2003 Garden Diary

1524 NW 21st, Oklahoma City, at the southeast corner of North McKinley and NW 21st in the Gatewood Neighborhood, being the garden of Robert Waldrop, urban hobbit and forest edge gardener

Bettertimes | Justpeace | Oklahoma Food | 2002 garden diary |

March 17 | April 7 | April 15 | May 31

May 31, 2003

The Vigil of Ascension Sunday

Time sure flies when you are having fun in the garden. We've been munching our way through fresh salad greens now for several weeks, and we still have salad to pick. It's amazing how much produce you can grow in a small area. When I first started this project, one of the things I wondered was, "How much food can I really grow in a space like this?" The answer is now clear, "A lot more than I thought in the first place." And each year we harvest more.

We've also been picking mulberries for a couple of weeks. Actually, "shaking mulberries" is probably a better word, as we generally hold a sheet under the branch and then shake it (this takes 2 or 3 people). The ripe ones fall off, the unripe ones stay on the branch. I have made some nice cobbler; now we are saving them in the fridge for a couple of days to accumulate enough to make some jam. Below is a recipe for mulberry cobbler.

I started harvesting the garlic today, dug 80 bulbs, some bigger, some smaller, but it is still a lot of garlic, especially since there is quite a bit more to come; today's harvest was about 40% of the total. They say the optimum time to harvest garlic is when the foliage is about half yellow/brown and half green, and I went around and dug all those that matched that standard. Looks like the rest will be there soon, in a couple of days at the most. So we are now well protected from vampires, as I have hung them in bunches of ten or so all over the place. It looks like garlic will be the first food that we will be self sufficient with in terms of growing all we eat of it.

The blackeyed and purple hulled peas are growing nicely, and there's a few green beans forming on those bushes. I need to trim a branch on a tree that is shading some of my tomato plants too much, they are behind the others. Besides the mulberries, in the last couple of days we've started picking a few boysenberries. And the blackberries are forming nicely and should be tasty in a few weeks. Meanwhile, the elderberries are continuing to bloom. So the way it looks with our small fruits, we will start with strawberries, then mulberries, followed by boysenberries and blackberries. The clove currants still aren't producing, so I'm not sure where they will fit in. Meanwhile there are a LOT of grapes on the vines, and I planted about 12 new grape vines given to us by a friend who has a vinyard. These are all wine grapes: merlot, muscat, and rhysling.

The flowers on the annual sunflowers are starting to form, and the first bee balm flowers opened today.

I gave up on trying to start Good King Henry from seed, as I had had four years of failures in a row, so I bought 3 plants and they seem to be doing nicely, I also acquired some German and Roman chamomile plants which are also doing fine. I moved the winter savory as it was being shaded too much by the horseradish and horehound, it is still getting used to its new spot. The pickling cucumbers are doing nicely.

We built two tomato cages out of wood, one worked fine (second we made, using screws), the other didn't, on that one we used nails. Two of our tomato plants need no cages, as they are being supported by foliage around them, mostly vetch. Now that we have a design that works, we'll make some more for the others. About half the asparagus I planted this year came up, the rest never sprouted. Something has been nibbling on some of the cabbage, but they seem to be holding their own. And the daylilies have begun to bloom, while the walking onions are rapidly forming the little bulblets at the top of their stems. I acquired some poppy and snap dragon plants, and have put them here and there so they should be bringing some color in a bit.

The crimson clover is all gone, the vetch is going, although here and there there are still some blooms. I found out that vetch seed is edible, "tastes like lentils" they say, but we haven't tried any yet although I intend to. The turnip flowers have turned into seed pods, I am letting a lot of them self seed and will be gathering the rest on Monday. I want to plant some turnips ( for the turnips, not the greens) but that will be later in the summer for fall and winter harvest.

Had one oops, went out last week one morning and a guy from the city was looking very curiously at the front yard. He was from the water department, and asked, "Where's the meter?" Oops. I had made some new beds on the front lawn and sure enough, the water meter was under the edge of one. Who knows what I was thinking of when I did that. Fortunately, no plants had to be displaced and I just had to tweak the edge of that bed to uncover the meter.

Had another oops with some onion plants growing from onion sets that I planted in the fall. They sent up flower stalks, and I should have plucked them, as if the flower forms, all the energy goes into that and you don't get a nice onion bulb in the ground. Oh well, I'm going to let them go to seed and the let them self seed and see how that works. In the meantime, the onion flowers are very pretty. The fruit on the apple, plum, and peach trees looks nice. And we're getting a nice harvest of lambs quarters.

We have had quite a few pecan tree sprouts come up this year. I am nurturing all of them along. Eventually some may be given to others, and some I will let grow. Our compost is under our pecan tree, and I am sure some of the pecans fell into the mulch and then got scattered about the garden where they have sprouted and taken root.

Yesterday we had a hot day; it was 102 degrees here in Oklahoma city, only the 4th time since they started keeping records that it broke 100 in May. Today it is nice, a cool front came through in the evening.

The purple hyacinth bean plants are going great, they are going to be putting on a great show here shortly. Something has sprouted in the cavity of the one dead tree we have left standing on our property. Oops, I forgot, it's not a dead tree, if the city asks it is a bird house for birds that only nest in dead trees (and it is, there are birds that live in the top). But there is an open place on the side (except for the fact that there is no foliage, the tree looks like an Ent with an open mouth), and three little plants have sprouted in it. We'll see what they produce.

So far we've managed to have something blooming all the way since the first of April. The color now is generally white (onion and elderberry flowers) with a pretty purple on the bee balm. Coming up will be pink and purple on the coneflowers.

This week's advice:

It is better to be friends with earth worms and lady bugs than to have the ear of Congress.

Mulberry Cobbler Recipe

Pull the little stems off the mulberries and put the berries in a small pan (say 1 cup mulberries), Cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for maybe 3 or 4 minutes. Put half a cup of water in a cup and add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, mix thoroughly, bring the mulberry mixture back to a boil and add the cornstarch reduce heat and simmer until it thickens. Depending on the sweetness of the mulberries, you might want to add a tablespoon of sugar.

In a bowl mix one cup flour (whole wheat works fine), one cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Add one cup milk and mix throughly. Melt one stick of butter in a cast iron skillet, and pour the batter into the skillet, and mix it with the melted butter. Spoon the mulberry mixture over the top of this batter, bake in the oven at 375 degrees for half hour to 45 minutes, or in any event until the top is golden yellow brown. Sometimes it seems to take longer than other times I cook this, not sure why that is but pay attention to it after about a half hour. Remove when done and feast.

April 15, 2003

Now's the time for a drive by peep if you're in the neighborhood of 1524 NW 21st. On Palm Sunday, the crimson clover burst into bloom. The vetch is also in bright purple bloom, and the turnips have yellow blossoms on them. There's a few white blossoms left on the apple trees, but the mulberry bushes are blooming (well, they're so tiny you can't really see them unless you look closely at a branch, I noticed them when several caught in my beard and hair as I was putting up an exterior shade yesterday.)

It was a cloudy and cool day, and I spent several hours gardening today. I planted 16 Roma tomato plants (from Horne Seed at NW Expressway and Classen), and 21 (yes, 21) habanero pepper plants. We really like the habanero pepper salsa we made from our five bushes last year. We want more. Five bushes yielded 2 pints of salsa (we put the habaneros through the food processor, then added some spices and vinegar).

The plum trees and sand plum bushes, and the peach trees, are loaded with little tiny baby fruit. The grape vines are greening up nicely, and lots of stuff is sprouting from the seeds I've planted in the last few weeks. I planted two pots of apple mint in the apple tree guild, the apple mint I planted last year hasn't come back yet. But the chocolate, lemon, and spear mints are doing fine and looking very pretty.

The henbit which greened things up early is past its prime and is dying back, the earliest dandelions opened their puffballs of seeds today, and the vetch and clover will in turn fade away as the summer's heat grows. In its place will grow stuff that I've planted in and among the cover crops (the vetch and the clover both take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil), which includes cabbage, habanero and cayenne peppers, cabbage (green and red), sunflowers, spinach, swiss chard, lettuces, luffas, green beans, blackeyed peas, lima beans. This illustrates the natural principle of succession. One thing follows another follows another and so on.

The elderberry, strawberry, and blackberry beds are also lush with the purple vetch and crimson clover, and the strawberries are putting on some giant flowers. The highbush cranberry however is deceased, having had a triple whammy, getting smashed with shingles when we replaced part of the roof, and having close encounters of the wrong kind with both a lawnmower AND a weed whacker. Rest In Peace. The aronia bush, which was previously thought deceased also due to weed whacker injury has sprouted new growth from its base, below where it was whacked. Also on the bright side, the plum tree which also got injured with a weed whacker and looked a bit "peaked" the rest of the summer has greened and bloomed real nicely this year and is loaded with fruitlets.

The poke sallet is putting out new shoots, but I haven't seen a bit of green from the fig tree I planted last fall.. I have some pink coneflower and purple coneflower plants still to put out, and a nice passion flower vine.

We did have a neighborhood tragedy today, though. A house just one block up the street caught on fire and was completely consumed. In this neighborhood, the houses are so close together, and the wind was blowing so strongly that the house to the East was also largely gutted, its entire roof burned, and the duplex on the west (where I lived when I first moved to this neighborhood in 1994) was crisped a bit around its eaves and on the adjoining wall. Say a prayer for the family, who recently moved into the house (a rental).

It's a bit of a stormy evening too, we're in a tornado watch and I guess at minimum there's some thunderstorms coming through after midnight. I mulched everything I planted today really good, and brought the plants still in pots up onto the porch, so hopefully everything will come through fine. The dense growth of vetch and clover will also provide protection to the plants interplanted with them. The rain will be nice. It showered a bit off and on in the afternoon, and now its raining steadily. Drink my plants, drink deeply of the goodness which falls so freely upon you.

I reworked the first bed I made back in 1999 today. I had let it sit fallow last year, with a thick mulch of grass clippings. When I brushed some of it aside to get it ready to receive some of the tomato plants, alas I found a network of bermuda grass rhizomes just beneath the surface. So I spent some time pulling that out, and then put down some cardboard, and put small branches on top of that (known as "hugulkulture"), added mixed dried grass clippings and partially composted leaves, topsoil and compost on top of that. After planting the tomatoes, I finished the top with a couple inches of mulch and then gave the asparagus a top dressing of compost.

I found something interesting growing amidst the bermuda in front of the little house in back: LETTUCE. I guess some seeds blew over there, and there was a clump of 8 or 9 lettuces, in different stages of growth, growing up like crabgrass in the lawn, definitely way ahead of the just greening up bermuda.

We picked up the last equipment that we need to get started brewing our own beer. We're starting out with a kit beer, but I did some searching on the internet and bought some hops rhizomes from http://www.freshhops.com (I also saw an ad for them in a brewing newspaper I picked up at the local brew store.) I'm thinking about developing a corner of my gardens as a "Beer Garden," with an arbor for the hops, and some patches of barley around the edges.

We also started changing over our windows this week. During the winter, we have mylar/blanket curtains that hang over the interior of the windows. During the summer, we put a mylar curtain over the exterior of the windows, and cover that with a white rollup shade (the rollup shade is mostly for aesthetics, it also protects the mylar mats). That really helps keep the heat off the window glass and thus out of the house. The mylar bed mats we use for this we buy at an immigrant owned independent "dollar store" just a few blocks south of here. They are a dollar each, and they last amazingly well, it takes 3 of them to cover one of our double windows; some of them have been used for two summers and we're putting them up against this year.

This week's advice:

1. Invest in rootstock

2. Compost: because a rind is a terrible thing to waste.

I pray that your Easter season will be blessed with joy and peace and bountiful gardens..

April 7, 2003

I haven't managed to plant something every day, but I have gotten the wildflowers planted, more blackeyed peas, some cabbage, carrots, carnations, luffas, sunflowers (planted lots of them), purple hyacinth beans (I planted a lot of these along the edges of beds that have large logs, so the vines will spill over them). Lots of stuff is sprouting, carrots, blackeyed peas, wildflowers, sunflowers. We'll have another light freeze tonight, but thus far everything has come through a couple of freezes OK.

The apple trees are in full bloom, there is one bright pink blossom left on one of the peach trees. The chickweed is blooming (yes, it's edible). The strawberries are starting to bloom, and the plants are much bigger than last year (plus there's more of them, they've spread nicely). The elderberries look like they're going to be putting on a growth spurt this year. One that I thought was dead has sprouted new green growth from its base. The maximilien sunflowers are putting out lots of new canes. And the grape vines are greening up, while dandelions have their cheerful little blossoms everywhere.. Meanwhile, there are two nice patches of lambs quarters that self seeded from one of last year's giant plants.

I've also hauled five pickup loads of mulch. Three went on large areas of grass (on top of cardboard, of course), and 2 have gone onto the existing paths. I guestimate I'll probably need another 3 loads to cover another area of grass, and finish the existing paths. I called tree companies at random in the phone book and found one guy who had a big pile down by SW !49th and I 44 and he said, "take all you want." (Johnson's Tree Service.)

The vetch is starting to sprout purple flowers, and in about a week the crimson clover should be rioting in bright red tones all over the place. WOO HOO.

I've also decided to look into some additional options for bed borders. This winter we've had quite a problem with people stealing the border logs, presumably for fire wood (there is a close correlation between missing border logs and cold weather). My ideas are mostly trending towards field stone. So if anybody has a pasture or field with lots of rocks, and would like for somebody to come and haul them away, let me know. I'm not going to rush out and change everything tomorrow, but over the summer I would like to evolve into using more stone for borders. I plan on keeping some of the logs, especially the larger and more attractive ones (and that are generally too big for somebody to just grab and run with). The rest of the existing logs will probably be buried in the garden at various places. (That suggestion comes from Masanobu Fukuoka, the Japanese advocate of natural farming.) There is a website dedicated to this farming and garden method, at http://www.fukuokafarmingol.net/index.html , which has a LOT of useful info about natural farming and gardening. The projects section lists our little Oklahoma City effort and has some nice photos of last summer's garden.

What else have I planted or not mentioned? Hmmm ,herbs, the lovage is coming back nicely (three years in a row), I've gotten roman chamomile and dill planted, several of the asparagus crowns have planted, and the asparagus I planted 3 years ago looks like we could clip a bit this year. The rhubarb has come back. The highbush cranberry is a dead loss, however, it never quite recovered from getting smashed when we replaced the roof, and then later hit with a weed whacker, the latter event seems to have been the coup de grace. The Oregon grapes, on the other hand, are doing nicely (the leaves are presently about 4 distinct colos, ranging from bright red through bronze to two shades of green). And the aronia, which also fell victim to a weed whacker and an enthusiastic volunteer, has sprouted new growth from its base, so maybe we'll salvage something there. THIS YEAR, everything that could be harmed by a weedwhacker is well protected with exra mulch. The daylilies I divided last fall have taken to their new locations nicely. And the shallots, multiplying onions, walking onions, and garlic are all doing very well. One bush cherry (of the four I planted the second year) has survived, alas, without a second it will not bear fruit, or so I've been told, so I need to replace one of them.

So that's how things are in my garden thus far. I hope all y'all's gardens will be green and productive this year.

March 17, 2003, St. Patrick's Day!

Erin go bragh! Ceil mille falte! May all the leprechauns smile on your gardens this year.

What a great day to start planting this year's garden. Partly cloudy, nice breeze, just the right temperature. I started this morning by raking the mulch from the beds, stacking it along the sides of the beds. The soil is looking very nice in most places, no doubt because of the worms. There were lots of earth worms, several different varieties including some big fat nightcrawlers.. There were a few areas where the mulch was gone; the wind, animals, or something moving it around over the winter (as a contractor friend of mine says, "Nothing ever stays where you put it." The bare patches here and there had a hard crust, but the majority of the beds are very nice and friable without any tilling at all. I used a rake to break the crust on the bare spots, but other than that I didn't have to do any soil prep.

The first thing into the ground were 20 asparagus crowns. Then I planted one bed with a lettuce polyculture: red prize, iceberg, bibb, romaine, buttercrunch, red salad bowl, black seeded simpson, and an unnamed variety given to me by a friend. For that I simply sprinkled the seeds onto the top of the soil, and then covered them with a layer of compost. Then I planted one bed with Fordhook Giant swiss chard, and put a few seeds of bright light and rhubarb chard into a second bed, poking most of those seeds into the ground a bit and covering them all with compost.. That one has a dense polyculture of henbit, hairy vetch, and crimson clover growing on it, with garlic and multiplying onions around its edge. I interspersed the chard here and there and then just threw a small handful in the middle to see what would happen. I planted a third bed with Aztec red spinach and mitsuba (the latter being a perennial), also by the scatter and cover with compost method.

This begins a season where I will try to plant something every day through the end of May, and then start planting again in mid and late summer for a fall garden. Timing and succession is something I am still working on, hopefully I will do better this year than I did last year.

The perennials are greening up nicely. One plum tree and the two peach trees are in full bloom (white on the plum and a very gaudy pink on the peaches). The buds are swelling on the apple trees and the other plum tree. The bush cherry is in bloom (white) and I noticed a few yellow blossoms opening on the clove currants. Meanwhile right out front the sand plums are fixing to put on a nice display of white and the buds on the mulberries are swelling.

The onion and garlic chives are in full growth, the turnips that I overwintered and have clipped several times are ready to yield up another meal, the chocolate and lemon mints are peaking out of the ground, and looking under the mulch I found several nice asparagus spears just barely breaking the soil. This will be the first year we will harvest any asparagus and I can already taste it.

At the herb beds the sage, rue, winter savory, horseradish, tarragon, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, and comfrey are greening up, and the walking onions are about 8 inches tall, with many new bunches this year. Just about every bed has multiplying onions, garlic, and/or shallots spaced around its perimeter. Those were planted in the fall and will be harvested in June.. The horehound has stayed green all winter, but now it's perking up a bit. Haven't seen any lovage yet. The various berry bushes are greening up nicely (boysenberry, blackberry, dewberry, elderberry), and the strawberries poked their way through the mulch a week or so ago. There's enough dandelions for a salad.

With the help of some students from Creighton University who were visiting with us last week, we got a lot more bermuda grass covered with cardboard, and I'm going to get a pickup load of mulch tomorrow. I am rearranging the shape of some of the beds, connecting several smaller ones so I will have less pathway space and more growing space, while still maintaining the kind of anarchistic knot garden effect of the present arrangement.

In the days to come I am planting carrots, purple hulled blackeyed peas, 2 or 3 kinds of sunflowers, and several polycultures of wildflowers that have some useful aspect other than their beauty (edible, medicinal, dye, tea, etc), also some herbs (summer savory, cumin, coriander, basil, dill, roman chamomile, yarrow) and pickling cucumbers, and also purple hyacinth bean, scarlet runner beans, mustard, endive, lima beans, collards. In pots presently on the porch I have started cabbage, broccoli, and peppers (habanero, jalapeno, pepperoncini, hot Hungarian wax, cayenne). I am also going to give passion flower, possum grape (a wild grape, the seed was collected by a friend here in Oklahoma), and Siberian pea tree a try (I have tried with the passion flower and Siberian pea tree before but didn't get good germination, hopefully will do better this year, I am also trying to get Good King Henry going, for a FOURTH time. This time the seed is from a different source (I actually got some from two sources). I chopped my seed potatoes up so they could "green" a bit and will start planting them on Wednesday and I have some onion sets which need to get into the ground.

The wildflower polycultures will include: plains coreopsis, red columbine, self heal, standing winecup, partridge pea, Mexican hat, Indian blanket, lemon mint, Illinois bundleflower, Tahoka daisy, purple coneflower, these are all native to this bioregion. I got them from the Native American seed company, their website is http://www.seedsource.com . Some are perennials, some I hope will be self seeding annuals.

And so the journey continues. If you enjoy receiving these emails, please consider telling a friend about them. They can be subscribed to at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/bettertimes/join .

Robert Waldrop

PS. Don't forget to leave bread and milk out for those leprechauns this evening.