Saturday, July 5, 2008

summer sun brings garden fun...

I've been picking some absolutely gorgeous broccoli these past few weeks. It's really delicious. I have always had such trouble with cabbage worms on them, but this year I haven't found a single one, despite seeing tons of the butterflies. Well, the other evening I found out why. I went out to harvest a head when I saw a large paper wasp sitting on top of it. I tried to shush him away but then I noticed that he was wrestling with a green cabbage worm! The wasp was eating the green worm and after a few minutes flew off with half of it. I saw it again yesterday....just amazing to watch.

The peas have been delicious, though none of them have made it indoors. I always seem to manage to polish them off right in the garden! Most of my lettuce has petered out, but the butterhead rocks on. I'm still harvesting it daily and there is not a single trace of bitterness in it. I bought a tomato at the farmer's market today and had a tomato/lettuce/cheese sandwich for lunch. Certainly not a homegrown tomato, but the next best thing. I think it will be another month until I can harvest tomatoes of my own.

My 'Cherry Bomb' peppers are loaded with green fruit. They were planted for my fire-eating husband and I think he's going to have his hands full this year. No fruits on the 'Thai Dragon' though. Hopefully they are to come.

The front perennial garden is really coming into it's season right now. I consider it an early spring and/or late summer garden since there isn't much exciting there in early to mid-summer. My 'Paprika' yarrow, monarda, gloriosa daisies, sunflowers, cosmos, alliums, gomphrena and coneflowers are just looking great this year. How nice that I haven't had to water the garden at all this season! If I had to pick a favorite part of my garden, the front beds would be it. I love the veggie garden, but there is something about pulling into your driveway and seeing your garden that just feels special.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I'm hoping my experimental tater station works well this year. The home-made bins might look a bit odd, but I have a feeling that in a few months, when I open the boxwire, I'm going to have some tumbling spuds. The wire cylinders are lined with just a few sheets of newspaper to help hold everything in and then they were filled with alternating layers of very well-aged horse manure and last year's potting soil (when I empty my containers every fall, I put the used soil in garbage bags in the shed. I usually use it to pot up perennial divisions for friends, but here is another good use!). Each bin was filled 1/4 of the way, then 6-8 seed potatoes were spread on top and covered with a few more inches of old horse manure. When the taters were a few inches high, I added several more inches of manure or potting soil. I just kept adding layers as the plants grew. The 'soil' now reaches about 3/4 of the way to the top and that's as full as I'll make them. There are now potato plants sprouting out the sides too. I'm excited to see what happens as the season progresses.

Saw my first baby praying mantis of the season yesterday. Just a little guy, maybe only a quarter of an inch long. He was hanging out on the potato plants. I tried to get a picture, but my camera wasn't cooperating.

The strawberries are just about finished. With the heavy rains of the past week or so, some of the berries got moldy, but really, it was quite a good harvest. Made some delicious homemade strawberry ice cream over the weekend.

My broccoli will soon be ready to harvest as will the sugar snap peas and the snow peas. The lettuce continues to roll in and I've been tying the tomatoes to their hardwood stakes on almost a daily basis. They have begun to won't be long now!

Friday, June 6, 2008

yum yum!!

These are the most beautiful strawberries I've ever grown! I have no idea what variety they are since they came from plants that were relocated from elsewhere on the property last spring. Not only are they lovely to look at, but they are truly delicious. Big, sweet, juicy berries! I think my son ate a good pound of them yesterday and we will soon be up to our elbows in them since they are ripening so quickly in this warm weather (90+ degrees today!). We plan on heading outside after dinner this evening to fill up on this wonderful seasonal dessert. There are few treats as divine as sun-warmed strawberries in June. I almost feel guilty for not sharing them with any friends....almost.

Here is the container I mentioned in an earlier post. It's filled with assorted succulents 'imported' from my trip to Missouri. The center plant is from the Phipp's booth at May Mart. The pot itself was purchased at IKEA a few weeks ago and it sits on top of an antique metal wash stand base that belonged to my Nana. I just love it and I can't wait for it to fill in over the course of the growing season.

The veggie garden is looking great. My beans, cukes, and zukes have all sprouted and seem to be growing quite well. The tomatoes are a foot high already, the sugar snap peas are just about 4 feet tall (yikes!), the lettuce and radish continue to be harvested nightly. My broccoli appears as if it's on steroids this year. Happy, happy, happy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

First harvest of the season!

Well, I picked my first garden goodies last night! I made a salad of fresh, beautiful lettuce (including 'Lolla Rossa' and 'Merlot'), some very mild 'Easter Egg' radishes, and a small bit of chopped spring onions. Delicious! It never fails to amaze me how truly wonderful homegrown food is - especially the first bite of the season. I can't wait for my asparagus patch to mature enough to begin harvesting it. I'm hoping I'll get a few spears next spring.
I also made a rhubarb crisp that was really sweet with a crunchy, crisp top. Thanks to Jill Wolff for the fabulous recipe. This weekend I'm going to try another recipe for rhubarb muffins.
The strawberries are busy being pollinated and setting their little green fruits. Unless we get some severe weather, I think we are in for a treat by mid-June. There are literally thousands of little berries out there.
My pots are filled with a blend of compost and organic potting soil and are just waiting to be planted this weekend. I was in Missouri two weeks ago at Baker Creek Seeds for their spring planting festival, and there was a fellow there selling succulents. I came home with 12 little pots of them (the TSA officer 'reading' the xray got a kick out of the contents of my carry-on). I'm going to put them in a shallow terracotta pot that sits on top of an old iron wash basin stand on the back patio. I'll photograph it after it's planted and post the shot so you can have a look-see.
I'm planning on picking up all my heirloom tomato babies from Mindy Schwartz at My Garden Dreams Urban Farm and Nursery early next week. I purchased from her last year and had great success with the plants. Of course I can't remember what I ordered, so it will be a pleasant surprise. Thank goodness everything is always well labeled!
I'll be spending Saturday shopping at my favorite local nurseries for my annuals and some more seeds. With toddler in tow, it should be an interesting experience.
Lots in bloom right now in the perennial beds - and my special dandelion collection is particularly stunning these days.

Monday, April 21, 2008


The garden seems to have 'popped' over the course of the past week. The daffodils are lovely, the tulips my dog dug up last fall are blooming their heads off (though some of them are not where they are supposed to be), the radish are already 1/2 inch high, the lettuce has germinated and the asparagus has finally arrived (though it's too young to pick). All 8 fruit trees have been planted, as have the 15 new raspberry canes. Yesterday I planted 8 cabbages, 8 leeks, 12 lettuce plants and 4 parsley starts. Today I planted 25 new strawberries (a day-neutral variety called Trident)and cleaned up the last of the perennial beds.

I was visiting my folks in Eastern PA last week and divided a bunch of ornamental grasses for my Mom - sounds like I did a good deed, but I did it so I could have the divisions! Now I've got 22 Maiden grasses to plant around the bottom of the tree fort to enclose the space beneath and make a nice little hiding place for my son. That's the next project. Then there are the 25 potted perennials sitting on the driveway....

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hearty cheers for today, and yesterday, and the day before that....

Thou shalt not plant so much lettuce this year...

I returned late last night from a terrific visit to the Green Bay Botanic Garden. I was a guest lecturer for their Spring Thaw Symposium on Saturday and it was a very lovely event, full of passionate gardeners and plenty of folks chomping at the bit to get out and get dirty. It's always nice to meet people who are interested in learning more about organic practices and who know how to ask all the right questions!

I was also quite pleased to finally hear fellow lecturer and sustainable-living expert Lisa Kivirist. She and her husband, John Ivanko, own Inn Serendipity, an eco-friendly B&B an hour south of Madison, Wisconsin. She was an exceptional speaker with so much creative energy and so many positive vibes to share. If you want to learn more about them, check out their website: And if you need a good reason to vacation in Wisconsin, you just found it. (Not to mention the fact that the Green Bay Botanic Garden is beautiful, educational and only a short drive from the airport. Plus, there's the cheese...)

So, I too was inspired by the event, having heard lectures about heritage perennials and catching slides displaying new trends and products from a local Green Bay nursery called Mayflower. Which, of course, led me to the garden shortly after the radio show this morning. Thankfully, my son was more than happy to oblige, playing with his dinosaurs in the dirt for nearly two hours while I worked. I managed to clean out the strawberry bed, pulling out dead leaves and removing a bit of invading ground ivy. Then we went into the vegetable garden (which is his favorite place to be). I spread some small piles of mushroom soil that was dumped in the fall, then turned over the soil in one of the beds and raked it smooth. I was hearing Jeff Lowenfels in my head while I was digging (he's the author of the ground-breaking book Teaming With Microbes and an advocate of no-till gardening). He was saying something like, "Have you lost your mind? Did you gain nothing from my book? You are destroying earthworm burrows and wreaking havoc on that precious soil food web as I speak!". I felt guilty as I was digging; and that's a very new feeling for me. I intend to leave a few beds unturned this spring as I do believe the science is indeed telling us that no-till is best, but the winter rye cover crop was thick and I couldn't bring myself to sow tiny baby lettuce and radish seeds without creating a nice bed for them first. I'm taking it a step at a time until I can break myself of old habits and perfect my own personal no-till methods. The beds with tomatoes, cabbage, peppers, cukes and melons will definitely remain undisturbed and will be piled high with new compost from my bin; then, after planting, they will be mulched well. One step at a time, right? Forgive me Jeff!

Into that soft soil I planted 'French Breakfast' and 'Easter Egg' radishes, 'Merlot', 'Red Oaky Splash' and 'French Butterhead' lettuces, 'Chioggia' beets, and 'Osaka Purple' mustard greens. Then I sowed a few handfuls of sugar snap peas. Since I never managed to tie them to the fence last year and they flopped all over the place, I decided to plant the seeds around some old metal pepper cages for support. We'll see how that goes. It's likely that they will need further support, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it!

The daffodils are up, though none of the buds have opened yet. A few of the crocus I planted in my 'lawn meadow' are up and sunning themselves as we speak. In the front garden, I'm seeing a few hyacinth starting to peek out of the soil and I tucked in a few pink pansies late last week. Our three fish, Goldie, Genevieve and Bob, have survived the winter in our little pond and are happily swimming around between the water iris and algae (that's a project for another day). And, one last sure sign of spring, the grill was fired up the night before I departed for Green Bay. Free range chicken kabobs were on the menu. Isn't spring grand?

Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm ready...

I don't think I've ever been as ready for spring as I am this year. What a crazy winter - between the weather and family illnesses, I can honestly say I can't remember needing spring as much as I do right now.
It must be coming, though, because the tulips are up about an inch or so. Surprisingly, there is no sign of all the crocus I planted nor of the daffodils, but I know they are to come.
We turned the waterfall back on last week. We haven't yet spotted our three goldfish (Goldie, Genevieve and Bob) and the leaf netting is still draped over the pond. As usual, there is much to be done as soon as the weather warms.
The ryegrass in the vegetable garden is only about an inch high but it will burst as soon as we get a few warm days. Once the soil dries out a bit, I'm going to begin planting spring lettuce, radish, some broccoli and onion sets. I overplanted my lettuce last year. I was taking bags of it to the neighbors. I mustn't go lettuce crazy this spring, lest they think I really am crazy.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Children in the garden

After receiving a great new book called 'A Child's Garden' by Molly Dannenmaier my husband and I have now become obsessed with the idea of installing a few special kid-friendly features into the garden this year. We have had many discussions this winter about what we think our son will like and what, physically and financially, we'll be able to do.

Some of our ideas include the extension of one of the beds around the veggie garden fence to include a pole bean tee pee and/or a sand pit; a twig and grapevine tunnel that goes between the back of the waterfall and the stockade fence; a planting of tall ornamental grasses to enclose the area beneath the tree house (we'll then put a tree stump table and chairs under there); a tent of branches tucked into the corner of the fence to make a little 'nest' for him and a buddy; a fallen log to serve as a balance beam; and a sunflower circle (an idea provided by Nancy Gift of Chatham College - her wonderful blog is found at And we're planning on clearing a path through our woods to easily access the miles of horse trails back there for family hikes and tent camping.

Basically, I want to have the yard that all the kids want to play in. I want families that don't have a garden to bring their little ones to my place to explore and get in touch with nature. I want my son to have the opportunity to just be outside in a welcoming place and never get scolded for being dirty.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Fruity gardener

I just ordered all the fruit trees we are going to plant in the yard this spring. I had so much fun looking through my favorite catalogs (Raintree Nursery and One Green World) to choose the varieties. At the farm, we did plant some new fruit trees, but most of the 30 odd trees in the orchard were planted many years ago by previous owners so I had no hand in choosing the varieties. My goal for the mini-orchard at our new place is to have something producing fruit for the entire growing season. The strawberries and blueberries and some black raspberries were put in last year, but this April will be filled with some heavy diggin' and lots and lots of promise for fruitful summers to come.

Being an organic gardener, disease resistance was a major draw, as was old-time flavor and decent production. I spent a lot of time making sure varieties were compatible for cross-pollination and that they would bear fruit at different times - I want apples in early August and early October! The 4-6 foot bareroot grafted semi-dwarf trees are due to arrive the first week in April from Raintree Nursery (I've been extremely pleased with them in the past). Here's what we're planting:

Apples - 'William's Pride' and 'Liberty'
Pears - -'Ubileen' and 'Conference'
Plums - 'Golden Transparent' and 'Early Laxton'
Cherry - 'Lapins'
Peach - 'Avalon Pride'

From One Green World Nursery we'll be planting:
Red Raspberries - 'Canby Thornless' and 'Heritage'
Honeyberries - 'Blue Bird' and 'Blue Lightning' - can't wait to try these!

Plans for future years include a persimmon tree and some Asian pears, as well as some Sea berries (I hear they are amazing) and maybe some gooseberries. I want my son to be able to climb fruit trees, pick raspberries, and help me make strawberry jam someday - I wish all kids could have those experiences!

Monday, January 21, 2008

I've no excuse....

I know it's been quite some time since I last posted and I apologize. Frankly, there hasn't been much going on in the garden over the past month or so and I'm really just now getting over early January's post-holiday hump. It's been cold here the past few days - in the low teens during the early morning and not warming much past the mid-twenties by afternoon. Wisconsin-ites may scoff at such toasty winter temps, but here in Pennsylvania such cold days have been few and far between the past few years. Global warming strikes again.

As I sit at my computer and look out the window, I can see a nice little treasure that I discovered just a week or two ago. Clinging to the branch of one of the Lawson's cypress we planted this past spring is a praying mantis egg case. I was so pleased to find it since I did not see a single adult mantis in the garden the entire summer. I can't wait to see all the babies this spring. What amazing creatures they are. Here is some information about praying mantids from my forthcoming book. As I said in an earlier post, I learned a lot while researching the book and here are some interesting little tidbits:

- There are over 20 native species of mantids found throughout the U.S. with many others introduced.
- An adult praying mantis can grow to 5 inches in length and live an average of 10-12 months.
- Their egg cases appear as spongy brown masses clinging to branches and twigs.
- It's true. Sometimes the female does consume the male after copulation.
- Large mantids can eat small salamanders, frogs and birds, though their diet consists mainly of other insects.
- To encourage praying mantids to make a home in your garden, focus on planting specimens suitable for egg laying (since mantids do not consume pollen or nectar). Good choices include golden rod, iron weed, ornamental grasses, Joe Pye weed, raspberries and other brambles.
- If you choose to purchase mantids for your garden and you live in a northern zone, be aware that Chinese mantids are more voracious than our native varieties, but they aren't nearly as winter hardy.
- Praying mantids are not discriminating eaters. They will catch and consume beneficial insects as quickly as pest insects, but they can definitely be added to the list of critters having an overall positive impact on your garden.
- Their heads can swivel 180 degrees and their compound eyes are perfect for spotting passing prey as they lie-in-wait for the ambush!