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Garden Update: Veggie Garden Trials

8 Jun

cauliflower
I’ve mentioned many, many times on this blog that I’ve longed for a proper yard for AGES so I could finally have a veggie garden. After we purchased our first home (we closed a year ago today actually), my greatest priority was my getting perennials in, which I’d been buying and tucking away as best I could in our former landlord’s well-established garden, or else, begging my mom to hold for me in her garden, but I was less ready to dive into the vegetable realm, since I knew the soil likely needed a lot of amendments and we weren’t going to moving in until July which is long past when you should ideally start planting in New England in Zone 6/7.

IMG_1486our “back to Eden” bed that we scrapped

Flash forward to now: I’m hugely pregnant and so tired of waiting to put in the damn vegetable garden. After a thwarted attempt to try “Back to Eden Gardening” — (my mom is an experienced organic gardener and convinced me that adding nitrogen-sucking wood chips to a vegetable garden was insane) — we were prepared to just amend our sad leftover “lasagna bed” of cardboard, leaves and grass clippings, and soil/manure/compost with additional bags of Black Kow compost and throw what we could in there and hope for the best.

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Then, last weekend, I had a stroke of inspiration. Since we recently decided against trying to reseed our lawn since we still need to have the whole thing leveled, and I’d been going bananas staring at a large patch of grassless dirt just off our patio where we had two massive in-ground stumps finally ground up earlier this spring, and I don’t want to wait around for help from my family to expand the patio anymore,  I realized it made the most sense to just dig down a bit to level off the area and throw our garden THERE. Boom — dirt pit where the stumps used to be: SOLVED. And bonus, the veggies would be easier to access from the kitchen.

vegetable-garden-summer-26what I’d been envisioning as I pictured our garden shaping up

 So my tireless and devoted husband spent the majority of last Saturday afternoon digging out and leveling a large, organic-shaped bed. As it was leveled, I became more and more excited imagining cobblestone pavers along the edging and creeping herbs like lemon thyme spilling over their edges, accompanied by nasturtiums for a very, “English countryside” potager-garden affect.

IMG_0714post-stump grinding, this grass-less pit was the bane of my existence for ages

One of the issues though, which I’d not realized in my veggie gardening naiveté, was that I’d asked the guys who’d done the stump grinding not to remove all the wood chips that resulted from said grinding. This was before I was educated that mulch is not quite the same thing as wood chips. I assumed that wood chips would be a valuable soil amendment in the development of that dark, magical, black gold I know as compost. Which it is — however, they’d have needed to be layered into a compost heap along with many, many other valuable things like veggie castoffs and grass clippings and left to stew with some worms for at least a season, just to give you my quick and dirty overview of how to compost. But more on that in another post.

IMG_0279another “before” shot to illustrate how chippy and chunky the dirt was

What I soon learned was that the workable “dirt” where I’d hoped to put our garden was actually a chunky, wood chip-laden pit devoid of all the delicious, compost-y wonderfulness that I’ve taken for granted all my life because I’ve always lived among really great gardeners who composted and thus had easy access to fabulous, nutrient-rich dirt.

I felt like a complete moron, to be honest, to have taken this for granted. And the most frustrating thing is that I actually do know a lot about composting! As I was reading more about prepping soil for planting and best gardening tips earlier tonight, I came across this 5 Secrets to a No Work garden article on the Earth Easy website and realized that so much of what was being espoused aligned with the damn “back to Eden” gardening method I’d been planning to use from the start. However, and this is a huge caveat, I had grossly underestimated the level of nutrient dense amendments we’d have needed to make to the “compost” layer of our “Eden”-style garden. The recommended way to approach it is to actually “lasagna” all the fabulous stuff I’d have normally just added to cold compost heap in the fall, then let it overwinter and ideally, you’d have a beautiful starting point for your spring garden. But, I digress.

And unfortunately for our poor little veggie garden, I’d asked my husband to build up the now-leveled bed with the cardboard, leaves and compost/soil mixture we’d previously layered for the “Back to Eden” garden bed. The result was a disastrous, now uneven, and compacted mess of leaves that aren’t all that close to decomposing, dirt, and manure/compost. I wish I could say I learned this as I prepared the bed for planting, but I actually planted the whole thing this afternoon in complete knowing denial that what I was doing was a mistake. With each trowel of leaf-y dirt, I said a little prayer and just kept telling myself that I’m due to have a baby in 9 days and I can’t keep putting this off.

IMG_1943 2some of the seeds I started in February

But that is just the first half of the hilarity. The second is what I picked up to plant earlier today. Let me first say that in my excitement to get ahead of our veggie garden this year, when mild temperatures started to crop up in February, I took advantage and started a LOT of seeds: cucumbers, swiss chard, beets, beans… Then we had a series of snow storms in March and I lost my drive a bit. Cut to the April showers and biting cold days we had in May and here we are. Most of the seedlings I’d sown are washed away or dead of frostbite, or more likely, neglect, since I left them out in the garage instead of trying to keep them warm in the house for the early part of spring. All that survived of my seedlings is what I believe to be Swiss chard, some mesclun salad mix, and some purple zinnias.

IMG_1944 2

But doesn’t the lettuce look glorious? I can’t wait to not want to eat any of this in a few weeks when I have a newborn and all I want is Annie’s Mac and Cheese. And a nap.

I should also mention that about a month ago, we picked up some tomato plants at a local garden sale in our town. We were pretty excited about them since we were able to talk to the garden club members offering them and heard rave reviews straight from the growers about the selections we ultimately made: Brandywine, Sungold, Best Boy and Cherry Sunrise. I also grabbed one squash plant. Thanks to these purchases, I also learned what “hardening off” means (gradually exposing plants to the elements/sun, etc after they’ve been started indoors). It was a bit of a pain in the butt to manage this with the cold end of May temps, but I managed it. I also grabbed a bunch of gorgeous perennials on this trip too, but I’ll share those in another post soon.

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And finally, I picked up some favorite herbs with my mom about a month ago as well — rosemary, parsley, dill and tarragon. But had yet to plant them due to the where is the garden going to be installed dilemma.

Cut to today. I had a check-up about 45 minutes away and conveniently, right near one of my favorite, favorite markets: Russo’s in Watertown. Oh how I miss living minutes from this heavenly spot. Not only is the produce varied and crazy affordable, they have the most spectacular selection of seasonal plants. So I dipped in before my appointment and grabbed a bunch of stuff: broccoli, squash, cauliflower, peppers, a black raspberry bush with little raspberry buds already forming, basil, a pot of the large-head orange marigolds that I always drool over but never buy, and finally, a citronella plant which is said to deter mosquitos.

I’d been looking to pickup the garden staples we love, like cucumbers and zucchini, or some other varieties of lettuce like butter or red leaf or even arugula, but most of what I saw was what I’d always known to be cooler season crops and stuff my mom has always avoided growing because it’s fussy or difficult or just not worth bothering with. Still, I ignored my better instincts and persuaded myself that a garden full of bell peppers would be impressive and got sucked in by the little cauliflower buds starting to emerge on a 6-pack I managed to locate amidst others that weren’t fruiting yet.

I managed to get everything planted except the broccoli and squash and didn’t even bother with my cucumber and pole bean seeds since I’m going to try starting them in pots again before transplanting. Then I retired, exhausted, into the house to get Emilia ready for bed. Finally, hours later, I decided to do a little more research and learned a lot of really depressing news about my labor of love our in the garden, for example:

  • Cauliflower is a cool-season crop and should have been started (undercover) outside while it was still chilly
  • Early “fruiting” often happens when kept in packs for too long  and exposed to too-warm temps to early in the growing cycle (aka, exactly what I’d purchases)
  • Cauliflower is very prone to root flies which often destroy the entire plant and can wreak havoc on your soil
  • Bell peppers are very fussy; worm casting amendments to the soil would have helped but they’re very sensitive to too much nitrogen (so maybe a win with the wood chips??)
  • Broccoli is also a cool season veggie and also prone to root flies
  • Grass clippings are a great organic mulch option and nitrogen-resource, (provided you don’t use pesticides all over your lawn) but you want to let them dry out and brown if you plan to use anywhere near a plant that is close to fruiting because the high nitrogen in fresh clippings can prevent it
  • Seaweed is another great organic mulch option but there are some concerns about using it on tomato plants. Recommended use is to top dress the first week, then add a second layer in week two. This will give you adequate mulching for about 4-6 weeks. Then you’d want to repeat to contain moisture and suppress weeds.

All this to say: the garden is in, but I’m fairly certain I’ve made massive, massive missteps along the way. I’m going to top-dress it all tomorrow with some compost and figure out a mulch option as soon as possible and just hope for the best. I’ve learned a lot so far and considering that I’ve been exposed and around gardening my entire life, I’m glad I learned early on in my own gardening adventure that this is a lifelong process and I have a long way to go! In the meantime, I’m going to spend a little more time educating myself about the various requirements of the “essentials” we’ve yet to start from seed and hope to have some better luck getting those planted and established.

Happy gardening to those who dig in!

Operation: Big Sister Prep

3 Jun

Married With Style

With less than two weeks to go until my due date, I’ve been ramping up final preparations for Baby Girl. Our newborn photographer is booked, my hospital bag is (almost) packed, and the essential newborn gear is (essentially) ready.

There is still so much I’d like to accomplish, like a top-to-bottom deep clean of the entire house, but I’m moving pretty slow these days and have to remind myself to take it easy. Still, one of the more fun projects we’ve been working on is “Operation: Big Sister Prep.” It has actually been really fun and has melted my heart a thousand times daily to witness her excitement over “Baby Sis-tah.”

1. Be aware of the words you’re using
Part of Operation: Big Sister Prep involved researching some fun ways to help Emilia not feel displaced in any of the transition that is about to happen. Lately I’ve been more aware of how I refer to her — less “my baby” and more “my big helper” and “my big girl” so there is less confusion when there is an actual baby on the scene here soon. She’s loved being my helper for everything from putting the groceries away to helping to make our bed in the morning to cooking dinner with me.

2. Utilize books to illustrate and explain
A great tip from my fellow mom and friend, Staci, that has proven true for us is that books are a great tool for helping with big transitions. After success with a Daniel Tiger potty training book, I was thrilled when Emilia went absolutely crazy for this My New Baby book by Rachel Fuller. I also purchased Fuller’s Waiting for Baby, but found that Emilia much prefers the book that highlights the big sister’s role. Since we bought it, she’s requested it nightly for story time and during the day, frequently points out all the ways she’s not a baby, but a big girl. For example: “Big girls no wear diapers,” is one of her favorites to say lately.

3. Talk about the hospital plan
Shortly after Emilia was born, I made a shadowbox with all our hospital bracelets, her hat, and nursery stat card, as well as a few photos of our first days as a new family. It hangs just above her light switch in her bedroom, so a few times a day, we’ll study it together and talk about how the pictures are of her when she was a “little baby” and daddy and I went to the hospital to have her. She loves to point to the various pictures and explains, “That’s me!” I a little baby!” Then she’ll recite the plan that we’ve been reviewing with her for a few weeks now, how mama and daddy will go to to the hospital to have baby sister, and she’ll go to Nana’s house with Skylar and May (my mom’s cat). Then Nana will bring her to visit at the hospital. She adores my mom and loves spending time at her house, so we feel good about how comfortable Emilia is with this plan.

4. Prepare a baby sister/big sister gift
I’ve picked up quite a few new goodies for the baby, but have also thought carefully about what the baby might “gift” to her new sister. Emilia absolutely loves the Little People School Bus toy at our gym’s play center, so I think that would be a huge hit in addition to another book about being a big sister and some sort of Big Sister shirt or ribbon to wear. I’ll probably also plan on some sort of chocolate as well as a disposable camera and little “brag book” photo album for the baby to “give” her as well.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of giving Emilia a special gift from her dad and I when we leave for the hospital. Like a Build-a-Bear with a special voice recording and some new pjs to wear while we’re at the hospital. She absolutely loves treats and trinkets, so “something special” as she says, will definitely be in the works.

5. Plan a “Big Sister Hospital Party”
When I initially heard this idea, it seemed like overkill to me. Then I saw the simple, sweet way that Melissa over at Fawn Over Baby put this together for her daughter and I was sold. The milk + donuts are especially significant since Emilia absolutely loves both and we frequently make an AM stop for both when we’re having special mom/daughter time. And you know I’m all about banners. Banners for ALL OCCASIONS I SAY! I can’t wait to work on this and start to scout for some sweet party plates and napkins. Considering that I just picked up a bottle of bubbly (prosecco, not champagne) to pack in my post-delivery hospital bag to drink in celebration with visitors, it’s really starting to feel like I’m planning a mini soiree!

Now, if only baby girl would shake a leg and make her debut! At 38 weeks+ now, I am more than ready to meet this little lady. I’m ready when you are, girl.

Thoughts On: Prayer

30 May

pope

I’ll admit that I’ve struggled to totally “get” HBO’s The Young Pope. But something about the style and visual eye candy (and I don’t even mean Jude Law, I mean the gorgeous Italian sets within the Vatican gardens, etc) and probably my own desire to better explore and learn about the Catholic faith keeps me coming back to it. I’ve yet to watch that I haven’t needed to take a head-clearing walk outside just to mull over an episode.

Most recently, I finally learned how to pray thanks to the show. You read that correctly. I didn’t know what I was doing until I watched a television show on HBO. In my lifetime, I have received the sacraments of Baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation, and marriage — and had my daughter Baptized. Not to mention that I have “prayed” hundreds of thousands of times over the course of my life, but I was doing it all wrong. Well, maybe not every single time, but in times of difficulty when I prayed for help, I was definitely doing it wrong.

My favorite yoga teacher, Rebecca Pacheko of Om Gal, always starts class with the setting of an intention for our practice. It’s such a simple mindfulness tool but really keeps me in the moment throughout a 75-minute class. When my mind wanders, I come back to the intention I set at the beginning of the night. Often it’s as simple as “keep space” (and might involve a mudra, which is a symbolic hand gesture reminiscent of clasping my hands in prayer now that I think about it), but the simple act of just setting the intention makes me feel like an active participant in something that can easily become a routine “thing you just do.”

I mention this because prayer was like that for me. I beam with pride each time my 2-year old extends her hands to my husband and I at dinner for a prayer of thanks and melt each time she lovingly gazes at us and exclaims, “Sam-i-ly!” [family. But aside from the whispers of thanks for a beautiful meal and time with that family, my prayers for a while have tended to be more along the lines of: Oh God, things are really bad right now. Please help. Followed by some auction-worthy- fast recitations of the Our Father and Hail Mary I’m embarrassed to admit.

On a recent episode of The Young Pope, the Pope teaches Esther how to pray. They kneel and she begins aloud. It reminds me of one of my own prayers. He gently interjects with what has forever changed my approach to prayer and probably my own relationship with my faith:

“…prayer shouldn’t be a list of requests… it should be an occasion for understanding. While we pray, we reflect. In the most elevated way we can. So that someone can whisper thoughts into our ears. We call that someone God.”

Esther quickly gets it and successfully prays, but this time, reflects. I won’t go so far as to say that she masters it because she hints that she wants to be unfaithful to her husband in her desperation to have a child, but I can share that since hearing the above guidance, my prayers remind me more and more of those intentions we would set at the beginning of yoga practice. Instead of lamenting whatever trial I’m in the middle of, like when Emilia suddenly wouldn’t sleep in her crib anymore, my prayers lean more along the lines of I’m trying to understand why. It’s a total paradigm shift that has made me far more… receptive. Because now that I’m actually reflecting on the challenges in my life instead of turning my face to the sky and wailing: HELP, in desperation, I can honestly say that ideas and answers and new perspectives and even just positivity just flow to me in ways I’d not experienced before.