STARTING FRESH

I have always appreciated a fresh start. I like mornings. The first of the month. I even like Mondays – although I’ve never been a nine-to-fiver, which I’m sure helps with that. Did you have “do over”s when you were a kid? I like those too. And here we are in the New Year, the biggest fresh start of all. 

So I’m calling this blog post a fresh start. I’m sorry I’ve neglected it for so long. I know how frustrating it can be to follow a blog and look forward to a new post and not get one. First it’s disappointing. Then it’s annoying. Then it makes you angry. Eventually you give up. I can’t blame you. I’ve done it too. I won’t make any promises, but I missed you and I hope you’ll come back and see what’s happening in the garden from time to time.

We’ve had a pretty mild winter so far, and I’ve been able to continue to eat out of my garden, which is really gratifying. We had our first hard freeze only a few nights ago, I think it got down to 16º. We’ll see how it looks out there tomorrow when it warms up a bit, but last I checked I still had

Swiss chard,

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kale,

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collard greens,

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broccoli raab, which went crazy and tried to escape the hoop –

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fortunately I found a really cute weight to hold down the floating row cover – 

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and leeks.

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We’ll see how much longer everything lasts.

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I’ve been pretty busy out there even so. It has long been a personal goal of mine to create enough compost to be able to give all my beds a layer of homemade organic matter at the end of the season. I’ve been working towards closing that loop since I started my garden three years ago and I got much closer this year. I was able to put a 2″ layer of mulch on 237 ft² of a total 410 ft² of gardening space. I am determined to do the entire garden next year.

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I even sifted it! The empty beds got a nice helping of this black gold.

Then I got a cool leaf blower that also sucks.

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Ok, it doesn’t suck, it rocks, because it sucks up leaves and shreds them which reduces them about ten fold and makes a great (free!) mulch with which to put a bed to sleep for the winter. This will reduce spring weeding and encourage earthworms.

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Then, come spring, I’ll dig everything in and be good to go.

I also got the important fall planting done. On October 22, I planted French grey shallots.

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They are said to be the cremé de le crop of shallots and I mean to find out. (We’ll talk more about them later.)

On November 20th I planted three kinds of garlic, about 40 cloves in total. Two softnecks, Tochliavri and Broadleaf Czech and a hardneck, German Red.

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All were from the garlic I planted last year and harvested on June 24th. I used the largest, healthiest cloves I could find. Another loop closed.

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I still have garlic in storage in the garage, but a lot of it is starting to sprout. We’ll see if it lasts me through the winter. Here’s an interesting article on storing garlic from Rodale’s Organic Life website (http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/food/6-ways-make-garlic-last-longer). I must experiment with all those great methods next season.

Because it’s been so mild and there’s not much left to do in the garden proper, I’ve also been playing with rocks in the dirt. I’m expanding the perennial bed and making a border between it and the lawn.

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I don’t know what it says about me, but this is honestly one of my favorite things to do. If you live in the Ozarks, you probably have a pile of rocks somewhere on your property. If not, rest assured, they are there, just under the surface, daring you to dig a hole.

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That’s a hole I dug to plant a tree for a client and the pile of rocks that I excavated during the process.

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Indeed.

So that’s the lowdown. The seed catalogs are rolling in and we’ll be starting seeds here in a few short weeks. I’m determined to grow some nice cabbages this year, as well as Brussels sprouts, and I’m going to give artichokes and celery a go. I’m going to be diligent about the cucumber beetles and teach you how to make the best homemade cornichons. And I plan to turn more of my yard into a dedicated herb garden. I also have some fun projects to share with you. So please come back and visit.

Circling back to fresh starts, the only official New Year’s Resolution I made this year was to meditate daily. I know that learning to sit quietly with my thoughts is at the foundation of any sort of relationship I have with myself – and therefore anyone and anything else. And so far so good. I’ve missed a day or two in there and wondered why I was feeling antsy and more scattered than usual. But I forgave myself and did it the next morning. And while I realize that actual do overs are the stuff of school yards. That once life begins often the best we can do is stumble blindly through the underbrush, trying to keep up and not lose an eye. And that any wisdom we gain along the way is mostly through chances we didn’t take, mistakes we can’t take back, and betrayals we will always regret. I also realize that no one is immune from those experiences. If meditation is teaching me anything, it’s that every breath, every moment, is an opportunity to start fresh

I wish you all the fresh starts you can manage.

Happy New Year.

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GARDEN STRUCTURES

Hello March!  It was 37 degrees on Monday, but I still ended up spending a good two hours in the garden.  I needed to be out there so badly I didn’t even notice the cold.

David got productive much earlier, leaving me at my desk.  About the time I was getting onto myself for not getting more done, he returned from the hardware store with a trailer load and I finally got motivated.  He had PVC pipe, rebar, and a 16’ cattle panel.  I’m not a fan of PVC, but I want a hoop house to put over my (4 x 8’) leaf bed.  Last year I used bamboo from my sister’s house and it worked pretty well, although the branch stubs tore the fabric in places and she has since moved, so I no longer have a source for young pliable bamboo.  Anyway, he got 4 – 10’ pieces of grey 1/2” PVC and 8 – 2’ pieces of 3/8″ rebar.  He pounded the rebar into two corners of the bed, stuck a PVC pipe over it on one side and carefully bent it onto the other.  Six more pieces of rebar, three more bends, and voila, tunnel supports.  All in all it cost under $20. 

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I’ve still got some Agribon+ AG-19 floating row cover fabric that I ordered from Johnny’s Seeds last year.  It’s 83” wide and I have about 40’ left of it.  I’m going to cut it in half lengthwise and sew two long sides together giving me a piece about 20’ x 14’ which will be perfect.  I’ll put that over the top first.  It will provide frost protection down to 28 degrees as well as insect protection.  It lets 85% light through and is water permeable.  Because nothing under there needs pollinating, it can stay put all summer.  I’m still debating on whether I need to cover that again with plastic for these last crazy weeks of winter. 

I can’t wait to start some spinach and lettuces under it, leaving room (if possible) for cauliflower and cabbages.  I got carried away when ordering from Seeds of Italy and ordered a couple of lettuce mixes.  Misticanza di Lattughe has 14 varieties of lettuces of all shapes, textures, and colors and Misticanza di Radicchi has 12 varieties of red and green radiccios and chicories.  I also got Cavolo Broccolo Spigariello aka sprouting broccoli “an iconic vegetable from Naples” that I’m looking forward to trying.

David also had a cattle panel on his handy trailer.  I’ve been wanting to make a tunnel between beds to grow cucumbers up.  The panel is 16′ long and the beds are 4’ apart.  When curved between them it needed some reinforcing to keep the sides straight, so he ended up making a frame out of 2 x 4’s.  I can hardly wait to see it covered in greenery with little cucumbers hanging from it!  Here’s David figuring it out.  I love how it frames the venerable Magnolia in my neighbor’s yard.  

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And I still need to tell you about the Hot Box! 

Fayetteville is one of those places where there are many routes to your destination.  I’ll go out of my way to drive down a street with a house or tree that I like or a garden I’m observing.  A couple of years ago I was driving down one of these streets and they were replacing the windows on a house I like.  After stalking them for several days, I got up my nerve and stopped to ask what they were planning to do with the windows in their refuse pile.  We had a lovely conversation about houses and dogs and gardens and landscaping and several trips later I had a new friend and thirteen lovely old wooden windows.  It is my hope they will ultimately be part of a phenomenal greenhouse, but in the meantime, I wanted to use them to make a cold frame.  Because he’s amazing David surprised me with this one.  I may paint it, or maybe I’ll be patient and wait till the plywood mellows like the rest of the garden structures.  

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I know they’re called cold frames, but for some reason we call ours The Hot Box.  He lined it with Perma R foam board insulation.  We put a thermometer inside and have been monitoring the temperature.  One day when it was sunny in the 60’s here it was 110 degrees inside! 

In their great book “The Four Season Farm” Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman (preeminent garden gurus, especially winter gardens) advise that 75 degrees is as high as you want to let it get inside the box.  They also advise that it is much better to err on the side of too cold.  We’re still trying to figure out the best way to vent ours.  We’re thinking about using chains attached to the fence behind it to raise the windows enough to keep the temperature moderate.  In the meantime it’s 25 degrees here and snowing, so I’m not going to worry about it today. 

On my blissful day in the garden I planted ‘Astro’ arugula, ‘Spring’ Broccoli Raab, ‘Quarantina’ Broccoli Raab, and Claytonia in the hot box. 

Claytonia perfoliata, also known as miner’s lettuce from when it was eaten by miners during the California gold rush, is a super cold-hardy green that is native to western North America.  Those miners ate it to prevent scurvy because it is high in vitamin C.  I couldhave/shouldhave/wouldhave planted it last fall, but I didn’t, so I’m trying it now.  We shall see.  As soon as the leeks sprout, I’ll put them in there too. 

I love having these new structures in my garden.  They expand it in all dimensions.  Into the sky and earlier into the season.  Gaining me space and time.  Cosmic.