Friday, March 5, 2010

Sumer is Icumen In...someday?

Longings for warmth and growingtimes from a snowbound suburban Greenmom...

Perhaps an overstatement. Summer isn't a'comin'in quite yet*; in fact, spring is still a dream on the horizon. Basically, the arrival of March in the Chicago area tells us only that we can be pretty sure we'll see our last snowstorm within the next 6 weeks.

On the other hand, the arrival of March also usually coincides with more frequent birdsongs on the air, shrinking snow piles, and increasing piles of goose poo on the sidewalks that one's children tend to step in on the way to the bus stop. And whether the outdoor growing season is actually at all close or not, it's time to start at least thinking about starting seeds indoors, planning where things will go, and having all these hopeful thoughts about the fabulous things we want to do in the garden this year. As I said in a previous post on the happy and hopeful day when I saw the first pussywillows in bloom, this is the time of year when the realities of life haven't set in yet, and the possibilities for what I would like to accomplish are still endless and unbounded.

So I'm going to just throw them out there--and I'd love to hear what others are planning for your gardens, from those who have a giant backyard veggie garden to those who maybe throw a couple of tomato plants into patio planters and herbs on the windowsill. We all have different lives and different environments, different climate limitations, different schedules, different cooking likes and habits...but a lot of us grow stuff.

So: the Greenmom's garden(s):
This will be our second growing season in our "new" house. It has a nice backyard with a lot of full sun, which is wonderful. Unfortunately, it was also the victim of some really unfortunate landscaping at some point in the past. (I ranted about this stuff last spring when I began to discover it.) Long story short, the soil doesn't drain well at all; it is pure clay back there and someone put plastic down under the grass to theoretically aid in draining the wet. That was the theory; the reality is that we have a big nasty puddle back there from April to June, at which point it all dries and cracks till September. Lovely. But the previous owners installed a raised bed at some point which had gone fairly unused for many years by the time we moved in. Last year we rototilled a buttload of compost and manure into it; we will probably have to do that again this spring too, although eventually we'd like to go to the system of "weedless gardening," which takes a lot less heavy maintenance but on the other hand a lot more preparation. (Which we needed to do in the fall. And didn't.)

My main garden goals:
  1. to grow lots and lots of roma-type tomatoes. I want to have enough to can and eat over the winter; canned tomatoes, with their BPA linings and hit-or-miss flavors, are increasingly losing their charm for me. Last year, with 2 plants, I had all the tomatoes we could eat over the summer. So I will probably increase to 4 this year and see what happens.
  2. I also want a cherry or grape tomato plant, at least one. I've found that if there is a bowl of fresh veggies of that type sitting on the counter, I'll mindlessly and happily grab and munch on them for ages. Beats chips, or cheese.
  3. I'll continue my perennial herbs--I have sage, oregano, thyme, and tarragon growing near the patio so I don't have to go all the way to the backyard to harvest them. The tarragon didn't do so well last year and may not have made it, so I may need to replace it.
  4. I also need to find out if the chamomile I bought cheap at a local nursery actually was a perennial. (English chamomiles are annual; Roman chamomiles are perennial. We shall see. It looked more like Roman, with its sort of spready habit, but it's hard to tell.) I also have a second small raised bed (I think the original owners put it in as a sandbox) in back with lavender, orange mint, and lemon balm; these are the three most pushy and invasive herbs I have, so I tossed them in there and let them duke it out together. Mother Nature Deathmatch, sort of. So far each seems to be holding its own. Those I use for summer teas and tinctures and stuff. I'm considering getting a bunch of Roman chamomile plug plants to put in the front yard as ground cover; it spreads and makes this cool tangled mat that apparently you can mow like grass, but it gives these lovely-scented flowers that you can make chamomile tea or tincture out of.
  5. Basil! I planted a bunch of basil plants outside, also near the patio, and got some nice pesto out of it and even have some still frozen from last fall's final harvest.
  6. Calendula is another good tincture/oil herb, and planted around other veggies is said to repel insects. Fennel does the same thing. We had fennel in the garden last year and hopefully it will come back, and this year I'll add calendula to the mix.
  7. We tried growing peppers last year, and it was not a success. We may give it one more try and then give up. We like peppers, and I'd love to dry my own chiles, but we gave a lot of garden space last year to things that produced basically nothing.
  8. Cucumbers! These too are among my favorite munchies, although I found myself overloaded with them last year. I'll still probably do two plants, though.
  9. Snap peas: one of the few veggies my kids will eat. It's like Jack Sprat and his wife; my daughter picks out the peas and my son eats the pods. But I need to cage or net them this year, because the bunnies chomped the heck out of them last year and I think we got maybe 14 peas during the whole growing season. I want lots of these.
  10. Zucchini. If I can stay on top of them, we'll have lovely baby squash all summer. If I can't, at least last year I figured out stuff to do with the giant bigger-than-my-wiener-dog things that grew while we were on vacation in late summer.
  11. Lettuce: I put a few romaine plants under my peonies by the patio, where they were fairly nicely shaded until the first big heat wave, which unfortunately was early last year. That was pretty much it for the lettuce. But while it was there, it meant I could just grab a salad or sandwich fixings in three barefoot steps out the door. Worth it.
Then there are the "wouldn't this be cool ifs":
  1. Garlic: I am still not sure about this one. It's also supposed to repel bugs when planted among the other veggies, but I've never grown it before and don't really know anything about it. Anyone grown garlic who can offer any advice here?
  2. New this year: winter squash of some kind. Maybe butternut squash, maybe pumpkins; I haven't decided. But I'd like to give it a shot.
  3. Carrots: also something I've never grown before. I don't know why they seem to be such a big mystery, I just haven't done it. And I think there's something in me that rebels at the idea of planting something I only get to harvest once...but again, I'd like to try it.
  4. Broccoli: the other night while making stirfry I rediscovered something I'd forgotten, which is how much I love raw broccoli. Once cooked, I'm like, meh...but the raw crispy stuff is just fabulous.
  5. Italian fennel: this is different from the seed-bearing fennels that you use to season sausages and stuff; it's an actual veggie with a bulbous base that's crispy and sort of anise-flavored. Never grown it. Would like to try.
  6. I've just begun a love affair with potatoes. Sweet, white, baking, boiling, roasting, whatever. I love them. And since they always do tend to sprout on my counter anyhow, I find myself wondering how hard it would really be to grow my own...anyone do this?
  7. Onions...same thing, they are always sprouting into onion plants on me, so I wonder if I could make it happen on purpose?
I fully realize that there's no way I'll be able to pull all this off. Not a chance. But hey, in the first week in March, anything seems possible, right?
Jenn the Greenmom

the blog post title is taken from a really old English partsong, the earliest extant "round" (think "row row row your boat") in existence. Lots of high school madrigal groups sing it. I'm a music geek, what can I say?


Wonder-ful said...

Last year we grabbed up some 5 gallon buckets and had a small container garden out back. By small, I mean 6 tomato plants, each in their own bucket, sitting on the platform of the unused swingset in the middle of the lawn.

Since I can't tear up the lawn (yet) and the designated garden area is pretty secluded and needs a lot of work, we're looking at containers again. We really liked it. Less tomatoes this year, but we'll add in some squash, okra, strawberries (everyone here seems to grow strawberries when they attempt gardening) and I'd like to plant some lavender and herbs (sage, parsley and mint are what we go through the most... unless anyone knows of a Mrs. Dash plant I can grow).

The difference this year (other than variety) is that I'm going to make more use of the swingset and hang planters off of it for some things like the strawberries.

Dea-chan said...

You can use the stems of chamomile to make a cramp tea -- one of the things that most people don't know.

Good luck with your garden!

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

We're putting in our first garden this year. We both grew up with gardens, and I've grown tomatoes and peppers before, but this will be our first full garden. We're growing cucumbers, squash, corn, beans, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and lettuce. Trying to figure out where to plant herbs also. If all goes well, next year we'll look into expanding to berries and melons.

Are your musical interests all classic and choral related? I'm a music geek too, but for indie music. And my husband is a music snob.

Daisy said...

We are so on the same wavelength! I'm thinking ahead to my usual plants (beans, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini) and deciding what else to plant and how and where... and all the other questions that make gardening fun. I'm branching out into organic heirloom tomatoes this year. Excitement in the yard!

Aura. said...

Here’s something to think about. Beets are about as easy to grow as carrots. Also, swiss chard grows well and looks beautiful in the garden!

Anonymous said...

Garlic is pretty easy to grow- try it out! Don't plant your sprouting potatoes though as they are prone to disease. You will need to buy certified seed potatoes.

Robbie@Going Green Mama said...

Jenn, garlic is so easy! I've done it for several years. If you don't mind smaller bulbs this fall, you can even start them now.

The great thing about garlic (and onions) is you stick them in your ground and let them do their thing over the next 8-10 months or so.

If you're short on space, pick an early variety. Some can come out of the ground just as you're ready to do much of your spring planting!

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Cramp tea from chamomile stems? I had no idea--thank you!

Levinson & Axelrod said...

Good luck. Hope you meet your goals.


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