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Talking Sweet About Nothing

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Late July Garden Update

This is a typical day's harvest.  Once things get rolling, we do this two to three times per week.

From Garden '12


We've been making garden salsa for years, but this is the first time that we've grown EVERY ingredient!  Tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cilantro all picked within an hour of eating it.

From Garden '12


You can see the onion stalks have fallen over.  That's the sign that they are ready to harvest.

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Here are about half of the onions (the other half haven't been pulled up yet) and the garlic curing in the shed.  This will take about two weeks for them to dry out.

From Garden '12


From Garden '12


We harvested about five pounds of potatoes.  The heat wave killed the plants a couple of months ahead of schedule, but we were happy to at least get this much.

From Garden '12


Here's part of the pepper patch.  You can see how full these plants have gotten, and how many peppers are yet to come.

From Garden '12


And here are the tomatoes.  They aren't the prettiest plants in the garden, that's for sure.

From Garden '12

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Early May Update

Strawberries look insane.  There are hundreds of tiny fruit already forming.  We can't wait.

From Garden '12


Herbs and Garlic are looking healthy

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From Garden '12


Potatoes are sprouting

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Tomatoes and hot peppers are planted*

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*interspersed with Marigold and Radish started from seed
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Spring Break Yard Work

Lots of items got crossed off on the spring break to-do list:

Planted onions

From Garden '12


Build potato bins

From Garden '12
*more about potato bins here


Transplant horseradish

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Fertilize garlic

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Herbs are popping

From Garden '12


Redefine edges and mulch front beds

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Expand beds and mulch around trees

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From Garden '12


From Garden '12
|| Adam, 3:29 PM || link || (0) comments |

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Backyard Prep & Catching Up

I planted approx. 50 garlic cloves in late October. We're hoping for larger bulbs this year. We figured out our garlic seed from last year was not open pollinated, causing it to grow, but never bulb out. They were small, but very potent. Here's our open pollinated garlic (Asian Tempest) around the beginning of March.
From Garden '12


After cleaning up last fall, I planted a winter ground cover of rye grass, hairy vetch, and other replenishing annuals. I also collected bagged leaves from around the neighborhood and put down a 6 inch layer over all growing beds. The leaves decomposed and the grasses thickened up, looking like this by mid-March.
From Garden '12


Actually, right before those pics I mowed the ground cover down to make it easier to till everything under. Tilling will kill the ground cover, and incorporate all the compost into the soil. Here's the same area after tilling.
From Garden '12

From Garden '12

Not so pretty. Most of the backyard looked like this. All the green bits you see were dead within a week, graciously donating their organic matter to my soil.

And here's the garlic in mid-March.
From Garden '12


The last thing to get caught up on are my seedlings. We saved seeds from our Basil and Dill from last year. We started those seeds in our basement, along with Marigold seeds. Here's the setup at the beginning of March when we started.
From Garden '12


And here they are not too much later by mid-March.
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I think that catches everything up to now. I hope to do a better job of posting our progress this year.
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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Planning and Planting

After all of our hard work last year recovering and preparing our backyard, we finally got to dive in to planting. We planned our space using Google Sketchup, a drawing and modeling application, that allowed us to visualize the space and our ideas more effectively. We went through a few different versions and it is still evolving as we go.

We planned our plantings to supplement our CSA produce. While it would fun to attempt all sort of fruits and vegetables, it doesn't make sense to double up on items that we would be receiving through the season from our CSA. Instead, we wanted to plant things that we purchase in addition to our weekly share. For instance, we could never have enough onions or garlic and we constantly buy tomatoes when they are in season. In addition, we also wanted a large portion of the yard to be dedicated to perennial kitchen herbs. Not only would we have them in abundance for cooking, but we wouldn't have to re-plant every year.

The first things we planted were 40 garlic cloves back in November '10. These were provided to us by Jason from Breezy Willow. You simply break bulb into individual cloves and plant them in the fall. By late winter we already had signs of life.

From Garden '11


In early spring my parents came to town for a visit. We spent the morning doing some general spring yard cleanup like re-defining the edges on the beds in the front yard, but the biggest project was planting onions. I bought three pounds of onion sets (basically teeeny, baby onions) which to our best guess is somewhere around 300-350 onions. We only used about 2/3 of them and it didn't take long before they started sprouting.

From Garden '11


I saved the remaining 1/3 of sets to plant a couple of months later for a second harvest.

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For the rest of our planting, we waited until after Katie's semester ended so we could dedicate some time. We got all of our plugs from Sharp's Farm in Howard county. Sharps's starts all of their seeds in their own blend of compost, entirely organic start to finish.

Here's our tomatoes and peppers at the beginning.
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Here they are later in the summer.
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And our first few basil varieties.
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And after.
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Over time, we filled holes in the garden with cuttings from the basil plants. Between pizza and pesto, we can never have enough basil!

We also planted a large variety of common kitchen herbs.
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(ignore the soaker. I left it in the sun for a few days to lose the curls and kinks from storage)

In mid-July we harvested the garlic. In its place we planted approximately 120 Hungarian hot wax pepper plants.

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Here are the peppers after only a few weeks. You can also see how much the herbs in the background.
From Garden '11






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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bay-Wise Certification

We recently had our yard certified Bay Wise by the University of Maryland Extension Service. The Bay-Wise program is designed to inform and encourage landscape practices that promote the health of local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.

I initially contacted the AA County Master Gardeners regarding some run-off affecting a side area of our lawn. In addition to scheduling a consultation for this, they directed me towards the Bay-Wise literature including the "yard-stick" used to measure our current landscape practices. The general ideas on this yard-stick encourage one to:

Fertilize Wisely
Water Efficiently
Mow Properly
Control Storm Water Runoff
Mulch Appropriately
Recycle Yard Waste
Manage Yard Pests with Integrated Pest Management
Plant Wisely
Encourage Wildlife

I knew this was a goal Katie and I would aspire towards, but I had my big backyard project to focus on. I went through the Yard Stick to estimate our progress, but had planned on saving the certification goal for next year. The Yard Stick asks a series of questions related to the above topics assigning points/inches towards a goal of 36. In my rough estimation, I gave us a 25-28 on the scale. Not bad, but not quite there yet.

On the day of my meeting with the AAC Master Gardeners we discussed my runoff problem and they offered amazing advice on how we might control this better (more on this in a future post). While they were here, we took a leisurely tour around the entire yard and they offered comments and advice on everything I could think of to ask. These three ladies were an incredible source of experience and information. We took about 30-45 minutes just looking at everything in the front and back yards. They loved the idea of no-grass backyard garden. They praised the reuse of the compost bin and the Cedar mulch as pathways and ground cover. I had just installed my first rain barrel along with the soaker hose system for part of the garden, too.

From Garden '11


After the outside tour, we came inside to go over some literature, discuss some specific plans for the runoff problem on the side of the house, and to talk more about the Bay Wise program. I told them I had already estimated my progress and that I wouldn't meet the requirements just yet, but they wanted to go through all of the questions with me just for fun. We went through the entire questionnaire and they were able to award points/inches that I hadn't originally given myself based on their tour of the yard. In the end we actually had 54 inches when we only needed 36 for the certification. It turns out I had been way too conservative on some accounts and had completely missed some others. So we are officially "Bay-Wise" and now have an awesome sign in our front yard for bragging rights ;)

From Garden '11


Here's a short list of some of the practices that we use around our yard that helped us in achieving this. The list is far from complete and some of these topics actually encompass several more narrow topics:

use of native plants
removal and/or control of non-native plants (I'm looking at you English Ivy...grrr)
no lawn in backyard (no mowing!)
mowing with highest setting in front yard
no irrigation for lawn
no pesticides
organic fertilizer on backyard garden
mulch on all beds, around trees, and on garden
rain barrel/soaker hose system
composting
encourage wildlife through native plants and shelters
|| Adam, 3:29 PM || link || (0) comments |

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Backyard Overhaul Pt. 2

In between backyard tillings, we had another high priority yard project on the side of our house. There were two Cedar trees that had become severely overgrown, to the point where they could reach the siding on the house. These Cedars were also choking out two other nearby trees.


We had these two Cedars removed and asked that their chips be left behind. Take that Cedar trees.


In addition to recycling, we wanted the Cedar chips to help ward off pests such as moths and mosquitoes. We had plans to use them for pathways and borders in our backyard. We also mulched our front yard beds. In fact, we had so much we shared it with our neighbors. This Cedar chip pile could swallow my car.


The ornamental Maple and the Cherry tree in the backyard are much happier without those Cedars getting in the way.
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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Backyard Overhaul Pt. 1

Most of you who know me, know that I spent most of last summer clearing out our backyard. Our house had been vacant for three years before we moved in and the backyard was visual proof. The neighbors had kept up the front lawn, but the backyard had been overtaken by English Ivy, rocks, and nearly every variety of weed. It was beyond saving. Our only option was to start from scratch. I tilled the entire backyard and hauled away the top layer.


Ivy had overtaken much of the yard and fence-line. Taming that was an early priority.


We discovered that our soil was not that great. It's thick clay and full of rocks. I was constantly inventing ways to use the ridiculous amount of rocks we were pulling out of the ground.


To amend the soil, we decided we needed to start composting ASAP. Our first compost pile was made with cinder blocks that I uncovered in the backyard.


Meanwhile, I got some used pallets and built a more permanent compost bin.


After tilling and removing the top layer plus all visible rocks, I smoothed the dirt and tamped it to compact the soil and reduce any erosion while it sat dormant. We let it sit for a couple of months in order to let all weeds that had gone to seed re-sprout. By October, the backyard was full of weeds again. Our neighbors thought we were crazy, but we did this on purpose. I tilled again, removed all weeds and their roots, smoothed and tamped. Yes, I basically did the same thing twice, but I wanted to be thorough with killing off as much of the weeds and grass as possible. By November I had finished round two and we were covering the backyard with a deep layer of dead leaves courtesy of all of our neighbors (many of them, unknowingly). We let this sit over the winter to prevent any new growth and to decompose and improve our soil.
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