those months

Suddenly they’re almost over. Those months, May, June, July, August…do they really occupy the same amount of time as December, January, February, March? It’s got to be a trick.

Last night we had the last ears of sweet corn. So good, and not to be tasted until those months have worked their way around again. Each year I appreciate more what real freshness is, how it’s an impossibility except in those months, and how special that makes a garden.

But do I ever wish that it could be summer all the time? Not on your life. It’s the renewal, the freshness, that makes life good. Moving through the season changes makes things endlessly interesting. Brand new but familiar.

My life has been a lot like those months; the freshness and work of raising children, the satisfaction of watching them grow and mature, and the ultimate delight of seeing that freshness renewed in the eyes of a grandchild.

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watermelons

I feel like a watermelon virgin. Oh I’ve been around the block a few times over the years, and even made it to home base on occasion. But I don’t feel confident around watermelon vines.  They don’t naturally love Michigan weather, and honestly…I don’t really have a good understanding of what keeps them thriving.

This year I dropped the ball again. I figured I’d just plant whatever they had in stock at the local nursery instead of planning ahead and starting seeds of my own choosing. The vines grew fine for a while, but then got hit with something that caused patches of the leaves to wilt. In the end there were two melons.

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The truth is that if I’m growing something the takes up as much space as watermelon vines, I want a seedless end product.

Seedless watermelons require planting a pollinating variety nearby, or else no fruit. A couple of years ago I bought a pack of seedless watermelon seeds from Burpee that came with seeds of a pollinating variety.

Unfortunately all of the seeds were in the same package, and I couldn’t distinguish for certain which were which. There wasn’t room to plant the whole pack in my garden, and I evidently picked the wrong seeds. No melons.  And kind of a rip (in my view) by Burpee.

Next year (isn’t that a wonderful gardening phrase?) I plan to order seedless watermelon seeds and pollinating seeds separately.   But first a long winter.  Plenty of time to hunker down and focus on watermelon growing and culture.  And hopefully to come out the other side a little bit better gardener.

a start to garden reorganization

Since last winter I’ve been preparing to permanently reorganize my garden beds into uniform 3′ widths. Until now there was no real system, other than trying to make sure not to plant the same vegetables in the same area in back to back years.

The 3′ beds will hopefully bring a host of benefits. My three stackable compost bins are 3′ wide, so they can be freely moved to the next new spot in the garden, giving me 9 fresh feet of super-fertile bed space each year.

My new favorite toy, the chicken tractor, is also 3′ wide, so it can ride along the beds fertilizing, cultivating and removing bugs while keeping life interesting and healthy for the girls.

The uniformly sized beds will also help with quickly planning crop rotations and make it easier to judge what crops need to be increased or reduced to meet our needs. Any cold frames or covers that work on one bed will work on any bed. And I won’t be walking on next year’s beds.

So a few weeks ago I drove in 12″ lengths of PVC pipe to mark each of the four corners of the new beds. They should be sturdy enough to last forever, and deep enough to survive a misdirected tiller.

That’s the plan anyway.  My plans always work out.

(are they laughing?…)

With that said, yesterday it was finally time to start putting the plan into action, plant a few of the beds with winter cover crops, move the compost bins and spread the joy.

This years compost bins stacked to heaven

This years compost bins stacked to heaven.  Next year I won’t be squandering the special spot on a zucchini plant.

Cooked and ready to serve

Cooked and ready to serve

In their new home

In their new home

raspberry puree, the kind you find in a second hand store

I think I just experienced a Prince moment.

During the soul-sucking winter months, with garden related activities next to impossible to find, I took to collecting used Starbucks coffee grounds. A good portion of the grounds went on the compost pile, but I saved some for a liberal application on our raspberry patch.

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It looks like the berries like their caffeine buzz (I know…it’s probably the nitrogen, but stop being critical and play along).

Yesterday I picked another pound of raspberries. You can only eat so many fresh.

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The thought of fruit leather has intrigued me for a few years, but previous attempts at making it ended with a scorched, not particularly inviting product.

Back into the breach. I tried a 170° oven instead of a food dehydrator this year and it worked. Just added some lemon juice and sugar to the food processor-mashed berries, poured the stuff onto parchment paper and baked for about 3 hours. Dee-lightful.

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Then you can just cut the berry leather, parchment and all, into strips and roll them up for storing.

The only thing I’d change is to spring for a fine sieve. The holes in our sieve are big enough to let small seeds through. There are a lot of hiding places in a set of teeth.

onions from seed

One of the things that gives me a garden high is experiments.  And experiments that actually work, that change the way I garden, are the most rewarding. Most of them are flops, many of them are started and forgotten.

This is the first year I’ve tried starting onions from seed under lights. Two varieties: Australian Brown and Yellow of Parma. The little guys were easy to grow and did great until I put them out.

Then a cool snap and drenching rains, and the seedling seemed to stagnate. They looked like they were heading downhill, and I lost faith.

But they steadily improved over the growing season, and yesterday I harvested a wonderful batch of storage onions. These were uniformly bigger and healthier than the Copras I’d grown from bulbs for years. Made my day.

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underwhelming potatoes and more

It’s not complaining, I swear to you. Just trying to present reality.

Yesterday was potato harvest day. The spuds were meh. Yukon gold stock bought at the local nursery. They were ok, not rotting or anything like that…just small.

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I can tell you that I honestly don’t have a clue why. And I’m not going to over-analyze. Time to move on to next year.

I also tried a new variety of sweet corn purported to be the rage in Japan, and rated the best-tasting sweet corn by some long-forgotten internet comparison. Mini Mirai.

It was indeed really good. Sweet, tender, crunchy, with tightly-spaced, even kernels. Unfortunately the ears were small. Mini. Disappointed again. My standby sweet corn, Avalon, is still (in my book) as good as it gets, with a lot more to show for each ear. But I believe there’s a non-mini variety of Mirai, and I’ll give that a shot in next year’s garden. (…it looks bigger in the photo than in real life)

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So you take the bad with the good, that little nag in the back of your mind telling you that nature could crush you if she wanted, or make you a king if she’s in a good mood. And sometimes things work out.

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fairy godfather

I’ve butchered pigs and chickens. Chainsawed my way through 30 winters. Worked the soil with tractors and 4 wheelers. Even trapped raccoons and skunks.

But my daughter texted yesterday and said she’s making a fairy garden for my granddaughter’s 4th birthday, and she asked if I could make some fairy furniture. I said ‘Uh…yes?’

I freely admit I’ve never made fairy furniture. I jealously guard masculinity. But it’s my granddaughter.

So there came Google, then Pinterest (please don’t mention this to anyone). And that was plenty of inspiration.

It all went surprisingly quickly, and was surprisingly fun.

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A moss bed made from halved firewood rounds, twigs and moss from the woods…

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A rocking chair with bark seat and back…

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A table…

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A lamp made with a small firewood rounds covered with moss, an oak twig and a pine cone (liberally coated with my wife’s glitter)…

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And a swing seat…

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Hopefully the fairies will feel right at home.

compost piles and stuff

Has it really been that long since I’ve posted something?  I guess so.  Time flies when you have nothing to say.

As the garden winds down, done with most of the heavy breathing, the compost piles are getting ready to jump into the act.

I have three modular, movable bins.  They can each be adjusted in height to accommodate what’s going on in the smelly world of waste.  The Spring pile (leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and who knows what else) has long since become nice black compost, full of worms, and home to what my granddaughter calls a ‘guard snake’. IMG_5214 The summer pile, composed mostly of pine shavings, chicken manure, grass clippings and kitchen waste that the chickens didn’t get, is also well on its way.  I’ll be using piles 1 and 2 directly on the garden beds this fall after the crops come out.

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The third pile is a work in progress; corn husks, seaweed, dead tadpoles, and who knows.  This will be the base for my winter compost pile of dead leaves, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps and chicken litter.  Come Spring planting time, it should be ready to rumble.

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And I’ve started next year’s seed collection with Amish Paste and Black Oil Sunflowers..

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late summer garden

My Dad always said ‘Self-brag stinks’. It’s ingrained in my brain. But when it comes to kids, grandkids and gardens, sorry Dad.

My tomatoes make me happy. Well actually they make me happy this year, and not a whole lot of others. Weather is half of the equation or more. But I like to think that dweeby attention to caring for them is part of it. Smile for the camera…

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They went in late this year, and maybe that’s part of it too. Who knows? I’ll take it.

If you’ve ever doubted that compost works, don’t. My single zucchini was planted where last year’s compost piles sat.

That’s this year’s 3′ by 3′ compost bins sitting next to it.

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And finally, before I threw in the towel on my downy mildew-ravaged pickling cucumber vines, they surprised me with enough cukes to make one more batch of pickles.

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