About Us

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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spring Crops are Starting to Come In

The first harvests from spring planted crops are coming in.

I pulled in big bowl of Red Sails and Little Ceasar Romaine lettuce. Most of it was used for salads, but some of it made it onto our burgers.
Its been a few days since I cut the lettuce to just above ground level and they are already of harvestable size again. (the left two were harvested from)

I also harvested some spring planted carrots. These were planted in my grow box. Their fairly thin and average about 6" long. This amounts to about two servings of carrots.
But if you remember our earlier harvest of 'carrots'--see pic below, then you know that this is a VAST improvement for us. At least we got some orange this time. The carrots above were planted in top soil; they were an experiment so I didn't invest a lot of money in soil. I have since amended my soil with free composted horse manure, so I should have better success in future plantings.
The big harvest this week was the (fall-planted) garlic.
Some of the garlic that I planted from the grocery store grew scapes! We only planted one bulb (seven cloves); so we only have seven scapes. I assume they are hardnecks bc they grew scapes. Hardnecks aren't supposed to grow well here, but these did fine in a mild winter. I will definitely replant some. Now I wish we had more because I want to try making some garlic scape pesto. We tasted one of the scapes raw and it was very flavorful and somewhat spicy. We decided to saute it with some olive oil and seasoning.
I wasn't sure if some of the garlic that we harvested was ready because it still had a lot of green leaves. However, the green leaves were all new leaves. The older outer leaves were dying off and the newer inner leaves seemed to be from cloves growing inside other cloves. You can see this in the photo below on the left and there is a close up in the photo on the right. So I said we better pull them because it looks like the cloves are splitting. Not sure what brought this on, but it happened on every single planting of the Inchelium Red garlic that was refrigerated before planted. I also have some Inchelium Red that was not refrigerated before planting that is not 'suffering' from splitting. It is still planted.
Here are a couple of close ups of the bulbs after we pulled them. You can see what looks like three seperate bulbs forming on this one. I promise you that I only planted one clove per hole.
In this photo, the seperating bulbs are clearer. You can see that there is (was) one outer bulb wrapped around two inner bulbs.
All of the harvested garlic is now hanging in the garage to cure.

And here is a closer look at some of the bulbs. All of the bulbs are a respectable size --- about what you get in a grocery store, some slightly smaller. There are some larger bulbs, but they are all still out in the garden.

I'll weigh everything once things are cleaned up and cured.
Check out more harvests over at Daphne's Dandelions!

Friday, April 27, 2012

What a Difference a Net Makes

My artichoke, basil, and okra were being eaten about as fast as they could grow. After 4 weeks of being planted in the garden, none of them had put on much growth.

So out came my tulle.

I covered my basil with tulle for the last week and a half. However, I missed one of the plants. Here are the two plants side-by-side. The larger one was the one that was covered. You can even see where the older leaves were being chewed on. The smaller one was not covered (but it is now). I think I'll keep the covers on another two weeks to let the basil get large enough to fend for itself.
I also covered the artichoke. You can see how the older leaves (the one pointing to the right) were being munched on. The newer leaves don't have a bite on them. Yay! This is the largest they have gotten. I'll probably need to keep the tulle on these for a month or so. I love artichoke, so I sure hope they produce :).
My squash is currently untouched. BUT! I thumbed a squash bug off one this week. I gave each squash plant a foil collar. This was to prevent squash vine borers from boring in the stem, but it's also supposed to be a deterrant because the reflection from the foil makes the bugs uncomfortable, so they move on. We will see. I have some nasturium planted which is supposed to repel squash bugs, but it's not blooming yet and it may be planted too far away.
And what about my potatoes and those ants. Well, they are winning the battle, but I hope to win the war. Too bad tulle netting won't work on them. They're small enough to find a way in. The pepper and cinnamon haven't worked. Continuously disrupting the mound did work, but they just moved further into the potato bed. I think I may lose another potato due to this...next time I know to set up an ant barrier around my potato bed because evicting them as proven very difficult. Last night we tried Neem Oil. I read that it is supposed to be effective on ants. I typically use spraying as a last resort because sprays also affect beneficials. In this case, there are no beneficials in my potato bed and I am losing my crop, so spraying is warranted. Neem Oil is also a natural product.
The black at the bottom of the stem is dirt.
So, if you are looking for a nonspraying way to fight pests, then tulle seems to be very effective against everything except ants. I used this tulle as a frost cover in the fall; now I have a summer use for it :).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Around the Garden

As I was walking around the garden this week, I saw a few things that I thought that I would share.

Call me silly, but I am amazed at how these beans are climbing the trellis netting that I provided for them. I simply hung the trellis and planted a bean under each vertical string. This places them about 7" apart. I find it fascinating that they 'grab' onto the string and begin climbing it without any assistance from me. In a way, its like they're....intelligent. A few naughty beans grabbed on to their neighbor's string, but for the most part, they are all well behaved.

The first tomatoes of the season are developing. All of my bush (celebrity, heinz, roma) plants have tomatoes on them. They are all about two feet tall right now. I am contemplating pulling these premature toms to allow the plants to get a little larger before they start blooming. Determinates only bloom for a limited time and I want more blooms before they decide to stop growing. None of my indeterminates have tomatoes yet.
My spring planted onions are starting to flower...just a few of them. They were an experiment to see if I could plant them in spring. I bought small onion plants, planted them in January, and hoped they would have time to bulb before the spring heat arrived. Looks like these will all end up being scallions.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

And.....the Battle Begins

One of the consequences of the mild winter that we all just enjoyed is going to be an increase in bug activity. The winter just didn't get cold enough for long enough to knock their numbers down....this is what we are being told.

I can testify that the bugs of summer have already arrived in my garden. The evidence is already very clear.

I've even had to through a net over my basil because they were being eaten as fast as they could grow.
I included a couple of nearby toms in the net's cover because I have already pulled off two tobacco worms. They didn't show up until May last year!
My poor, beautiful potato plants are being taken down one-by-one.
At first I thought disease. But I researched and ruled out every disease possible. All the leaves were green and healthy---stem included. Then DH noticed there were a lot of ants in the potato bed. I thought ants were harmless, but after a quick google, I saw other gardeners with wilted potato plants just like mine and they discovered that it was the ants. One gardener dug up their wilted potatoes and found that the ants were even attacking the new potatoes. From their experience, the ants suck the sap out of the plants which cause the collapse. Some gardeners say ants are harmless and others testify that ants have and will attack the veggies. Both are probably right....it probably depends on what kind of ants you have and what crops you are growing. They're more opportunistic than anything and a freshly hilled potato bed was perfect for them.
This poses a huge problem. How do you get rid of the ants without sacrificing our whole potato crop. Can't use anything that can poision the potatoes; but have to use something that will get rid of all the ants. So, we decided to try our best to make the potato bed as uncomfortable for them as possible. We first disrupted their comfy surroundings and sent them scrambling. Then we (heavily) sprinkled the bed with cinnamon and pepper and then laid several dying cilantro branches on top. We hope these scents drive them away. I will be disrupting their mound twice a day until they are gone. Believe it our not, I have found this to be very effective. Anytime I find an ant mound in a spot I don't want it. I just kick the mound in and level it. I maybe have to do this twice before they get the message and move on. No sprays, ntohing.
Here's our potato bed after all the sprinkling and laying of dying cilantro branches:
I would be very worried right now if it wasn't for two of my buddies. You see the mild winter didn't affect the lady bugs and spiders either. So within two days of pulling those worms off my tomatoes, I saw spider webs in the tomato bed. You think those belong to my friend from the shower? Lady bugs have also been a constant sight in the garden. My 5-year old was recently walking across the yard very focused. I asked what he was doing and he said 'I'm moving this lady bug to our garden'. I was so proud :).
I've also got a couple of secret weapons. Companion Planting. We'll see how they do. But so far, the squash plants are untouched....as they are surrounded by an army of garlic:
The garlic will be coming out in a few/couple weeks. I hope the nasturium is ready to take over when that happens.
I have BT and Neem on hand, but I really want to try to not spray at all and let natural enemies do my fighting. We'll see.....Let the Battle Begin!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fall-Spring Garden Review

Now that I have pulled all the fall planted crops and planted the summer crops. I wanted to take a moment to review the fall garden.

My goal was to harvest brassicas, carrots, and lettuce from November - March. This did not work out at all. Really, I had one major issue: my germination rates were abysmal.

This bed should be full of broccoli and cabbage
 My family loves brassicas, so I've got to get this figured out. I would like to harvest them from October - April in the future. Our springs are too hot for most brassicas (the Texas A&M cooperative suggests them as fall crops only). Any mature brassicas that overwintered have bolted.
A Bolted Broccoli Plant...sure is pretty

Here's a PYO farm that has the Texas spring figured out. He's got lots of brassicas ready to harvest this April. So to have a successful spring crop, I gather that your brassicas need to be about half way to maturity by the first of March. Then they can mature during March and be ready for harvest in April.

So here is what I learned / will do differently to have a more successful fall-spring crop next year:

1. Improve Germination Rates : Start Seeds indoors - the soil in Aug-Sept is too warm for the fall crops to germinate. Many of the seeds laid there and germinated in Oct/Nov when they didn't have a chance to get large enough to survive winter.

2. Succession Sowing - Because growth rates are so variable during the fall - spring months, I am unsure as to when to plant for a Nov / Mar harvest. So this year I will sow on a 2-4 week schedule and keep good notes on which do better.

3. Remember Day Light Savings - last year I totally ignored the fact that the days got shorter in October. We don't get our first frost here until just beforeThanksgiving, so I thought I had plenty of time; but once it started getting dark at 5:30 pm, I knew my crops didn't have a chance to get any significant growth before the frosts started. So the few that did germinate where killed by the first frosts.

4. Fertilize. Fertilize. Fertilize. - Fall crops need nitrogen; something my soil is low in. So I will definitely need to be more diligent in fertilizing before planting and a couple of times during the growing season.

So if I am able to do these things, I think I will have a much more successful fall crop. But, my fall garden from last years gets an F.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What? A Harvest?

Last week I stated that I would not be able to participate in Harvest Monday for a few weeks because my over-wintered crops were done and my spring crops aren't quite ready.

Well, looks like my garden had other plans.....

Yep, I decided to pull up some of my garlic. I pulled six bulbs; half of them are about the size you would buy in the grocery store and the other half are slightly smaller. I'll weight them after they have dried.

Last week, they all still had at least 6 leaves, so I figured I had a couple more weeks to go. I wanted to pull them when they had 4-5 leaves left. Well, this week some were down to 4 or 5! So out they came.

The garlic that was pulled was all the same variety. Unfortunately, I don't know what that variety is because it was the garlic that I bought at the grocery store. But, it grew scapes, so I am guessing a hardneck.

One more thing that I wanted to share: my potatoes are flowering...already?

Hop on over to Daphne's to enjoy more harvests from around the world.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Garlic Progress

So my garlic is coming along nicely. I have been reading about when to harvest it. From what I have found, this should be done when 4-6 leaves are left. The leaves represent wrappers around the clove and you want several wrappers left in tact to ad storage. I went out to check my garlic and all of them have a dead leaf or two; but all of them also still have 6-8 live leaves. So I will continue to watch every day (I read that as the weather warms, those leaves could go quickly). But looks like I will have garlic very soon. I have 6-9 different varieties planted and looks like some are closer than others.

While out counting leaves, I noticed some other interesting developments as well:

On the left set of the pictures, you see garlic that appears to have multiple cloves developing. Like a clove within a clove or clove next to a clove. I say this because there seems to be a seperate set of leaves developing. Has anyone seen this before? It is only happening with one or two varieties.

Top right is my elephant garlic with scapes. Hmmm. I think I may harvest those scapes OR do I want the bulbits since elephant garlic is so expensive to buy?

Bottom right is garlic with scapes! I circled the scapes. I didn't expect any scapes because they don't occur on softnecks. However, these scapes are occuring on the grocery store garlic that I planted, so who knows what variety that is. So I may have a harvest to share next monday afterall :).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Harvest Monday Preview

This will most likely be the last harvest monday that I will be able to participate in for a while because my garden is very young right now. Everything is planted and digging in roots for Harvests to come.

However, I did want to use this (slow) week to give you a preview of harvests that will soon come. So, please join me on a tour of our garden....and harvests to come....

Here is an aerial view of our garden.

Our garden consists of 12 beds with a walking row in between. At the end of some of the walking rows is another small bed that is used for seed saving plants that have to remain in the garden longer. The gardens are slightly larger than they look.

I'll start the tour with the kid's garden.
The pumpkin is Atlantic Giant. The tomatoes will grow up the stakes and be heavily pruned. These are extra tomatoes; so I want to see the difference between pruning and not pruning. The gourds and pumpkin will be allowed to crawl on the ground. The artichoke are rather small; I sure hope I get a harvest later this summer though...we'll see.

Here are the beds in the main garden --- two at a time.
 My beds are on a 3-year rotation. So Bed 1 is on the year where it is planted with a ground cover that will feed the soil...like a legume. In Bed 2: The okra is planted to the west of the peppers; so I hope they will shade the peppers and eggplant from late afternoon sun; which is generally about 100 degrees.

 Bed 3: The spring planted onions will probably end up being bunching onions. I am pretty sure they won't bulb before it gets hot(ter). All of the summer squash has germinated and I expect the garlic to be pulled before they get too big. You see the lower leaves are starting to die.

I won't heavily prune these toms, so we'll see how they compare to the toms in  the boys garden. The Heinz and Roma toms are both bush and the Roma is already starting to flower...so it won't be long now.

Bed 7 is an edible cover crop. I will be trying black eye peas from the store because I can't find any seeds. The potatoes have been hilled twice now. I really hope we get a great harvest.

Bed 9 is interesting. The plan is to grow popcorn in the center, allow pumpkin to grow along the ground, and cucumbers up the trellis. The fall planted onion should be pulled soon and out of the way. Bed 10 is a cover crop.

Bed 11 is sweet potatoes. I put my slips out a little early and then covered them to heat it up. I pulled the cover back just an hour later because it had gotten too hot. I read that they like the lows to be 65 and up. We are still having lows in the 60s. But I won't have time the next few weeks, so I had to get them out. I am growing more slips just in case. We have a long season here, so there is some room for error. In Bed 12, we plan to grow popcorn in the center, allow the watermelon to cover the ground, and canteloupe up the trellis. You can see at the end of the walking row between the two beds is a broccoli plant that has flowered and is now producing seeds. Its a hybrid, but I just want to experiment with de-hybridizing it bc it did SO well for me. I got lots of broccoli from this one plant. Plus its a Packman variety; which has been taken over by Montso (may have misspelled that).

So, there's my garden and a preview of  the harvests to come. I hope they start rolling in soon; but realistically, I think we are a few weeks away. The garlic will probably be first; looks like maybe a little less than a month.

Perhaps there are some gardeners with actual harvests....check them out over at Daphne's.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Another Homemade Trellis

Earlier this spring, I built a tomato trellis out of plastic bamboo stakes and garden netting. I also built a pea trellis from cedar furring strips and garden netting.

Now I bring to you a trellis for my cucumbers and canteloupe. These could be used for any vining crop (ignore the PVC in the background, those were for my hoop houses:

There is some onion in the way of my cucumbers right now, but I expect to be pulling those soon enough.

From the side view, you can see that these only take up about 12-18" of horizontal garden space; but give 7 total feet of vertical space.

They are made from 1 1/2" x 1/2" cedar furring strips cut to 4' in length. We then cut an 'arrow' on the ends to make them easier to drive into the ground.

We drilled a screw hole into the other end of each stake, so that the legs of the trellis were moveable.

Thus, we can make this system wider or narrower as we see fit.

Finally, we tied some garden netting to the stakes as supports for the growing vines. These trellis give us about 3 1/2' of vertical growing height on each side for a total of 7'.

It cost me about $5 to make and should last several growing seasons. The best thing about it is that it folds flat for easy storage!