Saturday, April 30, 2011

Oh me, Oh my, Oh my Mint

      I love putting lots of fresh mint in my tea.  So I have left mint to grow in my garden, as surely, it could not be too difficult to control.  Heck, I would probably use it faster than it could ever grow.

Mint invasion, 4/28/11

      Wrong!  Mistake!  All you doubters out there were correct.  Mint is voracious in its desire to spread.  This shot is of my overwintered garlic and onions.  The bed was started two years ago by essentially dumping a foot of leaves on top of the ground, and then planting directly in the leaves.  The leaves have broken down to soft soil, soil that is delicious to mint.  Little did I know that as I was semi hibernating in the winter, the mint was not.  It was quietly sending out its runners underground, under the nice soft leaf pile.  So now in the spring, I have mint everywhere.  Four foot runners with tens of plants attached.  How do you pull out mint roots without disturbing onions and garlic?  I don't know.
      So now we set in for the long term war.  I will just have too keep pulling mint tops as a stop gap measure.  Maybe as the onions and garlic ripen I can pull them out and then seriously dig out the mint.  I am wondering if the garlic or onions might take on a minty flavor.  Not a pleasant thought.
      I have some 5 gallon buckets with the bottoms cut out.  I will sink one of those nearly to the rim in the garden to see if the mint can be confined in that small plastic area.  Probably not, but worth a try.  The moral to the story, volunteer mint is not your friend.  Not your friend.  Remember that, and pull, pull, pull.

Friday, April 29, 2011

And for the Third Act

      My compost pile is the center of activity in my park garden.  Obviously all of the organic matter ends up there, so as I do weeding, the pulled weeds go there.  Softer parts of sunflower plants go there.  I have a cutting board which can go on top of the pile to use as a work area.  So a lot of my time is spent right in front of the pile.  So my reaction this morning was not totally one of joy.

Compost pile, 4/29/11

      I had noticed some suspicious activity the last couple of days in the upper right hand corner of my pile.  At first, I thought I had left a depression from my water bottle.  But I always put the bottles in the front of the pile.  A depression a few days ago, then a clay lined depression.  Followed by some straw and dried weeds as lining.  Then this morning, a new and defining addition

That pretty much solves the mystery, 4/29/11

George is the Newest Robin farmer, 4/29/11

      So if nothing else, we seem to be growing a bumper crop of robins over at the park this spring.  A bunch of very trusting robins as the photos from the last few days suggest.  My theory is that as more gardeners are adding leaves and mushroom soil to their gardens, the supply of worms is exploding.  So is the supply of nesting robins.  Probably with even more robins to follow.

Keep planting

      I am out of room at the park already.  The tomatoes are not in, the peppers are not either.  The squash and cukes are just starting to sprout on the porch.  So now we start the ritual of cramming more and more plants into inadequate gardening spaces.  The weeds do it, why can't my garden?  Give the weeds a run for their lives.

Peas and Tango Lettuce, Bellevue, 4/27/11

      The shot above is of the ninth bed at Bellevue Park.  On the 27th, I planted a packet of Little Marvel seeds directly in the ground behind these Marvel plants put in from transplants started on the porch.  The frilled Tango Lettuce is now big enough to snip off some outer leaves.  It just occurred to me that I should start some sort of trellis bean on the porch to fill in, as the peas are bush peas, and will not use the top trellis space.  That would be an unacceptable waste of space.

Ox Heart tomatoes, 4/27/11

      One of my gardening neighbors, Brownie, gave me some Ox Heart tomato plants as he was planting his.  Brownie bought and installed a walk-in kit greenhouse at his home last fall.  He is now the proud father to way too many strapping young plants.  He called me over the other day to chat, and surprised me by handing me a fistful of fotos to look at.  You guessed it, his stack of greenhouse pictures.  I divided the two plants in the clay pot, and set out the four plants to spots that could add stakes.  I have never planted out tomatoes this early, but if Brownie can do it, so can I.
      The bottle on the right side of this shot is the "Bottle of Doom".  I patrol the garden at times, and hand pick the bad bugs.  The nasty Herlequin Beatles are already making a very early appearance.  I am trying to pick them off before they get a first initial spawn in.  They take a final swim in the gross remains of former bugs in the bottle.  Maybe if I just left the top off, the disgusting smell would warn the bugs that my garden was not a friendly place.  Maybe then I could sell the stuff?  

Crowd it in, 4/27/11

       The shot above was taken after I transplanted Space Spinach starts in among the Caprio onions starts put out earlier.  The four leafed plant is one of many, many sunflower volunteers getting ready to sky rocket.  At the bottom left is a carrot volunteer.  Along the bottom of the shot are the turnips starting to come up from the seed direct sowed last week.  No weeds invited to this party.

Fava beans, 4/27/11

      The Fava beans are already starting to flower!  Way before other beans are even planted into the ground.  This year I need to try harder to find some recipes for the beans.  I have been enjoying snitching a few leaves now and again to eat straight from the plants.  To force them to get bushier of course.
      Well doing all of this writing has just made me too impatient.  I must go over to the park now to see things in real time.  To check on the plants.  And the robins too.  Good gardening - George

Thursday, April 28, 2011


      Lou's chair snatcher is still sitting on her eggs over at the park:

Brave mother, 4/27/11


      Several of the gardeners with plots near Lou's garden got together to make a central tool storage spot.  Looks like a pretty comfy hang out, so no great surprise, another pushy robin!

Tool corral, 4/27/11

      With garden activity busy all around her, she even upped her egg count to three!

Three little beauties, 4/27/11

      Never a dull moment at the Bellevue Park gardens.  I think the Momma robin is pretty clever with her snazzy color scheme.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Best Seat in the Park

      One of my buddies at the park, Lou, has his garden nicely cleaned up and a beautiful crop of self seeded Black seeded Simpson Lettuce is coming up.  He has hilled up his beds and put straw down in the rows.  It really looks nice.  He even has a lawn chair set up in a spot he is not using so that he can sit and admire his garden.  Trouble is, somebody else has claimed his seat.  Just when you think that you rule the roost.

Thanks Lou, best seat in the park

      How brazen of the Mama robin to build her nest right in Lou's chair.  What is Lou to do?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mustard anyone?

Mustard greens, 4/22/11

      We often times try so hard to grow things in our gardens.  Buy things and they will die.  Plant seeds and they don't germinate.  Or the bunnies or the birds eat the new starts.  Other times we do nothing and are over run by volunteers.  These light green plants are Florida Broadleaf Mustard that are coming up where I had mustard in a cold frame TWO years ago.  Go figure.  The darker green leafed plants are Purple coneflowers, and these too would not be so successful had I tried to grow them.  So if you could use either, give me a holler and come on over for a dig.
      Planting notes:  On 4/20, I planted two short rows of Chioggia beets in the seed bed just to the west of the box cold frame in the Bellevue garden.  Just to the left of those rows were two rows of Fedco White Satin carrots.  Those carrots did well last year and were delicious.  In the middle of the seed bed was a row of salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius, a first time try for me.  Say that name fast.  Heck, try to say it slowly.
      I finally planted a border row of Purple Top White Turnips along the south edge of bed number three.  Hopefully they will grow quickly and be able to be pulled.  I broadcast multiple tablespoons of home grown and harvested carrot seed along the north side of bed number two.  The carrots seeded the same way in the onion bed are coming along nicely.  When I pulled a clump of weed grass out last week, three small carrots pulled out as well.  The largest was about the size of my little finger.  I made three holes in another area of the bed and stuck them back in.  The tops are recovering now after a couple of days of wilting.
      After having very poor germination with some nasturtium and zinnia seeds, I tried a different tack last night.  I had received a seed sprouting kit as a present, which does a great job for sprouting veggie seeds to eat.  So both of the above mentioned flowers now have a tray apiece.  If the seeds sprout, I plan on transferring them to dirt before they leaf out.  At least I can keep an eye on their development.  Will update with a progress report.

Harbingers, three

      Harbinger is probably the wrong term to use now.  The fruit trees, both ornamental and producing, are in full bloom.  There is a riot of color most everywhere you look.  The fresh green leaves are sprouting out on the trees.  In another week, all this new stuff will be old hat, and we will have an established green back drop for the summer.  But to help me with a visual journal to remember the gardens, here are pictures taken 4/22/11:

      The hellebores in the foreground have nearly run their course.  The yellow ones have outlasted the magenta ones that are now mostly covered in foliage.  I have noticed lots of babies under the mother plants, so maybe there will be some give aways.  A pink bleeding heart, one of many volunteers, is right behind the hellebores.

Grape hyacinth, 4/22/11

      The wood hyacinth are gone now, replaced by the equally cute grape hyacinths.

Liberated daffodils, 4/22/11

      These daffodils have grown from a small clump, that gasp, I found growing in the woods.  Some were liberated to come home to my garden, and this is the first year that they have flowered with some vigor.  It was a gray morning when these were shot, so the flash came on, and I discovered that it is much more difficult to get a sharp picture with the flash.  I really don't feel like carrying a tripod around, as this is supposed to be just a record keeping endeavor.  So, I'm sorry for the fuzzies.

Virginia bluebells, 4/22/11

      The Virginia bluebells in the center of this shot were transplanted two years ago as they had been getting too much shade as the Red Japanese Maple spread over them.  At Winterthur Museum the bluebells run rampant, and will push up through the black tar pathways in the woods!  No joke, right on through the black top.  I quietly wish mine were that invasive.  Just to the right of the bluebells is a patch of sweet woodruff, Galium odoratum.  I purchased one little pot of the woodruff years and years ago at the Flower Market donation tent.  It has spread nicely throughout my shaded gardens.

Bleeding heart, 4/22/11

      The bleeding heart took years before it started to send out volunteers.  But now there are many, so chime in if you are offering a good home to some.  It won't be too long before they shrivel back into the ground to wait again for next year.

Purple primrose, 4/22/11

      This little clump of primrose is the only one to retain the purple color.  Having planted out lots of yellow, pink and purple primrose from Easters past, all but this one have reverted to a pretty red.

Primrose out front, 4/22/11

       Indeed, here are the red primrose from out front.  These are thriving now that our beloved Sheltie went to doggie heaven a couple of weeks ago.  This was one of her favorite napping areas, and the primrose did not respond well to her roosting on them.  I would gladly exchange struggling primrose to have our dog still with us.  But now that the primrose are doing so well, I am going to divide them and move some to her final resting spot under the Winterberry bush, another of her favorite places.  Sadie, you good girl, rest in peace.  We miss your furry friendship.

Sadie, fifteen years a great dog

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Visit to the Garden State

      I have made many electronic visits to Shannon's blog, as she was one of the first people who joined as a Follower of my blog.  Please drop in and visit her at

      Yesterday I made my first visit to Shannon's place in real time.  Once over the Delaware Memorial Bridge and on to the old stretch of Route 40, it is like being transported back in time.  Small towns dot the way, with old diners and tractor dealerships aplenty.  The fruit stands are mostly still closed, awaiting the real and fresh produce which will arrive soon.  A quick passage through peach orchards on both sides of the road, ablaze in their pink spring blossoms.  Many of the fields awash in yellow blooms, maybe turnips?  And how many places can boast of being the home to the Cowtown Rodeo?  And finally, Route 40 goes right through the small town of Woodstown.  The three story red brick High School is in the town proper, and could easily be the setting for a 1950's movie.  Certainly an area with a more laid back life style than much of our crowded and busy modern world.

Everything is just ducky, 4/21/11 

      Shannon and her three year old daughter, Summer, gave me a tour around their lovely farmstead.  Lucky, the duck, was bashful and hid her head rather than having to say hello.  The chickens were in constant motion along the tree line, staying out of the vision of neighboring hawks.  While we chatted, the horses were doing their job of mowing the front lawn/pasture, with the implied intent of restocking the manure pile I was about to deplete.

Environmentally friendly lawn mowers, 4/21/11

      As the spark for this visit was a plant for manure swap, we had work to do.  With two of us with pitch forks and Summer cheering us on, it did not take long to have a nice load of horsey stuff in the pick-em-up truck.  Shannon seemed happy with her plant starts, and I was certainly happy with my horse dooey.  Maybe I should start a poll here to evaluate who got the better deal.
      Everyone among us has our favorite garden tool, or one that we would certainly love to have.  Well Shannon has a yard and garden tool that I would dearly love to have.  So if my wife and daughters read this and wonder what Pop would love to have for Christmas, I saw it at Shannon's place:

Isn't that red pretty?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Collards Revisited

Collards transplanted, 4/7/11

      On April 7, I made a previous post about transplanting some collards to my home garden that were dug up and discarded over at Bellevue Park.  The photo above is from that post, shortly after the dig in.

Collard back yard patch, 4/19/11

Second shot, 4/19/11

   I was quite pleased with the growth that these free gems put on in less than two weeks.  So pleased that I invited some of the collards to dinner last night.  They looked so inviting with the rain on their leaves that I just couldn't resist.  Plus they look so fresh and tender from all this miserable cold weather we have been having.

Collards in the rain, 4/19/11, a now common sight

      So a cut here, and a snip there, and I had a pile of collards for dinner.  Cindy sauteed them in olive oil with garlic and onions.  You can just feel the iron coursing in your veins.  Yummy.
      Side note: I just discovered yesterday sheerly by accident that I can click on pictures in blogs to magnify them.  Done twice, they fill the screen.  Try it on the above photo with the raindrops.  Technology.  I now try to remember to carry the little digital camera on my garden jaunts.

Quick haul, 4/19/11

      So the moral to the story is "Don't be so anxious to clean up".  Plant new plants between the old ones until you have gotten the free early spring harvests.  But don't too many of you take this advice and deny me my free supply of fast and easy pickins.  Out to the park to look for castaways - George

Bee Balm Tea

Bee Balm, Bellevue Garden, 4/17/11

      I planted Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), also known as Bergamot, to attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.  A member of the mint family, it gets gaudy red blossoms that remind me of fireworks.  It is not quite as invasive as mint, but it sure does come on quickly in the spring.  The tender shoots are edible, and I am now sipping on some tea made by simply putting five top cuttings in a large tea mug with boiling water.  Let steep ten minutes, drink as is or add sweetener.  I was going to add mint, but it is flavorful by itself.  If you develop a taste for either the greens or the tea, its invasiveness may become a bonus!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Veggie Starts

Plant me, Please

      Sometimes things actually work out too well.  Like when you plant lots of seeds and most of them come up!  Then grow on to when they should have been in the ground last week.  So now every day I am trying to put something in the ground.  To make way for the next wave of warmer weather seedlings.

Broccoli and Purple kohlrabi, 4/18/11, Bellevue

Broccoli in with onions

      Here it is only the middle of April, and I already have an overcrowded garden.  I walk around the garden looking for spots that some plant can go in, knowing that something else will soon come out or at least won't cast too much shade.  So these two plantings are squished in pretty tightly in a bed already planted with onions.  I think they are OK on the companion planting idea.

Purple Kohlrabi, 4/18/11 

Back yard greens, 4/18/11

      The two frilly looking plants in the lower left hand corner are Tango lettuce from Fedco Seeds that overwintered without protection!  So did the parsley at the bottom right.  What would those do with only minimal protection?   The row right of the Tango lettuce is Tango starts and the four little seedlings next to that are Thick Stem Chinese Mustard.  The last three seedlings are Red Stemmed Dandelions, quite attractive and tasty too.  Well, at least out of the porch and into the ground.  The back yard garden gets a fair amount of shade from the large pin oak, so many of my greens seedlings should do fine there.

Keep it for the Soil

      To get good productivity from a garden, you need good living soil.  As you take produce away from the garden, those nutrients are being lost.  Therefore I recycle everything from the garden right on site.  The compost pile sits right in the middle of the garden, so it is never far away.  Weeds, veggie trimmings, leaves and whatever else organic goes either onto the compost pile or directly to one of the wood chip paths.

Sunflower stalks, 4/17/11

      The sunflowers that I rescued last year as baby volunteers from some of the grassy areas next to the gardens grew to be twelve foot monsters!  New volunteers from last years seed heads are coming up now.   Sun flower sprouts are delicious, so if there are too many volunteers, some will find their way to the salad bowl.  The picture above is the pile of stumps or stalks from the sunflowers that were too large for me to break up by hand.  I tried whacking them on the edge of the compost bin, but knew that that would result in a broken down compost bin.  So I rescued a black locust log from the wood pile and hauled it to my garden.

      The two pictures above are of the log and a piece of a red oak board to be used as a whacker.  And one of the monster sun flower stalks that was being ornery.  I started breaking up the stalks in a bed, but that meant picking up the pieces afterwards and moving them to the path.  Much easier to move the log to the path, and do the whacking there.  All I had to do was put about two inches of the sunflower stalk hanging out over the stump.  Whack that two inches with the red oak, and it ususally broke off to the path with very little trouble.  Some pieces took several mashings to break them up.

No more sunflower stalks, 4/17/11

      The lighter colored pieces are the newly broken chips.  Now everything can stay at the garden to be recycled.  The sunflowers did fight back a bit, as when I washed my hands I found a totally popped and angry blister on the palm of my hand.  Maybe I should have done the job a little more slowly.  I would like to find a log about three feet long so it would be at a better working height.  That should not be too hard to find.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Greenhouse project update

Free for the knock down, 4/14/11

New to Craigslist today:

barn,was 32x30,,4x4 uprights/2x8's,all free/u tear down. (dagsboro)

I can't quite imagine this as a greenhouse/shed.  As antsy as I am to get started on my project, I think I will let this one slide.

Lettuce Eat

      This past Sunday the family got together for lunch after watching Austin and Ella sing in the children's choir.  What a great job they did!  It was Pop Pop's responsibility to provide the salad greens, though I did ask Em to bring some of hers.  But hers were late in coming, so we went all Bellevue garden.

      The first step was using the greens I had picked a few days ago and had left in the fridge in the "salad spinner".  To these, I added the freshly picked greens just spun as shown below.

Fresh Bellevue greens, 4/9/11

      I forget whose idea it was to use a pillow case as a cheap salad spinner, but it sure works well.  We look kind of funny swinging a pillow case around on the front porch in inclement weather, but the proof is in the spinning.  Then you can even store the greens in the damp pillow case in the fridge and they look great for days.
      What would a salad be without some form of onion?  These are fresh onions picked as scallions before they reach the bulbing stage.  These had been onions that were not large enough to bother cutting last year, and got put back in the garden in October to grow on again.  Recycling.

Scallions, grown from last year's small white bulbs

       The last picture is the bed of greens waiting for a little color addition of sweet red pepper slices and black olives.  My what a fresh tomato would have accomplished.

Salad greens in walnut bowl, 4/9/11

      Probably fifteen or twenty years ago my father had a large walnut tree blow over on his property.  He commissioned the very talented wood carver Jack Smollens to create seven salad bowls from the large trunk piece.  Our bowl is certainly destined to become a family heirloom.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Miner's Lettuce

Miner's Lettuce, Bellevue, 4/12/11
      Miner's lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, is a cute little plant that I currently have in my veggie starts on the picnic table.  The picture above is from my Bellevue garden, where I have this beautiful little specimen that was a volunteer from some soil that I transported from my home garden.  It sparingly self seeds, so I was delighted to spot this plant.  I certainly would not have known what it was had I not grown it two years ago for the first time. Also sometimes known as winter purslane, I purchased the seeds from Fedco Seeds Company because they have it listed as super cold hardy.  Interesting because the plants I had grown two years ago are not out back.
      Miner's lettuce has a very pleasant mild flavor, somewhat like chick weed if you are familiar with that one.  The plant supposedly got its common name during the gold rush when it was one of the few greens available, and so was important to ward off scurvy.  The flowers blooming right atop the leaves makes it almost too cute too eat, yet I pinch off a few leaves for instant enjoyment with each visit to the park.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Fever Project

Scavenged treasure, 4/8/11

     I got an email from a friend last Thursday inviting me to have his old storm windows if I were crazy enough to want them.  Of course I was.  Friday morning I had a new stash of building material.  His wife was thrilled to see the windows leave the attic.  Needless to say, the wife here was not so thrilled to see them arrive.
     But who among us gardeners has not fantasized about having a greenhouse?  Maybe eight out of a million?  Maybe six?  The only things stopping me from me from having a greenhouse are money, deed restrictions, money, imagination, reckless abandon, room, and money.  The windows are the seed idea to get something started.  They also are a way to start collecting materials for a greenhouse on the cheap.  The deed restrictions are a tough one.  Don't think it would fly in the back yard.  Room.  Even if I could get it approved by the building committee, I am not sure I want a greenhouse in the back yard where it might create neighbor problems.
     So on Sunday I had to put on the saleman's cap when both daughters were visiting.  Hey girls, look at my new supply of windows.  Wouldn't they be neat in a greenhouse?  Silence.  Nothing.  Then, you go for it Dad.  No girls, I was thinking of a combined greenhouse/garden shed type of thing.  On one of your very spacious lots.  Then Pop Pop could visit the grand kiddies more often.  Still not much.  Here I thought one of them would be mad NOT to get a greenhouse, yet I couldn't get either interested.
      Barb called last night after dinner.  Yes, Rob thought it was a neat idea.  Whew.  Now I can transport the windows down to Barb's house to begin the scavenge process.  On Craigslist this morning: We have a few hundred sheets of used 1/2" & 3/4" plywood. Must bring your own truck and help. Take all or some. Must be gone this week.  What a start, what a good omen!
      And planning.  Even I think this greenhouse should be attractive rather than just functional.  I would love it if we could end up with something like this:

      It feels fun to start thinking about this project.  Any help or suggestions would be appreciated.  Unless you want to shoot down the thoughts about this crazy greenhouse folly.

      Other interesting or helpful sites:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Seeds to Be

      For the last couple of years, I have been leaving some plants to go to seed.  Some to collect, and some to be left to self seed for volunteers.  The other added benefit is the attraction of beneficial insects to the flowers, especially the early blooming flowers from the cold frame plants.  The members of the cole family supposedly cross pollinate very easily, so it is not suggested to save seed.  I figured that since you can eat the leaves from broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, etc., what difference would it matter if you did get a cross.  Having harvested seed from last summer, everything appears to be breeding true!  Go figure.  With that in mind, I will be letting many more veggies go to seed so that I can collect for next year.
      Another benefit to allowing plants to flower, is that the young flower stalks are edible.  Our salad at lunch today was graced with yellow mizuna flowers and pretty little white arugula flowers.  The flowers taste just like what the parent crop tastes like.  The following pictures are of plants that overwintered successfully in the cold frames.  They are flowering now, as most of these veggies flower in the second year.

Territorial Chinese Cabbage, 4/9/11

      The plant above is a miniature chinese cabbage from Territorial Seed Co. called Tenderheart.  It is best grown late in the summer for fall harvest, and is great because the heads are smaller than some of those big chinese cabbage that can take two weeks for two people to polish off.  The glass frame at the right of the picturr is an attempt to keep the deer off of the radicchio.

Tatsoi gone to flower, 4/9/11
Mizuna mustard, 4/9/11

Arugula with white flowers, 4/9/11

Mild volunteer mustard, 4/9/11

      The mustard plant above overwintered with straw and leaves covering it as deer protection.  It is a very tasty mild mustard green, and I am thrilled that it is throwing a flower spike.  I am certainly going to save this seed, and need to come up with a name for the seed.
      The seeds collected soon from these and other overwintered plants will provide fresh seed for the starts of the 2011 fall garden.  Recycling at its best.