Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Veggie Garden

From the start we wanted to devote some of the land at Chickadee Gardens to food production. We already have a name for our edible endeavors, Blue Jay Lane Farm. So when Facilities Manager cleared the designated land towards the end of last year and the beginning of this, I realized we were really going to make it happen. This year, we focused more on getting seeds in the ground than making it look pretty - this fall and into next year we plan to lay out the land more carefully and with permanence in mind. In any event, guess what? Seeds sprouted and lo and behold, the vegetable garden is producing food! Amazing how that works!

Our little plot at sunset.

First up, beans. We sowed pole and bush beans to see what works best. My friend Alison from the garden blog Bonnie Lassie gifted me some Fortex bean seeds and, wow, let me tell you they are amazing. Alison also was responsible for the gooseberries, rhubarb and some of the strawberries. Gardeners are such generous, cool people! Thanks again, Alison.

Fortex beans are climbers (pole beans) and very vigorous. They are super-producers. We planted a half a row of these and half bush beans, both are prolific but the climbers are so huge and tasty, and they save the back from bending over (a little).

This is a big bowl filled with big beans. This is about 10 minutes of picking, and we've been doing that every other day. Stringless, too - another bonus. Plus, they taste great even at a larger size, and they don't get funky tasting.

Can you believe it? This is not uncommon, they are all around that long.

What to do with all those beans? Did someone suggest I hone my pickling and preserving skills? We've already frozen a few batches, I also decided to try pickling them, as I once worked at a bar in Santa Cruz that served bloody Marys with pickled green beans instead of celery. They were very popular (and delicious!). As this is my first attempt at pickling, the jury is still out on whether the cocktail party is on or not.

My impromptu bean-holder, my camera case. These are the regular Cantarre bush beans that are equally prolific and delicious, also picked every other day. That basically means bean-picking daily. Just a pain to bend and pick the bush beans. Pat your local harvester/farmer on the back for doing the dirty work, man.

OK, moving on to the lettuces. This whole box is dedicated to (mostly) lettuce as well as a few fennel bulbs. The lettuce came on so wonderfully this year, but the super hot (did someone say 105 degrees?) weather made the spinach, arugula and mustard greens bolt. The butter lettuce, speckled trout and red deer tongue did not bolt, though - we are still enjoying those varieties. 

You've just GOT to have nasturtiums in a veggie garden! Their peppery taste adds a kick to your summertime dishes. Plus, they help shade the lettuces. I think next year I'll rethink the full-sun lettuce thing, in other words creating some shade mid-summer in the form of corn stocks or bean towers.

The only things we did not start from seed are the many peppers Facilities Manager seems to have collected and a few tomato plants. Here, some chocolate-named pepper is just starting to turn, indicating the beginning of ripeness.

FM's Thai Dragon hot peppers. He can have these all to himself. FM says it's gonna be hot tonight!

Here we have leeks, celery and cabbage. So here's a funny thing: I also grew celeriac (celery root) and, well, the seedlings got mixed up so I don't know which is which. They are technically two different plants and I suppose I'll just wing it and wait until they grow a little more. Note for next year: Don't do that.

Yes, the same thing happened with the leeks and onions. Two different kind of leeks, too. I think it's safe to say this is an onion.

And, yes, we did the same thing with cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Oy. We must have been tipsy when we planted the garden? Drunk with excitement, I guess.

Kalibos cabbage, I do know that!

 Such pretty, sculptural leaves. I never really thought about it but the veggie garden is very beautiful. The shapes, colors and textures are amazing!

 Umm . . . I'm guessing broccoli?

Woo hoo! I know this one. Purple of Sicily cauliflower! When they start doing something, I can figure it out but when they are all in leaf, it's pretty difficult. For me. Don't make fun.

Corn! Facilities Manager looooves his corn. We planted I think six varieties. They are: Dakota Ivory, Glass Gem, Top Hat, True Gold and Paraguayan Chipa. This will be an interesting experiment. Many have tassels and are producing tiny ears - we're thrilled. A couple of these varieties are best for flour - that is drying and grinding for polenta or corn meal. Some are great for popcorn, others for grilling and eating.

I kind of feel like a Hobbit in our corn rows.

A few other goodies in the ground that I harvested today - golden beets...mmmm..these are for me.

Japanese long cucumbers, very sweet and low seeds...a wonderful fresh cucumber. Peel 'em, slice 'em, put a little rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and salt - voila, salad is made. Throw a fresh ripe tomato in the mix and it's even better. We're going to have a lot of cucumbers.

Two different kinds of parsnips. A little early to be harvested, but I wanted to see how big they were.

Celeriac? Celery? I think celeriac. I'll eat it and let you know.

Today's harvest. Oh, those large, fat beans in the bowl are another one we sowed. My sister-in-law acquired special seeds from her aunt in Romania. They were simply labeled "magic beans"....they sure are. 

Gnarly ol' tomato.

No idea what kind these are, but they are sweet and oddly colored.

Besides vegetables, we have a few fruit trees producing - columnar apples from my garden friend Darcy of E Garden Go. These are Golden Sentinel.

The three columnar apple trees grace the entrance to the veggie patch.

This is the lone fruit of the dwarf fig tree, also from Darcy.

Oh, gosh, did I mention squash and pumpkins? We have Red Kuri, Sweet Dumpling, Winter Luxury Pie, Butternut and Musquee de Provence. Whew! If I get one of each I'll be thrilled. OK, two butternut squash. No, wait, three.

Mammoth graystripe sunflowers tower over the corn. These are easily 8' high and still growing. We've got to grow food for the birds, too, after all.

An unusual "edible" are the rose hips of Rosa pomifera. Their color is so rich, the plant itself so cool that it deserves a place in my garden even without a veggie garden. It is on the edge of the orchard.

The inside of my garden shed door is painted with chalkboard paint, so I had to put it to use. It's true, we really are growing everything on that list. OK, we harvested the garlic, the broccoli might be a dud and the spinach bolted, but they really are all in the ground and growing. It may take a few years to have a full harvest of everything in the orchard list, but they too are all in the ground and growing their little hearts out.

 It's just a miracle to me that these little wisps of green become this:

A full-fledged garden.

In this shot, perhaps you notice that one side of the gate has no fence. Not very effective, but that's ok. The gate was always there, we left it in place. We plan on creating a path through the gate all the way down the edge of the veggie garden and it will divide that from the berry patch and terminate at the other end of the property. The fence will be extended on the open side, right now the gate is more ornamental. The former owner had some fun little glass ornaments that she left in the garden, I added them to the gate to welcome all to the sweet spot.

The magic gate. Seeds are amazing things; I have a whole new appreciation for them. I feel so very lucky to be able to do this, and let me tell you the taste . . . well, there's nothing like freshly picked food that you grew. Nothing like harvesting your own carrots and beans, broccoli and spinach, blueberries and dill. Such simple things, so much joy.

Much ink has been spilled on the subject of vegetable gardening and there is an equal amount of old-fashioned advice that has been passed down through changing generations. They all have something valuable to contribute to the conversation about how to grow your own food. We don't have vast amounts of knowledge, but that's o.k. I have several books that guide us, as well as my Master Gardener training a few years ago, not to mention fantastic advice from friends in the know. We also have curiosity and the willingness to try.

 In the end it's really about finding a good site for your plants and giving them what they want. Nothing fancy here, that's for sure. Seeds in ground, water and sunshine. We happen to have good soil as I discovered when I had it tested, but it still needs a lot of work. No matter, for us it's about getting in there and doing it and having fun.The finessing comes as we learn and grow, and the best way I learn is from the plants themselves, from hands on experience. I guess my point is that if you want to do something in gardening, go for it. No need for permission or the "perfect situation" - you'll be waiting a long time. We are but a couple of humble, simple farmers excited to be growing anything. So, if you are in Saint Helens, stop by and we'll fill you up with veggies. Especially beans, that most magical of fruit. FM might even throw in a Thai Dragon just to surprise you!

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Happy gardening to one and all.


  1. Amazing! But isn't that an extreme amount of produce for just the two of you; how're you going to eat all of that? Wonderful. : )

    1. You're going to come over and help me. We have been giving a lot away, next year we are thinking we might have a little produce stand for Facilities Manager to have something to do.

    2. FM has more than enough to do; thanks, Chickadee! He has the model-railroad world to build in his half of the greenhouse! Toot toot!

  2. Holy Moly, that's a lot of food! So glad the Fortex beans are producing so well for you. I love them, but I didn't actually grow any veggies this year myself, except for garlic, which I really need to harvest. Did you mention delicata squash? You have to try those. You know, you can let the beans dry on the vines and have seeds for next year. Or if you want to grow Fortex again, I think Territorial sells them.

    1. We love them, thank you Alison! Do you need some Fortex beans? Hee hee...seriously, I plan on drying some for saving. I don't think I have delicata in the mix this year but next for sure we'll grow them. Others have said how wonderful they are, too.

    2. i love how our vegetable gardens are linked together by Alison's fortex beans. Growing plants from seeds is not my thing, so having directly sown the bean seeds Alison sent me and seeing every single seed become a vine is very magical. my first crop of beans i have ever grown. i will be saving some seed for next year, too. Your garden is very inspiring. congratulations!

  3. Wow, you don't do anything by half! The first year up and it already looks like a beautiful vegetable garden to me. Happy eating!

    1. Thank you Kris! If you were closer we'd load you up with veg.

  4. I am exhausted thinking about EATING all of this, much less the preparation, sowing, planting, mulching, weeding, irrigating, harvesting, pickling, preserving, canning, putting away, and cooking. All your fingers are green and thumbs this year, it seems.

    1. Oh, Saurs, you sure know the work involved! Well, it's a labor of love that we hope touches our friends and family, too. We plan on sharing this with others, for sure. Can't think about the amount of work it takes, it would stop me in my tracks!

  5. You may have only worried about getting seeds in the ground, but it sure did turn out to be beautiful! It's also practically have a farm. Such a variety of plants. I didn't grow any veggies this year (except for a rouge tomato plant), but you are making me miss it.

    1. Thank you Rebecca! It is kind of gigantic - a small farm for sure. When the chickens get busy with it and start laying eggs, maybe we'll be considered a full-fledged farm.

      You can always plant fall veggies - it's just around the corner!

  6. So when are you opening up a farm stand? That's a lot of food! Your vegetable garden looks fantastic. I really recommend 'Jimmy Nardello' peppers. They're sweet and tasty even when they've barely turned colors, and they're the only pepper I've ever really had success with. Even when we buy pepper plants, we've never gotten much from them, but Jimmy produces tons of peppers. I even saved seed last year and grew them from my own seed this year. I was so late starting them, even later planting them, and then neglected them, though, it will be a miracle if I get anything this year.

    1. Farm stand next year. Thanks, Evan!

      Thanks for the pepper recommendation, we'll have to try them. Sounds good to me!

  7. Wow, not only prolific but gorgeous too. I am impressed!

    1. Thank you Danger! Come over, we'll load you up!

  8. What a dynamic duo you are...and with good taste, in every sense of the word.

  9. lillian osborne12:44 PM PDT

    How,and where, did you grow the sweet trays of seedlings you show here?

    1. I grew them in my garage under lights this winter. There were also heat mats involved for a time until they germinated. My first attempt at such an endeavor, it really wasn't as difficult as I had imagined it to be.

  10. This is so amazing. Seriously beautiful and the photos made my heart do an extra little pitter patter. I can't wait to follow in your footsteps!

    1. Great! You, my friend, will have an even LARGER garden I think. With a few kids in the mix, it will be a ton of fun for them to grow their own food. You're nearly there, Mindy!


Thank you for your comments! I love hearing them, I will approve comments as soon as I can. Yay!