30 May 2008

i'll take my salad live, thank you.

cosmo is not one to eat green leafy vegetables, but he enjoys picking leaves and putting them in his mouth. lately he has been pulling up various plants from the grass and saying, "i can eat this?"
i hope i have made it clear that he needs to check with me before putting plants in his mouth...he loves eating wild onions, and, wisely, following with mint leaves from the neighbor's yard (ours are still too young for harvesting).

21 May 2008

walla walla

i know some gardeners around here have not yet dared to put their tomatoes in the ground, for fear of a late frost. i am not one of those gardeners. i transplanted 4 of the tomatoes i nurtured from seed, into the garden on april 23. it was early, and a big risk, so i constructed some protective systems. i had heard of using a "wall o' water" for early planting, so i got a package from a big box store. it was a burpee brand, called hydro shield. when we filled the first one up with water, to test it out, the cell dividers started breaking, and the thing wouldn't stand up. i wasn't about to put one of those things around my precious little plants, and risk it collapsing, and crushing their fragile stems. so, i took them back, and poked around online until i found a brilliant solution: do it yourself wall o' water using plastic bottles in a ring around each plant. we don't really use a lot of plastic bottles, and i needed a bunch of them, so i went to the recycling center, and snagged a bag full of 1 and 2 liter empty bottles. i made a ring of them, taped them together, placed them gingerly around the newly transplanted tomatoes, and filled them with water. the theory is that the water heats up during the day, and keeps the soil and the plants warmer at night. thermal mass. so, the larger the bottle, the more protection. i didn't have enough bottles for all four plants, so one of them just got a couple of layers of bubble wrap.

my plants were really tall and leggy. i didn't have proper lighting conditions indoors, so they just kept getting taller as they reached for more light. when i saw the hundreds of healthy, short, stocky tomato plants they were selling at the farmer's market, i wondered why i had even bothered starting my own from seed. then i remembered how much fun i had watching them grow from tiny sprouts, right before my eyes in the office, next to the desk. and i learned that i could bury a significant portion of the stem when i transplanted, and that roots would form along that stem, which would strengthen the root system for the plant. so, that is what i did.
i put stakes and cages around them right away too, so as not to disturb the roots later on, and i gave them some food about 5 days later.

they did really well in their homemade "hydro vests" (as my neighbor lara was calling them), and showed no signs of transplant shock. i filled the holes with sun-warmed water as i was planting them, and they had also been spending some time outside for several days, "hardening off." we had two nights when i worried the temperatures would drop below freezing, and on those nights, i covered them, along with the peonies, and some nasturtiums (cosmo helped out, and thought the tomato "ghosts" were funny). none of the plants were damaged, not even the one in the bubble wrap.

after that last frost warning on april 29, it has been consistently warm here in bloomington. i planted 5 more tomatoes in a sunnier spot in the back yard. i did not protect them with anything, nor did i enrich the soil with compost or peat. so, we'll see what happens. so far, they all look great.

15 May 2008

it's raining. it has been raining for weeks, it seems. i love the rain, and so do all the plants, but don't they need sunshine too? i found myself out in the garden today, in the rain, with a hat on, just standing around, looking everything over, thinking about the garden. most everything is planted now. i have some seedlings on the porch to plant when they get a little bigger, and some herbs i started in the garden that i plan to move around as i thin them. here's what i have going:

in the garden patch:
pole beans
tomatoes (2 cherry and 2 "regular")
onions (white onions from sets, and purple bunching onions from seed)
lettuce (two kinds)
kale (two kinds)

i made another bed in a sunnier spot in our backyard, along a fence. i have 5 more tomato plants there, two heirloom varieties that i got from a neighbor at a plant exchange: cherokee purple, and brandywine. i also have two parsley plants in that bed, which i got as seedlings from the farmer's market. also along that fence, and in an established perinnial bed, are sage, rosemary, lavender, daisy and thyme.

cosmo and i planted some sunflowers against the house, and i put in a few daisy seedlings there too, but they seem to be struggling, for some reason.

on the porch i have two salad boxes filled with lettuce, spinach and purple spring onions. they are doing wonderfully. i also have more daisy seedlings, seedlings, chamomile and marigolds.

i have two containers in front of the compost, that hope will sort of mask it as they grow... we have zinnias and two kinds of cosmos in there. and i moved some brown-eyed susans around the edges of the bins (we have tons of these all around our yard).

inside the first compost we have some volunteers. i have identified a tomato plant, and several pumpkins. i'm not surprised about the pumpkins. we bought a pumpkin or two every week last fall, from the farmer's market. carl makes pumpkin bread, i make pie. i am actually thrilled that they came up, since the pumpkin i planted in the garden bed isn't really doing well. only one came up, and it looks rather weak compared to the ones in the compost. i think this is due to when i planted the seeds. it has been too wet, and a little chilly. i hear they need warm dry(ish) soil to get started. i'll leave one or two in there, and then transplant a couple to the spot i had planned for them in the bed. i think it will be ok in the bin. the vine can climb out, and onto the driveway, if it needs too.

i wasn't completely positive it was pumpkin at first. it looked like either pumpkin, gourd or some kind of squash or melon, but they can look pretty similar. i tried to find some photos online, but i wasn't sure until i just reached down in there, and examined one of the seeds that a sprout was coming out of. it was definitely a pumpkin seed. i was a little grossed out about getting my hand in there, and i sniffed it, expecting it to reek like rotten garbage. instead, it smelled of luscious, rich earth. undoubtedly a wonderful environment for the pumpkins.

in other news, we have had our first harvests already. first we thinned some of the onions, and had scallions on tacos one night. cosmo enjoyed pulling them up. then last week i harvested some baby spinach and lettuce leaves. inspired by a photo on the root, i arranged a couple of artsy salads for dinner. the store bought tomato was a disappointing addition, but the greens were incredible!

i realized the other day the positive effect the garden has on me. when i am out there, i feel an overall good feeling. just looking at the plants, noticing how they change from day to day, planning what to do next, it simply fills me with joy and a deep sense of satisfaction. i can't think of a better therapy for me at this time in my life.

11 May 2008

a boy after my own heart

last night, after lights out, as cosmo was getting tucked into bed, he laid his head down, i kissed him and was about to leave the room, when he said to me,

"our peas look great."

i almost cried. instead i said,

"they sure do, cosmo. goodnight."

"goodnight, mama."

and he's right, they look fantastic.