Leaving Leaves

Yesterday I finally got around to the yard leaf cleanup. I’d been putting it off until the majority of leaves had fallen. Having oak trees around means that’s comparatively late and with a vernal witchhazel that holds its leaves all winter it also means I’m not going to get everything. But no worries! The leaves aren’t really  going anywhere anyway.

Photo Nov 18, 10 17 03 AM

Years ago it occurred to me that I was wasting a LOT of time raking leaves and either putting them on the curb for the city to pick up or shredding them into the compost bins. For the free organic matter I wasn’t sending away I was putting time and effort into speeding up a process that would happen eventually on its own. So I stopped. I only clear them off the paved surfaces and the very small lawn in the back yard. There is no lawn in front. Over winter some of this free, natural, organic mulch tends to shift around and leave bare spots so I like to pack one of the compost bins with dry oak leaves to replenish those areas in spring.

Photo Nov 18, 10 16 56 AM

Because my gardens are all in varying degrees of shade I’ve relied quite a bit on hostas to fill up space. Until I stopped raking I had problems with slugs chewing on the leaves. Conventional wisdom is that getting rid of that organic matter discourages slugs. When I started leaving the leaves the slug damage stopped. I can’t be certain why, but I suspect it’s either that they had more to eat at safe, moist, ground level and left the hostas alone or that this healthier habitat for invertebrates encouraged slug predators that are keeping them in check. In any case, my hostas look great all season.

Habitat Signs

Not only are my plants healthier now, this lazy approach to gardening has helped make it possible to certify the yard as a wildlife habitat and to provide resources for pollinators as well.

Recently I’ve been coming across articles encouraging leaving fallen leaves for wildlife like these from The Xerces Society, The National Wildlife Federation and Habitat Network. How do you handle your autumn leaves? I encourage you to do some reading and, if you’re able, consider leaving them in place. Wildlife and your back will thank you.

Naked Gardening

October is here and we’re turning our attention to scary orange things! Actually, this story goes all the way back to last year. At Halloween I like to save some seeds from the pumpkins I carve for the occasion. Like so many other people, I wash and roast them and then sit around peeling and eating them. As I did so one chilly autumn evening, I contemplated the pepitas one buys for Mexican cooking. They don’t have that hard, flavorless shell my pumpkin seeds have that need to be cracked and peeled before consuming. I occurred to me there must be some trick to doing them in volume economically. A machine maybe? I did a little searching on the Internet and discovered something even better: naked pumpkin seeds! Well, more properly, hulless pumpkin seeds. These are varieties that have bred away the hard seed coat to where it’s just a thin, soft membrane. I don’t know that these are what are grown make the pepitas at the store, but they sounded like such a good idea. Unfortunately, pumpkins are space-consuming crop to grow so I filed away this tidbit for when we have a bigger garden.

Then, as luck would have it, one of the bloggers I follow did a post about a hulless pumpkin aptly named ‘Lady Godiva.’ The author of My Food and Flowers is a Taiwanese gardener living in Canada who, apparently, grows absolutely everything in the world. When wrote about ‘Lady Godiva’ and I mentioned I wanted to grow this kind of pumpkin some day she kindly sent me some seeds.

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I started them indoors in April and then set one out when the ground was nice and warm in the beds I had designated for squash and cucumbers. The vine grew pretty long, but I was able to weave it in and around other plants to accommodate it. By early September I had one nice pumpkin that was ready to pick.

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The dark seeds were easy to see through their thin, transparent shells.

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It was practically no work at all to rake the seeds out of the stringy flesh with my fingers. They came out nice and clean and only needed a rinse before roasting. There was about half a cup of seeds in this one pumpkin. I didn’t want to spend this precious bounty in a sauce where the flavor might not be as well appreciated so I opted for roasting them as a snack. I spread them out on a cookie sheet, sprinkled on some salt and left them in the oven until they started making popping noises. They’re delicious! Given how easy they are to grow and harvest, I would definitely plant these again in sufficient numbers for real cooking once we have the space.

Onions

Today is so nice out I decided the onions and garlic had cured long enough so I hauled them all outside to clean up and trim before putting them in winter storage.

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I planted fewer than I did last year and, fortunately, wasn’t plagued with another round of that fungus that attacked them. What I don’t get is why there is such a disparity of size among them.

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Granted, they start out as different sized plants from the garden center, but not this different! They all went in the same bed and at the same time so I can’t blame soil or water differences. The sizes were all mixed up in the bed. Maybe next year I’ll try fertilizing them, or fertilizing some and not others and see if that makes a difference. In the meantime, it’s kind of nice to be able to select just as much onion as I need for a recipe and not have to put leftover bits in the refrigerator.

Garden Update Mid-May

I made a quick visit to the garden the other day so I thought I’d do a quick update to share what’s going on. The short version is: not much. The weather has been on the cool side so the things I have planted or transplanted are poking along and other things, like beans, that I would have pushed other years haven’t even gone in yet.

Broccoli

The broccoli is looking great. Cold doesn’t phase it. I’ve been really happy with this particular hybrid, Belstar.

Brussels Sprouts

The same can be said for the Brussels sprouts. I didn’t start seeds for the sprouts this year but instead bought a four pack at the farmers market. I planted all four for insurance since last year neither of the two plants I put in made it to harvest.

Cauliflower

This blurry leaf is cauliflower. I hadn’t planned on growing it but picked up a packet of seeds at the seed fair on a whim. I figured since I had such great luck with the broccoli last year I’d try something similar.

Chard

The first chard is poking up. I planted about a dozen seeds with the plan to thin them back to a couple of the colors I like. We don’t eat enough of it to give over much space but it’s nice to have some available and it just keeps producing.

Garlic

Garlic is, of course, looking awesome having been growing for over six months already. I came upon a strange thing this spring. There were a few tiny garlic plants growing in a line in one of the paths, at least I think they’re garlic. Can’t think of how they could have gotten there since I harvested whole, undamaged bulbs from the adjacent bed and I snapped off all the scapes so none of the plants went to seed, a rare thing for garlic to do anyway. I’ve moved them to a bed to grow on and see what happens.

Onions

The onion plants are starting to show new growth so I’m assuming they’ve got some new roots put down. I quit growing onions from seed a couple years ago because the way I was doing it took up so much space in my seed-starting area of the basement. I’d rather use it for other crops. An allium I don’t have a  picture of are the leeks. Despite starting them very early they go into the garden the size of hairs instead of pencils like everything I read says they should be. In spite of that, they always end up growing huge.

Lettuce

In the leafy plants department, lettuces are coming along nicely.

Covered Lettuce

The lettuces I started in the basement and then transplanted had to be covered because something was grazing on them. The peas, too. I hope it doesn’t find the lettuce seedlings coming up in the other bed. My guess is it was turkeys or rabbits.

Cilantro2

The first cilantro is starting to show and looking good.

Parsley

Not so with the parsley transplants. I think I set them out too early. Must make a note on my planting schedule. They all three are still alive but looking rather yellow.

Spinach

Spinach is always carefree. Looking good so far.

Rutabaga

The rutabagas (I think this is them) are looking a little beat. My guess is flea beetles. They’re such a problem in the spring I don’t even try to grow some things like arugula until fall.

Radish

The radishes are even worse. I don’t really care because they’re something I can take or leave and the seeds were free. Radishes are supposed to be easy but I rarely have success with them.

Endive

Here’s something I’m giving a try again this year, never having succeeded in the past. It’s endive. I’m planning to grow it up, store the roots and force chicons this fall/winter.

Herbs

In the end of the herb bed the old mint on the left is doing fine and the new one I bought so I’d be sure to have spearmint on the right is doing even better. Between them, the chives I moved for the third time in as many years hasn’t missed a beat. I will be grabbing some of those flowers to put on salads this week.

Cal Poppies

Next to the herbs, on either side of the entrance, I’ve sown California poppies, another free packet of seeds grabbed on a whim. Clearly I’m going to need to thin these as they get bigger. This year I’m doing different flowers from different sources to try to break my calendula and marigold monotony. In fact, right now the most weeding I need to get on top of is removing the calendula seedlings that have sprung up so thickly in some areas.

That’s it for most of what’s in at the moment. I’m preparing the spaces for tomatoes and peppers but I haven’t even started hardening them off, having taken a much-needed vacation out of town. With any luck the weather will start to warm now.  I’ll just keep reminding myself that everything will happen in time and fit in between all the other things.

Hello, Spring. Goodbye, Bees.

Photo Apr 03, 2 05 22 PM

Today was the first time we’ve gone up to our community garden plot this spring. There are a few signs of green besides the occasional weed, including those healthy looking chives. I’ve dropped by a few times over the winter, but today we actually did a little bit of work, mostly clearing away last year’s asparagus stems. We found shoots!

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Out of all the plants, I think this might have been the only female and I’m wondering if there’s a correlation between it’s sex and that it’s the first one out of the ground. More likely it’s just the best-protected plant.

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These scallions that I left in last fall are going to be ready to harvest soon. I need to make a note to grow them over the winter again. They’ve done well.

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In another Allium area we found the garlic looking great. I did a quick scan of the anal-retentive grid I planted them on and it looks like every bulb I put in survived and has emerged.

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This Allium, which I thought might be Korean chives, has come back strong. I am curious to really identify it, if possible, now that I’m reading Around the World in 80 Plants.  There are so many edible Alliums! It sounds like even experts have a difficult time telling some of them apart. Which reminds me, back in the perennial garden at home my ramps, a.k.a. Allium tricoccum are up. I hope this year I can get some seed from them.

Ramps

I need to find an unobtrusive way to mark where they are planted so I don’t accidentally dig them up during this summer’s planned garden update. Maybe a circle of stones.

Hellebore 1

Elsewhere in the perennial garden the hellebores are stealing the show. After yesterday’s on again/off again snow and sunshine—seriously, it was a weird day— I got out to look around and admire a few blooms.

Hellebore 2

Hellebore 3

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Hellebore 5

Niger

This clump of Helleborus niger var. macranthus is starting to look a little beaten-up. No surprise since it’s been blooming for about a month and has been snowed and sleeted on several times.

Birdhouse

The H. niger is under the cherry tree where I replaced the trashed cigar box birdhouse (thanks for nothing, squirrels!) with this one I scavenged from my late father’s shed last fall. There is already some nesting material hanging out of the backyard wren house so I thought I’d better get this one out.

Which brings me to the other animal housing update…

Bee Blocks

Here are the deserted blocks that, until last weekend supported my beehives. A couple summers ago I discovered the hard way that I’ve developed an allergy to honey bee venom. (The emergency room just over the hill here is very nice.) Since then, I just haven’t felt comfortable around the hives without being fully suited up. Consequently, maintenance of the garden has suffered. I recently made the hard decision to give up the bees and turned them over, along with all my equipment to my beekeeping partner to liquidate. Helen, the last hive I had has survived through two winters so he’s going to attempt to make some splits. They should be rather desirable on the local market. I’m going to miss watching the annual cycle of the hive and caring for the honey bees. They’re fascinating creatures I’ll always appreciate. In their place I’ll be caring to the extent I do to the native bees and other pollinators around my home gardens and in our community garden plot by providing food plants and housing opportunities for them.

Scilla

The food, of course, includes my nemesis, the dreaded Scilla. I’ve given up trying eradicate it from the back garden and hope just to keep it from invading the front. It’s still a noxious, alien weed in my eyes, but knowing it provides food for so many kinds of bees has changed my opinion of it, but only grudgingly.