Monday, July 30, 2012

A few new developments

A weekend not spent camping usually means a productive day or two in the garden.  This weekend we didn't go camping so we managed to tidy up a bit, pull weeds, move some of our squash and cucumber vines around and work in our compost bins a bit.
To those who are new to reading here, we do both traditional compost and Vermicompost. 
Traditional composting is more or less just moving your kitchen scraps into a large vessel of some sort (we used a recycled cheap plastic trash can with a lid that has holes drilled in through the sides).  Allow the scraps to slowly decompose and within three to six months you have new fertile soil, ready to feed your plants.

Vermicomposting is composting but with the help of worms.  We use Red Wigglers because they are more tolerant of warmer temperatures.  During the winter months they will survive, eat, and reproduce but very slowly.  During the summer months as the temperatures rise the worms’ production rises.  I noticed yesterday that the very hard cantaloupe rinds that Edward threw in there on the 20th of July are completely broken down, eaten through and has been turned into wonderful worm castings (aka worm poop).
When I have an open weekend I will be going through our bin to separate some of this lovely soil to be used in Vermicompost tea so I can extend it a bit. 
In fact I have in mind a challenge!
~~~~~Miracle Grow vs. Vermicompost tea~~~~~

We have our two sickly, potted tomatoes that both look like they could use some help.  So soon I will be using Miracle grow on one, Vermicompost tea on the other. 

Stay tuned for the results!!

In the meanwhile, I had a few new discoveries around the garden.
Our winter squashes are all starting to produce female flowers! The first few that they have put out have quickly browned up and fallen off.  This is completely normal as the plant is showing it is not quite mature enough to produce fruit.  Think of it as an adolescent girl on the cusp of child bearing years.
See the rather thick curly stem with round like ball, that's the female!
We have now entered the stage (it appears) that our squashes are producing stout female flowers, capable of holding and supporting a rather large, bulky or heavy fruit.
Very cool!
This means our (possible) Marina di Chioggia, (possible) Black Futsu and the Delicata will all be bearing fruit soon! Now, I mention the Delicata with some excitement because while I am still guessing about the Marina di Chioggia and the Black Futsu I know for a fact that the squash (that was previously thought to be yet another weird cucumber) is in fact a Delicata.
Late last week after snapping numerous photos of all my many vines in the back yard I noticed that this one vines leaves look unlike any of the others. Of course I started first by looking over our seed list to narrow down which it could be. 
I must say, Google is very cool.  How nice is it that you can simply Google "Delicata squash leaves vine" and voila, come back with numerous results.  Actually I should send that thanks to both Google and to other farmers and gardeners out there who like moi, post photos of their fields and gardens. 
In about 15 minutes worth of work, sitting at my desk at work, rather bored because business has been slow as of late, I discovered that "yes indeed, I do have a Delicata growing in my yard!"
And to make things even better, I discovered yesterday, on my birthday that I have some female flowers growing on this vine too!
Last year, around late October, early November I visited the local Wegmans and spent around $7 for three of these lovely squashes so you can imagine how excited I am to be growing these now!
The only negative to a Delicata when storing though is that these do not have as hard of rinds so they do not store as long as some of the others (like the blue Hubbard, Marina di Chioggia, Black Futsu and other hard skinned winter squashes).
This just means we will have to have these eaten up probably no later than November to December. 

Now, as I fall asleep, drive back and forth to work, take a shower or just do work around the house, I've contemplated our garden this year. Our mistakes and successes. 
One thing I have come to realize is that while I was at first rather annoyed about the weird placement of the winter squash as well as the increased population of said winter squash, I'm now thinking it might be rather handy.  After all, we can only eat so many fresh cucumber, so many canned pickles.  But winter squash, well those hang on for some time.  We will be eating winter squash well into late winter and possibly even into early spring.  There is no preserving to be done for winter squash other than keeping it in a cool, somewhat humid area.
Many winter squashes stay edible for 5 to 6 months when kept in temperatures of about 50 to 55 degrees at about 70% humidity.    So, some of our mistakes in our garden might actually make our lives just a tad bit easier for now and in winter. 
Now, talking about winter and storing vegetables.  This year I had the idea that, rather than building a temporary greenhouse/shelter we can just order some root vegetable seeds and then harvest them after the first few frosts.  We do already have floating row covers so it'll be a simple matter of just covering these when we see frost in the forecast. 
I placed my order last week at Johnny Seeds for the following:
·         Bolero
·         Napoli   
Bolero and Napoli are both carrots that are well known for their tasty and cold tolerant nature. 
·         Hakurei  turnip
A very cold tolerant turnip that supposedly tastes even better when exposed to frosts.  I have heard the taste of these being described from spicy all the way to apple like, all of which is sounds good to me.   
·         Red Meat Radish
A radish that supposedly does best when planted in the fall.  The pictures look gorgeous!   Once we get some I’ll post the photos here.
·          Mammoth Sandwich Island Salsify
Okay, last year I tried this and they sprouted, they were doing well and then Edward and I accidentally threw cold soil all over the brand new seedlings.  Oops. Never got to try them and these are VERY rarely in the grocery stores here.  Can’t wait to try it this year!
·         Hairy Vetch
I never knew this but Hairy vetch is considered as a legume! Most experienced gardeners know that legumes are good nitrogen fixers so I got this to be used in conjunction with my rye grass cover crop for the winter.
A few weeks ago I also ordered off of Ebay some Jerusalem Artichoke (aka sunchoke).  These are very much like tubers or potatoes but their flavor is a bit different.  I have never actually tried one so I am excitedly watching these grow in my third bed.  We did make a bit of an error in placement of these as they are all right next to the new Red Russian Kale seedlings but I told Edward that it’ll all work out.  We’ll just pull up the kale that is around it and eat it within that week. It’ll need to be thinned out by then.  In Late June we pulled up our kale that had all gone to seed and of course the seed pods scattered here, there and everywhere around our garden but mostly in the third bed. 
I’m still picking kale seedlings out of numerous beds around the yard which then I liberally use in omelets or stir fries.   If you are interested in some Red Russian Kale seeds just email me and I will send 20 seeds free of charge because we have about a thousand of them.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Time for a bit of a catch up

Wow.  It's been such a long time.  We've had so much going on and we've been so busy that it's been hard for me to actually sit down and WRITE!
In April we got our pop up camper, something we've wanted for about 10 years.  So that has been keeping us super busy as we've been camping with our pop up now almost every weekend.  Thankfully, however, we're taking a break for this weekend to get some much needed things done around the house. 
I must say one thing.  I actually miss writing here because, while you, dear reader, might find it entertaining and educational to read about how things are going in our garden, I miss seeing and reading what we did in the past! It's nice to read and relive my failures and successes.
I miss reading back about what we did, what lessons we learned and how the garden grew over the past weeks and months. 
Okay, so here I go. Back at it again!
This first photo was taken on the 5th of July. 
Disregard the extra solar lamps in the yard. We were getting ready to go camping and we were powering them up!

At this point we were starting to look at those vines climbing behind the tomatoes and going "Oh oh! Those are NOT cucumbers!" It turns out that hubby accidentally planted those there because he thought that they were cucumbers. 
Now, this year we've had a few rookie mistakes. This is one of them. We didn't label our seedlings.  DUH!
So we are guessing that these are Black Futsu Squash, which is one of the seeds we did start.  The reason I think that this is a black Futsu squash in the background is because of the very unusual leaves with the blue vein like patterns.  In the next photo you will be able to see it. If you happen to know exactly what kind of squash this is (and you know it's NOT a black Futsu) then I'd be more than grateful for feedback. 

Next, another newbie mistake involving squash. (What is WITH THE SQUASH ISSUES THIS YEAR???)
I think this is a Marina di Chioggia.  Once again, hubby planted this in our okra bed and now I am anxiously waiting to see what this thing is!
The leaves look very much like a Marina di Chioggia so I'm keeping my fingers crossed because I've wanted to try one of these for a very long time!
Next one, right next to the possible Marina di Chioggia is what was supposed to be a winter squash. 
We were hoping for another blue Hubbard since we had such great luck growing them last year. (We still have small amount of squash in the freezer by the way) Instead, we have, we think, dragons’ egg cucumbers.  OOPS.  These cucumbers are okay.  Taste wise, they are nice and crisp, but most definitely not burpless. (We all snack on them and are nonstop burping afterwards)  Another negative besides the burping afterwards is these are mostly seeds on the inside with very little flesh.  I don't know if this is because we keep picking these off before they are fully ready.   I might actually try to let a few cucumbers hang on the vine for a bit to see if the cucumbers improve in quality with age.  And yet one other negative.  These are very prickly.  I actually wear gloves when I am harvesting these as the little prickles get caught in my skin and itch something horrible!
Now, the bad news with the vine being here is that normally we prefer our cucumber vines to be over with the tomatoes.  Cucumbers traditionally have a smaller leaf which allows sunlight to still shine on our tomatoes throughout the day.  Since the cucumber plant is over in the very open part of the yard the vine is going nuts with growth, which is great, but then the possible Black Futsu is TAKING OVER the tomato area. 
It's too bad I couldn't switch them, but of course, no can do at this point!
Yup, our garden is a mess this year.  I attribute it to a total lack of planning on our part.
Next newbie mistake.  Tomatillos.
Did you know that tomatillos are self infertile? I didn't. At least as of last week I didn't.
This means that you really HAVE to have at least two plants in order for your plant to bear fruit. 
Unfortunately for us, we only have one large, beautiful tomatillo plant which means that while the birds (hummingbirds that is) and the bees are happy, we are not.  Once I discovered this I went on a mad search for a live tomatillo plant, anywhere! Turns out as of mid July they are considered out of season and you can no longer find live, well established plants. 
I guess we'll be getting our tomatillos from the farm this year for our salsa.
Next oops. Our grape vine and lack of pruning.  I bet you didn't know that if you don't prune your grape vine it will spend all its energy on producing foliage (leaves and stems) and not enough on producing fruit.
So next year come spring we will be massively pruning our two grapes in hopes that we get a lot more.  As it stands, this year we had a measly 3 little grapes on one of the vines and none on the other. Pretty dismal. My husband accidentally chopped the 3 unripe grapes off so now we have none.  It just goes to show, you win some, you lose some.
Now, while we've definitely made some errors this year, we have also had some successes.  Our eggplants are going nuts with growth this year as well as the bell peppers.
Earlier this spring I had the idea to make an L shaped, slightly raised bed around the patio.  This idea hit pay dirt as the bell peppers (and tomatillo) have been very happy campers there.  We have already harvested 4 large green bell peppers as of 2 weeks ago and we have about 3 more that are very close to being ready.  As anyone knows, once you start harvesting the first few peppers off you can expect your plant to up its production.  It's like a lactating Mom. 
We also have some new ones in here.  I've decided to try growing poblanos which are used to make chile rellenos. 
I have yet to get any off, but then the pepper plants have just started flowering. We also decided to grow a lot more of the spicier varieties.  We now have cayenne, banana and jalepeno peppers currently growing and producing!
I'm really hoping to make and can some hot sauce this year with these as we love to use Tabasco like sauces in our cooking. As Emeril says "It adds a bit of BAM" to our cooking. 
Small summer squash plant. 

The tomatoes have been progressing okay, but not the greatest. We've had better successes in our potted tomatoes in previous years.  I attribute this to the fact that we did not change the soil in the pots this spring, which is something we've done all the other years so I have a feeling our soil quality is pretty bad in the big pots.  I've tried adding a general vegetable fertilizer but I get the feeling that it's a case of too little too late. 
Now, that all being said, our tomatoes in our second bed are the shining stars along with our bell peppers and eggplants.  These have been doing very well and are all very heavy with fruit. 
We have been watching many of the tomato plants trying to figure out exactly which one is which. 
The reason for this is simple.  This past autumn we threw any remains from tomatoes that we had canned out to our worms where the seeds sat in the compost through the winter until this spring.  This past spring we went through that compost and removed the worms and their eggs and put the nice, rich soil (which was obviously heavily seeded with various winter squashes and tomatoes) in our front garden bed. 
Lo and behold, the tomatoes and pumpkins and winter squashes of all kinds sprouted, so suddenly we had little seedlings running rampant all throughout an area that was previously not doing so good.
We transplanted a good portion of these tomato plants over to pots to allow them a nicer area to grow. Before we knew it we had about fourteen little seedlings of undetermined lineage growing. Some of these went to other homes as we just started donating the extra plants.  The way we look at it, we're just happy we have them for this year and we didn't have to pay for them!
We actually only purchased three tomato plants this year which is most definitely not that bad! We tried the Purple Hybrid tomato that was bred by Oregon State University, an orange and red zebra hybrid and an Amish Paste heirloom from Wal-Mart.
We have harvested three off the purple tomato and two off the Amish paste. The Zebra tomato had the unfortunate luck of being placed in one of our pots that we did not change the soil so while it does have fruit on it, it is failing to thrive.
Taste test time.  The Purple tomato is remarkably, unremarkable. The taste reminds both husband and I of a grocery store tomato. Bland, meaty, with almost no zing or sweetness. 
It holds up well to chopping and cutting and it's most definitely pretty but the taste fails to please us.
I can see we will be using these in salsas with other more flavorful tomatoes where all we really want is the stunning purple color. 
The Amish Paste, of course, does not disappoint us.  Nice and flavorful, delicious sprinkled with a tad bit of salt. 
Of course, the Amish Paste usually are used up and canned in spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce or pizza sauce so we never really get to fully enjoy snacking on these little beauties.
Luckily enough, my husband had the thought to plant a black cherry tomato seed earlier this spring, which last year was extremely prolific.
This plant produced lovely, cherry sized and colored fruits that were exceedingly sweet and juicy.  I brought bowl after bowl after bowl of these to work, sliced and sprinkled with some salt as a snack.
Talk about yum!  The only negative to our black cherry plant right now is it is in a location that lacks sunlight.  It gets some, but only early morning so I do not expect as strong of a performance from it. 
Unfortunately we are one of the few yards in the neighborhood with massive oak trees shading the yard; dirt that becomes as hard as concrete at midsummer due to its heavy clay content; and a high acidic level that encourages the grass to die and the moss to thrive. 
It's been a challenge, yet one we will remember when we move on to yet another phase of our life.  Hopefully somewhere out west!
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