Saturday, May 2, 2020

Getting Back into Gardening

Since March I have been thinking seriously about getting back into Gardening. I have my MD Master Gardener certification... not to mention that there are avid gardeners throughout my entire family, including both grandfathers (an SIU Botany professor on one side and a Smithsonian Institution scientist and azalea-breeder-in-his-spare-time on the other).

When we first moved here to IL and I was pregnant with Zac and then a stay at home mom with a husband who worked full time, I was gardening quite happily. We harvested produce from our garden outside and even built a hydroponics setup in the garage.

Once I began to run Little Bluestem Homeschool Co-op and I was the one who worked and taught full time, I had no time to garden! Now that I am looking at staying home all summer -- not teaching any summer camps, not traveling to see family or for teacher trainings or to present at conferences -- I have the time and the energy to garden once more.

LEAF, the Little Egypt Alliance of Farmers, not only delivers farm-fresh herbs, veggies, teas, jams, meats, dairy and eggs, etc., but also plant starts!

In March my homeschool kiddos were studying Linear Measurement and measuring their own home gardens, and I dutifully measured and created a scale drawing on graph paper of my own 17 ft x 26 ft fenced-in space, and filled my sketch in with carefully researched companion plantings. The difference is that this time I planted them! I decided where the paths would be and then Natalie and Zac and I cut and laid down corrugated cardboard.

Our veggies so far are

    three colors of cherry tomato (black, yellow, red)
    red romaine lettuce
    cape gooseberries
    Tuscan kale
    Swiss chard
    Pepino melon

Zac also wants to try pumpkins, and those seeds go in at the start of July.

For herbs we have chives, parsley, lovage, and three kinds of basil (cardinal, cinnamon, and lettuce leaf). The lemongrass is going into a big pot by the back door.

I'd still like to get strawberries, sage, thyme, and lavender.

And Zac and I will start eggplant, nasturtiums, marigolds, and sunflowers. We do have lots of seeds from previous years, so we can see how they fare!

After the veggie garden was figured out, I decided to make a water garden in the low place in my backyard and expand the TINY butterfly garden next to that area into a full-fledged pollinator garden. Zac helped me to drag some of the landscape timbers that we used for fort building over to be the border of the new garden.

Today we measured, made a scale drawing, planned, and planted the new garden. Milkweed that was already there stayed, of course, and we added butterfly weed, Colorado yarrow, smooth blue aster, and bronze fennel. A butterfly bush will be planted nearby (between the buckeye and the mulberry), since that plant gets really big and I didn't want it to share the garden and create shade over my sun-loving plants. Over onto the wetter side of the space, I added Joe Pye weed and a border of bloody dock.

For this garden, we will start some Florence fennel, dill, Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed susan) and Rudbeckia subtomentosa (sweet coneflower) seeds.

Zac and I have been reading beautiful books about the cycle of the seasons.

And the Good Brown Earth

by Kathy Henderson

The Lion and the Bird

by Marianne Dubuc

Now that I'm back into this again as a hobby, some things are coming back to me. The first is insects. In this case it was melon aphids (get them off with a strong stream of water). They were crawling all over the leaves of my Pepino melon. I thought I was overwatering it because they were turning yellow, until I saw the little bitties covering the underside of the leaves!

The second thing I had forgotten about was rabbits and deer and etc.

In leaving some plant starts out for several hours a day, and a few overnights (not too cold), to help them adjust to life outdoors, something came by and carelessly nibbled my Swiss chard, rhubarb, and bloody dock. It turns out that bloody dock is an edible for humans but only when the plant leaves are quite small (and it does contain oxalic acid so should only be consumed in small quantities). It is called bloody sorrel by some people, and it appears animals like it too!!

I'm not too concerned about the Swiss chard and rhubarb since they'll ultimately be planted in the fenced garden, but the bloody dock is going to be super-accessible to anything that wants to eat it.

In casting my mind back to 2015, I remembered making a spray of fermented garlic to spritz on things that we didn't want eaten. I found it in an old blog post called Chipmunk Repellant. It says that I found a very handy tip for making a garlic spray in Gardener to Gardener Almanac & Pest-Control Primer: A Month-By-Month Guide and Journal for Planning, Planting, and Tending Your Organic Garden (which is chock-full of practical tips).

I wrote, "We are trying the garlic mash, an idea shared by Frank Daley of Menomonie WI. We will crush an entire head of garlic, put the mashed up garlic in a jug, fill it with water, and let it sit in the sun for several days to ferment. Then we will strain the potent liquid, put it in a spray bottle, and spray it around the perimeter of the garden in the evenings. He says to use it several nights in a row."

I don't have an entire head of garlic and can't hop out to the store to get one because of COVID-19, but I do have a brand new 2.8 oz tube of Aroma One Organics Garlic Puree, which is described on the label as "chopped garlic in oil." I'm going to follow the fermenting process using this as the "mashed up garlic" (sounds perfect) and then spray the "potent liquid" around the perimeter of my new garden and even around the base of the bloody dock plants themselves. I'll let you know if it works!

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