Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Small" Changes

Usually I post a lot of pictures and explain what we are working on - sharing and keeping a record. Today I just want to share another little victory.

Today Bird's Nest (Bottle) Gourds, Watermelon and Black Beauty Eggplant seeds pushed their little selves out of the soil. The torrential rains last night and the warm ground must have given them extra encouragement. Again, I don't know what will happen from this point on - but I am enjoying this moment. When you walk in the garden every day, there are obvious changes daily. Sometimes even from morning to evening, such as pea pods appearing out of a flower...

It seems so impossible that with a 100x50 lot (including the house), in one of the largest cities in New England, such a magical thing can happen.

If we can restore the conditions needed for plants to grow in such a way - letting nature do what she does, then maybe some other things that are broken would be renewed if conditions were changed - even just a little.

For me, a walk in the garden reminds me that even with all of its challenges - life is good...and when it isn't, just a small change can have a great result!

Monday, May 28, 2012

From Exhaustion to Exhilaration...

"When I go into the garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have been doing with my own hands."  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is a limit that everyone reaches, and this weekend I hit that limit and wall. The stress of work, the busy pace of life and pushing myself to do it all – caught up with me and I started the weekend exhausted and with a migraine.

On Saturday, I woke with a headache, but still wanted to go out to lunch, so we went to the Boynton, which was amazing as always. It’s encouraging to walk into a local place where people are friendly and remember you and your favorite drink or meal and suggest things you will actually enjoy. After lunch we went to Wooberry for frozen yogurt. I had Lemon with fresh strawberries and little chocolate curls. Another favorite, and so delicious.

But after that, I felt sapped, like my strength was gone completely and I couldn’t do anything else. This being a long weekend, I knew I had to get some rest! We got home and took a 3 hour nap, and then went into the garden to water and look around. I spent a lot of time just walking from tree to tree and plant to plant and found some of what I needed was restored. This connection is crucial for me to keep sane. I had lived so long without gardening and now that it is such a big part of my life, I cannot imagine a day that I don’t walk in the garden.

As the weekend has passed, I am feeling calmer and healthier and I have enjoyed this time home to work on little projects and rest for the coming week.

2 weeks ago

Ready for companion plantings

We worked on the next step of our 4x8 bed with the Sunflowers and Corn. They had grown enough in just two weeks, that we added three squashes (butternut, zucchini, and pumpkin) and filled in the spaces with Mexican Dry Red Bean, an heirloom bean for storing.  We also replanted some Sunflowers because some of them are being eaten and we haven't been able to see what is snacking on them.

There is room behind the bed - and around it to either trellis the squashes or train them to the front yard - which is largely untouched right now and would be lovely full of squash plants and flowers.

It was so refreshing to sit on the back patio (after the shade returned) with a cold drink and just look at the green that has appeared over the past couple of weeks. The tree trunks are all thickening and the leaves are growing like crazy. The stars of the garden are the two beds of peas. The shelling peas are in the Hugelkultur bed and are doing great - the Snap peas are in a far bed and just started flowering this week - and have also grown to more than 4 feet tall.

Shelling peas
In the center of the garden, is the herb spiral, everything was planted by seed and had sprouted. Some are growing very quickly and others are taking their time, but all sprouted, and that was something new for me. I had never planted herbs from seed. I find this such a beautiful addition to the garden.

Fruit trees and vegetable beds in the back yard. 

Last Autumn, I planted Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes) in an unused side bed near our front steps and they are now more than 12 inches high...however, the bed had been taken over by weeds and grasses, so I did a little work today to make it more attractive and useful.  Because it is a fairly new bed, nothing was deep rooted, so I just pulled up the grass and other weeds that were making themselves useful until I did something with the space. I planted Nasturtium and Green Beans in around the Sunchokes and then covered everything again with straw. 

Sad little forgotten bed.

Something else had changed - the 50 gallon rain barrel in the back left corner of the picture is new this week,  and the hose will be on the inside of the fence, so I wanted to put a path in that would give me a sure place to walk when I need to water the plants.  Rob sliced up some of the Pine tree that my sister Kim gave to us and I made a small path in an area that nothing ever grows.  Also, one step into the middle so I can reach to water all the plants. I pulled out grass and weeds and planted Nasturtium along the little white (dog proofing) fence and hope to keep the weeds out by growing something beautiful and useful.

All in all, it is a huge improvement and just the beginning of our work with the front yard. We did get another 50 gallon rain barrel and put that near the 4x8 bed which is the center of the house and with the 65 gallon that we have been using (and using up quickly) in the back garden, we should have enough water for all of the beds. 

One of the nicest things about this weekend was that our neighbors were home celebrating Memorial Day in their yards, hanging out in their pools and it made it a pleasant weekend. Even though our houses are very close to each other, I don't mind. We have some really great people to live near. Chatting early in the morning with one neighbor - he asked if he could come in and see how things are going and it was fun to show him around and hear his story about being born in Italy and always having a garden - up until recently.

It made me happy that someone else could come and enjoy with us.

When you see how the yard used to look - it's really not surprising that we stayed inside and no one really stopped by.  It's been transformed and it is just the beginning! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sweet Potato Slips and Lupine

It seems that I would be posting the same few pictures of the same SOP (Standard Operating Procedure).  This bed of Sweet Potatoes began the same as the other beds, cardboard on the grass, soil, manure and then we used a stick to poke holes in through the soil (and cardboard) and put the Sweet Potato slips (Johnny's Selected Seeds) into the holes, filled them with water and then covered them with soil. And now we wait.

Again, it's just the beginning. But I can look out the window into a yard that fills more and more each day with green...what a beginning it is!

We used the log near the "dry" river bed

Lupine starting to grow

Around the fruit trees we have Vetch, Nasturtium, Clover, and a perennial Lupine.  Today is the first time Lupine appeared! All of these plants are meant to feed the soil, keep moisture near the ground for the fruit trees and attract good insects for pest control and pollination. Oh - the Nasturtium is also completely edible, stems, leaves, and flowers. So we'll have lots of greens until next year when we let the fruit grow =)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mint, Gourds and a Pine Path

In March I bought four different small mint plants from Hirt's Gardens for around $4.00 each and today I split them into their own pots - Pineapple and Ginger are each in a 12" pot and the Spearmint and Chocolate mint are in a much bigger container. If I had any doubt about  keeping them contained, today I was reassured that the whole of my yard would be filled with mint if I hadn't kept them this way. The roots were so thick, I had to cut through them with my Hori Hori to separate the four plants.

I am looking forward to some Mojito's with different mints soon!

Chocolate Mint and Spearmint

Pineapple mint and Ginger Mint


Today I also planted Eggplant, Birdhouse Gourds and Watermelon in one of the straw beds. I just dug into the straw and put in a couple of scoops of garden soil, planted the seeds and watered. Our goal is not to do a ton of work with these plantings, but to give them what they need - water, sun and nutrients, and let them do what they will.


I was very happy to see Nasturtium popping up in four new places and  am hopeful that it gradually replace the "grass" that we don't want growing and give us a beautiful, flowering salad instead.


My Sister Kim dropped off a load of pine last week (yay Kim!) that she found on the side of the road for free! It's a beautiful round tree. We've decided that we will slice it into rounds and use it for our garden paths. The weather was just too warm to do the paths this weekend, but soon. It smells wonderful and will make a nice path through the garden beds and be the beginning of the work in the front yard garden.

Future garden paths - giving  "waste" a new purpose!


Several different small projects this weekend. We are waiting for our shipment of perennials from Permaculture Nursery in Holyoke, Mass, and then the final of our plantings will be done. I'm sure we will continue to add flowers, herbs, etc., but the foundational plantings will be completed.

I also scattered a few different flowers and several types of hot peppers in two straw beds to see what will come up. In another bed I planted some seedlings that I started indoors. I want to compare which will do better. It is possible that neither will work, or both will.  If any work, I will happily collect the hot peppers. If not, there are some hots that we have planted in the raised beds with other veggies. What a great problem to have - too many hot peppers! If only...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Signs of Life!

Last Autumn I planted flower bulbs and they have already come and gone. Beautiful Tulip, Crocus, and Daffodil flowers in Spring when everything else is so gray... 

I also planted the Sunchokes - or Jerusalem Artichokes - and had no idea what to expect. This week, pushing through the straw, the first signs that all is well in the Sunchoke bed and the experiment is off to a good start. Since this is the first time through with all of these plants, I am trying to document them to keep a record of how they look when they first sprout and also to recognize them should they start to sprout where we do not want them.
Sunchokes / Jerusalem Artichokes 
I squeeled like a little kid when I saw the Sunchokes were almost 6 inches tall! I only looked away for one day...


We have two experiments in our potato beds. One with soil, straw and seed potatoes, and one bed with just the straw and seed potatoes.  Both have sprouted. The bed with soil is growing at a little faster pace, but who is in a hurry? Potatoes grown on the ground, covered in straw grow just as well so far.

Potatoes growing on cardboard with some soil and straw.


The most recent bed is a 4x8 on the South side of the house. Space we never used for anything! Now it has sprouted corn and sunflowers. When they are 6 inches tall we will be planting beans and then 3 different squash plants to either vine out to the front yard or trellis - not decided yet. 
Bed with Sunflowers and Corn

Sunflowers Sprouting

Corn sprouting
The seeds took less than a week to sprout. It practically grows before your eyes!


On April 12th, we planted our fruit trees - four different apples (semi-dwarf) and 3 pears (dwarf). In what is one of the most encouraging things to occur this week - the trees have leaves and one even has blossoms. We won't be letting them fruit this year, but knowing that they are growing and healthy and seeing those first flowers is a feeling that can only be described as having a full heart.  

Pear tree with a new little flower garden by the house.

Apple Blossom 

Two more Apples and a Pear nearest the shed.


The view from the house.

Straw beds in the back left are potatoes - foreground (right) is dwarf pear.
To the left of the clothes line - are the apple trees and almond at the end of the  fallen tree.

During the past couple of weeks, it has rained quite a bit, and the river bed has been serving its purpose. We only have one rain barrel right now, and when it is full, it overflows into the riverbed - and flows on to the fruit trees. It's working well and we will be getting two more rain barrels to capture water on the other sides of the house to use in flower and vegetable beds there.

water gathers in the dry river bed and flows along the log to the center of the yard
and the fruit trees.

The past few months of work - bits and pieces here and there that suddenly seem to come together in this season and become a garden. More perennial plants will be arriving - Paw Paw Tree, Kiwi Vine, Concord Grapes, etc. etc. and there are more seeds to plant in the beds.  Each small thing that we start carries on by itself. Our part in this is observation and enjoyment. 

The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is go to the window and see what has changed. Mushrooms spring up over night and are gone when the sun hits them, the plants get greener and greener as leaves open and seeds sprout. 

One of my favorite moments was when I saw a little sparrow land on the branch of an Apple tree and sit there. Barely a branch, barely a tree - and already the bird knows to stop by for the caterpillars. It works because it is supposed to. The cycle has always existed and will long after we are gone. All we hope to do is restore the conditions for Nature to work her magic...

Life is truly miraculous. 

Nasturtium growing around the herb garden.