Monday Afternoon, Sky Dancing in the Garden

I was thinking about writing a gardening and food post, then Kat mentioned gardening in the Monday Reads and so I ran with it.

Up here in the northern-westernest part of the lower 48 La Nina has been mighty boring. I’m grateful for this, but sorry that her pattern of weather moved south and blasted the rest of the country with such misery. We’ve had normal temps and less rain that usual, although that is changing. This means my partner and I have been out working on the farm. He got the parts of the field we need later this month and next tilled and ready for planting. I’ve been working on conquering the weeds in the herb garden.

A plain and simple rose, in Sima's garden

Weeds (northeastern, northwestern, california, midwest and south): the bane of life with organic gardening, little tiny buggers that grow from the very air it seems, seeds stored for 20 years or more in buried earth just waiting for a bit of sun and light, little bothersome indicators of both soil gone wrong and soil gone right, rotten, overpowering… bleh. Weeds. Since our farm started as a cow pasture and hay field, our worst weeds are grasses, particularly what we call ‘zip’ grass, because of the sound it makes when you rip it out by the roots and discover to your horror the roots run right under the 3 feet of weed matted and graveled pathway and out the other side. Ziiiipppp indeed. One little stem of that stuff and it’ll grow another 4 foot long run of root, little grasslets sprouting all along the way.


I made the mistake of putting store bought chicken manure on the fields for a while. This brought in other kinds of weeds: pig weed and amaranth cousins which grow like the dickens in the early summer. They are easy to pull out, but you’d better do it before they put on a flower head or you are doomed. Laid to rest, wilting and dying on the compost heap, they will quickly open their flowers and set seed just to spite you! Their seed can lie dormant for over 20 years in the deep soil, waiting for some shovel to turn them back up to the surface with light and air so they can grow.

We switched to our own goat manure for fertilizer as soon as we got the goats. Yay! That too brings in weeds, but not as badly. We’ll get the occasional oat or rye grass from the straw with which we bed the goats. This straw and manure makes a great mulch on any of our growing, herb, or flower beds, just as long as it’s laid down thick. There’s often legumes coming from the alfalfa we feed the goats. The worst weed from the straw and alfalfa is bedstraw or cleavers (Galium aparine). It seems innocuous, but its seeds are like little prickly balls of hell which nest into your animals’ fur, or your socks or pants or sleeves, and burrow down to create sores in everything. When it’s green its stems have silica blades which can cut your hands and arms very efficiently. Cleavers indeed. And yet a related plant, Lady’s Bedstraw, was used all through the Middle Ages, and probably beyond, to make mattresses. Why? Because it doesn’t break down when dry, it’s still springy because of the cleavers. Lady’s Bedstraw was also used to coagulate milk to make cheese.

In the greenhouse it is time to plant peppers, both hot and sweet, basil, brassicas of all kinds, lettuce and onions. These, except for the peppers and basil, will be planted out into the fields under reemay in 4 to 6 weeks. The peppers live all their lives in the greenhouse or hoop house. We can plant them in the field, but we are a little too far north to get reliable heavy crops from them this way. We can suffer frosts in early July! Tomatoes, planted next month, also stay in the greenhouse and hoop house along with the very tender basil.

So that’s a bit of what’s going on here. As the day lengthens and the sun returns more people are thinking of their gardens. Here’s a few interesting links along that line.

10 ten nutritious vegetables and how to grow them: The instructions for growing in the article a bit sparse, but enough to get a person started. I know, from experience, how exciting it is to grow vegetables in pots on the verandah of your flat. No, it doesn’t feed you for every meal for the season, but it sure is satisfying. Key ingredients for growing anything in a pot or in a bed or the ground are good fertility (look for manure, if it’s raw, compost it), water management and attention to pests. In a pot the plant will use all the nutrients in the soil fairly quickly, so if it’s meant to be in the pot for a while remember to give it a feeding from manure tea or a water soluble organic fertilizer from time to time. Potatoes, kale, cauliflower, lettuces, mustards and all kinds of other vegetables can also be grow in pots. I’ve even grown corn in pots, with adequate support.

So what won’t farmers and food specialists eat,and why? I found this article interesting. I didn’t realize canned tomatoes were a problem. We don’t eat that much of them, because I process and freeze tomatoes grown in the hoop house, and that usually lasts us from summer to summer, but I still use canned toms for convenience. There are a few things I would add to the article. Pay attention to Country of Origin Labeling (Cool). I try very hard not to buy vegetables from other countries, no matter how badly I want that early season asparagus. It’s not that I’m super concerned about the safety of the food, although that is a worry, but I don’t approve of the enormous amounts of fuel it takes to move these things around the world. Remember that conventionally grown onions will have fungicides sprayed on them all their lives to reduce their chances of rotting in storage. Conventionally grown potatoes are the same.

All of this leads to the recommendation to buy local and buy organic. But frankly, this is impossible for some people, because of where they live, the season, and/or budget concerns. In that case buy fresh, wash and peel assiduously and know that every fresh vegetable or fruit you eat, as opposed to something processed, is a huge step in the right direction.

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17 Comments on “Monday Afternoon, Sky Dancing in the Garden”

  1. renartthefox says:

    “All of this leads to the recommendation to buy local and buy organic”

    The “label” of Organic is a hard one to attach anymore. Being that corporate farming is buying the word, it seems to carry a great deal less weight these days. Best to use “local”, then hopefully, you will have the ability to “know” who is growing the food you are eating.

  2. dakinikat says:

    I’m going to try Kale this year. I’ve never tried that before. I hope it does well in my tropical zone.

    • bostonboomer says:

      That comment on kale was supposed to be here.

    • Sima says:

      It should do ok, but it will taste better in the fall when it gets a bit of chilling.

      Our kale grows great and tastes ok in the summer, but it’s after the nights cool down that it gets really good and tasty. My favorite kind is Nero di Toscana, which is a black/green strap-leaved kale that is used in Italian cooking.

      Are you growing collards? We started growing them last year, and wow, they are wonderful. Super productive, tasty, and easy to grow. Kale and collards take the same conditions and care.

      • dakinikat says:

        I’ve never grown collards before. You can pick them up and turnip greens easily around here because they’re a staple green here. I’ve always preferred spinach but I thought maybe I’d expand my greens. I usually grow sweet potatoes, spinach, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, and spinach. Then I have bananas, lemons and bay leafs on trees. I have an avocado and lime tree in process. They’re not fruit bearing quite yet. I also have some herbs scattered here and there. I’m thinking of expanding into strawberries and getting a satsuma orange tree planted. Plus grapes. I think muscadine grapes are the only ones that are okay for here although others will grow on the north shore.

      • Fannie says:

        Wow, I love collards…….great for the eyes, and lots of iron.

        I like it fried in olive oil, then throw a dash of vinegar in it to get the bitterness out, and serve it up with cornbread and chicken.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Sima,

    I already had spring fever, because it’s 52 degrees here! Now you’ve really gotten me going.

    I would love to get out and pull some weeds, but of course we still have piles of snow everywhere (sigh). Still it won’t be long.

    The weeds I really hate I don’t know the name of, but they are a kind of crabgrass that grows in a pinwheel shape. They grow up everywhere here, and they are even worse where my mom lives in Indiana.

    A few years ago, I got a wonderful tool–made by Fiskars–that will pull these things up. You don’t even have to bend over. You put the tool over the weed, push it down into the ground and these metal things grab the root way down and pull it out.

    It sounds strange to say I like weeding, but there is something so satisfying about it, and you can see the results very quickly.

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      Hey, there is something to be said about yanking a weed out of the ground, pulling the roots and dirt out, getting rid of a pest. Transference? Is that what it is called?

    • Minkoff Minx says:

      And speaking of weeds, the next toxic substance I am writing about is Atrazine. Have you ever heard of that stuff Sima? Fox? Grayslady? (the resident gardeners and farmers) Looks like it is a bad weed killer.

  4. renartthefox says:

    “It sounds strange to say I like weeding, but there is something so satisfying about it, and you can see the results very quickly.”

    >BB Come on out, no snow here, and all the weeds you need to satisfy. 🙂

  5. Sima says:

    Welp, I went and wrote the post, now we’ve gotten over 1 inch of rain in about 6 or 7 hours, and the fields are drowning. Heh. So much for weeding today! At least the fields are tilled already so we don’t have to do that when the ground is super saturated. We are supposed to plant peas in the next few days.

    Weeding is actually quite satisfying. I just hate having to do it for hours and hours each day. The thing is, when the plants are grown with abundant fertilizer the weeds don’t make that much of a difference as long as they don’t out compete the good plants when the good plants are young. So, weeding is intense for the first month after planting, then it’s not a big deal.

    Our temps here are in the mid-40s during the day. Not PacNW shorts weather, but close!