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We’ve been grateful for the opportunities to play outside so often this year.  Winter was incredibly mild and now our planting season is beginning.  It seems we’ve skipped the cabin fever phase altogether.  We can only hope the karma truck isn’t parked outside, ready to dump a big POOF of snow on us.

Today was a lovely, quiet day with Tootsie.  We wandered around the yard, clearing debris, and scratching at the dirt.  Look what we found!

It won’t be long before we see crocus and tulip flowers, too.  The garlic and onions are already coming up and the rose bushes are full of leaf buds.  Just scratching and decluttering and uncovering the rich soil under the leaf mulch is a gardeners first joy of the season.  I love preparing the beds on cool sunny days far better than weeding overgrown patches in the humidity of August while battling an army of persistent insects.

We planted our peas and sprinkled some spinach seeds on the ground. 

Tootsie in the garden

Little hands can help, too.

We checked out the greenhouse, which is so often a playhouse for the girls.  It looks straight, but needs a good wash.  There are already some anxious weeds flourishing (which we yanked) and the strawberries are springing to life.  It has been so warm, we may set the earliest berry-picking record!  The raised beds Silverback made for me last year made everything simple.  They are ready for a layer of compost and we’ll be planting in there very soon!   

Did you get your rake out yet?  Scrape away the remnants of winter and sprinkle on a layer of compost.  The season has officially begin!

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Vintage Lemonade

Is there something deep in your soul that longs for simpler times?  Do you imagine yourself in the Country Time commercial, swinging from a tire swing over a lake in the hazy heat of summer?  Forget the powdery mix, we have found the authentic taste of summer.   

Pookah and I mixed up this delicious old-fashioned version and the pitcher was empty in no time.  It’s more of a technique, really, that can be altered to your taste.  Isn’t that really the best “recipe” anyway? 

Put your own “twist” on this one.

First, wash the lemons, then use a vegetable peeler to carefully remove the yellow skin of 5 lemons.  Avoid the white pith as much as possible.  You can use a zester as a quick alternative, but it will require more straining later on.

grate or peel the lemon rind

This step makes your home smell so fresh! 

Sprinkle 1-1/2 Cup granulated sugar over the lemon rinds and allow it to sit for 1 hour until the sugar has absorbed the lemon oil.  Resist the urge to stir or squeeze the lemon peels.

Boil 5 cups of water and pour over the lemon peel/sugar mixture and allow to sit for 20 minutes.  Again, resist the urge to stir, just let them steep.

Meanwhile, squeeze and strain the juice from your lemons.

Remove the lemon peel from the hot water mixture and discard.  Add in the juice.  Now taste and adjust water and sugar according to your personal taste.  The lemon oil from the peels give the drink a bit of a sour touch, which creates a unique depth of flavor that can’t be found in those powder mixes.  

Enjoy with a big straw hat and someone special.

For pink lemonade, puree a handful of strawberries or raspberries and pour the puree through a sieve when adding to the lemonade.

For HOT PINK lemonade, we used blueberries. 

Last Spring, while we were expecting Tootsie to come along in the middle of June, I didn’t know how much energy or time I would have to maintain a garden.  I wondered:  even if I got it started, how would I keep it weeded?  I envisioned a mass of wild grasses choking out my vegetable plants.  But someone recommended the book  Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and I took her advice.  (Thank you, Becky)  I found the book at the library and skimmed it quick for the basic idea.  It changed the way I garden!

Instead of digging up a large area at once and planting everything in rows, the square foot gardener divides the garden into smaller, more manageable areas.  Each square foot is assigned a number of plants, according to their size.  I was surprised at the suggested numbers per square, it seemed like a lot in some cases, but the point of the book is to create an efficient, compact space.  Not only was I able to cram more vegetables into our small space, but I was able to work 1 square at a time, using just the hand tools, which saved me energy and time.  Working step by step, preparing the area for each variety of veg, I didn’t concern myself at all with the weedy area assigned for another day.  As I worked along, I appreciated how much this system would benefit a person of limited physical ability.  I thought about some of the mature folks I’ve spoken to over the years who “used to garden” but find it physically overwhelming now.  As for me, in my condition, I would not have had a garden at all last year.  This year, I’ve decided to use the same technique on a larger scale.

So, if you want to give it a try without looking at the book, you’ll essentially do something like this:

2 ft by 2 ft squares divided into quads

That’s my interpretation of it, anyway.  My squares are side by side because I only have a 17′ x 3′ space to work in, but you could make a 4 foot by 4 foot raised bed and divide it up as such.  I used all scrap wood and I have to admit, I probably could have looked harder for more of those nice, flat, 2 foot boards, but I’m short on time these days.  The boards should be something you could step on to get to the back of the garden.  In our case, we don’t have that kind of depth to be concerned about.  Do you see how they control weeds and keep you focused on a small area?  I did take advantage of the space in front of those short boards by planting marigold seeds.  If you don’t have marigolds in your vegetable garden, consider adding them as an organic method of insect repellant.  They look cute, too. 

After dividing the space, we assigned plants. 

To calculate how many plants per square, look on the back of the seed packet.  If the suggested plant spacing says:

  • 12″ apart, plant 1 per square
  • 6″ apart, plant 4 per square
  • 4″ apart, plant 9 per square
  • 3″ apart (or less), plant 16 per square

Here’s the visual:

Broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts require 1 full square.  Green beans can be sown 9 per square, so we chose 3 non-connecting squares for 3 different varieties.  Assigning squares in this way also makes crop rotation easier.  Next year, just move your vegetables to a new square.  It’s important that you wear pink tulle during the process as this contributes to the collection of loose soil and dry leaves.  

these transplants get 1 square foot each

You can maximize the squares by allowing companion plants to share space.  We tucked some herb seeds in the center of each quad, then we rolled out the soaker hose.  Here’s what it looked like when we unfurled it.  It will calm down after a while, but it’s probably wise to lay it out in the sun for a day or two so it’s not a real wrestling match to set it down.

make watering easy

I recommend getting a soaker hose.  We bought this 50 foot long one from The Christmas Tree Shops for $6.99.  It’s totally worth it to not have to drag a hose out every day.  Poor watering techniques create roots that reach for the surface and weaken the plant.  Always water deeply to anchor those roots in the ground.  Watering and weeding are your biggest time-consumers, whatever you can do to make those 2 things easier on yourself will really pay off in the long run.

I hope seeing what we’ve done in our small garden encourages you to give it a try.  You really don’t need a lot of space to enjoy gardening.  Learning to work the space you have is key.  This is just one of many techniques that allow you to grow more food in less space.  Think outside the box.

Related article:  From Seed to Kitchen, Phase 4  

A note about watering your garden: 

A soaker hose is a hose with lots of tiny holes in it that allows the water to drip gently on the ground, preventing muddy splashes, puddles, and plant damage.  It “soaks” the ground.  It comes with one end that has a connector to fit your regular garden hose (or spout) and the other end has a cap.  The cap can be removed to connect another hose.  You lay it (pins are available to hold it in place) on the ground around your plants and leave it for the season.

When we first transplant the plants or seeds into the garden, we water daily to promote downward root growth.  Silverback turns the spout on his way to the car in the morning and I run out in my jammies to shut it off in about 20 minutes.  I’m a little surprised we don’t have this automated yet.  🙂  A hose timer would be helpful.

We also watch the weather, if rainfall is expected, we don’t waste water. 

As the plants become established, less watering is necessary and we rely more on mother nature.

Morning is the best time to water, for several reasons. 

  1. less evaporation, less waste. 
  2. less likely for the heat of the sun to scorch wet foliage. 
  3. night watering leaves plants susceptible to mildew and fungus.

Also, watering the ground – not the leaves – helps prevent damage and mildew.  So, if you choose not to use a soaker hose, be sure to aim low with your garden hose each time you water.  Keep the flow low so you are not blasting up mud or pushing the plants around.

 

Spring Pictorial

Native Violets

 

Tulips

 

Kitty enjoying the perennial garden

Cherry blossoms and bright blue sky

 

A closer look

 

The Frisbie House was built in 1920, firmly planted into the bedrock of the hillside.  It’s clear that some blasting was done to lay the foundation and the remaining rubble buried throughout the grounds.  Put a spade in any spot in our yard and you will quickly come to a scraping stop.  This can be a challenge. 

When re-flooring the greenhouse this year, we built 2 raised beds that needed to be filled with soil.  Any old person can go out and buy soil, but hey, we’re The Frisbie’s, surely there is some way we could mechanize this process and use what we already have… right?  

“Honey… bring me the power tools!”  

DIY Sifting Screen

In his usual problem-solving manner, Silverback built a screen to sift soil and separate rocksand then juiced it up.    

 

 

Power tools are your friends

It was fun watching him tinker with it, and it came together pretty quickly.  He truly amazes me when he builds things.  He thinks of everything – it sits on top of the wheel barrow and is compact enough to store easily.  The reciprocating saw unhooks and goes back into the toolbox.  When he perfected it, he began clearing the area under our deck, which is the most rock-laden part of the yard and definitely needs a re-do.  Within a short time, he screened enough soil to fill the need in the greenhouse.  Soft, fluffy, beautifully screened soil!  Next, I want him to screen some compost to enrich those beds.  The machine makes it easy, fast, and fun.

Soil goes in the wheel barrow; rocks fly like the dickens

The by-product is some gravel and stones we can use in landscaping.  I’m a little freaky about stone.  I love it.  I earned a 4.0 in Geology.  When I see a pile of rocks I want to build a wall, line a path, or just stare lovingly at it.  After all, I grew up in the country where farmed fields were deliniated by acres of rock wall.  Beautiful.  Primitive.  Interesting.

One day, I will update you with a before/after photo of our deck project.  Until then, here’s a peek at the new greenhouse beds where some lucky plants will snuggle in for the season.     

 

The Road Not Taken

It’s National Poetry Month.  Here is a reminder that change is good:

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Another Photo Update

 

Getting bigger each week. 

See how the roots are forming along the planted stem of the tomato plant?  That will make the plant strong.  The birth leaves are dying back.  Their work is done.  We can remove those by pinching the base of each leaf with our thumbnail and finger, being careful not to damage the stem. 

And here are the leaves of that plant.  This is the happiest plant we have.  Tomatoes definitely benefit from being planted in a deep container.

Remember that I am a few weeks ahead, so if your plants don’t look like this yet, that’s okay.  Go back and look at the weekly photos from past weeks to compare.