Friday, September 5, 2008

Mystery Squash

When this squash vine came up in the exact spot that I'd planted our Jack-o-Lantern pumpkins last year, I assumed that it was a volutary reseeding of said pumpkin. After all, I didn't grow any other squash last year, hadn't planted any squash anywhere near that spot this year, and none of my neighbors grow squash. Then the fruit in the picture began to form, and I was a bit surprised by its skinny, elongated form. The vine succumbed to powdery mildew along with the rest of my planted squash vines, but this fruit survived. It was dark green with some striation, so then I thought that perhaps some zucchini had been tossed that way (my yard also happens to be my neighbor's personal landfill, apparently). But lo and behold! After the vine had perished, the squash began to ripen... to orange.

I'm not sure if it's a Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin that just happens to be very oddly shaped, or if it's something else entirely, but we won't be letting it go to waste. I brought it inside finally, and when it ripens further, I'll slice it up and try my grandma's fried squash recipe on it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Organizing a Garden Expansion

Yes, that's right. The gardening season hasn't even ended, and I'm already dreaming up next year's garden. The truth is, I'll change my mind weekly from now until next January or February when my seed orders must be in. With all this indecisiveness, I could end up spending far more than I can afford on plants and seeds as they strike my fancy. That just wouldn't do! I'm on a strict gardening budget, just as I am for everything else, so I have a system to help keep myself on the straight and narrow, budget-friendly garden path.

I've split my budget into three categories: the Edible Garden, the Other Garden, and the Annual Garden Project. Just for clarity's sake, there may be crossover between the two plant sections.

For the Edible Garden, I allow myself to purchase a set of plants or seeds for each of four sections:

~Annual Food Crop-- You could further divide this category into warm season and cold season crops if you like, but my budget this year is likely to be particularly small with a new baby on the way, so I'll be adding only one new annual veggie to my garden.

~Perennial Food Crop-- This could be anything from fruit and nut trees to grapevines to berry bushes or asparagus. Whatever it is, it's likely to be much more costly than the other edible garden purchases because most of these aren't purchased as seed. You can purchase seeds for most of them, but these usually take at least a few years to start producing. In the case of trees, it could be a decade or more. Keep that in mind and budget accordingly. Also keep in mind that many of the plants in this category need several plants or varieties for proper pollination. This can hit your budget especially hard.

~Herb-- These are useful little buggers, attracting pollinators to your yard, providing protection to your veggies when used as companions, providing flavor to your homegrown meals, as well as providing medicine more often than not. This is always my weak budget area. I see herbs or herb seeds, and I. Want. To. Buy. It's very important for me to stay on track here because even a few extra seed packets or plants can really add up.

~Edible Flower-- This is where the edible garden and "other" garden sometimes crossover. Edible flowers are a must in my garden. I use most of them in a manner very similar to herbs.

The Other Garden is also split into four sections, based on the time of the year in which they bloom or provide the most interest. This allows me to maximize the food and shelter for pollinators and other garden beneficials, like birds, throughout the year. The categories are:

~Spring Bloomer-- Um, obviously, plants that bloom in spring. Again, if your budget is larger than mine, you can further break this section down into early, mid, and late spring bloomers. I just try to alternate years, buying early one year, mid the next, and late after that. These plants are so very important since they provide the earliest food sources for beneficials just coming out of hibernation. The earlier your garden is in bloom, the earlier you'll see those happy buggies humming through it and the more likely they are to stick around for your summer veggies that need their pollinating powers. Spring bloomers are also a quick fix to my SAD.

~Summer Bloomer-- Plants that are at their height of bloom or interest in the summer months. Because this is also the apex of my vegetable garden, I usually end up picking an herb or edible flower for this category.

~Autum Bloomer-- It's important to keep those beneficials well-fed all the way up until hibernation, so fall blooming plants are a must. They're also the most difficult for me to choose because the selection at this point tends to shift from a plethora of flowers to a majority of shrubs and trees. In my small garden, there are only so many shrubs I can fit.

~Winter Bloomer-- These plants are more likely to provide winter interest than blooms, but the important thing is that they fill a niche. They could provide shelter, protection, or even food for beneficials, structure to the sleeping garden, a windbreak or snowbreak, or even decoration for my Winter Solstice celebration. Just as with the autumn bloomers, the focus here usually shifts to shrubs and trees, limiting the choices for very small gardens like mine. Of course, if you have a greenhouse (I don't), this broadens your selection. This section is often the first to go if I really need to pare the budget down.

So altogether, I have the potential for adding eight new plant varieties to my garden each year. This doesn't usually happen. I often make sure my herb and edible flower choices bloom at different times, enabling me to subtract the budget for spring, summer, or autumn bloomers or add that money to another category. Some years I simply have to make choices about what I want most because, especially with the perennial edibles, one category is maxing out my budget. The point is that I know I can only get ONE variety of plant for each category. If I buy, for example, a packet of borage seeds on sale in September, my edible flowers category is maxed out already. Period. This ensures that I wait until I'm certain about what I want before buying as well as keeping my money where it belongs.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Labor Day!

Today is not just an American national holiday, it also happens to be the birthday of my baby brother. That's him in the picture having been karate chopped on his sunburned shoulders by Annie. When Uncle Philip's around, there are no holds barred. The children wrestle with him, beat him, beg him to toss them in the air or swing them in all manner of dangerous ways, etc. He's the only adult I know that has enough energy to keep up with all three of my kids! We miss him everyday and wish that he lived much, much closer. Happy birthday, little brother. Exactly two years and two days after I was born, you entered the world to torture me for the next 18 years, but we all still love you!

My birthday just passed, but the celebration has yet to take place. Even today, on Labor Day, The Husband is working. He won't have a day off until Wednesday, at which point he will have worked eight days and countless hours in a row. Tuesday he's doing 16 hours, so I plan to let him sleep in a little on Wednesday before I head off to my first ultrasound for this baby! The whole family is excited about seeing this little one for the very first time. Then we have the open house for Head Start that evening, so maybe Thursday. Of course, there are dentist appointments for all of us (excluding The Bean) that day, and we have to drive an hour each way for those, so... If I can just get my chicken paprikas in on one of those days, I'll be happy! The recipe is forthcoming, I promise. Now, I'm off to do some more laundry.

I hope all of you are having a joyful and restful day.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What's Blooming in My Garden-- August 31, 2008

It's been awhile since I've posted what's blooming in my garden. It's not that nothing new has been blooming, it's just that I've been... off. Today, though, I'm catching up!

The surprisingly lovely violet blossoms of black turtle beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). The pods are purple too! Love it.

My current favorite plant, marshmallow (Althaea officinalis). Marshmallow is mostly considered a biennial, but this blossom appears on a first-year plant. I'll leave some of these "early" bloomers and see if they come back next year, but I'm digging up the roots of some this year for various sorts of medicine.

Another squash blossom, this time Early Prolific Yellow Straightneck (Cucurbita pepo). Not so prolific in my garden. This blossom, captured in the camera a couple of weeks ago, is long since gone. Its parent plant has fallen almost completely to powdery mildew (my fault, I know).

Store-bought potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) setting flowers. These have since been followed by fruit typical of all the Nightshade family plants.

Tasty and cheerful nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). Last year, plants from this same seed were enormous! This year, they're limping along. Of course, it could be my insistence on not watering this year... or the fact that they weren't planted until, like, June... or the fact that they're being shaded by the corn, buckwheat, and asparagus ferns... or...

The marigolds (Tagetes spp.) are doing their very best to keep non-existant pests from the non-existant peppers. *sigh*

Helping along those workhorse marigolds is a lonely little sweet basil plant (Ocimum basilicum). I think my seed was old. Then again, they are in the failure of a pepper bed. Hmmmm... I think a little more water would have been appreciated. Since this basil was hardy enough to make it, despite the odds against it, I'm letting it go to seed. A plant that tenacious should have its lineage continued, right?

There are more flower pictures to come, but I think this is enough for this week. Hope all your gardens are blooming prolifically!