Thursday, June 30, 2011

Garden tour, oregano, vinca, raspberries

This Saturday is the garden tour. I'm appreciating today the phrase "as welcome as a summer breeze" that is common in so much classical literature. Before air conditioning arrived, those summer breezes would have been even more welcome than they are today as I enjoy making my yard more suburban for visitors this Saturday, 9:00 -- 11:00 AM.

The jungle in the middle is receding, revealing a lot of wandering oregano plants. I hope many of you want to take one home on Saturday! I bought ONE at the Crane House long ago, and now I have... we won't guess how many. It's taken many years, so they aren't frightening if you keep after them. Alas, I haven't since the Virginia creeper has been confusing the issue. Now, THAT is invasive.

I also have plenty of vinca (aka. myrtle, periwinkle) for folks to take from my lawn. I can provide trowels and a shovel, but I'd appreciate your bringing a container. Or you can take one that others have left for me.

I do hope the invasive raspberry plants also find a good new home.
It's a year of tremendous weed growth. I was appalled to read a story of one of you who talked with someone who felt driven to buy five gallons of roundup for his property to destroy all the growth there. Our poor planet! We need to be more accepting of growth clutter. But meanwhile I will use what time I have to demonstrate that a yard can be presentable with NO poisons or power machinery. It's a lovely day for pursuing that goal.

Have a good holiday weekend... here or wherever you are!


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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Triumphs and Disappointments

Like most aspects of life, gardening provides its triumphs and its disappointments. This week I'm feeling the stark contrast more than usual.

Collards and pac choi are major triumphs now. Both have huge leaves that seem to thrive inside my electric fence, in great contrast to the disaster of March 20. I'm enjoying them very much!

Sugar snap peas are wonderful too, in great contrast to two years ago. Both the electric fence and the tomato plants seem to protect them from the woodchucks, and I'm harvesting more than we eat these days. Freezing for winter has not become overwhelming, but I've begun. They surely are yummy! There are a few questionable happenings with the pea vines, but I can tolerate that.

Broccoli was again a great disappointment this week. I thought we had recovered from the thievery of four weekends ago and it looked like two of the smaller plants were about to form heads. Then Thursday I came out and some thief had again removed that hope and lots of other flowerets. One of you raised a question about whether this is really woodchucks. No, I've not seen them inside the electric fence, and the lettuce is, I think, not bothered. (It's hard to tell what is my own doing and the competition's when it comes to lettuce, but the important thing is that humans have had a good serving.) What can be eating my broccoli? It may be happening at night. Do raccoons like broccoli?

Yesterday at the Gordonhurst Avenue block party someone told me she had harvested a big head of broccoli, expecting me to rejoice with her. Alas, she quickly detected my irrepressible envy. Why her -- so close by -- and not me?

My raspberry's slowness has me apprehensive. Others are harvesting, and mine just sit there looking May-like. Occasionally, I think one is reddening, but then it disappears. Sander thinks it may be a visiting catbird. I know a flock of purple grackles can end all hope of humans eating raspberries while they linger. So I console myself with enjoying Janit London's blueberries, presumably picked organically in south Jersey.

A milder disappointment is the invasion of little Dutch iris plants on my back lawn where people worked so hard in early May to rid my lawn of them. Anyone want some juvenile Dutch iris? They bloom the week after Siberian iris, and are pretty, purple, and smaller.

The growth seems unprecedented this year, and I pull, pull, pull the invaders in my spare spots and driveway. A heavy grass mulch keeps the garden weeds at bay.

I would like my plot to look properly suburban by July 2, the date of the next Open Garden tour. Mine will be open from 9-11 AM, and there will be at least SEVEN other organic vegetable gardens open from 9:00 AM to noon. The following OG will be the
afternoon of Sept. 17, with a butterfly tent. If you want to show your organic vegetable garden either date, let me know.


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Monday, June 13, 2011

Cultivating carrots

Saturday was a great day for thinning and mulching carrots. A neighbor brought me a half barrel of high-quality fresh grass clippings Friday evening. By noon Saturday they had all be carefully distributed in my carrot patch. The promise of next winter's carrots is good now, but one never knows.

"Thinning" a crop means taking out extras so that the plot looks "thinner" than it did. Saturday I thinned to one inch, which means that the individual plants were a minimum of one inch from each of their nearest neighbors. Some of the thinnings (the plants taken out), were good enough to eat, although not exactly delicious.

Last month I tried to thin to a half inch, but it was an overwhelming job at a very busy gardening time, and the job was not accomplished completely. So I had some carrots that were side by side in the soil. Saturday's juicy soil meant that I could pull up the extras and hold down the ones I wanted to survive, apparently successfully.

Better yet, the soil was so juicy (in the drizzle!) that I could punch a hole in the soil and insert the carrot transplant with apparent success. Today the plot looks promising. There are plants every two inches with no gaping holes.

Next month I will thin to two inches, and eat the delicious "finger carrots", small ones the size in a super market bag, that are the thinnings. Each time I thin the lot, I mulch between the plants with the best grass clippings I can get.

This has worked for decades to produce excellent, large carrots all winter -- including this past winter until April! I cover the plants in late December with plastic bags of leaves that keeps the ground below from freezing. Then I shovel the snow off a bag, pick it up, pull a week's worth of carrots, and replace the bag. This past winter there was the extra job of finding the bags, but this April I placed the carrots where
they will be easy to access next winter.

Carrots may be the hardest vegetable to grow. I do not advocate trying to grow carrots for your first years of gardening. They need a friable, organic-rich soil, and that doesn't come naturally in this eco-system!


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Friday, June 10, 2011

Pac choi, basil, pesto recipe, lettuce

One of you responded to yesterday's email by asking, "I grew pak choi for the first time this year. Can I harvest the outer leaves and let the inner still grow or should I harvest the whole plant?"

Outer leaves only, please! A pac choi plant will yield for months if you just take the outer leaves and allow the plant to regenerate. This technique is basic to my year-round harvests. I use it with Chinese cabbage, collards, lettuce, celery, and parsley, among other crops. Never take more than you will eat today! (I've read that half of the food purchased in this country is thrown away, but gardeners don't throw away their yield lightly.)

another asked about raising basil. I raised enough in my kitchen greenhouse window this spring for salads, but have dozens of plants outdoors with which I make pesto. We enjoy it in the summertime and it freezes well for easy winter dinners. She then asked for the recipe. I gave it some other year (last?), and quite a bit of discussion was generated about adaptations and similar recipes, but I'll give mine again.

In a food processor, whiz together 2 cups of carefully washed basil, 2 tbls pine nuts, and 1/2 cup good quality olive oil. When thoroughly mixed, add 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese and whiz again. Serve over pasta.

She also asked whether I raise beets. I bought seeds, and she reminds me that I haven't planted them yet. It's been a frantic year for gardening! Beets don't thrill me as carrots and parsnips do, but they do do well in this climate and I often raise them. I wonder if they would survive frost under plastic bags of leaves. Has anyone tried that?

This morning I sowed my fourth crop of lettuce outdoors this year, the first crop of "summer lettuce." I transplanted and thinned the third crop earlier this week with fingers crossed, but it really liked last evening's rain and looks very happy this morning. Aren't we all relieved about today's weather?


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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Zucchini, Malabar, Pac Choi

I sowed more zucchini seeds yesterday in the greenhouse window, after planting out the first crop where the early peas (Sugar Anns) had been ripped out. Until last year zucchini was the most punctual plant in the yard: first harvest on June 26 and sudden death on August 8. Last year I harvested earlier and death didn't occur till mid-August, but still it behooves me to sow more seeds now for a successor crop. Some people make great efforts to thwart the zucchini borer from killing the first crop, but their suggestions have never worked for me. It's easier to start new ones now.

Life is endlessly surprising... and humbling. I thought I knew plenty about Malabar spinach, and have raved about it for years. Last year and the year before I gave away many volunteer seedlings. This year they were so scarce that, apparently, I thought some imposters must be Malabar. I was sufficiently skeptical not to pot them up and offer them to you. Now I can see only two certainly Malabar seedlings offering to climb up the fence after the sugar snap pea plants die in mid-July. Amid them, carefully placed by me last month, are some very happy weeds. I've removed all those that are competitive and allowed a few to remain in case they are a new version of Malabar. (Hope springs eternal. Or should I say that denial is not just a river in Egypt?) Meanwhile, yesterday I also sowed more Malabar seeds in my kitchen window. Malabar spinach vines are surely pretty climbing the fence where the sugar snap peas have died. Also, the leaves are good eating in the fall and freeze well. They are also the first crop to be killed by frost, with basil a close second. Last year the Malabar went black a week before basil; we had an unusually gradual cooling in 2010.

I harvested my first pac choi of the spring today. These I sowed after the March 20 woodchuck disaster, and they seem to be doing well. (Pac choi survives the winter under floating cover.) The verdict on the electric fence is still out; something has attacked my broccoli, but everything else seems to be growing well, perhaps except for a few tolerable nibbles here and there.

This hot, sticky weather is good for staying inside except in the EARLY morning and just before sunset. Fortunately, my garden is ready to take care of itself for a few days.


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Monday, June 6, 2011

Pea transition, growth

Last evening I returned home from three days and three nights at my wonderful 50th college reunion. At the Friday morning buffet I handed around a container of fresh strawberries and another of fresh Sugar Ann peas while doing my gardening evangelist thing. Last evening there were plenty of strawberries ready for today's breakfast, but the Sugar Anns have about gone, as I anticipated Thursday they would have.

This morning I tore out the vines, salvaging some hidden peas, and prepared the soil for the zucchini seedlings, which are bursting their pots in the greenhouse window. They need to go out this afternoon if I am to harvest a zucchini on June 26 on schedule. I was delighted to have a visit from a young neighbor this morning on his way to school asking if I wanted grass clippings. Just what the zucchini needs! I eagerly await his Dad's return home, when the clippings are promised.

More good news is that tomorrow I will harvest the first of the Sugar Snap peas and that the supersteak tomato plants about doubled in size while I was gone, both the little ones I put out last week and the significant earlier ones. It almost seemed that the green beans doubled their height and I am now sure some corn plants are emerging from amid them. It was nice to see how far the lettuce I sowed last week had come in the hot, rainless weather.

The electric fence seems to be working. It has protected the collards, of which we will have a huge dinner this evening. It's good to be back to locally grown food again!


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