A few notes on our success in the garden this summer … as well as our failures.

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Comrades! While Emily is entertaining you all indoors with delicious seasonal goodies, I thought I’d update you with news from the garden to show you what’s been going on outside the house this year. This is technically our third full spring/summer, but our first since we bought the house. We were loathe to install anything permanent during our rental period for fear we’d do irreparable damage to the property – now of course, we’re quite merrily doing plenty of irreparable damage and NOT GIVING A HOOT.

So: the garden. Over the last couple of seasons I’ve built two 8’x4′ raised beds. I’ve planted vegetables that we tend to use most in cooking – garlic, onions, dark greens and squash – with varying success. The first year, we had what seemed like two fresh zucchini every day. We’d eat them, go down to the garden the next day and pick off two more. The second year, we didn’t notice ANY squash growing until late in the season, I moved a leaf aside and found one enormous zucchini that must have been growing un-noticed for a month. [Emily: I wish we had taken a picture of it because it seriously would have needed an NSFW tag]. That was the first and last squash we had that year.

Kale: Year 2: Harvest of Souls

Kale: Year 2: Harvest of Souls

Two years ago, I planted Red Russian kale. A client had given me a packet of seeds that she had from a restaurant (I believe it was Colonie in Brooklyn). They sprouted well the first year, and, since kale are bi-annual, developed pretty yellow flowers and seeds the second (this) year. Once the seed pods were fully dry, I picked them off, collected the seeds and will hang onto them to replant next year.

 

I’ve been working with garlic in the other bed, with poor success so far. The first year, I purchased expensive hard-necked seedlings from White Flower Farm and put them in together with some scallions. We left for a trip to the UK in May, with a timed waterer, and came back to find that they had effectively drowned and rotted. The second year – last November – I planted cloves from a supermarket variety, which did not thrive. They were, frankly, a bit rubbish (technical term). The green shoots looked healthy enough in the Spring, but once the lower leaves were brown and dead, the dug-up heads were not much bigger than the cloves I’d originally planted.

 

Goddamn sticks and string, that's all that is. Sticks and string.

Goddamn sticks and string, that’s all that is. Sticks and string.

This season I’ve built a bean frame in that bed and am working on growing lima beans. My friend Stacy, who I think will not be offended if I describe her as a “rock star urban farmer”, gave me Christmas and King of the Garden variety lima beans from Baker Creek Seed. So far they look pretty happy – I’ll be impressed if they can go up those rickety twines without the whole thing just collapsing hilariously into a heap. Well, it’s an experiment, innit.

The second, and bigger, experiment we’re doing this year is straw-bale gardening. We were inspired by our friends and neighbors Gina and Andy, who assembled a prolific bale garden last year. Essentially, the process is this. Buy x number of straw bales (not hay bales, which contain grass seeds that will interfere with your plantings), lay them side by side on top of a weed block such as cardboard or landscape fabric, prepare them for several weeks with a nitrogen-heavy liquid fertilizer, and then plant your seeds or seedlings in a little pool of potting soil / compost. Each bale is roughly 1 x 3 feet, so you can follow a square-foot plan with three blocks per bale.

We’ve planted Japanese eggplant, lacinato kale, Swiss chard, leeks, onions, red sail lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumber and watermelon, and green/yellow pole beans, as well as tomatoes and basil in buckets behind. So far we’ve picked from the kale, chard, lettuce and beans, and the first tomatoes should be ready within a week or so.

Basil in the garden

A mile of basil and tomatoes.

Proud Matt with straw bale garden.

Look at this idiot! No better than he ought to be.

Chickens in the straw garden

The chickens we featured in this programme are rare. Don’t have nightmares.

Also growing (not pictured): gooseberry bushes (doing well), raspberry bushes (not doing well). And in the last two weeks I’ve had a wicked poison ivy rash that I picked up from somewhere, but it’s been so bad that I may as well have had a drunken fistfight with a Triffid. Would not recommend.

That’s all from the Nerds garden for now – hopefully by the next update we’ll have had some tomatoes and cooked up something tasty. In the meantime, keep ’em peeled and good luck out there.