Thursday, May 17, 2012


Strawberries are the nicest of all weeds. They do think they have the right to take over the lawn, but they are easier to dig than dandelions, and ever so much more socially acceptable -- and to my taste, tasty.

Years ago, I bought several plants -- three, if I remember correctly. They were indeed fruitful and mulitiplied, and I intentionally put them in five different beds on my property. This has the advantage of providing different micro-climates, so the beds bear at different times, giving us a longer harvest season. Today I dug some out of a sixth bed. I really don't think I put it there. How do they travel that far?

I didn't get generous harvests until people began putting straw on their curbs after Halloween and Thanksgiving. Fred picks it up, saving taxpayers disposal expense, and I mulch my strawberries with straw for the winter. I read this was desirable long ago, but didn't feel like seeking out and spending money on straw. Now we don't have to! I used to mulch with leaves, which would have kept them just as warm in winter. So it must be that as the straw decays, it provides the soil the nutrients that strawberries thrive on. Someone apparently figured this out long ago or we wouldn't have that English name for that fruit. I wonder if it has similar names in other languages.

So now my plants yield LOTS of berries. That's not the end of the gardener's challenge. Saturday morning as I wheeled my bike down the driveway to visit a friend, I noticed a red strawberry. The first of the season! I must be sure to pick it when I come home. Oops. When I came home there was no sign of it. No, it was not my imagination.

"One of our four-legged visitors?" Fred guessed. Or one of our two-legged and two-winged visitors. Or one of our residents who gets around with no legs at all, thank you. It doesn't matter to me. I want to get there first!

The only way to do that is to pick them BEFORE they are completely red. I've discovered that if I pick them when they are turning pink or orange, they ripen in a day or two on my counter. My counter is now bursting with strawberres. We've had a nice serving with our breakfast yesterday and today, and tomorrow will be even better.

What a treat! I highly recommend raising strawberries. They don't even insist upon sun, although more sun means you get them earlier -- a good reason to plant them in different places around your property.


P.S. I have reflected each picking season on the terrible job of commercial strawberry pickers, about whom I have read. It's one of the worst farmer jobs. Also, commercial farms are tempted to use chemicals that I would rather not eat. Occasionally, I'm tempted by one of those huge strawberries on a buffet, but I always regret it. They aren't as good as mine, which are only a day or two old. It's better to munch on mellon pieces, which spent their youth inside a rind that separated the fruit from the pesticides.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

What to plant now

The following inquiry merits more than a private response.
"What sort of vegetables/fruits I can plant right now so that I would be able to enjoy them till the light frost or even during the winter?"

It is always time to plant lettuce. I sowed some this week, hoping that humans will be able to eat it. Arugula is similar.

I also planted bush green beans (Roma) this week. The books say it is a good time to plant peas, but I've not had good success with a fall crop. Perhaps a bush pea would work. Hmmm... I should try that next year. I gave away my extra bush pea seeds after sowing what I needed this spring. I guess I won't be so generous next year!

I plant to sow Chinese cabbage seeds for winter tomorrow. For years I have successfully harvested Burpees two-season Chinese cabbage all winter long from my cold frame, but this year's catalog doesn't offer it. I bought a similar seed from Fedco, and will try both in the cold frame this winter and see how it goes. We had fresh stir-fries twice a week all winter LAST winter. (!!!)

Pac choi would also probably be a good planting now outdoors. I suspect that it isn't too late for collards. I have some promising-looking plants now, but youngish collards usually survive the winter under floating cover and can be harvested in March.

The arugula and turnips that I sowed three weeks ago seem to be thriving. A generous neighbor delivered some fresh grass clippings today, and I mulched them carefully along with my carrots and parsnips.

I will soon start parsley and basil to harvest from my kitchen greenhouse window all winter long.

It's a fine time for planning for the future. As always?


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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Surprises after two weeks away

We had two delightful weeks visiting friends and relatives and enjoying MathFest in Lexington, KY. Last evening we returned home, and I quickly surveyed the surprises awaiting me in the garden. There are always surprises, but what they are is always a surprise.

Perhaps the nicest this time was the size of the eggplants. I raised them from seed, radichio from FEDCO. The first I saw and picked was 10" long and 4" in diameter! We had a couple of eggplant parmesan dinners before we left, but those eggplants were nothing like this. Today I saw some that were even larger in the thicket. They freeze well after I dip them in an egg-milk mixture and then flavored bread crumbs and pan-fry them in preparation for eggplant parmesan; that promises to take lots of time in the next week.

The most unhappy discovery was the lack of small ripe tomatoes on thriving bushes. My neighbor who I gave permission to harvest them while I was gone said there were many a few days after I left, and then none. My daughter-in-law said she saw chipmunks climbing up their supporters and eating them. Does anyone know how to control chipmunks? I never worried about them before. Today another friend in Montclair said she saw birds eating her small tomatoes from the tops of bushes. I remembered the tape that presumably keeps birds from my peas by its vibrations, and put some on the tomato cages this afternoon. Then it occurred to me I might think
of something similar to protect raspberries from birds. Hmm.. Lots of work in prospect.

That there was no lettuce was hardly a surprise. The woodchuck(s) had invaded the inner garden and done its thing. The arugula and turnips I sowed three weeks ago are doing fine, but the beets are not visible, and there is only one 1" lettuce plant from that sowing. The beans I sowed between the apple and peach trees grew nicely but are mostly nibbled to the stem.

One of you wrote that she read that pinwheels discourage woodchucks. Have any of you experience with this? Does anyone know where pinwheels can be purchased locally?

Our basil is proliferating more than ever. We had pesto last evening and will many more times in the next nine months, as my time permits. It appears there is an endless amount of basil, but that appearance is deceiving, of course. I know I don't have an endless amount of time.

I discovered that this year's peppers when red enough fall off the vine and rot on the ground. This didn't happen before, probably because I have picked all peppers as soon as they turned red. I picked both red and green yesterday and today, so our salads are not bad, despite the lack of lettuce and tomatoes. We have some cucumbers, and lots of carrots.

Carrots? Early in the evening before we left a neighbor brought us a barrel of excellent grass clippings. I mulched carefully the young beets, turnips, and arugula, and then painstakingly mulched and thinned the carrot patch. This requires GOOD grass clippings. I had about a 9" diameter bundle of carrot "thinnings" when I was finished. Carrots substitute for fresh tomatoes in the winter, and I guess they can in August.

Oh! Another surprise was six small yellow tomatoes on the vine that volunteered in the compost heap, to which I had magnanimously given a cage. Hardly any sun, but very good soil seems to produce tomatoes. Actually, the good soil isn't really needed either, judging by the vines in front of my house. Maybe I will be Harvesting tomatoes again from the main source if I can figure out how to deter my competition.

One more surprise: I harvested my first supersteak tomato today and it was 6" across. It is now cooking down for sauce in this evening's eggplant parmesan.

It's a wildly growing year. I hope your growth compensates for the thievery in your garden. I think mine almost does, but still I would be glad for less thievery!


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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Water, germination, stealing, raspberries

Fred says my watering over the weekend brought on the rain of yesterday and the day before. I think he is overly complimentary, but he helps me from kicking myself about all that unnecessary work. Yesterday I even used the watering can on the newly planted places in the evening, and then... What wind and rain! It even knocked over a tomato cage I thought was stable. I have tied them together now, so they are less likely to lose their moorings in the next wild wind.

The beets I sowed on Saturday have germinated abundantly! That's a surprise. The arugula, turnips, and lettuce are more leisurely, as I expected.

A lot of thievery has been going on in the garden, and yesterday I actually saw a woodchuck in the back of the yard. (A neighbor did the day before.) Then today as I was working around carefully, I'm sure I touched the electric fence. Nothing! Oops. Maybe that's my problem. Stephane had warned me that plants could short the fence, and Fred assures me that wet plants are fine electricity conductors. The weeds on the neighbor's side of the garden had gotten out of hand, and may be the troublemaker. It's not easy to weed between our fence and theirs, but today the weeds are so big that I was able to pull out most from the top. I have some more to remove, but I think I can... I think I can... I think I can.

Yesterday's promising raspberries were mostly gone this morning. The plant had bent low, and I suspect the woodchuck. Last year I saw one nibbling on raspberries, but that was when I had lots on top and didn't mind.

I haven't seen any catbirds since I came home, so here's hoping there will be good raspberry picking on Sept. 17, the next open garden. Trina and Una still plan to have a butterfly tent in the front yard, although the monarchs are having a bad year. They have friends who may help them have enough for folks to enjoy in the tent. My garden will be open only from 2-4 PM with nobody allowed in the back yard after that, but the
butterfly tent MAY still be around in the front yard if they haven't opened the door to allow the inhabitants to fly south.

Happy summer eating! I hope you are harvesting some yummies despite the competition.


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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Watering, catbirds, raspberries, woodchucks, harvests, sowing

I watered my garden yesterday and today! I oppose watering with a hose on lawns (mine looks no worse than most now), but when I came home yesterday after five days in the North to see a celery plant turned brown, I decided it was time for artificial help for my plants. It's the second time in four years.

Someone asked for advice on catbirds. I too am interested, but empty-handed. Mine may have flown away while I was gone. If so, I'm grateful. The second crop of raspberries is looking more promising than the first ever did. Maybe I will have lots to share at the open garden 2-4 on Saturday, Sept. 17! I'm cautiously optimistic.

What is certain is that it is time to cut away the dead wood of the raspberries, a major job. As I finish, I put lots of dead leaves to nourish the young 'uns, the only fertilizer my raspberries get. This is a major reason that Fred brings me a ton of leaves each fall. Raspberry bushes live only slightly over a year, and then humans must remove the dead ones on residential properties to make room for the next crop.

When I came home yesterday, I discovered that someone had eaten almost all my plentiful lettuce. I wonder if my woodchuck has decided, as I have, that an occasional shock from the electric fence is acceptable. He also apparently nibbled on collards and zucchini leaves (what mammal would want THEM!), but it wasn't as devastating as the lettuce.

We'll have our first fresh eggplant parmesan tomorrow for dinner. We had our first 2011 fresh pepper last evening. Yum! The cucumbers also seemed to want water, but the Marketmores have bravely continued to bear. Basil is doing okay, but it too politely asked for water. The pak choi is falling over, so we had it this evening for dinner, and will eat it up before long. Zucchini remains delicious.

I had prepared soil before I left and last evening after I returned I sowed beats, arugula, small turnips and summer lettuce. These will need to be watered frequently with a watering can until they are established, which is why I didn't sow them last week.

Tomatoes these days are abundant and delicious. July is nice... although this one is a bit hotter than optimum.


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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Corn, zucchini, aphids

Win some, lose some. It appears I won't have any corn this year. The one ear that rises confidently above my bush beans doesn't have enough grains on it to qualify. I didn't fertilize it when it needed it, but why it is alone is beyond me. Most years I have at least a half a dozen ears for three delicious July meals.

Gordon Keil, however, has corn to admire in Montclair. I noticed it from the street next to the first building next to Bloomfield Avenue on the east side of South Willow Street. (My husband's favorite repair shop, Mac's Automotive, is in that building, so I'm there occasionally.) He has a truly amazing set of corn stalks rising up on the south side of the building. He tells me that a closer look reveals Sunflowers, tomatoes and miniature pumpkins there too, but I didn't get that close. You can see a lot from the sidewalk any time you like. Perhaps nobody would object if you slipped into Mac's parking lot on the south side of Gordon's garden.

Back in my own garden, I'm enjoying plentiful zucchini at last. Yum! I forget how much I enjoy fresh zucchini, having decided that frozen isn't worth the effort. Better than that, several seeds sprouted in the garden for a fall crop (after the current one succumbs to the bugs in August). The surprise is that NONE from the same package sprouted in the greenhouse window. Why would they prefer the garden to the window, which is warm and always moist?

I have at least one extra zucchini seedling nicely potted for the first person who tells me when they want it. Less desirable are some VERY little eggplant, pepper, and supersteak tomatoes that I've been speaking to nicely in the greenhouse window. I guess there is something there that isn't properly nourishing. Anyway, if anyone wants one or more of these for potential harvest LATE in the season, let me know. They all expect lots of sunlight and reasonably good soil.

In the front yard someone pointed out that some of my milkweed plants have a yellow covering. "Aphids!" was the response at the Cornucopia meeting when I told about this. Trina says she cuts off such stems and drowns the aphids in water. "They grow back," she observed. I have begun doing that. Another gardening project! Removing weeds around the yard seems to be a bigger project this year than most. Lots of growth!

In the garden I have several peppers that are almost achieving a diameter of one inch. One of the eggplant plants that I bought at the spring Master Gardeners' sale now has SIX little eggplants on it (!), one of which is two inches long. (Thank you, MGs!) I'm harvesting cucumbers and lettuce in abundance now. The supersteak tomato plants have tomatoes of respectable size, but they need to become oversized before they get red. Meanwhile, we're enjoying plenty of the little tomatoes.

It always makes me sad to take out the sugar snap peas in mid-July. I have plenty of other fresh things to eat, so I know I shouldn't be sad. Perhaps my conscience is pricking because I didn't sow them early enough. But the snow was there! And I had to prune the fruit trees in March instead of February because there was too much snow in February. Anyway, I think I've learned that sugar snap peas much be sowed in early March to get a good crop before the plants turn brown. I did freeze some this year and ate plenty.

A garden is surely a source of pleasure.


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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Harvests 7/7/11

It is indeed harvest time for garlic. Their tops are falling over, which means it's time to pull them and hang them up to dry. A friend told me last year the tricks for preparing them easily. Hit a bulb hard on the top and all the cloves fall apart. Hit a clove (this is harder) and the skin falls off. I use a rubber mallet since my hands aren't strong. Don't cut it into very small pieces. I've enjoyed garlic more since I learned this, and am savoring all I can grow. Long ago I bought ONE bulb, and I still eat its progeny, having given many away.

We had our first zucchini dinner last evening. Yum! It's late for zucchini, but very welcome for all that -- or especially?

I just picked our first cucumber, a Marketmore. The past couple years I've raised only the big ones, which are great for showing off, but they don't yield as early or last as late. I have other ways of showing off.

I picked enough basil for our first fresh pesto dinner of the year this evening. It's amazing how a LARGE container (6 quarts?) of fresh picked leaves presses into two cups when the stems are taken off and the air pressed out. I still have some frozen pesto from last year and have eaten it about once a week throughout the spring. Nice!

Fred just left for Toni's Kitchen with our first 2011 donation. At the end of March I despaired of having any extras this year, but gardens surprise one. This week has shown amazing growth. He took collards, pak choi, and lettuce. The chief chef always gives our fresh produce a warm welcome.

Toni's Kitchen is located in St. Luke's Episcopal Church on the corner of South Fullerton and Union Street in Montclair. They accept fresh donations 9-11 AM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. They start serving at 11:30. Enter through the parking lot on Union Street, a good place to park. Once I met a woman on Bloomfield Avenue who said she lived in the homeless shelter in East Orange and walked to Montclair for her only meal of the day at Toni's Kitchen. If you have garden left-overs, this is a good destination.

It's also planting season. I planted summer spinach in the space I showed the tour guests last Saturday. I had cleared it from the first crop of lettuce and put some compost there from my pile. I then dig in the compost, rake it smooth, scatted seeds, rake it again, and water with a watering can. This time I'm watering several times a day. I like lettuce!

At another place where I've removed that abundant first crop of lettuce, I have planted some zucchini seeds. Typically, the first crop dies in early August, and I need a second crop to keep eating it. This year the seeds I sowed in my greenhouse window in mid-June didn't germinate... yet. The early ones took a long, long time to germinate too, but the fruit is just as good, if a bit late.

Soon I will sow more Roma bush beans under my peach tree. They seem to grow there in the shade better than anything else, and I like to have them when the crop next to the house wanes. It's still going fairly strong.

These days I garden only in the early morning and after dinner. The crops seem to like the hot sun more than most humans do.


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