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.