Archive for the ‘growing things’ Category

Taking care of our garden helpers

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Fall has undeniably arrived with the first frost of the season that gave the leaves stupendous colors, caused many flowers to wilt, a season that makes us huddle around a warm fire. This is also a time to remember the many little creatures that were such a big help during the growing season; the spiders, ladybugs, bees, butterflies, hedgehogs, etc.

For many of them winter can mean certain death, but with just a little care we can make the difference between these helpers seeing another season or not. What can we do? With very little time and at almost no cost we can provide winter shelters.

Bugs, bees, ladybugs and such can find shelter from the worst cold in flower pots that are stuffed with wooden sticks, straw, sawdust, even small stones can be used. You can simply turn the flower pots on their side and leave them in a protected spot in the garden, or you can hang them from branches with rope wrapped around a wooden stick that you insert into the drainage hole of the pot.

This year I also used a branch from an old apple tree that broke off because it had one too many holes made by woodpeckers. Same procedure, stuff any cavity with straw, wood shavings, stones, or such, and leave it on the ground.

Hedgehogs are some of my favorite helpers in the summer. Did you know that they feast on slugs? They also like to eat cat food, so if you want to make sure they get a good start into the winter you might want to consider that and leave a bowl out for them once in a while. Of course you might also find some very well fed cats in your neighborhood ;)

Providing a winter home for your hedgehogs might involve not much more than not being a neatnik in the garden. Making sure there are plenty of leaves left after the fall cleanup, and not removing every branch is a great way to encourage these prickly friends to stay around for a while. I have seen plans for wooden hedgehog houses but personally I refuse to go that far. Stack some dead wood in such a way that there is room inside to build a snug little home, leave piles of leaves in the area, and a hedgehog family might find it attractive enough to spend the cold months in your garden.

Scarecrows – not so scary protectors of the harvest

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

When I was growing up, scarecrows used to make their appearance in just about every garden when the first leaves of lettuce poked up or as soon as the first berries turned color. They could be quite elaborate in appearance, dressed like real people with hats and fluttering scarves, so that walking past on a foggy day or when the light was getting dim they would scare the daylights out of us kids. Over the years however, these creatures have become a rare sight. At best we see crudely crossed sticks, maybe covered with a t-shirt and some tin cans dangling from strings to make some noise. So when we drove past a vineyard recently I was excited to see the effort some people had put into creating these dangly people-like creatures whose main function is to keep flocks of birds away from the harvest.
To think that all I did was to hang a few CDs from strings to protect my tomatoes! It did the job, just wasn’t very creative. Oh well <sigh>. Maybe next year.

There are vegetables growing in the park!

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Vegetables growing in the middle of a Vienna?

Not likely, and not every year, but this was the exact scene in Vienna, Austria, in the summer of 2005. The project, 25Peaces, a play on words, commemorated the 60 year anniversary of the Second Republic, the 50 year anniversary of the treaty after WWII, and the 10 year anniversary of Austrian membership in the European Union. This project was brought to life as a reminder to peace and freedom, and one of the sub-projects attempted to recreate the small gardens that the citizens of Vienna laid out in the parks after the war. Instead of grass and flowers, cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes and beans grew again on Heldenplatz, one of the parks surrounding the old city. Fences were built from anything available as they were 60 years ago, from window frames to old doors, chairs, ladders, even bicycles.
You may know these gardens under the name ‘victory gardens‘, same principle though, providing food in times of need.


Friday, August 29th, 2008

Fall is definitely on the horizon once the peaches are ready for picking. And if that isn’t one of these glass half-full / half-empty kind of things! Peaches with their fuzzy skins are a delectable fruit, but fall? Oh no, that could wait a while before making its entrance. And so peaches always trigger somewhat mixed feelings in me.

While these peaches may not look as perfect or be as large as their store-bought cousins, their aroma and taste is far superior. Locally the trees are often planted between rows of grapes in the vineyards, hence their name ‘vineyard peaches’, they propagate easily, just toss a pit and a couple of years later you are ready to harvest. This is exactly how I wound up with 4 little peach trees that generate an amazing amount of fruit. Mostly we just eat them, their smaller size make them a perfect snack food, but I have also stewed them with cloves and a little cinnamon and a bit of lemon zest for a delicious treat. And these peaches are also special in another way – I never have trouble finding takers for the overflow. Once they are ripe you have to eat them quickly, and only rarely do you see them for sale in local stores. So for about 2 weeks in August we are in peach heaven, and just about when we think we cannot possibly eat another one, the season is over.

A Wreath of Herbs

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

August, and by now I start to run out of ideas of what else to do with the herbs that grow so abundantly in the garden. What I didn’t use in the kitchen has made it into the freezer, or has been dried and put up in jars, and still there is an abundance out there. It seems the more the herbs are cut back the more energetic they will grow. So, I thought it might be time for a fun project, something not necessarily useful, yet fun to do and nice to look at once the weather turns from beautiful sunny days to a drizzly, foggy mess . . . yuck, we will need cheering up then, and what could be better than a reminder of summer!

I use only natural materials, no metal or plastic, the main reason for that is that when I am tired of the wreath I can simply toss the whole thing onto the mulch pile.

It is really quite simple to make; the base is formed from a plyable branch – hazel, willow or the like work well – bend it into a circle overlapping the ends, and tie with bast or thin vines so it will hold the shape. Don’t worry too much if it does not appear to be perfectly round. Then wind whatever herbs please you around that frame, the first rows may need to be tied, after that simply stick the stems through the wreath. If you have sage, use that to start the whole thing off. Twigs of sage add fullness and hide the branch at the core of the wreath quickly, plus the leaves dry in interesting shapes and the smell is fantastic. Then add whatever pleases you, I love the fragrance of wild marjoram and thyme, so that is a must for me, but there is no limit to what can be used. When you are done with a session hang the wreath in an airy spot in the shade. I find myself adding to the wreath whenever something in the garden catches my eye, I like splashes of color to add interest, and when it comes to pretty I am not purist enough to limit my selections to herbs. So, try it out, it is really a lot of fun.

What’s for dinner?

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

not sure what else, but definitely something with tomatoes and cucumbers ;)

How easily things come together in the kitchen when the garden provides. I am really excited about the variety of tomatoes that seem to appear all of a sudden. Now, if I were a truly organized person I could of course predict what I am growing. But since most of the plants come from seeds that I picked out of interesting looking tomatoes bought at an Organic Foods Market in Florida last winter, the surprises keep coming.

August – Blackberry Season

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

there seems to be no end to the bounty that August brings with it. Time also for blackberries, black and shiny and tangy and sweet, a taste treat all its own. And one, I must add, that I get to enjoy without any fuss at all. I have watched them bloom in spring, then turn into tiny green apparently misshapen balls before they finally turned from red to gorgeous black shiny fruit that are now dangling in heavy clusters from my neighbor’s fence. Life is sweet ;)

August – harvest time

Friday, August 15th, 2008

when everything seems to ripen in the garden at once; cucumbers are pulling down on their vines,  tomatoes are coming into their own, red and sweet and juicy, and let’s not even talk about zucchini.  At times it makes one wonder if in springtime we set our hopes a little too high, wished for a little too much ;)

But there really is no such thing as ‘too much’ in a garden, is there? What we cannot use or put up for the winter months we can give to friends or neighbors or the health food market around the corner – the last being the preferred site because they are not lieky to try to foist some of their bounty on us in return. Sometimes the temptation to approach an unsuspecting stranger with the overflow of our garden – specifically these long green squash kind’a things that produce at the rate of rabbits in May – is overwhelming. And yet, on that cold, snowy, sleety, blustery day in February, when winter has a firm grip on us, we will get melancholy and wish for the days when the next meal was as simple as strolling through our garden and picking what it had provided.

The season’s first Beefsteak tomato

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

There is something relaxing about activities that don’t require a lot of thought and concentration, where the mind can meander freely. For instance gardening. So recently, while I was pulling some weeds, it occurred to me that, maybe, this might just be the first bunch of beefsteak tomatoes growing in a vegetable garden in Austria. I first got acquainted with these beauties my first summer in New Jersey. They glowed from roadside farm stands where I used to buy them by the bushel to take home where we feasted on them. You’d bite into them and could still taste the sunshine that made them grow big and red and luscious. And so, after leaving New Jersey behind, these beautiful tomatoes also remained just a fond memory. Until I found a packet of seeds while on a trip to the U.S. last winter. And finally, after fussing about the small plants, hoping that nothing untoward would happen to them outside, that nobody would decide to take a bite out of any one of them,  the very first beefsteak tomato is ready to enjoy. And isn’t it a beauty!

Container Gardens

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Containergarden in Dumpsters

They come in all sorts of pots of varying sizes from tiny flower pots to rather large vessels. Never before however have I  seen an array of dumpsters with live flowers – OK, so maybe calling them flowers is stretching it a bit, they are a tad past their prime – but, hey, there is still one yellow bloom in there, and the arrangement has to be unique. Yes, the plants are definitely rooted in earth, and I bet you a few weeks ago this line-up of dumpsters was an eye catcher. Someone even plastered posters of an upcoming concert in Bratislava on the sides for added color. While this picture may not be practical for most of us, it definitely is unique in its approach.

Seen in Vienna, Austria, along a waterway that is lined with night clubs, coffee houses, and bars.