Sunday, December 28, 2014

Merry Christmas, Good Yule and a Happy New Year

I have been a lazy blogger of late.  But I hope you have all noticed that the solstice has come and gone and we are on the upswing towards spring, with plenty of seed catalogs in the mail to prove it.

Last year I celebrated Winter Solstice by digging horse radish roots.  I need to do that this week.  We enjoyed lettuce from the garden until the end of November this year.  I had it covered under hoops, and it survived just fine until single digit nights did it in.  I had cut a 2 gallon container and we had fresh salads for another couple of weeks.

We planted four new trees from Big Horse Creek Farm in the apple orchard.  The varieties are Yellow Transparent, Chenango Strawberry, Esopus Spitzenberger and Golden Delicious.  Next year I plan to add Honey Crisp, Red Astrachan (neither of which survived to shipping time this year) and another Stark King David.

I added a nice selection of spring bulbs that I am looking forward to, and the first order of business this spring will be to replace my strawberry plants.  This time I've chosen Honeoye instead of a mish mash of freebies and clearance pots.  

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and enjoy the Peace of Winter.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Labor Day Weekend

I had lost interest in tomatoes.  I had particularly lost interest in canning tomatoes.  I just don't use that many of them and its a whole lot of work and mess.  So what was I going to do with all the rag tag odds and ends of tomatoes?  You can only eat so many BLTs.  And then, on a horse chat site, of all things, someone suggested Bloody Mary Mix.  Well why didn't I think of that.  Despite the fact that Tim doesn't like raw tomatoes, and things made with tomato sauce bother his stomach, he still manages to choke down a Bloody Mary most Sundays.  His favorite is a sweet, (pricey) gourmet variety marketed by long time friends of ours.  I prefer a spicier, less sweet version.  Now I can adjust it to suit us both.

I had all the ingredients except for the Banana Peppers and Ginger Root lurking around the house.  I got the peppers at the farm stand and skipped the ginger.  This recipe is a visual feast from the assembling of the ingredients right down to the part you put it in the blender and turn in into pulp.  This was fun and easy to make, and even more fun to consume.

Bloody Mary Recipe

Thus armed with a Bloody Mary, I embarked on a pickle adventure.  I have been getting the nicest cucumbers in years.  I credit the blood meal and the hard work of my bumble bees.  My pickle planning is improving with experience.  I figured out how to keep the jars hot from beginning to end (have an empty stock pot handy and bail the boiling water from the jar sterilization pot as you fill.  Set them right back into the hot water in the second pot) and I ended up with one extra jar and two cuke slices that just wouldn't fit in that last jar no way,  no how.

This row is producing unusually nice cucumbers.

So after it was all said and done, I have quite a nice little pile of produce put away.  It felt like an accomplishment.  Then tonight I went out to the garden and picked a dozen more large cucumbers and half a dozen tomatoes and I'm right back where I started.  And as soon as the second bed of black beans shakes off all this rain I'll be shelling another 2 quarts of those.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

We Have Bees!

Yesterday after returning from morning errands I was walking up the drive when I heard a warm welcoming sound.... thousands of honey bees buzzing.  I went over to check the bee tree and sure enough, a swarm has come in.  Yay!  We have bees again.his video is turned correctly on You Tube

The Zucchini that ate....

Well I don't know what it ate.  But it sure looks like it ate something.  A garden toad?  Too many cherry tomatoes?  What do you think is in there?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Winding Down

August has caught up to us.  Over the past week or two, the garden has succumbed to the normal garden diseases.  My Dunja zucchini finally got Mildew. And Late Blight arrived in my gorgeous Tomato Jungle so now it looks like everyone else's tomato patch.

The Black Beans are reaching the end of their lives and looking pretty ragged.

This Bean Bed is two weeks behind

The bean hulls are beginning to dry and look papery.  At this point they will pop open and release their beans so I'm paroling the beds and beginning to pick as they reach the right stage.

Oh Melon Patch you were so beautiful in your younger days!

But we have your melons now and all good things must come to an end. 
We are enjoying wonderful sweet cantaloupe for breakfast and snacks.  The advantage to small melons is that they are single serving size.  I'm not sure what we would have done if a half dozen 6# melons ripened all on one day.

Yup, there's the tomato bed in its old age.  What a mess.

But it is still producing gorgeous fruit.

This Prosperosa Eggplant and Blue Beauty tomato were my dinner yesterday.
Grilled Eggplant Parmigiana Hero

But not everyone is showing their age.  The carrots are in the prime of their lives, and the bush beans down the center are growing well.  I am relying on these for freezer beans.  I only have about 25% of what I need in the freezer.

And the second planting of cucumbers which replaced the lettuce in Mid-July is absolutely AMAZING.  They are planning on taking over the world.

I am getting beautiful, long, fully pollinated cukes.

But in their enthusiasm the cucumbers are being a bit thuggish,  The purple bush beans have climbed enough to be holding their own in there but I think I am going to move these lettuce babies before they get too stunted.

There is one lone cucumber beetle that I haven't had the heart to kill.  He's helping the Bumble Bees pollinate. 

And they've been working overtime on the cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.  We lost our hive of honey bees to the brutal winter and no new swarm has found the bee tree.  Fortunately we have a good population of Bumbles.

The sweet potatoes are loving the recent heat.  I hope we get as good a result from them as we did the regular potatoes.

I made the decision to pull the "everbearing" strawberries.  I had those plants for five or six years and they were pretty tired.  I amended the soil and it is ready for new June Bearing plants next spring.  I think I'll put the lettuce babies in here for fall.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cantaloupes and Tomatoes

Every day I've been picking up the oldest cantaloupe hoping it would slip off the stem.  Tonight when I got home, it was sitting there off it's vine, and the next one in line slipped when I picked it up.  The variety is Burpee's Sweet N' Early.  The fruit are supposed to be 6 pounds.   Mmmmm... not so much.  Mine are a pound and a half.  They claim that each vine bears 6-8 fruit.  Again... an over estimation.  I planted 16 plants and I have 30 melons.  That's two per vine.  But that's where my complaint ends.  The vines are vigorous.  No signs of mildew.  The melons are very sweet and flavorful. I haven't tasted a vine ripened cantaloupe since my grandfather in Kentucky used to grow them and the store bought ones just can't compare. So was the size due to the lousy weather or something to do with my soil?  Whatever it was I'd say this was a good starting point.

Other firsts this past week.  First (finally) ripe tomato was the Blue Beauty.  It's a really good tomato!  I'm so glad that such a cool looking and fun to grow tomato is also tasty and useful.  I will grow it again.  And there are plenty more where that came from.

Also last week was my first ripe eggplant.  Production is low but I am getting one of each of the four varieties I planted so I'm satisfied.  The only way I really like them is fried in oil, so it is wise not to give me too many. Eggplants are such a long hall.  I planted these seeds April 1st, and I knew I wouldn't get one until August.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Tomato Jungle and August Update

This has been an unusually cool and wet summer.  The past week has had highs between 61 and 67 degrees with overcast skies and rain more days than not.  Despite this (opportunity for rampant disease), my tomato plants have never looked better.  You can see above that they are a green, disease free, jungle of foliage.  I generally, but not always,  plant peppers and eggplants or carrots and beans at their feet.  This minimizes the soil splashed up onto the lower leaves in the rain thereby reducing the chance of disease.  This year I have a thick "under story" of peppers and basil.  By this time of year I expect that the lower leaves would at least be yellowing and dying of old age but they aren't.  Only the far end plant, the Sungold cherry is showing any sign at all of septorial speck or yellowing.

Beautiful, healthy foliage with clumps of fruit

And the production is good.  Each plant has a normal amount of large fruit set and waiting for warmer days and nights to ripen.  Last year I was very diligent about standard tomato pruning theories, removing suckers and all leaves below the first blossoms.  But the result of that was a reduction of producing vines.  That combined with the poor growing season seemed to completely demoralize the plants and they gave up the will to live.

For comparison:  my main tomato bed the first week of August 2013 teeters on the brink of extinction.

A more typical August (2012) picture with diseased and dying lower leaves removed.

August 2011 lower leaves removed and fruit ripening

Typical August picture (2011).  Onions pulled and drying and tomatoes doing well.

Elsewhere in the garden the potato plants have died back and been removed.  Now that all the plant has been cut back and the potatoes have no way of continuing to grow, the tubers should be left in the soil for a week or two for the skin to begin to harden before storing.  I plan on leaving mine in the soil until frost since the bed is well drained and I am not concerned about pests.  There are some small onions along one side which I plan on pickling for "cocktail" onions.

Here is a first for my garden.  My potato plants produced berries.  The potato is a first cousin of the tomato and will sometimes produce berries from the flowers.  These look just like cherry tomatoes but are not edible.

Each berry contains seeds just like a tomato and would produce potato plants that would not necessarily have the same characteristics of the parent plant.

The melon patch is still looking great.  I have 30 cantaloupes and I'm guessing they will ripen in the next week or two.  I have a dozen watermelons growing and getting bigger every day.

 The sweet potato plants (and zucchini beyond) are doing well.

Back in the tomato bed the bell peppers are soldiering on.  They were late to flower and what few flowers did come have dropped half of the set fruit due to the cool damp conditions.  Each plant has one or two fruit doing fine.  Above is my single Purple Beauty pepper.  The second plant is just now blooming.  You can see in the lower background of the photo above one of the few examples of a tomato leaf yellowing from old age.

In the next bed the second planting of cucumbers are flowering well and setting fruit.  The earlier row has produced well and are fighting through wilt but as soon as this row begins producing the old diseased row is coming out.

Behind the cukes the bush beans are pushing through the fusarium root rot which is taking half the seedlings sometimes before they break through the soil.  There is room down one side for a row of fall lettuce to be transplanted soon.

This was the earlier bed of peas.  The peas have been pulled out leaving the carrots and now I have planted two rows of bush beans down the center.  I have learned that the Purple Queen beans, although sold as "bush" beans, really want to climb at least 3 feet and so, when available, I put pieces of fencing along their rows for them.  This keeps the plants supported off the ground and allows the beans to grow long and straight instead of curling when they meet with the resistance of the ground.  It also prevents the bean pods from picking up rot in the soil. I have been pulling carrots as needed for more than a month.

The two beds of black beans are producing.

These black bean seed pods will be allowed to dry on the plant before being shelled and stored as dry beans.  The garden is feeding us well this year and has been much less work than normal.  This time last year I was in the heat of battle with cucumber beetles and other pests which are no significant trouble this year.  In 2012 we were on the brink of drought with a significant amount of watering in July, but the season was going well.  In 2011, August was a break from constant morning watering in July but an exhaustion of tomato sauce and other harvest preserving.  This past week my efforts have been concentrated on baking and freezing zucchini bread.  The weather has been cool enough to make baking a possibility and I still have one monster zucchini lurking about the kitchen demanding further action.  This is about the time of year when I begin to fantasize about a summer without garden chores and ensuing food preservation labors.
Norman Thelwell, an English artist renowned for his cartoons of ponies and children and other English life, illustrates the possibilities very well in this garden allotment illustration from the PUNCH Summer 1954 number.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


As it turned out, there were two meals left in the pea patch. They are now in the freezer.  In fact, had I left the rows in I may have gotten two more as the cool summer is allowing them to keep producing.  But I had plans for that bed so out they came.

The plan is Solarization.  I have bacterial and fungal issues in almost every bed.  The only solution I know of for that, save replacing the soil, is solarization.  Soil solarization is a non-chemical method for controlling soilborne pests using high temperatures produced by capturing radiant energy from the sun.

In order to do this, you must put plastic over the area for 4 to 6 weeks during the hottest time if the year.  That time is fading fast.  UC Davis has a good article on soil solarization for gardens.  Link,  I have two greenhouse panels that will work just great.  I know they trap heat because the lid of the cold frame is made of them and it gets hot enough in there to melt plastic pots!

So I removed the peas, raked the soil, gave it a good soaking and covered it up.  I'll let that cook until we put the garden away in the fall and we'll see if it helps next year.  I have tweaked my garden rotation to get all the beds solarized for half a season within the next two years.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Mid-Summer Slump

I saw that phrase, "the mid-summer slump" on another garden blog and thought is was a good description of my feelings this week.  My garden is far from done, but it sure looks like heck.  This is when you start to see how well you chose your varieties.  Careful selection of resistant hybrids can mean the difference between This:

A lot of mildew

And This:

Vigorous, mostly healthy Dunja zuchini
 I am very happy with the Dunja variety from Johnny's Seeds which is said to be resistant to powdery mildew, papaya ringspot virus, watermelon mosaic virus, and zucchini yellow mosaic virus.  So far, so good.  Just a little mildew but not too bad.  Tis the season.  Tis also the season for everything else to begin to succumb to old age and disease.

The last row of peas is tumbled down and ready to be pulled.  I think there is one more meal left in there.

The potato patch is blighting out and dying back, but that won't affect the plentiful tubers beneath the soil.

The Black Beans are beginning to lay over and split down the middle.  A few of them are a bit chewed up from Japanese Beetles.  Not pretty to look at like the lush jungle of June.

The Melon Patch has stopped blooming and is showing a little yellow around the edges.  That's OK.  I'll settle for two dozen cantaloupe!  I'm anxious for them to begin ripening.  I have at least half a dozen watermelons too.

Elsewhere in the garden.  The first row of cucumbers is fighting wilt as the second row just begins to bloom.  One planting of bush beans is fighting root rot which is getting the seedlings just as they make it through the soil.  About a third are surviving.  I have planted more in another bed.

Despite the challenges and the circle of life drama going on, we still have plenty to eat.  Tonight we had beans, carrots and cucumbers.  I have just begun picking cherry tomatoes and I am anxiously awaiting the ripening of slicing tomatoes and eggplants.  The onions and garlic are ready to pull.  I have enough zucchini to make a batch of bread for the freezer.  All is well after all.