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.

Garden Green

I visited the garden this morning to check that everything was OK before the heat wave hits. Not looking forward to that. It’s going to be “a real stinkroo” as my friend Martha puts it. In any case, I found lots of green.

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The next round of broccoli is coming along nestled in blue green leaves.

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Plenty of little green lanterns on the tomatillo plant. I see enchilada sauce and jars of salsa in our future.

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Many bell peppers. Big, green and solid!

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And look at all the Poblanos! I grew two this year because last year’s made such a poor showing. Now both are laden with their dark green fruit.

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And tomatoes! Green tomatoes! These are Amish Paste, I think.

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Lots of little, green cherry tomatoes, too.

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Even green striped tomatoes. Green on green…

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And this big green dude. Yup. Green. More green…

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Uh, huh. Yeah, we saw green Amish Paste already…

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Enough, already! I want a ripe tomato! Last year I was at least getting a hint of color weeks earlier. What gives? In 2014 I was picking cherry tomatoes on July 10.

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Ah! Finally. The lone tomato showing any color. It’s an Opalka, a paste variety and it has many, many green compatriots hanging on the vines. They’d better ripen soon. I’m getting a little tired of green. Open-mouthed smile

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.

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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.

First Digging

I did my first real digging in the garden for the season. I’d like to say it was a big session of planting or even working in compost, but it was some less glamorous maintenance. The garden committee, during the annual checking of the corner posts decided to also start policing path encroachments again (there had been some hub-bub last season around that topic.) So it was that my pathside edge where I had sunk boards to slow weed encroachment was torn out and tossed into the plot. The previous gardeners had apparently expanded the garden a bit and I just continued on the tradition.

Garden Edge 2016

It only took about an hour of digging and fiddling around to get the boards reinstalled in compliance with the rules—or so I hope. The bare soil along the path now will be seeded with Dutch white clover for the pollinators. I even found some concrete pavers I used to make a welcoming entrance to the plot. Of course, I also restrung that green rope to make it clear that the welcoming entrance is purely visual. It was nice to get into the soil. It’s perfectly moist and friable right now. The veggies are going to love it. I would rather have been working with them, but this was a good warm-up to the season, which has been slow this year. I was reminded once again that the muscles I use to dig are different from the ones I use to lay around and read all winter.

Hello, Spring. Goodbye, Bees.

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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.

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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.

Gourdzilla

This year one of my “new” crops is the birdhouse gourd. This is the first time I’ve grown gourds of any kind so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was delighted when I started to see the first gourds forming on the vines twining over the “rustic” trellis I had built for them out of branches lashed together with sisal twine.

Birdhouse Gourd

Here’s one of the larger ones—large enough to be an actual birdhouse, I believe. There are few more only a little smaller that I think would work as well. I was scouting around among the vines to get an idea of how many there were when I came across this…

Gourdzilla

My thumb probably isn’t the best scale I could have used, but you can still tell it’s huge! How did it escape notice until now? The crossbar it’s hanging from has cracked and sagged. When I was planting these I had wrens, nuthatches and chickadees in mind. Now I’m thinking more along the line of California condors. They’re kind of cavity nesters, right? I only hope now that we have the right kind of weather to ripen and cure these things. If they turn out well, I would grow them again, building stronger supports and keeping a closer eye on them, of course.

A Cunning Plan

I know it’s only early September, but I’m already scheming how to make next year’s garden better. A couple of things that are influencing the basic layout are probably going to come into play. The first one I employed this year and have been happy with the results so I’m going to repeat it.

2015 Garden

This is my 2015 garden in two phases. The basic plan I’ve been using for a few years is shown on the left and consists of twelve equal sized beds I rotate crops through. I’ve grouped together the families I devote the most space to: Alliaceae (Onion, garlic, scallion, leek, shallot,) Solanaceae (tomato, pepper, tomatillo,) Fabaceae (beans, peas,) and Miscellaneous, the beds where I grow a variety of early, cool weather things like lettuce, spinach and broccoli that later get replaced with squash and fall plantings of leafy crops again.

On the right in the Solanacea this year I extended the adjacent beds to create a little more planting room where the path would normally go through. It’s meant a little more walking around, but I’ve been able to grow a few more pepper and tomato plants. In between the Miscellaneous and Fabaceae sections this year I had a little serendipity where my Bush Delicata squash grew. It ended up taking over most of the bed and the path between it and the pole beans. When I thought about it, I don’t need that path now that the smaller crops are gone. The pole beans are grown for drying so I don’t need to get to them before the squash is done, probably. It can stay.

2016 Garden

That brings us to the beginning of next year’s plan. In 2016 I will rotate everything around four beds clockwise. Think of  a volleyball team. I’ll continue the “Mutant E” arrangement for the Solanaceae, and now look! In the second stage (on the right) I’ll be able to put squash family plants in the middle of the three Miscellaneous beds and let them ramble across the paths. This is especially making me look forward to the 2016 season because today I received a gift of hulless pumpkin seeds and I want to grow some Red Kuri squash, a variety I don’t believe comes in a bush form.

I’m always looking for ways to cram more into my limited growing space. So far I’ve employed as much vertical growing as I can think of and now I’m temporarily utilizing paths. Do you have any brilliant tips for getting even more out of a small garden?