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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Crazed Gardener

OK, I think that I may be approaching the crazed gardener phase.

Last night while in the shower, I was accompanied by a rather nice sized spider. Did I

a) Scream like a teenage girl?
b) Run for my life?
c) Unsuccessfully swat and stomp at the spider?
d) Call my boys in to come torture it?
e) Gently pick it up and relocate it into my garden?

LOL!!! You guessed it! All of the above went through my head in the order shown. But in the end, the gardener in me saw -- not a foe --- but an ally in what promises to be an epic battle with bugs this summer. I immediately had a vision of last summer when I was struck with horror at the sight of those tomato hornworms. What to do?! What to do?! Within days I saw a huge spider web and soon noticed that those hornworms were under control. Spider 1. Hornworms 0. So as I looked down at that spider in my shower, I thought to myself, I have the perfect place for you.

While capturing and relocating this spider, I couldn't help to think.....am I really doing this? This must be what it feels like to be a crazed gardener.

DH - well - I can't say he was surprised. He has seen flashes of this over the last few months. Don't throw that milk jug away, I can use that as a greenhouse; don't trash tissue rolls, I need those for seed pots; yes, I brought home a 4" deep aluminum pan from work - it's perfect for starting seeds in; this list goes on and on.

But I think this spider thing takes it to a whole new level.

I can't be the only one though. Admit it. Share your Crazed Gardener moments!

When Doom is Eminent

What should a gardener do when doom is eminent?

In this area, brassicas should be fall planted because our Springs are short. We go from highs in the 70's to highs in the high 80's in a matter of weeks. Lows in the 60's have already arrived.

But my fall garden was a disappointment and I really wanted to try broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower again. I started all of these indoors in early January/late Decemeber. This gives them all expected harvest dates of mid-March / early April which is perfect for our weather. I transplanted everything outside at the end of February, so they were exposed to some chills. I also planted spinach and lettuce because I had room for them.

Just FYI: I know the ground looks dry, but it's moist just below the surface. The top is dry because it wasn't mulched, but it is mulched now.

Well here it is, end of March and:

All of my broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage look like this:

Right! They are all of 2" tall. These things will never form a head before it gets too hot for them. They are only marginally larger than they were when I set them out. Its like they stall after being transplanted and then start growing again. In the fall, I tried direct seeding, but the germination rates were terrible. I have to figure this out because my family loves to eat these three veggies and it is almost impossible to find them organically around here. When I do find them organically, they are 4x the cost of the inorganic.
Even the spinach is very small. According to the seed package, I should be harvesting now. Ha. Ha. I am no where near harvest time.
The saving grace with the spinach is that it is a fast grower and I probably will get to harvest some before they start to bolt. Last year, they didn't bolt until late April; which still leaves about a month. So I should be able to harvest enough spinach to get us to the fall.
Same with the lettuce. It is fairly behind schedule, but I should have enough time left to get a decent harvest....only because it is a fast grower.
I do realize that the dates on the seed packages are optimal; but as you can see, I am no where near hitting those dates. My summer crops thus far, have hit within one week of the dates and my fall crops haven't even come close. I wonder if veggie growers up North have the opposite experience or is it that summer weather is more predictable/consistent therefore the dates are more reliable?
I don't need this bed until summer and who knows what the weather will do. So, I am going to allow everything to keep growing until it bolts or I need the bed. But I think we all know that (for my broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) Doom. Is eminent.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Potato Hilling I

French Fry Friday's are all the rage in our household. And our french fries don't come from McDonald's; we cut them from potatoes and fry them up ourselves. So you can imagine that we are really looking forward to harvesting our first homegrown potatoes later this summer. We planted our potatoes around Valentine's Day and they have now grown to about 6-8" in height. So we figured that we should go ahead and hill them. We may be a little early, but its the weekend and we have time, so why not.

Our method of planting was to scrap all the soil out of the bed; basically flattening the bed to about 8" lower than its desired depth. We then laid the potatoes on this lowered bed. Next, we added 4" of soil and leaf mulch over the potatoes and left all of the soil in a pile just north of the potato bed.

Hilling the potatoes was a family affair. The boys shoveled soil into small buckets. I didn't get a picture of my youngest helping, but you can see his shovel laying on the ground. He's only 3 and says that we are growing french fries (his absolute favorite food).

Mama, took the small buckets and poured the soil over the potatoes to form small hills.

Dad took the pics. Thanks a lot. (He was actually clearing other beds of fall plantings to make way for spring plantings).

The boys did fairly well, but they did leave the job before it was done. That's ok, I'll take all the help that I can get. I finished hilling the potatoes. I couldn't remember if I was supposed to cover the leaves completely. I covered the entire stem and only left the very tops uncovered. I'll read more about hilling potatoes before next time.
All that's left to do, is wait till they're 6-8" above the soil and hill them again......

I am also testing two other planting methods; just because I had more seed potato than would fit into my 4x8 bed. I am growing one potato in a grow box that we built. I added enough soil to that box to cover the entire stem and a few of the leaves. This potato stem was actually about 2" taller than the ones in the garden.
I also remulched so the soil doesn't dry out.

I am also growing 3 potatoes in a cardboard box. I initially tried to use just leaves, but after almost a month, the potato stems still hadn't emerged from below the leaves. So I dug them out and there was some growth. So its my guess that the potatoes need something a little more compacted than the leaves. So I added a couple of inches of soil over each potato and we'll see if that speeds them up at all.

I'll end this post with a couple pictures of the potato leaves. Can you tell which leaves belong to the Purple Majesty variety?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Herb Harvest

This week brought a bountiful harvest.

First there were collards. My boys allowed me to use their dump truck to haul them in. I only expected to do usual garden maintenance, but I noticed that one or two were starting to bolt, so I picked all of them clean. No need to lose them in hopes of getting a few more leaves.

Next was the lettuce. They were pulled to make way for the sweet potatoes; which will be planted in a week or two. The weather here is getting warm fast, so I decided to pull the lettuce before they joined the collards at the Bolt party. While clearing out the bed, we even found a couple of carrots that over wintered nicely. The green lettuce is actually a bumper crop. It grew from the base of a lettuce I pulled earlier this year.

Lastly, I took a pruning knife to my crowded herb garden. I was able to harvest a pretty large bunch of Borage, Cilantro, and Dill....shown left to right below. I also harvested some parsley. I found it under the borage; there is more to get and I will do so later this week. All of the herbs, not used this week, will be dried.

A lot more work has been done in the garden and I will share that with you later this week. Check out more harvests at Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Celery! What Happened?

A few weeks ago I shared with you how I set the bottom of a grocery store celery in a bowl of water and a new celery stalk started to grow.

I also started some celery from seed in peat pellets.

Well 2-3 weeks ago, I planted both out in the garden....after a very gradual hardening off process. Well the celery grown from seed has thrived and looks well.

But the grocery store celery (both stalks) has gone by the wayside.

The decline started almost immediately. I probably should have planted the grocery store celery in soil sooner than I did. Seems as though it didn't handle the transition from water to soil well at all.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Grow Box Update

Its been a few weeks since I planted carrots and potatoes in my grow boxes.

The carrots are doing quite well. The ones that I started indoors (the larger ones) are doing excellent. I - once again - had poor germination on the ones that were planted outdoors (the center and left of the box). Other than that, the growth of the tops look great, although I have not dug down to see what the roots look like. Their package harvest date is in two weeks, but I think that it will take four more weeks in reality. We'll see.
The potatoes are doing great as well. They look to have grown about 2" higher than those outside of the box. The true test will be in the amount of the harvest though, so I have a couple more months to see how that goes.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Congress to FDA: Label GMO Food

55 members of Congress have signed a letter encouraging the FDA to require that GE (genetically engineered) food be labelled. New research is unveiling some dangers with GE food; namely, increasing food allergies and parts of it being indigestable.

No matter what side of this you are on, I do believe that consumers have the right to know if a product they are considering consuming contains GMO Food.

Read more about the letter here and you can even join thousands and send a letter to the FDA just below the article. Another step that you could take it contacting your local congressional officials and encouraging them to sign the letter as well.

The Aftermath

The blog has been silent recently. I haven't been able to do much in the garden because of all the rain we have been getting. Much needed rain, mind you...so I am not complaining. The last bit of rain was a doozy. It came with very high winds and flash flooding. I wasn't sure how the garden and my recently planted seedlings would respond to such a beating.

In all, we got about 4.5" of rain in a few hours. And its raining again today (two days later).

The wind was so high that it blew down 8 of our fence sections. Not good. How did the garden do?

I'll start with the boy's garden. You can see where the water pooled and where it flowed through the garden. Everything in this bed withstood the storm fairly well. Some of the leaves were muddy; from what I guess was a mini-flood. But other than that, all is well here.

The artichoke came through like a champ and has really responded well to being transplanted into the ground.
Now to the grown up garden:
The eggplants took a beaten. I had to scrape mud off their leaves, but they look like they should survive.
Most of the peppers seem to be mostly unfazed; even though they are in the same bed as the eggplants. There was one pepper casualty and it was the only storm casualty as of now.
Another interesting storm development was that the spinach lost their first leaves; only their true leaves survived. I hope they fair well, because we are out of spinach!
Also unfazed were the potatoes, garlic, new and old lettuce plants, the tomatoes (with muddy leaves), and the herbs. So, for the most part, the storm only caused some minor battering, but it also brought about this:
a rattlesnake bean making its entrance into the world; just three days after they were planted (and I didn't water them after they were planted because I saw the rain in the forecast...so only one day after they were 'watered'). Welcome.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Beginning of Something Wonderful

This week I finally pulled two of the lettuce heads that have been growing all winter.
The timing is perfect because I don't feel like cooking this week. These will be used in salads throughout week.

The four small lettuce heads that I showed you last week have really been enjoying all of the rain we have been getting. They've grown so much.

In other gardening news:

I am trying get some of my rose bush prunings to root.

One of my sweet potatoes has delivered me three slips (with roots); only 12 more to go.

We also got the tomato bed started. Our frost free date is 3/15; but looking at the forecast, we won't get below about 60 all week. So I set them out (they've been hardened for a month now). I am able to protect them if the need arises. The tomato bed has Cherokee Purple and Black Cherry planted along the trellis, celery planted down the center with Basil, more basil at one end, and (on tomorrow) Heinz and Roma. They will be caged to get more vertical growth.
The trellis was made with plastic bamboo stakes and garden netting. I put the stakes every 2' and connected the netting with garden velcro. This setup cost me about $19. The plastic should last over 10 years and the garden netting is reuseable as well. So, I expect to get a lot of years out of this. Plus, I should be able to grow about 4 tomato plants on this one trellis; so that is about $5 per plant - which is  great, as even the small tomato cages cost at least that. We'll see how this set up works and if there are any tweaks needed in the future.

The potatoes have emerged.

Collards are looking good and popping up everywhere.

Even outside of the bed....can you see them.....look behind the garlic...not that far back...just behind the garlic...center of the picture....yep, that's the runaway collard.

We got 2 of the bean trellis' put up. We've got 2 or 4 more to do...depending on how many peas I decide to grow. Each trellis will grow 21 plants spaced 6" apart.
The trellis is made of cedar furring strips and garden netting. The netting is connected to the strips using garden velcro; which is reuseable. So this trellis should last several years. Each trellis cost about $12. Not bad for something that will last a while. I wish I could have thought of a cheaper set up though. Last year, the peas completely took down the 4' bamboo stick teepees I made for them....what was I thinking...4'?

So all in all, I believe that this is The Beginning of Something Wonderful.

Check out more wonderful gardening harvests and adventures over at Daphne's.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Surprises, Agony, and Crap

So which do you want first? The Surprise, The Agony, or The Crap.

Well since this is a Harvest Monday post; I guess I'll start with the Surprise....since my harvest was a surprise.

This weekend's garden task was to get the beds tilled and ready for Spring planting. Our last frost date is March 15th and given the winter we've all had (and the 10 day forecast); it is probably safe to say that we've already had our last frost for the year. So we need to get a move on it.

One of my beds had a few weeds in it, so I decided to pull those by hand. I pull and tug and tug and pull and out comes a turnip! What the!? So you mean these 'weeds' are actually turnips? Yep. I planted turnips there in early November. But I thought they had failed to germinate. Well, I guess they germinated some time over the winter and what I had been thinking were weeds were actually turnips. I went ahead and pulled them all and blanched them. The house smelled heavenly!

In the end, I had two servings of turnip greens and two servings of turnips. Not to great for a 4x8 bed; but not to shabby for a bed left for weeds months ago :).

Which brings me to the Crap. After pulling my turnip weeds (lol), I still had to get the bed ready for planting next week. As you know, I am dealing with heavy clay that has not been amended; as this is only my 2nd spring garden and I've expanded. So task number 1 was to amend this soil; with what else: Crap. Yea, buts it was free crap from a nearby horse stable. The horse owner stacks this stuff behind the stable and it basically sits there. My neighbor let us use his truck and we got a truck full. I wasn't sure how aged it would be; but I was pleasantly surprised. It was just like dirt; there were a few chunks in there that were still wet. But overall, this will work perfectly.

So after shoveling crap from truck bed to wheel barrel. Rolling it about 100'. Dumping it. Tilling it in. Raking it smooth. Times 5 --- 4x8 garden beds + the kid's 16x8 garden bed. We now have 5 beautiful garden beds ready for planting.

Now as I sit here typing this entry......oh the Agony! I feel it. All. Over.

See how other gardeners are fairing with their harvest over at Daphne's.

Oh! I had one more surprise! I pulled a Romaine Lettuce about two weeks ago. I just twisted the head off and left the root. Well.....guess what.....the root (or whatever I left in the ground), is now growing 4 heads. You can see where I pulled the lettuce from the center of the 4 new 'heads'. Cool! Is this what is called a bumper crop?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Soil Make a HUGE Difference


I guess some people have to learn the hard way.

I have read that soil is very important is growing vegetables. I've seen the side-by-side pictures of plants that were grown in basic soil and those grown in miracle grow soil.

I started my Cherokee Purple tomatoes 4 weeks before my other tomatoes because I wanted to save seed from them; thus I wanted them to flower well ahead of the others. I heeded the advice above and bought seed starting mix and the CPs got off to a great start. But, when it was time to transplant them into bigger containers, I figured that I could use a mix of garden soil and some top soil that I had left from last season.

Fast forward 8 weeks. I started my other tomatoes in the seed starting mix and transplanted them into a mixture of garden soil and sphagum (sp?). Not only have they surpassed the size of my CPs, but my CPs don't look as though they have grown since I transplanted them.
Heinz and Roma
Cherokee Purple - 4 weeks older than the Heinz/Roma

I still didn't get it. Perhaps they just grew slower than I thought?

Well two days ago, I stuck my finger in one of the CP containers to see if it needed watering and it felt like I hit concrete. The soil was so hard and compacted; I was like NO WONDER. The next day, I replanted all the CPs into the sphagum mix and I will be spraying with Fish Meal periodically to get them back on track. Some had roots on the outside of the container and some had barely no roots at all. I hope its not too late to try and save some CP seed :(.