Eating From the Garden: Melted Spinach

One of the main reasons I started expanding my garden this past year was to try to grow as much our food as possible. With finally owning a house with yard, and with the onset of Covid, it seemed the perfect time to do so!

Since I spent so much time and energy expanding and growing the garden, I was often at a loss as to what to do with thing things I grew. I came across the “Melting Greens” recipe from The Splendid Table and loved it. I was able to use my home-grown onions, garlic, peppers, and Swiss Chard. After trying a few variations, I found that I preferred Spinach in this recipe and the addition of onion really helps boost the mouthfeel. Here’s my adaption of that recipe:

Melted Spinach

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 5 cups (1 bunch or so) Spinach (you can substitute kale or Swiss Chard)
  • 1 dried chili pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ½ medium onion (white or yellow), chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • salt and pepper as needed

Directions: sauté garlic, onions, and dried pepper briefly, then add in chicken stock and spinach. The spinach will cook down dramatically, so feel to pack your pot as full as it can handle. Cook everything until the spinach is completely wilted, remove the chili pepper, and serve.

I usually make a quadruple batch and freeze it. Today I had some for lunch as a main meal, added a tablespoon or so of fresh goat cheese, and it tasted amazing. If you cut down on the liquid, this plus the goat cheese would probably make a great tart.

I use this as a side dish, or to boost my immunity when I’m sick. I love the mouthfeel of sautéed spinach and the onions. And the chicken stock plus spinach and garlic is great for colds!

Garden 2021 Wrap-Up: Dahlias

This was my first year growing dahlias. I had never even heard of them until February of this past year year, when I was unexpectedly stuck at home for six weeks due to a surgery and ended up binging on gardening videos. This past spring, the flower farming world (here in America, at least) was all in a tizzy about Floret’s new book, Discovering Dahlias, and as everyone seemed to be obsessed with them, I decided to try growing a few. Over the course of my recovery (and because I was still generally stuck at home due to Covid), “a few” turned into 17 different varieties in tuber form and another three varieties of dahlia seeds. (For people new to dahlias, one of the key things to know is that dahlias don’t breed true. If you collect seeds from a dahlia and attempt to grow them the following year, it’s really a crapshoot as to what will come up. They’ll all be dahlias, yes, but the size, shape, height, and color will not match the parent flower. This being the case, most dahlias are sold in tuber form, which produces an exact clone of the previous year’s flower. And thus specific dahlia varieties are maintained.)

Here is what I ended up planting this past year:

Dahlia, Crème de CassisVan Zyverden (Walmart)
Dahlia, Belle of BarmeraAmerican Meadows
Dahlia, Black SatinSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, Cafe Au LaitSkyfall Flowers
Dahlia, Cafe Au LaitLongfield Gardens
Dahlia, CheersSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, FleurelDutch Bulbs
Dahlia, FleurelLongfield Gardens
Dahlia, Giant Hybrid MixJohnny’s Seeds
Dahlia, Karma ChocTerrain
Dahlia, Noordwijks GlorieLongfield Gardens
Dahlia, Redskin Mix Pinetree Seeds
Dahlia, Unwins Mix Baker Creek
Dahlia, Kelvin FloodlightVan Zyverden (Walmart)
Dahlia, EmperorBreck’s
Dahlia, Southern BelleSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, My ForeverSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, Mary MunnsSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, Belle of BarmeraSwan Island Dahlias
Dahlia, VixenSwan Island Dahlias

There were actually several more tubers I tried to grow, but once I sprouted them and tried to plant them out, I found that they were covered in crown gall.

Of these varieties, my strongest growers by far were the Kelvin Floodlight and the Fleurel. Fleurel was the first variety I purchased, and as it arrived looking dehydrated, I ended up buying it from Longfield Gardens as well. However, even the dehydrated tubers sprouted reliably. Kelvin was a impulse grab from Walmart’s bins. Both grew about 3′ tall and produced blooms 7-10″ wide. They were just gorgeous. (However, when I lifted them this fall to store them, the Kelvin tubers definitely had gall and the Fleurels looked like them might as well, so I’ll be starting with new tubers this year.) Another show-stopping dinner plate dahlia was the Belle of Barmera. I intend to grow all three again this year.

I had several non-dinner plate dahlias. Of these, the ones that grew best were the Southern Belle, Creme de Cassis, Emperor, and Vixen. Of these, my favorites are Vixen, as it looks exactly like a Disney-fied rose, and Southern Belle, which has a gorgeous array of sunset colors.

My Creme de Cassis only grew true for one of my tubers, however; the other produced a peachy large bloom with a huge open center. The plant grew 6′ tall and was extremely prolific–producing many more blooms and earlier than any other dahlia I grew this year. None of my Cafe au Laits produced a true Cafe au Lait either–just similarly colored 4″ blooms. And there were several other dahlias that didn’t match their names, or I honestly couldn’t remember which one was which, but even so, I ended up with huge bouquets of flowers from August until frost, which for us this year wasn’t until the end of October.

I’m looking forward to another large crop of dahlias this year! I have a bunch of new varieties on the way. 🙂

Garden 2021 Wrap up: Successes

So if you’ve been reading any posts in this blog, you’ll know that I planted way too much this past year. Such is the way of life during Covid.

I planted during only two seasons this year–Summer and Fall–due to my knee surgery in the spring, Even so, I was able to get a large amount of new-to-me species in the ground. This was my first year planting many tyes of plants: leeks and onions; tomatillos and eggplants; dahlias, snapdragons, and a variety of other annuals; rudbeckias, echinaceas, and other perennial flowers; and turnips, rutabegas; and apples and lilac trees. I also grew the usual: tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, herbs, lettuce, winter squash.

Successes: Flowers

Madame Butterfly Bronze snapdragon

Probably the biggest surprise this past year were my snapdragons (Madame Butterfly Bronze; Rocket mix). The seeds of the snapdragon are as small as grains of ground pepper, and they took a while to germinate and grow. Once they were established, though, it seemed like nothing could kill them. They have long, strong stems; bright , frilly flowers; and they are easy to clean for flower arrangements. They also seem impervious to the heat (we had a record-breaking hot, dry summer this past year) and they were my last flower to die off this fall. I hear that you can plant them early spring, which is my plan this coming year–I should have snapdragons for flower arrangements from May until November.

My second pleasant surprise were my bachelor buttons. I planted the basic “Blue Boy” variety and wasn’t expecting much just from looking at the picture on the seed packet, However, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that they grow fast and tall and bloomed quickly. And the color–an electric, true “blue” which is so rare in plants–is absolutely gorgeous. The color is practically fluorescent. I finally understand why describing someone as having “cornflower-blue” eyes is a compliment.

Bachelor Buttons

I was also successful in growing both rudbeckias and echinaceas–specifically Autumn Colors rudbeckia and White Swan and Purple Cornflower echinaceas. They were all really slow to germinate and really slow to grow past seedling size. However they did eventually grow! The rudbeckias grew the fastest, and ended up having a really fascinating texture–the petals are almost velvety. And echinacea flowers are unexpectedly hard and spiky. But still, all in all, they were a success.

Another plant that was hugely and surprisingly successful was my nicotania plant (Indian Peace Pipe). The seeds took easily and grew fast–spreading out a 3′ wide diameter within a month before shooting up to 6′ tall with tall spikes and massive leaves. Apparently the seed pack wasn’t lying when it said that the plant could get 6′ tall! It is a huge space hog, however, so I don’t think I’ll grow it next year.

Indian Peace Pipe (Nicotiana)

Successes: Vegetables

My tomatoes, as usual, grew very well this year. (Honestly, I don’t know of any area in North America where it is hard to grow tomatoes.) This year’s new tomato varieties were Paul Robeson, Carbon, Terracotta, Sun Gold, and Barry’s Crazy Cherry, all of which grew well. I was particularly happy with the taste of the Paul Robeson and Sun Gold tomatoes; I will definitely growing those next year. (Fresh Paul Robeson tomatoes sliced and sprinkled with salt are amazing. And this is coming from someone whose acid reflux prevents her from eating fresh tomatoes!) The Sungolds were sweet and made great gifts to friends and family.

All of the many peppers I grew this year were successful as well. My favorites were pimento peppers, which I picked up as starts from the local nursery, and the Pasilla Bajio Chile Chilaca pepper, which was considerably milder than expected and extremely prolific. It was a great pepper to cook with eggs or fajitas.

The only other veg that was really successful this past year was the garlic. I grew Chesnok red and Duganski, both hardnecks. I ended up harvesting them mid-June as the greens had already started to turn brown and shrivel due to our extremely early summer heat. At first, I thought the crop had failed as bulbs were small, but later I found out that these varieties are just small by nature. Given that, they were both successful!

Successes: Trees and Bushes

This year I purchased three apple trees–Haralson, Fuji, and Honeycrisp. The Fuji was supposed to be a dwarf tree but ended up being a standard sized tree. I got a refund but ended up keeping it. All three have thrived and the Haralson even put out an apple! So far so good.

Peach Knouk-Out Rose Bush

I also picked up five rose bushes–one Peach Knock-Out and four Double-Red Knock Out roses. All five thrived. Three of the red ones are now lining my side fence, and the fourth is in front of my detached garage. I ended up potting the peach one and giving it to my mother for Mother’s Day–she brought it inside for the winter, and it’s still growing and putting out a ton of blooms.

However, I also purchased a bunch of raspberry bushes, which all died (except for one Ann Gold raspberry) due to some kind of leaf blight. The Japanese maple I bought also died (nursery issue, I believe). One of the lilacs I bought died, and all but two of my hydrangeas also died from some kind of leaf blight. Half of my strawberry pants also died of some kind of unknown issue. In general, it was not a great year for putting live plants into my garden 😦

Yule 2021 Check In

The longest night of the year has come and the garden is pretty much put to rest.

I have my new compost bin up and I’ve decided to start using it as a kitchen compost during the winter. I’m sure that whatever birds and small mammals are around will appreciate that–good luck to anything bigger that a squirrel getting in.

Due to our really late winter (and more knee problems), only about half of the leaves have been picked up; but due to a massive windstorm a few weeks ago most of the rest have been blown to other yards or have broken down completely already. I was able to get enough to cover the raised beds and the front landscaping and that’s about it.

Due to the late winter, I was able to get almost all of my bulbs planted. As I was not sure where I’d actually be planting them, I took a page out of Laura from Garden Answer’s book and planted most of them in the now-empty pots in my backyard. So hopefully come next spring I will have a couple of hundred tulips plus some assorted daffodils, crocuses, and alliums. The tulip harvest next year should include Menton’s Exotic, Pink Impression, Finola, and Blushing Apledorn, none of which I’ve grown. (The house I bought has a few classic red tulips and yellow daffodils from a long-ago planting.) I still have a few bags of snowdrops to plant, which I am hoping to get in early next spring.

As for landscape/planting clean-up, I wasn’t able to get as much done. The magnolia and juniper bushes out front have been trimmed, but that’s about it. The large lilacs and hydrangea bushes will have to wait until next spring. The Greenstalks are mostly untouched–I’ve only pulled a few of the plants that died and will clearly not come back next spring. I did find a few that, even though they looked dead, had a huge root system so assumably they will come back next spring–or they would have if I hadn’t pulled them My chives and sprouting celery probably could have made it through the winter. Ah, well. Now I know for next year. I’ve left most of the strawberries as well as a few herbs which should all survive the winter.

Finally, I’ve brought my tiny Hardy Pomegranate tree and one of my Night-blooming Jasmine plants in to overwinter. I overwintered the pomegranate successfully last year, so that should be fine. I’m hoping by the end of summer next year it’ll be big enough to keep outside overwinter–it is the “hardy” pomegranate after all. the night blooming jasmine is still an experiment. I left one out in the cold to see how it’s do and the strongest of the three I brought inside. My youngest cat loves to chew on greenery, so I only have so much space to overwinter plants.

My hope is to start growing lettuces/herbs indoors come January, but right now I’m enjoying the downtime. Happy Yule to all! Here’s to a great gardening year next year.

Fall Garden Clean-Up 2021: My To-Do List

This late fall has really thrown off my garden wrap-up plans. I ended up keeping my squash and tomato plants in the ground a good two weeks after I should have been able to, and only started pulling them because I had to plant out the brassicas into my raised beds. And given that October was spent mostly in the 70s and 80s, it was hard to get myself psyched up to tear everything out and put my gardening equipment away. I mean, the leaves haven’t even fallen from the trees yet, how can I tear up my beds when I don’t have anything to mulch them with? Sigh.

I did get my garlic bulbs planted finally–on Halloween, just under the wire for my zone (5a/b). As this past year’s garlic harvest was small, I ended up buying more seed garlic. This year I’ll be growing Chesnok Red, German Extra Hardy, Music, and Italian Heirloom. Already I’ve found a clove that my arch-nemesis, the chipmunks, have dug up–this past year I found several garlic plants growing in my lawn, where I KNOW I did not plant them. I assume this next year they’ll do the same.

Still on my to-do list (essentially, everything else):

–Plant the tulip, snowdrop, allium, and narcissus bulbs ASAP

–Trim the lilac and hydrangea bushes

–Trim the huge magnolia tree and juniper bushes by the front porch (I know the magnolia should have been trimmed in early summer, but I was still laid up from my surgery at that point)

–Clean off the back deck, which has been my de facto garden storage for the past six months (unfortunately)

–Clean and store all potting equipment

–Clean up the greenstalks: pull old plants, consolidate into one greenstalk that will stay out in the garden overwinter, and store the rest of it in the garage

–Clean up the basement so I can overwinter plants there

–and set up the seedling area again so I can grow lettuce, etc, overwinter

–which reminds me, I also need to CLEAN THE GARAGE so we can fit a car in it come winter;

–and, once the leaves fall, mow the lawn and mulch the hell out of my raised beds

–and set up my new compost bin for the rest of the leaves (we get upwards of 20 bags of leaves each year)

And do this all in freezing November temperatures with bad knees. Bah.

Wish me luck.

The First Freeze, Fall 2021

Well, this season has zoomed by. As expected, I was too busy just keeping up with the garden to bother to write anything about it. But I took a ton of pictures, and I have many snowy months ahead, and I have many analysis posts bubbling up to post. But as I’m still in the middle of wrapping up the garden for winter, it may be a bit. And given that I got my first bad head cold in over a year this week, I haven’t been able to take advantage of the last week of warm weather to do my clean-up. 😦

However, now we’ve just had our first freeze– FINALLY! Our usual first freeze is the 1st week of October; this year’s freeze didn’t hit until November 1. I had gotten to the point where I was tearing out my squash and tomato plants even though I knew, based on our weather reports, that they could have had another week or two in the ground. I never thought I’d be wanting the winter to come sooner, but these past few weeks I was getting kinda twitchy waiting for it to finally hit. The leaves are only just now changing and dropping from the trees–usually the trees are bare by the time Halloween comes.

Plants That Did Not Survive The Freeze:

Now that it has, I can say without a doubt that dahlias do NOT like freezing temperatures whatsoever. All of my backyard dahlias turned brown and limp overnight. I harvested the last of the blooms on Halloween–my kitchen windowsill is completely filled right now. It looks beautiful, but for the first time in three months, I have no new bouquets to look forward to. The plan is to let the dahlia plants sit for a week or two and then dig them up and store them. Dahlias will get their own post–maybe even two. I have a lot to say about dahlias this year.

Other plants that did not fare well in the freeze were my zinnias, and my potatoes. The zinnias look just as brown as the dahlias. The potato leaves looked brown and flopped over completely. I harvested the last potato planting from September today, and did actually get a fair amount of fingerling potatoes. The nasturtiums died as well. I thought I remembered them being more cold-resistant last year, but apparently they are only warm-weather plants.

Also, my night-blooming jasmine bushes, which I knew ahead of time would not be happy with the cold, did not survive. I had three but only have the space to overwinter one, so the other two were left out in the cold, and are looking just as bad as the dahlias. (Unfortunately no one in my area had the space or setup to successfully overwinter medium-sized bushes.) Technically the two outdoor plants are still green, but the leaves are limp and I’m sure another night of freezing temps will kill them entirely.

And, surprisingly, my lovely Moonflower vine died just as quickly as the dahlias. I wish it was a perennial–it took a good four months for the vine to get up and going, and I only had a month and a half to enjoy the flowers.

And my green onions and smaller calendula plants (both of which are planted in greenstalks) did not fare well.

Plants That Survived The Freeze Just Fine:

My white-blooming Nicotiana plant survived, surprising enough. I though that given that it has very soft foliage, it was sure to die off. And it’s massive–the seed packet didn’t lie, it did actually get 6′ tall! And 3′ wide. It has HUGE, fuzzy, sticky leaves which are also apparently resistant to frost. But, the freeze has not made a dent in any part of it yet, as for as I can tell.

The rudbeckias and echinaceas are also unfazed. My Shasta daisies and sunflowers were already dead before the freeze hit. The violas and pansies also petered out before the freeze, but I think they could have taken teh cold temps if the plants hadn’t been so old.

My large purple cabbages are also unaffected, though their grow rate has significantly slowed. The beets and turnips have also survived–but again, are not growing significantly. The Brussel sprouts are also alive but no longer growing.

The leeks are faring the same–still healthy and alive, but not really growing.The swiss chard also survived, but I’m not sure how much longer it’ll last.

Plants That Are Thriving Now That It Is Cold:

My broccoli plants are the happiest campers right now. They are obviously continuing to grow, and the leaves are crisp and fresh-looking. Admittedly, I planted my broccoli late–in mid-September, IIRC–but the plants are still happy. They are not producing shoots yet, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m growing the Rudolph variety, which is supposedly December sprouting. I also planted a variety that is supposed to be able to overwinter in Zone 6 (I’m zone 5 a/b) so we’ll have to wait and see how that one does.

All of my lettuces are also quite happy–they look even better than my kales. I’m growing several of Johnny’s Salanova varieties, and other varieties that are supposed to be able to withstand the cold, and so far, so good.

The snapdragons are quite happy as well, and are still showing the light-green of new growth. They do not have as many blooms as they produced during the summer, though.

To be continued…

The Best Parts of the Garden (So Far)

One of the best parts of the garden is the snacking. I learned this last year, and made sure to have lots of snackable plants in my garden this year.

I had hoped that the berries would be highest on my list this year, but most of the raspberry and strawberry plants I bought have died, and the strawberries that survived (Albion) are honestly not that tasty. They’re not bad, just not amazing. The older raspberry bushes should start ripening in the next week or so, so I’ll get to start picking on those soon. In the meantime….

We have peas! I’ve been snacking on the Magnolia Blossom peas (Baker Creek) for about a month now. They were the only pea I got into the dirt this spring, and this variety turned out to actually be very vigorous. The peas are very sweet, with a slight, almost musty aftertaste that ‘s not actually unpleasant. And they are crisp and full of water and are just generally refreshing.

I also got a chance to harvest my first shelling peas (Green Arrow, from Sustainable Seeds). Though these should technically be harvested as a bunch of shelled for dinner, they were also vey tasty. Despite planting about ten plants, I’m not sure that I’ll get to harvest enough for an actual recipe. So, fresh eating it is!

The other best part of the garden, in my experience, is just sitting and enjoying it. I haven’t had a chance to do much of that yet this year due to our blazing hot weather, but last night and this morning it was finally cool enough to do so. A warm night, a cool breeze, and plenty of green and growing things all around. Happiness. ❤

Garden Update, 6/14/21

The heat wave has finally broken, and I can finally wander around my garden without getting sweaty and sunburned in the first five minutes. Yay!

So I was able to take a leisurely walk around my garden this evening, and survey the damage:

All the Joan J raspberry bushes, gone. Heat plus some unknown bug did them in. My Anne Yellow raspberries are growing well, but then again, so were my Joan J raspberries until something unknown made all the new leaves wither and die. So we’ll see. Luckily, the old native raspberries are having a stellar year and I know that at least those won’t succumb to the usual pest or disease pressure in the area.

Apple trees are thriving–my Haralson actually has two apples on it! I know the trees are very young still, but I figure growing two apples isn’t going to hurt the tree too bad.

My lilacs are thriving; one (Royalty, a pink lilac) is actually blooming and has a nice, sweet scent. My Night-Blooming jasmine bushes are loving the heat and are happily growing, They aren’t taking off as fast as I had expected, though, so I may not see any flowers until next year. Hydrangeas–my smallest one (Zinfin Doll, iirc) is not doing well and has lost most of its leaves. It’s had plenty of water, and I can’t see any specific pest damage, so I’m not sure what’s going on. The two larger hydrangeas (Limelight Prime, I think) are doing so well that I actually had to prune them a bit to get them back in shape. So, no idea what’s going on with the smaller one. Maybe it just was the heat.

The Moon Garden is thriving–all flowers are now blooming except for the white dahlias and while mini-gladiolii. I’m not expecting the dahlia to bloom until late July, but they all look well on their way. The three Fleurel dahlias are some of the few who avoided getting a bunch of pest damage yet.

The tomatoes are also thriving. My current count is three Paul Robesons (purple slicer) plants; one White Tomesol (white slicer); one very small Carbon (purple slicer); one Terracotta (orange slicer); one large and thriving Barry’s Crazy Cherry (yellow cherry); and one medium-sized Sun Gold (yellow cherry). I have them mostly trimmed down to one stalk, though somehow one of the Paul Robesons ended up with three main stalks and has already produced four baby tomatoes. Looks to be a good tomato season this year!

My peppers are all also thriving. My decorative peppers (Aurora and Black Pearl) and almost at their full height, and Aurora has put out a ton of cute little purple peppers. My Pasilla Bajio is also almost at full height and has put out a ton of flowers. The bell peppers are proceeding apace and I expect them to start flowering this week. The only peppers i have that are dragging their feet are the Biquinho Yellow peppers from Baker Creek. These germinated well but have taken forever to get to any size–even the largest one is less than a foot tall at this point. I ended up planting the two smaller ones directly in my raised bed (the rest are in plastic pots), in the hopes that that will help them take of. Who knows. I had really hoped to have a large harvest of the Biquinho peppers b/c I hear they are very tasty pickled.

My tomatillos (Grande Verde and Purple) are zooming along–all of the plants are already 3′ tall and are just now really putting out branches and flowers. I can’t believe one of my seed packets said they’ve only get 2′ tall.

The dahlias are struggling. Many (the ones that didn’t get tossed already, that is) are being eaten alive by some kind of bug–possibly a flea beetle. I’m applying diatomaceous earth on them plus my hollyhocks, poppies, and eggplants, and it seems to help, but I need to reapply it every few days. The white dahlias in the Moon Garden and the few dahlias I have potted out front of the house have avoided much damage, but with the rest, it’s an ongoing battle. I’m not sure at this point how many will survive to bloom this summer! The good news is that I contacted Longfield Gardens (which is where two of my diseased bulbs had come from), and they issued me an immediate refund, which will help pay for the new dahlia bulbs I ordered for Swan Island dahlias.

The potatoes are extremely happy, though they get attacked by flea beetles occasionally as well. They seem to be doing equally well in my raised beds as in my grow bags. My garlic is coming along, slowly but surely. My onions are all starting to flop over, through I know they are not at the right size yet. At least their tops are still green and firm; maybe they’ll keep growing. I’ve pinched the scapes from all of my garlic, which should help them bulk up–they’re still looking pretty skinny and I’m not sure they’ve started dividing into cloves yet. The leeks–I think I have three successions of them growing at the moment–are all looking good, and I’ve been able to harvest and use some of the Dixondale ones I planted back in March.

Brassicas. Ah, Brassicas. Last year my entire garden was nothing but brassicas (and a few tomatoes) and I spent the entire summer fighting with cabbage worms. I had no idea what I was doing so I spent a good ten minutes in the morning, each morning, manually picked off the matte green worms. This year, too, I brought a knife to a gun fight, and my cabbages are getting decimated–this time by flea beetles (or something similar). I kind of put them in just to see what would happen, though, as I was too late to get a real Spring garden growing anyway. I figured none of my brassicas would grow anyway. Much to my surprise, the Napa cabbage took off right away and I could have gotten a nice harvest, were it not for the beetles. Come fall, however, I will have a Plan and will put them all in the same bed and cover it with insect netting. Good to know that I can successfully grow Napa cabbage, though–I hadn’t tried growing it last year. (Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and bok choy, yes; cabbage, no.)

Peas. Peas are growing well! My Magnolia Blossom snap pea, my Purple Royalty snap pea, and my Green Arrow are all thriving, despite the heat! I’m so excited. I’ve already had some fo the Magnolia peas, and they were very tasty. Next to harvest will be the Green Arrow shelling peas, the the purple snap peas. I’ve got another batch of the purple snap peas locked and loaded, and will probably put them in this week.

My melons and squashes are all happily germinating and growing–the honeydew melon-types especially. Here’s hoping I actually get some to harvest this year! And that the trellis I ordered arrives in time, because the melons are already starting to take over the cucumber trellises.

Finally, the rest of my flowers. I ended up pulling all of the ranunculus; they took forever to sprout initially, then only grew about 4″ high, and never showed any signs of putting up a flower talk, so out they went. I’ve already ordered next year’s corms, so I should be able to get the kind of early start that all of the flower farmers I watch on YouTube have. My poppies, by and large, have not fared too well, though one of my Amazing Gray poppies and one of my Falling in Love poppies are absolutely thriving. (All I want is at least one of each flower variety to thrive, so I can decide if I like it enough to grow it next year.) Sunflowers are just getting started, unfortunately, because several rounds of seedlings and seeds have been eaten by the local chipmunks. The violas and pansies will make it onto my “to grow” list next year, because I’ve found that they are just so delicate and precious, and much smaller and daintier than anything I’ve seen at the local nurseries. They are really quite cute. Same goes for the Snow White Malva and Crystal Palace lobelia–both of which were a pain to grow as seedlings but ended up being very delicate, refined-looking filler flowers.

As for calendulas, I haven’t found one that I really like yet. My zinnias are just bow blooming, so it’s too early to tell. I’ve found that I really like the Black Velvet and Tip Top Alaskan Salmon nasturtiums; the rest, though successful, were just eh. My sweet peas still haven’t bloomed; they may not do so this year as it’s already pretty late into their season. The hedge roses have settled in nicely, though despite being named “Double Knock-Out red” roses, they’re really a magenta pink. Which is fine; I didn’t care that much about the color.

That about wraps up my garden update. More photos to come!

The Drought (Heat Wave, June 2021)

Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but here in the upper Midwest we’ve been experiencing some crazy heat. This, following an exceedingly dry spring (and now summer), has put us in a drought. And my plants are not happy.

We’ve been experiencing at least 90F highs since June 5. I had about four days between having to shelter my pepper plants in the house overnight due to frost warnings before the high temperatures kicking in. Spring? What Spring??

After a week of these high temps, I kind of gave up. I’d been watering my garden every night and checking each and every plant several times a day, every day, and even so I lost a bunch of them. I lost 4 out of 5 of my expensive Joan J thornless raspberries. All of their new growth had started to go brown, for some reason, right before the heat wave anyway, and when the heat wave hit, they went down like a house of cards. Even the largest one finally gave up the ghost today, apparently. Also, half of my strawberries have died–for the most part these are the ones from disreputable sellers that I would have been surprised if they had survived and produced fruit anyway, but still. And my sweet peas–out of season at this point, true, but still–need constant watering or they turn into prematurely dried sweet peas. At this point, my attitude is: If you’re not strong enough to survive this, then I don’t need you in my garden, no matter how valuable of a plant you are. Suck it up, buttercup.

My plants are also getting heavily hit by some kind of black speck that just looks like dirt got splashed up on the plant’s leaves, but is in fact some kind of nasty bug that is killing many of my plants. It appears to like my dahlias and poppies best, for some reason. And my cabbages! I expected the cabbages to be attacked by the cabbage worms, sure, but these tiny black bugs are even worse. An entire beautiful Napa cabbage plant turned to lace overnight. Cabbage worms, even at their worst, can’t do that. So I’m spraying BT and dusting with diatomaceous earth pretty much every day. My understanding is that this hot dry weather is perfect for these bugs, so until we get out of this drought, this is the situation we’re in. If nothing else, cabbage grows really quickly and I can try again in the fall.

Some good news?

As long as I keep on top of the watering, my potatoes are extremely happy. I’ve never grown potatoes, but they are big and lush and energetic despite the heat. My tomatoes are also coming along quite happily, and my squash seeds are germinating and sprouting really fast. Also, when they are not getting eaten alive, my dahlias are also loving this hot weather. And the rest of the strawberries–those strong enough to survive–are thriving and putting out a ton of fruit. I have my first home-grown strawberry (Albion, from Johnny’s) a week ago! It was tasty, but not mind-blowing. What was mind-blowing was tasting my first home-grown snap pea about two weeks ago (Magnolia Blossom Sugar Snap, Baker Creek); the flavor was amazingly sweet and complex.

Surprisingly, my snap peas and my lettuces are still growing apace. No issues there. I think it helps that I’m primarily growing Salanova lettuce varieties from Johnny’s, which have some kind of heat resistance. My peas in the Greenstalk are producing steadily and have huge vines. The ones in raised beds and containers (planted about a month or so later) are growing and starting to produce, but the vines maybe a bit shorter than they should be. As this is the first year that I’ve ever had any success with peas, I have no idea.

Also thriving are the old raspberry bushes in the yard. I had dug out most of them because they were old and worn out, and the bed was infested with a ton of large elm and maple saplings. (We have a huge problem with random tree saplings popping in our garden and lawn–anybody else have this issue?) But some raspberry canes on the far end of the bed did survive, and they are producing heavily this year. Also, my next-door neighbor’s out-of-control raspberry bushes jut through our fence and, this year, all of those errant canes are heavily laden with raspberries 🙂

I’ve had other setbacks– my mini butternut squash (Honey Nut, Botanical Interests) took 11 days to germinate; it was so slow that I ended up going online and bought a different type from a different seed store and started again (Butterscotch, bred by Johnny’s). Of course by the time the new seeds arrived, the old ones had finally sprouted. I also found out that the type of tulsi basil I had been attempting to grow (just called “tulsi basil”) was not the type I was looking for–the type I was growing turned out to be almost scentless, whereas the type I’m looking for should have a really strong spicy smell to it. So I had to track that variety down (called “Kapoor Tulsi” from Johnny’s; MI Gardener also apparently has it but they were sold out), buy the seeds, and start over my tulsi basil from scratch this month. I also accidentally topped off my only Dad’s Sunset tomato plant the day after I finally tossed the rest of my back-up tomato seedlings. Sigh. Maybe I’ll try it again next year.

And finally , if you’ve read recent posts, I also had to toss a bunch of my dahlias for crown gall (or suspicion of having crow gall). I ended up digging out every single one of my dahlias just to make sure they didn’t have gall. A few I gave only cursory inspections of–if they had come from a small, independent grower who hand-picked each tuber, for example–but the rest were given a through examination. From that, I ended up throwing out another five tubers, and if they had arrived in bunches of 2 or three , those tubers as well. And, due to the heat, even the ones that didn’t have gall didn’t have a chance to regrow their roots before the heat kicked in, so… probably ⅔ of my dahlias, gone. I(Later that same day, though, that I got an email for a last chance sale on dahlias at Swan Island dahlias, so I ended up picking up a few more. Though their tubers are expensive, at least I know Swan Island rigorously inspects each their tubers. (the tuber’s name is stamped on the bulb itself).

But, man. This heat can stop ANY TIME now.

Moon Garden Update 6/2/21

The moon garden is progressing well.

The Moon Garden, as of 6/2/21

(Not show in the picture is the night-blooming jasmine in the urn on the right-hand side of the screen. Mulch to be added soon, I promise!)

So far, everything is growing well, and a few things have finally even started blooming. I ended up adding in a few more Fleurel dahlias to the mix; I think it will really help bulk up the garden. As it’s a 3′ tall dinner-plate dahlia, we may end up with more packed in to this space than it can handle–who knows? I also ended up adding two of the African Blue-Eyed daisies, as they had survived much better than I had expected, and a few more Abyssinian Gladiolus. I also added two more moonflower sprouts, as they seem to be slow in taking off. Now that I’m thinking about it, I do have a small white bleeding heart growing next to my compost bin that I could probably add as well–but there is a massive red bleeding heart plant right next to the Moon Garden (literally overshadowing it, until it died back this week) so I’m not sure it’s a great idea to put to such aggressively spreading plants so near each other.

The Snow White Malva (Pinetree Seeds) is blooming, and though the plant is a lot shorter and less bushy than I envisioned, it’s still very charming. The African daisy (Baker Creek) is also very charming, and again smaller than I had pictured. It looks like it will be very prolific, at least. Both of which I grew from seed this year for the first time–but honestly, seed packets can be pretty inaccurate sometimes. The dwarf cosmos and snapdragons were from the local nursery and were already in full bloom–the cosmos are fine with just a few dead-headings, but the snaps look to be burning themselves out pretty quickly.

I know the dahlias won’t be flowering until the end of July, probably, and the Moonflower seedlings seem to be on that same track as well. The chamomiles I added near the fence are also being slow to grow! I had no idea chamomile flowers took so long to grow from seed. The Abyssian glads are very thin with small flowers, so hopefully they should start sprout and bloom by the end of the month. The Night-Blooming Jasmine is also putting all of its effort into growing tall currently, before it’ll even think about putting out flowers. Gardening really is an exercise in patience.