Sunday, May 30, 2010

End of May Harvest

End of May Harvest 2
I hope everyone is enjoying their Memorial Day weekend. We couldn't have been blessed with better weather this year. May ends with a nice harvest of tasty greens.

I picked 2 more heads of Red Sails lettuce. I'm glad to note that despite my initial bitter encounter, the lettuce is tasting mighty good.

The ever so reliable Tuscano kale came through again. Grow this vegetable and you will never hungry. I've been trying to stay on top of the little green caterpillars that arrived a couple of weeks ago. After some handpicking and bit of Dipel Dust, I think I have them under control. (The robins have been very helpful as well.)

Switch Chard
New to this week's harvest is Rhubarb Chard. The flavor is much more pungent than the Rainbow Chard I grew this past winter. Though I'm not a huge fan of this vegetable, I do love adding it to soups.

End of May Harvest
I also harvested some Shanghai bok choy and overwintered Rainbow Chard. The recent hot weather had caused the bok choy to bolt prematurely. Hopefully, it still tastes okay.

bolded chard
Interestingly, the overwintered chard started bolting weeks ago but still tastes good. It was nice to get one last cutting before pulling up the plants.

Red of Florence Scallions
Finally, I pulled a few of my Red of Florence scallions to see how they were coming along. The color was amazingly brilliant. I added some to a grilled shrimp salad I made today. The taste was nice and not too overpowering. I will definitely grow them again.

Total harvest this week: 2.93 lbs

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

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Garden Visitor, Tomato Supports and Megablooms

garden gnome 2
I came home the other day to find a visitor in my garden. I guess Marc decided that we needed someone to watch over the veggies 24/7 since the chipmunks took it upon themselves to devour all of my strawberries.

garlic scapes
The garlic scapes have arrived...well at least a couple of them. I've never eaten scapes before and am curious as to how they will taste. I'm thinking of preparing them grilling them.

tomato supports
In other news, I finally got around to putting up a support for my super early tomatoes. One of the plants had keeled over from yesterday's winds so I had to get the trellis up ASAP. I used 6 ft steel poles (7 ft would have been better) and strung them horizontally with some 16 gauge wire.

tomato supports 2
The first wire was hung about 10 inches from the ground. The tomato plants were then attached to the wire using plastic reusable tomato clips sold by Johnny's Selected Seed. As the plants grow, I will add additional tiers of wiring spaced about 15 inches apart. (To see a video about this tomato trellising setup, click here.)

tomato megabloom
As I was attaching my Cherokee Purple tomato to the trellis, I noticed my first megabloom. It should make for an interesting looking tomato.

sungold tomato
And it looks like the first tomatoes this year will be Sungold. I can't wait to taste them!

garden gnome
I hope my new friend decides to stay for a while. I'm not superstitious but when it comes to gardening, I need all of the luck that I can get!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Continued Work on the Back Garden

back garden
Much of this past weekend was spent working on the "back garden". Here is where I will be growing asparagus, raspberries and most of my warm season crops that need full sun. As you can see, I've put up a fence made of 2 x 4 inch wire mesh.

Interestingly, a rather large rabbit ended up in my garden Sunday afternoon after I had neglected to close my garden gate. While attempting to chase the scared animal out, it demonstrated a magical ability to fit through the wire mesh! I was amazed that an rabbit seemingly the size of a small cat could squeeze through such a tight opening. Nonetheless, the fence itself seems to deter them. But to be on the safe side I will sprinkle some blood meal around the perimeter and will consider adding chicken wire if they become a problem.

The potatoes I planted in this section of the garden are doing rather well. I've begun to hill up and will add a think layer of straw this upcoming weekend. In the back (or should I say front) of the potatoes, I transplanted Charantais melon, Sweet Delight Honey Dew melon and Spacemaster cukes.

Not the best picture I will admit but in the back end of the plot, I transplanted more Charantais melons, Sugar Baby watermelon, Thai watermelon, Calabash gourd (an edible Asian variety) and some sweet corn. There are couple of spaces still available to which I will plant more cukes and Chinese Winter melon (that is if I can ever get the seeds to germinate). I still have a few veggies to transplant in the back garden during the next few days, but after that, I will finally have some free time to weed, mulch and tidy things up a bit.

Installing a veggie garden can be a lot of work. Hopefully, all of the work I've put into it this year will pay off in the long run.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Bitter Harvest

late may harvest
This evening, I went into the garden to harvest some late Spring veggies. I pulled all of my mini Napa cabbages as they were beginning to show signs of bolting. All of the outer leaves (about half of the head) ended up in the compost bin, too damaged by slugs to be edible. Still, I ended up with about 2.42 lbs of cabbage.

Next I putted all of my remaining of my radishes (1.01 lbs). As expected, they are now too bitter and spicy for my taste. I'll have to either pickle them in order to take the edge off or give them to my mother-in-law who doesn't mind fresh radishes this way.

I also harvested 2 heads of Red Sails lettuce (0.54 lbs). I was really excited to have homegrown lettuce for the first time this year...that is, until I actually tasted it. I was surprised to find that it had a bitter edge to it. This threw me for a loop as the lettuce showed no signs of bolting. In fact, the leaves were still pretty young. Could it be the soil or the fact that it's been warm lately or that I harvested at the end of the day or that it just wasn't ready? I am at a lost.

piracicaba broccoli harvest
Finally, this is how the Piracicaba broccoli looked when I got home today. The mini-crown was about 2 inches in diameter (like Michelle said it would be). I thought it was as good a time as any to pick it.

Piracicaba broccoli harvest 2
Despite the fact that I only had enough for a few bites, I was eager to steam it up with some butter and salt. I've never grown broccoli successfully before so this was indeed a treat. The first bite was shall we say tender and....slightly bitter again. It wasn't bad per se. In fact it tasted just like broccoli raab. It just wasn't what I was expecting. For those of you who've grown this variety before, is this how it's supposed to taste? I thought it was supposed to be milder and sweeter than conventional broccoli. I am at a loss again.

If anyone out there has any theories as to why I find myself in such bitter predicament, please do share!

This week's harvest total: 4.02 lbs

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Trees of Antiquity - Joe Morle's Figs

Fig Trees
This morning, Marc and I took Jonathan to Boston's Franklin Park Zoo. We were first through the gates when they opened and probably the first ones to leave as well. It was a beautiful day to be outside, but as some of you may know, the attention span of a two and a half year old only goes so far. And to be honest (though I hate to admit this), I was actually more excited to get to our second and final destination of the day.

I happened upon Joe Morle's website by chance a few months ago when I was browsing for information on how to grow fig trees and was very excited to find out that his shop, City Farm Florist and Nursery, was not only located in Massachusetts, but also within a short driving distance from the zoo (and coincidentally, a couple of miles from where Marc and I used to live).

For those of you not from Boston, Franklin Park is located in a section of the city that could be considered barren in more ways than one. Decades of crime and economic depression have really taken a toll on this neighborhood. The funny thing is, you would never know this when stepping into Joe's shop - a hidden Eden tucked deep within a vastly gray urban landscape.

I had come to Joe's shop for one reason only - to purchase a couple of his famous fig trees. And when he took me out back to where they were located, it was like Christmas morning. There must have been hundreds of them. To say that they were perfectly green and lush would be an understatement. Here is a man who truly knows his fig trees. Without hesitation, I asked Joe to select for me two of his favorite varieties.

Fig Tree 2
The first one he picked out was "Paradiso," aka "Genova". Here is how he describes this variety on his website:

The name Paradiso Fig originated from a tale about an old man in Italy that sat under his fig tree every morning eating figs and bread for breakfast. People passing would ask him if he was alright and his reply was, "This is my Paradise (Paradiso)." Genova Fig originates from the Northern Mediterranean, in Genova City. This plant yields an abundant amount of large fruit. The first crop is a fist size fruit, long shaped with white/golden skin and pink flesh. It is very sweet and juicy. Leaves are shaped like the palm of a hand. This plant bears two crops in August and September, Lowest zone is 5 and 6.

Fig Tree 3
He then chose a brown fig variety called "Black Triana", which also fruits twice a year. After a pleasant conservation with several members of the Morle family, I left City Farm with two new fruit trees to add to my growing collection, a bag of Joe's special fertilizer mix and a grin on my face that stretched from ear to ear.

There is just something so very mystical and infinite about a fig tree. For more information on how to grow and care for potted fig trees, check out Joe's website.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Random Snapshots

flowering snow peas
The snow peas are about 2 feet tall and loaded with flowers. Pictured is one of two patches I have growing. Hopefully we'll get a decent harvest this year.

chive flowers
Strange but one thing we have an over abundance of at the moment is chive blossoms. I never realized how beautiful the flowers are.

The other day, I started rooting some lemongrass that I had purchased from the Asian market. In the past, I've been able to grow and overwinter this herb in a pot. This year, I'm planting it out in my garden. If all goes well, new shoots will emerge from the base of these stalks.

As you can see, I'm also making some chive blossom infused vingar.

meyer lemons
Finally, my Meyer lemon tree is loaded with young fruit right now. My stash of marmalade is almost gone. Hopefully I'll be able to can even more of it this year.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May Garden Update - What's Growing

potted potatoes
I thought I'd do a post on what's been growing reasonably well in my garden lately. As you can see, several of my potato plants have reached the rim of their pots. It's time of add more potting soil and some straw. When all is said and done, the pots will be overflowing with straw.

brassicas and onions
Several of my beds are starting to fill in a bit. This one alone has broccoli, celery, cauliflower, Rhubarb chard, an artichoke plant and onion sets. What can I say...when you have a limited amount of growing space, you try to squeeze in as much as you can.

I never bothered to thin my celery seedlings before I set them out, which is probably why they're aren't bigger at this point. I will thin each bunch down to two plants this weekend and harvest the thinnings to use in a soup.

Red Sails Lettuce
I'll start harvesting my Red Sails lettuce in a week or so. I'm really excited! All I can say is that we've been dying for some homegrown lettuce.

florence fennel
Finally, I only have 3 Florence fennel plants this year, but I've been enjoying watching them grow. This is my first time growing fennel. They're really interesting in appearance and smell divine. Thanks again Dan for the seeds!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Growing Piracicaba Broccoli

Piracicaba Broccolie 2
Yesterday evening I went into the garden to take some pictures before the rains came. Low and behold, I spotted this little beauty! Admittedly, I danced around a bit. I just couldn't contain my excitement given the fact that all of my fall broccoli had succumbed to pests last year. This will be the first time I get to taste homegrown broccoli.

I started the seeds in March and then transplanted them into the garden at the beginning of April. This is an interesting variety called, "Piracicaba," which was specifically bred by the University of Piracicaba in Brazil to be heat tolerant. Given this fact, I'm crossing my fingers that it will go on to produce all summer long in our New England climate.

Michelle of Seed to Table fame was kind enough to share with me some factoids regarding this variety. Apparently, the main crown only grows to about 2 inches in diameter in her garden and then goes on to produce many side shoots. Already I'm noticing that the buds on this small crown (about an inch in diameter at the moment) are much more pronounced and plump than conventional broccoli. And from what I've read, the miniature head and shoots produced by this variety are leafier in appearance and milder and sweeter in taste.

Piracicaba Broccoli
I spotted another mini crown developing on one of my other plants. Needless to say, I will be keeping an eye on them in the coming days and weeks to see how it all unfolds.

I find a great deal of satisfaction in growing vegetable and fruit varieties that are not widely produced or commercially available in our area. Again, a big THANKS to Marie from 66 Square Feet for sending me the seeds!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May Blooms and Fruit

wild strawberry bloom
Wild Strawberry Blossom

I just wanted to do a short post on some of the plants that are blooming in the garden at the moment. My conventional strawberries have been flowering for quite some time now and fruits are beginning to form. I'm guessing that they are due for a good foliar feeding. However, I was quite surprised to find that my Red and Yellow Wonder wild strawberries are starting to flower as well. I wasn't sure if I would get any fruits this year. I thought I read somewhere though that I should pinch off any and all blooms for the next 8 weeks to allow the plants to focus all of their energy into producing strong roots. What you do think?

pea flowers
The snow peas are growing like crazy! I'll wait until the plants produce more flowers before harvesting some pea shoots. For those of you who've never tasted pea shoots before, they are delicious!

fava bean flowers
Fava bean flowers are really interesting. I've read that they are pretty tasty too but since I only have 7 plants this year, I'll patiently wait for the pods. And finally...drum roll please!...

baby sungold tomato
The other day I was really surprised to find this little guy on one of my Sungold tomato plants. All of my super early tomato plants are now looking lush and green. We've been really blessed with mostly fine weather this Spring. Hopefully we'll get our first ripe tomato sometime in June. (JUNE!)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Planting Tomatoes and Expanding the Garden

planting tomatoes
Ok, I need to make this post quick because I have to go to bed! Last Saturday, I spent much of the day transplanting the bulk of my tomato plants - around 26 plants...add that to the 9 I planted out a few weeks ago and the 4 to 6 yet to come. (I will have to list all of the varieties in another post). These tomatoes are located in the back garden (aka the prior owner's abandoned garden), which gets full sun. I planted them in a double row, spaced about 1 and 1/2 feet apart in all directions (tight, I know). Into the hole went some compost, slow release fertilizer, bone meal, a sprinkle of Epsom salt and some crushed calcium and aspirin pills. I snipped off all but the top few branches before deep-planting the tomatoes. The tomatoes I transplanted a few weeks ago are now doing very well. I hope these will too.

expanding garden 1
On Sunday, I went to work on expanding the back garden. First, I started off by marking the new boundaries with some metal stakes, which will be used to hold up the new fence. Then I went to work on digging up the sod to create a series of mounds spaced about 2 to 2 and 1/2 feet apart. I used a garden fork to loosen and turn over the soil, into which went a good amount compost and slow release organic fertilizer. I ended up with 7 mounds on the front end (left)...

expanding garden 2
...and 14 mounds in the back end. Into these mounds I will transplant the bulk of my melons, cucumbers and maybe some summer squash. I also cleared an area for my raspberry canes, which I should have planted out weeks ago.

Expanding garden 3
Next, I put down a layer of leaves (from last fall) on top the grass followed by some grass clippings. Then I placed a plastic cup (recycled of course) at the center of each mound so that they will be easier to find once the black landscape fabric gets stapled on top.

I'm choosing this more passive approach to expanding the garden 1) to save myself from having to dig up all of this grass and 2) in addition to smothering the grass, the leaves and grass clips will decompose by next year, adding additional organic matter to the garden.

expanding garden 4
And here is how it all came together at the end of the day...neat and tidy if you ask me. Hopefully the melons will enjoy the added heat generated by the fabric. My only concern is that the ground might heat up too much due to the decomposing mulch underneath. If that's the case, I'll place a layer of straw on top of the fabric.

You can see the raspberry canes at the bottom. I treated them with some Agri-Gel before planting out. Hopefully they will do well here too.

And that was my weekend in a nutshell. Good night!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

This Week's Harvest

kale cabbage radish harvest
It's that time again. I hope everyone had a great weekend. We were lucky to get two warm and sunny days here in New England. I was finally able to get out into the garden to do some serious work (which I will get to in another post). One thing that struck me today was how big some of the veggies were getting...a sure sign that summer is just around the corner. Pretty soon the tomatoes will need to be staked, heads of lettuce will be decapitated, and strawberries will be turned into jam. I'm really looking forward to June.

This week, I harvested one of my mini Napa Cabbages. It wasn't quite ready but I wanted to get to it before the slugs inflicted anymore damage. The leaves had quite a few holes, but is still edible in my opinion (I don't think anyone has ever died from eating less than perfect looking cabbage.) I also picked a lot of Tuscan kale, some of which ended up in a great Italian sausage soup that I made for dinner tonight. And yes, Jonathan and I pulled more Easter Egg radishes. Believe it or not, they are already starting to turn hot so I'll probably harvest the rest of them tomorrow. In my experience, the quality of a radish tends to diminish quickly if you leave it in the ground for too long, even if it haven't fully sized up yet. Better to harvest them on the smaller side unless you like things spicy.

chive flower harvest 1
Finally, I picked a few chive blossoms to make chive blossom infused vinegar. I'm really curious to see what all of the fuss is about! Here is a link to Villager's post on how to make it.

The grand total for this week's harvest: 2.61 lbs

Friday, May 14, 2010

Curses and Blessings

Sick Tomato Plants
I've been noticing lately that some of my tomato leaves have been dying off. They develop patches of white, grow limp and then turn brittle. Does anyone know what this is??? I've been hardening off my tomatoes for the past couple of weeks. At first, I thought that is was sun scald or a reaction to recent cooler temperatures, but now I'm not so sure. This isn't blight is it?

slug eaten napa
In other bad news, the slugs are eating my mini Napa cabbages with a ferocity I've never seen before. I SMASHED a big ugly one with a large rock like nobody's business but as I pulled open the older leaves, I found what looked like dozens of baby ones. I ended up sprinkling Sluggo all over my cabbages. For those of you interested this product, it really works. But unlike me, you have to remember to reapply.

Fava and Winter Melon Seeds
On a much brighter note, I came home to find that Winnie (Mac) of High Desert Garden Blog fame had sent me some Winter melon seeds and Fava beans. I'm so excited to be able to grow Winter melon this year! Since I won't be planting any pumpkins or yellow squash (which we don't really eat in our household), it will be nice to have these stored away during the winter months. THANK SO MUCH Winnie! You're too good to me. I couldn't have asked for a better blogging buddy. I'll have to find a way to repay you for all of your kindness.

Before I bid everyone good night, I do have one final question: is it too late to sow these Fava beans? I know the pods don't set well during the hot summer months. I'm just wondering if I've missed my window. I have a few Fava plants flowering at the moment but it would be nice if I could fit these in this year as well.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


I thought I'd mix it up a bit and write a post about something other than gardening (almost). I don't have time these days to do much quality reading, but I thought I'd share with everyone a couple of my favorites things.

My favorite culinary magazine is SAVEUR. This monthly publication focuses on food traditions and culture from around the world, and is in my opinion the best out there. I have been a subscriber for years and can honestly say that I've learned more about food and cooking from this magazine than from all of the cookbooks I've bought through the years. To me, food history and culture is just as interesting as the recipes themselves, which is why I give SAVEUR two big thumbs up.

Early American Life
For those of you history buffs out there, I highly recommend EARLY AMERICAN LIFE. This is a relatively new discovery for me but has quickly become something that I read from cover to cover. I have a Bachelor's degree in history (focused specifically on early American history) so this magazine definitely feeds my passion. Reading it on the train everyday offers me an escape from the grind of modern day life. (I suspect that many of us, including myself, grow our own vegetables for the same reason.) This month's issue has interesting articles about colonial ice cream, heritage breeds of livestock, historical adobe homes and early forms of lighting. Again, another two thumbs up.

Finally, I found a couple videos a while back featuring everyone's favorite winter gardening guru, Eliot Coleman. Pretty soon, it will come time to plan this year's winter garden. Enjoy!

Four season gardening from Cultivating Life on Vimeo.

I love getting reading and video suggestions from others who share the same interests and values that I do. So if you think that I should read or see something, please do share!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

In the May Garden

Some random tidbits from around the garden...The overwintered chives are flowering. Has anyone eaten chive flowers? I wonder if they would be tasty in a salad. Also, my overwintered parsley (top left) is thriving. It's not an herb that I cook with often but I really should find a use for it.

Fava Buds
What is this???!!! My Favas are starting to form buds. I have 7 plants remaining since one succumbed to an unknown pest. Next year, I will have to remember to sow more seeds as their were only 12 to a packet and germination wasn't so great. I do have a question for those of you who've grown Favas before - Do any of you pinch off the tops to encourage a more bushier growth and hopefully a bigger harvest? Left undisturbed, mine are growing pretty tall.

The coffee can Rhubarb chard is doing just ok, although I have no idea why the leaves are the color they are.

Artichoke Seedling
I hadn't mentioned this before but I did save one of my aphid infested artichoke seedlings to plant out into the garden. It was the largest and least damaged-looking one. I check it regularly for aphids but they seem to have disappeared. Whenever I see a little spider in the garden, I say a little "thank you". Strangely enough, it has already started to develop the large jaded leaves found on more mature artichoke plants. The artichoke transplants that I purchased a while back have yet to reach this stage.

red scallions
The Red of Florence scallions are doing well. If you look closely, you can see the wine colored base. I have a feeling these will turn out to be real beauties come harvest time.

Finally, the Piracicaba broccoli are doing well. After the failure I had trying to grow this veggie last fall, I'm really looking forward to picking my first mini-crown of homegrown broccoli. The problem with having a garden that is part-shade is that it takes a little longer for things to mature. I really wish these would grow a bit faster!