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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Allies in War

Sometimes you have to go on defense:

Take that Squash Bugs! (tulle covering a pumpkin plant)
And sometimes you have to go on offense:
Take that hornworms and whatever else!
I've also got:
- some wasps that I believe are affecting the cucumber beetles because since the wasp have shown up, I've been hard pressed to see a beetle.
- a frog/toad. I saw it once....actually it scared the crap out of me, but I didn't have my camera. I know its still out there somewhere. It and the spider are probably the reason I have seen no hornworms this year.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

When to pull an Onion?

The only information that I could find about when to pull an onion stated that you pull it when it falls over at the neck. So I went out and pulled every onion that had fallen at the neck. Those onions looked a lot like the 1st onion in the picture.
At this point I wondered if I had planted the onions too late. Couldn't have? All the nurseries were selling the onion plants so they would know right (in Jan for North Texas)?
I finally found something that said to wait about two weeks after they had fallen at the neck. So I did that with the next set and they looked like the middle onion.
Ok. Now we are looking more like an onion; though still small.
I now acknowledge that several sites did say that you should wait until the tops had died or the onions popped above the soil. However, all of my tops were still green when they fell over. So I decided that for the last few that were out there, I would just wait...until. Until what? I didn't know, but there were only a few and I was just going to see what happened.
Well, I waited and waited and finally the tops of these onions started popping above the soil. And they were whoppers. The tops had fallen at the neck at least 3-4 weeks ago. The tops were still green. I keep waiting. It finally became clear that they were no longer growing, so I pulled them and out came the last onion (in the picture). A whopping 4" across (forgive the camera angle, but it is 4" across).
So when to pull an onion?
Well, first be sure not to bury it too deep when you are planting so that it will bulb. Then, don't pull them until you can see them. If they haven't popped out from under the soil, then leave them alone (or take a peak / pull one just to see). Even after you can see them, just watch them for a while...you'll know when they are done. Just make sure they have fallen over at the necks and the neck is soft and dry. The stem may still be green; mine never did die off.
The rest of our onions are still curing, but I'll share the harvest once they are done.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes

We've been hauling in tomatoes by the wheelbarrow. By the end of this week, I'll have another load.

Here's a look at the tomato bed after the last major picking. They're starting to age, but you can see they have another load on them ripening as I type. With the heat we are experiencing, they'll be ripe before weeks end.

We had to do something with all these tomatoes before they started to go bad. The freezer is pretty full as is, so we went ahead and spent last weekend canning.

I'll start with the salsa (actually made a couple of weeks ago). This is our first year growing Cherokee Purple and we love them! They are nice and meaty...

perfect for .......

Yep. Salsa. This salsa was absolutely delicious...tasting better about 2 days later. We used Annie's Salsa recipe (scroll to very last post for the bath-water version of the recipe) which is a version of one of the recipes in the USDA guidebook.
We used the roma's to make more paste.
This paste will be used as paste (of course), but also to make ketchup and bbq sauce later.
We used the CP and Heinz to make sauce.
I went to bed and didn't realize that DH used quart jars to make sauce! So when we open them, we'll have to freeze what isn't used.
The Celebrity teamed up with garden grown bell peppers, onions, and garlic to make some Sofrito ( a Latin dish).
We later added rice to finish the meal.
I didn't get a picture, but we also used the Celebrity and my lone cuke to make some gazpacho.
We ran out of steam, so we've still got more tomatoes and canning to do. We will be using the rest of the Celebrity to make stewed tomatoes and chopped tomatoes to can.
As for those left on the bushes....anybody need tomatoes?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Last Week was Nothing

Last week I showed you a counter full of tomatoes. Well, last week pales in comparison to this week. I couldn't even get them on the counter this week.

I brought in two of these:
It was pretty awesome. We've processed them all too. I'll share that later this week.
Here are the totals:

Believe it or not, I've already started my fall tomatoes (Aunt Lou's Underground Railroad, Brandywine, Amish Paste, Rutgers, and Indigo Rose):
As you can see in the weather chart (right sidebar), we have officially hit 100 degree weather and it will stick around at least until mid-August. So I don't expect much more from my toms; I see very few new blooms. We had a great year! No insect problems and no disease; but they are declining. Oh well, such is life....the next generation has been preserved:
Shinangans By the Kids:
Check out more wonderful harvest at Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tomatoes are Peaking

The garden is running on all cylinders  now. The harvests are coming in fast and furious. This week puts us over the 100 lb mark for the year (see tally in right sidebar). ALL HANDS ON DECK!
The harvest is coming in by the bucket full and barrel full. (sorry kids we only need it for a minute)
Some things are collectively large.
Some things are individually large. (how did 4 people miss this monster)
We're even harvesting more than just food.
From earlier this week.
From Saturday.
Yea, I would say that the tomatoes are definitely peaking.
View more garden harvests at Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tomato Paste and Sauce

Tomatoes are coming out of the garden by the basketful now. We've got tomatoes ripening on our counter as we speak. We will try our best not to get behind this year and lose any of our produce. Last year we ended up freezing a bunch of tomatoes and canned them later. This year, we are being more proactive.

We took our Roma tomatoes and made a nice tomato paste. First we blanched them.
Then we milled them using an attachment on our KitchenAid mixer (This made it SO easy and quick and removed all of the seeds and skins! Big bowl is the sauce; small bowl is the skin and seeds).
Then we baked the paste down to the desired consistency.
We then poured the mixture into these containers we use for freezing liquids. This is what 3-4 lbs of Roma tomatoes cooked down to...SMH.

Lastly, we pop the frozen liquid out of those containers into freezer bags. This way we can pull out a cup at a time.

We followed the exact same steps for tomato sauce. However, we added 2 cloves of our homegrown garlic, about 1/4 cup of olive oil, and salt and italian seasoning to taste. If I had any (Olive Garden) breadsticks this sauce may not have made it into the freezer. It was delicious and the garlic gave it the kick it needed!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Harvest Preview

The garden is in drive mode right now. Some things are starting to slow down a bit, others are ripening / peaking, and others are just ramping up.

Believe it our not, our tomatoes are starting to peak. This is from Sunday alone:
North Texas gets too hot for them and the flowers usually start dropping just after the 4th of July due to excessive heat. By that time, we've gotten a nice harvest and started our fall tomatoes indoors (too hot outdoors).

My squash have slowed down due to squash bug, SVB, and cucumber beetle attack. But to be honest with you, I am ok with it. I have 16 spaghetti squash and 6 butternut squash maturing. So I just need the vines to stay alive along enough to ripen those. They have put on lots of color in the last few days; I guess the vines are putting their last bit of energy into ripening the fruit. I got 2 acorn squash and have another one ripening. I do wish I had more of these. The summer squash is making a comeback after I reburied their stems, but I've gotten 20 pounds from them already .... mostly zucchini.

I have two baby cantaloupe growing. I sure hope I get more. I have them wrapped in tulle which I remove twice per week for pollination purposes. I know this will decrease my yield, but at least they will stay alive long enough to give me a yield.

My okra is just getting started. Still coming in by the handful, but I'll see bowls of them soon enough.

I grabbed a handful of (southern) peas this week and more are on the way. Woooo Whooo!

The beans are gone. I yanked them. That last rain did them in. Not a leaf left on them. You can see the bush beans on the bottom right were severely affected as well and the bush beans on the bottom left were basically done giving their harvest anyway.

The eggplant are producing at least two per plant right now. I have at least 10 growing right now.

The peppers are small but georgeous. They are smaller than grocery store; maybe 3-5" long. But the plants are also short; still only about 18" tall. They will stop flowering soon. Unlike the tomatoes, we don't pull these when they stop flowering. They will stay nice and green (though flowerless) and keep growing through the hottest part of the summer. Then when temps start to die back down to the 90s, they start producing again. This 'second season' of production is usually better that the first because the plants are larger and more mature. I may try to overwinter a few this year.

Harvests over the next few weeks should be interesting. I just hope they keep cranking out through June and early July.

There are more gardeners sharing their experiences at the Tuesday Garden Party.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Exciting Harvest Monday

This week's harvest was plentiful. We harvested so much that I can't even include it all in this post, so be sure to check back later in the week.

I also didn't get a picture of everything, so in some instances, the picture probably doesn't include all that was harvested this week; however, the pounds harvested are accurate.

Feast your eyes on this :)!!!!! (Sorry about the small font on some pictures, I'm still playing around with my formats and didn't realize how much blogger would shrink this photo to fit it in the screen).

Continue your eye buffet over at Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Garden Close Up and Analysis - Part II

Bed 7: Peas
We southerners love our peas! For us, peas aren't green and they aren't green pods. What northerners call 'peas', we call 'green peas'. What northerners call cowpeas / southern peas, we call 'peas'. Our 'peas' are black-eyes peas, purple-hull peas, cream peas. Our 'green peas' are snow peas and green peas. Peas (southern) are the one thing that do just fine in Texas heat, so I planted them later in the season and will harvest them throughout the summer. They have already started producing pods...can't wait.

Bed 8: Potatoes
This was my first attempt at growing potatoes and I wouldn't say it was a failure, but I also wouldn't call it a success either. I mean, I declared war on an imaginary enemy, had to then declare a truce, and I am still confused. All I know is that I did not harvest as much as I'd hoped for, but I did have a decent harvest...with half a bed still left to harvest. I will definitely try again this fall. I will also solarize this soil over the next two months just in case that really was a fungus.

Bed 9: Cucumbers, Popcorn, and Pumpkin
The plan for this bed was that the cukes would grow up the trellis, the pumpkin would vine along the ground under the popcorn. Well the cukes aren't climbing and the pumpkin isn't vining. Cucumbers aren't natural climbers; they have to be trained...every. single. day. The Wee-B-Little pumpkin appears to be a bush because it ain't vining. Oh well. The cucumber beetles have found the cucumbers. So much so, that today is the first day that I should be harvesting from them and their vine is barely a foot long. I decided to cover them with tulle to see if this gives them enough relief to produce at least one jar of pickles.

Update: Its been a couple days since I took that pic and the cucumbers are now taking off!

Bed 10: Cover Crop Wheat
The wheat is actually ready. I just don't know what to do with it. I am supposed to be tilling it into the ground to get the ground ready for a late summer planting, but I don't want to waste the wheat berries. But I don't want to thresh and sift them either. So there they stand.

Bed 11: Sweet Potatoes
I sure hope this crop does better than the potato crop. It probably will just because we don't eat them as often. That's ok, I'll take some sweet potato fries. This is another pretty vine that could easily grow in a front bed without sticking out.

Bed 12: Melons and Popcorn
The plan here is similar to Bed 9. The canteloupe is to climb the trellis, the watermelon is to vine along the groung under the popcorn. The canteloupe are climbing with some help and the melons are vining with no help at all. Here, the corn didn't have a great germination rate, but that is ok because I think I overplanted the melons and they would probably choke the corn anyway. I hope for 3-4 melons and maybe 6-9 canteloupes.

Had to protect them from the cucumber beetles.
Since protecting the cantaloupe, the melons seem to have come under attack. Now they need protecting too. Sheesh. I'm out of tulle. Where's my 50% off coupon for Joanns? Still cheaper and more effective than spraying I guess.

Garden Closeup and Analysis - Part 1

I realized that the garden tour I gave last week was limited to an overall look at the garden. You can get an idea of how the plants have changed in a months time, but you get very few details.

This post is about the details. Since my garden is very close to its summer peak, now would be a nice time to show more details. Close to peak you ask? Yes, I'm in Texas; 100+ degree weather is just around the corner, almost nothing grows in that. So I tried to plan things so that most of my crops produced mostly in June and July. It's June, so let's see how my plan is working.

The Kid's Garden
I really should stop calling it this because they help in all the beds, but aren't really old enough to have their own bed yet. They are currently learning how to properly harvest without yanking up the whole plant and how not to trample the plants while harvesting.

Spinning Gourds to make fun toys for them.
Birdhouse gourds...another fun family craft.
I had to cover the pumpkin which was basically dead before I covered it. Hopefully it can rebound now.

Bed 1
This is a new bed this spring and has virgin soil. It is going to be a legume cover crop in a week or so, but until I could plant that, I decided to practice growing spring broccoli and lettuce and cabbage. The lettuce has bolted and the broccoli is heading and bolting at the same time. This cabbage is heading, but may bolt before the head is done. I would say that I am done with spring planted brassicas.

Bed 2: Peppers, Okra, and Eggplant
The okra had a rough start as it was being eaten as fast as it could grow. I finally decided to cover it with tulle and that gave it the relief it needed to put on size. The harvest has started to trickle in. Okra gumbo, seafood gumbo, and fried okra are in my future. All Smiles.

The eggplant is beautiful and it is producing nicely. Here are 3 on one plant. Most plants have 2.

The fish pepper is fairly slow growing to me, but it is beautiful and could be planted in a front bed without standing out. I have a lot of small peppers that aren't starting to color at all yet. A couple plants are scarce; so multiple plantings is probably a requirement. Some plants aren't as varigated as others either. I'll only save seed from the most varigated plants.

The carnival mix peppers have been impressive. I would call these prolific. They aren't 24" tall and several of them have over 5 bell peppers on them. They are producing more than we can eat. The purple and cream colored ones color up fast. The red and orange ones are still fully green. It will be interesting to see how much these produce by the end of summer. Here is a look at 6 on one plant; they range from about 3-5" long and about 3" across.

Bed 3: Summer Squash
This bed has been under serious attack by cucumber beetles and squash bugs. Those beetles are the worse. I need to find a way to extinguish them! I think we have fought the squash bugs off fairly well by handpicking and hunting for their eggs. At one point, it looked like this bed was a goner, but it has really bounced back in the last few days. What did we do? We reburied all the dying stems. I would guess that new roots have been laid and that is what is causing the rebound because all the nice, new growth is just beyond where we reburied the stems.

Bed 4: Beans
I thought that beans were easy to grow. At least the peas were last year. The beans have bean rust and are a huge disappointment. The pole beans have no leaves. The bush beans are just now catching the rust. I am researching what to do. The picture below is nice compared to what the beans look like today. We just had two days of rain and the beans are a total loss. We will be clearing them out today. Even the pods are a loss.

Bed 5: Tomatoes! Heinz, Roma, Cherokee Purple, and Black Cherry
This bed has been a pure delight thus far. I pulled one tobacco worm very early in the season and I haven't seen one since. I haven't even seen any damage from them. Though, I have seen plenty of spiders. So I would say nature is at balance in this bed. The leaves (for the most part) are still healthy and green. Only the black cherry looks like it may be trying to get a little sick. But, these look good and should make it to mid-July with no problem.

Well, that was the case anyway. Now we've had two days of rain and check out my -were green- tomato leaves now. The good news is that this yellowing is not widespread. The bad news is that I can't prune these out without exposing my toms to the sun (sunscald). I need these to produce over the next month because by mid-July it will be too hot for them to flower (100+).

Bed 6: Winter Squash
Perhaps Bed 3 is rebounding because all the squash bugs moved to this bed. Now this bed is looking sick and on its last leg. There are plenty of winter squash out there for us; we just need them to mature. We have more than we would eat in a year as is. The only one lacking is the acorn squash. There are only two of those out there. So now, we will employ the methods used in Bed 3 in this Bed.

Below you see one of the damaged vines. We sprayed with BT and buried it. I am not concerned because this is what my summer bed looked like before it was re-buried. Also....Check out my YES!!!! post.