You'd never guess it from the weather today, but we've had a mercifully early spring. Last year, it was almost the middle of June before the trees were fully leafed out. This year, they were almost a month ahead of that. I've gotten a good start on the garden already (last year, I didn't plant until the third week in June).
The boxes TJ built for the first raised beds 6 years ago were starting to crumble with rot, so he built new ones – this time out of hemlock, which has a natural resistance to insects and rot. The wood is from a local mill, rough cut, so even though we couldn't get the 2 x 10 boards we used last time, stacking 2 x 6s that are a full 2 x 6 inches (instead of the frail 1.5 x 5.5 of “finished” lumber) gives us new boxes that are taller, beefier, and much grander seeming. The three beds full of garlic (above, in the foreground) will have to wait until after harvest for replacement.
I managed to get peas in the ground a few weeks ago, along with onion (3 varieties) and shallot starts, but everything else was on hold – not least because we're still getting frigid nights, though that's no excuse for the hardier stuff. The forecast earlier in the week was for three full days of rain, so I put seedlings of lettuce (4 kinds), fennel, ciilantro, and chinese cabbage into the dirt, along with seed for carrots, parsnips, beets, broccoli rabe, arugula, mache, mesclun, and cutting lettuce. The tender plants – tomato, peppers, eggplant, squash, sunflowers, etc. – will have to wait a few more weeks until the soil and the air warm up a little more.
My “starts” (the seedlings I started indoors) are all strong and happy, unlike in previous years when we've gone on vacation when they were wee and left them in the hands of individuals less compulsive about their care. They're a little on the small side still (TJ thinks I'm imagining this) even though I doubled up on their indoor lighting and they've been getting outside on most days. It may just be that it's still early in the season and I'm fooled by the better weather. They'll grow big and strong just the same once they get out into the real world.
These are the tomatoes – Jaune Flammée, with San Marzanos at the other end of the tray. I finally got with the program of canning salsa and tomato sauce last year, and what a happy surprise it was to pop open one of those jars on a dismal winter day. So I thought we'd plant a full bed of sauce tomatoes this year. The Jaune Flammée tomatoes made exemplary salsa, even better for its lovely orange hue.
I've tried my damnedest to grow poblano peppers here, taking up precious garden space with 12 huge plants each year. I got a decent crop one year out of 6; otherwise they refused to flower, or flowered so late that hard frost took giant plants hung like Christmas trees with masses of immature fruit. Okay. I concede. Jalapeños have been very happy to put out for me, as were the fiery cherry peppers I grew for the first time last year (and pickled for long-keeping with marginal success – must get scientific on the process next time). Eggplant is a crapshoot here, too, but smaller varieties give me a better chance. So: Concha jalapeño and Cherry Bomb peppers, Beatrice and Hansel eggplant. Fingers crossed.
I've missed having sunflowers around, preferring to give garden space to edibles. This year I started 8 varieties, and I'll damned well find a spot for them.
In past years, we've used a decommissioned bathroom on the first floor for winter storage of vegetables from the garden. And it was perfect – a constant 50°F and 60% humidity. Last fall, we had an energy audit done on the house, and followed all the recommendations for sealing and insulation...only to find that we'd rendered the bathroom too warm for storing our onions, garlic, and squash. It was an interim solution anyway, given that our long-range plans include a root cellar dug into the back hill. If all goes as planned, TJ will be building our root cellar in September. With luck, we'll have homegrown produce right through until next spring.
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Many of you reading this post will have gotten here through the link in Julia Moskin's piece on canning in today's New York Times. Welcome – I hope you'll stick around. My “regular” readers...those who have patiently waited for me to get busy here again, may not know that I was interviewed and quoted in the article, and that a recipe for my Sun-Cooked Strawberry Preserves was included. Pretty heady stuff, being mentioned along with three of my jam & canning heroes – Eugenia Bone, Edon Waycott, and June Taylor. If nothing else, it's shamed me into posting again.