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It’s been another great week in the community garden. Even with temperatures in the 90s all week, it did fine without a weeding or watering since last Sunday. The cilantro has all gone to seed, so there will be a lot of homegrown corriander in our future. The squash are taking over the garden, and the onions seem to be doing the least well. I didn’t pick any this week to give them time to rebound a bit. I really do need to thin my beets – those that have had plenty of space have matured pretty quickly, but lots of plants are very cramped. There’s even a peanut-sized watermelon growing.

This week, I got a big bunch of kale, two heads of broccoli (the first time I’ve grown it!) a few smallish bulls blood beeds, with their reddish leaves, THREE artichokes, including one fairly large one, some tomatillo and ground cherries, and a winter squash! The squash is a Rouge d’Vif Etamps – and I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. I wasn’t expecting it to ripen for another few months, but here it is – and there are plenty more small ones on the vines.

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Nights like the ones we’ve been having lately are made to be savored. Last night was as close to perfect a night as I can remember – not too muggy or buggy. Cool, but warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt. A breeze that rustled the treetops. Light until 9:30, so I could read a book until I had to squint. A hundred lightning bugs hovering and flitting a few feet off the ground. Bats zipping high overhead. Lush grass and garden plants growing toward their peaks. Two dogs exploring the yard quietly (a rarity!) and getting totally befuddled by the lightning bugs.

The lone apricot that I let grow on my two-year old tree was finally ripe! I’ve been keeping a close eye on it over the past two weeks, as it turned from green to yellow before changing to a deep golden orange. Just yesterday, it started feeling less than firm, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before we could pick and eat it. After a normal check in last night, I stepped outside this afternoon to find it on the ground! I was a little bit devastated at first, but it seemed to have survived the three-foot fall fairly well. A family of ants did find it, but they were pretty easy to brush off.

It was much larger than an average apricot – more like a generously sized peach. When I sliced into it, it retained some firmness, but was juicy, too. Pixie Cots are a free-stone variety, which makes it easy to split and eat. All this means nothing, unless the fruit tastes good, and boy, did it! It had none of the sourness that most apricots have, but retained the essence of the fruit. The sweetness was profound but complex. More like a floral honey than table sugar.

On the one hand, I really wish there were more apricots right now. But on the other hand, my asceticism in only letting one mature should result in much larger yields in future years. I really can’t wait until next year!

I didn’t get enough red currants this year to preserve in jam or jelly or bake into a dessert. About 3/4 cup in total – enough to eat my fill fresh, with 1/2 cup left. I’m not sure how long red currants would keep in the fridge, and I really wanted to make them last. When I asked the Twitterverse what I should do with them, the superstar of Columbus’s restaurant world suggested red currant infused vodka. And who am I to argue?

There’s nothing easier – just dump the currants into a jar, and top with vodka. Wait a month, strain, and you’ve got a great cocktail mixer! I used 1/2 cup of currants and 1 3/4 cups (give or take) of vodka. Svedka is a nice brand to use for infusing – it’s inexpensive and of good quality which will let the currant flavor come to the forefront. Over time, the color will bleach out of the currants and give the infusion a pink hue. Even after a few hours, you can see the currants giving up their color.

Two days ago, I planted out the shady bed with some cool-weather-loving seeds. Though when I planted, we had temperatures int he 70s, tonight it’s going to drop into the 20s. Not ideal, but nothing has sprouted yet, so everything should be fine. Before I planted, I added a new bag of peat moss and two 40-pound bags of compost, bringing the soil level back up to the top of the box.  

Cool weather seeds

 I spaced my rows six inches apart. If you’re planting directly into native soil, you’ll want to give your plants more space, but because the soil in my raised bed is so rich, the rows can be pretty close. I made sure to plant the tall crops at the far end to prevent them from shading out the low ones. The lacinato kale, Swiss chard and Chinese kale are going to end up between 18 and 24 inches tall, while the rest will be maybe six inches tall. The amaranth, I have no idea about, though.

A easy way to get evenly spaced straight rows and to get all your seeds planted consistently at the right depth is to use a guide. First,  smooth out the entire surface of your bed so that there are no high or low spots. This will ensure that water won’t pool in any spots and that seeds won’t get washed away when it rains. Next, determine how far apart you want your rows, and set up a tape measure as a guide. Then find a dowel of the right lenght (I used a 4-foot extension for a paint roller.) Press the dowel horizontally into the soil, to the depth you want to plant your seeds. Space your seeds according to the package’s instructions. This takes a bit more time, but prevents the need to thin the seedlings too much, and lets you get more rows out of one packet of seeds. Then pull some soil back over the seeds and press down lightly.

Spacing out rows in the bed.

Maybe it was the 60 degree weather we had this week in Columbus, or maybe it’s more of a primal urge to get back to digging in the dirt, but my mind has turned back to gardening. I’m more excited than ever to plant some new types of vegetables, fruit, trees, bushes – everything!

Since I last posted in August, I’ve kept myself slightly occupied with garden-related stuff – I planted two junebeery/saskatoon bushes and an elderberry bush in the sideyard in November, kept that cold frame going strong through some 0-degree days, pruned my fruit trees and bushes, and started planning for spring.

I’ve also placed my seed orders, and already have some sprouts growing in the window. I’ve got my fingers crossed for a community garden plot that would triple the amount of space I have to grow. So welcome back to Imperfect Urban Farm – 2011 is going to be a fun year.

We’ve now got about a foot of snow on the ground, and everything is covered in the back yard. That tree in the back left is our Christmas tree – I’m trying to figure out how to recycle that on site. And though you can see Scout and Lucy frolicking in the snow, they really hate it and had to be coaxed out there by tossing a toy. Lots of good things to come when this snow melts!

Snowy yard with Lucy running

 

Scout and Lucy pretending to enjoy the snow