Tag Archives: gardening

I have a little onion, it grows within its bed

Guess what?

After a season of psychotic weather, there is hope.
And by “hope,” I mean “plants are coming forth despite the craziness going on around them” and not “the weather might get better soon.”
I’m not stupid.

Egyptian walking onion

Behold! The harbinger of spring: my Egyptian Walking Onion, aka topsetting onion – read more about them here: http://www.egyptianwalkingonion.com/ – is pushing up through the snow, uncaring that it keeps dipping down into the subzeroes, scoffing at the 20 pounds of precip piling up on it every week. It is ready to be green and nothing will stop it!

And look! Down amongst the deadness, sprigs of Greek Oregano burst forth. Even if summer never comes, I will have oregano to season my meals.


Filed under Adventures, In my backyard

How to grow garlic in the Colorado foothills

**NEW and IMPROVED! Now with more fantastic pictures!** –Oct. 2014

It’s almost garlic-planting time again! Gabe and I try to expand our empire every year by giving out bulbs to our friends and neighbors and then giving them instructions on how to plant the garlic if they so desire. I figure I should share our instructions because they’re awesome and also, I can now just point my friends and neighbors to this post instead of hunting the instructions down each time.

These instructions apply to hardneck garlic. Yes, you can try planting the garlic you get at the store but there’s a good chance it won’t work. It’s best to get your bulbs from a Farmer’s Market or order the bulbs from a seed supply company. That way, you’ll know if you have hardneck garlic or the other kind that you can braid and use as decoration.

So, I’m going to break this down by season. Hardneck garlic stays in the ground over the winter, much like tulips. Here’s a basic year-long plan for growing this fabulous stuff in the Colorado foothills:


Make a comfortable, delicious bed for your baby garlic cloves. Add compost and make sure the dirt is soft and has no lumps for 6-8 inches down. You’ll be planting cloves 2″ apart so plan your garlic bed accordingly.


If you’ve been making compost, now is the time to use it! This is our little compost bin. See? Greenery at the top, dirt at the bottom! It’s magic.

Big bucket of compost

This is the delicious compost, a whole bucket-full!

  • Garden bed

    So obviously, the bed has been empty for awhile. It was the summer veggies and they’re long gone. So we need to turn the dirt (dig it up), remove the weeds, pick the rocks out, and break up the dirt clods. Then we’ll mix the compost in and make it all delicious and soft.

    Digging in the dirt

    Dig, dig, dig!

    Lovely garlic bed

    See how pretty? We’ve just tilled the compost into the dirt and brought the remaining dirt clods up to the surface to break apart. We’re just about ready to plant.

After the first frost

Remove any loose paper from the cloves but don’t peel them. The hard paper skin is their pajamas and they will get cold if not properly dressed for the winter.

Basket o' garlic

Here are a bunch of garlic bulbs! We’re gonna plant ’em.

Inside a garlic bulb

First, you have to unpeel the bulb and pop all the cloves out.

Breaking out the cloves

Gabe, here, separates the cloves because it’s finger-hurting work and I am very delicate and fragile.

Plant garlic cloves flat-ish end down, pointy side up. Put them 2 inches down and 2 inches apart. Gently and lovingly pat dirt over the cloves and say sweet things to them like, “Goodnight, dear baby garlics. Sleep well all winter. I will see you in the spring. I love you. Night night” or sing lullabies.

Garlic bottom

This is the flattish end. It’s going to sit in the dirt.

Garlic clove

The pointy end is the top. It’s going to stick up.

Planting garlic

See? I’m about to put the clove, flattish end down, into the dirt. Then I’m going to push it down so it’s nearly covered.

Garlic in dirt

There it is, pointy end up, pushed into the dirt.

Garlic babies

Voila! All the little garlic cloves tucked into their dirty rows, ready to be covered over so they can go to sleep for the winter.

Cover bed with a nice, warm blanket of grass clippings or rabbit/chicken straw or anything nourishing yet warm like that.

Let sleeping garlics lie

We just pushed the dirt back over them all and patted them down. Easy!

Sleep tight, baby garlics

Final step: Cover with blanket. Old straw, in this case. Grass clippings, leaf mulch, old straw from the chicken coop or rabbit pen, those all work, too. Then water it really well.

All winter long

If there’s no snow on the bed, make sure it gets watered weekly. You may have to add mulch if the straw/clipping blankets blow away. Don’t let the dirt get too exposed and don’t let the bed get too dry.


Garlic shoots should start popping up between March and May unless it’s a mild winter, in which case you might see them earlier. If they do pop up earlier, keep them snipped back until March otherwise they’re just going to get crushed in spring snows and then they’ll have to start over and that is a pain in the butt for them. If they DO get crushed by spring snows, don’t worry. They’ll be fine, it just takes them awhile to recover.

Leave whatever mulch is left on the bed but you don’t need to add more. Start watering a couple times a week if there’s no snow/rain. Beds should not dry out from here on out.

If you feel like it, you can plant carrots, small red radishes (not daikons), green onions, marigolds or bush beans between the rows (bush beans would go in the squares of no-garlic areas instead of between two garlic babies)


Garlic will start to make seeds in the June timeframe (earlier if it was a mild winter and they’ve had a longer growing season). The seeds are called “scapes” once they’re harvested. Search for images of scapes on Google so you can see what they look like. They’re long, curly stems that usually come from the top-ish area of the garlic stalk. Once they’re curly and they start to have a seed pod at the end, clip them off near the base of the seed stem where it comes out of the garlic stalk. You can cook these and they’re really expensive at Whole Foods so you can totally feel like you just saved a ton of money on a gourmet plant piece. Just Google “scapes recipes” and you’ll find all sorts of stuff. I guess you can make pesto out of them, too. Neat, right?


Those curly things are the scapes! See where they’re a lighter, brighter green down where they come off the main stem? That’s where you cut them.

Our garlic patch in July. With strawberries. And milk cartons. Don’t judge.


Once the leaves on the stalk are mostly dead and the base of the stalk down by the dirt is sort of squishy/no-longer-firm, it’s time to dig the bulbs out of the ground. This could happen as early as July or as late as September, but usually this happens in the first couple of weeks of August. Dig the bed from the outside, loosen all the dirt, then pull up the garlic bulbs by the stalks. If the bed got really packed over the summer, you’ll have to dig gently around each bulb to get it out. DO NOT RINSE BULBS; just brush them off with your hands as well as you can. Get as much dirt out of the roots as possible.

See how they’re all turning brown and look all dry? It’s nearin’ pickin’ time. This was taken about a week before we harvested.

Once they’re all pulled and de-dirted, put all of them – the whole plant – root-side-down in a paper bag and store said bag in a cool, dry, non-sunny area for 2 weeks. If you have more bulbs than bag space, use more bags.

After 2 weeks, your babies are cured. Remove them from the bag and cut the stalk off ~1 inch above the bulb. Cut the roots off. Now you have real garlic to eat or replant. We usually save about 1/3 of the bulbs to replant, then consume the rest. The important part is to be impressed with yourself and to love your homemade garlic.

Not our best year for garlic, but not bad. We took these puppies, stems and all, and shoved them into a paper bag. Then we stored them in the basement for two weeks to cure.

Evie inspected the bag-packing process to make sure we’re doing it right. Because this is, apparently, very difficult and must be managed with care. Thanks, Evie.

We store our to-be-eaten garlic in a cute little basket in our fake pantry, but you can put it anywhere it’s not going to get moist or overly cold. TLC has some tips on storing garlic, but do NOT listen to them about washing off the garlic after harvesting because HELLO! They’ll turn into gremlins if you get them wet. Or they can potentially get moldy. Same thing.

All cured and ready to go. The basket is the eating garlic, the purple square is the gift garlic, and the red tin in the to-be-planted garlic.

Edit: See also: This post from Mary Jane’s Farm


Filed under Adventures

Well, crap. I’m becoming my mother.

My mom has this big worry  that she will die and no one in the family will know how to preserve food. I think it keeps her awake at nights, or used to, up until Little B started showing some interest in the kitchenly arts. Not to be upstaged by my suck-up neice, I spent Labor Day weekend in my mom’s cucina, canning things.

Ok, technically, I jarred things and, honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I always think it is. But there’s a reason I hate canning, believing it to be akin to medieval torture. My mom has always canned stuff from the garden as well as things found in the woods. Nice, right? No, not when you’re forced into summertime slave labor and have to work your child fingers to the bone, peeling and chopping and cold-bathing fruits and veggies, all the while asphyxiating on the toxic fumes of pickle brine. Seriously, it’s a horrible past time, especially if you really want to be outside playing.

It was bad enough Mom sent us to harvest choke- and pin-cherries down in  The Glen — She’d throw us out of the house with margarine tubs and tell us we weren’t allowed back until they were full. Chris would finish in half an hour, drop off his bucket, and go exploring. Noelle, Bedot, and I, though, it took us all day. Know why? Chris put his hand at the top of the cherry-laden limb and pulled downward, dumping everything into the bucket…leaves, twigs…Spike, but we girls, much like Mopsy, Flopsy, and Cottontail or whatever her name was, were very careful in our picking, taking only the ripe and juicy berries from the tree and leaving the shriveled ones, the green ones, the bitter ones for all our woodland friends. Also, we knew we’d have to sort through them later so may as well do the sorting first and save ourselves some time — Anyway, we harvested stuff and that should have been enough, but it wasn’t. We had to help preserve it, too, like we were Laura Ingalls Wilder or something. That, quite naturally, created within all of us a loathing of preserving food. I remember thinking it would be better to starve in the winter than to put up pickled things for those long, dark months. I may have been a slightly melodramatic kid. I really did hate canning, though. Even freezing became tainted simply because it was vaguely related.

Back to this weekend. I had a few extra zucchini hanging around (like a seven thousand) and Mom has a recipe for zucchini relish. Since she was going to have all the canning paraphernalia going anyhow, she asked if I’d like to come over to help her and also make some zucchini relish, myself. Being the amazingly dutiful daughter I am, I said, “Why, yes, that sounds…great.” I grabbed my zukes, along with my neighbor and her things-to-be-canned, and we went to put stuff in jars.

I want to make a big deal out of it, a tale of woe filled with blood and lost limbs but…it was really easy. And fast. Well, my relish was fast. My neighbor’s salsa was not as it was her first time canning ever and also my mom had never made salsa so it became a big experiment but the point here is, it wasn’t like I remembered. It wasn’t a torture session and I didn’t leave crying. I also didn’t get to help my mom with her canning because we ran out of time so I went back the next morning and we worked on the tomatoes. I remembered that I love peeling tomatoes! I could do that all day! (But only for one day out of the year; I wouldn’t want it as my career, or anything) We put up 5 pints of almost-overripe New Girls with basil and they look lovely. They’ll taste lovely when I make them into spaghetti sauce this winter.

These are 2 of my 7 jars of zucchini relish. They contain all of my own zucchini and garlic, some of my own onions and carrots, and storebought peppers because I didn’t grow any this year.

So maybe this canning business isn’t as horrible as my childhood memories tell me it is. Maybe this is something I could do with my mom every year. I’d get to learn how to make her pretty-much-famous sweet relish which I could then add to my collection of heirloom recipes and maybe I’d even bump Little B out of that coveted Favorite Child spot in the process! (ha ha, that’s a little canning humor, there)


Filed under Adventures, In my backyard, My Dearly Beloveds, White trash childhood

My tomatoes are turning into zombies but the cornflowers are cute.


So my tomatoes – you know, the Siberian one and the Czech one – are both infected with plague. I think it’s because Siberia and Czechoslovakia don’t have droughts and ridiculously high temperatures in their mountains whereas my backyard has both of those things this year.  I’ve babied these ungrateful plants and now all I can do is yell profanities at them and cry. I guess it’s like having a teenager come home with an STD or something.

I tried to cut off the badness but it just kept spreading. Now I’m taking pictures every week so as to be able to watch it die slowly and to remind myself that I should not even bother with tomatoes in the future.

Damnation. I am not amused by this. Not one little bit.

Being me, I freaked out and figured these two disease vectors would go after all the other plants in the yard just out of spite and malice so I moved them far away, over to the fence and to the neighbors’ stupid, invasive, evil acacia forest. The rest of my nightshades (ok, I’m showing off; they’re potatoes) seem to be doing fine as are the vine plants and the strawberries which is good because, apparently, they’re all susceptible to blight and other horrors.

Happy zukes, happy peas. No blight over here.

Ok, the cabbage isn’t at risk, I’m just bragging. They rarely do this in my garden but they seem to like heat and drought. I had no idea.

The strawberries, up there in the corner by my very classy animal-scarer-awayer, are thriving. And it appears the garlic will need harvesting this coming weekend.

As you can imagine, I’ve been bummed. Stupid tomatoes. However, my spirits were lifted on the 4th of July when Noelle and her family came over. She walked up to the door, saw my new Bachelor’s Buttons, and pretty much shrieked, “YOU HAVE CORNFLOWERS! I AM SO JEALOUS!” I always feel good when I can make her jealous.

We’ve loved these happy flowers since we moved to our little mountain town as children. I don’t think we’d ever seen them down in the city and they grew abundantly all through our new town along with the ornamental sweet peas, Oriental poppies, and wild roses. But the cornflowers were the most amazing; they’re bright and so round, like a wagon wheel that’s really fancy…and not on a wagon. They survive grubby child hands and they thrive even if you ride your bike over them every day. They’re wonderful little things and we fell madly in love with them, a love that has endured all this time.

Sadly, years later, they started to disappear. I don’t know what happened. The ones that did pop up were only blue, cornflower blue (that used to be a Crayola crayon color, do you remember?) and not the white-with-purple/pink-center or the light-pink-with-dark-pink-center or the megawatt-magenta (those are the most rare).  Just blue and few. Even now, I only see small patches of them in rocks or empty lots, not the proliferation from my childhood.

It was a happy day when they began blooming in my front yard, a whole new patch I’d seeded from the drought-resistant mix I bought this past spring. Even Noelle noticed their cuteness and I think I am going to Miss Rumphius their seeds up and down the roads this autumn so that my little mountain town will once again be colored with summer’s Bachelor’s Buttons which will, in turn, make me feel better about my failed tomatoes.

These were always my favorites.

Here’s a little pink Bachelor’s Button

This is where the term “Cornflower Blue” comes from, this here flower.


Filed under Adventures, In my backyard

Plastic teepees, they’re all the rage

Tomato cages may be the most useful invention since the wheel. They are so versatile. For instance, I’ve used them for Halloween decorations: Witches and the invisible body that holds the floating skull to name a couple. In May, I used them to make teepees and I’ve also put 2 cages in the garden for the snow peas to climb. See? Versatile.

Let me talk a bit about those teepees. Even though it was too early, I bought some adorable baby tomato plants – one Siberian and one Czechloslavakian…you know, because Colorado is just like Siberia or the Czech Republic – and put them in pots. Then I thought, “Well, while it’s probably not going to frost again for real, it could still get pretty cold at night. Cold nights are bad for tomatoes. And they’ve been living in a greenhouse all this time. I should use the plastic from the hoophouse and cover them somehow. But how? I need to keep the plastic where it is in case of hail but I don’t want to put the tomatoes over by the straw bale garden because they need all sun all day.” These are the types of conversations I have in my head. I thought about it a bit and remembered I’d inherited a few tomato cages last year. Now, a normal person would plant the tomato cage in the pot like it’s supposed to be. But I’m an abnormal person and I upended the cages so the legs were sticking up in the air and the top was circling the tomato plant. Then I retrieved the leftover roll of plastic and cut off two strips which I wound around each cage and pot essentially making teepees. I mean, think about it- an upside down tomato cage is nothing but a teepee frame, right?

Because I’m white trash, I had to do it the white trash way, not the Better Homes and Gardens way. Lest you think less of me, I’d like to remind you that I’m classy white trash. I did NOT use duct tape. No. I used electrical tape to secure the plastic to the frame and also to the rest of the plastic and that will keep it from blowing away and becoming litter. Success! Tiny plastic teepees wrap the tomatoes in warmth and love. But I didn’t stop there. It started getting cold out and as we all know, heat rises. I was worried that the heat that had accumulated in the little teepees would rise and escape out through the open tops. I cut another two pieces of plastic, this time little rectangles, and I jammed them down the legs until they covered the openings and thus a vent was made. I can pull the rectangles all the way down and cover the top hole or I can raise them a bit to let the heat out. I am some sort of redneck genius. The neat thing is while they looked like garbage (literally) before the vents, now they look like little ghost nuns floating around my yard. It’s actually pretty cool. I might have to keep them after harvest season and use them in the yard for Halloween props.

See what you can do with a little plastic and a tomato cage? Instant teepee!

See what you can do with a little plastic and a tomato cage? Instant teepee!

I like electrical tape because it's black and goes with everything.

I like electrical tape because it’s black and goes with everything.

After only 15 minutes, it was already noticably warmer in this teepee. Also, it smelled really good in here, all earthy and tomatoey.

After only 15 minutes, it was already noticably warmer in this teepee. Also, it smelled really good in here, all earthy and tomatoey.

So, here’s what happened next: the teepees blew off in a wind/hailstorm but Gabe got them back on. I secured them and let the babies sit in their new homes for another week, or so, then hardened them off. Now they’re livin’ in the wild, sans protection, but they’re covered in flowers and are already beginning to produce. They’re way ahead of other tomato plants in the hood so I believe that, though they were…ahem…not artistic or beautiful, the plastic teepees worked, thanks be to tomato cages, plastic, and tape.

Our first Czechoslovakian tomato. There are blossoms all over this plant! The teepee worked!

Our first Czechoslovakian tomato. There are blossoms all over this plant! The teepee worked!

Here's the Siberian tomato. It has fewer blossoms but does have a baby tomato growing, too. Hooray!

Here’s the Siberian tomato. It has fewer blossoms but does have a baby tomato growing, too. Hooray!


Filed under Adventures, In my backyard