Sunday, May 31, 2009

Time for Eggplant?

Slim Jim and Lavender Touch Eggplant

I always debate with myself over when to plant hot weather crops. We have a cool climate. Our average high temperature in June is 77°F(25°C). Our average low is 55°F(13°C). This is not particularly hot. It is fine for my tomatoes and my chili peppers, but eggplants aren't as forgiving of cool temperatures.

Last year I started my eggplants on June 1st. The ground was mulched in black plastic. I added a plastic hoop tunnel. I put water jugs in between the eggplants to collect heat. This year is more problematic. I'm growing carrots between my eggplants. The carrots should be out of the ground before the eggplants need that space, but carrots don't like heat. All the heat collection that I did last year would either kill my carrots or make them bitter. So this year the eggplants got nothing. No plastic of any kind. I love the look of the garden without all the plastic, but will they grow?

Yesterday I noticed two things with the eggplants. They are getting a bit root bound and they were being attacked by insects. I hand picked the flea beetles off before they went in the ground. Then I rubbed off all the aphids. These poor plants have been through so much and their leaves look a bit chewed. Previously they had a caterpillar when they were younger. Then I put them next to my tomatillos and they ended up with cucumber beetles. Sigh. They still seem to be holding their own.

Even though we might get some cooler weather this week, I felt they had to go in. Nothing stops a plant faster than getting root bound. I think most of the times that people recommend for growing transplants are way over estimated. They let the plants get too root bound. Yes with paper pots the roots do tend to get air pruned, but it still slows their growth down if they aren't planted in a timely manner.

They were placed about two feet apart from each other in the row and about 18" apart. They got supplemented with some bonemeal, coffee grounds and lime. I hope they survive all the travails they had in their youth and grow up strong. Hmm maybe I should surround them with some soda bottles to pamper them a bit. They could use a little pampering.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

This and That

This morning I walked out to do my daily garden check nice and early. I was amazed at the cacophony that greeted me. Usually the birds sing here and there. One calls; another answers. It is beautiful and has a nice melody. This morning it was like a thousand different birds were all trying to one up the other. They all had their tunes and it was not in sync with any of the others. Have you ever heard a symphony orchestra when they just get out and are making sure their instruments are tuned? If you have, you know what I mean.

Since I was out a bit earlier than normal, I found plenty of slugs to squish. That was my first chore. They aren't as bad in the brassica section, but I still found a nice handful to squish. Sadly they are taking down my cucumber seedlings. I put a thin ring of coffee grounds around the plants when they were put out, but that is not enough. One has been eaten to a stub. Another the top is fine, but the stem has been eaten all the way through. I was hoping the dill would distract them from my cucumbers. Self sown dill is very thick all the way through this bed. I did pull a lot of slugs off the dill too, but it wasn't enough protection. I started germinating more two days ago. I'll start some more today.

If it stays dry, I may bring out the DE to protect them a bit. DE doesn't work if wet. I'm not a big fan of diatomaceous earth (fossilized remains of diatoms ie sharp rock), but it does work as long as it doesn't get wet. It also happens to be the only insecticide I've used in the last 10 years. It has two flaws. The worse in my opinion is that if you breath it, it will abraid your lungs. Having really bad lungs, I'm careful around the stuff. I don't use a little filter mask. I bring out the Darth Vader mask. Its other flaw is that it can kill the predetors of the slug too like rove beetles. DE gets inside their little carapaces and dehydrates them. For us it just gives us dry skin. No biggie. It is not toxic at all and often fed to animals to control parasites. But again it only works on slugs if it is dry. If it rains you are out of luck.

The weather the last few days has been in the 50s during the day and the 40s at night. So I was shocked to see my beans germinating. I did plant them when it was in the high 80s, but our weather has been having wild swings recently. The Kentucky Wonder and Ottawa Cranberry beans are up (last one so called by me since it is from the Ottawa gardener). There is no sign yet of the Trail of Tears beans (also from the Ottawa gardener). I'm crossing my fingers since those are the ones I want the most. It has been cold and wet - perfect bean rotting weather. Sadly if they don't come up I have none to replace them. Well I have one and if I get none, I will plant that one last seed. I'm hoping to collect enough seed of this plant to eat some and get a little bit of a seed stock for future years.

I saw the first much anticipated bud on my pea. I can't wait until it opens and it gives me my first little tiny pea. I'm getting sick of eating greens every night. I want peas.

The carrots are doing well. I've been thinning them a bit. In a week I think their thinnings will be big enough to eat. Then I'll get color in my salads. I see caterpillar damage on a couple of them, but for the life of me can't see the caterpillar. Maybe the birds ate it. They love to dine in the garden more than anywhere else in my yard. I'm happy to have them eat there even if they eat a lot of my earthworms too.

I harvested over a pound of various greens today. I'm starting to see why Tyfon can feed an army. My Komatsuna grows just as fast, but it bolts in a month. It needs to be harvested then started again. Now that I know this I will do two week successions like I do for Tatsoi. But the Tyfon just keeps putting out. I wish I had chickens to feed it all to. It isn't bad but it is my least favorite green that I'm growing and it grows so much. I just can't keep up with eating it all.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Seduced by Blossoms

I usually do flower posts on the 15th of each month for Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, but I couldn't resist the flowers today. It hasn't really been raining much but it has been wet the last few days. The beauty of the garden really unfolds in the rain and the flowers look stunning all dressed up in diamonds. I think on dull dreary days the colors of the garden just shine all the more.

My rhododendron is near my garden gate. I cut it back every five years or so just so I can get in the gate and the year afterward it complains a lot. Right now the bush looks really sad, but it never fails to dress up for spring. Rhodies put out the most stunning mass of blossoms that are beautiful taken as a mass, but the most stunning part is each individual bloom. They are freckled with darker pink spots and their stamens and anthers are beautiful.

Out in the perennial border which surrounds the vegetable garden the most beautiful blooms are my Siberian iris. Last year they didn't bloom at all for me because of a fall drought, but this year they seem destined to make up for that.

The geraniums are much more subtle. They hide their soft periwinkle flowers in the leaves and play peak-a-boo.

Inside the garden not all the color is from flowers. The rainbow chard seems to glow with its own inner light. The golden form is the most stunning. I've seen some pretty photos on other people's blogs with huge stands of chard with many stems. I tend to eat off mine a lot so there are only a few big leaves at anytime. This ones will be harvested again next week.

The Ground Control marigolds have pretty single flowers. I'm growing them for their prowess in controlling nematodes. In the past I've grown Queen Sophia which is a prettier flower, but this one is still lovely in its simplicity.

The tomato flowers are from Alice. No that is not the name of the variety it is the name of the plant. It is part of my tomato trial and it is much easier to talk to your plants if you give them names first. All the other tomatoes in the trial are also blooming, but Alice was first so she gets top billing. For my other tomatoes, only Ssubakus Aliana and Black Moor are blooming.

The French thyme is in full bloom right now. It blooms much earlier than my other thymes. Their little blooms catch and hold the water and it makes them twice as lovely.

No flower photo series would be complete this time of year without the chives. They make such a stunning and exuberant burst of color in the herb garden. The water has their stems weighted down a bit, but they will pop right back up as soon as the rain clears up tomorrow.

There are many other blooms scattered around the vegetable garden and others that are just about to bloom. I can't make up my mind if I'm more excited about my dianthus that is showing a bit of pink or my peonies. Both are well on their way. It should only be a few more days until they burst open.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lettuce Bed

My lettuce bed has been growing for a while now. I've been doing succession sowings inside every two weeks or so. I'm hardly exact about the timing. Life gets in the way and some sowing have been much later than others. I sow six little soil blocks each time with five varieties. The sixth is just in case one doesn't come up. Then I plant them all out in a row. They are all leaf lettuce since I find it really easy to grow and it can be picked old or young.

Chard on the left, lettuce on the right

They used to look pretty all lined up. Each one slightly bigger than the one before. Then I started picking. Today I picked two nice heads. Now there are huge gaps. Even if it doesn't look pretty anymore, the gaps are good. My lettuce is planted 8" apart and the heads can get way bigger than that. When they touch, I'm supposed to pick them and let the rest of them grow to full size. I'm not a lover of little lettuce. I like my lettuce to have texture and be big and crunchy.

For now picking has been easy. I had only three types of lettuce and they were all reddish types, but soon I'll be picking some of the green lettuce. Should I pick the red ones or the green ones?

Red Sails is my tried and true red lettuce. It isn't as pretty as my other reds. The center doesn't have the pretty rosette, but it has always been consistant. It grows well in the spring. It grows fast. It tastes good. It holds up in the heat of the summer better than any other lettuce I've tried. I could just grow this one and be happy, but I'm always looking for something better. If I could find a lettuce that holds up even through the hottest days of summer I would be happy. So this year I'm trialing a few more to see if they can do better.

Merveille de Quatre Saisons is probably the prettiest of my lettuces. It has stunning red leaves with bits of green showing through. The leaves are all scoop shaped. Although they are slightly wrinkled, the wrinkles don't take over and you can easily see the shape of each leaf. It doesn't grow as big or strongly as my other reds and the leaves don't have the substance of the others either. For me this is bad. I like my lettuce to crunch just a little more and it is a bit soft for my tastes. If it holds up in the summer it will still be a winner, otherwise I probably won't grow it again.

New Red Fire seems to be a dopleganger for my Red Sails except that it has a bit more form to the head. I love the pretty rosette it makes. It is also just a touch more red in the center. When the seedlings are young I can't tell them apart at all. Once they are full grown it is still a bit hard. They both taste about the same. I would be happy to grow either, but if this one can hold just a week longer, it will be the new favorite in the garden.

Australian Yellow Leaf is from Dan. It is supposed to be a slow bolting chartreuse lettuce. I used to grow Black Seeded Simpson which is also a slow bolting chartreuse. However it bolted rather quickly in my garden. I did love it for its striking color and AYL seem to be just as pretty. I love the bright color in the salads especially with my reds. I'm really rooting for this one. It is still a bit small to pick, but it is growing quite well and much better than BSS grew for me last year.

The last lettuce is the ugly step sister - Deer Tongue. It is fairly small growing and the leaves are plain green. I'm just waiting to taste it. I've never grown this kind of lettuce before. I always figured I wouldn't like it much because it would lack any crunch, but you never know. Since it was a gift from Dan, I just had to try it out and see what it is like.

The lettuce is really coming into its peak season so all the lettuce is growing fabulously. The real test will come in July as the weather heats up. Which one will bolt first? Of course bolting isn't the end of the world. I've joined the Seed to Seed Challenge this year and I'd love lettuce to be one of the seeds that I save. I won't save them all. I'll pick one variety this year so they won't cross. I may only save seeds from one plant. The genetics will lack diversity, but lettuce is self pollinating so I don't think it will be much of an issue. I don't have room in the garden to let a lot of lettuce go to seed - at least if I want to start eating lettuce again at the end of August, and I do. I love my salads.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Potato Growth

I started hilling up my potatoes about a week ago. Despite the bin that they are growing in, I started the potatoes in trenches. Once the trenches were filled up, I started filling the bin. I dug up some earth from my woods to put on, bringing it over in five gallon buckets. I calculated that it would take about a cubic yard of soil to fill the bin to the top, though I don't have to get all the way up if I get tired of hauling dirt. I calculated that it would take about 40 full buckets to fill up my bin all the way.

I figured that would be two buckets a day for 20 days, which wouldn't be a lot of work any one day. The potatoes had other ideas though. They are growing faster than 2 buckets of dirt a day. Today I broke down and just took a couple of wheelbarrrow filled with compost over to the bin and carefully put that in. Potatoes love to grow in compost, but the massive amounts of organic matter can cause scab. Scab doesn't like acid conditions (which is why this is the only section of the garden that didn't get limed this year), but then potatoes don't like growing in acid conditions either. I could make the soil more acidic, but I think I won't. What I'm going to try to do is keep the potatoes watered well. Supposedly well watered potatoes don't get scab as much as the drier potatoes since the bacteria in the soil can out compete the scab fungus.

Not all of my potatoes are very vigorous. I have two that are smaller than the others. I hope they can keep up with the rest of them and avoid getting buried in the compost.

I didn't plant the potatoes very closely. I have 10 seed potatoes for 16 sqft. That is a lot more space than Jeavons says to give them. I'm really hoping for large potoates since they are easier to peel. Sometimes ease of use is better than a bigger harvest.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday Harvest Tally

Greens are of course still what I harvested all last week, but it was the week of the spinach. I got two nice harvests off my little spinach patch and then pulled up the bolting plants. I still have a large container of it in the fridge, but most of it went to freeze for the winter. I have four servings frozen. It isn't much, but it is a start.

Other greens that I got a nice harvest off of were: lettuce, komatsuna, tyfon, Fun Jen, mizuna, and tatsoi. Sadly all my tatsoi and Fun Jen have bolted. I pulled the plants. I'll stir fry the flower stalks. One of the komatsuna has bolted. It also got pulled. I've started another six soil blocks to replace them. I didn't start any Fun Jen, just tatsoi and komatsuna. I use my Fun Jen for the same things as Chinese cabbage. Since I think my Chinese cabbage has a month to go, I think the Fun Jen would be redundant.

The last of the greens I harvested is my chard. I'm growing Bright Lights this year. Last year it was Rhubarb Chard. I love the look, but honestly last year the chard tasted better. It was sweeter. This could be caused by the lack of rain around here, or it could be the variety. I often hear that the basic green variety tastes better. I think next year I'm going to go back to red, or maybe that and also green.

Herbs also played an important role in my harvest this week. I had lots of cilantro and some dill. Then I dried out some Greek oregano and English thyme. The last two will not be for me. My son came home and asked to be brought to Penzeys to get a basic set of spices. We did that, but he got oregano, thyme and sage from me. Last year was a bad parsley year so I didn't have any of that to give him and I used up all my rosemary already. I had to buy some which is really quite sad. The saddest thing though is that I'm using a made up number for the price of my herb harvest. I need to go the store and find out what it is worth. That or price the dried spices. Either would work. The dried spices are a bit easier since I can see how high up on the bottle it goes and I know about what the prices are. I can translate that to ounces harvested pretty easily.

So for totals, this week:

  • Herbs: .37 lbs
  • Greens: 3.69 lbs
  • Onions: .02 lbs
Weekly total: 4.08 lbs
Yearly total: 7.95 lbs
Yearly earned: -$201.87

This seems to be the high point of the greens harvest. I see lower totals coming next week. My radishes, spinach and some Asian greens were pulled out. My peas have not yet started to bloom. My summer vegetables are all in the ground, but they won't start producing for quite some time. The cabbages and carrots are about a month off. My broccoli is seriously unhappy and probably won't produce much if anything. So I have just a few Asian greens, lettuce, chard and some herbs coming up in the next couple of week.s

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Three Sisters Garden Planted

I finished putting my Three Sisters Garden in the ground yesterday. It started last winter as an idea. I wanted to try more interplanting techniques to try to get a better harvest out of my garden and the most classic of all companion planting is the Three Sisters Garden. The corn is the support for the pole beans, while the pole beans provide nitrogen to the soil that the corn takes out. The squash provide a mulch for the soil and its prickly vines help to keep intruders out of the garden. It in turn likes the partial shade from the other two.

Throughout the winter I collected seed for my garden. Corn, which was the first seed planted in the garden was from Pintree. It is Bon Appetit, a hybrid sweet corn that I thought my husband would love. It was germinated in soil blocks on April 16th.

From the Ottawa Gardener I received seed for a Vermont Cranberry Bean and Cherokee Trail of Tears. The latter was reportedly carried on the trail of tears and seems apropos for a traditionally Native American garden. The last bean is Kentucky Wonder, which I've grown for years in my garden and is my favorite green bean. These were planted out three days ago, after the corn had been hilled up. At the time of planting the hilled corn was 6-8" tall. I planted one hill of Kentucky Wonder and three of each of the other beans.

The last of the sisters is the cucurbits. I received my Armenian cucumber (really a melon) as a gift from My Diamant cucumbers are from Johnnys. They were planted last night after being germinated in soil blocks. Not all of them germinated. I'm still missing three blocks. I hope they make it. The cucumbers are being grown up a trellis that is at the end of the bed and goes between two hills of corn. Usually in a Three Sisters Garden the plants would sprawl on the ground, but I really like my cukes trellised, so I'm breaking from tradition.

For my other cucurbits, I have four varieties of squash. Two of zucchini and two of C. moschata. The first zucchini is seed from last year. Dark Green Zucchini did very well for me last year and still produced even with some vine borer damage. Costata Romanesca was a gift from Ali. I thought it would do well in a Three Sisters Garden because unlike most zucchinis, this one puts out runners. It doesn't have the bush habit like Dark Green Zucchini does. And one of the points of the squash sister is that she covers the ground and helps to mulch the soil.

I'm growing C. moschata instead of my typical C. pepo that I usually do because C. moschata is resistant to the evil and frustrating vine borers. They usually take down my pumpkins before I get any fruit. The first C. moschata I picked was Neck Pumpkin. It is very similar to Butternut, but has a much longer neck. I planted one hill of this. The last two hills were reserved for Magdalena Big Cheese. This was the one seed that I got through the Seed Saver's Yearbook. I felt I had to have it. It is often said to be one of the oldest varieties of squash still being grown. I'm hoping that means it has been grown in Three Sisters Gardens for hundreds of years. Its description is that it is very insect resistant and makes great pies. Yum! Pies!

Yesterday I planted out the squash seed in hills (the ones in the front are the squash hills, the ones in the back are the corn and bean hills). The hills are different than the ones I made for the corn. The corn started low and got hilled up. The squash starts out on a hill. First I dug a hole about a foot down. Into the hole I threw about a cup of coffee grounds and filters. It isn't fish, which would be more traditional, but I get more than I can use free, so it is my fertilizer of choice. I added a bit of lime since coffee grounds are acidic. Then I mixed it well in the next 6" or so of soil. The hole was filled with a five gallon bucket of compost. Then soil from the hole and some of the surrounding soil covered that up.

My hills are really mesas. They are flat on top and have a slight depression in the middle to catch the water. I've thrown my half finished compost all around the outside of the hills as a mulch, but not on top. Those seeds need to be able to get out of the soil.

You might notice that there are plants in the bed that are not Three Sisters plants. I have marigolds between every two hills of corn to help protect from nematodes. The other random green you see is cilantro. Cilantro self seeds all over the garden, but mostly in this bed. I tried to leave as much of it as possible while still making my hills. The rest was harvested.

The other weird non traditional thing you will see in the garden is posts here and there in the corn hills. Each hill had four corn plants and when one of them was very weak, I pulled it out and replaced it with a pole. That way the beans can still grow up the pole even without the corn.

I'm really very excited to be growing a Three Sisters Garden for the first time. I'm a bit worried that the beans will outgrow the corn, but the first year of doing something is always a learning experience.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Garden Magic

We walk around everyday in our mundane life, doing things we have done so many times in the past. Too many times we go around in a daze and don't really notice life anymore. When we look closely at things or really experience them, they transform into magical moments. Simple things like weeding can be transcendent experiences if you put your mind on what you are doing. You feel the weeds grab onto the soil as you yank them out. You feel the change you are making in the plants you leave behind. You feel connected to it all.

Common Whitetail female on a row cover

Then there are weeks like this one, when it takes little effort to see the magic in the world. This week the fairies and dragons came back into my yard. The dragons are fierce protectors. They don't breath fire, but they do eat my mosquitoes. Right now I just have one Common Whitetail. Hopefully later in the season the green and red dragons will join them since they have beautiful iridescent colors.

The fairies showed up very early in the week. During the day they hide as black beetles with orange heads, but at night they show their true selves. I see them in the tree tops blinking on and off - leaving green glowing trails where they pass. I see them as I fall asleep and they whisper to me in my dreams. Their children are fierce and well loved by me since they eat the evil slugs in the garden.

Besides the advent of some beautiful mythical creatures so many more magical things are happening this week in the garden. I started cucumbers seeds. Yesterday they uncoiled themselves and started growing. I know that little seeds ought to seem more magical, but the big seeds always amaze me more. They grow so powerfully. The same day they are up their roots break out of the bottom of the block. They seem so unstoppable. As soon as I see them break the surface of the soil I quickly plant them outside in the garden.

Then there is the magic of my lilacs. I never notice the flowers first. I notice the intoxicating scent before anything else. Yesterday was their big day. I walked into the garden and smelled the most wonderful scent. I closed my eyes and just experienced it. They are so much earlier this year than last. Last year they opened on May 30th. This year May 22nd. It must be because of this weeks heat spell.

So many other magical things happened in the garden this week. The opening of the first tomato blossom. The last harvest of spinach - so much that I couldn't eat it all and had to freeze part of it. The wild turkeys walking by and talking to me. The birds eating the insects in my garden while I'm still in it. The world is filled with so much magic. Do you see it in your garden as well?

Friday, May 22, 2009

F2 Sungold Update

Gratuitous flower photo

Oh so many things in the garden to talk about, but I just haven't been feeling like writing. So I'll write about the one that needs to be put permanently into the record - my tomato experiment. But first a description of what I'm doing.

I'm growing out some Sungold F2 seed. Sungold is my favorite tomato. It is a golden cherry that produces well. The plants are vigerous enough to outgrow our multitude of blights and mildews. It is also a hybrid. So that seed that I collected last year shouldn't grow true.

Hybrids are made by fertilizing two different open pollinated plants. Plant one may have genes that are 'AA' while plant two would have genes that are 'aa'. When combined the hybrid will have genes that are 'Aa'. This plant would be an F1 hybrid. The F1 denotes that it is the first generation hybrid. When you save seeds from an F1 hybrid plant and grow it out it is an F2 hybrid, and you really don't know what you will get with such a plant. When 'Aa' and 'Aa' combine the resulting seed will have one gene from one plant and one gene from the other, but it could be either gene so it could be 'Aa', 'AA' or 'aa'. And this of course holds true for all the genes they have. So when I grow the F2 Sungold out I have no clue as to what I will end up with.

If a seed company were trying to stabilize a hybrid, it would grow out many plants to start to get what they are looking for. I honestly am not quite sure what I'm looking for though an open pollinated Sungold would always be nice. I should also grow out a lot to see what different combination I get, but I had room for six. So I'm growing six. Their names are Alice, Betsy, Gabrielle, Debra, Emma, and Zelda because the Greek alphabet is more fun than our American one.

Time line for the tomatoes:

  • April 3rd, 9 soil blocks seeded (2 seeds in each block), used heat mat for germination
  • April 6-7, 17 seedlings germinated, randomly thinned out (didn't pick biggest or smallest, just the one closest to the left)
  • April 24th (three weeks) potted up 7 tomatoes (didn't choose which ones, just did them in order down the row) into newspaper pots
  • April 24th, started hardening off
  • April 30th (four seeks) planted six outside under row cover
  • May 14th row cover removed and cages put on
  • May 20th a mulch of compost with half decomposed leaves was applied
  • May 22 (today) first observational notes

Planting notes: The tomatoes were planted in a bed that was double dug and amended with several inches of compost about 8" down. The bed was also amended with an organic 5-3-3 fertilizer, lime, greensand and Azomite. Below each planting hole the dirt was amended with 1 c bone meal and 1c crushed eggshells. The plants were put 2' apart and slightly deeper than their pots. The bottom leaves were removed. In the back (north side) of the bed, basil and marigolds (Ground Control for nematodes) are alternated 2' apart so they are between but behind the tomatoes. In front of the tomatoes carrots were seeded on May 14th. Peppers are planted in the front (south side) of the bed at the same time the tomatoes were put in.

General Observations: they all seem to be doing at least OK. Flea beetles have started eating the leaves on all of the plants. No plant seems to be getting damaged more than any other plant. All had some black spots on the lower leaves. These leaves where taken off when they were mulched since they were very low.


  • healthy, doing OK
  • 9" tall, shortest of all the tomatoes, narrow
  • no suckers
  • two sprays of flowers already and has two open blossoms, blossoms are small as usual in cherry tomatoes - she may be small, but she is spunky


  • doing OK, some black spots on lower leaves
  • 10" tall, narrow
  • no suckers
  • one spray of flowers, unopened


  • doing well, healthy, thick stem
  • 12" tall, wide plant
  • one spray of flowers, unopened
  • top no longer has one strong stem, sucker at that spot is just as strong (if not stronger) than main stem, so split into two


  • doing well, healthy
  • 13" tall
  • two sprays of flowers, unopened
  • suckers 1"


  • doing the best of all, healthy, thick stem
  • 20" tall, very wide
  • two sprays of flowers, unopened
  • suckers 5"


  • doing well, healthy, thick stem
  • 13" tall, wide plant
  • two sprays of flowers, unopened
  • 3" suckers

Basically Emma is the star at this point. Her growth is so strong. If you look along the line of plants she is obviously the winner in healthy growth, but can she produce? She does have two sprays of flowers. One looks like it will open soon. One of Sungold's best traits is its strong growth. Diseases can try to stop it, but it just grows out of them. Emma seems to have inherited that trait.

Alice and Betsy are the worst of the plants. Though Alice is trying to stay in the running by blooming the first. Neither has particularly thick stems. I'm a little worred that the two worst plants are over to one side. Did this side not get as much fertilizer or compost? Are there more nementodes here? Or could it be the eggshells? I had powdered eggshells as an ammendment for the other four. When I planted Betsy I was running out so she got half powdered half crushed. Alice got all crushed eggshells. Hmm something to think about for an experiment next year. Maybe putting the eggshells in the food processor is more than just cosmetic for the garden. It would make sense. Will the powdered ones last all season long? I guess time will tell.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Getting the Garden Ready for the Heat

I've been very busy recently. Not all of it has been in the garden, but some of it has. Yesterday I got the cucumber soil blocks planted. I have 3 Armenian and 7 Diamant blocks. I also got the trellis for them put up. I have it in a really weird spot. It is against the fence in front of a path. I'm using the path end to give me more space. It is in the middle path just past the upside down trash can. OK so you can't really see it much. But trust me it is there.

As to why I have a trash can in my garden, I put the sprinkler on it when I water the garden. That way any tall foliage (like the peas) doesn't block the water. I water with an old oscillating fan sprinkler. I found out this year that it is now partially stuck. If I have it on a full sweep it gets stuck all the way to the right. Sigh. I did find I could make it not quite sweep as far and still get all but one little spot in the garden. So I hand watered that spot.

Our weather has been abnomally dry this year. In the last four weeks I think we have had just over an inch of rain. That is it. Usually we get an inch of rain a week in the spring. I've had to water three times already. Before I always hand watered. I was going to do it again, but I don't get my self sown plants that way. They are scattered willy nilly all over the garden. My cilantro was bitter last time I picked it from lack of water. So now the whole garden got wet. I hope the plants start growing again. Some of the plants were really slowing down in growth.

After the garden got a good drink it was time to mulch everything. We have a hot dry spell predicted so I have to conserve that water. I mulched the tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos. I left the middle of their beds unmulched since there are carrots germinating there. As I was mulching I noticed the first pepper bloom opened. Whoohoo!

I wanted to mulch the whole three sister's bed, but it needed to be hilled up first. The corn is anywhere from three inches high to a foot high. Afterward hilling it was much shorter. I just pulled out the little ones that obviously weren't going to grow. They would have been buried anyway. I'll put a stake in their place for the beans to grow up.

Then I mulched the low spots and the top of the hills. I left the sides unmulched because I need to plant the beans there. I'll mulch that part when the beans are well up. I think I should be planting the beans now, but I'm not really sure. The corn seems so small at about 6". Most suggestions are to wait until your corn is 6-12" tall, then hill, then plant. So I probably ought to plant about now. I'll think about it and maybe do it within the next couple of days.

I didn't do the squash hills yet. I'll do those after the spinach is out of the ground. It should bolt with the coming hot weather. So I'll pull it out when it starts, then get those hills in. The greens didn't get mulched either, but that is because they were mulched earlier. Their ground didn't need to get warmed up.

Then it was on to the perennial bed. The weeds were starting to take over. I weeded them and gave them a good mulching. I completed one side of the perennial bed along the fence and need to do the other another day. The mulch I'm using is my compost from last year. It hadn't quite decomposed enough for me to want to mix it directly in the soil. Oak leaves really take a bit to break down if they haven't been shredded beforehand and they hadn't. So there was a lot of half decomposed leaves in the mix, but it makes a great mulch.

I started to put up the supports for my container tomatoes, but I melted in the heat before I finished. It was only 80°F (27°C), but I just can't take the heat. I hope it isn't too hot tomorrow morning to get that done. I'm such a wimp in the sun, but I know enough to go inside when I start getting dizzy. I want to finish, but the plants will just have to wait. If my post seems disjointed today it is because it is brain fries along with the rest of me.

Oh and I almost forgot. My comfrey was in bloom. So I figured it must be time to cut it all down. I have three plants that I put in last year in the hopes of making more of my own mulch. This was the first time that it got cut. I used this batch to mulch my potted tomaotes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Drying Herbs

Front to back: French thyme, English thyme, dianthus

Yesterday I noticed my French thyme was in bud. Most herbs taste best at this stage. It would be a perfect time to harvest and dry, but I decided against it. French thyme is a slow grower compared to it's neighbor English thyme. It hadn't quite filled out its spot so I left it alone. The bully English thyme on the other hand was starting to invade the French thyme. I hacked a big section out between the two (which is hard to see in the photo but it is there) to give the French thyme some breathing and spreading room.

Since I had a handful of thyme, it was certainly time to bring out the dehydrator. But just a handful of thyme isn't enough. I often cut back my oregano in the spring since it seems to get the same disease that my tomatoes get later in the year. Right now the leaves are beautiful and disease free. So I cut some nice bunches of oregano too. Sometimes I'm careful not to dry certain herbs together because their flavors get a little mixed, but thyme and oregano together really aren't an issue. If I were drying mint I would do it separately.

I often don't wash my herbs before drying if they are clean. Today they were not in the least clean. We have caterpillar poop raining down in my back yard. It is so bad I always wear a hat outside so my hair won't be disgusting. An occasional gust of wind can blow it to the side yard. And it obviously had recently. So they were all well washed before drying.

I use a dehydrator. If I lived in my native state, Colorado, I wouldn't. The air there is dry. The air here in the Northeast is very humid. Yesterday it was drizzily. To dry something in this kind of weather a dehydrator is very useful if you don't want moldy herbs. My dehydrator is a cheapy one. I would love one of those dehydrators that you can set the temperatures. It would make life easier, but I've gotten used to drying things. If I want it cooler I keep the bottom tray empty and adjust for greater airflow. It doesn't dry very evenly either and is getting worse with age. I have to turn the trays to make sure everything dries. But it works. My 2008 leftover dried thyme and oregano were tossed and now I have some fresh in its place. I'll need some more before the end of the year, but probably just one more batch for each.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday Seedling Update and Harvest Tally

The seedlings I planted a few days ago are starting to come up. The lettuce is up and one sunflower. I'm going to have to start my cucurbits soon and they can join the party. The only old seedlings I have are my lemon basil which really should be planted and my eggplant (I'm not counting my extras from things already planted). They have roots coming out of the bottom and should be planted soon. They were seeded on April 16th. I was thinking they would take six weeks to mature, but four weeks seems sufficient. The Slim Jim variety is much bigger than the Lavender Touch.

While I was photographing them I noticed that their leaves had been munched on. How did a caterpillar get in my laundry room? I search all the eggplant leaves and couldn't find him. I finally found it on my pineapple tomatillo. He was summarily ejected.

My greens harvesting has continued. Though today I really need to pick the spinach again. I wasn't going to harvest again until I'd finished all those greens I picked, but when something needs to be picked sometimes it just can't wait.

Total harvested (5/12-5/17):

  • Cilantro .5 oz
  • Lemon Balm 1.5 oz
  • Tatsoi .5 oz
  • Fun Jen 4 oz
  • Mizuna 1.5 oz
  • Komatsuna 6 oz
  • Tyfon 3.25 oz
  • Radish 5 oz
For a grand total of 1.31 lbs. My costs are down to -223.96. May is a pretty slow harvest month though the greens are doing a pretty good job of keeping me in salad for my lunches and cooked greens for dinner. I can't wait until my chard gets a bit bigger. It is my all time favorite cooked green. For me nothing can compare to its wonderful taste.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Asian Greens

Every year I love to try something new to try in the garden. Recently I've been on a greens kick, so have been trying new greens. I had originally picked three new greens to try, but after much self debate I decided on just two. Both are Brassica rapas and are what I would consider Asian greens.

The first is Komatsuna which is also known as mustard spinach. This is a green that is widely used in Japan. It can be used as a salad green or can be cooked. It is a quick growing plant that can be harvested in 35 days and in my area I should be able to grow it all summer long. I love greens that hold up in the summer. I figured it wouldn't get that big since it grew so fast. Not so at all. The leaves got huge quite fast.

The second is Tyfon, sometimes known as Holland greens. It was bred as a fodder crop because it grows so well and contains no mustard oil to spoil milk. In Pinetree's description it said that if you want to feed an army on the size of a coffee table, grow this. That was intriguing. I tried to find more info on it, but most people just say the same thing. It is a cross between stubble turnip and Chinese cabbage. It grows fast. It is fairly cold tolerant.

From the top down is Komatsuna, Tyfon, and Fun Jen (an Asian green I started growing last year). The holes in the leaves are from my ample slug population. The Komatsuna is fairly slug resistant. The slugs like it just fine, but have trouble chewing holes in it. I find the slugs mostly on the ribs of the plant. My Fun Jen is so easy for the slugs to eat. They quickly chew holes all the way through it. So Komatsuna wins the slug wars.

But beauty is not the most important quality of a garden plant. Taste is always number one. The loser in this war is the easier one to pick. I find most Asian greens to be slightly bitter. This doesn't bother me much and can add to the taste of the greens if the other flavors are right. Tyfon had the same bitter taste as the other two, but didn't have enough flavor to counter balance it. It was OK, but not great.

You know I love Fun Jen, or I wouldn't be growing it for the second year. Its taste was quite good. In salads it is perfect. It has a lettucey texture to the leaves which is fabulous. The ribs give it a good crunch. There isn't so much fiber to make chewing hard. It is like Chinese cabbage and can stand to be a salad all on its own without any other supporting greens. The other two are much more fibrous. They can go into salad, but the younger leaves are probably better for this and you want them to just play a supporting role, you don't want them to the be main green.

In cooking however Fun Jen falls down. Since it lacks a supporting fibrous structure it dissolves when cooked. So I reserve it for salads. The other two hold up to cooking quite well. When I cooked the Komatsuna I did it much like I would cook chard. I cut out the ribs and cooked them first since they take more cooking and then only stir fried the leaves just until wilted. This worked fabulously.

Komatsuna has a very interesting taste and a little bit of a bite. I wish I could describe the flavor. It is quite different from anything I've ever had before in greens. Most Asian greens taste fairly similar to me. Their difference is subtle. This difference is not. I'm thinking by the end of the summer I'm going to be in love with it, but I won't know until then. This is just the first taste.

As to yield, the Komatsuna and Tyfon seem to be fairly close. I was surprised that Tyfon hasn't out produced the Komatsuna since from its description it should feed an army. Well maybe, but so can Komatsuna. I have read that in some places in Asia they use it as a fodder crop too. Fun Jen is not up to the other two in yield, but still worth growing for early oriental salads before the Chinese cabbage is ready in another month. Two of each of these Asian greens were planted on April 7th. Their date to harvest all seems to be about 35 days. The Tyfon might be a bit qiucker. One of my Fun Jens is already starting to bolt. Not to worry, with most Asian greens the flower stalks make great stir frys. I should get another one started to replace it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Neuton 5.2 Review

I got my Neuton a while ago and people asked for a review. Coming back from a week long vacation in the spring was a good challenge for it especially since I didn't cut it right before I left.

The first thing you need to do with the Neuton is to put the battery in. It is recharged outside the lawnmower. I locked the battery in place. They expect the next thing you do is put in the key. They "key" is made so you can keep it out of the reach of children and then they can't start the mower. But really I didn't think that necessary. I keep the key in its slot all the time. When I'm done with the lawn mower I always remove the battery to recharge. If a kid can find the battery (on the other side of the garage) and open the front and insert it, they are quite smart enough to find my key and insert it too. And besides, my kids are college aged. If they want to play with my lawn mower, I say go for it.

To turn the mower on there is a switch on the handle that needs to be turned on to "MOW". Then the handle needs to be held down. The blade starts turning instantly. I've never used a gas mower, but people say it is hard to pull the cord. This is very easy. I even let go of the handle sometimes when I do turns because why waste the motor then? The handle is really easy to hold down. My hands are very weak. I can't open a pickle jar to save my life, but holding the handle down as I mow is pretty easy. I don't get tired. I only include this since some of the reviews that I read said it was hard to do. This concerned me. Maybe if you are used to a gas mower and you have a death like grip on the handle it would be hard, but I haven't been trained to do that. You just have to let go of your gas mower preconceptions.

The grass was tall in spots, over 8" and thick. Very thick. The grass looked splotchy though. The thick areas were intermingled with the thin areas. The grass needed some serious cutting. Previously I had it on a middle height setting, but the grass was now tall enough to raise it up. The lever is really very easy to use. I raised it up to 5, one below the tallest setting that I will use later in the year. Simple.

The mower cut through the grass with no issues whatsoever. Some other reviews I've read said it would stall on them (really?). It never stalled for me of even slowed down much. I might point out that the blade came pretty dull and it was painted black. I sharpened it before I used it, thereby taking off the paint. Maybe they had trouble without this step?

The blade is only 14" wide and you have to overlap the rows a little. This made it take more time than a bigger mower (they do sell one with a 19" blade). I chose this version because I have a chronic shoulder issue. The weight would be a huge issue for me. It is very light. It weighs only 33lbs without the battery and 48 with it according to their specs. This works for me. I'm not sure a heavier lawnmower would. Some people complain that it looks like a cheap plastic device. To a certain extent it does. But the body being plastic makes it lighter. I can lift it if I need to.

My yard is a half acre, but the back yard is mostly in woods and the side yards are driveway and gardens. My biggest section of grass is in the front yard. That grass section is about 4500sqft and took about 50 minutes or so to mow. My backyard is about half that size. The battery didn't die during that time. I'm a little worried when the battery gets older wheather I will have enough charge to do the whole yard at once. They claim the battery lasts 45-60 minutes. Mowing was slow and took me way more than an hour for both back and front.

I didn't have much of an issue with the time spent. I put on my podcasts ("Wait, Wait, Don't tell me" and "PodCastle"). I used my noise canceling headphones and had no trouble hearing my shows. The mower is still noisy, but not nearly the noise of a gas powered machine.

I used the grass catcher attachment so I could collect the clippings and compost them. The grass catcher is small and doesn't hold a lot of clippings. I didn't count but I probably emptied it about five times for my lawn. For a composter it was fine. I spread the clippings on the compost pile. One catcher's worth full of clippings was a nice amount and wouldn't be too much for the grass to clump up. I then covered it with a thin layer of shredded leaves and went back to mowing. Hmm maybe that is why it took me so long to mow.

The lawn looked OK to me, but I'm not a lawn connoisseur. There was an issue with the wheels. They would flatten the lawn down when they went over it. When I came back to mow that section the grass wouldn't be up yet. So I had some lines of taller grass the next day. I'm guessing that happens with any mower, but again, I've never done it before so don't know what to expect. Maybe if the blades had a stronger suction, the grass would be upright as it was getting chopped. Maybe if the grass weren't so tall it wouldn't be an issue.

After I did the lawn, the battery still hadn't died, so I went to my leaf pile. I spread some leaves down on the ground about 4" deep. I put in the mulching plug and ran them over with the mower. It cut through them like butter. The little mower has no issues with dry leaves (which will be good in the fall). Wet leaves don't shred as well. If I put the leaves down too thickly it would slow down. I tried to keep them thin enough so the sound didn't change much when chopping. It worked very well. When I tried the grass catcher to shred leaves it didn't work as well. The leaves where not as well chopped (though probably enough) and occasionally the chute would clog. Grass never clogged my chute, but the leaves could.

After I was done playing with it, I put it away. I took out the battery to recharge. I tipped it over and cleaned off the undercarriage. The mower comes with a tool to help take off the blade. The back of that tool can be used to scrape off the undercarriage gunk.

All in all I like the little mower. It isn't for everyone because of its small size, but for me it fits. The mower came with a 4 year warranty (it was a special with a free extended warranty) and I can return it within six months if I don't like it for some reason. They pay the postage if I go that route, but I really doubt I will. So far it seems fine. If my shoulder can handle pushing it all summer long, I'm keeping it.

Addendum: Our friend Ben asked how I sharpened the blade. They sell a blade sharpener. I figured it only cost $10 so I'd get it. Then I wouldn't need any outside maintenance on my mower. I could do it all myself. The sharpener is a two sided carbide sharpener. Just drag it along the edges of the blade (lots of times) and it is done. It doesn't get it sharp like my kitchen knives are, but I really don't think it needs it. So the sharpening part is easy, but you are supposed to take the lawn mower blade off before you sharpen it. Getting the blade off is slightly tricky, but they give instructions in the owner's manual. Basically it involves shoving a block of wood between the mower and the blade to keep the blade from spinning while you maneuver two different wrenches (one of which they supply) and yank with all your might to get the nut loose. It took me a while to do this maneuver, and I kept wondering if I was going to cut off my hand in the process (they tell you to wear gloves), but I succeeded and still have all my fingers.

Addendum Cost: I was going to put this up too, but forgot when I was writing. The mower costs $399, which seems really expensive to a lot of people. Even if I totally ignore the environmental cost, it is still going to be cheaper than a cheap gas mower. How? Well I don't know how to do tune ups for the lawn mower. I remember that my husband took the gas mower in every year for the sharpening and the tune up. A tune up costs about $80 (I think correct me if I'm wrong). So if my mower lasts 5 years (though it should last longer, but after that I'll have to buy a new battery at $100), it has cost me a total of $399. It needs no maintenance so has no more costs for 5 years. A really cheap gas mower would cost $120 + 4 years of tunes ups (4x$80) = $440. So unless you do your own tune ups, the Neuton (or other rechargables) isn't even the more expensive choice for you wallet. If I add in the environmental damage from highly polluting small engines, a rechargeable is so much better.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day May 2009

So much is almost in bloom - but not quite. I was hoping to show you my tomato and pepper blooms, but they need a day or two more to open. The only flower actually open in my fruit or vegetable garden is the blueberry flowers. Sadly they are getting eaten by some caterpillar. Next year if I'm still in this house, I'm going to get some BT to save them. Is it the winter moths? It might be. They are so heavy in the trees right now I coudn't take a photo of my blooming lily-of-the-valley and have it look pretty. Too much caterpillar poop is raining on the gardens.

But on to prettier things. My Johnny-Jump-Ups are taking over the mint pot. The mints are much slower to grow in the spring. Next spring will be a great year for Johnny. I have little seedlings jumping up all over my garden. I try to be very careful and weed around the little things.

Though my variegated dogwood is blooming, the leaves are still showier than the blooms.

The creeping phlox is always a show stopper in the spring. I need to cut it back after it blooms because it just keep creeping.

The bluets are tiny little things that love to pop up in the grass in the woods. When I first got here there was a single plant near a tree that my dog liked to pee on. I moved it and tried to encourage it. It has spread quite a bit over the years.

One plant that I've had a love hate relationship with is my ajuga. When I first got here I tried to eradicate it. I was unsuccessful, but it has grown on me over the years, in more ways than one. Now we have an understanding. I leave it alone and it grows where it wants to. It used to just have the dark purple blooms, this year the lavender blooms have popped up and are getting more numerous.

Who can't love a bleeding heart when it is in bloom. I do love it, but it blocks the way to the perennial border. It is hard to step over, so I'm never very unhappy when its branches finally die down for the summer.

The last of the photos but hardly the least are my azaleas. Two of them are in full bloom in the back yard. I love the azaleas for their mass of color, but they are also stunning close up when you can see all their details.

If you want to join GBBD go visit Carol over at May Dream Gardens.