Monday, May 27, 2013

Harvest Monday 27 May 2013

The weather has been cold  and foul and the tomatoes and peppers are patiently waiting indoors for their opportunity, but what is already in the garden (the cold weather crops) are absolutely loving this weather. The lettuces, escarole, endive, choi, chard, kale, collards and spinach are enjoying the moist, cool weather and are growing rapidly.



I was worried about the spinach bolting, but it has instead exploded with growth after the rain. Above are three of the five squares planted to spinach. These are in a bed destined to house a summer squash (the uncovered square above), but that won’t happen until June. Meanwhile I hope to get a few more cuttings from the spinach.




This is the first cutting of spinach, 9 ounces. Most of this went into creamed spinach to go with the steaks we had on Saturday night. I had some strip sirloin steaks but because of the weather had to use the gas grill instead of firing up the barbie and using some mesquite chips. Normally I would be barbequing up a storm on the first holiday weekend of the summer, sitting on the deck with a brewski and carefully monitoring temperatures and smoke, but that is unpleasant to do when it’s cold and rainy.


The creamed spinach is a standard steakhouse offering. Basically, the spinach is steamed until it wilts, chopped, then squeezed to release any juices, and mixed with a thick béchamel sauce flavored with a little bay and nutmeg. If you want to be fancy like the steakhouses, you can put it in a casserole, cover with Parmesan cheese, and bake. Using frozen spinach is possible but is considered heresy. Most if the time I simply steam the spinach until it wilts and serve it with butter, salt and pepper, but some occasions call for a dish that is a bit fancier.




I clipped a pound of mixed salad greens in the rain on Saturday morning (the weight is of course dripping wet, not toweled dry). Some of this went into a salad to go with our steaks and creamed spinach Saturday night. The vinaigrette was made with olive oil and a fig-infused balsamic vinegar, which gave a nice fruity, almost banana-like flavor to the dressing. The rest were washed, spun-dried and refrigerated for salads later this week.




My newly-planted kale is still immature and has been plagued by flea beetles. The kale above is from volunteers from my seed collecting effort last year. They are sprouting and growing in the wood chips around the raised beds (and bolting, since they sprouted last fall from seeds and wintered over). Since they are “weeds” I figured I would harvest what I could before pulling them. I also recently learned from reading other blogs that kale flowers are edible and tasty. Last year they just went in the compost.


To see what other gardener’s are harvesting, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, out host for Harvest Monday.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bustin’ Their Britches



My tomato and pepper plants are still huddling inside under the grow lights where it is warm. They are getting leggy and it is past time they go into the beds, but it is still  too cold. We had the rain they forecast last week, off and on, but even if it wasn’t raining it was grey and ugly. And cold. Saturday daytime temperatures were in the mid-40s all day, and 42F overnight. In New Hampshire and Vermont it snowed last night, heavy in some places! Down South of us they have been having cold weather and even occasional frosts, giving them a little taste of New England gardening. Europe is experiencing similar unseasonably cold weather.


I have had the plants outside when I could, when it is sunny with reasonable temperatures and no threats of hail storms. I just can’t see exposing my pepper and eggplant starts to 40F daytime temperatures if I can avoid it. I’m trying to avoid any stunted growth from cold temperatures, since both types of plants are real heat lovers. The tomatoes can take a bit more cold weather, so I am hoping I can get them planted next week, maybe even Monday. Later in the week daytime temperatures are supposed to be in the low 80s so maybe we are seeing a break in this weather. It’s really dependent on the jet stream, which has moved very far south and is sucking in cold air from Canada.


The grafted tomato experiment is also shaping up. The grafted plants were potted up into plastic cups and have recovered from their trip to the east coast from California. Unfortunately, they are kind of spindly plants and are starting to get leggy. And I have to keep the graft above soil level to prevent the scion from rooting and negating the disease resistance of the rootstock, so burying them deep is not an option. I acquired a Juliet plant from a neighbor, Jem Mix, who grows organic seedlings and had her annual plant sale Saturday. It is a really stocky, well grown and robust plant (shown below on the right) and is going to be real competition for the grafted plant (on the left). Is the grafted plant up to the challenge, and can it justify its $8 price tag? The Juliet variety is already a robust grower and pretty disease resistant, so will the grafted rootstock add anything?





With the acquisition of the Juliet yesterday, the tomato planting list for this year is now finalized and my precious 14 squares allocated to tomatoes are going to be planted with  the following varieties:

  • Sun Gold cherry (2)
  • Black Cherry (2)
  • Gilbertie paste (1)
  • Striped Roman paste (2)
  • Juliet (2, 1 grafted)
  • Big Beef (2, 1 grafted)
  • Cherokee Purple (1 grafted)
  • Pineapple (1)
  • Green Zebra (1)

Originally I planned on two Gilbertie plants but I had germination problems with it and only one of the plants is really acceptable. The other is a runt and I decided not to give it a coveted spot in the garden. After all, I’m not running a plant hospital here, I’m tying to grow some tomatoes. This is my first year for Gilbertie, but NE gardeners on the Square Foot Gardening forum like it a lot. Seed is hard to find, got mine from High Mowing Seeds. It takes a long growing season to ripen these, with fruits that get seven inches long and weigh 10-12 ounces, so hopefully we have a good tomato summer.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Harvest Monday 20 May 2013

Well, it had to happen sometime. I was able to cut my first harvest of salad greens. The greens below included New Red Fire, Butercrunch, Green Ice, Forellenschluss, escarole, endive, and some herbs. It was nice to finally have a salad with my own lettuces.




The garden seems to be in slow motion. The lettuce went into the garden on April 1 and Sunday was May 20. That is seven weeks to first cutting. It has been dry and cold at night but the lettuce has been watered regularly. I keep hoping that the garden is going to shift into high gear soon. We have a week of warm, rainy weather coming up and maybe that will do it. Tomatoes will go in the end of next week but peppers and eggplant will wait a few more weeks along with the bush beans.




However, there was indeed activity at the Bolton Community Gardens on Sunday even if it wasn’t happening in my own plot. A local troop of Girl Scouts has a plot they use to grow food for the local food pantry. Last year after a day of mucking out weeds, they spied my Square Foot Garden and asked why they couldn’t have one. They spent the winter planning and raising funds and now are putting in their own raised beds, using the Square Foot Gardening method. They used my blog articles on constructing my beds to plan and build their own. They built and filled 5 beds and weeded their plot in one day with just Girl Power! I’ll have another post  with more details later.




That’s what happened in my garden last week. To see what other gardeners around the world are harvesting, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A New Well in the Garden

The community garden where my garden plot is located is dependent on a shallow well with a hand pump at one end of the garden. Gardeners at the other end have to haul heavy watering cans the full length of the garden. We have the funds so we decided to add another well at the other end, which happened Friday. The big drilling rig caused a bit of excitement for the few of us lucky enough to be there. Here are a few photos:




Backing into the garden through the dismantled deer fencing, the heavy truck sank into the garden soil and got stuck. The drill crew had to go fetch large steel mats to place under the wheels.




Raising the drilling derrick and getting ready to drill.





Half way down through gravel, they encountered a large boulder left by the glaciers. Here the crew are switching to a rock boring bit. This slowed them down a lot and a one hour job became a six hour job.





The well is now in place and capped, waiting for a new hand pump to be installed. The soggy mess you see is the plot that is going to be used by a Brownie troop to grow food for the food pantry and senior housing. Hopefully we can get this cleaned up quickly so the Brownies can start their garden preparations next week.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Grafted Tomatoes Arrive

Yesterday the poor UPS guy rattled up my pot-holed driveway and dropped a package. I was not expecting anything, so I was surprised to see it was my order of grafted tomatoes. When I ordered them I chose the latest shipping date, May 15, because tomatoes usually don’t go into the ground here until end of May, so it was a surprise to see them arrive right on the 15th.





They came in a cardboard shipping container with a plastic insert inside. It is designed to hold three tomatoes, which explains why why they have to be ordered in multiples of three. When you open the end of the box and slide out the insert, you see three plants neatly package and identified with little planting markers. You can see I chose a Big Beef, a Juliet and a Cherokee Purple.




The bottom section of the holder unsnaps and folds away from the root balls. The plants are grown in a fiber sleeve they claim is biodegradable. It looked to me like some kind of spun-bond fiber landscape fabric. It may be biodegradable but you wonder how long does that take? Since I saw a lot of roots growing right through the fiber, I decided not to worry, but I did clip the fabric that extended above the root ball so it wouldn’t wick moisture away.




The plants were pretty dry and a bit wilted, but not fatally so. I suspect this is done intentionally so they can fold the plants over into the container without snapping a stem. The instructions say to soak in water for 5-10 minutes before planting. Since they can not go outside yet, I put them into 18-ounce solo cups with McEnroe planting mix. I am also keeping them out of direct sun for a few days so they can recover and not get sun scald. They sure look kind of fragile. The white sticks you see were part of the grafting clip that is placed over the joint to hold the scion and rootstock together while the joint knits together.





In a few weeks, my trial of grafted tomatoes will begin. I am going to grow both grafted and un-grafted versions of the Big Beef  and Juliet tomatoes to compare results. I purchased a cell 4-pack of Big Beef and potted them up into solo cups. This should be interesting. Below you can see two of  the contenders, my ungrafted Big Beef on the left and the grafted plant on the right. It is kind of unfair to compare them now since the grafted plant is a little beat up right now. The transplants I bought from Applefield Farm are just beautiful, strong plants. We’ll see if the grafted plant can catch up and exceed.



Monday, May 13, 2013

Garden Progress 13 May 2013

Still no harvest from the garden but this week should be the turning point. So far it has been a very dry spring, and very windy. The wind made the drought situation worse by evaporating water from plants and the beds, and it beat up some of the tender transplants. The dry spell was broken with two days of rain Wednesday and Thursday, sun on Friday, and two more days of gentle, soaking rain on Saturday and Sunday. Since there was no need to water the garden and nothing on the planting schedule, I didn’t get to the garden until Sunday. It appears all of the plants enjoyed the cool, wet weather and are finally showing some life.




The garlic has been growing slowly and steadily but I think it enjoyed the rain.  It seems to be taller and the stems are starting to thicken a bit. That’s German extra hardy on top and Red Chesnok on the bottom.




The Di Ciccio broccoli is looking really good again and is definitely growing. The transplants were damaged by a freeze a week after they were set out which then made them susceptible to what looked like flea beetle damage. I haven’t actually seen a flea beetle yet, but what else peppers a leaf with pin holes?  Now they have recovered nicely and I won’t be needing the backup starts I planted.




The Beedy’s Camden kale was less affected by the freeze and is now starting to grow.  I don’t have a photo of the collards in the same bed, but they are also appreciative of the change in weather.




The endive and escarole  in the top two rows were least affected by both the freeze and the flea beetle attack. The Win-Win choi in the bottom row however was seriously affected. It has a more succulent leaf with higher water content so it doesn’t take well to freezing. You can still see the bug damage on the leaves of the choi but once it gets going it grows so rapidly, I hope it can outpace the pests.




The lettuces are doing well and really like this weather. They probably have at least doubled in volume in the last 4-5 days so I think salad is on the menu this week from my first harvest. That is New Red Fire on the right and Green Ice on the left.




These lettuces are buttercrunch on the right and Forellenschluss on the left. The Forellenschluss is an heirloom Austrian romaine with specks of red on the leaves. The parsley obviously also likes this weather.




The Tyee spinach has germinated from seed and is adding leaves. It remains to be seen if I will get any before hot  weather. In the same bed, turnips have sprouted but not a single kohlrabi seed germinated in four squares of them. Are they really that hard to start? The seed catalogs all claim they are easy to grow, but I have not had any luck each time I have tried them.




The fava beans and snow peas are taking off. Some of the favas grew 3 inches in a couple of days. It’s time to put up the supports. I bought a couple of 12 inch tomato towers, which are 4 feet when unfolded. Those will span the long dimension of the bed, supported by some garden stakes at the ends,  and I will use some burlap twine to enclose the sides. Hope that is sturdy enough.




Finally, the onions are perking up after looking sad and droopy for the past few weeks. The stems have thickened and the greens are now standing up.

This week I need to reseed the kohlrabi, the mustard greens, and set out the Swiss chard. The chard was originally lost in the mass of brassica seedlings I started in 1.5 inch soil blocks. Chard germinates slower and grows slower than the brassicas, so the seedlings were shaded out  and I did not notice until too late. So I had to restart them. Meanwhile I am juggling pepper and tomato starts between my single grow lamp and the back deck on sunny days, waiting for the weather to stabilize and warm up. This has been a wild spring and they are predicting overnight lows in the mid-thirties for the next few days.


That’s what is growing in my garden this week. To see what other gardeners are harvesting from their gardens, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions, our host for Harvest Monday.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Pepper Culture


My pepper and tomato starts are looking great this year after last year’s disaster using a coir and perlite planting medium. After two disappointing years trying to grow peppers in my raised bed garden, it’s a new year and I am more optimistic than ever. Today I potted-up the tomatoes and peppers from their 2 inch soil blocks (made from Johnny’s 512 Mix) to 4 inch pots or cups. I used McEnroe’s organic potting soil, a blend of compost, peat moss and natural fertilizers. I also plan to make the following changes to my cultural practices for peppers:

  • Varieties – I give up on bell peppers and plan to devote my limited space to smaller varieties that can hopefully produce ripe fruit in our shorter growing season. I also selected some varieties developed to ripen early for northern gardens. This year the list includes Padron, Lipstick, Red Cherry, Jimmy Nardello, Tiburon Ancho, Aconcagua and the usual Jalapeño and Thai chilies.
  • Transplants – Of course you always want to set out healthy, vigorous plants. That’s why I buy a lot of my plants from the local garden centers. I can select only the best looking plants, and if they don’t look good I won’t buy them. But that is assuming you can find the varieties you want to grow, which is not always the case. So I start some seeds every year and hope I get robust plants. I think vigorous plants are particularly important for peppers, which tend to grow slowly and are very picky about their environment. They grow so slowly here that there really is no time to recover from setbacks. So I will be very choosy about what goes in my limited space.
  • Timing – I used to plant my peppers at the same time as the toms, which is usually the last week of May, give or take depending on weather. This year I will be planting the peppers later, 2-3 weeks after the toms, making sure the soil temp is a reliable 65 F/18 C or better and daytime temps are reliably at least 70 F/21 C. Peppers planted in cold soil will be stunted and slow to grow so planting early is actually of no benefit.
  • Fertilizer – What really surprised me and got me thinking was the pepper culture instructions in the Territorial Seed catalog. Conventional wisdom is to avoid excess fertilizer, particularly nitrogen, which might cause lush foliage growth at the expense of fruit. The Territorial catalog advises the opposite. When setting out the plants, they recommend stirring a half cup of nitrogen fertilizer (blood meal, fish bone meal or composted chicken manure) into the planting hole. The purpose is to encourage rapid vegetative growth the first six weeks so the plant has the “bones” to support a large fruit set. It makes sense to me. I can affirm from my experience the last few years that puny little pepper plants do not produce a lot of (or any) fruit. When the plants start to blossom, they recommend top dressing with another half cup of general purpose fertilizer.

I plan to follow the above guide lines this year since I have nothing to lose. Most of it is common sense, but using the dose of nitrogen fertilizer is different. Anyone have experience doing this?

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