Sunday, July 27, 2014

In Hope of Peaches

Gratuitous Flower Photo

Summer has hit and summer means peaches. Right now I've been buying them at the store. The New Jersey peaches have been really good. I suspect the farmers market will have them this week too and I'll start buying them there. But of course I want my own peaches. I lost one of my two peach trees last winter. I haven't a clue what killed it. I replaced it with an Elberta Queen. It will be years before I see peaches from that one.

But my other peach tree is just loaded down with peaches. And I thinned about 3/4 of them off of the tree. I've noticed that the squirrels were thinning more of them out. Many a day. So I had to protect it. On Friday I put the netting over. I had a choice of 14'x14' or 28'x28'. The 14' one is too small, but the 28' one is way too big. So there is a lot of extra fabric around the base of the tree.

As soon as I left the area I noticed a squirrel immediately come back for another peach. He first touched the bird netting. Then he decided he could jump over it. So he leapt for the trunk and didn't make it because the netting is in front of it. He fell into a pile of netting. He extracted himself. Then he looked at the peaches again. And did another leap. Once again he got caught in the netting. At this point I was scared he was going to get caught in there and not be able to get out. But again he extracted himself.

I thought for sure after the last struggle to get free, he would give up. But this time he leapt and got really caught in the fabric. After five minutes he was still in there. Now I'm not a fan of squirrels by any means. To me they are rats with fluffy tails, but the last thing I want is for the squirrel to die a slow death in my netting. So I went out and had to help him out. He was not pleased by this. Nor was I for that matter. But at least it scared the heck out of him and he left the area for good. I haven't seen any squirrels going for the peaches anymore. I hope it stays that way.

Last year this was the day that I picked my first peach. I won't be doing that this year. They need a little longer. Also I've noticed that the peaches are much, much smaller this year than last year. I wish I knew why. I'm a real neophyte with fruit trees. It can't be water. We have had about 5" of rain in the last month. That ought to be enough. Surely peaches don't mind the heat we have been getting as Georgia comes to mind when you think of peaches and they are certainly hotter than me. Maybe I just need to thin them better. I did leave them a bit closer this year than last.

I also got around to protecting the apples on the trees in the back yard. There are two apples on one tree and seven on the other. So not many. I didn't think they were worth netting the whole tree. So I'm trying to net the individual apples. I'm thinking it probably won't work, but it doesn't hurt to try.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Garden Chores

Black Swallowtail laying eggs. It's top wings wouldn't stop moving so they are blurred while the rest of butterfly was still.

Every morning I go out into the garden to do the chores. The first things I see are the melons and sweet potatoes. They are always trying to escape their beds, so I turn the ends of the plants inwards to keep them under control. Or at least relatively under control. Then it is on to the covered zucchini plants. I lift the covers and fertilize any female blossoms I find. Usually there is one. I haven't been very successful in getting them to set though. Maybe one in three. One more week and the cover comes off. Then the bees can do their work.

The cucumbers are just coming on strong now. I tie them up and make sure they stay on the trellis. They really want to escape. Today I saw the first signs of wilt in the patch. No! I cut that branch off way down. I'm hoping it doesn't spread. I'm very surprised to see it. I've only see one cucumber beetle so far this year. Usually wilt hits a bit later. I've gotten a few cukes in dribs and drabs over the last week, but yesterday the inundation started.

So I cut up the cukes and tossed them into the brine I made the other day. I picked yet more today so I'll make up a large cucumber salad for a BBQ that I'm going to tomorrow. I'll probably bring coleslaw too and a jar of the pickles.

The beans are right next to the cucumbers so I check those over and pick any that are big enough. I make sure the asparagus beans aren't being taken over by their more vigorous neighbors. They don't seem to want to branch very much. I do pinch all the beans out when they reach the top of the trellis to get them to branch. But those beans are such slow growers that they have just gotten there. I've also had some rust and some kind of spotting disease. So I ignore the beans when they are wet. And I've been cutting off any affected leaves to try to keep it from spreading. Last year I didn't do this and the rust spread very quickly.

Then it is on to the corn. I've been hand pollinating these every other day since I started to see silks. This just involves shaking each stalk early in the morning. With my last variety I would see the pollen fall down, but this variety doesn't seem to put out very much pollen. I hope they all get fertilized.

And there are a lot of ears to fertilize. In past years I would occasionally get more than one ear. But this variety (Honey Select) seems to put out two ears most of the time and I've even seen three. In other varieties the second ear really doesn't mean much. I would be tiny and not well filled out. It would often be tossed as useless. Will this one put out useful second ears? I hope so. In addition the tillers have male blooms. That is the first time I've seen that happen. This corn likes to flower.

My other patches of corn are getting huge too. And they weren't really protected from the wind. I find that corn falls over easily in my raised beds. So the windward sides of one patch was staked. I don't have enough stakes for all my corn, but if those stay upright, they will protect the other corn from falling. I have one other patch but it is partially protected from a nearby tall row cover so I'm hoping it will stay upright.

The squash runs below the corn. Not voluntarily though. So I have to keep it turned so it will cover that area. I need the squash to really take over under the corn as its prickly branches will keep the raccoons out of the corn. The first male flowers have bloomed. I've got a week or two before I'll see any females, but it won't be long. I hope I get a lot of squash this year. The only variety I'm growing is Waltham Butternut. I'm hoping to save seed. All the other years I've had germination problems and had to plant Early Butternut close by so I couldn't save seed.

I noticed that one of my fall bean plants was starting to run, so I got the trellis up finally. I always put the poles in when I plant, but the cross bars and the string went up today. I put up one string per plant.

And as always I weed when I see them. But occasionally things get out of control - especially under those row covers. Yesterday I decided I HAD to weed the onions. The crab grass was about to bloom and there was a nightshade plant that was huge. I got out the gloves for that one. Some of the crabgrass was close to the onions and was huge. Mostly I could pull it with only minimal disturbance, but one red onion was accidentally pulled. Like the Ailsa Craig onions, the red onions are a bit smaller this year I think. Maybe not though. I'll find out when they are all harvested and weighed as I grew the same amount of each variety this year and last.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Onion Harvest Begins

I had a bunch of the Copra onions fall down over a week ago in a wind storm. Most places say to harvest a couple of days after the top fall over. UMass Extension service says to have half the leaves dead before harvesting for the best storage. They say they don't cure well if the leaves are too green. So I split the difference. A couple of leaves have died on the bulbs and they have been down for a while now. I'd say this is about 2/3s of my Copras. The others are still standing tall, so I'll leave them alone.

The first curing is in the sun preferably an 80F degree day. Well yesterday it 92F. This can produce sunscald, but waiting longer means another rainstorm they have to go through which could lead to rot. So I did it anyway. I decided this year to try a new way. Last year I'd leave the onions outside on the path for a day or two, then I'd bring them inside to dry. I don't particularly like the constant smell of onions in the house (we don't have a shed big enough for them or a garage like most people would use). And I think the gas they release is bad for my asthmatic lungs. So I wanted a better solution.

I have very little extra space in the yard to do anything with, but the top of the compost pile is a lot of space. So I put bamboo poles over the top every four inches. Then I laid down some chicken wire over that. Then I put my onions on top. Yesterday they didn't have a tarp as they were getting their first drying in the sun. But tonight it is going to rain, so they needed protection.
Now they have a tarp. Hopefully it is secure enough for a storm and the rain won't blow in. I'll leave them there until they are dry enough to braid and go into the basement for storage. I hope these are dry before the next harvest as they took up about 2/3s of the space and I only harvested about a third of my onions.

I would say this is going to be one of the best years for my Copras. Copra has never been a particularly large onion. Their claim to fame is that they store very well. They are a 3" onion that can get bigger in good conditions. Mine were always lucky to get to 3". This year the bulbs are bigger than usual with many over 3" and I haven't found even one that was starting to bolt. I think the netting over the onions really helped to keep the onion fly from damaging them. I hope that means that they will store better too as I've gotten a lot of random rot in storage in the past. I'm also endeavoring to be as gentle as possible with my onions as dropping them or knocking them around can lead to rot.

In addition to the Copras, I've been harvesting the Ailsa Craig onions as I need them. They are a sweet onion and though they are a good keeper for a sweet onions (about 2 months) I always use them first as they can't store over the winter. They haven't fallen over yet, but the bulbs are big enough. Interestingly I don't think they are getting quite as big as last year. But the taste is a lot better.

One of those Ailsa Craigs went into my refrigerator pickle brine. I like to make up jars of the brine and when the cucumbers are harvested, I can just pop any extra ones I'm not using, into the brine. I decided to make up the brine because as I was setting up the onion drying spot, I had to take down a couple of dill plants. They had huge heads and were just perfect. Now I just need my cucumbers to go crazy. I think they are almost at that point.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Incursion and Thinning

Something has been getting into my garden at night. It has to be pretty small to fit under the fence. Nothing was eaten. Usually that means it was a skunk. Last year I had one get in and he dug a hole in one of my paths. No holes this time. No missing crops. So at least whatever got in wasn't damaging anything. Skunks can be real pests in the garden as they eat the grubs and worms. So they rototill the place. But luckily my garden is cat protected. That also means there aren't a lot of places for a skunk to dig.

Right on the other side of the path from the hole I noticed this. The first melon has started to form. Well maybe.

The melon patch is so thick now that I wouldn't notice if I had others. In a week I'll have to start checking as I like to prop the melons up on bricks so the slugs don't eat holes in them and the moist earth doesn't rot them and they get warmer so they ripen better.

Most of my activity in the garden is still weeding, but now I'm weeding and thinning. These are the mustards. They came up in huge clumps. So I had to thin them out so they had space to grow.

Then I thinned out some fall turnips.

I weeded some things out of the mustard and turnip patches, but the carrot patch was the worst. I swear there were more weeds than carrots. You can see the unweeded patch to the left. And you have to be so careful with carrots. It took a while to finish. But I got it all done. I tried to be really good and not leave the carrots too close together. I like them about 3-4" apart in rows that are 4" apart. If they are closer they can be slow to grow. I do leave some closer, but that is when the neighboring carrots on side are missing. So they have a lot of empty space near them. It would be nice if all my carrots germinated perfectly, but it never happens. So sometimes they are farther apart and sometimes closer together. And I always try to save the best and biggest carrot seedlings as it makes a difference. If they are struggling now they will be slow to grow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Harvest Monday, 21 July 2014

The harvests were a bit smaller this week. I still have tons to eat in the fridge as I haven't been eating my cabbage yet (I need to at least finish the Chinese cabbage off). I'm eating carrots most days. So the spring crops might have been pulled, but they will feed me for a while. Above are the experimental summer turnips. The spring ones are better, but I am getting some.

The beans have just started. I never get much in a picking, but they get picked every couple of days. After two pickings I have a serving size portion.

The zucchini have started, but most of the female fruits are rotting before they even open. They don't like being under the row cover (to avoid the squash vine borers). But I don't think they will be safe until August. I might have to open them up earlier as they are outgrowing the cover. I've mostly kept up with the chard harvests. And I'm picking onions. They aren't ready quite ready to store yet. Some have fallen over, but most are still standing tall.

I picked a huge batch of parsley. Last year I almost ran out and had to conserve. I want to dry enough so that I can use as much as I want in my soups over the winter. I've also frozen more basil. And did you notice? My first broccoli side shoots and my first cucumber. I need a few more side shoots to make a meal, so I'm saving those for the next harvest, but the cucumber was celebrated with a salad.

With your garden do you ever feel like you are in an episode of Chopped? I had leftover quinoa seasoned with cumin in the fridge. I had a bit of left over cooked chard. They both needed to be eaten soon. Then I had the aforementioned cucumber. What do you make with all those ingredients? Well a salad of course. I unfroze one of the last packets of sweet corn from last year's harvest. I used some of the bunching onions I pulled last week. I like fruit in my salads for the sweetness and choose an orange (from the store). I dressed it with lime and a bit of olive oil and salt. It turned out pretty well. I tend to like the salads with grains. I'll have to make more as the season goes on.

Yesterday morning I made some whole wheat bread. We had turkey and stuffing for dinner and I needed the bread to make the stuffing. I used onions and herbs from the garden. I had a little celery left that was bought from the store, but it wasn't enough.

So I went out and picked the first few stalk to finish the dish off. The stalks are still fairly small, but big enough for what I needed.

  • Alliums: 2.09 lbs
  • Beans: 0.41 lbs
  • Broccoli: 0.14 lbs
  • Cucumbers 0.16 lbs
  • Greens: 1.11 lbs
  • Herbs: 0.39 lbs
  • Roots: 1.21 lbs
  • Squash, Summer: 1.16 lbs
  • Weekly Total: 6.68 lbs
  • Yearly Total: 167.51 lbs
  • Yearly Tally: $26.11

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Front Yard

I've recently been doing some work in the front yard. The gooseberry plant was cut way back. I have to do this every year or it would take over. The other two gooseberries that you can't see are slowly coming along. I've heard they can be grown as standards so I'm trying. I'll see if it works or not.

The pot at the corner this year is doing better than normal. I usually forget to water it on occasion and it droops pitifully until I notice it. But this year it hasn't. The middle spire plant hasn't grown one inch since I bought it. I thought it was supposed to double in height. Not so much. My favorite plant in this is the Garnet sweet potato. It is my experiment. People use ornamental sweet potatoes all the time, but they aren't edible. This one is. I picked the variety that I grow that has the prettiest leaves. They may just be green, but they have a nice shape.

Weeds taller than the hostas

Sadly those were the best things going on in the front yard. My townhouse mates have been out of town on and off a lot and have let the weeds get out of hand. Weeding is their job. But I took it up this week and got at least some of it done.

We also lost a lot of plants in the bed in front of my door this year so it looks pitiful. The peach tree died and we replaced it. The branches are exactly 8" long. It will be a while before it fills in enough to look pretty. And we lost six blueberry plants. I don't know why so many plants died in that spot this year. I would think the blueberries by the road would die. I had a van run over them. Then Molly kept running over them all winter long. And the salt truck actually got down to the end of our road and salted in front of them. But no. Those are doing great. I'm guessing it is the lack of water. As the blueberries are on a higher spot near the bricks. But that wouldn't explain the peach that was next to it. But whatever the reason, it is bare. And it looks so ugly. And it is in front of my house.

In May I had asked the my townhouse mates if I could have a budget (as we have a shared yard) to put something in there, but never got a response. I didn't push it as I was so sick this spring. I wasn't really up to doing anything anyway. But now I'm much better. And I have energy to do things. So now they are in trouble.

I've made plans. I want to put the path in front of the gooseberries that we had planned to do ages ago. I want to line the edges in brick raised a couple of inches. Have stones in the middle. And have mazus be the ground cover. I've always loved stepping stones surrounded by ground covers. But I don't want the mazus to escape the area and it is a vigorous grower. I'm hoping the raised bricks will direct the plants to stay inside the zone. It might work. Might not.

And I want color in front of my house. I keep changing my mind on the plan. I have noticed that I gravitate toward the daisy like flowers - echinacea, daisies, helenium, rudbeckia, gaillardia. I have to make myself think of things that are different like daylilies and Russian sage. I'm also finding since the space is small that I have to search out the dwarf varieties of things. I don't want the plants higher than the lowest foliage on my dwarf peach trees. I want air to get under the branches. Basically I don't want anything taller than 2'. And the front plants should be shorter.

On my walks I've been looking at the plants. I've been noticing which ones grow well around here. Heleniums seem to do well in people's yards. The only ones I haven't seen growing well on my list are gaillardia. I've yet to see it around here. But its requirements seem to be really easy. It can handle moist or wet soils. It can handle clay or sandy soils. It is very hardy. It seems a bomb proof plant, but then why do I never see it anywhere? It makes me wonder. Either way I think Arizona Apricot is really pretty. Right now I have it next to Little Spires which is a dwarf Russian sage and Short and Sassy a dwarf helenium. The helenium seems so close to the color and flower shape of the gaillardia that I ought to change one of them up. I love that orange in the helenium. And maybe the yellow of the gaillardia is not as close as I think. I go back and forth.

I'm hoping to get the hardscaping part of it done this year and plant everything up next spring. Many of the plants I like can be grown from seed which I can do this winter. Or I can get small 4" pots. I could plant in the fall, but I've had less success with fall plantings than spring plantings in the past. And then I can't grow anything from seed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Gooseberry Jam

I picked my gooseberries a while ago. Luckily they keep well in the fridge. But I figured I'd better get to them. So they were topped and tailed. Then I covered them in sugar and put them back in the fridge. I didn't have time to deal with it then, but I figured I'd get to it eventually. Fruit tends to keep a few days like this.

Two days later I finally decided I'd better make time. So this morning I got all my canning jars ready and got the canning pot boiling. Then I cooked down the mixture. I didn't put in a lot of sugar. The usual ratio for me is two cups fruit to one cup sugar. But I wanted to make a jam that would really have that puckering taste of the gooseberry. So I put in a bit less with the hope that the jam would set anyway (it did).

As I was cooking it I noticed the skins were pretty unappealing and floating on top. I didn't want a jam like that, so I pureed what was left of the fruit leaving the liquid to continue boiling. It was much better that way. The pulp mixed in well unlike the skins. No awful separating jam.

As you can see I use a frying pan to make my jams a lot of the time. They cook a lot faster. You just have to make sure you don't have too much or it will all boil over. This one I had to cook down a lot to get it to set. Probably from the lack of sugar. When it seemed right I canned it up.

With about 3 1/2 cups of mashed fruit, I got two cups of jam. So I did boil it down a lot. Weirdly the jam turned out reddish brown. The gooseberries were green. It is pretty though. And oh my gosh does it taste so good. I licked the spoons off when I was done. I don't think you could eat a lot at once because it is so intense, but it would be fabulous with some cream cheese on crackers. Or I could even make pie with it if I mixed it with a little sour cream and egg. Small pies though as I don't have all that much. Just two jars.

Gooseberry jam isn't the only thing I preserved this morning. I froze some basil. I have to pick off the ends before they bloom. If I don't have a plan for it, I just freeze it for later. I also put some parsley into the dehydrator. Last year I didn't dehydrate nearly enough. I think I need a good pint of it for all my winter needs. I hope I get enough. Of my four plants, one died early on. Now another is starting to bloom. What is with my biennials this year? I've never had my chard or my parsley bloom on me before. Now I have several plants that are doing it. I'm blaming it on the really cold spell in May. Maybe it convinced the plants it was winter.