Sunday, June 18, 2017

Repelling Birds from My Urban Garden

Pests in the garden is a common topic of garden blog posts, guest speakers at garden clubs, and posts to garden list servs. When I had a plot in a community garden in Washington, D.C., the deer were a menace. Most gardeners had an 8-foot fence around their plot, but the deer still got in. Fighting the deer got to be too much for me so I gave up the plot. They are always going to win because it’s survival for them.

The Birds
Luckily my yard in Maryland has not been found by deer, but I do have a menace – birds! They pull up seedlings, pull leaves off plants and eat the bean seeds before they sprout. Last year’s green bean and wax been crop, one of my favorite vegetables to grow, was decimated. I barely had one meal’s worth of beans. I was so disappointed and frustrated.

My Search for a Solution

  • I found some interesting garden covers on Pinterest.
  • Tried fox urine, and then coyote urine.
  • Tried larger mammal urine. ;)
  • Saw this on Pinterest the other day, using plastic forks to keep rabbits out.
  • Human hair works for some people and my hair salon will give me a bag-full.

And the Winner Is
My own invention, hangers from the dry cleaner!
And it doubles as art! And I didn’t have to buy anything!

So far, so good. You can see my been seedlings in the photos. I tried sticking them in upside down in their natural shape. And then I unraveled one and twisted it around. I am happy with this solution, for now. But I know the birds will figure out a way to get around them. It’s basically a race-will the plant sprout before the bird finds the seed.

What creative ways have you kept the critters out of your vegetable plot?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 15 is #BloomDay

June 15 is Garden Blogger' Bloom Day. What's blooming in your garden today?

Not much here, near Washington, DC! I feel like the flowers are in transition - spring blooms are long gone and the summer plants are just maturing. But I have a couple of bits of color.

Purple yarrow is looking good. I planted this for the first time last year. It likes the hot dry front yard.
One of my favorites, purple coneflowers. I started these plants from seed last year and it's doing great. Almost 5 1/2 feet tall and still growing! This will bloom all summer. That's catmint and coreopsis fading in the background.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Birth of a Pumpkin Patch

When I start planning my vegetable garden early in the year, it is mostly based on growing food that I will actually eat. In my process, I review what grew well in previous years, I consider what I really liked eating, I look back at my notes to see what I can do differently to help those plants that did not do all that well and flip through the catalogs, websites and blogs for inspiration. 

Going through that process, I have introduced carrots to my garden. Kale is very sexy right now, and grows well in the spring here, so I have added that. I also added what I would call exotic lettuce mix for my daily salads. I love eating zucchini and summer squash but the leaf mold in my humid climate is a huge pain so that is sadly off my list.

Clockwise upper left: Pumpkin and beans in background; my mix of mix of compost, peat and vermiculite; pumpkins and beans; pumpkin growing. Repurposed edging created the raised bed.
But I felt like I had a boring list of what I ALWAYS grow. Stuff like green beans, wax beans, cherry tomatoes, herbs, arugula, radish, all of the same stuff that I have had some success with. Old reliable!

And then the idea of pumpkins popped into my head. After doing a little research I learned that I could grow them successfully in my region on the country. I scouted out a sunny, more out-of-the-way spot in the yard to keep husband happy for the raised bed. I repurposed some edging bricks that were not being used, bought a mix of compost, peat and vermiculite, and got the bed ready. 

Two varieties are growing-Jacky’s and Cinderella-seeds that I got at a seed swap in February. Three plants went in the ground on May 16. I started the seeds indoors to get a jump on the growing season. Ironically, two random plants that I think are pumpkins have sprouted in my back flower bed, the result of a pumpkin from last fall that I had a decoration. The squirrels had done a number on it so I smashed it open for the birds and squirrels to eat and then I threw the shell on the flower bed to decompose over the winter. Viola, two plants have sprouted. 

I also planted Lemon Queen sunflowers, French marigold, Autumn Beauty sunflowers on the edges. A stem of one of the pumpkins looked like it was rotting so I covered that whole section of the stem with dirt to try to save it. Because it is going to take a while for the pumpkin plants to fill the space, I snuck in a crop of beans. So far everything is doing really well. I think it worked, we shall see.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Growing Herbs at Home

It kills me to buy fresh herbs at the grocery store because they are so expensive and you have to buy so much of it. Herbs are easy to grow at home year-round, though, in a container on a balcony, in a garden bed or in a sunny window. 

Growing Herbs at Home
I just learned it is NOT a hot weather plant like I had always thought. Another favorite is Thai basil which is a beautiful purple plant and has a more licorice flavor. It’s really fantastic.
If you are just starting out with herbs, choose varieties that you know you will use. I grow oregano, parsley and basil every year. This year I am adding mint in a container, too. Cilantro, which I love to use in green salads, has not been easy for me, but I keep trying! And

I have a thriving tarragon plant that started as an experiment two years ago. I had gotten an herb in a CSA share one time and could not remember what it was but I really wanted to grow it. My guess was tarragon. I was wrong, but it grows really well, and does not die over the winter in zone 7a so it lives very happily in the corner of my raised bet. Maybe you know the herb? It was a lemony flavored roundish leaf. Any guesses?

Caring for Herbs
To ensure success growing herbs this summer, read about the conditions that the plants need, like anything else you grow. Some like sun and heat, others do better in the cooler spring and cilantro does not transplant well. A little bit of research will really help.

Thai Basil
Don’t let your plants flower, or “go to seed.” Once the plant starts to flower, it will get bitter and taste pretty bad. So keep cutting back the plants - don’t worry, it will keep growing back. And if the basil grows like crazy in the heat of the summer, cut some off and bring it to the office. You will be a hero!

Using Herbs in Your Cooking
I like adding fresh raw herbs to green salad and pasta salad. They add a fresh, bright flavor. I also cook with them in soups, sauces and in marinades (here’s a favorite chicken kebob recipe that I make all summer long that features parsley). Playing around with herbs can make an old stand-by recipe something new, you just have to experiment.

Preserving Herbs
Like tomatoes and zucchini, herbs can be prolific in your garden so preserving the leaves for later use is something you might want to do. You can dry the leaves, preserve them in olive oil or preserve them in sea salt (I have not tried this yet).

Monday, May 29, 2017

Some people adopt animals. I adopt plants.

Some people adopt animals in need. I adopt plants and nurse them back to health. Lowe’s has a section of carts in the back of the garden center full of plants that weren’t watered, have gotten beaten up and are otherwise not saleable. The best part is that are for sale at a DEEP discount. Being a frugal gardener, I am all over those carts! All they need is a little bit of extra attention.

Here are a couple of finds from last week. I had two days of jury duty and I needed something to lift my spirits and clear my energy so I stopped at the garden center on the way home.

Coreopsis, also known as tickseed, is one of my favorites because it grows so well in my yard and the yellow flowers are so vibrant. Two years ago I had a big beautiful plant that was killed by some people doing work at the house-clearly I am  still seething about that incident-so now I have a replacement. Just cut off the deadstuff, give it a little more TLC and in a couple of weeks I will have a happy perennial that I bought for $2.00.

Geum is new to me but I love the orange flowers. Another perennial, that will keep coming back year after year, for $3.00. 

Bring your smart phone, it comes in handy to identify the plants and to get some basic information like what conditions the plant needs, how big it will get and what it looks like.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Victory is eating what you grow

For me, one of the most gratifying things about gardening is eating what I grow. It's the end of the life cycle of the plant. The cycle starts when I first start planning in the winter and the seeds get planted in trays and placed in the sunniest windows or started outside directly in my raised bed. I wait with anticipation - will the seeds sprout?

Phew, we have a sprout! Major victory.

Lettuce, kale, radishes and arugula.
Now how do I keep this little thing alive for weeks until it can be put outside. We had a rollercoaster spring here in D.C. with wild swings in temperature and then it snowed really late. It is so tempting to put your vegetables in the ground when it's in the 70s in March. Be strong, don't do it!

I much prefer direct sowing seeds because I have more success and I am not turning my house upside down. When I start seeds indoors, I am creating a climate that does not exist in my house and it's kind of a pain. (Is this window sunny enough? Why am I moving these trays all around the house all day, following the winter sun?)

I REALLY wanted to try winter sowing this year, but did not start any trays to put outside because of the really warm winter and spring we had. I was afraid the seeds would sprout really early and not survice or they would sprout and then freeze when the temperature dropped again.

I took some chances with the spring garden knowing that these are tough little plants and can withstand some cooler weather. Yesterday I picked a bunch of lettuce, arugula and kale and two teeny radishes that were all started outside. And today I made scrambled  eggs and added some of these fantastic spicy lettuce greens (Burpee mesclun spicy mix) that I chopped up. Delish! And this week, my lunch salad will feature the kale, lettuce and arugula. The greens stay fresh for many days, too, because they are picked fresh from my backyard.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The great peat debate (in my head anyway)

The other day I was searching for information about how to substitute for peat moss in the new pumpkin patch raised bed I am putting in the yard. I made the soil mix from Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening when I installed my first raised bed five years ago. It has worked well for me as you can see on the progress of the spring crop in the photos, but I have since heard that peat moss is not sustainable so I do not want to use it again.
Clockwise from top left: Lettuce and arugula, kale and tendersweet and nantes carrots in the background, Stuttgarter onions, Cherry Belle radishes, Bloomsdale spinach

Some of the things I had read in my searching – from sources that I felt were reputable – offered so many contradictory answers like (1) justification for using peat moss, (2) explaining that peat and peat moss are different, (3) try using coir, the fiber from the out husk of a coconut, and (4) coir may have salt in it that will kill your plants—are you sensing my frustration? 

Well, the next day, this story appeared in the Washington Post, “Peat Moss: Good For Plants But Bad for the Planet?”, timing is amazing sometimes, right?

What have you used as a peat substitute in your garden? There is no easy answer. So my solution is trying coir and increasing the compost. My other lesson is to take a breath, it will be okay!