The Garden That Was

Please forgive me.  I promised this post a long time ago, and just got to it now.  Life’s been a wee bit busy… 

This past summer, we actually had a pretty sweet garden over here.  Today I’ll finally show you what went on in the back yard.  I am in total summer withdrawl…so here goes.

I plotted.  I planned.  I chose our favorite veggies and herbs and decided where I thought they’d be happy.  We had no garden dug yet…but my imagination was WAY beyond that.

We dug a NEW garden.  Went from 2 beds to 10 on the other side of the yard.  We meant to do 12.  Thank you, highly invasive Japanese Knotweed, for knocking out 2 of our beds.  Still, after 10 beds gave up the produce of an entire summer, I was dumbfounded: You can grow a TON of food in your own yard! 

Anyhoo, AFTER we dug the lawn up, I discovered how much shade was in the area.  I showed my obsessive insanity by trying to figure out what in the world to do with the big plot of dirt I was cultivating.  Keep it?  Cover it?  Rotate it?  Have a hissy fit?

It turned out we’d picked the perfect spot in the yard after all, and we got to work.

Stupid knotweed…  It did make nice spacing markers…

My incredible Sweet Babboo and Mom and Dad dug and tilled the garden, and shoveled a literal TON of poo upon it.  Boy, does that stuff work.  (It’s not really poo.  It was poo once upon a time, but since then had….ripened….into dirt again.)

Up went a fence, and TA DAAAAAAAAA!  We had a real garden.

At 8-9 months pregnant, I could not believe it was happening, and that no one was pulling me aside to say how silly I was for doing this now

I’d started tomatoes indoors, and these came out soon after, following direct-sown cukes, peas, and beans.

And they GREW.  The cup collars are for their protection against cut worms.  Works well.

By the end of the summer, we had so many cherry tomatoes, they were dying on the vine or falling to a later death on the garden floor.  Turns out we can’t eat hundreds and hundreds of cherry tomatoes by ourselves.

Live and learn.

The peas had a nice trellis.  And although these turned out to be mostly snack food for Ye Old Faithful Gardener, their sweet crunch was worth it!

I also discovered that we do not need an entire bed devoted to lettuce.  Salad Bowl, Black Seeded Simpson, and Romaine grew beautifully, and we feasted. 

Next year I’ll add some baby field greens, and maybe arugula or something – but in smaller quantities.

Upon the recommendation of the MG, I planted red and white potatoes for the first time.  What a great success!  They require very little attention, and we’re still eating them now.

The peas kept growing… 

…and so did the cucumbers.  It turns out the MG was right again – 10 vines is too many unless you have a small colony living together in the backyard.  Heh heh.  Oops.

The potatoes kept growing, crowding out the lemon balm, which fought bravely to catch a little sunlight under there.

Despite being very pregnant, and then a recovering Mama, I got to spend a lot of time in this little Eden out back.  How grateful I am for Mom, Dad, and my Sweet Babboo, who helped me get it going and gave me great advice for its success.

This is a photo taken about halfway through the growing season:

By the end, the basil was up to my chin, the tomatoes were taking over like mutant, hairy red-flecked monsters, and the green beans had covered the back fence like a wall.

These pictures show a little of that amazing blessing.

Overgrown or not, I loved it.  🙂

I can hardly wait for next year.  I’ve learned how NOT to stake the big tomatoes, how TO kill aphids and ants without using chemicals, and how to LEEEEEEET GOOOOOOOO.

It was a great summer, and next one will be even better.  A gardener always hopes.

Last year we grew carrots, potatoes, bush beans, pole beans, cucumbers, peas, big red tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, a couple measly little red peppers, lots of lettuce, basil, oregano, chives, sage, and lavender.

Next year I’d like to add strawberries, rosemary, parsley, thyme, and maybe iceberg lettuce for my Sweet Babboo.

When can I start seeds in the basement?  Shucks.  I guess it’s too soon still…

Here’s to looking forward.

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Meet the MG

This post is long overdue. 

I’ve said many thank-you’s to the MG, thought of her many times this summer as I worked in my garden. 

But an official, public thank you seemed to be in order.

My mother, the Master Gardener (or MG), is the one I watched as a kid.  She grew an amazing raised bed garden at our first house, and filled it with brown eyed susans, marigolds, and all kinds of herbs and vegetables.

I, for one, did not like gardening at ALL back then.  It was hot, sweaty work.  The only thing I liked about the thing was the sprinkler set up in the middle and the warm, crunchy, fresh cucumbers we were allowed to pick from time to time. 

But now I’m grown up, and I’ve surprised myself by becoming a gardener.  I like it.  Who knew?

When you start gardening, you have a lot of questions.  What’s this pest?  How do I get rid of it?  When do I plant?  What can I plant that won’t take over the whole garden?  What shouldn’t get planted next to this other thing and how much sun does this, that, and the other one need…?

The MG ought to have a dollar for every text, phone call, and monopolized conversation about the successes and failures of my backyard experiment. 

She is always gracious.  Always patient.  And any time she doesn’t know the answer (which seems very rare to me), she looks it up and gets back to me later.

Here she is:

Rocking my firstborn on her wooden swing.

Hauling compost for our new garden.

Breaking her back for her then-pregnant daughter.  Mr. MG is there, too, and worked his fingers to the bone that day along with my Sweet Babboo…

At the end of all that work, she (and Mr. MG) were not too tired to ferry their grandson around the yard.  You’ve gotta love parents like these… 🙂

She never pushed me or my sisters to like gardening ourselves.  Just quietly did her own thing, enjoying her gardens and sharing their produce with us along the way. 

 

I remember how encouraging she was to my sister, who wanted to grow potatoes in the woods when we were teenagers.  Those potatoes probably grew simply because she was encouraging their young caretaker so much.

Mothers, never underestimate the strong influence you have over your children.  Your habits and hobbies are part of their bloodstream, whether they like it or not.  Some day they will appreciate what you’re doing for them – even if it seems hot, sweaty, and unappealing right now.  Even if it is.

Mom, you ARE the MG.  No arguments, please.  Thank you for fielding all my questions, working hard to get this awesome garden started this year, letting me can tomatoes out of yours last year, and just being plain amazing.

I love you.  🙂

Dad, I love you too!  🙂

Free and Funky: Green Bean Wreath

Wreaths make me drool.  Especially the viney ones, all interwoven with ribbon and twine and looking like birds’ nests. 

The only problem is that they cost more than a visit to the dentist for a gold tooth.

So… PASS.

My older son, Riley, was cruisin’ the backyard the other day, and made me a special gift of one of my green bean vines.  Thank you, dear!  How lovely…

Then it hit me.  These really ARE cool looking, aren’t they?  They ARE vines, right?  And then, as he wandered from garden to hose to sandbox to bouncy ball to deck to picnic table, to plants, to puddles and mud pits, etc etc etc, I began cleaning out my garden and turning it into free, funky decorations.

Obzoiv.

A whole bunch of leafy, half-dead vines twisted together and tied with twine can become:

A perfectly good wreath for which I paid ZILCH.

Granted, I tied it with twine, but we had that on hand anyway.  Little by little I’m trimming off wilty leaves, like the ones on the bottom left.  Look at that.  Live sculpture.

So pretty…

…whimsical…

and free.

May my son’s boisterous enthusiasm for the outdoors inspire you to see the possibilities in your own backyard.

My Manicure

I got a manicure.

What a sweet lady – I even had SB (my sweet babboo) take a picture for you.

Note the clean lines, the high polish, the sheer radiance.

I am ready for a day on the town!

My assistant in personal hand care:

For some reason, I’m much more comfortable getting very dirty than I am getting dressed up.  To each his own, as they say…

I say digging up potatoes is one of the best ways to appreciate the natural skin God gave me.  After all that digging, uprooting, brushing off dirt, smearing it all over myself by accident, and sweating out under the sun, a good shower will reveal clean hands.

And the contrast will be lovely. 

My neighbor walked past the fence one day this summer and said with a smirk, “Boy Heidi, you sure like dirt, huh?”

Ya caught me, filthy-handed. 

Hope your gardening season was as fun as mine, even if your garden was as overgrown and moppish as mine.  🙂 I’ll post some pictures soon.  If you’d like to add pictures of yours to a post called Our Gardens, please email me a picture at thefullvine@yahoo.com

I’ll include your first name and any comments you’d like to make on your growing season.  Keep in mind, your garden might have been one or two pots on the window sill.  If you grew something, then good for you! 

We can be manicure partners.  🙂

Pitter Patter

I am so thankful for rain.  It’s been tough finding time to get outside lately, as anyone who’s had (or has) little ones can understand.  It could be the most gloriously gorgeous day of summer, but a newborn’s body doesn’t know that – and alleviating gas pains comes before basking in sunlight.

Some hot, dry days, I can hear the garden gasping.

This week I was up in the middle of the night nursing Quinn, and heard such a beautiful sound: rain on the air conditioner.  Something about that metal box magnifies noises x10.  At first I thought it was hail… 

Then I realized God was watering my garden for me. 

You want to know what else I’m thankful for?  My 16 month-old, Riley, is alseep upstairs in his crib; my 3 week-old, Quinn, is asleep next to me on the couch; my feet are up, and it’s quiet

THANK YOU, GOD.  Thank you, first of all, for my boys, and second – for refreshment, both for me, and my garden.  We’re both saying, “aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Inspired Shoestrings: Treasures From the Dirt

For those of us who don’t shop at Pier 1 or Crate Barrel with any sort of regularity (if ever), here is a series on decorating with imagination – decorating on an inspired shoestring.  Shopping at Salvation Army (or better yet, shopping from your own basement) may not be incredibly glamorous – but it’s incredibly satisfying.

Inspired Shoestrings: Part 3 – From the Dirt

I really love dirt.  I’m sitting here in my living room, feet up on the recliner, rather caked with mud from the garden.  And I don’t mind.  Summer is about getting outside and having fun!  If it was about cleaning, we wouldn’t love it so much.  There’s my plug for getting dirty.  Don’t think about it.  Just do it.  One of the most fun activities of this summer has been playing in the old garden with Riley, covering our legs in dirt, dumping it out of pails, and watching the fluffy brown cloud of old compost and soil go floating away from us.

I don’t know about where you live, but in New England, gardening can be just as much about archaeology as it is about vegetables and herbs.  I was inspired to make a little centerpiece out of what we dug up in the new garden: the footprints of previous owners. 

It’s amazing what will get trapped under layers of grass and soil.

A few treasures couldn’t even be identified…  But there was a lot glass, pieces of pottery, and a couple of old army men who had lost limbs in some battle years ago.

Each thing has a story.  Why throw this stuff away?  I found an empty Ball jar and stuck ’em all inside it.  What a cool centerpiece!  If I had all kinds of time right now, I’d cut out little mismatched letters from the newspaper and glue them on the sides of the jar.  Words like “treasure hunt,” “dig,” “garden,” and “lost” could be fun. 

Alas, there’s no time.  There’s barely time to write this post!  So here are a few photos of my junk jar.  Maybe you’ll think about your garbage can differently too – what goes flying in there that might actually look crazy and awesome on your table instead? 

Hm.  What if you have young children who constantly leave tiny toys here and there and forget to pick them up?  Maybe you could make a LOST TREASURES jar for the table that mysteriously becomes full of stray toys…  It would make excellent dinner conversation.  “Hey!  My Polly Pockets!”  “My matchbox cars!”  Yeeeeeeeeesssss.  There they are.  🙂

Whatever your motivation (even just curiousity or nostalgia like mine), a junk jar full of history or lost toys or scraps of paper proves that you don’t have to break the bank to make something interesting for your table or bookcase.  You may not have to look any farther than the dirt in your own backyard. 

Happy digging!

Homegrown Herbs: A Frugal Delight

Lavender, sage, parsley, oregano, basil, mint, chives, and lemon balm.  These are the herbs we’re growing on our property right now. 

Why grow herbs?  Can’t I just toss a jar into the shopping cart when I’m at the market?  Sure!  But as far as bang for your buck goes, you can’t beat fresh herbs clipped right out of your own herb garden! 

Can’t you just smell the basil?  Taste the tomato sauce?  Oh man….

Above is flat-leaf parsley, incredibly flavorful and fragrant when used fresh, and it dries well.  I found out this year that it only grows strong for 2 years.  The third year it goes to seed right away by sending up shoots in the middle.  My super creative Mom adds those to bouquets of flowers.  Go MOM! 

This is oregano.  Hardy, not at all fussy, easy to grow, harvest, and dry for storage.  I think if I kept dividing and planting it, the stuff would take over the whole garden.

My question is: Why not grow your own herbs?

You can grow them anywhere – in pots, in window boxes, in the garden, along your driveway, inside, outside, as part of your landscaping…in old toilets or bathtubs, discarded bed frames, ancient pianos, who knows?

You can give them away as gifts, use them in cooking, in homemade tea, in medicine, in aromatherapy…

You can easily store up MORE than you’ll need for winter by continually clipping and drying them, and then storing them in Ball jars or other trusty containers.  And they are CHEAP when you grow them yourself.

When I think about how much spice companies charge for their “gourmet” dried herbs and spices, I’m appalled.  The scent and flavor of theirs are not nearly as vibrant or “true” as homegrown herbs, and it’s no fun for me to pick out a jar on a shelf.  Not compared to getting my hands dirty and having the satisfaction of growing these delights myself.

I challenge you: If you’ve never given it a try, buy a little starter plant or kit, and grow at least one kind of herb that you already know you like.  You just might get hooked.

Note: If I disappear for a few days without warning, I’m delivering a baby!  I’ll be back and you can bet there will be pictures of Baby #2.  Thanks for understanding.  :-)

Seedlings, Like Toddlers

This is growing time – counting on lots of sun, some rain, and some ingenious pest killing solutions in the garden.  It’s a time of learning patience, watching plants that will produce much of our summer food grow from tiny seeds into green giants.

Starting plants from seedlings requires lots of patience and some perseverance too – things I should learn.  A good grow light really helps the process along.  A simple, long flourescent light does the trick.  Suspended above the seed trays on chains, it can be raised a little at a time to encourage seedlings to grow straight and strong. 

Here’s a look at what we did in our basement this Spring:

Under a long, flourescent light, I planted sweetie tomatoes, two kinds of big tomatoes, peppers, basil, and lavender.

Had to keep filling up the bucket of soil-less mixture from my parents’ farm – I wouldn’t plant the seeds in anything else because this stuff makes things grow.

While I only got two fragile little pepper plants out of all the seeds I planted…

…I now have lavender coming out my ears!

The tomatoes did really well too; and the only thing I’ll change next year is that I’ll start them much earlier.

Cherry tomato plants inside for the night after being hardened off for a while.  They’re planted in paper cups, resting in a cut-off Pampers box.  Disposable diapers are good for something.

Big and green, itching to be planted!

The basil and lavender already smelled incredible indoors.  I could hardly resist running my fingers through the lavender seedlings, and sniffing my hands.

Sitting in the kitchen like patient toddlers, waiting to go outside.

And here they are! 

Lovely lavender:

Trusty tomatoes:

Tiny tomatoes:

Still “collared” to protect them against cutworms.  🙂  Poor little babies got started in the basement so late…  Maybe I’ll be a little more on the ball next year.

Tomatoes and basil (and in the same bed, a pepper plant which I forgot to photograph):

I’ll post pictures of the whole garden soon – from plans to tilling to bare rows to GREEN.

I love the challenge of this – being forced to wait for something good.  I guess seedlings really are like toddlers – happiest when outside, and not something you can force growth upon.  You just have to let it happen, and encourage and redirect, encourage and redirect, prune, encourage, and redirect.

Hope your garden is flourishing!  Enjoy the fruits of your labor as the summer goes on.