Saturday, August 7, 2010

Everything else in the garden

We generally have a whole bed dedicated to peppers, another to tomatoes, another to alliums, another to squash, and then, finally, a collection of smaller spots for everything else. This post is about the Everything Else crops.

The herbs have done well this year. Chives and sage and oregano and thyme and rosemary and dill. Most are past their peak now, although the sage tends to get a second growth spurt after its blossom cycle is completed. The dill (self-seeded true, unlike the squash!) has been abundant.

The basil went in late (due to the rainy, cold spring), but the July heat spurred some good growth. A friend had a lot of trouble with bug damage to his basil this year, and we had some while the seedlings were on the deck, waiting to go to the garden, so we ended up with fewer plants than usual.

The lettuce (green simpson and red sails) has been thriving in planters on my co-gardener's deck, even through the extended July heat wave. We're planning to do more lettuce (and tatsoi) planters on my deck next year, although mine gets less sun than hers does, which might actually be good for the lettuce, in terms of providing some shade during the hottest weather.

The beans only went into the ground recently. Whatever was eating the bssil seedlings also did some serious damage to the first batch of bean plants direct-seeded in the garden, and then to the replacement seedlings in peat pots on the deck. The potted seedlings have recovered (unlike the ones in the garden), and are now settling into a corner of what was the allium bed.

One more, that I almost forgot, because it's tucked into hidden areas of the garden and yard: swiss chard (the Bright Lights variety). It went in late, most of it is in relatively shady spots, and some of it is in a container that we tend to forget exists. We have probably a dozen plants, half in the garden and half in the container. They always seem to grow slowly until late August, when they're gorgeous.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hybrid surprises

No butternut squash this year, and that's my favorite squash. I was grieving until it dawned on me that it was actually possible to buy buttnernut squash at the grocery store or, even better, at the farmer's market. I never think of it as something to buy, just as something to grow.

The reason there's no butternut this year is that I'd forgotten about squash's proclivity to hybridize. We grew four varieties last year: butternut, spaghetti, yellow and zucchini. This spring, I threw the seeds of the last remaining butternut and spaghetti (which were no longer edible) in two different patches of the garden, and expected to get butternut and spaghetti plants. I've usually had pretty good luck throwing old butternuts into the compost heap and getting volunteer butternut plants.

Not this year. Instead, we have two patches of plants, each of which is a different hybrid of winter and summer squashes. I think we'll find at the end of the season that some of them are spaghetti squashes, and some are pretty obviously summer squashs, but I'm not seeing anything with the distinctive shape of a butternut.

Fortunately, we planted some of the yellow squash from commercial seeds, and they're growing true. We also have one zucchini plant, again from commercial seeds. We grew just one zuke intentionally this year; I'm finally -- after 50 years! -- learning my lesson about zucchini, since all I want is enough to make a single annual batch of zucchini bread or muffins.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I'm a writer, and whenever I go to workshops on storytelling, someone is bound to talk about peeling back the layers of an onion to get at the core of a character or a story. It makes me crazy every time they say it.

Admittedly, I'm metaphor-impaired, but I know my onions. And if you peel back all the layers of the onion -- there's nothing left!

The onions this year are, on average, a little smaller than last year. Or maybe it's just that there's a wider range of sizes, from substantial to puny.

There are a number of likely explanations. Last year was overwhelmingly rainy, including during the critical phase when the onions are storing up all their energy in the bulb. This year, the rain was good EXCEPT during that critical couple of weeks. Also, the onion bed this year has had less compost added to it than last year's bed, some of it is in a more shady spot, and we did a LOT less weeding this year. All together, it makes me marvel that we got any crop at all.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pepper season

We've picked about fifty banana peppers so far, and pickled just a fraction of them, about 1 1/2 quarts. Most are being eaten raw. They really are excellent, and they tend to ripen a couple weeks before the Ace peppers hit full size.

The Aces have set quite heavily, and the plants are falling over. Usually, I stick cages around them, but of course I had to skip it this year, when it looks like we're going to have a record-breakingly heavy crop. We've picked several, but not enough to get the plants to stand on their own (more than two) roots again.

This is the first year in quite a while that we've planted hot peppers. Habanero. Which I didn't realize were among the hottest of the hot when we bought the plants. We're growing them for our co-gardener's husband. I hope he's ready for the deluge -- no one else I know eats them, so he's on his own with what looks to be a substantial crop. We don't always get the really hot weather that peppers prefer, but that hasn't been a problem, at least during the last month or so.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Garlic experiments

We experimented on the garlic in a dozen different ways this year.

First, there was the new-to-us variety that succumbed to cold/wet weather, an wasn't early enough or prolific enough to justify the space it took.

Second, we've always had trouble waiting long enough for the garlic heads to finish growing, but this year we waited a little too long. The ones we harvested in the first half of the month, before I was out of town, were at their peak, and the ones we harvested the 20th to today were somewhat over-mature, with their wrappers disintegrating. On the plus side, the bulbils on the top of the scapes were fully mature and easy to remove and save for eating and/or future planting.

Another experiement in the works: Pickled garlic. It's basically just peeled garlic cloves soaking in vinegar with a small amount of salt and sugar, left to mellow for thirty days. The first batch will be ready on July 28. I've also made a batch using just the bubils from the top of the scape, on the theory that they might be interesting on top of a cracker, perhaps with cheese in between. Sort of like caviar made out of garlic bulbils.

Still to come this year (if we like the first batch): picked garlic with a hint of habanero pepper, for those who like hotter stuff.

The experiment for next year is to test what I think is largely a myth among garlic growers. I've read in a number of places that removing the scapes will result in a bulb that's substantially larger than if the scape and it's bulbil head are left to mature. My theory is that there might be a small difference -- enough to matter to a commercial grower seeking top dollar for his crop -- but not enough to give up the secondary crop of the bulbils or to justify the extra work of clipping the scapes. So, we're planning to play two rows of six cloves, preferably taken from idential heads (or as close as possible in size and vigor) in close proximity to each othe, and then clip the scapes of one of the rows and not the other. Harvest them all at the ideal time (how can we tell if they're ready without the scape to judge by?), and then weigh them.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Wild turkeys

We have wild turkeys in the neighborhood -- three adults and a dozen or more chicks.

After checking out my deck (where my cats were fascinated by them), they wandered into the backyard to check out my car and the recovery garden.

Monday, June 14, 2010

First garlic

I'm having computer issues, so no picture, but we harvested the first few garlic heads a few days ago.

They were the new variety, which I'd begun to think wasn't actually going to be any earlier than the regular variety (even though we chose it specifically to be early). But it really is earlier than our regular variety.

I hadn't meant to harvest them -- the scapes are still growing, suggesting that the heads are still forming -- but inadvertently pulled one while weeding, and was surprised to find it fully formed. I pulled another one on purpose, to make sure the first one wasn't a fluke.

I'm still not sure I'd bother to plant this variety again. It's earlier by a few weeks, but it's also smaller and doesn't seem as winter-hardy or generally prolific.

Monday, May 31, 2010

More behinder

The traditional planting weekend for this area is over, and the tomatoes still aren't in the ground.

On the plus side, the peppers are all planted -- 6 hot, 6 banana and 23 (there were 24, but one seedling croaked) Ace. And the alliums (onions and garlic) got some serious weeding, thanks to my co-gardener.

The new-to-us variety of garlic that ripens in June is, in fact, showing signs of being almost ready for harvest. The green tops stopped growing a couple weeks ago, and now they're sending up scapes.

The green beans are being eaten by the bunnies as soon as the seeds sprout (and my co-gardener, not a green-bean eater, rejoices). Unfortunately, the critters are also nibbling on the sugar snap peas.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Here's this year's investment (rounded to whole dollars):
  • $25 for new variety of garlic
  • $78 for onions, asparagus and assorted seeds
  • $22 for plants below

Total so far: $125

The plants we purchased were:

  • 24: Ace peppers
  • 6: banana peppers
  • 6: hot peppers (not sure of variety)
  • 6: San Marzano tomatoes
  • 6: grape tomatoes (not sure of variety)
  • 1: peppermint
  • 1: lemon balm
  • 1: thyme

The weather is still iffy, so we're waiting to plant the peppers and tomatoes until this weekend. Mint and lemon balm are in a whiskey barrel. Can't figure out where to put the thyme. I have some issues with bending, and I'd like the thyme to be raised off the ground for easy harvesting, but most of the raised areas are too shady.

So far, we've planted seeds for: cucumbers, swiss chard, spaghetti squash, yellow summer squash, butternut squash and green beans.

We're still trying to figure out where to plant the basil (seedlings growing on a windowsill now, but too tiny to plant outside), sunflowers and carrots. And I'm not sure the space allotted to the tomatoes is big enough.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Purple asparagus!

We're trying a new variety of asparagus -- purple passion. The first sprouts are just coming up.

We had a hard freeze two nights ago. I brought in one semi-hardy plant from my deck but forgot I'd put the rosemary out in the garden. Fortunately, it survived. So did the sugar-snap peas (not so surprising) and radishes and dill and onions and garlic. The tatsoi is almost ready for harvest and is absolutely loving the cool, wet weather. (That may be our new shorthand for cool and wet: "Will the tatsoi weather ever improve?")

The new (to us) variety of garlic isn't looking all that great. They're tremendously uneven, with a few really pitiful patches in the row. Normally, I'd attribute it to an area of less fertile soil, but the old (to us) variety is growing more uniformly in a parallel row just a few inches away, which makes me wonder if the patches of anemic plants all grew from the cloves of a single head, and the variety just has more than typically uneven vigor from plant to plant, head to head. If that's true, I wouldn't recommend the variety for the basic crop, but it does offer extra-early harvest, so it may be worth putting up with the uneven growth in a crop that's only intended to provide for a short period when the prior year's harvest is completely gone and it's too early for the current year's main crop.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


There's a saying attributed to the Amish: "the faster I work, the behinder I get."

I haven't been working particularly fast, but I'm definitely getting behinder fast. We lost most of March and April to rains and floods, and we're still mired in what seems to be a perpetual rainy season. The garlic, which I thought might drown, seems to be thriving. The red onions -- all 200 or so of them -- were planted a few weeks ago. The peas have sprouted, and so have butternut squash from the compost pile. The asparagus is growing faster than we can eat it.

I just noticed yesterday that we have a few billion self-seeded dill plants. They've overflowed the whiskey barrel where we grew them last year, and have sprouted all around that barrel and in an adjoining one too.

I'm really late with the early crops and the indoor-seeded crops. I just started basil plants a couple days ago, and I still haven't started any lettuce. We had temperatures nearing 90 degrees the other day, which made me fear that I'd missed any conceivable window of opportunity for the cool-weather crops. I half expected the tatsoi to start bolting. Today, however, is barely into the 50s, if that, so if the thunderstorms ever stop, I'll get some lettuce seeds into the deck planters in the next couple days.

The lilacs have bloomed already, and the peonies are about to. The tree pollen is overwhelming.

Next week, we'll be getting nightshade-family plants from the local nursery. It's too early to plant the tomatoes and peppers, but I don't want to risk finding that the preferred varieties are sold out. I'm behinder enough without that happening!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A little dryer

We've just had three fifty-year rainfalls in about a two-week period (and I sorta' think the third one was a hundred-year rainfall), with flooding all around us.

The garden dried out remarkably quickly, although the ground is still a bit squishy and I step carefully, for fear of sinking up to my neck.

The garlic was under water for about five days, but seems to be okay. I swear, the green tops continued to grow even during the flood.

Daffodils are in bloom, forsythia is at peak, and the chives (that I thought I might have transplanted a wee bit too early) are thriving.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Under water

The garlic is under water for the second time in about a week.

The garden slopes a bit (from left to right in the picture), so there's a big puddle in what is usually the main path into the garden. There are canals along the perpendicular paths, leading to the puddle.

Over the winter, the ground settled where the garlic is planted, so those two rows are canals now too. The early garlic is visible, looking a bit like rice plants, along the far edge of one canal. The regular variety is shorter at the moment, and entirely submerged.

Tomorrow's forecast calls for more rain. And snow.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Daffodils and onions

Signs that spring will, indeed, arrive eventually: the daffodils are coming up along the vegetable garden's fence, and I bought a bag of onions last week.

It pained me to have to buy onions. We had so many -- and such better quality -- but they did run out eventually. It's good to know that the red onions will, in fact, store until at least the end of February in my chilly kitchen. The last one was beginning to form a sprout in the interior of the onion (not visible outside), but was perfectly edible.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Spring is coming

I'm not sure I believe it, but if I say it often enough, I may start to believe.

Spring is coming.

I'm a little encouraged that the daffodils are up, and have been since mid-January. The pessimistic part of my brain insists they must have come up back in the fall, when the weather was mild until fairly late.

Still, spring is coming.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Getting started (again)

Last year, we spent about $170, and got 200 onions, 30 garlic heads, countless peppers (Ace and banana), a handful of yellow squash, a dozen spaghetti squash, the same number of butternuts, several handfuls of sugarsnap peas, a good amount of swiss chard, lot of herbs and a few cukes. Not exactly two households' annual consumption of vegetables, but a respectable return on investment.

Now, we're starting to invest in the new season. Last fall, I spent about $25 (can't find the receipt at the moment) on a new variety of garlic, and recently, for $77.80 including shipping, we ordered:

  • 25 Purple Passion asparagus plants
  • 200 Mars onions
  • Alpine strawberry seeds
  • Easter Egg radish seeds
  • Peppino (hot) pepper seeds
  • Chocolate sunflower seeds

In the spring, we'll buy plants from a local nursery for our pepper and tomato crops, along with another thyme plant and a few spur-of-the-moment items. We already have seeds for lettuce, tatsoi, cukes, squash (both summer and winter), basil, dill, swiss chard and nasturtiums; and we have the perennials in the ground: asparagus (the regular, green variety), catnip, sage, chives, garlic chives, mint and oregano.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Season extenders

I'm looking forward to experimenting in 2010 with season extenders like row covers.

The one season extension I'm already doing is simply growing crops that can withstand the weather. The pictured plants (not counting the equally hardy weed to the right) are tatsoi, and this was taken mid-December, after we'd had two slushy snow storms. The swiss chard was still growing too.

If you haven't tried tatsoi yet, I heartily recommend it. Without even trying -- these plants self-seeded from the spring crop -- I get two harvests, one in the spring (which goes to seed with hot weather) and an even prettier and more vibrant crop in the fall continuing into the early winter. If it had a little protection, I suspect it would grow through the whole winter.

Tatsoi can be eaten raw (the way I prefer it), mixed in with salads, or it can be steamed like spinach or other greens.