Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Red russian garlic

I took this picture to document the difference in the two varieties of garlic I planted this year. Note that each square of the grid = 1".

The one on the left is German Hardy, and the one on the right is Red Russian. The German variety is obviously smaller, although the cloves are comparable in size. The Russian variety has more cloves -- 6 or 7, compared to the usual 4 (sometimes 5) in the German variety.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Harvest 2013

The season is pretty much over. Tomatoes got hit by blight, squash were exhausted, and all that's left are the pepper plantation going strong, and a couple butternuts still maturing.

At the beginning of August, I estimated we'd harvested about a hundred bucks' worth of produce, roughly equal to what I'd spent on seeds, plants and supplies (although I actually spent about $9 more than projected, but getting extra manure).

Total summer squash, 20 pounds, for a total of $40 for the season.

Garlic (3 heads for a dollar for main crop only) = $20
Plus about 60 smaller heads from the volunteers

Onions (guesstimating at $1 a pound) = $10

Cucumbers (6 at $1 each) = $6

Banana peppers (82, probably 14 pounds, $1/lb) = $14

Ace peppers (150, some small, so let's say 4 for a buck) = $37

Jetstar tomatoes (70), at least $35

Butternut squash (23, each at least two pounds), $46

Green tomatoes, 6 pounds (made 4 quarts of mincemeat, with enough tomatoes to make two more batches in the future), $6

For a total of about $215. With another $50 or so of peppers and squash to be harvested, plus the peak of the swiss chard still to come, and some assorted lettuces and herbs. All told, probably $300 worth of produce, against $100 in expenses. Probably the best year in quite a while for the recovery garden. It doesn't sound like a lot, but a) the prices I used were quite conservative, so it could easily be twice that in value, b) the dollars don't take into consideration the value of flavor and freshness, and c) there was additional value in the getting me out into the garden for sunshine and a little activity.

We've eaten most of the produce, except for the garlic, the butternuts, ten peppers that I dehydrated, and about 30 peppers and a similar number of tomatoes that I froze. I've still got some pickled peppers, and a bunch of frozen zucchini for winter zuccini  bread.

Addendum on November 3, 2013:

We harvested an additional 60 (sixty!) banana peppers, for a couple quarts more of pickled peppers, and some were sauteed and frozen with the Ace peppers

We harvested an additional 130 Ace peppers (for a total of close to 300!), many of which were sauteed and coated in tomato puree and frozen for future soup/chili. I also dried another 20 or so peppers, in addition to the original 10, for when I run out of the sauteed/frozen ones.

I had frozen enough zucchini for three batches of bread, and I've got a monster yellow zucchini still sitting on the counter. I only realized last year just how well over-sized zucchinis will store on the counter. This one should be good until December or possibly January, if I don't make it into zucchini bread for holiday giving.

I also made green tomato jam from the left-over tomatoes. Might try green tomato relish next year instead.

Swiss chard is still producing. Not as luxurious as in some years, since we'd been in something of a drought throughout October. Depending on the weather, though, there should be a nice little harvest for Thanksgiving.

The variety of sage that I stumbled across this year is particularly pretty -- very large, rounded leaves. Dries nicely.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A bulbil experiment

One of the garlic plants produced really huge bulbils this year. I mean five to ten times the size of normal bulbils. I'm going to use them for an experiment.

I have this theory that bulbils are sort of designed to be planted in July/Aug, when they would fall off the scapes naturally if they were allowed to remain in situ. The ones that grow wild in a corner of the garden do send up little sprouts this time of year. I'm wondering if planting the bulbils now would give them a head start, possibly even cutting one whole season off their growth.

What I've done in the past is to sow the bulbils in late October, the same time that the garlic cloves are planted. They then sprout in the spring, grow for a couple months, and die back in late May or June. The next year, unless they're crowded too badly, they grow a bit bigger before dying off, and then the third year they actually produce at least two cloves, sometimes the standard four cloves for this variety.

I'm wondering if I can cut off that first spring die-back by planting now, and letting them grow until the ground freezes in December, when they'll die back, sort of tricking them into thinking they'd had next spring's growth cycle, so next year they'll grow as if it were the second year in the ground.

So. I planted about forty of those mega-bulbils on August 24th in a generally fertile and sunny area of the garden, and I threw in a good amount of composted manure before planting. They're spaced at least an inch away from each other to give them room to grow, although they're scattered, rather than in straight lines. I have a thick layer of mulch next to the bed, but will wait until the first hard frost before covering them.

Now that I'm writing this down, it dawns on me that I should probably do a comparison row of just regular-sized bulbils, so there's no question that it's the timing, rather than the size of the bulbils, that's speeding up the maturing of the bulbs. I'll do that sometime this week. There's enough room in that part of the garden and plenty of manure and regular-sized bulbils for a second strip, and there will only be a few days between the two plantings.

ETA: I did plant that second row of bulbils about a week after the first row.

To be continued.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

THIS is why I garden

Okay, it's not the only reason I garden, but I really do love this time of  year when the peppers are at their peak.

Tomorrow, we're having banana peppers stuffed with rice pilaf and topped with cheese and a sprinkling of bacon, all served on a bed of wilted swiss chard.

The green peppers are going to be chopped up and placed on drying screens in my car so I'll have peppers during the winter (without paying ridiculous prices for inferior produce).

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Break even point

I think we've hit the break-even point for the financial costs and rewards of the garden.

We've spent a total of $85, and I expect to spend another $15 this fall for manure before I plant the garlic. So, let's say $100 in cash expenses.

Harvest to date (with extremely conservative FMV prices):

Summer squash (sells for $1.99 on sale): 17 pounds = $34

Garlic (3 heads for a dollar for main crop only) = $20

Onions (guesstimating at $1 a pound) = $10

Cucumbers (6 at $1 each) = $6

Banana peppers (32, probably 5 pounds, $1/lb) = $5

Ace peppers (40, but small, so let's say 4 for a buck) = $10

That's $95. Throw in the handfuls of cherry tomatoes I've eaten without counting, and the three Jetstar tomatoes, a few leaves of swiss chard, assorted lettuces and tatsoi, and the various herbs (chives, dill and catnip in particular), and factoring in the EXTREMELY conservative price estimates, I'd say we're at right around a hundred bucks in produce harvested. I'm not counting either the expenses (vinegar, pickling salt, spices) or the added value for the pickling I've done (pickled banana peppers, bread & butter pickles made out of zucchini, and pickled garlic to extend its storage life).

We've got (almost) all of August and September still to go, which will bring us the bulk of the peppers and tomatoes and swiss chard and a fall crop of tatsoi, and all of the winter squash, plus more summer squash. Except for the onions and garlic, which have all been harvested, and the cukes, which have developed the usual mid-summer wilt, the harvest so far is likely to be duplicated (and exceeded) in the remainder of the season. The winter squash will more than take the place of the onions and garlic (in terms of value of the harvest), so I'd expect to end up with well over $100 of produce in excess of what the out-of-pocket expenses were. Maybe more like $200, if the state of the plants right now is any indicator.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Status update

The peppers got re-mulched today. Picked the first summer squash yesterday, along with the first two banana peppers. Quite a few more bananas should be ready to pick within the week. Garlic is showing signs of ripening, with the scapes starting to straighten up. Onions are far from ripe, but the red of their roots is starting to be visible. Not round and popping out of the ground, but just showing red at the base of the leaves. Raspberries are coming along nicely. I'm hoping to get a few of them before the birds do.

The zucchini finally sprouted. We have about ten plants, I think. And fourteen butternut plants. I'm starting to research summer squash recipes, having committed to at least try to find ways that I'm willing to eat it this summer. Ways that don't involve several cups of sugar and vegetable oil. I suspect I wouldn't even taste it in a stir fry with the curried marinade I use on chicken. There's already a second summer squash almost ready for picking and three or more others on their way.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Peck of peppers (unpickled)

I picked eight peppers yesterday! Very early in the season, at least for me. They were small, about half the size they could be, but I wanted to encourage the plants to set more fruits, and remove the fruits that were touching the ground (and therefore most likely to get bruised and rot). There are at least a dozen more approaching the same size, to be picked in the coming week. Plus at least three banana peppers.

They're so CRUNCHY. The store peppers, and the larger varieties in general, tend to be so much mushier than fresh-from-the-garden, slightly smaller varieties like Ace.

I finally got a zucchini seed to germinate. I was starting to think I'd gotten a defective packet, perhaps stored badly or something, but now it looks like the poor germination was likely due to drowing in the recent deluges.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Squash summer

I still have hopes that this will be the summer of the squash, and not ALL of it will be summer squash. The sections of the garden that were submerged  yesterday aren't visibly wet, although the water probably isn't far from the surface.

I finally planted the lettuce-leaf basil (13 plants).

I thought the butternuts had drowned, but they seem to be alive, albeit perhaps on life support. We're not expecting any more heavy rain, just the occasional pop-up thunderstorm, for the next ten days, so they may still have a chance. I may plant some more seeds anyway, just in case, but we're bumping up against the deadline to have enough time for them to ripen before the first frost.

Here's the first squash (yellow) of the season, which should be ready for eating in the next week, followed by the first pepper I'm targeting for next week (I want to remove the first harvest while they're still small, so more will set), and a particularly curly garlic scape:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Drought to rain

First, it was so dry that about half of our onion plants died.

Now, we've had so much water that the water table is flooded, and there's about 4" of standing water in the garden. Most of it is in the pathways and the beds are raised enough to be dry on the surface (don't know about where the plant roots are), but one corner of the onion & squash bed is visibly under water. I may need to re-seed (again) the squash, which had JUST sprouted.

Friday, May 31, 2013


Finally found an oregano plant. Add $3.50 to the total costs.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Never enough plants

I keep thinking I'm done buying stuff for this year's garden, and then I decide to get "one more thing," and come  home with three things. So -- sage plant, Aristotle basil plants (for my neighbor/co-gardener) and yellow squash plants (also for my neighbor/co-gardener). Total: $7.

I usually grow squash from seed, since it's so easy (and cheap) to do, but I got the wrong seeds (I think; I don't eat  yellow squash, so I don't know the varieties, and the person I grow it for doesn't have any preferences, except she doesn't like zucchini, and the squash seeds I got were yellow zucchini, which I think is different from regular yellow squash), and my usual sources for cheap seeds didn't have any yellow squash, so I went back to the local nursery and got a four-pack of plants. Variety: Park's creamy.

Now, I'm really done. Oh, except I need a Greek oregano plant. Mine died after a couple difficult years, and the local nursery didn't have any. May have to get it in a big box store. Or wait until next year.

In any event, if we have even a halfway decent growing season, we're going to be drowning in squash. Especially yellow-colored, whether zucchini-flavored or other.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Summer squash

Got seeds today: zucchini, yellow squash and a bush variety of butternut. Total cost (including donating the change to charity): $4.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Purchased 24 Ace peppers, 6 banana peppers, 6 cherry tomatoes (variety: Sweet Baby Girl; decided that while I love grape tomatoes, I don't like the only variety available locally -- Juliet) and 6 Jetstar tomatoes.

All but the Jetstars were planted today.

Total cost: $16. Even.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Onions planted

This year's plant count: 188. Planted about a week later than last year, partly because I've been busy and partly because the weather has been cold.

ETA: Apparently there was a crop failure for the shallots I was planning to try this year, so that part of my order got cancelled. So, no shallots this year. I think we'll be okay with 188 onions and what was it -- 60 or so garlic plants (not counting all the volunteer garlics).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Corn gluten meal

I read about using corn gluten meal to prevent weeds from sprouting between the onion plants, and it sounded like a perfect thing for me. It's organic, and it helps reduce the weeds that grow right up close to the onion plants, where it's almost impossible to use a hoe on them, without also pulling up the onions. I get so frustrated trying to weed them, because I can't bend or kneel well enough to get up close and personal with the weeds, so I'm stuck with whatever I can do with the hoe alone. I'm pretty good with a hoe, but there are limits to its use.

I couldn't find it locally last year, but I managed to find it this year. The manufacturer put a fancy name on the package, that had nothing to do with corn or gluten or  meal, but I found it in the small print, "ingredients: 100% corn gluten meal." Bingo!

The onion plants arrived Thursday (April 18), and I'm hoping to get them planted before the rains are due on Wednesday. Their arrival took me by surprise. The spring is so late in arriving that I thought I had a couple more weeks before onion planting time.

Add another $15 (approximately) to this year's expenses.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Garlic futures

I thought I'd planted around 55 garlic cloves last fall (last weekend of October), but I didn't write down how many there were. We apparently lost a few to the particularly cold winter, perhaps exacerbated by my not mulching  them in as thoroughly as I'd meant to. The official count of the survivors is 52.

Plus, I transplanted a dozen volunteers. They were from a bed where we grew garlic two years ago, so they would have sprouted the fall/spring of 2011/12 and formed what's known as "rounds" last year. They should produce at least a couple cloves each this year, but the heads (and cloves) will likely be smaller than the ones produced from cloves planted last fall.

Sixty heads of garlic is a good number for us. That way, even if we lose a few over the summer, we still have at least fifteen for seed stock (producing at least 60 cloves for the next year), fifteen for me, and fifteen or twenty for my co-gardener (who has a bigger family).

Fifteen doesn't seem like all that many, but these are mainly for storage, for after the gardening season. During the growing season, we have other sources of garlic, like the bulbils that we use in pickled banana peppers, or stir-frys, and the smaller, single-clove volunteer garlics that we harvest as needed during the summer.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Something new, something blue

We're doing shallots this year, as something new. Shallots and red onions and Bright Lights chard -- ordered the bulbs, plants and seeds a couple weeks ago. Got the seeds already. Bulbs and plants in a few months. Total expense, a little under sixty bucks.

No sweet potatoes this year. The bunnies like the vines too much. We ended up with some tubers that looked like they'd already been sliced small enough for stir fry, like water chestnuts. No real substance to them. So, we'll try again sometime in the future when I've got the time and inclination to get serious about bunny exclusion.

Nothing blue. I lied about that.