Letting him eat dirt

Spotless. Pristine. Bored.

These are not words I use to describe my son.

Messy. Dirty. Inquisitive.

These are the ones I am more apt to employ. Never have they been more justified then yesterday. We moved azaleas from my grandmother’s house to our front yard. They will get the sun they need, and the front of our house will get some much needed change. Moving bushes means digging holes. Holes mean piles of dirt.

It is a special day in a child’s life when he discovers the pleasure of dirt. It squishes. It can be piled and dumped. It can go back in and then come out again. We could have trapped him in his playpen, but then he would have missed these important discoveries. We both watched him crawl around the grass and make new friends with the neighbors and their dogs. We looked on as he pulled down pots of dirt and cruised toward piles. And neither of us moved fast enough when he put a handful of it in his mouth.

We told him no, and he went back to playing. Then he did it again because he’s still a baby. Eventually, we took our slightly muddy boy with dirt caked under his nails and streaks on his face inside for dinner.

Perfect. I suppose that’s the other word I use.

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.

BASIL

We have a bit of a basil explosion going on right now. We have three basil bushes at the garden and three plants in the raised bed at the house. Last week we managed to fill up the salad spinner twice when we pinched back the giants. I did what I always do with tons of basil. Made pesto. Three cups of pesto. Some got frozen, some gotten given to my parents, and some went into dinner.

Basil Pesto

Kohlrabi

My last semester of college I started making it a point to eat intimidating vegetables. I started with artichokes because at the time nothing seemed weirder than that spiked veggie. Over the next few years, Greg and I worked our way through the foods neither one of us had ever cooked. We mastered the winter squashes, radishes (delicious roasted), odd field peas, beets, turnips and others. One of my friends from work knew about my obsession with trying new produce and gave me a cookbook about how to cook just about every vegetable out there for a wedding present.

All of this preamble is to say, I’ve tried a lot of stuff the past four years. By far the oddest of those is kohlrabi. It is an odd mix of cabbage, turnip and radish flavors. I saw it at the farmers’ market on the tail end of my intimidating food adventure. I immediately asked the farmer how to cook it, took it home and excitedly proclaimed that I had found a new weird one to try.

I found kohlrabi seeds this year and impulsively bought them. Because my garden motto is: why not?

20140706-151754-55074977.jpg

It’s ALIVE!

Things are growing.

Like the kohlrabi.20140623-125640-46600670.jpgAnd the black eyed peas, eggplant, squashes, tomatoes and baby you can see below. We went out early this morning so that I could weed and the baby could supervise before the sun got too high in the sky. Our new system: as long as he can either see me or hear me talking to him (frequently about the annoyance of opportunistic weeds), we’re good.

 

20140623-125638-46598318.jpgDespite the blurriness, you can hopefully tell that I was able to pick a couple of squash, some snow peas and some giant pickling cucumbers that stayed on the vine a bit too long. I’m planning on seeing what I haul in Thursday morning and then getting the summer pickling underway. Because in this house, summer means standing in a kitchen with a boiling water canner going. 20140623-125636-46596519.jpg

 

 

Coming home with food

Last week we got the garden back under control. Then it rained (and rained and rained). The good news is things are growing. The bad news, it’s a weedy mess out there. I hoed and hand weeded the sweet potato patch as best I could, but the mud made it a bit challenging. There is, as always, more work to be done.

The best part of my evening gardening was being able to come home with food for the first time this season. Two straightneck squash, one zucchini, one white onion, one head of romaine lettuce and a cup full of snow peas. May the summer of garden veggies commence!

Raised Beds

Back in March, our friends Chris, Patrick and Claire helped us construct raised beds on the side of our house. Our neighborhood is full of mature trees, which makes it both beautiful and shady. The only place that gets consistent sunlight is the south side of the house. When we moved in, that area was planted with bushes that really didn’t do anything for me. It’s not that they were terribly ugly, but they were not adding anything to the space. We decided to make the investment in raised beds because 1) we wanted them, 2) they are a productive use of the area, and 3) it would provide a place to grow greens in the spring and overwintering crops like garlic that we can’t do at the big garden because of the rules.

Chris runs GrowMemphis and knows a whole heck of a lot about raised bed gardening. (Side note–he and Claire are making their dream of being small farmers a reality later this year when they take over his family’s farmland. I’ll miss them being down the street, but it is amazing to watch them make their farm a reality.) Claire and Patrick know a lot about gardening too and were willing to give up a Saturday afternoon to help us construct the beds with nothing but spaghetti and beer for payment. We have fantastic people in our lives.

The actual construction was on the guys because we used railroad ties (courtesy of Bob’s Tie Yard, seriously), which are heavy. They had to cut some of the ties in half to make the ends. The stacked ties are reinforced on the sides with rebar to keep them in place. One bed is tall and comes up to my waist. The other one is only one tie high and is the one that is planted with asparagus. Two weeks later, Patrick and Chris came back over and helped us get the manure and soil in place. Chris knows some horse owners in the Bartlett area who are happy to have someone take manure off of their hands. We put a layer down in the tall bed to act as fertilizer. The rest of the square footage was filled with cotton burr compost.

This spring, we had arugula, spinach, two types of lettuce, beets, radishes, carrots, swiss chard and peas in the tall bed. The peas straight up died, and only half of the radishes made actual bulbs. The carrots and beets are still in the ground with plans to pull them up this weekend. The arugula and spinach were delicious additions to our salads for the past month. The plants bolted so I planted a tomatillo and black cherry tomato plant in their place. The swiss chard is quite tasty, and we will be eating our second harvest of it for dinner tomorrow night. Once I pull up the carrots and beets, I will plant two more tomato plants and basil in their place. Next fall/spring, I’m definitely going to stick with growing greens and lettuces in that bed.

Cost–High

Labor–High

Impact–High

Mostly planted

While Greg worked from home and dealt with the air conditioning situation, I spent two hours weeding the plot. Last week was Italian Fest, and the days we had planned on working the garden were rainy messes. That means weeds.

Greg spent two and a half hours tilling and weeding yesterday so I followed up with a precision attack around the vegetables. I stopped by Lowe’s on the way home and realized that the window to get plant starts is rapidly closing. So I got an acorn squash, pattypan squash, tomatoes (pink brandywine, celebrity, better boy), edamame, hot banana peppers & Anaheim peppers. It’s supposed to rain the next five days so we went back out for an hour after dinner to plant. We also got okra, purple hull peas and seven hills of slicing cucumbers in.

We messed with the baby boy’s schedule to get the plants in the ground. Suffice it to say, he was not amused. The only way to get him to stop crying out of extreme tiredness was to sing him his favorite lullaby. Loudly. The other gardeners got a concert out of the situation. Hopefully, this will be one of the last times we take him out there.