Spinach anyone?

This morning we did some yard work and I cleaned out one of my garden beds. Or actually part of it only. Here is what it looked like before. See on the back all those greens? Those were radishes, spinach and dill. Ignore the front bed for now. That's our salads, arugula and sorrel rows.
So today we picked out all our spinach from the first bed. It's not altered variety so it was about to go into bloom - started forming stalks. New varieties are designed to keep them regular longer. But even with the short lifespan it gave us quite a bit of harvest. We've been eating it in salads, sauteing it in butter and giving it away. So how much did we pick?
How about a basket full of spinach! It's equivalent of full grocery bag of greens. Don't know about you but for me that's a tad much. So we'll saute some of it and the rest will be in the fridge for now. At least it "shrinks" when it's cooked. We'll figure out what to do with it later. Maybe Peter can take some with him to work for his secretary. He's been giving her some arugula because we have too much so maybe she'll want spinach as well.

We also plucked out all radishes because they were overgrown and instead I planted more salad seeds. Two weeks ago I planted more radishes between spinach rows so they're just waking up and first leaves are showing up. Which is good timing because now that all greens are gone they can spread out and start growing. Hopefully in two more weeks we'll have fresh crops. This way we're constantly rotating and keep things growing.

Seedlings have grown!

Remember my tiny cups where I put few seeds and let them grow so I can have my own plants? Well this is how they looked like before and after - a short comparison just for fun.
Here are they just "woke up" and starting to grow in the first week. Fast forward two month later...
Not so tiny anymore! And I placed couple of beans into the pot just to see if they'll grow together. Seem to be doing ok. Beans are natural fertilizers so it should help my tomatoes. And these two are not so small anymore. They even have flower buds. I'm looking forward to trying this type of tomato - if I remember right this should be Brandywine.
These are watermelon that were also planted from seeds . You might remember them when they were very small in the same tray as my cucumbers .
I don't have "baby" pictures of my yellow squash but it seem to be doing ok in the container. Both watermelon and squash will need space to spread out so having them on a deck is a good idea.
I know it might be hard to imagine for some but you really don't have to buy every single plant in the store. It gets expensive and if you're going to grow more than 2 plants each - get yourself some seeds and grow your own. It really not that difficult to do either. Seeds can be preserved for couple of years so it's a big cost saver, not to mention really a lot of fun to watch and see how they progress from tiny little things that barely visible above ground to a 3 foot plants, :o)

Yeay! more to harvest!

Today we picked our broccoli from the garden. It's not alot because it was just an experiment to see if it will grow so I only planted 9 plants. Well it definitely grew. And in the past week it really grew! All that rain and sunshine is very good for it.
It's just over a pound (1 1/4 lb) but it's definitely enough for the two of us and we had some already today for dinner. Home grown organic broccoli with no pesticides of any kind. It's probably cheaper to buy in the store for $.99/lb but I think I like this one instead. I left the stalks in place and just cut off crowns so hoping that it will continue to grow from other buds.

Protecting Your Garden

One of the challenges of having a garden is trying to protect what you grow from birds, deers and furry friends. I know that some people will not hesitate with killing animals but there is no way I would ever do that to any living creature. No traps, poison or guns here. They have the right to live just like people or even more so because honestly they were here first and we're trespassing on their turf. We're the invaders and not the other way around. But at the same time I still like to harvest something edible so I try to be creative when it comes to my greenery. First my DF put up a water repellent. It's connected by a hose to the water outlet that's always on, and is motion sensitive. It's set to spray for any sign of movement. So if the deer comes near my trees it goes off. It has 180 degree sensors so it should protect for any invaders in the garden. Of course there are some that just ignore water spray and keep on helping themselves to your stuff - like squirrels did to my strawberries. And you probably noticed in the picture that the strawberry bed is now covered with the netting. So far it seem to be working against the squirrels. The same netting you already saw on my beans and blueberries. We also put the same netting over our trees - plums and nectarines. As you can see it's loosely wrapped around the tree so it can grow but still prevents deers from stripping the leaves.
Unfortunately we were too late to protect our cherry trees and they got stripped but maybe they'll grow and will bloom next year around.

Flowers vs Food

"I want my garden to be pretty and covered with flowers!". I hear it all the time. Well guess what, so do I! Just because I grow veggies in my garden it doesn't mean that it's not pretty with flowers. Just wait until everything picks up and starts blooming.
From early spring time I had Tulips and Hyacinths, then came Lily of the Valley and Lilacs with Azaleas and Rhododendron and roses. Everything was in bloom. I was very surprised by the Lilacs because we didn't know they were there. When we bought our home we didn't get a list of what's where and since it was fall most of the shrubs lost their leaves. So to see this beauty bloom was one of the nicer surprises. And it sits on the side of the drive way so it's in a good spot.

The same was with azaleas. Very pretty and nice spring surprise for us. And we have white ones, bright red and purple making the entire landscape very bright and cheery after dreadful winter. And while my shrubs were blooming my veggies were growing and now they're in bloom as well.

Just take a look at these gorgeous pea flowers. Not only they look great but they also smell heavenly. And after they're done blooming you get to pick peas for your meal. It's a win-win situation. And they're not just in my pots - I planted them all along the border of my garden so as they grow and wind around my fence they create 'green' border with flowers. Nice for the eyes and good for snacking later. And another good part is that they'll be blooming for several weeks so it's on-going beauty. And after they'll be gone my gladiolus that are planted right next to them in the same row should be in bloom. Not to mention my eggplants and tomatoes will pick up as well by that time. They also can be quite striking in appearance. And if you really want some nice pretty flowers why not plant Nasturtium? It's beautiful and its flowers can be used in salads. There are many choices of what you can do. You just need to choose to do it.

"I have no space"

That's the first and most common excuse when it comes to not having garden - I have no space for a garden. Ok, so you don't have space for a traditional garden. How about using space that you do have for some irregular planting. Let's pretend that my fenced garden doesn't exist. I still have my container garden on the patio that's surrounded by azaleas and rhododendron bushes. But there is space UNDER those bushes and around them. So I used them.
This is rhubarb that I planted on both sides of the patio steps to the back yard and some Hyacinth bulbs. With it mixed some green peas. Will they produce anything? Don't know. We'll find out but for now they're alive and kicking (I mean growing). Hyacinths finished blooming right in time for rhubarb started spreading high and wide so it's a good combination. Next spring they will bloom again. Place has bad soil, lots of rocks but it still produces something. In the fall I'll add compost to help with the soil quality.
These are my peas and beans - I threw some seeds on the ground between azaleas bushes and some other green bush and they took. Seem to be ok so far. I just covered them with a netting to protect from deer and they're growing. Hopefully they might even give me some green and yellow wax beans this summer. Once again, very little space but it's still used.

And here is a make-shift bed that was kind of an afterthought. We had some dirt left over from the pile that was delivered in a truck and dumped by the big evergreen tree. After using what we could in the raised beds we didn't want to shovel all this extra and haul it somewhere else so we made a quick bed - leveled it on the sides and top and planted few things. There are few cucumber plants mixed with sunflowers, few potatoes to the right side and farther inside the picture are garlic and onions.
As you can see my garlic is almost hidden by the tree yet it still grows. Bad heavy soil, rocks and no food but it's growing. And I hope to use it soon. And what about space along the sides of your house? On the side that I have my garden, actually between my garden and walls I have space to walk around. I also had some ground cover greens. We made few holes in that cover along the wall and planted some blueberry bushes.
They're not taking whole lot of space but they'll grow and produce some berries. I didn't expect them this year but apparently they have mind of their own so I'm not going to argue. Though I'm really looking forward to next year when they're fully grow into the spot and won't suffer from shock of being transplanted. Once again they covered with netting to protect from animals and birds.
So you see, you can always find space. Be it in the hanging planters, small pots and container garden or anywhere else where you can put some dirt and seeds. You just have to "want" to find it.

How to use what you grow

Sometimes people ask me - do you really use all those herbs and greens that you're growing? And honestly their question is more surprising to me than my answer to them - of course we try to use everything in the garden! Sometimes I do get too many greens so I share them with others, like arugula that decided to grow like weed and we just can't keep up with it so I snip some and give it away. But there are few things that I use all the time - like spinach, sorrel, dill, parsley, thyme, rosemary and oregano.
This parsley and dill were picked fresh this afternoon and used in my chicken dish for dinner. Last week I made soup with sorrel - very easy to make yet also very refreshing and can be eaten hot or cold.
Sorrel gives it slightly tangy lemony taste that's very satisfying on the hot summer day. And of course my typical lunch - fresh salad tossed with my own greens. I have several types of salads but the first one I had was with arugula, spinach and radishes.
Just added sliced turkey breast and egg and my salad was done. No need for any dressing because greens are so nice and fresh and juicy that it didn't need anything else. Now I'm looking forward to some snap peas that are in bloom for stirfry and broccoli for side dish.

Garden pests

There are obvious garden pests that I have to worry about and not so obvious. First there are bugs and caterpillars that like my greens. Then there are beetles that like my potato greens and I will have to keep an eye on my tomatoes for any molds and diseases. Since I don't use any chemicals or pesticides it will not be easy to keep them healthy but I will try my best. And then there are 'furry' pests that I'm trying to keep out of my garden. I already said we had to build a fence to protect from deers, but we also have groundhog who made himself a layer under our shed and lots of squirrels. And I can hear city folks saying now "squirrels are cute, they're harmless". Yeah, right! I used to be just like that until now. Take a look at these shots.
Squirrel made a nice lunch out of this berry this afternoon. And this one.
I found 5 berry leftovers today - all were left yesterday because we wanted to get them more ripened before gathering and now I wish we picked them up. All ripe or semi ripe berries are now eaten away. Tonight when my DF is back home we'll drop a netting over the bed and see if it helps protect some of the berries. Not sure if it will work but have to give it a try. And I also found some damage done by groundhog to my peas.
They're all eaten away in to the fenced area. And I'm sad because I was hoping that they'll be ok inside the fence and not in danger but I guess if the snout can reach it then it gets eaten. Oh well. Still hoping to have something left over for us to eat as well.

Best part - Harvesting!

So what is all that hard work comes to at the end and is it worth it? You'll be the judge to that question.
Looks yummy, doesn't it? Now picture soon-to-be 3 yr olds picking them up and eating on the spot. They were here yesterday for BBQ and got some fresh berries still warm on the sun. Ok, so they picked some green ones too only because they don't know any better, but it's ok, they're only 3 so can't ask much.
Or a 33 yr old who also likes to sneak to the garden for some goodies and pretend that he's just watching how it grows :) These were picked today. I LOVE to see him eat fresh stuff right on the spot! That's what makes it worth it for me. And the good part he'll be doing this for weeks to come because these strawberries are going to fruit all summer long!

So what's next on the harvest list? Broccoli for sure. It's getting ripe and will need to be cut very shortly.
And of course we eat fresh salads daily with our own lettuces and arugula; and I made sorrel soup last week. It's all coming together. One step at the time :o)

Decisions.. Decisions..

I guess one big question that everyone will ask - what did you plant in the actual garden area? And just like with containers I tried to cram as much as possible in those five beds. On the first bed I have asparagus, lettuce, spinach, dill and radishes. We've been picking radishes and spinach already for couple of weeks.
Second one was lettuces, arugula, parsley, sorrel, carrots and alpine strawberries. Here's a picture of the lettuces and arugula as it was growing. Again, it's been used in our salads for a while now.
Thirds was allocated for regular strawberries that I had in containers. I also planted some broccoli in between smaller plants. They are "cold" blooded veggies so they'll need to be harvested soon because they don't like heat and by that time my strawberries will start to spread out so it's a good match. Though normally they don't like each other's company I think because in this case there is so much space it really doesn't affect them all that much.
Then we have 4th bed with fingerling potatoes, carrots, my tomatoes that I grew from seeds and bell peppers. They are a little slow on the rise but they're getting there. You can see how fingerling's are taking off. Right now they're over a foot tall!
And last one I have a mix - 2 red bell peppers, 2 yellow and orange; 2 ichiban eggplant and 2 white eggplants and a variety of different heirloom tomatoes. There is cherry tomato, Brandywine, Black Prince, Martin, Stripe German and Stripe Cavern and Big Beef. I'll take a picture of them once they get bigger.
On the back of the garden by the wall there are peas and gladiolus planted. They'll be using wired walls for climbing and will provide fertilizer to gladiolus. So stay tuned and I'll keep you up to date on how it's going!

Container Garden

Another question I can hear coming at me - what if I don't have space for actual garden bed, can I still grow something on my patio in containers? Of course YES! Do you really think I'm limiting myself to only small area to grow things? All my herbs are in containers. All my strawberries used to be in the containers until I transplanted them outside. This is what my patio looks like right now.
Here I have several tomato plants in larger containers in the background, alpine strawberries, basil, thyme, raspberry and blackberry bushes (will be transplanted as soon as the area is prepared for them), 3 containers with peas (they are now in bloom btw), carrots, chives, parsley and oregano. I reused some of the containers from other plants that we got from nursery - blueberries and grapes that were already planted outside, so I transplanted some of my tomato seedlings into those containers. That way I can have them in the garden and on the patio. I also used some Roma tomato plant (large one in a cage) for sauces that came from nursery because I was not about to buy seeds for one plant. The same is for cherry tomato in the hanging topsy-turvey. However that poor plant is just not doing too well. Since that picture was taken I added more containers and now have yellow squash, zucchini and watermelon growing on the patio as well. I don't have enough space for them in the actual garden but wanted to see if I can grow them so I planted seeds. This year is very experimental - I planted everything I could just to see what takes well and what not so I know what I will plant for the future.

Seeds and Seedlings

Of all things that you really should pay attention - is what kind of seeds you're going to use in your garden. Good quality seeds always yield good results. Now I'm not saying that you must buy the most expensive seeds in the world, but do pay attention to what kind of seeds you're getting and how they were treated. I don't buy chemically enhanced seeds or hybrids. For my garden I use only organic seeds and I keep it organic - no chemicals of any kind are on my veggies! Now I'm sure some will say "there is nothing wrong with hybrids" and I'm sure you're right. They'll grow and produce but the problem will arise after you try to gather up seeds for the next year - you don't really know what will grow from them if anything at all. For that matter I prefer heirloom varieties of seeds and organic. If you're not sure if you want to spend time dealing with seeds and all then you don't really have do that - you can just visit your local nursery and buy ready to grow seedlings and transplant them and have an instant garden. It's not really a bad way to go - you get to see what you buy ahead of time and it's already growing so it saves you time. Seeds however can save you money if you're doing something on a larger scale. For example a packet of mixed organic heirloom tomato seeds can cost upto $4. Each seedling in the store will be at least twice as much. If you grow them yourself you definitely get more for your buck. But if you only need couple of tomato plants and couple of cucumbers etc then by all means head out to the nearest greenhouse.

Now for my garden I started on my seeds in middle of February. I used small start up cups - fully biodegradable of course. Filled them with seed starting mix, soak them well and plant seeds. Don't use regular garden soil for this because it can contain fungus, weeds and can get compacted easily crushing gentle roots of the plants. How do you know when to plant? Count at least 8 weeks backwards from the last frost date in your area. That way by the time air and soil outside are warm enough to transplant your seedlings should be ready as well. It's best to transplant once your soil reaches at least 50 degrees to avoid "shocking" the new plants. Once your seedlings have 2-3 true leaves transplant them into bigger containers with regular potting soil. Because the seed mix you used before has very little nutrient it really needs to be replaced when the seeds start to grow. You need to keep them in a very sunny and warm area. If you have an overhead light that can be kept on for 14 hrs a day then it would really help your seeds. Otherwise place them on a south facing window and keep them warm and moist.

As you can see from this picture I have a mix of small cups and larger containers on a tray. I used regular baking trays to keep seeds in so I can place water in the tray and let them soak it up instead of watering individual cups - it's just so easy to damage fragile seedlings when they're only started to grow. Just make sure they don't "sit" in water all the time or they'll rot. This way I grew my own tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, watermelon starter and beans. You can actually see one bean "waking up" in the picture. Both peppers and tomatoes will need far more time than cucumbers and beans. And both need to be very warm - 75 or 80 is best for them. Peppers especially don't tolerate cold snaps so keep them very warm and in sunny location. If you're growing cucumber seedlings indoor don't grow them too far in advance as they don't like to be transplanted when they're mature. They grow fast and will need to be transplanted after 3-4 real leaves are out. Now just make sure you feed them regularly, keep moist and watch them grow. I don't use artificial feeders but you can get easy mix in the store if you like or make a compost "tea" to feed your garden.

Building a Garden

First let me say that I wish I had more room for my garden. The way our property is set is that the only area that can have a garden is on the side of the house blocked by lines of trees and bordering with our neighbor. If you're going to build a garden and you have space - please make sure it's on the sunny spot where it will get at least 8-12 hrs of direct sun exposure. It's best to have it on the south side or southwest side with no large trees to cast a shade during the day. Unfortunately for me it means very limited area even though the rest of the property is pretty big but I'm not complaining because I'm just glad to be able to have a garden, no matter how small it really is.

When we started building our garden I wanted to protect it from the wild life in the area so I asked my dear fiance (DF for future references) to help me build it to withstand animals big and small. Our neighbor next door have been feeding deers for many years and we were warned ahead of time that there is a flock of deers that come every day through our back yard to feed. And of course it means they're going right through the area where I wanted to have my garden. Which means we had to build a fence to protect our future garden or it would have been "all-you-can-eat buffet" for them. I was not about to give up on my dream of having fresh picked greens in the summer so we dug into the soil. We dug up top soil and leveled it so the garden would not be slanted, lined up bottom with heavy duty wire to prevent groundhogs from digging underneath, dug out large holes for 6' poles to support our fence and waited until spring time. My DF has also build me garden boxes - 5 of them actually.
Why build them and not use regular beds? Well to keep it clean first, but more important the ground where the garden was going to be is all rocks and clay - there was no real soil to use so we would have to bring it from outside anyway. And I knew that some of the plants like tomatoes and peppers like to have room to grown under deep so I asked him to build me boxes. Each box is a foot high and 4 feet wide. Why 4 feet? Because it gives me 2 feet reach into the box from either side without too much strain on my back. There is plenty of walking area between boxes, with the smallest in the middle measuring 7 feet and largest at the far sides at 10 feet.

Now I can hear this question coming from a mile away - do I really need to go to such length to have a garden?? And the answer is NO, you don't have to. You don't have to dig it up, build boxes or fence it around if you already have a secure border on your property that keeps creatures away. But if you have bunnies, groundhogs or deers then I would recommend doing this to protect it. Now what about boxes - do you really need them? Once again answer is no, you can make it much easier and have regular garden beds. For example, if you live in the area with good soil but it's covered with grass, make it a "lasagna" bed. Take newspapers and line up area where your bed will be. Make it at least 1/2" of newspaper layer. Then take some straw or hay and top it all to cover paper. Paper will prevent grass from growing through your bed and while decomposing it will also help feed your garden. Same goes for hay. It's a fertilizer and a mulch that keeps your garden from over drying. Now layer some good compost and regular dirt for the top layer. If you do it in the fall before frost then by the time spring is here you'll have wonderful bed ready for planting. If you're doing it in spring then you can still plant in the same bed - just make small holes and plant your seedlings in those holes and they'll grow just fine.

Anyway, back to my garden set up. Now that we have boxes, we ordered some top soil to be delivered and shoveled it out to the boxes. I made sure that my soil was well amended with compost and manure and started planting!
While I was tweaking my seeds and seedlings, my DF has finished building walls for the fence and put a door with a latch so I can get in but keep animals out. The fence is 4 feet high and is connected to the metal liner on the ground and attached to the 6 foot high poles. I hope it will hold well against the deers. For the information on the seeds and seedlings check next post.


Hello and welcome to my new blog! My name is Jenny and the idea for this blog was given to me by a friend who keeps asking for details on how to do basic gardening. Just to make it clear - I'm NOT a professional gardener, but I do love to spend my free time in the garden. Until this spring I was limited to a small space on the balcony of my apartment building where I tried to cram as many pots as it would fit, but since we moved into our new home last fall I started playing in the back yard and arranging for a small garden to be build in spring. It takes some time and effort to set it up first time but once it's set then it's a smooth sailing. It really doesn't take that much time to maintain it. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Please keep checking in for periodic updates as I'll be keeping a running account of what's happening in my neck of the woods. Happy Gardening to all!