Tag Archives: garden

Bloomin’ Rhubarb

If you grow rhubarb, this is a familiar, exciting sight this time of year.

Last year, I put in a few new rhubarb plants. They were rather inexpensive and I thought I could fill in ye olde rhubarb patch a bit. Then, this happened.

The variety I bought is an old-fashioned rhubarb variety known for bolting. I would not have bought it if I had realized this at the time, but it was an impulse buy. Bolting occurs when the plant sends up a flower stalk in an attempt to produce seed. Bolting reduces the amount of energy the plant has to put into leaf growth. We eat the delicious leaf stalks of rhubarb, so bolting reduces the harvest and is an undesirable trait. More modern rhubarb varieties have had the tendency to bolt bred out of them. I am reminded of modern commercial turkeys who can’t reproduce without human intervention, but I want more delicious rhubarb so I prefer the modern varieties too.

The flower is a little alarming and it looks something like pink cauliflower. The gardener can simply chop off the flower stalk, and the rhubarb should return its attention to growing leaves. It would be preferable to chop it off before it gets this big, but we were busy.

Now that the flowers are gone, hopefully our new rhubarb plants will go back to making pie fillings. I’m not sure if I’m willing to tolerate this behavior, or if I should dig them up and plant a different variety.


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Adventures in Vertical Potatoes

In 2009, we grew poatoes in stacked tires on a lark. That was fun. The potatoes were delicious and we were converted to enthusiastic potato growers. Occasionally, I come across something about how important potatoes are for self-reliance gardening and I think that we really need to grow more of them.

In 2010, Krista built wooden stacking potato boxes. I wrote about why we switched from tires to wooden stacks here. We also grew potatoes in burlap bags from local coffee roasters, although apparently I have never blogged about that. I found burlap bags to be an unsatisfactory way to grow potatoes. The burlap bags were free though, and I composted them afterwards. No harm, no foul.

I buy our seed potatoes at a local nursery. I wrote about the varieties we planned to grow here if you are interested. We planted them in our faithful wooden stacks again this year, but we have been more attentive about mounding the plants regularly. Hopefully our diligence will be rewarded with a better yield. We haven’t harvested yet, but the plants are much taller and heartier than we have ever grown before.

The neighborhood deer have been voracious this summer, causing serious damage to the potatoes a few weeks ago. We covered the stacks with deer netting and as you can see, the plants grew back with a vengeance. The wooden stacks work well with deer netting because you can tuck it all around the edges.

This is a sort of experimental method, so we’ll report back when the plants die back. We planted late this year so we have weeks to go before harvest. And then? Potato salad, potato tacos, potato soup, roasted potatoes and colcannon for us, and maybe some of our hard-earned tips for growing vertical potatoes for you.



Filed under garden, summer, urban farming

hurray for the first tomato!

Growing tomatoes in the northwest is always cause for celebration. This year, with a record-breaking wet spring and a chilly start to summer, we decided to really celebrate our first ripe tomato.

And we literally only have one ripe tomato at this point. I hope to have a lot more, but this good-sized, bright yellow Limmony was the first to cross the finish line.

To really do it justice, I made a balsamic reduction, bought some smoked mozzarella, and harvested some basil to go on top. Now I really hope we get a lot more tomatoes. We found a little blossom end rot in the community garden that we’re trying to nip in the bud. It’s important to celebrate the small successes!


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20 x 20

Things are happening in our community garden plot!

Probably the biggest surprise: the artichoke starts that nearly died when we first planted them out are looking like they might actually produce! Last year our artichoke plants at home in containers never produced any food, probably because we didn’t choose a sunny enough spot for them. Our new plan is to dig these up before winter and store them in the garage in pots. We’ll see.

We’ve got a ton of green tomatoes over there. FINGERS AND TOES CROSSED!

Corn. Probably not going to happen this year but the sight of it still makes us happy.

Soy, corn, and volunteer borage gone wild behind. Our borage makes our plot very popular with the bees.


nasturtiums and zucchini (and maybe some weeds)

Jess has some interesting plans for this calendula

Jess’ favorite gloves

the view from our neighbor’s plot

the food bank squash plot

So glad I finally hauled my camera over there on a day I wasn’t going to get covered in dirt.


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a little garden bounty

My wife may be a “master gardener” but we have a lot of room for improvement and learning in the gardening department. It’s our second year gardening in this yard, and our first year in our community garden plot, and we’ve learned a lot. While I may not be as obsessively photographing everything we eat, our big win is in eating nearly everything we’ve grown. Sometimes that seems like half the battle. Here’s a small taste of what we’ve been harvesting from the yard lately:

Everytime I look at fresh peas from our garden I hear Gordon Ramsay saying (in his nicer Master Chef voice), “THE MOST AMAZING FRESH PEAS!”

I’m pretty sure Ramsay would agree with me that those Chioggia beets are stunning.


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misumena vatia

The other day as we parked in the driveway and walked past our little front yard garden Jess noticed in our California poppies a little yellow spider that had captured a bumblebee.

We felt bad for the little bumblebee but mostly we were struck by the sight of this bright yellow spider with little stripes of red down its side. In almost 35 years of living in the northwest I don’t recall ever seeing one of these little guys.

I quickly found the wiki for misumena vatia, also called the flower crab spider or goldenrod crab spider. Maybe I had seen one before, because they aren’t always yellow. They can change at will from white to yellow to camouflage themselves and are often found near goldenrod. So how is it hanging out in our bright orange poppies?

Jess quickly reminded me that we do have a yellow flower nearby. We had a plant that popped up in that container that we let go for months in case it was one of many varieties of poppy seeds Jess had planted around the yard for her wife (me) who loves poppies. The thing got huge and took ages to flower. We talked about just yanking it several times, but we always let it be just in case. Then it finally formed little clusters of buds and clearly was not a poppy.

Maybe these tiny little flowers are home to our bee eating spider friend.

So is it goldenrod? Unfortunately not. Goldenrod is edible and medicinal and even considered a sign of luck, but we think we have this plant now figured for tansy ragwort, a noxious weed. How funny that we may have never seen this sight if we hadn’t given that weed a home for all these months? Seems like a bit of luck if you ask me.


Filed under bees, garden

2011 Spuds: Seed potato shopping!

It’s that time of year. I bought seed potatoes. In the past, I went to Black Lake Organic for seed potatoes. Good prices, good selection, all organic, what more could I want? But BLO is shifting their focus and they no longer carry seed potatoes. So now I drive to Yelm to visit Gordon’s Nursery. It’s kind of a haul for potatoes, but I like shopping there. They have many varieties of organic seed potatoes and I can usually justify buying “just one more” blueberry or huckleberry or strawberry. I brought home six varieties of potatoes this year, but I could have bought a lot more.

I picked three full size potatoes: Cal White (early), Viking Purple (mid-season), and German Butterball (mid-season). I have grown Cal’s in the past and I loved them. I picked the Viking Purples because I try to grow a purple potato each year, and they are scab resistant. I picked German Butterballs because they’re prolific & delicious & our teenage German Student child loves most German food, like beer and sausage, at least in theory.

Krista loves to cook with fingerling potatoes. We prioritize growing them because organic fingerlings cost a small fortune. I picked up three fingerling varieties: French Fingerling, which we grew last year and loved, Russian Banana, another beloved 2010 spud, and Princess La Ratte. A lot of people love La Ratte potatoes in the PNW. I have never grown the Princess because it’s such a pretentious name for a potato, but I thought maybe 2011 is the year for a pretentious potato.

Last year we grew potatoes in wooden stacks that Krista built. I also grew some fingerlings in re-purposed burlap bags from a local coffee roastery a la Sustainable Eats. The year before that, we grew potatoes in recycled tires. I’ve discussed why we switched to wooden stacks. Although I was happy with the yield of both tires & wood boxes, the stacks had better drainage and were easier to manage. It’s difficult to compare my results from each method because there were many variables: temperature, water, different soil, different microclimate and so many potato varieties. So when people ask how I recommend growing potatoes in small spaces on small budgets, I don’t have enough information to answer them as effectively as I’d like.

Fortunately, Organic Gardening Magazine did some fieldwork for me. This article is long over-due in my opinion, and I couldn’t be happier that they wrote it. O.G. found that growing in the field (hill/mound method) is good enough, as potato farmers from centuries ago could have told you. But not all of us have that much space. Growing in raised beds is more productive than a field of hills, but requires a lot of dirt. Growing in wooden stacks is as good as raised beds, but energy-intensive to start. Growing in wire cylinders, grow bags, trash bags and straw are less ideal for reasons like yield, drainage, moisture, pests and cost. I want to see more data about with which varieties respond best to aggressive hilling (or stacking). Growing varieties that respond well to aggressive hilling is crucial to produce a lot of food in a small space. You might notice I’m not growing Yukon Golds this year, even though we love to eat them. They don’t respond well to being buried. Also, some methods will inevitably work better in different areas than others, adjusting for issues like drainage, temperatures & soil quality. But the Organic Gardening article is a big step in the right direction. Growing potatoes is such an experiment. I love the resourceful, creative ways people try to produce such a humble food.

Considering the Organic Gardening findings and the resources we’ve already sunk into the stacks, we will be growing potatoes in our wooden stacks again this year. Honestly, I have to grow potatoes in these stacks for years to make them cost-effective and I really enjoy using them, so I would use them no matter what Organic Gardening said. It’s convenient that I happen to love them.

I admit that if I see organic seed potatoes around town in the next few weeks, I will pick up a few more lbs. I can’t really help myself. Homegrown potatoes are worlds and epic legions better than potatoes from the store. I love growing & eating potatoes, but they are also an important crop. Potatoes are probably the best way to grow the most calories in the smallest amount of space. I don’t foresee my family adopting a 1-block diet, but the more calories we get from our yard the better, especially mashed, baked, french fried and roasted.


Filed under garden, spring, urban farming

Container Garden Inspiration @NWFGS

Container gardening is awesome for so many reasons. If you live in an apartment or condo, you might not have access to soil. Even if you live in a rental house, you might want to take your plants with you some day. If you have land at your disposal, it might not have optimal soil, temperatures or light for specific things you want to grow. The solution to all these problems? Plants in pots. The Northwest Flower & Garden Show is good at tapping into this growing method, and the display gardens always offer lots of great container inspiration. There is even a container garden competition on the bridge in the middle of the convention center. I got some snapshots of some of my favorite containers.

If you have ever been to our house, you know I have a little obsession with terrariums. Mine grow various mosses, mostly, but it’s very popular to grow little creeping plants or succulents in glass like little living sculptures. I love these fish bowls!

This is The Lusher Life Project. It was one of the competitors in the container garden competition. This was a great garden – like a patchwork quilt of so many types of succulents, old nautical stuff & rusty bits. It was like everything my wife loves in one small garden. The longer I stared at it, the more details I noticed. It was like a whole universe unfolding with endless succulent varieties.

Here’s another photo from one of the container garden displays. Those crazy plants are a marshy/aquatic pitcher plant – a carnivorous plant more commonly found in the southeastern bogs of our fine nation, but you can occasionally find them in adventurous garden ponds in the PNW. They are too fussy for me to bother with, but I love carnivorous plants.

This was from the “Funky Junk” section of the NWFGS. Local high school students create the Funky Junk gardens. This is a step up from the classic cowboy boot planters of my childhood. People plant things in cowboy boots in places other than Oklahoma, right?

I spotted several potted kumquats at the show. I’m considering getting one myself, even though we don’t really need any more small citrus plants in our house. You can make marmalade out of kumquats, so that seems like reason enough to me. Do kumquat blossoms smell as good as lemon blossoms? I need to research this.

I feel like I’m pushing the boundaries of container gardening by including this, but I am a sucker for a gabion-style planter, and these creepy, goth hellebores make my black, wizened heart smile. If I were a goth gardener, I would grow a lot of poisonous hellebores. I love how they hang their heads in shame. Since they are deer-resistant, I should probably grow some anyway.

This container garden is kind of ridiculous but it was popular with the crowd. It’s a garden in a bed! Get it? Garden bed! Yeah. The Barbie dolls are having a picnic! I thought it was pretty weird, but I couldn’t resist taking a photo. And what do I know anyway? Maybe you love it, and I’m happy to share it with you in that case.


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Winter things in the garden

I planted garlic last weekend. The local gardeners say to plant your garlic in October, but I’m always behind. At least I got it in the ground this year! If all goes well, we’ll be harvesting two hardnecks (spanish roja, german red hardneck) and a Washington heirloom red softneck garlic sometime next summer. I got all the seed garlic at Gordon’s Garden Center in Yelm, WA. Since Blacklake Organic is closing at the end of the month (SO SAD!!!), I predict there will be a lot more trips to Gordon’s in my future.

I decided to try to grow garlic for a couple of reasons. First, I love varieties of garlic. The cloves are different colors and the flavors are different. At the grocery store, I can only buy one type of garlic. We love it, but variety is the spice of life. Garlic is not a huge part of our budget, but we do eat it often and could save money by growing it ourselves organically. Finally, perhaps most importantly, I’ve heard that deer don’t care much for garlic. The local deer population has left my leeks alone in the front yard, while devouring the open buffet of cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes. They even eat hot peppers right off the plant before they are ripe. So, I planted most of the front yard with garlic!

This winter is about as weird as the summer weather was. The plants are confused. My contorted filbert is creating its male flowers, even though they shouldn’t come out until March. The lilacs are budding out, too. If we get another cold freeze, its’ going to kill all these buds. It’s still early December, so it seems likely we’re going to get more hard freezing weather. My fingers are crossed for all these plants.

We still have leeks & kale in the garden, but everything else has finished for the year. I think of January as the time for seed catalogs & planning the new garden, but that’s just right around the corner! I’m not ready yet! We still have leeks outside, so it can’t possibly be time to start the 2011 leek seedlings, can it? One trip around the sun blends into the next.

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Filed under garden, urban farming, winter

Lettuce In

We still have a garden! I have neglected my garden blogging in lieu of my fascination with the honey-bearing insects in our backyard, but we are spending plenty of time on our garden, too!

We’re growing another mix of heirloom lettuce. The lettuce mixes in our garden this year include the Mesclun Mix from Uprising Organics and the London Springs Mix from Territorial Seeds. I like varied textures, bright colors, and many flavors in my lettuce mix. Last year we grew the Uprising Organics mysterious lettuce mix and I was really pleased with it. It’s hard for me to be displeased with a high quality lettuce mix, you know?

These little guys are just waiting for the perfect spot to open up in one of the big beds.

Is there anything more delicious than old-fashioned organic baby lettuce in your backyard? NO, there is not. It’s just the most simple, perfect food to grow and I encourage everyone to plant some. I prefer the loose-leaf style of lettuce, since I am too impatient to wait for them to form that perfect, classic “head of lettuce.” I know it’s easier to ship a Head of Lettuce than it is to ship a bag of loose leaves, but if you don’t need to ship it, you can grow whatever kind of lettuce your heart desires. You can plant lettuce that’s spicy or sweet, with oak-leaf shapes or frilly ruffled leaves. You can find every color of lettuce from chartreuse to burgundy. Plant a mix of lettuce seeds, and maybe a mesclun mix too. It will be difficult to get bored with salad that comes in so many colors. I believe that a salad of lettuce from your backyard is a both a luxury and a right, and I want nothing but righteous luxury for you.

Here are eleventy hundred reasons why you should grow fancy lettuce:

1. It’s Super Easy.
Lettuce is fast to germinate and quick to start producing. It’s delicious at every stage of its development – unlike all those annoying vegetables that have to ripen, requiring precise water, sun, temperatures and pest protection until the moment the fruit is ready. You can eat lettuce any time before it bolts.

2. It’s, like, so totally and completely simple and easy.
You can grow lettuce just about anywhere. It doesn’t require full sunlight, and actually prefers some shade in the hot summer. They don’t mind window boxes, containers, flower bed edges, or entire beds planted with oceans of lettuce. They have shallow roots, so they are pretty tolerant of absurd planters. You could grow lettuce in a clog.

(photo used with permission from Fion N.)

I don’t want to hear any of that “I don’t have any space to garden” crap. Lettuce will grow just fine in an old yogurt container on a window sill. It grows up so fast, you hardly have time to care for it, just a few weeks of benign neglect, and then it’s gone. Don’t forget to water it once in a while.

3. It’s really cost effective.
Lettuce seeds are tiny and light so you get a huge number of seeds for just a few bucks. (Please choose a quality seed provider, like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or another reputable source.) Have you purchased organic baby lettuce at the grocery store or farmers market lately? It costs more than twice as much to buy 1 lb of baby lettuce as it costs to buy 1 package of seeds. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service reports:

In fall of 2001, Growing for Market reported “spring mix” greens wholesaling for slightly more than $3.80/lb. (2), which translates to roughly $4.95-$5.35 at the retail level.

I think my seeds cost $2? Maybe $3? This is a no brainer.

The greatest enemies of lettuce are:

1. slugs. i hate them! they love lettuce!
If you have slugs, I hope yours are less smart and resilient than mine. Mine won’t drown, don’t like beer, and hide from me when I go out to hand-pick them. I am considering a flock of ducks, but Krista says ducks are messy (she is right, of course, but I really dislike slugs). I have heard that you can have some success with copper wire, copper tape, sluggo, diatomaceous earth, coffee grounds, and ground-up egg shells. Steve Solomon writes about Fertosan Slug Destroyer in his book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades but it’s not approved for use in the USA and I can’t find a Swiss person to send me some.
(Depending on your garden, you may also have problems with deer, caterpillars, aphids, various beetles and loopers, but I consider slugs to be the primary target.)

2. heat!
Lettuce is generally a cool-season crop, which means it does well in the Pacific Northwest just about year-round. But if you live some place hot, you can build a little umbrella or shade to cover your lettuce from the hottest sun. Or you can plant it in the shady spots of your yard where nothing else will flourish! Once lettuce plants get hot, they bolt. Once they bolt, the good eating is over. Blech. I do not recommend bolted lettuce! If you live someplace that is hella hot (shout out to all my texan & oklahoman friends and all the lovely people suffering an east coast heat wave), you can plant a fall crop of lettuce just as soon as those temperatures dip back below 70. You can eat fresh lettuce until you have a hard freeze that kills it all. You’ll know you had a hard freeze because all your outside lettuce will turn black. I’ve heard of some people raising baby lettuce in cold frames all winter. It sounds reasonable, so I plan to try it this winter.


If I have not convinced you to grow your own organic salad by now, it’s time to invite you over for dinner and serve a homegrown salad. And if that doesn’t convince you, I will pack up a bag of potting soil and a pinch of lettuce seeds like a goodie bag to carry home. Don’t test me. I have been known to show up to people’s houses with a bag of soil and planting containers. You will not be the first I’ve converted.


Filed under garden, summer, urban farming