January in Bloom

Sequoia Strawberry flower.

Sequoia Strawberry flower.

I planted a dozen Sequoia strawberry plants about a week ago.  It’s a June bearing variety that does well in California and is one of the earliest Spring crops where safe from frost.  June bearers generally produce a single large crop in spring to early summer and are prolific producers for 3 to 4 weeks.  Plus, they are root knot nematode resistant, which works well with my RKN soil.

Eva's Pride peach is already about to bloom!

Eva’s Pride peach is already about to bloom!

We’ve had little rain this winter and unseasonably warm weather during the day, which has encouraged this already early bloomer to be on the verge of something that I’ve never had before in the garden.  A blooming fruit tree is January.  That feels like a garden miracle!

Another view of Eva's Pride.  I've never tasted this peach as this is my first Spring with her after rescuing her from a small pot from a previous place of employment, but I've read that it has a "zing."

Another view of Eva’s Pride. I’ve never tasted this peach, as this is my first Spring with her after rescuing her from a small pot from a previous place of employment, but I’ve read that it has a “zing.”  Can’t wait!

Even my grapevine seems to be early this year.

Even my grapevine seems to be early this year.  But I’m not complaining!

Royal Lee Cherry budding in groups.  My two cherries seem to be the only ones to bud in groups, which makes sense since cherries form in clusters!

Royal Lee Cherry budding in groups. My two cherries seem to be the only fruit trees in my backyard orchard to bud in groups, which makes sense since cherries form in clusters!

Even though cherries aren’t supposed to fruit until at least year three, and I’m just my second Spring, I’m still crossing my fingers for maybe just a few cherries, or even one lone straggler.  Yes, that would be just fine with me!

Summer Beauty

I’ve allowed the Cinnamon Basil to flower because darn it if I can’t bring myself to pinch those lovely purple flower stems.

An enticing pumpkin flower beckoning the sun and the bugs.  Look closely and you can see a baby pumpkin peeking out in the lower left corner.

Love. The plant, the berry, the colors.

Pole green beans

Lemon cukes hanging out on a lazy Friday morn.

Mandevilla. This year I took a stab at growing it for the first time and I’m a fan. The secret? Fertilizer. It likes to dry out between watering, too. Here is graces the hen hang out around their coop, adding some soft lines and color to the dirt digs.

All 5 girls are broody. They just sit in here. All. Day.

Sighs from the absence of delicious eggs aside, I’ve come to accept, even feel relief when broodiness ascends upon my Silkies.  It gives them a break from so much production (an egg a day for each hen) and it gives me a break as well from overlooking while they’re out and quieting morning squawking.

I don’t try to break them, dip them in ice baths or isolate in a cage.  I wait the few weeks for them to finish their cycle and start laying again on their own.  No stress.  I let nature do it’s thing.  That is, after all, why I have them in the first place.  To live a bit closer to nature and to go with the ebb and flow.  Have a good, calm, natural life, sweet hens.

An Alternative to Grass 2.0: Inspired by Mom

In honor of upcoming Mother’s Day, I’m dedicating a well-deserved post entirely to my mom’s unique and inspiring garden.  It’s usually a parent who is proud of his or her child, but in this case it’s me who is proud of my mom.  There are many things to be proud of her for, but this particular post speaks to her amazing, lush, bountiful grass-free garden.  She doesn’t have one blade of grass growing anywhere on her property.  And she has one of the greenest thumbs I know, to boot.  She has instilled a love of gardening in me from a very young age.  I have many memories of watering and planting flowers with her.

Last year my parents took out their lawn (all on their own) and put in primarily low-water perennials, including a beautiful rock stream bed.  Many rock stream beds look completely unnatural and manmade, but theirs captured a much more natural feel, thanks to a variety of high quality rocks in varying sizes.  They designed the placement of each large rock and the flow of the stream bed to accent their plant design and natural shape of the front yard.

Here’s what it looked like BEFORE (a very typical suburban yard):



View from the sidewalk.

Approaching the front door, there is an alternate flag stone pathway leading to a restful bench.

One of my favorite things about their front yard is the variety of plants.  It lends so much visual interest.  The plants spilling over into the rock stream bed add to the natural look.

And if that wasn’t enough garden eye candy, a few weeks back my mom decided to take on another garden adventure close to my heart: a vegetable garden.  Her backyard is home to a gorgeous succulent container garden.  We cleared the sunniest area, disposed of more than a few root-bound potted succulents and filled the pots with fresh, organic potting soil.  We made a special trip to a nursery with an extensive veggie selection, which allowed my mom to pick out a cucumber, yellow squash and green bean specifically bred for containers.  They are more compact and do well in such a situation.  These types of veggies can also be found in many seed catalogues.

You can do a vegetable container garden, too!

Yellow Squash loving it’s new home.

I donated a few things that I’d grown from seeds, such as a Black Krim heirloom tomato and a cherry tomato seedling. She is so pleased with her new veggie garden that the other day we added two more pots and planted Alpine strawberry seeds, basil seeds and yellow & green patty pan squash seeds.

Way to go, Mom!  Now you’ve got your own bountiful backyard.  I can’t wait for you to taste your first harvest.

I love gardening with you.

The World of Alpine Strawberries

Watching me trying to haul away an overwhelming arm-load of edible gardening books from the library must be a comical sight.  In the moment I always tell myself that I got too many again and that next time I’ll only get a few (yeah right).  I am so fortunate to have an enormous, well-equiped library near my house (they have a great weekly puppet show and story time for my daughter as well).  So this weeks’ haul included a standout piece called, The Food Lover’s Garden, by Mark Diacono.  His philosophy is that one should grow unique, fascinating edibles that are either too expensive or unavailable in the grocery store or farmer’s market.  His book narrows down his top picks in all categories of edibles, including mulberries, fuchsia (yes, in the right variety), chevril, artichokes, daylilies and oca, to name a few.  Of course he also includes a unique, tempting recipe for each food.

In theory, I agree with his argument.  Potatoes and carrots are inexpensive and easily accessible (even organic), but I don’t think I’ll stop growing them any time soon. I still love their fresh, flavorful qualities.  Plus, even your carrots and potatoes can be unique, such as the Cosmic Purple carrots and blue potatoes that are growing in my backyard.  Diacono attempts to dispel the notion that rare edible foods are somehow unappetizing or nearly impossible to grow.  Subconsciously we reason that if Goji berries were delicious and relatively easy to grow that they would be on the produce stand.  Not necessarily.

After plowing through the highlights, one item stood out in my mind as something I’d like to try: Alpine Strawberries.  When I miraculously found a packet of their seeds (the Mignonette variety, which is an improved cultivar of ‘Renee de Valee’ – an old heirloom variety – and bears fruit that are larger, sweeter and more deeply flavored than other alpines) at my favorite specialty nursery last week, it was as if the gardening heavens had aligned and I would be savoring these little cuties for years to come.  Hopefully.

Diacono eloquently describes: “Alpine Strawberries may be my favorite of all strawberries.  These fingernail-sized berries are full of that sweet strawberry flavor but have an almondy, vanilla undertone absent in their larger cousins.  And although I love the firmness of summer strawberries, alpines seduce you with their tendency to dissolve on the tongue.  You hardly feel them, they’re so soft.  Perfectly ripe, a handful feels like clouds of strawberry condensing on your tongue.”

Imagine the sweetest, most complex baby strawberry dissolving on your tongue…One of the many great benefits of these beauties is their extended harvest season from mid spring to late fall.  They also turn great fall hues when the cold comes.  They prefer full sun but will still do well in part shade.  As a rule I’d heard that growing strawberries from seed was trying due to the haphazard germination rate and lengthy wait for the first sprouting.  It just so happens that Alpines are relatively easy to grow from seed.  Just make sure not to sow too deeply, as these are probably the most miniature seeds you’ll ever handle.  Barely cover with a thin layer of soil.  The seed packet says 1/8″, so you get the idea.  Keep moist during the first few weeks.  I sowed mine only 5 days ago and I already spotted my first seedling!

“Mignonette” Alpine Strawberry seedling.

My plan is to tuck in these little bushes (sans runners) in and among my entire veggie garden.  I’m looking forward to tasting something I’ve never experienced before, miles away from the generic.

April Garden Update

Here’s my great Lifetime Raised Garden Bed bursting with heirloom tomatoes, golden beets, lettuce and Cosmic Purple carrot seedlings along the left perimeter.

The other day I planted some marigolds in and around my veggie beds.  I’ve read that  annual marigolds can be used anywhere to deter Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs, thrips, tomato hornworms, aphids and whiteflies. They are also known to repel harmful root knot nematodes (soil dwelling microscopic white worms) that attack tomatoes, potatoes, roses, and strawberries. The root of the Marigold produces a chemical that kills nematodes as they enter the soil.  Plus they add a pop of color!

Now that Spring is in full swing and the soil is consistently above 50 degrees, I am direct sowing seeds into the garden.  In this bed I have various tomatoes, lettuce, Di Cicco broccoli, golden beets and some cabbage that is ready to harvest.  The other half of this bed is below:

The Sharpblue blueberry at the bottom of this photo is doing very well since I planted it in January.  Above it along the vertical trellis are lemon cucumbers and pole green beans.  In the middle of the bed are edamame and broccoli.

My Persimmon and Pineapple heirloom tomatoes that I purchased as seedlings are doing well in terms of growth, but are both experiencing blossom drop and early blight.  Damp, cool weather can create a fungus on tomatoes called early blight, which looks like small dark spots on the lower leaves.  I’ve never dealt with this issue before, but after some research, I have trimmed the most infected lower leaves and sprayed the entire plant with an organic copper solution.  I also sprayed a calcium spray on the flowers, which is supposed to help prevent blossom drop.  They could also be dropping due to damp conditions.  So much to know!  Once the weather corrects itself, so the speak, the tomatoes may pull out of it.

Here's one other tomato falling victim to early blight. You can see how I've trimmed out the lower effected leaves.

I’ve also been battling significant potato problems.  I had my heart set on growing sweet potatoes this summer, but we’ll just have to see on that.  Maybe next year!  I thought that a rodent of some kind was gnawing  the foliage due to the significant breaks on the stems, so we put chicken wire around the grow pot.  The no avail, it’s still worsening.  I went out last night to check out the situation, hoping to catch the varmint and only saw slugs.  Could they be doing all of this??  I will probably have to prematurely dig up my potatoes.  I’m not sure how they can survive this.  Hopefully it’ll at least be a small crop since they’re been growing since December.

All within the last week I’ve planted from seed:

  • Moon and Stars Watermelon
  • Charentais melon
  • Red Warty Thing pumpkins
  • Fairytale pumpkins
  • Jarrahdale pumpkins
  • Sunburst yellow / Peter Pan green pattypan scallop summer squash and ………drumroll please………..
  • Alpine Strawberries!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’ve heard that growing strawberries from seed can be trying and difficult (they take 3-4 weeks to even sprout!), but when I saw their seed packet today at the nursery, I could not resist.  I asked the garden specialist what she knew about growing them from seed and she laughed, saying, “We don’t even carry them.  You may want to just but a six-pack.”  Then I showed her the packet in my hand and she was shocked!  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen them in any store.  They’re already out in the garden, working their magic.  I’ve got a good feeling!

Virtual Garden Tour

A Cherokee Purple Heirloom Tomato that is really taking off. Growing tomatoes from seed this year has been so rewarding and definitely worth it.

Sequoia strawberry is also stretching it's legs. That little white berry is my first ever home-grown strawberry!

Many heirloom tomato seedlings having graduated up to the next level and are now continuing their growth in larger recycled pots that I saved from some nursery purchases. These are destined to be Mother's Day gifts! They really start maturing just at the right time. 🙂

A rainbow cherry tomato. Remember that cherry tomato seed packet that I found with 5 different colored tomatoes all in one packet? Well this is one of those. It'll be exciting to see what color this one will be! White, red, orange, yellow or green. Cool!

Last year I tried seed saving for the first time and I guess I did something right because this seedling is from a seed I saved from my pole green beans! The longer you collect seed from any given plant season after season, the more acclimated the seeds/plants become to your particular conditions and the better it does.

There were about 6 shoots coming from this green seedless Thompson grapevine. I read that you should chose the two thickest, healthiest shoots and cut off the rest. The idea is that you train up one main shoot the first year grown from bare-root and the second is a backup just in case something happens to the first. Ever since I cut off the other shoots, the growth has greatly increased. The main shoot will then create it’s own shoots next year and those will be trained horizontally. By that time this baby will be out of it’s huge pot and in the ground.  I found a few helpful videos on youtube.

A future peach. I’ve seen a significant lack of bees this year and I wondered how many of the flowers would get pollinated to go on to form a peach.  A veggie garden blog that I follow (and would highly recommend) called My Tiny Plot in Bath, England recently made this post about how she hand pollinated her peach. It seems that somehow there are plenty of peaches for harvest this summer on my tree, perhaps around 50 for this one 5 year old tree.

The Diana fig seems happy. Just wish it would grow more! It's 3 years.

Can't wait! Figs are a unique favorite of mine and can be made into some elegant dishes.

A few of the Silkies poking around the new bed. The grass was dewy that morning, which slicks back the feathers around their faces and actually allows me to see their eyes! A rare treat!

A volunteer nasturtium cascading down the blueberry pot.

Here's what the Double Delight nectarine has been up to.

.....And the Burgundy plum.

Over the winter I took out some sad shrubs from this planter leading to my doorway and created a grouping of three brick colored pots which also match the front door. There’s a palm also in this planted and it’s roots have made planting almost anything in the ground here impossible.  I’ve planted some succulents around the pots, so hopefully they will manage.  In the  2 larger pots are tomatoes and the smallest some All Season Butterhead lettuce.

How could I overlook this beauty on my photo extravaganza?

California poppy I seeded last year.

I hope you all have enjoyed the tour.  I’ll be here all week.  Feel free to tip your waitress.

I Am Officially In Love

In the spring garden I find myself appreciating life’s sweet simplicities.  I am out in the garden so much now, that I’ve contemplated pitching a tent, which would also help me get the snails and slugs in the middle of the night.  No, not really!  (Well it may have crossed my mind.)  Watching my vegetables and fruit grow day by day is a true simple pleasure.

As spring gets into full swing, I can’t help asking myself if I’m growing everything my little heart desires.  With the new bed, I can really sink my teeth into this whole veggie gardening thing this year.  Here’s a list of the fruits and vegetables that are currently growing in my garden:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Potatoes ( Yukon and Blue)
  3. Sugar snap peas
  4. All Season Butterhead Lettuce
  5. Cosmic Purple carrots
  6. Cucumbers (Lemon and Persian Baby Green Fingers)
  7. Golden Beets
  8. Green beans (Rattlesnake, Purple and Blue Lake pole)
  9. Edamame
  10. Heirloom Tomatoes (Rainbow Cherry, Black Krim, Persimmon, Old German, Pineapple, Purple Cherokee and Brandywine)
  11. Grapes (Green Thompson Seedless and Purple Thompson Seedless – both of which won’t fruit this year!  Bummer.)
  12. Burgundy Plum (will not fruit this year)
  13. Double Delight Nectarine (will not fruit this year)
  14. No Name Peach
  15. Diana Fig
  16. Various herbs

Oh! And don’t forget sunflowers (Teddy Bear and Giant Mammoth)!  I am definitely planning on collecting and roasting those sunflower seeds…and maybe leaving a few for the birds.

One of the many Mammoth Sunflowers seedlings that I planted along the back perimeter of the south-facing bed.

Hmmmmmm.  After seeing that list, I’d say my heart has nothing left to desire!  Being the practical gal that I am, I strive to grow things that my family eats on a regular basis.  There are so many unique veggies out there, but with my limited space, do I really want to use up room on Bok Choy that I’ll have no idea how to cook?  (Please don’t get me wrong, Bok Choy lovers).  I’m sure down the road my wandering eye will motivate me to try new things, but for now we’ll stick with the basics.

In about May my pumpkin seeds will go in the ground.  I am in love with growing pumpkins!  I’ve got all new kinds this year that I’ve never tried before.  Red Warty Thing, Big Mac, Fairytale and the mystical blue Jarrahdale.  It’s difficult to save the space for them as I’ve been planting so much lately, but the garden is teaching me about succumbing to the present and trusting in tomorrow.  It’s crazy how philosophical I am these days.

My recent seed purchase. They are both stringless with great eating and baking quality!

Springy Stuff!

Things are really shakin’ in the garden!

I got some flack (and rightly so) about only planting 4 toms in my new raised planting bed. So, I relented to the masses and sowed carrots and planted yellow beets and lettuce seedlings along the perimeter. You were right!

One of my 4-5 Sequoia strawberry plants grown from bare root. Most of the 12 or so plants initially took off, but only 4-5 ended up going on to produce a true plant. Not bad for 2 bucks.

My many varieties of second planting seedlings are close to being ready for the earth. I graduated these lemon cucumber seedlings (foreground) to larger containers because I wanted to wait a few more weeks when the weather is a scoash warmer. Plus I've found that the larger you plant 'em, the less likely they're eaten by little rodents.

The yukon gold potatoes are robust and beautiful. I continued to fill these grow pots with soil as the plants grew taller. Now I'll just wait until the foliage begins to yellow, which will signal harvest time. Hint: these guys love coffee grounds.

These potato leaves are slightly different, since I have my blue potatoes in here.

I forgot to take a before pic in the excited haze of pulling out my exasperated woody scented geranium (don't worry, I have cuttings!) to make way for enlarging my smaller plot by 45 square feet! I am so thrilled with it. My husband extended the chicken wire and even buried it down a few inches. This wire keeps out our silkies, wild rabbits, errant soccer balls, toy lawn mowers and hopefully a few fat rats that can't fit through the holes. I know that mice can still squeeze through, but hey.

Another view. I made sure to really work in the bagged amendment about 18" and not compact the soil treading all over it after I was finished.

Here's a new resident in the newly appointed bed. Don't know what it is? It produces a green pod with 3-4 beans inside which make a great appetizer for sushi. Edamame!

A few of the girls feeling out their enclosure. I posted about this a few weeks back. It's some nice metal coated fencing that fits together in sections. I easily remove one section for them to roam the entire yard 1-2 times per week. Most days they stay in here and seem pretty content. They have been vocal a few times this week, which told me they needed their grass time!

Peachy Strawberry Sunflowers

Peachy Strawberry Sunflowers…a new breed of sunflowers just came out that smell like peaches and boast the color of strawberries.  No, not really.  Those are just the things I wanted to write about today and couldn’t think of a witty title.

My first ever home-grown strawberry flower.  Let’s hope the snails and slugs give it a chance to turn into fruit.  They’ve been up to no good on my Sequoia strawberry plants.  I’ve been using Ortho Elementals Snail & Slug killer which is designed for organic gardening.  It claims to be safe to use around pets and children.  The catch, however is that it takes 3-6 days to actually kill the little buggers.  When I find them myself, they make a great Silkie snack.

I am beyond excited about my Mammoth sunflower seedlings.  These emerged in record time and all but one have now popped up.  It’s amazing to think that if all goes well this summer they will be 6′ tall.  These are drought tolerant and do well in poor soils.  Perfect!  They will be planted on the back edge of my veggie garden, so as to not shade anything, all the while still facing south.  It’s important to keep in mind when planting sunflowers that the heads will grow toward the sun, so if you want to enjoy those beauties, position them in your garden where the heads will still be visible to you as they angle toward that bright star in the sky.

The current center of attention in the garden.  It’s as if it screams, “Look at me!”  This peach tree is currently at it’s peak of spring flowers and every year it leaves me in awe, as I think it will for you, too.

New Winter Life

Growing strawberries has traditionally intimidated me and I’ve never tried them!  I have visions of snails, slugs, rats and mice always beating me to a harvest.  Seen as though that was my same reason for not trying to grow vegetables, I knew it was time to take a stab at one of my favorite fruits.  The local home improvement warehouse had bags of a few bare-root varieties.  They were super cheap, so I thought I’d give it a go.

I decided on Sequoia, primarily because it does well in my area and because it’s ever-bearing.  This refers to the fact that it bears over a longer period of time (Spring through late Summer) than the more prolific yet short 3 week harvest time of the June-bearing type.

Life springs forth from the bare-root Sequoia strawberries.

These bare-root plants looked pretty pathetic and brown when I removed them from their package.  I ended up separating about 14 plants ($3.95!!) and planted 2-3 each in 5 pots.  Since their planting about 3 weeks ago, I’ve got a pretty good growth rate: about 12 have new leaves.  Once they begin to mature, I’m planning on dividing them to 1 per pot.

New life.

The second exciting happening in my garden is something I posted about a week or so ago, and that’s my potatoes!  The potatoes in the ground sprouted and grew leaves faster than in my grow pots.  I’m guessing it has something to do with the deeper planting depth in the grow pots.  Now the leaf sprouts are coming up everywhere!

These grow pots are only planted at half their depth.  As the leaves reach toward the sky, I will continue to mound up more soil to create more underground potatoes.  I’m waiting until about a 6″ height before doing my first mounding.

As you may be able to tell here, this second grow pot contains my blue potatoes. I'm so thrilled that their leaves also have a bluish tinge to them!

My in-ground potatoes have a head start to the others. I'm enjoying their attractive foliage and hearty nature.