Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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YAG (Yet another garden), 2021 version #amgardening #mn #mngardening

As promised, I got my garden planted last weekend. Thank goodness there were no mosquitoes, decent temps, and not much wind. This year I thought I would share the play-by-play with you.

tilled garden, bare ground

First step: Till the garden. We have an old Ford utility tractor (4400 for you tractor geeks out there) with a tiller implement, which is a VAST improvement over the walk-behind, front-tine tiller I used the first few years we lived out here. We left the fences up again this year, but I think at the end of the season we’ll take them down and till it all. The creeping charlie is hiding between the fence and the chicken wire and invading my garden.

Stakes spaced using a tape measure.

Next, and I know this is going to sound somewhat, erm, weird, but I use a tape measure to space the rows. I try to keep the rows 4 ft apart, and at least that far from the fence. The tomatoes are on the north side this year, so I left an extra couple feet between the fence and the tomato row.

Once I get the stakes spaced out on both ends of the garden, I lay out the soaker hoses and put up the tomato fences. The past few years I’ve used hog panels to support the tomatoes. Last year I added cattle panels.

When we bought the place, it came with a lot of leftovers from the neighbors (whom we bought the property from), including hog panels, which are heavy-duty wire. The cattle panels are hella heavy cuz they are steel tubing. In the picture at the very top you can see the cattle panel, and you might be able to see the hog panel grid behind it.

Hog panel and cattle panels set up for cucumbers and tomatoes

Here you can see a hog panel. This is what I’m using to support the cucumbers this year. I used a hog panel last year, and that worked pretty well. At the other end you can see the cattle panels where I’ll plant the tomatoes.

And no, I did not plant pickling cucumbers this year, as promised. I went into the basement to get a jar of pickles, and stopped counting how many quarts I put up last year. Yep, not going to miss it this year.

soaker hoses laid out between the stakes on each row.

Next, I lay out the soaker hoses. The rows this year are about 44 feet long. Our hoses are either 75′ or 50′ long, so in the past, I’ve connected the 75′ hoses together and wove them up and down three rows. That didn’t work this year; I think I have a 50′ one I connected to the 75′ one, so that ended up covering three rows. I caved and used a 50′ one for each of the last two rows, so I have five rows total. Yeah, I didn’t realize how much room that was either until I started figuring out what to plant where.

Wow. Writing it out like that makes it seem a whole lot bigger than I thought. Sheesh. Someday I’ll learn how to plant a smaller garden. Maybe.

soaker hoses now covered with cut grass as mulch

Okay, this is the key. Mulch. Lots and lots of mulch. Underneath the grass is fabric mulch. So, on top of the hoses I lay down black fabric mulch. On top of the fabric I pile on cut grass. Which I mowed with the tractor (our other utility tractor is a Farmall 460 utility, for those tractor geeks) and the bush hog, which is a 5′ mower deck pulled behind the tractor and run off the tractor PTO.

So, I mowed a vast area of quackgrass and saw grass, then raked and collected the grass. By hand. It probably takes just as long to rake by hand as it does using the lawn tractor to collect it, when you figure stopping to empty the collection bins every fifteen minutes. And I use less gas. 🙂

rows--cucumbers and tomatoes, peppers in the next row.

I did get hubs to bring me some wood chips from the pile left a couple years ago by the power company guys when they cleared a part of our grove because the trees were within one storm of taking out the transformer on one of the poles. I used the wood chips to cover the last hose and had enough to line the fence on the south side. Take that, creeping charlie. (I’m sure it’ll laugh at me later when it breaches the chip pile.)

Once I get all the hoses covered, I can start planting. The peppers are closest on the right. You can see the tomatoes at the far end; I put old 1-gallon greenhouse pots with the bottoms cut off around the tomatoes to protect them until they get going. They seem to work better than the coffee cans we used when I was a kid. Not that you can get coffee cans much anymore.

row of tomatoes on either side of cattle panel

Here’s a better shot of the tomatoes. I have to remember not to start them so early; they were fine until a couple weeks ago when they started going a little wild in the house.

You can see the cattle panel here. It’s thin-walled steel, but most are from 16′ to 20′ long, and heavier than one person can manage. It takes two of us to move them. Except my husband moved the ones around his garden himself. He’s either trying to prove he can, or he’s tempting the back-injury gods.

Yeah. Note to self: Make sure young, strapping son comes home the weekend we put the gardens in.

garden planted

Finally, finished planting! I started onions in the house, because it’s cheaper than buying onion plants, and they don’t sell the variety in sets at the local greenhouse (for those who are curious, we like the Candy variety. Nice big onions!). However, hubs suggested I pick up some onion sets because the onions I started seemed sparse. So, I did.

Soooo, I now have three rows of onions. BTW, I count a row on either side of the hoses. Which means along one side of one row of mulch and along both sides of another row of mulch I planted onions. Hoo-boy. Good thing we cook with onions A LOT.

another angle of planted garden

And there you have it. I put the tomato cages around the peppers. The cages are worthless for tomatoes, but my peppers tend to fall over once they have fruit on them if I don’t support them somehow. The tomato cages work well for that.

Now to keep the weeds at bay. The more mulch, the merrier, so I try to collect the grass whenever we cut the areas south of the garden and over on the other side of the hog shed (that worn-looking building on the far side of the garden).

Now I can get back to … homework. Yeesh. I’m taking classes for a Technical Writing Certificate, so I’ve got one class this summer, and plan to take one class every semester until I manage all 24 required credits. It’s all online, which is nice, but still. Homework. My class lasts another two weeks, and the garden is in, so there is that.

I’ll get back to my revision. Eventually.

Happy Writing!


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A little potpourri #amrevising #amgardening #amreading

Dontcha hate it when all those pesky real-life responsibilities get in the way of your writing? Cleaning, paying bills, full-time job, cleaning, paying taxes, migraines, COVID vax, updating my resume (yep, I’ve fallen victim to the acquisition company’s line: “I’m sorry, but your position will be eliminated as of the middle of summer), socializing with the fam. You know, the stuff you have to do because you’re a grown-up (at least in age). Hang on, I have to go open the chicken coop so the girls can get out and stretch their legs.

Okay, I’m back. We lost a chicken a few weeks ago to some unknown predator. Could have been a raccoon (though why a bandit would bother trying to kill a chicken is beyond me; I don’t think they’re that ambitious), or a hawk (except hawks don’t usually eat the head right away), or a skunk (again, would they go through the effort), or more likely the tomcat we’ve seen roaming around (and that treed Zoey last week). Hey, as long as the remaining four do their jobs and lay eggs …

Speaking of outdoors, hubs tilled the garden. Since last year, he’s tilled two spots: my usual garden, and what he calls “his” garden, where he plants potatoes and the sweet corn I swore I would never plant again. This year I asked him to save a spot for the pumpkins he asked me to get for him (Pepitas variety, in case you’re wondering. Hull-less seeds so he can roast them in the fall). Besides, my SIL asked me to grow some pumpkins for her. The two varieties need some space so they don’t cross-pollinate. Hubs planted some potatoes already, with more in line to plant.

Me? Nothing in the garden yet. In MN we know we can have frosts as late as the week before Memorial Day. In fact, we’ve had frost warnings the past few days. Which doesn’t bother cool weather crops like lettuce, spinach, cabbage and relatives, and a few others, but in my world I’d rather plant once instead of plant some, then later plant or re-plant the tender stuff. Besides, I have a revision to finish.

The seedlings are looking really good. I’ve started hardening them off, which is a fancy way of saying putting them outside for a while so they get used to cooler temps and wind. I figure I’ll stick with my usual timetable of Memorial Day weekend for planting.

Things are looking up for in-person events this summer–YAY!! I’m mostly excited about the probability of seeing my Writing Sisters in person at our reunion this year. Okay, I’m excited to see my fam (sibs and such) at our summer gathering, too. Last time I saw my sibs was during our Christmas Zoom. My dad made a surprise visit a couple weekends ago, because he wanted to get out.

Now, my dad has this wonderful (not) habit of calling just before he leaves home (instead of, like, the day before) to see if we’re going to be around for a visit. Luckily, he’s about an hour and a half away, so that gives us some time to quick-clean (trust me, it’s not nearly enough time, because all that cleaning gets in the way of writing 🙂 ). He didn’t used to call ahead; my mom would. In fact, I got a call from my mom one day (years ago!). She asked if Dad had talked to me about the piano.

Me: Um, no.

She then gave me a heads up: Dad’s on his way with a piano (from my aunt and uncle).

Me (and hubs): What?!

We managed to find a place for it before he arrived. After that, I think my mom explained to him that the appropriate thing to do (especially when moving an upright piano) is call ahead. (A little backstory so you don’t think my dad is crazy-spontaneous: we had talked about getting the piano (which my aunt and uncle (Dad’s brother) wanted to get rid of), but moving an upright piano isn’t exactly an easy task. Calling moving companies was on the to-do list. I think my uncle complained (?) to Dad about what to do, and Dad took it upon himself to move it for us).

BTW, I’ve tried to pawn that same piano off on my brother (since we rarely use it anymore), but he got an electronic keyboard for the girls instead. Good plan. Way easier to move a keyboard than a whole piano.

Well, better get back to revising. And of course, I’m only halfway through thanks to real-life responsibilities, so yet another week before I turn it in. I promise. 😀

Write on!


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Garden Preview, 2021 Edition #amgardening #spring #mn

Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay

Happy Spring! Hope everyone is fortunate enough to be enjoying some nice weather! It’s been raining here for the past few days; there is a distinct “squish, squish” sound when walking around in the yard. It’s great to have the rain. It’d be even better to have it stretch out over a week or two so the ground has a change to take it all in.

I figured it was about time to share this year’s garden progress. Here in MN we’re about six weeks or so (depending on weather, of course) from planting. For years, the cut-off for the last frost–reliably–has been Memorial Day. Except for that one year …

Over the past few decades, as we all know, the average temps have been getting warmer, so a lot of people put their gardens in weeks before the end of May. I’m just not that ambitious, except for that one year …

I kicked off my annual garden adventure weeks ago when I started my seeds. Every year (except for that one year 🙂 ) I start seeds in the house so that by the end of May, they are big enough to go into the garden. Part of that is cost; I can get a lot of seed for the price of flats at the garden center. The bigger part of that is choice of variety. The garden center carries the most popular varieties, but I often see varieties in my seed catalogs that look much more appealing.

Case in point: those cucumbers I tried last year that were like those snacking cucumbers you can get in the store, the ones you don’t have to peel. In a bigger garden center, you might (and I stress “might”) be able to find a comparable variety, but not where I live unless I want to drive to a bigger town. I happen to like supporting our local garden center. They carry seeds in bulk, which makes them cheaper than those prepackaged ones. Those bulk seeds also seem to perform a lot better than the prepackaged ones. I will never buy prepackaged sweet corn seed again.

In any case, way back when, I wanted to grow heirloom Brandywine tomatoes (If you ever get an opportunity to try them, do it. They are delicious!). You can find them in garden centers now, but back then, the only way to grow them was to start your own seeds.

I’ve progressed to the point where I seldom, if ever, buy peppers, onion sets, or tomatoes from a garden center. My seedlings are doing pretty well this year, especially the tomatoes. Because I have a problem with blight (a tomato disease), I got a few resistent varieties this year. Crossing my fingers that “resistent” means they won’t die before August 🙂

onion babies

Every year I make adjustments. Last year I hedged my bets with cucumbers (I did three or four batches of pickles last year, with 7 quarts per batch (at least)) and green beans (hoo-boy, lots of those) because of the pandemic. This year, a definite cut-back. No pickling cukes (and yes, I’m sticking to that!), fewer green beans (I promise!), no zucchini (because since the chickens have tasted cucumbers, they tend to avoid zucchini), and two varieties of pumpkins (only because my SIL asked me to grow some for her).

Here are my baby peppers, just coming up:

peppers, onions, peppers

And the tomato seedlings are doing really well:

tomatoes

We repurposed my in-law’s old china cabinet, and the mirror shelves (yes, actual mirrors) are there to keep as much light on the plants as possible. Not elegant, but functional. Another six weeks, and it’ll be time to actually plant outside.

Things are greening up around here, and the trees are flowering, which stirs up my allergies. Ugh. Best parts of the week? Beautiful start to the week (before the rain moved in) so went for the first outdoor run of the year. That felt great–until the next day when my quads reminded me how long it’s been since the last time I went for a run. Also got first shot of COVID vax (moderna). Whew! Crossing fingers we’ll be able to have our Writing Sisters reunion in person this year. Miss those gals!

Have a great week, everyone! Keep on writing!


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Winding down the jungle #amgardening #mngardening

Green beans in front with past-their-prime cilantro volunteers.

I was going to do a “have a great holiday weekend” post, short and sweet, but when I went out to the garden this week, I figured I had a limited time to get halfway-decent pics before things went even further downhill.

It’s September, and here in MN it means the garden is on its way out. The green beans are almost done, I pulled the pickling cukes out, but the remaining cukes have started to succumb to cool nights. The pumpkin is dying back. So I figured I’d share the journey.

Peppers in back, green beans in front, onions in the middle
The marigolds are rockin’!
Cucumbers still holding on
Sad tomatoes

The tomatoes have almost completely succumbed to blight. I had a couple plants that were more resistant, but they, too, are dying. The worst part is that so many of the fruit hasn’t ripened completely, so even though I can pick them and let them ripen in the house, they don’t taste as good as when they are completely ripe when picked.

Peppers going strong!

The peppers, on the other hand, are doing well. So is the kohlrabi. I picked a kohlrabi almost the size of a softball. I planted them as a bait crop for the cabbage worms, but this year those suckers decided they liked the brussels sprouts better. Sigh.

It’s been fun, though, to see some less-hated caterpillars.

Swallowtail caterpillar on dill

Just like monarch butterfly caterpillars are always on milkweed, swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are always on dill. I had quite a few caterpillars on the dill this year, but oddly I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than one butterfly a year. They must sneak in when I’m not looking 🙂

The pumpkin is dying back, and I have some nice ones. Not sure what I’ll do with all of them, but at least I’ll be able to make pumpkin bread this year.

There ya go. We’ll be pulling onions and digging potatoes this weekend. Both those crops need to “cure”: sit someplace for a few weeks to develop their thicker skins before we store them. It’s supposed to be warmer for the onions, though. Next week we’ll get a preview of fall with high temps all the way into the 60s. And me without my commute to see the leaves change. Bummer.

Stop by on the 8th for a special post! I’m a blog tour stop for Diana Peach’s new release, Liars and Thieves!

Enjoy your holiday weekend! Stay safe and keep writing!


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Mutiny of the bounty #gardenmn #vegetables

garden shot: brussels sprouts, green beans, peppers, tomatoes in distance

And so it continues …

It’s that time of the summer, when the harvest threatens to overwhelm. And since I’m not going in to the office, I have no one to share with.

I stopped weeding a few weeks ago, because once the weeds start going gangbusters, there’s really no point. They flower or do whatever they do to seed, then die. It’s just really messy-looking. Here’s a shot of our lovely giant ragweed in the raspberry patch.

Giant ragweed blooming in raspberry patch. Ragweed is about 10 feet tall.

Yes, it really is 10 feet tall!

Here you can see the marigolds are blooming now, along with the dill and cilantro (white flowers). The pumpkin covers its corner of the garden and is creeping along the edges.

pumpkin vines in foreground

Pumpkin taking over

Hubs cut down the foxtail grass that was challenging the tomatoes to see who could grow taller. Looks good, except now I can see how the tomatoes are bending under the weight of their fruit. And the blight is attacking them. Crossing my fingers I get lots of red tomatoes before the plants succumb completely.

Tomatoes way in back, along with cucumbers

Needless to say, I haven’t gotten a lot of writing done, with picking beans and cucumbers an almost every day event. If I’m not in the garden, I’m pickling. I’m this *shows finger and thumb almost touching* close to pulling cucumber plants out.
Pickling is not for the faint of heart, either. It’s a full-evening affair.
cucumbers ready to pickle

Cukes washed and ready to go

Dill seed heads

Dill!

jalepeno peppers sliced in half

Secret ingredient!

cannery

Jars in the canner

First, pick the cucumbers. When you have enough to fill seven quart jars (because that’s what fits in the canner), it’s time. Wash the cukes, gather dill, and ready the “secret ingredient” — jalepeno peppers. I like to add a half (or 2 halves) to each jar for a little kick. Load the canner, mix up the brine, and away we go!

What follows is a marathon of jamming as many cucumbers into each jar as possible, adding brine, and processing. One seven-quart batch usually takes me a couple hours from washing cukes to processing. The last round I did I managed to process twice, so a dozen quarts (because I had enough cucumbers for that many quarts).

finished

Voila!

I’ve done 4 batches of pickles, and two batches of pickled green beans (because I can only eat so many and our freezer is, well, not exactly empty).

Ugh. Note to self: no pickling next year. Do NOT plant pickling cucumbers. Repeat, do NOT plant pickling cukes. Just plant those nice snacking cucumbers.

This week we also kicked off our first tomato harvest with BLTs. I love BLTs! Unfortunately, the bacon runs out, but thinly-sliced and crisp-fried Spam is a nice substitute. When we get enough tomatoes I’ll make some pico de gallo, cuz that’s what you do with garden-grown tomatoes, cilantro, peppers, and onions.

Now, if I can get some writing done amid all this garden stuff, I’ll be doing well 😀

Happy Writing!

Zoey sitting outside