Garden Surprise

We found a hidden zucchini today.

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It was one of three that we discovered under the leaves.

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Rex couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into them!

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In the Garden: July 18

I watched a seminar on straw bale gardening earlier in the year at a Home Show. The premise was fascinating and seemed pretty solid. With living in a rental, installing garden beds and killing large swaths of lawn is not an option. So, I bought the book and four straw bales and gave it a go.

The bales are positioned between rosebushes in the decorative border filled with bark that edges the yard.  One set of bales has tomatoes.  The left three plants are Mortgage Lifters from Liisa and the one on the far right is a cherry tomato variety called Juliet.

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The other set is half cucumbers (lemon and burpless bush varieties), half zucchini.

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I used yarn in place of wire between the fence poles and put old CDs on the top string to help fend off birds. The CDs are also doubling as plant markers.

I’m pretty pleased with the straw bale garden so far.  The cucumbers plants are huge and happy, the most success I’ve ever had with them! The tomatoes are a bit small, probably because I planted them a little late.  Now if I could just figure out what keeps eating the ends of my baby zucchinis, we’d be doing great. I’ve already lost three baby veggies to whatever is nomming on the ends.

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Besides the bales, I have one tiny garden bed that isn’t completely overrun with strawberry plants.  In this bed are two snap pea plants and one edamame plant.  The greenery not in cages are beets.  I also have a banana pepper and basil and mint plants in pots, but I forgot to get pictures of those.  I enjoy gardening, but I am thankful that I don’t have to try and feed my family on just what I can grow.

So what are you growing this year?

First Harvest

Thankfully, the garden survived the high temps while we were gone over the weekend.  In fact, I think it flourished with the 90º temps, thanks to the good soaking I gave it before we left.  The straw bales seem to be doing a good job keeping the tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchinis hydrated. I’ll try to get a picture in the future, but these were not from the straw bale part of the garden.

The foods from my first harvest were from the original garden bed that came with the house and some containers of herbs.

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Sugar snap peas, larger than expected.  Rex thought they were delicious and scarfed one down before they made it into the house.

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Enough basil to make pesto for dinner.  Rex loved pulling the leaves and was very sad when we were done picking.  I washed up the basil and then threw it into the food processor with some parmesan cheese, a few walnuts, lots of garlic, and some salt. I blended it up while drizzling grapeseed oil in until it looked about right and p(r)esto!

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I served the pesto up on some organic pasta from Costco (I don’t remember what this shape is called) with a side of asparagus.  Rex had three helpings of pasta in addition to his asparagus!  I’m hoping my basil plant will continue to flourish and there will be many more pesto dinners in our future.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the mint that was picked with the basil. It became something else entirely.

Peas and Light

I don’t know about you, but I’m already dreaming of spring, sunshine, and the gardening that comes with it.  The seed catalog is dog-eared and marked up, there are gardening books littered around the living room, and I’m spending way too much time on the Pinterest gardening boards.

I took a seed inventory a few weeks ago and visited nearly every gardening/urban farm store in town. (Two of them had chickens, one had shop cats, one had a shop dog.  Rex had a great time.)   I held myself back and only purchased a few packs of seeds to add to my collection.  Some of those seeds happened to be the ones I could plant first: peas! (I know, I know.  I’m a little early for my growing zone.  But I just couldn’t help myself. And yes, I know I could just direct seed them when the time comes, but I like starts so much more.)

I planted on January 19th and BEHOLD!  It’s alive! MUHAHAHHAHAHAHA!

wpid-IMG_20140126_114414.jpgCascadia Snap Peas (Uprising Seeds)

wpid-IMG_20140126_114407.jpgMaestro Shelling Peas (Territorial Seed Co.)

Want to check out my super fancy seed setup?

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I spared no expense with my dollar store bins, newspaper pots (I used this tutorial on YouTube), and recycled lamp that was destined for the Goodwill. I purchased some “natural spectrum” CFLs ($12 for a 2-pack) to give my little green babies some happy light and keep my power bill down. (Seedlings need at least 12 hours of light a day, and there’s no way we’re getting that yet.  Plus, all of my well-lit windows are not plant friendly, aka dog, cat, and kid accessible).

What are you growing this year?

Peas & Carrots

Over the weekend, my oldest nephew popped over and helped me with some heavy lifting and gardening labor.  He cleaned out the bed that will one day house cucumbers and other plants.  He also set up my new strawberry bed.

This simple bed (inspired by this post found via Pinterest) is made from the leftover cinder blocks after my large L-shaped bed was demolished.  Unfortunately, I can’t count, so I only purchased 6 strawberry plants.  The two plants in the front lower compartments are leftover spinach from the planting that went into the bed by the shed.  When it gets too hot for spinach, those two pods will house flowers or other warm-weather crops.  The bed is nestled neatly in some dead space between the back porch and the AC unit.

This bed now houses onions, garlic, lettuce, spinach, and sugar snap peas.  I’m hoping they will all play nicely together.  Very soon, I will be adding a trellis at the back of this bed for the peas to climb.  I’m thinking some modified hog panel will do the trick (an idea suggested by my Dad).  The lettuce, spinach, and peas were planted with the help of my five year old nephew.  He also weeded and planted carrots in the dirt where the L-shaped bed used to be.

The blocks were removed, but the dirt remained, so we simply put some rocks around the front and decided to give it a shot.  We planted Nelson carrots on the left side of this bed.  We ran out about halfway towards the right.  A trip to the Grange procured some Sugar Snax (chosen by T), but those will have to wait to go in until these ones sprout since I have no idea how far over we planted…

Worm Bin Part 2

Today is a continuation of the worm bin saga.  I originally posted about building a bin from recycled materials.  It took me a few days to source some local Red Wigglers, but I did it!  (I know, I know… I can lay some newspaper on the ground and wet it down and get worms, but I wanted this specific type.)  I found my worms at the local Extension Service for $20/lb.  Since my bin is so small, I requested a half pound ($10).  The money goes towards the local agricultural programs there at the Extension Service, so it’s a win/win for everyone.  During the few days it took to get my worms, I started filling my bin with yummy compost.

Delicious, eh?  Our bin is mostly egg shells and coffee grounds with some sad carrots, a squishy lemon, and liquifying lettuce thrown in for good measure.  It is lined with newspaper and also has a couple cups of dirt to get them going.  The bin is about half full at this time.

My worms came home in style in a recycled English Muffin bag, packed safely in their castings.  They also came with a short instruction sheet for maintaining the vermicomposting bin, including some trouble-shooting.

I gently poured the worms, castings and all, into their new home and then covered them with damp newspaper.

Then, I placed the bin on four small pots on its tray in the shed.

The bin will live here until temperatures get too hot, and then it will be moved somewhere cooler.  I’ll try to rotate the bin every week or so, ensuring that the compost isn’t always placed in one spot.

All in all, this setup cost me $10.78.  The extra $0.78 is for two more of those little pots so I could set it up with 4 for a more stable stand.  The pots ensure air flow and drainage so my wormies don’t drown.  The tray will catch any delicious worm juice that can then be poured onto the garden.  If this setup works well, I’ll either a) make a second bin or b) make a larger bin.  I’ll keep you posted!

Starting Seeds on the Cheap

I know I’m a few weeks behind starting my tomato seeds (sorry, Liisa!), but I finally got around to doing so today.  The problem I was running into was the lack of a starter tray.  My tray met with an untimely demise last year and I never replaced it.  As I ranted in my last post, I didn’t really like it anyway.  So instead, I got a little creative.  Let me introduce you to my $1 seed setup.

The seed trays are recycled egg cartons, tops removed, on a $1 lipped cookie sheet from the Dollar Store.  The tags are from a box in the recycling bin that I cut up and made into spikes, labeled with Sharpie.  I used a chopstick to make the seed holes and the soil bin is a dish washing bin I already had.  Not too bad, eh?  I had some old pony packs running around in the shed, but this seemed like a more compact solution.  They have been settled into a cat-free room under a slightly transparent dishpan I found in the shed.  I’m letting the egg cartons soak up the water from the bottom so as not to drown the new seeds.

What is in the trays, you ask?  Well, thanks to my labels, I can tell you (and I’ll be able to remember in a week).  All of my seeds are from Territorial.  I like buying from a local-ish company because they tend to carry seeds that grow really well in this area.

The back tray is all tomatoes, all the time.  Three different kinds, four pods of each.  From left to right are Brandywine, Gold Nugget, and Nova.  In the front tray are four pods of Parel Cabbage (I found the seeds in the shed and figured, why not?) and 8 pods of Marigolds (Brocade Mix).  I love Marigolds and they’re always so expensive to buy as plants.  I figured I’d give starting the flowers from seed a shot.

My total seed cost so far this year is around the $12 mark.  I have 4 pony packs of starts sitting outside that cost me around $10.  The cabbage and Nova tomatoes were leftover from last year.  I also have cucumber, carrot, and bean seeds from last year that will be planted at some point.  Since I tend to be an extremely negligent gardener, I’m trying not to invest a ton into this year’s garden.

What are you planting?