hello, perennials

I know I’m slacking in the garden update department – yell at my life for getting in the way. Seriously, do it, I need things to calm down a little. Thanks.

I took a series of photos last month of all the things that were cropping up in my garden, and I just realized that most of them (except for the peas, overachievers that they are) are plants that are perennials or that were planted last fall. For me, they are the gifts that keep on giving – when you’re slogging through seed starting, or prepping beds, or attacking weeds that seem to grow faster than anything you’ve planted, it’s so encouraging to look over and see something growing that doesn’t need your help (or at least, doesn’t need your help anymore). I hold onto a lot of baggage in my life, but for some reason, I forget how hard it was to plant those 80 onions in December when I couldn’t feel my fingers. I just see those happy green shoots waving at me and can’t wait to yank one up and see how big the onion is. Though I am being good and waiting for a while longer.

Strawberries hanging out with the daffodil leaves and ivy in the front yard.

Carrots I didn’t realize were there last year – tops are still good for stock or smoothies.

Elephant garlic with yellow onions behind.

Thyme with some male pattern baldness – it’s filled out since then.

Oregano came back with a vengeance.

Sage reaching for the sky (ignore the weeds in the foreground).

Asparagus! I cannot tell you how stupidly excited I was to see this come back.

hanging with the kiddos

Mother’s Day is the one day a year where I can reasonably expect to get help in the yard from my family without (too much) complaint. This year I plotted to get the most effective use of my eight year old’s time before he declared himself ‘boo-oooored,’ though the rain thwarted some of my plans. This got me thinking about what’s worked in the past for keeping my stubborn mules interested in food:

  • Get your kids involved in planting. The best way I’ve found (so far) to get my kids to try to eat something is to enlist their help in planting seeds and managing the plants. Even if they out and out refuse to eat a pea or tomato from the store, they’ll snitch straight off a plant.
  • Look for recipes that will keep their interest. One year, the Easter bunny brought my picky eater a kid’s cookbook, and we picked a recipe from the book for our low-key meal (I’ll bet you’ve never had chili cheese dogs for a religious holiday). He helped make the meal, we talked about from-scratch cooking vs. processed, and he’s been more involved in meal planning ever since. We’re also in love with ‘Chicks and Salsa‘ by Aaron Reynolds, a book that’s part picture book and part recipe. Both of my kids enjoy reading the silly story about the escapades of farm animals inspired by cooking shows, and the Hog Wild Nachos recipe (what the farm animals create over the course of the story) is GOOD. Like, it’s what we serve on Super Bowl Sunday good.
  • Throw in some creativity. I recently schlepped the kids to the Union Project, a local community space with a ceramics studio in the basement, for a Garden Marker Party. It took the kids a while to warm up to the process, but in addition to my traditional peas and carrots signs, we also have princesses guarding the weeds and a warning against alien ‘abducshun.’
The overarching way I’ve found to get and keep my kids involved in the garden is to give them ownership. That’s *their* plant, *their* recipe, *their* artwork. Hey, whatever gets them sticking around long enough to help with the weeding is fine by me.

freaking out.

I know, I know, I’m working on it, Sam. 

Have you enjoyed the summer weather in March lately? I did, sort of… sometimes with one eye over my shoulder, wondering when Old Man Winter was going to sneak up again. Other times (much more frequently), I posited that we were going to be absolutely screwed when July and August came around if it was already 80 degrees in March in Pennsylvania. Global warming a myth, my Aunt Fanny.

So I’ve been quietly freaking out lately – which I do about everything, more or less. I’m not an easygoing person by nature, not someone who easily gets their zen on (as my yoga instructor will undoubtedly attest). I suspect those people I know who compliment me on my competence don’t realize that I first have to go through a massive freakout before I can get down to bizness. If you don’t believe me, ask my husband. And this wonky weather has not been helping my freakouts about my garden.

Here’s a (partial) list of my garden freakouts in the last few weeks:

  • the aforementioned weather freakout, where I worry about global warming, if the seeds I’ve directly sown will germinate at all when it’s so warm, and whether or not I’ve started my ‘tender annual’ seedlings soon enough to take advantage of this warmer weather.
  • the flipside of the weather freakout, where I worry about snow coming from now until Easter (it has happened in my lifetime, you know – probably when I was a kid, but I know it’s happened), the speed at which we’re constructing the cold frame we decided to build on a whim to make it worth our while to have made the darn thing. Oh, and whether or not I’ve successfully stripped the five gazillion layers of paint off the old windows we bought at Construction Junction so my kids won’t get lead poisoning from the paint flakes when they eat the vegetables. Not that my kids are actually eating their vegetables these days.
  • of course, the tangential freakout to this issue is the one that involves freaking out about the leaded glass windows we bought for the cold frame. Research shows us that we should be ok encapsulating the canes with polyurethane, but come on. Part of my job involves dealing with home rehabilitation. Did I have temporary amnesia when I saw these windows and forget about 1978? Not my finest moment.
  • similar cold-frame related freakouts involve the sourcing of the wood for the frame, how it sits on the ground (and how we need to dig trenches for it to sit in the ground so as to not get cold underneath, thus negating the viability of said cold frame), and how long it took us to get the ground ready for the cold frame at all.

That’s just what I can remember in five minutes of typing. Yes, I need a therapist. Once I get through the rest of my to-do list.

However, in the spirit of fairness, I feel the need to crow about my progress a little. I am not completely hopeless when it comes to starting seeds (as I feared I would be, add that to my freakout list above). Then again, as I told my husband this week, if growing plants were that hard, humankind would not have turned from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Not sure what that says about me, but there you go.

In the past few weeks, I have:

  • mapped out my garden to date so I don’t have to keep everything in my head. 
  • documented progress on the cold frame project (a joint venture between me and my husband, which could go either very well or very badly. So far, so good). Yes, this picture was taken at night. Don’t ask. 
  • make seedlings grow in containers that were not originally designed for this purpose. With the volume of veg we’re planning on growing this season, this is definitely a Good Thing. 
  • and successfully thwarted several attempts by my dog to sabotage the seedling process. Thankfully, I have no picture of that family mutiny in progress.

All in all, I think we’re coming out ahead. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

And now, the numbers (I know, it’s getting a little unruly):

Not too bad, for getting pretty much all the seeds I said I would get at the beginning of this challenge. I’d say this is a decently stocked produce department. Remind me of this moment of zen when I’m freaking out about drowning in produce in August.

some catching up to do.

OK, ladies and germs, where exactly did February go? I’m still trying to get through January. It doesn’t help that we’ve had almost no winter to speak of. Today my third grader walked home from the bus stop in shirt sleeves – two years ago this week, we had three feet of snow.

At any rate, time has gotten away from me and I haven’t mentioned two new posts of mine over at the Digging Deep Campaign. So if you have some sugar monsters living in your house, or if you need to know more about the types of urban ag floating around our fair city, check it out.

NOW – onto new business:

I have to admit, all the fantastic posters from the Library of Congress archives are a major reason why I’m doing this challenge.

Today in Victory Garden Challenge-land, I now understand why CSAs have startup costs. Also, why fruit is so freaking expensive. Let me elaborate.

I’ve drafted a sidekick to this challenge – a friend who doesn’t have a lot of growing space but is willing to put some sweat equity into my yard to help produce some, well, produce. So we met for coffee, we kvetched about men, we fondled some seed catalogs, and we made a list of all the veg we wanted to grow this year. Some of which I have tried before, some I have not. We made a long list. A daunting list. But, a list that is probably doable, especially if I draft my family as minions. Then I ordered a big chunk of seeds from that list. And then said to myself, “Oh, Lord, what have I done?”

I bought a lot of seeds.

I also have this crazy idea to grow apple trees into a fence (I am not the first person to have this absolutely mental idea). Dude. Good apple trees are expensive. So I must now figure out how to keep the deer far, far away from my babies.

Drumroll, please….

Yes, I have spent $200 on seeds and apple trees. So far.

I figure if things go crazy and we have more than we possibly could manage I could swing a seedling sale at our local coffee shop. Wish me luck!

victory will be mine!

Victory garden posters are my favorite wartime artwork (though all propaganda posters are pretty fascinating). Unlike many posters which scared you into working harder lest America fall to communism or the Axis powers, posters promoting victory gardens seem to have been generally positive. And the simple, direct slogans, bright colors, and streamlined designs speak to me – I have several modern gardening posters influencing the way I compost and can in my kitchen. There’s something oddly compelling about a space age pickle, no?

I did a double-take while perusing my facebook feed recently, seeing this vintage poster pop up on High Mowing Organic Seeds‘ page:

Beautiful, right? Gorgeous colors, vibrant and healthy fruit and veg, throw some ribbon in there for patriotism, we’re good to go. But the slogan… wow. It may have meant supporting the war effort during WWII, or be sure to help the boys fight the commies, or whatever it meant back then, but today?

“Grow your own – only way to be sure there’s no pesticides!”

“Grow your own – be sure your children won’t sprout a second head!”

“Grow your own – be sure your sprouts, melons, and spinach won’t kill you!”*

Times sure have changed.

Speaking of changing times, how about this one?

I certainly don’t get the impression that it’s my patriotic duty to do much more than support the 1% these days. Thriftiness will get you nowhere when you’re defeating the enemy by shopping.

In the interest of getting back to simpler times when corporations didn’t rule the world, I’m going to attempt to quantify how much money one could save by being thrifty and growing your own. Let’s call it the 2012 foodmeonce Victory Garden Challenge.

Here’s my rules so far:

  • Keep track of how much money I spend on my garden this year (plants, seeds, dirt, mulch, etc. I’m still undecided about labor costs at the moment, but I’ll probably factor that in somehow).
  • Keep track of how much stuff comes out of my garden.
  • Figure out how much money each unit (tomato? onion? you get the idea) cost to grow.
  • Compare to equivalent produce in the grocery store or at the farmers’ markets.
  • Update regularly to prove I’m actually keeping track of everything.
I’m sure this will evolve as I go, but it at the very least will keep me organized in garden planning. And accountable to boot. Here’s my costs for the 2012 garden so far:

Onions and garlic are in the ground, lemongrass is happily sprouting roots to beat the band. I’m optimistic that terrorists won’t come near my backyard. Deer, however, are a different story.

*Check the FDA food recall site if you don’t believe me.