Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mornings make perfect gardening time

I’ve started four of the past five days with an hour or more in the garden. In hot and mosquito-filled July, early mornings are the most comfortable time for me to work in the garden, spreading more mulch, harvesting ripe vegetables, pulling weeds, staking tomatoes, saving dried herb seeds and hoeing to prepare the soil for more planting.

Yes, it’s that time of year to start thinking about extending the gardening season. Since early spring I’ve been pulling beets when ripe then planting more. I love the greens as much as the beets themselves; what a winning vegetable! Earlier this week I did another planting of pinto beans. This morning I added to the kale and Swiss chard that are still growing with another planting of spinach and chard. In August, I’ll put out more lettuce.

I love to extend the gardening season. The fall will bring many more pleasant days for being in the garden and I want a reason to be there.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It’s re-stocking the freezer season

I cleaned out our freezers last night—the one on our refrigerator and the small freezer chest we bought a few years ago so we could freeze the in-season local produce we cannot can. Like most people who have a freezer, I did find a handful of bags that I had to throw out. Browning cabbage labeled 2008 isn’t appetizing to even think about in 2011.

As soon as everything looked organized and ready to accept more food, I began filling the space. I had prepared yellow squash and greens to freeze. Today the task is to take the cucumbers that have been sitting in a water-vinegar-sugar solution since last night and bag them up. My preservation book says they make for a good winter salad so I followed the instructions and we’ll try it out when the leaves are dropping from the trees.

Although freezing produces different results than canning, it’s less time-consuming and an especially smart move for items you plan to later throw into a soup or stew. You’ll be softening and flavoring then anyway so if the vegetables have lost their crispness when they come out of the freezer, it won’t be a problem. So get the freezer bags ready and after you harvest your garden or bring home a load from the farmer’s market, decide within the first day what to eat and what to preserve. The sooner you preserve it, the more of its nutrients you’ll also save.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Renewing the enthusiasm to learn

Now that I’m many years out of my formal schooling, I love finding opportunities to learn outside of a school classroom. That’s one of the things I treasured about attending the Field to Fork Festival on Saturday. There were wonderful workshops where I learned about things that interest me like cheese making (the presenter made it look simple) and permaculture. Susana Lein’s demonstration of how she has enriched the clay soil on her farm (clay is common in Kentucky) with this method, that requires no tilling or hoeing, inspired me like previously reading about it didn’t.

The idea is to cover the soil with organic matter that will enrich it. She uses brown cardboard, manure and lots of straw. Layer these three components on the garden in the fall, enriching the soil, and by spring they will be decomposed so that you can make a hole with your hands and plant vegetables. Susana didn’t promise it would totally eliminate weeds, but the validity of the method is evident at her Salamander Springs Farm, which is primarily known for its organic beans, but also produces other vegetables.After reading about a method similar to this in the winter, I thought I would try it out on the row paths between my vegetables this summer. Alas, winter gardening dreams never turn into a full reality for me. But if I can get cardboard, manure and straw, it’s not too late to start.

Since the festival put me into the learning spirit, I decided to read my gardening by the moon calendar to see what the moon phases recommend I do this week. Yesterday was a weeding day, so I did as much as I could. It’s a difficult task when the ground is so dry. But I will say I haven’t embraced gardening by the phases of the moon like I had envisioned when I was still wearing a sweater to walk to the library for that learning session. The moon and the weather gods don’t seem to collaborate on their scheduling to make it easy! If the ground is too wet or too dry for particular tasks, or I have too many deadlines, I cannot complete the recommended tasks. Yet, the calendar is still on my wall and I consult it weekly, wondering if it would be more possible to actually garden as it recommends in another year when the powers that be decide to talk with one another about scheduling.

Sometimes these lessons teach me what I cannot do. Sometimes I learn what I should try, whether today, next year or sometime in the future. Sometimes I learn what I definitely want to replicate every year. It’s all learning that keeps urging me to go into the garden for more study and practice as I grow right along with my plants.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Field to Fork Festival is Saturday

Not far from where I live the Field to Fork Festival will be welcoming people from all over on Saturday. I’m excited about the day of sharing and learning that includes 24 workshops about gardening, cooking and other topics that can help people grow their own food or take advantage of what their neighbors grow. There will also be plenty of vendors and exhibitors to learn from. If you’re free, make your way to Paint Lick on Saturday for what’s sure to be a crowd full of friendly folks, ready to learn and to share.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

One experiment disappears

Remember the celery experiment I wrote about just a week ago? My ever helpful husband tilled under the part of the garden that we had harvested. It had since turned into weeds that I wanted to get rid of. “Stop at the yellow flower,” I told him, pointing to the marigolds and the celery that still grew next to them.

Oops—he forgot. Maybe I’ll try celery again next year. At least the weeds are gone. And I have my blog photo to remind me last year of how far I got.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Bounty, creation and variety thrive in the garden

After a weekend of picnics that sent us home with leftovers, I thought we would eat something from the fridge tonight. However, I just went out to the garden for my morning break from the computer and found our first peppers and some perfect beets. This season does encourage me to cook!

For me, it’s so satisfying to create a good meal from the garden that I have difficulty understanding people who would rather drive through at a fast food restaurant. I realize, though, that part of my desire to cook comes from what I value—the bounty of God’s creation, a way to show those I love how much I care with something healthy and tasty, and time to create. Food is just one outlet for all of those things for me.

I also brought in from the garden a beautiful pink gladiola and two red roses. They remind me of our earth’s beauty and the variety in creation. God has given us marvelous examples of how to appreciate diversity. I see it as encouragement to keep striving to create something else that’s beautiful and lives in harmony with what grows around it.

The holiday weekend reminds me that I am blessed to have the freedom to do that. And the garden reminds me there will be new vegetables every week to keep me interested in cooking and gardening.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Garden experiments succeed and go awry

I recently checked photos in seed catalogs and online to see if my celery and jicama plants are following a traditional path. When I experiment with new vegetables and have no one familiar with them to consult with about their progress, I look elsewhere for resources to tell me if I’m hitting the mark or not. My observations tell me the jicama is doing well; the celery isn’t looking as promising.

My first problem with the celery was that although lots of it sprouted, not much of it lived to transplant time. I think I had six plants to put in the ground. Now, I have two. That number could diminish even further.

Celery leaves look sort of like parsley. The problem with my plant’s leaves is that they’re curling. I’ve organically fertilized and water but I fear that the dry 10 days we had in June might have sealed their fate. It was so uncomfortable outside that I didn’t water as often as I should have; perhaps they won’t recover.

On the other hand, the jicama is vining with lovely leaves just as every resource, and my gardener’s instincts, tells me they should. They’re in a part of the garden that gets the most sun and they seem to love it there. The small plants are now spreading so I assume that below the earth they are also growing. Oh if only there were a way I could take a peak! Instead, I’m trying to learn another lesson in patience, hoping I will be rewarded at the end of the season when I can enjoy that unique jicama crunch.

If I succeed with at least one new crop, I’ll still be a smiling gardener.