The year’s first update in pictures

As promised last week, it’s time for our first visual round-up of the garden. Not much more to say beyond that, so we’ll let the pictures do the talking!


Starting round back, only a handful of the tomatoes we planted in our back barrels are doing alright. We also planted pepper seedlings back here, but only one barrel of them survived, and they aren’t looking so hot. We’re really going to have to figure out how to get peppers again next year.

Moving around to the side, the various bush beans that we planted are doing okay. Rabbits got into a couple of the rows, so they have fewer plants. But it still looks like we’ll get a good number of beans, at least.

Cucumbers, anyone? The ones that are doing best are the volunteers – we found four a couple weeks ago. But the seeded ones are also starting to look very promising. We also stuck a couple tomato plants and a pepper plant in the middle – one of the tomatoes might need to be transplanted soon.

Thanks to the rabbits, the lettuce bed looks pretty sad, save for the flowers and herbs around the edges. (What they don’t know is that not only do we have lettuce planted elsewhere, including inside, but that we plan to reseed this bed in the late summer. HA! Take that you silly rabbits!)

Meanwhile, the other greens bed is look very nice, save for the poor romanesco (you can barely see the remaining stalks in the bottom right square of the bed), and endive (top left). The arugula in the other two squares is doing handsomely (it’s soooo delicious!), as are a number of the crops and flowers around the edges.

This is the lettuce/greens stash we have hiding away in our small hanging bed. No rabbits can get in here! And the squirrels ignore it, too.

The rabbits got into the peas early on, but they are starting to make something of a comeback. Unfortunately it’s a bit too warm for peas right now, but we’ll see if anything comes of the plants that are trying to make it. The extra marigolds along the front edge here seem to enjoy the bed, at least. And there’s extra tomato and peppers plants in here too.

Between the two stone beds, we have our two overwintered peppers (a new seedling went into the green pot top left this year, it’s slowly but surely doing well), a blackberry plant (bottom left) and a blueberry plant (bottom right) that we thought for sure was dead. Lo and behold, a new shoot appeared earlier in the year!

Back over to the beans, the pole beans are in various states. The black beans, which of off to the far right, seem to be doing the best at this point, but the rest are coming along.

Well isn’t this just a confusing picture of our radishes? Ground cherry plants have appeared in the far barrel. The close one contains only radishes. Well…radish greens, mostly. We’re letting them go to seed.

Over on the side of the house, the strawberries have really taken over (and that’s exactly what we want them to do!), and there’s a single tomato in this small pot that’s doing fairly well.

Continuing on the side of the house are a few more stray tomato plants. If these produce, it’ll likely happen later in the season. They don’t get much sun here, so they tend to grow a little slower. Our hope is that the strawberries that are growing off to the right will eventually take over this entire space.

The squash bed looks just about right, and the plants will soon start producing lots of large, beautiful flowers.

This is the volunteer squash on the end of the bed – it’s advanced quite a bit more than everything else. We’re still not sure what variety this is. The leaves and placement (based on last year) suggest an acorn squash, but odds are also good that it’s also either a Long Pie pumpkin or a traditional green zucchini.

And this is our single volunteer tomato, also in the squash bed. Whatever type it is, it’s a cherry variety for sure, as small fruits have already started appearing.

In contrast, our tomato bed is still looking rather sparse. The plants are actually coming along well, but they aren’t nearly as large as the volunteer tomato. But with the warm autumns that we’ve been having over the past couple years, we’re pretty sure that we’ll still get tomatoes from these plants later in the year.

Back with the strawberries over on the other side of the house. Oh how they’ve spread over the past three years! It’s amazing!

Moving to the front of the yard, this is the the first of our two flower beds. A volunteer red poppy appeared hear a number of weeks ago. It’s now fading, but it sure did produce a lot of blooms.

The second flower bed contains only one flower…

…and it’s a very pretty one. 🙂

That’ll do it for our garden gallery, for now. With July on the way, it’s now time for weeding,  watering, watching, and waiting!

We’ll always have arugula

Welp, the rabbits have had their day and then some.  They have summarily and sneakily done away with our ground-level lettuces, kale, romanesco, and endive. They also managed to get back into the peas, despite the brand-new netting on the cage. (Which they chewed right through – one hole on each side of the cage.) We’ll do a pictures round-up next week to show off the devastation.

SIGH.

Now, we knew that this might be a problem regardless of our efforts with planting bunny-keep-away flowers and redoing some of the netting on the cages,  but we didn’t quite expect that the rabbits would purposefully and, to be frank, knowingly try to get at our crops. Them chewing right through the netting surrounding the peas is testament to that. With the peas, at least, we repaired the holes in the net cage with double layers of new netting, and they’ve not chewed any new holes since, so maybe that’s good. Maybe it’s what drove them to decimate everything else in sight. We’re not sure. Without giving the rabbits too much credit, is it too crazy to think that they know what we’re going to plant and where? Hmm. It seems like we might have to rethink our planting strategies next year.

Anyway, of all the leafy green things in the ground that rabbits enjoy, they have always avoided the arugula. Oh, they’ll step all over it to get to the more succulent lettuces, but they’ve never taken but a bite of any of it. We’ve also noticed that they haven’t touched our little bunches of mesclun mix, which contain a formidable green that almost tastes like mustard or horseradish. (But it’s not a mustard green, as far as we can tell.) And they can’t get to the greens that we have growing in a small hanging bed, so that’s a plus. But now we’re thinking: are peppery, potent, spicy greens the way to go for ground-level planting?

If so, that’s fine by us! We l-o-v-e arugula, and this year we planted two different types. In the picture above, which contains a mix of argulas and other greens, we have standard arugula, the kind with the big, fluted leaves that one might see in the grocery store. It’s generally peppery with a delicious licorice-like flavor. But then we have Wild Rocket Arugula, which is like a mini version of standard arugula. It’s got an even stronger flavor that almost like lemon-pepper. Since we started planting arugula a few years ago, it’s always done well. And it’s the kind of green that we can re-seed (though it also seeds itself, we’ve found) throughout the season.

So despite whatever problems the rabbits have caused, we’ll always have arugula. 🙂

 

One can never have too many strawberries…maybe

If there’s one thing that we’ve wanted to do ever since starting strawberries, it’s make a strawberry pie.  Okay, so maybe it’s not the most groundbreaking goal, but it’s a goal nonetheless.  And as trite as it might sound, it really comes down to the true goal: get enough strawberries to make a pie. Well, this year, the strawberries haven’t disappointed.

Last week we lamented a bit on how much critters, like slugs and squirrels, like strawberries too. (And we swear we saw a shrew in the strawberry patch the other day, too.) Last week, we were also dealing with a bout of grim, wet weather.  So far this week, not only have we had clear skies,  but it’s been sunny and hot. Like record-breaking H.O.T., which stinks for the humans, but is great for the strawberries.  In fact, it’s possible we might have too many strawberries…

…nah.

Anyway, back to the pie. The recipe for the pie we had in mind came from our trusty Better Homes and Garden cookbook: Berry Glacé Pie. It sounds fancy, but it’s super simple, requires no cooking save for a baked pie shell, and as it turns out, totally delicious. (As much as we’ve wanted to make a strawberry pie, the worry remained that a baked pie would result in mushy, nearly non-existent berries, which is pretty unappetizing.  Because this is a chilled pie, the berries stay nice and firm, softening up only slightly over time.)

Berry Glacé Pie

 Ingredients

1 baked pie shell (homemade, store-bought, your choice)
8 cups fresh strawberries (the smaller, the better)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

(Yes, 4 ingredients; that’s it!)

Instructions

  1. Prepare you pie shell in whatever manner is necessary.
  2. For strawberries, remove stems and leaves. Cut any large strawberries in half lengthwise and set aside in a bowl.
    (Note: since all our strawberries have to be vetted for anything that might have burrowed their way inside [yuck], we cut all our strawberries in half. The prettier version of the pie, as listed below, contains whole strawberries that are neatly arranged with their pointy ends up. We just layered our berries as they seemed to best fit.)
  3. For the glaze, in a blender container or food processor bowl combine 1 cup of the strawberries and 2/3 water. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Add enough additional water to the mixture to equal 1 1/2 cups. In a medium saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch; stir in blended berry mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. (Optional: stir in a few drops red food coloring.) Cool for 10 minutes without stirring.
  4. Spread about 1/4 cup of the glaze over bottom and sides of pie crust. Arrange half of the remaining strawberries, stem ends down, in pastry.
  5. Carefully spoon half of the remaining glaze over berries, making sure all berries are covered. Arrange remaining berries over first layer. Spoon remaining glaze over berries, covering each. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. (After 2 hours, filling may begin to water out). Garnish with whipped cream.

The most surprising thing about this pie, and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all,  is how refreshingly bright it tastes. Because our berries are a little tart and the glaze is very sweet, the pie is perfectly balanced, neither too sweet nor too tart. It’s also kept pretty well over several days, despite the recipe’ s warning that the glaze might become watery. Ours hasn’t, though it has congealed, darkened, and become a little cloudy. It’s probably best, indeed, that the pie is eaten sooner rather than later, but as much as we could probably eat a single pie in a day, we probably shouldn’t.  Probably.

Take one baked pie shell…
…and some strawberries…
…top with glaze and chill. Voila!
Presently, the strawberry crop is slowing down a little, though new growth is appearing, as are new flowers. Right now, we’ve got enough berries for another pie, but maybe we should aim to make jam or something. We’ll see.
Meanwhile in the garden, things are doing okay.  It’s looking like the majority of tomato seedling are starting to really take root. Can’t say the same about the peppers, sadly. Looks like another slim year there. But the cucumber, beans, and squash are all taking off, as are some of the radishes. Peas are another story. (Maybe we’ll get to that lament week.) And we’ve got greens for days. Delicious!
So many delicious salads!

Berry Good

Despite the fact that we got the garden started later than usual this year, the strawberries are right on time! June is strawberry month round these parts, and we were heartily rewarded this past week with a host of ripened and ripening berries.

So far, we’re on track for our largest harvest yet, and that just from looking at all the berries to be that are still outside. In the past, not only was our strawberry spread not as large, but it always seemed as though the birds and squirrel got to them before we ever did. This year, the rainy weather has kept most of the critters at bay. Plus, we’re picking the berries just before they get to their sweetest points, and then we’re ripening them indoors. The results aren’t perfect – the berries remain a little tart – but we’d rather get a sizeable harvest than a totally perfect harvest.

Unfortunately, the rainy weather has has its downside for the berries in the form of slugs. Ick. There’s nothing more disappointing than seeing what looks like a perfect berry only to turn it around and find it either half-eaten or worse, with a slug still in residence. Bad berries with slugs get tossed; bad berries without them get squished back into the soil in the hope for more berries in the years to come. Interestingly, bugs in general haven’t seemed to bother the berries. It’s really only the slugs that have been a problem. Because of them, all berries get thoroughly washed and checked before any eating happens. Biting into a bad berry…well…that’d be no fun.

:::shivers:::

But enough talk about slugs. The point is, we have strawberries, and they are delicious! We hope to have strawberries spread into the garden bed that sits right on the side of the house. Because the more strawberries we grow, the better our chances are of getting good harvests. After all, it’s not like the slugs or birds or squirrel can eat ALL the berries, right?

RIGHT?

🙂

Gray Skies Are Gonna Clear Up?

So after having a truly successful time in the garden last weekend, this past weekend was…well…a little less so. It wasn’t a complete letdown — we did enjoy some Memorial Day festivities, and we got out in the garden to finish transplanting our tomato and pepper seedlings, but it was cool and gray overall. And rainy. Pretty darn rainy, in fact, late Sunday into Monday (Memorial Day), which we didn’t expect. And unfortunately all this took its toll on the new seedlings, especially the peppers. Despite the fact that we did everything we could to harden them off properly, the pepper remained especially fragile. Not all of them succumbed to the rain, but many of them did. The same went for a handful of the tomato seedlings, but most of them seemed to survive okay. If anything, they remain susceptible to being dug up by birds and squirrels, but that’s our fault. We haven’t been as diligent with using netting as we have been in the past. It’s actually proven to be more of a headache than anything.

Anyway, we still have a few seedlings left in their trays, so we’ll likely be putting them out this coming weekend to take the places of anything that died. Additionally, we still have to seed out flower beds in the front yard and generally plant flowers wherever there are free spots. (Flowers are this year’s critter-keep-away experiment!) On watch right now are the strawberries, which are now starting to ripen…and they’re getting noticed by the squirrels. And slugs. Yuck. Yeah, the wet weather really hasn’t helped with the slugs. It looks like things are going to clear up and warm up over the week, so fingers crossed that we’re able to start strawberry picking soon!

Besides waiting to see if all our new plantings take, we’ve been enjoying what’s becoming a very decent crop of green and lettuces!

Two of our raised beds hold a luscious variety of leafy things, including what we most recently harvested: a mix of mesclun greens, baby arugula, a few leaves of a red spinach (can recall the variety at the moment…), and baby leaves from two of our new leaf lettuces: Green Ice and Red Vulcan. The mesclun mixes are really potent. Not sure of the exact varieties they contain, but mustard green are certainly one of them. Together with the peppery arugula, they’ll set your soaring into spiciness! Thankfully, the leaf lettuces are buttery and mild, and the spinach is nice and earthy. All together, the spinach and mild lettuces and spicy greens, tossed with just a hint of a sweet balsamic vinaigrette, form a beautiful and very tasty salad. This most recent harvest only formed enough for a couple side salads, but soon we should have enough to start making main-dish salads. Really looking forward to that!

Now we’re cooking!

And we mean “cooking” in the figurative sense. We will certainly be cooking, literally, later on in the summer once all of our lovely vegetables appear, which we’ve now fully planted! Well…almost. Though we still have at least one plot to plant, over the weekend, we met our goal to have the majority of the rest of the garden planted. This included our tomato and pepper seedlings, along with cucumbers, squash, and beans.

While we didn’t need to get everything in the ground this past weekend — our planting calendar’s last viable day for planting is May 31 — we didn’t want to miss out on the perfectly perfect weather. Okay, so it was a little on the cooler side generally, but we’d much rather be working outside when it’s in the breezy 70s than in the heat of the 90s.  Plus, a big rainy storm just passed, and we wanted to get things in the ground before any more mudiness ensued. So we set to work last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And it paid off!

First off, we planted our cucumber bed. And though you can’t really tell from the picture, there are little mounds all around the edges from which cucumbers will soon sprout! We also uncovered a couple volunteer cucumbers that you can see at the bottom and right-hand edges.

Then, we seeded the entire bean bed. In the horizontal rows are all of our bush beans, and then pole beans will eventually take over the cages in the middle.  At the far end of the bed, we ended up planted more peas. That particular spot is very shady thanks to a neighboring tree, and nothing we’re ever put there has seemed to do well. In the past, we’ve tried beans and cucumbers, and their yields were mediocre. This year, we decided on peas. If nothing else, they might just save the beans! We know from past experience that rabbits really like bean shoots, but they really, really like pea shoots. So if any peas do come up, we’ll happily sacrifice them as long as they distract the rabbits from the beans.

Moving on, we planted eight groupings of tomato seedlings along the edge of our first stone bed. There’s still asparagus coming up on the other side, so we’re avoiding planting there for the moment. (That may change as we have lots of tomato seedlings.) (Also, sorry for the sideways picture. A couple others are probably coming up. We were a little tired at this point.)

In the second stone bed are all our squashes. After getting way too many traditionally large zucchini a couple years back, we didn’t plant any zucchini seeds this year, save for a small golden zucchini variety. The volunteer squash at the end of the bed is still a question mark, but hopefully we’ll get some nice variety this year — acorn, butternut, pattypan, long pie, and so on.

And along the back, our barrels contain an array of peppers and tomatoes.

(Seriously, the sideways pictures are bit much. Going to have to look at these camera settings!)

All in all, we had a great weekend of planting, and it’s a relief to have just about everything in the ground now. As we mentioned, we still have at least one more bed to plant – not sure yet what’s going to go in it. Probably more tomatoes and peppers, somehow. But that decision will have to wait until next weekend. Also, it looks like we may be harvesting strawberries soon! Probably not within the rest of the month, but hopefully next month. They’ve been a little slow to grow and ripen, but it looks like some warm weather is once again on it’s way, which will really help them along.

And finally, check out what else we found growing:

This is a tall red poppy that we found growing in our yet-to-be flower beds at the edge of front yard. (By “yet-to-be” it means that the beds need to be weeded and planted. More tasks for Memorial Day weekend!) The funny thing is that we’ve never specifically planted any poppies in these beds, ever. However, last year we got some free wildflower seeds from our of our seed companies, and we scattered them in these flower beds. Nothing came of them last year, but we think this poppy was part of the mix, and somehow the seeds survived the winter. It’s a very pretty flower, and the plant looks like it contains a few more buds, so maybe we’ll see a few more flowers show up before its demise.

Rain, Rain, Go Away; or, Be Careful What Your Wish For

As predicted, this past weekend was pretty much a wash. The weather folks all said that it was going to do nothing but rain on Saturday, as well as Friday night and possibly sometime on Sunday. While we don’t know what happened Friday night because we were sleeping, and though we did get a passing shower on Sunday, Saturday was all rain, all day. So, no planting or transplanting happened.

[huff 😦 huff]

However. We still had a pretty productive weekend.

First, there was the bathroom, which has evolved into a “re-insulating a portion of our attic” project. While the work area is still a mess, and that mess has spilled over into seemingly every part of the house, we managed to get quite a lot done — namely placing small pieces of foam insulation into about a million cracks and crevices.  That may not sound like a lot, but when the work involves lots of measuring, cutting, and crawling around in a tiny space, time seemed to fly by rather quickly. Interestingly, since the bathroom we’re working on is on the house’s second floor, it was rather serene working with the rain pitter-pattering away on the roof. That didn’t make the work any easier, but it felt a little less stressful. That was nice. (Maybe we should have one of those rain soundtracks playing all the time during work!)

That was all on Saturday. On Sunday, after getting off to a really chilly start in the morning, things warmed up significantly in the afternoon. With the sun brightly shining, we had to get outside and do something, at least. The ground remained super soggy and the planting beds were cold and muddy, so there wasn’t going to be any planting happening. Instead, we opted to start replacing the netting on our cages. Of the four that we made, three of them had been chewed through by our resident rascally rabbits, and on all of them, the netting was falling apart in some manner. So we got out the replacement netting and all the cable ties were could fine, and got to work.

It’s not obvious, but this cage has all-new netting.

In the end, we only had enough ties to complete one cage, but it’s the most important one: the net around the pea bed. If we discovered on thing and one thing only, it’s that rabbits l-o-v-e pea shoots. We actually had a few growing from seeds that we threw in the bed last month, but they had been summarily eaten. The fact that the rabbits could hop right through the cage didn’t help matters any, so getting to that cage first was the priority. Thankfully, we had just enough cable ties to do the trick. The others will have to wait another week until we can get some more ties.

They aren’t as much of a priority, because it would seem that maybe, just maybe, the concrete blocks have kept the rabbits at bay Our greens and lettuce beds are actually showing signs of life, and that life hasn’t been nibbled at…yet!

In this raised bed, there’s arugula (top right, bottom left), kale (top left), and romanesco (bottom right). In the surrounding spots we planted a variety of things from lettuces to flowers to carrots to radishes to, yes, even onions! Not sure that it will all do well, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
In this raised bed, we planted various lettuces and spinach in the main part, surrounded by more lettuces, flowers, and herbs — basil, thyme, dill, and cilantro.

So we’re on our way! With the drenching on Saturday, we heartily wished for a respite from the wetness, and it seems out calls were answered. This week and weekend there’s no rain in sight…and it’s going to be extremely warm with some days reaching into the 80s and possible up to 90. That’s a bit much for May, but we’ll take it. Plus, our strawberries should have a grand time once it heats up. Hopefully the heat won’t be too much, though. The good thing is that it should dry everything out so that we’ll be ready to plant and transplant this weekend. Can’t put things off much longer!

And here are a few more pictures to finish up this week’s garden round-up:

We planted more lettuce in our small hanging — they just started sprouting.
The radishes in our barrels are coming along nicely, and that’s despite the fact that we forgot to cover them with netting. Thankfully, the squirrels and birds haven’t dug in them too much.
This radish barrel looks a little more promising.
While weeding, we discovered and marked a patch of volunteer squash in one of the stone beds. Wonder what variety it’ll turn out to be? (Our guess: zucchini or Long Pie pumpkin.)
We’re just a couple weeks away from strawberry season! Hopefully the warm temps this week will prompt ours to grow and ripen.