Spring is that magical time of year when we can actually play in the backyard. It's shady and cool and the bugs haven't arrived yet. So we have been making mudpies. Or rather, I have been making mudpies and the kids keep getting in my mud.
What I'm actually trying to do is make clay to make some flowerpots. If the process is a success, I'll share it here. But mainly it's consisted of the boys dumping out my buckets and splashing in the puddles. Which is cool too, you know?
But when we're not there, we're in the front yard gardening. Or rather I'm gardening, Marko is following me saying, "MY turn! MY turn!" and Michael is climbing off the porch into the lettuce bed. He thinks it's hilarious when I come to fetch him out. I'm almost sure Marko must have been this difficult, but I barely remember it.
So far it promises to be a good year of gardening. My lettuce is doing great.
The light green stuff is Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce, from the packets they sell at the grocery store. The dark green heads on the top right are Mignonette Bronze, which I saved from last year. The first year I planted lettuce, I sowed and sowed and sowed and got one plant. The second year, I sowed a few times and got five plants or so. I let them go to seed.
But since I'd had such a failure the previous times, I decided to try something different from sowing them the same old way. Instead of stripping the seed from the heads -- which was incredibly time-consuming anyway -- I just broke up the whole seed heads and stuck them in a bag indoors till fall. In October, I threw them out on the bed where I wanted to plant them and tossed old leaves over the top for mulch. The thought was to get the kind of crop that you get when you let them self-seed, but while still being able to rotate the lettuce to a different bed.
I thought they'd wait till spring. Instead, a few sprouted right away and were looking great in January! They appeared to freeze a few times, and they were snowed on many times, but they sprang right back and grew huge as soon as the weather got warm. And then the rest started sprouting, and I've had no end of lettuce. But I threw down some spinach seed (which mostly hasn't grown) and some Black-Seeded Simpson, just to diversify. The Mignonette Bronze is heat-tolerant, which is why I bought it, but it gets a bit bitter in the heat and it's not very delicate at the best of times. So I wanted something else to go in my salads along with it.
Oh, and the giant bush is last year's parsley.
This bed above is my pride and joy. It's full of stuff I've never successfully grown before. The garlic I did do last year, and it did well. It was just grocery-store garlic that I broke into cloves and stuck in the ground in the fall. It needs no attention at all until it turns brown in midsummer, at which point you pull it up, dry it in the sun for a week, and then store it for the year. For some reason the garlic I grow is spicier than what I buy, even though they are the same variety -- I guess it's my organic soil.
Just above the garlic is a row of broccoli, then the carrots, which as you see I didn't have the heart to thin as well as I was supposed to. Then cabbage, which at this point looks no different from the broccoli, and then, almost invisible, are a few beet plants.
I thought my plants were doing pretty well, if a bit scrawny. But then I looked over the fence and saw my neighbor's broccoli and cabbage are almost ready to start forming heads. So I guess I'm behind after all. That's what you get for starting them late, almost killing them several times, and not having enough light indoors. Then I transplanted them when they weren't really ready to go out (but they'd basically stopped growing indoors because it was so dark). And then I direct-seeded some, which works best for me for most things, but the seedlings got chomped by something.
Not sure those brassicas are going to be a success for me. Nothing that needs pampering is a good fit for my garden. But I do like them so much ... so I had to at least try.
Here are two potato plants that I hadn't planned to grow. I just had some red potatoes sprout in the cupboard so I stuck them in the ground right after the last snow we had. Well, they took off, so I may get one meal of potatoes out of them. Maybe next time I will buy actual seed potatoes of some interesting variety. Potatoes are too cheap to be economically worth growing, but you can grow a lot more varieties than you can find at Aldi.
Here is my healthiest, biggest tomato plant. In other words, tomatoes are not doing well. I did with them what I did with the brassicas: half killed them inside and planted them out before they were ready. You're supposed to wait till they have true leaves, but I hardly ever do because nothing ever gets true leaves in my house. They just freeze and only their spindly stem appears to grow. I worried that their roots were outgrowing their tiny pots, but that wasn't it. They had hardly any. It's just the lack of light in here.
Anyway, I've got a few solutions here, all of which are non-optimal. I can baby the remaining three plants and call it good. I usually do eight, so that would be a big loss for me. I hauled in a bumper crop last year, but I never, ever have trouble finding things to do with them. I love tomatoes. And if I can't eat them all fresh, they can, freeze, and pickle easily. Three plants are just not enough.
Or I can do what I have already done, and try direct planting. That's never worked for me before, but why not try? I've heard tomatoes grow taproots if they're direct-sown, and that makes them more drought-tolerant. I just laid them on the soil and sprinkled a bit of sand on top, which is what worked for finally sprouting my carrots this year. And of course I'm hovering over them, watering often. We'll see.
But if that fails, I will probably have to admit defeat and just buy seedlings. Which is lame. I'll be stuck with the same old varieties, the pot-bound roots, and the overgrown stems. But my neighbor was able to get his tomatoes and peppers out in a single weekend by buying his seedlings, and that's also how he managed to get his cabbages and broccoli so far ahead of mine.
I'm not even including a picture of my pea and bean beds because they're so lame. Here, the failures were all mine. First, planting peas too soon and letting them get snowed on. They never sprouted at all. And then running out of seeds. I had eight Kentucky Wonder pole beans and three Thai Long Green bush beans, and so that's what I planted. To fill in the rest, I just planted chickpeas, even though they didn't do well for me last year. I'm just going to have to buy more seed this weekend. As of now, I have three pole bean seedlings with their leaves eaten off, one bush bean seedling that's doing fine, and five chickpea seedlings.
I also have some strawberries growing well. A friend brought them last spring when Michael was born, and I didn't have the energy to do more than turn over a paving stone and stick the plants in the hole. This spring I cleared away the weeds and found the plants already blooming! And now they have little greenish-white strawberries all over them, which hopefully I can eat before the birds do.
And the plum tree, as always, is preparing for a bountiful year. My neighbor says that it has never had a bad year since it was put in. Certainly last year it gave more than I could pick, despite being a dwarf tree. It's all covered with marble-sized green fruit.
Next job is to plant some herbs ... and then just watch everything grow!