Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Compost Squash

The mystery volunteer squash that sprouted out of our compost bin is growing really well, better than any of the other squash plants growing properly in our raised bed.  I'm a bit skeptical of how this will turn out, because I thought that our compost had too much green stuff and not enough brown stuff.  It's hard to get brown stuff when we hardly have any trees around to supply us with dry leaves.  We also have not been turning the compost much for aeration.  Doesn't that mean everything inside, including the roots of this squash, will just rot and get yucky?  But so far, this plant doesn't seem very aware of its perilous environment.

In fact, I even spotted a few female flowers last weekend, including this little baby.  I'm thinking that this might be a spaghetti squash?  This is our first year growing any type of winter squash, so it's all new to me!

Monday, June 27, 2011

6/27 Harvest Monday - First Pinor Noir Pepper and Garlic

We got a lot of rain and the weather cooled down a little bit, and the garden rewarded us with plentiful harvest this week.

The pea vines are still hanging in there, and I harvested small handfuls of snow peas both Saturday and Sunday.  We also harvested our first Pinot Noir sweet pepper.  It was very small because the plant is still too small.  We probably should have pinched the flower to allow the plant to grow bigger before letting a pepper grow, but sometimes we just don't do what we should, for one reason or another.  I'm hoping that now that we harvested this pepper, the plant can recover and grow bigger before having to support more peppers.  The small size aside, this pepper is really beautifully purple.

The wetter and cooler weather was also good for our lettuce harvest.  Somehow they seemed to have gotten less bitter over the last week, if that's possible.  So now, instead of having semi-bitter lettuce, we have quarter-bitter lettuce.  (Actually, I just had a large salad after writing this post, and the lettuce was hardly bitter at all.  Woohoo for lettuce recovery, as temporary as it may be!)

Our first garlic harvest.  I wrote about our first garlic harvest in a bit more detail in yesterday's post. 

Fordhook Giant Chard and Red Russian Kale.  These are both hardy greens (kale more so than chard, I think) that grow well in the garden and taste great cooked lightly, too.

Another small handful of peas harvested on Sunday

This is pretty much the last of China Choy (seeds shared by Ottawa Gardener).  The leaves now have tons of pinhead-sized holes from flea beetles (I think that's what they are), but they will still taste good.  These were Keith's favorite vegetables this spring.  They grew really well in the garden this spring without any cabbage looper damage.  I also grew bok choy and tatsoi, but they bolted much earlier than China Choy, so this is definitely our favorite.  I'm letting a few plants bolt (you can see a few yellow flower petals that got stuck to some of the leaves in the picture) and go to seed so I can collect lots of seeds for next season.  Keith would like me to plant a whole bed full of these next year.  Since each of our beds is 12 ft x 4 ft, that would be a LOT of china choy!  I also harvested a bunch of green onions.

Collection of this week's harvest, minus the lettuce from Saturday.

Happy Harvest Monday, everyone!
  • Lettuce Mix 40.00 oz
  • Swiss Chard 16.60 oz
  • Red Russian Kale 5.70 oz
  • Asian Greens 9.35 oz
  • Green Onions 8.70 oz 
  • Garlic 1.75 oz
  • Peas 2.60 oz
  • Sweet Peppers 0.70 oz
  • Weekly Total 85.40 oz, or 5.34 lbs
  • 2011 Total 14.71 lbs

Sunday, June 26, 2011

First Time Harvesting Garlic

The softneck garlic from the grocery store that I planted last Halloween were starting to look like they might be ready to be harvested.  But since this is our first time growing garlic, I wasn't sure if they were really ready.  I read somewhere that they are ready to pull when the bottom leaves start to turn brown, and then I read somewhere else that they are ready when the whole plant flops over.  My garlic plants definitely have some browning leaves, but they haven't flopped over yet, so I decided to pull one to see how it looked.  Keith did the honor of pulling it out of the soil ("this thing is really stuck in here!"), and we did a quick happy dance when we saw that a perfectly shaped head of garlic was attached to the bottom of three feet of wilty garlic greens.

Well, I had to see what it looked under all those outer layers, so I peeled it right up.  I noticed that the normal papery garlic skin was absent from this fresh head of garlic.  Instead, the outer layers protecting the garlic cloves felt a little juicy, fleshy, and hmm, fresh?  I'm guessing that the paper skins come from proper curing of homegrown garlic.

After all the layers were peeled off, I ended up with six beautiful cloves of garlic.  I haven't tasted it, so I can't speak to the flavor, but by the looks of it, I'm pretty happy with our grocery store garlic growing success!  As for the size, I feel like they could be a little bigger, so I'm going to leave the remaining plants in the garden a little longer, maybe another week or two, and see if they can grow any more.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Building Tomato Trellis Structures

We are growing tomatoes in two of our six raised beds.  Bed #5 has one main row of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes plus a few more smaller variety tomatoes (Tiny Tim and Patio).  Bed #6 sort of has two main rows of indeterminate heirloom tomatoes - "sort of" because the plants are not all in neat lines.  I have a good excuse for this disarray.

My excuse is that I planted some of my dying tomato seedlings in these beds hoping for the best, and when it looked like "best" wasn't going to happen, I went out and bought some tomato transplants to replace them.  When I planted the store-bought transplants, I should have pulled the home-grown dying ones, but I just couldn't do it.  They looked sickly and sad, but they weren't completely dead yet and I told myself that I would pull them "next week" when they really died.

Well, would you believe that most of these sick tomato seedlings actually came back to life?  I couldn't believe it either, but somehow they did.  They look almost as good as the store-bought ones now.  Although it makes me really happy to see them bouncing back to life, now Bed #5 is quickly becoming overcrowded and Bed #6 has tomatoes growing "out of line."  As a good logical gardener, I should probably thin out some plants in Bed #5 and give the remaining ones a good chance to thrive.  But as an emotional first time heirloom tomato gardener, I just can't bring myself to dig up good healthy-looking plants.  What to do, what to do...

So instead of making the right decision, I went ahead and just moved forward with the plans to build trellis structures for them.  After reviewing numerous tomato support options (various shapes of cages, stakes, weaving, etc.) on the web and on fellow gardeners' blogs, we decided to do what we do best and improvise our own trellis structure using the most economical option we could find at the local Home Depot, which turned out to be 10-foot electrical conduits and string.

This is a front-view of our Bed #5.  In the front part of the bed are carrots, Patio and Tiny Tim tomatoes, and some basil.  In the middle are onions.  The back part of the bed has all tomatoes.  For the trellis structure, Keith pounded four 10-foot electrical conduits two feet in the ground (thus giving us 8-foot vertical support), and tied another 10-foot section across the top using expert lashing skills from his Boy Scout days.  We then tied three sets of strings horizontally across the four vertical poles in 10-inch intervals.  On the right side of the picture, you can also see a few vertically tied strings, because I wanted to experiment with both vertical and horizontal string options.

I secured each tomato plant to the horizontal string using Velcro plant ties.  As the tomatoes grow taller, more strings will be tied every 10-inches and the plants will be secured to the strings using the same method.

In Bed #6, we designed the trellis structure a bit differently.  We pounded three rows of four 10-foot electrical conduits two feet in the ground.  Each column of three poles was tied to a 2.5 ft section of electrical conduit for additional stability.  The trellis structures in both Beds #5 and #6 were further stabilized with strings anchored down like guy-wires.  In the above picture, you can also see some shorter vertical green poles in the foreground - never mind them, they are part of my makeshift bean/cucumber trellis in Bed #3.

Keith then created what I now think of as Tomato Jungle Gym in Bed #6.  He tied strings every which way.  Ha, just kidding.  The way he tied these strings was actually very methodical - horizontally across each of the three rows (each row with four poles), and then diagonally between each column from first row to third row.   He tied two sets like this about a foot apart, and plans to tie more as the plants grow taller.  I don't know if I described that very well, but hopefully you can see what I meant by looking at the pictures.

Here's a side view of Bed #6.  This bed isn't quite as crowded as Bed #5, but the plants are not planted in two neat lines, so this Jungle Gym structure will hopefully work well to catch and support various tomato branches as the plants grow up and out.

These pictures were all taken last Sunday, and this week has been warm and rainy in Indianapolis, so I'm hoping to see some good growing process when I get back home this weekend.  I don't know if these heirlooms will really grow up to and maybe even past 8 feet tall, but I'm certainly hoping!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Saving Brassica Seeds

I collected seeds from a brassica plant for the first time last weekend.  I am almost certain - hmm, let's say about 90 percent sure - that these seeds are from a bolted bok choy originally planted sometime last fall and overwintered in our weedy side garden.  But if I'm wrong, then they are from a bolted tatsoi plant, also overwintered.  I'm not too worried about not knowing the exact plant variety, because they both grow very similarly in our garden (the typical rosette growing pattern of tatsoi was very difficult to see in my garden last year) and we like the flavor of both. 

This small bagful of seeds came from just a part of one bolted plant, so I now know that if I ever want to collect brassica seeds again, I only need to let one plant bolt and go to seed.  This is already probably way more bok choy seeds than I could possibly plant in one season anyway.

The entire seed collecting process was pretty easy and simple.  The bolted bok choy put out a long flower stalk that bloomed small yellow flowers for a few weeks, and before I knew it, there were seed pods.  The seed pods started out thin and green, then became more swollen, and finally turned brown and dry, as pictured above.  If the pods get too mature/dry, they will split and explode (literally) on their own and scatter their seeds everywhere.  I'm sure I'll see some volunteers growing in this part of the garden later this fall or next year.

I collected the brown seed pods and gently rubbed them between my fingers to get the seeds out of them.  It was a little bit tedious separating out the remaining empty pods (aka chaff) from the collected tiny seeds, but I figured seed saving was worth at least that much effort.  If I had to process a greater quantity of seeds, I might have used a large bowl to collect the pods, but for the relatively small quantity that I collected, this large plastic lid I used was fine.

Although this is the first time that I collected seeds from a bok choy plant, I'm guessing that the process is the same for all brassica plants like Asian greens, cabbage, broccoli, radish, kale, etc.  Right now there are some bolted daikon radishes in my garden and the seed pods on those plants are very plump, almost like pea pods.  I'm curious to see how they will change when they are mature.

Daikon radish seed pods

Monday, June 20, 2011

6/20 Harvest - Not so Grand Debut of Turnip Greens

We spent a large part of this weekend building our tomato trellis structure with 10-foot electrical conduits, and spent half that time waiting for the rain and lightning to pass so we could actually work outside.  It took a lot of time, effort and muscles (more Keith's than mine), but I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out.  I'll post some pictures of it later this week, but for now, it's Harvest Monday time!

Our cayenne pepper plant that we overwintered indoors last winter is still growing happily indoors.  It's basically a self-sufficient houseplant at this point and it continues to produce a few peppers every month or so.  Since I actually remembered to harvest them this weekend, I even took a few green ones.

Swiss chard, Red Russian kale, and one red onion harvested as green onion

Mammoth Melting snow peas.  These and sugar snap peas have been my favorite spring vegetables so far.  They are super delicious just lightly stir-fried.  For Sunday lunch, I put them in the same cast iron griddle with some mahi mahi filets, and they cooked up beautifully on the hot griddle without even stirring.  Unfortunately, the pea vines are looking even worse now than they did last week.  I'm afraid they won't last much longer in the heat.

This is our first year growing and tasting turnip, and quite possibly our last year.  Since the roots are still very small, there wasn't much to eat of them, but I steamed the green tops after finding out that they are edible.  Well, "edible" may be a subjective term, because Keith made the most pathetic "I'm never eating this again" face.  I didn't think it tasted good, but it also wasn't all that bad. Okay, maybe medium-bad.  But it's probably not something that I would choose to buy to cook for myself.  So it goes into the category of "I'm only eating this because I grew it."

Sadly, our lettuce is starting to get bitter.  I harvested some Prizehead, Red Romaine, and Quattro Stagioni (seeds shared by Robin).  Although he rejected the turnip greens, Keith did eat two large salads made with this semi-bitter lettuce, so all was not lost with the harvesting of greens this weekend.
  • Lettuce Mix 13.0 oz
  • Swiss Chard 6.5 oz
  • Red Russian Kale 1.5 oz
  • Turnips 9.0 oz
  • Green Onions 1.6 oz
  • Peas (sugar snap and snow) 5.1 oz
  • Hot Peppers 0.65 oz
  • Weekly Total 37.35 oz, or 2.34 lbs
  • 2011 Total 9.37 lbs

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rained out

Keith and I had plans to finish setting up our tomato trellis today.  But it's been raining all day, which is good for the garden, I suppose, but not so good for staying on top of garden chores.  If I don't get to the trellis this afternoon, then the tomatoes will have to go another whole week without any support until I can get to it again next weekend!

Monday, June 13, 2011

6/13 Harvest - Greens and Peas

It's been almost a week since our return back home, and I'm still not as organized as I would like to be in the garden, at home and with married life in general.  This last name changing business is even more tedious than I had thought!  And going back to work this week means going back to my weekly commute to Texas, which means even less time at home to get things done.  But I couldn't miss yet another Harvest Monday, so here are some pictures of our harvest from last week. 

This was Sunday's harvest, consisting of a bowlful of china choy (seeds shared by Ottawa Gardener), some green onions, a handful of sugar snap and snow peas (some seeds shared by Prairie Cat), and some red romaine lettuce.

Here's a closeup of one of the red romaine lettuce leaves.  It's not quite as productive as some of the other lettuces in the garden, and it doesn't seem to tolerate heat very well, but I do like it for the color variety it adds to the sea of greens in the garden at the moment.

This was my first sizable pea harvest (both sugar snap peas and snow peas) this season, harvested last Tuesday evening.  I had such a hard time growing peas last year, both in the spring and fall, so I'm really glad to have better luck with peas this spring.  Finally, I can harvest fresh peas right off the vines and enjoy them raw or stir-fried just minutes later in the kitchen.  I was amazed that most of these pea vines survived the brutal heat wave over the last few weeks.  I'm not sure how much longer they will survive, though, as the lower half of most of the vines are starting to look brown and dry.  But I will certainly keep enjoying these homegrown peas for as long as they last.

I also harvested some chard - Fordhook Giant Swiss Chard and Ruby Red Chard.  The red ones are growing much slower than the white ones, and both will probably grow bigger with time, but I was impatient and wanted to try some last week.  I'm glad I harvested some of these young chard, because they made for a very tasty wilted chard salad!

I have a lot of onions growing in the garden and I harvest some as green onions whenever I want to use them for cooking.  It's little conveniences like this that keeps me gardening!  This year, I planted red, white and yellow onions, and I think the red ones look so pretty harvested as green onions.  I know that if I just snip these off above ground and leave the roots in the soil, they will probably sprout more green onions, but I really like seeing the red part and there are plenty more still growing in the garden, so I harvest most of these red ones whole.  Ahh, little luxuries.

I also snipped some flat leaf parsley to toss in salads and pasta.  These were grown from seeds saved from last year's parsley.  The cilantro that I planted in spring have all bolted during our long absence, but parsley seems to be holding up okay.  Like green onions, I really like being able to snip a bit of parsley here and there as needed, instead of having to buy a big bundle from the grocery store and feeling rushed to use them all before they wilt in the fridge.

One of several new vegetables for me this year is mizuna.  According to the seed packet, they are supposed to grow up to 12 inches tall, but I harvested my first batch at maybe half that size just to try out the flavor.  But things don't always go as planned, and these are still sitting in the fridge because we've just had too much greens to eat this week, and I figured these will probably last longer than lettuce in the fridge. 

Finally, here is another harvest picture from sometime last week.  I harvested a colander full of lettuce, another full of swiss chard, sugar snap peas, snow peas, turnip greens, and a bit more mizuna.  This might just be the largest single day harvest we've had yet from our garden!

I probably missed a few harvest pictures, but all in all, we harvested the following from the garden last week:
  • Lettuce Mix 1.38 lbs
  • Swiss Chard 0.32 lbs
  • Asian Greens 2.39 lbs
  • Turnips 0.22 lbs
  • Radish 1.0 oz
  • Green Onions 0.67 lbs
  • Peas (sugar snap and snow) 1.93 lbs
  • Parsley 1.0 oz
  • Weekly Total 7.03 lbs
While this seems like a lot of harvest for one week, I have to remember that this is what we got after three weeks of not harvesting anything during our absence.  But for now, looking at these numbers and just knowing how much fresh homegrown vegetables we were able to enjoy this week makes me downright giddy!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

We're back!!

Mid-May was a great time to get married, but May/June is a difficult time to be away from vegetable gardening and garden blogging.  Everything is growing and everyone is blogging, and now I'm about a month behind with it all.

Keith and I got married last month in a small, beautiful outdoor ceremony/reception.  Some of our family/friends who have been following our blog even got a chance to personally see our garden for the first time during the weekend.  I meant to do a post on mid-May garden update, but getting married and hosting family/friends for a weekend was much more time/energy consuming than I had thought, so the blog got neglected.  Many thanks to all you readers who emailed to make sure that we were doing okay!

Then we went on a two-week honeymoon and ate our way through Spain.  We ate all kinds of everything, except fresh vegetables.  This wasn't intentional, but I guess that's how the Spaniards roll.  The news about E. coli outbreak in Germany from vegetables that may or may not have gotten contaminated in Spain started while we were in Spain, but we didn't worry about it because we hardly saw any fresh vegetables during our trip.

I worried that our vegetable garden would just die during our absence, especially with all the hot and dry 90+ degree days that Indianapolis apparently had during the last two weeks, but miraculously, the garden sort of survived.  By sort of, I mean that there were more plants still alive than dead or bolted when we came back.

I'm still slightly jet-legged, and the oppressive heat outside just about sapped all my energy while I watered the garden today, so I'm going to have to cut short here for now.  Pictures and more detailed garden updates will follow soon, but here is the most interesting garden scene to greet us back home:

We have a volunteer cucurbit of unknown origin growing right out of our compost bin!  Somehow, a seed sprouted through one of the 1-inch diameter hole in the 55-gallon plastic barrel that we use for composting, and during the two weeks that we were gone, it grew bigger than any of the squashes or cucumbers "properly" growing in one of the raised beds.

Now how are we supposed to roll this compost bin for aeration?!


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