Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Broc harvest - Peas planted

I am experimenting with my peas. They are always a pretty frustrating veggie for me. They never sprout early enough. They never produce enough. And they don't die off early enough for a variety of follow-up plantings. One of my favorite gardening books (Crocket's Victory Garden) talks about planting peas in the winter before the ground freezes over. The benefit of a winter sowing is that the peas shoot up at the first opportunity in the spring. No need to wait for the ground to thaw and dry enough to work. So I decided to give it a shot. I also changed the way I configured the pea climbing apparatus. Typically I try to do something natural for the peas to climb - something that looks kind of rustic - some combination of branches and twine. But the branches typically fall over in a spring storm and the twine breaks, and I am left with a big mess. This time I just went ahead and buried wire mesh for support for the peas. It isn't beautiful, but hopefully will be more functional.

As far as crop rotation goes, this planting isn't perfect. These peas were planted in a raised bed which in 2009 was half planted in brussel sprouts and green beans. My crop rotation chart says that peas should follow bracias, so the sprouts make sense. But peas and green beans are the same family, so half of this planting was not ideal.

This planting was approximately 25 linear feet and approximately doubled my spring planting of peas in 2009. I planted two varieties - A snow pea from Shumway called Goliath and a traditional pod pea from Shumway called Green Arrow. Both are supposed to be 60 days to harvest.

I also harvested 1 pound of broccoli today. The shoots are small, but very, very tasty.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

13 lb Mid-November Harvest

We had a beautiful weather weekend on the 14th and 15th of November, so we worked in the yard. We can still harvest a nice salad just about whenever we want. The current staples are lettuce, spinach, mustards, chinese choi, broc, radish, carrots and peas. This weekend we also harvested some quantity as we cleaned out the remaining carrots and beets from the large patio pots. We also harvested a nice 5 pound red cabbage to mix with the beets for some weekend borscht. We had two wonderful harvest surprises as well. I ran across a nice little red norland potato mixed in with the peas and I discovered a huge 3 pound zucchini (our only one this year). It was buried underneath the privite hedge beyond the garden fence. It still looks good, so I am hoping for some fried zucchini for the Steeler game today. All in all it was a 13 pound harvest. Not bad for mid-November.

The rest of our garden effort this weekend was focused on the compost cycle. We would load up the big huge blue garden bucket (1/2 a rain barrel) with leaves, spent veggies and flowers, and make a green compost deposit. Then we would fill the same bucket with the black gold for garden distribution. All in all we added about 10 huge buckets of compost to various garden plots. I just spread it on top pretty thick, and didn't even bother to till it into the soil. I am slowly moving to a no-till garden approach. I exhausted the black gold supply during this exercise. Now both compost piles are green. One is completely full. The other has 16 inches of fresh add-ins.

What a nice weekend.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Well we had our first frost of the year on Monday the 19th of October. That was right on schedule as our region's average first frost date is October 20th. It wasn't a really hard frost, but it did whack our remaining peas. The lettuce and greens are still doing ok. I still haven't set up the cold frame for the winter. This should put a spur in my side to complete that project and protect my remaining veggies.

I planted a garlic bed this week. We ordered a set of garlic from Seed Saver's Exchange. This was our first order from this organization, after enjoying a hand-me down catalog from another gardening friend. They have the most unique, organic, heirloom stuff you are ever going to see. Toss in the fact that they are a non-profit with a unique mission, and you know I am going to be a fan. We ordered a variety called Chrysalis Purple. It is a hardneck - dependable, excellent flavor, large heads, yada, yada - you know how those catalogs make everything sound perfect. Anyway we got 5 bulbs with about 8 cloves per bulb. This order cost us a pricey $24 - $15.50 plus $8.50 for fed-ex shipping. Yikes that is just too much.

I planted them with the help of Carter and Quinn in the High wall garden. This garden gets full sun in the spring and then the sun tapers a bit in the summer with some blockage from nearby trees. This bed held green manure in the spring followed by tomatoes in the summer in 2008. My tenative plan for next year is garlic and spinach early followed by heat loving summer veggies - cantaloupe perhaps.

To prepare for the planting me and the boys turned the soil, raking out the white clover that I had undersown along with the tomatoes. This soil was still very rough. Not too long ago it held evergreen trees and shrubs and black plastic covered with decorative stones. There are still many stones and tree roots competing for space in this plot. I added to the mess by throwing in 5 or 6 large buckets of not quite broken down compost. My planting instructions said garlic likes lots of organic matter. After planting the cloves about 8 inches apart, we spread a thick layer of straw on top.

This is our second attempt at planting garlic. We put some storebought (not seed variety) garlic in the ground last fall. We got some production, but nothing to write home about. What we ended up harvesting were essentially slightly larger versions of the cloves that we planted. None of the garlic produced full bulbs with multiple cloves. The taste was fine, but the quantity and quality was poor.

One note: You can buy garlic pretty cheap in the store already minced in a large jar. It is so easy and convenient to throw into food. I can't see us replacing that conveniance even if our garlic production is wonderful. I think these bulbs are destined for roasted garlic appetizers.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Garden Goals - Looking Back

At the beginning of the garden season, I made some goals. Now it is time to look back and see how I did at achieving those goals.

  1. Don't buy nursery stock. Start everything from seed this year. - Well I achieved this goal, but the results weren't perfect. As I reflect, there were two seed starting screw-ups this year. The first was with the peppers and eggplants. I had a lot of trouble getting them started and by the time they sprouted it was later than I wanted. That late start and the cool summer made for a much later and smaller pepper crop than last year. The other seed starting do-over was with some of my fall succession plantings. I tried to get spinach, beets and green beans started many times in July to no avail. I either need to start those fall plantings indoors in a controlled environment or try some outdoor planting tricks (board over row). Those fall planting mistakes are going hurt our four season harvest and early spring spinach production.
  2. Better variety - Last year was marked by too many romas, and hot peppers and not enough of everything else. I want Mellons, rhubarb, beans, zukes, onions, potatoes, brussel sprouts - and much much more this year. - This goal was partially achieved. We had a much larger variety this year than last, but as I revisit this list, there were several vegetables on it that we didn't harvest (zukes, mellons, brussel sprouts). The groundhog took the mellons. A fungus took both zuke plantings. And I planted the brussel sprouts too late and in the wrong spot. We won't be harvesting a single sprout this year. All that being said, I am pleased with our variety this year. We harvested 18 non-leafy, non-herb veggies this year. Add to that the lettuce varieties (approx 5), and you have quite the variety. The best proof of our variety was the fact that we really never go tired of eating any single vegetable. Each night was a different tast. Last year I didn't want to see another darn tomatoe.
  3. Extend the season - I hope to look back on this season and be able to point to some tangible evidence that I successfully extended the season. - Success. We had our first garden salad on a 20 degree day on March 22nd. That is early. Also - my cold frame was not fully functional until early in March, so it didn't have the benefit of a fall planting of spinach, carrots, and winter tolerant kales and lettuces. As of today, our cold frame is filled with just such veggies. I expect that we will be harvesting these for little salads and soup add-ins all winter long. Season extension was not just a modest success - it was a huge success.
  4. Crop rotation/succession planting - Success. The succession planting worked very well, but not in the way I envisioned. I pictured a steady, regular supply of beats all season long because of succession planting. And boy did I try. But once I got past the first spring crop of early veggies (beats, spinach, carrots), I had a hard time getting the second and third plantings to take. Where succession planting really thrived was planting different veggies in the vacated spot of an earlier veggie. The whole garden was producing something the entire year. And green beans and peppers are the perfect veggies for late planting. I'll defer a crop rotation discussion till next year. I need to see if I am able to stick to my rotation plan.
  5. Enough Compost - Super-Success. I can't say enough about compost. If you don't beleive me go back and look at the 17 posts where I mention the stuff. My compost operationg is darn near perfect. The stuff heats up, it doesn't smell, it looks good, and it breaks down fast. To top it all off, we have had enough.
  6. No Hose Watering - Success. Seven rain barrels did the trick. We only watered with the hose for a two week period in the midst of a big drought.
  7. Compost Tea - Not so good. I tried it, but didn't love the results. I didn't get fancy making my compost tea. All I did was put a burlap sack of finished compost in one of my rain barrels. Most experts recommend some sort of aeration technology. Well you know I wasn't going to do that! My tea got smelly and nasty looking after a couple of weeks. The compost worked its way out of the sack and gummed up the watering cans. After one barrel of tea, I abandoned this goal.
  8. Family - The whole family was certainly involved in the garden and in the yard, but a new infant and a flower/veggie segregation of duties meant that Sarah and I were rarely working side by side. This can always be better.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Brocoli Post

Historically - I have had two problems with brocoli. 1. I never am quite sure how to spell it? Is it two c's, two l's? Who knows? Internet be darned - I ain't looking it up. 2. Too little garden production. Well - I still don't know how to spell it, but after this year I am no longer complaining about brocoli's garden vigor.

The best I can tell from looking back at my brocoli posts, this year's crop was started from seed indoors on 2/24 and transplanted to the sun garden on 3/17. The brocoli and cabbage shared a row in the sun garden - "the bracias row". My original post mentions 15 brocoli seedlings, but I thinned this original planting down to about 10 mature plants. currently there are 5 plants out in the garden and they are still producing. We planted a variety called Green Goliath. It was from RH Shumway.

Our 2009 harvest chart has our brocoli haul at 12 pounds, but I am guessing that is a little light. Brocoli starts out with a huge head. My notes say that the first harvest yielded heads that weighed almost a pound. My chart says the first brocoli harvest was approx 6/5. That was approximately 2.5 months from garden transplant to first harvest. The follow-up side shoots are much smaller and lighter. We have been harvesting side shoots steadily since early July and they are still producing. I am estimating that we harvest sides shoots once per week at about 1 pound total. I didn't begin charting weight by vegetable until very late in the season, so I'm not sure exactly what the haul was this year. The bottom line: We have been harvesting brocoli steadily for 4 months already and I bet it will be one of the last veggies that we harvest this year. It is a long and steady producer.

Another great trait about brocoli is the fact that it starts so small, grows slow and ends up big. It is a perfect crop for early season companion planting. This year I interplanted lettuce and spinach with the brocoli. Therefore one brocoli row yields much more than just the broc harvest.

Well how does it taste? Delicious. Our primary use has been in salads, although we did get enough for quiches, side dishes, pizzas and some modest freezing.

What would I do differently?

  1. I would plant more. Why share a row with brocoli and cabbage? Brocoli needs it's own home. This year's 8-10 productive plants should double to 15-20 next year - assuming I can find the space. It is very popular with the kids and adults in our family and is also very versatile in the kitchen (unlike cabbage). It is also extremely healthy.
  2. Don't worry about succession planting brocoli. Just start the seeds indoors in mid February and plant outdoors in mid-March. It produces well all season, so why bother with succession planting. The only thing succession planting does is stagger the main shoot harvest a little. But if you hope to freeze some brocoli than this is not important.
  3. Don't be fooled by the July dry period. In the heat of the summer the brocoli production falls way off. I was fooled this year and I actually pulled and composted three plants in late July. I replaced these empty spots with broc transplants that I had in the cold frame, but these guys never reached maturity. No matter how bad the mid-summer brocoli looks, just keep weeding, composting and watering. It should rebound and be producing again soon.

Bottom Line: Brocoli was definately a Stacy Garden 2009 success story, and has earned a prominent place in our 2010 garden plans.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

190 more square feet!

We attacked a long discussed project this weekend. We converted one of our parking spots to a garden spot. When we moved in three years ago, we inherited a carport large enough for two cars to park. This monstrosity sat just a few feet from our largest living room picture windows and was always quite an eyesore. It also was poorly constructed and very old, so we never felt safe parking or walking underneath it. Last year we tore out the carport, and ever since we have talked about converting the parking spaces into garden. We have taken our time with this project because as annoying as those parking spaces are when we are playing in the yard, they are convienant when we are carrying groceries or infants. So we decided to just tear out one for starters. The photo with the little tike is the "during" photo. I raked out the gravel and about 2-4 inches of soil/rock to make room for the top soil. Then I did my best to loosen the hard scrabble underneath. I added 5 truckloads - 2 1/2 yards of topsoil mix from Sandy Creek Supply. This is a nice mix of topsoil, mushroom manure and sand. Cost me $18 a load for a total cost of $80 for the project. I seeded the garden with some green manure (white clover I think), hoping it will get a start before winter. I expect this will be a summer plot of tomatoes and peppers perhaps. The lower picture is the finished photo of the new plot. 190 sq feet is a significant plot for us. This immediately becomes our second largest planting area. The sun is not so great, so we'll have to be careful how we plant it, but we are eagerly awaiting the planning and planting!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Detailed Green Bean Post

One of the best 2009 garden surprises was Green Beans. Until this year, Green Beans had never had a prominent place in our garden. I always grew pole beans and because they grow vertically, I had always tossed them in somewhere as an afterthought amd/or companian planting. They never really had a space of their own. 2009 was the year where I started treating green beans like the garden staple that they can be.

On May 9th I planted our first green beans. It was a bush variety from seed savers exchange called fin de bagnol. I put them in an approx 12 sq foot section of raised bed in the sun garden. The first harvest from this batch was on 7/1, so we are looking at about 50 days from planting to harvest.

I did a nice job of succession planting with the green beans and because of that we had an endless supply of green beans throughout the season. The details of the plantings...

1. 5/9 Fin de Bagnol - harvest 7/1 - stopped producing and torn out on approx 8/15
2. 5/22 early bird garden - planted in sun garden - still producing in mid September
3. 6/7 slenderrette - in sun garden - still producing in mid September
4. 7/13 early bird garden - planted in sun garden (replanted after potatoe harvest) - still producing in mid September
5. 7/19 slenderrette - in sq foot garden #1 (replacement planting) - still producing
6. 6/30 (guesstimate) - various pole beans planted in the chimney garden on the tepee
7. 7/25 (guesstimate) - early bird garden beans in the sun garden (replacement planting for beets and carrots) - just beginning to produce now.

As of 9/15 our green bean harvest for the year has been a quite robust 30 pounds. If we are able to coax 5 more pounds out of this crop (and I think that is possible), green beans will finish the season as our third largest producer behind only tomatoes and onions. This is amazing considering I only dedicated 32 sq feet of sun garden space (1 1/4 rows) to this veggie. All my other planting locations were replacement plantings. This veggie matures fast enough and likes warmer weather, so it is ideal for replacing early spinach, potatoe, lettuce and chard plantings - perhaps even onions. As of 9/15 we have 14 pints of green beans canned in the pantry.

The quality of the beans this year were fantastic. We did a great job of harvesting regularly. Bush beans are easy to see and harvest. No ladder is necessary. So I bet we were harvesting on average 2 or 3 times weekly. Even the quality of our pole beans this year was way better than in the past.

Although we had several varieties of beans, I didn't find myself liking one variety more than the others. They all tasted about the same to me. I am sure a cooking snob could expouse the virtues of one over the others, but that didn't jump out to me.

We discovered a wonderful garden soup called hungarian green bean soup. It uses two veggies that arrive in quantity at exactly the same time (green beans and red potatoes), and it uses a ton of both. It is so tasty and different. It uses paprika and caraway seeds as its main spices. The flavor combinations are unlike anything that we get in any of our staple dishes, so it is a nice change of pace. We made a tom on this soup in July and August and it always impressed kids and guests.

There isn't a whole lot I would change about my green bean planting this year. Succession planting was the key to a long consistent harvest. My production was fantastic, so I don't need more garden space. In fact I may not dedicate a full sun garden plot to beans next year. Perhaps I will just do a half plot in late spring and then do my main plantings as replacements for the early spring veggies. The pole beans add a whole bunch of visual interest to the chimney garden and the variety is nice - that will continue also.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Garden update

It has been a long time since I've posted to my little electronic garden notebook. Certainly there has been some garden activity in the interim - it's just that the late summer activity is all about harvest and weeding and watering - not exactly noteworthy stuff. Anyway - as garden season starts to wind down, I am going to continue the single veggie posts and start some 2010 planning notes. For today - I'll just play a little catch-up...

Harvest Weight - 412 pounds - We are still harvesting quite a variety. Yesterday we had a salad made with 11 garden veggies (chard, spinach, beet leaves, romaine, carrots, red onions, grape tomatoes, cukes, peas, green beens,brocoli). It was really tasty. The romas have been the bulk of our recent harvests, but their production is dwindling fast. Two weeks ago I harvested 17 pounds of romas, this morning only yielded 6 pounds. I am really proud of our harvest this year. By the time I put the garden scale away for the winter we will likely be near 450 pounds of home grown organic food. That is a lot. For a frame of reference my entire family of 6 weighs in at 445 pounds. So we grew and ate our weight in food this year. That is fantastic. I am sure we ate more veggies this year than we ever have in our lives. Now that I have a baseline harvest weight established, I can't wait to try to beat this target next year.

I have been canning a lot in the evenings. It has been going very well. We have a wide variety in the pantry this winter as opposed to an entire basement of spaghetti sauce last year. More on this process to come in a detailed canning post later.

Leek note: Mary Ann - my Verona garden friend who lives down by the river, gave us a bunch of leeks from her garden a couple weeks ago. They were about 4 inches tall. She told me they will be ready to harvest in spring. I am hoping that I can plant a summer crop of peppers or tomatoes in their place after their harvest. I put them in the former onion plot in the sun garden.

Asparagus note: I am trying for a small fall harvest of asparagus. I read about this strategy in a book once. This weekend (9/13) I cut the ferns on about 1/2 of our asparagus plot. I snipped them off as close to ground level as I could manage. Then I covered this section with fresh compost. The book said that I can expect a fall harvest of asparagus as these plants send shoots back up. With the cool fall weather these shoots are supposed to be super-tasty. Crossing my fingers.

Cooking note: Roasted Beets and Carrots are just about the best darn side dish ever invented. Just toss a bunch of beets and carrots in a big alum foil pack, drizzle them with olive oil and some rosemary and put them in a 400 degree oven. They will take a while to cook. when you take them out you can skin the beets easily and slice the whole pile up. The beets turn the carrots the nicest color and the tastes blend together. It is the bomb. Sarah has been talking about this side dish for days. She wants it to become a Thanksgiving staple.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Corn Post

It is 5 am on my birthday and I am blogging about corn. Life is good.

I planted corn in two places this year. One of the main sun garden's raised beds held a small patch of goldam bantam corn. I first planted it on 4/13. That initial planting didn't do much of anything. Only about 5 seeds germinated. I replanted this goldam bantam plot a couple weeks later. Goldam Bantam came highly recommended by Sarah's grandfather. It is an old heirloom variety that is only supposed to get 3 1/2 feet tall. I selected this shorter variety for the main garden so it wouldn't shade the potato crop that I was planting to the north. Well - it got plenty tall. I'd estimate it was at least 5 1/2 feet tall and it did shade those potatos. But the shade didn't do any damage to those red norlands because that crop was well on it's way to harvest when the corn reached mature size. Despite it's height and healthy foilage this corn was a disappointment. The ears were about 1/2 sized. Because they were so small I didn't harvest them in time. I kept thinking they needed "just one more week" to fill out. By the time I did harvest them (after a heavy storm knocked them all over), the corn was old and chewy - not sweet at all. My main garden plot of approximately 20 square feet yielded 8 pounds of migit sized, old, chewy corn. Remove the weight of the ears from this calculation and you likely have just a couple pounds of edible produce. Hardly worth the investment in garden space.
The other corn plot was planted at the edge of the two high wall and low wall gardens as sort of a visual and phyical fence. They did what I wanted them to do. They got tall and were really nice to look at from the street. Whenever I was down there watering or weeding I always took note of the looks that this plot would get from passersby. I noticed lots of second glances and little smiles. This variety of corn was a freebie from Shumway called early bird garden. I planted it three rows thick running about 25 feet long. The first 13 feet is full sun the last 12 feet is heavily shaded by a stone wall that edges the high wall garden. I made the same mistake with this plot that I did with the bantam. I never harvested it. When I finally got around to picking an ear it was old and wrinkly. This patch also didn't do real well.
Conclusion: Corn is beautiful to look at. It is wonderful in the compost pile. The stalks make fun swords for the kids and decorations at halloween. But it doesn't do much for my harvest. I think I will always try to find some space for it, but I certainly am done sacrificing main garden space for a corn row. I liked the way it fenced the wall gardens and I may make this approach an annual one. I need to plant later and harvest sooner - and lower my expectations.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Replacement, replacement planting

Remember my last post where I said I planted peas, chard, beans and spinach in the main sun garden? It must have been a dream. Nothing has come up. Well almost nothing. The swiss chard is doing well. The former onion, root, and pea beds have done next to nothing. So this morning (almost two weeks later) - I tried again planting the exact same stuff. Green arrow peas, early bird garden beans, and spinach. I also tossed a few rows of winter greens in the cold frame - kale and mustard greens. I used a spot that I had previously filled with kale seeds - again nothing. The only thing I can think about the poor germination of these late July plantings is the the weather must have just been too hot and dry for them to get going. Only 60 days left till first frost (oct 15), so not much time for planting left. This weekend will likely be it.

The harvest weight is up to 212 pounds. We had a 23 pound harvest on Monday. About half of the harvest was tomatoes and the rest was corn and beans. A big heavy storm did some major damage to our main corn planting. It knocked all the stalks over. We harvested it all and we are definately dissappointed in the result. The ears were about 1/2-3/4 sized, but despite their kid-sized ears, the kernals tasted chewy and old - not sweet at all. The variety was Goldam Bantam - recommended by Sarah's grandfather. We only yielded 8 pounds of corn - which if you exclude the unedible ear is likely more like 4 edible pounds. This same garden row planted in tomatoes, potatoes or beans would have yielded much, much more. I won't be doing corn in the main garden next year. I love the look of it, and the stalks do wonders for the compost pile, but it just takes up too much space and light for a very small - not so tasty yield. Farmers stands will get my corn business next year.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Replacement Planting

I planted three raised beds in the sun garden this morning. The spring snap pea bed was filled with compost, raked and replanted with some green arrow peas. The spring root crop bed, which never produced like we hoped, was filled with compost, raked and replanted with early bird garden green beans. The spring onion bed was filled with compost, raked and replanted with a variety of greens (spinach, lettuce, chard, radish).

Saturday, July 25, 2009

43 pound harvest

Our harvest this morning didn't quite reach the heft of my 7 year old, but narrowly surpassed the weight of my five year old. This was primarily an onion harvest. 18 pounds of red onions started from seed back in mid winter, and 21 pounds of yellows started from sets. I also harvested 4 pounds of carrots from the sun garden. This is our biggest harvest yet and we are over 160 pounds for the year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

90 days till first frost

It is hard to believe given the relatively cool summer we have had, but we are only 90 days away from October 20th - the date known as our average first frost date. Our first hard frost date is scheduled for October 31st. This morning I did some fall/winter seed planning and a little planting. With 90 days to go until the first frost, any of the long season veggies that I hope to harvest need to get in the ground soon. Cabbage, beets, and carrots come to mind. If these have the time to reach full size they can be harvested even after the first frost. Carrots can be harvested well into the winter - and I have heard that their taste sweetens after frost. Peas, and beans have a slightly shorter days to maturity - along with some of the chinese cabbages and kales. The shortest days to maturity veggies are the spinaches, and lettuces.

This morning I worked a couple empty spots in the chimney garden. The three spots I worked had previously held garlic, lettuce, and spring snow peas. In that order, I planted early wonder beets, spinach, and green arrow peas. I also tossed in 3 random red cabbage seeds in a little corner of the spinach bed. Before planting, I composted heavily. This section of garden doesn't get a ton of light, so I am skeptical about the beets, but I think the peas and spinach will do just fine. The beets are also suceptible to the ground hog, so there is another strike against them. But my beet crop has been so crummy this year that I just felt I needed to give it one more crack. The spinach I planted inside a fenced area, so they should do fine. The groundhog hasn't eaten my peas yet.

Our harvest weight now exceeds 120 lbs and tomatoes are being harvested daily. One of my co-workers has a father who is a big gardener. She has been bringing zukes, cukes, peppers and cabbage in to share with us. Funny but I have harvested exactly zero zukes (groundhog), 3 cukes (groundhog), zero peppers (late start from seed), zero cabbage (still kind of small - waiting till fall), so these veggies actually are quite a welcome addition. I picked our first corn, and it was a dissapointment. It was from the earliest sun garden planting (golden bantam). Either it wasn't ready yet or this is a strange variety. We used it and a bunch of other random veggies to make some veggie stock.

The work I did last week on the rain barrels seems to be holding up. Instead of securing the spigots with silicone caulk as I had done previously - this time I used that foam insulating sealant called "Great Stuff". So far so good. The barrels are all full and holding their water with no visible leaks. Some of the barrels fill much faster than others, which I can't quite figure. I guess it has more to do with the roof and downspout placement than it does with the barrels, but I does always surprise me how slowly some fill (including my double-stack).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Replacement plantings

This weekend I did a bunch of consolidating and replanting in the sq. foot gardens. The spring plantings in these 48 - 1 ft square mini plots were either harvested or spent. I harvested the two remaining onion plots, which yielded almost 30 medium sized yellow onions. There were a bunch of plots of carrots, lettuce, and beets which the groundhog absolutely decimated, which gave us nothing. I added a bunch of compost, reworked the soil and replanted. Sq foot garden #2 is now all peppers, tomatoes and eggplants - three things which the groundhog does not have a taste for. It also holds one small artichoke plant (a transplant from a neighbor). Sq foot garden #1 was empty except for three squares of climbing cucumbers, which are doing well. I planted the remaining squares as follows:
  • 3 sq basil
  • 2 china choy
  • 1 slenderrette beans
  • 1 red mustard
  • 2 cilantro
  • 2 green beans
  • 1 radish
  • 2 green onion
  • 2 buttercrunch lettuce
  • 2 kale
  • 2 romaine
All of this stuff will be tasty for the groundhog, so I am going to need to fence it in or transplant it before too long. Much of it I tossed in the ground thinking that I would eventually transplant it to the cold frame, which is next on my hit list for a remodeling. Not sure whether July was too early for some of these winter veggies to get started, but seems like I always wait too long.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

First TOMATO post

7/17/09 was a big day in the Stacy garden as we harvested our very first red, ripe tomato. Checking last year's notebook I see that we harvested our first red one last year on 7/28. Considering how cool the weather has been this summer - I am sort of surprised we beat last year's mark. The tomato we harvested was from a RH Shumway seed called "early bird garden" and started indoors on 3/9 and planted outside on 4/24. So that makes 4 months and a week from seed to tomato and slightly less than 3 months from planting to tomato.

We paired our first tomato with our third cucumber, and our first red onion and Sarah made a nice salad.

We have other tomatoes ready to pick any day now, so the harvesting of the salad tomatoes has begun in force. The black plum romas (that we use for canning) are still quite green with no sign of being ready for at least a week.

Our annual harvest weight just crossed 100 pounds. That is pretty exciting. I bet we'll get almost another 100 pounds just in tomatoes. It could wind up being quite a season!

We finally got rain last night after a nearly two week dry spell. The ground was just rock hard and the corn was showing the wear and tear of the weather.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gardening gimicks

I read a magazine article about an organic gardener who was a proponent of "The 15 minute a day garden". He claims that he can work his whole garden - all 6,000 sq ft of it in 15 minutes a day. I say - BULLSHOT! Let me ask you this - Mr. Gimmicky Gardener - can you even get out your garden tools and put them back in the shed in 15 minutes? Can you change into and out of gardening clothes in 15 minutes? Do you have some elaborate sprinkler system that distributes your organic pond water at the touch of a button? Do your beans harvest themselves? Or perhaps this article in this gardening magazine was really one of those "special advertising sections" which was really nothing more than a two page info-mercial for your new book "The 15 Minute Garden". I wouldn't spend 15 minutes reading that darn book!

The last three days I spent about an hour and a half each morning in the garden doing various ancillary tasks (weeding, composting, watering, staking tomatoes). Last evening I spent another hour servicing my rain barrels. Last weekend Sarah and I spent about every waking hour of both Saturday and Sunday in the garden. This time wasn't spent on any major garden tasks like preparing a brand new bed or building a cold frame. We were just doing basic harvest, and replacement plantings. Lets also not forget that we spent our evenings last weekend preserving our harvest by making several soups and canning our veggies.

This post is not meant to coax pity out of the reader. I am not a sympathy hound. In fact, my morning gardening chores are so fun for me that I often chose to garden instead of rowing on the river. Our harvesting and cooking work this weekend was an absolute pleasure. It was one of the best weekends of the year! But let's not pretend for a second that organic gardening doesn't take some time and effort. If you are going to do it, you had better enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Compost update

On June 7th, I last remodeled my compost piles, and outlined that process in a detailed post. Today is July 14th. I worked the bins again this morning. It took me about 2 hours.

The black gold pile was down to about 8 inches. It had reached the point at the bottom of the pile where I had layered large sticks. That is the signal that it is time to rework the piles. First I removed all the black gold from the bottom of the finished pile and wheelbarrowed it to various staging areas in the garden for use in the near future. I also set aside approx 2 wheelbarrows of black gold for use in the layering of the new pile.

Once the black gold pile was empty, I rebuilt a bottom layer of large sticks and reset my big 4 inch aerating pipe. Then I removed the slats seperating the two bins and forked the stuff from the top of the green manure pile down on top of the sticks. I recently trimmed my privit hedges, so I had a lot of green stuff. I layered it pretty thick (6-8 inches). Then I spread about 2 inches of black gold on top. The hope here is that the bacteria in the black gold helps get the green stuff fired up. We haven't had any rain to speak of lately, so the pile needed an infusion of water. I sprinkled two gallons of water on top of each black gold layer. I continued the green/black/water layering process until I had reached a point in the bottom of the green manure pile where the stuff was more black than green.

The bottom 24 inches of this bin (formerly green manure) will now become my black gold bin. I used my 8inch digging fork (favorite tool) and sifted this compost very well. I tossed aside all the big sticks in the foundation layer. Any partially broken down compost was sifted over to the top of the new green manure pile. What remains is a nice fluffy black gold that is about 95% of the way to completion. I am hoping that the sifting, sorting, watering, and aerating process helps get this pile fired up again and takes it the rest of the way. But it is certainly usable right now. Just for giggles, I added about a pound of bone meal to each pile and stirred it in.

Two things that I have traditionally done in the past, that I didn't do this time - 1. layer with mushroom manure 2. chop the compost with hedge clippers as I bring it over from green to brown pile. I was trying to complete the project in one early morning work session, so I cut some corners. We'll see if my laziness makes a difference in the end result.

So between this post and the June 7th post, you have witnessed a complete summer cycle in my compost piles. It took 5 weeks for us to distribute a full bin of compost and in that same 5 weeks, we built up another full bin of green material. By the time it was ready for aeration, at least a third of the green pile had already converted to usable compost - with very little help from me. Is two to three hours every five weeks too much to ask for a constant supply of beautiful, healthy organic material?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Detailed Potato Post

The third in a series of detailed single vegetable posts...

Back in the dark days of winter we ordered 25 Red Norland potato sets from RH Shumway. They came in the mail around March 7th and I got them in the ground on March 14th. My first harvest was a stolen potato around June 15th. Final harvest was July 13th. So I can plan on approx 3 months from planting to first harvest and 4 months to last harvest. Judging by my early planting date - a few hard frosts don't hurt this veggie one bit.

In total we harvested approx 30 pounds of potatos. I am guessing we netted about 210 spuds of various sizes. Each plant gave us approx 1.2 lbs and 8 spuds. If we would have bought 30 pounds of potatos at Giant Eagle we would have spent $40. I think I spent approx $7 for the starters - not sure - I'll confirm later.

The soil that I planted my potatos in had grown green manure the previous fall and tomatoes and corn the previous summer. I had conditioned it with compost, lime, and bone meal prior to planting. I later read not to use lime where I plant potatos. I can't remember why - but I goofed on that. Our crop was so successful that I can't imagine the lime I added really hurt it too much. This soil was among our best plots in the sun garden because it had been planted several times the previous year and conditioned with compost each time.

I have absolutely not one single complaint about this vegetable's behavior in the garden. It is fun to plant, requires little maintenance, and has very attractive foilage. The only maintenance I did was periodic "hilling up", which is both easy and fun. Another great trait about potatos is that it is very apparent when it is time to harvest the spuds because the plants fall over and basically turn to dust. Harvesting the potatoes is the best part. Stick your pitchfork in the soil, lever it up, and out with the soil come little red spuds of various sizes. Arden and I enjoyed guessing whether and how many spuds would surface with each forkful of dirt I turned. You can eat any sized red potato - even the teeny tiniest taste just fine.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the harvest was so early. I guess I expected to harvest them in September. An early July harvest means that I was able to use this plot for a second crop. This makes a planting of potatoes all that much more attractive for the garden because you get two full crops in just one bed.

We are still brainstorming various ways to preserve our potatoe harvest. So far we have made a couple big batches of potato salad, and soups. We made a Hungarian green bean and potato soup that is just out of this world. It is the perfect mid July recipe because beans and potatoes are in full force right now. I am guessing that toward mid week we will be tired of eating our potato harvest in such quantity and will slice them up and freeze them for use in winter recipes.

My only thought for next year may be to add a second variety - perhaps a later variety that will store well in a root cellar. Not many other garden veggies will yield such a large quantity of food like potatos. Taking a little more space for potatos is definately worth the investment in land.

Replacement planting

Saturday's huge potato harvest left one of my sun garden plots empty. I added about 2 inches of compost to the whole thing and forked it, turned it and replanted it. The far left section of this plot is approx 3 ft x 8ft and I am surmising that it will get slightly more sun than the rest of this raised bed because the remainder of the bed is adjacent to my corn. So in this 3ft by 8ft section I planted a combo of things - breaking this mini plot into a couple super mini plots. I planted cukes and zukes contained inside two climbing apparati made out of wire fencing. This climbing fence will double as a groundhog gaurd - that little critter destroyed my first planting of zukes and squash, so I'm not taking any chances this time around. I also planted a small row of early bird garden bush beans - approx 40 seeds. I the remaining mini plot, I split the planting between swiss chard and spinach - approx 40 seeds for each variety.

The remaining shadier portion of this raised bed (2 ft x 10 ft) was planted with peas - a traditional variety - not snap peas. Last year I planted my fall peas on August 10th. We only got one small harvest from them before the frost killed them. This planting is a month earlier than last year, so if my plan works, I should get at least a full month of harvest. Who would have known when I started the garden this year that I would get a fall planting in the potato plot?

Our big harvest yesterday also cleared out two of our earliest plantings of beets and carrots. I replaced these with some fresh compost and seeds of the same variety.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

35 pound harvest

Today's harvest was unlike anything we have seen before in the Stacy garden. We pulled out 3 lbs of beats, 5 lbs of carrots, 3 lbs of green beans, 2 lbs of shallots, two pounds of salad fixings (lettuce, peas, brocoli), and 20 lbs of potatoes. Sarah and the kids had been away for the better part of the last two weeks, so we had a little backlog of harvestable stuff in the garden. We ended up preserving a lot of our harvest. We canned 5 pints of green beans, 3 pints of carrots, and two pints of beets. We also braided and dried the shallots - see photo. We had a delicious hungarian green bean and potatoe soup yesterday for dinner. I also made two big containers of vegetable stock using all the chopped off parts of the veggies - including a few stolen lower cabbage leaves. The stock had a nice reddish brown color to it and will be a fine base for some of our winter soups.

All this harvesting freed up quite a bit of garden space today. You should see some planting posts coming soon. Our harvest weight is now over 89 pounds.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Harvest post

Our daily harvests are getting much heftier and tastier. Gone are the days of early spring where lettuce, spinach and radishes were our only produce. Now we are regularly pulling broccoli, potatoes, beets, carrots, peas, lettuce, green onions, green beans, raspberries and spices from the garden. These new veggies are coming in in nice quantity and are adding significant weight to our daily harvest. Our harvest weight is now up to 50 pounds for the year. Some details:

  • Broccoli: We have already harvested all of the main shoots. Many of these weighed almost a pound on their own. The side shoots are not quite what I imagined. They are about 1/3 the size of the main shoot and they don't grow as tight. They also go to flower faster. The first three broccoli that we harvested look almost completely spent at this point. I have approx 18 broccoli seedlings temporarily planted in the cold frame ready to move to the main garden in a couple weeks for a fall crop.
  • Potatoes: These have been a wonderful surprise. Despite never flowering and despite heavy shade from the adjacent corn row, the potato harvest has been a big success. Each plant yields approx 8-10 potatoes and approx 1.5 pounds of harvest. The look and taste of the spuds are fantastic, and they are really fun to harvest. There is nothing like digging your hands through the beautiful soil mining for little red bombs of starch!
  • Peas: Raise your hand if your pea harvest always disappoints. Excuse my spelling as I type the rest of this post one handed. My peas are falling over due to my lazy staking and much too tight planting. The pods are really really hard to find in the mess of vines and leaves. Then I never seem to get as many as I think. They taste good however, and the kids love to eat them directly from the garden, so I can't complain too much. I may however try to a variety that doesn't climb next year - as I have done with the beans.
  • Beans: Speaking of beans - what a nice little crop I have going. At the end of the corn row, I planted bush beans called fin de bagnol - planted 5/9. These came from seed saver and are really, really nice looking. They get long and thin and are oh so tasty. My harvest this morning yielded about 30 beans from this very small planting. The other two bean varieties that I planted on 5/22 early bird garden, and 6/7 slenderette are not yielding yet. The early bird garden beans look wonderful. The slenderettes basically look crummy. They were hit by bugs right from the start and look just plain anemic - weird. Note: Order a ton of fin de bagnols next year. Also planted some pole beans from seeds that we had saved in prior years. I put these in the tepee area. Planted them approx 6/15. They are about 12 inches high right now and are beginning to find ways to climb the tepee. It is early yet, but I definately am liking bush beans better.
  • Raspberries: We bought two red raspberry bushes from Musser and planted them about a week ago. Yesterday I picked 15 ripe and wonderful berries. They are so tasty. I hope they do well.
  • Strawberries: I almost forgot - We didn't get a ton of strawberries this year- only enough for little garden snacks. But we did go strawberry picking. From our loot we made two nice strawberry rhubarb pies and preserved 8 pints and 12 1/2 pints of jam.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Detailed Asparagus Post

The second in a series of detailed posts about a single garden vegetable...

Our asparagus patch was planted in early spring 2008. It was started from 50 one year old roots ordered from RH Shumway. They were planted on 4/6/08. Read any book about the proper way to plant asparagus and they tell you to space the rows of roots 4 to 5 feet apart. Well you know I didn't do that. I can't afford that amount of valuable garden space. So I planted all 50 of my roots in a 5 x 7 foot (35 sq foot) raised garden bed in the "chimney garden". That is one serious snub of the garden literature (even for me). In the late fall I clipped the ferns and buried the asparagus bed in about 4 inches of mushroom manure.

So how is my little plot doing? I think is is doing fine. We broke another tried and true asparagus rule and did a small harvest in 2008 (year one). Maybe we harvested a total of 20 spears - just to get a flavor of the veggie. In 2009 (year 2), we harvested a bunch. Our first harvest was 4/1 and our last major harvest was 5/22, so almost two months of harvesting. We got a modest quantity of spears of varying thicknesses. Our typical harvest was once every two or three days garnering between 5 and 7 spears a harvest. Our typical use was to sprinkle some asparagus in our salads, soups or egg dishes. We only did a few "asparagus only" side dishes. In order to have enough asparagus for a side dish, we needed to save up a few days of harvests by putting the cut end in about an inch of water in a cup in the fridge. Once the spears started coming up pencil thin, we stopped harvesting and let them go to fern.

The taste of the asparagus was wonderful. Fresh and uncooked they almost taste like snap peas. It is a nice treat to just snap one off and nibble at it while gardening. They are great cooked also. I got into a habit of putting a little olive oil on them and a spice mixure called emerils essence and cooking them in the broiler for a couple of minutes. They make a nice spicy snack.

Lessons Learned/Planning ahead:
  • We want more asparagus - 7 spears every other day isn't enough for our family of 6. I think I'll buy some more roots next spring and take over the whole chimney garden.
  • The Chimney garden is the perfect asparagus spot because it gets good light in March and April before the leaves break out in the trees. But once the leaves are in this plot gets very little direct light.
  • Do I regret this intense planting? It's hard to say. I guess a little bit. My typical mindset when I do an intense planting like this is that no planting is permanent - I can always transplant for proper spacing at a later date, although this rarely happens.
  • I read once about a harvesting technique that gives you both a spring and a fall harvest. If I want to try this. The way it works is you plant a double plot of asparagus - harvest one half in the spring letting the other plot go directly to fern. Then, late in the summer you cut the ferns off in the unharvested plot. That plot is supposed to send up new spears in the fall, which are quite delicious because of the cooler temps. If I am able to increase my asparagus planting next year, I think I'll give this technique a try.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Detailed Compost post

When I first started reading about compost theory (yes there are whole books on the topic), I was amused by this piece of advice often given... "It is best to build your compost pile all at once so that proper layering may be achieved." I thought this was just plain silly talk. How exactly is this "all at once" layering to be achieved. Do you only weed your garden once a year? Or mow your grass once a season? The ingredients for a compost pile are being collected daily - how is it possible to properly layer your if you don't work in the Rodale Press test garden?

Well I think I have it figured now. The multiple bin system and a commitment to periodically turning your compost allows for the all at once approach with proper layering - within the reality of daily garden work. Here is a detailed post about how I build and manage my compost along with some pictures.

I have a two bin system. In order to talk about the whole process, lets assume we are starting with two empty bins (#1&#2). As garden season gets underway and I begin to accumulate compost ingredients, I toss them in bin #1 - I call this the green manure bin. During this early accumulation phase, I don't really bother with layering (unless it gets smelly - then I toss some dirt on top). In the heart of garden season it takes me about a month or two to fill up this green pile.

Once the green pile is full - that is when the real compost theory is put into action. I prepare to turn, aerate, and layer the green pile from bin #1 into the adjacent empty bin #2. This is a good 3 hour project, but very enjoyable. I begin by placing a 4 inch diameter black pipe with 1/2inch holes drilled in it vertically in the center of bin #2. This pipe will act as a chimney to help aerate the new pile that I am about to create. Another aeration step, and a good way to break down large debris is to layer large sticks as a foundation layer at the bottom of the bin. The purpose of these sticks is to allow for some shifting and air flow into the pile as it begins to break down, so don't lay these babies like sardines in the bottom of the pile. The more catywompus this stick layer is - the better. See photo #1 for pipe and stick layer.

Compost theory says to build your pile with alternating layers of brown ingredients (carbon) and green ingredients (nitrogen). My stick layer is certainly brown, so now it is time to add some green. I am lucky enough to own over 200 linear feet of privite surrounding my property, which needs to be clipped at least twice a year. In order to get my hands on a sufficient quantity of green materials on compost turning day, I can always clip my hedges. The green layer in photo #2 is approx 4 inches of privite hedge clippings.

Next I spread my favorite compost additive (mushroom manure) with it's high nitrogen content on top of that. You can do without the mushroom manure by adding garden dirt or previously decomposed compost. I just happen to live down the street from a mushroom manure supplier and for $14 for a truck load, I splurge. After the first couple of layers I hit the pile with a couple gallons of water. A good compost pile is a slightly moist compost pile. See photo #3.

Next, I start to bring over the partially decomposed stuff from bin #1 - I consider this stuff a brown (carbon) ingredient although who knows exactly. I am always amazed at how much the "green pile" in bin #1 has broken down in a fairly short period of time. The pile I moved over last week had lots of heat and no discernable kitchen scraps and it was only a month old. I move the bin #1 ingredients to bin #2 in approx 4 inch layers - starting at the top and working my way down. As I bring the stuff over, I chop it and mix it break it up. Then I layer it with more nitrogen. Once my pile in bin #2 is about 1/2 full I stop using "fresh green" ingredients like hedge clippings for my nitrogen layer. Instead I just use mushroom manure. Why? Because the compost that you are now moving over from bin #1 to bin #2 is pretty mature and well decomposed. It just needs a couple more weeks of burn to be ready to use in the garden. The mushroom manure is the perfect ingredient to get this stuff fired up one last time without introducing new large clumpy ingredients. See final photo.

That's my compost process. And it works pretty well. I now have about 10 cubic feet of finished compost on the top of my black gold pile in bin #2. I also have a completely empty bin #1 which I can begin to fill with my daily garden clippings. As I use the black gold and work my way down this pile, I will periodically toss various harder to decompose ingredients such as sticks, cardboard, etc over from the black side to the green side. Almost 90% of this pile will be fine to use. Once I reach the large stick layer at the bottom, it is time to start again.

I LOVE Compost!

Long time no post

Recent Activity -
  • Sowed three mini rows of slenderette beans in the sun garden (sun garden now completely planted)
  • Sowed eggplants and peppers (11 total) in both sq foot gardens. These were transplants from the cold frame. They replaced various empty lettuce and spinach spots that had previously been harvested by either human or groundhog.
  • Sowed one grape tomato in a 10 inch pot
  • Sowed 4 - 3 foot rows of carrots in the cold frame. I have had germination problems with my carrots this year. My theory is that I planted them too deep because I feared the cold weather from the early plantings. With this batch I just barely scratched a line in the soil and covered the seeds with 1/8 inch or peat moss. I am hoping for better germination. These rows replaced spinach and lettuce from prior harvests.
  • Sowed one 10 inch pot of carrots. This pot replaced my highly successful January planting of carrots. I am guestimating this pot gave us approx 20 carrots - some as long as 8 inches.
  • Covered lettuce in cold frame with burlap to provide some shade and groundhog protection (this is working well).
  • Attempted to propogate the following Privite, Hydrandgea, rhododendren, impatiens, and holly. I snipped about 6 inches of new growth off each, cut off the lower leaves and planted them in seed starter mix.
  • Thinned the tomatoes planted in the sun garden down to 4 total. They were too tight. There is now approx 18 inches between plants. I caged the two large ones. Unfortunately I am not exactly sure which variety I thinned out. I think I thinned the grape tomatoes - hence the pot planting above.
  • Worked the compost piles - See detailed post to follow. I love the compost piles!
Harvest has been both exciting and dissappointing. The peas have dissapointed. Despite significant growth, three plots and lots of blossoms, I am only harvesting approx 10 peas a day. That is just silly. How many flipping peas do I need to plant for a decent daily harvest? The exciting recent harvest has been the brocoli. We have harvested 4 heads so far. They were each approx 4 inches in diameter and very tasty. I attempted to leave the side shoots and am hoping for significant follow-up harvests. Our total harvest weight now exceeds 24 pounds. Carter is getting a little tired of salads despite my best efforts to change things up with different lettuces and dressings.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Brussel Sprouts

My favorite vegetables are in the ground. I planted 10 brussel sprouts in the sun garden and 2 in the sq foot gardens. I transplanted a couple zukes and cukes to fill in blank spots in the sq foot gardens. I also harvested a 7.5 inch carrot, 20 strawberries, and 10 peas. Two of the peas were from the first planting in the sq. foot garden. We now have two succession plantings of peas that are producing. We have had about 5 days of straight rain and it is cool, so today was a good day to plant and harvest.

Harvest weight is at 22.5 pounds after 35 harvests. The green onions are finally looking tall and strong like good green onions should.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Spinach Blog - 2009 edition

Replacing my typical all over the place/what did I do today blog entries, I am going try something a little deeper today. This blog is all about spinach.

My 2008 garden notes mention spinach a few times. Here are the Highlights...
  • "You can never, never, never plant enough spinach. Next year we need to buy spinach seed by the truckload and plant it in every single early spring garden spot."
  • "It doesn't transplant worth a darn - don't you dare try to start spinach indoors next year."
The 2009 spinach season began on 12/30 with a one ounce order of Tyee Hybrid spinach seeds from RH Shumway. The description from the catalog: "An improved type with the earliest maturity and best disease resistance we offer. High tolerance to Downy Mildew. A semi-savory type that grows fast and is slow to bolt. Only 37 days to maturity."

Well I followed my 2008 advice on the first point (you can never plant enough), but ignored the second point (never start indoors) - and I'm glad I did on both counts. I started some spinach indoors in mid January and even nibbled on a few pre-salads made of alphalpa sprouts and spinach seedlings in early February. On the last day of February I transplanted 18 spinach seedlings outside in a cold frame. These seedlings held up fairly well, and did much better than the seeds I started directly in the cold frames. I began stealing leaves from these transplants for late winter salads as early as March 22nd. As for the quantity of spinach - We did much better in this area than we have ever done in the past. The key was an April 4th heavy spinach planting. Prior to this planting I had done small mini plantings in various square foot sections and mini-rows. The April 4th planting was big. I put approx 400 seeds in 1 1/2 of my sun garden raised beds. This planting yielded 4 large harvests of spinach for the freezer - on top of our various cut and come again succession plantings. On May 22nd I harvested the last major spinach crop. There remain just a couple odd spinach plants in our garden now. We ended up with 4 pounds (six one gallon freezer bags) of frozen spinach from the spring planting.

Other comments/lessons learned:
  1. Remember how the RH Shumway said that this Tyee Hybrid variety was resistant to downy mildew? Well - not resistant enough. Ours got it - it wasn't awful, but that was part of the reason I went ahead and harvested the full crop as early as I did.
  2. The spring spinach season is so darn short. I would have guessed my final harvest would have been late June not late May.
  3. I think Fall is the "true" season for spinach. I am really looking forward to a fall crop and harvesting some protected cold frame spinach all winter long. I bet that downy mildew and early bolt won't be problems in November.
  4. Will we eat 4 pounds of spinach this winter? If so how?

recent activity

Recent plantings:
  • In the lower wall garden, I did some transplanting and re-seeding in the corn fence area. The vision here is a natural fence of 9 foot tall corn planted 3 rows thick and very tight. There is a pretty shady section of this fence where the low wall and the sun wall intersect. The seeds in this section did not take very well, so I thinned some seedlings from the other section and moved them over. I also re-seeded where things were sparse.
  • Started 4 mini-rows of bush bean seeds in the sun garden. Three of the rows are planted with "early bird garden beans" from Shumway. The remaining row is planted with a bean called a slenderette.
  • Started one large pot with carrots and leeks. Hoping for one leek in the center and carrots all around. The carrots that I have planted in the main garden have done poorly, but the ones in the pot have done very well. Today's pot planting was my attempt to not give up on garden carrots. Ditto for the beets below...
  • Started on large pot of beets - mix of cylindra and detroit supreme
Recent Harvest Activity:
  • Asparagus is done. I picked the last of the thick stalks about 3 days ago. I am letting the rest go to fern. Our first harvest was 4/1 and our last 5/19. Not bad for year two of a closely spaced bed.
  • Spinach is going to seed. I did another one pound harvest of spinach recently. Most of the early succession plantings of spinach were starting to go to seed. Basically all the spinach planted in the cold frame or sq foot gardens were removed. The main spinach crop in the sun garden is still doing well. I now have 4 one gallon freezer bags full of spinach in the freezer.
  • Pak Choi is done. It flowered super fast and the leaves never got very large. I was not impressed with pak choi, although it did add some variety to our salads and spring rolls. Perhaps a fall cold frame planting to harvest over the winter would be better for this.
  • I harvested 4 tasty 5 inch long carrots from our January pot and one beet from the same. The beet could have used a few more weeks of growth, but was tasty.
  • It hasn't rained in a while and the rain barrels are drying out.
Harvest weight is at 17.1 with 31 harvests

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pea blossoms

The weather has been wonderful and we have been busy planting, expanding and harvesting.

  • Started 10 musk mellon seeds and 10 pumpkin seeds indoors
  • succession planting of 5 small spinach rows in the high wall garden- between romas (more on spinach below)
  • succession planting of approx 10 seed saver lettuce seedlings in low wall garden (between romas)
  • transplanting of various lettuce from sq foot garden to sun garden to get away from the critter that has been feasting on them
  • We created a large new flower border - approx 25 X 4 ft, and expanded another. These plots border our back yard walls and had previously held a smattering of bulbs and annuals at the base of the wall. We like flowers more than grass, so we expanded. We filled these new plots with various perennials that we transplanted from our other perennial gardens. We planted bamboo, hosta, rhodadendron, black eyed susan, daisy, mountain blewett, calencho, sweet woodruff, mini irises, large irises, ferns, lillies, and mums. We also bordered these plots with impatien seedlings that we started indoors. This new garden gets very little sun.
  • Spinach - We did our second large spinach harvest of the season. We now have over 2 pounds (3 one gallon freezer bags) of spinach in the freezer just waiting for our winter soups and pizzas. While I am excited about the quantity of spinach that we have harvested so far, I am concerned about the remaining crop. It might have a blight. Many of the leaves are turning a whitish color and drooping. The harvest yesterday took just about all the large leaves, so we'll know for sure in a week or two if this little blight is going to take the rest of our crop. I planted 4 new rows of spinach in a totally different garden plot this morning in an effort to keep us in some spinach even if the current crop doesn't make it. The beet leaves are suffering from a similar problem.
  • Asparagus - still coming in at a rate of about 3-5 stalks a day. I have been roasting it in the oven with Emerril's Essense for a nice late night snack while I watch the Penguins - Yummy!
  • Harvest weight is @14 lbs and 26 harvests
  • I did something goofy to the compost piles today. I had some 4 inch black drain pipe laying around. I drilled a bunch of holes in it and buried one 4 foot section (standing tall) in the center of each pile. All I have read says that proper pile aeration is one of the keys to quick compost. Most recommend frequent turning (which I do), but I have seen the smokestack approach recommended a few times as well. The idea here is that this pipe allows the gasses to escape from the pile and introduces fresh air allowing the various bacteria to do their thing.
  • The other photo is a mid-May update of our main sun garden.
  • Note: We saw our first pea blossoms last year on 5/26. So we are 12 days earlier this year. I planted an "early bird garden" short pea this year on 2/28. Very few actually germinated, so I filled in with snow peas a couple weeks later. I also had this section covered with a mini-cold frame through the late winter. Anyway - It was a lot of work for 12 days of extra pea harvest, but I bet we'll be enjoying the fruits of that labor very soon. We have also been harvesting pea leaves for salads and spring rolls for a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

cold frame work

I planted all the remaining pepper seedlings in the cold frame today. They are still pretty skimpy. I'm hoping a little nice soil and cold frame love will get them going. It will likely be another couple weeks to a month before I plant them in their permanent location in the sun garden.

22 harvests and 11.75 pounds cumulative ytd. Today's harvest included 3 carrots and one beet. The carrots were respectable at about 5 inches each. The beet was still a little young - although all tasted great roasted with asparagus and thrown on top of a salad. The beets and carrots were planted indoors in January in large pots.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Romas are in

The high and low wall garden are now the proud home to 30 black plum roma tomatoes. The low wall garden has 13 and the high wall garden 17. These romas were started indoors from seed on 3/11. Given two months of indoor growth, I am amazed at just how small they are. I started them in 6 packs in store bought seed starter mix. The seedlings were no taller than 4 inches with just a couple leaves at the very top of the plant. I expected the roots to be tightly wound inside the six pack, and even those were a little disappointing. Comparing these black plums to the sheboygans that I planted just two days earlier, was really no comparison. The sheboygans are 8-10 inches tall with thick stems and lots of leaves. So perhaps it is just the type of tomato. But anyway - I think I need will start these seeds in larger pots next year, and perhaps a little earlier to accommodate a couple of weeks in the cold frame.

The soil in these two garden sections could not have been more different. The low wall garden soil was absolutely fantastic. Sarah and I brainstormed this a little last evening. In 2007 this section of yard held about a million lillies of various varieties, a rose, a large evergreen bush, some small ornamental grasses, some pansys, and several large decorative rocks. In the winter 2007/2008, I chopped down the evergreen bush and composted it. In spring 2008, Sarah worked on the soil. She pulled out all the plants except the rose and added mushroom manure to the soil. In 2008 she planted various garden veggies including brussel sprouts, shallots, onions and cabbage in this plot. None of the veggies in this plot did very well. We had maybe two heads of cabbage and three passable brussel sprout plants. She recollects the soil being very poor. In fall 2008 I added another thick layer of mushroom manure - 2 inches or more. In spring 2009 I sowed white clover as a thick layer of green manure. This weekend in preparation for the roma planting, Quinn and I removed the green manure. In the process of removing the clover, much of the top layer of mushroom manure also went to compost. The remaining soil looks wonderful. It is very light and airy, and deep black. We found millions of worms and rolly pollys. It was so nice, I didn't even bother adding any compost. I tried to space the plants approx 18-24 inches apart and built a thin sunken path out of rocks for access.

The soil in the high wall garden on the other hand is just plain nasty. In 2007 this plot despite being one of our sunniest locations, held two large nasty overgrown evergreen trees, a large plot of iris, and a bunch of pachysandra. We spent 2008 chopping down the trees, but not the stumps, transplanting the pachysandra and iris, and tearing out the black plastic and small round river rocks that made up the base layer. Toward the middle of the 2008 planting season, I tossed in some cucumbers and mellons and actually got a very nice crop of both. I didn't even bother prepping the soil prior to that planting, instead I used a "hill planting" approach. I made nine mini-hills out of a 5 gallon bucket of sandy creek soil and dropped three seeds in each bucket full. These crops spread so quickly to cover the entire plot that weeds and the poor soil condition never really were a factor. In the fall 2008 I planted a rye green manure and in the spring 2009 I added some mushroom manure and planted a white clover cover crop. This weekend I tore out and composted the cover crops and chopped out the evergreen stumps. I added approx 10 large rainbarrel buckets of course compost to this soil and raked it in with my 8 inch fork. I dug a sunken path and used this ground to raise the beds for the tomatoes. The final soil consistency is very, very course. Sticks and stones are everywhere. The compost I used still has some breaking down to do. Evergreen roots remain and are fairly close to the surface. I am very curious to compare the health and production of the tomatoes in this soil compared to the well-prepared plot below. But seeing how well the soil improved in one year in the lower wall garden has me very excited to see this soil next year.

I read about undersowing green manures yesterday. Most folks recommend undersowing in late July after the main crop is plenty big and far along. They describe most of the benefit hitting the following year rather than the current year, and stress not to plant a cover crop too quickly as it will compete for nutrients with the tomatoes.

I gave Sarah's great grandparents a tour of our garden for Mother's day. Sarah's great grandfather is a farmer at heart and we shared lots of fun garden stories. I also passed along my sheboygans, a six pack of california wonder peppers, and one eggplant to him.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

heavy planting day

According to my PA master gardener guide, May 10th is the last day of average frost in Pittsburgh. I checked the 5 day forecast and the predicted low next week is 38 degrees. So I figured what the heck - lets get the remaining stuff in the ground this weekend.

This morning I planted...
  1. 3 squares of pickling cucumbers. These replaced some of my earliest cabbage and brocoli plantings which were killed by the critter.
  2. 2 squares of zucchini. These replaced a leek, which never took and seed saver lettuce, which also never took.
  3. 1 square of butternut squash - replaced a nibbled broccoli.
  4. 1 square of replacement carrots. The original 16 seeds had only germinated 6 carrots, so I added replacement seeds. I planted these replacements pretty thick, thinking I'll thin later. The single seed approach for carrots has certainly not worked well, as germination is a real issue.
  5. I finished the sun garden raised bed pea planting. I put in about 50 innoculated goliath edible podded snow peas.
  6. Like the carrots, the golden bantam corn has not germinated well so far. I planted the rest of these seeds with many of them filling in blank spots in my original planting. I bet the germination rate on this 4/13 planting was less than 20%. I'm hoping the cold had something to do with that and today's planting comes in nice and thick. I ran out of seeds and was only able to plant about 2/3 of this raised bed in corn.
  7. In the remaining space of the corn bed, I planted approx 17 Fin de Bagnol bush beans. These were from a seed savers seed exchange. Beans and Corn are supposed to do well together. I interplanted pole beans with my corn last year and it was really cute.
  8. I also tossed in three mini rows of green onions
  9. I completed the root crop raised bed. I put in 4 rows of beets. 2 rows of cylindra and two rows of early wonders. I didn't bother with the deep trench and screened compost approach that I used for the first two plantings. I just decided to plant traditional rows with pretty tight spacing for future thinning. It will be a nice experiment to see if the additional effort of the first two plantings results in better beets. I also reseeded some carrots due to the bad germination rate of prior plantings.
I found a couple interesting volunteers this morning. One I believe was an avocado core, which had sprouted in the sq foot garden. The other was a stick from a tree, which was growing and new tree. The kids were excited about the tree, so I replanted it in a pot.

Yesterday I removed the green manure from the high wall garden and added it to the green compost. I also added 5 large buckets of black gold compost to this garden and used my 8 inch fork to till it in. This will be a roma tomato garden. The tomatoes are hardening off outside now. I am becoming a big fan of green manure. The rye was about 3 feet tall when I tore it out. It was a fall planting that wintered over. The clover had formed a lush, 6 inch green carpet. This was a spring planting. They added about 10 inches of good nitrogen to the compost. It felt like I was completing the cycle as I would run alternating trips of green compost and black gold to and from this garden.

I also hilled up potatoes for the third time yesterday. They are just darn huge. I am basically out of available dirt to keep hilling them up.

The harvest is up to 9.25 pounds for the season. I also started tracking the number of harvests (basically trying to count our home grown veggie meals). We are up to 18 harvests for the year. We are grabbing lettuce, spinach, beet leaves, and onion and shallot tops multiple times a day now. The asparagus gives us 5 stalks a day as well. The Pok Choi is being harvested, but is disappointing as it flowered very quickly and it's leaves are sparse and small.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Braccias, eggplants and peppers

Well - our baby was finally harvested this weekend, so we welcome a new gardener to the family.

In the days leading up to the birth, we kept active in the garden a little bit. Yesterday I transplanted 5 eggplant, and 6 peppers into the cold frame. These were started as seeds in a six packs on or around 3/11. They had gotten to be about 4 inches high and I was afraid that their roots were going to get too bunched up in those six packs if I kept them confined much longer. I don't plan to plant them unprotected in the garden until June, so that is still a long time to wait. I prepared a small section in the cold frame and covered them with one layer of plastic. I plan to keep these covered in the evenings and on cloudy days. On sunny days I will open it up for ventilation.

I also did some various transplanting this weekend. I moved the cabbage and broccoli out of the cold frame and into their permanent homes in the sun garden. For the most part these seedlings have done quite well. Throughout the early spring I noticed that a few broccoli leaves had begun to be eaten by critters. I very liberally plucked these seedlings and tossed them in the compost pile. So the remaining seedlings (both broc and cabbage) are very healthy and big. I'd say they are between 6 and 8 inches high. There are 14 total (6 cabbage and 8 broccoli). I spaced them approx 12 inches apart. I composted the bottom of the planting hole and also side-dressed the seedlings with compost. This sun garden plot also has some spinach and green onions growing in between the braccias. The groundhog has not found the sun garden yet, so I am hoping that these veggies are safe. He ate all the braccias in the sq foot garden.

I weeded, respaced, and composted the cold frame lettuce and spinach. I could not be happier with the health and vibrancy of these. Not a bug hole in site, and big thick spinach leaves. These are much, much better than any spinach I have ever grown before. The romaine lettuce is also top notch. Some of those heads are approaching 1/2 size. One head now will give us a full family salad.

I dropped a few radish seeds in the corn row of the sun garden in order to keep the succession planting moving along. My radishes took a hit from the groundhog last week.

I hilled up the potatoes for the first time. They look wonderful and seem to grow 6 inches a day.

I planted some foxglove, delphinium, and rhubarb inside in homemade seed starter mix. I had previously started all these seeds inside in January and it is looking like that was way too early. The seedlings started strong and were ready to transplant long before the outside temps were ready. Then they just got weak and leggy inside. I doubt any of the transplants that we tried will survive. So we are trying again.

The harvest is up to 6.5 pounds for the season. Asapargus, spinach, lettuce and onion tops are being harvested daily. As you can see in the photo, we are also harvesting cut flowers including iris, lilac, azelea, and bleading heart

Thursday, April 30, 2009


Turns out that we have not been the only ones enjoying an early harvest in the garden. Our square foot gardens have attracted a critter. We lost two broccoli, 4 radishes, one cabbage and 4 lettuce to a grazer. So far I am just treating our little interloper like a funny companion and am going to try to co-exist. We have plenty of garden plots that he left untouched. With our succession planting approach, we still have a lot to harvest. He is safe for now.

We had a hot, hot, hot couple days last week. Those days rushed the yard to a deep green. The grass is lush, the azaleas are a deep pink, and the privet are a visual screen once more. The corn that we planted on 4/13 has broken through the surface. We are harvesting salad cuttings daily now. We are still harvesting asparagus daily, but we are down to 4 or 5 thick stalks a day. The remaining stalks are thinner than a pencil, so we are letting them grow to ferns in order to beef up the roots. I have been harvesting the stalks daily and putting them in a glass of water in the fridge cut side down. That keeps them fresh for a couple of days until we have enough for a meal. The spinach has been a real success so far this year. It is so lush and deep green. We have never had wonderful spinach. It has always been fairly spindly and a small producer. I think this year we are headed toward a much better crop. This makes me feel great, because some of the success has to go to the improved soil due to our compost operation. In most of the plots this is our second garden year, so the soil is much healthier and happier than in year one. The potatoes are also doing quite well. They grow so fast. I have already hilled them up once and will likely need to do some more work on them this weekend. Hilling up is the process of piling dirt/compost around them as they grow. I am told this is necessary because the potatoes grow along the stem, and need to be covered by dirt in order to mature.

The seed starter mix that I made is doing very well. I have brussel sprout seedlings popping up unobstructed by weeds. My approach of trying to burn the weed seeds in a mini greenhouse must have worked.

I planted 72 sunflower seeds in a flat last week - hoping to plant these on top of our large wall. I also planted about 20 seed starter lettuce seedlings inside last week, which have popped to the surface.

With daily small salad harvests we now sit at approximately 5 pounds of harvest for the year.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I was sick all week and weekend too. But I did manage to do a little work in the yard...

1. Seeded approx 4 rows of lettuce - mesculan, romain, and buttercrunch
2. Planted 7 tomato seedlings in the sun garden - two grape, two silver fir, three early bird garden - these I am covering at night with cloches made from 1 gallon milk jugs sliced in half.
3. weeded and composted the sq foot garden #1. Added several seeds of various, wherever some were missing.
4. Seeded three rows of carrots in the sun garden (root plot)
5. Seeded three rows of corn in the lower wall garden
6. Seeded approx 1/3 sun garden plot of peas
7. Transplanted three silver fir tomato seedlings to pots - two hanging.

Monday, April 20, 2009

How many rain barrels does one garden need?

How about 7 - holding 300 gallons of water. Does that sound like enough? We'll see.

I added two more rain barrels to my collection yesterday. The boys and I went for a romp through the Allegheny river flood plain hoping to identify another barrel or two, and we had much fun and success. As an ancillary benefit - I learned about the history of this area (from my sons) which evidently includes a ghost train and thousands of hoofed aliens. Every piece of litter we passed along the way (and there was plenty) was an artifact which helped us reconstruct the truth.

We found the mother load of rain barrels along plum creek, a small tributary feeding into the Allegheny. Altogether we found 6 barrels of various shapes and sizes and took two of them home. We took home one nice looking grey 60 gallon barrel. The only thing missing was a lid for this nice little barrel. But I liked it enough to add it to our collection. I fashioned a lid out of the plastic bottom to a pot. I didn't drill a spigot hole in this one because without a lid - it will be perfect for dunking the watering can, which fills it much faster. The other rain barrel I saved was a small 30 gallon clear one called the "cube". It has very thick walls and a handle on top. I think it was used for ice in it's past life. I drilled the spigot hole right at the very bottom of the barrel and set it up on blocks burried behind the privite along the stairs leading up to the house. This barrel and another 35 gallon one will water my roma tomatoes and corn in the two lower wall gardens. With my two new barrels in operation - I reorganized. I now have a 120 gallon double stack right beside the sun garden. Right on cue - not twenty minutes after completing and reorganizing my barrels - it started to rain.

My mom came to visit yesterday, and I showed her around the garden. We had asparagus for dinner, which was delicious. There isn't much left to harvest at this point, but we'll do the best we can. I think I can squeeze another meal of asparagus and at least three salads out of our current crop during her visit. The harvest isn't so important. What I really need the compost pile to do well during her visit. This blog and my mom's Ellensburg friends have turned my compost pile into the stuff of internet legend. I need that pile to heat up and turn to the finest peat by the time she leaves or else my reputation will be ruined. I plan to secretly bring compost into the house in the morning before my mom's arrival. One yard in the dryer and another in the oven should get the pile sufficiently heated up. I hope my wife won't mind.

3 more small harvests (asparagus- twice, lettuce, spinach, radishes, beat leaves, shallot leaves, onion leaves) since the last harvest update. Estimated total 2009 harvest now sits at 3 pounds.