And Now We Wait (Garden Update)

All the vegetables have been planted.   We’d been spending a little time each evening this week putting seeds and plants in the ground, and we took a few hours Saturday to finish the work.  Now we wait.  And water.  And wait.

garden Andrew

Andrew is proud of this garden.  Don’t you forget it. 😉

Looking at the photo above, here’s what’s in the ground:  on the right, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, bell peppers, cayenne peppers, pimento peppers, green beans, broccoli, carrots, and Swiss chard.  On the left, cantaloupe, cucumbers, pumpkin, zucchini, yellow squash, and watermelon.  In the pots we have strawberries and lots of herbs.

We planted the broccoli, Swiss chard, beets, and carrots almost two weeks ago, and they are starting to emerge from the ground.

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We transplanted the tomatoes and peppers this week and are still using popsicle sticks to help some of them straighten (the cages will be great when they are bigger, but they aren’t doing much at the moment.)

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We decided to buy 4-packs of herbs rather than grow them from seed for no reason other than impatience. 🙂

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Oregano, cilantro, thyme, parsley, rosemary, and basil.  (Not pictured: dill, peppermint, and lemon balm)

In addition to the edibles, most of the flowers are in bloom now too!

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I’m going to miss the tulips when they are gone…

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I will not miss the one odd azalea on the left 😉

I don’t think I can fully, accurately convey my excitement about the vegetable garden, but this photo brushes the surface:

Garden Catherine

What are you growing this summer?

April Garden Update

Based on the weather, it seems we’ve skipped spring completely and gone straight from winter to summer.  Yesterday the observed high for Richmond was a record-breaking 91 degrees!  Even the squirrels are struggling with the heat:

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We have a bunch of white squirrels in our neighborhood (which we find awesome, in case you were wondering. :))  When I arrived home yesterday I found this one resting in the shade under our wheelbarrow planter.  He stayed there for a solid 30 minutes!

The plus side of the heat is that it is finally warm enough to start planting the vegetables outside.  This week we planted broccoli, Swiss chard, carrot, and beet seeds–all of which can handle a bit of cold, and we have a few 40-something-degree nights on the horizon.

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We also transplanted the plants we started inside in February from the seed starting kit to individual plastic cups (with holes cut in the bottoms for drainage.)  We were way late doing this, and now we are having to do some popsicle stick scoliosis treatment for the tomato plants.  I think they are beginning to straighten…

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This is only half of the plants, and the two giants in the top photo are tomatillos that our friend Matt gave us this week (thanks, Matt!)  We’ve been putting them on the back deck for a few hours each day to let them adjust to the outdoors before it becomes their permanent home.  (If that sounds crazy, you should know that when Andrew comes home from work he says, “How are the babies doing?” in reference to the plants. 😉 )

The downside to the heat is that my tulips–which I’ve been eagerly anticipating since I planted them in the fall–are blooming overnight, opening completely by the afternoon, and losing their petals by the evening.

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DSCN7747Pretty, nonetheless 🙂

By the mailbox:

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You can check out the “before” pictures from a month ago here.  It’s crazy to see the difference!

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Even if each tulip only blooms for a day, I plan to enjoy them while they last. 🙂

The Garden Bed: A Work in Progress

On Saturday, during the few hours of warmth before the cold and rain blew in, Andrew and I began work on our vegetable garden bed.  As I’ve mentioned before, last summer we grew our vegetables in pots, and while we experienced mild success, we have been dreaming much bigger for this season.  Rather than pots, we measured and marked a 10 ft x 20 ft plot in the back yard for the veggies.  Because that is a relatively large area, we rented a rototiller to help with the digging.

The before:

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Don’t be fooled by the greenish hue you see;  it is not grass, but moss. 🙂  First, Andrew dug a few holes to find a cable line we knew was buried so we could be sure to avoid it.  Then we brought out the big guns:

 tiller   rototilling

Using a rototiller is NOT easy.  I had no idea.  Andrew did most of the hard work of breaking up the ground, which was predominantly clay.  A few hours, a lot of rocks, and one hidden tree stump later, we had this:

garden bedPlease note the piles of rocks and roots.  We discovered lots of treasures, including large chunks of cement (seriously?  Why were those buried in the back yard?) and the aforementioned stump from a tree that the previous owners had obviously removed.  That alone was an hour of fun, axing, and shoveling 😉

Next, we amended the soil clay.  We added gypsum to break up the clay and organic compost to add more nutrients.  Let me remind everyone at this point that Andrew and I have only a vague idea of what we are doing.  It’s very much a learning process.

I used the rototiller to mix everything together, which was not as difficult as the initial breaking-up of the soil, but it was still a full body workout!

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Andrew brought home some scrap stone from work (one benefit of being married to a mine engineer) that we used to create a mosaic path through the bed, forming two 4 ft x 20 ft beds.

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Now we wait for slightly warmer weather so we can actually put some plants in the ground and not just have a backyard mud pit (which is exactly what it is at the moment after all the rain we’ve had since Saturday. :))

It is a work in progress, but we are pleased with how it looks so far!

Signs of Spring + Seedling Update

Spring is coming quickly, and winter cannot do a thing to stop it.  While the large picture outside still looks dreary, bursts of color and signs of life are popping up all around.

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By our mailbox, the Sedum “Autumn Joy” is beginning its journey to a fall bloom, the first of hundreds of flowers has emerged on the Creeping Phlox, and tulips and daffodils are beginning to push their way through the dirt.

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The crocuses making the first appearance in our yard

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New growth on the rose bushes

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Gardenia bushes and tulips–lots of tulips–planted in the fall

Winter, you are defeated.

We even did some long overdue yard work this weekend. The shrubs by our front steps were way overgrown, leaving only a small opening to walk up and down the stairs.

spring before

Okay, so maybe it was more than a “small opening,” but those shrubs were out of control.  I attacked them with some hedge clippers while Andrew raked and weeded, and we were left with this:

spring afterSo much better, right?

A few quirks about our yard that we inherited with the house:

1. We have about three types of grass growing (plus the control group of no grass in the back yard…) They are different textures, grow at different rates, and turn green at different times during the year.

2. There are six azaleas in front of our house–three on each side of the steps (the giant shrubs are mostly hiding two of them, but I promise they are there.)  Five of those azaleas are alike.  The center shrub on the left?  Different variety, different size, different color, bloom time, etc.  I don’t have the heart to pull it up and replace it (Okay, I have the heart; I don’t have the confidence that I could pick the variety that does match the others.)

3. While I love spring bulbs–and in fact planted many myself back in the fall–the previous owner of our house planted tulips and crocuses (and monkey grass? Why monkey grass??) very randomly between/in front of the azaleas.  I don’t hate it, but it does look a little silly.

I realize these are very much “first-world problems,” and I am not complaining, simply acknowledging quirks 😉

In other spring news, our vegetable seedlings that we planted about a month ago are doing fairly well!  Well, most of them.

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Notes on the process thus far:

-For the first week we kept kept them in our “greenhouse”: the guest bathroom with a sky light and space heater, the container covered by its plastic top.  Once they sprouted, we moved them to our sunny living room by a window.

-The broccoli is thriving (bottom row in the top photo.)

-The cantaloupe is not thriving (top row in top photo)

-The peppers, while very late to sprout (we thought they weren’t going to make it,) are now growing and looking well.

-The tomatoes sprouted quickly and continue to look strong.

-At some point I know we were/are supposed to thin the sprouts to one per square.  I know ultimately it has to be done, but I can’t bring myself to uproot the ones that look so healthy!

I think the next step is to transplant them to larger, individual containers so they can continue growing before being planted outside.  We need to do some more research on this project, but I am so looking forward to starting the plants outside once it warms up a little more!

Spring, we welcome you 🙂

Starting Seeds Indoors

After our farming adventure Saturday morning, Andrew and I decided to spend the evening starting some seeds for our vegetable garden.  Yes, we are that wild and crazy.  We’ve been looking forward to spring and talking abstractly about our garden since last summer, when our “garden” consisted of a few plants in pots.  (We weren’t ready to commit to a permanent location in the yard yet.)

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A few weeks ago I bought more seeds than we will be able to use (I got a little too excited about the possibilities) and we have been eager to plant them.  After working with Shalom Farms on Saturday, we no longer could resist the urge to start some of the seeds indoors. (<–After writing and rewriting that sentence, I’ve determined there is no way to say what I’m trying to say without sounding like a hippie.  It is what it is.)

DSCN7401Definitely not all the seeds…

Let me preface this by saying that we are far from experts when it comes to gardening.  (Exhibit A: We grew our vegetables in pots last summer. See above.)  We are educating ourselves as best we can, but this is very much a learning process for us 🙂

First we brought some organic soil inside to let it warm.

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Then we put soil in the individual containers of a seed starting kit (purchased at Lowe’s.)

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We planted the seeds (bell peppers, hot peppers, slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and cantaloupe) per the instructions on each package, and admired our work 😀

DSCN7404Dear Future Children, we are sorry about your giant elf ears 😉

Finally, we put the greenhouse lid on the kit, and set up a light nearby to further warm up the soil (we keep our house way too cold to support life.  Plant or human.)

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For months I’d been saving that coffee can.  I didn’t know for what, but I had a gut feeling we’d need it for something.  As it turns out, it’s just what we needed to stake the spotlight at the right height/angle to warm the baby plants.  Win.

Now we are keeping the mini greenhouse in our guest bathroom–it has a skylight, so the room is very sunny most of the day–with a space heater that will automatically turn off when it reaches its set temperature.  We put a thermometer in the container to make sure we aren’t frying or freezing the seeds.  We are checking on them at a frequency that is nothing short of obsessive.

If all goes well, we will start some more seeds indoors.

If not, well, as I said: this is a learning experience.  🙂

Community Farming- Shalom Farms

Our philosophy on food is simple:  the closer to the earth we eat– the more whole, real foods like fruits and vegetables we eat– the better we are going to feel.  I believe this is as true for wealthy suburbanites who can afford lots of organic produce as it is for those who fall below the poverty line and don’t know how they’re going to buy their next meal.

Shalom Farms is a nonprofit community farm in the Richmond area with goals of providing quality food to low-income urban neighborhoods, building community, and improving the self-sufficiency of those involved.

Shalom Farms relies heavily on volunteers to help with the farm and ultimately provide food to those in need, and Andrew and I had the pleasure of being part of a team from our church that worked with them this Saturday.  Despite the February chill that’s still in the air, they are hard at work preparing for the growing season.  They’ve begun seeding some early crops (like broccoli, which can grow when it’s a little cooler.)  We were given a tour of their heated greenhouse and had the opportunity to taste test some freshly-picked arugula.  We were also kept company by a bunch of friendly chickens and two crazy cats.  Just another day on the farm.

Our tasks for the day were mulching a few rows of crops and thinning the raspberry and blackberry bushes.

541402_10100749472777898_884413781_nPhoto by/stolen from Evan Taylor…thanks, Evan 😉

Despite my nose running like a faucet from the cold, it was an awesome morning!  We were able to accomplish a lot, and it was cool to know that we were laying some groundwork for what will ultimately provide quality food to those who need it.  What an unexpected way to serve God!

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Again, Shalom Farms relies heavily on volunteers, so if you live in the Richmond area and would like to part of this great organization, I know they would love to hear from you!

Our morning at the farm inspired our evening activities, but more on that later. 🙂