Gardening in the Time of a Cool Wet American Summer

This was a year for rain. June was wet and cool for much of the month and I couldn’t even get things planted until much later than I like to. I forwent the walls o’ water this year because laziness and it ended up being a complete blessing. People who planted in May saw their entire gardens washed away by rain and hail. Early June when I finally got everything planted here’s what it looked like:

June 10th

June 10

Compare that to the pictures I took in June a few years ago and you can see how behind things were this year. Nevertheless, like I said things grew as they do and now I again have a small jungle.

September 14

September 14

Thus far we’ve had good tomatoes, squash, eggplant, broccoli, a few peppers, basil, tomatillos & carrots, but NOTHING like last year where I just didn’t know what to do with all the produce. I’m not sure if I’ll have enough to can this year, but the big Roma plants haven’t ripened yet and as they’re determinant tomatoes they all ripen at the same time so I might be able to make a few batches for sauce over winter.

This year the kids had their own little plot in the front which they were responsible for choosing, planting and caring for over the year. They’ve done a good job with it and it was delightful to see them full of pride when they would wrest carrots from the ground or check on the peppers for just the right redness to eat!

It’s getting colder now and I’m watching temperatures near daily-soon will be a frost where I will have to pick everything or try and use sheets to cover the plants for a night.

I’m sad that next year with the travels I won’t have a garden. It’ll be the first time in several years. I’ve realized that the garden gives me a sense of real seasonality. From the moment I first plant in the ground, usually mid March, winter is over for me and I no longer want to go snowboarding even though there’s plenty of snow in the mountains. And somewhere around October when the mornings are cool with just a bit of bite, I realize that summer’s really over and I stop wanting to do anything with the garden and let it fall into decay. The rhythm of life and seasons which is so settled for me here will be turned upside down starting next summer, and while there’s an excitement to that and a knowledge of growth, there’s also a wistful feeling of missing what is normal and standard and regular and familiar.

tomatillo, bright in the morning sun

tomatillo, bright in the morning sun


aerial view of tomatillo

brightness in the green

brightness in the green

Summertime Catch Up

Summertime has been a blast so far. The boy did his week of mountain bike camp and started doing some small jumps (and making my heart stop), my sister had a beautiful and fun wedding [for which there will be a separate dedicated detailed post, as my sister already called to complain about this], and then we went to Disneyland & the beach!

Obligatory castle pic

Obligatory castle pic

Driving already?! fyi, she was awful.

Driving already?! fyi, she was awful.

Arr matey! Treasure on Tom Sawyer's Island.

Arr matey! Treasure on Tom Sawyer’s Island.

beachy day of relaxation

beachy day of relaxation

Wedding Selfie with the lovely bride!

Wedding Selfie with the lovely bride!

Disney was so fun. It’s been interesting to me that when I told people we were going to Disneyland, the reaction was one of a polar pair. Either people looked at me with pity, and said something about how brave I was and how they could never do it, or their eyes gleamed with excitement and they started telling me about inside tips and how much they love it.  To the former, I was like, really? I’m going to DISNEYLAND, not having chemotherapy. I actually feel sorry for people who can’t have fun there or hate it. Quite a few, though, I suspect, say that because they think it would just be too commercial and anti-intellectual to say that they could possibly have fun there. My husband falls into this category.  To the latter, I say, you are my people. Let’s go ride.

There’s a gazillion blogs about ways to do Disneyland, and I read most of them, which meant that while I was somewhat maniacal about getting FastPasses and checking wait times on my phone, also meant that we waited in no line longer than 25 minutes and had so much fun.The best was the pin trading, which the kids got super into! The kids and I are looking forward to a trip to Orlando at some point in the future. Eric says that he’ll stay home and revel in being a curmudgeon instead.

After getting back, I was honestly depressed for a while. It was 8 total days of fun, and getting back to work and routine was hard. Especially when the rest of my family came back from vacation to…more summer vacation.

It was nice to get back to the garden this year. We’ve moved some things around, so that where we had had herbs in the central circle area we’ve now moved them back to be next to the bean screen. There’s less sun there so it’s a better fit for those plants and we have more room for vegetables. New this year: cabbage, cauliflower, leeks, different types of squash, and different types of tomatoes. I got new tomato cages on the recommendation of my neighbor, and while not cheap have been fantastic. For the first time the plants are happily supported and I’m not spending a bunch of time trying to make the flimsy little triangle cages stay upright by bolstering them with garden stakes.


June 5th. Little baby plants.

June 5th. Little baby plants.

July 1 garden

July 1 garden


July 10th garden

July 10th garden


My vision for the teepee in the middle was to have vines growing up it, and I left an opening to create a little hiding space for the kids.  Sadly, the beans just haven’t grown well there. Maybe it’s the variety I chose, maybe it’s because we’ve grown corn there for the past few years and the soil is depleted. I do fertilize with a natural fertilizer but, well, not everything grows well every year.

July 28 jungle

July 28 jungle


The other thing different this year is that I’ve been spraying with neem oil, a natural pesticide. According to the bottle, it doesn’t harm ladybugs but prevents bad bugs from eating or laying eggs on your plants. I will say that the aphid population has been near zero. The potato beetles don’t seem to care too much and nibble away, but don’t seem to be doing too much damage.


cabbage! No babies growing here.

cabbage! No babies growing here.


Another fun thing with all this rain has been all of the volunteer plants we’ve gotten! Two volunteer tomato plants, a bunch of dill, parsley, lettuce, cilantro. Some of these I just let go to seed so we keep getting more. The overall effect of this is somewhat jungle like given that there are plants popping up all over. I feel like if these plants are tough and determined enough to grow without actual irrigation, they deserve to live.

I have forgotten what kinds of squash I planted, unfortunately. I can’t remember if these are winter or summer squash. I have one that is giant, and am waiting to see if the shell hardens or not. This year again we have practically no squirrels chomping on the squash-two years of a late frost killing the blooms on my neighbors fruit trees has meant a large die off in the population. Thank you, Thomas Malthus.

unidentified squash object

unidentified squash object

We’ve already harvested our first tomato, kale, chard, basil, and of course plenty of other herbs. Should be a great rest of the growing year!

Garden August 2013

The garden has been rather neglected this year.  I planted around Mother’s Day and then did absolutely nothing until last week, when I spent a few hours weeding.  I then mulched with straw, but like a moron forgot to lay down newspaper first so am now spending hours ripping out grass seedlings. Ugh.

Despite my lack of attention, things are doing pretty well.

front view

front view

Sapana said last year that I needed more color instead of just edibles, so this year I planted more zinnias and nasturtiums.  All the marigolds I planted died.

Bean Screen

Bean Screen

Bean screen doing well! This makes the porch such a cozy nook. I’m just going to let all the beans dry this year and harvest them then. I had a bunch of volunteer bean plants this year, some of which I’ve let grow.

I know I didn't plant this

I know I didn’t plant this

Is this a…cabbage? I didn’t plant a cabbage, but here it is.  I suspect that one of the starts that was supposed to be brussels sprouts was actually a cabbage.  It’s growing so happily though! I’ll do more green and purple for next year. Speaking of brussels sprouts, here they are, sprouting away.

brussels sprouts, brusseling

brussels sprouts, brusseling

And here’s the first harvest, not bad! This is all the carrots we’re getting this year.  I was terrible about planting them where they might get water. Also pictured: 2 different types of kale, yellow crookneck squash, purple tomatoes and small cherry tomatoes from another volunteer plant I just let grow.

first harvest

first harvest

I let most of the volunteers grow where they lie.  My favorite one though is this one, taking over the backyard.  Clearly some sort of a squash, a pumpkin perhaps? Our thinking is that when the squirrels devoured the jack o lantern they decided to relieve themselves in this corner of the dirt and thus sprang a pumpkin. I just spied my first female flower today, so will let you all know what it ends up being.  If the damn squirrels don’t eat it first.


Alpaca Poop

Catching up on blogging with some rapid sequence posting! It’s gardening season again! Last year I mentioned that I obtained alpaca poop from a cardiologist colleague who also happens to own and live on an alpaca farm. He is just one of the nicest people I know, to boot. This year I went back for more and brought the kids with me. IMG_1911 Just look at that face! On the farm they have alpaca, llama, and paco-vicuña, all used for their wool. They sell the fibers out of the farm and at various fiber festivals across the country.  Paco-vicuña in particular creates a lusciously soft fiber. The kids had fun getting to know the animals IMG_1917 Well, the girl did.  The boy, hilariously, was TERRIFIED of the curious but skittish creatures.  IMG_1910 That didn’t stop him from standing on the sidelines, shouting out instructions to the other kids and telling them the right way to interact with the animals, even though he rarely got within spitting distance of one again. IMG_1955 There’s the girl, helping to shovel some of the steaming pile of…poop. And once we got home, more shoveling. Thankfully I had some dedicated helpers. IMG_1963 IMG_1966 Pictured with the boy is one of his neighbor friends from down the street. He and his brother always run up and help us whenever there’s any gardening to be done, and are actually very good and helpful! Given that this post is a month old, most of the garden is done and planted at this point-will take pictures of that when it’s had a chance to grow a bit. Differences from last year so far–I’m not bothering with corn or any bell peppers.  I like the look of corn but it had too many creatures last year and not enough yield.  As for the bell peppers, I can’t get them to grow even remotely well.  I’m doing more beans this year and hoping to have some dried ones for winter, and I’m trying brussels sprouts for the first time. The boy also said he wanted his own plot so I’ve given him one of the boxes by the street-he thus far chose a broccoli plant, a green zebra tomato, a brussels sprout, and some flowers.  He’s responsible for the weeding and learning about the care of the plants, which will be a great summer project for him, I think.

August Garden

Things are looking good!

Bean screen looks lovely and shades the house and since it’s in an area that doesn’t get as many hours of sun it hasn’t burned this year and we’re only now getting lots of green beans.

Cutting more broccoli shoots-we ate the main heads weeks ago.

Jungle like tomato plant

We’ve got corn, but something has been getting into it–gross.

Here’s the disgusting little creature now.  What IS that?

Thankfully, there are still a few good ears

The borage flowers are pretty, but what to do with this? Any herbalists with ideas?

And this looks juuust about ripe! We have about 6-7 watermelons this year!

Todays harvest, with a few weeds presiding over them.

Things have been so great this year!

There are a few things I think I’ll move around-like one patch where no veggie has ever thrived, and I’ll definitely make time to get the tomato species I really want next year. While the ones we have now are delicious, the heirlooms we had last year were even better. I also need to invest in better tomato cages.  The sad little metal wire cones are not up to the task. The squirrels have unfortunately discovered the butternut squash this year and are chomping away at it, so I may need to get a mesh cover for those that are left.  The corn grubs are just gross.  And one kale plant for a family of 4 is way, way more than enough kale. While the jalapeno plant did really well, I’m giving up on the bell peppers. Not worth the real estate for the sad few fruits I get, and given that if they were going to do well it would have been this year. I’d rather plant a different tomato plant or eggplant.

Broccoli was fantastic to have, and the eggplant has done really well. The tomatillo plant is just starting to produce fruit, and it’s one of my favorites to have fresh from the garden.  Such delicious salsa and sauces!

Now off to cook with all that food-the latest bon appetit has recipes for an eggplant rice bake, kale salad, and grilled corn with herb butter which we happen to have most of the ingredients for after the harvest today! Yum.

Garden, July

Holy Moly!

We go away for a week, and things go from this:


How big are those corn and tomato plants?

That BIG!

Harvest time! Those bean-y looking things are radish pods, which you get by letting a few radishes go to seed.  I wondered, what does one do with a radish pod.  So I googled it.  Apparently it’s a very common vegetable in Indian cooking and that’s mostly what came up.  Huh. I was getting back to my roots and didn’t even know it.  Get it? Get it? Also, those jalapenos are actually SPICY, which is a nice change from peppers in previous years that were somewhat cardboard flavored. Was it the alpaca poop? Was it the blistering heat? I’m not sure.

Baby watermelons–I hope the squirrels don’t figure these out.

And last but not least, the bean trellis growing nicely.  Soon our porch will be nice and shady.

Other than the poop, the biggest change I made this year is in how much I’ve watered.  Last year I followed all the gardening suggestions that tell you to water deeply 3 times a week. I think this may be a lovely idea when it’s not 100 degrees outside and dry as a bone.  I’ve been setting my drip system to water for 20 minutes every night and 15 minutes in the morning 3 times a week.  Even then some of the leaves got a bit crispy. Overall it’s worked out well and things are really, really growing this year.

Garden, early June

I tried to save some money by doing the irrigation myself in the front garden. I did hire someone to close the sprinkler heads and put in a single 1/2″ polypipe that I, in theory, would install the system from.  I put in drip line, soaker hose, and then, feeling very proud of myself, ran to the garage to turn on the system and see how it looked. When ran back out front, here’s what I saw:

Not sure how well you can see that, but instead of being a nice steady drip what I had was flailing plastic snakes, doing a very effective job of watering the sidewalk and me. I’m not sure exactly why, but my guess is that the system isn’t pressure controlled the way it should be.  I ran out and bought pressure controlling drip heads, and while it was a bit better, now the lines at the top of the system got no water coming out.  I then went and got a control switch to regulate how much water was coming out, which didn’t make much difference.

Right about now I was thinking that I should have just paid for the pros to do it since I’d likely spent a hell of a lot more time than I needed to. After about two days of various configurations, I think I’ve finally gotten it to work, though I may just end up getting it redone later this season.

The squash and flowers planted in those boxes are beginning to sprout, and the top garden is looking good, too:

Beans/peas/carrots/chard and accidentally planted beets.  I figure, if it’s growing there, let it grow.



and tomatoes

I’ve always wondered if the walls o water really make any difference, and this year I had a tomato and pepper that were planted without them and the difference is pretty remarkable!

Scrawny non-walls plant:

Healthy, bushy looking tomato plant:

Of course, I wonder if it will make any difference in terms of eventual yield.  My 80 year old neighbor teases me about them, but so far I’m impressed.

Garden Update-May

After the alpaca adventure last month, there’s been a lot of work done!

All the plants are now in, and I’ve redone the irrigation system to fit the new layout.

The herbs (upper left) have essentially become huge perennial shrubs. I really need to start picking and drying them throughout the season.

I’m waiting for all the sprouts to come up before I mulch with straw and newspaper like last year. The tomatoes and peppers are happy in the walls o water and there are even a few little tomato fruits! Now, I’ve been told that at this point I’m supposed to pick off the flowers and early fruit to encourage growth, is this true?

One of the things I’m bummed about this year is that I usually get all of my starts from a neighborhood woman who grows them in the back of her house and has a lot of great varieties. She (and others) sell at the Cherry Creek Farmer’s Market.  This year, my work schedule wouldn’t have allowed me to get to that market until late June so I just bought them at the local nursery.  I didn’t get the exact varieties I was hoping for, but I’m sure what I have will be just fine.

Trying beets again this year with a bit more success so far:

And first year of onions, grown from sets, looking happy:

With all the garden planning, the peas went in late this year, so we’ll see how they do.  I planted bean seeds last week and they’re already coming up! I can’t wait to see how this trellis works out. My only concern is that these plants are close to the house and don’t get as much sun as the stuff even a few feet further out front.

And in the front, Eric built little boxes-still waiting for these to sprout. The little walkway in between is lined with yarrow, creeping thyme, and a few echinacea seeds. The boxes are a little too close to the street and people can’t open their car doors…sorry neighbors. They’re not permanent and we’ll move them next year.

I’d like to try and post every few weeks during the summer- any suggestions/advice welcome!

Worm Garden

I love my kids’ school.

The boy went to the school library and found a book about worms.  Apparently they have a whole shelf of worm books.

I note that the series title is “Keeping Minibeasts.” I wonder what else the series holds? Ladybugs? Praying Mantis?

Anyway-inside that book he saw this picture:

He ran back to his classroom after library time, book clutched in hand, and told his teacher excitedly, “I HAVE to talk to Mr. Adam about this!” A meeting with Mr. Adam (school handyman of sorts) was arranged, and they discussed dimensions and materials.  The boy told Mr. Adam, “Don’t worry about the soil and the worms.  We’ve got that covered.”

And then Mr. Adam returned a short while later with this:

And now all the kids have an earthworm garden to enjoy! Way to go, little guy! And big thanks to the school for supporting and encouraging curiosity and exploration like this.

Shoveling…excrement all day long

This year, I hired an edible landscape designer (Susan Adams of Simple Roots Gardening) for some new ideas for the vegetable garden.  I love the plan that she came up with. (click to view larger)

It looks a bit…overly ambitious to tell you the truth, but if there is anyone who is an expert in biting of way, way more than she can chew it’s me. I mean, with 2 kids and a full time job, why not add a small farm to take care of.  In fact, why stop there? Maybe it’s time I get some chickens (so trendy) or a backyard goat (even trendier)!

Since I’m pretty sure the animals would die from lack of care and we couldn’t even eat them, being vegetarian and all, it’s probably not the best idea for that.

Susan also does a soil test and tells you what your soil needs, and in my case I needed a lot of composted material. In one of my conversations with her, I mentioned that one of the doctors I work with has an alpaca farm and had invited me to come get alpaca manure for the garden.   Her eyes snapped open and she had an expression on her face as if I had told her where she could find a free trove of diamonds. So, of course, I borrowed a friend’s Ford F-150 and went to go pick it up.

The alpacas (or more accurately, paco-vicuñas) were curious and cute.

Their poop was not.

If you have ever wondered (and I know some of you have) how long it takes a smallish woman with one shovel to unload a pickup truck full of alpaca poop, the answer is about an hour and a half and 1 beer. Watch for that on the next SAT.

Neighbor kids came scurrying over after it was all done, wrinkled their noses, and promptly declared, “It smells like a farm over here!” I love when kids use euphemisms.

Over the last few weeks I’ve managed to get some seeds in and the bamboo trellis up and the walls o’ water up as well. Planted thus far: peas, onions, green onions, radish, spinach, lettuce, beets, kale, chard, carrots and broccoli. The perennial herbs have already come up nicely and we’ve had fresh sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano and chives for weeks now. Until the other plants can go in, I’ll be modifying the irrigation system we have in place. Last year I tried to water less and I don’t think it worked well-I thought the plants were smaller with lower yields.

As a few wise people told me when I started the garden 2 years ago, the grassy area in the center is now a patch of dead dirt and will be converted into a path of some sort this year–any other ideas of what to do with that path? It would be nice to keep it something that we could walk on barefooted, which is why I’ve been unexcited about gravel or wood chips, and ground cover takes so long to grow.

As a side note, a different Susan keeps telling me that I need to go and get new dirt for the garden as well, but the thought of digging out all that dirt and then replacing it is more than I can take right now. Next year, maybe.  (Next year, though, we might annex some of the neighbor’s front yard since all they have there are weeds, and that’ll be project enough.)

More pics when other things start coming up, since right now it just looks like a field of dirt. Just be happy you can’t smell it.