herbs

how a garden grows: planting the plants

So last we left the garden, the beds were ready but empty.

Not anymore.

Last year we started from seed, and had a spectacular fail where we lost everything because we brought them outside too soon. So in 2014 we ended up buying seedlings through Penn’s Corner, which they get from several area farms and Grow Pittsburgh. They did so well that we decided to do the same this year, and not go right back to trying to start from seed. Perhaps in a year where spring doesn’t include influenza and job changes, we’ll give that a whirl again.

Anyhow, here’s the breakdown of the plants we planted.

herbs

Herbs (containers):

Rosemary – $3.82
Chives (zombie chives from last year) – $0
Thyme – $4.17
Oregano – $4.17
Spearmint – $3.82
Cilantro – $3.82
Rosemary – $3.82
Dill (from seeds we had) – $0

Total Herbs: $23.62

rhubarb plant

strawberry hanging basket

Miscellaneous Plants

Rhubarb* – $13.90
Strawberry (hanging basket) – $13.90

Total Miscellaneous Plants: $27.80
* The rhubarb won’t produce until next year, but we just love it so much we wanted to give it a shot. Need to do some more research on taking care of rhubarb, since this is a new thing for us.

peppers and basil

broccoli

Peppers, Basil & Broccoli (raised beds)

Basil (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Broccoli* (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Hot banana peppers (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Jalapeno pepper (one 4-pack) – $3.47
King of the North sweet pepper – $3.82

Total Peppers, Basil & Broccoli: $17.70
*Trying broccoli again even though we haven’t had success in the past. Because we just love broccoli. Also, the cages are in the pepper and basil bed because we have been too lazy to remove them after the evening we had to cover all the plants because of the threat of frost. Thanks, southwest PA weather.

tomato patch

Tomatoes* (Mounds/Patch)

Earliana (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
San Marzano (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
Italian Sweet Beefsteak (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
Roma (2 @ $3.82) – $7.64
Sun Gold Cherry – $3.82
White Cherry – $3.82
Cosmonaut Volkov – $3.82

Total tomatoes: $42.02

*All of the ridiculous logs in the main photo are there because they held down covers for the plants during the great frost threat. And again, too lazy to remove until we are definitely out of frost territory. I’ll choose to look at it as rustic instead of a hot mess. All of the plants are staked and caged.

Let’s just take a short time out for a little bit of a geek freak-out. Yeah, there’s a tomato in our patch this year called Cosmonaut Volkov. I can’t really explain the depth of my excitement about the name of this plant. Check him out. Grow little Cosmonaut, grow!

cosmonaut

The final two beds are empty looking right now, so I didn’t include photos. But one has corn planted, and the other one will soon have green beans.

Corn and Green Beans

Corn – $0 (seeds we had at home)
Green Beans – Cost TBD (*haven’t purchased the seeds yet, will add the cost to a later post)

Total: $0*

flowers 2015

Flowers

Pansy (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Antigua yellow marigolds (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Antigua orange marigolds (one 4-pack) – $3.47
Crackerjack marigold – $3.82
Dwarf sunflower – $3.82

Total flowers: $18.05

So that’s what the garden is shaping up to have this year. Everything looks to have survived the “frost,” with the exception of the pansies, though they might rebound.

Total cost of plants: $129.19

OK. So you are probably looking at that total and thinking, what the crap, Joanna. Lowe’s has plants for like 69 cents a piece. How can you have a small urban backyard that has a few raised beds and containers and spend $130 on plants?

A few reasons. We don’t just buy random plants at Lowe’s that will produce food for us to eat. Yes, plants at Lowe’s are better than no garden at all, but I like knowing that my plants are either organic or have been grown with natural methods, limiting the amount of pesticides that our plants have been exposed to. I don’t want vegetables that have been exposed to RoundUp or any number of other nasty sprays. We don’t use them in our gardens and we don’t want them in our plants.

Buying our seedlings locally gives us a higher measure of trust in the quality of the plant and where it’s coming from. It also means we’re supporting the same farms that grow food for us, our CSA organization and a local non-profit that gets more people gardening and gets more fresh food into the diets of Pittsburghers. And that’s something we get behind. Lowe’s doesn’t need our money.

Technically seeds are cheaper than seedlings, but we also spent money powering our grow lights last year and buying the starter soils and building the contraption that held them. So that differential seems like a wash. We also know that last year’s seedlings from these farms produced a redonk amount of vegetables, which is why I’m keeping track this year of expenses versus the value of the food we receive. I am confident we will get a return on our investment.

And in the meantime, I get to do what I’m doing right now – sitting on my back deck in front of my pots of herbs and flowers, relaxing in a funky green Adirondack chair, watching the sun set over Carnegie, watching the garden grow.

Total garden cost to date: $265.93

How a garden grows series
Raised bed and container prep

 

how a garden grows: raised bed and container prep

We spent the better part of the day Saturday getting our raised beds and containers prepped for the growing season, which for us starts this week with the arrival of our seedlings.

So here’s what the gardens and yard looked like before we started. You can see we were cultivating quite the variety of weeds.

weed garden

And these containers? So sad that the watering can just gave up and dropped. The zombie chives were somehow undead, and flowered.

sad containers

So the first order of business was to weed the beds. Which took several hours. Because these weeds were fierce and big with strong roots. And you can’t just pull the tops off, you have to dig in deep and get the whole thing.

Which is probably why people do this a lot earlier in the season. Lesson learned. Remind me in 2016 that I need to get out and weed those beds early.

Side note – apocalypse films and novels never really do justice to just how much weeds will take over the planet when society collapses. I am now convinced.

After the beds were weeded and Mark had mowed the lawn, we were ready for the delivery of our soil and mulch. We’ve been going to Federouch Landscape Supply for the last few years and we have always been really happy with them. This year, our delivery guy was especially nice.

topsoil

We get one cubic yard of black mulch and another cubic yard of a 50/50 mix of topsoil and mushroom compost. So here’s where we start to keep track of costs. And where you realize how much it costs to NOT have a truck.

2015 Garden Costs
1 cubic yard 50/50 mix: $34.34
1 cubic yard black mulch: $35.35
Delivery fee: $60

Soil and mulch total: $136.74

We could rent a truck from Home Depot or try to borrow a vehicle from someone, but with Federouch having the product we want (not a lot of places carry the compost we want), we just consider it part of the costs of the garden.

And then while I finished weeding, Mark hauled the loads of mulch and soil mix in our one wheelbarrow from our back alley where it was dumped (since we have no driveway) into the yard. We spread it in the beds – soil mix in the pots and raised beds and mulch in the flower beds lining the garage.

Once it was all spread, we put up the fencing around the raised beds to keep the chickens out. And we had this.

prepped beds 3

 

prepped beds 2

prepped beds 1

I also am happy to have the mulched areas cleaned up, notwithstanding the pollen that fell from the trees all over it to make it not look as perfectly black from the mulch.

walkway

Plus, I have learned not to worry about the edges of the mulching. As soon as I care about straight lines, the chickens go dust bathe in it and do this.

egg in mulch

We do have a lovely flowering bush behind the compost. No idea what this is. Can you tell what an expert green thumb I am?

pink flowering bush

We also have a wild strawberry plant behind the compost area, but the chickens get to any and all berries there are before we even know they grew. But it’s fun anyway.

wild straberries

And then there’s this gooseberry bush, which managed to hang on last year and is going like gangbusters. Gotta figure out if we need to stake this guy.

gooseberry bush

So that’s the backyard, prepped and ready for seedlings.

 

2014 resolutions – how did I do?

We’re finally to the last day of 2014.

Before I can finalize my goals for 2015, I need to check back in on 2014 and see how it went. You can see the other goal posts for 2014 here: January, AprilJuly and October.

Here’s how I did!

Mind

Read 75 books.

Knocked this one out of the park. As of right now, I’ve completed 99 books. There is a high likelihood that if I get to take a lunch break today, I’ll hit 100. I didn’t anticipate blowing this goal so far out of the water, but I shouldn’t be surprised. Reading is like plugging myself into the Joanna charger. I only feel like me when I have a chance to read every day, even if it’s only 5 pages. I read some truly great books this year, which is a post unto itself. I didn’t finish the two sub-goals of finishing Atwood’s canon and reading a Russian doorstop, so I am considering whether or not those are still goals for 2015.

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I wrote one in April on the DARK Act, and I wrote again in the fall regarding funding for food assistance. But I didn’t hit the third letter. Fall was a very busy time for us – the craziest of the year – so my ability to read up on the current food issues was somewhat limited.

medal resize 1Body

Run a marathon.

Done. Boom.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
This has been pretty close, so I’m calling it a win. I am trying to turn to water when I want coffee in the afternoon at my desk and I’ve done that more often than I’ve given in, so that’s a win too.
 

 

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Finished this one earlier in the year, though I need to get a better restart going. I tried to do one after the marathon was over, but the room wasn’t warm enough to inhibit mold growth. So I think I’ve found a warmer spot and will try again soon. This will be ongoing.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Did this. And also sewed this Star Trek Quiet Bookt-shirt blanket resize

Can one new thing.
We made one new variant of jam this year, but mostly we canned the usual.
Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I didn’t do as well with this one as I would have liked, but most of my flowers stayed alive all season, so that’s huge progress for me.
Make the chickens some treats.
Done. With two days to spare!

Organize the basement.
I did this. And then it creeped back to cluttered, and now it’s a mess again. I think when we put away the Christmas decorations, I’ll take that opportunity to work on it again. We’ve given over the larger room to Mark’s work space, so I need to make the best use possible of the remaining space. Definitely an ongoing challenge.

2014 resolution update – July

This is the first year that I’ve made a concerted effort to work on actually completing my resolutions for the year. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t aim too high and made them realistic. Here’s an update on how I’m doing at the halfway point in the year.

Mind
Read 75 books.
Today I will finish book #46, so I’m well on my way to that goal. I do have to get the sub-goals in of finishing Margaret Atwood’s canon (6 more books) and one Russian door-stop novel. I’ve been reading a lot of books that are part of a series, so I end up going through the series and it delays my next choices. Even if I don’t hit the sub-goals, I will still read more this year than in any year since graduate school. I’m also reading in genres outside of my comfort zone, which is pretty cool. (I am a total graphic novel and comic convert.)

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I haven’t done another one since this post on the DARK Act. I need to get on that. I might write next about funding to reduce hunger.

Body
Run a marathon.
I’m in my 8th week of a 23 week training schedule. (Most plans are 18 weeks, but I am drawing mine out due to previous injuries and lingering issues with my IT bands.) Last week’s long run was 13 miles, and it was the first time I ran that far when it wasn’t a race, and only my fourth time at that distance at all. It was quite honestly one of the most difficult runs I’ve ever had – humid and disgusting outside, dehydrated big time. Everything was screaming at me to stop, and even though I had to walk more than I had hoped, I finished. (Which was really only because of the two awesome ladies I run with.) 


It’s been good to be on a training schedule and to be following it. I’ve put in 246 miles so far this year and that number is about to go way up because it’s going to get hard soon – after the holiday weekend we bump up to 15 miles for a long run and I go into distance territory that my body has never traveled. It’s an adventure, this marathon training. Don’t forget, I’m posting photos on Instagram under the hashtag #yearofthemarathon in case you want to follow along on the adventure.


Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
I really need to kick this into high gear during this marathon training, because even though I do drink water constantly, I am always fighting being dehydrated in this weather. And I was doing some research this week that dehydration while running can also increase your heart rate, which is something I’m hyper sensitive to as an asthmatic.

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Done and done. Completely knocked this one out of the park, and it might be the coolest thing I accomplished this year (unless I do complete the marathon, that is). Read about it here

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Making slow progress on this one. I finished cutting all of the squares for my quilt this weekend. (I’m technically getting materials together for two, planning to start with my own quilt to get the hang of it before I do Mark’s.) Now it’s time to fire up my grandma’s sewing machine, which will hopefully happen in July.

Can one new thing.
Technically I’ve met this goal with our strawberry vanilla jam, a variant I hadn’t made before. But since I think the spirit of this was for me to do something entirely new, I won’t count this done yet. But it will be full on canning season in the next couple months.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
Didn’t really get around to planting specifically bee-friendly plants, but we definitely have more flowers this year compared to last, which is at least a step in the right direction.

Make the chickens some treats.
I actually completely forgot about this one, so this is a good reminder. Perhaps because of the heat and humidity, I’ll make something that’s refreshing for them.

Organize the basement.
The basement has stayed relatively organized since we transitioned one side of it to a work area for Mark. I still have a few things I’d like to do down there, especially to get a root cellar ready for later this year. But it’s better than it used to be (at least when Stormy and Vader don’t knock food bowls all over the place).



How are you doing on your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments!



my backyard oasis

When someone says “backyard oasis”, you probably think they mean a yard you would find on HGTV – some fancy landscaped place with some kind of fountain and lush gardens. Well, this is mine.

Our deck has never been really used since we moved into this house, on account of the fact that the previous owners didn’t take care of the wood, and so it’s kind of a mess of splinters and shards. So we’ve ignored it in favor of the cement patio, where we have a table and chairs, and do most of our outdoor entertaining. 

But this year I was wanting to use that space more, because I wanted to use some of it to house my herb pots, and also because I wanted a space to sit outside that was comfortable and that the chickens didn’t have access to, so I could be in peace. 

We moved the grill out of the way and off to the first corner, in an easily accessible spot that doesn’t block the rest of the deck. Put a pair of flip flops by the back door so my feet don’t get splinters. Bought two plastic Adirondack chairs at Lowe’s. Added these deck boxes – ones we previously had with the brackets moved to accommodate their size. 


I also decided to try hanging baskets again. I tried them two years ago and couldn’t keep them alive, but I’m giving it a shot again.


Mark also bought me a lily (my favorite flower) with my favorite colors (the colors of the sun – red, yellow and orange).



Now that I have colorful flowers, fragrant herbs and comfy chairs, I just add my coffee, a book and myself and it’s my backyard oasis. 


IMG_20140322_141322

2014 resolution update

Usually by this time of year, the resolutions I made in January are like a distant, vague memory. But this year in a stunning turn of events, I’ve been staying on track. So seeing that we’re about one third of the way through the year, I thought I’d check in.

Mind
Read 75 books.
I just finished #23 this week, so I’m on track to meet my goal. I need to still pick up a Russian doorstop novel along the way, as well as several more Margaret Atwoods to finish her canon. But so far, so good. Man do I love to read! 

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I have one down, two more to go on this front. For my most recent letter, see this post on the DARK Act recently introduced in the House. Bad news.

Body
Run a marathon.
Well, I’m in training. 
This Saturday marks my first race of the season – the Boston Trail half marathon (not in Boston). That’s followed up by my town’s 5K the following weekend, and then the Pittsburgh Marathon Half on May 4. Don’t forget there’s still time to donate to my fund for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank! Shameless plug! I’m only $5 away from $600!


Also, I’m posting photos on Instagram under the hashtag #yearofthemarathon in case you want to follow along on the adventure.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
Doing pretty well with this one, especially through the day at work. I also carry my water bottle around with me at home, and really it’s only after runs that I don’t do so well rehydrating. Going to keep working on that.

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Fail. Still nervous. Will make it happen this summer though.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Making good progress on this one, especially since it’s something I have zero experience in. I have Mark’s shirts all prepped and ready with interfacing, and mine are almost complete. Then it’s time to get the sewing machine cranking! I’ve even had an apprentice. Isn’t he helpful?

  

Can one new thing.
Not quite into canning season yet, so this one will be a summer thing.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I recently did some research on bee-friendly plants that do well in our area, with info from the Penn State Extension. Look for a post about that in the near future!

Make the chickens some treats.
Winter has made me not want to go outside with them more than necessary, so probably once I’m in the backyard with them more often, I’ll be more inclined to start making some treats.

Organize the basement.
The basement has come light years from what it was. This is a pretty significant accomplishment, as it’s now a more usable space for both Mark and me. And we’ve kept it relatively in order!


How are you doing on your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments!

on resolutions

Happy New Year!

There’s something about January that brings a sense of new beginnings. Maybe it’s the breath of fresh air after the hubbub of the holidays, or the fact that we flip a new year on the calendar that makes us feel like we can press the reset button and start anew. In 2013, I set some goals for myself – concrete things like “run a half marathon” and not just “run more.” I met most of those goals, and exceeded some of them. It gave me a sense of satisfaction to open my goals document every so often and check to see that I’ve made progress. 

So I’m setting my resolutions for 2014 and will keep myself accountable for progress on them during the year. They’re all reachable, but will be a challenge in one way or another. I don’t like to go overboard, since I know that my work and my commute take up a huge portion of my week and my attention during my waking hours. Plus, I don’t like setting myself up for failure. I’d rather succeed at a few small things and be content with that.

With that, here are my goals for 2014 in three categories: mind, body and home.

Mind
Read 75 books.
I read 70 books in 2013, and I’m going to up the ante by just a bit in 2014. Within those 75 books, I have a goal of reading one of what I call the Russian doorstop novels that I haven’t read before, as well as finishing up the rest of Margaret Atwood’s canon. I use Good Reads to help me keep track of what I’m reading when.

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I have no shortage of things that outrage me, and I know that battles about GMO labeling, Ag-Gag laws and farm bills will keep me occupied with this one.

Body
Run a marathon.
Yes, I’m putting it out there. I’m not going to beat myself up if I work on the training and my body doesn’t cooperate (I’m looking at you, knees!), but I’m going to try. I know in my heart I will always regret it if I don’t try, and that’s reason enough for me to start. I will begin training in February, with the goal of working up to a marathon by the fall. I’d also like to do several halfs this year, and to travel to at least one race outside of my area. The goal for the full marathon is just to finish, and my goal for a half marathon in 2014 is to get a PR, which I think is doable. 

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
Rather than set a goal for weight loss, I’m focusing on health and fitness this year. Water is a big one for me – I feel so much better and have so much more energy when I’m properly hydrated. It also helps me with my running to be hydrated at all times, so I’m going to dedicate myself to hydration.

Home
Start my home brew kombucha.
Mark gave me the tools to make kombucha for my birthday last year and I have yet to start, out of fear that I’ll mess it up. I did stop buying kombucha in the store, like I promised myself, but I haven’t taken the leap. 2014 is the time.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
I have my grandma’s sewing machine, and I’m going to put it to good use this year. I’m not particularly gifted in this area, so I’m starting easy and hoping to make Mark a quilt from a pile of old, beloved t-shirts.

Can one new thing.
I want to branch out this year and can something we’ve never canned before. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, but I’d like to try something new and different.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I want to do some research on bee-friendly plants and make the flower beds along our garage an all you can drink nectar buffet for bees. (Can you tell that Vanishing of the Bees inspired me?)

Make the chickens some treats.
I want to be more actively involved in the chickens’ care and I really want to make them some treats to give them a diversion.

Organize the basement.
I did a great job of simplifying and downsizing our house this past fall, but the largest work to be done is our basement, which is a mess of boxes and disorganization and junk that is just begging to be a functional space. If the only house related thing we get done at all this year is to organize the basement, I would count it a success.

I’m going to check in monthly here to keep myself accountable to these goals, and hopefully share some how-tos when I have some success! 

What are your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments – I’d love to know what you’re doing to make 2014 the best year it can be! 

nature’s surprises

We’ve lived in our house for 2 full years now, and we’re starting our third summer here. You’d think I’d know what plants we inherited from the previous owners already, but I was surprised yesterday to find this growing behind our compost bin/tub area. Peonies!

I knew that area had wild strawberries and that the chickens ate up any berries that ever surfaced, so I never bothered to go back there and mess around. Mark deals with almost all the composting in our house, so this was a big surprise.



Also a surprise was the resurrection of my rose bush. My best friend gave me a rose bush as a house warming gift when we moved in. It did really well the first year, but last year wasn’t so great and I thought it died completely over the winter. I watched a video online about trimming and pruning rose bushes and tried to do my best to salvage it, thinking there wasn’t any hope. Then yesterday, this:


A bud! One large bud and lots of other smaller ones. Not really sure what’s up with the few leaves that look blighted. But the new growth is exciting. It’s like a zombie plant. I think I’ll call it the Undead Rose.

I was even more excited this morning to discover the bud had turned to a bloom.

Perhaps there’s hope for my flower gardening after all!

spring blooms

Spring has brought a few flowers up in our front bed. I have absolutely no flower tending skills, though I hope to change that to some degree this summer. This weekend, I noticed we added tulips and some blooms on the bleeding heart plant.