Greengirls Helen Yarmoska, Nicole Hvidsten, Martha Buns, Connie Nelson, Kim Palmer and Mary Jane Smetanka are dishin' the dirt from the back-yard garden and beyond. Whether you're a greenthumb or greenhorn, they're eager to learn from your mishaps, mistakes - and most importantly, your sweet successes - all growing season long.
Gardens spring forth with high hopes, but by mid-August, the garden is what it is. It's time to savor the successes -- and write off what didn't pan out this year. Here's what's going on in my garden, the good, the bad and the ugly:
THE GOOD: We are now harvesting awesomely delicious tomatoes, plus as much basil and oregano as we can pick. Squash and peppers will soon be ripe and ready for the table. And my nasturtiums are still ablaze with tasty blooms for tossing in salads. I love the peppery kick of the flowers and the leaves.
On the ornamental front, one of my succulents surprised me by shooting off a long arm, which is now covered with hot-pink buds. I've never gotten a succulent to flower before. Cool!
THE BAD: What happened to the morning glories? I plant them every year, usually from seed, and I typically get like three flowers, and not until early October. This year, I bought plants at the garden center, figuring that would speed up the flowering. But I still haven't seen a single bloom -- just a few feeble bud-like nubs that dried up and fell off. What the heck?
THE UGLY: An intruder has discovered my awesomely delicious tomatoes. Every morning when I check the vines, there are two or three more tomatoes with giant gaping bites taken out of them. I suspect the bold chipmunk I often see darting around my deck. But we also have an army of squirrels snacking on maple seeds in the tree right above my tomato pots, so it could be one of them. I'm glad they're enjoying them -- we have enough to share.
What's good, bad or just-plain ugly in your garden, now that summer is winding down?
Sometimes gardening is a mystery. Because I’m a Master Gardener, people think I know all the answers.
Some are easy, some require research. Of course I like the easy ones because it makes me look smart, but the toughies can be a fun challenge. The first photo is an easy one. “Milkweed. Let that grow so the monarchs have something to eat.”
That said, many mystery plants can be fun. Like in the third photo case, a mystery squash. Let it grow and see what color it turns, then eat it. I’m thinking a pumpkin by the looks of the stem, but maybe not.
Have you had mystery plants pop up in your yard?
And then: August. Ooof. Our gardens turn muggy, buggy, weedy and wilty. Even the produce that thrilled us with its first onset starts to seem like a chore, and we secretly hope that the peas peter out so we don’t have to shell one more batch.
For me, vacation plays a role. I have one blissful, cool week on the North Shore, but my weeds and produce didn’t take the week off. When I come back, the garden seems overwhelming, and I start to avert my eyes from offending parts of the yard.
If you’ve been bitten by the garden flu, here are five strategies I use to fight back:
1. Count to 10. Pull 10 weeds from one plot each day. Or spend just 10 minutes weeding – you’ll have given enough blood by that time. I have to squelch my mistaken idea that it’s not worth gardening unless you can spend at least an hour. Six days of 10 minutes each adds up to that same hour, and if it’s really super hot, I’m not going to want to spend an hour out in it.
2. Garden by the sun: Unless your garden enjoys complete sun, chances are good there’s shade somewhere in your yard in the morning or late afternoon.Chase it, and move the minute the sun catches up with you.
3. Start fresh: Give up on beleaguered early season crops like lettuce and peas, and plant some late-season offerings so you restore some novelty. Some fall-loving kale, spinach or colorful Swiss chard will take off where your arugula bolted. A colorful annual on clearance sale at the garden center can perk up a lackluster window box or planter.
4. It’s never too late to mulch. Get off the weeding treadmill by putting down mulch. You’ll get a boost of enthusiasm from having a tidy area of your yard where you don’t mind looking. And any area you get under control this year will make next spring that much easier.
5. Make something tasty. I always get a boost of enthusiasm when I try a good new recipe using my garden produce. Clearly my basil needs topping. Usually I just make a bunch of pesto to deal with the excess, but this time I think I might give this basil aioli a try.
How about you? What are your strategies for getting out of a garden funk? And what's your favorite way to use up basil? (As if there could be too much of that good a thing.)
Remember last year's Edible Estate? That was the front yard in Woodbury where an artist/horticulturist tore up the traditional lawn and replaced it with a dense forest of food crops.
So what's going on this growing season, now that the Schoenherr family is on their own, with no donated plants or free expert help?
Pretty much the same as last year -- that was the surprising news when I visited the family last week. They're still growing more than 100 edible crops, covering almost all their large suburban front yard. About half of last year's crops returned or self-seeded. The rest -- about 1,000 plants -- they started from seed in their basement, under grow lights.
Now that they can choose their own crop mix, they're growing fewer eggplants, but they've added some new edibles, including tomatillos and borage.
And their gung-ho neighbors, who dug in last year to help tend the mini-farm in their midst, are still at it, showing up for weekly "garden nights" to help pull weeds and help themselves to some produce.
"We really do have a lot of help," said Catherine Shoenherr. "It wouldn't be very fun to do this by yourself."
How has the family managed to turn their private front yard into a community garden? Find out in next week's Variety Home + Garden.
I admit it, tomatoes are at the top of my list when planning my vegetable garden. Two-thirds of my tiny plot is dedicated to several varities of the fruit. Roma, Big Boy, cherry, grape, heirloom -- I've never met a tomato I didn't like.
But as much as I love tomatoes, I love vegetables even more. And I have my dad to thank for that. Throughout my childhood I groaned at the parade of fresh vegetables coming into the house (really, I didn't know any better), but it laid the foundation for my vegetable-loving adulthood.
Although I didn't appreciate some of his gardening choices at the time (I can still take or leave a parsnip), I now appreciate the fact that he was exposing me to many different vegetables and teaching me to love the ones many cast aside.
Because we had a large garden, there were multiple zucchini plants. We were inundated, and so were the neighbors. We'd have stuffed zucchini, fried zucchini, zucchini bread, zucchini cake -- you get the idea. So when I plopped in zucchini plants this season, I went in eyes wide open. And those plants did not disappoint! My biggest challenge thus far is to teach my children that there's so much more to zucchini than bread, muffins and the dreaded "vegetable medley." It can add a fresh taste to pasta, a fine addition to a stir-fry, looks good in a tart and can be pickled. Such versatility!
This year I went even further off the vegetable grid and am growing Brussels sprouts, one of my favorites. Admittedly they're a tough sell -- you either love them or hate them -- but I'm hoping that as my kids see them mature and help harvest them, they'll give them another chance.
Next year I'll add more space and vegetables to the mix. And although I don't have the time or talent to garden like my dad did years ago, I do hope that I am giving my kids at least a taste of the vegetable-loving culture that my dad gave me. And if they have an affinity for zucchini, all the better.
What are your favorite vegetables to grow? How about favorite gardening memories?
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