Fall 2018/Spring 2019

The new season is upon us here in Northern Michigan. I’m very happy because my garlic has already sprouted. I planted it last October right after we got home from our wedding in Connecticut. It has been exactly 6 months since we got married, and our 2019 garden is now in progress – mostly sprouting in our basement under grow lights.

Some things I did not rip out of the beds, such as kale. I’m glad that I didn’t, because I am now learning about no-till practices and beginning to understand how live root systems can actually contribute to better soil health. And it’s always impressive to observe anything and everything that survives our deep freezes.  The lowest reading we saw this year was -38 degrees Fahrenheit.

I’ve got lots of catching up to do here, since I did not post anything since July. I will just flashback to some of my images that I posted on Instagram last summer, as well as some unpublished ones, so I can move on to new topics!

Mid-July Update

The grass is brown but the garden is green! It was a bit of a slow start, and then we got stunned by some serious heat. But we still have a ways to go. Some of my cooler weather crops are bolting too early, but most things are finally starting to pop off. In no particular order, here is an overview of the progress of this year’s plantings up to this point in the season.

First we must notice the peppers. I have close to 30 pepper plants. That Jalapeno plant is dripping with little fruits.  Also pictured are Ring of Fire, Cajun Belle, and Shishito. I counted at least 15 Cajun Belles on one plant already. Not shown are the Super Chilies and Buena Mulata, but they are fruiting too! Super chilies pop up like little Christmas lights. Buena Mulatas start out a pale yellow.

My herb garden has been very productive. I planted a specific variety so I could make my own Herbs de Provence – Savory, Marjoram, Thyme, Rosemary, and Oregano. I’ve been harvesting batches of those and drying them in the oven. I also dried some Sage and Celery tops for winter cooking. And Lavender too. I started a second round of Basil and Dill – since those were already starting to bolt, as well as Cilantro – because I’m going to need that for making salsa with all our peppers. I also started some more Parsley because I love using it in curried chicken salad – with lots of celery.

I harvested a cucumber and made refrigerator pickles, following this recipe: https://selfproclaimedfoodie.com/easy-refrigerator-dill-pickles/  I used the recommended fresh dill, slightly less garlic, and fewer peppercorns. Also added some mustard seeds, and dried super chilies from last year’s garden. Haven’t tasted them yet, but do have an extra jar of brine just waiting for this next little guy to grow up.

I moved my cantaloupe away from the cucumber so they don’t cross pollinate. I have two plants in my container and they are going wild. I might need to figure out a trellis or something for these babies. So many flowers! Look at that tiny melon! You can clearly see the difference between female and male flowers here. Female has the fat, swollen stem that will become a cantaloupe. Male has the skinny stem.

I am a little late to the Zucchini party but they are getting going. I’m sure we’ll see blossoms in no time. Also have Nasturtiums there – still not flowering, sadly. But my Lilies came up, and Calla Lilies are on their way too! That’s exciting.

I started some Hostas, Ferns, and Astilbes in containers to get established for next year. Ferns never came up. Hostas are still small, but look healthy. Astilbes are growing really well, but are not shown because they are in temporary pots sitting in the front flower bed that has reverted back to dog lounging pit. We also put in a Cherry tree and two Lilacs – to enjoy next year.

I’ve been harvesting lots of lettuce. Mustard and Arugula are both going to seed already, but are still edible. Classic Cesar salad is our favorite, so Romaine lettuce is a must. I thinned out my lettuce crops and I am hoping to get some actual heads to form there. Also thinned out beets. Enjoyed those beet tops sauteed with a little garlic – yum! You can see my little onions and carrots in front of the beets. Haven’t been eating nearly as much Chard as last year, or Kale. But I made some fabulous Kale chips! I may move my Kale and Chard to a spot in the raised beds. They just don’t seem as productive in containers. Or maybe it’s been the heat? Not sure.

A very small head of Broccoli has started to form.  I don’t think it will get much bigger, because we had that heat wave. I have to remember to get my Brassicas planted earlier in the Spring next year or start them later for the Fall. Brussels sprouts and cabbage look good though. Celery is doing fantastic. Fennel wants to bolt.

We ate our first hand full of ground cherries today! What a unique delight. I’m attempting to train them up trellises so they don’t take up too much area.  No ripe tomatoes yet, but lots on their way. I have 9 Tomato plants.

That covers most of the bases. We are extremely happy with the garden so far! Just the right balance of successes and learning experiences and outright miracles.

Red, White, and Blue Salad

As Americans come together to memorialize the founding of the United States, I would like to memorialize this salad that I made to pair with grilled duck breasts – so I don’t forget how well this combination turned out, and because the timing is perfect for coordinating fresh ingredients with festive holiday colors. I only used what I had on hand, which included red: radishes, red romaine, and red mustard, white: mozzarella cheese, and blue: wild blueberries.

 

 

It’s my first time growing radishes (which can be sowed directly in the ground), and I can’t believe how fast they grow! I’m really glad I decided to plant them, because they’re so productive, delicious, and a little different. I got to enjoy the micro greens first, and have been harvesting good sized radishes for a couple of weeks now. I planted them together with beets as was recommended on the seed packet. After I pick all the radishes, I will harvest some micro beet tops, and then the beets will have room to grow. I might try to find space to sow another row of radishes because we just love the spicy kick. I bought one packet of each Early Scarlet Globe Radish and Detroit Dark Red Beet at my local grocery store. They really do a great job of carrying seeds that are adapted to the area and I’m thankful for that.

img_9403Yesterday I thinned out my lettuce rows, so I had a pile of baby lettuce washed and ready. My Grand Rapids Lettuce seeds also came from the grocery store, and Super Red Romaine and Red Giant Mustard I got from MIgardener. Starting with radishes and mustard greens, I wasn’t quite sure where to go next.

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I wanted to use mozzarella (that I had opened for grilled pizza the night prior), so I drew some inspiration from Martha. Her recipe called for Scallions, but I used Chives instead. I chopped up a whole bunch and let them steep in olive oil while I waited for the duck breasts to grill. I added just a dash of both apple cider and balsamic vinegar to my dressing, along with flaky salt and fresh ground pepper. At this point I felt like I was onto something special. I threw some fresh Basil leaves into the salad too, because I figured it couldn’t hurt.

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Duck is often served with a fruit reduction sauce, so I knew that huckleberries (as they are called here) would be a perfect compliment to our protein. Although the wild blueberries are in season, unfortunately they were pretty sparse and dried out yesterday due to the recent heat wave. Luckily, in the freezer I had a jar of berries that I picked last year. Did you know that berries are the easiest thing to freeze? You really don’t have to do anything but wash them, put them in a jar or plastic bag, and stick them in the freezer. They took almost no time to thaw out because they’re so tiny, and they tasted amazing.

  • Radishes
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Wild blueberries
  • Baby lettuce
  • Mustard greens
  • Basil
  • Chives
  • Olive oil
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Pepper

As soon as I tasted my meal, I felt it must be remembered. The sweetness of the mozzarella and the berries held up to the spiciness of the radishes and mustard greens. The fresh flavor of chives and baby greens was just the right accompaniment to the rich, perfectly grilled duck.

A magical summer storm rolled through around 11 pm and lightly re-hydrated and, more importantly, cooled off the garden. The plants grew a tremendous amount with all the sun we got, but the watering regimen was a lot for me to keep up with.

Bacillus Thuringiensis vs. Malacosoma disstria

To be clear, this is a battle not a comparison. A war between me and the tent caterpillars, the most destructive garden pest that is known to get into my fenced-in raised beds.  My weapon of choice is BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis), a microbial insecticide with caterpillar controlling capabilities. It is totally organic and doesn’t harm humans or any beneficial insects. Luke from the MIGardener channel mentions in this instructional video many other types of pests that are affected by this bacteria.

I am targeting Malacosoma disstria, or the Eastern Tent Caterpillar. These pictures are from last year, but I’m seeing the same thing all over again. They are prolific in my yard – and the whole county from what I can tell from seeing so many silk tents around. They damage the leaves of most of my plants including Brussels sprouts (especially), cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, arugula – I’ve even seen holes on the beans and peppers. I’m not that bothered by the holes but the plants do get a little stressed.

This method worked well last year, but I can’t remember what ratio I used – hence the need for this blog! Today I’m mixing up a fresh batch with 2 tablespoons of concentrated BT to 1/2 gallon water. I don’t even need to fill my 1 gallon sprayer to cover my entire garden and the surrounding area. Last year I could actually see silk tents in our backyard. This year I am just finding the very hungry caterpillars crawling all around. I sprayed some of the surrounding trees for good measure.

I’ve learned a few important things to remember when spraying BT. First, rain and watering washes it off. So spray accordingly, and reapply. Second, sunlight weakens the impact, so it’s best to spray at sun down. And lastly, the shelf life is limited. A week or so ago, I sprayed the solution that was leftover in my sprayer from last year. It didn’t seem to help at all. When you apply BT properly, the results are noticeable on all new growth. If this application is ineffective, then I will know I need to purchase a new bottle of concentrate.

Last Spring Frost Date

Of course it’s important for gardeners to pay attention to the weather all season long, but today is the last Spring frost date. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the probability of frost occurring after today is 30 percent. More extensive data is available from the National Climate Data Center if you are into that kind of stuff, but it’s generally safe to put tender plants in the ground now. It was indeed quite cool last night, down to 41 degrees or possibly lower at our house. Since my raised beds are fenced in, it’s relatively easy to drape a great big tarp over my entire garden. This works extremely well as a temporary greenhouse which really helps to improve results with such a short growing season. I’ve got just a little over 3 months until the first Fall frost date.

A couple of days ago, I noticed one of my tomato plants was not looking good at all. The top half was totally wilted and keeled over, but the bottom leaves looked fine. The plant had been looking great for a whole week, so I don’t think it was transplant shock. We did have some cool, wet weather, so it might have something to do with that. Unfortunately my 3 varieties of tomato plants that I started in mid-March got mixed up, so I’m not even sure which type of tomato it was that died. I’m pretty sure Bonny Best and New Yorker are well adapted for the North. Black Brandywine is supposedly a little more high maintenance so perhaps it was one of them. I’m excited to see if I can tell the difference between them when they mature. They all smell so good!

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I don’t know much about diagnosing tomato diseases but I read a little bit about bacterial wilt, and two other causes of wilt caused by fungi, Fusarium and Verticillium. I’m not totally convinced that any of those are the cause, so I will try to replant since I have plenty of extras. If the same thing happens again then I might start to believe that there’s a disease in my soil. I am of course hoping there’s not, and that nothing spreads to the other plants.

I went ahead and put my collection of chili peppers in my new raised bed! Ring of Fire, Buena Mulata, and Shishito, all started from seed, plus Super Chilis that came from last year’s harvest. This bed is not fenced in like my larger raised beds, so hopefully the critters behave. Since these are planted somewhat close together, I did not prune them. But I am experimenting with pruning my potted peppers to make them grow larger and bushier, and hopefully more bountiful. 2nd photo shows a plant that I pruned last week, now branching out. 3rd photo shows a young plant freshly lopped off.

I have been pinching off flowers and buds from my tomatoes and peppers. I think they should become a little more established before expending resources to bear fruits.

Mulching & Downy Mildew

I was checking on my patio-container plants today and discovered light colored splotches on my Spinach and Swiss Chard. The internet leads me to believe it’s Downy Mildew – which is not a fungus like the White Powdery Mildew that appeared on my Zucchini last year. It was cool last night – below 50, and the patio is quite shaded by our house and a lovely maple tree. It’s also somewhat protected from wind. Since this mildew thrives in moisture and cool temps, I moved my patio containers to a much sunnier, and breezier, area near the rest of my garden. Hopefully that should take care of the problem.

I would like to get some wood chip mulch to keep the grass and weeds from coming up in the center of my horseshoe raised bed enclosure, but when I say “mulching” I mean I went ahead and spread dried leaves all over my garden. All around everything in the raised beds, the potted peppers, and the cucumber in its large container. Mulching is so great because it insulates the ground to keep my plants’ roots warm at night, it helps keep the soil moist so I barely have to water – about once a week is normal, and it prevents weeds from sprouting up so I barely have to pull weeds. I’m also convinced that it increases worm activity which is always a good thing. It’s not the most attractive mulch but it’s free and works really well! I only avoided spreading the leaves on the area where I sowed seeds because those sprouts aren’t big enough yet to clear the height of the leaves. Lettuce, Radishes, Beets, Carrots are all sprouted. One thing that has yet to come up is the Onion seeds.

Even some of my Asiatic Lily bulbs are poking up green in the new mixed herb/flower bed! Another exciting day in the garden.

First Garden Salad Of The Season

Time to harvest my cool weather crops that I am growing in containers! That means it’s salad time. My Swiss chard was getting bushy, and Kale leaves quite large, so it was really time to start cutting those back for new growth. I also harvested some leaves of Red Romaine, Mustard Greens, and Arugula from a few in-ground plants. A crisp, healthful bounty of delightful flavors that simply can’t be matched by produce from any store! I snipped off the bitter stems of the chard and kale, gave the big pile of greens a rinse to remove any sand or dirt particles, and chopped the leaves in half once or twice so they would fit comfortably in my mouth.

For me, homegrown greens are best enjoyed with homemade dressing. My go-to salad dressing recipe is one of many things I learned from my dad. The inspiration to grow a vegetable garden also came from him.

  • Crushed Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Vinegar and/or Lemon juice
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Dijon Mustard or Crushed Mustard Seeds
  • Herbes de Provence.

I won’t spell out the amounts since I don’t measure anything when I make salad dressing, but as my dad would always say, “a little goes a long way.” So just remember that you can always add more to your mixture, but you can’t subtract ingredients. I also prefer not to drench my salads with dressing.

Today I used both apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, completely forgot garlic, and used fresh Tarragon instead of a dried herb mix. It tasted great. My Tarragon plant survived the winter in our breezeway in a container, so I’m pretty happy about that. I didn’t know Tarragon was so hardy, but now I do – it is hardy to Zone 4b! And it thrives in cool, early season temperatures. Artemisia dracunculus. *I want to start learning Latin names.*

My go-to salad ingredients are onion, mushroom, plus some kind of nut, and some kind of cheese – today it was shaved Parmesan and sliced almonds. I also added some grilled chicken breasts on the side because I’m hungry. And had a second helping because I don’t want to get hungry later.

No nasturtiums to eat yet, but hopefully soon.

I did notice that something was munching a few holes in various leaves around the garden. So after I ate, I sprayed the whole garden with BT. I’ve been seeing lots of tent caterpillars in trees along the main roads. They can be pesky.

In other news, I found wild asparagus this week! Also along a main road. My fiance pulled over to a spot that my dad had mentioned to us last year, and we arrived just a little too late. The stalks were huge and pretty woody. I was so excited to yank it out of the ground that I didn’t think to dig up the roots, so I may have thwarted the patch and I won’t be able to replant it for myself. Or maybe it will continue to grow wild – I do not know. But it did not go to waste. There were little baby shoots coming off the stalks that were tender and delicious and went into a beautiful omelette. Now if only the morels would pop up in my spot. A friend shared a few with me and that was a real treat.

Putting Down Roots

It’s been a whirlwind of activity since the weather has allowed me to make major progress outdoors. On Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I went ahead and planted my healthiest looking plants. I had already planned out where everything would go, and managed to get it all potted or in the ground right before/during a perfect Spring sprinkle/thunder storm. I made sure to get my netting in place ahead of time too, because I wanted to sow some seeds directly and I just don’t trust the birds around here.

Now I’ve got Tomatoes – Black Brandywine, Bonny Best, and New Yorker. As well as Large Red Cherry Tomatoes, Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherries, and a Purple Tomatillo. Falstaff Brussels Sprouts, Waltham 29 Broccoli, Savoy Perfection Cabbage. Florence Fennel. I put two Cajun Belle Pepper plants in the ground, and a couple more in pots, along with, Shishito, Buena Mulata, Jalapeno Chili, Ring of Fire, and Super Chili Peppers. And I’m trying one Hale’s Best Jumbo Cantaloupe in a large container too. All of these were started from seed, indoors, under grow lights. Mostly in Jiffy peat pellets. Then up-potted into various sizes of pots and mixtures of potting soil. Hardened off. And now in the ground.  I added a few scoops of Dairy Doo, about 1/4 cup sprinkle of Trifecta, plus a dousing of Neptune’s Harvest in each hole. As far as I can tell, the plants are loving their new homes.

I sowed some things directly into the ground – Paris Island Cos Romaine Lettuce, Super Red Romaine, Grand Rapids Lettuce, Roquette Arugula, and Red Giant Mustard. As well as Southport White Globe Bunching Onions (an heirloom variety from my hometown!), Detroit Dark Red Beets, Early Scarlet Globe Radishes, and Cosmic Purple Carrots.

I bought a few things from the greenhouse to fill in where my seedlings were lacking. Celery, Pole Beans, ‘Straight Eight’ Cucumbers, and and assortment of herbs including Chives, Savory, Marjoram, Dill, English Thyme, Rosemary, and Sage. I went back to grab some extra Super Chili Peppers, because not every single one of my pepper plants was looking happy in its new pot. And we need plenty of hot peppers because we dry them and use them all year long.

I also added a room! It started with an idea to tack on a smaller bed to the outside of my fenced-in raised beds. I needed a place to grow herbs. I started my own Large Leaf Italian Basil, Giant of Italy Parsley, Triple Curled Parsley, and Oregano. Luckily, in the rafters of my fiance’s boat house, I found an awesome, old, long, heavy plank of wood – I think it’s cedar, about 10 inches wide, 2 inches thick, and 12 feet long. I grabbed two cheap-o cedar planters that I bought last year for the front yard, and used them to cleat in the long plank, up against the exterior of my 12″ tall raised beds. Voila. An herb garden.

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I have been waiting to try planting bulbs too, so I decided to mix flowers in there too. I’m not really sure if they are still good or if this is the right time – I hope at least some of them will grow. Some are from last year, and others I bought a month or two ago. I put Calla Lilies and Clematis in the two end planters, and some Asiatic Lilies and Irises behind the herbs in the new bed. I also bought a couple of flowering Lily plants and put those in too, flanking my proud Tarragon plant in the center – my only plant that survived the winter.

In the front of our house, I’m working on a shady bed under our spruce tree. I want to at least try Ferns, Hostas, Astilbes, and Lilies. I thought I wanted Lily-of-the-Valley but seeing how invasive they are in the area next to our garage – it’s very magical and oh so aromatic, but I don’t think I want to introduce them to a new area since we already have so many in close proximity.

The only problem with this bed is that the ground is not really workable since it’s got a bunch of pine tree roots going like crazy under a thin surface cover of old mulch. So we got a trailer load of top soil and I started moving it to fill the bed. Unfortunately I had to evict our princess Spaniel out of her dirt hole that she likes to dig and lie down in next to our front stoop. I raked the mulch over to fill the hole and moved some large field stones on top. She stared into my eyes for a whole minute after I did that, as if she were saying “how could you do this to me?” but she did get a staff infection from lying in the dirt last year so I don’t feel too bad. We plan to get some more field stone to finish off the surrounding area.

Amidst moving all the top soil, I found a great 4′ x 8′ cedar raised bed kit on sale at the local hardware store! We got it, I filled it with a base layer of dead leaves, and 5 or 6 wheel barrows full of topsoil. I just need a couple more bags of Dairy Doo, and now I’ve got plenty of space to care for all the baby pepper plants I have growing in little pots. It could also serve as a good place to start garlic this fall. In the meantime I started more Nasturtiums Empress of India in addition to the Alaska Mixed Colors that I already have sprouted. I might like to try starting some Echinacea too.

Lastly, I’m looking into adding a hedge of Lilacs to the front of our property. We live on a dirt road, so it’s very peaceful most of the time. But we’ve not got much of a privacy barrier between the front of our house and the road, and I just really want lilacs. It seems like there is at least one bush or tree in front of every house on the main roads, so they must do well here. I saw a B&B in town that is surrounded by a thick, tall hedge of lilacs, and I am now inspired to plant several bushes to define the front edge of our yard. I’m looking at Boomerang varieties.

It’s so wonderful to go outside with my coffee every morning to look at the garden and admire the pure vitality of these little plants. It is such a joy to be at the start of a new growing season. Onward and upward!

Soil is Ready

My soil is ready. At least I think it is. I weeded and turned over last year’s mixture of compost and topsoil in the raised beds. I put a nice layer of fresh compost on top of that. And reserved some of that mixture plus compost for 15 pots, too. I will do some tests on it this week. That should help kill some time!

I was thinking of planting next weekend – Memorial Day weekend, but my dad told me I might want to wait until after the full moon – Tuesday, May 29th. He said full moons often bring low pressure systems and cooler temps. I’ll keep an eye on the forecast, and get things in the ground as soon as I can. Tonight is going to be chilly. I’m keeping Herbs, Tomatoes, and Peppers indoors.

Outside I have: Broccoli, Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Spinach, Lettuce, Mustard Greens, Arugula, Kale, Swiss Chard. And Lavender that I planted along the edge of our patio last year. I tried starting Lupines in cow pots this year but they aren’t doing too well. My Nasturtiums are sprouting!

I’m going to go to the greenhouse to buy some things that I wasn’t able to successfully start from seed, like celery, and onions if she has any? Might be too late for that. Probably some pole beans. Depends what I have space for. I placed tomato cages and marked off some rows with twine to help myself plan. I have yet to revise my map of where I’m going to plant everything.

But my soil is ready! And our apple tree is blossoming and it smells amazing.

My Birthday

I’m accustomed to beautiful weather on my birthday every year. This one did not disappoint! My fiancé helped me pick up a load of compost for the raised beds. My plants got their first drink of Neptune’s Harvest hydrolyzed fish fertilizer – which they will continue to get every two weeks throughout the entire season. And all the young plants and seedlings stayed out over night. It was really mild.

 

I’ve been up-potting more little seedlings into 4″ pots. This time I used a bag of Organic Jiffy Young Plant Mix – with a bit of both Dairy Doo and Trifecta mixed in.

 

The 10-day forecast predicts lots of sun, and not a night below 40 degrees. I may plant my garden quite early – since I have a back-up method to protect against frost (a very large tarp). Just have to weed the beds, till the soil, and spread the compost!

 

The cool weather crops have been doing great outdoors every night. Chard and Kale growing nicely. New lettuce and spinach sprouting up! Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts are all fine in the lower temps too.