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Garden Bounty

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Somehow, between all of the millions of things we did this Spring, we still managed to put in a garden.  We literally worked every day to get it planted the week before we left for vacation, and then we were gone for two weeks, and prayed that it would still be there when we got back.  We rigged up an anti-deer fence, anti,bunny fence, and watered the new plants.  We pulled in the driveway two weeks later and it was all we could do not to run straight out to the garden and see what survived.  Guess what?  EVERYTHING!  We have munched on snap peas, enjoyed fresh salad greens, and the boys eat the carrots whole.  Zucchini bread, zucchini relish, diced onion, summer squash  boats, radish and carrots dipped in sweet chili sauce.  The boys check almost daily for the emergence of green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and their beloved pumpkins.

I feel like there was some mistake, because the garden that I almost virtually ignored in the beginning has exploded into a crazy jungle of food-producing madness.  I can barely walk the rows between the tomato plants taller than I am and the various squash plants that are creeping across walkways.  I look for deeper meaning and hope that our spirits can grow this wild and wooly with little attention.  I love watching the kids beg me for fresh carrots while I am making dinner.  Looking forward to next year when we can add chickens and maybe goats to our funny farm.  As we enjoyed the cool evening by the fire, I feel secure in the knowledge that God is with us.

Happy Autumn

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Typically this time of year finds me feeling nostalgic as I look back on the Summer/Spring and all of the fun that I had.  I begin to feel some mixture of sadness and resignation at the coming of Fall and the long, cold Winter.  This year is proving to be very different.  The days are already feeling colder, and the leaves are beginning to turn.  I find myself looking forward to the Winter and the opportunity to snuggle up on the couch with a good book, or spend more time playing games and doing projects with the kids.  I am absolutely amazed by all that we have accomplished since Spring, but  I am also completely exhausted and overwhelmed.

I look back at what we have done and it seems unreal, but when I look at how far we still have to go, it seems just as overwhelming.  I never imagined it would take this long or be so difficult.  We installed our bathroom vanity at the end of March, and here is all that we have accomplished since….

We started off the Spring with just the utility sink and a working toilet and shower.  Dave spent March getting the bathroom vanity and sink installed, while working part-time and taking care of the kids when I went back to work after the new baby.  We spent the last part of Spring and early Summer doing drywall.  We hung the last of the drywall and Dave taped and mudded while I took care of the kids.  When he was done, I would do the painting on naps and after bedtime.  The tongue and groove went up in July, and the kitchen cabinets and sink were installed in September.  We also prepped a new garden bed and planted a full garden.  We have harvested and stored cucumbers (into pickles), zucchini relish, carrots, green beans, squash, and tomatoes.  I have yet to put away homemade ketchup, tomato sauce, salsa verde, tomato salsa, corn, and herbs.  We also stopped working on the house long enough to split 3 cords of wood (only half of what we need), build an 8×16 shed, and start on a 12×16 shop for Dave.  We still have to finish the shop, add some extra stove pipe to the chimney, install the range hood and hook up the gas lines to the oven/range.  Then we will finally be ready for winter.

Last winter I was facing this moment without running water or electricity.  We have come so far!  We are so exhausted and I will shamelessly admit that I am just ready for the snow.  I am ready to be hunkered down in the house with nothing better to do.  We can celebrate birthdays, enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas, and perhaps find a hobby that doesn’t involve our house.  There is still much to do, and it can wait until Spring, when the snow starts to melt and we begin to feel the yearning of finishing things unfinished.  For now, though, I long for the days when we can make homemade tapioca pudding, start homeschooling our Kindergartner, and enjoy a book by the warmth of the woodstove.

Prepared for Spring?

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Trees

Well, this is about all I have to post about the garden moving from Fall to Winter to Spring. The trees we planted three years ago are growing quite well to form a privacy screen that will probably be just about perfect by the time we move to our new property! The garden, well, it is just what it looks like- a big pile of straw. Being about 8 months pregnant when it was time to prep for Winter, I decided to go a different route this year. I knew after having one child already, that my time in the Spring will be tied up with other things besides weeding and prepping the garden. I decided to lay down a new layer of cardboard covered with a super thick mulch of straw to complement our lasagna garden. I knew from previous experience that this will not only inhibit weed growth, but also keep the soil nice and moist for planting. We have a heavy clay base, so the straw seems to keep the soil from turning into a big, baked layer of clay that is impossible to till and impossible to plant into. Last year I did not put down such a heavy layer, but where I did place straw, I was able to peel the straw back and have a nice, moist garden bed ready for planting. I am still uncertain what we will be doing with the garden this year, but I want to be ready just in case. At this point, we ar hoping to be transitioning to our new property in Minnesota- but at least this way I can have the option of planting if the circumstances allow. It will be a sad winter without all of our garden goodies!!

Home at Last?

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Well,  after almost ten years of dreaming and scheming, my husband and I have found ourselves in Northern Minnesota looking at land  We have found an amazing piece of property and are waiting to hear if our offer will be accepted.  It is everything we dreamed of and I am trying not to get my hopes up up, but it really is the perfect piece of land!

This could be the start of building our homestead! Over the last five years I have learned so much about establishing a new garden, raising fruits and vegetables, raising ducks for eggs, butchering chickens, and canning/preserving. I am ready to get out on our property and start using all those skills!! Here are some photos of the property- would appreciate everyone’s thoughts and prayers that it can be ours!!! Megan

Lasagna Gardening- How to Start a New Bed

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I Love Lasagna Gardening!!  Okay, now that I got that out there, let me explain to you how to do it.  I will first have to admit that I am somewhat of a lazy gardener, and also that I am extremely frugal and do not have much money or time to put into something that I greatly enjoy.  I was on a mission to find out how I could create wonderful garden beds for the least amount of money and time.  At a used book store, I came across the book, Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanzer.  I lapped up every word and began thinking about my own yard.  When we purchased the house, there had been a garden, but it had been covered with sod.  I was determined to reclaim the original garden spot and make it my own!

Original Yard

My first task was to collect large amounts of cardboard from the hospital that I work at.  After painstakingly removing all of the tape, I began laying the cardboard out on the grass, leaving no spaces for weeds to sneak up through.  I began this project in the fall to leave all winter for things to happen.  After laying out the cardboard, I began piling grass clippings and leaves on top of the cardboard.  I also purchased 10 bales of 3.8 cubic feet sphagnum peat moss because our soil has so much clay.  In addition, my husband and I hauled a truckload of composted manure from a coworkers horses and spread that out as well to add nutrients.  The finished product was pretty impressive.  I spent $90 on peat moss, and everything else was free.

Stage One Lasagna Gardening

In the Spring, we added straw to the walkways and defined each bed to be separated with rows.  I based my design on the wide row system explained in the Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond.  My rows were going to be wide so that I could maximize space and productivity.

Creating the walkways

In the Spring, when it was time for planting, I made sure to add a healthy dose of fish emulsion to each spot as I planted.  I did not add as much as the book recommended- she recommends at least 18″ of material for the raised bed lasagna gardening idea.  I had to work with the material that I had for free, however, so each year I add more grass clippings, more leaves, and straw.  This method is a no-till method, which also appeals to my lazy factor.  I occasionally have to mix the clay and soil a little bit, but the one year that we did till a little bit was a disaster and we had weed central to contend with.  The last thing that we did was add a short fence to deter bunny rabbits as well as the dog.  I have since added a row and filled in the area by the back fence to plant blueberry bushes.

The fence gate

As you can see in the above picture, I initially had grass around the beds, which is now being removed by the addition of more cardboard and straw.  it looked nice initially, but became a huge hassle for mowing and also gave me more weed problems.  I now have the entire area inside the fence as a grass-free zone!  We also added a small amount of sand last year to mix in with the clay.  I think this was a good idea, but now have thistles sprouting up in the garden…….  Have I mentioned that I have a serious issue with weeds?  I will save that for another post!!  Good luck with your lasagna- I am convinced that it is the best way to create new garden space!

Gardening in Colder Climates

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I am currently in Zone 5, but lived for a long time in Zone 4, so I am no stranger to cold climate gardening.  It can be more challenging, but also somehow more rewarding!  Some of my plants spend as much of their lives indoors as out, but I love every step of the process, and there is really nothing better than the taste of a fresh cherry tomato bursting with flavor!  An oldie but goodie, I have used the Alaska Gardening Guide by Ann Roberts as a guideline for much of my gardening in a colder climate.  The average growing season listed for Anchorage, Alaska  is 120 days.  This means that you want to pick varieties of vegetables that will fit within that time frame.

I have found that it is easier to learn the basics of growing and gardening before trying to extend the growing season with cold frames or greenhouses, but that is just my experience and yours may vary depending on the amount of things you like to tackle at once!  My first year gardening, I picked some basic varieties and also picked a couple of things that I was curious about, but not sure if I wanted to grow on a regular basis.  Every year, I try to fine tune what varieties I like the best, grow those varieties, plus a couple of extras just for fun.  By doing this, I have learned what things I like, added some new ones, and lost a few!

I have found several different numbers for last and first frost dates for Anchorage, but it looks like the average last frost is May 19th, with the average first frost being September 10th.  If you plug this date into the Seed Start Chart  at http://www.yougrowgirl.com/2006/03/31/the-lazy-gardeners-seed-starting-chart/  you will find the dates to plant in the ground as well as when to start seed.  Our first frost here in West Virginia is the same as Anchorage, but our last frost is later, so I will be starting much of my garden at the same time.  For the indoor starters, I always start some early tomatoes by March 10th, along with some onion seeds, and artichoke.  The bulk of what I started was late March/early April.  The second round I started more tomatoes, cabbage, celery, peppers, broccoli, basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme.  The third round I started at the end of April/early May: cantaloupe, cabbage, okra, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and cucumber.

My planting in the ground rotation looks like this:

  • Late April: Lettuce, Peas, Spinach, and onion
  • Early May: Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Potatoes, and a few Tomatoes
  • Late May or Early June: Beans, Cauliflower, Corn, Cucumber, Melon, Okra, Peppers, Pumpkin, Squash, and the remaining Tomatoes

The first two years, I planted a little bit of everything.  This year, I am drastically changing my garden layout to include more of what I really like, and I am basing it on a cost-to-buy idea.  I used to grow cabbage, but cabbage is incredibly cheap to buy, and I do not use much of it.  My basic garden this year will include:  Potatoes, Okra, Yams, Snap Peas, Green Beans, Hot Peppers, Sweet Peppers, Spaghetti Squash, Butternut Squash, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Carrots, Broccoli and Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, and Summer Squash.  My herb garden includes: Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Sage, Cilantro, Peppermint, and Cumin.

If I had to pick 4-5 veggies to start with in Alaska, I would choose the ones that I enjoy eating the most and the ones that are SO much tastier fresh than from a store.  For me, that would be:  Sugar Snap Peas and Snow Peas, Tomatoes, Potatoes or Yams, Green Beans (Bush not Pole), and Squash (winter and summer).  Peas will do very well in Alaska, potatoes should do well, green beans should do well.  You will have to work a little bit harder for the squash and yams, but they are worth it!  We have found that the more we eat from the garden, the more we want to eat!  Our first year, the only veggies that I bought were broccoli and some potatoes late in the Spring.  Everything else came from the garden.  If we ran out, we didn’t eat it until we grew more!  This year, I still have frozen zucchini from two years ago, and am whittling away at the canned green beans, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, and various peppers.  We also still have pickles, pickled okra, and pickled pepper, along with various jellies.  It is a huge amount of work, but there is just nothing more satisfying or tasty.  The vegetables that you grow in your own garden have so much more nutritional value than anything in the store.  Being in a northern climate can be more challenging, but all the more worth it in my opinion!

 

 

 

 

Starting From Seed

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Well, the time has almost come for me to sort through my seeds, order new ones, clean up the basement, and get ready for the new season of gardening.  This will be the first year that I am starting this adventure with a child!  I wanted to talk a little bit about what I do to start plants from seeds, things that I have learned along the way, and what setup that I use.  Here are the things that I need to get started:

  • shelving unit ($40)
  • grow lights  ($15) – I have enough for three shelves
  • heating pads ($20)- I have two
  • plastic trays with lids ($4)- I have MANY
  • peat discs ($2.5)- 36 come in a pack, and I usually by three packs
  • fertilizer ($6-8)- I use fish emulsion- stinky but good

I now have some metal shelves with adjustable heights that I currently use, but this is what I started with.  I have 24″ grow lights as well as 48″ grow lights to have some options.  I rotate the heating pads to use when I am germinating and remove them once things have sprouted. I wait until most plants are at least 1″ before transplanting from the peat pods.  I plop the whole pod into the dirt and avoid disturbing the roots.  For my soil mixture I buy the 3.8 cubic feet of sphagnum peat moss and mix it with perlite 10:1.  I also mix in some fertilizer with warm water so that the soil is moist.  My ideal texture is moist enough to clump.  I try to keep the lights no more than 2″ from the tops of the plants.

This is a close up of the onions, lettuce, and parsley.

I have started seed with the peat pots and I have started them without, and I have determined that I like the peat pots even if the cost is a little bit more.  I also prefer the sphagnum bales for transplanting  instead of bags of dirt.   The sphagnum  comes in a huge bale and I can use the same bale throughout the growing season and put the leftover on the garden bed for some more organic material.

I currently use a chart from the Farmer’s Almanac to determine my start date for various seeds.  That chart can be found here:  http://www.almanac.com/garden/garden.frostchart.html

The two books that I use the most often for reference for start dates, starting depth, transplanting information, etc. are:

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith

Joy of Gardening by Dick Raymond

These two books alone have given me almost all of the information that I needed to get started.

When it is time to plant, I place a peat pod into each circle in the plastic tray.  Saturate the entire tray with warm water until all pods have expanded.  Place 2-3 seeds in each pod, being careful to label each row so that you know what is what.  Push the seed into the dirt (I use a chopstick) and cover lightly.  When all pods are seeded, place plastic cover over tray, put on shelf, plug in warmer, and wait.  Once the seeds begin to germinate, I set the grow lights on a timer to give them at least 14-16 hours of light each day.  You do not need to water the plants at all as long as the plastic cover is in place.  Once the plants are touching the top of the plastic lid, I remove and transplant into 4×4 pots.

Once the plants and the weather are ready, I move everything to our back porch so the plants can get exposed to cooler evening temperatures and warm daytime temperatures and prepare for planting.

That is the process up to hardening off and transplanting.  Stand by for more on getting your plants into the garden.

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