C’est arrive!

The tomatoes arrived Thursday night. I am going to unpack and set them in the garden this morning and tonight they’ll go into the bales. Photos to come.

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The Tomatoes Shipped!

They shipped on Tuesday, and I expect them Friday.  I know what I’ll be doing Friday evening.

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The Herb Bed

A few weeks ago, when I first started cleaning up the garden, the herb bed looked pretty ratty.  The herb bed runs along the south side of the house and projects another 12-ish feet into the yard. It was one of the first places I elevated with truck fulls of topsoil ten years ago, and changes the least…until this year.

We had a hard winter here in the northeast, the rosemary had succumbed to the polar vortex, as did the chives (!), the sage was decimated, the lavender looked ragged and the thyme looked more like a dirty, weed-filled broom than something you’d want to put in your eggs.  Worse, the soil seemed depleted, too sandy with insufficient organic matter.

I started with the thyme that first weekend.  I dug it out, got out all the weedy bits, separated the growing from the broom and replanted a dozen or so plugs. Then I worked on other areas of the garden for a few weeks.  I’m the kind of person who needs to take time and “sit” with things for a while for a plan to come together.

When I realized that Alphonso would have time to sift the compost this past weekend, I knew what I was going to do.  The actual work began Saturday when I started moving a most of the columbines to another bed.  The herb bed is about 20′ long and 4′-5′ wide, and now except for an Euonymus fortunei and three Columbine, it’s all herbs.

Next I pulled all of the weeds, trimmed the sage back to new growth and re-shaped the lavender.  I also dug out the dead rosemary, that was a little sad because it had survived almost 10 years.  But I had been afraid to prune for the first 5+ years and the trunk was as thick as a paper towel tube and twisted like one of van Gogh’s olive trees, also the growth was concentrated asymmetrically at the top of the plant. It was good to have an excuse to start over.

After all the weeding and raking, I loosened the soil with my garden fork (aka the best tool ever) and then laid in the compost.  We covered the entire bed with about 4″ of freshly sifted compost! I also laid in a little stone pathway to cut through to the water faucet.

The bed is mostly planted, but I have left plenty of room for basil which will go in next week.  In years past I have had problems with cilantro bolting early in the summer, this year the cilantro is positioned so that the basil can shield it, and if necessary I can put up a wooden trellis to shade it for a few weeks while the basil gets big.

I would like to get a pyramidal support to encourage more upward growth from the euonymus, but it is a wish, not a priority. Then I can move the Shining Shields by Connecticut artist, Brian Walters to another location…but not closer to the street, because another of his pieces was stolen from the edging bed a bunch of years ago.

2014-0505 Herb Bed - LABELED 2014-0505 - Herb Bed Chimney - Labled 2014-0505 - Herb Bed Long Shot - Labled



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Harvesting Black Gold – the Other Kind

Chinese screen, front

Chinese screen, front

Chinese Screen, back

Chinese screen, back

For the past 3 or 4 weekends, I’ve been spending most of the daylight hours working on the gardens.  In past years, I’ve gotten a small amount accomplished, but one gal working alone can only do so much.  This year though, I have Alphonso! Frankly, without his help I would have only accomplished about one third as much as I have.  Alphonso does all the stuff I don’t like doing…bagging raked leaves, taking those bags to the curb, filling wheel barrows with mulch or compost and bringing it to where I’m working, moving bluestone pavers, and so much more.  He has been a godsend.  And best of all he does it all happily, questioning only to understand what I want accomplished.

This past weekend Alphonso was even able to sift and turn the compost bin, something that I haven’t even attempted to do since I exacerbated my tennis elbow 4-5 years ago, trying to sift compost.  Talk about black gold! I think we got 8-10 wheel barrows full, and there is a bit more that could be harvested.

The sifter that I had used previously was about 2 feet square and lined with 1/2″ hardware cloth…it was a hassle and insufficient for a compost bin that measures 4′ x 8′.  So I built a new one, based on a sifter I saw last year in Beijing, China.

In Beijing, I visited a section of the old city wall, perhaps the second ring in the southeast corner.  There a group of gardeners were working on the gardens: weeding, thinning, transplanting.  And one of the tools they used was this soil screen pictured above.  It is brilliant! Shovel dirt at a screen and let gravity separate the weeds from the soil!

I would love to be able to draw a 3-d diagram but I am not that clever, so words and pix will have to suffice.

Materials List:

  • Duct tape (you never know when you’ll need it, so you should always have it.)
  • Drywall Screws
  • 1″ x 3″ x 8′ pine boards
  • 1″ hardware cloth


  • Saw for cutting wood to length
  • Cordless drill or screw gun
  • Tape measure
  • Tin snips

My sifter is about 5 feet tall by 2 feet wide, the screen area is about 4 feet tall.  The hardware cloth is sandwiched between the 1×3’s on all four sides.  The structure is stabilized by two diagonally placed wood scraps at the top, the larger one is better because a 1×3 can be suck in there to prop up the sifter.

We noticed that it is better to prop the screen on both sides that to try to prop only in the center as shown in the China pictures.   If I were to make another screen I would make it wider.  The proportions in the Chinese screen are 2:1 height to width, although it did not seem visually appealing, from a practical perspective it would have been easier to use.

You might also want to use hinges to permanently affix your supporting legs…or you might not.  Alphonso put the yard cart behind the screen and sifted directly into the hopper, with attached legs you might not have that option.

Homemade screen leaning on compost bin.

Diagonal Supports, the right side version is better!

Diagonal Supports, the right side version is better!

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Straw Bale Garden

The bales are set, hosed and trellised.

The bales are set, hosed and trellised.

Well, thanks to help from David, Gregory and Alphonso I got 20 straw bales last week and have them sited, set with soaker hose, and equipped with trellises.  I started the conditioning process on Saturday, so these should be ready to plant on the 30th.

These first two trellises are 8 feet tall! Perfect for tomatoes.

And speaking of tomatoes, I placed my order today with http://heirloomtomatoplants.com/

Here’s what I got…

Black Plum
Costoluto Genovese
Japanese Black Truffle
Lime Green Salad
Oaxacan Jewel
Paul Robeson
Super Snow White

I’m am looking forward to these guys arriving in a few weeks, it’s going to be a great summer!

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