Saturday, August 22, 2015

This spud's for you

"Irish" potatoes are one of the easiest crops to grow in the backyard garden. Basically, you stick a seed potato into the ground, cover it with dirt, cover it with more dirt as the plant emerges, and mulch. The few weeds that emerge are easily dispensed. Then when the plants die, you dig up the potatoes, cure them in a shed or garage for a few days, then store for winter use. Those you nick during harvest may be eaten right away.

Sometimes there are problems. You may need to pick off potato beetles. (When I lived in the country, these beetles were an annual problem; here in the city, I rarely see them.) Wire worms can damage the tubers. One year I tried planting potatoes in a conventional bed under straw; voles ate the seed potatoes. Another year, I used sheets of crumpled newspaper for mulch, and the crop tasted funny. But in general, they are a sure thing, year after year. And considering that the potato is on the "Dirty Dozen" list, growing your own makes even more sense.

Solanum tuberossum has gotten a bad rap in the past several decades. It's not the potatoes that are bad for you; it's the way they are processed. The French fries and hash browns you eat in restaurants most likely are treated with sulfites, frozen, breaded, and fried in questionable oils. Potatoes themselves are great sources of potassium and vitamin C, and are loaded with phytonutrients. They tend to have a high glycemic value, but according to Jo Robinson (in Eating on the Wild Side), cooking potatoes, then chilling them for 24 hours greatly reduces this problem, as does serving them with fat (hello, butter and sour cream!)

Contrary to the common nomenclature, potatoes are not from Ireland; they are native to South America, although they bear little resemblance to their ancestors. I have not been referring to these potatoes as "white" because, despite what is generally available in the grocery store, potatoes come in many colors. And like most vegetables, the more colorful the flesh, the more nutritious the potato. I've been growing Adirondack Red and Adirondack Blue, which are red/blue throughout and retain the color after cooking. This year I added a white, Carola (I also like Eva), so now I can make red, white, and blue potato salad. How patriotic!

Growing potatoes in raised beds has worked for me. I plant 2 pounds of seed potatoes in each 4'x 4' bed, one "seed" per square foot; harvests this year are running 20-30 pounds per bed. We added a tier to the beds this year, making them deeper, which I think has boosted the yields (but we have also had plenty of rain). The only downside to potatoes in raised beds, it is really awkward to dig them as it is impossible to get a garden fork underneath. Instead, I use my hands and a trowel, and am unsure if I got the deeper ones. (I engaged my granddaughter's help in harvesting one bed, but frankly, it is easier without her using the bed frame as a balance beam while leaning on me for support.)

The experts recommend purchasing fresh seed each year, to avoid disease in your crop. Recently, I have read about some intrepid gardeners who save tubers for replanting, which works for a while. So far, my crop is consumed before spring. Since I grew more this year, though, if some last the winter and/or start to sprout, I may give this option a test run. Or not - I would be sad if I faced the winter without my own homegrown potatoes.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I lied

Dropping all the privet trimmings off at the bio-solids site did not cost $3. In an effort to avoid making two trips today, SO really packed the pickup truck (plus some of the branches still had leaves, plus it rained last night, so some of what we transported was moisture). The result was being charged $2.38 instead of $1 today, so the total came to $4.38 (plus $30 to fill up the gas tank, plus about $24 in lunches). Also, weight lifting! Steps on the Fitbit! Fresh air! Being scolded by wrens! Listening to cicadas! Priceless! Still, we are exceedingly happy to be done with that project. It was blocking my creativity, plus those piles were just plain in the way.

Speaking of cicadas, they are so loud that I could hear them over the roar of my lawn mower the other day. And yet, their noise is so much more pleasant than that of mowers, trimmers, and leaf blowers. Do you agree?

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dog Daze

One of the best things about August is it makes me pine for winter. Snow! Ice! Sweaters! Meanwhile, we sweat it out until September brings a bit of respite to the heat and humidity.

One onerous chore my SO and I have been having to do, despite the weather, is deal with the privet at the back of my lot. Ordinarily, I try to trim my side of the neighbor's hedge every two years or so, to keep it from draping over the telephone and cable wires during ice storms and to leave me some room for mowing behind the fence. I think it has been at least three years, though, and I let my SO have his way with the thing. He pruned it much more severely than I ever have, resulting in a HUGE pile to get rid of. A bit daunted by the mass, I called a tree service to see what they would charge to make that problem disappear. I was willing to pay as much as $50, but they wanted $250. Gah! Fortunately, the Best Neighbor Ever (not the hedge owner) lets me borrow his pickup truck. SO and I hauled two loads to the bio-solids site Friday, and plan to take one more Monday; total cost (besides filling up the gas tank) will be $3. Our time, effort, and sweat are worth something.

More sweat is going into eliminating the jungle-like appearance of my backyard. The front of the house sports a fair amount of castle block (which I installed all my myself in my younger days, swearing I would never do THAT again). There is some left over from that project, so I circled one of the Redbud trees with it. The idea is, next spring, to move the nearby 'Betty Corning' Clematis to the base of the tree, to let it climb. (The Clematis in question is growing across the lawn next to this tree, as its trellis broke.)

Photo by me
There are two more Redbud trees and two more Clematis vines, another 'Betty Corning' and one whose name I can't locate right now. I have enough castle block to do one more circle. Then I will have to buy more, despite the promise I made to myself.

Photo by Nora
An experiment in the vegetable garden this year is going vertical. This trellis is in a bed of squash and pumpkin, some of which is supposed to be bushlike, some of which is climbing the trellis. I got carried away and overcrowded the plants, so I doubt the yields will be anything special, and I have to gently encourage the vining ones to climb, but so far, I think this idea works well for those with limited garden space.

Photo by me
Plans for this structure may be found in the final issue of Organic Gardening magazine; OG is now Organic Life and I'm not finding a useful link for you. Sorry.

Photo by Nora
It is too bad this 'Limelight' Hydrangea is tucked into a corner where no one ever sees it, as it blooms spectacularly every year, despite my amateurish pruning. It is probably just as well it is hidden, as it is always surrounded by weeds.

Photo by me
The plan for next year is to replace the weeds with Bishop's Weed, which I will be content to let take over that area as not much of anything else thrives there.

Photo by Nora
My g'daughter, who is not quite five, now has the coordination to operate a digital camera, so I let her use an old one of mine. The photos in this post that she took are unedited.

Photo by Nora
Her short stature give her a different perspective on the world than a grownup's.

Photo by me
Maybe I'll let her be my blog photographer.

Photo by me

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Satiated and saturated

When I read about a Chicagoland garden tour on the gardeninacity blog, I decided it sounded like a good excuse to get out of town. The tour is a triennial event sponsored by the North Park Village chapter of the Wild Ones and features member gardens as well as community gardens. I went in hopes of garnering some fresh ideas for my yard and came away with a brain overflowing with possibilities.

I took these photos with my phone, so they are not the best. I've tried to group them here by themes rather by location, as my photography talents don't do justice to the beauty at each site. Apologies aside, welcome to a little tour of the garden tour.

After braving the Friday afternoon traffic, on Saturday I was happy we could leave the driving to a professional for the tour. At first, I thought the side of the bus said "Positive Corrections" and I wondered if we were going to be picking up trash along the highway. I also felt a bit like I was being dropped off at camp, as my SO planned to spend his day on a cemetery crawl. However, the group was a friendly one, and soon I felt at home among like-minded folks.


One theme at some of the gardens, both private and public, was how effective rain gardens are at eliminating drainage problems. My front yard occasionally floods due to a slow storm sewer, so a rain garden (or two) may be in my future.




Public efforts that we visited included the Niles Rain Garden (pictured above) and the Niles Bioinfiltration Facility Project...



... the Loyola Beach Dunes...



... and the Albany Park Community Center (this garden needs a champion to provide upkeep).


Not only were the gardens unique, the houses each had their own style.





My garden is full of fences, so I was glad to see I'm not the only one who finds they are sometimes a necessity. Many of the yards were enclosed with privacy fences, something I have considered, although instead of creating a cozy retreat, a privacy fence around my yard might look like a stockade.




I've decided I need more bird baths and garden art. These yards sported other ideas big and small, including a trellis made from branches...


... a house that wraps a tree...


... brick paths...


... a tidy and hidden compost area...


... and archways.



And of course we cannot forget the true stars of the tour, the plants themselves. They were at their summer height in beauty; I could not help but wonder what they look like in spring and fall.






The yards on the tour were smaller than mine, and generally more shady. I am also guessing the soil is not heavy clay, like mine, so I will have to take care when picking plants and applying some of these ideas. However, I am more than ready to abandon my arbitrary landscaping methods. These gardens showed me that you don't have to be a purist or a perfectionist or an expert to create a lovely wild area.


Returning to the land of green meatballs and dyed mulch was a bit jarring. Spending a day with my "tribe" fed my inner gardener in a way I had not anticipated. Fort Wayne does not have a local chapter of the Wild Ones, but I know there are some garden hardy souls around here. I just have to crawl out of my weed patch long enough to find them.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Raspberries and garlic

I maintain that raspberries are one of the easiest fruits to grow in the backyard garden. That said, the one task that takes some effort is clearing out the old canes. They are easy to spot, being brown against the green of the new canes.


This year's harvest was a bit disappointing, which I attribute to last year's late and overly enthusiastic pruning. This year I decided to be timely, and once the old canes were out, left most of the new canes intact, removing only those that were damaged and/or sickly looking.


My raspberry patch is wrapped in unfolded tomato cages (to provide support) and poultry netting (to keep the rabbits out). Part of the clean up includes unwrapping the poultry netting and trimming around the raised bed; also, removing some volunteer trumpet vine. (Never plant trumpet vine near a garden bed.)

Raspberry bed cleanup coincided with the garlic harvest this summer. Garlic is another super easy crop to grow. There were absolutely zero failures this year; every clove grew into an appropriately sized bulb for its type. The bulbs will cure in the shed for a month or so, then I'll trim the tops and relocate them to the garage.


The woodchuck wars continue. After destroying most of the fading broccoli plants (but ignoring the cabbage - WUWT?), the critter moved on to the kale. I found the latest breach and placed some pavers on either side of the fence, in hopes the damn critter cannot work its way around them.


One problem with all the poultry netting around the garden is that it occasionally snags me. Good thing I have had a recent tetanus shot.


The onions are starting to topple, the potatoes to die back, the corn to plump. And there have been zukes, cukes, and cherry tomatoes to enjoy. It must be August.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A mighty fortress is my garden

As they say, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That goes for fences, too, in its own way. Despite the pickets, the hardware cloth at the bottom, the floppy poultry netting at the top, baby bunnies and a woodchuck pup still managed to breach the ramparts via small but vital gaps. Each time I saw a critter in the vegetable garden, I tailed it until it slipped out, then plugged the now apparent hole.


I wasn't too upset about the broccoli, as I had harvested the main heads a while back and the side shoots were petering out. But the sweet potatoes - argh!


And, to add insult to injury, *something* chomped the branches on one of my new cherry trees. Double argh!! I planned to protect them from winter injury by rabbits but I did not expect to have to worry about summer damage.


It looks like whatever did this did it just for spite, as it didn't actually *eat* the branches but just chomped them off, leaving raggedy stubs. Triple argh!!!

On the good news front, I think I have a solution to the pea plant-eating sparrows: mylar tape. If that doesn't work, maybe I will enclose the entire garden in a sparrow-proof, rodent-proof cage. Or give up.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Knee high by the fourth of July

When I retired, I had this vision of my entire yard being pristine and perfect. Well, HA, HA, HA. The vegetable garden is not half bad, though. We nudged the beds apart a bit, to make it easier to navigate the pathways. Instead of trying to keep those paths weedfree, I've been weed whacking them every two weeks. This strategy makes for a trimmed look.


Within the beds, I've been diligent about weeding and mulching, so they look nice and tidy, full of the intended plants, more or less. The one BIG FAIL has been the pea/bean beds. The sparrows nibble on the pea plants, ruining the crop, so I hung bird netting over the support structure. The results were predictable: the peas became hopelessly entangled in the netting, unreachable weeds took over the edges, the pole beans could not compete. And then a big storm came through and blew the whole mess down. So I cleaned out the beds completely. The plan is to reinforce the bean poles, then replant the pole beans. I've not had much luck with fall peas, but if I do plant them, I'll need to come up with a new strategy for besting the birds.