Tiny Seeds Are Beginning to Sprout

Hello World

One of the first basil plants sprung to life today. I love how it seems to say, “Hello World, I’m here!”

Our garden has begun to sprout.

This week we’ve watched basil, cucumbers, and okra seeds transform into tiny sprouts that will grow into food-producing plants. I always get excited when I see sprouts. Its like Mother Nature is telling me that I’m not hopeless or clueless gardener.

After all these years, I still question my ability to raise cucumbers from seeds sown directly into the ground. I know it sounds silly. But I don’t hold any faith in the notion that you simply spread a few seeds and they’ll come up — even though that’s how it works. Gardening isn’t supposed to be that matter of fact.

Right now, most people would giggle at the site of our garden. Everywhere we’ve planted something, you’ll find a chopstick or a canning ring marking the spot. I’ve done that for a couple of reasons. First, we don’t plant seeds in rows. Because we’re planting in raised beds, there isn’t a need for rows. Most of the time we use a checkerboard grid, pushing the limits on how many plants can reside in a small area. Second, the chopsticks and canning rings also deter me from confusing okra sprouts from weed sprouts. Finally, our raised beds are full of soil fresh from the compost pile. It never fails that the beans from last winter’s vegetable soup will sprout right in the middle of radishes. So chopsticks and canning rings help me keep things neat and organized — at least until everything is big enough for me to clearly see what it is.

I believe that seeds need encouragement and a little prayer to spring into life. They need someone waiting for them — cheering them on. From the day we plant our seeds, I start watching and praying. Every afternoon, when I arrive home from work, I walk out to the garden to see what’s changed from the day before. I’ll pull a few weeds. I’ll check to see if anything needs watering. I’ll look to see if any of the seeds have sprouted before I go inside to help cook dinner.

Our garden

We’d love to expand the space so that we could grow more. But our garden doesn’t get a lot of sunshine, especially during the mornings.

Our garden is a tiny space with four raised beds; three are 4 x 12 wooden frames that surround a stacked stone feature built by our son, our nephew, and our ‘adopted’ niece a few years ago. The stone bed’s shape is somehow related to a Pokemon or Zelda jewel — I don’t remember, but I love it because they built it.

From the four beds, we grow just enough vegetables to eat fresh produce, rarely do I preserve any of the food that we grow.  The garden is just too small for that. Instead, we love harvesting dinner. Every once and a while, we consider removing the raised beds and tilling up the ground in order to expand. Goodness knows, we’d harvest a lot more food. But our tiny little garden doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, so we wouldn’t be able to grow everything we want. Besides, we love shopping at our local farmer’s market. If we expanded the garden, there wouldn’t be a need to go.

After each tiny sprout pushes its way into the world, I’m there to welcome it. After all, that tiny sprout is now apart of our family and deserves to be noticed on its birthday. I guess its silly, but I like bonding to the plants that are going to produce food for my plate. I believe in being there from day one.

Go Seeds!

 

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Our Backyard is Humming

HummingI’m sure our neighbors hate us.

Its a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the only noise that can be heard from miles around is coming from our backyard. Everyone is inside waiting for the UK vs Michigan tipoff of the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. And I mean everyone. Usually on a bright and sunny Sunday, even those who aren’t interested in fitness are usually out walking around the neighborhood. But not today. They’re all in front of their televisions wearing their favorite Kentucky Blue gear.

Then, he fires up the tiller up again.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the noise was a constant drone. But no, our little tiller only achieves grinding up loam in a random start and stop fashion. (I’m convinced that tiller was made in Louisville, because of the way it drives even the most patient UK fan insane.)

Then, he revs the engine to achieve the most annoying decibels.

Bless my Beloved’s heart. He has no clue what drama he’s causing in the households around us. But he’s bound and determined to till our raised beds this afternoon. Because next weekend, he’s planting. And he takes that very seriously.

Then the tiller stops. I’m sure everyone is holding their collective breath before turning down the volume of the game. Even Alex, our beagle goes to look out the window to see if Vince is finished making so much noise. Five minutes goes by. Ten minutes. Maybe he’s done?

The tiller roars to life again and Alex wanders down the hall in search of finding a quieter place to take his nap.

Good luck on that buddy. Good Luck, because there’s still the second half and two more raised beds to go before he’s finished.

 

 

When I Realized I Love Growing Green Beans

Awesome garden

One of our raised beds.

I love growing green beans.

This year, our garden looks awesome. I’m really proud of it. In the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing lots of pictures on social media. To be honest, I’ve posted more photos of lettuce than I did of our son at graduation. But then the lettuce haven’t argued as I attempted to document their important milestones. No, they just grow themselves silly, as if they are encouraging me to break out the camera and photograph every bloom. (They don’t have to ask twice!)

After today’s rain, the garden was looking especially pretty. So once again, I took a few photos. This time, I featured the bush green beans. This is the first time I’ve ever planted green beans. Since, I don’t can them, I haven’t found it necessary to grow them. Instead, I rely upon on my sister to provide us green beans each year for Christmas. If she never gives me anything else, as long as there are quarts of her home-grown, home-canned green beans under the tree, I’ll be a happy woman. But I digress….

D. Landruth Seed Company is the oldest seed company in America.

D. Landruth Seed Company is the oldest seed company in America. They feature heirloom varieties.

This year, I decided to plant a package of D. Landruth Seed Company’s bush green beans. On a warm Saturday in March, I eagerly ripped open the seed packet, removing the top 1/2 inch. Sweet Katie (our niece’s friend who we’ve adopted into the family) was spending the afternoon with us. She mapped out how far apart the seeds needed to be and proceeded to plant. A couple weeks later when I was telling my sister that I had decided to plant green beans, she asked what type did we plant? I pulled out the seed packet (with its missing top 1/2 inch) only to discover that the seed genus was missing. Landruth produces beautiful seed packets, utilizing their archives of plant illustrations. On the back, they detail the history of the species. Some of their seeds originated in the 17th century. The detailed growing and care information is available on their website. So I couldn’t answer her question. I could see that I had bush beans, but I couldn’t tell her if they were Blue Lakes or Kentucky Wonders.

Why is that important to know? Because in my family, feuds have been started over varieties of green beans. When my great-aunt started growing Blue Lakes, there was anarchy from her older sister, my grandmother. Snide comments were made at holiday tables about the lack of beans in the green beans. Tsks were uttered over sparkling quart jars fresh from the pressure cooker. Snorts of disgust were echoed across well-tended garden rows. Blue Lakes were not Kentucky Wonders, the much valued pole bean that ruled my grandmother’s vegetable garden. I remember one year when my mother merely suggested planting Blue Lakes because they are stringless. That wasn’t about to be tolerated.

For most, Blue Lakes are considered the benchmark of green beans because they have dark green cylindrical and, most importantly, stringless pods. But that stringless pod contains tiny bean seeds. I happen to think they are boring. I mean, when I eat green beans, I want to eat a well-balanced bite of pod and seed. I don’t want mostly pods. Besides, aren’t green beans best when they have a few loose shellies in them? Have you ever seen Blue Lakes shellies?

I didn’t think so.

Kentucky Wonders first appeared in seed catalogs in 1850. They are the classic pole bean. All across the south, whenever you see massive pole structures shaped like tee pees, that gardener is growing a hearty variety of Kentucky Wonders.  Kentucky Wonders are a prolific brown-seeded beans with oval, thick, gently curved pods.

Oh there have been many advances in seed development since my childhood, and I rather doubt my grandmother could tell the difference between the two these days. But she’d never budge on which tasted better or produced a better harvest. GMO seed or not, Ferry Morse Kentucky Wonders would still be her choice.

A green bean is born

A bush green bean is born.

So all spring, I have pondered about those green beans. Did I have Blue Lakes or Kentucky Wonders or perhaps (yikes!) some other variety? I tried not to fret too much about it because, while I didn’t know what kind they were, they were beautiful! A few days after we planted them, like a well-rehearsed chorus line, all the beans broke thru the ground and began reaching for the sun. I was delighted and thus began photographing them.

Today when I got home from work, I went to check on the garden. Like I said previously, it had rained and the kale were reaching out, waving for me to come brag on them. That’s when I noticed that my “bush beans” had sprouted tendrils like pole beans. Just days earlier, I had questioned my sister about trellising the green beans because they were creating vines, not bushes. She laughed at my question and assured me that bush beans were grown in mounds. All would be well.

Tendrils

Tendrils from the green beans have found the cucumber trellis.

Not exactly! A few of the “bushes” had found a trellis to grab onto. The problem was that their chosen trellis was designated for cucumbers which are already going to be over-crowded. I posted a photo of young tendrils wrapping themselves around the cucumber trellis. Then I tagged my sister and said, “Do I break out another trellis? Because I am not sacrificing the cucumbers!”

That’s when she sent me into a tail spin.

“First of all, I don’t see any green beans,” she said. “I see lettuce, radishes, and cucumbers. Need to do something about the bugs on the bottom left. Don’t want other bugs moving in.”

“Bugs? In my garden? Hardly!”

I told her that she was not seeing bugs. Instead she was seeing leaves in the compost. There weren’t any predatory bugs taking over.

Then I begin to worry. I enlarged the photo on my camera so that I could see the fine details. There was something there. But if it were bugs, they looked awfully big. I hadn’t notice them when I was taking pictures. Bugs that big would eat everything overnight. I began to fret about the army of hungry bugs marching into the radishes. But it was already dark and there was 10 minutes left of WWE Smackdown. Randy Orton was schooling Cody Rhodes. If I went out to the garden now, Sam would never forgive me. He looks forward to Friday night wrestling all week. It’s our one time when we, as a family, sit down to watch TV and cheer the superstars of the WWE. I’m still surprised I actually enjoy it. But when we’re watching wrestling, Sam is a different kid. He laughs, cheers, and analyzes the story lines and character motives. He’s engaging and the sour-mouthed teenager has disappeared. It’s my time to spend with my kid and we connect. So I waited and tried not to appear impatient as time after time Orton failed to get the count out.

Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I put my shoes on and grabbed a flashlight.

“I’ve got to check the garden.”

My Beloved looked at me like I was crazy.

“You know that it’s dark outside, right?”

“We own flashlights. Are you coming? Right now there could be a garrison of bugs chewing their way thru everything!”

“I’ll get my shoes,” he said.

He could tell that I meant business.

Night Gardening

Concerned a garrison of hungry predator bugs were about to march thru the lettuce, I decided to go check.

I went straight for the plant featured in the photo. There weren’t any bugs, just  a tiny slug on a kale leaf. I picked it off and then dug under the lettuce. Again, no bugs. Well not a bug worth complaining about. After all, there are some bugs that are supposed to be in your garden. So what had she seen? Finally, I stood up and refocused the light. Glistening with dew were pebbles scattered around into the compost. Could they be the bugs? When my Beloved arrived on the scene, I asked him.

“Yep. There is your garrison. Next time you empty one of the patio containers in the compost pile, remember to sift out the pebbles you used in the bottom for drainage.”

Then he stomped back to the house, and I wished my precious garden good night. Sleep well my precious babies. I’ll see you again in the morning.

Composting 101

Just for this post, I actually turned the compost.  Shock! :)

Just for this post, I actually turned the compost. Shock! 🙂

“‘Organic matter’ (read: almost-raw sewage) for the garden costs WHAT?” I said while perusing the offerings of a big-box garden center.  “Are they kidding?  Are we really stupid enough to pay that for it?”

As it turns out, we were.

But that day three years ago got me thinking.  While we need to amend our garden soil every year, there’s no rule saying it has to be bagged and brought home in the trunk of the car.  I have vivid memories of my grandmother carrying a plastic bucket to the barn and collecting rich, dark loam for her roses.  Granddad did the same for the vegetable garden.  It was never lost on me that the cows who produced the original material were long, long gone.  That my grandparents still had plenty of organic matter for the gardens after so many years always made me wonder exactly how many cattle they kept anyway.

At any rate, I wondered on that chilly (and smelly) spring morning why I couldn’t go about making my own loam for our gardens.  We might not have cows, sheep, or goats, but we do have a kitchen that produces a pound or so of food scraps every day.  I’d far rather dump them into a pile to compost and to use in the garden than send them to the landfill.

Knowing that my Darling would object in the strongest possible terms to my placing a pile of worm food anywhere near the house, I set about making a spot in the farthest possible corner of the back yard.  And I started putting everything even remotely organic in it.  Food scraps?  Check.  Coffee filters with grounds?  Yep.  Tea bags?  Uh-huh.  Refrigerator Cleaning-Out Day?  You betcha.  Lawn clippings, shrub trimmings, flower deadheads….  It all went into my compost heap.

At first, I was pretty conscientious about turning the pile every few weeks.  But then it got hot, I got busy, summer passed into fall, and before I knew it Christmas had rolled around and the compost hadn’t been touched in months except to add to the stack.  And you know what?  I just left it alone.  After all, Mother Nature has been composting a LOT longer than I have, and I’ve never seen her running around with a shovel or rake to turn the piles.

One of my shop foremen.  Okay, even I was a little creeped out by this giant earthworm in the compost heap.

One of my shop foremen. Okay, even I was a little creeped out by this giant earthworm in the compost heap.

Besides, I noticed that the pile got much warmer when I left it alone.  I took that to mean that the bacteria and other creepy-crawlies were doing their thing.  I figured they probably would not thank me for tearing the roof off their house while they were busy.  And the barn cats from next door liked to hang out and nap on top of the warm heap when the weather got cold.  When I noticed them digging for food, I also started making sure to put out leftover meat and fat scraps for them.  Those cats are long gone, but I still put out meat for any critters that want it.  Compost Corner has become a favorite spot for Alex and our own two cats to practice their scavenging skills.

One thing I’ve meant to do since the beginning is to build a container or cage to contain my project.  I have several shipping pallets that a local garden center gave me, but I’ve not taken time to put them together yet.  I also have a roll of chicken wire from another project that would make several nice composters.  And, of course, all the magazines and catalogs are filled with gadgets to “make your composting easier.”  Honestly, those guys remind me of computer and phone makers: They keep “updating” and trying to sell grander toys when the old-fashioned way works better.  Go figure.  I never buy their merchandise.  And my compost heap keeps right on producing lovely loamy soil for our gardens every year.  I’m pretty proud of it.

Our neighbors gave us lots of leaves in the fall.  Last October, this pile was about twice as high as today.

Our neighbors gave us lots of leaves in the fall. Last October, this pile was about twice as high as today.

P.S.  Last fall, the compost pile turned into a neighborhood project when we realized that our neighbors were paying to take their leaves to the landfill or trucking them across town to the Leaf Drop.  We invited them to dump their leaves in Compost Corner instead.  This spring, I have several cubic yards of great soil just waiting for a warm dry day to add to the garden and start spring planting.  Thanks, guys!

Twilight and Herbs

Happy and tired faces after accomplishing the difficult task of building an herb garden from chunks of recycled concrete.

Today was one of those perfect spring days.  Since it was a Tuesday, it meant that we didn’t get to enjoy much of this beautiful day because of work.  After dinner, we hurried outside to enjoy what remained.  I had elaborate plans to accomplish in the veggie patch, but I soon realized that time and light were not on our side.  So we piddled.

While I worked in the herb garden, my beloved attempted to burn off one of the beds. Burning off the beds will release important nutrients into the soil while purifying it. We should have burned off the beds a couple of months ago, but didn’t.  With more living weeds than last fall’s dead plants, he only managed to burn a few stems.  But I could tell he was enjoying the art of fire building.

As the shadows lengthened, our chit chat slowed. We became engrossed in our tasks. Beneath my fingers, new sprouts from the oregano and thyme released their heavenly scents. Soon, the air was filled with aromatic blends that made my mouth water. I love my herb garden.

Last year, my nephew Trevor and adopted niece Katie built the herb garden using chunks of our former sidewalk for the structure.  With help from our son, they worked together choosing the design, moving the chunks of concrete, and building its walls.  I think they had a good time.  I know I did.  Afterwards, my beloved filled the planter with compost.  Then for Mother’s Day, instead of giving me flowers, he bought me enough herbs to fill the structure (and then some!).

They worked so hard.

Working in the herb garden during this evening’s twilight brought back the memories of its loving beginning, the joys of slipping out to snip fresh herbs while making dinner, and the thrill of using my own dried herbs throughout the winter.  There’s just something special about herbs you grow yourself.  As the sun set, we wandered back indoors.  For our troubles, my beloved harvested two heads of rogue lettuce that had survived the winter.  And he harvested another surprise carrot.  I know what we’ll have for dinner tomorrow night: a fresh salad.  Then we’ll rush back out and enjoy another gloaming in our garden.

I’m not going to plan anything for us to do tomorrow evening.  I think piddling will work just fine.

Momma’s Got a New Mower

Daddy always said that push mowers built character. With my new dream machine, I can simply mow the grass.

Saturday morning dawned fresh and bright.  With only a touch of coolness in the air, we realized that we couldn’t ignore our yard any longer.  All around us, our neighbors have been mowing their grass for weeks.  With weeds as tall as the dog, it was time to roll up our sleeves.  Always ready to compromise on chores, we determined that this year we’d divide yard responsibilites.

I like the front yard to appear manicured and well maintained, while my beloved could care less.  Therefore, I agreed to accept responsibility for the front yard on one condition: I refuse to touch the green monster, i.e. our yard tractor.  I would gladly mow if we’d purchase something that I could easily use.  If he wanted to use the green monster, then fine.  But  I despise that yard tractor.  It’s cumbersome, complicated, and more moody than I am.   When he’s driving it, a perfect lawn is achieved.  When I operate it, the yard looks like a five year old used her Fiskars scissors to cut the grass.  With obvious relief on his face, my beloved grabbed the keys and off we went.  You see, he doesn’t like it when I use his yard tractor, either.

We walked into the store and wandered over to the push mower selection.  An eager young salesman walked up to my beloved and asked if he could help.  My husband muttered something about looking at push mowers and the eager salesman started in.  “Yep, I’ve sold lots this morning.  I even sold one with a key!”

“A key?” I asked.

Finally noticing the female customer he answered, “Yes m’am!  It had a key.”

“Why did it need a key?”

“So you can start it!”

Without missing a beat, I looked at him and said, “We’ll take it.”  He cut his eyes towards my husband as if to confirm this decision to which I responded, “Yep, load ‘er up!”  I then looked at my snickering husband and said, “Finally, somebody understands that its never attractive for a middle-aged fat woman to crank a lawn mower!”  Ten minutes later, the eager young salesman was loading our new mower in the back of our hybrid.

“Well, that was easier than I expected,” said my beloved with a smirk.

We got home, and he began unboxing the mower.  Let me tell you, it’s a real beauty.   A self-propelled, bright red dream machine.  It even has a grass catcher — a good thing because I hate dead clippings and my beloved hates raking.  The only thing missing is a cup holder.  The best part?  The keyed starter.  One turn and my dream machine comes alive.  Now I realize, that we’ve had a key starter for years on our riding mower.  But even with the key, it requires turning knobs and fiddling around to it get going.  On the other hand, never in my life has it been so easy to start a mower with a simple turn.  You have to understand: I drive a Prius.  It doesn’t have a key starter.  Turning the key and hearing the engine roar to life is thrilling.

Even the deck adjustment is easy to use!  With a quick stroke, I was able to adjust the deck to my interpretation of the perfect grass height.  No struggling, no cussing, and no kicking required.  My beloved edged with the weed wacker, while a handy neighbor seeded and fertilized our lawn.  In about thirty minutes, our front yard was perfectly manicured.

I can’t wait ’til next weekend, when I get to do it again.

Spring Has Sprung! Are You Ready?

Last fall, Vince stuck an iris bulb in one of our flowerbeds. On this first day of spring, it bloomed. In March. Unbelievable.

Its official!  The calendar says that today is the first day of spring.

Despite the fact that Mother Nature has triumphantly displayed spring for weeks with clumps of daffodils growing beside the road, at first I was skeptical.  The beautiful days, the warm weather — I convinced myself that it wasn’t real, that it was a spring mirage.  In other years, I’ve charged into the garden during the mild early days of March, determined to start digging and planting, only to be forced into extreme measures in order to save precious seedlings.  After all, in West Kentucky, we often get snow in April.  This year, I decided to be patient.  So I’ve waited.  And waited.

Every few days, I’ve checked our raised beds and declared that they are still too wet to work.  With a sigh of relief, I’ve gone back inside and watched basketball.  I mean, who tills their garden during the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament?  It’s one thing to till around the Final Four, but during the OVC?  That’s just crazy talk.

A few of my gardening friends went for it.  They watched and observed Mother Nature’s lead, and they put out their green peas and radishes.  While it’s perfectly possible to plant in early March, I didn’t.  Was it smart to wait?  Probably not.  But then, it’s not the first time that I’ve been wrong about gardening.

The thing is, our raised beds are genuinely still too wet.  If we till now, we’ll only stir up chunks of clay.  Nothing good can grow in that.  If we can get another few days of sunny weather and no rain, then we can till.  Until then, we’re tackling other projects.  We’ve started weeding the flower beds and sprucing up the yard.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll even wash our windows.

Nah, that’s just more crazy talk.