Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20th Garden Update

Comic Relief        Chipmunk update....GRRR!   All of my wonderful healthy Kentucky Wonder pole beans have been eaten...and not by my family.  The chipmunks have been at it again with a voracious appetite.  I noticed some nibblings on the leaves of the beans.  The next day half of the crop was stripped of leaves.  I quickly installed a garden fence and anchored down the edges so no one would slip under.  I reset my handy dandy RatZapper and loaded it with peanut butter.  I sprayed the perimeter with an organic animal deterrent which smelled suspiciously like rotten eggs.  I even opened a box of Decon and left it in the center of the remaining beans that now qualify as an endangered species.  ( Totally fenced so that my dogs do not have access.)  ~~~~The next morning ALL of the beans were stripped and even the volunteer tomato plant was eaten to the ground.  There were entrance and exit holes the diameter of a softball leading safely under the fence. So much for the animal deterrent.  I should have been suspicious when my dog licked the bottle and rolled on the sprayed ground as happy as if she had found her very own road kill.   The next step?  I patiently replanted my beans around my two naked tepees.... and I upped the ante in the RatZapper with fresh juicy dog food.  Yehaw!  Two chipmunks took the bait and my new beans are peaking through the soil.  Is it too early to be optimistic?  We wouldn't be gardeners if we weren't optimistic now would we?  But....I wonder how big their family is???  Score:  RatZapper 3: BB gun 1: Decon unknown?

Enjoy the Garden Chef's Recipe Collection

Sugar Snap Peas have just about finished.  The vines are yellowing but still sending out the odd pea or two.  I froze the last large picking as we have been swamped with more that we could eat.

 Freezing peas is super simple.  1. Wash and string your peas.  2. Bring kettle of water to a rolling boil.  3. Drop in peas and blanch for 90 seconds.         4. Immediately dump the boiling water and immerse the peas in a bowl of ice water to cool and stop the cooking process.   This process is called blanching.  Veggies contain chemicals that cause them to ripen in the garden.  Exposing the veggies to boiling water or steam deactivates the chemicals and halts this process. Without blanching, the chemicals would remain slightly active in the freezer and cause discoloring and an altered taste. 5.  Put individual servings of peas in freezer bags, remove all air and label.   Now we will have peas to add to soups or pasta dishes in the fall and winter.  YUM!

Broccoli.  Did I mention that the broccoli plants are huge??? Delicious but huge.  All of the main heads have been harvested and enjoyed.  Check out the broccoli slaw recipe.   We are just waiting for the small but flavorful side stalks to develop.

The final Spinach has been harvested and enjoyed.    I had planted two varieties: Matador and Bloomsdale longstanding.  The Matador lasted 2-3 weeks longer before bolting.  I didn't notice any measurable difference in flavor.

 Lettuce is still happy in the shade of the broccoli.  Some of the mesclun is bolting but the Black Seeded Simpson and Lettuce Bowl are still producing tender leaves.

The second planting of Radishes is going to seed.  The seed pods will lend some added flavor to salads and stir fries.

My Potato plants are starting to die down.  I will let them stay a little longer before digging for the sweet treasure.  You can dig for new potatoes soon after they flower.  If you leave potatoes in the ground longer they will get larger and the skin will toughen for better storage.  The ground is free storage as long as slugs or blight isn't a problem.  Once you dig your potatoes, don't wash them.  Spread them out to dry off for a few days before storing in a cool dark area.  I store mine in a basket in an area under my house. 

 I pulled another Carrot to check their progress.  They are about 4 inches long and tasty.  You can leave them in the ground till after it frosts.  I will plan on eating these carrots and planting more.

Tomatoes are growing.  I have harvested 5 small golf ball sized

ripe tomatoes.  Can't wait for juicy red tomato slices!!

Peppers are growing slowly.  I will need to research why my peppers don't look too sturdy.

 Onion tops are flopping over and bulbs are still forming.  I have planted a few additional onion sets where we pulled some onions early to enjoy as scallions.

Squash and Zucchini are producing like crazy.  One plant of each should definitely provide all the fresh squash our family can eat.  A few of them developed blossom end rot which seems to have corrected after adding organic fertilizer.

Cucumber vines
 Cucumbers are growing.

Butternut squash are vining. 

Asparagus is spindly but I suppose that is to be expected during the first year.  I hope the site I have chosen is providing enough sunlight.


  Chard is healthy.

Beets:  ??? The beets produced pretty leaves but absolutely no beet roots.  What did I do wrong??

Friday, June 3, 2011

June in the Garden

June 3rd and already it is a busy month in the garden.... I love it!!

Tasks for the day:

-Tie up enthusiastic tomato branches. ~ I use either strips of old t-shirts or knee highs.  Both are gentle on the vines and relatively free.

-Pull the random weeds in the raised beds. ~  The planting medium we used plus the intensive beds have prevented almost all weeds! 

-Pull more weeds in the traditional beds containing pole beans, herbs, and a couple of tomato plants.

-Put Jobe's organic fertilizer stakes around tomato plants.
-Pick tons of peas.

-Cut the first harvest of broccoli from all plants. ~ Additional smaller stalks will form after removing the main broccoli head.

-Water potted tomato and herbs. ~  This happens frequently.

-Harvest one wilted potato plant. ~  This is my first attempt at growing potatoes.  Potatoes are not something my grandparents raised so I had no idea what to expect.  I pulled one plant that had totally wilted and found....drum roll....potatoes!  I know, what did I expect? Turnips?  :-)  I was as excited as a little kid over her first puppy.  My first potato!!

- "Hey Honey.  Come look at the tomato on my potato." 

Another discovery for this beginner potato grower is that the potato will produce fruits similar to small tomatoes.  At first I thought I had a genetic wonder on my hands but I learned that tomatoes and potatoes are very closely related genetically and will produce similar fruits.  The fruit of the potato is NOT edible and is actually toxic. 

Collectively, the veggies considered "nightshade" plants all produce a nicotine chemical in their leaves.  Eggplant and peppers are also included in this group.  Studies have shown that ( and other studies have not) that the chemicals in these plants may exacerbate arthritis.  Say it isn't so! That luscious red tomato I so look forward to may be a contributor to my ails.  Hmmm... tomato - joint pain.  Maybe I'll wait for everyone to agree and in the meantime I'll enjoy my harvest.

-Spray potatoes and one tomato plant with Neem Oil - I found those nasty flea beetles on my potatoes along with a few Colorado potato beetles.  The pictures are posted in May.  I read several sources that recommended Neem Oil for tons of aliments in the organic garden so I decided to use it on one tomato that has some yellow/burned/curled leaves.  The tomato is otherwise very tall bush and green and has bunches of baby tomatoes and more new flowers waiting for their pollinators.  I will let you know if I love Neem Oil as much as others have reported.

- Prepare Wheat-berry Veggie Salad with Sesame Dressing to share with friends for dinner.  ( It was a hit.  YAY!) Check out the recipe!

- Water all plants

A little info about Neem Oil:

I only hope Neem Oil is the magic organic cure it is touted to be. It seems to be given all the miracle properties of  Snake Oil from the Wild West Days in America.  From my research, I've learned that Neem Oil rids gardens of detrimental insects, fungus, parasitic roundworms (nematodes), mites, and algae while remaining safe for all the beneficial critters such as nonparasitic nematodes, earthworms, honey bees, etc. 

How does Neem Oil work?  Many fungi and soft bodied insects are killed on contact.  For others, Neem Oil acts as a hormone disruptor.  Just as in human, hormones control hunger and coordinate body changes for reproduction.  With the destructive creatures in the garden, Neem Oil causes them to lose their appetite and prevents them from reproducing.  Caterpillars are frozen in time, never to mature.  Eggs don't hatch.  Fertile females don't lay eggs....and none of these unwanted guests are hungry.  All die of starvation leaving your garden untouched. 

Very Interesting!!  I mentioned Neem Oil to an Indian friend who told me there were many uses for Neem in India.  More research has turned up that it is good for skin problems, as a moisturizer, has anti-inflammatory properties, cures acne, eczema, and even is used as a contraceptive.  Hmmm... I wonder if I can tap in to the appetite suppressant qualities without the anticopulation side effects???  Now that would have me setting up a side show like the Snake Oil salesmen of the old West.    Ha!  I wonder if rubbing Neem Oil on my joints will canel the effects of eatting tomatoes???

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What's Happening in the May Garden Veggie by Veggie?

     Let me begin May by saying that as of May 17th I have not had to add any water to the garden.  Rain has been plentiful but not detrimental.  Everything is flourishing happy and healthy making Spring my new favorite season.  The structure of my raised beds and the composition of my planting medium must be the reason.  Yea!  I am sooo happy.  I've only had to use the protective covers once this month due to a late frost.  According to planting guides, our average last frost date is somewhere between April 15th and 28th.  When you have an average you have to have some that fall before and after so I shouldn't have been surprised to bring out the covers.  Luckily the covers I decided to use are easy to use and to store.  They are definitely something I will continue to use.  ( Don't ya just love adding things to the list of things you will do again because they worked?)

Critters love veggies too!  We live in the semi-country and have plenty of wildlife ~ turkey, deer, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, snakes, birds, dogs, and chipmunks.  Did I mention CHIPMUNKS? Those cute furry playful creatures are not so cute any longer.  So far they are the only animal messing with my garden.  Do they not know there are no acorns in my fresh dirt?  Maybe they think it is the perfect place to tunnel down in the nice loose medium and build a home to raise a family.  I found dozens of little divots about 2 inches in diameter but no deeper than the surface and I blamed my smallest dog, Bailey.  Then I found a tunnel.... and another....and another.  The newly planted cucumber seeds were gone.  This means WAR!  My husband laughed till he cried when he came home to find me sitting quietly against the house clad in my colorful garden clogs,  garden hat , long sleeved shirt and pants ( You know the ones... comfortable but hideously ugly) and my trusty BB gun slung across my lap. I was definitely channeling Granny Clampett.    When he asked what I was up to I replied in my best Elmer Fudd imitation " I'm hunting chipmunks."   After a looooong afternoon and one chipmunk in the bag I determined that this may not be the best use of my gardening time.   Researching  posts on Dave's Garden  convinced me to invest in an electronic " Rat Zapper" which runs on D batteries.  So far I've removed one mouse but no chipmunks.  I will let you know my opinion as the season progresses.  So far it is BB gun 1: Zapper 0.
I've not taken any other precautions such as fencing nor wire covers.  Frankly I didn't want to bother with them.  We have 3 dogs which I hope will deter all our animal neighbors from venturing into our garden.  I've got my fingers crossed.


Bush Beans

May 17, 2011 Bush beans are a new plant for our garden and were planted earlier this month.  The baby plants are becoming established.  I hope 1 plant per square foot allows enough space for them. I could have already planted my pole beans but I haven't gotten my poles yet.

 May 24, 2011  Bush beans have sprouted at about 75% germination rate. The growth is slow which I will attribute to tons of rain and cool weather.  Pole beans are planted.  I created tepees out of bamboo poles from Lowes.  Six poles for each tepee are tied at the top with garden twine.  I planted 7 beans around each pole.  I hope the tepees are sturdy enough for all those beans. I'll keep my fingers crossed!

1st beet planting
 May 17,2011  Another first timer in our garden, the beet leaves are happy and bushy.  I want to pull one to see the progress but don't want to sacrifice one of these future sweet treasures.  I've read that I will see their rosey shoulders when they are ready to harvest.  The smaller beets are said to be more tender.  Yes!  I won't have to wait as long.  My husband declared that he did not like beets until he tasted a roasted beet fresh from the farmers' market last year so he agreed to giving them a place in our garden.  Hummm...another veggie that tastes totally different straight from the garden!

May 24, 2011 My curiosity is killing me.  I pulled a beet to see the progress and found a definite beet!  It was only about an inch in diameter so I will let the others grow a bit more.  ( I pushed this one back in the soil just in case it can survive.)

May 17, 2011  Talk about big and bold.  These plants look like giants among all the other cool loving plants.  No flowers yet to harvest but I have located a few suggestions for preparing the leaves of the broccoli plant as you would chard or other leaves.  These will serve well as a shade for lower plants such as lettuce, radishes and carrots
May 24, 2011  Lesson not plant broccoli next to the peppers or anything else that needs lots of sunlight.  The broccoli leaves will definitely be placed in the center of the bed with lettuce and spinach all around next year.  I think these will be the perfect pairings.  The flowers are starting to show in the center of each plant. Yea! 

1st carrot crop

   Carrots:  May 17, 2011 I think carrots are pretty plants.  Their airy frilly leaves remind me of ferns.  Germination rate seems to be close to 100%.  We pulled one just to see the progress and found a 2" long white root.  Not quite an orange baby carrot yet.  Patience grasshopper.
     May 24, 2011 The teeny tiny baby carrot is orange!  More patience grasshopper.

Tender Chard

Chard:  May 17,2011 The Swiss chard is beginning to look like a smaller version of what I have purchased from the grocery store.  I haven't harvested any yet but could begin to clip a few leaves to include in a yummy frittata. One lesson learned so far.... be ruthless...thin plants to 4 plants per 1' x 1' square.  I planted 1-3 seeds in each spot and just couldn't bear the thought of destroying those baby plants.  I now have 4 bunches of plants per square where there should be 4 separate plants.  Literature states that my overall harvest will be less because the plants must compete for resources.  Next year I promise to select the most vigorous plant and sacrifice the others by clipping them off at the ground level as to not disturb the roots of the survivor.  Another option would be to carefully remove the sacrificial plants and attempt to reestablish them in another location in the garden,  share them with friends , or enjoy a micro greens salad ;-)

     May 24, 2011  The chard is still happy and growing.  It is definitely harvestable.

 Cucumbers:  May 17, 2011  Time to plant cucumbers.  I made 4 small hills 1 foot apart on  the north side of the garden and planted 3 seeds in each hill.  The reusable trellis is made of garden netting stretched across a frame of  1" metal conduit, easily anchored to the ground with 3/4" rebar.  It reminds me of the frame of a roll-away bed.   Some of the cucumbers quickly sprouted and their first leaves are up.  I will need to replant others that have been scavenged by the aforementioned chipmunks.  On a positive note, this will provide a staggered planting I had not previously considered for my cucumbers.  Thanks to our furry pests, we will extend the season with a small second planting. 
     May 24, 2011  Cucumbers are spouting but the weather has been raining every day and there are limited hot temps sooo the progress is slow.

Lettuce in the shade of broccoli
 Lettuce:  May 17, 2011  How much lettuce can a family of two eat?  A ton!  Well...not literally.  By planting three 1' x 1' squares, we have enjoyed some wonderful salads with almost zero work other than careful harvesting of outer leaves.  We began with 3 varieties just to see what each were like.  The Black Seeded Simpson and Mesclun produced the best with Salad Bowl having about 50% germination rate.  The lettuce loves our uncharacteristically cool spring and continues to replace the leaves we've harvested.  I've also planted some in the plot vacated by the earliest radishes.  Those will be sheltered from sun by the Swiss chard.  I can always bring out my protective covers if the sun gets too warm. I wonder how long I can stretch out this wonderful tender crop.

     May 24, 2011  Still tons of lettuce!  The rainy cool weather has been exactly what the lettuce gnomes ordered.

Onions going to seed

Onions:  May 17, 2011 Onions are tall and green with long straight necks. We've enjoyed several tender green onions but will save the majority for regular bulbed onions later in the season.   A few are bolting and developing seed heads on top.  There is nothing to be done once this has started except to enjoy the onion in it's smaller form. Onions that are exposed to fluctuating hot and cold temps may be triggered to send up flower/seed stalks.   We have had temps bouncing between 40 and 80 so it is no wonder my onions are confused. Hopefully some will survive to the season's end. 
     May 24, 2011  Almost all onions have bolted.  I'll be flash freezing some for use in soups and other cooked dishes.  I can't stand to see them go to waste.

Pea Blossoms

Peas:  May 17, 2011 The sugar snap peas are vigorously growing and have begun to bloom.  The are happily climbing the same type of trellis I provided for the cucumbers.  It won't be long before we get to enjoy these sweet treats.

May 24, 2011  Peas still blooming.  Soon...soon.

Ready for dinner

May 29, 2011  Peas!!!  We enjoyed our first peas tonight.  Click on the Peas link for easy yummy recipes.

Sad Peppers

Peppers:    May 17, 2011  Two of the peppers are actually setting fruits!  I can see baby peppers.  The plants were having to compete with the broccoli leaves for space and sunlight so I nipped a leaf or two from the broccoli.   Note for next year:  Plant broccoli beside low plants such as lettuce, radishes, and spinach so their leaves don't bump elbows with other tall plants.
 May 24, 2011  The peppers aren't so happy right now.  Possible causes are the shade of the broccoli; cool temperatures and few sunny days; lots and lots and lots of rain.  The peppers look anemic and more yellowish than bright green.


Potatoes:  May 17, 2011  Wow!  The potatoes are happy.  A few have begun blooming.  This is my first experience with growing potatoes and they sure make me look like I know what I'm doing when neighbors come to view the garden. (Ha!  I've got them fooled!)   I've seen all the pictures of how the yummy potatoes form while hidden under their beds of dirt so I carefully reached down the side of my raised bed.  I guess I expected a baby new potato to come wriggling into my hand like a puppy...but they did not cooperate.  ( Potatoes must be more feline than canine.)  I was too cautious to dig deeper and must be content to wait while I enjoy the lush thick foliage.  Do potatoes send up a flag to tell you when they are ready?  I'll need to look that up.  

Flea Beetles and damage on potato leaves
     May 24, 2011  More potato blooms!

     May 31, 2011  Yikes!!!  Who has been eatting my potato leaves?   I found the culprits... Colorado Potato beetle and tons of Flea Beetles.  I picked and crushed the potato beetles.  I attempted to pick all of the flea beetles but soon figured out it was an impossible task.  Several organic gardening sites recommended "Neem Oil" which is supposed to coat the unwanted critters.  The oil acts by interferring with their desire to eat and mate.  The bugs die from starvation and do not create another generation. 

Radishes:  May 17, 2011  Our family has never been a huge fan of radishes but we decided to add them to our garden with the hopes of them tasting totally different if they were fresh from the dirt.  We weren't disappointed.  We were excited to see what they looked like and pulled a couple too early when they looked like tiny red peas.  With a little more patience we were rewarded with bright red  radishes crowning above the soil.  We won't need many for our family but we will keep easy to grow staple to our garden. 
     May 24, 2011  Still harvesting

Spinach:  May 17, 2011  Both varieties of the spinach have been delicious.  We've gotten 2 heavy harvests but I pulled most of the plants this week as they were beginning to bolt.  My biggest problem now is deciding which favorite spinach recipe to use for this final collection.  Planting guides tell me to wait to plant another crop for cool weather in the fall but I wonder that if the cool weather continues I might sneak in another crop if I reseeded now.  I may try with a portion of my plot.  Spinach recipes.
     May 24, 2011  Still harvesting from the remaining plants.  I will be freezing the excess.

 Summer Squash and Zucchini:  I set out one squash plant and one zucchini plant this year rather than planting seeds.  I did not want to sacrifice additional space in my compact garden to the prolific vines of the squash. The transplants are already blooming like crazy.  If they produce in abundance, our family will have plenty.  If not... it will be a good excuse to visit the local farmers' market :-)   If the plants are really productive, I may try one of these recipes for preparing squash blossoms.  They sound yummy!  Squash blossom recipes.

baby zucchini

baby squash

May 24th:  I see baby squash and zucchini...or is that squashes and zucchinis?

Tomatoes:  May 17, 2011  I've planted tomatoes in the past.  This year I did three things differently; one good, one not so good and one is yet to be decided.  The good thing I did differently was to strip the bottom leaves and place the plant deep into the soil.  The extended part of the stem planted beneath the soil will develop roots leading to a stronger and more productive plant.  The plants look sturdy and full.  Three are full of blooms but the temperatures have been below 50 degrees and fruit cannot set at those temps.  I hope the blooms last until the temps stabilize. 

     The bad thing I did differently was not to stake or cage my tomatoes at the time they were planted.  I know better but they looked so pretty and neat without any supports.  I decided to stake the largest and try cages for the smaller plants.  I've not used cages before so we will see which work better for me.
  The new technique whose success has yet to be determined is to plant in a container on my deck surrounded by basil, dill and chives. I know this plant will require more water but the convenience of having it beside the kitchen door may outweigh the watering duties. 
     May 24, 2011   Plants are growing and growing!  Note:  Tomatoes take more than one square foot in a square foot garden.  This year is going to be mighty crowded.