We're home from Colorado, rested and centered. I can't wait to share some of the pictures we took along the way- camping, hiking, and spending time on the open road.
Before we left, I started Backyard Farming Week. I believe the Veggies & Herbs are where I left off.
This year, I planted radishes, carrots, jalapenos, beans, sweet banana peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, strawberries, and a handful of herbs: basil, rosemary, patchouli, mint, dill, parsley, cilantro, and cat nip. Here are a few pictures over the last few weeks around the garden.
My cucumbers I planted from seeds that I got from Grandma. She seeds all her plants, and lots of veggies and herbs around my little farm are transplants from her own garden.
When you plant cucumbers, give them lots of room. I had about 10 plants, which was about 7 plants too many. It was my first year to plant them, and I worried that a lot of the seeds wouldn't make it. Well, they did. And I ran out of room. I let them climb up a few tomato cages we had laying around, and they started to fruit. Make sure you give them something to climb, they'll love it.
In no time you'll be making salads, or filling jars to make pickles.
The yellow blooms are what turn into the cucumber, so look for lots of healthy flowers.
My jalepenos are out of control. I planted 2 plants, and next year I'll cut it back to one. Even though I love to cook Mexican food in the Summer, there's only so much of these little guys I can throw into my nachos, homemade salsa, and omelets. I had about 6-8 jalepenos per plant, every week and a half. That's way too hardy of a crop for me to be able to use them, so I've been giving them away by the handful.
They love the heat, and are tolerant of dry soil. Which means that in Oklahoma, they grow like weeds. The longer you leave them on the plant, the hotter they get. Pick them young for a milder flavor, and leave them longer to burn the taste buds.
Most types of peppers grow under the same conditions. My sweet bananas also grow like weeds. I have one plant, which is just right for the two of us.
My beans were incredibly short lived:
In fact, that one bean is the only bean I got from the entire batch. You might be wondering what the plants are doing laid out on the kitchen counter. That was a result of one run through the garden, thanks to Hunter.
Please keep your labs out of your gardens :) Mine managed to wipe out an entire group of plants in less than 10 seconds.
My tomato plants took off, like always. Tomatoes are one of the easiest things to grow, and I'd really suggest them to beginners and part-time backyard farmers. Not to mention the smell of a tomato plant is one of my favorite smells in the entire world. I even had a tomato plant candle one time.
Give them a couple feet of space, a cage to grow on, and let them get busy on their own. They love the heat, and it's the mid-Summer warm, dry afternoons that really help them produce.
Be careful not to plant them too early. Our soil stayed cool for a long time this Spring, and for the first month I fought yellow leaves and droopy plants.
This year I bought a couple plants from the Farmer's Market, like I always do. A month into Summer, I noticed that I had eight volunteer plants coming up. I was amazed, because three years ago I bought my plants at the Farmer's Market, and these were the third generation babies of those plants. My rule of thumb is, by year three, the plant is considered mine.
I was slow to move them to better locations, and made a huge mistake in the farming-front. Carelessly, I moved 4 of my plants to where my beans once were, after they had already started to bloom. That night when I called my Mom, she was mortified of my news. Here I was, thinking she'd be proud of my green thumb for sprouting all these new little plants.
I think her exact words were: "Aura. Why didn't you talk to me and Grandma first?"
Sure enough, my fears were confirmed. She gave me a grim diagnosis for my tomato volunteers, and confirmed that moving a plant after it has already bloomed fruit in the dead of Summer is a death sentence for the plant.
I spent the next three weeks trying to save my little plants. I went over to Grandma's, so she could give me a lesson on how to save them.
She suggested I build a shade canopy over the plants, because the sun would burn them. She said the heat was enough to keep them alive. She also went to the cupboard and pulled out old bottles full of vitamins, shoved a handful in my pocket, and told me to bury them around the plants. She said to keep an eye on the plants, and sent me home to save them.
Over the next three weeks they plants wilted, and neared death. One had 17 little green tomatoes on it, and I was so sad that it would certainly die this season.
But it's been a month, and not only did they bounce back, but the green fruit is turning red. Once it was safe I pulled off the shade, and let them take care of themselves.
You can try the shade method for yourself, if you'd like. Since we have very hot, burning Summers where the sun feels like it's literally eating everything in sight, I don't think it's a bad idea at all. Grandma keeps her entire garden covered every year:
And every year I'm amazed that a woman that just digs a hole in the ground and throws in seeds can produce the kind of amazing tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs that she does. That's my Grandma.
My radishes were huge this year. Look at that monster! They were hot, too. One time my Mom told me that the hotter the weather is, the hotter the vegetables turn out. Radishes like cooler soil, and because I let some of mine mature well into Summer, I think they turned spicy under the conditions.
As far as herbs go, they are easy as pie to grow. Some herbs, like parsley, rosemary, lavender, and mint come back year after year on their own.
If you're having trouble with any of your herbs, you might look into what they need to thrive. Sometimes you can be over/under watering, not giving them enough sun, or planting them with plants that they're not compatible with. Here is a really good guide to the herbs you need to know about.
Persians eat a bowl of herbs with every meal, so it was in my blood to grow a huge herb garden.
The cats love their nip. I got out once a week and snip off a couple leaves, and bring them inside. I probably shouldn't get as much satisfaction as I do out of seeing my cats totally high on the good stuff.
If you've been following along with my gardening posts, you'll know that I tried to completely rid of of basil this year. I planted it in my garden year #1, and it has come back and plagued my ever since. The stuff is out of control, growing almost as tall as me, and spreading over the entire garden.
If you don't want this to happen to you, don't let your herbs (especially something so hardy like basil) go to seed. If you see them bloom into flowers, they've gone to seed, and already started leaving their little babies all over your garden.
This year I went ahead and let them go to seed, again. Next year the flower & herb garden is getting a huge overhaul, and I don't know that any of those seeds will make it past my big plans.
Basil is actually quite pretty, it smells nice, and it's a mosquito repellent, so it's not so terrible to have around. Just be careful of how invasive it can be.
When you bring your herbs inside to eat, soak them in a bowl of water for about 30 minutes before you chow down. I have a habit of walking around the yard, grabbing things, and eating before I even look. The other day I made the mistake of pulling a carrot out of the ground and assuming that a little shake would be enough to not make for a dirt-filled, crunchy mouth. Dirt never hurt anybody, but one day I almost ate this little creature on a sprig of cilantro.
That was thanks to Grandma, who also lives a little on the dirty side. My Mom immediately scolded her for not soaking her herbs in water before bringing them over.
Around the veggie garden, I made a handful of mistake this year. By year 5, I hope to have my official green thumb. For now I'm still learning, making mistakes as I go along, and correcting them with each year that comes. This year my biggest mistake cost me a handful of plants early on in the season.
When I started my garden, I planted my plants in wet soil. My impatience to get them in the ground led to some hardening of the mud, and then the quick snapping and death of one tomato plant, and multiple others along the way:
Plant in the morning, in dry crumbley soil.
I also managed to attract lots of pests this year, and because I didn't chose to deal with some of them early, they became an issue.
For my pesky little birds eating my strawberries, we built this contraption around one portion of the garden that holds my berries, and most of my tomatoes.
Unfortunately a few birds still managed to get in, but it only took me leaving them out there, trapped inside the enclose with all their friends watching for an hour to keep them at bay after that. I really do believe in the power of making an example out of one poor, innocent pest. Don't worry, I didn't cut off it's head and shove it on a stake at the entrance of my garden. No birds were harmed.
We also had ants like you would not believe this year. In my next landscaping post, I'll tell you about my failed efforts to keep them away.
They didn't do a lot of damage to the garden, they're just annoying to have around.
The mice proved to be the worst. Big, fat field mice that got into my enclosure and ate all my strawberries, gnawed on the tops of my radishes that stuck above ground, and pulled sweet tomatoes off the plants.
I have yet to come up with a solution on these little rodents. I considered taking Fig to the vet, loading him up on shots, and turning him into a mouser. Ultimately I decided that I would have to come up with something else. I don't have the heart for traps, so I'm kind of stuck when it comes to the field mice.
Caterpillars didn't seem to be much a problem, this year. We just had a few visitors around the yard that didn't stay for long.
I don't know who this guy was, but when he noticed I was taking his picture he stopped, turned to stare at me, then turned back around to go on with his business. After that, I felt like I had been warned and didn't take any more pictures of his angry, red face. Sorry, dude.
Well, those were a few of the veggies around the yard. When I finish up Backyard Farming Week, I'll show you guys some pictures of my crops, and the bowls of veggies I have been bringing inside to eat with all our meals.
This time of year it's easy to get lazy under the heat of Summer. I have only been in my garden every few days, picking veggies and pulling the occasional weed. I always start to get sad around this time, when my plants start to dry out, and I'm reminded that only a few weeks are left of Backyard Farming.
This Spring, you should plant a garden, friends. I promise you'll love it.