Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Crispy Change

J's radishes
Today we picked the first Easter Egg radishes of the year. They were a welcomed change from our usual harvest of leafy greens. And I couldn't think of a better person to model them. Say, "Radishes!"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BUH-BYE, or Should I Say, "TRASHED!"

cold treating the artichokes
What was once this...

sorry looking artichoke seedlings now THIS! I have tried everything in my power to get rid of these f@%#&!g aphids and still they bounce back each time. In an attempt to kill every last one of them, I even tried dunking the entire plant into an organic pesticide solution. Sadly, that didn't work either. To make matters worse, the organic pesticides I used (even insecticidal soap spray) burned through the leaves and my only option was to cut them off. But the worst part is that the new leaves never develop properly because the life is literally being sucked out of them.

I don't care what anyone says, aphids are a formidable enemy. At this point, I am ready to throw in the towel. Not only have they cost me much time, money and aggravation during these past couple of months but in all honesty, I can't even stand the sight of these plants now. Also, I refuse to let these aphids migrate into my garden. So I say treat these sorry plants like you would any ex-lover - pretend they are dead and move on.

Imperial Artichokes
Call it divine providence or just good luck but this past weekend, I came across these beauties (Imperial artichokes to boot) at Lake Street Garden Center in Salem, New Hampshire. I knew the moment I laid eyes on them that my enemy's days were numbered. This morning, I happily threw away all of my infected plants. The way I see it, there's enough suffering in this world. After what I'd been through, at 3 dollars each, these flawless artichoke plants were a steal.

Again, the lesson to be learned here is: no matter how reputable the nursery (in this case, Companion Plants out of Ohio), you must always quarantine your new plants until you are SURE they will not introduce a foreign pathogen or pest that will infect and potentially kill the rest of your houseplants.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Expanding the Garden and Planting More Potatoes

Reclaiming the garden
For the past week, I've been slowly reclaiming the prior owner's abandoned garden. I haven't measured it exactly but the area looks to be at least 20 ft by 10 ft. It is located in a much sunnier spot in the yard and will be ideal for growing most of my warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers and melons. Therefore if I were to expand my garden even further, here is where it would be.

Clearing the space is proving to be a lot tougher than I had expected as it was completely overrun by strawberry plants and mint. If anyone is interested in growing mint, I suggest you do so in a pot. Having dug up several HUGE piles of thick roots, I can appreciate now how truly invasive the herb can be. In fact, it has already begun to creep beyond the garden.

Planting Potatoes
After clearing most of the area, to make life easier for myself I'm overturning the soil one section at a time and as needed. This past weekend was all about planting the remainder of my potatoes. As you can see, Jonathan and I decided to have another pajama gardening party after Sunday breakfast.

Planting Potatoes 2
I started by digging a double row of trenches that were about 6 to 8 inches deep. I'd amended the soil with a bit of compost and some slow release organic fertilizer. In went the potatoes (cut side down)...

Planting Potatoes 3
...which were then covered with about 3 inches of soil. As the plants grow, I will fill the trenches and hill up. I should have spaced my potatoes at least 12-15 inches apart but since I had so many, the spacing was more like 10 inches. Hopefully that won't affect the yield too much.

potato planters 4
And yes, I still had enough potatoes left over to plant 6 more pots for a total of 12. For all of the effort that has gone into this, I will be gravely disappointed if I don't get at least 3 potatoes for every one that I planted. On the bright side, planting potatoes can be enormously fun.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This Week's Harvest - More Greens

Asian Greens and Chard Harvest
This past week, I harvested the last of my Shanghai bok choy, another head of mizuna and some overwintered Bright Lights Swiss chard. Surprisingly, one green missing from our spring harvest at the moment is lettuce. I would kill for some fresh cut-and-come-again salad mix straight from the garden. But alas, this is not meant to be. I will have to make sowing lettuce a top priority next February. And since my March sowings have gone nowhere, I broke down and purchased some red leaf lettuce (Red Sails) transplants a few days ago. (You do what you gotta do, right?)

Anyway, I harvested 1.80 lbs of greens this past week, which officially makes April the most productive month so far this year. Hopefully the numbers will begin to grow exponentially as the weather heats up.

radishes 3
In other news, the Easter Egg radishes are sizing up and should be ready in a few days. What I love about growing radishes during the cold/cool months is that you still get a quick harvest, despite the fact that the leaves don't get nearly as big as they do when you grow them during the warmer months. They also taste crispier and milder in my opinion. It will be nice to harvest something non-green for a change (which reminds me that I should have planted some Hakurei turnips back in early March as well).

Tuscan Kale
Finally, it looks like I can start to pick some leaves from the Tuscan kale. Kale is one of those amazing garden veggies that keeps on giving. Its best quality lies in the fact that it's one of the earliest to produce and the latest to give up. What more could you as for from a plant?

If you'd like to see what others are harvesting or want to show off your own, visit Harvest Mondays at Daphne's Dandelions.

The Living Garden

Spring Garden
I went out this evening to take a few photos and noticed for the first time this year that the garden is starting to look alive and green. Sure there are plenty more seeds to sow and seedlings to transplant but what's in the ground right now is responding positively to the warmer conditions. I tried to get as much digging, planting and weeding done today as I could before the showers arrive tomorrow. My back and legs ache at the moment but I'll have plenty of updates to show for it! Stay tuned!

P.S. I hope all of you New Englanders were able to enjoy the fantastic weather today as well!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Today's Rant - Double Cuppers

I don't normally use this blog as a platform to vent my grievances but I feel obliged to today. Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill and because yesterday was Earth Day but for some reason, it REALLY bothers me when people double-cup. Let me explain.

This morning, I was at a local Dunkin' Donuts to get my fried/sweet fix for the day and the young woman in front of me ordered an ice coffee, which was handed to her in a plastic cup. She then asked for a Styrofoam cup (which the cashier gave freely) and proceeded to place the plastic cup inside the Styrofoam one before leaving the shop with ice coffee in hand. Maybe this woman wanted her coffee to stay chilled longer or the plastic cup alone was too cold for her delicate hands to carry...who knows? All I could think of was how incredibly wasteful this is. If this woman purchases her morning ice coffee this way 5 days a week, that's 260 unused Styrofoam cups wasted every year!

The first time I witnessed this double-cupping phenomenon was when I worked at a small coffee shop during my college years. I remember thinking how absurd the request was and how annoyed the customer looked when I responded bluntly, "Why?". Eventually, I convinced the owner to charge extra for double-cupping but if I had it my way, it would have been banned all together.

It's not in my nature to criticize a stranger openly in public, so instead I've been fuming about this in my head all morning long. All I know is that WE ALL waste and can surely cut down on the huge amount of trash we leave behind in this world. What this woman does with her coffee is utterly stupid and unnecessary. So please, just say "No" to double-cupping!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Colors

Earth Day Colors 1

Earth Day Colors 3

Earth Day Colors 2

Earthe Day Colors 5

Earthe Day Colors 4
Flowering Red Russian Kale

I hope everyone had a chance today to soak up some of the beauty that this world has to offer. Happy Earth Day!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tomato Update - The Art of Timing

tomatoes 2
This will be my first full year of vegetable gardening. When I was putting together my garden calender a few months ago, my main objective was to stretch the summer growing season for as long as I could. That meant starting some seeds earlier than usual. I've had some successes (like my Tuscan kale, mizuna and bok choy) but the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that there is indeed such a thing as the "Art of Timing" when it comes to growing things. My tomatoes have definitely been a learning experience.

tomatoes 1
This year, I'm growing 20 different varieties of tomatoes, close to 50 plants total. I sowed my super early tomatoes (above) in late February. The idea was to transplant these undercover about 2 - 3 weeks before our average frost date (which will be this upcoming weekend) in hopes of getting a super early crop. They are about 10-12 inches tall and completely hardened off. Since I'd run out of indoor growing space weeks ago, they have been spending their days outside. As you can see, the outdoor elements have taken their toll on these plants. The leaves are yellowing and curling. It also didn't help that they were attacked by aphids at a young stage. These plants are definitely showing signs of stress.

tomatoes 3
In contrast, the tomatoes I started in mid-March are looking lush and green. At the moment, they are only 6-8 inches tall but growing VERY quickly. They have had the luxury of spending all of their time under the protective environment and constant glow of my indoor lights. I have a feeling that once I transplant these guys in early May, they will outperform the other plants. So unless I can find adequate space indoors to care for my super-early tomatoes next year, I'm sticking to a mid-march sowing date.

tomatoes 4
On a side note, I'm finding the leaves on the Brandywine to be particularly interesting. They are smoother and less-jagged than the other varieties I'm growing. Hopefully, they will grow well this year.

Final thought: I was planning on planting my tomatoes similarly to how Cynthia from Love Apple Farm plants hers. Upon reading her instructions, you get the sense that she throws everything but the kitchen sink inside her planting holes. I wondering how other gardeners planted their tomatoes and amended their planting holes. I'm aiming for a simpler yet proven technique. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Growing Potatoes in Pots

Chitted Potatoes
My potatoes are pretty much chitted at this point. ( These are just a fraction of them.) This past weekend, I decided to plant a few of these beauties into pots. I will admit I don't know a great deal about growing potatoes in pots so this year's crop will be experimental.

Potato Planters
My first challenge was to decide on what sort of container to grow the potatoes in. Some folks grow them in large nursery pots or specially-made potato bags. I opted for the less expensive option. By chance, I found these large semi-pliable plastic containers at Walmart this past weekend. They hold a little over 7 gallons each and at 5 dollars a bucket were quite the bargain. I started off by drilling a few holes into the bottom of each bucket for drainage.

Potato Planters 2
Then I filled the buckets about 5 - 6 inches deep with a mixture of organic potting soil and compost amended with a bit of blood meal, rock phosphate and green sand. Into each pot went 4 tubers, which where planted about 2 inches deep. As the plants grow, I will fill the pots with a mixture of potting soil, compost and straw.

Potato Planters 3
This week, I will run out and buy 6 more containers to house more potatoes, after which I should still have tubers left over to plant directly in the garden. Hopefully these buckets will last for years to come. So what do you think? Will this work?

One final note: I couldn't decide on how many tubers to place in each bucket. Eventually I settled on 4, which I still felt was pushing it. I've seen people place anywhere between 3 to 6 tubers into pots this size. Common sense would dictate that the more crowded the tubers are, the lower the yield. Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Harvesting Early Spring Greens

Bok Choy
This past week, I harvested the bulk of my bok choy, some minuza and the remainder of my fall spinach. The spinach plants were then pulled to make room for my Red of Florence scallions. Although a bit slug damaged, this was some of the best looking and tasting bok choy that I've grown. I'm beginning to think that early spring is the best time to grow certain Asian veggies because slugs are really the only pest that you have to worry about (I'm pretty happy with how the Sluggo has performed). Even more destructive in my opinion are the caterpillars that come later in the season.

mizuna 2
I harvested a total of 1.64 lbs of greens this week...still small but that will change soon enough.

Tomorrow is the beginning of yet another work week. (How many more until I reach retirement age???) I don't know about you but I'm desperate need of a good night's sleep, which is where I'm headed now. Sweet dreams everyone!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chilies and Peppers Update

Chilies and Peppers
Here are some of the peppers and chilies I started back in early February. I heard that pepper seedlings tend to develop slowly but this is getting to be ridiculous. I thought they would be much further along by now. Part of me wishes that I'd put more thought into which varieties would be best suited to grow in our New England climate.

Chilies and Peppers 2
I'm not growing any traditionally sweet peppers this year. Instead my list includes Ancho/Poblano, Early Jalapeno, Pepperoncini, Hawaiian chili and Thai chili. As you can see above, the young leaves start out curled and then unfold as they mature. I'm wondering if this is part of their normal develop or if their growth is being stunted somehow. Maybe a little too much nitrogen? Hopefully your peppers and chilies are doing better than mine!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's for Dinner - Mizuna

kale and mizuna
The Tuscan kale and mizuna that I transplanted a while back have really grown during the past couple of weeks. The mizuna is definitely ready to harvest and pretty soon I will start to pull off some kale leaves.

This is my first time growing mizuna. I must say that it is undeniably one of the more striking greens out there. I was excited to taste it and thought it would be perfect to add to a pasta dish I was making tonight.

linguine with sausage and mizuna
What was for dinner... some linguine with crumbled sausage, mizuna and spicy red sauce. The mizuna was tossed in at the very end and added a bit of crunch to this dish. The taste was mustardy and spicy, almost like watercress. I love discovering new vegetables and this one is definitely a keeper.

In other news, as organized as I tried to be this spring there are a few veggies that I've been neglecting for no good reason:

Lettuce - I have failed miserably in my attempt at starting lettuce indoors. Out of all of the seeds that I started, I only have one seedling that looks decent enough to transplant. The rest just look weak and diseased. I don't get it. I'm now sowing a new batch in a sterilized seed starting mix, which I should have done at the first sign of trouble.

Tomatilloes - I should have sown them WEEKS ago. I sowed some seeds not too long ago and only have two tiny seedlings to speak of.

Shell Peas - I have plenty of snow peas but no shell peas at all. They all failed to germinate outside. I should have resown a while ago. Tonight I started some indoors.

Finally, my potatoes have been chitting for a couple of weeks now. I need to plant them soon but haven't had the time to dig up some new growing space yet. Last weekend would have been perfect if it had not been for my sickness. This MUST be priority number 1. Can you tell I'm beginning to panic?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Coffee Cans and Seed Mats

radishes 2
I wanted to do a quick update on my seed mates that I sowed last month. The Easter Egg radishes germinated beautifully, about 90% I believe. They should start to bulb up within the next couple of weeks. The gourmet blend beets that I sowed (upper-right hand corner) were less reliable. Germination was more like 50%. I will have to split some of the doubles and reseed other areas with fresh seed.

carrot seedlings 2
The carrots also germinated very well - at about 85%. I have many different colors and varieties here including Cosmic Purple and Scarlet Nantes. I'm sure I will get a few white, red and yellow colored carrots as well. As you can see, they are starting to develop their first true leaves. Hopefully growth will speed up as temperatures rise.

Coffee can planter pots
In other news, I wanted to find a use for all of the empty coffee cans that we have lying around the house. I decided to make small planters out of them. First I started by making 3 slits on the bottom of each can to facilitate drainage.

coffee can rhubarb chard
Then I filled them up with a mix of organic potting soil and compost and transplanted some Rhubarb Swiss Chard. I think they'll look pretty charming in the garden. I wonder what else I can grow in these...maybe some lettuce, mizuna and arugula perhaps?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Getting Back on My Feet

mandarinquat blossom
This weekend was the first time since Wednesday that I was able to get out of bed. Ironic that as temperatures were getting into the upper 80's, I was coming down with the worst case of the flu I've had in a very long time. As a result, I'm completely behind schedule on all of my gardening work and blogging. I had wanted to have a large section of lawn ripped up by now. I guess that will just have to wait until next weekend. Hopefully I'll be back to my usual self soon.

seville orange blossom
My newly purchased mandarinquat and Seville orange trees are blooming at the moment. It's interesting to see how the flowers differentiate from my Meyer Lemon. The mandarinquat blossom (top) is particularly interesting I think. At the moment, I'm battling tiny gnats that have seemingly sprung up from the soil mix that came with the trees. As a result, they have been spending most of their time outdoors. Soon, the rest of the citrus will follow suit.

In other news, I'm still battling the green aphids that came with my Chrysanthemum tea plants. I've found clusters of them on my eggplants, Roselle and artichokes. Aphids are easily killed individually or when found in clusters but difficult to eradicate completely. Hopefully they won't take hold in the garden. When the weather gets warmer, I will introduce a biological agent (like ladybugs) to help keep their numbers in check. The more I think about it, the more annoyed I am that a company would send me infected plants.

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a Stevia plant (sweet leaf, sugar leaf). I've been meaning to write about this embattled herb for a while now. The leaves of the Stevia plant are naturally sweet, and extracts made from the plant are 300 times sweeter than sugar. No wonder the artificial sweetener industry worked so hard for decades to get Stevia banned as a sugar-substitute in this country. Hopefully things will slowly change now that Coca-Cola and Pepsi have expressed an interest in Stevia. I don't know about you but all of this sounds completely disheartening to me. Just another example of how our "free" markets can sometimes take away our freedom of choice.

Finally, I can't wait to catch up on all of your blogs. I don't mean to be neglecting my blogging friends. Hopefully, I'll be able to kick this illness soon.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Questions for the Masses

Red Russian Kale
1. My overwintered Red Russian kale is budding...a sure sign that the weather is warming up. I'm really looking forward to saving seed as this is one crop I would love to grow year and year. My question is - so what now? While other plants become incredibly bitter at this point, will this kale continue to produce edible leaves? Or should I just pull it after the seeds mature?

chitting potatoes
2. My seed potatoes are happily chitting away. I will plant them out very soon. I've been reading about potatoes grown using straw. Here's a good article on this very subject. Has anyone grown potatoes using this technique and if so, did it work well? I'm concerned about reduced yields and potential light exposure to the tubers.

mystery onions
3. Initially, I thought that these were chives growing in the old garden but now I'm starting to second-guess myself (although I did see a light purple chive-like flower last fall). The leaves just look much thicker than conventional chives. I'm wondering if this happens as the plant get older and is not harvested on a regular basis. So what do you think? Are these chives or are they some kind of perennial onion???

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gardening in Your PJs...Planting the Salad Box

After finishing our breakfast on Easter Sunday, Jonathan and I headed outside to do a bit of gardening. The morning breeze was crisp and yet the sunshine felt warm. We decided to plant one of my salad boxes. First, we filled the box with some commercial organic garden soil that had been mixed with some compost. (I should have used a potting mix but garden soil was what I had on hand).

On one side of the box, we sprinkled some lettuce seeds and then covered them lightly. Hopefully in a few weeks, we will be eating some homegrown cut-and-come-again lettuce mix. Who knew gardening in your pajamas could be so much fun?!

salad box
On the other side of the box, I transplanted some tatsoi and extra-dwarf bok choy. Hopefully they will enjoy their new home. Happy gardening everyone!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The First Harvest of April...and the Glow of Easter

Shanghai Bok Choy Harvest
Today I harvested some of the Shanghai bok choy that I transplanted not too long ago. I picked the biggest and best looking ones as I wanted to get to them before the slugs did. I can't wait to saute the crisp fresh greens for dinner. This batch weighed in at about 0.72 lbs. During the cooler months, I try to appreciate every little bit that comes out of the garden. Even when it doesn't amount to much, it still beats the mass-produced stuff at the supermarket. I guess now would be a good time to sow more seeds as I'm sure that what I have growing at the moment won't last long.

vented hoop houses 2
We've been blessed with great weather lately. Today's high was in the upper 7o's. I've been leaving the mini hoop houses completely open during the day as temperatures inside can easily exceed 90 degrees even when vented. I'm always thankful for the Easter holiday as it is usually a sign that Spring is settling in. We were certainly not disappointed this year.

pea shoots
In other news, the snow peas I sowed a few weeks ago have sprouted...

fava bean shoots
...and so have the Fava beans. Only 5 out of the 12 seeds that I planted germinated. I have a feeling that I will be disappointed by this crop this year. If I have time, I will go out and get another packet of seeds.

transplanted broccoli and celery
I also got around to transplanting my Piracicaba broccoli (4) and celery (9). As a way to extend the harvest and hedge my bets this Spring, I also have a second sowing of broccoli that should be ready for transplanting in a couple of weeks. For those of you interested, here is a nice piece written by Barbara Damrosch about this particular variety.

vented hoop houses
I will be posting more gardening updates this week. I hope all of you had a wonderful Easter Sunday. Our day was glowing and merry. All I can ask for now is that our friend, the Sun, will decide to stick around for a while.