Complete, with Compost

The new garden beds are complete and filled with compost.

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With rain in the forecast, the urge to get outside and enjoy the last of the warmer weather today was overwhelming. It’s been a rough week around here for a variety of reasons (and it’s only Wednesday, Oy!), so some manual labor was a great anxiety-relieving activity.

The beds are filled with compost from a great local place called McFarlane’s Bark.  We picked it up a couple weekends ago when we took a load of yard debris for drop-off. Since then, it has been sitting in my garage, making it smell very… earthy.

Rex loved scooping and dumping dirt out of the trailer.  (Not that much of it actually made it into the wheelbarrow…)  He climbed the compost mound and spent a lot of time talking about the colors of our shovels. (“Mama shovel red! My shovel blue! Me up here! Me in dirt!”) You don’t know how fascinating shovels are until you’ve seen them through the eyes of a toddler.

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I think his favorite part was riding in the wheelbarrow. He had a total of eight rides back and fourth to the garage. (We paused in the middle to air up the tire and that just made his day.)

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The day culminated in a bubbly bath and tv with dinner. Sometimes, you have to go off-schedule for a day to reclaim some calm. I’m feeling much better after some time in the dirt and Rex does too. Give it a try. You won’t regret it.

New Garden Beds

We’ve been in this house nearly two years, but we’re coming up on our third planting season. I had success with Straw Bale Gardening last year, but my bales will not last a second season. The garden beds that came with this house have been sadly inadequate. They are small, differently sized, falling apart, and quite shaded. While I can’t change the placement, I can fix the rest.

I tried to repair them first, but the wood kept splitting and popping free. So I hit up a local cedar place and picked up some fencing boards on the cheap. I decided to up the bed size to 3’x6′ (they were 2’x5’2″ and 3’x5’2″) and just replace the rotting boards completely. I bought 1″x6″ standard grade cedar boards in 3′ and 6′ lengths. I also bought some 2″x2″ railing boards for the corner supports.

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I brought them home in the car (which smelled awesome) and dropped them in the garage. Now, the projects in the garage are lining up and there is still compost waiting to be unloaded in the trailer, so  I knew I needed to make this a priority project.

The allure of the garage for a two year old is incredible. He loves playing out there while I work on projects. I was able to saw the supports and screw the whole thing together in just a couple hours, even with the help of a toddler. He even handed me screws when I did the last parts on the floor. I made both beds 3’x6′ and used 1 1/4″x#8 wood screws that I had on hand, putting three in each end of each board.

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The beds won’t win any carpentry contests, but they’re sturdy and made from good material. It was getting dark as we finished, but we pulled up one of the garden beds and laid a new one down.

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This one is replacing the 2’x5′ bed.  You can see the second deteriorating bed to the right there. The ground is a bit uneven, so I need to purchase or fashion some stakes to hold the bed tight to the ground. The previous bed was built onto integrated stakes. I’ve got some landscaping style ones in mind, so a trip to the hardware store is in my near future. In the meantime, I can mark these guys off my list as built and move on to the next project.  Which, Rex informed me, is his train table.

But more on that soon.

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?

Mint Simple Syrup

To my surprise, the mint plant that died a horrible death last year, came back with a vengeance earlier this spring. I need to move it to a bigger container as it is straining at the seams. While we were picking basil yesterday, we also gathered enough mint to make mint simple syrup.  I used this recipe from The Hungry Mouse and it was very simple, if you’ll forgive the pun.

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I gave my mint leaves a quick rinse and spun them out in the salad spinner.  Then, I followed the steps in the recipe. The only change I made was to heat the water to boiling in my electric kettle and then whisk it with the sugar until dissolved. The syrup sat and cooled while we had dinner and then I strained it into a pint sized mason jar.

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As you can see, there’s still a few little bits floating around.  A second straining through some cheesecloth would fix that, but I’m not sure I care enough to go to the trouble.  Mint is not my favorite flavor, but I’m hoping this syrup will go well in mixed drinks and lemonade.  So tell me, what would you use it for?

 

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 & 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…