Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking Back

February - blog still at 400px wide, garden under snow

March - seeds germinating under covers

April - seeds sprouted and growing, hardening off seedlings

May - everything planted

June -was cold but things started growing

July - the height of the jungle

August - peas and potatoes harvested

September - tomatoes gone, fall veggies reign

October - only cold weather crops left

December - dreaming of next year

Happy New Year Everyone!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Harvest Monday - 28 December 2009

So the all important question on Harvest Monday was whether I actually had a harvest or not. The answer is maybe. I grew some mung bean sprouts. I'm not really sure if they qualify. I think they qualify as a harvest for the person growing the seed, but since it is just sprouting and not really growing a full plant, maybe it doesn't count for me. I'm certainly not going to weigh them and put them in the tally.

I decided to grow sprouts because a new market opened near my house. H Mart seems to be a large chain Asian grocery store (with a food court and a few hard goods). And when I say large, I mean HUGE. It has a whole wall of just kim chi. It was fun walking through it. It has a large Chinese, Japanese, and Korean slant, but also contains Indian, Vietnamese, and Thai.

When I got to the bean section, I saw the mung beans. At first I passed them by, but came back and decided I had to learn to sprout them . I was afraid that a bag of mung beans on a shelf might be too old to sprout, but only a couple didn't germinate. Next time I try, I'm going to use pressure on the beans to get the nice thick white sprouts. I guess mung bean sprouts that aren't grown with weights on them don't form big thick roots.

Daphne couldn't fold a dumpling correctly if her life depended on it

The H Mart had some sadness associated with it too. I went there because I needed some gyoza wrappers to make some dumplings. They required Chinese cabbage (I still have a bit from the garden) and green onions. The green onions I had picked were all gone. I had to buy some really anemic looking ones there. They can't hold a candle to mine. There were the first of the vegetables that I bought this season that I usually eat from my garden. Later on I also bought a yellow pepper and some broccoli. Oh how the mighty have fallen. I used to harvest pounds every week. Now I have to buy from the market.

The making of the winter coleslaw has begun

Things that did get eaten from my garden stash: Chinese cabbage, cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, tomato sauce, zucchini, apple sauce, raspberry jam, raspberry pepper jam, pickles, pickled jalapenos (oh they are so good on a plain cheese sandwich made from freshly grilled bread). Note: I am going to include all the farmers market fruits and vegetables in my stash this winter as they are low pesticide and local. This includes some of the squash, and all of the cabbage and apple products.

And the piece de resistance is using the first of my Trail of Tears beans. Half of my stash was cooked up and made into a nice black bean soup. Oh it was tasty.

Remember back at Thanksgiving? I tried to make all my dishes for the potluck have something from the garden. Well for the Christmas potluck I wasn't in the giving spirit. I did make black bean soup, but it was from store bought beans. Not one dish had anything from the garden. I wanted to keep all my garden stash for me and my family. It was all very unChristmas of me.

If you would like to help me believe that harvests still exist, put your name and URL into Mr. Linky below. It doesn't matter how big or small your harvest is. You don't have to count the pounds like I do. If you have had a harvest this last week, show us and join in! Really I'm dying here under the snow and ice (OK not so much right now, yesterday we had a rain storm that melted our snow). I need visions of tomatoes and spinach to dance in my head for the holidays.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Yankee Swap

I have a friend that throws an orphan Christmas party every year. I always find it an amusing affair since I think the non Christians outnumber the Christians at the party. Many of the families (mine included) are mixed. The main activity at the party (besides eating and gabbing) is the Yankee Swap. If we wish to participate, we buy a $20 gift and bring it wrapped. Then in the tradition of our friends, Nat (a friend who loves designing games) makes up the rules and we follow them. Swapping the gifts back and forth desperately trying to get something we want to go home with. My husband was kind to me and got me what I wanted. So here are the two gifts I went home with.

I really lucked out didn't I? I was going to get stuck with a very nice serving platter that I couldn't use. I've been slowly getting rid of serving dishes because I have too many (I catered my own kids' Bat Mitzvah party which means that I am not only insane, but now am the owner of a lot of serving dishes). The person that had the Chinese Vegetable book in her hand was my next door neighbor. I told her it would only be good for her to trade with me since she is often the recipient of my garden excess. She concurred.

The other book my husband won for me. He is not much of a bean lover, but I adore beans. He didn't see anything he wanted in the swap so now I have two fun books to read through during the holidays.

I hope your holidays were as wonderful as mine.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yesterday Was A Good Day

I had a shift at the store yesterday. As many of you know I'm a crafter and belong to Sign of the Dove, an artist's cooperative in Porter Square. Our members do all the work at the store including the shifts. Usually things are pretty dead. The economy has been bad, so not many want to spend extra money for hand made items when they can buy something cheaper at some big box store.

Yesterday seemed like before the recession hit. We had a lot of people in the store and they were all very happy. It is fun when the customers are in a good mood and want to chat. Everyone seemed to be in the holiday spirit. Even customers that didn't know one another were laughing together.

But even better was when I got home and opened the mail. I received three envelopes, all seed from my blogging friends. Becky's was especially fun since she sent a hummingbird card and inside was some of her scarlet runner beans. Scarlet runner beans attract humming birds. I've only once seen a humming bird in my garden. It came and decided not to stay and quickly hummed away. I planted bee balm in my garden this year (no blooms the first year) to try to get them to stay in the garden. Maybe they will come to my scarlet runner beans?

Then came the envelope from EG. Somehow he didn't make it on the list I made yesterday (must have got lost when sorting the list). Sorry EG! He sent me some unnamed romaine and the best of all some Opalka tomatoes. I was going to buy them from Fedco as they raved about the taste. I had dithered about getting the early Heinz tomatoes (which would probably grow better in my climate), but couldn't resist the Opalkas. So I jumped on getting them from EG. Then I could buy the Heinz from Fedco.

The last but not least for the seeds is some Paris Island romaine and Ching Chang bok choy from Granny. The bok choy seeds hadn't even been opened. Obviously Granny is not so into those Asian greens like I am. Maybe I should send them back and try to convert her. Nah! So now I have myself some Garden Girl seeds.

Then I noticed my husband had put a Fed Ex envelope on my chair. Fed Ex? What in the world was coming from Fed Ex? It was a $50 AmEx gift card. Whoo hoo! I won a contest from the Inadvertent Gardener. Interestingly enough it was from the Pork Board. You had to say how you use pork in the holidays (and every comment gave $5 of pork to the homeless). What I didn't say was that last year for Christmas we brought homemade Chinese pork buns. This year I'm bringing a ham. We are debating appetizers. I might bring a veggie black bean soup, but it might be homemade dumplings (gyoza). Maybe I'll just bring both. But for the gift certificate, you just know it is going to get spent on something garden related. I have such a huge list of things I would love for the garden.

And the best of all, my son came home from school yesterday. So now my whole family is home for the holidays. I wish everyday would be so fabulous.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seed Order

I'm finally getting together my seed order. I'll probably put it in after Christmas. Paring down what I want is really hard, but will help next year when I find I don't have the space to grow everything. I still need to nix one of my dried beans. I have three on the list to order (and one coming from Dan). I have a lot of dried bean space blocked out this year, but I really do need to be reasonable. I have a small garden that is only about 250 sqft. It is not big enough to grow all my dried bean needs.

I keep thinking what would happen if I got a community garden plot. I much prefer stepping outside my door to pick things. But if we find a house next spring and move, will I have space for a garden? Will I move into the house in July and not be able to collect any of my seeds? I don't know why I'm worrying. I didn't worry much about it last year (and we didn't find a place we wanted). If I had a community garden plot and we don't have a contract by May, I could plant dried beans and oats, which wouldn't take much time and I'd love the crop. If we did, I could plant out all my summer vegetables there and still be able to keep my seeds. I guess it is probably a moot point anyway. The community gardens mostly had waiting lists last year (at least all the ones with basics like water). But I suppose it is possible. If I go that way, I will need to buy more bush dried beans (I really can justify just about any seed purchase).

My order this year is smaller than last year, but not that much smaller. My eyes are always too big for the garden. Below is the list of new seed I'm contemplating. I might make final changes before I order. I also listed all the new (and old in a way) seed that I'll be getting from my friends out in the blogosphere.

PlantVarietyPriceThanks to:

Asian greenBok Choy

Asian greenBok Choy

Asian greenSenposai
4Asian greenYokatta-Na$1.20

BeanScarlet Run.
3Bean DriedBlack Coco$1.40
1Bean DriedCannelini$1.50
1Bean DriedRed Kidney$1.40

Bean Dried Tiger's Eye
4CarrotPurple Haze$1.80

Chili PepperBig Chili II

5 FlowersZinnia Zowie!$2.60


1LeekKing Sieg$1.60

Miss M

Miss M




LettuceParis Island

LettuceRenee's Caesar Duo

LettuceSweet Valentine

LettuceTom Thumb

LettuceWinter Density
4OnionRed Wing$2.00
2RadishFrench Breakfast$0.70

RadishGerman Beer
2RadishWhite Icicle$0.70
3ScallionEvergreen Hardy White$1.20
1Snow PeaBlizzard$2.00
1TomatilloVerde Puebla$1.20

TomatoCherokee Purple

1-2TomatoHeinz 2653$1.20

TomatoSan Marzano
1ZucchiniCostata Romenseca$1.00

You might have noticed the little column on the left. I'm purchasing my seed from Fedco this year. They label every seed variety with the source of the seed. 1=Small seed farmer, 2=Family owned companies and cooperatives, 3=Corporations not part of a large conglomerate, 4=Multinationals, 5=Multinationals engaged in genetic engineering, 6=Monsanto (only one in the whole catalog).

I have on my (not quite finalized list) eight 1s, six 2s, three 3s, five 4s, and three 5s. I've found the 4s and 5s are all the hybrids. Fedco does a good job of sourcing non proprietary seed from smaller farmers. I know some people have given up hybrids, but I still like mine. Certain types of seed do indeed grow better and produce more if they are hybrids. These are all the outbreeding plants that do better with a large genetic mix. These require a lot of space to save seed from because they will quit producing if they get too homozygous. I personally think these kinds of hybrids are very useful for the home gardener with very limited space.

BTW the zinnias I picked is a hybrid. I love the description, but with only about 10-12 seeds in the pack for $2.60. I'm thinking of changing it. Does anyone have a favorite variety that is a good cutter and I can save seed from? I'd love to try zinnias. I've never grown them before. It has to be one in the Fedco catalog since I'm not ordering elsewhere. Maybe I should go with State Fair or Swirls.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Harvest Monday - 21 December 2009

Or how am I going to eat from the garden in winter?

Over the year I've been preserving some food from the garden. I started as early as May when I blanched and froze my spinach. I don't have enough to eat as well as I do in the summer, but then again I just don't eat as well in the winter anyway. All I want is pumpkin pie, apple cake and soup. OK so I can eat pretty well if I make more soup. Now that we have hit the winter solstice, what is left of my stash?

The first place I'll take you is to my freezer. I have a nice chest freezer that my mom bought for me when we first moved into this house. On Friday I had the fun chore of defrosting the thing. I do this only once a year and need three tools. An ice scraper, a scoop to get the ice out of the bottom, and a pot to collect the ice. I've gotten good at it over the years and it only took about half an hour this time. Which involves totally emptying it first then putting it all back together.

While I did this I counted the frozen goods from the garden (the corn and some squash came from the farmers market). In addition to what is listed I hopefully have my winter stash of ground beef from grass fed beef from the farmers market. I also have things like homemade soups, Mexican rice, chicken pot pie filling, and meatloaf. When I cook for two I often make more and freeze it. Then dinner is pretty fast. I also have a handful of store bought. The wonton soup is one of my husband's favorites (though to be fair to me I made homemade wonton soup for the first time on Thursday).

  • squash puree 18 cups
  • tomato sauce 23 cups
  • salsa 6 cups
  • applesauce 8 cups (I ran out of jars)
  • zucchini shredded 9 1/2 cups
  • green beans 1 1/4 lbs
  • corn 1 3/4 lbs
  • serranos diced, 6oz
  • jalapenos diced, 14 oz
  • raspberries, 1 3/4 lbs
  • carrots 12 oz
  • spinach 5 cups
  • chard 1 cup
  • komatsuna 9 cups
  • raspberry sorbet 4 cups

Then it was on to the pantry. I have some assorted herbs, but the real fun is in the jars.

  • applesauce 11 pints
  • raspberry jam 3 cups
  • raspberry jalapeno jam 1 cup
  • apple pie filling (really very chunky, sweetened, spiced up applesauce) 3 pints
  • apple butter 5 pints
  • pickled snap peas 6 pints
  • dill pickles 3 pints
  • dried beans (on the far right) 2 lbs

I always love the look of home canned items on the shelf. You can see what is in them unlike commercially canned items. I know most of the things on the shelves are apples. Way more than half. I think I made too much applebutter. But I'll find out come spring - hmm maybe come August or September for the apple products since I won't make any more until then.

I also have my pile of food in the fridge and on the counters. I didn't weight it out, but I still have plenty of carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes, cabbage (those three big ones from Wilson's Farm), two apples, a bit of Chinese cabbage and some pickled serranos and dill pickles. I'm more than half through the potatoes and onions. Next year I need to plant more. Though I think I won't have room for potatoes.

I've yet to buy a lot of produce from the store. Besides lemons, ginger, and mushrooms which I buy all year long, I think I might have only bought cranberries so far. So I may have no harvest, but I'm harvesting from my stock. Will it last all winter long (I hope I eat better than that but don't count on it), or

If you would like to help me believe that harvests still exist, put your name and URL into Mr. Linky below. It doesn't matter how big or small your harvest is. You don't have to count the pounds like I do. If you have had a harvest this last week, show us and join in! Really I'm dying here under the snow and ice (we just had a huge snow storm). I need visions of tomatoes and spinach to dance in my head for the holidays.

Friday, December 18, 2009

2009 Overview Asian Greens

Brassica bed in the spring

I've never been disappointed with Asian greens. There are so many varieties to try. Most of them are in the brassica family and those are the ones I tend to grow. Every year I grow something new for fun. I have the hardest time picking what to grow from my old favorites because they all taste so good.

I also have a real problem with what to call them. Bok choy, pak choi, tsai tai, pai tsai... aaarrgghh! I can't keep them straight. I should just stick with Brassica rapa, since all the ones I've tried are of that species. Take for instance my hands down favorite for taste - Fun Jen. It is listed as a Pai Tsai, or Brassica rapa subsp pekinensis which would put it really close to Chinese cabbage (also called Napa cabbage). But I don't think of Fun Jen as a Chinese cabbage (which it is listed under in the Fedco catalog). I've always called it my frilly bok choy (bok choy and not pac choi because the stems are white - don't even get me started on why the spellings of choi are different). It looks more like a bok choy, really it does. Sigh. Someday I wish we could just all agree on names so I could find the dang thing in a catalog.

Anyway onto the real post. I planted my Asian greens indoors on 3/16 and they were planted out on 4/7 under a row cover. Since they are brassicas and I don't spray Bt all over my garden (I like my swallowtails) I kept them under the row cover all year long. Most of them started to be harvested on 5/2, picking the larger leaves. The timing was fine. Many had successions or fall plantings. I harvested a total of about 19 lbs of them. Except for the mizuna they were all bothered by slugs. Handpicking worked if I did it regularly, but with all the wet weather that meant about every other day and I didn't keep up so harvests were lower than they could have been. They were not bothered by any diseases.

Fun Jen was my hands down favorite in taste. I don't like it cooked. I don't think it has enough structure to hold up to it. The leaves are more like thin lettuce in texture. The white stems are crunchy and sweet. It makes the best Asian salads of anything I've grown. However the slugs also find it the tastiest in the garden. I only grew two plants and didn't do any successions because they were just shredded. A 9" space seems optimal. I harvested a measly 0.8 lbs.


Tatsoi is such a pretty rosette. I plant them 6"-9" apart and did successions throughout the year. They were given about a square foot of space total and I harvested 1.38 lbs. So not bad. Tatsoi wasn't as bothered by slugs as most of the Asian greens, but they weren't left alone. I use tatsoi for soups. It is my favorite soup green. I cut off the stems and put the leaves in the bowl and pour the very hot soup over them. It cooks them perfectly.

I only use purple mizuna for salads. I hear that you can cook them, but I've never tried. So I don't use a lot since it just spices up my lettuce. I had two plants but should have only had one as that would be enough for my needs. It doesn't bolt very easily but the spring planted mizuna will bolt in the summer (late June). When this happened I put in another transplant which held through the fall. Mizuna doesn't seem as bothered by slugs as the other greens. I very rarely found any on it.

Tyfon is huge

Tyfon Holland greens (which technically isn't Asian, but is more similar to them than the western brassicas) were a new one for me this year. They were touted as being the most productive green you can find. They held up to that. I planted two a foot apart in spring and got 3.2lbs of them. That wasn't even from the whole year. The last harvest was 7/14 as they were starting to bolt and I pulled them out. I didn't replace them because they were just OK in taste. If I raised chickens this would be my goto leafy green for them as it is even more productive than chard.

Komatsuna leaves look very similar to Tyfon. They are over a foot long with a good rib. The taste however is delightful. I wish I could describe all the different tastes as each green has a different one. They all have an undertone of the mustard flavor, but that is where the similarity ends. I cook komatsuna by boiling the stems (chopped to 1 1/2") in a small bit of water. After a few minutes and the water is almost boiled off I add the chopped leaves. When it is cooked, I sprinkle with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. Tasty. In addition I'll throw it into stirfries or soup. Komatsuna is also great because it will grow in the summertime and is very prolific. It can't quite keep up with Tyfon in production but it tries. I also grew it near the fence which means afternoon shade. I'm sure this made it grow slower, but it still produced well. I put a lot in and I harvested 5.25 lbs. I spaced them 1' apart. I did about four successions over the year.

Chinese cabbage has always been one of my favorite greens. I love its mild sweet flavor. It is an all around winner in salads, soups, and stirfries. I plant it twice. Once in the spring for a June harvest and once in July for a fall harvest. I started the fall seedlings indoors on June 10th. I potted them up (for the life of me I can't figure out when I did it) and planted them out on July 21st. I harvested the first one on October 2nd and the last of them in December. The fall crop did quite well. The spring crop did poorly. The weird spring weather (we had higher highs in April than in June) really through the plants for a loop and they bolted on me. Chinese cabbage is always riskier in the spring than the fall, but I usually do better than this. I harvested a total of 4.81lbs.

Next year the greens will have my largest bed so I expect I'll have room to grow a lot more Asian greens if I want. I'm not sure this is a good thing. I have trouble keeping up with eating them as it is. They are tasty, but also very prolific. I think I might add Senposai into the mix and I've had offers of bok choy seeds so I'll probably grow those again too.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Giving and Your Seeds

I've been busy labeling seed packets and packaging them up. For small items I tend to put them in cards. I went through my cards deciding which ones to send out and ran across some Canyon Ranch cards that were a gift for staying there (the times I've been there were a gift from my very generous MIL). They are all have inspirational sayings on them and as I was packing up the seeds they seemed very apropos.

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." - Eleanor Roosevelt. I thought this one very spot on for those of you who told me you are using the seed to start a new garden. What is a garden but hopes and dreams? Sometimes they are realized and sometimes not, but they are all beautiful.

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Gandhi. This is probably my all time favorite quote. I've quoted it to my son before when he was railing against the world one day. It takes the golden rule one step farther. What is my seed giveaway but what I want to see in the world? I want to see generosity. I want to see people growing their own food. I want to see responsibility. I want people to see the miracle in a seed.

"Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind." - Henry James.

With my family we've stopped giving gifts (except for kids under 18). I never liked the whole commercial Christmas extravaganza. I think it is a little out of control. But I still like to give so for me this year it is seeds to all of you. My mother and uncle solved the problem years ago by giving charity gifts to each other which is a marvelous idea.

As an update on the seed. I hand delivered one yesterday. I braved the PO today and shipped off 17 more in the morning. And I have one on the counter to go in the mailbox tomorrow. I hope I got them all right and didn't miss any. If you haven't gotten it in a couple of weeks (or three to four weeks for non US) ask me again and I'll reship any seed that I still have. And BTW none of you got the cards with the quotes. I'm not quite willing to give them up yet. Maybe next year. For now you had to live with cards by the Nature Conservancy and Rails to Trails.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seeds in Need of a Good Home

Seeds are small miracles that need to be shared (dill)

Last year I started my own holiday tradition. I don't put up a seed trade page. I put up a page where I list what I have and anyone can ask for them. No trades needed. So if you want something, just ask and you shall receive. Then I put out to the universe the seed that I'm looking for and lo and behold people offer some of it to me and not always the people I send seed to. Gardeners are such sweet people. Though the bulk of my seed will come from Fedco this year (I'm finalizing my order right now), I still love growing seed from other garden bloggers. It is a connection to them especially if they save the seed themselves (not necessary but nice).

This year I have a short list of what I want and a long list of seeds that need a good home so I'm going to list what I'm looking for first.

  • Paste tomatoes 5 seeds in a variety are plenty, even just two is enough to figure out if I like a variety and save seed for future years.
  • Romaine lettuce - I want to grow it again, but haven't a clue about varieties
  • Tomatillos - I want green sauce next year. There seems to be about three kinds. The regular one, the large green one and the purple one. Anyone have clues as to which is best for sauce? Or which one would grow well in my climate?
  • Dried Bush beans for me to trial

I'll take other seed like Asian greens I haven't tried and such, but the above would be my favorite since I can save the seed and keep it going from year to year.

Seed that I give away is of two types: seed that is commercial, but I no longer want to grow. This does not necessarily mean it is bad seed (ask Granny about how her pumpkins grew this year), but it just doesn't have a home in my garden for any number of reasons (I quit growing pumpkins because vine borers took them out each year). The second type is seed that I saved and have enough to trade some away. A warning: I have not done germination tests on my seed. I've never had a problem saving seed or getting them to germinate, but they have not been tested. I'll list seed by type and let you know if I saved it in the listing and will bold all the saved seed (because it is so much more fun than commercial). I'll also add the year that it was bought if it was commercial, or the year harvested if saved.

The best way to ask for seed is to send me an email which includes your mailing address. I'll try to keep the list updated as much as possible.

Saved seed drying on the dining room table

Tomatoes. My tomatoes were not isolated and grew next to one another. There is a chance of crossing. The odds aren't high but they are there.

  • Tumbling Tom (2009 Wintersown)
  • Early Ssubakus Aliana (2009 Wintersown)
  • Chocolate Cherry (2009 saved)
  • Market Miracle (2009 saved)
  • Black Moor (2009 saved)
  • Emma-Sungold F3 (2009 saved) good tasting red cherry, only an F3 so had not been stabilized and can produce children not like the mother
  • Gabrielle-Sungold F3 (2009 saved) good tasting yellow 1/2" cherry, again only an F3 and not stabalized

Lettuce was isolated 12' which should be enough to ensure the type.

  • Red Sails (2009 saved)
  • Deer Tongue (2009 saved)
  • Australian Yellow Leaf (2009)
  • Simpson Elite (2008)
  • Prizehead (2008)

Pole Beans. I received both dried beans from the Ottawa gardener which she had saved and grew them out. The cranberry was true to type. The Trail of Tears had 10% that were not true to type. It looks like they had crossed with the cranberry bean. I did not save seed from these plants (I ate them). I grew all my beans in the same bed and they were not isolated. You too might find a plant or two that crossed. If the Trail of Tears pod is not slim and uniform in color (first green then maroon) don't pass on those seeds.

  • Ottawa Cranberry dried bean (2009 saved)
  • Trail of Tears dried bean (2009 saved)
  • Fortex (2008)


  • Crimson Giant(2005)
  • Pinetree Mix(2009)
  • Reggae(2009)


  • Slim Jim(2008)
  • Lavender Touch(2009)


  • Super Sugar Snap(2008)
  • Mammoth Melting Snow Pea(2008)


  • Tyfon Holland Greens(2009)
  • Strawberry Spinach(2009)


  • Dill (2009 saved) I always have too much dill seed
  • Coriander(cilantro) (2009 saved)
  • Flat leafed parsley (2008 saved - warning sometimes parsley is not viable after the first year)


  • Ground control marigold (2009 saved)
  • Johnny Jump Up (2009 saved)
  • False Indigo (2009 saved)


  • Pineapple tomatillo (2009 saved) P. pruinosa and won't cross with real tomatillos
  • Early Jalapeno (2009 saved - cage isolated from other peppers)
  • Dark Green Zucchini (2008)

I really thought about putting in descriptions, but that is oh so much work. If you want to know how something did in my garden, do a search of the blog, or do a search of the 2009 Overviews (I'll finish them soon. I only have two more left), or do a web search. The overview posts go into a lot of detail about what I liked and didn't over the year and how things performed in a very wet and cold year.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Harvest Monday - 14 December 2009

2009 Overview Yearly Tally

Memory of garden past

It is sad to have the first Harvest Monday without a harvest. But since I picked five pounds last week, I still have plenty to eat in the fridge. And since I have no harvest it seems like a good time to do the tally overview for the year. But if you have a harvest, join in. I would still love to believe that somewhere in the world it is still green and unfrozen. Right now it is really hard since we had two days in a row with the highs not getting above freezing.

I started to do this tally in January because there was such hype about growing thousands of dollars of food for just a pittance. I had guessed that I spent about $300+ per year on my vegetable garden, not the small sums everyone else claimed. On the other side of the coin there was the book $64 Tomato in which William Alexander spent a fortune on his garden. I wanted to know where my garden stood.


I had a couple of issues. My first was spending money. You know when you are trying to lose weight and the diet books all tell you to keep track of everything you put in your mouth because if you do that you won't eat as much? Well that happened in my garden spending. Since I had to account for every penny, I found myself not buying things I would normally would have. For instance in the fall I would buy some kind of salt marsh hay or straw mulch for my garden paths. That way I could put the mulch down early in the spring (salt marsh hay is not harvested in spring and hard to find, but easy in the fall). Three bales at $12-$14 per bale adds up. This year I shredded enough leaves and decided I would use them as a mulch. I also would have bought new gloves at the beginning of the season, but I used last year's gloves with holes in them. I made do. The resistance to putting something on that sheet was pretty high.

Gifts were another issue. My MIL gave me a $100 gift to spend as I liked. I chose Fedco and bought two things that I really wanted to try, but might not have bought otherwise. I bought Azomite and a soil block maker and appropriate soil to try it out. My husband bought me a garden fork for my birthday. I desperately needed to replace mine as the handle was broken and I would have spent money on it. This was not just any garden fork. My husband got the one from Johnny's which is a whopping $75. None of these gifts were counted in the tally. But at least the last one was necessary for my continued gardening.

  • Seeds and Plants $46.28
  • Soil and amendments $53.24
  • Light setup $67.84
  • Tools $13.95
  • Supports $42.49
  • Shipping $16.13
  • Amortized Fence $60

For a total of $299.96 spent this year without gifts (290.22 in the vegetable garden,2.99 in the herb garden, and 6.75 in the flower garden). If I add in my gifts I get $475.

I'm splitting up my tally overview into four parts. Three small ones are my herb garden, my flower garden, and my fruit garden which I'll do first.

Herb Garden

Herb garden in the foreground in spring

My herb garden consists of a lot of perennial herbs or self sowing annuals. I grow many of my favorite herbs for cooking and in addition I have chamomile and three kinds of peppermint that I dry for winter tea. The herb garden is irregular in shape and has a couple of small beds. In addition it has ornamentals scattered through it. I have no idea how big it is, but an herb garden will never be very productive in poundage so I just don't worry. I harvested 4.5lbs of herbs and spent a total of $3 on a rosemary plant. The herb garden produced $55.93 worth of herbs which is really nice for a garden that mostly takes care of itself. I don't do a lot of digging, fertilizing, or planting in the garden.

Fruit Garden

Fruit garden this past week

My fruit garden is 24' long and about 5 feet wide (though I've not measured it so not sure). The year before I ripped out some raspberries that didn't produce and two grapes that I wasn't eating. I replaced them with six blueberry plants. They didn't produce this year, but next year will be the first harvest. The one spot that is producing are my Heritage raspberries that I planted 18 years ago. The occupy 6' of the fruit garden and produced 13.64lbs of berries over the summer and fall which comes out to $158. or about $5/sqft which is the best best monetary value for the square foot in all the gardens. How I love these raspberries. They required no inputs so no money was spent.


A tithonia in my cutting garden

I have the flowers in with my tally on the sidebar and hated how much money they were adding to my tally. Frankly if I didn't grow flowers I would never buy them at the store. So putting bouquets in the tally bothered me. Especially since they added so much so quickly. Flowers are expensive. So after mid June I quit picking. It was probably the wrong response, but it is what I did. I probably just should have kept track but kept them out of the tally. I pick flowers from three areas. I have a small flower section at the end of one of my vegetable rows. I have my perennial border. And I have my weeds (oxeyed daisys). I picked 252 flowers and they were worth $112.35. I spent $6.75 on seed.

Vegetable Garden

I've read many times that you can get about a pound per square foot of growing space in your garden if you try really hard. Did I? I didn't want to use the herb or fruit garden. I just wanted to try for the vegetable garden which is the reason I wanted to separate the different gardens.

I recently went out and measured my garden. You would think I would have that in hand but I didn't. Even with a fence defining the perimeter the garden does change from year to year. And I haven't had measurements for ages. You might wonder how I plan my garden. Well I've done it in my head for years. Now I have a measurement. This year I had 233 sqft of growing space and six five gallon pails. I'm going to overview each bed.

Top Bed The top bed is the smallest of the 4' wide beds at 42 sqft and I always combine it with the 2' wide bed (all the way at the bottom of the garden along the fence) in my rotation. Together they have 65 sqft of growing space. (BTW the lower bed was expanded this fall by 23 sqft and next year the rotation will have 86 sqft)

The following was harvested from these beds:

  • Alliums 15.14 lbs
  • Broccoli 2.58 lbs
  • Greens 37.66
  • Peas 10.80 lbs
  • Radish 0.80 lbs

For a total of 66.98 lbs. So the greens bed really pulls its weight and does get to the 1lb/sqft goal. Go greens! Money wise they produced $219.13 or $3.37/sqft. Not bad. But then again it was cold and wet which is really good weather for greens, so I'm not too surprised.

Middle Bed The middle bed will be the smallest next year but this year it was number two in size at 74sqft. This was my failed Three Sisters Garden.

  • Corn 0 lbs
  • Cucurbits 18.22 lbs
  • Beans 8.3 lbs

For a total of 21.52 lbs. Yup the corn failed. The winter squash mostly failed. Even the zucchini and cucumbers had issues this year. Most of my beans are dried beans that don't produce much weight per unit space. I'm hoping next year the beans and cucurbits do better (corn is getting tossed next year), but this year the bed just didn't produce. I got just under a third of a pound per square foot. Or $1.38/sqft.

West side of bottom bed in June

Bottom Bed Ah my favorite bed - the solanaceae bed. This was the largest of all the beds. It is 94sqft and gets the most sun. If any bed can produce it is this one.

  • Carrot 11.12 lbs
  • Eggplant 1.26 lbs
  • Pepper 5.52 lbs
  • Potato 16.5 lbs
  • Tomatillo 2.63 lbs
  • Sungold F2 Tomatoes 38.28 lbs

For a total of 75.31 lbs in 94sqft. Or $2.54/sqft. Things that went wrong: the Eggplant had 12sqft of growing space and were a bust because of the cold wet weather; we had late blight in the potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant; and the chipmunks ate half the tomatillos. So considering I think this bed did pretty well.

Pails I had six five gallon pails that I got off of freecycle. They contained a variety of tomatoes. I harvested 32.18lbs from them or $21.39 per pot. I was worried going in that I would be spending more on potting material than I would get back, but I spent very little, probably $25. They produced $128 which much more than that, but if you don't reuse your soil (and you can't if you grow tomatoes every year) it can add up over time.

Was growing vegetables worth it?

  • Harvested: 205 lbs in 233 sqft and 6 pails
  • Spent $290.22 (plus $175 in gifts)
  • Produce worth for local organic $780.32
  • Produce worth guesstimate for conventional $520

So best case scenario is that I always buy local organic and I don't count my gifts. Then I'm up $490 for the year and it was so worth it. That is a big savings in produce and I don't even have a huge garden.

The worse case scenario is that I never buy local organic and I always buy conventionally produced vegetables. In addition I count all my gifts. Then my total is only $55 or an order of magnitude different. Sigh. So you pick the number you like better. You can make numbers say anything if you count them right.

The other gardens are so worth it in time and money. They don't produce as much per square foot, but since they require little input and only planting once, you really don't need much gardening equipment. For a fruit garden you could borrow a shovel from a friend for the year you plant. For an herb garden a trowel is probably sufficient. Just thrown on mulch every year and you're good.

Vegetable gardens require more time and monetary input as they are replanted every year. You need seedlings which require even more money than seed or a light set up to grow your own. To get the most out of your space it requires good timing with successions. So it takes a lot more effort and knowledge.

I think a lot of the people that say you can grow your own on very little because they don't add in things like fences, tools, soil amendments and garden supports. They only look at seeds. You can do it with very little if you want to, but most gardeners don't. I could get by in the garden with pruners, a trowel, and a shovel, but I have a lot of tools. I could plant my transplants in old plastic clam shells from the recycle bin, but I have a snazzy soil blocker (and want more sizes) before that I used six packs. I could let my tomatoes sprawl, but I cage them. I could let the bunnies eat my carrot tops, but I have a fence. I have poles and buy twine every year to string up peas instead of using pea brush. I think most gardeners are like me and choose to spend on certain things to make our life easier and to get more of a harvest out of a small spot. So to the $25 garden that produces $1000 worth of food in a year, I say bullshit. (Though I'm going to give kudos to Joe Lamp'l who grew 78 lbs in a new garden on $15.05 this year. Though to be realistic he was given all his seed and used tools he already had.) And to the $64 tomato all I can say is, "You've got to be kidding!" (Not to mention that big things like my fence should be amortized over its life.)

The one thing this didn't show was how healthy it is to grow you own food which is of course priceless. I'm not just talking about getting outside and getting some exercise. And I'm not just talking about the mental benefits of finding peace in the garden. I find when I'm growing my own food I want to use it more. I hate throwing it away since it was such an investment in my time - a fun investment, but still an investment. So I eat better over the summer and fall when my harvests are coming in than I do in the winter and spring. Some days it is a struggle to eat well. It is so much easier to throw together lunch of bread and cheese than to make a salad or cook up a stir fry. The reality is they don't take long, but when I'm feeling rushed or really hungry I can cut corners. I do it less with produce from my garden.

If you would like to help me believe that harvest still exist, put your name and URL into Mr. Linky below. It doesn't matter how big or small your harvest is. You don't have to count the pounds like I do. If you have had a harvest this last week, show us and join in! Really I'm dying here under the snow and ice. I need visions of tomatoes and spinach to dance in my head for the holidays.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009 Overview Lettuce and Radishes

I just have a few more overviews (Asian greens, other brassicas, and tally overview) and then I will be done. Yay! It is a lot of work finding all my dates and remembering everything, but I know I won't be able to remember next year, so it is going to help me out.

This year I grew two kinds of radish, Pinetree mix and Reggae. I didn't like the taste of Reggae all that much. It is supposed to be more resistant to insects (for me this means the root maggot). I only grew them in spring under a row cover so didn't even get to see if it was resistant. But the taste was not to my liking. In the Pinetree mix I thought the White icicle was the best tasting of all and the French breakfast not far behind. So those are the two I'm growing next year.

I planted the radishes on 3/26 between the rows of lettuce and harvested 0.8 pounds from 5/2-5/16. I was very remiss about sowing successions. I did put one in under the brassica row cover, but it never got good roots. It could be from lack of light or being planted where the broccoli root maggots were. Either way there was no harvest. I totally forgot about them in the fall. Next year I intend to do better (famous second to last words). I like radishes. They aren't the be all and end all of my garden, but they are a nice addition to salads. In some years I get very ambitious and make radish top soup out of the greens, but this year I was too lazy. Next year (famous last words).

Lettuce. Oh how I waited impatiently for my lettuce to come in. I grew so much this spring that I'm sick of it still. I eat the occasionally salad from my massive haul, but I have to not burn myself out on it so much in the spring. It is hard since it is one of the few early producers.

I sowed the first seed indoors on 2/21 for what I thought was a super early crop. It started getting hardened off on good days on 3/13 and was transplanted under a row cover on 3/27. I should have done an earlier one. This one was the best of all the lettuce successions (every two to three weeks more got planted). I called it an extra early one because it was earlier than I'd done in the past. Next year even earlier. Note to self on dates. The early plants were grown with the LED lights and they don't grow as fast this way. I probably only need three weeks for the transplants to reach a good size.

The lettuce did very well this year with all the cold and rain. In early August the lettuce started bolting and I let the Deer Tongue and Red Sails go to seed. So I saved seed for the first time. The plants were 12' apart which is considered the minimum distance for isolation. So they should be fine, but I wish one were a white seeded type and one a black seeded so I could tell if they did cross at all.

The main spring lettuce bed was about 3'x3' with plants spaced 8" apart. The fall bed was about 2'x2'. I harvested 7.2 pounds of lettuce. I only grew the plants to full size. Next year I have to grow many more transplants so I can eat the thinnings earlier. Having tiny transplants taking up the whole spot was silly. The bulk of the fall lettuce was planted in early August in a new bed this year in the shady part of the garden by the compost pile. I've never grown in this section before because I considered it too shady to grow anything. Not only is is under the shade of the oaks in the morning, but it is smack up against the fence so doesn't even get any afternoon light. The lettuce grew fine. In fact early on it grew better there than in the main bed. Though the main bed did catch up in October.

I grew five kinds of lettuce this year - Red Sails, New Red Fire, Merveille de Quatre Saison, Australian Yellow Leaf, and Deer Tongue. Red Sails is my tried and true lettuce. It is a slow bolter and seems to be able to handle the cold as well. It tastes good and is very prolific. New Red Fire was touted as a replacement for Red Sails. Except for the seed being white it was hard to tell them apart. I didn't see or taste any improvement. They seemed not identical but so similar it didn't matter which one you grew. So I'll stay with my tried and true.

MQS was the most beautiful of all my lettuces. It was just stunning red and green in the garden. But other than that it was just OK. It tasted good as did Red Sails. It wasn't quick to bolt but bolted a tad before Red Sails. It wasn't as prolific though. I would say it gave me just a bit more than half the poundage of Red Sails. So it won't be grown again unless I decided to try overwintering it some year (hence I didn't toss the seed).

Deer tongue

The last two were both from a trade from Dan. Australian Yellow Leaf is a bright chartreuse. It never grew all that well for me and bolted quickly. In addition I didn't like the taste. So it lost on all counts. Deer Tongue was a surprise gift in the trade and it really surprised me. It wasn't that prolific and didn't hold as long as Red Sails, but it was an extremely tasty lettuce. It will have a place in my garden next year. I however will not give it the full 8" spacing. It is a smaller lettuce. I could probably half the spacing and it would grow fine. Thanks Dan!

So this year I was trialing red lettuces (except for my trades) to see if I could get better than Red Sails. I failed to do that. Red Sails will be my goto red lettuce. Next year I want to try some Romaine. I haven't tried growing it in a long time and it is probably my favorite lettuce type.

As for diseases and insect pests. I haven't found them to be much of a problem as long as I transplant seedlings. If I don't the slugs will eat them to the ground before they get started. The slugs don't really damage the larger ones much. They like the brassicas that grow right next to them better so tend to live over there. I do occasionally find a few aphids but not many this year which is surprising since other plants this year had an aphid explosion (and a lacewing and ladybug explosion not long after to get rid of them).

Next year I think I don't want to do all the successions I've been doing. It is too much work. I want to do three successions instead. Early spring, mid spring, and fall (only in that shady spot). This will open the lettuce bed for more brassicas in the fall and keep me from dealing with so many successions. Lettuce does hold pretty well in the garden and I'm pretty tired of all the successions. Plus it will give my taste buds a break from lettuce. Other things to remember: plant an early crop with the peas and spinach under a row cover to see how early they can be pushed; plant the fall crop in full shade at the beginning of August; grow more transplants and place them at least twice as close together so I can eat the thinnings; Deer tongue is a smaller lettuce, don't give it as much space.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

2009 Overview Chard and Spinach

I grow two plants in the Chenopodiaceae family - Swiss chard and spinach. Spinach is such a prima donna. She hates to germinate, hates being transplanted, and bolts at the slightest hint of heat or long days. I had to treat her with such care. I chitted the seed inside for two days, until I could see the first bit of little roots starting to come out of a couple of seeds. Then I planted Melody on 3/17, 3" apart in rows 6" apart.

Luckily for me she will perform if coddled. I put a row cover over most of the spinach. I left a little out in the open to see what happened. Well what happened is that the row covered spinach produced about a week ahead of the other. Row covers are such a godsend in the spring. I'm always dying for the first taste of spring grown crops and a week quicker was fabulous. In addition covers have the added bonus of keeping off the leaf miners I also planted some spinach 1" apart. That spinach also took a week longer to grow. My first harvest was on April 24th of all the thinnings. I harvested 2.5 pounds of spinach in about 20 sqft. The last spinach came out on May 27th to make room for the squash. Some were taken out earlier to make room for the corn.

I did seed some more spinach in the fall. What came ups was chomped on by slugs, but I still got some plants. The leaves are tattered however so I'm waiting to see if they can over winter under a row cover. Hopefully in early spring the slugs won't bee so vicious.

Next year I will plant a lot more spinach. I have a lot of wasted space that doesn't get planted in early spring. The whole squash and bean bed can be planted with spinach. It has to get ripped out prematurely, but it can still produce a decent crop in that time. And next year I'll do the whole bed correctly. Chit my seed, space them at least 3" apart, thin to 6", and use a row cover.

As a producer, chard is my favorite vegetable in the garden. She just never stops. I plant her early and harvest all summer long and into the fall until the ground freezes solid. A row cover in early spring helps her get off to a good start too, but once it starts getting warm I usually take it off. She was started indoors on 3/16, but I only planted five seeds. I decided I needed more chard so planted again on 3/22 with five more seeds. Since chard seed is not really a single seed, but a cluster of seeds, I thinned out to get a good showing of colors in my Bright Lights. The seedlings were transplanted on 4/7 and 4/14. Three weeks seemed like a pretty good size. They were still small, but took off fast.

I transplanted nine plants at 8" apart. They had a 16"x3' section of the garden or 4sqft. They stayed in the ground all year long and I harvested 8.9 lbs. Even in the fall they grew and this patch doesn't get sun in the fall. It is in shade.

Next year I wouldn't mind one more row. I could freeze a lot for the winter that way. Right now I have more spinach in the freezer than I have chard. I won't however grow Bright Lights. I like the taste of the Ruby Chard better. I will so miss those pretty stems.

Neither the spinach or chard were bothered at all by diseases. The only insects that bother them are slugs and leaf miners. The slugs aren't bad in the spring, but in the fall I'll have to do something about that next year. The leaf miners are easy to control. If they have a row cover they are free of them. For the summer chard I handpicked the eggs every few days. In addition I kept the leaves well picked so there would be few leaves to check and the handpicking would go faster.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Seed Inventory

Every year at this time I do a seed inventory of what I have, what I no longer want, and what I've saved. I use this as a basis for figuring out what I need to order for next year. In addition I put up a post about what I have to trade and give away (to come soon) that consists of seed that I have saved over the year and seed that I have decided to no longer grow.

My first pass through the containers nets me two piles. Seed I no longer want to grow and seed that is too old. The first is based upon how things grew and tasted. For instance my Rainbow Chard is going this year. I like the taste of Ruby Chard more and would like to try a green variety. I will miss the yellow stalks of Rainbow Chard, but to me taste reigns supreme and my tastes (I know not all of you agree) say Ruby Chard tastes better.

I can determine if seed is too old by two ways. The first is by a germination test. You put 10 seeds onto a damp paper towel in a plastic bag (make sure there is the smallest bit of airflow) and put the bag in a warm location. If they sprout, you are golden. If not buy more seed. BTW if less than 50% sprout it is usually best to toss anyway. The seeds are not very strong at that point and can make for weak seedlings. I however am just using another method. I check the dates. Different seed keeps a different amount of time.

Short (1-2): alliums, corn, parsnip (use new seed every year), spinach
Medium (3-5): carrots (on the short side), legumes, lettuce, peppers, tomatillos
Long (6+): beets, brassica family, cucurbit family, eggplant, tomato

How you store your seeds makes a big difference too. I store mine in a plastic air tight container in the fridge. Before I open it, I always let it come to room temperature so there is no condensation. This year I threw out some old spinach, carrots, and onions. I will only save spinach or onion each year if I'm not counting on the variety. Otherwise it is only new seed.

Seed that I'm no longer growing:

Lettuce: Austrailan Yellow Leaf(2009), Simpson Elite(2008), Prizehead(2008)
Tomatoes: Tumbling Tom(2009x9), Early Ssubakus Aliana(2009)
Squash: Dark Green Zucchini(2008)
Radish: Crimson Giant(2005), Pinetree Mix(2009), Reggae(2009)
Eggplant: Slim Jim(2008); Lavender Touch(2009)
Peas: Super Sugar Snap(2008), Mammoth Melting Snow Pea(2008)
Bean: Fortex(2008)
Greens: Tyfon Holland Greens(2009), Strawberry Spinach(2009), Bright Lights Swiss Chard(2009)

Seed that I saved:

Dried Bean: Ottawa Cranberry; Trail of Tears
Tomatillo: Pineapple
Chili Pepper: Early Jalapeno
Lettuce: Red Sails, Deer Tongue
Herbs: Dill, Coriander(cilantro)
Flowers: Ground control marigold, Tithonia, Johnny Jump Up, Borage, False Indigo, Jewel Nasturtium
Tomatoes: Chocolate Cherry, Market Miracle, Black Moor, Emma-Sungold F3, Gabrielle-Sungold F3

Seed that is left over and might be used next year:

Peppers: Cayenne(2009 Pinetree), Early Jalapeno (2009 Pinetree), Serrano (2009 Pinetree)
Tomatoes: Sungold F2(2008 saved), Aussie(2008 saved), Market Miracle(2008 Wintersown), Black Cherry(2008 Wintersown), Chocolate Cherry(2008 Wintersown), Moon Yellow(2008 Wintersown)
Lettuce: Merveille de Quatre Saison(2009 Pinetree); New Red Fire(2008 Pinetree), Red Sails(2008)
Greens: Rhubarb Chard (Burpee 2008), Golden Corn Salad(2009 Michelle)
Brassicas: Dwarf Blue Curled Kale(2008 Botanical Interests), Gonzales Cabbage(2009 Pinetree), Broccoli Packman(2008 Vermont Bean Seed Co), Rubicon Napa Cabbage( 2008 Johnnys), Purple Mizuna(2008 Johnnys), Tatsoi(2008 Johnnys), Komatsuna(2009 Pinetree), Fun Jen(2008 Pinetree)
Squash: Neck Pumpkin(2009 Pinetree), Magdalena Big Cheese(2009SSEY)
Cucumbers: Diamant(2009 Johnnys), Armenian(2009 Wintersown x6)
Basil: Lemon Basil(2009 Pinetree), Holy Basil(2009 Pinetree), Sweet Basil(2008)
Snap Beans: Kentucky Wonder(2008 Pinetree)
Peas: Cascadia(2009 Pinetree)