Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Death and Beauty

Death of Cucumbers
I normally try not to post anything too ugly on my blog. But for some reason, I felt the need to bid a proper adieu to my Spacemaster cukes. They'd put up a good fight. However, in the end, the beetles and mildew came out on top. I guess I should just be grateful that they fed us well this summer.

dying melons
The melon vines are on their way out too. I can almost hear all of the cucumber beetles feasting.

Edible Calabash Gourd
Surprisingly, the edible Calabash gourd is still going strong. The vines are very healthy and have practically taken over the back garden. Peeled and sliced, they are delicious cooked up in a soup.

On the side of beauty, here are some pics I took a while back of what's currently blooming in the garden:

Red Zinnia

Cosmos 2
Purple Cosmos

Calendula 2
Yellow Calendula


You would think that I wouldn't be since the summer growing season is drawing to a close, but ironically, the opposite is true. I'm a bit behind schedule on starting some of my fall and winter veggies and will have to play catch-up all this weekend. Also, the ultra-hot temps of this week (in the 90's) have been stressing a few of my fall seedlings, namely the spinach. So a word of advice to all of my local fall gardeners - water everyday and shade your seedlings with some row cover (properly vented of course)!

In addition to sowing seeds, here are some other items on my to-do list:

- Pull out all cucumber and melon vines (Curse the cucumber beetles!)
- Build a decent composting area
- Clear more bed space for winter veggies
- Clear and add more mulch to the garden paths
- Repair last year's mini hoop houses

Also, I'm considering building what I'm calling a PVC 'low tunnel' (not to be confused with traditional low tunnels). It's a space that will (hopefully) cover six of my growing beds. The tunnel itself will only be about 5 feet tall - high enough to duck into and low enough to withstand our winter winds (again, hopefully). I haven't finalized the design yet in my head but it's getting there. I'm aiming for a late-October installation date.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

End of Summer Harvest - A Return to Blogging

End of August Harvest 3
Gees...I don't think I've ever gone a week without posting something. It wasn't really planned. I guess subconsciously, I must have really needed the break. Hopefully you all haven't forgotten about me!

I know that the official end of summer isn't for another three weeks, but from the looks of this harvest, it might as well be now. The tomato glut of summer is officially over. Sure the cherry tomatoes are still producing respectfully, but the slicers on the other hand are taking a hiatus at the moment. I think we'll still get a couple each week, but nothing like we used to.

End of August Harvest 2
This may be the last pile of slicing tomatoes for the summer.

End of August Harvest 1
I used some of these cherry tomatoes and peppers to makes salsa. The white ones you see are called 'Dr. Carolyn.' I would describe their taste as being very mild and sweet.

End of August Harvest 5
Due to heavy rains that came early last week, I lost a lot of my cherry tomatoes to splitting. Still, we ended up with a considerable harvest.

Late August Tomato Harvest 3
I picked a couple of Rosa Bianca eggplants this week. The honey dew and Charantais melons in this picture are pretty sad. Cucumber beetles have been a real problem for me this year. Left unchecked, they've destroyed my melons and cukes prematurely. Next year will be a different story.

End of August Harvest 6
Finally - a sure sign that fall is fast upon us, I picked some lettuce today, which along with some Thai basil ended up in a salad. It's also a sign that the heavier veggies of summer will soon be replaced by the feather-weight greens of fall. I'm close to reaching my goal of producing 500 lbs of food for the year. Hopefully the weekly totals won't drop off too steeply!

This week's numbers:

Cukes (2) - 0.95 lb (The last of the summer.)
Eggplant - 1.50 lb
Melons - 4.06 lb
Tomatoes - 22.68 lb
Peppers - 0.89 lb
Tomatilloes - 2.02 lb
Lettuce - 0.22 lb

Total harvested this week - 32.32 lb

To see what others are harvesting or show off your own, visit Harvest Mondays at Daphne's Dandelions.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Late August Harvest - Tomatoes and Peppers

Late August Tomato Harvest 2
Finally, we received some much needed rain today. This summer has been so hot and dry that I'm sure our plants appreciated it. I'm noticing that our nighttime temperatures have been to cool down as well. It seems that fall may be approaching faster than we think. For many reasons, I'm rather excited for it. Cooler temperatures mean indoor fires and roasted marshmallows. It also means plenty of baking and hence (my favorite) pies....Yum. Indeed, summer is beginning to wind down and the gardener inside me is looking forward to unwinding a bit.

Bowl of Cherry Tomatoes 2
At this point, the tomato picking is still going strong. Sometimes it takes me an hour or more to harvest them all. Picking 8 pounds of cherry tomatoes takes a lot longer than one might think, especially when the vines are overgrown and tangled all together like they are presently. Up until now, I've been giving most of them away but think I'll start to dehydrate much of the excess going forward. Their flavor and sweetness becomes more intense in the dried state. (My friend Tom seems to think they taste "like candy".)

Bowl of Cherry Tomatoes
While we're on the subject of cherry tomatoes, I should point out our favorites this year. I have to say that Sungold is a very good hybrid tomato even though it have a tendency to burst when picked ultra ripe. Black Cherry is richly flavored with a complexity you don't ordinarily find in a cherry tomato. Finally, I was surprised by how much I like the Isis Candy variety. Its sweetness rivals (and in some cases surpasses) that of Sungold without any tartness whatsoever.

Late August Tomato Harvest
While the cherry tomatoes are producing stronger than ever, the slicers are beginning to wind down. The plants are forming a good number of green fruit but who knows whether they'll ripen before the first frost.

Peppers and Tomatillo Harvest
I also picked a good amount of peppers this week. Most of the Poblanos ended up in a Roasted Corn and Poblano Soup that I made. (Delicious!) I also made and canned a good amount of Annie's salsa.

Purple Tomatillos
I love the look of these purple tomatilloes. I'm waiting for more of them to come in before I make a big batch of salsa verde.

Charantais Melons
The smell of these Charantais melons is filling up the kitchen at the moment. I can't wait to cut into them.

Imperial Artichoke and Rhubarb Chard
I also picked my second artichoke and gave away some Rhubarb Chard to my sister-in-law.

Thai Watermelon
Finally, I picked my remaining two Thai watermelons this week. They are oblong and each measure about 8 inches long. I didn't have much hope for the one on the right because it felt soft to the touch. Sure enough, it was WAY overripe, so much so that the inside had started to ferment. I can't believe that I had let it go unpicked for so long. So into the compost pile it went (and off of my harvest total). What a disappointment.

Ripe Thai Watermelon
To end this post on a happy note, the the last one I cut into was perfectly ripe. In fact, if I had waited another day or too, it would have been over-ripe. It was intensely sweet and absolutely delicious! The flesh was a nice salmon color and, unlike the Sugar Baby, had a sweetness like honey. I will definitely be growing this variety again! Hopefully this time next year, I won't be batting 1 for 3.

This week's numbers:

Tomatilloes - 1.7 lb
Peppers - 2.87 lb
Tomatoes - 61.05 lb
Cucumbers (10) - 4.32 lb
Watermelon - 8.26 lb
Charantais melon - 5.20 lb
Swiss chard - 0.88 lb
Artichoke - 0.32 lb
Beans - 0.31 lb

Total harvest this week - 84.91 lb

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Melon Mishap

As I'd mentioned in my latest harvest post, I picked my first melons of the year last week. This is my first year growing them. And as expected, it's been quite a challenge trying to judge their ripeness. Unfortunately, it seems I have much to learn.

unripe sugarbaby watermelon
This is what my Sugar Baby watermelon looked like when I cut into it. As you can see, it's not quite ripe. On a scale of 1 to 10, its sweetness was at a 4. Looking back, I probably should have waited a while longer before harvesting it. It had developed a yellow spot and made a hollow sound when thumped, but the tendril closest to the melon was still green. Hopefully the next one I pick will yield better results.

unripe charantais melon
And this is what the Charantais melon looked like on the inside. Again, I probably should have waited another day or two before picking. It's sweetness was at about a 6 on my scale. The leaf closest to the melon had turned beige and it smelled incredibly fragrant, but its skin had only just begun to take on a yellow hue. Strike two.

mice eaten watermelon
Finally, a while back I noticed that the field mice had gotten to one of my Thai watermelons. I felt sick just looking at it. What a waste. A closer inspection revealed that it was close to being ripe. Next year, I am determined to grow all of my melons on trellises. Not only would that make it easier for me to check the melons for ripeness, but it would also keep the mice at bay. Also, I need to come up with a strategy for dealing with cucumber beetles next year as my melon plants are slowly succumbing to bacterial wilt (which is transmitted by the bug).

How do you grow your perfect melons?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mid August Harvest - Tomato Madness & the First Artichoke

Mid August Harvest 3
I can't believe we are half way through the month of August already. The summer is just flying by now. Again this week, it was all about the tomatoes - 79.42 pounds to be exact. The harvest is approaching its peak and the vines still look relatively healthy. Does that mean we'll have loads of tomatoes well into the fall?

Not to bore everyone at this point but here is a look at some of the tomatoes we picked this week:

Mid August Tomato Harvest 3
Top left - the first San Remo Paste Tomatoes, the seeds of which were given to me by my blogging friend, Winnie.

Mid August Tomato Harvest 4

Mid August Tomato Harvest 2
Bottom left - the first Anahue tomatoes (again from Winnie).

Mid August Harvest 2
Top - Beautiful and tasty Black from Tula tomatoes. Also, I harvested a second round of Pepperoncini to make more pickles. We went through the first batch in a matter of days. They are so unbelievable tasty. I will definitely have to grow more next year.

Cherry Tomatoes
The cherry tomato vines are exploding with ripe fruit now. Here is a mix of Sungold, Isis Candy, Black Cherry, Dr. Carolyn, Green Grape, Komahana and Couer di Pigeon Juane.

Mid August Tomato Harvest
Luckily, we're harvesting a few things besides tomatoes as well.

Sugar Baby Watermelon
I bit the bullet and picked the first Sugar Baby watermelon of the year. (Results tomorrow!)

First Artichoke of the Season
The first Artichoke and Aunt Ruby's German Green tomato. The artichoke was REALLY tasty! Hopefully we will get a few more before the first frost hits.

Charantais Melon
I also picked the first Charantais melon of the season.

Big Celery Harvest
Finally, I harvested loads of celery in order to free up more garden space for fall veggies. I was going to grow Chinese celery this fall but at this point, I think we'll have enough for the winter.

This week's harvest numbers:

Tomatoes - 79.42 lb
Calabash gourd - 7.32 lb
Artichoke - 0.32 lb
Cucumbers (11) - 5.09 lb
Celery - 5.87 lb
Sugar Baby watermelon - 6.63 lb
Charantais melon - 3.20 lb
Peppers - 1.39 lb
Corn - 0.82 lb
Beans - 0.08 ib
Ground Cherry - 0.15 lb

Total harvest this week - 110.29 lb

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Winter Alliums

Spring Planted Leeks
I'm sure most of you would agree with me that gardening is a hobby that requires a lot of patience and planning. There's also the anticipation that comes naturally with the change in seasons, which is why I usually find myself focused on what the garden would look like 3 to 5 months from now. At the moment, I'm focused on November, December and January. During the past 12 months, I've been able to pick something from the garden each month, even when temperatures failed to get above freezing. Granted, some of those harvests were rather meager. I'm hoping that with a bit more planning this year, I can get some of those cold weather harvests to be more substantial.

Above are some of the leeks I planted in the Spring. They are definitely slow growing. I think I'll top-dress them with a bit of compost and fertilizer to get them growing again.

Planting Winter Scallions
Last week, I decide to transplant my winter alliums. These scallions were started a few weeks ago. If all goes well, they should be ready by late November or December.

winter leeks
Last spring, I also planted a clump of leeks for transplanting later in the summer. These are my experimental winter leeks. I'm hoping that, if all goes well, they will mature sometime during mid to late winter.

Planting Winter Leeks 1
The entire clump lifted easily with a simple turn of the garden fork...

Planting Winter Leeks 2
Then I went about sorting through the bunch, trying to pick out only the largest leeks for replanting. (I'm learning to be more cut-throat this time of year.) After a quick trim of the leaves and roots, they were ready for transplanting.

Planting Winter Alliums
At this point, I'm watering all of my fall/winter seedlings almost every day to protect them from the summer heat and they seem to be responding well to it.

If you're growing a fall/winter garden this year as well, I'd love to hear about it!

On a random note, how creepy is this!!! Makes you think twice about inhaling your food (literally).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Summer Garden Clean-Up

Not too long ago, my garden looked like this...

Messy Garden 2
...and this...

Messy Garden 1
I can't believe that I had let things get so bad. Raised beds plagued with weeds, coffee can pots rusting away, garden paths littered with dead leaves and pulled spring crops - I must have been preoccupied with other things.

Last week was the first time in almost a year that I had taken a solid week off from work. It was much needed to say the least. Instead of going away on some sort of vacation, I really just wanted to be home. It was also an opportune time to get some work done in the garden in preparation for the fall growing season. Before you know it, we'll be getting our first frost warming.

August Garden Clean up 2
So what was once rather messy is now relatively neat and tidy. Fall broccoli has been planted in the foreground, along with Brussel sprouts (rather late) and lettuce in the left side bed. Carrots, beets, Swiss Chard, snow peas, watermelon radish and Daikon radish have also been sown. And many other fall and winter crops will be planted this week.

Let's all hope for a long and warm fall growing season like the one we had last year!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Mid-Summer's Bounty

August Tomato Harvest
I'm now committed to growing only half as many tomato plants next year, if that. At the moment, I can't help but ask myself, "what on earth were you thinking???" Forty plants only sounds like a good idea when you've never grown tomatoes before. Sometimes, too much of a good thing can be just as bad as too little. I'm sure it won't be long before I start having one of those nightmares in which I'm carrying around a bucket of tomatoes and trying desperately to give them all away only to find that the bucket never empties.

August Tomato Harvest 2
Tomatoes in all colors, shapes and sizes.

August Tomato Harvest 3

Tomato Harvest
I also wonder why it is we have such silly town ordinances that prohibit the sale of homegrown produce on residential land. That's two thumbs down if you ask me.

Drying Onions
This past week, I also pulled all of my onions to make room for fall crops. They all seem to be curing nicely.

Bucket Potatoes
Finally, I also harvested all of my bucket potatoes. As far as the ones growing in the ground, I think I'll wait a few more weeks before digging them up. The dying leaves were showing signs of blight(or so I thought) so I decided to remove all of the foliage. Hopefully, the potatoes will remain happy and untainted where they are.

This week's harvest numbers:

Beets - 5.72 lb
Carrots - 2.05 lb
Potatoes- 4.88 lb
Scallions - 1.71 lb
Onions - 3.43 lb
Corn - 2.91 lb
Cucumbers (16) - 9.05 lb
Zucchini - 1.22 lb
Tomatoes- 40.60 lb

Total harvested this week- 71.57 lb