It’s raining, it’s pouring

It’s been raining buckets, and the forecast is for thunderstorms for the next 10 days, followed by JUST showers!  Sigh!  My heart is going out to all the farmers and those who depend on agriculture for income, because there has still not been a single day when planting could be done.  The vendors at farmers’ markets are worrying as well.  And, it’s been colder than usual.  It could be June before any crops are in the ground!  Most fields are filled with knee high weeds in full flower, except of course where there are ponds of standing water.  Ducks are swimming in what should be rows of 4-6″ corn plants.  And still the thunder rolls…..

We did have one lovely day, last Saturday, which was fortunate because it was our local garden club’s annual plant sale.  Here’s a photo of the plants I took…not as many as I’d planned, but the weather just didn’t cooperate early on for digging and dividing so it was mainly surplus from the greenhouse.Sale plants small  There’s 366 plants there, and most of them sold, thank goodness.  A steady flow of customers thrilled to be out of doors AND DRY for a change carried away boxes and boxes of wonderful plants contributed by our members, and it was great to see lots of my former customers again.  I would have loved to spend the rest of the day in the potager getting some plants into the raised beds, but instead we had to attend a memorial service for a dear friend, an altogether too frequent event when one reaches our age.

I’m still learning the quirks of this new computer, and certainly don’t like the photo editing system as well as the old one.  I’m contemplating using the old computer to edit and size/compress and then putting them on a flash drive to add to the new computer.  At least it gives me something to work on while I wait for dry weather.  The lettuces, radishes, and spinach are certainly happy with the cool, wet days and nights, but there are hundreds of plants still in pots longing for freedom.  The Indy 500 is only 5 days away now, but there has been little practice time between storms, and the forecast is not good.  I guess it’s not just the farmers and gardeners who struggle when there’s endless rain…..


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Heavenly Sunshine!

First radish

“Heavenly sunshine! Heavenly sunshine!  Flooding my soul with glory divine!”  After four days of rain a big dose of heavenly sunshine was just what was needed!  I spent most of the day in the potager doing bits of this and that, since everything is so muddy.  Lots of deadheading was needed in the potager’s interior border, and sadly, the adorable “Bright Gem” mini tulips edging the main paths were the main victims.  They were glorious this year and it was sad to see them faded to beige and shriveling, but since they were no longer adding to the beauty, they had to go.

The over-wintered spinach was beginning to look the worse for wear with a bit of yellowing here and there and definite signs of bolting.  Since the “Gangbuster” spinach planted this spring has nearly hand-sized leaves already, it was time for the old spinach to go.  The big colander of gorgeous spinach was joined by the first radishes of the season, always a happy occasion.

More plants were moved outdoors in late afternoon to begin hardening off, and more were moved from the basement.  By then, some of the potager’s beds had dried out enough to allow some Italian Red Scallions to be added to one of the new strawberry beds.  No use wasting that space until the strawberries need more room, and by that time the scallions will be ready for the grill.  In Florida, “strawberry” onions are grown right in the strawberry rows as a companion crop, becoming extra sweet and tasty so it’s a practice I’ve adopted here.

I’m still finding peas “planted” here and there throughout the potager, which explains why there are so many gaps in the “Strike” pea rows.  Squirrels?  Mice?  Sometimes it’s a single plant now about 3″ tall, and sometimes it’s a whole cluster.  I’m returning them to the designated rows.  It will probably make for some uneven maturation, but that can be managed.

It was so lovely just sitting in front of the Lady Cottage with a cup of tea brewed there, listening to the birds, who were as thrilled with the sunshine as I.  And even better?  The forecast is for a least partial sunshine until rain again on Sunday!  Hopefully the first load of mulch can be brought in, and then I’ll be more than thrilled!

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The rain continues…the fourth day in a row, accompanied by cold temps and a chilling wind.  No planting, too soggy to even move plants to the greenhouse, too windy to move any plants outside to harden off.   Even the potager’s paths are filled with standing water. A critter dug out one of the roses my daughter planted for me two weeks ago.  And, my dying computer is being replaced later this morning, so if you don’t hear from me, it’s because the learning curve is getting the best of me!Birdbath  At least the world is looking very green now, the irises are opening and the May Queen shastas are budded.  I did manage to remove all the cleavers and deadhead the daffodils before the rains began again in earnest.  Eager to get back into the garden, but until it dries out a bit, I’m reading!

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12th Seeding

Potager ne corner early May  The potager’s beds are filling up fast, as many transplants were planted in the past two SUNNY days!  Hopefully today more direct seeding will occur, and the lower parts of the lawn can be mowed before the next rains come…possibly this afternoon.  None the less,  the last of the scheduled seedings for spring must take place.  After this, there will be occasional “indoor” seedings throughout the summer, but these will be just a pinch of this/pinch of that to provide transplants as space empties and earlier crops must be replaced.  A few winter squash will be started later on, but the scheduled 13th seeding won’t happen until mid-June when the fall cole & leek crops are seeded.

So what’s on the list for #12?  Sunflowers!  The selection has expanded for this year in the endless search for branching sunflowers of the right colors for the Cutting Garden, plus retaining the favorites from past years.  This is the first of several succession plantings of sunflowers, although after this, most will be direct seeded into the ground rather than starting them indoors.  The varieties this year are:  “Sunrich Orange,” “China Cat,” “Ruby Eclipse,” “Starburst Aura,” “Earthwalker,” and the lovely “Premier Orange” single stalk from last year. Sunflowers   Can one every have too many sunflowers?  I think not.  Two varieties are destined for planters:  “Peach Passion,” and “Munchkin.”  Also, the vining melons destined for climbing the potager’s trellises (which look quite bare in the above photo) get seeded into individual pots now, including a couple of new ones:  “Hannah’s Choice” and “Tuscany” cantaloupes and “Earlidew” melons.  Yet another seeding of “Bianca di Maggio” cipollini onions gets seeded this week, because it won’t be long before the very first ones planted are harvested for grilling.  This planting is intended for canning for winter enjoyment as marinated cipollini.

A quick inventory showed that some of the older summer squash seeds have not yet germinated, so a few more of those were seeded as well.

In addition to this 12th seeding, all of the tomatoes and peppers have been moved into larger pots and into the greenhouse, and most of the marigolds and zinnias as well, along with the dahlias so the basement is emptying out.  The totally drenched conditions have limited planting to the raised beds, so no planting, weeding or cleaning of gardens has taken place.  The soil is too wet to risk sinking to the axles with a load of mulch, so that project is still on hold as well.  I’m really behind considering it is the end of the first week of May, but my impatience is tiny compared to that of the area farmers, who are still unable to get into fields to plant…a good 3 weeks behind schedule.  To give you an idea, usually over 80% of the corn is already planted by now in the I’s (that’s Indiana, Illinois, Iowa) and by next week, 80% of the soybeans are planted as well.   So far this year…nothing!  It’s getting scary, as soon it will be so late that some crop insurance already paid for by farmers will no longer cover such “late-planted” crops.  With prices already at rock-bottom to even make a profit, we could soon see more farmers “go under.”  My heart goes out to all the farmers who have little chance to get fields planted for the foreseeable future…three more weeks of frequent rains forecast for our area!

Meantime, it’s lilac time and the tulips are still looking great in this unusually cool, wet month of May.  Thank goodness for raised beds, or I’d still be waiting to till rather than already harvesting some early spring crops!  Hope it’s a bit drier wherever you are!

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Cleave to me, or is it cleavers for me?

Cleaver in iris  The rain has caused many weeds to thrive, and it seems impossible to keep up with their rampant growth.   As I was admiring the tulips yesterday,  it was obvious that a sprawling weed with sticky stems and leaves was merrily taking over the Deck Garden.  I first noticed it wending its way through the irises.  The plant looks similar to madder, and also bears a little resemblance to its cousin, sweet woodruff in that its leaves circle around the stem like wheel spokes.  Nearby, it was trying to avoid detection by interweaving itself in the columbines.

cleaver in columbine It will soon develop tiny white flowers at the very tip of the stems, and then quickly at the tips of each branch.  After flowering, small ball-shaped seed pods that are very sticky form.  Even the gentlest brush releases them onto pant legs, socks and jacket cuffs.  They are quickly attached to animal fur and then released throughout the world.  I found a baby cleaver in one of the potager’s paths, probably a result of my neglect to pull every sticky ball from a pant leg after weeding last fall.  Here they are a bit closer, climbing up the deck wall!  Cleaver close The plant is generally known as cleavers but common folk often call it “goosegrass.”  The scientific name (Galium aparine) comes from the Greek word “aparo” which means “to seize” and that’s exactly what the plant does.  It clings to everything!  It is a member of the bedstraw family that includes madder and sweet woodruff, and like madder, the roots of cleavers will yield a red dye.  cleaver closer  Here one can almost see the rounded flower buds that have formed.  If I can’t get into the garden soon, there will be thousands and thousands of sticky seed balls throughout this garden.

Dioscorides mentions that stems of cleavers were matted together to form a strainer for milk.  I guess that was before cheesecloth was invented, but I can see that it would work, and it wouldn’t take long to gather enough sticky strands to make one.  Early writers even advised eating cleavers as an early spring vegetable, claiming that it was a tonic for the blood and liver and as a colon cleanser.  Some also recommended the plant as a dressing for wounds or to induce sleep.

Interestingly, lacemakers stuck the green seed balls on pins to make the heads larger so the forming lace would not slip out of place.  The small seeds apparently also make a good coffee substitute, but I can’t imagine having the patience to make it.  The sticky balls are tiny, and the seeds inside are even smaller!  One must gather the stems and allow them to wither and dry.  Pick the seeds off and place them in cold water, allowing all the excess debris and seed coatings to float to the surface.  Drain, spreading the black seeds in a shallow pan to roast in a hot oven for about 20 min.  Cool and grind the seeds.  Use 2-3 T. per pint of boiling water, steeping 10 min before straining in to cups.

Cleavers was also used as an underarm deodorant, which many claim is very effective.  Place a large handful of stalks and leaves in a quart of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 min.  Cool, strain and bottle.  The decoction keeps for about a week.

The plant is an annual, widespread, growing in sun or shade and reaching a height of 3’.  If you would like to try either of these recipes but do not have cleavers in your garden, come weed them out of mine!  If the rain doesn’t stop, and the soil dry a bit so I can step into the gardens to weed, there will be plenty for all!

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Six on Saturday: May 4

The first Saturday in May and there’s lots in bloom!  Here in central Indiana, the rains continue unabated, requiring the purchase of a new pair of boots!  I really wanted flowers, but these with chickens were the only ones in my size.Boots and grass  At least they will be easy to locate…that’s a scary yellow!  Obviously, we have still been unable to mow the lawn between the house and potager, and rain is forecast for the next three weeks!  I may have to sharpen my scythe, although I haven’t used it since harvesting grains (rye, buckwheat, wheat) back in my homesteading days!  The unusually cool weather of April has continued into May, and the tulips are loving it!  I don’t think I’ve ever had them last so long as they are this year.  Those pretty orange ones are “Annie Schilder” in part of the Front Garden, but

Front garden tulips   they are also sprinkled throughout the Addition and other gardens.  At least the front lawn has been mowed once, but it needs it again.  The primulas are also happy campers.  Primrose Bellerina  This little double one is
“Bellerina Nectarine.”  The ones behind the Lady Cottage should be opening soon.  The potager’s exterior border  Pot ext early May is filling in nicely.  “May Queen” shastas are budded and will be the stars once the spring bulbs are gone.  The first of the dwarf irises opened today, and the “Valerie Finnis” muscari are still looking good.  There’s lots of deadheading of the earliest bulbs that needs doing, but the soil is just too wet to step into the beds.  Inside the potager the crops are growing slowly in these cool temps  Bed 5e early May but the peas are climbing the fence and the edging of “Bright Gem” mini tulips are stealing the show.  No, I haven’t yet planted the missing violas.  It just won’t stop raining long enough, and I’m too old to work in the rain.   However someone/some critter doesn’t mind working in the rain, and has dug up several of the second planting of peas and the recent planting of “Royal Burgundy” beans that are just beginning to germinate, so there is replanting on the job list as soon as the rain stops.   The container by the front door has finally been planted  Front pot  although any visitors need to be wearing waders!  That’s my soggy, quick “Six on Saturday.”  If you’d like to see how other gardens are faring, visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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April in Review

Potager April photo  April has followed the pattern set so far in 2019:  cooler and wetter than normal.  As a result there were a few adjustments made to both indoor seeding and outdoor planting schedules, with postponements mainly due to wet soil conditions or lack of greenhouse space.  Surprisingly, there were an equal number of rainy days and sunny days, 11 each with the remainder drearily overcast, like the day when the official monthly portrait of the potager was taken.  There is water standing in many of the paths, and even the soil is the raised beds is too wet to do any work at all.  The observant of you will have noted that the poly-tunnel has finally been removed but the green chairs have yet to be brought out from the shed.   pot int good April  The few nice days did enable one to get out to enjoy the abundance of daffodils, grape hyacinths and now the tulips.   The photo is a section of the potager’s interior border this week.  The various beds have really changed this month.  All of the early crops are up and thriving, like Bed 1d,  Bed 1 d late April which contains (left to right) “Red Ace” beets, cipollini, a double row of “Green Arrow” peas (second planting) on the fence and “French Breakfast” radishes mixed with the slower “Nantes” carrots.  The potager’s edging is filling in nicely  Bed 5 a late April edging as shown in Bed 5a, with the “Penny Orange” violas beginning to bloom, the mini Tulip “Bright Gem” opening and “Little Gem” lettuces adding a bright green buffer before the “Deerfield Purple” garlic.  Here’s those adorable tulips up close:  They are only about 4″ tall, and 2″ of that is bloom!  Pot edging close Aprl late  Here’s the first bed that was planted this spring, Bed 5e, with the first planting of “Green Arrow” peas climbing their fence. Bed 5e late April  That’s more “Little Gem” lettuce far left, and more “Red Ace” beets.  Looking at this photo, I just realized that somehow I missed planting the violas on the right edge!  That goes on the top of the job list!  The asparagus planted last year is throwing up new stalks, which will remain unharvested.  Asparagus April photo  The “Seascape” strawberries are in bloom Strawberry bloom April as are the gooseberries and black currants.  I’m just hoping some pollinators can work quickly between storms.  I’m elated that so many of the lavenders and lavandins seemingly have survived the winter Lav slope May 1 and are showing new growth.  With the extreme cold and overall exceedingly wet winter, I wouldn’t have been surprised at total extinction!  The gaps in the bottom row occurred last year, and replacements are already potted.  It tends to be the wettest so the replacements will be seed grown (therefore cheap!) “Hidcote” lavender.

The “major” accomplishments for April were 1) getting the Deck Garden, Cutting Garden, Addition Garden, Front and South Islands, and all the potager’s interior and exterior borders cleaned, trimmed, and tidied.  Still to do are the North Island, Fairy Garden, Primrose Lane, Blue Garden, Lavender slope and berry rows.  2) finally getting the sticks picked up in the front yard and doing the initial mowing before it was too tall for the lawn mower although parts of the back yard have remained too soggy to even think about mowing, so the dandelions are thriving.  Cauliflower late April 3) planting the first cole crops in the potager beds, like the “Majestic” cauliflower above, which made them very happy indeed  4) the emergence of the broad beans (loyal readers are aware of my struggles with this crop) and several other direct-seeded veg crops  5) getting the first batch of bagged cow manure and getting some of that on the raised beds between storms  6)  the planting of nearly 300 transplants (mainly violas along the potager path edges and “Liberty” snapdragons in the potager’s interior beds  7) the planting of the new roses 8) the planting of two new varieties of strawberries.  Not bad considering the weather, Easter holiday, etc.

The small harvests of over-wintered spinach have been more frequent this month, additionally with pickings of radicchio, bunching onions and dandelion greens.  Chives have been snipped and leaves of salad burnet pinched off to add to salads.  Even a few fresh basil leaves were harvested from the most robust of the basement seedlings for a special meal.  Baby lettuce leaves can be picked anytime now, since there is such an abundance that we’ll never be able to eat them all full-grown.

The usual springtime routine of seeding, transplanting, moving plants from basement to greenhouse, moving plants from greenhouse to the hardening off area and weeding have continued as weather and space permitted.  At least this month there was the added excitement of watching the buds open in the gardens and the emergence of green rows in the potager.

Seeded varieties this month: 27

Seeded varieties to date: 126   (121 in 2016, 122 in 2017, 113 in 2018)

Total transplants to date: 3,229  (3,302 in 2016; 3,810 in ’17; 2,318 in ’18)

Harvest to date:  5.25 lbs     (1.25 in 2017,  .75 in 2018) no harvest records kept in 2016.

That’s April, which seemed to fly by and be exceedingly short.  Hopefully May will bring a little more warmth (but not too warm for those fussy broad beans!) and enough dry days that the farmers can finally get into the fields.  There are still leftover tasks from the April list, backlogged planting, and a brand new job list for May.  It’s probably the same for you, but DO take time to enjoy all the flowers as they bloom.  They are so fleeting, and too magical to miss!

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