Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fall Radishes - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

These pictures are from a few weeks ago while I was in California.  It was my first chance to harvest the Cherry Belle radishes since first planting them about 35 days ago.  I knew that was about 10 days past their normal days to maturity, but I was hoping that cooler temperatures and shorter daylights of late fall would work in my favor and not negatively affect the radishes too much.

Well, I can always hope, right?

While a bit on the small side, here are The Good.

Then we have The Bad.

And we have The Ugly.

I have read that uneven watering and being left in the ground for too long can cause radish cracking.  I've also read that under- or non-development of roots may be caused by overcrowding, temperatures being too hot or soil deficiencies.  But I'm still puzzled because all these radishes were grown in the same part of the garden sufficiently/evenly spaced away from each other.  Whatever water/light/soil nutrition these radishes might have been lacking, they all got exactly the same treatment, yet some fared much better than the others. 

Oh well, I guess it's just another proof that vegetable gardening is anything but predictable.

I am happy to report that whatever problems the radish roots were having didn't affect the green tops at all.  They all grew beautifully and were rather delicious tossed into some soup.  It was my first time eating full grown radish greens, but I'm sure it won't be the last time.

Monday, December 13, 2010

12/13 Harvest - December Peppers

Hello again everyone!  Somehow I let a whole month get away me from since my last blog post.  It was partially because my gardening has slowed down considerably due to wintry weather and partially because I've been enjoying some downtime with my family in California and with Keith in Indiana since my last work project in Texas ended.

But now I'm happy to be back.  For today's Harvest Monday, I don't have too much in the way of harvest, but I do have a wee bit of excitement to share.

Do you see what I see?  New pepper blossoms, in mid-December!  My cayenne pepper plant that I brought indoors about two and a half months ago has been not only surviving, but actually thriving, flowering and starting to make little baby peppers again.  I'm really surprised that the plant is producing new flowers even though we left most of the ripe red peppers on the plant for "looks."  I remember reading somewhere that picking ripe peppers will keep the plant from slowing or ceasing new flower/fruit production, but apparently the reverse is not necessarily true?

This is the top-ish view of the pepper plant.  It's a bit hard to see in this picture, but there are dozens of new blossoms on this plant.  Outside the window, you can see some dusting of snow from early last week (all these pictures were taken last week).  We've gotten a lot more snow this week to a point where I can barely see the raised boxes (10 inches high) outside under the snow. 

Compared to less than two months ago, this pepper plant has grown a lot more foliage to support new blossoms.  If you think that we crank up the heat in the house to greenhouse conditions - we don't.  We keep the thermostat set at between 66 F (night) and 68 F (day).  When I first brought this pepper plant in to winter indoors, I had hoped that it would hunker down and survive the indoor conditions without dying so that it could start to grow again next spring.  But this plant is still actively growing and definitely exceeding my best expectations.

Okay, one last picture before I sign off.  Oh, and in spirit of Harvest Monday, I did harvest four cayenne peppers from our growbox pepper plant (unfortnately no pictures) yesterday to use in our slow-cooker beef stew.  Whoa, we had some spicy stew!

Happy winter gardening!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Waiting for Daikon Radish

According to the seed packet, this Daikon Radish is supposed to be a fast grower and be ready to harvest in 45 days.  Well, my radishes obviously didn't get that memo.  It's been over 75 days since I planted the seeds and I'm just now starting to see signs of some root growth.  They don't look very big to me, though, compared to how I had envisioned them.  Maybe they don't like the heavy clay soil in this small in-ground garden, even though I tried to amend it as much as possible by adding some "good" dirt.

Daikon radishes are going be one of my last harvests from the Indiana garden this year, so I'm trying to be patient.

Ack, I'm so not good at being patient for garden harvests!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The New Garden is Ready... for next spring!

Keith and I braved the cold weather last Saturday morning (28 degrees F when I checked at 8AM) to drive over to the dirt place (twice) to pick up a total of three and a half cubic yards of special soil to finish filling the last two raised garden beds.  Okay, so we didn't actually manage to leave the house until 9:45am, but I'm not sure that it warmed up all that much between 8AM and 10AM.

However, it warmed up A LOT (or maybe it was just me who warmed up) once I started shoveling dirt from the truck bed to the wheelbarrow.  Funny how that works, right?

Here's our finished vegetable garden.  It was a lot of work, but I'm really looking forward to the extra growing space next year.  There are six new raised garden beds, each 4 ft x 12 ft x 10 in.  The two beds on the left have have some lettuce, spinach, and Halloween-planted garlic, so we covered them up with straw for the winter.  We also covered all paths with cardboard (until we ran out) and straw.

Now I just need it to be next spring already so I can start planting the new garden!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

11/8/10 Harvest After The First Snow

We had our first snow on Friday, although it didn't stick.  Temperatures dipped down to the mid-twenties on Friday night, but I'm happy to report that what little left of the asian greens in the garden (with emphasis on little) survived the cold night.

These are the survivors, including a lone radish.  First, they survived the relentless attack of the cabbage worms (but not without battle scars consisting of big holes and missing chunks of leaves), and now they have survived their frost and snow.  I stir-fried these greens for lunch.  They were really tasty, but so little in quantity to just barely whet our appetites.  I really need to figure out a way to grow these better and to protect them from pests next year!

Also surviving frost and snow are some volunteer parsley that have been growing for the last two months.  They seem really hardy and healthy in the outdoor garden.

I supplemented this week's garden harvest with some cilantro and basil from our indoor grow box.  A single Jelly Bean tomato (also from the grow box) somehow made its way onto the harvest plate, too.  I chopped up the cilantro and mixed it in with some freshly cooked brown rice.  They added a nice flavor to the rice!

I also picked the last handful of green beans from the grow box.  While it was kind of cool to find out that we could grow green beans (bush variety) in our grow box, I have to admit that they were still very cramped in there and did not grow to their full potential.  I'm not sure if I'll grow them again in the grow box.

The harvests are definitely getting smaller, but we really appreciate every little bite that makes its way into our kitchen.

Check out Daphne's Harvest Monday to see who else is still harvesting in November!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Last Two Raised Garden Beds

In addition to decorating the house for Halloween last weekend, Keith and I finished building the remaining two raised boxes for the new garden.  They are not filled yet - that's this weekend's project.  If you'd like to see some "before" and "in-progress" pictures, please see my post on Building New Raised Garden Beds.

You can see in this picture that the ground slopes down from right to left.  To level the raised beds, we had to dig trenches in the higher side of the ground for each of the beds, which was very difficult with the hard clay soil.  Now that's all done, I hope I never have to dig any part of this garden ever again!  Well... unless I decide to build more raised garden beds.  I can already hear Keith yelling "NO MORE RAISED BEDS!!!"

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Planting Garlic on Halloween

After seeing pictures of other gardeners' beautiful garlic harvests earlier this year, I knew that I wanted to try my hand at growing garlic, too. I especially wanted to plant some hardneck garlic so that I could grow and enjoy some delicious garlic scapes in addition to the better flavors of homegrown garlic.  But I didn't realize that seed garlic would sell out so fast from reputable online vendors. I also didn't realize that shipping costs for seed garlic would be so expensive!

Long story short, I did not get around to buying any seed garlic cloves for hardneck garlic varieties this year.  However, I wasn't about to let this deprive me of my garlic growing experience.

So I decided to take the frugal and late-to-the-game approach to growing garlic:  I bought some plain garlic from the grocery store. Yep, the unknown softneck variety.

I took 22 of the best looking garlic cloves and soaked them overnight in some baking soda-and-water solution.  The next day (Halloween!), I peeled the cloves, rinsed them in water and proceeded with planting them in the corner of one of my new raised beds.  I planted them 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart in all directions.  My designated garden fork (formerly known as a dinner fork in the kitchen) worked great for digging 4-inch deep holes for the garlic cloves.  I will mulch this area with some straw next weekend.

I have no idea if any of these supermarket garlic cloves are going to grow and develop new garlic bulbs.  But I do know that if I didn't try, I would never know.  So here goes, my Great Garlic Experiment of 2010-2011!

Monday, November 1, 2010

11/1/10 harvest - Fall Salad

With the temperature rapidly dropping in Indiana, the garden offering seems to be shrinking.  This week, I barely managed to harvest enough lettuce, parsley, Jelly Bean tomatoes, and one radish to make two dinner salads. 

The salads were topped with some home-grown alfalfa sprouts.  Although the harvest was small, I did have a proud gardener moment when I realized that everything on these plates came from our organic home garden (pat myself on the back).  After taking this picture, I further dressed the salads with some sunflower seeds, golden raisins, slivers of goat cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette.

Head on over to Daphne's Harvest Monday for more fall harvests from other gardeners!

P.S.  During my first year of vegetable gardening this year, I have learned my lesson that a part - okay, MOST - of the effort of keeping an organic home garden is dealing with a huge variety of garden pests.  Even after the arrival of the first frost late last week, I'm still seeing yucky pests in the garden.  I picked off (effective) several cabbage worms on my asian greens and rolled my eyes at (not effective) the aphids on my lettuce.  At this point, I've pretty much given up on the battle against the garden pests, at least for this year.  I'll be better prepared next year with row covers and a variety of different organic pesticides like Bt.  Enjoy it while you can, bugs!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fall Vegetable Gardening in Southern California

With Halloween just around the corner, there's no denying that the holidays are not too far away.  I've been busy this week trying to finalize several different travel plans involving multiple trips "all over the country" (five states in three different time zones count, right?) while attempting to coordinate with many different family members' holiday plans as much as possible.  But that's almost all done now, so back to blogging!
Since there isn't much going on in the Indiana garden right now, I'll provide an update on my California garden.  Yes, I call it my garden now, instead of my mom's garden.

Last time I was in CA, I weeded the whole side garden and added some more soil/compost.  I also put down some 12 inch paver stones so that I could walk across them and reach the back part of the garden, because it was almost impossible to reach the part of the garden against the wall without breaking my back while kneeling/squatting on the concrete side path.

This is what the finished garden looked like.  After my aggressive weeding, the only thing left in the garden was the cut-and-come-again lettuce mix.

Side profile of the new and improved garden

This side garden is approximately 4 feet wide by 24 feet long.  After I finished preparing the garden, I planted it with all kinds of seeds for cool-weather crops: radishes, sugar snap peas, cilantro, parsley, carrots, parsnip, kale, bok choy, tatsoi, mustard, swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, etc.  According to my CA peeps, the garden has fully germinated and is now full of lots of healthy two-week-old seedlings. 

Cherry Belle radish seedlings

Daikon radish seedling

The seedling pictures - taken with an iPhone camera - are courtesy of my sister, whom I've been bugging to email me some picture updates of my garden babies. 

 Sugar snap pea seedlings

I'll be visiting CA again in a few weeks and will provide more updates then.  It's really exciting to have a "new" fall garden to look forward to, while my Indiana garden (a bust this fall anyway due to all kinds of evil garden pests) is hunkering down for the winter.  We're expecting our first frost tonight in Indiana.  In contrast, I think the average daytime highs in my California garden will remain around 60 - 70 F degrees for most of the winter, with the nighttime lows around 40 - 50 F degrees.  As a new vegetable gardener, I totally have a newfound appreciation for the mild climate in Southern California!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

10/25 Harvest - Indiana Carrots and Alfalfa Sprouts

These are the last of my Indiana carrots.  Due to their super slow growth and my impatience, it's been about two months since I pulled all the carrots in my square foot gardening beds except for one square foot, and these came from the last square foot.  These carrots have grown more in the last two months, but they are still pretty small compared to my California carrots - all the carrots you see here added up to 11.2 oz, and the biggest carrot from my last California harvest weighed 13 oz all by itself.  Oh well, I'm not complaining too much, though, because something is better than nothing!

I also got my first sprout harvest using the 3-Tray Kitchen Sprouter that I recently won in a giveaway on the Cheap Vegetable Gardener's blog.  This sprouter was pretty easy to use, and I got about 2-3 cups of organic alfalfa sprouts from the first test drive.  Keith and I enjoyed our first taste of these home-grown sprouts on our sandwiches this weekend.

Apparently there are lots of different kinds of seeds that you can buy online to grow different types and flavors of sprouts, including sprouts from seeds that I hadn't thought of like broccoli, kale and mustard.  I'm excited to try some new and interesting sprouts besides the typical alfalfa.  If any experienced sprouters have any suggestions or recommendations, please let me know!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ripening Indoor Peppers

The indoor cayenne pepper plant has been busy ripening its peppers.  These peppers had been green for so long, I was really starting to doubt  that they would ever turn red.  But a couple of weeks after I first brought this plant indoors, the peppers started turning red one by one, and now they are beautiful.

Many of these peppers are ripe enough to be picked, but Keith wants to leave them on the plant because they look so pretty.  I have to admit, this colorful pepper plant is definitely brightening up this corner of the living room.  I'm really hoping that this plant can overwinter indoors without much trouble, so that it could grow even more foliage and peppers next year.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Invisible Cabbage Worms

How many cabbage worms do you see in the picture below?

If you said two, then it makes me feel a little better that I wasn't the only one.  If you said three, then you saw better than I did.  These pests really blend in well.  I think I only picked two cabbage worms off of this daikon radish leaf, or what's left of this leaf.  But after I uploaded this picture, I saw that there was another one in the middle.  I'm pretty sure I didn't see it when I picked off 15 cabbage worms from this part of the garden last weekend.  Ugh, it's probably eaten another pound of greens in my garden by now.

Below are some of the highlights of the cabbage worm damage in the garden.

The damage starts out like this, with holes and chunks missing from the leaves.

But if left alone, the cabbage worms will eat the leaves down to the stems.

It's like they swallowed all the leaves whole, except for the center stems.

Monday, October 18, 2010

10/18/10 Harvest Still Trickling In

We're only a couple of days away from the average first frost date in Indianapolis, but it looks like we may be lucky enough get through the rest of October without seeing any frost.  This would make for a very warm October for our area.  The weather was really beautiful this weekend with the daytime highs in the 70s.  Keith and I took advantage of this by taking a Saturday evening walk to the neighborhood liquor store (0.6 miles from the house) to buy some beer (the cashier looked at us a little funny when Keith put the beers in his backpack) and then enjoying a Sunday morning stroll before breakfast to admire various elaborate Halloween decorations around the neighborhood.

In the garden, the warm weather has allowed another handful of Jelly Bean tomatoes to ripen on the vine.  The plants themselves are looking pretty sorry and bare, but as long as the tomatoes stay edible, I won't complain.

In addition to the Jelly Bean tomatoes, this week's harvest included several more ripe cayenne peppers, a few sugar snap peas, one small radish and some green beans (both green and golden).  The green beans were our first harvest from the bush beans currently growing in the indoor grow box, so we were pretty excited to add green beans to the list of our grow box vegetables.

I also harvested two salads' worth of baby lettuce.  I don't know why they look so pale in this picture, but they looked normal in person.

Oh, I also harvested another serving's worth of asian greens.  I might have had two servings' worth, but the cabbage worms took their share before I got there.  I know, because I picked 15 fat and happy cabbage worms off of my greens.  Well, they were probably happy before I picked them off and drowned them in a container of water.

Bok Choy: If this is not rude, I don't know what is.

I also tackled the mass of basil growing in the garden.  Basil is probably the number one thing that grew like weed in the garden this year.  Next year, I will grow fewer plants.

Here's about one pound of basil.  I made a triple batch of pesto, and am currently in the process of air-drying the rest of the basil leaves for future consumption.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Building New Raised Garden Beds

After getting my vegetable gardening feet wet this year with three 4 ft x 4 ft square foot gardening beds, I decided that an expansion was in order for next year.

This is the south facing side of the house most suitable for a vegetable garden.  The area is shaped like a long trapezoid.  The side where this picture was taken is 18 feet wide and the side with the open gate is 14 feet wide.  The whole area is 53 feet long.  The existing three 4 ft x 4 ft beds are here, but they will be removed at the end of this growing season.  To maximize the space, I decided to build six raised beds measuring 4 ft x 12 ft each, giving me a total of 288 square feet of growing space.

Each raised bed was built with 2 in x 10 in x 12 ft untreated pine boards and lined with several layers of newspaper to prevent weeds from growing in the raised bed.  We decided to go with 10 inch deep beds because the soil in the backyard is really hard clay soil with tons of rocks and gravel left behind by the developer (whom Keith curses every time he has to do any digging in the backyard), topped with lots of weeds.  To make things worse, this area slopes down southward (from right to left in the top picture).  So Keith had to dig a trench all around the three sides of each box to make sure that they could sit level on the ground.  This digging was very difficult with the rock-hard clay soil, and probably the hardest part of this project.

With my needing almost 9 cubic yards of soil to fill six raised beds, I knew there was no way that I would pay the price of Mel's mix - the cost of filling a third of the boxes with vermiculite would be astronomical.  After some calling around, I found a local vendor selling a special planter's mix consisting of mushroom compost, black top soil and bark fines for $34/cubic yard.  When I saw and felt the soil, I was really pleased with its quality - it was dark, rich, full of organic material and felt perfectly moist for planting.

We transported the soil ourselves, 1.5 cubic yard at a time in the back of a pickup truck.  They would also deliver for a fee, but Keith did not want to deal with so much dirt dumped in the driveway all at once, especially since we knew it was going to take us multiple weekends to finish the whole project.  It turned out to be a great decision on Keith's part, because this project is taking us a lot longer to complete than we had initially thought due to weather, digging problems (we had to let the ground soak in water for hours before digging the trenches for leveling each of the boxes), and a few other errands.

Here is a picture of the first box built, leveled and filled (with a shovel, which was also a long process).

Please excuse the mess in this picture - this building process was definitely not a tidy process.  Pictured above are the first four completed raised beds- three on the left side and one on the right side in the far back.  We will probably wait to build and fill the last two beds after this winter, since we still have a few things left growing in the existing 4 ft x 4 ft raised beds.  The new raised beds were placed end-to-end because I wanted to leave as much room as possible near the gate in case we want the space for something else (more raised beds, staging, etc.) later.  To go from one side to the other, I will either have to walk around, which could be a pain in the butt, or just step on the short part of the bed frame to cross over.

These raised beds are for next year, but I just couldn't wait that long to plant something.  So I sowed some seeds for spinach and a few other hardy greens and covered with a row cover.  The row cover was to provide some protection from the impending cold weather, but it's actually been pretty warm since I sowed the seeds a couple of weeks ago, maybe even too warm under the row cover.  I'll have to wait and see if anything grows at all.  I've read that spinach can survive even in snowy weather, but without a cold frame or a strong hoop cover, I don't think it can survive Indiana winter - the row cover I have is not really strong/sturdy enough to withstand the weight of snow or heavy winds.

This is the basic garden map that I'm using to design and plan my new garden (click to enlarge the picture).  Over the next few months, I will slowly figure out where to plant everything next year.  I'm looking forward to a fun winter of planning and replanning the planting of the new garden.

Monday, October 11, 2010

10/11/10 Large Carrots

This week's harvest is brought to you from my California garden (aka mom's garden space where I sowed some seeds earlier).  The last time I was here, I pulled a few impressive girthy carrots. I harvested the rest of the carrots this weekend, and I continue to be amazed at how well these carrots grow here, especially compared to the puny ones I've been growing in my Indiana garden.  They all came from the same seed envelope.

My attempt at a carrot bouquet

These are all "Short 'n Sweet" variety.  I'm thinking this one is more like "Long 'n Scary"

Or is this the scary one?

All these carrots came from this part of the garden (you can see the green carrot tops in the middle, before the harvest), which, as you can see, is fairly weedy and a bit disorganized by my standards.  Apparently these carrots like it better that way, compared to the pristine controlled environment of my square foot gardening beds in Indiana.

Here is the final carrot harvest after they've been bathed and groomed.  This harvest weighed 3 lbs, with the largest one weighing 13 oz.  I wondered if such large carrots may be compromised in flavor and/or texture, but these were still very juicy and sweet with no woody center core like some big carrots from the grocery store.  Curious, but, hey, I'll take it!  I grated the first few big ones to make some impromptu whole wheat carrot bread, in an attempt to avoid the sweet/rich pitfall of carrot cake.

Hop on over to Daphne's Harvest Monday for more fall harvests!

This post is also linked to Tuesday Garden Party.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nasturtium Mystery

I planted a nasturtium seed in this container the last time I visited my mom in California.  It is now blooming, even though the plant itself is still pretty small.  There are also some weeds (including what looks like the beginnings of poppy seedlings) in this container as well.

Anyway, the only significance of this is that while this nasturtium grew and flowered in about two months, the nasturtium I grew in Indiana never flowered once this summer/fall, even though that plant has been growing for longer and got much bigger than this one.  They came from the same seed stock.

How strange.

I thought that nasturtiums were supposed to be pretty easy to grow everywhere.  I wonder if I did something wrong that caused my Indiana plant to not flower at all this year.  Or do flowers somehow prefer California over Indiana, at least for flowering purposes?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Are these edible sunberries, or something poisonous?

I found these berries in my mom's California garden.  My mom said she sprinkled some wildflower seeds in this section earlier this year.  Since she's never grown any berries before, I have to rule out self-seeding volunteers.  So I guess these berry plants grew from seeds mixed in with the wildflowers, or they are just part of random weeds in the garden.

When these plants were growing, I thought they kind of looked like something in the solanum family (like peppers), but being a first-year gardener, my botanical knowledge was/is rather limited.  Now they are bearing berries slightly smaller than blueberries.  I remember seeing a post from The Ottawa Gardener where she talked about sunberries, which are edible, and also mentioned (in the comment section) that they are a lot similar to other wild solanum berries which may be poisonous.

Do any of my more experienced readers have an idea on what we may have here?  I'll post a few more pictures.

Here's they are, growing amongst some other random wildflowers.  The tall skinny plant in the middle with narrow leaves is something else, not part of this berry plant.

The tallest part of the berry-bearing plant seems to be no more than 2 feet or so.

This plant is less than a foot tall, but still has berries on them.

By the way, curiosity got the better of me and I ate a few of these berries.  About a dozen, to be exact.  My mom told me not to eat them, since I didn't know if they were poisonous.  So what did I do?  I first squeezed a berry (very easy, since these were slightly softer than a ripe blueberry), and tasted a tiny bit of the juice with the tip of my tongue - as if I would be able to tell what a poisonous berry tastes like.  And it tasted fine.  Not sweet like a super sweet blueberry, but not at all tart like some blueberries can be.  Sort of a mildly sweet berry with no tartness at all.  So I yelled out to my mom "it tastes okay!" and ate the rest in my hand.

That was about 30 minutes ago.  I'll let you know if I'm still alive tomorrow.


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