Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Building a fence to keep pe(s)ts out

When Keith and I planned our vegetable garden expansion for this year with new raised garden beds, one of the things on the To Do list was to build a new fence to protect our vegetable garden from pets (our two dogs) and pests (wild bunnies that get into our back/side yard by squeezing and/or digging their way in under the outer backyard fence).  We considered various materials for the fence - chicken wire (ugly), wrought-iron fence (holes too big), pine, etc. - and eventually decided to go with pressure-treated pine to match the backyard fence, but 4 feet high instead of 6 feet.  We would have actually preferred it to be even shorter (3 feet), but the boards came in 4-foot lengths and we didn't want to spend the time/energy to trim a foot off each board.

It's been a slow project due to our limited free time and one too many rainy days so far this spring, but we finally completed the project last weekend.

First, Keith used a post hole digger to dig holes deep enough for fence posts.  I tried to help, but I was no match for the hard clay/rocky soil in our yard. 

We then used a piece of string as a guide to evenly place the fence posts.  It was a bit tricky because this side of the garden is at a slope (as you can clearly see with the raised boxes).  Once the posts were lined up, we filled the holes with concrete mix.

Several hours later (or maybe the next day, I can't remember now), this is how it looked.


Now they were ready for the next step.  I think we did this another week or two later.  I know because I can see that sugar snap peas have all fully sprouted in this picture.

Before we put up the fence boards, we laid down chicken wire on the ground (and secured them with landscape fabric pins) so that bunnies can't dig under the fence to get into the garden.  We'll eventually put some soil over it so most (if not all) of it will be hidden under the soil.  Maybe I'll even try to grow some groundcover-type of plants or flowers over it to make it look a bit nicer.  For now, we're satisfied with its functional value.

And here it is, the finished garden fence with a gate in the middle.  We even have a small piece of garden art.

My co-worker Jamie gave this to me last year when she left our project.  It just makes me smile every time I look at it on my way into our new vegetable garden area.

Monday, April 25, 2011

4/25 Harvest - Pea Shoots

Our peas are growing well enough that I felt that it would be safe to harvest some young pea shoots this weekend.  This would have been totally unthinkable last year, when what few pea seedlings I had constantly struggled against the hot weather (in both spring and fall!), cutworms and bunny attacks. 

Since this was my first time harvesting pea shoots, I wanted to be careful, just in case it somehow negatively affected the future growth of these plants.  I am, after all, growing them more for peas and not for shoots.  For this trial run, I snipped off the top 3-4 inches of just a few plants.  I'll go back and inspect the cut plants next week and see if they are still continuing to grow and branching off from leaf nodes below the cut tip, like they are supposed to.

I also snipped off some overwintered basil to make pizza and breadsticks (garlic basil).  Basil grew fast and furious in our garden last year to a point where I got tired of harvesting and processing it.  But having (far) less of it this winter has made me appreciate it more in the kitchen. 

I forgot to take pictures of the finished products, but here is one picture of my first attempt at garlic basil breadsticks just before they were popped in the oven.  They turned out pretty tasty, although I think I will try upping the amount of both garlic and basil next time.

Check out Harvest Monday to see what other gardeners are harvesting!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Garden Tour - Mid April

The Indiana garden is still looking pretty bare and naked, but here's a quick tour.  I thought I would be a lot more organized and plan/re-plan where everything was going to be planted down to the last square foot, but actually, I really just kind of slacked off this winter.  I have loose ideas of where I want things to grow, but in reality, I've just been sowing seeds where there is empty space, deciding locations and space allocations of each vegetable on the fly. 

Right Side: In the first (bottom) bed, we have three rows of peas (several varieties of sugar snap peas and snow peas).  These peas took about two weeks to germinate after mid-March sowing, but they have been growing really well since then.  Germination was good for the most part, except for that empty patch you see in the middle row, about 3 feet down.  I don't know what happened there, but it looks like about 4-5 peas didn't germinate or got eaten by a mysterious pest.

The rest of this pea bed has been sown with sugarloaf chicory, china choy, purple top turnip, spinach, lettuce, and swiss chard.  They are difficult to see in this picture, but most of them have germinated and have started growing.  Hopefully all the rain forecasted for this week will help with the growing process.

The second (middle) bed currently has some carrots and onions.  The rest of that bed and the third (top) bed will be planted with many different kinds of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and okra, all currently growing indoors under lights.

Here's a close-up of the healthy pea seedlings, about 2 weeks after germination.  After two dismal pea growing attempts last year (spring and fall), it makes me so happy to see these healthy seedlings, all 12 feet of them.  We need to get the trellis up asap in the next week or two, since these peas look like they are ready to put on some height.

Left Side: The first (bottom) bed has all sorts of teeny tiny seedlings that recently germinated and are peeking their heads out of the soil.  You can hardly see them in this picture, but in person, this whole bed is full of new sprouts consisting of cilantro, parsley, dill, all sorts of lettuce, arugula, turnip, beet, chard, radish, spinach, and a few more peas. 

The second (middle) bed has garlic, parsnip, onion, chives, bok choy, tatsoi, Red Russian Kale, Dwarf Blue Curled Kale, mizuna, Seven Top turnip, radish, carrots and broccoli.  I probably could have started a lot of these indoors, but I was lazy and didn't want to plan that far in advance.  So all of my spring vegetables were  directly sown outside, except for broccoli.

The third (top) bed is currently empty, but will be planted with zucchini, winter squash, cucumbers, melons, and beans.  I guess I will also be rotating beans into the other beds with peas and other cool weather veggies once they start to bolt/die this summer.

This is a close up of a section of the left middle bed, where I transplanted very small broccoli seedlings last weekend.  Looks like I'm growing plastic bottles here.  I wanted to see if these tiny broccoli seedlings would survive outside (I still have a few more seedlings growing under lights, just in case), but it was really cold and windy last weekend, so I wanted to give them a little extra protection.

I sowed the broccoli seeds indoors under lights about three weeks ago, and I think they took a little less than 1 week to germinate, so these seedlings are about two weeks old in this picture.

There's still lots of work left to be done in this area.  We have to finish building the inside fence (to completely fence off this area from dogs and bunnies) and put up vertical support for all the tall-growing vegetables.  Then I would like to clean up the rest of this garden area, get some of the remaining in-ground weeds under control and figure out where I can plant some flowers.  As the weather warms up in May, I'll also have to transplant or direct sow warm weather vegetables (solanums and cucurbits) in the remaining three raised beds.  We also have a small in-ground side garden on the east side of the house (this main garden area is on the south side of the house) that I need to clean up, since it's just been left alone with some inadvertently overwintered vegetables and herbs.

Oof, just thinking about these upcoming garden tasks makes me want to take a long nap!

Monday, April 18, 2011

4/18 Harvest - Overwintered Indiana Veggies

A few of the Red Russian Kale, tatsoi and bok choy plants actually survived the Indiana winter in our side garden without being protected at all .  Actually, they were more like abandoned and forgotten, but the important thing is that they survived!  Unfortunately, this "survival" was very short lived, since there were only about 2-3 weeks between my noticing the new growth on the stumps of plants leftover from last fall and my discovery this weekend that they were all bolting.

I harvested most of them (there were not that many to begin with), except for a few that I'm going to leave alone in my attempt to collect seeds from them.  The bok choy and tatsoi looked like their leaves were changing shape (became more elongated).

I told Keith that I wanted to toss them in the salad, to which he scrunched up his face and said "can't we just have normal salad like normal people?"  Ha.  Not if you're going to marry a newbie gardener who wants to eat everything that will grow in the vegetable garden!  I think he was scared by the flowers.

This was the flowering bok choy (or tatsoi, I couldn't really tell with the elongated leaves).

Here's the Red Russian Kale bolting.  Only two plants survived in the side garden, so I harvested one and left the other one alone to go to seed.

I washed and trimmed all the edible leaves (some of the outer leaf stems were starting to look a little squishy).  I didn't weigh the harvest, but I would guess they totaled a few ounces.  Instead of tossing them in the salad, I made a quick stir fry with some olive oil, a dash of soy sauce and some garlic powder (we didn't have any garlic).  There was barely enough for us to each have a few bites as a snack, but at least we got to eat something tasty that we grew this week, and it made me happy.

Oh, here is a little handful of overwintered parsley and cilantro that also came from the side garden. I meant to toss these in the salad, too, but in the process of discovering and dealing with the bolted hardy greens, the salad making plans got forgotten.

Tomorrow, I will post some pictures from our main garden.  With all the rain we had last week, the peas are really starting to take off.  I have 12 feet of peas and more peas growing!

Happy Harvest Monday!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rosemary from Seed - Update

I started growing some rosemary from seed last May.  The first four months of excruciatingly slow growth were described here.  Since then, we've taken the low maintenance approach of just ignoring it altogether except watering once every other week or so.  Apparently the rosemary likes it that way, because it's still growing.  It's not exactly growing fast, but it's growing.

Rosemary on April 2, 2011 (at about 10 1/2 months)
We took this picture with the rosemary on the kitchen counter right next to the wall light switch for size comparison.  That tall stem standing straight up is actually leaning up against a wooden craft stick for support.  It looks like the rosemary is starting to branch out (the beginning of a tiny little rosemary bush??), so maybe it's time to transfer it to a bigger container.

Monday, April 11, 2011

4/10 Harvest - Overwintered CA Veggies

This week's harvest is from the California garden.  I suppose you could call all these vegetables "over-wintered," although coastal southern California winter is nothing like winter in Indiana (or anywhere with snowy winters).

Red Russian Kale
Red Russian Kale has been growing really well.  It has been a true cut-and-come-again workhorse in the garden, very unlike bok choy and tatsoi that only yielded one harvest before going kaput.  I noticed that this kale grew more green in California compared to in Indiana where it grew a bit more red/purple, even though the seeds all came from the same place.  I think it has to do with the temperature.  I seem to remember reading somewhere that freezing temperatures make the red/purple color more pronounced in Red Russian Kale.

Fall-planted cilantro grew throughout the winter, but it has finally bolted.  The bolting doesn't seem to have changed the flavor of the cilantro, so some of the lower leaves were harvested.

Bolted Cilantro
Flowering stalks from bolting cilantro seem to grow at lightning speed.  These bolting cilantro "trees" are at least 4-5 feet tall.

Bolted Cilantro going to Vegetable Heaven
If we needed more cilantro, more of these leaves could have been harvested.  But one can only use so much cilantro in a week or two, you know?

Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard
After a slow start, swiss chard has been growing fairly well all winter/spring.  The problem with chard is that pests (birds/bugs, I think) love them and seem determined to turn them into swiss cheese chard, although this picture shows off mainly non-holey leaves.

Sugar Snap Peas
Here's the last harvest of the sugar snap peas planted last fall.  The vines were very productive all winter and spring, but they have finally reached their limit.

Sugar Snap Peas for planting
These dried pea pods were discovered as the spent sugar snap pea vines were pulled from the garden.  Although I didn't mean to save any seeds, I guess these peas just saved themselves by hiding in the middle of the thick vines.  I just learned from the internet that all peas are open-pollinated, so these peas will be saved to be planted in the garden this fall. 

Short 'n Sweet Carrots
See the carrot on the left side of this picture?

Here's the front side view of the carrot.  Doesn't look so bad, right?

The back side is a whole another story.  This carrot grew right next to one of the paver stones, and I think it must have grown around/under it, hence the 90 degree angled indentation in the middle, and a few extra lumps.

Happy Harvest Monday!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Growing Garlic

Now that the snow is totally gone (for good until next winter, I hope), the supermarket garlic I planted last Halloween seems to be fully thriving.

I planted 22 garlic cloves in this raised bed, and all of them sprouted.  There was one that was looking a little sickly (scrawny wilty leaves compared to all the rest of them) when I had my first chance to take a good look after all the snow melted around three weeks ago, but now it's looking much better. 

Since these are generic supermarket garlic, I'm assuming that they are all softneck and that I won't have the pleasure of enjoying garlic scapes - only produced by hardneck garlic, from what I understand - this year.  But at least these are growing, and I'm looking forward to my first garlic harvest later this summer.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The peas are alive

The peas that I sowed on March 19th (because I read somewhere that peas are traditionally sown right after St. Patrick's Day; also, it was a nice warm-ish day on March 19th) have finally germinated after nearly two weeks.  I took this picture last Saturday (4/2/11).

I recently read on other garden blogs about some of the more experienced gardeners soaking their peas in either plain water or Vitamin C water before sowing them.  I didn't know about any of this, so I sowed dry peas straight out of the seed envelope.  Fortunately, I had really good germination - over 95%, I think.  Yes, it did take almost two weeks for these peas to germinate, but I think that had more to do with the cold freezing temperatures right after my sowing day, and less to do with the fact that the peas were dry.  I do remember from last year that the dry peas germinated relatively quickly (3-5 days) under "normal cool" temperatures.

I did not have much luck growing peas in Indiana last year (on the other hand, the peas I sowed in my mom's California garden thrived all fall/winter/spring long).  The spring peas were planted too late to have enough cool weather to grow, and the fall peas were obliterated by cutworms.  This year, I have high expectations for these peas.  I'm growing a few different varieties of sugar snap peas and snow peas.  I planted two rows of them across one of my raised beds - that's two 12-foot rows of sugar snap and snow peas.  Hopefully they will all grow well and give me more than a handful of peas.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Overwintered perennial herbs

It was time for these perennial herbs to come out of winter hibernation.  They were kept in a covered growing rack (a small greenhouse thing we got for free to review from CSN last year) that we kept outside all winter long.  I didn't look inside the greenhouse at all during the winter, but I'm sure everything stayed frozen in there most of the time.  But a couple of weeks ago, I started seeing bits of green through the vinyl cover, so I knew the perennial herbs survived the long winter.

I started a few sage plants from seeds in the late spring of 2010.  The plant turned dry and gray over the winter, but it's been working hard these last few weeks to put on some new leaves.

Here is a part of the oregano madness that I started in the summer of 2009 from seeds.  I initially grew oregano in the ground, but they grew like monsters, spread out of control and threatened to take over the whole garden last summer.  So I pulled them all out, and just kept a tiny bit of the plant to replant in a small pot.  It looked rather unhappy for a while, and was still looking kind of brown and wilty at the end of last fall.  But it must have gotten over it, because now it's growing lots of new soft green leaves.  Oregano is going to be strictly confined to containers for me from here on out.

Here's a potted thyme, and this one has the same history as the oregano.  They were started from seeds in 2009, but the growth got out of control in the ground, so they were all pulled out except for a small clump of tangled mess that got planted in a container.  After repotting, the thyme looked fairly dead and stayed that way all winter long.  But it looks like it's ready to experience life one more time.  I'm seeing healthy green growth coming out of the woody stems.  I'm wondering if it needs a haircut.

All these pictures were taken right after they came out of the greenhouse.  After going 4-5 months without any water, they now have water and sunshine.  So they should be well on their way to once again being productive members of the edible garden this season.

Monday, April 4, 2011

4/4 Harvest - Overwintered Peppers

I'm officially declaring my experiment with overwintering peppers indoors a big success.  We harvested an occasional pepper here and there throughout this winter as needed, but today we harvested most of the cayenne peppers from the indoor pepper plant. My first "big" harvest of 2011, and I totally forgot to weigh it.  Sigh.  After a long winter, I guess I'm just out of practice with harvesting and reporting.

Most of the harvested peppers were already dry (because we left them on the plant unharvested for so long), but there were a few "young" peppers in there as well, as you can see in the picture above.

Above is a full body shot of the cayenne pepper plant in all its glory before we harvested the peppers.  Well, actually you can't see the peppers all that well in this picture, but they were really there.

Here's a close-up with some peppers and new blossoms.  I posted last December that this plant was starting to put on new blossoms.  After that, the blossoms and new peppers just kept coming all winter long with hardly a break, which we thought was pretty cool.  And, the pepper plant stayed green and healthy the whole time.  The best part about it all was that this plant required pretty much zero maintenance from us, aside from watering once every week or two.  Ahh, if only the rest of vegetable gardening was that simple.

Keith asked me if I was going to put the plant outside again after the weather warms up.  And the answer is... I haven't decided.  My first thought was, why fix something if it's not broken?  But who knows, maybe it will do even better outdoors in the summer heat.

Aside from the peppers, there's been many new garden activities and I'm past due on some garden updates.  Without making any promises, I'll try to post more often this week to catch up on all the garden happenings.

Happy Harvest Monday!


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