Posts Tagged ‘Edible Front Yard’

Garden Update: Challenges, Solutions, Bounty and Beauty

I haven’t given a garden update in awhile. Today we have our first sunflower of the season, but really the first sunflower in four years!

This little guy comes from an “Elves Mix” that offered seeds from a variety of dwarf sunflowers. I thought these would grow well in the raised beds out front, so I sprinkled them amidst herbs, perennials and annuals. I haven’t tried to grow sunflowers since our first year here. I heard they attract groundhogs, and I also didn’t want to dedicate too much space to them in my Big Bag Bed garden. These little guys seemed like a great compromise, especially since I doubled the size of the front garden last Fall.

I have a bunch of full size sunflowers growing out back, but those haven’t yet bloomed. Meanwhile, the squash and sweet potatoes are going crazy. You can see some of the sunflowers thriving in the Big Bag Beds, even though that area gets only about five or six hours of full sun per day. I’ve got lettuce tucked behind the other growth, and I keep hoping it won’t bolt since it gets less sun. We shall see.

Despite the prolific growth of the butternut squash vines, I ran into an annoying issue with blossom end rot. This was entirely preventable, and I’m kicking myself for not listening to my intuition. A few weeks ago, an obsessive thought kept crossing my mind: “You should really put down some gypsum for those squash plants. Your soil needs calcium.” I found a bag at the local gardening center, but I walked there. It was a 20 pound bag, so I opted not to get it. Instead of asking David to drive me home or ordering some online, I did nothing. I thought, “There’s no overt sign of a calcium deficiency. I’ll just wait, and if I see a sign of it, I’ll correct things then.”

Well, I got my overt sign, alright! I ended up needing to throw out twelve butternut squash with blossom end rot — whose solution is adding more calcium to the soil. Once it starts, you can’t correct it on an individual squash, though. In the past, I’ve added diluted milk to both tomato and squash plants, both of which can suffer from low calcium in the soil. I had used worm castings and an organic fertilizer mix, but — duh! — I should have trusted my intuition. I ended up tossing two tomatoes, a zucchini and those twelve butternut squash. 😦

In order to correct what had become a much larger issue, I needed to add two half gallons of milk on consecutive weeks, plus a bunch of gypsum (which takes longer to incorporate into the soil). So far the new growth looks fine, but I learned my lesson. When my intuition starts nagging me to add a certain nutrient to the soil, just do it!!! A wise lesson for broader life, as well. I’m happy to report delicious harvests of other zucchini, peppers and tomato. Hopefully I’ve resolved the issue.

Some clients asked me how I handle various pest pressures in the garden, so I’ll share a few tips here. Long time readers of this blog know that grrrrrrrrrroundhogs(!) are my biggest concern. I’ve inured myself to the cuteness factor …

… because these whistle pigs will decimate a garden, given half a chance. Here’s the most recent one alerting friends and family that “Mr. McGregor lives here! Mr. McGregor! Stay away! Crazy gardener alert. Oh, no, this yard is NOT worth a visit!” He turned to face me just as I snapped the photo. Indeed, with groundhogs, I’ve learned to give them no quarter. When they first appear, I run outside like a wild banshee and scare the dickens outta them. I hate doing it, but I’ve learned that once they feel comfortable in my yard, nothing gets rid of them except my old neighbor Randy trapping and relocating them.

Randy died on the Full Moon Lunar Eclipse of May 2021, so I’m on my own unless Randy’s ghost makes an appearance. I do feel like he haunted the yard last year, because I only saw one groundhog, once, last year. Randy had watchdog energy while he lived, and he continued watching over our place last Summer. It feels like he’s moved on now, so “Shock and Awe” is in effect. I put on a Faery Glamour to appear much larger and scarier than I am, and so far, I’ve not had the same groundhog repeat an adventure in our yard. Just in case, I sprinkle organic hot pepper flakes on all my front yard lettuce and chard. I also have various stinky sprays, but those aggravate me more than the critters. 🙂

In terms of bugs, I prefer to attract predator wasps by planting things like yarrow and letting some of my dill, parsley and carrots flower. Some insects can only feed on these types of flowers that face upwards with a wide landing pad:

I also intersperse borage all around the garden. These pretty blue flowers taste like cucumbers, and honeybees LOVE them. So do nearby plants. Something about borage makes it an ideal companion plant to just about everything. Whether you want more pollination, greater mineral uptake or something pretty to create a cottage garden, borage works well.

My only caveat with yarrow and borage is that both can be a bit invasive. I only plant yarrow in containers. It kind of took over parts of the yard in Goshen! You can pull it out and compost it, or make an analgesic tea from the leaves. I have magenta yarrow, which also makes a long lasting cut flower that even looks good as the blooms fade. I just keep it in pots now, because yarrow can be a garden thug. Like borage, it’s a fantastic companion plant — as long as you contain it!

Borage is an annual, so you can keep that under control by deadheading most of the flowers after they’ve bloomed. I like to let a few of them go to seed, so they reseed next year. This goes for parsley and cilantro, too. I have perpetual parsley and cilantro because I let a few branches go to seed and just weed out or transplant the extra seedlings in Spring. I do this with love in a mist and miners lettuce, too. I don’t really enjoy growing things from seeds indoors. A little weeding in exchange for keeping the hardiest, naturally seeded plants feels like a good trade-off.

What about the dreaded cabbage moth caterpillars?! Uggh. Those are not my favorite. The mesh cage around the Garden Tower keeps out the moths unless they sneak in while I’m watering or harvesting.

A downside is that my collards and kale tend to grow much larger when planted in raised beds — but then the moths go to town with their egg laying. The best defense for me seems to be spraying water where the little black eggs collect at the base of the kale stems. I also manually pick off the green caterpillars, and I have a resident frog who also likes to munch on them. Predator wasps and spiders take care of the rest.

Bee balm is another pollinator favorite. In the backyard you see the more traditional purple color, whereas I have the showier red variety up front. Little orange nasturtium flowers peek out the bottom. (If you’re wondering about all the orange flowers — “red hot poker,” naturtiums, and orange day lilies — I plant these because orange is David’s favorite color.)

I currently have an earwig issue, but it’s not terrible. These little pincher bugs love decaying matter and curly leaves like some lettuces and Napa cabbage. They’re terrible around wood mulch! I don’t grow Napa cabbage, so it’s not an earwig pregnancy resort here, but if they get any worse, I’ll sprinkle some diatomaceous earth in areas where they congregate. Diatomaceous earth is an organic powder that kills most insects, so you need to make sure not to put it near flowers. You don’t want to kill the pollinators. I prefer not to kill anything, but sometimes you need to catch issues before they go crazy. Diatomaceous earth adds minerals to the soil and quickly gets rid of slugs and earwigs.

My main advice for garden pests is to plant a wide variety of crops, intersperse them with flowers, and pay attention to soil and light conditions. Plants growing in optimal conditions manage to fight off pests more easily than ones struggling to get what they need. Below you can see purple kale, marigolds, borage, zinnias, garlic, a dwarf sunflower, and cosmos getting ready to bloom.

Tucked away in those same beds are also parsley, lettuce and pepper plants. I like that you can look at the front garden and have no idea it’s an edible garden. All the flowers and different colored varieties of veggies make it the kind of spot that only an experienced gardener would recognize as food. This also helps keep the animal buffet to a minimum. I can’t prove it, but I strongly suspect the motion detector light David installed above our garage door has kept away the deer. But maybe it’s Randy Baker — the best neighbor we’ve ever had. Cheers to you, Randy! We miss you.

Garden Update: Indoor and Outdoor Abundance and Beauty

Happy 11/11 and Happy Veteran’s Day to all who served!

I haven’t given a Fall Garden Update in awhile, and today’s colors are too pretty to keep to myself. From the front yard of edibles mixed with ornamentals:

From the backyard, including some of today’s harvest from the Garden Tower 2:

From the newly expanded indoor garden:

On the weekend, I mentioned foundational shifts. In addition to switching the locations of two portal doors, I moved my old desk behind a painted chest, so that I could add trays of spinach, lettuce, cilantro, parsley and chives along our large South facing window. I love my new L-shaped desk and new extra ergonomic office chair, but I really love having this extra growing space. We don’t have window sills, so this fills a formerly unavailable planting niche.

I’m also pleased that you can barely see the edible additions from our entryway. Except for the reflection in the window, it just looks like a bunch of houseplants:

The additional planting space brings the outdoor garden in. When David first saw what I had done, he said, “You’re going all Frank Lloyd Wright on me!”

I started the little sprouts outside, many weeks ago. Because of the cold temperatures, they grew very slowly — but just the right size for transplanting once I decided to grow inside. Here’s hoping they get enough light to give fresh herbs and greens all winter!

Companion Plants and Edible Landscaping

Cottage gardening — a mixture of flowers, herbs and food crops — allows you to sneak edibles into regular landscaping. By mixing ornamentals and edibles, you can outsmart HOA regulations or deter two-legged thieves from pilfering your front yard garden.

Flowers bring pollinators for greater yields. They also attract predatory wasps, who keep “bad” bugs in check. Interspersing crops among flowers and herbs makes would-be munchers work much harder. Instead of a huge kale buffet, those cabbage moths need to discover their caterpillar’s terrain amidst a bunch of other shapes and colors. Choosing purple varieties also confuses animals that want to decimate your hard work. If you let parsley and cilantro flower, they will not only attract beneficial insects; they’ll also reseed themselves.

All of this makes organic gardening much easier!

I prefer a slightly messy garden. It takes less time to maintain, and keeps a casual flow of colors and shapes throughout the season. In addition, companion plants can alter light or soil conditions in favorable ways, allowing hot weather crops a longer season, or repelling things that would otherwise lower yields.

Just sharing some recent photos because my garden brings so much food and joy. You can add freshness and a little food sovereignty bit by bit:

bee balm, flowering parsley, shiso, tomato, and chives
yellow squash, chamomile, flowering onion and kale to the right
“perennial” purple kale, zinnias, nasturtium, banana peppers and more
“perennial” collards (right), sage, yarrow, chives, dianthus, nasturtium, tomato and more
area behind our shed with yellow squash, cucumbers, flowering purple mustard, and potted nettles

Sometimes you garden so much that you start looking like a garden, and that’s OK, too.

Plant Nannies and Today’s Garden

Some quick photos from this morning’s garden show the strategic use of “plant nannies.” I wrote about plant nannies in a 2018 post called “Edible Landscaping Secrets,” and I still recommend them for the Garden Tower Project and any plants that need more water than their neighbors. You can use mineral water bottles or wine bottles — anything with a long enough neck to fit in the terra cotta spike that digs into the soil. The terra cotta slowly releases water if the nearby soil dries out. If the soil’s moist, the water stays in the bottle until needed.

I scatter the plant nannies around the Garden Tower. Otherwise, I find the soil dries out by late afternoon’s scorching temps. With the nannies, I can go longer between waterings, and my plants feel less stressed and therefore healthier. These photos also show the (unzipped) mesh cage and rabbit fencing around the base. Yes, that’s volunteer lettuce in the patio cracks!

I have heavily harvested this Garden Tower for months, and it shows plants of varying degrees of growth. I recently removed the now bolted spinach and replaced that with carrots, rainbow chard and zinnias. Those are the holes with less growth.

We’ve had weather in the 80’s and 90’s for weeks, which would normally make all this lettuce bolt. I’ve found I can harvest the heads “too much” if I know it will be close to 90. That robs the plants of enough energy to shift from leaves to flowers and seeds. When it cools a bit, I let the leaves grow again. I’ve lost track of how many giant salads David and I have made from the Garden Tower. So fresh — and critter free! The mesh cage also keeps cabbage moths off my kale and collards. 🙂

Some other shots from today… It’s officially “Orange Season” here — David’s favorite color!

Wishing you a beautiful day!

Hair and Garden Update

Whew, it’s hot and HUMID here in Michigan! Here’s a little photo update of the garden in mid-late Summer. This tends to be a time of fewer blooms. The trick is regular deadheading (popping off the spent flowers). Many plants will rebloom to complement new bloomers like hummingbird mint, hibiscus, hostas, echinacea and cosmos. Before long, it will be aster and mum season.

The garden continues to yield more produce for less work, so I’m liking that! Between massive amounts of greens from the enclosed Garden Tower 2 and cucumbers, squash, herbs, banana peppers, carrots and eggplant in the open beds, every day brings a sizable harvest. It’s not the over-abundance I used to need to deal with while quasi-farming in Goshen: rather, a steady supply of fresh flavors and nutrients.

Some photos from today:

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dinner plate hibiscus

 

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Late May Garden

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Garden Update ~ Life in Death and Flowers Galore

It’s so amazing how nature sorts itself. I’ve mentioned the weeping birch in front of our house, which according to neighbors, has struggled for five years. I kept trying and trying to keep this tree alive, but it turns out a dead tree really does support more life than a living one. I had heard that before, but I still wanted the birch to survive. It seems that nature had other plans, because this tree actually looks more dramatic and faery without leaves, and it gives the garden much more sun:

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I have another, far more magical and accurate looking photo of that birch tree and surrounding garden, which I’ve unsuccessfully tried posting for weeks. In the photo you see above, most of the camera shy beings are out of sight. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get that other photo to load. If you want to know what the garden really looks like, imagine the above photo with extra shimmer and glow, and the hanging branches creating a “mist” even on sunny afternoons. The photo above is flat compared to the life force energy radiating from that tree and the plants and beings around it.

We have way more birds in our front yard this year due to all the fun perches available now. I see gold finches, cardinals and robins throughout the day. On a recent morning, Continue reading

Garden Pretties

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This clematis was almost dead when we moved here, and now it’s been healthy and blooming for weeks. Delphinium came out today:

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Garden Firsts: Columbine, Iris, Sea Kale, Rhododendron, Roses, and the Portable 2017 Garden

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Stunning columbines this year! It is crazy windy today, so some of these photos aren’t as clear as I’d like. Too pretty to keep to myself, though. 🙂

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Flowering sea kale, is an edible perennial that looks good all season. Even better, you can eat every single part from roots to shoots to leaves to buds to flowers:

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The first of many varieties Continue reading

17(ish) tips for Edible Activists

This list comes from the good folks at the Incredible Edible City of Todmorden in England. I think they’re great tips, but please ignore the “Magic is not possible” statement, as that’s already been proven false.

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What?! You haven’t heard of Todmorden? Watch and be inspired by something “anybody can do, anywhere.”

Like what you see? This list helps you replicate it in your locale.