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.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Currently Growing in the Indoor Grow Box

After a few cold nights last week, I thought, this is it, the first frost must be just around the corner!  Then it started warming up again, and the weather people are forecasting daytime highs of 70s and low 80s for the next six days.  I'm hoping this will be good for the remaining green Jelly Bean tomatoes to plump up and get ripe enough for me to pick before the first frost, whenever it arrives.  On the other hand, I wonder if this kind of warmth is not so good for my fall crops, or at least whatever's left of my fall crops after the ongoing cabbage worm and aphid attacks.  One thing for sure, this up and down fall weather is definitely keeping me on my toes.

In the meantime, we still have a few things growing in the indoor grow box, where they are happily oblivious to the changing weather outside.  In addition to indoor Jelly Bean tomatoes and planted basil cuttings, we have:

Long Thin Cayenne Pepper, with some peppers finally starting to ripen red

bush green beans that are just starting to set flowers

cut-and-come-again lettuce mix

catnip that I planted just to see if some freebie old seeds were still viable (they were)

By the way, I have no idea what to do with catnip, since we don't have a cat and don't know any neighbors who have cats.  I have read that they can serve as a deterrent to a variety of garden pests, but I haven't tried it yet.

cilantro that I've already taken some cuttings from for making salsa

flat-leaf parsley from self-collected seeds

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Waiting for Fall Lettuce to Grow

Ruby Lettuce

Red Romaine Lettuce

Little Gem Lettuce

Here we have lots of little volunteer lettuce seedlings (among some others) coming up from seeds that fell off the seed heads when I saved lettuce seeds, or they just self-seeded themselves.  They are mostly loose-leaf blend and mesclun lettuce mix.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Slow Ripening Peppers

We have our very first ripe cayenne pepper!  While the rest of the peppers are still stubbornly hanging on to their green colors, this one pepper somehow popped its red color almost overnight, kind of like... magic.

Oh, I also spotted a baby version of a tobacco hornworm on this plant.  Luckily, I caught it before it caused too much damage on the plant. I hope that was the one and only pest this pepper plant brought in from the outside.  Just the thought of "growing" one of those hornworms indoors gives me the shudders.

Although this is our first cayenne pepper that ripened on the plant, we have several more cayenne peppers that have turned red since we picked them green last week.

They really are pretty, and I can't help but keep staring at them thinking, "I grew them!"

This post is linked to Tuesday Garden Party.


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