Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Garden Report: Memorial Day Weekend Edition (long and picture heavy)

This morning, I was sitting with my coffee watching Kick Buttowski (what? I love Kick Buttowski…when Awesome calls…a daredevil ANSWERS the PHONE…) when I noticed a plant was growing on my hutch.

Huh, I thought to myself. I don’t remember setting any of the plant starts over there…

Ya. I didn’t. But I did set some sweet potatoes I meant to make a pie out of over there, uh, a while ago, and then I sort of, well, you know how sometimes, you get kinda busy and then, um, well…

sweet potato growth
Mother always told me potatoes would grow if I didn’t keep things clean…

Naturally, I looked at that and thought, I should totally plant that!!...but where…?

Then I started walking around my yard looking for a likely spot to drop a sweet potato plant and I thought, I should totally take pictures of all this! but of course I didn’t have the camera and I had to get to…oh wait, it’s Saturday, I don’t have to get to work or into the kitchen…I CAN TOTALLY GO FIND THE CAMERA AND TAKE PICTURES!!!

So I did.

Along the north side of the house, in an isolated bed that gets too much shade for just about anything to grow against the house itself, I planted some horseradish. It arrived as these little stunted roots that looked thoroughly dead, and I thought I’d been had and that the people who kept saying, “Make sure you plant that somewhere away from other things, it grows like gangbusters and takes over the whole plot!” were nuts.

Yeah, well. A couple months later, this is just one of the four “dead” roots I planted.

Not so much dead. Also, doesn’t care…sun, shade, lots of water, almost no water, whatever, I’m just a happy little root plant planning world domination…

Across the concrete path, I planted spinach. This is also a pretty shady spot, almost no direct sun at all and not that many hours of indirect light either.

The spinach grows slowly there (takes about 50% longer to get “harvest sized” than it would in “full sun”), but it grows.


Down at the end of the path, we have another tricky spot. Two of the three artichokes are doing well; the third one was eaten almost to a nub by snails and is limping along behind the other two. Stubbornly alive, but not really spreading out much.

This is a happy one. Because this is a happy blog.

The cranberries don’t seem to be either thriving or failing. They’re just sort of…there…


But all three bushes are “there,” and we’ve had…really bizarre weather. Everything is moving slowly right now, because we’ve had so many gray, cold-cold-cold days and nights (for California, mind you – my friends in Toronto are currently rolling on the ground screaming with laughter at the very idea that 40 degree nights and 50-something days is “cold”). But this weekend we’re jumping back into our more-normal 80s, so hopefully we’ll start getting the heat and sunlight that makes the Central Valley a bread-basket.

Speaking of (corn) bread, the corn field is coming up well.

Corn field

Pretty soon, it’ll be time to get the other two “sisters” into the ground. I’m planning to do the “three sisters” thing this year…in among that corn, I’ll be planting some pinto beans and pumpkins. The beans use the corn as their climbing supports, and also fix nitrogen (which corn eats up like kids eat, well, corn) back into the soil for the following crop cycle. Furthermore, they help to stabilize the corn when the wind whips through – important out here where we get the Delta “breezes” quite frequently…where “breeze” means “holy crap, somebody put that patio umbrella down before it carries off the table!”

The pumpkins, meanwhile, spread out their leaves and vines to create a natural weed-blocker and moisture retention – extremely important out here in drought-afflicted California.

When the corn gets to about 4” high, I’ll be out there like a kid in a mud pit planting the beans around each stalk, and the pumpkins in the empty spots.

By the way, please ignore the weeds. I suspended all weeding last weekend when I realized the new corn looked way too similar to the cursed sword-blade-like grass that is the bane of my existence. Then I suspended it even more when my back went all jicky on me Tuesday. (It’s still being a pain. Which pisses me off because I have plans for this long weekend, people, and they don’t include lying around feeling sorry for myself…but I did a fair amount of that yesterday, even knocked off work-work a little early so I could “work” on my back instead and it helped, so I’m trying very hard to be sensible today and not go all She-Ra on the housework and the gardening. Even if it is giving me a nervous tic to be sitting around on my ever-expanding backside watching my house not clean itself. Never mind. I’ll survive. Let’s keep going. Lots more ground to cover.)

This is a little less than half the back forty(yards) given over to corn; it was supposed to be all in roma tomatoes right now that were supposed to be about three weeks from harvest, but, well…yeah. I think I’ve mourned long enough over my poor little romas.

So let’s look at one of the survivors instead.

survivor roma

In the containers, the cherry tomatoes pulled a fast one on me: they have little tomatoes already growing! Eeeeeee!!!

Cherry tomatoes

The beefsteak and the yellow heirlooms still have flowers, but no tomatoes forming yet. I can’t say as I blame them: it’s just too danged cold to be fruiting up out here, really.

The peas came out a couple weekends ago; the vines had been too badly damaged by the powdery mildew and they just never recovered from it. So we pulled them out and got rid of them in the city trash (wah – it kills me to do that, but putting diseased plants into your compost is just plain stupid), and then we added fresh non-diseased-plant compost and a little organic fertilizer to the patch and mixed it all up…I’ll be planting watermelons in there today or tomorrow (back permitting), using seeds we saved from a store-bought watermelon. We’ll see what happens. The problem with doing that is that you don’t know what you’ll get; if the watermelon we bought was a “plain old watermelon,” we should be fine. If it was a hybrid, the plants we get from the seeds may not be what we expect. Or even edible. It’s a gamble, but hey – it’s a free one, which is my favorite price.

Oh, and my husband so totally got me. We were discussing whether or not we could try using the seeds from this watermelon (where “we” means “I” and “discussing” means “thought out loud to myself with him as an audience at great length”, and he looked at me with a totally serious face and said, “You know, I’d really rather if you bought one of those seedless watermelons to do this – I like the seedless ones better.”

And I was all, “Uh…honey…?” because how was I going to gently tell this usually rather brilliant and observant man that SEEDLESS watermelons were going to be darned tricky things to get seeds from and then he busted out laughing because seriously, did I think he was THAT dumb?!

Also, I planted some carrots over here last weekend. Carrots drive me a little crazy, because they take so darned long to come up. I’m a child of the instant-gratification era, something that can take up to three weeks to appear is like, ohmygah, am I sure I got those seeds into the ground?!

Future Carrots

And this is a future onion patch. With a bonus sunflower.

surprise sunflower

I didn’t plant this sunflower. I’m not sure if one of the kids did it when I wasn’t looking, or if it is a seed we planted last spring that just took this long to take off. I don’t really care – I love sunflowers in general and sunflower seeds I can eat until I’m sick.

Here’s a shot down from the top. I love the center, the way it looks all flower-like already. Also, this sucker will get up to eight feet tall eventually, if it’s the mammoth I think it is. (Because that’s the only kind of sunflower seeds I’ve bought.)

from the top of the sunflower

Behind the back forty(yards) along the fence, where once there were roses-roses-roses, there are now Christmas limas beginning to come up.

Christmas limas

My husband lined the fence with a wire trellis, all the way along the back forty(yards); I can grow anything that wants to climb back there without having to fiddle with twine or supports or anything.

Sorry ladies…he’s taken.

I replanted some cucumbers there too…nothing yet…patience…paaaatience…

The blackberries and raspberries are, like the cranberries, doing “just” fine .They’re healthy and happy, but they’re not really growing a whole lot. I can’t wait to see what they do when the weather gets more California-like for them.

thornless blackberries

The trees are also having an…interesting…time of things. Now, I’m not really counting on these little fruits actually growing into edible things. This is the tree’s first year in the ground here, after all. That said…technically, these peaches “should” have been ready in May. May is over in a couple days and, uh, well…they don’t look anything like “ready.”


Quite a few shriveled up and died (which is actually good IMHO, because if all of them ripen up that branch is going to have a devil of a time not breaking off!), but these that remain are just sort of…staying exactly the same size. Golf ball size. Same with the nectarines. Hmmmm…

Also…something is chewing holes in my Ranier cherry’s leaves!!!!!

who is nibbling my cherry tree?!

Whatever it is doesn’t like the Bing cherry, or any other tree. It might be fond of the potatoes, which have had a little damage exactly like this. I think it must be something winged, because I have been stalking around out there at all hours I could searching for the little bastards. If they’re nocturnal, they must be, like, 2 a.m. nocturnal. The tree seems to be fending for itself for the most part, but for a while there I was afraid it was going to actually kill the tree – it only had a few paltry leaves left!

Then we discovered that the deep-root watering system’s valves were actually in the “off” position – so it wasn’t getting any water other than the rain. We’ve had many, many days of “rain,” but it hasn’t been rain-rain. It’s been “heavy misting with occasional actual showers” kind of rain. Fractions of inches kind of rain. Not enough for a thirsty new tree. We opened up those valves and gave it a good long drink straight from the hose into the deep watering canister, and it perked up considerably. Something is still eating those leaves, but it is putting out three or four new ones for every one that gets nibbled into lace.

The Bing cherry tree, though, is unscathed and extremely healthy. The little Granny smith apple tree is also happy, although some of its leaves are curling a bit…I’m not sure if it MEANS something, though, or if it’s just what new apple tree leaves look like, so I’ll be consulting my tomes of tree lore this afternoon.

On the way past the play structure, I paused for a strawberry shot.


The “upside down” planters are doing pretty well overall; the Denizens are responsible for the watering and harvesting of the two hangers, and they do the former with something almost like diligence and the latter with gusto.

Butternut squashes are happy.

Butternut Squash

And the replanted-in-the-back-away-from-whatever-was-nibbling-up-front zucchini is starting to come up.

zucchini take II

And then we come to the potato beds…where there are flowers. Now people, I am ashamed to confess that I never really thought about potatoes and how they look when they grow. If you had asked me to guess, I would have expected some low, ugly bush with a bunch of knobby roots growing under it. Something stunted, with all that energy going into those big bulbous roots below.

White potatoes have blossoms like this.

white potatoes

This is the red potato bed…

red potato bed
White potatoes are a little to the right, and the containers there are the cherry, beefsteak and heirloom yellow-striped tomatoes. And the blue thing is a trike, because around these parts the signs of children are EVERYWHERE.

These are the red potato blossoms.

red potato flowers

I am so charmed I can hardly stand it. So charmed that I lay down on my back next to the purple potatoes so I could get a decent shot of their glamorous adornments.

purple potato flower
Felt kinda good to lie down on the ground, actually…it’s nice and hard right there and my back was already bitchin’ about being made to {gasp!} WALK AROUND…

The blueberries under the front window are, like every other berry around this place, just kind of cruisin’ into summer.


They leafed out nicely, but aren’t really “bushing” the way they’re supposed to yet. Gardening, it turns out, requires a fair amount of this stuff called “patience.” WHO KNEW?!?

My long-suffering husband is going to build me a cute little herb box to go here along the walkway to the front door.

Future Herb Box

I was going to buy one but then I was all, “FIFTY BUCKS ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” And I pouted for a minute and then I had this brilliant idea, so I walked up behind my husband, kissed the top of his head fondly, rubbed his shoulders and purred, “Well hello there, you sexy, sexy man!” into his ear.

He sighed heavily, rubbed his eyes wearily and asked, “What do you need built now?”

He loves being married to me. It’s awesome.

Speaking of sexy, lookit what he built for me already!!!!

sexy boxes

I’ll do another post to show the whole process, but this is where we are now. And my man? He did all of it. Shoveling out the extra dirt, rerouting the sprinklers, drawing up plan-things to turn log-things into box-things…and now he’s drawing up plans to turn sand-things and brick-things into patio-things to go around them so that fugly patch will finally after twelve years look good… he’s so brilliant I can hardly stand it.

mah man
And this is him on the Big Build Day, explaining something about angles and bevels and leveling and blah blah blah sand and blah blah blah pavers and I think he may have said something like “don’t you DARE take a picture of me right now, I’m all sweaty and gross!” so naturally I kinneared him anyway and now I’m posting it on my blog so the whole Internet can see it – LOVE YOU TOO, SWEATY! SWEETIE! WHATEVER!

I can’t wait to get stuff started in these. Since it’s up front and in a mostly-shady spot, I’m focusing on things like herbs and shade-tolerant stuff like the spinach. I’ve been told potatoes might be OK with it too (it gets four to six hours only…in the summertime, that can be a blessing because it gets rippin’ hot and direct sun will about melt the paint off the house, but in the winter that block is going to be a challenge to keep planted…) (although with these boxes? You can totally turn them into little greenhouses with almost no effort at all…said the woman who doesn’t do any of the actual woodworking that makes that happen…) (hmm…I wonder if the neighbors would mind me running grow-lights out there in the winter time…it’s not exactly right under their bedroom window...)

And these? Are coming out.

Future Potted Something

Good riddance, sez I. It’s a funny thing about these, actually: There are two of them, one on either side of the garage. They are fiddly little ornamental bushes that you have to get out almost very stinkin’ week and trim; when trimmed, they are pretty little topiary-ish things. But most of the time? They look like this. Because they are so far down on both our lists of Stuff I’d Like To Do Today that we just never get around to it.

I’ve disliked them since we moved in. Himself has loathed them since we moved in. He had no idea I disliked them too. He thought I loved them. So he’s confined his dislike to the occasional grumble all these years…and was very pleasantly surprised when I was all, “You know, maybe we should rip those out of there and put something else…maybe more blueberries…”

And then when he started the boxes, I suggested we take them out, tile in those patches, and put “nice” planters there – terracotta or something – and then we could mix up what we plant there. (Don’t tell him, but I’m thinking about dwarf lime trees. He’s not that fond of limes, but I am and so are most of our neighbors…but nobody currently has a lime tree, dwarf or otherwise.)

The last area where something is getting ready to feed us is here…much to the amusement of the neighbors who own half of this, who think I’m certifiably nuts (but in a nice way):

dirt strip

Oh, you can’t see it? Here. Have a close up.


It’s lettuce. My husband even ran a little drip line out to it from the main line. I can keep a miniature salad bowl going there all season.

And that’s the not-a-bit-brief garden report, Memorial Day edition. We’ve had quite a few failures this year, actually, from roma tomatoes that died to squash plants that got eaten to beans that shot up during a brief warm spell only to be murdered by an unexpected late frost. And the peas being taken out well before we would have liked by that cursed powdery mildew. I’ve had a lot more trouble with snails and cutworms, too, and am dreading the coming aphid invasion.

But it is just such an amazing thing, to walk out into my backyard and hey look, food! It’s a daily miracle, seeing bare earth suddenly green with sprouts.

Every single day, it’s like getting a present. A flower here, a sprout there, an absolutely perfect berry or the bright red of a ladybug on a leaf. (Go get the aphids, girl, go get ‘em!)

And of course, sitting down to a meal that came entirely or in part from your own yard is just something that can’t be beat. All the flavor and savor you get from farmer’s market produce, from produce that was grown until it was actually ripe, picked and brought to market within hours instead of days or even weeks, but with the added spice of having been grown with your time and talent it becomes something transcendent.

Better than any drug for just about anything that ails you.


They call me Estatez... said...

You are cracking me up Mother of Chaos. I live in the great S.J. valley too (Clovis to be exact). I followed your link on $5 dinner site. I did an experimental garden on the north side of our house and it is doing amazingly well. I'm afraid my lettuce and spinach will bolt this week since it is supposed to be mid 90's this week so we'll probably be eating a large salad tonight (with a cuke that is ready to pick and radishes I picked yesterday...wish my tomatoes were ready!). My blog is sorely in need of some tlc so check it out in a day or two to see if I have my garden pics up.


Rena said...

wow. impressive garden. mine is... well... not as impressive.

marit said...

I HAVE been cleaning out and "organizing" the strawberries- the rest of the garden is.. sort of..still in their little paperbags...and the potatoes are sprouting, but still not in the ground-LOL! But it' been a long, cold spring, so that's my exuse...;-)

Anonymous said...

Couple of things: At the American Indian Museum here in Washington DC they had the 3 sisters planted outside around the museum. I was surprised to see that they had 5 or 6 corn plants in a small circle, and then the beans/pumpkins planted with it. I think the corn planted so closely was able to give more support to the bean vines that way. So, if yours doesn't do well planted in rows this year, try bunching up the corn next year. Second, my dad grew peaches in Alabama, and he would thin out the fruit so the remaining fruit would get bigger, and so the branches wouldn't break under the weight. Just a thought. Love your garden! You're an inspiration.

RobinH said...

The wire trellis for cucumbers is an awesome idea. If you let the little bastards sprawl on the ground it is *impossible* to find them all. You'd swear you'd cleaned every single one off the vine, and then you'll start finding monstrous zucchini-sized cucumbers that are way too big to taste good. On a trells, OTOH, you just shake the trellis gently and watch for the cucumbers to swing into view. (I am now having flashbacks to the year I made twenty quarts of pickles....)

Anonymous said...

Inspirational pictures! I remember when all I grew were flowers until a friend fed me some new potatoes, and a salad right from her yard. I was hooked. Luckily my dear hubby likes to garden, too, so he has a large "canning" garden over at the ranch, and I have a small salad, herb, and a few vegetables garden at the house - along with viney flowers over the fence, and flowers wherever they grow. I love gardening and feeding my family with the fruits of my labor! (and dear hubby's labor) Keep up the great work!!
Nancy FP