Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cucumber Trellis: the results are in!

Front side of the trellis
The results are in for the cucumber trellis, and I love it!  Back in an earlier blog, I mentioned how I wanted one of these for Mother's Day.  The catalog showed a sketch of a beautiful cucumber plant climbing up the trellis.  In those cold days of March, I could dream of my own plant climbing.  Luckily, the kids got me one for Mother's day and I was quick to start planting.  As of today, June 27, my two (only two!) cucumber plants have already reached the top and are spilling over.  I've had to wind the vines along the top and encourage them to either go back down, or hang off the side.

The best part is that my cucumbers are now immune to whoever/whatever was nibbling at them last year.  When they sat along the ground, a slug/snailish type of critter would nibble little holes and then move on to the next cucumber.  It didn't ruin the cucumbers but made them rather unattractive.  This year, they're out of reach!  Just look at all those cucumbers already long and filling out!
Several cucumbers hanging off the trellis
Growing underneath the trellis are my sweet potatoes.  All that extra space is great!  The only downside to the trellis is that it looks like it needs to be taller.  In case you missed it the first time, you can get one at Gardener's Supply Company (

Saturday, June 23, 2012

First Dahlia of the Summer

And there it is, the first dahlia of the Summer season!  Just as my heart gets excited at the first daffodils of Spring, a dahlia has that same effect.  It signals the official change from one season to the next.  Sure, by June there are lots of Summer flowers that have been blooming, however nothing compares with a dahlia.  It's like the beautiful distant cousin of a sunflower.  What else has the ability to draw us in, actually pull out a ruler and stand in awe at the 7" expanse of the flowerhead?  The stalks alone are a wonder when you figure a small bulb is all that it takes to produce this giant plant with huge flowers.  It announces that Summer is here.  Prepare the way for the sunflowers and floxgloves and hollyhocks and other mammoth flowers.  It's their turn to rule the gardens and inspire children to appreciate the gardens.  Welcome Summer!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Garden Humor: Life with Boys

With the heat wave fully upon us and the carrots mostly finished, I took my two boys out to pull out the rest of the carrots.  They said they wanted to come.  After about 3 minutes, they were wilting and whining from the heat and ran back indoors to the A/C.  Left to my own gardening, I harvested another 1/3 of the carrots (about 25) from the garden. 

Now any Mom of boys knows that they have a one-track mind from the age of 3 or 4 to teen years (and maybe beyond!).  That topic is potty humor.  If you have boys you know the uphill battle of trying to hush the constant laughter associated with anything to do with butts or flatulence.  If you're unfamiliar, just think Beavis & Butthead ("she said 'butt', hehehehe").  So it should not have come as a surprise when I showed the kids this misshapen carrot, which I thought looked like a pair of legs.  They of course, saw a butt!  I don't think anyone will be eating that carrot now. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Healthy Carrot Muffins

Last week I harvested half of the "sweet treat" carrots.  Since the biggest carrot fan in the house is our gerbil, I grow them for fun and baking.  So when I wanted to bake something other than carrot cake, muffins were the next best thing.  I found the perfect recipe online and fully intended to post the recipe with giving credit to the original recipe owner.  However, when I discovered that many of my ingredients were missing from my pantry and fridge, I had to improvise.  Understand that improvising in cooking is not uncommon for me, but improvising in baking goes against my middle school teaching.  I still remember in "Home Ec" the teacher saying to NEVER improvise in baking.  Stick to the recipe.  So finally, at age 43, I broke free from that rigidness out of necessity.  And the final muffin that emerged was gobbled up.  Of course, a little cream cheese frosting on top for the kids made it more irresistable.

So what happened?  Where I lacked 1 1/3 cups of dark brown sugar, I used the 1/2 cup of brown sugar I had left, plus 1/2 cup and 1/3 cup of light brown sugar.  When I realized there were only 2 eggs left in the carton and I needed four, I used the 2 eggs plus 1/2 cup applesauce (making it healthier).  When I wanted to make it even more healthy, I added flaxseed and some water.  I was suprised it turned out!  So here's the final recipe.  You can use all dark brown sugar if you want or follow the version I did below.

Healthier Carrot Muffins (makes 2 dozen)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
dash of salt
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
2 eggs
1/2 cup applesauce
4 TBSP water
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups grated carrots (about 8 carrots)

Preheat oven to 350
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Whisk oil, eggs, applesauce, water, and vanilla together in a medium bowl, then add to dry mixture.  Stir until just combined, then add carrots and stir until mixed.  Divide batter evenly into 24 muffin cups and bake at 350 for 28-30 minutes.
[Optional:  Top with cream cheese frosting]

Friday, June 15, 2012

Building a Box Step for the deck

Decks and construction--you're wondering how exactly this falls into the category of gardening.  Well, it does and it doesn't.  You see, for years, we've had a deck surrounded by a flower bed.  It has always been pretty.  In the spring, we have tulips.  In the summer, daylillies and black-eyed susans, and in the fall, shasta daisies.  However, over the years, the flower bed has become overgrown and the built-in deck benches were ripped out.  This left a wide open space, and a much too large step down from the deck.  This past weekend, we solved the problem with building a deck step.  Let me rephrase that, my wonderful/handy husband built a box step and I helped. 

When we set out to build this simple, free-standing step, I could not find any direction online.  All google searches for "deck box step" led me to "build a deck step-by-step".  So therefore, being that a box step can be an entrance to a garden (as in our case), in a flower bed, or even used in a bed on a hill, I thought it appropriate to document this simple, but internet-elusive step.  And many lessons were learned in our garden that weekend.

First we began by digging out the existing black-eyed susans and listing them for free.  Notice, the new deck boards and railing already in place thanks to an earlier project.

After the many necessary trips to Home Depot,
Kyle was ready to begin the frame for the box step using 2x6 boards

Along with the frame, center supports were added using 3" deck screws.  The top board being added is a 1 1/4" x 6" board and 2 1/4" deck screws were used to attach the top boards. 
These were the same boards used on the deck to keep the look consistent.

While Kyle was busy building, I was hard at work digging out the remainder of the flowers, moving bulbs and digging up weeds.  The daylilly on the end will stay as an "anchor".

The completed step.  Now on to digging the 4" trough and filling with paver base gravel.

One of the lessons we learned that weekend was to never underestimate the time it takes for tree roots to die.  Barely 2" under the ground were roots from our old maple tree, too many to count!  Many were as large as logs.  We took turns with a hatchet, a saw and digging.  We finally won!

After laying the base gravel, tamping it down, and making the step level it was in place.  To make sure the step doesn't shift under the excitement of kids running up and down, we placed long metal spikes in the front and back to keep it in place. 

In the next few weeks, the deck will be powerwashed and stained to complete the project.   The old wooden beams will also be removed and we'll reconfigure the deck bed.  The new edge will be rounded on the corners and come in much closer to the step.  Look for a followup blog when the flower bed is finished!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Taming the Beast with a "haircut"

The sugar snap peas that I last shared about have since grown to ridiculous heights for my small garden.   The plant passed me in height (5' 6") and then fell over when a storm rolled through.  Fortunately, for the plant, it fell on top of two tomato cages so it was completed supported.  However, that was bad news for the tomatoes.  Being that they were still small, I was not too concerned.  However, the tomatoes quickly grew and needed to have their cage tops returned to them.  So I gently heaved the sugar snap pea plant off the tomato cages and onto the cucumber trellis.  It seemed like a good idea until the snap pea plant stretched all the way down to the growing cucumbers.  Like friendly neighbors, they said hi and wanted to intertwine their vines on the same trellis.  I couldn't have that!

At a loss, my neighbor suggested a simple solution--give the sugar snap pea plant a trim.  Really, was it that simple?  Wouldn't I hurt the plant?  Surprisingly not!  I had already harvested 1 1/2 gallon-sized ziplocs of peas and had much more to harvest.  So I gently cut a few branches.  I didn't hear any plant screams so I kept going.  After taking off over 2 feet from each branch, it finally rested along the top of the cucumber trellis.  The plant continues to thrive, I continue to harvest sugar snap peas and the cucumbers and tomatoes have room to grow again. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer Vegetable Garden

As we head into Summer, the garden has been mostly turned over to summer vegetables.  The carrots, shallots and sugar snap peas from the Spring plantings are thriving.  However, the rest has been harvested to make room for Summer-loving veggies.  So here's a peak at what's now growing in my garden.  The photo was taken May 30.  Within the past 5 days, the sugar snap peas have already gotten taller and some have been harvested.  The shallots are also nearing their end.  You'll notice that I planted the carrots and shallots on the ends of the bed knowing that they would take longer to grow than their other Spring crops.  This left space in the center to plant the summer veggies.  It's all in the planning!  You'll also see from the photo how I'm making use of the cucumber trellis to maximize space.