Garden Party in September

Thomas and Belle are getting married in October of this year. So a few weeks ago they called to say they wanted to invite their friends from DC out to our house for a pot luck backyard picnic. Needless to say, Herb and I went into gardener mode and started working on the yard. We have been extremely lucky so far that we have had lots of regular rain so that the yard isn’t brown like it was this time last year. I have ordered seeds to plant flowers about and tried to look at the date and back up from there so that I would have things blooming by the September 24th date that they have given us. I’m not hopeful that I will have the look that I want but the yard being green is probably all I can really hope for. We have, over the years, had to deal with high water rates and using rain water for my flower beds to keep the perennials alive and so we are used to the additional care that goes into keeping things green. Having a cistern and rainbarrels really help.

At this point, I should back up and give a history of the yard. We have now lived here for 16 years and when we moved in the yard looked like a landing strip. Long straight and narrow. There are sidewalks almost all the way around the perimeter of the yard and there were three outbuildings, one of which we housed a rabbit for many years to use the poop as a fertilizer. That building finally got so bad that it had to come down and all that is left is a concrete foundation of sorts that I have put a simple patio area on and my makeshift greenhouse. After 16 years of labor, the yard is finally starting to look mature and is a real joy to spend time in so I am sure that is why the kids wanted to have a party in the backyard. The building you see in the photo was an old garage and is now called “man’s world”. (No real explanation needed). There is another building beside the patio up closer to the house that I hope to take down in the coming year and replace with a studio to get all the hobby stuff out of the house and into my own space.

Last September, I began a series of cold frame gardens that are now doing well, all things considered. The fact that I didn’t know if it would work and the experimentation of trying to grow greens through the winter has me excited to give it another try this coming winter. We have thoroughly enjoyed lots butterhead lettuce and arugula and now have carrots, celeriac, and tomatoes and green beans and berries coming on. Even a couple of cucumbers and I’ve planted some gourds for the fall for some color for our tables.

I have had problems with ground hogs coming into the yard from my neighbors yard and, together with that neighbor, we have trapped about 6 total and given them the heave ho. I also went to Lowes and purchased some chicken wire fencing, which will come down before the backyard party to try and keep the greens that are still surviving the heat from getting eaten up by “someone” besides us.

My Makeshift Greenhouse

Spring is just around the corner and I always get excited about starting my plants. Sometimes too soon. A couple of years ago I had built a bean arbor from some rebar and cattle fence and it was really handy to grow beans on because you could just walk under the arbor and pick the beans and not have to deal so much with the vines. Last fall, as I was building my cold frames, and needed some shade to work up my compost for the boxes, I used my boys’ old trampoline as a shade structure under that same arbor. That got me thinking that I could enclose the arbor and use it to start seeds in a makeshift greenhouse. A few online purchases later from greenhouse suppliers, I have a small greenhouse that I have started my spring flowers and tomatoes. Here is how I did it…

First, I moved the arbor to the location that we have tried unsuccessfully to grow potatoes  and moved a table I had built to work on inside the frame. Perfect fit.

arbor with table inside

Then, I had the idea to sew the plastic to create a tent to cover the arbor. This idea was eventually scrapped due to 50 mph winds that decided to use the seams as perforations and take the tent off the frame.

attempting to sew the cover

After having a frustrating start, I started over, this time without the wind and a roll of duct tape. Much better. I used binder clips to clip the plastic to the frame to fit the frame like a dressmaker and cut from there. Better fit and held in place.

white duct tape

I am lucky enough to have an electrical outlet close by that is in a flexible conduit and it fits into one corner so that I could purchase a small greenhouse heater to keep the temperature consistent as the spring gets closer. The heater has a thermostat and a tip safety feature so that it is a very safe little guy and blows a quiet stream of warm air into the little room. I had an old door that fit perfectly onto the bottom shelf of the table so that I can keep the heater up off the ground and in a protected space.

power

Once every thing was in place I could start the seeds. Today I started zinnias, calendulas, basil, amaranth, false queen annes lace, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Now it is a waiting game to see if the wind allows it to stay put and the seeds to emerge.

Dayton Convection Heater

My sources for supplies were Charley’s Green House and Johnny’s Seeds. I spent roughly $250 for all the supplies and now have a place to start seeds for a few years to come.

Salad on New Year’s eve…

today's harvest, arugula and red romaine

The cold frames have now been in my yard since Labor day. We harvested a really big salad for a dinner in early November for my cousin, another for our Thanksgiving dinner, a small salad for Belle on Christmas eve and today I harvested what is in the trug in the photo at right.

I have added a slideshow of the photos I took of the beds today, but I have to say that today the thermometer got in the low 60’s and we missed getting the snow that everyone else got on Christmas day. And a few days before and after Christmas, the temperatures have been really cold and extremely windy here for a few weeks. Last week we had winds that had to have been at least 40 MPH so having the veggies in cold frames was really important those days. One of the days, the lid of one of the boxes blew off and I had to go and put some weight on it to keep it in place.

chard & lettuce with some frostbite

As you can see from the photo at right, some of the lettuce and the chard have some serious frostbite on them but there is some new growth as well. This really was the only bed to have had some serious damage so far.The radicchio also looks a little rough considering, that it was really looking pretty in the early fall. But again, it has some leaves that look like they are going to recover just fine.

radicchio

The second bed contains radishes, carrots, arugula, red romaine and mache (corn salad). All of these look great and seem to be growing slowly but show no signs of any damage at all.

spinach patch

The spinach isn’t very thick but there is enough there to add to some of the lettuces along the way and add to some of the greens that I may harvest.

Turnip

I have a big turnip and within the ten or so turnip plants that I have there is a small one for each plant so during the really cold months we may be able to harvest a turnip or two.

parsley

There are two parsley plants that are doing well and look healthy, but not enough to do anything with yet but, by spring, I can probably harvest some to add to some new potatoes.

mache

The mache is doing really well. This plant is supposed to grow in the tundra and each of those clumps are a serving so when it is time to harvest those I will pull a clump out. It is not a come again crop that will replenish. Supposedly, it has a nutty flavor. This is a new vegetable for me but it is one that Eliot Coleman recommends for the winter garden.

Cabbage

The cabbage is hanging in there and beside it is a vegetable called Salsify and it also looks healthy. The cabbages haven’t started to bunch up into heads yet. Salsify is a root vegetable that is said to have the flavor of oysters but I didn’t see any hint of them yet. They look like they are doing okay in the cold.

I pulled back some of the dirt from the carrots to check their progress and they are starting to form under there. Looks like it will be a good while before we can have carrots. I think I may put those out sooner next year so that maybe by this time I will be harvesting those. Plus, I didn’t do successive plantings so when I finally do get carrots, I will have them all at once. Again, something to remember to do next year.

more radishes

You can see the small radishes that are coming in nicely and in a few weeks I would think they will be ready to eat too.  And I think

Kale seedlings

I have some Kale seedlings starting to grow amongst the spinach so I need to keep an eye on that too. Again, probably should’ve gotten those out earlier too.

All in all, I think it has been a pretty successful experiment so far. We’ll see what things look like into February and March when the weather gets really nasty before it starts to warm up for spring. In the meantime, check out the slideshow and I’ll go eat some salad. We’ll, maybe tomorrow, as a start to the  New Year.

Chard Cheese Bake

Today I visited the cold frames and see that I have broccoli and a second planting of arugula and salsify and cabbage showing up. So before long I will need to find a way to cook some of these veggies that will be maturing. That said, day before yesterday I made a Chard Cheese Bake from the chard that I had that was big enough to cut.

This pie is from the book Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. The authors are supporters of local food and have recipes using a lot of unusual “grow your own” veggies which I have planted. I was given this cookbook several years ago by a friend and haven’t really used it and reopened it the other day when I was looking for a way to cook the chard.

So here is the recipe…

Chard Cheese Bake

serves 4

1 lb. Swiss chard or spinach (chopped) Cook & drain thoroughly

4 eggs (beaten)

1 cup milk

1 cup Swiss cheese or another cheese (shredded)

1 cup bread (cubed)

1/2 cup green onions (sliced)

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (grated

Combine with cooked greens. Pour into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Cover and bake in preheated oven at 375F/ 190 C until set, 25-30 minutes.

I added some fresh tomatoes that I had ripe from the vine into the top of it and it really added to the flavor.

YUM!