My Gardening Goals for 2018: End of Summer Update

Way back in March, I wrote up my gardening goals for 2018. Now it’s six months later, and I’m long overdue for an update on how the season has shaped up.

1. Grow More of Our Own Food

Even though I put the most time and effort into my vegetable garden compared to my other gardens, there are a lot of years where I feel like I’m not necessarily getting a lot out of it. I weed and weed, and yet I don’t always get a good harvest. This year I decided to double-down and grow more food.

I certainly grew more food this year than ever before. I got off to a good start last fall with a large planting of garlic. My attempts to plant lettuce in February were successful too, and it was awesome to have fresh greens in May. I changed my planting approach this year and used the square foot gardening method where seeds are planted on a grid rather than in rows. This worked out great, and I grew (and froze) a ton of green beans this year. Overall, I upped my game and grew more of these plants this year: garlic, green beans, peas, and kale. I also grew a good amount of onions, potatoes, tomatoes (which actually ripened in August with our warm weather this year!), and parsley.

Garden panorama, August 2018.

I had hoped to do more succession planting of plants like lettuce, spinach, carrots, and beets, but the spring got away on me and I never got my second or third plantings in; next year, I should plant 3-4 times as many carrots and beets all at once, and lettuce whenever I can. My peppers never amounted to anything, and I have no idea why. I ran out of room to grow squash and melons. I did a little bit of mushroom inoculation with some friends, but still have an entire bag of spawn in my fridge.

Early lettuce in May.

2. Improve My Garden Soils

I finally gathered up soil samples for my garden and sent them into a lab. The test results were helpful, but I’ll admit that I haven’t done a lot to work on my soils. I added a bit of wood ash and compost to me vegetable garden while planting, but not a lot more. I would love to have more compost, but I never seem to make as much as I need.

Soil samples!

One thing that is kind of funny is that the reason that my gardening efforts didn’t go as smoothly this year as I would have liked is because I ended up spending the summer at our cottage. My primary vegetable garden was 15 minutes away; this distance meant that I couldn’t weed for 20 minutes in the evening, and the weeds were absolutely out of control this year. The silver lining? When I finally did get around to weeding that overgrown mess, it resulted in a lot of green material. I’m hoping I”ll have a lot more compost next year, thanks to all those weeds!

3. Expand My Perennial Gardens

My prairie garden in situated in front of our septic mound, forming a nice border that helps keep the ugly mound out of view (or at least less obvious). For a bunch of years, I’ve been trying to smother out the grass on a portion of the septic mound figuring that I would eventually convert the grass to… something prairie-like. I thought I was going to have to grow a special mix of plants selected for use on top of septics. But then I was able to ask Neil Diboll of Prairie Nursery my question at a gardening event this spring, and he said that any herbaceous plants are fine—it’s the trees and woody plants that can damage a septic.

The straw-covered area was prepped for expanding my prairie garden.

With that knowledge, I took the seeds that I collected from my prairie garden last fall and spread them over one-third of the septic mound that was bare soil and prepared. I had to weed it twice this summer, but it was relatively easy since the weeds were much taller than the seedlings I was trying to tend. I just had to pull out the tall stuff, and let everything underneath continue to grow. On the other side of the prairie bed, I used cardboard and mulch to smother out a strip of grass. That area is now ready to transplant into.

The prairie garden in summer. Hopefully next year the area on top of the mound will be flowering too.

4. Tend Trees and Shrubs at the Cottage Property

This is a major work in progress. One big item is that we submitted the management plan for our property and it’s now in the American Tree Farm System. I had planned to do more work this year to remove invasive plants, but realized that our barberry problem is much bigger than I thought; rather than hand-pull, I need to research herbicide options.

I gathered up silver maple seedlings this spring and attempted to plant some. That was slightly successful, but I had even better success when a June storm led to a few days of flooding in my onion patch, and a bunch of silver maple germinated as weeds. I’ve allowed some of those seedlings to grow over the summer and will try to transplant them this fall. I took some cuttings of other plants, but did not get the plants to root before they gathered mold (who knew that was possible?). I fenced our five apple trees to prevent further deer damage. I transplanted three grape plants from my vegetable garden to the property, but the deer found them before I could get some fencing up. I also tucked some free conifer seedlings into a few places, but need to protect them from deer before winter.

As I said 6 months ago, there’s a ton to do and I’m just figuring out where to start.

These tires were the start of my mini-tree nursery. I’m hoping that they’ll work like big, temporary pots.

5. Create Demonstration Gardens for My Master Gardener Project

Last year I worked with a few friends to start rehabilitating some neglected garden beds at the Marsin Nature Retreat as part of our work for the Extension Master Gardener volunteer program. This spring, I worked with a new staff member at the Keweenaw Land Trust, and we got the garden planted. Another big garden project for me was helping to organize a Native Plants Symposium that was held in mid-March. It was a huge success, with nearly 70 people in attendance and a bunch of great speakers. I had a lot of fun and hope we do it again next year.

6. Teach Others How to Garden

It took me a long time (really much longer than it should have) to realize that I love to talk to other people about gardening. In particular, I love getting other people excited about gardening, and I decided that I wanted to spend more time helping others to garden. I created an online course, A Beginner’s Guide to Gardening in Cold Climates, to cover some basic material. And I launched a six-week garden challenge in the spring.

Setting up a new flower bed at the cottage.

Unfortunately, a lot of my efforts in this arena stalled for the summer. Right in the midst of the online challenge, my computer died (making key files inaccessible for over month) and we relocated to our cottage, which did not have internet access at the time. As you can imagine, the abrupt loss of computer and internet access really stymied any work I was doing related to online courses, challenges, and blogging—and partially explains my lack of posting for much of the summer.

But, as I get resettled into a new routine (and get to know my new computer), I am getting excited to get back into writing and teaching about gardening. I already have a few posts up my sleeve, so be sure to check back in to hear about my gardening goals for this fall.

How was your garden this summer? I’d love to hear about it!

Weekend Reading 

Being a librarian must be exciting. At least, that is, it must be kind of  exciting for those of us who are a little nosy.  I can imagine that it would be fun to see the different books that people check out, and infer—or flat out fabricate—the details of some stranger’s life. Call it profiling, but I think it would be entertaining!

This isn’t a particularly novel thought,  but it only just occurred to me today. I had little extra time between errands so I dropped by the library to see if anything caught my eye. Twenty minutes later I walked out with four books that I suspect say more about me than I even realize.

Two are gardening books. One on gardening through the year by Eliot Coleman, an expert from Maine about whom the instructors of my season extension course raved. The other isn’t exactly about gardening directly, but is rather a cookbook to help use up all those veggies I supposedly* grew this summer. Continue reading “Weekend Reading “

Going Barefoot

I’ve been making a point to go barefoot this summer.

When I was young, I was always barefoot. It was that or shoes. I don’t remember ever having sandals or flip flops as a kid. Perhaps I had a pair of jelly shoes for summer (it was the early ’90s after all), but otherwise I only had real shoes. I never had a pair of slippers for inside use, and I hated the feeling of walking around in just socks, so that wasn’t an option. It was a binary decision: shoes or bare feet.

I remember gingerly walking across our gravel driveway because I didn’t want to bother putting on shoes. I don’t remember having dirty feet, although I’m sure they always were.

The summer before I started high school, I started running. I had always been a non-athlete in grade school, but I found myself having too much energy to sit still. The energy would build and build, until I’d finally go outside and run laps around our yard, barefoot  Continue reading “Going Barefoot”

Last Week’s Travels: Northern New Hampshire

I haven’t had too much time to write the past few weeks, so this is just a quick post to hit some highlights of my travel last week. I flew to Burlington, VT, for work and then traveled with a few colleagues to a meeting at a rustic location extreme northeast corner of New Hampshire.

The road into our meeting location.
The road into our meeting location.

I hadn’t been to this part of the Northeast yet, so I was excited to see it. I was also excited to spend some time in New England forests during the growing season, as most my trips seem to take place in late fall or early spring once the leaves are off.

The landscape.
The landscape.

We were split across two cabins. One had solar electricity and running water in the sink, but still had an outhouse. We had our meeting in that cabin, but slept in one of the older cabins. It didn’t have electricity—it had gas lights. Continue reading “Last Week’s Travels: Northern New Hampshire”

My 100-Mile Birthday Bike Tour

My birthday is really close to the 4th of July and we often go on vacation that week. This year our vacation plans changed with our big trip coming later in the summer, which meant that I suddenly had no plans for my birthday and opening up the prospect that I would just go to work as if it were a normal weekday.

As if—nope, I was having none of that. Instead I schemed up a plan to ride my bike about 70 miles to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and meet up with Sara to camp for a night.

After packing up the night before, I decided to leave the house nice and early at 7:00 am. It was slightly cool and foggy, which meant layering up with tall wool socks and with a high-vis yellow jacket. Since I bike 16 miles to work from time to time, the first stretch felt like a normal work day, except that I turned to ride south where I normally go north, and then turned west where I normally angle a little to the east. It was pretty mellow riding and there wasn’t a lot to see, or at least a lot to describe, since the area is mostly forest with scattered hayfields. Continue reading “My 100-Mile Birthday Bike Tour”

Baby Robins Flew the Nest!

This spring a pair of robins made its nest on our porch, up in the rafters not far from our front door. We’ve had robins try start making nests on our porch in past years, but they seem to not like the location and never finish the nest.

This year, the robins finished the nest and tended it. I felt bad every time we spooked them by walking out on to the porch, and I didn’t hold out much hope that the nest would actually produce anything.

But it did. We first noticed three baby chicks in the nest on a Sunday afternoon. They looked incredibly new, and spent all of their time holding their heads up for food or sleeping. Continue reading “Baby Robins Flew the Nest!”

Suddenly Slow

All of my first cars were stick shifts. I remember how sometimes I would be slowing down and have to shift into a lower gear, I’d do it too soon; the engine would rev and the car would jerk a little bit before the car slowed down to the right speed.

That’s what life has felt like this week: downshifting, a little awkwardly.

Sexy broke his ankle last week; he was playing baseball and ran into the fence while trying to catch a foul ball. He is handling it like a champion (I suspect I’d be so much more difficult if it was me), but he will be on crutches through July.

Me, watching my number 3 play baseball years ago.
Me, watching my number 3 play baseball years ago.

This means that our summer has suddenly shifted to an entirely different speed. Instead of fishing and mountain biking and kayaking, we’ll be spending a lot of time relaxing around the house. Any baseball games we go to this year (and in subsequent years, probably) will be for him to watch, not play. The first week has already been quite a bit different: Continue reading “Suddenly Slow”

A Handful of Goals for Summer

Since my list of spring goals worked out pretty well, I figure that I should do it again for summer.

Isle Royale
Perhaps its time for a return to Isle Royale this summer.

In the spring I focused on getting outside and building strength after a long winter. In truth, I don’t think I want to do much different this summer. I want to focus on playing outside, getting stronger (because I could have done more in spring), and eating real food. This is the list for approximately June 15 through September 15:

  • Garden a lot
  • Work on my Master Gardener project
  • Race the Copperman Triathlon
  • Strength train regularly (2-3 times per week)
  • Bike commute regularly (2 times per week)
  • Camp twice, at least once by bike
  • Eat only real food (give up processed food)

This is a pretty straightforward list. When I first made it, I couldn’t help but wonder, That’s all? Shouldn’t there be something bigger? Sometimes I can’t help but feel like I’m supposed to be doing more. Shouldn’t I be having big adventures? Continue reading “A Handful of Goals for Summer”