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As we get ready for the new growing season, it’s fun to look back at what you grew last year!

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Probably my (Alexandra) last year in my big garden has me thinking about what I’ll want to grow that I really use. Tomatoes, of course, but what about carrots (cheap to buy) and tomatillos (also have way more than I need).8106641743_5e02871e68_z 8106657772_7bb09e2bf8_z

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I (Chiot’s Run) was just thinking about this yesterday as well, looking through my old photos of delicious vegetables, dreaming of the wonderful bounty my larger gardens will produce this year. Here were some of my favorites from last year:
last year harvests 1
last year harvests 2
last year harvests 3

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I (Sincerely, Emily) loved all the peppers that came from last years garden, but there was one particular vegetable that  I was the most thrilled about growing last year. The allusive zucchini (courgette.) For several years I had tried and tried, and struggled and struggled to grow zucchini. Last year was a HUGE success.

Look! Zucchini***

What did you grow last year?

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My winter garden is doing alright this winter. It is missing a few things that did well last year, mainly turnips, but all in all I am happy with what is growing out there.

Spinach 2

Parsnips and salsify are the two new things growing out there. Neither are growing in abundance, but they are growing. After reading the seed package, I decided to start the salsify seeds inside. They can take up to 3 weeks to germinate so I wanted to give them all the help I could by starting them inside. The parsnips and the turnips I started outside. With the combination of heat and bugs. and then an early hard freeze the turnips gave up and only a few parsnips survived.  I will give them a better chance of survival next fall and start them inside too (and a bit earlier)

I didn’t plant as much lettuce as I did last year. Last year we were rolling in it and I was giving it away, so I cut back this year. Now I don’t have enough so I have new lettuce started. It is growing slow slow slow, but it is growing and we will be eating it before too long.

spinach 3This year the big producer is spinach. I have struggled to get spinach growing really well the past few years. I have tried starting the seeds indoor, direct sowing them and even transplants. This year, I put in transplants again and they have grown great. So the spinach is filling in were the lettuce left off. Along with the chard and kale, the greens are great.

I am still dealing with limitations since my surgery and I am unable to harvest anything in the garden, so I rely on my husband. A few days ago we headed out there. The spinach was in desperate need of a hair cut and I told him that if he wasn’t going to be home during any daylight hours anytime soon that I would be out there holding the flashlight for him. That spinach really needed to be picked!

The spinach was finally picked. There was a lot of spinach out there. After I had washed it I needed to figure out how I was going to get it all in the refrigerator. I turned to the plastic grocery bags saved from days gone by and collected for friends (we use them when we scoop out the litter boxes.) It took four Target bags in the end – stuffed full of spinach. After a few days of eating spinach I finally took a photo of the refrigerator for my step-dad.  He will be planting his greens before long (up in Minnesota) but until then he is drooling over my greens (I do the same when he has a flourishing garden in the summer and I have no greens growing!)

spinach 4

As you can see, spinach has been on my mind (and in our tummies.) It gets chopped and thrown on top of pizza. It goes into every fresh salad. It get steamed. It goes into quiches.  Every meal seems to have spinach (or another green) it it one way or another. In fact, I am going to try to extend the harvest by making up some spinach pesto to stash in the freezer for the dead of summer when it won’t be growing here. I will be making Green Linguini – the reversed version. Using spinach pesto and fresh chopped basil instead of the other way around.

Have you made pesto out of green thing other than basil?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

 

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We are blessed with a LOT of trees here in the Pacific Northwest.  We have not only evergreens which we are known for, but we also have lots of deciduous trees.  This means we have lots of leaves to use in our gardens each year.

The leaves that fall at home I shred and use directly on the garden beds each fall…it makes a great winter mulch along with grass clippings.

The leaves that fall up at our lake cabin are a different story.

As we don’t have a garden at the cabin, and not wanting to waste such a great resource, I rake them, bag them, and haul them back home.

I take all my bags full of leaves out to the garden.  Then I add a scoop of garden soil into each bag.  I then poke a few holes in the top and a few in the bottom for drainage (wet Northwest winters) and I’m done…there they sit all fall and winter.

Leaves that are not shredded will take between 6 to 12 months to break down completely.  I, having no patience what so ever, use mine at the 6 month mark.  In the spring I open up my bags and find the leaves to be reduced by about half.  I also find that a few worms have moved in through my drainage holes!  I then use my leaf mold in my trenches, mounds, and pots in the garden.

Leaf mold itself does not have a lot of nutrients like compost does.  But it is a marvelous soil conditioner.  It improves your soil texture and helps tremendously with water retention.  Leaf mold also is great for providing habitat for soil critters like earthworms and even beneficial bacteria!

Leaf mold is simple to make and free!  So if you are lucky enough to have a tree or two…or a hundred…go get out your rakes and make yourself some leaf mold…your garden will thank you!


 

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Most of us are in the full swing of summer. That means the weather’s hot and the gardens are growing like crazy. Blooms are everywhere and the birds and bees are busy as can be. Here are a few of the things that are blooming in our gardens.

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Here at Chiot’s Run I love flowers, I have large front foundation borders filled with a mix of flowers, fruiting shrubs, and vegetables. Each year they get bigger and bigger and I expand them out taking over even more lawn.

Most of the flowers in my gardens are beneficial flower for the birds and the bees. I have a lot of herbs and a lot of native plants that provide pollen and nectar for the bees and herbs for my teas, like this anise hyssop.

Of course some flowers are planted simply for their intrigue, like this ‘The Watchman’ Hollyhock.

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It’s Jennifer! Down here it’s been hot for a while. These are the Dog Days. Grass starts to brown and blossoms wilt. Rainy days, when they arrive, bring a much needed respite from Summer’s heat.

sunflowers by the Kid

Although we still have blossoms it seems their colors reflect the warmth that is covering much of the country.
cosmos

We keep what we can alive without supplemental watering. That means a lot of drought-resistant plants and natives.

gold

Our water barrels are reserved for our edibles.

pumpkin blossom

and that’s okay by me. I’d rather focus on staying cool than do extra outdoor work in this heat!

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Kim here...I don’t usually have many blooms other than those that lead to edibles.  But due to a funeral and a fundraiser at my house I have many ornamental  flowers blooming….along the front walk, on the back patio.  If I’m not careful I could make a yearly habit of adorning my house with such lovely blooms!

But a lovely as the purposely planted blooms are…

They can never be as lovely as natures own floral arraignments!

What’s blooming in your garden right now?

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Mr Chiots and I don’t have children, so our “homesteading kids” are our nieces & nephew. I went out to the farm where they keep their chickens with them and they were super excited to show me around.

Our little nephew is like most boys, he loves playing in the dirt, so gardening is a fine hobby for him.

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As most of you know I have a whole passel of children and I will say that I think without a doubt raising them in the country, around animals, the garden, and nature is just about the best gift I could give them…and myself!

They are great help in the garden…

 

They feed the animals…

Out of mama’s tea cup…ewwww!

They are pros at checking the fences…

And picking their own breakfast…

They help haul hay!

And even make bread!

Yes homesteading kids work hard and play hard!

And sometimes…just sometimes…they even kiss the camel! 

At least the weird big ones do!

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Growing Stevia

I am all about the sweets. I’ve always enjoyed fructose, sucrose, pure extract of nerds candy. It all comprises a significant portion of my diet. Really, it’s the main reason I go to the gym…so I can eat more. Ok, seriously, high fructose corn syrup makes up such a large portion of the typical American diet that it sort of troubles me. We need sweeteners to be sure, but HFCS is not a great choice, apart from its affordability.

Anyhow, since I am interested in providing what I can of the things that we eat, I keep bees for honey. Bees have to be the absolute best insect in the world. What other creature make the garden produce more and also give me sweet liquid gold?! So, bees are great producers of fuel for my sweet tooth, but I hate to put all of my eggs in one basket. I decided to try my hand at growing stevia.

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Stevia is a an herb in the Chrysanthemum family that grows most typically in South America, but is being grown elsewhere as its market increases. It has been used by indigenous folks to sweeten drinks for centuries. You see, stevia leaves are 10-15 times sweeter than table sugar. In its refined form, stevia powder is 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar.

Although stevia is grown on large farms and is becoming more popular in its processed forms (look for Truvia in the grocery store), it is well within the reach of any gardener or plant lover to grow enough stevia to make significant sweetener for one’s own table. Last year, I bought two small, pitiful stevia plants from a mail order place. I immediately transplanted them into typical house plant pots and set them in a sunny spot on top of an array of 6 computer servers in my office. The plants remain warm around the clock upon the computers and get plenty of sun and water.

My plants have grown incredibly fast and have produced long winding vines. The runners trickle down from my computers clear to the floor. Folks stop by my office and snatch leaves from the plants to chew on.

10_15_2009 001

So, stevia makes a great sweetener. It’s natural and clean and can be used in an unprocessed form. For diabetics, the benefits are even greater. Stevia does not elevate blood sugar levels and provides no calories.

If you are interested in providing an alternative sweetener for your family, it’s worth your time to consider growing stevia at your place. So what do you think? Have you heard of stevia or truvia before? Have you tried either? Does the role of HCFS in our food make any difference to you?

Warren can also be found at My Home Among the Hills writing about the adventures of life in WV.

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I don’t know about you but at the end of the main growing season I always have all these notes in my head about what I loved and what I would do differently next spring.

So instead of taking the time to go try to find some paper that isn’t wrinkled and scribbled on and a pen that actually has ink…and then try to keep track of the list for 9 months…

I am going to make my ‘notes to self’ right here on the blog…hope nobody minds.

NOTES TO SELF

  • Tomato cages are wayyyyy better than this…it worked well for the cool spring but tomatoes need cages to grow up in…those tunnels did not control them nearly enough.

tomato tunnel

  • Remember to build more tomato cages before next year.
  • Yarn does NOT work as well as twine for green beans, it stretches in the rain and all the beans fall down…so don’t be lazy and go find the twine next time!
  • Put a self-closing hing on the garden gate…the dog likes cucumbers.
  • While we are on it…cucumbers do well with water.  Bitter is not the best flavor.Plant more flowers…

sisters1

  • Make more compost.
  • Growing peppers and eggplant in tunnels is an EXCELLENT idea, please remember do this again.

eggplant plate3

  • Pumpkins are great fun to grow…more are needed next year.  Try some new colors.

blk wht pumpkins

  • Squash takes up a LOT of room, remember this so the compost bin doesn’t get covered with vines.
  • Barrels are great for potatoes but you would need many, many more to have a large harvest.
  • Plant out gourds sooner…

spider grd1

  • Plant out cantaloupe later.

cantelope3

  • Yum, yum peppers are simply the cutest and sweetest peppers ever…grow lots more!
  • 6 foot wire fencing is perfect for growing peas.

pea picking1

  • Chickens fly…chickens escape…chickens invade!
  • Chickens love young pumpkins, which will grow up to be ugly hen pecked pumpkins.

eggs6

  • Remember to enjoy the process…
  • Always, always  involve the kids…even when they annoy you.

tomato napper1

  • And don’t hate the camel for doing what a camels does…

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Which is anything he can do to try to reach your precious garden.

  • Reinforce the garden fence!

Finally…

Remember why you do this every year…

For the health of your family and the health of the planet.

Besides…

Its fun!

So fellow gardeners…what notes have you made to yourself for next year?

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