• Hot, hot, hot

    It's always been weird to live in a place where the weather is so different from everywhere else (also, awesome), but this year has been super strange. While everyone else is experiencing the polar vortex, we have been having some of the warmest, driest months on record. We basically just didn't have winter.

    Don't get me wrong, it's glorious to have sunny 70-degree days in January, but the lack of rain is starting to becoming worrisome. Not only does the weather leave a smoggy mass sitting over the bay area, it is also causing big problems for farmers without water. We have a spare-the-air day pretty much daily. 

    My plants are all confused. They think it's spring. I can't believe how many flowers are on my succulents out front.

    We are planning a picnic birthday party for Harper. Because we might as well — we know it won't rain!

  • Pretty flowers at the new house

    We'll have a few landscaping projects at the new house, but I was happy to discover that the previous owner had planted a number of beautiful flowers in the yard. This bright red fuchsia plant is my favorite.

    Bonus: There's another pink fuchsia plant too.

    Not sure what these are, but they're pretty.

    Our real estate agent was telling me about this plant, which smells like lemon when you rub it.

    Randomly, in the front of the house there is a poinsettia.

    I don't think I've ever seen one that wasn't in a pot around Christmastime.

    There are two plants that have got to go, though. These hedges are awful!

    I think our main landscaping goals are:
    • clear out the side yard and plant grass so the dogs can use it
    • clear out some other overgrown plants and replace them with berry bushes and a strawberry patch
    • add more plants to the front garden so that the ugly pipes are covered up
    • replace the sod out front with a fruit tree and drought-resistant ground cover
    • steal oranges from the neighbors — just kidding!

  • Progress in the yard

    I finally got some gardening done. Some of it is working, some of it isn't. So it goes.

    This hanging basket came with the house, so I filled it with a mix of annuals.

    I love the combination of purple and orange flowers. They seem to be doing well.

    I'm trying a pot of basil again, which I've never had success growing here. So funny since I always used to have so much more than I could ever use.

    I got two cherry tomato plants. They seem to do better than full-sized tomatoes, which thrive in warmer weather, too.

    I got new chives, thyme and lavender plants. Mint ended up in the ammo box. I wanted it to have plenty of (contained) space to grow.

    It's happy there, and we've already used it several times!

    I'm so happy to report that 1) the orange tree has several oranges on it,

    and 2) the little potted orange tree seems to be coming back to life. After looking nearly dead for a long time, new leaves are growing and I spotted one tiny orange.

    About half of the first strawberries I planted keeled over, so I bought 6 more and made a little patch. Had to dig up a big plant to make room, but that's OK.

    The blueberry bush I bought looks pretty droopy, though. I'm not sure what it needs. I think I need to do more research.

    I think I am going to end up removing these overgrown geraniums to make room for more berries.

    I don't really care for the red ones and we have a bunch of pink ones elsewhere in the yard.

    I was thinking of planting something in this bare spot, but Sadie loves it so much I can't do it.

    I managed to kill all three zinnias I planted. Maybe I shouldn't have tried to separate them.

    I don't want to give up on having zinnias, though. I really love them. The dahlias I bought look great.

    I think they're really too big for their pot, though. So maybe I'll plant them in the ground and get more.

    There are some pretty little marigolds scattered throughout the yard that I might transplant once the workshop construction is gone.

    I'll at least clean up the weeds and try to give them a dedicated space.

    I'm happy to say these pretty mums are doing well after getting cleaned out and watered.

    And my fave fucshia plants are happy as can be.

    Overall, I don't think I can expect too much from the yard this summer, but it's fun to get started on it. 

  • Back in bloom

    Mom, Mike and I have spent a lot of time in the yard lately just trying to get it back in shape after "winter." The last few months have actually been really restorative for the plants since they were struggling at the end of last summer's drought.

    We had also decided to make some changes to the landscaping and finally had time to do it. The previous owners had pretty ornamental plants and we wanted more edible ones. So we dug out all the hedges and some of the geraniums to make room for a berry patch. Most of last year's strawberry plants survived, and we added a few more to fill in the gaps. They are going strong.

    So excited for strawberries!

    The blueberry bush we bought last year had basically turned into a stick by the end of the summer, but I'm glad to report that it did survive and it's started to leaf out quite a bit.

    We bought two more blueberry bushes and then two raspberry plants, both of which seem to be happy.

    One of the happy raspberries. 

    In order to keep the dogs and Harper from messing up the plants, Mike built a fence around them.

    We did leave these pretty tulips in the middle, although we might move the bulbs later.

    I actually didn't know they were going to come up until I noticed them poking out from under one of our planter boxes. When I moved the box I discovered a little salamander family living under there. At first I thought they were newts, so I showed Harper and she kept going back to that spot yelling, "baby NEWT!" So funny.

    On the other end of the berries there is a beautiful fuchsia plant that also looked pretty terrible a few months ago. I'm so glad to see that it's back in bloom.

    The other red and white fuchsia plant got sort of squished by another bush, so it's taking a little longer to recover. But I think it will.

    This mum that looks like daisies was another surprise.

    I had planted it in the ammo box planter, and not only did it return, it jumped out into places all over the yard.

    The mint that was growing in the box got this sort of purple trim around the edges, but it seems to be turning back to normal.

    Our hydrangeas look really lush again, which is nice. We have one little and one big, but the little guy is catching up!

    The calla lilies that were so pretty last year are popping through the soil again.

    And I'm thrilled to see this orchid, the only potted plant I kept from the previous owners, produced these impressive blooms.

    I forgot to water this plant I bought at the end of last summer and figured it was dead, but it has flowers on it again. Whew!

    I had to trim a couple geranium plants because they became absolutely huge after the winter rains.

    The side yard, where the dogs are supposed to do their business, got completely overgrown with shoulder-high weeds.

    So I finally dug them all up, plus all the ground cover that was keeping the dogs from using the rest of the yard. We are going to regrade it a little bit to help with drainage and then plant new grass seed.

    Just a bit better...

    We dug up a LOT of weeds to make a little tomato patch, and then fenced it in.

    We got a few more plants to fill in some open spots. And of course I can't give up my dream of having dahlias.

    I also can't give up on our little mandarin tree, which has yet to produce an edible orange. It was happiest in the shade of one of our ugly hedges, so now that the hedge is gone I keep moving it around the yard trying to find a good spot.

    It does at least have some small oranges all over it. The other orange tree, though, has totally flourished.

    When we moved in it had one orange and no new blossoms. Now it is producing like crazy. It has fragrant blossoms and bees all over it.

    It has some tiny green oranges and some that are almost ready to pick.

    We pruned it a little and weeded around it, but mostly we are just waiting for those oranges to ripen. Exciting!

    Our little front-yard garden got kind of disrupted when we had our sewer lateral replaced, but it still looks pretty good. And then mom dug out the little triangular spot in our driveway, planted some pretty flowers and decorated it with a cool rock. I'll have to post some photos of that.

    All in all we are feeling really great about the yard and just hoping it stays healthy as long as possible since another dry summer is pretty much guaranteed.

  • Garden success

    I can't believe how much the garden has changed since the last time I posted about it. Mike and I keep joking about how we'll never get anything else done because every weekend we end up at the garden store adding 3 new projects to our plates. But it is really making us happy, and it's one of the things that's been so rewarding about buying a house. If we don't like something, we can change it!

    Three cheers for colorful tomato cages!

    When we first moved in, I thought it was a little strange that we had this huge yard with plants only around the perimeter. But now I think it's awesome that we can just put a fence around all the edible plants to keep Harper and the dogs out, and have all the rest of the space for her to play (or for eating outside or using the fire pit, etc.). The tomatoes we planted a few weeks ago have gotten huge and started sprouting little green tomatoes. I decided to add two pepper plants, too. And then on the other side of the fence we dug out a huge ugly bush and planted more tomatoes and tomatillos, plus beans running up the side of the fence. In the past when I've tried to grow tomatoes they never did much. So I'm really excited that these seem much happier and might actually produce quite a bit.

    The strawberry patch is doing really well. We get a few every day now. I'd still like to plant a few more, and I think with every year it will produce more.

    The blueberry plants we bought this year seem to be doing a lot better than the one we bought last year. I've picked and eaten a few and they are yummy! Again, I think in another year they will be even better. I just saw the first raspberry flower, but they have a ways to go.

    A teeny harvest.

    The hydrangeas have finally started opening. I'm excited for the smaller plant, which has more violet colored flowers, to open soon.

    I think the prettiest flowers in the yard have to be the calla lilies. These bright pink ones opened, and I think we will have more in different colors too.

    Some other leafy plant has shot up all around the lilies, but I can't tell if it's going to have flowers or not. This being our first full year here, the yard has constant surprises!

  • Holy crap, tomatoes

    Last time I wrote about the garden I was impressed by how much the tomatoes had grown. Well, now they are like some kind of mutant tomatoes that have grown so much they don't even begin to be contained by the cages we bought. One of them is getting tangled up in the orange tree and another one is so thick I don't think I am going to be able to reach the tomatoes when they ripen. 

    But considering we've only ever produced a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes since we moved to California, I'll take these crazy plants. We're starting to get lots of red and orange cherry tomatoes and they're really good. 

    One of the first plants to start producing a lot was the cucumber. It's huge now, and the little cukes become big ones in only a day or two. I'm making pickles now, so I'll write about that soon.

    We planted a few green beans along our fence. Some of them are happier than others, but I can see a few beans. 

    Mike and I were surprised that the tomatillos we bought don't look anything like tomato plants, but they do have tons of blossoms on them. We'll see. They're supposed to be purple!

    Some oranges finally ripened on the big orange tree, and they are so juicy and good.

    They're basically like naval oranges with a thick skin. Great for juice or snacking (Harper loves them). 

    The mandarin tree is looking great, too. We've never had an orange on there bigger than about a centimeter. Now there are a few that are an inch or bigger. Come on little oranges!

    The blueberries seem to be done for now, but I think they will blossom again this summer. The strawberry patch produces a few every day, but still not as many as I would like. I think I need to plants some more plants in the bare places. 

    I'm not sure why, but all the sudden the mint started growing like normal mint does. Actually, I did put some compost in there, so maybe it was just hungry!

    I'm so excited about the first raspberry blossoms. I know those plants are just babies, but I would love to have a few berries to pick.

    The flowers in the yard are kind of a mixed bag. Some are flourishing while others are drying out. I think they will be the first to suffer from the lack of rain. The calla lilies are way bushier than last year with a lot of blooms (pink and yellow). 

    This flowering bush, which as been just a few sticks since last summer, is finally coming back. 

    But the hydrangeas look like they have a fungus and have turned some strange colors. They seem extra prone to it.

    I should mention that the little garden my mom planted out front looks amazing. She dug out this little triangular patch, which has a rock border around it, and planted some drought-resistant flowers. Then, a bunch of California poppies sprouted right in the middle, so I think it looks just right now. The gnome thinks so too. 

    And finally, the grass we planted for the dog area is growing pretty well. It needs a lot of watering to get going, but hopefully that can taper off once it's established. There are a few dry patches, but those are easy to fill in.

  • My first pickles

    I promised I would report back on pickles and I'm finally getting to it!

    Our cucumber plant produced a TON of cukes so we had to figure out pickling. I wanted to keep them as simple as possible, so I followed Deb's instructions for the easiest fridge dill pickles.

    First, I had to use a vegetable peeler to scrape off all the little spiky bits on the cucumbers. Some of them were really sharp. Then I decided to slice mine into spears.

    I didn't have fresh dill so I used dried and I think it worked just fine. One thing I had to adjust, though, was to add water to fill the jars to the top. Maybe because I had spears instead of slices, my cucumbers didn't let out enough water and they were super vinegar-y. Once I added the water they were just about perfect.

    I thought they might go bad quickly in the fridge, but they have lasted weeks and weeks. In fact I think they get better over time.

  • Garden good, bad and ugly

    Now that we're coming to the end of the growing season and everything is starting to get brown and crinkly, I feel like I can evaluate everything we decided to grow this year. Overall it went really well, I think.

    • Both cherry tomato plants grew well beyond anything we could have imagined. They got so big they actually flopped over and have nearly collapsed their cages. We had so many that we got sick of them a long time ago.

    These have grown way up into the orange tree, well above my head. And they're still covered in green tomatoes!

    Mom and I started taking cherry tomatoes to our neighborhood crop swap (such a great idea, btw!) and I think even our neighbors are sick of them. Next year I think one plant would be plenty. The orange variety tasted better, in my opinion.
    • Cucumbers grew and produced like crazy. If I had to do it over I might choose a variety that is a little less bitter. Ours were nice pickled but not so great plain.
    • The San Marzano tomato plant has also grown like mad. It's overflowed into the surrounding plants.

    We've picked buckets of tomatoes from that plant, but the good thing about those is that when you peel and cook them down for sauce they make a much smaller amount. So you can't really have too many.

    • The "Michael Pollan" tomato plant took a while to mature, but now it has what I would call a sane amount of tomatoes on it and they are really tasty. Just like a tiny Green Zebra.

    • The standard looking tomato we planted has been producing a lot of tomatoes without going too crazy. They're good, but nowhere near as tasty as Purple Cherokees. Next year, heirlooms!

    • Mint just needed a little compost in order to go nuts like normal mint.

    Getting there:
    • Strawberries did pretty well, but we need more!
    • The blueberries and raspberry plants produced a few berries, but I think these plants need time to really grow to maturity.
    • I had just about given up on our pepper plants when one of them perked up. It now has a nice looking pepper on it. Maybe more compost next time?

    • I'm still holding onto hope that our little mandarin tree will produce edible fruit. Most of the oranges that survived to a bigger size are still there and some of them are turning yellow!

    • I think we grew about 3 edible green beans before all the plants died. We may have started them too late or put them in not-great soil.
    • The purple tomatillos grew tons of flowers and little casings, but they are all empty inside. Not sure why since they appear healthy.

    We don't have a ton of room to add more plants but I think next year it would be nice to have some sort of zucchini or squash. It just doesn't feel like a summer garden without them. So funny that at our crop swap no one had any! But there were all sorts of interesting things like lemon cucumbers, Thai papayas and Meyer lemons.

    We'd love to have rhubarb, too. And maybe some beets. We've grown carrots and lettuces in the past, but I'm not sure we liked them enough to do it again. 

  • Garden update

    I think it's fair to say that we haven't had a lot of time to work on the garden this year, but we're finally getting around to making some progress. We did plant a lot of vegetables earlier this year, and they are really thriving now. Not surprisingly, the tomatoes have gone NUTS.

    The red cherry tomato plant got so heavy it toppled the cage and I've had to cut it back several times.

    The orange one spread out a lot, but hasn't gone quite as crazy. It makes these huge bundles of tomatoes.

    Then we had this volunteer pop up next to my pot of lavender. I probably should have pulled it out, but I just left it, and now it needs its own cage.

    It kills me that Harper pulled all the blooms off that orchid (above left) since it only blooms once a year. It looks healthy enough to come back next year though. 

    I'm not really sure what kind of tomato this is.

    The tomatoes are medium-sized and kind of orange-red in color, so it's hard to tell when they're ripe.

    The sauce tomatoes are looking good. Hopefully I'll have my first batch ready to roast soon.

    And then we have these regular round tomatoes that should be ripe soon. I see a lot of caprese salads in our future!

    This is the first time I've really successfully grown bell peppers. This one plant produced a bunch of good-sized green ones, so I'm leaving them on there in hopes that they'll turn red.

    We also have some jalapenos that I used in tortilla soup last night. I'm not sure why they're turning black, but they taste good.

    I also had a purple kale plant that did really well, but I just cut it down because it was overtaken with bugs. Does anyone have a good remedy for that?

    One new addition this year is rhubarb! Mike got this plant from a neighbor and it seems to be happy.

    We bought 2 other baby plants at the garden store, but only one has survived so far.

    Our berry patch is not faring as well as the veggie patches.

    We have three raspberry plants that have produced a few berries, but the blueberries are mostly dead. I think the soil pH is off, so I will work on that.

    The strawberries have done well and I think they are coming to the end of their season. I froze a bunch to make jam or some kind of dessert later. Maybe something strawberry-rhubarb if the rhubarb gets tall enough?

    The orange tree has some oranges starting to turn yellow, but overall it seems to have a lot fewer than last year. Since the tree looks very lush and healthy, I think it just might be cyclical.

    Our neighbor's apple tree is full of yummy looking apples right now. Hopefully some fall into our yard!

    This area is kind of a work in progress. The flower bushes took a big hit during the drought last summer, and never really recovered. Basically, they dry out and then become vulnerable to fungus. By fall they look like they're dying, but then with winter rain they come back.

    I really want to save this one because it has such pretty flowers and smells like lemon when you touch it.

    And of course I love my red and white fuchsia.

    I bought another hanging planter with fuchsia and it got fried in the sun. But I moved it to a shadier place and it's coming back now. I feel like our yard needs more shade generally. Even with our moderate temperatures, things get fried in the full sun.

    One bright spot is our hydrangea (two actually). They were looking pretty bad last year, but with some pruning and extra water they filled out this year and they're looking great.

    And then there's this amaryllis my mom planted forever ago. It finally shot up into this brilliant bloom.

    And now it is blooming again.

    We have a plan to completely redo our front yard and make it into a succulent garden with a citrus tree, but we're waiting until we get some rain so the ground isn't so tough to dig into. Mike also wants to build a little fence for it. I'll update when we get to it!