Early summer garden

The garden is going well so far this year. Here are some pictures from the last week or two:

The garden begins again

I started some onion seeds this weekend. I’ve been planning out the garden, even though we have tons of snow on the ground (or maybe because of the snow). I like growing onions from seed – you get more choices than if you buy sets, and it’s cheaper. I like to start them usually at the beginning of February, but figured it was close enough.

I’m growing 5 types of onion this year:

The 5 onion varieties. I’ve grown three of these before, but the middle (Red of Florence) and right side (Yellow of Parma) are new kinds.

I like to start seeds in leftover mushroom containers (that the mushrooms come in at the store) – I poke holes in the bottom and put the mushroom containers on trays,or in a peat pellet tray so I can use a lid at first).

They say onion seeds are only good for a season but I have not found that to be the case. I have had good sprouting a few years later.

Here are the mushroom containers. I labeled seeds with the type. I can fit about 25 seeds in each of these.

The idea with these is that they’ll grow and be big enough to set out in April or May (depending on our weather). I have space for two beds of onions in my garden. I also read that you can put onions in around other things where you want to deter groundhogs and stuff and they will stay away.

As I do each spring, I came up with a whole seed starting schedule and made a spreadsheet to track when to start, where they are starting (inside or right in the ground), and how many I started. I am growing about 70 different varieties of things this year (3 kinds of tomatoes, 5 onions, etc), so it’s really helpful to make a chart. I cut it down to 70 – I have to restrain myself from growing ALL the types of seeds I have.

My seed starting table – it will get more full in April when I start some other things. I have grow lights and enough space for 3 or 4 trays of things.

It’s always exciting starting the gardening season, even if there is not a whole lot of work I can do yet.

The Story of Atat

We lost our dear dog Atat earlier this month. I’d like to tell the story of his life with us.

We had our dog Downey when we moved to this house in the U.P., but Downey seemed lonely. We wanted to get him a friend. But I didn’t want a small dog, I wanted a really big dog. We stared searching online, and on Petfinder I saw this puppy:

His name at the time was Landon, and he was 4 months old. He was at a shelter just outside of Duluth Minnesota, and they had him listed as an Akita mix. We did the paperwork and were approved, and drove the 4 hours to Duluth (and 4 hours back) to pick him up.

We brought Downey with us so they could meet and we could make sure they’d get along, and they did. Downey was mostly indifferent, so that was fine. We got in the car, started the drive home, and the new puppy must have been nervous because he suddenly had diarrhea all over the back seat. We had to stop and put him in the very back (I had a station wagon at the time) and you could see Downey was not impressed with his new brother.

We got him home, and the puppy had long lanky legs and was a little awkward (just being young) so my son, who was 5 at the time, said he looked like an AT-AT (those giant machines from Star Wars). So we named him Atat. (Pronounced like At-Tat – both “A”s like in Tattoo.)

At 4 months he was already the size of Downey, so we knew he would get way bigger, and looking at him you can tell he was a Mix of German Shepherd and Akita. (A Shepkita).

He did get bigger, and he was a great dog. He would jump on people sometimes but it was always friendly, and he actually helped pull Downey out of his shell – Downey had been having some anxiety issues when people came over, but since Atat wasn’t scared of them, it helped Downey to calm down with visitors.

He and Downey were great brothers and loved each other. We eventually got their sister Nova, and Atat was obsessed with her. He had a very long torso, and a big curly tail, so he would curl around her, and they’d play on the carpet and on the couch a lot.

Here are our three dogs chewing on their chews. (Downey, Atat, Nova, from left to right)

After several years we lost Nova, and the two boys were sad for awhile but eventually got into a two-dog routine again.

Last spring, Atat started drinking a lot, and peeing a lot. We brought him to our vet, who could not figure out what was wrong. He was going in the house at night because his bladder was full. We started getting up at 3am to let him out, and then we just added a doggy door so he could go whenever he wanted. That really helped, but still didn’t tell us what was wrong.

I ended up switching vets, and the new vet diagnosed him with Cushings disease. With the pandemic and stuff, we weren’t able to get this diagnosis till December. (I called to make an appointment in July and they couldn’t get us in till late October). We planned to treat his Cushings with Melatonin, because the actual vet medicine for it, something called Trilosane, was way too expensive since Atat was over 100lbs. (Melatonin was recommended by some vets online as a gentler way to treat it, but still effective).

Over the Christmas holidays, I noticed that he was really slowing down – he had been slowly getting slower since he started getting symptoms, but this was a lot. He had been dealing with ongoing swelling in his belly (like fluid) – the vet had told us his first visit in October that she first thought he might have congestive heart failure, but then I thought she had ruled it out – she had done an xray and his heart was not enlarged, but we still didn’t know what the fluid was from.

I got the Melatonin (I had to order a dog-specific version in the right dose) the week before New Years, and I gave him his first dose on a Tuesday. On Wednesday I noticed he perked up a bit, but on Thursday he had Edema (swelling) in one of his legs. Then over the next day or so the other one swelled, and then he was having trouble getting up. We were helping him to stand so he could go outside. He also started panting really hard like he was having trouble breathing.

That Tuesday, January 4th, I went to work and actually called a vet that does euthanasia house calls, to find out pricing, in case. But my husband got home and found Atat outside in the yard, pretty much in the middle of dying. He called me and I came home, but he was gone before I got home. We figure it was congestive heart failure, based on how it happened. So he must have had that and Cushings together.

Our sweet boy guarding his domain.

We are in the middle of winter, with a foot or so of snow on the ground and frozen earth below. So we put him in the garage, thinking in spring we would bury him. My husband and son went yesterday to move him under the snow – we remembered that when we get a warmup in spring, our garage sometimes gets hot so, we didn’t want a bad situation. But they went to move snow and found the ground near our garage, where we were planning on putting him later, was only frozen about an inch or so down, so we laid him to rest in his permanent spot.

Downey has been sad, but getting a little better about everything. We got a kitten last year, and she wasn’t afraid of Atat but she hangs out more than she did when he was here. Our other cat comes out more as well. We will miss him -he was a great dog. I get really upset because he had only just turned 8 years old in December. I feel like he didn’t get long enough, but I guess that happens with all dogs.

We’ll miss him.

Our sweet Atat.

Looking back at 2021’s gardening season

We had a decent summer. I got really busy and have not updated here in awhile. My main garden is fenced, inside another fence (for our dogs). The deer have not really gotten in until this year – my dogs are getting older and I guess don’t really bark at the deer when they come in. The deer figured this out and essentially annihilated my main garden toward the end of the season. They ate all my tomatoes, and zucchini, and anything else they found out there. I did get a good harvest but I had to get what I could before they could eat it all. There are some things I didn’t even get to harvest because of the deer, including cauliflower and broccoli. Looking forward to next year, I’m going to have to make my garden fence taller, or something. I’ll figure that out. Luckily they didn’t get into our cottage garden (not sure why, but I’ll take it). For now, here are some cool pictures of the end of our gardening season 2021:

Mid Season Bounty

Our garden is growing like crazy! Some vegetables are starting to ripen, and we’re eating lots of fresh stuff. We had a lot of lettuce, which I’ve been trying to pick before it bolts. We have had zucchinis galore! I’m growing three kinds this year, a regular green type, a yellow zucchini, and Zucchini Rampicante (a long type that curls). I’ve even just picked a couple of vine-ripened tomatoes! (Usually I’m waiting on some of those till later in the season). My garlic is almost ready, and we’re getting cabbage. Below you can see the photos of the garden:

Garden updates late June 2021

The garden is doing well. We’ve had a weird June. Some colder temps here and there. I’ve had to re-seed several things a few times, and some of those just didn’t take after all that. I had to re-seed gourds, zucchini, cucumbers, and broccoli. My beans have done horribly (I planted them too deep maybe? or soaked them too long when the package said to soak overnight). I have 8 bean plants out of 2 packets I planted. But most things are growing well. Here are some updated pics:

Here are some Valerian and Daisies that are growing at the front of our old chicken coop.
Here is a fairy door my husband put in, against the chicken coop/cottage building. The flower bed in front of it is supposed to be full of poppies. They are slowly appearing (I seeded it with tons but it’s not as full as it should have been).

Here are pics of Canterbury Bells that I planted LAST YEAR but never came up. (Or I didn’t realize they came up last year, they didn’t flower); along with some white Black-Eyed Susan vine (growing in our Moon garden).

Here are some Dead Man’s Fingers mushrooms. I found some of these last year in this same spot, and there are more growing in the garden nearby. They are weird looking but pretty cool. I read online that there must be wood fragments under the soil because their mycelium feed on wood.

As you can see, the garden is coming along well. I just wish I didn’t have to re-seed things.

Garden updates May 2021

Our yard the week of 5/21/21.

Our spring was very cold for awhile, and then the last couple weeks it’s been super hot. It was 85 degrees yesterday and humid. Today it’s in the 40s. Tomorrow it is supposed to warm back up. It gets hard to plan your garden and planting when you’re not sure if the weather is going to cooperate. Here where we are situated, I follow a couple of different Last Frost dates – one for Houghton, Michigan, and one for Marquette (they are each about an hour or two away from me, I’m in the middle). According to my source, these two towns which are only a couple hours away from one another, are about 2 weeks different in terms of last frost date. One is mid May, one is late May. Then our weather can vary from day to day. It can be really hot and make you think “oh, I can plant those tomatoes” and then we get frost. Or even snow! I saw we might get some slight snow / rain showers in a couple days. But the temps shouldn’t be too cold where I’m that worried about us getting it. Anyway, I planted the last bits of my garden this weekend (before I saw that snow prediction). If I have to cover things, I will. I do have one or two things still waiting in the house – ginger, which can’t take ANY cold at all, and some gourds I’m waiting to sprout.

Here are some updated pictures of our gardens the last couple of weeks:

The garden is growing and our spring is definitely under way. Hopefully the weather keeps cooperating.

Still waiting for real spring

Our yard. It’s green at the moment, but it keeps raining/snowing, and it’s not very warm out.

Our weather is still being finicky (not unusual for the Upper Peninsula, but it’s still disappointing). We had an early snow melt in March, with nice warm temps – it got us all excited for an early spring. We still are mostly snow-free, but out temps keep being kind of chilly. Too cold to really do much outside, I feel. We keep getting rain/snow mix precipitation too, so we have woken up to about an inch of snow here and there. I started to clean the garden up a bit yesterday, it was in the 50s, maybe into the 60s. But today it’s colder. We are supposed to get an inch of snow today. But the daffodils are blooming! My tulips are coming up. I planted a new variety of strawberries outside a few weeks back and they are growing now. And my garlic is all up, about 3 inches out of the soil.

I know it will get warmer (and stop raining and snowing all the time) and I’ll be able to do some stuff outside soon. But for now I am just taking comfort in my future garden – a lot of which I have already started in the house. I have tomatoes, peppers, ginger, and a lot of herbs and flowers started. They are all growing nicely.

Some of my seedlings. These are some various herbs, flowers and cabbage. The back of the photo shows some of my onion seedlings.

I’ve been using old mushroom containers as grow containers for my seedlings. I used an awl and popped holes in the bottom of each container, and the mushroom containers are all on boot trays, so any extra water drains onto those. I have about 40+ mushroom trays of plants here. The last pic above is my ginger. I bought a pound of seed ginger from Fedco Seeds ( a company in Maine) this winter. It came in March and I’ve been working on sprouting them. I tried a couple years ago with about 3 roots, from a different company, and didn’t have as much success. This time the pound I bought came out to about 12 roots. All of the roots are starting to come up, or are just about to. I just had to be really sparing with watering, and super patient with them. The ginger is all planted just under the soil in an old plastic planting flat, and that is sitting on a heat mat. The directions Fedco sent said that consistent heat is needed, and to water sparingly until they come up. I give them a light spray once a day. They are prone to rotting until they come up above the soil if they get too much water. I will be putting these in my greenhouse once it’s warm enough outside and they are bigger.

Hopefully the weather will turn better here in the next week or so and I’ll be able to get back outside comfortably. Like I said, the daffodils are starting to bloom, so that is a good sign.

One of the first daffodils to bloom in 2021 (in my yard).

Garden Planning 2021

It’s the middle of winter here in the U.P. We have a bunch of snow, and more on the way today.  Typically this time of year I am planning my garden, but I was way ahead of the game this time, and actually drew up plans in the late summer/early fall of last year.  I was taking a look at what had worked, what I was tired of picking, what things we didn’t want to grow again this coming year.  Because last year was such a mess trying to get seeds (with Covid lockdowns, and everyone wanting to grow a garden suddenly, seed companies were out of things –  I had to order from 5 different places to get all the varieties I wanted), I just stocked up in the fall.  So I really don’t need to get any new seeds this year. I might add a couple things as spring gets here. We’ll see.

Here you can see my snowy cottage garden as it looked this morning: (We are getting a bunch more snow as I type this).

I started my onions in January – they are doing pretty well. I am growing a large yellow variety called Ailsa Craig. I am on an ongoing quest to get really big onions. Last year I had some get to a decent size, like a small baseball size, but not the full size they could have gotten. We just recently used up the end of my saved onion stash, and we were down to a lot of tiny 1-inch onions at the end. I am hoping to increase the amount of large onions I grow, and hopefully get less smaller ones. Even if that means growing less onions, so be it. Besides those large onions, I’m also growing leeks, green onions, and shallots from seeds. I also started some red onions – the seeds are from year before last, so they are not as viable as I’d like, but I got some to sprout. Onion seeds only last about a year or so – a lot of other seeds are viable for longer. I have been fertilizing my onion sprouts this year – something I read about this winter. I’m hoping that I will have close to pencil-width onions ready to go into the ground by April or May (probably May but a girl can hope for an April warm-up).

I planned this year’s gardens last fall, just drawing up a plan on a couple pieces of paper. I did go through all my seeds this fall, and I made a big spreadsheet so I know what I have to work with. I then had to decide what to NOT grow this year. I tend to want to just grow it all – I am using some restraint and only using about half my seed varieties for this coming year. Below are my plans I drew up:

As you can see, I’ve changed things a little bit here and there – there are some scribbles where I made revisions, but going in I knew a few things we’d do differently this year. We had too many winter squash last year, and I have frozen a lot of them. I fed extras to the deer before they could go bad on us (and because we got really sick of squash). I won’t be growing any winter squash. I’m growing 2 plants of cucumbers (2 varieties, one plant of each). I’m only growing 12 tomato plants total! (I had over 24 last year). We still have a lot of frozen tomatoes. They are good but we were a bit overrun in the fall and I got really tired of harvesting them. The only problem with planning is you never know what the weather in the summer will be like. I hope we have a nice hot summer and those 12 tomato plants actually produce as well as they did last year.

I took the seeds that I decided to grow this year, and set up groups (all rubber-banded together) in terms of when they get started and where – so I have a big group of “start inside in March” that will get started around the first official day of spring. I have a few types of seeds in the fridge cold-stratifying, those all will get started in March – those include two types of Milkweed/butterfly weed. I’d like to get some established in my yard for the Monarch butterflies. I also have some sets of “Start outside” for as soon as the snow is gone and I can get into the soil, and “start outside May/June” for after the last frost (mid-late may, depending on who you ask). I ordered a couple of things that should be coming this spring – Ginger for sprouting (probably coming late March) and also more Strawberry plants – I think those come in April or May.

I’m excited for this year’s upcoming garden. For now I am just looking out the window at our snowy yard and dreaming of spring.

End of Season thoughts

We had a great gardening season. I’ve been so busy with the harvest that I have not had time to post anything. Fall has come and almost gone – winter seems like it is coming early this year. We’ve had close to freezing temps for weeks already, which is not typical for us. I think a lot of the upper U.S. is in this weather pattern as well. I have not yet planted my garlic – I ordered from one website, and then saw that it was back-ordered, and they were not going to be shipping till late October. I typically plant the first or 2nd week, so I cancelled it. I ordered from another place that I know grows their own garlic, thinking that they would ship quicker. I ended up having to order a different kind, but it’s still a Porcelein type of garlic (they typically have 4-6 large cloves per garlic head). They have not shipped yet either, so I called this week, and they shipped it for me yesterday – I have a blanket on the garlic bed, trying to keep my ground from freezing before I can plant the garlic.

Our front yard on October 17th. Not a nice sight to wake up to – I’m not ready for snow yet. It luckily melted the next day.

With our hot summer this year, some vegetables grew fantastically, and other plants didn’t do so well. Some things I thought did horribly but as we cooled down they surprised me – our cauliflower grew really large, but didn’t head until September after the rest of the garden was dying. We had a whole lot of squash and tomatoes. I have so much squash that I don’t think I will plant any next year, at least not winter squash.

Here are squash waiting on the porch after picking. I ended up putting them in the greenhouse to cure so they will last most of the winter.

Last year I planted 3 plants of butternut squash, and got about 1 per plant. This year, I planted three butternut and three Gete Okosomin squash plants. The butternut gave us 11 very large squashes, and the Gete Okosomin gave us 28 – the largest was 25 pounds. These things were massive. Our super-hot summer really helped.

Another pic of some of our squash (with a couple of our Jarrahdale pumpkins).
Here are the squash being stored in our house. We are using them as we are able. Eventually I might have to cook them up to freeze them, but we are currently out of space in our freezer.

We bought a pig for meat from a butcher / farmer this year, and our freezer has run out of room with that and all the vegetables. I have a lot of tomatoes that I just froze instead of canning, and a lot of zucchini that I froze, besides the pork. I am hoping the squash will mostly last for us through the winter since I cured them for awhile. I will check them here and there to make sure they aren’t softening.

We had too many cucumbers this year – we tried to make pickles but we just got tired of them. So that is something I won’t grow next year, or maybe a plant or two. I had at least 6 plants this year – too many. I also grew Patty pan squash but we weren’t very excited about them. I grew some Zucchini Rampicante, a curly long zucchini variety – they were really nice. The plants sprawl everywhere, so I’ll trellis them next year, but the flavor was really good and if you forget them or don’t find one until late, they turn into winter squash. They just harden up a bit on the outside and turn from green to brown (like a butternut color).

Pumpkins we grew (the orange one is not from my garden). They are called Jarrahdale, a white / light green pumpkin. Most were left outside as decoration, but I took one in so we can eat it later. The ones outside are doing ok but they have frozen and thawed, so probably wouldn’t be good for eating. I’ll open them up for the deer after Halloween.

This year was pretty good for our gardens. I don’t like the cold of winter, but I do like that we get a time to slow down. I’ll start getting the mid-winter gardening itch probably in January once we’ve had snow for awhile.

(Pictures in this post are all courtesy of my husband, Elton Powell).