Monday, March 10, 2014

weekend non-events & gardening advice

As it turns out, my jaunt in the land of the living didn't last for long. Actually it was for about 6 hours. By early Friday afternoon, Matt started coming down with some awful Man Sickness that had me rushing him to the doctor and then home. By 5pm we were completely in the trenches with whatever awful flu/virus/thing he picked up. So instead of enjoying the weather and my own renewed health, I spent the weekend playing nursemaid to Mattie on his semi-death bed. I witnessed enough vomiting to last me the rest of my lifetime. I took his temperature so much that our thermometer inexplicably CHANGED ITSELF TO CELSIUS at some point. Rebellion? I dunno. But that turned my hourly temperature checks into a much bigger hassle because I had to go online and convert the temperature every single time. OBNOXIOUS. I have no idea what happened, but I can only assume it was God telling us that we should be somewhere where they use Celsius. Since that's pretty much the whole rest of the world, I'm choosing a beach in Mexico. Hola mojitos y el sol...

Luckily I had 2819 episodes of Pretty Little Liars to keep me company while I passed the minutes between temperature-taking and vomit-clean-up. It was quite fortuitous that I picked a show last week with so many seasons and episodes available! Who knew I'd end up with so much solo TV watching time on my hands this week? In my fervor to truck through all the episodes, though, I feel like I've lost touch with what's going on in the ACTUAL world. Like in the middle of the night Saturday night I looked at Twitter and discovered that airplane full of people straight up disappeared?? Can I be honest for a second here? For about four seconds after hearing about this disappearing jet story (the time it took me to click on the link from Twitter and find the actual article), I was like SUPER EXCITED because I was like oh my gosh, LOST is coming true!!!! Like this was some big win for humanity or something??....and then I came to my senses and stopped being a huge jerk. Oh yeah. This is a tragedy, not a win for the nerds. That was my first clue that I needed to stop watching so much TV. (And I'm seriously not trying to make light of the tragedy. Please don't misunderstand me!)

Yesterday afternoon I was able to spend a few hours outside while Matt napped. Unlike last Sunday, this week was all about outdoor productivity.

I enjoyed soaking in the sun while digging in the dirt, prepping some of the raised beds for planting in a few weeks. I pulled lots of weeds, whispered gentle encouragement to the strawberries that are spreading like crazy and starting to flower, told the winter kale it can keep on growing straight through the summer, and fertilized the soil. And thought about what I'll plant where. I just love spring planting!!! I have a few bulbs that are poking through, but not many of my perennials or trees are doing anything yet. The apricot tree sprung a few flowers, though-- they look so cheery against everything else that still looks dead!

And while we're at it (getting excited about about gardening, that is)...may as well answer a few garden-related advice questions!

Jaclyn asked:

How do you best keep the weeds out of your garden and grass? I hate weeds.

Ummm...if you had ever actually visited my yard, you would not be asking me this question. But I'll let you know what I do anyway, so that you'll know what doesn't work!

On the garden front, I have a little better success, so we'll start there. For one, all of my fruit and veggies grow in raised beds. Raised beds are WAAAAAY easier to maintain and keep weed-free than beds on the ground, in my experience. Whenever we establish a new raised bed, we start by digging up all of the grass and topsoil (a phrase I use loosely, since actually everything in Georgia below the grass-level is all just the same hard red clay). I try digging up (and getting rid of) at least the top 3-4 inches of the ground. That's where all the existing grass and weeds' root systems are. The more you get rid of now, the less that will grow up through your bed later. After digging up everything that's visibly green, we till the ground. Our tiller maybe gets us 6" down. After that, we build out the frame of the bed-- I usually like my raised beds to be at least 8" high...a foot is even better. Just depends on what lumber we get. Then you fill in the bed with bags and bags and bags of good soil. Sometimes we put down a weed barrier before we fill in the soil (like damp newspaper or weed barrier fabric)...sometimes we don't. In general, we just don't have a lot of issues with weeds coming up through all of that soil-- I think they bury the little microscopic weed babies so well that they can't get any sunlight and they shrivel up and die. Those that do still come up through I weed by hand.

My in-the-ground flower beds I treat similarly, only you don't get the benefit of 8 inches of weed-free soil to smother the weeds. So WAY more weeds come through. I generally just weed by hand in all of my beds. I don't use any chemicals on my garden weeds, as they'd kill the good plants right along with the bad. Being super proactive about weeding by hand is all I know to do. Using a lot of mulch will also help by blocking the sunlight from baby weeds. 

Weeds in my grass? Well, here's what hasn't worked for us: every single product at Lowe's, prayer, positive thinking, ignoring it, and trying to teach the cat to eat weeds. What does work is digging up weeds by hand. But when you have an acre of grass and a rapidly-aging back...basically you just learn to embrace a weedy lawn and keep it mowed frequently. And you dream of the day you have enough disposable income to pay a lawn company to come treat the grass for you.


Amanda S. wants to know:

What is going in your garden this year?

Yaaaaay!! One of my favorite things to think about!! I've been gardening at this house for enough years now that I have a pretty good idea about what things are successful and what aren't, what's worth the trouble and what isn't, and what gives me the most bang for my buck (and time). Every year I like to do like 80% things that I KNOW will be successful and then play around with a few new things.

The guaranteed winners that'll be making a comeback: LOTS of tomatoes (both grape and Big Boy), bell peppers (red, yellow, orange, green), basil, parsley, rosemary, strawberries (those are perennial and are looking great so far!), blueberries (perennial...bushes are starting to get buds!), blackberries (wild, can't take credit for them). We have kale in right now that grew all winter...I have no idea if it'll keep going through summer or not. We also have asparagus that made it all winter but appeared to have succumbed to the last big snow/freeze. It was risky putting them in...they take 2-3 years to produce anyway, and I was gambling on having relatively mild winters each year in order to keep them alive. Looks like I lost that bet, but they could surprise me. Too early to say right now.

I'm contemplating doing okra again. I had some moderate success with it two years ago, and I know what changes I need to make to have a better yield this time around. Ditto to cantaloupe. 

Things I will not grow because they will only break my heart: squash (tragic stories here and here), zucchini, and cucumbers. 

Obviously I've only talked about the edible things in my garden. The flowers situation is too much to even get into.


Amy asked:

I'm starting a vegetable garden this year, what are your tips for a beginning gardener?

Excellent!! My first tip is to lower your expectations a little. :) You are probably still going to have to go to a grocery store this year. Also, some of your stuff will die no matter what you do. Sing Circle of Life as you cry over your deceased, gone-before-their-time squash. Prepare yourself for a little heartbreak to come with all the jubilant successes. I promise, this helps.

NEXT: Prepare your beds! Obviously, I recommend raised beds. 

The next thing is super important: you need to find out what plant hardiness zone you live in before you start thinking about what you want to grow. This is SUPER IMPORTANT. Plants require very particular climates in order to thrive properly. I don't care how enthusiastic you are about avocados...if you live in Iowa, it ain't gonna happen. Don't try to make a garden plan based just on what you like to eat-- those things may be completely unrealistic for the climate you live in. Do a little research first and then pick things that are appropriate for your area. This will save you a world of sadness (and money) later. (Note: just because they sell something at the garden center doesn't mean it will grow in your area...) Also pay attention to how much water things require. Take into account how much rain you expect to get and how much you'll need to supplement with watering (or whether you get too much rain for something that requires a drier climate). And sun/shade!! Where are your beds going to be? Will they have full sun? Partial shade? Different plants need different things. Pick plants that will thrive in the sun environment you have.

After you have an idea of what kinds of things you might like to grow, try to find someone in your area that has some experience gardening. Find out what things they've had the most success with-- for instance, in my area, squash (and other vine veggies, like cukes and pumpkins) will grow GREAT!!!....but the vine boring grubs and squash bugs will completely murder them all. Hands down. No exceptions. Staying on top of the squash pests requires a crap-ton of vigilance and chemicals. Every single gardener in my region will report this to you. So if you're fine dumping Sevin Dust (or other pesticides) all over your veggies, you may indeed be successful. If you want a chemical-free garden, you better have a loooootttt of time and emotional energy on your hands to pluck those bad boys by hand. Or just plant something else. (For me personally, if I want squash coated in chemicals, I'll just buy it at the grocery store for $1 a pound all myself the trouble.) However, I have had very few problems at all growing tomatoes and peppers with no additional chemicals or stress. So if you were my newbie gardening neighbor, these are the kinds of things I'd love to tell you. Just looking at a generic squash growing guide may not tell you everything you'd really like to know about growing them in your particular neighborhood. 

Here is one of my favorite 'what will grow here?' cheat sheets: go to a local farmers' market. Pay attention to the vendors whose farms are ACTUALLY LOCAL. What do they sell that is super cheap and abundant? Those are the things that are easiest to grow. What do they sell that is like $9 a pound and there are only two tiny baskets of it when the market opens? That is something that is hard to grow in your area. Is it July and not a single vendor in the entire market has a fresh ear of corn to sell? Probably corn doesn't grow in July in your area. Is it April and every single booth has dirt cheap strawberries? You might wanna think about strawberries next spring. 

I could probably go on forever, but those are a few things you should probably think about before you actually start shopping and digging! Oh, but most of all, you should have fun and celebrate every single tiny victory. And talk to your plants. It's what my mother always taught me, and I'm pretty sure it works.


  1. You are amazing... I kill sage. Yep, somehow, even herbs and cacti die on my watch. Sad day. The image on you sitting in your garden in 8in of dirt singing the Circle of Life is really awesome though... poor dead squash.

  2. Ohh noo sorry about Matt! I hope he's feeling better! Haha my mom talks to her plants and every time I come over she has to show me everything goes on! :)

  3. Ohh nuts! Im so sorry about Matt being sick as well! Sending you healthy vibes! Looking at you in the garden has me sooo jealous! My garden is filled with snow I can not wait to be able to get out and play with my flowers too :)

  4. Boo for more sickness!! That is just awful. I'm super impressed with your gardening skills. Brandon does all the yard work/gardening at our house. He's always like "did you see what I did in the front bed?" And I'm like . . . "Ummmmmm let me go look. . . " and then I have NO CLUE what is different because I pay no attention to such details. Need to work on that. . . ha!

  5. I can't even read this entire post. It's still cold here and we have "potential for severe snow accumulation" on Wednesday. BOOO!!! I want to be planting like you!!

  6. Thanks for the gardening advice! I am in love with your apricot flower. Maybe one day I'll get brave and make a raised bed. For now I just maintain what was here when we moved in. I'm happy to know I'm not the only one whose conceded defeat in the yard department. Growing up in Houston we had the lovely st Augustine grass, which basically never got any weeds. Now that I'm in Florida I have NO CLUE about how to take care of a yard with weeds. I always tell myself, maybe next year we'll figure it out...

  7. Poor Mattie! Man pukies and fever are beyond awful. Side note...our hospital decided to go Celsius and I'm a rebel so I convert all my temps by entering them in fahrenheit in the computer and make the docs do the work!
    After traveling this weekend for a hockey tourney, 15+ of us (hockey players and parents) came home with the GI bug. Yuck!!!
    Your gardening has me itching to start here, but we have a storm coming Wednesday with "significant" accumulation. For us that means a foot or more of snow! Ugh!

  8. Yay! Thanks for the gardening tips. We are really excited to get started gardening (and probably have our hearts broken) this spring. My mother-in-law suggested we plant about a 1/2 acre of potatoes and then put them in a barrel in our basement if we have too many. That is a lot of potatoes....especially considering we don't eat potatoes that often. I like your advice better. :)

  9. Your garden sounds delightful (though I love the pics of your flowers, too!! Do you have any delphinium? They're my new favorite)! The apricot flower is beautiful. This will be our first year using raised beds. Josh built 8 boxes last fall, so we will have about 23 plants between veggies, fruits, and herbs. This is on top of our strawberry planter and berry garden (6 varieties). And the apple and peach trees (3 and 2, respectively). Prayers for my sanity are appreciated :)

  10. So jealous of your "spring planting in a few weeks". I'm still staring at snow and ice and don't even want to think of going outside. I've also given up on squash and cukes. I had high hopes for growing and then pickling my own dill pickles but the ones I got were too sporadic. Farmers market works just fine.

  11. This is awesome! When we move this summer and our new house is finished being built - we want to garden!

  12. I love, love, love planting season! Although I am super jealous that you're in your beds already.... I have a good month before I can even see the ground (not to mention planting in it!). This will be my first year with raised beds, but I grow lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, peas and I'm going to try cucumbers, potatoes and kale this year. I've also got strawberries and raspberries and pears and three kinds of apples. I know you have to plant for your hardiness zone, but last year I accidentally grew watermelon (which I'm not zoned for in any way). My nephew planted my seeds in crap soil behind the house, and I never watered, and yet two decent melons grew. In clay. In Canada. I think this farm is magical.

  13. You're growing strawberries?!?! Yum!! So jealous!

  14. The only advice I could give pertaining to a garden would be about Olive Garden (definitely eat as many breadsticks as you can), so props to you on this wisdom! Hope Matt is feeling better!

  15. It must be the weather (or let's be honest, it is probably the fact that herbs are expensive and they play a part in every recipe I pin), but I can't wait to start an herb garden this year.

  16. My mom's asparagus has survived multiple Missouri winters, even the May snows last year, so I bet yours will make it!

  17. My mom's asparagus survives winters in Saskatchewan so I can send you some hardy Canadian asparagus if yours doesn't make it. Also, as one of your other commenters said, I had to skim most of this post because I was turning green. And that's green with envy about gardening, not green with Matt's virus!


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