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Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

Several years ago I tried gardening in a few containers in our backyard. We had a couple of things grow, but nothing ever did very well. I know that people have entire gardens flourish in containers, so perhaps it was just me. I never had a lot of luck with houseplants either. (I do have a few, now, that are hardy I-won’t-die-if-you-don’t-water-me-on-time varieties provided by my mom that are, for the most part, doing well on the once-a-week water/splash of coffee diet I have them on.)

And then last year I really wanted a garden to grow our own vegetables. We are regulars at our local farmer’s market, but there is something about going out to water in your flannel pants in the morning (our yard is quite private) and showing the littles how food grows with water, sun, and healthy soil, that just can’t be beat. So we decided to build a raised garden to house our micro-farm. After we went to the market and picked out all of our plants, we realized that we had too many for our one garden plot, and so a second was built. We planted everything from tomatoes and corn to watermelon and kale. We had some successes like the tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumbers, and some definite things to remember for next time (like thinning carrots!). Another big lesson was corn = raccoons. But the best part was that our little garden helper loved everything from building the garden bed, playing in the dirt, and picking out the plants, to watering (Oh, the watering! Even her friends wanted turns with the “water wand!”) and, of course, the eating.

This year we are trying something new. Well, it is new to us, but I imagine it has been around for longer than anyone really knows; companion gardening. Companion gardening is all about plant relationships and how you can make those relationships work for you in your garden. For example, tomato and basil flourish together, but tomato and broccoli plants do not grow well next to each other. If you are familiar with Strega Nona’s Harvest and her nice neat rows, that is what we aimed for last year. This year, I’m not saying we have gone the way of Big Anthony by just throwing seeds in the ground, but we have definitely moved away from perfectly ordered rows. We have scattered the basil seeds around the tomato plants, the peas and sunflowers are planted next to each other with the idea that then we won’t have to trellis the peas but that they will simply climb the sunflowers. The onions are scattered throughout the garden because onions are supposed to be good at keeping pests away. We also planted radish seeds in the same hill as the cucumber seeds as they are supposed to be mutually beneficial. If you would like to know more, I read Carrots Love Tomatoes before planning our garden.

The edibles we are growing in our yard are:

Tomatoes, basil, carrot, sugar peas, sunflowers, and marigolds

Chives

Parsley, more onion, broccoli, radish, cucumber

Strawberries (they pop up all over)

Blueberries

Pumpkins — Just planted and no pictures

And lots and lots of these (I know you can eat these but we choose not to harvest ours)

What’s growing in your garden?

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Springtime Reads

With so much talk of spring planting and gardening, I thought it would be nice to share just a few of the books that we enjoy in the spring (and really all year).

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and Illustrated by David Small

My Garden by Kevin Henkes

Strega Nona’s Harvest by Tomie dePaola

We Planted a Tree by Diane Muldrow and Illustrated by Bob Staake

Paddington Bear in the Garden by Michael Bond

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (If you are interested in the cover on the Penguin Threads edition, you can find out more here.)

What are some of your favorites?

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Week one of What I Learned is complete and it brought with it much reading about bees. Mason Bees initially, but you can’t read about Mason Bees without also moving into the topic of honeybees. Honeybees leads into Colony Collapse Disorder and then on into the decline of pollinators as a whole. As with all real-life learning, topics easily slide from one to the next — and isn’t that the beauty of it? It is like talking with a small child and realizing that they could ask “why?” all day long!

How did Mason Bees become my topic of interest? Well, several years ago I received a Mason Bee house as a gift. I let it languish in the basement, not really knowing much about Mason Bees or what was involved with a Mason Bee house. I also seemed to miss the hanging window each year (early spring).

And then last year we decided to grow our own pumpkins. Now in my experience, having too few pumpkins in a garden is never a problem … they tend to be like zucchini in that way. (As an aside, zucchini always make me think of the midnight zucchini raids in Cry Uncle, by Mary Jane Auch … out-of-print but a great book if you can find it!) Our two small plants flowered over and over but pollination never happened. Our front yard, with no fewer than nine lavender plants, literally hums with the sounds of working bees. Our backyard is considerably quieter.

This got me thinking about pollination, a topic of much scientific research in recent years due to Colony Collapse Disorder and what the loss of pollinators is going to mean for putting food on our tables — certainly it means an increase in the price of food. There are a few theories as to why we are loosing so many hives with heavy pesticide use being one of them.

Currently, the outlook for honeybees is still rather grim. (You can help by having a bee-friendly yard.) However, there is some good news for gardeners and farmers and it comes in the form of a small bee called the Mason Bee. Mason Bees are solitary bees (meaning they don’t have a hive to defend), incredible pollinators, easily cared for, and quite gentle. They are also native to most of the continental U.S. (honeybees are not).

Mason Bees utilize small tubes, holes in trees, or the occasional ground hole in an electrical outlet, to lay their eggs in beds of pollen and then the chamber is plugged with mud. The larvae then hatch, eat the pollen, and spin cocoons from which they will emerge as adult bees the next spring. I was also pleased to note, especially having little ones helping in the garden, that Mason Bees will generally only sting if trapped (if they get inside of your sleeve, for example).

So, armed with this knowledge, we hung our Mason Bee house. This house does not have removable tubes, which is important to keep the bees healthy year-after-year. Mason Bees are susceptible to pollen mites and this can become a problem in solid tubes. Generally, each fall, the tubes are opened and the cocoons are harvested for release in the spring. If we do attract any bees to our little house, we will need to move them into another house next year. Luckily I found information on this process here.

Each day I — with my garden helpers! — check the tubes anxiously to see if we have any guests. Nothing yet. I will update you if we are so lucky. I don’t know if it is hung in the ideal spot or with ideal conditions, but it is a start — and I do know the Mason Bee population of our basement is zero.

If you would like to learn more about Mason Bees, I found this site to be a wealth of information!

I hope you will check back for next week’s post on What I Learned. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you learned this week!

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