When 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.
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.
Do 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.
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.
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.
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!
Growing 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.
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!
We 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.
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.
Last week I wrote about how to take the first steps to start seeds. As promised, here’s a follow-up on what to do once your seeds have germinated.
You are going to need a light source. We use regular fluorescent lights. You can find them at local hardware stores. There are all sorts of expensive “grow lights” at the hardware store, but we have managed to get along without them. We have a frame to hold lights and plants on the front porch that Jim put together by hand. Our porch is unheated so we rely on an incandescent bulb and a clear plastic tarp to create a sort of greenhouse effect.
It’s important that your new seedlings be positioned within an inch or less of the lights. Don’t worry about burning them, they will be fine. If they are more than an inch from your lights, they will quickly get leggy and will be weakened.
Something important to mention is that not all vegetable varieties have to be started indoors. Check your seed packages before planting. Just to throw out a few, Swiss chard, peas, beans and lettuce can all be directly sowed in the ground. It’s worth it to take a moment to read about each thing you are trying to grow – even if it’s just a quick look on your seed package – to see the recommended start date and place.
At our homestead, the peppers are up and the tomatoes are just sown. With our upcoming move, we’re not sure about where, when and how we’ll be planting, but we have faith that it will happen. Happy growing, readers!
Although our garden is still covered in snow, we started our seeds last week. I know that a lot of beginning gardeners buy plants, but starting your own seeds is easy and rewarding. You have a much larger choice of plant varieties and you will probably end up with better quality plants with just a little time and effort.
Pan to hold water and containers
To buy seeds, visit your local hardware store or find a seed company that is close to your geographic area. You want a company that operates in a similar climate to yours. We order from Harris Seeds. They are located fairly close to us and their area has the same growing conditions that we do.
To figure out what seeds to start when, ask your local Cooperative Extension office if they have a chart available for your area. Your seed company also may have something in their catalog about this. We start peppers first, as they take the longest to germinate and are slow to grow. We also start broccoli early as they don’t mind the cold and can go outside when it’s still pretty chilly. Next comes tomatoes, and then our winter squash.
Starting seeds requires a good heat source. If you have a woodstove and have space close enough to it, you can set up your seed cups near the stove. You can also use heated seed mats (available at your local hardware store or seed source) or heating pads (only ones without auto shut-off mechanisms). You could also put a lamp or two with incandescent lightbulbs underneath a table to warm up the surface.
There’s no need to purchase containers for your seeds. We use old yogurt containers that we save from year to year. Any small plastic container will do. Drill drainage holes in the bottom with an electric drill. You don’t want to have big containers or the warmth won’t come up from the seed mats/table surface to warm up the dirt enough.
You need old baking sheets or large plastic containers to put below your seed containers to hold water. We repurpose spinach containers, rusty bread pans and old cookie sheets.
Most hardware stores have potting and seed-starting soil available at this time of year. We don’t bother with the seed-starting soil and instead buy the highest quality organic potting soil we can find.
Marking what is in each of your containers is important. Every year we somehow end up with a dozen tomato plants and at least a couple of them we aren’t sure if they are cherry or slicers… Don’t make that mistake!
Make sure to start a few more plants than you’ll use because some may not germinate or thrive. It’s better to have a choice come time to transplant everything so you end up with the strongest plants.
Next week I’ll write about what to do with your seedlings once they pop up!
I had a cup of pineapple leftover in the fridge that had to be used up this weekend. When I saw a recipe that called for crushed pineapple in the local paper I knew I had to try it. They came out great. I hope you can whip up a batch to share with your family this Easter.
Carrot Cake Waffles
1 cup soy or almond milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar added*
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup grated carrot
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups white flour (can substitute half wheat)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
*Add 1 tablespoon vinegar to a 1-cup measure. Fill to top with soy or almond milk and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Buttermilk can also be substituted.
Preheat waffle iron and spray baking surface with oil if needed.
In medium bowl, mix together eggs, brown sugar, oil, pineapple, carrot, milk/vinegar mixture and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Add to the batter and stir just enough to combine. Add in walnuts and stir enough to evenly distribute them.
Cook waffles according to your waffle iron directions. Makes about 6 medium-sized waffles.