In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


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Garden FAIL

You guys … I think I need a new blog. Or maybe a new series on this blog.

“How to totally suck at gardening and still feed your family.”

potato_fail

About half my potato plants are dead. And they were growing so beautifully too! *sobs*

I planted the seed potatoes in a 12″ deep, 4′ x 4′ garden box (with metal wire mesh across the bottom to keep the voles out), and hilled dirt around the stems as they grew. And then I added more and more soil as the plants got taller and taller. We eventually added a second 12″ tier to the box, and kept adding dirt. Potato tubers actually form on the stems, so the more stem you bury, the more potatoes. Right? Right!

Well, unless in the process of adding dirt, you damaged the stems, and then when you piled on more dirt, it compacted everything around the original injury, and then it RAINED LIKE NOAH’S FLOOD, crushing the dirt further and rotting the poor potato stems.

At least, that is what I guess happened. It could also be bacterial wilt due to the very wet conditions over the past few weeks. Or some other mysterious potato affliction I have never even heard of.

Yeah, I think I have mastered “how to suck at gardening”. Now, if only I can figure out the “and still feed your family” part!


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Welcome Weeds, Week Ending May 27

I’m not going to debate climate change with you.

Either you believe that the earth is warming, leading to increasingly erratic global weather patterns – in which case I don’t have to convince you.

Or you don’t believe it – in which case nothing I can say will make you believe otherwise.

After all, the climate change debate inspires more devout and feverish faith than dietary preferences. (And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, make some room for me under that rock of yours!)

What I do know is that the Maryland weather this spring has had more mood swings than my 15 year old daughter, which REALLY says a lot. April averaged cool and dry, punctuated by occasional days with temperatures in the 90s. May brought with it more warm and muggy temperatures – it was like we skipped straight from late winter to summer – complete with flooding and a hailstorm that shredded everything green and leafy in my yard.

To be blunt, my spring garden is in shambles. Which is why today, I am showcasing the weeds to which I find myself turning in the absence of the vegetables I should have been harvesting by now. (Yes, I’ve covered many of these before, but it doesn’t hurt to showcase them again!)

Yellow rocket (Barbarea vulgaris) – used raw, it makes a tasty, peppery addition to salads. Bonus: high levels of vitamin C.

Yellow Rocket

Yellow Rocket

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) is just starting to come up. Yes, in my garden beds. No, I will not remove it … yet. Purslane is also an excellent salad edition – leaves stems and all – and is a great plant source for omega 3 essential fatty acids.

Purslane Seedling

Purslane Seedling

New colonies of chickweed (Stellaria media) continue to crop up around my garden despite the heat, and continue to find their way into my salad bowl.

Chickweed

Chickweed

Lamb’s quarter (Chenopodium album) (or lambsquarter if you prefer) – another nutritional powerhouse. Currently my go-to green for cooking, since something fluffy, brown and hopping decimated the kale that managed to grow despite the weather.

Lambsquarter

Lambsquarter

And of course, spring’s dandelions seeds (Taraxacum officinale) find their way into any available space. This little guy is small enough to still enjoy raw, but I might let him grown a little longer to use in sauteed greens.

Dandelion

Dandelion

Hopefully the weather calms down some … hahahahahahahaha! OK, I couldn’t type that with a straight face. What I meant was, hopefully wild edibles will continue to adapt to the crazy weather faster than I and my garden can, so there will still be local, fresh vegetables to enjoy!


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Weathering the Weather

This week, I should have been enjoying my first real strawberry harvest.

This year, one of my gardening goals was to take better care of my plants, making sure they had plenty of space and healthy dirt and fertilizer. Taking a more proactive approach to gardening, as it were, rather than always playing defense against my garden foes. For instance, aphids often infest my strawberry plants, but if the plants are healthy they can still produce decent fruit.

They loved the attention. My strawberries were healthier and happier and thrived.

Strawberry Bed

Strawberry Bed

And then the storms and rain hit last week. Tuesday night, the hail drummed our house for 45 minutes. The storm Tuesday night resulted in local waterways flooding, and Catoctin Creek literally washed away parts of the road I live on. (Luckily, we live further uphill so weren’t impacted by the flooding.) The streets of downtown Frederick, MD gushed with water.

My strawberry crop is, in a word, ruined.

Sad Strawberry Mush

Sad Strawberry Mush

In a brief break in the rain yesterday, I cleaned out as much of the damaged, diseased, and rotting fruit as I could. Removed leaves clinging to broken stems. Even plucked off unripe fruit that was already showing water spots. (PSA: half rotten mushy strawberries may be the grossest things to touch. Ever.)

I shouldn’t complain, right? My livelihood doesn’t depend on these berries; my family won’t starve as a result of a lost crop. And many people suffered much worse as a result of the weather.

But it’s still a humbling reminder that whatever humans might think we control in the world, we are still entirely at the mercy of – and ultimately dependent on – the good will of Mother Nature.


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Well… Chit

If you read my post yesterday (but missed my reply to Carolee, of the Herbal Blessings Blog), you might be wondering why I would ever have planted peas last Sunday, knowing there was a snow storm in the forecast.

In a word: chit.

That’s right. I said it. In my blog, no less.

After reading (most of) Steve Solomon’s Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times, I decided to try chitting as a way of jump starting seed germination. The approach is similar to sprouting seeds to eat, except when the roots are just becoming prominent, you plant the seeds in prepared soil. If you wait too long, the fragile roots grow increasingly susceptible to damage when planting.

Chitting takes three to four days, and in the Mid-Atlantic you NEVER know what the forecast will be in a few days, much less a week.  In other words, when the seedlings are ready to plant, you plant – oncoming winter storm or no.

… or you let them fully mature into tasty pea sprouts, and try chitting a new batch in another week! (That’s probably what I’ll do next time.)


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Happy First Day of Spring!

Spring Arrives in Maryland

Spring arrives in Maryland – bringing with it snow

Of course, I’d already planted something. Peas, last weekend when it was sunny and mid-50s. I recently learned that cold, wet seedlings are susceptible to a fatal fungal disease calling “damping off.” I’m sorry, pea seedlings.

One of my garden goals this year is helping my veggies flourish by giving them an optimal environment: more room to grow, consistent fertilizer, and ideal amounts of sun, warmth and moisture for their needs.

…ooops?


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The Reveal

Two days ago, the forecast called for temperatures to drop into the 20s. In fact, the low hit 16 at my house. I had only two layers of row cover on my winter bed… Each layer is maybe good for 4 degrees, so it might not have been enough protection since I’d prepared it for “just” a low of 20.

Last night the temps reached 26. To be safe, I left the cover on all day yesterday. I finally removed it today, once the temps had warmed above freezing.

Voilá!

Winter gardening - following our first hard freeze

The beets looked pathetic – we’ll see if they bounce back in a few days – but everything else seems to have survived ok! A few burned leaves here and there, nothing life threatening! Much better than I was hoping for, given how cold it really got.


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The Official End of… Wait, What?

November 10, and we still haven’t had a serious frost in my immediate area. (Average date of first frost locally is October 15.) Got close a few times, but even my cherry tomatoes and pepper plants are clinging to life.

No more. Tonight, the temperature is forecasted to drop as low as 20. According to the radio reports, “Gardening season is officially over.”

…or is it?

Meet my winter raised bed! This is my latest (and so far, most serious) attempt at a “four season harvest”. Blame / credit goes to Nikki Jabour’s book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, which I found particularly inspiring as fall reading.

I planted the bed with cold hardy crops – shorter greens (like spinach and upland cress) on the edge of the bed, taller plants like kale and leeks in the center.

I’ve engineered wind breaks to help protect the box further – wind burn being even more damaging to plants than low temperatures – and tucked it in for the night with a double layer of row cover.

The pea gravel anchoring the fabric edges gave the tightest closure we’ve ever achieved. Landscaping staples always seem to leave slack which eventually loosens in the wind and allows deadly drafts.

Here’s hoping for mid-winter bounty!

P.S., the full list of plants is as follows: spinach, upland cress, beets, turnips, radishes (including daikon), lettuce, leeks and kale. I also planted carrots but they failed to germinate.