This past weekend I was able to finish my major weeding in the lower garden, and things are looking oh-so-tidy.
As I was pulling grass, purslane, dandelions, clover and other assorted unwanted plants from the beds and paths, I had a lot of time to think, and I ended up thinking a lot about the use of weed killers. I do most of my gardening organically, but I do use weed killers on very specific occasions. And whenever I do, I feel a lot of guilt.
I love my gravel paths, which have many advantages. They warm up the garden area earlier in the spring, and hold in the warmth as fall approaches. This gives me a slightly longer growing season, which is much appreciated here in chilly zone 4a. Because there is landscape fabric below the gravel, I have a lot fewer weeds than I would otherwise. Plus, I just love the way they look.
However, one of the biggest problems with the gravel paths is that there are some weeds that thrive in that situation, especially creeping charlie. Our yard is covered with creeping charlie - we have more of it than grass. As it grows in the "lawn", it encroaches under the fence into the garden area. And because of the way it grows, I can't get rid of it once it's in the gravel. New roots form at the nodes of the plant, wherever it touches the ground. If it's pulled but any part of the plant or roots are left, it will come back. Because of this growth pattern, it is virtually impossible to eliminate from the paths. Although I hand-pull creeping charlie from the beds (which have never seen a drop of weed killer), I will use chemicals to kill it in the paths.
I only use weed killers in three other situations: 1. To kill canada thistle. Not only is it painful to hand-pull because of the thorns, but it also grows by underground runners which never come up. And, if any part of the root system is left, it will grow multiple new plants. 2. To kill little trees and dandelions that grow out of my rock walls. I will always try to hand-pull plants in these situations, but if I leave the root, I will treat it. Otherwise, it's impossible to get the roots of these plants from between the rocks. 3. To kill buckthorn and wild grapes. Again, I try to hand-pull first, but if that doesn't work, out comes the weed killer. Buckthorn is highly invasive, is a severe threat in Midwestern woods because it quickly creates a monosystem, and our neighborhood (and our yard) is full of it. Wild grape can take over entire trees, and because the stems are brittle and the roots are deep, hand-pulling almost never works.
So, do you use chemical weed killers? If so, just how guilty do you feel? If not, how do you deal with the really bad weeds in your area? Or do you just let them go?
It's been a hot June - 12 days of 90 degrees or more (and still counting) - and the tomatoes have been soaking up the heat. I must admit being a bit jealous of Marc over at Garden Desk for his extra-early tomatoes; he harvested his first on June 15th, for crying out loud! But I'm a realist - I live in chilly zone 4 and I don't think there's a natural (or even supernatural) way for me to ever have tomatoes in June.
But most of the plants are flowering, bringing the promise of my very own first ripe tomato, which has to be the best taste in the world.
I spent about 6 hours on Sunday weeding the upper garden. The last time I spent any quality time in the garden was way back at the beginning of the month, when I finally finished planting everything.
Because I didn't take a "before" picture - the weeds were really just
too embarrassing - it's difficult for a non-resident to know just how much better the
garden looks. There was creeping charlie all around the edges of the raised beds and along the fence, growing in the gravel. Lots of annual grasses like quack grass had sprouted in all the beds. Plus there were various and sundry other weeds everywhere. Let's just say that when Spouse came out to check on me, he exclaimed, "Wow, it looks great out here!"
The vegetables are growing almost as well as the weeds were before they were unceremoniously yanked out. In the photos below (click to enlarge), the bed on the left has fingerling potatoes and bush beans. The potatoes are at least 3.5 feet tall. The two beds in the center photo are in the as-yet-unweeded lower garden. It looks like it's full of weeds, but it's actually French tarragon and garden oregano gone crazy. I've had the tarragon (a perennial) for 3 years now, and I've never had so much. The photo on the far right is the cucumber and zucchini bed. Last year I had terrible luck with zucchini - I harvested exactly one - but this year it's threatening to take over.
All in all, a very satisfying and pleasurable day in the garden.
I've been feeling guilty about how little time I've spent in the vegetable garden in the past month, but thank God it continues along without me. As long as I keep things watered, the plants just keep growing.
Spouse and Brix joined me for a photography session last night. As you can see, he still needs to be on a leash in the garden, otherwise I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have much of a garden left.
The weather has been very hot and sticky this month. So far this June we've had 8 days of 90 degrees or more, and today will be another one. That means the spring vegetables - only planted 2 months ago - are already finishing up. The snap peas, pictured at right, have yielded two meals. I think I'll get one more, but the plants have stopped flowering so I don't think I'll get anymore.
This year I planted Sugar Ann, from Johnny's Seeds. I really like the growth habit - they're about 24-36" tall - but the peas are not quite as sweet as old-fashioned Sugar Snap. However, I think I'll try a fall planting - maybe with a longer cool season they'll taste a bit sweeter. I'll write a full review in the next week or two, but overall I'm underwhelmed by Sugar Ann.
Below left are the potatoes, which are growing like gangbusters. They just started flowering this week. The middle photo shows the lettuce just before I cut some for dinner. I'm starting to taste just a bit of bitterness, which means the hot weather is starting to affect it. On the right is the garlic, doing just great. I've cut off and used all the scapes, so all that's left to do is wait for the leaves to start browning then - Yum - my own garlic!
Oh well, even if the spring veggies are starting to come to an end, there are always the summer crop coming along. On the left are the tomatoes, which have grown at least a foot since I planted them. In the middle are my self-watering pots, filled with peppers and a few garden huckleberry plants. I finally planted these up on Monday night. Hopefully they'll start catching up despite the slow start. On the right is the cucumber and zucchini bed. Last year I planted the cucumbers as seedlings, but this year I went back to planting the seeds directly in the beds. I didn't notice that last year's cukes were any earlier than ones I've direct-seeded in the past, so I figured I wouldn't take up valuable grow-light space for cucumber plants.
So, I'm off to my college 20-year reunion, with another weekend away from the garden. But this time, rather than working, I'll be sampling some of southern Minnesota's finest brews while spending time with some of the best friends a person could have. I'll take that any day!
About a week ago, Colleen over at In the Garden Online posted about how she's become a convert to vegetable gardening. For Colleen, "it's the harvest." She waxed rhapsodic about the process of harvesting salad greens, writing, "There's something soothing, peaceful, and fulfilling
about it all that I can't manage to put into words. It's mindfulness at
its essence: the selecting of the tastiest-looking leaves, the mixing
of textures and colors in the basket as I harvest, the gentle whoosh of
the salad spinner as I prepare the salad for my family. It is its own
form of meditation."
For me, I think it's the anticipation and the joy of watching growth and change on a daily basis. I love to watch the progress of each plant, noting the daily changes. In the vegetable garden, things go happen so quickly. One day the spinach is perfect, the next it's bolted. It's imperative to look enjoy it right now, while it's at it's peak, because tomorrow it may be ready for the compost pile.
I also love the seasonality, knowing that first there are salad greens, then snap peas, followed by potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Although I hate to see fall approaching, there's nothing better than making batches of basil pesto for the freezer, and drying tomatoes for a burst of summer flavor in the middle of winter.
Then there's the endless quest for the perfect variety. I love the idea of planting 12 different types of tomatoes, only two of which I've grown before. It's the promise of the new. Will one variety be generous enough give me tomatoes by mid-July? Will another be so prolific that I can share them freely with others? (I don't give away tomatoes easily!)
Each year brings something new. Sometimes it's joy, sometimes heartache. But it's always new, it's always different, and it's always rather miraculous.
This bumblebee has probably spent a lot more time in the garden than I have. Although I've gotten everything planted (except the peppers), work and rain have conspired to keep me out of the garden most of this spring.
Although I would have loved to be out getting the peppers planted yesterday, I had a lot of work to do so spent the day indoors. Today, it's cool and rainy - not an ideal day to be outdoors.
And looking forward, I won't have a weekend in the garden for at least two weeks. Next week I head to Atlanta from Wednesday through Saturday for a conference, and the following weekend is my 20 year college reunion (has it really been that long?). It looks like I'll need to spend a few nights this week juggling long dog walks for the wiggly puppy, making dinner every night to assuage my guilt that Spouse will be on his own for four nights, and planting peppers, herbs and a few more annuals.
And speaking of wiggly puppies, here's Brix, the dog who will not sit still for a photograph. This was the best of nine!
I managed to get almost everything planted in the vegetable garden over the Memorial Day weekend. To finish the tomatoes, I also was out there on Tuesday afternoon, but now everything except the peppers are in. All beans (pole & bush) were planted 5/27, tomatoes were done 5/29.
Below is the upper garden. The lower right bed has roots and greens - look how pretty the black-seeded Simpson and Merlot lettuces look. The lower left is snap peas, spinach (behind the peas) and newly planted pole beans Fortex and Purple Podded Pole. The little center tepee bed has Roma pole beans, saved and passed on by a friend. The upper right bed has cucumbers and zucchini, while the upper left bed with the fence contains fingerling potatoes and Blue Lake bush beans. The very upper left bed is still empty, except for lots of thistle. I plan to put in garden huckleberries there, but I need to get the thistle out first.
Below on the left is the lower garden. Herbs and cherry-type tomatoes are in the front two beds, main-crop tomatoes are in the back two beds. On the right is a close-up of one of the tomato beds. I planted 17 total tomato plants. Four are cherry types, two are drying types, and two Green Zebras. The rest are main-crop tomatoes, which are all new varieties for me this year in my quest for the perfect main-crop, all-purpose tomato.
It all mostly went well, except that I managed to snap off the top of the only Sungold plant that I had! My mistake is that I gave away all of the seedlings I didn't need before I did my own planting, so my two extra Sungolds were already gone. Lesson learned: never give away your extra seedlings until after you're done with your own planting! I kept the stem planted - who knows, maybe it will sprout some leaves and do okay. I hope so, because I've heard nothing but good things about this cherry tomato.
Lastly, a few close-ups of things already growing. The photo on the left shows the potatoes doing quite well. I just planted one-third of the rest of the bed with bush beans, and will plant the rest with more bush beans next weekend. I'm really hoping to get two potato plantings this year. I've saved my seed potatoes in the basement, and if they aren't too squishy and rotten, I'll plant more in July.
The photo on the right is a close-up of the snap peas which started flowering on about 5/27. This year I planted Sugar Ann from Johnny's, and I really like the growth habit. They are short enough so they won't fall over and/or shade the other things on the trellis like the standard Sugar Snap peas did last year. Hopefully they'll be just as prolific and delicious as the sugar snaps!
Despite the intrusion of a wiggly red dog in the vegetable garden, I did manage to get a few things accomplished this weekend.
The lettuce and chard were thinned (leaving delicious baby greens in the refrigerator) and cabbages were transplanted into the roots and greens bed. I stopped in at work to re-pot my peppers - along with the tomatoes, they'll be ready to plant sometime in the next 5-10 days. I also managed to put together my front yard pots and stop at a plant sale that an older couple was having in their backyard.
Left: The roots and greens bed after the cabbage was transplanted. Right: Th snap peas and spinach are doing well.
Left: Potatoes waiting for their last mounding of soil. Right: I can't wait for the garlic!
And here's Brix, looking pretty pleased with himself for discovering the gourmet joys of pea shoots.
This weekend was busy, but I did manage to get the potatoes planted on Sunday, April 22. That's 11 days later than last year.
I planted two fingerling varieties: Rose Finn Apple and French Fingerling. Both were purchased from Seed Savers. Because of the great potato confusion of 2006, I've labeled them well - both on my garden plan and with plant labels in the garden. However, I did contradict myself. When I posted on my mistake, I said I wouldn't grow Rose Finn Apple again this year. However, because I'm not sure which was the more prolific variety, I'm growing both varieties again so that I can make a definitive and final judgment this year.
And now, for the most boring picture on a blog - ever - I give you my potato planting.