also a calm place where I would go to often just sit and chill out..... and perhaps most importantly, it served as a refuge from our ornery calf that would often chase us after we taunted the poor thing. (well that was mostly my brothers:) You know who you are :)

My grandfather planted this tree after homesteading in the Dalton Gardens area and amazingly enough the tree continues to produce record size fruit. The home to the left, where the apple tree resides, is that of my grandparents who have long since passed away. The story on how my grandparents met is very cool and grandma loved to tell the story. I loved to listen and would sit with her on her sunny porch sipping tea and eating cookies as she told it. Her thick french accent made it all the more enticing to listen to. The story goes something like this: My grandfather was an MP in WWI and stationed in Mimizan, France. His job included securing various buildings in the village. One of those buildings happened to be a hotel owned by my grandmother's parents. Here, they met and courted for the duration of my grandfather's military term. The two could not go anywhere alone during their courtship as my grandmother's parents made her have a chaperon at all times. Although, according to grandma they were able to ditch them every once in a while. (The need for the chaperon was in part because she was very young -14 years younger than my grandpa.) When my grandfather's military term was over, he left France and headed back to the states. He left with only a promise to return and marry my grandmother. From what I can remember of the story my grandfather then homesteaded a property in Glacier, Montana. He stayed his required number of years according to the Homestead Act and once he had title to the property he sold it. With the proceeds, he was able to make his way back to Mimizan, France and it was there that he asked my grandmother's parents the permission to marry their daughter. They were married soon after.... and get this....the wedding party, which took place at the family owned hotel, went on for an entire week. (Do the French know how to party or what?)

The newlywed couple resided in Mimizan for (I don't know the exact timeline) quite some time and later boarded a ship and headed for the U.S. (The boat ride took nearly two weeks.) My grandfather and grandmother eventually homesteaded in the rural outskirts of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho what is now called Dalton Gardens. It was many years later that my grandparents had enough money saved to bring my grandmother's parents to the U.S. as well. My grandpa spent his free time adding on to his home so they would have enough space for their growing family. Later, upon arriving here, my grandma's parents lived with them up until they passed away some years later.

I was lucky to be able to grow up in an area surrounded by family and equally lucky to have the wonderful stories to share with my children. By the childhood home is the one on the right and this is where the family garden is. This same property was all vegetable garden at one point as my grandpa was also an avid gardener. Hmmmm...not a bad idea :)

That must be where I get it :)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Seasons of Life

This August will be the two year anniversary of our mother's passing. Not a day goes by that I don't think about her and today I especially can't seem to shake the the heaviness in my heart. Perhaps, it is because February of last year is around the time we learned that mom had brain cancer. I suppose the sadness surrounding this time of year will forever remain etched in my heart. It was a time of chaos but we also had hope. Our entire family and our spouses set out to Seattle's Harborview Hospital to consult with the best of the best doctors. Of course, we were expecting some inkling of hope that maybe, just maybe there would be some sort of treatment for her. Unfortunately, there was no magical cure. Mom endured chemo and radiation for over a year until she just couldn't do it anymore.... mentally or physically. The family respected her wishes and she stopped all treatment. Mom kept a cheerful and positive attitude even up until she passed away early in August of 2008. She and my dad would have been married for nearly 58 years. Not too many people can say that now days.

Today I happened to be going through garden photos and found this one. Mom's favorite summer flowers were petunias. She would buy the Wave Petunias and fill an entire garden. We planted those (above) from seed last year and they were beautiful. (I think she had something to do with it :) For some reason the petunias reminded me of a passage from the book "Motherless Daughters" by Hope Edelman. It relates to how our mothers continue to influence our lives long after they are gone. Working together in the garden is but a small part of how my parents influenced me but it was the most memorable. Here is the passage:

"The Redwoods"
By Hope Edelman

"In the redwood ecosystem, buds for future trees are contained in pods called burls, tough brown knobs that cling to the bark of the mother tree. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire-when, in other words, she dies-the trauma stimulates the burls' growth hormones. The seeds release, and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mothers cedes them when she dies. The receive the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother's root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.
For years, I searched for my mother in the air or the cosmos around me. I kept forgetting to look under my feet. The foundation she gave me in my first seventeen years was a solid one. If it hadn't been, I don't think I could have managed on my own after she died....I am fooling myself when I say that my mother exists now only in the photograph on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight. She lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influenced who I was, and her absence influences who I am. Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The family garden keeps on giving.

There is nothing like a warm bowl of tomato soup on a cold blustery day especially when you can say you grew and preserved the ingredients. It is also very satisfying to know that pesticides and preservatives (all too typical of the grocery store brands) were not part of the process. This is a pic of our tomato basil soup. We got some recipes we liked from various friends and canning books and then modified some of the spices to suit our taste. My family tends to like their food a little on the spicy side so we included some serrannos and jalapenos to the mix. And yes...the basil garnish is also straight from the garden. Btw...when I say we "modified" some of the recipes I mean generally the spices only. You want to make sure to follow canning recipes very closely as any variations could result in...well...botulism or some other form of toxic soup! Also, I can't stress enough on following proper sanitation procedures when cooking and canning. You can get a lot of helpful information from the National Center for Home Preservation.

It's hard to believe that we are still reaping the benefits of the garden and it is almost time to start all over again. This is really only our second season of serious canning so we are gaining a better perspective on how much food we need to get us through the winter. I think we overdid it on the pickles and the pickled peppers (the nursery rhyme how many peppers did Peter Piper pick has new meaning to me) but we were able to give away a lot of those to family and friends. Sharing the bounty is really half the fun for me anyway. Below is a pic of pickles mixed with various garden peppers. We made some into relish and it turned out really good.

Below the pickle picture is our mammoth dill plants. We go through lots of it during the pickling process. The dill plants really did great at my dad's garden. In fact, some reached nearly 5 feet tall. I think they did so well because they were planted behind the pole bean trellis which allowed for some partial shade in the late afternoon. Unfortunately, we had poor results with the dill at my home garden last year. The plants got some sort of bug and never recovered. (that's is why I have the philosophy that you can never have too many plants :) Needless to say, I have already ordered several packets!

Happy garden thoughts to all!