Our Little Homestead – Veggie Update

I’m sure you all remember the riveting account of my semi-crazy garden planning process. If not, you can review. Well buckle up kids you’re headed for a full-on garden update! Yep, we’ve got veggies, and heat. (You like that cliff-notes summary?)

As soon as the weather started warming up our veggies took off. In fact we’ve got wild strawberries growing in the yard next to the driveway! It’s been fun to watch the plants grow and start to produce fruit. We planted a variety of things just to see what would do well. Check out the garden in full bloom!

First out of the gate were the herbs: rosemary, dill, oregano, basil, mint, lemongrass and chives are still going strong. Some are doing better than others. (I may have to put a muzzle on the mint it’s getting a little rowdy!) We’ve also had a lot of luck with eggplant, squash and jalapenos. These three plants must be in their prime location because they are still producing obscene amounts of produce. We’ve resorted to freezing most of it for later use because we just can’t eat it all! Speaking of the jalapeños or as I like to call them little hell demons. They are UNBELIVEABLY hot. We casually cut the first up and threw a few rings on our tacos. BIG mistake, my mouth burned for hours. For some reason they are much hotter when you grow them yourself. Noted. You win this round jalapeño.

Our tomatoes, chili peppers, habaneros, swiss chard, onions and carrots are just now starting to peak. So we expect to get a lot more off them in the next few weeks. (We’re actually a little afraid to try the habanero because we’ve tasted how much hotter the Jalapenos are. We’ll see who draws the short straw.) Our more delicate plants like, lettuce, spinach, bell peppers, and fennel did well in the spring but quickly died out when the heat closed in. Which is different than when the night closes in…(in case you were wondering.)

Speaking of the heat. It’s hot…like really hot. The southeast is in the middle of one nasty heat wave. I know what you’re thinking:

I know its summer but I still wanna whine about how hot it is! GAH! Actually, it has been hotter than normal here in good ol’ NC. In case you’ve been living under a rock and hadn’t heard I’ll tell you that NC had about 5 days at 106 degrees. It was so hot a road melted. That may sound like a redneck statement but this one is actually true! This heatwave obviously meant that everyone and their mom had to post photos of their thermometers showing the heat…like we hadn’t heard it on the news all day.

ANYWAYS, rant aside. This smoldering heat has played a huge role on our yard. Our grass is brown and we may have lost a few plants (RIP: hanging fern), but we’re watering daily and we think most of the plants will make it.

We’ve been trying some new recipes that utalize our bounty and they have been delish. I’ll be adding the recipes soon so you can make them at home! So far we’ve made:

  • Lemon & dill fish
  • Tomato soup
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Stuffed jalapenos
  • Eggplant and zucchini lasagna
  • And dried herbs

We’re only halfway through the summer which means we’ve got a lot more growing to do. I’ll keep you posted on new harvests and any new meals!

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Veggie Tales

After college I moved into a townhome and lived there for about 5 years. I loved the low maintenance and convenience of it; however, I missed having a yard. Some of my fondest childhood memories are helping my dad spread pine straw or helping with an outdoor project. So, when we were thinking about moving we knew a nice yard was a must. Since my last post, our yard has burst into a rainbow of colors and fragrances…it’s truly stunning. The previous owners did a great job of choosing some really beautiful plants. What do we have? Well, now that stuff is actually flowering I’ve been able to figure out what some of those mystery plants were! We’ve got Hostas, Lilac, Peony, Spiderwort, Japanese Maples, Cherry trees, Azaleas (the large and small variety), Lilies, Iris’, Rroses, and various flowering ground cover to name a few.

We’ve also loved watching the landscaping come to life in the natural areas around the house. I’ve included some photos below. The top photo is one of the most beautiful aspects of the yard, the trellis between our property and the neighbor. Recently, delicate yellow roses have completely covered the trellis…it’s quite a sight. The bottom four photos are landscaped areas across the yard. The two photos on the left were taken in the main natural area along the side of our home.  The photos on the right are the natural areas beside the front porch. We’re absolutely in love with the red Japanese maple. We recently also added some additional plants including:  some hanging flowers, a hydrangea, iris’ (because people are just giving them away) and Lilly of the Valley (because they are my absolute favorite).

Now on to the edibles! We both really wanted a vegetable garden but we couldn’t get much to grow at the townhouse. So, we knew we wanted to try again since we have a little more room to grow. I don’t even want to admit how many hours it took me to decide what and where to plan, but I will. Prepare yourselves because you’re about to get a glimpse of the crazy.

Step 1: Where to plant?

  • We live in a rather shady neighborhood, literally shady not sketchy, which I love! But it makes things a bit difficult when I need at least 6 hours of sunlight for vegetables to grow.

Step 2: Chart the sun/shade in your yard

  • My dad suggested that I sketch the shaded areas of the yard at 9, 12, 2, and 4 o’clock. Once I was done I layered the sheets on top of each other to find the sunniest spots. Kinda brilliant?! This technique actually worked! It was really easy to see where the sunniest parts of the yard were.

Step 3: Step outside your comfort zone.

  • After referring to my sketches I discovered that the largest sunny spot was on the outside of the fence. GASP! A garden that people can see from the road!? I know, blasphemy. I had to get over myself and the thought that vegetable gardens were meant to be hidden away in the back yard. While working on our garden we’ve actually gotten a lot of complements on it. I’m proud to say that we’re officially working outside the box on this one.

Step 4: Create the garden bed

  • If you live in the South you know about our clay situation. If not, let me break it down. We’ve got about an inch of dirt and meters of red clay. So, we had to create a raised bed to accommodate the veggies. We enlisted the help of my dad (he had all the tools and know-how for this sort of project). We decided to use half-round garden timbers because they were inexpensive and durable. It was a rather simple project if you have the tools to do it.
    • Level out the ground so that the wood sits flat
    • Cut the ends of the boards at a 45 degree angle so they fit flush in the corners
    • Nail the corners together
    • Drill holes every few feet and hammer in ¾ in. x 2 ft. rebar into them (to keep the boards from moving around)
    • NOTE: Don’t smash your finger with the hammer. My dad was the victim of a vicious hammer attack that led to a broken thumb. So, be careful and go slow.

Step 5: Fill garden with dirt

  • We decided to use a combo of equal parts top soil and manure. To get a good mix we alternated bags in the planter then cut and mixed them together. This was the simplest task to accomplish.

Step 6: Decide what to plant

  • This was the most stressful part of the process for me because I couldn’t find a single source for gardening. I looked at books, websites, blogs, and took advice from friends to get the answers to my questions. Why can’t there be just one place that all this stuff is held?! Sigh. It took me days to figure out the combination for our garden…and I’m not even convinced I did it right. But one day while I was buried in a chapter on “planting combinations” it hit me. I realized that this is my first try and I’m not got to get it perfect so why stress about it. So, that’s what I did.
  • A lot of plans included veggies that were cool but we’d never really eat and I wanted to make sure we’d eat what we planted. We went with tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, spinach, lettuce, carrots, egg plant, oregano, basil, chives, fennel, and Swiss chard.

  • We also planted a few other herbs in pots around the house including: rosemary, orange mint, Thai basil, parsley, and cilantro. These were put in pots around the house because we’ll be using them a lot or they tend to take over vegetable beds.

Step 7: Water regularly

We’ve decided to water in the mornings for a few reasons.

  1. As it gets increasingly hotter during the day they will need that moisture for as long as possible.
  2. It’s cooler and more comfortable for us to water in the morning rather than in the afternoon
  3. Reduces the prevalence of slugs. Apparently, if you water at night (when they are active) they are drawn towards the water. And at that point you’re basically inviting them in to your garden. NOTE: I found one of these guys hanging out under a potted plant. He’s so pretty I let him stay — with the agreement that he’d leave the garden alone. 🙂

We’ve put countless hours into our yard and we couldn’t be happier with how it’s coming along. We’ve enjoyed watching the yard burst into life and can’t wait to see what summer brings.

Spring has Sprung All Over the Place

When the third “Dutch Bulb Catalog” arrived at the house we knew that spring would be interesting. The previous tenants were garden enthusiasts to the max and they apparently have great taste in flora.  We closed on the house during the fall so we never really got to see the yard “in it’s heyday.” So far, the spring has brought us a whole lot of new growth. It’s a beautiful mystery because we’ll have to wait till the buds bloom before we can tell what’s growing out there. So, if any of you can identify these little guys…I’d love to know! I’m in the process of writing a super long garden/yard planning post. So be on the lookout for more on the great outdoors soon!

Lilies, Iris’ and Spiderwort

No, this is not the beginnings to some sort of Halloween themed concoction. These are the first perennial flower additions to the yard. My aunt Mary was thinning out her own garden and asked if we’d like some plants.To which I replied: “Um, yes!”  She dropped off 4 heaping bags and some much appreciated care/maintenance suggestions.

  • SPIDERWORT: Is a beautiful little wildflower that blooms during the spring and summer. Spiderwort is commonly seen as a border plant because it’s easily propagated and only grows knee high. Its flowers can be pink white or blue.  What color do we have? I don’t know, we’ll have to see what color pops up next spring. I did a little research and it turns out that the stems, leaves and flowers are edible. Spiderwort is a welcome addition to our yard…and stomachs!
  • IRIS: I’m sure you all have seen an Iris. They are gorgeous
    perennial plants with big colorful flowers. There are over 300 species of Iris’
    so I dunno which one we’ve got. But I’ll get some photos of it this spring and
    see if I can figure it out. Fun fact of the day! We all know that blue roses
    are unheard of right? Well, Iris’ have difficulty being red. They typically are
    seen with blue, purple, yellow, and white combinations.
  • DAYLILY:  Another beautiful flowering perennial. I’m sure you’ve all seen these gems lining the NC highways because they are extremely hearty and drought tolerant. These guys are great runners so we’ll have to make sure they don’t take over the whole back yard.  However, they wouldn’t be the worst thing to have overtaking a yard.

We’ve gotta figure out where we want these plants to live based on all their specific needs. I’ve got some ideas on where these flowers could be planted. However, I’m keeping our future yard plans in mind and trying not to plant stuff willy-nilly. (There’s a southern word for ya!) I can’t wait to see how these little beauties really enhance the yard when they bloom next spring.