Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mystery Plant Plagues Property Owners

Update: It's thistle. Enormous, monstrous thistle.

I found about 6 of these plants on my property, and photos are from this morning.

The plants are 4 - 9 feet tall, growing in a wet prairie setting.

Of course, my first thought was "Oh no! Giant Hogweed!"

After some research, I'm not so sure.

It hasn't bloomed and finished developing, yet.

When compared to Giant Hogweed it seems these leaves are different, and the stems don't have those telling purple splotches.

What do you guys think?

And yes, I've already sent photos to the MDARD requesting identification help.


Harvested our first Kakai pumpkin (way, way early in the season).
Cat for scale.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Common Gardening Misconceptions and a July Photo Update

Common Misconception #1:

A garden that big must take a LOT of work!
(Actually, it REALLY doesn't.)

This statement is usually followed by something along the lines of
"I'd never want to..."

"I could never deal with..."
"I'll never have time to..."

You're right. 
You never will.

BUT! That's because you're limiting yourself, future gardener! If you've already closed off your imagination to the possibility of gardening, then you'll never actually do it. Don't sell yourself short! The possibility of success beings with deciding that it CAN be done.

Our garden truly doesn't take much time or effort, these days...

Time Spent Weeding: 20 minutes/week (if that)
Raised beds full of fluffy soil mean that the few weeds that pop up in some unclaimed spot can be plucked from the dirt without digging or back pain. It can even be done without getting your hands dirty!

Time Spent Watering: 5-10 minutes/day (if that)
Drip irrigation is pretty much the best thing ever. A garden this size could easily take me 2 hours to water. Now, all I do is turn on the spigot. There are still a few flower pots and special plants that need hand-watering, but that's no big deal.
It's been a cooler, wet summer in Mid-Michigan. I've gone whole weeks without watering!

Time Spent on General Maintenance: 10 minutes/day
Sometimes a pea plant or cucumber vine needs to be redirected onto its trellis, or a slug needs to be removed from a squash blossom (Yuck! I recommend old kitchen tongs). Planting can take a few hours, if it's time to put tomato plants in the ground. A few hours spent on this turns into a month or two of watching and waiting, and then months of feasting. It's worth it.

Bugs and Pests:
It's not so bad. Granted, a plague of locusts could descend at any moment... but so far, so good.

I've removed a half-dozen slugs from the squash plants (again, I use tongs), and Sean removed one nasty squash borer. He's the garden's official bug-squasher, and also deals with all orchard pests. The asparagus bed had a number of hungry beetles, also removed by hand. The kale crop is doing much better this year, though there are a few little green worms munching away. Our population of frogs and toads helps to keep bugs in check, and the garter snake keeps them from becoming a plague of their own.

The birds haven't been destructive at all, as far as I can tell. It helps that we've kept an all-you-can-eat bird seed buffet about 20 feet away from the garden. Beautiful butterflies are everywhere, as are the dragonflies. Honeybees and bumblebees do most of the pollinating work, and I haven't seen a wasp in weeks.

A good fence that cannot be dug beneath is worth the time and effort of installation. I've lost a few plants to squirrels, but most every gardener accepts the fact that nature will reclaim at least 10% of what your harvest. It is only 4 feet tall, but somehow it has kept our garden deer-free, as well.

I'm no distressing damsel, and have squished countless bugs! Good gloves make me feel invincible. Guess I oughta give myself more credit.

The Hardest Part: EATING ALL OF IT
I harvest continually, from April until Thanksgiving. It begins with radishes, lettuce and spinach, then swiss chard and kale get tossed into the salad. Peas start coming in, then strawberries. Then, the parade of currants, raspberries, blueberries and other yummy things. 

By the time the tomato plants are waist-high, the summer squash is ready to eat. Cucumbers, melons, broccoli, cauliflower, TOMATOES, peppers, and eggplant ripen in quick succession. Keep in mind, there's still salad to be eaten! Carrots, brussel sprouts, parsnips, apples, pumpkins and squash round out the year, sometimes with a new flush of snap peas as a bonus. And always, the salads.

In the bleak days of winter, some root crops can be dug up (Sunchokes, Carrots, Parsnips, Potatoes, etc). Add that to the store of squash, pumpkins, and whatever is in the freezer or canned, and we're enjoying garden-fresh, organic food all year round.

I think I'll try my hand at garlic, this year. It goes into the ground in late October, when everything else dies off. It'll be ready in the spring, just before the space it takes up is needed for tomatoes. It's as if it was planned that way, eh?

We've just completed our first year at this house, so our apple trees and berry bushes are not yet mature. We're supplementing with bulk produce from local growers.

Preserving the harvest does take time, but it's well worth it. 

This year we're drying and freezing most everything, as we're lucky enough to have acquired a giant freezer chest. It's already home to more strawberries than you'd think necessary. We'll add corn, fresh herbs (in ice cubes -- they keep really well!), broccoli, cauliflower, blueberries, green beans, summer squash, raspberries and peas (if we can manage to stop eating all the fresh ones and put some aside...). We'll top off the freezer with tomatoes, as they ripen, and use them to make pasta sauce this winter.

Of course, we'll use some fresh ones for canning our World Famous (well, family-famous) salsa. By the end of the season we'll have canned batches of dill pickles and relish, plenty of jams, and whatever else comes along.

Dehydrating can be more time consuming than canning, but having an unending supply of apple chips and chewy dried blueberries is life-changing. I'm looking forward to "sun"-dried cherry tomatoes, too.

The Point: It's not that much work, and the benefits are immeasurable. 

If it were really that time consuming, there's no way we could be renovating and maintaining our house, enjoying weekend get-aways, working our day jobs and relaxing. I wouldn't spend so much time on the internet, either. ;)

Here's how the garden looks, this morning.
Viewing Tip: Clicking on the image will enlarge it, providing you with a much better look!

HUGE Lazy Housewife Pole Bean.
They're usually harvested and eaten when they're MUCH smaller.
I'm allowing a few to grow big and dry, so we can save some seeds and replant next year.
Grape tomatoes (can't think of the variety right now).
I want to eat them!
Need some hot weather to turn them red.
Beefsteak tomatoes, plumping up.
Two rows of abundant green tomatoes (4 rows total, 10-12 feet long).
The left side is at least 6 feet tall, and growing.
I figure I'll have to lop off their tops before too long.
Next Year: Bigger Trellis!
I suspect this is a tiny Butternut Squash. Yippee!
Cucumber vine (and a poppy), with a promising number of yellow flowers.
Our fantastically productive squash mound,
growing in the Hugelkultur bed I keep meaning to explain to you guys...
Pretty squash flowers!
A few Kakai pumpkins, Sean's favorite variety.
Their green and white stripes are very Spartan,
and their hull-less seeds are the BEST for eating.
A baby Cinderella pumpkin, hiding in the grass.
The Cinderella variety is beautiful, and makes great pies.
Marigolds I grew from seed (after much trouble and dissatisfaction).
With every batch of new blossoms, I'm surprised with a different color combination! The first ones were huge and mostly orange, followed by this pretty scarlet flower.
Looks like it'll be back to big orange beasts in a few more days.

Very determined strawberry plants, striking out for new territory to conquer.
I love it, because these new little "suckers" will replace our 4-year-old plants as their production dwindles.
Sustainable, eh?

Baby Update:
Yup! I'm still pregnant -- about 6.5 months, or 30 weeks.
It's been an embarrassingly easy pregnancy, with no morning sickness or complications. Let's hope that continues. We're looking forward to meeting our daughter in late September.
Want to know what we're eating, making and doing?
You can find short, sporadic updates on the Barton Gardens Facebook Page.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Back from Boston! - Garden Update

Peas. Everywhere, peas!

I left for a week, and the garden went NUTS!

It was a hot week, mostly in the 80s, with lots of rain and a good amount of sunshine.

Sean did an admirable job of keeping up with the house and plants on his own.

Even still, the peas ended up strangling one another, the tomato trellis proved to be a 2-person job, and the garden is now home to a sneaky rodent who nibbles on our strawberries and Swiss Chard when we're not looking!

Here are some photos from this morning...

Sean finished the gate! Lovely, isn't it?

Radishes are blooming on the left, and I'm coaxing the Sweet William to spread on the right.
Beans have taken well to their lattice trellis, and so far the three eggplant seedlings have kept their tops.
Three other eggplants in pots were eaten by a rogue rodent.
These Little Marvel Peas are supposed to grow in a more bush-like manner.
These guys, however, are nearly as tall as the regular vine peas. They've nearly grasped the tree!
These Champion English shelling peas are said to reach 12 feet!
They doubled over in strong winds, a few days ago, but seem to have recovered.
Rascally peas are trying to strangle out any competition, including these mysterious Star Lilies!
I'm glad I'll get to see them bloom, as I thought I'd miss it while I was away.
I'm a big fan of peas, but these sky-high Amish Snap Peas are getting a bit wild...
What was our early spring salad bed is now transitioning into a "whatever fits" garden bed.
We've pulled the spinach, which had gone to seed, and replaced it with Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts and other odds and ends.
Straggler radishes, soon to be pulled.
This 10-foot tomato bed is doing well!
Trellising is always an experiment. This time we're using T-Posts and Red Brand goat & sheep fencing. If we don't add the final row of fence soon, these tomatoes will be wild, indeed!

We've been rich in Strawberries this week. Delish!

This is our Hugelkultur Bed! More on this later.
It's full of gourds - Summer Squashes, Pumpkins, Melons and more.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tomatoes Headed to Market! - Garden Update

I'm a nervous plant mamma this morning, as I prepare to send my tomato plants to market. I started far too many seeds this spring! We've planted about 30 tomatoes in the garden (a dozen varieties - all heirloom organic), which left me with 2 dozen extra plants in need of good homes.

The first dozen went fast, as did my extra egg plants and some peppers. These tomato remainders are headed to the South Lansing Farmers Market, and will be sold by our friend at the Clover Row Gardens booth (along with delicious homemade breads and herbs). I'm nervous! I hope these little plants find good homes. I'm sending along a nice tablecloth, in hopes that they'll stand out.


I'm also sending along a few extra Crimson Rambler Morning Glory plants, which Sean said I'm ABSOLUTELY NOT allowed to plant in the garden. Spoilsport!

Quick Garden Update:
 - The Hugelkultur bed is a success! Our summer squashes, pumpkins, melons and radishes are growing well, and loving this hot and rainy weather. A Hugelkultur tutorial post is forthcoming.
 - All new apple trees seem to have survived their planting, and are thriving. We have 9 trees, but the "official" definition of an orchard is 10 trees. So, what do we have, a "planned grouping" of apple trees? This seems like reason enough to get just one more...
 - Peas everywhere! Daily, I find myself glaring at the pea trellises. They're trying to strangle one another, and doing a damn good job of it.
 - Last weekend we installed DRIP IRRIGATION. It's pretty fabulous.
 - At long last, I've created a Facebook page to showcase the fruits of our labors. You can find photos of what we're doing, what we're making and what's growing at
 - IT'S TOO HOT! This spring became summer too quickly, and our salads suffer for it. The spinach is bolting and slightly bitter. The radishes are sending up shoots, eating up their own tasty roots in the process. The lettuce stands strong, thus far, but I suspect it will go to seed, soon. This weekend I'm planting an interesting, hot-weather spinach variety. Wish me luck!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Barton Baby Must-Haves - Our Baby Shower Wish List

Beautiful custom announcement by the talented Kate Burck

The Barton Baby Wish List

But first, allow me to answer some...
 Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it a Girl or a Boy?
Yes, it's one of those. But sorry, we're not telling you which. 
Patience, please! 
There will be a Gender Reveal at the Baby Shower in June.
What will you name it?
Well, probably not. But that's what I'm calling it, today. 
Will it be a Redhead or a Blond(e)?
I'm hoping for red. I think Sean's hoping for blond(e).
We tried bribes at the ultrasound, but hair just doesn't show up... yet.
Are you doing Cloth Diapers?
YES! And no, you can't scare me off with poopy horror stories.
What's the nursery theme?
The nursery walls are a light, "sage" green, and we're using a pale butter yellow as the main accent color. The theme is Peter Rabbit's Garden. This seemed more than fitting, due to our love of nature, the baby's British heritage, and the long-standing fondness both of our families have for Beatrix Potter's creations. (There are COUNTLESS cute Beatrix Potter things on!)
Another common color is Navy Blue -- it matches our antique navy and silver pram!
Why is the baby shower so early?
We're very lucky parents, to have our child born into such a big, loving family! The reasonable reason for a June shower is to celebrate with visiting family and friends at a time that works with their schedules. (But really, we just can't wait all summer!) There will be a second shower much later in the summer for more family and friends.

Any Preferences?
Yes! When possible, we'd prefer that things be made from natural materials, like cotton. Made in America is always a plus, too!

What follows is our baby wish list, as requested by people who are eager to spoil the baby. 

It feels horribly greedy to do this, but I hope it'll make things easier for those who want to celebrate the baby's arrival by contributing to it's health and happiness. Thanks very much, in advance!

Most of these items can be bought at the store of your choice, be it Amazon, Target, Carter's, Baby's R Us, etc. If you'd like to support an independent East Lansing business, please visit Little Green Branches. This fabulous little shop is located on Northwind Drive, and I love it! They carry many of the items listed here.

Also, browsing is fun on!

Boppy Pillow + Covers
Great for nursing mommies and lounging babies.
These tend to get messy, so extra covers are most appreciated!

Swaddle Blankets
Traditional, large square/rectangle blankets. 
Preferably Muslin. 
Lots of brands, widely available! 
Often sold in multi-packs.
Muslin Swaddle Blankets

Baby Bath Stuff
(Washing tub, gentle soap, baby towel, etc)
We're new to the baby-washing business!
It can't be harder than washing the dog... right?
Just an example. A sweet little hooded towel, from

Baby Feeding Stuff
(Glass Bottles! Plastic Dishes! Little Spoons! Bibs!)

Basic Gender-Neutral Clothes
(Socks! Onesies! Leggings!)
We'll need all sizes for our little crumpet.
but I bet you can find these just about anywhere.
Little bunnies and ducks are extra-adorable!

Just an example, from

Swaddle Sacks and Sleepers
The Halo SleepSack may look a bit strange,
but it's a great way for little babies 
to stay snuggly warm this winter.
Just an example: a Halo sleep sack gift set with a western theme!

Cold-Weather Clothes
We'll need cozy clothes for 
our little crumpet's first few winters.
Cabela's baby bunting is on sale.
(Please, no hunter orange! Yuck!)
UGG Bunting, for the fashion-plate baby.

Fitted Crib Sheets
(Widely available, one size fits all.)
Simple patterns and colors are great!
Normal, jersey and sateen fabrics are all fine. 

Cloth Diapers
(Widely Available! Many to choose from!)
We're not picky.
We'll need all sizes cloth diapers.
If you want to delve into the world of cloth diapers
here's a quick intro video about cloth diapers.

The pictured style is our favorite, because the snaps
on the front make this diaper one-size-fits all! for a growing baby!

In general, we prefer snaps over velcro,
and water-proof is always a plus.
Want something specific?
We like these:
Kissaluvs Fitted Diaper Package
Newborn Diaper by Blueberry
Package Deal - 6 BumGenius All-in-One Diapers
EconoBum Newborn Kit (by BumGenius) is GREAT for browsing!
The Lorax diaper by Bumkins

Cloth Wipes
Simple cloth squares made from 
various fabrics (flannel, terry cloth, etc).

Diaper Closures
These stretchy, rubber closures are cheap... and great!
The Snappi brand is widely available.
Find them online here.
Snappi Diaper Closure

Diaper Detergent
Those cloth diapers require a soap that's
a tough cleaner, but gentle on the baby. 
You can find it where cloth diapers are sold. 
(Available thru Little Green Branches, our local baby boutique!)

Wet Bags
A water-proof bag, essential for using cloth diapers.
We'll need at least two of these, and bigger sizes are better.
This one's from Target.

Crib Conversion Rails
We have a beautiful crib, the Highland crib by Davinci!
It can be converted into a toddler bed, or even a full size bed.
To convert it to a full, we'll need the conversion rails ($100).
It's available online through ToysRUs.
The Davinci Highland crib, which we already have. Isn't it lovely?!

Keekaroo Highchair
(Available thru Little Green Branches, our local baby boutique!)
A durable, convertible highchair that'll grow with the baby.
Pictured with the infant insert (that blue thing), which is nice but not a necessity.
Either wood stain is fine. No worries!
Keekaroo Convertible Highchair

Ergo Baby Carrier
(Available thru Little Green Branches, our local baby boutique!)
We love this baby carrier!
It comes in countless patterns -- anything basic will do.
It can be worn on the back, front or side.
Pictured with the infant insert, which is nice but not a necessity.

Outdoor Swing
Something sturdy and safe, please!
Doesn't have to be like the one pictured.
Little Tikes 2-in-1 Snug N Secure Swing

Diaper Bag
Something simple, please.
Preferably a bag that opens wide at the top, duffle-bag style, 
so I can see everything without digging to the bottom.
Or, if you want to "go big"...
Lilly Pulitzer Resort Tote.
Pretty, but maybe not practical. 

Glider / Recliner
The dream nursery chair, a glider that reclines!
Our nursery is small, and ottomans are bulky.
Unfortunately, these are usually overpriced.  
From, the Jackson nursery glider/recliner. 

This list is incomplete, of course.
They're simply suggestions!
There's no way to know everything we'll need.

Our little crumpet would probably prefer toys and books,
rather than boring diapers and chairs, anyway.