Spring in my Memphis gardens

Now that spring has finally decided to stick around, I am finding it hard to focus on much other than gardening. My new backyard garden is tilled, planted with sugar snap peas and hopefully poison ivy free.

My new backyard garden

The very flimsy garden fence seems to be all the deterrent Zeb (the dog) needs to steer clear. The seedlings I started over a month ago are leggy and almost dead. I need a grow light.

Incredibly leggy tomato starts

I decided to try square foot gardening in my raised bed. This bed is dedicated to salad greens, chard and kohlrabi so I’m succession sowing each row a week apart.

Square foot gardening in the raised bed

My asparagus survived the winter and are starting to send up new shoots. The swiss chard, which was the rock star of last summer’s garden, has started sprouting as well.

Swiss chard and asparagus shoots

I also get to garden at work, at least for the next few months. Our summer exhibit at the Pink Palace is Wicked Plants, which was put together by the North Carolina Arboretum and is based on Amy Stewart’s book of the same name. My boss decided that he wanted to add a live poison garden to the exhibit, and, since I’m the one who realized that we needed to start ordering plants a month ago, I’m in charge of plant procurement and propagation. (Incidentally, today’s post is brought to you by the letter p.)

Sweet peas for the Pink Palace’s poison garden in this summer’s Wicked Plants exhibit

I’m spending a lot of time with my hands in the dirt these days. I’m still making it up as I go, and I love it.

A new garden plot

After some serious discussion and much internal debating, we decided not to get chickens like we had initially planned. Instead, we are going to use the back corner of our yard where we were going to put a coop as a kitchen garden. That area gets the most sun and is practically shaped so as to be easily fenced in. If we can switch plots at the Shelby Farms community garden and get closer to the water and my mom’s rows, we will continue our gardening adventure out there by planting field peas and potatoes. I don’t have the time to take care of plants that need tender loving care when those plants are a 30+ minute round trip from my house. However, I can commit to taking care of some low maintenance peas that can stand some benign neglect. Planting the squash and peppers and tomatoes at the house will let me give them more care on a daily basis and will also work better with the toddler.

In order to get the backyard garden spot ready for spring planting, we spent this last freakishly warm weekend clearing out privet. Our yard was a veritable privet forest when we moved in, but we have been slowly reclaiming the power lines, trees, camellia, pergola and path for the past year. We cleared the vines and hacked down the “trees” last year, but we still needed to clear out the roots. There’s no way that we got it all, but we did at least severely damage the beast’s central nervous system.

Unfortunately for me and my hypersensitive self, I did not realize there were poison ivy roots in the mix. I’m now sporting a lovely PI rash on my neck and face. All for the love of gardening.

Dirt Therapy

It’s another dreary, overcast day, which, as always, put me in a funk. This general funkiness was compounded by the fact that I was tired, the kid was screaming for lunch, and the dog was whining incessantly for whatever he didn’t have right then. I was about ready to mentally shut down and throw a blanket over my head. Not that that would have solved any problems, but it would have felt nice to disappear for a moment. Then the baby finally fell asleep, and the dog had gone in and out enough times to satisfy whatever canine imperative he was feeling.

For a moment there was silence, and yet the funk persisted. So I went outside and planted pansies in my front flower bed. I have no idea what I’m doing when I plant flowers. I never remember to water them, and I never seem to plant them in the right location. Basically, it’s by sheer evolutionary design that any pretty plant is able to survive living in my yard. It’s a personal goal to get better at growing flowers, but for today, the simple act of putting them in the ground made me feel better. I eschewed my gloves and went for the soggy earth with my fingernails. I dug holes, loosened roots and firmed them into the ground. Then I hit the raised bed and pulled out the cherry tomato plants. I planted kale seeds a few weeks ago so I thinned those seedlings and also replanted the areas where none had sprouted. Where the tomatoes were, I planted collard greens. The basil is still going strong, so I am going to leave it in the bed until I make pizza or the first frost, whichever happens first.

It’s still dreary outside, but I smell slightly loamy and feel much happier.

Last harvest

This growing season was a lot of things. Challenging, delicious and frustrating are the three adjectives that come quickly to my mind. Getting to our plots with a baby was difficult. Going out there without the baby was a logistical issue. However, when we did make it, it was nice. The food we grew was delicious, and I enjoyed being able to harvest vegetables that I (somewhat) nurtured to fruition. The plot may have eventually turned into a mass of weeds, but we had a garden this summer. And that is a win.

The sweet potatoes are dug:


The popcorn is dried and waiting to be shucked:


And that’s a wrap.

Pea production

We’ve hit the part of the summer where I spend my evenings watching tv and endlessly shelling peas. It’s about now when I start to wonder if I really want more peas in my freezer. Lady peas are great and all, but will I really, really want them in March?

Then my stomach kicks in and says, “Of course, so don’t be a lazy bum about it.” So I keep picking and shelling and par boiling and measuring and freezing.

If you have any inklings of wanting to put up so of summer’s bounty to enjoy come the dreary days of January, I suggest doing it now. Peas do especially well in the freezer, but there are lots of types of produce that you can freeze.

For peas: Buy some shelled peas that you like (lady and purple hulls are my favorites), parboil them for about four minutes, and put them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Then measure them out into whatever quantities you like, put them in bags, label them, and store them in the freezer.

I emphasize the labeling because you do not want mystery vegetable taking up residence in your freezer. You want to use your produce within 6 months ideally, but many things will stay good up to a year. (Quick disclaimer–I’m not a culinary professional. If you want specifics about proper food safety, consult the Ball Preserving Guide.)

Why bother? Because in season produce tastes good and is good for you. I like eating peas and corn, but I won’t buy any unless it’s summer because otherwise it tastes wrong. Not bad, just wrong. The stuff in my freezer, though, tastes like July when it’s February outside.



Producing produce

This was tonight’s haul:

Things are booming at the garden in both plots. HH (my Momma’s) looks really great, especially with the pea explosion:


Our plot isn’t quite as verdant, and the sweet potato patch basically just looks like weeds. Regardless of how it looks, it’s giving us lots of stuff to eat.

Buggers in the corn

Sometimes everything runs smoothly. There is sleep at night, the organized day in my head is matched by reality, the baby is smiley, and dinner takes exactly as much time to cook as I thought it would.

Then there are days when the baby cries and is inconsolable, I don’t get anything done for my classes, cooking takes forever, it starts to rain when there are clothes on the line, and there are caterpillars in the corn.


There is balance in the universe, but, man, those caterpillars are gross. I take some comfort in the knowledge that they are destined for some chickens’ stomachs.