Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Greens! (and favorite seeds)

I forgot! Yes--lettuce straight from the garden is a treat for sure! We enjoyed that this past spring immensely. I also realized that I really like the spinach mustard hybrid. And we ate our fair share of mustard greens as well--maybe they're better home grown because you can pick them early and/or eat them so soon after harvest. I agree that greens grown at home are much better than the storebought variety (not to mention that there is a better variety than at the store).

I also enjoyed the greens I got at the farmer's market.

A book I enjoy (although I, too, read books with whose authors I disagree) is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It's her family's year-long experiment in eating locally and growing/producing as much of their food as they can. A great read--if you read it this winter, you'll be inspired to plant an even bigger garden! I've read it twice now.

My favorite seed types so far:
  • Bonbon squash (Park Seed Co)
  • Mini spagetti squash (Park Seed Co)
  • Diva cucumber (Park Seed Co)
  • Jenny Tomato (orange cherry type)
  • Celebrity Tomato
  • Rutgers Tomato (I can find these at Lowe's in seedling form)
  • Mr. Stripey Tomato (also at Lowe's in seedling form)
  • Sweet Genovese Basil--maybe I'll plant an entire packet myself! :)
  • Spinach Mustard (seeds at Lowe's)

What I Learned

Well, the one thing I have learned this season is that it is very hard to garden, read about gardening, and write about gardening :)! ( I also learned that when you have teenagers that use the computer it is hard to get a turn for yourself!!)

Our garden was rather small, but it was very productive. I loved being able to trot out of my kitchen door and gather the produce I needed, right when I needed it!

Here are the things I learned this year:

* Companion planting is worthwhile, at least in the case of tomatoes and peppers. The 3 pepper plants by the tomatoes did much better than the three plants elsewhere in the garden.

* Home grown, freshly picked kale is WAY better than kale from the store. I need increase the number of seeds next year. ( I currently have seedlings of kale and Swiss chard in our fall garden, along with some lettuce plants...we will see how it goes. Some of them are not looking all that great.). I also learned that watering generously decreases bitterness.

* Swiss Chard and Kale are both delicious cooked. I grew them for green smoothies and only used them for this purpose a handful of times, although I did throw some green "pot liquor" in smoothies a few times.

* Swiss chard is an ideal container plant and has fewer pest problems in a container than in the ground.

* Future Farmers of America clubs sell seedlings in the late spring for around 25 cents per cup and our library has a seed swap each spring.

* Basil is wonderful to have on hand and we need to plant more next year.

* Zinnias are an easy and cheap way to add lots of color to the garden. They are also great cut flowers. My goal for "old-ladyhood" is to grow fields of zinnias and sell them at the farmer's market :). I love those things!

* A short row of Romain lettuce is not enough for our family of 7. We need a field of Romaine!!! Who knew lettuce could taste so delicious!!

* If I ever plan on canning we will need to have a much larger garden. I planted 6 plants each of tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers...we ate every bite, except for 2 zucchinis and 3 tomatoes that we gave away to relatives! ( Oh yes, the heirloom peas...eaten by a varmint, along with the melon plant.)

My winter gardening plans include watching my husband fashion a water barrel and rotating compost tumbler out of 55 gallon drums he acquired. I am super excited about the water barrel!! You can find You Tube "how -to" videos for both of these projects.

And if you need a good book, I highly recommend my current read, Farm City, by Novella Carpenter. You will have to step over some atrocious language at times, but it is a fascinating account of a garden in a ghetto. You will also learn a lot about raising and slaughtering animals, if you are into that kind of thing. A fascinating book! Another book worth skimming ( I did not read the whole thing, but enjoyed what I read...and be forewarned that I sometimes enjoy reading things I do not agree with !) is A Nation of Farmers. Do you guys have any good books to recommend? I also would loved some specifics on seeds that did well for you this year. I am excited to know about the Diva cucumbers. Our cucumbers were okay, but not super tasty. I have enjoyed reading your posts!

What I've Learned This Year....

My garden's had another round of "bounty" and I harvested so much basil yesterday! Mounds of it. Problem was, it's the kind of basil that's my least favorite, and there's plenty of my favorite still to harvest. I might even get rid of this batch! Maybe I'll freeze it while I ponder what to do with it. It's the Marseilles basil and it's flavor is just not as good as the Genovese; not as distinctive as the Thai or Lime.... This is the time of year to let basil go to seed and/or harvest as much as we can of it. That first frost will be here before we know it! Frost won't harm oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc.

Here's what I've learned during this year of gardening:

  • I will only plant Thai, Lime, and Sweet Genovese basil next year.
  • I do not need 4 cayenne/kung pao pepper plants (anyone need some peppers? One plant is almost as tall as I am now and is producing like crazy. I've already harvested upwards of 40 peppers--green and red--and the plants are still going strong.)
  • I do not need 3 jalapeno pepper plants. They've done better than ever this year, and I have tons in the freezer.
  • I do need a poblano chili plant and multiple bell pepper plants. They've done well this year with all this water--and they need some serious staking since they've heavy laden.
  • I do need 4 green bean plants--that was just right for us.
  • I'm not going to bother with limas, black beans, and so forth....
  • I only need one zucchini plant.
  • Green tomatoes are well worth harvesting.
  • I also need a plethora of cucumber plants--especially those "Divas" we got from Park.
  • The little orange cherry tomatoes were to die for.
  • Mr. Stripey tomatoes are the prettiest.
  • Rutgers tomatoes do quite well for me.
  • I will only plant tomatoes next year in pots or in a square foot gardening patch.
  • I only need 1-2 plants of each type of winter squash (what I had this year); they like being near the compost patch, and they are YUMMY. Bonbon squashes are a must for next year--especially since we can't buy those in a store. I need to save some pumpkin seeds, too, because whatever variety has volunteered this year is sweet like a butternut squash.
  • Herbs are the cheapest and easiest way to make your meals gourmet. If you have some growing, you can make a humble pot of beans shine.
  • Napa cabbage did well for me; I'll make a go of that in the spring (I've missed my fall window for stuff).
  • I'll only do spring stuff in square foot gardening plots that are well fenced in....
  • Snow peas did well for me AND my kids like 'em, so I'll do a couple of rows next year.
  • August and late September are heavy garden-harvest times, so I'd better clear my schedule.
  • Next year, I need to defrost my freezer in May, before the garden gets going. I keep trying to empty our freezer so I can defrost it, but every week, some new garden produce is going in (bell peppers, green tomato puree, hot peppers, spaghetti squash, salsa, pizza sauce, pasta sauce, bags of basil, pesto, green beans--there's a lot in there!)
  • I need to figure a way to keep my boys OUT OF THE GARDEN. I've kept a record of my harvest--but only the harvest that's made it to the kitchen. I should have kept a record of all the green tomatoes, green peppers, green cayennes, green cucumbers they've picked. The cucumbers they recognize and sometimes pick when ripe; the others have all been labeled "apples" and seem to call those little fingers with a siren call.... They can't resist picking them no matter how many times Mom loses it, spanks, makes them come inside, etc.
If I had to make a stab at what you've all learned, here's my guess:

  • Alicia's learned: moving in garden season is no fun.
  • Sara's learned: making friends with groundhogs is a bad pre-garden strategy. (And also that mushroom compost is your friend! Her plants are AMAZING looking)
  • Katie's learned: she won't be gardening too much next summer since she'll have a newborn to take care of!
  • Cassie's learned: I don't know! How were those heirloom peas you mentioned a while back?

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Moment of Silence for the Tomatoes, Please

Well, I feel like a true pioneer woman today... except that they didn't have a freezer! Technically, you're not supposed to water bath can tomatoes from dead/dying vines, so I have to freeze everything or pressure can it (which I just don't have the energy for).

My tomatoes, for those who haven't heard, have succombed entirely to late tomato blight. I'm about to head out and rip up every last plant, bag it up, and throw it away! I can't even compost them (sigh). But I harvested every last usable tomato and made 7 pints of green tomato salsa, 1 quart of green tomato ketchup, and pureed 10 cups for breads/cakes this week. I'm about to tackle the last bit of red tomatoes for some sauce for the freezer. I'm afraid to just freeze the tomatoes themselves because the few who have blight already on them are succombing. I'm afraid it might still eat the tomatoes in the freezer. So, I'm going to cut out all bad spots and cook those babies with some fresh basil--maybe I'll do some soup. I'm WORN OUT. The green tomato salsa and ketchup all got made today. I'm pooped. I'm actually glad I won't be harvesting any tomatoes next week. And then I'll start to get sad. Maybe my peppers will do even better without the competition for light and nutrients (my tomatoes have grown over everything and are so congested thanks to all the rain--it's no wonder they all got sick).

Here's my tomato count for the season: (no doubt it would be higher if the stupid squirrels hadn't shown such a love for green tomatoes--no telling how many they carried off!) (this includes everything I picked--many of which I've given away)

Romas: 58 (mix of several--some from Parks and some from Lowe's)
All-Purpose: 35 (mix of Rutgers (they do well for me), Fabulous, Early Girls, Celebrity)
Mr. Stripeys: 12 (these are my favorite and this is the healthiest plant... sigh...these babies are HUGE, very cool-looking tomatoes--even the green ones are prettier than other green ones)
Orange Cherries (cups): 8
Yellow Pears--cherry type (cups): 8

Green Tomatoes: 6 pounds miscellaneous plus 30 all-purpose/Mr. Stripeys and 20 Romas

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Harvest Continues....

I'm getting spoiled with all this rain! My garden is doing better than ever before! And I'm doing.... nothing... at... all... (except tie up tomato plants that are taller than I am, direct vigorous squash/cucumber/melon vines back into our yard, pull up weeds that are growing overnight, etc. etc. etc.).

As of today, I officially recant all of my complaining, frustrated lambastes of organic gardening, embittered diatribes against cutworms and the like. Instead, I've been fully restored to the joys of having garden produce on my back doorstep!

I harvested another bumper crop of basil leaves today (I'm getting 3-4 cups weekly now), a cucumber (3 more footlongs on the way this week), some orange cherry tomatoes (looks like a few quarts will be ripening up this week), some romas, some all-purpose tomatoes, some onions, and enough green and wax beans to feed my family for two meals (those are going into the freezer). My pepper plants have little babies (they never produced at all last year), my winter squash plants have babies, and there is a watermelon volunteer in the compost heap. To add to the contentment, my middle child (W) asked eagerly for a "cum-cum" as soon as we walked in the door to the kitchen (he LOVES cucumbers). Aaahhh.... maybe this post will remind me next spring why I'm digging in the dirt and muttering and wondering if this is all worth it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Abundance in the Garden

After my very trying start to my gardening year, suddenly I'm looking at prospective (and actual) abundance! I just harvested a volunteer cucumber from last year: it's 13 inches long!!!!! Not sure what it's going to taste like. It grew in a matter of days, so I'm going to have to keep an eye on the vigorous plant and the other baby cukes on it. I have flowers on a couple of pepper plants, flowers on most of my bean plants, baby jalapenos forming, green tomatoes on most of my tomato plants, and.... a HUGE crop of basil. I'm going to be making pesto today because I brought in about 4 cups of leaves!!!! That's right: 4 cups. Crazy, eh? I've rooted some of the cuttings in water, so let me know if you're interested. I know Alicia is--I can always root more for the rest of you. I have Marseilles, Sweet Genovese, Lime, and Cinnamon.

Interesting Idea: Survival Seed Bank

So, I ran across this little idea in another blog: Survival Seed Bank. You can buy a certain amount of seeds that will last you quite a while due to the way they're sealed. The idea is that then you can ensure that your family will always have a source of food.

This is interesting to me partly because my cousin Cary Fowler (well, first cousin, once removed) was one of the key people getting the Svalbard Global Seed Bank up and running.