Spring In My Step

Confession: this isn't my garden...it's a shot I took back when I worked at Accokeek.

Confession: this isn’t my garden…it’s a shot I took back when I worked at Accokeek.

The weather is – slowly – starting to even out (we only had one swift turn in temperature this week, that I can tell) and the spring blossoms are in full swing…bringing a swath of allergies and illness with them, as always. I have been lucky so far in that I have never seemed to develop the same severe allergies that many of my compatriots in the DC Metro area have.

[We look forward to the cherry blossoms each year, but with them come weeks of listening to the sniffles and congestion of coworkers and friends whose bodies can’t abide the pollen]

have, however, been dealing with a bit of a bug. It started as a sore throat, then moved on to sniffles/runny nose/sneezing and has now lodged itself as a pretty persistent cough. Well, more persistent than I’d like but not nearly as bad as it has been for Mom and Robert.

Despite feeling a bit under the weather (honestly, I’m mostly just really tired) my thoughts have moved to plans for this year’s garden. Our plans last summer were pretty well laid – we had tomato plants, the cucumbers were looking lovely, and I had the most beautiful crop of cabbages I could have hoped for.

And then, of course, The Thing happened last year (no, I’m not talking about the John Carpenter movie), and all of the lovely green growing things were affected. Bugs, heat, neglect…all of them took their toll and much of the garden never really recovered.

The collards are booming! The rosemary is staying where it is, but we'll have to see about the rest.

The collards are booming! The rosemary is staying where it is, but we’ll have to see about the rest.

This year, though, we are starting anew. Well, starting again with some old, first. The collards I planted last year (that were all but decimated by the end of the summer, thanks to some very hungry beetles) survived the winter (including a pretty substantial blizzard) and are thriving in the cooler weather we’ve been having this March. I am still not sure whether they’ll make it to the “official start” of the garden…after all, there are fewer of us in the house to eat them now.

Robert and I are moving forward on making alterations to the existing raised beds. At the moment, they are only raised about four inches off the ground, which doesn’t keep grass out of them when the side yard is mowed. Last weekend, we raided the store of old wood Robert’s dad keeps in his carport, pulling out pieces that can come together to form new walls. We’ll be pulling out the original stone sides (lovely as they are) and replacing the original bed walls we put down several years ago. Depending on how the wood seems to have aged, they might find new life in some of the other plans we have for the backyard, but that remains to be seen.


As we turned our thoughts to the garden, I took stock of the seeds we have for this year’s planting – both new purchases and those saved from last year’s harvests. I am hopeful that this year, finally, I can get some cauliflower to grow. Third time’s the charm, right? We are also focusing on some of the things we know we love and others that keep well. Sugar snap peas are back on the menu (we’ll see how many of them make it inside this year), as are green beans and assorted lettuce. We’ve got kaleidiscope carrots and cosmic purple carrots and turnips and radishes (the first time for turnips and radishes, but not for carrots) and a new form of cucumber that Mom stumbled upon called cucamelons. They look like watermelons but taste like cucumber with a hint of lemon. We’ll see how they work out. My luck has not been great lately, when it comes to cucumbers.

Speaking of lemons, though…I was gifted with a lemon tree this year. I have not yet tried to grow fruit (I don’t count the peach trees that grew on the side of the house when I was a kid, or the wild blackberries that grow in some spots around the backyard), so this will be a bit of an experiment for me. According to the care tag, the tree can stay in a pot, though I believe I will probably transfer it to a larger one soon, just to make sure it has some room. It’s a hardy little tree and can survive in zones that get down to 30 degrees…which means our zone, in the winter, can be just a tad bit too cold. Leaving it indoors is not a possibility. For one, Mom doesn’t care for the smell (it is  a bit fragrant, but I don’t mind). Two, Raven loves plants. He keeps getting up on the mantle to get into the flowers we had up there, and we’ve caught him trying to eat roses out of a vase before. I’d rather not have to fend the cat off from the lemon tree, so it will be spending most of its time outdoors.

Of course, that leaves us with a little problem once the winter sets in.

To solve this problem, Robert and I have decided to build a greenhouse. Not a large one. Just a small one, about potting shed size, which can sit at the back corner of the house, between the window and the downspout on the corner. We’ll be able to start some seeds in there, away from the attention of one little black cat, and house the lemon tree in the winter, when the frost might be a bit much for it.

This would be great, but I don't think this is what we'll end up with.

This would be great, but I don’t think this is what we’ll end up with.

To this end, we’ve started looking over all of the salvaged windows that Robert’s dad also has stored in his carport. I really like the idea of using a lot of found and repurposed objects for the garden. As a result, I’m probably more willing to overlook the “weirdness” of some of the items we pull out for garden use. For instance, I’m okay with wood that isn’t always the same length or width or type, and I have been known to go “Oh, this would be GREAT!” when presented with something that looks a little shabby. (I do draw the line at wood that looks a bit bug-eaten, as I’m trying to introduce as few pests to the garden as possible) Of course, this has meant that Robert has had to deal with my insistence on re-using an old footboard as one of the walls for the previous garden, and my excitement on seeing abandoned tires, as they are supposed to make great “containers” for growing potatoes.

I have yet to convince him to actually stop and load said things into the car for later use, but we have been keeping an eye out for wooden pallets. He made a lovely table out of one last year. It’s currently housing some of last year’s pots, until such time as we are ready to pull the ground cover out of them and plant new items.

[There is also a neat set of shuttered doors stowing away in the top of Robert’s dad’s carport that I am desperately trying to come up with an idea for. Hmm. Seems like Pinterest is in my future.]

Even my kale - going on three years, now - is still growing. Well, most of it. You can see that last year's big plant (to the left) hasn't fared as well.

Even my kale – going on three years, now – is still growing. Well, most of it. You can see that last year’s big plant (to the left) hasn’t fared as well.

Our original plan was to build the new beds on Easter, but it rained. Well, and we fell asleep. But, with some luck, we’ll have the new beds assembled soon and we can start laying down some new dirt and fertilizer for this year’s growth. I still haven’t decided whether I’m going to try to transplant the collards into the re-done beds. I have a problem pulling up things that have their mind set on growth — as evidenced by the fact that, not only has the comfrey plant I got ages ago not been pulled up, despite not really using it for anything, but I’ve allowed its offspring to thrive in the front of the house, as well. Pulling up collards and salad burnet when they are doing so well seems kind of sad.

Last year, our garden plan was…less than planned, shall we say? Much of what I planted came about as a result of my work over at the farm. One of the women interested in volunteering her time happened to work at Merrifield Garden Center and she let us know about some plants that were about to be thrown out.

It is truly remarkable how many plants we ended up picking up last year – many of them were too large to be considered seedlings anymore, and needed to be planted in ground pronto! Others were just an abundance of a less popular plant.  Let’s face it…everyone goes crazy for the tomatoes and peppers, and no one looks at rue and yarrow and tansy and gets as excited. Well, some of us do, but not enough to snatch up all the plants that were on their way to the discard pile.

I figure our "greenhouse" will probably be less actual greenhouse and more potting shed.

I figure our “greenhouse” will probably be less actual greenhouse and more potting shed.

Most of those plants made their way to the gardens over at the park, but there were only so many Brice squash plants and Vietnamese corianders that could be stuffed into the Museum Garden. So I got to bring some home with me. Some of those plants are still growing (the aforementioned collards, as well as a hardy curry plant, some sage, and half of the lavender). This year, I’m making a little more of a plan for the garden ane won’t just adapt to what we might get in a donation.  Since we grew leeks last year (another of those donated crops, and the first time growing that particular veggie), we can’t put anything onion or garlic-related in that spot. So that’s where some of the carrots will go, as well as some beans, all nestled around the rosemary.

Can you tell I’m excited about the garden this season? Because I am.

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