Tuesday, March 30, 2021

March's Garden (2021)


After the Great Snowstorm of 2021 melted, winter was finished. The hoop houses were opened and never used again. The vegetables and weeds sprang to life.  This is the garden as it looked on March 15th, 2021.

However, the plants seemed to think it was summer so they have all decided to bolt at once.  Going to seed causes the flavor to change and become bitter.  

My plan was to leisurely enjoy the last of the winter garden while waiting for the spring vegetables to produce, that hasn't happened. They must be picked quickly before they become inedible.

This is the garden as of today between rain showers.  It is a big mud hole.  

Much has been picked but it has been a challenge.  It has been shared with friends, I have entertained a few times (come for an all-you-can-eat salad bar and take the leftovers home), we juiced and detoxed (ugh) and my last resort will be to blanch and fill up the freezer.  Nothing will be wasted.  

The plants that are furthest along bolting are the ones that are chosen first. The Swiss Chard was planted late because in the fall this was a row of tomatoes with spaghetti squash on the support fence.  I had to wait until the squash died from frost before the fence could be removed and the chard planted. It will be eaten last.

There are also a few slow-growing cabbages that aren't ready yet.

This month the following has been harvested: collard greens, six varieties of kale, assorted kinds of cabbage, Swiss Chard, broccoli, Brussel Sprouts (only the leaves, the sprouts didn't form balls... again), spinach, Green in the Snow, tatsoi, bok choy, Chinese mustard greens, endive, various lettuces, Egyptian Walking Onions, winter radishes, beet greens (but no beetroots yet), celery, French Sorrel, garlic, cilantro, chives, plus some unknown crossed Chinese vegetables whose seeds had been saved. We also ate the last spaghetti squash, butternut squash, and sweet potato which were left from last year's garden.

A two-laundry-basket size harvest because company was coming.

Ten hoop houses were not too many even though we could have gotten by with less - eight would have been a better number.  It has been fun enjoying an abundance that can be shared. Last year's hard work was more than worth it to have so much at this time of the year.

We continue to eat more and more from the garden and less and less from the supermarket. We could have easily eaten more than the amount canned last year plus I have spent the winter searching for new recipes.

Goals for the warm weather garden.  
1. Squeeze in more plants for bigger harvests and try to do less work (I can dream).
2. Experiment with growing the new vegetables from the Garden Seeds for the 2021 Season.
3. Grow more medicinal and cooking herbs.

I don't know how to achieve my goals.  This is my problem - the garden can't get bigger.  Below is the edge of the garden beside the yard.  No more rows can be plowed into the lawn because the septic tank field lines end about 30 feet to the right of the garden.  We don't want to get close to it at all.

The back of the garden in front of the shed and woods will be in the deep shade when the trees leaf out. The shadow is getting darker and larger.  The square puddle of water is the spot where the tarp that held the drying grass clippings was laying last summer.  That was months ago and the grass still hasn't recovered.

In past years, this area was a part of the garden but the trees have grown too large as they spread toward the sunshine.  Big black pots lined up against the fence are going to hold herbs.  Horses don't seem to like them.

Walking around the corner is the area up against the field fence.  This wide space is needed so the mower will fit plus the horses lean over to help themselves.  That's why it is stretched and sagging. 

This is the front of the garden.  This area has never been tilled because it is full of large fist-size rocks which would damage the tiller blades.  Also, I don't want to plant close to the trash cans because they have leaked over the years.

This is the view of the same area standing beside the trash cans while turning to face the back of the house.  Bill can plow out a few feet more but that is all. 

The last load of fresh horse manure was spread over the front corner of the garden to create a "lasagna" bed.  It was amended with lime which will take a long time to break down.  The potatoes were planted on top and leaves were spread over them.  After they sprout, hay will be added and one Tahitian Butternut squash seed will be dropped in a corner. Maybe the squash won't overrun the potatoes before they can be dug in July.  It will be difficult to climb into the jungle to dig out the potatoes without trampling the squash, but nobody cares, it will recover.  Bill will be able to mow around three sides of this bed so hopefully the mower will keep the squash under control.  We shall see what happens.

The back area of the garden was plowed right before the last big storm.

The supports were left up again.  This was the first spot to get horse manure last year and it has already decomposed.  

This is how this spot looked last year.  Lima beans were going over the back supports with peppers underneath. Something else will be rotated here but surely, I can squeeze a little bit more in.  Right?

Instead of having mulched walkways, stepping stones have been added with short small plants strategically placed in the path.  Right now onions and leeks are between the stones so it is necessary to step carefully.

Under one arch spinach has been planted between the leeks.

Up against the short fence on the back of the garden are snow peas and English peas.  The shade from the trees won't bother them much because they will die as soon as hot weather arrives.  I never get more than a handful for a few meals because about the time they begin producing, the heat kills them.

Right now I am dreaming, scheming, and planning for a wild year. As long as God provides rain, life will be good.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Garden Seeds for the 2021 Season

Last year after experiencing months of empty grocery shelves caused by the lockdown, my garden plan was simple: take no chances and stick with what works. This year - no way.  It's time to try everything new and have fun.  Back in the middle of December, I began ordering seeds early to avoid empty inventories like 2020.  However, it was too late, many were already gone and so, fear gripped my heart.  I began ordering anything I could get and then later, much to my surprise, emails began arriving stating my favorites were back in stock.  I ordered more.

Seeds'n Such was the first order placed since I have never used them before.  

They have a unique system: "Mix 'n Match" to get lower prices.  The more you order, the better the deal.  Normally, I save my seeds and don't need much but this year is different. It isn't about what is needed, but what is wanted. 

If you order 20 packets, the price drops to $1.99 each. They were selling Fordhook Lima Beans which I have wanted to grow for years but haven't found anywhere. They were definitely on the must-have list.  All that was needed was to choose 19 more to get the price break.  

Choosing enough seeds to buy has never been a problem.

However, realize I got what I paid for - do read the fine print.  The Zahara Zinnias had only ten seeds. One extra was generously added making it eleven in the package. They were upfront about it in the catalog.

Every year my Sugar Beet seeds come from Pinetree. No one else sells them and they are another must-have.  Saving their seeds has not worked so if I am going to pay postage, might as well buy more.

Everything purchased was new to me except for Juan Canary Melon and the Casaba Golden Beauty Melon.

The Casaba Golden Beauty Melon will store long into the winter and the flavor sweetens over time. It is one of the sweetest melons I have ever tasted.  Waiting and not eating it while it sweetens in the pantry is the hard part. 

Then I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds...oh my.  I went wild.

All I needed were two things: the Natsu Fushinari Cucumbers and the Louisiana 16 Inch Long Pod Okra.  The cucumbers are disease resistant and were prolific last year.  The okra pods grow long and don't have to be picked every other day.  Both were sold out in December, were put on backorder but I was able to get them later.  However, it was too late, I had already seen all the other pictures in the catalog.

The temptation to splurge was overwhelming and I succumbed to the ease of credit card swiping. There were too many new foods to try.

Their marketing department knows how to woo a gardener during the bleak days of winter.  Warning - persuasive sales pitches ahead:
Chinese Python Snake Bean - Our new favorite vegetable! It tastes much like green beans, except even more delicious. (More delicious than green beans...are they exaggerating?) We could give up a lot of other vegetables before we would not grow this queen of garden crops (a queen of the garden?), known for its divine taste (I can almost taste it now - oh, so tempting) and snake-like beauty (note to the marketing department: lost me on that one. Never seen a beautiful snake). So snake-like that it has terrified garden visitors (now that would be fun. Who doesn't want to terrify their company?). It is almost completely absent in U.S. markets (I would be the first in my neighborhood to have one and could brag. Please take my $3.00!)

Heavy Hitter Okra - New! Amazing production! This is the most productive okra we have ever seen, producing as much as 250 pods per plant in a season and 44 young, tender pods in a single day. (They even show a hopefully unedited picture of a plant with about 14 pods...can anyone really eat that much okra?  So what, I had to get it. Please take my $3.50.)

While unable to find seeds during December, I wailed, moaned, and complained to Mom on the phone.  She was still locked down,  bored, lonely, and would listen to anyone. She offered a sympathetic ear and then shared my woes with my brother.  Upon happenstance, he entered a dollar store and spied a fully stocked shelf with 25-cent seeds.  He bought one of each. He is rich and can do that.

Then he went to the hardware store and they were fully stocked also. He bought more seeds and mailed them to me! I danced around the room when the seeds fell out of the package.  He has been known to play jokes (like the time he sent a large box of styrofoam peanuts to the boys when they were small.  It was scattered over the carpet as they searched for the prize inside.  The gift was the peanuts.  They had a blast, I was irritated).  Evidently, everyone is buying online instead of going to the stores. 

These are the most exciting he sent and are being planted first: 
A Money Plant - obviously money doesn't grow on trees but instead on a plant.  Who knew?
Wax Green Beans - Is a yellow green bean still a green bean? Will they taste green or yellow?
Baby Bubba Okra - dwarf okra.  There might not be enough okra this year so this must be planted.
Mixed Colors Swiss Chard - All my chards are green, so boring. This will be exciting.
Cayenne pepper - My brother loves hot peppers.  These will be dried and returned to him perhaps in the mail with an official label "IRS AUDIT DEPARTMENT: OPEN IMMEDIATELY."

Never say whining doesn't get you what you want.    

This year I am excited about the garden and can't wait to start planting.  It's going to be fun!

Monday, March 8, 2021

Hungry, Hungry Horses

Ever wondered how much hay six pregnant mares can eat and what it costs to feed them?  Each round bale of hay sells for $35.  When it is gone, the trainer delivers more (after working his day job) to his mares in our field.  This is $70 worth of hay.

His assistant drives the water truck, fills up the troughs, and accompanies the tractor on the road for safety.

Early the next morning, I looked out over the field but couldn't see anything. There were two bales of hay delivered somewhere. I promise.

Day Two
The sun returned. The hay bales had been placed at the far end of the field since it is upwind of the house.  Every delivery is placed in a different spot to avoid overuse. The single black mare on the right often stands alone; nothing is wrong, she likes her quiet time. The trainer says she is "peculiar." I think she is an introvert.

For some odd reason, everyone wanted to eat the same bale. 

Day Three
One horse looked at the second bale, considered taking a bite but no one tasted it until after dark.

Day Four
Sometime during the night, curiosity drove them to sample the second one.

Day Five
It appears to be half-devoured by now.

Day Six
Both bales are almost gone.

They begin foraging the field for sprouting grass.  

Day Seven
The hay is gone.  It requires searching to find the bits and pieces they scattered and to quote the trainer, "They need to clean up their mess."

Right before sundown, the magic feed tractor arrives with two more bales of hay. Everyone rushes to see.

The new bales are sampled before being set down and dropped bites are enjoyed. The ladies are impatient.

Early the next morning, I looked out over the field and saw everyone stuffed and snoozing in the sunshine.

This week they ate two bales which cost $70.  Multiply that times 52 weeks which equals $3,640 for one year. That doesn't include the pricey tubs of grains, vitamins, and medicine that are also placed in the field.  As the grass in the field continues to turn green, they will prefer it over the hay. They are well-bred, high-maintenance, costly, ravenous ladies.