Tomato Countdown and a Garden Update

Holy cow, how did it get to be August already? Summer is speeding along, but the good news is that it’s almost time for garden tomatoes. This year I tried mulching the tomato plants with pine needles, and despite five hail storms and not a lot of attention from me, the plants seem quite happy.

cherry tomatoes

The cherry tomatoes are almost ripe!

 

Early girl tomato

Some of the Early Girls have just begun to change color. We should be enjoying this one in a matter of days!

 

green tomatoes

The Better Boys are looking fat and happy.

 

Green roma tomatoes

The Romas should be red in about ten days. Pasta time!

 

Baby leeks

I thinned the leeks last week, so that they can have room to grow. (Just ignore those little weeds.)

 

Tomato garden

The tomatoes have started to look a little wild, and they haven’t stayed tucked in their cages at all. Where in the world did they learn those rebellious tendencies, I wonder?

 

Black-eyed Susan

Just when some of the other flowers start to fade from the heat, the Black-Eyed Susans open their faces to the sun. So pretty.

How about you? Have you harvested tomatoes yet, or other produce? I’d love to hear what’s happening in your garden. Meanwhile, let’s savor these glorious summer days of August while we can…

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Pine Needles for Mulch and a Garden Experiment

Tomatoes mulched with pine needles

I recently had the opportunity to speak with David Salman, Founder & Chief Horticulturist of High Country Gardens, for a short gardening article I wrote for Sunset. Being the opportunist that I am, I couldn’t resist asking him an off-topic question about my own garden. “What do you recommend for mulch?” I asked. I was curious because I’d tried grass clippings, leaves and wood chips and none really seemed to keep the plants happy and cool while fending off weeds.

“Pine needles,” he said, without hesitation. I was surprised, having always thought that pine needles (also known as “pine straw”) were too acidic for mulch. But he thought they were fine (he suggested pecan shells, too), and my research confirmed that the needles’ high acidity is a misconception and generally isn’t an issue. We have a large Ponderosa Pine in the corner of the yard, so I have a ready supply of pine needles that have been rained and snowed on for several seasons.

So this summer, I’ve mulched the tomato plants with pine needles and we’ll see how they do. This is our kitchen garden, which is right off the back patio:

Mulch tomato plants with pine needles

In addition to six types of tomatoes, plus basil and thyme, we have an aromatic section with chives, onions, shallots, garlic and leeks:

Onions, garlic, chives and leeks

I don’t mulch these plants because they’re pretty tough. Don’t you appreciate tough, hardy plants?

I’ve been working on this garden for nine seasons. When we bought the house, the space was filled with two huge dying fitzer bushes, myrtle and gravel. For years I’ve been digging in compost to improve the soil, and clearing out rocks, myrtle shoots, fitzer roots and hard, packed clay. I kept some of the myrtle along one edge, and it grows like Jack’s beanstalk in the summer so I’m constantly cutting it back. It’s so pretty in the spring.

Garden with tomatoes

The bamboo and fencing are to keep rabbits out, although they can still squeeze through sometimes. How about you? Have you planted your summer garden? Do you have a favorite mulch? Have you ever tried pine needles? We’d all love to hear your experiences.

Here’s to a happy summer, and good gardens this season for all!

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Tulips, Dandelions and Other Obsessions of Spring

Fringed tulip up close

Perhaps like me, you’ve read about the “Tulip Mania” that swept The Netherlands during the Dutch Golden Age, an obsession with tulip bulbs that left families bankrupt and had people paying ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsman just for a single rare bulb in 1637. Perhaps you’ve wondered how a people could become so nutty about a simple plant. Good thing we’re not that obsessive, right?

The other morning, I looked out the kitchen window at our back yard and was seized with shame because so many dandelions were suddenly blooming everywhere in the grass.

Dandelions and grass

I couldn’t see the inherent beauty in a field of yellow flowers with their faces turned to the sun. Instead, I saw work—endless hours of fruitless work ahead.

Since I’m an organic gardener, I have dug up thousands of dandelions. I have paid the kids to pick the flowers, which only seems to encourage the dandelions to bloom more. I have tried a dandelion killer made from organic corn gluten meal that costs $50 a bag, and I’ve never noticed any difference at all.

Having a small front yard makes it a little easier to keep the forward-facing lawn looking okay, but our back yard is big. We live in a neighborhood of nice lawns, and more than once I’ve fantasized about how much simpler it would be to replace the lawn with artificial turf—or volcanic rock, perhaps. I feel terrible that my dandelion seeds are blowing into the neighbors’ yards, too.

When I crouched down to shoot a photo of the yellow “weeds,” I saw the bumblebees buzzing about.

Dandelions attract bumblebees

And here is what I wondered, my friends:  Why have we, as a society, decided that dandelions are so very wrong?

Aren’t we in the middle of a bee colony collapse emergency? And yet, at least in my yard, dandelions attract all manner of bees. (When I pulled this photo up on my computer screen, I fell so in love with this little guy!)

A bee pauses above a dandelion

I’ve read that the reason dandelions and crabgrass and clover pop us amidst the grass is because our lawns naturally try to diversify. In other words, Mother Nature didn’t intend for us to have these large swaths of one single plant. Diversified plantings are hardier and less prone to disease. Why, then, have we decided that we must do whatever it takes to fight this natural order?

Dandelion

Terrible, rotten weed must be destroyed at all costs!

Five hundred years from now, will the history books say something like this?

“In the twenty-first century, the people had devastating weather events and clear signs of global climate change, the bee population was dying, and the earth’s groundwater supply was getting polluted from sources like lawn chemical run-off. Yet they continued to douse their turf with herbicides, and used precious, expensive water to maintain large areas of non-native grass, purely for decoration.”

Am I just trying to justify our less-than-perfect lawn? Maybe I am. Or does our country’s obsession with dandelion-free grass seem kind of nutty to you, too?

I’d love to reduce our lawn area and plant native, drought-resistant flowers someday. In the mean time, I do what I can. How about you—how do you deal with dandelions? I would so welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Cherry Blossoms in the Rain

cherry blossoms in the rain

“For I remember it is Easter morn,
and life and love and peace are all new born.”
~ Alice Freeman Palmer (1855-1902), the first female college president

My friend Janice sent me a two-word text message last night: “Magic hour.” She lives in the mountains and I knew the sun must be low in her sky, creating beautiful light for taking photographs.

Here in Denver it was overcast and drizzling, but her message inspired me to stop cooking and head outside with the camera. I’m so glad I did, because otherwise I would have missed the chance to see the cherry blossoms in the rain.

 

cherry blossoms

“I think of the garden after the rain;
and hope to my heart comes singing,
At morn the cherry-blooms will be white,
and the Easter bells be ringing!”
~ Edna Dean Proctor, Easter Bells

 

cherry tree in bloom

Wishing you a beautiful Easter—and perhaps, a quiet moment to pause and experience spring’s miraculous rebirth,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. Thanks to my friend and photographer extraordinaire Povy Kendal Atchison, who first sent me the Alice Freeman Palmer quote.

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

Eliminate Weeds When They are Small, and Other Thoughts of Spring

Pulling dandelions

It’s the first week of April, and I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m bragging but our front yard is mostly free of dandelions. You heard me right.

We had snow followed by warm temperatures this week, and the ground is nice and soft. So I spent a very pleasant hour in the sunshine, absorbing Vitamin D and pulling dandelions – many of them very small. Of course, dandelion season hasn’t really started and we don’t use chemicals so the battle has just begun. But still. Today, I feel good about myself.

What about the back yard, you ask?

The back yard?

Dandelions

The back yard is a topic for another day, my friends. Because as I was pulling up the small dandelions in front, I was thinking about parallels to my life. Do you do that when you garden—sometimes think deep thoughts? I find that I do.

Deep Thought

So today, as I was pulling up small dandelions I was thinking about the areas of life where I might figuratively “pull weeds” earlier, with positive benefits. Here are some of the ideas I had:

  • Paying off small debts before they accumulate into bigger debts and big problems.
  • Aside from an occasional splurge, not over-eating or drinking too much wine. Weighing myself every day, and making adjustments as necessary.
  • Staying in touch with people I care about, and not letting too much time go by before we connect.
  • Speaking up if something is bothering me, instead of keeping it inside and giving resentment a chance to grow.
  • Setting aside quiet time every day for rest and reflection, so my brain doesn’t get burned out.
  • Asking for forgiveness quickly, and being quicker to forgive others.

How about you? Do you have any figurative weed-pulling strategies? Heck, I’d love to hear your literal weed-pulling strategies, too, since I’ve got that back yard to think about…

Hugs,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

The Tease of Spring Snow

Snow covered tree

It’s March, the month that promises spring while reminding us that winter is not yet done. Here in Colorado, the meteorologists are fond of asserting that March is typically our snowiest month. We actually wouldn’t mind if they didn’t repeat this fact every March, but they do. Then in April, they like to state for the record that April is typically Colorado’s second-snowiest month.

Spring snowstorm in Colorado

I opened the kitchen blinds yesterday morning and gasped at the beauty outside. Ever twig, every blade of grass and every branch had been frosted with snow, the sky was pure blue, and the morning sun was just hitting the trees.

Admittedly, I hadn’t been thrilled to see the snow start Tuesday night—but who could remain cranky about a spring snow that created such a gorgeous spectacle?

Spring snowstorm

By afternoon, the snow was gone. Today, the high temperature is supposed to be 65 degrees.

Spring snow

Tomorrow, though, the forecast calls for more snow.

Because—lest we forget—March is typically our snowiest month.

Happy March,

The signature for Eliza Cross

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of seven books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.