Thursday, October 30, 2008


Today had two momentous things happen in the garden. The garden has officially been frosted and I picked my first leeks.

I wasn't sure about the frost until I went out for the leeks. But yup the peppers are officially dead. The Sungold tomatoes have been looking pretty bad recently but they still have been producing about 5 tomatoes every day. No more. I need to find a warmish day to go out and pull them.

The poor garlic bed, with one garlic leaf popping up out of the soil, was actually frozen over. The ground was hard as a rock. Yes I did say the ground. I hadn't mulched the garlic yet. I've been avoiding the garden because its been so cold and windy. I confess. I've been a slacker in the garden recently. There just isn't much to do, so I've been doing nothing. I have rectified the situation and gave the garlic a nice hay mulch.

The bed the leeks were in - just two feet over - hadn't frozen, so they were easy to dig out. I didn't pick many, only three. The recipe I was making only called for one, but the leeks were so small. The largest was only 1" in diameter. While I was out I picked some green onions. I've been wanting them while cooking for the last couple of days, but I just couldn't bring myself to go out and pick them. Too cold.

I used the leeks to make Cheesy Delicata Squash and Potato Soup. I hadn't planned to make it, but I had just pulled a tray of Delicata squash out of the oven and was reading Jennifer's blog while I was waiting for them to cool. She had a new recipe for cooking my favorite squash. Of course I had to try it. I made it with real cheese however and soy milk since I've never even heard of hempmilk before. It was good, but it still doesn't trump plain leek and potato soup.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Creative Commons

I've noticed in the gardening blog world that people are so afraid of having their work copied. Over the last year that I've been reading gardening blogs I've found outraged posts about finding one of their photos elsewhere on the web. Or someone has copied some of the text.

My question is "Does it matter?". Is it hurting you? Most of us gardening bloggers don't make money on our work, so it isn't taking money out of our pockets. We do it for the joy of it. We do it to connect with the other gardeners out in the world.

If someone uses one of our photos, it should not be an issue to us. In fact we ought to want them to use our photo and link back to us. We ought to want them to quote our blog and link back to us. The attribution to us is what we really want. We want to be noticed. What we don't want is to languish in some strange circle of hell where you write and no one listens, where we scream to be heard, but we are surrounded by an empty wasteland.

Luckily there is a middle ground between copyright and public domain. It is Creative Commons. Creative Commons even has degrees of rights that you can keep. Personally I'm going for the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. What does that mean? Well if you use my work you must attribute it to me. You can't use it commercially, or put another way, if you make money on it, I had better be making money on it too. You can build upon it if you like and change it, but you have to pass it along with the same license.

I love the idea of Creative Commons. I first found out about it years ago from Cory Doctorow. He is a science fiction author who publishes all his books online with a Creative Commons license. He writes why he does this. Just scroll down past the "What's Little Brother About" section to find it. Or read that section too. It is about his latest book which is fabulous and very scary. He claims it is a young adult book, but I'd recommend it for adults too.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Artic Dinosaurs and Other Chilly Musings

I love the micro climate of my vegetable garden. The weathermen were saying that we had a nice hard freeze last night. The worst hit was the NW suburbs (that's me). The temps were in the 20s. Hmmm. I did have a light frost on the top of my car, but my peppers and tomatoes are still alive. There is no frost in the garden.

Tonight the temperature is supposed to get into the 20s again. Will my fabulous little micro climate save the warm weather vegetables again? I'm actually of two minds. This is the worst time of the year for my allergies. The ragweed is bad enough, but I'm also very allergic to mold and half the fallen leaves in the yard are covered in powdery mildew. If we get a good freeze everything dies and I can breath again. To me that is probably more important than the last couple of tomatoes or chilies from the garden.

Last night I learned a fun garden trivia fact. So I'll tell you the story. I had just gotten back from my dance class. It was late; I was tired; I plopped myself down in front of the TV that was half way through a program already. NOVA was playing. Our family is such a bunch of nerds that any science programming is fun to watch, but NOVA is always fascinating.

It was another program on dinosaurs, but not just any dinosaurs. They found dinosaur fossils in the artic. When the bones were laid down the area was around 300+ miles from the north pole. Brrr. Or so I thought.

The scientists were trying to figure out how cold it was at the time from the plant life growing there. It turns out leaves that are smooth along the edges are tropical plants for the most part. In tropical climates evaporation drives the water from the roots up to the leaves, but in temperate climates evaporation isn't good enough for most plants to survive. Toothed leaves have little glands at each tooth that can secrete liquid and drive water up, so it is a modification so plants can survive here. Cool huh?

Ok so I get excited about the nerdiest things. And if you are like me you want to know the answer to the dinosaurs habitat. They looked at the proportion of toothed leaves to smooth leaves to make their calculation. It turns out they think the areas averaged a high in the 40s. In the summer it got into the 70s. So it was pretty warm up there above the artic circle. Of course now I also want to know how my rhododendron and azaleas have survived here in my temperate garden. Really anyone know? I'm just dying here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Saving Tomato Seeds

About a week ago I decided to eat the last Aussi tomato from my garden. This is a large beefsteak heirloom tomato. Yum. But I didn't want to eat it all. I wanted to save the seeds. Saving seed from heirloom tomatoes is relatively easy. Tomatoes are mostly self pollinating. The anther is hidden in the flower where the bees can't get to it (though I think there are a few weird ones out there). The pollen naturally falls to the stigma when the tomato plant is shaken by the wind or vibrated by the bees. So usually heirloom tomatoes breed true even if you have many other kinds growing right next to each other. The one caveat you must remember is that I say "mostly". They can occasionally surprise you.

Once you have the tomato, you take out the gel part that contains the seed. You put it in a small container, cover it and let it ferment in a warm spot for a couple of days, until a white disgusting slime grows on top. Did I do this? Not really. I did remove the gel. I put it in a small container and covered with saran wrap. I left it on my kitchen counter which I might point out is not very warm. In fact the thermostat in that part of the house is set at 62F degrees. Brrr. I let the containers be forgotten. Oops. A week later I remembered that they were shoved behind the squash. Yup one had that 'good' white mold on top, the other I think did at one point, but had dried out and a green mold had taken hold. Now if you let them sit wet for too long they can sprout on you. I didn't see any sprouting seeds. Hopefully they will be fine.

Then I filled the containers up with water and floated out all the icky mold. Most of the seeds stayed on the bottom. Once the seeds were clean, I put them out on some plates to dry. They need to dry for about a week or so. I think we are getting rain (I'm hoping since we have had no rain in three weeks), so it may take quite a while for them to dry. But at least I don't have an elementary school science project growing on my kitchen counter any more.

BTW I had two containers. The other one is from my Sungold tomato. This is an F1 hybrid. Seedman was saying that even if it is labeled F1 it might actually be a stabilized open pollinated plant. Or it might still be an F1 hybrid. If I have room next year I can play around and see what I end up with.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

For the Lack of Salt Marsh Hay

This year has been a little strange. My favorite little gardening center is going out of business. In the spring they didn't have as much variety as usual. The worst part was that they didn't have the salt marsh hay that I usually use as a mulch. They had something silly called Mainely Mulch - which I might point out is not from Maine despite the name. It is from Connecticut.

It is chopped hay that has been heated to get rid of the weed seeds. Sigh. I did unhappily buy it since I was lacking another choice at the time. I spread it on my garden paths. The seeds in it did sprout, but I have to say I was happy about it. They were clover and grass - basically cover crops. My dog loved the grass seed (oats or rye maybe), so she ate it all down. And the clover grew. And it grew some more. Right now it covers the edge of my paths making my garden look lusher than it otherwise would. It is trying to go to seed, but I'm resisting it, snipping the pretty purple flowers off as they grow.

I actually wouldn't mind my paths going into clover permanently, but I think dutch clover would be better. It is so much shorter. I need a new source of salt marsh hay. I'll have to keep my eye open.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Row Covers

Our warm spell is over. I was out picking raspberries for my cereal this morning and needed a jacket. Brrrr. Boston is predicted to get to freezing on Sunday night, but Saturday night will also be in the 30Fs. I decided it was time to get all of my greens under cover before the possible frost. I have a very unfrosty micro climate here since I'm near the top of a hill, so I might not get one.

I didn't want to use the row covers that were on my broccoli and Asian greens because remay really blocks the light and we no longer have much of that. It is dark by 6:30. So it is time for plastic.

The above photo is what was out previously. Between the two beds covered by remay are my lettuce Swiss chard and bunching onions. At the left are my snowpeas that will be fine without a cover. In front of them, where you can't quite see are my carrots, also not being covered. They get sweeter with the cold, so I want to keep them out. In the right hand bed it is mostly cover cropped, though I do have some basil left which I will let die and behind the basil are my leeks.

This is the after photo. Now my whole greens and broccoli section is covered by plastic. The days will be in the mid 50Fs for a while, which can be a problem because it can easily warm over 20F degrees in the sun under plastic. I'll have to uncover the plot for the few hours the sun hits the bed, but the rest of the time I'll leave it covered. Which reminds me. I have to get myself out there right now to cover it back up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day October 2008

Well today is the 15th of the month and that means it is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day hosted by Carol of May Dream Gardens. It is October and that means the blooms are fading fast from the garden. By the middle of next month there will be only a few left if any at all. We haven't yet had a frost, but are due for one around the end of the month. That ought to kill all of the annuals that are blooming. But currently in the annual category we still have marigolds, dahlias, impatiens and sweet allysums blooming.

There are so few blooms in the vegetable and herb garden. The peas are going like gang busters. The Sungold tomatoes (the only ones left in my garden) are still blooming and my chili peppers are still blooming, though they really don't have time to set peppers anymore. As for herbs my Thai basil is blooming. The chamomile just won't stop and I've gotten tired of picking all the blooms, so I'm just letting them go to seed. The coriander is blooming though I don't think I'll get seed. I'm still hopeful. The prettiest of my herbs are the borage (at the top) and the feverfew (above).

Most of the perennials are over. I did have a crazy creeping phlox try to rebloom last week, but it's gone now. The one fall perennial I have is my sedum 'Autumn Joy'. I used to have a beautiful Sweet Autumn clematis, but it died a few years ago. Its spot was usurped, so I haven't replanted it. I need to find a place for one. It was my favorite fall blooming plant. The fragrant ones are always my favorite.

And though they aren't in flower anymore, it has become the prettiest of all in my garden - my holly bushes. This year they are just covered in beautiful red berries. Sadly my camera doesn't like focusing on the red.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Garlic Prep

As you can probably tell from my lack of posting yesterday, the garden is slowing down. As time goes on I'll have less and less to talk about - well until those seed catalogs arrive. Today I actually had something to do for the garden. It is garlic planting time. Now tomorrow I'll do the planting, but today I was preparing the garlic.

In past years, garlic hasn't done well. I just take the cloves apart and put them in the ground. But the internet is a wonderful thing - either that or it is a great way to waste time. So I researched. Some people tell you to peel your garlic to get rid of all the insect eggs and diseases lurking. Some people say to not remove the skin. In the past I haven't removed the skin, so this time I'm going to try. The skin peeled easily off of three varieties and not from one. So that one stays for now since I don't want to damage the cloves.

Two varieties, German Extra Hardy and Georgian Crystal, were from Seed Savers Exchange. They seemed like very healthy large cloves of garlic. One variety is from Nichols, Bogatyr. These cloves were much smaller (could be the garlic variety or could be quality), and one of them was diseased, so I tossed it. In fact I had to throw a lot of these cloves out since they were either tiny or damaged. The last variety is an unknown. It is a garlic I bought at the store and loved. It is the only softneck garlic that I'm going to plant. All the others are hardnecks.

Then I read that I should soak the cloves in either vinegar or baking soda overnight. Now vinegar is an acid and baking soda is an alkaline. They both are good for killing fungal diseases (but not together mind you since they would neutralize each other). Baking soda seems to be the most commonly recommended one, so I'll go with that tonight. Often people also recommend adding either fish or seaweed emulsion to the soaking water, but I don't have either, so it just isn't going to happen.

Tomorrow morning I'll do a 3-5 minute soak in vodka then plant them. I'm guessing it kills diseases, but I'm also guessing the garlic doesn't like it much since you're not supposed to leave them in there very long.

So there you have it. I've stripped my garlic naked. Tomorrow I'm going to get them drunk and put them to bed. Who says gardeners don't have fun?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Collecting Seeds

I don't save many seeds in my garden, but I do save some. Usually in the summer I save my coriander, not just to use in the kitchen but for succession seeding during the summer. This year it was raining constantly during the harvest time. I saved very little seed as it had all mildewed. I sowed some more in mid summer so I could save the seed, but right now the seed is still green. The odds of me getting any are slim. I may actually have to buy seed for next year, something I haven't done in a decade.

My parsley is faring much better. It sets seed later and by August the rains had become less constant, so things could dry out. It sets seed slowly over months. I've been collecting seed heads to put in a paper bag to dry since August. I'm still collecting seed from them and will until frost. Usually I don't collect seed from parsley at all. If I just let the seed fall in the garden, I often get good plants each year, self-seeded with no work from me, but this year it didn't work out that way. I have about five self seeded plants, which is plenty, but they didn't grow well. There has not been enough to harvest for my meals, much less for drying for the winter. I think all the wet weather was bad for the plants and the early plants died. The plants that I have now germinated later in the summer. So this coming year I may decide to grow a couple of plants indoors for transplanting just to make sure I have a good harvest.

My dill outproduced everything this year. Besides the massive quantity of dill weed and dill heads I harvested for pickles and salads, I have a cup of nice dill seed saved. It is one seed harvest that I can't complain about - unlike my Thai basil. I had been clipping off the flowers to keep the basil producing leaves, but finally let them flower. I'm trying to get them to set seed, but I started too late. I think the plants will die before I get seed. The flowers are very pretty though, a very dark purple.

I've saved a little other seed this year. Some pink mallow, some cosmos, some delicata squash (from the farmer's market, hopefully it will grow true). And I've got my last Aussie tomato which I will save the seed from when I eat it. I'm not sure I will actually grow it next year, but I will have the seed.

I'll probably let a couple of my bunching onions over winter to produce seed next year. I've done this before. They take a long time to make seed since they are biannuals, like the parsley, but I like to save seed where I easily can. I can't always. I grow some F1 hybrids because I love the plants (Super Chilis, Diamont cucumbers, Sungold tomatoes), but they don't produce seed that is true to the parent. Some seed takes too much prime space for me to collect the seed. Collecting some seed (like eggplant and beans) would slow down my production. Some would cross pollinate because I'm growing more than one kind of the plant (jalapenos). But I collect where I can.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My Obsession with Pests

Every blog post I write is categorized (well most, some don't have appropriate categories due to some lack of imagination). They are put in a list on the right hand side of my blog. I was noticing that you can really tell what I obsess over by reading the labels.

Of the 170 post written to date, a whopping 38 of them have been about garden pests. This is number two of what I've obsessed over on my blog - second only to the joy of herbs. From reading about it so much my husband thought I was having a particularly hard year with garden pests, but he was wrong. It is really just about my obsession with them.

When I planted pumpkins, I knew, barring some miracle from above, that I would be hit by vine borers. I knew my Asian greens would be pestered to death so covered them with row covers. The few radishes I left out were measly little things that often didn't set a root. The ones under the row covers fared well. It is not that this is abnormal bug behavior here. In fact my bugs have been much less this year.

I only saw two cucumber beetles. Usually they swarm. Usually I have a container of soapy water by the cucumbers just for them. This year they passed me by. I only saw stink bugs nymphs. When I saw them I killed them. There were just a handful. Usually they suck the juice out of my tomatoes and leave little spots. Lots and lots of little spots, so I don't want to eat my tomatoes anymore. Not this year.

One pest that was really worse than expected were the chipmunks, which could be controlled with minimal trapping and some bird netting (they hate the stuff because they can get tangled in it). But if I take all mammal pests into account, I've been fairly pest free. I've had no rabbits, groundhogs or deer visit my garden this year. My bean plants grew without getting eaten to the ground every week. My carrots had tops to them. I got to eat my lettuce. So life was pretty good.

Ok I did have one bad problem, but I refuse to talk about the slugs this year. I'm just going to be thankful that all the rain made my plants grow tall. I'm sure the nightmares of being attacked by slime will eventually go away. And if for some reason they get worse, I can always find a good therapist.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Education in Gardening

I love to garden and though I love to see foxgloves bloom and my rudebeckia smiling in the sun, my heart really belongs to the vegetable garden, not the perennial garden. The perennial garden is mostly ignored. I'll weed it. I'll put in new plants when there is space, but it doesn't get a lot of my caring attention.

My main energy goes to my vegetables and a few fruits that I have. Most gardeners are the other way around. They may have a pot or two of tomatoes, but their flowers are their love. Why? It might be in my blood since for generations my family farmed, but it might be how I was brought up.

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado. We had lots of flowers there, but none of them were planted by my mother (the gardener in the family). There was no landscaping of the yard, no mown grass or carefully arranged perennials. It was a natural pine forest with a few meadows. Past the handful of acres that my parents owned was a national forest. In the spring the meadows would be covered in flowers: Indian paintbrush, phlox, bluebells, and so many more. Often the ground was painted in blues, fushias, reds and yellows, depending on the season and the level of rainfall. That kind of beauty to me was always painted by nature.

My dad was a bit of a survivalist. One of my chores was learning what was edible in our backyard. As a child this was great fun. One year I picked choke cherries and my mother made wine out of them. Another year I found the nodding onions. I made my mother cook them up in something. I don't remember what it was, but it wasn't very good. There is a look-a-like plant to the wild onion that isn't very good for you. So the only way to tell the difference was when the onion was in bloom. Onions get a little bitter and tough when they bloom. So nature also provided some of our food, if it wasn't the best tasting.

But nature certainly didn't provide it all. My mother had a large vegetable garden. I joked with my friends that it was a small farm. I hated the garden when I had to weed and loved it when I got to pick the strawberries. The geese were mean, but it was fun hunting for eggs in their run that they shared with the ducks.

So from my dad I got the importance of being able to feed yourself. From my mother I got the love of vegetable gardening. No one taught me that flowers were a worthwhile endevor. I do love flowers mind you, but we are products of our history and my family is filled with practical people. And there is something ineffable about preparing a meal for your family with food that you have grown yourself.

Apple Salsa

I never made it out to the garden yesterday except for the shortest time. I woke up in the morning out of sorts. I had had vertigo on and off all night long. I was scheduled to work at the co-op and was a little worried if it came back while I was there, but I went to work anyway. Luckily it was a very slow day. I didn't have the room spinning around me at all, but moving around made me nauseous. I felt like I had just gotten off the Mission Space ride at Disney World.

So I all I really did was to go out and pick what I needed for dinner. And Raspberries - they have been producing for over a month now. I picked just one thing in the veggie garden, a huge bunching onion. It was for an apple salsa recipe. Not that I followed the recipe well, but it was yummy. My version was: 3/4 c of a Honeycrisp apple diced, 1/2 c orange pepper diced, 1/2 c Vermont cranberry beans, one huge bunching onion sliced, 2T wine vinegar, 2 T apple juice, a dash of chipolte pepper. The original came from my Canyon Ranch Cooks cookbook and is slightly different.

But I love their fresh salsa recipes. They are always putting weird things together that I wouldn't think of. I never would have thought of apple salsa, but it is apple season, so a good choice. It went perfectly with the spicy chicken and mexican rice. Yum.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Indoor Growing

Jennifer from Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings made a comment that she is trying to grow things indoors and it is staving off the sadness of the gardens outside winding down. I wish her all the luck, but from me I've grown things indoors before. I have two long shelves that I built along the large SW and large SE windows of my house just for this. Sadly one of the shelves is defunct. Someone thought it would hold up their weight and sat on it (I think my daughter). It didn't. It hasn't been replaced.

I've found over the years that the sunlight I get through these windows in the winter isn't strong enough to grow plants well. We are above 42 degrees latitude here. Our days will be as short nine hours and a few minutes at the time of the solstice. And the sunlight that does hit is very low in the sky. This is not conducive to good plant growth - unless you supplement the light.

Though I'm up to trying to wheedle more growing time out of mother nature in the spring, for the winter it is too much work for me. The few Tiny Tom tomatoes I used to get from my window sill, will not be repeated. Though they were cute.

I was however trying to save my rosemary by taking cuttings, as well as my Thai basil. So far no success. The rosmary cuttings are all brown and dead. The 'Hill Hardy' rosemary will have to try its luck outside. If we have a mild winter it might survive. I'll mulch well and cross my fingers. The Thai basil did put out roots, but only after the folliage had basically died. Maybe I should have planted it anyway, but instead I took some more cuttings of the basil. I'm trying again. If it fails, once again the only plant in my house this winter will be my trusty aloe plant. It never needs watering and fixes me up after I burn myself in the kitchen. It pays me well for the time I put into it, unlike my other indoor growing forays.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Autumn Chill

Brrr. The weather has changed how I garden. It is so cold in the morning. I just can't make myself get out the door. I've been waiting for the warmest part of the day - mid afternoon, and still I wonder why I didn't wear my coat outside.

We finally turned the heat on this weekend. It was getting below 60F inside in the mornings so I was ready. The down throws are on the couch so we can keep warm at night. Now I just need to find my warm slippers. I'm sure they are somewhere in the house.

Anyway I went out this afternoon and shivered as I looked around the garden. It is in a lull. Nothing much is going on. The blooms are slowly fading off the plants. Leaves are turning yellow and brown. Though there was beauty to be found, it was depressing to think that everything was dying.

The broccoli saved me from despondency. I was checking under its row cover for caterpillars and I found a little florette had formed. You probably can't see it in the photo, but it is there. The other four plants don't show signs of flowering yet, but it was enough to put a smile back on my face.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Getting Ready for Fall

The wind had finally calmed down today so I could lime the garlic bed. It also got some green sand and bonemeal. Now I just need about one more week and I'll plant the garlic. Often people plant garlic after the first frost. For me that is usually around Halloween. I think November is a bit late, so I'm shooting for mid October.

The rest of the chores were fall clean up chores. I ripped out the cucumbers. I had just one cucumber hanging off the plant. It hadn't gotten any bigger for about a week. Obviously it wasn't ever going to, so I picked it and ripped out the plants.

The tomatoes were the next to go. I left in the Sungolds since they are still producing, but the others I tore down and turned the plants into the soil. Then I sowed a cover crop of oats over them. The bed will have lettuce, brassicas and peas in it next year, so I didn't want a cover crop that would be alive in the spring. I'm not sure they actually have time enough to grow, but I figured I'd try.

Then the cosmos came down. There were a few blossoms, but mostly they were looking ratty. I collected a little seed to plant next year, but the rest of it went into the compost bin. They produced an amazing amount of woody stems. I figured at the bottom of the compost pile they will act just like branches and keep it aerated.

Now with the cucumber trellis gone, only two tomato cages left and the 6' cosmos down, the garden looks short. I still have my tall pea trellis to give it height, but not much else is left. When I look at the garden from the dining room window it just seems wrong. I'll get used to it. It seemed that way when the bean tepee came down too. But for now keep having that feeling like something is missing in the garden.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Harvest of Asian Greens

I had a pretty harvest today. I picked a lot of greens that seemed to be ready. These are all my Asian greens. The two tall light colored plants are Fun Jen. I've been calling it my frilly boc choi, because that is what it reminds me of. It is a very mild plant and perfect for Asian salads. Sadly today it was a little frillier than usual. Often it is the slugs fault, and though I have some slug damage too, the big culprit was cabbage worms, both kinds. I had brown ones and green ones.

Despite growing the crops under a row cover, I'm not surprised to see the cabbage worms. When I was out hunting slugs under the cover the other day, I saw two pink eyes staring back at me. It was a cabbage moth. Insect eyes reflect light just like animal eyes. Who would have thunk it? They got under because the row covers degrade in the sunlight and this particular row cover has seen a couple of years in the sun. Holes now easily rip in the side if I'm not gentle enough.

So the moths have found the holes and once they are under they get stuck. Though I haven't found any butterflies under there yet, I have seen the green worms. These nasty creatures must find the cabbage plants from their smell since they certainly can't see them under there.

Between my Fun Jen are two green bunches. The one on the left is a perfect little mini boc choi. The mini ones are so cute, but in the past their flavor has been greatly lacking. I've had some that were very strongly mustard flavor and one that tasted like salt. Ick. I really like the sweeter boc chois. This one was much better than the previous ones. It still had a little of the mustard flavor, but it wasn't horribly bitter. The bitterness does keep the insects away. Fun Jen which doesn't have a bit of bitterness is a great trap crop for insects of all kinds. They love that plant over all the others - both the slugs and the caterpillars.

The next little green bunch over is my tatsoi. These little plants are very pretty, but not very productive compared to the other greens. I think I should plant them much closer together. I love their taste and tend to eat them in salads with lettuce and mizuna. The mizuna is the pretty plant with the purple stems. I usually don't pick a whole plant like this, but I can't keep up with the three plants I have. They are pretty good producers. I have one that is 18" wide and just keeps throwing out yummy leaves. So I took out the oldest plant that wasn't producing as well.

The last set of greens on the table is my cilantro. I don't have nearly as much of this as I did in the spring, but I have some at least. I love this in my salads and sprinkled on top of stir fries.

I picked so much because they were too close to my Chinese cabbage. This was planned. I didn't have a lot of room when I planted the cabbage. So I put them too close to some other greens I knew I could harvest before the cabbage got too big. Well their leaves started touching so it was time to give the cabbage more room to grow.

I really think I've planted the Chinese cabbage too late. It is growing so slowly. Planting guides are wrong when they tell you to plant x number of weeks before your last frost. Here in the north, we don't get much light from the sun in the fall. And this year it has been so cloudy in September, so no direct sun. The plants will hold well this time of year, but they won't grow well. I know this but still only planted them on July 31st. I need to get them in earlier next year. Maybe two sets, one on July 1st and one on July 15th.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Old Farm

I've been talking to my mother a lot this week. My dad has pneumonia, and I want to check up. But I can't seem to get on the phone with her without gabbing for an hour. So what did we talk about last time? It was about her growing up on the farm.

We were talking about how we need to get over to green energy; how our country needs to make a concerted effort and sacrifice to do this. I said the country hadn't done that since the effort in WWII. That started her reminiscing about that time. She was a child then. She said they loaned out sections of the farm so people would have a place to grow victory gardens. She would sell the extra cottage cheese they made from their cow door to door. The only money coming in was from her mom who worked in the library (our family LOVES books). That shocked me. I thought the farm was so much bigger. I thought it was what brought in the money.

I had visited it when I was little. I don't remember much: sitting on the tractor, running through the orchard, the grape arbor, all the little things a three (?) year old might vaguely remember. As a child I thought the farm was huge. But my mom said it was just to feed the family.

I figured it was the farm that had been in our family for generations. I know our family had farmed in the Ohio area for generations (seven I think, but I'd have to look it up to be exact). I know one of my ancestors was swindled out of his farm at one point. He went to the city and made enough money to come home and buy another farm. But after that I figured they stayed on the same farm and it would be big, or at least big enough to make some of their money from. Maybe it had been divided over the years? Or maybe it had just been let to go fallow when they weren't farming for a living. (Update from months in the future: My mother said the farm was very recent. Her grandmother or was it great grandmother, was a nurse and took care of a rich old man before he died. As a gift in his will my great grandmother and great grandfather were bequeathed the farm.)

Sadly the farm was sold about forty years ago. The farmhouse was torn down for a road into the new development. The farm was turned into apartments. The last time I was there was for my grandmother's funeral. My brother and I went to visit the spot. The only sign of it was a small forest of huge evergreen trees. They were all planted close together in rows. They towered over the path that goes through them. The trees were planted by my uncle. They were meant to be sold as Christmas trees and used for his college education. Obviously these got a reprieve.

None of our family farm anymore. The kids have all flown the coop and are scattared across the US. No one even lives in Ohio anymore. All of the rest of them moved out west. My cousin and I are the only outliers. She lives in Paris. I live in Boston. I still garden though and dream of chickens. Years ago I dreamed of chickens and goats, now I only dream of chickens. Ok and maybe some apple trees and gooseberries and strawberries that are miraculously not eaten by chipmunks and . . . .

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Leaf Bin and Double Digging

I didn't sleep well last night, and woke up tired this morning. So what did I do? I spent a couple hours in the garden doing chores that I had been putting off all week. You'd think I'd pick a day when I had energy, but nope. At least it was a pretty morning out - finally.

First the compost piles needed some work and the hose there needed to be put away for the winter. But the big part there was setting up for the fall leaves. My landscaping service is very nice about saving my own grass clippings, but recently a lot of the mowing has been just mowing up the leaves. I don't need them in the compost pile yet. I want to save them for next year when I get more grass, aka nitrogen.

So I rescued my old huge wire bin out in the back which is maybe 10' in diameter. A small tree was growing up between a mesh square. In fact some of the trunk had grown around the mesh. So I got out my clippers and took out that portion of mesh. It still seemed quite serviceable. I attached one end to a short sapling that had been cut off, and on the other side I wrapped the mesh around another sapling. This left a wide gap that they can blow the leaves into. Then I made a sign so they would know where things went.

Then I had the big chore - finish double digging the garlic and onion bed. Everyone has their own way of double digging. But here is how I do it. I take one shovel's width of the top layer of soil out of the bed, saved to the side for later. Some people go down 6" (15cm), some go down a foot (30cm), but I go down the depth of the top soil. Usually there is a pretty distinct dividing line between the topsoil (nice dark dirt full of humus) and the sub soil (light brown and tending to rocky), at least in my area. This part of the garden hasn't had compost added in years, so the topsoil is thinner than the rest of my garden, maybe 6" (15cm) deep.

After the topsoil has been removed, I fork the subsoil up all the way to the top of the fork. I don't turn it over but keep the soil structure intact. I'm just letting air into the soil and getting out the bigger rocks. And since this area was covered in hostas for a while and not amended, I added 3" (7cm) of compost right above the subsoil.

Then I do the next shovel width of bed by taking the top soil and putting it on top of the compost from the last row. Some people say to try to keep the top of the soil on top and the bottom on the bottom, ie when moving the soil over, don't turn it over. But I don't worry. Since I'm not actually turn over subsoil (usually a little always gets in), I just don't worry about that.Continue in this fashion until the end of the bed. Then take the top soil from the first row and put it in the last row. Then I rake it all down.

My bed had a lot of roots in it. The maple tree is close and the perennial border is just on the other side of the fence. So I tried to rake out most of the roots that I dug up. I wanted to amend the soil with lime, greensand and bonemeal, but it was so windy today. I'll have to wait for a nice calm day, so it doesn't blow away.

The bed looks a little funky. I lined the path side with bricks on edge to keep in the soil. It is 32" wide at one end and about 24" wide at the other. So the brick path is not straight like the back of the bed. I did this because the path there was a little bit wavy and I wanted at least 18" to walk and still have the largest growing area possible. If I ever make the other side straight I'll straighten this side out too.

And wow double digging is a lot of work. I remember the first year I had this garden. I had the fence put in the fall. Then I collected bags of leaves found along the roadside. I filled the fence area in with about a foot of leaves. I figured this would smoother the grass over the winter. It did a pretty good job. Then that next spring I set up the paths and beds, and double dug all of the beds. After 16 years I'd forgotten all the pain of double digging. Or maybe it is just my age catching up with me.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sex in the Garden

I was minding my own business, just picking my raspberries, when I noticed a couple doing it in the raspberry canes (just saying that makes me think "ouch"). The couple of note was a pair of walking sticks. Now a lot of walking sticks reproduce asexually, but obviously mine believe in genetic diversity.

I put walking sticks into the same category as my swallowtail caterpillars. Yes they eat my plants, but I don't care. And brambles are a favorite food of many walking sticks. I can spare some for this amusing insect.

As for harvests today (besides the yummy raspberries) I picked a lot of mint. There was a lot of Chocolate Mint and Candymint and a little bit of Orange Mint. So I have another day where my house smells like heaven. I do confess though, the basil smell is better. All of these mints are varieties of peppermint and that smell can get a little overwhelming especially when you are stripping the leaves off the stems.