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6/5/2015

Erin SheehanI find June the most tedious month for gardening. There’s not much to harvest, but there’s a whole lot of work to do. Right now all we’re harvesting is lettuce. What’s really growing in the garden? Weeds.

Weeds compete with your plants for nutrients and water and, if you let them get big enough, they’ll even shade your plants. Vegetable plants that have to compete with weeds end up stunted and won’t produce well. Fighting weeds is no fun, but it’s essential.

When we enlarged our garden a few years back, I underestimated how much more weeding we’d have. The weeds went gangbusters, and I let them get ahead of me. I ended up spending an entire weekend crawling around in the garden pulling weeds. When I tried to sleep at night all I could see was weeds when I closed my eyes. I vowed to never again let the weeds get so bad.

The following year I forced myself to weed every night after work, rain or shine, for at least 30 minutes. That meant I was getting about 4 to 5 feet of garden weeded each day. Just about enough so that when I got around the garden, the area I’d done first was ready to be weeded again.

The last few years we’ve tried a different strategy. We saved all of our newspapers and started bagging grass clippings from the lawn. We had a large lawn at the time and our neighbors also contributed their grass. Jim laid down a thick layer of newspaper around our plants and held it down with the grass clippings. It smothered the weeds completely. The only problem with this strategy is that in June you have a huge garden, tons of weeds, but not enough grass to cover everything.

This year we have almost no lawn at all (and no grass clippings) so we located a farmer on Craigslist and bought eight bales of straw. We laid down the newspapers and covered it with a straw blanket. You can see the difference between the straw area and the non-straw area pretty clearly.

straw 

weeds

Even with the newspaper/grass/straw, you still have to do some weeding up close to the plants, but it’s NOTHING like weeding an entire garden.

I almost forgot. I titled this entry “Weeds and Wine.” So how does the wine come in? Well, the rhubarb-blueberry wine we bottled last winter must have not quite been done fermenting. So we’ve blown a couple of corks out. We’re working hard to drink the remaining wine up (we have about two cases left) before any more bottles blow. It’s nice after weeding to sit on the deck with a glass of wine, isn’t it?



5/28/2015

Erin SheehanIf you are looking for easy and quick breakfast options that are still healthy, try mixing yourself up some muesli. It’s easy to make ahead and store. I know you can buy pre-made muesli, but it’s very easy to make for yourself. You can also customize it the way you want it!

Here’s my muesli recipe. I make it over the weekend and store it in an old oatmeal container. I don’t add any sugar or sweetener because I find that using almond milk adds enough sweetness for me. I also don’t like storing it in the fridge so I don’t add ingredients like wheat bran that should be refrigerated.

I know some people eat muesli raw but I prefer it hot. I heat ½ cup of muesli with 1 cup of almond milk in the microwave each morning for about 2-3 minutes depending on the strength of your microwave. Delicious!

muesli

Quick and Easy Muesli

1 cup quick rolled oats
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup golden raisins (or other dried fruit)
1/4 cup chopped dried dates
1/2 cup raw pepitas (or chopped almonds, walnuts or other nuts)
1/2 cup raw or toasted sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all ingredients (add more or less of the dried fruit and nuts as per your personal taste) in a large bowl. Store in an air-tight container.

To make hot muesli, add 1/2 cup mix to 1 cup almond (or soy or dairy) milk and heat in microwave for 2 to 3 minutes. Careful when you take it out, it will be hot!



5/21/2015

Erin SheehanEach year come May we work hard to plant the vegetable garden and then cross our fingers and hope for a good year. The vagaries of the weather, pests or just bad luck can do in a vegetable garden at any time, and we never know how the season will be.

All of the uncertainty of gardening helps explain why the first harvest of the year is so exciting. It means that no matter what happens, we know we’ll have at least one successful crop. I harvested enough lettuce yesterday for a large salad. There’s no comparison between fresh greens and the ones from the grocery store. Five minutes from being in the dirt to being on the table makes a difference!

lettuce 

lettuce2

Our container lettuce has been enjoying the cool weather we’ve had lately, and there’s just enough to start harvesting a little here and there. It needs to be thinned, so in the thinning there’s a bit of harvesting. I urge anyone with space for a container or two to consider starting lettuce. It has got to be the easiest vegetable to grow. It germinates and matures very quickly, and all it needs is a little water, decent soil and a few hours of sun a day to make it!

This year’s garden is a new plot in a sandy, shady spot, so we really don’t know how we’re going to make out. It feels good to know that for the next month we’ll likely have fresh salads on most days. Our first success of the year!



5/12/2015

Erin SheehanWhen we bought our house, we didn’t know we were getting a fixer-upper! But here we are, three weeks after our closing, and we still have a list of repairs (big and small) that’s more than two pages long. We have been working hard at trying to fix things, but it seems like when one task gets ticked off the list two more things somehow slide on. I’m not complaining – we love our new house, but the list is daunting, especially since it’s time to put in the garden.

In spite of our ever-expanding to-do list, our top priority has been making our new vegetable garden. We moved eight cat litter buckets of compost from the old to help get it started, such is our dedication!

We transplanted the rhubarb and the chives a couple of weeks back and they seem to be doing OK with the move. I’m not sure we’ll be harvesting much of either this year, but they should be recovered by next year. We also started 15 containers of greens on the deck, and Jim put two dwarf apple trees in the front yard.

rototill

till

Last weekend Jim got out the rototiller and ripped up a large section of the backyard. We left enough room for a new compost pile and to get around, but most of the rest is destined to be fruit and vegetables.

Our goal is to have as little lawn as possible and, instead, grow food. Our lot is small, only 40 by 125 feet, so we have to be careful with our planning. The backyard is a lot shadier than we would like for a garden, but we’ll make the best of what we have. We also plan (down the road) to put in two raised beds out front for attractive vegetables like Swiss chard and cucumbers.

The progress seems slow right now, but we hope that within a few years, our urban homestead will be providing a lot of homegrown food for us.



4/30/2015

Erin SheehanDo you remember when every backyard had at least a clump or two of chives? Maybe out by the rhubarb? Nowadays many young people (and many not-so-young people) couldn’t tell chives from chrysanthemum, unfortunately. But there’s no reason that chives can’t make a comeback. They grow like weeds and taste great.

We left behind our chive plants when we moved last month, but we’ve transplanted a few clumps from our community garden plot to the new house. I like to have them close to the house, so I can just run out and cut fresh at any time.

chives1

Chives are one of the first perennials to pop up come spring. They are cold-tolerant and will be all done by late May, especially if you let them go to flower. Chives prefer full sun, but it’s not necessary. They’ll do better if they have it, but they survive in partial shade just fine.

chives2

You can start chives from seed but they won’t amount to much for the first year or two at least. It’s better if you can find someone with some you can transplant. They can be transplanted any time after they’ve come up at least 5 to 6 inches high. To transplant just carefully dig up a clump with roots and surrounding dirt. Before you plant them work some compost or fertilizer into the planting area at a depth of about 6 to 8 inches.

If you do decide to start chives from seed you want to sow them as soon as the soil temperature is at 60 F, in early to mid-spring and treat them with some care, they want regular water and some fertilizer from time to time for that first year.

Once your chives are established they need little or no care. I never water or fertilize mine, I just rely on rain and whatever is in the soil.

chves2

Although I am sure you can find “rules for harvesting chives” online, I go out and cut ‘em as I need ‘em. I substitute them for scallions in most if not all recipes. When I see the plants are starting to go to flower and some of the stalks are heading toward woody, I cut the plants way back and freeze the cut chives, without blanching or processing, in freezer bags. I find they retain their flavor just fine that way all winter and I don’t have to spend money on scallions!

If you don't already have chives out back, ask around and see if anyone you know has some they can share with you. It's worth it!



4/28/2015

Erin SheehanGrowing lettuce is a great way to dip your toe into gardening, even if you don’t have a green thumb and you don’t have much space. It’s easy to grow and requires little space and effort. I grow most of my lettuce in containers on the deck. Even if you only have a window box you can try a variety or two of lettuce.

Lettuce likes rich soil, so use compost or fertilizer and some good potting soil if you are using containers. You want a sunny spot if possible, but partial shade is also OK. One thing I like about using containers for lettuce is that you can move them into shady areas once the weather starts to really heat up. Lettuce doesn’t like hot temperatures so you want the plants more shaded, if possible, come July.

Lettuce doesn’t need to be started inside. Just sow it directly into the ground or your pots in early spring. Most lettuce seeds will germinate as long as the soil is above 45 F, although it will germinate better if the soil is above 60 F. Over 80 F is too hot and it won’t germinate or thrive. Plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep and follow the spacing instructions on your packages. Keep the soil moist. Lettuce takes between 35 to 70 days from planting to harvest, depending on the variety. Once your lettuce is ready to harvest take care to just cut a few leaves at a time from each plant. That way your plants will keep producing.

green 

plants3

plants2

This year I went whole-hog and planted 15 varieties of greens, all in containers out on the deck. I had a lot of free seeds I’ve collected over the years that I thought I could use up. I figure that even if only some of them germinate and take off, we will still have plenty of salads this year. Having an excess also allows us to pick a little from each kind and then let the plants rebound so they keep producing, hopefully into July if the weather doesn’t get too hot.

Greens seeds are inexpensive and, even if all you have is a porch or a deck, you can give them a try in containers. Once you’ve had your own fresh-picked salad you will never buy packaged salads again!



4/15/2015

Erin SheehanWe planted peas and a few rows of carrots over the weekend. It was the latest we’ve ever started them, but the frost just got out of the ground a week ago, so we didn’t have much choice. Peas like cooler weather and they don’t mind snow at all, so we try to get them in as soon as we can work the soil. With us moving to a new house next week, it’s somewhat of a miracle that we got them in at all I suppose.

We grow snap peas, mostly because we love their flavor but also because we aren’t big fans of shelling shell peas and snow peas aren’t our favorite. But the rules for planting and harvesting are the same no matter what variety you prefer.

Peas don’t require any fertilizer and grow very rapidly. They need full sun and a regular supply of water. Unless you use a dwarf variety you are going to need a fence for your pea plants to climb along. Our peas get huge – we use a 4-foot fence and they climb up and over it. It’s fun to watch the plants grow, it seems that they grow an inch a day at least for quite a while.

Peas are fairly pest and disease resistant. Because they are such an early crop you are getting ahead of most insects. You do have to watch out for rabbits, however, as they would love to make a tasty dinner out of your small pea shoots.

peas

Once your peas start to ripen, make sure to go out and pick carefully every day or two. If they get ahead of you, you’ll miss ripe peas and also your plants will stop producing. Peas come on fast and produce a lot all at once. Last year we froze 27 packages of peas in just about a month of picking. We finished the last frozen package on April 3, so it seems like we had about the right amount.

About two months after you’ve planted (around late June for us) your peas will be all done and you can clear them out and plant something else in the space. We usually replace them with broccoli or let our zucchinis and summer squash take over the space.





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