Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gardening Rainbows

A recent double rainbow in my back yard at twilight.
Light at the end of the tunnel for this stressful year!

I finally got out to my garden this week after an intensely busy and high-pressured winter and spring. What a stressful year I had at work!  I'm always busy, but this year I was busy with a capital "B", and stress arrived in an economy-sized package.  Alas, that limited many of the other projects I had going (including my writing); so frustrating.  Apologies for some minimalist blogging content this spring.

I had so many things I wanted to try in the garden this year, but getting such a late late start meant that some of them just aren't going to get done this year. Feh.

However, once in a while I managed to steal a moment here and there to plant something this spring, so I do have carrots and peas going in various stages.  I had some garlic and onions overwinter, so that's helpful.  Surprisingly, I had some brussel sprouts overwinter too, so we'll see if that turns into anything. Of course I have my perennial fruits and veggies, like asaparagus, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, etc.  These form the core of my garden this year.

Asparagus Ferns to the left,
and the Rhubarb of Doom to the right

We were able to harvest asparagus this year. I planted it last year and you don't harvest the first year, so this was the first time we got to eat our own home-grown asparagus.  You harvest only minimally the second year, so we were sparing in our harvest, but I can see this is going to be a source of much delight to us. We love asparagus at our house!  Served al dente with a little garlic aeoli, or grilled with a little olive oil....Oh, sooo sooo good.  I'm just sad asparagus season is over now. But that's okay...they are busy building roots so they can give us lots of yummies next year. You can see the ferns that asparagus spears turn into in the picture above on the left.

I also planted rhubarb plants last fall, but that was a bit of a fail. I've never grown rhubarb before, so I didn't realize just how HUGE they get.  But you can see the Rhubarb of Doom in the picture above.  Uh, a little large for a raised bed planter, ya think? Obviously, it doesn't need the babying of being in a raised bed, based on its dinosaur-sized leaves.  So we're going to have to dig this puppy up and move it to a better spot.  I'm not looking forward to that job.

You can see the first strawberries of the season above. We're harvesting strawberries like crazy now. I will have enough to make a large batch of freezer jam that's just from our garden; in the past, I've had to supplement with berries from various Farmer's Markets.  I probably will again for later batches, but it's very satisfying to be able to do a few batches that are just from our garden.  I love strawberry freezer jam the best because you can use minimal sugar and the freezer jam keeps more of the fresh strawberry flavor. It's like a eating a little burst of summer in the middle of the winter. Flippin' awesome.

We also just started harvesting the first raspberries.  OMG, is there anything better than the first raspberries of the season???  Usually we just eat these fresh, but I put in a whole bunch more raspberries last year and so will need to put some up somehow...especially since we'll be harvesting raspberries into October.  Made some raspberry muffins yesterday, may try some raspberry sauce, some white chocolate raspberry bark, some raspberry chipotle sauce, and will also just freeze some straight up.  Any other great raspberry suggestions?  I'm going to have a lot.

We are knee-deep in cherries from our trees right now. I have to figure out what to do with them before they go bad. I don't much care for cooked cherries (so canning them is out) but love the fresh ones. I think we are going to freeze them raw.  Just wash them, pit them, put them on some parchment paper on a cookie tray and stick them in the freezer to freeze individually, and then bag them for later in the year.  I've heard that eating fresh-frozen cherries (no sugar, no additives) right out of the freezer is a real treat.  I'll let you know!

I have lots of plums starting to ripen, and many apples have set, so I'm looking forward to canning some plum chutney and applesauce later in the summer.  Looks like we'll have a few fresh pears too. However, my pluots (mix of an apricot and a plum) are total duds so far.  Maybe next year.

We did finally get some other stuff planted.  I was so late that I mostly used starts from the store, but that's okay; I'm not a gardening snob.  I have broccoli that's almost ready; the head has gotten a lot bigger than when I took the above picture.  We love fresh broccoli, which is good because we'll be having a lot in the next few weeks before we get slammed by hot weather.

I planted eggplant for the first time this year.  I'm not a big eggplant fan, but thought we'd give it a try. If all else fails, my MIL will eat them. Also put in a zillion tomatoes (for my special homemade spaghetti sauce, yummm), potatoes, pumpkins, green beans, swiss chard, zucchini, and cukes.

As some of you know, I have some knee issues from a bad car accident a few years ago.  This is why I mostly garden in raised beds.  But of course, raised beds are not cheap to build.  So this year, I'm contemplating trying straw bale gardening to expand my raised beds inexpensively.

Image from WSU Master Garden blog, 

You condition a straw bale, then plant certain types of garden plants in the straw bales, like pumpkins or cukes or tomatoes (with staking).  It's raised bed gardening on the cheap. Then you use the decomposing straw left over for your potato beds next year, or put it in your compost pile. It's late to start this process, but what the heck.  I'm going to give it a shot anyhow.

I'm also looking at creating some sort of adapted portable cold frame/hoop house for my garden. I want to be able to cover the tomatoes to extend their season in the fall, and I want to be able to grow some cold-weather crops in the winter but be able to protect them from the very coldest weather.  So we'll be experimenting with that this summer.  Updates next fall.

So that's what's up with me right now.  I'm trying to get the kids' summer schedule organized (one's in Alaska with Scouts right now), I'm trying to get the garden established and weeded, I'm trying to start canning, and I've got to get my office cleaned before the cameras from the Hoarding shows arrive.  Oh yeah, and work on some writing projects.

What are you up to this summer? Got any big plans? If you garden, tell me what's going in in your garden!  Anybody got any great recipes for raspberries?


Sherry said...

Oh, I tried straw bale gardening last year, and loved it! We had four bales - two grew like gangbusters, and two eventually took hold but never seemed really happy. I suspect those two may have been treated with something to inhibit growth, but all four came from the same place at the same time and I never noticed any visible difference to them.

We had tomatoes (didn't stake them, so they flopped all over, but they made many delicious tomatoes), eggplant, zucchini, cukes and peppers. The cucumber vines ran all over the place, even up the skirting of our mobile home. They were hard to find, but tasted wonderful. Oh, and I had some lettuce under the tomatoes until the weather got hot and it bolted.

I didn't do it again this year because I couldn't face toting water every day again this summer. If you have an outdoor spigot or rain barrel, you should be set.

I love seeing your pics and hearing about your garden. Best of luck with it!

Well-Rounded Mama said...

Thanks for sharing your straw bale story! A good inspiration for me to hear from someone who made it work.

I harvest rainwater, so I have plenty of water nearby for this project. I gather strawbales, like most raised beds, require more water than plants in the ground would. (OTOH, there's a LOT less weeding! Yay!)

Lexi said...

We got a raspberry harvest for the first time this year! (Stupid Japanese beetles got them every other yer, but we didn't see any this year!) I didn't grow strawberries, but we have a pick your own place near us, and I made no sugar strawberry jam that I canned. I got the recipe from the realfruit low sugar pectin jar. Only ingredients are strawberries, pectin and water. It works for raspberries, too, if you like raspberry jam.

And frozen cherries are heavenly! Enjoy!

crystal_b said...

For eggplants, I love eggplant parm (the first time I made it was actually to try to induce labor -- didn't work, but I added a new recipe to the rotation!)
and also baba ganoush :)

Kate said...

I love eating frozen cherries! Just plain right out of the freezer. My grandmother said they were good for arthritis and I'm not sure about that, but they make for a nice light cold treat on hot summer night either way.

I'm in Texas and we're up to eyeballs in okra my parents garden I love to roast that, tastes like fried okra with significantly less work.

Sherry said...

I may have overwatered mine. (with plants of all kinds, I seem to either overdo the water or dry them out.) I watered every day, which meant toting at least four large-ish buckets from the bathroom through the living room, out the door and down the porch steps.

I think the bales require more water than plants in the ground, but less than pots.

And I forgot to say above, this spring, after the empty bales had been decaying over the winter, we kicked them apart, pulled the strings, and my son mulched them into the lawn by mowing over them a couple of times. So there was almost no waste. (The strings, and a few dried-out tomato plants we uprooted and hauled to the transfer station.)

That's so cool that you harvest rainwater! When I have a place of my own again, I'd like to do that.

JeninCanada said...

Reading about your gardens was a delight. Thanks for sharing! My summer plans are to stay cool, get as much sun as possible and get this apartment organized and ready for when Kat arrives.

John Laser said...

really great post! I am struggling with gardening at the moment - it is either too wet or too hot. And the slugs are ruining my garden. Still, musn't grumble... Have you got any ideas?

Futuralon said...

Sounds like quite the garden! This year we made a raised planter but the only harvest I know we'll get is tomatoes. I have hopes for the corn, and peppers. Our basil is going strong and makes a nice basil mojito :) It's way too hot for berries and fruits here (at least, when you're a beginning gardener like me) so I'm totally jealous of yours. I put cherries in turnovers and cook them up as fruit compote, but raw you can put frozen cherries in a smoothie, as a snack like frozen grapes sounds good. Or cook them in a savory sauce sauce for things like duck.