Sunday, December 2, 2012

Purple peppers!

Finally remembered to upload the promised picture of a purple pepper. The green one's for color comparison.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Harvest 2012

The squash vines are dying back, the tomatoes are completely dead from early blight, both signs that the harvest is coming to an end.

The onions were disappointing. Lots of them, but small. Partly from a drought at just the wrong time, and partly because I'm a lazy bum, and didn't do enough weeding. They're proving to be susceptible to fungus, too, so I'm trying to use them as quickly as possible, since they obviously won't last long in storage. I did plant the Bridger onion seeds a few days ago, an experiment in starting onions from seed, with a variety that over-winters. Maybe.

The butternuts were particularly prolific. Just three plants, but we have eleven good-sized fruits. Might be a couple smaller ones hiding somewhere.

The summer squash hit the "just right" level for once. Two yellow crookneck plants and one zucchini plant. They produced plenty for the gardeners' needs (made into casseroles and zucchini bread and half-zuke-half-cabbage cole slaw), and a few to give away to the garden-impaired.

Garlic was fairly average, which was disappointing only in reference to early high expectations. We got around 60 heads from the main crop, assorted cloves from the ones growing wild, and very unimpressive bits from the early variety. We're definitely not bothering with the early variety again. Except, I think there are a couple of the early cloves in the kitchen, and they've started to sprout, so I may end up planting them. Also planning to improve the soil where the garlic goes in, to see how much of a difference that makes in size.

Tomatoes were excellent until the blight hit. Juliet (halfway between a grape and a paste tomato) and Jetstar. Also a yellow variety, but it was late ripening, and most were lost to the blight. I still don't know why the tomatoes succumbed. The summer wasn't particularly cool or wet, and we had plenty of heat, which is supposed to kill the blight. Our garden wasn't alone in succumbing, though, so it wasn't a micro-climate thing, as I'd first suspected. (Trees are shading the garden more than I'd like.)

Peppers have been late and less prolific than usual. This, I do think is attributable to the increased tree shade and reduced number of full-sun hours. The purple peppers were magnificent (although not as prolific as the Ace variety). Photo tomorrow. Banana peppers were in the shadiest part of the garden, and were a bit anemic. Still managed to pickle 3 pints of them. Might be enough for a fourth before the first frost.

New rhubarb plants are hanging in, but I'm not entirely sure they'll survive the winter. Asparagus is looking less bushy than usual. The bed may have been exhausted, or, again, it's the effect of too much shade.

Swiss chard did poorly. Seeds didn't germinate well (not the variety's fault; they were five years old, I believe), then the seedlings were a bunny favorite for a while. Only one plant is still making an effort. Cucumbers always seem to succumb to some sort of virus, and this year was no exception. Growing them on a trellis to get them up off the ground did seem to help a little.

Basil did quite well in a planter in the garden's annex (next door). Lettuce lasted further into the summer than I'd have expected, through a couple hot spells. The fall crop of tatsoi is growing now, but got a bit battered by a recent heavy rain.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I was driving past a nursery on the way home from an event in Vermont, and it's a place I'd always wanted to check out, but I'd always been on a deadline. This past weekend, though, I actually had some time to use up, so I didn't arrive at my destination too early.

I'm so glad I stopped in. I found Chipman's Canada Red rhubarb, which I can't get locally, and thought I'd have to wait until next year to order. Now we'll get it going this year, and perhaps be able to harvest some next year, instead of losing a whole growing season.

Plus, they had a patio-sized container with a Purple Passion pepper plant in it, complete with the passionately purple (sort of eggplant colored) fruits, nearing maturity. Sure, I had 30 sweet pepper plants already growing in the garden, but I needed this variety. So now we've got 34 sweet pepper plents growing. (Except one of the Aces was beheaded by some critter -- snapped the plant in half, presumably to eat the top half, and then apparently spit it out, because pepper plants are yukky. I'm hoping he's learned his lesson and won't check the others, in case they taste better. I'm not sure if that plant will recover, but I've seen peppers come back from worse damage.)

So, we've got $15 to add to this year's expenses.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Abandoning the early garlic variety

We planted at least 20 cloves of the early garlic variety last fall, and I just harvested about half that many heads. If that wasn't discouraging enough, none of the heads were very big, and some of them weren't even divided into cloves. It's possible that they were affected by a mini-drought that occurred at just the wrong time this year.

I'd just about decided we weren't going to keep planting them anyway, but now it's official. In the future, if we're desperate for garlic (and I was fairly desperate -- I'd run out of both fresh bulbs and pickled cloves) before the standard harvest time, we always have thousands of volunteer plants (from discarded bulbils) that can be pulled early.

As far as I can tell, the last few weeks of garlic's growth cycle is more about drying out the skins around the individual cloves than anything else. I pulled a few volunteers (of the German Extra-Hardy variety) last week, in the course of preparing the bed for other types of plants, and they were a good size, flavorful, and fully formed. The only thing different from the fully matured heads I've harvested in the past is that the skins, both on the outside of the head, and the wrappers on the individual cloves, were more like onion layers than the usual paper-y texture. They weren't easy to peel, and they probably wouldn't have stored as well as more mature ones, but they were fine for immediate use.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Skewed expectations

When I was getting our plants at the local nursery, I convinced someone to get Ace peppers instead of a more standard bell pepper. She mentioned that she'd never had any luck with peppers in the past, but was planning to give it one more try.

It sounded like her past problems were twofold: the wrong variety and skewed expectations. She'd been growing something like Cal Wonder (there's a reason it's called California Wonder, not New England Wonder), and was expecting it to grow as thick-walled as the ones in the grocery store.

I did warn her that Ace isn't intended to be thick-walled, but that it's prolific, and, when eaten fresh, has an absolutely amazing crunch that the thicker-walled ones lack. I do hope she likes them. If she can learn to love the smaller, crisper, thinner-walled varieties that grow well here, she'll have better success.

NPR's Science Friday had a segment on flavorless commercial tomatoes, and how the scientists think that, after extensively taste-testing heirloom varieties, they may have a better handle on the genetic traits that contribute to flavor (instead of the usual traits winter tomatoes are bred for: perfectly round shape, heavy production and the ability to travel undamaged). He's hoping to be able to breed commercial varieties that have both flavor and the commercially valuable traits.

I'm not as optimistic as the scientist seemed. Among other things, he mentioned that if a home grower planted one of the commercial varieties in a good soil, and let it ripen fully on the vine, she'd end up with a "good tomato, but not a great tomato." A lot of the flavor, he admits, has to do with the quality of the soil and, particularly, letting it ripen on the vine. I'm not sure how developing a more flavorful variety is going to help all that much, if the plants are still being grown hydroponically (or in depleted soil), and picked green for traveling long distances.

One comment he made, that really stuck with me and does give me some hope, was something to the effect of "There's no financial incentive for major growers to produce a more flavorful winter tomato; the financial incentive is to produce more quantity, regardless of the flavor quality."

And we, as consumers, are essentially doing exactly that. We're buying the ghastly, flavorless winter tomatoes, despite complaining. (I suppose a lot of home gardeners aren't buying them, actually, but are doing what I do, which is to eat fresh tomatoes only in the summer.) Why are they being bought, when everyone knows they taste horrible?

If consumers stopped buying the flavorless tomatoes and stopped expecting visual perfection (instead of culinary perfection), that might create a financial incentive for the major growers to grow better winter tomatoes. Or maybe our expectations would become more realistic, and we would do most of our fresh tomato eating during the warmer six months of the year, and skip them during the colder six months of the year.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


I usually have a plan written down before I start planting each year. If nothing else, it makes crop roation easier -- I have a record of what went where, so it can go in a different spot the next year. I wasn't obsessive about it. No to-scale drawings on graph paper or anything. Just an index card with a rectangle for each bed, filled in with the type of plant in that bed.

This year, I'm going freestyle. I know where I can't repeat the tomatoes and peppers, so they're pretty much limited to one bed each. Other than that, it's chaos. I'm trying to look at it as experimenting and to remember that change is actually good for keeping us young.

I still don't like change.

But I am interested in at least one experiment. I've got most of a long bed filled with alliums: a 30-foot row of garlic and three adjoining rows of red onions. But I left space at each end of the bed to put the butternut squash. Not enough space to grow the whole squash plant, but enough space for the roots of the plant. I'm hoping, if the timing is right, that the garlic will have been harvested by the time the squash vines start traveling too far from the roots, and they can fill the empty space where the garlic was. And then later expand into the area where the onions where. I seeded one end of the bed, but ran out of energy before I did the other end. One good thing, if the timing is off, is that the far end of the bed is near the fence around the garden, and in the worst case scenario, I can encourage the vines to climb up the fence.

Other than that, I planted a few zucchini plants in a gap at one end of the asparagus bed; a six foot row of Bright Lights swiss chard, with just a couple green bean plants in the middle of the row(because my co-gardener and her family don't eat green beans); and some dill in a planter that will eventually be over-run with mint, but at the moment only has a scraggly little bit in it, so I figure there's time for one crop of dill before the mint takes over.

Friday, May 25, 2012

2012 plants

I picked up this year's plants from the local nursery today. That's another $17 in expenses (plus my co-gardener got mulch last week, probably another $10).

This year's plants:

24 Ace peppers
6 banana peppers
6 Juliet tomatoes
6 Jetstar tomatoes
1 Aristotle basil (tiny-leaved variety, kinda' looks like a bonsai tree)

I've got some (very small) lettuce-leaf basil seedlings that will need at least a couple more weeks before they can even think about going outside.

A friend has some Jubilee tomatoes for me to pick up after the long weekend, and we may end up with other tomato plants (heirloom varieties, probably) from my co-gardener's boss.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tip of the day

When sprinkling cayenne pepper powder on the garden (to discourage bunnies from eating the onion plants) on a windy day, make sure to remain UPwind from the jar.

Yeah, I forgot that one today.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's a new year

I've been having trouble getting motivated to work in the garden. A little of the problem is some physical restrictions -- it's just not the same when you can't roll around in the dirt directly -- but most of it is the bizarrely extreme weather we've been having. The last few years have been extremely rainy and chilly. This year started out extremely hot (eighty degrees in March, IIRC) and dry (ominous warnings of a drought), and then reverted to wet and dreary and chilly.

Today brought a little sunshine, and it really was now-or-never for planting the last few onions and harvesting some asparagus. (I know I'm having an off year when I can't even get motivated to go harvest some asparagus!)

Here's what we've got so far:

Expenses: About $57 (most of it a gift certificate from my wonderful SIL) for a few packets of seeds, plus close to 200 onion plants and (eventually) some sweet potato slips. There was a minor glitch with the order, and we received celeriac instead of the basil we ordered (one digit off in the catalog), but Johnny's was great about fixing the problem quickly and without any fuss. I'm looking forward to trying Bridger, a type of onion that's started from seed, in the fall, even in the northeast! Maybe that's part of my lack of interest in the spring planting -- I'm not trying anything new.

From last fall's planting, we have growing:
56 German Extra-Hardy garlic
20-30 early garlic variety

From this spring's planting, we have somewhere around 200 red onion plants. It's supposed to be 180, and I haven't counted, but in past years, the plant count was always generous. And for once, I picked just the right day to plant -- the last day of our mini-drought, less than 24 hours before the rains began (with about 4" falling in the next 24 hours).

The rhubarb has gone to seed already. I never got around to making bluebarb jam last year. I am giong to do it this year, even if I have to buy both the blueberries and the rhubarb.