Thursday, March 16, 2017

New Beginnings

Spring promises of things to come.  It is around the corner here and with spring comes new chances.  Gardeners are an optimistic bunch.  Every year brings new hope with every seed that sprouts.  We tell ourselves that this will be the year that the garden grows lush and productive.  We will remember to do our succession planting.  We will stay on top of weeding and harvesting!  We’ve spent the cold months plotting and planning and dreaming and now it is time to get out there and make the garden grow!

Of course, there will be challenges, there are always challenges.  But each year the challenges are a little bit less insurmountable. Every year I learn a little bit more about how to successfully grow food in my corner of the world.  Every season will be slightly different.  Some years the rains come until fungi grow better than plants.  In other years, the rain is sparse and the sun is intense and the plants bake.   Gardening is never dull or predictable.  You learn to adapt and do the best you can to the changing conditions. 

Every year I like to try to grow something new.  This year I’m trying some new veggies: celery and mustard, which are completely not adapted to my climate, but that’s why they are a challenge.  Both grow best in cool weather, which we tend to avoid.  It seems our weather is either cold, warm or hot!  I’m hoping if it’s too hot here to successfully grow mustard and celery that they will at least bolt and produce seeds.  I use both of their seeds in pickling banana peppers and in some dishes.  If I end up with plenty of mustard seeds, then I can always make some mustard.  I’ve already started both celery and mustard for spring planting, but if they do not grow well in the spring I may try again in the fall.

In the herb bed, I want to add ginger and turmeric.  There’s a farm not too far from here that sells rhizomes of these and has detailed instructions about how to grow them.  Both are tropical plants, so they are not hardy here.  They require a long growing season and need to be pre-sprouted inside to ensure enough growth to get harvests before the first frost.  I use ginger and turmeric often for curries, so it’ll be nice to have some fresh flavors from the garden.

For permanent additions to my garden, I’m putting in a new bed that will hold asparagus and some perennial onions.  I’ve ordered fifty asparagus crowns: Half Jersey Knight and half Jersey Supreme.  I’ve been wanting to get asparagus planted for a few years and this is the year.  The bed is ready and my crowns should arrive Friday!  It’ll be a few years before I get to enjoy a bounty from my asparagus bed, but I’m sure it is worth the wait.  The rest of the bed will be devoted to perennial onions.  These will be planted in the fall, so I haven’t settled on what I’m planting yet.  So far I’m thinking of Egyptian walking onions and potato onions. 

Another big change for my garden this year is that it has officially become a no-till garden.    I am going into my fourth year at this garden and since I plant directly in the ground, tilling was necessary to break up the soil and turn up the never ending supply of rocks.  Tilling, however, has some negative consequences.  The soil where I live has a considerable amount of clay, so tiling can cause compaction.  Tilling also leads to increased soil erosion and I am especially concerned about this since my garden has a significant slope to it.  Tiling also breaks up the natural soil structure and the ecosystem of organisms.  I’m a bit concerned about whether weeds will be worse without tilling and whether some pests will be able to overwinter and survive better in my untilled garden.  I think in the long run no-till will make the soil healthier, but I may encounter some speed bumps along the way.  I added compost to the beds and instead of tiling; I added plenty of water and covered them with black plastic.  I am hoping this will kill any weeds in the beds and add some warmth to the soil to allow for decomposition. 

For me, gardening is constant experiment.  I’m hoping 2017 will bring some new harvests along with an abundance of my favorites.

Are you trying new things in the garden this year?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Harvest Monday 11/7/16

Our frost free days are numbered here.  The forecast shows below freezing temperatures for this coming weekend.  That means I'm going to be busy this week!

The summer veggies may be making their last appearance.  I harvested some of the remaining green beans.  I've had a good green bean year and have plenty in the freezer.

Blue Coco and Garden of Eden Beans
My giant okra plant that flopped over still produces.  I find it much easier to harvest when it is sideways, especially when I'm only five feet tall!  

Basket of okra from my sideways plant
The tomatoes slowly ripen although many of them have been damaged by an assortment of insects.  I've been harvesting them as soon as they are the tiniest bit red to get to them before the bugs do.  There's still quite a few green tomatoes out there. 

A mix of paste tomatoes
The summer veggie I always miss the most are sweet bell peppers.  I can't complain because this year has been a record pepper year for me, but I will still miss them.

How many peppers can I pile in a pail?
I'm also harvesting eggplants and more Seminole pumpkins.  I have quite a pumpkin pile growing on my kitchen counter.  This winter I will need to explore some new pumpkin recipes.

Seminole Pumpkins and Eggplants
I've also been working on shelling dried beans.  I've yet to weigh them, but the black beans have been the most productive.  I've also got pinto and kidney beans in there along with a few soybeans, which I'll be saving to replant next spring.  

A bowl of dried beans
On Sunday, two friends texted and asked what we were doing and I replied, digging up sweet potatoes.  Well, they showed up with a shovel and with four people it only took about 30 minutes to dig up all the sweet potatoes!  I've yet to weigh them, but there were some good sized potatoes.  There's definitely less than last year, but I did plant less because last year was 175 lbs and that was just ridiculous.  They need to cure for about two weeks at a warm temperature and high humidity. To attempt to get those conditions I put them on a heat mat and place a container of water inside while leaving the lid ajar. 

Sweet Potato Bounty
My harvested peanuts from last week should be dry by now.  I'm sure the squirrels ate some, but there seems to be plenty left.  I also had a suspiciously turned over wheelbarrow next to the fence where the peanuts were drying with some peanut shells scattered about.

Weekly Harvests (lbs):
Chard  0.81
Peppers  4.62
Okra   1.04
Green beans  0.88
Tomatoes   5.99
Eggplant 1.83
Winter squash 5.28
Sweet potato greens  0.42

Yearly Harvests: 954.6 lbs

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week.  To see what others are harvesting, check out Harvest Monday on Our Happy Acres.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Harvest Monday 10/31/16

Last weekend we camped in the mountains of North Carolina and explored the Blue Ridge Parkway to view autumn leaves.  I missed harvest Monday last week because of our trip, so today's report is a two week harvest.  I love autumn with all the beautiful leaves, blue skies, cool weather and garden harvests, especially pumpkins!

Autumn along the Blue Ridge Parkway
In honor of Halloween, I'm updating the status of my big pumpkin that fell off the vine before it ripened.  I'm happy to say it is much, much more orange than before, but it does have a soft spot on one side.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that my big pumpkin continues to ripen and not rot.

My slowly ripening Dickinson Pumpkin
On the topic of pumpkins, I harvested another almost 2 lb Seminole pumpkin.

Seminole Pumpkin
I have gotten creative with cooking pumpkin.  My latest concoction is pumpkin pizza.  Instead of tomato sauce I used pumpkin puree with onions, garlic and fresh thyme.  I topped it with sauteed sweet potato greens, onions, mozzarella and parmesan.  I thought it was delicious!  J refused to try it, so I don't have a second opinion to report.

Pumpkin, sweet potato leaves and onion pizza
The biggest harvest over the past two weeks are peppers at 7.4 lbs.  I chopped and froze a bunch of them.  The rest have been roasted or sauteed with eggs for breakfast.  Peppers broke my harvest record this year at 77 lbs while last year I had 68 lbs.

Peppers and more peppers
I finally picked a descent amount of tomatoes this week.  I haven't harvested many tomatoes since August.  It looks like we don't have a first frost in the ten day forecast, so maybe I'll get even more tomatoes.  Our average first frost date is usually the end of October, but this year it looks like we should make it to at least the middle of November.

Paste Tomatoes
Green beans and okra continue to produce a bit each week.  Roasting is still my preferred cooking method for okra.  On our camping trip we cooked green beans and potatoes over the fire one night and bell peppers and onions another night.  We also had pumpkin muffins along with the greens and cheese hand pies I had made previously and froze.  It's fun to take the garden harvests along on a camping trip!

Green beans and okra
The first of the fall peas ripened in the garden.  Germination was not very successful, so I doubt there will be very many peas this fall.  We devoured these as soon as I took the photo!

The first of the fall peas
I finally shelled the dried cowpeas that have been sitting in the garage for at least a month.  This year was a very good year for cowpeas.  These jars hold 8 cups and there's still some cowpeas in the garden.

Dried Cowpeas
This is the season of digging in the garden for me.  The peanut leaves began to yellow, which meant it was time to harvest.  I dug up the peanuts and now they are drying on the fence.  I'm hoping the squirrels don't steal them all!  They need to dry for at least a week.  For once I am happy to see no rain in the weekly forecast so that my peanuts can dry.

Peanuts drying on the fence
Peanuts hang all around the garden.  The peanut harvest appears to be abundant this year.  We will see how many I end up with after the drying period.

Peanut harvesting and drying

Two Week Harvests (lbs):
Peas 0.14
Peppers 7.40
Okra   1.36
Green beans  2.39
Tomatoes   4.14
Eggplant 6.38
Melon  3.93
Winter squash 1.94

Yearly Harvests: 933.8 lbs

That's all the harvests coming from my garden this week.  To see what others are harvesting, check out Harvest Monday on Our Happy Acres.