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The Great Backyard Wheat Experiment

February 14, 2012

OK, it’s not that great. It’s actually pretty small.

This is wheat, planted in early October.

red winter wheat

It’s a small supply of hard red winter wheat berries raked into the soil.

back yard wheat patch

What I find interesting is the punch of green, even in the dead of winter.

I have no idea what’s going to happen. Will it come out of dormancy in the spring and produce an early summer crop?

If you’ve been reading for a while, you may remember the first time I tried planting wheat. Sadly, that experiment was short-lived because we moved. These seeds come from that same supply.

Many of you are coming to The Suburban Farm because you want to know more about growing wheat in your yard. Have you tried? I hope you’ll share your experiences.


How Cold is It?

February 10, 2012

How do you know when it’s cold? Like, really cold?

When the rhododendron’s leaves are curled.

curled rhododendron leaves

This is more fun than looking at my thermometer.

rhododendron full

It was 23-degrees Fahrenheit when I took these photos. The leaves open up when the sun warms them.

Here’s a little bit of reading on this thermotropic phenomenon. Interestingly, it’s an indicator of  leaf temperature, not the air temperature. A good explanation for why the leaves relax in sunlight, despite the persistence of low air temperature.

Do you pay attention to rhododendron leaf curling? What other plant phenomenon do you find interesting?

It’s OK to Get Dirty

February 7, 2012

Last night I read something that made a lot of sense:

The soil biota may affect human health. A 2007 study by Christopher Lowry and Graham Rook suggests a reason why gardening feels so good: a bacterium naturally found in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, stimulates the human immune system to release serotonin. This hormone is used in antidepressants increase feelings of well-being. Some scientists even believe that our ever-increasing desire for cleanliness and our distance from farming activities are leading to health problems such as asthma and allergies. Perhaps doctors will prescribe gardening for a healthy life.

-Sarah Hayden Reichard, The Conscientious Gardener.

carrots pulled from the soil

Now I won’t feel awkward when I show up somewhere with dirt under my nails. You know the kind, that dirt that stains your hands and refuses to be scrubbed away.

Dig in! For your own health’s sake.

Good Food Begins Early

February 6, 2012

I have two small children, and I involve them in the garden as much as I can. Aside from letting my four-year-old pore over seed catalogs with me and giving him projects that involve dirt, I keep it simple. Have fun, make it part of the everyday, and good food will come naturally.

One everyday thing I like to do is make homemade baby food. Even if the food didn’t come from our garden, it’s still an easy everyday thing. Or every other day. Once per week?

We’re busy and both work full-time, and aren’t shy about cracking open a store-bought jar of organic peas or squash and lentils. But, if there’s time, breaking out the blender is an easy option.

I pick simple fruits and vegetables to make into baby food. If you have a steamer and blender, you can make baby food. You don’t even need those things. A pot, some water, and a fork will do.

peeled sweet potato

Peel it. Compost it.

steamed sweet potato

Steam it.

blender sweet potato

Blend it. Add a little cooking water from the steam pot.

velvety sweet potatoes

Like velvet!

11 oz homemade baby food

One medium sweet potato yields 11 oz. of baby food.

If you’re keeping track of costs, that’s about $3 worth of store-bought baby food jars for the price of one potato (approximately $1.30).

Not only is it cost-efficient, but I can guarantee the ingredients, including whether it’s organic. When it’s food I’m growing, I can also guarantee the source.

Bigger batches can be frozen, and smaller batches can live in the refrigerator in small containers or recycled baby food jars. Our daycare loves it, too.

Do you make your own baby food? How do you involve children in good food?

Library Goodies

February 3, 2012

We went to the library, and I couldn’t help but go searching for gardening books. We’re extremely fortunate to live in a city with a well-stocked library that has an excellent acquisitions department.

gardening books

“Are you going to read all of those?” my husband asked as I climbed into the car. My lap was full.

They’re more for inspiration, research, and…just because.

Here’s the full list of what I borrowed:

What are some of your favorite gardening books? What are some books that have stood the test of time?

Gorgeous Day

February 1, 2012

Record high temperature today! 61° F!

I took a stroll during lunch and stopped by a rain garden near my building.

A little bit of green was poking through!

green buds in a rain garden

Did you have amazing, unseasonable weather today?


January 31, 2012

Every morning the yard looks like a Disney movie. Birds and squirrels flit about, and I half expect a princess to come waltzing through and burst into song.

But really, it’s because we have bird feeders.

tufted titmouse at feeder

In the winter, the birds go crazy—like this tufted titmouse—for the black oil sunflower seeds I feed them. With the exception of one high-capacity feeder, I have to fill them daily, or every other day.

We enjoy watching the birds, and our four-year-old is learning to identify some of the regulars. Cardinals are pretty easy.

red cardinal

We have one feeder in the front of the house, and it doesn’t get much action.

This is a pretty accurate shot:

empty bird feeder on front porch

I’ve hung it on one of the plant hooks under the front eave of the porch, hoping that birds would flock to it and we could watch them from our living room. A few finches dart in from the dogwood at sunrise and that’s it. I was hoping they would take cover in the shrubbery below.

Perhaps the type of feeder is more appropriate for finches, yet they aren’t fans of black oil sunflower seeds? This feeder has seen better days. Also, apparently so has the metalwork on our porch.

If you have bird feeders and squirrels, you’ll appreciate this book. No kids necessary.

Those Darn Squirrels

Do you use bird feeders?

Taking Things Indoors

January 30, 2012

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you stop growing.


Amaryllis are easy, no nonsense plants that provide plenty of joy on the dullest of days.

I keep mine on a west-facing window sill. This demure pink one bloomed within a month of planting.

I have a second red one from last year that’s recently woken up from a long sleep in the basement. It’s on the south side now, but will join the others on the west window soon.

I’ve also tried growing basil, but have come to realize that no matter how sunny your sunroom is in the winter, it’s not enough. I’ve managed to clip a few leaves, but the plant would really benefit from living under a grow light.

What do you like to grow indoors in the winter?

New USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

January 27, 2012

This week the USDA released an updated and more precise plant hardiness zone map. This is the map’s first update since 1990, and the new version provides an incredible amount of interactivity and granular views.


U.S. Department of Agriculture

You can even drill down to your specific location. This is great if you’re on the edge of a zone and have desperately tried zooming into the old map to figure out where you fall.

USDA Zone Map street view

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Beware of lots of CAPTCHAS  when you interact with the map. They can get tedious.

No posters are available, but you can download and print all kids of sizes and resolutions for a variety of uses.

Goodbye, old map.

1990 US Zone Map

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Dreaming + Planning

January 24, 2012

sage in snow

Do you find yourself getting lost in garden dreams?

Despite the snow and the cold, the dreariness and the lack of daylight, this is when my imagination runs wild.

What will I plant? How can I design the garden? What will I finally do this year?

It’s a time of possibilities. If you find yourself getting lost in the possibilities, just go with it. Relish it. When it’s hot and you’re losing the battle against weeds, the fantasy will be over.

Here are some of my dreams:

  • Use a cold frame, which will be invaluable for hardening off seedlings while I’m away during the day and extending the growing period for certain crops.
  • Grow with an eye for winter. It’s important that I boost the number of things that can be dried, frozen, and canned.
  • More mulch! The best year I ever had was when I piled dried grass clippings on as mulch. My watering and weeding duties were greatly reduced. This year I’ll turn to hay and straw, newspaper, and whatever grass clippings I can gather.
  • Grow what we’ll eat. Over the years I’ve figured out what we like to eat, and what ends up in the compost as waste. As much as I feel like I should grow kale, the reality is it won’t get eaten. I’m OK with being real.
  • Go vertical! Even though I have a spacious garden, there are some squash and melon plants that I don’t want dominating the garden.

Here in zone 6 I plant my seeds indoors at the end of February. I have a month to finalize my list, go through my seed collection, order new seeds, and organize my garden layout.

Until then, dream on!

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