I’m Baaaaaaaaaaack!

baseball practice

Heidi-ho there, neighbors.  Did ya miss me?  Finally I am back from not-all-that-sunny California, and I have much to report.  After those frost warnings on the first two days of my trip (which didn’t pan out anyway), the weather turned all nice and friendly up here in the Northwest, while I was down in the Bay Area freezing my butt off.  As I sat out in the icy wind and rain, watching Little League Games, wrapped head-to-toe in a dog blanket because Matthew was wearing my jacket and doing jumping jacks to keep warm in the outfield, up here it was in the mid- to upper-70s and sunny.  *please note – the baseball picture was from practice on one of the later, sunnier days I was there.  I was too busy shivering under my warm and only slightly smelly dog blanket to take pictures during the games, which were FRIGID.

yesterday's temp

To my delight, with all that warm, sunny weather, and Brian’s diligent efforts to keep the homestead in working order, most things of the growing-type responded with happy gusto.

heirloom red and green cutting lettuces

Green Fortune Baby Bok Choi

My early-spring, cool-season veggies went from puny to huge in the nine days I was gone.  We will be having bok choi with dinner tonight, and lettuce for sandwiches soon to follow.

Broccoli Raab, Super Rapini

My broccoli raab is actually among a group of cole plants that got a little too happy with the heat and bolted.  The rapini I can harvest ASAP and still eat and probably still get some nice side-shoots to eat again in a few days.  But, the bok choi in my Asian stirfry mix has bolted, along with a couple of plants that I believe are cauliflower or regular broccoli, and those are toast.

bolted brassicas

I am pleased to report, however, that my Michihili Napa (Asian) cabbage is still behaving nicely and has not yet bolted.  Last year, I tried to grow it and it bolted almost immediately, which made me sad because I LOVE LOVE LOVE Napa cabbage and it’s not always easy to find in the store.

Napa cabbage

Other good things to report:

My happy surprise tomatillo plant is still going like a champ and the first flowers have bloomed.

green husk tomatillo

My strawberry plants are growing like crazy and we now have young berries in amongst the flowers!

Hood strawberry patch

strawberry blossoms and a new-born berry


My rainbow-mix beets are coming along nicely in their little clumps, started in soil blocks.

rainbow-mix beets

beet clumps

My pea plants are wending their ways up the trellises.

My direct-seeded corn in the three sisters garden finally decided to sprout.

corn sprouts

And now for the grand finale…. duh dut dut duuuuuuuhhhh!!!!!!!!!! (that’s fanfare.  duh.)

TA DA!!!!!!

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY tomatoes!!!!!!!  Oooohhh ho ho ho they’re back!  My poor, battered little babies have made it through the darkness and into the light.  Only two of the twelve look like they might not make it, and all of the others have good growth on them.  Most are bigger than when I planted them out.  Hoooray!!!  And as for the two that still don’t look so hot… they are not officially dead… even my sad, sad Berkeley Tie-Dye with the stem eaten cleanly through by STUPID PILLBUGS is still plump and green, while hanging on by those teensy threads.  Who knows, maybe it will make a comeback yet.  If not, I have a tray full of backups hardening off outside as we speak.  Now all I have to do it figure out what to do with the extras…

Straw Bale Garden

grass sprouts in the straw bales

Even the straw bales decided to get in on the act.  I read that even though straw is technically made up of the stalks of empty grasses after the grains have been removed, they can’t really get them all, and so usually grass and possibly other things will start to sprout in your straw bales after you’ve watered and fed them and they’ve composted enough to be the great growing medium you are trying to create.

Apparently this grass is not really a problem and you don’t bother to weed it out.  You just let it grow and if it gets too long, you can give it a haircut with shears.  Anyway, I was happy to find the bright green stripe down the middle of the bales when I returned because it meant two things – thing #1: Brian watered them enough while I was gone (Brian asked, “do you like the grass I grew for you in the straw bales?”).  Thing #2: if grass is growing in them, it must mean other things can grow in them too, and so I can plant my pumpkins and melons!!

And this, friends, is just what I did.  In yesterday’s 80-degree sunshine, I slathered on the sunscreen, hydrated thoroughly, and set about my task.  I hauled bags of organic garden soil and organic compost over to the orchard, and decided on the fly how to do this thing.

Basically, I knew that most sites that I read recommended a 2- to 3-inch layer of soil or compost on top of the bales if you planned to direct-seed anything.  Transplants can be inserted directly into the straw and you can skip the soil.  So, I just started piling soil along the tops of the bales to see how it would work.  I finally settled on half a cubic foot of soil per bale.  That was how much they would hold before it started to tumble off the sides.  I know it’s half a cubic foot because the bags I had contained 1.5 cu ft and I used one bag per three bales.

one bag per three bales

Then, since some places said “soil” and others said “compost,” and I’m a worrier (what if I should have used compost?  what if I should have used soil?  which is better?  what if I don’t do it right?  I WANT PUMPKINS, DAMNIT!) – I used both and covered all my bases.  I decided to put the compost on top of the soil layer because I know it will hold the moisture in better than the soil.

compost layer on top of soil layer on straw bale

For this, I just used what I had on hand.  I had 1 1/2 bags of local, organic compost sitting around and so I spread that evenly over my soil layer down the whole line of bales.

Then, I watered everything thoroughly to get it all to meld and stick together a bit.

straw+soil+compost+water = ready for planting!

When it was all ready, I headed inside to sit down and decide which things to plant where.  This might have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.  Seriously.  I have 20 varieties of pumpkins and winter squash and 20 varieties of melons all vying for the opportunity to grow in my garden this year, and I simply don’t have the space for them… at least not the prepared growing space.  As I sit here, I am seriously contemplating another trip to Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply to get another batch of six bales.  They would be ready to plant in a week or two and they would seriously help me with my space problem.  Currently I have six varieties of pumpkins and winter squash, plus a gourd mix, and fifteen varieties of melon that I have not planted… plus the entire crew of backup tomato plants.  They all need somewhere to grow.  I think I need more straw.

Back to the present for a moment, though.  In the end, here is what I planted yesterday:

In the straw bales, four each (to be thinned to two plants per bale) of:

  • Casper pumpkin
  • Big Max pumpkin
  • Dill’s Atlantic Giant pumpkin
  • Fairytale pumpkin
  • Potimarron winter squash
  • Blue Hubbard winter squash
  • Queensland Blue pumpkin
  • Prescott Fond Blanc melon
  • Noir des Carmes melon
  • Petit Gris de Rennes melon
  • Moon and Stars watermelon
  • Banana melon

straw bale garden, all planted and watered

I also seeded pumpkins into the three sisters garden, even though the corn isn’t really 4-inches high.  Maybe I will come to regret that… I don’t know.

Into three sisters garden, three each (to be thinned to two plants per mound) of:

  • Cinderella’s Carriage pumpkin
  • Trombetta Italian climbing summer squash (I did this because this mound is up against the fence and this plant will climb up the fence better than a pumpkin, which will climb but then the fruits can get so heavy the vines break)
  • Styrian pumpkin
  • Marina Di Chioggia winter squash
  • Long Island Cheese winter squash
  • Jarrahdale pumpkin
  • Galeux d’Eysines pumpkin
  • Musquee de Provence (note: just a few minutes ago, I was looking online about pumpkin stuff and I discovered that “Fairytale” is the American name for “Musquee de Provence” so I’ve accidentally planted this variety twice.  Oh well, more for me!)

three sisters garden

This leaves me with the following pumpkin/squash varieties unplanted:

  • Amish Pie pumpkin
  • Jack-o-lantern pumpkin
  • Delicata winter squash
  • Butternut winter squash
  • Acorn winter squash
  • Old Zeb’s pumpkin
  • Gaggle of Gourds mix

I still plan to plant some other melon varieties in between other plants in my garden boxes as I did last year with good success.  I will keep you posted on that.

Today, my plan is to plant pole beans into the three sisters garden, and bush beans into the garden boxes, as well as transplant my peppers and eggplants (some already have flower buds even though they’re still in the soil blocks!) into the boxes, maybe direct-seed some melons in the boxes, and harvest some bok choi and other greens.

The Garden I Left Behind

my old California garden

I thought I’d leave you with a few shots of the garden I left when I moved to the Northwest.  Of course, it has changed much in the years since I left, and it has had lots of help from hired hands and professionals… but it still feels like home to me.

In the back right is the potato bin, which is a new addition since I left.  Front right you can see the leaves of an artichoke plant.  I planted the artichokes, and these are the same plants, but they have been moved to a different box since I left.

herbs in California

The herb box is one of my best lasting legacies.  It was one of the first things I planted when I moved to the ranch, and it now overflows with rosemary, chives, garlic chives, lavender, oregano, marjoram, English thyme, lemon thyme, and tarragon.  My family gets to reap the benefits.

California rose garden

The roses are another of my contributions.  I bought them all as babies and planted them around the property.  They have since been moved into a single rose garden, but they are still my original plants and are doing really well.  All last week, I had bouquets of freshly-cut, perfumed roses from this garden around the house.

Like an idiot, I didn’t take any pictures of the citrus trees, which were also started by yours truly.  The are to the left of the roses in this picture, on the other side of the fence.  All week I got to enjoy Meyer lemons and Oro blanco grapefruits, fresh from the trees.  There is also a Bearss lime, a variegated lemon, a Satsuma mandarin, a blood orange, and a sweet orange.  Since I left, another lime tree and a yuzu tree have been added.  Homegrown citrus is the number one thing I miss the most about living in California.

fava beans

This year, my mom planted an entire box full of fava beans, and they are doing crazy well!

Bill moves the bees into their new homes

And the newest addition is a couple of honeybee hives.  They arrived the same day I did, and I took this picture as Bill moved them from their transport boxes into the brand new hives, next to the berry patch.  I love bees.  We had a hive in Oakland when I was growing up, and I could sit for hours and watch the bees return to the hive with back legs full of pollen in a rainbow of colors – fiery red, neon blue, pumpkin orange, sunshine yellow, snowy white, emerald green.  I never tired of it.  And the honey?  Simply the best.  Like everything else… it tastes better when you grow it yourself.  I would love to have a beehive up here someday.  Now if I could only convince Brian that I need another new project….


5 thoughts on “I’m Baaaaaaaaaaack!

  1. I’m glad to see you’re back. I’m not surprised with all the lovely weather we’ve had that things were growing at your place.

    How’s thirteen doing? In the big coop yet?

    I have two new broodies this past week. Big, fat, fluffy buff orpington and a different barred rock. After sitting in the same nest boxes for a week, I desided to let them try hatching four eggs each last Friday. I learned from last fall to mark the eggs so I could tell them apart from those that get layed while the girls are getting a quick meal and potty break twice a day.

    Each broody has two EE’s (roos are brown leghorns), one black cochin, and one black silkie egg from the dog house tractor in the front yard (roo is buff silkie).

    I’ll candle at day ten to see what’s developing and pull those that aren’t.

    I’m leaving the two broodies in the coop with the rest of the flock of 24 hens and 2 roos. We’ll see how it goes with the three age groups and two roos. Last fall it was just 8 hens in the hens house with the broody and 4 chicks.

    I haven’t gotten my straw bales started yet, so interested in how your’s develop over time.

    Welcome back to sunny Washington.

  2. Hi Lisa,
    Wow fair play to you the Garden looks great. Brian left work early each night and worked till 12. im glad his hard work paid off, and the garden survived while you were away.. He was a little sleepy when he came into work but the results speak for themselves !!

    Your Tomatoe plant looks super im delighted it survived :-)

  3. Hey Lisa! It’s good to have you back. Your garden is really taking off now. I’m particularly jealous of your bok choy. I do love some bok choy and I have the scar on my thumb to prove it (I cut my thumb when I was in culinary school preparing a box worth of bok choy). Injuries aside, they are certainly delicious. How are the chickens? Has Thirteen being accepted into the flock yet? The garden you left in Cali looks fantastic! I would love a gardening space like that. Anyway, talk to you soon my same aged friend.


  4. I’m growing pumpkins in a straw bale garden too! It’s my first time so I hope it works out. I just posted a pic of what I’ve done. You did a lot of more on top of the straw than I did. I wonder if I should rethink how I’m doing this a bit.

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