Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Twenty Pounds of Taters

Time has come to dig the first row of potatoes planted on March 15th.  They had died back so a couple of weeks ago I cut back the foliage and let them sit in the ground to harden.  This apparently makes them store better.  Because of the damage done by potato forks, I dig them mostly by hand.  I love coming to a cluster of them, and when I sift through the loose soil above, I turn up little surprises, bright red like strawberries.

Some of them were quite large, and worm damage was minimal.  I only found two which had wire worm holes in them.  This harvest was much better quality overall than last years.

To avoid damaging the skin, and prolong their storage life, you should remove as little dirt as possible from them.  I place them in the hod and give them a quick shower to remove most of the dirt and bring less into the house!

Then I place them in a shady spot to dry.  This past weekend was not too hot, and we had a nice brisk breeze which dried them quickly.

These Kennebec's were frozen back several times to the soil line because they were too eager, but it doesn't seem to have hurt their production too much.

Not bad for a knarly, sprouty batch of rejects!  They survived many frosts and one significant snowfall and pulled through with a wonderful crop.  I turned this basket into one row and two pots which yielded...


And this times 2

And a twenty pound hod of taters.  About 23 pounds total.

In other news, its bean time.  This bed has a several varieties.  On the poles to the left is the tri-color assortment from Renee's Seeds.   And on the right are Kentucky Blue, a cross between the old fashioned (and tough stringy...) Kentucky Wonder and my favorite Blue Lake Bush beans.  The vines aren't very vigorous, but my hope is that they will continue through the season.  The beans themselves are superior to the ones on the other pole.  Those aren't bad, but the yellows are a rather coarse wax bean which is no where near as tasty as the phenomenal  Gold Mine Bush beans I normally grow.  No worries though, those will be ready soon.  The bush beans at the foot of the poles are Midnight Black Turtle Soup beans for drying.  That will be a first for me.

Happy Gardening!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Out of Control

My father and Stepmother are on vacation for a week.  Dad asked me to check on his garden.  He said the rest of the kids had been invited to come and get zucchini.  Since I already have my own zucchini control problem, I told him I would check for out of control squash and feed them to Mom's chickens.

His squash plants are gorgeous.   But there sure are a lot of them...eight maybe?  For two people?  That's a lot of squash.  There were three good sized squash tossed just outside the fence waiting for me.  I approached the jungle with trepidation.

Now I know my father has gardening discipline.  Just look how well trained, pruned and staked his tomatoes are.  Mine generally look like a jungle (I take after my mother) but his are the most well tended plants I've ever seen.  And there is not a weed in sight.

I peered under the leaves. There was a nice sized squash right there, still shiny and fresh. It would be good for a day or two, so I passed it up just in case one of the stepbrothers thought they might make zucchini bread this weekend. Nearby was an overgrown one. Good, I thought, a treat for the chickens.  At least I would have something to surprise Mom with.  The next plant had two more.  Hmmmmm....


 As I picked, I heaved them over the fence into the lawn and began making plans for getting them out of here. The heavy canopy of leaves, and the darkness of this variety made it hard to distinguish them.  I continued to poke and prod.  And I realised, with a sinking feeling, that they were getting bigger.  Some of them required two hands to twist off and made a sickening hollow thud as they hit the ground.  What kind of nut, plants 8 zucchini plants, then takes a summer vacation?

Reaching the end of the zucchini patch, I straightened up and looked around.  Uh Oh.  There, at the end of a pepper row was another lone zucchini plant.  This one wasn't as large, but what it lacked in size, it made up for in production.  And right next to it was a tidy hill of cucumber plants.  I could see right away I had a problem here too.  Since leaving mature fruit on the vine will discourage a plant from producing more, I felt obligated to remove them.  The cucumbers were bloated by the rain, and there were a lot of them.  I picked about a dozen of the worst ones, and flung them to the end of the garden too.

Now I had about two bushels of squash and cukes to deal with. And for that, I was a bit unprepared. With a sigh, I hiked back up the hill to my car for a tarp and a canvas bag. I rounded up all the zukes and stacked them in the tarp like cord wood. The cukes I wiped off and filled a canvas market bag. Then I bundled it all up, and headed around the corner for the farm. I backed my car down the driveway, popped the trunk, and called to my mother "bring your little red wagon". I proudly lifted the trunk lid and showed her my little surprise. Then I posed the question to her: "What kind of nut plants 8 zucchini plants (for two people) then takes a summer vacation?" She actually knew the answer to this question. "The son of a southern farmer. We need a pig."    Ah, so that is the complete answer to the question:  The son of a southern hog farmer.  Makes total sense now. 

It didn't take long for the pet chickens, who free range all the time, to notice there was a visitor and assume there was something in it for them.  Within minutes, Peanut, Grandma and "white hen" had arrived to examine the harvest.

Although they began pecking at them right away, Mom broke open one squash to give them easy access to their favorite part.  The seeds.  "Just think" I said to Mom, "you're going to have green chicken poo on your porch for a week."

But, for those of you who do not have a flock of chickens or a pig to devour your excess crops.  There is always zucchini bread.  I have my first batch in the freezer, and I finally got to use last year's Christmas present from Mom and Richard.

Mom's Zucchini bread recipe:

3 eggs
2 cups of sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups of shredded zucchini (about 2 medium sized)
1 cup crushed pineapple ~ drained
3 cups of flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup raisins
1 cup nuts (pecan or walnut) crushed
You can use less of the raisins and nuts, in fact if you are not a huge fan of fruit cake, I recommend using less.

Beat together the eggs, sugar and vanilla.  Sift together dry ingredients.
Add the zucchini and pineapple to the egg mixture, then slowly add the dry ingredients. 
Grease and flour bread pans and leave about a third of the pan as head room because this is more of a cake batter than actual bread.  I used 4 small loaf pans and a mid-sized pan.  I think it would fit into two large loaf pans.

Bake at 350* for about an hour.  Since I use many smaller pans, I baked for 55 minutes.
Enjoy.  This is the only way Tim will eat zucchini ;)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Brandywine... not a whine

It's a record!  The first tomato of the season is the Brandywine.  We beat 2011's Anannas Noir by 7 days, and 2010's Barlow Jap by 5 days.  Because its 93* out.

I've been nibbling on Sun Gold cherry tomatoes for almost two weeks.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Good The Bad and the Ugly

It is mid July, and it has become apparent what is and isn't working this year.  The new lushness of June has worn off, and things that are going to look haggard are beginning to look... haggard.  Last June was the wettest on record.  We got a lot of growth, and not a lot of production.  This year we are teetering on the brink of drought.

Things are still colorful and growing, and we have had a lot of successes so far.

The peas turned out well, but only because I planted half of them a month early.  The ones planted with normal timing were a bit lackluster.  But they still produced.  I have a record amount frozen for winter, and I haven't decided whether to plant a fall crop or not.  We'll see if I lose heart.

Carrots are doing fine.  I planted those early as well, and we are bginning to enjoy them.

The root crops have been just great.  The onions are doing quite well and are still upright and growing with very little fussing or manual watering.

The garlic did well also, and I now have more garlic than I will use, and have given some away.  And of course, my potato pots were a success.  I will begin digging the first row of potatoes next weekend.

The spring lettuce was outstanding and is sadly over and done.  The romaine I planted under the pole beans didn't take to the idea.  I yanked them up and transplanted them to a couple of pots which I've placed in the shade.  They have survived their intial shock and outrage and have decided to make a go of it.

I even left a few cut off stalks in the lettuce patch which are shaded by the squash and have bought into the "cut and come again" theory of salad production.

My first row of cucumber which are nursery transplants are the first disappointment.  When I pulled the peas away from this row they were by no means as robust as the vines given the same treatment last year.  I am suspicious that they were mislabeled somewhere along the line because this looks a heck of a lot more like a pickling variety than a Marketmore.  The few cukes have been short and stubby, but good enough.  My second planting from Sweet Success seeds are much more true to form and producing well.

 But some of the vines appear to have Anthracnose.  And although I am used to seeing a cucumber beetle here and there each year, I have seen more than a dozen this year and have begun to squish them.  They are now on to me and becoming shy of humans.

This is the first year I have tried the red plastic tomato mulch.  Among other things, it is supposed to reduce soil born foliar diseases.  Fail. 

The Flea Beetles have been exceptionally hard on the eggplants this year. The diatomaceous earth had no visible effect on the numbers, so I began spraying them with a mixture of water, rubbing alcohol, and peppermint castille soap.  That really sent them running.  But they would be back the next day.  I got too enthusiastic with my spray and burnt some of the new growth.  **Sigh** If it's not one thing, it's another.

Some of the bell peppers appear to have picked up anthracnose too.  It seems concentrated on one plant, and I suppose I ought to just pull it out and be done with it before it spreads.

But all is not lost.  My first Brandywine tomato will be ripe soon, and the plant is healthy and producing well.  I also bought a Paul Robeson which has over a dozen good sized green tomatoes on it and I am excited to see how they turn out.  In addition to the few plants I bought, I had sudden "heirloom grower's remorse" over having not started any of my favorite varieties myself.  I just wasn't keen on dealing with a month of having my dining room turned into a grow-op.  Around May 9th, the remorse struck, and I started 4 varieties outside in the cold frame.  The beauty of this is that the hardening off went like a breeze! 

Granted, on the day the purchased Brandywine and Robeson looked like this...

The Jap, Absynthe, Annannas Noir and Dr. Wyche plants looked like this...

But they are now over half the size of their neighbors and setting fruit.  Sure, they will be behind, but for ease of growing I'd say that was a big Win!

Despite their miserable appearance, the eggplants are soldiering on.  They can be such beautiful plants when they are healthy, so their condition is distressing, but I'll still get to eat eggplant.

And the pepper plants not infected with anthracnose are healthy and producing well.

The pole beans, although sluggish from lack of rain

Are flowering and setting beans.  Since I still have some freezer beans from last year, waiting is not quite so difficult.

And the geraniums in the front landscaping... Wow!  They are gorgeous.  Careful planting with compost, initial watering and fertilizing started them off well and they are providing so much color.  Some plants have as many as a dozen blooms on them at a time.  I will definitely be repeating this next year!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Too Many....

This blog will, until further notice, be referred to as "Too Many Zucchini".  Once again, ONE plant is more than enough for one person.  Why did I plant the Eight Ball plant too?

Last night I cooked three zucchini.  There were still two in the refrigerator, and tonight I picked 6 more.  Important to pick them small... what would I do if I allowed them to get big?

My favorite way to eat Zucchini:  Saute some diced garlic and sliced onion until they caramelize.  Add a sliced zucchini and brown them.  Season with Borsari salt.  Serve over angel hair pasta and sprinkle some shredded mozzarella cheese over the dish allowing it to melt.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What's For Dinner?

I'm always talking about growing food, but seldom about eating it.  On tonight's menu, besides a boring slice of ham, we have grilled Eight Ball zucchini, Circus Circus tri-colored carrot blend from Renee's Garden Seeds, baby red Pontiac potatoes in butter and Borsari Season Salt and a Sweet Success cucumber and Sun Gold tomato salad drizzled with Italian dressing.  And of course, homemade Reisling wine from Mike and Shelly's wine cellar.

That Borsari seasoning salt is a staple in my kitchen.  I use it alot on vegetables, potatoes and pork.  It is a friend of mine's old family recipe.  The past few years, he and his wife have gone into marketing this salt along with another salt, olive oil, and a delicious bloody mary mix.  If any of you have a Wegman's grocery in your area, Wegman's has picked up the salt and begun selling it under Wegman's label as "Garlic Herb Seasoning Shaker".  Same stuff.  A couple of weeks ago I ran into her passing out samples at our local Wegman's and she gave me a great Gazpacho recipe using their products and a lot of fresh veggies.  I may have to feature that someday soon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

On a more gentle note

These photos make me want to buy fancy tall jars with old fashioned rubber seals and can carrots.

Williams and Sonoma knows just how to market to people like me.  They have me by the nose.

But I rarely cave in and spend the money.

 Not even this spring when they tried to sell me a chicken tractor.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ninety Eight Degrees

It's July.  And it's Hot.  And Tim and I lost patience with ourselves and each other at about 89 degrees.  And then in the mid nineties we both lost patience with the garden and more specifically wildlife in the garden.  The boiling point was 98 degrees.

It's rather annoying to come out in the three mornings out of every week and have to spend 10 minutes cleaning up stuff like this.  If I had the time and the patience, I could fill this blog with the destruction of the past 2 months.  From the robin's next on the front porch (x 3), to the swallow's nest on the garage light.  The deer nipping off blooms here and there.  I could show you plenty of stems without flowers.  9 geranium stems this morning alone.  Geraniums?  I have netting and fencing and electric strung far and wide in various tried and proven booby traps.  We spent a couple of hours in the hot sun today, stringing up a new electric fence around the black eyed susans, and I joyfully baited it with foil squares smeared with peanut butter so she gets it on her wet little nose and not on her insulating fur.  (Tim says I'm vengeful)

The raccoons have been extraordinarily annoying this year.  I sort of cured them of rootin' around in my pots (see above) but I have more pots than rat traps, and it takes at least three per pot to cover all angles.  I am tired of vacuuming potting soil out of the gravel (it lifts the soil and leaves the gravel) and replanting petunias, righting watering cans and rounding up discarded seed potatoes and baby eggplants with tooth marks in them.

The demise of the garden ornaments was sort of the last straw.  And lately we seem to have developed a mysterious genetic flaw in our coon population.  One died of lead poisoning, two seem to have had major heart attacks, and the fourth begged to be relocated far far away.  **Shrug** I don't hold out much hope for any others that might be lurking out there.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Great Potato Pot Experiment 2012

I needed some potatoes for supper and the next ones in line are the red Pontiacs in pots. This is the second year I've put my "scraps" of seed potatoes in the only remaining available space... pots. I tried it last year, and unfortunately managed to burn and kill 99% of my plants by watering them on a hot sunny day. I still got 11 potatoes out of one plant. When Tim saw that he said "tell me again why we're planting them in the ground?"  We were only averaging 6 potatoes per stem in the rows.

I had trimmed back the foliage earlier in the day in preparation for harvesting.  I discarded the plants in our "land fill" area far from the garden.  Because of all the lovely soil born foliar diseases that the nightshade family are susceptible to (early blight, late blight, septorial speck, bacterial wilt, anthracnose...), I never compost tomatoes, potatoes or eggplant trimmings.  The pot on the right will be next on the slate.  The plants are beginning to look a bit ragged and over grown.

Potatoes, in a pot or in the ground, are always a bit of a surprise.  You never know how you are doing until you dig the plant up.  Then there is no going back.  Once you decide they are ready to pick, you are committed.

It's a bit like Christmas morning. You begin unwrapping and the anticipation is killing you...

What's inside?
Are there any potatoes at all?
Has the waiting been in vain?

You stir the dirt, and they begin to appear.


Smooth, hard, red treasures.
1, 2, 3, 4...

17 potatoes!
This will make at least three meals for us.
Had they been left in longer to fully mature, that would have been a 5 pound bag of potatoes!

I sifted through all the soil and put it back in the pot.  I will use it as needed to "hill" the potatoes I planted a week and a half ago in the tree containers.

I have decided there are at least 7 reasons why pot potatoes are superior to potatoes grown conventionally in the ground. 

1.  It saves space.  Traditional rows of potatoes take up a lot of space.  No room to add a row?  Put a pot on the patio.  If you choose the wrong spot, just pick up your pot and find a sunnier or shadier spot.
2.  You do not have to worry about rotating your crops as long as you start with clean, disease free potting soil each year.  You can either solarise, amend and reuse your soil for potatoes in the future, or repurpose it for flower containers.
3.  You do not run the risk of damaging the potatoes with a fork as you dig them.  I always spear one or two no matter how careful I am.
4.  You will not be leaving any behind accidentally so you increase your yield in that respect.
5.  No worms.  These roots were completely blemish free.
6.  They are easy to "hill" as long as you have a good supply of soil on hand which I do.  No digging or piling.  Simply add a few scoops of soil to each pot once a week or so.
7.  No weeding.

And really, they are rather attractive plants, especially when they bloom.  I don't think you can go wrong planting potatoes in a container.