Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The End of June Garden

I can't believe we're saying goodbye to June already. Where does the time go? I guess when you're blessed with great weather, it goes by quickly. Indeed, we were lucky this year. While our Junes here in New England have a tendency to be as wet and chilly as our Aprils, this past spring has surely been one of the warmest in recent memory. The evidence of course is in the veggie garden. My tomatoes are already reaching the top of their 5 ft trellis and the melons are spreading like crazy. Hopefully, this will translate into many more pounds of produce.

Here's a quick update on some of the garden's more recent movers and shakers:

This picture was taken over the weekend but we harvested our first cucumbers yesterday. I'm growing mostly Spacemaster cukes this year. They seem to be as prolific and fast growing as the zucchini. Also, hand-pollinating has definitely helped. I'll offer an opinion on how they taste on the next Harvest Monday post.

My cauliflower are starting to form heads, which is a relief considering they are taking seemingly forever to grow. Also, I've been trying my best to keep the green cabbage worms in check...not an easy task this time of year I might add. Hopefully, they will size up quickly.

I'm also growing a purple variety. I can't wait to see what it will eventually look like.

My spring carrots have been a bit of a let down. Some of them have bolted due to the warm weather. The best performing by far has been the Scarlet Nantes. Cosmic Purple on the other hand is a slow grower. Next year, I think I'll stick to the orange varieties.

Jonathan and I have been munching on a few Sungold cherry tomatoes right off the vine this week. They are much sweeter now compared to the first one I picked back on June 11. Unfortunately, none of the beef steak tomatoes look like they'll be ripening anytime soon. In fact, the 30 or so tomato plants that I transplanted back in mid-May are only starting to form fruits now.

I'm growing 20 different varieties this year. This one is called "Clear Pink Early." I've heard that pink tomatoes have a tendency to be particularly flavorful and sweet.

Komohana grape tomatoes - I'll be curious to see what they will look like ripe.

Finally, my All Blue potatoes are starting to fruit. The plants themselves haven't started to die back yet. I'm growing a bit impatient with my potatoes. I want more taters NOW gosh darn it!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Soft Neck Garlic and Fall / Winter Seed Starting Schedule

This past weekend, I pulled all of my softneck garlic. Considering that this was grown from garlic purchased at the supermarket, I was happy to find that there were quite a few good-sized bulbs. There is always a certain level of risk when planting stuff from the supermarket, but all in all, I think this little experiment worked out well. If anything, I planted it just for fun. Whether or not I'll do it again come October is another story.

I also planted 5 supermarket shallots last fall but unfortunately, only one of them overwintered successfully. Maybe I'll purchase some from a seed company this year. It's interesting how shallot bulbs pull apart from one another as they grow - definitely makes it easier to tell when they are ready.

Finally, for all of you out there who may be interested, this is my tentative fall/winter seed starting schedule:

Broccoli - F, now (I)
Beets - F, 7/11 (I)
Mini Napa Cabbage - F, 7/25 (I)
Shanghai Bok Choy - F, W, 8/1, 8/15, 9/1 (I)
Extra Dwarf Bok Choy - F, W - 8/1, 8/15, 9/1 (I)
Mizuna - F, W, 8/1, 8/15, 9/1, (I)
Tatsoi - F, W, 8/1, 8/15, 9/1, (I)
Choy Sum - F, 7/25 (I)
Scallions - W, now (I)
Swiss Chard (Fordhook) - W, 7/25 (I)
Kale (Red Russian) - W, 7/25 (I)
Mesclun Mix - F, 8/15, 8/29 (D)
Minutina - W, 8/15 (D)
Mache (2 varieties) - W, 8/29 (D)
Lettuce (Tango) - F, 8/22 (I)
Lettuce (Korean) - F 8/22 (I)
Lettuce (Winter Density) - W 8/22, 9/12 (I)
Wild Arugula - F, 8/22 (D)
Claytonia - W, 8/29 (D)
Radish (Daikon) - F, 8/22 (D)
Radish (Altaglobe) - W, 9/12 (D)
Radish (French Breakfast) - F, 9/12 (D)
Radish (Watermelon) - F, 8/22 (D)
Turnip (Tokyo Cross) - F, 8/22 (D)
Turnip (Hakurei) - F 8/29 (D)
Carrots (Nantes Half Long) - F, W, now, 7/25 (D)
Chinese Celery - F, 7/25 (I)
Spinach (Space F1) - W, 8/15 (D)
Snow Peas and Shoots - F, 8/1 (I)

D - Direct sow outdoors
I - Start indoors

Again, this year's fall and winter garden will be largely experimental and utilize plastic covered hoops in order to extend the growing season. Hopefully we'll have lots of warm weather again this fall.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The First Summer Harvest

Aside from saying that these are probably the best looking beets I've ever grown and that the chipmunks got to all three of my perfectly ripe Sungold tomatoes, I think I'll let the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy!







Zucchini (6) - 2.21 lb
Beets - 0.81 lb
Celery - 0.76 lb
Broccoli - 0.63 lb
Potatoes - 0.53 lb
Lettuce - 1.22 lb
Swiss Chard - 0.35 lb
Peas and Beans - 1.43 lb

Total harvest this week - 7.94 lb

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Summer Garden and Fall Preparations

In gardening terms, when I think of April, I think "sparse". And when thinking of September, "overgrown" comes to mind. Which is partly why I enjoy this time of year so much. Everything looks perfectly lush and green yet manageable, except for maybe the weeds. Anyway, here are some gardening bits worth noting:

I found a ripe ground cherry the other day. After a month of doing absolutely nothing, the plants have exploded in growth during the past few weeks. I see quite a few green husks. Unfortunately, either the chipmunks or birds have been going to town on them...eating the green berries before they have chance to ripen. I will be covering the plants with bird netting tomorrow and hope that it will deter the chipmunks as well.

The Piracicaba broccoli is putting out tons of side shoots. I'm rather enjoying the texture and taste of this variety. Also, I realized the other day that one particular plant is responsible for producing all of the bitter shoots I've been tasting. Maybe it's the result of some sort of plant mutation.

My Imperial artichokes are growing rather slowly these days. I had inadvertently planted them in the shadiest spot in my garden...not good for a plant that requires full sun. I still haven't seen any signs that they will put forth flower stalks anytime soon. If I don't get any artichokes this year, I will try my best to overwinter them.

My melons are flowering at the moment. I haven't seen any female flowers yet though. Now that the weather is warming up, the plants are really starting to sprawl. Pretty soon, I won't be able to walk as freely in the back garden. Any tips on how to ensure that your melons pollinate properly?

Finally, the end of June means that it's now time to start planning for the fall and winter growing seasons. On Tuesday, I placed a seed order with Johnny's, which I'm glad to say arrived in the mail on Thursday. Here is a tentative list of my fall and winter veggies for this year.

Broccoli (Bonanza - produces a center head and the many side shoots) - F
Mini Napa Cabbage - F
Shanghai Bok Choy - F, W
Extra Dwarf Bok Choy - F, W
Mizuna - F, W
Tatsoi - F, W
Scallions - W
Swiss Chard (Fordhook) - W
Kale (Red Russian) - W
Mesclun Mix - F
Minutina - W
Mache (2 varieties) - W
Lettuce (Tango) - F
Lettuce (Korean) - F
Lettuce (Winter Density) - W
Wild Arugula - F
Claytonia - W
Radish (Daikon) - F
Radish (Altaglobe) - W
Radish (French Breakfast) - F
Radish (Watermelon) - F
Turnip (Tokyo Cross) - F
Turnip (Hakurei) - F
Carrots (Nantes Half Long) - F, W
Chinese Celery - F
Spinach (Space F1) - W
Snow Peas and Shoots - F

I'm sure I'll make some changes along the way based on the amount of space that becomes available. Also, I still need to finalize the garden plan, sowing and transplanting dates. Last year's winter garden had its share of successes and failures. I'm sure this year will be no different, but hopefully, things will be slightly more predictable.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sampling the Garlic

Last weekend, I dug up one of my German Extra Hardy hardneck garlic to include in our gift basket of veggies. I was glad to see that it was coming along nicely.

Not quite there yet, I'm guess it needs at least a couple of more weeks in the garden. A few leaf tips are just beginning to turn yellow. At this point, I've stopped watering. Hopefully, we will all get a good garlic harvest this year.

I still haven't decided where to cure my garlic yet. The attic is too hot, the garage is not vented very well and the basement is too damp and cool. With the weather turning hot quickly these days, I'm guessing the covered porch might be the best place. Where are you curing your garlic?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Minor Potato Setback

As most of your may know by now, I'm trying my hand at growing potatoes in pots this year. Into each of my 8 seven-gallon buckets, I planted 4 seed potatoes. I'm growing three varieties this year - All Blue, Rose Finn (fingerling) and Red Thumb (fingerling). Last week, I noticed that my potted Red Thumb potato plants weren't looking so hot. In fact, their leaves had begun to turn yellow ever since I added more potting soil and straw to their buckets. The ones that I have planted directly in the ground are tall and lush. These never grew past the rim of their pots. My guess is that this particular variety does not grow all to well in containers.

So yesterday, I decided to overturn one pot to see if their were any baby potatoes I could harvest. Much to my surprise, there were in fact a few. Nothing to brag about but at least it wasn't a complete loss.

The potatoes themselves were quite stunning. Under better conditions, I'm sure that they would have all sized up nicely. I only planted 1 lb of Red Thumb seed potatoes this year. Because of their premature demise, I was only able to get 0.53 lb of small potatoes from this one bucket. I'll have to make up the difference elsewhere.

On a happy note, we grilled them up for dinner tonight. They were absolutely DELICIOUS. I don't remember the last time I tasted a potato this good! We don't normally eat potatoes all that often (about 2 or 3 times a year) but I have a feeling that's about to change.

To Pee or Not to Pee...

It's strange how these things happen - that is, how the sight, scent or taste of something can suddenly trigger the recall of a distant memory. As I walked through the garden tonight and looked at my tomato plants, this was precisely what happened. Of all things, the memory centered around pee - or more precisely, the use of pee as a liquid fertilizer.

As a child of the '80s, having grown up in a modest brick row house located in the Northeast section of Philadelphia, I distinctly remember that like my dad, our next door neighbor - a lovely and rather large multi-generational Japanese family, also maintained a wonderful urban vegetable garden in their backyard. While our main crops were tomatoes, miniature eggplant, cucumbers and kohlrabi, theirs' were bitter melon, watermelon and an assortment of Asian greens. One summer day, my eyes wandered over the fence and I watched as the petite, gray-haired Japanese grandmother carried a rather large bucket of pale yellow liquid out to the garden and proceeded to water her vegetables with it. When I asked her what the liquid was, much to my horror, she told me that it was pee. And judging by the size of the bucket, I gathered that all three generations must have contributed to this smelly enterprise.

As odd as this revelation might have seemed to a 8 year old, I did learn something that day. Apparently, diluted human pee makes for some good plant food, particularly for tomatoes. Furthermore, it's sustainable. If you don't believe me, click here.

So I will go ahead and ask all of you this very frank question - Do you (or would you) use diluted pee (urine) as a liquid fertilizer in your garden? While I hesitate to partake in this endeavor myself, I'm curious to learn about its potential.

Before I leave you and while we're on the subject, here is a quick update on my tomatoes:

My mid-May planted (main crop) tomatoes are over 2 ft tall and flowering.

My late April planted (early) tomatoes are almost 4 ft tall and fruiting.

I was good about labeling my 30 or so main crop tomato plants. Unfortunately this was not the case with my 9 early ones. This is either a Cherokee Purple or Black Krim tomato.

Green Zebra maybe???

Red Siberian???

Easy one - Sungold.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Garden Visitors

I'm noticing that a greater diversity of insects are starting to visit my garden these days. Since we moved into our home last July, I haven't seen a single ladybug...that is, until this past weekend. I think the gardener's motto should be, "Build it and they will come."

Now spiders, on the other hand, I have plenty off. They are my new best friends, especially when I see tiny cabbage worms locked away in a tight web. It's funny how bugs that would normally annoy or frighten you get viewed in a different light once you develop a symbiotic relationship with them. The best way to get people to purchase less Raid? Answer: start a veggie garden!

Anyway, here are pictures of some of my garden visitors:

I'm hoping that someone can help me identify this little guy. He has the most dramatic coloring (deep red and blue) and pattern I've seen on an insect in a while.

Kind of difficult to spot this one as well (sometimes I wish I had a macro lens for my camera) but this fly has a interesting pattern of yellow and black strips.

"The ants go marching one by one...hurrah, hurrah..." I seems I only get to listen to children's songs in the car these days.

Finally, this bumble bee was going to town on my potato flowers. I could almost read his one track mind.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The End of Spring Harvest

The end of Spring harvest was a bountiful one. For starters, the Tuscan kale continues to give and give. At this point, I don't mind surrendering a few leaves to the cabbage worms. Also included in this haul is a bunch of Red of Florence Scallions, some herbs (thyme and oregano) and a big head of Marvel of the Seasons lettuce.

It seems that I will have to wait a bit longer to taste this beautiful lettuce. This harvest was a gift to our friends who had invited us over for dinner on Saturday night. Admittedly, I have a tendency to give a lot of our homegrown produce away as opposed to freezing it. For me, it is much more of a personal and nourishing gift than say a store-bought cake or bottle of wine. (Although I would certainly never turn away cake or alcohol.) Also, I knew that our friends, who have a little urban veggie patch of their own, would appreciate it.

Indicative of this time of year, the snow pea and Fava bean plants are reaching the tail end of their production whereas the early sown green beans are starting to produce. I love these contender beans. They have faint green strips and are perfectly long and slender - just how I like my them. Unfortunately, I was only able to get 8 plants to germinate this year. It will be interesting to see how many green beans I can coax from these vines.

Finally, I harvested my first zucchini of the summer this weekend. At the moment, I am in awe of this vegetable. Within a span of 24 hours, this zucchini literally doubled in size. This one ended up being a bit larger than I would normally like. But still, I can't wait to grill this baby up.

Greens - 2.95 lbs
Scallions - 0.41 lb
Herbs - 0.09 lb
Peas and beans - 1.92 lbs
Zucchini - 0.68 lb

Total harvest this week - 6.05 lbs

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Fava Beans, Greens and Zucchini

Fava beans are my current obsession at the moment. Before the discovery of the New World, they were the only beans consumed by the Europeans. Apparently, we have the Native Americans to thanks for the multitude of legumes we eat today. It amazes me that the only bean to have come from the Old World has not been able to gain the level of popularity enjoyed by our native varieties. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen Fava beans at the supermarket. Sure, they are a bit more laborious to prepare, but they have a rich flavor and butteriness that, in my opinion, elevates them to among the very best of what the garden has to offer this time of year. I'm savoring each pod as if it were my last.

In other news, the last of the Red Sails lettuce will be consumed shortly and then we'll be moving on to other things. Another red leaf lettuce I'm growing this year is Marvel of the Seasons (pictured above). I really love the color and glossy texture of this variety. Hopefully, it will taste as good as it looks.

Lastly, it looks like the zucchini that I hand-pollinated earlier this week is almost ready to be picked. I prefer my summer squashes on the smaller side so there's a good chance that this guy be featured on Monday's harvest post. I hope that my zucchini plants are prolific producers this year as I'd like to freeze and dehydrate the excess to have in soups and stews this fall and winter.

The longest day of the year is almost upon us and the summer crops are slowly starting to trickle in. Are you as excited as I am?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kaffir Lime Blossoms

I'm really fascinated by my potted Kaffir lime tree at the moment. This is the first time it has flowered since I purchased it a year and a half ago. The buds have shades of hot pink, and as the petals open up, they stay interestingly cupped. Hopefully some of the fruits will set this year. From what I've seen on other blogs and sites, the fruit itself looks pretty wacky - the outer skin is wrinkled making them resemble little green brains.

I am a bit ashamed to admit that I have never harvested any of the leaves to cook with. Maybe I should make a point of doing so soon. They add an interesting lime flavor to stir-fries and soups and are very popular in Thai and Indian cooking.

Temperatures are supposed to get into the 90's here during the next few days. Hopefully, the warm weather crops will enjoy it. The peas on the other hand will start to melt away...such is the nature of things as summer fast approaches.

Happy growing everyone!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thanks, Love and Playing Cupid

Regarding my last post, I just wanted to thank everyone for all of the great advice, insight and stories. I've said this before, but I think the best thing about blogging is being able to connect with other folks from around the world who share similar passions, values and goals. Sometimes I wish that we all could live in the same village...our days spent digging in our gardens, raising our animals, working on our crafts, bartering our goods...and leave the rest of the world to duke it out. One can only dream!

Back to the real world - after a particularly stressful day at the office today, I came home and went for my usual evening stroll around the garden. Doing the rounds, I started thinking about how much I truly love my garden, flaws and all. In essence, it's become another member of the family. It's almost instinctual for me now - I walk out into the backyard, take in a deep breath and then exhale slowly. Instantly, I feel better. Call it what you will (garden therapy, maybe), but everyone should have access to this kind of stress relief. The smell of fresh celery, tomato plants, onions and dill floats in the air as I go about inspecting my plants. I love it.

Inevitably, I always find something new to ponder over or that needs my attention. Recently, I decided that I would hand pollinate my first few zucchini flowers. This one (pictured above), I did a couple of days ago. I was pleasantly surprised tonight to find that it has since grown nicely. Next will be the cucumbers.

As fun as it was to play cupid, I did wish there were more bees around at the moment. I can see it now...chickens next spring, than a bee hive the year after?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dreaming of Potatoes and Eggs

It's official...hell has finally frozen over. After many months of panning the idea, Marc is beginning to express an interest in having chickens. I am actually surprised that he has brought up the subject several times now. It seems I have our friend Juliana to thank for this. Some ideas, I guess, just don't sound as crazy when they come from someone other than your nutty spouse.

Ironically, I'm now the one that's on the fence about this. For some reason, I just have it in my head that chickens can be difficult to care for and would require much more responsibility than I can provide at the moment. Between work, raising a toddler and maintaining a vegetable garden, is there time left in the day for chickens? I seek the wise counsel of my blog readers on this one.

I'm also intrigued by the idea of raising ducks for eggs, partly because they seem much friendlier than chickens. I take Jonathan to our local feed store ever so often to see the baby chicks and ducklings. Without fail, the chicks get a bit skid-dish if we venture too close to the cages while the duckings all run over to get a closer look at us. Are there any duck-lovers out there?

Anyway, back to the garden - my All Blue potatoes are flowering at the moment. Potato flowers, in my opinion, are really stunning. I wonder how much longer I'll have to wait before I can start hunting for some new potatoes.

My raised bed of potatoes are waist high at the moment. They are drastically outperforming the ones I planted in pots this year. It'll definitely be interesting to see what the difference in yield will be.