Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Catalogues Already!

It's hard to believe, but the seeds catalogues have already started arriving in the mail! First I got one called "Pinetree" - a new one. Then came "High Mowing Seeds", followed by Fedco and "Totally Tomatoes." And it isn't even Christmas yet!

Last year I ordered seed from several different companies, just to spread the wealth and see what some of the smaller heirloom outfits had to offer. This year, though, I will probably be sticking to three major sources: Fedco, High Mowing, and Johnny's. All three come highly recommended from me as sources for heirloom and organic seeds.

So, I sat down the other night and started to fill out order forms. Fedco (despite the rather clinical name) is one of the best seed catalogues out there. I get my seed potatoes from them (Moose Tubers), as well as most of my vegetable and flower seeds. The prices are among the best, the service is great, and their catalogue is a riot to read. Some of their seeds are in limited quantity this year due to crop failures or seed producers going out of business, so you'll want to place your orders early if you use them!

Johnny's Selected Seeds is my source for gardening supplies, as well as some seeds. I usually get my ground covers/mulches from them, as well as row covers, hoops, etc.

So what am I going to do differently next summer? Well, looking at my order forms, it looks like a lot of pole beans! I'm not a big bean eater, but for some reason I feel the need to grow them! Toby likes beans, though, so they are good to put in the freezer for his meals all winter. I had lots of peas this last summer, and I want to have lots next summer, but I haven't found any organic shell peas in the catlogues yet. It seems that lots of people like to eat the pods, so snap peas are the popular ones.

I've almost given up on corn - but I will try one more time. Maybe the third time will be the charm. The celery was a complete bust this summer, but I will give that another try in '09. Hey - you never know.

I'm increasing my potato plantings next summer, and am actually going to order seeds for zucchini! It is great to grate and freeze for breads. Mmmm! The pumpkins did very well, so I am going to plant more of them, and two different varieties. Maybe I'll try the gourds again next summer, too - plant them directly in manure like the pumpkins.

Onions - no more by seed. The sets I got last year, however, were very good and I will get more this year. Leeks, well, I've given up on them. No great loss, though. And hopefully all the garlic I planted will do well. And even if only half does well, I will still be ahead!

So, bring on the rest of the catalogues - I'm ready!!!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Last Planting

Two nights ago I got the last of the garlic planted. Even though I know that garlic is a late season plant, it still seems odd to be planting at this time of year, when most things are dead or dying, and when snow has already covered the High Peaks!

If all the garlic comes up next year, I will be well-endowed with the stuff. I'll be giving it away at Christmas! Maybe I'll try to sell it at the Holiday Fair! This is, of course, putting the proverbial cart well before the proverbial horse! Let's see if the stuff grows first, eh?

Yesterday afternoon I pulled up the corn stalks. I had thought of leaving them up to provide some sort of shelter for small birds in the winter, but in the end I just decided to yank them out. Now they are lying on the ground between garden plots, in theory blocking weed growth (ha).

2009 will be another year of weeding. I didn't really keep up with it this year and the buggers took over several beds and most of the "paths" in between. This is what happens when one runs out of mulch.

I've finally given up on the butternut squashes. I had three coming along, but even covered with row covers to protect them from the frost, they just weren't growing. So, I've cut my losses.

Three beautiful Northern Spy apples grace the tree this fall. I am so tempted to pluck them now, but I know that Spies are one of the latests apples to harvest, so I wait.

It is a glorious autumn day here in the North Country and I should be getting home and spending some time in the yard with the animals.

Happy gardening to all!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fall Plantings

Although I have mostly put the garden to bed for the year, I still have more garlic to plant! The mail order bulbs have now all come in, and I must say that the latest batches have been more inspiring than the first one was! The bulbs that have recently arrived (Inchelium, Chesnok, Kazakstan, and German Hardy, which I suspect is German White) are of good size and quality - almost as nice as what I got in Sharon Springs! So, sometime in the next week or two I must get the last of the garlic planted. If it all grows, I may have garlic to sell in '09!

Meanwhile, I suppose it is about time to pull the rutabagas and carrots. I grab a few more carrots each time I go by the garden, and although they are small, they do mean that many fewer carrots I need to buy at the store!

And with all the harsh frosts we've been getting, it is probably time to actually move the pumpkins inside and set a weekend aside for doing pumpkin puree. I've been using a "recipe" for puree which utilizes the oven rather than the stove (who wants to peel and cube fourteen pumpkins?). It's pretty much the same as cooking acorn squash - cut them in half (and remove the seeds), put them cut-side down in a roasting pan with a cup of water, and cook in the oven at 300-350*F for up to 90 minutes - until "meltingly soft." Scoop and freeze.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Final Gasp from the Garden

Just when I thought the garden was finished, and just when I had finally cleared the last tomatoes off the kitchen counter (batch #4 of sauce), I go out to put away the row covers only to find...more tomatoes!!!


Planted some more garlic over the weekend. This was one of my mail order varieties: chrysalis purple. $12 for two very tiny bulbs (yielding 13 cloves). I think in the future I will stick with the garlic at the Sharon Springs Garlic Festival (bulbs the size of your fist for $1 - $2.50 each)!

Garlic planted to date: Purple Stripe (14), German White (23), German Red (26), Elmer's Topset (45), and Chrysalis Purple (13). Cost: $16 for 108 cloves from Sharon Springs, plus $12 for 13 cloves from mail order. Kind of makes one say "hm," eh?

I should have two more varieties arriving via the mail. Hopefully they will be worth their price.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Frost and the First Fall Harvest

It was bound to happen, and sure enough, it did. We had our first killer frost last week. I covered what I could, but even so, some things took a hit.

When I got home after work that day, I pulled up all the pole and dry beans, tied them in bundles, and they are now hanging upside-down on the porch to dry (makes going in and out the back door a bit of a challenge). I threw row covers, blankets, tarps, sheets and towels over tomatoes, corn, squash and pumpkins. Since then we have been having very summery weather - hot and humid. So things are getting a second chance to ripen.

Saturday, after I returned from the Garlic Festival in Sharon Springs (highly recommended, by the way), I pulled the rest of my onions. Those that still had stalks have been braided and are hanging in the garage (the porch is already full of onions and the afore-mentioned beans, and the kitchen is full of onions and tomatoes). I pulled some carrots, too, including one monster that is as big as a silver dollar at the base of the leaves and close to a foot in length! A few small rutabagas joined the harvest.

A second batch of tomato sauce was brewed up that night and stuck in the freezer Sunday morning. Yes, indeed, using paste tomatoes makes all the difference when making sauce. My recipe? Well, hard to say - each batch is different. But here are the basics:

Ellen's Tomato Sauce

  1. Run a bunch of tomatoes (mostly paste, but add whatever else you have that is ripe) through a tomato food mill (like Squeezo - I kid you not, that is the name). This wonderful machine, which works like a meat grinder, squeezes out the juice and pulp in one direction, and the seeds and skins in another, nicely separating the two. Do this until you have about a gallon or more of juice.
  2. Pour the juice into a large kettle, preferably an enamel kettle and set on medium heat to start cooking. You want as much of the water to cook away as possible.
  3. Meanwhile, dice up an onion or two and saute in butter. When soft and tender, put the onions in the sauce.
  4. Additionally, cut up a few carrots. If they are small, use two or three. If large, you can probably use one. This will provide some sugar to cut the acid of the tomatoes. Toss into the sauce.
  5. Chop up some green peppers and add them to the sauce as well.
  6. If you have fresh basil, oregano, parsley, chop them up and put them in the pot. If not, used dried. I also put in some freshly ground black pepper.
  7. Cook. This part can take several hours. You want the moisture to go away, leaving you with a nice thick sauce. I usually give it three or four hours, then I'm ready for bed. I could probably go longer.
  8. Before you finish, toss in some grated Parmesan cheese. Mmmmm. I add maybe a half to three-quarters of a cup.
  9. Cool.
  10. Ladle into freeze-able containers and stick in the freezer. Voila!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Seeing Spots

[Editor's note: this is the second post I've posted on both my blogs - but this was appropriate for both, so I'm posting it in both places.]

Artillery Fungus (Sphaerobolus spp.). Ever hear of it? Well, if you have been getting small black spots on the side of your house, or on buckets left outdoors, etc., then you may very well have this fungus.

About, oh, three or four years ago I started to notice these tiny black dots on the side of my house. They were (are) raised - sort of like my siding was splattered with bits of braille. When I found these dots on some of my plants this year, I decided to send it in to our Cooperative Extension folks for ID. Emily, my "mystery stuff ID person", sent me back a print-out about artillery fungus from the plant clinic at Cornell. If you want to go to it, and see photos, visit http://plantclinic.cornell.edu/FactSheets/artfungus/artilleryfungus.htm.

Here is a quick summary:

The dots are, as I suspected, spores. Or, more specifically, they are spore packets known as peridioles. These packets sit on top of little cup-like cells on the fungi which collect water. When the cups are "full," they turn inside out, popping open the cell and flinging the peridioles up to six meters away! These spore packets have a sticky goo on them that helps them stick to surfaces (like siding and buckets and cars) and makes them essentially impossible to remove. It seems they are very light sensitive, which means they "go to the light." In other words, if your house/car/bucket is light-colored, then they will seek it out.

Where are these fungi growing? And why did they "suddenly" appear a few years ago? Well, it seems they like wood chip mulch (as opposed to bark chip mulch) - exactly the stuff I used to mulch all the garden beds I put in around the back of the house. This also explains why I have these spots on the back of the house, but not on the front or sides (where I have no gardens).

What to do? Sadly, there doesn't seem to be a '"cure." Sometimes the spore packets can be scrubbed off, but you might actually do more damage to the house trying to remove them. Fungicides are not recommended. I guess the only solution is to remove the wood chips and thus the fungus, but this won't help with the spots already on your house/car/bucket. Maybe some clever artist in the family can create a dot-to-dot artwork on the siding...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mid-August Updates

It seems like the beans are sort of a one-shot-deal. I got one really good crop a couple weeks ago, and now I'm getting smaller and smaller crops. The plants are starting to look pretty sad, too. Could be the excessive rain has been too much for them, too.

The potatoes are great this year - good sized! Dug up a couple plants the other night, and pulled a handful of onions as well. Mmmm...yummy! Bought a potato ricer today, too, since I hear that is the best way to "mash" potatoes. We shall see.

Teeny tiny ears are starting to form on some of the corn! Hurray! I have at least eight pumpkins on the vines, but the squash are not doing an awful lot. I still have just one cuke about an inch long. Concerns are starting to appear: we could have frost any day now. So I'm hoping for a few days of sunshine and warmth to get things ripening!!! Like the hundreds of green tomatoes (all of significant size) that are hanging on the vines!

And (she writes with a heavy sigh), I hacked down the Indian Cup Plant, dug up one of the barberries, and yanked out all the blooming teasels the other night. Today I bought a bottle of RoundUp (concentrate) and a paint brush. I will paint the Cup Plant stalks and when I get the honeysuckles cut down, I will paint them, too.

Today I also had some allergy tests done, and it turns out I am allergic to a lot of stuff outside. The experts say that I should avoid being outside. Yeah. Tell a gardener she can't garden. Tell a naturalist she can't wander about the woods. Not gonna happen.

My folks sent me a disc of photos they took of my gardens in June, but for some reason the computer here rejects them - so I am still sans images for all you fine folks who read this. I shall persevere, though - I know there is some way to do this!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Warning! Warning!

Warning! Warning!

I have just read the article in "Adirondack Life" about the invasives that are moving their way into our neck of the woods, and was devastated to find that some of the plants I have intentionally put into my gardens at home are invasive!!!

Now, I take pride in keeping up-to-date on the invasives problem, but I was horrified to discover that some of the plants that I love, and/or thought were native, have turned out to be persona non grata.

>sigh<>TEASEL (Dipsacus sylvestris) - a bad character (and I thought it was native - I have so many great childhood memories of this plant). In some parts of the country it is naturalized, but really it is only considered acceptable in areas of shortgrass prairie. That doesn't include us. It produces prolific seeds and will spread and take over. No wildlife benefits. If you have it in your garden (like I do, because I planted it to relive childhood memories), then you need to get rid of it before it goes to seed!!!

INDIAN CUP PLANT (Silphium perfoliatum) - Highly invasive (although native to the Midwest)! Apparently up in the Keene area it is moving into and along riparian corridors. And here I was trying to grow it from seeds this year (they didn't grow) because I had one plant in the garden and loved it so much I wanted more. My specimen is wonderful this year - pushing eight feet tall, cupped leaves filled with water, providing drinks and baths for the birds, and the buds are ready to bloom. Well - now I have to go rip it out. If you have it planted on your property, get rid of it before it goes to seed.

JAPANESE BARBERRY (Berberis thunbergii) - I've heard tales of how it is invasive down below, but I thought we were safe here, and it was great to plant in areas where deer are because they won't eat it. Well, apparently it is starting to spread up here, too. Birds are spreading the berries. Sprouts are appearing in the understory of woods. I have two at home...after this weekend I will have none. (Or maybe next weekend...this weekend is pretty much booked already.)

What to do with them once you pull them up: I asked Hilary Oles, director at the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP), what I should do with them once they are ripped out of the ground, and she suggested the best thing is to take them to a burn site. Do not compost.

What about the invasive honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella, Lonicera tartarica, Lonicera morrowii)? I have these in my yard as well, and I've been planning for several years to get rid of them. The best method? According to Steve at APIPP I should cut them to the ground before the berries fully ripen (I still have time), and then paint the cross-section of stump (and suckers) with Round-up, straight from the bottle, undiluted. Use a 1" paint brush. If painted with the herbicide (as opposed to spraying), the ground is safe for replanting with native berry-producing shrubs (such as nannyberry and dogwood). And just in case you are thinking "but the birds love the berries," remember this: the non-native honeysuckles do not provide the nutrients that native ones do. Watch them - the birds will not eat the non-native berries until there is nothing else left as an option. Replace these shrubs with natives instead!!!

So, get out there, folks! Learn your invasives and start patrolling for them. I know that there are those out there who love their plants and will be reluctant to kill them, but it must be done. Our native vegetation (and the wildlife that depends on it) must be protected. Good luck!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More Firsts

Plucked my first tomato of the season yesterday! It's not 100% ripe yet, but it came off the vine very easily and will be perfect in a day or two.

I also found, quite by accident, my first beans yesterday. I was picking peas and suddenly found a "pea" that didn't look right. It was too flat. Lo! and behold, it was a bean. Either very short pole beans or very tall bush beans. Regardless, a lot of them were ready for picking and so I did. There weren't enough to make a meal for me, so Toby got them with his stew beef last night.

I think the cauliflower is a lost cause. It started to produce heads last week, and I had high hopes, but they are looking very brown now and don't seem to be growing. The best of the bunch is covered with frass from the LGWs (little green worms), so that right there is a real turn off.

Harvested two more broccoli heads, though, and gave them a thorough soak in salt water last night. Maybe I'll blanch them tonight.

It also looks like the peas are starting to dwindle. Harvested enough for two more containers to freeze, and there are still plenty of pods on the vines, but unless we get some sunshine, I don't think I will be getting too many more harvests - the pods are not filling out.

And just when I was thinking the corn would never produce even tassels before our first frost, I found that one of the varieties (I think it is the Tom Thumb) is starting to get tassels - it is barely knee high. The garden never ceases to amaze.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Harvest Exapnds & Other Observations

First it was lettuce (I've actually stopped picking lettuce for a while - one can have too much of a good thing), and now it is peas. I've been filling bowls with peas from the vines every day for over a week now (even in the rain). While the pods fill the bowl to overflowing, the actual peas, once shelled, are fewer, but it has still been enough to put ten containers in the freezer so far! Another three or so may go in tonight after I get home and go over the vines again.

Yesterday also yielded the first real broccoli harvest. I picked one head about three weeks ago, but last night I harvested four. The variety I planted doesn't get massive heads, but it was enough to fill two bags for the freezer.

And let's just discuss for a moment here the whole "soak your broccoli in cold salt water for 30 minutes to remove the little green worms" strategy. It doesn't work. I filled the kettle with cold water, dumped in a fair quantity of salt, and added the broccoli. About an hour later I found about three LGWs floating in the water. I plucked out a head and started to look it over...LGWs were still clinging to it. I can't vouch for the amount of life they had left in them, but I don't think they were all deceased. So, I cut apart each head and looked over each floret carefully (removing LGWs) before putting it in a bowl for blanching afterwards. Make you wonder how the "big companies" remove the LGWs from their broccoli. HM.

The squash, pumpkins and cukes are growing well, thanks to all the rain. They are all starting to put out blossoms!

The runner beans are also blooming. I have found them disappointing. For some reason in my mind the flowers were much larger. Still, the colors are nice, and if the hummers can find them, they should be happy.

Purple flowers are appearing on the pole beans, although I'm not sure if the bush beans are blooming yet.

As I came up through Warrensburg this afternoon I saw corn already with tassels. Hmmm...my corn is barely reaching knee high. I'm thinking I should've risked cool soil and planted it sooner. Too late now, of course, but something to consider for next year.

Also, note to self: don't mix up all the herb and beneficials seeds together and then plant with the buckwheat. Buckwheat grows faster and gets rather tall and dense - the other don't stand a chance. Might not want to plant the crimson clover with the buckwheat next year, either.

Sunflowers are doing great - some heads are already starting to form! I love it when they all burst into bloom! I was lucky last year and the bears were not a problem. The sunflowers are closer to the fence this year, though, so it should be interesting to see if the bears become a problem when the seedheads ripen.

The nasturtiums started blooming this last week. No cosmos yet, though, or marigolds. This is the difference between planting the seeds outside "after last frost" and staring the plants inside a month or more earlier. These flowers are planted as companions to the veggies, ostensibly as encouragement to pollinators, so I'm thinking next year we start them inside again; I should have plenty of room since I am giving up on starting onions and leeks from seeds.

Had the first monarch caterpillar of the season just before this last week of rain - it was munching on some butterflyweed (which does VERY well up here). It was pretty good-sized; I'd guess it was at least a week and a half old. It's the only one I've seen so far this year, though. Few monarchs overall this summer. And not a single red admiral butterfly! Hm. I wonder where they are.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Peas, Peas, Peas, Peas

Or, if you are in old England: Pease, Pease, Pease, Pease.

Yep, it's pea-harvesting time in the ol' garden. I must've picked four batches on Saturday (every time I went back out to dump empty pods into the compost, I found more that needed to be picked), and almost as many again yesterday after work! Lots more pods hang on the vines, and there are even some more flowers, which means even more pods as the summer progresses. The Laxton's Progress #9, however, seem to be about at the end of their production.

Pulled up several potato plants on Saturday. New potatoes are so tasty! Mostly, though, I pulled them up so that the onions could have more sun (and room). Hopefully this will help the onions grow bigger. My folks were up for the weekend so we made a potato salad from the harvest and I sent the rest home with them to enjoy...I have plenty more to come.

Broccoli is coming right along now, but there are no signs of any flowers on the cauliflower yet.

The tomatoes are starting to show signs of fruit, albeit small and green still. Maybe in a couple weeks there will be a tomato or two to pick.

The pumpkins have a blossom! As do some of the runner beans. It's hard to beat them for color! This must be where flourescent colors come from.

I borrowed Dad's camera to get some photos, so if they come out, I may have a few to publish here before too long.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dressing the Garden

I have a lot of books. Some folks would say I have too many books. There are those who ask if I've actually read all the books I own. The honest answer is no, but they are there just in case I want to. But most of them I have at least glanced through, with the exception of the really old books (many of which are poems by the likes of Byron) rescued from my grandparents' homes, and a good number of them I have even read in part.

So what does this have to do with gardening? Well, I have a goodly collection of gardening books, most of which are fairly new. When I get interested in a subject, I tend to read as much about it as I possibly can. Just to be sure I have all the information available, y'know. Still, this doesn't mean that I necessarily follow all the advise.

Take soil preparation in the garden. Every garden book worth its salt will tell you that the most important thing you can do for your garden, before you even get close to planting anything, is test the soil and then add soil amendments to make the soil the best it can possibly be for the plants you want to grow.

Add to this the fact that not every plant likes the same type of soil. Some prefer soil a bit more acidic, while others are piggies for nitrogen. Gardening and chemistry go hand in hand.

This can be a little overwhelming. Afterall, all you wanted to do was grow a few carrots and peas. So, it is easy to brush all this advice aside and just dig up the ground and throw in some seeds.

And yes, you might be lucky and your plants will grow. They may even produce flowers and food. BUT - will they have grown and produced to their fullest potential?

I discovered this last year. It was my first year with the veg garden. Space was limited. I had a great idea to save myself space and time: I would plant the pumpkins right in the lawn - when they grew (and we all know how pumpkins take over), they would cover the grass and I wouldn't have to mow! What a genius I was! It turned out to be a hot, dry summer, and even though I watered my piddling little pumpkin plants daily, they refused to grow. I had two or three flowers, but the plants never even reached the size of a dinner plate. You can forget any pumpkins.

So, this year I planted the pumpkins right in the manure pile. Pumpkins are what "they" call heavy feeders, which means they want a lot of nitrogen, and here we are a month and a half later and the leaves alone are larger than dinner plates! These pumpkins are happy plants. Lots of food and nitrogen right there at their root tips! The difference is amazing.

Last weekend I looked at the cukes and squashes that I planted in the garden. The same amount of time has passed for them as for the pumpkins, and the cukes were still just two leaves each, while the squash weren't doing much better. Hmm. I dug up a little manure and "dressed" the top of the soil around each plant. VOILA! Super Squash! Courageous Cucumbers! Well, it wasn't' quite that instantaneous, but the difference a little dressing of horse manure made is down right amazing!

And when the dripper hose company recommends drippers spaced 6" apart for veg gardens, and you try to save money by purchasing the 12" drippers in stead, thinking you will just wind them more closely together, you come to the conclusion that the company actually knew what it was talking about and next year you will order the 6" lines to replace the 12" lines you put in this year.

The moral of this story is, yes, you can do it yourself and try to figure things out on your own, or, you can save yourself some time, money and aggravation and actually follow the years and years of advice that other gardeners have put into print just for us!

The choice is yours, obviously. As for me, I may just start to read those books again and take some more of that advise to heart.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I am a Garden Geek

I have my first broccoli head! It is about 3-4" across and looks beautiful!!! Do I harvest now or wait for it to grow? Decisions, decisions!

Yes...I guess I've become a garden geek. I'm like the proud parent who wants to share all the potty training details with co-workers and friends. Not everyone is interested. Still, I figure that if someone is actually taking the time to read this blog, then that person is likely interested in gardening, too. So, I shall gush away about my growing produce!

Note for the Future: runner beans and pole beans do not have the repellent properties that bush beans have when it comes to companion planting with potatoes to control Colorado potato beetles. Stick with the bush beans. The potatoes that are with the runner and pole beans have been stripped of leaves and are covered with hundreds of CPB larvae! The other ones have some larvae, but nowhere near the same numbers. And the potatoes that volunteered themselves where I have onions planted this year are also sporting few CPB larvae. Onions seem to be the universal companion plant.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sharing the Harvest

We had a potluck dinner at work last night, so I raided the garden for part of my contribution.

Peas - I needed peas. Would there be enough to use? Sure enough - I picked and shelled close to two cups! And as I was palpating pods to be sure I only picked those that had large enough peas in them, I glanced around at the other varieties that hadn't produced pods yet - and they are loaded! Hundreds of pods dangled tantalizingly from their vines, only needing time, sunshine and rain to fill them out before I can add them to my larder! It's going to be a busy month once they start to ripen!

Radishes - I planted radishes this year mostly as sacrificial plants, but I know that there are people who enjoy eating them, so I pulled a few from the ground, hosed them off, and stuck them in a bowl for the radish-eaters.

Greens - someone else was bringing a salad, so I opted not to bring (more) greens (sigh - what a great opportunity to unload a few). Still, I've reached the overflow point with greens...will have to take the zucchini strategy and start leaving bags of greens on peoples' porches!!! Beware if you live nearby! The Stealth Salad Sneaker may be leaving a deposit at your door!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Veg Harvest Increases by 50%

The first peas of the season were picked and eaten on Friday. I had upwards of 20 pods, and a yield of almost an eighth of a cup of peas. Because there weren't enough to actually do anything with, and I'm not one who likes them raw, I let Toby enjoy them with his dinner that night. I, instead, enjoyed still more lettuce.

The spinach has started to bolt.

Little round green balls are growing away on the Glacier tomatoes, still, while about a quarter of the other tomato plants are now starting to bloom. I raided the garden supply shops on Friday in Glens Falls and stocked up on short stakes for tomato plants. Probably should've gotten the longer stakes, but we'll see how these do. Friday evening found me staking and tying about 80 tomato plants. Several needed another trimming, too, to remove secondary shoots and extra leaves.

The runner beans are starting to climb above the potatoes and are now seeking out their trellis strings.

I've been squishing CPB eggs, larvae and adults daily now. Just when you think you've gotten them all, you find a whole new batch have emerged.

Gray aphids have struck now, too. Not in the veggies, but in one of the flower beds. I discovered a couple plants simply coated with the things. At first I just removed infested parts out of the garden, but soon discovered that to be successful, I'd have to remove the entire plants. So, I found a squirt bottle, filled it with soapy water, and gave them all a bath. We'll see if that works.

Little cabbage whites (those pale white butterflies) have been fluttering around the broccoli and cauliflower. Hm...I may have to start little green worm patrols soon.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Over-run with Lettuce

One day you are wondering if you planted enough lettuce, and the next you find yourself trying to give it away because there is more than you could possibly ever eat! And that's just the plants from the first planting!

The exciting news is that I now have pea pods! I suspect that by the end of the week I will be harvesting my first peas - huzzah!

A perusal of the garden last night also turned up potato beetle larvae! I've been squishing the eggs when I find them, but I've obviously missed some because there were the larvae - tiny little ones, larger blob-ish ones shedding their skins, and their frass all over the potato leaves. Those that I found are no more.

Meanwhile, leeks are not doing well at all. I thought that if I started them from sets that I would have better luck, but even these don't seem to be growing. Must be I just don't have the right conditions for leeks.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Late June in the Garden

I borrowed a camera, so I've finally got some shots to put in this blog!

Here is the view of the veggie garden as seen from its northeast corner:

The tall things on the left side in the back (not the trees) are the poles strung with string to be trellises for the peas and pole beans. The white thing is the row cover over the broccoli plants.

And here's the view from the north side, closer to the western edge:

The two beds this side of the covered broccoli are the potatoes and beans (good garden companions), followed by two beds of tomatoes. The three beds that are perpendicular to all the others (on the far right) have more tomatoes (farthest away) and then squash (too small to see in this image). The beds behind these, in the back of the photo, have the onions and corn, which will not be knee high by the 4th of July; I'll be lucky if it hits 6" by then.

And these are the first apples I've had on the Haralson apple tree. MAYBE they will make it through the season and be edible come fall!!!

Working our way around the yard, here are the "Weedless Gardening" beds I put in this spring. The one on the left is planted with a variety of sunflowers, while the one on the right has some Paul Robeson tomatoes, Red Reselection Celery (I'm not convinced it's actually growing), and then the rest of the bed is filled with buckwheat, oats and other plants for green manure and beneficial insects.

Rose Chafers - I am over-run with them! Here they are making short work of one of my grapes. This plant actually had buds for at least two, maybe three, bunches of grapes. I guess I can kiss them goodbye. And I had such high hopes - last year I only got one grape. Not one bunch of grapes, ONE GRAPE. I spent two evenings this last week out there with a jar of soapy water and a stick, knocking these insects into the jar to drown, but there are just too many for this hunt and pick method to work. If anyone has an "organic" solution to these pests, please let me know. The bluebirds apparently don't realize that these are available for eating! Maybe they taste bad?

Peas - lovely peas. These are, I believe, the Laxton's Progress #9 peas, although I have another variety that has started to bloom now, too.

And lastly, chives - wonderful companion plants that attract all sorts of great pollinators.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Attack of the Potato Bugs

Aye, it's true - the little orange eggs are Colorado Potato Beetles. I've now initiated a Daily Potato Beetle Patrol - turning over each tomato and potato plant (and there are an awful lot of them) in search of little orange eggs, and then squishing them. So far I've only found one adult, and it bit the dust, too.

Meanwhile, we've had a little rain the last couple of days, greatly needed. It's amazing to me how much difference the garden shows when it rains. Drip irrigation and watering with a garden hose just aren't the same as rain. They help, but rain must just come with all the right ingredients for plant growth. Could be cholorine that is in the town water is absent from the rain. Or it could be the nitrogens coming with the rain that is craved by the plants. Who knows. The bottom line is, rain makes plants grow.

Caught some corvids in my sunflower patch the other day - could explain the empty spots. Hm. So, I found one CD that was a mail advertisement for something and have tied it out there to scare them off. Don't know if one will make any difference, but at least it is a try.

I'm not too sure about the whole dried milk and epsom salt thing with tomatoes. I know some folks swear by it, but my tomatoes that got dosed are looking pretty sickly. Now, it could be that because I didn't know the correct proportions and just dumped the stuff in the holes when I planted the tomatoes, I may have put too much in and the plants are suffering from overdose. That could very well be it. I hope they recover. I may have to dig down and try to remove some of the stuff. Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Return of the Potato Beetles

Over the weekend I found some tiny orange eggs on the underside of a tomato leaf. I left them there in hopes that they were eggs of some beneficial insect and therefore would be welcome in the garden.

WELL - it turns out that they are most likely Colorado Potato Beetle eggs! AUGH!!! I had these pests on my potatoes last year and there were too many to keep up with (picking them off and drowning them in a jar of soapy water).

Since tomatoes and potatoes are related, it isn't a surprise that the eggs are on the tomatoes. Still, I don't want them in the garden. Solutions? Some suggest spraying with a form of Bt that targets these pests, but the thing with Bt is that it really nails just about any larva, including those of beneficials and butterflies. So, we won't opt for that choice. It looks like I am going to have to go out daily and examine each plant (about 100 tomato plants and likely as many potato plants) and squish the eggs. Ick. The eggs hatch in about four days, so I guess I know what I will be doing this evening after work.

Things are Growin' in the Garden

I've picked my first (and second) lettuce - always a rush of excitement, this first harvest.

Three tomato plants now have blossoms. I'm pretty sure these are the Glaciers.

AND - my first peas now have blossoms as well!! I'd have to consult my map to be sure, but I believe these are the one's named Laxton's Progress #9.

Beans and potatoes are doing very well. Corn is up about 3" now. Squash and pumpkins are showing their first leaves, and the runner and pole beans will soon be climbing trellises.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Final Plantings... Maybe

There are days when it seems like it is full summer already, and then we are humbled by a frost warning. We had such a warning last Thursday, and I scrambled to cover things. Row covers, wool blankets, sheets, towels, tarp, rain poncho...everything was recruited. In the end, I don't think we got the frost, but I was ready, just in case.

The scramble was a direct result of stuff sprouting! Stuff that I had planted a mere five days earlier was already up: corn, beans and squash, cucumbers and pumpkins! It is hard to believe, but I think it was contributable to the summer-like weather.

Yesterday I came to the conclusion that it was time to get the final things planted. I grabbed the eggplants and peppers I'd started from seed and found places to tuck them into the garden. The eggplants are like radishes in my garden: sacrificial plants that are supposed to draw the undesired insects away from desired crops. Eggplants are supposedly good for attracting the Colorado potato beetles. My 'taters were covered with 'em last summer, so I thought I'd give it a try. Not that ten lowly eggplants will make much of a dent in the potato bug population, but it should make for an interesting experiment.

The lettuce and one or two spinach plants are almost ready for "baby greens" picking. This is very exciting. Most of the spinach I planted, however, didn't grow. Hm. I may have to replant, but later in the summer when I can count on it for a fall crop. And one of my tomato plants already has flowers! I suspect it is one of the Glaciers - a variety known for producing early (a real asset for us mountain-dwellers).

One of the beds of onions and leeks that I had started from seed this winter seems to be a complete failure. No great loss, though - four beds of onions and leeks is a bit much. Still, it would be nice for once to successfully grow them from seed. Maybe next year. In the meantime, I decided to not let the space go to waste (if such a thing is possible) and filled it with all the remaining seeds I had for beneficial insect plants (coriander, cumin, parsley, savory, buckwheat, red clover, fennel, dill, feverfew, chamomile, et al). We'll see what comes up.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Finding the Bright Side

I figure that everything must have a bright side. And these last few days, I've been trying to discover the bright side of these Guamish days. I think I've found it...in the garden.

Yep - the heat and humidity have done wonders for the growth of garden plants! Two days ago I could just see the tops of a handful of the pole beans I planted a couple weeks ago; yesterday they were all up, 3-4" tall, and reaching for the trellis strings! Holy cats! The peas are now climbing the trellises; the potatoes are looking robust! Why, I wouldn't be surprised to see the squash and pumpkin seeds I planted three days ago sprouted and producing fruit when I get home tonight!

I bet if I put up a lawn chair and sat there and watched, I could actually see the hop vines growing. Maybe hops are our northern equivalent to kudzu (growth-wise, that is).

Saturday, June 7, 2008

It is Guaming Out

Years and years ago, when I was but a child (ages 2-3), we lived on Guam. My folks never liked it - hot and humid does not go over well in our family. Since then, however, whenever we have HHH weather (hazy, hot and humid), we have said "It is Guaming out." These last two days have been very Guamish. Ugh. The Adirondacks are just not supposed to be like Guam!

Still, at least now we can say it has warmed up! We've gotten some much-needed rain and heat, so things are sprouting. I bit the bullet and have planted the beans (something like 10 varieties, not including the pole beans which went in a couple weeks ago), corn (five varieties of sweet corn, four kinds of popcorn), and the squashes. I stuck the pumpkin seeds directly into the manure pile - I suspect part of the reason they did so poorly last year was lack of food. This should take care of that.

I had bought innoculant for the beans, but it seemed like such a hassle to use it, that I opted to just stick the seeds in the ground. Since last year a whole bed of beans vanished with nary a sprout (birds?), I decided to cover the plots this time with row covers until the seeds sprout.

I also put in an entire bed of sunflowers...if they grow (ran out of row covers, so I'm hoping the birds and squirrels don't discover it). The mammoth grey striped sunflowers did great last year, so I've planted a bunch of those in addition to some other varieties. I think I'm taking a chance this year, though, because they are in a bed next to the fence - easier access to hungry bears. Hm. We'll see what happens.

So, with the exception of the companion flowers, the garden is officially "in." I planted the nasturtiums yesterdy, and some of the cosmos and marigolds, as well as a few of the companion herbs, but I have a long way to go yet. It's just too Guamish to do it today, though.

On the tomato front: all but a handful of paste tomatoes have found a home! And I have about 100 plants in at my house. I may be going into the fresh tomato business this fall!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tilling, Tomatoes and Driplines

We finally got some sunny and warm weather, and some real rain, over the last four days. I took advantage of it to get some more gardening done.

First on the list: get the new beds made! I pulled off the plastic to find that the lawn had been mostly killed off, so armed with string, flour and the tiller, I attacked the patch and created five new beds. Flour? Yes. After measuring off the spaces for paths and garden beds, making them straight with string attached between two sticks, I mark the ground using flour. It's cheap, it's available, and it's biodigradable. Once my flour lines are on the ground, I can wind up the string and till away, no worries about string getting wrapped around the tiller tines, or my beds being crooked! So, I now have two more long beds and three short beds running perpendicular to the long beds (had to work around an apple tree, so these three beds have a different alignment).

After tilling, I got out my super duper square-ended spade (from Lee Valley Tools - the best garden purchase I've made to date) and cut the edges of the beds. I have found that the tiller really doesn't do much but maybe stir up the top inch or two of the lawn. A good shovel and a broadfork really prove to be the best for making the beds, in my opinion. This time, though, I opted not to use the broadfork - I'm trying multiple techniques this year. The old beds were all broadforked when made and again this year. The older new beds were broadforked this spring. Then there are the "Weedless Gardening" beds where the lawn was mowed, newspaper put down and manure and mulch piled on top. And finally, these last five beds: the soil from the edging piled on top of the "tilled" center bit, which, as stated above, really isn't tilled deeply. We shall see if any of these beds prove to be better than the others!

So, the lawn was tilled, the edges dug out and plopped on top of the "tilled" center, the clumps were broken up and raked into slightly mounded beds. About an inch of manure was spread on top and the whole thing sat for a couple days, resting.

The next chore: completing the drip irrigation system. My new lines and clips arrived, so in the heat and humidity of Friday my mom and I installed dripper lines. I had been using 12" drippers, but the new lines are 6" (this is the spacing between the drip holes). This is what Dripworks recommends for veg gardens (12" for flower beds), and I am thinking now that they are right. Still, we use what we have and now all the beds are equipped with water for the summer. I have the system set on a timer that has four settings per day, seven days a week. I have set it for 15 minutes of dripping each time. We'll see how that goes. Too much? Too little? We'll have to wait and see. Sure beats standing out there with the garden hose for over an hour every night after work!

Finally, the tomatoes. I have TONS of tomato plants. I was over ambitious this winter ordering seeds: they all sounded so interesting! As a result, I ended up with about 18 varieties of tomatoes (Paul Robeson, Black Prince, Rose, Siletz, Rose di Berne, Roma Paste, Grandma Mary Paste, Bellstar Paste, Blue Beech Paste, Dad's Sunset, German Lunchbox, Principe Borghese, Brandywine, Amish Paste, Cherokee Purple, and I can't recall the others). And when you plant from seed inside in the winter, you plant extra seeds because they might not all germinate, and those that do may not all survive. Long story short: I ended up with 150+ tomato plants! I have filled the two new long beds and one short bed with tomatoes! And I still have plants left over! If you are going to be in Newcomb anytime soon, and you want tomato plants, come see me!!!

All that remains now to be planted: beans, corn, squash, pumpkins, celery, herbs and companion plants, sunflowers. Space remaining: three long beds, two short beds, and the two "weedless gardening" beds.

Will it be enough?!?!? Stay tuned...

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Weekend Chores

It may still be too cool to get the rest of the garden planted, but that doesn't mean other chores aren't possible. So, this weekend I put up trellises for the growing peas and for the yet-to-be-planted pole beans.

Reading through my notes, I discovered that potatoes should be planted almost as soon as the ground can be worked, like peas. I guess I was confusing potato requirements with corn requirements. Anywho, I remedied my failings by getting the potatoes in the ground on Friday. Four varieties this year: German butterball (my favorites), Austrian crescents (interesting), Carola (also good), and, new this year, red gold. Not only did I plant the 'taters I ordered, but also the ones that had sprouted from last year's harvest (and I never got around to eating this winter). All told, I have three beds of potatoes.

That leaves me only three small beds for the rest of the produce. Not enough. True, there are also the two new beds I created last weekend just piling manure on top of newspaper, but I am leery of using them (what if the manure is too strong, even though it's been rotting almost a year, or what if it provides way too much nitrogen and not enough other nutrients). So, I dug into the compost heap from last year and tossed some of that (still not completely composted, but maybe 70% there) on top.

I peaked under the plastic I put down in April to kill off more lawn, thinking I wouldn't be able to utilize that area until late summer, and it actually looks nice and brown underneath - I may attempt to till up beds there this next weekend (if it doesn't rain). I should be able to get another 4-5 beds out of that plot!!!

Lastly, I started to install my drip irrigation system. Ran out of the clips/staples that are used to tack the dripper lines to the ground, so I had to stop. Installing driplines is really not difficult (aside from trying to get the coiled tubing to lie flat). I had opted for 12" spaced drip line, even though the catalogue recommended 6" for veg gardens, and now I'm thinking they probably knew what they were talking about (but the 12" lines were significantly cheaper). My timer only has four settings per day (rather than the desired six), so I've upped the watering duration from 9 minutes to 15 minutes each time. It works great...except in the spaces where there is no water dripping. I suppose I should dig down to see just how far the wet zone spreads from each dripper, but I hate to disturb the stuff I've planted. I think my next option will be to run two lines down each bed, rather than one snaking its way over the surface. This is how we learn - from our trials and mistakes.

Meanwhile, the crabapple blossoms are starting to open! And two apple trees (Haralson and Northern Spy) have flowers - at the very tippy top where the deer couldn't reach this winter. The Jonagold, which gave me my first apples last year, has no flowers this year - I suspect too much trauma from browsing pressure. The remaining trees (Milden, Black Oxford, and Keepsake) are all too young to have fruits yet (and were also heavily browsed; must find a solution for this).

My azaleas (Northern Lights varieties) are also starting to bloom, just as the rhododendrons (also Northern Lights) are shriveling up and calling it quits for the season.

And, as a final note, the bluebirds are being quite vocal these last few days. I checked my nest boxes on the golf course last night, and found only one with a potential bluebird nest in it. One box is full of twigs - signs of wren occupation. Another had twigs, but they are now covered with a layer of moss - chickadees? I have one enterprising chickadee who was sitting on her nest yesterday when I peaked in; when she flew I counted a whopping eight eggs!!! She's an over-achiever. One other box was stuffed with grasses - I suspect a red squirrel. The rest of the boxes were all empty. As for my boxes at home, well, I've seen bluebirds around, but apparently none have chosen to take up residence (yet). Even though eggs have been laid and chicks are hatching out in the banana belts of the Park (Lake Champlain area and the St. Lawrence Valley), our bluebirds haven't laid their first eggs yet - some haven't even chosen nest sites yet. Yes, we are a good several weeks behind the rest of the state.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Welcome to My Garden Page

We nature nuts find something to celebrate in all aspects of the outdoors. Thus, in addition to being a nature nut, I'm also a bit of a gardening nut. While modern gardening has really gotten away from nature (nature is something to be beaten into submission and then improved upon with technology), I prefer to embrace nature in my gardens (although the deer are questionable) and work with it. So, in this blog you can join me as I attempt to raise all my own veggies in an organic garden in the middle of the Adirondacks, where Zone 3 is the norm, and the growing season is really really short.

My goal: to grow all of my own produce organically! I have just over an acre of land in a residential area (so chickens are, sadly, out of the question). I have a basement that floods for part of the year, so a proper root cellar doesn't seem too likely. I don't like canned foods, so what I can't eat right away gets blanched and frozen (thanks to Mom and Dad for the chest freezer I got for Christmas two years ago).

2007 was the first year I grew veggies here. Peas did great (Mirigreen, which unfortunately were not available this year, although I had a few seeds left over from last year and they are coming up nicely), as did tomatoes and potatoes. Beans were not great producers, the corn (all four tiny ears) was tasty, and the cukes were nailed by frost. The garlic I had planted the previous fall did very well. Pumpkins and gourds - well, one really shouldn't bother. And I had a total of four squash (buttercup, which were very tasty).

2008 has found me going a little bit nuts. First, I decided I had to double the size of the garden, and now I find that even that will not enough. And it won't be enough because I went overboard with seed orders! There are lots of great sources for organic seeds, and I had to try some from just about all of them! Top companies are Fedco in Maine, and Johnny's Selected Seeds, also from Maine. But I've also used Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Seeds of Change, Seed Savers Exchange, Turtle Tree Biodynamics, The Natural Gardening Company, Heirloom Seeds, High Mowing Seeds (VT) and a few others whose names escape me at the moment.

So far I have planted peas (five varieties, in an attempt to find one as good as Mirigreen), greens (assorted), onions and leeks (for two years I've tried starting these from seeds - I don't recommend it; The Natural Gardening Co. has sets of organic onions and leeks, so I bought some to supplement my pathetic seedlings), cauliflower and broccoli. So far everything is growing well (except my onion and leek seedlings, but that was a given).

I've been itching to plant the beans, but snow is still in the forecast, so I will wait until the traditional planting date of 31 May before I plant anything else.

The tomatoes I started inside are doing great! I bought sixteen varieties of seeds and have, oh, 150-200 plants waiting to go out. Needless to say, I have a few more plants than I can realistically use, so I'm hoping to surplus some to fellow gardeners in town. Note to self: don't start tomatoes in February - they end up getting way too big before you can plant them outside!

Peppers are another veg to let go - we just don't have a long enough or hot enough season to do them justice. I ended up with two midget green peppers by September last year: they were maybe 2-1/2 inches long. I got some free eggplant seeds this year, and I have a feeling they will do as well as the peppers. No real great loss to me, though, since I am only planting them as sacrificial plants. Their job is to draw the Colorado potato beetles away from the potatoes (I was swarmed with them last year). We'll see how that goes.

So, while I wait for the weather to warm up and for interesting things to happen that I can share here, I will pass along some things I've picked up along the way.

My influences: Sally Cunningham and her book "Great Garden Companions" - a book I highly recommend to all gardeners. After her I recommend Lee Reich's "Weedless Gardening," Neil Moran's "North Country Gardening," and John Jeavon's "Grow More Vegetables."

What I have done: Using the advice of the above-mentioned authors, my garden consists of long beds, each about three feet wide (give or take six inches), with footpaths in between (1' to 2' wide). I plant using the biodynamic method of clusters rather than rows (you can plant more in less space, and the plants, because they are grouped, in theory act as their own mulch and cut down on weed growth by shading the soil). And I do companion planting. This is how you work with nature - you group your veggies together in combinations that help each other, like onions and carrots; beans and potatoes; corn, beans and squash. And to top it all off, you plant flowers and herbs around and among your veggies, for they attract predatory insects that attack the insects that attack your plants and produce. They also attract pollinators. My yard was full of butterflies and birds and all kinds of insects last summer - it was very pleasant to sit out in the yard and just "be" with the garden. It may not be the tidiest vegetable garden, but it is a riot of color and life. That's as it should be.

Some flowers and herbs to consider: marigolds (a classic companion flower), cosmos, calendula (related to marigolds), dill, parsley (great for butterfly larvae, especially swallowtails), fennel, chamomile, borage (the blue flowers look great in salads, and are edible), chives, sweet Annie, alyssum, nasturtiums (also edible).

So, now I wait. Wait for the sun, hope for some rain (we are so dry...precipitation patterns have changed drastically the last few years), and watch for the UPS gal to bring my drip irrigation system - but that's a story for another post, another day.