Sunday, August 31, 2008

Overtaken by Shade

This is a photo of my garden at about 1pm in the afternoon. The bed on the left hand side is all in shade. Those are my tomatoes, pepper and eggplants. In the mid summer they are in sun after about 11am, but as the sun sinks lower in the sky, the huge oak tree in my neighbor's yard becomes more of an issue.

Seventeen years ago when we moved into this house and this garden was first conceived, it was all in sun. But trees grow and the garden changes. I still get plenty of produce out of it, but if I had it to do over again, I would remove the maple tree in the front yard and move it all forward.

Those poor crops in the nightshade family don't see much sun at all right now. There is some later in the day, but not much. The cucurbits are pretty happy since they are the ones in the bed on the right side of the photo. The sun hits the zucchinis fairly early and stays all day long. The beans are doing well too. They are in the middle bed and their tepee sticks up above the shade, so they get plenty of sun. And they have really started producing. The Kentucky Wonder beans have been producing for a long time, but the Fortex has been slow. This last week it has finally taken off and has been pumping out beans.

I can't keep up with the supply of beans so today I started freezing. First I blanch the beans for a few minutes then plunge them into ice water. Then I put them on a cookie sheet to freeze. The light green beans are the Kentucky Wonder. They are almost yellow in color. The darker ones are the Fortex beans. These are the most beautiful beans. Long and straight. They didn't start really producing until the rains quit. I guess they hate the rain. I'll be growing these two beans next year too. I only used six beans for each when I planted. I have plenty left.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Scent of Rosemary

Well I was so rushed getting out my post yesterday that I forgot to talk about my rosemary. I have a "hardy" rosemary. The tag says that it is hardy to zone 6. They of course say that to sucker us zone 6ers into buying it and assuming it will actually live over the winter. Many sites say it is only hardy to zone 7. Two years ago I tried to overwinter it in my zone 6b garden. It died of course. Ever the optimist, I bought another one. It grew well enough for its first year, shoved in between the chives, oregano, lemon balm and creeping thyme.

In fact it looked wonderful, so I picked a bunch to dry. Oh how wonderful my kitchen smelled yesterday as the scent wafted through the air. It was heavenly. I was happy to throw out my old dried rosemary. It really didn't smell much of rosemary anymore. That vague green scent could have just as easily been dried parsley. Which reminds me that I really have to go through my spice cabinet and replace the herbs that I don't grow.

Today my garden was a much less happening place. I woke up to the sound of a few drops of rain. The dark sky thought about it, but really didn't do anything. Our forcast is for a few showers on and off all afternoon and evening. I really hope we get more than a vague impression of rain. It hasn't rained in over two weeks. I've watered my vegetable garden in that time, but would love to skip Sunday's watering if I can. Plus I don't water the fruit garden or anywhere else for that matter and they are starting to look dry. It took two weeks to dry out the soil, but we are there. Now we need rain again.

I had a nice little haul of eggplant, yellow squash and beans this morning. The best part though was picking the cucumbers. My late planted ones (the three front plants starting to climb the trellis) finally are putting out their first cukes. The old ones (at the top of the trellis and working their way back down) have lost their lower leaves, but are still producing more leaves and cukes. I'm drowning in cucumbers. But never fear. I make all the ones I can't eat fresh into refridgerator pickles. And I've found a friend that says he will take all the excess pickles I have. Thats good. I have a couple extra jars right now. My pickles are not canned, so only keep about a month and a half in the fridge and I can only eat so many. I need to start canning again.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Tomato Ecstasy

Wow so much to talk about today and so little time. I suppose I should write it in chronological order. So last night I was hunting more slugs. I went a bit later at 8:45pm. I couldn't believe the slugs. The lower beans were covered. I knew the leaves were getting shredded by them, but they are pole beans and really who cares about the lower leaves. But I was going for all the slugs I could find to stop the damage on my Asian greens and broccoli. Then I found a slug path. There were lots of them crossing my hay mulch toward the Asian greens and beans. Huge slugs. Not the tiny little ones I used to see. Monsters in the garden. I wove a path of destruction, leaving their poor little broken bodies for the birds to eat in the morning. And indeed, in the morning there was no sign of the previous night's massacre.

After the daily harvest, I set about planting the little 12 pack of lettuce seedlings. Well it would have been a twelve pack if they had all germinated. The seed I bought on sale from the garden center at the end of the seed season didn't germinate well. This is not shocking really. They store the seed in very hot conditions. It is better to buy them early or from catalogs and store them in reasonable conditions. As you can see from above there were gaps in my lettuce bed under the bean tepee. Now most of the gaps have been filled.

My best news of the day was harvesting and eating news. I picked the first (well fourth, but first that I could eat) of the Aussie tomatoes. He was such a pretty pink tomato. He was quickly devoured with basil and cheese. The taste was fine, not quite as good as a Brandywine. But the interesting thing about it was that it was mostly solid on the inside. It made it a perfect slicing tomato. And at 13 ounces it was also a great size for a sandwich and it had none of that pesky juice that would run down your hand while trying to eat it. If only I had more.

I sat around after lunch lamenting my tomato deprived state, so I had to go get more. This is what I bought my Busa Bucks for. So it was off to Busa Farms to wander their fields picking more tomatoes. I found another batch of tomato plants that had ripe large tomatoes. Most of them were rotting on the ground, spotted with disease, but there were some gems that I could find, including a huge yellow one. Also there were a lot of green zebra tomatoes (at least I think, nothing is marked, but it looks like them) and they were the healthiest plants around. And their tomatoes were totally unblemished by the diseases going around (septoria leaf spot maybe?). Next year I have to plant one of those. These soggy years are murder on tomatoes. I also found some really pretty looking small tomatoes that look like Brandywines with their lobes, but tiny. Cute baby weird shaped tomatoes. I had to have some of those. There was only one plant putting out fruit like this, but I picked two. Then there were a plethora of what looks like some small plum tomato. I'm hoping it is. I would love to make tomato sauce. And if it is I can go back next week and pick more for more sauce.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Stinging Retort

Last night I went out slug hunting and looked up and saw bats. I love bats. I grew up in the mountains of Colorado and when I was a kid I used to explore the old mines and find the bat rooms. It was amusing to see them sleeping upside down. Now the powers that be have filled in the vertical shafts and locked the horizontal shafts up tight. Yes it is safer, but it is a fond memory of adventure from childhood. It seems sad that it has been taken away.

The slug hunting went alright if you don't count the mosquito bites and how the slug slime got in my hair I'll never know. I go out early in the morning too to see if I can find any. I'm not sure I can eat the Fun Jen in the garden right now. It is totally shredded. Hopefully I'm reducing the population to more manageable levels. If not I'll be in trouble. I just planted another succession crop of Asian greens. Three each of boc choi, Fun Jen, and tatsoi. If the slugs are still out in force the little tiny plants will be gone in a couple of days. They only have a few true leaves.

While I was planting, I got my third ever sting. I like to plant things barehanded and feel the dirt. I only use gloves when doing the compost and pulling up things with thorns like raspberries. Well some tiny little blue-black wasp had made its nest there. I've never been stung underground before. A new one for me. I actually thought something had bit me, until the poor thing crawled out of the ground to get away. Ouch. It went away within 10 mins however, the mosquito bites lasted over an hour and were more annoying.

The last time I was stung was also in the garden. I had a small bee get tangled in my once-upon-a-time long hair. I really thought it was too small to actually sting me. Live and learn. Those small guys can get you just as easily if provoked.

Today was a wonderful harvest. Not for its quantity, but because it included lettuce for the first time since the summer heat made it all bolt. It was just thinnings, but still it is enough for two nice salads. Tomorrow I'm planting some lettuce plants that have been reared inside to beat the heat. They are still tiny little things, but the weather has broken and it is nice out. Certainly cool enough to start my lettuce growing again. In the heat it either bolts or just sits there not growing.

I also got to pick my first ripe raspberries. There were only six, but who's counting. Ok me I counted. I admired. I smiled. They were huge luscious raspberries.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Seeing Red

This morning I was seeing red - in the garden that is. My Aussie tomato is finally turning. You can just see it peaking out from underneath all the foliage. This is the first one that I might get. The other three were eaten by chipmunks. Sadly it has a small hole in one side. Maybe tomato fruitworm. I'll know when it is picked. This tomato may also be inedible, but maybe not. I might get part of it. I really want to taste it. It is a huge tomato. I'm crossing my fingers.

I was chuckling with glee this morning when I saw the other red in the garden. My raspberries are turning. The raspberries are overloaded with fruit this year, bowing way down under the weight. I don't usually tie them up, but I'm thinking it might be prudent. The bumblebees have been working the raspberries religiously everyday. They are such hard workers they don't even go home at night. The bumblebee in the left side of the photo is asleep. I saw several others in the patch still sleeping their raspberry intoxication off too.

I will be watching those closely in the next couple of days to see when I can start picking. Today I finally picked my basil. It was getting huge. I cut the plants back halfway to the ground and brought in my bounty. It was so beautiful sitting on my counter in the morning light. I contemplated what to do with it all. In the end I mixed it with olive oil, pureed and froze it. Previously I froze the leaves whole. I know they will turn black when they unfreeze, but I'm hoping their flavor holds. I'll compare the two flavors later in the winter.

I saved a few sprigs and put them in a glass on my counter. They will keep fresh for a couple of days there. Though if my Aussie tomato gets ripe I'll pick more basil. I left one Italian basil plant untouched. I still have my Thai and lemon basils in the garden too. I'll get around to saving those later.

I also have more pickles to make. So picked some dill and some hot peppers. I don't have much good looking dill weed at present, but I have plenty of dill heads, so used mostly those for my pickle juice. I keep thinking my cucumbers are fading then they put on a bout of production. They are slowly losing their leaves to mildew, but obviously still have enough to make cucumbers.

I also picked a lot more ripe dill seeds to dry in the pantry. More? I think I could just let it fall to the ground. A lot has already. But no I'll save it. The seed that has fallen has already started to germinate. Much of it won't until next year, but the earliest seeds have decided to go for it. Little seedlings are carpeting the area around my leeks and basil. I doubt they have time to grow, but until my cucumbers give up the ghost, I'll let them try.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On Row Covers, Watering and Too Much Dill

Well tomato horn worms are not the only nasty caterpillars in the garden. I found and picked off two cabbage worms. I always thought they looked pretty. They have such a nice velvety green. They tend to blend into the foliage of the broccoli, but I really don't have much trouble finding them. Well except that my broccoli is under a row cover and I rarely lift it up. So how did they get under? I confess I didn't have the row cover on at the start. When I found some butterflies hanging around the plants, I immediately remedied the situation. The row cover can't stay on forever though. The plants will get too tall for it. My row cover isn't wide enough to cover tall broccoli. I keep hoping that the butterflies will die off as the season progresses. I'm not sure they do though. For now I'll keep checking the plants to make sure no more hatch. They really did a job on the two broccoli plants they inhabited.

The only reason I was under the row cover in the first place was to water my plants. It has been extremely cool and sunny here. Our days have been in the 70s and our nights in the 50s and 60s. We haven't had rain for ten days, and none in the forecast until (maybe, but only if we are very lucky) the weekend. For living it has been the perfect weather. Stunning in fact. So I watered my plants about 5 days ago and I have to do it again today. The row covers tend to shed water. Which was good for our inundation earlier this summer, but not so good when it is dry. I would really like to find the woven ones that they sell in England, since they let the water through better. I actually have one from about 15 years ago that is like that. I didn't use it since it is my longest row cover and too long for the short bed. I think next year I'm going to break down and cut it. I don't anticipate needing such a long row cover in the near future anyway.

In addition to watering I deseeded my dill heads that have been sitting in the pantry drying in their paper bag. I didn't really do a great job at winnowing out all the little stem bits, but I got all the biggest ones out. I have a cup of dill seed and I have more to put in the bag to dry tomorrow. What in the world am I going to do with so much dill seed? The dill has loved the wet weather and grown unusually tall. Peaking at about five feet. In addition it has put out numerous huge flower heads. The seed smells heavenly, but really I don't cook with it much at all. I use it for pickles. I'm not sure I've ever used it for anything else. It really smells like it ought to be baked into bread.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Welcome and Unwelcome Insects

Yesterday I was out in the garden and saw two of these wasps on my oregano blossoms. They are large and about 1 1/2" long. They seemed to totally ignore me, but they made me a little leery. I wanted to know if they were aggressive like yellow jackets or not. I kept thinking that I wouldn't want to get stung by one of those. It turns out they are peaceful wasps, Great Golden Diggers. They capture katydids and crickets for their young and I certainly have enough of both of those this year.

Then I noticed this monstrosity on my tomato plant. I was VERY lucky to find it when I did. It had only eaten one branch and about half of 6 tomatoes. Tomato Horn Worms can eat a plant down to nothing in a very short time. They are so easy to overlook. I only noticed it because I saw a half eaten tomato. I was thinking it strange that my chipmunks didn't pick the tomatoes like usual, but left it on the plant. Then I noticed the caterpillar. Ack. I'll keep a close eye on those tomatoes for a while just in case more eggs were laid.

This morning I had a wonderful surprise. I had some blossoms starting to open on my peas. I'm not sure what kind of peas these are. I planted two kinds, but forgot to label them. Most of the plants from one variety rotted out with all the rain, but these grew quite well and sidled over to take over the unused part of the trellis. I can't wait to see what they make. Snowpeas or snap peas? Either way I'll be happy with them. I think I'm rooting for the snap peas since those are what died in the spring pea planting. Planting more than one variety has really been helpful for certain plants. If one dies another might just thrive. I need to do this more often.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Challenged Carrots

I noticed today that my carrots are starting to shape up. I planted them on July 4th, so not only are they very patriotic carrots but they have had 51 days to sprout and grow. Though their roots are tiny still, you can now tell they are carrots. I thinned the above one out. It has little knots on its roots. This is not a good sign. I'm guessing it is root-knot nematode. I've never seen this here before, but I haven't grown carrots in many years. I've always thought it a pest of sandy soil. My soil is very much clay. I'm hoping it is the northern variety, because I intend to grow corn here next year. I'm wondering if I should start worrying.

I've also had some damage from, I'm guessing, birds. The leave have been broken off. Usually rodents eat from the end down. Cutworms cut them close to the soil like this, but drag then end into the soil (and I usually only get cutworm damage in the spring and early summer). So it is probably birds. If I see more damage, I'll net them, but bird damage like this tends to be sporadic so might not happen again.

I hope so much that the carrots make it. Except for the chopped down ones, they look nice enough above ground. I do adore carrots fresh from the garden. I quit growing them years ago because they don't like growing here. However I was seduced by the blogosphere. So many photos of beautiful carrots being pulled from the garden overcame my good sense. Then again, they might make it. Is it hope or insanity that reigns in my garden?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why Do I Blog About Gardening?

I recently received an email from an old friend that wanted to keep in touch more. He has been reading my blog and seemed to think that you had to be proficient to blog. I actually think a better barometer of whether you should blog is if you have the time and whether there is something you are passionate about. Passion is easy for me, but time is certainly an issue. For me it takes a long time to blog, though I'm getting faster as I go on.

As you all well know, I picked gardening as my passion to blog about. My sister-in-law wondered why I would pick that with all the things I do. When I decided to blog, I had to pick a subject. I didn't want a generic blog about me. I immediately came up with two subjects, gardening and conversations with my daughter. The second is immensely more interesting. My daughter is in the autistic spectrum and her mind is quite fascinating. She certainly doesn't think like anyone else I've ever met. However she doesn't talk much and is off at college for part of the year. So there would be very few entries. I really wanted to blog daily. The garden is a perfect subject for this as it changes every day - at least in the spring through fall. I'll see what transpires in the winter.

The big question is why blog at all. Everyone has their own reasons I'm sure. My friend, I think, would do it to keep in touch, which is not an unusual reason to blog. Many people have personal blogs that their families read. My reason is, I think, very unusual.

I have been beadweaving as a profession for six years now. Before that I was programming; before that momming; before that painting; before that I got my degree in chemistry. I tend to hop between things. I love to learn. Beadweaving is very methodical for the most part. For some things that I do it is very creative, but there is still a lot of production work. Even the creative parts use only a small part of my brain. The rest stagnates. I thought about taking classes again, but instead decided to write.

Writing for me is hard. I'm not horribly bad at it. I did succeed in APing out of my freshman English course in college oh so many years ago (ignore the sentence fragments I'm always putting in my blog). But I struggle; I'm slow; it is hard for me to write; and it challenges me.

My first choice in writing wasn't actually to blog. It was to write short stories. I really think I couldn't do that alone. I needed someone to bounce ideas off of and to contribute their own ideas. I asked my son if he wanted to collaborate. His answer was a vigorous "NO!". Darn. That would have been fun.

So I blog for the challenge of it. At some point it will be some other challenge, but for now it is blogging. One should never become complacent with their lives.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Eggplant Explosion

Well the eggplants have been in overdrive, which is wonderful. Though today I only picked one. But it is definitely the season for them. I keep reading blogs asking what to do with them, or giving recipes. Today I made curry. I usually don't follow a recipe with curry. I tend to throw things in when I cook, but I can give you a recipe that is approximately what I do - though it will change depending upon my mood. Today I had zucchini, eggplant, beans and jalapeños from the garden and that made a wonderful curry.

Curried Vegetables

  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • clove of garlic grated (yes I don't squish or mince mine, I grate it through a small- medium grater)
  • T fresh grated ginger
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 1 red pepper (I had a strange one from the farmers market, sort of sweet, but a little picante)
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 eggplant (mine is very small, more than I had would be better)
  • handful of green beans (not a usual addition to my curries, but really any veggie is good to throw into curry, in the winter it will be winter squash and sweet potatoes)
  • 1/2 can of diced tomatoes (I'd used fresh but all I have is cherries and their skins make a terrible texture)
  • 2t curry powder (I use Penzey's curry powder)
  • 2t cinnamon
  • 2t garam masala
  • dash of cloves and allspice
  • crushed coriander
  • salt

Sauté the onion in the oil until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and jalapeno. Sauté a minute more. Add everything else except the beans (I like them crunchy) and simmer for 15 minutes. Add a little water if necessary. Add the beans and cook for 3 minutes. Eat.

Most recipes will have you sautéing each vegetable separately until brown. I don't like to do this. Olive oil breaks down in high heat, and will oxidize. So even when I sauté the onions I won't let it get very hot. Simmering is easier on the oil and on the veggies. Not to mention I'm a really lazy person sometimes and just don't want to do it.

I also confess that I had some left over roast beef in the freezer. It was 6 months old and really needed to be eaten. I minced it finely and put it in. I know it is a little sacrilegious to eat cow and curry together. It really should have been lamb or chicken. But lunch always tends to be the meal of what I need to eat (leftovers, what I picked in the garden, or the package that got shoved to the back of the freezer), so I ate it. Along with some cucumber salad and cottage cheese (not a yogurt fan, but it serves the same purpose).

Curry really is my favorite way to eat eggplant now. Eggplant Parmesan comes in a close second. Yumm.

And since it is eggplant season, you just know that the current hot question from the search engines is "When do I pick my eggplant". I have to laugh if they get my other blog posts that say I pick it when it hits five inches. That is just for my variety. Mine tend to increase in size really fast for me. I really don't want them to start developing seeds so I pick them when they slow down in their growth. This is usually five inches for me, but sometimes four or six. Most people say pick them while they are shiny and before they turn dull. Once you hit dull you are too late. You can never be too early, they taste great young.

My eggplants have tons of fruit on them, but sadly they are tending to wilt. I watered today to see if that was the problem, but no. They are wilting even with the water. I hope they will be ok. They have been a surprise hit for me, since I haven't eaten them since childhood. Now I just wonder if I like them because they are totally non-bitter from my garden. Or maybe my tastes have just changed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Harvesting Herbs and Spices

The fairies have been at my garden again. We haven't had any real rain since Friday, but still the mushrooms are growing. I've never seen so many before. We usually get a sprouting or two during the year, but we have had sprouting after sprouting after sprouting. They never stop. I have puff balls growing under my pepper plants. The ones in the photo are near the compost pile. Grass won't grow there, but the moss is having a field day. I can't imagine, but I think I'm going to have to water soon as we have no rain in sight.

Recently I've been putting up my herbs and spices. The English thyme I planted earlier this year has grown quite well and I deemed it big enough to cut back. I didn't get a lot, not nearly enough for the whole year, but my old dried thyme had no scent to it anymore. The newly dehydrated thyme is fabulous.

I usually pick my sage in the spring before it flowers, but this year I never got around to it. I picked quite a bit this week and dehydrated it, then rubbed it through my fingers. My whole house smelled of sage for a while.

I've also been harvesting a lot of dill seed. Some of it I let fall in the garden, but most of it I've been picking. I'm going to have a ton of seed.

And last but not least of the spices I've been harvesting are my chili peppers. I keep adding to the string. I didn't make my string nearly long enough. The peppers have been prolific this year.

As usual I didn't wear gloves while working with them. The needle gets covered in the spice and my fingers get dangerous. I know most people do wear gloves. I just try to be careful whenever cutting or threading them. I don't rub my eyes or touch anything. Afterwards I wash up very throughly. The only trouble I have is when some of the oil gets under my fingernail. Ouch. But even then I can get it out if I get soap under my nails and scrub.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pumpkin Reprieve

Today I noticed the mildew starting to take over the cucurbits again. The older leaves always get hit first. I mercilessly hacked off more leaves starting at the bottom. I have about ten feet of pumpkin vine defoliated. My yellow summer squash looks kind of funky since it is now in the path and no longer in its bed. I think I ought to cover crop that section too. I'll get to it, but not today. As I hacked off leaves I did see that the borers are in my summer squash. Frass can be seen everywhere. The writing is on the wall for these plants.

This is very normal around here. The vine borers move in and it weakens the plants enough that the mildew kills them off. I'm trying to keep the any leaves with mildew picked off. It should help keep it from spreading. I'm thinking they have just one or two weeks left of life. Now don't feel sorry for me. If they do make it that long it will be a record for my summer squash. I've always lost it in the middle of August before. And wonder of wonders they are still producing. I picked two zucchini today.

I do have my two late planted summer squash, again one of zucchini and one yellow. They won't get borers so I'm hoping they can withstand the mildew. This might just be wishful thinking since I've had to clip one leaf off today. Luckily tomorrow is spray day, so that ought to help them. They are still so tiny and are only producing male blossoms.

I've never done a late planting before. It will be interesting to see if the experiment works. I'm wondering if it is really worth it or not though. I saved a 4'x4' planting space for them (which I should have cover cropped in the spring but didn't, or at least grown onions or something there). Zucchini is so productive it is worth the experiment. I didn't weigh my summer squash - next year, but I have gotten a lot. I doubt a fall crop will be as productive since it is cold and not as sunny.

Yesterday I was talking about ripping my pumpkin plant up. This morning I was weeding the perennial bed (where the pumpkin vine has sprawled) and lo and behold there was a pumpkin that I couldn't see from inside the fence. It is nestled next to my iris and on top of my daphne (which I only grow because I like the name ;). It is 3 1/2" long so far. So the pumpkin vine has been given a pardon and will live - or at least be allowed to die slowly, since that seems to be its unenviable fate. We might actually get a pumpkin this year. It is still not guaranteed, but we now have a chance. That made my daughter ecstatic and me too since I love pumpkin pie and these are pie pumpkins.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pumpkins or Cover Crops?

I've been contemplating ripping my pumpkin vine out and putting in a cover crop. It has yet to set any pumpkins. All of the female flowers have fallen off due to stress (vine borers and mildew). But every time I think about it, I look at the flowers. My bees are so happy with the pumpkin blossoms. Plus they help to fertilize my summer squash.

So instead of ripping them up, today I just sowed the cover crop over the area. When it germinates I might pull the pumpkins up, or I might wait until the cover crop is a little bigger. The pumpkin vine is not in its planting spot anyway. The vine took off over the fence into the perennial border and the old leaves have all died off, so that patch of ground is bare - but not for long.

I tend to cover crop my garden sporadically. If the area is bare and I don't plan on planting anything for the fall, I'll put something in - provided I have seeds on hand. This year I remembered to order seed so I'm all set. In the past I've used vetch and rye, both are hardy in my climate over the winter. But rye is allelopathic (puts out chemicals the inhibit growth of other plants). Sadly it is the only winter hardy grain here. But UMass Extension has done some research on production, and even though oats die off over the winter it still makes the best pairing with vetch. So this year it is oats and vetch.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mellowing out in the Garden

Today was a day for the record books: clear blue sky, no humidy, a gentle breeze. Yes the weather patterns have changed in the NE. We are supposed to have a long stretch of sunny non-humid days. There is just one day predicted to have rain in the 10 day forecast and that is just scattered thunder showers. I'm dancing right now. I know in the future I'll grump since I'll have to water if we really get 10 days without any rain, but for now I'm going to celebrate the wonderful weather.

This morning was perfect. I was out turning the compost at 7:30 in the morning. I'm the only fool to get up that early on a Sunday morning, but I really love it out there all by myself. There were no sounds of construction equipment (since it is Sunday, they start at 7am all other days); no one else is out in their yard mowing the lawn; it was just me and the birds. The birds were singing gloriously this sunny morning. I think they like the weather too.

Now most people think that turning the compost is a chore, but not me. I love it. I think about all the wonderful food for my plants that I'm making and I smile. I can even lower my blood pressure when I close my eyes and think about it - especially when I think about turning it into my garden. Lowering my blood pressure is always a good thing. I have controlled high blood pressure, which my friends think is strange since I'm a really mellow person.

But my garden does wonders for my blood pressure. Every summer my doctor thinks about taking me off my medication since it gets low. It might be working in the garden that does it, but more likely it is eating from the garden. Someone has to eat all this produce and I do my best. Yesterday's lunch was eggplant and zucchini curry. Yumm. Even my son was looking to see what I made since it smelled so good. Then he saw it was a pile of veggies and decided that it was ok that he couldn't eat it (he just had his wisdom teeth pulled and can't chew yet). The garden definitely makes me eat better than I usually do.

Today I won't eat my lunch from the garden. I have a bbq to go to this afternoon, then my brother is in town and wants to go eat Chinese (we have great Chinese food in Winchester). But I did make a three bean salad with beans from the garden, so I'll bring that to the bbq. I really contemplated zucchini bread, but I've been enjoying it every day for breakfast, and am not willing to give that away yet. Soon I'll get tired of it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Shattered Peace

My garden has always been my haven. If I'm feeling down, I'll go out and weed or dead head my flowers, or just listen to the buzzing of the bees. It is very peaceful. Since it is on the side of my house, I see my neighbors walking by with their dogs. I say "hi" to the ones I know. There are very few cars; the roads leading into our neighborhood don't connect anywhere, so no one else travels them.

That was until last week. The neighbors have been fighting a construction project for about 10 years. The area was conservation land, donated in a will. The 4H club had control over it and had a little petting farm there. But they got into debt and had to sell it. The town bought it, so they could control what got built there.

The neighbors wanted to have housing like what is here now (houses are in woods, with about 1/2 acre for each home). To pay the town back we would only have to build about six to ten houses. The selectmen were pushing for a large nursing home. Technically nothing should have gone in there because the only access to the spot broke a town ordinance about frontage for a road, but politics being what it was, they ignored the neighbors desires and pushed through the special permit for the road. The legal wrangling took a long time, but about two years ago, the neighbors and Salter (developer) came to an agreement. They would make it an assisted living home and only have 88 units.

The construction started two weeks ago and the location of the new road? Well it is right across the street from my garden (you can see the equipment and port-a-potty in the photo). My sense of peace in the garden is gone. They start about the same time I go out into my garden every morning - 7am. I was out one afternoon picking some herbs for my meal and I felt like they were all staring at me, because they do, at least if I spend more than one minute in the garden. Arrgggg. I want my garden back. I can't wait until their little road is done so at least all the people will be down below the hill.

My friend and neighbor across the street (right next to the new road) says she won't go into her yard now. She used to spend lots of time during summer slowly making a labyrinth in her back yard. Not anymore. She is staying indoors for the duration.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day August 2008

It is the 15th of the month again and that means it is Garden Blogger's Bloom Day, hosted by Carol of May Dream Gardens. I don't have nearly variety of flowers that I had for July. The excessive water that we have had here in the Boston area has really put a damper on things. Even some annuals have bit the dust - err not dust since there is none. In reality they have drowned or mildewed. I could show you some really nasty photos of my iris foliage. I've never seen it like this before. But I'll be kind and not show you the carnage.

The rain has been good for some things. My raspberries are exploding with berries. The bumblebees have all moved to the raspberry patch. The patch is right next to the driveway (pavement being the best way to keep raspberries under control), and I find it very hard to get into my car anymore. I have to lift up the brambles to get into the car - being very gentle so as not to disturb my bumblebees.

In the vegetable garden, everything is blooming: my summer squash and pumpkins; the cucumbers; beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, chamomile, dill, thyme, mint (though I try to keep it picked off, I never succeed), feverfew, and lemon balm. The photo is of my Super Chili peppers. Though you can see a little white flower at the end of the branch, the really pretty part are the ripe peppers. They are as pretty as any of my flowers.

As to ornamental flowers, I have plenty of annuals: cosmos, snapdragons, impatiens, marigolds (which I had to have a photo of since Carol wondered if anyone else still grew them - yes we do), sweet allysum, dahlias (yes I grow them as annuals because I'm too lazy to save the tubers), johnny-jump-ups, and I'm sure some I've forgotten. My lobelia has rotted out which is sad since I love the deep blue color they had in the spring.

I have very few perennials blooming: rose, rudebeckia, three types of coreopsis, and ballonflower. I do have a couple of blooms left on my pink mallow and on my pinks (what are they still doing blooming?), but for the most part they have finished.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tomatoes and Ratatouille

I'm no longer getting even cherry tomatoes from my garden due to the chipmunk. So I'm at war with them. I really hate doing it, but they must go, or at least have a lower population. So I netted my tomatoes. This will not prevent them from getting the tomatoes. It just makes it harder for them. And I set out a trap. I have to confess it isn't my tomatoes that are forcing the issue. It is the raspberries. They are starting to get heavy with the fall raspberries. It looks like I will have a huge crop. I got a lot of spring raspberries until the chipmunks found them, then I got none at all. I really want to have raspberries on my cereal again every morning. I like taking my bowl out and filling it up to eat a minute later.

I'm solving my tomato problem with help from some friends and a local farm. Busa Farms is two miles from my house. They do a weird CSA. They sell discounted "Busa Bucks" in the winter and spring. I tried to convince some friends to split the CSA but I had no luck, though I did have two friends (a couple) that signed up. It turns out they had too many to use, so sold some to me. Yeah.

With Busa bucks you can pick your own produce in the fields for half price. I really liked this deal. So I went this morning. I picked about 2 pounds of tomatoes (? maybe) and it cost me two Busa bucks. Their set up is - hmm how do I put this delicately - amateur. They have no maps of the farm. They have no baskets to give you to collect things or knives to cut things off the plants. I did ask where things where and got a little hand waving. I found the tomatoes without much trouble. I'm not sure what varieties I picked, since nothing is labeled. With all the rain lots of them were cracked and spoiling. Any that were touching the ground were of course rotting. There were not a lot of big tomatoes that were ripe, but there were a huge amount of orange cherry tomatoes that looked nice, so I got mostly those. I found a few other tomatoes that I'll let finish ripening on my counter. The red and orange striped one looks so pretty.

Since I picked eggplant from my garden this morning, I figured it was time to try to make ratatouille. Though it was only in the high seventies today, it was humid, so I didn't really want to use the oven. I made it in a sautée pan instead. I had no sweet peppers from the garden, so used a jalapeño. I also used the orange cherry tomatoes from the farm. It turned out quite well. Though I can't say I loved it, it was ok. The smell was fabulous with all the garlic and garden fresh thyme. But it was a little too rich for me. I think I'll cut back on the olive oil. I actually thought it would make a fabulous soup with the addition of chicken broth and kidney beans. I'll have to try that when soup season is upon us.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Finally a Sunny Day

Today is going to be a fabulous sunny day for a change. So it is the morning to spray my worm tea/aspirin. First I made sure to pick off any leaves from my tomatoes and beans that seemed diseased. There weren't that many. Previously I made up just 2 quarts of tea, but now with the plants being so big I made up a gallon and could have used more. Those zucchini leaves are huge.

When I started spraying this spring, I really wondered whether it was worth the effort. It takes time. I'm not sure how much time, since I never look at the clock, but it adds a lot of work to the garden. With all the wet weather, I'm glad I have. I've been reading other New England based blogs and many are saying there are no leaves left on their tomatoes. Mine are mostly healthy. Some of the lower leaves are gone and just a few of the higher ones, but that is it.

The wet weather has me worried about my peppers too. The plants are growing just fine in the wet weather, as they always do. Nothing seems to stop them. However I usually let the Super Chilies stay on the plants even after they get ripe. I usually pick a lot of them en masse in late September and string them up to dry. Though many are dry by then anyway. But this year I think they will rot if I leave them out. So I picked a few that were starting to dry on the plant and strung them up inside. I think I'll continue to pick some every week to string. My five peppers look lonely hanging by themselves. I'm so used to a huge string of chilies.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Seedlings and Squash

Yesterday I didn't really have time to notice all the little changes in the garden. I had bigger issues to deal with. Today I had a bit more time. Before I left, I replanted some carrots for the third time. Most of the first sowing came up, but there were holes. The second sowing didn't do well. This sowing I did a little more heavy handed, so I'm getting lots of germination. And of course I'll have to thin a lot. I also planted some onions and radishes near the broccoli. They are all coming up just fine. The chard is still not up. It always seems to take a while, and doesn't always germinate.

I also noticed the bad. The mildew is slowly taking over the cucurbits. They were all effected except my late sowing. Whenever I see it, I cut off the offending leaf. We have had nothing but rain, rain and more rain. The air is so humid every day. It is perfect mildew weather. So I'm actually surprised that the things aren't dead yet. Usually they do die around the middle of August, but this year has been so bad they ought to have succumbed already. I think the constant spraying has helped a lot. However I haven't been able to spray for about two weeks now, due to rain and vacation. I have my compost tea all set. Maybe tomorrow it will quit raining long enough for it to be worth spraying again.

My nemesis the evil chipmunk has been trying different veggies. There is a bite out of one of the eggplants and one of the zucchini, but the bites are small. He obviously didn't like them all that much. So this morning I found another decimated tomato on the ground. Sigh. At least he ate most of it and didn't pick two. But I suspect that I'll have to buy my large tomatoes this year if I want any. I can't wait for the Verril Farm's Corn and Tomato Festival. It is this weekend. Yum. Last year there were thirty varieties of tomatoes to try.

Since it is mid August already, I took the row covers off of my second sowing of cucurbits. I had them on to make sure the borers didn't get them. They are such cute little plants compared to their older siblings. The zucchini pictured here is about the size of one of the leaves of the older zucchini plant. Since they are planted near one another, I have to keep the older leaves from shading the new plants. I have stakes pounded in that hold them back. They really want to invade and take that sunny spot over too. You can see the new zucchini plant is already sending out male flowers. Its first zucchini is going to be so small compared to what I've been getting. And I've been getting way too much. I had two summer squash left over from before my vacation, and five from yesterday and today. So I resorted to grating all but one of them and freezing it. I packed them up in 1 1/2c packages, which is just right for one loaf of zucchini bread. Though they may end up as soup when it gets cold.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back from Vacation

Vacations are funny. I'm always so excited about going and have a great time, but I look forward to coming home. I love sleeping in my own bed. The only flaw in the ointment is all the things that get backed up and have to be taken care of. This includes the garden.

I came home to a pile of smelly grass cuttings. Usually I don't let it sit for very long, before mixing them with leaves and composting them. But the service comes whether you are there or not and I've trained them well to put it in a pile for me. It had also been raining a lot while I was gone. We had three inches of rain in the last five days according to the weather service. The compost pile that needed turning was soggy - way too soggy. Maybe tomorrow I'll dig out some more plastic to keep the rain off of it. My two finished piles, that have been combined into one, have plastic over the top so they don't get wet, but my other piles don't. I'll need to fix this if it keeps raining every day.

I left my garden in the care of some friends. I only asked them to pick things, so my plants would keep producing. I had the garden well weeded the day before I left. It is hard to tell if they got a lot of zucchini and yellow squash or not, but I came back and picked three squash and one zucchini. Two of the eggplants from the last entry were gone, so I'm guessing they grew big enough. They were pretty close when I left. I have plenty that will be ready soon. I also had a pile of cucumbers. One of them was huge. It may have only been about five inches long but it was very wide. I've never let one get that big before. It screamed to be made into sliced pickles so that is what I did with it. Usually I just make whole ones, but it was so big around that it almost filled my jar all the way to the sides.

My friends missed a couple of beans. They were huge and had full size beans inside. I thought about keeping them for something, but there weren't that many. Kentucky Wonder is supposed to make good fresh and dried beans. I keep thinking about letting some set and keeping them. I wish I had two legs of my bean pyramid planted with them. Then I could keep getting green beans from one and let the other go to dried beans. If I get sick of them later in the season, I'll experiment and do this.

My coriander had no more seeds left on the plants. I was hoping there would be some left, so I could collect it. All the seeds that dried earlier were mildewy from the constant rain. Since it just kept raining, I'm thinking even if I were here, there would have been none to collect. I'll have to make due with last year's seeds. I'm sure the seeds that did fall will provide me with next years crop. All that was left to do was to rip up all the plants. I will compost them with the next set of grass clippings.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More Eggplant Coming In

Friday I picked my first eggplant. I debated how to cook it, but settled on eggplant parmesan. I usually don't like fried food. Well I like the first few bites then it makes me sick. And I mean literally sick. My stomach will hurt for quite a while. So I eat very little fried food.

Eggplant parmesan is a fried food, but it can be made baked too. So I did. I sliced then covered the eggplant in egg and then coated it in breadcrumbs spiced up with seasonings and baked it in the oven . Then I added sauce and cheese. It was another good recipe from And the best part was I liked it. I didn't taste anything bitter in it at all.

Since that eggplant experiment turned out so well, the next time I'll have to do a stir fry just so I can taste the eggplant. I did taste a little bit of flavor that wasn't cheese and sauce and breadcrumbs, but it was subtle and not bad at all.

And I have plenty of little eggplants coming in. They are growing so quickly. The first photo all the way at the top was taken Saturday morning and each succeeding photo was taken one day later. You can see how quickly they are growing by looking at how far down the front eggplant is compared to the branches.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Yesterday I planted my broccoli and it looked so lonely. Right now it seems like the plants are so far apart, but later, I won't feel the same way. Still I put a row of bunching onions down the middle of the broccoli. I seeded the chard in the section where I pulled out my asparagus beans. Between the two I put in some radishes that will get pulled long before the broccoli and chard needs the space.

Those were the seeds that went in. The ones that went out were the dill seeds. I harvested four heads of dill. The seeds had just started falling off the head. So I took them and put them in a paper bag. Over the next couple of weeks the rest will fall off. I'll leave plenty of dill seed in the garden to self seed for next year, but I always have to collect some for my pickles. I've never used dill seed in anything else.

I have lots of new dill seedlings in the garden right now. I didn't plant them. I moved the compost pile over and a couple of weeks later, the newly bared ground is covered in dill seedlings. There are lots of tomato seedlings too, but I weeded them all out. There is no way they could grow up before frost.

I need to collect some coriander as it is starting to get ripe. But it has been so wet here, the seeds look black from mildew, not the nice brown I usually get. I've been letting them all fall to the ground. I'm sure many will still germinate next year, but the quality doesn't seem good enough for eating. I'm hoping it will dry out a bit so I can collect some good seed next week.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Fall Crops

My spring peas are finally wearing out. They are still producing, but the peas are turning bitter. The plants really looks sad. Most of the foliage is dead or dying. Just the new green shoots look nice. I've already planted my fall peas and they are doing fine. Though once again I planted two varieties and forgot to label them. I have no clue as to which is which. I figure I ought to be able to tell a snowpea from a snap pea once they start fruiting.

So to replace the peas that I'm pulling out, I started a six pack of Pacman broccoli in the middle of July. It has lived in the garden all its life, but not in the ground since I didn't have room to put them yet. They are still little tiny plants, only 2 weeks old, but their space is ready for them and their roots have almost filled out their pots.

The soil where the peas were was wonderful. I stuck my trowel in and it sunk easily all the way up hand with barely any pressure. The worms must love this bed for it to be so loose. Then two earwigs crawled out of the hole. I really need to start trapping them. So I rolled up some newspaper and soaked it. I'll take it up each morning and replace it. I probably killed a dozen earwigs while I was planting the broccoli. I'm sure that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The broccoli seemed happy in their new home. A little lonely though. There is so much space between each plant right now, about 18". Hopefully when the are full grown it won't be too small.

While I was there, I pulled out the dying asparagus beans. Now I need to replace it with something. I have about 2-3 sqft of space. Maybe I'll plant some more bunching onions. My current ones shoved in between the lettuce (that isn't growing in the heat) have reached adulthood and some are full size. I could use some for the fall.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

My Mutant Cosmos

I have a small area in my garden that is too close to the foundation (and its termite barrier) to grow food. So I grow flowers to cut. My favorite ones are snapdragons and cosmos because they grow well here. When I picked them out I chose ones that were about the same height and just mixed them up in the bed. I should have put the snapdragons in front.

The Sensations cosmos was supposed to only get three feet tall, but as you can see it towers over the garden. It has topped six feet. Some of the stems are an inch thick. The Sensation variety usually grows only 3' or maybe 4' for me if the flower stalks are tall, but never like this. The poor snapdragons are only about 2 1/2' tall and are totally dwarfed by the cosmos. They seem to be surviving well despite being lost in the foliage of the cosmos.

But the cosmos keeps growing. They are acting like my supposedly 2 1/2" tall peas that weren't supposed to climb but still are (now at 6' also). I'm wondering if it has been the weird weather this year. The beginning of June was extremely hot and we had constant rain, wind and thunderstorms and weirdly also lots of sun. Or did I over feed them (though I can't imagine how, since I did the same as always)? They did take a long time to bloom, though they are starting to bloom now. I would think the poor snapdragons would grow well too if I had, but they are acting like normal.

Friday, August 1, 2008

First Eggplant

Today was a fabulous day in the garden. The little chipmunk only decided to eat one cherry tomato. And (drum roll please) it was the day to pick my first ever eggplant. This is not the first eggplant of the season, but the first I've ever grown. Slim Jim produces a small little eggplant, only about 5" long and just over an inch thick. Such a pretty purple. There are so many more to come. This is a photo of one of the plants. Currently it has set four more eggplants and the blossom cluster has many more blooms on it - not to mention the other clusters of blossoms that are open. Not one flower so far hasn't set fruit, which is surprising. These poor plants were totally shredded by the June hail. Two of the four are now robust and fruiting. One is almost recovered and one is on its last legs.

My problem is what to do with it. I don't eat eggplant - yet. It is another crop that I feel I ought to learn to like. Since I've never cooked it, which recipe to pick? Eggplant Parmesan is probably the safest. All the coating and the sauce and cheese would cover up anything, so I stand a good chance of liking it. But the little eggplants are the right size for a stir fry. Hmm I'll have to think about it. I may go for safe. Eventually I'll have to try ratatouille, which combines both zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes - at least if my chipmunk lets me eat any of the big beefsteak tomatoes.

My beans are producing like crazy. I really like having them on a tepee since you can see the beans easily to harvest. Next year I'm thinking of a three sisters plot, so I won't have the ease of a tepee anymore. I'll miss it.

The photo is of my Kentucky Wonder beans. My Fortex beans just aren't producing at all. I've gotten a few beans, but not much. And we won't discuss my asparagus beans that have pretty much died. I'm so glad I planted more than one variety. I get more than I really want to eat from just the Kentucky Wonder. I put the extras in my pickle juice after blanching, then eat them in my salad the next day. I should add some dried beans for a three bean salad, however the one bean salad is doing it for me, even if I do cheat by adding sweet onions and bell peppers.

I also got to pick a tatsoi. It really was full size already. I sometimes pick the outer leaves, but with the slugs, they go for the outer leaves and leave the middle alone. So I've been growing them full size then pulling the whole thing. I'll eat it slowly over the next week in my salads.