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Enjoying the modern conveniences of life in a sustainable manner through technology, resourcefulness, and Zone 8a (North Texas) Gardening.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eggplants! Eggplants!

I am not sure why I am so happy to see that I have eggplants forming, but I do and I am elated!

I know its not time yet, but I do need to find out how to tell when they are ready for harvest.

My peas are still up to their old shanagans. This one has not only latched onto the eggplant cage next to it, but it is pulling it away.

The squash are doing very well.

And we are still experiencing many vistors.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Harvest Monday 09-26-11

Nothing to exciting about my summer-planted garden; given that I only have zucchini, squash, banana pepper, eggplant, and purple hull peas planted. The peppers were planted in April, but they suffered through the summer's 110 degree heat wave. However, now that we are in the low 90's, they are making a nice comeback---this week's harvest was the largest of the year. The peas, zukes, and squash are all just beginning to get into full swing and I expect a few more good weeks before the harvest starts to tail off. Here is what a typical week looks like these days:
Harvest: 7 lbs zukes, 4 lbs squash, 1.5 lbs peppers, 3 lbs peas.
All of  those pea-pods (in basket) ended up being a pie shell worth of actual peas.
Looks like the eggplant will attempt to make an appearance before its too late.

My zukes haven't been prolific yet, but I've already used some in this zuchinni blueberry bread...yummy!

Check out more harvests over at Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday. Its very interesting to see what's in season at different locations throughout the US and World.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Three Sisters Final Update

So this will be my last update on my Three Sisters experiment.

Overall, I think it is a great planting method and will definitely do it again.

So of the things that I would do different:
- Plant the corn first, peas and squash about two-three weeks later
- Be sure that the squash that I am using is vining squash and not bush squash
- Make sure my soil is fertile enough to actually grow corn
- Give more space between planting rows. I started out with 1.5' between rows and ended up with no space between rows for walking and harvesting.

But there were some great things about this method:
- When thrips found my corn, they only found one planting of it. So all the other plantings were unharmed.
- I didn't have to spend extra money or time with pea trellis'. When its time to pull everything, I won't have to untangle peas from my trellis.
- I would also imagine that if I were attacked by some squash pest that they would have only found one grouping of my squash; as the interplanted method may confuse them or cause them to think that is the only squash available for tasting. However, I think a summer planting took care of most pests and they have faired well thus far.
- I did also plant some peas on a trellis away from the Sisters. I found that the peas planted with the squash produced pods earlier than the peas on the trellis. However, thus far, the corn-planted peas are shorter.

The only bad thing I found with this was a result of human error. Basically timing and spacing. The squash was planted before the peas and had basically taken over the bed before the peas got started.

Exhibit 1: You see the peas (circled) laying on the ground...yes growing along the ground!
 Well, this is because the squash plant has grown over on top of them. Thus, as you can see below, the pea plant grew horizontally out of the ground. I circled the roots if the pea plant. Every thing outside the circle is the squash plant that grew over it.
This was caused by me bc 1) I planted the peas too late...almost two weeks after planting the squash-should have planted at same time, 2) probably planted them to close, and 3) should have been sure to use vining squash.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gardening Woes

Well as every gardener knows, gardening has its ups and downs. We, as adults, get to play in the dirt and harvest fresh food that was grown with our self-approved methods. But gardening is not without risk. Sometimes, theres to much rain, to little rain, to much sun, to little sun, we fight animals, insects, toddlers trampling through the vegetation. We fight soil borne diseases, airborne diseases, nutritional deficiencies. But in the end, its all worth it.

Here are some of my gardening woes:

Somethings snacking on my leaves...
Corn with no husk
Unknown: pest or beneficial?
Poor Peas
Squash, may have some phosphorus deficiency?
But gardening woes typically come alongside some delights. Here are some of my delights:
Eggplant in Bloom
Peas in Bloom
Squash in Bloom
Future Meals for the Fam:
Yep, in the end, its all worth it :).

Monday, September 19, 2011

Day after a Storm

Well we have been hoping for rain and what we got was an isolated thunderstorm. Here, that usually means, lots of wind, lighting, thundering, maybe some hail, and a little rain. Yep....a little rain. So fence panels were blown down. Debris was scattered around the yard. Soffits (that were barely hanging on anyway) got blown off the house. And a neighbors small tree was uprooted. All ...... for a little rain. Well I guess some is better than none.

Here's what the garden looked like after the storm. You can't distinguish the squash from the corn or the peas, but they are all blown over into this jumbled mess. Let's hope they bounce back over the next few days.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall Gardening Plans

So I know most have already started their fall gardens, but here in the South, we can start a little later. I am going to try to have fresh produce through mid-Jan. Wish me luck!

Last weekend we got the beds ready and this weekend we will plant.
I have developed this scheme for our planting. We laid out a new garden design that consists of 12 garden beds. Each bed is 4x8 and will be intensively planted (sqft gardening like without grids).

The beds are simply raised dirt, no wood around them. This method has worked just fine for us. Helps with drainage and easy to maintain.

In between each row is a 2.5' walking path. However the walking paths do not extend the entire (8') length of the row. They stop 2' short. The final 2' of these walking rows will be my 'play' area. They will be used for 1)experiments, 2) trying new plantings/varieties, 3) perennials, 4) plants that will be grown for seed saving; thus needing to remain in the bed longer than other plants...clearly these are only plants who need to flower or over-ripen to save mature seeds.

Here's a diagram of the beds:

I have also worked out a crop rotation scheme. I have set up a 3-year rotation scheme and in many cases it is better than that because it will be more than 3-years before the same plant will return. For example, Bed 11 is the only bed with carrots, so carrots will only be planted in each bed once every 12-years....tomatoes once every 6, and so forth.

For crop rotation, I seperated the crops into three groups:
1 - Manures (crops that feed the soil) - Legumes, Grains, Cover Crops
2 - Group N - Nightshades, Carrots, Lettuce, Okra, Sweet Potato
3 - Group B - Brassicas, Squash, Corn, Beets, Alliums

The Manure group is self explanatory. The other two groups were basically created based on what grows well together and the time of year they are planted. Here, I plant brassicas and alliums in the fall only. Those are root and leaf crops, so in the summer I follow then with a fruit crop from the squash/melon family. Group N are all grown both fall and spring, but they all go very well together; some are light feeders and some are heavy.

The rotation is very simple. It starts in the fall, followed by the spring planting (listed below it), then the next fall, each planting is shifted once to the left. This ensures that each family is only planted in each bed once every three years (minimum).

Here's the diagram of my 12 beds. I had to split into two pictures so it would be readable (for a 'full' view, the 2nd pic goes directly to the right of the 1st pic) The top row in the pics is the fall gardens, the bottom row is the spring garden that will follow the fall garden above...the next fall, the column to its right will be planted there and so forth):

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Squash Blossom: Male or Female

Well just in case some one out there is wondering; here's a photo of a male and a female squash blossom:



Unruly Peas

The peas have gotten slightly unruly. They are trying their best to take over the eggplants once again. I pulled them back earlier this year, but they have found their way to the eggplant cages and have even started to wrap around them!

At least one Cowpea is doing what it is supposed to....growing up the corn.

In other news....

Things are looking good. The zukes and squash are really starting to take off. This was our first attempt at corn and I don't think we'll get any nice plumb heads. I think pollination may have been bad---given the squash plants grew almost as tall as the corn and the silks emerged under squash plants; hard to wind pollinate that. We did try hand pollination, but we missed several silks that grew very close to the ground. I think we would have had better success if more of the corn had germinated (or we didn't pull them as weeds) and we had more blocks of the corn. We'll see. We will try popcorn in the spring.

Actually, this has got to be the skinnest corn plant ever:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oh no! She's Arrived :(

I've been preparing for her arrival. Peppering my silks, vegetable oil down older silks. But that was just supposed to be insurance...you pay for it, but never hope you need it.

Well yesterday, I saw her...she found her way here...one of the few predators to worry about at this time of year...yes, its the dreaded Corn Earworm Moth.
Let's hope my efforts were not in vain. She's been hanging around the cowpeas also. Sigh...

In other news; the zukes still look great and are coming in everyday.
I know they are supposed to be bushes, but it looks like mine want to vine.
Here's an updated look at the garden.
Here's a look from the other side of the garden. In this pic, you can see the infamous banana pepper plants. They suffered a lot from the heat this summer (you can tell from the sunburned leaves). But now that temps have come down from 110 to 90, they are bouncing back and I'm picking a handful everyday.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Preserving Zucchini

Well, I have only harvested about 6 lbs of zucchini so far, but I decided to go ahead and start preserving it so that I do not get behind----as we all know, plenty of more zucchini is on the way!

For this first batch I decided to shred the zucchini. The shredded zucchini will be used in soups, casseroles, zucchini cakes, and baked goods (cake, bread, cookies).

I began by washing the zucchini. I then shred it (skin and all). I used a $4 shredder from Walmart.

Next I steamed the shredded pieces. I don't have a steamer, so I created one. Using a pot, a top, and a straining basket. I steam the zukes for 3 minutes and then dump the strainer (with zukes) into a bowl of ice water.

Last, I used a measuring cup to scoop the zucchini shreds into one-cup servings on a platter. I place these in the freezer. Once they are frozen, I will transfer to freezer bags. Then anytime I need a cup of shredded zucchini, I can just grab it by the cup!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Harvest 09-05-11

Things are starting to come in now!!!

I finally figured out why I am not getting much squash yet. My plants are still producing mainly male flowers. However, it looks like more female squash blooms are on the horizon!
The zucchini has been ... well, zucchini. Although its early in the process, I've already gotten 6 pounds of zucchini. Including this monster (shown against an 8" stovetop burner)

The peas are getting close to pick ready. I even picked a few just to get a peak inside.
The eggplant look like they are getting ready to start. It's a little earlier than expected, however, it has been hot and maybe we've done a good job of taking care of them :).
So for this week, we got 6 pounds of zukes, 1 1/2 lbs squash, and about 1/2 lb of banana peppers. Yep, as the temps cool to the 90's (ha!), the peppers are starting to produce again!

Queen Bee and other Friends

There is a gi-normous bee that visits my garden every morning and some evenings. I thought this was a queen bee, but I think that queen bee's do not leave the hive. Also, there are now two of them visiting. I still call them Queen Bee, just because of their size.

Other than Queen Bee(s), we have many other visitors to the garden. I've spied lots of Wasps (which have helped tremendously with the ant control....I am so glad the wasps showed up bc the ants were out of control, now they are very much in control). I've spied lady bugs, grasshoppers (I've only seen them doing one thing and there is no evidence that they have done anything else...see their pic below). I've spied insects trapped in spider webbing, but I haven't seen the spider yet. I've also spied dragon flies; they also eat bees, so I am not sure how proud I am of them being around. But I'll continue to allow nature to balance itself.

Updated 11-9-11: I now think that my Queen Bees are just very large Bumble Bees.