Tuesday, September 30, 2008

And Yet More Basil

So back to your regularly scheduled program in the vegetable garden today. When I was out picking I noticed my poor cucumbers were very much dying. I will spare you the ugly photo. I still picked a few cukes off of them, but the foliage is mostly gone. Just a handful of leaves on each plant. I may eek out a couple more, but I think I've made my last container of dill pickles. The big dill is gone too. I have lots of little seedlings that growing everywhere, but not big enough to harvest. They self seeded from this years dill flowers.

More carrots are getting to harvestable size. I picked three more today. The ones that were at least 4" from the others are doing fine, but if they were closer they are still small. There were a couple of strong seedlings that were a couple inches apart that I left. I'd harvest one small, but I know it would disturb its neighbor. I'll just have to hope they get bigger. This time I didn't have those ugly forked roots. One was pretty short though. I assume they are ready when their width gets large. I have no way of telling if they have filled out all the way underneath.

My biggest harvest was my basil. It had once again filled in with new leaves. Next year I have to remember not to put in so many basil plants. I have three Thai basils (which I'm trying to collect seed from, but I think I let it flower too late) and I really only need one. One lemon basil, just the right amount. And had seven Italian basils which is way too many. I pulled three of them up a while ago, but kept four. Four is still too many.

I picked tons of Italian basil to fill my skirt. I have plenty of frozen basil already. So I decided to dry this batch. There is nothing better than turning on the dehydrator and smelling basil all day long. Yumm. There was a lot. It filled all but one shelf. I didn't take each leaf off one by one. I just threw the branches in and dried them that way. Crumbling them into the spice jar was a real treat. The clovelike scent was very strong. I hope it keeps, but that wonderful scent doesn't tend to last long. I never get it from store bought basil.

Monday, September 29, 2008

APLS on Education

Hopefully my regular readers won't be too upset by me today. I'm not writing about my garden, but putting up a post for one of the groups I follow. And as the garden winds down there is so much less to write about in the garden.

This month's APLS topic is on education. How do you educate yourself and others on sustainability?

I'm such a bad APLS (yes the pun is always intended) when it comes to education. I find it amusing that I pick to do a post on something that I'm really bad at. I really don't go out of my way to educate myself, at least not usually. Last weekend was the Boston GreenFest. I swear I was going to go, if just for the lecture on sustainable gardening. If you live in Boston, you will understand why I didn't. We got a LOT of rain - over 5". An outdoor festival in the pouring rain, is not a fun thing.

However I do learn. I read a lot, listen to podcasts on occasion, go to science fiction conventions (Don't mock them. You would be surprised that I can always find at least one and sometimes several lectures that involve sustainability issues. I find the people there are very green. I even met a gal that raises grass fed organic beef and one person that lives off the grid. - The food there however will kill you.). I don't specifically do any of these activities for the sustainability issues, but since my interests include science, I run into a lot of knowledge out there. Science Friday (an NPR radio show that loves green issues) had a particularly interesting show on sustainable farming a while back. MIT (my alma mater) is always sending me emails about their latest finds in green energy. Science News often has good information, some of which is never picked up by mainstream media.

So how do I educate others. Well rarely. I am not an activist by nature. I don't like people telling me how to live and I don't tell others how to live their lives either. I also tend to see both sides of an issue. When my son was in elementary school maybe 10 years ago, he came home one day very mad at the South American farmers. He had been taught that the people in South America were cutting down the rain forest for farms, using up the soil then doing it again. I thought this teaching was wrong. I told my son if I were in their position I would do the same thing. OK I'm sure you are all cringing now. But if my family needed the food and I didn't know how to farm sustainably I'd cut the forest down to feed them. It would be a rare person in that position who wouldn't. The problem was not with the farmers. It was with teaching the farmers, and making sure they get a wage where they can live off a sustainable farm. But every problem has many facets and more than one side can be 'right'.

That doesn't mean I don't educate if someone asks a question. If they ask they are fair game. For example, at our farmer's market, I was in line to buy my produce. A nice gentleman was in line with me and asked me why I had empty containers in my hand. This particular farm puts their small potatoes and tomatoes in plastic baskets. I said they were from last week and I'm returning them so they can be used again. He asked me why I don't just recycle them. I gave him a short lecture on the three Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle. We always try to reduce first, if we can't then we reuse, only then should we recycle. Well he didn't think the farm would take them back. I'm mean goodness they've been used before. The horrors they might be dirty. You can't convert everyone immediately but maybe he will think about it. And yes the farm was quite grateful to take them back.

My immediate family is also fair game. The kids especially. It is my job as a parent to educate my kids. From the previous story with my son, you will notice that the school system here does try to educate the kids on sustainability. Personally I think with my family I'm more on the order of being the green nag. Turn off the lights. Turn off the computer. That container is recyclable, so wash it out and put it in the bin. Don't waste the food, if you aren't going to eat it all don't put it on your plate. So yes I'm the mommy nag.

I do occasionally have more serious discussions with them, usually about our food system, because I'm a vegetable gardener and that is my passion.

But also the values we give the kids are important. Buying things and consumerism isn't what makes you happy in life. The Buddhists have it right when they say desire is the root of unhappiness. Don't think you need things to make you happy. You don't need another skirt, more shoes, or fancy things. All that you need are the basics in life; a roof over your head and food on the table. And to be happy you need people; you need community. Wanting STUFF will only make you unhappy. My kids are not big spenders. They don't want to be. They are happy with that.

As to my husband, well he probably knows about as much as me. Maybe what he knows is different, but I don't feel a great need to educate him. He might make a different choice than I do sometimes (for better or worse), butI think he understands the issues.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gardening While Wet

I haven't spent much time in the garden since Thursday. We have had two storms come in. One lasted all Friday (over 1 1/2") and Saturday (over 2") and today we are getting the remnants of Kyle. It has been raining constantly. On Saturday I went outside when the rain let up a bit so I could pick my raspberries. As soon as I was done the rain started again so I ignored the vegetable garden.

Today I went out to pick during a slow drizzle. I was surprised the cherry tomatoes weren't cracked from the rain. I had picked all the ones that were half ripe on Thursday to avoid this. A lot more were ripe, but only one had cracked. The cucumbers had swelled up and I picked five. One was absolutely huge. The foliage looked bedraggled. The mildew is taking over faster then the cukes are growing now. It is only a matter of time, but still they set cukes, tasty ones at that.

I was trying to pick stuff quickly and forgot about my snowpeas, so had to go back out for that. The rain had picked up by then so I hurried. The pods were HUGE. They are four inches long. This must be why they are called Mammoth Melting Sugar. The vines had taken off too. I've been pinching them back when they reach 6-7' to try to keep them under control. I haven't been succeeding well. I had to start tying them up to the trellis since the wind was knocking them off.

I was soaked, but at least I got things mostly picked.

The Boston Globe, our local paper, had a few articles about local farming in the NorthWest section. One was about our very rainy weather this year and how it has hurt the harvest, especially the tomato harvest. I've found my tomato harvest to be really bad too. Though the Sungolds seem to put out alright, the others have been slow. Now much of that is from the chipmunks eating them so they have had two problems. Other than the tomatoes I've actually found that this year things have grown better than usual. The plants really loved the rain. The lettuce and cucumbers were particualarly spectacular producers and my raspberry season has been the best in years. Sadly the slug production has been huge too, so I have huge holes in my Asian greens, but you can't have everything.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Thank You

Outer Banks Mom sent me an award the other day. Thank you. Your comment was so sweet. If I want, I can pass it on to seven other blogs. There are so many wonderful blogs. Last time I was sent a meme it was only three months ago, but I have found so many more blogs I love since then, I'm sure I can come up with seven. So here goes:

  • Brambleberries in the Rain
    Cynthia has one of my favorite gardening blogs. She has struggled a bit this year with a garden pest. We were all trying to guess what it was and it turned out to be a fox! A first for me.
  • Shibaguyz
    You have to love these two guys in Seattle trying to grow their own on a tiny patch of land in their back yard. It is so overrun with vegetables they call it the jungle.
  • Henboggle
    Whose freezer is the envy of anyone that grows their own food. Now I'm drooling over their hoophouse.
  • The Manic Gardener
    Who has had the worst trouble with hail taking out her garden this year. No one should have to see their poor vegetables shredded like that.
  • Green Bean Dreams
    She is trying to convert the world to a greener place one blog post at a time. I love her picture of her self - a green super hero.
  • A Sonoma Garden
    Is so much fun to read. I loved their post about finding the great grandma's recipe box, and how they used to eat a couple of generations back. It's not what you think. But they are a treasure.
  • Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings
    Right now I don't read many blogs that aren't about gardening, but I read this one to drool over the food. I may be an omnivore, but it has great ideas on how to use those vegetables coming out of the garden.

So thanks again. I'll leave one note. Tyson is giving away food to the food banks. It is based upon how many comments they get. They will give up to 200,000lbs of protein food, 100llbs for each comment. Last time I looked there were 618 comments. If they get 2000, they will give the max. So go comment. It only has to be one word. I find giving food away an interesting way to advertise and I'm certainly willing to play along.

Friday, September 26, 2008

More on Why I Didn't Post Yesterday

So what other (at least semi-related) gardening things did I do yesterday? Well I harvested of course. One of the things I picked was my English Thyme. It had grown nice and bushy again, so I chopped about a third of it off and dehydrated and processed it. I also had a lot of ripe super chilis that I started dehydrating. They take a lot more time than the thyme in the dehydrator. As soon as they are done I'll crush them.

Then I had to deal with the pile of apples on the counter. I bought two half peck bags, one of Macintosh and one of Cortland. Yes sadly another thing that is not grown here. Processing them would take a lot of time, but I have a friend that has the cutest little gadget. It peels, cores and slices the apples. Just put the apple on the tines and turn the handle. Voila. Quickly processed apples. I love the idea of people having gadgets like these. Not everyone needs to own one. I mean, really, how often will you use it in a year? But it is nice to have one in your group of friends. The kitchen tool I've loaned out is my Victorio strainer. It is another one of those tools that is really nice to have access to, but you don't use it that often.

The gadget isn't perfect. My friend told me that if the apple is soft it will turn the apple into applesauce. The macs were a little troublesome but not too bad. The other issue was the start. I found that the spring was a little bit heavy and it would dig too far into the apple (as you can see in the photo it is taking too much of the flesh off). So at the start I would slightly lift the peeler and then it would peel perfectly.

What did I make out of the apples? It was apple pie filling - well apple cobbler mostly. I rarely actually make pie crust. The apple cobbler I made a week ago, my husband wouldn't eat, which is sad since he love this more than I do. Even though it was made from macs, which mush down when cooked, he thought they were still too crispy. So now they have been precooked with a tiny bit of sugar and some cinnamon and I'll freeze them. I'm sure they will be mushy enough for him then.

Of course when the filling was nicely arrayed in their containers to freeze, I remembered that I was supposed to have defrosed my chest freezer a week ago. Ack. I usually do it when the weather starts turning colder. It gets covered in frost all summer long as the humidity in the air condenses. It would be best to do it when the heat comes on. That really dries the air out, but I keep putting more and more stuff up in the freezer and it is a better balance to do it now. So I spent a while defrosting my freezer.

I also keep a list of what I have in the freezer. I try to update it when I take things out and put things in. That way if I need broth, beans, squash or whatever I know if it is there and I know if I need to buy things. The list is always correct after I clean out the freezer and defrost it, but it does slowly get more inaccurate as time goes on. In theory it works great. In practice I'm not as good.

Getting Rid of Windows and More Compost

Well yesterday was so busy I never got a chance to post. I did have a half hour in the middle of the day, but I couldn't get to my computer. I'm getting the windows replaced in my family room and they had taken the place over.

My windows are casement windows 2'x4'. Two of them together would make a wonderful cold frame. I don't have the time right now to make one, but I kept two of the storm windows from them. They are fairly light since they have no wood on them, just a thin frame of aluminum. Maybe I'll do a quick and easy cold frame of four hay bales. Eight of the windows (both panes, not just the internal storms) will go to the Squirrel Brand Community Garden, at least I'm hoping. The windows were supposed to be done three months ago. I'm hoping the community garden hasn't given up on me. But I sent them an email saying they are out.

One of the things that kept me busy was my compost piles. I keep two sets of compost piles. One is directly in my garden. It is a covered plastic composter that I bought ages ago. I use it for my kitchen scraps. I don't want to attract the nasty animals (like raccoons) so I cover it. I keep a pile of leaves next to it and when I throw in the scraps I cover them with leaves. This keeps the flies down.

My son was home over the summer and he likes his grapes frozen. Where he got this from I'm not quite sure since I don't like frozen grapes. I bought him a Costco bag of grapes and he froze them all. However he didn't finish them before he left, so I tossed them in the compost. I also cleaned out my freezer. There wasn't much left over from last year that needed tossing, but any horribly freezer burned veggies also got tossed in the compost pile. The compost pile was not happy with me. It turned sour and started smelling. Not a good thing. I guess the compost pile doesn't like their grapes frozen either.

My other compost piles are under my oak forest in the back yard. They are contained by simple 3' wire mesh made into a circle. They consist of leaves, grass clippings and any plants pulled from my garden. The leaves and grass clippings are great to make a hot pile, but are not a very diverse compost pile. Compost made from more diverse piles are better for the garden. They contain a wider range of micronutrients. So I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and combine two piles. The newest one from my backyard and the one from the garden. That took a long time since I had to haul so much half finished compost across the yard. I'm glad it is done. Now I have an empty compost bin in my garden and won't upset my neighbor down wind from me.

Hmm I have a lot of other garden related things to tell about, but I'll put that in the next post. I have three days of rain coming up, so I'll have plenty of time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Never Ending Pickles and Squash

My cucumbers look like they have about 10 more cukes setting right now despite the cold weather. I wear my jacket out in the garden in the morning and you can see my breath. Brr. I still haven't turned on the heat yet. I remember I used to turn the heat on around September 19th. I remember the date since it is my son's birthday. But in the last five years or so it hasn't been as cold in the fall - or maybe I just put up with it better. This morning it was 64F in the house which is quite tolerable, especially since it doesn't last long. Our house has a lot of windows and if there is any sun, it heats up fairly quickly.

Hmm I seem to have digressed from my cucumbers. I wasn't going to make more pickles since I was keeping up with the cukes, but now they seem to be over taking me. I've been collecting them in the fridge and not eating them all. So I made more pickle juice and started putting them in jars. This way I'll only have to eat one fresh cucumber a day and the rest can be saved. I can probably save them and bring them to Thanksgiving. That would be nice. I will have to hand off a jar to my friend though as I still have way too many pickles.

That was this morning and I barely finished the pickles before I had to run off to work. This afternoon I stopped at the farmer's market. Jennifer from Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings, really made me want to try delicata squash. Now I had just picked up two butternuts from our local farm, but I'm thinking more squash must be good. So yes I was looking for more this afternoon.

I found three different looking squashes that were all labeled delicata. One which looked like I thought delicata was supposed to look like, was an elongated squash with yellow and green ribbing. The next was the same shape but yellow and orange (a riper version perhaps?). The third was a squat version in the green and yellow color. It sat on its end. I loved the way it looked so bought that. Right now I'm busy cooking it all up - including the butternuts (in a roasting pan filled with water each half lightly brushed with olive oil at 400F). I'll mash it once it is done and freeze it in cup servings. One of the delicata halves I'll be eating tonight. I put some maple syrup and butter in the hollowed out section. That ought to be yummy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Busy in the Garden

There was lots to do in the garden today. I ripped out my eggplant. Since all of the little eggplants were picked and the weather is cold, I'm sure no more will set. So they went into the compost pile. I thought about putting in a cover crop, but it is probably too late for that.

While I was at the compost pile I noticed that I got another load of grass and leaves to add. When they mow the yard usually it is just grass, but one of the joys of autumn is that some of the leaves start to drop early. So there is just enough leaf in with the grass to make a good composting mixture. Grass by itself has just about the perfect amount of nitrogen to compost, but its flaw is that it compacts to easily. If no air can get in then it can't compost and it just rots. So I add leaves when I compost it, but now I don't even have that chore. I just fork it all right into the compost. I did notice the pile was too dry. We haven't had real rain in a long time, so when I get a chance I'll take the hose to it.

Then the bean tepee needed to come down. It was creating too much shade for my greens and it is greens season, not bean season anymore. So I ripped out most of the beans. I left one plant chopped off to about a foot tall. I want to leave it there since it makes a good slug hunting place. The slugs love the bean plant more than the lettuce. I'll hunt a few more nights until the population is under control again.

You can see the left over bean plant in the upper right hand corner of the photo. The ruby chard looks very sad, but in reality it is thriving. Well the bottom most one is sad. The one before never thrived, so I pulled it out. Then planted another and it is still small. But the top two plants were picked yesterday and the next one down about a week ago. That one has really almost filled in again. I think in another week I can pick again. And they are getting tastier. The ones from yesterday were so much sweeter than the leaves from the week before. It must be the cooler weather. The rest of the greens are all lettuce. The onions in the middle are the green onions I planted early in the spring. I've been eating and thinning them ever since. I don't use them a lot, but when I need them, they are always there.

The best part of the day was picking the first carrots. I didn't pick them all. I picked the ones that filled out widthwise. The short ones are Danvers and the long one is Big Top. Big Top is supposed to get upto 8" long, but mine is only 5 1/2". It sure looks pretty though. One of the Danvers forked terribly. I thought I had most of the rocks out of this bed. It was prepared pretty well for carrots, but maybe not. It could be rocks or could be nementodes. I'm not sure how to tell the difference. I know they both cause forking. But whatever caused it, they are still quite tasty. My carrot envy has been appeased.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Garden Update

Under the light of day I did find some things wrong with my garden, but none that I could have avoided even if I were here. My pumpkin vine is dead. The leaves are all brown and shriveled. The poor pumpkin is only half ripe. I kept holding out hope that it would have time when I first saw it, but I knew it was not likely. I'll leave it in the ground for a while longer, but how can it ripen without any leaves to make energy?

The bed that I've been renovating for my garlic and onions have developed holes. I suspect voles, but I suppose it could be chipmunks too. The holes are large enough for a chipmunk to squeeze in. I think even if the rodents are using that area I'll be ok. Most of them aren't into the allium family. Usually you are told to plant them around the garden to repel rodents. So they probably won't be taking bites out of them. But you never know. That one chipmunk did insist on tasting my chili peppers. . . once.

Though the tomatoes are still going, especially the Sungolds, the rest of the summer crops are about done. I started pulling up the Kentucky Wonder beans today. I'll finish it up tomorrow. They were planted to shade the lettuce, which was great in the summer, but now it is slowing the growth of the lettuce down by too much. There is so little sun here in September anyway. They need to get ripped out.

The eggplants look pretty, but they have no fruit left on them. Now that the nights are so cold, I don't think anymore will set. So tomorrow I'll pull them out too.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Almost Obsolete

I left my garden again in the good hands of some friends. I never ask them to do much, just keep it picked. This keeps the fruits out of the greedy hands of the chipmunks and keeps the plants producing. The raspberries especially need picking since they get all mildewy if the fruit is left to rot on the cane.

They did a good job of it. In fact a bit too good. The garden looked as nice as it was when I left. It's sad when you think the garden can grow without you. In the fall here it really seems to be able to. As long as the garden was well weeded during the year, very few weeds sprout so the plants have no competition.

Normally I go out everyday to pick and to see what needs to be done, but recently there is very little. And except for the garlic the last of the fall plants were put in the garden last week. So for now there is a bit of a lull in the gardening. It is still warm enough for the tomatoes to keep producing (barely) and cool enough for the lettuce. So everything grows well . . . without me.

The one thing that keeps me thinking that I'm not obsolete in my garden right now is that it still needs water. We haven't had rain in a week. The garden was bone dry. I stuck my finger in a couple of inches and found it dry as dust. The plants weren't wilting yet since it has been so cool, but they still were a bit thirsty. So I picked the tomatoes to keep them from splitting then watered the garden this evening. At least they need me for something.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dogwwod Fruit

I think I've finally figured out after all these years why my raspberries don't get stolen by the chipmunks in the fall. They get stolen in the summer, but not very much now. The reason is my dogwood tree.

I have a very beautiful kousa dogwood that I planted when I moved into this house. It is planted in my fruit garden next to the raspberries, because every fall it puts out pretty red fruit. The fruit is edible, or so I've been told, but it is not supposed to appeal to the human palate. However, the birds and squirrels (and I'm assuming chipmunks) love these fruit. I often see the squirrels doing acrobatics trying to reach the fruit on the branches. The birds hang upside down and eat them. They look very silly.

And they leave their droppings all underneath the tree. The skin is obviously not loved, but the interior is always hollowed out and eaten. They must love it more than the raspberries, since they have been left alone so far.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Garden Chores

Today was a long day in the garden. Usually I spend about 20-30 minutes picking and doing little things, but the garden was quite a mess. There were a lot of dead leaves on the cucumber plant which I pulled off.

The bean tepee was getting messy and dropping dead leaves all over my lettuce below. So I cleaned up the yellowing leaves and thinned out the living ones so I could finally find my beans again. The Fortex beans have stopped producing. I ripped up their leg of the tepee. Now I just have one leg left with Kentucky Wonder beans. They don't seem to have gotten the message that it is getting colder outside. They seem happy enough to keep producing, which is sad in a way because their shade is so heavy right now that I can't use a large part of my lettuce bed. But not to worry. The new little transplants that went in today were planted by the tepee poles where the Fortex beans were.

I also put in my last succession crop of Asian greens. There is no Chinese cabbage in this group since it wouldn't produce in time, and no mizuna since my old plants just keep producing but I have three each of tatsoi, fun jen, and boc choi. There was no room in the old bed for them. The Chinese cabbage that was planted a while ago takes up too much room. But the zucchini had been pulled out. I did put in a cover crop, but it didn't come up in spots. So the Asian greens went in there.

I currently don't have a row cover over them. I'm hoping that I don't regret that later. Some radishes that I had planted were innundated by caterpillars. I'm hoping that it is too late in the season for them now.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day September 2008

Wow, it is already that time of the month for Garden Blogger's Bloom Day put on the Carol of May Dream Gardens. Where does the time go? I really have very few plants that are specifically autumn blooming plants. The one and only is my Sedum telephium 'Autumn Joy'. And to digress a little. That is the last Latin name you will see here. I really haven't embraced such things despite her call for it. Weeding I can embrace. Latin names not so much. I have trouble remembering my own name, much less a plant's correct name.

That is not to say I don't have blooming plants. My David Austin rose has gotten its second (third?) wind and is blooming its socks off. Or petals off. My driveway was strewn with rose petals yesterday. A very romatic way to enter the house even it if wasn't my husband's doing.

I have many that have been blooming for quite some time: hosta (different variety than last month's, just don't ask me the name), three kinds of coreopsis, black eyed susans, ballon flower (just a few left), pink mallow (amost gone), cosmos, sweet allysum, impatiens and I'm sure I'm missing something, but that's most of them.

I still have lots of blooms in the vegetable garden. Some will be fruitless blooms since it is too late for the tomatoes, eggplant and peppers to get ripe. But the summer squash and cucumber blooms have a chance. They only take 3-7 days to fruit. Sadly the summer squash put out a plethora of male blossoms yesterday, and today it's working on the female blossoms. I'm not going to get squash with that timing. The beans and peas are blooming like crazy. The raspberries are also still blooming, but the bright red berries are stealing the show. Nothing is prettier than a cane of red ripe berries, not even my sedum. Of course I picked them all this morning before remembering to take a photo, so you will just have to imagine. Or go over to the Shibaguys blog and see their blackberry cane photo. It lacks the bright red, but still is beautiful.

In the herb garden the following are blooming: basil, coriander, dill, mint, creeping thyme, feverfew (again!), chamomile, lemon balm and borage. The borage finally bloomed. I planted it late and it didn't like our wet July. It finally started growing when the rains stopped in August.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Garlic Bed

I did more digging in my new garlic bed today. I decided I couldn't wait much longer. I want the compost to decompose before the garlic is planted, and I'm guessing I'll be planting in about a month. The last of the seed garlic will arrive at the end of September from the Seed Savers Exchange.

The bed is about 10' long and 2 1/2' wide. I was trying to figure out how much of that I really needed for garlic and how much I would plant in something else, probably onions, next spring. I haven't planted garlic in a long time. I vaguely remember spacing it around 6" apart. If I give it 6", I can put 5 garlic cloves across the bed. If I take half of the bed, which is 5', I can put in 10 rows. That is 50 heads of garlic, which seems like a heck of a lot to me, until I think that in reality some will be pulled up green and some will not produce, and then some will have to be the next year's seed garlic. So maybe half the bed really is a good amount.

Without totally ripping up the pumpkin vine that has rooted in this bed, I could dig about 4' of the length. The other foot will have to go mostly unammended. Since this bed hasn't been dug in years and is near the drip line of my front yard maple trees, I decided to go fairly deeply to get out the roots. I usually don't dig my beds (well except the first time I use a bed). I will fork a bed deeply to add air, or mix compost into the top 6" but that is about as far as I go. This time I took out the top 8" then forked the subsoil up trying not to mix it too much, but trying to chop off any roots I found. Then I added about 3" of compost and put the top soil back on.

There were a lot of roots in the soil. The roots from my Daphne that is on the other side of the fence were all through it and I found one large 1 1/2" root that I think is from my tree. I cut them all off. They will of course come back, but at least for this year the garlic will have a chance.

It wasn't a lot of digging, 2 1/2' x 4' is a small section, but it was enough to get me dripping. I'll do the other half when the pumpkin is harvested and the vine is gone.

I know a lot of people that get their husbands to do the hard work in the garden, but I've never done that. I figure the garden is mine. It wouldn't be fair for me to do the fun stuff and someone else to do the real work. And for me digging is about the only real 'work' in the garden. The rest of it is all fun stuff. I wonder if that is why I adopt the philosophy that digging the soil is harmful to it. I don't want to do it and it gives me a good excuse. Or maybe the no-dig methods really are the best in places without horrible invading tree roots. I can definately say that my worms were not happy about my digging. Hopefully the give of compost will appease them.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Autumn Has Arrived

The warm weather crops are really starting to slow down these last couple of days. Our temperatures have only been in the 60s during the day. Brrr. The eggplants are no longer growing to 5 or 6 inches. Now they are starting to ripen at 3 inches. They are cute little tiny eggplant. It takes a few to make anything with them.

The newly set jalapenos are falling off the plant before they grow. The older ones seem to be fine, but unless our weather warms up significantly no more will grow.

The beans are taking ages to grow. Usually my Kentucky Wonder beans have a window of about a day where you can pick them before they grow too large. Now they are ripening slowly.

The cucumbers are only giving me one or two a day. They used to produce twice as much.

Fall is definately in the air. That prompted me to check out my pumpkin. It is starting to turn orange. The plant itself looks pitiful, all covered in powdery mildew, but I think the pumpkin might actually win the race over the mildew. I hope so. I can imagine the taste of pumpkin pie every time I look at it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I really shouldn't read so many blogs. I confess that I don't often comment, but I read a dang lot of them. They make me want to try out so many different things in my garden. One of my favorite blogs is Cynthia's, Brambleberries in the Rain (don't you LOVE that name?). We live on opposite sides of the US and our zones are quite different, but somehow our gardens tend to be in sync. For instance, recently we have both had an unprecedented rain of frogs. Or it could be because after reading her blog I want to buy things. Orange mint comes to mind. I'll blame her when it takes over my garden. Anyway I digress.

Recently she was writing about taking cuttings to root. So she had me thinking. My 'hardy' rosemary is not really hardy here despite what the tag says. I could take cuttings and guarantee that I won't have to buy another plant next year. And my basils. I have seed for both the regular basil and the lemon basil, but not for the Thai basil. I should take cuttings and save the plant over the winter.

Basil is really easy to root. I take 'cuttings' all the time unintentionally. I cut some off to keep in my kitchen so it is right at hand whenever I need it. I keep it in a glass jar with water. They always root if left in their long enough. Even the ones that are flowering will root, though not as well. So I figure all the basils ought to be easy. Yes I didn't just take cuttings of the Thai basil, but I took cuttings of them all.

I took three cuttings of my rosemary. I'm not sure if it roots best on hard or soft stems, so I took one cutting from a new branch, one from an old branch, and one from one that was inbetween. Then I put them in a mix of perlite and my seed starting soil. and covered them with a bag.

I hope they live. I have a tendancy to kill houseplants nowadays. I forget to water them. Currently my only houseplant is an aloe that can survive lack of water for months.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Autumn Apples

Now I don't grow apples. I wish I did, but I've never been willing to cut down my existing trees. Every autumn I regret my decision, because autumn is apple season, and the northeast is a perfect place to grow apples. There are lots of orchards and it is easy to find fresh local apples.

In August the early apples come out. Gravensteins are the ones I buy. It is a nice green apple. As all my favorite eating apples are, they are tart, sweet, and crisp. These are only available for a very short time. They don't keep well.

Today at the farmer's market, I was hunting for apples. I came across another of my favorite apples, Honeycrisp. I was surprised. I thought they didn't get ripe for at least another week, but I was happy to buy them. This is a great eating apple. I think it is a little sweeter than a Gravenstein, but still it has enough sour to make it good and as a bonus it stores well. In fact very well, I've been told you can keep them for 6-8 months. Yet despite this I can usually only find them in the stores for about 2 months. I don't consider it a very pretty apple. In the photo they are the apples in the back. It can't make up its mind if it is green or red.

The apples in the front are the first Macintoshes of the season. I consider them premier cooking apples (along with Cortlands). They make fabulous applesauce. Most people don't like them for pies because they mush down too much when they cook, but our family likes our apple pies and cobblers mushy. We don't like to have crunch in our cooked apples.

I've never understood why Delicious apples (the most mendacious name in history) are the premier apple in grocery stores. Yes they are very pretty. None of the other apples I've mentioned so far can hold a candle to their beauty, but they are mealy and don't have that burst of tartness. In fact they don't have much flavor at all. Comparing a Honeycrisp to a Delicious is much like comparing an out of season grocery tomato to a sun ripened home grown tomato. There is no comparison.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Sorry State of my Fence

All year long my garden has given me joy as I watched it grow and picked its bounty. I love my garden. Though I started with hard clay under a pesticide ridden lawn, I now have fertile black soil.

Protecting this garden is a fence. It was once a gorgeous white cedar picket fence, but time went on and the house was painted brown, the fence followed suit. Now years afterward its paint is peeling. You can see the brown of the paint but also patches of silver of the ceder underneath and patches of its old white paint.

Its latch no longer works. I keep its gate from opening in the wind by a length of string. Some of the post caps have cracked and broken off. The posts themselves are starting to be eaten by insects. The fence is falling down. I prop it up in the worst spots with 16" brick pavers jammed against the posts, but still it leans.

It has done its job over the years and it needs to be ripped out and replaced, but I'm not sure I ought to. I don't intend to be living in the house in two years (maybe less). I want to move to where I can be on public transportation, where I can walk or bike to get groceries. Basically I want to live somewhere I don't need a car. This was the perfect place to bring up kids. Its a safe neighborhood, with large back yards, woods to play in, and good schools, but my kids have grown up and it is no longer perfect.

Realistically the person that buys my house won't want a vegetable garden. Most people don't. Sadly only about a quarter of our country grows any of their own food. If I rebuilt the fence and then a nongardener came along, it would be such a waste. They would rip it out anyway. It is a hard thing to think that my beautiful garden that I love with its wonderful soil could be turned back into a lawn, but it has to be taken into account as I make my decision.

So my fence leans. But it still keeps out the rabbits and will last long enough.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Carrot Thinnings

My carrots are slowly getting bigger. They have been in the ground for about two months. I wanted to see how big they were getting. This was a good excuse to thin out the ones that were a bit too close together. I thinned three of them. It looks like they have a few weeks more before they will be full size.

I used my hand as a measurement in the photo. When stretched out the tip of my index finger and the tip of my thumb are 6" apart. If I use my thumb and middle finger the measurement would be 8". It is a very useful ruler I always have with me in the garden when planting. That and my trowel which is 12" long.

The carrots taste intensly carroty, but they aren't very sweet yet. They have been growing mostly in the heat. As it cools I'm hoping they get sweeter, but if not they would still make great cooking carrots.

Then I had to deal with my zucchini and yellow squash that is still sitting in the frige. I haven't been eating it recently as I've been busy eating tomatoes and eggplant. So I decided to grate it all and freeze it. It was a total of 5 cups of grated squash. I found that my favorite way to eat squash is grated, either in zucchini bread or soups and stews. Though I find the taste of it just ok by itself, I love the body and subtle flavor it lends to stews and bean dishes.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Helpful Hanna

Hanna hit us with lots of rain yesterday and last night, but not too much. I know some places in New Hampshire got 6", but I'm thinking we got about 2-3". Though I haven't heard the official story yet and I lack a rain gauge. Our area didn't get any flooding but enough for the ground to be soaked again. Perfect.

For years I thought of Boston's September weather as always wet. We used to get the tropical storms, hurricanes (never more than a category 2 since we are farther north and very rarely) or their dregs, but I think this is the first one we have had in a few years. Last fall we had an bad drought. My plants were struggling. That weather pattern and dry falls makes for pretty days, but our plants are more used to the rain. I'm glad the old pattern has returned.

In addition to rain the storm brought wind. The garden seemed to survive it, but my huge cosmos snapped off. It has never flowered. It was just growing bigger and bigger. Before its demise it topped 7'. Outrageously huge for a 3' cosmos. I think I gave it too much compost. Two of the six cosmos never flowered. I took the other one down too since it still shows no signs of starting. I was using the cosmos as cut flowers all summer long, but it is getting towards the fall, so I've decided to let them flower and collect the seed.

When I ripped up the two cosmos plants, I noticed their branches, that had fallen onto the ground a while ago, had rooted. In fact the whole stem was trying to root all the way up. I've see tomato and squash plants do that before, but I never knew cosmos did it too.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hopeful About Hanna

I wasn't sure if I was even going to go out in the garden today. Hanna is coming up the coast and the forecasters were telling me it was going to rain all morning. It started raining at 5am this morning and kept it up for a couple of hours. Then it stopped. So I ran out to pick my raspberries for breakfast. Then the sun started coming out. Hmm where is my day long rain? We really need it. It was been three weeks since the last rain here. They are still promising at least 2-3 inches tonight though. I'm hoping we get enough to soak the ground again.

In the veggie garden the fall vegetables are growing well. My peas have hit the top of the trellis at 6' tall. I never know what to do with peas when they get to the top. Should I cut the tips off to get them to branch? Or should I just let them spill over? I've seen people make really tall trellises, but I don't want to do that. I'm only so tall. As it is, picking the peas at the top is hard enough. I could just imagine trying to jump up and pick peas. And the peas are really starting to come in. Before it was just one or two a day, but now I get a handful every day and more plants are starting to blossom.

I did find one plant that is setting thicker pea pods. I'm hoping that is a snap pea that survived rotting and not some mutant snowpea. I'll let it fill in the pod and find out. Eating it is the only way to know for sure. Ok I confess. I could follow the tangle of vines down and see which side of the trellis it was planted on, but where is the fun in that?

If you look in front of the peas you will see three rows of carrots. The ones right under the peas are struggling. They didn't come up well and I kept trying to reseed, but some spots just didn't take. Then the slugs chewed off the whole top of one of the carrots. They weren't chewing the tops, they were chewing the carrot itself not far under the ground. They hollowed out a huge section of the carrot. Very bad slugs. I don't usually slug hunt in the carrot bed, but I think I'll have to start. The other two rows farther to the front are doing very well. After four seedings I have all the bare patches covered. Now they just have to grow.

The broccoli under the row cover is surviving. Most of them have recovered quite well from their bout of slug and caterpillar damage. They have grown big enough to survive it all, but one poor little one got too far eaten down. It may not recover fast enough to produce before winter hits.

Today's menu item was swiss chard. It has grow so slowly this year. It finally had those huge wonderful leaves. The fourth wave of leaf miners are just hitting, so it was a good time to take the best plant and harvest the leaves. I didn't pull the plant out when harvesting. I just chopped off all of the big leaves. It will survive to produce more leaves later. But it gives me so much less area I have to search for leaf miner eggs - not to mention a very tasty lunch of olive oil, garlic, Thai chili sauce, lime juice, pinto beans, tomatoes, eggplant, cheese, and of course chard. Next time I'll have to remember that black beans would go better than pintos for this dish.

Friday, September 5, 2008

More Tomatoes

Yesterday I was picking up my daughter from the train. On the way back we go by Wilson's Farms. Now Wilson's Farm always makes me almost have accidents as I go by. They keep their fields neat and orderly, and I'm always craning my neck as I go by. My mind goes something like this, "Are those beans? Oooo they mulch their tomatoes with black plastic like me, but put clover in the walkways. I need to do that. Hmm what are those transplants that are getting planting in the field today? " And yes I do this while trying to drive. I try not to. Really I do.

Inside the store, it is not just a typical farmer's stand. It is produce market along with meats, milk, cheese and a bakery. They are open all year round and ship things in during the winter. But they mark the produce that they grow so you know what is really fresh.

I couldn't help but stop. This is the time of year they sell their tomatoes fresh from the fields in gallon boxes. The paste tomatoes were $5.99 a box. So I bought one. The regular tomatoes had a special of 2 for $10. So I got two. These tomatoes are not just any tomatoes. They are picked ripe. In fact sometimes they are a bit over ripe. But I was going to make them into sauce so they are perfect.

I had also heard that they sold Baer's Best Beans. Baer's is a farm in Beverly, just north of me. As far as I can tell they don't sell on their farm, but go to farmer's markets and Wilson's Farm. They sell all sorts of dried beans. The selection at Wilson's was small and mostly just the typical beans, but they did have Jacob's Cattle beans. I used to grow these years ago and can't wait to make chili from them or maybe baked beans.

Today I had to process my tomatoes. One of the boxes of regular tomatoes I roasted in the oven. I wanted to remove most of the water easily. I'd never done it before, but so many people say they love it so I tried. Everyone's recipe is different. Some do it at 200F for a long time; some at 400F for a short time; and other of course pick any temperature in between. I choose 275F. Don't ask me why. I have no clue. After several hours and they were starting to get brown, I declared them done. Then I used my Victorio Strainer to process them along with the rest of the paste tomatoes and a few more of the other box of regular tomatoes. The rest we have already eaten fresh or will eat in the next couple of days.

The Victorio Strainer is fabulous if you have a lot of tomatoes to process. Just roughly chop them up and pop them in the top. Turn the handle and the pulp comes out the side and the skin and seeds out the front. I usually send the seed/skin part through a few times to make sure the pulp is all out. The work is after you finish processing those pounds of tomatoes. Most of the cleaning is easy, but the mesh screen takes a lot of work to get all the little pulp bits out. If I only had a few tomaotes, I would have done the seeding and peeling by hand.

For the rest of the day the tomato sauce will simmer in my crock pot thickening. Then tonight I'll cool it down and freeze it. This is plain tomato sauce. I thought about seasoning it, but I decided I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it. It might be spagetti sauce later or chili or soup or all three. There is certainly enough of it for all three and more.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Frog's New House

My raspberry patch is not terribly huge. It is about 4'x6. Though as you can see, the canes droop down and enlarge their area. The one that arcs into my car attacks me everytime I need to get in the door. I have to be careful when I move it to get in so that I don't accidentally grab a bumble bee or wasp.

This morning the raspberry patch was a happening place. I saw two frogs instead of one this morning. One was an inch long (in the photo) and the other was just 3/4". Such a cute tiny little guy. In the photo it looks like a big fat frog, but the leaf he is standing on is a raspberry leaf, so you can get an idea of how small he really is. Since I got a photo and had time to look at them, I'm guessing they are spring peppers. But they aren't peeping and it's not spring. Not that I'm complaining, but what are they doing here? I've never had a frog in my garden before.

I'm wondering if it is the road construction across the street. That side of the street has a wetlands way back behind. I've seen tadpoles in the vernal ponds there. The birds back there are really something too - or were. Maybe the clearing of all the brush and trees for the road forced them to find a new home. The thought makes me worried for them. I know they aren't building within a hundred feet of the wetlands, because they didn't want to get a permit for that, but peepers need their trees too.

In the vegetable garden I saw a peeper last night while slug snipping. I wonder if they eat slugs. He was perched on the top of the compost bin. Under him on the ground was a swarm of slugs. Hmm a herd of slugs? A tribe of slugs? I suppose it really ought to be a slime of slugs, but I digress. One of the slugs was huge - over two inches long. And he was orange brown. Then I found two more of the monsters. Ack. I haven't been out slug hunting in too many days. I saw a toad one night and decided he ought to be eating my slugs, so I stopped. But the amphibians just aren't up to the challenge.

This morning in the veggie garden I had the sorry chore of harvesting the last zucchini and pulling out the plant. The experimental late planted squash got pulled too. It was a failed experiment. They were covered in mildew so I figured they weren't going to last. I think fall is just not squash season here. The mildew likes the cooler weather. All that is left is the yellow squash. I snipped off all the infected leaves. Maybe I'll get one more harvest from it before its demise. Just maybe.

While I was there I looked at the dehostaed bed. It grates on me to leave the job half finished. So I worked on it a little more. It used to have rocks that raised the bed up, but I wanted the bed raised even higher and didn't like how much width the rocks took up. So I removed the rocks in the back of the beds and replaced them with brick pavers. I snitched the pavers from another section of the garden. Two from a small path, that I immediately repaved with some of the rocks. Paths looks so pretty with rock pavers. The brick ones aren't nearly as nice. The others I snitched from another path (part of which you can see in the photo). I'll just mulch that area. Most of my paths are just mulched unless they travel through a bed.

I also ripped out the oregano (sorry wasps) and the chives that I'm not keeping and trimmed back the dianthus. Now I really want to double dig this bed and put in lots of compost. The silly pumpkin vine just won't let me. I keep looking at the pretty pumpkin. It seems like it is full size to me, but it won't start turning. I may just decide to dig around the vine and put in the compost next to it. If you hadn't noticed I tend to have some obsessive tendancies. I start something and I'm consumed by it. I don't want to quit until it is done. It really bugs me that I can't finish it NOW. I tell myself it is because I want the compost to decay more (which is true, root crops don't do well with too fresh compost), but the reality is I just want to finish.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Death of Squash

Today I heard sand slowly pouring through the hourglass as the Death of Squash tapped its foot waiting for my zucchini. It should have died in August following the usual behavior of squash in my garden, but it held out. Now the zucchini is dying. It is starting to wilt even though it has plenty of water. A squash often wilts in the heat of a hot sunny day. But this photo was taken in the morning - trust me you didn't want to see the afternoon photo. Poor thing. Done in by borers. It has one zucchini left on it maybe it has one last gasp before it heads off.

I was thinking I was inundated by squash. I have two yellow squash in my fridge and one zucchini. I was thinking of grating and freezing the excess. But I may have to hoard them if this is the last of the zucchini. They will hold for a week in my fridge easily enough. Probably more. It is amazing how long fresh produce lasts when picked from the morning in the garden. My lettuce can last two weeks. Whereas store bought lettuce has trouble making it all the way through one week.

And I confess I've been really appreciating the zucchini. Not so much for its flavor by itself, but it makes a wonderful addition to stews. I grate it up and it disappears but adds a subtle flavor that I like. Recently I've made Mediterranean Stew and a Mexican bean and rice casserole. I loved them both. Especially the Mexican dish since I grew up on that food. It was the main ethnic food that you find in the Colorado mountains where used to live. And you always fondly remember the food of your youth.

I'm actually a little surprised it is the zucchini that is dying fastest. I expected it to be the yellow squash. It has lost so many leaves to mildew (you can see the white mildew dots on its older leaves). But no. It still lives. It isn't even wilting yet in the afternoon. It isn't as prolific as the zucchini but it does a good job for its size. Even if it has decided to move to the middle of my path and trip me each time I need to go by.

The good news in the garden is the raspberries. They are really starting to come into their own. I pick them every morning for my cereal, but as my husband pointed out this weekend, I have more raspberries than cereal in my bowl. Not really a problem for me.

As I was picking them, I was noticing the sleeping bees as usual, but then I saw a tree frog on the leaves. He was maybe an inch to an inch and a half long. Wow. I've never seen one of those in the garden before. We have tree frogs in New England? I looked it up on the web and we have two kinds, neither one looked like the plain brown frog I saw, but then I didn't see it long. I ran into the house for the camera. When I got back he was gone. Maybe he will visit again tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Reclaiming My Sun

A couple of years ago I got rid of my little water garden. Into its place I moved most of my herbs. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with the space where the herbs used to be. Some of them are still there. I have a lemon thyme, one of my oregano plants, my sage and one of my chives. To keep the place presentable I split some hostas and plunked them in. It isn't a good spot for hostas. It is in direct sunlight. As I said before full sun is now hard to come by in my garden. I decided the bed has to be put back into production. It has sun. How could I give it to hostas? Really, what was I thinking? But what to do with the ripped out hostas?

The fairly incompetent landscapers that mow my yard have been weed whacking down my hostas on the other side of the fence (see before and after photo above). This is the spot under the crab apple tree where nothing grows well and is in full shade. Usually hostas do ok there, but not if they get weed whacked to death. So I've moved the other herb garden hostas to their place. They are much bigger hostas then the old ones. Do you think the landscapers will notice them and leave them alone? I can only hope.

Now that the hostas are gone, I have a better sense of what is left to do. I need to consolidate the herbs that are left. I think I will get rid of the extra chive plant. I really don't need two of them. I only use one. I've transplanted a part of the oregano to the bare spot between the sage and the thyme at the end. I'll rip out the rest in a bit, but right now the wasps are loving the flowers.

My big impediment to finishing the project is the pumpkin vine. You can see it in the path. It travels from the left hand bed where it was planted, travels along the path for about six feet then heads over the fence. It has no leaves on it anymore. They were killed by mildew. However the plant is still alive on the other side of the fence, and the pumpkin is still growing. It looks like I can just move the vine and dig, but pumpkin vines root into the ground at the leaf nodes. That vine may not have leaves but it does have roots. I really don't want to kill my pumpkin.

So right now I'm stuck. The path is way too wide right there. It should only be 18" - the width of the brick paver I put in the path. It needs to be turned over and compost turned in and allowed to decompose for a while since the compost is still a little green. I'm going to plant garlic there this fall at the end of October. So I do have some time, but not much if I want to use that compost.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Soil Coverings

I've been looking at my chilies for a while now thinking I ought to pick the ripe ones. Today I finally got around to it. It really isn't as important that I pick them now. The rains are gone so they won't rot on the plant. In fact they would probably dry beautifully on the plant. But I like to string them. They decorate my kitchen until I use them. This string was much longer than the last. There were quite a few peppers to pick. The photo shows only half my plants.

I've been watching my peas slowly grow. I was hoping for snap peas, but I think that I have snowpeas once again. The first pea pod is almost ready to pick. And the second one (toward the bottom of the photo) is not far behind.

The big work of today's garden was ripping out the plastic under the peppers and tomatoes and planting the fall cover crop. With the lack of sun, they are all slowing down except those super chili peppers that will keep it up until they are truly frozen. Nothing stops those plants. But I think my garden will get more out of a cover crop than having plastic on the ground.

Plastic sucks as a ground cover in a lot of ways. It harbors slugs. They love to live under the plastic. The slug trail I mentioned a few days ago came from the plastic sheeting under the tomatoes and went to my beans and Asian greens.

It also seems to mess up my soil structure. The ants take up residence and turn the top into a fine powder that won't soak up water. The worms hate the over heated soil and go away. So why do I use it? Well it helps prevent blight in our blight ridden corner of the world. Blight is transmitted by soil splashing up on the leaves. If you prevent that you can prevent blight. You can also do it by putting on a very thick mulch, but tomatoes like heat. Mulch keeps the soil cool and the plants don't grow as well.

Now that the tomato season is winding down, I want to fix my soil before the salad crops get rotated in next year. A cover crop is a great way to do this. My cover crop is a mix of hairy vetch and oats. I inoculate the vetch before seeding it. It uses the same inoculant as peas. I could probably get away without this. I didn't inoculate my peas this spring and they still set nodules on their roots. I think that the Rhizobia bacteria is in my soil already. As long as you have wet soil it will live for a long time. But I still like to make sure, so I inoculated them. And while I was doing cover crops, I seeded some in the summer squash area. The plants have wandered out of their beds and the old leaves have died. The soil is bare, but not for long.