home garden

Vacation Woes & Garden Envy

Two aspects of gardening we don’t often discuss, but I know exist. At least they do for me.

Recently I helped out a fellow gardener by harvesting some of their crop while they were out of town. Didn’t have to ask me twice. Free bounty? Count me in! However, I was reminded of what it means to be a gardener on vacation.

Weeds. And lots of them. The longer you enjoy your time away, the worse your garden woes at home. Especially after a big rain. Yikes. My back hurts just looking at all the weeding that needs to be done! Every summer the same thing happens to my garden. I’ve resorted to covering most of my beds with heavy black paper to ease the burden, but invariably there are weeds. Usually in my peanuts–about the only crop I grow over the summertime, due to the heat.

But the good news? The bounty was some of the best I’ve seen in a while.

Look at the size of these eggplant plants! They were over three feet high. And take a gander at all that bounty! If you recall, my eggplants were a measly 18 in. tall. “Shrimps” by comparison.

But my envy didn’t stop there. The jalapenos were also amazing and abundant. And tall. Way taller than my plants. In fact, all of the plants were bigger than mine. I’m not sure if his plants are organic or not, however I do know one thing. I’m jealous!

However, looking on the bright side. I do get to enjoy the fruits of his labor–literally. The eggplant was delicious, as were the peppers!

Time to Spring Into Action

With spring upon us—well, some of us, anyway—it’s time to finalize your garden plans. Getting a head-start on the growing season will ensure you have a bountiful harvest. After my fall tomato experience (thank you, late winter!), I’m certain spring is going to be EVEN better. Remember: positive thinking will get you everywhere!

By being positive and prepared, you’ll be certain to be ready for YOUR first day of planting, when all threat of frost has passed. While this day varies from region to region, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities.

But why wait? Get those seeds started now! Which brings us to the first item on the checklist:

1 – Order seeds. Grow what you’ll eat—not what’s easy. I know it’s tempting, but there’s no sadder day than the one when you witness perfectly good food withering on the vine because no one wanted to harvest it. The “excitement” factor was missing. The “ah-ha” moment, if you will. Rule number one: Gardening should be fun! But it should also be productive.

2 – Design layout. If building container beds, get your lumber now. (I don’t know about you, but my husband likes a bit of notice before he’s asked to perform.) Getting your creative juices warmed and flowing now will help speed the process later. “Oh, hunny bunny! About that little favor I mentioned… “

3 – Sharpen your tools. Or simply clean them off, know where they are, organize them. You get my drift. The last thing you need is to be searching for that trowel when you need it. Mine is indispensable, because it weeds (its primary function), digs, buries and levels. You gotta love a multi-tasker. My other essentials include gloves, hat, sunscreen and water bottle.

For you serious gardeners, you might want to add a long-handled hoe (I prefer the triangular-shaped head) for the job of cultivating your rows. Not me. I’m a busy gal with a bad back — “till as you go” is more my speed.

4 – Turn your compost.   You do have a compost pile, don’t you? It’s too easy not to—just toss, pile, and turn. Easy as 1-2-3! Seriously, composting is easy and productive. Why, just look at these gorgeous potatoes my compost served up for me.

Love a generous compost pile.

5 – Organize your rows/containers based on companion planting. Like people, plants do have their favorites, so keep them close. Besides keeping the harmony, companion planting provides a natural pesticide which eases your workload later. The sooner you break out the excel program (my preferred garden journal), the sooner you’re planting seeds and keeping track. Bear in mind your crop rotation as well—unless this is your first time playin’ in the sunshine then the sky is the limit!

6 – Check your water supply. Now’s the time to fix those leaky drip hoses, or grease any squeaky sprinkler heads. And if you can’t fix them–replace them–before they’re scooped from the shelves by other eager beavers. Note: lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency in the eyes of the store manager.

7 – Gather your mulch. Discarded newspapers, lawn trimmings, hay, pine straw and bark… All of these lend themselves well for use as natural mulch, though be sure to wet your newspaper down (or layer it with another form of mulch for a good thick cover).   Trust me. Your neighbors will not be happy when your “mulch” blows across their lawn.

8 – Prepare soil. Remove weeds and add compost. 100% organic, it provides an excellent soil amendment, rich in the nutrients your plants need. Also, till your beds ahead of time. This will introduce air into the soil and accelerate bacteria activity, which in turn helps release nutrients into the soil. Word to the wise: after you’ve taken the time to remove weeds from your soil, be sure to cover your beds with row covers (or a hefty dose of mulch). Otherwise, you’ll be wedding again before your seeds/seedlings arrive on scene. In my house, that’s call for mutiny.

Also, consider ordering a bag of corn gluten now so you’ll have it on hand come season. Once your seedlings have sprouted and are on their way, you’ll want to sprinkle corn gluten on the soil around them to help keep the weeds at bay. Those tiny golden granules are amazing.

9 – Soil test. If you’re not sure what shape your soil’s in, take a sample to your local garden store.   I take mine to the seed and feed and they test it on the spot. You do-it-yourselfers will prefer a home test kit. They’re simple to use and give a good idea where you stand soil-wise. Then, depending on what you’re planting, you might want to adjust the pH (acidity-alkalinity) by adding lime to raise pH, or peat/pine/sulfur to lower it. Maybe you’ll even want to dump a bag of mushroom compost into the mix. The stuff is magical!

10 – Dream. Until your seedlings are ready to hit the garden, sit back and wistfully dream of the day when your beds will be lush and full, and flourishing with life.

It helps to pass the time until planting season really begins!

Justin Has Carrots!

WOW.  Justin has carrots!   Checking a few, he realized they were ready and his wife Eyry said, “Harvest them ALL!”

 Juicer, anyone?  It is the new rage….  But are they gorgeous, or what?  Have you not grown carrots?

Easy, simple, and oh-so-delicious!  Now at our house, especially this time of year, we tend to shred these babies into the fluffiest carrot cake you’d ever want to sink your teeth into– and while not as healthy as carrot juice, it’s DIVINE.  Trust me.  Check recipe here.

But if you’re not harvesting carrots like Justin, fret not–it’s not too late.  Haven’t you heard?  Spring is around the corner and BloominThyme is gearing up for the festivities!  So stay tuned….we’re diggin’ in for the adventure!

There’s Always Next Year

Ever catch yourself saying this as you stand and gaze upon your garden?

I have.  Am, I should say.  My garden is going through some “growing pains” at the moment.  Most horribly, our frost “bite” right before Christmas.  Weather man modified his forecast AFTER I was able to prepare.  (Aaagh!)  Watching the news one evening, I found myself gaping at the television screen.  Hard frost?  Freeze, north of us?  Oh no…

Yep.  I have three forty-foot rows that look just like this one.  We salvaged what tomatoes we could, pulled the plants and still have these to clean up.  Tomorrow.  There’s always tomorrow.  Same fate befell my wax peppers, forcing us to clean, cut and can Christmas eve and Christmas day.  (Like I had time for that?!?!) More

They Make it Look so Easy…

Justin and Eyry have been busy tending their garden, mostly by watching it grow. 🙂  You remember them, don’t you?  The creative couple with the backyard garden and veggie washing station?  Yes, love that idea.  Well, they are doing quite well, as you can see.

Sugar peas, corn, tomatoes, squash, cucumber, pumpkin, garlic and of course, marigolds.  Now you may think those marigolds are there to make the garden look pretty–which they do–but they serve a dual purpose as insect repellent.  Yep.  Below the ground they ward off pesky nematodes by excreting a chemical toxic to the microscopic pests.  Above ground they’re said to repel squash bugs, tomato hornworms, whiteflies and some beetles.  I do love a multi-tasker! More

I LOVE This Idea…

Now why didn’t I think of this?  A vegetable washing table, complete with hose and close proximity to the harvest bounty! 

I do like a gardener who thinks “outside” the garden—as in:  “Where am I going with this stuff?”

Probably because he’s a man.  A woman thinks practicality:  Going to the kitchen now to prepare my fresh veggies…  She knows there’s a sink in the kitchen.  A man thinks solution:  This stuff is dirty and I’ve got to clean it off before bringing it anywhere near the kitchen.  A well-trained husband, that is. 🙂 More

Updates

Remember the horrible squash washout?  The one where someone–Mother Nature, mystery visitor or something–washed the end of my squash row to nothing?

Well, I solved the mystery.  I didn’t tell you, but it happened again. Twice.  The first time I thought it may have been the rain, but the second? More

Meet My New Garden Project

Meet my new “garden coaching” subjects.  Justin and Eyry have decided to start a garden (yipee!) and have graciously accepted my offer to help, so long as I can take pictures and post online.  No problem.  Now they’ll tell you they’re novice gardeners, but one look at their new plot and you’ll cross your arms and knit your brow and say, sure they are…

Okay.  Those are some gorgeously formed beds, I’ll give you that–but they’re not that hard to make.  Seriously.  Not when you have the right tools, they’re not.  And I’m not talking about a well-trained husband–as shown above–I’m talking gas-powered tiller!  More

Tami’s Last Hurrah

After a long summer of vacay and summer rain, Tami’s garden has survived, albeit her tomatoes and compost have succumbed to neglect.  What can she say?  She’s busy.  It’s hot.  You get my drift.  It was a valiant first effort that will blossom anew this fall, with more tolerable temps and a fresh new attitude.  But not all is lost.  Her green peppers look great.

Turning to red as they mature.  While it doesn’t look as pretty, it will taste sweet and delicious.

Don’t even ask about mine.  Talk about succumb!  I’m not sure who was harder on them—me, or Mother Nature.  But we won’t go there.  We’re talking about Tami’s garden at the moment.  The basil is blooming up a storm.  Needs pinched, but it’s still producing, still thriving.

Her aloe is gorgeous and full and the perfect remedy for an oven burn.  Slice off a piece of one thick, juicy leaf and smear the oozing liquid over the burn and voíla!  No scar, quick healing.  Careful:  the stuff is stinky and it will stain.  So take care when using.

The blueberry looks lost but not forgotten (entirely).  A little weed pulling and this baby is back in action! 

Now for all you tomato lovers, take note:  this is what hornworms can do to your plants.  In a matter of hours. 

Yep.  It’s ugly—and the main reason you want to make daily visits to your garden, for the sake of vigilance.  Beyond the garden is the compost pile.

Or two.  The overgrown pile in the foreground can easily be remedied with a weed whacker and transferred/mixed in to the second pile.  No big deal, giving the dirt time to “ferment” and turn rich and organic.  I do love nature when it proves low maintenance, don’t you?

Now, for my next project….  Who will it be?

Spring Sweet Onion Harvest

Oh how I love this time of year!  After six long months of tending, weeding and waiting (the latter of which this gardener doesn’t do particularly well), my onion tops went brown and fell over so I duly dug these puppies up–gently.  Woohoo!  Someone ring the cow bell and dance the farmer’s jig–the sweet onions are ready!  And we have some doozies.  Big ones, round ones, small ones and–

What the heck?  Red ones?  I never planted any red ones.  How did these little pumpkins end up amidst my splendor of sweet white onions?

Hmph.  Told you those bags of seeds and plants you buy come stocked with all sorts of surprises.  Remember Tami’s blueberry/weed?  Well here’s the proof it can happen to anyone.  Red onions were mixed in my batch of onion sets.  Oh, well.  We humans are fallible, aren’t we?

I forgive them.  Besides, these look awfully tasty.  A bit of “Siamese Twins” growth going on, what with them joined at the bulb, but who cares?  I bet that won’t make one iota of difference once I chop them into salsa.  Or maybe I’ll cook them up with some of my black beans.  Mmm…

Yes, maybe it’s time for some black bean soup.  Those onions I don’t use right away I’ll store in my special covered onion basket or chop them up for the freezer.  I could always braid them to hang and store.  Looks kinda cool. 🙂  For best storage prep, lay your onions out for a sun bath (in Florida, you might want to do this under the shade of a tree).  Give them about a week to crisp their delicate papery skins.  Helps in lengthening storage time.

One year, a few of my onions began to flower.  Had I waited (remember, patience is not my strong suit), I could have learned the art of onion seed saving.  Though come to think of it, I didn’t have a lot of luck with the onion seeds I purchased and planted.  Should I really go to all the trouble of doing it myself?

Perhaps.  They are extra sweet when enjoyed fresh from the garden.  And barely a tear in the kitchen when it comes to slicing and dicing.  *sigh*  We’ll see.  Don’t count me out of the onion seed saving business yet.  There may be hope for me still… 🙂

I’ll keep you posted.  But until then, consider some sweet onions for your garden.  One fall day of planting makes for a lovely spring harvest.