Waiting is the hardest part

These days when I look around the garden, I see so much potential.

I see heirloom tomatoes for sandwiches, bruchetta and tomato sauce.20140607-140813-50893575.jpgI see red zinger tea from our Thai Red Roselle.20140607-140816-50896893.jpg

I see roasted Black Cherry tomatoes in our freezer. 20140607-140812-50892677.jpgI daydream about fresh cucumber salads, pickles and relishes.20140607-140811-50891854.jpgI question what this mystery squash is, and hope that it’s a melon!20140607-140818-50898663.jpgRosie waits with me, hoping that I’ll throw the ball for here in the meantime.20140607-140810-50890981.jpg

Most of the strawberries have past (with holes in the them), but now that there’s straw protecting them from bugs, we wait for strawberries to mature.  Of course, there are blackberries that we’re waiting for as well.20140607-140815-50895985.jpgThe various hot peppers got a late start, so we wait for them. How much fish emulsion does it take to speed them up?20140607-140814-50894684.jpg

And we wait for eggplants, to be turned into Indian and Mediterranean dishes for our al fresco summer meals. 20140607-140819-50899478.jpgLuckily, the ladybug is waiting for aphids on the eggplant. I guess waiting can be useful.20140607-140820-50900295.jpgWaiting to see what our mystery compost squash will create.  The bed is starting to climb up, but there are no female flowers (that I can find) yet.20140607-140822-50902449.jpg

And we wait for zucchini and basil. We waited too long to plant ours, and they became a little stunted.  With watering and fish fertilizer, they’ve started to grow bigger, so soon we may get flowers. 20140607-140821-50901245.jpg

What a great harvest we will have!

I can’t wait!

 

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Eggplants, powdery mildew and figs

David has been busy in the yard, playing with power tools.  We have one final stretch of morning glories to get rid of.  Yes, they’re beautiful.  I’m sure that anyone not in California would be happy to have these plants.  But here, they live year after year, stacking on top of each other until…

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It creates a tangled mess probably full of toxic mold and dust.  To be fair, it could be healthy to breathe in the dust that flies out when we touch the dead vines, but we’re both very cautious.  We’ve also decided it’s time to clear out the morning glories from the fence completely.  This process will take a long time.  David has perfected the method, as he originally cleared our garden space this past January.

For now, David used the string trimmer to cut a border along the bottom of the vines. Many of the vines have begun to die, which made me sad to see this morning, even though I thought I had come to terms with their death.  The hummingbirds have been more active recently; I even saw one hovering in front of the kitchen window and it looked at me.

The morning glories were cut at the roots to make space for our new irrigation in the backyard.  Because our house has weird plumping, we decided to run a 100ft hose down the side of the driveway, and then lay soaker hose in the garden. We’ll then have it on a timer and watering can happen with ease.

The tomato, tomatillo and cucumber plants in the former-morning-glory-filled-back-garden are looking really healthy!

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The delicata squash (left) and cucumber (little leaf on right) recently got powdery mildew, like most of our back yard squashes.  The straight 8 cucumber (larger leaves on tripod) is much healthier.  We’re still picking cucumbers and David recently mixed up a milk, Dr. Bronners, baking soda and apple cider vinegar spray to help with the powdery mildew.  Ask if you want to know more about it, as I know he did research into ratios and rationale.

In the back left, you’ll see the basil.  After the pictures I cut back all of our basil and made about two and a half dozen pesto ice cubes to use later.  We added parsley to this batch of pesto, which helps cut the strong flavor as well as keep it more green for future use.
P1020504We have a small zinnia patch, and we’re loving it.

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The eggplants are finally starting to do something!  Most of our pots have stunted peppers and eggplants.  After the fertilizing, and then a fish emulsion treatment, they have finally started to grow!  Again, we’re lucky to be in Los Angeles as our hottest months can be August and September.

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In the backyard, the rosa bianca has a cage around it to protect it from Rosie’s trampling.  Rosie follows us around the garden while we’re working.  She doesn’t notice if there are plants in the way, as she just wants us to throw her ball.

The above picture has two rosa bianca and two japanese eggplants.

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And the japanese eggplant is starting to grow!

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We cheated a little with the poblano peppers in the front yard pots.  When we were at the farmers market last week, the plant guy had beautiful plants and we decided to buy two since ours were stunted.   P1020521

Our tomatoes, for the most part, are doing great!  There aren’t as many flowers as I’d like.  The black krim that we planted late is finally starting to flower, if you can see it there next to the giant bushy San Marzano.

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The San Marzano is laden with green tomatoes, and we’re getting our sauce pot and salsa recipes in order while waiting.

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Next to the San Marzano, I planted arugula, a couple of green onions and a celery plant. The celery is in the foreground, if you can see it without being distracted by Rosie or the giant pepper! We were waiting for it to turn red, but decided today that it was time to pick it.

Lastly, our neighbors have a fig tree that borders the fence.

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Last year I cut back their tree, because it smelled like cat pee.  I love figs.  I think legally even though they’re on our side of the fence, the figs belong to them.  We’re thinking about picking a few.  We could ask our neighbors first.

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Mardi doesn’t want me to mention it, but being the dominant cat in our territory, it’s possible that the figs could smell like cat pee again this season.

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Nest building time!

This morning I planned to rake avocado leaves for the last lasagna bed.  I brought my camera to snap a few pictures of our impressive and prolific avocado trees.  There are two trees that sometimes shed avocados for us to gather, while other times we have the challenge of picking them from a ladder.

Notice the tree shades our compost bins.  We often scoop a handful of leaves to toss on top of the fresh kitchen waste.  The leaves have been great for us, and our dirt-making.

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I quickly noticed that it would be hard to sweep the driveway, as our cars were in the way.

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How good are your avocado spotting skills?  I feel like mine are pretty good, and I only saw one when I took this picture (by the forked branches slightly left of center) but now I see another one!  These are within reach with the ladder.  These trees have a lot more avocados hiding about 45 feet up.

As I took this picture, I heard a bird chirping at me and turned at saw this:

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A NEST!!

It’s about 8 feet off the ground and it’s hanging next to our precious avocados!  I quickly called David over and we grabbed a ladder for closer inspection. (Later I wondered if we’d be able to continue harvesting avocados, as we’re finishing up the ones we grabbed two weeks ago.  This question is still to be determined.)

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A closeup of the nest made of fiber from palm trees, red bits from a Bottlebrush tree, straw from our garden and bits of fiber from our laundry on the line??

This past Thursday I noticed that there was a tiny grey bird on the power lines, and it was making alarm calls.  It sat on the line like Black Phoebe does, and chipped angrily like a mockingbird.  Rosie and I listened to it’s chatter, and quickly moved away from the tree and the power lines, as we finished up watering the backyard garden.

Today, upon spotting this nest, we thought we saw a flitter of birds around it.  I decided to stick around and try to find out what was going on.  I quietly waited next to the cars, and saw two birds fly into the next, noticed the nest pulsating from activity, and then saw them fly off again.  Mom and Dad are building their home!  I snapped a few pictures of the happy couple as they hopped around outside of their nest, and then went inside to confirm the species.

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Hopping around on the branch with a piece of nesting material in it’s mouth.  Anyone know if this is the male or female?

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A closer shot of the same individual getting ready to go into the nest.

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Bringing a bigger piece to the nest.

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During all of these photos, Rosie patiently waited for me to throw the ball.

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Here’s a view of where I can safely stand to watch the nest.  Notice that our little area is quite small.  Shadow doesn’t seem to realize that he’s disturbing the nest, which is located in the cluster of leaves above him.  Also check out the leaves I was going to rake.  We just raked up the avocado leaves a month ago, and there looks like there’s enough for our last lasagna garden… if only I could rake them up.

After spending some time inside, and then running back out to listen to the bird’s calls, I am 98% sure that we have a nesting pair of bushtits!  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great bird site, with lots of calls.  I also was excited to see that I went to summer camp, and then later worked with, the photographer who took the identification photo.  It’s a great feeling to have a connection to both my past and to the natural world.

More nesting updates will follow as we watch them, and try to stay out of their way.  We’re excited for them to eat our grubs and caterpillars!!

The tour continues…

When David and I moved into our house three years ago, we were so pleased to see this beautiful row of roses!  During the past years we’ve added mulch to the ground to soften up the soil and help replenish nutrients, pulled out the random canna lilies that were located in the middle of the row, and pruned them back for the past two years.  The first time that David pruned them, he cut off piles and piles of dead, thick wood, cutting them about a foot tall. It seemed like they hadn’t been pruned in years!  This past January he pruned them to about three feet tall, and we’re getting our first bloom now!  Finally the stems are long enough also, that we can start cutting them to bring into the house!

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Somewhere in this stretch of roses, we hung one of our praying mantis egg cases!  Last year this is where we released lady bugs and hopefully the two will coexist!

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Growing under half of the rose row is the most delicious mint!  David cut it all back this winter, and we tried to get out the Bermuda Grass that is growing in amongst it.  The mint grew faster than I could dig out the grass.  This mint looks like it’s time for our first round of spring mojitos.

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I’ll let you in on a secret (which isn’t too big of a secret if you realize that Rosie is a Golden Retriever).  When Rosie is in a picture, and looking like this, her ball is somewhere near me and the camera (which for this photo shot was my iPhone 5). Often you’ll actually see her ball in the picture, or her running at me it.

This part of the garden is where the canna lilies used to be.  We grabbed a ladder that was left here by former tenants, and planted Dragon’s Tounge shell beans (which someone has already been munching on), lettuce (peaking up from behind the shade of the ladder) cucumbers, nasturtiums, and marigolds.  Garlic chives are right about where Rosie’s ball would be, if you could see either of them.

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These tomatoes have been in the ground about two weeks.  This raised bed was the first bed that we added to the yard and it will be our third summer planting in it.   We freshened it up with compost, potting soil that had been laying around, and a few bags of composted steer manure.  Over the past few months, I’ve been reading up on companion planting and we’ve decided to interplant marigolds and basil with our tomato plants.  Someone’s still taking little nibbles on the Reisentraube tomato in the foreground. This year, in the side yard, we also planted a Jaune Flamme, Isis Candy, Indigo Rose, two San Marzanos and a red bell pepper.  The bed also contains cilantro, dill, cabbage, chard, beets, leeks, lettuce and three different kinds of radish.

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A close up of baby cilantro, planted in between two tomato plants.

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The second half of the raised bed.  This section is what we were using for the last part of winter (brocolli and cauliflower were on the far end and they finished growing back in March). These cabbages are ready to be picked!  I’ve grown savoy cabbage before, but never this kind- Copenhagen Market Early.

Which reminds me: I enjoy growing heirloom varieties.  Perhaps it’s more than enjoy… I believe in it.  David and I are currently not buying seeds. We somehow have a bunch laying around from the past few years. We’ve had to place a moratorium on that type of shopping (I am also not allowed to buy any new tea). However, we agreed that we could skirt this ultimatum buy getting free seeds from friends. David picked up a 100 pack of small plastic bags from Michaels, and I sat for about an hour with my friend Sheila’s seed collection. I did the same thing at school, after bringing in all of our tomato and pepper seeds as a trade.  Trading seeds is the way to go!  I have a student who offered me blue corn, which I’ll be trading him for Mexican Sour Gerhkin seeds as soon as they arrive.  In the future, we plan to join the Seed Library of Los Angeles.
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The chard is gianormous!  Each leaf is longer than my arm.  I tucked Rosie’s ball in the picture for scale.

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We tried to grow a few leeks this winter.  Two survived.  One of the leeks is big and strong and the other little and slow to grow; it’s kinda like that Schwarzenegger/ DeVito movie, Twins.  I’ve been piling up the mulch around the base of this guy to help the white part become larger.  Soon, we’ll cook with our one leek.

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This area is our wildflower/ compost garden.  It’s a newer area, where last year we grew giant cosmos flowers and sweet peas.  This year we decided to sprinkle it with a wildflower mix that I bought for school, and to let our compost sprout.  We’ve already noticed nasturtiums, cosmos, and sunflowers.  This should help with our weed identification also!

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Our front door herb garden.  The cilantro self sprouted, the sage is new this year and the oregano is taking over!  We also have lavender, rosemary, basil, tarragon, parsley and thyme.  The daffodils, hyacinth and the chasmanthe are wrapping up for the season and it will soon be time to dig them up.  Ugh, I’ve never had bulbs that I’ve had to dig up before. To be fair, we don’t have to dig up the chasmanthe, but we want to move most of them since they’re taking over our herb bed.  When it was flowering this past February  we had a hummingbird come by every 5 minutes!

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We’ll be planting more pots as we fill up the garden.  Right now we have three pepper- jalepeno, cayenne (which we didn’t mean to buy), and banana pepper. In between the peppers, we’ve planted green onions.  Currently we have two other pots planted- pineapple sage and calendula.

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Doesn’t everyone love ladybugs?  These were chillin’ on the banana pepper.  Dave told me that the one without spots hasn’t had babies yet.  I thought they were different subspecies.   Well, I looked it up, as I needed to know. Ladybuglady.com says,

“Do the spots tell you how old they are?
A. No. Different ladybugs have different numbers of spots. Some have no spots while some have as many as twenty four. Ladybugs generally complete their life cycle within one year. The spots are with them all their life. They don’t get more spots as they get older, nor do they lose spots.”

I guess they don’t mind being together on the same plant.

IMG_1816Here’s the nursery area, set up at the bottom of the driveway next to the garage.  The squash and melons are waiting for the last lasagna bed.  The eggplant are slowly coming, and the other containers hold various flowers, and herbs. I also took a cutting of our citronella plant.  On the back right is our praying mantis hatchery, made by an art teacher at our school.  I’ll be bringing this egg case to school next week!

Thanks for sticking with me for the tour.  In the future I’ll give updates, as well as fill in some of the stories of how things go this far!

Happy gardening!

Spring brings gardens and blogs

I’ve become obsessed with my new garden.  I think about it as I walk by plants during the day.  I come home from work and wander around, looking for things to plant or weed.  I stare at my seedlings, silently begging them to grow faster.  And I’m getting more and more excited each day!

This time of the year marks the waiting.  Most of the veggies are planted in the ground, and the waiting game has begun.

So I will begin this blog with pictures of our 275 square feet of bed space and all the baby plants that are within.

I plan to keep you all posted of the growth, discovery and great food.

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The tour must always begin at the compost bins, built January 2013.

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This 7ft x 8 ft garden bed is closest to the compost bin in our new lasagna garden beds. The beds were built with layers of cardboard, grass clippings, straw, manure, dried leaves, dirt, mulch and compost. I’ll write a post about creating this garden out of a patch of morning glories in the future!  Growing here will be LOTS of bush beans (four varieties), cucumbers, acorn squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, chard, arugula, radishes, basil, borage and marigolds.

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A close up of the tri-color beans. I love that the stems are different colors too!

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Already in love with growing borage.  I’ve never grown this plant before and I’m so glad to be growing it.  Dave and I have been studying up on companion planting and really want to attract good bugs back to the garden. The space formally was a monocrop of morning glories (which the hummingbirds and moths loved) but we’ve found that we have more bad critters eating our stuff than good. Last spring was spent squishing snails and getting slugs drunk.

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Speaking of bad bugs, something’s been eating our transplanted chard.  We had hearty plants growing in the side yard, and they had to be moved to make space for the fancy tomatoes in the side yard.  These were the first plants in the bed, and seem to be the first that our hungry cabbage moth caterpillars are eating.  I found a caterpillar the day before this photo, but let it live since we have so much chard, and it was about to pupate.  We have relatively few cabbage moths around, and we kinda like to have them fly by.

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As I was inspecting the basil, I noticed these ants communicating with each other.  Upon closer inspection, it looks like they’re passing something.

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This growing apricot tree was a stick when it was planted in January.  That’s another story.  Currently this bed holds the apricot tree, irises, daffodils, sweet peas, zinnias, yarrow and nasturtiums (possibly).  This will be our perennial section and we have more herbs and flowers in our nursery!

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Yellow yarrow, I think.  I was certain this plant was yarrow while it was sitting neglected and dried out half under a trailer at school.  I fished it out of the spider webs and weeds, and added water.  Knowing yarrow is a hardy plant, my hope is to have lovely flowers to frame the stepping stone. This picture was taken less than an hour after planting.

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This pot just got moved from the front yard to the back yard, and then I chopped off all of the flowers and branches!  It has small, pink, mini daisies.  I love this plant when it flowers but loathe deadheading it.  However, I loved that every time that I deadhead it, it set buds shortly thereafter.  I almost threw this plant in the compost last summer; David stopped me. This year, while it was looking sad and in need of deadheading, I decided to take a risk and prune it way back.  I wonder if I should have done that in winter rather than spring. Notice that there are a few little buds and leaves on the branches. Seemed to me that this was the perfect time to prune heavy.

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This will be the eggplant bed with beans growing up the fence.  As you can tell from the morning glories peaking out from the garage on the right, the fence was previously covered in vines. We knew we needed something that would grow quickly and up the fence (although we toyed with jasmine, as it’s a flower that has happy memories for me and David) and we thought about Scarlet Runner Beans.  We tabled that idea for next year, as we had three types of pole beans in our seed stash, and opted to plant Asparagus Yard Long Beans, Kentucky Wonder, and Purple Pod Pole Beans. The Asparagus Beans sprouted, see below, but the others never appeared.  As I watered, I noticed that there were stalks for the KyWonder and PurplePod but they had be beheaded! My guess is that there are snails back here (or something that lurks in the morning glories behind the garage).  The next day, I went to work and asked our school gardener if he had any Scarlet Runner Bean seeds, and he gave me 30! Now we wait.

Just like we’re waiting for the eggplants to grow big enough to transplant. The nursery had a slow start this year, and next year we’re building an indoor area just like this grow light shelving made from IKEA shelving.   Currently the bed holds, pole beans, zuchinni, crookneck squash, pattypan squash, Delicata squash, Red Kuri squash, nasturtiums, borage and marigolds.

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Young Asparagus Beans growing next to the fence.

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Rosie enjoys this stretch of the yard, as do the two cats who love that we made a litterbox just for them!

This area is about 80 square feet and it will be the next area we’re expanding to. There is no irrigation here and we didn’t even have a hose that reached this area until a couple months ago. Last summer David spread wet newspaper here, then covered it with mulch (thank you Pinterest!).  I weeded the thick grass from this area (thank you free city mulch with grass seeds!) and used the grass in the layers of the lasagna beds.

The vision of this bed is still forming, as we don’t want to spend a lot of money and I have access to lots of cuttings at work. At first we were going to fill it with succulents and rocks. Then I was thinking a giant row of lavender, native sages and perhaps grasses.  When David and I were at Tomatomania! at the Grow Native Nursery, we got really excited about native grasses.  But they were expensive.

The planning stage continues.

And this blog will continue in the side and front yard with a second part.