Thursday, September 29, 2011

Worm Composting

Worm Factory installed

This is a picture of my new worm composting system in place near the boiler, which will hopefully keep the worms cozy this winter in the basement. I considered worm composting in the past but never did anything. Now that I have my Square Foot garden that needs regular additions of high quality compost, the idea is more attractive. A lot of our kitchen scraps can go into the composter without making a trek out to the compost bin behind the shed. In the winter with a new 3 foot snow fall, that sounds attractive. And my wife was actually interested in the idea of having a worm composter in the house, so that made it easier.

In addition, there are now a lot of well-designed compost bins available which make composting easy and eliminate a lot of the mess, Sure, you can build an economical bin out of a Rubbermaid storage container. And there are lots of helpful tips on the internet, such as the one suggesting using the wife’s turkey baster to siphon the excess worm “juice” out of the bottom of the bin so the worms don’t drown. There are also some nice wooden bins built from cedar, but they are really designed for outdoor use. That is not practical in New England.

The new bins I looked at are compact, efficient and cleverly designed to eliminate or minimize most of the messier details of raising worms, and they are designed to be kept in the house without leakage, odors or escapees. Two I considered were the Can O Worms and the Worm Factory. I went with the Worm Factory 360, the newest model with a taller base and an improved ventilation system. The Worm Factory 360 also is manufactured in the US from 100% recycled food-grade plastic. I ordered mine from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm and it came with one pound of worms (supposedly about 1000 worms, but I really doubt it – although the package did weigh a pound). Below are some photos showing the setup of the composter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Making Butter

Inspired by an article by Thomas on A Growing Tradition, I tried my hand at making butter. It is amazingly easy and fast. Thomas provides detailed, step-by-step instructions, so check out his article if you want to try this. Below I have a few photos documenting my first attempt at this.

Whipping butter using a mixer

Monday, September 26, 2011

Harvest Monday–26 September 2011

Eggplants, tomatoes and peppers

Not much from the garden last week. I cut the two small eggplants the flea beetles left me. A third one turned brown before I got to it. A few peppers and tomatoes, plus lots of green tomatoes off of the now dead tomato plants. I cut the eggplants and then pulled the plants so I could clean up the bed that was infected with halo blight. It took me two hours to unwind the dead pole beans from the trellis and stuff them in a trash bag. Then I had to police the garden, picking up any dead vegetation on the ground or in other beds. Found out Sunday at the garden pot luck that three other plots in the garden also had the blight.

Green tomatoes

I got a lot of green tomatoes last week. Here are two pounds of them being weighed to make green tomato chutney. I used this recipe by Shaheen posted on her blog a few weeks ago (lots of vegetarian recipes there). It was easy to make and is very tasty.  I substituted Splenda for the sugar to keep it low-carb and that worked fine. The recipe made about a pint and it keeps in the fridge. First use for it was on hamburgers. It would be good on any grilled meat or with a good sharp cheddar.

Now head on over to Daphne’s Dandelions and see what others are harvesting.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rich and Charlie’s Famous Salad

It’s Pot Luck time in the community garden.  The past couple of years I have brought a large bowl of Rich and Charlie’s Salad and will probably do so again this year. This is a great salad, it feeds a crowd, and the left-overs are good even several days later. The recipe comes from an Italian restaurant chain in St. Louis. My brothers acquired the recipe years ago and passed it on to me. It is very simple to make and can be prepared ahead of time.

  • · 1 head Romaine lettuce, washed and chopped
  • · 1 head Iceberg lettuce, washed and chopped
  • · 1 can hearts of palm, drained and sliced (optional)
  • · 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • · 1 red onion, diced
  • · 1 4 oz. jar chopped pimientos, drained
  • · 1 pkg. shredded Parmesan
    Layer the romaine, iceberg, red onion, artichokes, hearts of palm, pimiento, and cheese in a large salad bowl. The salad may be covered and refrigerated at this point. When ready to serve, toss with the salad dressing.
  • · ½ c salad oil (Canola or blend of Canola and olive)
  • · 1/3 c red wine vinegar
  • · Salt and pepper
Thoroughly blend the dressing ingredients, pour over the salad and toss.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Got Rodents? Get A Harrier

Harrier hawk in pine tree

The past couple of years we have been fortunate to have a pair of Eastern harrier hawks nesting in our backyard. Why us, I do not know. It can’t be because our neighbor raises homing pigeons and flies them every day. Harriers prefer juicy, furry critters to bony birds. We have had an explosion of squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks. Now with the harrier couple and their three fledglings in the neighborhood, the few chipmunks left seem to neurotically run from bush to bush.

As far as birds go, the harriers have shown an interest in wild turkeys. We apparently also have a nest of turkeys somewhere in the back. One morning a giant ruckus erupted in the trees as a large turkey hen clumsily chased a hawk through the tree tops, sending a shower of pine needles and dead branches raining down out of the trees. The hawk retreated, leaving the angry turkey perched precariously in the tree tops. Who knew they could fly like that? Moral: don’t mess with a turkey hen who has chicks.
Some more photos below. Sorry for the quality of the pictures. They were taken with a compact camera on full optical zoom so they are a little fuzzy.

UMass Extension Vegetable Program

The Agricultural Extension Program at UMass Amherst has a Vegetable Program for growers of vegetables. While the Program is aimed at commercial growers of vegetables and herbs in Massachusetts, their web site has lots of useful information of value to home gardeners throughout New England. For example, they have a page on the halo bean blight that hit my pole beans after TS Irene.

In addition, they have an email newsletter called Vegetable Notes that is well worth subscribing to. It provides an update on disease and insect prevalence in New England and suggests what measures can be taken to protect your garden. The advice is oriented toward commercial growers and is not necessarily suited for organic growers, but is still useful to us home gardeners.

The September 8 newsletter provided a lot of useful information on how to deal with the effects of storms Irene and Lee, which included flooding followed by outbreaks of disease and insect infestations. Certainly in our community garden, we have seen many of the problems described in the newsletter. Fortunately for us, flood water in the garden was only a few inches deep and was clear and not full of mud, but we still got the mildew and rot that followed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Harvest Monday–19 September 2011

I haven’t done much in the garden this week. The tomatoes are about gone, just a few green ones still on the tops of the vines. On Thursday I had a random harvest of tomatoes, a bell pepper, a cucumber, and my last and very woody Icicle radish. I did replant the radishes so hopefully they will enjoy the cooler weather we are now having (night temps in 40s). The salad bed was also re-planted and is coming along, but probably another week or two before I start cutting.

Tomatoes and a radish

I cut the first of the kale for a batch of Portuguese kale soup, most of which was frozen. This variety is Beedy’s Camden, supposed to be similar to but more tender than Winterbor. I did not buy seeds last winter because I usually pick up a 4-pack of plants at a local nursery. This year I could not find Winterbor anywhere and I don’t like the Red Russian which seems to be the fashion now. And then I could not find seeds either without doing mail order. So I bought some plants from a local gardener in town, which turned out to be this variety from Fedco. It is interesting. Grows lower and more spread out than Winterbor. Leaves are not as dark blue-green and curly.

Beedy's Camden kale

The pole beans are now completely dead from the halo blight (see my post) and there were no more unaffected beans on the vines. The bush beans gave me another good picking but probably my last. What was depressing to see was that some of the bush beans now show signs of being affected by the blight. In the picture below, you can see some of the lesions on the bean on the top of the pile. My task this week is to remove and dispose of all the dead bean vegetation and vines on the pole bean trellis. I may also have to pull the bush beans.
Bush beans

To see what others are harvesting, go on over to Daphne's Dandelions

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Emerson Stamp’s Dry Rub Mix

It’s Fall and a guy’s thoughts turn to wood smoke, Oktoberfest beer, and football. One of our favorite events is the Oktoberfest at Nashoba Valley Winery here in Bolton. They have a bluegrass band playing in the gazebo on the lawn, their own microbrews including a pretty good Oktoberfest, and apple wood-smoked pulled pork sandwiches. Match that with a New England Indian summer day and it is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Given the season, I thought I would share my favorite dry rub mix. This recipe is from Emerson Stamp, an old timey barbecue pit master from Alabama (I think, please correct me if I’m wrong). The recipe was originally published in the Boston Globe around 1997-1998. It was popular enough that it has survived on the intertubes as well as in my recipe file. It was my first introduction to the use of dry rubs in barbecue and I have been barbecuing since a boy (the job my dad gave me was to man the squirt gun to douse any flare-ups on the open barbecue grill we used).

I’m not sure where this rub fits in the taxonomy of rubs, if there is such a thing. It’s not Kansas City and it’s not Memphis. It has a lot of allspice, marjoram and cumin which provide a lot of the flavor and fragrance. The paprika mostly adds color. The rub is fairly low in salt and has no sugar, which is fine with me, and I don’t add additional salt when I rub the meat. The heat comes only from the black pepper content, so it is not very hot. I have tried a couple of other rubs but I still prefer this, perhaps just due to habit. I use this rub mostly for pork and beef, but it is OK for chicken as well.

Emerson Stamp Dry Rub Mix
  • · 1 T (15 ml) dried thyme
  • · 1 T (15 ml) dried marjoram
  • · 3 T  (44 ml) ground cumin
  • · 2 T (30 ml) ground allspice
  • · 3 T (44 ml) paprika
  • · 1 T (15 ml) garlic powder
  • · 2 tsp. (10 ml) celery salt
  • · 1 ½ T (22 ml) kosher salt
  • · 1 ½ T (22 ml) freshly ground black pepper
In a bowl, combine all the spices. Stir and store in a jar with tight fitting lid in a cool place out of the light until ready to use. Rub the meat with the dry rub, wrap and refrigerate overnight. Sprinkle with a little more rub before placing on the grill or in the smoker.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Halo Bacterial Bean Blight

Halo Bean Blight

I reported on my discovery of this bean problem in my Harvest Monday post. Unfortunately, I was not able to identify the problem plaguing my pole beans (picture above) using the nifty Visual Diagnostic Aid I posted here. So I turned to “teh google” to find what appears to be my problem: a bacterial bean blight called Halo Bean Blight. I have documented what I found below.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Harvest Monday–12 September 2011

Bush beans

On Monday afternoon, the weather was good and I had a chance to spend some time in the garden picking beans and planting some more fall crops. The beans above are bush beans, both Provider and Jade. Most of these were blanched and frozen.

Blue Lake pole beans

These are the first of the Blue Lake pole beans, I lost a lot of the early beans from some kind of insect or disease. At first I thought that this was possibly insect damage, since the pole beans have been bothered by beetles, but now I am not sure it is insect damage and not disease.

UPDATE: This is apparently a disease called Halo Bacterial Bean Blight. I’ll post more details on what it is and what to do about it on Tuesday.

Halo bean blight on pole beans

Friday, September 9, 2011

Soggy Bottoms

Garden flooded by tropical storm Lee

Before Irene we had a front come in and stall, dropping enough rain to saturate the ground. Then Irene, which fortunately (for us, not so for folks west of us) tracked to the west of us so winds and rainfall were significant but not catastrophic. Now we have the remnants of Lee, which has dropped rain on the area since Tuesday. The garden is once again flooded, worse than after Irene. My beds are sitting in a stream of  running water 4-5 inches deep and I have to wade around in rubber boots to tend to plants and harvest produce.

Wading around in the water, my boots being sucked into the muck, the weather semi-tropical with humidity, I could be trying to garden in the bayou. Stooping down to pick beans, I risked dipping my bum in the water and getting a soggy bottom. Since we had just attended a Serra Hull bluegrass concert, a musical prodigy who played with Alison Krauss at the Grand old Opry when she was just 11, I was reminded of the music from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the Soggy Bottom Boys. Meanwhile I kept an eye peeled for any ‘gator who might me lurking around, waiting to ambush me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Square Foot Gardening Symposium

David receiving his SFG Instructor certificate

I attended the  Square Foot Gardening Symposium in Elkridge, Maryland (just south of Baltimore) the end of August. It was a great experience and I met a lot of nice fellow gardeners. The picture above shows me receiving my certificate as a certified Square Foot Gardening teacher from Kim Roman, the local coordinator and instructor, and Tracy Mastergeorge, the SFG office manager.

Baltimore Teachers

Above is the class picture with Kim in the middle and Tracy and her son in front. It was taken on the porch of the residence at Samaritan Women in Baltimore. Fortunately, hurricane Irene held off and the sun came out Friday afternoon so were able to visit and see the gardens. Then it was a race for home on Saturday, trying to stay ahead of the storm.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Harvest Monday–5 September 2011

Since Irene we have had nothing but beautiful weather here in Massachusetts. Tuesday night my wife and I attended a Sara Bareilles concert at the Bank of America Pavilion on the Boston Waterfront. This a great venue, an open air tent on the waterfront. On Thursday, we were back down on the waterfront for a Sierra Hull concert, this time at the Institute of Contemporary Art Plaza. This was a nice break from the garden, which is starting to show that summer is coming to an end. My harvest for the week is below, and you can wander over to Daphne’s Dandelions to see how other gardens are doing.

On Monday, another gorgeous day, I got down to the garden to repair the storm damage and check the harvest. My son and I raised and re-installed the trellises. Off season I am going to change the position of the trellises to relocate them to the opposite sides, between the boxes. Having them along the sides with the wide rows blocks access to the boxes and also is shading neighboring boxes now that the sun is getting lower in the sky.

Wow, my first harvest of Swiss chard in two years. I have the worst luck with it.  Last year I planted three times and had everything eaten in the seedling stage. This year the seedlings survived but didn’t exactly thrive. A couple of plants have been shaded by the parsley, which is growing rampant in the adjacent square. I also pulled three beets. I may add some of the beet greens to the chard. The beets will probably go in a salad.

Chard and beets

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Building My SFG - Part III, Filling Beds with Mel’s Mix

Once the beds are constructed and set in place, it is time to fill them with Mel’s Mix, the perfect synthetic (and organic) soil mix. Three 4x4 foot boxes require 24 cubic feet of Mel’s Mix to fill them (4 x 4 x 0.5 x 3 = 24). This much Mel’s Mix requires one 4 cubic foot bale of compressed peat moss (expands to 8 cubic feet), two 4 cubic foot bags of coarse vermiculite, and eight 1 cubic foot bags of 5 different kinds of compost.

Five types of compost

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