Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Else is Growing?

Everything! When I was looking through photos for this blog, I couldn't believe how much everything grows in a week. It's not only keeping me busy, it's already keeping us fed.

The first tomato to set this year was the Barlow Jap, as always.

And there are a couple of bell peppers of a usable size. This one is going into fresh salsa this weekend along with an onion, since those are just beginning to form bulbs.

Here is this year's version of the bush bean and cucumber bed. Last year I put the cukes down the middle, but they always head east (with the wind, and towards the morning sun) so I put them on the east edge this year instead of the middle. Minuscule baby slugs almost did in the transplants I bought, but some survived, and I filled in the gaps with seeds. The itsy bitsy teeny tiny (you really have NO idea) slugs were dealt with by scraping them off with my fingernails. I killed several dozen two nights in a row, drowned the mid sized ones in beer, and have kept them at bay with Iron Sulphate pellets which are working great and have also saved my pansies and lettuce.

I even have a little cucumber riiiiiight there.

I also planted very very short sunflowers in with the cucumbers, and allowed half a dozen Borage volunteers which were in the right places to draw pollinators in.

This is the Magda summer squash. There are two squash on there that will soon be ready to eat.

And on the other end of that bed is my lettuce. Blogger refused to put this photo in right. And the grow through grids are over the Borage. Last year the Borage was a jumbled mess, so we'll see if we can keep them tidy with grids. In the middle of that lettuce, is a plain old zucchini plant and along one edge is the third planting of cucumbers I really wasn't expecting the lettuce to last this long, but I only got bitter leaves once. If a plant starts to bolt, I pull it right away. And boy do we have lettuce!!!

That's what I get for not thinning it. But it really isn't a problem. I can hack at it with scissors, fill a bag to last us a week, and still not make a dent. I have seven varieties. These I got from Renee's Garden Ruby and Emerald Duet (Buttercrisp), Paris Market, and my favorite, Heirloom Cutting Mix.

I also got some transplants from a local greenhouse, and put in "Leaf Lettuce", Iceberg Lettuce, Buttercrisp and Romaine. Tim seems to like the Romaine the best with a little bit of the fancy stuff mixed on, but last night I gave him a bowl of pure Iceberg (the city boy favorite). I'm getting pretty good sized heads which is sort of a surprise.

So, lettuce is a HUGE success. I expect it will wear out at some point, and then the zucchini and cuccumbers can take over. If it doesn't give up, the zukes and cukes can provide filtered shade. You can bet I will be planting it again in the fall.

So we have been enjoying salads, fresh peas and a steady supply of strawberries. I've also been trying to use up my frozen green beans from last year so we won't have leftovers because the bush beans are blooming at it won't be too long before we will be enjoying them as well.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What's Growing: Garden Peas

Peas are one of my most favorite garden crops. Not only are fresh peas so superior to canned, or even frozen peas, but I love the flowers and even the chore of shelling them. Tim once offered to help me shell peas, and afterwards declared the crop "too much work for too little food". But I love peas.

All week I have sat in my office and had, in the back of my mind, lush rows of peas, full of flowers, the pods dangling within temptations reach. Of course I would always rather be outside than stuck in my office, but I just can't get enough of looking at my peas.

This year I am growing 6 different kinds of peas. I have Survivor, a low growing "leafless" variety which has many tendrils in place of leaves, Maestro, which matured earliest, Wando, which I saved from the last of a fall crop in 2007, some sugar snap peas, and both a tall and bush variety of blue podded peas. The flowers on these are wonderful, ranging from pink to blue to lavender and purple.

The pods are truly bright blue, but you will have to wait until they mature more to see some pictures.

Today's harvest of peas, mostly Maestro. They took almost half an hour to shell, and were reduced to ....

... a little over 3 cups of peas.

I love popping open the a perfect, even row of peas.

• Peapods are botanically a fruit, since they contain seeds developed from the ovary of a (pea) flower. However, peas are considered to be a vegetable in cooking. More specifically, they are a legume.
• The wild pea is restricted to the Mediterranean basin and the Near East. The earliest archaeological finds of peas come from Neolithic Syria, Turkey and Jordan. In Egypt, early finds date from ca. 4800–4400 BC in the Nile delta area, and from ca. 3800–3600 BC in Upper Egypt.
• In early times, peas were grown mostly for their dry seeds. In modern times, however, peas are usually boiled or steamed.
• The pea is only green when eaten because it is picked when still immature. A ripe pea is more yellow in color. Eating peas when they are green became fashionable in the 1600s and 1700s but was described by the French as "madness".
• Thomas Jefferson grew more than 30 cultivars of peas on his estate.
• Just one serving of garden peas contains as much vitamin C as two large apples, more fiber than a slice of whole grain bread and more thiamine than a pint of whole milk.
• Peas are said to give relief to ulcer pains in the stomach because they help 'use up' stomach acids.
• A 100-calorie serving of peas (three quarters of a cup) contains more protein than a whole egg or tablespoon of peanut butter.
• In the mid-19th century Austrian scientist Gregor Mendel observed the pea pod leading him to create his principle of Mendelian genetics, the foundation of modern genetics.

The garden is growing like mad, and the recent rains have caused an amazing growth spurt. Soon I will be eating summer squash, and the beans are beginning to flower. I even have some pretty good sized tomatoes and bell peppers.

Besides the vegetable garden, we spent last Saturday landscaping in one side of the chicken yard. Only the brick walk to the gate, and surrounding landscaping to go.

And Thursday night we brought in a lot of dirt and began hilling the potatoes. They were growing at an alarming rate and were at least a foot tall. And it's a good thing we got it done because since that evening, we have had almost 2 inches of rain. There has been some sun, but any picking and tending I've had to do has been in between the rain drops..

Monday, June 20, 2011

Migrant Workers

People often ask us about our honey bees. it is a well known fact that there are issues with the American honey bee population, so every gardener is concerned and spends an ample amount of time worrying over their pollinators or absence thereof. I have toyed with the idea of having a bee hive, and have read a few books on the subject. But so far our wide variety of pollinators, and our old fashioned bee tree has held us in good stead. But there is something unique about our bees. Or should I say that having not read up on old fashioned bee tree honey bees, I assume it is unique. Our bees do not winter over.

Sometime in the fall, the activity in the hive will cease. Come spring, there will be a disconcerting silence. But one day, usually corresponding with the blooming of the white clover, you will go to check the bee tree and it will be a hive of activity (excuse the pun). I have witnessed the exit of the swarm, and Tim was fortunate enough to witness their return.

Late last week I saw that my cucumbers have begun to bloom. Naturally, this made me anxious for the honey bees. I noticed around Friday or Saturday that the white clover in our large backyard had begun to bloom, but again, there was a worrisome silence. And then today, they were back. Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, or the Monarchs to Santa Cruz... the honey bees have returned to our garden.

Tim happened to be outside working on our old garage which is 50 feet from the bee tree when he heard a humming. Not a mechanical humming, but the sort of humming that stirs your primordial soul and sends quivers up your spine. As I mentioned, I've seen this process in reverse, and it is something you will never forget. In true "husband of dedicated Blogger" fashion, he hurried for the camera.

Since neither Tim nor I are experienced photographers, we often run into frustrations without point and shoot digital skills. Add to that the fear of being stung by thousands of agitated bees, and you can imagine the range of photos you end up with.

The bees came in for a landing, hovering in what I can only describe as a mini tornado. When the swarm comes in it is at least a dozen feet across, and fifty plus feet high. They headed straight for the bee tree, but it took them quite awhile to get organised. There is only one main entrance to the tree and the first comers land en masse on the bark while the rest continue their frantic circling outside.

Here their flight shows up as "flecks" of bees.

The clouds are peppered with bees.

The bees have a busy afternoon ahead of them. Besides queuing up to get in, there is a lot of housekeeping to do, and everyone has to choose their room, and unpack. It makes you wonder where they've been and how far they've traveled. I'm glad they remember about our white clover, and the inviting bee tree. I have also planted a host of enticing perennials and the borage will soon be in bloom. Welcome to my garden. I hope you stay awhile.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's the Bearies

Tim has been working on the chicken run so we can finish the landscaping and be done with the garden area once and for all. Yesterday he started laying nice smooth sand, which, in typical Tim fashion, he smoothed and raked. Then he said "we can see what sort of critters are running around out here.

This was not what we were expecting

I hurried up and picked all my strawberries which were inches away. no sense tempting Yogi into messing with Tim's lovely strawberry cages.

What is UP with Blogger?!?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Happy Anniversary

As the strawberries have been ripening all this week, I have been sampling them and wishing I had some champagne to go with them. Because nothing goes better with strawberries than champagne. Since this is our anniversary, Tim went and got a bottle of champagne for me while I picked strawberries. Mike and Shelly happened to wander over just as we were popping the cork. They brought a card, more champagne and a great sign that will hold a place of honor in the garden shed. Shelly is better at remembering our anniversary than I am! I'm not good with dates, unless it's the last frost date.

There are still a lot of strawberries to ripen, and the good news is the anti slug measures have been working, and I haven't found one ruined berry!

The cats joined our afternoon of celebration, and ate too much catnip.

Vivian passed out under the horseradish.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Where to put the tater patch?

There is a part of me who thinks that my garden is just a little too fussy and structured, and longs for a row to hoe. I guess you can't take the farm out of the girl. So I was pretty happy when Tim decided he wanted {me} to grow potatoes this year. He has the posts for the chicken fence in, so we can see what is left to landscape, and he asked if the slope on the other side of the water tank would be a good spot. Yup. Good enough. Since everyone in the Northeast has been waiting for the ground to dry, there were still plenty of seed potatoes to be had, so we undertook to farm...

Step #1: Make a plan. We are going to edge and mulch along the new chicken fence, and plant some of our "leftover" perennials, which means we need to decide on the shape of the bed for optimal ease of lawn mowing. We laid a garden hose out and moved it around until we were both happy. Then we marked off what part of this new plan would allow for the potatoe bed, and cut in that edge because if there's anything I can tell you about our landscaping plans is... "they change".

Step #2: If you have large tools (i.e. equipment) use it. I can't imagine stripping all this sod out by hand. I also can't imagine weeding if we just turned it in. Tim and I deliberately tried to ignore how many times we {he} have stripped, replanted, watered, and sown grass seed on this particular spot. This sod went straight over to the side yard where it will be used in the finishing off of the septic field which has been sitting bare headed waiting for the rain to stop long enough to be graded with the tractor.

Step #3: There just isn't much "top soil" on this bare slope. But not to worry, we always have a pile handy from our last change of plans, so Tim brought in some old garden dirt to add. I imagine I will have to bring more in throughout the hilling process.

Step #4: Quick Question: why does a machine work fine when you put it away in the fall, and then refuse to cooperate in the spring? Gremlins? Alas, there is always a reason, but it isn't always apparent. In this case it was as simple as a dried out belt and 10 minutes later we were in business. I'm always happy to have Tim try out the machinery first. It saves me from explaining why it doesn't work and it's not my fault.

Result: Tidy, well tilled Tater Patch.

I measured out my potato rows and carefully placed the seed potatoes, two eyes per tater, sprouts up. I had a few left over, but if we have a good year, this little patch ought to keep us in potatoes all year. The row closest to the RR Ties is an early red called Norland that we can use later this summer, and the other two are a red (Pontiac) and a white for storing.

After Tim spent a few hours stripping sod and tilling dirt for me (if I had done it myself dinner would have been way later than 8pm) he finally got back to his original project.

It seems most of the rain water was diverting down the over flow. So Tim dug a big hole and cut his plumbing apart. Turned out that one of the water inlets was close enough to the Y that goes to the bypass, and it was swirling in just right and heading itself right back out the divertor. Tim decided to raise the over flow line high enough that the entire line would have to back fill before it diverts (Unless we have the valve closed for winter). This resulted in a last minute trip to the hardware store, which had just closed. Undaunted, he took off across town to the big box store hoping to get things fixed and closed up before the hole filled with rain water. By the time he got back, it was already raining so when I looked out the window he was standing in the hole under an umbrella watching the water swirl. He ended up using all parts he had on hand and I got the pleasure of returning everything to the big box store.

We spent the whole day digging holes, stripping out carefully planted grass, moving mulch around, undoing and re-doing. Isn't that always the way it is? But we're pretty happy with the tater patch, and we're hoarding rain water again. All is well. Tim thinks I will have to hill my potatoes with my old fashioned hiller. Hmmm... I wonder if it will be as tempermental as the tiller? We shall see.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Regarding Blogger Comments (Michelle/Anita)

I can't comment on Anita's blog either. Keeps giving me the sign in run around. It started yesterday and I haven't tried anyone else's.

I poked around in Blogger help, and apparently this is connected to the log in problems from last week and they're "rolling out a fix". That was 4 days ago. even my IT dept works faster than THAT!